Sunday, 30 October 2016

Countdown Catatonia (Think of a deer caught in your headlights) or T minus TWO, ONE, ... (careful reading advisory)

I recently discovered a travel portal that no one visiting Southeast Asia (read Indochina) should miss. only covers Myanmar, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, and Malaysia, but it covers it extremely well.

An example is Dong Hoi, a town I stayed in last February and which I intend to visit again in about a week.  Why Dong Hoi again?   I stayed here two nights. And even though a cold front moved through Vietnam at the time, that didn't keep me inside and the stay was an adventure (here is the LINK to the post), but the prime reason I want to go again is this dish:

SO simple, yet so unbelievably delicious, February 2016
Up to a few days ago, all Dong Hoi was for me was a decent beach with vast areas of inland dunes and excellent food.   Turns out that during the Vietnam War, American B52s carpet bombed Dong Hoi back into the stone age, with this part of a church being ONE of ONLY THREE similar structures that were ALL that remained after the attack.

Is it just me or does this evoke a sense of deja vu about a different place where Americans did the unspeakable (OMG, it was actually NOT the Germans that time ).

Hiroshima, site of the first atomic bomb ever dropped on a civilian population  And NO, none of the two was an accident, this was INTENDED; Talk about WAR CRIMES in a time when Americans point their fingers at Russians in Syria !
Yet another afterthought.  Why do I include in my sites-to-visit list those that only demonstrate the evil in mankind?  (I remember that this June, after hearing of Guernica's proximity, I just HAD to go there).  Before this summer's double bike madness, I had actually planned to go visit Hiroshima on August 6 (Anniversary of the bombing), circum-ambulate the crater of Mt. Fuji, and to visit Saki (Hello Saki !!! 富士山のような大規模なハンス腹 ).  

But before I make myself look like Christiane Amanpour (at some point referred to by indubitably mean-spirited sources as "The War Whore" , I should point out that another reason for visiting Dong Hoi is to look this relaxed again: 
Train Smoking; In the Western World I can't even smoke in my car ! (o.k,so it's a rental,LOL)
 But back to the travel plans. They're not just simplistic things like the name of an all-inclusive party town, like Puerto Vallarta or Varadero.  No, when I say travel plans, they are just a tiny bit more involved.  1st, when I say travel it means travelling THROUGH that foreign destination, not travelling TO that foreign destination.  2nd. there must be a few highlights.  There should be a combination present of a) meeting old or new friends (or attending a Neil Young concert) b) a natural wonder c) to see one of those things you thought you'd never ever see, or d) an entirely new country or way of living. At this point in my life, I find that time is too precious to spend 2 entire weeks at a fabulous beach in a town in the third world. Too much to see and learn and only so little time.

You can probably tell, my mind is already over there, even though my body still has to stay here for 2 more days ;-(

Warning: The following paragraph was written after 2 glasses of wine ;-)

And to all those who found this post too convoluted and self-absorbed: You're right. HOWEVER, the prime reason for this blog is to re-process events or thoughts in my life by putting them on digital paper, or as I like to call it  "Cerebral house-keeping". There seem to be about 20 people around the world that are willing to put up with my rants. Or maybe they just look at the pictures? Or maybe I have disciples ?   If so, you should REPENT this very minute because I'm NOT worthy.  If I were worthy, I would NOT constantly have WET SHOES, LOL.

So I'm sitting at Denny's with only one sleep left until departure and still LOTS to do before I can go, and the server at Denny's tells me "Our liquor cabinet is locked and the manager is not here".   I guess the relevant point to this sentence is that the manager is the only one who has a key to the locked fridge containing my wine.   Great managing, Mr. Manager !

Then Grandma calls.  Days ago I had given one of my old, mostly unusable (HORRIBLE keyboard issues) laptops to a friend. She uses it to watch movies on one of those GIANT flat-panel TVs, so I also removed the special Micro-HDMI cable that had spent its days connected to Grandma's TV because that had been the only purpose I had bought it for.   Grandma's first question this morning is "What have you done with my TV cord ?" in a tone that suggests I have started cleaning out STUFF out of her house.

Oh Lord in Heaven, ....  Give us this day our daily STUFF.  It's odd how irrelevant the Lord's Prayer seems these days in the Western World. Not many people are still concerned about their daily bread; the latest iPhone or car model seem to carry much more relevance (Apology to those living in one of the numerous tent cities in North America and go hungry; Millions coveting that iPhone while you don't have a proper roof over your head just makes my point)
 And NO, I am NOT the tiniest bit  religious (Actually, ever since George died I have been hoping ;-)  My name is really JUST a name. But the New Testament could have been written by a humanistic Socialist; to me it contains the basic elements of the type of human conduct that could eradicate world hunger and all the other scourges of mankind.  How about this one?: You can tell the vigor of a Christian's belief in God by what kind of car he drives.  How I arrive at that?    What does Mark 10:21 say? And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
No, No, this blog is not going to turn into a religious blog (God forbid !, Lmfao). Cause keeping an eye open out for those in need has absolutely nothing to do with religion. It's just common sense!  And some of those apostles had an acute sense of sarcasm and wit:
It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”  

This is how my morning started.  And it reminds me that whatever I have to do today, it will be all worth it. Because it will allow me to get out of here.  And over there, saying something like "Give us this day our daily bread/rice" amazingly still makes sense and consequently the people over there actually still have something to say that matters.

So, (oh, oh, a lot of people will cry FOUL), I say  that starting tomorrow I will be on a QUEST.  Maybe I'm not going to discover the meaning of life, but I'm sure I'll be able to add more meaning to mine ;-)

Friday, 28 October 2016

OMG, time is fleeting. T minus minus SEVEN, SIX, FIVE, FOUR, THREE, Time for PANIK !

A few days ago I almost installed an English-Vietnamese dictionary on my Android Phone, but changed that plan at the last moment when i saw the reviews of other users who LOVED the app, but HATED the ADS.  It's bad enough dealing with ads in a web-browser, but I'm NOT going to install an app that comes with ADS.  Give me a choice to pay for the app and I'd choose that any day over having to look at mind-numbingly DUMB ads.   An hour after I had that thought I also had installed AdBlock on my new laptop.  I simply don't understand how people can put up with those CRAP ads, in particular in the new days of individually placed ads.   I mean how long is going to pay money to Google to show me ads for hotels in San Francisco?  I'm no longer there !  (And this is the reason why you should TURN OFF the LOCATION service on your cell phone ;-)

At least there is no follow-up ads when applying for an e-visa to Cambodia, which is what I am doing right now.  Where is my passport again?  And where is that CD with the passport photos I got done in Phnom Penh last December? (for US $4 including retouching and the CD burn; and they didn't do the minimum; they put in effort to make me look GOOD with their retouching, the thinking being: This man is paying money for this, we might as well make him look good.  (notice that solid but unfortunately fictional solid hairline ?)

Gotta LOVE that country and its people ! ;-)

Part of this musing is taking place while having a late lunch (3:30 pm) at the Vietnamese place right next to my hotel.  And Vancouver thinking has finally taken its toll on this place too.  I just ordered my second glass of wine. Yes, some might say that my wine consumption has been increasing during recent years (Hey, I'm a widower and there is supposed to be Truth in it ...), but that is NOT the reason. The reason is that the glass of wine served by the restaurant has been decreasing in size.  I kid you not, I still have a picture of the original glass of wine from years ago (on the right)

Now here is the new glass:

SAME Napkin Holder 
See the difference? The napkin holders are the same size ! And I'm a REGULAR there, so at least they fill it properly, which means the place hasn't gone Vancouver completely yet.

Yes, time is evaporating like spit on lava and I'm looking at visa requirements.  Not just for Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, but also for Thailand (the easiest way to travel from Phnom Penh to Vientiane is to fly to Bangkok, to take the train from there and the cheapest flights to Bangkok happens to be with Malaysia Airlines with a 13 hour layover in Kuala Lumpur (that's Malysia;-)). I think this is yet another reason why I like IndoChina: the distances  and border procedures involved are kind of like the Europe of my childhood.   Grandma still tells me stories and I even dimly remember how they had severe trouble getting a 10-13 year old Me over the German-Dutch border because I didn't have my passport with me (Sounds like a long time ago? I never thought of 40 years as a long time before but I guess it is; you probably noticed how I am wading through memories here)

I visit Grandma and count her remaining pills. 20.  Not enough until I get back.   I renew her prescriptions over the phone and during the apres-cigarette on the balcony notice that one of her very tall trees has succumbed to the storms last week.  For 20 years, Grandma has been telling me and Grandpa that she needs to get a permit to top the trees in her backyard.  "They are going to fall because they stand so close to water". Grandpa and I usually just gave her phony agreeing nod and an appeasing "Yes, Grandma" and changed the subject.  My line of reasoning usually was "They've survived the last 20 years, they're not going to fall NOW".  Well, Grandma was right after all.  When I check the root ball with a diameter of about twice my height (it's sitting vertical now), I notice that the tree hit the other side of the wide creek when it fell. I also notice that it was actually two trees that didn't survive the storm but the second one only smashed the neighbour's gazebo.   Fortunately, the trees fell in the direction directly AWAY from the house.   Imagine finding Grandma squashed under a fallen tree after she has been mentioning those trees for 20 years and you did nothing !

A new camera I need (AGAIN).  Since it always travels in my pants pocket, it is subject to sand (hey, I like beaches!). Normally that is not a problem, but the present camera was unlucky enough to have something solid caught between the lens and the lens covering blades.  The result?  A small deep scratch right in the centre of the lens which causes a blurry grayish area fuzz to appear in the middle of every picture. And that won't do.  Once in a while I run into a scene that takes my breath away. And I'm counting on encountering lots of those places on the coming trip.  It's no fun taking a picture of that if I know there will be that fuzzy area right in the middle of the picture.  

Ideally I'd get the same camera again. BUT NO, Best Buy doesn't even carry it and London Drugs says it takes them 3 weeks to get one in.  Visions advertises it at a $70 discount today and tomorrow, but when I visit their store, they admit that they ONLY have the display model. WTF?  Fortunately, there is still Kerrisdale Camera and they have a branch in North Vancouver.  They have my camera in stock, in black and silver, and the $70 discount is in effect here as well.   Good.  

view finder in top left corner

One of the reasons for wanting that particular camera again is that it has a view finder with eye adjustment, allowing this ageing photographer with tired eyes to see what he is taking a picture of, which quite often is no longer possible by looking at the LCD screen because it's all a blur to my eyes.

More good news:  When I complete the Cambodian e-visa forms, the page says " You will be paid 37 USD for government e-visa fee" ;-). Instead of paying ME $37, they should give it to their translator so he can change the word paid to charged !  Anyhu, the application is submitted and if approved that means I'll only get a small entry stamp when entering Cambodia instead of wasting one of my precious remaining passport pages on a full page entry visa !

All these panicky last minute preparations are impeded by the weather.   Rain. Rain. And .. ah well, you can probably guess ;-).    Apparently it has rained on 24 of 27 days in Vancouver this October.  I guess I can handle 3 more until I escape.

There is an article in the Oct 21 (digital?) issue of Vogue. NO, I'm not really a Vogue reader, more precisely I NEVER read it (I don't like the idea of human beings herd-following trends invented by small groups)..  But this article is about Anthony Bourdain, my favourite TV personality (Surprise, it is NOT Kim Kardashian, LOL). Why is he my favourite?  He ain't phony !  His latest project is to introduce Street Food (think Hanoi, Bangkok, Istanbul) to New York.  And if it does NOT succeed (which means it would taste like a 'celebrity chef food', Bourdain says "“If it feels like a Todd English product, then we can all just go home and throw a noose over the fucking shower stall.”
This might be hard to understand for people who prefer their food to be prepared by the culinary equivalents of Martha Stewart, but will make sense to anyone who ever distorted their face in astonishment at the unbelievable taste of a simple and dirt cheap food item  acquired at a dirty and grimy stall in the so-called third world.

Denise is in town today, and agrees to my suggestion to have lunch at Earls.  NO, I do NOT like the concept of EARLS in general, but they happen to make a FABULOUS pizza at my location.  The waitress has seen me here with Zu in June, eating Pizza solo numerous times, and now her demeanor suggests that she thinks that the strange pizza guy finally managed to get another date ;-)

Just look at the colours !!!!
I eat nothing else until 8 pm and find myself starving. Back to Hoi An Cafe in East Vancouver. I have a rental car today (Rain, Rain, Rain) so this is within easy reach.
But not that easy. Traffic is ATROCIOUS. It's DARK, POURING, and the exhaust from the incomprehensible number of cars contributes to the fog blowing over the roads from creeks and other bodies of water.  After 30 minutes of creeping from red light to red light, a growing pain in my neck starts telling me that this is not the proper type of locomotion for me.   But that serves me right. Why eat at a restaurant halfway across town?   The planet doesn't mind if you ride a bike there, but driving a car there is a different matter.

What day is it today?  Friday?  3  more sleeps?  Time to enter into a state of controlled panic ;-)

Another 3rd world moment.   The Kingdom of Cambodia provides me with an e-visa within 24 hours (Yep, that's ONE day). Canada can't manage to renew an expired PR card in less than 60 days (Yep, that's TWO FRIGGIN MONTHS).  And the moral is?  Go figure .... , LOL

Monday, 24 October 2016

A final lazy day in the sun and the dreaded return to Mordor (SFO to YVR) (Rant Warning)

After 6 hours of sleep I still feel exhausted, weak, and drained.  Coffee doesn't help in this instance, but there is that old saying 'Hair of the dog ......'.

My hung-over and not quite awake face probably says all that needs to be said about waking up in a sunny and warm climate

We check out of the posh Courtyard Marriot hotel in Sunnyvale and head for a breakfast Pho in Milipitas.  

The place is HUGE, busy and I am the only white person in there. So you can probably guess how good my Ox-tail Pho tastes ;-)

At 2 pm the lack of sleep hits me and I have a 2 hour nap.

And then it's almost time to eat again (Lazy Sunday Afternoon Living). Hot Pot is on today's menu and now I realize why Alan bought all that stuff in the supermarket on the drive back from Mountainview.

The food is amazingly yummy and the feast is crowned by an abalone that has been sitting at the bottom of the pot until the very end. The second time in my life that I am eating Abalone and this one is MUCH better than the one I once had at Kirin Restaurant in Vancouver !
Gabriel, Jocelyn, Alan, Glenda wielding the instruments 

Need to get me one of these !!
On the other hand, I probably had more than enough of the content of the above bottle; just look at the next picture ;-)
No idea what inebriated accident led to this picture, but Glenda is such a nice and gorgeous and fabulous host that this picture will be included here!

It's a working day on this Monday for my hosts, so I'm getting up at 6 am.
A change in the weather ?
 There is also that matter of a plane to catch.

The plane is schedule to take off at exactly noon, so I arrive at SFO at 9:15, despite severe delays in the BART system due to a Medical Emergency/Police Situation (Both explanations are offered over the PA system; The cops shot someone?). And I can understand how BART passengers would blow a fuse or a valve; the system is HOPELESSLY unable to provide enough capacity for the demand.  

After I stand in the line for my door for a while, I am lucky to be able to enter the almost full train, but I think the people at the end of the line weren't so lucky.  The situation gets much worse at the following stations, where the lines are just as long but the number of passengers that manage to squeeze themselves on the train is close to Zero. And for some of them this is not the first train that they couldn't get on. No wonder everyone drives a car here ...;-(
The weather is definitely changing!
Anyhuu, I'm at SFO at 9:15, head for check-in, the self-check-in machine does NOT recognize my passport (that worked at YVR), have to line up again, get lectured about the expired PR card AGAIN, whereupon I am informed that my flight is delayed by 2 hours and 20 minutes. WTF?   Gotta LOVE Air Canada !!!  As I said before: Why bother trying to be world-class if you can get by with small-town mediocrity ? On the other hand, maybe that REALLY FAT Air Canada pilot I witnessed on the way here, the one that almost needed oxygen after getting out of a chair, finally blew a valve and is responsible for the delay.  How in the world an airline can allow a bloated pig that should not pass the most lenient of health checks to pilot an airplane with hundreds of people is beyond me.

Anyhuu, I am at SFO, 4 hours before the take-off of my plane; Thanks Air Canada !  What to do?  The obvious answer is to eat, since I've only eaten one chocolate biscotti so far today.

I finish my meal and when I walk by a display board am informed that the delay of my 2 hour flight has increased to 3 hours. Oh Joy! It is also telling that the only airlines suffering from delays are the likes of RyanAir, Wow Air, and Air Canada.  Go Canada Go !

I whine about my fate to Denise by e-mail, and she just dryly replies that there are no Public Transit buses running in West Vancouver.  I check it out and it turns out the bus drivers are on strike.   Go Canada Go !

What will they think of next ??????  Putting the Beaver on the National Flag and turning off all electricity (The internet in my hotel already SUCKS) ?????

Ah,here is more wine.  No more whining ! 

Actually, there is NOT ENOUGH Wine in this airport to stop the Whine !

At the security checkpoint I feel rushed because there is NO line-up.  There is more security personnel than people being checked. OMG, it IS possible to NOT treat people like cattle. YVR, PLEASE take note !

A carton of Pall Mall cigarettes costs US$ 28 versus US$ 44 for a carton of Camel. Both of them contain nicotine, so guess which one I got (o.k. a lame riddle). Another two weeks and I will be buying fabulous Cambodian cigarettes for US$ 5.00 per carton. Yes, that's RIGHT! US$ 0.50 for a pack of cigarettes, i.e. 2.5 US cents per cigarette !   WHY do they call this place of running buses, mostly on-time flights, and cheap cigarettes the Third World? I'm not quite sure but maybe I have been getting the rating system wrong all these years. Maybe it's like stars for hotel rating. A five star hotel is supposed to be much better than a 2 star hotel, is it the same with the # worlds?

It's when I sit at the gate when I come to terms with the next insanity, namely why I paid $28.25 for my cigarettes instead of $28.  I am NOT allowed to walk through the terminal with my freshly bought cigarettes.  NO NO NO. Imagine what could happen !  They will be handed to me at the gate by an airport employee. In a plastic bag.  You don't have the choice about getting your purchases handed to you in a bag.  HOWEVER, they charge US$ 0.25 for the friggin bag.   

What's next ???  Go ahead, bring it on !!!

At the gate I mention to some of the Air Canada Gate crew that it would be kinda nice to provide the passengers with an explanation or even a pro-forma apology for the looong delay. I'm not sure whether the evil glare or the hissing reply shocks me more.  Now THAT is world-class service. They should FORCE EVERY Air Canada employee to take a flight with a Japanese or Korean airline so that these peasants of the air can understand what a world-class airline feels like.  How about making that an issue of National Pride ?  (Stay tuned: Next week I will be able to report on the flight experience with China Southern Airlines)

This is not my picture, but at SFO I witnessed about 10 Korean Air stewardesses walking through the airport DOUBLE-FILE !!!   And when Korean Air stewardesses enter the plane's washroom it is most likely to clean it and to provide fresh free tooth-brushes (every half hour or so). Air Canada? No, but I once witnessed a steward who was handing out food opening the toilet door with one hand to throw something into the loo garbage container. Needless to say, he did NOT in any way wash his hands.

What's next?   We finally get into the plane by 3:10 pm (I can't believe it, but when I asked for the special emergency exit seat the woman at the desk actually gave it to me ;-) and the last thing I remember before passing out in my seat is something about a Gate Lock. The violent acceleration of the plane taking off wakes me at 4 pm.  Seems the Gate Lock was effective for 40 minutes.  Good thing I slept through that; I'm known to easily foam at the mouth in such circumstances.   

As by now is tradition in Canada's Flag-Carrying Airline, there is ZERO (Air Canada Zero, the DIET airline) free food on this 2 hour flight, not even a tiny bag of Pretzels. But you can BUY food with your credit card. Of course, I knew this already, ever since Air Canada let me go hungry on a 5 hour flight from Montreal to Vancouver in 2014.  Go Canada Go ! 

HERE, click on this LINK ( Air Canada has to PAY for the advertising link ;-).  It reads "Exceptional Service starts on the Ground".     What they don't tell you: That is exactly where the Exceptional Service also stays, because if Exceptional Service has any common sense it ain't flying with Air Canada !

What else is there?  On the way from the Gate to Immigration Control, American passengers step onto one of those moving walkways they have in airport to shorten the sometimes ridiculous long distances to be walked.   When the Americans decelerate rapidly and look at their feet because the moving ground is not actually moving, my inner devil gets the upper hand again and I just have to say it: "Welcome to Canada".
Not a YVR walkway and not my picture
That little devil also does not rest until it has said to the immigration officer who asks me whether I'm ever going to renew my Permanent Resident Card "I guess I should, but I'm never here long enough because it takes you guys 8 WEEKS to get me a new one".   THAT not only is the truth but apparently it is the correct answer, because for the 2nd time in 5 weeks, no secret message ensuring a secondary search are coded onto my customs declaration form and I can walk right from passport control to cigarette smoking outside the terminal without any obstacles.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Getting an ear-full: Neil Young, Willie Nelson, Roger Waters, Dave Matthews, etc. etc.etc.

After 9 hours of sleep (NO construction site and NO traffic outside the window), a leisurely breakfast, and some blog writing, we leave to drive to Mountainview via San Jose

Alan knows an excellent Ramen restaurant in San Jose, and I fill up on a spicy Ramen.

The guy who 5 seconds later will tell Alan that he is not allowed to bring that lawn chair to the concert
 And exactly like two years ago, Alan's timing is uncanny. When we hear the first sound of singing, we are already on the concert site, less than one minute from rounding a corner that gives us a view of the stage.  Exactly the same as two years ago.  And what we see when we round that corner hasn't changed either in two years ;-)

It's Neil Young accompanied by Native dancers wondering " How many roads must a man walk down? Before you call him a man.   The Donald obviously hasn't walked enough yet.  

No clouds in sight

Soon after I awake from my first nap, the light of the day starts fading.

Somewhere at this time I realize that buying an 0.75 L bottle of white wine poured into a plastic carafe is a better deal than having to run to a concession stand for a small glass of wine every time I feel like it.    Unfortunately (?), Alan refuses to take part in eliminating this volume of liquid, so the task falls to me alone, but I'm not too worried, there are still 5 or 6 hours of concert ahead of us.  And noticing all the empty plastic carafes later, I realize that I was not the only one thinking that way.

Alan casts a big shadow

Then it's time for the act that I enjoy almost more than Neil Young: Dave Matthews

After Matthews, it's time for Roger Waters.  My feelings of having missed his performance of 'Wish you were here' because I was at a concession stand are still mixed.

This is also the same visit to the concession stand when I realize that even though I have consumed one bottle of wine by myself already, I am SOBER in comparison to the other concert goers.  This becomes PAINFULLY clear when some Irish woman stands on my only sandal-wearing toes with her high-platform shoes.  Then she uses my screaming (it HURT !} as an excuse to give me a tight hug and talk to me.
Definitely NOT mixed are my feelings about the next act, Metallica.   I wish they had played in NeverNeverLand instead of here.  
But the saving part was the last number, they played together with Neil Young. They're playing Mr Soul and I'm ecstatic.

And strangely enough, after Metallica has finished, at least one third of the concert visitors have gone home or are on their way out.    We use this opportunity to move to the very front of the lawn area, right behind the reserved seating, the dress circle, as I like to call it.  Fabulous seats ;-)

Why does this inebriated German wear a self-satisfied grin on his face ? There is a simple reason for that;

And I'm dancing (imagine a mixture of hopping and wobbling) to pretty much every single number that they play.

The concert ends as usual, with all performers joining in a rendition of "Keep on rocking in the free world", or as I like to call it "The song that Trump couldn't have because he was too daft to realize that the lyrics are  meant to be read in a satirical spirit"

We get to the hotel that Alan graciously used a voucher for by about 1:30 am and decide that this is not too late to open another bottle of wine.