Monday, October 29, 2012

WHO I AM....

It may be, because I don't actively jump on every bandwagon, people assume I have no point of view.

So here is mostly what I believe.

I am a hope to die pragmatist; I believe that no matter how good something is there is always a
way to fuck it up. I believe in fairies. The sunset on the west side of Maui. The smiling face of a two year old. A fine hard ass on anyone. I believe I have friends everywhere and have truely loved
and been loved. I don't believe anything I read on the internet. I love tattoos and some of the
people who wear them. I love the sound of motorcycles riding down the highway, surf pounding on sand, speakers throbbing rock and roll. I have little care for bullies, ninnys, whiners, or
malcontents; I have to work at tolerance remembering that I have been them all at some time in my long life. I love this big blue ball we live on. I would go to another ball if invited. I cry at
the high note in the National Anthem or the low note in Battle Hymn of the Republic. I love a high
fly ball and a perfect pass. I come from a long line of rebels. I am a spiritual warrior. I know a
life can be reinvented. I read books because I love words on a page. I would shoot someone for
burning a book. I thrive on comic book heros, true love stories, bloody histories; crime, blood,
lust, love, and magic. Life is magic. Medea to King Lear to Midsummer Night's Dream to Gone With
the Wind to Casablanca to Pulp Fiction to Lord of the Rings. I've cried as much in movies as I have
in real life. I love people who love, no matter who they love or why. I love men and women who love
men and woman. I throw on and change frequently the costumes that we all put on to convince each
other of who we are and where we belong. From three piece suit dressers to cross-dressers, I've
dressed up, dressed down, and ran naked with many of you through the gleaming of a sunrise that has now become my sunset. I believe in this circus tent that is life, with all its geeks, freaks, and lion tamers. I love to crack the whip sometimes. I vote for people, not sound bites. If I must have
a label, I am a pagan. I believe that any belief not based in experience is a lie. I don't believe in religions created by man. When the real deal shows up, either god or alien, I believe I will
know it. I love to dance, play, laugh, sing, and fuck with thoughts, ideas, and dreams. I  watch
people spin around in their own certainty about things that no one can be certain about. I believe
that before I die I will have lived the fullest life I possibly could for no other reason than the
telling of the tale. I have no axes to grind, and I abhor the sound of knives being sharpened to
cut pieces out of the human race. I believe in family, blood ties, life bonds, and true friends;
loyalty to those you love and who love you. Living the truth, as well as telling it. I also believe the truth is as mutable as silly putty. I love turtles, whales, dogs, cats, elephants, eagles, tigers, and wolves. I don't love centipedes, rats, camels, snakes, chickens, rabbits, or dolphins. I am not interested in single points of view, or the people who hold onto them. I do not have the makings of a groupee or guru feet kisser. I don't want to be a follower or a leader. I am the star in my universe and I just want to shine. I remain unconvinced that anyone here knows any more about anything really important that I do. And so, just to be perfectly clear, I don't care who you vote for, pray to, or fuck; if you fit into my life puzzle, for whatever reason, I will honor the piece of life that is you. If none of this makes any sense, I believe you need to take a long walk
barefoot in warm sand, kiss someone whose lips taste of cotton candy, hug a baby close to your
cheek and breath in smells of talcium and sweet new life, spread the ashes of someone you love off
the top of a temple in the hot ancient air of Ankor Wat, walk around smiling for no reason except
that it makes you and everyone around you feel better. Then when your heart is open and your mind is clear, if you really want to know who I am, read this again.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Home again, Home again...

Well followers, whoever you may be, I am back home on Maui. I still have a few more things to report on about my trip through New Zealand, my final days in Sydney, and my return home. Once I've posted those reports (if I actually do write them which is a big if because now that I'm home I have other interests to move on to), I will end this blog for the time being. I do plan to start up again when I go off on my next adventure, whenever and wherever that may stay tuned, if you like.

New Zealand…oh and it’s a beautiful land.

New Zealand is a definite return stop, with visions of coming here for a few months, renting a van thing (, and traveling all over the South Island especially, doing all the things I didn’t have time to do this trip. The land is beyond beautiful, the people are friendly, and travel is easy peasy especially compared to some of the places I’ve been. The last big accolade for New Zealand is that I’ve had the most laugh-out-loud moments here of any place. People will just strike up a conversation with you, and it’s easy to get people laughing, which is interesting because New Zealand is and must always have been a challenging place to live. The isolation (three hours flight from Australia which is the closest civilized land mass), the weather which ranges from windy Wellington to the South Island Alps, the economy which is based on exports such as wool, and the internal politics of the place are collaged into this one tiny nation. From the large union protest I ran into in Auckland with the posters saying “don’t make Auckland into Oakland”, to the aftermath of a devastating earthquake in Queenstown, the Kiwi’s have not had a lot to laugh about recently.  Of course I’ve had a few laughs in other places, and of course the Thai people are always smiling; but the Kiwi’s overall having the best spontaneous sense of humor about life in general.

I’m writing this riding on the train from Christchurch to Picton on my way back to Auckland, sad to go from this beautiful place. The sheep, white moving dots against the green patchwork, stroll along a ridgeway and pass quickly by my window. It is a rainy day, which is usual for this time of year (autumn in March), and I’ve been very lucky to have fairly good weather which isn’t to say it hasn’t been cold for me. So glad I bought a wooly sweater in Sydney, and borrowed my friend’s London Fog jacket. 

I attempted to leave Sydney Airport with a one way ticket to Auckland, having forgotten that you cannot enter New Zealand without a ticket out. I find it amusing how much flack America gets when we turn someone away from our borders, and countries like Australia and New Zealand, that are extremely exclusionary, are rarely mentioned in these caustic debates. It is much more difficult to get into India, China, Australia, and New Zealand than it’s ever been to get into America. It’s very difficult to immigrate to New Zealand unless you are thirty something with money and skills. I understand both sides of the immigration debate in American and I am not sure what the solution is now, when it’s like trying to plug up a hole in the dike while the water is pouring through. I do know that every country has already or will eventually face the same issues that America is now facing, where the resources to care for people cannot meet the demands of those who need care.  America was once New Zealand and New Zealand will eventually be India. It is inevitable as long as we continue to populate the planet with no plan of caring for those we bring into the world, no plan of conserving the resources we have, and no plan of going somewhere else when those resources are gone. 

So, I had to purchase a return ticket at the airport even though I had proof I was leaving with a ticket from Sydney to Honolulu. I also had a very rude custom agent leaving Australia, who took offense that all my items were not in plastic bags. I wanted to tell her that taking crap from people just because they wore a uniform is what got Germany in trouble, but what I did tell her was that I had traveled all over and never been hassled. She was not impressed, and I was not intimidated. My bad because as long as I’ve been a productive member of society, I still have an inbred antipathy to bullies in uniform. 

I arrived in Auckland, had a lovely cab driver who was from Sri Lanka (go figure),  and arrived at my hotel which was conveniently located right next door to the train station, two minutes from the Ferry Station, and right on the main street for downtown Auckland.  After ordering room service dinner and getting a good night’s sleep in a fairly comfy room, the next day I walked around town and ended up catching the tour bus. I stopped off in Parnell Street where I had a coffee and checked out the high end stores. My fast impression of Auckland (and New Zealand) was how much colder it was then I had expected, how unpopulated it is especially compared to the places I’ve been, and how efficient and friendly most services are, including the bus drivers.

That evening I found out that the train from Auckland to the National Park was booked for the day I planned to go, so I had to stay an extra day in Auckland. Actually it worked out fine, because I needed that extra day after touring around Auckland to just have a good rest. While I was in Auckland, I was able to catch the Auckland Art Gallery’s exhibit of Degas to Dali. It was a fantastic showing of art from the National Gallery of Scotland, with some pieces from Degas, Van Goth, and Roy Lichtenstein that I’d never seen. There was one picture from a Scottish artist done in an impressionist style of his lover, who was a famous artist herself. It was so impressive, with this bold young woman arrayed in art deco, but looking so crisp and definite. It made me remember the best of myself, when I face life with no fear and complete confidence, with an absolute belief in my own abilities.  Perhaps not the best artwork, but the best picture for me.
I did as I like to do, and walked around looking for a special place to have dinner. I saw this strange little door on Victoria Street that said Tony’s Lord Nelson Restaurant. There were no ads or signs, just a plain front with a heavy wooden door. I walked into a very English, almost Elizabethan, area with dark cozy booths lining both sides and down the middle of a narrow room. There was a small pub at the back of the room, and several casually dressed waitresses scurrying around. This was a place with history, a place that Aucklander’s brought family for special occasions. There was a larger seating area up a narrow flight of stairs, and later in the evening a picture perfect family with dressed up young girls walked by me after their birthday party dinner. I was seated in a tiny booth, and served the best steak dinner I’d had since dinner in Hong Kong.

The funniest part of the evening, in a Woody Allen sad kind of way, was the young American man with his Russian companions seated across from me having a conversation that went from casual getting to know you, this is my life, who are you, which one of you  will I be able to have sex with; to oh no you are both involved with men in Russia, have no intentions of sleeping with me, and I’ve just been duped  into buying you dinner because I’m a dumb American boy looking for love in all the wrong places. I felt no guilt about eavesdropping because I forgot my book for dinner reading, and because I am a writer and the dialogue was priceless. 

“I am a holistic spinning instructor.” He says haughtily.
“Vas is dat?” She says with a confused look.
“I teach people how to work a stationary bicycle, you know, they go to a gym and ride bicycle to stay in shape.” Both girls who are in fabulous shape look at each other, puzzled by this odd example of western culture. He continues on with more information about himself. “I had some very serious problems with my health for several years, stomach problems from stress, so now I’ve gone on a healing diet and am finally feeling well enough to start dating. I’ve never really had a relationship, because I was ill for a long time. I’m better now,” he gestures with his silverware to make sure they are listening which they are, but mostly they are eating, “I feel really good, great.”
“Ya.” One girl says, with her mouth full.
“So now I am trying new things, trying to meet new people, you know, dating.”
“Would it be okay, I mean would you be comfortable, if I ask you what you do, if you have boyfriends, date in Russia?”
One girl translates the other girl’s Russian answer into very bad English, “she has boy in Russia. She works for him.”
“What work does she do?” Both girls laugh and the boy looks away, as if he’d been caught peering in their bedroom window.
Bravely he goes on, “So are you interested in dating here in Auckland?”
The girl concentrates on eating, “I go back to Russia with my friend. I go to school in Russia.  Learn English better.”
                “So you won’t be staying here in Auckland?”
                “No. We go back to Russia soon.”
                Then, sadly, the light goes on. “So I guess you’re just here for dinner.”
                Both girls concentrate on the food left on their plates, “ya.”

The boy/man’s voice changes from one of interested bubbling friendliness, that he probably read in Esquire magazine is the way to speak when taking two foreign ladies out to dinner with the implicit plan of bedding one of them, to a tone of slight bitterness a bit like the taste of lemon soda. Not as sharp as sucking lemons, but not a long way off. He is another disappointed young man. The languid pace of dinner speeds up to faster eating and less attempts at “meaningful” conversation. And finally, he becomes frustrated at the length of time it takes to get the largely pregnant waitresses attention, so he can pay the bill and end his humiliation.
I was greatly amused by these clever Russian girls making their way in the world, but I also felt such empathy for this sad young man who was also trying to make his way in his world. It was a wonderful setting and a brilliant scene piece. Another twist would be to add the character of the solitary woman traveling on her own and listening in as a silent participant to this cozy Oscar Wilde play. Not sure I’m up to it, but I’ve done my best to give you a glimpse of dinner on my own in Auckland.

I took the bus out to Sandringham for a meeting and got a sense that this was the part of Auckland not offered on the tour of the city. There were a few places like that in New Zealand, but even though my friend told me this was "a poor country", it did not seem like a place of poverty. Like everywhere in the world, there are the places where people live and the places where people want to live. I just found out that James Cameron is moving to New Zealand to film more Avatar movies, and of course he will have no problems with visas or immigration. I'm also one of the lucky ones, in that although I wouldn't be welcomed with open arms to stay indefinitely in New Zealand, I am able to move around the globe for extended stays at places most people only dream of visiting. I guess, because of my mostly substrata family origins, I've never got used to or comfortable with the idea of a privileged class, even though I'm as close to being a member of as I'm likely to get in this lifetime. Honestly, I'd rather think of myself as a nomad with benefits.

Sydney…old friends return, comedy rant, and mirror worlds.

This is my third visit to Sidney since the early ‘90’s, and where I met my long-time friend. We met up in San Diego, at the beginning of this trip, again in New York, and then in Paris. She met me at the airport in Sydney and after a four hour easy business class flight out of the vortex that was Fiji; it was so good to see a friendly face.

Read a great book by William Gibson called “Pattern Recognition” about the new world of PR and globalization. He expresses this idea that some places are like mirror worlds of other places. Like England is a mirror world of America for his character, Fiji was a mirror world of Maui for me, and Australia is another mirror world. Places that are like the place of origin, but just enough not like that place, with subtle and sometimes not so subtle differences, to make you feel like you are looking in a mirror of where you’ve been. Gibson expresses, and I agree, that it’s stranger than being in a completely foreign exotic place like India or Laos, because you are expecting difference in those places. What you don’t expect is someplace like, but not like. The mirror world throws off your balance more, in some ways, then the radically different place.
So in Sydney, I know they are speaking English but frequently cannot understand a word they’ve said, and they frequently don’t understand me. The money is like our money, but not. The rules on the road are like our rules, but not. Drivers remind me of Mr. Toad in the Wind in the Willows, and I frequently feel like Miss Mouse and want to cover my eyes. Sidney is a big city, which I was not used to before this trip and am only a bit more used to now, but the mirror world feeling gets me anyway. Home, but not home.
Here’s a quick recap of things I did in Sydney:

Went shopping in Paddington and bought a wonderful wooly silver jacket sweater at a recycle shop for $20 (AZ) which was great for the nip in the air. Then I saw this pair of boots in a shop window that sang to me. I just had to have them. Luckily, they had my size and they were wonderfully comfortable. They are black short boots with low heals. Very Kool. Of course they cost way more than I’ve spent on a pair of shoes in probably my whole life, but I bought them anyway. And the wonderful thing is, after I got back to the flat and was agonizing about how much I spent, I got an email that my condo had rented out for the most money ever the last month and the money was already in the bank. So the boots were a celebration. 

Spent a night at the Sidney Opera House for a spectacular production of Turandot. I enjoyed it much more than the opera in Paris. I love the Sidney Opera House. This is my second show there. I saw “The Mousetrap” there in a small theater in the ‘90’s. It’s just a great place to see productions, I think because there is something grand and yet homey about the interior. The opera was better for me because I could read the translation in English (instead of the French for Salome) and the opera itself was more interesting to me, being a fantastical love story instead of a story with biblical overtones.  I also thought the scenery, voices, and overall production far surpassed the production in Paris. The creative use of costumes, and overall set design was very impressive, and the oriental theme was elegantly expressed in set and choreography. Of course, I know nothing about opera, so that’s just my layman’s opinion. I used to know quite a bit about theater, having been involved in college and community theater productions years ago but like most of what I used to know, that was years ago and that’s just my two cents.  I especially loved the singer who played the slave girl. Her voice was angelic, and her performance brought me to tears. The whole theme of love expressed through sacrifice was pretty close to the bone for me, and I had a few thoughts during the performance about the pain of making the sacrifice only to lose your love in the end. It was a powerful experience for me.

Had a great bowl of Pho in a Vietnamese place, and a wonderful chat with a friend of my friend.  Talked a lot with my friend about all the advantages of living in an urban area; access to the arts, dining options, transportation, availability of extra-curricular education, and of course…shopping!

We went to a Comedy Club to see, Judith Lucy, a popular Aussie comedian. It reminded me of going to clubs in San Francisco in the late ‘60’s, early ‘70’s before I left the States for Europe. They even had a big blown up picture of Lenny Bruce on the wall or I think it was Lenny Bruce, although it could have been some Aussie performer. It’s interesting to me that, although American culture is familiar all over the world, American’s are not exposed much to culture from other countries. Of course, now with the internet we think we are so much more in touch, but even now America is filled with stuff made in America and there is very little interest or access to anything else for most people. 

Ms. Lucy had a loyal following in the audience, and had been around for over twenty years. There were some very funny bits, and she had a very professional grasp on her material. Some of her mannerisms did remind me of Edina Monsoon, the dark-haired character in Absolutely Fabulous, especially when she got worked up, shook her dark curly hair around, and her stuff got really dirty. My favorite bit was the one where she did a dialogue of two seventy year old ladies talking trivia about fixing an air freshener, and in the midst of the dialogue she does a tickticktick of their life clock ticking on while they are wasting time with this bullshit conversation, and at the end she shouts out that they should “oil themselves up, find a twenty year old, and “take it up the ass one more time” because their time, their time!! is fucking running out…or something to that affect. 

Although she was funny, she did not knock me out. To be honest, very few female comedians have recently. I find most female comedians to be too strident, too bitchy, or too pathetic. Some of them I don’t think are funny at all, like Tina Fey.  I just don’t get what’s funny about her. She reminds me of about a hundred snotty, sarcastic, bitchy office girls I’ve worked with in the years since working my way through college.
The only female comedian I’ve ever really loved to pieces was Whoopie Goldberg. She made me laugh out loud. I loved that she was insightful and critical, but not mean. I’m so over the whole bitchy thing going on in media today. Teaching people to talk bad to each other, be mean to each other, and treat each other nasty. What is the up side to that for any of us? Sometimes, because I look on the surface like a simple old lady, I get some of this attitude from random sources (who will remain anonymous); and I think to myself, if you only knew who I really am, where I have really been, and what I’ve done, you’d be a bit more careful, because I got here after a long climb up from a very deep nasty ugly hole of a place that has nothing to do with the pretend televised tough “cool” place you guys have created in your heads.  It’s all such bullshit! Wow!…not sure where that rant came from, but believe I’ll just leave it in for your enjoyment. So, back to female comedians and popular culture in general; some of it is interesting, but a lot of it sucks. This lady didn’t suck and her natural improv with the audience was wonderful, but she was not brilliantly funny for me. Could be I just haven’t got my funny back yet, so maybe it will take a few more comedy clubs for me.
So that was Sidney, mostly. It was sunny my first day, but then turned rainy with a nip in the air. My clock was still off, so I spent a few mornings just sleeping in. Again, was nice to be in a home instead of a hotel. Thank the universe for my gal friends all over the world. They have been so generous opening their homes to me, and it has been a trip saver having these breaks from life road. I could not have done this long a trip without these breaks. A special thanks to M in Holland, S in Hong Kong, L & S in Christchurch, and S in Sidney!...Love you guys. Hope I have a home for you to visit sometime in the near future. You are all most welcome when I do.

I had originally planned to go to Tasmania with my friend, mainly because Kent had always wanted to go. While I was in Fiji I decided I wasn’t ready to Tas for Kent with anyone. If I went, I’d have to go on my own, and it turned out I wasn’t ready to do that either.  I had also planned to go to New Zealand, which is someplace Kent and I had planned to visit. I wanted to check out the Barrier Reef. It turned out that was a lot to do in the four and a half weeks I had, and when I got to Sydney the weather conditions were very bad. There was major flooding throughout Australia, and the train from Brisbane to Cairns was not running. I didn’t relish snorkeling around the reef in the rain, so I made a choice to buy a rail pass and fly to New Zealand for a few weeks.

Just for fun…I wrote most of this in the train station at the National Park in New Zealand waiting for the train to Wellington while sitting in a comfy big leather chair sipping hot coffee and listening to great sounds up on the top of a sacred mountain; every writer’s dream place. Really, for all my side stuff, my life couldn’t be better. I am truly blessed to be having these experience/insights, and to possibly be making THIS my new life. I added some stuff on the train from Picton to Christchurch, on the South Island. 

Another PS: University of California at Stanford sent me an email today that my application for their Writing Fellowship was denied. I’m not sure if writing is what I should be or need to be doing, and I wish some kind of crack in the wall, light in the tunnel, or hint from the gods would let me know what direction I should go in. I ask my friend what I should do, and she said just write. Kent used to say, “writer’s write”. So until I get some direction I will just continue to write. It is the one thing I’ve done longer than anything else in my life, and it is the only thing that hasn’t disappeared in the mists of the past.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Fiji…the land of the wagging tongue.

If you look at the pictures I took of my stay in Fiji it looks like the absolute paradise, which for me it was not. The pictures are all beautiful sandy beach, golden sunsets, palm trees and blue skies. The picture memory in my mind of Fiji is grey and blurry. I’m not sure if it was the residue of a ten hour flight (in business class, mind you), or overall travel fatigue, or even full moon blues, but my stay in Fiji was not the idyllic stopover I had looked forward to and imagined.

I had another Hong Kong taxi Chinese fire drill experience getting to the airport, not being aware that the green taxis in Sai Kung do not go to Kowloon Airport tram station. My advice is, if you go to Hong Kong, stay out of their taxis. Most of the drivers do not speak English, even if they say they do; and although they may eventually get you where you are going, you will probably need medication by the time you get there. I packed up my stuff and walked down to the taxi stand near the Habitat stop in Sai Kung. It was a bit rainy and cold and I stood there trying to flag down a cab for over twenty minutes. Finally a green cab stopped, and the circus began. with the driver trying to tell me he didn’t go to Kowloon, and me insisting that he drive me to get my luggage and take me somewhere to get a cab to Kowloon. Finally, he did drive me up the hill to get my bags, and then he drove me to the local college where I had to transfer to a red cab, which eventually drove me to the Kowloon station, and where I was able to transfer to the train, which efficiently takes you directly to the airport. 

I had booked business class from Hong Kong to Sidney, with a stopover in Fiji. I was talked into the stopover by Airtreks, but I found out later that I could have flown direct Hong Kong to Sidney in nine hours instead of taking the ten hour flight to Fiji with another four hours to Sidney after the stopover.  Fiji Air Business Class was not first class; but the seat was 1C right in front with both seats to myself and the food was good. I didn’t know anything about Fiji except it was a tropical island. I found out later that it was an island in a lot of political turmoil, so I can attribute some of the negative feelings I had there to the fact that some very bad things were happening to the people who lived there.

I had been looking forward to a nice stay in a plush hotel on the beach throughout my trip. The drive in from the airport was an early morning after little sleep, admittedly, but the buildings, streets, and people all seemed covered with a film of disinterest. I got to the hotel and did not feel welcomed. I may be spoiled, but I don’t think so. I’ve stayed at all levels of accommodations and been perfectly satisfied. I do have a problem with places that advertise and charge for service they don’t provide. I don’t like to go to Starbucks and be treated badly with my $8.00 cup of coffee. I was very irritated at the service provided by the Westin Fiji, to the point where I wrote them and Starwood (as a gold member) a letter. I have yet to receive a response.  I know from working almost twenty years in hotels on Maui; once someone has a bad experience at check in, or their expectations are not met from the beginning of their stay, they notice everything possible that might be wrong or off about the rest of their stay. That’s what happened for me. I noticed there were not enough towels at the pool, it took thirty minutes to get a waiter at the lounge, the internet didn’t work in my room, the crew at breakfast gave terrible service, and no one seemed the least concerned.

I have to concede that some of this was exacerbated by the fact that I was surrounded by honeymooners and young Australian families, I had just spent time with a friend who knew my husband and I when we first were together, and it was a full moon. I missed Kent and saw him sitting across from me at dinner one night, in the restaurant on the ocean where they actually had wonderful food and service, and where he and I would have had a romantic dinner together for a special occasion. There he was, as clear as day, in his Hawaiian shirt with his khaki pants, smiling and trying to be comfortable on a date with his wife. I could see his smile and those blueblue eyes. I had to hold in the tears when the lovely Fijian lady came to take my order.

There was a great entertainer in the lounge one night. He played guitar singing blues and classic rock. The place was empty, but I went in anyway just to listen to music. Even that ended up feeling weird, because I was almost the only person in the audience, and it made me feel self-conscious about my oneness.
So, I had my own stuff going on in Fiji. The other thing that was hard for me was that it was so much like home, but I wasn’t home. It wasn’t as nice as Maui and the people weren’t the people on Maui. It seemed to make me ache in some place that actually does miss Maui. I don’t want to miss Maui because I don’t want to stay there and be surrounded by these memories. But I do miss Maui, which has been the only place in my life that I have ever really felt at home; the only place where we made a home.

I think I also had some delayed jet lag reaction because it took me until I was in New Zealand to get my sleep clock back on track. While I was in Fiji, I was up until 3am and sleeping until after 10am. I had planned to do some stuff there, but the combination of the experience wiped me out. Also the attitude of the people didn’t make me feel like doing stuff with them. I decided to conserve my energy and just hang out. Fiji was just one of those times when I, the universe, and all the planets collided in some mass explosion of messy dissatisfaction, sadness, jet lag, and possible reactions to events I knew nothing about at the time. But I did get some great pictures, doncha know.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hong Kong… It is all about the money, money, money, ka-ching…ka-ching.

The weather has been ghastly, foggy and cold with light rain. Generally what I think of as England weather where an umbrella is a must. I’m staying in a beautiful expat district called Sai Kung which is filled with lush greenery, and right above a picturesque little boat harbor. With the fog over the mountains it looks exactly like the covers of the Pearl Buck novels I read when I was a teen, misty Chinese mountains painted over harbors filled with tiny fishing boats. It’s an exotic pretty little place. The town nearby is about an hour on local transport (bus to subway and two changes to Central Hong Kong) to town. 

I got picked up at 2am at the hotel in Pattaya, then a long drive to Bangkok airport, with a bit of a sleep on a hard wooden bench in the airport and a nice chat with a lady who was sleeping next to me. She was on her way to Phuket to spend her 50th with her daughter.  For the entire PR as a tourist friendly place, Bangkok has the worst airport facilities for real travelers; not enough seats anywhere, no wash up facilities, no free Internet in the lobbies, and the airport staff are not helpful. The AirAsia flight was easy to board and right on time so I arrived at Hong Kong Airport, which might be the most efficient airport in the world, and rolled my bags right onto the metro line into Kowloon Station, right next to a taxi station. 

That’s when the Chinese circus began. The taxi stand lady could not find a taxi that spoke English or understood where I was going. Then the driver I got said he spoke English, but when we got halfway through town I realized it was a different English from what I thought of as English. He was on the phone with his office about the location, and then I was on the phone with some lady who also spoke this not-English. Mind you, I had now been up all night and even though I’d had an easy trip and it’s only an hour time difference between Bangkok and Hong Kong, I was not in a state to be the best representative of my culture. I was tired, hungry, and lost in China. By this time we had driven out of Hong Kong into the hills, and the phone lady got another lady, and I had my computer on with my printed Google instructions and by some miracle of repeating the names of roads over and over, we managed to find one road and the driver was able to Google another road, and tata! We made it to my friend’s house. I felt like an acrobat in Cirque du Soleil.

I’m having a lovely visit. I’ve gone into Hong Kong several times. The first day I went in late and road the hop on hop off bus. It was so foggy and grey I didn’t ride on the harbor or take the sky train, hoping it would clear up later in the week. I do love Hong Kong. It has a very different energy from other cities that are all about commerce. It’s fast, but not frantic. Everything is very calm and measured and clearly done, like old money. Money that knows it will always be there, and there is no reason to panic. There is no sense of rushing or pushing, and everyone is very polite. It is also the most orderly city I’ve been to, and there are these incredible walkways above the streets that lead from building to building like catacombs in a bee hive as you wind you way from one hub to another. I think it would drive me mad if I lived here, but it’s fascinating. You can buy an Octopus card at the airport terminal that you can use for travel on trains and buses, and also can swipe at most stores and restaurants to pay.  The mix of cultures is strange with Chinese writing next to Starbucks and KFC. I went to a Chinese fast food place to have rice and fried pork, and it was this massively structured production line that put McD’s to shame. One lady took my money, one man set up the tray, one lady put on the rice, one man put on the pork, and you’re off. There are, I found, at least three people to do a job one person would do anywhere else. 

In Hong Kong, you cannot live here unless you are sponsored and that means you were hired by a big company for a specific expertise. Then you’re in like Flynn because, depending on your contract, they provide housing, car, and many additional perks. Needless to say, there are a ton of ex-pats here working just for the money, big money, and that’s pretty much all most people do here is work. There are also a lot of Thais, Koreans, and Filipino who are here to work for the workers. If you are young, or have worked your way up the ladder a bit, and are looking for a great opportunity to make money I’d say Hong Kong is the place you want to shoot for. I’m not sure how the job market is here right now, because it seems pretty saturated, but it would be worth checking out.

I did spend a night in SoHo eating the best steak ever at a very hip place called Wagyu Lounge. It’s a busy, boozy restaurant filled with crowds of people spilling out onto the sidewalk and a very high noise level. The streets in SoHo are filled with bars and crowds of people on the street doing what they do after working 10-12 hours days, and it’s a lively scene. There are a lot of men, mostly men, dressed in suits, with a spattering of business women. As in Thailand, most of the men here are only interested in young Asian women, so if you’re a young women looking to find a mate, this is not the place. Everyone dresses to the nines or twenty really, and showing your wealth by brand name is definitely the thing here.  Once again, I loved the energy and just all out fun of the place. To be honest, the sight of such over the top prosperity after months in Asia was a welcomed change. Putting aside all the political dancing about the state of world affairs and distribution of wealth issues, prosperity is not a bad place to live.

Spent a fantastic weekend going all over Repulse Bay, Discovery Bay, Stanley, and Sai Kung town.  Parts of Stanley reminded me a bit of Whaler’s Village near Kaanapali Beach, mainly because of the style of shops and restaurants. Loved the young, very British, couple maybe in love sitting next to us in the bakery shop, and we got to take pictures of a pink Morris Mini Cooper with the bride delicious in pink organza. She was almost in tears because the weather was foul and foggy; not good for her pictures. Her whole wedding party was dressed all in pink and black with edgy haircuts, balloons, and fluffy stuffed animals, very Anime. It was so Hong Kong. 

Spent most of a very very cold today cuddled up until noon, on Skype with family and friends. Took a short trip into Sai Kung for shopping, and don’t have any major plans for the rest of my stay. In Sai Kung I went back to the furniture and lacquer box shop which we went to on Sunday. This shop is filled with beautiful Chinese furniture with all those magic drawers and compartments, wizard furniture, and they are right there refurbishing old pieces in the middle of the store. It is packed with chests, stools, huge round containers, and a huge collection of lacquer boxes. Square, round, donut holed, big and small, some filled with ancient compasses, some filled with real abacuses, and some old Mahjong sets. I bought one for a friend. It was another easy day, just hanging out and visiting, seeing how the locals live, which is my favorite thing to do. Had a great dinner and watched the Oscars, which I thought I’d missed.

Unfortunately, woke up late and planned to go into town when I discovered that I had lost my camera yesterday. The one I just bought! And with all my Hong Kong pictures. Rode the bus back into Sai Kung and traced my footsteps to the fruit stand where I remembered taking pictures, the Watson’s Drug Store, the pizza place, the SuperFood store, and the furniture shop. No luck. Left phone number, and decided it was really sad but it wasn’t the worst thing in the world, so I wouldn’t let it ruin my day. It’s a lost $300.00, but on a nine month trip if that’s the worst I lost, it’s not bad. At least that’s what I’m telling myself, but I’m really sad about losing the pictures I’ve taken the last week.

I decided to just go on with the day I planned anyway, so I rode the bus/tram into town and took the Peak Tram. Let me just say, that is the scariest tram ride I’ve ever been on and when I looked at the two very small cables that were actually pulling the car up the hill, I was amazed. You are in what seems to be a very Victorian tram going up this hill at a sheer 90 degree angle straight up, high over Hong Kong harbor. It’s very foggy and cold up here at the peak, but it cleared a little on the way up and I did get to see immense view of Hong Kong harbor. It is such a distinctive view with all the tall angular buildings hovering over the harbor,  like drooling monster transformers waiting to eat up the harbor, and all the boats are little sushi snacks floating, clueless, on the water. 

Unfortunately, no pictures, but it was a great experience and I’m glad I came. It did make me aware of how much we miss taking pictures of stuff instead of just experiencing what we are seeing ourselves. I bought some magnet pictures of Hong Kong just in case my camera doesn’t show up. 

There is such a relentless energy to Hong Kong. I doubt I’d last long here, although there’s a part of me that loves that gogogo, especially after twenty years of laid back in Hawaii. But there’s also a big part of me that just wants to go somewhere woodsy and filled with nature and kick out the rest of my days writing, reading, watching movies, eating, and surrounded by people I really like and love. Of course, that’s after I feed the travel bug until she’s satiated and completely done with roaming.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pattaya, plah!

It was really hard for me to leave my little cottage in Karon Beach, and I would not have picked my stay in Pattaya to be my last stop in Thailand, but that’s how it worked out. I went there for a special event, and luckily it was only for a few days. The upside was I got to see a lot of old friends who came from Maui and all over; and I got to meet some new friends. The downside was the hotel. I can only quote the wife of W.C. Fields when they pull up to the orange grove he acquired in a drunken poker game, after a long dusty trip across the U.S. trip in an old jalopy. She puts her hands on her hips, gives him the you drunken fool look, and says, “it’s a dump!”  My husband loved W.C. and, whenever I complained about our house, he would put his hands on his hips and mimic that scene. It always made me laugh. Anyway, that’s what most of us were saying about the hotel, although everyone said I got the best room. I could have moved, but I was sick one day and only there for a few days. Plus, I’m pretty jaded now and a few nights in a bad hotel with hot water and a bathtub is not a big deal.

I was on the 16th floor, and the first night I heard a horrible cat in the wall howling. I was by myself, and I swear I thought I had been transported into an Edgar Allen Poe story. It was the freakiest sound I’ve ever heard. I sat up in the bed while this cat moaned and howled behind with the sound echoing throughout the room and me trying to figure out where the sound was coming from. I went out on the balcony, sixteen floors up, looking for a stray cat. I went out in the hallway looking for someone to tell me if I had gone mad. I called the front desk several times, but no one understood me because they barely spoke English. Over the next few days the cat howled every night. I finally had one friend who verified that he heard it too, or I really would have been worried about sanity. I never did find out where or what it was. Once night, I didn’t hear anything and it was even creepier because I thought maybe it died in the wall and it would haunt me forever. The cat in the wall hotel was my impression of all of Pattaya. It was just another big, grimy city howling from the minds of all those men looking for sex. It didn’t help that the weather was completely overcast, and I got violently sick for about 24 hours. I only saw the beachfront the last night I was there when I went to dinner with friends. As I’ve said before, travel experience is completely personal, and one man or woman’s paradise can be another’s home across the road or hell across the road.

The only upside, besides seeing friends, was the walk down the street in front of our hotel which was filled with interesting shops and a great soup lady. There was a guitar shop, a Harley Davidson bike place with tons of old bike parts, and a great Chinese goods store where the lady sold everything from headache powder to beautiful leather bags. I also had a fun ride on the back of a scooter taxi to and from our last dinner together. I can’t believe how brave I am to ride around on the back of scooters in the middle of Asia traffic with some crazy young driver who doesn’t speak a word of English. Well, crazy or brave, take your pick. I also had some great visits with friends, and a funny weird goodbye dinner. 

Seeing long-time friends from Maui really reminded me of all my history in Hawaii, and it was the first time I felt homesick. I think home is not about where your house is, but where your friends are. I have friends on Maui and in Hawaii that have known me for over twenty years. And as much as I love my family, they just don’t know me or appreciate me in the same way my friends do. My family and I have spent a lot of time of apart, and although they know some of my life story, they have different versions and opinions. My friends are (mostly) people who I have similar experiences with, who not only know my story, but understand it. I love spending time with my family, but when I’m with them I’m mostly just this old (hippie) who can’t play Wii right, doesn’t know how to shop or fix herself up, and makes the wrong moves in backgammon. My friends, at least some of them, know what incredible things I’ve done and how much I have to share. They appreciate the miracle I am. And, with my friends I can really be myself, whoever that is in the moment. Nothing beats that. That is home, wherever you are. 

I had some moments, sick in the hotel, where I was thinking about ending my trip in Fiji. I told myself I could do New Zealand some other time. Then, once I felt better, I checked my flights and realized I only have another month or so and I’ll be home. I hate to crap out that close to the finish line, really! There were also some issues about what I wanted to do in Australia. My friend from Sydney and I had planned to go to Tasmania for a week, but I decided I really wanted to see the Barrier Reef this trip instead. I’d like to go to an exclusive resort or a cruise, but it would be cheaper just to go to Cairns or Brisbane. I’m checking it all out. Then I’ll spend a few weeks in New Zealand, see Hobbitland, and ride around looking at potential places to stay long term in the future.  I’ll spend the last week in Sydney, and then head home early April right on schedule. That’s the plan for now.

So it was goodbye, Thailand and hello Hong Kong, coming down the last stretch of the tour. It’s so hard to believe that all this time and all these places have passed by so quickly. In the beginning it seemed like such an enormous block of time and locations, and now it seems like I could go another year or two to fit in all the places I could have gone. It is a big wide world, and there is so much to see and do. As long as I am fit, I can’t see any reason to stay in one place for very long, except to spend time with friends and family. Home can be anywhere my heart is for a while.