9/14/09, Prague. Touring the castle, checking out the clubs.

Posted in Travel, Trip to Europe-Sept.2009 on September 14th, 2009 by josh
Cathedral

St Vitus Cathedral

After a great breakfast, we walked across the Charles Bridge, taking pictures of statues and the Vltava river.
We made our way to Prague Castle, stopping to have apple streudle at the top of the hill while looking down onto Prague.
Then, we walked to the St Vitus Cathedral, went inside and documented the entire beautiful place by taking a million photos.
We then mailed postcards at the post office right outside the cathedral.

On our way down from the castle, I just missed the changing of the guards because I had to use the restroom, but Bruce and Rob saw it. I saw the replacement guards walking down the street and the relieved guards marching back up. They had a cool march. One arm held their gun while the other swung at the elbow with their walk and in unison with each-other.

I bought a hoodie at H&M to keep me warm because whatever sickness I had was making me extra cold and we found a place to eat.
After eating, we walked around in search of a club we could come back to later in the evening after changing. We met some girls from Norway and searched for a club together, eventually finding an cool club in an old cellar underground. I suggested we all rush back to the apartment to change and drop off our stuff. We did that and rushed back. When we got there, it was almost all guys and our new friends from Norway were gone.
We left in search of something else. Eventually, we found a club right next to the Charles Bridge. It was full of kids, but we stayed for about 30 minutes. The club itself was impressive. There was an old well (it was fenced off, so no one drunkenly falls in) and multiple floors. One floor had a light-up dance floor which hurt to look at. One thing I really liked was a wall of fog with images from a projector displayed onto it.
On the bottom floor, we walked into a tiny room just off the dance floor and this big guy came in after us. It felt like he took all the space with his size. He asked Bruce if he was Czech. Bruce said no and the guy forcefully told him to sit down in on a chair in the room. Bruce said no and the guy stormed into the room as we stormed out. We heard glass breaking and a chair or table getting knocked over. The guy was pissed for some reason, but we were far out of that room and didn’t see him again.
30 minutes was about 20 minutes too much, so we walked the 50 feet or so to our apartment to sleep.

9/13/09, Leaving Berlin for Prague

Posted in Travel, Trip to Europe-Sept.2009 on September 13th, 2009 by josh

10:00, 3 hours later. We woke and went downstairs. I had some bad hostel food while Rob did some email or other things on his computer using the wireless provided in the lobby (wireless access is really hard to find in Europe…what’s up with that?).

I could feel a cold coming on. I was losing my voice and feelin hot and cold. That mixed with only a few hours of sleep had me feeling fairly awful. I figured a 5 hour train ride and some rest would do me some good. Our train to prague was at 12:00 or so.
Bruce’s bike lock key was lost at some point in the night and we weren’t sure what to do. We only had about an hour to drop off our bikes and head to the train station. I was thinking, “I bet we could pick that lock”, but Bruce was apparantly thinking a little more realistically. Before I knew it, he had borrowed bolt cutters from the hostel and cut the thing loose. We then rushed to drop off the bikes. Right as we dropped them off, it was beginning to sprinkle.
We caught a local train to the main train station and then got on our train to Prague.

Dresden Train Station

Dresden Train Station

On the train, we slept a little, but mainly enjoyed the beautiful scenery. We passed through Dresden and took a lot of photos. It was so beautiful. I’d really like to explore it on my next visit.

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but I LOVE trains. I built a trainset once and plan to build one again. I watch them go by in awe like a little kid and have always wanted to ride a proper train. Amtrak doesn’t count. It’s a train, but there’s not much romance in an Amtrak train.

In the dining car

In the dining car

This train had a dining car (actually, almost all of the trains have them). I was thrilled to be able to have a meal in the dining car. I ordered an omelette and a cappuccino. They were served on/in proper dinnerware and tasted wonderful. Rob and I sat there watching the world pass by while eating great food. Amazing.

Upon our arrival in Prague, we walked forever trying to locate the hostel. I really had to pee and was feeling sick, but didn’t want to stop walking. I wanted to just get to the hostel, then I would use the restroom and try to stabilize my cold. However, I eventually gave in and asked some workers in a cafe if I could use their restroom. Thankfully they didn’t mind. With that out of the way, I could handle just feeling sick and was able to keep on walking.
Eventually, we found our hostel. It turned out to be a full-sized penthouse apartment in a beatiful area.

Prague castle at night.

Prague castle at night.

After a little rest, we went out to explore. Prague was beautiful, especially as night fell. We visited the Astronomical clock, looked at the lit up cathedral off in the distance and walked along the cobblestone streets admiring all the beautiful buildings and statues.

9/12/09, Berlin. Move to new hostel and our visit to club, Berghain.

Posted in Travel, Trip to Europe-Sept.2009 on September 12th, 2009 by josh

Had a quick breakfast at the bakery across the street from our hostel before checking out.
Once we were out, we got on our bikes and rode to the place we rented them. We wanted to keep them for another day, but they were closed on Sunday so we dropped them off and got directions to another rental place that would allow us to drop them off on Sunday.

It took a while to find the bike rental place, but we persisted.
Bruce thought it was a bad idea to rent bikes again on this particular day. It turns out he was right, but by the time we started to listen to him, we were already in the thick of it.
We’d been waiting about an hour for the bike place to get it together and put us on the bikes. The workers were incredibly slow and disorganized. We should have just left, but had already filled out our paperwork and paid. It would have taken just as long to cancel everything and we would have had nothing to show for it.
Bruce was feeling pretty shitty because of his feet and hips, but he was trying to be quiet about it. When he mentioned that we shouldn’t be renting bikes, we all got a little pissy with each-other. What we needed was a bathroom and some food. Eventually, we had our bikes and started riding. We went back to the Beer tent in Alexander Platz for a second time and our moods began to lighten up.

An hour later, we rode about 3 miles to Generator hostel. It was exactly like I pictured a hostel – Steel bunk-beds, lockers and a community bathroom. The room was all ours, which was nice. We went down to the courtyard in back for a beer. The place was full of people much younger than us, but that’s the way I’m sure it usually is for three guys in their early thirties at a youth hostel.

After our beer, we got a little dressed up and took the train to try to find the red light district so we could what one looked like. All we found was some lame strip clubs. Instead of contiuing down that road, we settled down at a restaurant for dinner.

Berghain:

After eating, we caught a cab to go to club called Berghain. It’s supposedly the worlds #1 club and the hardest to get into. The ride felt like 30 minutes, but was probably only 10. I fell asleep and woke up when we arrived at Berghain.
The entryway was strange. It was a long dirt road in between two chain-link fences. We walked down the road until we came to a group of people. The line typically stretches all the way down that dirt road long into the morning.
The club doesn’t really get started going until 06:00 and the first major DJ isn’t usually even on until 03:00.

As the line moved us towards the door guys, we were watching about half of the people get turned away. It was like a slow water hose hitting a wall. Some of it gets in, but most of bounces off.
Bruce’s DJ friend Sharooz told him that we should say as little as possible. Other people we met in Germany said that three American guys wouldn’t stand much of a chance at getting in. We did our best to not care if we made it. I know we cared a little, but we were acting as if we wouldn’t and were prepared to go elsewhere.
When it came time for us to be judged, they asked some questions in german. I remember saying, “Yah” a few times without knowing what they were asking. I also kind of understood when the guy asked how many of us. I fortunately remembered how to say the number 3 (“d’re”) and held up my fingers in the correct way (thumb is one, index is two, middle is three. In America, index is one, middle is two, ring is three). They let us pass and we went to pay. It was a reasonable price considering that selection process.

The place was amazing. It’s an old power plant that’s been turned into a club. Bruce said he was told that no club will compare once you’ve been, and now I know that’s correct.
One person I spoke with during the night told me that the building was only temporary. When the wall came down, all the structures around those areas no longer had owners so the city took them. People were able to ask if they could borrow those buildings for various purposes. Eventually, the city finds an actual buyer and the building gets scrapped or changed. The club we were in is one of those buildings. Eventually, someone may buy it and the club or even the building could dissapear.
Note: After reading more about the clubs location, I learned that this might not be the case. It’s still a cool story though.

The club was just starting to fill up upon our arrival. We went upstairs into the big room. The sound system was one of the best I’ve heard in a club. Most of our time was spent in a smaller room (called ‘The Panorama Bar’). Eventually, a DJ from SF played a great set. We drank a lot, talked to many people and danced until 06:30. A cab took us back to the hostel just in time to see the sky brighten up through the fog (or maybe it’s smog…I don’t recall an ocean or large body of water being in the middle of Germany) and get a few hours of sleep.
As soon as I got to the hostel, I re-packed my bag so I wouldn’t have to do it after my “nap”.

9/11/09, Berlin. Bike rentals, berlin wall, riding bikes all night.

Posted in Travel, Trip to Europe-Sept.2009 on September 11th, 2009 by josh

Bruces feet hurt pretty bad and I’d been talking about how we should rent bikes. I was planning on riding bikes almost my entire trip and was eager to begin.
We rented bikes for 10 Euros each and started cruising about town. The sidewalks had special areas just for bikes. If you were a pedestrian and in that lane, you’re going to get a bell run behind you and you need to get out of the way. I love it. Cars, bikes and pedestrians all have a place to be. Back home in San Francisco (and in all of America), it sucks because bikes are loved (in some places), but there’s rarely a place for them on the road or sidewalk.

victorycolumn

The Victory Column

Riding around, we did the following things:
We went to a high-end shopping area, had food and looked at stuff in stores.
Rode through Tier Garden park. It was lovely. Afterwards, we talked about how none of us had a thought in our mind as we cruised through the park.
Saw the Victory Column. There are bullet holes in the marble.

Berlin wall and passport stamps

Berlin wall and passport stamps

We saw the Berlin wall memorial where several sections of the wall are standing for tourists to touch and take a picture with.

Rob and I got stamps on our passports at Checkpoint Charlie. The stamps are all the stamps you needed to pass through the wall if you could pass through it. The date on the stamps was the current date. I would have preferred it to be back dated, but it does say, ‘sept 11’. That’s kind of interesting.
Continuing on, we rode all over and into the night, taking pictures and occasionaly stopping to see things or to get food or drinks.

bombedchurch

Kaiser Willhelm Church

Once it was dark, we visited the Kaiser Willhelm church memorial. It was damaged in a bombing raid in 1943.
For dinner, we went to a place near the church called ‘the Berliner Bier Salon’. I had goulash.

We had been planning on going out to a club, but decided to just ride our bikes in the vague direction of our hostel and see whatever we could see.
Once back at the hostel, Bruce wanted to get a good nights sleep to let his feet and hips heal. Rob and I rode to a cool neighborhood and had beer at a tiki bar.
The bartender re-afirmed that everything is spread out. There isn’t one neighborhood where you can find everything.

9/10/09, Berlin. Sausages, beer, lots of walking.

Posted in Travel, Trip to Europe-Sept.2009 on September 10th, 2009 by josh

9/10/09 Berlin. Sausages, beer, lots of walking.

Alexander Platz

Alexander Platz

Woke up around 10:00 and went for coffee across the street at a little bakery. My pastry was so delicious I had to try another pastry after. Also, the ladies who worked there were very nice.
We took the subway to Alexander Platz (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexanderplatz) since it was our primary point of reference at this point. Rob and I spent some time looking at the Berlin wall commemorative area while Bruce went looking for an affordable/nice camera in the nearby stores.
He was still unable to find one, so we decided to visit the beer tent we saw the night before. We walked to the door, unsure what to do when a very nice waiter came to say “hallo” to us. We asked him if we should sit down or wait. He said, “Well, you can sit wherever you like, or you can come with me and I’ll be your waiter!”. He was so friendly we went with him.
He sat us down and asked if wanted beer. We said yes and he took off. About 30 seconds later, he appeared with 3 1 Ltr beers in his hand. The tent was wunderbar (amazing), with bright yellow, green and red colors. A german band was playing traditional instruments such as accordians, long pipe things and cowbells while a hearty gentleman sang german songs. Everyone was in Liederhosen.
We each ordered the sausage plate with Saeurkraut and potatoes and it was so perfect. I’d never had sauerkraut that wasn’t out of a can before.
Bruce and Rob finished their first beer before I was even half finished with mine and ordered more. When I finished mine, they were half done with the second beers. The waiter asked if I wanted another one and I said I was pretty full, but the guys decided I needed to keep up. The waiter brought me another beer and I began the difficult task of finishing it (as far as problems go, it’s not a bad one to have…)

beertentfood

Delicious

After a good 2 hours at this place, Rob and I ran back to the hostel so he could get his passport. I’d told him that you can get your passport stamped at the Berlin Wall memorial with all the stamps you would have needed when passing through the Berlin wall (if you were someone who could pass, that is). I planned on doing it and already had my passport on me.
Bruce remained to continue camera shopping and to purchase some of the leiderhosen shorts the waiters were wearing.

We met Bruce and hour later back in the Platz and started walking towards West Berlin.
We came to the Brandenburg gate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandenburg_Gate) and took a lot of pictures. After passing through, we walked all over the place, noticing the difference between the east and west sides.
We were unable to find the Berlin wall remnants or the place where our passport could get stamped, but we did find the Holocaust museum.

Above the Holocaust Museum

Above the Holocaust Museum

It’s underground, beneath an installation of stone blocks of different sizes which take up about 1 city block. You can walk in between the blocks until some of them rise high above you. My interpretation of this installation is that the stones are to represent all the people killed in the holocost. It was very sobering.
When we went into the museum, it became even more depressing. We read postcards that were thrown from trains as Jews were taken away, letters to family members and other documents. We learned about how some people were wiped out and what some conditions were like. It was a difficult but important thing to see.

Afterwards,  we went to a restaurant and had a drink while sitting outside. I asked some girls where we could find some local bars or a part of town where clubs might be. They recommended down the street from our location, but also said that there isn’t actually just one neighborhood where you can find all that. Everything is spread out.

We ended up walking in the direction the girls suggested and sat down outside a bar to rest. The bartender came out and asked if we’d like to come inside. She was really awesome – kind of sarcastic with a witty sense of humor. She told us all these places we could go for fun clubs or whatever. We had several beers and then she told us last minute of another club we might enjoy.
We made our way to the subway and got all kinds of lost. Eventually, we figured it out, got beers and continued riding the subway for about 30 minutes. It was packed full of people who had just watched their team win at football or soccer or whatever sport it is that they freak out over in Germany (I don’t care about sports). They were rowdy, but it was fine. We were rowdy too.

Eventually, we got off and walked in the direction the bartender recommended, using landmarks she had mentioned as clues that we were headed in the right direction.
We found what we thought was the place, but were wrong. It was a mostly empty bar. We had a beer while discussing what to do. Bruce and I took went to the bathroom (not together….sheesh..).

—————–
Side note:

The bathroom visit needs a little write-up. It’s kind of gross to think about, but I have to write this down. If you’re not into it, skip this part and move on:
So, most of the toilets were normal according to American standards, but a few toilets had the water area in the opposite location. That is, the pool of water was in a smallish hole in the front of the toilet instead of in the back.
Before I go into the parts of this that bothered us, I should mention there are some good things about this kind of toilet.
1: It used way less water than American toilets.
2: You can’t hear what’s happening (no splashing).
3: The poor mans bidet effect doesn’t happen (A bidet is the toilet device that shoots water up at you to clean you after you’re done. A poor mans bidet is when your own use of the toilet forces the water to splash up and get you).

So… The parts of the toilet that grossed us out: When you take a shit, it just sits there, on the porcelyn. It’s like it’s sunning itself (or maybe mooning is more appropriate) on the beach by the water. When you’re ready, you “bring the rain” and it jumps into the water for a swim.

Another take on it was provided by Bruce. He pretended to be the poop as he said in a strange voice with a slight accent, “Hello! I’m your poop! I’m just going to hang out here and you can decide if you want to keep me or let me go! Thanks!”.

End of side note.
—————–

partyinberlinOnce we left, we could hear some electro music slightly off in the distance. Some other people were wandering around and asked us where the music was coming from. All of us ended up searching around the area until finally locating the place just behind the bar in what seemed like a tiki/beach themed backyard of someones house.
Once we got in, it was a lot of fun. We danced and drank more. Most of our time was spent in a packed bamboo hut where the main DJ was spinning.
At some point, we were all done and decided to make our way back to the hostel. We learned that we were only one stop away on the subway (and could have even walked it). It took us about 40 minutes to get to this place, but it was right near where we were staying. That felt like magic.

9/8/09-9/9/09, SF to Frankfurt

Posted in Travel, Trip to Europe-Sept.2009 on September 8th, 2009 by josh

Woke at 05:30. Had to catch 06:30 BART. By the time I was ready to go, I was almost going to be late. I could have caught a little bit later train, but wanted to catch the 06:30 train to avoid rushing once at the airport.
To make the train, I ran wearing my full backpack for about 4 blocks. I wasn’t sure how it would feel since it’s new, but it fit comfortably and didn’t slow me down. However, running after waking up from a restless 4 hours of sleep was not too much fun.

SFO to Montreal flight: 6 hours.
Air Canada is very nice. The plane had power plugs and an in-seat TV with multiple selections. My TV didn’t work, but I was busy listening to music, playing video games on my PSP or reading my book.
Steve Wozniak (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Wozniak) was on my flight. He and Steve Jobs created Apple computer in the 70’s. He’s a geek rockstar who I’m excited about. I didn’t say anything to him, but wish I had. I had a thought though: If the plane crashed, he’d be the only one the news would talk about. At this point in my life, I don’t think the news would really mention me anyway, but with him on the plane, that would most certainly be the case.

Waiting in Montreal

Waiting in Montreal

Montreal, Canada:
A 3 hour wait in Montreal airport. Ate a quesadilla and drank a beer to prepare for the large amounts of beer I’d be drinking the rest of the trip. The beer was served in a glass that could hold 3 normal beers. It cost me $10 canadian (same as $10 US), but I didn’t know that before ordering. Whatever, it was delicious and worth it.
After the meal, I turned $100 (US) into somewhere around 70 Euro at an exchange counter. Ouch.

Flight, Montreal to Frankfurt – 6.5 hours:
The plane was really nice. It was a 777. I had a seat in the exit row, but no window. At least I could stretch my legs out all the way. Drinks were free and the food was really good.
I tried to sleep, but it was never for more than 15 minutes at a time. The night lasted only a few hours.

08:30, Arrival in Frankfurt:
It was much easier than I thought to get out of the airport and into the subway. Same goes for getting a ticket and heading to the main train station. What I didn’t know was that I could have caught my high speed train to Berlin right there at the airport instead of taking a local train to the main Frankfurt high speed train station. Oh well…

Frankfurt main trainstation to the Berlin main trainstaion, via ICE (ICE is one of the kinds of high speed trains in Europe):
Riding ICE was wonderful. The seats are comfortable, the train is modern and the ride is nice. All the announcements are first in German, then French and finally in English. It turns out that I remember more French then I thought. I also understood some rudimentary German because I studied it a bit for the month leading up to my trip.
By this point, I had been up 20 hours. It would be 30 or more hours before I actually got to lay in a bed and close my eyes. I’d also eaten too much crap by this point. I really wanted to shave and exercise, but that wasn’t going to happen.

I wrote this down in my journal (it’s actually the only thing I wrote the whole trip):
“A lady on the train keeps playing a cell phone game with the sound on…You can travel all around the world and people are the same kind of annoying.”

I picked up my stuff and moved to a quieter car.

15:00, Arrival in Berlin.

Towards the end of my 4 or 5 hour train ride, I was growing tired of travelling. I really wanted to just get off the train. We came into Berlin and the buildings and scenery were great to watch. The main train station was nice.
I sort of knew how to get to the hostel, but didn’t know what local train to take, so I asked a train attendant and headed to the train. After two transfers, I was on the street and walking in the direction of the hostel where I was to meet Bruce and Rob.
I asked one guy how to get to the street on the map stored on my iphone and he pointed me a few blocks further. Once I got closer, I still wasn’t able to find it so I just kind of ‘honed’ in on it using my internal compass. I circled and felt out the area until I finally found the exact place to be. The only thing that made it difficult is that the hostel is called ‘AS Apartments‘, not ‘AS Hostels‘, as I had thought. I saw the sign for AS Apartments, but there was no front desk or anything. It was just an apartment building. I figured there must be a hostel owned by the same people somewhere on the block. After looking for it for 20 minutes or so and turning on my data plan on my iphone so I could see what their website said (turning that on while travelling internationally is really expensive), I got a txt from Bruce.
He and Rob were back where I got off the subway eating brotwurst and drinking beer. I walked back until I found them. It felt good to see them and know that my long day of travelling and looking for where to go next was done. I could finally relax.
I ordered a kurryworst (curry sausage) along with a berliner beer and sat down with them. We talked about how we’re not going home while watching cute girls walk by.
After that, we went to the hostel. It turns out the apartments are the hostels. I dropped off my bag and we collected ourselves.

As the day wound down, we took the subway to Alexander Platz (Civic center type area) and walked around. We saw a giant beer tent set up and asked if we could go in. It was opening night and closed for a private event, but were told it was open to the public the next day. We went with Bruce into some of the stores because he wanted to buy a camera. All the cameras were overpriced, so he decided to try again the next day.
Eventually, we headed back to our room to get a good nights sleep so we’d be fresh for the next day.

At the parents

Posted in General, Travel on November 17th, 2007 by josh

I’m visiting the parents for the weekend. We had to do a small loan for my car and my brothers birthday party is tomorrow.
Tonight, after doing the loan and adding another monthly thing I have to pay (thanks, hit and run asswipe!), we went to sizzler. I was the skinniest person there I think, except for little kids. Everything was greasy and fried. I ate some salad and vegetable soup that smelled like vitamins. I used to like sizzler (when I was 15).
I spent the long drive in slow traffic listening to Joy Division, Depeche Mode, Modeselector and NPR Science Fridays (the podcast).
I just updated lustyladysf.com with info for the holiday party and don’t want to do any more work tonight or maybe even the whole weekend.

Now I’m in the guest room watching tv. I’m waiting for Slash from GnR to come on the David Letterman show because I’m curious. I’ve never seen him speak and I want to know what kind of mannerisms he has. He’s always just been this thing with hair and a stupid hat. It’s like he never grew out of his high school fashion phase.

Clara is starting 60 mg of prednizone today. Her doctor said there is definitely something wrong. We’re both worried about where this is leading. She told me her face will swell and she may go a bit crazy. I’ve taken prednizone, but never for longer than a week and only 10 mg a pill. It did make me pretty crazy. I was also super motivated and argued with people a lot. I can handle whatever she throws (literally?) at me. I’m just going to be nice and understanding while she goes through this sucky experience. She’s told me that it’s common for people with Chrones disease to have multiple surgeries throughout their life. She had one at 18 and might need another one, but the first step is the prednizone.
Some cool things though: the prednizone should make it possible for her to eat normal meals and normal portions. She may feel better inside than she has for a little while.
Whatever happens, I’m scared and so is she. I’ll be there for support all the way through it.

I’ve downloaded the office and am drinking wine. Usually when I’m visiting parents, I stay up until 3 am maximizing my relaxation. I don’t really want to do that tonight.

Hong Kong, 10/8/07

Posted in General, Travel on November 13th, 2007 by josh

Rob left very early because he was on a separate flight.
Sam and Bruce went to Sams work and Bobby and I caught the train to the airport. We wanted to just get there and be done with having to deal with travel. Eventually, we all met up at the airport and continued waiting. I bought 2 gatorades because I wanted to stay hydrated during the flight. After I had given my ticket to the person at the gate and walked down the hallway towards the plane, a bunch of guards were waiting. They told me I couldn’t bring any drinks onto the plane and they checked my bag for whatever they check it for. I drank one of the drinks right there and left the other.
The plane ride was long, but not as long as the ride to Hong Kong. On this ride, I paid to have economy plus. It’s almost bearable to sit for more than 10 hours on an airplane in economy plus. Economy is impossible. I remember going to England when I was 16 in economy and it was complete hell. The $100 upgrade was worth every bit.
When I got to SF, I sat down outside waiting for Clara to pick me up. It was beautiful, sunny and empty. I had forgotten what it was like to not be surrounded by people at all times.

Hong Kong, 10/7/07

Posted in General, Travel on November 13th, 2007 by josh

Today, Rob and I went off on our own. Bobby, Sam and Bruce all hung out together. I ran into Rob at one point. It’s a small world after all, I guess.
I bought an antique pocket watch and some gifts for people.
I walked around and took the subway all over.
Rob took the ferry across the harbour. Everyone else went to some markets.
We finished the night by going to Mens market. It was mostly the same stuff as the other places, but there were a few more gadgets and less handbags.
I managed to find the Vivian Westwood ring that both Bruce and I wanted. At the actual store, it was $350. In the market, it was $30.

Hong Kong, 10/6/07

Posted in General, Travel on November 13th, 2007 by josh

We got a late start today because last night, we decided to drink our mega large Asahi’s. They were so big that after drinking for about 4 hours while playing liers dice, they were still more than half full. Somehow, Rob managed to drink all of his. Everyone else got a lot more drunk than me because I needed to have a small nap and some alone time. They had gone to a few bars before coming back with the dice.

Today: We traveled on the KCR (a train line) to the Hong Kong/Shinzen, China border. When you cross the border to China, you have to go through customs and immigration. Hong Kong was under British rule until 1997. When it was given back to China, China said there will be no changes for 50 years. For now, everything in Hong Kong is still a free society. China is a communist society. The people are watched and certain activities are censored. They also have incredibly harsh laws for things like drug possession and hacking. You can be put to death for even minor drug possession.
These things freaked me out a bit, but that’s no reason to avoid going.
We got through customs after a 30-45 minute train ride through some beautiful contryside. Once in China, the mood was very different. The city we were in is called Shinzen. It’s only 30 years old, but looks looks like it’s been around for at least a hundred years. The cars drove on the right side of the road and the drivers were on the left side of the car again. We walked to a hotel to hail a cab to a location about 30 minutes into the city where Sam had previously stayed.
Driving on the freeway was intense. No one signals or even looks in their mirror when they change lanes. I saw more than 10 almost-accidents at 60 mph each way on our trip. Some of those potential accidents were involving our cab.
Every few miles, you would see a camera take a picture of someone going too fast down the freeway. Our cab driver would strategically slow down in time to avoid having his picture taken. After passing a camera, he would speed back up.
Bruce saw a sign along a walkway next to the freeway that said, “No Music” and we saw cops on motorcycles with two cops per bike driving on the sidewalks.
After about 30 minutes in the cab, we arrived at the CCNP hotel. Sam has stayed there a few times when working in Shinzen.
From the hotel, we walked to some stores where we could purchase brand or fake brand name items for next to nothing.
As we walked, you could feel this weird tension in the air. Everything is so controlled. Cameras were everywhere and police, military and other uniformed officers were patrolling the sidewalks.
There was very little English on any of the signs, red Chinese flags were everywhere and people would not stop staring at us. Sam said that it’s possible that some of them hadn’t really seen too many westerners, although I find that hard to believe.
Rob put it like this, “All the women look at us like they want to fuck us and all the men look at us like they want to fight us”.
The women stared at us and giggled amongst themselves while holding our eye contact. The men glared at us in a way that seemed like distaste. They would watch us until we were almost all the way down a block and talk quietly in Mandarin.

Before going to the shops, we needed to eat. Hygenic standards our not as good in China as they are in the US and we were really craving some American food after so many days of Chinese, so we found ourselves at Pizza Hut.

Pizza hut was fine dining. We were met at the door by a hostess who promptly seated us. During our meal, we were waited upon by at least 3 people on a continuous basis. They were apparantly surprised when we ordered two large pizzas. Sam said her boss (who is Chinese) cannot eat even a whole slice of pizza. That might explain why almost everyone is so small.

After eating, we walked to some stores.
The first store had a lot of designer clothes. Bruce got 7 pairs of jeans for under $250 US. In the US, they would have been between $100 and $200 each. I got a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt for about $30 US.
Bobby and Rob got some shirts and Sam got a bunch of pants.
In another store, I purchased a cool shirt and a Gstar jacket for less than $20 US. The jacket would be about $200 in the US.
At that store, Bruce had to use the restroom. In China, western toilets aren’t the norm. The official toilet is a hole in the ground. There was no way he could wait or hope to find a western toilet, so he managed to indicate to the ladies at the store that he’d like to use their toilet through hand gestures. It was in a tiny closet. He had to fill up a bucket with water to flush the waste away. Afterwards, he was visibly shaken.
We checked out a few more stores and headed back to the CCNP hotel to get a cab.

The second cab ride was a bit more intense than the first. Our cab driver seemed to care about his personal safety less than the first guy. He also kept sucking on some candy loudly. Sam almost lost it because of that and I don’t blame her.

I’d had my fill of Shinzen and was ready for customs and the train ride back to the hotel. Going through customs and immigration was uneventful, but still tense. After going through and you think you’re done, there were a bunch of guys with automatic rifles. I guess they were there just in case…

The train ride home was quick and getting back to the hotel was nice.