26 April 2007

At Tokyo Speed!

Tokyo! Arriving via night bus to the busiest train station in the world, for numbers, 2 million passengers pass through, 750,000 transfer here. That's 1/2 the population of Kansas City going through one train station not much bigger than Union Station in KC every freaking day!

And me, a midwestern/california, used to wide open spaces, 10 lane traffic jams, but never the rush of thousands of people heading for the same trains at the same time, but in dramatic order.

Tokyo is unlike any city I've ever been to, suprisingly less like New York than I though. New York is less busy, more built up, and has far less green space. Plus, the people here are much more courteous, repectful, and orderly than arrogant New Yorkers, and they speak better English! (j/k on the last part). New York has far worse traffic and less crowded trains, but Tokyo is far easier to get across, if you don't mind being a human sandwich between two Japanese businessmen. One good thing - Japanese are extremely hygenic, take multiple showers a day, and ever wear face masks when sick so as not to spread their germs. No way that would happen in NYC.

Some photos from Tokyo below. Enjoy!

Here are some photos from the fastest city on earth.

This is whale. Yes, whale. Whale sushi. It tasted like...bloody raw pork. Not bad. The Yasukuni Shrine, a controversial shrine which honors Japanese killed in wars, including many war criminals.Harujuku, one of the premier fashion districts of the world. I felt out of place in my worn travel gear. No photos allowed in the shops, enforced by large scary Africans.

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20 April 2007

Cherry Blossoms Festival, Japan

It is the most beautiful time of the year to visit. Japan during cherry blossoms, sakuda in Japanese. These lovely trees, of which there are 150 types, bloom in brilliant shades of white, pink, red, but their glory is brief, lasting barely one week. To be in Japan when these trees bloom is a good omen, and a great way to end a trip around the world. And I made it! Cherry Blossom festivals, Hanami parties to celebrate the beauty, see below my photos of the Cherry Blossom week in Osaka, Nara, and Tokyo Japan!

The Hanami party was classic - picture the cherry blossoms lit up by light, along a narrow pedestrian street, and below, tens of mats with picnics, full with drinks, Japanese BBQ, and more. A great time. Thank you, Japan, for greeting me with such beauty. Unfortunatly, if I ever return, I know it will be nothing like this.

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31 March 2007

Goodbye, South East Asia!

5 months. From November 7th, to April 2nd. 5 countries, 2 months in Thailand, 1 month, 3 weeks in Malaysia, 3 weeks in Cambodia, 9 days in Laos, and 5 days in Singapore. Countless bus rides, train rides, five boats (3 questionable ones), 3 flights, a few animals, lots of squat toilets, cold showers, missing toilet paper, riel, baht, ringitt, dollars, kip, food poisoning twice (only!)

and rice. Lots and lots of rice.

And now its almost over.

SE Asia. Yes, I missed the three biggest countries (Burma, Vietnam and the Phillipines), but you can only do so much in 5 months.

In two days I head to Japan. And as I reflect on the last five month, it's just amazing. What was so amazing about Southeast Asia? Was it the people I met, from the students at my schools in Isaan, Thailand, to my fellow boatmates sleeping underneath the clearest view of the stars I have ever along the Mekong River in Laos. Maybe its the torrential tropical rainstorm that hit during our river cruise through the untamed jungles of Borneo, or the high speed boat chase to the Perhenthian Islands, flying over the water. Or the fact that, as I was writing this post, a Malaysian I met in Kuala Lumpur a month ago came in, said hi, and invited me to go to a party down the road?


It was here in Southeast Asia that I learned how to dance like a banana in front of hundreds of Thai kids, a skill that will undoubtedly come in useful in America. Where I learned about the destitution, horror, and pain brought upon by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia only three years before I was born.

Southeast Asia is unique in how every country is at a completely different level of development, due to the twin daggers of colonialism and the Vietnam War. On one side, you have Singapore, the 4th richest country in the world by per-capita GDP, a modern, ultra clean, ultra safe city state. Then Malaysia, slowly making its way towards becoming a developed nation by 2020, its goal, with the tallest twin towers in the world. Thailand comes next, a poorer country but fiercely independent, having never been colonized. Laos, the same size as England but with 54 million less people, is a peaceful, rural country where worldly concerns seem another world away. Then you have Cambodia, only 10 years shy of a 25 year long civil war in which an estimated 1/3rd of the population was killed, many more maimed and the wounds are still fresh. You see them everyday on the streets, the street children who've had their arms blown off in what is one of the most mined countries in the world.

Only in Southeast Asia can you see all this in such a close region. Where you can see how modernity can be double faced.

Onwards to Japan!

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15 March 2007

Overland from Malaysia to Angkor Wat

I calculated the time. One hour bus ride from Kota Bharu, Malaysia to the Thai border. A 20 hour train ride to Bangkok. Overnight in Bangkok, then at 5:55AM a 5 hour train ride to the Cambodian border, followed by a 3-7 hour bus or taxi ride to Siem Reap, Cambodia.

30+ hours over 2 1/2 days just to save $30?

Hell Yeah!

Here are some excerts from my Overland Adventure Log. Enjoy!

Day 1, 12pm. I'm now on the bus, it is a/c and only RM 3.90 ($1.15) ...the bus is moving fast the arabic signed storefronts of central Kota Bharu, the teak flowerpots on arabic style wood carved pillars that adorn the sidewalks. I can't believe that Thailand is really only an hour away.

Day 1, 2:10pm, Songol Kolok, Thai-Malay Border. The carriage two in front of me, #8, looked absolutely horrible - dirty, people standing, boxes everywhere. That must be the cargo car...for those piles of boxes and such I saw upon entering the station.
My car is nice, cushioned benches, rotating oscliating fans attached to the ceiling, two sinks with running water in front and only a few people...
Moving! 10 or 15 minutes late. Onward to Bangkok!

7ish, Hat Yai. The train is now almost full, my peacefuil quad now a residence for 3. 2 more carriages, at least, have been attached to the back. The sun is setting, I bought my first item from a hawker, 10 baht pineapple, but I've yet to see the delicacies - papaya salad, roast chicken, and banana lead curries of previous Thai train rides. Hopefully soon!

2pm day 2. The sunrise was amazing...the colors sillouted against the mountains, still pitch black, offshore on the islands of the bay, giving the impression of an eerie fire erupting from beyond the seas, but gripping. the few awake Thaias also were staring at the sunrise, but the army folk were not.

6AM day 3. I've boarded the third leg of my journey - an ordinary train to the Cambodia border. 48 baht ($1.15) for the 5 hour journey on an all 3rd class train. A few other backpackers on the train. Thailand, I leave you so soon, just a day. I was barely getting to know you, Bangkok, adieu!

Noon, Cambodia border. The borders officials want me to pay a bribe. I refused, they wanted 1000 baht ($28) though the visa fee is $20, on a huge sign right above the visa window. I gave $20, and sat down to wait after arguing for a few minutes. He showed me stack of passports and told me - "if you don't pay me 200 baht (above the $20) you will be waiting for a long time." I was told to hold my ground, and I did. Will I get my passport back?
10 minutes later. Everyone. All the Canadians, the english guy, two Asians tourists, got their visa before me. The waiting game. I can't give in, no way. Another man with a suitcase, looks Japanese, got his too.
5 minutes later.I GOT IT! Only 10 minutes of waiting and I saved $8 over all the other westerners. And my bus to Siem Reap for $8, the girls paid $20, and the Battambang crownd $12-13. I win! Of course, now I'm lonely but, oh well. It really wasn't that frustrating in the end.

2pm Poipet, Cambodia. Now this minibus. Will it depart on time? It's 2:02, he said 2:30, ticket says 3. I'll be happy if I depart by 3.

First impressions of Cambodia - Poipet is a dirty border town but the tourist hawkers were not as pushy as I expected. The people are dramatically different from Thai people, so many children, very poor. Reminds me more of India than any other country I've been to.

As for how my 25 or so odd days here will go, no fucking clue.

630pm, Halfway point to Siem Reap。 Maybe not paying for one's visa bribe is allerted throughout the country. Now, everyone else in the restaurant has gotten their food before me. The cambodian waiter got very defensive when I asked him. 2 minutes later, my food comes!

The bus isde is bumpy, a understatement, the bumbiest busride on the world road I've seen this trip. The road is horrible, but at least I'm not suck. The ride really isn't so bad. The Dramamine is helping.

1030pm, Siem Reap. I made it! My reward, walking down the street to the supermarket and being offered whores (boom boom? You want boom boom?) 3 times. Even when I said no, they didn't seem to believe me. Cambodia has overwhelmed me. Much more in your face, none of the anonymity of Malaysia where I could so easily blend in.

Overland Journey - total cost, 848 baht, $24 dollars, less than the exit tax at Cambodian airports ($25). Will I proceed to do another overland journey back to Kuala Lumpur? Well, we'll see. Goodnight!

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03 March 2007

Photos from Borneo

Borneo is the only island in the world that has three countries on it - Malaysia in the north, little Brunei, and Indonesia in the south. It's a tropical paradise, full of amazing animals found no where else in the world. Kohei, my good friend from Irvine/Japan, came down and visited for a week. The following is the account of our adventure.

I'm King of the Jungle...ouch!

Can you see how clear that water is? Or all the fish and Sea creatures swimming around me feet? Amazing water!

Me and Kohei pretending to be monkeys (we also threw poop at the camera, but those photos are censored)

You can see more photos of our adventure at Kohei's Borneo album, just click here.

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Onwards to Cambodia!

The adventure that is portion 5 - which, for me, began almost 5 months ago on November 7th, 2006, continues. After a fantastic one and half month stay in Malaysia (the last three days spent relaxing with friends on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Palau Perhenthian), I'm ready to move on.



I'll he hopping on an 18 hour train ride to Bangkok, from where I'll take a 5 hour train to the Cambodian border, 23 hours on a train, 1 hour on a bus to the Thai border, then 5 hours on a bus to Angkor Wat. Am I crazy? Probably, yet the idea of an overland adventure like this excites me like no other.

I'll be posting photos from my week trip in Borneo, one of the great untamed parts of the world, soon. And to the many of you who are on my long email queue, sorry! I am horrible at responding and probably won't respond until I get back home :-(.

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13 February 2007

Thaipusam Festival

Thaipusam is a ancient Hindu festival that is, strangely, only celebrated in Malaysia among the Indian community here. It is, in fact, the most important day on the Malaysian Hindu calendar.

You've probably seem video from this festival on TV. If not, maybe these photos will ring a bell. If not, read to learn more!

Over 1 million people attended the Thaipusam this year, which is dedicated to the Hindu god Murugan (the big gold statue in the photo to the left). The temple that the festival takes place in Kuala Lumpur (it is celebrated all around Malaysia) is Batu caves, outside the city.

Devotees try to repent for their sins by carrying heavy metal floats hooked onto their skin with hooks all the way up to the caves. 276 steps. Yep. Many of them seemed to be in strange, possibly drug induced trances, dancing in circles and never looking anyone in the eyes.

We got to watch the priest inserting the hooks, needles, and more into the devotees bodies.
They rarely flinched, were incredibly patient, and sometimes seemed totally lucid.

The huge crowds, the daring people with needles in the most horrible places (one lady had a spear right through her cheeks!). It was an interesting day, though the crowds pushing and shoving to get up the hill made me almost puke. Enjoy the photos!

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12 February 2007

My Fellow Travelers

10 1/2 months on the road. 25 countries, 300+ days of travelling. It's a long time, and as I near the end stretch run of this trip, its strange to look back at the early days and to see where I've gone.

But there is the one question that burns in my head. Have I changed as a person?

Having travelled along the last 6 months, I've met almost no one who knew me before my travels, no one that could judge whether or not I've changed. Other travellers relish in self perspection, sure of how much they've changed and sure of their own perceptions. But I know that who I am often depends on who's around me. So who am I?

I also believe that you truly learn about yourself when you are in the toughest situations. But, lately, travelling has become easy, almost routine. Part of it is that I've adjusted to the customs and ways of the local culture after the tough adjustment period. But it also has to do with where I am - Malaysia, a fascinating culture but a pretty developed country that lacks the rigors of truly 3rd world countries like Nepal.

Anyway, that is my rant for today. I have photos and a huge writeup on a Hindu festival I attended in Kuala Lumpur, but I keep forgetting my photo cord. And im stuck in this internet cafe cause its pouring rain outside, though i need to catch a night bus to the remote east coast of malaysia in...2 hours. STOP RAINING!

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28 January 2007

A Tirade on "Football"

It was the first round of the NFL playoffs, and I made sure to be in a city with "a decent ex-pat population". As I walked around, I noticed about 5 British or Irish pubs. The Chargers were playing the Patriots, my favorite team versus my 2nd least favorite team (soon to be promoted, in fact). I walk into the pub.

"Do you play sports here?" I asked to the husky Englishman behind the bar.
"Yes", he said with a hint of the obvious.
"Do you play American football", I asked with hope in my eyes.
"No..we play proper football."

Proper football?

Europeans can travel anywhere in the world and see their football. Liverpool games are played in every (and i mean EVERY) bar in Malaysia. NFL games? But that's okay. Its the attitude that gets to me.

I've been in countless situations where a group of Europeans or Australians has decided to bash American football. And it turns out I'm the only American who cares to defend this sport, though you never see me tirade against football (until this post). I am a lover of all sports, unlike most English men who seem to have space in their brains for only one sports.

Football. Football. Soccer, I mean.

This is the end of the tirade. please ignore everything. expect more if Nithin is unable to watch the Super Bowl this coming Sunday.


20 January 2007

Nithin: Malaysian Fusion

I've entered Malaysia, a fascinating country with delicious food, a mixed spectrum of people and amazing landscapes.

In my week here, I've feasted. Thai food is good, but, after 2 months of eating nothing but Thai food, I literally might puke if I see another plate of rice, or noodle soup. Thank god for Malaysia, and the delicious South Indian food, the amazing Southern Chinese food, the Scones and strawberries, not to mention Malay food.

Uhh...I actually haven't tried Malay food yet. But Indian food, 9 times. Yep!

I'll be in Malaysia for a month longer, including a weeklong trek into one of the most dangerous and untouched tropical regions of the world. Borneo, land of footlong poisonous insects, the world's smallest elephants, and hundreds of undiscovered species. Photos coming soon!

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