Saturday, December 19, 2015

Travel Memories 2015

  • In Bangkok, asking our 2nd taxi driver how he was in Khmer instead of Thai...Both he and D turned to look at me with the utmost look of confusion on their faces.  It took me a few seconds to wonder why?  Don't ask me where it came from when I haven't been to Cambodia for almost 2 years.
  • Having our 1st taxi from the airport break down in the middle of the freeway at around 11:30 pm en route to our apartment in Bangkok.  A bit adventurous trying to get out of the car.
  • Remember how I was disgusted at the men at the Yangon ferry terminal, and refused to buy a ticket to Dala due to their greed?  I'm unhappy to say that the corruption has gotten worse.  Yes, the prices that are being demanded are still more than affordable for us, but that's not the point.  I'll never forget the little boy who refused a 1 USD tip because he felt he didn't work hard enough for it.
  • My seatmate on a flight from Tokyo to Singapore.  We ended up talking for almost 8 hours about art, him bringing up 3 boys who live all around the world (he was on his way to go diving with one of them), his professional music career, karate, the cello, his cabin on Puget Sound...Super positive individual.
  • Walking from terminal 1 to 3 at Changi airport at 4 am, hoping to catch this before my flight home, only to find out that the exhibit is Landside, not airside!!!  Once you've crossed over passport control, you are not allowed back!!!  I was disappointed, so consider yourself warned should you be transiting through while it is still on.
  • Getting a small hug from the wife of a couple whose restaurant I ate at on 3 occasions in Koh Lanta.  Culturally it is not really done and she surprised me greatly (even though I have no issues with hugging) as I would have never expected it.  She is the kindest soul I've met in Thailand.  I wouldn't return to the island other than to see her again.  I think she is kinda expecting me to return next year.  Her husband tried to take a picture of me discreetly but his phone gave him away.  I even got to meet Grandma.
  • The frozen Great Slave lake in Yellowknife and the crisp air.  You bet I'm keeping an eye out for any seat sales. Our winter hasn't really started here, but I've read that they are expecting the ice road to be open at around the same time.
  • Took my first flight on the LCC (low cost airline) Air Asia.  The flight and service was fine.  Boarding can be a bit crazy as I couldn't always understand the English announcements.  What did bother me some was the seemingly relentless requests to change seats so that friends and families could sit together.  Being a low cost airline means you have to pay a few dollars to choose your seat, which I did.  Turns out I am in the minority.  Once people realize and understood that I did pay to sit where I was, they backed off.  We are talking about $4 dollars each way...It made sense for me to pay it because I couldn't trust that they wouldn't oversell and I would end up without a seat and miss my much more expensive overseas flight home.
  • Getting mild food poisoning (again) in Singapore the day before my long journey home.  Not bad enough for drugs but what is it with Singapore and me?
  • Leaving Singapore continues to be great experience.  The cab driver was super nice and even waited until I made it into the terminal and waving before he drove off.  
  • The welcome and smile I would get from the waiter at the Yangon restaurant I frequented after my initial attempt with saying thank you and good bye in Burmese.  I always find it frustrating and sad at the same time on my last visit when I'm trying to tell them in limited language and a lot of gesturing that I am leaving for home and that I will come back right away the next I return.  
  • The super nice restaurateur in Balat (Istanbul) who fed D and I so so well for the week.   He would come right out of the front door to greet us.  Can't wait to go back there too.  So many places and moments that touched our hearts this year.
  • Shared tables are the norm in Hong Kong and can be more than a little intimidating when they just tell you where to sit and the table is so small that you are touching knees with the guy across from you.  I held my own when it came to eating though.  Be prepared for impatient looks and expressions if you cannot spit out your order fast enough.  I really took to the vibe in HK.  You can feel the collective brain power of the people there.
  • I was and still am pretty gutted by what I witnessed in Palestine.  Was so angry I shook from it weeks after and I know I'm far from being the only one.  Makes you feel like you have to take action.  Here's a superb film that does an excellent job illustrating the different facets of understanding in the region.  
  • Spent a great day with an architectural student who wants to design affordable housing in the favelas of southern Bogota.  One thing I noticed right away from Bogotanos is when they are listening as well as speaking to you, will look you directly in the eye and hold the gaze throughout.  You have their total attention.  At first it felt a bit intimidating.  Later, I came to appreciate it.  Made me realize how we don't do it to that extent here at home.  
  • The friendly young Israeli woman who helped me purchase my ticket on the tram so I could get to Yad Vashem.  (The guy behind me in line had a sour and impatient expression and couldn't be bothered to help when I told him that I suspected the machine wasn't functioning.  He later ended up in line behind me again as I guess it didn't work for him either.)  She was on her way home on a couple of days leave from a 3 year volunteer commitment teaching children at a rural school.  She explained how much Israelis love to give back and help and I felt that truth ring through her so clearly.  What a great welcome after my first full day spent in Bethlehem and Ramallah.  It is just unfortunate the Israeli government will not allow their citizens to enter Palestine.  However, it doesn't stop Jews from all around the world from entering and seeing for themselves what is going on there.
  • Upon leaving Jenin, I had my first experience with the power of fighter jets.  Frequent military patrols and exercises occur in that region of the country and our van shook, surprising all of us. 
  • The guinea pig races in Bogota!  Could watch them all day.
  • Having lunch and splitting our plates with a guy on the same graffiti tour in Bogota.  The restaurant was recommended during the tour and had a beautiful graffiti mural in front.  He hailed from Boston and is a masters level Botanist attending a conference.  Was going to be heading to the Philippines for 3 weeks to study rice.  We shared plates of lamb, salmon, quinoa and ratatouille at a tapas restaurant.  He was good company.
  • How the homeless people of Bogota aren't demanding or aggressively soliciting.  I experience way worse at home here.  I was eating a plate of lechona (purchased from a street vendor) while standing on the sidewalk.  A homeless man walked by and he looked really hungry.  He didn't even look at me and continued to walk to the nearby garbage bin and started sifting through.  I couldn't finish the serving and went over to towards the garbage.  As I didn't presume he would want it, I made the move to throw it out when he looked at me.  I nodded and motioned to him the plate and he smiled and took it from me.  I gestured if he wanted more as I was ready to buy him a new plate but he was content and thanked me. 
  • I discovered the awesomeness of the airport lounge shower.  Call me a slow learner as there has been ample opportunity to avail myself of this opportunity but it never occurred to me until recently -- And that included being stuck at JFK for 12 hours in July due to thunderstorms...Could have used a therapeutic shower then!  They are actually quite luxurious and not like what I had imagined in my mind (pictures of yucky gym showers) even though you'd think I'd know and expect better.  There are dedicated staff that clean them after each use.  You get fluffy towels, 5 tubes of toiletries, a separate change area, washroom and shower stall with a rain shower head.  It felt like a mini spa.  You bet I've been analyzing my future flights to see when and where I will be able to fit one in next!  I cannot describe just how good it feels after a 14 hour flight.
  • I had a recent incident of being deliberately overcharged.  On the way back to the Krabi airport, I was hoping to catch the airport bus (90 baht) instead of a taxi (400 baht) but I wasn't sure exactly how to do so as there aren't marked signs as to where to wait.  My hotel told me to just stand on a particular corner and wave it down when I see it come down the road.  So I was there super early in the morning so I wouldn't miss it.  A Thai lady was waiting as well and it turned out she was going to the airport too, for work.  I ask if she was taking local transport (50 baht) and she was and it was OK if I followed her.   All was good.  When the open air truck came along and the driver asked where we were going and agreed to take us, we got on.  Then he came around and told me that it was going to cost 100 baht (lesson for next time, confirm the price before getting on, although I took local transport all week with no issues).  My Thai friend launched into a rebuttal and even though I could not understand what he said, the way he looked at me said that he told her that I was a foreigner who was leaving and could afford it.  She got quite red in the face.  By the time we got to the airport, the truck was 3/4 full and only the 2 of us hopped off.  An idea struck me and as we were getting down, I told her that I was going to pay for her.  When the driver met us in the back, I stood if plain view of everyone and told him loud and clear that I was paying for myself and my friend and clearly handed him 100 baht and repeated it.  My friend gave him the look of death while I said it.  Thais do not like to lose face in front of others, so he silently took my 100 baht and you should have seen his face when I thanked him in perfect Thai... He doesn't need to know that I couldn't say much more...
  • I'm cheating here as the picture below isn't from 2015, but 2014, from my Habitat build.  It's one of my favorite ones as it represents so much.  The blocks we built with, the rebar we bent, the tea we were served multiple times each day at the site.  The smell of the wood was wonderful.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015


  • It turns out that the extended health benefit package at D's new company is no where close to what we have been used to.  So the search has begun for potential supplemental insurance.
  • When D worked there previously, the coverage was comparable.  But they have recently slashed the policies and has continued to do so for 2016.  Had we known the details of that, we (D) would have negotiated differently. 
  • I will be working with the travel and regular pharmacy to check what this new policy will/won't cover, specifically the pricey inoculations (Japanese Encephalitis, Rabies) that I will likely be renewing every 3 years.  Update:  It seems to be comparable for more conventional drugs (i.e. epipen) but have just found out there is zero coverage for my travel shots (ouch!).
  • We have started a new savings account for extended health as I have a good idea of what we spend each year to keep well.  Unfortunately our health care system is more of a disease care model and to practice prevention does cost out of pocket. 
  • Looking back on the year expense wise, the biggest costs have been in the auto department.  New brakes, new winter tires etc.  
  • Normally at this time of year, I'm working on filling our "working" accounts but I'm not sure about the extent of the need this year as our cash flow will be higher.  Am going to think about it some more.
  • Only 9 leaf bags this year compared to last year's 15 (or 50, like it felt like...).  Hurray for strong wind!
  • D made a judgement error of assuming that prices would be similar for an oil change and tire swap at the dealership vs. our local place... bad call... cost more than double what it should have.      
  • After requiring yet another bearing replacement, we have decided to send a letter to Infiniti Canada describing our experiences with their brand.  It was covered under warranty but our point is that it shouldn't need it when it is so young (75K)?!  The last bearing we replaced was at 150K on the Subaru.    
  • If you haven't yet seen "The Theory of Everything" please do.  I've just had my 3rd viewing and it continues to move me to tears.  Why this film  as well as "The Imitation Game" and "American Sniper" didn't sweep the Academy awards is beyond me.  I honestly couldn't make it through the first 30 min of "Birdman".
  • My getaway wasn't as relaxing as hoped (something about getting bit on the eyelid and having a dog become interested in my shoulder bag and elbow... neither necessitated official treatment thankfully) although I did return feeling stronger and stumbled upon a few gems for another time.