Monday, April 30, 2007

India is BIG. Really BIG. It takes a long time to travel it. While you transport it you are prone to all the hassles listed in my previous blog scream. But if you plan ahead it is okay bc with money you can buy some quiet time and space. being "with the people" when you are not "one of the people" but a walking ATM to most can become tiring. But the cities and sights are amazing, here is my quick recount....Photo - on safari searching for tigers.

Delhi - I am sure like a mother of a terrorist some people do love this city. It is so hard to get to know it as a tourist for a few days. Use it as a transport base and get out as fast as possible. Coming back for the third time outside tourist season is almost relaxed.

Jaisalmer - 1000km from Delhi in desert area near Pakistan border. Lovely soft yellow fort and palaces and maze of streets to wander. Good even after recovering from a cholera vaccination gone wrong.

Jodphur - another big fort town. Massively imposing fort like a preying mantas it towers over the city comprising a labirynth of multi-storey houses. From above the blue painted houses form a checkboard. Nice to be a prince.

Udaipur - lovely tourist city with "palace on the lake". Fortunately there was water in the lake. Streets where somewhat clean here and a very lovely inner city. (photo left)

Sawai Madphur - crappy dirty town but outside it gives access to Ranthanbore National Park where, with our fortunate luck, we got to see a TIGER. Amazing to watch it on its evening hunt. Park of the fun was tracking it down the roadway, it felt a little like safari. the tigers here are very used to people (also making them prone to poachers, including the game warders themselves at times for Chinese medicine - heard that Chinese medicine is now mixing tiger bones with viagra to make them work).

I also saw a peacock fly which is very cool with the feather trailing behind.

Agra - so much written about the hassles of Agra but we experienced no problems. We stayed there 4 nights and although were super hyped to not be taken to our hotel or get taken to countless shops, we only got scammed once when we were taken to a "travel booking shop" who was really a silver shop. They wanted us to come back the next day to pick up our ticket but bc we wanted that night they had to give it to us. All they did was print the ticket off the internet. In somewhat honest practice they gave us the change we were due (they had just estimated the total price on our arrival and told us how their "boy had to go to the station" to get us to come back).

But the Taj is amazing, beating all the superlatives written about it. In an effort I am not sure was worth it I spent 13hrs there, from sun up 6am to sun down 7pm in order to photograph the changing light. The next day I was wrecked.

In addition to the Taj there is the Red Fort, older palace Fatephur Sikri 40km away, exquist burial memorials to see.

After all the hassles, seeing the Taj Mahal in the flesh answered the question "why did we come to India?"

Khajuraho - despite getting scammed getting there by two businessmen (this why you hate india), the erotic temples are very good. It took 10hrs from Agra by train and car but being slightly out of season more relaxed. The shocking pornograph images even today are crazy (sodomy with a horse anyone?) but would have been even more striking in prudish Victorian english eyes. The carvings are exquiste and yes, I did take photos of more than the sex ones.

Orcha - energy levels and whole of India getting to us by now but Orcha a wonderful little back water. The palace (only 30R vs 6R for Indians) was the best bargin to enter. The abandoned city feel and partial restoration AND the fact the city was by a river and thus green made it so enjoyable.

Manali - A massive transport effort over 2 days, with two night trains and a 13hr bus trip to arrive in the exceptional beautiful mountains of Manali. But SO worth it. It is like we have entered another country. Mountains, pine tree green, flowing water, waterfalls, orchards, nice people who smile, do not try to sell you things every step, recognise that something is the wrong size and have fun in life.

Really are we still in India? This is holiday time at $6/night and a chance to relax before heading back to Delhi and then on to Egypt. A great way to finish off bc it makes you appreciate India so much more.

I would not revisit any of the previous cities or sites listed above but I and Christina would come back to the mountains.

(but now back in Delhi, with an idea of how to get around the country, some time off relaxing, you know, I probably could come back here some day. the second time has got to be so much easier).

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Money, money, IS a rich Indian MANs world. Wow India. Pretty much everything is true about the tales you hear. The first things that hit you is the dirt and rubbish everywhere. Then the cows in the streets eating all the rubbish. And then all the animal power - oxen, camels to move freight, donkeys for rubbish, blocks of stone. People building roads through mountains by hand, breaking up rocks for rubble with sledge hammers.

Any country is about the people. The attention can be overwhelming and it resembles the Chinese water torture....drip...hello. drip...Where u from? drip....where u going? drip...come into my shop., photo. photo., money / pen, pen / chocolate, chocolate.

You are "my friend" until you do not accept their service, then you are dismissed as dirt. Nothing is for free. Need to know where a shop is 200m away, "No problem sir, let me take you (for a fee)". Need a railway ticket booked, "I can do it for you". You ask "How much?" Answer equal to more than a nights accommodation. What they do not tell you is that the railway booking office is just 500m away. It takes one hour of asking before you get the direction to the office.

You get requests "photo, photo, photo" everywhere you go. But you have to pay for each photograph. there is nothing but money as a form of relationship.

One of the hardest parts is the almost unrestrained begging by children just running up to you singing "money, money, money". some of the kids are desperately poor in the rural areas. sadder is babies just 18mths old who have learnt how to beg from their mothers, mirroring them putting their hands out to you and then to their mouths. Of course mostly only we Westerns get the requests. Indians are asked less than 1% of the time.

The absolute most annoying is the rich Brahmin's kids who, like the Dire Straits song "money for nothing", come up to you, walk and talk for a bit, all the while you wait for the "can you give me some money?" request. One such kid even admitted to having his own computer at home but, poor lad, his "father does not support him". While telling us this in his fine clothes around us men and women are labouring in the hot sun carrying dirt and bricks at construction site.

Taking the good with the bad services are however all there if you want to buy them --- "tuktuk, guide, CD, internet, cold drink, postcard, water" - a never ending cacophony of noise intermixed with incessant beeping of horns of tuktuks. All of course nearly everything paid tourist price for. this is not so bad just part of the stress of the trip. the cost of the Taj for us is $20US, an Indian 50c.

the poverty in India is not as bad for 60-70% of the population as in Cambodia as a country. But those in the slums have nothing and are treated like it by all those with resources. So many Brahmin's we have meet think the caste system excellent for India. There is almost no social consciousness. It is all about "me" and my family. I guess in a land of 1.1 billion and a state unable to look after the majority it makes some sense but until there is a collective concern for others the pollution and poverty will continue.

Just as there is no care for your neighbour, there is also no social conscious. Got a plastic water bottle? Chuck it out the window of the train was the solution. As a result the country is covered in crap. the cows eat some but the plastic lasts for years.

Hard also is the behaviour of men to Western women. Unless you travel in air conditioned cars a western women is license for a crowd of men to gather around and just ogle. Combined with everything else it can get tiresome to have 30-50 men at a railway platform just stare. For a guy alone it is not much of a problem but every women and guy with a lady it is just hard. It is one of "those things" about how they look rather than the looking itself that gets to you.

It is strange but the society is so violent. People are violent to each other in daily dealings, police can lash into a crowd with batons, there are no smiles or courtesy. A smile to them may bring an answering response and break the ice. Maybe because in the big cities the society is almost exclusively male. There can be no trust unless you buy it.

But despite the heat, dust, stare, pushing, scamming, almost absolute total lack of trust in almost every Indian who IS trying to scam you (NB. the hill country is completely different and an absolute joy to be in) the sites are amazing and impressively magnificent in scale. It is also relativity cheap to travel with a day costing around $30-40 compared to $90 in Japan. More of the sites in a following blog bc you have to just get all this out about India before you can concentrate on the actual things you see amongst all the other intensity.

There are good bits about India. It is a functioning democracy. It has a free(ish) press. It does have rule of law. The train system works for 500,000 users effectively and mostly on time. People are very proud of their country and some do want to just talk and even on occasion buy you a cup of tea. And up here in Manali in the mountains it is a joy. Snow covered mountains in amongst pine forests and people SMILE. they laugh, they tell you the truth and give directions for free with a smile. They even keep the cows and crap out of the streets.

So welcome to India, the land of the biggest contradictions on earth.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

India Preseason: Surviving Sri Lanka (scams, beaches, buses and bombs). SL is a hard place to describe, its cultural richness suprising, areas of natural beauty, tea plantations of unnatural artifical beauty, crazy bus driving and dust. Its people are generous and good natured and even help you after you've said "no" to whatever they are selling. Contrasting the serenity of the beaches ($12US a night) is the fact that SL is still in midst of civil war. If you read the reports on the day that we left the Tamil Tigers carried out their first aircraft bombing raid on the SL airforce base next to the international airport, killing 7 and injuring 25. A couple of times on the trip we heard shelling or saw the flashes of gun fire. It did make for some nervous travelling at times. But as Mark and Janice, friends met on the journey pointed out, it was no where as bad as living in Belfast during the Troubles. Still a night or two of consideration of the wisdom of doing SL.

We only got scammed three times but only twice did we have to pay. About 30c in total and the third time all we lost was time as the guy (telling us the restaurant did not open to later) got commission simply for pulling us to the shop. All good preparation for India. The other scam was being given something at a temple when you really don't want to and getting charged for it at the end - the mistake was not talking about price before we took the flower. LESSON = nothing is for free.

We also survived our first bus clipping when the overtaking van failed to judge the distances correctly and instead of smashing into the oncoming bus veered into our bus, clipping the front bumper and causing our driver to take evasive action. Anyone who has been to Asia knows that road rules are relative and the horn an essential component of any vehicle. Basically biggest and fastest wins in any contest for road space.
These are the interesting stories to tell. In general SL is pretty laid back place to be, the standard of living is highish so there are only small numbers of beggars and touts. the war probably helps this because tourists are not coming much more so it is only locals who are going to the main cultural sites.
(L = Palace built on top of Lion Rock, Sigriya. R= the rock itself)
The beaches are lovely and a real break. You still see some evidence of the tsunami in reconstruction and foundations but mostly we sat around the beach by this stage. We did this last and an ideal way of winding down.

Everyone is mad on cricket and with the World Cup on I get to steer the conversation away from selling us stuff to the games. One of the best experienes was joining in a game and I was glad to be able to bat well enough to uphold Australia's reputation.

When catching buses the idea is to sit at the back so you have no idea what type of craziness the driver is doing. (To the R= In distance dagoba at Anuradphura, ancient capital, reaching up to 120m high, they were second only to the largest pyramids in height).

Overall though, SL will be remembered for the people we met - Mark and Janice - on this leg of the journey. Although we tried local food of rice and curry, rice and curry and more rice and curry, there is a reason why SL cusine is not world famous. SL nightlife is also not famous, with everything shutting at 7.30pm. As a result the best meal we had was a Pizza Hut home delivery, sipping on beers overlooking Kandy with mountains in the background, lake in middle of city in view.

So, after 18 days and a bit of hassle in getting our India visa, we finish the trip and have made our way to Delhi to see how "match fit" Sri Lanka has made us. Photos to come.
Safe travels to all.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Japan Quirks. - the best part of travel is the idiosyncratic things. the joy of Japan, thanks to Christina's language skills and connections, was getting to know Japanese people. Instead of working with Aust/NZ/Canadians I got to work with Japanese. Some of the interesting things experienced:

Vending Machines - they are everywhere always giving you cool and hot drinks (and cigarettes). Beer is available everywhere as well. Like silent guards they await your pleasure, all shiny and clean in backstreets, railways, main streets, snow covered ponds, tops of temples. I can not imagine another country in the world where they would not be raided.

Bullet trains - wow, they blast past you at a station at 250km+. All trains run to within 30sec of scheduled time and stop precisely where they are designated. Every time, on time.

Open toilets - a bit strange to head off to the loo and have an open door such that all the girls can / could (not sure if "do") check out the action. I guess it is a good way for them to know what they are getting before time.

Gardens and architecture - amazing. blending and bending nature. Can't get enough of it.

Dogs - they LOVE their dogs. Dressing them up in denim skirts, little pink top and died ears while on a walk on a leash. Or carrying them in a baby pouch on their chest while they visit a temple. all kind of rat dog size and so many outfits you could produce a fashion mag for their owners and become rich.

Open Conversation - a characteristic of most of asia but sharing, thru translation, stories over breakfast and dinner for 2mths gave a great insight into the lives of people (mostly girls as there was only one/two other guys working in the restaurant. Topics / statements included:

* Over breakfast declaring that bc she had her period she only eats dinner.
* Asking if other girls had sex-buddies like she did bc her boyfriend was in Canada
* Telling people blanantly that they have gotten fat. Maybe you should take up smoking.
* Letting everyone know that they have diahorrea at the breakfast table.

Overall an amazingly generous place to visit. Expensive but so rewarding. go if you can. Try to see the flowers blooming in late March / April.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Hiroshima - 7 realisations

1. a horrific but amazing scientific experiment by the USA to capture the actual damage done with criteria developed for which city got hit first. 17 dummy drops were taken in various cities before Hiroshima got the honour. Reading committee meeting minutes of the discussions astounding in the thinking and debates behind the final decision.

2. the blast was so strong it whitened the stones. Shadows were permanently formed by thosethings in the way, including humans.

3. so many people died bc one plane was insufficient to sound the air raid sirens. one guy only 200m from the blast survived bc he was in a building basement. In Germany and Britain air raid sirens would send people underground making carpet bombing less casualty causing. nearly certain the US knew the impact would be greater this way.

4. dropping the bomb by parachute meant people came out to watch it fall.

5. dying from burns, having your eyes melt is really not a pretty death.

6. the Japanese invasion of China that lead to Pearl Harbour attack for oil to continue invasion for those who do not know their history :) killed 300,000. Pacific fighting around 2million, Hitler 6-10million, Stalin 25million. 200,000 died from one bomb. With this much death around I can understand the decision that the enemy dies, not your own people. I think it is the one bomb thing that gets to us (plus made the radiation sickness that follows). See 3 and 4 above for the real horror outcomes.

7. the fact that Hiroshima was first means that lots of tourists come to the city. Few people go to Nagasaki.

the ultimate question one asks when you are there is "would I have dropped the bomb". Lots of politics were involved, the Japanese were beaten but as demonstrated hardly ever surrended (rate of 1-120 dead vs allied 1-3 dead). it was dropped in Aug bc there was an agreement that Russia would declare war on Japan 3mths following victory in Europe. this would happen end-Aug. the bomb ended the war. Like my German friend Jan pointed out, the german loss was a good thing for the world. the japanese loss and A-bomb probably helped change an attitude to people (some of the stories to Allied prisoners is dwarfed by the horror inflicted on China) and value they place on human life.

Japan is the easist place I have ever travelled in and wonderful. the scary thing is how many bombs and how big they are which surround us. North Korea now has these weapons, making the world very much more fragile.

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Friday, February 09, 2007

The PLACES.....Japan - old and new combine.....

Castle at Matsumoto, 400 yrs old.

Lights of Shinjiku, Tokyo, 4 yrs old

The most frequent expression is that they collide but in Japan, for an outsider at least, it is much smoother than that. Use the word "combine". Probably no surprise for a culture that has so successfully integrated others developments into something we now associate with being Japanese.

Hakuba - see snow report. Not the best year with only 2.5m much less than the average 6m. The bad bit was not getting powder more than once per week and having more limited areas to ski. The good bit was seeing the sun, bc to have snow means no sun. The joy was being able to work with Japanese staff and learning about the culture thru them (mostly thanks to Christina's continual intrepreting for me). I did tend to look out the window alot during staff meals.

Himeji - castle graceful and majestic.

All built out of wood and contrast in white, surrounded by flowering sakura trees. Complete contrast to Matsumoto in black with moat.

Not the best day for photos, but imagine a clear blue sky surrounding the castle.

Realisation = seige machines never made their way to Japan as a few catapulted rocks or flaming pitch would have made short work of defenses. (see Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel for an exceptional description of the importance of geography, as well as food production and mammals on world politics today).

Miyajima - iconic Japan.
Stunning simplicity counterbalancing and complemeting nature is symbolic of all Japanese architecture. (Okay you've got to turn your head, can't work out how to rotate images just yet on the blog).

Kyoto - very cool once you get into it. Great just to wander on a bike visiting temples. Just one such temple could bring you here. The city is packed with them. Japanese gardens stunning. Priests would be real fit, some of the stairs are killers. Fushimimi Inari shrine opened my eyes that temples were using local wood and Japan covered by easy building wooden material.

Zen gardens rocked (ha).

Nara - first captial. Home to Todaji, largest wooden structure in the world. Also annoying deer. Burnt down once and rebuilt 2/3rds original size. Buddha has 430ton bronze and 130kg gold in it (and still ugly). Realisation = so much park land in Nara bc they had to cut down all the trees to make the shrine!!! Obvious once you think of it.

Nikko - well this was an Amazing Race type visit, shinkansen 400km to Tokyo, subway to hostel and dump gear. Subway back to terminal, grab another bullet train then a local train, about 200km to visit a shrine to emperor who thru lots of bloodshed, double dealings (apparently had wife and first son killed bc politically expedent to do so) he unified Japan. Really non-Japanese as it is full of colour and gaudy. then back to Tokyo 200km, before heading out to Roppongi (below).

Tokyo - bombed flat in WW2 it is different. It is all modern with 30million in the greater population area. Tend to live underground taking subway to everywhere you want to go and popping up like a mole.
It is all about experiencing Tokyo rather than seeing a site. Electronics stores, market places or Roppongi, what a crazy place. Club music is mighty fine. Full of strip clubs and pimps, both male and female trying to get you in. Strangely all the security in the club was African-American, so were many pimps but also a host of European pimps, together with blonde Russian(?) girls for hostesses.

At about 2.30am happy to go home after a 6am start to the day but the subway had closed so no getting back until 5am or cab it. I don:t want to spend $70 on a cab so jump into a 24hr internet cafe after checking out an 24hr shopping store which include adult business as well as watches including Rolex's. Unfortunately I could not get the massaging chair ;( Cost for the internet is only Y100 more than at the backpackers per hour at Y500/hr. You can also get DVD's, lounge areas, private rooms to watch big screen tv. There is even a LIBRARY of manga comic books. Very tasteful surroundings and great English. What a way to kill time waiting for a cab / train !!!!! the full Japanese night club experience completed!!!

For more photos go to

next posts will include thoughts about Hiroshima visit and PEOPLE of Japan. A preview of what I will be talking about...taking your dogs out to Himeji Castle......

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

Addicted to the white powder.

So you've never skied? Why do it? Why come to the mountains? A typical day at my office........

Whereas snow shoeing puts you in touch with the majesty of nature and is very cleansing, skiing well is definitely a WOW thing.(photos to come but on other camera so you get snowshoeing)

But what is it like skiing? Just joyful. If you've never done it the following is as close I can come to explaining what it is like. Picture this ........

Pause at the top, look down into the future. White blanket before you. Ski pivot point on the run edge means the full weight of the skis is directly on your feet - feel the nothingness now under your tips as they hang into space.

Pick the line. Future is down. Then a breath and tip ever so forward, the weight now sliding, gliding across your feet from toes to heels.

Delight in momentary nothingness and stomach loss.

Feel your body falling as acceleration kicks in... swish...thrust hits you without transition, sunwarmth instantaneously replaced by icy chill over your face. Initial thrust moves you so fast your eyes and brain can not process the information of where you have been as you go over the drop.

Pole plant...tap..turn legs, skis bite...crunch...rise up, fall down the mountain with your chest forward, legs working left, body from waist up facing down the valley.

Pole plant...bang...right turn, steeper now.....oh yeah.....snow lump, get it, go airborne, knees soft under you taking the hit, turning it your advantage, turn in the air left, chest falling down the mountain. Bang, bang, bang, turn, turn, turn, legs driving as you race downwards the speed making you always look further and further ahead in anticipation.

Enter one with the snow. Crazy fun, massive grin across your face. Ooohhhh yeah :) Destiny continues.........

POWDER DAYS.........

The delights of a great day on the slopes above can at least be described. Words struggle to communicate how much better it is to ski powder, to sit back on the tail of the skis and just glide down making fresh tracks across the blanket white, effortlessly making the soft S shape behind you. Doing so in complete, caressing all embracing silence.

Or gliding straight down in thigh high feather-like snow.

Or pressing down on a snow clump to lose some speed.

Or busting into a clump, smashing it to pieces to kill your speed.

Or bouncing left and right, going with the flow on the natural buoyancy and as you rise up changing the angle of your edges still covered in snow so that on re-entry you come down and move in the opposite direction.

How to do it?
To make all this possible all you need to do is pick up plates in a restaurant over breakfast and dinner most days, so you can get a staff pass, staff accommodation and meals. The money is $9/hr but cost of living is low at $6/day. Drinks are expensive at $5/6 a beer. Food is restaurant buffet intermixed with local Japanese food.

Life is real simple - what is the snow like? When can I ski it?

Did I say it is addictive? Gloriously so.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Give me your poor, your oppressed, your drug users and your most crazy and I, yes I shall put them all on Greyhound. Won't you come a wandering with me?

Passing the gang of black guys lounging smoking on the footpath, get pan-handled for some money ("can you spare 68c?, I just need to buy some medicine") to then pass the white guys in wife beater singlets sporting Confederate blag flag caps with their girlfriends of 22yrs holding an oversized teddy bear you enter the pit. Sometimes it is even clean.

Greybound is first come, first served (refer to most annoying things of America). Most US citizens have never caught a Greyhound in their lives so they do not know that to get a seat you need to be there at least 1hr prior to departure. You line up from the boarding door - first come first served means that once the 55 seats are taken you miss the bus. they don't stop selling tickets at 55 but keep going for as long as possible. Get the picture?

Typical Scene - about 4 well dressed adults compete with a couple of bands of kids with their mum (never a dad in sight, almost always black), a few young guys in oversized clothing (good for hiding a gun you'd say), a white guy with a tatoo of a horse and rider on his upper check, 2 other white guys with tatoos on their necks (hhm attractive, going to real easy to get a job with that look); a huge obese black guy wearing bright yellow shirt, blue shorts and matching yellow/blue Nikes with his teeth "grilled" golden in addition to a couple of Hispanic guys, middle aged and one dignified hispanic guy in sweater and hat.

Survival Tips Now everyone I spoke too said "don't go Greyhound". People who complain about Greyhound show themselves to be defeated, you need a PLAN, stan. With the following tips the chances of getting shanked are lower and you can even have a reasonably interesting time. Wih the following Matts Planet tactics and strategies you too can be a master of Greyhound. First the tips....

1. Dress Warm - Greyhounds are about -10 degrees. Nothing settles a crowd like plunging core body temperature. A hot bus means upset people. Frozen hands can't grip the blade all that well and I guess it is harder to find a vein.

2. It is better to chose, than be chosen - first come, first served and over selling of tickets means that window berth means nothing. Someone WILL sit next to you eventually. So take advantage of your time in line to check out who you want to sit next to. With so much communication non-verbal you can improve your odds by going for someone:

a) who has washed their hair in the last decade
b) who has washed their clothes in the last month
c) who is not talking to themselves
d) who can stand upright
e) who is not hiding from her boyfriend who has just gotten into a fight and caused the police to attend
f) who is small enough that you get some seat space

These basic points are all part of the "Greyhound interview" you should be conducting from the moment you arrive at the station. You can then select on race, colour and creed if you so want - mixing things up can make it interesting.

3. Sit near the front of the bus. Yep, just like school the most random people sit towards the back here as well.

4. If you are a couple arrive early if you want any hope of sitting together.

5. If by yourself do not line up too early in the que or you put yourself at risk of being chosen by the "random" in the crowd.

6. If in the event you have a good companion for the journey who leaves before you reach your destination you need to take an isle seat. As everyone files into the bus looking for their "own" seat (yeah, real likely) carry out another evaluation of passengers and ask someone if they want to sit next to you. If conversation does not floor them you are in luck.

and now the People you can meet

- ex-Marine, joined as 18yr old, fought Iraq 1991 as expert sniper. trying to make sense of the world and why he was killing people so far from "home" as a Porto Rico first generation American. Studying Islam while teaching martial arts. Good to discuss the logistics of Lee Harvey Oswolds decision to shot JFK as he drove away from him - recoil means less distance to bring gun down for next shot than having to adjust further downwards as the car comes underneath you - very interesting.

- sister of soon to be ex-marine from trailer park town. No job to speak of bc employment so limited. Brother shot in Iraq just weeks earlier. While 3 platoon mates died he lost three fingers on a hand and paralysis of his arm. Still to come home.

- dignified older black lady who lived thru the segregation laws of the south unable to sit at the front of a bus, vote in elections without harrassment, go to certain schools, movies, etc.

- young black guy doing volunteer work at an IT Club drop in youth centre in Miami

- funking braided hair girl traveling 14 hrs for a 10 second try out for American Idol.

- one complaining Pom talking about how rude Americans are in general life. I mean it is polite to say thank you to someone who opens the door for you (without expecting you give them a tip). trouble is I agreed with her!

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Why it is good America rules the world

This could have been titled Washington DC but who would have read it?

Washington as a city is all about projecting its place in the world. Romantic style temples housing government buildings were constructed using more modern building techniques but remind me of courts built in Europe, something similar to the Vienna palaces in Austria.

The Capital Hill is striking. The words even more so - quotes of the founding fathers basically scream the philisophy that it is America's role to fight tryanny where ever it may be. On the Commerce Building the inscription notes the importance of how a strong America is the best thing that can free mankind and make a better place.

The US History Smithsonian (what cool guy he was, making all the museums free) had an exhibit on the US battles for freedom. they trace WWI, WWII, Korea and of course Vietnam. No mention was made that the French were colonial powers, that it was Vietnamese fighting for their own country. Still the benefit of hindsight shows this to be true.

Also understood that the US war of independence against the British was essentially a guerilla war. Britain lost this, US lost to Vietnamese, USSR lost to Afghanistan, you can see where this is heading....

But it makes sense why the US is actually there. Thoughts are to take the fight to them and use your troops to fight rather than have then attack you at home Sept 11 style.

Travel in bus with a girl whose brother lost three fingers and suffered paralysis in arm in Sept05 and still not back home so the war is not just theory.

Still as far as world superpowers go I'll take the US any day. the other options are far less savoury - i mean China, Russia, India all fail some of the basic human right records. I'd just disappear if I was to write some of this stuff. Think about next time you bag America - you get to do it and live.

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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Toronto...most boring city in the world? Brisbane...most controversial team in world dragon boating?

Well it is a great place to dragon boat but I am not sure why you'd visit esp if you fly into the city and so get a better view than being up the CNN tower.

For those following the dragon boating it was excellent. The bodies were huge and the Germans toasted in the sun next to us sans sunscreen became bronze. We did well as a crew, making three semi's (in all but the 200m mixed). And this is where the contraversy began......da.da...da

As everyone had to pay their own way, and you don't get any change out of $3000, to make the trip worthwhile we "picked up" just under half a boat of Canadian paddlers for both under 40 years and above 40 years. And we "clicked" so instead of getting crushed we started to be a threat to make the finals (unlikely to win however just not powerful enough but having a very good technique).

Such a surprise that, allegedly, one of the other Australian teams, make a complaint to the officials. To keep paddling we were given a special lane, lane zero. The first two times I was wondering "why did we get this?" but after our other crews also got lane zero it became apparent there was a problem.

Lane zero ran through shallow water. The effect was that the German crew we beat in the heats by 1+ boat lengths then beat us by 1+ boat length with us in lane zero. Whatever. It was just awesome to paddle and learn from the experience.

Worth the trip was the 2000m. Just as sprinting is for the dumb - they can only run in straight lines which are roped off after all :) - the 2000m is boats chasing each other 10 seconds apart. You chase and are chased around the three turns occurring each 500m.

Luckily I am a left paddler so I got to see the three in front reaching out from the boat at 45 degrees.

The highlight was catching the boat 10 sec in front and 20 sec in front and getting sandwiched in between, paddles clashing due to the suction created by the boats. Dan got a paddle in the back of the head that drew blood.

the lowlight was a strategy error that killed us. Instead of resting on the heels of boat 3 the sweep tried to overtake as we hit the turn and from a 1/4 boat lead we came out -1 boat down (obviously never run track - it was like trying to overtake someone in lane 3 on the curve rather than waiting to the straight and powering past). Not learning from the mistake it was repeated (ahhh I'm screaming in my mind all over again) at turn 3 again pushing us -1 length back. Still the first time our sweep had ever raced it and should have had a bit more advice (or run distance).

we made some of this back just failing to run over them on the final 500m by about 2 seconds.

wow it was fun, a different hurt from both the 200m and 500m taking about 10 minutes Vs 1-2 minutes. My sort of pain.

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