Thursday, August 24, 2017

An unrelated Trilogy of Tours.

Before my flight, I very carefully had used a bar of dove soap and a wash cloth in the airport bathroom, as in all my stress and running around, personal hygiene had fallen by the wayside, and I was wafting pretty pungent. With a fresh shirt and fresh armpits, ready for my 24+ hour flight. Bangkok was warm, rain sometimes threatened but never really materialized. The weather has been amazing so far, actually. It's never too hot, never too sunny, and only rains when it's convenient, like when I'm in doors, sleeping or need to cool off a little.

The flight went very well. I slept most of it, and when I was awake I was well entertained on my new iPad. The layover in the Qatar was quite nice. 

How to set your airport apart from the rest? Install a giant teddy bear in the center of it, of course. 

Or install an elaborate children's play area. Doha International Aiprot in Qatar.

I had an interesting experience trying to find an immigration card at Customs. I saw people filling them out but the card holders were all empty. I spent a good 45+ minutes running around (notice a theme developing?) trying to find an immigration card to fill out. Whenever I'd try to ask someone they didn't speak English and weren't very interested in my gesticulations for substitute means of communications. When someone did figure out what I was after, they'd point vaguely and say something more vague about where to get the cards. If I found someone official looking, their vagueries were equally puzzling, with vague gestures in vague directions. Finally I found three nice Thai girls who very happily gave me a card and showed me exactly how to fill out the form. The stark contrast to the previous 45+ minutes was as puzzling as it was pleasant. The customs process was surprisingly easy after that.

Beach in Pattaya, located a little over 100km south of Bangkok. 

After not enough time in Bangkok for sight seeing, and a pleasant enough stay in Pattaya I decided to book Phuket fairly last minute. Very glad I did. Found a very cool Hostel online near Patong Beach. 

On the way from the airport after landing in Phuket I signed up for 3 tours without doing any research. Very touristy affairs, but still very fun. I call it the Unrelated Trilogy.

1st tour visits sites from the movie The Beach. 
"All American Tourist"

2nd tour is reminiscent of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

and the 3rd tour visits scenes from James Bond.

Somehow lowtech James Bond isn't quite as cool....

I don't have many pics from the first tour (and it wasn't very picturesque anyway) because my phone was almost dead when I left on the tour, because I almost missed the tour, because I was enjoying yet another late night out and had fallen asleep without setting my alarm, as Thailand has quite the nightlife.

Sometime after booking my flight to Thailand, I was feeling a little reticent about traveling alone to a country with such a different culture and not speaking the language, but it's been mostly fine. It's pretty eye opening when I start realizing how different each culture's experience is due to each nation's individual customs and climate. For example, I met a fair number of arabs on my tours. I was pleasantly surprised and a little puzzled when two Arab guys were so happy to meet me. They were like "we were hoping we would meet an American!" I thought Americans for sure had fallen out of favor by now with the rest of the world? To my surprise I'm often well received by all corners of the globe.  

When the time came to choose between three white water rafting adventures, a moderate 5k one, a 7k with rougher rapids and a 9k with roughest rapids, I of course wanted to do the 9k. The arabs, apparently, wanted me to join their raft, but I was to learn that one didn't know how to put on a helmet and the other didn't know how to swim. Since I really wanted to do the 9k and they really wanted to hang out with me I managed to convince them that the 9k would be fine.

We were approaching some rough water after taking a dip in a supposedly calm part of the river, and one was having some trouble getting back into the boat because the current was actually quite strong. After some struggling we managed to haul him aboard (the same thing had happened to me a bit earlier as well as we were approaching some rapids, but I hadn't taken my helmet off), and while I was helping him get back into the middle seat for ballast, we were telling the other to get his helmet on. That's when I noticed that he had yet to figure out that you need to unbuckle the strap to the helmet *before* you put it on (similar style to a horseback riding helmet). So I frantically unbuckle it for him, get it on his head and clumsily buckle it again, the straps all twisted, just as we were hitting the rapids. I carefully fling myself back into my position on my side of the boat as the raft buckles and hops beneath me.

Our guide was super cool. And even though the one who couldn't swim was very hesitatant about the trip, and even though the guide's balance between joking around and ensuring everyone was safe felt greatly skewed towards screwing around over safety, by the end of the trip they both thanked me, especially the one who couldn't swim, saying that I made him feel safe and confident. I sort of took it for granted doing a guided rafting tour wasn't a big a deal, but I had to remember for some people, water isn't really part of their culture, whether it's a still pool, or a rough river.

The drive back was a ride in itself. The two guides were sitting on the boat on a trailer behind the very bare jeep we were in the back of with small little benches running along its sides. The driver clearly had done the trip a million times and it was quite the hair raising ride, careening around corners. It was fun watching the two guides on the raft on the trailer behind totally comfortable, one expressionless and the leader with an easy grin. 

One of the things I love about Southeast Asia is that their idea of how safe things needs to be and how litigious they need to be is right in line with mine. So, yeah, as I was hoping, it was easy to feel like I was in the raft in Temple of Doom that goes down a whitewater river.

I managed to enlist Shortround as my trusty guide, seen here all grown up and steadfastly leading the way on an elephant. But when I noticed that, for some reason, the rest of the tour group was nowhere to be seen, doubt suddenly set in. I realized I wasn't actually too familiar with the customs and rituals of where I was and being that this tour felt very reminiscent of the film The Temple of Doom, I couldn't push out the idea that I was being lead ahead from the rest of the group because I was to be used for some kind of human sacrifice.

To be continued....

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Ever The Savvy Traveler ... (*cough*)

Prologue to my trip to Thailand.

I started this blog post while trying out different iPad Pros at an Apple Store (since I left my laptop at home). I was so surprised by how nice these new, larger iPads are, even more portable than a laptop, but just as functional, that I started to consider buying one right before my trip.

The keyboard is actually up to par and pretty much full size for a 13" laptop. Super nice. Really nice to use this little gadget. The larger 13" is even nicer but less practical for travel. This 10.5" one feels super portable for its usability.

But I ended up leaning towards the 13" iPad because I found it so much more friendly to use (big enough that I can tap with great precision, whereas I found I was fumbling a little bit with the 10.5").  Finest gadget I have acquired in quite some time, really. Basically, like using a regular size laptop, but the super slim form factor synergized with the versatility of the iPad and the power and easy to use-ness of a laptop make it a true laptop replacement. iPad Touch screen is better than the laptop touch pad, and may even be as easy and as friendly to use as a traditional mouse!

Now onto the adventure of acquiring the laptop. Who knew buying a laptop could be such an adventure? Walk into a store, ask a few questions, pull out my phone and voila, purchasing Apple products doesn't get any easier. You don't even need to wait in line as there are no cash registers in Apple stores. Alas! it wasn't to be quite as easy as all that....

Where to begin... well, at the beginning seems like a good enough place. I got off the train from Wassaic in Grand Central Station and stumbled upon an Apple Store in the station while I was trying to figure out how to leave the station and go to the nearby TD Bank to get travelers checks. I was on the fence about buying an iPad at that particular point in time, so I grabbed some sub-par juevos rancheros and then found my way to the TD Bank.

I presented my travel plans to the teller who very matter of factly stated TD Bank does not carry travelers checks. I asked her how I was to use money securely while overseas? She plainly said she did not know. She was so unhelpful that I didn't even feel comfortable asking about the bank's security measures for my account while traveling abroad. I just had that sense I would have had to have phrased the question perfectly for her to engage me in a hospitable manner and it was just too much bother at that moment in time, so I just left without finishing my business. I went to a nearby hotel where I was told travelers checks could be had by the GC Station info desk, but the hotel informed me they no longer carry them. I googled locations that have travelers checks and called a nearby Staples that was advertised as having some, but they told me they did not. Apparently travelers checks are way passé. Credit cards and certain travel debit cards seem to be the way to go.

I went to another TD Bank and remembered that my mom had a checking account that refunded ATM fees if she maintained a certain balance, so I upgraded my checking account and made the decision to use my Debit card while in Thailand and Vietnam. The tellers were almost friendly and almost happy to help, although when I asked the question about security measures for my account while overseas, I still got the static I was fearing; the look from the teller was like I had just announced I was visiting from Andromeda and that my spaceship was parked just outside. Finally, one of the tellers had the wherewithal to ask me if I had already called to tell the bank I was traveling broad, which seemed to me obvious I hadn't, being that I was now in the bank asking about it, but, wait, isn't this blog supposed to be about the misadventure of trying to buy an iPad? Unfortunately the misadventures of the first 24 hours of my trip extend beyond buying iPads and figuring out how to securely spend money while traveling abroad....

Having finally taken care of how I was going to securely spend money in SE Asia I decided I would find my way back to the GC Station Apple Store. I asked more questions, I dabbled some more on the devices and this time the gentleman assisting was very helpful and informative . So I decide that, yes, blogging with this is going to be awesome, so as long as I can hold onto it for the entire trip, it will be an awesome asset for the travel blog. I decide to give into impulse and buy it, but they don't have the model in store that I want, but tell me the 5th Ave store near Columbus Circle has it. So I make my way over and when I arrive I realize it's already 6pm. The store is insanely busy, so I immediately go up to a sales rep and tell them the exact model of iPad Pro I'd like to purchase. Several minutes later they fetch it forth and I do the Apple Pay thing with my phone, but the purchase is declined. Shortly after while I'm on hold with my bank I get a call from them and an automated message asks me some security questions about my recent purchases.  It seems the hold has been lifted, but it is declined when I try again.  Somehow an hour goes by in the Apple Store and I suddenly realize I don't have anymore time to screw around trying to buy this iPad and need to get to JFK post haste! So I leave the Apple Store, flustered and frustrated, and proceed to make one public transport blunder after another on my way to the airport.

All I could remember from my last trip to JFK by train was that I took a train from Penn Station but it wasn't a subway. However, when I asked at the info desk in Penn Station about how best to get to JFK I'm told to take the E train. I run around Penn Station but all I see are Track 1, Track 2, .. Track 11, Track 12... etc. I had even told the man I was running late and had only one chance to get it right; was he sure the E train was best way to get to JFK. I came back and asked him how to get to train E and he pointed and when I went in the direction I realized he meant E as in the subway line E! It was sometime later that I remembered it was the Long Island Railroad I had taken last time, which is much faster than a local train to Jamaica..... But at the time, my wits were a bit wayward, so I got on Train E and after a few stops realize I'm going the wrong way! I change direction. However, the train is, for some reason, not going all the way to the end of the line, and there is a transfer to a bus needed to get to the JFK Airtrain.

I get off the train and hail an Uber, something I should have done over an hour ago. My luck is finally turning! The man had just been to Thailand two weeks earlier and was very familiar with the airline I was using and which terminal. Qatar Airways is sometimes Terminal 7, sometimes Terminal 8. He tells me flights departing in the evening are terminal 8 and flights departing in the morning are terminal 7. He drops me at the airport exactly an hour before my flight departs. I race over to the now empty check in. They radio to security and tell me I do not have enough time and the airline will not let me board and that I will have to call the airline in the morning to reschedule.

One man's $573 stupidity is another's entertainment? ... I guess? So much for the savvy traveler.... Well, after all of that, I miss my flight and fail to buy the iPad. But, it turns out the 5th Ave. Apple Store is open 24 hours, and having nothing better to do on a Saturday night, ladened with a backpack, decide to try once more. But first, I better sort out my bank hold before I leave the airport where I may not have service on the train. I find an outlet by the bottom of an escalator (these are seriously hard to find in JFK. Outlets, not escalators) and plug in my phone and call my bank. An hour goes by of me pacing back and forth while my phone repeats over and over some variation of "did you know? You can take care of most of your banking needs online!" and people going by looking at me quizzically. Finally, just before I was about to give up waiting any longer, on my way to the airtrain and still on hold, a TD Bank rep answers. I explain everything that's happened with the card and she assures me the hold is lifted, and also, that if I contact TD Bank through the APP next time, hold times will not exceed one minute. Gee, do you think the hour of on-hold recordings I just suffered through could have mentioned that little detail? 

Back in the Apple Store, card still declining. Finally I decide to try paying the old fashioned way, not through Apple Pay (both use the same card, though, so I don't see why there should be a difference), but there is, and the purchase goes through. The next morning I call the airline and while I'm booking, for a moment, I think the tails of the airlines are sails on the harbor. I think I might be a mite bit tired, but I won't be sleeping in a bed for more than another 24 hours yet.

Monday, January 14, 2013

car pics

there is a blog i should be doing but i am too spent at present.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Sandy earns her name: 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hurry Up and Wait

Steffen and Melissa's wedding hit all the right notes and all 'round tear ducts were in full pump mode.  I decided to drive to NYC with Mom, Allie and Shawn to see them off and, apparently, drive them to the airport, as well as catch up with some curly-locked Shinerocks.  After some mighty delectable Maker's Mark whiskey hot chocolate, I crashed at Sol's place in Brooklyn and left in the morning so that I would be cutting it close, because where's the fun if there isn't a little risk and danger?  Except, as I was getting ready to leave, I forgot that I had to go all the way up town, not just cross the water into Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights.  So I scrambled my stuff together and started hobbling toward the station as fast as my cane abled body would move, downloading the NYC Subway app on my way, since iOS6 no longer has directions via public transport built in.  The express (Green line number 5) to Manhattan turned out to have some issues, though, and the PA comes on alerting all the passengers that it will be suspended for an indefinite amount of time forcing me to hoof it several blocks to the Red express line (number 3) to the upper west side.  I exit the station to see the Freedom Tower rising directly in front of me.  My backpack is kinda heavy and the cane supported hobbling is severely hampered by the added weight to my otherwise light frame.  I'm underground again and hear the train coming to a stop some distance away and so am racing down the stairs against a sea of exit-passengers.  One man is headed toward me (I'm on the right side holding onto the right railing) so he's coming up on his left.  I see he has no intention of getting out of my way and doesn't budge when I bark at him something to the effect "hey, dude, clearly I'm in some kind of rush here and I'm not exactly fit, so move".  I think I actually said "Excuse me!"  Damn New Yorkers, think they can just bully and hustle their way through a quasy-nimble cripple.

As I hit the landing the doors to the stopped train are still open.  I amble over as fast as I can but they shut just as I approach them.  Man, I've put in way too much effort to come this close only for the train to leave without me.  I press my hands against the windows of the door and ... pull it open, somewhat to my surprise and pleasure.  I jostle my way inside, ungainly, and hurriedly plop myself down in the first available seat, anxious to rest.   I find myself seated among three very attractive young, professional ladies, two across from me and one next to me.  They are completely non-plussed.  

As the train is moving along I'm thinking if there is anything I might want to just double check.  I look at the map--yep, red 3 line is express to Upper West Side.  Nothing I need to double check with other passengers.  All's good.  A couple stops later, the lovelies leave and I hear the station announcement "Fulton" or "Wall St." Wait.. am I even going in the right direction?  I ask the guy now to my left what direction this train is headed and he says downtown.  AWWWWWWWSUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUMM!

In a quasi-panic I rush out of the train and head up the stairs, trying to figure out where I need to go to get the uptown train.  I ask another guy at the top of the stairs and he directs me back down the stairs I just came up.  Oh, look, there are two tracks running parallel to each other.  One goes UP TOWN and the other DOWN.  Novel, isn't it?

I get off the train around 10:10am at Broadway and W 86th St, two long blocks to Vinny's apartment.  I text Allie if they can drive the car to me, as I'm feeling like a battered old man.  "We haven't gotten dressed yet so come up to the apartment."  Ever since Steffen aptly tagged the absurdity of air travel with the line "hurry up and wait" I can't help but smile.

On the way down to NYC, we stopped by Mike and Becky's in Beacon where we received a warm welcome as always.

Becky graciously treated us to lunch where I masterfully removed my entire entree from my plate to my mouth with chopsticks.  Definitely a first.  And, yes, it included a full bowl of rice.

Their addition is coming along famously:

Michael Zelehoski is an artist.  His latest tool is not a paintbrush or a stencil, or a even a chisel.  It's a giant, 2500 pound table saw.

"this is the mother of all table saws, pretty much."

It's an Alendorf F45, yo and Jesse Pinkman's got nothing on this bitch.

Later we climbed a tower but there was something not quite right about the chocolate brownies we had eaten earlier that Becky had made us and the tower started to become distorted: 

No, I'm just kidding.  This is one of Michael's art pieces.  Don't ask me how he produces with that giant, crude machine such carefully crafted pieces as this; that's just the genius that is Michael Zelehoski.

If you want to see more of his work, type his name into a google image search.

On the way back from NYC mom and I took the scenic root.  Peekskill is a cute little town with some seriously steep streets:

Some beautiful houses on the river:

The Hudson:

I leave you with a song: