Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Around the World: Back in Hong Kong

February 1, 1992

The flight to Hong Kong was a much more pleasant experience under Cathay's capable service.  Breakfast was heavily laden with croissants, coffee, fruit and a delicious omelet.

The flight arrived in Hong Kong airspace early, but with only one runway and two days before Chinese New Year, being early just means the plane gets to make more circles before landing.  Last time I flew into Hong Kong, it was evening and dark and I knew we were close to buildings but holy my-good-golly wow!  The lady sitting beside me has her eyes shut as tight as they'll close and is gripping the seat's arm rests for her life.  I admire her bravery and even more so, the precision required to get this plane to the runway.  I swear we landed with someone's laundry on the wing!

Welcome to Hong Kong

Hong Kong is pretty easy to get around, and as it is still a British colony, English is widely spoken and understood.  The hostel is cozy, basically a small apartment full of beds and a communal bathroom.  Both in the hostel and out on the city streets is a clear understanding that space is a precious comfort and very highly respected.

My hostel mates are friendly and invite me to accompany them for dinner. The streets are crowded, something I was worried about, not being a fan of crowds.  Fortunately, I have the advantage of height so I don't feel boxed in by the volume of people and very little obstructs my view.  My mates are using me as their beacon in the crowd, as my sun bleached blonde hair is easy to pick out amongst the dark-haired sea of people.

Hong Kong money requires my 7 times tables to convert.  Couldn't be something easy like 5 or 4 or 2 or 10. No.  Seven!  Bloody hell!  My British hostel mates have to divide everything by 13.  I suppose I shouldn't complain.

My hostel mates have agreed to join me for Dim Sum tomorrow. 

• ¤ •

"It is a curious emotion, this certain homesickness I have in mind. ...We are torn between a nostalgia for the familiar and an urge for the foreign and strange. As often as not, we are homesick most for the places we have never known."
~Carson McCullers

Monday, January 30, 2012

Around the World: On a Wing and a Prayer

January 31, 1992

Today is my last day on Bali.  Toasted the island with a few refreshing sips of Bintang, the local beer, before packing up for the trip to Jakarta tonight and the flight to Hong Kong tomorrow morning.  The peaceful, beach side setting is frequently interrupted by nearby vendors who seek out tourists and relentlessly attempt to persuade them into their shops.  "Come and see my shop", "I give you cheap price", "You buy one thing and bring me luck."  I know once I'm in the store, being not interested is not an option if I plan on leaving and as much as I sympathize that these people are only trying to earn a living, I am finding it easier and easier to lose my patience with the constant badgering.

Bintang by the beach

Said our goodbye's at Denpasar airport and now I am waiting for my 9pm flight to Jakarta.  There is very little offered in the way of seating in the departure lounge, so I've turned my backpack into a chair.  To pass the time, I dig out my sewing kit and make an attempt to embroider a Canadian flag on my backpack.  I know nothing of embroidery, so I'm pretty impressed that my lame effort is almost recognizable.

My 9pm flight has been delayed until 3:45am because of an unknown maintenance issue.  I was given the option to get on another flight scheduled to leave at 9:30, now delayed until 11pm for another unspecified maintenance issue.  An airline staff member is handing out free drinks and cookies to apologize for the delay.  Nothing else to do but check out the bathroom, and thankfully, the facilities come with instructions.  There's a hole in the tile floor with foot prints painted on either side.  I think I get it.  This reminds me of my high school's frosty frolic evenings, except there's no snow and I'm wearing a lot less clothes.

Garuda, the national airline of Indonesia

Finally, we are boarding the plane.  Some of the seat covers are torn which goes well with the rest of the interior, indicating that this plane has seen better days.  I just hope it still flies.

Arrived in Jakarta with flames spurting from one of the engines.There is a garbled announcement, something about losing the use of one engine in flight and to follow instructions to evacuate the aircraft.  There are only 30 people on board so we are all quickly ushered out of the aircraft down a transportable staircase and into a waiting bus that whisks us to the terminal. While I am elated to have landed safely, the crew and airport staff are treating the situation as a minor inconvenience, like this sort of thing happens all the time.  A bench outside Jakarta International Airport is my home for the night until I board the plane for Hong Kong in the morning. 

• ¤ •
"How we sing as we limp through the air.
Look below, there's our field over there!
With just one motor gone,
We can still carry on,
Comin' in on a wing and a prayer."
~Harold Adamson and Jimmie McHugh

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Around the World: Tanah

January 29, 1992

After breakfast, we planned to head northwest to Tabanan, to see the mythical Tanah Lot temple, constructed upon a rock shaped by centuries of ocean tides.  During breakfast, Tracey and her parents got into an argument and although none of them were speaking to each other, we decided to go anyway.

We were barely on our way when a storm dumped monsoon worthy rains upon us and without any warning, another taxi drove into the side of ours.  No one was hurt, which is amazing as there are no seat belts, and the chaos encouraged the family to resume communications.  It seems rain is good for more than making plants green.

We switched to another taxi, as the windows were shattered in the crash and the car was not drive-able.  Fortunately, the rain let up for a spectacular view of the Tanah Lot temple.

Tanah Lot temple at high tide

I tried to get a closer look at the temple, but was cautioned against it by one of the officials who informed me that poisonous sea snakes are plentiful around and on the island.  Hindu legend says that a giant sea snake guards the island from intruders and I didn't want to risk being mistaken for one.

The taxi then brought us into Kuta for some shopping, where we recognized Pauline and Ben, a couple we had met on Ko Samui.  We shared a taxi to Uluwatu, rumoured to have views of the best sunsets on Bali.  I'll never know because another storm clouded over any chance to see it.  Instead we found a restaurant and talked until the rain let up.  They gave me their address in Bournemouth, England and offered me an invitation to stay at their bed and breakfast inn.

• ¤ •

Luck affects everything; let your hook always be cast; in the stream where you least expect it, there will be a fish.
~ Ovid

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Around the World: Ubud, Bali

January 26, 1992

Found a Lonely Planet guide to South East Asia.  The prices are out of whack, as it was published in 1985, but it's still useful for looking up sights to visit and explore.

Hoping for some relief from the heat, I went for a swim in the hotel pool.  It's a rare treat to find a pool that is refreshingly cool and this pool was not one of them, like trying to cool off in a hot bath.

There's a gecko just outside the window and Anna informs us that there is a big bug in the bathroom with her.  By the sound of the shoe smacking going on, it sounds like it's a good size, but apparently (and thankfully) kill-able.

Today, Tracey and I rented a taxi for half the day, which cost 300,000 Rupiah ($15).  I don't know if I'll get used to seeing all these zeros on the cost of things.  It's as close to being a millionaire as I'm ever going to get, and the illusion only costs about $50.

The Elephant Cave near Ubud

After a few stops at some markets in Ubud, the taxi brought us to visit the Hindu archaeological site of Goa Gajah and the Elephant Cave.  Anyone with clothing that does not cover their knees must rent a sarong for 5,000 Rupiah (25¢) to enter the temple grounds.  The carved entrance of a demonic mouth is meant to symbolize the entrance to the underworld.  Of particular interest are the number of Buddhist relics excavated from within the cave and its close proximity to a Buddhist temple.  It is believed the Elephant Cave was dug completely by the hands of Hindu priests, and although the exact age of the cave is unknown, the first mention of Goa Gajah and the Elephant Cave was in the Javanese poem, "Desawarnana" written in 1365.

Long-tailed macaques

Not far from the cave is the Monkey Forest, a sanctuary for over 300 long-tailed macaque monkeys.  This is not a zoo setting where there is some barrier to separate visitors from the wildlife.  When posted signs caution visitors not to feed the animals, it is wise to heed the advice.  Two guys in the small group just ahead of Tracey and I held out a banana to attract a monkey or two down from the trees for a photo opportunity.  The guys were quickly swarmed by a dozen or more macaques who not only took the banana, but both their ball caps, a pair of glasses and the camera they hoped to snap the photo with.  By far, it was the best example of stupidity I've ever had the pleasure to witness.

After a day of exploring, we came back to the hotel and went for a dip in the warm pool and a very delicious pasta dinner.  Settling in for the night with a little light reading about the unique and strange that is India.

• ¤ •

"Luck can often mean simply taking advantage of a situation at the right moment. It is possible to make your luck by being always prepared."
~- Michael Korda

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Around the World: Bali

January 24, 1992

After a short flight from Jakarta to Denpasar, on the island province of Bali, we hired a taxi to take us to the hotel.  The place Harvey picked out has that Hollywood Hills appeal - a bathtub big enough to swim in, private garden, huge rooms and big price tag.  We enjoyed the luxury for a short time before investigating another hotel.  Harvey found one that is just as comfortable, a little smaller, less extravagant for a quarter the price.  It's available tomorrow.

We stopped in Kuta for a bite to eat and some shopping.  I bought a couple swim suits and some beach wear for 40,000 Rupiah (about $2) each.  It's wise to check everything for rips, tears, cracks, because the vendors will try to sell anything in any condition and once you accept it, it's your problem.

Tracey got trapped in a store when the vendor wouldn't let her leave until she bought something, so she chose a T-shirt, offered the guy 30,000 Rupiah and left.  It seems, here in Bali, the price of freedom is about a buck and a half.

• ¤ •

"The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it."
~John Stewart Mill

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Around the World: Jakarta, Indonesia

January 23, 1992

This was the shortest flight I've been on yet.  As soon as we were airborne, the meal service started.  Beginning at the front of the aircraft, the trays were dealt, with the utmost courtesy, to each passenger like a high stakes poker game.  Once the seats in the rear of the plane had their meals, trays were collected from the front rows.  I asked for a beer as I handed my tray to the stewardess racing past, pushing the service cart to the rear of the plane.  She politely tossed me an unopened can of beer as she dashed by in the opposite direction. When the plane landed in Jakarta, I still had the beer, half full, in my hand.

Harvey met me at the airport and shuttled Anna, Tracey and I off in a taxi to meet his business partner, Erwanto, for "Padang", a traditional Indonesian lunch. The waiter brings out dozens of plates, each containing a different dish. You eat what you want and the waiter calculates the price at the end of the meal.  After lunch, Erwanto brought everyone to a shopping mall where Tracey and I split up from Harvey and Anna.  Most of the stuff I was interested in buying is made in India, so I'll wait until I get there.  When we met up again, Erwanto brought us to his house for supper, where his wife prepared a traditional, home cooked, Indonesian meal.

Erwanto tells us he lives in a safe neighbourhood.  His house, located in what I suspect is suburban Jakarta, is surrounded by a ten foot high and two foot thick concrete wall, embedded with hundreds of glass shards along the top.  Inside the wall, is a small courtyard to park cars, store bicycles, and other outdoor items.  Over the front entrance is a secure, but flimsy sheet of corrugated sheet metal, strong enough to provide shelter, but not enough to support a person trying to gain access to a second floor window.  There is also an alarm system and closed circuit cameras constantly monitoring the perimeter of the house.

The thought of what a ghetto in Jakarta is like has me genuinely frightened.

• ¤ •

"Today, give a stranger one of your smiles.
It might be the only sunshine he sees all day."
~H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Around the World: Singapore

January 21, 1992

Today's tour of Singapore was done on foot.  I'm not sure quite what I was expecting from a large city on a small island nation, but it doesn't feel packed-in-crowded or overwhelmingly chaotic like Bangkok.  There are comfortable, open green spaces, wide streets, wide sidewalks, and everything in its place.  The neat and tidy, I was fully expecting as Singapore regards littering as a serious offense, serious enough to cost the offender several thousand dollars in fines and many hours of humiliating community service.  Even chewing gum in public can earn the bubble blowing culprit a $50 fine.

Street in Singapore
Photo by zze

There is much to like about Singapore.  English is the official language, it is a city designed for shopping and people are as courteous as one might expect any urban dwelling citizen to be.  What I really love about Singapore is what we have in common.  A wholehearted detest for durian (king) fruit.  See! It's not just me, there's a whole country that appreciates the absence of that death-in-a-bag smell.

Singapore has a very low incidence of drug trafficking and drug use in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia and is regarded as one of the safest cities in the world.  It's relaxing to explore the city on foot, window shop, admire statues and fountains and stop for the occasional snack or break.  There is no shortage of closed circuit cameras mounted in plain view throughout the city.  Although it's always wise to be cautious, I feel quite safe here.

The airport offers a free city tour, so I'll take in what I can on my own and enjoy the tour tomorrow while I wait for the flight to Jakarta.  I don't know if I'm looking forward to spending more time with Harvey, but Anna has offered to lighten my backpack by bringing a few things home with them.  In the meantime, I'll enjoy the fresh, durian free air and the sanctuary of Singapore while it lasts.

• ¤ •

"Wherever you go, no matter what the weather, always bring your own sunshine.
~Anthony J. D'Angelo

Friday, January 20, 2012

Around the World: Solace in Singapore

January 20, 1992

Arrived in Singapore very tired.

After the fiasco on the train to Bangkok, I finally settled down enough to fall asleep.  Anna decided to open a bag of those durian king fruit, smells-like-dehydrated-death chips at 3am and the stench wafting out of the bag startled me awake.  I was certain that someone nearby had died, until I heard the telltale crinkling of her hand reaching into the bag.  I get a break from Harvey for a few days before we meet up again in Indonesia.

Shirley gave me a name and vague directions to a hostel in Singapore, but between new surroundings and fatigue, I could not, for the life of me, find it.  I did find a coin operated phone and called one of the numbers for the short list of hostels I had brought with me.  The first place I called was full, but the person on the other end of the phone gave me the number for another, which was also full, but again, apologies with a phone number for another place.  Finally, the fourth place I called had room and wasn't that far away from the phone booth I was calling from.

I'm staying at the Peony Mansion for $7 a night, including breakfast.  I'm so happy to have a place to stay, and a bed to sleep in, I can forgive the exaggeration in accuracy of the hostel's name.  The "mansion" is actually a two bedroom flat (two bunk beds per room), with a fridge for a kitchen and a toilet and sink in the bathroom.

Not far away from the hostel is a restaurant that's a bit out of my budget, but I feel the urge to splurge after last night's train trip of ignorance and noxious aroma.  I've earned a treat, and the Indonesian food is delicious and filling and I learned too late that the most expensive item on the menu is the juice.  Right now, I don't care.  There's a bed with my name on it waiting for me and the most obnoxious smell in the room is the comforting odor of my sleeping bag.

• ¤ •

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.
~Robert Frost

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Around the World: On the Train to Bangkok

January 19, 1992

"We're on the train to Bangkok, aboard the Thailand Express..." (Passage to Bangkok, Rush)

Well, it's not the Thailand Express, more like the State Railway of Thailand.  Thailand has the most intriguing dialect of English.  There's a sign under the window by my seat that says:

I'll do my best.

The toilets on the train are interesting.  The seat (which I'm not sure is actually meant to be sat on), is more like an elevated platform at a height just below my knees with a hole in the middle.  It takes a great deal of co-ordination to hang onto a bar with one hand while squatting over a target that seems to be in constant and unpredictable motion.

The train should be arriving in Bangkok around 6am tomorrow.  I have a berth to sleep in, which is just barely large enough to not be claustrophobic, complete with curtains to enable a little privacy.  Harvey is having a conversation with a guy passing through our car while I climb up into my bed.  I can't make out much of the conversation between them, other than Harvey is telling the guy that he is traveling with his wife and daughters.

Next thing I know, the curtain to my berth opens and I'm staring at this guy's face.  I ask what he wants, thinking he might be a train employee asking for my ticket.  He reaches into the berth toward me and I am able to push his hand away, only to realize he is reaching in with the other.  I spit out an earful of profanity and insults and inflict a few bruises from what appendages I can free to deter his groping.

Perhaps it was seeing me pounce out of the berth, or the realization that I am almost a foot taller than him, or my expression and stance that can only mean further harm is imminent.  More likely, it was something outside of the vision enclosing rage that encouraged the guy to leave.  Harvey appears quite amused as Anna explains to me what had just happened.  The guy had offered Harvey a few thousand baht for his daughters.  Harvey, pointed to my berth and said, "You can have the one that's up there."

There is no love for the human male in this car at the moment, and Harvey doesn't understand why.  Bangkok cannot come fast enough.

• ¤ •

"I get my kicks above the waistline, sunshine.
One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble;
Not much between despair and ecstasy.
One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble;
Can't be too careful with your company.
I can feel the Devil walking next to me."
~Murray Head

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Around the World: Not For Sale

January 18, 1992

I made a small fortune, for Thailand, cutting hair on the beach today.  All it took was one brave (or desperate) person to consent and I spent the afternoon answering repeated demands for my hair cutting services. 

Image by Stardust Astronette

Eager for an alternative to the beach, I was thrilled to discover the hotel has a pool table.  Tracey and I were in the middle of a game when two Thai guys came in and demanded the table, saying it was their time to play.  Their attitude irked me, that we should just end our half finished game because they showed up?  Half joking, I cockily suggested, "Winner gets the table."

They laughed out loud, and one of the guys said, "Okay."

Tracey muttered something unintelligible under her breath and left, leaving me alone with these two guys.  I fully expected to soon be handed my cocky attitude, which may very well have been the case if the guy I was playing wasn't so inebriated.  He could barely line up the cue ball, and it wasn't long into the game that his friend walked out on him.  When I sunk the last ball, I put my cue down and planned to make a polite departure, but my opponent just picked up his drink and walked out of the room without a word.

Later in the evening, I joined Tracey and her parents in the hotel's karaoke bar and discovered it's that and a bit more.  Even though the bar contained tourists and locals, I noticed that only Thai girls go up to sing.  From where I was sitting, I could see some men sitting at a table chatting and exchanging money.  When the song ended, the singer was greeted by one of the men and the "couple" would leave through a door beside the stage.

One of the men passed by our table and Harvey volunteered Tracey and I to sing.  The man gave Harvey a peculiar look and walked away without any more acknowledgement.  Harvey turned to Anna and slurred, "I think the girls should go up and sing.  Maybe they'll make enough to pay for us to stay an extra night or two!"

Anna shot him a disgusted look and excused herself, suggesting that Tracey and I should get a good night's rest before the train trip back to Bangkok tomorrow.

• ¤ •

"Guess that's thirty-one pieces of silver you've got now, huh? Sleep well, Judas."
~Mark Millar

Monday, January 16, 2012

Around the World: Small Pleasures

January 16, 1992

Another day spent hanging out on the beach.  It was such a refreshing change to get away from the hotel yesterday and see some of the island.  There's transportation into a nearby town, which is basically a pick-up truck with a canopy covering. The town is full of touristy shopping: Thai knock-offs of Rolex watches, Gucci bags and copyright infringed music, except Thailand doesn't recognize international copyright laws, and other than a few pieces of clothing, there's very little worth purchasing.

Fisherman's Village near Bo Phut Beach

I'm looking forward to getting back to Bangkok.  Harvey and Tracey prefer to spend their days sitting on the beach drinking for hours.  Harvey is most unpleasant company by mid afternoon, when Anna makes an attempt to encourage him into the hotel room for a sobering nap.  By then, she is sufficiently frustrated, which ends up instigating some sort of family feud.  It's usually a great time for me to watch the waves, while playing with the stray puppies I've befriended on the beach.

Photo by Sharon Schneider

Fortunately, I found a recent Lonely Planet guidebook for India in town for $6.  From what little I've read so far, it's money well spent.  Not only is it pleasantly distracting from the daily drunken tirades, but I am getting the sense from the traveler's hints and tips that it's a place that requires some preparation.

• ¤ •

"I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it."
~Groucho Marx

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Around the World: Exploring Ko Samui

January 15, 1992

Explored some of the sites on the island today in a rented jeep.  Not far from the hotel is the Big Buddah, a 12 meter high gold statue that is visible for miles over the treetops.  On the opposite side of the island is the Buddah Footprint, which is a vaguely distinguishable imprint in a substance similar to concrete, however the hilltop shrine has a remarkable view of the island.  The scenery is a nice reward while I catch my breath after climbing the 163 steps to the top.

Big Buddah
Photo by Silver Sand

On our way to one of the island's many temples, the jeep narrowly missed being wiped off the road by a rock slide.  Fortunately, there was just enough time to stop and watch a few large boulders tumble across the road just beyond the hood.

Disaster averted, it only seemed appropriate to continue to the Buddhist shrine of Wat Kiri Wongkaram, which houses the remains of the Buddhist monk, Luang-Por Rerm.  After living a life of purity and meditation for 66 years, his body naturally mummified upon his death without any chemical preservation. The monk is on display, behind glass, and although he's been dead since 1966, his nails and hair continue to grow.  Sections of his hair and nails are cut and used as protective charms.

Walking around the grounds of the temple, I found an interesting specimen, not unlike this...

Photo by Alexander Marc Eckert

 ...hanging out between two poles that supported a sign.  I was just passing under the sign when I saw this gigantic, platter-size spider waiting in a web spun just inches above my head.  Although instinct told me to stop and retreat, I didn't want to risk leaping out of my skin and disturbing the web.  I continued past "Sentry Spider, Sir", hoping to find an alternate route back to the main entrance that didn't exist, unless I wanted to wade through the bushes.  If something this big is out in the open, I'm not eager to find out what's hiding under cover.  Realizing I would have to pass under the web again, I crouched down and bolted past the sign.  Although the spider remained motionless, I wasn't going to chance taking my eyes off it.

Limbo:  it's not just a party game.  It's a survival strategy.

• ¤ •
"Let us rise up and be thankful; for if we didn't learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn't learn a little, at least we didn't get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn't die; so, let us all be thankful."

Friday, January 13, 2012

Around the World: Beachside Thoughts

January 13, 1992

While I'm soaking up the sun, sand and surf, I'm trying to get a sense of where of I am.

Just on the horizon is the island of Ko Pha Ngan, an idyllic tropical paradise known for it's monthly Full Moon parties and openly tolerated drug culture.  According to Shirley, who spent a few weeks on the island, it's not uncommon to meet a handful of Westerners who have sold their passports to fund their drug habits and long term stay.  She also mentioned that tourist-on-tourist crime is fairly common.  Ko Pha Ngan is also popular among divers for the islands plentiful coral reefs and exotic fish. It's wise to know where to find what you want to do, and easy to accidentally stumble upon trouble.

Photo by Our World Travels

Despite very strict laws, Thailand appears to tolerate casual drug use within its borders without much concern, however, the authorities are explicitly clear that death is the penalty for attempting to smuggle any illegal drug out of Thailand.

Bangkok, it is said, smells like sex.  To me, it smells like a combination of incense and car exhaust.  The pollution in the city is so thick, when children draw pictures, they colour the sky yellow.  Behind all that particulate matter, however, is a thriving sex industry, where almost one third of the country's estimated 2.8 million sex workers are children.  Although prostitution in Thailand is illegal, it is conveniently disguised under the term "service worker", where a specific interest can be chosen from a sort of showcase in the country's massage parlors, karaoke bars and bath houses to provide the establishment's advertised service, but behind closed doors, actually do a whole lot more.

Even as a tourist, on a tourist-industry fueled island, the sense that women are not equal in Thai society is transparent.  Although women have the right the vote, they don't seem to have much of a voice.  Pausing for thought, I realize that Harvey's beach-side beer consumption has convinced him to embrace his inner chauvinist. 

The beauty of the scenery suddenly seems to have lost its appeal.

• ¤ •

"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference."
~Elie Wiesel

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Around the World: Ko Samui

January 11, 1992

The ferry to Ko Samui seemed to take forever, after the uncomfortably long and loud bus trip.  Once the ferry docked, another bus, this one without windows and wooden planks for seating, was waiting to bring passengers to their island destinations.  After suitcases and backpacks were piled in a carefully tied heap on the roof, we headed to the Sandy Resort at Bo Phut Beach.  Anna insists on offering her bag of king fruit chips that she brought with her to snack on, which I am trying very graciously to decline.  The smell that erupts out of a freshly opened bag of king chips is best described as morbid.  Someone with a sick sense of humour has found a way to preserve the aroma of death and disguise it as a healthy snack.

On a more pleasant thought, there's a vitamin drink here called Red Bull.  It tastes like the Flintstones chewable vitamins I had as a kid, only in liquid form.  It's quite the pick-me-up.

Sandy Beach bungalow

Finally, we arrive and settle into the hotel room.  While we feast on lunch in the hotel restaurant, I've sent the contents of my backpack to the capable, soapy, hot water treatment of the hotel laundry service for 150 baht ($6).  All I have to wear until it returns is my swim suit.  As I'm heading toward the beach, I am reminded of the Hideaway Hotel in Fiji, with it's bungalow style accommodations.  I half expect to find a concrete wall and a building housing a dorm with 60 beds inside, although I wouldn't trade that for the little bit of luxury I'm being treated to now.

• ¤ •
There is nothing like an odor to stir memories.
~ William McFee

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Around the World: Bangkok and Beyond

January 10, 1992

Started the morning with guided tour of the floating market.  It was such an interesting experience to have a store floating on the water.  Little canoe-like boats, mostly containing fruit, paddled up to the tour boat.  I didn't buy anything because all the fruit was already either peeled or cut and anything that has come into contact with the local water is a recipe for illness.  That, and the fact that the waterway is also an open sewer was all the reason I needed to be cautious.

Bangkok Floating Market
Photo by bangkok.com

I did manage to do a little shopping on the streets around the hotel, and getting used to the currency.  Up until now, prices have been fairly close to what I would pay in Canadian dollars, a couple cents less or more, but nothing that required any substantial amount of math.  Thai currency is 25 baht to 1 Canadian dollar.  It's strange seeing a piece of clothing for 200 baht, then haggling the vendor down to 100 baht, and realizing the item only costs $4.

Tonight, we are headed south and then to an island in the Gulf of Thailand called Ko Samui.  The plan was to take the train, but tickets for first and second class are sold out.  There are third class seats available, but tourists are apparently not permitted to travel in third class.  Tracey talked her parents into investigating other options at a travel store we had seen on Khao San Road.  Harvey went in to speak with the sales agent and came out of the store with bus tickets.

Khao San Road
Photo by traverati

Khao San Road is where backpackers go to find cheap accommodations, inexpensive restaurants, and travel arrangements.  It's touristy and crowded, with the same noise and chaos that is uniquely Bangkok.   

We were told to wait at the store front for the bus that was due to arrive at 5p.m.  As the hour approaches and we are all expecting to see a bus arriving, one of the store employees comes out and explains that we should now follow him to the bus departure point.  He guides us on a long walk, through alleys and streets, which really irritated Harvey and Anna, who had to carry and drag their suitcases behind them.

This bus ride ends early tomorrow morning in Surat Thani, a town on the south west coast of the Gulf of Thailand, where we will catch the ferry to Ko Samui.  In the meantime, I have a really loud movie in Thai to drown out all of the other sounds on the bus, as I attempt to find a comfortable position to sleep in the coach seat, snuggled in under the complimentary blanket.

• ¤ •
"Not when truth is dirty, but when it is shallow, does the enlightened man dislike to wade into its waters."
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Monday, January 9, 2012

Around the World: Bangkok

January 9, 1992

I just had the best airline breakfast!  Spinach omelet with raspberry pudding for dessert.  I even had a decent sleep at the airport.

Arrived in the insanity that is Bangkok.  Outside the airport, I found the area where I could hire a taxi to the hotel.  Five drivers gathered around me, hollering out their starting price and I haggled and bartered their price down until only one remained.  Once the car pulled into traffic, I wondered if I had made a wise decision basing the driver's services on price alone.

I'm on what I believe is supposed to be a highway.  There are painted lines, indicating that there should be four lanes of traffic, but the six rows of cars disagree.  Occasionally, there is a break in the concrete divider that separates traffic moving in the opposite direction and my driver has decided that the shoulder of oncoming traffic is an acceptable place to drive.  From my perspective, in the back seat, it would probably be best if I just closed my eyes and prayed, but terror has frozen my eyelids wide open.

Bangkok "tuk-tuk"

By the sheer grace of fate, I arrive at the hotel and meet up with my room mate, Tracey and her parents, Harvey and Anna.  We caught up over snacks and a few nerve-calming beers before heading out for dinner with Shirley, my neighbour who has been traveling for over a year.  The five of us piled into a "tuk-tuk", which is a small covered cart hitched to a motorbike. There's a bench that would seat three well-acquainted, very skinny people.  Tracey and her parents, who don't fit this description at all, crammed into the bench, while Shirley and I intertwined ourselves into human pretzels on the floor.  I couldn't control the laughter, knowing that I was one of six people on a motorcycle and not a single Shriner among us.

Our three-wheeled tuk-tuk sometimes rides on two wheels on a tight corner.  We bumped and bounced along, down the wrong way of a one way street, into a gutter, cutting off buses and other vehicles before arriving relatively unharmed at the restaurant. 

The city streets are lined with vendors.  On the sidewalk, outside store fronts, vendors set up their wares on makeshift tables at the edge of the road.  In addition to the city's usual street vendors, there's also a night market, and a floating market.  There seems to be any reason for a market, as if Bangkok is for sale and everything must go.

• ¤ •

"Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving."
~Albert Einstein

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Around the World: Entering Asia

January 8, 1992

The $4 shuttle exploded into a cloud of steam on the way to the airport.  After a bit of road side maintenance, I finally made it to Sydney International Airport, where I spent several hours queuing in a variety of different lines before finding my seat on the plane.

Before the journey north to Hong Kong begins, we are headed 800 km south and west to Melbourne so everyone can get off the plane and wait in the departure lounge for a couple of hours.

Once the passengers have boarded again in Melbourne and the obligatory safety presentation is out of the way, I plug my headphones into the seat and I am treated to a little Inflight channel comedy.

"Attention passengers, this is your Captain speaking.  We are currently at an altitude of 33,000 feet at a cruising speed of 850 km/hr.  If you look out the windows on the left side of the plane, you will see...  the Pacific Ocean.  

If you look out the windows on the right side of the plane, you will see the Pacific Ocean and a tiny yellow dot.  Inside that yellow dot are four smaller black dots.  Those dots are me and my crew.  We hope you enjoy your flight."

747 on final approach to Kai-tak (Hong Kong International Airport)
Photo by Ywchow

This my first flight on Cathay Pacific and the treatment of the passengers is phenomenal.  The kids on board have all been given a complimentary knapsack with crayons, a watch, a pencil case, deck of cards and a booklet of games and puzzles.  I admit, I'm a little jealous.  The cabin crew are ever so attentive, and this is Economy.  I imagine first class probably has a jacuzzi and masseuse. 

The approach into Hong Kong includes a breathtaking view of the city.  On a hillside, in the distance are lights in the shape of a huge dragon.  It's dark and difficult to make out details of the city, but I can see we are pretty close to tall buildings.  By close, I mean I can see televisions that are on through the buildings' windows.  The airport's only runway, I've learned, is the shortest in the world, and at the end of it, is Victoria Harbour. 

I'll be back to explore Hong Kong in a few weeks.  Tonight, the airport will be my home.  I'm flying out tomorrow for Bangkok, Thailand to meet up with some familiar faces from home.

• ¤ •

Some interesting facts about the approach to Kai-tak Airport
(no longer in operation):

Photo by Toblerone

The runway at Hong Kong's Kai-tak International Airport is 3390 m long.  
"Larger aircraft including widebodies (an airliner with two passenger aisles) will usually require at least 8,000 ft (2,400 m) at sea level and somewhat more at higher altitude airports. International widebody flights, which carry substantial amounts of fuel and are therefore heavier, may also have landing requirements of 10,000 ft (3,000 m) or more and takeoff requirements of 13,000 ft (4,000 m)+." (Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runway)

Kai-tak International Airport moves 29 million passengers and 1.5 million tonnes of freight annually.   


Less than 10 km to the north, the terrain reaches an altitude of 2,000 feet (610 m).  Just across the street from the runway are buildings up to 6 stories tall.  The hills less than 5 km to the northeast, and to the south just beyond Victoria Harbour, top out at 2,100 feet (640 m).  


On a typical approach, the aircraft passes over the densely populated area of Western Kowloon.  This leg of the approach is guided by an IGS (Instrument Guidance System, a modified ILS).

A small hill marked with a red and white checkerboard is used as a visual reference point on the final approach (in addition to the IGS).  Just two nautical miles from touchdown, the pilot needs to make a 47° visual right turn, starting at a height of 660 feet and ending at a height of 140 feet, lining up with the runway just shortly before touchdown. This maneuver is widely known among pilots as the "Hong Kong Turn" or "Checkerboard Turn". (Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kai_Tak_Airport)

Hong Kong Kai-tak International Airport approach.
Photo by Derek Yung

Under ideal circumstances, landing at Kai-tak airport is challenging.  The mountains to the northeast of the airport cause wind to vary greatly in both speed and direction, as do strong crosswinds during typhoon season. Hong Kong is not a place that typically experiences ideal weather conditions.


The last flight occurred on July 6, 1998, when Kai-tak was officially closed, and replaced by Chep Lap Kok, located 30km to the west.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Around the World: Sydney

January 7, 1992

I don't know if I'm ready for Australia and it's legendary snakes and spiders after experiencing Fiji's indestructible "little black animals", but here I am, in Sydney getting the tourist overview on how to avoid unwanted nibbling.  Basically, the rule is look before you... well, do anything, really.

Sydney is quite a beautiful city.  I get the sense, as I wander around the city that every constructed building, every tree lining the streets, every little nuance was built with the utmost care and attention to the finest of details.

A trip to the Art Gallery was just the treat I needed.  The displays in the main gallery were somewhat typical of standard art gallery art.  Beautifully done, but nothing that really stood out to me, although some of the paintings dated back to the 1400's.  What really settled my soul were the high school art presentations on display in the basement.  There was an interesting piece in comic strip style.  One display was a piece on a flat board with little framed pictures of 3D scenes; one frame had a young girl sitting on a bed, another frame had an unfinished painting sitting amongst brushes, paints and newspaper.  The amount of detail in this work was intense.  Another display was a painting of a road that led to a city; the road, called Eternity Street, led straight to a brightly back-lit cathedral on a bridge, however the road continued into a dark tunnel underneath.

My favourite piece among this display was a painting of a spiral staircase.  Each stair was so slightly a different shade from the previous, to focus in on two stairs side by side, the difference in colour was barely perceptible, but looking at the painting as a whole, the staircase spanned the whole of the colour spectrum.

Photo courtesy of Australian National Botanical Gardens

A beautiful day was all the inspiration I needed for a picnic, and the Royal Botanical Gardens was the perfect location to enjoy one.  Here, plants from all over the world are available for viewing, flowers and ferns native to distant rain forests to cactus' of the desserts.  The fragrance was as exquisite as the view, which included the Opera House.

Sydney Opera House

The tour of Sydney took me to Darling Harbour and a spiral wading pool, perfect for soaking my feet after a day of exploring.

Darling Harbour wading pool

• ¤ •

The appearance of things change according to the emotions, and thus we see magic and beauty in them, while the magic and beauty are really in ourselves.
~Kahlil Gibran

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Around the World: Nadi

January 5, 1992

Back in Nadi after a fairly uneventful bus ride from Lautoka.  I found a place to stay and gave it a thorough inspection for uninvited six legged flying guests. There are screens on the windows, and I know I'm in Fiji because there is no light in the bathroom.

It is unbelievably hot.  I can't even begin to describe the intensity of the heat.  At the hotel bar, the two ladies tending the cafe joined me for lunch while I tried to find a beverage that would keep me hydrated long enough to actually drink it.  They mentioned a beach, just a short walk from the hotel, down the road and around the corner.  A dip in the ocean.  Sounds like heaven.

Towel and water in hand, I start making the short walk to the beach.  The road I've been instructed to follow bends to the left just up in the distance.  When I arrive at the bend, the road continues, bending to the right.  At that point, the road continues and bends and continues and bends.  I have consumed more than half of the water I brought with me, which is now the temperature of tea.  I'm on an island so there is obviously a beach somewhere, but not here, where it would be most useful to me now.

Disappointed and dehydrated, I walk back to the hotel and straight into my room.  Flip flops, bathing suit and beach jumper still on, I continue straight into the shower and stand under the spray of cold water until I am shivering.  Perhaps a quiet day preparing for the flight to Sydney tomorrow, close to an ample supply of cold water is for the best.

The beds in the dorm are odd.  The four bunk beds are stacked three high, connected to metal poles that are secured floor to ceiling.  There's no conceivable way to get up to the top bunk, no ladder, no steps, no trampoline.  I only hope there's also no giant, bionic bugs.

Yes, these things are actually this big.
Photo by Anastayshere

I'm woken up by a storm pummeling the metal roof.  The rain sounds hard enough to puncture through the structure, if not the island itself.  The ferocious thunder rips through the air, shredding through my body, making me feel like a plucked guitar string.  The lightning is so intense, it transforms the blackness of a small island in the vastness of the Pacific into daylight for several seconds.  In those moments where the room is temporarily lit, I can see the metal pole supports of the beds are all covered with cockroaches.  

• ¤ •

"There are times when fear is good.
It must keep its watchful place at the heart's controls."

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Around the World: Fauna

January 4, 1992

I have discovered that here, in our room, we are not alone. 

It's dark, being very early in the morning, and the curry I had for dinner has other ideas. Jeanette is sound asleep in the bunk below me.  Quietly, I make my way to the loo, only to discover that the bathroom has no light. The only source of light is the incandescent bulb sticking out of the wall by my pillow on the top bunk.  Not wanting to disturb my sleeping room mate, I drape a white bed sheet over the opening to the bottom bunk, which successfully diffuses the bright light that I must now inflict upon the dark room. 

As I'm minding my own business in the dimly lit bathroom, my attention is caught by a long wriggling thing sticking out from behind the shower curtain.  I'm fixated on it, curious.  The tentacle brushes the shower curtain slightly aside and I realize that the wriggling thing is the antenna of the biggest (cursing on all things holy) cockroach I've ever seen!  This thing is easily four inches long.  It suddenly occurs to me that I'm not all that comfortable sharing a bathroom with a bug that size.  Whatever it was I was doing, I'll do later.

I bolt for the brighter lit bedroom and search for an object of death.  I never thought of my big feet as a blessing.  Until now.  How terribly inconvenient for Roachie.  My search for lethal footwear produces a rubber flip-flop.   I had a feeling these would be useful!

This is not your everyday, common North American cockroach.  I've seen kittens that weren't this big.  I don't trust that one hearty whack with a hand held flip-flop will do the trick. I put the rubber sandal on my foot, while I track the bug's progress out of the bathroom and into the bedroom.  Stalking my prey, I carefully calculate my attack... and pounce!

Once it's under my sandal, I give it the obligatory, full-weight squish and twist maneuver, and the crunching sound is most satisfactory.  Unconvinced, the attack also includes stepping out of the sandal and jumping on top of it with my full weight, just in case it's not dead enough the first time.  I kill it again, and again, and again.  Believing that Roachie has been sufficiently murdered, I breathe a sigh of relief, still standing on the sandal of doom.  What was nature thinking when it created that thing?  It's obviously something prehistoric.  Alas, the curry I had for dinner has plans for me now.  I lift up the sandal to inspect the carnage.

There's Roachie, right where he should be.  Flat.  Squished.  Dead.  Roachie is also something else.


Roachie suddenly returns to it's normal shape and takes off in flight.  Around my head!

Janet Leigh Psycho shower scene
Courtesy Rex Features


I am witlessly terrified, defensively flailing and flapping at Roachie and in one lucky swat, I knock the Bionic Bug to the floor where it continues to scurry, unphased, under the bed.

Meanwhile, Jeanette is woken up during my flailing to a sound not unlike the shower scene in the movie, Psycho.  She's surrounded in white and believing I am being murdered, attempts to exit the bed through the wall, just as Roachie is crawling up the same wall and is now, a mere millimeters from her face.  Jeanette leaps out of bed, ass first, and lands in my arms.

I'm still holding her when she turns to me and calmly says, "Stop screaming."

Oh, I was wondering where that noise was coming from.

I put Jeanette on her own feet and we stare silently at the very large insect on the wall, which is now sunning itself by the light of the incandescent bulb above my pillow.  I foolishly think that we are working on a similar solution.

"Give me your shoe," Jeanette demands, holding out her hand.

Obviously, I was mistaken. "That's not a good idea!" I respond, "That thing can fly!"

"Just. Give. Me. Your. Shoe."

Well, I tried.

I hand her my sandal and move to the door, preparing the knob for a speedy exit.  By the time my sandal is barely out of Jeanette's hand, I am already out the door.  From within our room, I can hear Jeanette screaming, followed by the thumping and banging of the door as she tries to escape. The crescendo of footsteps in the corridor indicates that Jeanette is not far behind me.

We head to the front desk for help, where we blurt out the words, "attacked" and "bug" and "big".  The clerk disappears below the counter without a word, and eventually reappears with a large can wrapped in plain white paper and a rolled up newspaper.  He asks us to take him to our room.  When we arrive, he instructs us to wait outside.

He enters our room and the only audible sounds from within are the aerosol can spraying, Psssssst!, the newspaper smacking something, Phwap!, and the sound of the toilet flushing.  Phwap! Phwap! Psssssst! Phwap! Pssssst! Psssssssssssssssssssssssssssst! Phwap! Flush...  Phwap! Flush...  Flush...  Pssssssssssst! Flush... Phwap! Phwap! Pssssssssssst! Phwap! Flush... Flush...Flush... Pssssst! Phwap! Flush...  Flush... Psssst! Phwap!

The clerk finally emerges from our room, some 20 minutes later.  The newspaper is bent and tattered, and the aerosol can is dented.  He wipes the sweat dripping from his brow on his shirt sleeve and says, "It's under the garbage can.  Don't lift it up."

What? Seriously?!?  I can hear its footsteps as it races around the rim.  The metal bin moves with each twang of Rochie's body flying into the side.  NASA should build space shuttles out of these things! 

Don't lift the garbage can.... O! K!

I think I'm going to need some liquid courage to go to bed tonight.  Beer!??!?!!

• ¤ •
Never argue with a fool.  Someone watching may not be able to tell the difference.
~Mark Twain

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Around the World: Lautoka

January 3, 1992

After an unexpectedly comfortable night, Jeanette and I hitched a ride for 40 cents into town and after waiting several hours in the midday sun at the Rakiraki bus depot, we caught a bus to Lautoka.  On a stop along the way, the bus was swarmed by people trying to sell water and food.  It is sweltering, humid and sauna-like hot, the slightest movement produces so much perspiration, I think I might actually be melting.

The taxi driver at the Lautoka bus depot insisted on taking us to the Cathay Hotel, which charges more than either of us want to pay.  Having been through this just the night before, we insisted he drive us to our choice of destination, and nowhere else if he expected any money.  He tried to convince us that the hotel we chose was $20 more than we thought it was.  We told him again to do the driving and we would choose the destination.  He drove us to the hotel we wanted and escorted us to the front desk.  After I confirmed the $6 price with the manager, who was now livid for the attempt to direct business away from his hotel, Jeanette and I headed to our room while the manager had a very boisterous conversation with the taxi driver.

The place has changed quite a bit since I stayed here.
Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor

The room service crew was just leaving as we arrived, which was comforting.  Jeanette and I dropped off our bags and headed down to the dining room.  It's almost 7pm and the first meal of the day will be tonight's dinner of chicken curry and rice for $4.50.  The only place to get a cheaper meal is in Suva.  Regardless, it is delicious and filling.  Exploring Latouka will have to wait until tomorrow.

It is so unbelievably hot and thick with humidity it's almost painful.  The room has a bunk bed, a light bulb sticking out from the wall just above my pillow on the top bunk, a fan, and a private bathroom with toilet, sink and a massive shower stall.

The shower head is close to 2 feet wide.  While it may be odd looking, it's odd appearance is forgivable as the cool water falling from it is exactly the refreshment I need.

• ¤ •

"How I wish that somewhere there existed an island 
for those who are wise and of good will"
~Albert Einstein

Monday, January 2, 2012

Around the World: Suva to Rakiraki

January 2, 1992

Learning a little bit about the population of Fiji.  The people are divided between native Fijian and Fiji Born Indians (FBI).  My experience with both peoples in the past few days suggest that although the native Fijian people are more welcoming and genuine, there are bad apples equally distributed between both groups.  For example, it's typically a native Fijian in the market who will carve your name into almost anything and then try to force you to buy it.  The FBI's will take any opportunity to rip you off.

I discovered truth in this stereotype while shopping in Suva.  I saw a white tank top with the Fiji Bitter logo and, since it's been my poison of choice during my stay, I thought it would make a nice souvenir.  I bartered with the shop owner (FBI) and haggled the price down from $10 to $3.  He begrudgingly agreed on the price and disappeared into a back room to get the shirt.  He returned, and handed me a securely wrapped plastic bag.  When I opened it later, I realized the bag contained a black tank top with the New Zealand All Blacks logo.  I'm not really unhappy with the substitution, just annoyed that I didn't get what I was expecting.

I also bought a pair of flip-flops that I have a feeling will come in handy in the future, if for no other reason but to wear in the shower.  I'm sure the shower floor sees something swiped over it from time to time, but it has a disconcerting look of nasty that suggests my skin really shouldn't be coming into contact with it.

Suva is still celebrating New Year's and the festivities continued until almost 6am this morning.  I heard the Banana Boat song about a dozen times echoing through the pawpaw trees.

The fruit of the pawpaw tree is believed to be
an effective alternative treatment for cancer

The bus ride to Rakiraki follows mostly dirt roads and includes a trip through (yes, through) a waterfall. When the bus passes by any populated area, the road is lined with children, armed with pails and buckets full of water that they toss at the bus as it passes by.  Everyone gets soaked, but even at night, being wet is only a brief reprieve from the oppressive heat and humidity.  It's a great laugh for everyone whether you are dishing out the soaking or receiving it.

A man on the bus invited Jeanette and I to his village.  I had heard that this is a fairly typical invitation and often a wonderful experience, but even still, we declined.  Whether or not this was a missed chance to experience Fiji at its finest, or a choice that kept me safe, I'll never know.

Anyone who wants to entertain the passengers with music is welcome to do so.  Tonight's entertainment is not the usual reggae I've come to expect.  This music has more of an Indian flavour with lyrics that repeat until the song finally ends.  "I live for you, I die for you", a song I was pleased to hear fade into silence, only to be followed by, "I love you, I love you, I die without you".  There's a distinctive and unsettling theme as the cassette continues.

It's late and dark when the bus arrives at the Rakiraki bus depot.  Jeanette and I are soon approached by three men.  One persistently asks where we want to go, another has a flashlight pointed at nothing useful, and the third just stands there as a sort of witness.  They guide us to a taxi and we ask the driver to take us to the Kontiki Lodge (where a bed in the dorm is $10).  Instead, we are delivered to the Rakiraki Hotel where rooms are $38.50.  I'm already tired from the late hour and the bus trip as it is, and now so very irritated with the relentless efforts to rip me off.  The driver obviously isn't expecting the wrath of woman.  As the two of us vehemently word-whip the driver, I notice a curious crowd is gathering to watch the show.  A few Fijian men interject some verbal support for us which is clearly making the FBI driver a little nervous.

Finally, the hotel manager comes out to see what the ruckus is all about and adds a few choice words of his own to the taxi driver.  He explains that this is a common scam among the drivers who get a commission for every person they bring to a hotel.  He apologizes and offers Jeanette and I a room with one twin bed, a washroom with a toilet and shower, a fan, a chair and our own personal gecko, all for the discounted price of $12.50.  It's late.  I'm tired.  It will do, for now.

• ¤ •

"If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power,
but for the passionate sense of potential -- for the eye which,
ever young and ardent, sees the possible. "

~Soren Kierkegaard

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Around the World: The Road to Suva

January 1, 1992

I am on a bus to Suva. Let me rephrase that. I have put my faith and my life in the hands of the bus driver.

The road that follows south coast of the island is periodically optional. If there's pavement or dirt, it's okay to drive on that. If the road completely disappears, it's okay to drive on that too. Left side, right side, down the middle of whatever road exists and at any speed that keeps us moving.  The bus has no windows, except for the windshield, and it's wise to remain aware of the scenery to avoid the occasional bit of bush and tree that makes its way along the side and into the bus.  Fortunately, I'm sitting in the back so at least I can see the greenery coming.

Despite being somewhat harrowing at times, we have arrived safely.  Suva is a big city, by Fiji standards, and unlike the Hideaway Lodge, it has the added bonus of being inhabited by local folk. The hotel costs $4.95 a night and is conveniently located close to the Indian Curry House, where very few things on the menu cost more than $2.

One of my room mates
Photo from hackingfamily.com

The room I'll be sleeping in tonight is furnished with four beds and a complimentary gecko on the ceiling.  The very kind lady who runs the hotel explained that they don't bother people, unless you bother them first.  The only thing that really interests a gecko is insects so I have no intentions of bothering my little lizard sentry.  Whenever this gecko catches a bug, it makes a series of clicking sounds in delight.  Or possibly digestion.  Either way, Gecko is quite welcome and by the frequency of its clicking, it is ambitiously efficient.

• ¤ •

"These things I warmly wish for you:
Someone to love, some work to do, 
A bit o' sun, a bit o' cheer, 
And a guardian angel always near"
~Irish Blessings