Friday, April 29, 2005

I have decided to write something, but do not have a particular topic in mind...

So I guess I'll just have to rant. This will of course be an enormous leap from my highly structured and pointed usual essays, but all one can do is try.

Now here are the options. I can either review another movie, the Korean blockbuster TaeGukGi, or I can discuss what I have learned so far about sales and marketing... Or even better I can do both, though the topics are not in the least bit interconnected, and not even I can connect them with some twisted logical leap.

So, TaeGukGi is a Korean war movie about (yes you guessed it) the Korean War. It follows the story of two brothers who were both drafted into the South Korean army against their will. The elder brother, an uneducated shoeshine boy (not really a boy), tries to protect his younger sibling and tries through heroic deeds to find a way to send his student brother away from the war. Over time he basically turns into a Korean Rambo whereby commie bullets and bombs seem to basically curl out of his path. He becomes drunk on the glory of his battle achievements and estranged from his idealistic younger brother. I am not going to bore you with the rest of the details of this movie, except to say that the ending, though predictable, is still sad, which I must say is refreshing compared to the endings of most American movies. The brutal war scenes are reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan, but this movie I would say is better in the way it portrays not just the cruel randomness of war, but in portraying the effects that war has on the nature of men.

The movie leaves neither the communist North or the South morally clean or superior and shows the brutality of both sides. The idea of 'at war as in war' is foreign to Hollywood, but seems to find a home in many of the scenes of this movie, in spite of the moralizing of some of the characters. Overall I would say that this movie is an excellent one and should be seen by every person in Washington. Maybe they will start fewer wars and understand that if you are going to send armed forces to a conflict you can not expect to have a clean war; there will always be civilian casualties and other eventualities of war...

On a side note it should be remembered that the Korean War did not officially end. There is currently a cease-fire in place which could be broken any moment. The ROK (South Korea) has a well-trained standing army of 700,000. It has a reserve force of 5,000,000. If anyone is counting, they will see that the South Koreans can mobilize a bigger army than the United States has. If the South Korean army is anything like the Israeli then important reserves could be mobilized within 72 hours. Current projections state that South Korea and the US would have 3-10 days of advance warning of a North Korean attack. This means that North Korea would be attacking a South Korean force that numbers at least several million in a country where mountains make mobile warfare essentially impossible assuring that any North Korean effort to attack would probably stall within several days. At the same time South Korea would achieve complete air and naval superiority and with the help of the US airforce can seriously damage North Korean forces massing in the narrow mountain valleys that make up Korea. Given half the inclination it seems that the South Koreans would be able to defend themselves without any American aid. Why are US forces still in Korea?

Now off to the magical land of sales and marketing to those that have too much already.. So far here are my notes:

Sales focus
- Affluent customers want recognition of achievements/expertise
- Don't tell people how good your goods are tell them how good your gods make them.
- Tell how your products improve life, love, wealth, health, career, looks, security or leisure.
- Present Problems / Offer Solutions.
- Confidence in a business is the top determinant of a sale, not quality.

Customer Lists
- Develop a customer list.
- Preferrably create a customer club.
- Constant sales and discounts make for unhealthy customer lists.

Printed materials
- Every aspect must inspire confidence.
- The headline is 90% of an ad. If they are not stopped by the headline they will never read the rest.
- Present sufficient stats and information to convince.

Tactics
- In mailed materials use 8 stamps rather than 1.
- Use postcards as they are already opened.
- Reuse artwork.

Media for ads
- Post on public bulletin boards.
- Classified ads.
- Direct marketing coupon books.

Cheers,
Boris.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

So Bubba needs a scheme again.

This time Bubba has effectively decided to sell crap to people who don't particularly need it but can be made to want it just long enough to place an order.

What I mean to say is that I would like to encourage relatively affluent consumers to exercise their dormant curiosity in certain product lines that might cease to interest them shortly after making a reasoned purchase.

Now the problem is finding a product line in which you can charge a high enough margin to justify your costs. I was thinking cellular phone accessories, but though I can easily find them at really cheap prices at wholesale, I don't think I can move large enough amounts of product with high enough margin.

Several ideas are currently floating in my head:

1) A catalog of various minor crap that I can get from numerous suppliers that are cheap to buy at wholesale, but might be interesting to a prospective buyer. Knives, in particular strange and murderous looking ones can be sold. When you are selling a knife you are not selling a middle aged man just a hunk of reworked steel, you are selling him an image of himself as Rambo, back when Stallone was young, or as Sean Connery as 007, again back when he was young. So for a $1.50 knife you might be able to get $11.99. In the same way you can sell a $1.90 lighter with a compass as the Delta Force Survival Training Lighter for $9.99. Other similar stuff can be sold.

2) Security products - this includes personal and home security. Although stun guns are illegal in NJ, NY there are other things that one can carry such as expandable metal rods and various pepper spray containers (not to mention some clever knives). The home security component of this would be cameras with monitors and various other contraptions for real surveillance and for the deterrence of thieves.

Other product lines are under consideration, but the security products line has the lead for now because of the possibilities of expansion into the field of installation and maintenance of security systems, and of course the fact that Americans are just plain paranoid about their personal safety and the safety of their valuables (this is the work of the media bastards. a kid disappears in florida and now Billy can't go out to play and has to watch the brainwashing on TV so that he can be even more paranoid).

The basic long-term idea behind this scheme is presented in the diagram below. A projection of sales can not be done with any certainty until the initial phase is complete. The initial exposure for the website would be provided by printed brochures that should scare the shit out of middle aged suburbanites prevalent in these parts. Such brochures/pamphlets would be distributed in places where these possible consumers gather - transportation hubs, shopping malls and for good measure thrown into those containers for car catalogs. Bulletin boards would also be utilized. Marketing efforts online would probably not initially be useful as marketing online seems to be significantly overpriced in comparison to offline marketing. I don't know what laws apply to the distribution of pamphlets or the liberal use of bulletin boards, but at the initial phase I doubt that much trouble can be encountered from widely scattering these brochures. This is of course a time-intensive procedure and must be accounted for..

Each brochure would try to sell the most impressive (read high-margin) inventory and direct people to the websites where they would be exposed to other products. Orders would also be accepted by phone and by mail-order. If the initial sales period is successful, a customer database can be created for future direct sales efforts. I figure that the initial stage objective should be to obtain roughly $250 in profits before sales expenses per day, which at the reasonable average margin of $10 / item would mean selling about 25 products every day. Costs for sales - printed materials, graphics design, phones, etc will need to be calculated a bit later. Most of these orders would probably [hopefully] come through the internet which would allow me in the initial period as the lone employee to continue to work on the distribution of printed materials, the design and sales copy of future brochures, and the expansion of the website.

Now I just need to come up with a name and some kind of idea for the theme for the website and printed materials. I gladly accept comments and help from mysterious strangers.


Bubba's 'plan' for world domination or hopefully to make a couple of bucks..

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Bubba's Movie Reviews.

Sin City (very nice.. one miscast)

Overall a very nice movie, though pity that the stories are not more interrelated. All the actors are excellent. Unfortunately the second story has one miscast, Clive Owen. Don't get me wrong, he is an excellent actor, but while all the other characters manage to be positively cartoonish (notice Rosario Dawson and Mickey Rourke), Clive Owen just seems to have missed the point of his role - don't be complicated, just be cartoonish.

The Interpreter (typical suspense crap, nothing inspiring)

Typical suspense crap. Twists and turns here and there, none too surprising. Reasonable, but not exceptional acting. A predictable ending. The only suspense for me was whether or not this movie would break the mold by actually having the main character succumb to the darker instincts or whether it would go all PC and forgive, forget, overcome and cry. Is this supposed to be a movie for adults or for nine year olds? This guy killed your family... Are you going to let him spend the rest of his short life in a 5 star European prison writing his memoirs and arguing with Slobo about the intricacies of international politics? Well, apparently Ms. Kidman will.

Sahara (typical adventure crap, one miscast)

a.k.a. Confederate Treasure. Indy, eh, sorry Dirk Dickweed is a brave adventurer who travels around looking for a Confederate battleship in the middle of the Sahara. It gets worse. There is a woman. She sorta just shows up on a beach and miraculously is rescued by kung fu grip Dirk who along with his retard of a partner is capable of taking on dozens of AK-47 armed men with the clever deception of wearing Bedouin outfits. The armed men of course don't notice the fact that the men's face and arms happen to be white. Of course they might just be a couple of typical Bedouin albinos, but then again they could be the only two white guys in that country. In any case after a long search, the battleship is discovered when in order to create cover for their jeep from a helicopter pilot with terrible aim Dirk throws explosives into a random sand dune. The sand dune is blown up to reveal a battleship. Lucky. They then use a cannon from a battleship that has been covered by sand for 150 years to fire a single accurate cannonball into a helicopter. Obviously there was an evil dictator on that helicopter. There is also some loosely connected story about a waste-treatment plant in the middle of the desert and how it is threatening the whole world with pollution... Obviously somebody has to save the day, and the marines aren't in town because they are all deployed in Bagdad. Crap. Crap. Crap....

There are also the evil corporate CEO, the loyal former naval admiral, the noble savage, and several geeks to round out the cast. Now, Penelope Cruz is very cute, but if nobody had noticed she is tiny. I might have believed Selma Hayek in that role, but Ms. Cruz is just not believable as a kick-ass danger-seeking doctor. She was probably a poor choice. All the acting was boring and uninspired and the only redeeming point of this movie is Steve Zahn... That tells you a lot about this movie.

This film is CONDEMNED.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Money, Bullshit and Love (inspired by George Carlin)

The ancient Greeks were great thinkers. The image that we have of them is of a group of gentlemen sitting around in togas eating a hearty meal, drinking wine and discussing philosophy. Obviously somebody had to harvest the grain, slaughter the chickens, cook the meals and stomp the grapes to make the wine. These individuals do not make it onto T-shirts or into history books. The image of the Greeks is of course just an image that depressed Europeans created over the past 500 years of Western civilization which has usually been very, very bloody and depressing. They were looking for a Golden Age and for inspiration for their struggle against the orthodoxy of the Kings and the Popes. Regardless of the justification, the image they created is an example of one of Bubba's essential elements of modern civilization - bullshit.

The Greek philosophers - a couple of dozen of rich, white, slave-owning Greeks who liked little boys - were very interested in the questions of science. They wanted to break down all of nature into a small number of essential building blocks. The same idea has been driving the modern sciences (both natural and social) for the past couple of hundred years. Unfortunately this effort in the social sciences has been limited to the ivory tower of academia and due to this reason it has also gotten polluted by bullshit. So, for those that do not have a Masters degree in bullshit I have decided to break down modern Western civilization into its essential elements. I believe the same effort can be made for other civilizations and it will in fact produce a different result thus proving that the basis of all civilizations is not the same.

In any case, as the first line has suggested, Bubba's essential elements of modern civilizations are money, bullshit and love. I was tempted to simply break it down to money and bullshit, but then decided that this would be too cynical of me and so I decided to add a positive element to modern civilization. Now how can one use this? Well in essence, once one is capable of breaking all human interaction into these categories it might be possible to differentiate between them. We should probably look at some examples...

Lets start with business. Now a beginner would simply put this one in the money category. He would however be wrong and would thus not understand the basics of business. Now for simplicity's sake lets break business into two components: business-to-business interaction and business-to-consumer interaction. Granted that in both components money is exchanged between the parties. However if one looks just a bit closer at each of these, he will notice that there is a barely hidden bullshit component. The interaction in business-to-business relationships, where it must be said that both sides fully understand what is going on, is conducted via the use of the language of bullshit: law. In fact, the use of law (bullshit) is growing to such an extent that all the worries about the job prospects of graduating law students have been for nought. They will find a well-paying job dispensing their own bullshit and ingesting and digesting the bullshit of others to make sure that all the bullshit digested is kosher. The cost of the growing legions of relatively high salaries will of course be passed on to the consumer.

This brings us to the interaction between business and consumers. Now this is where the excrutiating self-mutilating banging your head on the pavement bullshit begins. See, the lawyers and businessmen understand the bullshit being thrown all around, but when they go into the marketplace they encounter unsuspecting innocent consumers who have been taught to believe in the essential goodness of modern civilization. The consumers will of course pay for their naivete. Not that there is malicious intent on the part of the companies, its just business. So, now if the language of inter-business relationships is law, what is the basis of the bullshit involved in business-consumer interaction? Well, its images, brands, trademarks, copyrights, spokesmen, spokeswomen, models and 'customer relationships' to name a few.

See, many companies no longer produce their own products but simply have sub-contractors in the third world that cheaply produce the products. So what is left to the American companies is to sell the products at a profit. Now say I get 100,000 toothbrushes produced and put each one in a plastic bag and attach a price tag to it. Would you buy it? Probably not. Why? Because there are going to be another 15 types of toothbrushes screaming out at you with pretty colors and pictures and telling you that if you use their product your smile will look nicer, your breath will smell better, in other words, people will like you more. Now do you just want a toothbrush or do you want people to like you?

You might even rationally say to yourself that you pick a toothbrush based on its design features, size, color or price, or that you buy the coolest looking toothbrush you can find. The coolest looking toothbrush? Its a toothbrush for god's sake! Unless you plan to wear it as an accessory attached to your bag or in your hair, it really doesn't matter what it looks like. Or maybe you have gotten yourself an electric toothbrush... Hmmm.. You jog an hour a day and take the stairs to burn calories, but are daunted by the prospect of having to brush your teeth in the morning? 'its more comfortable' (or so the commercial said), 'it makes my teeth cleaner and better-looking' (the model on tv had really nice looking teeth), 'its better for you' (i must find some way of justifying this purchase, but i can't find anything specific) ...

So why is it that we buy these products? Well, there are whole sciences behind it. There are of course the always obvious fields of advertising and marketing. More interesting however is something called consumer psychology, which I have always associated for some reason with psychological warfare. Probably because the objective in both cases is to use the understanding of the behaviour of masses of individuals in order to benefit the employers of the psychologists rather than their target audiences.

In any case the idea behind modern marketing is to add bullshit to a product so that it can be sold at a higher price. The bullshit comes in many forms, always appealing, always friendly, and always expensive. It comes through commercials on television, through ads in newspapers, through product placement in movies, through star endorsements, in fact through any door one will open even a crack it will come gushing in. The primary objective is to create a brand with a favorable image. Think of Coca Cola. Are you thinking of a dirty dusty factory in a sweat and smell infested third world country where dirty looking unkempt bearded fat workers are pouring sugar into huge chemical vats and throwing in random small animals and insects once in a while for shits and giggles? No? Are you imagining yourself running along with other beautiful people on a deserted beach at sunset with a perfect body, no worries and feeling pure unadulterated happiness? (well probably not after the first description..) Or lets say Starbucks.. Are you sitting in a dimly lit cafe surrounded by beautiful intellectual people all smiling attentively while you are demonstrating your superior intelligence and occassionally sipping on a double moca latte with cream? You are probably not thinking of a poor South American peasant struggling to collect coffee beans next to the cocaine field while being whipped by a greasy supervisor wearing a Starbucks baseball cap, are you?

What is Coke? overhyped sugar water. Starbucks? come on, be honest, thats not really coffee... is it? and you aren't that smart anyways.. and the people you are with aren't that hot either and in any case they aren't really paying attention to you...

Sorry.. got carried away a bit. To sum up, when you are buying a bottle of Coke for $1 you are paying 7 cents for whats inside the bottle, 5 cents for the bottle and 88 cents for running on a beach with the beautiful people. Now, unless you are actually at a beach with the Swedish bikini team or with the cast of a soap opera (and I don't mean serving them drinks), you are overpaying for your Coke. You are paying for bullshit. So when you are drinking the coke remember that the ingredients on the side of the bottle are misleading. It should read:

Ingredients: Carbonated Water 11%, Sugar 1%, Bullshit 88%

Enjoy your next coke.

I'll probably post more on Bubba's essential elements later... Now I am going to go watch some TV and get my fill.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Bubbas Movie Reviews:

Since I have been on 3 different flights within the past 48 hours I have had my fill of movies. Here are some with short ehh comments.

Be Cool - star-studded crap
Bridget Jones 2 - fat girl romance crap, though Hugh Grant was pretty cool
Shall We Dance - j los huge dancing ass crap
Spanglish - bilingual crap/mierde though Tea Leoni was good
Taxi - its just bad

Not a single one of these is worth watching for any reason whatsoever. They should have not been made and should be forgotten by all who see them. I put a curse on the directors, producers and actors of these movies (except for Tea Leoni and Hugh Grant). May they all be forced to sit down to watch their movie over and over and over again until they repent before humanity for the brain pollution that each of these movies has caused. Then they should be flogged, and then drawn and quartered.

There needs to be a way of punishing those that make bad movies for their deeds. Clearly the fact that I don't go see bad movies doesn't stop 20 million morons from watching them instead of reading a book. Of course in reality these 20 million morons would otherwise be probably watching episodes of Newlyweds, Elimidate, Survivor, American Idol and 'The Real World' (this title alone makes me want to barf). The producers of these shows should by the way be crucified and/or impaled along with their actors and the morons who agree to appear on them. I am still debating whether their audiences should join them.

Yes I know what freedom of speech is. It is a sacred right. But isn't there some way of punishing those that bring people into the movie theaters under false premises?
'You will be blown away'
'Action sequences'
'The most amazing blah you have ever seen'
'You will laugh/cry/be shocked by the suspense/horror/romance/adventure of this movie' (usually you laugh when you should shocked and cry when you should be laughing)
Maybe make them pay for damages? Or at least for the time a movie takes as well the time one needs to recover? Lets see. A bad movie takes 2 hours including the previews. After a bad movie it takes at least 2 more hours to recover or possibly one hour and two beers. And of course we have to demand a refund of the money spent under false impressions.

The average American probably makes about $14/hour, so for a total of 4 hours that would be $56 + $10 for the price of the ticket. The total is $66/person for a bad movie.

Lets take Godzilla. It has a running time of 2 hrs 20 mins and grossed $136 mil domestically, which translates to about 17 million Americans seeing it at an average ticket price of about $8. So lets use some basic math to figure out the damage figure.

17,000,000 * ((5 hours * $14/hour) + $8) = $ 1,326,000,000.

So, we should be able to sue Sony for $1.3 billion dollars worth of damage and lost time due to the release of Godzilla in 1998. Now this is only the domestic calculation. If we combine with this a global audience we arrive with the following overseas total:

$242 million gross overseas / $5 (average ticket price) = roughly 48 million people whose time is worth lets say $10/hr on average.

48,000,000 * ((5 hours * $10) +5) = $ 2,640,000,000.

So in total Sony should be liable for roughly $4 billion worth of damages to the planet and lost productivity that could be spent on time and investments in education, in enviroment and real culture, or at least spent on a good movie.

So what would be a way from stopping people from seeing bad movies? I suggest an alliance against bad movies which would monitor the hundreds of movies coming out and deter people from seeing the bad ones. I suggest that it be called the National Organization for the Condemnation and Repression of Awful Pictures (NO-CRAP). The preferred method of deterrence should be stink bombs or skunks. Upon the release of the movie it would be rated by a prestigious committee of NO-CRAP movie experts. If a movie was found to be Condemnible, a message would be released sanctioning an attack on the movie. Supporters of NO-CRAP would infiltrate cinemas nation-wide armed with a dozen stink bombs each. Every 20 minutes or so a stink bomb would be set off with the worst stink bombs reserved for the very end of the movie. Actions would be carried out just often enough to make it a part of people's considerations when choosing a movie to see. In the long term, just the threat of such actions would be sufficient from dissuading people from seeing bad movies.

We have learned that a centrally organized organization can easily be stopped, so for this reason NO-CRAP cells must be organized without the involvement of the Movie Condemnation Committee, thus separating the Condemnation Committee from the Implementation Squads.

The world must unite against bad movies in order to save humanity from another Godzilla, another Alexander, another Constantine, another Alone in the Dark. Can we truly allow such resources to be wasted on such drivel when so many real problems can be solved if the resources and time spent on the creation and consumption of such crap can be redirected towards more useful goals?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Day 21 - Zombie goes to Hong Kong

I arrived in Bankok as a zombie incapable of any thought but 'SLEEEP'

I figured out that I wasn't going to get much sight-seeing done in this state in the 7 hours I had until my flight to Hong Kong and so just headed straight to the Bangkok airport.

Had the set breakfast at a Japanese restaraunt in the airport. The breakfast was a bit weird. It was rice with a piece of salmon, miso soup and a bunch of weird salad looking things. It was also hideously overpriced, but I had some Thai baht to burn.

After breakfast I went over to the departures area where I fell asleep for a couple of hours.

At 1 I had my flight back to Hong Kong which went smoothly. I was flying Emirates which I had thought would be an interesting flying exprience with the flight attendants looking like Osama. However, it turned out that the flight attendants were an international lot with the majority being young petite British, Russian and other girls. I was sincerely disappointed. I am sure there was a movie, but I don't remember what it was and the food was reasonably good. Alcoholic beverages were also served so I am not sure how Islamically legitimate Emirates is. Overall I would say that the Emirates flight was rather pleasant with the only Arab elements being that things were said in English and Arabic, the fact that the British flight attendants were being forced to wear a make belief Arab headdress, and several Arab men with discoloration on their forehead where they are supposed to touch their head to the ground during prayers. My friend Hash (Iranian) said that some people just rub something on their forehead to get that look so they would get more respect as religious people.

Once I arrived in Hong Kong I had to find accomodations for the night because I was flying out the next day. I know I should have booked beforehand, but I was lazy. So I took the airport shuttle to the hostel where I had stayed before only to find that it was full. I was going to go down to the backpacker ghetto on the Kowloon side, but there was one more guest house right next to the starbucks where I got some tea. I checked it and they had a nice closet-like room with a bed and a TV. Not much else fit in the room, but I was still a zombie so I just took the room. I watched a bit of telly where they were showing a blatant product placement for McDonalds whereby the whole premise of the show was a guy looking for the world's most unique McDonalds. They had some McD in the North with a snowmobile drive-through.

In any case I set my alarm and went to sleep.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Day 20 - Chiang Mai -> Bangkok

Had an extra half-day in Chiang Mai before going off to the train to Bangkok. I made the mistake of buying train tickets pretty late so I was stuck with a 3rd class no A/C seat - 'the genuine experience'. On the bright side instead of paying $17 for the nice seats I ended up paying $5 for the hell seats.

So during the afternoon I got some food, checked my email, uploaded some pics and basically did very little. Then I got on the train at 4PM and the weather was still scorching. In addition the amount of legroom was rather limited and spending 15 hours sitting down in a train where you can not stretch out your legs is not a pleasant experience. I did get some consolation from the fact that these were not the worst possible tickets because there were some people that got standing tickets and I saw them standing for 15 hours straight. I had hoped that some people would be getting off and I would have some room to stretch out, but unfortunately unlike my train trip to Chiang Mai, on which by the end of the line there were 2 people in my compartment, in this case nobody was getting off without their seat being immediately taken over by a newcomer.

Before I left I was only able to upload like 5 albums of music onto my Karma so after 3 weeks I was sick and tired of Faithless, Joss Stone and Alicia Keys. So basically I got through like 10 45 minute long lectures on American history roughly from the Great Depression all the way to Vietnam. On the negative side I didn't get any sleep...

Monday, April 18, 2005

Day 19 - The 'trek' continues

The day started early. Our guide awoke us at 6:30 in the morning. Unlike Bangkok and Chiang Mai these Thai highlands were refreshingly cold at night and in the morning and I had no choice but to put on the only extra clothes I brought - a second t-shirt.

Prior to exiting our sleeping quarters I proceeded to take out and eat one of my prepared meals of canned sardines and bread. Upon exiting I was again surprised by the fact that a native breakfast was prepared for us. Surprisingly their breakfast was quite similar to the one we enjoy in the civilized world - scrambled eggs, toast and folgers coffee.

After breakfast we set off on a one hour hike over a conveniently marked jungle path which led from the village towards the location where we were supposed to meet our elephant transport. We arrived in a small village and were met by native women selling trinkets that look strangely similar to trinkets I had previously seen in the markets of Chiang Mai and not particularly different from those I saw in Beijing. Whether these native women had been able to establish a trade network for their trinkets in Beijing or whether these authentic native bracelets were produced in an authentic Chinese labor camp 'factory' somewhere in the Guanzhou province of China I will never know because I ain't buying that crap.

In any case we waited for some time in the village while our two mighty elephants were driven into the water and bathed by 12 year old boys sitting on the elephants' heads. These gentle giants waited patiently while they were being washed and then stood quitely by while our group posed individually for pictures with them. After the elephants had been bathed the handlers attached benches to their backs and we started climbing on top of them. I was told that 3 people would ride per elephant, but the benches seemed pretty small for that number. After the Australian couple got on and sat on the bench I was invited to board the elephant. I had sat down on the bench when I was told that this was not my place and my guide informed me that 'elephant neck stronger than elephant back'. This was to signal me that I was to sit on the elephants neck during this part of the trek. I slid down and prepared for the journey. Unlike the fluffy images we have of elephants, they have very thick coarse hair on their backs. At the same time riding on the elephant's neck was many many times more comfortable than riding a camel. The skin is relatively soft as is the top of the animal's head where I had to hold on to keep my balance when the beast was going up or down slopes. Unfortunately I do not have a picture of me on the elephant, but hopefully I will eventually be sent a picture taken by the german guy from the back of the other elephant. (probably not)

In any case once everybody was seated - with the australian couple and me on one elephant and the handler and the german couple on the other - we were off. Our guide remained behind in the village. The day was really very hot so it was uncomfortable. In addition to this the novelty began to wear off quickly since we had no control over where the elephant was going. It had probably been walking the same path for the past 20 years and could have probably taken every step blindfolded. After half an hour I was tired of both sitting the way I was on the elephant and the whole experience and wasn't afraid of the prospect of falling into the cold refreshing river water off the back of the elephant. We rode the elephant for about an hour and a half down a path and through a river. The elephant would occassionaly refresh itself by taking air into its trunk and expelling it in a stream into its face. It would also use its trunk to spray water on its feet. The elephant also used its trunk to pick up sticks to scratch itself and to pick up branches to swat away the flys buzzing around. These seem to be rather intelligent beasts.

After an hour and a half we got to another village where our guide was already waiting for us. He checked the time and informed us that the sun was too hot to begin rafting now and in any case our bamboo raft was still being prepared. The bamboo raft is a pretty simple contraption. You take some long bamboo sticks and you use bamboo bark to tie them together. They are easy to repair as well all you do is tie bamboo bark around those beams that are coming off the raft.

After a nap of a couple of hours we were ready to go on an adventurous trip down the wild river. The wild river was in no place more than 4 feet deep. There were however some places where the raft would get stuck and sometimes down certain rapids it would gain enough speed that when it would hit a rock and come to a complete stop and people would almost fall into the water. I did fall into the water, but was rescued from drowning in 9 inches of water by the german guy who pulled me back into the raft. I did however sustain a mild cut to my forearm where it hit one of the rocks. Fortunately I had my first aid kit and applied iodine.

The raft was piloted by our guide who stood in the front of the raft and directed where the front of the raft would go by pushing off the bottom with a long bamboo stick. He would sometimes shout out directions to the 2 out of the 3 guys also standing and holding bamboo sticks in the back of the raft and who wuld occassionally try to direct the boat as well. I am not sure how much help we were in the back of the raft but am positive that most of the work was done by the guide and we were more a decoration than a practical aspect of this cruise. In the beginnining of our rafting cruise we were joined by a native boy who had a fishing net. Unfortunately there were very few fish and before he had caught a fish he decided to get off our boat and go back to the village.

After about 3 hours of rafting we arrived at a lodge where we had some Chang Beer and some Phat Thai and waited for a pick-up truck to go back to Chiang Mai. Within 2 hours we were back in Chiang Mai and I was back at my hotel. That day in the evening I went out determined but circumstances dictated the abandonment of my goal and the retirement to my abode and sleep.

The next day I had to catch a train back to Bangkok because I had a plane to catch back to Hong Kong and onwards back to the States.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Day 18 - Chiang Mai - 'trek'

Today I started on my 'trek' to visit some isolated hill tribes, visited and photographed only by a select group of several million intrepid explorers of the uundiscovered countryside of the most touristy town in Thailand. The hill tribes are in fact so remote that in order to visit one of their camps one is forced to undertake an arduous journey by elephant and bamboo river raft. Fortunately the friendly natives were able to provide the elephant-back transportation that we required for our journey.

After a light breakfast, we undertook an arduous 40 minute trip by pick-up truck to the local market where we bought supplies. The term was unclear to me and I bought up food as if I had to feed myself for the next 2 days. This would prove to be an inaccurate understanding of the fundamentals of this 'trek'. Along for this journey I was joined by a couple of Germany and another couple from Australia. Unlike myself who apparently again misunderstood the basics of this trip they were all wearing flip-flops and sandals. I was outfitted in hiking boots. In any case from the market we were driven by our brave native pathseeker to one of the Thai National Parks. At the entrance to the park there was a traditional outdoor native restaraunt serving such traditional dishes as hamburger and fries and iced coffee. We followed a well marked and well trodden path to a waterfall where we were instructed that we had the option of taking a dip. This was again unexpected to me, but fortunately I had bought silk blue underwear the day before and went into the water in these. The water was quite refreshing, but our grueling journey was still waiting for us.

After the waterfall we were off into the jungle. After about an hour hike we came to a hill village. The natives were strangely unsurprised by the present of their foreign guests. Some were even so brave as to offer us cold Coca Cola, Singha beer and water. Despite my attempts to trade some trinkets for the drinks, the natives were apparently capable of understanding what money was and were happy to accept Thai baht in payment. After a short break we were off again, though the natives did not seem surprised or upset to see us go.

We hiked up for another 2 hours until we came to another village. This was where we spent the first night. A man who was probably the village chief welcomed us and showed us to our humble abode, which consisted of a large room with few furnishings. He kindly lay some rugs on the ground and gave us blankets to cover ourselves with at night. He then proceeded to cook for us a meal of rice and several dishes of meat. Again the inhabitants of this village were unsurprised by our presence, making it almost seem to me that they are quite used to the presence of foreigners. We were again offered coke, beer and water as drinks. After the meal a fire was kindled where we sat about and discussed various topics. The natives did not come to speak to us, but our guide entertained us by digesting various kinds of bugs. He then offered to us a fried bug, which tasted a bit salty, with a strange but not unpleasant aftertaste.

After the fire died out we retired to our room and went to sleep.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Day 17 - Chiang Mai

I arrived to Chiang Mai this afternoon. The train ride was uneventful. Got to practice my Hebrew a bit with some Israelis. Other than that the only problem was that the train was a/ced to the bone. From the train station took a pleasant 2km walk to the guest house..

So far it seems to be a very pleasant place to spend a couple of months. The accomodations and the food are cheap. There are things to do with literally hundreds of different treks into the countryside to visit the various hill tribe villages in the area. There is even a self-improvement aspect of this town with courses being offered on various aspects of Thai culture - massage, cooking, language, others.. Its pretty strange to see a group of white people spend their vacation in thailand trying to learn thai cooking, but there it is.

Anyways, tomorrow I am taking a trek for 2 days which will involves riding on an elephant, rafting down a river, and obviously a bit of hiking. The cost of the entire thing including the admission ticket to the national forest, the tour guide and whatever else is 1470 baht, which is roughly $37.

And best of all, this damn water holiday is over.

I am off to see some temple and then try to find a nice pub to get a couple of beers..

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Day 16 - goodbye Bankok

Tonight I am taking an overnight train to chiang mai, which is in the north of the country. I thought about going to cambodia, but its supposed to be a pain in the neck to travel there. I thought about going to the beach, but I am just not a beach person. So, I am going to Chiang Mai...

I walked around Bangkok yesterday, and was soaked entirely. Interestingly when you are walking around in the beginning when nobody hit you yet everyone just lets you go by, then somebody takes a small shot at you, then somebody a bit bigger shot. Two minutes later somebody decides to pour water down your back... Then there are the 40 year old Westerners who run around with gangs of super soaker armed 12 year old Thais spraying everybody. They can't quite keep up with the kids, but they are trying.

Anyways, I have a train at 9:30pm and I have to figure out what to do until then in order not to get wet. I'll probably take the SkyTrain down to the ferry and go see some site.

Posted some more pics of Beijing and of the Great Wall at imagestation.

Update.

I tried to go down to the National Museum, but surprise surprise it was closed for the national holiday. I had even amazingly been able to get there and back without getting at all wet. Once I got back to my hostel I went across the street to a cafe to wait out the watery bastards. I wrote up my theory for what is currently happening in East Asia between China and Japan and read through every English newspaper the cafe head. Trying to wait them out turned out to be a mistake because by the time I got out it was time for the evening traffic. Now traffic in the west means that cars are moving, albeit slowly. In bangkok, nothing moves and the intersection which I had to cross had literally a dozen trucks with obnoxious teens on board. There were also foot patrols with water guns patrolling both sides of the road. In the 1.5 minutes it took me to get across the road to the hostel I was sprayed by at least 3 people. I got my stuff and headed down to the train station via the SkyTrain and Subway. I avoided getting soaked, but had to wait in the train station for my train. In any case I had no desire to be out in Bangkok at this time getting wet.


Cheers,
Boris.

Day 15 - Bangkok

I am still trapped by this holiday. At least I have finally bought some flipflops. I for most of the afternoon and thus avoided getting soaked. On the way back from the train station 20 minutes ago I had to go through 2 squads of soakers.

So far today I have gone through 2 temple complexes. First about yesterdays Grand Palace/Temple complex. Its like Disneyland. Basically it looked like a little crappy souvenir made of colored glass and gold and silver foil that you can buy on the streets, only blown up to great proportion. Its all shiny and mirrory and it looks very nice from far away, but up close its just too much.

The temples I was in today - Wat Pho and Wat Arun were much nicer, especially the latter. Wat Arun is particularly impressive. Though decorated with similar kind of colored glass as the palace, the glass has been allowed to darken and age giving it a more ancient and less tourist-driven feel. It is also a much more interesting complex because while the Great Palace complex seems like a random plopping of buildings, Wat Arun looks like a large tower surrounded by 4 smaller towers. Each tower is decorated intricately. There are stairs (also decorated) winding from the bottom of the large tower to the top. These stairs aren't open all the way to the top but still...

Wat Pho had some celebrations for the Thai New Year. Apparently these consisted of pouring scented water on statues of the budha and depositting small coins into many many jars at the temple to the reclining buddha. Wat Pho is known for housing a huge fat reclining buddha. Also at the celebrations were dancing troupes of Madonna-clad pre-teens doing traditional Thai dances of questionable origin. And of course as everywhere many many food stalls selling different kinds of foods. So far I have tried the dumplings, which are a bit sweet for me and a dish consisting of rice with an egg fried in oil on top. Yesterday I also tried some squid looking things on a stick, but am still shying away from what look like fish balls on a stick. I feel that I am playing Russian roulette with my stomach whenever I eat at these stalls.

I am going to try to leave Bangkok tomorrow. I think I am going to go to Trat and from either into Cambodia or to one of the islands closeby.

Another problem I am having is that the place which currently holds my images is being bitchy and so I am trying out some others right now. I posted the last of my HK/Macau pictures to picturetrail.com/berseken, but I am looking around for a place to upload the beijing pics..

For now, go to www.imagestation.com and log in as me to see the pics.


Gotta go.

Boris.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Day 14 - Bangkok

I am held hostage in the hostel. I can not venture out without fear of being sprayed by thousands of supersoaker carrying Thais. Those not fortunate enough this morning to own a supersoaker have had an opportunity to acquire one at a little stall set up on pretty much every corner of the city. The city seems to have organized into pick-up truck squads. Each pick-up truck is equipped with a bathtub of water. Those sitting in the back of the pick-ups take turns taking water out of the tub to spray any pick-up trucks going by, any tuk-tuks (tricycle looking taxis with lawnmower engines), or any people just walking by.

The occassion apparently is Songkran - Thai new year. Apparently as a sign of respect young people pour water down the backs of their elders while wishing them happy things. Others use some kind of white mixture to coat the faces of passer-bys in order to 'ward off evil'.

Here is some info on this 'festival'

As you can probably imagine that what might have once been a tame tradition in the villages of Thailand has been slightly transformed [mutated] in the ridiculously large metropolis of bangkok into what it is now, which is just water spraying for fun..

In any case.. Yesterday I arrived late night in Bankok and shared with some people a ride towards the center of town.. I got to the hostel at about 2am and interrupted some poor people in my dorm room. In the morning I woke up and went to the Palace complex. I took the SkyTrain (which is a pretty nice looking air conditioned train system) down to the pier and then the ferry up to the complex. Now at this point let me explain the main problem with Bangkok - its weather. Its absolutely horrendous. The temperature is somewhere in the low 100s and the humidity is very high as well. Sweat just rolls down my head. When I got out of the air conditioned airport last night my glasses just fogged up and refused to defog. Today I am wearing contacts so its not a problem, but the sun is still very strong. Now the problem is that i hadn't packed for this heat. I was thinking Hong Kong weather, but this is the tropical variety. No wonder the Americans lost Vietnam. They were trying to run away from the sun. The next problem is that i hadn't packed for Songkran. I don't have flipflops or shorts. I made the mistake of not buying them today in the morning.

So after seeing the palace complex I went back to the hostel and posted some of my delayed China material. I then went walking around in my usual outfit - hiking boots, jeans, shirt, backpack - and then the pick-up trucks started coming. I was trying to make it down to the backpacker district - Kho San Road and i took a tuk-tuk to get there. The problem with tuk-tuks, as opposed to taxis or buses, is that they have no protection from waterguns, so by the time I got out of the tuk-tuk I was completely wet. I was still thinking that i had a chance to get down to Kho-San Road, but the closer i got the more congested it got, the more people, the more water, the more pick-up trucks. When I got to the entrance to the road it was physically impossible to make it inside due to the high volume of people already there. Added to this the continued soaking and face-whitening. I basically just gave up and went back to the hostel to dry and regroup. I don't think I am going to be leaving the hostel any more this evening....

Cheers,
BR

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Day 12 - Beijing

Today I did the touristy thing. I took a taxi to the Summer Palace which as the name explains was the summer residence of the latter emperors of china. Its a very nice place with a large lake in the middle, with several palaces on an island in the middle of the lake. The other temples and palaces are on the side of the lake. Apparently the funding for the construction of this palace was taken from funds that were supposed to go to the building of a modern Chinese Navy in the late 19th century. The empress, who embezzled the funds did however construct one ship, albeit one that doesn't float, built out of marble on the lakeside.

The Summer Palace was flooded by waddling Chinese tourist groups in their cute matching hats following a guide carrying an umbrella. Once in a while there were groups of confused middle-aged European wearing matching name tags. To make the story short, there was lots of staring by the provincial tourists at the strange white person walking around.

The Summer Palace looks very nice, but the biggest complex is unfortunately under construction. Once again my enjoyment of a Chinese cultural place has been damaged by preparations for the Olympic games. Speaking of which, there is plenty of memorabilia for the 2008 Olympics already floating around, including official stuff sold at ridiculous prices, and black market stuff at a tenth of the price.

From the Summer Palace I went down to the Lama Temple, which is supposed to be the second most important Tibetan temple next to the one in Tibet. Its nice and suprisingly peacefull considering that right outside its walls is a bustling and polluted intersection. Chinese people come in and light up their incense and do their bows... The monks are walking around in their orange-red robes... very authentic..

After getting some pictures of the Lama temple I went down to look for an internet cafe at the China World Trade Center. This is a very modern looking complex housing a spiffy mall with all the famous designer names. Unfortunately they closed down the internet cafe just to spite me so I had to go down to the internet cafe I knew on Tianamen Square where I browsed the web a bit, and then did a bit of browsing around the general tianamen area. There are many shops open and a bustling trade in all kinds of kitschy Mao souvenirs... The stores and the roads are not on the same level as those in Hong Kong though, all looking dirty and dejected.

From here I decided to go check out the pub area at Sanlitun. I got lost in the hutong again, so I had to take a cab down to that area. The pub area consists of one street with pubs on one side of the street. The sidewalk is full of Chinese offering various not-so-legal services. The area is patrolled by threesomes of Chinese police walking back and forth though strangely doing nothing about all the Chinese hawkers.

Among the Chinese there was the curious presence of a black guy from somewhere in Africa. He walked alongside me and offered me hash. I went down to one of the pubs recommended by the Rough Guide, had a beer and left. I tried to find the other area where pubs were recommended, but that street seems to have been largely torn down. There was just one pub which seemed to almost be a cultural center for the Afro-Chinese community. Here i was once again offered some drugs. I left his area and walked downtown. On the way I passed many franchises including McDonalds, Outback Steakhouse, KFC, 7-11 and many others...

I took the subway back to the hotel, though the bus service was no longer running. I hence had to walk back to the hostel using a map and a compass.

Back at the hotel I turned on the TV to watch the Chinese news in English. They spoke of a visit of Chinese president ? to south China where he met with local representatives and promoted 'harmonious socialist society' with communist characteristics. Included in the coverage was an interview with a woman who said everything was getting better because of 'the party's people-first policy'. Watching Chinese news was an interesting experience in itself. Interesting the weather was done by a weird looking white guy.

Another interesting thing is the demonstrations going on against Japan. They are all staged by the government. It seems to be part of a campaign against Japanese membership in the UNSC. The same day I saw the 'China Daily' newspaper where conveniently Japanese gas bombs were discovered the same day as demonstrations were going on. Its all staged and stage-managed by the party. China might not be economically a 'communist' country, but its still a one-party dictatorship and if anybody believes that a spontaneous demonstration can be organized without the support of the government, they are insane. Someone somewhere must grant permission for the gathering to occur in some particular place. There is no freedom of speech and assembly in China, remember? Just like these demonstrations start they will be (quitely) stopped once the Chinese government is satisfied.

I am back in the free sorta almost country of Hong kong where i can actually access blogger. I will post more on my travels in the People's Republic later as i am standing at a terminal nicely set up by the Hong Kong airport authorities and there are people waiting. To keep it short, i went to Beijing, did all the touristy things and left.

Done:
a 9km hike on the Great Wall,
walked past a porcelain Mao,
a visit to the Forbidden City,
a visit to the Summer Palace,
a visit to the Lama Temple

I kept some notes so I will set aside a couple of hours and post a play-by-play of my visit.

Now i am off to board a plane to Thailand.. Going to be fun arriving there at night, but hey just bought a guide and exchanged money in the Hong Kong airport so i should be fine. This airport by the way is really good..

Cheers,
BR

Monday, April 11, 2005

Day 11 - Beijing - Great Wall

Woke up this morning with a complete lack of desire to go on a 9km hike. Twisted and turned in bed for about an hour until I decided that I might regret skipping out on this and that I would then have to go find another way to get to the Western Wall, so lazy fears over uncertainty beat laziness and I went down to the hostel from where the minibus was leaving.

I got to the hostel a bit late, but the driver was even later. In any case from the hostel were leaving 2 Slovenians. When we got on the bus there were also a couple of Korean girls, a Brit, an Aussie and a girl from Singapore. The drive to the Great wall takes about 2.5 hours. Once we get there the driver turns around collects the money, points in a direction and tells us that we should make a right after the 28th tower at the bridge. So we started walking. I didn't bring a hat so I was wearing my rain jacket with a hood.

A bunch of innocent women farmers apparently decided to take the same hike on top of the wall from their village down to Simatai where the hike ends. I am sure there are more effective ways of traversing the distance other than an actual walk, but the language barrier prevented me from expressing my misunderstanding. In any case, one of the friendly farmers decided to walk near me and help me through this arduous journey. Interestingly she decided to slow down whenever I did and speed up whenever I did so and seemed concerned about my health. She then proceeded to point out several shortcuts to me. At this point I didn't feel like having a minder so I pointed out to her that I did not need a guide. She replied that there is a custom - 'one visitor, one friend walk'. I again demonstrated my lack of enthusiasm at the suggestion and she finally got to the heart of the matter. She took out a book, some postcards and other stuff that she wanted me to buy. I rejected these. I had however done a very touristy thing when I bought a 'Great Wall' baseball cap earlier on. This probably signalled me out as a good subject for hassle. In any case my farmer/friend/guide/minder followed me for the next hour or so taking every opportunity to again and again try to sell me something. After roughly the halfway point she gave up and left. From this point on there was a pleasant hike, though tiring. The hat certainly helped and I was suprised how much easier it was to hike with one's head covered. The pleasant hike was interrupted occasionally by other friendly Chinese farmers trying to sell me something.

The Wall is an interesting contraption. It goes up and down, up and down and up and down and follows the contour of the mountains. The hike I did, from Jinshanling to Simatai was of course over a rebuilt section of the wall. Even rebuilt at many points it was partially damaged. The wall is definately a feat of engineering, and is an amazing feat of what forced labor, when taken in large enough quantities and driven mercilessly can accomplish. Stretching so long and so far away from civilization I have no idea how this wall could have ever accomplished any objective. The whole length of the wall can not be guarded and it can be scaled with ropes at almost every point. The guardtowers might work during the day, but at night I doubt they would be able to do much. At the same time there is always the problem of corruption, laziness and sleep.

At the end of the hike there is a bridge for which you have to pay to cross and then a cable ride down to the bottom. There was a line for the cable, so I just walked down. At the bottom there are several restaraunts. At one of them the people who came in the minivan with me gathered and we had a meal of what was essentially barbecued chicken. The driver came a bit later, picked us up and took us back to Beijing. We got to Beijing at about 6 and some of us went to a retaraunt to get a full meal. This consisted of rice and thin pieces of chicken and beef...

After this I went back to my hotel and went to sleep. I should have gone out, but i was tired after the hike.

Boris.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Day 10 - Beijing.

Today I decided to go through Tianamen square and up through the Forbidden City..

I took the subway down to Tianamen and then saw the line to get in to pay respects to Chairman Mao. I got into line. I was approached by a young guy wearing a smart suit who seemingly was directing the people traffic all around. He pointed at my bag and said 'no bags'. He then gestured for me to follow him, which I did. Half running he led me to the Checkroom where I depositted my bag. On the way back he tried to get me back into line where I had left it, but failing that he asked for money. Apparently he was not a staff member. I gave him 10 kwai and sent him on his way.

I got back into line at the end and walked slowly towards the tomb. The line was tricky whereby only the tail of it was visible, while after walking through the gates of the tomb the line truly revealed itself. Many people, many seemingly peasants from the countryside came to pay their respects. For those that had forgotten how one does this, there was a conveniently placed flower shop right inside the gate of the tomb where one may procure flowers to place at the chairman's side. After walking for a while I got to the entrance of the tomb. The strange thing was that the tomb smelled like salami. I don't know whether the staff had a salami sandwich for breakfast or whether the chairman had by this time become edible, but the smell was there nontheless. At the entrance to the interior part of the tomb sits a huge statue of the chairman who sits there looking down at the people filing through his tomb. At the feet of the statue there is a cart on wheels that receives the flowers that had been bought about 100 feet away at the flower shop. The wheels would suggest that the return trip is made once the cart is full. This seems pretty capitalist of them...

In any case after the outer hall where the statue sits the line proceeds to the inner hall where what looks like a porcelain statue of the chairman sits encased in glass. 2 soldiers are standing guard next to him. After filing through this room one is led ito a large room full of stalls selling various kinds of memorabilia. This ranges from watches where the Chairman's hand moves every second to lighters that look like the little red book to various kinds of jewelry with the chairman's face on it. The worst of all was a yellow shiny medallion in the shape of a heart with the chairman's face engraved on it. Thats the one I bought.

After walking out of the mausoleum, the shopping mall proceeds with many more watches, lighters, medallions, and various other crap.. I didn't notice this, but I would not be surprised if the chairman's body was slowly turning over in his glass casket.

After leaving Mao's tomb I proceeded up to the Forbidden City. Now for all its grandeur, the Forbidden City consists of a couple of dozen fairly consistently outfitted rooms which look like many Chinese restaraunts in the states. The interior is also relatively sparsely decorated. Although the complex is very large, the fact that the buildings are almost identical makes it a bit boring in the end. I walked around for a couple of hours and the most entertaining aspect was not inherently a part of the complex. The Chinese are apparently repairing the structures and roads in preparation for the 2008 Olympics influx. Now, in order to make the roads more appealing, they set the concrete black bricks down and then they have a large group of people sitting down with hammers and putting notches into each brick so as to make it looks sorta whitish. I showed a picture of this event to some people and they had initially guessed that what the people were doing was tai-chi...

After leaving the Forbidden City I entered a temple complex which was more interesting because it rises up over the city and allows one to get a pretty good view over an otherwise pretty flat city. The temple buildings themselves looked similar to the buildings in the Forbidden City.

After this I was trying to get to a pub which was recommended by the Lonely Planet, but got lost in the part of Beijing called the Hutong. These are small one-story single extended family houses built hundreds of years ago using a set design with inner and outer courtyards. There are many of them and they have since been communalized with many families being assigned to live in each one. In any case thee are very much run-down and the roads and not marked. In addition to these many of these roads/alleys are not displayed in the Lonely Planet map of Beijing, which is of limited use due to the small size of the map and the large size of the city.

I eventually stumbled onto the backpacker part of this neighborhood with several cafes, restaraunts, pubs and hostels in the area. I sat down in a couch of a cafeterria of one of these hostels and ordered a 3 kwai tsingtao beer. Across the table was seated a guy from Germany. He was joined by a German woman and a British guy. After several beers I joined their conversation and when they went to get dinner along with the niece of the German woman I went with them.. I was taken to a nice restaraunt/pub with just one minor defect. There was no internal bathroom. In order to relieve oneself one had to go across the street to a public toilet. In any case the menu of the evening was what was explained to me to be 'beijing cuisine'. This included dumplings which looked and tasted like Russian pelmeni, and some very nice non-spicy beef with cashew nuts served with rice. After the meal I took the taxi back to the hotel and tried to get soem sleep because the next day I had signed up to do a 9km hike on the Great wall.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Day 9 Beijing

So I arrived in Beijing. Nothing exciting here. It was just an airport, not different from any other airport in the world. No shifty-eyed communist agents, no interrogation, not even any reference to communism. A bunch of ads everywhere for all kind of capitalist companies.. What a rip off.

The airport guy looked at my passport and just stamped it. No minder, no interrogation, no movie..

The next adventure was supposed to be finding an ATM machine that would accept my capitalist mastercard plus card. However, there was one just outside the arrivals area, so no fun there either...

Getting a taxi to the hotel was more fun with people approaching you claiming to represent taxi companies... Many wear official-looking suits and try to get you into some taxi while flashing you a card that claims a 350 kwai charge for the privilege of being driven into town by them. I had to forcefully rip the card that had my hotel name on it from one of these.

I looked for the least active taxi driver and got into his car. The more lazy he is the less likely he is to rip you off. Ripping people off requires way too much energy, too much trouble. You need to pretend to be somebody you are not, convince the person that he is paying the right price, and run away so fast that he does not recognize that he has been bamboozled..

So, in any case after an uneventful 40 minute trip from the airport which cost me a whole of 94 kwai I arrived in the hotel. The whole time I was making sure he was going in the right direction by using the compass I had acquired for 5 HKD. With my sense of direction this was the best investment I ever made. I am never going anywhere without it again. The hotel was in a shitty smelly part of town, but it itself was not too bad. A couple of people even spoke English. I am guessing I was the only white person that stayed in this hotel in a long time, but the service was reasonable. The only problem was getting from this hotel to the center of town. I had to take a bus to get to the subway. After I figured out how to do this I only had a problem with transportation once, when I was returning late from the center and the buses stopped running....

After settling into my hotel room and taking a shower I was off to Tianamen square. Apparently white people are about as common as green monkeys in the outskirts of Beijing because on the subway I was being stared at continuously. If somebody had offered me a banana I wouldn't have been surprised.

I arrived in Tianamen square after a short journey. Now I was in the heart of the beast, and Ronald McDonald was right there with me, along with 7-11 and Colonel Sanders. Anyways, Tianamen is a humongous concrete square with several monuments in the middle. I arrived first at the gate itself where the big poster of Mao is displayed and from where apparently he declared the People's Republic of China. Got a picture taken and headed south. I was approached by a couple of friendly kindergarten teachers who just happened to be on their way to work through the square. They asked the usual questions and then proceeded to explain that where I should really be is the Old part of Beijing which is being torn down for the Olympics and that they were headed in that direction themselves. I don't know why, but I didn't fully trust these kindergarten teachers, and left them to wander southwards towards Mao's tomb. I looked back to notice the kindergarten teachers striking up a conversation with some other tourists.

On the way to Mao's tomb I was approached by a couple of history students from the university who just wanted to speak English and also casually recommended that I should go to Old Beijing. In any case I was able to get a bit of an explanation from them about several of the monuments. Apparently one was the represenation of one of the four classes of people they have in China. This was a sculpture of the soldier class, which along with the worker, farmer and the academic classes made up Chinese society. I don't know where the merchants and the beggars come into this class system, but there were definately quite a few of each in the area. Now for some reason I didn't trust these history students either, so I proceeded to go to 7-11 to get some food and then home and fell asleep. I didn't sleep much the night before because I had an early bus to catch to the airport and I got a new roommate who had travelled through Thailand and throught the States so I was talking to him for a while.

I had planned on waking up several hours later and going to explore Beijing some more, but couldn't force myself up and ended up getting about 12 hours of sleep that night...

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Day 8.

The weather was good today so I went back up to the Peak, where unlike the last time I could actually see all of Hong Kong from.

Went down to the travel agent and picked up my tickets. I am flying out tomorrow at 8 in the morning to Beijing. I am coming back on the 12th when without leaving the airport I am getting on a flight to Bangkok. I will be in Thailand for about 8 days before I come back to Hong Kong just in time to get on a plane back to the States.

The efficiency of this place amazes me. I was able to get a paper ticket in my hand within 30 minutes of walking into the travel agent's office. This along with the excellent transportation system and the high caliber of the human resources that seems to be available here guarantees this city a place as one of the best places to do business in the world.

Outside of this it also seems to be a very nice place to live, as long as you have a good salary. There are parks everywhere and very nice ones at that with artificial waterfalls, pools, fish, trees, and the other park amenitites. And these parks are in the middle of the city within a couple minutes walk from the skyscrapers. Outside of the city there are many areas for recreation - for hiking, water sports, horse riding. There is a racetrack and if you really want to gamble you can go to Macau which functions as Atlantic City for NYC. Inside the city are plenty of areas with up-scale pubs and with a varied clientele.

It might be a very nice place to work for a year...

cheers,
BR

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Day 7 recap. back to Hong Kong

Went walking about. Ended up in a pub in Central. There was a good cover band playing all the classics - queen 'another one bites the dust', 'bohemian rhapsody', pink floyd 'another brick in the wall (part 2)' and various other songs... Left for very, very Oh Bubbish reasons.

Anyways, some comments so far.

I didn't understand the reasons for the masks worn by some people while walking around Hong Kong. I had thought it was to prevent breathing in pollution or to avoid catching SARS or something. I was watching TV and apparently the local health department suggests that if you are sick that you wear a surgical face mask in order to prevent other people from getting infected. Sounds reasonable, no? We should be doing the same, why aren't we? Its not like its still the 15th century where we think disease is a curse of god spread by Jews and witches. Wonder if this will ever catch on in the west. Probably not, I think that in Western society we still associate disease and sickness with weakness and immorality.

Another thing I noticed is that in advertisements for McDonalds they have a clown that looks like Ronald McDonald, but the only difference is that he is Asian. I guess thats reasonable, if you make Jesus into an Asian in Asia, then why should the other god of the west not adopt a native form.

OK, cheers,
BR.

Day 7: Macau -> Hong Kong

And now the negative side of Macau. There is no internet. Or rather no internet for a reasonable price. The only way to get internet appears to be through the expensive hotels where I would have to pay $10/50 minutes, which is not a reasonable price. So I needed to get back to Hong Kong in order to check on my reservations for hotel in Beijing.

After waking up in a nice hotel in Macau I walked around a bit and went down to take some more pictures. I then boarded a ferry and came back to Hong Kong and back to my hostel.

People are waiting for internet. In any case my reservations came through, I am picking up the tickets tomorrow and I am off to Beijing on friday.

cheers,
BR

Day 6 recap - Macau.

Came back late the night before and so slept way too late. At about noon I rushed down to the hotel lobby to check out and leave my bags. I went down to the touristy part of the town and took some pictures. The architecture does look sorta European. The people have a slight tint of non-Asianness. Once in a while you see the admixture of Portuguese or African blood into the gene pool. This is not visible in Hong Kong. The Portuguese had a different idea of colonization. They didn't have the British uppityness, and so didn't have a problem intermingling with the local native population. The British apparently brought their own women, while the Portuguese made do. I am a bit surprised by the fact that the population of Macau is only 15% Catholic as I would have expected the Portuguese to be more persistent in their quest to save the souls of the heathen. In any case, the signs are in Chinese and in Portuguese, though I didn't hear anybody actually speaking the language, except when I walked by the Portuguese School of Macau where some mixed looking kids were speaking it among themselves.

Anyways I took some pictures of the local touristy place - one street, a fort and a blown up church with only the front facade still standing. These places look nice and are positioned so one can almost take a picture without including the crappy buildings that surround the touristy sites. Despite the Lonely Planet's assertion that there is a bit of reconstruction going on, the houses are in a very bad state of disrepair. On some houses you see what they may have looked like in their heyday, but most are just shite.

This accomplished I went about looking for a cheap hotel. Apparently there are no hostels in Macau and the closest thing to reasonable budget accomodations was a run-down hotel. After looking at the room and getting back into the elevator to go back downstairs, the elevator mysteriously went up a floor where a young woman was smiling and offering a massage. I cordially rejected her proposal, left the hotel and went back to the hotel I had stayed in earlier and booked another night. I stayed in the hotel and listened to John LeCarre's 'Absolute Friends' audiobook. In the evening I went down to the casinos and lost a bit of money which I proceeded to wash down with losing a bit more money in a vain attempt to win it back. I failed in this and went down to get a beer. After drinking a beer and walking about some more I went back to the hotel and went to sleep.

Day 5 recap - Hong Kong -> Macau.

The afternoon was spent looking for a package to china. Unfortunately these, when bought together with a full tour is prohibitively expensive, on the order of $1500. I also checked the possibity of buying only the tickets and doing everything myself. The price was about $750 for my desired route. So I decided that I am going to buy a package to Beijing for 5 days and then come back to Hong Kong and go somewhere else in Asia. I am thinking Thailand, maybe some other place. The package to Beijing cost me about $350 including air and hotel.

During my day of travels in Hong Kong I had the opportunity to try out the 2 remaining forms of transportation available in the city: the tram and the taxi. Both were comfortable, though the tram has now become my favorite means of transportation in Hong Kong. Its cheap - .25c, it goes all across Hong Kong island, thus letting me go to almost any place in Hong Kong. It has 2 stories, something I have never seen on a tram before...

After making my reservations I took the tram down to the ferry. After I made the reservation I had some time, and since I was already splurging I got myself a hotel in Macau for $60. I took the ferry to Macau, which took about an hour. Just as I was settled in my seat, I had to get off the boat through crowds of chinese gambling addicts and go through immigration again and get another stamp on my passport. The other passengers were definately in a hurry to get off, although it might be possible that its just simply a Chinese cultural norm to get on and off planes and ferries as if your seat is not really reserved until your ass is safely planted in it. I noticed that on the flight from Tokyo, the Chinese had lined up to get on the plane a long time before boarding and continued to stand there in line until allowed on the plane.

I have never understood why people do this, because its not only the Chinese that are guilty of this. It doesn't really get you in the air any faster! If you get on now or in 20 minutes, your seat will still be the same and the plane will still take off at the announced departure time. I prefer to sit down and wait until the line runs down so that I can walk from my seat in the departures hall to my seat on the plane without having to stand in line. Likewise, getting off the plane it seems entirely unreasonable for anyone except those carrying only hand luggage to rush to get off. Has anybody ever actually arrived at those damn luggage carousels and seen their luggage come out instantly? No! it always takes at least 10 minutes for the bags to start coming up and your bag will be the last one! (the same idea applies to waiting at passport control. if you run towards the little booth or not, you are still entering the same country and you will still have to wait for your bags next to the carousel. Bloody wankers.

Hmm.. bit of a tangent, so anyways. Once in Macau I walked past the big casinos - the Sands, the Fortuna and the Lisbao on my way to my hotel. The hotel turned out to be very nice as was the room. This was one of the first times I had stayed in such a nice hotel when travelling. After taking a shower I went down to do some gambling.

The Lisbao casino, considered the flagship casino on Macau is very finely furnished in quasi-Las Vegas fashion. The first thing that I did upon walking in, as I have been doing many times upon entering any place in Asia is to scan the crowd and look for white people. This time there was a confused group hovering in a corner trying to figure out the games that people were playing. Frankly I have no idea how most of these games are played. Some look like dominoes, others are just plain weird. The most popular game seems to be Baccarat, with the most tables and with people sitting and jotting down the results of the evening's games. Trying to find some pattern in a completely random game I guess, or using a "system" that is sure to overcome the fact that the odds are always in the casino's favour. Good Luck. There is in fact such a system, but it requres ridiculous amounts of work and is then only capable of increasing your odds of winning in blackjack by a couple of percentage points. If an average game of blackjack has a casino edge of half a percent, a good cardcounter will sit down at the table when he has the edge. In any case this is impossible in the Macau casinos because the deck is reshuffled way too often for any card counting to cut the odds and also because the blackjack rules are terrible, giving the casino probably at least a 1.5 percent edge. These rules include the fact that the dealer does not check for blackjack at the beginning of the hand and that you can only double on an 11 (A CRIME!). These rules alone are enough to kill the hopes of any cardcounter.

In any case, I played and after winning a bit at first I started losing and for my 2 days spent in Macau I lost about 150 patacas which is roughly $20.

After leaving the casino and getting a bit lost in the process I wound up in the casino's little mall. As I was looking for the exit it dawned on me that dozens of beautiful Asian girls were trying to get my attention and the attention of any guy that came by. After finding the exit I went down to another casino - the Fortuna. They were supposed to have a lounge where I can get some drinks. On the way I heard a familiar language. It was coming from groups of white girls that were standing on the corner, also trying to get the attention of passing Asian gentlemen. They looked depressed and indignant and could hardly hide their disgust with their surroundings and whats worse of all they simply were not capable of smiling. These were the exotic white Russian prostitutes of Macau.

After failing in finding the Fortuna lounge I went down to the pub area. In this area I sat down and had a beer. The other people were all playing a strange game that looked like yatzee. I asked somebody and they explained to me that this is basically a drinking game based on poker. 2 people roll five dice. The person that can assemble the best poker hand - pair, 2 pair, 3 of a kind, 4 of a kind wins. The loser must obviously drink. I moved on to a different bar where a bad rendition of bad American songs was being sung by what seems to have been a Filipino band. There was a Gwyn Stefani song in there somewhere. After a couple of beers I went home.

Cheers,
BR

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Day 4 recap

Packing light has its downside. I have now officially put on my last pair of clean socks. Considering that I have already been away for about 6 days and I brought only 3 pairs of socks, clean is a relative term. Cleaner socks.

Anyways yesterday I sat around in a Starbucks for a couple of hours and read their local English newspaper. Lots of junk. An interesting story about how the US economy resembles the pre-1987-crash economy. Another one about some English financial analyst that is recovering after he was attacked by the Triads by accident. Yes, by accident. Apparently some guy drank too much and got kicked out violently from a pub. His Chinese girlfriend was pissed off cause her man got dissed. She called up her Triad pplz and they came down to the pub with meat cleavers to deal with the bouncers. They found a guy and beat him badly. Wrong guy. Yah. God has a plan.

Ok.. There was some other stuff in the paper that was interesting. Apparently not interesting enough though so while I remember being entertained I don't actually remember why.

After reading the paper I realized that I still had not gone on the Star Ferry. So I rushed off to Kowloon where I jumped on the Star Ferry headed to Central. I was in Central in about 4 minutes with no pictures to show for it. If anyone figures out how to take nice sharp pictures off the side of a rocking boat in the middle of the night please let me know. Is there a way of cutting the time needed for the camera to process pictures at night?

I walked around a bit in Central. Or more accurately I got lost a bit in Central. Found myself in the pub area. It was dead again. Went back to the hostel. At the hostel discussed China with my roommates. Will China ever have the standard of living of America? No, there aren't enough resources in the world. Will China be democratic any time soon? No, probably not. Is China's one child policy working? No, not outside the big cities.

Anyways.. I am leaving this hostel today (hopefully). I will get my passport back and take the ferry over to Macau and try to find lodgings there. If I find nothing reasonable I will come back to Hong Kong.

Changed the template the blog uses. Now open for comments and suggestions.

Chinese is beginning to sound like chicken squawking to me. Is this normal?

Posted more pics,

BR

Still Day 4.

I am quickly getting bored of both the hostel and of hong kong. I went out to the last of the three pub areas in Hong Kong - Wan Chai. Wan Chai used to be known as a hangout for US seamen, and for soldiers and marines during the Vietnam war. It could be easily imagined what kind of places it was known for at the time.. Despite what might be stated elsewhere, these kind of places have not left and the only difference is that instead of soldiers and sailors the visitors are now ex-pats and wealthy visitors. In order to build up their confidence prior to taking the next step several high-class bars have been built in the area. These are very nice and obviously rather expensive. A pint of beer will run over $HK50. I had a very small beer at one of these bars for $HK25 and left. I was in this area at about 8pm and the most visible characteristic of these up-scale places is the overwhelming preponderance of white males, with the minimal presence of white women. Occassinally a white guy will walk by with an Asian girl or a elderly couple that probably got lost... The places that were popular with US military personnel during the Vietnam war are located right next to the up-scale expat bars and it takes little imagination to understand that their business picks up after the finish of the sports games playing on the TV screens in the bars.

I am off to go get a book and then sit down with a hot tea in Starbucks or off to see a movie. I think I am going to try to leave the hostel tomorrow. Maybe once I get my passport back I'll try to get over to Macau.

cheers,
BR

Day 4 in Hong Kong.

OK.. so I woke up this morning and my left eye was hurting a bit. I can see fine so I think its just one of the muscles that open and close the eye that is at fault. I will wait a bit until I put the contacts back in. On the bright side I have my new glasses with which I can see much better.

I went up to Mongkok and walked the market there. I finally saw Rolexes, though I need to do some research before I buy myself a fake rolex. First I don't want to buy a fake super-expensive model. A $3000 watch model on my hand might (?) be real, a $40000 watch with diamonds is probably not going to be believed. Also a bunch of the same stuff as at every market. Zippos, domino sets, jewelry, clothing, electronics.

List of things to buy for now:
little red book
fake rolex

I was going to go visit a "recreated" Hakka walled village but roughly halfway between Mongkok and the station I needed to go to I encountered a problem. Apparently something I had eaten earlier had caught up with me. Now I don't know whether it was the microwaved eel on a stick or the deep-fried shrimp looking thingie on a stick, or possibly the dried fish or maybe even the Starbucks frappuccino, but suffice it to say that I could not continue to my destination and had to leave the Metro and quickly find a toilet. I found one but decided not to chance the trip and returned back to the hostel.

The interesting thing about these markets is the weird street food. Any Chinese person on Fear Factor would have an unfair advantage since they have already eaten such delicacies as turkey's kidney, chicken knee soft bone, fried pig's intestines, among many others... I am still trying to stick to chicken, beef, noodles, sushi and seafood. The 24 hour supermarket across the street from the hostel has a good selection of prepared food.

On the way back from Mongkok there was a media event near the hostel. There seems to be a media event around here every couple of days. Last time there was apparently a media event whereby a store called Bauhaus was being called. The event was a bunch of guys (white & asian) carrying a cage with a Chinese guy inside while chanting "Bauhaus" in unison once in a while. You gotta give them points for originality.

Today there was apparently a horse race which was the center of attention. I asked a young Chinese guy what the hoopla was about and he replied that there is a particular horse which had won 15 races in a row and if it wins two more times it will set a world record. The race took about a minute and the favorite won. Horseracing is apparently big here...

Anyways, I posted some more pics.
http://www.picturetrail.com/berseken

BR

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Day 3 recap.

Posted some more pics.

In the evening yesterday me and Malcolm wanted to go to the foreigner bar area on kowloon. When we got to the subway we firgured out that we forgot the guidebook at the hostel, so we decided to wing it. After walking around for about an hour and not finding the westerner bars we made an agreement to go into the first bar we saw. This turned out to be a chinese bar with no westerners. The chinese were sitting around basically gambling and drinking loudly. Some were playing some kind of dice game and others were playing card games. The TV was playing a Man. United soccer match with Chinese commentary of course. After a beer we left and went back to the hostel. I walked around a bit more outside and noticed that they were playing western movies at the cinema. I am not sure how funny the Chinese will find 'The Pacifier' when it seems to make people cringe in the west.

I was happy to come back to the hostel to take out my contacts. I don't think I'll be wearing these every day.

Anyways. I am probably going to go up to the market at Mongkok. When I was back in the states I saw a Hong Kong cop movie called 'one night in mongkok'. It is supposed to be the gritty part of HK.

I am stuck in Hong Kong for at least another two days.

People are waiting to use the computer.

Boris.

Day 3.

posted some pics from day 2. My camera is out of batteries again. Will post more pics later.

Today I went down to Lantau island to see the big buddha. To get there I took the ferry which took about half an hour. Then there is a 40 minute busride up the hill towards the Po Lin Monastery where the Buddha is based. The Buddha himself is big, but not that big, so I don't know whats the big deal is about. Basically they say he is the biggest something something something something bronze Buddha statue in the world. You can probably describe anything as the worlds biggest anything. I am the proud owner of the biggest shaved white balding head with brown eyes and with a goatee and with a mole on the left side of my face and another one under my chin on the right side attached to a 5'10", 185 pound big boned body wearing blue jeans and hiking boots. Ok, i might be exaggerating a bit.

Anyways. The Buddha and the monastery were not terribly impressive themselves, but the island they are built on add a lot. The journey there was also interesting. The ferry passed by multiple uninhabitted islands. The coast of the Hong Kong Island itself is almost entirely developed, with the exception of the very southern side. However, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region includes multiple islands which are sparsely populated. The biggest of these is Lantau. It is sparsely populated, and most of the population appears to be employed in the construction trade based on the amount of construction work going on on the island. I don't know what they are building but they are definately killing the island as a location untouched by [modern] civilization.

Anyways. I went down to the eyeglasses store and picked up my pair of glasses and my contacts. It took me like an hour but I finally stuck the damn things into my eyes. I am guessing that its normal that my eyes are still itching a bit and my peripheral vision is a bit blurry. However its pleasant to not have to wear my glasses anymore. I also finally bought a nice little travel electric shaver and shaved my head. While looking for this model (one that supports 110-240V) I went through several 'department stores' like Sogo and through a mall called 'times square'. There is also a World Trade Center and a Broadway. It is a weekend, but still every store is overflowing and people are buying. Consumeristic consumption seems like a national pasttime... The electronics stores are full of people and of really cool products. There is no sales tax, and the selection on every kind of product imaginable is ridiculous. The prices on electronics are nothing special, but on clothing they seem to be really good.

Basically for somebody who likes shopping (somebody unlike me) Hong Kong must definately be at the top of the international destinations. In fact come to think of it, it would probably be a good vacation spot for American businessmen. They can send their wives to go shopping, while they can go hiking, sailing, swimming, drinking, whoring, whatever.. HK has it all. That is except location. Its just a bit too far from the States to be a good destination for a week worth of vacation.

I have a new problem. I went to several travel agencies today that specialize in English speaking tours and they were all closed. The fact that it is saturday might have something to do with that. In any case I might have to rough it into china and get some flights in Yangshuo or Guilin if nothing comes up last minute.

Still looking for that rolex..

cheers, is anybody reading this?

BR

Friday, April 01, 2005

Day 2 recap.

So yesterday I went back to my room and met my new roommate, Malcolm. A Scottish Lad, Malcolm had just come in from Beijing which he called his "trial by fire". Apparently the highlands of Scotland did not prepare him for being stared at and pointed at by hundreds of people whereever he went.

Anyways, we went over to TST to take some night pics from across the river into Hong Kong. We then proceeded up to the Temple St. Night Market which should be called the Temple St. White Market based on the number of white people there. The Night Market is about 3 streets long and has little shacks on both sides of the walkway. You can buy fake watches, Zippo lighters, leather bags, jewelry, t-shirts and anything else a tourist might want to bring back home as a souvenir. The only thing that I couldn't find was a little red book. However I was informed by Malcolm that when I get to Tianamen Square I will have plenty of little red books offered to me by a crowd surrounding me as if I was Mao himself. So, Dmitry your little red book is coming. Oh yeah, I also did not see any rolexes, which surprised me. Most of the knock-off watches were CKs.

Another thing that surprised me was the negotiation style of the vendors. I don't know whether they have gotten lazy from the easy money they make at this market or if this is a cultural Chinese thing about negotiations, but I couldn't get them to scream a price at me as I was walking away. In India if you do not get the price you want you start walking away and the merchant will call out a better price. In this case the merchant starts high - 30, I ask the price again - 27, I start negotiations at 10, the merchant comes down to 25, I raise the offer to 15, the merchant shakes his head and looks away. I am walking away expecting a price of 20 to be quoted and nothing is called out to me. I feel betrayed. They refuse to play the game. I feel cheated and I haven't even bought anything.

So in the middle of the night market obviously there is a place for people to get some food. We got ourselves some Chinese Tsingtao beer. Its not bad. Its also not Chinese beer as the brewery was built by the Germans before WW1 when they had a sphere of influence in China.

After the Night Market, where I bought for myself a little carrying bag for my Karma and for my camera, we went down to the pub area in Central. I was there the day before yesterday and it was a bit empty. Yesterday night the place was full of white people. Its seems like very much a happening place, albeit with really annoying loud music. The beer prices are also rather expensive.

cheers,
BR

Day 2 continued...

After my unexpected meeting with Michael I went out to explore the town. The first stop was Sogo, a staggeringly vast department store. I initially just followed the crowd of people into the store. The crowd got me onto the escalator. After coming up the escalator I found a huge floor of designer stuff to buy and another escalator to go up. So I did a little experiment and started to go up the escalators. This place has like 8 floors, and large floors at that. Its insane. Who needs all this crap? On one floor there were demonstrations of pots and pans with people dressed up as chefs cooking food inside the department store.

After finally taking the escalator and getting back to ground level I headed off to get my Chinese Visa. The first China Travel Service office basically told me that because I have an American passport they will not be able to do the job in any reasonable amount of time and sent me to a different office. I arrived at that office and after some difficulties in explaining to them what exactly "Islamic Studies" involves as a major they took my passport along with $HK 650 (a bloody rip-off if there was one!!! Everybody else gets this done for under 400. the chinese are apparently countering some american move (probably a $100 fee for applications for a US visa for Chinese citizens) which in my opinion is rather stupid. I think the americans should counter the counter and slap a trade duty on chinese goods). Anyways, I will get the passport back on monday which has the unfortunate side-effect of grounding me in Hong Kong until that day. So I will have to find a way to entertain myself for the next 3 days in HK... Now I need to find a travel agent who can book air tickets for me...

I went over to Kowloon which is supposed to be the less touristy part of Hong Kong. Its definately much grungier than HK island, and I hoped to find some nice cheap Rolexes... At the same time I had the opportunity to take pictures of HK island from across the river. Then I went in search of cheap knock-offs but alas I ran out of time because I had to come back to Causeway Bay for my appointment. After I arrived back at the hostel I was informed about where I should have been looking for the knock-offs. I like a fool thought that the Lonely Planet would be accurate, but it unfortunately is probably a bit out of date. The areas it suggested for good cheap shopping are now either trendy or seem like industrial backroads. In either case no bargains were to be found on them.

Oh yeah I forgot to mention. Yesterday I scheduled an appointment for today at the eyeglasses store. The purpose of this was to learn how to put in contact lenses. So full of fear I showed up, sat down and prepared to endure the pain. Initially this was excrutiating because I hate touching my eye. After taking about an hour to put on and take off the contact lenses a couple of times I think I can do so at will in about half an hour of torture. So tomorrow I will get my contact lenses along with my eyeglasses.

Tomorrow I will have contact lenses. Now in regards to my physical appearance I face a new very serious problem. Its been almost four days since the last time I shaved my head. I must find a way to shave my head soon, however electric shavers do not seem to be common in Hong Kong. I don't know whether thats because Asian men don't have the same facial hair growth as white people, but in any case I MUST find an electric shaver. I am almost considering asking the next guy with a shaved head about where he had this done.

Anyways, I am off to take the ferry across to Kowloon and take some pics of HK island from there.

cheers,
Bubba