The random thoughts of an architect-turned- lawyer from the deep south living in Washington, DC...

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Dubai is heaven

Honestly, after 4 days in Delhi, I'm pretty sure anywhere would be heaven right now, but Dubai has been good to us so far. We only arrived last night but were quick to notice the stark contrast. I am going to be honest and say that right now, money is surely buying my happiness.

The beef. In India, cows are sacred and roam the streets freely; my first call in Dubai was a midnight call to room service to order a big juicy burger. Mutton was not cutting it for me.

The honking. There are no words to describe the concept of honking in India. It is not viewed as an aggressive rude thing to do. It is just very normal to lay on the horn. Drivers honk to let people know they are behind them, beside them or passing them. They honk to let others know they can pass or cannot pass or they should walk or should not walk. They honk to say hello or goodbye. They honk at bikers, motorcylists, auto-rickshaws, walkers, other cars, camels. They do not honk at cows.

The streets. From what I could learn, Delhi has a population of like 16 million and I think 15 million of them have a means of transportation they use the streets for. Cars, taxis, vans and bikes share the road with cows, camels, goats, pigs and people. There is no method, you just squeeze by. (Note: that doesn't always work, as our car was hit once by someone who didn't notice they just couldn't fit.)

The bacteriad water. For 12 days, I have been brushing my teeth with bottled water and have not had fruit or vegetables or salad. Since arriving in Dubai at midnight last night, we have feasted on lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, grapes, and most importantly, Diet Coke with ICE.

The shower. Oh how nice it is to take a shower and feel clean. The water in Delhi (and especially in Chiang Mai) smelled so putrid that I felt grosser after bathing. It took us a few days to realize that the overpowering stench from the bathroom was actually the water.

The shopping. We have only ventured two blocks from the hotel so far because we have night safari plans. But we have already spent over an hour in a grocery store and a pharmacy. Just looking around. Clean. Air conditioned. Clean. Products I have heard of. Clean. Produce!

The lack of haggling. The lack of price tags and "bargaining" for everything you purchase was neat at first, but got really old after almost two weeks. It is refreshing to walk into a store and look at an item knowing that I will not have to argue my way out of buying things. And, they have price tags. You find an item, you look at the price, you decide to buy it, you pay that price. What a great concept.

The people and personal space invasions. No one here touches us. No children knocking on our window for money. No salespeople following us for blocks with their products. No taxi drivers doubling the price halfway to our destination. No taxi drivers dropping us off in random places we do not want to go. No one giving me 500 change out of 1000 when the water was 10. No jerks at the airport that charge foreigners (and women) more for the exact same items than they do local men.

The safety. I feel safe to walk around alone here. I didn't even feel safe walking around with two friends in Delhi.

The airports. Honestly, I'm not sure there are words to describe the difference between Indira Ghandi and Dubai International airports.

Really, I think, Dubai may actually be heaven.

Addendum: my traveling companion noted that the post did not seem to convey that we did actually have fun in Delhi. We did. I will surely recap and go into more detail about the highlights of Thailand and India at another time. For now, going shopping!

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

I am alive

I am soooo sorry. (Especially to those of you who have emailed concerned about my lack of posting.) I am alive and doing just fine, but sweating buckets. I am typing this from a tiny internet cafe in Chiang Mai. Since everything on the screen (minus my writing) is in odd characters, I have no idea if this will work or not. If you see a new posting and it's in all Thai, you will at least know I am ok. Or perhaps I was sold into whitegirl slavery. Nah, that was only really problematic in Bangkok...Chiang Mai is fine.

Anyway, I have tons to say and pictures to show of my travels so far, but today is my last day in Thailand and I would rather spend it walking around the temples in Old Chiang Mai. Just wanted to tell you all I have not forgotten about you all!!!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

G'day from Australia!

Wow. Sydney. Not sure where to begin. How about night one when my trip was colored a little grey by the theft of my camera. My really nice camera. My camera with pictures of Hawaii and the Sydney Harbour from the airplane. Yep, stolen right off my table at the bar. I guess I deserve some of the credit since I left it unattended on the table when we went on stage to sing "We Are Family" with the Kiwi boys we met. Yeah, smart move. In my defense, we had been warned about boys slipping things in drinks so we spent our evening cautiously watching every movement of every beer purchased for us. I guess watching the rest of my possessions would have been too difficult at that point. Anyway, this is not a post about how the theft of my camera hurled me into a world of sadness and uncomfortable feelings of someone in Sydney having so many pictures of me (and of some of you since I failed to delete all my pictures before the trip.) I got over the camera thing. Eventually.

We spent Monday walking around Sydney concentrating most of our day on the Opera House and Harbour area. We took the ferry over to Manly, a small town north of Sydney known for being tacky and timed our ferry ride back to catch the sunset behind the Harbour Bridge. Absolutely stunning.

On Tuesday, we caught a tour out to Hunter Valley to check out the wineries. That, my friends, has been the best $90 I spent on this trip so far. The 2.5 hour scenic bus ride was quite lovely and gave me some good reading time. Our day included wine tasting at 5 wineries, beer tasting, olive tasting, cheese tasting and chocolate tasting. I'm pretty sure I did not taste a single thing that was not delicious.

On Wednesday, I went for a morning jog around Darling Harbour then grabbed K and we headed back to do some touring around Sydney. I spent time lounging around the gardens of the Sydney Observatory before we ate lunch at The Rocks (where the original prisoners were brought over to Australia many years ago.) After a bit of shopping, we spent the bulk of our day in the Botanical Gardens which, incidentally are enormous! Our intended low key evening of a few drinks and dinner on Darling Harbour took an odd turn. It all started with a local gentleman named Brett who needed a place to sit and drink his beer. Next thing we know, this new travel agent friend of ours has us in a cab on our way to Bondi Beach, an alleged must see outside of Sydney. Yeah, the night just went on from there.

On Thursday, I took on Sydney Solo trying to catch what I could before we left. I spent some time at Paddy's Market which is the D.C. equivalent of Eastern Market only larger and with Asians chasing you around to give you massages. I took the monorail over to Sydney Center and went to the top of the Sydney Tower, just staring out at a truly beautiful city. I was probably most struck by the interaction between the water and the city, an interplay that I only really understood from above. I spent the last of my time in Sydney indulging in some sushi on the Darling Harbour.

"Most Notables" of Sydney (I have to this time - one very general observation and one specific story):

1) I was very intrigued by the similarities and references between Sydney and London: Oxford Street, Hyde Park, Covent Garden, King's Cross, Picadilly. Very interesting.

2) My new camera. I held off for a few days because one of our gentlemen friends from the bar got my email and was going to try to track down my camera for me. Once I heard from him and realized all hope was gone, I decided I needed to move on and purchase a new one. After passing multiple shady looking camera stores, I was getting frustrated with my prospects. I did what I do best...I talked to strangers. I tapped a guy on the shoulder and asked if I were to purchase a camera, where should I go. "You are in luck," he says. "I am on my way to an electronic store to buy a computer." As my luck would have it, not only was this guy's friend really good looking, but he was also a camera expert. In fact, he took us to an electronic store that he works in the camera department in Melbourne. Not only did he find me a great new camera, but he used his staff discount to get me $85 off. Score!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Mahalo Hawai'i

When K and I arrived in Honolulu, we were actually quite surprised at the lack of stereotypical Hawai'i. No one met us at the airport with leis. No beautiful women were hula dancing. In fact, since we arrived so late on Wednesday, we had dinner at a pizza place as we watched hookers mulling around in front of us. I felt as if I could do that in D.C. Apparently, Waikiki has a bad prostitution problem. Interestingly, in speaking with locals, we found out the hookers are not native, rather they come from Ohio and other mid-western states. I guess if you are going to leave home to become a hooker, Hawai'i is the place to do it.

With a bit of jet-lag setting in, we woke up on Thursday and were on the beach by 8am. Even at that early hour, the place was packed. Fighting through the Japanese tourists, we were able to secure some spots for much needed lounging. The water was so clear that standing neck deep, I could see my toes. And the fish. The fish were everywhere and would swim right up to you as long as you stood still. Pretty awesome.

After a day of tanning and some shopping we adorned ourselves in fresh flower leis and headed to the Paradise Cove Luau. There, we found the "Hawai'i" we were searching for. We were greeted with mai tais and shell necklaces. We made our own bracelets, we watched natives climb trees and pull in the fishing nets, we got Hawai'ian oil tattoos, drank more fruity drinks and watched the ceremonial un-earthing of the pig before sitting down to a Hawai'ian feast. The luau concluded with a Polynesian dance show which can only be described as amazing. The costumes, the dancing, the fire-twirling, the 1/2 nekkid Hawai'ians. Truly amazing!

On Friday, K had to deal with some luggage issues so I spent the day by myself on the beach. My $7 investment in an innertube proved well worth it as I spent my time floating out in the crystal clear waters with the fish and surfers. I met back up with K to buy some Malibu Rum and pineapple juice so we could sip it on the balcony while blaring Jimmy Buffet on the Ipod speakers. We had dinner at Duke's then joined the crowds on the beach to watch the sunset as the sky released a misty rain that felt great on our tanned skin. For the most part, that marked the end of our time in Hawai'i.

Hawai'is "most notable": The people! The natives were so friendly and welcoming. Obviously, tourism is huge in Hawai'i, but they go beyond that. It's as if they want you to truly understand and get to know their culture. "After all, cousin" they say "you are family."