AGAIN? The end was only the beginning...

So I travel once again. No job, an airplane ticket to somewhere. Yah baby, I'm outta here!
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Sunday, March 06, 2005

Diving Sipidan to Brunei

From Kuala Lumpur I took a flight to Sabah, Malaysia where I met my friend Presila at the airport we both were arriving at. Apparently the trip Presila had organized was a package that was all inclusive of diving, transportation, and lodging to one of the best dive sites in the world, Sipidan. After staying one night in Kota Kinabulu we were picked up in the morning and taken back to the airport where we met the resort manager, Eddy. Taking a short flight to the most eastern part of Malaysia, we were picked up from the airport the the resort van and whisked away on a drive through palm tree fields to the town of Tawau where we took a speed boat about an hour off the coast to an oil rig turned dive resort just off the tiny island of Mabul, about 20 km from Sipidan island. Upon arrival we were greeted with refreshments, cool wet towels, and lunch. Oh, and let me not forget a check out dive as well directly beneath the oil rig where I was immediately amazed at all the new sea creatures I was introduced to. Lion fish, alligator scorpion fish, giant frog fish, etc etc etc. Over the course of 3 days I did ten dives, and on nearly every dive I saw at least one thing that made that dive spectacular. One of the most amazing animals I saw was a gigantic manta ray with a wing span of about 4 meters! And not to mention the turtles. There were so many of them that the glamour of seeing them seemed to disappear. What else? Octopus', cuttle fish, lobsters, napolean wrasses, ghost piper fish, and so on. All names probably mean nothing to you so I will make it a point to post the pictures we took. Being the only two guests there I felt super pampered being able to take the speed boat out when ever we wanted to go diving, and every dive was a drift dive because the boat would pick you up where ever you surfaced, so no surface swimming. On the oil rig we got first class dinners, mostly chinese food. I must say the cook was really good. We routinely had our meals with the staff, and afterwords I humored them and took part in some karoke. Not much to do on an oil rig though. The simple fact was that it was an amazing place to dive where you just had to roll out of bed and onto the platform where an elevator took you to a waiting speed boat to see fantastic sights.

After our time on the oil rig, we set off to Brunei, a tiny Sultanate, surrounded by Borneo Malaysia. This ridiculously rich country, income solely from oil, is quite interesting. Land is free, home loans carry no interest from the Sultan, but being a muslim country no alcohol or night life exists. I was told the Sultan once went to Disney Land, and had to wait in line, and upset that he had to do so, he built his own amusement park which is essentially free, and is rarely busy. We went there last night and it was quite empty, but it's nothing compared to western amusement parks. It's also quite expensive here and not much to do, but it was another stamp on the passport, so here we are. Next, maybe the Philippines... We will see.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Being in Bali

A strangely natural, but overdeveloped island that was seriously lacking tourists. Beautiful landscapes were apparent throughout the island, but yet did not seem to meet the picture I had envisioned, which included pristines beaches. The people were nice, but most were only interested in your money. Traveling in Bali was expensive, yet inexpensive. A Yin and Yang definitely existed there in both extremes.

At first I was taken aback by all the shopping malls and tourists I saw when I was taking a taxi to meet my friend in the surfing town of Kuta, a mad place. Desparate to escape the madness we left for the nearby town of Ubud which was touted as the cultural center of Bali, only an hour away, where an artists guild existed with numerous arts and crafts for sale. As crazy as Kuta seemed, Ubud was to that extreme calm and quiet. Only spending one night there Lucy and I visited some a site with ancient carvings in the stone face of a hill, which was set within a beautiful enclave of rice fields and steep terrain covered in lush vegetation. Anxious to see more of the island and to find nice beaches, that weren't littered with surfer dudes loitering in the water waiting for the next big wave (Kuta), we hired a private car (the expensive part of Bali: "Transport") to take us to the diving town of Tulamben. Transport is what the locals called taxi's, and while touting their services "Transport! Transport!", they would move both their hands as if wrapped around a steering wheel driving.

Tulamben was the first ghost town we visited. Only a handful of "resorts," most with sketchy dive operations. We chose one resort on the beach of rocks and booked some diving for the next day. With diving booked, we could essentially name our price for the rooms because the cost of diving brought in so much more money than the room itself. This area was the best shore snorkeling I've ever done. Just a few meters out was a decent reef with plenty of new fish I hadn't seen before, and I wasn't even diving yet! Diving the next day was excellent. We dove on the USS Liberty wreck. Covered in all sorts of corals we saw frog fish, pygmy sea horses, tons of typical reef fish, and the big kahuna himself, a Napolean Wrasse! This is a person sized fish, so it's pretty neat when you see one. At the second dive site we also saw large stone fish and a mega sized eel! This thing was huge, like the kind you see on discovery channel. I was very impressed because it was so much larger than the one's in Thailand. But after diving I knew what my guide book meant when it stated that inexperienced divers should go with a reputable dive shop. No dive briefings from our Balinese divemaster, no safety equipment, etc etc. I told Lucy if anything goes wrong, come to me, not the divemaster guy. This place wasn't a registered dive shop either, so no insurance. It seemed to be pretty common for shops just to be built around a divemaster. Anyway, the nights in Tulamben were something to be desired. A literal ghost town we only had ourselves to keep each other company.

After diving we took "Transport" to the famous Batur Volcano for a hike, but man I get mad when people try and rip me off. A guide was "required" to climb up this volcano which only took about 45 minutes to hike up, and was relatively easy, but this group of balinese decided this is how they were going to make money by forcing tourists to take guides up the mountain so no one gets lost or hurt. AND they had the odasity to try and charge us 40.00 USD a head to climb this volcano. After bartering and getting the price down to like 20.00, I threatened not to go because I couldn't stand to ripped off. After my threat they dropped the price to 25.00 for two, but I still felt jipped. This was the first big instance where I was introduced to the greed of Bali. The hike was as simple as I had imagined. Never the less the views were very nice, and it was nice to get out in the nature more than we had been. I was actually in a real, active volcano. Check one more item off the things I've done in life list. Indonesia apparently has a large number of volcano's throughout its island nation. Several more could be seen from various parts of Bali on other islands. Also, on the climb a young teenager accompanied us on the hike only to offer us warm coke at the top of the mountain for some inflated price. He was easily bartered with though. I felt we should at least buy something from him for taking the trouble to climb the mountain to maybe sell a coke or two. There were other teenagers up there doing the same thing. Our guys brother was there, and quite funny because he knew a lot of the main cities in the US: Chi-cago, New York, Los An-geles, etc. And he greeted me with "Whut's Up Bro!" I got a kick out of that. Getting full use of our money and guide we stayed at the top of the volcano appreciating the views and sleeping for about 2 hours. Yep, 2 hours. After visiting the Batur we completed the days journey in Lovina, hopefully a more happening spot, and I'm sure our driver was ready to get rid of us too because we weren't willing to be suckered enough to provide him with large commissions. We were dropped off at a place in Lovina where we thought the people were very nice, but looks can be decieving.

Bad experience number two. Another "guide" wanted to sign us up for some diving, and was supposedly the husband of the manager. We said we would talk in the morning, and we did. When we elected to look around first and see the dive shops first hand, the man eventually erupted and call us liars and no good American and no good English. I was shocked. Was he shouting at us? Not willing to get into it with the local I let him rant and rave, and in the end he told us to leave the resort, and we did not wanting to risk further confrontation. We found a much nicer place anyway, but was disappointed to have to tell the manager lady, who seemed so nice, about the incident, but I don't think the guy was really her husband. In Lovina we pretty much kicked back, did some diving, took a tour around to some of the sights like waterfalls and hot springs, and bided our time until we found some place more exciting to go to. I must say the diving on Menjanan Island was very very nice, and I saw my first Lion Fish which was really awesome. The plethora of coral was just amazing though. During the day the town was dead, but at night people showed up a bit to make the evenings more entertaining. The restaurants there were quite cheap, and the sea food was quite good. For 2.50 USD I had a big plate of fish, squid, shrimp, and some other sea creature that tasted really good. After about 5 days there it was time to go, but where?

We went back to Ubud for two nights, but I was sick and freaking out I had Dengue Fever or something really bad. I got over it in about a day and half. I went to see the doctor to get all sorts of drugs to kill any foriegn element in my body. They seem to use antibiotics for everything though. After Ubud we searched for a nice beach again, having not yet been to one. We went to Sanur near Kuta and was sorely disappointed, then left immediately going to Tanjung where the up-scale resorts blanketed the beach so the less priviledge people couldn't have access to it. We stayed in some budget hotel which was pretty expensive for us, and it turns out the beach wasn't even that beautiful. We left the next day. Back to Kuta as the home base we ventured to Dreamlands for the day. A place with that kind of name must be magnificent. Along the way we could see development creeping further and further south to the pretty untouch portion of Bali called Nusa Dua. A huge road was built in anticipation of all the development that would go on there. People could by land and build huge mansions, and some did. Finally to Dreamlands, the beach was an absolute dream. Placed below 100 meter high cliffs this beach was picturesque. Blue water, white sand; it really was a dream. Playing in the water and finishing my book that the guy in our bungalow gave me Lovina, The Da Vinci Code, we stayed there for maybe five solid hours, while our driver waited for us. We paid him good money though. Soon to be an over visited place like the rest of Bali, this location for the moment still fulfilled the name it was given. Later that night Lucy and I celebrated our departure with a night out, but the sun really zapped my energy so much, it made an early night for me.

All in all I would say Bali is more for people on short holidays and package tours rather than travelers like myself. I think that tourism has hurt the island more than it has helped it because of a lot of irresponsible development, and now there are literally no tourists on the island severly hurting the economy. In some places on the island I could bargain for something of value knowing I could get it cheaper than what it was truly worth because some people were so desparate. It's an interesting culture, which I really didn't take the effort to learn in depth about. Something interesting though is that there are about only 8 Balinese names used based on which sex and order a child was born in. For a guy, G'day would be first child, Ketut second child, and Ma-day third child. The same name for women except of the first child would be named Ko-mon. And three children were expected when a couple was married. Also, offerings were a daily ritual, and had to be bought daily as well. Those sort of things add up over time, $$$. Welp, that's it for Bali. I'm in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia now getting ready to head over to Borneo to do some diving off an old oil rig. Hopefully I'll be able to post some pics up soon, but no promises. I already got in trouble for supposedly making a promise before in Bali. Until next time...

Friday, February 18, 2005

What's Up Singapore!

So I flew out of Hong Kong 2 days after the Chinese New Year to SIN. The airport was empty out of Hong Kong, as well as the flight. Fortunate for me I got the First Class seating, Again. This time I was on the 2nd level of the 747. Very very posh. It's like club med up there or something. When I touched down in Singapore I instantly could tell that I was in a very tropical climate, evidenced by all the lush vegetation within the airport. I got through immigration and immediately called my friend Presila to pick me up. Once I got outside to wait for her, I was reminded how hot and humid it was in these parts. Yikes, how did I survive before? Oh well, this is what I wanted.

Over the two full days that I spent there Presila showed me around a bit, but there ain't too much to see since it's so small. But you can still get out of town some how. It all looks like one big place to me. Our drive included Little India, China Town, this and that, and so on. Oh yah, and the beach. Not so nice because there are hundreds of ships blocking the horizon. We really only went out at night because it is too hot in the day. I also watch some old chinese kung fu movies with evil spirits'n stuff. The second day I go to my friends house and her family has open house (day party) for chinese new year celebration. I got to have Singapore food like cuttle fish and ray. Interesting. So not much going on there, but I enjoyed myself though because of my friend.

And as fast as I had come, I had left for Kuala Lumpur to catch my flight to Bali. In the same day I left Singapore on a bus to KL, I landed in Bali. To make it on time I tried to get a taxi at around 6:45am to make it to the bus stop with plenty of time. But it took me about 45min to get one! I was sure to miss the bus. I don't know why the taxi's didn't want to take me. So many just drive by me with no one in the car. Later I think it was because I have big bag and look like foriegner, so I hid the bag and instantly got one. Now I just had to pray the bus would be 30 mins late. Fortunately for me it was. Off to KL, stamp the passport a few time, flag down a taxi once in KL and back track about an hour back down the highway (KL airport is far outside the city). To the airport with plenty of time I could relax, and just worry about meeting my friend in Kuta, Bali where she had been waiting for 3 days. As I got on the budget airline to Bali, I cringed at the conditions and thought to myself, this is the airline the poor people fly. I met this indian guy from Malaysia and was to hear how much respect he had for the US no matter how much evil I explained to him we did. I thought it was amazing for someone to have so much respect for us. And Bali, wait for the next entry, I already have some serious stories to tell.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Goin' back to Bali, Bali, Bali...

So I now go where I was supposed to start, Bali. This is why not having a set plan is good, otherwise I wouldn't have made it back there. It's funny how things work out sometimes. So lately, just been hanging around going out with Kaman and friends here and there. Today I tried to get an Indonesian visa at their consulate, but some lady was giving me a hard time because the internet time for accepting applications was later than the actual time. So when I came later she wouldn't accept my app, and wouldn't listen to me when I told her the internet site needed to be updated. The site wasn't wrong, I was. Man, I can't stand such stubborn people. Not like all Chinese, but more than I'm used to. Tonight I had dinner at some swank Thai restaraunt in Central district, which is where most of the lively activities are; bars, shops, nice restaraunts, and so on. Nights end early here though. Seen some movies, but more have just come out here, so I think I'll check those out to keep myself busy. What's my plan? Don't ask. Thinking about going to see the Super Bowl at some bar early Monday morning, but I don't know if I'm dedicated enough to get up that early. Not like I have anything else better to do.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Shanghai Days and Shanghai Nights

Shanghai, the booming metropolis of China that embodies both the culture of East and West, where futuristic sky-rises tower in Pudong while historic buildings intermingle incospicuously below, and the place where people come to take part in China's economic gold rush.

My Uncle, Ms. Yueng, Kaman (Ms. Yueng's son), and I arrived late in the evening to a seemingly desolate airport where the climate was unmistakably chilling. It fit my preconceptions of a communist country, frigid. The former USSR and China, both cold. Coincidence? I think not. Even the looks of the security officers were cold. As I passed through immigration I got my stamp of approval and moved to collect our luggage and find our hosts, who, despite the cold, gave us a very warm welcome. Judy and David, my uncle and Ms. Yueng's friends, shuttle us off to their inner city Chateau where we would seek refuge for the coming week.

At this point I don't really recall all the details of trip, returning to Hong Kong over a week ago. During the week in Shanghai we visited several sites around the city which included some really old buildings, some gardens, and some pretty interestingly designed buildings. And we visited the "Venice of China" which was a city comprised of many water-ways running through it, similar to Venice. On the guided tour I really just wandered around not understanding the Chinese the guide was speaking. And like most tourist hot spots there were the street hawkers harassing tourists, me especially because I was the least chinese looking person around. It's like they think I just want to throw my money away or something. We also did some shopping, of course. I bought a few things, but Chinese people are stubborn when it comes to negotiation. Fortunately I have already had much practice at this. I bought some North Face jacket look alike, or defective in some way, for 10 dollars. Not a bad buy. And of course we ate a lot, I mean ate well. I also had an opportunity to experience some night clubs. The night there is quite good, with lots of foriegners attending these clubs as well. One night we went to RoJAM which had a talent competition, and people practicing their break dancing moves, which was when I really realized how much influence we had on modern Chinese culture.

Overall, I'd say that Shanghai is like any other major city with the addition of some historical buildings, a place for buying some pirated DVD's, and establishing some new business venture.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Few Days in HKG

Eat, work, shop are the most concise words describe Hong Kong people. Not much has changed since my last trip here, except maybe the temperature. I think there's a conspiracy to get me fat, very fat. My appetite is never big enough. Too much food. I have devised plans to avoid eating, but they continue to fail me. If I do not want food, I get it anyway. If my plate is empty, then that must mean I am still hungry. If I leave food on plate, then I get told to eat it. Maybe if I eat really really slowly, and only put a little in my plate, they will leave me alone because I appear to be busy. So I finish my food when I think it is time to go, but no... I have been tricked! More food is actually on the way! When I walk, I can feel the jiggle in my belly. Not good. Well, hopefully it will at least keep me warm. It's gotten down below 55 degrees F here. I was totally unprepared for such temperatures. I thought this place was supposed to be hot and humid. My new method of packing as light as possible is not working out because I primarily have thin clothes and T-shirts. I don't know how long I'll be here, but I have decided to nix the Bali trip in the wake of the tsunami disaster. Too much sadness to go to a country that has been hurt soo much. Instead I have decided to go to Shanghai, another offer I could not refuse. But it is even colder there. I can't believe I am going to buy a winter jacket. I was supposed to be heading to the tropics, but I guess not. My plans are, well I don't know. You know when I know...

Friday, December 31, 2004

My Yahoo Horoscope

"You've been thinking about making this life change for quite a while. Now it's time to stop rationalizing and start doing. You have the strength of will to overcome a bad habit and the resolution to set off in a new direction. Procrastination is a thing of the past. Action and decisiveness are your new operative descriptors. Take this newfound determination and use it to your advantage."

How fitting...

Flight to Hong Kong

I have now arrived in Hong Kong. Not quite as exciting as my visit one year ago, but a refreshing change to the seemingly stagnant environment of the Bay Area. I was flying stand-by, and did not make it on my first attempt to fly out on the 28th. This time of year is quite busy for traveling. It's not the greatest feeling to sit there waiting at the gate and not know you are about to fly 1,400 miles until about five minutes before the plane takes off. The second day, I did not think I would get on the plane. After the taking the BART and going through all the trouble, I didn't know if I could do this every day without it wearing on me and making the trip less exciting. Sitting there at the gate for the second time to get on the plane while everyone else had already boarded was unnerving. The waiting area was so empty and quite. About ten people were waiting with attentive silence hoping their name would be called. I prayed to have my name called, and if it wasn't, it would was sudden death, which could happen day after day after day. "PHILLIP SATTERFIELD, COME TO THE COUNTER." It was like music ringing out. Thinking that if I didn't get there in instantly they might pass on me, I floated quickly to the attendant at the counter as if not to look too desparate identifying myself with some urgency. And off I went down the tunnel to the airplane where I met another lucky contestant of "STAND-BY-FLYER." It was like winning the lottery, or better yet some reality TV show where I barely made the cut to stay on. And not only did I get to stay on the show, I got a bonus prize: Business Class! Ah yes, the luxury of large leather seats with personal monitors and flight attendants at your beckon call. Leg room that went for miles, yes, I am truly blessed. And now it seemed only fitting that I had a glass of Champagne waiting for me as well. After a few glasses of champagne, and some obligatory and non-obligatory phone calls for some last farewells, I was off and up out. The 14 hour flight was not difficult to cope with since I had done many times before in my previous travels, and in much less luxury. And before I knew it, I was in Hong Kong. Step 1 accomplished, now time for Step 2, figure out what the next step is going to be. Well tonight is New Year's Eve, and I will go out tonight and look for some celebration, but this is not a significant Holiday here, and pale's on comparison to the real New Year, Chinese New Year.

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