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Friday, June 25, 2010

#32: Lesotho

Day 14 - 28

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to travel to as many countries as my age after being inspired by an article I read somewhere. By 2009 I had been to 30 countries; I would be caught up until my birthday in October when I would be turning 31. In 2009 however after deciding that I would be “retiring” from the company I decided that I should stay low and limit my travel. That year I just went to Canada for my good friend’s wedding. Early on I had decided that I would be doing a round-the-world ticket and that I would add a few more countries under my belt. I knew I would start off in South Africa and try to plan it around the World Cup.

I must say being in South Africa during the World Cup has been amazing! The excitement in the air and the fact that every day for the first two weeks, three games were broadcasted a day; for the most part I must have watched most games. I was able to watch the Japan vs. Cameroon game and at the last minute, purchased tickets to Nigeria vs. Greece match. The tickets were ‘obstruction’ seats so they were selling for incredibly cheap - SAR140 ($19) so I decided to buy a ticket for me and Clayton. The seats were actually amazing and possibly better than the $160 I paid for my Japan game. The seats were directly behind the soccer teams and next to the tunnel that the players would use to enter and exit the field. The game was exciting with Greek supporters dressed in Greek warrior outfits, or rather barely dressed. The game ended 2-1 in favor of Greece.

Friday, June 18, 2010

My Rastafarian

Day 12 -13

Blessed. Or as Clayton says: Bless-ed. He calls himself a Rastafarian with his dreadlocks and Jah praising, and I have truly been bless-ed to have met him!

So as you remember, I randomly met him at the souvenir tent at the Fan Fest on Sunday night. Monday night, he met up with me at CUT and took me out to the bars. Today, he picked me up and drove me out to Kimberley to see the diamond mind! The night that I met him, he said he could take me for SAR400 - to cover the petrol (gas for you Americans), just so that he can show me how nice South Africans are. He surely lived up to this! So he picked up today at 1:00PM, drove me down to Kimberley about 1.5 hours away to see the Big Hole.

A little about the ‘Big Hole’ there…it is big! You get there and it looks like the Wild, Wild West at Disneyland (or is it Frontier Land? Whatever, you know what I mean) and you walk into a building. There inside are some shops, a theater and an exhibit room; the big hole is actually behind an automatic door that goes out. You’re walking into a building so the last thing you expect to see is a huge hole on the other side of the glass doors! Nor would you think that the hole was dug up by humans. It is surely a sight that you really have to be there to believe. I had the option of paying SAR20 to just go and see the hole or for SAR50 more, I could watch a 20 minute video and have an ‘underground mining experience.’ Ah, what the heck, I went with the SAR70 since I had traveled all that way and didn’t want to miss anything important.

The movie was actually done quite well. It was a short movie that told the story and history of the mining in Kimberley. The underground mining experience was also quite cool because they added special sound effects to make you feel as if you were actually mining. The creepy thing though was that the guide had mentioned that they have their fair share of ghost stories as many miners lost their lives there. She also took me around their little exhibit to show me the different diamond replicas that have been found there. For less than $10, I thought it was a good deal. Maybe a little pricey for South Africa but about what you would pay to go to a good museum in Europe. Clayton met up with a good friend of his, Desi, that he hadn’t seen for about a year and a half so the two got to catch up while I did my tour.

Vamo Nippon!

Day 7 - 13
*Clap Clap* Vamo Nihon! *Clap Clap* These were the chants that echoed throughout the stadium, well at least in my section sitting in the front row at the Japan vs. Cameroon game; actually I had row E (5th row) but the seats in front of us were open so everyone in our row moved up to the first and second rows. I couldn’t understand what they were saying so I had to ask the guy next to me. He said ‘bamo’ which could easily be the ‘b’ or ‘v’ sound. When I questioned him what it meant, he shrugged and continued on chanting. Vamo sounded more likely (I don’t know, is there a Spanish word close to this?) so I stuck with that and chanted along.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Feel it, it is here!

This is the slogan for the 2010 World Cup; it is truly a triumphant moment for Africa. With most of the continent still developing, the influx of thousands of visitors to South Africa will surely have a positive impact on the economy that many hope will have far reaching effects.

So I separated from the girls in Durban to make my way down to Bloemfontein. With very little research, okay let’s be real, with no research, I purchased a ticket to Match #10 Japan vs. Cameroon. Bloemfontein located southwest of Johannesburg and to the west of Durban is bloody cold! Bloem as it is referred to by the locals actually means Fountain of Flowers in Dutch, Bloem = Flowers, Fontein = Fountain. Supposedly they are known for their flowers and especially roses. I didn’t know a thing about Bloem but almost everyone that I came into contact with had made a comment about it being cold. No wonder there were still tickets! When I first went online to look for tickets in early May, most games were already sold out. The US had sold out on all their games and mostly only tickets to Eastern European countries were left. There were still Category 1 tickets for the Japan game so I went ahead and bought it. I ended up paying two times the price for the ticket than the cheapest one. I also thought I purchased another ticket (can’t remember which now) but somehow the transaction didn’t go through so it would be Japan vs. Cameroon in Bloem for me.

Hawaii has landed in South Africa!

Day 5-12 Mtunzini, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

For the most part, my flight was better than I could have expected. Though after passing business class to find my economy seat, I was asking myself why I didn't pay the extra $3,000 to sit in business class as I tour around the world?? These seats in business class were the ones where you basically have your own bed! *sad face* I did manage to sleep the first 8 hours or so straight and then spent the remaining 4 or so trying to watch movies.

I arrived in Johannesburg again early and I must admit, I got a bit emotional and teary eyed. Not only could I believe that I was here attending the 2010 World Cup but this was the trip that took 7 years to realize. In 2003, after fleeing Beijing from SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome which they still never found out how it was caused or how it was to be cured), I wasn't sure what I was going to do with 'the rest of my life'. I was the one who always had a plan! I ended up deciding to travel and had a ticket to fly to Johannesburg to meet up with my friend Stephanie in Namibia where she was living at the time. It was to be my first time to the African continent and I was excited! Steph's other friends were coming in as well so an entire itinerary had been planned for the 5 weeks I intended to stay.

For those who are familiar with the story, know that I never made that trip because moments before heading to London Heathrow, I received an email from my sister informing me that my father had suffered a severe stroke. Being thousands of miles away and cut off from instant communication (this was a world prior to status updates though I really don't think my sister would have udated her status anyway), I was distraught. I quickly made arrangements to turn around, frantic and emotionally unstable, phoned Steph to let her know I wasn't coming and what seemed almost instantaneous upon touching ground, I was suddenly at the helm of our 57 year old family business and at 24, needed to learn how to run the business and learn how to do it quickly.

The 7 years that went by, I like to think that I accomplished a lot and transformed our little best kept secret into a household name, and by the time I left, was even able to make a national debut. It was definitely rewarding but the toll that it took on my personal life and my life in general was tremendous. Although I wouldn't change any of it, this trip to South Africa really symbolizes a lot for me. Now I'm getting emotional again...To finally be here and knowing that it took 7 years to happen, I was not only grateful for finally making it out here but I was now a different person here to see Africa. I like to think everything happens for a reason. I am still not sure what the reason was for not being able to come until now but I am grateful.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Hellooooo Hong Kong! Land of Convenience

Day 2, Hong Kong, China

I arrive in Hong Kong, again early. Hong Kong airport is by far the BEST airport in the world! Okay besides the fact that they do not have free wi-fi but I think I can overlook that for its convenience. But really, if you have only a few days to spare (and you're nearby), fly to Hong Kong and you will surely make the most of your time!

I arrived in Hong Kong and it took me literally, less than 5 minutes to get through customs. Stamp. Stamp. Done. Bye! Go down to baggage. My bags quickly come out. Walk out, right there is the Airport Express counter. The Airport Express was the brainchild of some genius. Tokyo, take notes. Honolulu if we're going RAIL, this is how you need to do it. For either HKD100 ($12.80) one way or HKD180 ($23) round trip, you have bought yourself a ticket to a city only 24 minutes away.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Adventures in Osaka and getting caught...

Day 1 Osaka, Japan

A good night's rest won over and I made my way to the city around 630PM. I also got in a lot earlier than I expected and finding a place for just Y2200** a night, I would be stupid not to! The train ride was also not that bad, only Y890 one way and took about an hour. Initially I thought I didn't want to waste the time nor the money but in the end, it was inconsequential.

My flight out to Hong Kong the following day was at 10:00AM, with the hour train ride, I figured, I should try to leave around 6:30AM to give me some extra time to get to the airport even though the guy at the hotel told me that I could leave at 7:30AM?! I didn't really need to be in that early since I was already checked-in but the lady in Honolulu didn't give me an onward boarding pass and I didn't realize it then so didn't ask for it. Anyway, I would go early because I didn't want to miss Hong Kong. So that was the plan...

At first I didn't know where I was; waking up in a tiny room with a wall only a foot away each way I turned. Then I realized I was in Osaka and that I had to be at the airport at 8:00AM! First I looked at my wrist watch and then my iphone, both read 5 to 12. Oh my God, I'm supposed to be at the airport and it is almost noon?! I looked up at the wall and there was another wall clock that said 6:55AM. Half awake, I still managed to get into my phone settings to see what time zone I was in...HONOLULU. Which explains why my 6:00AM alarm clock for Japan Time didn't go off! I quickly gathered my things and rushed out of the room.

Made my way down to the train station. Station attendant advised that I should catch the Express Train; he failed to mention that it would cost me more. Though I had seen the sign when I got in the day before so I had an inkling. Got on to the train and found a seat. Next stop we pull into, a man comes up to me and says 'excuse me'. I guess I was in his seat. I moved my things to the seat next to him so that I could sit there but before I knew it, a lady came up to me and said 'uh, excuse me'. I guess it's reserved seating? So I gathered my things: backpack and ukulele and stood in the compartment between the two cars. Usually the train attendant comes through the train checking tickets. I was only 4 stops away so I was hoping I could slide through.

It didn't work. Two stations away from the airport, the train attendant asked me to show her my ticket. My first reaction? In English: "What do you need?" In Japanese, she asks me: "Can you speak Japanese?" With a blank stare, I look at her with a confused look? A product of the younger, American influenced generation of Japan, she says in English: "you need to have a ticket; it's going to cost you Y500." I give up. She caught me. My foreign card days are over. I can no longer pretend I don't understand when it's convenient for me. damn. So I pay her the duty and she produces me a receipt through her hand held device. Now I have 27A for the 1 station ride to the airport. So close.

Take off to Hong Kong, again in beautiful business class. It is a short quick ride and I arrive in Hong Kong.

** At the tourist information desk at the airport, there is a pamphlet (available in English) on cheap places to stay in Shin-Imamiya. I tried to scan it...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What's next?

Sitting on the plane (business class thank you very much! gotta love those miles!), headed to Osaka, Japan. I have a 16 hour layover! Unfortunately I have not been provided with a hotel so I am left with the choice of trying to make it out to the city (1 hour away), and stay at a hotel OR sleep at the airport...I am SO tempted to sleep at the airport. Not only would I save time commuting but I'd also save about $70 for just 8 hours at my hotel, only enough time to sleep. My mom wanted to give me money so that I could stay at a proper hotel but honestly, I just think it's a waste ofn time and money! We'll flight is scheduled to land a little early so if I get in a decent time I suppose I'll call around to see if there are rooms available.

Tomorrow, I'll be taking a 10:00AM flight to fly to Hong Kong. I'll be staying with Lorraine and James who just recently tied the knot in Hawaii. Bless their hearts! Everyone actually thinks I'm a friend of James (which I am now) because he's a local boy from Hawaii but I actually know the couple through Lorraine and my friends in Malaysia. It's a long story on how I met (Gemma (in Nepal) > Lavinia(Gemma's younger sister)> Juliana (Lavinia's best friend) > Lorraine (school friend) but through the couple, I have met a great deal of great people! I am so grateful to them! We were also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to provide the Hawaiian food for their wedding reception. I'll be in Hong Kong for a few days and have quite a bit of business to take care of in the 3 days that I am there.

And the moment that we've all been waiting for (drum roll please)...I will be commencing my round-the-world trip! This has been something that I have wanted to do for some time and the time has finally come. I have chosen 16 segments on my trip which will take me to at least 10 countries but I do plan to take trips to neighboring countries.

What does this trip mean for me? My passion is to travel. Mainly to see the rest of the world beyond what can be gathered from just a book or nowadays from the internet and google maps! It's the people that you meet along the way, the smells that you take in and the sights you see are what makes traveling so exciting for me. And if I meet someone along the wa who appreciates the world like I do = BONUS!

With 16 segments and a bunch of countries in between, I expect to spend at least 7 months or so n the road. Of course, I can change my dates, leave earlier or stay longer depending on my mood. I have a year to figure this out so I have some time to play with. I think the only thing that will hold me back are the funds. So I will continue to think of ways to generate income.

At my (second) farewell party last night, I shared with Jody (one of James' good friends who was in the wedding party and one of the good people I met that I spoke of earlier) that I wanted to bring a part of Hawaii along with me to the world. Jody, the owner of Ukulele Hale, one of the leading Ukulele studios in Hawaii, suggested that I play songs in each city that I visit. Although I enjoy karaoke, I am nowhere near performing material! The other problem was that I didn't have the ukuele to realize this! So, this morning about an hour before I would head down to the airport, Jody came to meet me and deliver me a brand new ukulele! I am counting on Jody to create the melody for me and I am praying that song writing abilities will suprise me and that I will unlock a talent that I never knew existed. We can only hope for the best! So with my travel back pack, day pack, extra box of presents and my ukulele, I am ready to see the world! Who knows but hopefully this will be the answer to my income problem! Hopefully I won't be charged for disturbing the peace otherwise, I'll really go broke!

Other highlights of my trip to look forward to: I'll be going to the 2010 FIFA World Cup! I only have a ticket to one game (Japan vs. Cameroon in Bloemfontein) but hopefully there will be more opportunities to see others! I'm also planning to stay with a family; the sister to the owner** of a very famous sushi restaurant in Hawaii If you want quality, you need to check out Mitch's near the Honolulu International Airport! It serves only the freshest fish! Lobster sashimi is also a very popular item that they're known for which is served in the form of miso soup at the end of the meal for any unconsumed portions. I also plan to possibly do a shark feeding tour - it is what it's called. Feeding sharks! They also offer this in Hawaii but I hear that its better to do this in Cape Town! I also plan to meet up with an old colleague, Peter, who I met when I worked in Japan (8 years since we last saw each other!). I am also uber excited about all the wild animals that I may possibly see! After Africa, I'll also go to Namibia where one of my best friends, Stephanie, from college met her husband...I'll also possibly travel to Botswana where my good friend Blake's girlriend, Sophia's, brother is now serving as a Peace Corps volunteer. I will also visit a ton of friends in Europe...and when I head down to South America, I hope to go to the "End of the World" and possibly even go to Anarctica since it'll be RIGHT there! So 5 continents, maybe 6! It will be a fun-filled trip, I'm sure!

If you don't me, you may have already gathered that I am a bit shameless and take advantage of whatever opportunity is presented to me. So far I have been extremely fortunate to have met so many great people and through them, have so many unforgettable memories. I look forward to continue on this path and share about it all here!

Stay tuned for what's next!

**Meeting the owner of Mitch's is also another long story! Through a long time family friend, Gary, all of this was possible. Gary is a long time family friend but I didn't even know about him until a couple of weeks ago when I met him when I was working at the restaurant. What a blessing to have been working that day to meet him who in turn introduced me to Mitch's who then introduced me to his sister who will host me for a week!