Saturday, May 12, 2012

G'days From Down Under

(written last week, never got to post because of internet issues)

Kia Ora everyone!

Sorry for the delay.  I'm currently writing from Queenstown, New Zealand.  Queenstown has some of the most spectacular outdoor scenery I've ever seen.  It's close to Glenorchy which is where Lord of the Rings was filmed.  Unfortunately, it has decided to rain today - all day.  So my list of 4-5 things I wanted to do here has been reduced to 1.  I suppose it's a fortunate, though forced, break though.  A LOT has happened in the last week, and it's good to get it written down. 

I suppose I should pick up where I left off.  On my last day in Chiang Mai, I went to Tiger Kingdom.  This basically consisted of me petting, playing with, and learn about tigers for a few hours.

I got to snuggle with baby tigers.  They are ridiculously cute.

Tigers like to get their belly scratched.
 They also like to swim.

And pose.  This was one of the largest tigers there.

After the tigers I packed up and caught my flight to Bangkok.  Bangkok is a crazy place.  It's a huge city packed with people, pretty much body to body all the way across it, and I'm pretty sure 90% of those people are actively trying to sell you something.  It's chaotic.  I did take advantage of the environment of consumerism and spent the hottest part of the day exploring the 3 HUGE (air-conditioned) malls.

This is one of those malls.  There are 7 levels in total.  It was kind of overwhelming to the senses to see just how much stuff there was to offer.  I also was not in need of anything, nor did I have room to pack purchases, so after watching a fashion show and burning out on window shopping, I decided to catch up on my American cinema.  I watched The Hunger Games and The Avengers.  Neither disappointed.  One interesting tidbit.  Before each movie, everyone stands and pays tribute to the king as they play this almost awkward movie montage about how great the king is.  It had 'I may be king, but I'm just like you - and I'm wonderful' written all over it.  Blatant propaganda.  It was interesting.

In spite of the 95+ degree heat and intense humidity, I did do some touring in Bangkok.  I went to the temple of the reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) and Wat Arun with one of the girls I met at my hostel.  Wat Pho was huge, and the reclining Buddha was only a small part of it.  Well...maybe not so small.  Either way, it took a couple hours to cover the grounds.  After which, we crossed the (very dirty) river via ferry and climbed to the top of Wat Arun.  The climb involved steps that felt more like climbing a ladder, but it was worth it for the view.

That night I went salsa dancing at a bar on the roof top of a rather upscale hotel in downtown Bangkok.  The view was a nice addition to the great music and amazing dancers.  I was rather impressed by the overall skill of everybody there.  I didn't get to dance long, but I'm glad I was able to make it and enjoy the breeze/view.  That was my last night in Thailand.  Overall, I really enjoyed it.  Because I lived with so many Japanese for so long, I felt like I got to explore two countries for the price of one. I'll miss the food, especially the mangoes, but once again, the timing felt just right.  By the time it was time to leave, I felt ready for the next stop. 

The next day I flew out to Sydney.  My first day in Sydney was literally, a breath of fresh air.  It had been months since I had smelled such cool, clear, and odorless oxygen.  My lungs and my heart rejoiced.  They continued to rejoice as I took the Manly ferry to Manly island.  Manly island is absolutely gorgeous.  It's quiet, quaint, and very clean.  I spent most of the day walking around the island, enjoying it's beaches and the cool but sunny weather, breathing as deeply as I could in an effort to clean out my lungs.  It was the perfect way to rid my psyche of Asia's chaos.

That night I walked around Sydney and checked out it's local music scene.  They had some spectacular bands and t reminded me a LOT of Boston - specifically Cambridge.  A mixture of architectural styles, a clean, but quiet environment, and everything is expensive.  A bottle of water or pack of gum is about $3. Any meal, no matter how meager, will cost you $10.  Taxi's...haha make New York look cheap.  I guess this is because, in Australia, the unions rule, and now they have an $14/hr minimum wage.  But despite the higher salaries, wealth doesn't seem to shift much.  The wealthy live close to downtown and it's all very clean and nice, those who can't afford it (1bd 1bth apt - $600,000 - 1,500,000, so most of Sydney's population can't afford it) use the spectacular train/bus system to make their way into work.  The other areas of Sydney likewise resemble the less-nice areas of Boston.  It's a great city.

My second day in Sydney I took a tour of the Sydney Opera House.  It was neat to get some history on such a spectacular structure.  One factoid: They planned on it taking 3 years and 7 million dollars to complete.  It actually took 25 years, a new architect, lots of unexpected drama, and 102 million to finally finish.  But in the end, I suppose it was worth it to have it finished.  After all, it is one of the 7 wonders of the world.

With good reason too.  I went to see Mozart's Requiem that night and it was simply phenomenal.  The Lacrimosa movement had me in chills the entire time.  I also met a lovely 18 year-old girl named Morgan that night from New Caledonia.  She was my seat-mate and incredibly friendly.  We actually ended up going salsa dancing together that night.  We talked quite a bit about a variety of very deep and spiritual topics.  She kept mentioning how she craved the opportunity to talk about this stuff.  It made me feel very grateful to have the friends and family I do, because I know that feeling of craving depth and spirituality.  I told her about the church and funny enough, her best friend is Mormon.  She asked me to send her the address and info in Sydney so that she might be able to check it out.  I invited her to join me Sunday, but schedules got in the way, so I promised her I'd hook her up, and she was incredibly grateful.  I guess she's been having a hard time in Sydney, and is need of some friendly, encouraging faces.  It was great to meet her, hopefully it's not the last I'll see of her.

My Sunday in Sydney was just what I needed.  It was fast Sunday, and it was nice to be able to understand the testimonies.  The YSA out here is very tight and it's a fun group of people.  One of the girls offered to take me to the fireside that night, and I had a chance to chat with a few people I didn't meet at church.  They were an older crowd, so much more my style.  I think it's safe to say that if I ever had to live in Sydney, I wouldn't mind.

Monday morning I flew to New Zealand.  Just flying into Auckland, I knew I was going to like this place.  The patchwork farmland spotted with green mountains and perfectly deep blue ocean was a pleasant sight to fly into.  Immediately after I landed, I went the harbor for what turned out to be the best date of my life.

Ok, so it wasn't a date, but it's a fantastic date idea.  Usually there's more people, but because it was the end of the season, I was the only one signed up to kayak that evening.  So it was just me and Nic, the main instructor/owner of Auckland Sea Kayaks.  He's 28 and a lot of fun (shorter than me - go figure...).  He is really enthusiastic about his company and incredibly accommodating.  He took me to one of the local beaches where we geared up and set out for one of the islands in the bay.  Kayaking on open ocean is quite the experience.  It also happened to be very windy that day, so we were sharing a kayak.  He took me to one of the beaches across the bay where we went for a hike to the top of this bluff overlooking the city.  We watched the sunset, got some candid shots with the antique artillery, and headed back to the beach where he had dinner waiting.  After some delicious tomato, basil, and feta risotto, we hopped back in the kayaks and paddled back to the city.  The stars were bright and he pointed out some of the uniquely southern constellations.  It was pitch black besides the stars and the stunning glow of the city.  Nic was a great conversationalist and it was fun to listen to his Kiwi accent.  When we got back to shore, it was pretty late, so Nic dropped me off at the door of my hostel.  It was a great night...just funny to me how date-like it was.

5am the next morning (this morning) I headed to the airport for my flight to Queenstown.  Tonight I'll be heading out with some Israeli girls I met.  Apparently they just finished their service in the military (all citizens are required to do so), and wanted to travel before heading to school.  So they've been here for a few months and have been great guides thus far.  Next week I'll be writing you from Fiji, but I'll give you a wrap up on New Zealand then too.  Till then! :)

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