Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Legend of Pepito

So I had a request from someone to retell of how I acquired my little donkey Pepito who keeps me company at work. So I am obliging him with the story here. This post is dedicated to BP in honor of unique people who are looking the world over for other unique people.

It all began with a wedding invitation.

My ex-roommate was getting hitched in San Diego in front of his closest family and friends before moving to Spain. So I packed my bags and headed out to San Diego alone. I was on the cusp of a breakup of a three and half year relationship. It was the first trip of my long string of travels that started this blog. I was attending a wedding alone and I was utterly depressed. I tried to put on a happy face for my friend Art and his wedding party. No sense in pulling them down in my downward spiral.

My other good friend Lupe also lived in San Diego, so the next day we headed out to Tijuana for some good old fashioned fun to take my mind off my life falling apart at home. I had never been to Mexico amazingly enough and I was determined to go. So, we hopped into the rental car and drove to the border at 10am.

Lupe and I walked over the border and began eating immediately. I had migas and the best refried beans I had ever eaten. We wandered the streets shopping for tequila and stopping to eat literally every hour. I ate eggs, beans, tacos, lobster, and drank beer, margaritas, and Coke in a bottle. I think I ate so much I literally wanted to puke. I missed hanging out with Lupe. I liked being able to catch up on life and talking about old times in Hawaii.

After drinking and eating all day long, Lupe and I decided to head back into the city. We ate dinner in downtown and then his friend Carlos called. It seemed that Carlos was disappointed that he missed out on good Tijuana fun. So at midnight, off we went, back to Tijuana.

Lupe and I were joking around about the Donkey Show all day long because he is, after all, a filthy sailor and I had just watched Clerks 2 the week before. So as soon as we hit Tijuana for the second time that day, we came up with the most brilliant idea ever in our drunken stupor. We decided to buy a donkey and take him out on the town drinking with us all night long. We managed to find a cart at 1am and bought a large ceramic lawn donkey for a cool $10.

Off we went into bars, clubs, and the streets with said donkey who we aptly named Pepito. We clicked pictures of bartenders, taco vendors, and ourselves with Party Pepito cracking jokes and drinking A LOT of beer.

We ended up at a club with hundreds of people packed into a tiny dance floor. The bouncer at the door eyed Pepito and told us that we had to check him. Check our donkey? So we stood in line waiting to check our donkey, something more ridiculous than us carrying him around and buying him drinks. The manager of the club actually came out of his office, took Pepito lovingly in his arms.

“I will take care of your burro!” he said in his heavy Mexican accent.

He whisked Pepito away into his back office as we stood there giggling like a bunch of children. Several beers later we decided that any place not good enough to have Pepito out in the open was not good enough for us. So we waited patiently in line to pickup our beloved donkey holding our ticket that simply said, “El burro”. When we found ourselves in the street again, Lupe became paranoid about being in the street in policia view and becoming prime targets for arrest. So we quickly entered the No Cover Club (not even for Pepito).

So we found ourselves in the most disgusting strip bar I had ever been in. There were fat naked strippers strutting around the stage and huge bouncers eyeballing us suspiciously. We sat with our bucket of beers and thought of ways to get a stripper to take a picture with our adventurous donkey. No one obliged. The bouncers inched closer and closer, ready to pounce and probably beat our asses. In our last ditch attempt to get a picture of a lifetime- we made our move. I set Pepito on stage with a Tecate and managed to snap off a picture. The flash filled the entire club. The bouncers stood up and I picked Pepito up and took off running. We all ran for our lives out of the No Cover Club and out into the night.

Now, I was ready to go home. I had the picture of a thousand words so now all I had to do was get Pepito over the border and into the US and A. We stood in line with hundreds of drunken partiers. We managed to crawl through brawls, drunk college kids, and police with donkey intact. The boys left it up to me to get Pepito past the border. There I stood, drunk as a skunk, trying desperately to bring Pepito to freedom. The border patrol was not amused when she looked up at me with a big shit eating grin plastered on my face and my arms around my precious burro.

“Where are you from ma’am?” she asked in a deadpan voice.

“America!” I exclaimed.

“Where in America, ma’am?”

“Oh, uhh, Texas!” I said brightly.

“And how much was your donkey?”

“10 whole dollars!” I announced proudly, not even blinking.

“Go on through.”

I could not believe my luck! They didn’t even x-ray him. I could’ve smuggled 10 pounds of cocaine in Pepito and gotten away with it! So I rejoined my drunken cohorts and celebrated a successful night with my Pepito.

The next morning I woke up after an hour of drunken sleep and had breakfast with the wedding party that decided not to go to Tijuana. I lumbered downstairs in a hangover haze and checked out of my room. My ex-roomie, Art came into the lobby and announced to everyone there, “Oh my god, is that a donkey?” He grabbed Pepito and looked at me accusingly and asked, “You went to the donkey show, didn’t you?!” I wanted to die of embarrassment. Over breakfast I had to explain to 15 people, including Art’s parents, why I had a donkey and what I did in Tijuana.

After breakfast, I strapped Pepito into the front seat of my car, pulled the top down on my rented convertible, and took my donkey to the beach. I slept off my hangover in the sand and happily tucked away the night’s memories away in my head. I headed over to the airport that afternoon. I began to worry about getting Pepito onto the plane. I wrapped him in my beach towel and sent him through the x-ray machine and hoped for the best. The x-ray operator came around and pulled me aside.

“ Um, we broke your donkey.”

I stared at my donkey feeling completely devastated. We had survived 15 hours of Tijuana bars, clubs, strip bars, and border patrol only to be injured by the San Diego Airport. I sniffled as I picked up Pepito and his broken leg off the conveyor belt.

I managed to get Pepito all the way home in 2 pieces. So, here he sits with me in my office and keeps me company. Since then, we acquired for him an afro wig for Halloween, a funeral tie in November, and a friend from Australia (Kangaroo) and Puerto Rico (Rooster). Viva el burro!

Thursday, March 8, 2007

24 Hour Bars and Roo Meat

I took the ferry to Manly beach and I spent the entire time sitting my lazy ass around the beach and oogled the hot Aussie guys all day long. Tall, blonde, surfer types, with beautiful accents…how the hell do you go wrong? The only thing that marred such a beautiful day on the beach was the huge number of man-o-wars floating in the water and littering the sand. Nothing is worse than having one of those things sting the hell out of you on a hot day. Hawaii has quite a few of them too at Bellows Beach. I remember distinctly one day when I got stung on my hand and my friend Randy had one wrap itself around his shoulder. There’s an old wives tale that says if you urinate on a jellyfish sting, it will lesson the pain of the sting. When you get stung by jellyfish, it’s amazing how many people will volunteer to pee on you (friggin sickos). I’d rather cut my hand off than have someone pee on it. Needless to say, I passed on a golden shower and instead lived with the excruciating pain.

I met Brett for dinner that night in Darling Harbor. He sent me over to the Piermont Bar to meet up with him. He is an evil man. I like dodgy bars because I can drink beer, people watch, and just hang out in general. This bar was more than just dodgy. It was the kind of bar that was open 24 hours. The Denny’s of dodgy bars. Of course, I’m in a nice dress instead of my usual jeans and sneakers. I stuck out and I squirmed under the leers of the patrons. I slung back several beers as Brett took his sweet time getting there. When we arrived at a restaurant Brett felt that in celebration of my vacation in Australia, I should order Kangaroo meat (or Roo meat as they say down under). I will try just about anything and I’m not a picky eater…but Roo meat is foul. I could barely choke the stuff down. I was even pulling the kiddie trick by hiding the meat in a pile of potatoes and trying to disguise the taste. I think my American taste buds are going to stick to chicken, pork, and cow. Aside from the scary bar and the horrific Roo meat, it was great night. I talked, I laughed, I even cried a little. It's hard to find people that you truly connect with on a personal level. For me, I find it difficult to meet someone that laughs at all my silliness, who thinks I'm great just the way I am, and really understands me. I guess that Brett is just one of those people. He means the world to me in this lifetime and he has taught me so much.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Crashing A Protest and Meeting the Broccoli King

I called Kent to eat lunch and it finally dawned on me that Sydney was friggin expensive. To have a simple lunch somewhere is around $20 Aus which in reality is only $16 US- but I think $16 for lunch is a lot for a normal day. I have to say that Australian food was not my favorite. I was already overdosing on fish and chips. I walked Kent back to his office and noticed some commotion in the street in front of his building. He ran off to work and I decided to find out what the hubbub was about. It turned out to be a protest for Comfort Women in front of the Japanese consulate. Apparently, during WWII, the Japanese had kidnapped 200,000 Australian, Chinese, and Korean women and forced them into sexual slavery for their soldiers. They wanted an official apology, reparations, commitment to non-repetition, and a blurb in Japanese history schoolbooks. I was a little leery at first because I wasn’t sure what this was all about and the last thing I wanted was to get tear-gassed and arrested in the street. It was my first protest and I felt that it was a worthy cause. I stuck around for awhile listening to speeches and yelled and shook my fist at the appropriate moments.

Afterwards I walked around town again and hung out at the Sydney Museum. From there I decided to go to the Customs House to see what it was all about. When I arrived I made a beeline for the bar. I was very impressed. A museum with a bar! I slung back a beer and asked the bartender if the museum was upstairs. He laughed and said that I was at the Customs House Bar and the Customs House Museum was down the street 3 blocks. Boy, did I feel stupid. So I shrugged and had a couple more beers and – you guessed it, some fish and chips. I noticed that Aussies don’t eat fries with ketchup but they sure do like their mayonnaise. I’m pretty American when it comes to my sauces so, I asked for some damn ketchup. I suppose most people don’t ask for ketchup because they brought me out an entire soup bowl of it. Then they asked me if I wanted them to play anything particular music wise in the bar. I told them to play whatever they wanted. So, they played Peter Andre videos during my entire meal.

After my late lunch I realized that I was late for a meeting. I set up a networking meeting with one of Wing’s (guy I met on plane on the way to Hawaii) business associate in Perth. Jim was in Sydney for business and had agreed to meet with me for a beer at my hotel. So I ran 7 blocks and arrived at my hotel sweating of Custom House beer. Dammit. Wing told me that Jim was the "Broccoli King of Australia". I had no idea what the Broccoli King could do for me, but I figured I did need business contacts. I had a couple of beers with him and tried not to let on that I had been drinking all afternoon. Australian beer was not anywhere near as watery as American beer, so it kinf of started kicking my ass. I had a great meeting with him and I still email him at intervals to ask him questions from time to time.

I had dinner with Michelle and Kent that night at the Redoak Boutique Beer CafĂ©. It was a neat restaurant that served a lot of great beers (it was an all day beer day). The waiter was very cute and dropped menus and knocked over some glasses in front of me. Kent seemed to think that it would be wise to give the guy my number. I turned very shy suddenly and didn’t let him. I dunno, I suppose that I get a little nervous around men when I’m with my friends and pretty much in general. When I’m alone I guess it’s fine because there’s no one around to witness anything horrible, but when you’re goaded by friends to throw yourself at some dude, it’s not so fun. Opportunity lost, I guess.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Going Dutch Oven

I headed out to the city to explore with Lonely Planet Guide in hand. I poked around Macquarie Street (which by the way, I have no friggin idea how to pronounce.) I took a picture of the hospital because the story on that is it was funded and built on rum money. All the more reason to drink, I say! My friend Brett called and took me down to a bunch of pubs in the Rocks and out to eat. He and I argued where New Castle beer was made (which we all know it’s ENGLISH beer) and he made fun of my shoes. My friend Michelle told me that Australian singles always went dutch on dates. So I asked Brett if that were true as well. He had no idea what “going dutch” meant but seemed to think that it meant “dutch oven.” He didn’t think it was such a good idea to Dutch-oven someone on a first date. I just about died laughing.

The next day I took a cab out to our company’s Sydney office in Homebush Bay (which I kept saying Homebay Bush and it drove Brett up the wall). I met my Aussie counterparts and went out to lunch with one of them. Apparently a few of them went out the night before and were completely hung-over. They asked me questions about our American campaigns and our new software. I had a nice visit with them and I still keep in touch with Tony, the director there. Maybe someday, they’ll give me a job. Here’s hoping!

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Your Accent is Funny

Kent took me to Watson’s Bay so I could ride the ferry and see the city. The ferry ride was nice and the scenery was beautiful. I spent most of my time chatting with Kent and finding out the intricacies of his life. I tend to do that with people a lot. I suppose I am intense. I can chitchat with the best of them, but I personally like to pick apart a person’s psyche.

We hung out at Watson’s Bay and ate lunch consisting of garlic shrimp and chips (fries). We wandered around taking in the cliffs, beaches, and nice weather. When I went to the bathroom I checked to see if the water swirls the other way when you flush the toilets (and they DO). After a couple of hours we headed back to the Sydney Harbor and enjoyed a beer at the Opera House Bar while staring at the Opera House. It was funny because when I started planning this trip my co-worker Bernell told me the only thing that was in Sydney was a stupid opera House and that Melbourne was much better. It's hard for me to say which city I liked better. I think they're both great cities. So the stupid Opera House in my opinion was quite impressive. It's a nice building and even more beautiful at night. It is located where the ferries are, so I passed it often. The Opera House Bar is a popular spot and it always seemed to be filled with tourists and locals alike. I'd like to thank Kent for letting me post his picture here. He told me that this was the first time his picture was ever posted on the Internet and he didn't seem at all thrilled about it. I told him perhaps this website would make him famous, but seeing as only 3 people read this thing I don't think he has too much to be embarrassed about.

After a couple of hours Kent took me over to the suburbs to eat at his favorite Chinese food restaurant. I have to say Australians like food more on the vinegar taste and not on the hot and spicy side. They also don’t have hot mustard and soy sauce on the table like us Americans. Here we are, two Asians from entirely different sides of the planet and completely not Asian. We poked fun of each other’s accents. I have very American accent and Kent has a very nice Australian one. Kent couldn’t get over how much I liked that lemon tonic water. I couldn’t get over the fact that he was such a lightweight and I was the raging alcoholic.
When I got back to the hotel I decided to watch some Australian television since I don’t sleep when I travel. I don’t watch much television at home but I easily get sidetracked by cable in foreign hotels. I think because I don’t watch TV much at home that given the opportunity- I will definitely be couch potato. I spent the entire night watching an Indian movie and Australian MTV.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

When in Sydney...

My first day in Sydney was a busy one. My email pal Kent picked me up from the airport. Kent and I met through my friend Shawn. He introduced me to him 2 years ago and I have been emailing and IMing him ever since. Mostly questions about Australia and chitchat here and there. We never really talked much for long periods of time because of the time difference. So I had never seen pictures of him and I was nervous meeting him. I was worried that he would be some scary 600 pound geeky guy who was socially retarded and was wanted by the police for multiple homicides. I met him for the first time in the Sydney airport. He actually turned out to be a great person. Kent is a very cute Asian guy, smart, and hysterically funny. He drove me to my hotel where I met up with Michelle, the girl I met on the plane.

When I booked my hotel I realized quickly that every hotel in Sydney was booked solid. I searched in vain to get a room and always got the same reply. My friend Randy pulled some strings and got me a room at the Sheraton hotel in Darling Harbor. I looked up Sydney’s event calendar to see what was going on the weekend I was coming in. Apparently I was coming in smack dab in the middle of Sydney’s Gay Mardi Gras. I was arriving during the last weekend of the month long train of events at the gay capital of the world. So naturally, when in Sydney, do as the gay people do- go to Gay Mardi Gras. I dragged Michelle and Kent down to Darlinghurst for some crazy gay fun. We watched an hour long parade of Dykes on Bikes, half-naked Filipino dancers, an Ikea float, a huge Trojan horse, and just a large amount of people in different stages of gay regalia. We were very entertained and I had a great time. I even bought my boss a pink Australian flag. After the parade we all chatted and I discovered the best drink ever. I stopped by a drink vendor and bought some Lemon flavored Swepps tonic water. Probably the best thing ever invented. If there was ever a reason to stay in Australia, that was it. After I got back to the hotel, my friend Brett called to hang out. We caught up with each other lives in the past five years. It was good to see him. Thinking back on the last 5 years, a lot has changed for me. I am a much better and stronger person than I ever have been. I am definitely crazier and more prone to psychotic episodes of drinking, but certainly in a better place in life than I ever have been before.

So I went to bed that night in Sydney very excited and happy. I connected with new friends and caught up with an old one. I had embarked on my life journey to Australia and so far, it was eventful, fun, and meaningful. I already didn’t want to leave.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Chinatown Warehouse Party

I got up early and poked around St. Kilda around my hotel. I ate breakfast at a local restaurant and strolled around the streets. Fleur told me St. Kilda was considered the red light district of Melbourne. I didn’t read about that on the damn hotel website. I have no idea why this place was considered the “red light” district. I only hung out in an after hours bar until 5am and hobnobbed with some crazy Kiwi and his two gay friends. St. Kilda is comprised of expensive shops, restaurants, and lots of bars. I suppose when I think of “red light” I think of strip bars, hookers, and drug addicts. Maybe I missed it, but I really didn’t get that sense when I was there. Especially when I found those $500.00 jeans Fleur and her friend were talking about. I took pictures of some school children on the way back to the hotel. They make them wear hats wherever they go because Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer. I started walking off when a teacher came out of the yard and yelled at me. She grilled me on why I was taking pictures of school children. I was surprised and pointed at their hats and dumbly said I thought they were novel. She yelled at me again and told me not to take pictures of children. I slunk away feeling like some sort of child molester or something. I can’t really blame her. There are some really sick people out there, so she was being protective. I just felt really bad. So, I went back to the hotel to get ready for some drinking.

Rachel told me to meet her at Flinder’s Station in front of Federation Square. I think it’s the central meeting place for Melbournians. I sat around people watching when she called me again and told me we were going to a 90’s party first and to make sure I dressed 90’s. I looked down at my clothes and shrugged. Definitely not 90’s attire. I figured after a few beers no one would care. I met Rachel and her friend Jackie outside of the station. Jackie was one of those girls who dyed her hair black and hated the world….but LOVED 90’s music. Rachel grilled me on why was I talking to a Kiwi and two homeless guys the night before. She said the Kiwi was a regular and never talked to anyone at the bar unless he ordered beer. I laughed and said I had that effect on people. I mean hell, I’m this complete stranger hanging out with her at a 90’s party. She told me I was the only American girl she had met that drank beer and it was the reason why she invited me out. Personally, I like drinking beer because I like remembering what I did that night. Liquor is always a toss up with having a good time or lying in the street puking. I guess beer for me is a sure fire way for me to be safe. I discovered that Australians are terrible dancers. The worst. And they do not know what a pitcher is. I ordered a pitcher of beer for my new found friends. The bartender looked at me quizzically and held up a pint glass. I shook my head and said “pitcher” again. She held up a bigger glass. I laughed and said I needed something bigger. She said- “Oh you mean a jug?” Jugs? That’s what they called them here?
After our “jugs” of beers the girls wanted to leave for another party. So we ended up crashing a private party at some bar. The Aussies were amazed that I knew every single word to Bust a Move (and why wouldn’t I know all the words!). I took a picture of Rachel dancing in her white ridiculous 90’s shoes. It was the only picture I took that night because I didn’t want to be the stupid American casually taking pictures of people. We finally caught a cab into Chinatown to check out this warehouse party. The place was huge and contained hundreds people. The men looked like they came straight out of that movie Trainspotting. Lanky, cropped hair, and punk clothes. The ladies were dressed to the nines. I looked down at my shabby clothes and felt a little self conscious. Here I am in a dank dark warehouse party and the women looked like they stepped of a Paris runway show. Red high heels, short bubble skirts, and leather jackets. I drank a couple of beers and managed to creep out into the wee hours of the night.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Street Brawls, Kiwis, and Party Invites

The 5am drinking got me 2 phone numbers of 2 girls- both of whom worked at Public Bar (the dodgy one below my hotel). I headed into town and searched for a phone store to get a local cell phone, bought souvenirs, mailed myself a kangaroo, and gawked at Australian businessmen. People really dress up for work in Melbourne. I kind of half expected to see everyone running around in khaki shorts and Crocodile Dundee hats. Heck, I didn’t know what to expect. I met a shopkeeper that had a son who played for the San Diego Padres. I couldn’t remember what his son’s name was, but he was thrilled to meet an American in his shop.

I managed to squeeze in a museum trip at the Victoria Museum. They had an Aboriginal exhibit where they had some stone reliefs and shields. The shields had images of the Phantom (yes, I’m a nerd- remember?). The Phantom is a comic book character with a mask and a purple skin tight suit that goes around and fights crime and bad guys in Africa. Apparently the Phantom or the “Ghost that Walks” has been in existence for 400 years and was made into a comic around the 1930’s. How he ended up on Aborigines shields, I’m not really sure, but I thought it interesting and entertaining.
That night I called Fleur, one of the bartenders I had met. She invited me out with a couple of her girlfriend for some dinner and drinks at Federation Square. Fleur is a university student and aspiring model and her friend was a makeup artist that looked like Nelly Furtado (sorry guys, I forgot to take pictures). Both of them are dating Greek guys and thought it was normal to pay $500 for brand name jeans. They were very nice and fun to hang out with. They filled me in on Hardware Alley and loads of great bars in the city. I drank with them during the early part of the evening and then I started to feel the crash and burn from the night before. I asked them who the heck was David Hicks. I took a picture of his name on the side of an old church in the city. I didn’t read carefully and I thought it said Justice David Hicks. I thought it tacky for a politician to post his name on a church. The girls were very serious when they told me that David Hicks was this poor Australian fellow that was being tortured and held prisoner without a trial by the evil American military at Guantanamo Bay. I kept my evil American thoughts to myself about that one. I am not a huge political activist type person. I have different opinions on different issues, but I’m mostly middle of the line. I read up on this David Hicks guy and he was no angel. He was at Guantanamo Bay for a reason but they did end up sending him back to Australia. I will just leave it at that.

After dinner I hopped on a tram back to the hotel. I figured if I was going to pass out, I could crawl back to the room. I stopped by the Public Bar, of course, for a beer before calling it a night. The bar is split into two parts. There’s the loud, rowdy, dodgy part and then there’s the gay part. The gay part is the oldest gay bar in Melbourne and has been open since World War II. I really didn’t feel like dodgy, so I sat on the gay part and enjoyed the quiet. As I was drinking my beer, a guy approached and asked if I would like to have beers with him and his friends. Looked over by the window and his friends were two gay men that looked homeless. I shrugged and said, “Oh why the hell not.” The guy told me his name was Ed and he was from New Zealand. He looked very ethnic. My friend Bernell told me later the guy was probably Maori. He was very nice and told me about his divorce and his two kids. He moved to the Blue Mountains near Sydney to get away from home and he was in Melbourne now doing construction. They all offered me beer, which I refused politely. We watched in interest, as a ruckus brewed outside the window. A man was yelling and choking a women and an Asian taxi driver was yelling at the both of them. Quickly and quietly, the bouncers out of Public pounced on the guy and kicked his ass. They had him on the ground within minutes. We all laughed as the taxi driver lectured the guy about being so drunk while he lay on the ground unconscious. It was great. After the brawl, one of the waitresses, Rachel, came by and saw me. She eyeballed the Maori and the gay dudes and called out my name. She asked me if I was interested in going to a warehouse party in Chinatown Friday night. I said, “Sure, why the hell not?” The Maori asked me if she was a friend of mine. I told him that I had just met her. He laughed and shook his head.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Australia, I love you

Randy dropped me off at the airport the next afternoon and I went through airport security without a hitch. I met an American girl in line before my journey to Oz. She was moving to Sydney and we immediately hit it off. We giggled and drank the entire wait and then some more on the plane. We exchanged info when we got to Sydney after my 10 hour hung-over flight. I was headed to Melbourne and she was headed over to Sydney. I told her I was headed to Sydney after the weekend. So we planned to meet up after I arrived in Sydney.

I happened to go to Melbourne purely on a lark. When I was planning the trip, it was postponed three times due to work. So, the hotel I was staying at was completely booked. So I decided to fly to Melbourne instead to wait out the booked hotels. I figured the hotels were full because it was the last precious days of summer in Australia. So after my 10 hour flight, I had to hop on a plane to Melbourne after that. So needless to say, I was pretty cranky when I arrived. I cussed out a shuttle ticket machine and tried to navigate the tram system in the middle of the night while trying to lug around my 50 pound suitcase. So while I’m screaming the F word multiple times, the shuttle bus driver gets off the bus and tells me I can pay cash on the bus. After my shuttle ride I had to take a tram the rest of the way to the hotel. Since I could navigate my way around the damn Japanese subway, surely I can ride a tram in an English speaking country, right? My patience waned as I stared at the ticket machine. Zone 1, Zone 2, what the hell did I know? Again with the F word and muttering. The guy behind me helped me with my dilemma sent me on my way to catch the tram. A wrong stop and a cab ride later, I finally arrived at the hotel in St. Kilda.

I arrived and immediately remedied my exhaustion and irritation by having a beer in the pub downstairs (ok, more like 3). I befriended the staff and the immediately invited me out for the rest of the week. How badass am I? I went with Joe, the bouncer, to an after hours club and stayed out until 5am and several more beers. People that drink in an after hours bar in Melbourne in St. Kilda are scary. Of course Joe, being a stocky bouncer from Italy, was scarier. I met some of his friends, one of whom kept touching my hair (shudder). I think people in other countries don’t have that American personal space thing. So I politely told him to stop touching my F word hair. Joe laughed and slapped me on the back and said I was the nicest American he had ever met.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Hamsters and Sharks Ahoy!

I had a full food today. My favorite things to do is eating and drinking after all. I went over to Ryans to have a lychee martini and some crab artichoke dip. Then I walked over to Brew Moon and had a half a rack of ribs and some of their micro-brewed blonde ale.

Then I made my old Sunday journey to Duke’s. Duke’s is a beach bar where people descend on during Sunday afternoons to stare at each other in their bathing suits. I asked Shawn what happened to all the good looking people. He told me that they were all in Iraq. There was usually a huge influx of military guys at the bars in Waikiki, so there was never a shortage of young clean cut men until now. I met some nice guys at the bar in the Air Force that kept me well supplied with beer. They were a hoot.

Later I had dinner with friends at the Yardhouse, which serves around 100 different beers. My friend Randy came out with his little brother who was a freshman in college and his 2 friends. Randy and I have been friends for 8 years. He has taught me so much in life. I think of him fondly as my big overachieving brother. He’s been a rock in my stormy life over the years and I would give my life for him. My alcoholic friend, Shawn, had already had beers from half of the list. By now I was drunk and honest. Shawn’s friend had invited a buddy of her squeeze of the month out with us. He apparently was on a date and had to be the most obnoxious person I had met (that night) and I told him so. Since I was on a roll with bad behavior, I also told his date that she could do better. I have a bad habit of telling people exactly what I think when I’ve been drinking. I am surprised that it hasn’t gotten me into more trouble than it has. I staggered back to my room very proud of myself.

The next morning my friend Randy released his brother and his two friends to Shawn and I for a shark tour. We drove down to the North Shore in Shawn’s old Firebird convertible. With the 5 of us in the car, it bottomed the poor vehicle out the entire way. We arrived at North Shore in one piece (5 pieces rather) and hopped on the last boat out. The shark tour consisted of 3 people at a time in a shark cage. The boat guys would throw chunks of chum out into the water and viola! sharks cometh. We all put on snorkel gear and watched as the sharks went into a feeding frenzy as the waters kicked our asses. The chum would float onto the cage and I managed to throw it outside because I was horrified by the thought of sharks banging into the cage trying to get to the food. We had an Australian couple join our tour and the female was sea sick immediately. The poor thing threw up beside me the whole trip back to shore. I felt a little sick myself because all of us were covered in chum.

That night we had dinner with Randy and his boys, Shawn, and our friend Sara. On the way to the restaurant Randy’s brother mentioned that his hamster had died. Apparently, it passed on while Randy was home for Christmas and he had no idea.. I teased Randy about pulling a Richard Gere and killing the hamster (why did poor Richard Gere get pinned with that urban legend I have no idea) and Randy told me I was the most disgusting person he knew. When we went to dinner I was laughing so hard about the hamster story all I could get out to Shawn was “dead hamster” and “Randy” and Shawn busted out laughing. We were laughing so hard I could barely breathe for at least 15 minutes. Randy told Shawn that he was the second most disgusting person he knew and it was probably the reason why Shawn and I were so close. He may be right. There are a few people in this world that I can sit around and laugh about absolutely nothing. The first is course, Shawn, then my cubicle neighbor and friend, Amy, and my Australian friend Brett. They all have the most insane, hilarious things that only I and they get. Even when we regale the stories to others, what some people find amusing- we find so funny our stomachs hurt and we giggle and laugh until we pee our pants.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Hawaii, I missed you too

Home again, home again, jiggity jig. I missed Hawaii. I still have plenty of friends there and always a bed for me. I started off with a really bad breakfast at Moose’s with my friend Shawn.

Shawn is my best friend in the whole wide world. We met because we got divorced together. We shared probably the most painful most devastating event in our entire lives. Nothing brings friends together than utter depression and sorrow, right? Well, that was 2001 and we have been friends ever since. We’ve seen breakups (and hookups), best of times, the worst of times, and shared copious amounts of alcohol. Shawn has this same affect on people when he’s out and about that I do. People gravitate to him and I think it rubbed off on me. He knows me very well and we spend hours upon hours laughing hysterically about absolutely nothing (or the most absolutely disgusting). Even though we live in Hawaii and Dallas, we still call each other every day and say- “You will not fucking believe what happened.”

We later went to Shorebird to find a sucker bartender to give us beer at 10 o’clock in the morning. Work called with some weird non-emergency. I’m sitting there at a beachside bar with a beer in hand and I have to call a bunch of places to fix some work issues. I even called my boss in hopes that he help and he just told me to call him after I handled it. So I’m sitting there in a bar in Hawaii on an absolutely gorgeous day with a beer in my hand and I’m trying to call 3 different places to cancel and reinstate some reservations and make sure that things are taken care of while I am not at work. What a way to start a vacation! I decided I was not going to take anymore calls work after this.

I spent most of my day laying on the beach in Waikiki and wondering why I ever left Hawaii. I reminisced about the days I spent surfing and relaxing on the beach every single weekend. I even went to the beach when it rained. Between you and I, I think I was becoming a raging alcoholic and I was afraid of marrying one of the many boyfriends I was tearing through. Ahhh, I missed it so.

Actually, I left Hawaii because I thought I had fallen in love. But that’s a story for another day.

I went to see my friend Geri and to get my haircut. My hair stylist, Sam, told me it was her birthday and invited me out that night. I dragged my friend Shawn out and we had a blast hanging out with their friends, dancing, and meeting Iranian male models who wore more eyeliner than me. I met a guy named Todd who had a house, a dog, a divorce, and a daughter. He was extremely nice, but made me feel my age a little. He was the kind of guy I probably needed to meet, but would never give the time. He probably had less baggage than me and would probably run away screaming if the likes of me entered his life.

I called my friend Amy the next day and asked her why we didn’t meet men like this in Dallas. She pointed out that I was on vacation and that I didn’t have my guard up. She seemed to think that if I was home, that I probably would not get past a mere hello with a man like that. I wonder if this is true and if it is, then what the heck is wrong with me?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Aloha Hawaii!

I rushed to the airport because I worked up until the few precious seconds before I started my trip to Australia. I decided to breakup the trip and fly to Hawaii to visit friends before my journey to Aus. The flight from Dallas to LA was exhausting. I had not slept in almost 3 days so as soon as I got on the plane, I passed out. I woke up and the guy sitting next to me had wedged his sweatshirt between the two us because I had apparently fallen asleep on him. So I had been passed out and hugging his sweatshirt for about an hour. He was in the Navy and was in Fort Worth for training. Am I a friggin military man magnet? He was nice about me drooling on him as I slept. He was Filipino and asked me where the good Asian clubs were in Dallas. Sorry to say, but he was asking the wrong person. I am proud of my heritage. I am not ashamed of being Asian or Vietnamese. However, I also consider myself American as well and I pride myself in the large variety of friends that I hang out with. So seeking out a club with only Asian people in it is not something that I take interest in. I'm interested in having fun and I can do that at any place consisting of any race of people.

Of course my flight to Hawaii was delayed several hours. I sat next to one of the owners of Wahoo Fish Market. He was certainly the most interesting guy I ever met on an airplane. He had long hair and a long interesting beard. He regaled me with stories and showed me pictures of famous people he had met. He also gave me a contact in Australia for the later leg of my journey. When we arrived at the airport it was 2am and my friends both had to get up at 5am. So, my newfound airplane friend gave me a ride to the hotel.

It seems I have a natural talent for meeting random people on vacation. Perhaps it’s because I am cute and friendly. I personally think it’s because I am in constant need of human interaction that I force myself to talk and befriend complete strangers. So far it’s worked out well for me. This talent never works in Dallas, but it’s a great gift when traveling alone.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Mr. Kim on Tour

So I found my comatose self in the lobby of my hotel awaiting a tour guide to find me. My company had arranged for me to take this tour, so skipping out was not an option. The tour guide walked up to me with her head cocked looking at me quizzically. She asked me if I was waiting for the tour. I nodded slowly.

“Hmmm, I’m looking for a Mr. Kim.”

Again with the Mr. Kim! Damn them! I explained to her that I was Mr. Tran Kim.

“But you are not Korean….or a Mister!” I laughed and dragged myself into the minivan.

I found myself with some Japanese people and proceeded to listen to the tour in English…and Japanese. The weather had decidedly turned even colder than the normal 25 degrees. This was my only chance to see Seoul, so I be damned if I let no sleep and some raw meat nausea get me down.
I walked around the Imperial Palace and listened to the tour guide babble on about the different temples and houses. The different stairs for the guards, royals, and peons. I stared intently on the large amount of lipstick on her teeth. She was a nice lady and I did see a lot of things that day. I poked about the history museum and listened to the tour guide talk about the Emperor chasing out the evil Japanese conquerors from Korea. I looked over at the Japanese people and wondered if they were getting that same version. I found myself at a buddhist temple and some sort of urban waterfall. That afternoon I started to feel the death toll of no sleep, raw meat poisoning, and the respiratory infection I STILL had. So not only was I feeling sick, I was getting cranky as well. We passed by the South Gate and I was able to catch the guards standing around. I'm not quite sure what the South Gate represents or why there were guards standing there because my A.D.D. kicked in. I suppose I could look it up...but I'm not gonna.

I managed to go out to dinner with my friend Julia to the Seoul Tower later that evening. We made our way up in a cable car, ate a nice meal, and enjoyed a nice (very cold) view of the city. By the time I made it back to the hotel, I immediately passed out watching Korean MTV.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Hangover DMZ Tour 2007

The next morning I woke up at 6am dragged my hung-over ass over to the USO office to go on a tour to the North/South Korean border to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). So I and a busload of military guys rode for 2 hours over to the DMZ. I prayed for the gods to give me hangover relief as I listened to the tour guide talk over the mike. Once we arrived we were greeted by UN Army soldiers that had a laundry list of rules. You could take pictures here and here, but not there. You have to walk single file in a line and stick with the guide. We had to keep our hands in our pockets because hand gesturing was not allowed. Otherwise the North Korean soldiers would cross the neutral zone and cut us down. I’m not sure if the one North Korean soldier would leave his post to kill me because I was giving the bird, but I wasn’t going to take my chances….especially with a hang-over.

I developed a crush on our tour guide (maybe it was the don’t gesture or the North Koreans will axe you to death comment). He was from Russia and won some kind of lottery for American citizenship when he was 17. He had no accent whatsoever. I was impressed nonetheless. Me and the military…I can never shake that love affair. I suppose living in Hawaii and having a limited dating pool of military guys did that to me. I listened to the tour guide talk about the training of the South Korean soldiers and the UN buildings with great interest (haha).

After the neutral zone tour they took us to a series of tunnels that the North Koreans dug out trying to invade South Korea. I watched a number of propaganda films that touted the reunification of North and South Korea. The Koreans at my company seemed surprised that I went on this particular tour. They approach the issue so differently than Americans. They seemed to be out of sight out of mind about the situation. The reunification idea seemed like a cruel joke. From my personal observation of the Koreans I talked to, they seemed uninterested in joining the 2 separate countries. After the brainwashing movies, they let us stare at the actual border between the Koreas. No pictures were allowed. One women had her camera confiscated and her pictures deleted by the South Korean soldiers. They were very strict. I found humor in the two guards because one of them was ridiculously taller then the other.

After the border staring at, we were herded onto buses again and were taken to the tunnels that North Korea dug out to invade South Korea. It was a rather interesting tour. They painted the walls black and when the tunnels were discovered, they said, "Oopsie, we were digging for coal and accidently dug our way to South Korea." Apparently several tunnels existed and were discovered over the last 20 or so years. I wasn't supposed to take pictures here either, but just to kind of stick to everyone for telling me not to- I did anyway. I hope the UN doesn't invade my house and seize my computer.

After the tour I ate with some strangers and immediately befriended them. They invited me out that night and I happily obliged. They too were in a class for training for the Navy. They seemed nice, so I arranged to meet with them later at their hotel. We ate an Italian dinner and drank at a German bar. It was a nice change from the Korean restaurants and tourist bars I had been frequenting. I drank beer with a girl named Laura and 2 Navy guys- Jason and Mike. None of us knew each other very well at all and in the middle of drinking, Mike decided he had forgotten all of our names. I stayed out until 7am and got ready for another day of tour sight seeing fun.

Friday, January 26, 2007

If the raw meat doesn't kill me, the Soju will

So I had a full weekend planned for my downtime in Korea. I was looking forward to doing some sightseeing. All of us at work had a big dinner with one of the Vice President of our division. I was going to eat Korean BBQ for the tenth time and I didn’t mind. I sat there and ate and drank to my little heart’s content. The bottles of liquor broke out and it went downhill from there. The VP insisted we all try this very special and very expensive Korean dish. I stared at an enormous plate of raw liver and raw pork. I didn’t want to offend them, but I did not want to eat raw meat. After a couple shots Soju, I decided, what the heck. I ate the meat and washed it all down with several more shots of Soju hoping to kill whatever diseases I was going get. The Koreans seemed pretty impressed with my ability to drink (but they still drank me under the table). I managed to convince my German co-worker, Julia, to go out afterwards. I switched to beer (liquor before beer) and found myself laughing hysterically in a bar throwing darts at a wall (not a dartboard). Me and all the Europeans were sick to our stomachs the entire weekend from that raw meat episode. Note to self: Soju doesn't kill raw meat diseases.

Here is my co-worker Eugene. He is Korean-Canadian. Nothing is better than hearing a Korean guy with a Korean accent that says "aye" all the time. I gave him grief about lumberjacks, hockey players, maple syrup, and moose. He asked me if that's what I really thought of Canadians and I asked him if there REALLY was more to Canada than flannel shirts and mullets.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Soju will kill me someday

Training in Korea was taking its toll on me. I usually woke up at 5am and chatted with my co-workers in Dallas to fill them in on Korea good fun. Their lols and funny remarks made me miss them immensely. Most of my classmates were Korean, so after class, they would disappear with their family and friends while I putzed around alone entertaining myself. Our day starts off at 7:30am and its all day of Korenglish lessons on bugged software and lots of coffee. Usually the lessons would stop when an error occurred and the teachers would rush to the back to fix it. So I usually sat around drinking coffee and wondering when I was gonna shake my illness. My Korean counterparts at the company started their days off at 7am, worked until 6pm, ate dinner, come back and work until 10pm, then go out all night drinking Soju. And you thought I was an alcoholic! I watched my classmates doze off and I quietly took pictures of them. Hilarious!

After a hard day’s work I decide to explore more of Seoul, sick or not. I managed to navigate the subway and made it the shopping district of Meyong-dong. Everything was brightly lit and it was very crowded. I poked around the Louis Vuitton bags and the open street meat vendors. I was tempted to eat some good street meat, but in my current condition, I felt it not wise. I found some guys making wedding cookies and singing, some neat socks for my sister, and laughed at a $200 pair of Levis.

I thought I would try a bottle of Soju since I had been drinking a lot of Korean beer for the past 4 days. The waitress came out and brought the bottle of Soju, happily. I took a sip and I felt like throwing up. It tasted like ethanol. At least, it was what I imagined ethanol would taste like. I drank as much as I could so as not to offend the nice waitress. I began to think about the repercussions of drinking alcohol, sick as a dog, and on antibiotics. Not a good idea. So I grabbed a cab and stumbled back into my hotel room.

I felt a little better after a good Soju night’s sleep, so the next night I headed out to Itaewon. Pete, the army newscaster I met a few days before said he would be at one of the bars with some friends if I wanted to join them. I was dying for some human interaction, so I headed over. Pete was there along with a few Americans and some Singaporean students. One of them worked for LG, another for the Navy, and a teacher. I indulged myself with a beer and watched as the Korean girls lined up to talk to these guys. It seems that Pete was not lying about the popularity of foreign men in Korea. I spent my time that night laughing at the guys and giving the LG dude hell. It’s only natural working for the competitor. I had a great time that night, a first for my time in Korea so far.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

That's Mr. Kim to You

The next morning I am full blown diseased. I called the front desk about getting a doctor’s appointment.

“Hello, Mr. Kim, how can we help you today?” Why do they keep calling my Mister?

“Yes, I’d like to know how I can get a doctor’s appointment.”

“Oh, well sir, you may either have to go to the hospital b/c it will be difficult for a doctor to see you today. You may also want to try the International clinic.”

Did she just call me Mr. Kim and sir? I write down the number to the clinic and headed off to work. When I got to the office I looked at my paperwork they gave me before the trip. There it was- Mr. Tran Kim. They all expected some Korean dude from the Dallas office to show up and instead the got a Vietnamese girl. Surely, when I showed up at the hotel, they would change it? They thought I was a dude! Gah, how embarrassing!

I ate lunch with my fellow co-workers for some “authentic” Korean food. I was thrilled because so far I’ve had chicken fingers, Outback Steakhouse, a mystery burger, and some Chinese food to add to my list of Korean food experiences. We walked down a series of dark alleys and stopped in front of a house (and yes, Amy, Korea does smell like poo). Inside, we sat down on the floor and this old man came out and served up some thick white noodle soup. No menus. Just one dish and everyone ate the one single item. Even in my tasteless sick stupor, I had to admit, it was gross. I smiled and ate politely and wondered, “What if I didn’t want the soup?”

So I called the International clinic and made an appointment. My teachers were not happy with me leaving at a mere 8 hour day instead of the usual 10. Luckily for me, I did not care. I walked to the International Clinic and stared at the Christmas tree in the lobby. I wondered why a tree was still up on January 24th. I was worried about what kind of healthcare I was going to receive. The doctor seemed nice and asked a few questions (in English thank goodness.) He wrote up a prescription and sent me on my way to a pharmacy with some very complicated directions.

I wandered the streets of Seoul for nearly an hour trying to find the pharmacy. I mostly got blank stares and an occasional Moshi moshi when I asked for directions. I found 2 pharmacies and was turned away from both. Finally, I called the International clinic for help. The front desk lady seemed very angry with me for losing my way. After another 45 minutes I found the pharmacy. They had Russian women and an old guy buying Viagra- all courtesy of the International clinic.

Afterwards I asked the concierge at the hotel to tell a taxi to take me to Korean BBQ. I was in Korea now for 3 days and I was damn well going to get some good Korean food (if it existed).

Korean people do not eat alone in Korean restaurants, I quickly found out. I pretty much ate a feast for 2 people all by myself and put up with the funny stares from other tables. I drank my last beer before medication and ate from the 20 dishes they put on the table. There was kimchee, some seaweed, potato salad, and some other things I did not recognize along with my Korean style ribs. There was a little plate of garlic too. I watched the other people eat the garlic heartily. Maybe Korean garlic was different than American garlic? I popped a clove in my mouth and chewed it quickly. Immediately tears welled up on my eyes and I gagged. Nope, Korean garlic is the same as American garlic. UGH. I washed it down with a glass of beer and went back to the hotel thinking I probably made a terrible stomach mistake. Boy, was I right! I had a stomach ache the entire night.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Crashing the President's Farewell

I get up the next morning and I have heard nothing from my fellow co-workers. I call down to the front desk to see if I have any messages. “Oh good Morning Mr. Kim. How can we help you today?” Did she just call me Mister? “Um yes, did I get any messages this morning?” It seemed that I did not have any messages so I sat around the hotel until 8:30am until I finally decided to just go into work. I took a cab to the office and I politely asked the receptionist where I needed to go for the training. I was rushed to the 11th floor after squeezing onto an elevator with 20 people. I get off the elevator and some people beckon me into a room with 200 Korean people standing around. There must be a lot of people here for this training. I hear a voice up front speaking in Korean. There’s crying, speaking, clapping. I have no earthly idea what the heck is going on. I’m in there for an HOUR. Then the two men talking walk over to the door and everyone files out one by one- shaking the men’s hands and bowing. Uh oh. And they’re video taping it. Uhhhh-ohhhh. What do I do? There’s no way out. What the hell do I say? So finally, I got the nerve and walked up to each man, shook his hand, mumbled something like “Thank You!” and bowed politely. Then I quickly located someone that spoke English and they lead me to my class. Later, I found out after 8 cups of coffee that:

1. I wasn’t supposed to be on the 11th floor or at that event.
2. The event was the changeover of our new President. So, I met both men, on accident.
3. It’s all on film…there’s proof of my ridiculousness.

My teachers also seemed to think I was Korean until they met me. The class roster had me listed as Tran Kim. Kim is a popular Korean last name. So, naturally, they assume I could not have Kim as my first name. When I first started work, all my paperwork always said Tran Kim. So when people met me at work or spoke with me on the phone, they would always say incredulously, “You are Tran Kim? But you are not Korean!” Then they would all laugh and ask me, “So, your first name is Kim?” It would always be a good laugh for them.

Later that day I started to feel ill. My nose starts running and I begin to get a headache. One of the teachers tells me that he will take me to the drugstore after dinner. After class, our hosts took us out to eat. I was excited because this was my first crack at real Korean food. We walk up the street and right into an Outback Steakhouse. HUH? I fly all the way over to Korea to eat at a chain steak restaurant touting an Australian theme? So, I had a steak and a Foster’s. I ran into a Korean drugstore to get some much needed over the counter meds and picked up several boxes of indecipherable directions and names of pills.

I wake up and I am ill. And not from the Korean Outback Steakhouse sick- I have the CNN Avian flu outbreak sick. I go through class like a zombie, trying to make it through the day and hopefully try not to die in class. I rush back to the hotel and get some much needed rest. I managed to drag myself out of the hotel and into the street to get some food. I decided to go to the American place because I didn’t feel very adventuresome. An Army guy named Pete sat next to me at the bar. He talked about where to go on the weekends and was a little patronizing about educating me on the ways of Koreans. He yakked on and on about Korean girls that hung out in the bars waiting for an American to whisk them away to USA life. I listened to him babble as I drank a beer and had the worst burger I have ever had in my entire life. I highly doubt it was beef. By now, I feel like I need to make a call to the WHO Organization. So I bid Pete adieu and crawled to a taxi and back into my room.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Hooker Hill and Korean Crooks

Destination: Korea

I took a giant bus into Seoul from the airport, which gave me a good opportunity to catch a glimpse of the city. I half expected Seoul to be similar to Tokyo. I was so wrong. Seoul is filthy. I looked in horror at their trash lined streets and their dreary buildings. I worried about the next 10 days that I would be here.

The Hotel Shilla where my company sent me is…..awesome. Five star all the way. I rolled around with joy on the bed that was not on the floor. I jumped for joy over my expense account I was able to access. I tried to locate my fellow co-workers, but no one is around. No one gave me a schedule so I have no idea what I needed to do or what’s going on. So, I went down the street to get some dinner. Apparently, the hotel is located right in the heart of touristy Itaewon. So I order some American food. I’m going to be in Korea for 10 days, so I know I’ll get Korean food every day. I met a Canadian teacher named Vince that sat next to me at the bar while I drink a much needed beer. Vince seems to be a regular at this bar and knows all the barmen by name. He has the most annoying laugh. So annoying in fact it makes me cringe inside. He gives me some tourist warnings about Hooker Hill and all the places where people hang out on the weekends. He also warns me that Asians from other countries have hard time in Korea and that they might think I’m a hooker or stripper. Great.

I caught a cab back to the hotel. I became confused about the money thing. In Japan , the taxis were easily $20 to $30 USD to get around the city. So, I give the taxi driver 10,000 won for the cab ride and he holds out his empty hand again. More money? Ok, I hand him 20,000 more wons. He hands me back 5000 and waves me out of the taxi. The doorman stops me and asks me how much money did I give the taxi? He opens the door and begins yelling at the taxi driver. An argument ensues and the taxi driver yells at me, throws money at the door man and drives off angrily. The doorman hands me back 25,000 won. I had almost been taken for $35 I found out later when I looked up the currency exchange. I am beginning to think that I am a moron and that Korean taxi drivers are crooks.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Crash and Burn, Baby

Next day I rolled out at noon and headed to the airport and procured my laptop. I headed over to Shinjuku to check things out. This part of Tokyo reminds me of the old Godzilla movies where Godzilla and Ghidon are stomping around and crashing into neon buildings. I could picture everyone screaming “Gahzira! Gahzira!” and trampling each other to get away from some guy in a big rubber suit. Ah, Godzilla….I watched all those movies as a kid on Channel 27. Call me a big nerd, I don’t care.

It’s my last day and I realize that Japan is expensive and it’s gouged me pretty good in the pocketbook. So rather than blow my money on beer, I decide I should splurge and get some sushi. I roll into a place that charges by the plate and has a big conveyor belt with fish floating by. I kid you not, this place is the Denny’s of sushi places in Tokyo. At least I don’t have to talk to anyone to order. I just have to snatch what I want off the conveyor belt and try to order some hot tea. This time there are no old ladies, but an ass load of Japanese guys who have no trouble giving me curious stares. One nice man shows me how to get tea out of a spigot on the table. I think I’ve had the best sushi, and at this place, the worst sushi I’ve ever had in Tokyo. I choked down some rubbery eel and some indistinguishable fish pieces before I headed back out. By now it is late and cold and raining. I start to feel the effect of no sleep for 3 days, so instead of another night of drinking debauchery, I headed back to Ginza to pass out.

So, my 3am ritual continues and I know I should start getting used to the time difference. I packed all my things and got ready for the trek to Korea. I decided to run around some shrines before I left to make up for time lost during my airport runs and drinking. I stepped over the homeless people sleeping in the station, took the subway and slept a little on my way to Harajuku. I managed to find the Meiji Shrine and a beautiful park at 6 in the morning. I walked around photographing things and trying in vain to read signs about the structures. I was freezing and felt hurried because I had to catch a train at 9am to the airport. I take a look at my watch. I realize I have no watch on. Where the hell is my watch? I realize with horror that it is missing. I know for sure that I put it on in the morning because I didn’t want to miss my train.

Later that day I noticed signs all over the train stations that say “Please be aware of pickpockets.” Pickpockets? In Japan? Could it be when my dumb ass fell asleep on the damn train I was pick-pocketed? Was I a victim of crime in almost crimeless Tokyo? How could my last day in Tokyo become such a fiasco because of my own stupidity? I am the worst traveler ever!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Busy Busy Tokyo City

So I wake to discover my laptop is missing. That’s right- I left my laptop computer on the aircraft in Narita. In the mad rush to get the hell off the plane, I forgot to put it back in my bag. I am a complete moron, yes. I spent many hours kicking myself for that one. Plus, the window of time that you can call Narita Airport Lost and Found is between 2pm and 7pm. Since my internal clock is going haywire I woke up at 3:30am. So I headed out a couple hours later to the fish market, which happened to be a couple blocks away from the hotel. On the way I discovered that you can get canned coffee out of the 1 zillion vending machines all over Tokyo. Mmmmm, coffeeeee!

The fish people are up early too and they were the first interaction I had with Japanese people. They stare…a lot. I thought that I would blend since I’m Asian too. Wrong. It doesn’t help when you have a camera either. I noticed when white people walked by, they all smiled and greeted them. I would just get these stares and they would all speak in English to me. I didn’t fool anyone. (Not that I thought I looked Japanese, but maybe I oozed American or something.)

So I stopped into a sushi restaurant for breakfast at the fish market. They seat 5 old Japanese ladies next to me at the sushi counter and the group immediately points and asks about me. I ordered some sushi and some miso soup (which evidently comes with a crab in this gigantic bowl). So I naturally ask for a spoon because the bowl is too enormous for me to pick up and slurp out of and it’s got this big crab in the middle of it. All five heads swivel and stare as I eat my soup with a spoon. I am a friggin heathen. How dare me. The staring is one thing, but it’s the looks of disdain that bother me. Note to self: Don’t ask for a spoon, just slurp it out of the bowl like a dog and ignore big ass crab.

Units of caffeine = 4. Number of stares = 12. Total hours of sleep = 3.5

I went back to the hotel to get directions from the Sayuri, my hotel lady (who doesn’t stare, speaks English, and is really nice.) I pick up a subway map and head out into a full day. I decided to head out to Asakusa which is where the sumo tournament arena is and it is closer (not really) to the airport so when they located my laptop, I could run up there and pick it up. It took me an hour to figure out how to procure a ticket, ask for directions, find the right subway tunnel, ask for directions again, walk around the subway tunnels, ask for directions again, walk a long ass way to said tunnel, ask for directions again, then finally board a train which was a leap of faith. The signs in the Tokyo subway system are not self explanatory. Plus, I don’t ride trains much in Dallas, so it just seemed harder to grasp how it worked. At this point, I gave up on speaking Japanese. No one understood anything I tried say and my pronunciations sucked. It was easier to point to things and hand gesturing. Thank goodness pointing is not rude in Japan (I’m going to have a hard time in Korea).

I discovered a few things as soon as I arrived in Asakusa. Maps in Japan are not to scale and asking directions is useless. So I spent a lot of time just wandering around aimlessly until I found something of interest. It ended up working out because I found the market, saw a temple on fire and some firemen dousing the flames, and some cute little school children. I called the airport to see if they had my laptop. Nope, they didn’t have it. So I headed back to my hotel to get drop off my bags and head over to the sumo tournament. I get all the way back and the airport called and said they DID have my laptop. I decided to head to the airport and then stop at the sumo tournament on the way back.

It’s at this time I feeling like a hillbilly in the big city. Its lonely traveling alone without someone around to say- Hey, look at that temple on fire! Wow, that sumo wrestler is fat! Did you friggin see the toilets in there? I can’t believe that policeman yelled at me! Of course there’s no one around to laugh at me about leaving my stupid laptop on the plane or that I took the wrong train to the sumo tournament. I’m a mess.
I end up catching the tail-end of the sumo tournament and took pictures of the wrestlers on their exit. Sumo wrestlers aren’t short at all. They’re actually taller than I thought. I was bummed about missing the good sumo fun so I decided I would have a much needed beer. It seems that no matter where you go, there’s always an Irish pub around. They’re all over America and I found myself in one when I went to Rome. It’s like a safe haven for wayward alcoholics. I guess the Irish get around? It was there that I ran into a group of Americans that were living in Tokyo. So I did the natural thing any desperate American would do- I horned in on their conversation and invited myself to sit with them. They bought me dinner and beer (score!) and told me where to go when I decided to go on my drinking binge.

So off to bars I go. I walk off the subway and walk around the streets aimlessly looking for a beer. I walk into a couple of bars and end up at a place called Vanilla. It has two stories and has a handful of Japanese people milling about. I walk around feeling uncomfortable. While I was walking around I trip on a step and fall flat on my face. I spilled beer all over me, the floor, and one of the waitresses. Of course the entire club is staring at me. I want to die about a thousand times. I immediately high-tail it out of the bar, hoping for lightning to strike me. I am standing in the street, its freezing, and my coat is covered in beer. The thought of bursting into tears and hailing a taxi passed through my mind a couple of times. I look up and I see a sign that says Geronimo’s.

Ah, Geronimo’s. Tourists, expatriates, and Japanese all huddled into a tiny bar with one bathroom. I know I should have gone to a local bar with local people and tried to get some insight on Japanese culture. Instead, I’ve had a fish and chip dinner compliments of Americans and about to walk into a non-Japanese bar- full of Americans. Eh, the hell with it. I met a Saudi, a German, 2 Australian girls, a couple from Texas, and a group of Navy pilots (2 of them were from Texas too). 2 shots and 7 beers later, I had forgotten about my laptop, policeman yelling at me, my missed sumo match, and my face plant at Japanese club. Good times, good times.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Kim's Get the Hell Out of Dallas Tour- Day One

Destination Tokyo:

God tries to tell me not to fly.

I’d like to say that any travel that involves me starts off without a hitch, but that is never going to happen. Not when I travel alone. I realized that this is the first time I’ve been left to my own devices on a trip. The first day of my tour started off with a snow day in Dallas, which is pretty rare. My boss actually called me at the crack of dawn to let me know that it would take an extra 2 hours to get the airport because of the snow. Which I thought was nice. He was on his way to Aspen, CO for vacation. So, I began my harrowing journey to Japan.

I was able to squeeze into the airport on time and onto the plane without any hassle. Unfortunately, we had to wait for them to de-ice the plane. That took 3 ½ hours of sitting on the runway. I ended up in Tokyo at 11:00pm the next day after a 17 hour flight. The taxi had no idea where my hotel was, so he dropped me off 1 block away on a different street. Try walking around a foreign country with 3 bags trying to ask people directions after traveling for 20 hours straight. Ugh. Luckily, a nice man that spoke 5 words of English led me to my hotel. Too late to eat anything so I decided to take a shower and then pass out. I finally made it!
I took a picture of my room so you can see what a traditional style room looks like. That bed on the floor hurt my back. I thought I was going to permanantly be a hunchback. It was still pretty neat. The hotel guy set up the bed and asked lots of questions about where I was from. I almost fell asleep while he was talking. When I told him I was from Dallas, he asked me a million questions about the Dallas Cowboys. It's good to know that people in Japan know all about the Dallas Cowboys. How strange!

Saturday, January 13, 2007

American Airlines, I forgive you

The crazy Dallas weather strikes again. This time it's the "wintery mix" instead of a wall of rain. So American Airlines accepted my voluntary initiative to change my flight to Wednesday instead of Thursday and waived the change fee. Thanks American Airlines, I don't want to break up with you anymore.

I took advantage of my travel change to reserve tickets to a Sumo match on Thursday. All thanks to my Kabuki Actor Inn. They kickass I have to say. There's much to be said about a place that will give you a side key and sumo tickets and all you have to do is write a nice email. I am friggin excited! I'm going to go see a bunch of fat guys wrestle! Plus, I called the USO in Korea to reserve a ticket to go to the demilitarized zone in Korea. Of course, my friend Lee tells me not to get shot and to be careful not to go into the areas where the landmines are. I know its going to be crazy there, but I really would like to see it.

Last night I realized that my drinking is in tip top shape. I downed an Amaretto Sour, 3 glasses of Sangria, 2 Dos Equis, a Woodchuck Cider, and a Blue Moon. Not a good combination, but I held up like a champ. Of course, Japan and Korea are not going to stand for my girlie drinks and beers. I suspect that I should bone up on my soju and sake drinking but I think that I might lose a couple of brain cells trying. Lord knows I need them all.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Kabuki Actor Inn Cracks Me Up

So I wrote to the nice people of Ginza Yoshimizu and read up on their place as I awaited their reply. I soon realize that this place is a traditional Japanese inn run by a Japanese family called a ryokan. So, I look on the list of rooms available and requested a room with a private bathroom for my Princess self.

Usually, I go with the flow and I don't demand much while on vacation. However, I have to take a shower every day. So, crapping in the woods and bathing in leech infested waters is not my idea of good vacation fun. I am a city girl through and through. I like watching people, laughing alot, and discovering different things. I am interested in eating local yummy food, speaking badly in a foreign language, and sampling beer from every country. So, the very thought of some stranger doing number 2 in the same room while I am trying to take a bath sounds unappealing (and mortifying). Judge me if you will, I don't care.

So while I waited for my reply email, I read in my travel book that ryokans usually have 11pm curfews. Oh-oh, this was seriously going to crimp my plans on staying out all night drinking until 5am. It is possible that I may decide to go home earlier, but before 11pm? Are they kidding? So I frantically wrote them another email asking them about their curfew.

Here's what they wrote back:
Hello, Miss Kim Tran  
This is a staff for Ginza Yoshimizu. Regarding curfew, We usually closed at main entrance at midnight for security. After you check in, we should be able to consider how you can get in. 
Best regards,

So Kabuki actors don't stay out drinking past midnight? I begin to panic thinking that I may have to go for the boring chain hotel for the soul purpose of not pissing off a nice Japanese family. The last thing I want to do is come back to the hotel at 5am, hungover (or still drunk), cranky, and trying to break into their house so I don't pass out in the front yard.

I received another email shortly after:
We locked the entrance key at 24 o'clock every night. Please come back until 24 o'clock. However, if you would like to come back later than 24 o'clock by all means, we could rent you a side door key. You could enter at our inn by using the side door key. So, if you would like to do so, please ask at our staff in advance!

Ok, there was obviously a conversation about this crazy American chick who is gallivanting around Tokyo past 24 o'clock. So I get free breakfast, a toilet, a bathtub, and my own key -score!

So they send me this nice email:
Hello, Miss Kim Tran
This is a reservation staff. I got your confirmation and accept your offer of side door's key. And It enough to make a reservatoin. We all staff are looking forward to meeting you. Thank you! Best regards,

The fact that I want a side key is enough for a reservation? This should be interesting.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

I Got Friends in Low Places

Speaking of a list of close personal friends who have a place I can crash at...
1. Randyboy or Shawnathon C.- Honolulu, HI
2. David and Theresa or Jackie and Jeff- Austin, TX
3. Art (Garfunkel) and Crystal - Rhoda, Spain (April!)
4. Gisela Family and Friends- Lucignano, Italy
5. Chrispoo- Jamestown, New York
6. Helena/Soo/Lisa/Tage- New York City, NY
7. John(john) L.- San Francisco, CA
8. Sheydah/Janet- London, England
9. Family- Saigon, Vietnam
10. John L. /Jennie M.- Boston, MA
11. Temple F./Ed P./Katie M- Virginia/Washington D.C.
12. Uncle Minh- Paris, France
13. Kent L.- Sydney, Australia
14. Kevin H.- Minneapolis, MN
15. Randyboy/Jackie- Shanghai/Beijing China
16. Wes P./Family- Los Angeles, California
17. Family-Orlando, FLA
18. Bernell (B)- South Africa
19. Julia- Frankfurt, Germany
20. Derek- Naples, Italy

If you are not on this list, you probably never invited me, so by all means, tell me to add you.

Kabuki Actor Inn vs. Marriott Hotel

So I got a few emails and an IM from friends that I said should definitely go with the Kabuki Actor Inn (Ginza Yoshimizu) instead of the Marriott Hotel that I had planned on staying at. It is alot cheaper and seems quaint. 11 rooms, I think a family makes meals, and it's close to the train station. So what the hell- I emailed them to see if they had a room available. So if I can get a confirmation, I will be staying there. All I can say if it's a bunch of naked fat Japanese men taking baths 24 hours a day, I'm going to be...slightly amused, but pissed. Last thing I need after a 16 hour flight is some old asian dude learing at me through the rice paper walls. I figure since I am spending very little time in my hotel, I should be alright. It will nice to be able to get to know local people and life rather than the slick city stuff anyway. I'll get plenty of that in Korea. There will be no Internet, phone, or TV- so I will be unreachable until I get to Korea. I might pop into a Internet Cafe to check email though- so feel free to write.

FAQ: Why do you hate Dallas?

Just to set the record straight- I do not hate Dallas. I just like to leave it alot. It's a love from afar relationship.

Dallas is a good place to live if you are a frequent flier for American Airlines. It seems that you can fly direct just about anywhere. Madrid, London, NYC, and Puerto Rico- all direct and for a great price. Layovers are my biggest pet peeves. I feel like it's wasted time I could be somewhere. Sometimes I feel that way about sleeping.

I guess the thing about Dallas is my family lives here. I think over the last 12 years I lived away and at this moment I am spending alot of time reconnecting with them. I think that I am blessed with two very healthy (and cranky) parents that I love very much (from afar). I also was able to reconnect with my sister, Vi- who is still a brat, but I love her anyway.

So I guess Dallas isn't a horrible place. No income tax, cheap to live (esp. when you can mooch off your parents while you cavort in Prague), and you don't get too comfortable so you end up doing nothing. I work hard, play hard. So Dallas affords me the kind of life that I want at the present moment.

So, I don't hate Dallas. I just like to get out of Dallas...alot!

Monday, January 8, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

Ok, so it's January 9 which is a dollar short for New Year's Resolutions- but you know what? I don't care.

1) Keep in touch with people that are important to me. I'm pretty good when people contact me, but over the years I really think I've lost touch with a few people. Why is that? We're too busy? No, it's I'm too lazy to go down the list and have something unimportant to say other than hey-whassup? So I will have to lead a more interesting life and contact you so I can tell you about it!

2) Not to swear as much. I work in an office of potty mouths. So it's f#$@ and s*&! every other word. Maybe it's stress or the crazy South African. I think it's the cases of Red Bull we buy every week.

3) Drink less Red Bull.

4) Drink less. Okay, so sometimes I am "that girl". The one that loses a contact and talks like a pirate during 8 minute dating. That girl that told Chewbucca on Halloween that he was "awesome" and forgot her first name. Broke into tears at a bar in Italy because she "embarrassed" someone in her group. Spilled Cranberry Vodka all over the entire FC Dallas Soccer Team. Puked in parents front yard. And this was all in 2006. Am I an alchoholic? I don't drink in the morning (anymore). Can I still be fun without the drinking? You bet! Why do I drink so much? Usually I drink too much when I'm in uncomfortable situations. Aha! I bet you didn't know that! And I also drink when I'm stressed and depressed. So it's a triple combo that is not good. So, moderation!

4) Travel more. I think I got that covered.

5) Go after things I want in life. This is for all the people that say I don't have goals or a direction. From now on, I am going to do whatever the heck I wanna do. I have spent way to long doing things other people want me to do. No more! Going to see the world. Going to meet people. Going to have a good time. Those are my 2007 goals.

6) Kickass at work. I'm not a career minded person. I work to live. So what. I can still be great at my job, but my job is not what defines me.

7) Learn when to say "Next!". Sometimes I meet some real worthless pieces of crap. When I come across people like this- I need to give them the heave ho. Ones that don't care about my feelings, that are selfish, and who aren't there for me.

8) Keep my New Year's Resolutions.