30 November 2011

Nihao! - Part Two

Part One of my China adventure is here. We pick up our story on the plane from Shanghai en route to Beijing, eager that we will be able to rest soon. Little did we know that our adventure wasn't quite over yet.

Day two - 10pm: The plane touches down in no time at all. It has been such a long day, it is now 10pm and we have been on the move since 9am... suffice to say I am very eager to check-in to our hotel and sleep. I barely have the mental awareness to appreciate the fact that we have arrived in Beijing. After a 45 minute train ride we arrive in the heart of the city, the hotel is near!

The doors open, we drag our luggage up the stairs to the street, it's dark and rather dirty as we reach the barrier to exit the station... to be greeted by a crowd of old men coming towards us! Woah woah, slow down, who are you? The briefest moment of panic before my brain kicked in, a memory forms as I realize that this was exactly like my time in Thailand... these are taxi drivers fighting for our fare haha. I don't know what it is about Asian countries but their taxi drivers are insane.

Isaac signals that he has made a deal with a driver he was talking to, moments later we are in his car on the way to our hotel. Surveying my surroundings, the taxi looked dodgier than usual and I didn't get a good vibe from our driver, despite his broad smile and jovial demeanor. I sat there quietly, half sleeping, half analyzing the differences between Shanghai and Beijing, coming to the conclusion that while in Shanghai I immediately felt at home, Beijing thus far however has felt a lot more foreign and uninviting. Perhaps it is the people, or the buildings, or simply because that it was dark and I was tired, I couldn't quite put my finger down on it. I expressed these thoughts to Isaac and he knew exactly what I meant, he explained that even the people, when he talked to them in Chinese, treated him almost as a foreigner also. Strange.

My vibes about the driver proved true also, Isaac reveals that the driver is going to charge us 200CNY for the trip, which is the equivalent to around $30AUD... that's insane! For the distance we were going we shouldn't have paid any more than 50CNY.  Due to the language barrier there was no way I could argue, and Isaac is a small, quiet guy who wouldn't stand a chance against the older driver.

Overall the prospect of heading to bed soon far outweighed any annoyance I had.  I laughed as I thought to myself an ironic 'welcome to Beijing!'.

We arrive at the hotel, the driver giving a cheerful wave as he drove away (most likely because of the huge scam he just got away with). I dragged our luggage into the foyer while Isaac negotiated with the clerks. I was so exhausted, it was nice to just stand by the door, watching the surprisingly quiet street outside. It wasn't long, from listening to the limited Chinese words I knew and from their tone, that I could sense that something was amiss. I wander over to investigate. Isaac turns to me, a rather sheepish smile on his face "Umm, Aaron... yeah, turns out I accidentally booked our room for tomorrow night instead... and... they don't have any rooms left."

It was now 11.30pm. I laughed "Haha! Really? Ha... umm... ok, guess we better get moving".  I wasn't annoyed, it was a simple mistake. All the more adventure and storytelling I thought.

Again we drag our luggage around (it was so heavy!) out onto the street, from watching it for the last 10 minutes I knew it was a rather quiet road, but I was confident that fate would guide us and that miraculously we would be alright in the end. Fifteen minutes go by and not a taxi in sight. We knew we had driven past a hotel on the way here, we estimated it would be about 800m up the road so we decided to slowly head in that direction, our pace drastically slowed with our bags on our backs. The streets were absolutely dead, which so surprised me as we were only a mere 300m from Tienanmen Square and the governmental buildings. I would of thought there would have been much more people about, or at the very least some traffic on the roads.

I can tell you now that standing on a street corner at midnight with all your possessions by your side in the heart of Beijing with no one but a few night walkers around is a very scary place to be!

I put all my strength into carrying my bags as fast as I could, a good while later we finally walk into the hotel, enormously relieved to be off the street. Isaac works his magic once again and as luck would have it, they had a room. I was dead on my feet at this stage. As we gathered our bags to carry up stairs a Chinese family walks in, only to get turned away... we had taken the last room! If we had been only one minute later our night wouldn't of been over quite yet. It was nice that my confidence that things would work out paid off.

They always do in the end.

We arrange our room, Isaac continues to apologize for messing up our booking. "Don't worry about it" is my sincere reply. The lights go out and we are asleep within minutes.

In part three; Tienanmen Square, Forbidden City and bike riding!

26 November 2011

Nihao! - Part One

Nihao! That's 'hello' in Chinese Mandarin! And I mention this because I've recently come back from 9 days in China, sweet! Already from reading my old posts about my previous travel experiences I already know and feel that China tops them all by far.

On this trip I went with my good friend Isaac who is originally from China and has been studying here in Australia for the past two years.  He was going home over the Summer to visit family, asked if I wanted to come so yep, I went for it.  Having someone who speaks the language was absolutely invaluable, I really can't thank him enough as the trip wouldn't have turned out anywhere near as amazing as it did if it weren't for him.

Now anyone who has been on a holiday can tell you that no matter how well it is recapped, it will never do the trip the justice it deserves, but hopefully through text and pictures I can instil in you guys the emotions I felt as I traveled to some of the most surreal places yet.

Alas my story begins with our first stop, Shanghai:

Day one: We arrived at the airport after the long flight, eager to be able to stretch our legs, only to then slowly sweat my way through customs with the unneeded fear that something will go wrong with my passport and they will insist on sending me back home (I am a nervous traveler it appears), but of course everything was fine... stupid imagination.

Now this introduction into a new country is the best I have ever had. We find a taxi and Isaac takes the lead and speaks to the driver in Chinese mandarin to convey our destination while I take the front passenger seat so I could a great view on the drive.  Ah, hmm... seat belt won't lock. Try again... nope, doesn't work.  Oh, we are driving already, too late to jump into the back seat, ok... no seat belt it is I guess, should be no worries.

The driver cruises onto the biggest, longest freeway I have ever seen... only to floor it like a race car driver! This guy refused to go below 100km/h, with his cruising speed at a ridiculous120km/h, in what I am pretty sure was a 80km/h zone, zooming in between buses, cars and other taxi's (who it almost appeared he was in a road race with). It was insane haha!

Out of the way, I'm coming through!
Thankfully we arrived in one piece at our hotel, checked in, then went for a quick walk for supplies. This is where I got to have my first true cultural experience in China with a late night snack before calling it a night from what looked like a BBQ grill stand just outside our hotel. It was absolutely delicious =)

Barbequed potatoes, lamb, and other stuff I couldn't recognize.
Day two: We wake up nice and early as that night we had a flight prepared to take us to Beijing, so we planned on spending the whole day exploring the bustling inner Shanghai city streets.

A quick taxi ride later and we are walking the city streets of Shanghai... the place was amazing! It wasn't long before I felt at home either, the city was clean, there were plenty of people around, and thankfully there was quite a few foreigners around which definitely lessened some of the attention I would of otherwise received. I definitely felt safe and not that far out of place. As the day went on the city began to feel more and more like Melbourne city (which is where I am from), there was modern architect, department stores, Subways and KFC's, taxi's, buses, it really didn't feel what I expected China to feel like. I mean this in a positive way of course, my point is simply that the city wasn't what I had envisioned before arriving, but I figured being a capital city it has probably been somewhat influenced by the Western world as a result.

With my very limited Chinese mandarin I chatted to a few shopkeepers and locals, thankfully most spoke enough English to get by, and they were all friendly and welcoming. We spent the day walking along the city streets, took a ride on a double-decker bus tour, and used a few more taxi's to get around. All of which was insanely cheap.  The sights were amazing:

An Apple store! Look how busy it is!
An aquarium of sorts built into the side of a building!
I really like this picture. It made me realize that despite cultural differences, there are some human traits (like love) that are truly universal.

Some European occupied era buildings in the heart of Shanghai. A great surprise to see.
What a magnificent skyline.

Isaac then recommended we visit the Oriental Tower which is apparently the tallest tower in Shanghai. Sounded good to me!
Oriental Tower
Taken from the top of Oriental Tower. It doesn't give the stunning view the justice it deserves =)
Glass floor, awesome!
Takes strong nerves to stand on it ha.
Afterwards, to my great amusement, we found a place that made pizza!  I know I shouldn't laugh, I just couldn't help from releasing a little chuckle at the thought of a Chinese shop making something that is almost the complete opposite to Chinese that you could possibly go.

The pizza wasn't bad at all actually, although the Italians are still the masters.
By now it was getting late so we proceeded to get a taxi to take us back to our hotel, pick up our bags, then take us to the airport for our flight to Beijing. All day we had praised the impressive transport that Shanghai had to offer, we were only ever a few minutes away from hailing a taxi so we weren't worried at the late hour. Little did we know however was that it was now 'peak hour' in the city, and catching a taxi proved much more difficult then we could have ever imagined. 

An hour goes by, Isaac and I are now spread 100 meters apart on opposites sides of a crazy busy road in an attempt to catch a taxi. "Dude, we are running out of time!" Isaac shouts out, finally letting his nervousness show. I laugh at our predicament... if only we didn't stop for that pizza! In our hour of taxi chasing, literally three dozen taxis had driven past with the majority for some reason simply ignoring and driving past us, or in a comedy of errors we kept missing them by mere seconds. Finally we caught one (I think we ran out in front of him so he couldn't drive away). Luckily this one had working seatbelts because this ride proved much more daring then the one on our arrival as the driver seemed sympathetic to our mission of reaching the airport in time and was determined not to let us down.

An hour later we reach the airport with only 10 minutes to spare before check-in closes... intense! Being only a domestic flight was much more enjoyable. We both slouched in our airplane seats, closed our eyes and enjoyed the rest, smiling as we said goodbye to the hectic two days that were about to be behind us... or so we thought.

Part two here.

23 November 2011

Geelong Fun Run 2011

I did it! Today I participated in a charity fun run! I am rather proud of myself at this moment. On top of that I raised, through awesome friends and family, $170 for the cause (a children's hospital), and had to run 6km this morning. Sweet!

Two years ago I did this same event, although that time I didn't bother raising any money, and it was 5km instead... in which I ran terribly. For starters I was hungover, and secondly I for some reason decided to wear my new running shoes for the first time on the day of the race... my feet and shins did not agree with this sudden change what so ever thus I managed a terrible time of 50 minutes.

This year I thought I'd actually put in some effort by raising some money, doing some training for preparation for a change, and purchasing and wearing my new running shoes weeks before the run day to get used to them before the day (the difference was immense).  Now I have never been the best runner... physically I go pretty alright, I am semi-fit these days and can hold a pace... it's mentally where I struggle.  A constant battle against boredom and my imagination takes place, an imagination that likes to bring up highly unlikely yet terrifying scenes of me getting dehydrated in the sun passing out, or falling over and hurting my ankle, or just some unforeseen circumstance that results in being rushed to the emergency room... All of which didn't happen of course, and they never ever do... but yeah, my imagination is both my friend and enemy haha.

The race was around my town, which always offers some amazing scenery and weather as we are placed directly by the waters edge connected to the bay. Not to mention the view of seeing some 10,000 participants on the day!

We're off!
There were a few brutal hills that really took their toll, but we were rewarded in the end with a lap on the grounds of the football stadiums where one of my favourite teams play!


Inside Simons Stadium, home of the AFL Geelong Cats!
This time with the improved focus and preparation then usual I managed to complete the 6km run in 43 minutes, cool. Not a super time but whatever, I am still proud of the distance covered, especially for the fact that I can't even remember the last time I've run that far continuously.

It was extremely tough but well worth it, the satisfaction of completing something that I had doubts about is quite a memorable moment. It really has put me in a much more positive state of mine of what can and can't be done.  And best of all it was for a very worthy cause.

19 November 2011

Kindred spirits

"Kindred spirit: a person who shares beliefs, attitudes, feelings, or features with another"

The simple act of sending a text message... why do I pause before hitting send? 
I have been trying to send it for 3 days now, to say what I should of already said. I just hate my timing, with all things, with everyone, hence the blogspot name 'Out of Sync'. I'm not sure if it is my own doing, or just the way of the Universe. I am starting to worry that I'll never know.

The contents of the text message aren't even a big deal. It's just, lately, she has been on my mind a lot. It kind of just happened. I've been somewhat vague friends with her for about a year now, I thought she was pretty awesome the first time I ever saw her... but to be honest I think that about just about every new cool girl I meet, so I didn't give this one any extra thought. 

Lately, like my last post says, it appears I am rather well liked by her group of friends... to the point that I am now a permanent addition. As a consequence I have been hanging with this group much more frequently over the last few months, thus have slowly spent more and more time with her. Even back long ago I never really saw her as any more then just 'a really cool female friend'. That image started to change after our celebratory night out in the city last week. 

It was the way she laughed at my stupid jokes that made me melt.

The problem with this girl however is that she has a bit of a sketchy past with my best mate. And in bro-code terms that strictly means out of bounds, something I am honour bound to respect.

The other day the group and I hung out again, this time to try something new for the fun of it; lawn bowls! Straight away as we arrived I thought about a joke in regards to the fact that there is only ever old people at these places, but thought it would be too crude to say so I held my mouth shut. Literally two seconds later she laughs to herself and says out loud the exact joke I had decided to hold back. I said I was thinking the exact same thing. We both laughed. I melted a little more.

After some good dinner we hit the field, throwing some practice bowls, only to quickly realize how terrible we all are. We look to our right to see an elderly gentlemen take his shot, the ball rolls and angles with impressive precision to stop within a metre of its target. I look down the field at my latest attempt, my ball is a shameful 5 metres away from the target in completely the wrong direction. I laugh to myself at the comparison between my dreadful attempts and the expert elderly man next to us.

She is standing next to me and suddenly laughs, "Haha! Look at how bad we are when compared to the elderly man next to us!"

I laugh out loud as I claim to her that yet again she had stolen the very joke I thought of saying only moments before. She laughed beautifully at this and said "Haha oh Aaron, we are just a couple of kindred spirits".

I couldn't keep the smile from my face.

I only just got back from an overseas trip last week, and in that short time since I have had two amazingly fun times with the group, and her. Dishearteningly, tomorrow her and another from the group head overseas for 6 weeks. As I said, my timing with everything just never seems right. 

The text message I wanted to send was simply to wish her a good trip, and to say I look forward to her return. It just becomes a lot harder to send when you know that the words mean more to you then they will to them. It becomes harder still when you can't say in the message what you would actually want to say... you know, if things were different. Or if I were braver.

I know nothing will ever come of this, I guess it is just nice to daydream every once and awhile. In honesty I guess she is just another of the many amazingly cool girls I seem to meet in my life, all who seem to float away just as silently and mysteriously as they came in. I guess I just wish for one to stay around a little longer.

To find my kindred spirit.

13 November 2011

I will miss

I'm leaving for NYC next year, hopefully for an extended amount of time.

Two years ago my rather awesome life turned upside down and went to hell.

Last year was slightly better, slowly on the mend, but there were many challenges to deal with... so it still wasn't great... in fact it was quite miserable to be honest.

This year began much the same. Things didn't look like they were going to improve much.

Last night I hung out with a group of friends whom I have only just started becoming great friends with this year or so. I've known them for a while through a friend of mine, they are all in the same University course. I've finished my study and am working full time, thus I always felt like an extra of sorts, never really officially part of the group.

Without really realizing however, we've now grown quite close.

Last night we went out to celebrate the end of their University degrees. We rented a hotel room in the city and spent the night with good food, big laughs, challenging games of billiards table and lots of drinks. At 4am six of us walked to a park with some blankets, laid down on the grass, huddled together and just watched the stars. It was a warm night. The glow from the street lamps, the rumbling distant traffic, and the rustling of trees was amazingly peaceful.

To my enormous gratitude, after a particularly humourous moment, they asked me where I've been the last few years, saying they wished I had joined their group much earlier.  I deflected the compliment with a joke, something lame about me being to cool for these science degree nerds.  What I was really thinking was that I really wish I'd had met them all much sooner also... I should of told them that.

The effects of their words were greater then any of them will ever know.

On the train home this morning after our night in the city, I sat quietly staring out the window, reminiscing about the last 24 hours. That simple moment in time, lying on that grass, under the stars, laughing and chatting while huddled with those awesome friends, is one the biggest highlights I can ever recall.

Two years ago I think I was using my NYC idea as a chance to run away from my problems.

Last year I was using my NYC idea as a slim ray of sunshine to help get myself through the hard days.  Also as a fruitless way to rebel against my increasingly distant old best friends, of which I felt wouldn't notice or care if I disappeared one day.

This year, for the first time since conjuring my NYC idea two years ago, I will honestly be reluctant to leave because of what I know I will be leaving behind. It was a bitter sweet realization.

10 November 2011

No need to panic, it's just my luck

I'm not quite ready to write about my trip to China, so I wanted to post this story in the mean time.


The other day I had one of those days that only I can seem to manage to have.  There is just something about me, an aurora of luck that strikes randomly but spectacularly.  "That could only happen to you" is a phrase thrown at me quite frequently when the stories my misadventure are shared amongst family and friends.

Not to mention that these kinds of days happen far more frequently then you might think.

So, from the beginning:
Left work at 5pm and proceeded to the bus stop to head home.  Waited around for 10 minutes, then just as I was about to jump on the bus I did my usual 'phone-keys-wallet' pat down where I tap my pockets to check that I am still carrying them... only to realize I don't have my keys!

Freaked out!

Managed to calm down after realizing that I must have simply left them in the office... phew!  Call the office, no one answers, everyone must of gone home already.  No problem, call my boss' mobile... no answer.  Damn... in a bit of a bind now. Those keys contain both my house and car keys.  As my luck would have it, today just happened to be an out of the ordinary day. On a usual day losing my keys for a day or so wouldn't be much of an issue as I hardly drive my car, my house mates would be home to let me in, and I could simply take the bus to work the next day like I normally do.

This night however I just happened to have the need to travel back to my parents house as the following day I had taken the day off work to spend it with my mates to help with the filming of a video clip for their new song (they are in a band).  Sigh, ok, relax and adapt.  My New York City trip immediately sprang to mind as I like to think of these mishaps (such as losing keys at the most inconvenient moment) as good practice for adapting to whatever troubles I might run into on my trip where I won't have anyone but myself to rely on.

A plan was devised: Take bus to home, get house mate to let me in, grab clothes and stuff, bus back to town, take a train to my parents house, burrow my sisters car to get to filming location the following day.  Too easy! I was pretty pleased at how fast and efficiently a plausible plan came to mind =)

Next moment my phone rings, it's a friend, he wants to know if I want to go to the pub for dinner...

New plan: Take bus to home, get house mate to let me in, grab clothes and stuff, wait for friend to swing by and pick me up, eat and drink at the pub, take a train to my parents house, burrow my sisters car to get to filming location the following day.  Boom! Improvised!

Jump on the next bus and arrive home... yeah... my house mate wasn't home. This is were luck likes to kick me when I'm already down as usually my house mate is obviously home, but if not it still isn't much of a problem as I can usually find a way to break in.  However, because of all the times we have had to break into our own house in the past, over time the house has become more secure as we close any flaws in the house's security.  Last time I tried to break it was too secure to go at it alone and I only managed to get inside due to the very lucky coincidence where Jerry, a door to door salesman, happened to arrive at my front door at the perfect time, who then helped me climb through my tiny, high up bathroom window haha!

Alas, there was no Jerry this time =(

Resorted to siting on my front porch to read Harry Potter, waiting for my friend to arrive. Had a nice realization that if I ever were locked out of home I would still have quite a few different friends who would gladly take me in for the night =)

Friend got caught up at University and arrived two hours later... it was dark and the mosquito's were biting by this time... not happy.  Figured I could still have some dinner and get to the train station in time for the 9.15pm train.  I ate and drank quickly, friend drove me to the station, I'm running late, run inside, buy ticket, run to platform... there's no train.  Don't tell me I've missed it!  "What time does the train leave?" "9.45pm dear" the lady at the counter replies.  Ah... I see...so... I've arrived 30 minutes early it would appear.  Nice...

Sat around bored. Hot girl sitting across from me, contemplated saying hi... decided to sit there quietly instead.  Started daydreaming about NYC.  Eventually boarded train.  Read Harry Potter.  Watched the lightning storm outside.  Train goes for 50 minutes... ughhh.  Reached station where I have to change to another train line.  As I get off the my train however I can already see a train sitting at another platform, and for some reason I immediately thought to myself "You know what, with my luck, I bet that train is the one I need".  Reacting on pure instincts I ran for the train, opened the doors and jumped inside just as it was taking off.  Immediately looked around frantically for a sign to identify the train, and would you believe it, it was indeed the one I needed... win!

Finally arrive in my home suburb, it's now 11pm, I call up for a taxi.  Eventually it arrives but another guy hails it down and is trying to take it instead.  I run over to protest, ready to fight for my right to get home before midnight.  Negotiations go surprisingly well, turns out the guy is going same way as me. We end up sharing the cab and he gives me money for his share, thus making the ride cheaper for me, win again!

I'm hyperactive from excitement over the crazy series of events over the last 6 hours, my dad greets me at the door and I spend a while recounting the day.

I didn't panic, I kept my cool.  All good practice for NYC in the end =)