Tag Archives: travel

Greece

The first thing I read when I entered Αθήνα was Έξοδος. To see ‘Exodus’ written like on a normal, modern sign was surreal- the Bible is so old and weird it’s hard to understand that any of it is grounded in current reality (despite having no Latin or ancient history, apparently years of math taught me to read Greek- my education is slightly more well rounded than I’d thought).

Due to laziness that I’d rationalized away (people told me they got delayed due to strikes so let’s keep the plans flexible), I’d booked the Centrotel on booking.com a mere 16 hours before landing in Greece without reading any of the reviews, just going off ratings. Later, I glanced at a review which read, ‘This is the worst neighborhood in Athens. We got mugged right outside the hotel, which is next to a sex shop. Prostitutes line the streets where tough youth openly snort lines of cocaine.’ Concerned, I lookeded for another hotel even though the booking was nonrefundable, but the Internet consensus seemed to be: if you stay in central Athens, it’s noisy all night and you can’t even exit the hotel because of riots, and if you stay outside of Athens, then you’re in a dangerous neighborhood where you will get mugged. They say to bring a ton of cash because the ATMs are down, but if we bring a ton of cash we’ll get mugged. If we take the metro we’ll get mugged but if we take a taxi we’ll get ripped off and possibly kidnapped and sold. Quandary!

Nevertheless we headed out with the plan that if anything at all weird happened we’d head to the Ritz or something and explore Greece under heavy supervision with a bunch of old people.

Much to my surprise, the hotel was awesome! It also had cool art- in Greece art is everywhere, even in random Internet cafes. The neighborhood didn’t feel dangerous- it reminded me of a more run down East Village (Brooklyn?…), and I love The Village. Every single person we met in Greece was super friendly- what they say about Greek hospitality is absolutely true. I also love Greek food! Lots of olive oil and salad, and baklava or some other nutty, honeyed dessert with yogurt is one of my new favorite things.

The only time we felt in peril was walking through downtown Athens at midnight (I guess we were asking for it). There are whole blocks of abandoned buildings. I’ve included a photo of an abandoned building across our hotel from our balcony with the roof caved in. Walking through the abandoned neighborhood and office buildings was creepy and dark. I heard 13K homeless people live in these buildings and it costs less to buy a building than a car. Also apparently there’s a whole subculture of mainly young people who explore these buildings and photograph their findings.

Everything was covered in graffiti, mostly ugly scribbles but some demonstrated artistic ability. I was surprised there wasn’t more graffiti on the ancient monuments littered throughout the city. Aside from graffiti as a sign of angst, other evidence of unrest included cops in riot gear, film/news people with camera equipment, whole blocks of dilapidated, abandoned buildings, and stuff being much cheaper than stuff in Ireland. Despite this, Greece is assuredly first world.

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I’ve always liked Greek myths, and one of my secret pleasures is alternative ancient histories, so I enjoyed the museum full of ancient statues and the Antikythera mechanism- a 2000 year old computer found on a shipwreck. This is part of why I learned to scuba dive- I’m convinced I’ll find a ton of gold and treasure if I just get under the sea and start poking around.

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We also went to the closest island to Athens, Aegina. At first I was seduced by the descriptions of fresh fish and beaches but now I don’t think I’m typically an island person. I do still want to visit Corfu and enjoy seeing animals and wildlife, just not a fan of mosquitos and slow transportation. Once we invent teleportation or helicopters become the norm, I think I’ll be much more adaptive. More photos on tumblr.

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Ireland

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The first time I was in Ireland, I was visiting Denis at Trinity. We went with his parents to little fishing towns and did a ghost tour of Dublin. I told Denis one of my goals was to ride a horse and following the instructions from the first google search we succeeded! Later he admitted he had initially highly doubted it would happen but that it’d ended up being the best time he’d had in Ireland! All due to me and a weird vision of horses in Ireland I got inceptioned with via Braveheart or something.

The second time I was in Ireland, I almost died multiple times. I was doing a horse tour of Connemara and did not know how to ride a horse. The horse people were extremely casual about everything and did not view this to be a problem so I had to learn to post etc on the first day. The other people on the tour owned their own horses and taught people to ride so they gave me lots of tips I struggled to obey, daily heaving me up on my horse in the morning while they gently leapt up Legolas-style.

At one point we decided to take our horses swimming and my horse really did not want to do this. We couldn’t have saddles in the water so I was bareback on an extremely reluctant horse, trying to urge it into the frigid Irish sea so it could paddle around. The horse managed to jerk and swerve so forcefully I last my grip on its bare, slick, wave darkened back and fell into the sea whereupon I saw its hoof swish once right past my cheek, the force of the current of its vigorous treading churning strongly against my face, and I was so thankful not to be brained that when it stomped on my leg I barely felt it despite the incredible bruise this left for the remainder of the week.

When it was time for me to leave, my flight left earlier than the others. The horse people again were quite nonchalant about this despite my tentatively inquiring occasionally what we could do about this since we were in the middle of a loamy bog quite far from any taxis or buses etc. On the morning of my flight, they suggested I borrow someone else’s rental to drive me and a German girl to the airport. German girl was 15, did not have a license but had studied the art of manual driving, unlike me on both counts. I had never considered driving a manual before and suggested she should drive since despite lacking a license she had at least driven manual before, but German girl seemed quite unwilling to bend the rules.

Furthermore, I was supposed to drive on the left side of the road, which I had only done once in the sleepy island of St. John, and then in a normal car.

Nevertheless, we were off. Immediately, we got lost. I have no idea how we found our way to the airport. Despite not speaking English that well, German girl was instructing me how to drive by screaming, ‘Now!’ every time I was supposed to hit the clutch and shift. Looking back, I’m amazed I agreed to any of this. I think the only reason we succeeded is because at each point I had no idea how hard the next part of the journey was going to be. A lot of the roads in Ireland are extremely narrow and people will slow down when a car comes from the other direction to let each other pass. At one point, a bus came barreling around a curve and I swerved away from it. Unaccustomed to judging distance from a right-side-of-car perspective, I hit the left mirror of the car against someone’s bush and it exploded. German girl started laughing hysterically. We also stalled at some point on a hill waiting for another car to pass and then I had to learn the difference between operating the clutch on an incline vs on a flat surface.

This time, I was only in Ireland for a few days, but it seems exactly the same: an extended period of green serenity punctured by terrifying moments of eminent death.

I love Ireland! I love the people, how friendly and helpful and calm everyone is, unphased by anything. I love the flaura and fauna, not particularly diverse but always growing strongly and breezily everywhere. I love the air and the cliffs and the moors and the bog people and the islands and the sea and the trees and the sheep- apparently Ireland is one of the most deforested countries in Europe but it’s still so green. I like the words they use for foods: rockets, bangers, mash, mushy peas. I think Ireland appeals to a simple side of me that would just live off my horse, a mare whose milk I’d drink, who I’d snuggle against for warmth at night, whose veins I’d open and close from which to drink blood on long rides when I didn’t have time to stop for water.

The only thing I noticed this time is there were signs everywhere saying things like, ‘Austerity isn’t working, vote NO,’ and ‘Stability, vote YES.’ The YES slogans seemed kind of weak but maybe that’s what happens when the party is already the majority- it’s the minority party that has to justify itself.

Outside of Dublin we went to Wicklow, Glendalough (of which there are like 5 different spellings), and Powerscourt. Is it normal for my first reaction upon visiting some beautiful estate to be that I want to own it? I don’t think I actually do want to own it but it’s still my first impulse even though in reality all I really own is some electronics and a million cat toys. Nevertheless maybe I should work on my Zen-ness and be free from all desire.

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Singapore February 2012

That I was ready to leave Singapore after a few days despite it being the most American place in Asia suggests I can’t leave the USA long term. While I still love rice and bean paste as much as the next chio (I learned this term from a Singaporean and do not understand exactly what it means or even what part of speech it occupies but I feel prepared to use it anyway since who cares, it’s not a real word, and since many Asians don’t speak English grammatically I should be cut some slack in speaking Asian slang incorrectly) and while I think chopsticks are simply a superior food (and countless other objects!) handling instrument, I think Asia is crazy. Maybe this is just what happens when you view a society from the outside. Maybe if I objectively walked around the USA I’d notice the things the average American does that I disagree with and therefore would deem crazy if I thought about. In any case, the Singaporeans I talked to agreed that certain things about Singapore were singular.

For example, going into the casino made me feel poor, the opposite of how being in Asia is supposed to make you feel. My Singaporean friends said the Singapore casino made about half as much as all of Las Vegas and that it’s primarily used for money laundering. Although I don’t care for systematically losing money, we decided to check it out because our hotel connected to the casino and there was literally nothing else to do in Singapore at this time. There was a line almost out the door of Singaporeans waiting to pay the $100 entrance fee. As foreigners, we were allowed in for free. At the first table, we learned a game that seemed to have several “decision points” where you are choosing between options of increasingly negative expected value. Although the history of how the dice etc had been rolling was being recorded by a computer and displayed on a confusing screen, people seemed to be diligently making their own records by hand as well.

We were randomly putting down the minimum bet of $50 when Rei said, “Are those $1000 chips?” I looked down and a man had just bet $10K. What was happening? Was this somehow a high roller’s table? My confusion grew as this man proceeded to win like $30K in the next few hands. “We have to just do what he does, he clearly understands something we don’t.” Rei said, “Look, he only bet $4K this time, he’s varying his bet size.” By mimicking the man and betting when he was betting his max size, we won a few hundred bucks. Then he left the table with his entourage of an old, tiny Indian woman and other Indian man, probably annoyed by how we were so obviously watching, imitating, and talking about him. From that point on, I monotonically lost money. Getting to fold a card while slowly lifting it to identify it was about as exciting as it sounds. Casinos suck.

On Orchard Road, there were 6 or 7 Louis Vuittons on the same block. I don’t know how Asians spend so much money on crappy expensive stuff but often seem to lack any sense of taste. The light brown and tan Louis Vuitton bag is objectively ugly, and it’s the one everyone buys. Is its ugliness its appeal, like when people buy those extremely ugly hairless crested dogs with the tongues and eyes lolling out? Or is it a really functional bag, and these women are buying it because it’s really good at organizing your makeup? Or is it like a peacock’s anti-signal, an “I’m so rich and gorgeous that I can buy this expensive, ugly bag and yet still be considered rich and gorgeous?” China was probably worse than Singapore- in China people would be wearing solid gold bling and the pendant would be some Hello Kitty-looking figurine. Maybe New Yorkers have spoiled me with their sophistication and fun, confident stylishness. While in Singapore, I missed NYC. I missed America.

But while I’m in the USA I miss Asian food. In Singapore we ate so much good food. There was a spicy crab that I could probably eat every day for a long time, and for someone who values variety as much as myself, this is high praise. Because I hadn’t gotten the new iPhone yet (I had the same phone for 3 years) and was in one of my phases where I didn’t exist on the Internet, I did not photograph every meal (I have begun photographing my meals on tumblr because what else am I going to put on tumblr, and I want to know what this whole photographing your meals movement is about. Who knows, maybe it’ll pay vast dividends in a few years and then I’ll understand why Asians do this). In fact, the only photograph I took was of Zac and this tea kettle because I had been furnishing my new apartment and this kettle looked unique.

Other than eating, I enjoyed the night safari because I love animals, and I bought some manga with Samir. Asian comics are cool because unlike macho Western comic books they have cool girl characters and even female protagonists. To illustrate another East-West difference, when asked to sort Battle Angel Alita, Ranma 1/2, Sailor Moon, and some female shogun manga in order of maturity rating, Zac got the order exactly wrong.

In Singapore I learned some important things. One of them had to do with Chinese people running successful capitalist economies while executing people (what a great euphemism) (TQ said like 10K people a year in China though the real # is classified), caning people (Alex described them gauging out your flesh, then sending you to the hospital to heal for 3 months before going for another round), and taxing stuff paternalistically (alcohol tax based on % alcohol, 100% car tax).

Another thing I learned had to do with how rich these Asians are. I don’t know how they’re that rich. Aside from investments and entrepreneurship, there are many possibilities. Maybe they had made billions off Chinese versions of Facebook/Amazon/Google and thus got rich off Chinese protectionism (there’s already a Chinese Pinterest, still waiting for them to come up with a censored Chinese Dropbox). Maybe they are real estate moguls. Maybe they are in politics. Maybe they are royalty. In any case, understanding there’s so many billionaires out there made me realize there’s no reason for me to do anything that doesn’t make me happy. After my mom died, I realized I had no more Real Problems. Anything I put my hand to, like teaching my cat to use the toilet or running a company, would not be a Real Problem. Until the next crisis, all the solutions I’d work on would be work of my own creation, lower-case-‘p’ problems (unless I decided to pull an Eliezer by personally internalizing humanity’s struggle and having a showdown with human mortality or something).

Anyway, these rich Asians made me realize if I’m going to be doing something just for the money, I might as well get plastic surgery and marry one of these billionaires. Since I have no desire to do that for billions, being unhappy for anything less than billions is a waste of time. I guess this was my understanding of the adage “you can never make as much money as you can marry.” If you’re not willing to marry a rich guy for billions, then you care about more than money, and if you care about anything other than money and you already have enough money to function, do stuff that makes you happy.