Finding A Place To Live

As Debbi mentioned earlier, due to the fact that S. Korea is suddenly changing their requirements for obtaining a visa for English teachers, we can't go there anymore. So we need to find another place to live. We have about 2 weeks before we need to be there, so we need to decide fast. And basically the world is our oyster; we could go anywhere. Well anywhere where that Debbi can find a job, probably as an English teacher, and I can do my work (building grassroots, progressive, political, oftentimes American, sometimes left-wing websites) without fear of being thrown in a gulag. This has ruled out a few possibilities including Saudi Arabia and Mainland China.

Having anywhere in the world is too many options, so we're leaning towards East Asia, cause that's where we are now, and getting back to N. America is pretty easy (as opposed to say central Africa). So I've been doing research on the different options from my point of view, while Debbi is simultaneously investigating the job market.

I'm collecting information on things like quality of living, political stability, political freedom, internet availability and pollution. But man it's hard to find hard information on pollution levels. What I would really like to see is charts that compare air pollution and ground water quality for Asia's major urban centres measured over time. But such information is not on the internet. Part of the reason is that governments don't publish the data that they collect. It's bad for tourism apparently. Really ?!?!? But I might suggest that It's not the publishing of information that scares the tourists, it's the actual pollution. Everyone knows that Asia has the worst pollution in the world, whether you publish actual numbers or not. So all I have to go on are qualitative phrases in newspaper articles and blog posts. Which is probably specific enough for our needs.


So here's what we're thinking so far in no particular order. For those of you who are geographically challenged I also created a map.

Malaysia

This ranks high on our list. We had a stopover in Kuala Lumpur the other day and it was quite impressive. Low pollution (we just came from India so just about anything is low in comparrison). Littering is a punishable offence (also a sharp contrast from dirty India). And it ranks high in all our other categories. Oh and there's nice beaches there.

Hong Kong

We've done little more than ride the transit and go for dinner, but so far it seems like a great city. We want to look around a bit more, but this seems like a promising option. The tapwater is drinkable!

Taiwan

Also ranks high. Though I'm getting the impression that the pollution might be a bit higher in Taipei than Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur.

Singapore

Singapore is always rated as the number one place for expats to live in surveys like this one by a big HR firm. However the primary language is English which means that expat English teaching jobs are scarce.

Macau

Haven't done much research on this yet, but it ranks high too.

Thailand

It might be an option. Need to do more research.

Japan

It would rank high, however there's currently a low demand for English teachers. Also the high cost of living and low value of the Yen will cut into out ability to save.

Mainland China

China scores terribly in every category except the avaialability of English teaching jobs. So we likely won't end up there.


So we pretty much need to have this figured out bu Monday at the latest so we can book some flights, get there, find Debbi a job, find a place to live, and get me setup to be able to get back to work by year end.

Wish us luck.

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More adventures with transit

I can remember times back home when my seasoned traveler friends would gripe about the substandard transit systems in Alberta. "Nothing connects well; you always have to wait at least 20mins for a bus..." I always thought that they might have been overreacting a bit. After all, you can still get from one end of the city to the other in under 2 hours.

Well today we arrived in Hong Kong, and I have now experienced transit the way it was meant to be: Clean, efficient, lots of space, on time, and frequent. And you get these pre-paid RFID cards that you just hover over the payment machine as you walk by.

We needed to get from the airport (which is located on a huge man-made island) to the New Territories (read suburbs) where we're staying with Debbi's friend Ellen. Total distance is about 50km. And it only took about an hour. Hong Kong has 11 metro lines. Eleven! Calgary has two. We took three different trains. But it was super straightforward, even though we can't read Chinese. The whole experience is designed to be real usable: You get off one train, walk 10 steps across the platform and step on a train from the next line which has just arrived.

There's dynamic maps all over the place that update your current position, show the next stop, what side of the train the door opens, and what lines connect. Wow. And there's lots of room, even at 4 in the afternoon (cause trains come every 5 mins); A far cry from Mumbai.

The trains are about 100M long, and are basically all one car. I bet if you rode late at night when there's not that many people around, and brought your skateboard, you could do some tests of Newton's laws of thermodynamics. I think that if you got on at the front of the train, got on your skateboard and gave a little push right when the train started moving, you could ride all the way to the end of the train; basically staying in one spot while the train moves forward. Unfortunately I don't know how to skateboard, and I'm not gutsy enough to mess with the authorities.

Back to our trip. After the subway we got on a minibus. These little 16 seaters come ever 5mins. And they have seat-belts. Seat-belts, on a bus?!?! Crazy. And there's a numeric display above the driver telling the current speed of the vehicle. There's so many buses that there's so little traffic, so you get to your destination real quick.

Needless to say my inital impression of Hong Kong is pretty good.

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Bang bang bang

Several things have happened in a rather short span of time.

The first being that Dave and I ended up staying in Goa for 15 amazing days. It was great because we got to meet up with Byron again and we ended up with a wonderful group of people. We became like a group from summer camp and were really reluctant to move on. It was so sad when we all left (on the same day).  But our extended stay in Goa meant we needed to do some fast travelling to get to our the last few items on our to do in India list. So we went off to  Bangalore, en route to Pondicherry. We convinced a postal worker to extend his hours so we could send Christmas presents home and hopped on a very deluxe bus to Pondicherry. We would have one night in Pondy, one night in some random town while we waited for the train to Ooty. Hopped on a train to Ooty and have one day there and then hop on a bus back to Bangalore. We would have had one day in Bangalore and then flown to Hong Kong.

The second thing that happened was that on the day we were supposed to go to Ooty, I got quite ill and had to lay in bed for more than a day.  So currently Dave and I are stuck in Pondicherry. The benefits of this are that we aren't travelling everyday for an entire week. But I miss out on the toy tain you take up to Ooty. Oh well. I guess if we can miss the Taj Mahal, we can miss the toy train. We'll save those for next time.

The third thing was that there are many new visa restrictions in South Korea for ESL teachers that will be coming up and we aren't sure where we will be in a couple weeks time. Any suggestions? 

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Finding Passage in India

I just finished reading E.M. Forster's A Passage to India. This novel has helped me to understand many of my experiences in India; of why I see "poor India... where everything was placed wrong." And how "there seem[s] no reserve of tranquility to draw upon in India. Either none, or tranquility seem[s] to swallow up everything..."

But if I search deeper I find that perhaps the problem is not India, perhaps it is me: "This pose of 'seeing India' which had seduced him... was only a form of ruling India." The West expects the Rest to wait upon us, our slaves to rush to our every whim.

[What the book conveys] is Forster's growing skepticism in the wake of the First World War about modern civilization's ability to solve on its own the immense new problems it had created - to deal with for instance, the heavily armed nation states and empires that fought each other and pre-modern peoples for control of the world, enlisted scientists and historians as well as artists in their conflicts, and, whether totalitarian or democratic, demanded the subjugation of individual conscience to the allegedly higher needs of the body-politic.

A Passage to India is however not primarily about West/Non-West relations, rather about how things are not as they appear. It is so very easy for us to deceive ourselves. We devise ways to justify our wants and to manipulate others to achieve our ends. But the whole thing happens on a level that is almost sub-conscious. We must ever strive to unearth our malicious tendencies, to climb the superficial barriers that we create. Many of these barriers are between ourselves and those people different from us. It is "us" and "them". But if we only take the effort to question our assumptions, and put our wants on hold, we can bridge the divide.

Experiences, not character divided them; they were not dissimilar as humans go; indeed, when compared to the people who stood nearest to them in point of space they became practically identical.

I'm finding that really it takes very little to begin to break down this barrier. Simply asking a rickshaw walla his good name and asking about his family is enough to move mountains. "One kind action was with him always a channel for another, and soon the torrent of hospitality gushed forth."

I struggle with being in a position of colonial supremacy while needing to find ways to overthrow it. And in the 21st century it is not just the lingering British colonialism that I'm talking about; it's the West's cultural and economic colonialism over 2/3rds of the world. And some days I think my presence here only serves to reinforce it.

And then unrelated to the main themes of the book I noticed this quote that really speaks to one of my pet peeves:

[T]he conversation had become unreal since Christianity had entered it. Ronny approved of religion as long as it endorsed the national anthem, but objected when it attempted to influence his life.

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watching the tide roll away

Our life on the beach:

We wake up. We read in bed. We get dressed. We brush our teeth. We put on our shoes. We walk to breakfast. We order almost the same thing everyday at the same resturant. We read during breakfast. As we have been alone for a long time, we don't have much to say to each other. We finish breakfast and go to internet. Then we usually complete our one task for the day. Tasks have included: rent scooters, lay on the beach, buy a skirt, book tickets out of here, wash clothes. We usually only do one task per day. Then we read. I am averaging 1.5 books a day. Its a good thing the book store buys the books back, otherwise Dave's pack would be so heavy! ha ha. Then we go to dinner. Sometimes we get the girls in the shack to join us. And then we go to bed. Usually we fall asleep while reading.

That is a day in Dave and Debbi's life right now. Isn't it grand.

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subconsious meanderings

These past few nights have been bizarre. I'm not sure if it is the build up of methoqine (the crazy anti-malarial medication we are taking) in my system, or that I have been having a drink or two with dinner, or what it is but the past 3 nights my dreams have been very vivid and very strange.

Take Tuesday night's dream. I dreamed about my friend Shane, whom I really haven't thought of for a few years. But In this dream I was upset that I hadn't invited him over for dinner when he was poor. Very strange.

Wednesday's dream was mostly me telling Dave about the "rainbow fishy things". You know the rainbow fishy things. Yeah. And as this was me talking in my sleep, you can imagine how confused Dave was. I think he became more confused when I tried to explain how you use the rainbow fishy things. I also started being very concerned about a possible tsunami and how our little beach hut was going to float away.

Last night was not very much fun as I dreamed that someone I used to love thought I was vulgar and awful. I shouldn't really care what this person thinks of me but I wonder if subconsciously I still must. I woke up and felt terrible about myself. But after I woke Dave up so that he would cuddle. I felt so much better.

Tonight should bring some interesting dreams. I hope it is more along the lines that I make up story lines for people I don't even know anymore. 

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oh the irony

I may be occasionally known to warn people of the dangers of coconut trees. More people die of coconuts falling on their heads than they do of shark attacks. Not very many people you would think. You might be thinking that I should focus my efforts into car accidents or heart disease and avoid leave coconuts behind.

I fear that will never happen because yesterday I found out that coconut-falling-on-your-head deaths are the highest cause of natural death in the Caribbean. I found out this lovely little tidbit about half an hour after a coconut tree fell two inches from my head. My friends, I think that now my mind will be concentrated on possible death via coconut.

The story goes as follows. There was a bit of a storm in the afternoon yesterday. Some rain, some wind, it wasn't anything we hadn't seen before. I was feeling a bit nibbly and ventured out to find some cookies. The guy who worked the kiosk at our hotel was busy swimming so I walked down the beach to see what I could find. There wasn't much open, so I headed back to our hotel empty-handed.

The kiosk-guy was there so I asked him for some cookies. Just as he went to grab some out of the cupboard we hear a 'SNAP' and I look at his face and he looked confused/scared and then right behind my head the top half of a coconut tree fell. It had fallen on the roof of the closest beach shack and a little bit onto the kiosk. The water that had collected from the storm on the roof of the shack came pouring all over me.

I stepped over the tree and everyone from our beach shack "village" was there asking me if I was okay. Dave came running around the corner, and chastised me for going out when things were falling (I saw nothing fall).

Here are some of the pictures. The first ones are the aftermath. The latter two are me getting my revenge on the tree by eating the fallen coconuts! For our visual learners...Look at the first photo. I was standing just infront of the Bisleri sign on the right side of the sign.

the aftermath
the tree
The repairs
the benefits
Mmmm, coconut flesh
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Time is slipping

A few days ago - I can't seem to keep track of the flow of time, even though I bought a watch to help me out - we got up at 4 in the morning to take a train from Mumbai to Goa. Upon arriving at the platform we discovered that we'd been upgraded to first class. There's one car for 8 people with two bathrooms. This is a far cry from my last journey in sleeper class (The lowest class with beds).

As we entered our cabin we were greeted by our fellow passangers: Professor A. A. Kazi who introduced himself as the Chairman of the Cancer Aid & Research Foundation and his assistant. Let me tell you these two just might be the biggest jerks we've met in India to date. We were assigned to the upper beds, and these two had the lower. After the train got moving they requested that we move up so that they could rest. I was more than happy to oblige; after waking up at 4am I was wanting some extra Zzzzs too. However they did not rest. They called up three of their co-workers from 3AC to join them in the 1st class berth. So now there are 5 people down below, with Deb & I trapped on the upper bunks, and I don't have a hope of sleeping.

When the conductor came in to collect tickets he said that the extra people needed to move back to their assigned seats, but the professor made some excuse about how they needed to conduct a business meeting. The conductor returned several times trying to convince the extras to move back to 3AC, "If you want to ride in 1st class you need to pay for 1st class". After which Prof. Kazi began threatening him. "I know the Station Master in Mumbai, I can have you fired! Do you want to be out of a job?". At which point the conductor apologized profusely. I thought he almost might start kissing the Professor's feet.

If this was a business meeting, I'm not sure how their organization survives. But it soon became clear as throughout our journey they suggested several times that we should donate to their organization, or even work for their organization. Right. Like we would consider it after seeing the way this guy acts. If I was one of his subordinates, I'd be looking to see how I can get out before he turns a similar trick on me.

But the tables turned in our favour as they were only traveling half as far as us. So for about 5hrs Debbi & I had a first class cabin to ourselves. We even set up the ipod speakers and danced for a bit.

Upon arriving in Madgaon, we got a taxi for a decent rate to our hotel, which was really nice, and the people really friendly. We then went for dinner at a great little downstairs restaurant where we made friends with the manager - Micheal. He's trying to save up to get to the UK. He gave us his mobile number and told us to call if we ever got in a bind or needed advice.

The next day we got on a local bus to Palolem Beach which is excellent! It's the quintessential palm treed, white sand beach. We're staying in a little beach hut. If we sit on the veranda we can see the water, and we fall asleep to the waves at night. The food is great; we even found an organic restaurant.

So now time is slipping by.  I only know that it's Wednesday because I looked at my watch, but I have no idea how long it's been. We spend our days reading, or swimming, or riding scooters up the coast. Debbi wants us to stay here for a while, but I'm worried that I'll get antsy. So today I'll book us tickets for 3 or 4 days from now. Not quite sure where we'll go yet. Maybe Kerala.

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