Italy: Day Three

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Thanks to our friend, jet lag, we were up just as the sun rose over the city, also known as five in the morning. Wasting no time, we headed to the metro on our way to the Colosseum hoping to beat the heat and the crowds. There is a subway stop right outside this impressive piece of architecture so you would think that we were prepared to see it. But as we climbed out of subway, it was just standing there. In front of us. People passing it by on their commute to work. This place where so many people and animals lived and died for entertainment. No biggie. We wandered around the cool stones trying to figure out where the tigers were chained up when Maximus fought Tigris of Gaul, then arms splayed side to side yelled out to the gathering tourist “Are you not entertained?”

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The Roman Forum

After we were gently removed from the Colosseum, we headed to the Roman Forum. A sprawling set of ruins that include a bunch of old government buildings, temples, and royal palace. We drank from fountains, puzzled out what the ruins were unsuccessfully, dripped with sweat, and creeped on tour guides as they explained to their groups for some free learning. And when the growling of our stomachs overcame our thirst for hot old stones we went for breakfast at Maracuja.

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The Roman Forum

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Our second to last destination of the day was the Capitol Museum. It makes a good effort to accommodate non-Italian speakers with plenty of plaques telling who each of the statues are and who painted which painting. The Dying Gaul was definitely the highlight of the whole museum. The dynamism of the sculpture is easily appreciated even if you are like me and have no understanding of art or making things with stone. Next, you have the babies drinking wolf milk. This iconic statue celebrates the founding of Rome. The babies Romulus and Remus got down on some wolf boobies, then boom! Rome. Or something like that. Of course, no pictures allowed. So the only things snapped were statues that probably weren’t worth guarding. Oh yeah, and upstairs are a bunch of paintings of Jesus, the founding of Rome, and so on and so forth.
Finally, we headed to Termini station for Peronis and Negronis.

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Italy: The First Two Days

Day One: Getting There

Almost all flights I have been on go like this: get on the plane, nervous chatter as it taxis, white knuckle terror as it takes off, then giddy sense of relief once you can look out the window and see the carpet of cloud below and blue sky above. This was Sarah and my first flight from China to Italy. And to be fair we are pretty jaded travelers, so it takes a lot to get us to look out the plane window rather than reach across the person sitting next to you and slam the blind shut in irritation because the sun is causing glare on our entertainment system.

So there we were glaring at this nice Chinese fellow, our row mate, because he insisted on keeping the blinds ups. And there it was. Lurking just outside the plane like a great monster or titan from Greek mythology. So close that I swear I could see the individual boulders strewn down its side. So high the plane had to fly around, not over it. Then blue sky, then carpet of clouds. It was over so fast.

“What was that?”
“Was that Mount Everest?”
“I think it was the Himalayas”
“That’s the Himalayas?”
“I don’t know, where are we?”
“I think the map says Pakistan”

Then our very nice row mate turned and in perfect English told us yes we had in fact just flown over the Himalayas.

On our decent into Dubai, the window gave us a taste of the desert as well. One forlorn road stretching out in the distance and black square complexes whose purposes I could only guess and sand lots and lots and lots of sand. This is what I saw of the desert. There is probably more to it, but the window is quite small so I can’t be sure.

Dubai airport is quite extensive. The sheer size of it meant that it would be a thirty minute journey from our arrival gate to our departure gate. So we decided to pop into Jacks, a Jack Daniels inspired restaurant for some huevos rancheros. At first, something seemed strange about eating at a quintessential part of Americana in the middle east. Cowboy music playing overhead. Jack Daniels barbecue sauce close at hand. I half expected the servers to meet us with “howdy”s and “Y’all”s. Then around twelve twenty the music turned off and Muslim prayers came on and for a few minutes the place went completely quiet. I looked out of the restaurant and the whole terminal had been paused. Then the prayers were over. Cowboy music back on. It was just another restaurant. And we had a plane to catch.

Thankfully when we arrived in Rome the line for immigration was ten kilometres long. Sarah and I hadn’t lined up for anything on the trip yet and coming from China would have probably suffered from severe culture shock had we just breezed through immigration. It barely took an hour. Hopped on the train, hailed a taxi, and we were here. In Rome. For the first time. Then we passed out in the middle of a high five.

Day Two

The Roman subway, or Metro, is a super convenient way to get around the city. I noticed two things. First, there weren’t security camera covering every millimeter of the underground. Second, the trains are covered in graffiti, or street art. Neither of these two things seemed to prevent the trains from doing what they do best: Going forward down a tunnel.

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The Trevi Fountain

The Trevi fountain was a big disappointment. It was closed for repairs. Or rather, it was surrounded by plexiglass so you could watch workers repaired the fountain, which was completely drained of water. It is amazing how diminished a fountain is with out water. Temporarily demoted to statue. How embarrassing. Never the less, we took pictures in front of the fountain’s shame, sweaty workers and all. Time to move on.

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Getting from place to place as a tourist in Rome is very simple once you know what to look for. Follow the narrow streets with the overpriced restaurant and hostesses in the street calling out to you like sirens hoping to wreck your intestines and wallets on their crunchy, over-priced pasta. And wreck ourselves we did at the Ristorante La Scaletta. The server was smart and brought us our beer first, then waited till the pints were drained before brining our food. The spaghetti pomodoro was undercooked. The sauce flavourless. Then, the server snapped at us because we wanted to move inside the restaurant to escape the heat which had risen to the mid thirties.

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The Pantheon

Our next stop was the Pantheon. Built some time around 126 A.D., and used for many different purposes, the building is currently dedicated to the many important figures of Catholicism. Despite the days heat, and the press of human bodies, inside the building was cool. The sheer size of the room impressed a sense of awe that wasn’t diminished by the hum of tourist chatter.

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The Pantheon Entrance

We ended our day with a walk around Piazza del Popolo and the Spanish steps. Getting in a bit of shopping and a cold drink from the fountain.

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A Problem With Elevators

The elevator closest to my apartment door is always covered in piss and garbage slime. And usually spit on the walls. The very lovely cleaning ladies take bags of garbage into the elevator five minutes before I leave for work and stab them in angry up and down motions with their dull, foot-long, cleaning lady knives. Then, before they drag away the bags to dump in a shallow grave in the desert, they relieve themselves on their victims. Thus, when I enter the elevator five minutes later, the walls are covered in spatter and there is a pool of yellow liquid in the middle of the elevator floor with drag marks leading to the door.

Now, I don’t know much about rats. But I do know that they love tunnels. And being close to the wall. And if you want to catch a rat all you have to do is put your chosen death dealing contraption (Semtex, pool of acid, guillotine, space vacuum, dark matter) at the end of a tube next to a wall.  A rat could sit in a cage watching his fellow rats getting snuffed out all day, but when he is release he will go straight up that hole to his demise.

And it isn’t as if the rat is a stupid creature. Instincts, honed by ninja masters and perfected in the sewers, make them do it. When a rat sees the dark hole of a tunnel her or his brain is filled with bells and Angels and trumpets and Neil Diamond singing “Holly Holy,” and that rat knows that he is about to be old school tent revival saved. In his or her mind, the rat is speaking in tongues and holding vipers.

Humans, to whom instincts are not a spiritual occurrence, are dead inside. But none the less, we operate in a similar way. Ask yourself this? If you wanted one of two of the same things, and they were both in front of you, one closer than the other which one would you choose? Probably without thinking about it, you would choose the closer one. The body instinctively wants to do as little as possible for as much as possible. It isn’t laziness. It is nature.

There are exceptions to this, of course. Those people with beady red eyes and pointed beards who loudly proclaim that they have surpassed instinct and make decisions based solely on intellect. There are exceptions in the animal kingdom, too. I liken both of these to a cute little duck I once saw while driving.

It was a beautiful summer day. Hot and green. Everywhere. And me and my two co-workers were returning home in our trundling grey work truck after a hard days work. When, oh no! A mother duck and seven little ducklings ran right across the road. My co-worker slammed on the brakes and, instinctively, the ducks decided to fly quickly away from danger to the other side of the road. Well, not all of them. One little ducky said fuck you to instinct and flew the other way. Right into the grill of the truck.

Thus, when it comes to choosing an elevator each morning on my way to work and on my way home, I always choose the one closest to my door. For a couple reasons. First, no one really uses that elevator. So, it always makes it to the twenty seventh floor first. Second, reason is a good antidote for instinct but you have to have a good reason to override the pressures of nature. And I would guess that, for me, standing in a pool of garbage and piss won’t stop me from doing as little as possible.

Twenty Screaming Cats Tied By The Tail

This happened to me a while back. It was my first day teaching at my new job. My first day when all the students would be there. I got no signs from the universe that the day would be a total cluster fuck. No sense of foreboding, no ominous thunderclouds, no stampeding cattle. The dogs and cats were acting normal and hadn’t run away. There were no mass migrations of birds leaving the city. Nothing.
It was in fact quite a lovely fall morning. Hot enough in the sun and pleasantly cool in the shade. Traffic had jammed up on the way to work as usual, but I had hit all green lights on my way to school. Plus it was turning out to be record bike ride with only three near misses by taxis.
I arrived a few minutes before my co-workers and spent those minutes making sure my hair was immaculate. Ten minutes before eight, my Chinese teacher, my assistant, my ayi, and I waited for our children to show up. I was expecting crying. I knew that was inevitable. I knew these children were just barely three years old.
My room was made up just right. Bright orange and pink and yellow pin wheels hung from the ceiling. The walls were adorned with numbers and the alphabet in blues and purples and reds and greens. The circle time rug had been cleaned and brushed. The little children chairs placed carefully around the little children tables. The air was charged with a potent mixture of hope and fear.
Now close your eyes. Just for a second. And imagine what it might sound like if twenty cats were tied together at the tail and were being swung over the head of twenty foot tall baby screaming at the top of it’s lungs. That was the sound coming out of my classroom. Times ten. The principle opened my door and her head snapped back so fast it looked as she was shot in the head.
I stood in the middle of this child maelstrom like a blind man in a sand storm unsure which direction to head because there was destruction at every point of the compass. At one point, a child cried so hard he threw up some kind of white and yellow pudding all over the floor. Then, still crying he pissed his pants.
Somehow a miracle happened and it was time to go home. These children, who all day had been fountains of abandonment, now had smiles on their chubby little cheeks. These children, who all day had been like herding cats, now lined up with out a word. These lovely little children.
We teacher staggered out of our room looking like car crash victims. We took the children to their mothers. We returned to our class. And sat down in our little children chairs at our little children tables in silence. Unable to accept that we had to do it all again tomorrow. My immaculate hair in tatters.

The Rocket’s Green Glare

I was riding my bike to work around this time last year. Spring had arrived in Beijing and the streets were lined with the thin yellow whips of willow trees. Pink blossoms popped out in bunches on cherry tree branches. The browns of winter falling to the steady green march of spring. With the arrival of nice weather came a flood of bicycle riding Beijiners. And you would have been able to see all of this if the air wasn’t so god damned filthy.
And so, I rode along the side road of Fourth Ring Road. The sun just made it’s way above the buildings behind me and shone on my back. The cars jammed to a stand still like any other day. But the drivers of the cars seemed at least content in the way that only a beautiful spring day can induce, keeping horn volume to minimum. A steady stream of red and blue and black scooters slipped past me in the bike lanes, as I slipped past the bicyclers. That’s when it happened.
About two meters in front of me, a woman in a dirty black jacket and pants rode a dusty old Beijing special. There were three other bikes on the road. One beside her and two in front and I was jockeying for a spot so I could pass them all. I flexed my leg muscles and pushed down on my petals and surged forwards with a burst of speed. We were almost neck and neck when she turned her head towards me and blasted a slug of snot out of her nose. I swerved to the left and barely avoided a direct hit. And before I could take it personal, she turned to the right and emptied torpedo tube number two into the wheel spokes of a fellow bicycler.
Of course this disgusted me. I would never lower myself to this. Surely it isn’t hard to stop and blow your nose with a tissue. And it isn’t hard but first you have to remember tissue. Then after you realize that you have no tissue, you realize that riding a bike with snot threatening to waterfall out your nose if you stop sniffling every two seconds is no fun. What’s a guy to do?
My first snot rocket I stopped on a lonely stretch of fourth ring road, and, looking both ways to make sure I was completely alone, I fired cannon one. All over my sleeve. I rubbed my gloved hand over the meteor shaped blob rubbing it equally into glove and sweater. Then I did the same for the other nostril. I felt as if I was Judas betraying the Jesus of good manners. But I took a deep clear breath and I rode away with my shame plastered across both arms.
Now, I rarely slow down to clear the old schnoz. Though I do watch for on coming traffic. Tilt to the left tilt to the right quick wipe of the moustache and Bob’s your uncle.

Beards

Beards are making a comeback. And I am happy about this. I hate shaving. And I say that anyone, man or woman or beast, who says they love it should be fed razor stubble until they repent.
The whole process is unpleasant. You have to scrape your face and your legs with sharp metal all the while hoping you don’t nick yourself and get tetanus. And I have seen enough gangster movie barber shop scenes to know that some where on your neck, lurking just under the skin, waiting patiently to open, are your arteries.
Animals are the smart ones. They have the full body beards going on. How much easier would that be? We used to have full body beards but then we went and invented clothing. Oh look how much warmer I am with this bear skin on. Clothing is a slippery slope. Before you know it we will all be as bald as an egg.
And that’s where I thought all this shaving was going. Shave your legs shave your armpits shave your chest shave your arms cause why the fuck not and most def shave your back. Hair is superficial now. Shave it all off.
That’s why I am happy that beards are coming back. I can rest easily knowing that we have at least one foot off the slope and on more stable ground.
Dick and vag beards are making a come back too. And I would guess ass beards by default. Or taint hawks or whatever they are called. Tagging along on the popularity of its two more famous cousins like toilet paper stuck to your butt hole. He he. I am happy about this as well because finally my penis can look it’s age. Which is forty seven.
I think penises and vaginas age faster than the rest of your body. Let’s face it if you rubbed your face vigorously two or three times a day, ten or so minutes a go, your face would start to look like an Santa Clause’s nut pouch. I don’t think vaginas are any different. Imagine someone smashing their face into yours repeatedly for ten or so minutes.  It would only be a matter of time before your skin looked all pulpy and gross.
And penises crap out way before the rest of the body. Imagine if your heart just stopped working. I don’t know, I’ve never had this problem before you say as the doctor is trying to find your pulse. Now you have to live with a broken dick. And be old. Losing what hair you have left. Because even though we hate hair and wage a constant battle with razors and chemicals against it, nothing is worse than losing it.
In the end, I don’t know anything about how vaginas and penises age or even if they do. It’s probably something like cat and dog years. But at least, now once again, we can hide our self abuse related aging behind our publicly acceptable pubic beards.

Malaysian Slash Thai Vacation: Last Breakfast in Bako and Kuching Overview

We awoke to a dewy cool morning in the park, zombie walked our way to the breakfast buffet line, and ordered two mugs of black rocket fuel instant coffee. We sat down at one of the red plastic tables and steeled ourselves for the three hour hike that was still ahead. We went to bed with the idea that getting up early would make the trek more bearable because surely it would be a better temperature. But it was already getting close to the thirties at seven in the morning.

Florescent orange heart shaped chicken nuggets. There was a large group of school kids on a field trip from somewhere in the UK. Every single time they sat down to eat, the macaques would appear out of thin air and steal the kids food. An other wise peaceful moment lounging in the shade of a coconut tree would be shattered by the ear shattering squeals of young girls as the moneys stole their lunch. It became a part of meal time. But this time it was different.

I really only wanted to eat the chicken nuggets. Everything else on my plate made my stomach lurch. Just the chicken nuggets. It happened so fast. One minute I was eating a mouthful of spicy fried rice and the next Sarah is out of her chair screaming at the top of her lungs. It happened so fast, I barely registered the grey hand shoot out on to my plate and grab my food. Then I got up out of my seat and realized that this filthy monkey had stolen my nuggets. Not just one, all of them. He carried them in both arms hopping off on two legs completely ignoring my screams of rage.

This was the last memorable moment in Bako. Our three hour hike past with out incident. We saw the different biomes of the park and then boarded the boat back, thankful that the bus back to Kuching had air conditioning.

That night a rain and thunder storm rolled in and stayed until we left.

We stayed a total of nine days in Kuching. And while it is a very clean and interesting city, this was too many days.

There are a number of attractions that are with in the city limits and easy to get to and from. Parks and Gardens abound in Kuching and I would recommend it to anyone. But five days is enough. Maybe even less. There are plenty of places around Borneo that you could travel to instead of staying with in the city. Our mistake was thinking that there was enough to do or see that we would have something to do every day for nine days and this wasn’t the case. Also, the rain put a damper on spending a lot of time outside. I don’t blame this on the city, but it did make the last few days pretty boring.

There are a number of great restaurants and Top Choice food court was definitely in my top five places to eat in Malaysia. Anyone who goes must try Lyn’s Tandoori Restaurant. They serve the most amazing Indian food. And the best Tandoori chicken I have ever eaten.

One strange thing we noticed while we were there is nothing seems to open before 10 am. Even coffee shops, of which there were plenty. And then everything is closed at 5 pm. I am not sure if this was due to it being Ramadan while we were there, but it was strange coming from Beijing, where everything is open all the time, to having a seven hour window in which to do your eating and shopping.

After surviving a monkey attack and riding out some seriously impressive thunder and lightning storms, we were ready to leave Borneo and head to Langkawi for some beach and duty-free shopping!

Gently fondling the world with words