Archive for the ‘International Misunderstanding’ Category

19 July – My first dive as assistant

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Time flies. It’s been a week since I last wrote already, and I haven’t done any diving before today. I’ve spent most of my time reading, coughing and making gurgling sounds from my lungs, except one day when I spent most of the day in bed, with short trips out to the little boys’ room. There’s a bit of a flu going around, or at the very least something that gives a bad cough and stomach trouble. I was first, and since then at least four of the others have had the same thing. The good thing is that I got a bit of a head start studying for my exams, the bad thing was that I didn’t get to do any diving with Helena before she headed out on the last leg of her adventure.

I’ve been getting to know the other people here as well. It’s a bit of a Nordic outpost here. The Sunlight divemasters, dm trainees and instructors are two Finns, two Swedes and a Dane, plus a couple that I think are Australian, a Brit and two Malays. I might have forgotten someone, but you get the picture…

I had my first full day on “duty” yesterday, and passed my three first exams. Most of it is pretty basic diving stuff, then there’s some physics and chemistry that was mostly just repetition from IB Chem and Phys, but the chapter on physiology in diving is a bit tougher on the old noodle. It’s been a couple of years since I last did any studying, but I still have the advantage of an academic’s skill in reading for exams.

Today I assisted on a dive for the first time. Shamse, one of the Malay instructors, took out three Chinese on a Discover Scuba Diving course, which means a very short introduction to safety and equipment, followed by a confined water dive. Two of the participants had never even snorkeled before, and one of them didn’t speak a word of English… Needless to say, I was pretty busy trying to keep them together while Sham was trying to get them to do some basic skills, but I had fun nontheless. I ended my dive with three meters as the max depth, as I had to swim back to shore with one diver who was unable to equalize her ears.

Tomorrow I am getting up early, as I’m assisting on the first dive at eight thirty. Before that it’s my responsibility to set up the equipment, and make sure everything’s ready. We’re going to a dive site called “Temple of the sea,” which is a rather large pinnacle we’ll swim around. From what I’ve heard, the divers out there almost always see Hector The Threelegged Turtle. Turtles are supposed to be migratory, but since this one has lost a leg, probably in some fisherman’s net, it stays put. Since he’s so easy to recognize, the divers have named him, and he’s one of the attractions of the “Temple.” Don’t ask me why he ended up being called Hector…

Temples of Angkor

Friday, May 8th, 2009

I am now travelling alone again. Annikken and I spent our last night together in Vietnam in the company of Karoline, Jake and Bryan at the GO2 in Saigon. I stayed in a cheap dormitory that night, and Bryan saw what it looked like when he followed me over to get money for the bus to Cambodia. They made fun of it the whole night, but when it came down to it, I slept like a baby. 🙂
Early Monday morning I went to the guest house where our three new friends were staying, had breakfast with them, and got on the bus to Phnom Penh. Later the same day, Annikken got on a plane to go to Hong Kong, then London and finally Oslo, but I didn’t see her that day, as I left too early. This goes out to you Annikken: It was really nice to see you again, and to travel with you, even though I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time with anyone in go, ever. The more I think about it, the stranger I find it that we didn’t have more fights!

On the bus, one of the bus company guys collected all our passports, and filled out our Cambodian immigration forms for us. I was going to buy my visa on the border, and the bus guy said he’d fix it for me, the price was seventyfour dollars. I got worried, because I didn’t anticipate such a high price, and told him as much. He kept sticking to his price, but I just didn’t have that much dollars on me, so I couldn’t give it to him. When we got to the border, I fixed the visa myself, for 20 dollars, and it took about five minutes. This is the kind of behavior I’m getting tired of, you ALWAYS have to be worried about getting ripped off.

Before we got to Phnom Penh, we decided to keep going directly to Siem Reap, as the others were flying out of Phnom Penh later, anyway. We arrived there in the evening, really tired, but booked a trip to Angkor the next morning anyway.

The alarm went off at 4:45am on Tuesday, and we were off at 5, in our little Tuk-tuk. The one day ticket cost 20 dollars, and was printed with our photo on it, taken at the counter! Around 5:30 we reached Angkor Wat, the temple city, itself, and together with the crowd of tourists, we watched the sun rise over the thousand year old temple complex. We spent the next couple of hours exploring the huge temple, climbing stairs and photographing bas-reliefs and fascinating architectural details. The only disappointment was that the stairs to the upper level had been closed off, because they’re so steep, and some tourists have fallen down and hurt themselves.

At the end of it we met up at the tuk-tuk, and continued to Angkor Thom, the Great City. Angkor Thom was the capitol of the great Khmer empire, and the area housed about a million people around the turn of the last millennium! Much of it was swallowed by the jungle after the fall of the empire, and some claim that there are still undiscovered structures hidden in the dense growth, even though most of the sites are overrun by tourists. We were among them, as we entered through the South Gate of Angkor Thom, over a bridge where statues of men holding the bodies of two great seven-headed Nagas formed the balustrade on each side. Once inside, the jungle still grows, but is kept at a distance, so it more closely resembles a park. The second stop inside the walls, after breakfast, was the Bayon temple, with a stunning 54 towers, each adorned by a smiling face of Avalokiteshvara, in what they say is a great likeness to the face of the king who had it built, King Jayavarman VII, who ruled from 1181-1219. Inside Angkor Thom is also the Baphuon, which was constructed by King Udayadityavarman II who ruled from 1049-65. In the 15th century parts of it was dismantled, and used to build a seventy meters long reclining Buddha, which is still part of the rear of the structure. We went to the Royal Palace with Phimeanakas, and to the Elephant terrace, where the kings would watch elephant races and acrobat shows and other entertainment. At the opposite side of the racing ground were big towers, between which long wires used to be fastened, for acrobats to “fly” through the air before the eyes of their audience. We had lunch before we left, and then headed out the east gate of Angkor Thom.

The first place we stopped at once outside, was Ta Keo, which is almost devoid of carvings. Lightning struck the temple before it was finished, and this was considered such a bad omen that construction was just left as it was, and to this day the place looks like it’s almost done, and is only lacking decoration.

Our last stop was Ta Prohm. This temple is the only one close to Siem Reap that is still partly overgrown, but even here the growth is kept down, and only the biggest trees with the largest roots are left standing. King Jayavarman VII, who also built Bayon, built this temple dedicated to his mother, and it contained massive treasures. Some of the many Sanskrit inscriptions apparently state that there used to be thousands of pearls and precious stones, and golden dishes weighing more than half a ton each! The one thing that the temple is most known for today, however, is that Angelina Jolie was here as Lara Croft for the filming of a couple of scenes for Tomb Raider… By the time we were done sneaking through dark galleries and climbing over roots and fallen pillars like Indiana Jones, it was getting late, and we headed over to Phnom Bakheng, a temple on top of a hill, where we watched the sunset before heading home for dinner. By the time we got back to our hotel, we’d been walking around for 14 hours, and my feet were sore in my new sneakers.

The last couple of days, I’ve been taking it easy, reading and relaxing. Jake, Bryan and Karol left for Phnom Penh on Wednesday, and went looking for a cheap hotel. I ended up in a place called Sakura Village, where I’m staying in a double room with aircon, my own bathroom, cable TV and minibar for 5 dollars per night. One of the things that are peculiar about Cambodia, is that the ATM machine only dispense US dollars… To change to Riel, the local currency, you need to go to street-side exchange operations or banks! The Riel is used instead of cents, so that one dollar divides into 4000 riel of small change, but price is almost always given in dollars. Across the street from where I stay, is a hotel called Soria Moria. Because of the name, a palace in the clouds from a Norwegian fairy tale, and because it had a Norwegian flag, and promised Scandinavian food, I went there Wednesday night. It was run by a couple from Sandefjord, and I spoke briefly with the wife. It was one dollar night, with tapas at a buck a piece, so I stayed a while, and sampled amongst other things the Swedish meat balls… They also had free Wifi, and when I got online, I found that there was to be a small Couchsurfers’ meeting that night, at a place called… Soria Moria! I kept hanging around, and eventually met up with a group of surfers. After dinner, three of us went to the Bar Street to play pool, and after several rounds eventually ended up playing Wii Sports in a bar until time came to head off to bed. 🙂
Yesterday I sat in a garden restaurant reading all day, just enjoying life, and today I am meeting with a German guy Annikken and I met in Hoi An. First though, I am planning to go see if I can find this place that’s supposed to have some nice miniature landscapes, copies of the Angkor areas, and get some nice bird’s eye view photos. 😉

PS: It’s REALLY IS a small world. On my last day in Vietnam, I walked into a restaurant to have an iced coffee, and I started talking to some of the other patrons. Two of them were Swedes, and the third was a Norwegian they’d met and travelled with for a couple of days. His name was Jostein, and he went to school with one of my best friends, Hallgeir…

Ca Na – True VietNam

Friday, March 27th, 2009

We were supposed to go dune-sledding the day before yesterday, however due to Annikken’s severe sunburn we decided to postpone our dune-sledding adventure one more day. Annikken just relaxed the whole day mostly inside, while Gjerulf spent a few hours on the beach enjoying the sun and waves as well shopping for beachwear and finding an ATM that worked to withdraw some money.

Yesterday however we woke up bright and early at 6.30 to avoid the worst of the heat when dune sledding. We met up with Mr Binh and Mr. Khanh at 7.30, and rode motorcycles out to the dunes. It was about a half hour ride, and the scenery was stunning, with the turquoise sea, the bright blue skies, and the sand on the side of the road changing colour between bright red and stark white and back again. On the way out, we stopped for some photos at the idyllic fishing village of Mui Ne, away from resorts and hotels. Once we reached the dunes we dismounted for some pictures by a small lake filled with lotus flowers, before getting some thick plastic sheets for sliding on, and heading on foot into the sand dunes. For a while we got the feeling portrayed by humourous cartoons, of people walking in endless desert, as the dunes rose till they met the blue sky!

Having trudged to the top of the biggest dune, we sat down on our sheets, and started off the steep side. To our great disappointment it was EXTREMELY slow, just barely moving down the side of the mound of sand. We didn’t despair, however, being raised with sledding on snow, we decided to try on our stomachs, head first down! With the increased surface touching the sand we stopped shoving half the dune in front of us going down, and instead flew down the incline! We had great fun, but the scorching sun was trying to kill us even though it was still before 9 am! We reluctantly slouched back to the edge of the sand, where we downed a soda and two bottles of water each, trying to restore our cool. Annikken, being unsuccessful, started feeling dizzy and faint, and we decided to cut the trip short, and head home to the hotel. A couple of hours later our bus for Ca Na arrived, and we were pleased to find another airconditioned sleeper bus.

The bus stopped at Ca Na, but we were the only ones to get off, as it’s a bit off the beaten path for western tourists. There are three resorts just outside the small fishing village of Ca Na, but one of them has been closed down. We were looking forward to some less commercialized beaches, peaceful surroundings and motorcycle rides around the area to explore small coves and tiny beaches. It started off great, although the staff at our hotel don’t speak more than three words of English between them. The maid showing us our bungalow on the waterfront said we needed to use Visa. We refused to pay by Visa, and said we’d only pay cash. When she didn’t back down, we decided to go to the other resort and try our luck. Finally, as we were about to walk out on her, we realized she was talking about passports, which they need to see, in order to register us with immigration! 🙂

We got an airconditioned room with TV and ensuite bathroom, the surf lapping the shore just a few meters from our balcony, all for the neat sum of 80000 dong per person, or just under 30 kroner. We immediately decided to go check out the beaches, and ride around to look for a good place to have dinner. We’re still not sure whether there were any places to rent motorcycles at all, but our hotel didn’t have any, and neither could they point us in the direction of anywhere that did. We were walking around for a while, looking, but no luck. The resort area was definately not aimed at westerners. We were so rare a treat that literally EVERYONE that passed us honked or shouted at us, smiling and waving! Seeing as distances were rather considerable though, we were unable to get around to where we wanted to go on foot, and decided to just head on to Nha Trang in the morning. We managed to find a guy who spoke English, who called a bus company and managed to get us a minibus at 7.30  am. We had a dinner that was surprisingly pricy for a non-western area, and headed to bed. The place was gorgeous in the night, with a million stars visible, and lights from hundreds of fishing boats glittering out to sea.

Sunrise this morning was fabulous, the illuminating the sea and our back porch beautifully! We headed out to take the bus to Nha Trang, and the trip was quite memorable as well… We were at least 23 people that we managed to count, plus some personal delivery mail and luggage, piled into a 14 seat van with no aircon. On the road we were suddenly waved over, and a column of official looking vehicles came racing past in the opposite direction. There were people in some sort of uniform along the road, and suddenly two bicycle riders came zooming past us. A few more cars, some television broadcast vans, and a bunch of motorcycles with TV-cameras followed, and then the main field of the bicycle race! We felt like we’d been dumped straight into some sort of Tour de VietNam or something!

We are now sitting in a divers bar in Nha Trang, looking forward to our first two dives on a trip out to the island of Hon Mun tomorrow morning. We found a decent looking Padi certified diving outfit with Vietnamese instructors that speak very good English, and decided to go for them. The divers bar we’re at has it’s own dive team, but they’re all Russian. Apparently there are lots and lots of Russians coming to Vietnam, which confirms our suspicions, having seen loads of menus written in Vietnamese, English and Russian.

Beijing, meeting of west and far east

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Tian'anmen

I arrived in Beijing on Friday. I am staying here with my Norwegian friend Thorbjørn, who works for FunCom here in Beijing, but I arrived a couple of days before I had planned, so I spent two nights at the Happy Dragon Hostel in the centre of Beijing. I got off the train, walked out of the train station, and went to the Hostel with some other travellers who had arranged to be picked up by the hostel. I shared a  room with Michael from Ireland, and on Friday we went to Tian’anmen square together. On Saturday we explored the Forbidden city together, and on Sunday we went on a trip with other travellers from the hostel to Great Walla part of the Great Wall that they call “The Secret Wall” because it has not been rebuilt, organized and touristified! It was absolutely stunningly beautiful, and on the entire 3 hour hike, we saw only 1 other person, far off on a hillside! On that trip was also Siri from Bryne, near Stavanger where I’ve lived the  past 10 years… She’s studying International Relations in Australia, currently on exchange to China, visiting Beijing for the weekend.

Temple of Heaven ParkI spent parts of yesterday doing laundry, and then went to the Temple of Heaven park. It was quite awesome, with locals playing hackeysack, practicing their instruments, singing, playing cards or checkers, flying kites, or just strollling in the park. It got dark while we were there (me and Peter from Chicago), and when we were leaving we saw some weird lights in the sky that we had to explore. They turned out to be kites, with coloured lights along the string, and on the kites themselves!

Today I’ve contacted travel agencies and hostels in Tibet, because you need an organized tour to get a Tibetan Travel Permit. Tomorrow I’m meeting Peter again, and we’re going to the Summer Palace. I still don’t know where I’ll be spending Christmas, but chances are it will be in Xi’an, the city where the famous terracotta warriors are located.

On request, I’ll recount my first cultural blunder. Technically, it was when I accidentally bumped into a Mongolian guy’s feet under the table, and failed to immediately stand up and shake his hands to show I meant no harm, but that wasn’t really serious…
On my last night in Ulan Bator, I was invited to dinner with my host, the Satanist-Neo-Nazi, and his friends, and that was where my first SERIOUS blunder was made. My host was the only one there who spoke any English worth mentioning, and he was off in the bathroom. I was discussing the ridiculously small and worthless bills in Mongolia, the smallest of which is 1 tugrug, wort 1/167 of a Norwegian Krone… We seemed to agree that it wasn’t worth anything, but it was hard to understand each other. To illustrate the uselessness of a bill that won’t even buy you a tiny piece of candy, and was more useful as toiletpaper or kindling, I set fire to it, and doused it in the ash tray. I should of course have known better, even though it costs more to print the bill than it is actually worth… Conversation stopped short, the Mongolians looked shocked and angry, and luckily my host came back. He looked a bit confused, and when he saw the other Mongolians pointing to the half burnt bill in the ash tray, he got a really strict look on his face. It turns out that all Mongolian money has pictures of heroes of the people, and together with the fact that it also has the Mongolian national symbol on it, burning a Mongolian bill can be compared to burning a flag in another country! I made profuse and sincere excuses for about five minutes, while my host kept expounding how insulting what I had done was to him and his friends, and that even though everybody agreed that it wasn’t worth anything, it was still a symbol of Mongolian national pride. Luckily I was forgiven, and we could keep enjoying ourselves. Lesson learnt: Think twice before using fire as part of a body language conversation…