Footie and films

Quick catchup. After several tours of Halong Bay, I’ve had 2 days of to recuperate. And I needed them.

Yesterday I stayed up till 4:00am to watch England be crap, then rose at 8:30am as I can’t sleep for more then 4 hours at present. I collared James, a chap from the US, and we went to see The A-Team at Vincom Towers, which was more enjoyable than it should have been.

The afternoon was spent catching up with you lot, followed by an early night.

Up at 7am today to ensure I could make it to the footie at Long Bien where the Blue Dragon kids have their weekly kickabout. A small turnout of 40 or so didn’t mar proceedings (almost everyone here stays up to watch the World Cup) and the under 14s were presented with a trophy from a local competition.

I took another backpacker, Sean, who was hugely impressed with the turnout and the work being done by BDCF. He chatted to Michael and Tho while I embarrassed myself on the pitch. Hey, I was barefoot. And I suck.

After a drink with the guys, Sean and I headed down to Vincom to catch The Karate Kid which was – like The A Team – far better than it had any right to be. We got back to the hostel in time for free beer then happy hour, followed by me typing this up before I head for bed.

Off to Halong Bay again in the morning and back on Wednesday!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Watching Watchmen

Coats of arms

Coats of arms

I joined the hordes today and watched the new Watchmen film on IMAX. It was OK, but would have been fine on a “normal” cinema screen and at the corresponding lower price. Mind you, the IMAX here in Melbourne‘s not that much more expensive than a regular cinema ticket. In the queue I got talking to a random local called Andy who was good company until the film started. This is pretty typical of the open attitude that people around here have – they always seem ready to chat and share a beer. Or a popcorn.

My touristy day actually started when I met Ben for lunch. He took me to a restaurant at one end of the Chinatown precinct where we had dumplings (dim sum). They were pretty tasty, and not bad at around $7 for a dozen of the beef or pork ones. He picked up the tab for lunch as his work colleagues dropped in so I’ve promised to meet him again tomorrow so I can pay for his in return.

From there I cycled round the corner to the Town Hall where I’d booked a tour. They do two each weekday, 11am and 1pm, at no cost but it’s worth pre-booking. The 11am one today was booked out, but I got onto the afternoon one with a small group. If you’re interested then give them a call on 96589658.

Seat of power

Seat of power

A spritely guy called Ray took us around for well over the quoted one hour and was full of nice touristy trivia. We got a potted history of Melbourne itself as well as a bit of information on how the mayoral system works. One interesting thing us that Melbourne could have been named Batmania (!), but that the decision was made to name it after the then-Prime Minister of the UK. Or actually after the place he lived and was Viscount of – Melbourne in Derbyshire. However, he never even set foot in Australia let alone the city named for him. Do check out the Wikipedia link above. As with all fairly modern cities, its history is both interesting and well-documented.

We saw some interesting rooms including the council chambers which are available to functions for a “very nominal fee”. They’ve been used for society meetings, weddings and film sets. Of course, all the wood is Australian. The majority seems to have been carted over from Tasmania.

The function room where the mayor hosts important guests is quite posh ut does look a little out of touch with the times. With my limited furniture vocabulary, I’d class it as Tudor. Still, being able to picture Paul McCartney playing Chopin on the piano, while Ringo walked around in the mayoral robes and John and George threw boomerangs to a screaming crowd outside does give it a different edge!

What a wopper

What a wopper

Ray’s enthusiasm, however, really came out when he showed us the enormous organ housed in one wing. It’s the largest organ in the southern hemisphere (fnar-fnar) with 8700 pipes. Once they have the repeater (I think that was the term) installed, this will rise to 10,000. It really is a magnificent piece of engineering, a lot of it American work. Some years ago flooding caused the roof of the building to collapse, severely damaging the organ along with a lot of the offices. The pipework was dismantled and shipped to a company in the US who’d won the contract to repair it.

Currently, it’s insured for $AU20million, but this – apparently – would barely cover the cost of replacing it. We managed to get a walk around the scenes behind the (and in fact, inside) the organ and listened to a pre-recorded piece of Bach. There are free recitals now and again, so if you’re into organ music then do check it out if you’re in town. You could get lucky.

After thanking Ray, I went up to the IMAX cinema to see Watchmen and as soon as that finished (2 hour 40 minutes later) I pedalled down to Richmond to meet Jacqueline of six impossible things fame. She’d contacted me over the weekend when she spotted I was in Melbourne – I didn’t even realise this was where she lived!

Pipes galore

Pipes galore

As it always is, it was great to meet up with someone I’ve nattered to online for ages. She’s actually a Kiwi, but don’t hold that against her! A shame we only had about an hour or so to chat before she had to dash off – maybe longer next time! Oh, and don’t call her Jackie…

Then back home with a quick stop at the Kiwi Fish & Chips on Victoria Parade. Which wasn’t very good. The chips were crispy, not soggy, and the sausage I had was kind of… ick. And they didn’t have vinegar. Still, it was a filling meal for a shade under $9 and I needed something by then.

And that was about it. Tomorrow is my lazy day before the Big Hitch to Wollongong.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Back to KL

A longer day than was expected. I’d pretty much decided to head back to Kuala Lumpur this morning, especially as overnight the rain poured down loud enough to wake the dead let alone me. The weather by morning was much improved, but I chose to join Maria and Oliver on the early bus to KL. After all, I’d been trying to force myself to move on for about 5 days!

A few buses are available, but the 10:30 and 16:30 services were cheapest at MR17.30. There were a few tickets left and, after grabbing breakfast from the Kang Hotel, we boarded. It turned out to be the exact same bus which had brought me to Tanah Rata in the first place. I recognised the broken seat (which some poor Chinese woman had to endure for the whole journey).

It’s a long, windy trip down the mountain so don’t expect to sleep much. And then we had to deal with an Indian guy in the back row being sick into a clear plastic bag for all the world to see. His hurls were quite quiet, but the HHHAAAAAWWWWWWKKKK as he cleared his throat afterwards was stomach-churning.

Neverthless we survived into the town at the bottom of the hill where we mystifyingly pulled into some yard full of broken buses. Reversing out, we next arrived at a bus station where we had thirty minutes to grab food. I, erm, opted for a KFC. Partly as I knew they’d have clean loos.

Back on the bus, we drove for five minutes and into a second scrapyard where we were ordered off. The two front tyres both had nails stuck in them and needed replaced, so we were delayed around half an hour as this was done. When we re-boarded, Maria ended up sat next to me as the sick Indian guy had decided to occupy both the seats she’d been using to sleep on. I hope I didn’t drool down her shoulder as I slept on the now-flatter part of the journey.

For reasons best known to himself, the driver decided to shut off the aircon as we were around half an hour from the city. Maybe he wanted us to acclimatise. Maybe it broke. Either way, we were stifling by the time we were dropped off. Oliver had another bus to catch to Melaka and Maria and I walked to the Golden Triangle area in search of accommodation.

Steff’s recommendation of the Red Palm looked nice, but was full until next week. We tried their sister hostel which was also full. As was the Trekker’s Lodge I’d used the week before. We ended up in Green Hut, where I stayed back in December 2006. It’s much as I remember, including the lack of wi-fi. At least I have a long network cable so I can still use my laptop.

Food was needed and after a little trek, we found a street café opposite the IT Mall. As we were looking through the menu, staff from the other restaurants nearby were screaming “Sir! Miss! Sir! Look first! See here!” and waving menus like demonstrating students. Seriously, it was like a culinary version of the current Thai protests, and reminded me of the seagulls from Finding Nemo (“Mine! Mine! Mine!”).

After Maria failed to find somewhere that would sell her an iPod loaded with music – something that hadn’t been a problem in Bangkok – we walked round to the cinema and picked up tickets for Deception. Not a bad film, and they didn’t censor so much of it to spoil it as with Death Race.

And that was really it for the day. A fruitless search for a spare wi-fi signal saw me using the cable (I need a new one with unbroken clips) and I think I have plans for tomorrow. Still not sure of my next destination, but it’s looking like being Bangkok or Sihanoukville.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

One (more) night in Bangkok

Our last full day in Bangkok before Leah left and we spent it kind of dossing. We made it to the cinema early enough to catch Mummy 3 with Brendan Fraser. Entertaining in a “that’s a lot of CGI” kind of way. A quick lunch break was needed and I just had to try the “Conizza” I’d spotted the night before. It’s a pizza wrapped up to look like an ice cream cone. Stupid, novel… and tasty!

Then off to the clinic for an eye check, my reason for coming back to Bangkok. My eyes are fine. 20/20 vision, perfect pressure and no visible problems. Good-oh.

We went back to the cinema to get tickets for Journey To The Centre of the Earth (with that man Fraser again), but the cinema was packed with only two or three spare seats. So we looked at the next performance. The same. Argh. Final performance… empty. We got two good seats near the middle then rescheduled things.

Back to the hostel to get freshened up then through Pat Pong for Leah to do some gift shopping. Now, depending on how you play it, early evening is either a good or a bad time to go shopping in a market here. If you haggle well, then it’s a good thing as the traders want that first sale to get their luck going for the rest of the shift. Thing is, they also start at stupid prices to try and fill the coffers in case they don’t get many sales.

As an example, Leah spotted some flip-flops. Her’s were worn through, so a new pair were in order. She saw some that looked like the ones she had, picked them out, tried than and asked how much. The starting price was an astronomical 850 Baht. That’s around £14. Leah laughed and started to turn away at which point they dropped to 700. Then 600 after more cries of derision. “OK, how much?” was the cry as the calculator used as a bargaining tool was thrust at her. The ones she was wearing cost 60 Baht when we got to Bangkok last time. The new ones were slightly better. But not that much better. Finally, after walking off and being called back, Leah got them for 100 Baht – a little over £1.50. Quite a bit down from the original asking price, I’m sure you’ll agree.

You can tell when a trader’s made their first sale as they take the money they’ve been paid and tap all the merchandise with it to pass on the good fortune. This happened to a couple of the places we went, and you’ll sometimes even see some stall holders quite literally begging people to buy from them in the early hours. As I said, play it right and I think you can get some good bargains at this time of night. Likewise at the end of the evening from a trader who’s had a good run and who has made a fair bit in that shift.

Loaded with… well… crap, we deposited it at the hostel and went back to the Paragon for some munchies. After walking for a while trying to decide what I wanted (Leah had made a beeline for a posh cake stall), I settled on a small place selling tacos and picked a trio of chicken ones. For a savoury course, Leah thought she’d try a “build your own” which is when I realised I could ask for mine with a sauce other than the “mild salsa” included.

On the “build your own” list I saw “John’s Hot Sauce” and was about to order that when I saw “John’s Super Hot Sauce” on the menu. So I asked for that. The slight raise of the eyebrows from our waitress should have been a clue. Oh dear. I was armed with a can of Tiger when my meal arrived. Leah had a bottle of water with a glass of ice. This, as it turned out, was fortunate.

I wolfed the first taco. Delicious. But… something’s burning my mouth. I finished my lager. Still burny. Leah dipped her fork into the hot sauce and tried it. The tiniest amount, about the size of an ant. Then gulped a mouthful of water and complained an hour later that her tongue was still tingling. I had two tacos to go.

After the second I was using a spoon to shovel ice into my mouth. Sweat was dripping down my forehead in rivulets despite the chilly aircon. The third taco was almost painful but I wasn’t to be defeated. I did it. But there’s a lesson: when someone in Thailand calls something “hot” it’s on a different scale to the one we use in the UK. If you imagine the scale as running from 1-10, the UK tastebuds peak at around five, with something “hot” by Thai standards hitting ten. I was fine breathing in, but every breathe out made my eyes water and my lips seer.

Next stop was an ice cream parlour where I got two dollops of sorbet which I’m sure would have tasted sublime had I not destroyed the inside of my mouth.

I was OK by the time the film started and it was pretty enjoyable. Oh, did I mention we saw it in 3D? It’s the first live action feature film to be made using the new Dolby3D technology and it works pretty well. A silly film, but fun and the 3D really did help.

We managed to catch the last BTS of the night as we rushed from the cinema, being harried on our way by security staff eager to lock the gates. Last minute packing and swapping of luggage ensued as I made sure Leah had to carry all the useless crap I didn’t need any more back to the UK. She’s useful for some things!

Zemanta Pixie

Leaving Hanoi… AGAIN!

Time to leave Hanoi again. Got the bus from the Vietnam Airlines office, and managed to get a seat – it got busy as 11:00 approached as I believe they take a break from then until 13:00 for lunch. We got talking to Hannah, a girl from Leicestershire who looks uncannily like Talia from Bristol – and who’d bumped into those three English lads from a previous post as she had been leaving the same volunteer post when they were arriving.

The usual fun at the airport – trying to find food that didn’t come in a packet, didn’t taste like plastic and didn’t cost a fortune. Not much luck… Flight to BKK uneventful.

Used the AE1 bus to get into Silom rather than a taxi. Due to the busy traffic, we hopped out just past Lumpini Park. As we were getting off, I saw an American guy trying to talk to the driver about where he was and where he should get off. I had a look at his map and gave him a rough idea. Thing is, once I got off I realised that he was on the wrong bus as he wanted to go to Hualamphong which is the AE4 bus, not the AE1. Had I not been in such a rush I’d have got him to get off with us and put him in the direction of the MRT – it’s only a couple of stations from where we were. So, sorry and I hope you got where you wanted to go!

We walked down Silom to the hostel, stopping at A&W for a burger. At the hostel, we had enough time to check in and turn around as we’d arranged to meet Hannah at the Paragon to see Batman on the IMAX. Unfortunately, due to our slow bus and Hannah’s problems getting a tuk-tuk to drop her at the right place, we all arrived around 20:10 and by the time we got to the cinema, the film had just kicked off.

We bought tickets for the 23:00 performance instead, and wandered down to the basement food court to while away the time. And stare at food. And drink fresh fruit smoothies. And eat McD’s (Hannah!). And ice cream (*cough* not Hannah).

The time came for the film and we got there in good time to be shown in and take our seats. You all know what IMAX is and I’ve already documented watching Spiderman 3 and Superman Returns on the BIG big screen. But Batman: The Dark Knight blows them all away. Absolutely amazing. A great film, excellent use of the technology and Heath Ledger genuinely puts in a star turn as the Joker. Every bit as great, if not better in his own right, as Jack Nicholson‘s version. Certainly far scarier. I do think the film was cut, though, perhaps for violence. This could be a Thai thing, an IMAX thing or just bad editing. Either way I’d love to see a director’s cut but I’d just have to see it on IMAX again.

We got out of the cinema around 1:30 which was a bit of a shame for Hannah as she’d booked a trip the next day which she had to be ready for by 5:30. As I write this, I’ve not heard from her and I sincerely hope she made it onto the bus!

Zemanta Pixie