Thursday, January 28, 2010

O'er the Land of the Freeway

If I just spent the evening watching the Sharks play the Blackhawks, what sport is it and where am I? (Uh uh, no Googling).

Here's a hint:

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Dunedin of the North

Do you know this one?

I spent last weekend in Edinburgh. Because it's there. This shot shows Edinburgh Castle, which sits on a mound called "the Mound". That Scottish flair for original names is also evident in Dunedin in NZ, which the Scots settled and gave many of the same street names as in Edinburgh.

The road that runs down the Mound is "the Royal Mile".

I took the opportunity to catch up with my friend M. She's a Kiwi who's been there for a couple of years now. She's developed the early vestiges of a Scottish accent, but only enough so far that other NZers would think she's from Gore. It needs work. She says I've picked up an English accent, but in reality it's just my talking-to-the-British voice. It's like my normal voice, only slower and clearly enunciated so the locals can understand me.

We went to Holyrood Palace, which is a British royal palace, and was the home of Mary Queen of Scots. In the gallery, there was an exhibition of photos from Scott's and Shackleton's expeditions to Antarctica. Very good.

We climbed up to the crags, which are a row of rock cliffs on a hillside overlooking the city. I was keen to climb up to Arthur's Seat, which is a high point on the extinct volcano behind, but it was perishingly cold and sheet ice made the walks dangerous.

Over the road from Greyfriars Cemetery, there were 2 interesting sights. Firstly, there was the statue of Greyfriars Bobby. He was a policeman's dog who sat on his master's grave for 14 years. Makes that dog in Poland who only sat where his master died for a year look like a real piece of crap.

The other sight there was a coffee shop. JK Rowling wrote some of the Harry Potter novels in there. In the cemetery behind the cafe is the following grave stone. If it doesn't mean something to you, you should be ashamed.

Behind the graveyard is a creepy childrens school. Coincidence?

We spent a bit of time in that graveyard. Apparently, some of the old graves have holes visible on the sides of the headstones where bells were hung. This was because people were sometimes accidentally buried alive. Coffins had been found with scratch marks on the inside of the lids. Therefore, a string would lead down into the coffin, so if the person regained consciousness they could ring the bell and be rescued. This is the source of the expression "dead ringer". Yes, really. Anyway, we didn't find any bell holes.

I think somewhere in that gaveyard is the Black Mausoleum, one of the most haunted places in the world. We couldn't find it.

We did a murder and ghost tour of central Edinburgh. The highlight was going down into the Vaults, which was a subterranean section of the city that was sealed off a century ago, and only recently rediscovered.

Apparently it's extremely haunted too, and the guide described a number of the ghosts that we might see. There is one corner in a room where women alledgedly get scratched or shoved if they stand there. A couple in our group took a photo of it, and it had a glowing orb floating in middle of the photo. They raved about the energy of the room and the sudden drop in temperature. M and I were polite enough to only begin mocking them once they were out of earshot.

I can't tell you what proportion of my photos have floating orbs or ghostly thumbs in them, but I never thought to blame ghosts for it. Perhaps the Easter Bunny is the reason that so many of them are out of focus. Anyway, it was a good tour. Some of M's friends have worked as jumpers, dressing up in costume and jumping out to scare the groups. This tour didn't resort to that sort of irritating behaviour, which was a mark in their favour. Recommended. Edinburgh has a lot of dark history crammed into that small centrl area.

So, that's about it for Edinburgh. I was only there for a bit over a day. It was a really fun trip, and one that I hope to repeat in the future.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Life of Pai

The road between Chiang Mai and Pai is an attraction in itself. Or should I say a repellent? It's significant, anyway. As the road climbs through the hills, it goes through 762 turns. I did it in a comfortable car and after 3 hours, I was pretty sick of it. God knows what it's like for the locals doing the trip on those ricketty Thai mopeds.

Pai is a town in the hills to the north-west of Chiang Mai, on the way to the Myanmar border. It's traditionally a sleepy artist village, but when we went it was crazy busy and new accommodation was being thrown together all over the place.

We arrived in the evening and went out for a walk. We made our way to Wat Luang.

From there we climbed to the temple Wat Phra Thart Mae Yen on one of the hills overlooking the town, to watch the sunset.

We couldn't work out why, in Pai, all of the souvenirs seemed to be about the town mailboxes, which were extremely ordinary. It turns out that the mailboxes were a feature of a recent Thai film set in Pai. Perhaps that also explains why the town was crammed with tourists.

My aunt asked if I would like a t-shirt with Pai on it, but most of my shirts already have pie on them, so I declined. Thank you, try the veal.

A couple of lantern Xmas trees, the second one reflected in the pool.

Because Pai is in the hills, I was warned that it would be cold. Right at the moment I consider myself a leading expert on being cold, and Thailand isn't. You don't know the meaning of "surreal" until you've stood sweating in shorts and sandals, sipping iced bael juice, and listened to a speaker piping "Frosty the Snowman".

But the locals ~think~ it's cold. Do you remember when I went to Chiang Mai in '08 and saw the pandas? The locals are crazy about them. In CM, there is a 24 hour panda channel on TV where you can watch them doing pretty much nothing. The must-have fashion item is a furry panda hat with ear flaps that hang all the way down to your hands to provide built-in gloves that look like paws.

Are you ready for a cute picture?

Little Panda's Big Day Out

If you look to the left, you'll see that not only is the baby wearing a panda hat, but so is the adult in front. Even in CM in the daytime, I saw people wearing polar fleeces and fur-lined hoods. Crazy.

The high point of the the Pai night market was an elk or antelope or something, played by two Myanmarese.

The head was made of wood so when people walked near it, it would snap at them with a loud clacking sound. It lay down for a while and gnawed on its groin. Groin humour is universal.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Expat Xmas

This was my second Christmas since leaving New Zealand. England is currently going through the coldest Winter for decades, which is exactly what they said last year as well. Actually, I think the weather forecaster was wearing last year's shirt. Are they just re-running old weather reports?

Cambridge Ice Rink on Xmas Eve, Under the "Reality Checkpoint" Lampost

A week before Christmas, I didn't really have any plans. Some friends in London had very kindly invited me for Christmas, but at the last minute I decided to get myself a nice Thai meal. I know this place that does great Thai food south of Cambridge. It's not on the Cambridge bus route so it takes a bit of effort getting there.

Actually, the commute was horrendous.

Punting down the Cam. Don't fool yourself, it's freezing cold. Just for the record, the hat was only a rental.

(C) Jo MacLean

This is the least comfortable taxi I've ever been in. It's slow and the seat is all lumpy.

(That's why I never post photos of myself. How is it possible for me to sit on a frickin' elephant and still look tubby?)

Okay, this is getting ridiculous. I'm going to write to the taxi company.

Woah, hold it. This is the place:

Yes, it's Thailand. Durr.