Sunday, February 21, 2010

Goldfish are Nibbling at my Toes

[Edit: I thought of a title for this that I love, so I've changed it. It's my blog.]

Do you remember when I left NZ, I travelled via Thailand and had a foot massage that I found a little creepy? It just wasn't for me.

Well, this time in Thailand, I turned it up a notch. This may be the oddest thing I've ever done.

These shops are all over the place in Chiang Mai. Right now it's the in thing. It's called a "fish spa".

Basically, it's how it looks. You sit with your feet in a tank full of fish, and they go at your feet. There are a couple of varieties in there: the ones that suck are fine, but the fat dark ones actually bite you - they're like piranhas and it's suprisingly painful (or, unsurprisingly, given the premise that you're letting a fish bite you). It takes maybe 10 minutes to get used to the sensation enough to stop gasping out loud, but it never stops feeling weird.

The idea is that the fish eat all of the dead or rough skin. I lasted for over an hour, and my feet did feel quite smooth afterwards. I asked one of the fish to comment on its job, and it said "Kill me".

They promise that you can't catch diseases from this, and if you can't trust someone making a quick buck in Thailand, who can you trust? More worryingly, there was a seafood restaurant straight over the road from the spa. "Waiter, why does my trout almondine taste like athlete's foot?"

It was around Christmas time, and there was a mini Christmas tree with lights on the counter. The lady said "Take something from the tree". I didn't understand, and asked her to repeat herself. She said the same thing, so I began unscrewing one of the Christmas lights. She stopped me, and showed me that there were paper notes attached to the tree. Even in a room full of Westerners willing to pay to have their feet gnawed by fish, I still stand out as the biggest idiot. Excellent.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Winchester Mystery House

"I saw a group of pilgrims squirting lead in the air out of Winchesters held at the hip." - Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad.

Not a great line; I only post that quote because I was reading H of D in San Jose, and the Winchester line is pertinent.

There isn't much to see in San Jose. Which is just as well, as it's a pain in the neck to get anywhere unless you have a car. I did a trip to see Winchester Mystery House, and it took me hours of walking from the nearest metro stop.

The story of the Winchester house is actually more interesting than the house itself. Sarah Winchester was married to William Winchester, whose father had founded the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The Winchester rifle took off, and became known as "the gun that won the West".

Sarah's child, husband and father-in-law died in quick succession, and a psychic told Sarah that she was cursed by the souls of all the people killed with Winchester weapons. She too would die, unless she continued building her house. As the main beneficiary of the Winchester fortune, Sarah's financial resources were essentially limitless. So she began to expand her house, and the building work continued day and night without pause for the next 40 years.

That would have been bizarre enough, but she also used very little planning in her building. She held nightly seances during which the spirits would advise her what needed building. Staircases drop down and then climb back up, or climb up to the ceiling, and doors open onto walls. The whole place is a vast confusing labyrinth. Rooms are patterned around the number 13: 13 windows, 13 candles, etc. The expensive front doors were only ever walked through 3 times: twice by the 2 men who installed them, and then by Sarah before she permanently locked them.

At one stage the house was 7 stories tall and it is thought that there were as many as 600 rooms, although ~only~ 150 remain now. Somewhere in the house is a wine cellar that hasn't been re-discovered yet.

Sarah Winchester almost never had visitors. When President Roosevelt visited to see the famous house, a worker failed to recognise him and told him that job applicants needed to go around the back.

It was interesting, but expensive, and they don't let you take photos inside which is always annoying.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sans Jose and Francisco

Karina was right, the picture was of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Unfortunately, I wasn't there for more than a day or 2, as I was working in San Jose.

San Jose could not be more dissimilar to San Francisco. SF is kind-of a funky town, where there's wildlife, and people walk and jog and take fun public transport like cable cars. The centre city is all bunched together, so you can easily roam around it.

San Jose, on the other hand, is all freeways, SUVs and office buildings. You can't even find a corner dairy. On my nightly waddle from the hotel to the IHOP for the ubiquitous burger and fries, I would pass Yahoo and AMD. On my way to work I would pass eBay, Sun Microsystems, Paypal and an area so dominated by Cisco that it's called Cisco City. It seems odd that I got such slow broadband in the hotel and at work, since the guts of the Internet was within shoe-throwing distance of where I was standing. It would've been quicker for me to walk to Yahoo, knock on the door, and ask tomorrow's weather forecast in person.

Here's the view from my window in the hotel. It sums up San Jose pretty well:

Let's see: SUV, pickup truck, stretched limo, vast parking space, driving rain, and in the background, a deserted amusement park. I've seen enough Scooby Doo to know that the empty amusement park is being haunted by the owner's nephew wearing a luminous amphibian suit. Scubby Dubby Doooooo!

So, I just really want to dispell any thoughts of "Oh, that guy is so lucky to get to go to Silicon Valley!" Here's me, drenched, after trudging back from the office late at night in the pouring rain wearing a disposable pink poncho that looks like one of Elton John's bin liners. I think you can see the joy on my face.

(Yes, sometimes I like to check into hotels and take photos of myself wearing pink clothing. Most of those photos end up on my other, secret website.)

But there were a couple of high points. As I mentioned, I saw the Sharks take on the Blackhawks. That is, of course, ice hockey. The San Jose Sharks are the top team in the league at the moment. Ice hockey is brilliant. It's unremittingly violent, but without the shame factor of wrestling. It's like the WWF on ice. The Sharks lost in extra time, but when you're watching hockey it's not about who wins or loses, it's about which team collects the most opposition teeth.