Welcome to jdenparis.com.  I'm jd, and I just graduated from college.  For one year before med school, I'll be working and living in Paris, and traveling the world with my job.  Below are my stories, photos, and videos.  Enjoy!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Mes nouveaux amis Europeans

My new European friends

Sorry for losing so much time between posts! It’s been BUSYY since comin back from Bangkok. Please note my other new post qui a ferme’ les lumieres directly below this one.

I’ve been spending all my free time trying to get an apartment for when I return from Mexico/NYC, but to avert any suspense, I’ll still be homeless (aka in the Union apartment, which I am SO grateful for!) upon my return.

Monday and Tuesday I sent a million emails to “landlords” and people looking to rent out a room in their apts, mostly from Craigslist. I also Googled a million websites for colocation (just like it sounds), apartager (to share), apartments in Paris, etc.
At one point, I found the “housing wanted” section of Craigslist, as opposed to the “housing offered,” and decided to have a look. That day, there was a post titled “21 year-old American exchange student looking for roommate” or whatever. I decided to click it, and the girl seemed to be in exactly the same situation as me, so I decided to send her a message of solidarity rather than of housing, as I didn’t really have much to offer in that department. Also, she didn’t mask her email address, and had “@ucsb.edu,” so she had to be a real person and not a scam (at least that was my reasoning – turned out to be correct in this instance).

After exchanging a few messages and our phone numbers, we decided to meet up the next night for a drink. So the next day, after the electrocution, I went and met up with my new California exchange friend. She turned out to be this really great, funny girl. We had a lot to talk about (thanks Fine Art of Small Talk!) over our 1-1.5 hour mojitos (stupid place had no Long Island iced teas – my fav when I’m ‘homesick’ :p), and parted ways.

Next, I went to have dinner, and walked around the Latin Quarter a bit to find a place. I have this little rule that I try not to go to the same place twice just to keep things fresh around here (Paris), but this one place I had already been (my food was mediocre the first time...) had a live band this night (+1), and they were playing “Lonely Day” (fitting) by System of a Down (+10). I decided it was fate that of all the bands, and of all the songs, there prob wasn’t a better match for going to eat dinner alone :)

I sat down and ordered my vin rouge, poulet roti, et frites (red wine, roast chicken, fries) and enjoyed the music. They were pretty good (the band -- the food was mediocre again).

After a few minutes and a (mediocre) chicken thigh, four British girls came in and sat down next to me. I was sorta listening to their convo and complaints about American girls in their class and sorta minding my own business, sorta making eye contact with the cute one, sorta just drinking my wine, etc.

Eventually, two of them got up and went to have a smoke outside, and the other two remaining had a lull in their convo. Feeling nice from my mojito and wine, I jumped in with a friendly, “so where are you guys from?” They both immediately lit up and slid down the bench to chat. Turns out one was English and the other Welsh (you NEVER call a Welsh person English I learned). Again, really sweet girls, got along well, so after a while, we exchanged numbers and parted ways for the evening. I wound up hanging out with them the next night in Bastille. Got back after 2 which was bad, as I had to be up at 8 for work the next morning.

Anyway, during all of my emailing throughout the days, I wound up at clickflatshare.com, and emailed some Dutch guy named Damian. He actually got back to me and sounded like a real person. He was coming to Paris this past weekend (19 Sep) just to search for apartments, so we decided to meet up too. Why not?

Friday night I was having dinner with a friend of a friend, so I invited Damian to meet up for drinks after. He didn’t have a functioning French phone, so we were keeping an eye out for the guy in a black jacket and white hoodie. Finally we saw him, so I ran out to meet him cause it looked like he’d been waiting a while.

When I got there, he mugged me. Just kidding. HE turned out to be really cool too! We wound up hanging all weekend, going apartment hunting, and more. Saturday, we actually met up with Sarah, the girl from Cali, and all three of us went to see one apt I had made a reservation to see. That guy was kinda crazy as the moment we walked in, he’s like “OK, normally, I require that everyone who enters removes their shoes immediately.” Totally caught us off guard. Obviously I was NOT taking that place…despite the fact that he had met Jeff Buckley and Ice-T (he’s a photographer).

That night, the three of us met up with the two British girls (+ 1 of their visiting boyfriends) from the past few nights, and all 6 of us went out and had a great time! It was really awesome, I’ve never been the nighttime activity coordinator before, and everyone got along great :)

So it seems the lesson HERE is that you can ALWAYS trust people you meet on the Internet!

A bientot,

Friday, September 19, 2008

qui a ferme' les lumieres?

Who turned out the lights??

Right now I’m sitting in Charles de Gaule airport waiting for my 12 hour flight to Mexico. It should be interesting, cause flying West during the day, the sun never sets! Thus I take off at 1pm Paris time and land at like 5pm Mexico time, but that’s y’know like 1am Paris time! So, uhh, no sleep “tonight.”

Obviously when I post this, I’ll be in Mexico, but I’m just trying to make the best of my ample time at the airport. Since there’s a metro strike in Paris right now, EVERY TAXI WAS BOOKED for this morning. The logistics people couldn’t get me a car! Luckily Jose gave me his guy’s number and I arrived about 3 hours early :p

So Wednesday (17 Sep) was an interesting day.

I was getting ready to meet one of my new friends for a drink (will tell you about my friend adventures, friend-ventures, in a subsequent post) and wanted to listen to some music in my bedroom. Well, I figured I’d just get that handy world power adapter mom bought me before I left. The way it works is you plug in one half to the wall outlet anywhere in the world (there are like 6 or so possibilities), and then the second half is a universal female side, fits anything. So I look at all of the possible wall pieces, and two looked like legit possibilities. I tried the first, but I was plugging into a French extension cord, and the adapter wouldn’t fit quite right (kinda like the recessed headphone jack on 1st gen iPhone – ask Uncle Bob or google).

Next I tried the second, and it went right in, and ZAPPITYY ZAPPP ZAPPPPPPP ZAP-ZAP-ZAPPPPPPPPP.

Yeah. I got electrocuted. Bad.

Threw everything on the floor I was so shocked (pun intended) and sat on the bed for a moment thinking about what I could do, touch, etc. I settled on the plastic blackberry, and shot a quick email to Seth and Vishal (a fellow biophysics major at GW). Seth told me I was probably fine, and Vishal said I should touch everything not metal to try to ground myself, and that I was an idiot, and GW should take back my bachelor of science.

I was so freaked out too cause this summer at the hospital internship, a trauma surgeon spent an hour showing us pics of patients he’d treated, and one or two were of electricians who didn’t quite know the proper way to test a live wire. When electricity goes in, it comes out someplace else. ANYWHERE else (often between toes, for example). And the exit wound is ALWAYS worse.

Luckily I must not have been electrocuted so bad, cause I haven’t been able to find an exit wound yet :)

Well, a little shaky but not deterred, I still wanted my music. I figured out that it was best to assemble the two pieces of the adapter BEFORE plugging half into the wall. Duh. They SHOULD take away my BS, ha!

With this assembly in place, I noticed that the adapter piece lit up, so I figured that somehow indicated it was cool to plug anything into it, without the 8 pound transformer I have (I am a little resentful of the transformer, cause I think it bumps me into excess baggage territory every time I travel, and those fees are EXCESSIVEEEEE).

To err on the side of caution, I thought it a wise idea to plug in my American strip to the adapter, so as not to blow out my favorite little $10 bathroom speakers. So I plug in the strip first, and all seemed well. However I noticed the switch wasn’t lighting up.

I flipped the switch, and BOOMM!!!!!!!!!!! POOOFFFFF!!!!!!!!!

Yeah. The thing BLEW UP in my face. There was a flash of light, an audible explosion, and a poof of smoke that smelled awfuulllll. (Turns out I exploded the bulb, which is rated only for 110V and not 220). My idea to use the strip was good though, as it DID save my speakers in the end :)

Again I was startled, and still thought I couldn’t really touch anything from the electrocution 5 minutes earlier. I was running a little late, wanted to shower, but didn’t want to blow up from touching the knob.

I grabbed a magazine, rolled it up as though to strike a dog (no, I’ve never done this, I just don’t know how else to describe a rolled paper…), and tried to flip the light switch (there was no way I was touching THAT – what am I, a sadist?). Nothing. Shit. I tried the hallway, bedroom, other bedroom, living room, kitchen, WC, nothing. Crap. Dumb American.

Luckily it was still light out, so I just washed my face in the dark (obviously now I couldn’t shower at all…) and left before I couldn’t find my way out. The light in the hall wasn’t working either, so I started freaking that I blew out the power in the whole building, but it turned out to just be my floor. This is actually the worse scenario, cause I think I’m the only person on my floor, so no one was calling LIPA or ConEd on my behalf (which is to say that I have NO idea who to call, I’m in France!).

I was a little nervous that the digicode (door code entry security thing) wouldn’t work and I’d be locked out in the cold all night, but that wasn’t the case (probably would have been better off that way so someone else would get the electricity back on).

After meeting up for my drink, having dinner, and keeping sh’ma on repeat in the back of my head, I came back to a dark apartment, despite my prayers. I used my bberry as a torch to navigate before sleep (its good for one thing at least!), and went to bed.

Next morning, of course still no electricity, so no hot water. I tried to take a cold shower since I hadn’t been able to shower the night before, but it was too cold. I got dizzy after about 5 seconds so I just got out and washed my face in the sink again.

The logistics guy at work couldn’t figure out how to get the electricity back on and I was freaking out that I’d have to pay like 1,000 EUR out of pocket for an electrician. But when one arrived, it turned out he just needed to press this black button extra hard, and that’s all it took!

Moral of the story, ALWAYS shower without music in Europe.

A bientot,

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

mama, mama je vien a la maison

So I don't think that's the exact translation, but in the famous words of Ozzy Osbourne, "mama, mama I'm comin' home." That's right! Travel is booked :) If you'll notice in my calendar, I've added a nice green strip representing my 1 week stay in NYC (4 Oct - 12 Oct), directly following my 10 or so days in Mexicoooo - very exciting.

I'll be staying someplace downtown (not quite a hotel, but not quite an apartment. Jose described it to me as a hotel without room service), and working from The Union's NYC office! I'll also have Yom Kippur off. Great - the week I'm in town with all my favorite food, I have to spend 15% of it fasting. hmph.

Anyway, Paris has been great so far since my return from Thailand! The apartment search is in full swing, but I don't know how many scammers and how many legit people I have exchanged emails with... I'm gonna try to see 1 or 2 places this weekend, but if my bank account winds up empty, at least I'll KNOW its cause I gave out my account # and pin to a 'land lord!' (JUST KIDDING MOM, I would never.) I've been using the free McWifi on the weekends, and working diligently from my desk during the week (staying past 7 most nights to attempt to work on med school application and scour Craig's list for an apt). The weather here is sunny and cool with a slight breeze, REALLY nice contrast to the heat, humidity, storms and dirty streets of Bangkok.

Sunday night, one of my coworkers was kind enough to invite me over for dinner AND did my laundry, including ironing a few shirts!! What a treat. I would have had to go to work naked the next day, so she is really a lifesaver. Thanks Selma!

Anyway, back to work - just wanted to give a quick update - see you all soon!!

a bientot,

Friday, September 12, 2008

iuatld course on bppm, 1-13 sep 2008, bangkok, thailand (+ I'm proud to be an American, where at least I know I'm free.)

...aka the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease course on Budget Planning and Project Management, is a two week course offered by The Union (my employer) designed to equip healthcare professionals with the skills necessary to run a National Tuberculosis Programme (NTP). Basically, doctors may be brilliant in medicine, but probably lack the skills required to develop, manage, and implement a budget, for example. Thus the course (and the others in the IMDP series, to which the link above connects) fills a void left by obtaining only a medical education (and why programs such as Noah K's MD/MBA will increase in popularity). Recently, The Union has been charged to adapt the courses from Tuberculosis programmes to Tobacco programmes (yeah, I spell it like they do in the UK) to help develop and manage national anti tobacco campaigns! It's really great stuff.

The ~35 doctors and administrators here for this course come from 25 countries on 3 continents (Europe, Asia, Africa, as far as I can tell) - it is a diverse group! At each of the seven tables in our conference room, there may be doctors from two warring nations working together on an Excel sheet on a single computer. It's really inspiring to know that in the face of political conflict, individuals can rise above the transience of fighting governments to come together and work for a common cause. As one of the moderators has said, "tuberculosis doesn't need a visa."

During the opening presentations on budget last week, it was crazy to see these people shaking their heads in agreement that the government had cut funding to buy microscope slides or vehicles, thus halting tuberculosis care in a given region. Or that state-of-the art microscopy equipment sat packaged in hallways because the funds for hiring lab personnel were cut. It seemed that for every example the moderator provided, at least one participant had experienced the scenario.

I have also been fortunate enough to speak with some people who have changed the way tuberculosis is treated throughout the world! (one actually has taken quite a liking to me, I share my computer with him so he can check his email)

Before I share more with you, I'll address the burning question that you (mom) have regarding what it is I actually do here. Basically just a little of this and a little of that... I help modify slides before they are presented, I staple together handouts to be distributed, I answer emails, I do some clerical stuff, some photographing, some CD burning -- whatever anyone needs help with, I offer to help.


Through the course of, well... the course, I have had the opportunity to talk with some amazing and world-renowned people, and hear some stories that left my jaw hanging (no, the trip is not all massages, sites, and rock 'n roll).

It's one thing to see war in Iraq through Three Kings (clooney / wahlberg flick) or even the news, but to hear from an Iraqi doctor that he must go to work in a different car each day to avoid being murdered by terrorists is quite another.

Likewise I found it difficult to watch Blood Diamond because of the unimaginable violence against humanity, but to hear from a former UN employee stationed in the Democratic Republic of Congo that she was forced to sit in the corridors of her house glued to a transistor awaiting UN evacuation, away from windows and doors while the bullets of a civil war whizzed down her street and mortar shook its very foundations is again, quite another experience.

Sure, in America we complain about high gas prices and and a leader that can't properly pronounce nuclear, but at least in our upcoming election, the polls won't be riddled with the bullets of thugs forcing us to vote for a particular candidate. Similarly, our police force is by and large there to protect and to serve. It is not so in all parts of the world, and I think it's important to be cognizant of how lucky those of us brought up in America really are. I've been told from those who have experienced it first hand, that often the police are not there to protect, but to get your money for protection should you need it.

All in all, I am very thankful for the way I was brought up (location, parenting) and for the opportunities I've been provided. I look forward to spending more time speaking with more people and learning about more cultures, customs, and countries which vastly differ from those with which I am familiar. It has just been 3.5 weeks since I left home, and this has already been an amazing experience for me. I can only anticipate what the next 10 - 12 months will bring. Stay tuned.

Anyway, here are some pics of the people I've been hangin with in Bk (the southeast asian bk, not 11201)

A bientot,

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

sky bar / amazing bangkok cyclist

Good morning (EST)!

When I last wrote, I was getting ready to head over to Sky Bar, a bar on the top floor of one of Bangkok's tallest and nicest hotels. The group consisted of myself, Nathalie, Jayson, and Selma (pictured in that order). We enjoyed the AMAZING view of the city, but had to head indoors when the lightening, thunder, wind and rain became unbearable and unsafe. Our 500 baht cocktails were delicious and a not-so-welcome reminder of the NYC / Paris drink prices we must return to after Bangkok. It was a great night, and we headed back pretty early in order to be energized for our bike tour the next day!

After our enjoyable Saturday night, Nathalie and I took a bike tour with ABC - Amazing Bangkok Cyclist. This tour promises to take you to sites you wouldn't normally see as a tourist, including a wholesale market, a floating market, narrow back streets and alleyways, and a brief stop on the river.

The company was founded by a dutch guy (very friendly in his emails - he actually wrote me "okidoki") -- a perfect fit since the dutch are very friendly and use bicycles as a primary means of transportation. The dutch, apparently, also stick together, as on our tour of about 10 or 12 cyclists, Nathalie and I were the only non-dutch (she is Parisian, and I, a native of New York). Before heading out, we were given a briefing in ABC's headquarters, 2 metro stops from our hotel. Here we were introduced to Apple and Boom, our young Thai guides. The two girls were full of energy and very enthusiastic, and from the moment we arrived they were extremely welcoming and hospitable.

During the welcome session, we met the other bikers - a young dutch couple, a flight crew from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, and maybe one or two others I can't remember right now. We mostly spoke with the flight crew, who are put up in the luxurious hotel where in which the sky bar resides! Now THAT'S a dream job. I had the great pleasure of speaking at length with Frank, a bursar (I'm told this is like an in-flight flight manager), about the impending energy crisis and its implications on air travel. Jerome, the 21-year-old 747 pilot (the first 20-something I've interacted with in about 3 weeks) told us that it takes 130 tons of fuel, or 7 full tankers, to power a 747. Damn. We spoke about the cost of diverted flights (hotel costs, fuel), and some interesting stories about in-flight emergencies they've experienced (blown engines, which is no big deal cause the 747 doesn't NEED all 4).

The tour was AWESOME! I'm so happy we went. It may even be the highlight of the trip, because they completely delivered on all of their promises. We saw so much stuff I'd never otherwise have the opportunity to see. The best part, though, is that Frank and Jerome had each done the tour before, and said its different every time! Sweet - I'll treat anyone that meets me here next trip.

As we headed out, the dutch were all asking if I'd be ok on the bike - apparently America has a reputation for producing non-bikers. Little did they know that I biked to work for 1 MONTH this summer (... 1 mile from my house). We wound through narrow alley-ways, across 4 lane divided highways (yikes!), and finally arrived at a bustling wholesale market. Here, all of the restaurants and hotels buy their supplies for the day early in the morning, and serve it to the unsuspecting public that night! mmmm. There were live chickens, live fish, dead chickens, dead fish, whole pigs, pigs legs, chicken claws, bugs, insects, SACKS of peppers and other fresh veggies, snakes, and more, just to name a sampling.

Apple led us through while Boom stayed behind and did a little shopping for our first snack. We sat down at an old wooden picnic table in a clearing and awaited Boom's arrival. She brought with her rambutan (red spiky fruit - see pics), logan (another fruit), and angel's hair and crepes. Fantastic, fresh, and refreshing! Good pick-me-up, but I was ready for more.

Next, we continued biking under the railway, through more narrow passages, and passed the rather depressing site of what must be Bangkok's poorest. They live in literally these one room shacks. The children are all in high spirits though, hi-5ing the dutch that are skilled enough to do so while riding :) (I was mostly videotaping with one hand).

Next stop was a trip across the river. The riders and bikes were all loaded into a long and narrow boat that is propelled by what looks like a tremendous jet engine. After the Heart of Darkness / Apocolypse Now opening sequence, we biked some more on some REALLYYY narrow cement pathways through the jungle (wore my deet) and arrived at the weekend "floating market" (I put this in quotation marks because this isn't the REAL floating market, it's just A floating market). Here, we parked our bikes and walked through the narrow and busy aisles, stopping periodically as Boom and Apple bought us traditional Thai snacks. The highlights were curried fish heads, quail eggs, Thai pancakes, and these little leaf pockets filled with prawns, ginger, chili, and peanut. This was honestly the best food I've had on the trip. I wish I knew about the market before so that I could have eaten and shopped there more, but even now I wouldn't be able to find it :/ - guess I have to do the tour again!

Finally, we saddled up and biked a bit further, arriving at a "restaurant" several minutes later. This place was actually a lean-to / deck on top of a river with a picnic table. Famished, we gathered around and waited for our meal to arrive. We were given a big plate of fried rice and one of noodles. Not spectacular, but very delicious and VERY welcome after a long day of biking.

Crossing the river and heading back, I was tired, dehydrated, and fully saturated in my own sweat. After our 6 hour journey / guided tour, I had sampled the best food of the trip, learned a great deal about the Dutch, made some new friends, seen markets, streets, and produce I'd never otherwise have seen, and gotten exercise to boot! (Haven't quite been making it to the gym on a daily basis as planned...) WELL worth the 2,000 baht (~60usd) all inclusive fee (bikes, food, water, guides, all provided).

Well, I'm off to go get my 'first fitting' on my custom tailored suit!! Wish me luck :)

A bientot,

Monday, September 8, 2008

hey, hey - i wanna be a rockstarrrrr

Well, this may prove to be a slightly embarrassing post...

The other night, I went to Khaosan Road with Jayson (Union guy based in NY) and Selma (based in Paris). This area of Bangkok is known as a backpackers paradise, and is filled with loud bars full of live cover bands. I thought one was playing 'Baba O'Reily,' so I suggested we sit down and have a drink there. Turns out they weren't playing The Who, but it was a decent band nonetheless. We had a few Heinekens (I don't know why this beer is so popular here...and cheap!) and enjoyed the music, and I told them that a dream of mine is that I always wanted to play in a (cover) band and be a rock star. They told me I should definitely try to sit in with the band, but as shy little Jordan, I of course abstained as much as possible, satisfying them by saying maybe after 2 beers.

As the second round of Heinis was finishing up, Selma said to me, "so when you're done with this one, you'll go sing?" Just as she said this, the lead singer was requesting a volunteer from the crowd, and they started egging me on to go. I was still holding out like a little girl before her first ballet performance, and thankfully another person sitting in front of the band got up. That didn't save me though. Selma called over the waitress and told her that I wanted to sing too. Before I could object, the waitress went over to the band and came back with a pen and paper for me to write what I could sing. I've recorded myself 'singing' before, and it literally makes me cringe (I got 8 out of 30 points in a karaoke contest at hosted by the Asian Society of GW once. The average score was probably 24 or 25. I think this has to do with my horrible voice, but it could also have to do with the fact that I ripped my boxers out of my pants and threw them at the judges at the end to try to win :) ... grand prize was an iPod touch!). While the waitress was gone, I struggled to conjure up a song I could play well start to finish. So with pen and paper in hand, I shakily scrawled "can I play guitar on 'more than a feeling' by boston?" and handed in the paper.

When the current song finished up, the guitarist (the only member of the band I could see from my vantage) waved me up, and I knew I was in for some trouble. I handed over my Flip Mino (thanks alli and seth!) and went to meet my doom. When I got up there, I motioned that I could play guitar and not sing, so the guitarist gave me his guitar and the singer (a white dude, not sure from where, but English was his first language, so he knew the songs - a departure from the linkin park cover band in patpong from last week) asked me what I wanted to play. Unfortunately, the group didn't know Boston, and the singer started flipping through the songbook and told me stop him when I saw something I could play. I saw 'hotel california' and told him to stop.

I think probably the most important factor when making your debut performance as a rock star (or any performance, for that matter) is to really KNOW the song you volunteer yourself to play. I did not know hotel california. The performance was pretty awful (I know this cause I watched the video - cringe factor 8.5). The singer then wanted (needed after hearing me I'm sure) to smoke a cigarette, so he told me to sing the next song. I pleaded that I could not sing, but he and the crowd were telling me to do it, so I took a stab at "time of your life" by green day, encouraged by the fact that the band would "back me up" even though they did not know the song. Rule number 2, if you expect the band to back you up, make sure THEY know the song. Hearing myself sing on the playback the next day, I realize that allowing myself to sing, and sing a song out of my limited (well, nonexistent) range, AND a song no one on the stage knew, was a bad decision. Cringe factor 11 out of 10.

Close to striking out, a little buzzed, and realizing that 3rd time's a charm, I decided to try one more song, as the set would conclude if I didn't keep going (the other guitarists strings had popped, it was late, etc.). Finally, I realized I could do 'Sweet Home Alabama' by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Now, this isn't a movie, and I'm not gonna lie and say it was a grand slam, but for my rock star debut, I think it was at least a base hit...

This one's for jake! (my drummer in jericho) --- Thanks jayson for filming and selma for rockin out in the crowd :)

A bientot,

Saturday, September 6, 2008

little bits: foot massage, suit saga, da media, more

So dee kaaa (sp?)!

One of the really great and charming things about Bangkok is that whenever you walk into a store or restaurant, you are kindly greeted with a welcoming, "so dee kaaa..." (it sorta trails off). Also, when you are leaving, your waiter or cashier or whoever always takes a second to put her hands together and give you a bow to send you off. Just takes a second, but there's nothing like it in America. Really nice touch.

Anyway, right now it's Saturday afternoon here. I should be napping, as again I find myself on 4 hours of sleep (this is becoming a trend), but I write. Today we have the afternoon off on account of it being Saturday, and tomorrow we have the day off! Nathalie, a girl from The Union in Paris (her office is en face de mine - that means 'facing') made a really wise investment of a Bangkok tourist pocket book (she calls it her Bible). Tonight, a few of the Union folk are going to Sky Bar on its recommendation, and tomorrow we are doing a bicycle tour of the lesser known sites of Bangkok! So excited.

Before I get into the foot massage and suit saga, I'd just like to point out that I got some bandwidth recently (plugged directly into ethernet in the conference room), and uploaded a bunch of media - so in case you missed it...

l'elephant (vid of me feeding elephant)

frungerque pics (self explanatory, I think...)

pics of the royal palace and wat po (sp?) temples here in Bangkok


So foot massage. Yeah, had one! Milli (Union employee based in India), Andrea (WHO employee based in Geneva, Switzerland - taught a class here for the course), and I (jd, Union employee based en Parii) all decided to go get foot massages. They're famous for them here, you can't walk 5 seconds without being offered one, and its dirt cheap, so we decided why not?

It all begins in a back room where you sit down and an employee washes your feet. I imagine there is a similar first step for a pedicure, but since I've never had one, I am unable verify this claim. Next, the massage-ee (me, in this case) is escorted to a really comfy couch (eerily reminiscent of the two comfy chairs in the living room of the Jaff-Inn), one in a line of about 5 on each side of the main room of the parlor. The area where the feet go are covered with two towels - gave me a real sense of cleanliness :)

When settled, the masseuse comes over and gets right to work. It felt (and smelled) like each of my legs (up to about the knee or lower thigh) was covered with icy hot or bengay or something. The actual massage is more or less what I was expecting: some rubbing, poking, prodding, and straight up massaging of the foot, calf, knee, and lower thigh. It was very mediocre for the first 50 or so minutes (pay by the hour - 300 baht, just under $10 - holla.), but then, as my masseuse was finishing early (Andrea's started first and was still goin!), and I was debating whether or not to dispute the charge, she jumped around my back, and began a 10 minute Thai massage on my neck, shoulders, and back. A Thai massage differs from a Sweedish, or oil massage, in that the body is mostly stretched and contorted to massage the muscles, as opposed to rubbed down with oil.

This sampler was awesome. She really earned her Baht during that concluding performance, and probably also won herself a new client (me) for a full Thai massage next week. I tipped her 100 baht... why naht??? (<~this should rhyme.) So Jon, you perv, my ending was QUITE happy, especially relative to the beginning and middle. It was not, however, a ::happy ending::

As for the suit saga, I've been in to this tailor that all of the Union people use. First time, he quoted me 4500 baht (~150 usd - custom made top to bottom, multiple fittings - sweet deal) for some linen cloth. Then I spoke to Jamshed, a boss or supervisor of mine, and he advised that I go wool all the way. So I went back the other night and had another chat with the dude about wool. He showed me some nice cashmere wools, 120 ____ (I forgot the word that follows) or maybe 150 (not thread count, maybe they call it super 150? i have no idea...). My ignorance, however, already put me at a disadvantage, as did my non-Thai-ness (apparently there are Thai prices, and not-Thai prices), AS did my lackluster bargaining skills. He quoted me 7,000 baht, almost double the linen. He lined up 4 cloths, and told me 7,000, 6,000, 5,500, and 4,500 baht. All felt the same to me!

I figure you get what you pay for, sure, but I'd really rather know what it is I'm getting, too. I tried to read a bit online, but my efforts on that front weren't terribly fruitful. Jamshed has promised that he'll return with me next week or so.

Ok, time to go check out that Sky Bar! Keep in touch, I love getting emails and comments from you all!! :)

A bientot,

Friday, September 5, 2008

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Bangkok: East Meets West, Part II - An Eastern City (sub-unit 2 of 2)

Good Morning US and A!

Its a new day, and I am slightly refreshed and ready to finish up East Meets West with 'An Eastern City (sub-unit 2 of 2). I gave you a slight preview in the previous post of how I would start this one (as my original intention was to just soldier on). Without further ado, I present:

Bangkok: East Meets West, Part II - An Eastern City (sub-unit 2 of 2)
The Final Cut

(con'td.) Anyway, our tourguide from the hotel went by P.C., and was very kind, smiley, and knowledegable (Thailand is the 'land of 1,000 smiles'). He drove us in our own mercedes (the make is circa 1980, but still cool!) to the sites, and then walked with us the whole day. If you intend to go (and I HIGHLY recommend it, as you'll see...) see the Royal Palace and Temple compounds, be sure to wear pants and closed-toed shoes, as you won't be allowed to enter the royal compound without this appropriate attire (they revere the monarchy...quite unlike the Prime Minister). First we saw the Temples, chapels, and several towers (I feel so uncultured, I don't remember the proper names of these, Manju, help!!). They were all breathtaking. Actually.

The outer walls are lined with tiny little glass pieces, about 2 cm^2 (square centimeters), which are all hand cut and applied individually. The entire compound is under continuous restoration, and each piece is replaced once every three years to maintain the shine (the guy is constantly working, it just takes 3 years to complete the cycle. Then he begins again). The effect is spectacular! The outside of all of these buildings, shrines, and Temples are truly like nothing I have ever seen (including Rome, Florence, and Paris, as well as the Bahamas, Hawaii, and Mexico, etc.), and I was really awestruck the entire time. Another more astonishing site awaited around every bend.

Whereas the sites in the European cities I have seen are all in ruins, these are still in very much in their prime (I think this effect is compounded by the insane shopping experience right across town - the whole city is growing at an astounding pace I'm told). The experience is just incomparable. Imagine jumping into one of those tour guide books with the semi-transparent pages that shows what you see today on one page, and what you would have seen a couple hundred years ago on a clear page overlaying the modern photo. In Thailand, these books don't exist because this stuff is still in its magnificent prime.

The architecture too is quite different from Europe. Here, there are radiantly colored overhanging eaves, golden wings flying up from the roof peaks, and a conglomeration of the curved roof top patterns I imagine of China and Japan. This contrasts the flat tops of the ruins in Europe. As some of you may remember from Europe, some of my favorite pictures are of the rooftops contrasted against a bright blue sky (see: Rome, Florence, Vienna, Europe). In these photos, the buildings are gray stone, but still look gorgeous against the clear sky. Even the still modern churches, which are magnificent to see, pale in comparison to the bright reds, blues, greens, and golds, which are electric and lively against the blue sky we were blessed with (I am a fortunate travel-photo-logger-tourist).

One of the coolest sites we saw was the Reclining Buddha. This gigantic replica is 49 meters long (yeah - half an American football field), and 16 meters high at the head. To walk its length took about 10 minutes with snapping photos and video, and I really couldn't believe it was still going as I reached the thighs and knew there was more to go. The feet are inlayed with an intricate mother-of-pearl design. Again, this pattern is comprised of tiny pieces cut and placed individually by hand. The Buddha is a site to be seen.

After sweating between 3 and 5 gallons (i couldn't get my shoes back on after entering the Temples because my socks were so sweaty and my feet swollen. Can't even imagine what Grandy's feet would have looked like!), we took a break from the sites and checked out the regalia museum. Worth every penny for the air conditioning, otherwise it can be skipped. Its just some dresses, swords, coins, crowns, etc. But at least it was cool.

All in all, the sites were fabulous. Definitely the most beautiful place I have been yet in my life. I suggest you make any and every effort to see them too.

After the sites, we were quite famished, and I took a page out of the Jon Jacobs book of eating and asked PC his favorite place (Jon always asks wait staff, "what's the best thing? Your favorite?" This tactic doesn't work as well in Thailand, as nobody really understands what I'm asking. PC did.). He told us of a place he knew that was nearby, and hailed us a tuk-tuk.

A tuk-tuk is a small little automobile powered by what must be a lawnmower engine. Think a pizza delivery scooter modified to hold 3 people in the back, instead of 3 pies. They are loud, zippy, open, and quite uncomfortable. They are decorated with some lights on the inside and other hanging colorful things. The roof is a cheap tin thing, like the fence bordering a construction site. It is a legacy form of transportation here, and I imagine is kept around just as a novelty (and probably because the cabs, which are all bright pink, idle in traffic). It was an experience to do, but I don't think I would do it as my main form of transit. I did take some fun video though, so I'll share that for you all someday!

We arrived at a lovely and inexpensive restaurant (240 baht for the two of us, ~8usd), right on the river. Manju and I sat at a table overlooking the water. It was very relaxing to have a slight breeze, the calming sound of a lightly moving river, and the occasional boat drift by. The food was delicious too (I have some nice pictures), but especially enjoyable because we garnished it ourselves (I wasn't certain why they gave me a cup of chopped parsley and one of chopped onion to accompany my dish, if NOT for garnishing!). After only 4 (or less, Manju woke up around 6 to get Milli from the airport) hours of sleep and a long day of touring in the HOT (and humid!) sun, this was a much needed lunch. The shade was welcome too :)

When we finally returned to the hotel, I went and showered and skipped my nap to write an entry (this is a few days ago now, I can't quite remember exactly. Of course I could look it up, but I don't want to open another browser tab.). Just as I began dozing off, Manju called that she and Milli were going out to the mall and then to dinner. I got up with no sleep, and hit the town again!

Now in these three short posts, I have more or less filled you in on my first 24 hours in Bangkok. I've been here 4 days since then and still have 9 to go. I've already had a massage, done some market shopping, eaten, eaten, and eaten some more, and I've still got ton more to eat and experience.

I'm sure we'll talk soon, but until then, for your VIEWING enjoyment, I present PHOTOSSS!!! (I found a hard ethernet wire here in the conference room, and it still took like 3 hours to upload the 20 or so pics I've got to share. These are whittled down from the 120 I STARRED (forget the 300+ I've taken...) and I think they are the best of the best of the Temple sites. More to come, obviously.

A bientot,

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bangkok: East Meets West, Part II - An Eastern City (sub-unit 1 of 2)

Well, it has certainly been a BUSY couple of days! Since the course here started on Monday, I have been running straight through from 7:30am (barring the one day I forgot you can't snooze a wakeup call, and showed up 15 minutes late :( )to midnight wishing there were more hours in the day to email, try uploading photos (still no luck), and write here. In any case, with no further ado, I present to you:

Bangkok: East Meets West, Part II - An Eastern City (sub-unit 1 of 2)

To refresh: after arriving at the airport, Jose (my boss) and I took a cab to our hotel. Jose went to sleep. I went to the gym. We met up in the lobby around 6 and headed out.

Our stroll down the road the hotel is on was my first taste at the Eastern-ness, and I skipped a quite a bit of this description in the previous post. The road is narrow (one lane that runs both ways) and very busy. There is a begger every 10 meters, a pushy cab or tuk-tuk (i'll get to this soon -
taxi? you want taxi? where you go? taxi? taxi?) driver every 5 meters, a food cart every 4 meters (STILL haven't tried the street fare), and counterfeit apparel, movies, and/or deadly and nonlethal weapons for sale every 1 meter (brass knuckles, knives, machetes, pellet guns, tazers - you name it). It is this way almost everywhere we walk in Bangkok.

During this first foray outside the hotel, I was most shocked, however, to find a huge elephant bumbling down the road toward us. As he and his handlers approached (don't think circus handler, think poor-looking, dirty, ragged clothes and shoeless handler - ok bad image, this could describe a circus handler too), Jose said to me in his Cuban - Spanish - American accent, "So you want to feed the elephant?" I thought he was joking, but sure enough, as pushy as any of the other vendors, taxi drivers, or peep show promoters, the elephant guy came up waving a plastic bag in my face, "you want to feed elephant, feed elephant, elephant ride, 100 baht." (baht is Thai currency. 1 USD = ~34 baht - cheap city! woohoo!) Jose, as the Director of Finance and Development (actually, promoted TODAY to Deputy Executive Director, congrats!) for The Union, was able to bargain the guy down to 50 baht, and I got 3 bags of sugar cane to feed the adorable (and intimidatingly large) elephant. I whipped out my Flip Mino (thanks jaffin/ungers!! can't wait to share the vids), hit record, and let Jose take it away as I fed the elephant! It was crazy, he would lift his trunk to my hand, I'd drop the cane into his nose, and he'd usher it into his mouth. I imagine eating this way would be quite inconvenient and uncomfortable - I don't want no sugar cane up my nasal passages.

The video is great - I'll upload it when I can :)

As we walked on, we passed a number of custom suit shops (I think I'll hit one tonight - get me a nice light suit for all these tropical climates). The turnaround is a matter of 2 or 3 days, including 2-3 refittings. I checked, and was quoted 4500 baht, ~150 USD for 100% linen. I've been told this is reasonable, but still advised to bargain.

This is the part when we walked to the huge malls (see Western City below), had dinner at the nytimes restau with Manju, after which we went to one of the night markets here.

The night market was, like the streets, crowded (although not to the extent I would have expected - maybe its the bad tourism, or the 'state of emergency'), full of shops (duh, its a market), and their pushy keepers. I needed to buy a pair of capris (because I like them, yes haters, but also cause that's what everyone wears here - and i didn't pack shorts cause i'm an idiot.) and found a nice pair at an air conditioned shop. I tried to haggle with the guy, but lacking Jose's finance experience, I wasn't able to get him down to the price I wanted to pay. Instead, I wound up with a pair for 180 baht, $6, and believe me, they're uhh worth just about that. Where's H&M when you need it? It was a minor victory for me though, as it represented my first bargaining victory - she wanted 250 baht! Thanks Manju for also sweet-talking the shopkeeper.

After meandering the tight aisles of 'Rays Bans' and 'Versaces' (not just Versace, but MANY Versaces) for a little while longer, we hunted down a taxi willing to take us on the meter (this is a real challenge!) and headed home. Jose went to sleep, and Manju and I went to Patpong as I have already explained in 'Western City.'

Patpong is another area, I guess known for its own market there and the 'night life.' By night life, what is actually meant is strip clubs. Literally on every sidewalk tile (or equivalent, I didn't notice if there are actually sidewalk tiles...) is a man with a card - a menu if you will, and you must - of different shows you can watch. Their favorite is ping pong show, "ping pong show, ping pong show, come on you see, ping pong show, ping pong show..." Now, I have no idea what a ping pong show is, but if this is their advertising strategy, I can only conclude that through their extensive marketing research, ping pong shows are the current market leaders. If I decide to go to one, I'll let you know what it is. I actually tried to buy the menu off one of the guys, but he said it was his only one. I told him to print up another and I'd return the next night. We'll see if I make it back.

You can see through most of the open doors about 10 or 15 'girls' dancing on the bars in matching bathing suits. It's sorta like Tuesday's vs Friday's if you will (for my non-American readership, Tuesday's and Friday's are low quality American chain restaurants where the wait staff dress in ridiculous outfits - usually red and white striped aprons or something...), but instead of aprons its matching bikinis. Anyway, I put 'girls' in 'quotation marks' because Manju warned me that some are trannies. I replied, "I guess you can get more than you paid for." Buh dum ching.

Eventually we took a cab back and went to bed. I stayed up til 4am and wrote "Western City" (my sleep-deprived-ness may be reflected in the interesting style and diction of that post - I reread it and was surprised at some of the things I wrote). Manju called me at 8 am, I had my "Egg McMuffin" (read about this in Western City), and then Manju and I took our private tour of the Royal Palace and Temples.

This could (and, well, probably should, but it's really the whole point of writing 'Eastern City'...) be a post in itself. I should also note that I'd rather wait for the pictures, but that'll be too long it seems :(

Ok. I've decided to make it its own post. I need to sleep and nobody has the attention span to make it through what I've got left to say (nor do I have that required to type it).

Here's a preview:

Anyway, our tourguide from the hotel went by P.C., and was very kind, smiley, and knowledegable (Thailand is the 'land of 1,000 smiles'). He drove us in our own mercedes (the make is circa 1980, but still cool!) to the sites, and then walked with us the whole day. If you intend to go (and I HIGHLY recommend it, as you'll see...) be sure to wear pants and closed-toed shoes, as you won't be allowed to enter the royal compound without this appropriate attire (they revere the monarchy...quite unlike the Prime Minister). First we saw the Temples, chapels, and several towers (I feel so uncultured, I don't remember the proper names of these, Manju, help!!). They were all breathtaking. Actually.

A bientot,