The town of Siem Reap and the Angkor temples, Cambodia, 2012

Back in late April of 2012 I did a very brief bucket list trip to experience first hand some of the temples of the (once hidden within the jungle) capital city of Angkor (or Yaśodharapura}, from the time of the Khmer/Angkor Empire (802-1431 AD) near the modern city, popular tourist destination of Siem Reap, Cambodia. We arrived the evening of April 23 and left on the night of the 26th… so essentially only three days. I’m posting about it now– using the notes I wrote on my Facebook account at the time to remind myself … because, to be honest…  I seriously doubt I’ll ever be able to do this trip a 2nd time.

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I went there with my Canadian work colleague — the one whose home, in Mill Bay Vancouver Island, I visited in June 2016. We shared an office in the Business school’s Marketing department for the entire time I taught at Kyung Hee University in Seoul South Korea… and took this trip together over the course of an extended weekend — I’m vague on it at the moment, but I think it may have been the period given to students to prepare for their midterm exams.

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Our one obligatory tourist shot… our tour guide insisted… what you don’t see is the long line of other tourists waiting to do exactly the same shot

Normally, this blog site will only cover trips from 2015 and later… or will reference back to previous trips because of more recent ones I’d just done (like the Halloween at Three Disney Parks post, or the one regarding Stubby Henge in Rolla, Missouri, where I compared it to the henge it mirrors back in England, visited in 2014)… But this was sort of a special case and the need to post about it has been plaguing me for a while now.

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Priests in their orange, and a balloon ride off in the distance

IF I were to go again, it would only be if I could stay there for like three weeks or longer, which is not something I would be willing to do as a woman traveling alone. So it would mean having to find a friend willing to go with me, and to spend that long leisurely exploring the sites together. This could of course happen, I’m just not sanguine about it…. so I’ve decided I sort of HAVE to document that trip (from SIX years ago) as best as I can remember it at this point… just for the heck of it.

So, let’s get started.

First off… Siem Reap’s Airport, was TINY!! The image below was NOT from the parking lot, as you might imagine, but was rather taken from the edge of the tarmac!

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(Don’t worry, the plum-colored shirt I’m wearing has the consistency of mosquito netting… utterly transparent up close, but helps keep the little malaria carriers at bay.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2351.jpgThe building was only one story tall, so it’s of the type of airport where they bring stairs to the plane, which is about as tall as the building itself…  and then you have to walk over to the building…

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The building as seen from the tarmac

As you can probably tell, we were able to get a direct non-stop flight from Korea to Siem-Reap airport. [One of the things we discovered while there is that Korean pretty much dominate a segment of the tourism trade there, and are disliked by the Cambodians because their businesses are insular — creating very little profit for the locals]. Passport control for all incoming flights is one tiny room…. and then you’re out.

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Inside was easily the cutest nicest passport processing area I’d ever seen, replete with what I, in-retrospect, learned to recognize as re-creations of the Angkor Wat statues that decorate most of the hotels and such around town (at the time I was a bit worried they might be originals, but they looked too shiny and clean). These are usually made by handicapped artists — often folks who survived stepping on land mines — from a training place located near our hotel (see images of that later).

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The whole building was very new, and very spotless. The Cambodian government has clearly been convinced of the benefits of tourism to its economy, and has invested likewise — probably with some help from UNESCO grants (but I was guessing).

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This was the North Gate bridge entrance to the Angor Thom temple complex (I know this only by searching Google maps for photos, and this location was distinct), which was the first place of many that we visited on the first day, with my friend/office mate and our tour guide for the day – who I am still Facebook friends with almost six years later (I’m putting up his link so if you go there and want a good guide… hire him). He had been an English lit major in university (and as such spoke English impressively well) but had to leave because his wife started to have health issues and he needed to earn money

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_22f4.jpgand our Tuk-tuk driver, who had been assigned to us for a whole trip… He picked us up at the airport and was supposed to have dropped us off at the end, but didn’t show up. I’m pretty sure we kind of stunned him cause we treated him like our friend instead of our hired help — only I ultimately think he didn’t trust it was real. We insisted he eat with us at almost every meal (he refused the first time, but then gave in), and treated him when he argued that it was out of his price range;

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we introduced him to his first cheese burger and fries [which he enjoyed a lot, although he was wondering where the vegetables were — a slice of tomato and a leaf of lettuce weren’t doing it for him]. During those meals, he shared with us that he had been a street kid after his parents died under the Khmer Rouge (ruled Cambodia 1975 – 1979), [for those unfamiliar with the regime, I suggest you read up about the Killing fields, or see the movie of the same name] but had been pulling himself up by his own bootstraps ever since. His English was very good, all things considered … I no longer remember his name because he never stayed in touch with us….. even though he said he would. AND, I might add, my friend was all ready to send him a box of textbooks on topics he said he’d wanted to study, because he couldn’t really afford to go to school but still wanted to able to study … For those who don’t know… the tuk-tuk, a sort of mechanized update on the rickshaw, is the omnipresent form of taxi in Cambodia — only they’re SO CHEAP that you can afford to rent them by the day, like your personal chauffeur …. MUCH more pleasant

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The carvings on the bridge are from Hindu mythology, and represent a serpent that is being used in a sort of epic tug of war,  to churn the sea of milk. According to our guide, the process resulted in the birth of many Hindu gods and the dancing nymphs. We saw this sort of image often throughout the temples …. as to the missing heads, sadly, he told us that during the civil war folks would knock off the best ones and sell them on the black market to private collectors.

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Something you see all over while traveling around these temples is workmen reconstructing them. On one hand, this is great for tourism… but as an anthropologist, I felt like I was continuously seeing an archeologist’s nightmare in progress. What they’re doing is taking the toppled blocks up from the ground, figuring out where they go and putting them back… so … on one hand, good… on the other… worrisome

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B+Zqcz2LSJKnZ4xQZ%qw0g_thumb_3a6b.jpgAnother thing you see is these temples aren’t just tourist destinations, they are still used by the locals for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it gets pretty depressing, a few times we saw mothers who had seriously sick kids and were praying for them… Often the sort of illnesses you just don’t see in affluent societies. One particularly unforgettable example was a baby who seemed to have water on the brain so that the head was the size of a large watermelon on the torso of a baby who looked to be less than a year old.

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The old nymphs, and the modern ones

The cleaning staff is everywhere, constantly cleaning… Again, on one hand an archaeological nightmare, but it made me think of how this must have also been true way back when these temples were in their heyday.

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We were worried about this little guy, but it turned out that his mom (one of the cleaning staff) and his FIVE brothers and sisters all weren’t far away… again you saw this a lot, mom’s who were on the cleaning staff brought all their kids with them… often kids who should have been in school. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2354.jpg

At this point I have to make an admission… I think at some point before this trip I had ‘neuroticly’ turned off GPS tracking on my phone, and as such, I’m not actually sure WHICH temples the following photos are from… they’re in order… I just can’t specify the specific locations. and there are a lot of little temples along side the big ones that I’m pretty sure they took us to, and I’m only posting what I felt were the best pictures (there were a LOT of pictures)

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Our tour-guide, took us off the beaten path around the back of the temples, away from the masses of tourists so that he could share with us one of his favorite things about this place…. the chorus of birds doing jazz rifts in the forest. Also, the trees in these jungles (much of which have been cleared in order to better display the temples) have a beauty to them that’s a bit like modern art

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you can’t really see it from this angle but from the side (and looking at it sideways) this lump I’m touching looked like a head and two outstretched arms.

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An amazingly beautiful sight… the way the light was hitting the tree, etc..

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Note the images visible in the doorway

These wild chickens are EVERYWHERE… in case you ever doubted that the domesticated chicken began in Asia and moved west…all you need to do is look at these birds

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they’re definitely chickens, but look really skinny, tough and inedible…. and they run very fast. This totally makes sense, think about it… flightless birds that are as slow as our domesticated chickens really do need to be protected from predators in order to survive, while these guys move SO fast… and you have to look hard cause their chicks are almost perfectly camouflaged by the leaves

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I love the way the two human forms sort of mirror each other, the nymph, and the man
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Like ants, crawling up a hill…

When it came to the big temples like this one my friend, who is much hardier stock than me — the woman rode her bicycle to work every day while I took a taxi because just the walk up the hill (our University’s business school was at the top of a relatively steep hill) was too much for me.

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These orchestras were everywhere, and would switch out every few hours at the same choice locations. All are made up of horribly disfigured amputees, missing limbs, eyes, you name it.

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More toppled stones being replaced into the locations they believe they came from, like a giant 3D puzzle.

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The hoards, lining up for the obligatory picture on the pedestal… Everyone comes here wanting to take the same picture… in the same place, under the same tree… Also note all the blocks of stone that are on the ground… Those are both the walls and I assume some ceiling bits?

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I think this is my favorite picture of me from the whole trip

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The killer embrace

If you look you’ll see that in the background, behind my friend and the guide, are two trees, with one wrapping itself around the one below it…. and killing it.

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And when you walk through the doorway around to the other side of the wall you see this… the roots of the killer tree like the tendrils of an alien crushing the buildings….

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But again everyone wants their picture in front of it, because its also kind of beautiful. After this our guide took us to a different place, but the Tuk tuk driver needed to stop for fuel first… which turned out to be kind of a horrifying experience….

%HZz+qpVTvKnRznYDaGU5Q_thumb_c252.jpgthese are what roadside gas stations look like in Cambodia…. they’re everywhere, loaded up with empty water bottles or such… filled with what looks like lemonade .. but is actually fuel.

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As we drove we came across monkeys sitting by the side of the road, my friend and I kept squealing out.. “Baby monkeys!! Baby monkeys!! Baby monkeys!!” Our driver had to be convinced to turn around and let us ogle them… Cambodians see them as annoying pests

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_39e3.jpgFor some reason, maybe it was because we’d just seen the monkeys, our guide decided that when we approached Angkor Wat the first time it should be from the back side of the temple, rather than front…

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The famous Angkor Wat Temple, from the back

And this is where we saw a representation of the monkey wars… I forget that actual story but after our glee at seeing monkey’s this was where our tour guide took us next

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If you look to the left you see the beginnings of carvings that were never completed

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Note!! The Buddhas in this hallway are all missing their heads… Again, they were broken off and sold during the civil war (according to our guide)

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Again, the monkey wars

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When they dug this temple out of the jungle, this building was dense with bats, and the ground deep with bat-shit, which is apparently very acidic. The acid mud when the rain hit it ate away the bottoms of these pillars

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_237a.jpgLocals poured into here to have a red thread tied around their wrists, and to be blessed by the old man. Our tour guide (who was wearing one) explained that it was sort of Cambodian belief that these red bracelets warded off evil spirits

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The detailed caving on this wall depict a massive battle from Hindu belief; the reason it is black and shiny is from so many hands having touched them over the years. As a result, now they try to discourage people from touching the walls because all the acid from their hand is eating away at the stone the same way that bat shit ate away at that pillar

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The famous Angkor Wat, from an angle

This guy had earlier in the day asked me if I would take a picture for him. Later we ran into him again, and he insisted on buying me a coconut as a thank you, an offer that I quickly took him up on. I had already figured out at lunch that coconuts were going to be my dehydration savior. I was pretty much dying at the time, when our guide suggested I get a coconut water. I slurped the thing down, and my friend said she could see the light coming back into my eyes.  I ordered two more and was right as rain and good to go, after having been almost at death’s door not a few minutes before, because of dehydration.

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Coconut water is not only sterile to the point where you can use it as IV fluid in a pinch… but it’s better than Gatorade at curing dehydration. He ended up buying them for our whole group (including our guide). Turned out he was a retired cop from a Malay Island we’d never heard of, and was in town for two days just so that he could see Angkor Wat before he died. We agreed that too was why we had come as well, because it was a bucket list item — we then had to explain to him what a bucket list was.

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Me and my friend, at Angkor Wat

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The Buddha’s footprints

After this, they took us to a silk farm; this group is trying to ensure that the traditional skill of silk production doesn’t disappear (which it almost did after the civil war), and also as a way of trying to keep locals in the rural areas by providing them with gainful employment

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I learned that raw silk is actually yellow and is the other part of the shell… while refined silk is white and is the inner part of the silk thread

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if you look close you see the individual threads being drawn out

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UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2352.jpgAn example of a traditional Cambodian pattern, is present in the stone carvings at the temples… of course they’re taking you here in hopes that you’ll buy some silk. We didn’t.

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At the end of our VERY long day, we were taken for an hour-long foot/leg massage, which was included in the cost of the tour… we later discovered that a massage like this in Cambodia only costs about $5. They even offer them in the waiting area in the airport near the duty-free shops (only more expensive).

END of Day ONE

YUP, ALL of that was ONE day… in Cambodia, in April when the average temperature is a whooping 96 F !!!! AND HUMID!!! If I were to try to do all that today in those temps, I’d die!

DAY NUMBER TWO…

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On the second day we went to a less visited area where the temples had not yet been “reconstructed” and the difference in what we were looking at was radical.  The other places also had stones on the ground, but nowhere near as many. I’m not sure if Angkor Wat and the places we saw the day before — which draw most of the tourists — had when re-discovered simply been in  better condition than this or not… and that’s why they’re famous. (As in maybe they weren’t the best temples at the height of the Khmer Empire, but were just the ones who survived best over time).

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But consider (images above and below) the state of this building andu766TCcgSfSCbJpQ0apkJw_thumb_c253.jpg

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note the HUGE difference from the ones I visited yesterday

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All HAIL Coconut water… seriously, if you go to Cambodia, this is your dehydration savior. Happily they were sold everywhere. When I first got there I was suspicious but it’s actually the safest thing you can drink. Coconut water is a completely sterile solution till the moment the flesh is pierced… and the women who work these stands are SO good at their jobs that they can whack off the top chunk suck that just a tiny layer of fresh coconut fruit is left covering the top. You poke a straw through that to get at the drink inside…. and if you’ve got a spoon, you can can scrape out the fresh coconut for a snack afterwards.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2327.jpg

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Like I said before, it was Cambodia, it was HOT and it was humid…. and I have a strong preference for elevators….

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My friend however was more than game to climb up the temple steps, while I stayed on the ground and took photos.

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These priests were really excited to talk to us. I think most tourists kind of just look at them in awe and don’t get that priestly duty in these countries isn’t any different from say… the two obligatory years of working as a missionary is for Mormons; the only difference being as Buddhists, you can do those two years at almost any age…  (I of course know all this because my boyfriend in college was a getting his Ph.D. in Buddhist philosophy) Although most folks chose to do their obligatory service to the religion it at about high-school because it makes it easier to find a good job or a wife if you’ve already done it, the fact is some will even do it when they’re young children

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After this, our Tuk-Tuk driver took us to this temple, after asking us first if he could. As I said previously his parents died under the Khmer Rouge… these memorials, which include the actual bones dug up from the killing fields offer a stark reminder to the Cambodians of those times. It marks the location of the one the 20,000 mass grave sites that were uncovered after the end of the regime. To save on ammunition, most of these people were killed via blunt force trauma, hammers, blades, axes, etc.. The location is not just a holocaust spot, but rather doubles as a school and orphanage, so alongside this visual is the sound of children’s laughter.

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At the end of the day, after a bit of a rest they took us to a buffet and show (included in the price of the hotel, if you can believe it); we insisted that our Tuk-tuk driver eat with us rather than stay out at the vehicle, which turned out to be a very good thing for us because, and we didn’t know this in advance, until he broke his leg in an accident which resulted in a limp, he had been a dancer at this very show and knew a lot of the dancers.

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Apparently, in Cambodia, the hospitals just amputate badly broken legs that require anything more than just being set in cast. That is, of course, unless your family can pay for better care, and as I said previously he’d been a street orphan. So instead of going to a hospital for care, he’d had gone to the priests who did NOT amputate, but now one leg was a bit shorter than the other.

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It’s amazing how these shots light up ever speck of dust on your lens

We had to get to bed a bit early that night, because our next morning was going to start very early. We were going to do the obligatory “sunrise over Angkor Wat” — a trip that was also included in the price of the hotel room.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2386.jpg

For me, part of the fun was watching the hordes of tourists, all taking photos where if you adjusted your exposure right, it almost looked like you were there by yourself, watching it…

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only you weren’t you wee surrounded by hundreds of people (and keep in mind this was the off season) watching the same thing….

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I don’t even want to think about the crush would be like at the height of Siem Reap’s season.

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One of the omni present features of the temples is the mass of hucksters, selling everything from silks, to fans, to postcards.

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Something that is a bit disturbing about it is that more than a few of these hucksters should really be in school. But the economics of the situation is that their parents need them working, because tourists are more likely to buy something from a little kid.

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We figured the pig had gotten away from the restaurant (which is off to the right of this location — it’s the same place where the cop bought me a coconut the day before.)

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The long shadow taking the photo is me

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After this … my friend who I was traveling with leads a grueling pace…

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we went on a boat trip down the river to where the floating towns are located

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A boat loaded with priests… note the orange robes

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Life along the river was kind facilitating, at first I wondered about having their lives on display like this, but then I figured a river is not really any different from road, or a train, and it was like how you can look in on people’s lives as you traveled past

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A floating town (that’s not the shore)

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That said, some of the house-boats were really, REALLY, nice and immacuatly kept up

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Note how the well-kept houseboats have satellite dishes and TV antenna’s. Thing is when you first see it you don’t really notice those little details — in part because you have your own assumptions about how these people live their lives. Me, I was wondering how they got their power…

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cars in the driveway

And there were also some less affluent homes

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While there we stopped at a store where they tried to sell us school supplies for our next stop, which was going to the be the village’s school.

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My friend, who is a bleeding heart liberal, wanted to buy some… but I was skeptical (having pointed out the satellite dishes to her along with some other details of affluence), and didn’t let her. Our Tuk-Tuk driver (who had come with us) grinned widely after I did so, and backed me up. He said normally he never says anything but it’s a huge scam. Tourists buy supplies, and as soon as they’re gone, the unopened supplies go right back the store to be sold over and over again, with most of the profit going to the store… which is NOT owned by the boat people.

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This boat, which he pointed out after was docked next to the school, loaded up with tourist donation about to head back to the store

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_2312.jpgAnd THEN after this visit, we were taken to a project not far from our hotel, where handicapped men were taught to create duplicates of the sculptures at the temples, to decorate hotels and sell to tourists.

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By this point in the day I was really worn out by our travels, the early morning, and the heat, and my tummy for some reason wasn’t happy with me, so begged out of what my friend had lined up for us as for the afternoon (more temples). Instead I stayed home at the hotel and rested for a few hours, and got to enjoy the view from our hotel, before we went out for dinner

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Before our trip, my friend and I discovered (to my horror) that by the time we got around to looking into it that it was too late to start the anti-malarial treatment. We got shots for Japanese Encephalitis and some other thing, but Malaria is a HUGE deal in Cambodia. That said, apparently since Siem Reap is the ONE major draw for tourism to the country, the government actually invests a lot of money in trying to control the mosquito population in the jungles that surround it. But I was still nervous, so I basically bathed in repellent on a daily basis, and soaked that cheese cloth like shirt in the stuff for good measure — I was not pleasant smelling the whole trip, but I didn’t care. Happily, I managed to avoid the little suckers and only got ONE mosquito bite, on our very last night in Cambodia (when I’d begun to get lax in my neuroticism), at the fancy restaurant we took our Tuk Tuk driver to which was on the edge of town (across from a graveyard) … I was praying it was NOT a malaria carrier… and luckily it wasn’t.

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Diving the Great Barrier Reef & learning about underwater photography: Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Earlier this week I am happy to say that I completed yet another one of my bucket list items; I went scuba diving/snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef along the eastern coast of Australia…. before it died completely. That said, I’m VERY sorry to say that, at least for the bits I was able to see up close, were already pretty much bleached/dead, when compared to pictures I have seen over the years of the explosion of color it once was…. very sad. Global climate change, it’s a thing.

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My travel-buddy and I had went up to Cairns in northern Queensland, which is the town located closest to barrier reef, and stayed there for a week. Be warned! Once you get there you’ll be barraged with boat tour options because Cairns is about either diving the reef, or visiting the UNESCO world heritage area rainforests/wetlands that line this part of the Australian coast. We ultimately opted for a company a friend of ours had previously used and been very happy with, called Reef Experience, which advertises itself as the only one to offer “all-inclusive” tours… no “hidden fees”, etc.

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This would be one of the photos they sell to you, taken by their photographer

What this translates to (per my understanding, which may be flawed)… is that while there are other companies that may seem cheaper… in reality they all pretty much cost the same or in fact more, while delivering essentially the same offerings. The major difference is other companies might not include various taxes and fees and what not (cost of the swim gear?) in the advertised price, and you’ll find you have to choose to add them in addition, or not dive… and by the time you do, those other guys are actually more expensive (unless you own all your own scuba gear, etc).

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Our tour group, including me and my friend (can you spot me?). The company posted this to their Facebook page for us to download afterwards — a freebie photo

They do have an online website, but I, rather than make the reservation that way, dragged my ass into their offices (a short walk from our Airbnb) FIVE days in advance of our trip …  on the assumption that this would keep problems from developing … I paid for the two reservations, and they asked were there any food restrictions. I explained that my friend was a vegetarian who was allergic to mushrooms. So, all good, and was told what to bring with me, when we’d be picked up, etc… and went home.

TWO days later (on Sunday, when we were supposed to dive on Wednesday), and I might add AFTER it was already two late to cancel and get a refund!!!!! I get an email explaining that under Queensland law, not everyone is legally allowed to do scuba diving and that we had to both fill out a medical form and send them a list of all the medications that we were taking, dosage, and how often; They would then show the list to their dive doctor and he would say if we could dive; or he would say that we needed to go to a doctor to be certified in person as healthy enough to do scuba. WHY they could not have told me that when I was in the office, and given me the form then, I don’t know. …. AND this was no PDF that we could fill-in and then send back to them, or even a website to fill out, it was an image file (???!!!). Something you needed to print out and fax back. Now keep in mind, we’re tourists, and I’ve yet to find a really portable printer (and who the fuck brings those on a plane?) and the Airbnb we were renting didn’t have “business office” facilities … so we had to get REALLY creative to figure out how to fill this thing… my friend, who is a professional geek, luckily had an image editor on his laptop… I have no idea how other people might manage it

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Also, read the form REALLY carefully. [Have you EVER suffered from a cold? Our best guess was that was, what’s called in the legal profession, a gotcha question; i.e, IF anything bad happens that you might want to sue them over, odds are you answered “have you ever had the common cold” with “No” because you want to be allowed to go scuba diving, and they can then say “SEE they lied on the form! They can’t sue us!”

So… Early Monday morning, after finally figuring out how to fill this thing in, and before we left to do the tourist stuff we had come to Cairns to do — which was NOT filling out medical forms, we sent it to them. LATE Monday night — seriously I kept checking my emails for a response from them, it didn’t come till around 9pm…. we got an email saying that their doctor had OK’d me to dive, but my NOT my friend (who is WAY healthier than I am and not a month before had been scuba diving in the waters off of Bali). Do not pass go, do not collect $200…. He had be seen by an actual doctor to get OK’d to dive, and they suggested a 24 hour walk-in-clinic nearby. My friend (being too tired and grumpy to go that night) contacted them to make an actual appointment for the next morning, but was told he couldn’t get one, that he had to come in as a walk-in, and hope to be seen on a first come first seen basis starting 5pm. (We called the company, who started calling around to other clinics and NONE could see him.) So the next day, he went over at 4:30 …but the doctors on staff did NOT know of his medication, and could NOT ok him to dive! They told him he had to come back AGAIN the following morning at 6:00 AM, BEFORE our 7:30 am dive, when the doctor who actually knew his stuff would be there. So my friend did, and that doctor said it was no problem — the drug is a common one in the USA, but less commonly used in Australia — and thankfully my friend was able to go there and be back by 7am, in time for our 7:30 bus…. which came 10 minutes early…. and after all that rushing, we were dropped off and discovered we now had to stand and wait for the boat crew to be ready…. because they were not.

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Talk about hurry up and wait!!! But back to the issue of pricing…. Essentially most of the one-day tours at this price point, about $150 USD/person, all seemed to last for about the same length. You should expect need to arrive at your ship at about 7:30 am and return to port at 4:30 pm. (Like I said, ours included pickup from and drop-off at our hotel — and thankfully the Airbnb was actually IN a hotel or they would not have — as part of the price… on the up side, they did call us when they were about to arrive. I STRONGLY suggest you find what the nearest hotel to you is, and set that as your pick up location if your airbnb is NOT so situated)

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Finally the staff arrived to check us all in. We had to show either the print out of our ticket or an email confirming it. On their sheet I saw that they had my friend listed as vegetarian, but NOTHING about his mushroom allergy, so I reminded them…. they said “thank you” and wrote it down…..

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This guy was traveling solo

Then every group of visitors (friends, families, etc) had their photo taken… like the one I posted at the top of the blog…. this is a photo you’ll be expected to buy later…

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Before the boat got started they talked to us, and told us that motion sickness pills (both medicinal and ginger tablets) were available. The Medical ones were $3 AUD for two pills (one for BEFORE we got moving, the second to be taken after lunch), which I went straight over the purchased… and was SO glad I did. Even with, I had to focus on calm breathing and such during part of the rougher parts of the ride out. During the way out to the dive site they fed us breakfast, and lets just say some of the folk who had thought they didn’t need the pills had ‘spilled their cookies’. For my travel buddy…. they had a veggie burger, which he didn’t want because he wasn’t hungry… and for everyone else there were fried-egg and bacon sandwiches… I just had a fried egg which I patted down with paper towels, to remove the oil. While doing it I talked to the chef-female and asked her, “did they tell you my vegetarian friend is allergic to mushrooms?” and the answer was “NO they  had NOT.!”… Keep in mind I told them this TWICE…. AND she kind of freaked because the dish she was getting ready to make for his lunch, was FULL of mushrooms!!!! That’s a MAJOR screw up!!

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There’s a top deck for those wanting to tan and rest, note the resort deck out in the distance (it just stays out there pretty much 24/7)

SO, that said… Along the way no matter which cruise you take, they’ll feed you breakfast, lunch, and a snack on the return trip (ours were all you can eat, and there was enough for seconds) — which is either included or you’ll need to pay extra. Ours was included, with water, tea and coffee for free…. pop or beer cost extra.

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Taken using their underwater rental camera… notice the color difference between the shoe in or out of the water?

Once out there, you’ll be lent a blue “stinger suit’ to protect you from jelly fish stings, a pair of flippers, a snorkel and goggles. Our company also lent a wet suit to anyone who was a certified swimmer and didn’t have their own (again something that I think other companies might charge you for). They seemed to have all the gear at pretty much every size, so for instance my friend who wears a shoe size of 13 Australia /49 European & 15 US — huge feet, has trouble find socks and shoes, WAS able to borrow ones that fit… while my feet are at the other end of spectrum (unusually small for a white girl, although average for an Asian woman), and I was also able to find ones that fit snuggly.

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They even had prescription goggles that they were lending out for free. I have particularly horrible eyesight, and doubted they’d have mine… but they had one that was close enough to allow me to see, and even had one that was for folks who were even worse than me… although they weren’t bifocals so I could see far but not near….

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Me, with my borrowed prescription goggles — purchased pic

Once we got out to the reef and dropped anchor, everyone got one scuba dive with an instructor (if they weren’t already certified), where the staff helps you get into the gear, into the water, and then makes sure you can both breath properly using the tank and regulator, and are able to expel water from your goggles while under the water (because apparently the goggles have not yet been made where that won’t happen).

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The rental camera is red filtered for underwater use, and is kind of lousy above it

And then you get led around by the instructor for about 20 minutes after that, after the photographer has had a chance to take pics of you while under the water. A second optional scuba dive was available for $65 AUD more (clearly advertised as such in advance), and you could make up your mind to add it after you’ve done the first depending on how you felt about it.

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This platform (holding a mini motor boat for emergency pick ups) was lowered into the water, and we took off from it, see the 12 air tanks lined up?

The first dive was about half an 35 min and included instructions and making sure each diver UNDERSTOOD them and could demonstrate them (one on one testing), while the second scuba dive is 45 minutes with none of it wasted on instruction. IF you are a certified diver… you could spend the WHOLE time swimming alone, but if not you HAD to swim with a guide and HAD to go through the lesson, even if, like my travel buddy, it’s not your first time going scuba diving. In fact in my group of four swimmers,  I was the only virgin who had never done it before.

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The red filter is simplistic, and makes everything look green

So the pic above — see how it’s very green? — That was one I took with their underwater rental camera which cost me about $99 to rent (but included my choice of 15 of the professional photographer shots … not great, … The pics below are that are blue, are by their photographer…. the very big fish is like the crew’s pet. Apparently this type of fish has a 5 year memory and is a bit like a dog in terms of his level of affection for the divers who come by daily

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The professional photos were color adjusted using very expensive specialized software, I’m SURE of it, because I watched him doing it.

So again, compare the color palate of the pics by the professional (blue) with the one they rented me (green), which I used while scuba diving… i.e., going MUCH deeper into the water than I would experience while snorkeling… much higher water pressure.

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The above were also passed through some basic color balancing attempts by me, using my Macbook’s photo program not complex algorithms for divers

Dealing with this pressure, and the fact that the goggles flood regularly is a big part of what they taught us before we went down. I felt ok for most of it; there were some initial problems my regulator which for some reason was set so tightly that I was having to REALLY force the air out while breathing, I could just breath out.

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Multiple boats all sharing reef adjacent areas, and little platforms set up about midway between

I hand signaled the instructor as we’d been instructed… we went to the surface and I told him about it and he made some sort of adjustment to the thing…  and from then on it was fine. Also between the fat on my ass and my tits, there was too much buoyancy between me and the suit (which also has built-in air pockets) so that I wasn’t able to submerge like everybody else … again I asked to go up… explained it to him… he made some more adjustments and then I was fine.

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A purchased pic of the diving staff, the blond guy front and center led my group of 4+him

After we finished the dive the instructor (blond guy wearing glasses above) told me that I had actually done unusually well and should feel proud of myself. He said that MOST virgins on the first dive freak out during the instruction section, because of problems breathing, or feeling like they were being water boarded, or whatever…. and MOST never actually manage to get past the initial instruction phase to do the scuba dive itself. I on the other hand had managed to do the whole thing, including pretty much the whole time allocated to the dive.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_213c.jpgBut at the very end of it my core muscles in my torso, and the muscles in my legs were just knackered. At that point, my friend, who is a strong swimmer, signed up not for the 2nd scuba dive (which he had intended to do) but rather for a snorkel dive with the ships marine biologist (I forget what the fee for that was, but it was less than the snorkel dive), which you could only sign up for if you were a strong swimmer. Since I was tired, he ‘informed’ me that he was borrowing my rental camera. 

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Me, showing off my iPhone in it’s waterproof plastic case, $28 AUD/~$20 USD ($13 on amazon)

Before going on the trip I had found a camera store just near our Airbnb rental. The girl working there had convinced me that the rental underwater camera’s offered by these trips weren’t actually all that good, and intended more for video than photos. That a better option, was to use my own iPhone inside one of these clear, heavy plastic zip-lock bags designed for smart phones. She said that’s what she uses and has used for a few years, and if you’re NOT going to invest in a top of the line camera it’s really the best choice. Supposedly I COULD have used it for scuba diving but to be honest, I didn’t trust it to keep my iPhone dry more than a few feet down …. but I figured snorkeling it could manage…. and in addition to the scuba outing, which you HAD to do with a crew member unless you had certification to scuba solo (which takes a full three days minimum to complete in Australia) there were two chances to go snorkeling independently (about four hours total) — although you had to stay within a certain distance of the boat/life guards while doing it ….

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Googles maps

An image of an underwater reef taken from above the water, they’re easy to spot, and at points they come up so high that boats can’t pass over them… so snorkeling really is a viable option… at the right locations you don’t HAVE to go very deep to seem them. Our boat while it ultimately docked at two different locations, so we got to see some variation of the reef while limiting our snorkeling to within the ken of the lifeguards. Although, that said…. BOTH locations were on/at the bit of the barrier called the Norman reef — if you look at a map of the barrier reef, it looks like a line of underwater islands.

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As the medical thing we had to go through earlier demonstrated, not everyone can scuba dive safely because of medical reasons— for instance people taking certain prescriptions aren’t allowed,  and not everyone feels comfortable scuba diving (even among those who want to, they freak out when first trying it as it can be claustrophobic and a bit like being water boarded). As such, even though scuba is included in the price, you can choose to just do snorkeling the whole time, if you’d rather

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These were the photos I took during our first chance at snorkeling, before we did our scuba session, when I was still using their rented underwater go-pro type camera (i.e., everything is very green)

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Photos from the rented camera, even after I futzed with the color balance on my computer, still not very good (but better)

… First thing I noticed when doing snorkeling was that MUCH bigger fish than I saw by the reefs seemed to like to hang out JUST under the boat. I think it has something to do with what was in the blue plastic bin they had hanging below the boat… it had these things that looked like transponders in it which I guess sent out sound-waves that attracts the fish to the boat… but that’s just an educated guess (after they pulled up the crate, no more big fish were hanging out down there). Anyway, once again… here was the photo I took of the photographer using the expensive to rent underwater rental camera … very very green

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And by comparison, THIS is the image of the same guy only this time I was using my iPhone inside the plastic bag. See how BLUE everything is? And sort of monotone everything is?

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Taken with my iPhone … really

DwdX1JAQSv+xgt9Rj8NcXg_thumb_c24e.jpgAfterwards, at the end of the trip while we were heading back to port, one of the staff members saw me flipping through images, and suggested try a free app for the smart phone, that she loves, which would automatically color correct my photos for me (it also allows you to modify that correction, less or more, etc) called Dive+ … which I did… and here’s what it looks like (before and after)

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So it’s a sort of judgement call as to whether to use it or not to apply the correction… but I was actually REALLY happy with some of the photos I ultimately got with the iPhone/Dive+ combo

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Love this one, it’s very other worldly

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I keep wondering how far down the professional dive photographer had to go to find this shot (below) … because it was NOT up near the surface where we were snorkeling (images above), that’s for sure

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Purchased image from our dive, also visible on their Facebook page

That said, its pretty clear from my images that the barrier reef, at least up at the top where a snorkelers could see it is already like 90% bleached out in these areas… which is very very sad.

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bottom right is scuba and deep divers (folks who are experienced enough to hold their breaths and go deep)

OR of course, if you don’t TRUST the plastic pack to keep your smartphone dry, you could always still rent from one of those underwater cameras from the tour company … which I opted for — at the last-minute — as the thought of a water-logged smartphone popped into my brain before the scuba dive. I admit I did this AFTER a lecture by the photographer about how much better my photos would be if I had the right equipment…

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purchased pic of me and my friend … I’m holding the rented phone (at the end of the yellow thing… which will make it float/bob in the water if you loose it) in my left hand

Actually I think that it was because  I decided to rent their go-pro-type underwater camera (the yellow thing in my left hand in the picture below) along with a package of 15 of the digital photos the professional photographer took……that they decided to put the above photo on their Facebook page… I’m GUESSING it was because … as far as I know, I was one of only TWO people who had opted to rent one of those underwater camera things, and as the camera is front and center in this photo, above, the photo helps to promote other people renting it

Domestic air-terminals in Australia are different from in the USA

So, yesterday we flew from Sydney north to Brisbane, changed planes, and kept on north to Townsville Airport, which is where you start seeing the Great Barrier Reef… bucket list travel to be sure. We were heading towards Magnetic Island, which is for the most part a tourism destination…. lots of beaches and hiking and mother nature at her Aussie finest

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will blog about it later, but suffice it to say, this is the view from our airbnb’s bed

Anyway, getting here we flew Virgin Airlines domestic. There were a few things about the airports that I found interesting. Firstly, in the domestic terminals there are few to any food places in the public areas before you pass security. This seemed strange to me because people regularly arrive at airports early, for one reason or another, and need to hang out and wait till it’s time to check in. (The reason for the absence made sense to me a bit later.)

The second thing I noticed was that … in Australia, when flying DOMESTIC (I checked, this is not true when flying international), you do NOT need a boarding pass in order to pass security. THIS in part is why there’s not much in the way of hanging out places before security. The fact is that as long as you’ve only got carry-on type luggage, you don’t really need to wait to check in before accessing the food and shopping options on the other side of it. I somehow doubt you can pass a full-sized suitcase through… but we arrived at the airport a good two hours before check in would normally be allowed, and — since we were flying Virgin, one of the major Aussie carriers (their desk is ALWAYS open) — they happily checked out bags anyway.

To be honest, I had missed the fact that something was absent from the normal process when we entered the line for security, i.e., no one stopped us to check our boarding passes; but, it was like little voice in the back of my head that went ignored. I only realized that something was off when I saw a of couple, standing right near the gates, doing what was clearly tearful goodbyes …. at a gate. This confused me at first…. Why are these two standing the middle of the walkway, holding on to each other like it was the last time they’d ever see each other? The woman had tears trailing down her face, and he was kissing her sweetly. This is the sort of thing you USED to see in the USA at airport departure gates before 9-11, but you just don’t anymore because of loved ones no longer allowed to approach said gates (tearful goodbye have to happen before security and tend to be rushed, because no one wants to miss a flight because of the long lines that can happen there). And then later as we were boarding, I was watching two friends (who I had initially assumed were traveling together) saying their goodbye, and then one loaded the plane with us while the other turned and left to exit the airport…. and the light bulb in the brain went off as I finally put the pieces together.

When we landed in Brisbane I also noticed a few people who were clearly waiting at the gate for folks to get off. They were standing there with faces of happy expectation, looking at every person who walked off — in the face — clearly looking for someone they hadn’t seen in a while …. Again, you just don’t see that sort of the thing at gates in the USA anymore. When you do, its AFTER people have exited the controlled areas, which are guarded to keep anyone from walking in-the-out-doors, so to speak.

And then when we got to Townsville, as we unloading I noticed there was a bar before you exited the controlled area, that seemed to be utilized by locals, just hanging out. REALLY unusual from my perspective. I almost had the feeling that IF you live right by the airport in Townsville, it’s a SMALL town, that’s the local bar. Again in small towns in the US you might find bars like this BEFORE security, but not after… at least not since 9-11 happened.


And on a totally different note: our airline stewardess on Virgin Airlines from Brisbane to Townsville looked like Gal Gadot’s (i.e., Wonder Woman’s), not as attractive, sister.

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the resemblance was particularly pronounced in profile and when she was smiling.

 

The roaming route 66 salesman

Met this guy while staying at Motel Safari in Tucumcari, New Mexico, he drives up and down 66 selling stuff to the motels that says Route 66 .

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And here I thought my car had a lot of stickers…

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He says he’s originally from the Chicago area and got into the business by selling a map he created about how to negotiate route 66, and since then has added all sort of other items to what he sells.

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PS, found these today, it is the map this guy was selling…. with the price marked out and being sold for twice that…

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Is there a the connection between Lincoln logs and the log cabin Abraham Lincoln was born in? HMMMMMMMM…. a theory

I have just come up with a convoluted but not so unlikely theory regarding the invention of Lincoln logs and why they are called Lincoln logs…

So yesterday while Visiting Lincoln’s home in Springfield, IL I learned they were invented by Frank Loyd Wrights son…

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Well I have been the memorial for Lincoln’s birthplace, inside of which stands a log cabin

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today I learn I was wondering who were these Lincoln Farm Association folks…  and learned that…

According to Wikipedia:

Richard Lloyd Jones “From 1903 until 1911, he was a writer and associate editor for Collier’s Weekly, working under the publisher Robert J. Collier.[1] In 1905, Robert Collier and Jones collaborated to buy the old Abraham Lincoln farm at auction in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Then they organized a fundraising campaign to establish a historic site, which was opened during the Lincoln Centennial in 1909. The first board of trustees for the site included Jones, Jenkin Lloyd Jones [his dad]Mark TwainWilliam Jennings Bryan and President William H. Taft.[1]

AND….

Jenkin Lloyd Jones was not only a famous Unitarian minister, but was ALSO the uncle of Frank Lloyd Wright.

So what you ask?

I have been to Lincoln’s birth place, and according to both the staff member at the memorial  and Wikipedia the log cabin that is there is NOT the original, but according to this site it was — or at least the guys who made up the Lincoln Association, who were the ones that bought the building thought it was. Doing more research I found this site which sort of explains the confusion.

Apparently, in 1894 a speculator by the name of A.W. Dennett bought the farm where Lincoln had been born thinking people would want to see it, and had deconstructed a two-story log cabin found on a different part of the property, and moved its logs over to the spot where the original farm was thought to have stood (the original building had long ago been disassembled and he just assumed that this Lincoln cabin had been built using those logs). He then opened the spot for business, only no one came — because, no one was interested enough to shelp to rural Kentucky… So, as the saying goes, if you can’t bring Mohammed to the Mountain…. and at one point he added the logs from the cabin that was supposed to have been the childhood home of Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy. But, with all the building and taking-apart and moving around, the Davis logs and the Lincoln logs got mixed up… so that by the time the Lincoln Farm Association got around to buying the land and the logs back from Dennett, it was anybody’s guess (by historical standards) which if any of the logs were from the original house, when they ‘rebuilt the house’ in Hodgenville.

SO, Frank Loyd Wright’s son is the cousin of the guy who started the foundation to buy up the property that had been Lincoln’s birthplace and original home which was on touring display (come see Lincoln’s cabin) both of which were owned by the same guy… oh and this guy also own the Jefferson Davis logs from his original home and would show them together… and in the South, Lincoln logs were not marketed as Lincoln logs, they were marketed as Jefferson Davis Logs… coincidence? I doubt it…

 

‘Women-Only’ Train-Cars in Japan

You’d THINK ‘women-only’ carriages would only happen in cultures like the Middle East, where the genders are kept separate, but you’d be wrong. In an effort to combat ASSHOLE men who think a crowded train is the perfect opportunity to put their hands up the skirt of any women unlucky enough to be standing next to them, various cities around the world have begun to institute “women only carriages” in their trains, including Tokyo.

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Today I spent best part of a miserable day (Tokyo was having a gale, i.e., a storm with very little rain but near constant 30 to 50 mph wind gusts) at Tokyo Disneyland (hey, a woman has got to have her priorities); and while heading back home to my airbnb had my first encounter with this phenomena.

Because of having to fight intense winds the whole day I was already exhausted, and the whole route (from the airbnb to Disney) takes a miserable 1.25+ hours — and includes a LOT of additional walking as you make changes between three different lines none of which are adjacent to the other (suffice it to say that I will NOT be staying in this location again)… By the time I reached the final leg I was EXHAUSTED, and I still had make a change from the Japan Rail (JR) Chūō line (which runs east to west) to the Keio which starts at Shinjuku Station, which runs to the “dormitory communities” (or commuter towns) west of Tokyo…. where I was living. When I finally got to the Keio platform, the train was sitting there with it’s doors open, but pretty much every car “looked full”.

Emphasis has to be given on the “looked” part, because … one of the “experiences” of being in Japan is riding in a TRUELY full train. Most Americans have never had the pleasure because it involves an invasion of personal space that unimaginable in the west. A full train in Tokyo is one where people have been crammed together like sardines to the point where you are cheek to jowl with your fellow passengers, and as the doors close the train staff can be seen shoving people in.

[Note: if you ever find yourself on a train like this, I STRONGLY suggest you take this suggestion, “go with the flow.” By that I mean, relax your entire body and pretend you’re laying down on a bed, and don’t freak out when you find your legs are no longer under your body. It’s a very Zen meditative sort of thing, like a trust fall or being held aloft in a mosh pit. IF you try to struggle to stand, a) you will fail, and b) you might actually get hurt — as in strain your back. At stations right before yours, maneuver yourself closer to the doors, especially if your needing out at the next station. When you station arrives and the train comes to stop, THEN you get your legs back under you and yell “SUMIMASEN!” at the top of your lungs repeatedly, and starting from a football stance put your shoulders into the person in front of you and shove the hoard blocking your exit out of the train. Once you’ve burst through their ‘defensive line,’ immediately turn around and face the startled masses, bow very deeply and hell out Sumimasen again, then leave.]

Back to my story… This was not THAT full, but it was still pretty darn full. I kept going down the line car by car trying to find one where there was enough space to step in without having to shove my way in (like I said before, this was the first station on the line so the train was just sitting there with its doors open). Finally, I found one, and bleary eyed and exhausted, I stepped in. Looking around I was like “wow there are a lot of women on this car.”  The doors remained open, and more women stepped on… And then I started to look around and really SEE and realized that I could not spot a single male on the car. Well that was odd, so I couldn’t be right… I keep looking and sure enough I could not spot even one man on the car.

Suddenly I had a brain fart and, in English, I loudly said “is this a woman’s only car?” One girl standing just by me, who spoke a tiny bit of English volunteered a quiet, “yes”, so then I asked her “how do you know which is the women’s only car?” and she kept saying “muzukashii, muzukashii” which in Japanese translates to literally to “difficult, difficult” but idiomatically has a much broader ‘unexpressed meaning’, or what the Japanese refer to as Haragei (a crucial concept to understanding the Japanese);, in this particular case it meant: “my English really isn’t good enough to be able to explain this to you and while I’m struggling to find the words I don’t know how to say it… and I am very both sorry and slightly embarrassed about that, so please forgive me.” In Japan it’s VERY important to belly as much as with your ears.

When I got off the train I looked all around until I spotted the identifier.

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I had of course heard about women only trains, and had probably many months ago read something somewhere saying they were showing up in Japan, but it wasn’t something that was in my ‘awareness’ so to speak… to use proper English, it was not within my ken. (Great word, shame it’s not used more, it’s the closest thing in English to the full and proper meaning of the Japanese term, “Wakarimasu” — which is rather closer to the SciFi slang term “to Grok” than it is to the simple concept of to know.)

The need for women only cars in Japan however, WAS … I am sorry to say, very much within my ken. Back, 30+ odd years ago, when I was in my early 20’s I spent two successive summers living and interning in Japan. The first was in the tiny Japanese ceramics town of Arita, more precisely in Okawachiyama Village (and at the time there were only two other westerners in the whole place) working interning in the international business department of Iwao Jiki Kogyo; the second time was in Tokyo for one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms, Eisai. That summer I was riding on a perviously described “very full train” with wife of my father’s colleague, a professor from Todai, when an also previously described asshole made the mistake of taking advantage of me. My mamma didn’t raise no shrinking violets.

I felt an uninvited hand exploring my backside and then using it’s fingers to pull up my skirt. For about a split second I was in shock, but then I got pissed and slowly maneuvered my hand through the press of bodies around to my rear and grabbed the hand. I then proceeded to slowly turn my body around while holding firmly onto the hand (at that age I played piano, violin and viola, practicing each for at least 20 minutes a day… and was rather renowned among my friends for how strong my hands were). By the time I turned myself around, the hand had been twisted into a position that I was sure would be uncomfortable if not outright painful for the owner. I then looked among the faces in front of me, and found who I was pretty sure was the guy based on his expression of fear and pain… I then let go of his hand, pulled mine out, pointed right into his face and yelled  repeatedly “CHIKAN! CHIKAN!” … Japanese for molester, or sexual harasser. The people around us all looked at him in shock (tellingly, a lot of them were unhappy with me for disturbing Wa, or harmony — another term crucial to understanding Japanese culture) and when the train doors opened he ran out of the train with his tail firmly between his legs.

While the folks on the train weren’t thrilled with me, my companion, who was in her mid to late 30’s (I was in maybe 23? at the time) looked at me with pride and wonder. That said, she shuffled me off the train even though it wasn’t our stop (like I said, I had committed the then socially unforgivable sin of breaking Wa — read the description) — but now a days I hope Japanese might have grabbed him and held him for arrest, instead). And then once we were on the platform she said to me, “HOW did you do that! PLEASE teach me! That happens to me all the time on the train and I never know how to respond. That was WONDERFUL!!!”

I say that no a days I would expect the Japanese to respond differently because, as the presence of Women only cars indicate, times have changed. According to this web site, “The chikan problem is [now] taken very seriously by railway companies and the authorities, and anyone found guilty of groping is liable to imprisonment or a fine of up to 500,000 yen ($4,500).” But that said, according this other web site  (citing a 2008 study by Adam Burgess and Mitsutoshi Horii), “Somewhere between 50-70% of young Japanese women experience chikan (“pervert,” often “groper”) on Japanese commuter trains in metropolitan areas” and, according to the same site the reason Japan’s camera phones make a snapshot noise that the user can NOT turn off is to prevent sicko’s taking pictures up girl’s skirts.

According to yet another on-line article, Women who attract chikan, and women who don’t”: The illustrated guide that’s provoking debate, which was published in 2014… the problem of Chikan men is now being discussed openly in Japanese society…

By the way, THIS is the image in question…
And, looking at it, who do you think the artist identified as the easy target?screenclip4
… according to the artist, in Japan, sexual attacks are more in line with the tastes of Pedofile priests than the sort of “she must have been asking for it” victim shaming we tend to see in the West. As such,, the woman with exposed breasts, or the Goth girl are the ones least likely to be attacked, while while the underage school girls or demurely dressed adult woman are statistically the ones MOST likely to be attacked.

“Suspects in sex crime cases were asked why they chose that person [to attack]. Fewer than 5 percent said they targeted someone because they were wearing provocative clothing. In rape cases, the most common reason given was ‘they seemed like they wouldn’t report it to the police’ (45%). In indecent assault cases, the most common reason was ‘they seemed meek; I didn’t think they’d be able to stop me’ (48%).” — from the article about the image

… returning to the trains, the good news, according to the wikipedia article on the subject of Women only cars on trains, is that in Japan, unlike some other countries, men are fined for entering the cars and the ever present rail staff (the ones whose job it is to shove people into cars) are on site to enforce the rules.

 

Airbnb User Tips for adult renters (updated regularly)

This is a blog post I will update regularly based on changing conditions: (Last update, April 2018)

I am NOT your average Airbnb customer, I’m a woman in her 50’s on a tight budget (I can afford about $70/night on average) who lives the Airbnb lifestyle, which is a bit like the RV retirement lifestyle but without the RV…. and I’ve been doing it pretty much non stop since June of 2015. So my NEEDS and concerns are different than that of some kid in his or her 20’s, most of whom would be perfectly happy with an air-mattress on the floor if the price was cheap enough. The point of this blog post is to try and help out other people around my age who are considering using the far more affordable airbnb’s rather than relying on hotels.

Quick list (see below for explanations:

FIRST: Set up your profile to INCLUDE YOUR NEEDS and EXPECTATIONS (odds are the owners will rarely bother to read it, but should issues arise it helps to protect you when dealing with disputes)… then search for homes:

  1.  When searching for homes be SURE to put in not just dates, but home type (whole apartment, spare bedroom in an occupied home, or willingness to SHARE a bedroom) and what amenities you’re expecting.
  2. STUDY the pictures carefully, never assume anything these are homes not hotel rooms … if the window is high up, ask about their elevator or be prepared for 5th floor walk up
  3. Read all the reviews! ALL of them… and if there are no reviews be very very careful
  4. when booking well in advance NEVER book a Strict booking… actually avoid strict as much as possible.
  5. Communicate with the owner BEFORE booking.
  6. Leave an honest review to help the next person… the same way you hoped they were leaving honest reviews for you

Back in 2014 folks the media started talking about the Airbnb lifestyle, people who rather than renting one apartment for year at a time, rents them for weeks or months at a time. Folks did this for one of two reasons, either either: A) they were bouncing around the various neighborhoods of a new city where they now worked as they got to know the area, allowing them the opportunity to make an educated decision about where they would like to settle, or B) they were part of the new internet driven working class whose office/factory for work is a computer linked to the internet via a reliable high speed connection … and therefore can essentially be ANYWHERE in the world.

First step: Setting up your profile to include your needs expectations

No really, your first step shouldn’t be looking for places to rent, it really should be setting up your profile. And while there should be a short description of you (I list my areas of education, previous jobs, hobbies, etc… as well as the fact that while I’m very outgoing and friendly I tend to hole up in my room with my computer for hours on end)… the focus (in my own opinion), should be on what your expecting from them.

Take the time to really craft out a description of yourself and list out your expectations of any place you rent. Let’s be honest, MOST owners won’t bother to take the time to read it, but SOME will; and, if your description clearly stated your various requirements its then ON THEM if their place doesn’t meet them. (It will help you out later when dealing with airbnb corporate if there are any disputes, if you have done this.)

List what you need, and why you need it: This should include allergies, mobility issues, and or if you have diet restrictions and or medications which mean you WILL be needing kitchen access, even if you won’t be cooking…. etc. Do you expect the room to be smoke free?? This isn’t a motel, this is not restricted by the laws that obligate smoke free zones. This is someone’s home. Are you someone who lives on your computer devices (like me) and expects to be able to charge 5 items at once but doesn’t have space in your suitcase for power strips with 6 foot cords? Because believe me, some of these places won’t be set up to support that if you don’t don’t warn them, they won’t even have a spare power strip in the house (unlike hotels).

Do you prefer to work at a desk or in bed propped up by lots of pillows? (If the latter, makes sure to warn them because I’ve come across more than few who will give you one pillow and not understand the problem.)

So really think about your habits and needs, and where should the plugs/power points be relative to bed or desk? Things like that…. and communicate that.

Anyone who spends time at Professional hotels knows that they are actually pretty much set up for all possibilities in these regards, but airbnb homes are not (although they should be). In fact, to my experience, with the exception of Superhosts, most airbnb hosts when they start out are pretty clueless that the reason pretty much every hotel room on the planet now includes a mini fridge is as much for medication storage as an opportunity to sell tiny bottles of booze at obscene prices. If they ever went to a good, four star hotel room, and really bothered to pay attention to what’s in there and asked themselves why things are where they are relative to other objects in the room and replicated that in their airbnb’s… they’d all have 4 star airbnb’s. But they don’t… they’re like my old students who did “C” level work and expect me to give them an “A” grade for it, and throw tantrums when they don’t get it.

So makes sure you state your expectations clearly and give the owner (whose job it is to host you like an honored guest) the chance to meet those needs… and assume they’re clueless teenagers, because a lot of them are.

So, as an example of what I write: I’m allergic to fur, so in mine I write: “I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE cats and dogs, and have had multiple pets in the past; that said, I learned the hard way that I’m a bit allergic to them; so, if your space has decent ventilation and it is kept clean of fur and dander not a problem (PLEASE remember to vacuum under the bed). However, If my bed is where they love to hang out and sleep when no one is there, please warn me.”

Over the course of that time I’ve stayed at a handful of Airbnb’s run by folks who either did not take the JOB (and it is a job) of being an Airbnb host seriously, or suffered some “blindness” in what it means to host an older person with even the MILDEST of mobility issues, etc., ones that are understood as NORMAL to anyone my age. So, while there is definitely a market for super-affordable Airbnb rentals that are only an air mattress on the floor, I am definitively NOT their target customer. As such, I’ve learned it’s safer to explicitly state rather than assume my (reasonable) expectations, just like I used to have to do with students, and list the things that I assume owners will provide, based on the sort of stay at their homes that I will be doing.

SO, My List is VERY LONG and detailed:

RECENTLY Airbnb has added accessibility descriptions, but the reality is Airbnb has not OBLIGATED owners to make fill them in (as in we won’t post the site unless the you have made these changes in your site’s description) and as such most owners who’ve been on the airbnb for a while have NOT bothered to fill it out, or worse don’t because they don’t want the hassle of having anyone with any sort of disability in their home …. and as a result, if you do check any of them, you’re severely limiting the number of homes you’ll be shown

In my book, there are two types of stays: short-term and long-term stays:

Short term/overnight, etc:

  1. Parking: If I am road tripping OBVIOUSLY I need someplace to put the car. Some owners can be quite the little shits when it comes to this. Airbnb has “free parking on premises” as a search variable, so make sure you click it if you need it before looking at what’s available … but that said, BY THEIR OWN ADMISSION all this means is free street parking near the rental even though BY LAW this is NOT a correct interpretation of the term because on the property (which you own) does not mean on the street (which you don’t) … and some owners, in spite of this, will even consider street parking where you need to jump out of bed at 8am to move it every 2 hours until 9pm to be “free parking on premises” … when clearly it’s NOT in the mind of any person doing the renting … so be CLEAR about your needs and expectations. And if you’re driving something that’s hard to park, such as having a trailer in tow, be clear about that. And while on a short term/overnight stay I can happily live out of my suitcase if I have to, even in that case I’ll assume they have
  2. Fast reliable Wi-Fi: and in my case this is a non-negotiable. This means, a minimum of 5mbps/per user (the slowest speed necessary for normal low definition streaming and regular usage ….. while 20 mbps/user is suggested for high definition TV/films, and is of course greatly preferred, I do not expect it). But here’s the thing, a lot of owners don’t get the “PER USER” part… they’ve got 10mbps and their home has two parents, any number of kids, and then you the person renting the airbnb… and don’t understand why your frustrated that you can’t stream your favorite show in your bedroom since it’s working just fine in their living room where they’re sitting and watching Netflix — while their kids are probably in their bedrooms streaming music.I make a point of being clear with the owners of just what my internet usage is… I expect to be able to stream all my shows, but other than uploading some pictures to from my camera to the cloud, I don’t do a lot upstream traffic. Some people do, and if you need decent upstream be honest about it.
  3. Air-conditioning, and/or a fan: I am an overweight woman in her 50’s and am in menopause, which means I will SUFFER when trying to sleep at temps above 75F/23C the way a normal person would in a 90F/32C degree bedroom; and, even at 75F degrees or cooler, I need a fan on me (unless it is cooler than 67F/19C). It’s kind of ridiculous that I have to say this, but I find that have to remind them that if they have a ceiling fan/lamp combo, to please make sure the cords are long enough that a shorter person can reach them, as I’ll want to have the fan on at night, but the light off, and I’m too old and unstable to be climbing up on beds and chairs to do it. Part of the problem is age bias, YOUNG airbnb owners who can just pop up on the bed and reach up to the cords (or are tall enough to do it themselves) can’t conceive of a future where their legs no longer support that sort of activity… and can actually be really intolerant of mobility issues in the folks who rent from them. So be clear.While Airbnb is STARTING to hint to owners that they should include mobility access issues, most owners just don’t “get it” unless they themselves have “experienced it”, or if their own aged grandmother comes by and bitches at them about it.
  4. An easily accessible bathroom: or better yet en-suite if I can get it (I’m at that age where I stagger eyes half open to the bathroom multiple times a night). This is however negotiable as long as the bathroom is very easy to get to, i.e., there are no stairs or steps, or things I could trip over on the way there, and the distance is short enough that I don’t have to fully wake up to do it. Let’s face it when you’re in your 50’s sleeping is hard enough to do as it is, and if I have to do any of that to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night I’ll have a hell of a time getting back to sleep.
  5. A WORKING, 3 pronged/or grounded electrical outlet located directly adjacent to the bed: You’d think this was a no brainer but it’s not. I work in bed propped up by multiple pillows, with one shoved under my neck to support my head, and I DO NOT want to have cords blocking my ability to move around safely. (I travel by car, with my own power-strips of varying lengths, if necessary). But have on occasion been boggled that I had to explain to an owner that old-fashioned two pronged/non-grounded outlet is really only acceptable (in this day and age) for lamps, and is absolutely NOT OK for sensitive electronics like computers…. which is why you don’t see laptop computers being sold with two prong plugs… USB chargers are sold as two prong, because the technology itself alters the current running through it, but at this point, computer’s won’t charge off of a USB cord. I’ll tell you right now, owners who won’t bother to put in an extensions cord or a power strip usually turn out to provide an inferior product/stay.
  6. Drapes or shades on the bedroom windows: for privacy and to block the sun, (again, you’d think this is a no brainer, but based on my own experience, it is not). Firstly, I do NOT raise with the sun … and more importantly, I want my privacy. I want to be able to walk around my room naked if I need to, and not worry about being seen. In Miami I once stayed in a room that had hip height to ceiling windows on two sides of the room, with neighboring homes all around… that ALL had unobstructed views right into my bedroom … and the 20 something male owner didn’t understand why I might take issue with this. (His bathroom was the same, THE BATHROOM!!!)
  7. A comfortable bed: THIS is a hard one, because different people have different definitions of this. So for the purposes of this, let’s say that it is an actual mattress a normal distance off the floor (an actual bed, not an air mattress)… and there are no springs poking me in the back. One home I stayed at belonged to a retired woman who admitted that the mattress I was lying on was the one her daughter (now a mom with kids of her own) had slept on growing up … and hence the mattress was about 40 years old (I still shudder at the thought). It had coils poking me in the back that she had tried to obscure with one of those memory foam tops. IF you go to Asia be cognizant of the fact that the traditional culture there is to sleep on a futon on the floor (which is actually way better for your back… the soft beds you enjoy are why westerners suffer from so many back problems in later years), so that even their ‘western style beds’ in five star hotels will come with super firm mattresses. That and a lot of places still will only offer futons that are folded up and put away during the day time. My reality now, with my hips and knee problems is that I can’t easily get up from the floor on my own, so sleeping that way really isn’t a possibility for me anymore. (Maybe if I’d spent a lifetime having to do that on a daily basis I’d still have that flexibility, but it is what it is.)
  8. Stairs: I’m at that age where I am starting to have some difficulty with stairs, so I ask them to please warn me if the room I’m considering requires more than one flight. That said, as I have a hard time just getting myself up a flight of stairs, I need help lugging something like a suitcase the same, so I ask for it. For short stays, knowing this, I have a backpack type thing I put what I’ll need for overnight into, and I leave my suitcases in the car.

    Long-term (more than a few days):
  9. If I ask to stay between three weeks and two months (depending), then that town is my destination, and I expect to be able to unpack and ‘get comfortable.’ So, if the Airbnb offerings are REALLY NOT set up for that, or amenable to having an extended-stay guest comfortably ensconced for MORE than a few nights, I tell the hosts to PLEASE be honest and tell me about it. (My experience is they get gleeful about the possibility of earning a lot of cash with little effort, and forget that REALLY that room is not set up for it, and the result will be a very UNHAPPY customer and a lousy review.) I will assume a long term rental includes EVERYTHING I mentioned for sort term stays, PLUS:
  10. A closet and or clothes rack: for hanging clothes – I’m a woman, I have nice clothes, like dresses, that require hanging, airing out, etc. The way airbnb works “hangers” like short term parking are considered an amenity that owners may or may not include. I travel around with a box of 50 velvet lined hangers in my car (you can get them at Costco for like $10)… so I don’t need nor necessarily want their cheap ass wire hangers left over from the dry cleaners … but I DO need some place to hang my stuff. You’d be surprised the number of times I’ve been put into rooms that did not have anywhere to do that.
  11. Empty shelving for clothes, at least 2 or 3 drawers worth, so I can unpack my suitcase; with empty being the operative word. (Again, you’d think this would be obvious, but apparently it is not)
  12. Free Parking, that is NOT on the street:  While street parking is ok if I’m only staying for a few days, most cities, towns and villages have stickers they sell to locals that need to be there if they’re going to be using street parking for an extended period. My car is easily identifiable due to ample bumper stickers, and police have ticketed me for not having a local tags after a few days of parking in the same location; if it’s in a driveway or in a garage then it’s on private property and not under their purview. Airbnb owners tend to completely forget this little detail, and when you get ticketed, they’re NOT going to pay the fine for you.
  13. Kitchen access:
    A reasonably sized microwave: that I can actually cook my single person meals in (I prefer nuking to most other formats). And by reasonably sized I don’t mean one of those tiny ones, I mean one I can put a single serving pyrex into, or a full sized dinner plate.
    A refrigerator with freezer space: This does NOT mean a mini fridge in the bedroom. I have a medically restricted diet and live mostly off of frozen ingredients which don’t come in tiny bags. So I need at least one shelf each of fridge and freezer space,
    A sink for washing food and dishes in, I once rented what had been advertised as an “entire apartment” which was a bedroom over a garage that had a mini-fridge and a microwave but where the owner freaked out when she realized I was having to wash my dishes in the bathroom’s sink… and “NO you can’t do that!!! It’ll clog the pipes!” … well lady, where do you WANT me to wash these? The toilet?
    and HOPEFULLY a toaster or better yet, a toaster oven. I can microwave toast, but it’s kind of nasty.While I love access to freshly brewed coffee in the morning, if it’s something the owner normally provides, if not, I can made due. Some grocery stores sell cold coffee in their fridges, and if not I can drink stuff I bought the night before at a cafe in a pinch…
  14. A washer/Dryer: this would be a washer IN the house or garage that I have access to, and detergent; or if an apartment… not coin operated ones located down in the basement or some such. In some places, like Australia, the sun is SO hot and the air so dry that even wet jeans will dry on the line in a two or three hours, so dryers are only ever found in high rise apartments, and sometime not even there. So I’m flexible about the dryer part.
  15. Help on stairs with suitcases: if I am staying more than one night I WILL need help from someone stronger and steadier on their feet than myself (I’m also at the age where I’m starting to have balance issues) in getting my bags up and down stairs.
  16. Privacy while in the bathroom: I never thought I would have to say this, but experience is a harsh teacher: A bathroom for showering that offers privacy from the neighbors. Recently, in a male owned home I was assigned a bathroom where my nudity was only hidden from the waist down, and when I asked the host that he do something to fix it (I had actually upon arriving intended to ask Airbnb to move me, but he begged me not to, promising to make changes), he answered, “how is increasing the safety of female guests going to increase my profit margin?” Seriously, not making this up.

 

Booking an Airbnb:

  1. Use the airbnb search engine: It helps you to find homes with the amenities you want on the dates you want. Check and double check because sometimes the settings don’t take the first time out (the web site isn’t perfect and is always undergoing tweaks that create new bugs). Really think about what you NEED, and makes sure to check those items… if you don’t check air conditioning you can’t complain or rebook because a heat wave came into town. For me, I always check: Private room or entire apartment, maximum price per night, the number of bedrooms and beds I need, washer (and or dryer depending on the climate), Wifi, Kitchen, aircon in summer and heat if I’m going there in winter (actually in high rises I’ll also look for aircon because the higher you go the hotter the apartments get to the point where you can have all the windows open even in the dead of winter and still be too warm)
  2. NEVER ASSUME, STUDY the pictures: unless they’re Superhosts, a lot of the owners are clueless and would never live in the room they’re expecting you to pay them money to live in. REALLY look at the picture, I mean REALLY… and if there are no pictures or insufficient ones, don’t book there. How big is your bedroom? Does it have windows? Are there shades on the windows? Is there a side table? A night lamp? A closet or someplace to put your clothes? And if the room doesn’t have what you’d assume it should have … ASK BEFORE BOOKING!!!(I’ve had owners realize the deficit and promise to rectify it before my arrival. Once that’s in the emails, if they have NOT done it by the time you arrive, you have cause for Airbnb to refund you, and evidence of their contractually agreeing to do it. Airbnb considers any communication in the emails as part of the contract. )
  3. READ ALL THE REVIEWS!!!! IF an owner is pretty sure the review that’s going to be left to them is going to be a bad one, there’s a trick to pushing it down the queue… if they do NOT leave the guest a review, the bad review won’t show up for 15 days (which is an improvement, as it used to be the bad review didn’t show up at all), and if they know two or three guests are set to rent in that time, that ensures that the review might not show up till the next page (which you might not bother going to). So read all the reviews and believe what you read.That said, read BETWEEN THE LINES!!! A lot of Guests are afraid of leaving bad reviews for fear that other hosts won’t want to rent to them if they do… so sometimes they just kind of hint about the place being bad. So be wary and exaggerate the importance of any tiny complaint. This is especially true if it’s a room in a house, because most people are unwilling to leave bad reviews if they have met the owner. All of this tends to sort of “break” the whole value of the review system.
  4. When booking well in advance: NEVER book an airbnb that has a strict cancellation policy, unless its for within the next few days! A lot of folks never bother to pay attention to this but airbnb has THREE booking policies: Flexible, Moderate and Strict. The first two are utterly reasonable and designate how far in advance you can cancel with a refund (24 hour or five days, respectively). The third one, STRICT, which seems to be the setting about half of the owners opt for is in my opinion NUTS. I recently read an article, and MOST experienced customers will avoid those bookings, till the last minute (as in within the next week),— Airbnb is currently using a carrot method to try to wean owners off of using strict, as the increasing prevelence of it is making former customers reconsider hotels. (An owner informed me that the company has informed them that it will now take a larger percentage of what the customer has paid if the owners set the refund policy to strict.)With a strict booking you will NOT get your money back, PERIOD (great for them, shit for you). IF you call Airbnb and cry long and hard enough, and can come up with something justifiable, like you Dad just died, they MIGHT let you out of the booking with a refund, but it’s not a sure thing. In my mind there’s really no justification for strict to exist, especially if the bookings are made well in advance. I for instance book a good three months in advance… now I could understand it if Flexible changed to Strict with two weeks left to go, or some such… but strict bookings three months out is crazy.

    — Talking to Airbnb I just learned something important… IF in the emails with the owner, (BEFORE YOU BOOK!!!) you can get them to agree to something OTHER than strict… so for instance, if you might say in your emails with the owner, ‘as I’m booking this 6 months out, would you agree to give me a full refund if I cancel at least three weeks out?’ And they agree to it explicitly (make sure they ACTUALLY agree, not say they might, or it’s possible… what you need is a solid YES) and THEN you book … IN THAT CASE, when you need to do the cancellation, CALL airbnb, DO NOT use the web site to cancel, and ask the staffer to read the emails from before the booking happened, because there’s an agreement in there for a full refund under these conditions. Airbnb will consider that part of a pre-existing modification to the contract, and give you the refund, the owner won’t be able to go back on that agreement.

    —That said, BE AWARE!!! Airbnb has a new policy, IF you reserve the room for 27 days or longer the booking is automatically strict. They are doing this now as a way to appease local ordinances that are trying to get rid of airbnb’s all together, because of the slum lords who are changing their long term rental units to airbnb’s in order to earn more money from them… thereby creating local affordable housing shortages. This change, as much as I personally don’t like it because I always booked one month at a time, makes sense to me.

  5. Unless they’re Superhosts with 50+ 5-star reviews, contact the host: Do this BEFORE putting in a booking request, and wait for them to respond. Talk to them, ask them a few questions. Do this EVEN with folks who are set up for auto booking set up —  unless you’re road tripping, they have “self check in” as an option (they don’t need to be there for you to get in) and you’re desperate to find a place to sleep that night. My experience is if they don’t get back to you within two hours, your most likely dealing with a host who won’t be responsive to your needs, and worse you might just find yourself hanging around for a few hours waiting to be let into the rental. THAT and once you put in a booking request, you’re kind of married to that rental until the owner gets around to accepting or rejecting… and they have 24 hours to do it.
  6. Leave an honest review! The review system only works if you’re honest.

 

When things go wrong:
Let’s face it, life happens. Both for you and the people hosting you. One of the things to remember about Airbnb is that it is NOT a hotel… most of these people aren’t organized enough to have back up staff… and life happens.

So, the main thing to remember is, CALL AIRBNB!!!!

No seriously. I strongly suggest that your first move should always be to call them rather than deal with problems via their website. For the most part their customer support people are very good, and very helpful… and when they’re not hang up and try for a different one.

This includes: IF YOU NEED to cancel because of a REAL reason (and ‘we decided to stay with friends, or a hotel’ … isn’t a real reason), and can CONVINCE them that it’s a real reason, they will try to work with you and might even under certain circumstances arrange a full reimbursement including fees. What they’ll do will depend on who you talk to and how much empathy you can build with the person on the other side of the phone and the legitimacy of your issue.

— That said, just recently (Feb 2018) I’ve noticed that instead of getting routed to a stay at home mom working from home (with the occasional sound of kids in the background), Airbnb has switched to call centers staffed by guys. Ever since this happened, customer service has DROPPED like a bomb… so be prepared.

Don’t cancel unless you’ve GOT a REAL reason. For myself I’ve in about three years only ever cancelled twice. The first time it was when I had decided to completely change my travel plans and go to Australia instead of stay another month in Orlando … and that time it was all on me, so I lost service fee but was reimbursed the rent and tax. In the second case it was a rental I had made over a month previous that wasn’t due to happen for yet another month going forward (I like to book a good three months in advance when I can). When I had booked, the male host was new to Airbnb and only had one or two reviews… it being a month later, and just for shits and giggles I decided to see what folks had written in the time since… and was utterly freaked out of my head by what one woman had written about her stay. I immediately called Airbnb, told them that as a single woman traveling alone I would feel UNSAFE staying at the home of this man (because of what this other woman had written), and told them I had already decided on a DIFFERENT Airbnb that I wanted to be moved too…  the woman on the line read the review, completely agreed with me that this was NOT OK behavior on the part of the host …. she reimbursed my full price including fees (and promised to send a sharply worded letter to the unsafe host) and I re-booked to the new location.

Remember what I said about leaving honest reviews? You have an obligation to the people booking after you to warn them about bad shit…

But there’s a second case, sometimes a host will cancel on you, and my advice is the same. Just the other day I met some strangers at a restaurant (they were at the next table) and we got to talking. They told me how on their very first airbnb attempt, the host, “some young guy” who was subletting his apartment out while he was going to travel, had decided he wasn’t feeling up to it and canceled on them at 5am on the same day they were supposed to check in.

I asked them, “did you call airbnb” … and of course, no they had not… they just put their tail between their legs and decided to never use the service again. I explained to them how when my bookings had fallen through at the last minute, Airbnb has put me up in reasonably priced hotels (I paid and sent them the bill and they reimbursed me) when a host left me hanging like that, and while in my case it was just an over night stay, I would assume they’d do it until I was able to secure a different airbnb booking in that location… or one nearby…. while stuff like this is pretty rare, it happens.

 

 

Here’s a list of other sites I found that discuss some of these issues:

https://www.driveontheleft.com/7-airbnb-tips-first-time-users/

https://petergreenberg.com/2015/02/23/airbnb-tips-and-tricks-for-first-timers/

http://www.dreamystays.com/airbnb-tips/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/a-beginners-guide-for-airbnb-users/2016/11/28/e086cb84-aaa6-11e6-977a-1030f822fc35_story.html?utm_term=.02545021794e

Ballarat’s loud fence: Civil protest against the church in Australia

I’m currently spending about two weeks in the town of Ballarat, about an hour south of Melbourne, Australia by train. Ballarat is currently known for two things, 1) once upon a time it was Australia’s Sutter’s Mill — a gold rush that utterly changed the nature of Australian settlement, and 2) more recently it has become ground zero for the Australia’s version of the Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal. To quote an article by Australia’s ABC news network: “Catastrophic failure’ of Catholic Church leadership in Ballarat caused ‘irreparable suffering’: royal commission

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My friend who lives in Ballarat had been regularly posting ALL the updates about the child sex abuse scandals there to her facebook account, so I was well aware of the issue before I arrived. And then December 17, while I was beginning to plan my trip to Australia to meet up with my traveling buddy, he sent me a text: “Ballarat doesn’t make national news very often. Kinda sad reason for it today,” which included this linked article:

After I arrived in Ballarat, ever time my friend (who I was staying with) and I passed a Catholic Church, convent, or convalescent home for retired priests and nuns, she would repeatedly tell me about how the victims of the abuse, and how the families have been kind of playing a game of wack-a-mole with the church (one that the media has dubbed “Loud Fence”). The families and victims have been repeatedly tying ribbons to all of the wrought iron fences surrounded churches and church properties as a silent protest, and the church has been repeatedly taking them down.

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As part of explaining the scandal to me, my Ballarat friend started to explain to me about Cardinal Pell who covered up sexual abuse of children by priests in Ballarat and in “punishment” had been elevated to one of the highest offices of the Vatican, namely as its Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, and was now deemed by the Vatican as being “too sick” to come home to Ballarat to face charges. (Pell should not be confused with Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law who pulled the same crap, and as his punishment was also moved to Rome and given multiple high prestige jobs.) She then played for me this song by a popular Australian Comedian that became a major hit, to the point that when she walked around she was constantly hearing people play it –its a VERY funny song, so please listen to it:
Apparently, the Vatican believed that if they forced the hearings to be moved to Rome, because Pell was “too sick” to be flown to Australia, this would avoid the disruptive and media magnet protests of the victims. When the song became a hit, Minchin — the artist — donated all the proceeds to pay for victims to be flown to Italy to be there for the trial…

One day, on the way back from an afternoon out — where we once again passed first by the retirement home for priests and nuns, where she again told me about how they’d taken down the ribbons that victims of abuse and their families had tied to the iron gates … we passed the local cathedral…  where I noticed that the back was clean of ribbons…

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the side gate however had them… and then as we were about to the church entirely we noticed a woman with a huge basket busily tying ribbons to the gate.

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We quickly parked and I went to take pictures. Turns out a loved one had been a victim and committed suicide…. and in the category of there are none so blind as those who will not see… at one point a parishioner came up to the woman who was doing it asking her for what reason was she was putting ribbons up…  There are none so blind as those who will not see… 

Happily…  Pell ultimately DID come home to face charges, and the case is currently making it’s slow path through the Australian courts

I fell down and went boom: my experience with the Australian health care system

Well yesterday did NOT go as planned…

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I just spent a good six hours in the emergency room and my travel plans for the next month or so may be royally screwed up (or at the very least some rescheduling may be required).

So, yesterday in Australia was a national holiday called “Australia Day,” which commemorated the landing of the first boatload of convicts on the shores of what is now Sydney; it is Australia’s equivalent of American’s 4th of July & Columbus Day combined, only it would be like our celebrating the landing at Jamestown, which we don’t do.

My friend that I’m currently traveling with is a first generation Australian, and he wanted to start the day attending an event in support of the Aboriginals. which began with a rally, followed by a march, which ended at a park across the street from some government building (where families with grievances presented them to the powers that be). In the park there were actives, performances, political speeches, and myriad of booths selling or advocating things that would be of interest to the folks who participated in the rally and march.

It was a very hot day, we had gotten up unusually, and in-spite of wearing a hat, and having done a fairly decent job of staying hydrated, I was tired. After, as we were walking around the park, we stopped at this one booth that was selling T-shirts with pro-aboriginal/political “stuff” on them, and at one point I took a step backwards; too late I realized I had just unwittingly stepped backwards off of a lawn and over a curb to a slightly sunken street … backwards… so that right away I was put off balance; and THEN … just to put a cherry on an already bad situation, I spotted the baby carriage that had hooked itself under RIGHT under my foot JUST as I had stepped back to ensure that I would have NO chance to catch myself. My friend described it as a slow motion “arse over tits” moment; he saw what was about to happen but couldn’t stop it…

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About three weeks later my friend spotted this safety advertisement and said, “I’m afraid this poster gives me flashbacks to your accident a couple of weeks ago. The moment when you were in pretty much this position was frozen into my memory. And I felt as helpless as the guy on the escalator.”, it’s so perfect that I’m adding it to this post.

Apparently he was not alone in this, he said that a bunch of people were like, “oh shit”… while my body was airborne, and before my head hit the ground/pavement with an incredible THUNK (before my body had finished the trip — see above).

Don’t be horrified for the baby, it was fine; the pram was of the sort where the wheels jet out in front of the carriage, so tipped over them without upsetting the baby… it wasn’t hurt. In fact I have been calling then incident a “hit and run by a baby carriage” because the mother didn’t stick around more than the amount of time it took her to make sure her baby was fine. According to my friend she stayed around only for a few minutes after that and then she took off … probably afraid of being blamed.

That said… I lay there for all of a moment in shock, and then began to cry out and curled into the fetal position; my head began to throb and I checked the back of my head for blood (there was a HUGE lump from a acute subdural hematoma, but the skin had not broken, so no blood gushing out of me… but as soon as I turned my head a little to get access to the lump the world began to spin sickeningly. My benign positional vertigo, which had for the most part left me alone these past two year was back with a WILL. Before I was aware of much, a woman was by my side proclaiming herself to be a professional nurse and folks were yelling for help; and not too long after that the emergency staff for the event joined her, took over, checked me, declared no blood, and that they were happy that I hadn’t passed out. (Turns out I’d fallen only a few steps away from their tent, and they’d just been complaining about how bored they were because no one had needed them).

The medical personnel in the course of checking my condition asked me to open my mouth and close it… and right away there was a massive CLICK sound; the force of the impact had essentially “sprained” the tendons that hold the jaw to the rest of the head, and my jaw was dislocating when I opened it. Not good!  Then they asked me a series of questions about my preexisting conditions which I rattled off as best I could (I was having a bit of trouble answering them)…  then after a bit I remembered to tell them that I have a history of herniated disks in my neck which I have had extensive physical therapy for (in my car I even carry around a Saunders Cervical HomeTrac Traction Device, just in case). As such, they weren’t taking any chances, and put me in a head brace and then told me to straighten my legs and not move.

[My friend, who (and I did not know this before the trip) has been an active member of the New South Wales State Emergency Service (NSW SES) ever since he was in high school (and continues to be, checking in with them whenever he’s in the country) … was absolutely great! He held my hand to sooth me when he could and knew when to stay out of the professionals’ way when he couldn’t (all of which makes him doubly useful as a travel companion). That said, at a certain point he began to feel useless and a bit helpless … but remembering how I like to document everything, he started taking pictures to show me later. This made me very happy.]

So… from my perspective the next thing I knew was they were crossing my arms and rolling me on my side in order to put something hard under me (my world began to spin sickeningly) … and then lifted me on to some sort of conveyance, at which point they moved me, telling folks to get out of the way.

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To quote my friend, I got the fancy police escort through the event to where the ambulance was parked, at which point they transferred me off the jeep, and then essentially tipped me off of the hard plastic orange stretcher and onto the ambulance’s white wheeled one. If you look closely at my face you’ll see I a was NOT enjoying myself… the whole world was spinning sickeningly and at various speeds depending on if they had just tipped me or not, not to mention that my head hurt.

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Then they took me to the hospital for a CT scan again tipping me to transfer me between beds… It was NOT a happy time. (Having my friend there with me the whole time, holding my hands and making sure none of my stuff got lost in the fray — he held on to my hat, my cell phone, etc., was all a huge help and a major stress reducer.) … Once they’d finished testing me the good news was no visible brain bleeds and they released me … the bad news was that my positional vertigo was back with a will… really horrible spinning that actually had me dry barfing into a bag just from being repositioned from reclining to sitting (again my friend seeing my distress grabbed me and held me till the spinning stopped, which was a mercy)… They had kept me for 6 hours in a neck restraint; I was not even allowed to bend my knees to try to get comfortable, and let me just say that peeing while laying down is a bitch.

Once we finally home, in order to keep me in a elevated position as I slept, my friend (on my instruction) put a couch cushion on the bed, and I used his travel pillow to support my head … putting the pillows that would normally be under my head under my knees. I know from pervious experience that I’ll be needing to sleep like this for the next few days (it keeps the head steady, because the spinning that would happen as the head normally moves around during sleep could result in my barfing while still asleep — VERY Dangerous — and even if you don’t barf it keeps you from sleep well, which slows down the healing.

As of today the dizzy was so bad I can barely walk… so as to my trip, we’ll see what happens… but we may need to completely redo our plans if my brain doesn’t adjust to the new normal quickly enough ….

That said, the ER visitbecause I’m not an Australian citizen and do not qualify for their national insurance policy, has so far only cost me $138 AU (112.07 US) out of pocket (Jaw drop… ) for having seen the doctor, and while they haven’t charged my card yet, they said because of the CT scan and two other tests, there would be 3 more charges of that amount… so $552 AUD total (or … $432.23 USD!!!)

Seriously, this is the information they handed me about the fees I would have to pay:

From the Hospital’s Medicare ineligible patient fees list (Basically everyone from an overseas country that does not have socialized medicine and a reciprocal agreement with Australia):

Everyone pays a consultation fee of $138.00 AUD  (or 108.06 USD!!!)

Then, for tests:
Pathology test, $138AUD
ECG $138AUD
X-ray $138AUD
etc., (I was assured my CT was the same amount)
Inpatient accommodation for one day (had I needed it would have been): $2,214 AUD
ICU accommodation for one day: $5,616 AUD

Now, let’s keep in mind that in the USA the average cost of an ER visit is about $1,233 USD ($1,574.41 AUD)
… that’s JUST the visit, and maybe a blood test or something…
Then you have to add the AVERAGE cost of a C.T. scan, which is around another $1,200… so about $2,500 for my visit if I’m lucky …. and while based on Obamacare my insurance would have had to pay for it, because of the size of my deductible… which is a whopping 7K — I’d still be paying out of packet … so… other than that amount being applied to my maximum out of pocket, which is also 7k (seriously)… if I were healthy the rest of the year my insurance would essentially pay nothing.

The big unanswered question is how much the the ambulance will cost me. According to my friends THAT is the really expensive charge in Australia, but according to the hospital staffer, he thought it might be only another $200 over that because of how close we were to the hospital, and the fact that I fell down at an insured event (they would according to him pay the lions share of the charge).

but those bills to my card have yet to process — but if what they said holds true my out of pocket in the US WITH insurance covering parts would still run me a heck of a lot more than this will have … and if it that’s the case I’m not even going to bother dealing with the international travel insurance for reimbursement … going to save it for when I need something a hell of beans more expensive.

 

Invasion day/ Australia day: A Rally in support of the Aboriginal population

 

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The black above, red beneath with a yellow sun in the middle is the flag of the Aborigianl

While the PLAN had been to spend the whole day attending a series of events that were scattered around the city through to the massive fireworks display at night, the only thing we managed to attend was a rally in support of the Australian Aboriginals (because I fell down and went boom). However, while at the march I learned that, their presence on the land, for a myriad of reasons, is STILL not legally recognized, either NOW or historically, because of a legal declaration made by the British 200 years ago that the Australian continent was terra nullius (i.e., empty of humans). The mind boggles, really it does.

On top of that, a major issue that apparently hadn’t really BEEN until just this year, was the fact that Australia day, which celebrates the landing of the first boatload of western settlers is also, from the Aboriginal point of view the day that marks the west’s invasion of their historical lands (kind of like Columbus day and the 4th of July rolled into one).

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Anyway, my friend that I’m traveling with is fairly solidly left wing in his politics, and told me that while I didn’t have to come with if I didn’t want to, this is the event he would be attending first thing in the morning (as in we had wake up way earlier than I’m used to in order to be there on time, which may have been part of why I tripped), but since I didn’t know much about Aboriginals, in spite of my background in Native Americans, I decided I should go with him. AFTER we were going to go do all the more sort of normal celebrate the day things.

The following is the details about the rally from their facebook page:

“Invasion Day 2018 rally:
The war on Aboriginal people continues… Sovereignty and Justice Now! This rally will mark 230 years since British military forces invaded Gadigal land and declared British rule over this continent, along with Aotearoa and other Pacific Islands. While colonial regime continues to hold a day of celebration, we resist the ongoing war against Aboriginal people. From the brutalisation of black youth in detention, the murder of men and women in custody, the theft of children from families, the destruction of Aboriginal lands to feed corporate profits, the apartheid NT Intervention, the forced removal of communities,First Nations on this continent are under heavy assault from a new wave of dispossession. But the fightback is also growing and urgently needs your support. This rally has been initiated by Fighting In Resistance Equally (FIRE), a coalition that organised last years impactful and successful “Invasion Day 2017 rally – no pride in genocide!”
Also the last two successful marches on human rights day, December 10 last year and this year.

FIRE believes that standing against the colonial system and the racist mindset that was brought here in 1788 is crucial to all struggles against oppression and exploitation.”

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So yesterday, before I hit the floor and went boom, at the march/protest in support of Aboriginals … I had questions.

Firstly I must admit that my eyebrows went up when we first arrived to see what was clearly socialist types coopting what was supposed to be a pro aboriginal thing with their own stuff… HATE when that happens in the US when whites try to co-opt Native American protests… Or the way I learned that moveon.org, after I signed their initial petition about how the Feds should “move on” from being obsessed with Clinton’s sex life, felt that as I had signed ONE thing they believed in that give them the right to put my electronic signature on EVERY petition they were coming up with … so that now I just won’t sign any of those things anymore and at one point sent MoveOn an angry cease and desist email.

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And then I was SERIOUSLY put off by the fact that they put up a Palestinian guy to speak who was making false comparisons (if you support the Aboriginals you must support the Palestinians) and blaming the Israelis for atrocities that WERE done to the Palestinians, no doubt … ONLY it was by their Jordanians and Syrians “brothers” rather than the Israelis who had done them, but rewriting that history to put it all on Israel’s back… and he even had the audacity to claim we’d done child abductions, when the PLO had ACTUALLY been abducting Christian Lebanese children and turning them into child warriors before the Lebanese war …. I think he thinks that when Israel offers free health care and university degrees and such, we’re abducting their kids… and watching all the young hipsters nodding their heads with how right he was… set me off no end…

Basically (and modern genetic testing techniques back me up on this) we were arguably there before the Palestinians — although more than a few Palestinians would be shocked to learn, and the genetic testing also backs this up, their ancestors had been Jews and were forcibly converted to Islam generations ago at the point of a sword — and we were driven off our land by waves of invaders, and from my perspective Palestinians are a bit like… well some time in an alternative reality future, white people — many of whom are actually have Aboriginal ancestry they have forgotten about — being pissed off because Aboriginals who had escaped the genocide in Australia, got rich, came home and bought up all of Sydney and then declared an Aboriginal state, saying the white people could continue to live there but they would have to adhere to aboriginal law. It in fact would make a pretty good alternative reality book…

Add to that the fact that I was tired, and it was really hot, and I was NOT in a happy mode towards the start of that day…

So I immediately had some doubts about pretty much anything I heard after that… There was a chant, “always was, always will be aboriginal land” which I couldn’t quite make sense of. If it were true, does that mean all the young middle class hipsters who were chanting it were willing to contact some suffering Aboriginal families and put their money where their mouth was? “Hey, I’ve been chanting this, I own a couple of properties around Sydney I inherited from my family…. I’ve decided my family stole it from you guys so HERE, take my property I’m sailing back to the UK?” Don’t think so… so WHAT in fact did the chant mean?

My friend who I travel with was trying to explain it to me, but then a complete stranger who was walking near us, was this nice guy called Luke who offered some very coherent explanations, and for the rest of the march he became my teacher, explaining in a lot of detail stuff I had not known.

With regards to the chant, NO, Luke agreed I was right, none of these guys were likely to hand over their homes, but it was more of a constitutional issue. Until quite recently there hadn’t even been any discussion that the Australian constitution should even recognize Aboriginals as having been there first (which in this day and age is kind of head scratcher, and completely inconsistent with how the rest of the world views Australians), and the constitution here still doesn’t although discussions have commenced. (I did note later to my friend that the ONLY reason the US constitution is any different, in case you didn’t know we have always legally recognized the tribes as “dependent sovereigns” even if we didn’t stand by our words, is because at the time of the founding we were at war with the French and NEEDED the tribes on our side in that war.) But there’s apparently push back from the sort of Australians who would have voted for Trump (the sorts who were wearing Australians flags yesterday, instead of showing up at pro aboriginal protests), who like in the US don’t tend to be the folks living in cities — although some of them do (and it’s pretty easy to spot them on Australia day). To paraphrase his friend Sonja, who we met up with at the event, there are 3 sorts of Australians… the all white and claim their ancestory to early settlers “we’re Australians! This is OUR land” crowd… then there’s the urban yes we’re Australians but we feel really bad about what was done to the Aboriginals crowd, and thirdly the more recent recent immigrants and or refugees or first generations folks who are of the “we’re just happy to be here” crowd…. but then we agreed there’s a 4th group, the “who gives a fuck about politics this is just a day off work” crowd. And I learned there’s a Northern territory that isn’t actually under the same laws as the rest of the country (from a legal viewpoint a bit like Louisiana which has a completely different legal system from the rest of the USA, or Canadian territories which aren’t actually states) and in these Northern territories some pretty gruesome stuff is still happening, kids still being separated from parents without due process, etc — which I had not ever heard about before.

So I learned a lot. It was good… and after that we attended a thing in a park where aboriginal dance groups and singers performed, and various aboriginal artists exhibited their works

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After, I found these articles about the march in Sydney and some others around the country… was kind of hoping I’d spot me of my friend in the march, but so far no luck.

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/jan/25/invasion-day-rally-where-protests-will-be-held-across-australia

http://www.news.com.au/national/nsw-act/hundreds-gather-for-invasion-day-protest-march-in-sydney/news-story/fb0f514ff0088107a2b6b0b307d6bb1a

http://www.news.com.au/national/hope-australia-burns-to-the-ground-tens-of-thousands-protest-across-the-country/news-story/558c5aabea78c258cdf9c155259497c4

http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/invasion-day-rally-in-sydney-draws-thousands-of-protesters-20180126-h0orw4.html

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