2005 is dead and gone. A lot of bad things happened over the year. A lot of good things happened over the year. And no matter what I do, I keep getting older. What’s up with that?

Is there a point to making resolutions for the new year? I always break them and they are pretty pointless. So can’t I just make long term resolutions that I leave up here and then can avoid having to ever do this crap again?

1. Love my friends and family and Roley
2. Stop being such a selfish bitch
3. Save some money
4. Stop buying dumb shit
5. Stay healthy
6. Learn new things
7. Travel to new places
8. Write Grandma Yamakawa
9. Meet new people
10. Be happy

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The point of travelling for people can have very different purposes. The basic principal for travellers is to gain a greater understanding of the world around them. This can mean seeing new cultures, trying new things, meeting new people, etc…

So things that I have learned from my travels…

1. I like to travel in comfort. I spend a lot of my life sitting on planes and in airports… I get sick of it. I have learned ways to lighten my stress when I travel. This means travelling comfortably, sleeping enough and trying to stay healthy.

2. I’m a lazy traveller. I feel like the rest of my life is so rushed that when I am on holiday I like to have a little bit of relaxation.

3. I am comfortable eating a lot of foods. I am definitely not a picky eater when it comes to new foods. I do, however, draw the line at domestic pets and insects.

4. I take really shit photos. I wish I had an eye for photography. I guess I can blame the equiptment that I use, but it really comes down to a complete lack of any patience or eye for photography. We’ll just have to say I make up for it in my documentation of travels in writing with my witty style (come on, throw me a bone here).

5. I like to bargain. This is my newly aquired skill from Asia and I really enjoyed this quite a bit.

6. Poverty scares me. I think this goes back to the being comfortable bits. I haven’t seen people literally starving, but I have seen some desperation and it frightens me because what prevents that from happening to any of us.

7. People are people. Everyone smiles. Everyone laughs. Everyone gets angry. You may be black, white or slant eyed. People are people and there are moments that you can share with someone else where you lock eyes and you both laugh out loud despite not understanding a damned word they are saying.

8. The world is a small place despite there are a hell of a lot of people in it. You never know when you are going to run into someone you know.

9. McDonalds and Starbucks are everywhere. Well, at least the places that I go. And I hate this fact. Hurry up and try to see the world before it is overrun with this garbage and spoiled.

10. I still have a lot of travelling to do.

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image I am so sorely disappointed in this movie that I feel the need to write about it to complain. In fact, I don’t even know why I am wasting my breath on it other than to warn anyone that hasn’t seen it to not waste their time watching it or even thinking about it.

Elizabethtown now tops my list of most hated movies of all time.

What else is on this list?

1. Gummo – not because it isn’t a good movie, but because it was so fucking disturbing that it made me feel physically ill. I couldn’t even sit all the way through it despite owning it and attempting to watch it several times.

2. Vera Drake – boring boring boring. Bored me to tears which is all the woman did the entire time after she got arrested for being an abortionist.

3. Gigli and Bounce – ouch Ben Affleck, you hurt me with your helmet hair and bad acting. I did like you a lot in School Days though.

4. The Aviator – this movie pained me so much that I walked out of it, thereby ending my date with a rather cute guy…even Leo couldn’t force me to deal…

5. Elizabethtown – yes, it is official. I want to cry for Cameron Crowe on this one. After such brilliant movie classics as Fast Times and Say Anything he just made me really really bummed out. The only reason that I kept watching it is because Orlando Bloom is fucking hot as hell.

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Day 8 – The Empress Has a Cold
Woke up and packed our stuff then dropped it downstairs and settled the bill. Forgot to eat breakfast and then went out into what was a pretty sunny and nice day. This day was also the beginning of Arlie’s sore throat and snotty nose.

Jumped into a taxi and went over to the Forbidden City. Walked along a wall and into a giant square (which we later found out was Tianament Square, duh). Bought some tickets into the palace and entered.

forbidden city

This was with about 45 minutes before the Forbidden City was due to close. Everything we had read said that it should take about 2-3 hours to walk through. Arlie and I figured that since we were the power sightsee’ers that we could jam through pretty quickly.

We rented our audio tour with Roger Moore and were off.

The forbidden city was really amazing. Beautiful architecture and so big that it is astounding. After watching the Last Emperor the night before it also added a little sense of reality to the place, although, you can’t even begin to absorb how it might have been to have lived in such a place during any time period.

the last empress

We made it through in time. Whooohoo! Then on the other side realised that we forgot Tianamen square and were told that we had to go all the way to the other side. So we hopped on a rickshaw with a really nice man who cycled us all the way across again for 30 yuan. These guys work so hard.

Got to the other side and realised that we had already actually been there. Dumb and Dumber.

Jumped in a taxi and went to the Silk Market with about 45 minutes to spare before we had to get on our overnight train back to Shanghai. Did some bargaining, spent all of our money and then realised that we hadn’t eaten all day. Arlie was about to die and ran out and got some McD’s. Yes, we ate McD’s in China. I have finally come clean about it. And it was good.

Got the train and took off to Shanghai. By this time, Arlie was really sick and coughing and sneezing all over the place. Yipee!

Day 9 – Arlie Loses a Foot, but Gains Asiatic Bird Flu
This day wouldn’t even be worth mentioning since our only objective was to get from the train station in Shanghai to the airport. However, when we got off the train and went to get a taxi, we were attacked by some crazy gypsy Chinese taxi controlling mafia. Seriously. 7 AM we step off the train and pay some porters to carry our bags to the taxi. Once we step foot outside the trainstation gates some lady comes up and starts to drag our bags off while saying taxi taxi.

We get to the taxi and about 5 of them start grabbing our stuff from the porter and throwing into the taxi. OK. So then we hop in and start driving slowly away when we hear the trunk pop and we see them grabbing our bags out of the trunk and running off. Arlie and I start freaking out and yelling at the taxi driver to stop. Arlie opens the door to jump out, but the taxi driver still isn’t stopping. I look up to see the taxi driver pulling around the corner near a bus and yell to Arlie to close the door, but she doesn’t hear in all the commotion. The door hits the bus and closes on Arlie’s foot and ankle. Not too nice. Arlie jumps out and I’m yelling to her to run and grab the bags while I watch the stuff in the car.

The gypsies throw her bag into the trunk of another taxi. Then they start pulling the rest of our shit out of the car. I am yelling at them to fuck off and get away from us, Arlie is yelling… and then we are shoved into the other taxi. The taxi driver hands them some money and then everything is calm.

WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT? We were completely shocked. Thankfully Arlie didn’t lose her foot despite her bruises and thankfully we didn’t lose our bags. But it was all too much and too weird and not a nice way to end our journey.

Made it to the airport alive and then after a 5 hour wait got onto our 12 hour flight home. Arlie was sick and sneezing and snotting the entire trip with her asiatic bird flu. Now I am getting it too. So if you complain that we didn’t bring anything back from China – then think again!

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Day 7 – What’s so great about this wall? And kick off 2006
OK, so Arlie and I had a really stupid plan about the movie that we were going to make when we go to the Great Wall (of China, duh). The script went something like this….

Arlie (or Stephanie) standing next to the wall looks down and touches it.

Arlie says: I’m here now at the Great Wall and I just want to know – what is so great about this wall.

Camera pans to the Great Wall.

OK – it is really fucking stupid, I know that. You know that. We probably knew that, but obviously thought it was way funnier when we were drunk on martinis and came up with the concept.

So today was the day we were going to execute. Finally…

get your corn on

We got up – the earliest since arriving in China – at 8.30 AM and got out the door to meet our private tour guide and driver by 9.30 AM. And we were off towards the Great Wall. The drive takes about 1 hour. On this particular morning, it happened to be the very first snow in Beijing. We were really excited that we would get some breathtaking views of the wall with some snow.

We forgot one thing. Chinese drivers are crazy. They just swerve into any lane and go at really fast speeds. Add this to some icy roads and you have what resembles a video game. There were at least 15 accidents that we drove past on our way to the Wall. And we ourselves were almost victims to a pretty hardcore crash with a Jetta that bounced off one side of the motorway, almost hit us but missed due to some great manuvering by our driver and then crashed into the other side. Seriously missed us by a hair. Just adds to the excitement of the journey.

Arrived to the wall and our tour guide dropped us off telling us to come back in an hour. We were at the first entrance to the wall and there were quite a few tourists. And did I mention that it was COLD as all hell? Yes. It was.

The first thing on my agenda was to find the warmest possible thing. There was a vendor (just like in ancient days) at the base of the stairs that was selling corn on the cob and hot cans of coffee. So I bought both. Stuck the coffee into my pocket and ate the corn for breakfast. Then the real fun starts.

Climbing up the stairs was no small feat. And there are quite a few stairs. Add this to icy stairs with a lot of tourists and you have trouble brewing. This was some trouble that I wasn’t going to be a willing participant in, so I opted to climb to the lower part and then stand and wonder when we were going to have to amputate my feet from frostbite (and enjoy the view). Arlie – the brave soul that she is – decided to climb up the stairs. Needless to say, she didn’t get very far before she realised that going up was the easy part and coming down was the really crappy part. It was so steep and slippery that you had to grab onto the railing and hope that no one above you fell. Scary stuff.

hi mom!

Arlie made it down alive and then we made our really stupid video. We were quite proud of ourselves.

After the wall, we went to visit the obligatory upsell at the Cloissone vase factory where we ate some really nasty lunch and bought some garbage.

Then on to the Ming Tombs. The Ming Tombs are – well – obviously tombs of Ming. It was originally built only as Changling, the tomb of Emperor Zhuli and his empresses. This is the most magnificent of the tombs. The succeeding twelve emperors had their tombs built around Changling.

kickin it with buddha

We went into one of the structures – there are 13 in total – housing all those old emperor’s bodies from the Ming dynasty. In total there were 16 Ming Emperors, but we were told that 3 of their bodies weren’t there. One was in Nanjing where the capital used to be. And the other two were lost. Oops.

After this we went to a silk factory with more upselling that we didn’t buy and then back to the hotel to prepare ourselves for our super New Year’s festivities.

These festivities included going downstairs for some Chinese food while wondering if you are in China and you eat Chinese food, do you call it just food? Then going back to our room to watch a pirated copy of the Last Emperor. At midnight we called up and ordered french fries and chocolate cake and celebrated by opening a can of coke and diet coke. Party animals we are!!!! Read More

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Day 6 – Hutong Clan
On the sixth day of Xmas, Arlie and I toured the hutongs of Beijing.

A hutong is an ancient city alley or lane typical in Beijing, where hutongs run into the several thousand. Surrounding the Forbidden City, many were built during the Yuan (1206-1341), Ming(1368-1628) and Qing(1644-1908) dynasties. In the prime of these dynasties the emperors, in order to establish supreme power for themselves, planned the city and arranged the residential areas according to the etiquette systems of the Zhou Dynasty. The center of the city of Beijing was the royal palace — the Forbidden City.

hutong clan

The hutongs are dying out quickly with many residents preferring to live in the high rise buildings rather than in these old buildings. Plus, as you can imagine, this is some prime real estate that they are built on that you can pack many more people into.

Arlie and I were on the free tour from the hotel that took us out in some rickshaws along the hutong path. We visited a family residence along the way and went in to ask about their everyday life in the hutong. I found this to be a bit odd…a bunch of foreigners trampling into someone’s house and then sitting in their daughter’s and grandma’s bedroom, but I suppose they get some subsidy from it and the lady was very nice.

The actual hutong structure was old and slightly grimy. Although we did see some nice outer hutongs that looked pretty posh. There are upwards of 3 families living in some of these structures. All of them share an inner courtyard. The neighborhood has neighborhood watch programs that look our for everyone and the elderly (as the hutongs are filled with a lot of elderly). The lady explained that when there are disputes, they have one person who is elected to be in charge of each hutong for the year – if this person can’t resolve the dispute then it goes to a neighborhood commitee to resolve. Some popular disputes could be kids fighting or too much noise from one family.

captain of the hutong clan

During the hutong tour, the rickshaws drove us by this frozen lake and river. This was quite a sight. A bunch of people out there on the ice in makeshift skates – things like bicycles and chairs with some blades attached to the bottoms. There was even a little dog that was being pushed in a chair around. Oh, did I mention that I was about to die from the cold??? Yes, I was.

Another funny sight was the old men Chinese polar bear club. These crazy old men were getting down to their underwear and jumping into a hole in the ice and going for a swim. Quite a few of the old fellows. Pretty sexy stuff.

uncle cold balls

After we visited a museum and gardens (of which I can’t remember the name), we ended up at the Bell and Drum tower where Arlie went up the stairs to take photos and I went inside to thaw my frozen toes.

Then we had a nice Chinese tea ceremony complete with the upsell to the magical porcelin cups that change their picture into the Great Wall and panda bears when you pour the hot water into them.

When we arrived back to the hotel, we had a nice cup of gloog and then decided to do some more shopping or browsing. We went out of the hotel and down the street to check out the freaky food vendors.

crickets anyone?

Lots of lots of crazy, disgusting stuff going on down there. You can get snake, frogs, silkworm, octopus, crickets and some other stuff that I’m not even sure what it was. Arlie and I ended up eating corn on the cob and having some banana fritters. Pretty much the most normal things you can get there.

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image Sweet – so Sean Lennon is looking for a girlfriend? I think I qualify as meeting his requirements…

The requirements: They must have an IQ above 130 and they must be honest. They must not have any clinical, psychological disorders and a kind heart. Clearly beautiful – but beauty on the inside is more important – but no deformities, third legs, fifth nipples.

Well apart from that fifth nipple – wait – where the hell are the 3rd and 4th nipples on my body?

Anyways – wouldn’t that be cute? Two little happa kids keeping the Nipon heritage mixed with the honkey fathers together. Basically we could reproduce our own little happas. Awesome. Bring it on, Sean!

Read the article here

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Day 5 – Beijing or Bust
We arrived to Beijing at 7 AM to yet another surreal train station filled to the brim with people shoving and spitting. Went to the nearest taxi rank which was a freeforall of people going apeshit. Arlie was getting thrown aside left and right before she became empowered by my urgings of “just hit the damned bastards out of the way too” when she started elbowing and doing a little shoving of her own. We got our taxi and headed immediately to the Pennisula Palace hotel in the Wangfujing district of Beijing.

Immediately we noticed a difference in the cities. Gone were all of the skyscrapers and big modern buildings of Shanghai. Hello to short buildings and basically flat structure. A Los Angeles to New York – if you don’t mind the comparison. It was 7 AM, but that didn’t mean that anyone was sleeping. The roads were jam packed with cars and bicycles.

xmas tree with goodies

Got to the Pennisula and checked in. We were in awe of the Christmas tree in the front that was fully stocked with bags from Gucci, Prada, Versace, Bvlgari and the rest of the luxury boutiques that our hotel housed. We pondered the thought of having that same tree in our own homes. Then we checked into our supposed 5 star accomodations…

You have to keep in mind that Arlie and I had grown rather fond of our room at the St. Regis. The free breakfast and internet. The Herman Miller chair. The soft beds and turndown with our chocolates. The loving way our butler left sea salts for our baths. The soft feel of the rain forest shower on our heads. OK – we were spoiled to death by the St. Regis. So when we arrived to our really nice room at the Pennisula we were slightly disappointed…

Granted we did have a 42″ plasma in our room, but the view left something to be desired. The room wasn’t very large. Then the toilet started leaking and the hammering started. Yes, we were a bit annoyed. They moved our rooms, but from that moment on our vision of the Pennisula was shattered. It didn’t get better when we found out from fellow travellers that they had free breakfast, their room rate was cheaper and they had a television in their bathtub. Got a traveltip to book rooms on Asia Rooms

Spent most of the day catching up on sleep from not sleeping on the train.

Got up in time to go see an acrobat show somewhere in the city.

chinese acrobats

These little trooper kids are amazing. You should really see the amazing feats that they can perform. Their bodies are in peak physical condition – even at a young age of about 7 years old. The show was really cool. Enjoyed it a lot.

sushi in china is good

Afterwards, we went to dinner at Matsune, a Japanese restaurant rated as being one of the best in the city. Yes, it may seem weird to go all the way to China to eat Japanese food, but that is what we did and it turned out quite well. The food was delicious and I was just happy that Arlie didn’t want to puke or complain about the things she couldn’t eat.

ambassador robesky

We ended up drinking a few Asahis and sakes too many and making a bunch of really stupid videos before heading back to the hotel. At the hotel we sat in the hotel bar and ordered up a few martinis and got a bit crazier. Needless to say, the hotel staff weren’t superfans of ours. Not that they hated us, but I think we traumatised them a little bit by climbing on the porcelin horse and then asking all of them to say “Hi Mom” to our video.

ambassador haft

When we told Arlie’s mom, Sara, this on a drunken phone call she didn’t seem too thrilled with us and told us to behave as we were ambassadors to the United States. Oh well, at least we didn’t hawk a phlegmy spitball in the lobby…

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Day 4 – Yu Gardens and vomit
It is amazing that Arlie and I managed to get ourselves up after the craziness of our evening with the cover band from the Phillipines, but somehow we did. Awoke to our usual breakfast of nothingness and then went out into the cold and wet Shanghai afternoon. The agenda for today was to visit the Yu Gardens.

arlie at the tea house

Yu Gardens, also known as Yuyuan, began as a private garden created by Pan Yunduan, who spent almost 20 years – and all of his savings – to build a garden in order to please his parents in their old age. That is why he called this garden “Yuyuan” – because “yu” in Chinese means “peace and health”.

During the past 400 years, Yuyuan, although restored and reopened several times, was most often in disarray. Due to the decline of Pan’s family after Pan Yuduan’s death, Yuyuan gradually fell into disuse.

i live in a rock

Surrounding Yu Gardens is a shopping center for antiques. This is really a lie as we didn’t see any antiques and a lot of junk. There is also a famous teahouse where world leaders stop and have their cup o tea.

The gardens are quite amazing. We wandered around and took photos. It was raining so there weren’t too many tourists around which was nice.

yu gardens

After all the excitement of the gardens, Arlie had worked up quite an appetite. But having a sensitive western stomach, she wasn’t really into eating a bunch of crap that she wasn’t sure what it was so we looked around for some menu with pictures or something that looked partially edible. Which was when we happened upon a giant Chinese buffet place in the antique market. Oh, the horrors that were on display there. Anything weird that you could possibly want was there. I am actually shocked that Arlie decided to eat there. She had a plate of dumplings, fried rice and fried chicken (no, Jeremy, she didn’t really eat it). About 30 minutes later she puked so I guess it wasn’t very good afterall…

arlie pre-puke

At 7 PM our overnight train was leaving to go to Beijing so we trekked our way over to the train station. What fun this was! Not the trek there, but the trek through the train station. Thousands upon thousands of people all shoving Arlie aside. Then you go downstairs to the waiting room and it is utter chaos. People squatting everywhere with bags and bags of shit. All of them seemed to be eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor which made it virtually impossible for me to wheel my bag across them without getting stuck.

We somehow figured out where our train was departing from and got through the crowds of people and onto the platform where our train was waiting.

deluxe sleeper

The actual train wasn’t too bad. A bit far from the 5 star accomodation that one weblog had described it as, but not horrible with chickens and goats or anything. We hopped onboard, ate our KFC takeaway meal and then started to watch one of my pirated DVDs. Then we ran into a problem. No more power on my laptop. I have the most pimping power adapter ever, but the sockets wouldn’t quite fit it due to their weird plastic cover. I went into super Macgyver mode and started taking cardboard and ripping stickers off of saline and basically trying my best to jimmy a solution that would let us get power. Finally I had it. But it required me sitting on the sink of the toilet holding the jimmy’d box into the socket while resting my feet on the toilet and watching the laptop out of the door (which wouldn’t allow me to hear the movie). Oh well.

frustrated stephanie

12 hours and 2 hours of sleep later we arrived in Beijing.

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OK – this has to be one of the coolest toys ever. Seriously. It is so cool that I have to write about it from my hotel room in China instead of going out and actually seeing some sights. But then again that is what nerds do isn’t it….

The Slingbox officially gets my vote for my favourite thing in 2006. OK it isn’t even 2006 yet – but this is a preview of how many cool things will be coming in 2006 and the future looks bright.

What is a Slingbox?
A Slingbox is a little gadget that you hook up to your television set and then when you are away you can get online and stream your tv to your laptop. HOW SWEET IS THAT?!?

in action

So, Bob went out and bought a Slingbox. I received an email last night telling me how to hook it up. I downloaded the software, put in the ID and password and was viewing Mom and Bob’s television set (complete with 600 channels of shit) and Tivo from China in a matter of minutes. You can change the channels, record stuff on the Tivo, watch the DVD that is in the player – basically every function that they have – but from across the world. AWESOME!

This morning I went on and noticed a movie playing that I didn’t want to watch. So I hit the Tivo button on the remote. Then I noticed that the remote started moving and someone put it back on the DVD player and hit play. Turns out that Mom and Bob were sitting there watching a movie and I went in and stopped it. They didn’t realise that I was the one controlling the remote and figured that there were ghosts in their computer. So I decided to ring them up on Skype (also the coolest thing ever when you are in China). They put the movie on pause (which I could see them doing before they answered the phone) and picked up… Ha! I can totally fuck with their minds all the time now by changing channels.

Anyways…this little gadget is going to come in handy for watching all of those Lost episodes before anyone else…now I just need to figure out how to capture the video stream so I can record stuff. Read More

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