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November 29, 2010

Lets go round the world!

Prologue

In November 2007, after working from 10am to 12am every week day for nearly 6 months, I was, quite frankly, knackered.  In fact, possibly a little burnt out and I needed a holiday.

I’d been building a development framework and fast authoring pipeline for the Hi-def optical format HD-DVD.  Using the framework I’d finally managed to get several products done.  I think one of them was even on time.

Now I really needed a break to relax.  Using some of my holiday time, plus a large amount of owed time-in-lieu, I managed to cobble together a total of single 6 week block off work!  So, I decided to go on a holiday abroad.  So, where to go?

So, where do you want to go?

Looking at the map of the entire world, it’s suddenly quite intimidating to choose from.  There’s so many places in the world!  And I’d quite like to visit several of them… *lightbulb moment* … so, let’s go around the world!

A little about me; I’m a natural worrier and I get bored rather easily so variation is very important to me.

So the rules for the trip:

  1. At least one country had to be “relaxing”.
  2. One country should be Japan (I’m a big fan of Manga).
  3. Each country had to be different from the other countries in as many ways as possible (people/language/temperature/activities) and I wanted to cram as much different stuff in as possible.
  4. I really wanted to meet up with my best friend Carl, who lives in Australia.
  5. I had 6 weeks.  Which sounds like a lot, and it is, but flights take time.  And flights around the world take lots of time.
  6. Round the world plane tickets require you to keep travelling east or west around the planet.  Stop wherever you like, but keep going in the same direction.
  7. I would start travelling in February 2008.

Where to go to relax?

“Where’s the most relaxing place you’e ever been?”, I asked my colleagues, using the highly scientific method of whoever-happens-to-be-passing-the-door-when-idea-comes-to-mind.

Thailand“, said Emma and Zoe, instantly.

“Thank you”, and Thailand was added to the list.

A change please!

That’s the relaxing trip done and it leaves me in the middle of Asia.  Where next?

Thailand is a hot, sunny, relaxing location, so in the interests of variation lets go somewhere different; cold, not-so-relaxing but interesting.  Well, cold means north of the equator, and I had to keep travelling east.  A cold interesting place NE of Thailand? China.

China looked to be a fascinating place;  a gigantic country, with a fascinating past, beautiful architecture, a place both modern and ancient at the same time.  It would be the middle of Winter and be freezing, so big coat required.

Domo!

China is handily enough right next to Japan.  Japan has always seemed fascinated since I started reading Manga.  I’m also a huge fan of Studio Ghibli’s animated films, and buried somewhere near Tokyo is the Studio Ghibli museum (where they show Ghibli films that you can only see in the museum).  For Ghibli fans, it’s rather pilgrimage-like.

Both Carl and I had talked previously about a trip to Japan and we resurrected the idea.  I would fly to Japan from China, and he would fly from Australia. We’d meet up and explore Japan together.

Nice one Mate!

Carl offered to put me up with him in Sydney after the Japan Trip, allowing me the chance to explore Sydney and a bit of Australia, and see if the spiders were quite as big, scary and abundant as the tales say.  Australia in February is still in high summer, which would make a nice change from the relatively cool temperatures of Japan.

Flowers in the hair

For the last leg of the trip and the remaining few days I fancied a stop off and chill out in San Francisco.  Having explored New York previously on the east coast, I wanted to see what the west coast of the U.S.A. was like.

And that was my rough plan for my trip.

Runners Up

There were of course quite a few places that I would have liked to have visited but I just couldn’t fit into the time.

Latin America: I tried desperately to fit in a trip to Machu Picchu, but I couldn’t manage it.  It’s a minimum of a week or more to get all the necessary flights, plus a short trek.

Antarctica: There’s a boat that leaves from the tip of South America, Ushuaia, that travels down to Antarctica.  But even the shortest journey is at least 9 days long, and costs £2000-3000 pounds – most of the cost of the rest of the trip.  Pity, I really had wanted to see Penguins.

Activities please!

On the Thailand and China legs of the tour, I decided to go on a guided tour.  For this I used Intrepid Travel, and their two tours: A Taste of Thailand and A Taste Of China.  They came recommended by my Trailfinders Travel agent.  I’m rather glad that I used Trailfinders to organise the whole trip as it was a lot of work to figure out what and where to go to.  It could definitely be organised without an agent, but I was quite new at the whole travelling thing and there was a lot there I didn’t know.

Speak more loudly and more slowly

Being relatively new to travelling abroad I was concerned about the language barrier.  To that effect I bought various phrase books.  Turns out I needn’t have bothered.

The Thai language has a set of five intonations: highlowrisingfalling or in a mid-level tone.  The classic example is the word “mai”.  “Mai” in a falling tone means ‘not’ but at the end of a sentence with a high tone it indicates a question.  In total, “mai” has a different meaning for each intonation, meaning that the sentence “‘mai mai mai mai mai” when said in the five different intonations roughly translates as  ‘new wood doesn’t burn, does it?‘.  I could barely even hear the different sounds lets alone pronounce them correctly.  Fortunately, spoken English is quite common, especially in Bangkok.  Most of the locals understand enough English to try to sell you something.

In China however, the language advice was a little more … adventurous –  “If you’re lucky, the staff in your hotel may speak English”.  Other than that, unless you are at a tourist site, in China nobody speaks English.  Chinese is also intonational language, so again, I didn’t stand a chance.  I tried, but mostly the locals looked at me like I was talking gibberish.  Which I most likely was.

In Japan I figured it wouldn’t be too bad what with my extensive Manga vocabulary – perfect provided we get attacked by giant robots or need to swear profusely.

Obviously Australia and the U.S.A. wasn’t a problem, although when I San Francisco, I made sure to pronounce the word Colour and Honour with the necessary “u”.