Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Search for a Perfect Accomodation in Damascus!

Here is a question that should surely get some reaction from just about everyone: Exactly how rewarding is *planning* for a trip? My answer? It is often more rewarding than you would have initially thought! Take this weekend trip to Syria for example. Q and I only have four days, so we decided to spend it all in the the ancient city of Damascus. The search for a "perfect" accommodation has proven to be quite exciting in itself.

Our first choice for accomodation was CouchSurfing (obviously!), but not so lucky this time. The CS community seems much smaller in Damascus, oh well, hopefully we made some contacts with locals who will be able to meet up and tell us about the city they live in, so that's always good.

Then I tried the traditional hotel search on the internet. Surprise, surprise, rooms in renovated boutique hotels ain't cheap - a decent one is easily $200 per night! Hmm... I guess the old town is UNESCO for a reason!

Luckily I came across a tip recommending, which mostly arranges accomodation for international students and long-term visitors. After some email exchanges, this is what was proposed to us...

A room in a traditional Arabic house with a fountain in the middle courtyard, for just under $40 per night! *Tada!* If that is not perfect, I don't know what is. *Tee hee hee!*

I love how much enjoyment I am getting out of this search without even leaving Abu Dhabi. :D It's true... Early bird does catch the worm, even if it has to work harder!


And on a separate note, I previously mentioned there's a special announcement that Q was going to make but he's busy, so he delegated the task to me, so here it is.

Congratulations to Wads (N.B. Q's mother) for receiving knighthood award from the Dutch government! It was a wonderful recognition for her 30+ years of volunteering work in the philipino community!

Bart (N.B. Q's father) managed to keep it all a surprise for Wads until they arrived at the reception theatre, and everyone had a blast! Here is a photo collage of all the flower bouquets in their living room afterwards. What a celebration!!!

Monday, May 18, 2009

My Indian Visa Saga Continues...

As you may recall, I missed my trip to India back in April because I couldn't get a visa in time. Well, I continued to pursue since then, hoping to clear it for any future trip plans. All the government bureaucracy aside, I still find myself drawn to the country itself.

Keep in mind that my visa application was submitted back in the beginning of April, and I ran into a major obstacle for being born in China and was required to get an additional security clearance from New Delhi.

Today, when I called my friend Mr. Sashi at the embassy, to my delight he remembered my case right away, "oh yes, the Canadian!" then he continued on in the same tone, "Oh no, we have not heard from New Delhi!" After realizing that I didn't quite share his excitement, he suggested to escalate the matter to the First Secretary Consulate, Mr. Babu, since he has "the ultimate power" for visa issuing.

After dropping my first phone call (I am sure accidentally!), Mr. Babu put me on the speaker phone - I hate discussing private issues over a speaker phone since you just don't know who else might be listening on the other end. Oh well, not like I had any choice! After explaining my situation, Mr. Babu told me that "No problem, 15 days to one month." But it has been over a month. "From today." Oooh, *another* 15 days to one month. But what if still no response, "Well, we cannot give you a visa without the clearance from New Delhi."

It just dawned on me that there is a chance that I *may never* get a visa to India. Yuk. Well, at least this whole pursuit of visa experience is making me somewhat acceptive of failures! :)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

My Reverse Culture Shock

Have you heard of Reverse Culture Shock before? According to Wikipedia, my new best friend after Google, "Returning to one's home culture after growing accustomed to a new one can produce the same effects as entering a foreign environment, which an affected person often finds more surprising and difficult to deal with as the original culture shock." Well, that explains all the mental flossing during my recent trip to Europe:

Munich, Germany

  • After living in Abu Dhabi, I am surprised to see that I have become really good at stealing traffic crossings, you know, like stealing bases in baseball games, when the traffic is light. In fact, maybe a little too good.

  • It's 8 pm on a Thursday night and the shops are closed! Where do people go? I think I'm experiencing culture shock, and I didn't think I would.

  • I had one of the best days of my life today.

  • There must be a book out there on how many ways to dissect a preztel! It's got such a peculiar shape. (N.B. Susi, my Couchsurfing host, told me that it resembles a man with arm crossed and hands on shoulders. :)

  • Eying a bunch of kids playing soccer in a huge open field, I can't help but feeling left out. How outdoor livable is Abu Dhabi?

  • I think I just accidentally drooled over myself when I saw two happy-happy girls riding bicycles passing by me, followed by their mother who had their younger sister on her back seat.

  • In the next 15 minutes, the world doesn't exist while taking a delicious nap surrounded by trees, grass, Alpen mountains and warmth of the sun. Peace!

  • For the first time in my life, I was transformed into a princess - in my jeans and walking shoes! The disney magic took place in a little cafe inside Neuschwanstein castle - I swear I saw sparkles flying off the distanced lake. (Video link here)

  • Watching trees rolling on and off the train window frame next to me is the ultimate Green Therapy.

  • Sitting in a BMW X6 is not the type of thing I'd ever admit to, but I'd do it just for kicks since I'm practically sitting in the home of BMWs (N.B. BMW Museum). It's like you have to try eating with chopsticks when in China!

  • How cool is it to see another underground train travelling in the same direction overtaking slowly. It's like watch a set of slow-motion movie frames in a pitch black space.

  • (N.B. After entering a brauhaus, i.e. pub) It felt like I just fell through the rabbit hole - halls of people drinking and talking and eating *at noon*. Such a contrast to the chilly and grey weather outside.

  • After Abu Dhabi, I think I would say "I can live here" to a lot of cities.

  • Cooking a super delicious food is the best way to make sure no food would go wasted!

    • Salzburg, Austria

      • I wish I were more enthusiastic about where I come from, i.e. Abu Dhabi, but I am not. And Toronto already seems so far away.

      • Cold water runs colder here, not warmer! Love it!

      • Sleeping on the balcony under the countless stars and surrounded by the Alpen mountains sounded quite stupid at first, but turned out very romantic! The only casualty were my glasses, which were blown off to the ground by wind and I ended up with a chipped lens as my souvenir.

      • How could one ever get tired of admiring the Alps?

      • I'm Debbie Downer from Abu Dhabi. Had to bite my tongue from starting sentences with "This is how it is like in Abu Dhabi..."

      Travelling solo in Munich and Salzburg accounted for the first half of my trip. Here are the trip photos. I spent the remainig trip in The Hague, The Netherlands with Q and his family for a very special occassion, which will be announced when Q is back tomorrow. :)