Archive for the 'tourism' Category

writing on the move is harder than i thought

So I’m gonna back post some of the entries I wrote before leaving Paris. But that’ll probably happen in late December at the earliest because I left my laptop in California.

I’m currently in Bangkok with my sister, staying at an American (or Australian?)-run guest house a few Skytrain stops away from everything. I’ve been taking about three hours of sleep at a time at night and through the morning (polyphasic-style), so my jet lag hasn’t left me dead– but then again I’m completely used to being wide awake at 11:30 pm.

On the way here we had a 10-hour, nausea-filled flight from SFO to Narita, where I spent two hours trying to dredge up the remnants of my Japanese, then slept through most of the 7-hour flight to Bangkok, then woke up and watched The Beach for the first time. Unfortunately my sister isn’t taking Alex Garland’s message to heart so we’ll be hitting a lot of tourist stops– and probably running into a lot of drunk Anglophones on the way. :P

Bangkok feels a lot like Manila, but it’s got a better mix of Tokyo and Hong Kong and is a hell of a lot cleaner. Our first glimpse into it was in the huge Siam mall complex, which is more of a luxury than a real shopping experience. We haven’t bought much of anything yet, but the food is much more reasonable price-wise and we’ll be buying local clothes and stuff from the markets so we don’t look like pickpocket targets.

The weather on Ko Pha Ngan is going to be crappy for a while, so we might stay on the mainland until it stops raining. We’ve got four days in the city to acclimatize and get a crash course in Thai culture. Plus I need to learn how to read Thai really effing soon, so we’re armed with a couple thousand baht, a 15-year-old Lonely Planet guide to the country, and a Thai dictionary and phrasebook.

Wish us luck.


couchsurfing’s not sketchy!

So two weeks ago I hosted a couple of backpackers for the first time. As beginner couchsurfers, we were all nervous as hell, but I’ve found that couchsurfing is less sketchy than you think.

I’ve heard that there are some sketchy male couchsurfer hosts who are known for hosting only hot chicks. But for the most part, this isn’t the case at all. The real-life couchsurfing community is pretty vibrant— they even hold social events in cities where they have large numbers– and the online social network is structured in such a way that makes it easy to identify the more legit hosts and surfers.

For one thing, there are levels of certification on the site that one can attain by, among other things, adding a legitimate bank account or getting other established couchsurfers to vouch for their legitimacy. The testimonials are similar in principle to the LinkedIn network’s, in that other people can leave reviews of you on your profile about your personality and hospitality, etc.

For another, it’s fairly easy to spot the sketchier people— for example, if you’re contacted by a thirty five year old man from an Eastern European country who has “I like talk to cute young Asian girls” as one of his interests, and you’re a twenty year old Asian female who specifically mentioned a preference for hosting female and same-age couchsurfers in her profile, you can probably guess 1) what this guy has in mind and 2) that he’s a dumbass.

In July I was contacted by a dude from New Jersey who just embarked on a Europe backpacking trip with his girlfriend and wanted to crash in Paris for a night or two. He explained their situation and said that they were fairly laid-back (yeah, I warned them about the seventh-floor walk-up with no key and the shower in the kitchen and everything, and they still wanted to do it…). I took a good look at his profile and saw that his profile picture was of him in a “Semester at Sea” shirt, grinning in front of Angkor Wat.

I okayed the deal– I’d listed a preference for females, and he only had a basic level of certification, but his message, profile and pictures were consistent in voice and writing style (for example, he claimed to go to the University of Pittsburgh, and the Semester at Sea program originated in UPitt). What sealed the deal was that he was traveling with his girlfriend— if an American college guy is traveling with his girlfriend, he’s probably not gonna pull any shit with other chicks. (I found out later that they checked my profile out too– apparently, the part where I say point-blank that “I’m afraid of being stalked by or accidentally hosting and/or being hosted by sketchy guys” is what made the girl feel more at ease with the idea.)

They turned out to be pretty cool. Though we were all first-time couchsurfers and they had to bang on a lot of doors on my floor late at night to find me because their phone was whack, it was a fun two nights, filled with wine, cheese, tons of walking, and a crash course in French manners. (The guy waxed political sometimes, but hey, I’d rather talk for hours about serious shit with my couchsurfers than wake up one day and find out that they skipped town and nicked my wallet in the process. Seriously, there are worse things in life than hosting a philosophe. Or a tool!)

Before my flatmate comes back, I might host maybe one or two more girls if I hear from them again. A dude from the U of Arizona was supposed to show up last week, but I have no idea what happened to him. There were a ton of other requests, but I screen quite carefully, plus the lengthy list of problems with my apartment scared most of them off, and I need a week’s warning simply because I don’t use the Internet that often anymore.

(Fortunately, I’ve found a library near my apartment with WiFi so I no longer have to buy bottled Evian at McDonald’s all the time! City-sponsored weefee is amazing.)

Sorry for the gap between posts! I think my next post will be more on how to have fun in Paris when you’re piss poor, because I found tons more free things to do after I did the “how to survive summer in Paris” post.

what happens in barcelona

This weekend, a friend and I opted to forego the Stanford-organized trip to Barcelona to go with the guys from the engineering school that the Stanford program is housed in. (Apparently the guy-to-girl ratio in techie schools is the same everywhere: only two French girls went with us, and they were both girlfriends.) Their fare was cheaper: 150 euro for the whole trip– half the cost of Stanford’s trip, which was half the reason why we wanted to go with a bunch of French techies. Because it was the first-ever trip organized by the bureau des élèves (student council), it wasn’t strictly organized and we were seventeen in total. This made our 50-seat bus pretty comfy.

From learning how to say “drunk” (bourré) and “weed” (le shit) to learning what a French impression of Borat sounds like, friend and I were entertained for hours on end during the fourteen-hour bus ride to and from Barcelona (when we weren’t sleeping, of course).

The boys were loud, and the jokes revolved mainly around bad puns, many in English:

Guy 1: “Madame Fly a trois fils. Comment s’appelent ils?
(Madame Fly has three sons. What are their names?)
Guy 2: “Shais pas (Je ne sais pas). Quoi?
(Dunno. What?)
Guy 1: “Abdul, Yves, Hakim. Abdul-Yves-Hakim Fly!”
(sing “Abdul-Yves-Hakim Fly” to the tune of “I Believe I Can Fly“)

They also watched a dubbed version of Dumb and Dumber on the way back. Thank you, globalization.

Barcelona was great. We stayed at a hostel off La Rambla and the boys (the couples, mostly) graciously ceded the only two-person room to said friend and me. We perused La Rambla and the Barri Gòtic at length, shopped for clothing, and dealt quite well with my gelato timer (in Europe, I crave ice cream at set intervals of the day).

I usually hate being a tourist, but I figured hanging out with a bunch of French guys in a foreign country wasn’t a bad way to learn a little more French. This was true, although it was hard to just approach a bunch of guys and start talking to them— like in most schools, they already have established cliques. Since we were both girls, friend and I waited patiently until they came up to us and broke out with their best English. (Which wasn’t bad at all, considering how bad it can get in Japan.)

Thankfully, alcohol seems to loosen everyone up the world over, and the drinking age in Europe is eighteen (eighteen months, that is– some French families dilute wine for baby bottles!). So we went bar-hopping with a few of the guys and had a ridiculously good time, with the booze greatly improving their English and bolstering our French. The end!

Food notes: if you’re vegetarian, fear not: there’s a whole chain of Maoz shops in and around La Rambla. I hope you have a hearty appetite for falafel, because you’ll have slim pickings at tapas restaurants.

And ohhhhh GELATO. I went to Barcelona four years ago and still remember the heavenly tiramisu gelato from one gelato shop two blocks away from the edge of the beach in Barceloneta. It’s still there! I think it’s called Dino’s Gelato (it’s a chain– there’s one in La Rambla), and the prices are reasonable (3.50 euro for three scoops in a large waffle cone? Unheard of in Paris). Taste-wise, it almost beats Berthillon‘s. Oh man, I got to try Roquefort-flavored gelato. (It’s not as sharp and moldy as it seems.)

But I’m back in Paris, safe and sound, and today is May 1– La Fête du Travail (Labor Day), when Parisians get the day off and of course turn to their second favorite hobby: protesting!

Two Weeks of Suck, Part 3: Jersey City and JFK (and London, sort of)

Part of the Two Weeks of Suck series, in which b recounts her spring break.

Still Sunday. My boyfriend and I have a few hours to kill– or so we think. We take the PATH train to Jersey City to visit my old house, which my parents sold a few years ago before moving to California. We’re accompanied by my childhood best friend, who helps jog my memory and keeps me up-to-date about friends I’d lost contact with long ago.

We also introduce boyfriend to his first burger (or five) at the White Castle a block away from my house, which, as I point out to everyone who’s watched Harold and Kumar, is the closest White Castle to Hoboken. If Harold and Kumar had gone through Jersey City in their search for a White Castle, the movie never would’ve happened. Bastards.

We also pay a visit to my old haunt, Newport, a mall on the waterfront that amazes boyfriend with its sheer size (Me: “This is nothing compared to Garden State Plaza.”), and even more by its 3.5% sales tax– with no tax on clothing. It’s late afternoon by the time we’re done picking out jeans for him, but we figure we can still catch the train to Howard Beach and get on the plane in time.

6. Nope. As we learned later, check-in for international flights ends an hour before the plane actually leaves, at least for Virgin Atlantic. So by the time we arrived back at the apartment to clean up and pack, we’d already been late. The hour-long train ride to Howard Beach didn’t help, either, and we ran through the airport in vain to catch our flight. We’re rescheduled for the following morning, so boyfriend and I spend ten hours being homeless in the shopping area of JFK, him watching The West Wing on my computer and me checking out perfume at the large duty-free store, practically the only thing open past 11pm.

Monday. The flight itself was pleasant. Virgin Atlantic has ridiculously good customer service for the post-9/11 era, including a large selection of t.v. on demand and a small amenities kit with toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs and eye mask. Boyfriend slept through just about everything.

7. Tuesday-Thursday. We arrive at our bed and breakfast London wanting to do everything. This is kind of offset by our huge case of sleep deprivation and jet lag, so we slept through most of the day and stayed up through maybe half of the night. This becomes our routine, and we end up having midnight breakfasts instead of the typical breakfast the family of a bed and breakfast provides.

In hindsight, sleeping in probably prevented us from shopping and spending more. That was probably a good thing, given the abominable exchange rate.

Relaxing? Why, yes! But the next few days weren’t.

Next up: Freaking out about my mom freaking out about finances. Oh, and the freaking PLANE!

back to our regularly scheduled program

For Spring Break, I will be hanging out in New York and London before heading off to Paris.

I know I previously mentioned my aversion to being a tourist, but this is kind of legit.

For one, I will be going with my boyfriend. I probably won’t be seeing him very often over the next year, so we decided to go somewhere special in the little time that we have. “Going somewhere special” is harder than it sounds if you’re a pair of busy college students who live on-campus (even if he does have a car).

Secondly, I will meeting a friend in London (he’s doing Stanford in Paris, too) to see a play called Equus. (It’s the one that features Harry Potter in the buff.) We’ve been planning this for a while. Tourism isn’t so bad if it isn’t your main reason for traveling.

Thirdly, I haven’t been to NYC in a while (since the beginning of last summer) and I miss it tons. My parents moved from New Jersey to California soon after I started attending Stanford, so I haven’t had many chances to visit my East Coast friends since then. And my guy got tickets to Avenue Q and Spamalot so I’m excited.

We’ve got the flights and most of the theater arrangements. The thing is,

we don’t have any hotel reservations yet.

Yikes? Yeah. I’m working on it. We have a no-hostel and no-sketchy place agreement, so it’s gonna be pricey. Here are my booking resources:

New York:
LiveJournal – nyc_for_free
NY craigslist – Manhattan: sublets/temporary
Time Out:New Yorkhotels – NYC last-minute deals
and just plain word of mouth.

Expedia hotels
Time Out:Londonhotels
Frommer’s Europe on $70 a Day (from the library)
Frommer’s online guides – London (hotels)
The London Bed & Breakfast Agency Limited
and some more word of mouth.

If you have any more ideas, please do tell me.


This is a blog of things place-related, by a cash-strapped Stanford grad who's lived in various places and writes about life. She's currently looking for a job in Manhattan or the Bay Area.

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