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13 February, 2009 1 comment

The old stadium’s frontage is nearly completed. It’s chilly but dry. Highbury hasn’t changed.

A pile of post looks inviting. Washing on, cuppa, sit down and work my way through the envelopes. Later, delivery of girlfriend and a curry. Perfect combination.

Last post of the travelog. Good to be back.

Important conclusion from 3 mths away:

5 February, 2009 Leave a comment

The 6 P’s of massage measurement:

Psychological benefit; Physical benefit; Pain; Pleasure; Pennies (value for money); Peculiarity (novelty value)

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Diving

5 February, 2009 Leave a comment

I quite liked it. As you can see.

Was lucky enough to be diving with two great dive photographers. So many thanks (and copyright) to Chris and Rod.

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News + Location

3 February, 2009 Leave a comment

I meant to add that it was good to hear some news from people in the uk yesterday morning – news that wasn’t about frosty precipitation – even though i was quite blown away by the array.

Am now sitting in the 10z II internet cafe – in the upstairs smoking bit – and noticing that, for the first time i’ve ever seen, ALL of the terminals face away from each other. difficult to describe, but the end result is that almost no-one can see over the other person’s shoulder. It’s very odd and I’m wondering if it’s intended to give privacy at the point where Jordanian media access becomes truly global and unfettered.

Next few days: diving off Aqaba, then aiming to hop over to Eilat and then get the bus up to Jerusalem. After that back into Jordan to the Dead Sea and possibly some weaving (!) before heading home.

Radical City

3 February, 2009 1 comment

Aqaba is not the most inspiring town. In the league table of inspiring-ness, it will be languishing near the bottom looking forward to an end of season relegation battle with Scunthorpe and Sharm el Sheikh.

It took me 5 minutes to discover the dirty and innaccessible seafront and to tell 3 guys that no, I did not want to go on a glass bottomed boat.

Five more minutes to get to the museum and fort and decide they looked too dull to go into. In that five mins I also turned down three more gbb experiences, and walked into a chinese-looking massage place to find out the price of a massage.

At 10JD (£10) for an hour’s full body massage I thought it was too good to be true. I inquired whether that was shiatsu, swedish…? “Fuw Bawty” said the asiatic lady, “You wah naw?”. There was a smallish asiatic young man at her side looking even less inviting than the peroxided bangkok vision in front of me. I suspected he might be about to say “Pina. Dirty”, but he stayed a silent menacing munchkin. She might as well have said “me love you long time”. I remembered dutch traveller Marinus told me he’d been in exactly such a place on his way through Aqaba and 5 mins into his hour’s fuw bawty on refusing the scope creep of the project, he had to argue vociferously with said munchkin to get his money back. I left without making a booking. In hindsight I should have left with a flourish of disgust… but actually I said, innocently, “I can’t come now. Maybe tomorrow.”. I promise I’m not doing this on purpose – it never happens at home.

But on my way back to the Crystal Hotel I did find some life in the market area. A mixture of tourist tat, spice piles, illegal dvds, artistically butchered meat, fruit, veg and a series of old guys snoozing like they were in the house of lords beside their wheelbarrows of home grown radishes. I’m not sure if there is one, but I think the collective noun for radish sellers in this case should be a “slumber”. Of Radishers? no. Radicals, I think. But someone please come up with something better. feel free to comment below.

The city is divided into two. On one side the slightly run down but lively old-town of the locals and backpackers. On the other, the phallanx of beach-swallowing hotel chains. The first thing you hit as you walk along the front and enter the new world is a McDonalds. Of course it is. With wifi, though, so may have dinner there. None of the old-town hotels offer this service. If you’re lucky they have a compaq with 256mb of ram and a 15″ monitor in the foyer for 2JD/hr. Also, there is no cinema in Aqaba. But there is a video show in the Gateway centre about the culture of the region. I think you’re getting the picture of what a lone traveller is to do. He is to return to his room and read, sleep, write. And watch CNN reporting 20 minutes of every hour on how badly london is coping with a little snow. Is there nothing else going on in the world?!?! Or does their vision only extend out the window and onto Gt Marlborough Street?

My first wreck dive tomorrow. Excited. Am sure it’s better under the water than it is above.

A tot is enough

3 February, 2009 Leave a comment

Wadi Rum is a wonderful protected desert area where the rocks erupt magnificently from the desert. Deserts are wonderful anyway – the stars, the silence, the views, but add in dramatic rock formations to climb and find a perch to watch the sun go down and it’s a treat.

I’m not sure it added much to the experience, but knowing that some of the 70’s glamrock movie masterpiece JC Superstar was filmed here, I took the chance to make the rocks echo with Judas’ opening number. To paraphrase someone, the rocks themselves cried out – though I’m not sure for the right reasons. They’re lucky I didn’t do the Ciaphas bit.

The processes for sorting a trip are clear – find someone to do a trip with and book before you get to the visitor centre or, as the guides and 4WDs are priced on time not number of persons, you will get done. I minimised the fleecing. Up side: I had my own clapped out toyota land cruiser (no ignition key – hotwired) and guide (Tezir), downside: it cost more than I’d hoped.

But with Tezir as my guide scrambling up one of the mountains, Jebel Budhar, and seeing the sights of Wadi Rum, I had a whale of a time. For me it was less about seeing Lawrence’s House (aka Lawrence’s low defensive walls) but more about just being in the desert. But my £75 included chicken curry and being ‘serenaded’ (loosest terms) by Tezir’s frenetic lute playing after dinner before reading by firelight and an early bed with one of the locals. a cat.

Going indy in Petra

1 February, 2009 1 comment

This is the centre of Jordan’s tourist industry. To bastardise, “Petra is a foreign country, they do things differently there”.

Primarily, they charge a lot more and they have many more busloads of tourists. Last night I stepped into the different world for dinner at the 5* Movenpick. It was weird and left me feeling slightly sullied.

The town of Wadi Musa has, by local estimate, tripled in size in recent years. There is construction everywhere. Where the lonely planet says there are a handful of hammams, there are now eight. And despite the general Jordanian civility, you get the sense that if you’re going to get hustled anywhere, it’s here. The atmosphere is in no way threatening… it’s just more like all the other tourist places you’ve been, but in a country of such politeness, it stands out. In the 20 years since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, this place has really grabbed hold of its’ primary industry.

indiana_jones_pic_petraWhen you’re in the central areas of the Petra site there’s a 2:1 ratio of tourists to stall holders/guides/horses/camels and kids selling you postcards for 1 dinar. If you decline they switch tack to asking for a biscuit.

But as I say, this doesn’t denude the experience.  Not even annoying americans, overly-loud brits or jordanian teens who insist on having their phone playing tinny mp3s can detract.

Petra, like Tikal in Guatemala, has a scale and presence that inspires the imagination. Double the impact of Jerash.

The famous areas, like the Treasury, the theatre, the Siq, the royal tombs and the Monastery are wonderful feats of architecture. The rock formations and colours: delightful.

I met many people who were there for just a few hours – enough to do the main sites – but I was lucky enough to be able to spend 3 days exploring the area.

In particular, yesterday’s 10 mile hike up Jebel Haroun (1350m) was the peak (excuse me).  Aaron (brother of Moses) was buried up there 4,500 years ago, and in the 1300’s Saladdin built a shrine on top of the mountain. The views across Petra, west to the Rift Valley and around the area are stunning.

I got to the top just minutes ahead of Mohammed and Marinus. An unlikely pairing if ever there was one. Marinus is a dutch academic traveller and a pleasure to hike with – we met the day before up at the Monastery. Mohammed is a grizzled ex-commando who, 25 years ago injured himself in a parachute drop and so they shifted him to this job – the guardian of the shrine. He showed us the crypt of the mosque and the sealed entrance to the tomb. Over tea (no, not decaf) at his hut/temporary home we talk families (his 14 kids, 2 wives) and histories – we are the only guests he’s had in a month. He says things haven’t been so good for the Bedouin since they were moved out of living in Petra by the government around the time of Indy. Good for tourism and families involved in that – but Mohammed says the nearby Bedouin town means more bills to pay, more cars, more noise and less sleep.

But tourism is down even in Petra – last night I was the only guest in this hotel (no kid on tricycle thank god) – on the back of global economics, low season and, locals believe, the issues in israel/palestine. The weather is also topsy turvy – it may not be warm, but skies are clear when there should be snow. A strange winter, they say.

Up on the mountain, with incredible views down on Petra and out over the country, it is cold, fresh, bright and clear and peaceful and good.

Over recent days my mind has been shifting back towards London. Free wifi in my room means I’m back on twitter and arsebook which is good but bad. I think about family and friends, about a pint in the Shaston Arms, and I have an itching to get stuck into work… whatever it may be.

But with 10 days left I’m not rushing away from all this. When Mohammed finds I’m unemployed, he offers me a life swap. And I was tempted.

Low defensive walls

27 January, 2009 Leave a comment

That’s what you get if you go to an archeological site in the UK. The Oval Forum, JerashThe descriptive plinth will nearly always say you are looking at “a series of low defensive walls”.

Perhaps people who lived within our fair shores were just really small, never needed a roof over their heads and thought columns, pillars and architecture in general was for those flash italians, so they’d just wait till the Romans pitched up.

Today I spent a couple of hours in Jerash. It had the same effect on me as Tikal in Guatemala. It transports you.

I think it’s because our imaginations are just so limited that low defensive walls don’t stimulate us. But then you visit a site which is so large and impressive that you don’t need any imagination whatsoever to feel the city moving around you in antiquity.

Jerash only (in comparison with Tikal) had 30,000 people at its height, but you still get the grandeur and the vision from Hadrian through Alexander and Diocletian.

And this was after seeing Ajlun castle – built by Saladin in 1184 – in the morning. I love castles. Always have. Alnwick, Leeds… great memories from childhood.  But there’s a certain sanitised nature about them… whereas Ajlun, though well presented and clearly with a lot of restoration work, just has a rawness to it. You can clamber all over it. Ignore the ineffectual ‘danger’ signs and no-one bats an eyelid. Fun.

And yes, I am aware that I am just regressing on this trip. castles, days spent looking at mosaics in churches… it’s ayers family holiday 1978 all over again but without the siblings. I look forward to a family trip to Leeds Castle when I get back. Race you to the top, Steve…

Location update

23 January, 2009 Leave a comment

Today the girl left and the pollution ranking is the highest it’s been for months. So I stay indoors and online – happy as larry with web, chinese radio 3 equivalent and BBC world news repeating itself.  Suppose I must eat at some point and will maybe go to the gym, grab a massage (cheap and good here: about £30 for 90 minutes. more on massages anon) and perhaps catch a movie.

Tomorrow night I fly to Amman in Jordan via Dubai on Emirates. First night will be in Madaba and after some confusion over flights and faced with the inability to get from Jordan to the Lebanon, I shall spend the next 18 days in Jordan seeing the deserts, the biblical spots, Petra, Wadi Rum and making my way down to Aqaba for some Red Sea diving.

And then home.

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Pina. Dirty.

23 January, 2009 3 comments

The Po Lin monastery on the island of Lantau just off Hong Kong is a peaceful and spiritual place. It is the home of the the monks and, in ’93 they inaugurated the Big Buddha which is big and… a buddha.

However, despite all that tranquility, I had not expected the following conversation while at the vegetarian cafe in the monastery and looking for somewhere to relieve myself.

“Here, I show” says the old man who’s just come out of the kitchens and is clearly heading in the same direction.

“You go here” he says, gesticulating towards a cubicle. I feel honoured he’s picked out this one for me especially. Naturally there isn’t a toilet seat… that’s a westernised thing of bringing in something which purports to be cleaner and better, but actually is less clean and not so good for your bowels. like wearing trunks in a sauna. anyway, i digress. … but the lack of toilet seat isn’t an issue as I only need to… er… do a number 1. (was going to say “have a waz” but caught myself using 1980s slang and showing my age)

I do my business. He does his and finishes first. We meet again at the wash basin. I want to say “how nice to see you again” or “that was indeed a most splendid cubicle, thank you” but know that smart-arse attempts at wit will be met with incomprehension.

He washes his hands. I mine. Then the conversation takes an unusual turn:

“Wash, wash”

I am confused and don’t move.

“wash” he repeats, “dirty”. Now, I was brought up well and always wash my hands. Plus, he’s just seen me wash them in front of him. Ok, so there’s no soap, but you can’t be fussy. What on earth’s he still on about??

“Dirty. Wash. Dirty,” he keeps going. This time gesturing towards my flies. Oh no, think I, have I split something? been a little messy? are my flies undone? is it traditional to wash your zip, perhaps.

“dirty,” he repeats, with more insistence in his voice “Pina. Dirty. Wash.”

What? what the hell are you on about old man…. oh… hold on…

“Pina dirty. Wash,” and this time his hand nudges me in the base of my spine. “Wash pina.” again, more vigorously pushing my groin towards the basin and at the same time gesturing with his other hand.

As the penny drops it flits across my mind to say “after you” but think the resulting images could have ruined my entire trip and leave me scarred for life. Is it normal to wash your nether regions after urinating? in a public toilet? in the hand basin? Admittedly the height was about right for me, but I suspect my.. er.. host might have had to be on tip toes. Perhaps they have a little bank of steps, like in a library, for the smaller races to get up to the right height. But if this was the case, don’t you think somewhere as resourceful and ingenious as China would have designed a hand basin which had a special outcrop to enable the easy ablution of the old chap? And what the hell happens in the ladies’ loo? do they have little baths that extend?

Ok, I conclude in a moment’s thought, this is not right. Perhaps the old chap (not mine) is just having me on. But he looks so serious. having said that, I can’t tell whether he’s smiling or not, he has so many creases on his face. Would it be insulting to refuse? Will it really be much of a problem for me to acquiesce? I suppose I could, but my shorts will get wet and anyway, will he turn his back?… I catch myself thinking the unthinkable and I decide to fall back on the old British response to anything culturally confusing / alarming: polite refusal.

“No thanks,” I respond, and not wanting to seem dismissive of his local approach to local cleanliness, I still can’t quite believe I added “Yes, you’re right, dirty pina, but I’ll take care of that when I get home. Thank you.”

Location update

19 January, 2009 Leave a comment

last couple of days saw:

Snorkelling in Goat Island Marine Reserve with lots of wrasse, angel fish, cat fish, …

Down to Cambridge to hang out with the Laws. Oh, and on the way getting stopped by the law as well for doing 122kph in a 100 zone. The speed limits are ridiculous, and what they call a motorway, we call a road. Sunday was Rotarua’s excellent Te Puia and then to the amusingly titled Agrodome for some agroventure. Nothing to do with aggro. But in this case getting thrown about in a tiny boat with a huge engine on the back riding on about a foot of water. thoroughly recommend it.

Then back to Auckland for the final 24 hrs in NZ. Dinner with the Marshall and then, 24hours ago, getting up to drive to the airport, fly to sydney, then here to HK.

NZ advertising rules

19 January, 2009 Leave a comment

Rule #1: Shout. Always. If you think you’re shouting loudly, you’re not. Shout louder. It’s like british people who can’t speak a local language when they’re oversease. When in doubt, shout slower and louder.

Rule #2: Create a banal slogan (preferably with a terrible gag in it) to go with the company name and the special offer. Then shout it.

Rule #3: If at all possible, get the owner of the company to do the ad. There are more personal endorsements on air here than when Viktor Kiam and Richard Branson were doing their worst.

Rule #4: Remember that there appears to be no regulation of taste and decency whatsoever. 10am on a Sunday morning and you will hear an ad for “Make her happy, make yourself happy. Get over that embarrassing erectile disfunction with…” on their equivalent of talksport. And of course there’s the ad for “Christchurch’s most discerning gentleman’s club.”

Rule #4a: This can be extended to the sensibilities of the inhabitants, who won’t think twice about putting rather unfortunate messages side by side. To amusing effect, though, it has to be said. See here.

Getting Luckier – in Russell

19 January, 2009 Leave a comment

Just when I thought it wouldn’t get any better, the Bay of Islands, and in particular Danielle and Dino, our hosts at La Veduta in Russell, topped it all.

This was, I think, the 4 best days of holiday I have ever had. That’s not La Vedutahyperbole either.

Danielle and Dino are hosts of the old school. Their home is immaculate and the attention to detail tremendous. But best of all is their joie de vivre and the obvious delight they take in hosting their guests’ every need. There are so many things I could mention, but afternoon tea with homemade cake on the terrace, followed by a cool glass of something and watching the sun going down… or returning from town with 4 americans in tow to be filled with the house port and (blaming the girl here) starting up a round-the-piano singsong (Danielle’s Je ne regrette riens was a masterpiece. I bellowed Danny Boy with only 30% of the words and in a pub singer style. Nana would have been proud).

Russell itself is a very picturesque little town of 650 inhabitants, swelling to 2500 in peak season, which was the original capital of NZ – and then became the den of iniquity, earning the name The Hell Hole of the Pacific. Nice. Couldn’t be more opposite now.

And then the highlight could be the day on a massive cat sailing round the bays but that’s beaten to the post by behaving like a pair of adventurous ten year olds and winding our way round Topeka point. (will find a link in google maps, but HK web access proving a handicap). Anyway, the point is that there is NO path round the point. It’s impassable. You have to climb, slither, and at some points swim round craggy rocks. Well, I say impassable… clearly there is a path now – forged by us. Much fun.

Getting lucky

11 January, 2009 Leave a comment

The weather was pouring down… chucking… bucketting… but we were told that would make the waterfalls even more spectacular. And it did.

Doubtful Sound is the place they used for the last scenes of the LotR trilogy. 1km peaks drop straight down into the dark waters, covered with unfeasibly verdent life which shouldn’t be able to hold onto such a sheer cliff… and when the waterfalls flow, they pour from every crevice.

The rainforest’s balance is out of kilter. The signs are there for those who know, and our experienced skipper Lance knows all there was to know about this area after 20 years sailing it. But despite the depressing signs, it is still some of the most impressive wilderness you could ever see.

Snorkelling with wrasse, starfish, box fish and an abundance of flora… Walking free in the rainforest and getting lost in the undegrowth… Finding a pod of 12 bottle-nosed dolphins larking about in the West Arm of the Sound… watching the seals 5m away as they play and preen and soak in the sun.

In between came ever-flowing tea, cake, hearty breakfasts, lovely lunches and delicious dinners mixed in with a splash of wine and a dollop of banter in the galley. And to add a bit of variety with a game or two of cribbage, poker, a sing-song and a professional dulcimer-player.  I love you Neal.

And now back to Arrowtown, and tomorrow the drive to Christchurch and a flight up north. It’s difficult to see how anything can top the last 4 days, but you never know…

Location update

4 January, 2009 Leave a comment

No pics at the mo cos i’m having to use hotel wifi which costs a load…

But am currently in Thomas’s Hotel in Queenstown having spent most of the afternoon in the brewery playing pool.  Last couple of nights in Christchurch (thanks to the lovely Lawson and Lee-Ann) and before that a night in the plastic paddy centre of the world – Donegal House – in Kaikoura.

A couple more days here, and then off to Doubtful Sound.

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Drinkery

4 January, 2009 Leave a comment

If you’re going to bastardise the language – at least be consistent

From the use of the word Brewery, the Kiwis have decided that Winery is the right way to describe a vineyard which then goes on to make its own wine. I can go with the idea that there’s a difference between a winery and a vineyard, but only just. However, to add insult to injury, they add cidery to the list of linguistic crimes …. whereas we all know it’s a B&Q colour at best. an adjective, surely, not a noun. But, alas, i am a lone voice shouting irrately in the wind. But what really winds me up is that, on the same sign as Winery and cidery, they decide that the place where fruit juice is made into a commoditised drink is called a… yes, come one… a Juice Factory. I despair. Juicery is horrible – but consistency would have been appreciated.

Kiwi Advertising

4 January, 2009 Leave a comment

Today’s advertising gems from the land of the long white cloud were the following. You have to imagine that they’re being read in the classic shout-and-it-will-sound-exciting radio advertising technique as used in the 80s:

1. “Get down to your local movie rental store (sic) and hire two movies over two days and get one hot danish adult movie for just $1. Yes, that’s one hot adult danish movie for $1 when you rent two movies this weekend. That’s more pastry than you can handle!!” [ok, so i added the last bit myself]
Does anyone else think that sounds wrong?

I heard it on The Edge radio station, which is their equivalent to XFM, but that’s no excuse. Is there no Advertising Standards Authority?

You can add on top of that example no.2:

2. “Come to Calendar Girls – where there’s always something to see – Christchurch’s only venue for the discerning gentleman.”
Again – am I missing something? I mean, I know these Kiwis are studiously chilled – but have they no sense of propriety at all?

This was before noon, for God’s sake… not even the time to get a decent G&T inside you…

Abel Tasman

29 December, 2008 Leave a comment

You wake from a snooze on the beach in 27degree heat… feel a little dozy… gaze out to sea… and.. what’s that in the water? It’s a couple of dolphins! and, just a bit to the left there’s a few more! No, there’s another, well, at least another 18.

I’m surprised at just how impressive it is to see a pod of 20 dolphins in the wild. Some playing, some just mosying, some ducking around the boats that have pulled alongside to watch this spectacular site.

The Abel Tasman park is simply superb. The huts and camping grounds are well equiped and maintained, the beaches perfect, and what makes it so much more enjoyable is that, because there is no litter, no deckchairs, no towels, no hotels… virtually no signs of human interference, you get a rare sense of natural beauty at it’s most unspoilt.

Waking in a winery

23 December, 2008 Leave a comment

Straw Lodge is great. Am sitting in the garden of our suite, the stereo has some chilled tunes and the view of pinot noir vines against a backdrop of mountains is only enhanced by birds twittering and the rain pattering down.

Nettie and Jane provided a tasty breakfast of local produce – the best I’ve had in 7 weeks of travelling – which lived up to last night’s dinner platter, again of local produce, which included hot smoked salmon, venison, turkey, their own olives, and both a rather good sauvignon blanc and the pinot noir.

Spending yesterday afternoon cycling round dirt tracks and roads to cellar doors so that some of the friendly winemakers can take you through what they make – and perhaps more interestingly, why they make it – is a great way to spend a holiday. Helped, by the good company, of course.

The NZ experience so far has lived up to expectaions. Seeing the Marshall in Grey Lynn, Auckland was great fun. Nice to have two semi-retired web professionals just mooching about on Waiheke island and trying the Cable Bay selection and cheeseboard. Then down to see the Law clan in sunny Cambridge. Ok, so it was pissing down for all of Saturday – but that didn’t stop us sorting the feng shui of home. You wouldn’t believe how much settling in with friends at their house, and sorting out the home office is a satisfying experience. It gave me a sense of adopted home for 36 hours. A good respite from constantly living out of a bag. And I got to learn about Ben 10 as well.

And, with little flutters of excitement building, getting an early morning bus back to Auckland Airport to pick up the girl. NZ1 delivers her safe and sound and hardly jetlagged.. and we head to Mollies. Awards galore, and when you get there, you can see why. A really special place and i’m so glad i picked it for our first day back together. Sumptuous, tasteful but not ostentatious, luxury.

Monday we flew down to Wellington and stayed in the Museum (not Te Papa) before getting the early morning ferry over to Picton and then a short drive to here.

It doesn’t feel like Christmas eve. Going to a couple more wineries this morning (Bladen, Wairau River and Seresin yesterday) and a chocolate factory. No midnight mass. No last minute shopping. No carols. No cold. No hurrying into a pub for a warming beverage.

No family and friends neither. Which I miss. But thinking of you all.

Feels like it’s going to be a happy christmas and a good new year.

Gulliver’s disinfected boots

17 December, 2008 Leave a comment

A very long day… I got up on Tuesday morning, went out to Valparaiso on the Chilean coast and looked out across the pacific towards NZ. When I got back to Santiago, just had time to pack and have a beer with the expats before getting in a taxi to the airport.

It’s now 0600 on Thursday morning and I’m on the same day. Grabbed a few hours of sleep on the LAN  flight (decent food, good service, nice seat, nice neighbour… shame about the film selection. Hellboy 2 the stand out, del Toro is outstanding, can’t wait for his Hobbit) and now am standing at the Samsung shop’s online terminal watching israelis opposite me do web searches for hotels to stay in Auckland. Boots may have lava damage, but are now v clean after BioSecurity clean-up.

I have the luck of staying with the lovely Kate Marshall today/tonight and then rendezvousing with the equally lovely Adrian Law tomorrow (better golf, worse legs) … it’s so nice to have such welcoming friends.

Immediate observation on the Auckland Airport inhabitants: I have switched from a Mayan land of miniature, round faced people, to a Polynesian land of supersized roundfaced people.  One flight has turned the gulliver experience on its head.

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