Monday, October 21, 2013

I Am An Island

Something happened to me last week made me feel more alone than I had even been in my whole life. I know it doesn't sound shocking, but it happened when I found out my residency visa for Australia had expired... while checking in for a flight to Australia!!!

Call me a fool, but I thought once you got permanent residency, that was it. I had no idea it expires. And even if it did, not so quickly! So there I was with Hubby at the HK Airport check in and they told me my visa had expired. It came SO unexpectedly I didn't know how to react. The ladies at the Cathay Pacific counter were very helpful and understanding and contacted the immigration department in Brisbane to ask if there was someway I could still enter. Less than 20 minutes later they responded with a big fat NO.

So with my tail between my legs I kissed Hubby goodbye and found my way home. It only hit me when I was seated on the Airport Express train what had happened and I just cried. I cried not because I missed the flight, but because for the first time in my life I wish I actually had a COUNTRY that I belonged to!

I hold a Taiwan passport but had never lived there. I grew up in the Philippines but have no status there. I live in Hong Kong but do not hold a Hong Kong passport. My husband and kids are all Australian, but I am not. I am so tired Lord. I just want to be HOME. I want to write down a nationality on those stupid arrival/departure forms and actually mean it, and not just because that is what my passport says. I want to truly belong somewhere!

So anyways, I went to the Australian Consulate the next day and explained what had happened. I have to commend the efficiency in which they were able to expedite my application for a new residency visa. I was able to receive it a few hours later, and was able to take a flight that evening. Although I missed the rehearsal BBQ, I still made it to the wedding the next day.

I haven't stopped traveling since the day I was born. I was conceived in Singapore, born in the Philippines, studied in the States and now live in HK. We have a house in Melbourne. I have a lot of my things there. All our kids have their own rooms there. But we live in Hong Kong. I know our future is in Melbourne, but in the meantime, I just need to winge. For expats who live here, alot end their time here in HK to go HOME. When we leave HK in the future, although it is home for Hubby, its not quite the same for me... yet.

I just want to stop moving. I want to belong somewhere permanent and not be afraid that my welcome will expire. I am just so tired. I want to get off this train and finally unpack.

Friday, September 27, 2013

SPAM Sham

I am coming out of my blogging hibernation to blog about a topic that really gets to me. SPAM! Not the delicious meat type which we had a lot of during our last holiday in Hawaii, but the electronic ones! This also includes junk mail. And all those annoying forwards you get from friends and relatives. Yes, I'm pointing my finger at you friends and family! (Ok, maybe just a few of you)

Yesterday I received a very disturbing forwarded email. This person is great at forwarding stuff. I usually just delete them but after a short hiatus from his flood of forwards, I stopped a few seconds too long and noticed what was the content of his latest forwarded email. Here is what it read:

She Did It Again !!!  W O W !

Australia says NO -- This will be the second Time Julia Gillard has done this!

She sure isn't backing down on her hard line stance and one has to appreciate her belief in the rights of her native countrymen.

A breath of fresh air to see someone lead with guts and determination.
Australian Prime Minister does it again!!

The whole world needs a leader like this!

Prime Minister Julia Gillard - Australia

Muslims who want to live under Islamic Sharia law were told on Wednesday to get out of Australia, as the government targeted radicals in a bid to head off potential terror attacks.

Separately, Gillard angered some Australian Muslims on Wednesday by saying she supported spy agencies monitoring the nation's mosques. Quote:
'IMMIGRANTS, NOT AUSTRALIANS, MUST ADAPT... Take It Or Leave It. I am tired of this nation worrying about whether we are offending some individual or their culture. Since the terrorist attacks on Bali, we have experienced a surge in patriotism by the majority of Australians.'

'This culture has been developed over two centuries of struggles, trials and victories by millions of men and women who have sought freedom.'

'We speak mainly ENGLISH, not Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society, learn the language!'

'Most Australians believe in God. This is not some Christian, right wing, political push, but a fact, because Christian men and women, on Christian principles, founded this nation, and this is clearly documented. It is certainly appropriate to display it on the walls of our schools. If God offends you,then I suggest you consider another part of the world as your new home, because God is part of our culture.'

'We will accept your beliefs, and will not question why. All we ask is that you accept ours, and live in harmony and peaceful enjoyment with us.'

'This is OUR COUNTRY, OUR LAND, and OUR LIFESTYLE, and we will allow you every opportunity to enjoy all this. But once you are done complaining, whining, and griping about Our Flag, Our Pledge, Our Christian beliefs, or Our Way of Life, I highly encourage you take advantage of one other great Australian freedom, 'THE RIGHT TO LEAVE'.'

'If you aren't happy here then LEAVE. We didn't force you to come here. You asked to be here. So accept the country that accepted you.'

NOTE: IF we circulate this amongst ourselves in Canada & USA, WE will find the courage to start speaking and voicing the same truths.

If you agree please SEND THIS ON and ON, to as many people as you know...

I was in shock. I sat there staring at my computer and I guess the look on my face prompted Hubby to ask what the heck I was reading. I showed him the email and he said what a bunch of crock. And also said Gillard isn't even Prime Minister anymore and has not been for years!

In a rage I emailed back, CC'd everyone on the email and even added the email of the person who had originally sent this pile of garbage to him. I won't get into the details but I gave them a piece of my mind. Not only was I mad, I was disappointed that someone I know would agree with such propaganda as to forward it. I was almost in tears.

After my usual research I sent back a few links showing that the article above was fake and again expressed my disappointment.

A few hours later I received an email back from said person expressing his regret that he didn't even read it and made a grave mistake by forwarding it. My faith in the goodness of humanity had been restored. I replied telling him how relieved I was.

After this incident I am reminded just how much of a waste of space, time, money... everything Spam and all this junk mail is!

Did you all know that junk mail and SPAM is actually costing us all real money? Yes. How, you must all be wondering. But think of this. We pay money for bandwidth, for data storage, etc. Everything you pay for things you actually want and read on the internet and email, you have to remember to take a portion of that money to allocate to all the junk and SPAM you're receiving as well. It may seem minor, but add that all up to the millions of people that receive it and all the billions and trillions of nano-seconds wasted downloading it into our email boxes and you have a crap load of cash.

Everything else against SPAM are the usual privacy issues, etc. which I am sure you find boring. So I thought I would just point out the money aspect which I know would make you all open your eyes.

SPAM and junk mail is BAD. It is a waste of time and money. There are NO BENEFITS to junk mail. The only time I would think its okay is if you receive some forwarded message and find its really meaningful and know of someone who would be inspired from it then forward it. BUT only if you add something at the beginning.

So please, everyone, stop the madness. Help put a stop to SPAM and junk mail. Here are a few links you can read up on:

http://www.cauce.org/
http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/phones/stop-spam-texts
http://creators.ning.com/page/spam-updates
http://email.about.com/od/spamandgettingridofit/tp/most_effective.htm

There are tons of websites that educate and explain the evils of SPAM. Although junk emails is just a small portion of it, it means a lot to me. I do not want to pay money for email I do not want.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Winnebago Nights Finale

After we left Dijon we headed towards Metz, which would be our last over night stop before reaching Frankfurt. Among all the campsite we had stayed at, the one at Metz was the most convenient. It is run by the town of Metz, so it is quite literally in town, situation next to a river. We showed up with no reservation and easily secured a spot and headed into town.



The main tourist attraction in Metz is the Metz Cathedral, also known as the Good Lord's Lantern. It is called as such because it has the largest expanse of stained glass windows in the world. It was truly a site to behold. It has just stopped raining when I took the pictures, so everything was so clear and magnificent.




 

As usual the boys decided to sit around and have a few drinks while M and I explored the town. After exploring we chose a random restaurant, ate, enjoyed the views while we walked back to camp.



The next day we decided to drive past Luxemburg since it was on the way. Luxembourg is the only remaining country in the world ruled by a grand duchy. I have no idea what a duchy means either. I had to read up on it and only realized then just how interesting a country it was. So tiny yet SO powerful a country! Did you know it has the second highest GDP per capita? Maybe it has to do with the fact that it has only over 512,000 in population.




I just had to take a picture of this couple asleep on the bench. How sweet is that???


How true is that?

So anyways, we drove into town, found parking and wandered around. It was a Sunday unfortunately so none of the shops were open again! We found a nice restaurant and sat down for lunch. We did some sight seeing afterwards and drove off to Frankfurt.

When we reached Frankfurt, we failed miserably to find a camp site. We have a feeling it was because camp means something else in German? We tried a few areas mentioned on Google but none of them existed! Feeling quite defeated, we drove to the little town where McRent is, filled up with gas, found a place to have dinner and ended up parking in an empty parking lot for the evening.

When in Friedberg, you must drink Friedberger beer.

And what is a trip to Germany without a meal of schnitzel?

The next day we drove ourselves to McRent, turned the camper over and went to the airport. We were REALLY lucky they didn't see the lid for the water tank had fallen off so we didn't get penalized for that. But the taxi they hired for us did try to rip us off by not turning the meter on when we got on. Good thing Hubby is very used to dealing with taxi drivers like that in China, so he really argued with the guy until he agreed to charge us a lower price than what he was asking. Damn them!

At the airport we parted ways with D&M who were staying in Frankfurt for a few more days. Hubby and I got on our flight and headed back to Hong Kong. I was SO excited to see the kids after being away for so long. But then...

We were redirected to Bangkok!!! Of all the times Hong Kong could experience a typhoon 10, which has not happened in YEARS, it had to happen the day we were going back. Of course after we landed in Bangkok, all hell broke loose. That is one thing I will NEVER understand about Cathay. For such a big airline and with so many years experience, you'd think they have an SOP when it comes to redirected flights. But it was obvious after we got off the plane, after being stuck in it for a few hours, that no one knew what the heck to do. We were herded towards immigration, ask to fill out the forms and were told that we were staying overnight. Everyone were like drones, following everyone else and did as they were told. By then I had enough. I was shocked at how everyone was just standing around not saying anything. I started raising my voice and told the Cathay people there is no way I am staying the night and that there has to be another flight we could get on. By then we found out ALL the other flights that were scheduled to land after us in HK had landed in HK!!! How unlucky were we??? I asked them about another flight and the lady actually told me that it was ILLEGAL to let us get on another flight back. I was completely fed up and started arguing with them. And guess what, suddenly they tell us there is another flight we can board and to follow them to check in. What a joke. We all raced to get in line for fear of not getting a seat but thankfully it seemed like almost everyone was able to get on board. Lord only knows what happened to the few who were willingly herded off to a hotel. But then again who knows? Maybe they were happy to get a free night in Bangkok.

So anyways, we finally got home and was super happy to see the kids. Life went back to normal and i definitely look forward to taking a trip like this with the kids next time.


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Winnebago Nights (Part Sept)

So we decided to stay at Saint Bertrand for one more night after leaving La Mongie. But what could have been a memorable last evening at our favorite stop turned pear shaped when we chose poorly! Instead of going back to Chez Simone, we thought we'd give the other restaurant a try. L'Oppidum looked okay from the outside, located on the ground floor of the only hotel in the tiny church village, but it was a very frustrating dining experience.

At first it seemed okay with a few tables already seated with people happily eating away. But as the only man there sat us at our table, we began to realize it might be a bit of a struggle. First of all, my plate was full of tiny dead insects. I switched plates with the empty place setting next to me. When we started to order, it was clear that the man did not speak a word of English. And even though M could speak a few words and have not had any problems ordering at any other restaurant, turned out our man had hearing problems. So D took out his iPhone with a few French words downloaded to show him, and he couldn't see!!! AUGH!!! So he went away for a long while clearing plates and bringing people their food and came back with his glasses. He finally understood what we wanted. At one point during our wait, we almost stood up and walked away. But our curiosity to find out how the food would be held us back.

Hubby ordered the fish, I ordered the duck confit and I forget what D and M ordered. Since I ordered from the set menu, our man brought out a whole POT of soup for my soup course. I tried to ask him if it was all for me or if I was just suppose to get what I wanted, and by the looks of his sign language and body reaction, it seemed like he had no idea as well. After the soup we had a mediocre salad. After that everyone's food came except mine. We thought it would take awhile but when everyone finished and our man asked what we wanted for dessert, I told him I didn't even get my main yet! He did the head slap reaction and quickly brought out my duck. At least the duck was good. By then we were so disappointed with the whole dining experience that we just paid and went back to the crepe place to have dessert.

The next day we went to Stage 17 of the Tour. This would be the last stage we would visit. We went to the town of Loures-Barousse which was literally next to Saint Bertrand, parked on the side of the road and walked into town. We found a spot right at the point where the sprint stage ends and waited. It just so happens that one of the sponsors, PMU, had a whole stage set up there with music, a host and lots of give aways! All of us were given t-shirts and giant foam hands. After a while the sponsor trucks came along and we added to our collection of crud bits. It was funny watching the boys get in on the freebie scuffle with the kids next to us.

Me, at the finish of the sprint stage, dressed in my free t-shirt.


Our boys.

Cadel Evans is the second guy.

There he is again on the left. At least I finally got a good shot of him.

Hubby in his crazy wig and free foam hands.

I had to take a picture of the oldies all seated along the street. They were waiting to be pushed back home after the bikes passed.

After we watched the bikes zoom past, confirmed Evans is definitely out of the first place running, we started our drive northwards toward Dijon. I got a bit excited because it was not a Sunday and I knew there would be more shopping opportunities there!

On the way to Dijon we stopped at Brive-la-Gaillarde to have dinner and saw this vending machine. I have never seen such a huge vending machine selling all sorts of pharmacy stuff.

After we got to Dijon we ate at this truck-stop looking place. Hubby had to take a picture of the mustards.

We found a campsite in town which was great and walked a bit to get into the heart of town. We did a bit of shopping, checked out the mustards and while the boys sat down to have a few beers M and I did some more shopping.

Picture of the streets of Dijon.

That night we ate at La Dame d'Aquitaine which is a restaurant located beneath the street level of Dijon in a restored 13th century crypt. Although we thought it would be dark and foreboding we were pleasantly surprised to find it brightly lit and spacious. We quickly ordered our food and was again not disappointed with our choices.

Entrance of the restaurant as you come down the stairs.

Amuse bouche.

Duck terrine. Yum!

Fish carpaccio. Sorry, forget what kind of fish.

My fish dish. Fresh, simple and full of flavour.

Hubby's steak. He says it was staggeringly good!

Duck wrapped in bacon. Need I say more?

It was a shame I didn't take a picture of the cheese cart. I chose these 3 goat cheeses. I only wished I could have brought a whole bunch back with me to HK.

Strawberry, 3 ways.


Entrance of the restaurant.

La Dame is a restaurant that offers an eating experience with an explosion of ambiance. Although the food wasn't mind blowing, just sitting underneath a structure that was oozing with history took our eating experience to another level.

After we were happily fed, we headed back towards our campsite with hopes that there would be a shop still open and selling wine. None was to be found, but we did walk past a bar. Not wanting to miss a chance to have a few drinks before bed, we sat down while the boys got a few drinks and made friends with the locals. We met someone who claimed he was a butcher and that the lady he's with is his mistress! Well, we think he's a butcher, we aren't sure. But the mistress part we're pretty sure because he referred to her as the aperitif and that his wife is a black lady and they have 2 kids. The mistress was quite friendly and was trying to communicate with me. I had my phrase book with me and she still couldn't understand me! With all the alcohol everyone was having except me, it was hilarious watching everyone laughing and not understanding what was going on. I was laughing out load and at the same time telling the lady I have no idea what she's saying. We were also invited by the couple to go back to their place. Although it was very nice of them, we didn't want to be butchered in a strangers house so kindly excused ourselves and went back to camp.

Glad that we escaped the possibility of being butchered the night before, we headed towards Metz the next day. Only 3 more days until the end of our trip!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Winnebago Nights (Part Six)

After 2 relaxing days at Saint Bertrand de Comminges, we headed to La Mongie which was about an hour away to watch Stage 16 of the Tour. It is one of the most sought after stages because the riders would be going up the Col du Tourmalet which is one of France's highest mountains. And with such a steep incline, the bikers would be going slow enough for people to cheer on and maybe even run along with. La Mongie is the ski resort town that is located on the Col du Tourmalet.


After the boys did their research and plotted our course, we reached the town and found that we were already a bit late. There were no parking spaces available in town so we ended up in a parking lot a bit down the hill. It was almost empty which we thought was really lucky for us. It would be a little bit of a climb to walk back up into town, but with such a scenic view, it would be worth the extra effort.

La Mongie is a typical ski resort. Since it was summer, many of the ski shops were closed, but the restaurants were all bustling with activity. We decided to do our first and only touristy thing which was to ride the Pic du Midi cable car. It was not cheap! It cost 32 euros per person to ride it. Its a 2 part cable ride. The first takes you halfway up, then everyone gets out to go up the next one. When we reached the top, which was around 2877 meters up, it was surreal. Since we went so far up, I thought it would only be an observation deck with nothing more. But once you step out, you see a restaurant, a children's play area, a sun dial and lots of room for people to sit under the sun and enjoy the scenery. When I looked over the ledge, my legs turned to jelly. We were SO high up, it literally was like you were on a plane. I had never been so high up in my life before other than on a plane. I had to make a few more tries before I could keep my gaze downwards and take in the distance! We checked out the awesome scenery and after a few minutes I wasn't feeling very good. I looked at Hubby and he said he was feeling a bit yucky too. I think we actually got a bit of altitude sickness! Because we were feeling less than average, we decided not to hang out there much longer and took the cable car back down.

Beer that they served where we had lunch. What's with the kid drinking beer as their logo???




View of La Mongie coming down from the cable car.

A small river that runs through the town.

We had a bit of a look around some more after we got off the cable car, had some drinks then headed back to our happy van. We thought surely, by the time we get back there would be much more cars parked in the parking lot. But when we reached it, there were only a few more. Although it was nice to see that we weren't in a crowded parking lot, we started to wonder what was going on. After some more research by the boys they realize we were on the wrong side of the mountain! No wonder there was no one in the parking lot. Oh well, so that means the bikes will be ZOOMING past us at top speed from where we were parked.


Our empty parking lot.

Another fabulous meal created from our happy van. This time we finally used the pan and cooked a few steaks.

The next day we went back up into town again. Originally M and I were just going to hang out near our van and cheer the bikes on from there, but because we were on the wrong side, we decided to walk into town too. Since I didn't get to have my cheese filled meal when we were in Geneva, we choose a restaurant that served raclette. I was introduced to raclette many years ago while still living in Manila. I fell in love with it. I love melted cheese, and to actually eat it as a meal was heaven. Then when we went to Zurich a few years ago, I think I ordered raclette every chance I got. But the raclette I had this time was an experience in and of itself. The raclette cheese came attached to this medieval looking contraption that plugged into the wall. Once the heat started melting the huge half wheel of cheese, you just scrapped off as much as you want and eat it with all the accompaniments. If only I wasn't feeling so constipated I would have had MUCH more. haha!

Our half wheel of cheese attached to a torture-like machine to melt it.

Mouth watering cheese melting onto our plate.

After lunch the boys started their hike up to the top of the mountain and M and I stayed behind like last time and waited for the sponsor trucks to come around. But unlike last time, most of the trucks zoomed past, didn't slow down, had no one on it, was having lunch or just looked too tired to do anything. Only a few chucked things out and we were more than happy that the one item we really wanted came our way and we both got one! Oh, it was a cow key chain. Really cute.

After the trucks all left the waiting game began again and we eagerly anticipated the sound of the helicopters. What seemed like ages past and finally it all happened at once. The helicopters came, we waved like mad, the bikes zoomed past in clusters, our man Cadel Evans zoomed past, or at least we think it was him and the "finish" van drove past to indicate that was it folks.

An overly friendly mule checking out the meal being eaten by the folks at this camper van parked on the side street into town.

It was a bit of the usual adrenaline rush to watch the bikes go past and it was a calming stroll back down the mountain to our happy van. On the way down, we took the time to watch the scenery and finally noticed the graffiti along the concrete walls. One said Gladiator Lance and the other said Armstrong dope. We think the second one was talking about the doping allegations Lance Armstrong is currently facing. Its a bit of a reality check.



After we got back we waited for the boys. It was great listening to all they saw up at the top. It was packed! There was so much people there was hardly any room for the bikes to go through. Hubby had originally wanted to run along Cadel with his crazy wig or his Sloth mask from the Goonies movie. But since there was just so many people, there just wasn't much room to run next to anyone. Cadel also rides with his team surrounding him, so no point running next to them.



Happy with yet another day at the Tour, we went back to Saint Bertrand de Comminges for one more night. By this time the boys realized their man Cadel Evans would be out of the running for first place, so we started plotting our way back to Frankfurt. It was Wednesday by then and we were at the southern part of France. Frankfurt is up north. It would take us at least one whole day of driving to get there. Had Cadel redeemed himself and got back into the game, we would definitely have planned on going to the final stage at Paris on the way back. But with Cadel being 6 minutes behind, it would take a total wipe out for Wiggins in order for Cadel to get back into the game.

So we decided next stop will be to check out Stage 17 which was on the way back, go past Metz and maybe Luxemburg.