Summary of the trip: Overall – new content

Note, I haven’t dealt with my photos yet, I’ll post when I’ve got them onto Flickr from the final part of my trip.

I do have a few extra awards that only make sense on an overall position looking at the whole trip, these are below:

Best country

China, overall I think my favourite country on the trip was China as it had good and surprisingly good museums as well as a lot of great sites. New Zealand, Peru and Japan also stood out.

Most difficult country to manage with only English

Japan and China, well neither of them uses roman script and although China is slightly harder to get around, the Chinese museums and sites mostly had excellent English translations. Whereas Japan was easier to get around, but the sites had poorer English translations. All-in-all I’m calling it a draw between the two.

Most useful material possession

iPod Touch for letting me write these blog posts when on buses and public transport and having lots of other useful information on it, from exchange rates to games. It looks like Apple will get all the features that everyone had over them as well.

Just because sometimes you book too much and sometimes too little I’m giving the next couple of awards:

Most overbooking

The flight from New York to Washington DC. given that the public bus was probably superior in every way the main reason was that I met a really cool girl called Sophie the night before who I didn’t get to know as well as I’d have like to. If you’re reading drop me an email (don’t worry if it takes a while to notice this).

Most underbooking

As I stray towards overbooking this didn’t happen very much – though hostels in China often gave a much better deal online than if you just turned up.

Singapore and Milk

Note that the next three posts are all new today as I managed to grab some WiFi to get them online.

So leaving India early to go to Singapore was always going to be a bit of a paradox for me. Leaving the place I was looking forward to most to go to the place I was looking forward to least and only really staying to apply for some visas.

The good news is that I’m enjoying Singapore far more than last time I was here. Maybe it’s getting more laid back (people even jaywalk here which they don’t in Japan) or maybe I accept it more having been to Japan which it is similar to in many ways and yet also different. To give it a European analogy maybe it’s like the English and the French cultures.

On Friday I slept in the morning after a healthy Mcdonalds breakfast and afterwards headed out to lunch at a nearby and excellent restaurant. It was cheap too at S$5. After this I had some shopping to do including a smartcard for public transport and a copy of the Singapore and Malaysia bible Rough Guide. This took all afternoon before I had a burger king supper (I seem to have lost some weight in India.) before heading over to a nearby cinema to catch a movie.

There wasn’t much on so I picked the film milk which from the poster looked only OK. After sitting down to watch the film it wasn’t just OK and I will fully admit to crying at some of the more emotional moments. It is a great film that I thoroughly recommend and it is definitely a true story.

For those who aren’t aware Milk is about a gay businessman called Harvey Milk who in the 1970’s who was elected to the city of San Francisco as the first openly gay city official and they shot down a proposition banning the removal of teachers for being gay or supporting gay rights; in fact though at the time even Reagan supported them.

The sad truth is that this is still happening today with proposition 8 banning gay marriage and that influential organizations such as Apple are supporting gay rights today (though they weren’t as effective as Milk. In the UK things are much better as we have “civil partnership” for gays which has the rights of marriage but not the name to avoid upsetting the religious which is fair enough in my book and it seems the American gays haven’t taken that compromise position.

Marriage in “the West”

I was having an interesting coversation with the mother of the Japanese family I was staying with in Tokyo about marriage. She was talking about how the divorce rate in Japan is rising. She was shocked when I mentioned that the divorce rate in England was currently approximately 50% (update: just checked the government figures, they don’t give figures per marriage but comparing the number of divorces this year to the number of marriages this year and the average since 1951 gives a probable divorce rate of between 40% and 50% – of course this only counts official marriages and not couples who live together unmarried.); I’m sure the situation is just as bad in the US and the rest of Europe. I suddenly realized that the reason for this is the lack of available advice about whether the person you are with is really “the one” or not. Given the vast quantity of stuff we were officially taught about relationships is less in amount to my knowledge of Vietnamese. For something that is so important; children who grow up with only one parent perform worse in all sorts of ways. And ancidotally children of parents who stayed together “for the children” wished their parents would split up.

Of course the sensible solution at this point would be to ask someone older and wiser who has had more life experience and who knows you well. So for the majority of young people without older friends to turn to that would leave their parents (of course this depends on your parents not being keen to marry you off to formulate an alliance or for power or something like that.) or other members of your family but asking for their approval of a relationship isnt really something you would do.

Of course you can always base it on the relatively small amount of life experience of long term relationships that you and your friends have (and the longer you wait the more likely that your friends have that experience.) or the media. But they will say practically anything to sell their publications on something that is fairly subjective, and obviously popular to discuss, like relationships.

So the current western model doesn’t seem to work that well but I suppose it is better than arranged marriage as at least you are free to make your own decisions. Thoughts and comments?

Recycling and the New York subway

I have to admit there is a lot to dislike about the New York subway aside from it’s safety at night which is excellent but it has a further good point on recycling.

In New York all the rubbish thrown away at stations is sorted for recycling; now while this isn’t a pleasant job it brings benefits. Rather than having to have several bins in one place and assume people don’t get confused they have one which is much simpler. It also helps to have that approach where it is only practicle to have one bin (e.g. in the bathroom). Many
Hostels have multiple bins which is difficult as sometimes you aren’t sure whether something is recyclable so stick it in the general rubbish bin (which can be hard to find) or put it in the wrong bin by mistake.

Summary of the trip: Americas

I was always going to give some awards at the end of my trip, but so they stay relevant I am going to do some as I go along. So I’m going to split my trip into thirds. Firstly the Americas, then Oceania and Japan, and finally mainland Eurasia. Then finally I’ll sum up the whole thing.

Best site

Iguazu, Argentina and Brazil, although Machu Picchu was pretty special out didn’t quite take my breath away in the same way.

Honourable mention

Machu Picchu, well that much is obvious. It is an epic site.

Best museum

The Holocaust Museum, Washington DC, it tried so hard to just give the facts. I learnt a lot about the recent history of the Jews and that reflects heavily on the middle east today. Well worth a visit.

Best tour company

Layana, San Pedro as they gave detailed explanations in English of the sites we were seeing. They also weren’t too pricy.

I have to admit in general I haven’t been too impressed and was going to give it to the Sinh Cafe from my last trip to Vietnam.

Best city

New York for it’s incredible range of stuff to do in the day. having half decent nightlife as well and also having excellent transportation.

Honourable mention

Santiago, a hidden gem that I didn’t expect to be great. But aside from all it’s attractions seemingly shutting on Sunday and Monday every week it is actually a pretty nice place. Though its worth noting that even in Providencia it does have a sinister feel sometimes, especially after dark (though nothing personally happened to me or anyone I know in Santiago).

Best non-family accommodation

I’m not ranking my family/free accommodation as you all looked after me well so I’m picking the best accommodation I paid for.

Sunny Days, Arica Chile provided all you can eat breakfasts, excellent rooms and good advice on the city as well as a kitchen and lounge area with good cable TV.

Best food for under US$25 (excluding service)

Just in case I get taken to the local equivalent if La Manior I’ve stuck a price limit on this but the winner is Steak in Buenos Aires at a small restaurant at Defensa and Independencia which was above and beyond anything I’d had before.

Honourable mention

Pacha Papa, Cusco for it’s excellent food and exquisite service.

Best nightlife

Chicago, Buenos Aires is close but frankly it’s too late for me to start clubbing at 2am.

Friendliest People

El Soberio. After falling ill I was looked after really well by the people of El Soberio. And I improved my terrible Spanish a bit too.

Best transportation company

Via Barriloche, Argentina for providing good food, drink and comfortable seats for only a little more than the competition.

Most useful material possession

iPod Touch for letting me write these blog posts when on buses and public transport and having lots of other useful information on it.

Best bargain

Plastic playing cards in Cusco for US$0.67 that are fully plastic so should last well.

Biggest rip-off

Postada la bonita for accommodation worth a generous US$10/night costing US$100/night.

The Patrick Levy award for cinematography

When I went to South East Asia my friend Patrick (who doesn’t need much sleep) would watch films before going to sleep in the evening. Therefore I am dedicating this award to him. However even though films you watch while travelling are usually bad I’m giving this award to the genuinely most entertaining film.

And the winner is SHOOTER which was an excellent and clever movie about a presidential assasination. I really want to see the end of it as we arrived in Tacna so I missed it.

Honourable Mention

Don’t mess with the Zohan I quite enjoyed this movie about the Israeli superspy Zohan but my friends I was with thought it wasn’t that great.

Thoughts on the Smart Home

I said I’d discuss in more detail about why I didn’t like the Chicago Smart home. I don’t really want to be too political/critical in my blog but the environment is a really important issue at the moment and it really affected me that it really wasn’t very good. The building itself was designed to be a high technology sustainably built and run building for the future.

My main objection was their inability to provide any serious figures on things, and where figures were given they weren’t in units that could be used to compare to other data. I remember that CAT (the Centre for Alternative Technology) in Wales gave figures when solar panels cost less to make than the electricity they produce which was really important. In the Eco/smart home an example they were able to say how much the home cost to construct ($450,000 to $500,000) but although those figures excluded the price of the land they were unable to provide figures for a standard house with the same 2400 sq ft of space inside. One of my friends in Chicago suggested around $250,000 which is a lot less. They also didn’t give figures of the efficiency of there appliances something that has been required since the beginning of 1994 under EU law for white goods purchases.

When touring the home in the child’s bedroom they had an OLPC. They were describing the project as a success when in fact it has been an abject failure. I wonder how many other times they did that in the house…

Let me explain the OLPC in more detail; it is a project set up by MIT to distribute laptops for $100 to developing countries like Nigeria and Vietnam. In theory it sounds like a great idea to improve access to technology so that rather than having to use an Internet cafe people have their own machines. Unfortunately the laptops now actually cost $188. . To complete the problems they’ve also lost a huge number of senior staff from the project some of whom have come out and described the issues in the organization first hand.

Then there are the homes credentials: the home itself is designed to reduce emissions by 50% over a standard new US home; now that is fairly impressive but in fact the British government has already defined a law to reduce emissions by 60% by 2050 (source). Though to be fair CAT’s suggestions for an eco-house also produce a 50% improvement over current UK building regulations. The problem with that comparison is that a 1930’s US house only uses 130% of the energy of a current building regulations US house whereas in the UK a 1930’s UK house uses 270% of the energy of a UK building regulations house. Furthermore if you take the windows in the smart home they are double glazed with low-E coating and argon centre which follows CAT’s recommendations but their own house is quadruple glazed.

I was also unable to get any serious figures on how long the building would last. It was due to last 25 years without maintenance but how significant the maintenance would be was also unknown. Surely a less Ecologically built building could be better for the environment if it lasted considerably longer.

They do also get some things right the technology for controlling the home mostly works well though the media features need further work and the active cooling system using shafts to the roof to allow air circulation is recommended by CAT.

Anyway that sums up my dissatisfaction with the Smart Home.

The rest of my time in Chicago

Yesterday evening I went out to Plymouth bar in downtown Chicago; this bar had a roof terrace which was popular though it had a great view overlooking a car park and the “L” tracks. I also had burger 4 of my time in Chicago there (I had 2 on Sunday and 1 more on Monday evening) Then the next morning I headed back to Oak park and took a look around Frank Lloyd Wrights house and studio (this was very interesting) as well as unity temple which he also designed (that is a really inclusive church, which was great to see!) the building was pretty good too. After lunch I headed back to the Hemmingway museum which had a lot of interesting information on the author, maybe I should read some of his books! Afterwards I headed back into Chicago. If you’re in Chicago head to oak park it’s on the green train and is well worth a visit.

After that I headed up to Boystown and Wrigleyville, Boystown is the gay district in Chicago and they had rainbows attached to phalli along the road which was interesting. After that I had a look around Wrigleyville, as a Cubs baseball game had literally just finished I didn’t manage to take a look at the stadium itself. Then I headed back into town to pick up my laundary. I fortunately walked slowly enough that I avoided the total crush on the train and eventually got a seat (can you tell from the excessive detail that I’m writing this as it happened :p).

I think tomorrow I’m just going to see the theatre and relax before my flight to Argentina.

Museums in Chicago

Yesterday I had some chores to complete including uploading some more photos; due to Vista having problems remembering how to drag files from my camera there may be some strange immissions but there should be still a good selection.

After completing my chores for the day I headed to the museum of contemporary art as it’s free on Tuesdays. They currently have a major exhibition by Jeff Koons this was OK but it made me thing about myself differently which was interesting.

After seeing that I headed to Chinatown and had some excellent food. Unfortunately I felt a bit rough so went back home to bed afterwards.

Then today I headed to the museum of science and industry. Unfortunately it was really aimed at children rather than adults so I didn’t spend that long there.

They also had a smart/eco home there which I strongly disliked primarily due to the lack of figures given; as the environment is important I’ll be writing about that in a separate post.

After that I headed out to Oak park where Ernest Hemmingway was born and Frank Lloyd Wright grew up I was there quite late so only saw a few buildings and the tour of Hemmingway’s house before it closed.


After arriving yesterday in Chicago I went out in the evening with some friends and we went to a Chicago pizza restaurant called gramaldies then we headed to a bar with live music called the Hideout which was hidden away in an industrial district in northern Chicago.

Then the next day I went to watch the chicago air show with one of my friends we then headed down to millenium park and saw the bean sculpture and the Chicago Tribune building which contains parts of many other buildings in its construction. The day was fun but I managed to get subcream in my eye after buying own brand suncream which even though it cost $8 it was actually rubbish!

Then we went to a bar called Moody’s in northern Chicago which served Chicagos best burgers so I of course had one and it was pretty damn good.

We also had a chat about the US, my friend was telling me about his trip west of the Missisippi in the US. He went on the train ad was shocked at the standard of housing there and said that they essentially lived in shacks, he was surprised if they have running water! He also said that the houses in Flint Michigan in Michael Moores film fahenheit 9/11 are good by comparison; as Flint looks like an Aftican state after a war you can’t imagine what it’s like there.

Then this morning I completed a few chores before heading to the Aquarium, it seems pretty good though it is expensive at $25 also the cages seem much smaller than at aquariums in Europe. They do serve lunch for less than $10 though which is a miracle in itself.

Washington DC part 2 (mostly not actually in Washington)

So the next day I went back into Washington DC, I was quite late up, so didn’t get in until lunchtime, but I still had time for two museums recommended the previous evening, first I tried to go up the Washington Monument, but then found to get tickets you had to queue before 8.30am when the ticket office opened, which seemed a bit much to ask for to be honest. So instead I went to the Holocaust museum, which was very moving and also tried incredibly hard to be unjudgemental towards all sorts of groups, from the Germans before the war, to the Allies who refused jewish immigration, to the Allies later who didn’t bomb the camps themselves. It was clear that it was an incredibly shocking event, much much more so than our recent history with terrorism. And it also shone an interesting light on the creation of Israel and the current problems in the Middle East. After that I went to the International Spy Museum, it was also very interesting and well worth a visit. This discussed the history of spycraft from WW2 onwards and I spent another 2 hours there. After that it was the early evening so the museums were all about to shut so I had to come back to where I was staying.

The next day I headed out to the Blue Ridge mountains by car, and we went on a 1.6 mile walk in the mountains which was good, we got some good photos of that too.

The Blue Ridge Mountains

The Blue Ridge Mountains

As well as that we also saw some traditional buildings nearby such as the following church.

Typical Church in Virginia

Typical Church in Virginia

We also tried to find the Appalachian trail but we missed it as it started to rain so we had to go back to the car.

Then today we went on a canoe on the Potomac, which is the river which goes through Washington DC, fortunately we were a little further upstream, so the weather was good and it was also very peaceful, except for the very occasional interruption by a motorboat. We had lunch on the shore on an old dried up canal and rowed slowly downstream. Below is a photo of one of the many herons we saw:

A heron on the Potomac

A heron on the Potomac