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A contrast in shopping centers and a Giant Rubber Ducky!

sunny 69 °F

Before I went to bed on Thursday night, I did my usual ritual of getting things recharged. My computer, my phone, my backup phone battery, my wifi router, my camera all need regular attention. About the router - Korea has a similar system to Japan. You rent an unlimited data wifi router that is pocket sized and it provides internet and internet phone everywhere - it's extremely convenient and not too expensive - about $6/day in Korea, a bit more in Japan.

Anyway, I had to use my voltage converter for the first time (Japan runs on 120 v like the US and most places have US-shaped plugs). Plugged it in and pow! the distinctive odor of deliciously smoked circuits. It looked like it had blown out both my voltage converter and my computer power supply (which wasn't plugged into the computer at the time - clever me).

So my first order of business was to find replacements. I googled electronics stores and found out about the Electronics Market - an entire district in Seoul devoted to that kind of stuff. So it sounded like a piece of cake. Off I went, and got on the train in the wrong direction. This turned out to be a good thing because I got off a station adjacent to something called Lotte World Mall. I decided to return after taking care of business. It was about 45 minutes by train and foot to the market. It is a huge hodgepodge of stores .

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There are hundreds of small stores, some specializing in things like home security, cabling, LED lighting etc. and a whole lot of stores that all seem to sell iphone covers. Here's a look at one of the indoor corridors and one outside street. These capture less than 10% of the extent of this crazy place.

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Add to that dozens of deivery carts, bikes, motorycles, vans and trucks shuffling boxes in at out at breakneck speed, and it's a pretty entertaining place. Unfortunately, not a place where I could begin to figure out who had what I needed. Finally I stumbled upon a computer store that was several stories high and after finding the sales department I worked with a very patient guy and aided by google translate we were able to identify my computer power supply and a converter. To get ahead of the story, the charger was just right but the 'converter' was almost the exact opposite of what I wanted. It performed no transformer function to step down voltage except to two USB ports and was incompatible with Korean outlets - it was designed to allow Koreans overseas to charge their equipment, not the other way around. Fortunately, by juggling my computer's usb ports, I was able to get back in internet road warrior shape later that night.

Headed back flushed with success, I stopped for lunch at a street stand in a small night market (mostly closed during the day). Lunch was mixed tempura of vegetables, sausage, octopus and dumplings with a side dish of two kinds of tofu in a spicy red pepper sauce. Everything was tasty - the sausage was a type of Korean blood sausage called sundae - be warned if you hanker for hot fudge in Korea! Six bucks.

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Walked off the meal by retracing my steps to Lotte World Mall.

Talk about the alpha and omega of shopping experiences! The mall opened about a week ago and it is astonishing. Here is the atrium of the 7 floor section devoted entirely to high-end and very high-end everything.

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A shot of the cosmetics department

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and one of the atrium from the other direction.

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And this is only about one third of the place. There is a separate 7 floor section that is much bigger and caters to a wider audience. There is an amazing video display in the atrium of this part that consists of a dozen independent giant led screens that are raised and lowered up and down the atrium and show a coordinated picture across them all as they move. I have some video, but not the patience to convert/trim/upload at the moment. Footage will be available upon return for the price of a beer.... Speaking of which, there is a nascent craft beer industry in both Japan and Korea - I saw craft beer bars in both places, though they tend to only serve one beer of a given basic style. Still, it's a start.

But enough shopping - what about the Giant Rubber Ducky!?!

Wait no longer-

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Yes, it is that big! This is the Rubber Duck Project which is touring this critter around the world.

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There are hundreds of people taking selfies and other-people-ies and just sitting and admiring the spectacle.

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I actually was a bit hungry on the way home and I saw a restaurant near my apartment specializing in pork hocks. sounded interesting, so in I went. Ordered by pointing at random at a menu on the wall in Korean figuring it probably would contain pork hock. And did it!

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I ate and ate (some of the condiments include raw hot peppers and raw garlic as well as what I think was raw pork liver in hot peppers-yikes. When I was slowing down, the waiter brought over two diposable plastic gloves - huh? The folks at the next table let me know that protocol was to put on the gloves and then pick up the giant bone and gnaw on it to your heart's content. I then faced a cultural question; is there a doggy bag tradition in Korea? Googling wasn't much help (!) but I did see what appeared to be styrofoam containers near the pork cutting area in the window of the restaurant so with brilliant gesturing I was able to get the staff to box the remainder which will be breakfast for days to come. I probably walked out with 1 1/2 pounds of leftover pork!

In a food-induced coma, I fell into bed.

Posted by tdeits 18:55 Archived in South Korea Tagged shopping seoul electronics Comments (0)

Perth

and a word about power

semi-overcast 75 °F

I flew on China Southern from Seoul to Guangzhou and then a long overnight flight to Perth from there. The meals were very good and the seat closely resembled the Korea Air one I showed earlier. Oddly, only about 1/3 of the seats in business class were filled - maybe they don't run an upgrade program? I was able to get some sleep so I arrived in Perth at 6 am feeling vaguely humanoid. My AirBNB host Susanne picked me up at the airport and after a shower I was able to enjoy the day in Perth.

But first a word about power. The single largest practical issue I have faced in my day-to-day life as a world traveler has been power - electrical power - battery power! Getting enough battery power to get through long days on my cell, managing camera power, laptop power, and a backup power supply is a real challenge. Just as an example here's my current (ha!) setup to charge stuff in Perth

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Let's see.. . The white gizmo at the bottom is an adapter that connects an Australian plug to the various kinds of plugs found elsewhere- I got that in Perth. Here's a pro-tip; if you go to an electronics supply shop in a foreign country (I tried this in Korea and Australia so it must be true everywhere, right?) and look for an adapter for plugs, they will happily provide you with a device that will allow you to plug Korean (or Australian) things into foreign plugs Of course, what you want is the opposite; a device that will allow you to plug your style plug into their style outlet. That's harder to find, but I managed it. This may be because Australian plugs are so weird (prongs at 45 degree angles) that even Aussies need them for their electronics. So travel prepared and get the gizmo at home before you leave My only excuse is that the one I brought along blew up in Korea.

Anyway, atop the white gizmo is an American-style plug extender that Robin found for me in Japan (many Japanese plugs use the American standard) and that has proved invaluable - thanks, Robin! On the left is a power supply for my cell or my cell backup charger. On the right is a power supply for charging my camera battery. On top is my laptop power supply which, since I had to buy it in Korea, has a Korean plug and so requires another adapter from Korean to American which I happened to bring with me. In a pinch I can also charge some things using the USB ports on my laptop as a battery . Oh, and then why does my camera decide it needs a mini USB instead of a micro USB which means one more cable to lug around? Waaaah.

The only good bit worth mentioning is that most consumer electronic power supplies are happy to accept 120 or 220 volt inputs so you don't usually need to lug a transformer around as well. If you are unsure about whether your device accepts 220, it is probably written on the adapter in print so tiny that you may need a magnifying glass to read it.

Anyway, back to fun. I spent the first day just walking around the neighborhood, Inaloo, and shopping for things like the adapter pictured above. I also had to buy a new rash guard. For those who don't know what that is, it's an elastic long- or short-sleeved shirt designed to be worn in the water. It originated in the surfing/boogie boarding world because folks found that lying on a board all day tended to rub your stomach raw. Hence the name. The other nice thing about them from my point of view is that that the good ones provide SPF 50 protection from the sun. This means you can wear one and not worry about covering your body with sunscreen. That's doubly nice when traveling alone because putting sunscreen on your own back is, to say the least, challenging. To find one I first asked a guy shopping for swim trunks what they were called down here. The answer - 'rashie.' Armed with this lingo I was able to find a store and successfully communicate with a store clerk to complete the purchase. Now I felt ready for a bit of adventure!

I had a frankly mediocre vegetable pasta dish at a restaurant on my walking tour of the area (the first klunker meal of the trip so far) and hit the sack.

Posted by tdeits 19:28 Archived in Australia Tagged shopping perth electronics Comments (0)

On to Athens

sunny 77 °F

My travels to Athens from Bangkok were long, but not too unpleasant. I had an early afternoon return flight booked back to Bangkok from Chiang Mai. The timing of this flight was a function of my personal travel paranoia. I traveled to Chiang Mai on a ticket separate from my RTW ticket. As a result, if I was delayed on the local flight, I would have no recourse on my bigger ticket, so rather than take any chance, I gave myself way too much time in case of flight delays or other excitement. In fact, I arrived at Bangkok around 2 PM for my 2 AM (!) departure - a bit of overkill, right?

My next challenge was what to do - I didn't think that racing into Bangkok for another adventure was really a practical option, so I decided I would try to settle somewhere and play with my blog and photos. Since I am on a business class ticket I had access to the lounges. However, to access lounges you have to check in first. I was booked on China Airlines and when their ticket gate opened around 3, I tried to check in and was politely told I had to wait to 11 PM. facing 7 hours in the departures area, I used my puppydog eyes and made whimpering noises and the agent was moved to allow me to check in early.

I entered the international departures area of the airport, and it is simply enormous.
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Lots of opportunities to spend money at yet more designer shops. I wandered around and finally did buy a locally produced tshirt with cool elephants on it with the last of my bahts (must be the 9th inning - a little baseball humor there).

It was then time to settle in the lounge. China Airlines had a lounge but my online research indicated that the Air France lounge was better; in particular, it included a shower. So, armed with my by-now legendary puppydog eyes, I talked my way into the Air France lounge. This gave me a bunch of hours to blog, snack, nap and shower before the flight. The only way to fly!

Finally at 2 AM I boarded. It was an older aircraft and the seats reflected this - the usual oversized reclining chair. Older aircraft also have older consumer electronics, so choices of entertainment were fairly limited. This became a bit of an issue as we took off and the crew darkened the cabin. I slept for maybe 6 hours. When I woke up the cabin was still dark and it remained dark until 1 1/2 hours before landing - a total of 10 hours in darkness with like 2 movies available. Hey-I'm not whining here; just reporting the facts! Life is NOT tough in business class.

Anyway, we landed in Amsterdam and I connected to a flight on KLM to Athens. Here I encountered the very smallest business class seat I have ever seen.

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Must be those egalitarian Dutch. The seat is just an economy seat in a 6 across arrangement in a 737. We did have a very good lunch with some nice wine, so when I disembarked in Athens, I was really in pretty good shape, a 30 hour journey notwithstanding. I had booked a room at a hotel near the airport and a room through airbnb for the rest of the stay, so I headed to the hotel. I slept pretty well until 1:05 AM when I was awakened, not by jet lag, but by an earthquake shaking my bed back and forth. This was part of a magnitude 5.2 double earthquake that did some minor damage in and around Athens. I didn't sleep quite so well after that....

In the morning I took the train (brand new, very smooth - installed for the 2004 Olympics) into Athens and met up with my host, Andreas. And the Athens adventure begins.

Posted by tdeits 04:03 Archived in Greece Tagged travel airport shopping athens bangkok Comments (0)

Athens - downtown

sunny 63 °F

That title has a double meaning that will probably be a thread through most of this part of my blog. My first day in Athens I decided to head downtown and look at the central market and the Athens National Archaeological Museum. Unfortunately, my first immediate perception of Athens is graffiti. They are virtually everywhere - public signs, store fronts, walls, windows, sidewalks, you name it. It makes a horrible mess, but among folks I talked to, the basic attitude is they have other bigger problems to deal with. And they do; I think it's fair to say that Athens (and Greece) is the Detroit of Europe. They have taken a hammering and it shows on the faces of the people and in the state of the country. Like Detroit, there seems to be a sense that maybe the worst is in the past, but progress is difficult to discern.

Oh, let's be tourists again. My first stop was the Central Market which is as colorful and pungent as you might imagine. Every meat and fish stall has a butcher's block out front and some guy (always a guy) with a cleaver ready to hack the customer's request out of a larger piece of whatever they are selling. Here a a couple of photos of the market - an overview and lamb's heads on special (ew!)

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More conventional foodstuffs are also on display, including fruits and vegetables and you can get a good cup of Greek coffee while you wander. Interestingly, Greek coffee is just like Turkish coffee except that Greeks would never call it that - although if you look closely at the grinder in the picture, there is a little label that says "Turkish coffee."

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From here I headed to the museum. Suffice it to say that going to a Greek archaeological museum is absolutely guaranteed to be overwhelming. The National Museum is simply full of objects that fill world history and art textbooks with their images. I took pictures of some, and just gazed at others. Here are a few more or less familiar objects from the vast collection. Here is a head from 3000 BC, from the Cycladic culture and a gold death mask from the Mycenean era, about 1600 BC.

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Now a few youngsters, maybe 2000 years old, from the classic era of Greek art

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However, the high point for me was these relatively unpreposessing brass fragments from a 2000 year old shipwreck. This is the Antikytheria mechanism.

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It has taken decades to analyze this material but now it is clear that it was an extremely sophisticated analog computer, capable of a variety of calendrical functions for different calendars in use at the time as well as being able to predict the phases of the moon, the time of the next Olympiad and even solar eclipses. It is truly an extraordinary example of what was undoubtedly a fairly mature and highly advanced technological culture of which this single artifact and a few references in texts are our only evidence. The museum also includes many replicas built over the years to attempt to duplicate its funtions; here is a glimpse of the workings of one of the more recent models.

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Another cool feature is that it is its own owner's manual; the visible surfaces are covered with inscriptions describing its operation.

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Hey, I'm a techie, so excuse me if I say that I was deeply moved to contemplate this artifact. It represents an amazing Greek technological culture that disappeared from the face of the earth. Its like would not be seen for more than a millennium into the future. I know that technology is no cure-all for what ails human culture, but I just can't help thinking where we might be today technologically and possibly as a people if we had been able to build on this foundation instead of waiting 1000 years to start again.

Sigh.

Posted by tdeits 04:50 Archived in Greece Tagged shopping athens museum graffiti archaeology antikytheria Comments (0)

Belize - getting there and getting organized

Airfare, cell service and data plans, oh my!

sunny 83 °F

This fall I was able to organize a trip to Belize with my son and his girlfriend. I have never visited Central America before, so Belize sounded like a good first foray; it's pretty politically stable, reasonably safe, and the official language is English (although Spanish and Creole are commonly used). I planned the trip in two parts; 5 days on the Caribbean coast and 5 days in the interior highlands. I would be traveling alone in the second part of the trip.

My first pleasant surprise when getting this started was that I was able to grab a really good fare on American. I currently use Google Flights site as my starting point for scouting airfares, although I have found that it can give wildly inaccurate results for travel between overseas destinations (quoting airfares like $130,000!), so use with care For domestic (US) and European travel it works very well and allows you to quickly explore options. I got a round trip from Detroit for $550, which is less than half what Delta, for example, was charging at the same time. I also needed to book a short hop from Belize City to San Pedro (a barrier island off the northern coast). My son and I used the two different airlines servicing this route and both were fine - pretty casual travel in twin prop planes for a 20 minute flight. My son even got to sit in the copilot's seat; does that count as fun or is that scary? I'll let you choose.

As I often travel alone, having connectivity is important to me. I scoured the intertubes to try and understand how phone and data service were handled in Belize. Honestly, I ran across a whole lot of contradictory information. If there was a consensus, it appeared to be that connectivity was hard to come by and quite expensive. Well, my experience was very different. I went to the BTL (Belize Telemedia)office about 5 blocks north of the airport in San Pedro. The provided me with a SIM card, $10 phone credit and 1 gig of data for $26 US (Belize dollars are pegged at $2 Belize = $1 US). I had good connectivity along almost all the main roads and in the cities I visited, with perhaps a few dropout zones in the south of the mainland and off the beaten track (more on that later). That is a pretty good deal to my mind. I don't know if other services are comparable, but this should give you a current baseline for comparison if you are planning to visit.

We booked an apartment in San Pedro located about a half mile south of the airport through Airbnb . We took a taxi there ($5 US - no meters, so ask the fare before you get in!) and settled in. The apartment was clean and comfortable and in a pretty good location. We like to walk, so hoofing it up the main road or along the beach into downtown San Pedro was easy and convenient. Downtown itself is small enough to completely cover on foot; no vehicle needed.

Speaking of vehicles, the predominant modes of travel for tourists are taxis and golf carts. The carts are small, noisy, open gas-powered vehicles that reminded us of Disneyand Autopia cars. We were in San Pedro over the New Year's holiday which is absolute peak visitor time, and the streets reflected that. They were full of golf carts, delivery vehicles, taxis, etc. The relatively low speeds and narrow streets helped mitigate the rather casual attention to stop signs and other traffic 'laws' downtown. Golf carts are expensive - rates seemed to run in the $60 US range per day so you may want to add that as a budget item if you plan on renting one; taxis would probably be a cheaper alternative.

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When we left the island after New Years, it was considerably quieter.

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(photo credits to Robin Deits)

We hit the grocery store for provisions (prices are quite reasonable) and settled in for our visit.

Posted by tdeits 12:11 Archived in Belize Tagged shopping golf san pedro lodging downtown tips carts service airfare cell data Comments (0)

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