30 January 2010

Boston, Alda

In Boston is almost a last minute couch. The morning we are leaving Chicago we send few more requests for Cambridge as there was no reponse for Boston. Alda immediatly answers. She is Portuguese doing PhD in airports and studying temporarly at MIT. She shares apartment with Baris and his girlfriend at the top of the stairs of the two storey building. There is a kitchen/living room where we sleep the first night in a futon, a bathroom which sink did not work well, Alda's room quite empty where we sleep the second night and Baris couple's room. Alda kept offering soup and tea but we only taste the latter. Her apartment is near MassAv.

28 January 2010

Chicago, Hannah

Hannah would not stop to talk from the moment she met us until we say goodbye. She had finished nurse education and was looking for a job. Meanwhile she is volunteer for a poors people clinic and teacher at hebrew school. She is Jewish but not very involved - she works on shabbat. Her apartment in Northwest Chicago is old and full of things. At home she has four bicycles plus two at the cellar. It was a one bedroom ("messy, don't enter") apartment, with a living and dining room together, plus a bathroom and a kitchen. In is a first floor with a small porch. We have an air matress to sleep on, which developed a hole after the first night and, after spending the second night pumping air time to time, we patched with a bicycle patch. Hannah cycles everywhere and likes second hand things. She shows us a huge second hand clothes shop where we buy things for the American winter and also she offers pairs of gloves and a jacket.

Silence is not on purpose

Sorry for not writing more, there are no paid internet places. The library is free but time limited and usually with a queue. We take long time on Couch Surf searches, not enough left for blog. We'll be back as soon as we can.

27 January 2010

US Prices

Appetizer (starter) - 4usd
Entree (main) - 6usd
Drink - 2usd
+tax (10%)
+gratuity/tip (15-20%)

You pay at least 15usd.

The gratuity in the usa is not a choice (unless you have an horrible experience), but a mandatory part to add to the bill (before taxes). The waiters are taxed on their salary plus expected 15% taxes! So if you don't pay gratuity they will be taxes anyway, their salaries are very low already counting they will receive good part of it in tips.

But usually, here in the usa, only the waiter for your table will be nice to you (hey, how are you today?/everything alright? three times during the meal). When you leave the restaurant no other waiter will say 'goodbye' or 'thanks' to you. You don't see either team work. Also you see that waiters share the tables among them, so that each gets same amount of costumers. Discussions continue and continue about the advantages or not of tipping system, but I just feel there are none. In my opinion (knowing it is not easy) they should fight for correct base salaries and having tips just as an extra and purely in discretion of the client. More, it is much nicer when any other waiter thanks you for coming, no matter if he received your tip or not.

Well, not necessary the simultaneous 'thank you' by every single waiter and cook that you have in Japan or South Korea (quite amazing). :-)

14 January 2010

Police raid in Tucson

Our host in Tucson - Sarah - was preparing dinner for us when her invited friend and neighbor arrived saying that there is police everywhere outside.

We go out to check things and there are three police cars with roof lights on in different parts of the street. One of them as they see us point a strong focus at us, we ignore. Minute later a undercover police car pass slowly by us, then stops and reverses, open the window and says: 'we are looking for a stabber around here with dogs, please go inside as the dogs don't make distinctions'.

We keep inside but we lack bread for dinner. Sarah's friend goes by car to the shop near by. Thirty minutes later he's not back yet. We wonder what is going on. He doesn't answer the phone either. We start thinking what might have happen, if police would not have let him pass, but at least he could answer the phone. We get a bit scared until he finally appears saying there are two policeman going into Sarah backyard.

By the kitchen window we peer and see them, one armed with a dog and other with a good sized gun. We prefer not to look for long before become suspicious. Dinner was ready long time ago.

While on the table a new sound comes by - helicopter is flying over the house and the street. The stabber should not be far. But when we finally end dinner all the action was over. And we will never know if they catch him or now.

13 January 2010

Public transport in the US

The trains exist, usually one a day. On the South only 3 per week, on the East between Boston and Washington one per hour. The first class is a 2-seats couchette you can transform into 2 beds and with all the meals included. Second class are reclinable seats with leg rest. For the night they provide a pillow. There are one and two floor trains, being the biggest difference only more toilets in the two-floors type. There is a panoramic-wagon and a restaurant-wagon where they serve you with throw-away dishes and cutlery. The trains seldom go full.
In the cities there are aceptable public transport, sometimes a bit confusing. Usually you pay to a box at the entrance which gives you the ticket. There are "transfer" tickets a bit more expensive and full-day tickets with a magnetic band and costing between 3 and 4 times the price of a single trip. The singe-trip is between 1,25 and 2,25USD, depending on the city.

First Amtrak Experience

After two bus rides in Malaysia (one in the back of a doubledecker bus with hot air blowing down my back), a long air trip (didn't remember that the air is so dry in airplanes - I felt like one of those dried fishes in the Chinese markets...) and surviving US immigration, we arrived happily to California. A few days after we got on a train again, which is always exciting in a new country.
To begin with, we had to take a bus because there's no train station in San Francisco. It took us over the bay bridge through thick fog to Oakland station. Getting on a train here is a bit like boarding a plane. You have to check in your large baggage, for example. When the train arrived, our tickets were checked first by a guy on the platform, who then directed us towards a lady who was responsible for one or two coaches. She assigned us our seats, and when the train had left she went through the coach checking the tickets again and sticking a note with the destination above each pair of seats - all this while talking loudly about anything that came to her head, and calling everybody "sweet", "honey" and "love", regardless of sex or age. During the rest of the trip we would learn about her lifestory which she told in several episodes to different passengers, as well as her complaints about her colleagues. After each stop, she would welcome the new passengers as the "new members of the family, please have your ticket ready!" She replaced the need for any TV entertainment! And to be sure we would not get bored, the train conductor gave regular comments about the scenery ("and to your left now, you can see some exceptional cows grazing in the fields...").
Around 9 am, there was another announcement: "Hello, this is Jane from the cafe, the cafe is open now and I'll be happy to see you...". Imagine someone saying this in a Swiss train!
(I did buy a coffee at Jane's cafe, and she was indeed very nice.)
For lunch we went to the dining car at 1 pm, our assigned time. We were seated with two other travellers, both american, and about 10 seconds after being seated we started a conversation, which went on until we had finished eating, then "ok guys, was nice talking to you, have a nice trip". Interesting.
I'm looking forward to our next trip tomorrow!

09 January 2010

Looking for reasons not to relocate to San Francisco

- Its far away from everywhere (even New York)
- Too many crazy people (but less than Venice beach, LA)
- Never hot through the year

It was a hard job to find these few reasons. It seems a so great city to live nonetheless.

08 January 2010

The culture of the sub-culture

Skaters, crazy people, homeless, cyclists, gays, chinese, mexicans, swiss-portuguese couples, blacks, musicians, joggers, etc. Everything taken to the extreme, totally into their own world, fighting for their subject. San Francisco, USA.

06 January 2010

Hopefully here

Time wrap travel

5 Jan, 3pm, +30 degrees C - We visited Putrajaya, a big mostruosity of Malaysian government; 6pm - Check-in at Kuala Lumpur airport; 9pm - Flight to Seoul departs; 11pm - Landed at Kota Kinabalu; midnight - Departed from Kota Kinabalu

(Five hours later)

6 Jan, 6am, -10 degrees C - Landed at Seoul. The airplane slides over the ice while parking and we need to be towed; 11am - we sleep in a airport's bench; 12pm - we took shower at Seoul airport; 3pm - Departed from Seoul.

(Eight hours later)

6 Jan (yes, again), 8am, +10 degrees C - Landed in San Francisco; 2pm - lunch in San Francisco; 8pm - we go to sleep.

01 January 2010

To travel...

... is being conscientious of missing much more than what you will have time to visit.

Sometimes I miss...

... good bread with butter and good honey.
... giving body combat classes and ride my bike.
... drink beer with friends.
... Eva's cakes and bread.

Next stop - where?

So, we have arrived in Singapore. All the way from little Switzerland, by train and bus and boat. Quite a long way, looking at it on a world map.
And now?
Well, we're not coming back just yet. We have other plans first.
A hint: it's about train travel - again.
So, any ideas? :-)

We will let you know when we're there!

Happy New Year!

From Singapore

Singapore - a breath of fresh air. Is it?
Compared to all southeastasian cities, it's definitely cleaner. The public transport system works. There's enough space on the sidewalks to actually walk. Car drivers stop to let pedestrians pass. Few people spit, almost nobody litters. The small boat that took us to a small island the other day can only take 12 passengers, otherwise people are advised to complain. The buses are clean and in good working condition. People are polite. The city is full of huge shopping centres with expensive shops. Everybody goes shopping after work or on public holidays. And to think that Singapore was "thrown out of" Malaysia in the 50ies, and managed all this by itself...

The downside?
No freedom of speech. Press heavily influenced by the government. The same prime minister ruled for decades, the current prime minister is his son. Homosexuality is illegal. No social security. No real opposition (although they do turn up in elections but never win). High rate of self-censorship in the press and the arts. Spitting is forbidden and punished with a high fine, as is eating or drinking on the subway (costs 250 Euros), littering and many other things.

The question:
Is all this necessary to build a working state which is clean and where people are nice to each other? Is it necessary to have such strict laws and punishments about what I would call minor issues? If there weren't any laws like these, would people spit and litter and smoke everywhere? Maybe yes... (look at China). Or maybe not?

I don't know.