Thursday, January 26, 2012

I will be running my first Marathon!

In Zurich
This Christmas I met my friend Markus, who lives in Shanghai and I haven't seen in a year, in Zurich for a short lunch and walk before he was back off to Shanghai again. We originally thought we would not see each other for at least another year, but during our lunch we came up with the idea to run a Marathon together in 2012. Objective: FINISH IT ! No time target as it will be the first Marathon for both of us. To ensure we would take it serious we agreed a penalty if one of us is not showing up at the starting line (and should not be injured). What the penalty is stays confidential and will only be released in case one of us is actually fit and not showing up at the starting line. Following up on this conversation we now are targeting the Singapore Marathon on May 26th - mark that date!! 
As the "game is on" and I am determined to finish my first marathon, I started my training schedule a week ago, which looks as follows for now:
 
- Monday: 6km morning run
Markus and me
- Tuesday: Gym workout (no legs - and yes I in fact found a gym here in the middle of nowhere - OK it deserves more the name "living room with weights" but it does the trick)
- Wednesday: 6km morning run
- Thursday: Gym workout (no legs)
- Friday: 6km morning run
- Saturday: Long run over 1,5 hours (have to test this and see how much km I get run in that time) and playing Volleyball with Cambodians
- Sunday: Gym workout (no legs)

A bit extreme one might think - but everybody who knows me, knows that I have worked out even more before and as I have lost a lot a weight over the last 6 months I now want to know what I can get out of this 30 year old body :-)

Wish me luck
Joe

Saturday, January 21, 2012

I am 2 weeks back on the road again...

... and already had so many great experiences, that I don't know where to start, so this blog-entry might be a bit all over the place and therefore in bullet-point-style:
- Phnom Penh: I guess I start with Phnom Penh and my first impressions of Cambodia. Phnom Penh was a great bustling city to visit and it is unbelievable that this city just 30 years
ago had been totally deserted by the "Khmer Rouge" who forced everybody to move into the country side as the instutiated their rual communism with brut force. Even though only 30 years re-established Phnom Penh certainly has its charme. Surprising to me though was the amount
of high-end luxurious cars driving on Phnom Penhs streets (Mercedes S500, M63, G63 - Audi S9, W12, Q7 - BMW M3, M5, X7 - Range Rovers - Lexus SUVs) considering the average year-income of a Cambodian is at 550 US$ there must be a big upper class but an huge amount of population living below the average year-income. All in all Phnom Penh was a nice city to get a first impression of Cambodia - it has a nice vibe, some beautiful sights and people are very friendly and helping.
- Cambodian life expectation: Here in Cambodia you hardly see any old people around - researching this fact I found out that the life-expectations for Cambodians is only at 63 years and only 4% of the Cambodians are actually 65 and older mind-blowing considering in western countries being 65 counts you still into the workforce.
- Banlung the city: Is the place I am staying in for the next 3 months has certainly its charme as well - located in the north-east of Cambodia its Province bordering Laos and Vietnam, the city has about 25,000 inhabitants a couple of paved streets but the majority are dirt roads. This fact gives the city its nick-name "The red City" as the ground here is red and about everything is covered with a small layer of red dust. So I already made peace with the fact that I for example won't wear clean cloth for the next 3 months or that washing your hands about 20times a day to get the dust off is not working as 2 minutes later you will have red and dusty hands again but that is only a small fact about Banlung. People here make people from Phnom Penh seem unfriendly, here everybody is constantly smiling and laughing at you, always helping and very attentative. People are honest (so for a change no rip-offs at the market or in shops cause you are a foreigner) and a lot of people speak English . This is mainly based on the fact, that here in Banlung are many NGOs based as the north-east of Cambodia is certainly the poorest area of Cambodia and jobs at NGOs are very well paid and one of their pre-requisits is English. You should now think that there are tons of foreigners here - but that is actually not the fact. Most the time, NGOs have their headquarters in Phnom Penh where foreigners are working and than in the local areas they consist of 100% local people. Other than dusty streets Banlung has not much to offer: one ATM, the obligatory one or two karaoke places, about 10 hotels (the NGO visitors have to live somewhere :-)), a market and loads of homegrown shops - but certainly you can get everything here.
- Yak Loam Lake: One of the big natural attractions in Banlung is the "Yak Loam" lake (see picture) just 3 km away from the city center a glass-clear volcanic lake surrounded by bamboo
and only at certain places accessible to take a swim - which I actually did last weekend. When I was about to leave 6 Buddhist monks showed up who convinced me to get back into the water
and go for a swim with them... what a joyful and happy bunch of guys they were - and what a experience for me. When I was leaving they invited me to come to their Podga (convent) to visit
and if I like to spend a weekend of meditation with them, all I have to do is shave my head and get into their traditional clothing. - certainly something I am considering.
- Starry Sky: The other night I was just about to leave the school after teaching evening class, the city had a power outage (which happens about 4 times a day) - problem was I had forgotten my flashlight at home so I had to make my way home in the pitch-black dark depending on little motorbikes or cars driving on the streets to actually see where I am going... in the beginning being a bit stressed about actually not finding home I recognized the starry-sky above me - breathtaking... while I have seen a starry-sky in the ecuadorian Oriente which was clear and so close that you had the feeling you could reach the stars - the sky here has so many stars it is unbelievable, so instead of searching much futher I sat down and enjoyed the view until the city got its power back again :-). Nature creates such beautiful things around us....
- Cambodian hangover-food: Cambodians eat as a hangover-food no heavy meat and dough based cousine like a greacy Burger or Kebab - no they eat sweet beans with curshed ice and coconut-milk. Now for my stomach that wouldn't be anything if I would be totally drunk - but that will most likely not happen here anyways (based on the lack of bars, clubs and culture of going out with friends in the evening) so everybody who knows me - knows I got a sweet tooth so I am loving this "hangover-food" :-)

Happy Chinese New Year everybody
Joe

P.S.: one of the office buildings used to be my old office in London (6 Bishopsgate) the other building is my new office here in Banlung and I got a open-air office which I am loving :-) thats how office-buildings should be (I leave it up to you guys to guess which building is which;-))

Monday, January 16, 2012

Cambodian wedding season

After the last couple of entries you know already that I

a) had a awesome HongKong party weekend
b) arrived to,eall well in Cambodia and
c) am kinda miss South America :-)

but I am now since good 72 hours in Banlung and think I am going to like it here as well :-) Well what is not to like about living in a city where everybody smiles at you and is kind, where you have an open air office, where strangers sit down for lunch with you so you don't have to eat by yourself and where surprisingly a lot a people speak English....

But lets start back in Phnom Penh where I had some visa problems as the immigration office kept my passport to "process" my visa - which normally takes 24 hours, wellafter 3 days and plenty of calls I still didn't have my passport back - so I started to get annoid and realized with mentioning to go to the German embassy and some extra dollars for the right person it can get done within 1.5 hours. So on Thursday I made my way to the Phnom Penh station at 6:30 a.m. to catch the bus to Banlung my new "home" for the next 3 months - only to find out that also in south-east-asia schedules are a rough time estimates as well... I actually wonder if any cultures other than the japanese and german are actually on time... the South-Americans are for sure not, the North-Americans not either, the Africans are not, most of Europe not, the Carribean, Chinese and Indian not either... Well thats just a rant on a side note ;-)

The bus ride to Banlung was a bit rough on the last 3rd and tight for a 1,86m individual but it certainly was entertaining.... I was travelling with a party of about 15 old ladies who were delighted to have guy with them who they could speak to - well in Khmer (the local language) :-) not in English... that didn't disturb them :-). Than taking a break the bus-diver couldn't get fast enough out the bus without pulling the handbreak, so the bus started to roll approx. 20m backwards till he had jumped back on again and stepped on the break. The controlled landmine explosion for which we got hold up on the street was certainly though the most "exciting". That puts it in your face that Cambodia is still the country with most landmines in this world... the concept of landmines is sick but actually listening to the explosion of a couple of them close by gives you goose skin and seriously it actually sounds like it would kill everything in a 2 meter radius rather than it "just" injuring you... Arriving in Banlung I had a very warm welcome from the school staff I am working with for the next 3 months and got shown my new home before I got invited to come along to a cambodian wedding. Expecting a great cultural expirience, I was all for it. Now I heard from my friend Ting how chinese weddings are and I guess cambodian weddings are not much different - following sequence: Arrive around 6:30 p.m. and greet the Bride and Groom at the door for about 10 seconds (not even enough time to congratulate them), then enter the room and be totally stunned as there are about 800 guests (no kidding) and thinking this is going to be a great party, then sit down at a table with strangers and start to eat while way-to-loud-asian-music is played, Cheers a couple of times with people who come by, once finished with the food get up and leave a envelope with money in a treasure box before exiting the venue - by than it is around 8:00 p.m. and that is it!
Than on Friday I was invited to another wedding which was excatly the same procedure and on Saturday as well... to the defence of Cambodian weddings - on Saturday there were a couple of teachers from the school as well and we made our own party afterwards - but wouldn't we have been there than that wedding would have ended at 8 p.m.-ish as well this way it at least latested until 23:00... well and Sunday there was another wedding scheduled but I got out of it... apparently it is wedding season for the next 2 months :-)

[Lisaein Haii]
Joe

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wrap-Up the 2nd....

... as I am stuck in Phnom Penh at the moment I thought I spend the evenings by writing blog-posts instead of uselessly surfing the net :-). As I didn't find the last South-America wrap-up conclusive, I thought I gonna try it in a different way as well:

- Best Food: Ecuador - pork fritada with grilled plantain and a sugar cain juice with a hint of rum :-)
- Best Beach: Choroni, Venezuela - beautiful sand streches, palm trees, turquoise water
- Best City Sight: El Panecillo (Virgin of Quito), Quito, Ecuador - the statue was really impressive and a good choice of location over the city
- Best Nature Sight: Angel Falls, Venezuela - I think I mentioned this enough already but the most magnificant nature sight I have seen, together with the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland :-)
- Nicest people: Ecuador and Colombia are here both on the 1st place... Ecuadorians are supernice, hospitable but a bit shy.... Colombians are happy, easy to approach and full of life...
- Most relaxed people: Venezuela - you can't do anything to get them out of their "tranquilness"... nothing..
- Best City: Cartagena, Colombia... beautiful city in colonial style and beautifully located at the seaside
- Craziest Drivers: Ecuador - by far the ecuadorians are the craziest drivers - they could easily compete with Indien Rickshaw drivers
- Most useful thing during my travels: While that was my standard question to other travellers and I got answers like: coffee-maker (yes there are backpackers out there carrying a coffee-maker with them), deo-spray (so they didnt had to shower for 2-3 days) and laptop (to watch movies in the evenings) - I have to say my most useful thing were my Goretex Trainers.... Kept my feet always dry (except for the Lost City Trail but we walked through rivers there), got me into clubs, gave me strong hold going running/working out and all that for 59€
- Best Drink: Well this is a hard one.... the Ron (Rum) was good everywhere :-) but the Caipirinhas in South America rocked the most :-)
- Biggest Disappointment: The South America Lonely Planet Guide.... it was just scratching on the surface of cities and regions and at times just wrong - especially when you needed a price reference
- Best Experience: There were so so many, just to mention a couple: Finally being accepted by the kids in Ecuador; standing in front of the Angel Falls; driving in busses which never would be allowed on German streets - Reggaton-Music on full volume - driving 80 km/h downhill and around corners while on the right it goes 300 meter steep down and you cant see if anything is just around the corner; dancing Salsa with colombian women; eating the fruit flesh from kakao-plants and many many more....
- Best Hostel: Definitly "The Dreamer" in Santa Marta, Colombia- even though the location is a bit off... the hostel itself is chilled, got a pool and the people there make the difference - while I wasn't disappointed by any of the hostels I stayed in - this certainly was the best - just my vibe I guess
- Nicest Gesture: The birthday present I got on my way by Teresita - such a nice idea so I had something to unpack on my 30st
- Biggest change of habit: Since Colombia I am a Coffee drinker, in fact I just ordered myself one :-)

Joe

Monday, January 9, 2012

The first leg of my travels is over....

... as I started my second part of my travels in Cambodia - I thought it is time to try to put the highlights of the last 5 months "down on paper". I guess it goes without saying that I am greatful to be able to have this opportunity and consider myself fortuned for the experiences I made, the people I meet and that I stayed healthy throughout so far *KnockOnWood*. How can you wrap up an amazing 5 months on a stunning "continent" like South-America is, well I will try to put some experiences down:
- got to know 60 amazing kids, who despite having horrible experiences in the past, no family around and no own toys are full of life and happiness.... this has put a lot in perspective for me!
- being able to help families locally in Santo Domingo was a great experience - again a big thanks to everybody who supported this
- made loads of friends in Ecuador and meet some great people which I plan to visit soon again - cause they are certainly special!
- had a scorpion walk up my leg: On the 3rd day of our "lost city" hike - I was brushing my teeth in the early morning and felt something walk up my leg - not looking at it and out of reflex I stroke it off my leg and than looked down - to find a scorpion struggeling to get back onto his legs.... I tell you that is gonna give you definite goose skin :-)
- ate some amazing new fruits like Guyabana, Guavaya, 10 different kinds of Mangos just to mention the highlights.... Out of all of them fresh Mangos are definitly my favourite ones - even though I am not sure if I will ever eat a "on the boat riped" Mango in Europe anymore. Guyabana is def. the best smoothie-fruit you can get on this planet and if you ever should have the chance to get one, then GET ONE ;-)
- lost 12 kg of weight just by my changed lifestyle and staying away from vending machines - replacing "unwantedly" chocolate with fruits. Well and I guess the ecuadorian kids had parts on that too chasing me over football fields, basketball courts or just have me running around with them on my back :-)
- danced limbo infront of about 500 students. My ecuadorian students spontainiously selected me to represent them in a Stanto Domingo limbo teacher competition which was set-up in the half-time of some proper dance competition. At least I made 1st for the men - overall didnt make it the best 5 though
- went Piranhia fishing in the Orinoco Delta. We had two days booked in the Orinoco Delta which is from the vegitation very similar to the Amazonas but to be honest 1 day would have been enough as the jungle is not particularly encounterable (you are eaten by mosquitos alive even though you are completely covered) - so Piranhia fishing with a good glas of Rum was a relaxing task to do to kill time. Besides that this was my first time fishing in my life - Piranhia fishing actually requires skills as those suckers are so fast that they don't get hooked on the hook so you have to basically throw them into the boat while they take a bite. I only caught one but it tasted delicious knowing I caught it myself :-)
- learned a new language: because I never really had proper Spanish lessons I never learned proper Spanish but by now I can hold a conversation in Spanish and make myself understood of what I want/need.... well but than to be honest I don't want to hear myself talk on the same level in English or German - it must sound horrible :-)
- danced loads of Salsa and love it by now. I can only recommend to go to a Salsa Club in South-America Salsa is culture in every country I visited and not avoidable. Everybody is dancing it and it is such a great dance and a great way to get to know local people as everybody is passionate about it.
- riding on the back of a pick-uptrack never really appeared to me to be special - until I got to Ecuador and everybody does it there - me wondering how it would be I tried it out and have to say - very very chilled even though considering ecuadorian driving practices freaking dangoures
- saw the Angel Falls - the highest waterfalls in the world and the trip was worth it. Nature creates such magnicifant, graceful and at the same time peaceful sights - it is a pity that we could only spend a good hour around there. Definitly one of the highlights in my life.
- hiked through jungles, hills full of coffee-plants, took spontainious dips in remote rivers - Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela have such a lush nature - I haven't seen before.
- experienced ecuadorian hospitality by its fullest. I was giving several students english lessons for free (which is normally very expensive) and in return I experienced ecuadorian hospitality... being invited to BBQ pick-nicks, little "parties" thrown for me, shown around the countryside, introduced to families etc.
- got to know some awesome new dishes - for example ecuadorian Fritada (specially fried meat), Plantains prepared in about 20 different forms but also ate some weird stuff like: cow-liver, cow-hoof, fried pig-skin and chicken-feet
- seriously injured my left hand in a ceiling fan. Coming home in the middle of the night and not wanting to wake-up the people in the dorm I left the light switched of. Taking off my T-Shirt over my head I had totally forgotten that the ceiling-fan in that dorm was actually hanging very low and I put my left hand in a full-speed fan... you can be sure the whole dorm woke up :-)
- flew in a old Jesna over Venezuela not being sure if we ever going to arrive as the fuel-indicator showed clearly "empty" :-)
- rolled down a about 6 meter high sand-dune. Dont ask me why but I always wanted to do that - it was so to say on my bucket-list amongst other things.... tick :-)
- been to the equator line and then again haven't been. With Nat and Ben we thought we have visited the equator line close by Quito, ecuador just to find out when we came back to our hostel that it was the wrong one the frensh put up about 200 years ago.... *shakinghead* the frensh - who else :-P
- been up on 4900 meters and having to take a 2 minutes breaks after every 1 minute hiking.

These last 5 months have been exciting, insightful, refreshing, teaching: an amazing time, so I want to take this opportunity to especially thank my parents and my sister and brother and his family who have been super supportive througout the time and the backbone for this travels !!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Hello Cambodia....

... after a epic party weekend in Hong Kong which couldn't have been better to kick-off my 2nd part of the travelling I left for Cambodia this morning/noon. More or less "Hals ├╝ber Kopf" and just made the flight (Thanks to Rouven and the DragonAir ground staff crew again on that one!!!). Big Thanks again to the HongKong Crew you ROCK !!!
Now I have to wait for my visa to then go off to Banlung the city where I am going to volunteer for the next 3 months. Arriving in Phnom Penh, seeing the busy city just from the cab ride, enjoying the 30 degress celcius and having some first proper cambodian food / makes me really curious to get to Banlung and get started... pictures to follow soon !!