Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Expensive tastes

With a few hours to kill while waiting for a flight at Singapore airport, I decided to look into some shops. Not the usual shops that fill the Indooroopilly Shopping Town, but shops for products that are associated with the rich and famous. Brands that make handbags for Paris Hilton's dog that have names with 5 consonants in a row in them. Underwear that costs more than any entire outfit that I own and watches that featured in Snoop Dog's latest film clip.

Two questions came to my mind... Who the hell has that kind of money to waste on stuff like that? And even if they do, on what planet is buying any of that stuff cost effective or worthwhile?!

After walking around for a while, here are my top 5 over priced items.

5. A mont blanc black leather iPhone pouch for only $299. It would have to be made from the skin of an endangered albino rhinoceros to cost that much.



4. Beats headphones for $799. If you want to walk around like you are ready to DJ at a night club at any moment then these are for you. However, at that price, you could also walk around with a full surround sound home theatre system on your head.



3. Some sort of brand name wallet (or handbag) for $399. There was a number of different brands at this price but I really cannot justify spending more money on a wallet than the amount of cash it will ever hold.



2. A limited edition, 1 of 50 Mont Blanc watches for only $45000. Mont blanc had a plethora of ridiculously priced items but this one took the cake. Would you wear the average person's annual salary on your wrist?



1. My number one over priced item is Vertu mobile phones, varying in price up to $35000. Functionally, they are about as high-tech as a Nokia 3310 without snake II and the only benefit to their enormous size is that it can fit more diamonds on it to jack up the price. Design and style-wise they look like they have been decorated by a 13 year old school girl with a pink highlighter and a bedazzler gun. If someone ever pulled one of these out to answer a call I'd swear they bought a phone case from Diva.



Maybe it's because I have spent so much time this year in countries where fakes are so easy to purchase or maybe it's because all of my friends would just assume they were fake even if I did own the real thing, but how can anyone possibly justify purchasing this stuff?

Most of the stores didn't have any people in them, but then again, they probably only have to sell one item a month to cover their costs!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fiesta!

On the 25th of November every year, Carcar has the celebration of saint Catherine's fiesta. It is a festival that embraces family, food and friends. There is a parade, performances and shows each day leading up to the festival but the highlight is on the 25th. 



Those that can afford to, prepare enough food to feed a small army and invite everyone else to come to their house and eat. 



You can invite whoever you like from your family and friends to the checkout chick at the local supermarket. You may only ask 10 people to come but end up with 30 people arriving. Do that in Australia and you will end up with a thousand drunk teenagers on your front lawn.



Towards the end of the night, everyone ends up sitting around with a full stomach. Eventually, the karaoke machines get fired up and the neighborhood sounds like Australian Idol rehearsals. 

For the next few days, I have a feeling that we are going to have to eat all of the food that is left over from the festival. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A man & his chicken

When I first arrive here in Carcar, I noticed that there were a lot of people carrying a rooster around. These roosters were magnificent specimens that seemed to be cared for better than most of the dogs I had seen. 

People would carry their roosters to the markets, to lunch and I have even seen some people on the bus with their rooster. The roosters are often tied up outside by a small rope to their leg or they get their own small shelter and roost. 



At first I just assumed they were pets because EVERYONE has one but it turns out that they are for cock fighting. Despite being illegal in Australia, here in the Philippines it is a popular past time and many take their roosters to gamble on fights. The roosters are often tied up outside or in small cages in all weather conditions to apparently build strength and stamina. 

Today I saw a cock fighting arena. They are small circular buildings that look like a miniature timber colosseum. Fortunately, they are not known as 'cockrings' but rather 'cockpits'. I would like to go and check it out when it is in action but I also don't won't to upset any animal rights groups either.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Proportions

Philippino people are not tall. When I'm standing in a crowd, I can pretty much look out over the top of everyone without any obstructions. It's fantastic if you are trying to watch a show but it also has its downsides. If I lose my mum in a department store I can't find her because she is shorter than the shelving. When I look around I could be forgiven for thinking no one is actually in the store until they walk out from behind a shelf.

Being taller also means that my feet are bigger than the average Philippino. This makes it extremely difficult to find a pair of shoes that fit. I went to around 12 separate shoe stalls here in Carcar and the biggest shoe I could find was a size 9. Carcar is renowned for having quality leather shoes and I was beginning to think that I would never find a pair.

At the end of the street, I discovered that there is a shoe factory. It certainly doesn't look like a shoe factory but there a few people inside with sheets of rubber soles and leather, working hard everyday to produce shoes. Nearby, the factory had a shop and to my surprise, they had shoes in my size! Not a great selection but at least they had some!

For just over $10, I picked up a pair of leather slides. A bargain compared to what you pay in Australia. My next goal now is to find a pair of jeans with legs that are long enough!

Philippino umbrella

Yesterday we took a trip to a natural mineral spring waterfall. It was a bit of a trek up a trail but well worth it for two main reasons.

1. It was about 10 degrees cooler in the forest so I was happy to feel the relief.

2. You could swim at the waterfall and the water was absolutely crystal clear and cool. Unlike the ocean which I'm pretty sure was hotter than on the land.

Unfortunately, on this particular day, I decided to break out a brand new pair of pluggers. I'm not usually one to wear thongs so after the trek up to the falls and back, I had some epic red spots and blisters. Thongs are not good hiking shoes.

At the falls I was able to jump in and take a swim. The lack of swimming pools and swimming lessons in the Philippines was evident in the stack of life vests and number of tourists wearing them and clinging to the ropes that were tied across the water. They had looks of terror on their faces as they went for a 'swim'.

On the way back from the falls, the inevitable happened... it rained. Not like sun shower sprinkle, but tropical forest in rainy season rain. Full on but for only about 10mins.

We had no umbrellas with us so we did the next best thing in the Philippines. Find the nearest banana tree and tear off a leaf. They are huge and make surprisingly good umbrellas.

The downside is, the sap from the tree will leave a brown stain on your clothes if you get it on yourself. I learnt that the hard way.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My next car

I have found my next car. They are everywhere here in the Philippines but we do have them back home in Australia and now I want one. I want my next car to be one of these...

The Suzuki Mini Truck gets laughed at a lot back home and why wouldn't it? I mean, look at it! It's got nothing going on aesthetically and with only 3 cylinders, it's doesn't have power to burn. But here, they get a bit of a makeover!

They take the standard Suzuki Mini Truck and turn them into Optimus Prime.

Huge body kits are bolted on with loud paint jobs and an even louder stereo. They strap on spotlights and aerials where ever possible and the rear is converted for carrying passengers.

You can hear (and see) the mini trucks coming from a mile away. Not because the engine is so loud but because there is about ten sub woofers thumping in the back.

Imagine if I could bring one of these home. It would be awesome. I could fit about 5 bikes in the back or 10 people. Problem is, the three cylinders means that they don't go very fast at all.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mobile Bakery

Have you ever been out on a ride and desperately needed food? Normally, when I am in this situation, I look for the nearest bakery. I am so hungry that when I get to one, I think it is the best bakery I have ever been to, only to discover that it isn't so good once I've eaten. Well, what if the bakery could come to you?

I have been out in rides here in the Philippines, it what I thought was the middle of no where when a someone with a bicycle selling bread rolls past. They usually ring a bell or beep a horn to let you know that they have baked goods to sell. Just this morning, I picked up some chocolate cake and sweet buns by simply walking out into the street.

Having mobile bakeries would be a great idea back home. There would be no need to race to the cafe every morning to ensure you get a seat or you could stop where ever you want and just wait for one to roll by.

The only thing is, they would have to figure out a way to strap a coffee machine to the bike before it would be of any use in Australia.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Shopping centre

If you need anything in Australia, you just head down to the shopping centre and you will more than likely find it there. So what is the equivalent of a shopping centre here in Carcar? Thats the Carcar City Markets.

It certainly doesn't look the same but it is where everybody goes to buy their food and pretty much anything else you can imagine. From chicken heads to fake Rayban sunglasses to dried fish to garden tools. They have anything you could need.

One big different between here and Australia is the prices. For $10 you can easily do you groceries and have money left over. For example, the fake Rayban sunglasses alone cost a measly $1.35! And the taxi ride to get to the markets in the first place is $0.18 per person!

You can also barter with these prices and get want you want for cheaper. Sometimes, I forget what I am doing and realize its not worth bargaining to save 50 cents on something that is already ridiculously cheap. I tried to get some sunglasses for cheaper before I realized that they coat the equivalent of less than a gold coin back home!

Temple of Doom

If you go to a cemetery in Australia, the atmosphere is quite serene. If you didn't know any better, you could think that you were in a well groomed park rather than a cemetery. Yesterday we went to the cemetery here in Carcar to visit my Grandmother's grave who passed away 4 years ago. It was a very different experience. 

When you first arrive, the road leading into the cemetery is lined with stalls selling everything you could possibly need including flowers, candles and even head stones. 



As we headed into the cemetery, a couple of kids followed us. I assumed they were simply going in the same direction. When we arrived at the grave, they began to help sweep and tidy the area. Mum asked why they weren't at school and they said that they had no money or food, so we tipped them well for their cleaning service!



As I looked around the cemetery, I began to notice something. The pieces of concrete that I thought were stepping stones were in fact pieces of broken head stones and when I looked carefully, I could see bones laying around. 



It turns out that this is quite normal. If a body I buried in a public tomb, after 5 years the bones are removed and placed in a small concrete box. These concrete boxes were everywhere throughout the cemetery and after years and years, many of them are neglected and broken. Their contents spill out and pieces of the boxes have ended up being used as stepping stones. 



It was very Indiana Jones-ish with skulls and bones laying around the tomb like graves. I was waiting to stumble on the temple of doom.

 



Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Partay

After an absence of over 18 years, my mum organized a bit of a celebration for all of her family and friends in her home town of Car Car. As my 30th birthday was also a couple of days before hand, she decided to call it my birthday party. 

She organized a pig on the spit and everyone fought for the best bit of the crackling. I met cousins and other relatives for the first time in my life as well as a plethora of my mother's old school friends. I tried to get some dirt on what my mum was like at school but everyone's lips were sealed. 



Not everyone there spoke English so for a lot of the night I was simply trying to figure out what was going on. I would listen to my mum have a conversation and every now and then I would hear my name followed by laughter or some other response. I still don't know what she said about me!

Sometimes my mum would forget that I can't speak Philippino and ask me a question or tell me to do something in her native tongue. I stare at her blankly until she realizes what is happening. 

Despite this, toward the end of the night, there was one word that I did understand... karaoke! I'm pretty sure karaoke is a Philippino past-time and pretty much every house has a karaoke machine. So when someone started mentioning it, I quickly hid and declined any requests for an attempt.  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

You know you're old when...

In the Philippines, as a gesture of respect to their elders, the younger people hold the hand of those older and touch it to their forehead. It is known as 'pagmamano' and is sign of respect to those usually around 15 years older and family elders.

When I first arrived I was confused as to whether I should follow the tradition and do the same to those older than me. I refrained as I wasn't sure if I would offend someone or simply do it wrong.

I watched as my cousins greeted their aunts and uncles in this manner and wondered if we would treat our elderly different in Australia if we did the same thing. Then something happened to me...

I was meeting one particular cousin for the first time and reached out to shake his hand. He then took my hand and touched it to his forehead. How old does he think I am!!! Am I really his 'elder'???

You know you're old when...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Tropical

The town that my mother is from is called Carcar, 40km south of Cebu city in the Philippines. It's a small, tropical island with few roads but a lot of coconut and banana trees everywhere. I feel like I'm in one of those remote tropical villages in a James Bond movie.

At this time of year, it's not summer but it is damn hot. They tell me that the temperature doesn't fluctuate much throughout the year but November is part of the rainy season so the humidity is up. It is so hot in fact, that I literally, cannot go outside between 11am and 4pm. Within 15 minutes I look like someone has thrown a bucket of water on me as my shirt is soaked in sweat and I struggle to hold my composure. Imagine the hottest day in Cairns... then double it.

Just today, we walked down the road to watch a motocross competition. After only 10 mins of watching, my shirt was soaked and I had to head back, jump under the hose and sit in front of the fan. After 30 years of acclimating to Australia, I cannot handle the heat.

So now I have to limit my movements during the day to an air-conditioned bedroom or the near by air-conditioned shopping mall. What really blows my mind is that there are some people walking around in jeans and a jacket and even some with a beanie on! If I was wearing that I reckon I would probably die.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Welcome back

After over 18 years, my mum has finally decided to go back to the Philippines to visit her family for only the 2nd time since she left. So after being back home in Australia for only two days, I had to pack my bags again and head to the airport.

If you know my mum, then you would know that it is a good thing that I'm going with her. She struggles to order a happy meal at McDonald's without getting confused and flustered so navigating her way around an international airport would be a nightmare. I'm pretty sure that if I wasn't here she would still be in the Singapore airport trying to get to terminal 2.



After a million questions (literally) about what she can and can't take in her carry on luggage, we finally made it to the airport and checked in. At the security gate, mum was confused about exactly what to do as she did not realize she had to put her handbag through the X-ray machine. Everything she had read or been told recommended never losing sight of your valuables and now she had to had them over!?

As we got closer to our destination, mum was clearly getting excited, talking to those around her (and almost anyone that would listen which I'm pretty sure is a philippino custom) about how she was visiting her family and it has been so long since she had been back. Stress then set in as her luggage was almost the last to come out onto the conveyor belt.



I don't remember much of my last trip to the Philippines because i was only 12 but one thing sticks in my mind. As soon as they saw each other, mum and her family burst into tears. This time, it has been even longer since they saw each other but with new things like Skype, staying in contact has been easier. Despite this, the same thing happened. I tried to get it on camera but had little success.



We arrived in her home town after a short drive and mum had finally calmed down. We went inside where her father was waiting and it happened all over again!

Arch nemesis

Do you have an arch nemesis? I now do. When I first left Australia way back at the start of the year, I had a lot of stuff. I thought I was in the clear as I headed toward the departure gates where a security guard decided that he would weigh my carry on luggage. Consequently, I had to throw away 6kg of stuff.

Over the last 8 months, I have not once, ever had to weigh my carry on luggage. No one cares unless you are trying to bring a huge suitcase on board as carry on. Only in Australia.

So this time, when I left Brisbane for the Philippines, I didn't jam in the normal 18kg that I can fit in my carry on suit case. Instead, I had just 10kg, only 3kg over the limit. Surely, that would be okay.

I walked up to the departure gate and the same security guard as last time was there and just like last time, he weighed my bag. He saw the 10kg and told me it was too much.

I said, 'I've got jeans and a jacket and other things that I can put on in there. Are you really going to make me do it? It's only 3kg. Its not like my bag is going to get any smaller.'

He said, 'It's the rules. What if every passenger brought an extra 3kg?'

So I said, 'What if I was 30kg fatter?' He was not impressed.

I moved some luggage around and put some in my mum's carry on. After he let us through, I put everything back into my carry on and made sure he saw me do it.

Geez, I hate that guy.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Rotating restaurant

I always thought rotating restaurants were just a place that rich people ate at in movies from the 80's. I'd never actually been in one and didn't really care.

In the hotel of stage 4 of the Tour of Hainan, we were told that the restaurant was on the 25th floor and I didn't think anything of it. We had been in hotels before where the restaurant was on the upper floors.

When I walked in, I thought it was a bit of a strange set up with all the tables and chairs in a circular strip am the food around the edges. I was also surprised at how far I had to walk so far to get to the food. I sat down as ate a plate of food.

As I got up to get anther plate, the food seemed closer than before. I just shrugged it off. As I finished that plate, I looked up for the dessert bar. It was right next to me.

I asked the others if they too were freaking out and they pointed out that it is a rotating restaurant. It was very difficult to tell but the inside strip of tables and chairs rotated ever so slowly at about 1m every minute.

It didn't bother me when I didn't know but after being told, I could help but look at it. And it made me feel queazy, like I was sitting on a bad show ride. This would be great if I was spinning upside down on a ride at a theme park but I was trying to eat!

Halfway through dessert, I felt sick and had to leave. By this time, the exit was on the other side so I had to walk all the way around. Rotating restaurants are a bad idea. It would be like a bed that shakes randomly; you can't use it for want it's made for!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Happy birthday

I turn 30 this week. I'm pretty sure that makes me officially old and also means I can have a mid-life crisis. I was thinking sports car, motorbike or just packing up everything and heading overseas for a year. Wait... I had my mid-life crisis a year early!

So I'm going to have to have a quiet one. So quiet in fact, that I won't even be on Earth for my 30th. I will be in a plane, on my way to the Philippines, with my Mum. That's right, I spending my big 3-0 in an airplane with my mother.

After almost 18 years since her last visit, my Mum has finally decided to go back to the Philippines to visit her family. I'm coming along because (sorry Mum but...) she would get eaten alive. The last time my mum went overseas, it was common to carry your travelers cheques in your fanny pack or money belt and the Internet was a new fancy thing that people used on their Windows 3.1 computers. She even went and purchased a new fanny pack in anticipation!!

In light of celebrating my milestone birthday with her, my Mum has organized a party of sorts in her village. Apparently, there will be a pig on the spit and everyone is invited. I'm looking forward to this and will be sure to take plenty of photos.

Police the police

During races, the commissaries have the final say in all matters. They hold all the power and they know it.

They decide who is the winner, who can get disqualified for drafting behind a car and even who to to a blind eye to when drafting behind a car.

Here at the Tour of Taihu Lake they have been handing out fines left, right and centre. Fines for drafting, changing wheels on the wrong side of the road, urinating in public, taking water bottles in the wrong place etc etc. Several riders have even been disqualified for drafting off cars, cheating and even one guy for assaulting another rider!

But who punishes the commissaries when they do something wrong? Believe me, it happens all the time. On stage three, the commissaire stopped his car in the middle of the road in the final sprint. The result is below...

Thankfully, no one crashed! And now, on the final day, the commissaries have signed off on incorrect results, costing riders over $1000 in prize money. They left early and consequently, the results cannot be amended! Who polices the police??

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Bike fight

Today I saw my first post-race biffo. It wasn't pretty. In fact, it was down right hilarious!

With all of the crazy kamikaze sprints we have had, someone usually gets cut off or touches wheels or in the worst case, crashes. You get angry about it but there is nothing you can do, that's just part of racing. It's like road rage, you want to punch them in the face but you're in a car and they are just going to drive away.

Well, today, someone took it a bit too far. After the sprint one particular rider was clearly emotional as screamed at another for doing something in the sprint. As they were from different countries, they didn't understand each other so the other guy shrugged it off. This just annoyed the rider even more.

This is where it got funny. One rider stepped off his bike and hobbled over to the other on his pedal cleats. He grabbed the other guy with a clenched fist but was confused by the lack of area to aim for due to the helmet and sunglasses. The other rider was still clipped into his pedals and then fell over, taking the other guy with him as he couldn't balance on his cleats. They were on the ground, entangled in a bike with no real idea of what to do.

At this point, every single Chinese rider in the peleton (which is about 60) yelled in unison... 'Ay, ay!' This went on for another minute before it was broken up. Needless to say, they both got into a bit of trouble with the commissaries and it will be interesting to see if they are allowed to start tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Kamikaze

Racing in china can been dangerous, like kamikaze dangerous, and the Tour of  Lake has definitely been an example of this. The stages are short and flat, so when we reach the finish, everyone still has fresh legs, even those that are normally not there. 

The result is crazy bunch sprints that pretty much always end in a crash. Riders are pushing their way to the front and darting left or right with others only centimeters from them. There is no organization in the finish and in the chaos, someone always manages to touch a wheel or pedal and either fall or slam on the brakes. 

With 100 other riders behind them going full speed and some not looking up, there is usually a pile up. In stage 1, with 100m to go, this happened to me. A rider went sliding across the road in front of me, taking out two others. I slammed on the brakes and ran straight into them, going over the handlebars and landing on top. 

Thankfully, I was able to get up and walk my bike across the finish line and with the UCI rule I received the same time as the bunch. But I sure am sick of hitting the bitumen.  

Full gas

I'm currently 3hrs outside of Shanghai somewhere in China for our last race of the season, the Tour of Taihu Lake. Before arriving, we had no idea what the race was except for that it went for 5 days. Despite this lack of intel, we were confident of doing well in our final tour. That was until we saw the race details.

The day before the tour was due to start, they gave us the race manual. Five stages with absolutely no hills and only two stages over 100km. Some of you might think that sounds nice and easy? Well, yes and no.

With no pure sprinter here, we rely heavily on breakaways, hard racing and natural attrition to wither the field down. But with stronger teams based around sprinters here and not a single bump in the race profiles, it is not going to happen.

With the stages being so short and flat, it also means that everyone can keep up. The race is not hard enough to get rid of the riders that really shouldn't be there. There are several inexperienced local Chinese teams in the race and with nothing to make the race hard, they get a little over-confident in the bunch, making things very dangerous.

To give you an idea, stage 1 was 130km over a basically flat course. Everyone had fresh legs and was keen to get a result early. As a result, we covered the distance in 2hrs 43mins with an average speed of 47.8kph. It was absolutely full gas the whole race.