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3
Jan 06
Tue

Two thousand and six

Happy New Year and welcome to 2006! Looking back, a lot of stuff happened in 2005… 2006 is going to be very different, but still exciting!

The trip is going well, although I am suffering from a dramatic sunlight deficiency. Every single day, except for two in Arizona, has been completely overcast, if not raining as well. Contrast this to the 44 degree Sydney bushfire weather. Winter in the northern hemisphere sucks. Quick roundup follows (not many photos sorry, I’m a bit lazy when it comes to posting them!).

Vegas
We took a break from the glitz of Vegas and took a roadtrip to Arizona to check out the Grand Canyon and stopping at the Hoover Dam along the way (which sits across the Nevada-Arizona state border). Warmish weather, beautiful landscapes, good music and a reliable GPS unit made the 11 hour journey a great roadtrip.

The Canyon is much more impressive and larger in real life than appears in photos. The Colorado River winds through the bottom of a canyon comprising many different layers of bedrock, the lowest of which are dated in excess of a billion years old. When the sun peeps over the canyon wall during sunrise, its light strikes certain layers, vibrantly lighting them up in various hues of vermillion and orange and throwing long, sharp shadows across the canyon floor and walls.

Back in Vegas, we saw a performance by David Copperfield, who is pretty much the greatest illusionist alive (if not ever). An absolutely amazing show, the man is a genuine genius. I find it amusing how people try to deconstruct and figure out the trick behind each illusion after the show. Apparently it takes about two years to plan and design each illusion. Trying to figure out how a person at the very top of his trade has done his tricks in the hour after a show would be analogous to attempting to reconstruct the maths behind one of Einstein’s papers after reading only its conclusion. Some of his tricks were: the prediction of lottery numbers chosen by the audience (where the prediction was in a locked box on an audio tape and on a scrap of paper), making a car appear on stage out of nothing and most impressively, “teleporting” to an island in the Philippines (shown via a live video feed). As a presenter, Copperfield is smooooth. I’m pretty sure he could have had any girl in the audience that night, taken or not. One girl would have gone ahead and touched a scorpion after he told her to, had he not stopped her at the last minute…

Random observation:
– We bought a bag of Pork Rinds with an expiry date of December 3005 (packaged December 2005).

Vancouver
True to its reputation, when we arrived in Vancouver it was raining. Despite the weather, it’s easy to see why Vancouver is consistently rated as one of the world’s most livable cities and why it attracts such large quantities of migrants. (Vancouver has a huge Asian population – more than a whopping 30%!) It’s bordered by a decent harbour one one side, and mountains and forests on the other. North Vancouver residents live virtually at the foot of several ski fields. Being in British Columbia, it also lies at the doorstep of a wide variety of ecologies. Lots of outdoor activities here! And it has the added bonus of not being as cold as other Canadian provinces.

Christmas night saw people coming in from Singapore, Paris, Milwaukee, Dallas and of course Sydney. Someone drew up a large 30-person Secret Santa list beforehand, and when the time came to distribute them from around the Christmas tree, it was great fun. I scored a baseball cap and a set of poker chips that I wanted, and finally learnt how to play Texas Hold-em from Wai Ken, who plays poker professionally. I was then soundly trounced in a game with Gerald, Shelley and Wai Ken. There was also mahjong upstairs, snooker downstairs, and the well-used hottub out the back.


Wah Kit, Steven, Rebecca, Brian: Watching the opening of presents

On Boxing Day, the Soos held a lunch at their penthouse with some very schmick views of Vancouver. Then we went for a walk in the woods during the afternoon, trying to visit a Salmon hatchery along the way only to find it had closed five minutes before we had arrived. During the evening, Brian, Steven and I hung out at Gerald’s very nice apartment for the night (heated bathroom floor tiles!). I came third out of seven in poker – getting better, but I should know better than to go “all in” in a head-to-head with a pro!


View from North Vancouver


The Cole family (minus Gerald and Shelley)


Whistler slopes

Random observations:
– North Americans do not understand “How are you going?” or “How’s it going?” as a way of asking “How are you?” (“How are you doing?” on the other hand, is perfectly comprehendable.) It’s interesting noting that the French ├ža va literally means, “It’s going?”
– Lasik only costs a couple hundred dollars per eye here. That makes it cheaper for Australians to fly to Vancouver to get Lasik done than doing it back home!

Amsterdam
It was actually snowing fairly heavily when we arrived in Amsterdam. There was snow everywhere on the streets. Very pretty to look at, but not very nice to walk through with luggage. I took a wrong turn coming out of the train station so we ended up walking way further than we should have to the hotel. It wasn’t so bad for me as I was lugging my backpack, but my poor parents had to drag their trolley-bags through a thick layer of footpath snow.

Amsterdam is nice enough, but nothing amazing. Maybe it’s because its character is so well known that I was jaded before I even got there. I mean there’s what you expect: tonnes of canals and bridges, the smell of pot wafting out of the ubiquitous coffeeshops, the obligatory red light district visit with women strutting their stuff behind windows underneath UV lights, the long queue into Anne Frank Huis, and Rembrandt’s famous The Night Watch at the excellent Rijksmuseum (the painting is reproduced in a 3D sculpture at Rembrandtplein, so tourists can stand alongside a metal statue of Captain Frans Banning Cocq). The Indonesian food is good here, and I think the Rice Table (rijstaffel) is a Dutch thing which is sort of like a large smorgasboard of Indonesian dishes. Some Indonesian restaurants in Sydney should “import” this idea.

New Year’s Eve fireworks were okay, but the display in Sydney undoubtedly was better (as seen on CNN!). The Dutch also have a habit of tossing really noisy firecrackers and sparklers out onto footpaths – right into the path of passers-by. Pretty annoying.

Random observation:
– Pay TV shows that Australia is only known in this part of the world for fireworks, bushfires and Kerry Packer. (Kerry Packer died?!)

Brussels
I really like Brussels. It has character. Its narrow cobblestone streets are sometimes not easy to navigate, but at least there aren’t bicycles zooming around like in Amsterdam. The grand place is impressive. One major tourist photo spot is the Manneken Pis, a famous (but tiny) statue/fountain of a little boy taking a piss. The Belgians cutely dress him in different outfits throughout the year. While Manneken Pis is swarming with tourists, the little known Jeanneken Pis is hidden down the side of a dead-end alley a few hundred metres away. This shows a little girl in a not-so-elegant squatting pose pissing into a pool. Unfortunately, the water was turned off and the statue was behind a locked grille when I visited. I managed to get a photo through the grille, but felt like a pervert doing it.

The food is brilliant. Steaming bowls of moules et frites (mussels and chips, which surprisingly go together quite well), gauffres (thick Belgian waffles, smothered in whipped cream, syrup and whatever else you want on them), and of course, chocolat. Pralines and truffles. I bought over 3 kilos of the stuff today. They also have a lot of good beer here, but I wouldn’t know anything about that :P.

Random observation:
– Although Belgium is roughly split into a Dutch speaking and French speaking populace, its capital is officially bilingual. Most people also speak English too (and I’m sure some do German as well). Nothing like a city full of trilinguals to make you feel really inadequate.

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