18 July 2008

2008 City2Surf and Oxfam Australia

If you are in my email address book, you probably already got this, but the 2008 Sun-Herald City2Surf is in less than a month. This will be my third time to run it. Each time, I have improved my time, and more importantly, moved up in group. They have four starting groups: Red, Green, Blue and Yellow. This is a really big deal when you have over 60,000 participants. My time last year qualifies me for the Green starting group, and gives me a shot at beating 75 minutes, which would qualify me for next year's Red group. That's my goal.

I have a more important goal, however. City2Surf added a feature allowing runners to raise money for a selected charity. Last year, with the help of friends and family, I raised $365 for UNICEF.

This year, I have chosen to run for Oxfam Australia, an organisation that works to relieve poverty around the world. As I have studied development over the past year, I have looked at many aspects of developing countries, including human rights, peace and conflict situations, and the environment. But the issue that has inspired me the most is poverty. I recognise that most of what I have today is due to the fortunate circumstances surrounding my birth, and that I am not a better or more worthy person than the billions that are living in extreme poverty around the world today.

My goal is to double last year's donations, so I have targeted $730. If you would like to help, please go to my donation page and consider a small gift to this worthy cause. I believe that we really can end poverty in the world if we so choose. Let's make it happen.

13 July 2008

Did I tell you about the time when...

A few items from the trip that I somehow missed before.

In London, we went to two musicals, the first of which was Wicked. This is based on the book of the same name by Gregory Maguire, which I read several years ago. The book is very good, telling the "true" story of the Wicked Witch of the West. It gives all the "extra details" that are omitted from the popular version of the story The Wizard of Oz. As an English teacher, I really enjoy how a story like this can be created, completely turning a popular story on its head without actually contradicting anything from the original. I also enjoyed the political dimension of the story as it examines the control of power by the wizard and the media campaign enacted to turn the people against the "wicked" witch.

Unfortunately, most of that was stripped away from the play, leaving a rather bland version of the story instead. And they absolutely butchered the ending. The performances were good enough, but the musical version of the story is lacking. If you have seen this performance, do yourself a favour and read the book.

Our second musical was Avenue Q, the story of a recent college graduate (with an English degree, no less!) who is ready to take on the real world. Unfortunately, he quickly discovers that he can't find a job and most of the world isn't interested in being changed. He settles in a neighbourhood of other struggling young adults and even a few monsters. As a group, they start to figure out what real life is all about, or at least how to deal with it.

This play was quite a surprise for me. It's a musical with puppets, and it is irreverent, crude and outrageously funny. In other words, it isn't your typical musical, and chances are, you have never seen anything like it. If you have the chance to see this one, I'd do it.

Also in London, we happened upon a film site on one of the many bridges on the River Thymes. We asked someone in the crew what it was for, and we were told The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. When we got back to the hotel, we looked it up and saw that is was starring Australian Heath Ledger. A week later, we heard that he was found dead in his New York apartment.

While we were in India, the Indian cricket team was touring Australia. When we met people and told them we lived in Australia, the cricket always came up. I was told by several people that I looked like either Ricky Ponting (left) or Adam Gilchrist (right). Ponting is the team captain and Gilchrist was on his farewell tour, so both guys were getting plenty of facetime on TV. I figure that accounts for why I was told I looked like them, since I don't particularly think I resemble either.

And Weet-bix agrees with me. During the summer, they ran a Face2Face campaign, which enabled you to upload a photo and would tell you which player you most resemble. When we got back to Australia, Heather found a suitable photo of me and submitted it. Face2Face returned with Stuart Clark, pictured below. Of course, the picture she chose was a few years old when my hair was much shorter, which I think accounts for the selection. I'm sure a more recent picture would yield different results, but alas, Face2Face is no longer available.

12 July 2008


Yesterday I mentioned our beneficial hassle with our flight to Thailand. Here's that story.

We just missed our original flight from Bangkok to Phuket, but were just able to catch the next one half an hour later. As we sat down to catch our breath for a minute before boarding the plane, we noticed a gentleman across from us wearing a University of Wisconsin shirt. Heather struck up a conversation with the couple, asking if it was a bit cold this time of year there. Turns out Jim and Sandy were in Thailand visiting their son, Jesse, who had spent the year working there. We asked if they were staying in Phuket, or were going elsewhere--they said they were going to Ko Phi Phi. Us, too! What hotel? PP Casita. Us, too! The plane was open seating, so we sat across the aisle and kept getting to know each other. About ten minutes into the flight, Jim mentioned something about Cuba--Heather turned to me and said "switch" so I could be on the aisle. Jim and I talked about Cuba the rest of the hour long flight.

He goes with Pastors for Peace (their 2008 trip is nearing the end right now, by the way). Their "Friendshipment" starts all across America, gathering donations and people to make the trip, funneling down through Texas. They ship everything over to Havana from Mexico, then fly to Cuba for a week. Everything is above board--Jim even showed me the Cuba stamps in his passport. As an organization, they feel the Cuban embargo is unconstitutional and inhumane, and they actually welcome a challenge from the U.S. government, because they believe that if it ever goes to trial, the ban would be struck down. This year is the 19th Friendshipment: the government has backed down the previous eighteen times that Pastors for Peace have called their bluff.

If you were reading here about a year and a half ago, you know this is a big interest of mine. Over the next four days, Jim and I frequently talked about Cuba, as well as other issues. He told me that whenever Heather and I get back to the U.S., I should consider joining the trip, which I am certainly looking forward to. Heather and I enjoyed ending our round the world trip relaxing on the beach, but spending time with good people like Jim, Sandy and Jesse (who is now taking it day by day in LA after his year in Thailand), in addition to making a huge contact for a Cuban humanitarian relief effort was a very pleasant surprise.

11 July 2008


At times, India was tough. But when it came time to leave, we were both a bit sad. That is, until we got to the horrible airport in Delhi and had our flight delayed by five hours--then we couldn't get out fast enough. We made good use of the time, though: we rescued a two year old who wandered off from his mother in the crowded terminal.

Contrast that hectic airport experience with Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, the nicest airport I have ever been in, bar none. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to enjoy is, as our generous four hour window until our next flight evaporated with the delay in Delhi. We checked at the ticket counter to book a new flight to Phuket, and were just able to catch a new flight out. Turns out, this hassle turned out to be quite beneficial, but that story will be told in my next post.

Once we got to Phuket, we got a car to the ferry dock, then took a two hour ferry ride to Ko Phi Phi. So by the time we got to our bungalow on the island, we had been on two planes, three airports, a car and a ferry, all without so much as brushing our teeth. Needless to say, we were ready for a nap.

We did get a little refreshment at the ferry dock. Recognise these?

This was our beach for the week. You'll notice the deeper water is very blue, while the water in the foreground appears browner. This is only because is was very shallow, and stayed that way for quite a ways out. It was so shallow that low tide caused the water to move out a couple hundred metres--the boat you see here was easily grounded at low tide.

As nice at Ko Phi Phi was, there were plenty of reminders that this part of Thailand was hit by the tsunami a couple of years ago. These signs give instructions on what to do and where to go in the case of disaster. There was plenty of rebuilding going on over the island as well.

This is on the other side of the island, on the dock side. This part of the country has lots of these rock formations/islands, many very dramatic in their structure--let's just say that you wouldn't want to be underneath some of them.

Also did some SCUBA diving while we were there. I've done it before, but it's been twelve or thirteen years. I was a bit nervous when it came time to go in--putting my trust in some hoses and a bottle of compressed air just didn't come as easy as it used to--but when I was underwater I forgot to be scared. I did well on conserving my air: a sure sign of a rookie diver is a quickly emptied tank. We saw lots of fish, plenty of coral and rock formations, and even a couple sea turtles. the dive instructors told us we might see some black tip sharks, but no luck. So my goal of swimming with sharks is still on the table.

The food on the island was fantastic. In between our bungalow and the docks was a small village of shops, tourist attractions and food. Heather and I both love Thai food, especially when it is authentic and cheap. Other than that, we just sat on the beach.

All in all, I would highly recommend Thailand. I have been to several tropical destinations--Cozumel, Tahiti, Great Barrier Reef--and I rate Thailand the best. It's beautiful and provides an authentic yet convenient experience. The people are beautiful--so friendly and kind, and down on the island, very relaxed. Instead of going to the Caribbean again, why not give Thailand a try?

08 July 2008

Indian animals

While in India, we saw quite a variety of animals. In addition to the usual dogs, cats and birds, we also saw (in the cities, mind you): cows, horses, mules, pigs, goats, chickens, peacocks and camels. As for a few of the more exotic, I'll let you see for yourself.

And that last picture is not the closest we got to a cobra. On the way to dinner one night in Agra, we found ourselves next to a boy, about twelve years old, carrying a small basket. As he was standing next to me and right behind Heather, he removed the lid of the basket to reveal a cobra, who began to slither out of the basket, about a foot behind Heather's arm--she was completely unaware of what was happening. I told her to hurry up. Why? Just hurry. Why? Hurry, there is a cobra. What?!? As this is going on, I am trying to tell the boy thanks, but we'd rather not see your cobra. But we survived, and dinner was lovely.

Missed the tigers--maybe next time.

07 July 2008

Lucky Sevens: Platinum Populations

We're going to take a look at populations this month. The United States has nine cities with a population greater than one million. Your Lucky Sevens question for July: How many does Australia have, and can you name them?