Berlin part 1

•June 10, 2012 • Leave a Comment

So, here’s an attempt at reviving this blog now that I’ve emigrated to Berlin.

The first week has been… Exhausting, fascinating, interesting, great, tiring, slow, fast, and a bunch of other adjectives that I can’t be bothered writing. So let’s just do this somewhat chronologically. Here goes:

I arrived on Sunday evening with about 50kg worth of backpacks. And I’m not exaggerating – one smaller hiking backpack at 18kg (in front of me, which also meant if very effectively blocked my line of sight straight ahead), one big one at 22kg (on my back), and a small one of around 10kg (fastened to the back of the big one on my back). In other words, I looked like an accordion and pretty much had everyone looking at me in that “wtf” kind of way.

Anyhow, I eventually arrived (after some walking in the welcoming rain (just like Stockholm when I left in other words, except that it was actually 14 degrees and not 4)), and got introduced to the apartment and my room. In short: It’s like a student dormitory for four people. I asked for any kinds of rules for the accomodation, but judging by the answer and my findings during the week, there used to be rules and order at some point in time, but the people living here have shifted rapidly and whatever order there used to be is long since forgotten. You keep finding remains of it here and there, much like relics at an archelogical excavation. Name tags in the fridge that no one adheres to (also, I suspect half of the stuff in there is expired and no longer owned by any current tenant of the apartment), a jar with some money in it in a forgotten corner of the apartment with a label on it that says “10 euro per month per person to the apartment fund”, etc.

Damn, I’m out of time for now. Well, until next time! [enter cliffhanger]

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Jakarta, day 1

•June 22, 2010 • 1 Comment

Yeah, I know I’m skipping like the entire Singapore stay, but I just can’t bothered right not to recap everything that’s happened thus far. But don’t worry, I have at least written stuff down in my log so that I will be able to remember it at a later time (or more likely, be reminded of what I’ve forgotten), and hopefully write a post about it then.

Yesterday was a very interesting day. I arrived in Jakarta a little to nine in the morning, and immigration was the most dreary (and costly, 25 USD for Visa on Arrival) thus far. It took about an hour and a half to get into the country, and then just as long to wait for the bus and go with it into town. Something I immidiately noticed that I didn’t miss in Singapore, was people trying to hawk you their transportation services, or just hawk something in general. Though people did at least show me in the right direction when I said I wanted to take the bus! Anyhow, a fairly slow and uneventful bus ride later, I arrive at Gambir station only to realize that I’ve forgotten to write down my host’s number that I was supposed to text upon arrival. So I go off searching for internet, and thankfully enough find a cafe inside the station with wifi (which didn’t work for me for some reason) and two computers that I could use. My host arrived a little later, and together we drove around central Jakarta for a bit showing me what few things that there apparently are to see (according to my host at least), including the national monument (like a huge stone torch more or less) which had such a long queue (I haven’t seen a queue like that since the Eiffel Tower) that we just didn’t bother and went for lunch instead in one of the numerous malls (seriously, shopping really is the favorite past-time of Asians, because I have never seen so many malls since I came to Bangkok/Singapore/Jakarta), in this case like the most central and largest one here.

Food was really good (continuing my food experience of having something new every meal since I arrived), but by this time the sleepless night at the airport was taking its toll on me and I was more or less falling asleep as we sat by the table. So we went to my host’s apartment and after a cold shower (no hot water, so much like in Bangkok, but it was still amazingly cold for being 30+ degrees outdoors) I slept for two-three hours before it was time to meet up with the Indonesian girl from CouchSurfing who wanted to join me for the hike to Gunung Gede national park. We were to meet at the same mall that me and my host (Anton) had lunch in, and I was sent there on a motorbike. I have to say, that was the scariest and most near-death experience I have yet had since arriving in Southeast Asia. Zig-zagging through insane traffic (at least at bad as Bangkok, if not actually even a little worse) with millimeters on either side to the countless cars, trucks, buses and other motor bikes and nothing but a small metal rail behind my back to hold on to was petrifying yet strangely exhilarating.

I managed to find the right place though, and we (Kety and I) both reached the conclusion that we knew more or less nothing about if and where you can sleep in or around the national park, or if and where you can eat, so we will simply leave today at 15 for the park, in order to find out as much as possible about it, and then dealing with the situation then and there. Later my Indonesian friend Hanny (whom I know from CouchSurfing since some 8 months back, and who was in fact the main reason I came to this place) joined us together with one of her own friends (who apparently is learning Swedish and wants to come here), and it was really great meeting this person (i.e. Hanny) who regularly is just typing on the other side of the computer screen. It was a really nice evening anyhow, and Hanny’s friend Didi was kind enough do drive me back to my Anton’s apartment (who was out meeting some friends of his own), which I never ever would have found without being driven there. I had a hard enough time finding the right apartment in the building complex once I’d actually been dropped off here. I actually forgot to get a map of Jakarta on the airport, and now I realize this was a huge mistake, as I am more or less completely blind when it comes to getting around. Add to this an in general non-English-speaking population, and you realize how this is an issue. But, I’ve got instructions on how to get to the train station from which we will go to Bogor (town near Gunung Gede), so hopefully this will be fine. I’m really grateful Kety is joining me for the hike though, as I most likely would not have bee able to go otherwise due to the language barrier.

Alright, time to head off for some brunch, and then it’s off to the train station (hopefully not getting lost, but I’m going early in case I do). Wish me luck for the hike! Internet access will likely be patchy, so don’t expect any updates until Thursday.

Bangkok, day 3

•June 17, 2010 • Leave a Comment

I’ve been writing this continuously in my phone for two days soon, and it covers my third day in Bangkok, so enjoy it in all its unedited crudeness (day two will hopefully follow in the coming days, including Singapore adventures)!

“Okay, this is just stupid. We’ve been stuck in a traffic jam for a looong time, and it doesn’t look like it’s gonna get better any time soon. So I’m just sitting in a non-airconditioned bus dying slowly from all the air pollution. I would’ve walked since it would have been quicker, but Ploy’s friend apparently has stomach issues today, and doesn’t have the energy. Nuch was great yesterday though when it came to walking, I seem to have converted her!

Day started with going to university with Nuch at 10 (who had class at 11), where we ate breakfast (something omelet-like). I then continued according to plan to Golden Mountain (which was closed yesterday evening when we got there) with non-airconditioned bus 47.

Golden mountain was really impressive itself and also offered a superb view of the city. I then walked to the statue of King Rama V (I think), several times on the way being approached by “friendly” tuk-tuk drivers trying to rip me off, one even having the decency of calling me idiot when I declined his offer. It turned out however that (God it’s impossoble to write on a moving bus, though I guess I should be thankful it’s moving at all) Nuch had to go to an appointment in the afternoon, so she couldn’t meet me at the statue at 13 as agreed, but instead sent a mutual friend from the conference in Poland (Ploy), who also brought a friend of her own.

Together we went to the largest building in the world made from golden teak (the king who built it 100 years ago sure must’ve liked teak), which was part of a fairly large collection of buildings, each one a museum in itself requiring you to take off your shows and lock your bag, camera and everything in a locker.

Then went by tuk-tuk to a temple, which was very nice (prefer that to mansion, though most temples look the same), and then most aweful bus ride of my life so far, namely by non-AC bus in rush hour. We didn’t move for like ever, and it took 2 hours to get to the place where we were going to meet Nuch (shopping mall some way from the centre), where we had to wait and failed to use karaoke in the meanwhile. Went to restaurant where Nuch joined, then karaoke (special coins needed), then went with Nuch around market, and home via subway/night bazaar/king statue/silom road/taxi (no bus). Home around eleven, pack and stuff, up at 5.30 today (alarm no ring – Shanghai flashback), bus no arrive so had to take taxi.

On public transport in this city: since it’s impossible to actually predict when a bus will arrive due to frequent traffic jams, they simply don’t have any timetables, and thus you have no choice but to wait and hope for best.

Actually a bit nervous about cheap Asian flight, will simply have to wait and see. Also feels stupid to pay 4 times regular prices at airport for food. Really like all the random food stalls on street in Bangkok. Have felt like home thanks to Nuch.”

So that’s it. All written in the phone as a memory aid to myself mostly, and thus only key words on occasion, but I figure it’s better than nothing at all.

And now, goodnight!

Bangkok, day 2

•June 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Wow, this has been such a busy day that I can hardly remember everything, but I’m sure it will come to me as I write, because that’s what usually happens. So expect another monster post, and for all you whiners out there, the main reason I write this is really for myself and not for you, so you can whine all you want, ’cause I don’t care!

We’ve more or less…

So, after roughly an hour of typing, this is all that is left because Thai internet crapped itself. Current state of mind: hate. Going to bed now.

Bangkok, day 1

•June 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Hey, whaddaya know, I actually got some time this evening to blog! My host (not through CouchSurfing, but a Thai friend from the BUP conference I attended in Rogow) has been so extremely kind and caring that I’m nigh stunned, and at a complete loss as to how I can ever repay this service. She has offered me her room to sleep in for three nights while she herself will sleep at a friend’s next-door, which not only gives me some time to wind down on my own, but to also write this.

So, beginning briefly (psh, me? Brief? Yeah, right) with the flight, issues started before we even left the runway, as apparently the airplane’s auxiliary power supply unit had stopped working (this did not strike me as confidence-inspiring), so they had to manually start each engine one by one (four of them in total), and then fix some more “minor” technical problems before we were off half an hour or so delayed (they did however still manage to land right on time, so kudos for that).

In-flight food was as aweful and tasteless as ever (if not worse), and I have to say that I really prefer Swiss (which I used to fly to and from Shanghai in 2007) to SAS when it comes to long-haul flights. I may have deliberately forgotten how bad the food was (and thus now consider it better than SAS’), but the entertainment system was miles better as you could actually start and stop music/series/movies whenever you felt like, something which was not possible on SAS where they simply played movies over and over on a dedicated channel, resulting in that you had no idea when a movie actually ended or started, and thus simply gave up on it rather quickly. Despite this, I still managed to fight quite a lot with the user interface trying to get it to do what I wanted (miserably failing a lot of the time), and I can report that it would definitely have a lot to gain from a remake by an interaction designer.

Apart from the technically troubled start, the entertainment system battles, and accidentally smacking the glasses off my Danish sleeping seat neighbour while acrobatically trying to climb (and obviously failing – needless to say, I didn’t try it again on the way back) over him (me sitting by the window and him being between me and the toilet and the freedom of stretching my legs), the flight was pleasantly uneventful and even rather smooth, with only the occasional turbulence.

Heck, even immigration and baggage reclaim was very uneventful and smooth, and my Thai friend even managed to find me at the airport after a short call! So, first impressions of Bangkok, in order of magnitude: extremely kind people (at least my host, but she’s left me so postitively inspired that I’m more than willing to generalize the entire Thai population according to this), humid, warm, chaotic traffic. Actually, that last one is a bit of an understatement, because if it hadn’t been for Nuch (the name of my friend here), then I most likely would’ve gotten hit by a car/motorcycle/moped/bus/truck/whatever-strange-contraption-rolling-on-two-or-more-wheels-they’ve-managed-to-come-up-with the first thing that happened upon getting out of the taxi.

I’m serious though, only during this short afternoon of going (on the awesomest bus-like-thing I’ve ever ridden) for dinner (a taste sensation beyond this world, and that’s not saying everything was awesomely good (though some definitely was, while other things were edible at the very least), but simply that it’s so much different to what you get at home (including “Thai food”)) and walking back I managed to almost get run over more times than I can remember, saved every time at the last second by Nuch. Crossing a street here really makes you feel alive! Just too bad the pollution makes you feel even deader, but I’m still loving it though, even if I’m wishing for just a breath of fresh air while walking these streets, full of life in a way that can possibly be likened to Malmo during the festival week, if you just replace most of the people with vehicles instead.

Oh, and on the way back we walked past Nuch’s old university and the building where the student activities were organised, and found a group of Thai girls practicing Thai dance! I’m sure it has a very specific name in Thai, but however much I wish I could speak this language (or even try to memorize a phrase, much less pronounce it), it remains a sequence of incomprehensible sounds that flow into my ears like background music. Anyhow, the girls thought I should join them instead of just taking pictures, and far be it from me to back down on a challenge, so danced I did (photographic proof exists)! It was really fun (no comment on how well and/or ridiculously I performed) and we were invited to the performance they were rehearsing for, due Wednesday! Random encounters, how you have to love them!

Seriously though, I’m not quite sure how I would’ve survived without Nuch’s help, both language- and traffic-wise. Probably a lot more adventurously (if at all), but I think I prefer this slightly smoother start of my backpacking trip – I will no doubt have to deal with plenty of traffic and language barriers on my own later as well.

Last remark: buying flight tickets for next destination when arriving on the airport turned out to be a bad idea, as it is both considerably more expensive and more bothersome than doing it online ahead of time. So much for being impulsive. I’ve got my flight ticket for Singapore and Jakarta now though, and almost managed to get one for Padang (Sumatra) when Lion Air (banned in European Airspace due to safety concerns – I hope they don’t crash with me in it) decided to spit on my visa card and refused to cooperate. So I’ll just wait with that and will try again tomorrow.

Toodles!

Adventure! (Warning, monster post: recommended reading in small doses to stay sane)

•April 19, 2010 • 3 Comments

Since the last couple of days got so filled with activities that I didn’t get any time to write, this will most likely be a monstrously long post – but bear with me, and you shall be rewarded duly (with even more text! yay!)… Okay, maybe not so long after all because I’ve more or less forgotten everything that happened before the trip home. But alright, here goes.

After another very tired breakfast everyone headed out to Lodz on Friday morning. Before the buses showed up the organisers decided to try and count everyone to make sure all 81 students were there, which was considerably harder than one might first think. Several tries and failures later they actually managed to reach the number 81 by making us all go, like a flock of sheep, between two counting students. The buses were late, but eventually we were off to Lodz where the first stop was the Technical University. Together with some local Lodz students we held and participated in The Baltic Debate, which was a modified version of an Oxford Debate so that it would accomodate more than 100 students. This was quite the experiment, but I have to say that it went really well and was just as fun and interesting!

A short pro/con milk debate warmed us up for the real topic on nuclear power. At heart I’m really more pro than against (at least instead of fossile fuels until we can utilise sustainable and renewable energy to replace it), but had managed to put myself on the con team (“con team” sort of gives bad associations in my head, but never mind) through some accident, which made it even more interesting as it became sort of a role play as well. Our team won anyhow (obviously, since they had my brilliant intellect on their side), much thanks to the student who hijacked my computer some days back and who later became elected as the new student representative for BUP as well – very well earned I have to say! Good speaker and slightly mad (just like me! Though I’m slightly less frantic and a bit more boring when speaking) – awesome combo.

Anyhow (hey, it’s all coming back to me when I start writing, I think I’ll manage to produce quite the monster of a post after all), following the lunch once the debate was over, the next stop was the Public Higher School of Film (the study place of famous Polish directors such as Kieslowski and Polanski) where, after some initial confusion (such as everyone being forced to enter and leave the bus twice for some strange reason (we suspected a conspiracy)) we were all placed in a really cool old cinema where some old and new movies produced by students of the school were shown. I have to say, they were really good, and all of them had something in them that made them well worth watching. “Kurwa” will in my mind forever be associated with an animated fly – laughed my ass off.

The bus then drove us all to Manufaktura, a huge shopping/entertainment center that also houses a textile museum that I didn’t visit. We got about two hours of free time, most of which was spent taking a lot of photos with some other students, as well as exploring Manufaktura. Then followed the infamous one-hour march that took us to the restaurant where dinner was to be had, but by this time I was so friggin’ hungry that my stomach just hurt and couldn’t eat nearly as much as I otherwise would’ve >.< Oh, and after seeing the regular main course I temporarily became vegetarian since that option was quite a lot better. It was a nice evening though, with lots of socialising and even celebrations and cake since one of the organising people had his birthday that day. Evening finished with a bus ride back home around 23, and once I'd caught up with the internet a little the time was already around 2 am, so yet another night of too little sleep. See a pattern?

Saturday, the last and final day of the conference, begun with lectures by two german professors (one on Green Power which was quite good actually, and one on biodiversity which way heavy with statistics and thus unfortunately rather uninteresting), then panel debate and lunch, followed by a visit to the arboretum (I went on the Polish-speaking tour and understood about as many of the nature-related words and names of different kinds of trees as I thought I wood – that is, very few) and another lecture (analysis of the COP15 meeting in Copenhagen, also quite interesting). We finished off the afternoon with practical issues like electing the new student representative for the BUP board, as well as some other things.

We also had to deal with how to actually get home the following day, seeing as all flights to and from Sweden were cancelled, so everyone from Sweden, Denmark and Finland got together and discussed the alternatives. The Uppsala delegation (mainly consisting of organisers, including the BUP network manager who is just about the most amazingly kind and awesome woman I have ever met) had been thinking of renting a bus to take them back home through Denmark, but that turned out to be too expensive and in the end it was decided that I, together with the 5 Danes that I took responsibility for getting home safely (since I can actually speak Polish), were to take the train from Warsaw to Swinoujscie and then the Ferry to Copenhagen, while the Swedish and Finnish delegations would take the train to Gdansk – where they actually had to stay a night extra ’cause the ferry was full – and then the ferry from there (most other delegations weren't actually dependent upon flight to get home, and could thus actually travel as planned). This resulted in that we had to take the bus to Warsaw at 6 am to be sure to catch our train, which made some of us consider simply staying up all night instead of sleeping. Most of the evening and night was then spent partying, including bonfire, bigos, beer and socialising. The green power german professor even played guitar and was really cool (and that's probably the first time I call someone over 50 cool, though, in all honesty, Sean Connery is over 70 and about as cool as one can be)!

It was an awesome fun party anyhow, and around 3 am I realised it was probably better to really do stay awake the entire night, so I simply showered and started packing, and then went to make sure everyone were up and getting prepared to leave around 5.30 (which was needed). Amazingly enough, we actually got away at 6.00 as planned (after some rather grumpy remarks from me and a slightly dictatorial behaviour – l've started seeing a pattern in my mood in early mornings following all-nighters, last time was the 24-hour case competition Uppdrag24 where I acted rather simiarly; I think it was pretty beneficial both times though), and arrived at Warszawa Zachodnia a full two hours before the train was going to leave. On the way to the station the Danes got the brilliant (note the irony, though to be honest it wasn’t really a bad idea, it just felt annoying (which was further enhanced by lack of sleep) to change all the plans and I had a feeling it wouldn’t work) idea to try and get a taxi to drive us all the way to Denmark.

Several telephone calls later this turned out to by a very expensive way of travel (approximately 1500 euro or so), so in the end we called and booked cabins for the ferry (which we hadn’t been sure we’d get places on, and the next one didn’t leave until Tuesday) and then purchased the train tickets (I have to say, the train ticket office at Warszawa Zachodnia is very well hidden) according to the original plan. While waiting for the train to arrive, a few of the Danes had their first experience with Polish fast food. More on Polish fast food later, let’s just leave it now knowing that it was not the best gastronomical experience they had experienced (and I can’t say that my so called gulasch was much better).

The train was, in accordance with typical Polish customs, late, but thankfully enough only 10 minutes or so. Then began the 6,5 hour ride to Szczecin Dabie (which some of you may remember from my last visit in Poland as the miserable place where I was stuck for two hours due to the first train being terribly late). It started off with watching Shutter Island (I tried really hard to not fall asleep, but I did fade out a couple of times), and the remaining 4,5 hours were spent mostly sleeping – as a result the ride went by fairly quickly (at least according to me). As it were, Szczecin Dabie would not play nice with me this time either. Upon asking the ticket office lady (and I have to say, Polish sense of service is basically non-existant, and a majority of the time they just make you feel like a nuisance (not to mention that they’re straight out rude on occasion)) which platform the train would leave from she said something about our tickets not being valid for that train, but I decided hope that she was simply wrong and if not then I would take that battle with the conductor.

Naturally, she wasn’t wrong. Apparently, our ticket wasn’t valid for the slow-train we had to take, but only for direct trains from Warsaw to Swinoujscie; there’s a big problem with this though, namely that direct trains to Swinoujscie from Warsaw only leave once per day, and that’s at 23 in the evening. The one at fault was thus the ticket lady in Warsaw who’d messed something up, but that didn’t change anything, and in accordance with Polish bureaucracy we were forced to purchase new tickets for the ride from Szczecin Dabie to Swinoujscie (even though there was an awesomely kind old lady and man who supported our case against the conductor, and the lady even wanted to pay for the new tickets (we obviously didn’t let her, but it was a really moving gesture)). The conductor was still somewhat helpful though and made it so that we could hand in our invalid tickets in Swinoujscie and get a little money back from the part of the ticket that we didn’t use (an amazing 3,33 zloty out of roughly 45 per ticket!).

Once in Swinoujscie it was about time to have dinner, and since we didn’t have enough time to go over to the actual town of Swinoujscie, we had to stay at the harbour and train station side that only has some “bars” to choose from when it comes to food. Now, there’s something you have to understand about Polish fast food. First of all, the most common place to buy it is in (as mentioned) so called “bars”, which most of the time are private non-chain establishments that range from horrible to okay in standard. Secondly, they all serve the same stuff – hamburgers, pizzas, kebab, french fries (or frytki as they’re called in Polish) and all that schtuff. Thirdly, they all taste pretty much the same (= rather bad). Lastly, they consist of about 50 percent cabbage and 20 percent ketchup and mayonnaise (cabbage part is not true for pizza and fries, but ketchup and mayonnaise unfortunately is), with the remaining 30 percent being what you’d actually expect from a hamburger in for example Sweden. Now I’ve been in Poland enough times to be used to this, but apparently not enough times to remember it (not to mention that I tend to stay away from fast food joints to begin with), thus we sat down at one of the bars and ordered kebabs, pizza, hamburger and fries (we didn’t really have much of a choice anyway). Having experienced something similar earlier that day didn’t really make it any better for the ones who’d eaten “breakfast” in Warsaw, and as a result a lot of laughter about the absurdity of it all, as well as whining, ensued. It seems to have been quite a trauma to be honest; I’m not sure they’ll ever really recover fully.

Wow, 2000 words and counting. This is a friggin’ essay. Told you it’d be long. Best to finish it off then: the 12 hour ferry ride home went well, and while the cabins were pretty expensive, it was easily worth it just for the bed. I slept like a rock, and at 8 we arrived as scheduled in Copenhagen, leaving only a simple train ride home from Österport. Total travelling time: 28 hours. It was an ardous trip, and on occasion I felt like I was travelling with 5 children, but I have to say that it was immensely much fun and I actually prefer it to flying (doing it alone wouldn’t have been nearly as fun). I still hear Danish voices in my head though, and annoyingly enough I don’t know what some of them are saying.

All in all (speaking of the entire trip and not just the return one), it was an amazing experience and the only thing I regret is going back home to Sweden and everyday life. I already miss everyone back there and it feels really empty without them. But such is life, and I’ll just have to attend more BUP conferences in the future!

In Rogów 2

•April 15, 2010 • 2 Comments

I’ll keep it pretty short today, mainly because I’m too tired to bother writing anything longer. It’s been a long, from time to time rather boring, but overall interesting day full of lectures, discussions and debates. Not that much more to say to be honest – except that I’ve been hungry like hell because it’s way too long between meal times. And tired, which is not really going to improve since breakfast is at 7.30 tomorrow due to the trip to Lodz. Should be a good day though.

In completely unrelated news, I just had to share this piece of news in Swedish, mainly because I feel completely shocked that America said it: http://www.idg.se/2.1085/1.310795/piratkopiering-paverkar-ekonomin-positivt

I might also be stranded here because of the Volcano eruption on Iceland, but hopefully the winds will have turned until Sunday – we’ll just have to see. Until next time!