1. Yesterday we went zorbing! (Which is, for those who aren’t familiar with New Zealand’s bizziarities, is when you roll down a hill really fast in a plastic ball liked with water). It was awesome.

     
  2. Pictures from Hobbiton

     
  3. Pictures from our first full day in Auckland. We walked up Mount Eden (which has a giant sacred crater on top, because it’s a volcano), went to the Auckland museum, and finished the day with sunset at the harbor. Overall, a great first day in New Zealand

     
  4. I’m officially out of Asia and in Australia. I spent my first day wandering around and taking some photos of things that caught my eye.

    For starters, in Sydney, seagulls are the equivalent of pigeons in New York. They’re everywhere, and they will follow you if you give them breadcrumbs (and in that picture there’s also some other kind of bird I can’t identify).

    The second photo is also of birds, though I was a bit too far away to get a clear photo. While I was eating lunch, some tiny green birds came and sat at a nearby table. Wildlife is just everywhere here, it looks like - those were not your average city birds.

    And finally, just the bridge looking pretty in the afternoon sun.

     
  5. Determined not to let a silly thing like winter get in my way, I made plans to go scuba diving this morning. After waking up at 5 am to catch the train and then the ferry to Manly Island (off of Sydney) for my 7:45 am pickup, the dive company cancelled last-minute because of the weather (pouring rain on and off all day).

    The good news is that I still got to spend the morning exploring the beach island, which was looking nice and stormy (although it was too wet to sit and read in the sand)

     
  6. Miscellaneous photos from around the Grand Palace in Bangkok. I couldn’t really get a great picture to encompass it all (because everything was so big, and there were so many people, plus it was so hot out and I just gave up), but it was really beautiful.

     
  7. Reclining Buddha in Bangkok

     
  8. Today I went to the Elephant Nature Park just outside of Chiang Mai, and I’m confident that it’s one of the best places in the world.

    Thailand is full of elephant-based tourism, and unfortunately, that doesn’t mean good treatment for most of the elephants. In order to make them complacent enough to have riders, or to train them to “perform” in “elephant shows,” the elephants are subjected to horrible treatment pretty close to torture. Many are left with lasting injuries, including blindness and worse.

    The Elephant Nature Park doesn’t offer rides or shows. Instead, they give elephants who have been previously harmed a place to rehabilitate and roam. Of their 35 elephants, almost all are rescues. Instead of riding the elephants, visitors feed them mass amounts of fruit, play with them, bathe them and hug them.

    Second great animal day in a row.

     
  9. Temple in Chiang Mai

     
  10. Well, it’s decided. Never leaving Chiang Mai.

     

  11. We arrived in Chiang Mai this afternoon, and I’m already loving it here! We spent a few hours wandering around the old city, just admiring the used book stores, local craft shops and sampling delicious street food. Can’t wait to see all that Thailand has in store.

     
  12. Photos from our cruise on Ha long Bay, Vietnam - absolutely stunning scenery, photos don’t do it justice.

     

  13. Some thoughts about Chinese train etiquette

    Over the course of the last 27 hours, I rode my fourth (and final) overnight train of my Chinese travels, and I can safely say that I won’t miss the experience.

    During the past two weeks, I haven’t really minded the long train rides. The combination of my compulsive planning and my ability to speak the language meant that we’ve always had beds, even if they were ‘hard beds (triple-stacked bunk beds without compartment doors - this is as opposed to ‘soft beds,’ which are regular bunk beds with closing compartment doors), and everything has always seemed reasonably clean. Even our ride to Chengdu, in which we shared a compartment with a little boy who discovered I understand Chinese and then spent the whole ride telling me my hair was too long and too yellow, wasn’t too bad.

    This ride was different, though. We had hard beds, with my sister and I each in middle bunks. Promptly after the train started moving, a woman nursing her baby, a real infant, switched beds with the man under Aliza, beginning our long train ride of baby excrement.

    Now, anyone who’s never been to China might not believe it, but lots of kids in China don’t use bathrooms. Instead, they have slits in their pants, and squat in the street when they have to go. This mother clearly had decided to apply the same disgusting non-logic to her baby, and the infant was not wearing a diaper.

    As a result, the ride was a constant cycle: the mother would breast feed for a minute or two, and then dangle the baby over the trash in the hopes that it would pee. Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn’t. Usually, if it did, it would miss entirely and go on the floor. Clearly the mother did not want the kid to go on her or on the bed, and I just couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t put a diaper on it. Diapers are not new, nor are they western, inventions - why not use them? I was horrified as I dodged a veritable pool or urine every time I wanted to get into bed.

    That, combined with the man under me coughing up mucus at an alarming rate, did not result in a very clean compartment, and we vacated to nearby beds as soon as we could.

    It’s a fitting goodbye to China, I suppose - the trains had been going far too well to suit normal Chinese fashion.

    In any case, tomorrow I’m off to Vietnam!

     
  14. Today I saw pandas at the preserve in 成都. I could not be happier.

     

  15. Sorry for updating about 3-weeks worth of blog at once

    At least I’m getting posting eventually, right?

    In any case, I’ll try to post about the rest of my travels in a more timely fashion.