Category Archives: Travel

Majorer Milestones

4 hours and 15 minutes.

That was not my marathon time although I wish it was. That was how long I waited in line for my pre-ordered iPhone 4 and it was worth it. Despite the antennae issues and host of other problems, it is the best technology purchase I’ve made in a while. It has replaced my camera, GPS, and mp3 player.

5 hours and 30 minutes.

My third marathon was incredibly fun. Faced with the prospect of flying to Europe the next day, I decided to run at a slower pace. It was the best decision I could have made. It was my first pain-free run of this marathon cycle. I didn’t need much recovery time either which was a fantastic. However, for future marathons, I look forward to having family in the crowd to root for me and provide the lift for the last half of the marathon (the 6.2 miles).

2 hours and 45 minutes.

My wedding. Top of a beautiful mountain in Cinque Terre, Italy. It was a difficult hike and we were drenched in sweat after our adventures. . It was perfect.

Eternity.

I’m waiting for my wife to get back to Seattle after her eight difficult months working in Germany. This feels like the last part of the winding line for the iPhone. It feels like the last 3 miles of the Rock and Roll Marathon. I can see the goal in sight and every minute before we get there feels like forever.

This has been an incredible few weeks and an amazing year!

What I’ve Enjoyed Most about South Korea…

I was at a new year’s day party a few days ago, and someone asked me what I enjoyed most about  my two weeks in Korea visiting my  family. A standard question like  that usually has a boilerplate answer.  However, on this occasion, I realized  that no standard answer would  apply:

  • The people? Not since Tonga did  I meet a population that was  so friendly but so difficult to  communicate with. Outside of my parent’s multinational apartment complex, it was a challenge to  connect with anyone.  You could not get around with just English.
  • The food? I didn’t enjoy any of the  traditional Korean cuisine. I thought  Korean barbeque and soju were unique but I had a hard time  with anything else. This has never happened to me before!!
  • The city? I think Seoul is amazing.  It reminds me of Wellington in New Zealand  as it is surrounded by beautiful  mountains. The public transportation  is fantastic and there were tons of great galleries. However,  the narrow alleyways and the  amazing density of people above  and below the ground made me  claustrophobic.

What I really enjoyed most was being my family on vacation in another country.  We used to vacation together all the time when I was growing up; however, our last family vacation was twelve years ago.   Even though I could feel all of us returning to our old roles in the “Koorse family unit”, I realized how much I missed us sharing an adventure together.

New Year’s Day was incredible.  I was swarmed by thousands of people in front of the bell towers!  My claustrophobia hit me very hard but I needed to be huddled with the masses to stay warm on that ridiculously cold night.  The fireworks were going off inside the crowd but surprisingly no one seemed to care.  At one point, I joined a  group that was chanting and I followed along. .  In ten minutes, we were surrounded by police.  Unfortunately, I don’t think my crowd was yelling holiday wishes.  Fortunately, no one was hurt and I learned a valuable lesson.

Story so Far…

 

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There are advantages and disadvantages to long intervals between blog posts.  You have a lot more to write about but there is a lot more to remember.  Regular posting is a good habit… one that you feel guilty about when you skip sessions.   I intend to play catch up with this post.  Details will be missed and stories will be forgotten but I’ll be back on track.
Here’s a brief timeline on what I’ve been up to:

  • Auctions – It felt like I was at an auction every weekend in October.  The Seattle Works Auction (SWANK) was fantastic this year.  We also attended a great auction for the Queen Anne Help Line which is an organization that I’ve been actively helping out this year.  Great people, great food, and great items + credit card = plenty of charitable contributions.  Coupled with the Gates Foundation’s generous 3:1 match on donations up to $10,000, I felt like a true investor in the community and its incredible non-profit programs.
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  • Birthday #29 – One year closer to the big 3-0. I wasn’t filled with panic like I was last year, but I definitely feel more like an adult now.  For better or worse. This was a memorable birthday!  I had some great carrot cake (sometimes a cake must not be judged by how it tastes but by the story of how it was created and why 🙂 ).  Thanks Megs!
  • A Texas Halloween – We had auctions at work to dress each other.  I purchased a few people to wear Texas T-Shirts to work.  That weekend, Texas suffered its only loss of the season against Texas Tech.  I was purchased as well and dressed up as Pedro from Napolean Dynamite.  
  • Trip to Vancouver – Vancouver is a beautiful city.  I went there for a conference but spent some extra time checking out the area.  We went to a Canucks game, explored the downtown areas, and hung out at the parks.  It is definitely worth a second visit!
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  • The Election of Barack Obama – It was hard for me not to vote for the only Republican presidential candidate that I’ve ever admired but the election turned McCain into a caricature of himself.  He called himself a maverick but adopted the principles of the far right.  I hope that someday he can return to the glory of his first few decades in the senate where he was a champion for the people regardless of the party.  I’m excited that Barack Obama is our next president!  While I don’t know how he will manage the “inbox from hell”, symbolically he represents tremendous hope and change for this country.  I’m excited that we finally have a great orator in the White House!  As for Palin, I sincerely hope she is not the future of the Republican Party.  She was great for Tina Fey’s career, but was a serious detriment to McCain’s ticket.  The voters she attracted to the ticket were offset by voters like me… people who realized how much McCain was selling out on his principles to win.  That’s all I will say about that.
  • Seaplanes and the Glass Museum – Megs and I took an entire day to enjoy some of the bounty from the auctions.  We took a seaplane over Seattle and then went to Tacoma to visit the Glass Museum.  It was a lot of fun and the weather was great!
  • Vacation in Cancun – Megs and I found a ridiculous last minute deal to Cancun and we spent a few days there before Thanksgiving.  We enjoyed some time at an All-Expenses Paid Resort, exploring the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, and kayaking in the sunshine.  Life is good!  We almost didn’t make our flight back home but that is a story for another day.
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  • Thanksgiving in Austin – I went to Austin to celebrate Thanksgiving with my little sister.  She surprised me with an awesome meal and a chance to see the Longhorns beat the tar out of the Aggies.  It was incredible!  We spent time  working out and discussing movies, TV shows, and Twilight.  I can’t wait to spend more time with her and my parents in Korea this Christmas!
  • Losing the ‘Fro – I finally got a haircut after five months of growth and deferred my attempt to re-dread my hair. It was getting a little too unprofessional and hard to manage.  I’m glad I can still grow hair though 🙂
  • Texas gets BCSed – The Longhorns have had only one loss this season.  Texas Tech beat them on a last second touchdown in Lubbock.  For all intents and purposes, this was the most miraculous play of the entire college football season.  However, due to a ridiculous set of formulas known as the BCS, they will not go to the championship game.  That honor will go instead to Oklahoma… a team Texas beat 45-35 on a neutral field.  I hope Oklahoma gets blown out by Florida and Texas destroys the Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl.  Poor Colt McCoy will probably also lose the Heisman now despite being the heart and soul of an amazing team.  Maybe he’ll be back next year to avenge this tragedy.
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  • Apartment Move – I moved down the hall to another apartment with a view of the water.  It’s much smaller than my old apartment, but nothing beats looking out the window for views of Lake Union.  I won’t be seeing July 4th from a house boat ever again but I will enjoy a distant view of the fireworks.
More details on each may be coming over the next few weeks.  However, feel free to check out the photos and their descriptions!
This is also the one year anniversary of several events that led to where I am now.  At the time, they were excruciatingly painful; now, they feel like they were blessings in disguise.  Every harrowing event in my life has led to bigger and better things.  I must have a guardian angel!
Time to focus on my MBA applications.  I love my job and the economy is in turmoil but I must keep my options open.

Running Away from Seattle

 

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I had an awesome week at work.  I sacrificed Labor Day Weekend to change the entire approach of a presentation and it was worth it.  The presentation went well and instead of feeling like the third backup quarterback of a Super Bowl Contender, I’m finally front and center. 

However, I needed to get away.  My restlessness had increased to a point where I was having a hard time focusing.  I shared my feelings with a special friend and we decided to make an impromptu excursion to the Olympic Peninsula.  We “ran away”!

It was amazing.  We spent Friday night at a dive bar with live music and a old lion named “Bob”.  We played an awful round of pool and discovered that another world could exist a ferry ride away from Seattle.  I had a few lessons in driving with a manual brake instead of automatic.  The weather was perfect as we hiked for six hours in the Hoh Rainforest.  When we looked for a restaurant to replenish our calorie deficit, we discovered a gem of a burger shop called Bellas.  They served us massive burgers, non-alcoholic margaritas, and plastic vampire teeth on the side!

I discovered an important lesson this weekend:  to have a great time, it’s not where you run away to but who you run away with that counts.  What a paradigm shift!  I’m looking forward to our next escape!

BAGGAGE BLUES

LESSON – Baggage check is a nightmare. Stick to having a single carry-on or struggle with long lines, broken ‘self-service’ machines, and other crazy stuff.

I don’t know if my air trip around the US could have started off any rougher. 

Last weekend I sold, donated, and packed up all my items in Seattle. I created one huge suitcase to take to Houston for storage with my parents. This bag contains clothes that I may claim later on my voyage.

So far I’ve kept all my weekly items for my work in Philadelphia in a carry-on. I’ve never had to check bags in. Security check is usually extremely quick and I wasn’t expecting baggage check to be any different. I made it to the airport an hour before my flight, and the lines for my US Airways flight were not long. I finally got up to the front of the line and used their self-service machine for baggage check.

The infernal machine claimed that I needed an attendant. I waited helplessly as all the attendents were helping a single customer in the line next to me. The attendent never even raises her head to acknowledge my presence. I’m too laid back to yell and scream.

Minutes pass. My wait time feels like eternity. Finally, an attendant far away notices me and attempts to help me. It’s too late… baggage can only be checked in 45 minutes before a flight. It is 43 minutes before the flight. I’m in agony.

The attendent who I was hopelessly waiting for pipes in and says I wasn’t waiting long. Agony turns into a healthy thirst for blood. I try to get her name. She refuses. I ask for a manager. Nothing. Bastards!

The most they will give me is a new ticket for the next morning. I let my parents in Texas know the time of my flight and then I spend the next hour and a half running around the airport with my massive suitcase, my carry-on, my laptop case, and my wounded ego. 

The airport Marriot is so full that I can’t get a reservation even as a Platinum member. I guess it’s good for a bowl of fruit but doesn’t mean jack for emergencies. I decide that joining the United Airlines Red Carpet Membership club would be a great idea so I could camp out there until the next morning. I’m a couple thousand miles short of purchasing a membership so I spend the $400. I then embark on the quest to find the club lounge. It isn’t until I drag myself (baggage et all) to the right terminal that I realize I need to go through a security check to get in. My flight isn’t till tomorrow, so they won’t do it.

I make my way over to baggage claim to use the phones. Every hotel is booked. Suddenly I’m considering the possibility of building a shelter in the corner of the airport to spend the next 10 hours. I relax, calm down and make a few more phone calls.

The Ramada has only one room free. It has an airport shuttle. Halleluja! In the back of my mind, I expect that the hotel to be a dump. Why would everything else within a 20 mile radius be completely booked? It actually turned out to be one of the best hotels I’ve every been at. Although it had no internet access, the Philadelphia Airport Ramada was a winner and was realtively cheap.

After a Long Island Ice Tea, a Club Sandwich, and a Miami vs Detroit BBall game, I went to bed. I needed to wake up extra early in order to check in my luggage for my 7:50 AM flight.

The next morning I take my shuttle to the Philadelphia airport. One glance at the US Airways terminal and I realize I’m in for another headache. The lines start outside the airport for baggage check. There are very few attendents. 

As I approach the front of my line, our self-self machine breaks. We panic. It seems to be happening with every other line. I wonder if there are any records of riots in baggage claim lines? Our attendent is no slacker and she’s getting threats from every one who approaches the register. More and more people lose their temper as she tells them she can’t check their luggage in due to th 45 minute rule. They claim that they’ve been in line for hours. She has to give them the company line. I feel bad for her.

By the time I’m being helped, it’s an hour before my flight… well outside the 45 min rule. She tells me there is no more room on the plane for baggage. She looks at me gritting her teeth like I’m going to smack her with my 49 pound suitcase.

I stay calm. I ask her for the next flight. She gives me one in two hours. I grin and check in my luggage. I ask her if things are always this rough. She says that I’m the first one to smile at her in the last few hours. I let her know that I wasn’t as kind to my last attendant. She smiles at me.

There are very few jobs that I would never consider doing. Her’s would be one of them. US Airways is definately going bankrupt.

Fortunately, I made the flight to Houston on standby. The plane was awesome. Two seats on each side, and each seat felt like first class. No movies, but more leg room than I’m had in months. 

Best honey-roasted peanuts ever. With one more travel lesson under my belt, I was ready to see my parents.

DEEP in the Heart of Texas

Hey y’all!

I’m finally home. Actually, I’ve been home for a little over two weeks. I wasn’t supposed to get home for a while, but I got homesick. Well, it was more of a mixture of boredom, anxiousness about the future, and a lack of good Tex-Mex cuisine (they use ketchup instead of salsa in “Texas” restaurants abroad… an insult that forced me to return to my roots). I apologize for not responding to anyone over the past month as I have holed myself up in my room, and other than a few trips to a movie theater and a gym, I have become a hermit. My travels were a collage of colorful adventures across the globe, but my past week has been as devoid of passion, intelligence, and energy as an Ashton Kutcher movie. As you have not heard from me in a while, and I sadly have very few people here to talk to, this will be a long email. To help you make the most of your valuable time, I’ve divided this email into several sections:

1. My Travels

2. Movie/TV Reviews

3. Life in the USA

I miss all of you very, very, very much and I hope to hear from you soon. My email address over my trips ( tongadeep@yahoo.com <mailto:tongadeep@yahoo.com> ) no longer works, so send me emails (love letters, advice, job offers) through sandeep@koorse.com <mailto:sandeep@koorse.com> . I’ve been sending out postcards to many of you, but no one in Tonga is receiving them. I suspect they are searching them for “illegal” substances and inappropriate content. Perhaps volunteers in Tonga should look into whether they’re getting all their mail because I smell a conspiracy!

Expect some major changes to my tell-all website ( <http://www.koorse.com> ) over the next few months, as I reveal all the secrets of my Tongan experience for everyone to see! It’s going to be like Clarke’s anti-bush book… I will mention names (maybe YOURS!!!) and take no prisoners.

Take care!

Love, Sandeep

1. My Travels (pictures at <http://www.koorse.com/travels2> )

The last email y’all received from me was during my stay in north islands of New Zealand. I’m going to spend a few moments discussing the highlights of the rest of my journey through “Middle Earth” in case you make your way over there.

From Whitianga, we drove to Rotorua. The ridiculously long trip cost me my job as navigator of the “Keep Left” tour but New Zealand is a gorgeous place to get lost in. Rotorua was unique and exciting. It’s got so many geothermal wonders to keep a visitor entertained, if they can stand the smell. The rotten egg scent of Rotorua reminded me of the stunning sulfur lake of Niufo’ou and the rich palette of mineral deposit colors in the crater pools was breathtaking. My personal favorite was a portion of the Waimangu Volcanic Valley where there is a radioactive looking pool next to a spiky mountain spouting heaps of steam. The green lake had special wavy steam spikes of its own which only went up to a certain height and wandered towards the spiky geyser mountain. It eerily looked like wild spirits dancing in concert to a techno beat over a surface painted with nuclear waste. This geothermic night club had to be seen to be believed, and I think it was left out of the Lord of the Rings because it looked way too computer generated. 

After Roturua, we hung out in Wellington for a few days. It was there that we made an incredible discovery. It began when we arrived in Wellington and Mark decided to stay at the ritzy James Cook Hotel and covered our huge expense. After realizing that I was running out of cash a few days previous to our arrival in Wellington (due to Tahiti!), I had begun to eat ham and cheese sandwiches instead of steak dinners. That night at the James Cook, I felt that Mark was working with a different budget than I was and it would be a problem. The next morning, after a great workout at the hotel gym and an spectacular breakfast buffet, I was prepared to discuss this issue with my homeboy. Mark had a surprise of his own – he too was running out of cash and would be cutting his trip short. Instead of skimping out on meals and room rates, he was living it up. He was keeping the trip short of sweet instead of long and painful. Mark taught me the proper way to travel! He shortened his trip to go to Bali after New Zealand for a week before heading home, and I decided to go to Australia after NZ instead of Thailand and Vietnam. I also had a couple more steak dinners, some incredible penne pasta dishes, and two more nights at the James Cook!

While I was in Wellington, I also decided to take a trip down to Whitiriea Polytech. All the classes I taught in Tonga were in correspondence with this NZ college and I had spent a large amount of my time talking/yelling at teachers there. I really wanted to see what they looked like and how “ghetto” the school was. It wasn’t too bad at all, and I had a great time attaching email addresses to actual faces. My biggest surprise was how many of my former students were at the school and performing extremely well. While I was in one office chatting with a professor, a group of 10 of my past students gathered outside and cheered for me! It was the greatest highlight of my trip. I ended having lunch at Burger King with them (their treat). It was awesome. I hope some of you teachers out there have a chance to see your students again because it is a very special treat.

From Wellington, we went to Picton in the South Islands via a ferry. We could feel the temperature drop during the ride and the scenery change from lavish green hills to white-tipped mountains. From Picton, we went to Greymouth and then to Franz Joseph to climb the glacier. It was the first time I had ever seen ice and snow. The pain of frostbite took away any pleasure from the experience. Surprisingly though, it was a really sunny day and I had to strip down to a t-shirt by the time we got to the top. The trip was astounding… the glacial ice moves so often that even the guides are never sure about the paths. It was definitely very dangerous, and I learned the hard way (many times, as I’m not a fast learner) that frozen ice can cut you up as well as rough cement can. Every time we took a trip over the bridges on the glacier, our guide would hammer in the nails holding it above deep crevasses. The way he would gingerly walk over the narrow bridge did nothing to reassure us, although some of the Euro tourists would be crazy enough to stop in the middle and take pictures of the way down. The passageways through the ice got more creatively twisted the further we went up the glacier and at times they looked completely unnatural. The view from the top of the glacier was unreal. It didn’t even seem like we were on the same planet as the valley below us. 

From Franz Joseph, we drove to Queenstown. It’s built on a steep hill overlooking a very dynamic harbor and it was quite different from all the other places we had seen in the south islands. It was more about things to do than about things to see. My greatest regret on this world trip was not going parasailing, skydiving, or bungie jumping in Queenstown. Each activity is really expensive (neighborhood of $150-200 NZ) but in retrospect, it would have been worth it. We still had a good time with the gondola that takes you up to the top of the hill overlooking the entire city. The restaurant at the summit is fantastic and gives you a panoramic view of Queenstown. I really enjoyed the Wildlife Sanctuary where we saw a fascinating bird show and saw live kiwis being fed under ultraviolet light (they are nocturnal). I always thought the platypus was the weirdest looking animal on the planet, but kiwis are even stranger. It doesn’t have any wings and it lays eggs that are as big as it’s entire body! They reminded me of the strange seedy alien characters at the Tatooine bar in the first Star Wars movie (EP 4).

After Queenstown, we drove to Te Anau to check out the legendary fjords. The most popular fjord is Milford Sound, but just about every Kiwi (person not bird) we met recommended Doubtful Sound. After we made arrangements to take a cruise through the acclaimed Doubtful Sound, we took a trip to glow worm caves nearby. I don’t recommend glow worm caves unless you’re the type that can spend 30 minutes watching glow-in-the-dark stickers on a ceiling (and then ask yourself if you could do it in a claustrophobic, damp environment). The Doubtful Sound cruise took place on a very foggy day which was disappointing as we hadn’t encountered anything but sunshine on our trip, but then we realized that all the postcards they sold were pictures taken on foggy days so we really lucked out. The fjords were fantastic but ominous… endless mountains bordering the ship shrouded by clouds dangerously close to the ground. Coupled with the weather, I felt like we were on the set of a Sinbad story preparing for a battle with a sea monster or garuda. Or like a Mormon missionary before the “perfect storm” (see “Other Side of Heaven”). All we encountered were spinner dolphins who were eager to entertain us and bored seals relaxing on an island rock. At one point, our guide turned off the engines and told us to shut of everything so we could hear “the sound of silence”. I wish I could have recorded it for y’all… it was sweet 🙂

In Dunnedin, we visited an enclave of albatross and penguins. They were fun to watch, but the tour guide’s stories about their soap opera-ish lives was hilarious. They usually mate for life, but they sometimes switch partners and hold grudges. The albatross have huge spectacular wingspans, and our tour group waited for eternity hoping they would do something interesting. We would have our camera’s ready as soon as one feigned a desire for action, but it would flop down on the ground again. I began to suspect that it could see us through the one-way tinted windows, and was entertained by our growing disappointment. 

When we finally reached Christchurch, we were tired of seeing any more attractions and spent some quality time in the city. After watching Lord of the Rings: Return of the King one last time, we released our noble steed back into the wilderness of Ace Rent-a-Cars. It seems fit that we enjoyed great weather throughout our arduous journey but it was extremely wet and bitingly cold the day Mark left NZ for Bali and our “Keep Left” tour was disbanded. On another occasion I would have been remorseful of leaving the wonders of “Middle Earth”, but the icy temperatures made me eager to get to Australia.

My family almost moved to Australia in 1988 but we ended up staying in Kuwait until the Persian Gulf War violently jerked us back to the US. I have always wondered what my life would have been like had we moved to Brisbane 15 years ago. Maybe I’d have a funny accent! 😉

Arriving in Melbourne, I was astonished at how crowded everything was. While cities in New Zealand were very developed, they were definitely not so densely populated. I stayed with Kirsty and her family for nearly two weeks. Kirsty used to work in Tonga as a librarian last year, and now she’s writing epics for young adults. She’s going to be the next JK Rowlings, and I’m going to be an evil character in one of her books! Her house was like a habitat from the Melbourne Zoo, with 2 cats, 2 dogs, 2 chickens, and a cockatoo. Talking with her family made me realize that I was incredibly homesick. It wasn’t a gradual discovery but more of a recognition of a feeling that I’ve never had before but has been growing in me since the beginning of this year. When I figured out how much I wanted to be home, I changed my tickets again to get me there within a couple of weeks. Melbourne reminded me a lot of Austin, Texas (my favorite city in the entire world!) – lots of small narrow streets with cool little cafe and niche shops. There weren’t any weirdos roaming around or people in cowboy hats (funky boots were popular though) to capture that unique Austin flavor. I spent a weekend at Kirsty’s beach house in Anglesea and it was very relaxing. I visited the gaol (jail) and saw the armor of Australia’s greatest hero – Ned Kelley (a highwayman and a criminal mastermind). The Melbourne zoo was massive and they had lots of cool animal enclosures. My favorite was a monkey arena full of vines and hyperactive gibbons. The aerial acrobatics were fast and furious as two monkeys were duking it out for the love of their mother gibbon. 

My trip to Sydney via a train was awful. The person who sat in front of me had explosive diarrhea and was rude and obnoxious. The train ride took more than 13 hours and it was miserable. I met with a lot of old friends when I was in town, and I took a long trip to the aquarium. The underground glass passage was a thrilling experience; massive sharks, manta rays, and huge multicolored fish swan above and around the tunnel. I took a boat to take pictures of the opera house, but it wasn’t as impressive as I thought it would be however the stunning bridge and the rich architecture of the celebrity houses on the harbor more than made up for it. I spent a lot of time enjoying the night life in Sydney, but it was dampened by my urge to go home.

Before I returned to the US, I spent one week in Singapore visiting friends I hadn’t seen since the Persian Gulf War. It was amazing how much everyone had changed and how all my childhood friends were getting married (I spent an entire night arguing against an arranged marriage for me!). Singapore is a very prosperous place with colossal buildings and modern skyscrapers towering over almost everything. I would not describe it as a beautiful country although it is clean and well-kept; calling it sterile seems more appropriate. As a hub of business in Asia and Europe, there were many choices for dining and shopping. I spent a lot of time at an area called Little India which had a plethora of restaurants and bazaars from the Indian subcontinent. My favorite place was the Sim Lim Square building which is a gadget paradise. I spent countless hours searching its six floors of hundreds of electronic stores for bargains on technology I had never even heard about or imagined. 

On April 26th, I finally arrived in Houston, Texas and into the loving arms of my parents. My arduous journey was over! I still have tons of miles left on my world trip package, so I may squeeze out a trip around the US before it expires. I’ve seen the world, but I am excited about seeing the rest of my country!

2. Movie/TV Reviews

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten to see a lot of great movies. I had two 10 hour Singapore Airlines flights on my trip home, and it was phenomenal. You have your own screen and you can select any current movie (there were more than 20 to choose from!). Real movie theaters are pretty sweet too.

Here are the reviews:

*Scooby Doo 2 – The Scooby Gang has taken a major hit in public opinion after Scooby and Shaggy screw up the grand opening of the Scooby Gang Museum. While the moral of the movie is good, the execution is terrible and it is not funny. The only draw is seeing Velma in tight leather. 1/5

*Mona Lisa Smile – A liberal teacher moves to a conservative all-female university and tries to show the girls that there is more to life than finding a good husband. Typical feel good Julia Roberts fare. She has a fantastic scene when she gets really angry and tells off her students (reminds me of my time at Tupou 🙂 ) and Kirsten Dunst is great as a mean-spirited self-absorbed snob. 3.5/5

*Big Fish – A skeptical journalist wants to know the truth behind the tall tales about his dying father’s storied past. While it starts off extremely slow, it was definitely my favorite movie of my trip. The magic of love and death in the film fit into my ideals and the art direction is great. 4.5/5

*Cold Mountain – Story about a woman struggling in the South while she waits for the love of her life (who she’s met and talked to only once) to return from the Civil War. Good story, couple of good twists, and a non-clichÈ ending. Renee Zellwegger turns in the only good performance of the show, and she is awesome. My least favorite actor of all time dies in this as well so it gets a bonus. 3.5/5

*Mystic River – A young girl’s brutal death forces her father and two old friends to reunite and reexamine their past. The performances in this film are flawless but I hated it more than any film I have seen in years. If you do not want to spend two hours glued to the screen and then three weeks in therapy, do not watch this film. 4/5

*Paycheck – Cool premise but Ben Affleck is suck. .5/5

*Cooler – Guy works as a “cooler” in a casino by using his innately bad luck to make people lose their money. But then he falls in love and his luck changes. This is not a happy/fun film. It is slightly messed up, and a little more brutal than it needs to be. 3/5

*Kill Bill Volume 2 – The Bride takes revenge upon the remaining members of the Viper Assassination Squad. Lacks the action and the gore of the first volume, but has a compelling story and fun characters. Fight between Darryl Hannah and Uma Thurman is the highlight and David Carridine (of Kung Fu fame) is awesome as Bill. 4.5/5

*Hellboy – Teenage crime-fighting demon tries to stop the end of the world while he makes moves on a troubled mutant flame-throwing girl. Cheesy story but lovable characters. Maybe the start of a franchise? 3.5/5

*Passion of Christ – Final days of Jesus Christ. The movie is pretty good, but on the gory side. Should be a hit in Tonga! 4/5 

*Friends Finale – Not a good ending for a great television series. Ross, Rachel, Monica, and Chandler move on, while Joey gets his own show next year. 2/5

*Survivor All-Stars Finale – Gorgeous winner got a million dollars and got engaged to the runner-up. The runner-up was a genius in the way he controlled every other player in the game, but he made tons of enemies in the process. The tribal council pounded the runner-up to little bits, but he lost by only one vote. Great show! (4/5)

*24 Season 3 – All our main characters are either cannon fodder or traitors. Not all women are evil/stupid, and not all minorities get killed (at least not yet). All our theories about the show are blown apart just as easily as innocent people become collateral damage on the show. Makes no sense at all, but is still fun to watch. (3/5)

In the next few months, Spiderman 2, Shrek 2, Troy (ancient Greek city, not your chubby volunteer coordinator!), Van Helsing, I Robot, the Village, Cat Woman, Day After Tomorrow, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban are coming out. 

3. Life in the USA

Over the past two weeks, I have accomplished absolutely nothing. A year ago, I spent my time thinking about what to teach my students. Now, I spend my time thinking about what color iPod mini I should get and when will it arrive. I’m enjoying my online shopping options, but I think I’ll go crazy if I can’t find something more productive to do. I haven’t lived in Sugar Land for the past seven years and all my old friends have moved out. This place has gone from being a small suburb to becoming a bustling town. I feel like I’m in a new country, and this time I won’t be going through training (I’m getting homestay with my parents though… joy). This is my new adventure!

I walked by the Manhattan Bagel Company in my neighborhood the other day and noticed it was going out of business. I had my first job there cleaning toilets and making bagels. Turns out that because of the low-carb craze, not too many people were interested in bagels these days. My father and I started doing the Atkins diet (low carbohydrate, high fat and protein) a couple weeks ago and it’s been fun. I did it mostly to be his support, but he’s only lost 5 lbs while I’ve lost more than 20. It’s interesting how popular this diet is now and how many restaurants are changing their menus.

I paid $200 for a gym membership a few days ago. It was the cheapest price I could find, which is shocking considering I paid $2 a month in Tonga. The gym is fully equipped with free weights and every single machine you can think of. However, the one thing I really miss about Tonga is the hardcore crowd. With my tattoo, I look like the toughest thing in the gym and that’s absolutely ridiculous. I growled on my last set of bicep curls, and everyone looked at me like I had issues. I definitely do, but being dedicated isn’t one of them.

One of my issues is a lack of transportation. Both my parents have 8 to 7 jobs and they need their vehicles. That’s ok, as I’m a little nervous about getting back on the Texas roads. What I’m shocked about is the lack of sidewalks to allow me to get anywhere without crossing a 4 lane highway. I’m looking forward to escaping my pedestrian prison once I get myself a set of wheels! I miss being near the ocean and my kayaking trips.

Television is awful. I’ve flipped through so many reality TV shows over the past two weeks that I now find my neighbor’s yard work fascinating. That’s reality for me. Searching for a job on the internet while looking at the unemployment rate go up is my reality right now. The news disturbs me far more often than it ever did. I’ve begun to question the agenda of the media and the spin they put on things. Was it ever objective or was just my imagination? The news definitely affects me more here than it did in Tonga where I felt detached from everything going on around the world. Again I feel bombarded by advertisements telling me what to buy, how to look, and where to go. I am overwhelmed.

When I talk to people, they ask me about Tonga. It’s so difficult to put two of the most amazing years of my life into words. Things that I no longer find unique or special after being accustomed to them in Tonga are subjects of astonishment and wonder. The things that I find incredible do not seem to faze people. I feel like I no longer share a common vocabulary with those around me. It’s almost like God added a few new colors to my palette for me to paint my history, yet I’m the only one who can see them and know what makes them special. It’s so weird that it’s disturbing. I’ve changed so much in such a short time but my peers (who’ve either been working or going to school) haven’t changed at all. I enjoy the company of others, but I feel more comfortable alone right now. Actually, I’m fine until I realize that I am alone. 

I’m also facing a small identity crisis. In Tonga, almost no one would ask you about your job. Here, the first thing people ask me about is my current occupation. People define themselves by their work. At this moment, I am unemployed. I have a resume but I have no idea what I really want to do in the future or with my life. I’ve never been in this situation before and it’s almost always on my mind. The ambiguity is never a pleasant thought.

I miss the taste of coconut cream in my food, and my wonderful neighbors. I miss the superstar status, and my cat ‘Avoka. I miss students knocking at my door, and the loud broken beep of the UPS in the Tupou server room. I miss the smiles of strangers, and the flicker of the eyebrows to answer every question. I miss the singing at church and the squealing of pigs before a kai pola. I miss the flirtatious nature of the girls, and their sexy gold teeth. 

But I’m in the USA now, and there’s no place I’d rather be. This is the only country in the world where I feel like I can work my tail off and have a good chance of being successful; that’s something that few places can boast about. In this country, I can have my American dream. I may have been away for two years, and I may have a long journey ahead of me. This is my new adventure!

Now would you like fries with that?

Deep’s Lord of the Stings: Tattoos and other Wild Adventures

Hey y’all!

To catch you up on what’s happening: Sandeep, a small hairy woodland creature from the quaint countryside of Sugar Land, Texas and Mark, the ancient white wizard from the icy plains of New Hampshire, have began their perilous trek across Middle Earth in a rental car. It should be a lot of fun, especially after seeing the last Lord of the Rings a couple of days ago in the most amazing theatre (think iMAX) in Auckland. The screen and the sound were huge, and we got to see the movie gloriously earn all 11 of its Oscars. It seems fitting that I saw the first Lord of the Rings movie a month before I left for Tonga, and now after my own incredible Peace Corps journey is over I can witness Peter Jackson’s stunning conclusion to the story. I experienced a little bit of deja vu when we walked near the Auckland harbour… two years ago, fifteen group 62 people traveled out to the harbour for a visit to the Sky Tower during our 8 hour layover in Auckland before we left for Tonga (I put the cab ride on my credit card for us, and some of you chumps still owe me money!). It was so cool!

One thing about the final Lord of the Rings that troubled me was the ending. Frodo eventually decides that after his epic travels, he is longer able to live in the Shire as the journey has changed him too much. He leaves Middle Earth and his companions on an elven boat across the ocean never to return. After everything I’ve experienced in Tonga and the Peace Corps, am I going to need an elven boat away from Texas and everything I used to hold so dear? Perhaps!

Speaking of changes, I now sport a HUGE tattoo on my right arm. Think of a pathetic little armband tattoo and taper it eight times around your right bicep. There you go… you’re tattooed Sani style. Right before we left Tahiti, we went to a guy named Roo’nui who had a wicked laugh and a penchant for insulting other not-so-legendary Tahitian tattoo artists. Despite his frequent marijuana breaks, he had done an awesome job on Mark’s leg turtle tattoo the day before, and I had no doubt that he would do a great job on mine. He took three hours to sear the hardships and the celebrations of my Polynesian experience into my skin. The front of the biceps was not too painful… it was like a hundred molokov bites (I actually have a molokov in one of my tattoo bands!) firing off at the same time. The tattooing of the tricep area, which is one of the most sensitive areas of your body, was even worse and as close as I will ever get to experiencing the pain of childbirth. I knew something beautiful was being created in this process, but it was the most excruciating experience of my life. I think it’ll be a while before I do it again. It’s awesome to know that when I get back into the intense pace of life in the USA, I’ll be able to pull up my sleeves and remind myself of a place where work isn’t all that important. 

The food on this trip has been incredible. I’ve had a diverse assortment of steaks, salads, pitas, pasta, kebabs, hamburgers, and sandwiches. I’ve been to small little cafes and exotic one-of-a-kind restaurants. While I miss Akikos very much, the variety of foods that we’ve had in Tahiti and New Zealand and in the air (I admit that I love travelling mainly for airplane food!) are astounding. I feel like I have taste buds coming alive that have been dormant for the past two years. While I sometimes get the craving for some lu and ufi, I can usually get over it by consuming some pepper steak and a nice salad. Yesterday, we went to Wendy’s for a terrible hamburger combo, followed that up with a decent Burger Fuel Bastard Burger (massive!) for lunch, and then went to an amazing restaurant called Valentines for dinner. Imagine all of the top 5 dishes from every palangi restaurant in Tonga and stick them in a buffet for $10 US then toss in unlimited drinks (beer, wine etc.) for $5. Valentines was sweet, so check it out if you’re ever in Auckland. 

Before we left Tahiti, we went on a few more great tours. On our marine tour, we watched tons of dolphins beside our boat and we went out to a reef reserve where we fed the marine life. I actually fondled an enormous shark for a few seconds before I got in trouble for stepping on a huge sea turtle! We got to see the best surf spots in Tahiti where a surfer could spend five minutes on a wave before it broke. The view of Tahiti from the boat was unbelievable. The rugged mountain ranges have all been sites of several movies and even the houses and hotels (one was built right over the water) add to the beauty of the island. The next day we took a land tour that wasn’t quite as impressive, but we stopped off at a juice factory and I had 12 different liquors and wines! Ifo aupito! New Zealand hasn’t failed to disappoint us either. We were considering going on one of the big tours here, but we decided to form our own tour instead – the Keep Left tour. You may see some of our bumper stickers or road signs when you are in New Zealand someday. So far we’ve travelled through Auckland, the Coremandel peninsula, and Whitianga. They are stunning. The long stretches of road on which we travel dive through mountains and over bountiful farm land. Every few minutes we stop to take pictures and usually a dozen other cars stop behind us to do the same thing… we think people may be trying to join our Keep Left bandwagon. Even the bustling towns are stunning with such an awe-inspiring backdrop. This is my impression of New Zealand even before we’ve gone to the south islands of New Zealand where such classics as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Hercules, and Xena have been filmed. The best is yet to come. 

I’ve been spoiling myself shopping as well. Over the past year, my feet have suffered through shoes that have been too small, and shoes (from Fiji!) that have fallen apart in a week. I went to one of the best shoe dealers and purchased the most expensive running shoes I could find (New Balance 1221s… praise the lord!) and even the most expensive socks. Mark and I went digital camera shopping and I couldn’t wipe the big grin off my face as we walked into well stocked electronic stores. I’ve gone post card crazy and have sent out a ton of them to my friends and family. I’m aching to go back into a Borders book store and purchase a few dozen paperbacks. The one I went to in Auckland had five floors of novels, DVDs, and music! Walking into a gigantic Foodland store in New Zealand leaves me in a state of nirvana. Life is good!

I will toss up some pics up on my website at http://www.koorse.com/travels including tattoo pics if you’re curious. Tell me what you think of it! Let me know if you need anything from New Zealand and keep in touch. 

Take care!
Love, Sandeep (the RPCV formerly known as Sani)

From Tonga to Tahiti

Hey y’all!

I am in Tahiti right now and seriously missing Tonga. I miss my 24/7 free internet access and my laundromat! I did laundry by hand for the first time ever and I was sweating like an hour of Body Combat at Teufaiva Gym. I’ve spent the equivalent of 15 American dollars for 30 minutes of Internet time over the past three days! And food in Tahiti is expensive. No Akikos here. People complain about how little we can purchase for our monthly allowance in Nuku’alofa… you should see what three days in Tahiti has done to my entire readjustment allowance! While Mark thinks that we are living the high life, I feel like I’m roughing it for the first time in the Pacific.

This place is awesome!

Tahiti is stunning especially the outer island of Mooria which we are on right now. Tonga is probably more beautiful overall, but Tahiti really caters to tourists with a clean, hospitable environment. The beaches are nice but don’t hold a candle to what’s up in Ha’apai or the Niuas. Tahiti is not conservative at all… the girls sun bathe topless which is pretty cool, but for some reason I find the Tongan wet t-shirt swim attire more appealing. Nothing was closed on Sunday, and customer service exists although I don’t know how to take advantage of it anymore. Everyone speaks French and very few people speak English, so it has been tough communicating with Tahitians and other tourists. Tomorrow, Mark and I will be feeding sharks, turtles, and dolphins. We may also head to the top of the mountain range crater and take a bunch of pictures. There is also a black pearl manufacturing tour we will go on. There lot’s to do here, and as long as we can pay our bills we should be very busy.

I’m having a tough time dealing with the fact that I’m no longer in Tonga anymore. I keep expecting to wake up and be back in homestay! I’ve got another two months of traveling before I go home, so I’ve got a lot of time to reflect on the experiences of the past two years. So far, I’ve realized:

  1. I am not the same person who left America two years ago. I take a glance at my website which was a snapshot of me two years ago, and realize that it doesn’t fit me anymore. In two years, I’ve moved at least a couple steps up from sociopathic wierdo.
  2. I still don’t know what to do with the rest of my life. For some reason, that doesn’t bother me as much as it used to but it probably bothers me twice as much as it should.
  3. Life is meaningless without Troy. I must find a new muse to inspire me. I’ve decided it’s going to be that stunning girl in “Lost in Translation”. Life seems so much better already!

While I ponder these issues, I plan to enjoy my world trip (after Tahiti, I go to New Zealand, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, Cyprus) and I want to keep in touch. Please keep me informed about what’s going on in your lives and I will do the same. I’m going to send out a group email at least once every three weeks while I am traveling so if you want to be removed from my list, let me know. If you know someone who wants to be on the list, but was left out due to the fact that I don’t have their email address, please send it to me. My email address is no longer saniko@tupouhs.fwc.edu.to…. it is now sandeep@koorse.com and will be for the rest of my life. I may be clearing up the pictures off my website once I get back in two months, so grab whatever you want from http://www.koorse.com and do it soon.

I love you guys, and I miss you all. If you are ever within a 100 miles of my current location (see my up-to-date contact info on my website), you will always have a place to stay and eat if you want it. 

Take care!

Love, Sandeep (the RPCV formerly known as Sani)