This Smartphone Better Be A Freaking Genius


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Ah, Verizon, how I hate you – for the most part.  Being a part of the “New Every Two” program, my eligibility for an upgrade was in August.  Of course, Verizon sent me an E-mail in July saying that I could get an early upgrade.  Although there was nothing technically wrong with my Samsung Galaxy S4, I went into the nearest branch to check out the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.  Although I emphatically stated several times that I was NOT interested in any type of a payment plan, they kept trying to sell me on a two-year payment plan.  With that, I would be paying the full retail price of the phone, which is a whopping $762 or something close.  Since when did “smartphones” become more expensive than a roundtrip ticket to Bangkok?!  For that price, the damned phone better be making breakfast for me and taking me to work, too!  My other option in July was to trade in my current phone.  I could then get the price of $250, plus a $40 upgrade fee (WTH?!), plus approximately $70 in taxes.  However, it would also include several free accessories.  I had no intention of trading in my phone, either, for some of their overpriced and very basic accessories, even if they were “free.”  I could have sold my phone on Gazelle for $85 (I’d already checked, of course.)  Their final option was for me to wait a month, then I could get the new phone for the total price of approximately $360 WITHOUT trading in my old one; there would be no free accessories at that time, of course.  My response was that I’d think about the options, then get back to them.  There was actually nothing to think about.  I made up my mind to return in a month to pay the $360 for the new phone, then sell my old one on Gazelle.

Let’s now skip to the end of August/beginning of September.  I returned to the same Verizon branch to get the new Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge for $360.  Well, surprise, surprise.  They now quoted the new price as being more like $450.  And even more surprises – they once again gave me the hard sell on a two-year payment plan.  Whether I decided to go with the trade-in or the payment plan, they didn’t have the phone in the color I wanted, anyway.  They told me that none of the branches in the district had that color.  As you can imagine, I was quite annoyed.  I walked out.

Still pining away for the new phone, I went on-line and tried to order it off of their website.  The website would quote me one price, but change it to a higher price whenever I clicked on it to put it in the cart.

As a last resort, I called Customer Service.  They weren’t really sure what was going on with the website.  After explaining my two visits to the nearest Verizon branch, the representative said that she wasn’t sure how they were coming up with their prices, either.  I carefully told the representative which phone I wanted, in what color and emphasized that I did NOT want to trade in my old phone nor did I want a payment plan.  Although we got disconnected several times, she called me back every time.  She was patient and said that she understood my frustration; she wanted to get the phone I wanted for as close to the price I wanted as possible.  It ended up that she was able to get the Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge Plus for a slightly better price than the regular Edge.  She said that the difference was a bigger screen and longer battery life.  The price was VERY close to the original pricing they’d given me of $360 AND they had the color I wanted.  Plus, the phone would be sent via Two-Day shipping, free of charge.  I thanked her profusely and vowed never to go into a Verizon branch again for a new phone, only to deal with Customer Service.

My new phone is here and I love it.  The length is longer, but the width is about the same.  It’s still a ridiculous amount of money for a supposed “smartphone,” but it’s a beauty in gold platinum.  To ease the price a little, a co-worker bought my old phone in cash for the price listed on Gazelle.  I also threw in the charger, of course, plus a practically brand new phone case (my old phone didn’t have a single dent/scratch/mark on it).

Remember when it was free to upgrade or a more expensive phone would cost something like $50?  Remember when the first cell phones were ginormous?  Remember when we had no Call Waiting or Caller I.D.?  Remember rotary phones?  Heck, I remember when my Grandma had a party line!!!  Makes you feel old, doesn’t it?!


It’s Wine O’Clock


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Yesterday a friend had invited me to the Harvest Party at Sterling Vineyards in Calistoga.  Having not been to wine country in quite some time, I took her up on the invitation.  She’d mentioned something about grape crushing/stomping.  What exactly does one wear for grape crushing?!  She said to obviously wear something that I wouldn’t mind getting a few stains on, as well as extra clothes to change into afterwards.  I wasn’t even sure that I would participate in the stomping of grapes, but was well prepared.  I was decked out in shorts & a loose top with slippers.  Were I to be convinced that sticking my feet in a barrel of grapes was a good thing, I then had another pair of shorts & top that could be stained without much concern from me.  Just in case, I also had a sun dress and another pair of slippers, should I be too casually dressed for whatever would be taking place.  The most important thing in my backpack, however, was the bottle of Wine Out, guaranteed to remove red wine stains!

M. and I arrived on the scene about 11:20 a.m.  We checked in, as the reservation was under the name of one of her friends.  The first thing we noticed was a huge plaque at the front which said “Before I die I want to…”  There were several spots underneath for people to fill in their wishes/plans with chalk.  We took turns writing ours and taking a few photos.  What do I want to do before I die?  Why, I want to move to Bali, of course!  She wants to “live like a queen.”  (I’d rather be a queen as opposed to just living like one, but I dream big!)

M. is Filipina and so were her 3 friends.  I’m Filipina, too, but American-born with absolutely no knowledge of Tagalog and relatively little knowledge of the Filipino culture.  Due to my lack of fluency in Tagalog, I was relegated to talking shop with the 3 American husbands at the table!  I was one of the guys, once again.

The first order of business was to rustle up some food.  I had some beef brisket, potato salad, green salad and grapes.  There was also chicken and apple cobbler.  I wanted a burger, but they weren’t ready yet.  Once we’d loaded up our plates and sat them down at our table, we high tailed it to the wine tables.  Although this was a joint event with Sterling Vineyards and BV Vineyards, only BV wine was being served.  I had no problem with that.  I give high marks to their Sauvignon Blanc and very high marks to their Tapestry.  The chardonnay was not to my liking, the Amalvasia Bianca was too sweet, the rose was nice enough and the other red wine (don’t remember what it was) was fine.

We settled in, ate, drank, got acquainted and took lots of pictures.  During all of this, a band was playing mostly blues and rock type music.  They were pretty good, too.  Their was a pumpkin carving contest, but the only one interested in doing that was M., so she put her knife skills to work by herself (for the most part).  She also wanted to do the grape stomping, but it required teams of 4 people and there weren’t 4 of us that were willing to turn our tootsies purple at the risk of staining our clothes.  Nearly all of us did the ring toss, some of us twice.  Only one of the group won a solitary bottle of wine, but that’s better than nothing, right?  We also watched the very strange frozen T-shirt contest.

Due to the high heat and several glasses of wine, j’etais pompette un peu (i.e. I was a little tipsy).  That’s probably what prompted a few of us to jump in the grape stomping barrels.  Since the contest was over, we sloshed around and took a few photos, but not enough to warrant my getting the Wine Out from my backpack.

The official event lasted 3 hours.  We then had a tour of the Sterling facilities; a comp ticket was provided for us at check-in.  The start of the tour involved taking one of those little “cars” on a cable up to another building/area.  Once that was finished, we wandered off in different directions.

Most of us ended up at Mumm Champagne by 4:00 p.m.  Some of the group were members there.  Of the 4 flights offered, I had the second one, but don’t have the slightest recollection of what they were.  I do recall, however, that the chocolates were divine with the flight!

I was back in San Francisco around 7:00 or 7:30 p.m., tired, yet happy.  I drunkenly downloaded a few photos, then proceeded to pass out, where I dreamed of champagne wishes and caviar dreams!
















New Toy!


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I don’t NEED another camera, but wanted more of a point-and-shoot camera that had a great zoom so that I don’t have to carry my DSLR and its heavy lens around with me whenever I want to take non-vacation photos from a distance. I ended up getting one from the Nikon Coolpix series.  The zoom is fairly impressive, but I’m still experimenting with the settings, so am sure that it does more than I’ve thus far discovered.  At the moment, however, aside from the zoom, I’m still preferring my Canon Powershot.  Saturday in Golden Gate Park was the perfect time to try it out.  A friend and I were there for the Third Annual Aloha Polyfest, anyway.  The Polyfest was rather small since it’s just starting out, but it was free and I’m always all about showing support for the Poly community.  I didn’t take any photos inside the building it was held at, but wandered through the park between dance performances and took some in and around the Japanese Tea Garden.  Here are the results of my experimentation.










Tahiti Fete on the Island of San Jose!


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The week after the 4th of July and Island Reggae Festival, the Tahiti Fete was held in San Jose.  I missed the morning performances, but the ones in the afternoon were fabu!  I also appreciated the fact that they had great vendors selling jewelry, clothing and crafts, as well as food vendors with real poke and shave ice.  Don’t let me hold you up any longer – enjoy the photos!











Poly People Celebrate the 4th


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The 4th Annual Island Reggae Festival was held in San Jose at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds on the 4th of July.  I’d wanted to go last year, though it was at a different location AND sold out.  Even though it required me to take a bus to the Caltrain station, an hour and 45 minute ride on Caltrain to San Jose, another bus in San Jose to a stop near The Plant and 10-15 minutes of walking, I managed to arrive there around 12:10 p.m.  The weather was a very warm 85 degrees Fahrenheit and plenty people were already there, though it had purportedly started around 11:00 a.m.

I quickly did a once around to locate the two stages, the food trucks/stands, vendors and exhibition halls.  There were some nice clothing vendors such as Hella Good, Hawaiian Royalty Clothing and Kava One.  The food vendors were slightly disappointing as there wasn’t enough local-style food.  There was East Indian, Chinese and Mexican food, with another that seemed to be selling some type of Asian mix (spied some lumpia).  There was kava, believe it or not, as well as shave ice.  You needed to get an ID check and a special wristband to drink alcohol.  I ended up standing in line for about half an hour to get two scoops of potato/mac/crab salad with beef teriyaki from Moe’s Hut out of Oakland.  The beef teriyaki was too fatty and chewy for me and the potato/mac/crab salad was bad, just bad.  Suffice it to say that I had maybe 4 bites of food, then promptly threw it in the trash.  So much for my $7; good thing I didn’t go for a full-size combo.

Next I searched out the stage that Samu was supposed to be performing at.  His equipment didn’t seem to be set up yet, though.  That was my cue to check out the dance performances in one of the exhibition halls.  Unlike at past Aloha Festivals, people were not packed in like sardines with everyone blocking each other’s views while they tried to take pictures.  There was plenty of seating, so I sat in the front row and watched the end of a Samoan performance.  There was a bit of a wait before the next performance, but the DJ cranked out some popular local jams.  Although I didn’t quite catch the name of the dance troupe/halau that was up next, they did a combination of Tongan/Samoan/Tahitian/Maori/Hawaiian dances.  The second Tahitian soloist was quite good.  I’d been there awhile, so went back out to try to peruse the vendors a bit more, then listen to some music.

Throughout the course of the day, I managed to see the sets of Teki (part of), Maoli, Trey Smoov, Fiji, House of Shem and Sammy J.  Maoli was the best with Sammy J. not far behind.  Teki seemed a little off.  Because of the Caltrain schedule and not wanting to risk missing the very last train, I headed out around 6:30 p.m., but still ended up on the 8:00 p.m. train back to San Francisco.  Of course, leaving at 6:30 p.m. made me miss J. Boog, The Green and Spawnbreezie.

Aside from the music, I also perused the other exhibition hall which housed the car/bike cruisers/motorcycle exhibit.  Various tattoo artists were in there, too.  The cars were mostly beautiful, spotlessly clean low riders.  Most of the tattoo artists seemed to be from Oakland, Sacramento and Hawaii.

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Roommate Wars


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As the last original tenant on a lease of a 3-bedroom, 1-bathroom apartment in San Francisco, I get to choose who I want as my roommates.  For the past two years, A1 and A2 have been my roomies; they’re both guys in their 20’s.  A1 has been here a few months longer than A2.  When new roomies move in, I ask certain things of them – no dirty dishes in the sink, don’t make enough noise to bother the other roommates or other tenants in the building, pay your rent on time, make sure your rent check doesn’t bounce, don’t have significant others or friends staying over more than 3 times within a 7 day period, don’t make a mess in the kitchen and don’t have friends/relatives/significant others alone in the apartment.  Those are basic rules, right?  Of the two, A1 is the one who’s more proactive about cleaning because he’s the one who cooks and has people over more often, especially his significant other.  A2 doesn’t cook, occasionally makes a small mess in the bathroom, has people over once in awhile and travels a lot.

Now for a little history…  When A1 first moved in, he told me that his European girlfriend would be visiting for the month of August.  I wasn’t really that thrilled about it, but said it would be fine.  Obviously, she was in the apartment many, many times without him being here, since he works during the day.  What really irked me, though, was the fact that not only was she here during the entire month of August, she was also here for the entire month of September and into part of October!  The building manager even asked me who that woman was and wanted to know when she would be leaving.  I didn’t say much to A1 at the time.  However, had he been planning to have her visit again, I was prepared to tell him that she couldn’t stay longer than two weeks.  As luck would have it, they broke up shortly afterwards.  Eventually, a new girlfriend came on the scene.  After awhile, she was here constantly.  Not just that, but I came home to find her lounging around the apartment by herself once.  A1 must have been at work, at class or out with friends.  In the meantime, she was here without him for 2 or 3 hours!  I was SO not pleased.  When I told him that we needed to talk, he already knew what it was about.  At that point, I thought we’d nipped it in the bud.  Thanksgiving came along.  A1 had his significant other and another friend or two over and they cooked.  Meanwhile, I was in Las Vegas.  I go through cooking phases; sometimes I don’t cook for a month or two.  So it must have been the second week of December when I decided to cook something requiring the oven.  I opened the oven to find…  an extremely dirty roasting pan caked with food that had obviously been used on Thanksgiving!  I was livid and sent A1 a text saying that he needed to get home ASAP and clean that pan because I was most definitely not happy.  He came home that evening, cleaned the pan and we never mentioned it again.  Getting back to the girlfriend, I know that various roommates have tried to hide their significant others in their rooms, thinking that I don’t know they’re here.  Believe me, I know!  That’s been going on randomly.  Just this past week, A1’s S.O. stayed over on Friday, Saturday, Sunday AND Monday.  On Monday, she somehow managed to get into our security building all by herself (though, granted, someone in the lobby could have let her in).  She then knocked on our door and proceeded to roll her bicycle into A1’s bedroom.  I was right in the midst of interviewing for a potential roommate, which I’ll get to right NOW.

A2 let me know a few weeks ago that his job would be transferring him to NYC at the end of July.  To make the roommate process as painless as possible, he said that he could line up some of his co-workers and friends that were interested in his room.  He could vouch for them as well as far as being drama-free and completely able to cover the rent.  I said that would be fine, but that I still might go ahead and advertise on Craig’s List, too.  He completely understood.  So when A1’s S.O. rolled her bike through the entryway, it was the first (and thus far, only) day that I’d begun interviewing people for A2’s room.  A2 had lined up 5 of his co-workers and friends to  start it off.  He said that he could then line up more people, I could go ahead and advertise on Craig’s List or whatever I decided to do.  Surprisingly, I truly liked every single one of the 5 people that he’d lined up.  In fact, I already had my mind made up and this had been the most stress-free roommate search ever.  Thanks, A2!

Getting back to A1…  I haven’t been crazy about the living situation with him over the past 3 months or so.  However, since I’ve been traveling, I haven’t had time to devote to starting a roommate search.  July is the first month that I won’t be traveling, so this was the month I could give A1 the news.  Since A2 is moving out at the end of this month, I thought it would be the perfect time to search for 2 roommates at once, so that I wouldn’t have to go through the roommate search twice.  Of course, I had to wait until June 30th to break the news to A1.  The 3 of us were sitting in the kitchen for our discussion.  A1 was in complete shock.  He wanted to know why, but asked if it was his S.O.  When I said “mostly,” but also reminded him that his other girlfriend had been staying with us for nearly 2 1/2 months right at the start of him moving in, he began to get angry.  I need to do whatever to make MYSELF happy and not worry about how others will react.  That being said, A1 then asked “Is that all?  Do you need anything else from me?”  When I said “No,” he promptly stood up, stomped off, went into his room and slammed the door.  A2 and I looked at each other, while I told him that, if one of the other people he’d brought by was interested, A1’s room would now be available, too.  He said that he’d let both of my choices know.

There we have it.  Another angry roommate on his way out.  Past roommates have been surprised and/or unhappy, but none have had quite that reaction.  It’s going to be such a joy living with him for the month of July!! I also get the distinct feeling he’s not going to be very cooperative when my choice for his room wants to take a more in-depth look at said room and if we ask him to switch the internet account over to the new roommate’s name.  :)

Feelin’ Jazzed


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A few weeks ago, I was back in L.A. for Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl.  A friend from college, G., picked me up at the airport on Saturday morning, then I took him to breakfast. (We’d just reconnected in May, having not seen each other since 1981!) Since he knew my afternoon plans were to be at the Playboy Jazz Festival, he offered to take me to Ralphs to pick up some picnic supplies before dropping me off at my rented AirBnB apartment. At Ralphs I bought some watermelon, fruit salad, a chicken Caesar wrap, some Italian meatballs and a 6-pack of Heineken (though the Heinies were actually for an ex that would be dropping by later).

My AirBnB apartment was very close to Melrose and La Brea, about 4-5 blocks from my old apartment in West Hollywood. Although the owner of the apartment was vacationing in Mexico, she assured me that she could buzz me into the front door from her cell phone regardless. Lest there were any problems with that, she’d also given me the number of a friend in the building that could let me in. I’d gauged my arrival to be between 11:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. and had told her as much in an earlier E-mail. We arrived at the apartment building a few minutes after 11:00 a.m. I called her cell phone, but got no answer. I waited a few minutes, then buzzed her apartment; still no answer. I tried the cell phone directly again, to no avail. I looked up the number of her friend and called it, but received a message that the number had been changed or disconnected. I was starting to panic a little, but called her cell phone a final time and left a message. I told G. that he didn’t have to wait, that surely SOMEONE would let me into the building within 15 minutes. He didn’t want to leave me, though. As we were standing there discussing options, a woman DID enter the building and let us in as well. Just to be safe, G. waited downstairs with my suitcase while I made sure that I found the key to the apartment itself and was able to enter. All went well, I got into the apartment, went back down to get my suitcase and bid G. adieu. He said to text him as to what time my flight was on Monday and he’d take me back to the airport, too.

Since about a year ago, I’ve stayed at several AirBnB apartments, of which only one appeared to be the actual abode of the owner. That one, in Bali, was owned by a young Aussie woman who traveled as a dancer about half the year. When she traveled, she rented it out; her mother lived upstairs. It didn’t really feel as if anyone lived there, though, as she locked up her personal items in a few armoires. It was evident, however, that someone lived in this apartment. Not only was her bike in the living room, but her clothes were in the closet, her jewelry and hair accessories were laid out, and her bras were neatly folded in a plastic organizer. She was kind enough to leave a bottle of wine for me, though. Even so, it felt a little strange to me, but I figured I’d get used to it. I put my groceries in the refrigerator, placed my toiletries in the bathroom and took a nap!

The Playboy Jazz Festival started at 3:00 p.m., but I packed up my food (and wine) and walked to the bus stop around 4:00 p.m. I exited the bus at Hollywood and Highland, then walked up Highland to the Bowl, arriving around 4:45 p.m., more or less. I texted my friend, A. (another college friend), who’d arrived shortly before me. As I was walking to her section, I ran into S., the ex-roommate of one of my exes. We chatted awhile. During that chat, I spied B. (sort of an ex from college) and his friend, C., walking to their section. To make a long story short, A., B., C. and I all ended up sitting in S.’s section. I believe it was a “handicapped” section. He could sit there because he had his walker and had recently, as in that week, gotten out of the hospital. There were extra seats; some women had already left and said that they wouldn’t be back, telling us to take their seats. Later in the day, when the sun had gone down, a large group of older people arrived in that section. They come as a group every year. They were quite the partyers and insisted on sharing jello shots, moonshine, other flavored alcohol, cookies and neon bracelets with us! Even though B. had said that mainstream jazz isn’t one of his favorite genres, we were all there mainly for the comraderie and fun experience. You can’t help but make a few new friends at the Bowl. Our favorite performer by far was Aloe Blac. I’d been looking forward to seeing Eddie Palmieri as well, but his set was much more low-key than I’d expected. I was planning to leave around 9:00 p.m. as I had a rendezvous with my ex at 10:00 p.m. A. was leaving as well, offered to drop me off. The boys were still having a good time, though B. razzed me quite a bit for leaving him.

Sunday started out quietly for me. I was a little hung over! My friend and former co-worker, B., was meeting me for lunch at Pizza Romana. At 12:30 p.m. I was sitting inside the restaurant. She was outside calling me, slightly confused as to which restaurant it was! We had spicy chicken tenders, Italian meatballs and roasted cauliflower. I even ordered another of the spicy chicken tenders to take with me to the Bowl!

None of the boys showed up on Sunday, but A. was there with her nephew’s fiancée and the fiancée’s bestie. They’d brought their own jello shots in TWO different flavors. We sat together and drank quite a bit, as well as eating plenty of chicken (as they’d brought chicken, too), but toned it down in comparison to Saturday. Our favorite performers on Sunday were Terrence Blanchard, Ledisi and Third World.

We agreed that all of us want to get seats next to each other next year, so ONE of us will buy all of the tickets at once and the others will pay him/her back. I love going to the Bowl and miss being able to go at any time during the summer. Yep, I think the Playboy Jazz Festival will be my annual tradition!




Porker Status


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For you foodies out there, here’s a little food porn from my trip to Southeast Asia!  In all honesty, I found the food in Siem Reap to be a bit bland and very unexciting.  Indonesian and Thai food were great, as usual!  Love all the fresh juices in Southeast Asia, though, as I seldom feel the urge to drink any sodas there.

My favorite - Thai iced coffee, black, with NO cream

My favorite – Thai iced coffee, black, with NO cream

Chicken Satay & Bruschetta from Le Isaan

Chicken Satay & Bruschetta from Le Isaan

Watermelon-Cucumber Salad & Deep Fried Spring Rolls from Hujan Locale

Beef Coconut Curry from Melting Wok Warung

Beef Coconut Curry from Melting Wok Warung

Eggs Benedict from Copper Kitchen

Cereal Milk Panna Cotta from Copper Kitchen

Cereal Milk Panna Cotta from Copper Kitchen

Cheeseburger from The Dusty Cafe

Cheeseburger from The Dusty Café

Ayam Pelalah Half Moons from Ginger Moon

Chicken Amok from Square 24

Chicken Amok from Square 24

Shrimp & Veggies from Somewhere on Soi Rambuttri

Shrimp & Veggies from Somewhere on Soi Rambuttri

Taking Blame


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A friend and I were having a normal conversation when he suddenly brought up the subject of people getting hurt (emotionally).  He said that if someone gets hurt, it’s their OWN fault and not the fault of the person who’s causing the pain.  His rationalization is that one ALLOWS themself to be hurt.  WTF?  So, if my understanding is correct, if you’re hurt by your significant other, it’s your own fault for loving them/caring about them?  What kind of F***ed up rationale is that?!  He said that, even when you love someone, you need to move on.  If someone is hurt by YOU, it’s not your fault that they couldn’t handle the pain (caused by you).  The conversation really upset me.  I’d been drinking and we were talking about other things as well, as this was probably the last time we’d see each other for many years.  That’s a whole different story, though.

The conversation bothered me enough that I sent him a message the following day saying that I don’t agree with his rationalization that hurting someone is THEIR fault.  It IS the perfect excuse not to take accountability for one’s actions and words, knowing full well their possible effect on someone.  I said that if it works for him, however, so be it; to each his own.  I admitted to sometimes loving his coldness and cynicism, but being offended by his deigning to know my feelings about anyone or anything really important as I’ve never shared anything the least bit personal with him.  There was more, but…  I told him that he didn’t even need to reply to my message.

Naturally, he DID reply to my message, saying that he can’t always be so cynical and cold.  He also said that I shouldn’t take any of it personally because life is comprised of beautiful, amazing, sad and depressing moments.

I made things worse by replying to that message.  I don’t take it personally because he seems to have disconnected from many people recently.  He’s changed in the years since we’ve met and now seems scattered, unhappy and maybe slightly broken.  You can’t live your life completely by rationalizing what is right and wrong; everything is not black and white.  I said that I hope he finds happiness and real love one day.  Also, that one day, he’s going to make a decision based on what’s in his heart (as opposed to what’s in his head) and it’s going to be the best decision he’s ever made.  Then I confessed to feeling as if he’s put distance between us and that he, quite honestly, has made me feel bad by certain things that he says to me.  Yet, according to his rationalization, if I feel bad, it’s my fault, not his.  Right? The end of my message to him said that I can’t guarantee that we’ll always be friends; that if I could find it in my heart to remain friends, I would.  However, as of this writing, I don’t feel like being friends with him any more.  It’s a long story and maybe I’m overreacting, but that’s just the way I operate.

Touring the Ancient Temples


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This most recent trip to SE Asia encompassed my first ever trip to Cambodia, although it consisted of 4 days in Siem Reap.  Cambodia was thrown into the mix because, after asking several of my traveling friends what was the most impressive site they’ve ever seen, many answered “Angkor Wat.”  So off to Siem Reap I went. My first impression after deplaning and walking from the plane inside to the terminal was that Siem Reap is HOT!  In fact, in my opinion, it’s much more hot and humid than Thailand or any of my previously-visited SE Asian countries.  I was prepared with two passport photos and two copies of my passport.  On-line sources had said that the Tourist Visa would be $25, but it was actually $30.  Groups of us surrounded tables filling out the Visa application, which we then handed to an official.  It then went to a line of people who, I assume, were all working on stamping or whatever the various passports at the same time.  My piece of advice to those getting ready to fill out the Visa application is to make sure and bring your own pen.  Not only do you not have to wait for a pen, but several of those pens were out of ink, anyway.  They call your name once your passport is finished, you collect your luggage and are on your way.  I thought about exchanging currency, but the line was too long.  I’d also tried to get some Cambodian riel at the currency exchange in Kuala Lumpur, but they told me that they didn’t carry it and that U.S. dollars are mostly used in Cambodia, anyway. My hotel had told me that they would send a driver for me, whether in a car/van or tuk tuk, I had no idea.  I wasn’t really counting on it, anyway, as several former guests of the same hotel had stated on TripAdvisor that no driver ever showed up to collect them.  In that case, I was prepared to pay the going rate for a cab – $7, from what I’d been told.  Luckily for me, I DID notice a man holding a sign with my name on it as I exited the airport.  My tuk tuk driver, Mr. Sey, grabbed some of my luggage and led me to my “carriage.”  The drive to the hotel was rather uneventful, scenery-wise.  There were plenty of people on motorbikes and plenty of cows/water buffalos in the fields/rice paddies.  Upon arriving in town, Siem Reap seemed rather stuck in a time warp.  It was smaller and quieter than I’d expected.  My hotel was also a definite downgrade from my two fabulous hotels in Bali, but it was well located and the staff were very nice. As Mr. Sey dropped me off, I asked if I were to pay him.  He said that the hotel provided his service free-of-charge, but I could pay him something, if I wanted.  He then asked if I’d like to go to a restaurant featuring apsara dancing during a dinner buffet.  The cost was only $12 and he could pick me up at 6:30 p.m.; I agreed.  I didn’t pay him, as I wasn’t sure what the going rate would be.  Besides, he would be picking me up later, so I could pay him then.  Once he was gone, I asked the guy at reception what the going rate for tuk tuks was.  He said to pay drivers $2-$3 if they picked you up and dropped you off somewhere, to pay $5 if they picked you up and waited for you, and $15 if they took you around for an entire day. Mr. Sey picked me up on time, then let me know that he would wait for me.  We were given an hour to indulge in the buffet prior to the show beginning, although there was still food out during the show as well.  Most of the food on offer wasn’t as appealing to me – plenty of pork, fish and tofu.  I ate spaghetti Bolognese (yes!), garlic bread, chicken fried rice, noodle soup, deep fried spring rolls and an omelette that reminded me of Vietnamese banh xeo.  I also drank a large bottle of Cambodian beer and a bottle of water.  The food itself was fine; nothing outstanding.  The apsara dancing was nice, though much less dramatic than Balinese dance performances.  It was a pleasant enough way to spend an evening.  With the addition of my two drinks and adding a tip to my wonderful waiter, I maybe paid $20.  When Mr. Sey dropped me back at the hotel, I gave him $10 to cover both the airport pick-up and drop-off, as well as the one that evening. The next morning I had two tasks to take care of before Mr. Sey arrived. I needed to buy a disposable razor because mine had broken in Bali and I didn’t want to continue the rest of my trip with hairy legs and underarms! The receptionist directed me to a pharmacy that was relatively close. Since the hotel was across the bridge from the Old Market, I then wandered the market to find a pair of baggy pants and a loose fitting top to tour the temples on Wednesday. Some of the women in the market were decidedly cool towards me, so I started to feel as if I were in Vietnam again. I finally found a friendly vendor and bought a pair of “Ali Baba” pants for $6 and a long-sleeved, loose-fitting white top for $8. Mr. Sey arrived at 10:00 a.m. to take me to see the Cultural Village.  It was $15 to enter.  Once again, he waited.  I hate to say this, but the Cultural Center bored me out of my mind.  There was no real explanation of any of the exhibits.  There was strangeness all around, such as “art” like a huge calculator on the grounds somewhere.  What exactly does that have to do with Cambodian history and culture?!  I watched them re-enact a Cambodian wedding ceremony.  Once again, there was no real explanation of what was going on.  I watched some dancers practicing apsara, which was, by far, the most interesting thing there.  After an hour and slightly more, I exited to find Mr. Sey waiting.  He asked if I was hungry, which I was.  He took me to a somewhat upscale restaurant, where I ordered some type of beef dish.  The beef was tasteless and chewy, so I didn’t finish it.  After that, I wanted to go back to the hotel and regroup, beings the heat and humidity were getting to me.  Mr. Sey and I agreed that he would pick me up again on Thursday evening to take me to the Phare Cambodian Circus, as well as taking me to the airport on Friday morning. After freshening up and relaxing in my room awhile, I ventured downstairs to ask the woman at reception whether there were any photography studios nearby where I could get my photo taken dressed as an apsara dancer. She made a phone call and said that someone could pick me up, if I was interested. The price was $50 for 3 photos and would take about an hour and a half. Once again, the internet had misled me; articles had said that there were many photography studios that would do it for $15-$25. Since I hadn’t seen any photography studios at all, though, I decided to go with the one she recommended. Rather than someone from the studio picking me up, it ended up that someone associated with the hotel dropped me off via motorbike. She had a bit of a difficult time finding the location, as they had moved from where they used to be. I was surprised to discover that the two photographers were Japanese! They said they’d opened their studio a few years before. The woman who did my make-up and dressed me, however, was Cambodian. She applied the make-up rather heavy with a little contouring for the photos, but not garish. Once she’d outlined my eyes heavily in black and affixed the false eyelashes, I felt like Mata Hari! The costume I’d chosen was green rather than white, so obviously not the traditional apsara one. It took quite awhile for her to drape the various pieces of the outfit on me, then adorn me with as much jewelry as possible, along with a few fake flowers. I loved it, though. As she was proceeding to show me how to pose (she’s an apsara teacher), the electricity suddenly went out. Any coolness provided by the fans was gone! The costume weighed a ton and beads of sweat were starting to form, but they made me feel so comfortable. I was really having a good time posing. Not only did the two photographers take pictures with their cameras, but also with both my point-and-shoot camera, as well as my DSLR. They showed me the finished product and, honestly, all of them looked good to me. They added that they could put a background (such as Angkor Wat) in any photo for an additional $3 and that I could have another photo for an additional $10. Sounded great to me! I chose the first photo and a background, then told them to go ahead and pick the other 3 photos that they deemed were best. They ARE the professionals, after all! I then paid and they said that the photos would be edited and E-mailed to me within 2 or 3 weeks. The apsara teacher was then kind enough to drop me back at my hotel, although it had started to drizzle. The weather cooled off nicely for awhile. The evening found me down on Pub Street. Why is that street so famous? It’s small, with nothing that interesting there. I ate some deep fried spring rolls and had a strawberry daiquiri and a beer at World Lounge (I think it was). I wandered the Night Market and couldn’t believe the amount of loose gemstones that were being sold; they seemed too good to be authentic. Then I went to bed early in preparation for the all day photograph tour that would commence before sunrise. I’d booked a photography tour with So through His tuk tuk driver, Sokha, and he were at my hotel by 5:00 a.m., as promised. Naturally, the weather was pleasant at that time of the morning! We went directly too Angkor Wat, along with hordes of other travelers, to watch the sun rise. I only intended to spend one day seeing the temples, so the one day temple pass was $20. Approaching the magnificent temple, I parked myself in front of the reflecting pools for quite some time. The sunrise wasn’t as spectacular as So had hoped, but still beautiful. We then toured the inside while he explained part of the history and talked about many of the carvings. He was also handy because he could take pictures of me rather than me having to ask strangers who don’t know anything about using my camera. Since he’s a photographer, he figured both of my cameras out, with minimal help from me. Next to Angkor Wat is what he calls a “pagoda.” It’s where young boys go to train as monks. So, himself, had lived and trained there for 10 years. He said that it’s rare that tourists go there at all. Once they’re done with Angkor Wat, they rush off to the other temples. I came upon a very young monk crying, as I was trying to take his photo from a distance. So asked him what was wrong; apparently, the other young boys had been teasing him. The others all seemed jovial while they ate cake and hung out together. I loved taking pictures of them. We talked to another monk who was studying before So introduced me to the elderly monk/priest that would be giving me a water blessing. The priest was collecting flowers from a tree to put in a bowl of water, which he would use to bless me with. Actually, both So and I were being blessed at the same time. However, So took a break in the middle of it to take pictures of me with both of my cameras, as well as with his. Another family, who were waiting for a water blessing themselves, sat on the side and watched. The priest chanted while dipping a “wand” into the water and flicking it (a lot of it!) on me, after which he tied a red yarn prayer bracelet on my right wrist. The next temple was Ta Prohm, more popularly known as the “Tomb Raider” temple, the one that’s overgrown with trees. They’ve already removed part of the trees because they’re destroying the temple, but have plans to remove more. It was beautiful, but not as magnificent as Angkor Wat. There was one more lesser-known temple after that. It was obviously lesser known because no one was there other than the 3 of us! We sat in the tuk tuk eating potato chips and fresh pineapple while drinking cold water before exploring that one. By then, the heat and humidity of the day was at its peak. So and Sokha dropped me at my hotel at 11:30 a.m., but said they would return at 1:30 p.m. During that time, I showered, changed from the loose-fitting top to a tank top and was ready to hit the streets again. I’d only recently found out the day before that Khmer boxing is held on Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. Since it was my only chance to see it in Siem Reap, I’d asked So if he could change my afternoon schedule to incorporate it. That was fine with him. He took me to an agency to buy the $15 ticket before we proceeded to Bayon, the temple with the huge faces. It was also beautiful, but I was still a bit too hot to fully enjoy its charms. As we were leaving the temple, we noticed “nuns.” Both So and I were taking their picture, while So was talking to them. One motioned me to come closer and handed me sticks of incense. I placed them in the urn, then asked So what I was supposed to do – pray and bow/kneel three times before giving them a small monetary donation. I felt a little awkward, but did as instructed. So and Sokha took me to the boxing stadium shortly after 3:30 p.m. So was going home for the day, but instructed Sokha to wait for me until the boxing matches were over. I walked into the stadium with no clue as to whether my ticket was for a certain section or not. There was a raised section on one side where obvious expats were enjoying an unobstructed view and drinking beer. However, I also saw expats in upper rows of other areas. I sat in the second row of the “normal” area with all of the locals. They gave me a few looks out of the corners of their eyes when I dragged my cameras out, but were curious and not unfriendly. I enjoyed the boxing, of course, but it’s much less brutal than Muay Thai. That must be because only knees are allowed in Khmer boxing, while knees, elbows and nearly everything else are allowed in Muay Thai! As promised, Sokha was waiting for me when I exited. He dropped me at my hotel and insisted on shaking my hand. He asked if he might take me to the airport and was disappointed to find out that I already had someone for that. I told him that he could return at 8:00 p.m., though, as I wanted to go to a certain restaurant on Street 24, to which he agreed. Beings I had yet to be impressed with any of the food in Siem Reap, I’d mentioned that to my friends on Facebook. One of them had suggested a restaurant called Square 24 to me, so that’s where I went to dinner on Wednesday night. The restaurant was gorgeous and the staff was super nice and friendly, but I was the only person there. I ordered a beef salad (spicy) and chicken amok (also spicy), along with real French wine. The beef salad was good, but the chicken amok was really good. I know that Cambodia is known for its fish amok, but I wasn’t in the mood to eat fish. Once again, the staff was very attentive, making sure that everything was to my liking. They even brought me a complimentary banana dessert. Before paying the bill, I’d ordered a fish amok to go (their mains were a mere $9). One of the staff walked me out the front to make sure that my driver was there. When Sokha saw me, I handed him the fish amok, my left-over chicken amok, steamed rice and the banana dessert. “For me?!” he asked incredulously. “Of course!” I was content to return to the hotel and go to sleep early after starting my day at 4:00 a.m. Thursday was my last day in Siem Reap. I once again went to the Old Market and bought another pair of baggy pants. I picked up some macarons at The Blue Pumpkin Bakery, but they were sort of crunchy on the outside. I had a very good candle massage at Kaya Spa for $25; they melt massage oil candles and then massage you with the heated oil. That was followed by a $15 facial at Angel Spa/Massage, which was great because they do extractions. I ate some fried rice with three chicken skewers at The Sun for a mere $5, then spent an hour asleep by the pool. Mr. Sey picked me up at 6:00 p.m. to take me to the Phare Cambodian Circus. The circus performers are all youths who come from disadvantaged families. The circus is like a mini Cambodian version of Cirque du Soleil, though they have 2 or 3 different shows, which alternate. I’d reserved a VIP seat on-line for $35. Everyone there was very nice. You walk through their gift shop first, which has many interesting products. You’re then in their café area. My ticket included a complimentary bag of popcorn, but I passed on that and simply had a soda while waiting for the show to begin. My seat was basically the absolute middle of the front row – the best seat in the house. I was certainly happy about that. All of us in the VIP seats also received complimentary bottled water, as well as an adorable elephant mobile. The performers were very animated, talented and proud to be involved with the project. After the show, which was nearly an hour and a half, guests were invited to meet the performers and take pictures with them. I passed on that as well because the mosquitos had chosen to devour me during the performance and I really couldn’t handle any more of being eaten alive! Once outside, Mr. Sey confessed that he’d gone to a wedding reception and had a few drinks while I was in the circus. Whatever, as long as he could get me back to my hotel safely. He then had a burning question to ask me. What was it? He wanted to know how I get my teeth so white! As I tell everyone – Crest White Strips; they really work! I paid Mr. Sey $6 and he clarified that he’d be there at 9:00 a.m. to take me to the airport. Back at the hotel, I changed, rested momentarily, then wandered back out for a few drinks on my final night in Siem Reap. Rather than deal with Pub Street again, I found an intimate, moody little bar only a block away from Pub Street. At Miss Wong, I had an order of har gow and a couple of glasses of red wine before turning in for the evening. In a nutshell, I don’t have strong feelings about Cambodia, one way or the other. The temples were completely worth seeing and the people were friendly enough, but the food was rather bland and the heat and humidity really got to me. On the other hand, I also enjoyed my photography tour, the Khmer boxing and the Phare Cambodian Circus, as well as dressing up to be photographed as an apsara dancer. Siem Reap won’t be on the top of my list to return to, but I won’t complain if my travels take me there again. IMG_9621 IMG_9646 IMG_9671 IMG_9694 IMG_9715 IMG_9782 IMG_6566


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