Monthly Archives: October 2012

San Francisco Shenanigans

Last weekend I decided to mix things up a bit and swapped Southern California for Northern California. I visited the beautiful city of San Francisco, stayed in a hostel, met other travelers and generally had an awesome time. One of my friends from law school in NZ is studying in Victoria, Canada, and so we met up for a catch up and tourist weekend. We saw Alcatraz, Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, and enjoyed some delicious dumplings in Chinatown. I participated in a Beer Olympics (and in the process learned to play flip cup) and attended my first American football game. Although my school work doesn’t thank me for it, it was fun staying in a hostel again, drinking cheap beer, sleeping in a bunk bed and getting very little sleep.

Alcatraz was a really interesting experience. It is one of those things you have to see when you visit San Francisco, and we were very lucky we booked ferry tickets in advance because they were fully booked!! It is pretty weird walking around a prison, but the audio tour was really informative and I feel like I learned something that day. The highlight of the weekend though was the football game. It basically took up the entire Sunday, so it had to be the highlight. The San Francisco 49ers played the New York Giants. We took a special bus out to the stadium, met other local fans on the way, and upon arriving we were lost in a sea of red (the main 49ers color). The stadium was HUGE, fitting over 60,000 people, and had security to match. The security guards had metal detector wands at the entrance, they searched your bag in-depth, and once you passed you had a long way to walk to find your seat. While watching the game, Rob commented how you never see any streakers at football games, like you get in New Zealand at rugby games. Then we saw the cops on the field with guns…that explained it.

Like I said, the stadium was pretty big, and even though we were pretty much all the way up the very very top, we still had a good view because of how vertical the seats are.

I also gave in and bought a 49ers tshirt, to really fit in. We had been at the NFL store earlier that day, but I didn’t want to spend $40 on a red singlet that I would never wear again. But when I was at the game, so many people had jerseys on and I just really wanted a tshirt. I didn’t like any of the women’s tops, so I ended up with a children’s top (I didn’t realize it was a kids top at the time of picking it out). It was $20 cheaper so I didn’t complain. And it was only a large – the extra-large children’s top was too big on me. Only in America does a 23-year-old fit a kid’s t-shirt…

So here is me before the purchase, trying to fit in with the correct team colors (and with the huge stadium in the background):

And here is me after, with the most awesome Heineken bottle ever!

I won’t discuss the game, because we lost, pretty badly, but it was still such an experience and so much fun to be at an actual football game and see it all live. You really understand it more being able to see everything happening on the field, rather than the close ups you get on ESPN. You also don’t see the cheerleaders on ESPN, so it was kinda cool seeing them live. Although I think the boys were a bit more into the cheerleaders than I was. It was also such an incredibly hot day, I wore jeans (and I never wear jeans) and I was DYING. You get given free towels when you walk in to wave around, and a lot of people were using them in more practical ways, like wiping the sweat off their face or covering their face from the strong sun beaming down on us.

Sunday really was an epic day, because not only did we go to the football, but we also walked the Golden Gate Bridge!! Last time I was in San Francisco, I visited with my Mom and we did Napa Valley, saw Berkeley, the Mission, Castro, Union Square, the Ferry Building Market and Fisherman’s Wharf. On our way back from Napa, we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, but that was the extent of our exposure. Wining and dining (and visiting the amazing bakery Tartine!) was much higher on our list of things to do. This time, however, the Golden Gate Bridge was up there. We got to the bridge after the game, around dusk, and had the most beautiful sunset views.

And lastly, my favorite, a panorama of the bridge and the water at dusk. You really need to click on it and open it up fully to appreciate it.


War and Religion in Saigon

My last 3 days of Vietnam were spent in Saigon. I was there for two days with Elle, and then I had a day and a half to myself to meander the city. I visited the War Remnants Museum, explored Chinatown and had some very interesting egg filled bbq pork buns. I visited temples and then bargained with a motorbike rider to take me back to my hostel after a tiring morning of walking. I have to say that the traffic in Vietnam looks worse than in Indonesia, but it was a much more pleasant ride, apart from the fact I was wearing a dress (always more difficult to ride on the back of a motorbike in a dress than in shorts) and half sliding off the back due to holding onto the bike with one hand and holding my purse with the other. However I survived, and one thing I just had to do before leaving was have a relaxing gin and tonic on the roof of the Rex Hotel, where I wrote this reflection on anti-American sentiments in Ho Chi Minh. The Rex Hotel was the “Home of the Five O’Clock Follies”, as it was where the United States Military gave briefings to the Press at 5pm each day. It had a very nice high view of the city, with high prices to match! However it was my last night in Vietnam, so I decided to treat myself after a full month of the grungy backpacker lifestyle.

Whilst in Vietnam, I never had a chance to upload any photos, because the Vietnamese government blocks a lot of sites such as Facebook. This meant that WordPress was difficult to access in some places too, so photos never made it online. Until now.

I won’t repeat everything I said in my earlier post, but I do want to re-touch upon the Cu Chi Tunnels, as it really was quite an experience. I wrote earlier that the Cu Chi Tunnels and War Remnants Museum were similar to theme parks, minus the roller coasters. They seemed to celebrate the war, and rightly so (in their mind) because the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was built upon the fall of Saigon and the conquest of North Vietnam over the South. So in their view, they won. They forced the Americans out, beat South Vietnam and now operate under a one-party system where they are in full control of the country. I was sickened by the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, yet I barely felt anything at the Tunnels.

I even fired my first gun there. That’s right, after learning about the atrocities of war and seeing traps left for American and North Vietnamese Soldiers, I cheerily handed over $17.50 for 10 bullets to an AK47, and shot at targets (see photo below). And I felt nothing negative about it, because the whole day didn’t feel sad or depressing. It felt like an amusement park. It was very weird. And after I had fired all 10 bullets (and taken one of the shells as a souvenir), I simply handed the gun back over, took off my ear muffs and rejoined the group to continue on our tour. Again, weird.

This gun is not the gun that I shot, although my AK47 wasn’t particularly new (it probably did come from the war itself!). I just thought it was a pretty cool looking gun on display at the War Remnants Museum. When you walked in, there were all these different guns, tanks and airplanes on display. With American tourists wearing baseball caps, singlets and basketball shorts taking photos of them and their friends in front. Not at all the same vibe you get when you walk into the Killing Fields, listening to the audiotape about how they are still finding bodies in the fields beneath your feet…

Like I said in my earlier post, the tour guide at Cu Chi talked about how the Viet Cong used to climb in tiny holes to hide after they shot at US troops. So, at the start of the tour when he was discussing this tactic, we came across a person dressed in uniform, ready and waiting by the hidden trap door, to show us exactly how it was done:

After, we were asked whether anyone else wanted to have a go. Elle volunteered, and down she went. She was thin enough to fit in, though most tourists in our group were not…

And speaking of the size of tourists, one of the key attractions of the Cu Chi Tunnels is the ability to actually climb through the tunnels yourself!! Although you don’t climb in an authentic tunnel – they widen the tunnel, make it higher, and put electrical lighting in it. They clean it up a bit and get rid of all the booby traps. I can’t imagine the Vietnamese size tunnels, as the tourist tunnels were tiny and unbearable. You are torn between crawling and perching, and can’t wait to find the first exit possible. I couldn’t imagine living in there for days on end!

And of course, no war exhibition is complete without a tank. And an amusement park war exhibition especially is not complete until you have a huge group of school kids climbing on top of a tank (used in the war to kill people) and posing for a group photo.

I had my token tank shot, at the Presidential Palace, in a much more tasteful manner. If a tank photo can be tasteful. And I am happy to say that the super sexy camera-bag-matching knee brace is no more. My knee is 90% healed (yay!).

Now the other half of our full day trip was a visit to the Cao Dai Temple. Balance the good with the bad, salvation with death. Caodaism draws upon Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Cao Dai means “High Tower”, or the supreme God. Under Cao Dai all religions are one, and all Gods are one. We actually were there for a ceremony, where they chant and hum with an orchestra of sorts in the back. The temple itself is really quite spectacular, and very vibrant. I was happy we added that to our tour, rather than just visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels (like most people from our hostel did).

Halong Bay Beauty


Below are my favorite photos from the Halong Bay cruise Elle and I embarked upon in May. We were on a 2 day and 1 night Dragon Pearl cruise organized through Tonkin Travel. It was absolutely breathtaking – the photos below are barely photoshopped, the colors are completely natural. I just edited contrast and saturation. The pink sky was actually visible with the naked eye. It was totally unbelievable.


School Spirit! Go team go!

Throughout high school I was never one heavily involved in school spirit. I never went out of my way to attend school events or involve myself in activities. In year 10 (9th grade), we had a swimming sports day where we all had to wear house colors, competitively race and support others. My friends and I decided after around one hour to sneak out and hide in the arts room the entire day, listening to music, drinking Coke and generally misbehaving. I was in the choir and heavily involved in drama, but never wanted a leadership position. I never contemplated applying for Head Girl. And although I became involved in volunteer activities, that was only because I was required to complete 50 hours of service to receive the IB Diploma.

In college however, I got a bit more involved in extracurricular activities. I was on the Wellington Youth Choir Committee, I took notes for students with disabilities (and was later the Team Leader for the law faculty) and organized the 2011 RNZFB Red Puppy Appeal, coordinating over 100 volunteers to collect donations over 3 days. My first few years of law school I abhored all law school related activities. As you can tell, I loved to volunteer in  non-law school related activities, but refused to attend any law school events, be that orientation week, T-shirt night, competitions and even the law school ball. But in my 4th year, I decided to run for the Administrative Vice President position of VUWLSS (the VUW Law Students’ Association). And I won. From then on, I became heavily involved in all aspects of law school life. I promoted activities and became your typical “Go team go” type of girl. I became this upbeat “law school is wonderful” kind of person.

And now that I am in San Diego, I am taking it further. Despite my Vice President position, I never got involved in other activities at university. But here, I am all for it. I find that the best way to meet people is through exposure to different types of activities and organizations. That way you expose yourself to all types of people. I have become very proactive in volunteering for all types of activities. I figure that as part of my 6 month reinvention, I should give the peppy “go school go” personality a go. And secretly, just secretly, I quite enjoy it.

On Friday night, I was initiated into Phi Alpha Delta, a co-ed law fraternity at CWSL. It is the largest legal fraternity in the United States and it also operates on a worldwide level. Throw away all preconceptions of fraternity and sorority initiations – there was no hazing here. Instead we dressed professionally, and had a candlelit initiation ceremony in the beautiful moot room of CWSL. Following this, we met our Big Sister (or Brother) and being introduced to the rest of our family within the fraternity. I was lucky enough to have the Justice (equivalent of the President) of CWSL PAD as my Big Sister. And as she has 6 Little Sisters in all, I gained 5 sisters that night.

My sisters

We had dinner, shared laughs and stories and then continued onto a rooftop bar at the W Hotel to have the signature PAD cocktail (it was purple, like the color of Phi Alpha Delta, and very very strong!). The bar was pretty swish, and had an interesting art display of red chairs on fire. It allowed for more networking and an ability to meet more members, both new one initiated that night and those who were Bigs for us Littles.

Weird art display of chairs on fire…

Then, despite being out until 2am, I woke at 5:30 Saturday morning before the sun had even contemplated rising to volunteer at Race Judicata, a 5km race organized by CWSL to raise money for XONR8 (the student branch of the California Innocence Project). Along with 4 other girls, I set up a water stand around the 4km mark, handed water out and cheered on the runners. We jumped up and down, yelled and whooped and gave words of encouragement. It was at this point when I definitely realized I had become a “go team go” type of girl. All I needed were some pom poms. Cheering was followed by a huge group breakfast with a live band, and a few of us taking home huge casserole dishes full of leftover food. Go law school go!

Sunrise at Race Judicata. Made it kind of worth the early morning (photo courtesy of Lauren)

After a few hours rest, I was up and going again to watch my first College Football game with Lauren, a fellow Phi Alpha Delta who I had met at the W the previous night. We didn’t attend the game, it was on TV (as it was in Ohio), but it was still the first college game I have ever watched. Lucky for Lauren and Kyle, I had a crash course on American Football given to me two years ago, so they did not have to explain the rules to me or what was going on every 5 seconds. We headed to Gaslamp Tavern, enjoyed a bloody mary and game food, and cheered on Ohio State (I even wore red, their team color).

One would have thought after watching an entire football game, I’d had enough of sports for one weekend. But no, I am all about school spirit remember? Taking every opportunity possible, even if it leads me to a state of exhaustion (which Saturday night, it did!). A group of PAD members were heading to the Padres baseball game, and my big sister could not believe I had never been to a baseball game before. I was instructed that I had to attend! So after meeting everyone at school and heading out for a pre-game drink at The Local, we headed down to PETCO stadium around 5:30. There was a nice large group of us, as you can see we block the entire pitch in the group photo:

Us at the ball game

And this afternoon just highlighted my love for the weather of San Diego. It has been so warm and sunny every day I have been here (it is currently 29 degrees C/85 F outside as I write this!). It was fabulous being able to attend a baseball game starting at 5:45 when it was bright and sunny and still be out at 9pm in shorts and a t-shirt. That would NEVER happen back in New Zealand. We would have brought blankets, layers and be shivering as the night went on. And despite the huge stadium, our seats were perfect – nice and close to the pitch, and the right side of the stadium to see the sun set in the distance. Gorgeous.

View from our seats of the field and the sunset

And everyone was so sweet and made sure I had the best baseball experience – answering my questions, telling me the lingo and making sure that I had a hot dog, got popcorn and peanuts, and stood behind home base for a while watching from that point of view. The Padres haven’t had a great season, although on Saturday we had several home runs (where they set off loud music, fire, and other fun celebratory things) and we even won!! And I learned that here, a baseball game is so much more than just a baseball game. It is an entire experience. For one, they show random YouTube clips between innings, and one of the refs went all out dancing on the pitch after the 3rd. Then they played “Ganham Style” by Psy where the crowd went absolutely wild dancing. I only just discovered this song last week, but it is a hit here. The TV crew found the most hilarious people to show on the big screen, for our viewing pleasure. So even though the game itself wasn’t all that exciting, it was a fun night. I can definitely see myself attending a few more. And in 2 weeks time I will attend my first NFL game, ticking a few more things off my America bucket list. I need to start adding things to it so I don’t run out of activities!!

Me at my first baseball game!! Go Padres!

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