Airlines tend to be like banks: name any one of them in large-enough company and there is bound to be at least a few people with personal horror stories and imprecations never to use their service. Hard to tell apart the inevitable statistical occurence from true patterns of bad customer service.

Last week, however, I finally understood why all my US friends heaped so much scorn on United Airlines. And why I’ll be joining in on the chorus of “never again”, next time their name comes up in discussions:

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Leaving for Honolulu in a couple minutes…
Japanese cell won’t be on, but email will be checked occasionally (I hear they have Internet there, but don’t tell my advisor).

Back on Tuesday. Enjoy tsuyu, suckers!

The PoS cellphone I use when travelling abroad has the bad habit of accidentally triggering all sorts of functions when I forget to explicitly lock the keyboard (stupid brick-body designs). Instead of staying nicely asleep in my pocket, it will kill time by calling random contacts from my address book or navigate half a dozen menu down to some obscure settings…

Last week, upon glancing at my message logs by chance, I realised it decided to send half a dozen empty messages to the first contact in my address book. It then topped that series with an audio SMS: 30 seconds of muffled sounds from whatever crowded bar I must have been in, that night.

All that while using a throwaway number on a prepaid German SIM card (thus unknown from most of the people in my address book).

Meanwhile in Europe, my friend Abigail is probably ever so slightly worried by that mysterious German caller who sent her all these creepy empty messages.

Today, the entire 3-month research stipend covering the cost of my stay in Berlin (living expenses, plane ticket etc), was deposited on my bank account. All at once.

Am I a bad person for even wondering how many years I could live off that, were I to accidentally end up on some remote beach island instead of Berlin’s Max Planck Institute for Molekular Genetics?

After all these years traveling, I finally completed my first ever round-the-world trip (eastward). Did not encounter any edge-of-the-world cliff anywhere. Oh well, there goes my membership to the Flat Earth Believers Association.

For one month, I lived in a house whose mere living room covered about four times the entirety of some of my previous places (ten times, if you count some of the smaller Japanese guesthouse rooms I’ve occupied in a long distant backpacker past).

Rekindled with the joys of the quasi-permanent guestlisting and realised that a VIP booth and free-flowing booze make even the least appealing parties considerably more fun.

Had one of my classiest moments, ever, documented on camera: wearing punk red wig and Bowie-inspired make-up, downing Kettle One straight from the bottle. Retrospectively explained a lot about next day’s crushing hangover.

Realised why California (/the US) was so awesome: nearly everything being illegal therefore provides endless occasions for cheap thrills to the sheltered bourgeois crowd. Walking into a banal SOMA-warehouse-turned-illegal-afterhour-club turns as exciting as entering a prohibition-era speakeasy with Al Capone.

Stuffed myself on the cheapest, bestest Indian food available outside of India on a near-daily basis. And then Suraj’s über-delicious homemade dosas.

Ate at a very hippy restaurant but couldn’t bring myself to actually ask aloud for the “I am Beautiful” dish, nor the “I am Elated”, “I am Joyful” or any of the other mushy, chakra-enhancing, tree-sodomising, touchy-feely-named items on the menu.

Partied on a luxury cruise boat with Sarah Palin and two olympic beach volleyball athletes.

Smoked hookahs on a rooftop overlooking the Embarcadero waterfront.

Spent a night of unrestrained exhilarating fun celebrating Obama’s victory. Those many bar-special “freedom shots” (aka Jameson) with Lauren and Desi: a more discutable choice. That hangover the following morning definitely didn’t taste like freedom.

Did the beer and patio thing with friends at Zeitgeist.

Sat in Dolores Park for a warm, sun-filled, November afternoon. Smoking bowls and eating baked goods from Tartine nearby.

Tried attending the premiere screening of Milk at the Castro theater, only to get turned down at the door once it appeared that way too many entrance passes had been handed out. Found solace in that people who got in before us had probably been queuing for the entire day.

Attended a house party wearing suit & French cuffs, went to a fancy James Bond-themed club event wearing flip-flops.

Visited a Moroccan whorehouse, faithfully reconstructed in our basement.

Balanced all the deliciously greasy egg-n-bacon brunches with healthy and equally delicious foods of all horizons. Had pretty damn good ceviche at La Mar, but even better one at Desi’s Poleng Lounge. Poleng became my favourite eatery in the city (get yourself there right this minute and order their lightly grilled, sea-salt edamame: you’ll never look at edamame the same way ever again).

Missed a flight (fucking iCal and its retarded handling of time zones) and decided to change my travel plans altogether.

Saw the icy blue Water Cube and the fiery red Bird Nest glowing in the chilly night.

Ate spicy bullfrog on the lakefront near Hou Hai, which incidentally tasted just like spicy chicken, only much, much harder to eat with chopsticks (small bones every-freakin-where).

Stood under the lukewarm Winter sun, watching Tien An Men square unfold to near-infinity in every direction under the watchful eye of Mao.

Wondered if China had awakened yet, as giant snappy red flags atop the mausoleum floated in a spotless blue sky.

Played some strange card game with the locals in Tian Tan park. Also that dice game I learned a couple years back in Chengdu.

Totally kawaii-ed out on a bunch of furry Chinese stray cats lounging on the outskirts of the park.

Barely contained my excitement upon speaking my first real sentences in Mandarin since I took that one class last year. Peed my pants upon realising I coud understand and answer up to three generic questions about my country of origin and occupation, to locals who ostensibly did not even know the English word for “China”. Somewhat regained composure when it appeared I could only further extend the conversation with a polite “Sorry, I don’t understand”.

Stumbled upon that plane you rode in when you went to visit your aunt in Africa, 30 years ago… the one with 4 seats on each row and a single-channel radio that you could listen to through headphones that looked like stethoscopes: China Air bought it and uses it daily for their Beijin-Tokyo flight.

Smuggled two pandas (names: ペキン and シャンハイ) to Japan, at the risk of triggering an unprecedented international crisis.

Finally realised some of my (limited) infatuation with japan subconsciously took root in a secret nerdy obsession of mine: intricacies of urban planning and transit optimisation. Just watch how most train connections in japan consist of: walking out one train, across a platform, onto a waiting and immediately departing train… and you will be wondering, as I am, if Japanese public transit planners have somehow figured the secret of NP-completeness problem-solving (Western ones certainly haven’t).

Attended a Japanese burlesque show. Really liked the cool Asian-styled choreography on some of the acts (Japanese schoolgirls doing the dragon walk, for the win). Nearly more so than all the pasty twirling and gravity-defying patriotic C-string (complete with shiny Hinomaru).

Strolled down Todai campus’ alleys: filled with little grandmas way past studying age, busy capturing the essence of bichromic autumn trees (ginkos, I believe) on watercolor. The campus cafeteria also serves a pretty mean agedashi tofu and a whole selection of hallal dishes.

Rode the Tokaido shinkansen on a two-day return trip to Kyoto for the third time in six months and started wondering about frequent riders discounts.

Saw few ducks on the banks of Ducky River, but lots of pigeons.

Wondered how the guy who could barely get his way out of valence calculations ten years ago, ended up standing in front of Kyoto University’s Graduate Scool of Biochemistry and Pharmaceuticals‘ finest, in a bid to join their rank…

Wore suits (for work or for fun) more often in 2 months than in all of the past 2 years.

Did the clubbing and morning ramen thing with friends in Shibuya.

Had one quick drink at Albatross in Omoide Yokochou and a few more in Golden Gai.

Saw photography exhibits and strolled along the river in Meguro.

Spent a day rummaging stores from Kichijoji to Harajuku and from Shibuya to Shinjuku, hunting for christmas gifts.

Came to the conclusion that Russian TV comedy is essentially centered around fat hairy men in cheap drag singing Russian covers of disco classics with funny lyrics.

Bought two bottles of Русский Стандарт and also some of that vodka that makes you go blind if you drink more than one glass at a time: gotta plan for new year’s ahead of time.

Landed in Paris and realised it was the coldest-motherfuckin-freezing place I had been to, so far this year.

I am currently lodged firmly under a goose-feather conforter with freshly imported Swiss chocolate at arm’s reach and not planning to move until the end of Winter.

So this morning, I am sitting in Parc Monceau, perusing Paris’ public-park-wide open wifi, trying to pull the schedule for my afternoon train.

Trying, because despite being on my twentieth online ticket booking for the month, trying to get anything out of French National Railway’s website feels like trying to get freshly squeezed OJ from a stone. I am not sure how exactly the whole “prevent users from getting a ticket online at all cost” fits into their business plan, but I guess if you take in account their laughably bad track record in all areas of service, it is merely brand identity on their part.

Twenty minutes and still no luck trying to get a single schedule for a local train departing 10 times a day from Paris (website timing out or randomly crashing at varying levels of the 50-step process), I had an epiphany and remembered a friend telling me about how it was probably easier booking a French train through Deutsche Bahn, German’s national railway company. At the time, I thought it was a joke.

Well, it’s not.

In approximately 1/100th of the time I spent attempting unsuccessfully to get a schedule for a French local train (from a French city, to a French city) on the official French website, I got the exact same info (available in 4 languages) on a German website.

It would be funny if it wasn’t so lame.

  • Stuff I emptied out from my apartment: 56 sq. meters’ worth of furniture, art, daily life crap and assorted paraphernalia.
  • Stuff I still owned after distributing everything else to friends, family and random strangers: 6 small boxes (books and some clothes).
  • Stuff actually in my possession and not currently sitting in a basement until I have a home again someday: 1 suitcase.

The first metric tonne is always the hardest to part with… After that it just comes off naturally.

I’m off to greener shores for the Summer.

Funnily enough, update frequency will be the best it has been in a while, since I am leaving behind a couple inconsequential pre-posted entries to fill space at regular intervals until I regain full access to 21st century technologies.

Estimated resurfacing time (in a different location, but with the same standard of sharp, yet insightful, educational writing that you have come to expect from this blog) in a couple days or weeks. Possibly more, if some loose rooftop tile prompts me to embark on a spiritual quest to discover my totem animal by moving to a Nepalese buddhist temple.

Meanwhile, have a picnic or two on île Saint-Louis on my behalf.