24 hours in Singapore ends with “I do!”

A fitting end to an amazing adventure!

As all good tales often do, this one ends with a happy ending.  After a whirlwind 24 hours in Singapore I found myself 57 stories above the ground, taking in the panorama view of the city.  While sipping on yet another Singapore Sling, and soberly coming to terms with the end of the tour, I was totally taken by surprise.  Andy asked me to marry him!  After I fully realised what was happening, I accepted, overjoyed!  If we could get through these last 3 months, being in each other’s company 24/7, I reckon we go well together.  Not so?

Brothers' Reunion

But let me take a step back.  The 24 hours started with us checking into the Ritz-Carlton shortly after we had landed in Singapore.  The hotel lived up to our expectations – we had a beautiful, spacious room, with large windows that gave us a stunning view over the city.  We then headed to the Raffles Hotel – a famous Singapore hotel, which has been magnificently preserved from colonial days.  There we met up with Andy’s brother, Dave, who introduced us to original “Singapore Sling” cocktail. 

Andy in front of Harry's Bar

Thereafter we went for dinner at a local Chinese restaurant.  We had the recommended Peking Duck – basically a roasted duck is carved up in front of you, and then served in various ways.  Which is all very well except that the duck’s head was still intact.  After looking past that fact, we enjoyed our meal very much.  We skipped the soup, having seen shark fin soup on the menu.  I can’t believe that they are still serving that in places!

After an interesting dinner we took a walk around the Quays area, taking in the sights and sounds of Singapore at night.  More drinks, taxi rides, merry conversation and ice-cream night-caps, all made for a fun night out on the town.

The shopper

The next morning, after a quick breakfast, we headed out to Orchard Road – the heart of the shopping district.  Andy and I decided to go our separate ways (to keep our sanity).  He went shopping for electronics, I for clothes and shoes.  We met up briefly for lunch, compared our “winnings”, before heading off again for the afternoon session. 

By 4pm I had all parcels I could possibly carry.  On a high from all the retail therapy, Andy suggested that we go to the Sky Park atop Singapore’s newest landmark – the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.  After walking around the observation deck, we sat down for “end of World Tour” drinks.  And the rest is history!

Marina Bays Sands

Closing comments on the World Tour will follow in another post.  But for now, thanks for following us.  We hope that we have inspired you to travel, reach for your dreams, and experience as much of this beautiful world of ours.

Bye for now!

Arriving back in Johannesburg

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Wrapping up the World Tour

My "chilling on the beach" days are over!

Sadly tonight (Friday) is officially our last night before we head back to South Africa, and bring this trip to a close.  We are currently on a flight from Bali, Indonesia to Singapore.  After strict luggage restrictions over the past three months, I can finally let loose and shop till I drop in Singapore.  If I have energy left!  Andy has decided that we should “go out with a bang” and booked us into the Ritz-Carlton for the night – to make up for all the “roughing it” we had to endure lately.  (Not really!)  Hotels (even 5 star) in Singapore are much cheaper than their Western equivalents.  That’s how we are rationalising it anyway.

Our last day on the beaches of Bali

We have also arranged to have dinner with Andy’s brother this evening.  He lives in London, but is in Singapore on business.  We tried to meet up with him on our way through Heathrow at the start of our trip, but to no avail.  Attempt number 2 should work!  We are going to start the evening off with Singapore Sling cocktails.

With the trip winding down, I thought I’d compile a quick spreadsheet (Excel is like riding a bicycle I discovered) of some the numbers of the tour:

95: Total number of tour days
33: Number of flights (we were flying about every 3rd day of the tour – crazy!)
22: Number of different hotels we stayed in
5: Number of self-catering apartments we stayed in
2: Number of home stays (Denver and Auckland)
2: Number of boat stays (Caribbean Cruise & Great Barrier Reef Live-aboard)
2: Number of bus trips
5: Number of train trips
6: Number of cars we hired

I started counting the taxi rides, but gave up!

We arrive in OR Tambo airport on Sunday morning.  Apparently South Africa has been experiencing freezing temperatures – so that’s what we to look forward to!  Oh well, this tropical holiday can’t last forever.  Watch out for probably one more post after this….

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Eat Pray Love

Me and the paddies

Yesterday we escaped from the tourist beaches of Bali to the cooler climates of the mountainous, inland region for a guided mountain bike tour.  After getting transported to a lookout point over Mount Batur (a dormant volcano and the 2nd highest point of Bali), we enjoyed a light breakfast before starting our 25km “mostly downhill” tour.

Our guide, One’ lead us through the bright green countryside and its sleepy villages.  Frequent stops allowed us to view old temples and traditional houses. One’ was from the area, and shared with us his knowledge of the Balinese culture and way of life.  It gave us an insight into rural Bali that was fascinating to us.

A close-up of rice grains

From our bicycle seat we experienced stunning views of the various plantations – the main crop being rice, of course.  The terraced hillsides with their rice paddies were just as I had seen in pictures.  During our journey, we got to see rice shoots at various stages of their 4 month growth phase.  Our guide explained how the rice is harvested, dried out and dehusked.  I have a new appreciation of all the work that goes into rice production!

Our tour ended with a Balinese lunch in the little town of Ubud, recently made famous by the book/movie “Eat Pray Love”.  Julia Roberts’ character chooses Ubud as the exact location of the Bali part of her trip.  While Ubud and its surroundings is a pleasant contrast to the overcrowded Bali baeches, it isn’t quite the secluded, unspoilt place I had imagined.  TripAdvisor lists no fewer that 94 hotels and 149 restaurants in the area.  Nonetheless, it still exuded the charm of a more traditional Bali.

A Balinese lunch spread - yum!

In a way I feel like Julia Roberts in “Eat Pray Love”.  Except that I have been stuck in the “Eat” part  these last three months – the “savouring life” part; using all my senses to take-in some of this beautiful world we live in.  Okay, I’m also a few kilos up from indulging my palate with all the gastronomical delights we have come across.  But that’s what enjoying and experiencing life is all about, right?

After the mountain bike tour, Andy and I went for a swim in the lively sea in front of our hotel.  Being a surfer’s paradise, the waves are plenty and forceful.  I earnestly dodged the large masses of moving water, while Andy harnessed the hydro-power for some dare-devil body surfing.

Dinner with Maaria

In the evening we met up with Maaria, a Finnish girl who we had previously encountered in the Philippines. Maaria is travelling around South East Asia for three months, and had just arrived in Bali.  Besides for the two overlaps in itineraries, our travels are very different, and over dinner, we eagerly exchanged stories and compared notes.  While Andy and I tried to pack in as many stops in our three months, she chose fewer places and longer stays – a much better way to really experience a place, and interact with the locals and expats alike.  Mmm, perhaps next time!

Leisurely mountain bikers

The terraced rice paddies

Our breakfast spot

Andy enjoying the view

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Surfing in Bali

#1 Must-do activity in Bali?  Learn to surf!

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More on Malaysia

Andy diving to catch a frisbee

Our last few days in Malaysia were spent doing more diving, and ended off with a night out on the town in the capital Kuala Lumpur.  All in all we did 14 dives over 5 days – we were exhausted, but satisfied at the end of it.

A typical dive day started at 5:30am.  Breakfast is served on the beach after the first dive.  Then two more morning dives before lunch is served.  Then, one last dive before we are taken back to the resort at about 3:30pm for a much needed afternoon nap.  We interacted more with the the other guests than we normally would have at a regular, non-dive-focused resort.  After every dive, the sightings below were eagerly shared with fellow divers.  And during meal times, people tended to relay stories of previous dive trips they had taken.  I have started a list of “must-do” dives from everyone’s recommendations.

Playing Monopoly cards

We loved interacting with people from all over the world.  One couple in particular, about our age, caught our attention when they offered to teach us a game of “Monopoly Cards” – it’s like Uno and original Monopoly combined.  The guy is South African, and the girl Czech, and they live in Hong Kong.  Unbeknown to them initially, we already had our own set of Monopoly cards, which has been our trusted travel companion.  We’re addicted to the game!  Hence the four of us enjoyed many games over the next couple of days, with some friendly rivalry going on.

Sunset on our last night at the dive resort

We also got to chat to the staff a bit.  Surprisingly, many of the them, including our female dive-master, were from the Philippines.  But the rest were Malaysian.  After we first arrived in Malaysia, the thing that immediately stood out for me was the headdresses worn by the woman.  This is due to Islam being the state religion.  We even saw Malaysian woman wearing headscarfs, or “hijabs” while they were snorkelling.  It must help against sunburn!

The Petronas Towers - the view from our hotel in Kuala Lumpur

While our resort included some Western food on the menu, we also got to savour some local Malay food.  The only thing we struggled with was the Asian breakfasts.  Noodles and dumplings at 7am is just weird!  But that’s all part of the experience.  When we got to Kuala Lumpur, we were presented with an array of cuisines to choose from for dinner.  Interestingly, there were many Arabic/Middle Eastern restaurants around.  We chose to dine at a Lebanese restaurant – the food was fabulous!  We ate like kings for for about R200.  Mind you, we found the alcohol in Malaysia on the whole to be very expensive, compared to the Philippines for instance.  We think it’s due to high import taxes on alcohol?

Here are some funny signs we came across:

A notice in the taxi

A sticker on the dive boat

A sticker showing which way is West - found in ALL Malaysian hotel rooms (used for Islamic prayer)

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Happy Anniversary!

Water bungalow spa

Today, 23 May, Andy and I celebrate our 1 year anniversary of dating!  And what better way to celebrate, than on a quaint little island in Malaysia.    After breakfast this morning we went for a relaxing dive at a nearby reef.  We then treated ourselves to a couple’s massage at a water bungalow spa, overlooking the tropical waters.  (A fancy wooden house on stilts.)  And we are currently lazing next to the pool, before sunset drinks and a romantic dinner later.  It will be hard for future anniversaries to live up to this!

Happy in paradise

With tour days dwindeling, I am acutely aware of how precious these moments are, for me personally, and for us as a couple.  Though there will be future travels, and future holidays, there will only be one ‘World Tour of 2011’.  And I couldn’t have imagined doing this with anyone else.

Our exact location is the island of Mabul, just off the coast of Borneo, Malaysia.  The attraction: neighbouring Sipadan island.  It is labeled as one of the top dive spots in the world.  Jacques Cousteau came across this place in the late 80’s, and rated the diving like no other.  Today the island and surrounding reef is a protected marine, with only 120 divers allowed to dive there per day.  We had a fantastic day there yesterday.  The diving is really spectacular, with reef sharks and turtles in abundance.  As permits are limited and thus sought after, we are grateful for every day’s diving.  And we get to go there again tomorrow.  Yay!

Sipadan, Malaysia

And this isn’t the easiest place to get to.  To give you an idea of our 24 hours’ travel to get here from our previous stop, this was our transportation itinerary for the segment:
1. Hotel van (Hotel to island jetty)
2. Ferry boat (Island jetty to mainland jetty)
3. Motorised tricycle (Mainland Jetty to Caticlan airport)
4. Flight #1 (Caticlan to Manila, Philippines)
5. Flight #2 (Manila to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia)
6. Flight #3 (Kota Kinabalu to Tawau)
7. Van transfer (Tawau City to Sempornan Village)
8. Overnight in Semporna Motel
9. Boat trip (Seporna to Mabul island)

All in 24 hours!  The joys of travelling.

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Boracay: The Ibiza of the Philippines

Sunset on White Beach

Our next stop in South East Asia was the Philippines.  Not knowing where was best to head to in this vast and diverse country, Andy and I decided to be guided by the “best beach in the world” claim of Boracay, one of the 7000 islands in the Phillipines.  Problem is, when the secret got let out of the bag a few years ago of this island paradise, tourism sky-rocketed to create a thriving holiday destination.  Goodbye idylic island!  Hello beach party galore! Imagine a 4 kilometer powdery white, wide sand beach, next to a flat, crystal-clear blue sea. Hotels, trendy bars, clubs and restaurants, that pump music way into the early hours of the morning, were found all along the fringe of the beach.

The quieter side of the Island

The sea is bustling with sailboats, jet-skis, banana boats and parasails. Anything your water adventure spirit can dream of!  The beach was constantly teaming with foot traffic – and the funny thing was, we were there during the off-season.

It was fun to experience.  Being the party animals that Andy and I are (ha!) we thankfully stayed on the quieter side of the island, and could choose to immerse ourselves in the mosh-pit at our discretion.  Using TripAdvisor (my new favourite website), we could research restaurants.  This helped us sift through the hundreds of eateries of almost any cuisine you think of. (Mmm, no South African restaurant though!)

Parasailing!

Our aim in choosing activities, was to not do anything touristy.  With watersport vendors approaching you intermittently all along the beach, this was easier said than done. Andy indulged my desire to go parasailing, so we gave in and gave that a try one afternoon. The sun was sinking low when we went up, and we were able to get a bird’s eye view of the island with some beautiful sunset colours. Another “must do activity” was sailing.

Andy’s idea of fun was to hire a scooter to explore the island (10 square km in size).  This terrified me, having seen the chaos of the traffic.  The main street looks like a typical Asian street:  a narrow avenue lined with tightly packed stalls on either side. The uneven road surface is teaming with two, three and four wheeled motorised and non-motorised vehicles, all dodging each other as well as pedestrians.  Here a honk is a courteous gesture to warn of an approach.

Andy, a natural on the scooter

The best way to get around was by motorised tricycle: a motorbike to which has been attached an enclosed side cart for carrying up to four people at a tight fit, though we saw many more people pile into them at times.  After a while I realised that the chaos on the roads were organised chaos.  The drivers are all calm (no road rage here), even though they are either stopping right in front of each other (to load and off load), overtaking, turning in front of each other, u-turning, and narrowly missing each other. There are no road rules, but the general understanding amongst drivers ensures that there are no accidents whatsoever.

The motorised tricycles

 

So, Andy tackled this “chaos” on the scooter, with me clutching for dear life behind him.  We slowly navigated our way through the main street and headed out to the less busy areas of the island, where we could pick up some speed and feel the wind in our hair.  We were able to find more remote coves and beaches and wondered why the holiday-makers still flock to the main, over-crowed beach.  It seems that the main attraction is the vibe and festivities for most, and the beautiful backdrop doesn’t hurt either.

Our sailboat

On another day we chartered a sailboat to a neighbouring island, where we snorkeled and were treated to a local beach barbeque.  Our captain, who also owns his own pub on the beach (Red Pirate’s), was quite animated, and we got a good insight into Filipino Island life.  He had marinated the barbequed fish himself.  Filipino food is apparently milder than other Asian cuisine.  Also, Filipinos do not eat with chopsticks like most of Asia, they use western cutlery: a spoon and fork (rather than a knife and fork).  Interestingly, another differentiator is that the predominant religion in the Philippines  is Christian, as opposed to its neighbours.

A local girl we interacted with on the beach

For a nice change, our money was able to go a little further here than what we have been used to.  For instance, a happy hour cocktail cost us the equivalent of R10, compared to about R100 in Australia.  Crazy stuff!  A dorm room could be as little as R35 a day, which makes it popular amongst the backpackers.  There are of course the high-end resorts too, but at least the place caters for every budget.  Boracay attracts travellers from all over the world, but the majority were Asian due to its proximity of course.  (It’s quite a trek from the West to get here!)  Mixed race couples are not uncommon, the main combination being older Caucasian men with younger Asian women.

Check out the wiring - only in Asia!

I tried to put my finger on the reason for its popularity.  One theory we heard was that White men prefer the Asian women because White women are difficult and picky.  Another is that Asian women get treated better by the White men. It’s obviously a mutually beneficial arrangement!

One thing that was difficult to get used to, was the heat. The clear skied and windless days might be the perfect conditions for the average holiday-makers, but it made for blistering hot days!  We were continually cooling off in the sea, pool, or shower!  The evenings were lovely though.  (I love it when I don’t need to carry a shawl or cardigan with me at night.)

Enjoying a ride on the motorised tricycle

With the heat, and tropical climate came the bugs of course.  While I never really experienced mosquitoes buzzing around me, every day I counted more bite marks. These Filipino bugs are stealthy!

Last, but not least, we were very impressed by the Filipino people.  They are such a gentle and hospitable nation.  We were always greeted by the locals wherever we went.  No wonder so many of them get hired on cruise ships due to their servant-hearted nature.  We heard a statistic that 46% of the national household income is earned by the 11 million (that’s 10% of the population) Filipinos working abroad and sending the money back home. That’s staggering!

Trying out the local cuisine - squid!

While Boracay was by no means a true reflection of authentic Philippines, we certainly did get a taste.  We would love to return, but will definitely explore some of the other sights that the country has to offer.

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Survivor: Palau

The first time I heard of “Palau”, was when the 10th season of Survivor premiered on South African TV.  It held some allure for me ever since.  For those Survivor fans (Mo!), it was the season where 40 year old fire lieutenant, Tom Westman, won.  It is the only season never to have had a proper merge, because the tribe Koror (Koror being the name of the Capital City of Palau, where our hotel was situated), annihilated the tribe Ulong (the name of an Island where we had lunch one day).

Ulong Beach - lunch stop between dives

Chatting to the locals who were around during filming, they told us that the show was a joke to them.  For instance, on the show you see the contestants rowing all the way to Tribal Council.  In fact, contestants were actually taken by motor boat most of the way, and then only had to row the last 10 minutes by themselves.  I’m sure plenty of behind-the-scenes things like that happened!

Not my photo, but it looked just like this!

On one of the reward challenges, the winning tribe won a “feast” of Pringles and Mai Tai cocktails, and also got to go snorkeling with stinging-free jellyfish in Palau’s famous Jellyfish Lake.  We went to visit this land-locked marine lake on one of our afternoons. It is quite an unusual phenomenon – over the course of time, these resident jellyfish have completely lost their sting because they have not had to fight off predators. So, they are completely safe to swim with.  And there are millions of them, of all sizes.  Someone described the experience of swimming with them as “being high on ecstasy”, it seems so surreal.  I wouldn’t know, but it was pretty funky!

Me on the dive boat. We dived with Sam's Tours

We got to do a fair bit of diving too, including Palau’s famous dive site, the “Blue Corner”.  This was a pretty exciting dive. We swam along a coral wall, and when we got to the corner, the current picked up, and we had to attach ourselves to the top of the wall with a hook and line.  As we were suspended here at about 12 meters below sea level, we got to check out grey reef sharks swimming by on their merry way.  These sharks are about 1.5m long on average.  So not huge, but still a rush a see them.  (When ever we mentioned to other divers that we are from South Africa, the first thing they say is “Oh, you have the great whites, right?”.  So we have quite a reputation!  We had to explain that the great white sharks are really only near the Cape, and not where we usually dive on the East Coast.)

Kayaking around the Rock Islands

One gets to meet some interesting people on dive trips.  Every person has a unique story of how they landed up in Palau of all places.  For instance, we met a young French couple who had left France two years ago, and were traveling and working their way through South East Asia.  Another retired couple from Singapore, were sailing around on their 40 foot yacht, and would stop in various ports for weeks at a time.  What a way to see the world!

Overall, we loved Palau, and wished we could have explored more of this island nation.  But time is running out, and we have to move on!

The view from our hotel room

One of the many hundreds of uninhabited islands of Palau

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Snubbed by the US Banking System

International travel, globalization, proliferation of the Internet and global entrepreneurial innovation are all hallmarks of the age we currently live in.  In my early childhood I always had the perception of America as being the place of milk and honey where the roads were paved in gold. I think I had gained a much more realistic perception by the time I set off on my first International travels at the age of 22. Having lived in and out of Florida working on super yachts during this time and having spent a few months at Harvard University in Boston as well as having visited the US a number of times since, I have grown fond of the real US and, although I love my home country of South Africa, I even see it as a strong potential candidate to live and start a business in the future.

This blog is meant to be a platform to share our travel experiences with the world. While this post does not exactly fit within that mantra, it is the best forum I have to vent my frustration with the US banking system. And it kind of does fit in with world travel and some of the problems encountered with trying to live too much of a “global” lifestyle, so a warning: stop reading now if you do not want to hear me whining about my poor experience with Chase Bank.

Having encountered a number of problems in the past due to not having a US credit card when trying to do various things / research online, I was delighted at the apparent ease of opening a US bank account with Chase Bank when I was in New York last year September (I was attending an Internet conference hosted by a large US based hedge fund that is the largest shareholder in three South African Internet businesses I am invested in). All I needed to open the account was my passport and proof of my residential address in South Africa, which I happily provided. I deposited a few hundred dollars cash (from my South African travel allowance). Together with my account, I opted for a Visa debit card, which promptly arrived at my South African address a few weeks later. I eagerly set up my US PayPal, itunes and Skype accounts. I subsequently paid for some services in the US using PayPal and I bought a domain using Escrow.com amongst a few other things, all of which was not possible without my US bank account and debit card.  Yay! At last, my US banking problems were over.

Earlier this year, when I sold some shares in one of the businesses I am invested, I thought how lucky I was to have a US bank account (there were a number of purchasing shareholders all scattered around the world and the sale price was in USD so I could consolidate all the payments and then send one bulk payment to South Africa getting the best possible exchange rate).   This is where my problems started, as it turns out there is supposedly a wire transfer limit for individuals set by federal law in the US, so that meant I would have to make up to 35 individual transfers to get the money to South Africa (and only one transfer is permitted per business day with bank charges of $40 per transfer). Of course, calling the Chase help line was no use. However after making contact with the very friendly lady at the branch from Chase Bank who helped me open my bank account, she helped me upgrade (for an additional monthly fee) so at least I could transfer the funds in 9 transactions (this apparently was the absolute limit). I still find this bizarre. I live in a country that has a highly regulated banking system and I haven’t come across this before. So much for the land of the free?

While, due to South African Reserve Bank regulations, I had to bring the funds from the sale of the shares into South Africa, at the same time I needed to take money out of South Africa to make an offshore investment. Fortunately, if you are traveling outside of South Africa you have a travel allowance of R1 million per year, which upon legal advice I found could be used to make this investment as I was traveling to the US. Having previously inadvertently fallen foul of the strict South African Exchange Control regulations, I was determined to do this 100% legally (although it seemed such a waste to bring money into South Africa and then almost immediately take it back out again – only making money for the banks on the exchange rate spread and bank charges).

So I jump through quite a few hoops to get the funds legally out of South Africa and the funds have since been sitting in my Chase bank account for the past few months (much to my annoyance as the Rand has just got stronger and stronger and I earn 0.01% interest – yes, that is point zero one of a percent). You can therefore understand my anxiety when I received an email last week from Chase saying that my account was overdrawn by almost $10 million (i.e. a negative balance, which I never knew was possible – I had no overdraft facility as far as I was aware). I believe I have a good eye for picking out phishing emails and this definitely looked like the real deal. With my heart skipping a few beats, I tried to log into my online banking with Chase. But it would not let me in (I was flawed by the security on my new computer). Over the next hour or so wondering what on earth could have happened (actually I was wondering where my details got compromised – traveling for the past few months I have been accessing the Internet from some potentially dodgy places although I have been extra careful). Yikes, R10 million dollars!!! The worst possible scenarios started flashing before me. Eventually, I managed to get through to the Chase help line (thanks Skype) and they told me that there is a Miscellaneous Debit for $9,999,999.99 … and this is normally done to freeze an account but I would need to call another number to find out what is happening. Upon calling this number all they would tell me is “Chase has chosen to end the relationship with you”. Trust me no matter how I tried, I could not get a reason out of them as to why they have closed my account. The reason is “Chase has chosen to end the relationship”.

Being on the east coast of Australia at the time, the time difference could not have been worse but I stayed up until after midnight to contact the friendly lady from the New York Chase branch, where I opened my account, but all she would say is “Chase has chosen to end the relationship” and that I would get sent a check (cheque) for my outstanding balance in the mail 10 business days after my account is finally closed. Now, I can’t tell you what a hassle it is receiving a USD check for a fairly large amount. To convert it back to Rands again I am going to be losing out to the banks … again. Besides, I need that money to invest in that overseas business and I already jumped through all those hoops to get it out of the South Africa legally! Chase Bank, if you are adamant in ending our relationship (I still wish I really knew why you want to do that any way), please can’t you at least let me do a wire transfer to get my funds out? Checks are so antiquated (realistically, it is probably going to take me at least a month to get those funds).

In fact I was so curious trying to find a reason why Chase would choose to end their relationship with me, I even paid one of those sites with paid-for-answers to give me a reason (and that is saying a lot if I went that far). The best they could come up with is something to do with the Patriot Act where the banks are obliged to close your account without reason if they suspect terrorist activity. I am not sure if that is the reason they closed my account, but if it is surely they could give me a chance to prove that I am a good, upstanding, law abiding citizen of this world? I wonder whether I really have the late Bin Laden and his cronies to thank for this? One thing is for sure, Chase is going to lose out on a lot of bank charges (and potentially other business) from me in the future.

Oh well, what can do? I think I have tried pretty much everything I can. Some times you just have to accept things for what they are, I suppose. Although I must say this experience, together with a few others on my current world tour, have resulted in the US loosing some of it’s glitter in my mind. South Africa is not that bad after all. I am sure I would not be treated this way by any bank in South Africa. Viva South Africa!

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PS: Extra comments on Australia

A cute Koala

Traveling and transiting affords one the luxury of time.  Time to read or write (blogs)…if you’re not too exhausted, that is!  We are currently traveling to Palau, Micronesia.  Two flights, a day’s transit at Guam in-between, has meant that I have had some spare time to write a little more on Australia.

I’ve heard it said that “Australia is a fantastic country, except for one minor downside….the Australians!”  I can’t say that I have had enough interaction with Aussies to form a substantiated option.  If their cricket players are anything to go by, then I don’t like them one bit!  But I believe that would be an unfair sample to take.  One thing I can vouch for is the country itself.  It sure is beautiful.  And clean.  And efficient.  And has a nicer climate than it’s rainy and wet neighbour New Zealand.

Eating icecream on our last night in Cairns, pronounced "Cannes"

The accent is obviously comical to me.  And then there is that Australian Slang.  There are the well known slang words such a “Barbi” (barbeque) , “Sheila” (woman) and “No worries mate”, but we came across some new ones during our stay:
“Shark biscuit”: Beginner Surfer
“Arvo”: afternoon
“Pokies”: poker machines
“Togs”: swim suit
“Chook”: a chicken
“Click”: kilometre – “it’s 10 clicks away”
“Dinkum, fair dinkum”: true, real, genuine

Our rented apartment

“Bush telly”: campfire
“Billy”: teapot
“Coldie”: a beer
“Esky”: coolerbox
“Footy”: Australian Rules football
“Good onya”: good for you
“Trackies”: Tracksuit
“Ugg boots” Australian sheepskin boots
“Pash”: a long passionate kiss
“Thongs”: cheap rubber backless sandals (not what South Africans refer to!)

Just an ordinary Australian setting

 

Jokes aside, a recent survey revealed that Australia was ranked the 2nd “Best Country to be a Mother”, just behind Norway.  i.e. the report compares the well-being of mothers and children across the world.  Afghanistan came last – no surprise there.  The survey was based on mortality rates of mothers and children, maternity leave, health-care for mothers and children etc. And they used 164 countries in the survey.  Okay, in Norway the Government is desperately trying to encourage woman to have children, as they aren’t having any.  So they are throwing all sorts of incentives and benefits at the problem.  But that is good going for Australia – 2nd overall!  The US ranked a mere 31.  (South Africa is so far out of the ballpark…)  I think the idea is that happy, healthy mothers means happy, healthy kids, and should mean a good future for that country.

That’s all for now.  Rumour has it that my traveling compatriot has the inkling to do some blogging of his own for a change.  So watch this space!

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