Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Saturday, August 27, 2011

We don't give shots to Jewish priests

We don't give shots to Jewish priests, but we do a lot of other things. We've done something significant for our trip almost every day in the last two months.

Before the end of June, I called a travel medicine clinic in the area. I talked with a nice secretary who took all the information and needed a few minutes to find some slots on their schedule. When I called back a half an hour later she informed me that they decided to change the price from $50 per consultation to "$130 or $150 after July 1st and we don't have any opening until then anyway." Obviously (!), all of us had to have a consultation even if we go to the same places and we have no medical issues of any sort. I made one appointment only, thinking we could apply that information to all of us (we cancelled in the end). We couldn't cover everything there anyway "because Ioan is under 12 he needs to go to a pediatric clinic." The contacts I was given wouldn't see him because he was not their patient and they really didn't know much about travel shots.
We decided to take the matter in our hands. We learned, there are plenty of resources on the internet and we are both doctors. I liked the I work in a public health clinic, they give immunizations to people and pets, they have some records of our immunizations. So can we get hep A? "No, because you have insurance you have to go to your primary doctor!" "my doctor doesn't do this", "I know, find another doctor" then "wait a minute, you're a doctor why don't you order the vaccines?" Without getting into too many details, psychiatrists don't usually do immunizations, but -  if I ever decide to start doing that -  I did set up everything, including Friday Fedex deliveries. But it wouldn't have been cost effective for us.
Thankfully one of the doctors at the Primary Care decided to help us and we got 10 shots, unequally distributed from the youngest to the oldest. We covered the hep A and meningococcal vaccine (kids only) and we will stop here. Ileana contacted travel clinics around the world inquiring about their services. At some point one of the girls heard her mispronouncing the word rabies as rabbis and starting picking on her "We don't give shots to Jewish priests!" We decided that we will get the rabies ($35), typhoid ($20) and the yellow fever ($40) in Kathmandu. The rabies are 3 injections and will end up costing $105 compared to $900 here. The yellow fever we don't need until Africa and it would have been $300 here. Per person. We might still get the typhoid here even though it's tough to beat their price. We will get the required booster for hep A at the right time, in Bangkok. A couple of weeks of hard work but we think we figured this out.

The Sony Alpha SLT55 in action
I would hate to be a security guy at Chase following my credit card charges. It seems that they stopped blocking the card for suspicious activity (thanks!). Maybe they improved their software to accept charges from Hawaii, New Zealand, Japan or New York in the same day. Anyhow my credit limit wasn't high enough for this past month so I payed them back several thousands every few days. Overall we spent $12000 since last post. We bought some real gems, the best camera, the newest MacAir, a nook. We sold our older camera, will sell the laptops that we have now and get pretty much even. Comparing my old MacBook Pro with the new Air, you'd never imagine how much 700 grams can weigh. Ileana and the kids got their sandals and some shoes. I got a couple of hard drives and I am trying to figure up my data backup plan. We got another three headlamps. We got trousers, a special trip to REI in New Jersey. We'll always be grateful to Kendra, she spent several hours looking for five pairs of pants and in the end was more excited than us that she found what we needed. She was enthusiastic about our travel plans. She heard about Rolf Potts and his travel around the world with no luggage. "Do you know the vest he had? We don't carry that, but it's pretty cool!" "We have five of them" said Ioan calmly.

We spent the last couple of years researching our luggage for this trip. We hardly bought any new clothes all this time, no electronics, no nothing, except for the trip. Now we have a long list on the white board and we cross items every day. Ileana finished her shopping at Icebreakers, she knew what else we needed. We followed them since last spring and got the items that we wanted during their biannual sales. With the last one, we got some gloves, hats and other pieces of clothing. I did the same thing with Scottevest earlier and got our vests with a 40% discount.

Moving on, we got the first travel insurance. It is perplexing to some of my patients and coworkers, how can you quit work, do you have enough money to pay health insurance? The answer is no, I wouldn't have money for health insurance in USA. It might cost $1200-$1500 per month for my family. It would probably carry several thousands in deductible. Going abroad, I bought the first five months of insurance, travel, health, etc. all for the nice sum of $510. I got it from Worldnomads, the most obvious choice. I was even able to get a coupon for 7% discount. "Sorry - because of federal regulations we are unable to honor that in USA." They offered to donate my $35 discount to one of their humanitarian projects, and now I am glad to support the Teacher Training Program, Solu Khumbu, Nepal. I am sure that the American Congress in its infinite wisdom has a very good reason for denying discounts for international travel insurance. Apparently there is a law in France that forbids stores from offering sales except for a couple of days per year. They all have the sales in the same time. Are the French politicians even smarter than the American ones?

Visas! Another one. I am sure that there is a good reason for those as well. On my reading list, "The Travels of Marco Polo." I am curious how much he had to pay for his China visa. The Chinese pay back to the Americans, adjusting the cost according to the Department of State fees. When they raise it, the Chinese raise back, but it should be noted that they are nice. The Americans take the money first and they keep the money even if they don't give the visa. The Chinese would charge at the end, before they hand you the passport. It costs $140. The rest of the world pays $45. The burmese, vietnamese and north-koreans get it free. There is only one exception: Romanians pay $70 for one entry, $100 for double entry. Not the main reason, but it feels good to be Romanian, second in the world after USA! For those who don't know, a visa is a nice colored printed stamp that gets affixed in the passport. It makes you feel special, a better person altogether. I remember getting the first visa for America 15 years ago. After standing in line for many hours in a freezing winter weather, I got to the interview, passed it and got my passport. My frozen, wet feet didn't hurt anymore. That stamp made me feel above most other people in the room... Back then I believed that! Sadly, I don't feel like that anymore. I had to pay $540 for the privilege of being allowed to spend my money and my time visiting a corner of my planet with my family.

Happy Birthday! See you in Penang.
There are agencies that would charge $50 per person to take the passports to the Consulate. We skipped on that, choosing to make it a 30-hour trip to New York City for my 44th birthday. We visited the Metropolitan and had lunch in the park before going to REI in New Jersey. In the end Kendra told us that we have to go to Penang, Malaysian restaurant, around the corner. We had Penang Satay, Vegetable Dumplings, Pad Thai, Beef Chow Fun, Chicken fried rice, Pulut Hitam. There was a time in the past when I wouldn't have tried anything exotic like that. That time is gone too. I asked the waiter for whatever is their specialty and enjoyed it without any hesitation. We will be in the real Penang in February and we'll compare.

We booked and payed accommodations in the most expensive cities that we'll visit. A nice apartment by the beach in Sydney and a 2 story house in Central Tokyo.  The apartments that I got in Sydney and Hawaii are cheaper than one room in the hotel in my village. The house in Tokyo costs less than the cheapest hostel there. Then I also bought the tickets for the bus from Kyoto to Tokyo. Buying now I could get seats on the standard bus, it will be a tough night but the price for 5 of us is less than 1 ticket on the Shinkansen. They even had reduced prices (by 2.5%= $1.3) for students,  and by 5% ($2.5) for my son as a child under 12.

I decided to end my little romance with an obscure chinese low budget airline. They wouldn't release their schedule for October, even lead me to believe they'll stop flying the Ibaraki-Shanghai route. There is a straight 4 hour flight from Tokyo to Beijing. The direct flight is between $800 and $2400 for an economy seat. We took the $2400 seat paying in British Airline miles plus $80. I only got 4 tickets so far, I need more miles and I'll get those in a few days as reward for all my other expenses. We took the chance that we might be separated with this, but I am sure it will work out fine. We chose to do the right simple thing despite the aberration of China Japan air connection. Of course I also bought some regular plane tickets, a couple flights in Hawaii in March and a flight from Guilin to Guangzhou in January. We are going to Canton! Unbelievable!

I got a $50,000 loan from my retirement account and some new credit cards with 0% interest, one of them for 21 months. Getting the money for the trip is pretty much done. My bank, "the world local bank" decided to sell all its business in upstate New York. The sale would be final when we'll be away and I don't know how I'll be able to work with the new bank. They would have been useless anyhow, they charge 3% for any foreign transactions. I found one bank that doesn't do that but I had to travel 100 miles to show them my green card. They wouldn't allow opening the account online because I am not an American citizen. So I did it. There was a time when the bureaucracy and idiocy of all these things would have affected me. Not any more. I don't know why, but it feels good. I don't care. It's not worth my nerves. I am going on with my plans because I am doing what I have to do. Nothing can stay in our way, we are doing the right thing. The kids are laughing, joking, they are happy, they are excited. Maria is the first one in the morning to get to the board and change the number of days left. Ioan said "I cannot wait to go around the world." Ileana and the kids will return today from the church summer camp and we will get on the last straight line, 50 more days, nothing else until we leave. That's it.

In an unrelated matter, Steve Jobs resigned as Apple's CEO. The Thomas Edison of our generation. People talk about his genius and his achievements. From little that we know about him I think the most impressive lesson is how he chose to live his life and the man he has become. Going again over his 2005 commencement address at Stanford, he uses the world love 10 times and death 6 times. Do what you love. "Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart." He ended quoting Stewart Brand: "Stay hungry. Stay foolish."

We'll do.

Monday, August 1, 2011

A step

We managed to go and buy sandals. Those who know us remember that shopping is not our favorite way to pass the time. We don’t like the material, the color, the fashion, the store, the crowd, and in general, we lack patience. In Ithaca there is this shop where they sell Birkenstock sandals. What is so special about these sandals? They are manufactured in Germany! Besides that the sole is made from cork (makes them light) and follows the natural curves of your foot (makes them really comfortable).
Ithaca, rush hour. I follow the instructions on the GPS and arrive on a small street with restaurants, agencies and in between them, our “Fontana’s Shoes Store” with two large windows full of different kind of footware. We entered and a young lady greeted us. She invited us to sit on chairs and measured our feet. We explain what kind of sandals we would like (podiatrist recommendation) and while she goes back and forth bringing us different models to try, we look around ourselsves with large eyes, like children in a candy store: so many models, and some of them look even elegant. We don’t lose time and start asking questions about the other brands. Naot? The sole is made from a mixture of cork and plastic. Teva? Just plastic and it’s not as rigid as Birkenstock’s. We sit on our chairs and she adjusts the buckles on the straps, brings different models for the girls because the narrow one is better for them than the normal one. Do you have a different colour? And what’s the difference between the soft footbed and the hard one? It has a thin layer of latex foam that helps the foot adapt easily to this kind of footware. She helps us one at a time and we get up from our chair, walk around the store paying attention to our toes, heels, to the straps, the way they rub the skin, the sole and all those mounds that we could feel under it. The girls are looking at each other, talk in Romanian, they laugh and they are wondering if they really look like twins. Ioan waits patiently for his turn, paying attention to every detail of the process. For him they have only three models, but just one is good on his feet: Keen.
We make our minds up. Four boxes are on the counter.
We take a deep breath... now we need water resistent, all-terrain shoes for the girls and they have to try them with their orthotics. Luckily our help knew what the store could offer us and brought two models for each girl (Ioan didn’t have his orthotics with him). They picked the one that suited them best. Maria was happy because she will not have to shop for trekking shoes for a long, long time.
After two hours, with a headache, but happy we left the store carring six boxes of shoes.