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Vietnam Visas and Getting the Real Answer
Oct 1st, 2009 by Jeff

One of the visas that we didn’t get in the U.S. that we were going to need before we arrived in country was the Vietnamese visa.  If you fly into Vietnam you can get it done on the internet and pick it up in the airport as you arrive; but since we plan on taking the train into Vietnam from China this doesn’t apply.  Therefore, I planned to get the visas in China while we were there.  Since Vietnam has a consulate in Shanghai and it just happens to be right down the street from our host’s apartment, I planned on venturing out one morning to drop of the paperwork and then going back in two to three days to pick it up.  Once again our best laid plans get derailed by a national holiday.  With the celebration of 60 years of communism to commence on the 1st of October, the Vietnam consulate has decided to take off the 1st through the 11th to celebrate with their consulate host and neighbor.  We were planning on leaving Shanghai on the 5th and not coming back to this area, especially not wanting to leave our passports behind.

 This new visa scheduling predicament led to one of my first lessons in Chinese culture.  Often times you only get the answer to the exact question you ask, so be sure to phrase the questions properly (and if you don’t get the answer you want, ask the question again in a little different manner).  An abbreviated version of my conversation with the Vietnamese consulate is below:

Q: How long will it take to get a Visa?
A: It will take three days.
Q: So if I bring it in today, Sept 28th, I can have it the Oct 2nd (since the 1st is a holiday)?
A: No
Q: What date will it be ready?
A: October 12th.
Q: Can I get it sooner?
A: No, we will be closed?
Q: Do you have an expedite service?
A: Yes.
Q: If I pay expedite, how soon can I have it?
A: With expedite the passport will be ready tomorrow.

Tom Callarman, our host – and a professor at an international business university here -tells me this communication issue is a challenge he often faces in the business world here and it is definitely a frustration for those of us used to a customer service attitude of “we’ll find a way to help you – and will try to anticipate your every need”. (Also, please don’t take this that all the Chinese are not willing to help – many people have been delightful and have gone out of their way to help, but typically in a non-business setting).

Once I found out that I could get the visas overnight, I went forward with my original plan to get visas for Vietnam in Shanghai.  The only new wrinkle was the timing of Vietnamese embassy office hours.  While on the phone I had asked if I could bring in the passports immediately to get the visas and if they would they be open.  I was told that yes they were open.  When I got there at 12:15 they were closed (for a 2 ½ hour lunch 11:30 – 2:00).  I should have asked for their exact hours (see lessons supposed learned above).  In the end however, all went well.  We have visas in hand and are ready to at least get into the next country!

Cheers,

Jeff

Trains
Sep 27th, 2009 by Jeff

We are now almost three weeks into our travels throughout Japan. We really have enjoyed all of our travels in this amazing country. I have especially enjoyed traveling on the bullet trains. They are very comfortable and convenient.

As far comfort was concerned the trains were great. Unlike plane travel, it is no problem to get up and move around the “cabin” or car at any time. This made the 3+ hour trips we took quite nice. Also, Phoebe loved the fact that on the bullet trains each row of seats could be spun around to face the row behind it. This allowed us to sit and chat or hang out together during our longer trips.

With respect to convenience, Kate purchased a 21-day rail pass that is available to foreign tourists and this allowed us onto all but the newest, top end trains. It wasn’t inexpensive at ~$550 each for myself, Kate, and Tessa (unfortunately even 12 year olds count as adults and there is no getting around it – believe me Kate tried), and ~$350 for Phoebe. This rail pass was great in getting us to where we wanted to go (with the minor exception of the last segment of our journey to Mt. Fuji). In order to get tickets, we just went to the reservation counter showed the passes and received reserved seating on the bullet trains. On the local trains we didn’t need to purchase tickets at all (since there is no reserved seating), we just showed our passes and were ushered through the gates to the train. During our time in Japan we traveled from Narita Airport outside of Tokyo to Nagoya and then on to Takayama in the Japanese Alps. We then made our way over to Mt. Fuji, then back towards Tokyo to stay in Yokahama with our wonderful, extremely generous host and friend Megue and her family. (I could go on and on about how wonderful, generous and over the top these people were to us, but I think Kate has already done so. So I will just add that they could not have been nicer and that we hope to be able to reciprocate the hospitality we were shown to them and their family members in the future.) From Yokahama we travelled to Hiroshima and then back to Kyoto and finally Osaka.

Having done most of our major traveling on planes, we did have to make some adjustments to our traveling “style” that we really didn’t think too much about until we were going from train to train. Most notably would be know ahead of time exactly when our stop was coming and getting all of our stuff together before we actually got to our stop. On the first train we took, we did a mad scramble to get all on our backpacks on and to grab our other bags in order to get off the train before the doors closed and it moved on to the next station. Having learned that lesson quickly, I am happy to report that we didn’t miss a stop (or have to do any backtracking) during our train travels in Japan. (We’ll see if we can keep that status in place when we get to China and the rest of the countries were we plan on a lot of train travel).

Having now had this experience with a great train system, I will definitely get behind President Obama and his plans to implement high speed rail in the U.S. We were able to travel over 1,200 miles very efficiently and quickly, moving from city center to city center. Adding this capacity to our national infrastructure certainly would add jobs to the economy and, in turn, would only improve our transportation sector and make things more efficient. It also would be much better for the environment in the long run and would help to reduce our dependence on oil. The only downside I can see is probably some displacement of people along the routes that would need to be established.

I have read that the trains are good in the rest of Asia. If they are close to what we experience here in Japan, I think things will be just fine in our travels.

Cheers,

Jeff.

A manly post!!!
Sep 10th, 2009 by Jeff

After checking on the “junk” comments for the blog, I noticed an inadvertent lost comment from my friend Patrick. He had just read my first post and was thankful for the injection of some testosterone to the wells360 blogosphere. In the interest of keeping that flowing, I will now discuss a great BEER discovery! I also have my favorite nephew to thank for part of this discussion (that’s you Jack!). He wanted bottle caps from around the world and I would not deny him that simple request. I have been sampling beer in Canada and Japan and collecting the caps to send back to him. And while all beer is good, during my stay here at the K house hostel near Mt. Fuji, I have found a microbrew that is now climbed to the top of my list – Gotenba Kohgen Beer. I have had a delicious Weizen and now (as I write this) a quite tasty Dunkel! Now I just have to find it when I get home. All my Arizona friends, consider that your assignment! Try to find a little Japan in AZ for me so I can relive the trip with you when I get back over a cold one!

Cheers!!!

Jeff

Jeff on Canada Ending and Japan Starting
Sep 6th, 2009 by Jeff

Hello All,

I am finally getting a little time to sit and blog – train from Narita to Nagoya – as both Phoebe and Kate do the ralphing thing when reading or writing while in motion and Tessa has the Kindle. So I get to catch up on my writing.

The last of the Canadian adventures went great. Anne and Kellea were superb hosts in Parksville. Kate already blogged about the sandcastles we saw but didn’t go into the swim in the river. Anne and Kellea took us to an ideal spot to jump in and swim in some of Canada’s clear running waters (clear because it had probably just melted off some glacier – also meaning it was pretty chilly). Tessa, Phoebe and our hosts decided to do a little swimming. Phoebe braved here way into the water a complete trooper, while Tessa figured she might as well get completely wet after falling in most of the way while fording the river. I just wanted to be safe in this swimming adventure, so I decided to act as life guard for the group and stayed on shore and supervise the swim ;-) !

I also really enjoyed getting back together with Kyle and Robyn for another assault on Mount Wells which, as Kate noted, was a big success.

(Continuation of post started in train from Nagoya)

Japan has definitely been interesting, fun and exciting. After a few days in Narita (see Kate’s blog entry), we have made our way to Nagoya and now Takayama. In Narita we decided to challenge ourselves a little and split up in teams to conquer the city. Kate and Tessa went to the Noritake China Museum and Phoebe and I ventured off to the zoo. How does the saying go, “getting there is half the fun”. We all started out together on the train but then broke off in different directions on the subway. Phoebe and I struggled a little finding the correct station, but with a little help from the kind people of Nagoya we found the right line, and were able to purchase tickets at the kiosk. That was harder than I thought it would be. I found the button that said English and got the directions, it basically read as follows on one simple screen:

1. Get fare from chart
2. Insert Money
3. Get ticket

I figured out the fare on the chart and could insert the money, but had no idea which button to push to get the ticket, whether I had to insert the money before or after I selected the route (or if I had to select a route at all).  Once again Karma sent along a Japanese helper to assist the ignorant and befuddled American. With a quick lesson, we were on our way with the proper tickets.

We spent a couple of fun hours at the zoo and added quite a few creatures to the critter count (I will let Phoebe add to the list). I think my favorites were the various asian bears (Japanese brown, Japanese black, Malaysian Sun and the Sloth bear) all quite impressive and the up close look at the zoo made me glad we saw our Canadian bear from the car.

We are now in Takayama at a great hostel (J-Hoppers) and have a cool traditional Japanese room with futons for sleeping. We also did a little touring of the town. I have discovered that they have a microbrewery here and a couple of sake breweries that offer tastings (I think I’m going to try that out when the girls go to do the traditional Japanese bath thing)!

Sayanora for now,

Jeff

Vancouver Island and my expanding interests
Aug 22nd, 2009 by Jeff

Another week in and things are running a little more smoothly. We have been able to set up accommodations with family and couch surfers for the rest of the month. This has taken some of the pressure off the immediate “find a place to stay” scramble we were doing early on. However, Kate and I have been discussing the ease of internet accessibility in Canada, and that it may not last as we move further west in Asia (although it might – since we are planning on staying with couchsurfers who rely on the internet?). I guess well find out soon enough. However it turns out, Kate and I are feeling a little more pressure to get set plans in place for Japan, China, Cambodia and Viet Nam.

I have particularly enjoyed our time in Vancouver Island. Rock climbing with our host Kyle was an unexpected and pleasant surprise for me. I had always wanted to try climbing out in the wilderness on a real mountain (I had done the rock gym once or twice) and it definitely brought a new “edge” to the sport. Although I was strapped in and safe, I still had a very real fear of slipping and falling down the mountain. Also, I was much higher than I had ever been in a gym. On both climbs that I did, I opted to not push too hard and risk any injury (but it would be cool to try again and summit the section of mountain I was climbing). However, overall I was very happy with my performance and would definitely like to pursue this more (Jeff and Chloe – we should get together and do this in AZ when Tess and I get back in town).

Today we spent the day in Duncan. This is about 50 miles north of Victoria. The town has a quaint little city center and we went to the farmers markets (some things just won’t change with Kate – I am sure farmer’s markets will be on the “things to do” wherever we are). The market was very nice and I did get an awesome smoked venison sausage. (I also had some great smoked elk earlier in the week in Victoria). After the market we went on tour of the totem poles in the town. The local indigenous people have had totems in the culture for hundreds of years. It was very interesting to see the different forms and be told the reasons for totems: as a family ‘coat of arms’, as a method of story telling, as a memorial or burial tribute, in addition to a decoration for the homes. Seeing all this great art made me wonder what I’d use in a design for a Wells family totem? I think an eagle would need to be there somewhere, with Pappy as a pilot for American Airlines and my degree in Aerospace Engineering. The other stuff is still under consideration. I may sketch something out on this grand tour of ours.

We also spent some time today at a Raptor Sanctuary. I’ve always enjoyed seeing these birds of prey in the wild and this was a very up close look at them. The center does daily flying (off tether) demonstrations and we were in very close proximity to the birds; only a few feet away. One of the owls in the show was hand reared and allowed the trainer to manipulate his head and body to show us up close all the interesting things that make these birds so special. It was quite informative and educational (schooling points for Kate and I – woohoo). Falconry has always been something I have had an interest in and this experience definitely piqued my curiosity – this is another thing I will need to learn more about.

As far as the Network Administrator stuff goes – things seemed to have ironed out for the most part (knock on wood) no more major computer glitches (although the wireless seems to be a little finicky – my latest research seems to indicate it is just the nature of the Eee 1000HE network adaptor). I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed.

Cheers,

Jeff

My new position and the required mental shift
Aug 16th, 2009 by Jeff

Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnd I’m off !  (work, home chores, and the standard 9-5 thing)., and the Round the World (RTW) adventure has begun.

So to begin my blogging let me say that I really feel blessed to be doing this at all.  I really have a great life.  I have a beautiful, intelligent, and extremely well organized (and driven) wife; I have two great kids  (ditto the adjectives from my wife above – excluding the well organized part (their working on it))that are willing to go along with this adventure without any real fuss; Kate and I were working at and are now on Sabbatical from two great companies that were willing to let us take time for this odyssey; our families and friends have all stepped up to do what they can in support of this trip; and countless other things have just fallen into place.  Overall we couldn’t have asked for a better start.

As to more specifics on these first two weeks things have gone pretty smoothly.  However, I now find myself in the advanced network administrator position, which has become a little frustrating.   Our new netbook had a ‘serious error” shutdown at our first stop in Calgary and I ended up installing new BIOS and drivers, once I got connected to the internet.  I also decided to get an additional backup to our computer I could carry with us in case of a complete computer meltdown.  With the couchsurfing, hotels, and alternate living plans, along with our plane, train, and car rental as we go – it is pretty important that we can get internet connections.  I still have not resolved the issues completely, as we have problems with some wireless connections for no good reason I can determine.  The sucky thing is I hate to spend all my time researching computer issues when there is so much to see and do.

The above discussion leads to a new topic, balance in our travels.  By balance in our travels I mean, how do Kate and I balance travel, sightseeing and exploring our new surroundings with the kids and  life maintenance.  Although it seems we are on one giant vacation, we really aren’t (in the pure sense of the word).  We still need to manage grocery shopping (we are trying to cook in as much as possible), doing laundry (do to our limited clothing), getting in schooling for the kids, and planning our next stop (securing lodging and travel plans), and paying the bills.  In a normal vacation this is all set and done ahead of time or unnecessary.  Kate and I are taking a lot of time trying to get this stuff all organized and although it is required, it is hard to get out of the “we are on vacation” mindset, because everything like this we’ve ever done in the past has been a vacation.   I know we have only been at this two weeks, so I hope this part gets a little easier.

With regards to the adventure itself, so far it has been great.  We seen some spectacular scenery in the Canadian Rockies, stayed with great couchsurfing hosts, and spotted a few exciting  animals (I refer you to the critter count).  We just arrived in Vancouver two nights ago and the city is a nice really cool.  We’ve explored a great market yesterday and plan on checking out Stanley Park (on bikes) today.

Thanks all for following along with us and keep the comments coming.

 Cheers,

Jeff

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