Posts Tagged ‘couchsurfing’

It was late Sunday evening, and me and Sejin were hungry.  Receiving no answer after phoning a local Sharjah Pizza Hut for delivery, we visited their website and lodged a light-hearted complaint.

Sent: Sunday, June 24, 2012 11:16 PM
To: MENAPAKT PH Customer Care
Subject: Customer Feedback

From: Madam Josh, Yager

Comments : 11pm no delivery? ㅋㅋ I am disappointed. This is infuriating. If you don’t want my money, you should have just said so on your website. Now I have to go eat my money because I can’t have any pizza tonight!

It was Sejin’s quick thinking that cleverly disguised me as a woman.  In the end, I did not follow through on my threat to eat my money that night.  We had some Trix cereal, fell asleep, and generally did everything outside of thinking about Pizza Hut.  The next morning, Sejin found this in her work inbox, since we had regrettably provided her real e-mail address:

Sent: Monday, June 25, 2012 9:57 AM
Subject: FW: Customer Feedback

Dear   Madam Josh,

Thank you for bringing this feedback to our attention and please accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience brought by this situation.

Please be informed that by copy of this message, we are forwarding your comments to Mrs. Faten Sabek from Kuwait Food Company, Americana   our Pizza Hut franchise partner in UAE who will be contacting you to discuss further the issue you have raised.

Please do not hesitate to contact us again in the future.

Thanks and regards,
Pizza Hut Customer Care
Middle East, North Africa, Pakistan and Turkey

It was clear that upper-level management of Pizza Hut felt genuinely hurt that I had chosen to consume my money out of spite.  But they weren’t about to let me keep eating my money, not when they could conceivably convince me to trade it for one of their marginally less nutritious pizzas instead.  I have to commend their business acumen; a lesser company would not have made this connection.

Later in the evening, Sejin received a new e-mail from one Mohamed Yakout, whose mail signature revealed that he was a rogue operative working outside the Pizza Hut bureacracy:

Sent: Monday, June 25, 2012 6:04 PM
From: Mohamed Yakout
Subject: RE: Customer Feedback

Dear Ms. Josh,

Thanks a lot for bringing your feedback about Pizza Hut to my attention but kindly email your contact number in order to get more details from you and take the necessary action.

Best regards,

Mohamed Yakout
Kuwait Food Co. (Americana)

“Take the necessary action?”  My blood ran cold.  I immediately established that the executive bigwigs at Pizza Hut had gotten wind of my complaint and wanted to silence me for good.  Shit, I had gotten in too deep!  They knew they should have made delivery available until at least midnight–they knew it!–but now that I had the power to topple their empire, they had no choice.  Had Pizza Hut really just outsourced a hit on me, Ms. Josh, using this Kuwaiti hired hitman?  Curious to a fault, I told Sejin to go ahead and e-mail her home telephone number to this corporate assassin.

Sejin left for work the next morning.  After she closed the front door, the phone rang down the hallway.  I walked to it, reached down, and picked up the receiver, expecting Sejin had forgotten something.  Maybe she wanted to take some Trix cereal for the work commute.  Maybe she liked Trix as much as I did.  Instead, I was greeted by the raspy voice of Murderin’ Mohamed.

“Hello, can I speak to… Madam… Joshua Yager?”

To be continued…?

 

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I guess it would be good to establish the scene.


I’m sitting in a freezing tent overlooking Rome’s Tiber River.  The time is hovering around 1:00 AM.  It has been a drizzly day, a rainy week, and a boozy binge.  Wine is cheap in Italy, but its quality is not.


I’ve been going at this trip for three months now.  Grazing glaciers, inside ruins, under seas, over seas, through valleys, above mountains, 12,000 kilometers by rail, boat, bus, bike, plane and foot–this is the easy part of my plan.  I never, ever know where I will be two days from the current day.  I usually don’t know what day of the week it is.  Sometimes I’ve had to sleep in a different place every night.  I’ve woken up once and forgotten which country I was in.  People I meet along the way ask me what my plans are, where I’m going, or how long I’m going to do this.  I just don’t know.  There is no hint in my answer as to whether this is a good or bad deal; it is the deal, and I neither mind it nor relish it.  I appreciate the rush of cultures and the chance it provides to meet the world on my own terms.  I regret the missed opportunities to stay and learn more.  I am very fortunate.  I am whittling away mispent youth.  I am happy.  I am happy.


They ask me if I’m traveling alone.  The most common question.  They look at my backpack and ask.  Well, yeah, I am.  Of course.  Except that I’m not.  Physically, yes, but I’m connected with friends old and new, the people I’ve known and the people I’m coming to know.  I’m always missing people.  The pattern: I meet people, get to know them, escalate a friendship, we have fun, maybe some mutual epiphanies or two, then abruptly separate.  This trip is supposed to help me connect with people, and every day, it is.  But I guess I never stopped to think for how long I could be connected.


Then there’s Caligula.  They always ask me about Caligula.  I enthusiastically explain that he’s a 1979 historical pornography.  They invariably knod their heads in silence.   It makes me think I’m the only person who can appreciate Caligula for who he is.

 

 

“This place has really gone to shit.”

 


I stand in front of ruins, or, if I’m lucky enough, in them.  I think about the people who used to stand and walk and talk where I am now, and how much we would have in common.  But that’s just the effect of ruins: by definition they evoke thoughts of the past and a future without us in which everything we’ve ever known will have similarly eroded.  I think about the people I’ve met and I wonder what they’re doing right at that moment.


Like now, my host in Reykjavik.  What’s she doing?  Scuba diving?  She was an instructor.  Or Ewen in Dunoon?  He fucked up his leg.  Probably having sex with sheep.  Taro in dirty Wales?  Could be watching Ewen’s sheep sex via camchat.  Kristina in London?  Reading would be a good guess.  Friends from Amsterdam?  Back to real life.  And the Erasmus students, my God, the students from Brno!  They’re probably just getting really drunk or dancing, but definitely not dying anywhere.  The Japanese friends I met in Prague?  Back in Japan, but doing what?  Karaoke?  And this one other guy who got banned from Europe.  Not any specific country, but Europe.  The whole thing.  How much of a badass do you have to be to get blacklisted from an entire continent?  Apparently, as much of one as he was.  The Slovenian who designed a spaceship powered by bearshit and hosted me for a week?  Moving on to the building phase?  I wonder.  All these things, I wonder while I wander.


It’s freezing in this tent.  I don’t know why I thought this might be a good idea.  The tent, I mean.  I also don’t know why I wrote this out, but then again, I still don’t know where I’ll even be tomorrow.  Taking a cheap train south, but then what?  I’m running out of Europe; only Greece is left.  I have to climb Mt. Olympus in a Kratos costume and topple Zeus before I start to enter the long string of countries I couldn’t even place on a map.  The main part of the trip.  The long part.  Then, finally, at the end where these sorts of things tend to be, is the goal.


And I wonder what will happen then.

 

So you’ve just arrived in Iceland.  Congratulations!  As far as historical leaders go, you are now more courageous than Hitler, and running fairly even with Churchill.  Better stow away your army before it gets too cold and… what?  It’s already the middle of winter?  Interesting.  Well, been nice knowing you.  Even Hitler knew better than to invade a frigid wasteland in high winter–wait, nope.  But don’t worry.  I’ve been there, done that, and come back to tell the tale.  Here are some protips to help you survive your winter in Iceland.

 

1.  Expect to encounter darkness at any time of the day.

Not to be confused with the Darkness.

 

While this is a bit of an exaggeration, statistically speaking, the odds of walking outside at any time in the winter in Iceland and being greeted by an apocalyptic, sunless sky can be as high as 80%.  If you plan to do some exploring or photography, pay attention to the sunrise schedule.  Coming hand-in-hand with the darkness is the wind, which can sometimes kick up snow and rudely throw it in your eyes.  If you find yourself in the path of a plume, it’s best cower in terror and cover your face like Dracula expecting the sun, which, as already noted, is a wholly irrational fear in Iceland. 

 

Photo of my hand in front of my face during Icelandic winter.

 

2.  Take steps on your first day to counter jet lag.

Since most flights to Reykjavik cross multiple time zones, many visitors will be inflicted with some degree of jet lag.  On the odd chance that it’s available upon arriving, expose yourself to sunlight to “recalibrate” your internal clock.  Slog through the entire day and only turn in at your normal bedtime.  Then, set an alarm for the next morning.  I forgot, fell into a deep sleep, and woke up to my host greeting me with a wary “good afternoon.”  I had slept 14 hours.  For comparison, this is how much a Snorlax sleeps.  By setting an alarm, you will be helping yourself to remember to wake up from what will inevitably be an icy coma; you can rest assured knowing that you’re only preparing to drift off to sleep, not drifting off this mortal coil.

 

3.  It’s freezing: Dress for success.

If you’ve ever played a classic “Sonic the Hedgehog” game and ever found yourself on the verge of drowning in an underwater level, your nerves probably stll jump when you hear this music:

 

Warning: This music induces anal clenching.

 

This commanding crescendo encouraged casual underwater spelunkers like myself to drop everything, find an air bubble, and replenish Sonic’s air supply before he drowned in a clusterf*** of a level that was oblately designed to be a submerged labyrinth–it’s even spelled out for you right here.  How is this relevant?  Whenever I’m exploring outside in wintry Iceland, I can’t help but recall this music as I begin to slowly lose all feeling in my fingers and toes; it rises as if from the ether itself.  This slow, creeping death brings to mind the similar slow, creeping death of another hapless mammal, led blindly into an alien habitat, utterly unprepared to survive within.  Wear sturdy gloves, multiple layers, and heavy socks.  Duck inside a store to heat up a bit–think of it as your air bubble.  A heavy coat will carry you through the day and into the next level, which, serendipitous as it is, are the same in both Reykjavik and Sonic the Hedgehog 1.

 

 

4.  Follow in the footsteps of those who came before you.

Specifically, those people who have left footprints in patches of snow.  Want to walk in the deep snow?  No, you don’t; not unless if you can find a path that’s already been forged and retrace those steps.  It saves energy, as it’s easier to walk through the snow that’s already been flattened, and there’s less chance of flakes penetrating your shoes or pants.  You might not even slip and crack open your skull. 

 

That’s when Jesus carried you.

 

5.  Eat and drink cheaply, but don’t be cheap.

Costs in Reykjavik, taken as a whole, are likely to be much higher than equivalent fares in your home country.  There are still deals to be had in this infamously expensive city.  Certain restaurants downtown, such as Krua Thai, serve meals in large portions at affordable prices.  You could also cook your own food by shopping in one of the numerous grocery/convenience stores located throughout the city; try Bonus or 10-11, which is open 24-7, somehow.  Fast food is available–McDonald’s is known as Metro in Iceland–but Reykjavik is more noted for its street vendor hot dog stalls.  Prices for these meat mash-ups range from ~US$2 to ~US$5.  These hot dogs are a solid bet, but not as solid as your lower colon will be after eating one.  Delicious!

 

6.  Avoid universally high hotel fees.

The tauntaun, endemic to Hoth and Iceland.

 

Hotel prices in Reykjavik are astronomical.  To skimp on these fees, you might consider tracking a tauntaun through the snowfields, hollowing out its carcass, and resting inside for a night of peaceful slumber.  Alternatively, search on couchsurfing.org for a local host who has opened his or her home to foreign visitors.  Not only will you save on hotel costs, but more importantly, you’ll have an opportunity to make a new friend and receive privileged insider’s info regarding the local culture to which you might otherwise have remained oblivious.  And after a day spent narrowly avoiding death in several guises–exhaustion, exposure, hot dogs–it’s relieving to come home to a native who simply wants to share a small portion of the city with you.