July 16, 2006

Auckland - Harbour Discovery

We finally did something tourity and took a boat tour. The Kawau Kat Cruises company offers several trips around Auckland. They vary from a 1.5 hour tour of the harbour (what we did) to an all day discovery trip of an island. We passed by their kiosk on Pier 3 (off Quay Street) the first day we arrived in Auckland. Three weeks later, we finally got around to taking a trip. We thought about doing it last week, but the weather was a bit gloomy. If you see the pictures from today, you'll find that it was indeed a good move to wait for a sunny day. Just beautiful. My camera isn't very sophisticated, but it sure loves the sunlight!

Pictures: http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=95reg1b.2oy5epb3&x=0&y=qown9j


Posted by oneray at 4:16 AM

July 10, 2006

Pictures of Auckland

Here are a few pictures of the city area, Parnell Rise area, and our funky apartment.

Posted by oneray at 6:19 AM

July 4, 2006

Greetings from Auckland

It's been exactly one week since we landed in Auckland. We are working in a new city, on a new project, with new people. We don't know any one here. There isn't too much information online about Auckland, except for the typical tourist stuff. You can walk through the city center in about 30 minutes. It's not a big town. Most of the action seems to occur in the towns outside of Auckland or Wellington. I hear that is the place to be. Unfortunately, we do not have a car here. But after being here for one week, we're starting to get the feeling like you NEED a car here. So, we're investigating.

One general feeling about Auckland is: Califoria, Bay Area, San Francisco. Not only is every third person here Asian, but also the land is hilly. Try walking to work everyday in 3.5" wedge boots. :-)

I'll post a few pictures later. Ciao for now.

Posted by oneray at 9:01 PM

July 2, 2006

I Heart Lebanon

It's been one week since I left Lebanon, and I'm still thinking about it... wish I could have stayed longer. One week was not enough!

I left for Beirut on Monday, June 19th at 2 PM from London. I flew direct from Heathrow to Beirut on British Airways for around $1000 USD. There were cheaper flights that stopped in Dubai ($900) or Cypress ($600), but I decided time was critical and went the direct route. When I landed in Beirut, it was around 10 PM. The airport was empty and quiet, opposite the Cairo airport. I went to the Immigration queue and was told to go to another queue to purchase a Visa. For a 2 week Visa (smallest amount), the cost was about $17. Then I went through Immigration and picked up my luggage. I only had one bag. What do you really need to bring with you to a dance festival anyway? After walking through customs, the arrivals hall was filled with people and signs. There was a man with a sign with my name on it. I greeted him, and he took me to his taxi. The weather was perfect. Immediately walking out of the airport, I saw what appeared to be stars but really was a big hill with the city lights. The taxi took about 40 minutes to get to the Madisson Hotel in Journieh (a town outside of Beirut). The taxi driver's English was ok but limited. He tried to make conversation, but I had to keep to basic topics.

We arrived at the hotel, and I checked in. The receptionist asked for my passport, but since I had a copy of my passport, I handed him that instead. They were very impressed. The check-in was quick. Beverly, my friend from London, had left me a message to ring her in the morning. She was staying at the Regency Palace Hotel, a 5-star hotel and where all the festival activities were happening. The Madisson Hotel is supposedly a 4-star hotel. Let me clarify that it is NOT a 4-star. It is more like a 2-star hotel and drastically different from the 5-star Regency Palace. My room as plain and simple. There was a TV, 2 beds, a bathroom, and a table. There was no mini bar, alarm clock, cups, etc. I was so thirsty, I drank from the tap, which I don't like to do. I turned on the TV and it was on a music video station. I stayed awake watching that for a few hours, then went to bed.

June 20 :: In the morning, I went downstairs for breakfast. The flies made me lose my appetite, so I only had tea and cake. Then I asked the Receptionist how far the Regency Palace Hotel is to here. She said it was about a 15 minute taxi ride. So, she called a taxi for me. I arrived at the Regency Palace around 11 and had the receptionist call Beverly's room. Lucky for me she was there and came down to reception immediately. We went to breakfast as it was still being served. Immediately, I noticed the differences between the hotels. The Regency Palace is certainly close to a palace; it made the Madisson Hotel feel like a dump. I had breakfast for the second time, except it was better the second time around with Beverly and sitting on the Terrace with a beautiful view of the water and mountains. Beverly arrived 2 days prior and had met a few of the festival attendees already. There were a few having breakfast also, so I was introduced to them. There was a lady named Maya who is Brazilian but now living in Italy, Samira from Melbourne, and two ladies from South Africa, Nanette and Ann.

Afterwards, we went to the pool which was lovely and similar to the Terrace, had beautiful view of the water and mountains. Nanette and Ann were there also, and we chatted a bit. They were going to the pharmacy nearby, so I tagged along because I needed to buy eye makeup remover. The ladies at the pharmacy were really nice. I have found that if you just talk to them, ask them questions about their country, they really open up and share about what they know. Most everything was rather expensive in there. I was told that most brands we're used to buying (L'oreal, etc.) tend to be more expensive here since everything is imported. On our way back, we stopped at Ann and Nanette's room so we could all change into our swim suits (or swimming costume, for the South Africans). Back at the pool, we found Beverly doing somersaults in the middle of the pool, but did not join her. Instead we found shade in the far end of the pool area and lounged around chatting. Samira later joined us. Then her friend Mariko from Japan arrived, and we all introduced each other. Later, Rosana from Iceland showed up by the pool. I had met her on Tribe.net and was expecting to see her here. I decided to move to this hotel.

Let me break here for a second and let you know that none of us had any idea about the festival or the competition. Samira, Rosana, Mariko, and I were all participating in the competition but knew nothing of the logistics. The only thing anyone knew was that we are all to gather in the hotel somewhere at 4 PM for a Reception to meet Amani and the team.

Finally, 4 PM rolled around. I didn't get changed since I was already at the Regency Palace and didn't bring another set of clothing for the event. Fortunately, I looked decent enough. We all gathered in the lounge area in one of the restaurants in the hotel. Amani arrived and said some welcoming words. There were ladies from all over the world, Russia, Australia, Japan, USA, UK, France, Spain, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Iceland, Netherlands, Sweden, and other Nordic countries. In total, there were about 70 participants this year. At the reception, Patricia, one of the organizers, passed out forms for everyone to sign up for the workshops, while Amani went by each table to say hello to everyone. Beverly came with me to speak to Ali, Amani's assistant/agent, to change my hotel. Patricia ended up helping me with that. So, I hopped on the shuttle to go back to the Madisson Hotel to gather my things.

In the evening was the Opening Night show. So, I changed into my evening dress, packed up, and checked out of the hotel. I hopped back onto the shuttle with my luggage. I was early and on the shuttle was another asian girl. I started talking to her and it turns out that she knows my friend Hannah. They used to dance together in Japan. The shuttle dropped us off at the Regency Palace, and we took the elevator down to the Ceasar's Palace. Everyone gathered and found seats. The performances by the instructors began one hour late. Then there were some hors'derve and drinks. Then everyone turned in their workshop selections and paid for them. Afterwards, I checked into my room at the Regency Palace. My room was huge! I had a king size bed and plenty of room to dance in... or do a few cartwheels!

June 21 :: I got up early, around 7, and enjoyed a quick breakfast at the Terrace again. My first workshop was with Amani at 9 AM. She taught a choreography. It was new to me, but a few people said that it was an old choreography. This was my only workshop for the day. Afterwards, I went to the pool and had a light lunch. In the afternoon, I went to my room, practiced a little, then relaxed a bit. I got a phone call in my room and it was Patricia asking me to take my music down to the Ceasar's Palace. So, I went down and waited a few minutes because she was on the phone. Amani came by and looked at my CD. She told me to dance to my first song then gave me an Amani tank top. While I was down there, I asked if I should wear my costume for the Preliminary and she said yes. So, I went back to my room to start getting ready. A few minutes before 9 PM, I went down to Ceasar's Palace and saw only a handful of girls in costume. It turns out most everyone brought their costumes and changed there. Amani read out a list of names, alphabetical order, and said that was the order we were dancing in. There were approximately 30 dancers. A few girls didn't wear their costumes because they didn't know to wear them. This was an informal event. Those who wanted to come watch could, but there were no seats, so you just have to rough it on the floor. Amani called out each girl's name and the Preliminary went by quickly. Each dancer only danced 3.5 minutes. There were a few dancers I really enjoyed watching. My favorite was a Russian girl name Sofia. We were told that the results of the Preliminary would be posted tomorrow. Afterwards, at around 10:30, a few of us went to the Terrace to eat.

June 22 :: Today is the excursion day. Not everyone participated. Allegra, a dancer from Los Angeles, stayed behind because she needed to take care of costumes of hers that are stuck in Customs. We all boarded a coach bus. Our first stop was a big cathedral up in the mountain. There was a fabulous view of the towns below. Afterwards, we went to the Grotto. If you have been to Carlsbad Caverns, this is much better. There is a second cave where you take a ride in a small boat. Then we went to the castle in Byblos. Our last stop was the beach. We had a huge Lebanese meze meal provided by the resort there. It seemed like 20 courses. Then afterwards, we took a dip in the ocean, then participated in a debke class. The debke class began with a surprise performance by a professional Lebanese debke troupe, with musicians. There was a photographer and a film guy following us around all day. At certain sights, we had to take several group pictures... I felt like we were in the Miss World Pageant.

At around 7:30, we were brought back to the hotel. Beverly arranged a taxi to take us to downtown Beirut. It was a $30 USD taxi ride, but shared between 6 girls, it was pretty cheap. We went to the Virgin Megastore and bought a few CD's. The local music stores only have current pop CD's. Afterwards, the 8 of us (Samira and Mariko came separately) walked to the Etoile area and found a restaurant. The area felt like an Italian piazza: people dining al fresco, cobblestone streets, etc. The buildings were new but built Mediteranean style. Everyone was watching the World Cup, Brazil vs. Japan. A couple of girls ran up to Mariko and me to let us know that Japan just scored a goal. How nice of them because most Lebanese support the Brazilian team. After dinner, it was around 12:30 AM. We walked around the area and found some shops still open! There were some super cool shoe shops with shoe styles I've never seen before and an accessory shop with huge chandelier earrings.

June 23 :: My first workshop was not until 1:15 PM with Amani. Then I had an hour break before an emitting emotions through dance with Amani. After class, I went back to my room and tried to take a nap, but Beverly came by and we chatted for a while. Unfortunately, none of us knew who was going to be in the competition tomorrow. It was a little frustrating. I got a little something to eat from the Chinese restaurant, then saw Mariko in the lobby. A few of them were going out that night, but I was so tired, I passed on the offer and went to bed.

June 24 :: For some reason, I woke up too late to have breakfast before my first workshop at 9 AM. I took a yoga class with Beverly, then I took two workshops with an ex-member of the Caracalla troupe. Somewhere in between classes, I confirmed that I was dancing in the competition. I was done with worshops by 3 PM, but my body was tired and sore. I went back to my room and took a nap. Afterwards, I got ready for the competition. There were 10 of us performing in the competition. I danced to the same song. A few of the girls danced to different songs and wore different costumes from the Preliminary. After all 10 of us performed, 3 girls were chosen to perform improvisation together on stage. The 3 were Samira from Australia, Sofia from Russia, and Heidi from Sweden. From the improvisation, the judges determined first, second, and third place. Amani was not one of the judges.

After the competition, I was a bit bummed out, but agreed to go out with some of the girls. Beverly organized the taxis to take us to a local club with bellydancer. A few of the girls had been to this place before, but I don't know the name of it because it is only in Arabic. The place was pretty happening when we got there at about 1 AM. The singer was singing and there were people dancing on the stage with him. The club was more like a restaurant, and it was full of people. The platform/stage was 1.5 feet high and was pretty much in the center of the room. The first performer to come out was a male dancer. He was fabulous! He looked rather European, almost reminds me of Fabio but with sandy colored hair. His hair was shoulder length which he tied back in a ponytail. He wore a tight white short sleeve shirt with the buttons buttoned low and tight white pants. I don't remember if he danced in shoes, but he may very well have. He danced an intro piece then a stick dance, then a drum solo. He was very charasmatic and had great technique. Then the singer came back and sang a couple of songs. People came up to dance. Then the girl belly dancer stormed on stage with her black veil, did her intro piece, then pranced around to tables with her cane. She was not as good as the male dancer. Our table of girls danced around our table and also on the stage with the locals. We had so much fun dancing away. Then we danced debke with the locals. The stage was small, but we managed to fit lots of people on it. The male dancer came on stage and danced debke with us. Man, Lebanese men dance debke so well. At the end the male dancer broke between me and my friend and we were holding hands dancing debke. When the song was over, he almost dragged me to his table, but we joked, and I went back to my table with my friends. We drank some and ate some fruit. Then the singer started singing 'Aligarah' and I ran on stage with another girl and we started dancing with the locals. Then the male dancer comes on stage and starts dancing right in front of me. Perhaps, with me. Anyway, we had a great time dancing... I almost didn't want to leave! Then left the club around 3:30 AM. Mariko and I went to Beverly's room and hung out until 5 AM when I left for the airport.

Let me clarify something. Those of bellydance know this, but not everyone does. Middle eastern women belly dance. When they're dancing at the club to arabic pop music, they're doing belly dance moves. They're fantastic and great to watch.

One week was not enough. I need to go back to Lebanon and visit more local clubs that have arabic music and free dance. Shoot me details if you know any good places.

Pictures: http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=95reg1b.9jlvzr8n&x=0&y=-rid3kn


Posted by oneray at 9:09 PM