Archive | August, 2009
August 31, 2009

North Korea: The Itinerary

Theoretically, if all goes according to plan and the North Korean government has approved my visa, this is my trip’s itinerary. I’m especially looking forward to the bowling.

Tues 8th Sep
AM: Bus from office to airport.

PM: Flight JS152 from Beijing to Pyongyang, 13:00 departure, arrive Pyongyang 16:25, meet your Korean guides who will accompany you during your stay. En route to the hotel stop off at the Arch of Triumph – similar to the French version (but bigger) – commemorates the liberation from Japanese rule, the Fountain Park a picturesque area in the centre of Pyongyang (an opportunity to mix with locals), and the Mansudae Grand Monument – statue of DPRK President Kim Il Sung. Check in hotel. MASS GAMES
OVERNIGHT: Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang

Wed 9th Sep
AM: DPRK Holiday – National Day: Mangyongdae Native House – birthplace of the DPRK founder Kim Il Sung, Pyongyang Metro – the deepest in the world, take a ride with the locals, picnic in local park

PM: Moranbong Park to mingle with the locals on their day off, Pyongyang Funfair, expected evening Mass Dance in Kim Il Sung Square
OVERNIGHT: Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang

Thurs 10th Sep
AM: Kumsusan Memorial Palace – Mausoleum where President Kim Il Sung lies in state, Revolutionary Martyrs’ Cemetery – bronze busts of the Koreans who died fighting the Japanese occupation

PM: Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum (Korean War Museum) – hear and see the DPRK version of the conflict, USS Pueblo – tour the American espionage ship captured in 1968, Juche Tower – 150m stone tower with lookout platform at the top and great panoramic views of the city, Monument to Party Foundation – commemorates 50 years of Workers’ Party rule, drive to Kaesong (2.5 hrs) – a historical city near the DMZ which avoided being destroyed in the Korean War, check into the Folk Hotel where guests sleep on the floor in the traditional Korean style.
OVERNIGHT: Minsok Hotel, Kaesong

Fri 11th Sep
AM: Panmunjom/DMZ – boundary between North and South Korea, Koryo Museum – preserved Confucian museum in the old part of town, local park in Kaesong

PM: Return to Pyongyang (2.5 hrs), bookshop, stamp shop, Golden Lane Bowling Centre – where Pyongyangers go for their ten-pin fix, also has some early 90s arcade games
OVERNIGHT: Yanggakdo Hotel, Pyongyang

Sat 12th Sep
AM: Flight JS151 from Pyongyang to Beijing, 09:15 departure. End of Tour

August 30, 2009

Costa Rica: I’m here to surf, not overthrow your government

I didn’t have much to write about regarding my April trip to Costa Rica because it basically consisted of surfing, eating, and drinking. In fact, the only semi-funny thing that happened to me while in Costa Rica occurred when my flight landed at the Liberia airport.

The Costa Rican government requires that visitors fill out a landing card which you then submit to the immigration officer. It’s just some basic information, like name, date of birth, passport number, address, etc. For the occupation question I simply wrote “analyst” without identifying the organization I work for.

The queue at immigration was moving quickly, as the officers would take a cursory glance at each visitor’s passport, stamp it, and then promptly wave them towards the customs area. Except for me.

Despite having taken three years of Spanish in high school and being forced to spend part of my summer at Spanish camp in Minnesota (yeah, figure that one out) I really had no idea what the two officers were saying as they passed around my passport. The only word I recognized was “analista”, which the officers said repeatedly as they flipped through my passport pages, examining every visa.

“Hmmm…analista, analista, analista.”

Finally, one of the officers stamped my passport, handed it back to me, and smirked.

“Goodbye, analista político.”

And that was the only time in my life when I’ve wanted to say to someone, “No, no, you’ve got it all wrong, I work in the oil industry.”

August 13, 2009

Don’t bother trying, you’ll never ever find a surer friend than Gazprom

Definitely the greatest corporate anthem I have ever heard. Go Gazprom!

Don’t bother trying, you’ll never ever find
A surer friend than Gazprom
We’re giving people warmth and light
For office and for home
We should always keep in mind
From dawn till sun down,
That our work is always needed
Working day or holiday

Ref.:
Let’s drink to you, let’s drink to us,
Let’s drink to all the Russian gas
That it never comes to an end,
Though it’s so hard to obtain
Let’s drink to you, let’s drink to us
Let’s drink to all the Russian gas
For those extracting the new sun
From down beneath the ground

We’re renowned for our deeds
The world over
And all your troubles will recede
If Gazprom people are nearby
Don’t try, you’ll never ever find
A surer friend than Gazprom
We’re giving people warmth and light
For office and for home

Ref.:
Let’s drink to you, let’s drink to us,
Let’s drink to all the Russian gas
That it never comes to an end,
Though it’s so hard to obtain

Let’s drink to you, let’s drink to us
Let’s drink to all the Russian gas
For those extracting the new sun
From down beneath the ground

August 11, 2009

PNC Park

On Sunday, Laura and I drove up to Pittsburgh for the day to see the Pirates play the Cardinals and scratch PNC Park off of our list of ballparks to visit. And yes, we did just go to Pittsburgh for the day. It’s about 3.5-4 hours from DC, and everyone thought we were absolutely insane for driving that far for a baseball game. It was worth it, though. My one complaint about PNC Park, however, is that the hot dogs there are probably the most horrible ballpark hot dog I have ever tasted. They could definitely improve on those.


With a capacity of just over 38,000, PNC Park is a rather small and intimate ballpark. Also, the ticket prices are ridiculously cheap. View from our seats in Row T directly behind home plate. Cost? $27!

August 5, 2009

Pyongyang or bust: Part IV

In exactly one month I’ll arrive in Beijing and then theoretically proceed onwards to Pyongyang a few days later. I’ve booked my accommodations in Beijing and purchased my travel insurance policy. While the policy covers up to $1 million for emergency medical evacuation, it does not cover a former U.S. President hopping on a plane bound for Pyongyang to negotiate my release if something goes awry. Still, I would really appreciate it if you guys could hold a few candlelight vigils for me if I end up in a North Korean prison.

August 5, 2009

Такого как Путин!

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s latest vacation photos are now online. Sure beats going to Martha’s Vineyard…

putin_butterfly_swimming

putin_firewood

putin_submarine_baikal

August 5, 2009

Shooting clay pigeons in real Virginia

After doing so poorly at skeet shooting in Illinois, I decided I needed some proper instruction in the finer parts of shooting a moving target with a giant gun, so back in June some friends and I took the “Learn to shoot” class at the Bull Run Shooting Center in Centreville, VA (does that qualify as real Virginia?). If you live in the DC area and have any desire to learn how to trap shoot, I highly recommend the class. Here are a few photos from that shooting session. I went back a few weeks later to shoot a few rounds with Wayne and Olga and even bought a fancy Browning shooting vest (I desperately needed the recoil pad insert, and the giant pockets to hold the shells). I gotta say I am pretty hooked on this new hobby. Now I just have to purchase my own shotgun. I guess that’s an important thing to own, or whatev.


Me


Laura


Liz


Nick


Olga


Wayne

August 2, 2009

Egypt: Driving through the outskirts of Luxor

Yet another driving video. This one is from April 2005, when I took a week long trip to Egypt. The roads were much better than those in Armenia, as was our driver’s music selection.

August 2, 2009

Armenia: Avoiding massive potholes in a Soviet-era Volga

While looking through my files, I noticed that I had a few videos that I never uploaded. While none of these are really entertaining or incredibly mind-blowing, I’m uploading them because I really have nothing else to post at this moment (37 days until North Korea!).

This clip is from July 2006, when Crystal, Laura and I traveled to the South Caucasus to visit some friends who were working in Yerevan. The three of us hired a driver and guide to take us to the Haghpat and Sanahin Monasteries in northeast Armenia, about a three hour drive from Yerevan. Unfortunately, the Ford minivan we were riding in broke down shortly before arriving at the first monastery, forcing us to take a village bus, hitch a ride with an Armenian family from Los Angeles, and then enjoy an incredibly delicious meal of khorovats at a sketchy roadside restaurant while our driver and guide figured out what to do. Our driver had somehow managed to enlist the help of one of his friends, and we soon found ourselves speeding through small towns and villages in an old Volga. Unfortunately, I did not capture any footage of our driver swerving to avoid the occasional pig and cow standing in the middle of the road. Just massive potholes in this one. Bonus: Random small fire on the side of the street.