Google Translate Blog

Monday, December 27, 2010

57th Stop: Minneapolis, Minnesota (Part 2)

‘Twas the night before Christmas Eve and Casey was hosting a massive reunion for my alma mater, Apple Valley High School. Only the brave ventured out it yet another winter blizzard. Nonetheless, it was a great turnout and I got a chance to catch up with some friends I haven’t seen since high school. One of them, Eric, just graduated from an elite Air Force fighter pilot school and is now one of the best pilots in the country. Another, Mark, got a lucky break on the el-train in Singapore and broke into the modeling and eventually the Asian TV and film industry. Liz is now a network news broadcaster. It was nice talking with Erin who recently returned from South Africa where she built a library in a rural community and hearing about Emily and Lindsey's children. Kudos to them and to everyone else, especially the young mothers!

A high school reunion party isn’t a reunion party without a little drama. Without naming any names, there are two stories to tell. But I don’t want to get in trouble, so if you really want to know, I’ll have to tell you in strict confidentiality, face-to-face :-) Thanks to Casey for hosting me and helping buy a bednet to protect a family from malaria!

On Christmas Eve, my mom and Danny had the whole family over, plus the Frenchies for an Italian seafood feast. The dish, called cioppino, originated in the San Francisco Bay area among Italian fisherman. Thanks Danny, it was delicious! Christmas day ensued, with too many presents for Louis (please don’t spoil him Santa!) and a wonderful brunch at Maria and Dave’s place.

God bless every American home
Capitol Building in Saint Paul
Hey, won't you give me S'mores!

Somewhere in between, Thomas taught us all how to play bambu, a fun card game that is actually several games in one. See the rules here if you’re looking for a great way to while away the time by a fireplace with s’mores and hot beverages.

Mickey's Diner

We still had a couple days more to visit Saint Paul and run some last minute errands before Thomas, Christelle and the kids went back to France. On Sunday, we went to Saint Paul to see the Capitol building, the cathedral, and eat in a traditional downtown restaurant, Mickey’s Diner. Christelle and Thomas also insisted on going bag to the mall for a teeth whitening session. Smile!

This ends the adventure with the Frenchies. On behalf of my family and me, I want to thank you again for bringing Louis with you and sharing in our family’s Christmas celebration. We all truly appreciated your presence and you are more than welcome back to Minnesota when it is warmer, with or without me!

To be continued...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

57th Stop: Minneapolis, Minnesota (Part 1 of 3)

Home sweet home... or home sweet home away from home? It’s hard to say now where I’m really from. I guess Minnesota will still be my home--away from Nice.

Hitting the slopes in the G-suit
The first thing that strikes a kiwi-tanned face with a hint of SoCal is the biting cold that chafes at your skin when you step out of the airport terminal building. Remember, this is Minnesota, the only other region in the world that records as much climactic variation as Siberia in the winter. Just one week earlier, our sports stadium, the Metrodome, imploded from the weight of snow!

But I wasn’t going to be deterred by cold weather. The very next day, I joined my good friend Casey for a late afternoon ski outing at Buck Hill. We didn’t last long: not sure if it was the cold, the call of tap beer in a warm tavern, or my inappropriate clothing for the occasion... Thanks Dave for letting me use your GS suit :-)

Later that night, I met up with Casey again in uptown to go to a house party his roommate was invited to. Minnesotans are very health conscious and aren’t particularly fond of smoking indoors. It’s quite a sight when the few sweaty smokers leave the dancefloor, get bundled up in boots, winter coat, hat and gloves, and huddle around with determination in sub-zero temps on the back porch to light up!

Casey, cute girl, and me at a house party
Translation from English to Burmese
On Tuesday, I ran a Wordfast training by the Minnesota state fair grounds and a winter snow storm set in, again. Luckily, I had an hour and a half to make it to the airport to pick up my son Louis, friend Thomas and his family (ex-wife Christelle and twin children Guillaume and Caroline).

“So how was the flight?” I asked Thomas.

“Great, Louis was really funny. When he got on the plane, he insisted on sitting next to a stranger and singing In the Jungle for a good half an hour. Luckily, his neighbor was patient and enjoying the song!” he replies.

Mall of America tourism
“What about leaving Nice, everything ok?”

“No problem, except when we got to New York. The custom’s officer looked at all of our passports and then Louis’ and was perplexed. ‘And whose child is this?’ he asked. So I explained that we were going to Minnesota and accompanying my friend’s son. The officer looked at Louis and asked, ‘Do you know these people?’ Silence. Louis didn’t say a word! Come on Louis, help us out here! He finally said, ‘Caroline’ and that seemed to satisfy the officer. Whew!”

The next couple of days, we did some traditional Minnesota tourism: Minnesota Zoo, Mall of America, Minneapolis skyways, and a puppet show. This was the first time Christelle and the kids had been to the United States so we wanted to give them a good first impression!

The Frenchies, Louis and I were being hosted by my sister Maria and her husband Dave. Everyone got along nicely, it’s hard not to laugh at Thomas’ jokes and smile when Christelle smiles at you. The kids were great too and the hosts some of the best ever. Thanks to all of you! If you want to hear Thomas’s joke about the crocolion or see the number trick, let me know the next time we meet!

Mural done by my mom Rita at her school. See the letter?

Thomas enjoying American lunch

Minnesota Zoo: Louis and cousins

Undisclosed location: whisky, guns, and cigars. God bless America!
Making a snow fort

It's colder than it looks

Minnehaha Falls

To be continued...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

54th - 56th Stops: Mission Viejo, Newport Beach, and Los Angeles, California

Justin and John
My first stop in Southern California was to see my brother and his family in Mission Viejo. We had a lovely visit in 80° weather and the sun. Justin took me to see a massive construction project he managed a couple years ago: Pelican Hill. This place is amazing, check out the website! Kudos Justin on a job well done! Thanks Justin and Bridget; it was great catching up with you and the kids.

Pelican Hill
Alisa from the Newport Beach Jaycees, whom I met a year ago in Tunisia at the world congress and happily saw again in Japan, was organizing a cocktail hour with other members and would host me on Tuesday night. Great turnout and surprising since there was a JCI member there on vacation from Antibes-Sophia Antipolis, right next to Nice! Thanks Alisa for organizing this event and to all who came out; it was a pleasure meeting you over drinks and dancing later on with the most motivated among you!

John with NP Jaycees: Alisa, Linda, and Tara
The next morning, I drove into LA to run an in-house Wordfast training. Despite the fact that my two trainees, Patricia and Michelangelo, were recovering from their company holiday party the night before (open bar!), they did a good job staying focused. I really enjoyed working with them and wish them the best of luck with Wordfast!

One more night in LA, this time downtown. Ron, one of my best friend’s uncles, offered to host me that night. I met Ron several years ago on one of the most amazing trips I’ve ever been on: a one-week cruise on a private yacht in the Bahamas. Ron had his own work holiday party to attend that evening, so I met up with an old friend from high school, Brian, who works in the on-line dating industry.

It’s funny how Facebook can help rekindle relationships. I wished Brian a happy birthday (thanks to a FB alert) a month or so ago, and one message led to another and we were soon meeting up in LA for dinner! Brian and his girlfriend, Katie, took me to fantastic gastropub where we engorged ourselves on truffle pasta, tuna carpaccio, and more succulent fare over the course of 3 hours. I think we actually closed the joint. Thanks again Brian and Katie for the splendid dinner. I’m really happy we got a chance to catch up and look forward to your visit in France!

Ron and John
Later that night and the next morning, I caught up with Ron. We even had time for a little Facebook lesson. Go Ron!

We went over to his work, TCW, an investment firm, for a tour and lunch in their dining room. Ron was in charge of the food services department for several years. We’re not talking Sodehxo, though. This is three-star gourmet dining for the staff to keep them in the company, meeting and exchanging with each other as opposed to going out to restaurants for lunch. Ron once told me that some people didn’t want to leave the company because they had no idea what they would do for lunch!

How do I turn on the TV?
And that wraps up the visit on the West Coast. Thanks again to Justin, Bridget, Alisa, Ron, Brian, Katie, and everyone else I had the chance to meet!

Next stop: Minnesota!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

53rd Stop: San Francisco, California

Even before I had ever been to San Francisco (this would be my second time), I had always felt drawn here. I had said to myself, if I ever return to live in the USA, it would be San Francisco and nowhere else. Why? I guess the culture, the personal freedoms, the scenery, the climate, the people, to name a few. San Fran, you once again lived up to expectations...

I flew back to the future, meaning I left Tuesday night and arrived Tuesday afternoon, and met Nate at the airport. Coincidentally, Nate was just coming back from a trip to Minneapolis, our mutual home town, arriving just an hour before me! We got a cab and caught up on the events in each others’ lives for the past few years.

I knew Nate from high school but only really got to know him at the University of Minnesota. Nate went into journalism and now works for the Press Democrat, a Sonoma county paper, covering business and wine. He recently won an award for some investigative journalism into property dealings that ultimately led to an investigation by the attorney general. Kudos Nate!

Nate is also one of the reasons I’ve been wanting to surf for so long. The last time I saw him (in San Fran), him and another friend, Matt, told me all about their new passion for surfing and it sounded so inspiring that I’d been wanting to try it ever since. Ok, that’s enough about Nate, even though I’m tempted to tell you a really funny story from my wedding involving him...

When we arrived at Nate’s place in the Mission, an old Sears Roebuck store that eventually got converted into lofts, we where met by Tess, Nate’s new roommate who works in industrial design, designing furniture as a freelancer.

I was having a nice time in San Francisco and could go on for pages, but I’ll try to speed his up. Here are some photos of murals and parties in the Mission...

Party wall climbing

I ran two Wordfast workshops downtown for translators during the week and in the evenings, went out with Nate and his friends, including Aaron, a math professor whom I really appreciated. One night, we went to a couchsurfer meet-up downtown and I also coordinated with Lando and Joel Yau to meet us there.

Lando and I met in Mauritius and he recently came back to look for work and settle in San Francisco. I met Joel Yau in 2008 when I helped organize France’s first street painting festival outside of Nice, Les Craies d'Azur. We flew Joel over from California to participate in the festival and show us how it’s done! He stayed with my family in France and we had a blast. Ever since, we’ve stayed in touch and it was really great to see him again.
Madonnari and Vagabonds

Another friend from high school, Adam, noticed via Facebook that I was in San Francisco and him and his girlfriend Rose happened to be there randomly that weekend as well. So we all met on Friday night and stayed out till the wee hours of the morning.

Saturday afternoon, Nate and I left for Bolinas, north of San Fran, to go to the birthday party of Matt, the surfing friend and erstwhile neighbor, and another person. Matt grew up down the street from me in Minnesota and now works as a dentist. Every year, him and his friend rent a house overlooking the ocean in this small hippy community and have a crab fest. I say hippy community because there are some hot springs where people generally bathe naked and locals have been known to tear down the sign that tells people how to get there!

Driving down the mountain to Bolinas
Before the party started, Nate and I threw our wetsuits on and tried to catch some waves. Unfortunately, the surf was calm though it was quite the sensation to be surfing at night in the fog. After surfing, we strolled through the local Christmas crafts fair before it closed and drank some delicious homemade eggnog. Then I called Véronique, one of my trainees from my Wordfast training the other day, who happened to live in Bolinas and who had told me to call her and stop by if we wanted to. Sure, why not!

Véronique served us some whisky and popcorn and we spoke with a couple of her friends and her husband, a famous writer by the name of Charles Fox. Charles has been living with multiple sclerosis for more than 20 years. He is quoted as saying, “It's good to be alive. It's a gift, an extraordinary experience. We only have this very brief time, and it's important to take full advantage of it.” I couldn't agree with you more Charles! Thanks again Véronique for having us over, it was a pleasure meeting everyone!

By the time we got back to the house, the crab fest was well underway and about 15 people were there having a splendid time. Once we ate and drank our fill, it was time to walk down the beach to the local pub, listen to music, sing along, and dance! We were in luck because there was a great band from Canada playing that night; I was extremely happy to hear the cover of Tryo, a French reggae group.

Matt in a hat and Nate
The next morning, I got up early to check out the waves. There wasn’t enough surf to make it worthwhile so instead I walked along the beach with Laurel and caught a beautiful sunrise.

Nate and I got on the road by 9:45 because we had an hour’s drive ahead of us and my flight was 11:30!

Thanks Nate for hosting me in San Francisco and Matt in Bolinas; that’s 5 more bednets to protect 5 more families from malaria! I had a wonderful time with everyone and look forward to catching up with you all again soon.

Next stop: Orange County and Los Angeles, California!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

50th - 52nd Stops: Taupo, Rotorua & Raglan, New Zealand

After the glow worm caves, we set out for a day of hiking around Lake Taupo. Thanks Craig for pointing out this little-known hike through a fern tree forest to a beautiful secluded beach where we picnicked, sun-bathed and swam in a crystal clear blue lake.

On top of Lake Taupo
Joyce getting ready for a swim
We hit the road later in the afternoon and drove straight to Rotorua. This was Joyce’s last night with us so we went to Rotorua’s world-famous Polynesian Spa around 8 or 9 pm and soaked our aching bodies in alkaline and sulfur pools. The alkaline spa is good for your skin apparently while the sulfur is good for your joints.

Polynesian Spa by night

The last supper

The next morning, Joyce left us for Australia and Atma and I drove to Raglan. Raglan is another one of those world-famous spots, but this time for surfing! When I was in Madagascar, I met the Valérie, the sister of a surf school instructor named Fred who happened to be living in Raglan.

Fred told us to go to the Raglan Surf School and we got accommodations there. If you’re ever in Raglan, I definitely recommend this place. It’s similar to a youth hostel, nestled up a ravine in the mountains, overlooking the majestic Raglan coastline, and has a great communal area where you can meet lots of other travelers and surfers.
Chatting with Inès from France

By the time we got there, Fred had already left for the day. We got settled and then went into town for the Sunday Sessions, an outdoor reggae party under an early summer, afternoon sun.
Reggae Sunday Sessions
Feeling irie

World-famous Raglan break, not quite so famous surfer (me)
The next days Atma and I surfed and hung out with Daisy from Holland. Interestingly, Daisy had just arrived in NZ and was planning on woofing. Woofers work on farms in exchange for room and board and the chance to learn something new. Atma and I both had the same idea, at the same time: you should contact Craig! She eventually did and Craig told her that any friend of Atma and John is a friend of mine. Daisy would end up going to Craig’s and staying on for several months (easy to predict the future when you’re several months behind on your blog)!

Unfortunately, Fred was off the next days and had to make a trip with his boss so we never actually got to see each other! We did have fun shooting pool with Daisy though in town!

Pool party
By Tuesday, it was time to say goodbye to New Zealand. I was heading for North America and Atma for South America. Hopefully, we’ll cross paths again in Brazil!

Thanks to Joyce, Atma, Craig, Steve, Daisy, and everyone else I met in New Zealand. What a beautiful country, I’ll be back soon! Thanks also to Savitri from Simple Car Rentals for the excellent, friendly service!

Next stop: San Francisco!
On our way out of NZ :-( 

Friday, December 3, 2010

49th Stop - Glow worm caves in Waitomo, New Zealand

 Atma and I left Steve’s place on Thursday, rented a car, picked up Joyce at the airport and headed south for Waitomo.

Right before leaving the Gold Coast, one of Michael’s friends recommended that I definitely go to the glow worm caves down in Waitomo. More importantly, he recommended the 5-hour black river abyss tour which consisted of one of the world’s longest abseils, a zip line descent into pitch black caves with no end in sight and glow worms on the ceiling that made you feel like you were entering into hyper drive, tube rafting in the caves, climbing up waterfalls and more. A truly unique adventure!

Afterwards, Joyce, Atma, and I went to Craig’s place (no relation whatsoever to his list) for dinner. Craig was hosting Atma and owns a cattle and sheep ranch with 1000s of acres of land and even more livestock. Atma made a delicious ziti dish, Joyce a caprese salad and I was in charge of roasting a leg of lamb.

Thanks Craig for having us over and showing us your ranch; what a beautiful sunset! Thanks to Joyce, Atma, and the other members of our caving group; I’ll never forget this adventure!

Next stops: Taupo and Rotorua!