Saturday, March 31, 2012

My A to Z of Travel

I saw this post on Johnny Vagabond's website and thought it would be fun to fill in my own answers. Note that when I refer to "we" I'm talking about my husband Greg.

A: Age you went on your first international trip
I went to Canada (Toronto area) in 1988 (age 14) for a softball friendship tournament. My first travel outside of North America was in 1990 on a one-week whirlwind tour of France, Italy & Switzerland with some high school French students. I was pickpocketed in the Paris Metro and my passport, cash, travelers checks and my grandfather's credit cards that I was carrying as backup were all stolen!

B. Best foreign beer you had and where
I have plenty of wonderful memories of drinking beer in special places: Angkor beer while watching the sun set at Angkor Wat; Serengeti beer in, you guessed it, the Serengeti! But I have to mention that the whole reason Greg & I went to Belgium at the end of our around-the-world trip was for the beer.
C. Cuisine
I love Indian food. But, surprisingly, the best Indian food I've eaten recently was not in India but in Vietnam! To be fair, it was cooked by an Indian chef. I also love Asian food in general. The complex flavors in Vietnamese & Thai food are fantastic and I took cooking lessons in those countries so I could replicate the dishes at home.
D. Destinations, favorite, least favorite and why
Going on safari in Kenya & Tanzania not only lived up to but exceeded all of my expectations. We didn't even do it the most luxurious way and it was still expensive but worth every penny. I also particularly enjoyed spending almost a month in Vietnam. Friendly people, wonderful food, beautiful scenery, tough history. Oh, and New Zealand is amazing! Least favorite: Egypt. Despite working with a local travel agent to hire private guides and chauffeurs, we still couldn't escape the touts at every historic site and always felt like someone was trying to take advantage of us. It probably didn't help that we were in the country only two months prior to the uprising.
E. Event you experienced abroad that made you go WOW
We were on the South Island of New Zealand when the earthquake hit near Christchurch in September 2010. I felt the tremors while sleeping in our hostel on the opposite side of the island (approx 400 miles from the epicenter). We already had plans to continue circling the island by car and fly out of Christchurch a few days later. When we overnighted in Akaroa (approx 30 miles from the epicenter), we were almost shaken out of bed several times during the night by aftershocks measuring up to 5.4 on the Richter scale!
F. Favorite mode of transportation
I love to take trains all over the world. Some of the most interesting rides have been in India & Asia, especially the overnight trains. I recently crossed the Atlantic by boat (on a Holland America Lines cruise) and, for the first time, truly appreciated the vastness of the open ocean.
G. Greatest feeling while traveling
That no one knows me and I can be whoever I want to be for a day (or longer)! Otherwise, it's being able to blindly throw a dart at a map and go wherever it lands.
H. Hottest place you traveled to
Could be a tie between Japan in September 2010 during a record-breaking heat wave and southern India in February 2011. The combination of high temps plus high humidity means you're dripping with sweat when you step out of the (cold water) shower!
I. Incredible service you’ve experienced and where
This is the most ridiculous thing on this entire list but I have to mention it. In remembrance of our high school years, Greg, his brother, Doug, & I went to a Krystal drive-through late one night shortly before our wedding last year. We ordered 8 regular Krystals, had to wait for our order for almost 10 minutes, then, after we had already pulled out of the parking lot, I discovered we only received 7 hamburgers. The following day I submitted feedback on their corporate website and was shocked when my doorbell rang a few hours later. The Krystal manager and one of her employees were standing there with 2 huge sacks of hamburgers, fries and dessert! She introduced herself, apologized for the mistake, said they wanted to make it right, and handed me all the food then left. If you want to earn someone's business for life, this is how to do it! Sadly there are no Krystals on the West Coast!
J. Journey that took the longest
It's not the longest amount of time I've been in transit, but 14+ hours on a plane from Los Angeles to Sydney next to a puking 4-year-old whose mother already had her hands full with a 16-month-old baby ranks very high as feeling like it would never end!

K. Keepsake from your travels
I've learned that less is more, especially if you're traveling for months at a time and don't want to pay to ship things home. I've got a small collection of knick-knacks like soapstone & sandalwood carvings from India, a lucky raccoon chopstick rest from South Korea, Eiffel Tower earrings from Paris, silver hors d'oeuvres picks that I bartered for on Portobello Road in London... A few years ago I realized that tattoos are a far more practical if pricier (and more painful) souvenir. I'm often moving too quickly to allow the proper time for a tattoo to heal so I've only gotten a few while on the road so far: a leaping tiger in Chiang Mai, Thailand and a claddagh in Galway, Ireland.
L. Let down site: when and where
It's always disappointing when you arrive at a remote destination and find it overrun with international tourists. A couple of places we encountered this were Halong Bay, Vietnam and Yangshuo, China. Excessive development and/or commercialism are destroying the authenticity of these otherwise beautiful places.
M. Moment where you fell in love with travel
I don't really remember a specific moment, but it probably had something to do with the food I ate while living with a family in Paris for a few weeks when I was 16. We went to the local market almost every day and drank wine with every meal. But the highlight was eating at Le Ciel de Paris, the restaurant on the 56th floor of the Montparnasse Tower. It was probably the most expensive meal I had ever eaten but it made me want to expand my horizons (and my palate) even more.

N. Nicest hotel you stayed in
The fanciest/most expensive hotel I've ever stayed in was the Four Seasons in New York City. The suites have remote control blinds! But one of my favorite vacations, due to the service & accommodations at the resort, was at Anse Chastanet on Saint Lucia.
O. Obsession – What photos are you obsessed with taking pictures of while traveling
I love to take pictures of food! The contrast of colors & textures and the overall presentation (or lack thereof) makes for great compositions. Plus it helps me to recall some of the best meals I've ever had!
P. Passport stamps, how many and from where
Keeping in mind this isn't my first passport, which had around 79 stamps in it, and that many countries stamp when you enter as well as when you leave... My current passport (issued in 2008) has 54 from all around the world.

Q. Quirkiest Attraction you have visited and where
The Harland Sanders Museum & Cafe in Corbin, KY. Birthplace of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). Not much to see and they serve the same chicken as all their other restaurants, but considering I've spotted KFC's all over the world, it's interesting to see where it all began.

R. Recommended sight, event, or experience
Sunrise at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. If you pick the right day, you'll have the whole complex pretty much to yourself for the first 30 minutes. Very serene and awe-inspiring!
S. Splurge: Something you have no problem spending money on while traveling
Food & alcohol! They blow our budget every time!
T. Touristy thing you’ve done
Rode camels near the Pyramids in Giza. $25 for about 30 minutes for two people. Our camel driver's name was Sharif and he was no more than 12 years old.
U. Unforgettable travel memory
Watching a lioness get up from a nap, then stalk, hunt & kill a zebra in the Serengeti. Total time from start to finish was around 45 minutes. Afterward the rest of the pride, including many cubs, appeared out of nowhere to feast on the carcass.
V. Visas: how many and where
Ten: China, Egypt, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, Turkey, India, Kenya, Tanzania
W. Wine, best glass while traveling and where
The ones shared with good friends: an Alsatian Fleur de Lotus with my dear ex-coworkers in Helsinki, Finland; a bottle of fermented rice wine with a hotel owner & his staff in Hue, Vietnam; more rice wine with fellow hikers after a long trek in the rain & mud in Sapa, Vietnam...
X. eXcellent views and where
From a Cessna on an air tour of the Grand Canyon; flightseeing in Alaska; skydiving from 14,000ft over the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii; from the top of Rockefeller Center in New York City; seeing the Northern Lights from the cockpit of a 767 while flying from Europe to the U.S.
Y. Years spent traveling
7 weeks in Europe in 1998; 6 years as a flight attendant; a total of 5 weeks in India in 2004-2005; countless weeks of vacations; 9 month RTW trip; 3 month honeymoon = I would say cumulatively at least 2 full years maybe more!
backpacking in Europe in 1998
Z. Zealous sports fans
RCTID - Portland Timbers Army!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Quiet on Set - The Life of a Television Extra

Has it already been over two weeks since my last post?!?! It's amazing how fast the days go by even if you don't have a full time job! I've been working on several different projects lately, so it's time to bring you up to date on my latest & greatest adventures (even if they occur less than five miles from my residence).
there haven't been many sunny days lately so I don't hesitate to bring out the camera when there's a break in the clouds
Rolling... Speed... Background... Action... Cut... Back to One... That's a Wrap!
Greg & I have been working as extras on Grimm an average of one day per week. As I wrote about in previous posts, I was cast as a restaurant patron for episode 117 (which hasn't aired yet). Then we both worked as street background as well as joggers for two scenes of episode 118. We were also cast as non-descript street background for episode 119, but never had the opportunity to get in front of the camera. This week we were cast as cops for episode 120, and for the first time got to work on the permanent "precinct" set. Next week we will be working as Crime Scene Investigators.
don't mess with us! (episode 120)
There is nothing glamorous about being an extra. We make minimum wage, which is $8.80 per hour in Oregon. We provide our own transportation to & from the set and usually wear our own clothes. We often have early call times (meaning when we have to arrive on set) and long days (12+ hours is not unusual). We have minimal interaction with the stars of the show, although there are many times that I've been standing a few feet from them for several minutes. We do a lot of sitting around & waiting, although we're allowed to bring books, computers, etc. to keep us busy as long as we don't take photos of the set or reveal plot details. We have to be quiet while they're filming, so we really don't get to socialize too much with the other extras.
Greg gets makeup applied in the Grimm holding area for episode 119
On the positive side, I'm learning a lot about how much work goes into making one 45-minute TV episode. I like to watch the directors and camera crew as they coordinate different shots & camera angles for each scene. And I love how the "First Team" (principal actors) gets called to the set only when they're ready to film (there are stand-ins marking their places the rest of the time). If we're on set long enough, we get fed a wonderful, freshly-prepared, buffet meal (care of Frenchy's Catering) that eliminates the need to eat again for the rest of the day. In the meantime, we get unlimited less-than-healthy snacks to munch on!
this is our reward after a long day on set
Since my last post, I also had the opportunity to work as an extra on TNT's Leverage. I was cast in a specific role (as a reporter) and thus was only on set for about an hour, although I "worked" for about four hours. My understanding is that Leverage pays a minimum of eight hours per shift so I think it's a win-win, plus I'm pretty sure you'll be able to spot me in Season 5, Episode 1 pretty easily.
my TV reporter outfit - although I ended up wearing a black trench coat on camera!
All of this time on TV sets prompted me to research other local opportunities in this line of work. Not that I ever expect, or even desire, to be a movie star! But I was curious as to what I might have to do to get a speaking role on one of these shows, or even to get cast for commercials. My research led me to PIMA Management (acronym for Pro-Image Model Actor). They are relatively new in Portland, and the biggest differentiation from other agencies is that they don't require a contract nor charge exorbitant fees.
a fun headshot from 2003
I met with PIMA staff for the first time last Tuesday (13MAR) and immediately booked a photo shoot with Patrick Smith for Saturday. I originally had headshots done in New York City in 2003 and since you pretty much have to have current headshots and a talent resume if you want to audition for speaking parts, then I knew this was the first step in the process. After the photo shoot, I attended a two hour modeling workshop followed by a two hour acting workshop in PIMA's studio. I learned how to walk a catwalk properly, practiced diction, and performed original, impromptu skits. I left the studio feeling confident in my abilities and eager to take the next steps to prepare for an audition.
I returned to the PIMA office today to pick up the DVD of my photos and talk about what happens next. While my photos certainly weren't bad, I could use some more practice in front of a camera! I've already been working on my talent resume, which lists all of my skills, education, & training that are relevant to this line of work. In the next 24 hours, my profile should be "live" on PIMA's website as well as another casting site, and hopefully I can start auditioning sometime next week.
one of my "athletic" shots

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Celebrating Leap Day 2012

This post was actually written yesterday, on Leap Day, but I decided to wait to publish it today...

We were recently invited to Los Angeles to celebrate my brother-in-law Doug's birthday. He was born on February 29, 1976, so this is only the 9th time he has technically gotten to celebrate his birthday. But after researching travel options from Portland (driving, train or flying), we just couldn't justify the overall expense of the trip to California. Sorry, Doug! But we did send him a fun gift that I think he'll enjoy.

We also opted not to join the Occupy protesters in downtown Portland yesterday. We figured it's probably not a good idea to get arrested while we're trying to look for jobs. Plus it was really cold, windy & rainy so we didn't even venture outside except to walk to the gym at 8am. That was uncomfortable enough!

Speaking of being cold, as you can read in Greg's blog post, we were both extras on Grimm this past Monday. The part of the filming we were involved in was outdoors and luckily it didn't rain. However the warmest it ever got was around 50F and after the sun went down it was closer to 40F. I was wearing “normal” every day clothes (jeans, turtleneck, boots, jacket) for the first scene and only got cool when the sun went behind the clouds. But when we switched to the evening scene I was cast as a jogger and was only wearing my Lycra running pants (not insulated), matching tank & a lightweight cotton hoodie. I was also standing a few feet from the river and not anywhere near any of the propane heaters they had set up around the shoot. I jogged in place and bounced around so much for the hours we were on set that my calf muscles are still sore!

Since the scenes were filmed outdoors and the streets around us were not closed to traffic we got lots of attention from random passersby, especially because both scenes involved police vehicles & crime scene personnel. Homeless people, office workers and a few Twitter stalkers kept things interesting even when the cameras weren't rolling. I even had my photo taken by a tourist from New York City who thought it was cool that I was working on the show, no matter how unrecognizable I'll likely be in that particular scene!

The experience was similar to my previous (first) one with Grimm. However, there were only about 25 extras this time versus over 100 for the restaurant scene and, due to the set-up, the extras actually got to eat with the rest of the crew (meaning instead of cold sandwiches we had a full catered buffet of prime rib, chicken, fish, pasta, fresh veggies, salad, desserts, etc.). Of course, the BIGGEST difference was that Greg was there, too, although we were not used as a couple in any scenes. There is a chance you may see us both on camera at the same time so we'll be sure to let you know when & where to look.

I will also post links to the episode(s) with detailed info as to when you can see me/us as soon as it airs, likely sometime in May. In the meantime Greg & I have let the casting coordinator know that we are available and ready to work whenever they need us. We figure it's a fun way to make some money while we're looking for “real” jobs. One other related development; I have been contacted by the casting agency that contracts with TNT's Leverage and have made myself available to work as an extra on that show this Friday (tomorrow) as well as on March 13. Of course I'll write a new post about that experience should I get the opportunity to work with them, too.

Since Leap Day is a once in every four years occurrence, I also want to take a minute to mention some other unique things that have occurred in the past week:
  • February 26th was the 3rd anniversary of my first date with Greg (in New York City).
  • I received my first official paycheck (for being an extra on Grimm) as an Oregon resident. The last time I received a paycheck anywhere was in September 2009!
  • I submitted my first application for a real job (at REI). I am under-qualified for this particular position but I wanted to get my resume on file in case the “perfect” opportunity becomes available.
  • I got my first haircut since we moved to Portland. For legal reasons, the salon shall remain nameless, but I mention it because when I walked in, the first thing they offered me was a free beer! Which, of course, I drank while I was getting my hair cut. I was pleased with the results (maybe because I drank the beer on a relatively empty stomach), tipped well, and as I started to leave was offered another beer. Knowing there are open container laws here, I asked if I could just stick it in my pocket as I wanted to take it home to show Greg. I was just requested “not to tell anyone where it came from!”
As you can probably intuit from our Facebook and Twitter posts, Greg & I are really enjoying living in Portland again. We love going to the local pubs & restaurants but generally have been only eating out once a week and purchasing beer at the grocery store since they sell pretty much every micro brew that is available and it's a bit cheaper that way. We also get a kick out of people-watching from our dining room table which serves as our communal desk during the day. There is no shortage of dog-walkers (and one cat-walker), bicyclists, oddly dressed people, squirrels and birds, all there for our free entertainment. However I did spot a trap on a neighbor's roof which contained a squirrel desperately trying to escape, so maybe there will be fewer squirrels in the near future...

I hope every has a great month of March. I think that if Greg & I are able to find jobs we enjoy and that pay well enough to meet our budget requirements, then we should have a lot to look forward to in the next few years in Portland.