A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: shlee

More on that place called India...

you might have heard of it.

In other news, I am growing accustomed to India more and more. I am getting used to being stared at. Not just stared at, but like eyes penetrating you from many different directions and not looking away for looong periods of time and lots of double and triple takes. And I'm getting used to people wanting to take photos with/of us, people saying hello to us everywhere or wanting to introduce themselves, the animals, the loud music from religious celebrations and weddings basically everyday, the men peeing in public every 50 feet, the flies (MY GOD THE FLIES!), the lack of understanding what it means to stand in line, the hectic streets, the recklessly controlled driving, constant dirty feet, bucket cold showers and having to squeegie the bathroom floor after a shower because the shower is not separate from the toilet area, packing my own toilet paper in my purse as well as soap (though so far India has done better than China in providing soap in bathrooms). But all those things aside, it is growing on me. The food, the old lady in a sari smiling at you with her hands together saying, "Namaste," which means hello in Hindi, the fact that he let us crash his daughter's wedding (see below), the bright colors, the liveliness and the craziness are all things that you just start to embrace.

Our host mother Mamta took me and another volunteer, named Hannah who's from England, to get henna, or mehndi, done on our hands. Apparently the girl who did it is well known in these parts, though I swear she was only 15. She was our neighbor, which was convenient and only charged 50 rupees a hand (front and back). So basically all this for a dollar:
Top

Top


Bottom, with paste still on to set the color.

Bottom, with paste still on to set the color.

And she was quick too. We were both done in an hour. Several Indian women have asked where I got it done and complimented it, so I assume it must be good. Or they're just being polite and it really looks like caca:p
It looked like this the next day, after 2 hours of letting the paste dry and then scraping it off. The following day, it turned more brown/less red.

It looked like this the next day, after 2 hours of letting the paste dry and then scraping it off. The following day, it turned more brown/less red.

On Thursday, the couple from England and I joined 2 Australian girl volunteers with a driver to take us to several Delhi sites for the day. First we went to the Lotus Temple, which is a nice quiet respite from India's activity. It's a Baha'i temple and inside you have to be completely silent. Next we visited Humayun's Tomb, which was nice, though after the Taj it wasn't breathtaking. Though it apparently is pre-Taj, and is the gift of a woman for her dead husband whom she obviously loved a lot. So in the same vein, an impressive monument of love like the Taj <3 We made a trip to an indoor crafts market called Delhi Haat, where I bought a Punjabi suit and a cool hanging lantern for a small candle. Our driver took us to a really expensive restaurant (by expensive I mean same prices as back home), which was good but annoying cause it's like he had some deal with the owners to bring traffic to their restaurant - it's in a nowhere location, so otherwise they'd never get business. Lastly, our driver took us to Qutab Minar which has a big tower, and lots of cool ruins. We took some fun photos there as the sun was starting to set and made for good shots.
Baha'i Lotus Temple. Guess what? It is shaped like a lotus flower.

Baha'i Lotus Temple. Guess what? It is shaped like a lotus flower.


An example of the difference in entrance fees (everywhere basically) for Foreigners and Indians.

An example of the difference in entrance fees (everywhere basically) for Foreigners and Indians.


Humayun's Tomb

Humayun's Tomb


Inside the tomb chamber

Inside the tomb chamber


One more shot of the tomb from the grounds

One more shot of the tomb from the grounds


Ruins in Qutab Minar

Ruins in Qutab Minar


Qutab Minar, notice the bright green parrots<img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Qutab Minar, notice the bright green parrots:)


A lot of white going on here...

A lot of white going on here...


More Qutab ruins. It felt like something from the Middle East.

More Qutab ruins. It felt like something from the Middle East.


Eroded statue in Qutab Minar

Eroded statue in Qutab Minar


Hannah and Scott in the magical window

Hannah and Scott in the magical window


Lots of details

Lots of details


Pensive in the columns...

Pensive in the columns...


Just one of the columns

Just one of the columns


I jump for sunsets!

I jump for sunsets!

I moved to a new host house with Isabel on Thursday night. We're staying with the volunteer coordinators now and working in the (wee hours of the) mornings at a nearby orphanage, then at a new slum school for 3 hours and then in the late afternoons at the orphanage again helping with homework and such. One of the kids in the orphanage has a bone deformity and can't walk, so either he scoots himself along or I pick him up. He's a cutie. There were 4 other girl volunteers here when we came, though all but one is done with their placement and are leaving. Before they left, we heard all this music nearby, so we decided to explore. It was from a big wedding, thus and so we basically just crashed the wedding:) The guard let us in to have a look. People were offering us drinks and food and asked us if we were enjoying ourselves. After about 20 minutes, the bride's father approached us with an entourage looking pretty stern. We were pretty sure he would kick us out, but when we explained we were volunteers living here and just wanting to see an Indian wedding, he softened and offered us food and let us dance! People were staring at us a lot though and I felt a little weird being there, though it was interesting to see all the pretty saris and sparkles for some women, and then jeans for some men, and how the bride and groom just sat and took photos the entire time we were there with everyone and their dog. We also heard music from a house nearby with tons of lights up that seemed to be celebrating a wedding as well. We kind of hovered outside the house, and these old ladies saw us and let us in the front courtyard. They did some dances and songs for us with their hands in a blanket. Then they made obscene gestures at us, as I am guessing the song was about the wedding night? It was like walking into an alter-universe and rather entertaining. I'm quite sure these old ladies were d-r-u-n-k. Good times in Faridabad. And then walking home in the dark we were followed by some punk group of maybe 12 year old boys. One of them was smoking, one slapped this girl Mylie's butt, and one threw a rock that hit my back. Luckily they didn't follow us the whole way. Hooligans!
Crazy drunk old ladies singing dirty songs to us

Crazy drunk old ladies singing dirty songs to us


Wedding crashers!</p><p>This weekend, I have the house to myself as the others took weekend trips. I did some volunteering Saturday (they have school on Saturdays!!!) and then had a nice afternoon of trying [b

Wedding crashers!

This weekend, I have the house to myself as the others took weekend trips. I did some volunteering Saturday (they have school on Saturdays!!!) and then had a nice afternoon of trying [b

threading [/b](yes, it does hurt, but not as bad as waxing) and a pedicure (they were commenting on my see through skin and veins in Hindi...hmmm) at the local salon both for about $5.50 USD total, and finally trying some interesting Indian flavors of ice cream.

Today, Sunday, I ventured into Delhi on my own. This was quite the journey, involving my host dad calling a rickshaw to pick me up and take me to the nearest metro about 20 minutes away. Then after about 2 hours, switching metro lines a mere 3 times, and some 19 year old kid starting a conversation with me about how he hates his country and dreams of moving to NYC:(, I finally reached this modern Hindu temple called Akshardham. The security there was stricter than any TSA screening I've ever encountered: You can basically bring only money, passport, water, and yourself inside. You have to check everything else in the cloakroom. There were 3 different bag checks, they checked everyone's cell phones (they're very careful b/c the temple was attacked in 2002 by terrorists:(), and they even patted me down in a ladies only line...but the woman got a bit handy...They also had 2 different metal detectors. After entering this fortress, I was not allowed to take any pictures, so you'll have to check out the website on your own. It was a nice reflective trip for me. The temple is over-the-top ornate, the grounds are impeccable, and there is a nice garden with thought-provoking quotes about God and the world. Otherwise, there are 3 attractions you pay for. The first is a boat ride like Pirates of the Caribbean only less cool, which tells about Vedic culture in India from the beginning. At the end of the boat ride, the narrator says, "Let us create a future world full of flowers...flowers of love, flowers of peace..." to give you some reference on what we're dealing with here. The second show was an animatronics show that told about the history of India or something, though I skipped this cause I didn't feel like going to Epcot Center circa 1988 again. Lastly, there's an IMAX movie about this Swami guy who traveled all over India barefoot for 7 years in the 1800's. Apparently, he came face to face with a lion in the Himalayas. Interesting, since there are no lions in the Himalayas. Anyway, I'm a sucker for IMAX movies so I was super stoked for this, only to be disappointed cause there were no English subtitles and there was a disproportionate amount of talking compared to the pretty scenery, plus this whole lion debacle. Either way, the temple was nice not having people fighting to take photos everywhere, so I was able to just walk and reflect.
Cause I'm cool like that.

Cause I'm cool like that.

Posted by shlee 04:00 Archived in India Comments (0)

America = Michael Jackson

Naturally.

Another volunteer who had been staying at a different house (named Isabel from Spain) joined me last Friday to teach school in the morning. After school, we were picked up by a auto rickshaw with yet one other volunteer (Mercedes from Colombia, but lives in D.C. area too) and we were dropped off in the middle of some crowded market area and our driver flagged down a local bus heading to Agra for us. The next few hours were spent on the dirtiest bus I've ever encountered. The man next to me who had a little rat tail coming out of the crown of his head chose to crouch on the seat rather than sit. One of the seats was missing the cushion part in a row in front of me, and the man decided to sit on the headrest part and hold onto the overhead luggage storage. Then shortly after stopping at a little rest stop where men peed behind a waist-high wall and people downed fly-covered food, we were on our way to Agra again...until the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere and everyone got off the bus. We were perplexed, thinking, "This can't be Agra. There's nothing around?" Finally after a couple minutes outside the bus with the crowd we realized the bus had broken down and they were trying to fix it. So our entire bus stood on the side of the road waiting for more buses to go by to flag down. The first bus came, but was practically exploding by the time half our bus loaded onto it, so we waited about 15 minutes for another bus. This one was also crowded, and some people had to stand in the aisle, namely us. But some friendly men gave up their seats for us and/or crammed us in a row with 3 other people (only 3 seats in the row). I was impressed with their niceness:)
da local bus

da local bus

Agra seemed a veritable hell hole upon arrival, even in the dark. It took what seemed like an hour just to crawl through the heinously chaotic traffic. Our conductor told us to get off at one point and to get on a rickshaw to our hotel. Turns out they dropped us about 6 km from where we probably should have been dropped off and they charged us 300 rupees (for all 3 of us) to go to our hotel. I read later in the guidebook that this is a common scam and we probably should have stayed on the bus. But how does one really know? Our hotel was a couple minutes from the East Gate of the Taj Mahal, and tucked away in a little garden-y alcove. It was actually very quiet because they have designated a no pollution zone within 500m (I think) of the Taj, in order to keep it from the white getting all nastified.

When we awoke at 5:30 am, we headed to the gate, but soon realized the ticket booth was a lovely 1.5 km away. Though many bicycle rickshaw and even horse cart driver offered, or harassed, us rides, we decided to hoof it. The fee for foreigners: 750 rupees. The fee for Indians: 10 rupees. Can't imagine anyone getting away with that in the U.S. without being lawyered instantly.
Separate lines for Indians and foreigners, aka "High Value" tickets, as well as males and females. So much segregation, sheesh.

Separate lines for Indians and foreigners, aka "High Value" tickets, as well as males and females. So much segregation, sheesh.

The Taj Mahal was more impressive than I was anticipating. It's amazing that he built it all for his favorite wife, awww. After exploring it in and out, we also visited the Agra Fort, which also had some really pretty parts to it. After lunch at our hotel, we hired a taxi to drop Isabel at the bus station (she wasn't feeling well) and to take Mercedes and I to the ghost town of Fatehpur Sikri about 1 hour's drive away. We had a little frustrations with the tour guide when we got there, cause she charged us more than we probably should have paid, and she rushed us through. Inside, she kept taking us to different people who expected us to buy more things, which we didn't want to do. But otherwise, the buildings there are also pretty impressive. All the street kids selling stuff in Agra, when I told them I was from America, they would say, "OH! Michael Jackson!" or "Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Barack Obama!" I guess that's accurate enough.
Heading through the gate into the Taj Mahal grounds. I actually gasped when I saw this.

Heading through the gate into the Taj Mahal grounds. I actually gasped when I saw this.


It's as stunning in real life as it looks in the photo.

It's as stunning in real life as it looks in the photo.


Reflections

Reflections


Now I've conquered the Taj Mahal!

Now I've conquered the Taj Mahal!


Mercedes, Me and Isabel, Taj-style

Mercedes, Me and Isabel, Taj-style


Isabel and I putting on our surgical booties to walk onto the actual Taj.

Isabel and I putting on our surgical booties to walk onto the actual Taj.


Despite the crowds, you can still find a bit of solace at the Taj<img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Despite the crowds, you can still find a bit of solace at the Taj:)


Walking around the Taj

Walking around the Taj


Love the colors of India

Love the colors of India


Even the guards have to wear surgical booties!

Even the guards have to wear surgical booties!


Part of Agra Fort

Part of Agra Fort


In the Gem Mosque, which was the ladies' mosque, in the Agra Fort

In the Gem Mosque, which was the ladies' mosque, in the Agra Fort


Details of part of inside of Agra Fort

Details of part of inside of Agra Fort


View of Taj from Agra Fort through bars. Shah Jahan, who had the Taj Mahal built, was actually imprisoned by his son in the fort.

View of Taj from Agra Fort through bars. Shah Jahan, who had the Taj Mahal built, was actually imprisoned by his son in the fort.


Fatehpur Sikri, the residential side.

Fatehpur Sikri, the residential side.


Selling cloth in a cemetery...?

Selling cloth in a cemetery...?


Fatehpur Sikri, the religious side.

Fatehpur Sikri, the religious side.


The white building where this guy told us we couldn't go unless we bought cloth to donate in order to receive a blessing from some holy man. Lies! We walked in sans cloth, sans problem.

The white building where this guy told us we couldn't go unless we bought cloth to donate in order to receive a blessing from some holy man. Lies! We walked in sans cloth, sans problem.

Inside the white building, with people laying down their cloth. So blurry because our guide was hurrying me out of there.

Inside the white building, with people laying down their cloth. So blurry because our guide was hurrying me out of there.

We stayed one more night in Agra, and woke up to see the sunrise from the rooftop of a hotel/restaurant. It was pretty spectacular actually, and worth staying the night for it.
Such an amazing sunrise, even though it wasn't right above the Taj.

Such an amazing sunrise, even though it wasn't right above the Taj.


Looking over the shantyesque rooftops to the magnificent Taj

Looking over the shantyesque rooftops to the magnificent Taj


sunlit taj

sunlit taj


Monkeys like sunrise on the Taj too.

Monkeys like sunrise on the Taj too.

Posted by shlee 06:41 Archived in India Comments (0)

Digesting India

As in food and metaphorically speaking of course

Lots of people tried to prepare me for India with tips about the amount of trash here, the people hassling you as a foreigner, the stares, the cows, watching out for scams...and yet many people still really love it. It's still very surreal though when you actually arrive, no matter how much advice people give you. I didn't really feel much culture shock in China, but it took me at least 3-4 days to adjust to the culture shock here in India, and I'm still not fully adjusted.

India bombards all of your senses, all at once. For me, I was welcomed to India with a dark, smokey sky and the smell of something burning. As you walk the streets, you are greeted with the smell of trash, exhaust fumes, shit, animals, delicious smells of foods cooking and Lord only knows what else. The scene is generally chaotic, with cars, bikes, tractors, rickshaws, pedestrians, food carts, cows, pigs, and dogs all vying for space and headway on unpaved dirt roads strewn with trash. Trying to cross the street entails not just a look to the left and right, but rather 360 degrees, and multiple times at that. Like China and much of SE Asia, honking is considered the best communication between vehicles and pedestrians and is constant. Cows, pigs, donkeys, monkeys and dogs are everpresent in the trash heaps, sorting through for scraps. There are piles of trash or leaves burning all over as well. It's just a neverending menagerie of pure chaos.
Trash in Agra

Trash in Agra


Cow town

Cow town


Hi, goat. Say hello to your mother for me.

Hi, goat. Say hello to your mother for me.


This man is talented. Balancing his food tray on his head, while carrying the stand.

This man is talented. Balancing his food tray on his head, while carrying the stand.


Appetizing street food stall. At least these banana leaf bowls are biodegradable.

Appetizing street food stall. At least these banana leaf bowls are biodegradable.


Mmm...trash

Mmm...trash


This guy knows where to get his morning handout

This guy knows where to get his morning handout


Auto rickshaws in Agra

Auto rickshaws in Agra

I have yet to try any real street food as I'm trying to avoid getting "Delhi Belly." I am provided 3 meals a day, and some snacks, by my host family, so the only eating out I have done was in hotel restaurants over the weekend in Agra and they use bottled water to cook everything. The divide between the poor and the rich is large. I am living with a family in a suburb of New Delhi, called Faridabad, who have one maid (of the lowest caste) who sweeps and mops the floors. She is not however allowed to cook the food. Some of the other host families have designated cooks as well, but in my placement my host mother does the cooking (and teaches us how to cook the food too). Either my host father drives me, or I walk about 10-15 minutes into a nearby neighborhood that is a slum to teach the kids in the slum school there. While even the nicer parts of India are still pretty dirty, the slums are beyond filthy. The kids come to school in tattered clothes covered in dirt, their hair sometimes matted or full of bits of trash and things. They bring old, worn rucksacks or reuse food sacks to tote their decrepit slate boards and little shards of chalk. The morning class is 3 hours long, with about 25-30 kids ages 3-6 or so. The afternoon class is another 3 hours, but the age range is a little older, up to about age 9 or 10. The kids are enthusiastic and some of them are very sharp, especially considering most of them have not had formal schooling. The goal of the school is to get the kids off the streets and hopefully segue them into public schools. So the range of abilities and ages is very wide, so we do the alphabet, numbers, simple addition, coloring, rhymes and simple songs like "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" with them. Teaching itself is very tiring, but trying to teach kids who can't really understand you is ten times more exhausting. There are Indian teachers there who help translate and keep the kids in order (sometimes by hitting the kids or pulling their ears). The kids come up and shake your hands and say, "Hello" and introduce themselves as we walk through the slum. The schoolkids will hold our hands as we walk out of the school until they peel off to go to their homes. They can be really sweet.
The slum school classroom and just a handful of the younger kids

The slum school classroom and just a handful of the younger kids


Lots of colorful buildings in the slum

Lots of colorful buildings in the slum


A street in the slum on the way home from school

A street in the slum on the way home from school

The front of the school. They're hoping to expand the school out into the dirt area to create separate classrooms for the different age groups.

The front of the school. They're hoping to expand the school out into the dirt area to create separate classrooms for the different age groups.


The water pump for the slum right in front of the school.

The water pump for the slum right in front of the school.


Cows eating the leftovers from a wedding the night before, in front of the school.

Cows eating the leftovers from a wedding the night before, in front of the school.

This morning however, one of the other volunteers and I were the only teachers at school - the Indian teachers never came - and the kids were acting out and impossible to manage. They wouldn't listen to us and were all over the place. After trying to get them to color and do some ABC's, we finally ended class after less than 2 hours. Some of the kids from the slum don't go to school and just roam the streets, but the door of the school is open and those kids kept coming in and trying to take the coloring books and crayons and were just disrupting the chaos even further. We couldn't keep the kids from coming in, or others from going out. It was seriously awful. But the afternoon class was fine and the Indian teachers were there to help control the class. Also, our host father gave us some Hindi lessons tonight, so we are now armed with some ways to try to control the kids more!

Anyway, I love the food here. My host mother fixes us roti and chai tea for breakfast, sometimes the roti has onions in it. We have chai at least 3 times a day here as well, yum! She fixed pokoras for a mid morning snack one day, and then samosas for a late afternoon snack yesterday. She made some yummy dessert called halwa (wheat flour, ghee aka Indian butter, water, sugar) last night which was also delicious. Our meals are usually either rice or roti and daal or some kind of curry dish, and a small salad of cut up veggies like cucumber, tomato, carrot (which are red here not orange) and even papaya. I think I will gain a serious roti belly here:)

My host family is very nice - they have 2 young daughters who are 3 and 4 years old. Sometimes we'll watch cartoons with them, or play with play-do with them, or they'll watch movies with me on my computer. They're really cute girls. I was the only volunteer here for the first 2 days, then I joined 2 other volunteers to visit Agra and the Taj Mahal this weekend. When I got back on Sunday, 3 volunteers came to live here too so now it's nice to have some company. Our shower doesn't have a showerhead, and the water is always cold. So I take quick boat showers by dumping a bucket over me...this is one of my biggest challenges here since I love my scalding hot showers. I have to clean my feet about 3-4 times a day from all the dust and dirt from wearing sandals outside. My boogers are always black and my nose is stuffy several times a day, once again from all the dust and dirt. BUT I am starting to get used to things and finding I'm liking it more and more.

Posted by shlee 08:49 Archived in India Comments (0)

Ah, Singapore!

It's Merdandy:)

Words relating to Singapore must now be conjugated with the prefix Mer- in honor of the Merlion statue and mascot of Singapore.

But more on that later.

I didn't realize how long it would take to get to Singapore from Malacca on the bus. I was thinking like 3 hours tops. But it was more like 5, with a pit stop on the way, stopping at the Malaysian border, taking all our stuff to go through immigration only to get back on the bus, drive to the Singapore border and do the same all over again. Upon arrival, and after some issues getting small bills so I could pay for an MRT ticket and then deciding which exit to take out of the subway station, I was on my way to Flo's for my salvation from trudging in a veritable humidifier with all my luggage.

Flo's best friend Eric from Indonesia had been living in NYC, but just moved to Singapore this week. His company was putting him up in a serviced residence hotel, and he just so happened to have an extra bedroom with two beds. So Flo and I camped out there for the weekend. Such a nice change from hostels! A clean bed, privacy, a nice bathroom, free continental breakfast every morning and a washing machine/dryer in the room!
Home sweet home for a few<img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Home sweet home for a few:)

Singapore is a very clean, organized city as everyone tells you. Per Flo, it's pretty superficial because it's really just cause the government hires tons of workers to do all the cleaning to keep up appearances. But either way, it makes for an enjoyable, albeit expensive, place to visit (a margarita is $15-$18 Singapore dollars, which is about $12-$14 USD). Plus they have two taxes for everything you buy that adds up to like 17%. Yikes.
Our hotel view

Our hotel view

Flo, Eric and I went to a BBQ that night held by some of her Indonesian friends. They were very gracious hosts and fed us well. We had some hot dogs (no buns), fake crab meat sticks, some chicken satay with yummy peanut sauce, rice, calamari and stingray, both in some chili sauce. Stingray, though I felt bad eating it, was really freaking delicious. Later we went to the Marina Sands Casino just to see what is was like - the government doesn't want locals gambling so it charges them $100 to go inside. Thus you have to bring your passport to show you're not a Singapore citizen so you can get in for free. Inside, there are drink fountains on the sides where you can get free Coke, Sprite, coffee, tea and Milo (hot chocolate). The casino seemed pretty boring - just people intensely concentrating on their slot machines and Texas Hold 'Em. We walked around a fancy mall nearby and later walked around Clarke Quay, a popular bar/restaurant area right by our hotel.
Say, "Satay!"

Say, "Satay!"


Marina Sands Casino

Marina Sands Casino


Marina Sands Casino is that building that looks like it has a plane sitting on top

Marina Sands Casino is that building that looks like it has a plane sitting on top


Clarke Quay

Clarke Quay


Clinic bar in Clarke Quay. Also has IV bags that you drink from.

Clinic bar in Clarke Quay. Also has IV bags that you drink from.

The next day, had a nice lie in, then had pork rib tea, which is pork ribs in some tea based broth that you eat with rice and some spicy soy sauce, at a Chinese restaurant. I even tried pork liver and pork tail (Who have I become!?!). We walked through the Muslim Quarter, down Haji Street which has some cute trendy boutique shops and also Turkish and other Mediterranean restaurants and hookah bars. We had some yummy ice cream at a place called Pluck (Earl Grey with Fig = delicious). We then walked through a building that looked straight from Gotham City. It's just a fancy office building built in Art Deco style (my fave) and is really swank inside.
A pork feast

A pork feast


Near Little India

Near Little India


Flo and Eric being Asians on Haji Street<img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Flo and Eric being Asians on Haji Street:)


Gotham City building

Gotham City building

I met up with my friend Tony for dinner, who I met back in June on my tour in Sapa, Vietnam. He was in my tour group and was traveling with his Vietnamese goddaughter. I spent a day with them at the Bac Ha market tour and then on the overnight train back to Hanoi. They were both super helpful to me in getting back to Hanoi and to the airport in time, so I wanted to see him again since he lives in Singapore. He was nice enough to drive me around for a little tour of Chinatown, Orchard Street shopping, and then all the way up to the house where my grandparents used to live during the 70's so I could take photos for my family. We ate dinner at an outdoor food pavilion place where he ordered some herb roasted chicken (oh so tender) and some chili fish (Sole I think). Both delicious! We had a good time catching up and hopefully he'll make it to the states sometime soon:)
Tony and me at dinner

Tony and me at dinner


Where my grandparents used to live!

Where my grandparents used to live!

My final full day in Singapore was great! Flo and I took the train to Sentosa Island, a pretty man-made beach with sand imported from Indonesia. I wanted to take the cable car, but it was $26 (compared to the train which was $3 round trip). The beach was really pretty, even though it's fake, and the weather was beautiful. We just relaxed in the shade and chatted, then had a nice Japanese lunch! When we got back into the city, we met Eric at the Peranakan Museum, which tells about the history of all the different ethnic groups in Singapore (Malay, Chinese, Indian and European as well). We visited a small street called Ann Siang Hill with some fancy cafes and restaurants, then ate at a much cheaper eating pavilion where I enjoyed some Nasi Lemak, a local specialty of coconut (lemak apparently means fat, which they so kindly told me after I already ingested it) rice with some fish, chili paste, peanuts and a fried egg.
Fake, but pretty Sentosa Island

Fake, but pretty Sentosa Island


Peranakan Museum is in a very lovely building

Peranakan Museum is in a very lovely building


Nasi Lemak

Nasi Lemak

We walked to the Fullerton Hotel area and I saw the famous Merlion statue and the cool buildings lit up at night along the water. I wanted to check out the Raffles Hotel, a famous old British colonial swanky hotel that is the birthplace of the cocktail the Singapore Sling. We headed there and split one to experience such a historic thing, but were all disappointed since it tasted like overpriced fruit juice. Finally we walked back towards Clarke Quay for some Chili Crab (dinner round 2), another local specialty of crab cooked in some yummy chili sauce and another one cooked in black pepper sauce. It was a messy process involving a big bib and moist towelettes.
The pretty, elegant Fullerton Hotel

The pretty, elegant Fullerton Hotel


The Merlion and I, together at last.

The Merlion and I, together at last.


Raffles Hotel

Raffles Hotel


Inside the Raffles Hotel, aka where all the white people go.

Inside the Raffles Hotel, aka where all the white people go.


Blah blah, Singapore Sling

Blah blah, Singapore Sling


Before the chili crab...

Before the chili crab...


During the chili crab...

During the chili crab...


After the chili crab. Dirtiest bib FTW!!

After the chili crab. Dirtiest bib FTW!!

That sums up my time in Singapore. Although it's a fairly small city, there is a lot going on and such a mixture of foods and cultures. And it's easy to get around on transportation and because people speak English:) Flo, Eric and Tony were all great tour guides and I can't wait to go back and visit again!
Goodbye, Mer-Singapore!

Goodbye, Mer-Singapore!

Posted by shlee 07:30 Archived in Singapore Comments (1)

I have a crush on Malaysia

*Tee hee*

Arriving in Malaysia was a breath of fresh air. After a month in China, I was actually surprised when people in Malaysia were being polite and helpful. I had forgotten what the rest of non-China civilization was like! Even taxi drivers would help you with directions and not be jerks cause you didn't ride in their taxi. People were smiley, friendly, apologized when bumping into you, cars waited for you to cross the street, and you weren't constantly surrounded by people yelling and spitting. Incredible! Malaysians are also friendlier than most I think. I love this place - definitely going to have to come back.

KUALA LUMPUR

I spent a whirlwind day in Kuala Lumpur since I only had a day. I checked out the Old Railway Station which is interesting because it is a good example of Moorish architecture. Then I clambered over to the National Mosque nearby. Arriving simultaneously with a group of young Western tourists from a hostel nearby, I just seamlessly joined their tour. In order to enter the mosque, we had to be covered up. They provided these bright purple robes with hoods that make us look like some stellar flamboyant Jedis. It was my first time in a mosque. This one seemed to have a lot of open space with marble floors, some pools and fountains, and lots of columns. The area where people actually go to pray was closed off, but you could look inside at the pretty lights. A worker tried to convert me with lots of literature on Muhammed and Islam, but shhh I left all the pamphlets on a table somewhere inside the mosque.
Old Railway Station

Old Railway Station


Jedi power! Ready to enter the mosque. I have my purse on underneath, hence the weird lopsidedness.

Jedi power! Ready to enter the mosque. I have my purse on underneath, hence the weird lopsidedness.


Not a scene from Star Wars, but the National Mosque of Malaysia rather.

Not a scene from Star Wars, but the National Mosque of Malaysia rather.

Only in KL can you go from exploring an Islamic mosque one minute, to exploring a Hindu temple and a Chinese Buddhist temple the next. Then nearby I perused Chinatown, where there are also lots of food vendors and stalls selling all the fake designer stuff and more. I walked a little further to Kasturi Walk, a covered outdoor promenade of more vendors and food stalls which leads up to Pasar Seni, or the Central Market, which is an indoor mall made up of kiosks and little shops selling woven goods, batik printed goods, and lots of wooden carved objects and such. There was a food court upstairs, where I ended up eating buffet style. Malaysia, though not expensive, is not quite as cheap as China...But the pineapple curry chicken and the veggies I got were all pretty tasty. I decided I will just be eating my way through Malaysia:) Somehow from the time I went inside the mall when it was hot and sunny and the time I came out after lunch, it started pouring down rain. I took cover for a bit waiting for it to subside. It never fully stopped, but plateaued to a drizzle for the rest of the day.
Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple

Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple


Chinatown

Chinatown

Undeterred, I marched onward to the main square, Dataran Merdeka, which is a big green field (swamped over from all the rain however) with government buildings around it. Across the street was another famous Moorish building called Sultan Abdul Samad Building. I tried to go to another mosque called Masjid Jamek, but because of the rain they wouldn't rent out the robes and thus no more Jedi time for me:( Instead, I took the train to Bukit Bintang, a popular shopping area. It wasn't so lively in the afternoon in the rain though so just perused some of the malls and had a snack (green tea egg custard and peanut sesame ball, yes please!).
Sultan Abdul Samad Building

Sultan Abdul Samad Building


Masjid Jemak

Masjid Jemak

Surrounding the KL Tower was a big central park area, so I tried to go there to kill some time before heading up the tower to see sunset. However, I got lost, and then by the time I got the KL Tower area, the park was closed. So up the tower I went and stayed for over an hour because the sun decided to take its sweet time setting. Finally it started to get dark, and I took some shots and left - was getting a bit impatient. I ate dinner on Bukit Bintang again at a curry house. I ordered a masala thosal, which I think is just the Malaysian version of a South Indian dosa, or pancake crepe thing.
KL Tower

KL Tower


Sunset on the Petronas Twin Towers

Sunset on the Petronas Twin Towers

I was pretty tired after a full day of walking, getting lost and trying to stay dry in KL. I would definitely have liked to have had maybe one more day there, to spread my time out more and maybe see some more things. But a good time nonetheless.

MALACCA

The trip to Malacca was only about a 2 or 2.5 hour bus ride, but the buses here are nice with tons of leg room. I had a tricky time finding my hostel, which was on the top story of some building with only a hard-to-see banner signifying its name. Then I had to wait at least 30-45 minutes for the hostel owner to set me up in a room. Finally I dropped my stuff in the room and set out for sightseeing. Malacca isn't very big and there isn't a ton of stuff to see there, so I covered most of it in a couple hours. It's an interesting town because it was an historical port city that came under Portuguese, then Dutch, then British rule and received many Muslim traders from India and the Arab parts of the world, in addition to Chinese immigrants. It thus is a mixture of many cultures and influences architecturally and food-wise.

I visited a Maritime Museum that is housed in a large replica of a Portuguese ship, where I learned about the history and all the different eras of rule the city encountered. I walked down the famous shopping street called Jonker Walk, had roast chicken and rice balls at a Chinese style restaurant followed by Mango Cendol, a dessert with some shaved ice, coconut milk, these worm-like green jelly things made from rice flour, red beans, gula melaka (aka palm sugar) and mango of course. I explored a couple small temples, bought a batik painting from a famous artist, and walked along the river. There is a main square with some red buildings called the Studhuys, a clocktower and Christ Church where lots of hawkers and vendors pounce on the tourists to ride in their trippy, decked-out trishaws. On the way back to my hostel, there is part of a Dutch fort and big water wheel worth checking out.
Maritime Museum in an old Portuguese ship replica

Maritime Museum in an old Portuguese ship replica


Christ Church and the square

Christ Church and the square


Decked out trishaws

Decked out trishaws


Riverfront

Riverfront


Some fantastic statues in a temple I don't know the name of. Asian garden gnomes perhaps??

Some fantastic statues in a temple I don't know the name of. Asian garden gnomes perhaps??


Best statues ever. Notice the pandas canoodling in the far background. I wish I knew what was going on here...

Best statues ever. Notice the pandas canoodling in the far background. I wish I knew what was going on here...


Chinatown

Chinatown


Some of the Portuguese influence

Some of the Portuguese influence

After some downtime in the hostel, watching No Strings Attached with some British girls , I ventured out again. This time I explored a small night market near the hostel where mostly locals go and is geared more toward the Muslims. I tried some dessert of this crispy crepe with gula melaka I think, nuts and sweet corn in it. Super yummy.

Then I decided to take up this one trishaw (like tuk tuks) driver on his offer to see some of the sights for half an hour. His bike wasn't as elaborate or fancy as some of the others who had strings of Christmas lights on them, and big flower displays, blaring pop music on big speakers and such. But he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. I got a good feeling about him. And was I right! His name was Atan. I chatted with him a bunch about Malacca, and he told me about the sites. We drove down one street which I didn't realize was there that was just a row of tons of museums as well as a big old fort. He took photos for me. We became BFF and I got this photo with him at the end. I told him I'd post it on the internet and tell everyone who goes to Malacca to ask for Atan's trishaw ride. He liked that idea and told me next time to come find him:)
Trishaws at night

Trishaws at night


It was a fort night...bah dum chhh!

It was a fort night...bah dum chhh!


Me and my BFF Atan. Ask for Atan as your driver in Malacca!

Me and my BFF Atan. Ask for Atan as your driver in Malacca!

Atan dropped me at the night market on Jonker Street where I continued my attempt to eat my way through Malaysia with Assam Laska, a spicy soup with thick noodles, some sea coconut and honey drink (?) and some onde onde desserts of gooey rice balls dipped in gula melaka and dipped in shredded coconut as well as some pineapple tarts. I met a girl who was from Vancouver and used to work for Lululemon who was taking a year to travel the world, and potentially longer. So far she'd covered Ireland and most of SE Asia in 6 months. She is taking her time, spending a couple months in one place if she likes it. I've only been traveling a little over 1 month, and I can't imagine doing an entire year or more. The traveling is very exhausting. Though I suppose if you're planted in one place for a couple months, it's not so bad.

Anyway. At the end of the night market, there was a man doing a show that attracts a huge crowd. He used to be a kung fu master, and now is some kind of Chinese medicine doctor. He was selling some spray that supposedly helps with all sorts of ailments. But in addition he'd do entertaining things like split a small piece of paper with a whip and cracked open a coconut with the blunt force of his ELBOW. He'll definitely need some of his magic spray on that later.

Posted by shlee 06:22 Archived in Malaysia Comments (1)

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