Monday, January 31, 2011

Cambodia: Holy Hell pt 2.

I have entitled this part two because I started onto a subject at the beginning of my last post which I quickly abandoned in lieu of giving you all a run down of what I had been up to.  The point that I was trying to make, is that Cambodia embodies all that is Southeast Asia.  It embodies the best of it and the worst of it.  However, as is normal for most people we tend to dwell on the annoying and forget all the effortless smiles and genuine hospitality we were given.  I was eating dinner by myself in Phnom Penh and a group of tuk tuk drivers sat down next to me.  About twenty minutes later they poured me a beer, and then several more after.  One of them spoke a little bit of English and had apparently seen me about 4 times in the city at different places and wanted to share a drink with me.  At Otres Beach the people were wonderful and friendly and would willingly share their lives and their time with you.  You didn't even have to be a paying customer to get their time.  They would sit and talk and bring their kids over.  The hospitality and kindness is something that I will never forget.

Now again, onto the bad.  The other day was a perfect example of some of the bad parts of Cambodia.  AsI walked off the bus in Phnom Penh I was hounded by no less than 20 tuk tuk drivers all shouting and grabbing to try and get me into their tuk tuk.  As I walked out of the area I was followed by 3 for at least 4 minutes before they left me alone.  Besides the common attempts at ripping off the tourist which honestly happens everywhere in the world you go, the tuk tuk drivers were the worst.  The only exception was the guy who we hired for three days in Siem Riep who was a young guy who did an excellent job running us around.  The rest of them, whether moving or not were always going to charge a higher cost to tourists.  Yes, you can negotiate the price down, but even then you're still paying at least double what a local would.  I'm sorry, but most Cambodians and most Southeast Asians that I have seen or met could not afford to do a 3 dollar tuk tuk ride every day.  There is a reason that these guys post themselves out of every tourist spot and ask every single tourist if they want a ride, even if that tourist has walked past twenty other tuk tuks just to get there.  The constant hassle and demand just grind on you until you just don't want to deal with it anymore.

Now that that is done, I should fill you in on the last few days of my trip.  Gisela and I headed down to Sihanoukville and Otres Beach for our last few days in Cambodia.  Upon arrival and after finding our guesthouse we slid on down to the white sand beach to catch some sun, some swimming, and a glorious sunset.  That night we parked ourselves at one of bungalow establishments on the beach and drank and talked with both locals and other travelers.  The following day we spent snorkeling and visiting Koh Russei.  Koh Russei is also known as bamboo island.  It was a great way to spend a day, and while the waters were not as great as those around Thailand, the coral was far better.  That night I ended up drinking with some Estonians who were staying at our guesthouse.  After one or two too many scotch and cokes I stumbled to bed.  The next day Gisela took off heading back to Korea and I spent the day laying on the beach and reading.  I had one last meal on the beach and I took off to head to Kuala Lumpur.  I leave Kuala Lumpur tomorrow morning and head back to frigid Korea.  Oh well, I'll probably be the only person with a tan in Seosan.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Cambodia: Holy Hell!

As I went to leave Laos I found myself very conflicted.  I have very rarely visited a place where I felt so compelled to donate or to perhaps find some way to help.  The peace and quiet of Laos had an effect on me, and it is one that will take some time for me to completely figure out.  However, a completely different world awaited me as I stepped off my plane in Cambodia.  The first thing I noticed was that bothersome humidity that I had left in Laos seemed to have reappeared.  Annoying, yes, debilitating no.  As I walked out of the airport it became even more clear that I was no longer in Laos.  I stepped foot outside the terminal and was instantly surrounded by 5-10 tuk tuk and taxi drivers.  All jockeying, shouting, and generally trying to get my attention and my money.  Laos, this was not.

I spent my first two days in Cambodia in Phnom Penh, the capital.  The city has a paltry population of 1 million people and from the second you arrive you realize that you are back in the real world, the 3rd world.  Cambodia is a place of stark differences.  Mansions and Palaces share the same street with shanties and shacks.  Affluent westerners speak with amputees and cripples who have been deformed by land mines and unexploded ordinance.  For those who have spent time in the touristy areas of S.E.A. this place, this country, is the real thing.  Phnom Penh is a functioning city, much like Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh city.  The main lifeline is not tourism.  It is a hectic, dirty, beautiful, and surprising place.

After I arrived I hopped a Tuk Tuk over to S-21.  For those that know nothing about the history of Cambodia, the late 1970's saw the country undergo radical cultural change, and the murder (via genocide) of an estimated 2-3 million people (25% of the population).  I do not have time to go into the whole story of the Khmer Rouge, but let me assure you it is brutal, and it is frightening.  S-21 stands for security prison 21.  This was where Pol Pot (leader of the Khmer Rouge) imprisoned and tortured over 18,000 of his own countryman.  Simply wearing glasses or speaking a foreign language were enough to get yourself sent here.  Of the close to 20,000 souls who entered this prison, only 7 were found alive at it's liberation.  Today the prison, which was once a high school, is a museum dedicated to the Cambodian genocide.  It is a stark reminder of the brutality of man, and the horrors we are capable of.  All across this museum are photos and documents recovered at the prison.  The stories of those who survived, and those who tortured are on display and the cell blocks are still standing.  You are allowed to step into the world of the prisoner here and feel the claustrophobic fear.  I believe that it is important for us to bare witness to the brutalities of man, that way, when the day comes we are able to stand up and fight to stop it in our own way.

My second day was spent in two differing areas of study.  The first was a trip to the Royal Palace and the National Museum of Cambodia.  Both of these places were serene gardens and temples.  The glory of the Ancient Khmer Empire was everywhere on display.  However, while I took my time and enjoyed these sites, what awaited me on my other pursuit will stay with me forever.  A place, which shares a name with countless books and movies (The Killing Fields), was an intense and very personal moment.  The Killing Field is the place where most of the 18,000 plus prisoners of S-21 where shipped to, executed, and buried.  To date they have only found 8,000 bodies, but bones and graves are still being found when the rain rinses the ground during the rainy season.  What made this place personal was much the same as what made Auschwitz and Dachau intense.  Death was everywhere you looked.  There were excavated mass graves everywhere, and when you walked on the ground, you continually saw bones and clothing in the ground.  For lack of a better thing, the entire place was a graveyard of unmarked graves, and you were walking over them.  To bring everything home was a small museum and a memorial stupa filled with the skulls of those that were murdered.  Unlike the holocaust where most who died where worked to death, gassed, or shot, the Khmer Rouge could not afford the bullets or the gas, so they used what they had.  They had trees, bamboo, and their hands.  Most the people who died at this place were beaten to death, or had their throats cut.  Babies were beaten against trees, and well I don't think I need to say anything more.  This place, and epic place of death and sorrow, is set in a serene field surrounded by paddies and singing birds. 

At the end of my second day in Phnom Penh I hopped a tuk tuk to the airport to pick up Gisela.  I convinced Gislea to come do some traveling with me in Cambodia back in Korea, and while I've been out and about, she's been freezing in Korea teaching camp.  Well, not anymore.  The very next day we caught a bus to Siem Riep.  At arrival we found that the hotel which I had booked was undergoing renovations and they had forgot to notify me that they were closed.  No big deal we found another place shortly and set off after that to catch the sunset on Tonle Sap.  Tonle Sap is one of the largest fresh water lakes in all of Asia.  It is home to one of the best fishing grounds also.  Filled with fish, floating villages, and other animals that you can't see in the dirty brown water the sunset we caught here was pretty great.  However, the next day brought the biggest site I have seen in quite some time.

Angkor Wat, is the 8th Wonder of the Ancient World.  It is the worlds largest religious structure and has been in continuous uses since it was built in the 1200's.  That is about the same time that Notre Dame was started.  Our first day at Angkor Wat saw us do the mini tour of Angkor Thom, a walled city that at it's peak held an estimated population of 1 million people (for reference, at this time London only had about 50,000).  Inside Angkor Thom were numerous temples including the Bayoun, the Bapayoun, and other things that I can't remember the name of off the top of my head.  After spending about two hours exploring and climbing amongst the ruins (yes, not only can you touch, but you can clamber) we headed to Ta Prom.  Ta Prom, is an abandoned temple that the jungle has reclaimed.  The place is crumbling and has enormous trees strangling the temple at every turn.  This temple has been used in movies such as Tomb Raider.  We ended our first day exploring Angkor Wat at sunset.  I climbed all the way to the top (when you see the staircases you'll understand) and enjoyed the spectacular views that it offered.

The next day we headed farther afield and saw some older, and different sites.  Well, two of them were.  We started the day at the river of the 1,000 linguas.  This river has a carved river bed with pictures and over 1,000 linguas in it.  The belief is that the constant water running over it will help grant protection.  After this we stopped at the Banteay Shrei which is one of the finest preserved pieces of ancient Khmer art.  It is a temple built almost 1,000 years ago and dedicated to women.  We followed this up with a stop by the Cambodian Landmine museum.  This place is a testament that one man can make a difference.  Aki Ra (the name he was given by Japanese journalists, has cleared well over 50,000 mines and unexploded munitions from Cambodia.  Cambodia today still has hundreds injured and killed by these weapons used in the Vietnam, Civil, and Khmer Rouge fighting.  The man who started the facility does not know what year he was born.  His family was killed by the Khmer Rouge, and then later he was taken and forced to fight as a 12 year old for the Khmer Rouge.  He later defected to the Vietnamese army (busy fighting the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia) and fought to rid his country of the scourge they were.  During this time he became an explosives, and mines expert.  He killed people, and even had a moment where his uncle was shooting at him from across a field as a member of a different army. 

Once the war ended and a government was elected, he dedicated himself to clearing his country of the millions of left over mines and unexploded ordinance.  To help do this he started an NGO and currently uses the profits from his museum to give shelter to, support, and provide an education to children who have been left homeless, been injured by mines, or have been abandoned by their parents.  His work ensure that they are cared for, fed, and educated.  At the end of their high school days, they are given a scholarship to either a university or a vocational school of their choice.  The man is living proof that one man with good intentions can help change the course of countless lives.  After this stop we sped off to one more temple before calling it quits for the day.

Today was our last day in Siem Riep.  I spent it by catching a sunrise at Angkor Wat.  It was truly stunning.  Pictures do not do it justice, but don't worry, I have lots.  After that I ate a quick breakfast before Gisela and I shipped off back down to Phnom Penh for the night.  Tomorrow we head to Sihanoukville and Otres Beach.  Sun, sand, and snorkeling here I come.  Peace everyone.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Oye Vey!

I apologize for those who are tracking my movements via my blog, but in all honesty I did write a post a few days ago that could not be posted due to the internet cafe I was at being crappy.  However, that aside, I'm actually glad that post didn't post because I have a much better appreciation for what it was I was trying to say then now.  Having just spent 11 hours going 220 miles by bus (no I'm not lying my average speed was 20 miles an hour today) I saw much more of the countryside than I had originally imagined.  However, before we get onto that, I should fill you in on how the last few days have gone.  In a simple word, awesome.

Luang Prabang is an amazing place.  The feeling, the people, even the tuk tuk drivers are great.  The city is a place that I feel will reside in my memory for a very long time.  I now understand why Time magazine had it listed as the number 2 place to visit in Asia if not the world the past couple of years.  The place is just gorgeous.  The historical center which is a UNESCO World Heritage site is a peninsula bordered by two rivers, the Mekong and the Nam Khan.  This area is filled with Wats (temples), Cafes, restaurants, and more Wats.  At night the place also holds a Hmong (hill tribe people) Night Market.  This is the first market that I have ever been at where I wanted the people to charge me more money.  Haggling is an art, but everything is handmade in their villages, and you want to give these people your money.  Also located in this night market is a night food market.  Talk about awesome food for dirt cheap.  I was having authentic Lao dinners for 3 dollars (large bottle of beer included).

However, I believe what makes Luang Prabang amazing is the feeling you get while there.  The city holds only 50,000 people and feels like a small town.  All the major sites can be walked to or biked to in a short period of time.  The people everywhere, whether they be tuk tuk drivers, shop keepers, or market workers are polite and smile.  In fact everyone is so polite, even the guys offering to sell me drugs were polite.  It also helps that the city has some exceptionally beautiful nature surrounding it.  The waterfall at Kuang Si is one of the most beautiful places I have been, and even the drive there (yes I rented a scooter and scooted myself there) was beautiful.  Well, except for the man eating pot holes that would surprise you every now and then.  Also nearby are the caves at Pak Ou.  Pak Ou is a small village located at the confluence of two rivers.  Across these rivers are two limestone caves where hundreds of Buddhas are stored and gather dust.  It is a temple of sorts, but these caves are only accessible by boat and a rather rickety dock system that consists of floating bamboo.

With all of this, still, it is a place that you feel content in.  There is no rush in Luang Prabang, there is no necessity to plan every day to the max.  If you want, this is a place to spend in cafes people watching.  It is a place to spend time haggling with Hmong women over hand made Lao Lao (rice whiskey), quilts, bibs, shoes, books, drawings, etc.  While many of the things follow the same pattern, none of these things are made by mass production.  The country simply doesn't have the infrastructure to mass import trinkets from China to sell.  I think that is the point of a place like this.  It is a place to come and relax, to slowly let yourself experience exactly what it is you're looking for.  Everyone I knew who had been through there said that it was an exceptional place.  I went in with high expectations of a place I knew almost nothing about.  It exceeded my expectation with ease.

However, today was another matter, and in fact quite a different step for me.  I have been in poor places before.  I have been to countries and to locations where I make a really good living compared to the locals.  However, I have never been in a place where outside the cities, and there are few of them here, where the poverty was so pervasive.  All along the highway we took today, and by highway I mean a small horribly maintained two lane mountain round with countless hairpin turns and no guardrails.  For a better idea think going camping in the mountains and the drive it takes to get to the camp grounds.  That is their main artery of support.  However, I am getting sidetracked rather easily right now all along this road, perched on top of, or the side of mountains were small villages.  These villages look like throwbacks from another time.  A lucky person has a house built of cinder block.  Most of the homes are built of thatch and have thatch roofs.

There may be a small water pump in the middle of the village that is used for bathing, drinking, and all other water needs.  Most the children play on a small strip of dirt maybe two or three feet from the road and maybe 5 feet from a 100 foot fall.  It was a tough ride, not because of the length of the trip, but simply because I realized just how lucky I am and have been throughout my life.  In this country I earn 30 times more per year than the average person.  30 times.  In the villages I probably earn 60 times as much, especially some of these villages which might have one or two cars stop a day at them.  Yet, even in a world that most westerners would find degrading and impossible to deal with, everywhere we went, and everywhere we stopped we were greeted with smiles and hospitality.  I know what you're thinking "oh they just want your money."  Well, at some of the places yes, but when we were stopped because a truck was hauling huge equipment nobody got off the bus.  Nobody bought anything, but still, the locals who were already watching the big equipment were smiling and waving at us.  Enjoying if only for a few minutes the bus full of foreigners who were smiling and waving back.

I know to many people who take it all for granted.  They take for granted everything they have earned or everything they have been given.  We are lucky to have been born in an age and a world where what we find normal and necessary, a lot of the rest of the world sees as opulent.  Imagine trying to live your life making 1000 dollars a year.  Imagine not having a television or a computer or an iphone.  Most of you, and me too would probably shrivel up and run screaming for the nearest Starbucks and Burger King.  Here, they don't have that option.  I know that I am only passing through, and will soon find myself back in Korea and the first world, but I cannot deny that this country is changing me.  I find myself far more grateful for my life, and the small things that nobody ever thinks about.  I find myself here, hoping that life continues it slow tick upwards, and that these people, who have been kind and welcoming to me can continue their slow march into the second world.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

What a few days....

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the wide world of awesome.  Ok, well maybe not awesome for you, but seriously awesome for me.  I will start up right where I left off for those of you who are still following this for some reason.

Our last day on Koh Lanta Brian and I rented scooters with Megan and Chad (cousin and husband) and went to a restaurant that had an amazing view.  It was perched on top of a cliff overlooking the ocean.  Normally for a view like this you would expect lunch, dinner, or even a cocktail to cost you a minimum of 15 dollars.  However that was not the case.  The average price for the expensive food was 4 dollars.  After this we headed to a isolated beach and after a fun jungle change (I forgot to put my board shorts on before I left my hotel) we did some light snorkeling and swimming.  This was followed by a trip to Chad and Megan's place and a dinner of street food after.  Following that Chad and I decided to go for a scooter trip around the island at night.  Being a partially seasoned motorcycle driver I couldn't resist the temptation.  We ended up doing three laps of the island on our scooters. It was great, except for the occasional man sized pothole that would sneak up on you and threaten to eat your scooter alive.  After the laps Brian and I said goodbye to Chad and Megan and I gave Brian a lift back to our hotel.  I have to admit the view of the two of us on a scooter must have been a little ridiculous, but we made it.

Following that we decided to head to Railay Beach near Krabi.  While not technically an island, it may as well been.  The area was only accessible by boat and was host to the most stunning scenery I saw in Thailand.  The cliffs there were absolutely epic.  Huge limestone karsts sticking straight up out of water and land alike.  This place is a climbers dream.  In fact half the tourism on the island is devoted to rock climbing.  The first day we arrived around noon, found our place and went for a swim on Railay West (Railay is divided into east and west with the west being the best).  After dinner we walked back to our Bungalow to grab some sleep and start our last full day travelling together.  We awoke that morning and decided to hike to Tonsai Bay/beach.  The sign said it was only about 800 meters, and while that technically may have been correct, it neglected to say they were jungle meters and over jungle hills on a small path.  It wasn't too horrid, it just really wasn't expected by two guys who wanted to go get a quick breakfast.  After trekking through and seeing quite possibly the biggest spider I've ever seen in my life we made it to the beach and had our breakfast.

We took a boat back to Railay West and booked a sunset snorkeling tour.  For 30 bucks it included: mask, snorkel, boat ride, dinner, and guide.  It was worth every scent, and it even included a night swim amongst phosphorescent algae.  We started off with an hour boat ride to a spot to do some deep water snorkeling.  While swimming around and seeing some stuff, it turns out the greatest discovery of this part was the small jellyfish I almost swam right into.  This was the second time I actually almost swam into one (the first time being on Koh Lanta without a mask and blind).  After that spot we went to the next place which was just beautiful.  It had coral, sea slugs, fish galore and even sea urchins.  The next stop was to watch the sunset on a small island and have a BBQ there.  This is when mother nature decided to hate us.  We were caught in a downpour for almost 2 hours after we hit the island and this included Brian and I eating in the rain.  It was quite like the army, and even the guide agreed.  Most the people were huddled under a small tin roof eating, but there was not space for Brian and I, and I had given up being dry and was embracing the rain.

We made it back to Railay well after dark and Brian and I had our last dinner together.  We awoke the next morning and headed our separate ways.  I was headed to Bangkok and then Laos, he was headed to Phuket.  I should have noticed yesterday when I got of the boat that I was doomed in my travels.  As I hopped off the boat into the water (which was about knee deep) I was hit by a wave that was waist high.  This was annoying but not crucially important.  The next part of the trip went fine with a taxi ride and an air trip to Bangkok.  However, in Bangkok stuff started to go wrong, and primarily it was all my fault.  I had an option of a flight that got in a 5 in the evening or got in at 11 in the morning.  I should have taken the earlier one because I forgot that I was trying to take the night train on a Friday during peak times.  I needed to purchase earlier in the day, and while I got out of the airport in decent time, traffic jams conspired to get me to the train station at 7:30 for an 8:00 train.  After finding out the trains for the whole night were sold out I found a guesthouse next to the train station for 10 bucks a night and sat down to figure out my next play.

I needed to figure out how I would be getting to Laos to continue my journey.  A night train was an option, but in reality not a good one.  It was going to give me 3 nights in Luang Prabang, but only 2 days.  This was not acceptable as there was too much that I wanted to see and do here and I needed at least 3 full days to do it.  I decided to catch the morning flight to Luang Prabang and after my first trip in a prop plane in well over 15 years I landed in Laos.

Unfortunately my post on Luang Prabang will have to wait until next time, but I have the feeling it will be glowing.  There is just an air about this place, a feeling that is impossible to describe right now.  You walk off the plane and it settles around you.  Perhaps a word to closely describe it is serenity, but that is not the right choice.  I will let you know in the next few days.  Pictures will be up soon I promise.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Thailand so far

If I told you where I was as I was writing this I know you wouldn't believe me.  Well ok maybe you would, but you might be insanely jealous.  I will therefore let the fact go that I am sitting on a beach in Thailand typing this post. 

I will start this post by talking about my last night in Singapore.  My day went fairly well.  I ran out of my hostel as quick as possible that morning due to the craziness that was sleeping mere feet from me.  Luckily she was still asleep while I snuck out.  I don't think anything bad was going to happen, but I didn't want to explain to her that she couldn't tag along with me and then come back to my place and find my stuff shredded.  Well I wandered around town and then met up with my friend Pablo from Korea.  Pablo is a teacher down in Daegu and we both just happened to be in Singapore at the same time.  We met up and met a friend of his that he met through Couch Surfing.  We headed down to Arab street and had an awesome Arab style dinner.  Hummus, couscous, feta cheese, chicken, everything was just succulent.  After that we wandered around town more and I realized that I really do love the buildings in Singapore.  After an hour or so of wandering we sat down at a coffee shop and proceeded to order desserts.  The conversation was excellent and we closed the place out.  After that we said our goodbyes as I was leaving in the morning.

I awoke the next day to take my journey to Bangkok.  The flight went without a hitch and I arrived in Bangkok around 2.  After terrorizing some Koreans who were in the Immigration line next to me (they were quite surprised when I spoke Korean to them), I walked and grabbed a taxi to my Guesthouse.  Now, taxis in Thailand are an adventure.  The government recently stipulated that all taxis must use meters, however, this is not the case.  I knew that there was an official taxi stand where the drivers were supposed to use the meter and they were given your destination by someone who spoke English and Thai.  Yet, even though I went through this, my taxi driver still didn't use the meter.  We agreed on a price that I knew to be fair.  He may have made an extra dollar on me but it was a fair price and he didn't try to screw me.  However, the way the system is enforced when you use this method is that you are given a ticket.  This ticket is a complaint form that you can send in.  You do not give this ticket to the driver ever.  However, my driver asked me for the ticket at least 5 times before I just finally told him no.  Welcome to Thailand.  I haven't even been in the country an hour and someone is trying to screw me out of some money already. 

I unfortunately did not have anytime to explore Bangkok.  I was meeting Brian at our guesthouse whenever he got in, and I was really tired.  When Brian arrived we went and had dinner and then explored Ko San Road.  For those of you that have never been to Thailand or Bangkok, Ko San Road is like being on Spring break.  It is a pulsating, surging mass of people who are primarily foreign.  It's a backpacker hub and drunken adventure.  It's impressive to sit and watch.  Everywhere are tuk tuk drivers asking if you want shows or boom boom.  Needless to say that part was annoying, but it is amazing people watching.  The next day Brian and I headed for Koh Lanta.  We hoped a plane a bus and a ferry to get to our destination.  The ferry ride, while loud was exceptionally beautiful.  The pictures don't quite do it justice.  We arrived at Koh Lanta and began our haggling with a taxi driver to take us to our hotel.  Upon arrival we realized that we really don't belong at this place.  This place is designed for rich families and richer people.  I feel like we declass the joint a bit, but besides the room rates this place is excellent.  We have our own beach, and while it's not great, it's also not bad.  Located up and down our strip of sand are numerous places with cheap food and cheap drink.  In fact, I think as soon as I finish this post I'm going to go put my suit on and take my morning swim.

We met Brian's cousin and her husband yesterday at our hotel.  We hung out all day drinking on the beach and had dinner together.  Today around noon they are going to come and we're all going to go snorkeling together somewhere.  In fact we're going to get there by renting scooters.  Luckily I know how to ride one but it should be a great time to go cruise this island.

This will probably be my last posting until Laos so I wish you all life and love. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Whole Boatload of Crazy

I like to joke around with my friends that I like crazy women.  To be honest, I like women who meet my definition of crazy.  By this I mean that I like people who are spontaneous, weird, and just generally a lot of fun to be around.  I call it crazy just because crazy is a catchall for what I'm looking for.  However, my experience at this hostel has been something of another type of crazy all together.

For starters, for those of you that have never stayed in a hostel it is quite an experience.  I say it is quite and experience because when you get a good hostel, you don't want to leave.  When you get a bad hostel, you can't wait to leave.  A good hostel may party, it may not.  However what every good hostel has in common is a group of travelers who are passionate about travel and very friendly.  The hostel I am staying at is no different.  Upon arrival I quickly met a Pole who lives and works in London.  We spent an hour chatting about travel and where we had been and went to get lunch together even though we'd only known each other about an hour.  This is quite common.  In fact this is exactly how this story starts. 

On my second day in Singapore I was chatting with a girl who is sleeping in the same dorm as I am.  She happened to be in the common area the same time that I was and that is cause for a conversation in most hostels.  During our conversation she asked me if I'd like to go get a bite to eat.  I had already eaten, but I told her that I would as soon as I finished doing what I was doing which would only be about 15 minutes.  She waited and we headed off so she could have some food.  Upon arrival I noticed a few things were a little off about this girl, but I chalked it up to simply a fish out of water traveler.  Someone who thought they could do it by themselves but found the experience too awkward and didn't know how to interact with fellow travelers.  Try as I did during her meal to hold a conversation, I just couldn't hold one down because the standard lines of conversation (travel, life, education, ect) and the non standard ones were being met by rather unintelligible responses.  She would half answer half not answer.  Ok, no big deal, I have students and know people who are just really not comfortable with themselves or with other people so she's awkward, that's not a crime. 

Well, during the meal I noticed she kept making a few "crazy faces" and I even told her about it.  She took it in stride and actually laughed about it.  After the meal she asked if I'd like to go for a walk which I willingly obliged.  Half the fun of traveling is walking.  We ended up walking for five miles in which the highlights were her not wanting to go into a temple because there were bad people in there who wanted to hurt her, and a little bit of paranoia when she looked at me and said some poor dude manning a shop was one of them.  Most of the walk passed in relative piece and a disturbing amount of quiet because I had given up trying to keep a conversation going.  Upon arrival back at the hostel we grabbed a bite for dinner at a street place close to our hostel.  I figured at this point that I was done with it, and had lost nothing more then a little bit of time in which I did what I wanted to do anyways.  No big loss.  I decided that I was going to lay down on my bed and do some reading.  About thirty minutes into it she walks into our dorm.

*Enter the boatload of crazy*  As she walks in I look at her as she states "What did you put in my food.  I'm going blind what did you put in my food."  For the record we ate the same meal family style.  I'm a little shocked by this, but being a single female traveler I can understand being a little paranoid about some guy you just met.  I tell her nothing and that I ate the same things she did.  She became visibly relieved and then asked me again.  I gave the same answer and she became visibly relieved again.  Rinse and repeat for the next ten minutes.  As if this wasn't enough, she then launches into a full blown meltdown talking about the CIA tracking her, that I'm working for the CIA, the hostel has put sars in her bag, the police are protecting perverts, how soon is too soon to want to have sex with someone, the police are following her, people are poisoning her food, etc.  Somehow, and I do mean somehow I managed to maintain my composure and while I felt like my mouth was agape I know that it wasn't.  The only point I got a little antsy was the moment she placed her hand inside her purse and left it there.  I wasn't fearful, but this girl had just proven herself to be a paranoid schizophrenic who thought I poisoned her.  Who the hell knows what she had in that purse.  Needless to say I slowly backed up out of lunge distance and brought my hands to my side just in case. 

After about twenty minutes of this, with some weeping intertwined, she recovers and walks out of the dorm.  I stand there shocked for 30 some odd seconds before laying back down and continuing to read.  I am also suddenly a little fearful that I have to sleep in the same room as this women.  About 45 minutes later she walks in and says "I don't think you put anything into my food, I'm sorry.  I'm just scared all the time and you were the first person who had been nice to me."  Sadly, while this apology eased my nerves about sleeping there it didn't make up for the sheer level of crazy she had unloaded on me.  The next day, needless to say, I was out of the hostel before she even woke up and was out all day.  . 

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I know that it's been forever and a day since I actually posted.  As normal I have no excuse for this beside a general lack of anything interesting to talk about.  Life is life, and I apologize for the fact that it's just not that interesting.  However, no I am traveling, and that is always interesting.  Well, at least it is to me and if it's interesting to me then I make sure to pass it on to you. 

Where to start?  Well I guess the first thing would be why I decided to spend some time in Singapore.  To be totally honest this city has intrigued me for a while.  What started it was when the American student was caned here in Singapore almost 15 years ago.  The idea that there was a country that had such strict laws and strict interpretations of it was a revelation.  In the United States we don't have very strict punishments.  Here, the average fine for simple offense (jaywalking for example) is between 100 and 400 dollars.  That's a ton of money for crossing a street.  After the student was caned I learned a lot about the history of this city state.  It is poised on the Straits of Malacca and is subsequently one of the most important shipping locations in the world.  In college, I learned about the diversity and culture of Singapore, and most importantly, the food.  I hate to say this but I came here to eat.  The fusion of cultures has produced some of the most unique and honestly delicious food anywhere in the world.  Imagine walking down a street and being able to get world class Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Thai food, all for about 3 bucks a pop.  That is what I call awesome. 

For anyone who watches No Reservations on the Travel Channel you will know that Bourdain considers Singapore to be as close to foodie heaven as you can get.  I am starting to agree with him.  Tucked away in hot humid hawker centers are simple stalls selling amazing food at dirt cheap prices.  There is no excuse to go to a restaurant here.  There is none at all.  All you need to do is walk down a street that sells food and let your eyes, nose, and stomach guide you.  You can have it all here, and there is little to no chance at food poisoning.  In most of South East Asia street food is a wonderful gamble.  It tastes awesome, but the chances of catching a bug significantly increase.  The water, unlike almost any other South East Asian country, is drinkable out of the tap.  That is a entirely rare.  In fact this might be the only place in S.E.A (SouthEastAsia) that it is possible. 

I find myself for the next few days located in the middle of Chinatown.  My hostel being located on a street food, and about five minutes walk from one of the best hawker centers in town.  For those that don't know, a hawker center is a food court.  It's a cheap cheap place to get awesome food, and I do mean awesome food.  My meals so far have consisted of Chicken Rice (exactly what it's name implies but the rice is out of this world good), Roast Duck with noodles, and Roast chicken with rice and braised veggies.  I have yet to try the Singaporean special known as Chili Crab, but that will be taken care of tomorrow.  My stomach is already growling thinking about more food.  Yum, I will have to come back to this place. 

Today was my first real day in Singapore.  I arrived yesterday, but in truth I was worn out from my travels.  Unless I am exhausted I simply cannot sleep on an airplane.  Even though I took the red eye flight I only managed about two hours of sleep.  Upon arrival I found my hostel and quickly met a Polish backpacker who lives in London named Mike.  After I took a quick shower we headed off to get some grub (Chicken Rice).  Upon return I promptly took a nap which turned out to be roughly a 5 hour affair.  Waking at about 10 PM I decided to take a walk and to get accustomed to my surrounding.  I toured Chinatown taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of a place which is wholly unique.  It is unique not because it is a Chinatown, but it is a Chinatown in a country that is 75% ethnically Chinese.  The stuff here, while some of it is directed at tourists is also directed firmly at the Chinese population.  They come here for quick, tasty, and authentic food.  After my tour I headed back to my hostel and talked with the other backpackers until about 1 AM..  I decided to turn in and get some sleep.

 I awoke this morning at 7:30.  I ate a quick breakfast, did some research and then headed off to the Marina Bay area.  This area is a land reclamation project that is almost finished.  Some of the highlights include the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and Casino, the Merlion, and the Double Helix Bridge.  The Merlion is honestly a little creepy.  It's a half lion half mermaid statue spitting water out into the bay (and drug possession or distribution carries a mandatory death penalty here!).  The Double Helix Bridge is the worlds first curved bridge.  It is an arced bridge designed in a double helix to represent the Yin and Yang of life, but also DNA.  It is curved at a gentle angle, but it is still curved.  I toured the entire Marina area, walking for at least 7 miles today.  I was lucky in that while still hot and humid today, it was cloudy with a good breeze.  It made it bearable to be outside. 

CitiLink.  The job of this mall is actually to interlink three other malls.  The nice thing about it though is that the entire time you are underground and in air conditioning.  Upon return to my hostel I headed out for a quick lunch, and then went for another huge walk with another traveler here at my hostel.  We easily walked another 5- 6 miles.  Needless to say my feet hurt, but I have seen tons of the city.

What I have found so amazing during my travails here in Singapore is just how clean everything is.  I think I may have spotted one homeless dude during all my walking today.  ONE!  Across Asia homelessness like the rest of the world is a huge problem.  It is especially a huge problem in large cities which are surrounded by poverty.  Normally in a city this size, you would see lots of beggars and homeless.  I may have seen one, and even then I am not sure he was.  He was way to clean.  I joked with a few travelers here that I keep thinking I will turn a corner and see litter or dirt somewhere, but it is not the case.  In fact when I was walking through one mall, the main scent I smelled was antiseptic.  Yeah, its that clean.

Tomorrow I am planning on hitting one or two museums and then hopefully meeting up with Pablo.  Pablo is a guy who I met in Daegu and just happens to be in Singapore the same time that I am.  After tomorrow I head off to Bangkok to meet up with Brian and to spend some time on an island.  This will  be the major relaxing part of my vacation.  I am sure that numerous numerous photos will accompany it.  Keep tuned sports fans, for there will be a plethora of blogs (provided I have internet access) over the next few weeks.  In fact I might even hit four posts before the end of the month.  No promises though =P