Sunday, December 19, 2010

Going out with a BANG(kok)

Well, I had a FANTASTIC time in Bangkok and Hong Kong. They are both amazing places and I could see myself living in each...which means I loved them. Bangkok was filled with temples and monuments and delicious street food. We took this awesome day trip where we drove about 300km away and rode elephants, a bamboo raft on the river, and visited the Tiger Temple. The tiger temple was a bit disappointing because I felt like the tigers were mistreated, if not just sad but I'm not sure I can commune with big cats as well as I think I can. We also rode the river ferry quite a lot which was a fantastic experience and a fun/cheap way to travel down the river. And on our third day in Thailand we were headed to some very famous mansion when we ran across this huge market. The market was filled with tons of food and stalls- it was awesome! We dinned on a massive amount of free samples and purchased tons of different exciting food items and even some clothing. The market was extremely clean and well-planned. Some of the "stalls" from bakeries had brought in furniture for their customers to sit at and people-watch from. 

I'd also like to note that I FINALLY had some food I considered very spicy. I had green prawn curry at this Thai restaurant. First, I'd like to say it was delicious. So memorable. Second, I'd like to say that my lips were literally tingling HOURS after eating said curry. And I had finished off the meal with fresh mango accompanied by mango and coconut ice cream! In other words, I'd (at least attempted) to cleanse my palette. As us twenty-somethings say, major fail.

Hong Kong is an amazing city. It's part New York, part San Francisco, and a huge part Asian (I suppose it's also quite British but I didn't notice that to any great degree). The Times Square was small in comparison to that of NYC, but there was a 13 story (count 'em) mall in it. I found that extremely impressive/terrifying. We did a good deal of shopping in Hong Kong, which can be done on a budget. We also had a couple culinary experiences, specifically we went for dim sum one morning and had an awesome Japanese dinner (yes, we're talking very fresh sushi here). I liked dim sum much more than the "Chinese food" I've had in America, which mainly features fried chicken in a sweet, thick sauce. Dim sum is a compilation of a huge variety of foods, it may be safe to say most of them are steamed. We had one dish I thought was particularly good which was a noodle dish with big noodles (think ziti here) that surrounded a wrapping of noodle. It's hard to describe but I promise it was AMAZING. Covered in this brown sauce and accompanied by none other than peanut sauce and hoisin sauce. Nomnomnom. As for our Japanese meal, it was filled with soupy noodle dishes and seaweed salad. Now before you get proud and think that you know what I'm talking about, allow me to explain. Seaweed salad is a pile of seaweed (looks just like the stuff you see in the ocean, dark green and salty) with some romaine lettuce surrounding it. It's served with a dressing that looks like ranch but has a large dose of horseradish in it...delicious. And the culinary expert I was with (a friend from the study abroad program who happens to live near Hong Kong at some points during the year) knew to also put her soy sauce (which had an impressive amount of wasabi in it) over the salad. Double good.

Our last day in Hong Kong we visited Stanley Market and the surrounding area, which really reminded me of San Francisco. There are cafes and shops overlooking the water with a very open-aired feel, perhaps Sausalito would be more accurate as a point of comparison. After seeing Stanley, we packed up and headed to the Light/laser show on Avenue of the Stars. It was quite interesting, I had never seen buildings light up in synchrony with music. I have to say at the beginning I was a bit disappointed but by the end I was beginning to be impressed. Perhaps the rainy weather damped the mood and the show itself. 

So I managed to stay up my last night in Hong Kong in an effort to start myself onto America's time zone. Time has shown it's worked! I'm jet-lag free and happy to be home. It's been a very quick three months away, and I enjoyed it tremendously. I'd like to leave you with the lyrics of a song I always play when I get home from a trip abroad, as it seems to always perfectly encapsulate my feelings as I return home. But before I do that, I want to thank you for being my faithful readers and for taking the time to follow me around South East Asia. I've really enjoyed recounting my adventures for you, I only hope you enjoyed reading about them and that maybe that you were able to come out with some sort of cultural appreciation that you didn't have previously. Best of luck to all of you on your own travels, I hope to hear all about them! 

Two weeks away it feels like the world should've changed
But I'm home now
And things still look the same
I think I'll leave it to tomorrow till unpack
Try to forget for one more night
That I'm back in my flat on the road
Where the cars never stop going through the night
To real life where I can't watch sunset
I don't have time
I don't have time

I've still got sand in my shoes
And I can't shake the thought of you
I shake it all, forget you
Why, why would I want to
I know we said goodbye
Anything else would've been confused but I wanna see you again

Tomorrow's back to work down to sanitation
should've run back ?? before I left here
Try to Mama show her that I was happy here
Before I knew that I could get on the plane and fly away
From the road where the cars never stop going through the night
To real life where I can't watch sunset
And take my time
Take up our time

I wanna see you again
Two weeks away, all it takes to change in time around by falling
I walked away and never said that I wanted to see again

I wanna see you again
I wanna see you again 

- Dido, Sand in My Shoes

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


When I first arrived in Singapore I was quickly reminded of one thing: Christmas!! One of those cheezy songs was playing in the air and there were Christmas decorations everywhere! I was beyond thrilled. Yes, I'd like to walk in a winter wonderland. Yes we can go caroling and have pumpkin pie. Oh I really want some pumpkin pie. 

I took a cab to get to the hotel and my cab driver was a his rocker. He's a 68 year old crazy man who told me all about Singapore and gave me loads of life advice. For example, he said that Singapore looks nice to tourists but actually everyone is bankrupt. He also told me that the 3 things most important in my search for a husband (he was curious as to why this search hasn't begun yet): 1) he's healthy, I'm not sure if I start dating a guy with the common cold if he falls into that category but I will be sure to consult with crazy cab man at some later date 2) he smiles and he's handsome because you'll have to look at that face for the rest of your life 3) he's hard-working. I'd like to add 4) he likes the ballet. No, nevermind. I find that boring. 

Anyways, I wanted to tell you that all those rumors you've heard about Singapore being this clean oasis of bliss perfect for you everyday OCD clean-freak- well, they're all true. I didn't see a single piece of litter and I even used the bathroom at the public transit- and it was fine!! A Chicago CTA bathroom (does such a thing exist) would be very jealous. 

So our first day we did some shopping on Orchard Road (which is the thing to do in Singapore, especially for those looking to lighten their wallets by a significant proportion) and went to the Night Safari. I met this fabulous man at the airport in Mumbai- the director of an art school- who told that this was absolutely a "must-see." The Night Safari is directly across from the zoo and it's very much like a zoo but it's only viewable at night. At first we were a little hesitant because it seemed expensive and aren't the animals going to be asleep anyways? But no. Not only are they awake and wondering but you can get REALLY close to them. We're talking less than a foot away. Ok, so there's a small layer of glass separating the two of you but that's besides the point. Here are some photos to illustrate my point:

some kind of fancy kitty posing for me

No glass here- we walked into a bat cage and saw this guy face to face....this picture didn't even require zoom!

I hope you see what I see

The pair of lovers!

I used flash here just to expose the facial details- SO AWESOME!
My traveling partner and I also decided we should attempt to use Singapore's public transportation. 10 more points for Singapore- the system is incredibly efficient and intuitive. While very crowded, you know exactly what you're getting into: the trains are very clearly marked, a screen above them tells you exactly how long until the next train arrives and all the stops are clearly announced. In other words, these trains scoff at Indian trains. Sorry India but user-friendly is not quite part of your job description. 

The pristine MRT, Singapore's public transport system
 On our second day we went to Sentosa island which has basically been built up for tourism. In order to get to said island you take the MRT to Vivocity mall. Which is, like nearly every other building in Singapore, a mall- a very clean, expensive mall with lots of clean, expensive (and inexpensive if you're lucky) facilities. At Sentosa, we saw the Merlion (below) and Fort Siloso (which my travel partner calls Fort Samosa because it's easier to remember). We also took a journey to Little India later that night which was really was actually a lot like being in India with a few exceptions. When we tried to haggle with people and walked away, they didn't come chasing after us finally accepting that price they seemed they'd never accept. I also ended up being forced into buying a sweet coconut (whatever that is) with a straw for drinking it's milk. It was actually quite tasty but filling and I was already bursting at the seams from previous goodies. People liked when I said "Namaste," but didn't understand when I asked questions in Hindi. Oh, and the prices of everything were much more Singapori then Indian, alas. 

The Merlion 

food food food! at a Hawker center in Vivocity mall- the gateway to Sentosa island
Tune in later for more on Singapore! Spoiler: there are gardens in your future

Friday, December 3, 2010

Templicious...then GOA

This blogpost is going to be a recounting of my two week trip around south India in which we saw temple after temple after temple until they all looked the same and we were completely templed out. 

First, a quick note of the process of going to temples: first you head over to the "shoe-minder" who you leave your shoes with and you're forced to tip at the end for literally watching your shoes. (mind you, people do walk around barefoot all the time but it's hard to believe there's any crisis for shoes going on when they're all over the sides of the road, which I've never understood). Anyways, after that you pray that the stone isn't so hot it threatens to burn the soles off your feet and make your way to the temple. So you take a look around, maybe take some photos if they allow it, and then make your way out.

Now! On to those temples. On our first day out of Mysore we climbed an outcrop! This basically means we climbed a whole bunch of steps and found out how out of shape we've become. Below are some photos from said outcrop. Our purpose was of course to see the temple complex at the top but also to see this enormous (18 meter) carved stone statue- and by carved stone I mean that he was carved out of the mountain so...they could make no mistakes! And they didn't. He was flawless--well done, people! I'd tell you more about the history and such but I threw out my "field notes" and truth be told I wrote a 10 page paper talking about this...that's quite enough of that. 

Looking up from the bottom 
We reach the top!

The view from way up there
The man we'd all been waiting for
The next day we spent in the bus driving to Hospet, which is the gateway town to the ruins of the Vijayanagra capital. More on them here. Our drive was pretty uneventful aside from the bathroom stops which are always amusing. By bathroom stop I mean that our bus pulls to the side of the road and we all hop out. The boys are assigned to one side and the ladies to another and we all meander around trying to find the perfect bush to hide behind. As you can guess I'm now a master of the squatty-potty practice. 

When we finally got to Hospet, or at least as we approached it, we got into the traffic jam of the century (I'm really not kidding) where we sat in the bus for four more hours- I'm not sure if we ever moved but somehow we made it to Hospet. The jam was absolutely insane because it was just a mess of cars all sitting together--not normal gridlock, just lock. Awful awful awful.

We spent a day at the capital of Vijayanagra (or Vij, as we call it in the biz) seeing--you guessed it--about ten thousand temples. We even ate lunch in one of them! Here's some photos of them, but I'll warn you these places really all do look the same (however my trained eyes can distinguish between early-Vij and late-Vij architecture). 

The next day, we climbed a mountain! It was one of the highlights of the trip I really enjoyed the challenge. We kept going up and down and recalculating where we would try and climb because the path that's normally used was occupied by a large herd of goats and cows. Reaching the top was a great feeling and it was especially great because our whole group made it together (all 26 of us!). We then toured a megalith complex at the top of the mountain. Oh, and here's a photo of the cutest puppy. We found him in Hampi, near Vij. 

Please please pet me!

climbing up with the cows

here's me at the top!
The trip culminated with the last three days which we spent lying on a beach in Goa. Yes, it was incredible. Pina coladas and spicy crab and mojitos and SO MUCH SUN. I can't describe in words so here goes..

Oh and here's a mosque we went to at sunset

Yes I LOVE pina coladas- and getting caught in the sun


Thursday, December 2, 2010

Guess who's back

Well, I'm back in Pune. In fact I have been for a couple days but before you think I've been holding out on you, don't worry- I've been distracted by illness and paper-writing. And who wants to write a blog when they're writing a paper? No offense can only have so much writing in one day.

The good news is that I locked myself in a coffee shop today for a period of seven hours and got a lot done. The bad news is that I leave India tomorrow and I still have a lot of packing and writing to do. 

So I'll update the blog about my trip in FULL as soon as Saturday rolls around- I'll be in Singapore then, mind you. After that I'll find myself in Thailand and Hong Kong so you best stay along for the ride! I'm betting it'll be a fun one. I would leave you with a picture but, as we all know too well, the internet is just too awful here to support those kind of shenanigans. 

Toodles for now!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Let me start by saying that the last paper I wrote that was of any significant length (10 pages) was about psychology...which is a science, in case you didn't know. My point is that I'm a science-y kind of gal and I rather like that. So, when it came to writing a paper about historigraphy (which I'm not sure I'm even spelling correctly), I didn't even know where to begin. Needless to say, it was a painful experience that I'd rather not relive but what's important now is that I did it and now I happily return to writing blog posts. (Well, at least until a couple weeks from now when I'll undergo the paper-writing process yet again- this time with a much longer paper as the goal. 20 pages?! GAH!)

Moving right along, our last few days in Pune were filled with last-minute errand runs and a realization that I quickly become addicted to lattes. One errand run was rather interesting because we ended up in a rickshaw in the pouring rain. I was lucky to be in the middle, but the two girls on the sides got soaked. I love how susceptible we are to nature.

On to Mysore! It's quite an interesting place, I must say. It seems more developed in some ways- the buses here actually have numbers on them and say what route they're on. I wonder if they actually stop to pick up passengers. Oh, I don't think I mentioned: people who ride public transportation here end up chasing the buses down and jumping off them while they're still in motion, for whatever reason long ago it was decided that buses should not stop for those getting on or off. Interesting move on Pune's part. 

While I do believe that a blog post without pictures is better than no blog post at all, I really want to save descriptions of the amazing places we've been seeing until I can post pictures to accompany them. Until then I leave you with a list of some exciting things that happened today.

First off, I saw a cow being milked. It was fascinating, I've never seen that happen before. I really wanted to ask the guy milking if I could have a try but I resisted the urge knowing communicating that I wanted to milk his cow would inevitably result in me getting kicked out of town if not worse.

Also, I got a sari. Pics to follow!

Happy Thanksgiving (early I know, but I might not have internet again until after then) to everyone in the states! Eat LOTS of stuffing and such for me. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Dearest, darlingest readers,

I wanted to give you the quickest of notes to let you know that I am, in fact, alive and I haven't (and will not) abandoned you. Fear not, two papers and lots of travel have kept me away from you but (at least for now) I'm here to keep you up-to-date on my adventures in India. 

Tomorrow I promise (and this will not be a politician's promise) a lovely blog post detailing my past couple days in Mysore as well as the last few in Pune. We started on a trip this past Sunday that will take us to about six different locations in southern India over the period of two weeks, starting with Mysore and ending in Goa. 

Until tomorrow, my dears

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Festival of Lights

Yesterday, while heading home from class, a group of us girls we were asked if we wanted to partake in getting henna. Henna, or Mehendi as they call it here, is a type of temporary tattoos that is commonly drawn on women here for festivals and weddings. One girl had her lower arms completely covered in a really ornate design--it was incredible. Some college students from a marketing college were doing a fundraiser and it was only Rs.50 (about $1) for a line. 

My good friend Laura gets her tattoo done
The designs varied for each hand and the artist wasn't using a stencil so I imagine she was just coming up with them on the spot. Very impressive I must say. Each design looked slightly similar but they were definitely all quite unique.

As we were finishing with the process of getting our tattoos, it started to rain. By the end when everyone had wet ink on their skin, the drizzle had turned into a downpour. We're talking monsoon level here. Oh, did I forget to mention that the Mehendi has to dry for at least 20 minutes? After that you can scrape off the black solid and see the orange dye underneath. Some women wait as long as five hours...and let me tell you after waiting 40 minutes, I can't imagine what those women do with themselves without the use of their hand(s). I guess before you get married you have a day filled with sitting and waiting for your tattoos to have their full incubation period. 

Luckily enough we called and managed to get the hotel to pick us up in a car but they pulled up right next to a raging river (the kind formed by the monsoon rains) so we all got soaked. When we got back to the hotel we had a special Diwali lunch and, for the first time, I ate an entire meal like an Indian. To clarify: Indians usually eat with their left hand in their lap, they never use it to touch their food or to shovel delicious morsels into their mouths. They do this because they have a different method of cleaning themselves after using the restroom that leaves them thinking this hand represents filth and should not touch food or maybe even other people for that matter. Anyways, I was quite proud of myself for managing to eat an entire meal (in which the hands are used with the puri or naan or other bread) with only the use of my right hand. 10 points for Christendor. 

These would certainly not be legal in the US
Now onto Diwali!! The festival of lights brought so much celebration and generally happiness, I've never experienced anything like it. We spent a lot of time setting of copious amounts of fireworks and sparklers, most of which I've never seen the likes of before. Why, you might ask...oh, right- because they are most commonly thought of as causing certain death in America. And perhaps this is very legitimate seeing as I did spend the whole time jumping away from things that looked as if they were on the verge of explosion. And of course, they were. While as far as I saw there wasn't anything that killed anyone, there was an incident with a passerby. We shot off this one explosion that sent sparks soaring extremely high. When they shot back to the earth one made its way directly into the purse of a passerby. She was very upset and came over complaining that there was now a gaping hole in her purse. hehe. 

Sparkler Shape!
After all the sparklers and celebration we enjoyed a lovely Thali dinner out with our professor, TA, and Hindi professor (they're quite the adorable trio).

Delicious thali dinner
 Diwali continues on until Sunday night so I want to leave you with another wish for a very Happy Diwali!!!
A design made of power on the floor of the entrance to our hotel