Thursday, December 27, 2007

holidays pics + ...invasion!

some assorted pics from my brief return to the US for the holidays:
and it would seem as if the invasion has finally begun (beware jason)...

Monday, December 24, 2007

fröhliche Weihnachten...and Snoopy

back in Cincinnati for just a few short days (living it up on sister Mandi's basement couch while the parents visit). wrapping presents, digging through tons of mail, cramming some quality Guitar Hero III time (thank's Kat!), and enjoying some quality family tension. back on a plane in 2 days!

Friday, December 21, 2007


i'm working...really.

thanks to my friend ambika for putting me up on my stop in chicago
(her apt has a sweet lake-view, no orchard scotts, but it will do).

next stop, cincinnati!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Barun lives!

after a sitting in a monastery and wandering Nepal + Thailand for the past month, Barun finally makes it to Singapore, only for me to send him off to Cambodia.
...and he grew a beard. welcome to Singapore Barun (and Debbie).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

week in review - holiday hulabaloo FINALE

note the awesome central story (bittersweet):

Monday, December 17, 2007

phuket - learning how to do nothing

for our last weekend in asia before returning home for the holidays, we jetted off to thailand, where we relaxed in phuket (click above for photos, which are far FEWER than from recent trips, and hardly do any of the islands justice).

our first day we caught a boat to the more remote (it's all relative) ko phi phi island, which was pretty amazing, but a little too active - snorkling in maya bay, and kayaking to monkey beach to feed bananas to the natives. most of sunday was spent sitting around the beaches of phuket doing much of nothing: reading, swimming, sitting, eating, reading, sitting, swimming, etc.

i'm a shade or two darker now.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

ho chi minh, vietnam, pictures speak far too loud.

after obtaining visas (an especially drawn out process for Americans), we finally made our journey to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. we stayed in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), but spent most of our time exploring the outer areas (to Cu Chi and the famed tunnels, as well as to the Mekong Delta). more than enjoying some great food (Pho!), we also received a recent history through a different lens (there, it's known there as "the American War").

beyond the history lesson, all things considered, i really enjoyed my time in Vietnam. it's one of the most naturally beautiful countries i've visited, and her people remain resilient, resourceful and optimistic, despite years of being ravaged by foreign imperialism and impoverishing communism alike. i only wish i had been given more time out here to explore the entire country because in and around Ho Chi Minh City did not cut it. this is definitely a place one can spend weeks, if not months, and a return trip is definitely on my lifetime agenda.

per the usual pattern, i'm posting pictures ahead of my narrative and observation, but all of these are captioned, so please read through them. be warned, you might not be comfortable with everything you see, but i'd encourage you to go out and seek more information about something our modern society chooses to turn a blind eye to. the SIX albums i'm sharing below barely scratch the surface of some of the things we saw. sadly, it looks as if we are prone to repeating many mistakes of the past...

siem reap, cambodia - TOO many pics.

since i'm far too behind on my posts, i've gone ahead and put up the pics from our trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia, a few weekends ago. Cambodia is an amazing country that is just recovering the burden of a horrifying genocide from recent history (1975-1979). yet somehow the countries youth (almost 40% of the population is under the age of 20) has slowly, but surely rebounded, focusing on promoting the amazing sites which their ancestors blessed them with

our first two days were spent exploring the many temples of the ancient Angkor empire. our final day was spent on the water at the floating village south of the city. i'll [eventually] get to the official narrative and observations; but for now, click on any picture below to enjoy one of EIGHT photo albums...

chocolate (not vanila) frosty in manila.

who knew? in the cafeteria of the P&G offices here there was a Wendy's stand - a rare treat in South Asia where Wendy's (and Krispy Kreme) are two American chains you will not easily find (though soon in Malaysia is opening four!). though i find it amusing that they served me a (frozen) Frosty in a cup that said "hot coffee!" it was still delicious.

but alas, no spicy chicken sandwich. i shall see you again soon, my friend...

jurong is for the birds.

just before my dAd left Singapore, we took him to the Jurong Bird Park, on the far west side of the island. click below for the pictures:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

malaysian borneo sounds way cooler than kuching, sarawak.

the asian narrative continues, at my usual pace of 2+ weeks later (and falling further and further behind). my dAd came out for a quick visit a few weeks back. Kat + i, determined to waste no more weekends in Singapore, and desperate to find somewhere ELSE to go. randomly wound up selecting Kuching, the capital city of Sarawak, one of 2 Malaysian states on Borneo (the world's 3rd largest island, also shared with Indonesia and the small kingdom of Brunei) our story (cue dramatic/polka music)...

dad came in at the usual US arrival time of ridiculous-o-clock (6am). after the usual excitement wore down, i gave him the standard tour of the apartment grounds, and got him online to check his cricket scores (India VS Pakistan, apparantly a big deal, even though they play eachother like a gazillion times a year). after getting ready for work, i took him into the office to briefly show him around (and let him know the ways of the mighty MRT). dad's one comment about my hi-rise office that is the hub of all south-Asian marketing for P&G: "how do you guys get any work done here?"

indeed dad. indeed.

kat was going to show him around town, but he was keen to get back home to watch the rest of the afternoon cricket match (typical dad :). got back from work, grabbed our bags + caught a cab to the airport. since the only tickets available TO kuching were business class, we chilled in the Silk Air lounge (quite possibly the most working-man's lounge i've been in...chips + ramen noodles) before boarding our flight.

upon arrival, we were greeted by a young Chinese man with Kat's name on a sheet of paper, who took us to his older car + drove us off. Anson was his name, a chinese native of Kuching, whose parents ran the guesthouse we were staying at, the Fairview. we got to our rooms and settled in, antsy to see something, anything (as i usually when arriving by night in a city). by now it was ~10pm, and Anson said the waterfront was a short walk away, so we made our way out for a bit, saw the river, a crazy big structure across the river, some closing street vendors, and opted to walk back. before calling it a night, we flipped through our guidebooks, picked out an itinerary for the next day, and call it a night.

up earlier than i would have liked (8am), had a quick breakfast of coffee/tea, eggs, toast, and fruit cooked by Anson's mom + dad (guesthouses are great). dad checked his cricket scores, and soon Anson arrived to take us to our destination - the Bako National Park, some 30km north of the city.

Baku is a rainforest/beach park on one of the northern tips of Borneo, completely cut off by massive jungle. the only way to access it is by driving to a small river far north of the city and hiring a speedboat to take you out to sea, around to the tip of the small peninsula. the tide was slow to come in today, and thus the water level of the river was quite low. the surrounding waterfront, full of small houses, was largely exposed.

the few boats available that day had just taken a large group ahead of us, so we wound up waiting a good 2.5 hours at the park station waiting for the tide to rise and bring the boats back. dad + i debated politics, amusing Kat w/ our antics, passing the time in the heat. by 12pm, we were good to go, and joined by a young woman from Finland (Joanna). the river was somewhat calm, and we passed many locals going about their business on their small canoes.

we soon exited the mouth of the river, onto the South China Sea. in the distance there was a small island, we could see the jungle coastline of the Bako. it was a peaceful trip. and then we got further out to sea, watching the tide come in. the waves hit us hard as we sped against them, jumping inches, then feet into the air. some of the jumps became quite violent and high, our boatman riding alongside the waves, only occasionally jumping them when absolutely necessary. the violent boat ride was definitely a highlight. despite everyone's obvious fear for life and limb, i tried to allay any apprehension by looking at it as a great ride, more authentic than anything you'll find at a theme park. besides, we had life jackets on. what could go wrong

after about 15 minutes of some crazy wave jumping, we approached the entry way to the park. we couldn't dock, given the tide was still low, so our boatman jumped out the back and started pushing us towards the exposed waterfront. we walked the rest of the way to the main docks, and found our way to the park's official entrance, where we stopped for a quick local lunch at the cantina, where we were greeted by a monkey taking a last sip from someone's leftover coke can.

we made our way out to the trails. before entering the forest, there was almost a 1/2 km of elevated walkway above the water, surrounded by trees, from which we could see the tide quickly racing in for the day. the forest and cliffs above us were inviting and intimidating. as we entered the forest, we picked the shortest trail (0.8km), since we only had a few hours on the island, and the terrain was known to be tough.

at first the trail seemed easy enough, with walkways and railings built in appropriately, but as we ascended further into the jungle, it became anything but easy. gnarled roots challenged our feet, moss-covered rocks became naturally stacked stairways up and down, and the thick jungle canopy shaded us, while trapping much of the humidity in. the trail snaked its way around the outer perimeter of the park, went up, down, and up again. throughout the hike, we got a few peeks out to sea, and even heard the starting to to fally heavily, but we were protected by the jungle and felt only a light drizzle.

after about an hour or so, the rain subsided, and we finally arrived at our destination, a small alcove opening to the sea, surrounded by cliffs. we walked out to the fallen trees and watched the tide continue to rush in. we took a break inside the small sanctuary built, and soon saw a few monkeys sneaking out to the waterfront. we went out to greet them for a bit, and soon turned around and made our way back the the park's main station.

the trail back went much faster than the way out, probably because we knew how far, and what to expect. by the time we got back to the main walkway on the water, the tide had risen significantly. we took a break in a few of the sanctuaries, where dad made quick friends with some school teachers from the main Malaysian peninsula.

we eventually made our way back to the main station, and took a break with cookies and coke. we started another nearby trail, but didn't have long until we were due back at our boat. what was once a gentle beach now had the water rushing onto the mainland. the trail back to the main docks was flooded, and just as we were getting back onto our boat, we watched the elevated wooden walkway flood over.

our Finnish friend was walking late, and since the walkways were flooding with the fast rising tide, we had to pick her up from an elevated bridge. the trip back on the ocean was rough, but not as disruptive as our trip out. we enjoyed the jumping waves and the view back to the river.

upon returning back to the main boat station, we were surprised to find how high the river level had risen. we dried off as we waited around for Anson to return to pick us up. we arrived, and we gave Joanna a ride back to her guesthouse, where she and Anson pointed out a few options for a local dinner.

back at the guesthouse, we all cleaned up, and walked out into the city in search of dinner. we opted for a nicer restaurant, relaxed outside, and enjoyed a fine meal on the cheap. we walked to the riverfront from the night before, and perused a number of shops before heading back to the Fairview to crash, exhausted from our day's adventures.

slept in, packed our stuff to check in storage, and had breakfast courtesy of Anson's mom, we made our way into the city to go exploring on our last day. the first thing we did was head to the weekend market, just behind a run down shopping center. we were greeted by the sites and sounds of the weekend commerce of fresh meet and vegetables (but mostly smelly dead fish). made for some great pictures though:

from the market, we walked through the more Islamic neighborhoods in search of the local mosque, but instead found the Sikh temple. dad wandered in alone (much to my own chagrin, as i assume Sikh's are particular about their temples...much like the Mormons), while Kathryn + i relaxed in the park, taking pics of the nearby elusive mosque.

dad eventually emerged (unscathed, thankfully), and we proceeded through the streets to the riverfront market, trying to hunt for something to eat. nothing struck dad's fancy, so we wandered along to the main intersection we had walked both nights before.

Lebanese was on the menu for lunch, as we proceeded up the street, wandering into a nice little restaurant tucked away in an archway. we relaxed and enjoyed the breeze, babaganoush, and french fries. from there, we eventually wandered up the street to the Sarawak museum. pictures were allowed in the more interesting, but less culturarly significant contemporary exhibit, but not so much in the historic wing, which featured scale + walk in models of the native long houses.

we returned to the guesthouse and took a break for a bit, enjoying a cold drink. Anson returned, and we were soon off in his car to the Semenggoh Wildlife Centre to see some orangutans. we watched our scenic drive out of the city transfer from suburban sprawl to rural spread.

upon getting to the park, we immediately saw two of the orangutans playing in the trees, but it soon began to rain hard. we raced to the nearby shelter, and crowded in with all of the other visitors. the rain soon subsided, and were allowed into the reserve proper, where we hiked a 1/2 km into the thick forest to the viewing platform.

Semenggoh is a park where rescued orangutans are rehabilitated and trained to live back in the wild.z but given the local jungle did not have enough food, there was one feeding time a day, where the park laid out food on a platform, and visitors could view from afar. the food (mostly bananas and papayas) were laid out on the platform, and there was no activity. we could hear rustling in trees, but after 15 minutes or so, no apes. many of the people left, but we stuck it out, having nothing left to do during our stay in Sarawak. eventually, they began lumbering out the trees. there was one large male, easily 3x the size of a large person, accompanied by 2 females. other younger males jumped around in the trees above, not allowed near the food until the alpha male had taken his pick. we watched them eat for another 15 mins before it was time for us to leave, humbled and amazed by our large, furry, orange cousins.

upon returning into the city, Anson dropped us off near Chinatown, where we walked by many of the infamous crazy cat statues (the city's namesake, after all). the late afternoon was becoming evening, and we were eager to find some local fare to eat before heading to the airport.

we wound up back on the riverfront, and found some hawker centers serving just the stir-fry my dad was looking for. surprisingly, it met the Raj Sehgal seal of approval. just as we began eating though, the rain came pouring down around us. we huddled under the restaurant canopy and enjoyed the scene. once the torrential downpour subsided to a heavy drizzle, we ran across the street into the nearby hotel, and hailed a cab back to our guesthouse.

we cleaned up, grabbed our bags, and chilled in the lobby. Anson told us how the guest house was inherited by his family from his great uncle, one of the great citizens of Sarawak. he even showed us some of the books written about him, of which i purchased one. we threw our stuff into the car, and Anson carted us off the airport. along the way, we continued our conversation w/ our host, this time talking more about his ambitions. what came out was interesting, but not surprising...

Anson's family is part of the Malaysian Chinese minority. most of the country (peninsular + Borneo) is Malay, which is effectively Islamic. in an attempt to rally nationalism, the government has become very pro-Malay, and in turn, anti-Chinese, causing hardships for many of the Chinese youth to get ahead in society. an example Anson gave was that if he wanted to get into med school, he'd have to have perfect "A scores", whereas a local Malay could get by on C's. this sort of regressive approach to schooling and careers in a nation, while politically motivated, is clearly detrimental and shameful. but sadly, it's nothing new in this world.

we arrived at the airport, and bid our host goodbye. i spent the last of of my Malaysia Ringits on a superhero pencil case, dad stopped at a coffee shop, and we were soon off, back to Singapore, sweet, sweet Singapore...
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