Owner: You're from America? Me: Yep! Owner: New York? Me: Yah, actually! Ownder: Oh! My son is studying in... It-a-ca this semester. Exchange. Laurel and I stand there with our jaws open.
Please consider the odds. With Laurel here, there are 4 Ithacans in Singapore. NTU sends 2-3 students on exchange each semester. There are 4.5 million people living in Singapore. That is pretty impressive.
Alicia, Jen, and I woke up with plans to leave at 6 am Thursday morning, but of course Jeremy was missing. We went and knocked on his door and woke him up, so after he got dressed and packed his bag we were able to leave. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time though, and flew to Macau. From there we took a boat to Hong Kong, and arrived in the city around 4. After wandering the street that we knew our hostel was on for 15 minutes with no luck locating the place, we finally learned that the lobby and desk of the place was on the 13th floor of a building we saw. We checked in and headed out for our first official Chinese meal.
I should have known that eating was going to be an experience, since Jeremy and I have two very different takes on fine cuisine. Still, we let him lead and he decided on a tiny, hole in the wall place where the staff did not speak English and they did not have an English menu. Think of a take out place where you wait to pick up your food. That's where we were. Alicia and I pretty much walked out within the first minute, but the man assured us that one of his diners (there were 3) spoke English and could translate for us. I explained to him that I only ate chicken and rice, but Jeremy suggested he picked his favorite food for us to try, so within 2 minutes we had gelatin-like mushroom soup and curry squid. Then came fish balls and some veggies, but I was not impressed. Since Alicia and I hardly ate there, we got to pick another place to try out, where I got a a very nice dish of fried rice with vegetables.
We went to a karaoke bar because it was Jen's birthday, but after such a long day we headed back to they hostel before 10. We watched some television before passing out, but got up early the next morning to head to Disneyland Hong Kong.
I've never been to any Disney before, but as much fun as I had I have to admit that the hype about Disney was a little much. (I'm also nearly 21 and was in Hong Kong, so maybe that had something to do with it.) We were such thrifty moms though, and packed peanut butter, jelly, and a loaf of bread so we didn't have to pay for expensive park food. Thank good, since they served noodles and rice instead of pizza and chicken nuggets. I think my favorite part of the day was seeing all of the different shows and performances. It made me miss dancing a lot, but remember how much I loved performing.
All weekend we took pictures the three girls, and then one of Jeremy, but at some points he went a little picture happy and made us take them in front of silly things. This photo is one example of our joy for this. When I get home you will have to ask me to see the entire trips photos though. There is a fun trend to them.
After watching the fireworks at the end of the night, we headed back to the main strip where out hostel was, and planned to get something to eat. Somehow we returned to that first restaurant Jeremy love and affectionate named "Uncle Bob's." This evening there was a college aged girl who helped us order, and did so a little more effectively. Since it was Friday during Lent I wasn't eating meat, so I asked her to order me rice and mixed vegetables. Unfortunately, that didn't translate perfectly and I ended up with a bowl of rice and a bowl of bean sprouts. Still, it was edible and I dealt with it.
We headed back to our hostel and were disappointed when the television stopped working. To pass the time before bed we passed around a juice box and took turns telling a bedtime story. Very cute, but I think Jeremy was killed in the story about 8 times.
On Saturday we slept until 10 before exploring the city. I am not sure exactly what I was expecting Hong Kong to be like, but it didn't really match my vision. Maybe it's because I've been in South East Asia for so long now and have visited so many different cities. But this one just reminded me of the rest of them, with a little more NYC in it. We even visited Time Square and walked past all of the designer stores. During the day we also walked through some parks, one that had an "Olympic Stadium" in it. I took this as a good sign that the Olympics and China would meet for me again!
The best thing I think we did in Hong Kong was visit Victoria Peak, which overlooks all of Hong Kong. The city, as you may be able to see from the clothes in the pictures, was much colder than Singapore and a big adjustment. I would just like to state again, how happy I am to be missing winter by being hear. On top of the peak was most cold though, and combined with the wind was almost unbearable. We saw the view at both the day and in the evening, and it was much more beautiful at night.
On Sunday we headed back to Macau to explore "the Las Vegas of South East Asia," but were disappointed. I have never been to Vegas, but I am pretty sure if I traveled there 40 years ago, Macau may have resembled it. It was an old looking city, with little to do other than the casinos, I suppose. We went to a market that was disappointingly small, and I was then served my worst meal of the semester. They, again, did not have English menus, but the owner spoke very good English. I asked him for rice and chicken, which I thought was pretty basic. What I got, though, was a chicken, sliced in half, boiled, and his bones removed. It was awful and I was done before the dish even got to the table. Jeremy told me he likes eating around me. We visited some parks and Jeremy made us pose for more pictures, and then we just headed to the airport early.
On another note, I want a Chinese baby. Does anyone think they can help me?! haha. All of the children here are beautiful, so if anyone is thinking of adopting I strongly recommend a Chinese girl.
On Sunday, our Chinese New Year host, Alez, and his father took Michele, Kiko, and me on a tour of the farms in the north-west part of the island. We started by going to a "coffee shop" for breakfast. Now to me that meant cute muffins and toast, but it was a traditional hawkers center. His dad ordered for us, so I ended up eating what I equate to beef broth and noodles at 9 am. Oye.
After breakfast we began our fish farm visits. The first place we saw was not for edible fish, but those that you would put in a pond outside your house. We saw some that looked like giant goldfish, but as we progressed they got bigger and bigger. I don't know what sort of ponds some Singaporeans have, but by the end these fish were bigger than I am! I know this sounds like a fisherman's story, but I swear I could have ridden one back to the states.
We next headed to a fish farm where you buy fish for food. After watching some swim around in little pools, Alez's dad picked one out as our dinner. Fishie was scooped into a bucket and taken behind a counter, which is when I stopped watching so I would be able to eat later. We learned that these fish don't have that terrible fish smell when you cook them because the pools they swim in have really clean water that clean out their insides. Yummm.
After we had enough fish, our group went to the Bollywood Organic Vegetable Farm, where we toured the grounds and looked at all the different plants and bananas! Did you know that there are over 500 different types of bananas, so you could spend over a year trying a different kind each day!? The leaves on some of the trees there were honestly bigger than I am. They reminded me of blankets.
After our tour of the area, we took a break and met up with Alez in his dorm later in the evening. He cooked us Fishie and some greens that we bought at the veggie farm. We of course had rice, and his roommate actually made us a chicken stew too. Did you know that in Singapore it is traditional for the men to cook? Hear that boys at home?!
The fish was surprising good, once I stopped calling him Fishie and just ate. They made me try his cheek though, because it is supposed to be the most tender part, and I didn't care for that so much. Overall, though, I was pretty proud of myself! Poor Fishie though!
Laurel is coming to Singapore April 3-11!! I am so excited to get to share my new home with someone from home, and am already beginning to plan all the places she needs to see and the people she has to meet!
The invitation stands, if anyone else wants to fly over here too! *wink*
When we finally arrived in Vietnam, our bus spent an hour trying to drive through the city. Our reservations had been cancelled at the hostel we had planned to stay at, so we improvised and stopped at the first one we came across. It was very nice and had 2 empty rooms, so we took it!
The boys were determined to have suits made, so that was our first stop. I considered getting a nice one custom made, but they were a bit pricey and I am already fretting on how to get everything home at the end of the semester. After Michele and I decided what fabrics and designs would look good, they had their measurements taken and we headed to dinner.
Right next to the tailor's was an ADORABLE Italian place. We were seated, and I almost cried looking at the menu. A lot from excitement, but also memories Everything on it was real Italian food, from risotto to gnocchi and it just made me think of Turin. Calendar wise, March 2 was also my last day in Turin last year, so maybe my subconscious had something to do with it.
We woke up early on Saturday and met our tour guide at 8. We, of course, took a BUS tour of the city, so my celebration of buses being over was squashed. Our guide, although very friendly, did not speak very clear English so he wasn't always helpful.
We first went to the war museum, where they had old tanks and planes, as well as photos and historic relics. My favorite part of the museum was the section that told the story of journalists covering the war, but that's because I'm a dork. The history geek in me was satisfied too.
We then went to the Reunification Palace, which was the workplace of the President of South Vietnam during the war and the site of the official handover of power during the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Our tour guide was pretty decipherable here, which made the tour much more valuable.
We saw the Notre Dame Cathedral (yes we were still in Ho Chi Minh), the post office, and a temple. We then grabbed lunch, and the four of us went to the Ho Chi Minh museum on our own.
We though the museum was going to be about the city, but were surprised to learn it was actually about the man. The museum was full of cups that he drank out of and pens that he used. VERY historic. I guess my joking about it caught up to me, though, because I fell down the stairs AGAIN as we were leaving, but Sascha caught me and saved me from taking as bad of a fall. Please note, my Old Navy flip flops are being retired after that trip.
We shopped a very little on our way back to the hostel, and then had dinner and played cards at night. The following morning we got up early, picked up the boys suits, and headed home. We waiting in line at immigration for a long time, but flew back in to Singapore with no troubles. It did, however, start pouring the moment we got off the plane. Classic Singapore. Some things never change.
We had bought our bus tickets through our hotel, so at 12:30 we boarded a coach bus (no more vans, thank goodness) and embarked on the next leg of our trip. I have become very good at putting my headphones in and sleeping on public transportation, so I dosed for a while on the bus ride, even though I had done nothing to require sleep. I am also a pro at curling up in a bus seat, with my feet resting on the back of the seat in front of me and my body curled to the inside. It's a sight, I'm sure, since the boys said my body shouldn't bend like that.
Now, while sleeping on a bus doesn't seem like an incredible feat, you need to understand Cambodian buses and driving. When there are paved roads, they do (gasp) have yellow lines down the center. Yet, they apparently mean nothing. We passed other cars and trucks regardless of solid and dotted lines, and without care to curves and oncoming traffic. Honking the horn is common and happened EVERY 45 seconds, as a way to say "hey, there's a car behind you". In some instances it made sense, as a warning to motos that a big bus was coming up behind them. But when we were behind a row of cars and oncoming traffic, I am still unsure what honking accomplished.
5 hours later (remember we were told 2) we arrived in Phnom Penh and were again mobbed by drivers, this time of tuk-tuks. We wanted to buy bus tickets to Vietnam before going to our hostel, but the bus station didn't seem to sell them. The man who was following us and offering to take us to our hostel also offered to drive us in his tuk-tuk to Vietnam, but we passed on that.
We finally agreed to hire this man to bring us to the hostel, and he swore that all five of us could fit, no problem. Well, 4 would have been a very tight squeeze, never mind and additional five large backpacks. We gave it a go anyway, since we were afraid of getting split up, but I am pretty sure we broke his tuk-tuk. It sputtered a sad put-tuk-tuk-put-put as we started, and the noises only got worse as we travelled on. After driving around the city for an hour and stopping for directions for multiple times, our driver confessed to us that he did not know where our hostel was, and he was worried about his tuk-tuk, so he transferred us to his friend's ride. This one was newer, and the man knew where we were going. Progress.
We finally arrived and settled in to our rooms. Since it was already dark and the city was very busy but seemed the least safe of all of our visits, we decided to just eat in our hostel and stay in. The hostel played the movie "The Killing Fields" which was about the war in Cambodia, so that was a perfect way to spend our evening. We went to sleep early, since apparently doing nothing all day can make you as tired as an active day.
The next morning Rachel met up with the other group and we boarded another bus, this time for Vietnam. 6 more hours, I told myself repeatedly, and we will be done with buses. Thank goodness we were flying home.
Another reason I was not a huge fan of Phonom Penh may be because I fell down the stairs there. Our room was on the third floor, and although I am no longer surprised by narrow and steep staircases, this one was slippery as well. And, as most of you know, Old Navy flip flops do not help with traction. Thankfully we were done with the beach, because I have some awful bruises from my upper thigh up my back and shoulder.