Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Partyin' Partyin' Yeah!

I'm pretty sure our whole time in Thailand, we never stopped making fun of Rebecca Black and talking about how awful her life will be when she goes to high school and college. So that is the backdrop for our ballin' week in Thailand.

We started off in Phuket, which is a large touristy island off the coast of Thailand. One of the first meals I ate was pad thai, which was amazinggg. Everything in Phuket was chill, so it shouldn't have come as any surprise when we ran into a guy with a baby elephant in the street.

On our second day, we decided to take a boat tour around to the surrounding islands. We got to see Maya Beach where Leonardo DiCaprio filmed The Beach, we got to snorkel with the fish, and we went to the Phi Phi Islands which have some of the nicest beaches in Thailand. The water out there was amazingly blue, and the cliffs were so tall.

The beaches had the whitest sand ever too. Phi Phi was basically a paradise.

The sad thing though was that we didn't have enough time in Phuket. The day after our boat trip, we had to catch a 12 hour bus ride to Bangkok, the capital of Thailand. The bus didn't leave until 6:00, but we had to be ready to be picked up at 3:45. We were planning on going to the beach in the morning, but it rained so we were stuck just sleeping and eating all morning.

And although Kenny gave me a hard time about booking a bus instead of a plane to Bangkok, it turned out to be a fun adventure. We watched a Thai TV show that featured an ape looking guy with the voice of a 5-year old. And after that was over we watched Black Swarm in Thai, which is a movie about killer bees. And it's so much funnier when you don't know what they're saying because then you can make up everything that is going on. Bees were stinging people and turning them into zombies, and people who had been stung were vomiting bees at other people... We found it to be a very humorous movie.

Once we arrived in Bangkok, we needed to take a taxi to our hostel. Luckily, the only guy who spoke English knew where we were going, so he told us he would take us there for 450 baht (a little more than $20). Only later when we took a metered taxi did we realize how much this guy had ripped us off. And since we got to our hostel early, there was no one to check us in, so we slept in the lobby of the hotel next door and got some nice street food for breakfast.

After a couple hours, we decided it was time to get out and see the city. We decided the Grand Palace would be a good place to start, since we didn't know anywhere else to go. And that's when the adventure started. We told our taxi driver that we wanted to go to the Grand Palace and he seemed confused, but then it was as if a light bulb went off in his head and he finally knew where we were going... Except he didn't. He ended up dropping us off at the Centara Grand Hotel. So we had to go inside and ask the concierge to flag a cab for us and tell the driver where we were going.

When we finally got to the palace, some guy outside told us that it was only open to Thai people until 2:30 (which is what they tell every tourist) and sent us on a tuk-tuk ride around the city. We went to a temple with a giant buddha statue and then went to a tailors and a jewelry shop. Kenny and Austin decided to get tailored suits, and I settled for a tailor-made dress shirt. After that, we finally made it back to the Grand Palace. We managed to see some of the temples that were at the palace before it started to rain, and then we just got a glimpse of the palace before we decided to leave.

After we left, we tried to find our tuk-tuk driver so he could take us back to the tailor for our fittings, but he was nowhere to be found. We tried killing some time by wandering around and trying lots of delicious street food, but it seemed that he had disappeared so we decided to take a taxi back to the tailor. This guy was a true tourist scammer. He asked us if we had a phone so he could call the tailor (don't ask me why he needed to do that) even though all of our phones were international phones. And then later, his phone rang and he answered it. So he obviously had his own phone, he just didn't want to use it. He also took us the long way so that we got stuck in traffic and ran the meter up just for waiting. And when we got to the tailor, we tried to pay him with a 100 baht bill, but he told us he didn't have any change. What kind of taxi driver doesn't have change??

But at least we got there. After leaving, we needed to then take a taxi back to our hostel. Which is in such a remote part of town that not many people know where it is. So we finally find a cab that knows where we're going. And as we're driving, we pass a 7-Eleven that is right next to a Vietnamese restaurant. Since that is directly next to our hostel, we told him to turn around. And after getting stuck in traffic on the highway, he drops us off there. Except that wasn't where our hostel was... so we had to get another tuk-tuk to take us back. And at around 8:00pm, we finally made it back to our hostel to enjoy some good food and go to bed.

The next morning, we started off the day with a disgusting amount of delicious street food.

Our task for the day was to go the Vimanmek Mansion and find some shopping. Luckily, the first taxi we found didn't have much trouble getting to where we needed to be. The first thing we saw when we got there was the parliament building, which housed an arts exhibit.

In order to go inside we had to dress properly, so we had to buy some Thai-style sarongs, but I liked to say that Kenny and Austin were forced to wear skirts.

Unfortunately, they didn't actually allow photography inside the buildings. And if they hadn't taken our cameras at the entrance, I definitely would have snuck in a few pictures because it was absolutely amazing inside.

Our ticket to that allowed us to see other things, including the Royal Elephant Museum and the Vimanmek Mansion Museum.

This mansion is the largest teakwood mansion in the world and used to be the royal palace before the new one was built. After visiting the mansion, we decided to head to Siam Square, which is where our front desk told us we could find shopping. And boy did we find shopping. There were malls attached to each other with 5 or 6 stories, and inside were shops along with markets. Anything that you wanted, you could find here.

So after a successful day in Bangkok, Austin and I decided it was time to get a true Thai massage. Luckily, we found a really nice place right down the street from our hostel called Magic Hands. The name may make you laugh, but it was a really legit place. We payed 150 baht (mad cheap) for an hour massage, and they washed our feet beforehand and gave us warm tea and hot towels afterwards. If it wasn't our last day and if I hadn't already taken out a loan from the Bank of Ricky, I definitely would have gone back there.

But unfortunately we had to leave for the airport at 6:45 the next morning to head back to Singapore. And now here we are, studying hard and taking our final exams. The only thing getting me through this time is the anticipation of my last two trips and my return home! I can't wait to see everyone soon!! xoxo


Singapore Sling Me Baby

After our return from Malaysia, we decided it was finally time to visit the Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel, which was the birthplace of the Singapore Sling. There isn't really any special taste to this drink (except that it's really sweet), but if you're in Singapore you have to say that you tried the original Singapore Sling. So we read up on the history of the Singapore Sling in the menu and decided to give it a try for ourselves.

The price was a little on the expensive side, and if we were thinking of going there today I definitely wouldn't have the money for it, but at the time it was fun! And we got lots of free peanuts... it was just like Five Guys where you eat the peanuts and throw the shells on the ground. So if you have a peanut allergy, this is not the place for you! Come to think of it, if you have a peanut allergy, you probably shouldn't be in Asia...

But anyways, now that we've tried the Singapore Sling, we can check one more thing off of our list of things to do in Singapore. And we can move on to our list of things to do in Thailand!


In My Pants

I can't believe the semester is almost over... Finals are upon us and there are less than two weeks before I leave for home! And once again, I've fallen behind on updating my blog =( So first things first, I'll tell all about our trip to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the Petronas Formula 1 race.

The races were Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, but not much was going on for the first two days, so we used Friday to do all of our sightseeing in KL (there isn't much to see, so one day was enough). We started off very early at the Petronas twin towers, which used to be the tallest towers in the world until they were surpassed by Taipei 101. The only problem was that ticket sales start at 8:30am, and it's first come first served. So we got there at 6:15....

None of us were really fully awake either, so we were all lying on the ground in line until the security guards told us we had to stand up. We then proceeded to play those hand games that all little kids in elementary school played, and even got the Mexicans to teach us some of their games that Evan and I didn't know. Once ticket sales started at 8:30, we were almost the first to get tickets. We wanted to go all the way up to the top, but the first visit to the top wasn't until 11:00 which we weren't going to sit around and wait for, so we chose to go up to the sky bridge at 9:20.

From up there on the 41st floor, you could get a pretty good view of the surrounding city.

After our visit to the Petronas towers, we headed out to the Batu Caves, which has the world's tallest Murugan statue.

After climbing 272 steps, you finally reach the caves. Which are home to many monkeys that may look really cute, but are actually evil. Ricky told us that if we brought Cheetos, we could feed the monkeys. However, this mean old monkey came up to us and snatched the bag right out of our hands before we could even open it and offer it to them.

The other monkeys weren't really much better either. There was one monkey who stole a water bottle from a girl and proceeded to drink from it. And there were times where it seemed like they were circling us and we're going to attack! Evan thoroughly enjoyed it, but Montse, Adriana, and I were more than ready to leave. We had had our fair share of monkeys.

After the Batu Caves, we were originally going to go to the KL Tower which is another really tall tower in the city, but we were exhausted so we just went back to our hostel to shower up and do some studying.

On Saturday, we went to the race track but nothing exciting really happened since it was just preliminary stuff going on. But when we went on Sunday, it was super fun. In order to get there, we first had to take a train to the airport, and then take a bus from the airport to the race track.

Once you get to the track though, you have to take another bus which circles the track and takes you to the stands where you're seated, which proved to be a little bit of a problem when we were trying to leave. We had covered hillstand seats (which means that bugs crawl all over you when you're sitting), and they were PACKED on Sunday.

The race was so cool to watch too. The cars were going so fast! And they were so loud it was a good thing we had all bought ear plugs.

The only problem we ran into that day was when we were trying to leave. We needed to take the free shuttle bus back to the parking lot so we could catch the bus to the airport, but everyone else was taking the bus too. Every bus that drove by was either full, or it didn't stop at the bus stop (which we were waiting at) because people just stood in the middle of the road and blocked its way. So we had to resort to hitch-hiking, which actually worked surprisingly well and left us with a good story to tell. The first truck we got in was the kind of truck that, in Asia at least, is made for workers to sit in the bed as they drive around. So we fit all eight of us in there, and then stuck in about four or five other random people. We thought it was great... until the guy told us he couldn't go any further because he had to drive home. So we had to get out and start walking again. The other three people who were with us had no problem picking up a ride in a little car, but we had a little more trouble finding a vehicle that would fit all eight of us in it. Luckily for us, a pickup truck stopped to pick us up. There were already three people in the bed, and we weren't sure we would fit, but they managed to squeeze us all in. All of us except for one of Austin's legs. So we had to hold on to him a little bit to keep him in the truck. Eventually, though, we did make it back to the parking lot. We had to wait about 45 minutes just to get on the bus, and then the ride back to the airport took about an hour and a half (because some genius didn't realize that a rotary would slow down traffic, not speed it up). But we eventually made it back with some great stories to tell of our times in Malaysia.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

There's More to See Than Can Ever Be Seen

It's kind of funny that now that I'm getting ready to leave Singapore, I'm getting better at updating my blog. Anyways, last night was one of the best nights I've experienced in Singapore. I watched The Lion King at the Marina Bay Sands with my cousin Petrina, Aunty Liz, and Sherill. IT WAS AMAZING. Now I understand why Amanda has gone twice and still can't get enough of it! Everything was brilliant, from the singing to the costumes to the props to the backdrops. It was so much fun being able to dress up all fancy and stuff.

AND since the theater wasn't even that big, we were pretty close to the stage.

We  were in Row O, so I think that put us only about 13 rows away from the stage.

The opening scene set the precedent for the rest of the show. Rafiki (amazing singer and actress) started off by singing The Circle of Life, and the next thing you know you feel like you're in an African safari. There are birds flying around above you and elephants walking through the aisles and cheetahs and gazelles leaping around on stage. The sun started rising, and basically anything I can describe here does not do the live show much justice. You just have to be there to experience it.

But the entire cast was just amazing. Scar had the sweetest mask and was great in his role. Baby Nala and Simba were the cutest kids ever, Timon and Pumbaa were hilarious, the hyenas looked like hyenas, the lionesses were so cool, Mufasa was brilliant, and Simba and Nala all grown up were just as great as their younger cohorts. Oh and Zazu! Super funny. And obviously everyone else that I didn't mention was just as cool.

The stage was amazing too (I keep using that word since there's no other way to describe the experience). The ground rose at times, the night sky looked so real, real grass was used for the plains, the stampede was so extremely realistic, and at one point when Simba touched his reflection he actually scooped up real water from the stage.

Just as amazing as the costumes and acting and props was the music. Almost every song that wasn't a solo was sung by what sounded like an African gospel choir and was so moving. And these people had some of the best voices that I have ever heard. I think the grown up Nala was my favorite, but everyone else was just as great as her.

When we first got to the theater and a little boy came and sat in the row behind us, Petrina and I were a little worried that he would be talking and we would be annoyed. But even though he blurted some things out, it just added to the experience. One of our favorite moments was when the lionesses went on a hunt and killed a gazelle, and right as it went silent, he asked, "What just happened?" And even though he wasn't the quietest kid ever, it wasn't really quiet in the theater anyways. I guess I don't have much experience being in a live audience, but it was great how interactive it was and how it actually made you feel. We were all laughing and crying and just awestruck in general.

The writers also added a tiny bit to the script in order to appeal to the Singaporean audience, which got laughs out of everyone in the audience. During the I Just Can't Wait to Be King sequence, which was just as psychedelic and crazy as the cartoon version, Zazu was going nuts, and to one of the animals that he saw, he said, "Oh look! A Chinese dragon. Ni hao!" And at the end of the sequence when Simba and Nala managed to get rid of Zazu so they could run off to the elephant graveyard, Zazu flew into a wall and fell down, then stood up and started yelling as he flew off the stage, "Nimba! Sala! Oh look, is that a merlion?" And when Timon was sleeping on some grass and the grass helped him to stand up, he was about to walk away when he remembered to turn around and say, "Oh, xie xie ni!"

Basically, it was a night to remember, and if I were given the opportunity to see it again, I definitely would! It's a great show for everyone of all ages, and I would recommend it to anyone!


Monday, April 4, 2011

What Asians Do Best: Sing and Eat

Another relaxing weekend in Singapore, where virtually all my friends left the country without me. Luckily, we were paid a visit by the "Swedes Undercover" (as Andrey would call it) and I was able to hang out with the family for Gong-Gong's birthday.

When leaving Cambodia, Sebastian said that we had to do karaoke upon his return to Singapore. I thought it sounded like a great way to get to know the Asian culture, since Ruohan told me that karaoke is a really popular activity in Asia. So, Friday night, we all went to the KBox at Marina Square.

We didn't really know what to expect, since we had never heard of doing karaoke with only a small group of people. There is absolutely nothing like these karaoke places in the US. Basically, you get a whole room to yourself for just you and your friends. In our room, we had a couch here, then the TV in the other corner of the room, and the touch screen control panel next to the couch. It turned out to be lots of fun, as we were all belting out tunes.

I'm not sure though that we did karaoke quite like the Asians do it. Ruohan said that we were getting MANY strange stares as people walked past our room. Apparently, no one really sings English songs; only Chinese songs. And he said no one really raps either. Andrey just kept picking rap songs. Which are ok to listen to, but very difficult to sing karaoke to. However, his poor choice of songs can be attributed to the fact that he was wired on caffeine. The comment he had for this picture of himself was "After 5 redbulls and 2 cappuccinos... the second me comes out!"

The thing about these places is that you can stay late. And since you're paying a lot, you'll stay as late as they let you. When we checked in, they said the checkout time was 4:00am. Needless to say, we were there until about 3:45. At that point I was about to fall asleep. All our voices were shot from yelling so much, and no one had had as much caffeine as Andrey. And completely unrelated to karaoke, but just to show you the Asian way of college, when I got back at 4:15am on Friday night (or Saturday morning), there were STILL people up studying in the lounges. People here never sleep. But back to karaoke. The only thing that was disappointing was that they didn't have Build Me Up Buttercup, which Nyle reminded me is the best karaoke song ever. All in all though, I'm glad I went because now that's one more thing I can check off my list of things to do in Singapore.

Another thing I can check off my list is eating at the Raffles Hotel (that was never really on the list, but I can say I did it!). For Gong-Gong's birthday, we ate at Soup Restaurant, then headed over to the Raffles Hotel to get some dessert and a young coconut for myself since I hadn't tried it yet.

Apparently, getting a young coconut instead of an old one is very important, or else you won't be able to scrape out the meat after you drink the juice.

One thing that I have learned in Singapore is to be more patient and appreciative of family. Aunty Lay Hoon laughs because she said that here I was coming to Singapore for independence, and then my parents and aunt and grandparents follow me! Which I can't say I mind. It is nice to have family around, and other exchange students express their jealousy at the fact that I get to see family all the time.

And I'm glad Aunty Lay Hoon brought us to the Raffles Hotel for dessert yesterday since just getting a glimpse of the lobby makes me want to go back there and go to the Long Bar.

The Long Bar is where the Singapore Sling was invented, and no trip to Singapore is complete without trying the original drink. This poster in the window of the Raffles Hotel Shop makes that perfectly clear.

I'll need to find out how to do that soon since I only have 5 more weekends left in Singapore! And only two and a half of them will actually be spent in Singapore. I can't believe how time has flown. And although I really love Singapore and I'm going to miss it so much when I leave, there's still no place like home.