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On the road

By jeni | December 18, 2008

Okay so clearly I have been spending too much time actually out DOING things in Singapore instead of just writing about them. What? That’s weird. I don’t like to do things. I stay home.

ANYWAY. Today is our last day in Singapore. We are packing. Actually we are supposed to be packing, instead we are just sitting on the couch talking about packing. I desperately need my sister to come and get me in gear. I am a terrible packer.

We are really almost done though, and it feels good. We’re going to walk the streets and have one last beer at our favorite place down the road and say goodbye to all the great friends we’ve made here and then we’re going to be home! First we will be in in Japan but then we will be home.

So, I guess this is farewell. I will write all about Japan once we are back, and of course I will have lots to say about Singapore from home! Goodbye Singapore. We loved you!

Topics: flying, Japan, sightseeing, traveling | No Comments »

We will return

By jeni | December 11, 2008

Hey everyone. Sorry for the lack of posts. We are slowing down on awesome fun things to do and entertaining anecdotes. Plus I am lazy. We did recently go to the night safari and to the highest bar in Asia or something like that, so I’ll write about those soon.

But! But! I wanted to let you know. We are plotting our return to the US. Actually no longer plotting, it is happening. We will be back stateside on Dec. 28th and we can’t wait to see you all! But give us some time to get settled. :)

We’re actually leaving Singapore on Dec. 19th, but we’re traveling to Japan for the Christmas holiday and also the holiest of all days, my birthday. We’ll be based in Tokyo and Kyoto the entire time, but we’ll be branching out to see Osaka, Hiroshima, and others hopefully.

So, that’s the plan. I can’t believe how fast six months goes. I’m really going to miss Singapore. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say this experience has changed my life. But I am really excited to get home to see all of you too. More soon…

Topics: Japan, sightseeing, traveling | No Comments »

A Singaporean Thanksgiving

By jeni | December 2, 2008

I hope all of you Americans had an excellent Thanksgiving and holiday weekend. We didn’t get to celebrate on the actual day since John had to work and it was just another Thursday for the rest of Singapore. We did however, get to go to some American friends’ house and celebrate on Saturday afternoon and it was so much fun. A true Singaporean Thanksgiving.

What do I mean by that? Well, we had turkey, dressing, pie and all that, and then we went out for karaoke. It was great. Our hosts ordered a pre-made turkey, and made their family versions of cornbread stuffing, an asparagus casserole, and even a pumpkin/pecan pie hybrid. Fabulous. I brought a salad because that’s how I roll. And because I don’t have an oven. :) After dinner, we played some cards, (has anyone played Sequence? Love that game) and then decided we were having too much fun and needed to continue the celebration at Party World KTV on Orchard Road.

How to describe this place? Well I’ve always thought these places were fronts for more unsavory activities if you know what I mean, but I guess I was wrong. No doubt that may still happen, but not where we were. It’s great. You walk in and pay for your package, then you are led to your own room, complete with plether couches and rockin’ karaoke machine and TV. You have a private waiter and can shut the door, so no one has to listen to your bleating except your poor friends. Yes there are roaches in the bathroom and the drinks taste like fruit juice concentrate, but you are rockin karaoke so you don’t care.

I myself have never been a karaoke person, but that all changed on Saturday night. I hate hate hate getting up in front of a crowded bar and making a fool of myself in front of total strangers. But at PartyWorld, the only people who see you act like a fool are your friends. And who cares about them right?

We had such a great night. Yes, we missed everyone back home. But this year we made our own rockin’ Thanksgiving memories.

Topics: culture clash, food, friends, Orchard Road | 1 Comment »

Happy Thanksgiving

By jeni | November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving to all of our American friends and family. We are so thankful for each and every one of you and we miss you!

Topics: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Samui Samui

By jeni | November 26, 2008

An incredible blue lagoon

An incredible blue lagoon

Well my peoples. I hear you want to hear more about Thailand. Sorry for the delay. Me thinks its time for us to move on to Koh Samui, known simply by the locals as Samui since koh means island in Thailand.

After being in Chiang Mai for four days, culminating with the elephants, we were getting a little tired. Luckily, it was time to head to the beach. Koh Samui is a short flight from Chiang Mai, I think it took about an hour.

Koh Samui is the third largest island in Thailand, and a major tourist hub because of the beautiful beaches and amazing weather. It isn’t as popular yet as Phuket, Thailand’s biggest island, but I gather it’s getting close. As I’ve mentioned before, we were there during the low season for tourism, so we didn’t have to experience the massive hordes of people. That was nice. In fact it got a little lonely from time to time, especially when we went to go eat dinner in virtually empty restaurants every night.

I have to admit, we did spend some time just lounging about the pool/beach. But we also rented motorbikes and drove around the island, stopped to admire the view on the beaches, eat ice cream mixed with rice (what?) and enjoy the trucks traveling around with loudspeakers blaring advertisements for muay thai fighting every night in wannabe Howard Cosell voices. We saw some dude on the street with a monkey. And another dude with a hawk. He asked where we were from and couldn’t believe John was not a German. Just another nationality John gets to add to his list (in addition to North African, Mexican, Arabic, Greek and Italian).

We went on a boat trip and kayaked around Mu Ko Ang Thong National Marine Park. John tipped over our kayak and then blamed it on me. We got massages and enjoyed our own private steam room/whirlpool. We got too much sun. We tried to hide our ugly elephant rashes and Amy tried to stop sneezing and we finally went to the pharmacy and got some medicine. We listened to a really annoying guy talk and talk and talk on our boat trip and gave him a mean nickname. We watched fisherman searching for crabs on the pitch black ocean floor during low tide. We laughed at John and Dave’s pathetic attempts at handstands and cartwheels. We judged because we didn’t have the guts to try one ourselves. We had some pretty rad breakfasts.

We marveled at the airport’s island feel. We almost cried when we had to come home. We frankly didn’t get to see enough ladyboys.

We had so much fun. Some pictures:

The hotel pool, overlooking the ocean

The hotel pool, overlooking the ocean

Monkey Rock, one of the limestone formations in Ang Thong Marine Park

Monkey Rock, one of the limestone formations in Ang Thong Marine Park

More of Ang Thong Marine Park

More of Ang Thong Marine Park

We got to kayak around all of the magnificent formations

We got to kayak around all of the magnificent formations

Climbing to the top of Mae Koh to see the lagoon

Climbing to the top of Mae Koh to see the lagoon (up top)

FAIL

FAIL

Beautiful sunset

Beautiful sunset

We forced them to do this. You should have seen how long it took to get them next to each other like this.

We forced them to do this. You should have seen how long it took to get them next to each other like this.

Probably the best picture of me and Amy. Fail again.

Probably the best picture of me and Amy. Fail again.

Topics: sightseeing, Thailand, traveling | No Comments »

Come back!

By jeni | November 25, 2008

Where did the rainy season go? It’s allegedly still the rainy season but I am telling you the rain has been nowhere to be found the past couple of days. In fact, it is HOT. Brutally hot again. Walk outside and start sweating immediately hot. Melting in my shoes and gawking at disbelief at the Singaporean women wearing tights and sweaters hot.

It’s always warm, even when it’s rainy it’s warm and toasty, but this is different. It’s truly tropical in the weathery-est sense of the word. I think you know what I mean.

I want the rainy season back. I guess there’s always tomorrow.

Topics: hot, rain | No Comments »

Nice

By jeni | November 22, 2008

I love that one of the top searches that gets people to our blog is “I like sitting on laps”

Me too senor, me too.

Topics: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Christmas Pudding

By jeni | November 21, 2008

The Christmas onslaught continues. Every day there are more lights, bells, trees, ornaments, etc. It’s intense. But the place you can really tell? The grocery store.

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but most grocery stores are in the basements of large malls around here. I can walk to about four good groceries from my house, but I frequent the Marketplace in Tanglin Mall because it’s the closest. And when you have to carry your groceries home instead of just loading them into the trunk of your car, you start to think about that kind of thing.

Anyway, Tanglin Mall is in an area where a lot of expats live and it’s very catered toward us. Meaning there are lots of products from the US, the UK and Australia. I like experimenting with buying things from Australia and the UK because a lot of them I’ve never seen before and they just entertain me. Like biscuits. Little cookies that go with tea. We don’t really do afternoon tea in the US but I think we should. A little tea and a cookie in the afternoon never hurt anybody right?

Now that the holiday season has arrived in force though, the Marketplace is teeming with holiday goodies. One such goody (goodie?) is the Christmas pudding. I had a vague idea of what this was before I moved to Singapore, but I don’t think I’d ever really seen one. Apparently these are very traditional in the UK and have a lot of history behind them, which I quite admire. I think holiday traditions are great.

In case you don’t feel like reading the link, the basic idea, from what I gather, is that a Christmas pudding is a pudding, but with a ton of dried fruit and alcohol. It can take hours and hours to mix up and then it’s hung up to set for hours, days, weeks or even months. Nowadays though, I guess people don’t always have that kind of time, so there are Christmas pudding mixes all over the grocery.

Most intriguing to me is the Guinness Christmas pudding. This sucker costs like $40 (Singapore). I don’t know why, but I want one. Every time I see it I have to stop and take a look. It’s a pudding. That looks like a cake. Made with Guinness. It’s like some kind of Christmas miracle really.

Will I purchase this Christmas pudding? Probably not. I’ve sort of placed it on a pedestal right now. And I wouldn’t to ruin the beautiful idea of the Guinness Christmas Pudding by actually making it. That just won’t do. So for now I’ll just continue to stop and admire it every time I have to go grocery shopping.

Topics: food, shopping | No Comments »

Elephant Love

By jeni | November 19, 2008

Ahh the elephants. I’ve been waiting to do this post, partly because I was waiting on the pictures from John, but partly because I think I’m mad at the elephants. Well, not the elephants themselves, more like nature in general. Mother nature, she is a cruel mistress. Let me start from the beginning though, and then I’ll get in to why I’m saying this.

On our last day in Chiang Mai, we spent the entire day with big, beautiful, gentle, amazing incredible elephants at the Patara Elephant Farm. I will never forget this day. And I’m sure anyone who has a chance to do this feels the same way.

We made our reservations for the elephant farm way in advance, because according to everything we read on TripAdvisor (which, by the way, has been awesome for all of the travel planning we’ve done) we needed to do that, so of course that’s what we did. And when the day finally arrived, we were all super excited but a little nervous about getting up close and personal with these animals.

As luck would have it, there were no other people on the tour that day (they normally accept a max. of 8 peeps, one per elephant) but given it was the low season for tourism, it was only the four of us (me, John, my sister Amy, and John’s brother Dave).

Our ride arrived at our hotel at about 7:30 the morning of, and we drove for about an hour north of Chiang Mai to the elephant farm. Once we arrived we had to hike through a bunch of muddy rice fields to get to a little hut, where we were each given a basket of bananas, and a knit poncho-type thing to wear over our clothes. According to one of our guides, we had to wear these so the elephants would recognize us as their “owner” for the day. They are not attractive. At all. But I guess they did the job because we never had any angry elephants.

So after we suited up and doused ourselves in sunscreen and bug spray, which turned out to be absolutely useless, we were ready to meet our elephants. Amy got Dodo, the star of the elephant farm and the one they use to show us how to do everything (approach, command, feed, mount, etc.). I got a pregnant lady elephant named Mamoon (totally blew the spelling I’m sure). She was already about 13 months pregnant and it was crazy to see the baby move inside of her. John got a mama elephant and her baby, who was crazy and rambunctious and followed everywhere, and Dave got a big ole’ lady whose name I forget.

We started by meeting our respective elephants and bribing them with our big baskets of bananas and then checking to make sure they were healthy, including smelling their dung. Nice.

Jeni getting a whiff of 'phant poo

Jeni getting a whiff of elephant poo

We then proceeded down to the river, where we washed everybody off and generally had a good time. Oh yeah I should mention that each elephant had it’s own real trainer, guys that live and work with these elephants every day, so we weren’t ever really on our own.

Once everybody was nice and clean, it was off for a ride. Only after we had all of the commands written on our arms though. Oh and there was the little matter of getting on the elephants. This is a process and can be quite scary. Some of us had more success than others. Here’s Dave doing a nice job of getting up.

There are a couple of ways to sit on the elephants, but we started on their backs, just behind the head. Your supposed to keep your knees bent and your legs scrunched up behind the ears, both to keep your legs from getting sore (you’d be pretty sore if you tried to sit like you were on a horse the whole way) and to make it easier to give the elephant signals with your heels behind the ears. This also helps you balance so you don’t have to hold on to the ears as much if you don’t want to. John demonstrates nicely here.

We walked for quite a while, mostly through forested area, on our way to our lunch spot. The elephants totally knew the way, but they’d stop and munch on whatever they could get their trunks on from time to time. John and my elephants especially wanted to eat the whole time, I think because mine was pregnant and his was still coming off of her pregnancy. Bleeding heart that I am, I was worried about my girl, but the owners told us the exercise was good for her and they had to walk her on days even when they didn’t have visitors, so I felt a little better about it after I heard that. John probably described it best when he said that carrying a human for an elephant is a little like us carrying a backpack. It’s not really heavy or burdensome, but gets annoying after a while.

After our walk we reached another spot by the river where we stopped to rest and have lunch, an awesome homemade Thai picnic spread. We got to feed whatever we didn’t eat (aside from the meat portions) to the elephants. My girl was a beggar and couldn’t wait to get some goodies.

After lunch everyone had gotten dirty again, mostly because it was a hot day, and apparently the elephants will pick up dirt and drop it on their backs to act as a natural sun/bug repellent. Luckily they never did this when we were on board though. Anyway, we did a little more cleanup in the river and just kind of hung out and played around for a while. Oh I fell in the river too, but we didn’t get a shot of that. ;) We all got totally immersed though. I cannot begin to tell you how bad we all smelled at the end of this day.

After people lunch, it was time for animal lunch, so we all got back on board and went a short distance to our stopping point, which was actually a little village. The trainers of these elephants work for Patera elephant farm, but it’s so much more than a job for them. It’s their life. They live in these little huts by the farm and they come from families who have worked with elephants for generations. Their wives sew the poncho things we all had to wear and their kids think of these elephants as the family pet. They also grow the grass (seed flown in from Australia) that comprises most of the elephant diet (the fruit we gave them was only a treat). They spend every day (and night) with these animals. And you can tell they love them, but they also drive them crazy. This was especially true of the baby, who was a little ADD and running all over the place half the time.

We learned all of this from one of the owners, Dao, who picked us up from our hotel and then sat and ate lunch with us and answered all of our million questions. She also told us a lot about the plight of elephants in Thailand. They’re rapidly becoming extinct, and many of the domesticated elephants live in terrible conditions, working in the crowded city streets of Bangkok or being forced to do silly trick like balance on little balls under duress and threat of abuse. She was proud of the humane way she and her husband took care of their elephants, but admitted that even their situation wasn’t perfect, because perfection would be the animals living out in the wild. That said, it gave us great peace of mind to talk with her and learn about everything they do to take care of these creatures.

After that pit stop, we were set to make our way back to our starting point. This time however, we learned how to ride on the head. Now this was a little scary at first because you are literally hanging out on the head of the animal, so when they move (e.g. raise their trunk up to get some food from a tree) you move too. Once you get used to it though, riding on the head is nice. It gives you a little room to relax and just enjoy the scenery.

By the end of the day we were all exhausted and smelly, but we had such a wonderful time. Truly an experience of a lifetime. A couple of days afterward we all developed weird rashes on our legs, John getting the least of it due to his long pants. Of course I’m a walking calamity so mine ended up getting infected, and it’s weeks later and I’m still in Singapore fighting the infection. It’s taken ten days of some hardcore antibiotics, but I think I’m finally getting over it. That part has been a bummer, but I wouldn’t trade this experience, skin infection and all, for the world.

P.S. We’ll also be putting up large versions of all the pictures very soon.

Topics: sightseeing, Thailand, traveling | 1 Comment »

Santa Threw Up on Orchard Road

By jeni | November 16, 2008

That’s what it looks like at least. In Singapore, almost 50% of the population is Buddhist and the rest is a large mix of Muslims, Christians, Taoists and Hindus, among other things. No matter though, because we will have Christmas!

They say Singapore is all about chilling, shopping, and eating, and I guess there’s no time like Christmastime to do all of those things. I was eavesdropping on a conversation at the dinner table next to us on Friday night (gimme a break, it’s impossible not to the way they had us packed in) and the two guys were talking about Singapore’s investment in Christmas decorations. Apparently it is pretty big, which is why they start decorating around here at the very beginning of November. Got to maximize the investment if you know what I mean, so it’s Christmas around here for a solid two months.

It is incredible. Every lamp post is a candy cane, every storefront covered in twinkling lights. I love it; if I’m sitting in a highly air-conditioned cafe I could almost almost look out the window and think I’m about to see snow. More than likely I’m just delusional and it’s actually the ever-increasing torrential downpours that mark the rainy season, but still. It just feels like Christmas.

The mass of people crowding into malls also feels a little like Christmas back at home in the U.S., what with the pushing and shoving and all of that, but I haven’t seen anyone come to blows over a Tickle-Me-Elmo just yet. Give it a few weeks though, from what I can tell this Christmas season has only just begun.

Camera-phone shots = not that great, but you get the idea.

Topics: culture clash, neighborhoods, Orchard Road, rain, shopping, sightseeing, Singapore events | No Comments »

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