A few nights ago I took this picture.
So apparently a lot of my friends are surprised to find that I am now in Singapore. Though I did my best to tell people where I would be, and the reasons behind it, I am still getting emails and facebook messages of astonished acquaintances of my current location. So, in brief here are my reasons for coming over to the Far East. Although I graduated from a well known grad school with an MBA, it has been a challenge to find a decent position where I believe I can excel. I have been doing some side consulting, but nothing had really sparked or panned out in the time of my search. Also, my girlfriend of two years lives and works in Thailand, which has made this a very very long distance relationship. Singapore is a hub for business, and they are actively looking for people to move and work in the country. This, compared to the US, where it seems every day there is new and depressing warnings of the job market. With all that in mind I decided to give Singapore a bigger try. I dabbled with a small job hunt in April, and made some good contacts. The city/state is very modern and efficient. I left New York on September 17th, and arrived very early on the 19th. Moved into a serviced apartment, and have tried to get settled. So far so good
The final leg of the trip was back to business. I stayed at a nice hotel in the Downtown area, although it was a bit of a hike to the BTS, Bangkok’s light rail. The first couple of days were filled with interviews at various companies, and networking events at night. One of these events took place outside of Bangkok at the nearby beach area Pattaya. There I got the chance to hear the US Ambassador speak, and got to tour GM’s auto plant.
Sandy took me on a more detailed tour of Wat Pho, at my request. I had been there on my very first visit to Thailand a couple of years ago, a few hours before meeting Sandy. Wow, that is kinda strange now that I think about it. Actually we first visited a smaller Wat, sorry I can’t remember the name, but it has a royal cemetery attached to it. This small gem is fantastic since it is quite close to Wat Pho, but most tourists do not know about it so it feels a bit more authentic. One of the unique characteristics of this wat is the curved walls, with a detailed repeating mosaic. I got a lot more details of both places, getting to see details that I had overlooked on my first visit. Wat Pho, for instance, was a school. On the grounds there are certain little areas with stone-inscribed images of the human body diagrams showing reflex points and such. These tablets are still legible today, and as such it is not a surprise to me that massage therapists who are trained at Wat Pho are very highly regarded. Similarly there are stone “hermits” each showing a different pose of a stretching excercise. These are quite amusing to see, but again it makes sense. These statues were the powerpoint slides in those ancient times.
My last day there, was bittersweet. Always tough to say goodbye to one you love, but you hold on to the great times you had in the short visit. This trip was a good one. Although it wasn’t a lot for the sight-seeing, it is one I will remember for a long time…
After leaving Singapore on April 10th, I arrived in Phuket with Sandy for a dive trip. We spent one night at the JW Marriott on the island. All I can say is wow. This hotel has it dialed in. It is one of those places you see on TV with people enjoying life. We arrived at sunset and while we were checking in, we could look back outside and watch as a “fire lighting” ceremony was being performed in their decorative infinity pool. This was quite fascinating, although not really a Thai tradition. We were able to tour the grounds the next morning before getting picked up to start our diving adventure. First we went to our dive shop booker to pick up our rented gear and go for a check out dive. Once that was all set we were brought to the beach to join our boat.
The Scuba Explorer has traditionally only catered to the Japanese diver, however this year they decided to open it up to westerners as well. Sandy and I had the luck of being the only English speakers on board, and therefore did not have to be in the large dive groups during the dives. Instead we had Johnathan, a Colorado native who has lived a long time in both Japan and Thailand. Our trip took us to the Similan Islands. It was 3 days of diving with four dives a day. We also did a night dive which was a lot of fun. It was Sandy’s first, which was obviously a bit nerve-wracking, but she did well; I am so proud of her. The dives were amazing, I had kidded around with our divemaster, Johnathan, that I would only buy their cool t-shirt with a manta ray on it if we actually say them. The next dive after that conversation we saw 3! I was able to shoot some video with my digital camera down there and came up with a neat clip that I compiled later:
Upon our return to Phuket, Sandy and I were invited to a private island to enjoy the sun and food. The island has a small pearl farm on it, as well as a great little hike. We talked with one of the managers, who is Sandy’s friend, about the challenges that the family faces in running a private island, and how to best maintain it. Really quite fascinating.
To cap off the Phuket portion of the trip, we saw the touristy show Fantasea. This is kinda fun, with a very Disney-like entrance, with the main attraction being their elephant show. I think I remember counting something like 18 elephants on stage. Talk about having a massive production 😉
Finally we ended up in Bangkok…
Well, it has been about a year, and not only that, but my trip is almost over, but I’ll try to recount my trip thus far…
I’ll start with the statement that long distance relationships are tough.. Particularly if your dating someone who is 12 hours ahead of you. We can chat at very limited times when we are both conscious, and whoever is up at night usually stays up pretty late. For this reason I decided to fly out to Singapore/Thailand to visit Sandy. I would also take advantage of this time to do a bit of a job hunt over in this neck of the woods.
Singapore is a great city, although it is not the first place people think of staying for an extended period of time. I had been there two years ago on a school trip, and thought I had delved deep enough that a second stay would not have been necessary. I was concerned of what to do on the off-time in this small city/state. In talking with Sandy later, she also had the same concern. We were both needlessly worried. Singapore does have a very rich culture, with a lot to do.
One of the first things that hits you is how diverse the country is. It is like a small UN, or for my point of view, a mini Thunderbird, where many cultures come together and live in harmony. Sandy and I stayed in Clarke Quay, which gave us great access to restaurants and night life. The city is extraordinarily organized, with a transit system that any major city would envy. Just about every corner of the island can be reached via the MRT, and the system is still being expanded!
One of the first places we visited was the Arab Quarter to meet up with a recruiter friend. We sat at a small backpacker cafe enjoying the passersby and the architecture. We then visited the Jurong Bird Park and saw some amazing birds, most of which are photogenic. One of the highlights is the Lory Loft where you can pay 2$S for some sugar water, and a flock of Lories fly to you to get a treat. It is kind of cool to have a flock of birds all over you. Fortunately no accidents occurred, and we left unmarked 😉
One of the more unique places I found was the Indian Quarter. This area is a bit of a paradox for Singapore. While the city is mostly organized and immaculate, this neighborhood goes against the grain. Your senses are immediately awakened by the delicious aromas from the spices and food being prepared. Color is flashing from all sides with colorful saris and markets are at every corner.
One cannot go to Singapore and miss the quintessential Singapore Sling. This cocktail originates from the Raffles Hotel, and they hold the original recipe, and you will pay for it. It is expensive, and a bit kitschy, but all worth while.
Just found this awesome site that lets you build custom maps with waypoints. Here is what my trip basically entailed.
The trip to this small Indonesian island was amazing. We ended up staying in the middle of the island and explore the culture, rather than the beach. I know, I am an avid scuba diver, and Bali is supposed to be amazing, but the culture more than made up for (plus it gives me an excuse to go there again :-)) Although Indonesia is mostly Muslim, Bali is actually over 90% Hindu. The town we stayed in, Ubud, was particularly conservative with their dress, with both men and women wearing sarongs, making offerings every day. Tourists were generally restricted from inner areas of the temples, which I actually kinda liked. I can just imagine tons of tourists climbing the Meru’s and sacred statues which would definetly destroy the magical ancient feeling of these places.
One highlight was the Barong dance. Barong is a mythical creature that represents good. I would say that it looks like a cross of a red faced monster and a shaggy dog. It takes two people to manipulate the giant puppet, and it dances around the stage and actually endears itself with the audience.
One thing that did wear me out was the tenacity of the vendors. These people will not take no for an answer. They claim one should buy something from them “for luck”. After buying a couple of masks, a painting, and other smaller items, I got weary of their pitches. Call me strange, but if I shop I like to do it alone and then when I’m really ready for a purchase I’ll ask for help. I can do street markets every once and a while, but to be constantly bombarded.. blech.
I won’t end on that note. On our last day there we were able to view a fantastic temple that is situated at the top of a cliff over the ocean. Absolutely breath-taking.
I have pictures in this third (and I think final) set. It includes a few pictures in Bangkok, Hong Kong, the River Kwai, and Bali. I have a few more days here in Bangkok, but I think I’ve actually seen just about everything that there is to see… ooh, no pics, but last night I did get to see an amazing puppet show that is unique to Thailand. It takes three performers to manipulate a puppet, and they move in synch with the puppets movements. Quite astounding. I hope to see a Khon as well, which is a traditional theatrical dance. The actors wear amazing costumes and masks. The performances all are derived from the Ramayana which is the Buddhists’ “bible” story.
This whirlwind stay in SE Asia keeps on going.Â Since last we left our hero, I was in Chiang Mai getting impromptu showers from the locals.Â After that we went to Hong Kong.Â What an amazing city, though I think I can tell that the Chinese have taken control.Â There are some odd inefficiencies that I cannot believe were there when the British were in control.Â It took about an hour to get through immigration, and another two to get our luggage and get to the hotel.Â Â Â The weather there was on the dreary side, but we still got to tour a bit seeing a very eerie Buddah on Lantau island.Â The clouds were hanging very low that the face was masked by the fog.Â Added to the magic of the place.Â The city is quite magical at night with the whole city giving a light show (really!) for the crowds to enjoy.Â When we got there I learned that Disney had opened a park there last year, and for the silliness of it we went there on our last day there.Â As it was a Monday, and a bit rainy, the park crowds were minimal with the worst line lasting an interminable 15 minutes :-PÂ So now I’m back in Bangkok.Â Yesterday (April 25th) I took a tour to the (in)famous bridge over River Kwai.Â I actually learned that the proper pronounciation of the river is Kwae; kwai is a water buffalo and rivers are not named after animals.Â The tour took us to the JEATH museumÂ that had some interesting photos.Â While going through the museum I noticed the guest registry and read the last few entries.Â Just about all of them were from Kiwis and Aussies noting “Lest we Forget” and ANZAC day.Â Then after the museum we drove past the graveyard for the soldiers and we saw a service going on.Â It was then that I remembered that April 26th is ANZAC Day.Â To which I felt lucky and honored and sad at the same time to be visiting such a site on that day.Â The soldiers who were POW’s in Thailand under the Japanese were brave men, who were forced to work in terrible conditions and suffer greatly for their labor.Â Their sacrifices are not forgotten and never will be.Â
On a lighter note I am off to my last new country tomorrow: Indonesia.Â I will be in Bali for 4 nights before spending my last few days here in Thailand.Â It is amazing how fast this past month has gone and what I have seen and done.Â I have taken hundreds more pictures, and will upload more when I get a chance.Â
So in the past couple of weeks I have recovered from my cold, and went up to the North of Thailand to Chiang Mai for the annual festival of Songkran. The holiday is to mark the Thai New Year and involves some water splashing… Make that a lot of water splashing. I was out of the hotel for only about 5 minutes and I was already a drowned rat. There were many vendors selling waterguns (not so effective) and buckets (the weapon of choice in my mind). We walked down the streets around the city’s moat (yep, a city with a real moat, how cool is that?) and splashed water. For about 20 baht one can buy a large cube of ice to put into your bucket, and really surprise some revellers with some icy water down their backs. 😀
I also got to visit several wats (temples) around the city and during this time of year there is a tradition to build up sand chedis (religious mounds) at the temples. Some of the chedis I saw were taller than the actual temples! Chiang Mai is known for its crafts and proximity to some native tribes. It was fun going to the different markets and seeing the wares being made and sold: silk, umbrellas, fans, wood carvings, etc. One hill tribe is particularly interesting in that the women start wearing brass necklaces at the age of five and keep adding on to it as they grow up. The necklace pushes down the ribs and shoulder blades to give a long neck appearance. (contrary to popular belief the spine is not elongated, which is what I had always believed). I also got the chance to see an elephant camp that had an astounding 80 elephants. It was the most elephants I’d ever seen in one place!
Well today I fly out to Hong Kong for the weekend, and then next friday I’m off to Bali for a few days. more pictures galore. (so far I have taken about 2000 pictures) I have uploaded some more pictures for your enjoyment!
Cheers and Sawasdee Krop.