A Travellerspoint blog

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That there is perfect ice. Again!
Okay, let me explain. A wise friend told me to focus on nano victories. That the fridge made ice, perfect cubes, AGAIN!

Here are my cubes...What are your perfect cubes? Do the nanos give as much joy as the macros?

1. Infinity pools in gorgeous Krabi, Thailand.

Rayavadee, Krabi, Thailand

2. Formula 1 in the streets of Singapore. I take awful videos but you'll hear the roar of the engines.


3. Island hopping...Bintan is just an hour away by ferry.

At Angsana, Bintan, Indonesia

4. Family - Vinay, Parul and Mrnalini were here for Diwali. It's surprising how quickly one gets used to having family around and at the end of the week, I did not want them to leave!

Highlights of their trip.

Posted by Goofy9 00:37 Archived in Singapore Comments (2)

God bless America (and Thailand, and Singapore)

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Here’s the deal – my bag was stolen in Phuket. I called the US Embassy in Bangkok, and Steve, the weekend Duty Officer was most helpful – told me that I need to file a police report, get to Bangkok and be at the embassy by 7.30 am Monday morning.

Step 1: File police report (in English and in Thai by the Royal Thai Police)
Edwige was kind enough to max out her ATM card and give me all her cash, and she gave me her ATM card to use the next day. Who does that! The world is full of people who take your breath away. We take a tuk tuk to the police station – and somehow managed to enjoy the ride even though we had a lot on our minds. The police report shows iPhone as the first on the list, and around #9 on the list is passport. Shows where my priorities lie!

Step 2: Get to Bangkok
Since I do not have ID anymore, I cannot take the quick 1 hour flight from Phuket to Bangkok. I take the bus – 15 long, long, long hours. But I told myself repeatedly that I had wanted to see the Thai countryside so now here was the opportunity. The whole making lemonade out of lemons mindset. Edwige even gave up her cell phone so that I could stay connected. We bought a local sim card. The tricky thing was that the phone did not have much juice left in it, so I had to use it sparingly, only for emergencies. Well, this was one hell of an emergency!

Step 3: Contemplate life, friends, and family, and the pickle I am in
The bus ride started out being amusing because I watched The Expendables dubbed in Thai! And then a horror movie– somehow, it’s not half as scary in Thai! The countryside really is pretty, lush green, rolling hills, glimpses of the sea. The bus was freezing though – I gave myself an ache just huddling against my backpack to stay warm. I thought about what I could have done differently and then quickly talked myself out of that line of thought as the goal was to survive this and make it back to Singapore. I thought some about the good stuff in life and lots about how life can suck twice over. To get myself out of the funk, I tried to focus on the logistics of making it back home - I texted Gregor to help me figure out what to do when I got to Bangkok at 2am. And he replied with “I am looking forward to this blog entry!”

Step 4: Kill time between 3am and 7.30 am
Khao San is backpacker mecca in Bangkok. Took a taxi there and even at 3am it was bustling with life. A concert had just finished, and people were milling around and all the activity made me feel safe and un-alone. Checked into the first hotel I found (no sharing a dorm for me!), showered and tried to sleep for 3 hours. Quick 3 hours, if you ask me.

Step 5: US Embassy
Took a cab to the embassy. Did not get stuck in notorious Bangkok traffic. Told myself that there is a God making sure that everything lines up. At embassy a few minutes shy of 7.30, went through security in a jiffy, was filling forms, taking photos, paying fees and was all done by 9.30. The office told me to come back at 2pm for my passport – I could have kissed him! I should have kissed him. This is where I want to pause, get down on my knees and thank the US Embassy. I know I am being a tad bit dramatic, but really, I have tremendous gratitude for how respectful, understanding, and quick they are. I hope to never see them again! Though I will send a thank you note once I get everything back online.

Step 6: Figure out money to get back to Singapore
Found an internet cafe, did some searching for flights, Gregor wired me money to a Western Union. It would seem lame to be mushy-gushy over ones friends for what they do for you, but mushy gushy I shall be! Between Edwige and Gregor, they managed my return to Singapore beautifully. While I was in Thailand, Edwige emailed work, Gregor blocked my cell phone, etc. And, good Consultants as they are, I had a status report in my email from them!

Step 7: Thai immigration
Hugged the passport office and took my new passport and dashed off to Thai immigration. In under an hour (more money, more photos, more photocopying), Thai immigration stamped my passport and I was on my way to the airport. Woohoo! I literally was willing there to be connecting flight.

Step 8: Wrangle a seat back to Singapore
Apparently, Thai airlines cannot sell tickets 4 hours prior to flight take-off, and I was at the counter 3.5 hours prior. Nonsense! I was not going to let some silly rule stop me from completing this odyssey, with everything connecting so beautifully and seamlessly. I had a discussion with the lady about how she really can be helpful, if she’d try. And she did try. 30 minutes later I not only had a ticket but she ensured that I got a great (lots of leg room) seat too!

Step 9: Singapore immigration
Efficiency, thy name is Singapore. Walked up to the immigration officer, who smiled (11pm, I needed a smile), asked a few questions (since I had also lost my Singapore visa/work permit), and cleared me. I was one happy, exhausted girl. Gregor came to get me from the airport – and here’s the best partà With a bag to replace the one I lost. Same brand, same everything. Or like the Thai say, same-same-but-different.

That’s the story, folks.

To do
1. Show gratitude: A lot of people made all of this happen in a seamless way - Gregor, Edwige, Bangkok US Embassy, Thai immigration, Singapore immigration, Thai airways ticketing lady
2. Replace passport, phone, sunglasses, just stuff – This is a lot of work. 8 days in and I am still working on all this.

Not to do
1. Panic
2. Mope
3. Over analyse

And yes, there are a handful of pictures. Click.

Posted by Goofy9 02:43 Archived in Thailand Comments (7)

Bucket List(s)

Borobudur, Java: Indonesia

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What's on your bucket list? Do you have one? To manage my list, which grows and grows, I have had to divide it into two-places to see and experience, and things to learn. This list might need further classification by continent (pyramids, Machu Pichu, Acropolis) or by natural wonders (Angel falls, Eiger, boat trip to the source of the Nile) or by skill (play the flute, solve the rubik cube without cheating). I need an excel spreadsheet- how very Consultant of me!

Borobudur is a 9th century buddhist temple. It depicts Buddhism in its earliest form, where it still had tremendous Hindu influence. The temple itself is large, sprawling complex of Buddhas and carvings but what is more remarkable is that it exists at all. Almost a 1000 years after being built, the earthquake of 2006 shook it. Many structures were damaged, many trussed up- the designation as a Unesco World Heritage site helped as the Government of Indonesia is doing it's best to restore. There is a sign that says, 'Our common heritage, our common responsibility.' visitors seem to take it to heart as there is no graphiti, no littering and an almost quiet reverence for the architects of these silent, large chariots of the gods.


At another temple in the complex, one can walk up steep stairs into a tall sanctum, where Nandi, The Bull sits. I think she is Siva's 'chariot.' She is an elegant, smooth, stone bull (me thinks the reason why Hindus don't eat beef) sitting quietly- no decoration, bare walls, very simple on the inside, but magnificently large and ornate on the outside. One of my friends, looks at the bull and says, 'They built all this for a cow?! They must really have believed in it's divine power to do that.'

Have you heard of Mohenjo Daro, the site of the Indus Valley civilisation? If my high school history serves me right, it's the oldest civilisation to be discovered. They had whole entire cities- roads, sewers, bath houses, art galleries! The site is now in Pakistan. Makes me wonder in what state of preservation the site is- there is no real tourism in Pakistan as far as I know. And if the Taliban could blow up the Bamiyan Buddha, they could raze Mohenjo Daro...

More pictures from the trip

Posted by Goofy9 06:20 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)


Bandar Seri Begawan

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"What are u guys doing now? Is alcohol banned?"

Two really telling questions about Brunei...answers as follows.
There is nothing to do in Bandar Seri Begawan. Went out for precisely 1.5 hours and had seen all the sights there were to see: couple of ostentatious mosques, empty mall (it's Ramadan and everyone must hav been home), a boat ride through a water village (sort of like the canals in Bangakok, only deserted, and cleaner).

Mosque lit up during ramadan

Alcohol is banned. I'm not that much of a drinker but not having the option to drink can drive one to want to drink! I think it's the enforcement of life choices that bothers me. I recollect many years ago wondering why Americans needed 4 kinds of milk and 5 kinds of bread. And I figure that's because you can!!  

Choice of Indonesian cakes, called Kek Lapis

Brunei is a wealthy country, but its a quiet kind of wealth. Not the flashy Dubai kind but the kind where the citizenry look like they are cared for, they drive simple cars, they have lots of children, and they spend time shopping and eating. BSB has the feel of being just a large village, not the city it's pretending to be. Their biggest problem is not rUn-employment, but un-occupation. I believe that the youth dont have much to do and dont have much need to do anything either. Oh the problems of being an oil rich mini nation!  I dont think there are incidents of violence, strikes, riots. Afterall, What do they have to protest against...

A few more pictures

Posted by Goofy9 07:17 Archived in Brunei Comments (3)

9 Million Bicycles in Beijing

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India has no excuse. No excuse whatsoever. Whenever I respond to questions of poverty, poor/no infrastructure, lack of healthcare, a typical excuse to answer away these issues is, 'well, it's hard for a government or a people to solve the problems of a billion.' This argument is no longer valid and don't let me use it again! I have now visited Beijing, albeit for a few days, and I have seen how a city of 15 million is clean, the train sytem is organized, the roads don't have potholes, and history is being actively preserved. You dont see the same thing in Calcutta or Bombay/Mumbai.

In the US, I have always marveled at the need this young nation feels to preserve its fledgeling history. And that same need is present in Beijing to preserve it's 2000+ years of history. There is a lot of construction, and I have heard that entire hutongs (suburbs with ancient courtyard houses) have been razed to make way for the Olympic stadiums, but at the same time, there is evidence of a concerted effort to restore, protect, and preserve. It's interesting to peek through the polluted haze and see a giant 400-year old gate juxtaposed to a 70 storey high IBM building.

Like every good tourist, Day 1 was the Great Wall. OMG! And more OMG! It's an incredible feeling to step on ancient stone and know that the Chinese built the wall to preserve their isolation, and that it failed and the wall was hardly a deterent to marauding intruders. History has shown repeatedly that walls don't work, yet, we repeatedly ignore the evidence. Is it arrogance or plain stupidity that we have continued to build walls, and suggest walls as a way to handle bigger issues of immigration and national security?

Daddy Ponnappa, Mama Ponnappa, and Me Ponnappa taking our first step on to the Wall.

The days were a whirlwind of temples, tombs, squares, and palaces. All run by citizens who stand ram rod straight. I am certain the Chinese are taught good posture in school! Every security guard, soldier, and ordinary citizen stood straight and walked straight whether they were being watched or not. Even at the train station, the attendants, stood in a straight line for no apparent reason. There is nothing casual about them!
Must discuss bathrooms- there were signs for public toilets everywhere, unlike in India where you are lucky to find one. Some were clean, others not so much. All had squatting style loos. And the touristy one got a 5 star rating! And many didn't even have doors. Quite disconcerting!

A quick note on fashion- the society seemed 'manly' to me. The girls were not really girlie. Most wore shorts or pants, they are big into cartoon tshirts , Mario, and something called Astro Boy. And there's always an odd one who wears heels to climb the Great Wall.

More photos from the trip

H and H were in Beijing in the 90s and here is her recollection of the trip..."When we were in Beijing it was so hazy I kept thinking I would fall off the edge of the earth. You could only see 1-2 blocks ahead but that feeling went on forever as the blocks rolled by. Ten years ago there were SO many cars, wonder what its like now. Oh and cross street underground! No one spoke English so we carried our hotel card with us so could show to taxi drivers. Im sure it has changed a lot since we were there. People we met had been there 20 years prior to us and told us about it then, they felt like the first westerners!! I loved China."

Oh, and India used to have the world's largest rail network followed by erstwhile USSR. Just finished reading an article in the Times that China will (or maybe already does) have the largest highspeed network of trains to allow remote cities to grow as quickly as coastal cities. Took the bullet train from Beijing to Tianjin at 330kmph, 205mph! The trees look as if they are slanting and the railing looks bent at the speed we were traveling at!

PS: Google and listen to 9 Million Bicycles in Beijing by Katie Melua. Haunting. They have a disco version of it that the driver/guide was playing. Horrid departure from the original.

Posted by Goofy9 23:06 Archived in China Comments (5)

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