Sunday, January 25, 2009

Highlights from the worldwide road

Three days into the journey I gave up on keeping my travel journal. Our days were so long and full that it was only possible to fall into bed each night and grab as much sleep as we could fit in with the travel. In these first eight days, we have toured Yangshuo (China), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Singapore (Singapore), and now Krabi (Thailand).

I am now resting for a time in a net bar and trying to come up with some way to post despite all the distractions of the scene around me--so at best this will be a fragmented update. Here are some of the memorable events, thoughts, experiences from the past week:

Yangshuo, China: Always a joy to go here. I went last year and will never cease to be awed by the mountains rising up like great haystacks here, there and all around. Layers and layers of these karst peaks popping up among rice paddies. We were there for only about 24 hours but were able to fit in a bike ride through the countryside rice paddies and villages.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: A truly international city. Too many nationalities or races to quantify. The city has that delapidated post-colonial grime that is both charming and overwhelming. In the middle of the city, the Petronas Twin Towers rise up in glistening splendor. We had some bad luck during our attempts to see all of the city. A trip to the Islamic Arts Museum was deflated when we were taken to the wrong place and then a torrential, monsoon-season downpour prevented us from making it to the actual location in time. This same downpour restricted our entrance to the National Mosque because we were too soaked to respectfully tour the site. When the rain continued, our backup plan, a walk through the city gardens, was also nixed. So finally, we cut our losses and found a Mexican restaurant for dinner (!!!) and caught a movie (Australia!!!!!). Both were fabulous treats that are not part of our China lives. It was a joy !

My favorite moment in the city: returning to our hostel late at night, we arrived just in time to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama on CNN International. The lobby had a big screen tv and we sat transfixed with a gathering of other backpackers of various international backgrounds, listening to our new president's address. It was lovely. Everywhere that we go, when the inevitable question "where are you from?" is responded to with "USA," we are greeting with smiles, high fives and excitement as the person exclaims "Ah! Obama!" "Yay!" we reply and enjoy the international goodwill!! Hearing President Obama's remarks to the Muslim world while sitting in a predominantly Islamic city was an interesting experience. I felt proud. And hopeful.

Singapore, Singapore: This clean, modern, mulitcultural, beautiful city makes me feel that even America has a lot of work ahead to avoid looking a bit decrepid and ragamuffin when it comes to infrastructure and development. The city is a marvel. Over and over again, Singaporeans announce proudly that their city-state is peaceful comprised of four different nationalities; Malay, Chinese, Indian and Eurasian. In the housing zones, the government requires that each area houses equal parts of all four peoples--so that there is no concentration of one group living in one area. The city has a distinct Chinatown and Little India and Muslim quarter--but that is where those people work and hang out--living areas are equally distributed percentage-wise with all the nationalities mixed together. Crime is incredibly low. The city is developing at an incredibly rapid rate. Everything seems so new and clean and well thought out! Though Singapore shares the same post-colonial background as Malaysia, the remaining architecture of that period has been preserved--keeping the charm without the crumbling destructed feel. We took some open-air bus tours through the city, had a great hostel where we met fun people, caught another movie (can you tell how much we miss going out to the movies!?! This time we saw "Rachel Getting Married"), and ate some great Indian and Malay food.

Then it was off to Thailand! Getting from Singapore to our Thailand destination took about 24 hours of buses and travel--traversing 3 countries during that 24 hour period! Some of that time
was in "layovers" between switching buses--but it was quite a day!

Railay beach, Krabi, Thailand: I was here last year during our trip--but it's so beautiful and we've been told by so many that it's the best spot to stay on the Andaman Coast that we had to come again! We're soaking in as much sun as possible and I might do some rock climbing on the cliffs that surround the island once I'm satisfied with my tan...but in general this leg of the trip is one for rest and rejuvination. It's simply wonderful. I'll write more about it later as we go on...We'll leave at some point for some of the other islands of Thailand but for now I'll just say that I'm glad to spend a few days here without having to pack up and go again every morning!

That's all of the update that I can think of for now! Hope you are all well!

Friday, January 16, 2009

It's TIME to return!!!

The time has finally arrived for our trek once more into Southeast Asia. Last year I spent 35 adventure-filled days working my way through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, before flying back to China and catching some time in Hong Kong at the end of the journey. This year, we're beginning in the south and working our way back up to China. We'll start in Kuala Lumpur and explore Malaysia with a side trip into Singapore for a while and then begin the journey north with pit stops in the paradise islands of Thailand for some sun and then find our way into the jungles/rainforests of Laos. When we finally return to China, we'll be in the southern province of Yunnan, the province that borders Tibet and has just as much charm and cultural diversity.

Of course--this is all an estimation. We have about 4 weeks and our Chinese salaries to live off of--so we'll see what happens! The fun of the Southeast Asia trek is that there is so much that you discover along the way--so many possibilities and wonderous things to see--and so planning for it is at best a guess! It's incredibly difficult to pack for a trip like this! Especially to fill a bag with tank tops and short sleeves when the weather here requires thick sweaters and long johns! The relief is that there are great clothes that can be found at the markets of I'm guessing I'll be fine!

Please keep Katera, Megan and I in your Thoughts during the next few weeks. I'm sure I'll be able to update from time to time when I escape into a web bar! And....ok....I'll throw in only one gloat for today....enjoy your cold weather!!!

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Year's in Shanghai!!!

I rang in New Year's this year in Shanghai--the classic port city once overrun by the British, the French, the Japanese, and gangsters and pirates. Now it's glittering, modern, urban and wonderful. We were hosted by the wonderful Dawson, who lives and works there now. We had a great time--we didn't eat Chinese food once, we shopped, we saw the sights and most important, we hung out enjoying friendship for the new year. Here are a few pics.

The Pudong skyline at dusk

An old church that's in the midst of renovation that we found and snuck into--I think it was Episcopal

The dust of the unused--or of renovation...

INCREDIBLE--sandwiches in China are rare--so this was probably my favorite meal during our trip! We also ate Greek, Indian and TexMex!

This was my favorite museum stop--it's the Propaganda Poster Museum--a collection of propaganda posters from the 50's-70's. It's pretty interesting to see how they portrayed their enemies (uhh....errr....that's us.) and their goals. The museum is hidden away in a collection of apartment buildings--you have to want to find it. First you find the complex, then ask the guard at the security gate, he gives you a card with a map on the back to find the exact building, and then you go into the basement for the poster exhibit!

This is my patriotic fist

A glimps of some of the posters just reminds us of how cool it is that we can all live here and be friends now!

On the train ride home--we were stuck with the top berths.