Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Winter Break

For my winter break Taylor and I decided to escape the brutal winter of Shanghai and see as much of Asia as we possibly could by taking a 15 day cruise around South East Asia. Here is the journal I kept to log my accounts while on the cruise.

First up was the Philippines
As we pulled up to our first stop on the cruise we were greeted by colorful tribal dancers that moved to the beat of beautiful rhythmic drums, played by local Filipinos from the North. Taylor and I were so excited that we were one of the first people to get off of the ship. Let me remind you that the ship docked at 8:00 AM, and I am certainly not one to wake up early, but the thought of getting to be in a new place a rose my spirit. As soon as we got off of the ship Merielle, a previous coworker and friend of my mom, was there with her driver to show us around her home town. Merielle firs took us to Intramuros , which means inside the walls. This was the old town of Manila, which is bordered by its original brick wall that was built centuries ago to keep invaders out. Here we rode in a horse driven carriage around the old town, where we saw the oldest cathedral in the Philippines, fort Santiago, and other historic land marks and churches of the town. Merielle then took us to a totally newly remodeled westernized part of town. This area reminded me of the trendy little shopping center, the grove, in LA. It had everything from a Nike town to numerous cupcakes stores and little restaurants and high end boutiques. Here Merielle took use to her friends restaurant where we ate Filipino food with a European twist. After seeing the more modernized side of the island we then had a chance to see the life of the less fortunate that live in the slums. It saddened me to see the drastic difference between the rich and the poor there. We learned a lot about the corruption and greed of the government in the Philippines, which suppresses the poor. However, Presidential elections are right around the corner and Merielle is hard at work campaigning for the presidential candidate, Noy, to make a better life for the people of Manila.

2nd stop Malaysia

Kota Kina Balu

Today we took a 10 min walk in the smoldering heat into town. The town was small and scattered with a few industrial businesses and markets. We got a chance to look around in one of the produce markets, which was filled with colorful fruits, vegetables, and crazy random raw animal parts. On our way leaving the market we were persuaded by a fisherman to go on his boat an see some of the water villages where the Filipino refugees live. This was a truly eye opening experience. We met the fishermen’s family of 10 and we also got to see his house. The village was full of a mix of wooden and tin scrap houses supported on stilts above the water. To get from house to house the people have to walk across unstable slabs of wood suspended above the water. I almost had a heart attacked trying to get from house to house, thinking that I was going to fall into the crashing water below. I found absurd to think that these people have to make this dangerous trek every day, especially the numerous bare footed children of the village, who could fall through a small crack and injure themselves at any moment. This made me think of how I take for granted the smaller things in life, such as a warm house and a family who can afford to put shoes on my feet. I will never forget what I saw today. It was a truly humbling experience. After the water village Taylor and I got our first encounter with Islam, as we toured around the beautiful state mosque, and then we spent the rest of the day eating and walking along the beach.

3rd up, Brunei

Today Taylor and I tried to do Brunei on a budget. Instead of taking the 60 euro charter bus into town we woke up early and went out in search of an unmarked taxi that we could bargain with. However, luck swayed our way, and before we even took a step out of the gates of the dock an Asian couple from Canada, who spoke Malaysian, asked us if we wanted to split a taxi with them that they had already bargained down to 80 Brunei dollars, which is equivalent to 1/39 of a US dollar. This was perfect! The country of Brunei centers everything around it’s sultan, which is one of the richest men in the world. To put this into perspective, the sultan makes 700,000 euro a day and owns 120 luxury cars, one of them of which is a 4.1 million dollar custom Rolls Royce, that was made to look like a Porshe. The country is a very rich oil state, but all of the oil is owned by the sultan, hence his riches. We spent the day visiting the Sultan’s Mosque, which was one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I have ever seen. The Mosque was filled with intricate patterns, higher than life minarets, and lavish gold platted arches and walls. After the mosque we tried to sneak a peek at the sultan’s palace, but our view was obstructed by the huge gate that surrounded the even taller trees that were around the palace. All we could see was a glimpse of the immense golden bulb that lay atop of the palace. After visiting the palace we did what else other than visit the museum of the history of the sultan and his family; which you can imagine was filled with other sinfully lavish articles that depicted the sultan’s lavish life style. Objects such as golden gowns, pictures of his 3 wives, diamond incrusted swords, and gold plated carriages which the king is carried by over 100 diplomats and guards in aligned the walls of the museum. It was nauseating to see how drastically different the sultan lived from the refugees in Kota Kina Balu or even the other people of the island of Brunei and Manila, especially knowing that if the sultan just gave up one days worth of pay he could help a whole country. Though Brunei is thought to be one of the richest countries, like the taxi driver said “it is the sultan who is rich not the people.”

4th stop, Singapore
I finally had the chance to be reunited with one of my best friends from Pepperdine, Shannon , who lives in Singapore. We had a hard time finding each other, seeing as though I do not have a cell phone connection and the cruise told us the wrong dock information. However, after three hours of wandering around aimlessly we finally found each other. A couple of words to describe my time in Singapore would be: EAT SHOP SHOP EAT EAT SHOP PARTYYYYY oh and did I say EAT and SHOP. Shannon took us to about 8 different shopping malls, which to me all just seemed like one big blob of a mall since they were all connected underground. You could spend years under ground in a shopping mall in Singapore and not see the light of day. For lunch we ate at a hawker center, which is an outdoor Asian food court. Here we got the chance to try Malaysian and Indonesian delicacies, such as sting ray, chicken paratha, and carrot cake that had neither carrots nor cake in it, but it still tasted amazing. Being that it is monsoon season, the rest of our day plans ,to take the double decker hippo tour bus around town, got cut short when it started pouring raining. So we did what any average Singaporean girl teen does when it’s raining outside; we went to the mall and took sticker pictures in crazy Japanese photo booths and then decorated them, and afterwards we rode around town in Shannon’s friends Carrera to Sentosa beach. ( well every average Singaporean teen might not go to the beach in the rain, but for some strange reason we did) This would have been a beautiful sight to see if it were not pouring outside. The beach was lined with beautiful restaurants and white cabanas, which lead way onto the white sand with warm aqua waves crashing onto the shore. This manicured sight was no different from the rest of the pristine Singapore. From the chique Italian restaurant that we ate at for dinner to the amusement park sized clubs that we partied in later that night in Clarkey, everything in Singapore exude prestige; I mean this is the country where citizens are not allowed to chew gum and they can be caned for spitting. From the facade Singapore seems to be the perfect country. No trash, no crime, and no run down buildings, what’s not to love?

More Pics of Singapore to come...

5th country, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh
This is one of the main cities that felt the raft of the Vietnam War, so we focused the most part of our touring on the attractions of the history of the war. We took a 3 hour taxi ride all the way to the country side to see the tunnels where the Vietnamese soldiers hid during the war. This was a great exhibit because we got the chance to step into the shoes of the Vietnamese soldiers and crawl around in the dark cramped tunnels. We also experienced various other interactive demonstrations such as, learning about how they made their shoes and cooked their food to how they prepared their war gear and traps. After this we had a little time left to look around the ever crowded market that sold just about everything you can dream of, and then we took a brief stop to gaze at the main cathedral in the center of town.

2nd Stop in Vietnam
We decided to take a little break from sightseeing today by only going to one tourist attraction, Marble Mountain. Marble Mountain was just as it sounds, a mountain made out of marble, and at the bottom of the mountain merchants sold marble sculptures. The best thing about the mountain that we got to see was a colorful Buddhist temple that lay at the bottom of the mountain, which strangely was not made of marble. Anyways, after all of the marble we spent most of our day lying on the white sand beach and swimming in the crystal clear water. This was a nice change from the ice cold winter we escaped in Shanghai. Later that afternoon we went out in hopes to get a real Vietnam experience. We ate pho noodles at a little local restaurant. Then we walked around the town aimlessly striking conversation, well exchanging the few words of englishese that we knew, and taking pictures with random Vietnamese on lookers, who were in awe of our strange beach attire that we still had on from earlier in the day. After tiring ourselves out we then rewarded ourselves with a $1.50 hair cut and a $3 mani pedi at a nearby salon.

Last stop befre docking in Hong Kong
Today I got a late start, being that it was the day after New Years Eve, but what I did get to see of Sanya was beautiful. It can definitely be compared as the Hawaii of China.

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