Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Traveling to Asia - A recap

Well I am long overdue on an update for the blog. I thought to do a bit of a Q&A post about the Asia trip as I was asked some interesting and funny questions.

Is the Thai food one finds in the US authentic?
Yep, with the exception of the tripe (intestines), all the food I had in Thailand was very similar to the food served in Thai restaurants here.

What was your favorite place?
Well it is a toss up between Bali and Hong Kong. Bali for it's mystical and sacred beauty and energy. Hong Kong for its combination of East meets West and absolute vibrancy.

How's your surfing?
Suffice it to say I have YEARS of practice ahead of me. It is an equally frustrating and fun endeavour.

Was everything made in China?
In Hong Kong, obviously most of it was but from what I could tell a lot of the things I saw in Bali and other places seemed to be locally made.

What was my least favorite place?
I would have to say the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok, it was a bit too seedy and depressing for my liking.

What were my favorite meals?
The food at the surf retreat, banana pancakes in Ubud, Pat Si Yu in Non Khai and sushi in Legian.

So did you meet any guys?
Well let's just say I did not meet the hotel heir that would sweep me off my feet, but I had fun anyway!

Are you going to move to Bali?
I don't think so but I would not mind spending 3 months of the year there.

What's the most valuable thing you experienced?
I could not really say, I think the real value of this particular trip will manifest itself in unexpected ways in the future.

So if anyone has any questions, silly or not so silly, feel free to comment or email them to me and I can answer them on the blog.

Back to Miami

On December 15th, I got back on a plane and flew from Bali to Taipei to Los Angeles to Atlanta to Miami. Surfboard, suitcase and two carry ons in tow, I finally made it back to my family's home in Miami early Monday morning.

I have spent my time catching up with family and friends, unpacking all my bags, going through two months of mail and email, uploading 2000+ pictures to my laptop and whatnot.

I met with my future employer, truly a gem of an induvidual - who gave me the security of being able to have a job to come back to while I was on my travels, and I decided not to take the job. Luckily he did not throw me out of a moving car when I told him. Strangely it was only that day that it occurred to me not to re-enter the airfreight industry. If anytime is the time to make a break, it is now, so with eternal gratitude to my lovely and gracious ex future employer, I am leaping into free fall.

So what am I doing now? Well, I have been busy with arts & crafts projects, making Christmas ornaments and my own gift wrapping paper, went for a surf in the not as warm as Bali waters of Miami. I figure I will enjoy the holidays with my family and friends, make my way back to Brooklyn in mid January sometime and keep adventuring in the meantime.

Wishing all a healthy and happy Christmas and New Year!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sunrise in Bali

I went for my last Bali surf of the year yesterday and Marcy admittedly kicked my ass out in the water, it was a lot of work but I had fun nonetheless. I had a lovely last lunch at Lanai with Marcy and Melinda and made my way back to the disaster that was my hotel room.

Putting off packing, I went for dinner, went to the internet cafe and had that night swim in the pool under the stars. The stars are so bright here and so beautiful and if you watch the night sky long enough you see shooting stars. After chillaxing ( as a good friend calls it) I finally decided to tackle the nightmare of packing. I loaded about 10kg of clothes into my surfboard bag, I hope the board is now well protected against any possible dings or damage, but I really hope that it will get loaded without a problem. Good thing I have cargo experience, I'll get down on the ramp and do it myself if I have to! So a board bag, a nearly bursting rolling duffel and two carry ons later, I was finally done and off to sleep.

I got up at 6am after having about four hours sleep and dragged myself down to the beach to watch the sunrise. Yes getting up early is totally underrated.

God what a view! It was clear and low tide. You could see the volcanic mountain range to the North so clearly as the haze and pollution had not yet enveloped them, who knew there was a MASSIVE volcano right there! I walked far out into the ocean, the tide was so low and you could see live coral and little fish swimming in pools of water. I saw fishermen and women spearfishing and collecting seaweed, I saw tiny little crabs scurrying across the sand. I saw the local wild beach dogs playing, flocks of birds feeding and taking flight. I saw a huge live starfish on the sand and I sat down to watch it. It looked like it was tempting sand flies and then eating them. I saw lots of little insects go in but none come out so I assume they met their end.

I sat on the beach for a few hours and eventually had breakfast and got going. As I had to check out at 11am but my flight is at 4pm I thought to do another post and show some pictures from this morning.

What a great way to end my trip, with the hope, aspiration and life of a new day. Back to America I go with the spirit of adventure and absolute wonder in me.

Back to Bali

Monday the 3rd I got in a taxi, got on the Airport Express train, got on Singapore Airlines and got back to Bali.

Wow, its been a really long time since I have been really impressed by economy class service. Singapore Airlines are amazing - the cabin is tastefully decorated for the holidays, you get pillows and blankets, there is decent leg room, a huge on demand movie selection, a menu with good food and truly impeccable service from the cabin staff. The only unfortunate incident was that I lost my glasses somewhere that day!

Anyway, so I made my way back to Bali and it has been so great to come back. I have been surfing (trying to), smelling incense, watching the ocean, walking past the frangipani blossoms and dogs lying around on the ground, and seeing new friends that I feel I have known forever.

I have been back to lessons with Marcy (aka Mr. Marcy Sir!) and getting frustrated as all hell - 3 weeks out of the water did not do my weak paddle much good - but hey, I'm not complaining, I get to go out into the ocean every day and take it all in! I picked up my gorgeous new surfboard and we did a few lessons on the beach and up the coast. Last week I killed it going for two surfs in one day, a lesson with Marcy in the early morning and then a surf with Chelsea up the coast in the later morning, suffice it to say I slept really well that night.

Saturday I moved to a new hotel in Tangung Benoa on the Bukit Peninsula. At the beginning of my trip my mom very graciously and generously arranged for me to stay at a time share in the Nusa Dua resort area. So I packed up and schlepped my bags and my surfboard over to the Peninsula Beach Resort. I spent my days reading, swimming in the ocean and watching the fishing boats go by, swimming in the pool under the dark purple night sky with stars and frangipani trees overhead.

I have been taking taxis back to Legian where I was back on the tanker board for remedial surf lessons working on my pop up (jump up as they call it here) but the remedial lessons started to pay off on Thursday when Marcy took me out at KuDeTa and I probably had the funnest, best surf session I ever had. The conditions were gorgeous - glassy and not too big. I was able to get in a few super fun rides on the right hander. We will have to see how that translates on the significantly smaller board I bought!

I am really excited to go back to the US and see my family and friends but given the amazing experience I have had in Asia, it's no big surprise that I never want to leave.
So I'm going to pack in one last surf this afternoon, a swim under the stars, watch the sunrise, pack my bags and get on the plane for one long trip home tomorrow.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hong Kong, China - Part 3

Friday I met Karen and her coworkers for a fun Chinese "comfort food" lunch, a typical "I'm so glad it's Friday" lunch. I went back to their offices for some incredible views of the harbour and then got on a double decker bus, that drove through some incredible winding roads to the other side of the island.

I walked around the Stanley Market and the Maritime Museum but I was really mostly taken with the gorgeous weather and amazing views, I sat for a long time just watching the fishermen and the ocean. After a stroll along the boardwalk and through the market again, I got on a bus and then a taxi (a 2 hour ordeal and a VERY long story) to meet up with Karen and her friends for drinks and dinner. We had loads of fun and I met some lovely people.

Saturday Karen and I dragged ourselves out of her apartment for brunch and a hike. We walked part of the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail, about 2.5k - doesn't sound like much but a fair portion of it was stairs. Being the well trained athlete that I am, not a problem. Ha Ha. We were rewarded with some splendid views at the peak but we had to get going to a Hong Kong Chinese wedding rehearsal where Karen was the maid of honor. We raced back to Karen's and met up with Lilac and David. The venue was amazing, again tremendous views right on the harbour. After the rehearsal we jumped on the subway and went to visit Karen's jeweler. We walk in and Karen is greeted like a queen, we play dress up with some amazing jewels and have our arms twisted into buying a few things. I asked Mariane to indulge me and let me try on the most expensive piece - no problem, she whips out a four carat diamond. Holy cow! I could have blinded someone with that rock.

Sunday Karen went off to the wedding so I decided to walk around her neighborhood and the Soho area. I walked past boutiques and restaurants, past temples and through markets that sold everything from birds nests to shark fins. After some lunch, some shopping, some more shopping it was finally evening and Karen and I went for a delicious Italian dinner.

Monday I was treated to Yuly's mango breakfast and went off to the airport as it was time for me to go back to Bali. As happy and excited as I was to go back to Bali, I was a little sad leaving Hong Kong. I really had a fantastic time, it's a great city and I was hosted by a great friend. I am definitely going back one day!

Macau & Hong Kong, China - Part 2

Thursday morning Yuly prepared a gorgeous breakfast of a fresh fruit plant and a toasted English muffin with fresh mango (Carmen - I have the recipe from Yuly, it's AWESOME) for Karen and I on the balcony. Karen went off to work and I did some yoga. I headed down the hill, checking out the little shops, peeking down the lanes and generally was in a state of absolute wonder. I caught a taxi and went off to the ferry terminal, where I took the ferry to Macao.

It was a gorgeous sunny day and after about an hour the ferry arrived in Macao. I did not really have much of an agenda, so I did the touristy thing and hired a rickshaw bicycle driver to take me towards the colonial center. The old man was impressive, I was actually tempted to have him sit in the back and I would pedal but then I paid him about three times what a taxi would have cost me so I guess we were even.

I walked past the glitzy casinos to the historic district. It was so odd to see the street signs in Portuguese and Chinese (Macao used to be a Portuguese colony). If it were not for the Chinese writing, I almost felt like I was in some little European town, winding streets, plazas, colonial architecture - it was gorgeous. I strolled around, did a little shopping, saw the fort and the old cathedral, had an egg tart (like warm egg custard in a flaky pie crust - yummy!) and eventually walked back towards the pier and past all the casinos. A bit of a strange mix of it all.

I got back on the ferry and went for a Hunan Chinese dinner with Karen and her friend Eva. Dinner was truly fantastic - I am not generally a fan of "American" Chinese food, this food was different, better and left no heartburn! Also, getting complemented on my chopstick utilization by a Hong Kong Chinese lady was pretty cool - guess all my sushi lunches have paid off!

After dinner Karen and Eva suggested I go across to Kowloon to visit the Temple Street night market. Eva was kind enough to get me to the market via the MRT (subway). This area was amazing, tons of neon signs, tons of people out, busy, noisy but amazing to walk through. I did a little shopping in the market (one will notice this recurring theme in Hong Kong) and got back on the subway at about midnight and went back to Karen's. After several weeks of being in by 11pm, this was a long day. Hong Kong really never seems to sleep.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Hong Kong, China - Part 1

Wednesday I flew on Emirates from Bangkok to Hong Kong to visit my friend Karen, who I met on the surf retreat in Bali. After about two and a half hours flying we approached Hong Kong, it was sunset and the sun was hovering just above the horizon and all these misty little islands poked out of the South China Sea. It was positively dreamy. I made my way through Immigration, where they greet you with friendly smiles and give you orange gummy candies. I collected my bag and made my way to the Airport Express train to get into central Hong Kong, where Karen met me.

Somehow Karen and I had a small mix up on my arrival date, she had a cocktail function to go to, so I changed my shoes, put on some makeup and jewelry, Yuly (Karen's housekeeper) collected my bags and off we went. Karen and I went to a swanky restaurant in the IFC (International Finance Center) and had drinks with an international crowd of insurance, finance and real estate people. Talk about surreal, here I am overlooking Hong Kong harbor chatting with some heavy hitting movers and shakers.

Karen and I left the suit and tie crowd, got some dinner and had a chat. We ventured up the hill and decided to get one last drink on our way home. We stopped in at a bar called Soho Junction, where Karen and I were customers 4 and 5 respectively of this bar that had just opened. We sat down with 1,2 and 3 - an Australian guy, a French guy and an Italian guy. So there we were the five of us taking pictures, chatting and having a grand time together along with the Nepalese owner and the Nepalese bar back. We had a great time. Soho is one of my favorite parts of New York and I think I may love the Soho of Hong Kong even more. A mix of old and new, East meets West, all without the stuffy attitude.

After our drink, we hiked up the hill (Hong Kong is not for sissies or stiletto heels) and settled in for a good night's rest.

Bangkok, Thailand - The second time around

I arrived in Bangkok and made my way in a taxi to my hotel. I booked this hotel with hotel points. Wow, did I ever feel like a country bumpkin! After spending eight days in a place where monks ring the temple bells at 5am and you flush your toilet with a bucket, this was amazing. I stayed in the Plaza Athene. I got settled in my room, that had a fantastic view of the Bangkok business district. Housekeeping showed up to lay out my slippers and turn down my bed. The hotel was a novel experience by all accounts but it really blew my country bumpkin mind.

I went for a walk around the area and saw a street vendor cooking an awesome Pad Thai in a huge wok, so I sat down for dinner. For 30 Baht (or $1USD) I had the best Pad Thai ever, sitting at a sidewalk table, watching all of Bangkok race by. After dinner I got on the Skytrain and went to the Siam Square area. I went for a walk through the malls and parked myself at a nice little internet cafe.

Interesting observation, all of Southeast Asia seems to be obsessed with music by R. Kelly and Snoop Dogg. The unedited versions are piped through the mall speakers. It is a surreal experience.