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Friday, May 26, 2006

Bangkok Day 3

Saturday morning was reserved for one thing and one thing only - shopping at the Chatuchauk weekend market. This famous market is gigantic, with several narrow alleys of shops containing everything from clothes to food to furniture. We decided to take a tuk-tuk out to the market, which was an interesting ride but really not worth it because A/C taxis are just the same price anyway. Since Nima had been to Chatuchauk before we had an idea of what to try to hit. She picked up a couple shirts (I think), and I found some interesting stuff but buying any clothes from these Thai markets is risky because of the chance of color bleeding and shrinkage. I ended up picking up a pair of cotton fisherman's pants for 100 baht. We found a cool t-shirt store Nima went to last time, but unfortunately they didn't have the "Mullet" t-shirt we were hoping to find. By about 11am I was finished shopping, so I parked myself at a cafe/bar with a Singha while Nima continued shopping. There I ended up talking to a couple American girls who were in Thailand for the Peace Corps, each stationed in a village a few hours north of Bangkok. It was interesting to hear their experiences being in small villages teaching English. Both girls agreed that the hardest part was the mental challenge of being in isolation without much contact (internet, phone) back home - which led them to having read dozens of books over the last 6 months. After a couple beers, Nima finished up with the shopping and we headed back via skyway and boat taxi.

We decided that for dinner we wanted to get some good Mexican food (I know, we're in Thailand), but it was really a craving that I had since being in Sri Lanka because I haven't had any good Mexican food since March. We heard of a good Mexican place called Senor Pico at Hotel Rembrandt in "downtown" Bangkok. After taking a much needed afternoon nap during the downpour, we headed off to an early dinner. I don't know if it was my craving of Mexican or the food itself, but I don't think I've ever savored refried beans and real cheese that much. The food definitely hit the spot, and the restaurant added a nice touch of live Latin music as the night went on. We had a nice, leisurely dinner that lasted a few hours before we headed off to check out some BKK nightlife.
We picked out a couple bars to check out on Soi 33, close to the restaurant and in the center of town. According to a guidebook I found there's a jazz/blues bar called Mojos down that road so we decided to check it out. Unbeknownst to us, Soi 33 was full of what Bangkok is known for, "massage parlors" and "sports bars" that cater to out of town male guests. As we walked down the street pretty much all we saw were a couple Thai girls enticing passer-bys to enter their establishment. Nima was getting upset at the whole thought of BKKs industry, and though we ended up finding the bar on the way back down the street there was nothing going on inside, so we decided to find somewhere else all together.
As we were walking by some of the seedy bars I did notice signs that the FA Cup final between Liverpool and West Ham United was going on that night. Nima spotted a bar called The Londoner, which was sure to be showing the game. We headed into the packed pub and luckily found a spot at the bar where we parked ourselves for the next 3 hours. We noticed at the pub an unusually high number of old white men with young Thai women on their arm, something you see everywhere in BKK. Its kinda pathetic when you see the two people pretending they are together yet they can't even communicate. But otherwise, the bar will chock full of lads enjoying the match. In case you missed it, the match itself was incredible, with West Ham scoring a shocking 2 goals early. Down 2-0 in soccer is pretty much a guarantee you're cooked, but Liverpool chipped away thoughout the match to get it to 3-2 with 10 to play. Steve Gerrard then scored on a lazerbeam in stoppage play to tie things up. By then it was midnight and we had an early appointment in the morning, so despite the high drama we decided to take off for the night and get some rest. As it turned out, the FA cup final went to penalty kicks with Liverpool prevailing, marking it one of the best FA cup finals in history. Although we missed the ending, we still had a fun, fantastic night out in Bangkok.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Bangkok Day 2

Friday was designated our cultural day, which happend to fall on Vesak (the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha). We got up early to visit the Golden Temple and the Reclining Buddha temples, both of which were walking distance from the OBI. One thing to watch out for in Thailand are all the touts who hang out near the temples, harrassing tourists for visitng shops, going on tours, etc. A go-to move they use is telling you the temple or sight is closed until the afternoon for some religious ceremony, so they'll take your around shopping until its open and then bring you back. In reality, the major temples are open every day of the year, even on Buddhist holidays like Vesak. Anyhow, the Reclining Buddha is an impressive sight, as the statue dwarfs any person standing next to it. As we were finishing up at the temples we got caught in an instant downpour, but it was actually nice to huddle under a shelter and listen to the rain falling in such a peaceful setting.

After the temples we headed home to change but again a downpour came through, so we chilled for a bit at OBI. When the rain stopped we headed back to the water taxi to pay a visit to the Jim Thompson House. The story of Jim Thompson is fascinating. Jim Thompson was an American stationed in Asia for world War II as an engineer/architect. He actually never got called to duty, but after the war was over he fell in love with the Asian people and culture, and chose to stay in Thailand. He also fell in love with the traditional textiles on silk, and consequently singlehandedly revived the dying Thai silk industry. Being an architect, Thompson designed and built a beautiful home in Bangkok, composed of 6 traditional Thai bungalows strung together openly with hallways, surrounded by a jungle-like garden. He did a great thing for Bangkok in reviving the industry, and seemingly his life was great. On a summer day in 1967, however, he went to Malaysia for a walk in the jungle and was never seen again - disappeared into thin air. Of course there are several theories of his disappearance, including the CIA abducting him, or a tiger eating him. Whatever it is, he's left an enchanting and mysterious legacy behind in Bangkok. We took the guided tour of his house, which uncovers several cool architectural delights, and had lunch at the JTH cafe which was actually quite good.

After the Jim Thompson house we headed over to Siam Square to check out some interesting shopping - and because we were in the area. We then made it back to OBI right before a huge downpour to take a nap to rest up for the evening. For dinner we headed to Ko Saun Road (KSR) - the backpacker's paradise of BKK. This road is known for all the cheap eats, drinks, and guesthouses. We had a great time peoplewatching while sucking down a Singha in a bar. Nima had some kachi (sour) mango off the street, while I was happy to find a street falafel. We spent a couple hours chillin on KSR before deciding to head over to the Suan Lum Night Bazaar for some shopping.

The night bazaar is where Nima bought some good souveniours during her last trip to Bangkok, particularly a set of candlesticks my mom liked. The bazaar is set up pretty cool, with a central area for eating and watching a big screen TV, and tons of market-style shops on the perimeter. We first went back to the shop where Nima got the candlesticks where amazingly I bumped into Shannon, an Accenture colleague with whom I worked a few years ago in DC. She just finished up a role in Kenya and was in Bangkok for ADP training before heading home to the US. Its really quite amazing to run into someone you know from the U.S. at a place like the night bazaar. While I chatted it up with Shannon, Nima picked up some cool gifts for people and we continued on through the market. I didn't buy anything else, however we finished the night with a memorable experience of a Thai foot massage. It was one of those experiences like the Seinfeld episode where Elaine was in the nail salon and felt uncomfortable with all the Vietnamese women chatting it up and laughing in their language. The massage itself was good, but the boys doing the massage seemed to be having a little too much fun with it. Anyway, we capped off the night with the massages and headed home for some much needed rest.

Interesting News Bit

The Sri Lankan government seems to have felt the pressure of the Catholic Bishops, and moved to ban the screening of The Da Vinci Code here in Sri Lanka. Surprisingly, even the Vatican and Italy have allowed the movie to be shown. The Congo, Samoa, and Lebanon have also banned the movie, while the Indian government recently rejected calls for a ban. No ban on the book here in Sri Lanka, however, which seems inconsistent to me.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Bangkok Day 1

For the Vesak holiday I took the opportundiy to visit another great city in Asia, Bangkok. Nima and I met for the long weekend on Thursday and would have a chance to explore through Sunday night.

I arrived in Bangkok around noon on Thursday after a decent flight on Sri Lankan Airlines. Nima made it an hour earlier from Singapore, so as soon as I cleared customs we hopped in a cab to our hotel for the weekend, the Old Bangkok Inn. Nima found the place from Trripadvisor reviews, which were all very glowing and filled us with high expectations. The OBI is located close to some of the historic and cultural sites like the Grand Palace ans Democracy Monument, rather than by some of the more major hjotels downtown. As soon as we got to the OBI we were welcomed by the inkeeper, Nantiya, who was kind enought to let us check in early and have a nap before heading out for the afternoon.

We got directions to downtown from one of the friendly desk clerks at OBI, so we headed down to MBK, Bangkok's best shopping mall. We took a canal taxi boat, something that most tourists miss out on when in Bangkok. The taxi boat is great for several reasons: its a true "local" experience that takes you through many neighborhoods, its a way to beat the notorious Bangkok traffic, and its dirt cheap at 8 baht, or 25 cents. Once we got to MBK we grabbed a bite to eat at what looked to be a true local fast food restaurant, as all the patrons were Thai. I had an okay pork dish, but Nima's Pad Thai was excellent. After MBK we headed to Siam Square, a hip, trendy area with tons of clothing shops for budding designers and fashionistas. Nima visited Siam Square on her previous trip to BKK and wanted to go back to show me and possibly find some cool clothes. She ended up with a really hip pair of pants, and I ended up finding an A&W restaurant where I had a satisfying root beer float. So far, so good...

For dinner we went to the Seafood Market near Phrom Phong - a true tourist spot but a Bangkok "must do". The Seafood Market's motto is "If it swims, we have it." The restaurant is set up basically like the seafood aisle of a supermarket, you grab a shopping cart and pick from a collection of raw (and sometimes live!) seafood what you want for dinner. You are charged by quantity/weight. Then you take the seafood back to your table and a cook comes to take your order regarding how you'd like the food cooked. Shocker - Nima and I chose way too much food. We had garlic tossed scallops, battered/fried prawns, yellow curry crabmeat, and grilled fish (idiot! I don't remember what fish it was). The crab curry was really tasty, and obivously the srimp was good, how can fried food go wrong? I liked the fish the best though, I don't know what it was but it was a nice fleshy white fish and the Thai spices went well with it. After all that seafood, I was definitely finished and done for the night, so we headed home and passed out after a long, eventful day in Bangkok.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

I made an omlette

May 19, 2006 was my first perfect omlette ever. Perfectly round, with onions and tomatoes, evenly cooked on both sides. No breakage, no holes, perfect.

Thursday, May 18, 2006


  • What I eat with a fork, Sri Lankas eat with their hands - e.g. rice and curry
  • What I eat with my hands, Sri Lankans eat with a fork - e.g. pizza
  • Colombo's traffic rivals the D.C. metro area. Luckily, in Sri Lanka you can easily get a driver to battle the traffic for you.
  • Lots of people like to stare, especially the creepy looking dudes. Its a south Asian thing.
  • The abundance of fresh, tasty, and readily available tropical fruit (pineapple, mango, papaya, avacado, and many more) can not be overstated. That alone makes it worthwhile to visit. A pineapple costs 50 cents, an avacado 25.
  • I don't blame Sri Lankans for drinking Ceylon tea multiple times a day. Its damn good.
  • Sri Lankans love cricket. That's why despite the NBA playoffs going on, all I catch on ESPN and Star Sports is reruns of some cricket test match from 3 years ago.
  • Sri Lankan's are generally free-sprited, happy, easy going, helpful people.
  • That said, the country as a whole has nobody to blame but themselves for lack of development. Sri Lanka is a land blessed with natural resources and sheer beauty, yet the people have torn each other and the country apart for the past few decades. Sri Lanka was on its way to being the Singapore of southeast Asia, but shot itself in the foot multiple times.
  • The real Sri Lanka lies outside of Colombo. Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Hatton, Galle, Yala, and on and on are all beautiful places (I've been to a few of them and can confirm)
  • Americans generally don't think of visiting Sri Lanka. Most don't know a think about this island. Its a shame, because Sri Lanka is worth visitng.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Sri Pada

Rajitha, Renuka and I took the opportunity to use the May Day (link) weekend to visit Sri Pada, also know as Adam's Peak. Sri Pada one of the highest and most holy mountains in Sri Lanka. At the top of the mountain appears a "footprint" that Buddhists and Christians alike claim as part of their history. The Buddhist story is that the footprint atop the mountain is that of the Buddha himself, while the Christian story is that the footprint is of Adam, as his first step onto Earth after being kicked out of the Garden of Eden. Either way, its a current day pilgrimage site for Buddhists, and we wanted to visit and partake in the climb before the season ended.
As mose visitors do, we planned to embark on the 4 hour hike in the wee hours of the morning in order to catch the breathtaking sunrise. Hence, we left Colombo early Sunday evening, planning to catch dinner near the mountain before commencing our hike.
According to Lonely Planet, there's a decent hotel/restaurant close to Adam's Peak that's a recommended place for dining before or after the hike. We planned on heading there for dinner, but our driver didn't really know where he was going so we missed it.
Part of the reason we missed the restaurant was because anytime we stopped to ask a local for directions, they insisted we were going the right way and just waived us on. After a few times, we realized that Sri Lankans will tell you something, even if they really don't know, rather than just telling you they dont know.
We made it to the base of Adam's peak around 9:30pm. We were in a situation were we didn't want to begin the hike, but there was a lot of time to kill. We ended up having dinner at The Green House (picture), a modest B&B literally at the base of the mountain. Rajitha and Renuka also decided that it would be best for us to rent a room to catch a few Z's before starting our hike around 3:00am. It turned out to be a brilliant move.
The Green House was a nice place, dinner was of the Tamilian variety and quite tasty. The room was modest, shower/bathroom less than spectacular, and hospitality was warm nonetheless. I especially liked the beds equipped with pink mosquito nets.
After a nap we all woke up and began the hike around 3:00am. We heard conflicting stories regarding how long it would take to get up to the top, but the general consensus was 3-4 hours. We started strong and chipper, cruising through the first hour. It was pitch dark though during the pilgrimage seaason they have a string of lights all the way up, so the trusty headlamp was useful but not completely necessary. It was, however, a good conversation piece.
The pilgrimage is filled with Sri Lankan Buddhists of all shapes and sizes. Parents carrying babies. Elderly women. Energetic children. Many of the climbers were going barefoot. At 3:00am, however, it was chilly and the locals especially bundled up for the long journey. I was fine in a couple layers, but it was amusing to see the stream of climbers in winter coats and beanies.
After the first hour we started to slow down. Looking back, we probably went to fast and didn't pace well. We began taking breaks every few minutes, to catch up with each others' pace and rest up.
Renuka and I seemed to move at the same pace, with Rajitha usually a few steps behind. About halfway up she asked a boy coming down how much longer to the top, and he gleefully answered 30 minutes. At the time Rajitha was thrilled to hear that, but as it turned out the kid severely underestimated. Or he was just messing with Rajitha.
Two hours in, and we were really starting to feel it. Dawn was upon us and the temperature was warming up. I pared down to a t-shirt and finished off my water. The lights at the top of the mountain were within view, but it seemed like an hour of climbing wasn't getting us anywhere
About 3 hours in we were very tired, but still not at the top. At this point it was past 6:00 and the sun was about to peak through and rise. At this point Renuka and I kicked it into as high a gear as we could, and Rajitha powered through not far behind us.
Nearly 3.5 hours from the time we started, Renuka and I finally made it to the top. The sun hadn't quite risen but we made it with literally minutes to spare. The top of the mountain was jam packed with fellow climbers anticipating the sunrise. I was lucky enough to tower over pretty much everyone there, so I had a clear view of the sunrise among the sea of people. Renuka was unfortunately lost in the crowd a bit, though she said she snuck a peek. As it turned out, Rajitha probably had the best view of the three of us, from not quite the top of the mountain.
After the sunrise we went through the temple atop the mountain to see the footprint. Unfortunately we didn't really see it because it was covered up. After checking that out, we met up with Rajitha and found a nice spot to sit down and relax. During this time a Buddhist morning prayer took place, so we stuck out a bit in the middle of several praying Buddhists.
After leisurely relaxing for nearly an hour, and ringing the token "make a wish" bell, we began the descent. For me, the way down was more difficult as it was less about sheer leg strength, and more about balance and stability, especially in the quads. It was also heating up though the time was still early. The way down took less time, but was equally challenging.
The last hour of the descent was a backbreaker. Landmarks that seemed to be right at the beginning of the hike were a lot further away from the end than we remembered. Along the way there are many shops, stalls, and the occaisnional temple. Renuka and I both agreed the end couldn't come fast enough.
I saw a monitor lizard on the way down about 3 feet in front of me. Pretty cool.
We finally made it back down, and the dagger was the 20-odd stairs back up to the Green House. As soon as we got back our hostess offered cool papaya juice and a chance to get a nap in. I honestly have never fallen asleep as quickly as I did after hitting the pillow.
After a nice little nap, I got cleaned up and we headed to breakfast, nearly 8 hours after our day started. Whoa.
The lasting effects of the Sri Pada hike were slightly embarassing. Tuesday morning I seriously could not climb up stairs. My calves were sore for an entire week, and my hammies and quads were burning for 48 hours. Out of idiocy I didn't properly stretch before and after the hike, and that's what killed me. I think I fully recovered 10 days later. Hiking Adam's Peak was a great experience, but the three of us agreed its something we may never be foolish enough to do again.

Wedding Crashers

Last night was my first offical wedding crashing, Renuka and I got dressed up and showed up at the Global Towers rooftop deck for a wedding reception going. We didn't stay very long because it started raining, but long enough to get a couple pictures proving we were there. We weren't called out by any of the people starting at us, but I'm sure people knew.
We decided to head to the hotel bar for a drink after leaving the reception, but right then we spotted a group of non-local guys and chicks heading out the door so I wondered out loud what they were up to. As it turned out the group was going to H20, a trendy and popular club in Colombo. They invited us along we piled into a cab and headed to the club.
The group of people we were with was an airline crew from Emirates. They were down by Global Towers because as tradition has it, any flight crew stopping over in Colombo goes to Beach Wadiya for dinner. The crew consisted of a girl from Singapore, Spain, and a guy from Singapore, Australia and Malta. I don't remember all their names but it was interesting speaking to each of them. They all had lots to say about Dubai, their current home, as well as working as cabin crew on Emirates. They all love Emirates, and we spent substantial time discussing the poor U.S. airlines and their "granny" flight attendants. Airlines in Asia are the best, for many reasons, hands down. From what our friends told us, Dubai sounds crazy, a relatively liberal country in a very conservative part of the world, with LOTS of money flowing around. The girl from Singapore (Nina I think) was describing how the girls there are covered head to toe by day in the hajab, but by night they're wearing the skimpiest skirts and strapless tops. The funniest thing any of them said was when the Australian lad asked me if I knew how to get around UAE blocking certain "types" of websites. I told him I'm from "the land of the free" and I've never had to deal with that sort of censorship. Still, Dubai sounds like a place I'd like to visit. Hopefully, I'll have a chance to cross paths with the Emirates crew some day as they were some great people.
H2O was a decent place, a bit pricey on the drinks for Sri Lanka but expected since its the "in" spot right now. They do live music until about 11, and then the dance club atmosphere kicks in. It nice because its a big, airy place with plenty of room at the bar and lounging area. Definitely a place I'll be back to.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Special Guest Entry!!

Editor's Note: This entry refers to an event that took place over a month ago, but the writer has been very busy and just recently got around to writing this entry.

Like everything in Singapore, it was no surprise that when Satyan had to get his hair cut, it was done with efficiency and elimination of “useless” frills. Within 10 minutes of sitting in the chair, and 10 sing dollars, Satyan was in and out with a fabulous Asian haircut. If anyone has seen Satyan, they know he has tons of thick hair, so who would dare to take on such a feat? None other than Asia’s QB House. The Wall Street Journal, in a recent special report, told the fascinating story of Kuniyoshi Konishi, who started a chain of barbershops - QB House - in Japan in 1996. Mr. Konishi saw opportunity within a problem: He got tired of paying 3,000 to 5000 yen ($25 to $50) for a haircut that took an hour. He came up with a concept to create a no-frills barbershop where the customer could get a haircut in ten minutes at a cost of 1000 yen? (About $10.) Since 1996 there have been over 400 shops that have opened throughout Asia.

So what exactly are the frills that Mr. Konishi did away with? Well let me start at the beginning of Satyan’s haircut experience. After showing up at the QB House location at Plaza Singapora, Satyan took a seat on the waiting bench. To begin with QB House does not take reservations, walk in’s are their business. The flow of information begins before even stepping foot in the shop. Customers are informed of a barber's availability - and waiting time - by lights that are displayed outside the shop. As Satyan sat on the bench watching men, women and children come and go in lightening speed in and out of the barber chairs the bench he was sitting on was transmitting real time data to QB headquarters on how many people were waiting and on the average wait time.

So after about 10 minutes it was Satyan’s turn to get his haircut. Before even coming in contact with the barberchair, Satyan had already paid for his haircut. QB House's barbers don't accept cash. In place of a cash register, each barbershop is equipped with a ticket-vending machine. The customer puts his money, only a 10 dollar bill is accepted, into the vending machine, and is given a ticket that he hands to the barber. The barbers don’t have to waste time making change, they can focus on cutting hair. After handing the female barber the ticket satyan takes a seat in the barber chair. Now, in the US a haircut starts off with a shampoo or at least getting drenched by a spray bottle. Not the case at QB or in Asia, in general they wash a customers hair after cutting, at QB even that option has been rid of as a FRILL. Since Satyan wasn’t getting his hair washed its all about getting to business- cutting his hair. I watched nervously from outside the shop door, as Satyan gave a 30 second explanation of how he wanted his hair cut. As a woman, this is one of the most important discussions a girl can have. I usually have pictures of my favorite celebrities and photos of my hair from three years ago, along with a paint sample to illustrate the color I want my hair. Let’s just say that part of my salon experience takes at least 10-20 minutes with detailed discussion with my stylist. I nearly panicked as I watched Satyan pick up a few strands from the top of his head make a scissor motion with his hand and point to the old man behind him that had just gotten a buzz cut. With his back to me, facing the mirror, Satyan could see my reflection, the panic on my face as I raised eyebrows, flinched and closed my eyes with each snip of the clippers. The barber started at the back of his head cutting close and short, then moving to the top taking chunks and chunks of hair. The whole time I was skeptical of her skills, how would she manage Satyan’s furlick without getting his hair wet, would she just cut the whole thing off??? All these questions ran through my head as I watched hair fall from Satyan’s head. There were moments in the haircut where satyan had what looked like a mushroom, a bowl cut, and even the start of a mohawk. After about 7 minutes I had gained some confidence in Ms Scissorhands, Satyan's haircut was turning out good, great even. She was almost done when she started taking what was a good haircut to another level-an asian haircut. In general asian people have thick, silky hair, what I consider the best hair in the world. I found that regardless of where you are from, everyone gets the asian haircut, which means getting thinned out so hair can be somehow groomed or managed. The barber took a razor to Satyan’s hair and thinned out the top.

What was the end result? A great haircut that looked adoreable. It looked much like what every other Asian guy had between the ages of 6-40 but it looked fantastic on Satyan. After cutting his hair the barber used a special vacuum cleaner she pulled down from the ceiling and to tidy him up and we were on our way. In less than 10 minutes Satyan was had a hip new Asian do, the plastic comb that was used to cut his hair and a sweet smile on his face. All for the bargain price of 10 sing or about 7.50 US and 20 minutes from start to finish. What a deal!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Sri Lanka Situation

A bunch of you have been asking me about what's going on in Sri Lanka and if I'm safe. Here's the rundown:

  • Me and the ADP team are safe and haven't been exposed to any danger or violence. We are taking precautions and not trying to tempt fate.
  • The U.S. Embassy issued a warning to Americans in Sri Lanka to avoid government and millitary buildings and areas, and we're heeding their advice
  • There was a suicide bombing near the Fort area of Colombo on April 26, which is about 10km north of our hotel.
  • Nothing has happened in Colombo since, though there's noticable increased security. Violence is growing in the North and East regions where there's a Tamil majority.

The feeling here is quite strange. Sri Lankans have been living with violence for decades, so it doesn't feel as if anything's changed. Business as usual, really. Its pretty sad because most locals I've talked to agree that its Sri Lanka itself that's to blame for the lack of progress, and the vast majority of Sinhalese and Tamils want peace and live side by side.

If anything further happens, especially close by, I'll take necessary precautions. Thanks to all who've expressed concern for me. The best way I've found to keep up with the Sri Lankan news is through a Google News search.