Blogging From All Over The World

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Closing Up

I've wrapped up my travels for now, and am back in the U.S., back to work. Its a wierd feeling, almost as if life was on pause for six months and now its resumes like nothing changed. I hit the ground running at the office and have been quite busy, plus I'm still in the process of moving back into an apartment. Hopefully it won't be too long before I can resume the blog from somewhere else in the world.

I didn't write any posts during my last 2 weeks in Asia, during my sister's wedding in Bangalore. That really deserves a whole blog of its own. Needless to say it was a great experience, loads of fun and enjoyment, and a fabulous family memory. We're all still sorting through the hundreds of pictures, and when we get it figured out I'll post them to my SmugMug site. For now I'll leave you with a few pics from India...

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Tioman Island

Monday morning started very early, 2:00am to be precise, because I was determined to catch the World Cup final live. I barely caught the first goal and was wide awake 20 minutes in, but then spent the next couple hours (like the rest of the world) waiting for something to happen. Too bad Italy won. After the match I showered up and headed to the Golden Mile complex bus stop in Singapore to catch my coach to Pulau Tioman, Malaysia.

Tioman is a fairly remote, paradise island in the South China Sea off the east coast of Malaysia. Many Singaporeans visit Tioman for its great beaches and relaxed atmosphere (See my pics on SmugMug). Anji actually went there a few months ago and I thank her for helping me plan my trip. The journey to Tioman involves getting across the border to Malaysia and eventually to the town of Mersing, where you then catch a 2 hour speed boat or ferry to the island.

My bus ride wasn't too bad, I met a couple Dutch kids on the bus to talk to and enjoy the ride through endless Malay palm tree and rubber fields. In Mersing we got on a speedboat along with an English family who were friendly, and who I would see throughout the weekend in Tioman.

As soon as I got to Tioman (I stayed in Salang, the most popular of the villages on the island) I immediately visited B & J Dive Shop because I had been tinkering with the idea of getting SCUBA certified while in Tioman. After talking with Louisa, I decided to take the plunge (so to speak) and sign up for the PADI Open Water Diver course. Thus my holiday in Tioman was set. I went to drop off my stuff at the room I booked, Salang Pusaka Resort, which was little more than a shack (See pic). After that I grabbed a bite to eat at one of the few local beach shacks and spent the rest of the day reading through the theory and watching videos. My goal was to complete the course by Thursday afternoon so I could get back to Singapore that night.

So basically the rest of my time in Tioman was spent around the course. My instructor - Sham - was really great and I was lucky to have one-on-one instruction throughout. For those of you who haven't dived, its really neat. I think learning in Tioman made a huge difference too because our "confined water" dives were in the ocean where the cool tropical fish hang out, and our "open water" dives were a bit further out with coral, fish, and everything else. I saw all kinds of sea creatures throughout including clownfish (Nemo), scorpion fish, eels, stingrays, and all sorts of coral. To top it off, the course cost about $280, including all rentals and dive trips. All things considered, I think Pulau Tioman is one of the best places in the world to get SCUBA certifed.

As for the non-SCUBA time, I was a little lonely and bored on the first night, though I did eat some amazing grilled mackerel that was caught just a few hours prior. The social fun really picked up on Tuesday night, when I met an American kid named Ryan from the O.C. at the internet cafe. He invited me to have a beer with him and a few other people he met from Europe. there was an Austrian guy, a Swiss girl, and a couple Finnish chicks at the table, all with great travel stories and an affinity to binge drink. By Wednesday night I was chillin with the dive shop crew as well as the backpacker crew. All in all, good times. I didn't party too hard any night because I wanted to stay well rested for the diving.

As for the PADI course, it went great. Sham said he noticed marked improvement over the days, which he credited to my increasing of confidence while below the surface. Heck, I even aced the written part of the course and blew away the swimming test. SCUBA is all about staying calm, and breathing steady. Its cool to be able to control yourself simply by the breaths you take, and I like to think I learned pretty well by the end. Our final 2 open water dives were pretty much exploring down below, and it was a good chance to stay underwater and look at coral and marine life for nearly 40 minutes at a time.

We finished up everything by lunchtime Thursday, leaving me plenty of time to catch the boat back to Mersing and then a coach to Johur Baru. Along the way I befriended a Dutch couple and German girl heading back to Singapore as well. All three of them were basically in Singapore because they wanted to travel long term. The attitude of the Dutch couple was consistent with lots of Europeans you meet when traveling - they go with the flow and end up where fate takes them. Its nice to see that spirit around and inspires you, reminds you that the world is here for us to explore during our lifetime, we need to simply take advantage of it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Angkor Wat and Siem Reap, Cambodia

Last weekend Nima and I visited Siem Reap, Cambodia, the town where the Angkor Wat and other temple ruins stand. The history of Cambodia is incredibly rich, as the kingdom was at one time one of the most powerful and largest in the world. The Angkor temple site is influenced by both Hinduism and Buddhism, and is the world's largest religious site. Wikitravel and Wikipedia give a good historical lesson for those of you interested.
There are several temple ruins at the Angkor Wat site, more than a 2 day weekend trip permits. We had a great tuk-tuk driver named Million who took us around without a hassle over the weekend. The three sites we visited in depth were:
  • Bayon - Temple of many faces
  • Angkor Wat - The big kahuna
  • Ta Phrom - Temple of trees

I'm not going to write too much about the trip because the photos tell the story. Make sure you take a look at my SmugMug site for all the pictures (almost 500 in total). Basically, we arrived in Cambodia early Friday morning and headed straight for the temples. We bought a 3 day pass for $40USD since the daily passes were $20 anyway. One thing really interesting about Cambodia is that their de facto currency is the US Dollar. They have the Riel, but that's really only used for small change as the exchange rate is 4200 to $1. So if you ever come to Cambodia, make sure you have plenty of US Dollars.

Besides visiting the temple sites, we spent a little time in the city of Siem Reap, checking out yet another Asian city. Siem Reap (literally "Siam Defeated") is a pretty small city that just opened a brand new international airport (we might have been the first flight ever to arrive), has an 'old market' where the bar and nightlife scene is sprouting up, and a few other notable places. One of those is the Foreign Correspondents Club, a restaurant and hotel that was once the only safe place for international reporters to stay during the Khmer Rouge regime and wars with Vietnam. The location in Siem Reap is a bit of a gimmick since it wasn't the real FCC, but we did go there to have a nice meal and play some pool. Other places we visited were the several pubs on Pub Street, offering $0.35 beers during happy hour, $0.50 regular price. We also got some seriously great massages at Body Tune ($20/each), good enough that Nima went back for a foot massage the next day.

So here are a few pics of our trip in Cambodia...

Nima and me at Bayon Temple

Me at the Bayon Temple

Nature leaving its mark at Ta Prohm

Monks at Angkor Wat

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

....And hello Singapore

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaand I'm back in Singapore (at Nima's apartment as pictured). Its so clean here!!! Its nice to breath fresh air, relax a little, and see Nima once again. I'm back in Singapore for 2 weeks before heading to India for Ami's wedding. In these two weeks I'll be taking a couple jaunts to other parts of Asia, starting with Cambodia to see Angkor Wat this weekend. I'm not sure what's going on next week but at the moment I'm planning on heading off to Pulau Tioman in Malaysia for one more beach trip, and to earn my PADI Open Water certification. I have to iron out the details but that's the plan for now. In the mean time I'll be catching up on emails, IMing with you folks back home, hearing about Sac's bachelor party, and organizing myself after 3 months in Sri Lanka. Talk to you all soon...

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Goodbye Ceylon

So yesterday was my last day of the three month ADP project in Sri Lanka. Man, times flies. I spent most of Friday packing up and running around for last meals and errands. Mrs. David, my piano teacher, was kind enough to stop by and give me a little parting gift before I left. She's so sweet. Raj, Renuka and I had massages at the Sanctuary Spa, and then spent the afternoon doing what we did quite a bit of in our free time - playing Scrabble while sipping on a coffee at Barista. For dinner we went back to the Gallery Cafe and had a tasty meal and a capping off chat. And of course we capped off the night by having one last shot of Arrack at the Cricket Club Cafe. After that I picked up my stuff from the Taj and was off in a cab to the airport. Just like that, the three months I spent in an unknown, mysterious tropical island were over.

I had a wonderful experience filled with numerous activities, sightseeing, and people. I'm lucky to have developed a strong friendship with Renuka (who unfortunately will soon be a Dookie) and Rajitha (who unfortunately is British. God Bless America).

Working at ICTA was a great learning experience, and has only whetted my appetite more for getting into development work. Hopefully Lanka Gate gets off the ground and one day I can point to the portal as something for which I laid the groundwork. I'm proud of the work we did and thank everyone at Accenture who helped out back home, and I think that my experience from ICTA should be useful anywhere else I go.

When asked whether I'd come back to Sri Lanka, I decided my answer was yes, I would. Not so much because I want to revisit the country - there are too many other places in the world higher on my list - but because I now know a corner of the world as well as anyone, and it would be cool to bring other visitors to Colombo and Sri Lanka and be able to guide them around. I know the best spots to go in Colombo, I know a lot about the sights through the island, and I even know a couple locals to hang out with. So, if anyone reading this is going to Sri Lanka let me know, I can give you some great tips...

Sri Lanka is an enchanting place, and hope the country can recover from the tsunami and reach a solution to the ethnic conflict. I know I'll be constantly and intently reading up on news from Sri Lanka. Ayubowan...

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Perfect Cup

I've mentioned it before. At ICTA we get a cup of tea twice daily at 9:00 and 3:00. Its the Sri Lankan way, and I suspect it happens in every office here. The tea we get here is brewed and delivered daily by our office butler, Sampath. Sampath has the secret of how to make the perfect cup of tea. No offense mom or anyone else, but this is the best chai I've ever had. Sampath's daily tea might be what I miss most about Sri Lanka when I leave.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Getting Cultured at the Last Minute

My last week in Sri Lanka began on Sunday just as my first day did, with a stroll up along Galle Face Green. It was hot as nuts outside, probably the hottest day I've experienced in Sri Lanka. I didn't have much purpose on Sunday, just really to wander around town one last time. Renuka and I went up to see the Colombo lighthouse but its at a Navy base that's heavily guarded so I couldn't get a picture.

In the evening since I had nothing else to do I went to the Barefoot Gallery with Ren to catch a jazz concert featuring Glen Terry, who from what I gather is a locally-loved jazz musician who plays at Barefoot often. The concert was fun and lively though the music wasn't so original, mostly covers. The crowd at Barefoot is definitley upscale with lots of internationals and expats. I met Errol and Jackie, two of the most "in" people in Colombo who Renuka met the night before when hanging out with Arati and Roy.

The next day the three musketeers caught a production at the Loinel Wendt theater, Colombo's main performance stage. The show was called "Uh-Merr-Aka" or something like that. It was basically a satire on the history of the United States. Of course it was an opportunity to take cheap shots at the US, which everyone loves to do, but keeping that in mind the show was laugh-out-loud funny and definitely entertaining. Sorry no pics of the theatre outing.