I met Anna in 2003, when I was almost 24 years old. Prior to that I had never even been to an airport before, but since then I have done quite a fair bit of traveling. I started this blog in March, 2015 and in that time I have traveled to India, back to Singapore, then Germany, France, the Netherlands twice, Belgium and the Czech Republic. Also, before this trip I had already been to India and Germany; India in 2011 and Germany in 2010. Traveling has become a passion of mine. Okay, not so much the getting there part, but the being there bit. Flying sucks.
When I moved to Korea in 2007 I wrote a small blog on Myspace to keep my friends and family updated as to what was happening, as me being overseas was a new and exciting idea. Now those are gone thanks to Justin Timberlake deleting all Myspace blogs after he purchased the company for his own evil deeds. Oh well, cry me a river. I did keep a hard copy somewhere, I just can’t find them.
Sometimes I wonder to myself, “What would it be like if I had started this blog a decade ago and written about some of the other places I have visited? What would I have written?” so I got to thinking; Usually, I like to focus on the unusual, the unexpected or the interesting when I am writing. So this time I’m going to look back at some of the other countries I’ve been to or lived in, look at some photos to try and jog my memory, and write a single fact, something unexpected, or a cool experience from there. I’m going to have to keep a few of the images small to fit them in easier, but that’s not a problem, just click on them to enlarge them. Also, some of the pictures are quite bad quality because of the camera we used to own, but you should be able to get the general idea, especially if you click on each picture to enlarge it. Anyway, here goes…
Singaporeans can be quite impatient, but for some unknown reason a lot of them love to queue up for things. Sure, it’s quite a contradiction, but maybe it’s just the kiasu mentality. The people in this photo (right) were lining up outside McDonalds the day the Despicable Me 2 Happy Meal toys came out. None of them are even children! One of Anna’s brothers once told me that some people just see a line, join it, and find out what it is for later.
I’ve been to Thailand quite a few times, both the cities and the islands, and nothing about Thailand itself is surprising; The food is great, the people are friendly, the beer is cold, and the beaches are beautiful, but my first trip there was the first time I ever felt fat. I like watching any sport that is based around fighting, so naturally I wanted to go to a Muay Thai fight. I was still reasonably thin at this time and I thought it would be cool to buy some Muay Thai shorts, something for when I’m just sitting around the house. I guess I never truly realised how small these fighters were, because I needed a pair of XXXXXXL shorts. You read that correctly, that’s a 6XL.
Proboscis monkeys (left) are possibly the coolest animals in the world. They aren’t just wandering the streets or anything, you need to go to Sabah, East Malaysia to find them, but it’s worth the trip. These monkeys get their name from their long noses, but they also have a pretty weird body shape, too. They aren’t as scary as the one in the picture seems, they are actually quite nice and docile. For some reason, they don’t have the large nose when they are young (right), it seems to develop over an extended period of time, kind of like mine.
Myanmar deserves two facts:
- If you convert $100 into the local currency you will get a wad of cash back so thick you won’t be able to fold your wallet.
- One extremely bizarre thing about Myanmar is that they drive right-hand-drive cars on the right side of the road. They used to drive on the left side of the road, then the rule was pretty much changed overnight when one of their leaders decided to put their history of British occupation behind them, but the cars weren’t. Not only is it a dangerous way to drive and extremely confusing, but if you want to do something simple like get out of a bus, you will need to step into traffic.
A year ago, Anna and myself went to the wedding of our friends, Nicholas Chng and Kamun Cheong at Ayana Resort and Spa. The place was stunning, the wedding was beautiful and a great time was had by all. Upon our initial arrival at the spa, everyone was given a welcome drink, some type of fruit cocktail. I was pretty parched after the flight so it was going down nicely. Halfway through my drink I was asked to be in a photo, to which I obliged. After the photo I went to get my drink, only to see an elderly lady from a Chinese tour group swoop in, grab it, and finish it. Later, after we had checked in, we went to take our suitcases down to our room. When we got there, the same woman was walking out of our room. She had just taken it upon herself to check our room out and, as she was exiting, stared me straight in the eyes with a stern look that said “What are you going to do about it?”
I had a great time during my six-month stint in Daejeon, but possibly the most amusing thing I saw was at the DMZ. The DMZ is the Demilitarised Zone, the border between North and South Korea and the most heavily guarded border in the world. At the DMZ is Dorsan Train Station, one of the most state of the art railway stations, but it has never been used. It is in place for when/if the border between North and South is ever taken down and it was officially unveiled by George W. Bush. That is where the fun begins. There is a railway sleeper that he signed with the message “May this railroad unite Korean families” encased in the station. When signing the sleeper he posed for a photo and this picture is very large and framed on the wall in the station (above, right). One problem, though. In the photograph he is holding the marker so the tip is pointing at his head. This was brought to our attention by a laughing Korean woman when we were looking at it.
I’ve been to Vietnam a few times, but the last time I was there was around New Years eve. We went to Hanoi and Hoi An, but when we were in Hanoi we saw a man who did these incredibly realistic charcoal sketches from photographs (left). The only way you could tell the difference was that the photos were in worse condition. We got quite a few photographs of his studio and his sketches were amazing, he did them of celebrities as well as custom pieces for paying customers, capturing every hair and wrinkle
I love Cambodia, one of my favourite places in the world. Who couldn’t love a place where beer is 50c, but water and peanuts are $1.00? A place where you have access to both incredible local Khmer food, as well as French cuisine that still exists long after the French colonisation. It’s just that I never would have thought that part of our honeymoon would be spent standing in front of a tower of human skulls (right) or sit through a storm that caused human remains to wash up out of the ground. I thought wrong, I guess. Might have to go and get one of those 50c beers. At least my Dead Kennedys t-shirt was appropriate.
Macau is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People’s Republic of China, but it is really just an island of casinos and some factories. In fact, Macau is one of the world’s richest cities and It became the world’s largest gambling centre in 2006. Take that, Las Vegas! The only thing I noticed while we were there was that at night it has one of the ugliest skylines I have ever seen (left). It’s like if Las Vegas were designed by Mao Tse-Tung. Anna’s old camera wasn’t the best for shooting at night but this photo should give you the general idea.
Hong Kong, the other Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, just seemed like a bigger, slightly more Chinese-feeling version of Singapore. Really not that different at all. I guess the main highlight for me there was that I got to try snake soup. Snake is a bit like a chewier version of crocodile, but it’s still nice. If you haven’t had crocodile, imagine the offspring of a chicken and a fish.
Everybody believes that Japan is the global capital for anything a little quirky, but once you arrive it’s not as wacky as you’d expect, in fact I think Korea is weirder. In Japan there are a lot of cartoon characters on everything and the place is really colourful, but when you get to my age the focus is more on the businessmen in the black suits that just really need a release. I could do the obvious and write about the food, the entertainment, the culture, but for me it was the bathrooms. Not the fact that operating a Japanese toilet can be somewhat overwhelming, more that I can’t fit in them. I generally can’t fit under the ceiling and the basin is barely above my knees, but if I need to brush my teeth (above, right), I don’t have any space to bend over. I also couldn’t sit down to use the toilet, because my legs wouldn’t fit behind the wall in front of it, I had to go side-saddle. Seriously, Japanese bathrooms aren’t much bigger than the ones on a plane and I can’t use those, either.
Oman was an amazing experience, because neither of us had been to the Middle-East. Oman is a prime example of the majority getting a bad reputation from the minority: Forget what you have heard on Fox News or read in the newspaper, we have never been made to feel more welcome than from what these people did for us. We stayed in a bedouin hut and they made sure we were looked after properly.
One negative experience in Oman, however, was trying to ride a camel. It is most definitely not as easy as it looks, they are smelly, itchy, they move around a lot, and it is almost impossible to get comfortable on that hump. It’s extra humiliating when you see kids that can ride them fine…
The United Arab Emirates:
The UAE is in the same area as Oman, but Anna had a conference in Abu Dhabi, a big city in the middle of the desert. Although it is a bit more progressive than other Middle-Eastern countries, women still don’t have a whole lot of rights there. Anna took our marriage certificate with us in case there were any problems and it was a good thing she did. Our hotel was booked under Anna’s name, but one night when we returned home from a night out the receptionist stopped me and said, “Sorry sir, no ‘guests.'” I explained that Anna was my wife, he apologised, and let us through. Half way up to our room in the lift it dawned on Anna; “Hang on… Did he just imply that I was a prostitute?!?” Even my reassurance that I’d pay top dollar for her couldn’t help defuse the situation, she took the certificate, went back down, and screamed at the receptionist until he could give his word that this mistake would not happen again.
Austria is very blurry, because we went to Salzburg after three straight nights at Oktoberfest in Munich. I have a vague recollection of visiting Mozart’s birthplace and a couple of castles. Besides that, the only thing that comes to mind are a lot of souvenir t-shirts, coffee mugs, hats, etc. that had kangaroos crossed out and said “Austria: There are no kangaroos here.”
When we went to Greece we stayed both in Athens and the Greek Islands, mainly because one lead to the other. Anna had a conference in Crete, but we thought we’d check out Athens as well. There is really no other way to say it, Athens is an absolute shithole, the ruins are in better condition than the buildings used today! We stayed in Omonoia Square, which we were later to find out is one of the more dangerous parts of town and at no time did we feel safe. There were junkies shooting up in the basement of out hotel, at one time there was even a police officer next to them. Another night we heard gunshots outside our window and we also got followed home by a group of about 12 Nigerian men.
We were supposed to stay for four nights in Athens, but we left after two, fleeing to the island of Agistri. The people who ran our small hotel there felt so bad about our time in Athens that they gave us a heap of free drinks.
Our trip to Italy was a fun one, we went to Florence, Rome, Pisa, and Milan for another of Anna’s conferences. We ate like kings, saw priceless works of art, and marvelled at some of the most incredible architecture in the world. But have you ever had a friend who has gone to Italy and you’ve giggled at a picture they have had taken of themselves grinning like a mad person while posing like they are pretending to push over the Leaning Tower of Pisa? It turns out it wasn’t their idea, not by a long shot. Go anywhere near the Leaning tower of Pisa and it looks like the set of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, throngs of people walking slowly in that weird zombie stance, trying to make it look like it is them who is responsible for the tower’s pronounced angle.
We went there for a few hours during our trip to Italy and the Vatican is technically an independent state, so I’m giving it its own category. This one is easy. I gave Anna the horns in the Vatican (left). It would have worked better if I used my right hand, because my left hand has my deformed, broken pinky.
I’ve been to London a couple of times, but it’s usually just a stopover on our way to somewhere else so Anna can see her best friend, Deena Ong, and her husband, Ben. We usually hang out with them and their twin infant girls, but are only ever there for a day or two. Last time, one of their daughters saw the tattoo on my leg, picked up a pen and proceeded to draw all over her stomach. I found it amusing, but I’m not so sure about mum…
We visited the Andalusia region of Spain, stopping off at Granada, Seville, and Cordoba. While in Granada we did a tour of The Alhambra, a spectacular palace and fortress constructed 889AD. The tour took several hours and for the entire duration there was a guy on the phone having a hilariously passive-aggressive argument with his girlfriend, Marissa. Now, I’ve never met Marissa, but after that tour I felt like I had known her my entire life. Just from what I overheard, I learned that two of Marissa’s worst character traits are, apparently:
- She can’t take any kind of criticism, constructive or otherwise, without thinking it’s a personal attack, and
- She constantly changes her mind without telling anyone and just expects them to know.
This three-hour phone call provided us with the often-repeated catchphrase of the holiday, “Marissa, I AM being patient”.
Okay, this one wasn’t planned and is the reason we will never fly British Airways again. We boarded our plane on time, but it took five hours for us to depart due to them trying to solve an extremely minor problem that wouldn’t have had any negative outcomes. The entire flight was supposed to take 12 hours. Four hours into the flight a woman had a heart attack, but instead of landing in Dubai, the nearest city, they turned the plane around and backtracked to Kiev, Ukraine, possibly because it was far cheaper to land there than Dubai. After an hour of just waiting around, our pilot, Captain Mike, gathered us all to tell us that, due to the fact that the crew had been working for 12 hours, they now needed 12 hours rest. Also, only people with EU or US passports could leave the airport, all others needed a visa, but it was a Sunday so the embassies were closed. The people who could leave got shipped off to one of the most disgusting hotels you’ll ever see, I saw some photos that other passengers took and it looked like something from the beginning of Borat. Most said that it was probably better to stay at the airport. Plus there were deadly riots in Kiev at the time, too.
We waited around in the general departure area for eight or nine hours before we were eventually allowed into the business lounge, which wasn’t much better. The only food available was yesterday’s leftover sandwiches, but it was the first time we had eaten in close to a day. After a total of 19 hours waiting around in Kiev airport we were finally allowed on the plane, all the crew were refreshed and well-rested, as they hadn’t been taken to the same hotel as the passengers. We boarded, took our seats, and were then told that they had forgotten to refuel in the time we had been stuck there, leaving us ground-bound for another two hours. We were supposed to land in Singapore at 3:30pm on Sunday, but instead we arrived at 9:30pm on Monday, only 30 hours late. Our flight was so late that there was minor confusion at Changi Airport in Singapore, because there was another flight due with the same flight number!
We decided to go to Croatia after seeing it on an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. We stayed in Rovinj, Motovun, and Opatija. Rovinj was the most beautiful place, but the main reason we went was so Anna could eat truffles in Motovun. To get the image of that old Ukrainian sandwich out of your mind, here is what we got to eat in Motovun; Truffle pizza, truffle steak, and truffle pasta. Some dishes looked like they were entirely truffles and it really wasn’t that expensive:
Well, I think that covers most of the places that Anna and myself have been and some of the experiences we’ve had. Remember, if you want to see more, all of the photos from each trip are on my Facebook page.