So I finally thought it was time to come back to this blog after years and years of being quiet. I can say I didn’t update this blog all these years because I was busy and blah blah blah. But the truth is simple – my priorities changed. And boy did they change quickly and drastically! (more…)
“Rent a Car” and foreign exchange counters were the first things welcoming us as we walked out of the Jakarta airport in Indonesia. Ignoring the desperate calls of the car company representatives, we decided to first exchange our money. At the time (May 2011), CAD$1 would buy you around Indonesian Rs. 8,500. I exchanged about $100 and left the forex shop with a fat wallet full of rupiahs. It was hard to imagine where I’d spend 85,000 during the next two weeks in Indonesia. But I would soon learn that with water bottles priced at Rs.2,000 each, and a good meal easily costing Rs.20,000, I would spend it all plus much more. But hey it was still super cheap, so say the least.
I started writing my Singapore journal thinking that it would be one my shortest blogposts. We barely spent three days there, I thought. As was the case in Hong Kong, the rising mercury had had no mercy on us. It was hot as hell, I recalled, which had prevented me from truly enjoying myself. But as I began to write, I realized how so very wrong I was! Everything I had seen in that short span of time came back to me: there was a museum shaped like a huge lotus flower… a theatre molded into a giant durian… a long bridge curving like the DNA Helix… a luxurious ship chilling on the heads of three tall buildings… and a jumbo-sized wheel looking over everything like a boss! This, my friends, is just a simplified description of the magnificence of downtown Singapore only. Wait till you hear what else makes this city-state a true modern Asian attraction.
With its extravagant casinos attracting thousands of gamblers from across Asia, it is no wonder that Macau is often called the Vegas of the East. But what do non-gamblers do when they arrive in Macau? Well, you’d be surprised at how much this casino town has in store for a financially constrained backpacker (like me). And the best part about it is the fact that sightseeing doesn’t cost a single penny!! Or should I say a single Pataca?
Stepping out of the HK airport was no different than walking into a heated oven, if you can try to imagine how that would feel. It was like 40 degrees or something and I really hoped that it was one of those rare extreme heat alert days. Carrying heavy backpacks and drenched in sweat, my friends and I got on the airport bus which was to take us to our hostel in the midst of Hong Kong. Although the weather situation didn’t improve over the next couple of days, HK did manage to impress me right from the very first bus ride. The high buildings and the narrow roads bustling with swarms of pedestrians crossing through intersections gave an interesting New York City-like feel. English signs and an English-speaking public greeted us everywhere, which felt wonderful after the two linguistically challenged weeks we spent in Beijing and Xi’an. I was able to check Facebook and email on my iPod Touch as the bus offered free wifi. And it wasn’t just airport buses but all public buses that provided this service!
Xi’an is where we saw the famous Terra Cotta Army, refreshed our childhood biking memories, and placed an order for halal food at a Chinese restaurant – that too in Arabic… And since Xi’an had so much to offer us, some of us decided to give back to this city by entertaining a large crowd of Chinese spectators at a musical fountain show!
The Train to Xi’an
From our hotel in Beijing, we had to run (each of us with backpacks weighing 15kg) to catch a bus to Beijing West Station for the overnight train to Xi’an. I wanted to take a few pictures so I looked out the window of our cabin, only to find that the train was moving fast through a pitch dark forest under a pitch dark sky. I remember wishing I hadn’t seen that. The setting was just perfect for telling ghost stories and spirit calling. We didn’t do any of those, but F did tell us some tales that managed to scare us quite a bit (some of us had to accompany each other to go use the washroom outside our cabin). This fear factor aside, the train was one of the most comfortable ways I traveled on this trip. (more…)