Saturday, December 3, 2011

The photos, finally!

Please click on the album to view the pictures in Picasa--and they'll be larger than thumbnail!

Re: Indonesia & the rest

Let's see if I can squeeze out one last blog entry from this trip. I feel like I couldn't process anything after the MC Fiasco because it really seemed to put me out of my element, and I didn't feel like I could either ponder or fully enjoy the rest of the trip. Granted, there wasn't much to do, either. I really had little time for anything other than working every day. Still, we did have some free time in Surabaya to do a little bit of sightseeing. After our one school visit that day, we did a free city tour, which included visits to a couple of important places like the city hall and the cultural centre, but it also included a tour of the House of Sampoerna. If you've never heard of this place or the name Sampoerna, it's Indonesia's most famous tobacco company. Phillips Morris, an American cigarette company, recently bought the Sampoerna company, so it is no longer Indonesian-owned. While I don't smoke nor condone smoking, it was interesting to learn about how the company started, through a Chinese immigrant to Indonesia, coming as a child and then practically being orphaned to building one of the most famous and highest grossing companies in Indonesia. You will see some photos taken in the museum, which is located next to the Sampoernas' actual house. Descendants of his family still live there. The factory was so fascinating to watch. We weren't allow to take photos there, unfortunately, to protect the privacy of the employees, who have historically all been women and continue to all be women to this day. Otherwise, I would have taken a video to show the speed at which these ladies roll cigarettes, all still done by hand, as is the packaging. Cigarette rollers must be able to roll 350 cigarettes per hour, if I remember right. What I do remember is calculating that the women must roll 1 cigarette every 6 seconds. Can you imagine! They go through a bootcamp of sorts, and all the women who can't roll fast enough don't get hired. It was so amazing to watch them that it actually looked like machines working, not real human beings. Kind of frightening, too, in a way.

Outside of that, the rest of the trip was fairly dull, sightseeing-wise. I did manage to get back to a place to get the fish spa treatment, which I had tried for the first time last year. Those little garra rufa fish are great to cleaning up your feet! I took a fellow recruiter with me this time, and he really enjoyed it too. We both laughed ourselves silly at first because it really does tickle, but once you get used to it and try to think of other things, you can calm down and even watch them gnawing away at your dead skin cells. I'm still not sure why dead skin is good for them, though.

The only other really eventful day was another bad day, but to make a long story short, some poor advice from a hotel staff member and lack of following my instincts led me to arrive too late to check in for my flight to Penang two days before I was leaving for home. I was scheduled to visit 2 schools there, making a day trip from Kuala Lumpur (KL) to prevent myself from having to bring all my luggage with me and save time going through the airport, and I ended up having to change everything around because the next possible flight that had space for me to get on was departing 45 minutes after my first school visit was supposed to start. I'm happy to say that I was able to go to these schools later and still meet with counsellors, but the bad part is that there weren't as many students to meet with because they couldn't wait after school that long. The other downside is that I had no time to do anything there, including not eating. Penang is known for its street food, and there just wasn't time to stop for food! I had a driver for the day who was going to take me touring around a little in the couple of hours I should have had available before my flight back to KL, but I didn't have any time at all. I finished my meetings and went right back to the airport! That was another stressful day, but I made it through.

As a result of schools not replying to me about my final day in KL, I ended up having the whole day free, which was great because it turned out one of my cousins was home for a holiday, so not only was I able to see my aunt, but also my cousin, so that was a treat as I hadn't seen him in 5 years. We didn't do anything but chat, visit, and then go out for supper with his in-laws, but it was still good, and just good to be with family and feel safe and relaxed after all the fiascos I experienced. I do wish I'd known in time that my cousin was going to be there because I would have taken a few days off to stay in KL and then he would have taken me all over to eat yummy food! Such is life, I guess.

I returned home to a blizzard, but I was happy to be home, where I knew I could be safe, warm in my apartment, and get everything sorted out that I needed to. I've also begun to realise that I am indeed travelling too much: I actually had the same flight attendant on my flight from Shanghai to Vancouver as I've had on one of my previous return flights from Asia. It's on Air Canada, and I just remember him because he's a really tall, older guy. You know it's bad when you start recognising the airline staff, and yet, I love it just the same :o)

Friday, November 18, 2011

MC Fiasco Aftermath and Beyond

Thinking that my troubles were finished when I received my emergency card in Jakarta, they still hadn't quite all been resolved. Issue number one was not even being able to check in to the hotel because my credit card hadn't arrived at that point, and without a valid card, they wouldn't let me check in. Now, I could have paid cash, but I didn't know how much they would have wanted me to pay for the deposit, and I had tried to find out in advance by emailing them, but with the language barrier, that didn't work out so well as people on the other end couldn't figure out what I was trying to ask them. So I had to wait. My colleague from another university was at some meetings, but I knew he was going to be back at the hotel within a couple of hours, so I sent him a text to see if he'd be able to use his card to check me in, and that way, I could at least get a room and then wait for my card to arrive that day so I could still pay with my own card upon checking out. By the time he returned, and I was able to check in with his card, my own card had already arrived, but the transaction had already taken place, so the clerk swiped my card just to see if it would work, and it didn't, so at the time, I thought it was just as well that my colleague was there to help me out.

I decided to phone MC to find out if I had to activate the new card, and they said that I didn't, but that the reason it didn't work was likely due to the fact that with these emergency cards, they have to punch in the number manually because they can't be swiped. I made a couple of insignificant purchases the next day to try to see if it would work, and still, even with the manual entry, the card still didn't work! I called them later, and I found out that the reason it didn't work is that the card had already been blocked because when they tried to swipe the card rather than do the manual entry, the card got blocked again, so I ended up having to get MC security to unblock the card. I'm happy to say the card worked for the rest of the time, except for a brief scare at the Sheraton in Surabaya, although it turned out it was something wrong with the hotel itself, not my card, thank goodness.

Other than that, I can't really say a whole lot else happened on my trip. In Hong Kong, it was great to meet up with old friends (i.e. recruiters I've met on other trips) and hang out with them. One of these guys, who happens to be Chinese, was able to introduce us to some interesting foods there. He took us to this place where they have good desserts, and I tried what he was having as he had recommended this coconut milk served warm in the shell. There were some gelatinous bits in it that I didn't think about, and then all of a sudden, he took another look at the menu and said "Ohh, I had better wait until you finish to tell you what's in it." Well, then I had to know, so he informed me that I was eating bird's nest and we ended up learning is called "harsmar" in English, although I'm not really sure if that's a word. In any case, for those of you that don't know, bird's best is sparrow saliva, the kind that's used to glue their nests together. Harsmar is also a questionable food, in my opinion. The taste was quite okay. It's not that I would seek out these foods, although it adds to my repertoire of weird things I've eaten, but the thing I don't understand is at what point someone decided these are things that should be eaten. I mean, Fallopian tubes of toads? Bird spit? That's the part I don't get. In any case, it's all part of the adventures of my life, right?

Let's see if I can muster up another entry for Indonesia :o)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Travel Advisory - The MC Fiasco

What an experience I've had the last several days. I'm not even sure what the best solution is to this situation I went through. There are things I and my office could have done better, but let me share the story, and please use it accordingly as you travel.

I checked out of my hotel on Friday morning from my hotel in Kuala Lumpur, and I went about my school visits that day. Our driver had arranged for a taxi for me to take me from the last school I could visit to the airport so I didn't have to return to the airport. When I got to the airport, I had to pay a bit of an excess baggage fee, so I tried to pay for that with my credit card, only to learn it was being declined after two tries. So I went to get cash, chalking it up to the system being down. I've had that happen to me before where the card didn't work somewhere, but it worked without problems before and after, so I didn't think anything of it.

When I arrived at my hotel in Hong Kong at around 10pm, I was a little concerned about the fact that I hadn't enough cash to pay the taxi because I thought I had enough for it, based on what I paid last time. I had to exchange some of my US cash right then and there to pay him--at least $50 minimum, so I'm glad I happened to have that much on me. When I got that settled, I went to check in, and my card was declined again. The guy at the counter tried it about 5 times with different amounts as we thought perhaps I had unwittingly gone over my limit and would need to make a payment, but nothing worked. He asked me to make a cash deposit of HKD500 (about CAD60), but I only had 300 on me, so they decided that would have to do. As soon as I got to my room, I connected to the internet to get a number to call MasterCard, and I was able to find that they had toll-free numbers for all over the world for emergency services.

I learned that between the time I checked out from my hotel in KL on Friday morning and tried to pay my excess baggage fee that afternoon, some 7 or so hours later, someone in Canada had used my card number somehow to pay for gas a Canadian Tire in Richmond. MC thought that was suspicious and blocked my card. So I ended up having to call another MC number in order to request an emergency card. According to their web site, they can actually produce one in 24 hours, so I figured I'd have one before I checked out from my hotel the following Monday. To make a long story short, once I got everything sorted out, they weren't able to get my card to me until Tuesday, which meant I'd already be in Jakarta by that time. What that meant was having to pay my full hotel bill by cash in Hong Kong and potentially not being able to check in at the hotel in Jakarta unless my card was already there, as the only thing MC couldn't tell me was the exact delivery time for the card. The annoying part is that my own bank, which is where my card is issued, didn't respond to these types of requests before 10am EST. Some emergency hotline! That delay didn't help anything, and I had to wait several hours before they would be able to respond to my request for the emergency card.

I don't really have tons of extra cash in my account, quite often, so thankfully I was able to take some out of my dad's account as we have a joint account exactly for this purpose, in case of emergency. Now, I wasn't sure what my dad's withdrawal limit was, I tried to take out the maximum from an ATM. I used the wrong PIN at first as I couldn't remember which one I use for that card. The initial amount, the machine said it didn't contain that much cash, so then I tried a smaller amount, and that worked, so I was able to take out half of what I needed, and then I tried another bank, thinking I might be able to get more, so I tried twice, and I couldn't get anything as I had apparently exceeded my limit. The hotel would have to live with it, and I'd have to pay them the rest the following day. That night, though, I got a phone call in the middle of the night. Thinking it was my alarm in my groggy state, I turned it off to realise I had answered a phone call, and it was my dad's bank, telling me that they suspected fraudulent activity because of all these attempts to withdraw cash from ATMs in Hong Kong. I explained to them the whole situation, and after some security questions, they were convinced that there was no fraud and unlocked the card. Imagine what would have happened if that had been locked, too! I don't even want to think about it.

Anyway, I was able to get to Jakarta ok, but as I suspected, they weren't able to check me in to the hotel because I didn't have a valid credit card on me, and my emergency card had not yet arrived. I wasn't sure what to do. Again, I didn't have enough cash on me for a deposit, and I didn't know what time my card would arrive. I had tried to email them the previous day to ask what I should do or what they would advise in this situation, but unfortunately, language issues prevented anyone from understanding what I was asking, so that didn't help at all. It suddenly occurred to me, though, that I would be able to get some colleagues already here in Jakarta to help out if necessary. Since the card is just to hold the room, my one colleague staying at the hotel could use his and at least I'd have a room while I wait for my mail. He was out at meetings, but I sent him a text to ask, and he was fine with that, so I just had to wait for his return, which was just a couple of hours after I arrived at the hotel. I call him my knight in shining armor at this point because I feel like he rescued me and saved my life!

By the time I tried checking in the second time, the credit card had arrived, but we didn't know that until the transaction with my colleague's card had already gone through, but at least I have it now, and it should help me get through the next few days until I get home. What an experience!!

In the meantime, everyone around me, from recruiters to Canadian government people, to the really good customer service overall that MC gave me, has really helped. People on Facebook have poured out their love, prayers, and words of encouragement as well as even financial help if need be. It's amazing, and I am blessed. I got a free taxi upgrade from a sedan to a minivan from the airport to the hotel, and then when I checked in successfully, they gave me a bit of a room upgrade as well, so it was like walking into heaven when I arrived, even though I've stayed in ever nicer rooms. But after an ordeal like the last several days, I don't even want to leave, and I feel like I can finally rest. Exhaustion has hit me like a ton of bricks! I can say I'm also glad MC is looking out for me, but it's just that the timing was so poor. Had this happened in Canada, it wouldn't really have mattered because I don't use my card that often there. But be warned, travellers. Have a backup plan! I'm going to check what measures my office has to prevent this from happening again!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Perfect Afternoon in Macau

As I get older, I find myself caring more about some matters and less about others, being more amazed at simple joys yet increasingly outraged at injustices. It's the simple joys I wish to focus on at the moment.

For those of you that regularly read my blog, you'll know that I was already in Macau earlier this year on a work trip. It was an excellent, though short stay. I may have mentioned that there isn't much to see in terms of sightseeing. One probably needs less than 2 days to see all the historic/tourist sites available, although as I learned this time, there are some nice places for hiking and cycling, and the scenery around the islands is quite beautiful with hazy hills in the distance.

This time around, my friend Steve took me to one of the nearby islands, Coloane Island, which is quite known not only for its beach (not that great by most standards but people still seem to swim in it) but also for excellent BBQ street food. We had chicken legs, extra garlicky eggplant, and corn. It was absolutely delicious, and I loved just sitting on a bench eating and watching the waves--as well as people flying kites in front of the sign that says flying kites is not permitted . Unfortunately, I couldn't get a photo of that. In addition, it was just lovely because I think Steve is one of the few people that I feel comfortable with just observing what's in front of our eyes but not needing to say anything. Silence is not awkward. Although now that I think about it, I probably could have spoken less during that time! ha ha! After we finished, we walked around the beach a bit, and then as it turns out, there is a bit of a rocky pathway carved out around one side of the coast, so we walked that for a while, although I don't know how long that took because I didn't keep track of time, and I slowed things down by stopping to take photos of flora and fishermen. I'm not sure what they were fishing for, although Steve and I did see small silver fish jumping out of the water by the school. That was too difficult to get a photo of with my camera, but it was fun to see a school of fish jumping around the water like that. In any case, I had been in such a mood for a long walk that afternoon, and I've decided it shall remain as one of my favourite memories for the rest of my life.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Back on the Road--or in the Air or on the Sea

So I'm in Southeast Asia again. This time, my trip began in Hong Kong, which is actually a pleasant place to begin because the flight is relatively short compared to most other major cities in this region. Usually I'm in transit for 26 hours at least when flying to Malaysia, Singapore, or Indonesia as a first stop, but Hong Kong, I was in transit for less then 20 hours. It's quite a difference!

I haven't really done a lot here. To be quite honest, I'm not a huge fan of this city in general. I just dislike the crowded megalopolis of towering skyscrapers. Not to mention it's crowded and congested a lot of time, and it just makes me feel claustrophobic. It doesn't inspire me to go out and see anything. I probably mentioned in my blog post the last time I came here that I really realised how much of a prairie girl I am after being in this context. I love my wide, open spaces and skylines where I can see the sun rise and set, and the stars at night are not blocked by either buildings or pollution.

I did go to a cemetery this morning. There's a Muslim cemetery right next to my hotel, so I decided to check that out as it's open to the public. It's also right next to a Catholic cemetery, which is really interesting that they're so close. And then on the other side of the Catholic cemetery is a Parsee cemetery, but I didn't get a chance to see it as the entrance was a little bit farther than I wanted to walk, especially as I have to walk past a sidewalk construction zone. I took a few photos, which I hope is not disrespectful, but there were some interesting pieces, and I also thought it was interesting how many of the gravestones were in both Arabic and Chinese. The oldest grave I saw was from 1903, and it made me wonder for how long there has been a significant Muslim population here and why they came. (Having said that, there's a huge Sikh temple about a block away from my hotel, too.) Anyway, I'm not always a morbid person, but I do find that reflecting on mortality allows one to really appreciate life and to consider life profundities. I saw a grave where a man had lost both his daughter and his wife, and another two people who were related (as there were many people with the same last name of Bux in the same area) who died 3 days apart from each other. I wondered how they died so close to each other and thought perhaps they were injured in an accident and one died sooner from the injuries than the other. With the man who lost his wife and daughter, it even made me grieve for the his pain, though he himself is probably long gone as these ladies died in the 1940's.

Today, I'm hopping on a ferry to head off to Macau. It's a short ferry ride, about an hour and 15 minutes or so. I have a school I can visit there, and then my friend Steve still works at that school, so I'll visit his during the weekend before I have to be in Singapore on Sunday.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Week in Lahore

Upon being picked up at the border, we went off to Mom and Asif's place. Almost immediately, we were slowed down by what I like to call a traffic jam, our car being stopped by a herd of buffalo. They were all coming out of a canal that's brown and used not only for buffalo to bathe in, but also for people to bathe in, wash their clothes, and go for an afternoon swim. According to Asif, that water used to be clean and clear back in the day, but now it's dirty and muddy, and probably somewhat dangerous as far as containing a threat of water-borne diseases. Needless to say, we didn't join the buffalo and kids in the canal and go for a swim with them.

I didn't really do a whole lot in Pakistan for the same reasons that I didn't do a whole lot while visiting family in India. With having such little time there, I didn't necessarily want to spend time going sightseeing all over the place, especially as Mom wasn't able to leave work for the whole week, just for a few hours on some days. It was enough just to spend time hanging out at home and catching up, doing a bit of shopping, things like that. We did go to Shalimar Gardens, though, and that was nice, but we were followed by a strange man who thankfully left us once he realised we were leaving. The one downside of this garden is, like other tourist attractions in the country, that it's not well maintained and that the government seems not to care about maintaining it. Originally, Shalimar Gardens had 7 tiers, each of which contained an orchard of a different fruit. There were clear baths and pools into which fountains flowed. Now, people have encroached upon the garden and usurped the land, so there are only 3 tiers left to see, and the water there is quite dirty and brown, though kids still play in it. It's just sad--and I know I mentioned this in my posts on Pakistan from last year--that the government seems not to care about these things. As Asif says, the government would rather spend money on the military rather than on things like education, infrastructure, or tourism.

I mean, when you think about it, India and Pakistan started out the same. They were all one country before 1949, and Pakistan was even given the larger portion of the state of Punjab, some of the most lush and fertile agricultural land in the region, and yet due to different policy decisions that were made, one country has prospered while the other has deteriorated. I don't say this to put Pakistan down at all because I really enjoy visiting there. In addition, when people ask me if it's safe or if there's the threat of violence, I tell them that it even exists in India (hotels getting bombed and what not) and that you just have to be careful not to hang around the places that are likely to get bombed. But the other component is that I've learned over time and throughout my travels is that at the end of the day, the majority of people just want to survive. They're more concerned about putting food on their tables and feeding their families than about their religious differences or political beliefs. Their poverty doesn't give them the luxury to waste time thinking of ways to destroy other things and people. They want to know love, they want to be happy, and they want to have their basic needs met. While I was there, Pakistan was hit by a second flood, more disastrous than the one they experienced in 2010. Sindh province was hit the hardest. I can guarantee at that point that no one cared about bin-Laden's death, the military (unless they were helping evacuate and shelter people), or anything else but getting help. How much international help came in? Who donated to help these people who lost everything, their homes, their crops, their livestock? It just goes to show that the stupidity of a few, whether they be terrorists, dictatorial regimes, or whatever, spoil it for the rest of everyone. It's why I'm against embargoes as a "punishment" against countries that the West disagrees with. The regimes in those countries don't care that these embargoes have dire consequences only to the masses. Because they're in power and have all the resources available to them, they aren't affected by these embargoes at all while the rest of the people suffer. Well, I guess I digress.

The main part of the week was spent relaxing at cool cafes, ice cream parlours, and helping out at the school that Mom and Asif opened. Their students are really nice, and it was a good opportunity to meet some of them. I didn't get to take as many photos of people as I would have liked, but I do like to show that Lahore is kind of a neat, organised city to some extent. The municipal government does spend money on monuments, topiaries, and lawn maintenance to decorate the roads and meridians. Women can wear tunics with jeans, and many of them do not have their heads covered. The city is becoming more modern as it grows, and you'll even see chains like The Body Shop or Australian coffee chains opening up in shopping complexes, not just in the airports. In fact, the Lahore airport doesn't really have much in the way of chains in it at all. From the outside, its architecture is like a beautiful mosque; from the inside, it seems kind of older and really different-looking from most international airports I've seen.

Speaking of the airport, it was bittersweet to go home. I missed my bed, but at the same time, my week with Mom was so short, though I'm thankful that I was able to get any time at all and didn't even have to pay for the main cost of the ticket since I was in the region anyway, just for my internal flights. I sat at the gate at the airport there after going through what seemed like security gate after after passport and immigration control after security gate. some nice qawwali song was playing on a boombox, advertising products for sale at the audio and video store, which is not something I've ever seen at an airport before. I had a lot of time to kill there as Asif had wanted to make sure we arrived early, just in case there were any issues or delays, and you never know what you will encounter on the roads or at the airport in that type of place. Getting through the airport was fairly confusing. Asif had paid for what I thought was the porter or parking, but I certainl wouldn't have know what the country was for the begin with. It became obvious early on why it was useful to have a porter there. Aside from helping you elbow your way through a crowd into the airport, they let you know where you're supposed to go next and help you navigate through the aisles and lines you need to be in. While I sat listening to that qawwali album, 3 different guys came by at different times to offer tea, coffee, or a soft drink. I'm not sure if they work for a company or if it's some sort of self-designated job. Whoever they were, I saw one of them deliver a hamburger on a plate with a bottle of ketchup to one of the passengers at my gate. It kind made me laugh, actually. It's just such an odd thing I'd never seen before. In any case, eventually I boarded to come home, flying through Doha and London this time around. I tried to sleep as much as I could so as to prevent myself from thinking too much about leaving, which only would have served to make me cry. I never seem to get used to the transient life.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Journey into Pakistan

The last leg of my trip was the week I spent in Pakistan. My journey there went off without a hitch, for the most part. It was a little different from last year's experience crossing the border by land. For those of you who followed my old blog on Windows Live Space (stay tuned for the archived version!), you'll recall how much of the VIP treatment I received crossing the border. To shortly re-cap that experience, when I arrived at the Amritsar border, my cousin, who was fairly high up in airport security, had a couple of police officers meet me there and drive me to the border. While I sat on a chair and had tea, people whirled around me and took care of as much paperwork that was possible for a third party to complete. When I crossed the border, Mom and Asif were waiting right on the other side, since Asif's nephew in the military is posted at the border, and they were able to get right in and even helped me fill out the customs form as there were some fields that weren't really clear to me.

This time around, because my cousin had moved to a different police unit, I took a taxi from the airport. One thing to note about that, if you ever decide to do a trip like this, is that the taxi ride will cost you Rs1500 when to get from the border to the airport, it's only Rs800. Secondly, make sure to have enough cash on hand because the airport is one of the few that doesn't have an ATM. I didn't have enough because I was expecting the 800 I had seen last time I crossed from Pakistan to India, so the taxi service had to stop at an ATM en route so I could get the remainder of the money I owed.

I was counting down the kilometres, and when I was 5km away, I sent them a text to let them know how close I was. I arrived at the first office on the India side, filled in all the paperwork myself, and was offered no tea this time around. I don't know why there are so many offices, but in total, you make 4 different pit stops where someone records your name, citizenship, and passport number, once in a computer, and the rest in some sort of log book written by hand. The 2 porters humbly accepted the Rs200 I gave them, though the one protested it was too much despite the fact he had tried to tell me how poor he was and how rich I must be.

I walked to the other side.

It's hard to describe how that feels, especially after such a long time since I last saw my mom, I just couldn't wait to give her and Asif great big hugs. I was a little teary but realised I'd have to buck up when I didn't see anyone waiting for me there. I showed my passport to the military guy sitting at the border with a Kalashnikov resting on his lap. Then I went to the next and only other office to have my bags scanned and to fill in the customs form. Mom and Asif had been with me there last year, but I figured Asif's nephew probably didn't have a shift that day, so they couldn't get as close as they usually do. I filled in all the necessary forms, and then I had to end up opening my one bag because something in it made them think there was a bottle in it; they suspected I was carrying liquor in, though the one man protested that I was trustworthy because he thought I was a teacher. People in that part of the world don't always understand what I do for a living, and if they have limited English, it's difficult to explain. In any case, they confirmed that I did not have alcohol.

I then proceeded out past the border in public space, and still, there was no one waiting for me. I figured they must be on their way, so my new porters took my bags and set them down in some shade in front of a shop, and one of the shop owners was kind enough to bring a chair for me and offer me water. These porters were not humble and complained about the Rs500 I gave them. Granted, that's only slightly more the value of the Indian 200 I gave the other fellows on the India side, so I was not impressed with that! Anyway, I know I looked like such a curiosity: wearing jeans and a t-shirt (atypical for that part, though common in some of the wealthier business districts in Lahore), a female alone with 3 pieces of luggage. Guys had kept hounding me to exchange money that I'd need for a taxi, and taxi drivers were hounding me to hire them. Little boys were sitting next to me staring at me in the unashamed way people from South Asia will do. I tried to get reception on my phone to send them a text and find out where they were, but the signals were so weak near the border that I wasn't able to get any reception. The kind shop owner was really paying attention. He spoke some English and asked me if my phone would work, and when I replied that it would not, he asked me if I had the number and offered me his own phone. I had been ready to cry, and this was the hope I needed.

Asif answered and said they were close by, so I was quite relieved to find that out! I wasn't sure what had happened to them up to that point and didn't know what to do. I had their address, but if I went there, I had no guarantee anyone would be home, and then I'd be stuck. So once it was determined that people really were coming to get me, somehow everyone around me figured this out, and I wasn't so much of a curiosity anymore. Another man approached me and said there had been some people looking for me there before but had been sent away. I didn't understand what he meant until I found out that Mom and Asif had arrived earlier, prior to my arrival, and tried to get into the border. They were told no one was coming until 4pm, so they got turned away. We don't know what happened, but we think maybe there was a bus of travellers expected at that time, so the border guards maybe assumed I was going to be with that group instead of travelling there by taxi.

It really warms my heart when I think about the concern of those guys around the shops at the border. Another man had helped me carry my bags to Mom and Asif's car; it was true concern. At no time did I feel unsafe; it seemed like those guys were truly hospitable and caring. It felt so good to be with Mom and Asif again and that finally, I could rest.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Rest of India

I can't really say a whole lot about Pune and Hyderabad. We spent so little time there that I didn't get to do or see almost anything. I can say that the climate there was much more pleasant than it had been in both Delhi and Mumbai. In Pune, we essentially arrived in the morning, ate lunch at the hotel, did our fair, had a meeting after, and prepared to wake up at 3am the following day to catch our flight to Hyderabad. We had the evening free where we could have seen something, but most people were just too tired to go anywhere. It was okay for me because I had initially planned to go out with a new friend I had made last year during my business trip to India who is from Pune and lives there. He had always invited me to let him know if I was going to be in town, so I contacted him before I left, he gave me his number and told me to call him when I was there and we could go for supper or drinks. I had told him I wanted to try something that was typical from Pune or the region, so he said that he would take me somewhere for Puneri food. So once I was done my events for the day, I called him. That's when things became interesting.

A woman answered the phone, so she gave the phone to my friend. He told me he had just returned from a business trip to Mumbai and that he would call me back in about 10 minutes to let me know where we would go to eat. I then had a feeling I would never hear from him again. I was not wrong. He didn't even email to explain what happened. But I have a theory. Although we did not email frequently, we exchanged maybe 4 or 5 emails since last April, and I didn't really have a sense that he was romantically interested or anything. But at the same time, earlier this year or late last year, he revealed to me he had a 3-year old daughter. It seemed suspicious because you usually don't meet too many single fathers, but knowing he had done his MBA abroad and was of a younger generation, it didn't seem out of the question that he might have been divorced. Yet the number he gave me was his mobile, and when I heard a woman answering his phone, it struck me that this was probably his wife, and he's not divorced at all. I would imagine his wife put a stop to our dinner plans. The fact that he concealed this information, if it is indeed true, makes me think that maybe he did want to have some sort of affair or something. It's really suspicious, anyway. In the end, I was ok with not going out because I was equally tired. We had all woken up around 4 that morning to catch our flight.

As for Hyderabad, we at least got to see the city as we were driving around to visit the various schools. The city seems to be quite beautiful and is really rocky. I couldn't get too many good photos of it unfortunately, but there are a couple. You also see a lot of minarets there as about 60% of the population is Muslim.

The final city we went to, where there's a climate even more temperate, is Bangalore, now called Bangaluru, although I have a harder time getting used to saying that than I did Mumbai. The climate there is so nice, and the city is quite different in that about 80% of the population holds a post-secondary degree. I was considering trying to figure out how I could get a job there for a moment! I didn't really do much sightseeing there either as most of the people I was with just wanted to shop. I was a little disappointed because I had wanted to see the Bombay Palace, but I don't like to go out alone in India. I don't know that it's necessarily unsafe, but I just don't like to take chances. We did have a good time shopping at some Kashmiri emporiums. The 3rd and last store we went to was the best, and the guy there was super friendly and was telling me all kinds of interesting things about their textiles and fabrics. He also was kind enough to inform us that a guy who had offered to shuttle us to a factory of a store that was closed, a store that we had wanted to go to but was closed for the Ganesha festival that day, was just trying to take advantage of us and probably had his own store somewhere. Apparently even if there was a factory, it would equally have been closed for the festival because as government-run emporiums and businesses, they have to close for that festival. Yikes. I'm glad he was so friendly and helpful. He didn't try to "fleece" (another Indian term for taking advantage of someone) us at all.

Next up will be tales of Pakistan and the journey there.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Anna Hazare

I realised I missed out on a huge news event in my last entry, and I had meant to include it there since it was in Mumbai that I had seen my first set of Anna Hazare demonstrators from my hotel room. You may have already seen the pictures and wondered who he is.

I hadn't heard and of the news about him until I actually arrived in India. My uncle told me that many Indians consider him to be the new Gandhi as he leads a movement against corruption in India. All the news channels were covering his campaign 24/7. He threatened to go on a hunger strike if the government didn't pass a bill he had proposed that would see to it that those in positions or authority would become responsible for their actions and could even be prosecuted. At best, the government had said they would consider his proposal, but this wasn't good enough for Hazare, and his hunger strike threat continued. The drama heightened when he ended up getting arrested right before his strike occurred. If there hadn't already been thousands of people supporting him across the country, this only seemed to stir up more support for him as the demonstrations so far and all the way until the end had been peaceful. I didn't hear one incident of someone being killed or injured during the entire event.

While in jail, Hazare decided to start his hunger strike, and within a few days, the government decided to give him some space in a park in New Delhi to sit and strike. Interestingly, he was only allowed to do this for 15 days as apparently another group had rented the space after that two-week period for their own protest of some sort. In any case, if I remember right, it was about 11 days after he went on hunger strike that the government finally acquiesced to his proposal, and the process has already begun. One judge was already impeached before I left the country.

Quite honestly, I was surprised that this movement was successful. Corruption in India is so rife that it's almost its own institution. It was exciting to be there during one of India's most significant moments in history, and I was hoping to pick up some paraphernalia, namely the Gandhi-style hats that people were wearing that had Hazare's name written on them, but I hadn't a clue where to get one. I would have even loved to just go to one of the demonstrations to get photos and say I was there (which I'm sure made my cousins think I was crazy), but then I wasn't about to just head out there on my own and find one. Still, it was an amazing experience to be in India at that time. I encourage you to read the Times of India to get a more accurate overview of Anna Hazare's plight.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Photos from South Asia 2011

Again, remember that you'll have to tune in for more stories to finish explaining these photos in the next couple of days :o)

India in General

There are many interesting sights and sounds in India. Each state and region has different languages, culinary specialties, and religious composition. My first stop once my work period started was Mumbai. We weren't there very long but long enough to get several good photos as we were driving around in the bus to our school visits. It was Krishna's birthday on the Monday we were there, and one of the things they do to celebrate that day is to build human pyramids to try to reach these clay pots strung up high between two posts or trees. Thankfully that day, we had some unexpected free time, so I was able to go to the Gateway to India (as far as I know, this is what Indians call it despite the Wiki entry stating differently) with a couple of the other recruiters, and we had an interesting time in South Mumbai. I'm not used to travelling with white people, and men kept stopping to ask if they could get a picture with the girls. It was a little weird and quite annoying, so we tried to not to stop in one place for any length of time. In any case, we had a good afternoon where we also enjoyed high tea at the Taj Hotel, which overlooks the Arabian Sea and the Gateway to India.

We also learned that the name Bombay actually came from the Portuguese Bom Bahia (meaning Good Bay) and that they had difficulties pronouncing the name Mumbai for some reason. I hadn't realised that the Portuguese had gone that far north. I thought they had really only stayed around Goa. So it was interesting to learn a bit of the history there.

Next up was New Delhi. We had a pretty busy schedule there, so I didn't get to see much other than street scenes, but it was a good visit. We did have another unexpected free period when a school visit got cancelled, so we had time to visit Qutab Minar, one of the oldest structures still standing in Delhi. It's about a century old! On one day, we also went out to Dehradun, which was about a 6-hour train ride from Delhi each way. We went for one fair that only lasted 2 hours, so it was quite a journey that day, but it was interesting. Dehradun is really small, and it's much more crowded and noisy than anything we had seen, so for those who had never been to India before, it was quite an overwhelming experience. The trip goes through a lot of farmland, which I believe was filled with sugar cane plantations from the looks of it. The city itself is in the foothills of the Himalayas, so it started to become a bit hilly as we got close to it.

I remember when I was in Monterrey how much I noted contrast. Big houses next to shacks, the poor next to the rich. Here it seems to be even more exaggerated. I've seen mansions with cows in a field next door, street dwellers passing by monolithic office buildings and palace-like hotels. I wonder what it feels like to know that you not only have less than the next guy but that your less isn't enough for survival.

Yet we learned that all people here can go to school for free; the guide our tour organiser got for us says that those who beg on the streets just don't want to go to school. I'm not sure how much of that is true, especially if they're orphans being controlled by someone who might be threatening them, so I'll have to research that a little more.

I'll put more entries tomorrow. If you have questions about the photo album I'll be posting, you'll just have to wait until all my blog posts are finished!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Punjab and Beyond

It seems that I did manage to rest a bit at the airport in Delhi during my layover, but eventually I became quite chilly due to the combined lack of circulation and excess of air conditioning. So I went to get a coffee to try to warm up a bit. It actually did help, although I think it was more just the walking around that did it because I think I really did need to just get some circulation going.

My flight left a few minutes late but still arrived on time, and it was only a few minutes before my bags came out, and I was out of the airport. Lone females must get accosted more than lone males do, but this guy from the airline kept insisting to try to push my luggage trolley for me, and he even put his hands on handle and tried to push, hoping I would eventually let go. I would not. I just wanted to be left alone, and besides, it's not hard to push a trolley a short distance to where my uncle would be meeting me, and he would help me the rest of the way anyway.

We had a pleasant drive back to Jalandhar, though it was somewhat frightening at times once the sun went down and the toll road ended because the roads changed from brighter roads of 2 lanes per direction to a 2-way, narrow road with little light but whatever the moon could provide. And this is not like Canada where pedestrians and cyclists will have reflectors and headlights, so you don't see them often until right as you're about to hit them, and then you suddenly swerve out of the way to prevent the collision. I told my uncle I would never drive here, and he told me he wouldn't let me drive here either! I'm definitely ok with that.

My uncle and aunt have actually "shifted" (the term they use in India for moving to a new place) to another house that's a little easier for them to get around in and that's a little newer and more modern than where they lived before. The old house was my grandfather's house, which my dad inherited when his father passed away and which he later sold to my uncle. We drove past the house because my uncle wanted me to be able to see the brick with my grandfather's name on it for the last time, Narinjan Singh Shergill, for the last time because the house has been sold and will be demolished in the near future. That is the only house I had known in Jalandhar, and though my memories are somewhat vague, as most of the time I spent there was when I was a child or teenager, it just seems like it isn't the same anymore, and I wish I would have had my camera ready to get a good photo of it in time before we drove off. In any case, I have the name now written in my blog here for the sake of posterity, and it will remain in cyberspace longer than I will remain on earth, I imagine. The house was indeed old and quite cold in the winter while too hot in the summer. Still, much of what few memories I have of my grandparents are there in that house, especially my grandfather, who would take me out in the mornings in my pyjamas to walk with him and get fresh buffalo milk.

Readers, you may also be wondering why my grandfather's last name is Shergill and mine isn't; for whatever reason, my dad shortened it when he immigrated to Canada. Sometimes I wish I was a Shergill just because it's so much less common, but it would be such a pain to go through that now that it's not worth the bother.

I spent a good time in Punjab and in Delhi visiting with my family. I didn't do any sightseeing as I had just been to India last year, and I just wanted to focus on visiting since I had just a week to see everyone and didn't want to waste time doing stuff that wouldn't allow me to spend time with them. The sum of my life has taught me that there is too much unpredictability to guarantee where I will be next year or what I will be doing, so I have to take advantage of every moment while I can, and who knows when I will next return to India.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Joy of the Commute

After London, I had a 6 hour layover in New Delhi before catching my flight to Amritsar, the location of the closest airport to my dad's hometown of Jalandhar in Punjab. In a way, it felt like a wasted because if the Delhi airport actually had trains running from there as well, I could have caught a train to Jalandhar and been there in the same space of time or even less, but what can you do? Oddly enough, the ticket I bought was the cheapest option, even taking into account the fact that I'm flying home from Pakistan! I decided to at least elevate my legs during my stop in Delhi, since my ankles were so swollen, as I mentioned in my last post.

My seat on the plane this time was pretty bad, second in the middle of 4 seats. Being in the middle any time in a flight isn't great, although I don't mind on short flights. It's just the long-haul ones that are really hard to handle. What made it worse is that the guy to my right took up all the arm space, the guy to my left took up leg space, and the woman in front of me reclined her chair all the way back, so I was pretty cramped most of the trip--and the Virgin Atlantic craft seems to have seats that recline more than I remember in other planes. The staff were not the best either. The flight attendant got distracted after the guy to my left asked for another drink, and she failed to collect my empty tray. I thought she would come back to where she left off, but she didn't, and it took 25 minutes before someone responded to my service call. It's the first time I've flown with Virgin, so it's a very poor first impression.

The main problem with flying to India is that you fly with Indians. They take up a lot of space, as mentioned above, without any thought or consideration of others, and depending on the situation, they can be smelly--refer back to my archived blog, when I get it up and running, about the old Punjabi lady who leaned on me all the way home from India and left her shoes off to reveal her smelly feet in knee-highs. Very unpleasant, especially after 14 hours of it! I didn't have any situation like that this time, at least, and of all things, there was a smell of rosewater in the plane! Of course, this is a generality about Indians; obviously not everyone is like that, but somehow, I always seem to get stuck next to the ones that think they own the plane, and it has always been a frustrating experience. I just hope my flights back to Canada are more pleasant!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Back on the road

I have the privilege of returning to South Asia again for a month, this time to spend 3 weeks in India and 1 in Pakistan. Two of the weeks I'm in India are business, but I decided to spend an additional week to visit with family, especially as I didn't have time to do so last time I travelled to India on business. I like having had the opportunity to see them this time. I was able to visit with additional family before even getting to India, though, as I had an 8 hour layover in London and wanted to head out to see my cousins who live there. I was only able to meet one of them as the other had some immediate tasks to attend to with workers coming to her house and what not, but at least I saw my one cousin and was able to meet his wife for the first time. It would have been great to hop on the tube and head over to her direction, but I spent so long going through customs that by the time I got out, caught a train and then a bus to get to my meeting point with my one cousin, we only really had a couple of hours to visit, so there wasn't enough time to go anywhere else.

(Street scene in London while standing at Earl's Court bus stop)

My flight to London was actually quite pleasant, despite being full. Though seated in the middle section and in the very last row, I at least got an aisle seat, and they also had enough space to recline the chair, so I did do that this time because I knew there was no one behind me I would annoy! I was able to sleep for most of the trip, especially as London flights from Edmonton are always night departures, and by the time I arrived in London, I felt well-rested and ready to hit the light fantastic--in contrast to my arrival in India, by which time my ankles had swollen, and I was exhausted! In any case, one of the funny things I saw on the plane was a guy who was knitting. You normally don't see anyone knitting generally, let alone a male. He looked like he was in his early 20s; he has a skill that most females today don't even have!

I had a great visit with my cousin. We went to this little restaurant somewhere around Notting Hill area, and just had a good visit for the few hours I was there. I had fish and chips, not so much because I was in England but because I wanted to eat something lighter than the rest of the menu could offer, and my cousin at his wife shared something called a pide, which I still can't really figure out what it is. It seemed to be something like a pizza, but I don't know how a pide differs from that.

I took the Heathrow Express from Paddington back to the airport, which was much faster than taking the tube. I didn't see much seating at first, so I asked this one guy if I could sit next to him, but it turned out he didn't speak English, so one of his buddies said I should go ahead and sit down. By the time we sorted that out, some other girl had already squeezed in front of me and sat next to the guy, so I just moved on. When I was getting off at my terminal, they were still on the train, getting off at another terminal obviously, and the guy who could speak English said goodbye to me, and then he waved, saying "From Russia with love." That just made me laugh. If there's one thing I can guarantee when I travel, I will always meet at least one funny person!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Photos from Cache Creek Ranch July 2011

Thankfully, one of my friends and faithful blog followers reminded me that he is not on Facebook, so I will post the link to my photo album. Facebook at least provides a way for photo albums to be shared publicly with people who aren't on Facebook, so hopefully this link will work.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Canadian Sights

As much as I love travelling around the world, I do enjoy staying close to home and enjoying local sights and scenery. One thing I've learned over the years, I'm a Prairie girl through and through. I can enjoy the mountains or a beautiful beach, and I've seen some really exotic things on this planet, but there is nothing I love more than my pastoral, prairie scenes. It's the most impressive for me when the canola fields are in full bloom, their bright yellow blossoms a bright contrast against blue summer skies or when grain fields are golden at harvest time, and their sway in gentle winds is to me as soothing as ocean waves. It's so life-giving, too, knowing how these fields feed us and other people in the world.

When I went out to my aunt's ranch over the Canada Day long weekend, I didn't get to see these things as it's too early in the year yet, but it was still a relaxing drive about 2 hours northeast of where I live. It's Ukrainian country out that way, so you see several Orthodox churches dotting the landscape along the way. I posted a few pictures on Facebook, which I think anyone who follows my blog is on anyway, so I direct you to the photos there.

My other purpose, aside from visiting family, was to go horseback riding at my aunt's place. I started riding before I could walk and would ride every summer when I'd go to my grandparents' farm as a child, but once I wasn't able to spend my whole summers there, combined with my grandparents' aging process not allowing them to break horses anymore, there was a long hiatus where I barely rode. My uncle up north has great horses, but he lives about a 7 hour drive from me, which isn't really convenient to just pop by on a weekend. In any case, it's so great to have my aunt and her horses closer so I can go more often. So far, this has only resulted in my being able to go out once a year in the last 3 years, but it's more than I was doing in the past. I love the smell of saddle leather and of the horses. Riding in and of itself is great fun for me, but it also reminds me of my grandpa a lot because he loved horses so much, and I remember going to horse sales and rodeos with him all the time during those summers when I was little.

I definitely didn't become the horsewoman I sometimes dreamed I might. This became especially apparent through the events of my last ride! It always takes me a bit to get used to the horse I'm on. I usually don't ride the same horse twice when I go, so I just have to figure out what to do with the horse I have, and then once that comfortable relationship is established, it's smooth-going from there on in. I think I felt a little overconfident with that relationship when I let my horse run up a steep hill, not an uncommon thing to do as horses do like to run up as it seems to make it a bit easier for them. I've gone up that hill before without difficulty, but I didn't maintain control of the horse this time and let her go too fast. Before I knew it, it became a slow-motion moment in which one of my feet came out of the stirrup, I lost balance and was trying to figure out how to re-gain control. The horse started getting a bit jumpy, however, and before I knew it, I proceeded to be launched into the air and ended up flat on my back. Thankfully, we were in a grassy field and not on a gravel road, and I was not kicked or stomped on by the horse, so it was a best-case scenario if you're ever going to be bucked off a horse. I woke up really stiff the next day, but by today, I was already able to cycle to the gym and do a light workout there, so my recovery is also not going too slowly. I think I should just concede to the fact that I'm not an expert and don't have sufficient time to become so!

Sunday, June 5, 2011


As the traveller, the wayfaring stranger that I am, I do often reflect on "home," what it is and what it means to come there. As readers, you may have wondered yourself, sometimes, where my home is or where I feel most at home. And I think the reason I reflect on the subject so much is because I haven't got a definitive answer for myself!

My original concept of home was a place that was familiar, a structure, be it a house or condo or what have you, a place where you felt safe, and somewhere that's a refuge. I had most of that growing up, all except for the refuge part as family issues often created certain difficulties, but for the most part, I thought the house where I grew up was a good place to be. I knew my way around. I knew my neighbours. And I liked them. The places I hung out and went to school were nearby. And it was indeed familiar as I lived there for 16 years of my life.

That house was sold a year after my parents separated and my brother moved to the US for school. My mom and I moved into a new place, and we had to make that our home. I had hoped it would become home, anyway. I painted a mural on my bedroom wall with the sense that this would be a permanent place to come back to. My mom and I lived there for a few years, seeing me through the majority of my undergraduate and graduate school life. But life changed again, and neither my mom or me was to remain in that place, and shortly after my mom remarried, she moved into a new house. That happened while I was living in Mexico, and while it saddened me in many ways, I had thought I would eventually make a life and a home in Mexico now that I was living on my own with the intention of staying there and never moving back to Canada.

Oh, how life changes. I lasted 2 years in Mexico but was unable to develop any community of stable and reliable friends (I did have good friends, but some were other Canadians that wouldn't be there with me forever, so they were reliable but just not stable to stay there). There were many reasons for this, which are not worth going into, but suffice it to say that what I was hoping to have happen to create the home I wanted--developing that network of friends, meeting and marrying someone and buying a home, having good work/life balance--did not happen, and I returned home to recuperate.

I thought I would only stay here for a couple of years before heading out to another country again or even to another city. But I've stayed in my home city since I returned from Mexico and have gone through a lot of instability here such as the inability to find employment I like well enough to stay at for a long period of time, and this has taken a bit of a financial toll on me, which makes it more difficult to leave again when I think about moving expenses. I think I'm digressing. In any case, during this time, my grandparents' yard was also sold to someone outside the family after Grandpa passed away (at least I think that's the chronology of events, if I remember right), and Grandma remained in the house for some years but eventually had to move into a home as her health deteriorated, and she wasn't able to look after herself anymore. This felt like a pretty big blow the first time this event seemed it would become a reality as the farm felt like the only home I had left in the world. It was the place I spent my childhood summers, a place of fun and where there were so many good memories and where happy memories of childhood seemed to outnumber the sad ones. But now it is gone.

When you see your homes disappear from your life, it's unsettling, literally. I feel unsettled because I feel like there's no real home for me, no place where I have the kinds of deep-rooted memories and the history that I had with these places.

I have also realised over time, as a result of these events, that part of the reason I struggle with this is that I dwell too much on the past, that I dislike change, and that I'm an "out of sight, out of mind" person that needs the visual cues to evoke memories of the past. Maybe that's why it's better I not have these things. Maybe I never would have moved forward. I have now no attachment to a place. Because I rent an apartment now, my memories here seem impermanent, like they don't want to sink into the walls to tell a story later one because they know it's not going to last, so there's no point in trying. (I love my apartment's location, though, as it's a couple of blocks from the house where I grew up, and I feel like the neighbourhood is my home.) I realised that this instability has made me thankful, in some ways, of being forced to have no attachment to a place and of having other things I have no attachment to, like traditions, because we didn't really have many of them growing up anyway. And so as it seemed like my whole life fell apart, I came to the understanding that all I really want is stability, something that doesn't change, or something that I can rely on. That's what my home will be. It might be a place. It might be a relationship. It might even be my faith. It will be a space that provides me with rest, to fully be myself without fear of judgment, a refuge from the world when it seems like it's raging against you.

What's home to you? I haven't found it yet, though I do enjoy my quiet solitude in my apartment sometimes, and I can only presume that my definition may once again change as life goes on, and I get a little older, and hopefully a little wiser.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Quick West Coast Trip

I ended up having to go to Southern California, Seattle, and Portland for work recently. It was a quick trip and somewhat packed, although I did have a couple of days where I only had evening events or I was travelling in the evening with no events during the day, so I was able to do a bit of sightseeing. My sightseeing in Balboa Park in San Diego was cut short by some rain, but later in the day the sun came out, so I made my way over to the original part of San Diego. There isn't much for me to say that my pictures don't, but the one thing I can say is that I was happy that my hotel in Seattle was right across from the Space Needle there since I didn't get a chance to see anything there due to lack of time. Below is a bit of an album I put together. I hadn't realised my camera's battery would already be dead, so I never bothered checking it before I went out in San Diego to see stuff, so all those photos are taken with my iPhone as well as the night photos of the Space Needle as I just arrived there that same day and wouldn't have been able to charge my battery yet.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Quick addition about photos

For some reason, my album completely mixed up the photos, and I can't figure out a way to put them in the right order, so I apologise if it gets confusing.

I also wanted to mention I didn't get good pictures from the ferry trip between Hong Kong and Macau because of the pollution, poor lighting, and dirty ferry windows. It's too bad because it was really pretty in many ways.

SE Asia spring 2011

Southeast Asia Spring 2011

February found me back in Southeast Asia for work. This time, I was gone a few more days than last time and went to a few more countries in addition to the ones I went to last time. Brunei and China (though not mainland, just Hong Kong and Macau). Despite having those extra few days, turning my trip into about a month-long affair, it was still really hectic due to the schedule organised by DFAIT for the Canadian institutions, and I ended up getting laryngitis, which then turned into a cold that lasted just over a week. One of the recruiters from another institution noted my deterioration during that week as it went from me being the life of the party in the van we were in to just dozing off in the vehicle at every chance I got. I know they say men turn into babies when they get sick, but I think I have that problem, too. I just want to stay in bed and do nothing and have people take care of me. But who doesn't, really?! In any case, I will go in order of country to describe anything I can, though I had very little time for sightseeing, except for in Macau.

Country: Indonesia

Cities: Medan and Jakarta

There is really nothing to report from either location as there wasn't much time to do anything! I arrived early in the morning on the 10th and did nothing but lie around in my room all day until the informal dinner in the evening we had with our partners in Indonesia and the Canadian Senior Trade Commissioner. The one comment I can make is that the shower I took after 38 hours of travelling, door to door, was not as refreshing as I had hoped because I couldn't get the water hot enough. It was a little disappointing, but I did at least feel clean after, which is the main thing.

Country: Malaysia

Cities: Kota Kinabalu and Kuala Lumpur

When my colleague and I flew into Kota Kinabalu, we knew we weren't going to want to leave. All we could see were little islands and beautiful beaches among the turquoise waters. We've decided we need to do something to set up our own business there and then never leave. It's so beautiful! We arrived early in the afternoon so had a few hours to roam around before a reception we were attending in the evening, so we took full advantage of the bit of free time. You'll see me sipping on ice cold coconut water in the album I've posted. We only spent a day there and then right after our fair, we had to fly off to Brunei. KL was actually after not only Brunei but also Singapore, but I leave it here for the sake of convenience.

While in KL, again, there wasn't much time for sightseeing. This is in part due to the fact that my colleague and I were there to admit students to the U of A, so after spending time collecting documents and stuff, we had to work on processing them rather than doing much else. During some of the evenings, I, along with some of the other recruiters, were able to go out to eat and stuff, but that's about it. Again, not a lot of time for sightseeing as we mostly had work to do. I didn't get to see my aunt this time either as she happened to be in India during my trip to Malaysia, so that was too bad. But it was during my last weekend in Malaysia that I ended up getting sick, so I didn't feel like doing too much but sleeping, especially after being at a fair for 7 hours in a heavily air conditioned room. The hotel we stayed at was right next to the Petronas Towers, so I was able to get some good photos of that at night, at least.

Country: Brunei Darussalam

Cities: Bandar Seri Begawan and Kuala Belait

Brunei was probably the most entertaining place despite having literally no time to see anything. Our schedule there was brutal, but most evenings we were free to eat out, and the one evening, one of the Canadian government officials invited us to his place for supper as it was the end of Chinese New Year, and also he had a fully stocked liquor cabinet for all the Canadians there who were missing their booze in that dry country. He thought we'd be weirded out by their traditional Chinese food that included pig intestines and sea cucumbers. I told him he'd have to do better than that as I've eaten cow eyeballs and fried grasshoppers in my lifetime! We had a good time there as he lit fireworks in his backyard, and we got served tons of snacks by his little son, who also showed off his dragon dance costume. He was so adorable! I also don't identify this government person because according to him, he isn't supposed to be inviting people to his home like that, so I don't want to give too much more information. It's classified ;o)

I got a few photos of the countryside while we were driving between BSB and KB as well, so at least there is something, and I also got some photos of all the excellent Japanese food we had at this restaurant close to the hotel.

Interesting activities in Brunei also included being quoted in a local newspaper to advertise the Canadian universities' activities there, and I got labelled as an "ethnic Punjabi" in the newspaper. That was really weird, and it really denies my other half, too! I also got to sit and dine with the Canadian High Commissioner, the Bruneian Minister and Deputy Minister of Education. That was a bit stressful, though, because relationships with such people there are so formal, I didn't quite know what to do, how to address them or if we could initiate conversation. I wasn't really prepared for that, but I survived, and so did they ;o)

Country: Singapore

City: N/A

The schedule here was a bit freer because we were not doing activities organised by DFAIT here. I stayed in the same hotel as last time so I could get my Famous Wonton Noodles for $3.50 SGD! I also was able to meet up with Eunice, who is the niece of my family doctor here in Edmonton, a doctor I've been going to almost all my life. She's really nice, and I wish I would have known she wasn't working the day we met up so that we could have spent more time together. We met up in Little India, and she knew all the good places to shop!

Country: China

Cities: Hong Kong and Macau

I'm so glad I was warned that you can't get around with English in these places. I still am surprised that Hong Kong is like that because you'd think being a British colony for so long, everyone would speak English like in Malaysia, but it just isn't so. The hotel helped me by writing out all my addresses in Chinese, and another friend that used to intern in our office met me at the airport and was able to talk to the taxi driver in Cantonese for me because it's just way easier. I got to go out a couple of the evenings I was there, but mostly just to eat and get a bit of shopping done. Note to people bargaining for knock-offs: speaking Cantonese doesn't necessarily help you! My friend there was trying to help, and although she was getting some decent deals for me, the shop owners were much ruder to her than they were being to me, and I think if I had protested enough, I would have got quite cheap deals, too. Hong Kong I found to be a very congested city, almost claustrophobic in parts because of the tall, skinny buildings, and just so many people. It was a relief to get to Macau, where you should also have your addresses written out in Chinese!

I spent my last weekend in Asia here. The morning I arrived, I went directly to the school I was visiting for work, and that was my only appointment. One of my friends actually teaches high school there, so I spent the rest of the weekend hanging out with him, and it was nice to catch up and finally have nowhere to go, no work to do for the first time in about 24 days. I counted! I could sleep in and just relax, and he took excellent care of me while I was there, too. He took me to see a really cool show called House of Dancing Water by Dragone, who used to work with the Cirque du Soleil. You can see the influence in the show, but it's really cool. Diving from great heights, motorcycle stunts, and all sorts of different acrobatics, it was pretty awesome. I didn't get any pictures, but you can get an idea of it in the link. Macau, though a casino city, is a little more laid back and less congested, though the pollution appears to be about the same as Hong Kong. But I definitely enjoyed the space a lot more. We also went out to eat all sorts of food from traditional Chinese to Korean to Portuguese. We also found that the Haagen-Dazs store there serves all kinds of interesting desserts, so we decided to have an ice cream fondue. Yep, it doesn't get much better than that, folks!

Anyway, overall, it was a successful trip for work, and it was nice travelling with a colleague as I had less alone time than usual. I like to spend time alone and in fact, I need it to re-charge myself, but there can also be too much time alone, and that isn't healthy for me. I'm also getting to rack up the air miles, so let's see where I get to travel to next, but for fun! Photos forthcoming!