Wednesday, March 9, 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.
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.
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)
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!
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!