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.