26 September, 2010

She Beat the Bear

The secret satisfied smile of one who has completed something more monumental than most of us dare dream.

The Bear 100

24 September, 2010

Singapore Chinatown, Mid-Autumn Festival

It's Mid-Autumn Festival time here in Asia. Known in the western world as the autumnal equinox, this day is the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, the day of the fullest moon.

Here in Singapore, it's all about the moon cakes--people carrying around moon cakes to give as gifts, people carrying around moon cakes they were given as gifts, people carrying around non-moon cake items in moon cake bags to show that at one point they bought moon cakes at the most prestigious moon cake shop, and so on. It's also tradition to light lanterns.

One day in the early days of Singapore life, as I was sitting at the computer and gazing out over our balcony at the beautiful clear blue sky, a ridiculously loud crack of thunder shattered my reverie, propelling me halfway to the ceiling before I realized what it was. Momentarily mystified by this thunder that was literally 'out of the blue', it was not until I peeked out the front door to investigate that everything came clear, or rather, cloudy. While the SE facing the view from the balcony was as aforementioned, the NW facing view from the front door revealed roiling, seething, turbulent black clouds, rain, and streaks of lightning. I have since come to view the weather here as 'predictably unpredictable.'

So as I wandered through Chinatown the other day snapping photos of lanterns and odds and ends, I kept a corner of my eye on the indecisive sky, wondering what it was going to throw at me. At first it just played some games with the sun, but I wasn't fazed. Then it raised it's fists and threatened me, but it the end, it tucked its hands in it's pockets, spit on the ground a couple times, and left me alone. Here are some photos from my walk:

21 September, 2010

Melaka, Malaysia, Sept. 10-12

-Melaka Trip Album Link

This was a holiday weekend, so we should have known better, but still we waited way too long to book our trip. An island beach getaway was out of the question, the travel agents all but laughing at my enquiries. We finally settled on the UNESCO World Heritage City of Melaka. With no roundtrip coach tickets, no roundtrip train tickets, and almost no hotel rooms available, it didn't look hopeful. I waded through countless schedules and timetables and booking sites. I even stuck a toe into the unfamiliar waters of telephoning companies without websites only to have 'ticket finish', 'no more, lah', and 'fully book,' ring in my ears. I finally found two remaining seats on a coach to Melaka (the most expensive company), a room in a nice looking guesthouse (so, what's the catch--cockroaches? filthy sheets?), and train tickets back to Singapore, 2nd class only (train station located an hour out of Melaka).

The coach ride was efficient and uneventful. Our guesthouse turned out to be clean and comfortable and ideally located. And Melaka itself was very enjoyable. We stuck mainly to the historic sites and the night/weekend market. A note if you decide to walk to the Portuguese Settlement: it's roughly 7km from downtown (farther if you at first go to St. John's Fort, jig through a small neighborhood on the way back to the main road, and then miss the large sign saying 'Portuguese Settlement'), and it's not all that interesting. We concluded that at far as traditional villages go, Kampung Morten just north of downtown is where it's at. Needless to say, we took pictures of every single sign that said 'Morten'.

The train home was more eventful than the coach. Firstly, it's an hour by taxi to the train station (RM 50, maybe less if you're a good negotiator). Secondly, it doesn't really matter how far the train station is if you're told when you arrive that even though you have a booking code, you don't have a reservation. After some wild gesturing, loud excited verbal exchanges, several phone calls (I'd like to think that I wasn't rude, but I'm not sure that the KTM agent on the other end of the line would see it that way), and one big refusal by me to accept that I didn't have tickets on the fully booked train, I stood happily with two first class tickets to Singapore. It turns out that where my original booking agent had told me to pick up the tickets two hours before departure, she should have told me to pick them up twenty-four hours before departure. Since we had not done so, and since there is no pre-pay system, they had simply let the reservation go. I don't know how they got us seats on a full train, but they did, and I can only compliment KTM customer service, if not their booking system. The train was old and dingy, even in first class, and the air-conditioner was set on 'deep-freeze', but we got home, and that was certainly better than not getting home.

Highly recommended for a weekend trip.