Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Toasting in Tiawan

The small version of the Lazy Susan
After a short two days back in the US I headed back to a different part of Asia Taiwan with my work colleagues to teach a short two day seminar in incorporating technology in the classroom. So after another day plane trip half way around the world I was back in Asia.  But what a different world Taiwan is from it's sister Southeast Asia.  They might as well be distant cousins twice removed who don't even recognize each other at reunions, because Taiwan is significantly different from southeast Asia.  Taiwan is not nearly as westernized as Singapore, which is really just like visiting the Epcot version of Asia.   Taiwan has all the charms of southeast Asia and all the comforts of the westernized world.   This is really highlighted in the public restrooms where you can choose from the squat toilet, the western toilet or the western toilet with a remote that has a heated seat and a bidet. 

My professors Norm and Judy a super celebrities in the Taiwan education world and everywhere we go they are greeted like royalty.  This results in about three hour lunches with a lazy Susan the size of a VW bug filled to the brim with every type of Taiwanese food imaginable.  If you just hint at the fact that you particularly enjoy a certain type of food you bet a NT that two more would appear on the table for the next meal.  During the meal you are served micro sized glasses of beer which you raise up with both hands and look another diner in the eye and say a personalized toast, it goes something like this . . .
Selina-  Judy thank you so much for taking me to Taiwan and for showing me the best shopping
Judy - you are most welcome
Taiwan Beer
Then we both raise our glasses, drink, look each other in the eyes again and toast again.  Then someone would promptly fill up your glass with beer, so you have no idea how much you have consumed.  To add a twist at dinner a bottle of Kaoliang (which is basically like rubbing alcohol) would be produced and you would drink that along side your small glass of beer.  I spent most of the meals trying not to make eye contact!!!!!  To even further complicate the toasting traditions.  After someone toasts you and you are getting ready to drink someone can shout out GAMBEE which means chug.  Then  you must drink your whole glass (which of course will be refilled immediately)!!!

After two hours of Gambeeing and being completely stuffed to the brim you have about an hour before dinner and the festivities begin again.  Stay thirsty my friends

Angkor What!!!

 Had talked up the border crossing so much I think Inhad built it up so much in Sankat's maybe scaring him out of him out of his mind. We packed up and started running errands before the border crossing grabbing Tylenol and changing money to US dollars. It was about 11:30 before we got on the bus headed to the border. Once we got to the border we got out and there was an "office" where some guys were trying to get us to go into. We avoided the office and walked straight for the border and bought our visas after we got our exit stamp from Thailand. On the Cambodian side we walked into the visa office and handed over $20 and $100 bhat (we weren't sure what the $100 baht was for but when I saw it disappear into the pocket of the officer).  Then we continued over the border. As we were walking a man was soliciting us to take a ride with him. We nogociated a ride price and then were corralled onto a bus, where a "greeting" officer wanted to school us in Cambodia way of life. After we grabbed another car to Siem Reap the greeting officer asked for tip, because he "rescued" us from the scam artist and the other guys would justb"sell" us to the tuk tuk drivers at the edge of Siem Reap, I replied that he didn't save us but took us to another cab. No tip for him!!!

We split a cab with a couple from the UK who did get caught by the fake visa "office" who charged them twice the amount of the visa. Two hours later we ended up just outside of Siem Reap
here we handed off to some tuk tuk drivers (of course exactly what our little friend who "rescued" us said wouldn't happen).  But we were able to strike up a deal with our tuk tuk driver to take us on an all day tour of the temples for $15!  Then we headed out to dinner, the food in Cambodia is divine because of the French influence and all of the downtown is set up much like New Orleans with the resturantnts as two floors with balcony dining everywhere where you can sit and look down on the sites and people below!

The next morning we headed off to the temples and saw five in one day. The temples were all built in different time periods so the architecture is unique with each one. We would pull up outside a temple  get out of our tuk tuk and weave through the vast amount of children selling everything from magnets to pieces of art. Once inside the temple you can walk around, climb up and make believe you are an in Tomb Raider!  The temples are massive in size and number you could be there for a week and still not see all the temples!  We met a young lady selling paintings and cold drinks outside one of the temples while we were sitting sipping our iced cafes we watched her work her magic, each group of tourists that would exit the temple she would look at and when they got within hearing distance she would greet them in their language and shout out the items she had for sale. She was brillant, "Bonjour," "Hola" and many more.  We asked her and she knows over eight languages and several sayings in each of them, I think Sankat wanted her to be on his sales team for the bank.

That night we went to the night market and shopped away, Sankat bartered away his best deal was getting a sale at 80% off the asking price while of course he's telling me all about how he learned these strategies at Booth, glad the moneys going towards something!  We also got some great foot massages in the market and looked at all the items you can make out of a rice bag (I got a great yoga bag).  The next day we lounged by the pool, drank on the balcony and pursued the night market again, gearing up for the reverse border crossing.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Passing through Bangkok

Airport Train
After saying goodbye to the Beaches of Bali we hopped a flight to Bangkok Thailand  We landed 4 hours later and were in the city of 12 million.  We grabbed an ice coffee and some noodles at the airport to gear us up for the trip into town.  We road the brand new sky train into the city and headed into the city for the neighborhood of Sukumvit which is the banking district and most poshy place in Bangkok.  After checking into our hotel which looked like a Asian Cartoon on Steroids but had a tremendous city view.  We then headed out to a non profit restaurant called Condoms and Cabbages (Jen and I went here when we were in Bangkok).  This restaurants’ proceeds go towards sex education in Thailand, which is a worthy cause in a country where the population is growing 3% every year.  The whole place is decked out in prophylactics everything from the entrance way to the light fixtures!!!!  Greeting you when you walk in the door is a sculpture of Tiger Woods made completely out of condoms and birth control pills (with a sign stating I hope you used these)!  After dining and drinking for the cause we strolled past 100s of street stalls selling everything from pants to CDs and bottle openers to J Lo T’shirts.  Every few feet a street bar was set one of them set up in a converted VW van with an entire bar set up inside.  Sankat then wanted to pay a visit to Soi Cowboy (Soi means streets, Cowboy American) this street was featured in Hangover II where he gets a tattoo and they visit a strip club.  This street was started by an American solider who frequented Bangkok on leave and wanted to set up some entertainment for him and his compadres.  This street is all that you imagine, strip club after another, each with a theme from cheetah print bathrobes to southern plaid theme.  In between the clubs are woman firing up woks to make fresh pad thai.  After seeing it all we grabbed a Tuk Tuk and headed back home. 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Getting to the Balimoon is Half the Battle

Sankat enjoying a Sail
After a tear-full goodbye I sent Lindsey off in a cab towards the airport and I headed to Sanur to meet up with Sankat.  We had booked a sweet little boutique hotel close to the beach and I was hoping it would turn out better than my latest lodging debacles.  I grabbed a cab and headed off after much discussion about price (he wanted $15, I wanted him to run the meter) we settled on the meter and off we went.  20 minutes later he dropped off on the side of the highway in front of a highrise with a similar name as my hotel.   I knew from the internet pictures (which at times can be deceiving but not this deceiving) that we were not at the right place.  I walked in and the door guy looked at me like I was crazy, it was basically as if a dirty backpacker walked into a highrise in Chicago and asked the door guy for a room J.  We bantered back and forth me in English and him in Balinese and it was clear that I was not in the right place and we couldn’t communicate with each other.  Luckily there was a coffee shop next door that I wandered into where business people were having lunch, getting the same dirty backpacker look I asked for WiFi and a menu.  The server informed me that I would have to pay for WiFi and food to stay there I convinced her that I would and $7 later I had a latte, chocolate cake and internet.  I realized that the cab had taken me to a place about a half a mile from my hotel (easy I can totally walk there).  I finished up my goods and waited out almost all my internet time, didn’t want to waste any money, and headed off down the road.  About four minutes into walking down the side of the highway listening to cars honking and praying that no one would come onto the side of the road and hit me I flagged down a cab.  I had the usual banter of meter vs $10 settled on meter and off we went.  I was able to maintain internet signal and quickly realized this guy didn’t know where he was going, but through the miracle of  google maps and my demands we pulled up outside of the hotel resembling the one I booked on the internet.  Hooray they had my booking the room was amazing and I settled in next to the pool to wait for Sankat.  The hostess even brought me fresh sorbet while I lounged HEAVEN!!!!
Watching the Sunset
I had a glass of wine waited for Sankat and he arrived  So awesome to see him after 5 weeks of us traveling, we stayed up late exchanging stories about Singapore, London, Malaysia and Indonesia.    We spent the next four days living it up in Bali, snorkeling, catamaran cruises to other islands, lounging on the beach and eating brick oven pizza at the Italian ex pat;s place. 

Now we are headed off for one night in Bangkok.  

Beachin Part Duex

After reluctantly leaving Ubud Lindsey and I ventured to spend our last two days on the south coast beaches. We wanted to find the perfect place to eat, drink, and relax on the beach.  We spent hours scouring the internet to find the perfect guest house.  The only affordable hotel we could find on the beach was in a shopping mall which we quickly discarded So we booked this sweet little guest house just north of the beach and grabbed a cab and headed there.  The cab just kept driving up and down the road and could not find the small guest house.  He ended up dumping us at a small restaurant where we consumed another plate of fried noodles in exchange for internet.  Not wanting to back down and book the mall hotel we settled on another hotel across from the mall and the beach.  We hailed a cab and off we went again. When the cab pulled up outside the hotel it was on a busy highway with the nearest restaurant a pizza hut.  When we went to the check in we asked where the beach was and she looked at us very confused, as it turns out we were nowhere near the beach and basically staying at a hotel on a highway that looked like Orlando minus Disney.  On the positive side it was super clean place with movie channels and an awesome shower.  So we settled in and spent the evening watching reality dog grooming show on Animal Planet and getting caught up on BBC news.  We ordered some crummy room service Indonesian pizza and when we were able to tear ourselves away from the final sheering and poodle fashion show we went to turn off the lights where of course we couldn’t figure out.  We had to call the front desk at midnight with three men who came up (hotel worker, repair man, and security) after removing the light plate and determining it broken we were moved to another room.  Which was great because I split hot sauce all over my pillow J
The morning we decided to try to find the beach one last time we surrendered our pride and booked the mall hotel and off we went.  We spent the rest of the day lounging by the ocean and watching the sun set with cocktails.  It was a nice way to end the trip even if there was a Starbucks, Burger King, Pizza Hut and a Nike Town in our hotel.