Monday, October 30, 2006

Money Money Money

Met up with my insurance advisor... I am to start investing! Hmmmmmmmmmmm... Never thought I'd do that :p

Dearly Departed...

Just watched The Departed and it ROCKED! I LOVE it!!! A must see.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

A Hairy Affair

Whoever perpetuated the belief that women should be hair-free in order to be sexy was an ABSOLUTE ASS!!! It was probably some guy who needed a boost in his monthly razor sales** and decided to prey on one of women's greatest weaknesses... V-A-N-I-T-Y. All it takes is one person to light the match and before you know it, shaving has become a social norm. I take that back... it has become a social must-do! Why am I so annoyed, you ask? Because I admit, I have been sucked into that whole farce and am now trapped in it. It's ridiculous to have to avoid certain clothing because you're not hair-free in certain areas. I want to wear what I want when I want without being shot looks of grimaces (trust me, the comments I have heard about others!) Yes I know it's a choice, that I can throw away my shavers and wax strips, but it's also a choice to run around town topless. You don't see anyone of sound mind doing that do you. Now, not only women but men as well, spend hundreds of dollars on razors, shaving foam, epilators, wax treatments (lord forbid you should grow stubble after you shave) and for what? To be silky smooth for someone else who was conditioned into believing that smooth is good?? That smooth is sexy? PAH! (There are services these days catered to women of a certain ethnicity who due to the 'preferences' of their men, wax their ENTIRE bodies!!) Now for the messed up part of it all, half the time guys don't really care if you're not baby smooth, WE just think they do! That's the fairer sex for you...

I admire women who have enough self-confidence to be able to resist conformity. Unfortunately I'm not as self-assured. On that note, please excuse me while I go wax my legs.

**according to my sister, the history buff, the removal of body hair has been in practice since the time of the Egyptian Pharaos where harem girls were required to remove ALL body hair before visiting the Sultan's bed. I AM NOT A HAREM GIRL!! Why do I want to look like one??**

The Gathering

Just got back from a fun gathering of Stella Maris 'kakis' from 10 years ago (my god!!) at the residence of the one and only RYAN TANN CHU MING and his lovely wife Nicole! In attendance were: Geraldine, Aaron Wong and gf (soon-to-be-wife) Lina, Adrian and gf (soon-to-be-wife) Ying Ling (ARRRGHHHHH!!! I can't leave for more than 4 months without someone getting engaged!!), Francis and (gf) Valerie, Richie and (gf) Ashley (it was her birthday too), Ceaser, Aaron Nathan and I (the 3 rocking singles :p) Sigh, the herd is dwindling. One by one we're getting lassoed into 'the settled' life, leaving the rest of us to run the open grasslands until it's our time
to hang up our wandering shoes. YEAH WHATEVER! Anyway, had a fantastic time rehashing old memories and swapping stories of teenage mischief, talking about the future...

Oh and it's Deepavali! And since we were on the 24th floor with a fabulous fabulous view of the KL skyline, we were treated to amateur attempts at pyrotechnics. But fireworks are fireworks, they're still beautiful and they still make me squeal and clap my hands in delight. Tried capturing the twinkling lights on film but there's only so much my phone can do :p

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Back in Singapore

And I'm stuck in bed with a full-blown cough and cold! Bleh!!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Goodbye Vietnam!

Coffee with G & XHad dinner with X, a Vietnamese friend of a friend of my mum's whom she put me in touch with. Took me to a lovely restaurant for seafood Vietnamese style. Unfortunately for some reason they didn't have the stuff I was looking forward to trying, like tortoise and something else (can't remember). I'd come down with an annoying cough and my nose was stuffy so didn't have the energy to stay out late. X was a little disappointed especially since he thought we could stay out for a night of karaoke. Head started pounding after some time too. Still managed to go for after dinner coffee. A big mistake though. I forgot that since I'm not a coffee drinker, the caffeine usually hits me pretty hard. True enough, I didn't sleep a wink last night. Probably drifted off due to sheer exhaustion at 0500hrs and alarm went off at 0630hrs. Had to call for airport taxi at 0730hrs. Flight scheduled for 1030hrs. Got to airport only to find out that flight was postponed till 1350hrs. ARRRGHHHH!!!! Crashed out on airport chairs.

I love Hanoi, including the crazy traffic and incessant honking. It just grows on you. The back-to-basics way of life was a welcome change from the bustling city of Singapore and I enjoyed the idea of getting around on 2 wheels, of being able to sit by the road and enjoy a steaming bowl of pho, and people watch. Glad I decided to go ahead with the trip. It was a great taster of Vietnam and I'm definitely looking forward to my next proper trip. Though I think I'd prefer to go with a friend. I don't think I'll be able to enjoy the place half as much if I didn't have someone I could talk with and make observations.

Goodbye Vietnam, until me meet again!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Day 5 - Ninh Binh

Woke up bright and early. Breakfast. Were given a roughly-drawn map of the route we'll be taking. Interesting. Especially since we'll be taking the backroads. I have a feeling we're gonna get lost.

Proposed Itinerary:

Tam Coc & the Bich Dong Pagoda - Hoa Lu & the Ancient Citadel, Dinh Tien Hoang
Temple, Le Dai Hanh Temple, Tomb of Dinh Tien Hoang - Kenh Ga Floating Village - Van Long Nature Reserve.

Limestone MountiansTam Coc or the 'Halong Bay of the Rice Paddies', is about 10km from Ninh Binh and features lime stone moutains emerging from the padi fields. Getting there was easy enough though I absolutely dreaded the first 7 km which had to be done on the dusty main road with the cars and trucks.

For 50kD per person, we were taken down the Boi river by 26 yr-old Ninh (who's got a sister named Binh!!) and her mother.
(Not surprisingly, I was asked if I was G's wife.)

They row with their feet as easily as they do with their handsThe two-hour boat ride took us through the 3 caves from which the area derived it's name, and a lazy cruise past small isolated houses that dotted the river bank. Truly breathtaking scenery.

The locals here make a living herding goats and rearing ducks, as well as selling their embroidery to tourists. They'd cleverly bundled up their wares and stacked
them in the boat before we even boarded, then pounced on us on the trip back with everything they had, from T-shirts, to tables cloths and we were pressed to buy something 'in support' of them. Got myself a tastefully embroided T-shirt that said Vietnam for US$3 *shrug*

Cycled along the backroads through the country side to get to Hoa Lu. Took us sometime to find the track though since there weren't any sign boards. And asking for directions didn't really help either initially. G. had trouble understanding the first guy. All he could get was that we'd have to turn left somewhere by a tall house, then we'll come to a mountain and finally cross a bridge.

*The modern architecture here is a curious copy of houses in Hanoi; Tall and narrow, with barely any or no windows on the sides, and only the front facade painted. It's
understandable in Hanoi where houses are squeezed very closely together and there really isn't any room for elaborate balconies on the sides and pointless to have windows opening out into your neighbours wall. But on the outskirts where they have all the space they could possibly want, it's odd to see them build exact replicas of those in the capital.

Anyway, more help from a woman mixing cement farther up the road. (the women here do back-breaking work!) We rode through a housing area and had children waving at us and shouting 'Hello' whenever we passed. We were the only crazy tourists cycling for awhile, not even sure where we were, or if we were even on the right track, until we crossed paths with 2 caucasians coming in the opposite direction. Whew! We're not lost! We soon left the more 'urban' area and found ourselves faced with miles of padi fields and believe it or not, silence! There were no cars, no trucks, only a handful of motorbikes, which meant no honking! Everyone else were on bicycles. Women were stooped in the fields, water buffalos wallowed and soaked in the water, men walked by with fishing rods in hand. More children waving and smiling.

Arrived at another housing area. Finally a signboard! We're still ok. Pushed on till we came to what looked like a temple. Still not sure which one that was. Turned the corner and bumped into 2 backpackers who were also putting up at the Queen Mini, sitting under a tree and drinking Vietnamese coffee prepared by an old lady. We decided to stop for a chat and join them for coffee and wafers. One from the Czech Republic and the other from Slovenia and they'd travelled from Eastern Europe overland, stopping for a maximum of 3 days in each city of the countries they went

Me on my wheels and my cheesy MORLBARO hat!
Checked out the temple after our coffee then proceeded along a dirt road. Eventually came to a cross road. Ahead was a huge hole blasted into a mountain and to the right was a pebbled road that led into a village. Figured it would be better if we rode through the village. It later dawned on us that that was the mountain the guy was telling us about earlier. We linked up with the dirtroad again anyway. Was not long till we came to the bridge and finally Hoa Lu. Lunch was pho.

Did a quick look around. Like I said earlier, once you've seen one pagoda you've seen them all. Unless you're a history / cultural buff. Was intrigued by what was at the top of a very long set of steps cut into mountain. But we'd spent so much time on the road that we weren't sure if we could afford half an hour getting up there. Decided to give it a miss. No regrets though. I thoroughly enjoyed the bike ride and was glad I did it.

Decided to skip Kenh Ga Floating Village and the Nature Reserve since we'd already taken a boat ride and we would need a good few hours to see them.

Took a different route back. It was harvest time and the roads were lined with padi that lay drying in the sun, and rows of guni sacks stacked beside in which the padi will be stored. Left the countryside and linked up with the damn mainroad again. Came across an accident. Car and motorbike. *shudder*

Arrived back at The Queen Mini with an hour to spare. Great! Still have time for a shower. I must have an inch of grime and dust on me. There's a 1530hrs bus that stops outside the hotel but I really wanted my shower :p Walked over to the bus station and caught the next minibus to Hanoi for 28kD. It stops somewhere in the South of Hanoi which was a bit of a distance from G's place so took a taxi. Starting price 11kD. Final cost 60Kd.

I'm gald we went to Ninh Binh. I realised I like the adventure kind of holiday and the cycling and boat ride was right up my alley.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Day 4 - Hanoi / Ninh Binh

Woke up an hour too late to catch the tour group to Halong Bay. A little disappointed as that was supposed to be the highlight of my trip. Decided instead to take a train down to Ninh Binh, small city roughly 100km South-West of Hanoi, 2.5 hour journey by train. Took the soft seater - 37kD. Meal provided. Train was at 1545hrs so had time for the 'bun cha' that I'd missed yesterday. Yummy! I love meat afterall.

Kept getting stared at on the train by both the men and women, well the older women at least. I should be used to it by now. Been stared at from Day 1, but it's still unnerving. And I have no idea WHY they do it. Wasn't sure if it was due to my dressing (I ran out of clean clothes and so was dressed in shorts and a strappy top) or because I looked local and was therefore scandalous that I was travelling alone with a foreigner, or I was just paranoid.

*apparently Vietnamese girls don't smoke, don't drink, live with their parents till they get married, and are home by 2300hrs. They are demure, obliging and discreet. I am the exact opposite of that, and I sometimes feel as though they are able to reach into my mind and see what an Un-Vietnamese life I lead. :p I don't even know why I care. I could be COMPLETELY wrong!*

The 2 little old ladies to our left and the younger guy directly in front of us finally decided to strike up a conversation with me (of course, afterall "she looks JUST like one!"). First question they asked (directed to G this time) was if I was his wife. Apparently, it's more polite to say 'not yet' than it is to say 'no', and I really didn't want to be a social outcast, so G just anwered with the former. That got them excited and they appeared to be really happy for us for they kept looking at me, nodding their heads and smiling, and kept up a steady stream of conversation with G. It was all so surreal. I am now engaged.

Arrived at Ninh Binh at 1800hrs. Walked to Queen Mini Hotel (rooms from US$3 per night) 30m from train station. Had dinner of french fries (had meal on the train less than an hour ago), then took a walk around. It was already 2030hrs by then so nothing much to do. Spoke to the manager of the hotel about places we could see tomorrow. We had the option of getting them to organise a private tour, or we could go by ourselves by motorbike (US$5 per day) or bicycles US$1 per day. The adventurous me opted for the bicycles. Also since we had to catch the 1600hrs bus back to Hanoi so G could get to football practice at 1930hrs that evening, going by ourselves would give us the flexibility to pick and choose what we wanted to see and how long we wanted to stay. Woohoo!! Can't wait for tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Day 3 - Hanoi

Hah!! Decided to extend my stay! I've come all this way the least I could do is stay till the very last possible minute. Crashed at G's place which he shares with 3 girls, for the remainder of my stay. Was promised 'bun cha' (rice noodles with grilled meat and fresh vegetables), but silly me took my Larium on an empty stomach and nearly passed out while on the bike :s Since too shaky to get far, settled for more pho a few steps away from where we'd stopped. Felt better after getting food down. Stopped for fruit just in case, and was chided by a wizened old lady for showing too much skin (my top had ridden up about an inch above my trousers). She stood staring from a distance before deciding that this was something she'll have to put a stop to. So she shuffled over and started pointing to my belly, all the while mumbling something in Vietnamese. Seeing the confusion on my face, she huffily tugged on the hem of my top till I was 'decent'. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to feel chastised of amused. Whatever it is, from that point on, I was constantly checking on my state of dress (or undress as some were inclined to think). :p I wasn't exactly flashing myself. I'd read that the Vietnamese were a little conservative so I'd taken care to wear long trousers and selveless tops (I just oculdn't bring myself to put on one with sleeves! It was so hot!) and avoided strappy stuff. Bleh!

*A side note on dressing: The Vietnamese girls are covered from head to toe whenever they're out! Long trousers, long sleeved tops, a mask, (esp. when they're on a bike), a hat and sunglasses (these are optional). I know that the main reason is to protect their skin from the sun, Lord forbid they get a tan... but it sure doesn't help put my mind at ease when all I want to do is prance around in shorts!*

Went to West Lake and took a stroll. Lots of couples here as well enjoying the breeze, while watching local fishermen cast their lines. Ont he other side of the road is Truc Bach Lake, smaller but just as pretty. Visited the Tran Quoc Pagoda on West Lake.

Decided to take it easy today. Wasn't feeling 100%. Stayed at home for the rest of the day and watched Seinfeld instead (Yes I know... the worst thing to do while on holiday!) Passed up the iniviation to join the rest of the house for dog meat dinner. Don't get me wrong. I'm all up for trying new stuff, as long as it's not a pet. It's probably also coz I'd heard that dogs can smell that you'd eaten one of their kind and will not be at all friendly to you in future. Not sure how far that's true but I'm not taking any chances.

Early night. How boring of me!!!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Day 2 - Hanoi

Ngoc Son Pagoda on Hoan Kiem LakeSaw Hanoi from the back of G's bike. I'm not a fan of museums and if you've seen one pagoda you've seen them all. Checked out the Botanic Gardens, where young lovers like to gather, the Opera House, waved to Ho Chi Minh from outside (the Mausoleum is closed on Mondays), watched the Water Puppet Show (impressive), did some souvenir shopping (Vietnamese silk!!) , wasn't able to get myself an Au Dai though, very disappointed. Didn't find one that I liked. Started to rain. Rode around in the rain for awhile till we seeked shelter in a Western style cafe that served 'hashers and bangers' :p Had The Kiwi Special that looked like a typical Western breakfast except for the pan-fried Chinese vegetables that were heaped on the toast. Weird...

Pho stallHad my first bowl of pho for dinner, which we ate perched on tiny plastic stools by the side of the road. It was tres delicious!!! Tried some of the home-made rice wine that they drink before having pho as well. Man was that powerful shit. Think vodka neat served in a chinese ceramic tea-cup.

On to a pub where the rest of the guys were gathered (again), had 1 beer but really wanted to do more Vietnamese related stuff. Left and was taken to a cafe on Hoan Kiem Lake for some Vietnamese coffee. Strong stuff. Had mine with LOTS of condensed milk :p Very romantic atmosphere, fairy lights, gentle breeze, listening to the water lap against the sides.

Took a ride in search of their famous wines that are apparently good for health and to make men 'strong' if you know what I mean. There are various types, some with snakes, some with geckos, others with worms. Wasn't really planning on drinking any of it. Wanted to get a bottle for a friend instead. I'd seen a vendor with bottles and bottles arranged by the side of the road but I couldn't remember where. And he probably wasn't even there anymore, considering it was really late at night. Managed to find a restaurant that was willing to sell us a litre from they're stash. (Thank god G. could speak Vietnamese!) Settled on the one with bees and grubs. Only because it was difficult for them to get the snake out of their bottle and into the vodka bottle they were gonna give me. I was grateful all the same. Was then asked to sample the stuff. It PACKS A PUNCH! But what else is new :p

Happy with my purchase, we called it a night. Flying home tomorrow.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Day 1 - Hanoi

Plane touched down at 1830hrs. Was met by Anh, one of the tour guides, and bundled into a waiting private car. Anh spoke very good English and seemed quite happy to give me a running commentary of Hanoi and its people and culture, while his partner deftly manoeuvred the car
Them motorbikesthrough the masses of motorbikes that clogged the roads. In KL, it's not uncomon to see a driver with one hand on the wheel and the other holding a phone / cigarette / arm tapping the outside of the car to whatever beat was playing on the stereo, but in Hanoi, one would generally drive with one hand on the wheel and the other on the horn! And I could see why... the roads were full of motorcycles! Hundreds of them, barrelling down the highwaym in a never-ending stream, weaving in and out of traffic, some packed on with 4 passengers and no one wearing a helmet. In this city of roughly 4 million, each household apparently has 3 to 4 bikes. That's ALOT of them.

Traffic here is chaotic at best. Road courtesy is non-existent and they're dare-devils, suddenly popping out of side-lanes, cutting from one side of the road to the other, even the women in their fashionable pencil-skirts and pumps on their way to work. To survive the streets, you need nerves of steel and be constantly on high alert... if you're a foreigner that is. The locals merely breeze along, chatting into their mobiles, SMS-ing, even flipping through a book!! I am not kidding! 2 yr-olds sit quite comfortably on the back, quite oblivious to the harum-scraum that goes on in front.

Anyway, stayed at Eden Hotel on Tho Nhuom St. Small but clean. HUGE bed. Lovely staff, very helpful. About 15 min to 20 mins away by foot from the centre of the Old Quater, which is where most souvenir shops and the
Water Puppet Theatre is located. But that first evening I decided to try one of the motorbike taxis or the 'Xe Om drivers', which was also my first of many bargaining experiences. His opening price: 20,000 Dong. I countered with 10kD. He offered 15kD. I thanked him with a smile and walked away (read that one must always smile when in Vietnam, even when in a disagreement. Vietnamese consider anger a sign of weakness). He called me back and we settled for 10kD. I probably still paid a bomb but who cares. Was dropped off at Hoan Kiem Lake and proceeded to wander through the brightly lit streets, taking note of the tour cafes and pho stalls that seemed to alternate all along. Had a Vietnamese lady get mad at me (she probably doesn't care if I think she's weak :p) coz I didn't wanna pay 10kD for 2 bottles of water. (In my defence I had no clue how much a bottle cost and was convinced she was trying to rip me off). Eventually paid the asking price and decided that after more than an hour of incessant honking and haze and avoiding motorbikes and bicycles, I needed a little quite corner and a tall cold beer to sort my plans for tomorrow.

At Le PubStepped into Le Pub on 25 Hang Be (I later realised that I'd stumbled into one of the best bars in Hanoi) and got myself a Heineken for S$2.50. NICE! Local beers go for S$0.80. Got to talking with a bunch of expats, some who'd lived there for the past 3 years and could speak the language, and was given a few tips on getting around Hanoi. 3 hours and several beers later, I'm dropped off at my hotel on G's 125c.c., sandwiched between him and W., with an offer of a tour around Hanoi tomorrow morning. Lucky me!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

T-1 Days to Hanoi

Having serious doubts about going. Apparently I'll have to sort out my Shanghai work Visa here and since that will take about 4 to 5 working days, AND i want to spend at least a week in KL, I have to cut my trip short. So from my ideal 14 days, I'm reduced to 3 :( Bye-bye Halong Bay... Arrrrghhhh!!!!!

* 8th Oct 2006

I'm off to the airport! Gonna go afterall! Here I go!

Off I go!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Quiet Night Out...

After a lovely picnic at the Botanic Gardens with students and families, I hopped onto the back of L's new bike and we sped off to Marina South for some Steamboat YUMMY!!! Wasn't very hungry when we arrived (had too much picnic food) so decided to hit the arcade for awhile and spent $12 ( we exercised a fair bit of restraint) on Daytona and Time Crisis III. Didn't get very far with the latter. So crossed over to the restaurant to bag ourselves a table and get cooking... was looking forward to the seafood! Realised that they were giving out coupons for 'live' prawns and crabs!!! Arrrghhhh!! Couldn't find 'non-live' ones anywhere! Big craving for prawns though. :(

So after ALOT of deliberation, figured I'd give live prawns a go. Guy at the tank scooped up a netfull, dunked them into a second tank (probably with a different water salinity or something) to stun them a little, plonked them into a plastic container and slammed on the lid (not before 1 plucky little one attempted a last minute dive out for freedom and ended up wriggling on the floor). Holding the container at arms-length, (i dunno why, I'm never usually squeamish about stuff in general), I placed it on the table and tried to figure out how I'm gonna cook the damn things. Half of me was going "YAY PRAWNS!!!" and the other half was calling me a cold blooded murderer :( L wasn't too keen on being an accomplice and preferred to just sit there and throw me alternating looks of amusement and grimaces. In the end, I steeled my nerves, chanted 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry' like a mantra and tipped them into the boiling water. It took me a good while to eat them after they were cooked. BAH!! Last time I'm gonna cook anything that's still alive!!

And if dinner was dramatic enough, we decided to
ride out to Changi Airport to watch the planes take off, and subsequently got ourselves held up by the police and our ids checked. Apparently, as a security measure, the public aren't allowed to stop anywhere along the perimeter of the airport. Trust me not to know that. BLEH! L. was pretty freaked since the poor boy had just upgraded his bike license last week. *grin* So much for a quiet night out...

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

4 Days and counting down...

Too bad about the typhoon that hit Central Vietnam. Am thinking of cutting my trip short and just sticking to the North. Just doesn't feel right for me to travel through Hoi An and Danang on a holiday when people have lost their lives.