Monday, September 22, 2008

Wrapping it up. Southeast Asia. Check.

On the last day of the course there was a nice little pizza party for the whole group. The pizza was good, but what was even better was that we hatched an idea to hold a digital camera scavenger hunt. I came up with the list of tasks and had help assigning point values. We broke up into 3 teams and had 2 hours to roam downtown Singapore taking wacky and fun pictures. Maybe when I get pictures from the people who brought their cameras I will post a few. After the hunt we all went out dancing. There was live band playing who happened to hail from the bay area. Small world! Good times. Good friends. The next day most people left to fly back to CA. I, on the other hand, had one more day to explore this small island nation. I met up with a Princeton friend who is in the NYU Asia film program in Singapore. We were on the crew team together freshman year and it was just really nice to see a familiar face and fun to get a tour around the school and see what a production set look likes, ect. From there I went to Sentosa. Sentosa is like the Singapore version of Disney Land, but for adults. There are several beaches, shows, and activities. The best part is there is a monorail and whimsical music is piped in to make it feel even more surreal. After sufficiently taking in the scene at Sentosa I ventured to Little India. Frankly, I was not super impressed so I took some photos and moved on to Chinatown. Much more interesting both visually (better for taking pictures) and gastronomically. I was also able to get dinner and buy some souvenirs. From Chinatown I walked to the central nightlife hangout. My plan all along was to take night pictures at Clarke Quay. And take night pictures I did. A few photos from my day and more from the night are below for your viewing pleasure. Having a tripod unleashes the possibility for long exposure photos and a whole new world of fun!

The flight back was all in all pretty unimpressive and even disappointing given the plane I had for the 11 hour leg of the trip was like from 1989... No seat back entertainment, and just old. In other news, I bought a new laptop off of Craigslist which I picked up when I arrived back stateside. It's a Toshiba. Brand New :) The other one I bought never came. I got my money back, but my frustration was never compensated for so I am still a bit bitter towards

I’m at Stanford now and happy to finally be back into some semblance of a stable life. Who am I kidding? Readjusting has been tough, but my first day of class was today so now all I have to do is get moving on the work that lies ahead of me. More from Palo Alto in weeks to come.

p.s. The jetlag from this trip finally caught up with me on Saturday. It was a beast. I think I am better now ;)


Singapore is what I call Asia Light. It is really like being in the US, but in Asia. And there are way more restrictions in Singapore. There is a joke that Singapore is a “fine” city, where they really mean fine, as in money. They have signs threatening $1000 fines for eating on the MRT, jaywalking, chewing gum, littering, ect. Okay, maybe they aren’t all $1000 fines, but they are hefty. The food in Singapore had a more Chinese influence than the food I encountered in Malaysia, i.e. I didn’t have to worry about every dish being spicy! The country/city/island was gearing up for the upcoming first ever at night Formula One race and so a bit of an elevated buzz of excitement could be felt throughout the city. BTW, it only takes like 45 minutes to drive across the whole country!

In any case, I stayed at the Stanford apartments at Nanyang Technological University. There were about 8 students sharing this apartment and so it felt a lot like a hostel which was cool. My classmates in Singapore were really great. We all got along great and it was very helpful to be staying in the same place because we all had basically the same work to do and schedules to keep and we could help each other which was nice. The course was intense. 4 days. (Plus a fieldtrip to the NEW water plant where they process used water to reach drinking water standards… pretty revolutionary. 3% is put back into the reservoirs which service the communities.) In total, 16 different lectures, 2 homework assignments and 1 group project. It was definitely a jump right in scenario. The campus layout was confusing but since I had arrived a few days early I knew where everything was so I become sort of the tour guide. I felt like my nickname should have been Garmin. Since the course was so time consuming I really only had time to explore the city one evening before things got rolling and then of course on Friday night which is a whole different story. But below you will find the photos from when Natalie and I went out exploring! My personal favorites are the ones of the huge crowd of Singaporeans doing aerobics along the river ;) Strange place, Singapore.

Friday night. I told you it was a story all its own and I wasn’t lying! So a group of us headed out to the Night Safari. I was very skeptical at first, BUT the fire eating group of indigenous Borneoans was enough to convince me to dish up my $22. It was pretty spectacular. People say the animals are drugged and while I would like to disbelieve them, there is no way you can convince me that all of those animals we saw were nocturnal. The coolest thing was the leopard. This huge cat had a glass enclosed viewing area and just while we were there it was pacing back and forth, back and forth in front of the window. You could crouch down on your knees and be at eye level with the leopard. As it would turn and walk towards you its eyes would pierce through you. Creepy. Especially since the only thing between you and certain death was a piece of glass. As if the Night Safari wasn’t crazy enough, our group somehow got separated in the bat house. Go figure. Of all places. A search and rescue ensued, but to no avail. We were definitely split up. Plans for meeting up with other people were on the agenda and not knowing was else to do, myself and another student hurried off in a taxi to the MRT station downtown where they were supposed to meet at 10pm. Well, it was way past 10pm and so after looking around we threw in the towel and went and enjoyed a nice Singapore sling…at an English style pub no less, it was the closest place we could find. Oye. The upside was we stumbled upon some sort of outdoor concert and arrived just in time to hear the last song, which was all I really cared to hear. I ended up taking a night bus back to NTU. Long night, but fun.

The only not so great thing...

So here comes the sad post. I had a terrible time getting back from the islands to Singapore. I had trouble getting a taxi from the hole in the wall town where the ferry dropped us, and since I hadn’t bought my ticket in advance I ended up getting a seat instead of a bed on the train. Talk about a bad deal… the worst part was the seat they assigned me was facing backwards! 14 hours overnight, backwards… count me out. So I just sat in other peoples’ seats until they came and made me get up. I was able to sleep from like 10 until 2 am when I was awakened by this lady with two kids in tow who told me I was in her seats. Ugh. It was really cold in the train car (over air-conditioned) and even though there was no smoking in the car it didn’t stop people from moving into the between car space and smoking there. FYI with the train traveling forward, the smoke comes right back into the car. Gross. It was by far one of the hardest nights I have had to endure. When the sun finally came I was so happy. It was like that saying... I can't remember it exactly , but something like… hope will rise on the wings of the dawn. When the sun up I knew it would all be alright. Getting off the train in Singapore was by far one of the best feelings ever. But enough of the train ride from H***, the next post will be all about Sing, Sing, Singapore!

Pulau Perhentian Kecil :) Island Paradise.

KL was nice. However, my goal was to get to one of the take-your-breath-away beautiful tropical islands in Southeast Asia. I succeeded in this goal by taking an overnight train from KL to Kota Bharu. It was all-around not a bad experience. It was a bit creepy, but I was able to sleep a little with my bags secured with me in bed ;) From there I split a taxi with two other island visitors and we made our way to the “ferry” to take us to the island. It was really just a speed boat. But they can call it a ferry if they want to… In any case I finally made it to the Perhentian Islands. I stayed at a place called the Moshin Chalets. The dorm was pretty sketchy in general, run down, and aged in many ways. But for only $20 a night I was not going to complain. Everything else on the island was way more expensive and just as rundown. It was ridiculously beautiful on this island. White sand beaches, warm blue waters of the China Sea…no land in sight. It was great. I went on a nice snorkeling trip the second day I was there. I got terribly sunburn on the back of my legs and back. Sad, and painful! Especially when you have to haul your back pack around. In general, I was unimpressed with the food and without anyone else to enjoy this amazing place with I decided to move on. I did meet some nice people while I was there, but they were all a little too free spirited for me. We had a fun volleyball game one evening though, so all was not lost. AND the place I stayed had free wireless in the restaurant in the evenings so I was pleased.

Anyway, here are pictures from Pulau Perhentian Kecil. Pretty.

Friday, September 5, 2008

People in the know call it KL.

Not wanting to test my luck with the current political situation in Bangkok I jumped ship on my sweet plans and flew to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I stayed in a great hostel called the Red Palm and walked around this compact yet action packed city. Gardens and butterfly park, KL Communcations tower, Petronas Towers; the photos say it all.

Kanchanaburi. Try saying that three times fast.

I can’t even say it once ;) Anyway, these photos are from the Tiger Temple, my sweet river raft accommodations, Erawan National Park with seven levels of waterfalls, elephant riding, rafting, the death railway and The Bridge over the River Kwai.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Bangkok, Thailand: The Land of Smile

So to keep things interesting instead of going through each day in detail, which would be fun, but daunting and tiresome for both of us, I decided to give you an itinerary view of what I did each day followed up by bits of randomness. You know the weird anecdotes, deep thoughts, and funny incidences which are inevitable when it comes to traveling.

Day 1 August 28, 2008
1:30pm Arrive at airport. Manage to get through customs, change my money and buy my bus ticket.

3:30pm-ish Arrive at Lub.d hostel and then venture out and find some food.
5-8:00pm SLEEP! I was so so tired!
8-10:00pm Waste time checking email, reading about Bangkok… and then go to bed for the night.

Day 2 August 29, 2008
8:00am Wake up, breakfast, meet a girl named Steffi from Germany.
9:00am Head out with Steffi and another girl, Margaret, to take the skytrain to the boat, to visit the Grand Palace and other impressive Buddhist temples.
3:30pm Amazing Thai massage at Wat Poh
5:00pm Visited the flower market. I love flowers.

7:00pm Washed up back at hostel. Went to the SkyBar at the State Tower.

9:15pm Dinner with friends from hostel at my favorite Thai place, Muvio.

Day 3 August 30, 2008
7:00am Leave hostel and head to weekend market.
7:45-1:00pm Weekend market 9,000 vendors!

5:15pm Enjoy an awesome dinner cruise on the Loy Nava.

Day 4 August 31, 2008
11:00am Wake up after sleeping in!
12:00pm Work on IWA stuff and pictures at hostel.
2:30pm Venture out to the MBK and ultra modern shopping area. Succeeded in finding USB wireless network adapter for my computer.

8:25pm Dinner at the Italian restaurant Scoozi.
9:30-1:00am Complete all my internet tasks, bought plane ticket to Kuala Lumpur, Skyped with parents :)

Day 5 September 1, 2008
8:00am Wake up, breakfast, postoffice and head for Southern Bus Station.
10:00am Bus leaves for Kachanaburi.
12:00pm Arrive and find awesome raft lodging at the Sugar Cane Guesthouse.
2:00pm Leave for visit to Tiger Temple
6:00pm Early dinner then picture processing while watching Pride and Prejudice, yes, yet again...

Day 6 September 2, 2008
8:00am Breakfast, leave for all day tour trip.
9:00-11:30am Exploring waterfalls at Erawan National Park.
12:30pm Elephant ride and bamboo rafting.
3:30pm Cave visit and train ride.
5:30pm Walk the Bridge over the River Kwai used during WWII, made famous my movie of the same name.
6:00pm Bus back to Bangkok
8:45pm Arrive back at hostel after an expensive taxi ride and a fruitful search for a small, cheap dinner of fried rice.
9:30pm Laundry, met Jay (another Stanford student on the course), booked hostel in Kuala Lumpur, headed to bed (1am)!

Day 7 September 3, 2008
6:50am Wake up, taxi to airport.
10:00am Leave Bangkok
1:15pm Arrive Kuala Lumpur airport, change my money, get bus to KL Sentral station
3:00pm Bought ticket to Warfa Bharu, found monorail and ventured to find hostel
3:30pm Arrive at hostel, chill out for a bit while writing this ;)

I arrived at the hostel thinking it was Wednesday August 27th, when in fact there was a two day time change and I arrived on Thursday August 28th instead. Luckily the hostel only charged me for the three nights I was there instead of the four I originally booked ;)

The tour guide was asking me if I wanted to “go to toilet?” But I kept hearing her say “go to Thailand?” and I’m like… duh, I’m in Thailand! Who would have thought toilet and Thailand could sound like the same thing.

On the bus back to Bangkok, I was starving… and then out of nowhere at this random stop this guy gets on selling these very tasty coated and fried banana snacks, which definitely hit the spot.

The Bangkok International Airport is more like a shopping mall than a gateway to international destinations.

The dryer at my hostel would not dry my clothes! After an hour they were still wet. It was like 12:30am at this point and I just want to go to bed, so I bit the bullet and put in 80 minutes worth of change and crossed my fingers that they will be dry in the morning. They were.

There are these great fruit vendors in Bangkok who walk around with carts of fresh fruit like watermelon, papaya, and pineapple for sale. Cold and already cut up ready to eat.

On Monday, I was surprised to see there were a ton of people walking around with yellow shirts on… then I remembered yellow was supporting the PAD. Tuesday, the Thai government declared Bangkok in a state of emergency. Even though it didn’t really affect me directly, I was happy to be leaving. In general, I would imagine things will get worse before they get better.

At the weekend market Steffi lost her camera. Seriously. She was resigned she would never see it again and was naturally pretty upset. I made her calm down and think about when she had it last. We determined it was at the booth where she bought her luggage lock. However, that was about 20 minutes ago and we have been wandering. Nothing is marked and frankly the place is a labyrinth. I was pretty confident we could find the booth, but less confident that they would have it and if they did have it giving it back would be another miracle. After retracing our steps, patiently, we found the vendor and he had it! And, he gave it back! Steffi was so happy she was literally in tears ;) Nothing is impossible.

Rivers in the rainy season are much less appealing to swim in than rivers during the dry season. The water is so cloudy it looks like you would have to cut your way through it.

On the day long tour there were 3 couples and myself. Awesome. Two of them were French and was a man man duo. I don’t even know… Anyway, there were three benches in the van and somehow I was in the middle row with the Lithuanian couple. The French people proceeded to talk to each other like the whole time talking very loudly across where we were sitting. It was being stuck in a cross fire of crazy fast French. I understood some of it, but frankly my head hurt too much to think about it. Oh and every other person including the tour guides and the driver smoked. At least not in the van. I count my blessings.

Laying your hand on a tiger is pretty exhilarating.

The little boy driving my elephant looked like he was about 11, but said he was 16! I don’t know if was lying or not, but he did have an incredibly impressive command of English. I was grateful to have a buddy for a few minutes.

Traveling alone means lots of meals by yourself.

I was quite adventurous at dinner tonight and ordered something that I had no idea what it was. It came and I was a bit freaked out, but once I got over myself and tried the food it turned out to be pretty good!

Enjoying a Mai Tai at the open air SkyBar 64 floors up is probably the most fun I have had in a while.

The shrines are pretty and all, but definitely not for me. The emerald Buddha is supposedly the most sacred, but FYI it is like 16cm tall. I much prefer the reclining Buddha which is unbelievably HUGE!

At the Italian restaurant I ordered this pasta and turns out it was really spicy. Like my mouth was on fire, and I was not enjoying the meal as I imagined I would. Sad.

Two things in particular I would like to go back to Thailand to do… 1. Learn Thai massage. 2. Learn Thai cooking.

The money exchange place I used when I arrived had a same rate buy back guarantee which was part of the reason why I chose that agency instead of another. Well, I wanted to take advantage of that guarantee on my way out today, but the guy didn’t want to give me the same rate because I didn’t have some flyer thingy. After explaining to him that I was never given one and being a bit of a pest he honored the buy back rate. Persistence is the key in certain situations.

They seem to have all sorts of fruit drinks and various smoothies here in Asia and I love them! They are also like $2USD or less which makes me really happy.

The MBK shopping mall was really more like an organized, permanent, clean and high tech flea market. Go figure…

I love the street vendors. I would support a comeback of such options for food in the US… not limited to hotdogs and candied nuts. But fresh fruit, spring rolls, and the like.

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

This is the book I chose to start reading before I left. It is about a family facing difficult times and even tougher decisions. One daughter is sick with a rare form of leukemia. The other daughter, engineered to be perfect donor match for her sister, struggles with her role in keeping Kate alive and her own ambitions. The book is told in the first person with the author taking on the persona of each character in various turns. It is a wonderfully written story that will challenge each reader in a different way. There were parts that made me want to cry, parts that made me laugh, and parts that made me thankful I was not in Anna’s position. It didn’t help my emotional state that the mother of the family going through these trials was named Sara… In any case, I highly recommend it. (Recommended to me by the Illustrious Leanna. Shout out to Ouagadougou!)

Emotions Take Flight

Leaving Stanford, heading to Bangkok on Tuesday night was really hard for me. Not in the literal sense. I have become quite adept at packing for overseas adventures. I was checked in online and physically ready to go. The problem was emotionally, I was still back in Crete, IL. I had arrived in Stanford only three days prior and was in a way teased by a vision of what my life will be like in the coming year. I was settling in only to turn around and leave again. To add to the stress, I had never been to Asia before. I was only sure of my lodging for the first three nights. I was reading a great book, which was also incredibly draining emotionally (go figure I would pick that particular book to read at this junction in time). I was worried about being lonely while I was there for two weeks on my own. Thailand’s government was facing an increasingly riotous opposition party. The protests started getting international news coverage the evening I was leaving. I was very thrown by that, but what was I going to do… not go? It would have been an easy out; a reason to stay in Stanford and not take on challenges of traveling. I remember being so excited when I bought my ticket; dreaming of visiting the golden, mosaic temples, imaging white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. All that anticipation was replaced by anxiety which is not a pleasant feeling. Traveling with such emotional baggage is tiresome. The nice part was, since I was not super anxious for the plane to land (hoping to postpone the inevitable) the flight seemed really short. Funny how that works…

I had a layover in Taipei, Taiwan and as I was walking through the terminal I came across a very impressive paper animal cutouts display. I absent mindedly began strolling through admiring the butterflies, tigers, and other intricately created animals on display. Then it caught my eye that each animal had a poem next it. I started skimming and then was reeled in! It seemed like many of the poems were speaking directly to how I was feeling. I wrote down three of my favorites to share with you.

Wu Song Fights the Tiger
Too much hesitation
Suffocates all possibility
The unknown is a ferocious tiger
Swallowing all smiles
Strutting and singing
Madmen are never lonely

The future has a hint of homesickness
Full of anticipation
But yet, mixed with
Waiting aside
Learn to
Smilingly greet each possibility
High and low, wax and wane.

If existence is a burden
Routine can replace thought.

Before I left I emailed the duzz and asked them to pray for me; that I would have a safe trip and that I wouldn’t be afraid. Just knowing they were praying for me, spending some quite time on the plane, and the encouraging and timely words of those poems made arriving in Bangkok bearable. I was able to change my money, catch my bus and check into my hostel without a problem. I ventured out and found some great Thai food that afternoon, but it really wasn’t until Friday morning that I really felt comfortable and happy about being in Asia. Five days after arriving, I can honestly say Asia is one of my favorite places; cleaner and nicer than Africa, more adventurous than Europe. Awesome. Bangkok posts drafted and pictures edited will be up soon!

Somebody pinch me…

I fit my life into five pieces of luggage and boarded the airplane. Sure, I could have probably filled a minivan of my things, but after traveling to Africa with only two suitcases having five cases seemed like luxury. I am into this minimalist living at the moment. I have decided Sara and clutter are not friends. It is hard, but I am trying to keep things limited… Anyway, the point of this entry is simply to say, I Love Stanford. Sarah picked me up at the airport on Saturday night and the next three days felt like I was at club med. I ran some errands, got settled in, went rock climbing at the gym, and swimming in the most gorgeous pool I have ever seen. I took the train into San Francisco and met with a water official for the city who I had been working with through IWA. It is great to still be so close to a major city! The mountains surrounding campus as a backdrop still seem unreal to me. Growing up in the Midwest landforms like that take some getting used to. Walking out of Target and glancing up to see palm trees literally took my breath away and I realized life in California is going to be more than okay.

Black Tie Send Off

I will admit it. I love getting dressed up. I love buying dresses that look like a million dollars and paying only $30 for them at Marshalls ;) When Annie came to visit we found such a dress. But alas, the summer had passed and I had not been able to don my newest evening wear. Leaving the next day, I told my Mom I really wanted us to do something as a family that would allow me to wear my dress. As the day progressed I began to see plainly that going to a concert or show or even out to a fancy dinner wasn’t going to happen. So I did what any 23 year old would do and convinced my whole family to get dressed up for a black tie evening of dinner and dancing at Chez Piaskowy, a.k.a. our humble abode. Only a few skeptical looks and a minor protest ensued before the remaining four Piaskowys at home put on our black tie attire and convened in the dinning room to indulge in salmon wonderfully prepared by the in house chef, Madame Piaskowy. The sparkling grape juice was just strong enough ;) to set the mood for a mini dance party in the living room. Hits such as Sweet Caroline, Life is a Highway, Shake It and Don’t Stop Believin’ made for the perfect soundtrack to memorable dancing!

The things my family does for me… Photos of the dress inspired black tie send off.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane…

So before I made the clichéd, “big move out west” I had a wonderful opportunity to enjoy some to Chicago’s best offerings. I headed out to watch the air and water show with Lil on Friday afternoon. It was amazing. I had seen bits and pieces of the show in years past, but to sit and watch it from the start was really impressive. Watching the Navy SEALS parachute from 12,000 feet towing the American flag truly filled me with such pride in my country. I also got to visit my three other favorite places before I left… One, the Chicago Shakespear Theatre on Navy Pier. Lil, Joj and I all watched a very clever, creative and well done version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Two and three, the Art Institute and the Shedd Aquarium, both of which Lil and I ventured to see on a Thursday evening. The line to get into the Art Institute was long, but not nearly as bad as what Annie and I waited in to see the MoMa for free in NYC. Note: Pay the money and go to museums when there isn’t a mob of people. You will enjoy it more. Promise. The Shedd Aquarium visit followed the Art Institute and was short and sweet. Lil and I met up with our friend Raj and mingled through an “Ivy Plus” crowd at Jazzin’ at the Shedd. As Lil put it… Princeton gatherings are okay, Ivy gatherings get a bit weird and Ivy Plus gatherings definitely border on awkward. Regardless, I love beluga whales.

Chicago Captured :)