Monday, April 29, 2013

Grandma's Irish Kangaroo

As you can see, I'm quite behind. The last few days in Australia have been a real whirlwind. I hope to catch you up over the coming days on just what happened. I would like to also expand more on other stories and reflections from the trip.

I spent Friday spending quality time with Laura. As I've mentioned in previous posts, Laura is Shane's girlfriend. She was an incredible host and friend to me while I was in Australia. She's been following my blog for my entire journey, so I'd like to say a big thank you to Laura!

We started off the day by heading into downtown Sydney for a little shopping. I tend to be opposed to tourist shops, so I was looking for a few items that I could use in everyday life that would remind me of my trip. I found a cute ice cream scoop and finger nail brush. Neither item is glamorous, but I was in need of both. We also scoured pajama shops, but I couldn't find anything that I couldn't live without.

While in the pajama shop, Laura's friend Joan called us. She was down the street at the train station. We met her and together we walked to a local bar called Grandma's. The bar is located the basement of a building and is complete with doilies (instead of coasters) to set your drink on. We pulled up three stools to the bar where the friendly bartender started to make our drinks. I ordered a bison grass vodka with ice and a slice of lime. If you haven't tried this flavor of spiced vodka, you definitely should. The interesting thing though was the ice. I asked for a "little" ice. Ice in Australia comes in little blocks, so the bartender put my block of ice on a cutting board and proceeded to cut it down to a reasonable size with a knife.

A side note on the bars in Sydney: I quickly learned that Sydney and Melbourne are rival cities in every way. One of those ways in particular is the bar scene. Melbourne is known to be a foodie town, with tiny unique local bars that can be found in dark alleyways. In response, this style of bar is popping up in a big way all over Sydney. In my 10 days in Sydney, I went to at least 6 bars made in this style.

After a few drinks, Shane and Joan's husband Lindsey arrived and we headed to dinner at a local steak place. Every person got a different cut of meat for dinner. At Shane's recommendation, I tried the kangaroo. I was expecting something along the lines of the reindeer that I tried in Norway. Unfortunately, I think the kangaroo wasn't cooked quite right as it tasted off to everyone at the table. Luckily, this meant that everyone else at the table gave me a piece of their meat. In the end, I got to try 6 different cuts (5 of which were beef).

We ended the evening at an Irish pub. The pub had live music. It was reasonably decent as compared to just about every other live music I heard in Australia. Julie warned me in Melbourne that musicians in Australia sing both terribly and way, way too loud. I had hoped that she'd be wrong but by all accounts she was mostly right.

As a side note, Joan and Lindsey are Irish. Thinking back on my journey and my extended time in Ireland, I believe they are the first Irish people I spent time with. It was very nice to meet them and to learn more about their home.

Friday, April 26, 2013

ANZAC Day at Manly Beach

Thursday was fairly low key. It was a holiday here, ANZAC Day. The holiday celebrates those who served in the military for Australia. Although it sounds like Memorial Day, it's celebrated a little bit like Thanksgiving is in the US (in terms of excitement level).

I slept in late. For dinner, Laura, Shane, and I took two ferries to Manly Beach. Their friends Joan and Lindsey made us chicken tacos for dinner and we watched the ocean from their balcony.

Used Justin's and techie meet-up

Wednesday was an adventure. I started off by visiting the Museum of Contemporary Art. Like many other galleries, admission was free. To my surprise, there was an entire exhibit by Memphis photographer William Eggleston. It included photos from all over the South, but I didn't spot any photos from Memphis. The museum had a beautiful view of the water. It seems that almost everything does here.

Next, I headed down to Shady Pines Saloon. I had to take a bus there. Bus riding is far more complicated for me, since you have to know when to push the button to ask the driver to stop. Luckily, I found the stop on the first try. Finding Shady Pines however was a different story. The address for the bar is on one street while the entrance is on the alley of another street. It has no sign, and just a random door that you must walk through to get inside. The only marking on the door is a white sheet of paper with "Shady Pines" printed on it. Inside, I found a small bar filled with lots of whiskey, taxidermidy animals, and very old country music. They served peanuts in the shell at the old looking bar. The reviews said that this is a place you'd find in Texas. I picture it more as a place you might image Texas was like if you'd never been there.

On the way to my next stop, I went into a store called Route 66. I found USED Justin boots for $460 and new Wranglers for $150. These were along side rockabilly outfits.

Last, I walked to the meet-up group. It promised to be tech directors in Sydney. The group was fairly late, so I had left when I got a message that the group had arrived. I headed back to the nice Italian wine bar to find 3 other techies. I learned quite a lot about the digital culture here and the shortage for developers.

Afterward, I took a train home. Fortunately for me, Laura had made chicken tacos and had some left over. The day ended just as well as it started.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Beach and ballet

Tuesday was fun. Laura and I visited my friend Lea on Bondi Beach.

On the way, we stopped by a big mall. Similar to other countries, the bottom floor of the mall is dedicated to food. They had a grocery store and many restaurants. We ate at a Japanese restaurant. I tried these giant sushi rolls I've seen everywhere here. They're like an uncut sushi roll, and everyone eats them as a big piece. After two, I was stuffed.

We took a bus from the mall to Lea's house on Bondi Beach. She lives there with her husband and two adorable children. Lea treated us to banana bread, tea, wine, and other snacks. We also took a long walk along the beach. It was really nice to see Lea and to meet her children.

After Bondi, I headed to the Sydney Opera House. I saw Don Quixote performed by the Australian Ballet company and accompanied by the Australian Opera Orchestra. Needless to say, it was pretty amazing. There were two intermissions where you could drink champagne and look out into the harbor. Below is a photo of the space.

Last, I headed to a bar that's at the top of the Shangri-la Hotel. It had a very nice view of the city. I asked for a recommended local beer and was given another German Kölsch beer. This time it was from a brewery called 4 Pines.

All in all, it was a very successful day!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Art, Pizza, and Scotch

Monday exceeded my expectations. I saw and did many different things within just a few hours.

I slept in late, and when I got up, Laura and I walked to the Art Gallery of NSW. Shane and Laura live right on the water, so our choices to get there were to take a cab, take a train, take a ferry, or walk. We opted for walking and got the opportunity to walk across the Sydney bridge. Although it was only about a mile to get there, it took much longer than expected. Google Maps has a hard time locating your exact position in a big city. It takes some time to get the hang of ignoring the little dot that indicates where you are.

We walked through a beautiful park on the way. When we made it to the museum, we sailed right in. Like many other museums on my trip, the Art Gallery of NSW is free. The art was from many areas of the world and spanned a large range of time, but had more Australian art, as you can imagine. Australian art looks very similar to American art to me. As I learn more about the history of Australia, this makes sense to me. The gallery also had a few works by Picasso, Monet, and Giacometti.

After the gallery, we tried to check out a bar that's located on a top floor of a hotel. It's know for the view, but wasn't yet open for the night. Instead, we went to a bar called Frankie's where we drank local beer and had wonderful pizza.

After about an hour, my friend Matt met us. I went to high school with Matt in Oklahoma. He's living in Australia with his wife and baby, and working for a university in Sydney. It was nice to connect with someone from high school in such a random location.

After another hour or so, Shane and one of his colleagues showed up. We tried more different kinds of beer and ate three more pizzas. My favorite was a sausage pizza that had truffle oil on it. Yumm.

Monday night is live music night at Frankie's and this week was no exception. The band was okay, but they were so loud that most people in the audience were wearing earplugs. Luckily, Matt gave me his only pair to protect my ears.

After a lot of yelling over the band, we decided to go on to another bar owned by the same management as Frankie's. It's called The Baxter Inn and it specializes in bourbon, whiskey, and scotch. They are located in an alley and down some random stairs. It reminds me a lot of a library as they have rows and rows of bottles and a rolling ladder to reach them. This place was amazing. Definitely my favorite in Sydney so far. It was a great end to a great night.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hunter Valley Wine

Yesterday, we all woke up at the crack of dawn. At 7:45 AM, a tour driver picked us up for a private wine tour. Shane, Laura, 3 of their friends, and I went together on a private day long tour. The drive to the Hunter Valley took two hours.

Our first stop was a small vineyard that only has three employees. The vineyard's power was out, so we sat outside for our tasting. The wine maker was very direct and gave us the inside scoop on all things Australian wine.

Next, we went to another vineyard for a cheese tasting. We tried five or six kinds of cheeses with a small explanation by the staff.

The third stop was another vineyard. It was a larger production winery with a bar that we stood along to taste. They were quite old and family run for about six generations. The highlight was their ports. They had quite a few different ones of different ages.

Lunch was next. We ate at a casual little place. I had the chicken schnitzel. It's a lot like chicken fried steak in the US, or a German schnitzel made with chicken.

The last vineyard was just a year old. It was a vineyard previously that had gone down hill. Four wine makers came from a more established vineyard to start this one. Their tasting room was very nice, but the wine left a little to be desired. I didn't care for the whites at all, but the reds were fairly good.

After finishing at the last vineyard, the driver whisked us away to a local brewery. We had a brief tour and tried a few of their beers, including one made with oysters. The biggest surprise was that they had Kölsch beer. I've never seen this type of beer outside of its native home in Cologne, Germany. After talking to the tour guide, I learned that one of the brewers had spent a significant amount of time in Cologne and had brought the style back to Australia with them.

We left around 5 and made it back around 7 PM. We had dinner at a Thai place and I headed straight to bed. A day of drinking can certainly make you sleepy.

Comedy in Sydney

My second day in Sydney was very relaxed. Shane and Laura knew that I was quite tired from traveling and let me sleep in.

When I woke up. Laura made me a tasty breakfast and I did my laundry.

In the evening, we went to a comedy show. First though, we stopped at a bar for a beer. The bar had the word "hotel" in the name, but Laura explained that's normal here-- especially when a place is not a bar. Next, we stopped for pizza at a place appropriately named, " Eat, Love, Pizza."

When we finally made it to the comedy venue, we realized it was a huge space. The Sydney Comedy Festival just started. It seems to be all of the same comedians as those in Melbourne. Just relocated. We saw a comedian from the UK named Ross. He was a random comedian that stayed away from political issues, but was fairly funny.

Afterward, we caught a cab home and I fell right to sleep.

Quantus sucks

The Quantus flight from Melbourne to Sydney was nothing short of a small disaster. The flight was packed full, so I ended up in a middle seat in the back of the plane. Things were relatively okay until the plane started to shake and dropped down quite a bit. I held onto the seat in front of me just to keep from hitting the passengers next to me. In the US, the flight attendant would come over the speaker to apologize and reassure the passengers. In this case, the flight attendant came over the speaker laughing and apologized for ending the in flight entertainment. No explanation. At all.

Shane and Laura were both at the baggage claim to greet me. It was very exciting because although they have been dating for years, we have never met.

We took the train from the airport to their new apartment. They've only been in Sydney for six months and moved to a new apartment less than a week ago. It has an incredible view. Incredible. Really. It overlooks the water and bridge. There's a picture below.

After soaking in the amazing view, we walked to dinner. On the way, we stopped by their old apartment. The old one was equally beautiful only bigger, but with no view.

For dinner, we went to a local restaurant called "Your Place." It's Thai food, owned by an Australian and Thai couple. The food was probably the best Thai I've ever had. To make things better, the owners love Laura and Shane and gave us lots of attention.

After dinner, I fell asleep quickly. I think I'm growing very tired of public transportation.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Goodbye Melbourne!

The last day I was in Melbourne was nice. I woke up early to pack and then Julie and I drove to another part of town. We met Nicole and her sister Addie for breakfast at Dr. Jekyll. I know them from Memphis, but haven't seen then in years. They have been traveling the globe teaching English, working random jobs, and studying in graduate school. They've moved around Asia and now Australia.

They were always great to be around, but their travels have given them an extra edge. They're smart, funny, and they have fantastic travel stories. I can only imagine how much fun they will be as super old ladies one day.

After breakfast, Julie drove me around to show me the city. Julie actually look three days off of work to show me around. I really appreciated it and the similar treatment I revived from everyone I stayed with!

I petted a kangaroo!

I'm a few days behind. It's been busy, and I'm just getting caught up.

My next day in Melbourne was relaxing. It started off with me sleeping for 11 hours. Yes, 11. I didn't sleep at all on the flight over and I was tired.

When I finally woke up, Julie took me about an hour away to visit the zoo. It's not your typical zoo with animals from far away. It is an animal rescue place that houses local Australian animals.

We saw birds, koalas, and kangaroos. The zoo was very open to its guests touching the animals. First, I held a small bird. Then, we fed the kangaroos. They were surprisingly friendly and reminded me of a dog. We had also planned to hug a koala, but apparently this is now illegal in Melbourne. One too many koalas scratched one too many tourists.

On the way back, we stopped by Julie's gym. She and her brother Adam are on a net ball team and they had a game. The game setup looks a lot like basketball. Since I've never played either, it makes it a bit hard to compare and contrast. The good news is that their team won!

After net ball, we headed to a local Irish pub. It was nice to have pub food, since I had such a hard time finding it in Ireland! Nicole from Memphis joined us with her boyfriend Ben. It was so nice to catchup with Nicole (despite the screaming singer on stage next to us!). We drank Guinness and caught up. I ate a shepard's pie, Nicole had the best calamari I've ever tasted, and Julie ate a chicken parm. Apparently chicken parmesan is very popular here.

We called it an early night around 11 since we were all tired, but we vowed to meet for breakfast the following day.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Singing and laughing in Melbourne

My first day in Australia was great! I flew in to Melbourne on an overnight flight and landed at 6:45 AM. My friend Julie picked me up from the airport and we went to her home.

I'm staying with Julie and her brother Adam. I know Julie from Memphis. She's originally from Australia and was doing research in Memphis. Visiting Julie's house has been a big contrast to the rest of my trip. I think she may be the only person I'm visiting with a car or a dishwasher.

All of my traveling definitely makes me miss the comforts that Memphis provides.

Julie and I walked from her house to the train. We took the train into town and walked around. We saw old historic buildings, including one that is built inside of another building to preserve it. We also walked all around a library before heading for a glass of Australian wine.

On the way to the wine, I spotted my first Lululemon store since leaving Memphis. That was quite exciting too. Ha.

For dinner, we went to a very nice Australian restaurant. I had white wine with a goat cheese and tomato salad, and a beautiful salmon.

After dinner, we attended a comedy show. It's the comedy festival in Melbourne right now, so we were able to watch a famous (singing) Australian comedian. He was great and a good singer. Unfortunately, I had only slept 4 hours and we were seated front and center. Fortunately, the comic didn't decide to pick on us during the show. :-)

It was a very successful night!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Singapore style jet lag

My last day in Singapore was more eventful than I would have guessed.

I met another friend for lunch who lives in Singapore. I met this friend in Memphis at the startup conference a few months ago. We ate tons of Singaporean food including noodles with pork, soup with dumplings, a little bun with meat in the middle, and a small pastry dessert. For dessert, I had a Japanese honeydew ice cream and a strawberry flavored ice tea.

During lunch, my friend compared Singapore to The Truman Show and I guess it really is. It's so new, so safe, and so customized toward the people there.

Afterward, I did a little shopping and Walkin in Memphis was playing overhead. That song follows me around like nothing else.

I finally found some shampoo at The Body Shop. I also learned that Victoria's Secret doesn't sell bras outside of the US. They are primarily a provider of bath products, cosmetics, and perfumes.

Last, I stopped by an H&M. I've been checking in at H&M in most countries to price compare. It's a bit like people who compare economies with a McDonald's cheeseburger. I bought a pair of jeans at H&M in Dublin for around $15 USD. The same pair was around $40 in Stockholm and $60 in Singapore. Crazy, right?

Afterward, I stood outside the high end mall in a taxi stand line. A few cars drove by with signs on that said "shift change" and I immediately imagined the nightmare of being stuck in NYC during the shift change. One of the taxis pulled up to me and the guy working the stand asked where I was going. When I told him, he immediately put me in a shift change cab and said "it's on his way." When the driver learned of my destination, he began to rant on about his sign and the fact that I was not on his way. He was a very old Singaporean and I could only distinguish some of his statements. Then, suddenly he paused to ask where I'm from. When he learned, he went on a giant tirade about the Boston Marathon. He mentioned that he thinks it was an inside job put on by a religiously affiliated group. He said that he believes the attackers feel the US is controlling them and they do these things to assert power. In the end, he said, they are still weak, but they have just hurt people, and what's the point? He forgot about me being out of the way and was very happy that I got in his cab.

On the way to the airport, I took another taxi from Andy and Catherine's. the driver was excited that I was flying with the Australian airline. He chuckled to himself about an airline with a kangaroo mascot. Once in the airport, everything was super clean and comfortable. I ate sushi and drank an iced milk tea.

As I started to board the plane, the person took a double take at my passport and examined it closely. When she handed it back to me, she said "you have no lipstick" and laughed. She's not the first person to do that on this trip. In my passport photo, I'm wearing makeup and lipstick and my hair is done. Traveling, I have no makeup and my hair's in a braid. So much for looking my age.

I forgot to mention. When I checked in, I asked for a bulk head seat so I would have extra legroom. The airline staff said that there was a seat, but that a baby would be next to me. She was right. There was a baby with those parents who could care less that the baby is freaking out and happily hand the child to airline staff to look after.

Needless to say, I did NOT sleep on my overnight flight at all. Despite a very little time change, I'm totally jet lagged. Please forgive typos, etc. it's past midnight and I've been typing most of my entires on my iPhone.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Food, flip flops, and photos

Today was another interesting day in Singapore. I met up with an old friend for lunch, Krishna. I worked with Krishna over ten years ago at FedEx. He was on the business side of the Pricing department when I was on the IT side.

Krishna and his wife have moved around the world as he has moved up in his Pricing career. Just like everyone else I've spoken with, they really love it in Singapore. It's clean, safe, and easy to get around. Singapore is also very open to foreign workers.

We went for Thai food nearby where I'm staying. As with all the food I've had here, it was delicious. Below is a photo from lunch.

After lunch, I made my first attempt at the subway system here alone. It's very clean and easy to navigate.

I went fairly far and visited the MINT Toy Museum. The museum is five levels and is filled with toys from different times and countries. Interestingly, many of the oldest toys were extremely similar from country to country. Apparently, before the days of patents, it was very common for manufacturers to copy toys from one country to the next.

When I paid for my ticket, I was offered a 20% discount if I would pay with a MasterCard. Financial services are such a big industry here, that is seems many credit card companies and banks sponsor things like theaters. It's as if the FedEx Forum in Memphis were renamed the Visa Forum. As an outsider, it feels strange.

And on the topic of copying... I forgot to share something that happened on my flight from Phuket to Bangkok (on the way to Singapore). I was seated in a window seat on the plane. As we took off, there was a beautiful view of the island and water. The man in the middle seat next to me pulled out a nice digital camera. I leaned back a bit in my chair so that he could have a straight shot out the window at the beauty below. To my surprise, he opened up the Air Asia in flight magazine. The magazine had travel tips for various destinations along with beautiful photos to illustrate each point. He began snapping photos of the photos in the magazine. He was extremely careful to get very close to the photo so as not to have any of the white magazine edges in the pictures. He worked on this task for a while on many photos. It left me wondering if he would show theses photos to friends and say that they were his own from his trip to Phuket.

Anyway, after the toy museum, I explored a few more malls in search for the perfect shampoo. I've had about 3 incidents so far of my shampoo spilling out while in flight and I'm really running low. As someone with very long, naturally curly hair, it's important that I find a reasonably good shampoo. I will say though, my hair really seems to get along with the warm, humid weather I've found in Asia.

While I was walking around, I tried some "milk tea with pearls." It's iced tea made with sweetened condensed milk. It contains these soft round gummy candy pieces in the bottom. If you're familiar with bubble tea, I think it may be the same thing. When you order, they ask what percent sugar that you want. The choices range from zero to 100%. The barista recommended 50% for me as I was clearly clueless about the difference.

On my way back home, I stopped in the subway and got a pedicure. I'm walking miles each day and my nails are beginning to be out of control. Unfortunately, I was wearing normal shoes and not flip flops. The nail salon was very hesitant to paint my nails without the correct footwear, but I assured them it was fine. The pedicure was amazing. My feet feel so much better. The polish did get ruined on the way home, but I don't care. I'm just happy that my feet are comfortable again.

For dinner, Andy, Catherine, and I went to a local restaurant for more Singaporean dishes. As with every meal, the food was incredible. After dinner, we walked all around the downtown area and I was able to see the Singapore Mer-Lion (their national symbol) up close.

I have really enjoyed eating my way around Singapore. In many ways, I wish I could extend my time here just to try more foods. I've also enjoyed being in such a multicultural place. Despite being foreign, I don't feel like I stick out too much because there are many foreigners here.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Eating my way through Singapore

My second day in Singapore was a lot of fun. During the day, Andy took me around the city to see some of the sights.

We rode the subway to a large luxury mall. There is a big mall culture here, so they have all of the best stores.

From there, we went to the top of a very tall luxury hotel for a drink in their rooftop bar. The views were stunning. You could see the port where items are shipped in and all of the tall corporate buildings.

We ate lunch inside a shopping center. There is a big culture around food here, so an entire floor of the mall was dedicated to food - and an ice skating rink. There is even a "river" running through the mall with small boats, much like Las Vegas.

Later that night, we went to a neighborhood called Little India to have Indian food for dinner. We had a delicacy called fish head curry that was very tasty and I had a mango drink that was fantastic.

After dinner, we took a long walk through Little India. The streets were packed with men from south India. Most are workers that come to Singapore to work in construction in order to support their families back home. Sunday is the one day each week that they are required to have a day off and it is when they visit Little India. There were long lines outside of the banks where people waited to send money back to their families.

The experience transported me back to India in a way. The only odd thing was the large discrepancy in numbers of men compared to women. I felt bad for what these people must have to go through to support their families.

On the way back home, we also passed a religious temple. Much like India, many different religions coexist in Singapore.

I learned a lot about Singapore that I didn't know. For example, Singapore only became independent about 50 years ago and has really transformed itself into the safe, business focused place you see today. It's the most densely populated city in the world, so city planning seems to be a big part of life. It's also incredibly safe. For more information about Singapore, here's a Wikipedia article about it:

Below are a few photos from the day.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Hello, Singapore!

I made it to Singapore safely this evening. I was met at the airport by another Pepperdine alum, Andy. Andy and his wife Catherine have invited me into their home here in Singapore.

It was nice to see Andy after 8 years. And really strange to think that it's been that long!

After putting my bag pack down, we went for dinner with a couple from their building. We went to a hip bar near their house.

I hear that thing recommended thing to do in Singapore is to eat. I'm very okay with that plan.

Until tomorrow, goodnight.

Goodbye Thailand

My last morning in Thailand was more eventful than I would have guessed. Even though my flight didn't leave until almost 1 PM, my hotel insisted that I should leave at 7 or 8 AM due to the water festival celebrations. Since the airport is only an hour from my hotel, I opted for 8 AM.

Sure enough, as I started to walk out the door to checkout just before 8, the phone rang. It was the front desk. They were going on and on that I was going to be late for my flight due to the festival. And no amount of "I'm walking out the door" would stop them.

I had the same driver as before. Same glitzy car and same dance music playing. We encountered no traffic on the drive and I started to wonder if my early departure had more to do with the driver's holiday than my flight schedule.

We stopped for gas once and encountered two groups spraying water from hoses at the cars going by. I was relieved that nobody opened my car door like I'd seen yesterday. I couldn't imagine anything worse than a day soaking wet with wet luggage in the airport. The driver once rolled his window down to participate. Luckily, I remained dry. We made record time and arrived in about 45 minutes including a stop for gas.

Inside the airport, I went straight to the Air Asia line to check in. This is where it gets strange. Almost immediately, one of my classmates from business school walked past me. His name is Jonathan and he is the only other person from my Pepperdine MBA class from Oklahoma. He lives in LA and the last time I saw him, it was randomly in an airport- the Oklahoma City Airport.

I was totally shocked. I hadn't even had breakfast yet. And in all honesty, when I travel, I tend to see people who remind me of other people, so I often have to do a double take before I say hi. Jonathan was totally calm and simply said "I'll be right back." When he came back, it was with his wife Mary Ruth. They just got married and are on their honeymoon! It must have been a bit odd for her to meet a random Pepperdine person at such a tiny airport in Phuket, Thailand. It was random enough for me. I snapped a quick photo (shown below) and they were off to their flight. Congrats to them if they're reading this!

On a side note, I'm very good at recognizing people I know. Too good sometimes. I even spot friends driving on the highway in their cars. Not from what the car looks like, but because of the person in the car. I once spotted my friend Claire from Pepperdine in the Kauai, Hawaii airport as she was boarding her flight. She screamed out something along the lines of, "oh my gawd!! Oh my! I will call you!!! I have to go!" and ran onto the plane. It will be interesting to see if any other similar encounters happen on this trip.

Back in the Air Asia line, I learned that I could not check my luggage for another hour and a half. The Air Asia employee was confused about why I was at the airport so early at all. This baggage rule kept me from going to the gate early and in turn, chatting with Jonathan and Mary Ruth more. Oh well-- at least there was one bright spot in the early morning.

I decided to get some breakfast. There was a Dunkin Donuts in the airport, so I gave it a try. Airports have been the only time I've allowed myself to eat American food or fast food for that matter. All the donuts were facing into the airport. Each customer takes a set of tongs and puts all the donuts they want onto a tray. Then, at the counter they put them in a bag for you. It was one of the more precarious food situations I've seen in an airport, but the donuts tasted good.

A final note about my time in Thailand... Multiple friends have compared this part of my journey to Eat, Pray, Love. I guess in a way, you could say that it is. I certainly had lots of time to think and to rest. I had planned to do yoga. I found a really interesting studio in a little house on stilts. Unfortunately, it was closed for the holiday. Maybe next time!

And I'm off to my next destination!

Friday, April 12, 2013

It's wet in Phuket

Today was an uneventful day in Phuket. I woke up early and then slept in late. It was very relaxing. And, I realized that from my hotel room (more specifically from my bed), I can see the Big Buddha that sits on the highest point of the island.

I went back to the tailor this afternoon for a fitting of my suit's pants and to take measurements for a coat. I brought the coat that I have with me on the trip as a sample. During the fitting, the store began to put lots of pins in my coat for reference. It was then that I realized that they were expecting to keep my coat and ship it back to me. As much as I'd like it out of my backpack, I'm not finished traveling. I need that coat (despite having ripped the seams out of the arms)! I was of course able to keep it. But as a tip, if you ever plan to go somewhere to have clothes made, consider bringing samples that already fit. It's easier.

The trip back to my hotel took twice as long today. The Thai new year has started and people are out celebrating. How do they celebrate you ask? With giant water guns and buckets of water. They will drench anyone on the street. In fact, I even saw some folks who were opening doors of unlocked cars that were driving by to shoot the driver. It was really wild and unexpected. Somehow I made it out dry. And the tailor had given me the heads up yesterday to protect my phone, so it was safe in a ziplock bag.

When I returned, the pool had been shut down due to the rain, so I sat at the bar, ate ice-cream, and drank beer.

Because of the water festival, my 1 hour drive in the morning is slated to take 3 or 4 hours. That means I will be waking up super early. That fact and the precarious water gun situation outside has led me to order room service. For the first time since I got here, I'm eating non Thai food. I felt guilty until I realized that I've had Thai food in almost every country on my way here. It's always cheap and always open.

I'm having Italian food tonight: fettuccine with pesto sauce and red wine. Fettuccine with pesto is one of my favorites. The wine is not. Unfortunately, the hotel is so focused on tropical drinks that they only sell one kind of red wine. It's not the best, but it works.

I'm avoiding mixed drinks right now (because they're sometimes made with egg whites) so I've had a lot of beer, red wine, bourbon, and whiskey lately. Life could be worse. And the good news is, I haven't been sick from food or drinks at all. Lets hope we can keep it that way!

On a related note, I found an interesting website you might like when traveling. It's called It's just what it sounds like: a place to learn about water quality in any country.

Below is a photo of the hotel's decorations today. I wanted to take a photo of the crazy people with the giant sized water guns for you, but it seemed to be a recipe for disaster.

Wish me luck tomorrow!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sand, suits, and more eggs

As planned, I slept in yesterday. My legs have been hurting and definitely needed a break.

Once I got up, the first thing on my agenda was to stop by the tailor. A friend in Memphis, Shawn, recommended a particular tailor in Phuket. I took a cab the 15 minutes to get there, where I was greeted by the friendly staff. I picked out one woman's suit in black with a blue pin stripe.

The staff took a lot of time to measure me for the suit, but they only measured my left leg. I asked the person with the tape measure to also measure my right leg, and he shrugged it off a bit. So, I asked the owner to measure both. He did it, but obviously thought I was over thinking things until he blurted out, "Oh my gawd! You're right leg is an entire INCH longer than the left one!!" I started to laugh and he immediately composed himself. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound so shocked. It's not unusual to not match perfectly. How did you ever notice this?" he said. I explained that as I grew older, I had noticed issues with my hips, feet, and legs that led me to figure it out. That and my jeans only get torn up on one side at the bottoms.

After picking out a suit, I started picking out a winter coat. The final details on that will be chosen today when I go in for a fitting. The Thai new year festivities start tonight, so the store will have to ship everything to me. My understanding is that the new year is celebrated as a water festival where everyone dumps water on each other. I may put my phone in a plastic bag today, just in case.

The store gave me a ride back to my hotel. The driver was very interested to chat with me and I learned quite a bit. Originally from Bangkok, he's lived in Phuket a few times. First, he was a bartender. Then, he installed Internet wiring in a resort and now, he's a driver for the tailor. He said that people in Bangkok are more friendly and smile more and in Phuket, they tend to scowl more. This is the opposite of what I would have guessed. He also mentioned how bad tuk tuk drivers are. He said that they change their rates on you during the drive and that they won't stop when a honking car is driving at them. I wasn't planning to try one of these, but it's good to know.

During the drive, he noticed me spotting police with intimidating looking signs about not having weapons. Initially, he started to explain that people had died from bombs during the new year. Then, he switched to saying that people got drunk and drowned during the water festival. I suspect that both happen, but that he may have decided to scale back the violence for me a bit. When I looked up the festival on Wikipedia, it also mentioned bombs, so I suppose that part wasn't just lost in translation.

After returning from my hotel, I went to the beach. As expected, it was very pretty and very crowded. I took a long walk and saw all sorts of tourists wearing way too tight swimsuits. The beach itself seemed to be designed around excess. You could get a massage, a mixed drink, or a temporary tattoo all within a few feet of your beach chair.

The next task was dinner. I took a long and exhausting walk around looking for a karaoke bar that's voted as the best restaurant on the island. After not finding it right away, I opted for my second choice-- an upscale places called the Boathouse. They have a French chef there who makes both French and Thai food.

When I sat down, I felt a huge sigh of relief. The place was quiet with a view of the ocean. They had a live piano player who focused on songs Frank Sinatra once sang. Everything was super clean. Then it hit me-- nice places, especially European places, use raw eggs in their food. (If only I was content eating cheap fried food for every meal!)

I ordered a glass of Malbec from a vineyard called Catena that I visited a few years ago in Argentina-- and a 5-course Thai meal. I explained to the waiter that raw eggs make me ill and that it's important that I don't eat any. As the same as every place before, he started out by saying that "all of our food is cooked very well here." I think it's assumed that I think the eggs were mishandled or are old. I responded by asking, "what about the ice-cream in the dessert?" He thought for a second and said, "well that just uses egg whites." Of course I explained that these make me very ill. He checked with the kitchen on any other items that might contain eggs. Luckily, the ice-cream was it.

The wine and the food were amazing. I also got a glass of Thai Shiraz, but it wasn't the same as the Malbec. I was dehydrated from the day and probably had eight cups of water during dinner. My waiter asked at one point if the food was too hot for me. Since it had almost no heat, I was confused. Then I realized that all of the water must have made him think I thought the food was spicey. Below are photos of the meal.

On the way back to my resort, I asked for a cab. It was only two blocks, but it was dark. The streets were packed with tourists, salespeople, and unforgiving cars and motorcycles. The restaurant valet laughed at the thought of hailing me a cab and decided to take me himself for free. I would have to assume that he understood that it wasn't the best idea for me to be wandering alone by myself in the dark, even for a short distance.

This brings me to an overall assessment of Thailand. It's beautiful here and very inexpensive; I like it. But as a single woman, it's a bit uncomfortable. I can't blend in here like I was able to in Europe. People know I'm foreign and most know right away that I'm American. Even getting out of my car for a moment, I get comments like, "hey sexy lady" from women and men who are trying to sell something. I like it here, but I think I would like it more with friends.