Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kung Hei Fat Choy

Kung Hei Fat Choy=Happy New Year

This week Hong Kong celebrates it's biggest holiday complete with lights, decorations and lion dances throughout the city. It is a big deal for the Chinese - comparable to if not bigger than Christmas in America. We enjoy a quiet evening with friends while overhearing the booming fireworks in Victoria Harbour. I've been spending much time the past several weeks chilling in nature and just being instead of doing.

Follow the steep road up and up. Lined with thick sloped forest, the road seems endless even though it's end is quite close to the city. The journey is not for the faint of heart, winding around every bend enough to give you major motion sickness. Don't look down if you're vertigo sensitive.

Continuing up you disappear into the cloudy mists, sharing the narrow road with big buses and speeding Ferrari's with a deathwish. Cliffs on your right, now on your left, boasting an amazing view of the colorful Hong Kong city skyline.

So close, yet so far, we like escaping the chaos of the city, yet it's nice to know that the city is right there if we need anything. That's the New Yorker in me coming out (so spoiled, I know). It is surreal to be towering over Hong Kong's towers.

Finally you arrive at the summit. A charming resort-like neighborhood is perched at the top of Hong Kong's mountains called The Peak. Several degrees cooler up here than in the city centre hundreds of feet below, we enjoy several weeks of much needed R&R here. The wonderfully crisp Autumn weather is a refreshing change from tropical Singapore.

It is often so misty up here that you can barely see 10 meters in front of you. Mahesh grew up in Hong Kong and as a child they nicknamed parts of The Peak, "Ghost Town", because of it's thick fog and eerie quiet.

We enjoy waking up to birds singing, long breakfasts and tranquil walks through the numerous hiking trails where you forget you're in one of the busiest cities in the world. The wind carries the faint smell of a cozy firewood burning somewhere while eagles soar and swoop overhead.

Come take a stroll with me.
So many wildflowers line the trails and my camera seems to fancy them. I spy...

...white silky petals with a brilliant yellow center...

...perfect rubyred round berries...

...and some cute little purple fuzzy ones. I know, I horticulture vocabulary is quite advanced.

These little ones seem to flirt with me...

...while these bits of perfection remind me of a walk through a vineyard.

I happen upon some happy lavender flowers...

...and a tree trunk with thorns.

These red Chinese lanterns that seem to say "Kung Hei Fat Choy", also look like bells blowing in the wind and ringing in the New Year. This is also the time of year when everyone passes out little envelopes the same color as these flowers by the dozen. And inside...yup, cash.

I have a soft spot for things that grow on tree trunks.

These purple trumpets boast a star in their delicate petals.

These delicate little buds appear to pop like corn kernals...

...while yellow daisies enjoy the sunshine as much as I do.

We end our day watching the sun take a dip into the South China Sea. Then the wind begins to howl and we retreat inside where we cuddle up under a warm blanket next to a crackling fireplace, roasting marshmallows and watching movies. Ahhh, so beautifully simple. And with all the work we've been doing the past several months and coping with the uncertainty of our life right now as we're in limbo, we rest and try to just be. Why can't every day be like this?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


I'm so excited...I just can't hide it...I'm about to lose control and I think I like it!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A Singlish Holiday

Still homeless vagabonds, we traipse through Asia. Our next stop...The Garden City: Singapore.

Singapore: One big air-conditioned shopping mall surrounded by lovely lush gardens, brilliant green parks and the Bukit Timah Rainforest. Where one minute you are drenched from the sweltering tropical island heat and the next minute your sweat has frozen as you walk into the Siberian air-conditioned supermalls.

We walk with the masses along the infamous Orchard Road lined with massive shopping centers each trying to outdo the other with their lights and holiday decorations.

Locals tell us that each year the decorations seem to grow thicker and the lights multiply.

We manuver our way through the crowds of people who seem to enjoy walking sideways, diagonally and even backward. Grrr. An ideal place for people watching, we pass a local woman playing Jinglebells on her pipa (a Chinese guitar-like instrument), while 50 feet away a pair of child contortionists perform their pretzel bending moves drawing quite a crowd, as their "trainer" sits on the sidelines with a sleazy smirk on her face.

The uhh "aroma" of Durian fruit wafting through the air from the general direction of the beautiful and impressive Esplanade Theatre (an architectural marvel shaped like a pair of the stinking national fruit) where it's refreshing to see that there remains a place in this world where people still dress in their finest to go see the ballet.


To get us even more in the Christmas spirit (as if it wasn't blasted in our faces already on Orchard Road) we enjoy a performance of the Nutcracker by the Singapore Dance Theatre in this gorgeous building while trying to keep warm by cuddling in our sweaters which we brought along.

Often termed an eating capital, food is culture as much as it is a religion here and we happily assimilate. The many outdoor hawker centers and eating houses (which are basically a collection of local food stalls in one location) that dot the land are choc full of culinary delights, a highlight of this country that's sure to leave a good taste in your mouth.

Taking refuge from the daily afternoon thunderstorm, we set our travel size tissue pack on a table to reserve our spot and then we walk around the 15-30 stalls, looking for the longest queue, salivating on the array of tasty choices, from the simple to the bizarre.

While it's difficult to appoint our favourite Singapore flavours as there are so many, we particularly enjoy the mouthwatering Hainanese Chicken Rice and mouth-burning Laksa, which we wash down with freshly pressed sugar cane juice followed by the wonderful Ruby Red & Sago dessert. This feast for two we enjoy for less than $15! The price is indeed no reflection of the taste. Yes...we could get used to this.

In time, we'll try the local favorites like sambal stingray and fish head curry. And with regular governmental checks and a reliable "ABC" rating system, you can trust the hawker stalls to be as clean as the Vatican's dining hall pre-Christmas dinner.

I am struck by the charm and beauty of the colonial-era shophouses, some of which are converted into homes for those who are wealthy enough to afford them.

My excited camera clicks away as my poor husband runs away in fear of being termed a "tourist".

Trying to blend in, we attend the local pantomime comedy show: Snow White. Not quite Broadway or even off-Broadway, it was still quite entertaining as it poked fun at Singapore politics with all the bells, whistles and cross-dressers in musical fashion. Possibly more amusing though was watching the audience, particularly the adults, get all nerdy with their toy hand clappers and noise makers.

A peculiar and wholesome people inhabit this kingdom. Some can be a bit robotic, yet it is apparent that a refreshing creative edge is on the rise.

As an English Major, I cringe hearing Singlish, a crazy mutt slang language (a combination of Chinese, English, Malay and even some Indian languages). It has become the national language much to the chagrin of the Singapore government in their efforts to forge a worldclass city and financial center. Having a staccato feel to it, Singlish can have quick and sharp voiceless stops, while mixing different languages and accents within the same sentence. You ask how can? Tack on the ubiquitous "lah" on the end of every other phrase or so for emphasis if you want to try it out. No nid gramma. Forgit all you learn lah. Can try? Dis easy lah. Later free or not? Wah, so good you try lah!

Despite the perplexing cultural nuances of this country which can take some getting used to, it is a fascinating place that makes a lot of sense if you give it a chance. For example, in the Geylang area, prostitution is legal, but only on the even numbered streets. Trust Singaporeans to think of regulating everything. It is actually quite smart if you think about it because they figure it is going to happen anyway, so they might has well have some control over it.

Mat Oakley (author of our Lonely Planet travel guide) articulates it best:
"It's popular to dismiss Singapore as a kind of Asia Lite - blandly efficient and safe, a boringly tasteless, disciplinarian and unadventurous place where citizens are robbed of their cherished freedom to spit on the street and chew gum. Utter nonsense!"

Many countries, particularly in Asia, covet the efficiency of Singapore though may never admit it publicly. A virtually crime-free and wholesome place, none can match the uniqueness of this fascinating culture and people. Besides, I have always wanted to live in a gun-free country. Is that really too much to ask for?

Singapore: Pristinely clean, safe and orderly, this city comes as close to utopia as you can imagine. Even the dirt is clean (except in Little India-ha ha). Everything just works here. And if all that wasn't good enough, each evening after satisfying our taste buds at our neighborhood hawker center, we enjoy a miraculous mosquito-free stroll through the many lush parks and gardens of this topical paradise.

Where else can your five senses deeply experience the rich cultures of India, China and Malaysia all in one place? Only in Singapore. I can't say it more simply: I like it here.