Singapore is incredible. Beautiful architecture, gardens, shopping centers… and so clean. Fred tells me that gum is illegal there. What’s more is that I believe him. We arrived at the Intercontinental in the afternoon, jet lagged and bleary-eyed. (No wonder I liked Singapore – we stayed in a couple of very nice places)
That evening my fun, creative husband took me on a date to “Lockdown” – a live mystery game place. It was so cool. They locked us in a room and we had to decode the mystery given what we could discover in the simple, sparse room. We didn’t solve the entire mystery, but I like to think we would have gotten there given enough time and a little less jet lag. It was so fun. I can’t wait to go back and try the other rooms.
Two days in Singapore was not nearly enough to fully experience the place, but I expect we’ll be back. After Singapore, Fred and I went to different places. He had work to do in Manila, and I was going to Sri Lanka to do some volunteer work. After all this time together, 24/7, it was really hard to say goodbye. Or maybe it’s always hard to leave my incredible, handsome, amazing husband… (the one looking over my shoulder as I write this)
I’m going to save the report of my adventures volunteering in Sri Lanka for another post. For now I’ll jump ahead to Sir Fred’s triumphant arrival in Colombo. Unfortunately, he arrived an hour late and sans suitcase; our first and hopefully only lost-luggage experience of the trip. After a few short hours of sleep, we hopped the early morning train to Kandy, the ancient hill country capital and home of the sacred Tooth Relic.
In Kandy we spent an afternoon at the botanic gardens, where we saw monkeys on a trash pile, and then went to see a performance of the legendary Kandy Dancers. The dance critic in me came out in full force here. Maybe I just don’t get it. Or maybe they were having an off night. Either way, I was embarrassed for them, and after an hour of being embarrassed, I was exhausted. We went back to the hotel and skipped seeing the Tooth Relic ceremony. I’m sure the Buddha won’t mind that we didn’t go pay respects to his tooth.
The next day we went to the Pinnawala elephant orphanage. It was actually rather sad. The mahouts don’t treat the elephants very well – they only seem interested in getting you to come close to their elephant for a picture so that they can ask you for money. Nothing like the amazing experience we had in Laos at the elephant sanctuary near Luang Prabang, where we befriended Mae Bunam who took us on a ride through the river and let me feed her bananas. Still, the elephants were amazing to watch. I just wish I had more confidence that they are well cared for and happy. It’s the same dilemma that I have with zoos. I want to see the animals, but I get so sad that they are in captivity – I want to run rescue missions to free them back into their native environment! But maybe zoo life is preferable to the threat of predators? I don’t know.
At this point my intrepid husband decided we needed a car and that he wouldn’t mind driving in the insane Sri Lankan traffic. So we took a train back to Colombo, picked up a car, and drove across the island to Arugam Bay. All in one long day. The drive was brutal and scary and amazing… I’m just grateful Fred was driving. SO hectic, crowded and stressful. But also incredibly beautiful, as we drove through the hill country and saw some amazing scenery. And more monkeys! The red-faced monkey lives in the hills, and the grey languor, with its long tail and triangle-shaped head, lives in the coastal forest near Arugam.
Again we got skunked on the surf. I didn’t catch a single wave the whole week, but I did get a board and fins to the back when a kid wiped out near me. Fred did a little better on his big rented foamer. I should have followed his lead and rented the biggest board I could find. But I didn’t. Fred might tell you that it’s because I never listen, but that’s not true. It’s because I am incredibly vain and only care about how I look. I don’t want to look like a beginner on a foamer! I mean, obviously, I only care about looks – check out my post-surf tuk-tuk hairdo in the photos. Oh the glamour!
We drove back to Colombo via the southern route through part of Yala National Park and spent two days in Hikkadua. There we met a yoga teacher/surfer who is rivaled in intensity only by our surfer buddy Scott at Morocco Surf Adventure. For those of you who know Scott, imagine him about 15 lbs skinnier, all bones and sinew, and talking passionately about yoga instead of surfing. Intense dude. His yoga classes were cancelled due to rain, but I can’t wait to go back and study with him. It might break me, but I’d love to catch some of the fire that man has. He promised to teach our spines how to dance, and that we’d do it by following his guru’s ABCs system. He even gave us laminated cards depicting the series. It looks freaking hard.
From Sri Lanka we flew to Bangkok. By this time I had a cold, so I spent at least one full day there in bed. We had a few meetings, took care of some business and basically recharged. No “Hangover 2” for us in Bangkok! We’ve done the tourist attractions there before, so I don’t feel a bit bad about not seeing more of the city.
After three short days in Bangkok we were off to Hong Kong. We arrived to find warnings posted all over the city about the impending Typhoon Usagi. By then Fred had caught my cold, so after a delicious breakfast at The Flying Pan, we holed up in our little Sheung Wan hotel room to watch the storm from our amazing corner window vantage point. The city basically shut down, and it was cool to see the empty streets, but ultimately it was like watching a rain storm.
The next day we took the tram up Vitoria Peak, walked around the loop at the top, and then walked all the way down to Central. On our way down we wandered into the Hong Kong zoo and visited with the lemurs. I always seem to stumble into this zoo when I’m in Hong Kong. Perhaps all roads lead to the zoo? After our walk, I took the second-most expensive yoga class of my life at Pure Yoga. Having gone so long without a proper class or a place to do my own practice, it felt totally worth it.
And then, in the blink of an eye, we were back on the train to the airport to fly to Manila.
Now, Fred has told me repeatedly about what a difficult place Manila is. The “nice” parts are giant shopping malls, and the “real” parts are third-world slums. So I was very surprised to actually enjoy our time there. Another amazing fancy hotel experience didn’t hurt. They upgraded us to a room with incredible high ceilings, the most ergonomic bathtub I’ve tried, chocolate truffles with a card addressed to a Mr. So-and-So, and a view of Hermes and Gucci shops from the massive windows. Who could ask for anything more?
Some facts about Manila. The world’s largest mall is there. All expat life revolves around the various malls. The traffic is always bad, no matter what time of day. There are stray cats everywhere. Certain defunct US restaurant chains are alive and kicking here (Shakey’s Pizza, anyone?). “Jeepneys” are a typical mode of transport for locals. “Vegetarian” dishes often have meat in them. No, not like they used a little beef stock in making the dish, but they actually put a ton of ham, beef and pork bits in there. (See “Assorted Vegetarian Meat in Basket” photo)
While in Manila, Fred and I became godparents. One of Fred’s business associates had a baby on Sept 26th and asked us to be her Godmother and Godfather. Which makes sense because Fred’s resemblance to Marlon Brando is uncanny, as is his tendency to make offers that you can’t refuse. But seriously, her name is Vania and she’s adorable. We got to meet her on her first day in the world. So cool.
The hospital is near Greenhills Shopping Center. Another Manila fact: You can buy real designer handbags at full US-level prices in malls like Greenbelt or The Fort, or you can go to Greenhills to buy the fake versions. Here you will experience the most aggressive sale tactics as you wind your way through the endless stalls of bags. You will be attacked with cries of “SIR MAM BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAG?!?!?” and “MY NEW BEST FRIEND! LOU VATAAAWWWN?!? SIR!?!? BAAAG!!!” as they grab your arm and shove bags in your face.
I will admit – I was sad to leave the luxury of Manila, but knowing that we were headed back to Hong Kong made it easier.
On our second stop through Hong Kong, we took a ferry to Kowloon and walked around the madness of Mong Kok, the most densely populated place in the world. We stopped at a Starbucks to try to rest and use the internet, but it was standing room only. Eventually we got two stools at an occupied table.
The highlight for me on this stop was stumbling onto the best cup of coffee we’ve had since Europe. The Cupping Room was just across the street from our hotel, but sadly we only found it on our last morning there. We had breakfast there and then came back for one more coffee before heading to the airport. We got to watch them sampling the coffee (called ‘cupping’ – hence the name of the shop). They obviously know what they are doing. My latte was perfection – no need for even a drop of sugar. And then in a flash, we were back in the Hong Kong airport to catch a flight to Delhi, India.
And India, my friends, is another story.