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USC's Travel log

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Log entries 1 - 9 of 9 



Jan 04, 2014 10:00 PM 'Makan' Memories of Singapore

'Makan' Memories of Singapore Having made six trips to Singapore, I can say that I've assembled a sizable collection of fond memories of my time spent in the Lion City. I can further say without a doubt and with no reservations that some of my fondest memories of Singapore involve food and eating ('makan' in the Singlish dialect). Singapore's reputation as Southeast Asia's foodie paradise is well-deserved, and has been substantiated and showcased on television by the likes of hosts Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern and Samantha Brown, generally under the sage guidance of KF Seito, the renowned local food guru and creator of the definitive resource to the Singapore food scene, the Makansutra. For Singaporeans, eating is practically a national pastime, if not a national obsession; in a country with a population as culturally diverse as Singapore's, it is the one thing that can bring people of all ethnic backgrounds and religions together at the same table (so to speak), though don’t expect them to agree on where to get the best chili crab, chicken rice, char quay teow or fish head curry.

My full blog post on the Sinagpore food scene can be found here: http://enchantingseasia.blogspot.com/2013/12/makan-memories-of-singapore.html



Oct 21, 2013 08:00 PM Vietnam's Bac Ha Sunday Market

Vietnam's Bac Ha Sunday Market I started a travel blog entitled 'Enchanting SE Asia', in which I share my travel tales from the region through a combination of words, pictures and video clips. Below is a link to my entry on Vietnam's Bac Ha Sunday market. Enjoy!

http://enchantingseasia.blogspot.com/2013/07/photo-essay-vietnams-bac-ha-sunday.html



May 19, 2012 08:00 PM Today's Solar Annular Eclipse from California...

Today's Solar Annular Eclipse from California... I was out back on the side of the house cooking a Burmese pork curry and glancing at the progress of today's solar annular eclipse using the note card pinhole technique, where the sun's beams through the pinhole produce a safe image of the solar eclipse on a second card held at a proper distance behind the first card. As I was heading back to the kitchen, I noticed that the specks of sunlight filtering through the neighbor's tree and onto the back wall of the house worked a bit better than a single pinhole through a note card...



Dec 17, 2011 09:00 PM Orchard Towers – Putting the ‘Sin’ in Singapore (Part I of II)

Orchard Towers – Putting the ‘Sin’ in Singapore (Part I of II) Singapore has a reputation of being a very strict ‘nanny state’, where crime is virtually non-existent due to the threat of heavy penalties and punishments, and the assumption is generally made that there would certainly be no tolerance for ‘the world’s oldest profession’ being plied in public eye. In reality, the Singaporean government appears to turn a blind eye to prostitution, and though some of the infamous red light districts have been cleaned up (i.e., the Joo-Chiat area), the flesh trade still thrives in a few places. Running a close second to the Geylang red light is the Orchard Towers complex, which is located at the west end of Orchard Road. Orchard Towers, an 18-story office building that combines bars and retail shops on the lower levels with offices and some condominiums above, is locally known as the ‘four floors of whores’. Though the complex does not contain any brothels per se (but does contain a number of nominally legitimate massage parlors), Orchard Towers serves as a venue where one can meet and pickup prostitutes. Many of the prostitutes encountered in the bars are freelancers that are visiting Singapore on a one to three-month tourist visa, predominantly from the other Southeast Asian countries (the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam), but also from China, India and, to a lesser extent, Russia and some other western countries. In addition to the girls soliciting inside the bars and those walking the corridors of the lower floors of the complex, a number of freelancers can be seen hanging around or making the rounds on the sidewalks outside of the complex. Generally, men walking with women or with a family in tow will not attract the attention of the sidewalk freelancers. A man walking alone, particularly one making the briefest of eye contact in passing, can generally expect to be approached and asked if they would like some company tonight, or if they are looking for a woman, or if they would like a massage; they are generally pleasant in their solicitations, and will politely accept a no for an answer. Some of the girls seen hanging out around Orchard Towers may not be girls after all, as a number of Asian ladyboys frequent the complex; I remember walking along Claymore Road past the front tower one time and passing what looked to be two busty Thai girls in low-cut blouses, short leather skirts and stiletto high-heels…until I heard their very masculine voices. I’ve been told that one of the popular pastimes of the local ex-pats working in Singapore and living in the high-rise apartments in the vicinity of Orchard Towers is to take a seat at Harry’s Bar, located in the front of the back tower along Claymore Road, and enjoy a drink while watching the customers and their ‘dates-for-hire’ line up at the taxi stand across the street near the back of the front tower. Most of the action happens in and around the front tower, though it does spill a bit into the back tower given that some of the freelancers may ply their trade in Harry’s Bar and the upstairs Moonshine Bar. The activities may be a bit awkward for ex-pats parents that live in the apartments behind Orchard Towers to explain to their children as they pass through the towers when taking a short-cut back home from Orchard Road or heading to Jason’s Supermarket in the basement of the back tower to buy groceries. Having made six trips to Singapore and staying near the west end of Orchard Road, I had passed many times through the towers, though it was only during the sixth trip that I became curious enough to check out some of the Orchard Towers bars. The first bar was the (now-relocated) Three Monkeys, situated at the back of the front tower. It was mid-afternoon and the bar only had about a dozen customers (including me, the only male in the place), plus two Filipinas employees behind the bar. All the other customers were Filipinas in their mid-twenties, and most of them were out on the floor dancing, giggling and joking with one another. I chatted with one of the Filipinas that pulled up a stool next to me, commenting to her that the bar seemed a bit slow. She told me that I should come back on Sunday, when the bar would be much livelier. I would later get the gist of what she had hinted at the following Sunday at another place called the Blue Banana, a similarly Filipino-owned bar (as nearly all the bars in the complex appeared to be) in the basement below the Three Monkeys. The majority of the maids (a.k.a. Foreign Domestic Workers) in Singapore seem to be Filipinas aged early 20’s to mid 30’s, with the minority comprised of women often from Malaysia, Indonesia and Burma. As the maids are traditionally given Sundays off, their options for recreation involve attending church and church-related activities, spending the day with Filipino friends at the Filipino-centric Lucky Plaza shopping mall on Orchard Road, or apparently also the option of hitting the dance floors at the bars in Orchard Towers.



Dec 17, 2011 09:00 PM Orchard Towers – Putting the ‘Sin’ in Singapore (Part II of II)

The mood on that particular Sunday at the Blue Banana was extremely lively, almost bordering on a case of ‘Maids Gone Wild’. The dance floor was packed exclusively with Filipina maids attired in tight jeans and T-shirts dancing (and sometimes even ‘dirty-dancing’) up a storm with one another to the bass-heavy club mix blaring from the sound system as the house band was setting up on the stage for their performance later that afternoon. From time to time two of the ladies would begin bumping and grinding against each other, which would evoke shrill bursts of laughter, hoots, cat-calls, and shouts of approval and sisterly encouragement. There were a number of men sitting at the bar with a beer who were taking in the action on the dance floor. One gentleman had a pitcher of beer and one extra partially-filled mug sitting on the bar, with one of the Filipinas occasionally coming off the floor to briefly take a sip from the mug before hurrying back out to resume her dancing. There were a handful of guys sitting among the tables that flanked the dance floor and chatting with the ladies that were taking a dance break, and there were also some ladies sitting at some tables near the back and looking a bit bored, which I took to be freelancing bargirls. The bars that I checked out all had stages featuring live bands from the Philippines that played copy tunes, generally a mix of classic rock, R&B, light hip-hop, and occasionally Filipino classic rock and folk tunes sung in Tagalog thrown into the mix that would usually bring the Filipina bargirls to their feet and have them squealing and clapping in approval, if not singing along loudly and perhaps a bit off-key. Another feature that many of the bars had was a few ‘go-go’ stages in the form of a wooden elevated pedestal with a brass pole running from the center of the pedestal to the ceiling, and a few small colored floodlights aimed down on the stage from the ceiling. During the band set breaks, a few of the more sexily-dress bargirls would mount the go-go stages and dance in place for perhaps 20 minutes while the musicians hit the restroom or sipped some beer. During my roughly 3 weeks in Singapore, I was able to at least sample (as in, a 30 – 120 minute stay and a beer or two) a number of the Orchard Towers bars: Three Monkeys, Ba-Li-Ba, Crazy Horse, Moonshine, Peyton Place, Ipanema World Bar and Blue Banana. Generally, there were no cover charges per se, though you were expected to buy at least one drink. I was told that solo women (be it Filipina maids on a day off or a freelancer on a tourist visa) had to pay a nominal cover charge to enter unless they were accompanied by a male. In chatting with an attractive 23-year old freelancing Filipina bargirl named Jordan at Ba-Li-Ba, I would learn a bit about how the relationship between the freelancer and the bar works; I informed Jordan up-front that nothing more than me buying her a drink and having a conversation would be going on, so as to not waste her time. As she explained it, the bargirl would walk up to a gentleman in the bar and ask if they could sit with him. If he agreed, she would strike up a conversation with him and request him to her a drink at an inflated price. A beer costing SNG $10, if bought for her, would cost SNG $20; the bar would keep $5 and the girl would pocket $5. After the girl is bought 5 drinks by the same gentleman, the bar has received its ‘bar fine’, and the girl can now negotiate a price with the willing gentleman to go off-site for a massage or whatever else is agreed upon. Jordan had mentioned that she was just one week into her one month tourist (which technically made her an illegal worker and deportable after that first overpriced drink), and as of yet had not enticed anyone into meeting the five-drink minimum purchase required to take her off-site. As is likely a situation with many of the freelancers, Jordan talked of her 2-year old son currently under the care of her parents back in the Philippines (father’s whereabouts unknown) while she’s in Singapore trying to make money to support family at home. I would hear similar stories in conversations with other girls at other Orchard Towers bars. Lien, a rather full-figured 27-year old Vietnamese girl that I chatted with on a subsequent visit to Ba-Li-Ba was apparently in more dire straights. She told me of a prior Singapore ‘tourist’ trip that had been facilitated by some individuals did not generate the anticipated cash due to her being heavier and less attractive than the other girls. She went on to say that she was desperate for customers this trip because, if she didn’t make enough money to satisfy said individuals this time around, that she was, “…gonna die!” In dramatic contrast, after chatting with the 20-year old Lindy from the Indonesian island of Java that worked at the Crazy Horse, I was left with the impression that she viewed her one-month stint as just one big fun-filled and exciting adventure in the ‘Lion City’.



Dec 14, 2011 09:00 PM Poverty and Hardship in Siem Reap (2009)

Poverty and Hardship in Siem Reap (2009) In my earlier wanderings through the neighborhood of Siem Reap where my hotel was located, I had become intrigued by the rustic collections of stilted thatched huts that sat on the far bank where the river curves to run parallel with Sivatha Street, and as I had some time to kill before meeting up with my guide and driver, decided to walk upriver about 300+ meters and take the bridge to the other side and backtrack so that I could wander through the little village-like enclave and take some photos. When I was on far bank and heading back downriver, I passed first, a Cambodian teenager or young adult who was missing one leg at about mid-thigh and supporting himself with a crutch (I remember seeing him at the old market the other day) that gave me a smile of recognition as I passed, then later a group of three middle-aged men standing a little ways off of the path and talking not far from my intended destination; I could see that the two that were the clearest in my view were each similarly missing a leg and holding crutches. The three followed my passing with their gazes, and as they receded in the distance, one of them shouted, “Hello…Hello…Hello…”; I gave a friendly wave and smiling nod in their direction and continued on my way. As I rounded the dirt path that lead to the collection of huts, two naked, barefoot and dusty little Cambodia boys of about 4 years of age excitedly ran up to me and started jumping and running in circles around me while laughing with glee as if to suggest that not a lot of Caucasian tourists had come out to their neck of the woods. As the Khmer kids continued in their merriment, I took note of the three middle-aged land mine victims that I had passed earlier, now joined by a poor mother coming up the path from the village holding a nude, seemingly under-nourished baby cradled in one arm whose hand was gripping an aged and empty baby bottle, all converging on me. The mother, who said something in Khmer to the two giggly and frolicking kids that prompted them to run back to the village, was the first to plead for money so that she could feed her baby, even partially pulling down the neckline her soiled and thread-bare top to reveal the contour of her ribs visible beneath the brown skin between the upper portion her small and seemingly deflated breasts while she looked at me with desperate eyes and said, “No milk…No milk…Baby not eat!” Knowing that this will be the first of at least a couple of donations before I could get out of here and meet my guide and driver, I reluctantly pulled out the first of the four each 10,000 Khmer Riel (about USD$ 2.50) paper bills out of the front zipped pocket of my pants and, figuring that the ‘flood gates’ had now been opened, handed it to the woman, who then thanked me in English and then stepped back to observe my transactions with the others. Next, one of the middle-aged leg amputees, san prosthetic limb (as was the case for all of them), approached me, and with a smile extended his non-crutch supporting hand palm-up, looked me in the eyes, looked back down to his open palm, then back up at me, similarly thanking me in English when I placed the donation in his hand. The transaction with the next man, missing his left leg, proceeds pretty much the same, except before I handed him the money, with the crutch still secured under his left arm pit, he grasped the front left end of his tee shirt and rotated his left forearm up so as to raise his shirt on the left side of his body, revealing a darkly-discolored palm-sized depression on his abdomen centered between his waist and lower rib, with the surrounding flesh speckled with small shrapnel scars. “Bomb…Bomb…” he said as an explanation. The final transaction of the encounter (and the final 10,000 Riel note in my pocket) had the most dramatic impact. The man was missing both his arms, but the remainder of the arms was not cleanly prepped for future prosthesis. Rather, the forearms were severed along a shallow plane at perhaps about a 25 degree angle to the centerline of the arm, running from the inside of the elbow to roughly just forward of where the wrist should have started, with dark scars where the skin had been stitched back together. Despite the loss of his hands and most of his forearms and the suffering he had no doubt had to endure as a result of the traumatic injury, he accepted my donation (which his friend took and held for him) with a very warm and pleasant smile and an ‘aw kohn’ (‘thank you’ in Khmer). I ended up distributing all of the cash I had on me (40,000 Cambodia Riel = USD $10) among the four of them and then, short on both time and the resolve (not to mention now short on cash) to continue walking into the village to take photos, I decided to head back to the hotel after first taking the above photo of the village-like enclave as the woman with child that I had given the money to headed for home, as additional spectators in the village looked on with amusement.



Dec 12, 2011 09:00 PM Travel Tales…

Travel Tales… Greetings, all. It seems that this section of my Globosapiens page has been empty for far too long. In order to remedy that (and despite not currently traveling abroad to experience other cultures…particularly in Southeast Asia, which has become my favorite part of the world to explore), I will post some expanded accounts of some of the experiences during the previous journeys covered in my travel reports. Video clips taken during my travels can also be seen on my 'EL2995' Youtube page. I hope you all enjoy them. Cheers!

USC



Dec 12, 2011 09:00 PM Sunrise over Angkor Wat (2009)

Sunrise over Angkor Wat (2009) My guide and I arrived at the main (west) entrance at around 5 AM and made our way through the darkness by flashlight along the sandstone causeway to the passage through the outer wall, which in the vicinity of the main entrance takes the form of an enclosed 235m-wide sandstone porch decorated with carvings and sculptures. We paused briefly to look down the hallway that runs the length of the right (south) side of the porch; having taken in the same view earlier the previous day under ambient reflected sunlight, the visual impression and mood of the hall was entirely different when viewed in installments under the pool of limited illumination from the flashlight’s beam as it slowly scans the interior of the structure and creates an eerie play of shadows off the interior’s columns and archways. Once inside the outer wall, we left the sandstone causeway that leads to Angkor Wat’s temple and flanking central structure, and stood at the base of the steps to give the pre-dawn sky a chance to lighten before continuing to the reflecting pool. There appeared to be some clouds, overcast or perhaps morning fog on the horizon, but the sky was clear overhead and, given the still near-complete darkness at that hour, full of myriad bright stars. The pleasantly-cool early morning air was filled with the sounds of chirping crickets mixed with the morning chants of Buddhist monks from the monastery in the distance, occasionally interrupted by the slap and scrape of a pair of sandal or sneaker soles against sandstone or the muted conversations of other tourists and their guides making their way to the reflecting pool. As the sky in the east began to lighten and reveal the temple’s presence like a dark apparition in the distance, we climbed the steps back on to the causeway and continued our eastward walk. As we advanced, the once dull gray dawn sky ahead soon evolved into an array of colors that transitioned from the violet and blue-gray of low fog and haze on the distant horizon and streaks of clouds that hovered above the dark outline of the temple bracketed by palm trees, to swaths of pale salmon and mauve tones that dramatically backlit the upper reaches of the temple’s prang-styled ‘mountain peak’ central and lower flanking northwest and southwest corner towers in addition to the silhouettes of palm trees in the foreground, then blended back into gradations of light periwinkle and blue-gray farther above the horizon, with the bottoms of the dawn sky’s higher clouds gilded in pale pink of the approaching morning sun. With eyes accustomed to the darkness, the dim reflected ambient light began to illuminate our environs; with the causeway’s paving stones and naga (a deity of both the Hindu & Buddhist religions in the form of a large cobra) -lined balustrades and surrounding features within the temple compound, such as the two graceful library buildings that flank the causeway halfway to the temple, thus visible, the flashlights of the guides were switch off and tourist began to attempt photos of the temple at dawn, with occasional strobe flashes and the brief appearance of the whitish glow of small backlit digital camera screens seen ahead of us. As we approached the library building, the chirping of crickets began to be replaced by the croaking of frogs and the morning calls of birds. We walked to a location near the northwest corner of the reflecting pool that’s located to the left of the causeway, and looked for a break in the line of people standing along the bank so as to take some unobstructed pre-sunrise shots of the Angkor Wat temple with the pool in the foreground. Given the number of tourist in attendance, our section of the north reflecting pool was thrumming with myriad murmured conversations as people occupied their time while waiting in anticipation of the coming sunrise that would no doubt rank highly on their list of ‘once in a lifetime’ travel experiences, at a location that is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in Southeast Asia. In the moments that lead up to sunrise, the morning sky, which was streaked with fairly thin clouds, was dramatically set ablaze in a brilliant and breath-taking display of colors sufficient to lower the level and density of background conversations, as visitors from all over the world collectively paused to savor the experience. From our vantage point, the rising sun cleared the Angkor Wat temple structure just to the left of the northeast corner prang tower, with a hushed silence briefly falling over the crowd at that very moment as the sound of camera shutters clicking and electronic beeps, chirps and any number of creative .mp3 notification tones filled the air. Witnessing sunrise was a very memorable and, most definitely, a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience.



Dec 12, 2011 09:00 PM English Practice with School Kids in Kyoto (1987)

I met Kikuko, a female Kyoto elementary school teacher perhaps in her mid-30’s that also teaches an extracurricular weekend English language class for children, through a bulletin board posting that I saw in the Kyoto TIC office. The posting was inviting any American or English-speaking western tourist to join Kikuko and her students during one of her weekend classes on the eastern fringes of Kyoto so that her students could both hear English as spoken by a native speakers and learn a bit about where the visiting speakers came from and what their hometown were like, and also get in a bit of one-on-one English practice with the visitors. The meeting with Kikuko’s students would later prove to be a very memorable experience, though I have to rely solely on memory, as I had forgotten to grab my camera before Kikuko picked me up in the family van that day. The students seemed to range from about ages five to perhaps twelve, and were quite curious about this tall, skinny ‘gai-jin’ (foreigner) with big glasses and a healthy tuff of chest hair visible through the open collar and a couple of undone shirt buttons. A British girl in-country for a year to teach English in Japan (I would meet many westerners who were in Japan to do just the same, and would later overhear two American gentlemen seated in front of me on the Bullet Train talking of how they are sometimes hit on by their middle-aged Japanese female students…) has also seen the posting at the TIC office and was also in attendance that day. I gave a brief presentation on who I was, what I was doing in Japan, and a bit about where I was from (aided by a roughly hand-drawn map of California annotated with some quickly-sketched illustrations representing a few of the state’s best-known landmarks for reference on a large dry marker board behind me) while Kikuko’s younger female teacher’s aid translated my English into Japanese…and occasional stopped me when I rambled on too long and too fast for her to be able to translate (much to the amusement and hearty laugher of the students). My presentation was then followed by a rather humorous demonstrated English language practice session, in which three of the kids were picked to read aloud part of one of the practice lessons, with each child playing the part of one of the three speakers in the lesson. The lesson demonstration was then followed by a game of ‘pass the 100 Yen coin with a chopstick’, with the kids broken into two groups forming long lines and seeing which team would be the first to pass the coin from one end of the line to the other and back, with the younger Japanese teacher’s aid encouraging them with chants of “Ichi-Ni…Ichi-Ni!!!” (“One-Two…One-Two!!!”), with two emphatic hand-claps in-between each ‘Ichi-Ni’ to keep the cadence. After the game, the kids had some free time to play amongst themselves or to come up to me and practice their English skills (“Hello. How are you? My name is so-and-so. I go to Honshu Primary. I am XX years old.”) So as to better break the ice, I sat on the floor so that I could interact with the kids on a face-to-face basis. One particular girl of perhaps five years old with big round glasses sat at a distance for quite some time just staring at me with a look of wide-eyed apprehension; my response was to give her a warm smile so as to encourage her to come over and practice her English. Slowly she began to inch towards me while still maintaining her look of apprehension and now adding a slightly-opened mouth as if to convey disbelief or trepidation mixed with extreme curiosity, until her face was within a foot of mine. Her gaze drifts down to fixate on my open shirt collar, and she slowly and cautiously extends her right hand as her thumb and index finger slightly part, until her finger and thumb tips penetrate my curly chest hairs and lightly come to rest on my chest. She then slowly brings the thumb and finger together and cautiously eases her hand back until I feel a tug as her hand comes to a very abrupt and brief stop, at which time she lets out a wider-eyed, jaw-dropping gasp and quickly releases her grasp on my chest hair and jumps back in the shock and surprise that the hair on my chest is, in fact, real. Trepidation now gone but curiosity still rampant, her hand quickly returns for a few more confirmatory tugs followed by a ‘curiosity satisfied’ smile, and the other kids who by this point have now taken notice of the exchange, begin to crowd around to have their turn as a growing chorus of excited giggles begins to arise. After a snack of seaweed-covered rice balls and a group thank you from the students and staff to me and my British counterpart, I would walk away from the experience with both a generous gift bag of Japanese snacks and nick-knacks, and a lot of fond memories.

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