Saturday, February 9, 2013

Halfway 'Round the World!

For some reason, I wasn't able to blog while on my trip.  No matter what I tried, it would not upload.  So here is my travel journal...a bit late but still an adventure!

We've arrived!  After 50+ hours of travel, we are in of sun, sound and sights! It’s not so good to begin your trip with only 4 hours of sleep the night before you leave, but there was so much to do and we had to be up early, so we left in the dark of early morning for the airport. I’m a morning person, so I was actually not feeling too tired...and I also was on a bit of a pre-trip energy high as my brain whirled with all the last-minute details, ticking off my external list on paper as well as my internal checklist. We had a smooth flight to San Francisco and a short layover until our very long 13-hour flight to Seoul. That was also a smooth flight, which I was thankful for because I get airsick quite easily. But halfway through the flight I felt a dull headache begin. Not wanting to take any chances, I popped a Tylenol...but it got worse not better, so I added an ibuprofen to the arsenal. That didn’t do the trick either, and when we began our descent into Seoul the nauseousness started. I reluctantly grabbed the barf bag and held it at the ready, while I closed my eyes and willed the plane to land. The waves mounted, and my mouth began salivating, my nose running, and I dry-heaved. Then we landed and I rejoiced to think I made it! We had just a one-hour lay-over in Seoul, enough time to get off the plane, shiver with surprise at the cold, snowy, -11 weather, make a quick bathroom stop to take an Aleve for my headache and a motion sickness pill for the nausea, and then walk to the transfer gate, re-clear security, and get back on the same plane and sit in our very same seats! Oh, well...a brisk walk after being seated for 13 hours felt good. My stomach was still quite unsettled, but I had a chatty neighbor who happened to be from Canada and was a well-seasoned world traveler who had lived in Singapore for 6 years and gave us all kinds of information and travel tips.  I listened politely and even with interest, but I really wanted to close my eyes and lean my head back. As soon as the plane took off, I felt queasy. I had to ignore my new friend and shut my eyes. Before we’d even reached cruising altitude, suddenly, with almost no warning, I was throwing up. I scrambled for the barf bag and couldn’t get it open fast enough. I simply covered my mouth with the closed bag using my left hand and pounded Jeff’s leg with my right hand and bolted out of my seat. Poor Jeff was taken by surprise and fumbled with his seatbelt, trying to get out of my way. I pushed past him and pushed past the stewardess and ran for the bathroom, luckily only one seat behind me (I repented for my earlier complaints about having to sit so near the bathroom!). On the entire 13-hour flight we had just completed I hadn’t used the bathroom at all, and now just 5 minutes into the flight here I was! But after all the misery of the last 10 hours, I was finally free. I instantly felt better. I washed my face and rinsed out my mouth and returned to my seat. My headache was milder and eventually disappeared altogether. I skipped the meal, just to be safe, and we landed without incident in Singapore.

Now this was more like it! It was 1:00 in the morning in Singapore, but the airport and streets were bustling. The airport was clean, bright and efficient. Everything was decorated in oranges and red lanterns in honor of Chinese New Year occurring this week. The taxi was waiting and the driver was also a great mini tour guide. Our hotel was clean and comfortable and we settled in and then I said, "Let’s go get something to eat at the hawkers." Jeff wasn’t as enthusiastic. "Come on, Hon," I coaxed. When will we ever be able to do this again? We need to experience everything we can in the short time we’re here." He lay down on the bed, even more unwilling. I had to plead, "I’ve had nothing to eat but crackers and ginger ale since lunch, and even my lunch I lost...I’m starving!" Finally, he agreed. We strolled the two blocks between our hotel and the hawkers and reveled in the balmy night air. The walk and the weather woke Jeff up and he was suddenly hungry and interested in the scene. The waiter sat us down right in front of a fan that sucked in the warm night air and blew it back on us in a pleasant breeze. He handed us the menu and kindly pointed out what to have and how to order. I chose dumpling and noodle soup, not wanting to test my tummy too quickly, and Jeff ordered garlicky noodles, chicken and greens. Then we shared a refreshing glass of watermelon juice. It was perfect. We walked back to our room and crawled into the cool, crisp white sheets on a very hard felt wonderful! There is nothing like stretching full length after being cramped for 24 hours!

I fell asleep easily and woke at around 4:30 a.m. I got up and wandered around, not knowing quite what to do. I didn’t want to wake Jeff but there was really nothing to do in the dark. I finally thought I might as well try going back to sleep and see what would happen. I was a little doubtful, because that just doesn’t happen at home.  But I did fall asleep for another hour!  Then Jeff and I woke up at the same time feeling awake and ready to go. We ate breakfast at the hotel restaurant. I wanted to be cultural yet kind to my stomach, so I chose bland things like fresh fruit, muesli, rice porridge, coconut rice, scrambled eggs, fish, and noodles. Sounds like a lot, but I took just a dab of each, and everything I tried was good. As we ate our breakfast, we sat next to the pool, which had glass sides so you could see people swimming. Cool! I wished I could do it, but I didn’t have a bathing suit and I was a little too uncomfortable with the thought of swimming in front of a restaurant full of people. Jeff said he would go in and I could take a picture, so we asked how to get into the pool. We were instantly escorted by one of the amazingly helpful Singapore staff not to the pool by the restaurant but into the elevator and to the top floor of our hotel where a beautiful, private roof-top pool lay still, blue and undisturbed in the sun. Ohhhh! Suddenly I was incredibly disappointed that I hadn’t packed my bathing suit! I was determined to swim, though, and I decided that since it was so private, there should be no problem with me swimming in shorts and a tank top. So back to our room we went to change, and then Jeff realized that his shorts were in our checked luggage, not our carry-on, so it was already tagged and sent through to India. Now he was the disappointed one!  I, on the other hand, was ready to go in my black Nike shorts and white tank top, looking all wrong for the activity but totally not caring!  We hurried back to the roof top and then I slid into the cool water, swimming through pink blossoms that had fallen from the trees. From the pool we could see right across the sea below...what a lovely view. Now this is what a lay-over should be! How many times had I been trapped in an airport, whiling away the hours browsing in duty-free stores or trying to sleep on rock-hard airport chairs! I felt like I was on vacation! Jeff relaxed on a lounge chair in the shade, enjoying the view, while I soaked in the water and soaked up the sun!

After Jeff had had enough heat, we headed back to our room to pack up and head out for a day of sightseeing with Moses, a friend of Jeff’s sister, who graciously gave up his time to be our personal tour guide.  He greeted us with oranges, the traditional Chinese New Year’s gift and then ushered us and our luggage into his car.  He treated us to a wide variety of activities...driving us from one end of the city to the other, showing us the beautiful park along the waterfront, the trees imported from Africa and planted everywhere, the Bayfront Gardens, the walkways and port and cityscape, and then he parked the car and took us into the heart of city...first stop, lunch in Chinatown. Because Moses is of Chinese heritage, he wanted to show us Singapore’s famous Chinatown market, shops, restaurants and museum. We started with his favorite restaurant, which was noisy and crowded...a good sign, he said! While we waited for a table to come open, we ducked into the shop next door...a Chinese "drug store" filled with jar after jar of the oddest items. Herbs, animal parts, plants and foods that were known for their medicinal qualities were dried or preserved in liquid and then displayed on shelves and dispensed to customers. Creepy but fascinating! The girl from the restaurant came to get us, and we left dried pig carcass, fish guts, duck bills and herbs and sat down to order lunch! Moses did the selecting and we began our meal with a Chinese New Year’s traditional salad dish. It was served on one large plate and arranged artfully in little piles...chilled rice noodles, Chinese grapefruit, bright red and green-dyed cabbage (I think!), peanuts, cilantro and crispy wonton pieces, symbolizing things like happiness, good fortune and other New Year’s wishes. We were handed chopsticks and then told to stir everything together, all of us at the same time, which symbolized sharing all the elements together. Then after the salad was well mixed, we placed a portion on our own plates to eat. It was delicious! I actually took seconds. Then our hot food came, and we enjoyed beef "stew" over homemade thick rice noodles, chicken and noodles in a garlicky soy sauce, and chicken and noodles in chicken broth. To drink I had barley juice. Weird thought, but it actually tasted like a nutty iced tea, sweet and refreshing. While we were eating, a thunderstorm rolled in. After deep, rumbling thunder, it began to pour. It was such a great storm to listen to and watch that I actually wasn’t even disappointed by the rain. Moses promised us it would only last about an hour and we’d be able to do all we had planned. He was right...we did do all we planned, just in the rain! But it was so warm out the rain wasn’t that bothersome...other than what it did to my hair!

We left the Chinese restaurant and explored the market, keeping under the heavy tarps to mostly stay dry, but our feet were soaked! Every so often, when the tarps filled with water, one of the booth owners would poke it with a stick, and water would cascade out of it on the street, pouring over our feet. It didn’t bother me...I actually wanted to laugh! Everything is an adventure in a foreign land! Moses knew the tangled passageways of the market very well, and guided us through with ease...if you call squeezing through passages, down alleys, over crates, under tarps, and across streets easy! He stopped often so we could try things like fried dumplings, bean curd pudding, Chinese candy, and durian. We had already been told by our taxi driver the night before that we must try durian, Singapore’s national fruit.  It is described as the fruit that "tastes like heaven and smells like hell." I really enjoy the food scene, so I was totally up for trying this fruit and casually mentioned it to Moses. As we were winding our way through the market we came to a section where there was a terrible odor. We had passed a booth selling meat, and I was certain there must be a pile of guts rotting under a crate. The stench was getting stronger as we went, even after we had passed the meat booth, and I commented to Jeff under my breath about how bad it smelled.   We rounded a corner, and then came to stop in front of a fruit stand...and there was the source of that awful smell! Moses pointed to a funny-looking brown thing the size of a pineapple, only rounder with a rough exterior consisting of prickly points. "Durian," Moses said. "You want to try?" The smell was nauseating, and I couldn’t imagine how something that smelled bad could taste good, since smell and taste are nearly one. "Sure!" I said. I watched as the owner took a sharp knife and sliced the fruit open, revealing creamy white flesh. The smell didn’t improve. I was handed some chunks of fruit in a box, and I gingerly picked up the very soft fruit with a custard-like texture. I nibbled at it. It was sweet...and awful. It tasted like it smelled—rotten. It also tasted a bit like onion and garlic. Jeff was even funnier to watch. He’s not very good at masking his feelings! Moses wasn’t offended. He laughed, and then had the fruit bagged up to take home to his family, who loves it. The worst part of all that? We had to ride the rest of the day in the car with that stinky bag of durian! It made me want to gag every time we opened the car door!

When we were done at the market, we stopped for authentic Singapore coffee. It is what I know as "Vietnamese" coffee...very strong coffee poured over sweetened condensed milk. It was very good and was the only thing that took away the taste of that awful durian still lingering in my mouth! With a bit of caffeine to re-energize us, we headed to the financial district of town and admired the beautiful downtown buildings and skyscrapers with their unique architectural design that, to me, was a combination of ultra-modern and space-age, tucked next to old British structures full of dignity and grace. We walked along the river as it wound through a gorgeous park and got rained on yet one more time, and then it was time to go.  We said goodbye to our new friend and then boarded our plane to India. It was a whirlwind visit, but such a great way to spend a lay-over and a great way to beat jet lag!!

My first meal since losing my lunch!
(Still looking a little pale!)

Fresh-pressed watermelon juice...delish!

Oranges and red ribbon are the
traditional Chinese New Year's symbols

View from our hotel room

Swimming in my shorts and tank top!

Singapore's skyline

Famous tree park and hotel in the background

Chinatown!  So cool!

Buddhist temple

Chinese lunch with Pastor Moses

More market

Historic hotel...gorgeous inside and out

Downtown Singapore...such a clean
and beautiful city

Waterfront through downtown



  1. Oh Karyn, you certainly kept my interest. I actually was hoping for your writings to be longer. WHAT an experience. Loved the pictures!
    My leaving the States will be when I go to heaven.
    Love you, and thank you.

  2. I have enjoyed reading about your trip! I love that pic of you in the pool! So cute and peaceful!