Thursday, June 28, 2007

Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh: May 30 - June 3

I had no idea what to expect when we got to Ho Chi Minh. I tried to call my dad in Singapore to find out if my uncles even knew that Liz and I were coming but the payphone wouldn't connect so we just had to hope for the best.

When we came out of the airport, I had the feeling of being a celebrity because there were so many people sitting and standing and watching us while waiting for the arrivals to come out. Some people even brought their own little stools so it really seemed like they were in an audience and we were on the stage. Anyways, I scanned through the swarm of people not really knowing what to look for since I have never met any of my family members in Vietnam and all of a sudden I saw a sign with my name on it - the only English name in the vicinity. That was very exciting. I pointed to the sign and then at me and that's how I met two of my cousins, Khanh and LeeLee (English name Ruby).

Liz and I met many of my relatives and it took us a long time to remember who was who. It was pretty interesting. My aunt from New York was there and it was so good to see her again. Even though I've never met my other aunts and uncles before, they all treated me like they knew me my whole life. They definitely took good care of Liz and I but it got a little bit confusing when one uncle calls me up to tell me to get ready so that he could take us out and another uncle shows up at our door telling us that he'll take us out. My two aunts and one uncle from Calgary flew in a couple days after us too and it didn't feel like I haven't seen them for months. It was kind of neat. A thing about my family is that not everyone can speak Chinese, especially the wives of my uncles and also their children.

Now the reason why Liz and I were (and a few other relatives) in Ho Chi Minh was because my cousin MiMi was getting married. Only my parents and my grandma were missing. My parents are hard workers and spend money to go anywhere far and my grandma was just there a month before to celebrate her 80th birthday. Anyways, everyone was preparing for the wedding but someone was still always available to babysit Liz and I. My cousin Hoa took us for some sightseeing like the President's House which gave a different perspective on what happened in Vietnam War, which someone told me is called the American war there. One of my uncles took us out to his bar and then a nightclub. I thought that was really funny but it was a fun night because Liz and I got to ride on motobikes in this city that has really crazy traffic. My cousin Khanh took me out to a nightclub one night and I realized how cool it was to have cousins the same age. Ruby would also take us out a lot with her friends. They even took us to the Cu Chi tunnels , which were used during the war to defeat the US. The people lived in these narrow tunnels that had many levels and rooms underground. Unless you were the size of Liz and I, you would not fit through the opening.

Back to the wedding. On the wedding day, everyone was so busy trying to get ready that they all forgot about Liz and I so we had one day of freedom to ourselves...kind of. In the morning, the groom and his party would come to the our house but in order for them to gain access, they had to give a red pocket full of money to the bride's party. There would be some negotiating and teasing but once that is done, everyone goes into the house and the newly weds have to bow to the ancestor table, exchange rings, offer tea to the parents, grandparents and anyone else in the family that has a higher "rank" than the newlyweds. Then the bride leaves to go to the grooms residence to prepare for the banquet at night.

At the banquet, the bride and groom get to pour champagne down a pyramid of glasses, offer wine to the parents, cut the cake and take a lot of pictures with the guests. Also, the bride changes her dress a couple of times during the evening. The people would just show up, eat, sing some karaoke and the evening would be over before 10pm. Liz and I found it weird that the party would end so early but that's just what we are used to I guess.

I really miss my relatives now. I want to know more about them since they know so much about me. I can't wait to go back in August to see them again. Also, they know where all the best food is in Ho Chi Minh!

Wedding Pictures:

Sightseeing Pictures:

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Singapore, May 29

I think we ended up in Singapore because we found an affordable plane ticket back to Vietnam from there but it was worth dropping by to see what it was like. We took a bus from Melaka to get to Singapore and we headed straight to Little India to look for a cheap and clean hostel. We checked into something called Fragrant House or something which had an IKEA feel to it.

To keep ourselves busy, we decided to walk all over town. We did such a good job at killing time that we almost missed the Night Safari. The last train back into the more central area of Singapore ended around 11:30pm. We didn't get to Chinatown to have some hawker food for dinner until 7:30pm and the zoo is kind of near the edge of the city so it took a long time for us to get there afterwards. I think we had less than an hour to whip through the zoo so we hopped on one of those carts that takes you around the zoo with a girl narrating in a voice that seemed like it lacked true expression. We even managed to get some pictures with some animals in the end too. You know, the ones where you get to pet the snake and look like you're pals with a little cub.


Thursday, June 21, 2007

Malaysia, Melaka: May 26-28

We actually spent all of the 26 travelling from the islands to Melaka. When we got into Melaka we got a little bit confused because the city looked very deserted. It was weird and we had a bit of trouble looking for the area where all the hostels were. We tracked it down after spotting a foreigner riding a bike down the street and asking him for directions. We checked into a place called Traveller's Lodge which was a nice place with a nice living room area. We even felt like cooking our own dinner there one night. Coleslaw with chicken, raisons and apples and it was surprisingly good.

Melaka has a lot of sightseeing. We went to see St. Paul's hill and the Sultan's Palace and that was enough for us. We checked out Chinatown one night and saw some really great food there so we planned to go back the next night but the next night, the place was completely deserted. Apparently, Chinatown is only lively on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. That was just too bad on our part. We did a bit of shopping but not much since we didn't want to haul our stuff all around asia with us. Oh and we went for a rickshaw ride one night.

The best thing that we did was sign up for a bike tour with our hostel. Our bike guide's name is Alias and his business is called "Melaka on Wheels". You'll see him mentioned in the next Edition of Lonely Planet so he'll probably be a busy guy after that. His bike trip is good because he took us through the palm tree plantation and rubber plantation and along the way you get to see all these different trees baring all sorts of fruits. Durian, jackfruit, pineapples, bananas, starfruit, rambutan, papayas, dragonfruits, custard apples and even herbs and coffee beans and cocoa. He sends you home with a lot of new knowledge and if the fruit is ripe, you get to try it. He also made us some toys from seeds and rubber and told us a lot of funny jokes. It was definately worth our money.


Malaysia, Perhentian Islands: May 23-25

After a jungle adventure, it makes sense to plop ourselves on a nice beach. We travelled by bus and then by speedboat to the Perhentian Islands after Taman Negara. On our rush to get to the islands, we didn't stop at an ATM to refresh our funds so we each had about $30 each to spend on Long Beach which is on the smaller island. It was fine, but that meant we couldn't go snorkelling. We are kicking ourselves now because we have been told that it is the best snorkeling since there aren't that many tourists and you get to see turtles and sharks. We instead invested in doing our laundry. Clothes that have gone through the jungle smells really rancid so getting them cleaned was definately a priority.

Anyways, we stayed at the cheapest chalet that we could find called Symphony Chalet. Our place was pretty good. The guys who worked there were from Thailand and we would chat with them while swinging in the hammocks during the heat of the day when it was too hot to do anything but nothing. We got some swimming and sunbathing done, watched some movies at the restaurants, picked tiny seashells, and I managed to get a million mosquito/ sandfly bites on my legs. It's kind of sad but Liz and I got bored of the beach really fast. Maybe if we tried to party we'd have better stories to tell but we were in bed pretty early everynight. Oh well. The island is beautiful and I would go back just to try the snorkeling maybe.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Jungle Pictures

Sorry I have been out of the loop. I am in Vietnam now but I promised jungle pictures from Malaysia so here they are now...
Hope to catch up soon!