Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Angkor Wat pictures!

Here's a link to my pictures from my visit to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to see the Angkor temples.  Real blog posts to follow! 

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


A couple weekends ago (I know, it's been a long time), I paid a visit to Chinatown to buy a set of chopsticks for myself as a souvenir.  I found a very nice pair with pretty blue designs on the ends.  Unfortunately for you, chopsticks are very hard to take up-close pictures of, so no pictures here.

However, while in Chinatown, I also paid a visit to the Chinatown Heritage Centre, which is a very well done museum about the history of Chinatown.  Back in the day (early 1900s), Chinatown used to be quite sketchy - gambling houses, brothels, and opium dens galore!  Here's a recreation of a night gone wrong in a gambling den.

Not to worry, it has since cleaned up it's act.  Chinatown still exists today because, under British rule, different ethnic groups were only allowed to live in certain areas of the city.  Since the ethnic groups were so concentrated for such a long time, several ethnic neighborhoods have retained their character to this day.  However, what I didn't know was that Chinatown itself was segregated into separate neighborhoods for immigrants from different parts of China.  Most of the Chinese immigrants to Singapore came from Southern China, but they spoke a variety of different languages like Hokkien, Hakka, and Cantonese.  So, these groups tended to keep to themselves in different blocks of the Chinatown.  Here is a recreation of a clan hall, which were kind of like clubs for the different clans.

The Heritage Centre itself was in an old shophouse that used to house various shops on the ground floor, in addition to living spaces on the upper stories.  Many of these shops and living spaces had been recreated, and I thought that this was the most interesting part of the museum.  Here is a room where a family of five or six would have lived:
 And an outdoor kitchen:
And an old-timey tailor shop!

Another very interesting exhibit in the museum was about the "death houses" that existed during the early 1900s in Chinatown.  Since families were packed into such small spaces (see above picture!), it was considered a health hazard to make extra space for sick and dying old people in the family dwelling.  So, families would instead send their dying elderly members off to "death houses", where they could lay around with other old people and wait to die.  Pretty gruesome!  Here's an example of one person's area in a death house.

And one final picture:

You may be wondering what "Bullock Cart Water" is.  Well, the name of Chinatown in Mandarin is  牛车水 (niu che shui), which literally means "cow car water".  Turns out, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the water in the Chinatown area was so bad that drinking water had to be brought in from other places on the island.  This water was brought in daily on large carts pulled by cows.  I learned this in my Chinese class a few months ago after I realized that I knew what  牛车水 meant, but was completely confused as to why the Chinatown MRT stop was called as such, and asked my Chinese teacher.  Mystery solved!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Malapascua Island

Picking up where my last post left off, my friend Clayton and I headed for the Manila airport at about 2:30 AM for our 4:30 AM flight to Cebu City.  Oddly, the domestic terminal was bustling even at this early hour!  Also odd was that the plane for our flight from Manila to Cebu City was larger than the plane that we flew in on from Singapore, and Philippines Airlines offers maybe five of these flights per day.  After a quick one hour flight, we arrived in Cebu City and grabbed a cab to the bus station.  Our destination was Maya, on the northern tip of Cebu island, a four hour bus ride away.  The sun came up super early, since it was already light when our bus left at 6 AM:
This bus ride was reminiscent of many of the bus rides that I took in Nicaragua - bumpy, crowded, and very windy due to lack of air-conditioning.  However, I actually enjoy these types of bus rides, since they always bring some adventure into the trip.  For example, at one point on this particular bus trip, the bus driver braked too sharply, igniting a small but very smoky fire under one of the rear wheels.  The passengers, rather than looking at all surprised, patiently filed off the bus and took the bus's mechanical difficulties as an opportunity for a bathroom break in the nearby fields.  After about 15 minutes, the bus was sufficiently repaired (by sufficiently, I mean probably not at all, but it's not like we had a choice) and we all piled back on and made it to Maya.  From Maya, we then took a ferry to get to our final destination, Malapascua Island.
Malapascua is super small and, as yet, not as touristy as some of the other nearby islands around the main island of Cebu.  We stayed at a very small beach cottage - here's the view from our front porch.
The first day, we mostly just napped, explored the island, and went swimming.  I made plans to dive in the morning, but then didn't end up going because I was feeling poorly when I woke up.  I spent the morning sleeping in, but Clayton walked around the entire island.  It's so small that walking the entire circumference takes only about 2-3 hours.  That afternoon, we did some snorkeling.  The first issue with this snorkeling trip was that the spot recommended to us was on the other side of the island and we didn't really want to walk all that way.  The dive shop suggested that we take a motorbike.  The second problem was that we didn't know how to get to the snorkel spot, so we required a driver for said motorbike.  Unfortunately, only one driver/motorbike showed up.  So, we had the pleasant experience of fitting three full-sized adults onto one tiny motorbike.  After that experience (and me being smooshed in the middle), I had huge amounts of respect for anyone who manages to fit more than three people onto a motorbike (a common sight in Southeast Asia).  But, we made it to the snorkel spot, and saw lots of neat sea animals, like sea urchins, corals, sea stars, and small schools of fish. 

The next day, I woke up super early to go on a 5 AM dive at Monad Shoal, a spot off the coast famous for thresher shark sighting.  Normally, the sharks stay below 100 ft, but in the early mornings they come up to about 60 ft so that small organisms will clean them.  Here's what thresher sharks look like:
(Note: none of the following underwater pictures are actually mine, just illustrative examples).  I was diving with the divemaster and two friendly Dutch people who are dive instructors in Thailand.  Although I was a little nervous about seeing sharks, I definitely felt better with three very veteran divers alongside!  We descended just as the sun was coming up, and we immediately saw a shark, very close up!  It was only about 5 m away from us and lazily swam in a half circle around our group before swimming away!  The Dutch couple had an underwater camera and actually got a picture of the shark, but I haven't gotten it from them yet.  After that first shark sighting, we mostly just swam slowly around the bottom hoping that other sharks would appear.  We had one more sighting later in the dive, but not nearly as stunning as the first one.  Apparently we were super lucky to get two shark sighting in one dive, and even luckier that both were quite close up.  I was completely satisfied and felt really awesome for conquering my nervousness and diving with sharks! 

After returning to the island, I had some delicious breakfast with Clayton on our beachfront porch, then we headed back to the dive shop for another dive.  While Clayton snorkeled on the surface, I dove with the same divemaster around a small rock island just off the coast called Lapus Lapus.  I got a chance to see some smaller ocean life, like a tiny blue ringed octopus.  This guy was cool because he didn't look like anything at all until disturbed, at which point his brown skin turned beautifully blue!
We also saw several frogfish hiding under ledges.  They mostly just looked liked blobs, and I don't think I would have noticed them if the divemaster hadn't pointed them out.

Overall, another awesome dive.  After two dives, I was really tired out, so I took a quality nap in one of the hammocks provided by the hostel.  Later that day, we ate dinner at a massive buffet with all different types of Western, Asian, and Filipino food and enjoyed our last night of cheap beer.  

Starting early the next morning, we made our airplane-bus-ferry journey in reverse (no smoking buses this time).  Funnily enough, the divemaster from the day earlier was also on the ferry and the bus, as he was going to visit his family in Cebu City.  He was a bit surprised that we were taking the cheap, non aircon bus - apparently most foreigners take the nice, aircon minivans, but where would the fun be in that?!?

All in all, the trip was a lot of fun and it was very relaxing to be away from Singapore for a week.  I'll leave you with this picture of a billboard that I spotted in Cebu City:
Corned tuna - a truly romantic food!