Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saipan with a new man

So, you're in a new relationship and for whatever reason, the need for a trip comes up. It might be to visit friends/family, or just a vacation. In my case, this was a vacation we ended up taking after our original plans were just too complicated.

My then boyfriend (and now husband) and I really like this Japanese liquour called "shochu" that has been called Japanese vodka by some. It can be made from wheat, rice, potatoes, and some other random things like buckwheat, sesame, and shiso leaf. We had been talking about going to a place in the south of Japan (Kagoshima) where a lot of this stuff is produced, and the really good stuff can only be bought locally, not say, at some store in Tokyo.

We planned and planned and planned but the train would take too long, we'd have to race to catch this boat, and that boat, if we missed even one connection, our plans would have been shot.

So, I went to a local travel agency and looked at a few flyers for trips we could take and came across Saipan. Sunny, warm, tropical and lots of American stuff we totally missed! I think the price was decent, too!

So suddenly our on-the-go trip had turned into a romantic tropical mini-vacation. Our first trip as a couple...

View from our room...

We did an excursion out to the area called "the forbidden island" or somethign like that. There was this cave-like thing with water in it that we got to swim in :)

We sample fresh-off the tree coconut juice and sashimi, and then we went snorkelling and had this whole area to ourselves:

We even took a booze cruise with some "local entertainment" who spoke about 5 different languages :) Nothing says good times like a round of Y-M-C-A!!

We ate too much at Tony Romas, watched old episodes of "Monk" and basically had a blast. This trip definitely brought us closer together and made us realise how much we love travelling with each other (cue sap!)

Korean food saved my vacation!

"Korea for a week? Isn't that kind of long?" The answer is no.

My very good friend "R" and I had planned to meet up for Japanese winter break somewhere
fun and decided Korea was the answer. We'd booked our flights, our accommodations and then it hit. A big, ugly cold and fever to boot. I had to go into work the day before I left and basically everyone told me I looked like sh*t without using those actual words. My Head Teacher went out and bought me juice, fruits and light foods so that I would actually eat something. My dear coworker D draped his coat over me to keep me warm. My assistant manager J brought me hot tea. The only person who refused to acknowledge I was sick was my manager, M.

After getting a lot of flack from the rest of the staff, M decided to let me go home. I was due at the airport (about a 2 hour train ride away) very early the next day so my wonderful Head Teacher Y offered to at least drive me to the bus station where I could sit on a warm but for the whole ride rather than a drafty train where I'd have to get off a few times to change trains.

I stayed the night at Y's while she made me drink all kinds of hot fluids to help ease the discomfort of the cold as much as she could. She also gave me some kind of Japanese energy drink saying, "don't get into the habit of drinking these, they're really strong. But I really think you need it this time!"

I managed to get myself on the plane and from the airport, onto a bus to the hostel where I was meeting R.

Prior to this trip, the only Korean food I'd had was BBQ. I was blown away but how flavourful everything is! Loved every bite! Full of ginger, chili and awesome broths, my cold and flu were gone after a few meals! Kimchi fried rice, rice cake in soup, bottomless banchan, sesame oil anything, yum!

These are some meals we had in the Insadong area:

R and I took in some mandatory sights like the palaces...

We took a day-trip out to a traditional-looking village near Seoul where kids had fun "playing" with traditional forms of punishment:

I don't know if sliding on ice, pushing yourself around with 2 pointy things is a traditional Korean activity but it sure was fun! (Even if the ice was broken in a few places...)

This is a train station at the DMZ (De-militarized zone) where they hope one day, there will be a train that will link the two Koreas. There was a timetable of the trains and everything!

New Year's Eve: A bottle of soju and riot police...

Oh, we knew something was going down on New Year's but had no idea where. We asked a waitress at the restaurant we had dinner (again, in Insadong) and she point to these 2 girls and says, "follow them". So we followed the 2 nice girls and got to the city center (or was it city hall?) for roman candles. People kept handing me lit roman candles and I tried my best to keep it as upright as possible. The streets were packed like crazy and I was so worried I'd lose R in the crowds. I think I was screaming her name a lot because people in the crowds very kindly made way for us as we clung to each other to get home. Despite all the soju and sprite I drank, I felt fine the morning after. R had very nicely fastened a plastic bag to the side of my bed in case I got sick. Now that's a true friend :) Oh, the jacket and scarf I wore on NYE suffered a lot of burn marks and holes. Soju and roman candles do not mix. Actually, I don't think roman candles should mix with anything...

To Thailand Twice

Yes, I've been to Thailand twice. The first time was to see Thailand itself (Bangkok, Koh Tao) in 2004, the second time was as a jumping point for Cambodia in 2005 (but went to Ayuthaya). Getting off the airplane and walking out of the airport was pretty straight forward, I'd been warned about the taxis and people dressed really well who try to sell you a ride into town for 800 baht. I'd been told that there is a surcharge at night so don't fly off the handle if it costs more than what your buddy paid who arrived in the morning.

Bangkok is a fun city and the local people are quite friendly and helpful. I guess I was in mostly tourist areas so they were used to pointing dazed and confused travelers in the right direction... Tuktuk drivers are a whole other story... I don't know if this very tall buddha statue is famous or not but it was "included" on one of our sight-seeing/shopping tours we got talked into. In the end, you do end up paying like 15 baht to get to your destination but you've spent about an hour pretending to be interested in fake gems.

Anyway, 2004 as you may remember was the year Southern Thailand (as well as many other regions) suffered from the Indian Ocean Sumatra Earthquake. And yes, I was there while it was happening. I believe at the exact time the tsunami hit Koh Phiphi (I'm using KP as an example b/c that's the island that I saw on the news the most) we were sitting in a broken down bus on a highway somewhere between Bangkok and the port. It was a "rockstar" style bus that had a front room with a big table and seats that went all around. We were one of the last people on the bus but we somehow got seated in there (unless no one wanted to sit in there?). It was a looong night listening to these German girls flirt with these Israeli guys and just when we thought the brunette was going to seal the deal, it was the redhead who swooped in at the last minute. Drama.

The next morning, we arrived at the port to board our boat only, wait a minute, the boat was for Koh Panang (of the [in]famous full-moon parties) and everyone on the bus was headed there except for me and my friend "M". Our boat to Koh Tao would not come until night-time and it would be an over-night boat! Argh!

The travel agent at the port area (I don't know how they work the system there. You pay one agent, get a slip of paper, and everyone on the other end knows exactly who you are and where you're going!) suggested we go shopping. Ummm... this port area was no Bangkok. A lot of open-air shops selling used shoes, furniture, clothing - not your typical tourist stuff. I believe what happened next was M demanded that the travel agent guy drive us somewhere. Our next move is something we should not have done, nor should ever do again but we got into said travel agent's car with his friend who was Snoop Dogg's Thai twin and his rooster (I'm not kidding). We got dropped off in "town", caught a "bus" (a big tuktuk with benches) and asked the driver to take us to a hotel with a pool. 2 baht later, were were there and were pleased to find they also had a massage place! My first Thai massage... M and I were led to a dark room with foam mattresses and a TV. We watched the news coverage of the tsunami in Thai, therefore had no idea where this tsunami even happened!

After our massage and hotel pool swim, we walked around the port area for a LONG time. We had dinner at Thai's version of pizza hut (Tom Yum Pizza for me!) and after arguing with our travel agent that we shouldn't have to pay for the overnight boat and winning, we boarded this beauty: (The bathroom was surprisingly clean! It even smelled fresh when I used it in the morning! Hmmm!)

I woke up in the morning covered in mosquito bites and realized that we had been sharing the boat with our lunch and dinner for the next few days... There were pigs in cages on the boats! We had to step on the cages to get off the boats but the pigs were drugged or asleep.

As with so many other popular destinations, we were swarmed by tuktuk/taxi/motorcycle drivers but once they saw where we were going, they shooed us away. Huh? What our travel agent failed to tell us (and we didn't research) was that our beach hut required a 4-wheel drive to get to! I couldn't believe my eyes at the road. I don't think people could even walk that! It was like there were chunks of road missing and then random boulders here and there. Fortunately it was the dry season otherwise we would have been in a mudslide!

What seemed like hours later, we got to our destination, settled in, and headed off to the beach. It was deserted! The next few days were spent snorkelling and relaxing. On our last day, I decided to check my e-mail and that was when I realized just how big of an earthquake and tsunami had hit. My inbox was crammed with emails from friends, family and my manager wondering if I was OK and to e-mail them ASAP. My sister had even reported us missing to the Canadian Embassy in Thailand b/c she hadn't heard anything from us. Wow!

Well, after that, it was back to Bangkok for New Year's which was toned down because of the tragedy. My first trip to Southeast Asia was pretty memorable.
Stuff I liked about Thailand:

Brightly lit streets to celebrate. Picture perfect beaches

Night Market!!! Daily life along the Chao Praya (That's a
guy selling noodles off his boat.)

Bling! Ruins

Stuff like this...

Teas I Like...

This is the first weekend where I haven't had anything planned (not going across the border) so I checked the weather forecast religiously over the last week to see whether it'd be sunny or not. It's sunny!!! (Happy sunny dance)

There's a health food store called "Nutraways" in Kerrisdale I've been meaning to get to and with the weather being so nice, I decided to walk the 45 some-odd minutes there. I found some great loose teas there. I got a bag of dried chamomile and a big bag of nettle leaf.

Chamomile, as I'm sure everyone knows, is really helpful for proper digestion. Proper digestion, as my naturopath taught me, is the key to being healthy. My current health issue is eczema. I had it as a child, it went away for my teens and early 20's, then decided to come back and kick my butt a few years back. Through VEGA (sp?) testing, blood pictures, and a LOT of visits to Dr. M, I learned how to help my body digest better. One of the things I can do is drink chamomile tea.

Nettle leaf is good for the bladder. Since the whole health kick, I've been taking supplements (some of them I have to take at night) and drinking my weight in water. This makes me wake up in the middle of the night to pee all the time! Drinking nettle leaf will help "irrigate" the bladder and hopefully let me get some sleep!