Our current time zone: GMT +8 (We're home in Singapore!)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

~~GO~~ Highlights: Part 1

1 year ago.

2 people.

10 months.

19 USA states.

20 countries.

Presenting, the highlights of our Year of Adventure:

(credit to Dan for doing the video!)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It's Feeding Time!

We missed Chinese food so much!

Here's a snapshot of some of the delicacies that we wolfed down in Hong Kong...

Our first meal in Asia after 10 months. The iced milk tea was out of this world - we sipped, stared and sighed. Ahhhhh....

Char siew!!!!! Real char siewwww!!! Not little scrappy bits of red pork in noodles like we ate in Ecuador.

Char siew and nai cha again... and again... and again... and again...

A welcomed change from, dare I say, Ben & Jerry's...

Afternoon dim sum tea at Serenade Restaurant

My little siew mai

Pretty lacy patterns on a fluffy wu kok

Cute little sesame seeds sitting pretty on a char siew sou

STUFFED! 2 people is not a good number for a much-anticipated dim sum feast!

Moving on... Hong Kong's famous roast goose on rice

Isn't this little eggy darling oh-so-cute?! (and yummy!)

Next stop....


Monday, March 15, 2010

Hellooooo Hong Kong!

We are so excited to be back in Asia!

Between trying to catch forty winks and catching up on movies in my cramped little window seat on Cathay Pacific, I kept toggling to the video channel to follow the route of the tiny airplane icon which represented our current location. After hours and hours of hovering over the big blue Pacific Ocean, our mini-me finally closed in on a giant land mass - China.

We arrived in Hong Kong at about 6am and breezed through immigration. Trying to navigate a Chinese city with 11 bags worn, hooked, strapped and slung all over our bodies is no joke. Getting entangled in straps when you screw up the order that the bags have to be worn or removed is even more un-funny. It feels like being trapped in a straight-jacket.

Still, emerging from the surging masses of passengers anxiously waiting for the luggage carousal to spit out their checked bags, we were reminded that there is nothing quite like Asian hospitality. True, we were in Hong Kong, where service staff have a reputation for being loud and rude. But we were received with nothing less than a warm welcome and friendly assistance when we bought our train tickets and when boarding the free shuttle bus from the airport to the train station.

Despite the risk of sounding really emo and sappy, I have to say this: what really touched our hearts that early morning was the sight of luggage trolleys neatly lined up along the train platform, all ready to receive passengers heading into the city. Even though there was not a single staff in sight, they had somehow made their presence felt simply by placing the trolleys there, for no other reason than for us to use at our convenience.

Throughout our time in the US, we had been so sick and tired of having to pay US$5 just to use a trolley at all the airports. There is no such thing as a free trolley. Having to swipe my credit card just to disengage a locked trolley, just so that I can use it for 10 minutes, is unfriendly, inconvenient and incredibly irritating.

I loved Hong Kong already.

Hellooooooo heavenly city!

Actually, I love Cathay Pacific. If not for the free stopover included in our ticket to LA, I might never have visited Hong Kong. Friends are surprised to know that this was my maiden trip to the city. Yeah, it's just a short 3hrs by plane from home, but Hong Kong, with its jam-packed streets and 24/7 hustle and bustle, had never seemed like much of a vacation destination to me. Given 3 hours in the air, I would rather visit Sri Lanka - which I did. Like... 7 times?

But after weeks of trawling cookie-cutter malls and fastfood joints in US' highway towns where time kinda just moseys along, Hong Kong's fast-paced neon-lit lifestyle started to hold some attraction for me. There are only so many Targets and Walmart Supercentres one can push a cart around before getting bored. I was looking forward to street food, walking alongside people on the street, busy cha chan tengs and even speeding around town on the MTR. Everybody warned us about the jams, the crowds and the noise, and suggested that we escape to Hong Kong's quieter islands instead. But after being rained in for days at a stretch in Portland, and rather bored by life in slow-mo in Palm Springs, being amongst lots of people was exactly what we longed for. We actually wanted see some sign of human life out there!

First, we had to find ourselves a hotel room. The problem with many hotels in Hong Kong was that while most of them were relatively affordable, WiFi access is charged separately - and expensively. Finally, we settled for less-than-luxurious lodging and free WiFi at Alisan Guesthouse, located right above the Causeway Bay MTR station. For S$40 per night, we were given a tiny room with minimal walking space (thank goodness our luggage could fit under the bed), air-conditioning and an ensuite bathroom. The owners were friendly and spoke really good English. They even made appointments for much-anticipated acupressure massages for us at their favourite massage and reflexology centre.

If we had been any taller, we would not have been able to fit into the bed

Bags stored, showers taken and limbs massaged, it was time to explore the city!

All the names of the various neighbourhoods in Hong Kong used to confuse me to bits. I had no mental map of the city from reading online travel guides and all the recommendations that my friends' helpfully dished out over Facebook. Thankfully, being on the ground helped alot and I finally got my orientation all sorted out.

Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon

We took a slow ride on the Star Ferry from Hong Kong Island to mainland Kowloon. Choosing the scenic route over the zippy MTR line gave us a good view of Hong Kong's famous skyline, cloudy at it was. We strolled down the Avenue of the Stars, Eastern cinema's equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Unfortunately, I'm not a fan of Chinese movies, so spotting stars' stars wasn't too exciting an activity, given that I couldn't recognise 90% of the names out there.

Thankfully, Bruce Lee was there to spice things up on the windy waterfront.

Little Dragon Lee vs Kungfu Panda Cho

And with all those requests to deliver a Golden Tiger this year, I thought I had better make a few furry friends for good luck.

Wave a furry paw for luck!


We were here to ride the never-ending line of ascending escalators in search of The Peak.

Hip, crazy Soho

Shops crammed into every corner

Hong Kong Zoo & Botanical Gardens

Funnily enough, we never made it to The Peak. The escalators finally came to a stop midway up the hill. We tried locating the Peak Tram but ended up descending, rather than ascending.

Lost. Very lost.

We walked into what we thought were the Botanical Gardens and somehow found ourselves amidst gibbons and orang utans at the zoo...

No view from The Peak here. How about some primates instead?

In the end, we satisfied ourselves with a view of the city from the almost-peak. Super fail.

A good enough view since we were too lazy to re-navigate and get up to The Peak proper

Causeway Bay & Wan Chai

Being terribly jet-lagged, we spent most of our 3 days in Hong Kong in our own backyard. We would wake up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed every morning at 4am, all ready to start the day. Since the world out there wasn't ready to receive us yet, we busied ourselves writing entries for the blog and planning our activities for the day.

We didn't need to plan too much, really. By 5pm, we were dragging our aching feet along the narrow streets and lumbering around like sleep-deprived cavemen - hunched over till our knuckles almost kissed the ground. Try hard as we did to fight the sleepiness, we eventually decided that it was no fun being tired and grouchy in Hong Kong, and hit the bed for a short snooze, emerging from our mid-afternoon hibernation at 10pm in search of food.

And at 10pm, there was no lack of food at all - and it's not all burgers and pizzas. We're talking about real food here! (and that will bring us to our next post... everybody's favourite topic!)

I shall say it again - I LOVE ASIA!

Causeway Bay - still very alive at 10pm

Friday, March 5, 2010

Back Where We Started

Since the sis is too swamped with work since coming back from Portland to do her long-overdue second post on the city, we're moving on without her first ... to sunny Palm Springs! (But check back for her post on how 3 squawking Asians held up a chairlift while snowboarding in Oregon. It could just have been us...)

We left Portland in the midst of a grey wet winter for good ol' southern California. We flew on Southwest - our favourite US domestic carrier after JetBlue - cos they let passengers check in two bags each for free. Which is, well, two more free bags than suckypucky American Airlines and United. Those wretched moneysuckers. Plus, Southwest is pretty affordable and at least you get fed a packet of nuts and a drink. While the snack selection can't beat JetBlue's free-for-all basket selection of blue corn chips, animal crackers and Doritos munchie-mix, Southwest's offerings did the job when it came to fighting the munchies during the short flight to Los Angeles.

Upon landing at the airport, we picked up our spiffy rented Chrysler Cruiser and headed for Palm Springs right away. No time to waste when it comes to chasing sunshine during winter! We loved what greeted us on the other end of the highway two hours later:





The weather was beautiful. We got tanned golden brown while walking around outdoors in air-con temperatures.

Winter in Palm Springs!

Life in this desert oasis is a bit atas or geared towards high-spending retirees. Beautiful resorts and golf courses abound, alongside posh restaurants, chic cafes and boutiques-that-I-didn't-even-consider-entering.

But travelers on a budget need not forgo a visit to Palm Springs. We got a room at Travelodge for about US$60 per night.

Travelodge - highly-rated on the ever-so-reliable TripAdvisor website

Travelodge held true to its promise of 'affordably hip rooms':

Easily the most modern and stylish of all the motel rooms that we've stayed at in the USA. And we have stayed in MANY rooms on this trip!

Crisp white bed linen! *salivate* I love love love the feeling of clean white sheets!

The room was perfect. We were really pleased to be treated to such a nice stay during our last days on the continent. It really helped that Pizza Hut down the road had an unbelievable promotion - US$10 for any pizza: any topping, any size! It was really hard not to go crazy and 'whack' an entire large Super Supreme just because it was the most value-for-money. Our inner Singaporean cringed when we forced ourselves to be sensible and stick to a modest 'medium'. Even then, I was stuffed, especially since the cheerful waitress kept bringing us Pepsi refills non-stop, on-the-house.

Fantastic weather and much-missed palm trees aside, our real reason for being in Palm Springs was for the Desert Hills outlet mall! It's one of the biggest Premium Outlets mall in the US and it took us two days to cover all the stores. Aside from scoring some good deals for ourselves (well I had to buy new work clothes, didn't I?) we helped friends pick up a few branded goodies from Coach, Kate Spade and Gucci. Ooh la laaaaa! But even with the factory prices, there was still stuff that I flat-out couldn't afford or see any good sense in splurging on - like Diane Von Furstenburg's dressy prints and golden Jimmy Choo slingbacks. As drool-worthy was they were, I just couldn't find it in me to be a guilt-free high-spender. (And I guess that's a good thing? The husband seems to agree.) While the shopping in Desert Hills was good, it just didn't have the added kick that tax-free shopping in Oregon did!

In between trawling the discount racks and chowing down on pizza, we embarked on a more serious mission in LA - paying tribute to Michael Jackson's star along Hollywood Boulevard.

Here's to you, King of Pop

The rest of LA didn't hold any interest for us since we had already played tourist in Hollywood and chilled out on the idyllic Santa Monica pier at the start of our trip. Except for one thing (or person, rather):


Why does my face look 3 times bigger than hers in this photo?!

Tsui Lyn and I were classmates in SCGS in Sec 3 & 4, and later in the same arts faculty in VJ for 2 years. Since then, she's been living in LA and working in the film industry doing post-production marketing initiatives. It was great catching up with each other 12 years later over coffee along 3rd Street Promenade in hip little Santa Monica.

Back in LA. Back where we started this amazing journey down the Americas 10 months before. We hadn't even made it home yet but it felt like our adventure of a lifetime had come full circle already.

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