30 November 2007

another weekend trip

while i'm grateful that i'm living and working in singapore right now, there's another place that's fast climbing my "countries i'd jump at the chance to live and work in" list. hongkong. i'm loving it a lot, i've had no qualms about visiting it twice this year. the first one was in february with my college buddies, and the latest was with my family.

as a triple birthday treat to my youngest sis, older brother and my dad, the four of us went there for a weekend getaway.

colored art installation at the ifc

view from the top of ifc mall

the last time i went to ocean park, it was the height of summer and the place was packed. so getting on to the rides took a long time. but this time of year, it's really cold and there were few visitors to the park. this gave my brother and my dad the perfect opportunity to ride the rollercoaster. TWICE!

we spent time at the po lin monastery in lantau island to see the iconic giant buddha. it's a good thing i visited the place again, because i discovered my previous tripmates and i missed walking along the "wisdom path" which ended near lantau peak.

giant bell inside the monastery

at the end of the path is a hill with giant wooden planks formed in a circle, carved with chinese inscriptions. my dad says jackie chan practiced his kung fu moves on top of those planks. but i seriously doubt that. my brother was happy enough having his picture taken with a real-life monk.

at tussaud's, we had fun walking through wax replicas of celebrities. my dad was game enough to include himself in rembrandt's painting...

while i felt up aaron kwok...

and for a moment, i was mrs. beckham

there were other places we went to in hongkong. most, if not all, i've already been to. but there's something special about going to places with your family, isn't there? makes it more meaningful. so, to the three celebrants in the family, i hope you enjoyed the trip as much as i did!

p.s.:aside from this being the first out-of-country family trip (sans my mom and elder sister), it was also my first time to ride a helicopter. but that story's for another time...

more hongkong pics here

27 November 2007

roughing it up

a week later, while i had barely gotten over the whole india experience (will i ever get over it?), i went with a couple of friends to sulai selangor in malaysia. it's a couple of hours away from kl where, for a fee, you can go white water rafting and abseiling, and pretend that for a day, you're an extreme sports athlete.

since there was quite a number of us, it was decided we wear red shirts. i gleefully assumed this was to make it easier to find us in the river when we fall off our rafts.

pic from chilli d

it was a team effort to maneuver our rafts. there was a lot of slipping, and falling over. but there was definitely lots of fun.

pic from chilli d

as if white water rafting wasn't enough to get our adrenaline going, the tour operator challenged us to go abseiling. which means, we go down this waterfall..

pic from m

chilli f and one-of-my-boys-at-the-office, jp were the first brave pair to go down. and while the others were contemplating their strategies on how to go down without slipping and slamming themselves on the rocks (for amateurs, there's absolutely no way this isn't going to happen), i hammed it up for the camera. i was almost sure that i wasn't doing it..

pic from chilli f

when there were only a few of us left who hadn't gone down, ex-officemate m and i decided to do it. i figured, what the heck. i don't want to grow old and regret that i missed this experience. so we geared up.

pic from m

yeah, we were smiling that time. but when you're down there, with water pounding your body(and your face), struggling to look for some stable rock to put your feet on, you will definitely NOT be smiling. i thought i was doing fine on that first part, but towards the lower end of the fall, that's when i totally felt the water pressure.

we're proud to say we all finished the course. and not without some bumps and bruises. maybe next time, we'll go deep sea diving, or climb a mountain, or jump off a cliff... here's to more adventures, red team!

pic from m

*if you've noticed, i've been filching pictures from my tripmates. here are their albums:
chilli d, pretty m, chilli f

12 November 2007

the indian adventure - conclusion

late afternoon, we arrived in new delhi. since our first day, we weren't able to go around much on this city, santosh made a big effort to take us to the place's important sights. in a show of indian hospitality, he welcomed us to his home to meet his wife and kids.

needless to say, we were touched by this gesture. his wife made some chai (tea) and offered us biscuits for afternoon snacks.

on our way out of their house, we met a nice old lady smoking on her hookah. chilli a had the privilege of trying it out.

miss r's pic, modified a little by moi..

we had another solemn moment when we visited the rajghat .

the last place we visited was the red fort. unfortunately, we didn't have time to go inside. well, besides the fact that it was closed for the night, we had a plane to catch.

so aside from seeing some amazing things and meeting nice people in india, i learned something from this trip. well, several actually. first, that bollywood stars are really gorgeous. second, goat cheese tastes great. third, it's not the number of people who go with you on a trip that matters. there's a sense of intimacy (not to mention convenience) in travelling with a few (and good) friends. and lastly, travelling should be more about collecting stamps in your passport. it should ultimately make you let go of your preconceived notions of people and places.

this concludes my recollection of our little indian adventure. i hope you've enjoyed checking out the pictures and are encouraged to visit it at least once. i guarantee that it is definitely worth it.

now on to the next adventure(s)..

11 November 2007

the indian adventure -- part 4

how did we start our last day in this wonderful country? we woke up at five thirty in the morning. why? first, we were advised by santosh that it is best to go to the taj very early, to avoid the crowd. secondly, we were wearing something special. ah yes, the saris miss r and i purchased, as well as the punjabi suit for chilli a were to see the light of day on our very first

there is much ceremony to wearing a sari, i must tell you. it's six meters of beautiful silk that you have to wrap around your body, without any buttons or pins. and for people like us who're used to wearing just shirts and jeans, donning a sari is quite an experience. there's a certain skill to putting it on. santosh thoughtfully talked his friend's wife into waking up very early to go to our hotel and help us put it on.
(and hopefully, not the last) visit to the taj.

at about six thirty, we arrived at the taj. we had to transfer to an "eco-friendly" van to get us to the complex. and even then, it didn't take us directly to the taj. we had to walk a few meters, not minding the strange looks we were receiving from the locals who're probably wondering why we were attired that way.

we paid about seven hundred rupees to get inside. that included bottled water and something to wrap your slippers in if you're to walk around the taj's white marble floors. then, we haggled with photographers offering to take souvenir pictures of the three of us inside the taj, never minding that each of us had our own cameras. but we were tourists, of course. so we did take a package. here's the first picture...

everyone is subjected to a quick inspection at the entrance. no food and drinks are allowed inside, save for the bottled water given when the tickets are purchased. as opposed to ex-officemate j's experience with the lady guard at the entrance, i found her friendly enough to fix my sari, never minding the queue of other tourists behind us. so that stopped other lady tourists from coming in for about five minutes.

from that picture above, we set to walk in to the gardens. and there it was, from beyond the entry way, and above the heads of a lot of other tourists, our very first up close view of the magnificent taj..

as it was very early, the morning mist had not yet lifted, and from our vantage point, it appeared hazy, dream-like and very pink.

there was a sense of urgency to get closer. but our earnest photographer told us we had to take pictures from the entry. so, there was a fifteen minute pause to oblige. this was one hilarious picture taken of chilli a and i. the photographer insisted there just had to be a "couple" picture. chili a and i were incredulous, but did this cheesy pose anyway. i, for my part, couldn't stop laughing.

as we walked closer, our guide briefed us on the history of this structure. it took twenty two years to build the taj. as we know, it was a memorial to the shah jahan's wife when she died giving birth to their fourteenth child.

the taj is bound by two red sandstone buildings on each side. he pointed out that the one facing the east was a mosque (the taj is closed for tourists on fridays, it being a day of worship for muslims). we asked what the structure on the other side was for. was it a waiting area, a prayer area? our guide's amusing reply was: "it doesn't serve any purpose. it was built there for balance".

we went to the side of the building first...just to marvel at the realization that we are this close to one of the wonders of the world. and of course, to take a lot of pictures.

finally, we stepped on to the complex. wearing our paper socks, we joined the hoardes of tourists and local visitors to have a brief look inside. again, pictures were not allowed inside the tomb. there were two crypts (just replicas, we were told. the real ones were beneath the floors). the big one was for the shah, and the smaller, for his wife. there's a solemn feeling inside the tomb. i guess people appreciated the love between these two ancient people.

as we stepped outside the tomb, our picture-taking frenzy took over. similar to the places we've seen in india, the taj's design is also hand-carved, and hand-painted with mineral paint. imagine ancient workers engraving on the most valuable marble in the land. i wonder what happened if they made a mistake.

during our time taking pictures, there were several instances of some locals asking to have their pictures taken with us. one of those, was this nice lady and her family.

for about an hour, we walked around, alternating between taking pictures of the taj and the people. and ourselves.

i think we could have stayed at the taj for a couple more hours just to stare at it. unfortunately, we were pressed for time. we had to drive back to delhi to catch our flight that night. we left the taj a few hours before lunch time. after a quick stop at the hotel to change back to our regular clothes (fyi, i was loving the feel of wearing my sari by this time), and get some lunch, we were back on the road to delhi. on the four-hour drive leaving agra, i couldn't help feeling that i've just seen something surreal. and wonderful. and absolutely breathtaking.

oh, by the time we left, the taj was looking pristine and very, very white. (side note: they say, the taj can look different colors, depending on the time of the year, the time of day and appearance of the moon. so all the more reason to go back and find out what colors we can see the taj)

coming up: one last look...

09 November 2007

the indian adventure - part 3

it was a five hour drive from jaipur to agra. there wasn't much to do except take naps, talk about indian culture and places we still want to go to, and oh yeah, take more pictures of what we see on the road.

like a race between this camel and the motorcycle...

or this temple..

and maybe wait for these goats to cross the highway.

our entry into agra began with a very quick stop to fatehpur sikri. it could have been the heat, or the fact that we were hungry, or maybe the fact that we had to remove our shoes to get in (we've been told these could get stolen), but we decided not to go inside.

after a quick lunch at the hotel in agra, we went to the agra fort. it's this massive complex that used to be the center of government in the old days.

as with most of the places in india we've seen so far, there's a lot of beautiful things to see and stories to hear. inside the fort, we weren't disappointed.

there were beautiful handmade paintings on the pillars. our guide said the ink used for these were made from crushed minerals. like red is for ruby, yellow is for gold, green is for emerald...well you get the drift. so can you imagine how very careful the artists had to be when they were making these.

there were actually real precious stones that were stuck on these wall sculptures. and again, the engravings were handmade on the marble. i wonder if the people who made this were punished when they made a mistake while carving..

the night before, while reviewing our photos, the three of us noticed that we hardly had shots of ourselves. i guess there were too many things we wanted to remember that we'd almost forgotten we should include ourselves at some shots. so at this point, some "people pictures" had to be taken...

it's a funny thing...we'd only started out to take pictures of the three of us. pretty soon, there were people approaching us, asking to have their pictures taken with us. miss r insisted that i should put some eyeliner on and wear a bindee, so i'd look more like a local. i was hoping that doing so would help us to not be approached by locals hawking overpriced souvenirs.

that doesn't really work when you're riding a van with a huge "tourist" sign on the windshield, and you're toting around a huge camera bag. former officemate j documents the indians' camera-loving ways in her blog in more detail.

as for me, having my picture taken with students on a field trip (and their principal, i might add), was quite an experience..

after the ten minute photo session, the principal approached us to present his business card and insisted that we email him the pictures as soon as we get back home.

taking pictures of myself and my friends, got to be too tiring. there were more things in this wonderful fort that we had to take. the agra fort, after all, served as the prison of shah jahan, the lovestruck builder of the taj mahal. in the late years of the shah, his son declared him mentally unfit to rule the kingdom, and confined him inside the fort.

of course, he had to have quarters fit for a king. so he had a view of the monumuent he built for his wife, everyday for the rest of his life.

a prison that's not really a prison...

with a view of the breathtaking taj

that was our first glimpse of the taj. the next day, we went there. but we had to contain our excitement,we needed to rest and chill out for the night. for now, here's a little bit more of the fort.

remember the saris we'd bought from jaipur? they will be put to use the next day...
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