Monday, October 31, 2011

Kindness of Indian Strangers

There was one conclusion we reached two days into Delhi as we boarded our first inter-city bus to Dharamsala: we have been sheltered from the chaos that is India the past few days. Not that I did not appreciate what our Delhi host did for us. He practically toured us around and for the most part, it was at his expense. I mean, that goes above and beyond any guest could hope for.

But on that evening, as we tried to locate our bus in that small makeshift bus terminal, which was really a dusty unpaved piece of land adjacent to the Tibetan neighborhood of Majnu Ka Tilla in the Indian capital, we realized what was we got ourselves into.

Not unlike the bus terminal we went to
Photo by David de Mallorca | CC BY

Granted, as you approach the terminal, there will be people asking for your tickets. If they see that you are not a passenger of their bus, they will refer you to another. We were pointed to a middle-aged pot-bellied man in red shirt. We handed him our ticket. He glanced at it, returned it and then told us to wait. This exchange happened three more times before Angelica and I started getting worried.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Singapore Is People and the Food

Months before I came to Singapore, before I even knew I was going to Singapore, I realized that I was going there for two very important things. Beyond the sights and the attractions, I was there for the food and the people. Perhaps due to its geographic location—right at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, right when ships from the Strait of Malacca enter into the real "far east," they must first come to Singapore. Thus, this tiny port city grew to be the meeting point for many Asian cultures, particularly Indian, Chinese and Malay. And with each of these rich cultures come food, glorious food.

Singapore People and Food

It’s a pity really. Many pass off Singapore to be an expensive city, a city where you catch flights, a sterile and plastic city. And as the adages go, it’s the amusement park with the seat at the United Nations, the Disneyland with death penalty. Really, few people take that extra effort to peel off its layers and see it for what it is—Southeast Asia’s true melting pot of cuisine and people. That is what Singapore has come to mean for me. Singapore is not Singapore without the people and the food.

Luckily, due to the country’s more relaxed immigrant laws and its growing need for talents, a lot of Filipinos have gone to Singapore for work. I say that’s lucky because I now know a handful of people who are now living and working there. And it was through them that I truly got to know Singapore and Singaporean cuisine better. Hopefully, as a way to pay my gratitude forward, the information here reaches other travelers wanting, needing a guide on some of Singapore’s good eats.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Night Life at the Marina Bay Sands

I have spent the whole day walking and sightseeing to cover all of Singapore’s places of interest. From Orchard Road, to Little India, to Chinatown and even Sentosa. At 6 in the evening, I knew it was time to wind down. So off I go and meet two of my friends from high school who just happened to be in Singapore at the same time as me. Granted one of them was now based there for work. Still, it was funny when we realized that not many years ago, we only did meet-ups at the nearby fast food joint. Now, we are meeting in poshy, first-world Singapore, at the Marina Bay Sands at that! We’ve come a long, long way.

Marina Bay Sands

The Marina Bay Sands Metro Station is a bit of a walk from the Marina Bay Sands area itself. There is only one exit but form there, you will be crossing two big intersections and one building block to get the boardwalk area. The way's pretty straightforward. Besides, just look up and find the three buildings with the big-*ss boat-like structure on top of them. That's the Marina Bay Sands building.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: the Dhauladhar Himalayas

Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the first snowy mountain I ever laid my eyes on: the Dhauladhar Himalayas.

Dhauladhar Himalayas in Dharamsala, India

Yes, contrary to the couple of entries that I have been able to post ever since I started my trip, I am no longer in Singapore. In the 10 days that I have been traveling, I have been to three countries and four cities. Imagine that. The photo above is of the Dhauladhar Mountains, a section of the Himalayas visible from the quaint little town of McLeod Ganj in Dharamsala, northern India. I chose to post this photo because seeing it every single day gets me excited. Coming from a tropical archipelago like the Philippines, snowy mountains are not something I grew up with. Seeing these mountains made me realize why I travel: to behold something absolutely new and different.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Singapore: Little India

It was our second full day in Singapore and we still had a bit of exploring to do seeing as we slacked off the whole morning the day before. We chose to do Little India first because it's close to Orchard Road where fellow backpacker Angelica and I met up. Plus, it will be sort of our practice for when we finally get to the real India in the next few days. So off we go and hopped on the nearest MRT station in Orchard and got off at Little India station.

Little India, Singapore

Getting to Buffalo Street, the heart of Little India, is easy enough to figure out. The street is on the other side of the food market building where the MRT exit opens up. If you still cannot find it, follow the scent. The fragrance of the thousand and one spices and of the burning incense will most definitely hit you in the face once you get off the MRT Station.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

How to Eat a Traditional Kaya Breakfast

The traditional kaya toast is a breakfast or snack food staple for many Singaporeans. Kaya toast is bread with kaya jam spread, on top of which is a thin slice of butter. For that extra richness, of course. It was brought to Singapore by the Hainanese who got it from from the British who originally had their tea with toast and jam. The kaya jam is a sweet spread made from coconuts. It is basically coconut jam. We do have coconut jams back home in the Philippines, but this was different. The kaya jam was lighter in color, texture and taste. I think I liked it better.

Traditional Kaya Toast

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: You Like Satay?

Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday features the beloved southeast Asian dish—Satay.

You Like Satay

If there was one thing I was looking forward to before coming to Singapore, more than the sites and tourist attractions really, is the food. Singapore is where Malay, Chinese and Indian food all melt into one delicious cuisine distinctly Singaporean. Satay, or various grilled meats on a stick, comes from Singapore’s Malay inhabitants. It was one of the things my hosts wanted me to taste on my first real night out here. So I dipped the stick on the peanut-curry sauce and had my first bite.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Excitement and Anxiety on the First Day on the Road

It has finally happened. I have left my home, Manila, and landed in mainland Asia, in Singapore. I am officially on the road. I cannot say that I am completely filled with the excitement of finally having started this six-month adventure. Not that I am not excited. I am. I guess, I just don’t allow myself to feel it for fear of bursting out giggling like a teenage girl in a Justin Bieber concert. Besides, the day of my departure was pretty uneventful by most standards, which is not to say not at all that exciting.

I have been warned by several people about how strict Philippine immigration has become these days. Filipino citizens are no longer allowed to leave the country without a return ticket. Even if you tell them that you are a foreign resident of the country you're going to, even if you tell that you are employed full-time by a company in the country you’re going to, they will not let you pass without a confirmed return ticket. Not an onward ticket, a return ticket. Aren't Filipinos allowed to keep their travel plans open and flexible nowadays?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

First Aid Kit Essentials for Travelers

One of the things that can ruin a trip is catching a disease while on the road. This is especially true if your version of travel involves a lot of physical activities: sightseeing, hiking, swimming, going out at night, etc. All things you cannot do if you are indisposed. Luckily, in the two years that I have been doing trips, I have never been sick. I may break that record though seeing as I’ll be gone for more than a week this time. Still, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Photo by Jamiesrabbits | CC BY

But for good measure, best be prepared. Fortunately for me, I personally know a doctor, a registered physician, by the name of Dr. Cindy Sotalbo, who is used to dealing with common tourist ailments having been assigned to Boracay in the Philippines a number of times. For my six-month backpacking trip, she recommended a few things that should be present in my first aid kit. The essentials, the must-haves, in any traveler's first aid kit. Let me share her recommendations here.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Compulsory Packing List Post

Every backpacker going on his or her big trip, and documenting it, too, has one: a packing list post. I get the purpose, of course. It’s to be able to list down what I brought and evaluate by the middle (or end) of the trip what item I needed/used the most and what item I should whack my head for lugging around. More importantly, and this I can fully get behind on, it could serve as a guide for others thinking, pondering, ever-so contemplating on going on their own backpacking adventure. So this is my way of paying it forward. Posts like this helped me a lot in preparing for the trip that I’m about to do.

First thing to consider is the climate of the places I’ll be traveling to. This one was a headache. To say that the climates of the regions I’ll go to is varied is an understatement. Luckily, I’ll be going home midway through the trip to take a Christmas break, if you will. So I won’t need to plan for the whole six-months. Still, it’s a lot. Basically, I’ll be traveling to humid tropical Singapore, to the dry climate of northern India, to the even drier desert of Rajasthan, to the heights and chills (emphasis on the chills) of the Himalayas, and back to the humidity of Vietnam.

Basically, I will be lugging around all sorts of clothes and accessories. But I'm fine with that. I included that in the backpacker resolutions I made last month. Anyway, below are the items I will be bringing for the first three months of my trip.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Singapore Challenge

(Editor's Note: The Singapore Challenge was won! Read the full story here.)

The first stop in my six-month Asian backpacking trip is Singapore, the center of just about everything in Southeast Asia. I personally know a lot of people who have gone to Singapore on vacation and some who are now living and working in Singapore. Unsurprising, really. Manila is a mere three-hour flight away. Plus, ever since laws on immigrant workers were relaxed, and given that Singapore's demand for labor grows by the minute, Singapore-based companies have increasingly been hiring talented English-speaking individuals from nearby countries. Even I got a call from a company there a few months back.

SG Skyline
Photo by williamcho | CC BY-SA

Still, the sad fact remains. I have never been to Singapore. I have said this again and again. It just doesn't attract me. See, I was born and bred in an Asian city. So the thought to traveling to another Asian city isn't all that appealing. That doesn't mean, however, that I will not enjoy it. I've learned that about myself when I traveled to Saigon in Vietnam and Shanghai in China. Both big bustling cities which I did not really care for before getting there. Surprisingly, I found that they have crept inside my cheesy traveler heart. Singapore deserves the same openness. So, I booked a flight.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Why Travel Tuesday: Capturing the Sunrise

Every Tuesday, I will be featuring a photograph from a place I have gone to, a photograph which I believe will inspire others to go out and see the world for themselves. For this week, Why Travel Tuesday is about Capturing the Sunrise.

Playa sa Sariaya