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Rum Tasting in Siem Reap

“And together we’re so drunk
We’re making sense. Little
By little, with rum the color
Of a woman’s arm, we’re seeing things—”
Gary Soto, The Jungle Café

On New Year’s Eve, my final evening in Siem Reap before taking the boat to Phnom Penh, I wandered around Pub Street awaiting the celebration. I was exhausted from my 40-mile bike ride around Angkor Wat and in a bit of pain after the Khmer massage that felt more like a $4 muscle-twisting torture session. The heat hadn’t subsided as I walked through the streets in search of dinner, which added to my exhaustion. I was so tired, I don’t even remember what I had for dinner that night.

As it was still too early for the New Year’s revelers to crowd into Pub Street in preparation for performances, fireworks, and who-knows-what-else, I wandered out across the Siem Reap River. It would be my last opportunity to see what Siem Reap had to offer.

Pub Street ready for New Year's Eve festivities

Pub Street ready for New Year’s Eve festivities

I headed into the Siem Reap Art Center and browsed the stalls filled with tourist souvenirs and local crafts, most of which I couldn’t purchase because I was constantly moving. As I contemplated the souvenirs and food and drinks nearby, I noticed a stall full of liquor. I was invited in to try samples of Georges Rhum Arrangé, rums infused with local flavors; they had 10 flavors in all. These rums were infused to the point that it was unrecognizable as rum to people used to the likes of Captain Morgan and Bacardi. It was nothing like the Abuelo rum I bought in Panama.georges-rhum

I first I had was cinnamon, which was strong. I like cinnamon, so this was a good drink for me–it would be great in a dark & stormy. I didn’t enjoy the mango flavor as much because the fruit overpowered the rum, but I could see its usefulness in cocktails.

Georges' son gave me more than enough samples

Georges’ son gave me more than enough samples

After tasting a few of the flavors, I was convinced to go visit his father at Georges Rhumerie Restaurant, which had only been open for two months. They even paid for my tuk-tuk to the restaurant, which was down some dark streets (definitely not the place to walk, even if it wasn’t that far). When I arrived, I met three people, two of whom were the owner and an employee.

Georges Restaurant

Georges Restaurant

Despite being full from dinner, I ordered a light appetizer to go with a little more of the rum–the samoussa (samosa) platter sounded like the best option. It was tasty, filled with tuna and came with a sweet and spicy sauce. The menu is full of a fusion of French and Cambodian cuisine–Georges is from Madagascar and moved to Cambodia by way of Reunion Island, where his son is from.

A delicious snack while drinking more rum

A delicious snack while drinking more rum

While I waited for the samosas, I ordered the coffee rum for $2–I always have to try the coffee-flavored varieties of anything. Before departing in search of New Year’s festivities, I ordered the vanilla rum. It was a more complex flavor than the other rums as it included more than just one flavor. There was orange peel, lemongrass, anise, and cloves, and the flavors all stood out with each sip.

If you’re in Siem Reap, I recommend visiting Georges Rhumerie Restaurant for a bite to eat and a sip of local rhum arrangé.

Being an Expat Is Not All Travel and Sunshine

“Once upon a time I was someone then that stopped.”
Laird Hunt, The Exquisite

Let’s get something straight. Living abroad is not as exciting as most people think it is. The same goes for working from home.

Just as the phrase implies, living abroad is just that–living, just in another country. It’s not the same as living back home because it is a different country, but it involves similar concepts, which include working, eating, and living.

Of course, Yahoo! Travel would get this confused like most people in the US. They published another dull story titled “How to Stay on Vacation Forever – These People Did It!” I’m not even going to link to it because the headline is misleading and downright stupid. It has a brief story about a few people who went on vacation and decided to stay. How did they stay? That’s right, they got a job!

Another crowded park in China (least crowded photo I have)

Crowd at Lixiang Park in China (least crowded photo I have)

If you’re working abroad, you’re not on vacation. You’re working and earning a living.

Sure, it’s easier to travel someplace else for a long weekend while you’re working abroad (particularly if you’re in a cheaper country that pays expats well), but that can be done from the comfort of our home countries as well.

Typical night after work in Seoul

Typical night after work in Seoul

“But it’s so much more interesting to live in another country,” you say. Yes, to some extent it is. It can also be more frustrating depending on your language proficiency and understanding of the finer points of local culture. Depending on the country, it can be more difficult to make local friends–some countries are known for keeping foreign friends at a safe distance.

When I lived in China, I was not on vacation. I worked five days a week and had regular national holidays for my travels. It’s not like I could fly to Shanghai for a weekend (ok, I could have, but it would’ve been stupid and expensive for a weekend). My weekends usually involved hanging out with friends, going to a park or major grocery store, and drinking some cheap beer because there really wasn’t much to do in Shenzhen. The most exciting weekends I had were the day-trips I had to Hong Kong and Macau–they were my escape to a more developed world that had non-Chinese food for a break (and Macau had a shop that sold good coffee much cheaper than I could find in Shenzhen). My daily life revolved around working, eating what I hoped wouldn’t poison me, studying Chinese, not getting run over by cars and buses, and avoiding crowds as best I could.

Just another night in Macau

Just another night in Macau

When I set out on my current trip, I’ll admit it was a combination of work and vacation. Every weekend was an opportunity to see something new in a city. But I saw almost nothing during the week because I was locked away in room, slaving away for almost 50 hours a week. That’s right, I had to work all week so that I could have some excitement on the weekend. And because I attempted to fit as much as I could into two days, I was exhausted by the time I started work again on Monday. On occasion I experienced power and internet outages, which meant I had to scramble to find a cafe that offered wifi so I could continue working.

You can't see the rest of the apartment in Tokyo because I couldn't move far enough back to get it in the frame

You can’t see the rest of the apartment in Tokyo because I couldn’t move far enough back to get it in the frame

Just because I worked from home, or wherever I chose to claim as home, does not mean I had a leisurely job. Some days I had a lot of work to do. I edited an average of 60-70 business news stories each day, sometimes more. I also did not have the luxury of taking extra-long lunch breaks–there was no one to cover for me while I stepped out to eat; I had to guess what time would be slowest so I wouldn’t return to a pile of backlogged work.

When I started the job, I worked overnight–8 pm to 6 am. That was the impetus for moving to Asia; I wanted to work during daylight hours and have the sun shine through my window. Even when I worked those hours, I had friends who thought I could take a nap or go out for a drink while working because no one would know the difference.

tiger

He was quite the active dog. This was his usual position while I worked.

That awful work schedule is part of the reason I fostered a dog for a little while. I thought he’d keep me company, but he really just slept while I worked and sniffed my face while I attempted to sleep. That dog was funny and I’m happy he was adopted.

If that job sounds like leisure time to you, maybe you should give it a try.

But, hey, I got to take a walk during my lunch break to watch the sun rise when I stayed in Italy. I also had dinner at noon and went to bed at about 3 pm. When I wanted to take a weekend out of the quiet town of Perugia, I had to alter my sleep schedule–it was difficult in the summer heat in Florence.

Working from home does not mean you spend a day in your underwear either. Studies have shown that people who work from home are more productive and effective when they act like they’re in an office (i.e. get dressed for work).

My office was somewhere in that building

My office was somewhere in that building

And what did I do after I was laid off from that job so long ago? I spent my days reading books, writing things I hope will one day get published, and searching for work. I had Skype interviews for jobs too (most of those jobs were awful and I’m glad I didn’t accept them because they would’ve led to a miserable life abroad). I had to remember some of my rules for searching for ESL jobs abroad, which can apply to other fields when searching abroad. Factoring in visa rules makes searching for work abroad more difficult.

I’m not complaining about my life abroad (aside from the lack of stable employment at the moment); I made my decision to stay because it’s what I want. The cost of living is much lower than back home–I currently live on less than $800 per month, excluding my visa runs every 90 days. I’ve also managed to make some worthwhile friends along the way to make life here a bit more comfortable and less mundane.

Colorful Canals in Murano and Burano

“When the color achieves richness, the form attains its fullness also.”
Paul Cezanne

Beyond the main islands that make up Venice is more historic Italian beauty–it requires a water bus ride from within the city to the outskirts; it’s a journey on the water to the suburban canal towns of Murano and Burano.

Approaching Murano

Approaching Murano

The first thing I noticed on my trip to Murano from Venice was the price of the water bus–EUR 7 per ride. I figured since I was taking at least three rides, I might as well get the day pass for EUR 20. I wondered what sort of discount was offered to locals as this was certainly the most expensive public transportation I had ever encountered.

Murano

Murano

Murano and Burano are like Ventian twins–they’re always mentioned in the same breath when people talk about tourism outside the center of Venice. These were never part of the wealth class of the glory days of Venice–the islands were home to fishermen and artisans. They painted their home in vibrant colors, particularly in Burano, to make it easier for fishermen to find their way home in inclement weather. Today, those same bright houses on the canals are what draw tourists to the shores of Burano, while Murano has its colorful glass to attract attention.murano-glass

Murano is the larger tourist draw of the two towns in the Venetian Lagoon because it’s historically known for artistic glass products, which I wasn’t interested in seeing (I enjoy art, but colorful glass bowls are not my idea of inspiring). Glassmaking began in the area in late 13th century and Murano became the largest producer of glass products in Europe. While the industry has declined over the last two hundred years, Murano glass is still popular for its artistic quality and glassmaking remains Murano’s primary industry, which, of course, caters to tourists today.murano-lighthouse

There isn’t much to see or do around Murano, but it’s still a pleasant town to walk through. Large glass sculptures are displayed in public areas to attract visitors to the shops that sell smaller glass souvenirs (none of which I could afford if I wanted). There were some amusing window displays, including glass zombie figurines and some comically pornographic miniature glass figures.

Who wouldn't want decorative glass zombies?

Who wouldn’t want decorative glass zombies?

There was the impressive Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato with its leaning bell tower. The interior of the church is supposedly impressive, but it was not open to the public when I was there (it might’ve been closed for lunch).

Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato

Basilica dei Santi Maria e Donato

After walking along the canals in the heat, I took one of the local water buses through the town to a stop where I could change to a water bus that would take me to Burano, the island that was once know for lace–even Leonardo di Vinci once purchased lace from Burano to cover the altar at Duomo di Milano.

Burano

Burano

What I didn’t know at the time is that Burano is much farther from Venice than Murano. The longer boat ride gave me time to peer out over the water at passing islands, none of which I could name.burano-canal

I wandered the colorful streets–it was a delight to the eyes after month of wandering Italian streets with weathered structures and an excessive of graffiti–and I could’ve wandered those streets for hours if the town was bigger and if I hadn’t been so desperate to find a decent meal. Everything on the main street through town is there for the tourists–overpriced restaurants and gift shops that sold nothing unique. I ducked down alleys to avoid the crowds and search for an affordable lunch, but came up empty; the rest of the town is residential. I only managed to find a small market at which to buy a cold bottle of water.

Creative name for a tourist trap shop

Creative name for a tourist trap shop

After wandering through streets of Burano and coming to the conclusion that everything was too expensive and touristy, I headed back to the dock for the water bus. I ate fritto misto (fried seafood) at a stand near the dock–it was the freshest fried seafood I had tasted, but it could’ve used more lemon to balance the salt. The little stand with seating in the shade was overpriced, but still significantly cheaper than anything I found in the center of the tourist area. It gave me enough energy to walk a little more across the bridge to the neighboring island of Mazzorbo.

Fritto Misto in the shade of Burano

Fritto Misto in the shade of Burano

I was welcomed to Mazzorbo with a public garden that wasn’t as interesting as I had hoped. It might’ve been more enjoyable if there was a shaded path to walk around–the sun was wearing me down and there wasn’t enough of a breeze for relief. I headed back to the dock to catch the next water bus back to Venice.

The garden at Mazzorbo

The garden at Mazzorbo

Of course, I managed to take the water bus that took the long way back to Venice. I chose the one that would drop me off at San Marco Square–I knew it wasn’t a long walk back to my hostel from there, and there was a wonderful inexpensive shop that sold mini sandwiches and spritzes for less than EUR 2. By some miracle I disembarked at San Marco–I fell asleep for at least a half hour on the boat, only to awake in time to the glory of Venice unfold before me. Maybe it was other passengers scrambling for photos that woke me from my exhaustion, but it was worth losing an extra 15 minutes of sleep on the boat to get some of those pictures that were unobscured by the crowds walking the streets.

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute on the way back to Venice

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute on the way back to Venice

I was too exhausted to even stop off for a quick bite and a drink on the way to the hostel. I passed out for a while before heading out again for my second-to-last evening in Venice.

Drinking a Singapore Sling at Its Birthplace

“Nobody in Singapore drinks Singapore Slings. It’s one of the first things you find out there.”
-Anthony Bourdain

I have never tasted a cocktail in a place in which it was invented. I don’t know if I ever will again. At least not at the price I paid in Singapore.

It’s not that I haven’t had what most would consider original or unique cocktails–there was the cocktail the bartender gave me that wasn’t on the menu at Kolo Klub at the Pilsner Haus in Hoboken that had Aquavit and who-knows-what (it was tasty) and the ridiculous number of cocktails I sampled at the Manhattan Cocktail Classic–but I hadn’t had a cocktail in the place of its birth, in a place of legend.

Raffles Hotel Singapore

Raffles Hotel Singapore

When I arrived in Singapore for my short trip, I made a list of places I had to see. One of the top priorities was the Raffles Hotel–more specifically, it was the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel.

The opulent Raffles Hotel was built in the colonial style in 1887 by Martin and Tigran Sarkies; it was designated a national monument in 1987. During renovations from 1989 to 1991, the Long Bar was relocated to the shopping arcade area–the bar was supposedly relocated at other times throughout the hotel’s history. The Long Bar was patronized by literary greats like Ernest Hemingway and Joseph Conrad (I was tempted to reread Heart of Darkness while sitting at the bar).long-bar-singapore

The Long Bar is exquisite; it exudes history and class (a societal class I apparently can’t quite afford). The style is reminiscent of the late British colonial era–the details of the bar and tables are there for the patrons to imagine a time before Singapore was a glossy international economic hub. The two-storey bar (second floor was closed when I was there) is supposed to be inspired by Malaysian plantations of the early 20th century. There are even bags of peanuts around the bar–and customers are reminded to just toss the shells on the floor; it’s the only place in Singapore where you’re allowed to litter.

Homer: Aw, $20, but I wanted a peanut.

Homer: Aw, $20, but I wanted a peanut.

This was where I had to order my first Singapore Sling. All I knew about the cocktail was that it’s sweet, and I don’t particularly enjoy cocktails that are too sweet. In honor of the cocktail’s invention 100 years ago by Ngiam Tong Boon, a bartender from China’s Hainan Province, the Long Bar had a menu full of variations of the Singapore Sling–there is no set recipe, so it’s easy to change the flavor. Of course, I ordered the original. It was good–refreshing and not too sweet for the heat and humidity of Singapore.

I better enjoy this now that I have no money in my wallet

I better enjoy this now that I have no money in my wallet

I would’ve ordered a second one, but I couldn’t afford it; this was by far the most expensive cocktail I have ever ordered. The original Singapore Sling at the Long Bar costs S$32.95, including tax and service fees (at current exchange rates that’s $24.13). I took my sweet time sipping that cocktail and filling up on peanuts. To put this in perspective, I had a Grey Goose martini with my uncle at the Intercontinental Hotel overlooking Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong for about $18 (I didn’t pay for it)–they left the shaker, which was almost another half a glass, and a nice bowl of olives and nuts. long-bar-singapore2

For some reason, probably to save money on another metro ticket, I walked back to my hostel. I picked up a relatively inexpensive beer at the 7-Eleven next door before heading off to sleep in preparation for the next day’s adventures in Singapore.

I’ve had some impressive spirits and cocktails over the years, but is any cocktail really worth that much money? Would you go out of your way to overspend on one drink?

Rome in Black & White

“My idea of Rome–the Rome I was looking for–was pretty much locked in. My Rome was the Rome of films…. No matter whose Rome it is–yours, mine, or Federico Fillini’s–it’s beautiful, as beautiful as everybody says it is.”
-Anthony Bourdain

Rome wasn’t one of my favorite destinations–there’s amazing history and ancient architecture everywhere, but it lacked the inviting feeling of other cities. Maybe it’s how everything is a tourist trap and there are too many hawkers trying to force you to buy everything you don’t want. Also, the late-July heat makes me cranky (alright, I’m downplaying the feeling; the weather turns me homicidal–if you don’t give me coffee or gelato, you should probably get out of my way).rooftop-rome

Complaints aside, Rome is a glorious city to photograph. It’s one of those places that cries out to you to change the camera settings to black & white–bright, cloudless skies as a backdrop for ruins of the Roman Empire juxtaposed with more recent structures. Anthony Bourdain even insisted on shooting an episode of No Reservations in black & white when he visited Rome.

The Roman Forum. So many historic shadows

The Roman Forum. So many historic shadows

The light plays games in photographs–weathered columns cast their shadows across the scenes as the locals and tourists saunter past. The tones emphasize the intensity of the summer sun in Rome.

View of Rome from the Altar of the Fatherland

View of Rome from the Altar of the Fatherland

Some places are perfect for black & white shots, while others require the vibrant colors–the islands of Murano and Burano just couldn’t be done without color; it would’ve taken the life out of those canal towns. Rome just happens to be one of those cities that appear perfect in black & white–the ancient mixed with the cracked and graffitied new.

Path to the Roman Forum

Path to the Roman Forum

What are your favorite places to take black & white photos?

Reasons to Visit Taiwan

I’ve already posted a rant about pointless travel articles from the media, and The Huffington Post made me do it again this week. Yesterday it published an “article” by Janice Lintz titled “7 Reasons Why Taiwan Should Be on Your Bucket List.” The article has been taken down, presumably because every expat in Taiwan called it an worthless piece of trash that could’ve been written by anyone checking out Wikipedia.xiangshan-panorama

But don’t worry, lazy journalism is a pastime in Taiwan and Focus Taiwan rewrote the article (it’s the laziest summarizing job I’ve seen since my students who handed in plagiarized work).taipei101-fireworks

Quite possibly the most cringe-worthy quote from the original article is “Taiwan is not a typical destination for Westerners yet it is popular with Chinese visitors. Taiwan has its own President, constitution, armed forces and currency but is officially called the Republic of China (ROC) despite being part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).” Nice job pandering to the mainland government; I suppose it’s because HuffPo isn’t blocked in China (yet).

Jiufen

Above Jiufen

Of course, the article also claimed the towns of Jiufen and Keelung are nothing more than night markets. After my trip to Jiufen, I’d say skip the night market and just go hiking to enjoy the scenery.

From the vague references to everything there is to do in Taipei–there isn’t even a mention of all the places outside Taipei like Taroko National Park or Tainan–I would assume Ms. Lintz has never set foot on the island. If she has visited Taiwan, it seems she’s managed to spend only a few days in Taipei without actually seeing much.

Roads running through the mountainside at Taroko

Roads running through the mountainside at Taroko

There is absolutely nothing new or interesting in this article for tourists to Taiwan–it’s even written in such a bland tone that it doesn’t make Taiwan sound like a worthwhile destination. It only reinforced the boring image Taiwan has made for itself.

I’ve written plenty here about why I have stayed in Taipei for so long–there’s so much here to make it a great travel destination.

View from Rainbow Bridge

View from Rainbow Bridge

Taipei in particular has great night life (alright, I haven’t really sampled much nightlife outside the city)–there are some decent bars with local beer and, of course, the night markets. Taiwan has a thriving music scene at bars and clubs, as well as theater performances at the National Theatre and some smaller performance spaces. There’s even some great art here–and I don’t just mean the impressive museums either; there are smaller galleries all around.

And for the adventurous traveler there’s plenty of outdoor activities (assuming it isn’t raining). I’ve taken more than my share of bike rides through the riverside parks around the city, not to mention the coastal ride from Hualien. And travelers have their choice of hikes throughout Taiwan–sure, there are some good ones in Taipei, but there are even more elsewhere that are more rustic.

The coast near Hualien

The coast near Hualien

Oh yeah, and there’s food. More than the Michelin star restaurants mentioned in the article (do you really need to publicize Michelin star restaurants?). If you’re going to write about food in Taiwan, you have to describe all the common night market food. You have just about any type of food you could want here. My only complaint is the lack of truly spicy food, but there are some restaurants that will provide a good kick when I need it.night-market-skewers

And there is still so much more on this little island called Taiwan that I have yet to explore (hell, I haven’t even written about some of my other trips outside Taipei).

Houtong, the cat village

Houtong, the cat village

The next time a media organization wants to write a story about a travel destination, they should look beyond a Wikipedia page. There are plenty of literary-minded seasoned travelers living in places like Taiwan who would be more than happy to write an article about their adopted home.

What else makes Taiwan a great travel destination?

Introverted Travel or Social Avoidance?

“Be Yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
-Oscar Wilde

Sometimes I wonder what illogical black hole media pulls ideas from when they come up with pointless stories like the “18 Essential Tips for Introverted Travelers.” This brilliant (and I use the term loosely) piece of travel advice comes from the same editor who brought you “How to Spot an American Anywhere in the World.” (Note to Yahoo!: These pointless articles are great for generating a negative response. If you’d like more thoughtful articles, you can contact me.)

I’m by no means an extrovert, but I’m also not quite an introvert. I just hate small talk, unless it’s in Chinese because that’s most of the Chinese I know; it’s how I met so many friendly Chinese travelers in Iceland. I enjoy talking with people most of the time, but I need a reason to start a conversation–without a reason for the conversation to begin, I’ll just stand aside and watch. I prefer to have other people start the conversation for me.

Damn tourists always get in the way

Damn tourists always get in the way

The Yahoo! article is more of a how-to guide of traveling and avoiding people. While I don’t always want to interact with people, I by no means want to avoid interactions. Where’s the joy in traveling if you can’t talk about the places you’ve been? And I don’t understand how taking an aisle seat is better for an introvert. If you want to sleep, take the window, and if you enjoy scenery on a train or bus, you’ll also want that window.

I agree with a few points that the article makes, but those points with which I agree are meant more for all travelers. I definitely encourage people to travel with literature–hell, I bring my Kindle to the bar in case I don’t find anyone to talk with (yes, some people think I’m crazy for reading in a bar). I also like the idea of taking an extra day off between returning from vacation and going back to work because I like any excuse for more time off from work.

An introvert goes to a bar in Seoul

An introvert goes to a bar in Seoul

There’s also tip #13: bring a journal. It’s definitely a good idea to bring a notebook–it helps you to remember what you’ve seen on your trip. It’s more of a writer’s tool for me–one of my grad school instructors told us to always have a notebook to write down ideas or record conversations. I also find a notebook is handy for writing down new words and phrases in another language. People in bars might also write down some recommended places to visit.

Because I took a tour on my second day in Siem Reap, I met a Dutch guy who lives in China who agreed to take a 40-mile bike ride the following day. Because I offered to move over one seat in a crowded restaurant in Tokyo, I made friends who took me out for yakitori and beer. Because I used Airbnb for the first time in Halifax, my hosts took me out to the farmer’s market. And because I stayed in a hostel dorm in Boston, I met a friendly Brazilian who wandered the city with me–I even introduced her to Xinjiang lamb kabobs that I got overexcited about (pretty sure I scared her when I stopped and exclaimed, “Oh my god! Yang rou chuan!”).

Sometimes I get to take pictures with people I meet in Tokyo

Group photos are inevitable after you offer your seat in a crowded restaurant

Back to the Yahoo! article and all that it emphasizes about introverted travel. Order room service? Get your own room when traveling with friends? Set a time limit for group activities? With all this advice, an introvert won’t speak to anyone for the entire time. Not all introverts avoid social interactions–they just don’t enjoy certain social interactions (I can’t blame them; I’ve met enough people I wish I could’ve avoided).

Sometimes we all need a conversation fish

Sometimes we all need a conversation fish

I understand the desire to avoid large crowds and hawkers in tourist areas, but why would anyone actively avoid interacting with everyone?

Over the years I’ve read plenty of blog posts from self-proclaimed introverts (or semi-introverts) who travel. The takeaway from all of those posts is that travel forces them out of their comfort zones and into adventure–sometimes it includes meeting new people who end up as long-term friends. I have made some wonderful friends on my travels, and it’s all because I forced myself to interact with the people around me.

Solitude at Mt. Tamalpais State Park, CA

Solitude at Mt. Tamalpais State Park, CA

There is nothing wrong with taking some time for yourself while traveling–this is why I take solo hikes and bike rides–but not interacting with the world around you takes all the fun out of travel. Travel is supposed to encourage you to try new things and change how you normally live. You can always return to your introverted ways when you return home.

What is your advice for introverted travelers?

The View from Sorrento

“Look at the sea, how beautiful it is,
it inspires so many emotions,
like you do with the people you look at,
who you make to dream while they are still awake.”
-Torna a Surriento (Come Back to Sorrento)

There isn’t much to see and do in Sorrento. It’s more of a stopover for travelers on their way to elsewhere or for those looking for a relaxing, accessible town; my parents and I stopped there as a base for visiting Pompeii before heading to Capri for a wedding. But that doesn’t mean Sorrento isn’t a beautiful, relaxing destination along the Italian coast.

View of the harbor from Piazza Tasso before the clouds dispersed

View of the harbor from Piazza Tasso before the clouds dispersed

Spending a day in Sorrento after a few days in the crowds and heat of Rome is pleasant–the sea breeze provides relief from the summer heat while walking the streets. It would be enough to lounge around with a bottle of wine as I stare out at the cliffs that meet the Gulf of Naples, but then what sort of story would I have to tell?sorrento-gulf-of-naples

The journey from Rome was less than pleasant–the high-speed train to Naples was wonderful, though the train stations were less than ideal. Upon arrival in Naples, we kept vigilant watch over our belongings as we searched for the train that would transport us to Sorrento.

People hanging out at the harbor in Sorrento

People hanging out at the harbor in Sorrento

The Circumvesuviana is the worst train in Italy–ask the Italians; they’ll back me up on this. The tracks were laid by Julius Caesar himself (alright, probably not). The only time the train service was improved, Mussolini was in power (this is quite possibly true), and it has been in decay ever since. It’s like riding the NYC subway in the 1980s, but the train is smaller and more crowded. Upon departing Naples station, the hour and a half journey gave us scenery as delightful as landfills, graffiti, and dilapidated structures (not Roman ruins, just modern ruins and neglect). There is no air conditioning on the train and it was pouring–windows were open and the floor of the train was soaked. I was fortunate to use my suitcase as a seat for the 36-station trip.

The passageway leading to Marina Grande

The passageway leading to Marina Grande

Sorrento was peaceful on arrival. Little traffic, few people, and sunny skies greeted us as we finally exited the Circumvesuviana. We walked farther than expected as our hotel was more difficult to find than anticipated, but we didn’t mind too much–we took in the local architecture and the mountains in the distance.

Via Luigi de Maio from Piazza Tasso

Via Luigi de Maio from Piazza Tasso

We walked down the winding Via Luigi de Maio to the port–we wanted to see the area and figure out where to catch the ferry to Capri. It was a beautiful sight with the buildings set on the cliff.

Marina Grande

Marina Grande

I later wandered away from Piazza Tasso through narrow streets and alleys, through ancient structures, down to Marina Grande, another coastal part of town where people lounged on a small beach.


A photo posted by @jcmatt on


After dinner I watched the sun set while staring out over the Gulf of Naples once more before the rain came in again–the clouds cleared the next day for even better pictures. I headed across the street from the hotel to buy a bottle of wine–I had to return to the shop after I realized my hotel didn’t have a corkscrew (isn’t this considered criminal negligence in Italy?).

Have you visited Sorrento? Did you experience a similar sense of relief and calm?

Wandering Through Castles in Kyoto

Even in Kyoto,
Hearing the cuckoo’s cry,
I long for Kyoto.
― Matsuo Bashō

Sightseeing in Kyoto did not go as smoothly as I had anticipated. Most of it was my own fault. But I still managed to see most of what I wanted.

I did little research before heading to Kyoto in the early fall–I just wanted to get out of Tokyo and see more of Japan and this was the time of year to head to Kyoto before the tourists crowd the city to see the autumn foliage. I didn’t realize the highway bus from Machida really would drop me off on the side of the highway, a mile from the metro station that would take me to Kyoto Station, at which point I got lost because there’s no open WiFi and the maps are not all situated with north pointing up (that screwed me up more than a few times during my time in Japan).nijo-castle

I figured I’d get everything I needed once I checked into my hostel (another mistake). The hostel had little information other than tours that I didn’t want to pay for–and most of the brochures and maps were haphazardly stacked (this was possibly the most disorganized place in all of Japan). It also had staff that was rarely around and only spoke a few words of English (the hostel was also closed for a few hours in the afternoon for “cleaning”).

Karamon, the main gate to Ninomaru Palace

Karamon, the main gate to Ninomaru Palace

After consulting my map that I picked up at the train station, I made a plan to walk from my hostel to some of the tourist destinations in Kyoto–nothing looked that far from where I was staying (another mistake). The map I had did not have a guide for measuring distance–the walk I took was much longer than expected. My main destination was to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, which I again neglected to research because it requires a reservation and it was entirely booked for the day (I managed to get a ticket for the morning tour the day before I departed for Osaka). But I stopped at Nijo Castle along the way, partly to get out of the sun and because it looked cool while walking nearby.

Honmaru Palace

Honmaru Palace

Nijo Castle was a little more than two miles from my hostel–it felt farther because of the sun and heat. The Kyoto Imperial Palace was another half mile, though the surrounding park is huge and took longer to walk around before I found that I needed a reservation. After all that walking, I headed back toward my hostel and a little farther south to Nishi Hongan-ji and Toji Temple. In all, it was at least a 10-mile walk for the day (renting a bike the following day was necessary to get to Kinkakuji, even though the bike had a broken seat), and I was exhausted enough to sleep early.nijo-castle-fortification

Nijo Castle is one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto–it was built in 1626 as a residence for the Tokugawa Shoguns; Ninomaru and Honmaru Palaces are contained within the walls. It’s a beautiful site and parts of it are reminiscent of Osaka Castle (or maybe that’s just my impression from the white structures along the fortification walls).

Overlooking Honmaru Palace

Overlooking Honmaru Palace

Buildings within the fortifications were twice destroyed by fire in the 18th century. The castle wasn’t used again until 1862.nijo-castle-moat

Today, the moat surrounding Nijo Castle looks a little fetid, but at least it isn’t completely dried up like the one surrounding Osaka Castle.

There’s a lot of beautiful architecture and historic works of art to gaze at while walking through the 275,000 sqm. that the castle encompasses. There are 3,000 screens just in Ninomaru Palace, although some rooms were closed for preservation efforts, so not all the screens are on display.

Ninomaru Garden

Ninomaru Garden

For tourists who get tired of staring at buildings that tend to look similar after a while, Nijo Castle also has three well maintained gardens, each planted during a different era. The most impressive of the gardens is the Ninomaru Garden, which is the most often photographed. It isn’t, however, as impressive as the Secret Garden in Seoul. It’s still an enjoyable and relaxing walk through the gardens, though it can be tiring on a hot day like I had.ninomaru-garden

While most historic sites around Japan charge admission, Nijo Castle is reasonable at 600 yen, though those admission costs can add up fast while sightseeing all day. Photos aren’t allowed in Ninomaru Palace, which explains why I have none here–unlike other tourist destinations in East Asia, Japan enforces photography bans.

Feeling Poor at Seoul’s Money Museum

“Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash”
Pink Floyd, Money

There are museums you don’t expect to visit on your travels. It’s happened before. I still regret visiting the Icelandic Phallological Museum. But sometimes the unexpected museums are more interesting. Fortunately, the Bank of Korea Money Museum in Seoul was a much better experience than that disturbing museum in Reykjavik.

Namdaemun, the largest gate in Seoul

Namdaemun, the largest gate in Seoul

It was on one of the hotter days in Seoul last summer, when I was wandering a new neighborhood on my day off, that I came across the Money Museum. I headed for the area to visit Namdaemun, the largest of the city gates in Seoul, and then wander around the nearby market (it was too crowded with tourists for my liking). After wandering through the crowds in the heat, I needed relief.Bank of Korea Money Museum

That’s when I saw an interesting building across the street–it was classical Western architecture. I walked over to take a look as well as a few pictures.

I wasn’t all that interested in visiting a money museum, but admission was free and the space was air conditioned–the decision was practically made for me. The decision was even easier when I noticed that the museum wasn’t crowded like the market across the street.

The opulence inside the Bank of Korea Money Museum

The opulence inside the Bank of Korea Money Museum

I didn’t expect much from the Money Museum, which is probably why it impressed me. This wasn’t just the Bank of Korea showing off its fortune–it was interesting and educational. (Alright, it was also the bank showing off it’s beautiful building, but there was more to it.) Most of the exhibits were intended to teach children about the banking system and even about the basics of savings and investing.

Recycle that cash and make more

Recycle that cash and make more

There was even some educational information for people like me. I had no idea how money was recycled–they can use it as construction material, or so they claim. And there was history about the bank for those who want to know more about the Bank of Korea.

Dear Leader's North Korean money

Dear Leader’s North Korean money

Of course, there was also the room full of currency. They had one of everything–even money from Kim Jong-un’s most glorious Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that tends to use US dollars more than their own printed currency, which I assume is suitable for toilet paper. But they also had Zimbabwe’s worthless currency–you know, the trillion dollar bill that was worth about one US dollar before Mugabe caved in and revalued the currency (it’s now about 360 Zimbabwean dollars to one US dollar).

For a free museum, it was definitely worth the price of admission (they didn’t even charge an ATM fee).

That’s Why the TSA Wants to Give Me a Free Colonoscopy

Some of us get a little more attention than others when walking through airport security. Of course, this happens a lot more often in the US than in some other countries.

The TSA has a bad reputation, and for good reason with so much of the negative press it receives. I have to admit that I have had some almost pleasant experiences with the TSA at Newark airport (yes, really). There have been other experiences in other US airports that were less than pleasant–fortunately, none of them ended with a search of various orifices or a visit to a lonely dark room.

This is how it sometimes feels going through airport security (from MacRitchie Reservoir, Singapore)

This is how it sometimes feels going through airport security (from MacRitchie Reservoir, Singapore)

Have you ever wondered why you of all people got singled out “randomly” for that special search and friendly pat-down? Well, wonder no more. The Washington Post reported that an anonymous source released the secret list of behaviors the TSA notices that could get you that free colonoscopy.

All you need is four points on the board to receive your visit to the dank room where authorities are sure to forget about you for hours while you desperately need to use a toilet because you drank a liter of water in an attempt to empty that bottle before going through security so you could fill it back up at a water fountain before boarding your flight because airlines no longer even give you a cup of water.

Some airports outside the US try to help travelers relax (Incheon)

Some airports outside the US try to help travelers relax (Incheon)

The TSA actually looks at your face to see if you’ve recently shaved a beard. That’s bad news for people like me who need to shave almost every day. I need to remember to shave the day BEFORE I travel through the US again to avoid having one point against me.

And if you think making jokes or complaints about the long security lines or ineptness of some security staff will go unnoticed, think again. It’s just another sign that you might deserve that special treatment.

Seriously, the TSA assigns one point for people who appear stressed. I wonder if the TSA agents can tell the difference between stress, frustration, and extreme annoyance? Do they assign points to passengers who roll their eyes at drone-like instructions security personnel excrete while all we want to do is get through the metal detector and grab some overpriced food before our flight?

And if you think you should appear happy about your ensuing vacation, think again. Whistling in line will earn you another point. All I can think of is Jasper teaching Lisa Simpson’s class; he explains all the behavior that will result in “a paddlin’.”

They’ll even assign points to passengers in a rush to make their flight. Good thing security at Incheon airport didn’t have this system in place–I arrived three hours early and had to wait two hours just to check in for my flight; they put me in an express security line so I could get to my gate with about 10 minutes before departure (and no, I wasn’t flying on a holiday).

While the TSA relies on these indicators to keep all the travelers safe and agitated, according to the Washington Post article, “The Government Accountability Office questioned the usefulness of behavioral detection techniques in a 2014 report, saying it found no solid evidence that they are effective.”

This makes the process seem less crappy

This makes the process seem less crappy

I prefer the polite approach to airport security. Some of the friendliest staff I’ve encountered was at Changi Airport in Singapore–security personnel actually smiled! Hell, they even have these nice sectioned bins for you to place your laptop, phone, and change (and they didn’t mind me taking a photo of it; they were a little surprised to hear that I’d never seen anything like it before).

What behaviors do you think should be on the list? What common behaviors are likely to get you some special attention before your next trip?

Finding Nature in Tokyo at Mt. Mitake

As the weather cooled in autumn, I searched for new outdoor activities around Tokyo–it was almost late October and the foliage was beginning to change with the season. I hoped for a better view of the fall colors than I had the previous year.mitake-view

The previous year I hiked Mt. Takao and Mt. Oyama and even spent days in most of the parks throughout the city. I searched for hikes that weren’t too difficult or too far from my suburban apartment–most destinations were at least an hour from that home in Kanagawa.mitake-river

I decided to head to Mt. Mitake, which is part of Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park (a fact I didn’t know at the time), because it wasn’t too far out of the way and wouldn’t be too crowded (or so I had read). I was also inviting a friend to hike along with me, so I didn’t want to find anything as challenging as Mt. Oyama.mitake-bridge

It was a bit of a walk from the train station to the trail–a cable car was required to get to the trail; it was insisted upon by my hiking companion. We walked along the road in the hope that it led in the right direction–it was a while before we saw a sign that sort of pointed in the right direction; the sign came after we crossed the footbridge over the river.mitake-cable-car

We wandered from the cable car through a town along the way that had some old-style houses that were mixed with newer additions for remodeling.

House in town near Mt. Mitake

House in town near Mt. Mitake

Before embarking on the adventure through nature, we stopped at Musashi-Mitake Shrine, which seemed to be intended for dogs and dates back to 1307 (though most of it was built much later). This shrine is at the summit of the 3048-foot mountain.

Musashi-Mitake-Shrine

From the Musashi-Mitake Shrine we hiked into the forest, away from the few people who were spending the day in the park (mostly with their dogs).

A stone dog at Musashi Mitake Shrine

A stone dog at Musashi Mitake Shrine

We didn’t really choose a path through the wilderness on the outskirts of Tokyo; we just followed the nearest trail that sounded interesting–it claimed to lead to waterfalls and a rock garden. We had no idea how long the hike would take us or how difficult it might be. We wandered up and down some hills and hoped that the next turn around the mountainside would take us to our scenic destination.mitake-waterfall

The hike felt like it took longer before we reached Nanayo Falls. It was a pleasant stop at the small waterfall before heading back to the cable car; we didn’t even make it to the rock garden and second waterfall. Had I been hiking alone, I might’ve taken a longer route through the park in an attempt to find Mt. Otake and probably would’ve gotten lost along the way.mitake-forest

It was probably best that we departed Mt. Mitake when we did as evening was approaching with the early autumn sunset. We boarded the train for central Tokyo where I could change lines and head back to the suburbs and my hiking companion could do the same but in the opposite direction (and much closer). The long train ride felt good on my legs (though not so much when I had to stand again). I slept for a significant portion of that ride that took me close to two hours.

mitake-gate

The entrance to Musashi Mitake Shrine

After numerous hiking adventures on my own, it was a different experience having someone with me. It was more fun to have someone to talk with along the way, but more difficult to go at my own pace. Sometimes I prefer to be alone with my thoughts in nature–the cathartic experience of hiking.

Is it a better experience to hike on your own or with other people?

An Extended Hike Through MacRitchie Reservoir in Singapore

“Silence, I discover, is something you can actually hear.”
Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore

On my second day in Singapore, I decided to take a hike to make up for my previous day’s failure. That first day I attempted to go to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, a large rainforest park in the outskirts of Singapore, only to discover that the park was undergoing renovations (supposedly they were improving the trails or something like that). That’s when I decided to head for the MacRitchie Reservoir, which is a much larger park than I expected.macritchie-reservoir

MacRitchie Reservoir, which was created in 1868, is popular among locals–there are numerous trails for people looking for little exercise. I saw groups of people out for a stroll as well as those jogging around the reservoir and surrounding forest trail. There were even a lot of people renting kayaks.macritchie-reservoir1

I originally thought I could walk to the reservoir from the MRT station, but I was definitely wrong. After a failed attempt at getting a bus (I was on the wrong side of the street), I checked out the stops listed on the bus stop but didn’t see a stop for MacRitchie. That’s when a kind local came up and offered some assistance–she told me which buses I could take and where to get off; she even took the same bus and pointed me in the right direction after I got off.

As I arrived at the reservoir, I headed for the trail around the water before turning off onto the forest trail. As I entered the park, there were a lot of monkeys playing in the trees and plenty of people watching them (there are signs in parks in Singapore reminding visitors to not feed the monkeys or carry plastic bags that monkeys might mistake for food). Along the trail I also noticed some small monitor lizards (I’m disappointed that I didn’t see any of the larger ones).macritchie-monkeys

The sign pointing to the forest trail said it was about 5 km to the TreeTop Walk, which is sponsored by HSBC (nice to see them doing more than laundering money for drug cartels).

What I didn’t realize is that the trail to the TreeTop Walk doesn’t go around the reservoir–it’s a trail through thick woodland, so you can’t see the reservoir. I also didn’t realize that while it’s 5 km to the destination, it was more than 5 km to finish the loop and then find the way back to the park entrance. I somehow found an exit along the way to the main road and bus stop nearby that would take me back to the MRT.

The forest trail through MacRitchie Reservoir

The forest trail through MacRitchie Reservoir

I was only a short distance into the forest trail–the noise of Singapore had already disappeared in the distance–when it started to rain (it is a rainforest after all). There are plenty of shelters along the trail, so I managed to find one before I got soaked with my camera. It cooled the weather until I made it to the TreeTop Walk, but it heated up considerably after that and I was desperate to get out–there were others I encountered on the trail who wanted to get out faster as well.

The HSBC TreeTop Walk

The HSBC TreeTop Walk

the TreeTop Walk had a beautiful view, especially considering the air cleared after the rain. After walking through the humidity after the rain, the view wasn’t as energizing as one would hope–I was sweating so much I felt like collapsing on the bridge (and it only got worse when I saw the signs for more than 5 km back out of the rainforest in either direction). The route I took back out of the rainforest took me along a country club golf course, which made the experience a little more surreal in my humidity-induced delirium (maybe it was a mirage).

View from the TreeTop Walk

View from the TreeTop Walk

I was tempted to stay on the bus to see where it went just because I was exhausted and thoroughly enjoyed the air conditioning on the ride to the MRT station.

Instead of heading back to my hostel to shower again and possibly take a nap, I decided to head farther from my hike to Bayfront. I wandered around the Marina Bay Sands mall to cool off in the air conditioning (and with the hope that I could find some affordable food (nope)) before dragging my tired legs to Gardens by the Bay, which is a story for another day.

View from the TreeTop Walk

View from the TreeTop Walk

I got to end my day with dinner at a little sidewalk buffet restaurant in Little India where I met a Dutch tourist and a few locals who ordered plenty of beer and even more food. I even met the owner of the restaurant who joined us for some of the beer and food. Somehow I paid less than half of my bill–certainly nothing to complain about.

Despite a hot and exhausting day, it was the kind of travel exhaustion I needed to rejuvenate myself (though my feet would disagree).

Feeling Underwhelmed at Thang Long, a UNESCO Site in Vietnam

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long is the only UNESCO World Heritage Site within Hanoi; the only other nearby UNESCO site is Halong Bay, which I visited my first weekend in Vietnam. I wandered upon it late in my stay in the northern Vietnamese city–long after I was already exhausted from life in the Old Quarter. The highlight of this historic site at the time was that it wasn’t crowded and there was no one inside trying to sell me things I didn’t want.thang-long-gate1

I wasn’t specifically searching for the Imperial Citadel, but I had seen it mentioned when I browsed UNESCO sites, so I was subconsciously keeping an eye out for it as attempted to escape the crowds in Hanoi. I came across this piece of Vietnamese history after a morning of wandering around the Ho Chi Minh mausoleum and presidential palace.lenin-hanoi

The citadel is next to the military history museum, but I didn’t bother visiting that one–I was tired and wasn’t really interested. It’s also just across from a park with a statue of Vladimir Lenin–I’m sure he’d appreciate the teenager lounging at his feet and the couple dancing nearby.thang-long-gate

The Imperial Citadel of Thang Long was first built as a palace and other structures by the Lý Dynasty in 1010 and expanded by the Trần, Lê and Nguyễn dynasties. A more modern citadel still remains at the site, including the flag tower that was built in 1812 under King Gia Long, but most of the original structures were destroyed over the centuries. thang-long-flag-tower

The remains of the original imperial city were discovered in 2008 when Ba Đình Hall, the old parliament building, was torn down to make way for a new one.

Today, there isn’t much to see around the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long. There are active archaeological dig sites and some protected ruins, but not much to actually see–these are not like the ruins of Rome. While I was there, I saw a group of students who appeared to be taking graduation photos (I guess they were taking the photos a semester early as this was early January).thang-long-archaeological-di

As I didn’t know much of the history of Thang Long at the time, I didn’t find the citadel as awe inspiring as other palaces I’ve visited–it certainly isn’t as the palaces in Bangkok or Phnom Penh, or even the Forbidden City when it isn’t shrouded in scaffolding. Unfortunately, historic sites in Vietnam haven’t yet developed educational self-guided tours (aside from the propaganda at the war museums), but I hope more of this will be developed for Thang Long as more of the palace is unearthed.

Have you ever visited an historic site only to be disappointed until much later when you learn more about it?

Preconceptions and Reality in Singapore

“We sail tonight for Singapore
We’re all as mad as hatters here”
Tom Waits, Singapore

Last year when I considered taking a trip to Singapore I thought of a million reasons to not go, most of which stemmed from the little I knew about the country.

Maybe it all goes back to 1994–I was finishing middle school and a 19-year-old American named Michael Fay caused an international incident by being sentenced to a caning in Singapore. Americans were in an uproar over the punishment Fay received for vandalism. I thought he was an idiot. But that ordeal left me, and many others, with the impression that Singapore is a brutal police state.

It’s not.

singapore-skylineYes, there are tons of laws to follow, and the punishments for breaking the law can be harsh (mostly steep fines now). The laws governing day-to-day activities, however, don’t really register with tourists. No spitting! Ok. No littering! Fine, where’s the trash can? It really isn’t any inconvenience.

And when it comes to all the restrictions, no one seems to care about jaywalking. People cross the streets when they want, but they make sure no traffic is coming first (this isn’t Hanoi). Drivers are polite enough to stop for pedestrians, but I don’t imagine they’d be as happy if those pedestrians walked in front of their cars.singapore

I always thought Singapore would be immaculate with all the rules they supposedly enforce. It is quite clean, but there are plenty of messes–there was a public restroom at an MRT station was foul (still better than any public restroom in the US). There were a few others that weren’t much better. And at the outdoor food courts, there are plenty of messes–I saw no trash cans because everyone just leaves dishes and trays on the tables for staff to clean up. I’m sure if I stayed out later, those same food courts would get a bit messy.

For a country that some might regard as a police state, there isn’t a police presence. I was there for Lee Kuan Yew’s funeral, and there were long lines of people paying their respects, so there were some police around to mostly help with directions. The police were quite friendly and helpful.

Clarke Quay at night

Clarke Quay at night

That level of friendliness and helpfulness expanded to the general population. I’ve said before how polite and friendly people in Taipei are. I found people in Seoul and Tokyo to also be polite, though not nearly as friendly. People in Singapore are more than that–they’re helpful and accommodating.

Example: I wanted to purchase a three-day metro ticket (which is not for a full 72 hours because the ticket offices aren’t open early enough), but the ticket office was closed when I arrived at Changi Airport. An MRT employee apologized because the office closed early in honor of Lee Kuan Yew. She then helped me buy my ticket and made sure I knew where to go. When I finally got to buy the three-day ticket, the ticket office was going on lunch break. There were three people ahead of me and they all desperately wanted to get things done now (I didn’t want to wait another hour either). The employee stayed to help us, but turned anyone else away. In Japan and Taiwan employees wouldn’t be so flexible.

I certainly worried about the weather in Singapore–I know it’s hot and humid year-round. But the heat wasn’t unbearable. Afternoon downpours were inconvenient, but they felt great. I had expected the city to be fully air conditioned, like in Hong Kong. We used to joke that Hong Kong was 5 degrees cooler than mainland China–I swear it got colder as soon as I set foot across the border at Luohu crossing. If I visited Hong Kong in the summer I went from frigid temperatures indoors to oppressive heat and humidity on the streets (my glasses would fog up if I went indoors for more than 5 minutes before going back outside).

supertrees-night

Supertrees at Gardens by the Bay

Singapore manages temperatures better. There was a progression to temperature changes that prevents people from getting sick and acclimates the population. It was hot and humid outside, and it got cooler as I got further into the metro stations–the buses and subway cars were quite cold, but I was prepared for it with the progression. The ticket area of the MRT was a few degrees cooler than outside; the waiting area for the train was a little cooler; and the trains were even cooler than that. The progression of air conditioning means that the city is more energy efficient than Hong Kong.

Another preconception I had was that Singapore is just a huge city. While that is true, there is also plenty of green space. The city is so well planned and covered in green. And all the plants along the streets and in the parks are well maintained. It’s not like in China where they rip out a plant just because a leaf is turning brown.

MacRitchie Reservoir

MacRitchie Reservoir

I went for a hike at Bukit Timah Nature Reserve only to find the 400-acre reserve was closed for trail renovations. There were some other trails nearby though; they just weren’t as interesting. There’s also the MacRitchie Reservoir, where I took a more than 10 km hike (I thought the hike was only 5 km). And there’s still the Gardens by the Bay and the Botanic Gardens. There is a lot of room to breathe in Singapore.

Singapore impressed me.

Have you ever visited a place with a preconception that was quickly broken?

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