First I'm just going to reiterate that it was an amazing trip. The food, the scenery, the people - everything we saw was incredibly different from my norm at home and it made such a huge impression on me in so, so many ways. You never really think about other places in the world until you visit them - of course, you think about them when there are famines and floods and they come up in the news, but is there a real connection there?
As a girl with Chinese blood, despite being several generations removed from "the motherland", there's something inexplicably magical about setting foot on the ground your ancestors lived and loved on; something unspeakably heart-clenching about being surrounded by the people who speak the language of your lineage in a place that isn't quite home but holds a strange power over you to the degree that, if you think hard enough, it could be.
|an alleyway in one of the gorgeous old parts of Shanghai; due to modern construction this particular area was a block of tiny houses entirely enclaved by apartment complexes and high-rises|
We spent a very short and very rushed day and a half in Shanghai, China - as our stopover on the way from Vancouver to Singapore, we weren't expecting to get to much but it was definitely a goal of ours to see as much of the city as we possibly could. Shanghai is a gorgeous city full of paradoxical marriages between the old and the new as well as the traditional and the modern; as one of China's very first major port cities from the 1800s, a longtime Western influence is fused into the soul of the city, as well as, interestingly enough, the architecture.
The tourist areas in particular were interesting - we visited some beautiful buildings that used to be temples and the like that were modified for tourism to house Dairy Queen, KFC, Starbucks and other Western food chains. KFC and Pizza Hut seemed so revered; on the famous Nanjing Lu we spotted huge lineups of people at dinner time outside the two chains. Quite funny really! We also managed to stop by the Expo, but only to see the outsides of buildings... we couldn't waste one minute standing in a line!
|the Saudi Arabian pavilion at the Expo - one of the coolest looking buildings there|
From Shanghai we flew a 5-hour flight down to Singapore, a city/country that really could not be any more different than laid-back west-coast Vancouver. I'm being ridiculously serious in saying this - I was stunned at the density of the apartments, the sheer size and number of malls (Robson Street holds nothing to Singapore's famed Orchard Road). Plus, you know, the fact there was a fake forest inside Changi International Airport was kind of awesome too.
|a shot of Singapore's apartments from a scenic mountain area - look at that density!|
|a food court inside a mall - ridiculously cool, it looked like an expensive library. Gorgeous.|
Another thing that totally differs from Vancouver about Singapore is the skyline. I know, the Vancouver skyline is absolutely beautiful. But Singapore comes absolutely alive with light at night.
I'm going to move from Singapore right to Malaysia with one universally pleasing blog feature: pictures of food. Food in Southeast Asia was fantastic and, by the standards of restaurants here, so ridiculously cheap that when I got back I didn't want to eat out ever again. Take a look at this:
|amazing Balinese food we had in Singapore - the six of us ordered more than the party of twenty seated beside us.|
|Ice kachang in Malaysia - after having this I can't go back to ice cream. Cendol, pink sago, grass jelly and palm sugar syrup topped with then stirred into shaved ice!|
|Malaysian laksa that was particularly delicious!|
Our trip gave us a few days in the lesser celebrated East Malaysia, which is disconnected from the peninsula of West Malaysia that holds Malaysia's best known city Kuala Lumpur. Still, East Malaysia is known for its scenery, and after a whirlwind week in the Singaporean city center it was amazing to see the difference between an intense urban environment and one that was much more relaxed! Tiny food outlets lined the streets hawking heaping bowls of noodles and rice for the equivalent of less than $3CAD (hence all the food pictures). We also visited a sprawling outdoor market at a small town as well as a particularly interesting spa for a very cool spa treatment...
Yes, that's right - those are my sister's feet immersed in a pool of fish. The fish foot spa was incredibly weird but also very effective. Sadly the nerves on the bottoms of my feet didn't let me hold out very well and I was shrieking like a banshee throughout the whole experience. It didn't hurt but it tickled so, so much! The little fish nibble at the base of your heel and between your toes in a way that you wouldn't ever think possible!
With that all over with, we went even deeper into our scenic dreams and visited an amazing rainforest resort in the area of Malaysia called Mulu. To draw in the Canada parallels again, British Columbian forests are beautiful but the striking beauty of these rainforest areas was just absolutely stunning. The humidity, the tall green trunks towering over our heads as we walked under a canopy of swaying leaves and chittering invisible animals - it was a ridiculously cool experience. Not only that but we were able to visit some gorgeous caves in the area, full of intricately shaped formations completely moulded by the force of running water - water that, in the case of one cave, pooled into a breathtaking clearwater paradise we got the opportunity to swim in. Honestly, my mouth probably gaped open through most of the days we spent at this resort from the sheer beauty of everything we saw. In urban areas it's easy to wonder at the beauty of man-made creations but when you're totally immersed in an environment entirely natural - now that is something to be amazed by!
|see that sand? It's actually below several feet of crystal clear water. Most stunning pool I've ever swum in!|
A lot of people haven't heard of Brunei before so when I try to explain my family history it gets complicated! But for the sake of learning something new, Brunei is a tiny - microscopic almost - country bordered by Malaysia with only one side exposed to an open coast. The Sultan is one of the richest men in the world, because his country sits atop oil deposits that fund his government, one that works in symbiosis with the oil giant Shell. He's heavily praised by his government; we visited a museum dedicated to his life that held on display things like gifts from other governments and the chariot he rode in at his coronation! There are a lot of political and social problems I also have to note about Brunei but as I'm trying to steer my blog away from a place of negativity, well... let's just concentrate on the sightseeing and the cool things we did see!
|we took the opportunity to snoop around a 6-star hotel; this is part of the grounds. Inside, the building was lined with genuine gold leaf - incredible.|
|aaaand here is the pool at the aforementioned hotel - ridiculous!|
|me blowing bubbles at the seaside in Brunei - if only the camera could capture how beautiful the long stretch of uninterrupted sand was!|
|yes, that is a floating village!|
|My Chinese family is actually in the minority in Brunei; the native Muslim Malay people comprise the majority of the population. This is a beautiful mosque built by the Sultan/the government in his name: yes, that is real gold!|
Sadly, after doing four days of exploring in Brunei, our time was up. Our flight home was more than a little complicated, just like all the island-hopping we did on our vacation - we flew from Brunei to Johor in West Malaysia, drove across the border into Singapore, then flew from Singapore back to Shanghai and from Shanghai all the way home!
I feel like I'm cheating with this post because its brevity doesn't even begin to cover the three weeks I spent in Asia that were quite possibly some of the best weeks of my life. The thing is, it was also one of the most foreign weeks of my life, and I don't just mean that geographically. The thing about travel is that you're confronted with situations that show up in front of you to leave you completely mystified. I dealt with broken down, dirt-encrusted bathrooms and ones shining in chrome and automatic appliances; I saw a toddler in Mulu happily spending his playtime with two large gourd vegetables, and toddlers in Singapore fixated on their parents' touch-screen phones. I was met with social, cultural, and political values and systems so different from those I hold as an integral part of myself, and yet those values and systems are from whence I was born, conceived, created. I went to places I've never seen before and yet after three weeks I felt like leaving would be to tear out some part of me that had grown so attached to this place, humidity and worn-out swollen feet and all.
I honestly and truly can't wait to go back!
P.S. Keep an eye out for another post in the next few days. I have a lot to catch up on, after that break!