Achieving Foreign-ness

By: leelefever on December 28, 2006 - 5:35pm

 Foreign-ness was a concept that became really important to me at the beginning of the trip.  I wrote this in March of 2006, just after perhaps the most foreign city/town we visited the whole trip: Negombo, Sri Lanka.

 I had a picture in my mind of what it would be like to see the world.  It included people of different races, driving funny three-wheeled cars, wearing draped clothing with unfamiliar music and language in the background.  We would wind our way through cities and towns being the only westerners for miles, in my mind.

Having traveled internationally for two months now, we have finally realized this vision.  It happened today in Negombo, Sri Lanka, and I think it was the first of many experiences that will give me much satisfaction.  Finally, I feel that we are undeniably away from all that is home to us – something that has been too long coming.

Looking back, I loved New Zealand.  It was our first stop and it was chocked full of things to see and do…with its white sand beaches, fjords and glaciers.  Being the first stop, it was easy to be excited and I was very interested.

Something was missing for me at our next stop – Queensland, Australia and I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time. Retrospectively, I mark it up to a few things with a lack of interestingness being the biggest factor.  Queensland was beautiful and the Great Barrier Reef is reason enough to go – but overall I was not all that interested. It was too much like home when I wanted something foreign.

Singapore was a step in the right direction, but still so western, so easy, so clean, so nice.  Singapore was not incredibly interesting to me.

Thinking again about that picture in my mind our trip, something becomes clearer.  I want, more than anything else, to be interested and I find few things more interesting than foreign-ness.  The satisfaction I derive from the trip is linked to how unlike home it is to me.

Arriving in Sri Lanka and traveling through India and Southeast Asia over the next couple of months, I have a renewed sense of what the trip will hold for us.  Gone are the days of easy access to the things we take for granted. Gone are the days of drinkable tap water and edible food.  Gone are the days of predictable traffic and English speaking people.  The days of ease and consistent comfort may be few and far between.  

We are now in a new realm of travel and our trip, one that will challenge us a little more and make us work for what we want to experience. It may be hard and it may see us get sick and long for home or some place like it.  But it will be foreign and it will be interesting and as long as that is true, I will be happy for a while.

A Hand Dryer That Works

By: leelefever on March 3, 2006 - 6:59pm

Sometimes you come across things that are a better mousetrap.  If there was an product that needed innovation it is the bathroom hand dryer.  I've always had a vendetta against them because they don't dry hands and the incentivize unsanitary practices.  Environmentally friendly? Yes. User friendly? No.

In Singapore we have seen an innovation in hand drying that is sure to take the world by storm.  It is a hand dryer that actually works quickly and effectively.  It's made by Mitsubishi and it blasts the moisture from your hands instead of warming it off. I hope that the bathroom designers of world take notice.

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Friends in Singapore

By: leelefever on March 2, 2006 - 10:06pm


As you may be aware, one of our goals on the trip is to use the Internet to connect with locals. Last night was a success story and I hope we can repeat it again soon.

It all started with the 43places web site, where you can ask the locals a question. So, I posted a message about wanting to meet someone in Singapore for a beer or coffee. Guarav was one of the folks that replied and last night he and two of his friends from grad school met us out and showed us around Chinatown and the Riverfront.

More than anything else, we appreciated how much we learned from each person last night. Guarav (middle- striped shirt) is Indian (born in Mumbai), Iftekhar (left) is from Banglesh but has lived in the United Arab Emirates his whole life and Gerard (right) is from the Philippines. From the history of Bangladesh to things to see in Northern India to Jon Stewart and Filipino food, we covered a lot of ground and learned so much from these guys. They were perfect hosts for a night out in Singapore. Not too bad for “meeting someone on the Internet”.

Guarav, Ifty and Gerard, thanks so much for the hospitality. We're happy to return the favor in Seattle anytime!

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Singapore Zoo and Night Safari

By: leelefever on March 1, 2006 - 7:25pm

One of the most often recommended things to do in Singapore is the Zoo and specifically the “Nght Safari”. To be sure not to miss anything, we did both ($22US) and we decided that both is too much. Our recommendation is to do one of the two - you’ll see more animals at the Zoo during the day and it has very impressive collection – from White Bengal Tigers to Manatees to Pygmy Hippos to Black Spitting Cobras.

After a long day of animal watching, the night safari was interesting but more about event production than the animals from our perspective. It includes a “night show” complete with campy humor, a tram ride (done in a dramatic whisper so as not to bother the nocturnal animals) and expensive food and drinks. But, you aren’t melting in the Singapore sun and it is quite entertaining.

Most fascinating for me was the Polar Bear. I had seen one before but this one is quite special, mostly due to its location. You see, it is a POLAR bear that is living about 60 miles from the equator. Surely there is no polar bear so far from home. Yet, this polar bear even gave birth to a cub… 60 miles from the equator.

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Just One Ticket, That's All

By: leelefever on March 1, 2006 - 7:22pm
 Singapore is supposed to be the place where we plan the next phase of our trip. Being a major city, comparatively western and an airline hub, we figured it was a good stop for travel planning. Apparently, Singapore or the gods of travel don’t want us to get our planning done.

Today was one of those days where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. We laughed through it and became quite delirious and in awe at the unbelievable number of road blocks we confronted trying to make one flight reservation. Here is the play-by-play.
All we wanted was to book a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Mumbai, India, two of the major cities in the region.

  • A travel agent was recommended. We walked to it and found that it only booked packages.

  • We went to an Internet café and used Expedia to find the flight. No E-tickets can be issued. Roadblock.

  • We went to, but the site was down. Roadblock.

  • We went to Air India, the codeshare airline, the computer we were using did not allow the pop-up necessary to book tickets. Roadblock.

  • We walked to the Malaysian Airlines office. They can only sell tickets leaving from Singapore (our current location). Roadblack.

  • We try a new Internet café. We find the flight, purchase the ticket only to find out the purchase did not go through- no explanation given, only a phone number. Roadblock.

  • We figure the credit card may have blocked the transaction. We enter a shopping center to call an operator, staff tell us that Singapore cannot do collect calls and no one knows how to dial an International Operator. Roadblack.

  • Go to a hotel lobby and attempt to call credit card company collect from pay phone- the operator cannot hear us. Try new phone, same problem. Roadblock.

  • No one in hotel knows how to contact international assistance. Roadblaock.

  • Finally connect to credit card company, but collect charges inexplicably denied, 3 times. Roadbloack

  • Run out of change, must find change.

  • Buy pre-paid phone card for international calls.

  • Leave area and go to subway, find another pay phone. Try international phone card, number to Malaysian Airlines cannot be connected. Roadbloack.

  • Spend .60 to have the operator tell us to dial 104 for international call assistance.

  • Get through to credit card company – no problem with card- it should work.

  • Try to call Malaysian Airlines again with pre-paid card. No Connection. Roadblock.

  • Call int’l operator again. Tells us to try using credit card.

  • Switch to a pay phone that accepts credit cards. Slide Card- “Card Error”. Try new card: “Replace Handset” was all it said. Roadblock.

  • Give up on calling Malaysia Airlines – decide to go home. Need to get Subway tokens, no change smaller than $10. Machine will not accept higher than $5. Go to office, no one present. Roadblock.

  • Find change, enter subway, walk to platform, realize wrong platform, exit and return to new platform. Go home with nothing to show for 6 hours of trying to get one ticket.

I’m quite surprised that we made it back to the room without getting hit by a car or accosted in some way. Our issues were certainly part ignorance and part bad luck. Live and learn I suppose.

Later that night, Sachi got the tickets online and we rejoiced. Yaaaay.

Things Are Looking Up

By: leelefever on February 27, 2006 - 3:17am

It appears that things are looking up for us now.  Last night we opened the laptop and found two free and unsecured wireless Internet connections.  A good sign.  We also found out that breakfast is included AND includes noodles, which is heaven for Sachi.  Then, despite a harrowing and anxious experience, we got our Indian visa applications in process in time to make our flight out of Singapore this weekend. What a frustrating event.  After blowing our budget in Australia and New Zealand (as expected), we can feel good about living under budget for a while.  Dinner under $10US is so, so nice.

Sachi is still in the throes of that head cold, but she’s a trooper and it should start going away tomorrow.  Soon, we’ll have replenished our lost and ruined items and have some kind of plans for our future travels.  For now, we know we’re going to Sri Lanka, but that’s about it.

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