Tales From A Broad

My year of teaching English in Japan is up. Next mission: backpack Asia before going home to the U.S.A. Currently HOME!

Allah is my homeboy

Tuesday, August 29

An Islamic mosque

A Muslim man praying during mid-afternoon. Muslims have to pray 5 times a day.

If you're in the mood to go "shopping" for a religion, Singapore is one of the best places to do it. It's a surprisingly religous nation, but not comprosed of a dominant one like so many other countries (read: USA and Christianity). From what I could tell in the few days there, there's a large Islamic, Buddhist, Hindu and Christian population and they all play seemingly equal parts in Singaporian culture. Admittedly, I've never been exposed to Hinduism or Islam, apart from the superficial things like pictures, movies and strangers on the street who wear the clothes. Even though I've never fell for the media hype in the States that likes to typecast Muslims as "terrorists," I also never had any desire to seek a deeper understanding of them either. Thankfully, Singapore is the first place I've ever been to where Muslims made up a large part of the population.

Without getting to much into it. i was suprised to learn that Allah is essentilly the same God that Christians pray to. The fundamental difference is that they don't believe in the Holy Trinity or Jesus as the son of God. They do believe that he is a divine prophet though and that Mary was divine as well. Both religions demand that worshippers commit themselves to their one God. I know I only got a superficial glance at Islam, but it's not as different from Christianity as I previously thought.

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Little India

The markets in Singapore's Little India. There were NO women!

As soon as I arrived in Singapore, I dropped my bags off and wandered the streets. My hostel was located in the middle of Little India which was easily one of the most fascinating experiences I've ever had in Asia. For starters, Little India was crowded with so many people and they all were men! I really was the only woman I saw in the whole market, but surprisingly, I didn't feel threatened in the least. Not only was I safe, but no one was even payoing attention to me, whcih was so refreshing fresh out of China. Did you know that heterosexual Indian men hold hands and it's not considered gay like the Western world perceieves it?

An Indian woman in a Hindu temple, drawing religous pictures with chalk.

The atmosphere was so lively and energetic. Nagchampa incense smoke was burning from within the little mom-and-pop shops that sold Henna ink, elephant statues, lotus flower garlands to donate to the temples. The deeper I got in the market,m the more enthralled I was. I stumbled upon a Hindu temple that was doing the Sunday nigt serv\vice. People were eating rice on the floor with their bare hands while I was staring at all the statues. Maybe I saw one too many Buddhist temples in japan, with teh same plain black, white and brown woods, but I fell in love with the bright colors and graphic statues that this temple had. I wa sso lucky becaused they were doing a special festival that night where they put one of the statues of their goddesses on a float in the middle of the street. One of the minsters lit a plate of vegetables and offered it to the goddess. Even in this traditional ritual, hundreds of Indian men were snapping shots with their cell phones. Being exposed to Indian culture so much, eating the curries (the cheese naan was amazing!), listening to the music, meeting the people really piqued my interest to go to India some time soon!

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the Night safari

Monday, August 28

Maybe San Diego has one of the world's largest zoo'z, but Singapore's night safari defintely makes it the most interesting zoo. Some English girls in my hostel and I went to see what it was all about.

You get in and they herd you in this outdoor arena lit up by dim green and red lights. I was expecting the normal stuff like feeding lions and what not, but what came out was much cooler. All the animals in the show are obviously nocturnal and they do tricks that don't suck. Three otters came on stage to seperate the paper and plastic trash into recycle bins. A leopard caught his prey in the dark from a tall, impossible tree.

A beaver walking the rope above our heads

After the show, they took us on a tram ride through the massive zoo. Since everything is in the dark, we could only see the animals under sensitive lights placed far enough away to bother them, but close enough for us to see them. The vultures twitched their wings. The owls almost turned their heads backwards to see us. The hyenas circled their caves nervuosly. The lions yawned when we passed.

What make's Singapore's Night safari so unique is that it's the most animal-conscious zoo I've ever been to. Absolutely NO animals were confined in cages or degraded in any way. If anything, it felt like we, the humans, were the ones confined within the tiny trams we squeezed into, driving through the narrow dirt paths that seperated us from the animals with electric fences. That was it. No cages. No fake rocks or fake trees. They had no bedtime.

The zoo clearly knows it's awesome and was trying to convince us, the tourists, to be the same by being environmentally aware. "This species is killed by the thousands every year. We can protect them by doing more of so and so," The zoo keepers in the show and tram ride would throw in little messagesd like, "This species is killed by the thousands every year. We can protect them by doing more of this," and, "The earth is changing at an alarming rate and we can change that by recycling."

Singapore zoo's Night Safari gets two BIG toe-thumbs up from me!

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Singapore tastes so good

Thursday, August 17

China was great and all, but I was ready to get back the comforts of a developed nataion, and Sinngapore was the perfect remedy. For the first time in weeks, I could walk down the streets without having people grab me, stare at me, or yell at me to buy something. For the first time in weeks, I was just a fly on the wall, observing this new, clean and wonderful city that is Singapore.

Yes, it's true that the streets are immaculate and trashless. It's also true that you can be put to death for drug trafficking or even having drugs in your system. But, it's not true that chewing gum is illegal as the myth would suggest. The truth is you can chew it, but you just can't import it. There are lot so wacky laws in this little country.If you want to buy gum, you need to go to the pharmacy and get a pescription by putting your name on a list!
I was also happy to be in Singapore because it was the first time in more than a year that I was surrounded by lots of food from home. Starbuck's Frappuccinno bottles, Tim Tams, a wide variety of cheeses,Slurpees, etc.--you name it, and they got it. This, of course, was on top of the already delish food they have like spicy lime noodles and fruity ice desserts.

I loooove these icy-fruity-slushy-desserts.

Singapore reminds me of Miami. They both are hot, sticky and humid; have tons of palm trees and men selling mangos on the street; have a large and diverse culture; and pink and yellow buildings are all over the place in both cities. All you have to do is subtract the Cubans and replace them with Indians and you've got yourself a nice little replica!

Maybe that's why I was so impressed with Singapore. It's the only Asian county I've been to that can TRULY classify itself as diverse. There's a large Chinese, Muslim, Indian and Western population and each of their religions are equally prominent: Islam, Hindu and Christiantiy

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miso sad to leave china

* * Woo Hoo!!! I've uploaded my China pictures on my website. Click here! Plus, I added pics on my previous posts, scroll down to take a look. * *

Bye China, it's been fun. It feels like I just got here, and yet 3 weeks have passed.

Goodbye near-death experiences with traffic. Fighting motorcyclists, bikers, drivers, spicy chicken vendors to cross the street just won't be the same with you, China. I'll miss the adrenaline rush borderline nervous breakdowns.

Goodbye crowded buses. You saved me from nearly dying on the streets and threw me in another dangerous situation: crushed or suffocated to death by selling too many tickets on an inadequate bus.

Goodbye saliva. Where else in the world will I hear pretty women hawking loogies, feel the rickashay of an old man's spit, or see a "No Spitting" sign in a subway station? China, you're one of a kind.

Goodbye ridiculous gap between the rich and the poor. By the end of my stay, I wasn't as startled to see a black Bentley pull over to buy watermelon from the local guy at a trolley-- shoeless and dirty.

Goodbye Avian Bird Flu. You made eating chicken an exciting adventure, and I owe it all to China.

Goodbye China! See you in 2008 for the summer Olympics!!!

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attacked by an octopus


It's no surprise to those close to me that I'll try just about anything once, and I'm especially interested in quirky, sometimes strange things (fortune tellers, ghosts). That's why I couldn't resist trying out some good 'ol traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture? Sure! Fire cupping? Oookay!

So, I set up an hour long appointment with a local Chinese doctor, a little lady who wore panty hose socks and a long flowery dress. She felt more like my grandma than a doctor, so I felt like I was in safe hands. The agenda for the day would be to release the tension in my neck, shoulders and upper back by inserting long, thin needles in my pressure points (acupuncture) and suctioning my skin with small cups (fire cupping).

In less than 5 minutes, she had stuck about 10 needles starting from the ends of both of my hands, up my arms until they met up to my neck. I couldn't feel most of them, but the few that I could feel were a little uncomfortable because they were piercing my nerves. The trick to the whole procedure is that I'm supposed to lay with the needles in my body for about 20 minutes, so I couldn't feel them after awhile. Of course, all of that changed when she'd stepped back into the room, twisting each of them. When the 20 minutes were up, she pulled them out and started on the fire cupping.

She lit the outer rims of tiny cups (think candle holders that you put tea lights in) to activate the sticky substance outlining it. Then, in one quick action, she put it on my skin while twisting it. This formed a sort of vacuum that suctioned the cup to my body. Again with the waiting. 25 minutes passed before she pulled each on off, creating a farting sound that made me want to giggle, but for fear of tempting the Chinese gods, I controlled myself.

My appointment finished, and I met back up with Jamie and Ben to show them my battle wounds. "You look like you got attacked by an octopus!" Jamie said. These circle bruises stayed on my body for about 4 days. Did it work? Hmmmm... Well, I only did one treatment, so I wasn't expecting a whole lot. I did feel like someone punched my back, but I'm not sure that it made me feel more relaxed. It was fun to try though!

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our 2nd day trip: suzhou

Suzhou is the Venice of China. This is us on a boat ride.

We couldn't stay put in Shanghai, so we took another daytrip to a little town called Suzhou, which is allegedly the Venice of China. It's featured in the book, 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, and I can understand why because the whole town is built over canals. I've never been to Venice, but this town looked a lot like the pictures I've seen of it. We went to yet another garden that is world-reknowned for the immaculate positioning of all the brdges, plants, buildings, etc. So feng shui.

Pathways were built in a zig-zag to prevent bad spirits from coming in. Poeple used to believe that spirits could only walk a straight path.

A local woman who lives on the canal.

It looks like this town is sinking, doesn't it?

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Riding our bikes in hangzhou

Since Shanghai is just another big 'ol city, Ben, Jamie, Adam, and I took a daytrip to Hanzhou, which is famous for its gardens.

Jamie discovered that my fan is edible, so she tested it on Ben. On the train to Hanzhou.

It would've been just another day of sightseeing, except that we decided to rent bikes. What a fabulous idea!! Even though China is ridiculoulsy hot right now, the breeze on the bike was our saviour.

Ben, Jamie, and Adam on our "pimp" ride.

The gardens surround a massive lake that has traditional Chinese boats floatong above.

It was a pretty lazy day of us hopping off our bikes to eat, take pictures or drink a beer. There were some steep bridges we had to get over that made us have races to see who would get to the bottom first.

Hanzhou was really picteresque. In this picture, Adam, Jamie and Ben are trying to cool down b/c it was SO hot.

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Hi from Shanghai

Friday, August 11

I got Mao's Revenge today. They call it that b/c he was their big communist leader that all the Chinese adored 30 years ago or so. Apparehently, he comes back from the dead in the form of watery poo and dumpling chunks. I'm in Shanghai, and have done almost everything there is to do here, so am just waiting to leave in a few days to Singapore. In the meantime, I'll try my best to get my pictures uploaded.

Jamie, her friend Ben, and I set out to Shanghai on another overnight train. This one was much nicer than the first one I took with Selena. Not as much spitting on the floor and the bathrooms didnt make us want to puke. Looked like we were on a good start! Jamie and I got the top bunks of our sleepers, which made us turn into little girls giggling at a slumber party. "Take a picture of me with my head squished by the ceiling!! tee-hee-hee!"

You should've seen us trying to climb to the very top.


What's Shanghai like? If you can imagine a city fashioned after Batman's Gothic City, well, Shanghai would be it. As Ben commented, there were too many tall buidlings. It's hard to imagine how much concrete and steel was used to make everything that it almost takes on a fake-like quality that's quite impressive. By night, the skyline seen from both sides of the river that runs through it is stunning. A synchronized light show from the Pearl Tower, the 3rd tallest building in the world, colors the boats cruising the river below. The endless erray of open air cafes makes the whole business area much more apporachable, touristy and even glitzy. It's so modern. It's so Westernized. It's so hard to believe that this is China.

The Pearl Tower is the building with the ball at the top. I couldn't decide when the skyline was the most stunning. Daytime...?


...or nighttime?

There's really not many historic places to see in Shanghai, so the highlights of our stay in Shanghai ended up being the food and day trips outside of Shanghai. Although we did visit some nice gardens, a Daoist shrine, the Bund, Nannjing Road, and other scenic streets.

Nanning Road

These random, slightly disturbing statues kept showing up at the most random places: next to trash cans, in the middle of sidewalks, etc. Jamie and I just oculdn't resist being retarded.

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FL State Uni in China

Chinese/FSU limbo?!

Good 'ol Tallahassee drinking games, "F*ck the Dealer."

Baylor and I were locked in the dorm room! Eeeeek! This little Chinese man had to climb through that little window to help.

Gloria, Jamie and I trying to NOT be silly. Didn't work.

Visiting Jamie in Tianjin was slightly surreal seeing how I haven't been around that many Americans in a year. She was doing my university's, FSU (Florida State Univ.), study abroad program with around 100 other students, so I was surrounded by college-aged Floridians the whole time I was there. In so many ways, it felt like I was back home:
  • In Florida, the only remedy to a sweltering humid afternoon is to go to the pool or beach. In Tianjin, the only remedy to a sweltering humid afternoon is to play with water guns and water balloons.
  • In Florida, the best way to celebrate the end of final exams is to drink cheap beer. In Tianjin, the best way to celebrate the end of final exams is to drink cheap beer.
  • In Florida, the night is not complete until the group has made the obligatory food run to the nearest, late-night cheap place. (See: Hungry Howie's, McDonald's) In Tianjin, the night is not complete until the group has made the obligatory food run to the nearest, cheap place. (See: the guy selling fried dumplings on the road, McDonald's)
  • In Florida, on the next morning, you laugh at others, exchange pictures, and swear it will be your last time doing all things mentioned above. In Tianjin, on the next morning, you laugh at others, exchange pictures, and swear it will be your last time doing all things mentioned above.

I'm glad I got to see Jamie, even if I caught her at a stressful time. She's decided to stay in China until December to teach English, so she was mega busy getting her new life together. Good luck with that and thanks for being the hostess with the mostess!!

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Climbing the great wall

Thursday, August 3

A "secret" and unrestored part of the wall.

The highlight of our stay in Beijing was definitely climbing the Great Wall because our hostel offered tours to a "secret" part of it where we were literally the only people there. We hiked uphill to an unrestored part with overgrown bushes and loose rocks--the view was stunning.

The loose rocks made climbing a bit tricky.

Mountains surrounded us and the strangest looking bugs were the only other life to be seen for miles. 12 kilometers later, we found ourselves at the bottom of the mountain region in a local village that fed us vegetarian Chinese food like chili noodles and peanuts, steamed rice, salted bean sprouts, and sauteed green peppers in a garlic sauce. That was the best closure for us since that was our last day in Beijing. That night, Selena and I checked out of our hostel and split ways: Selena took the train to Shanghai (she'll be flying back home to Scotland from there) and I took the train to Tianjin, another large city just outside of Beijing. It was strange to say goodbye to Selena and the other backpackers we met in our hostel. Selena made an ace travel buddy and we made an easygoing, up-for-anything, combo. The other backpackers were some of the funniest people we've ever met. There was Jess, a Welsh chic with Guatamalean and Arabic descent who had got in a fight with a girl in Tokyo (Harajuku) who had a mannequin attached to her outfit. There was Daniel from Sweden who smoked his way through South America. There was Alex from Ghana who was stalked by random Chinese people who wanted to take his picture.

The Beijing crew. Top: Selena, Alexander, Jess, Erin, Richard, Nicole, Nicole. Bottom row: me, Jeremy, Alex, Camille

We did all the touristy stuff in Beijing. The Forbidden City, Tiannamen Square, market shopping and of course the Great Wall.

The Forbidden City
Tiannamen Square

So, this is where I am now, Tianjin, the place where my friend Jamie is a student at the FSU study abroad program. I've got to meet most of her friends here, and it's been a nice reintroduction to Floridians, especially crazy college kids. :0) We'll be here for a few more days until we decide on a new town to travel to. More on that later.

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