Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fast and Furious - What have I done the past year!!!

It is that time of the year once again.  Seems like only yesterday that I wrote the same thing about 2012 - Cliche!! But once again, the year is coming to an end, how fast is that!  And I'm writing this ahead of time now because for the first time in 6 years, I have no plans to be anywhere this Xmas and New Year!  Well, I had a plan to visit somewhere or I thought there was a plan, but it went kaput/cancelled/denied.I guess I knew from the start that it wasn't really gonna happen anyway, was it.  Words, easy to say.  Disappointed? I guess a little yes....
That being said, it just means I'm gonna be boring back home and probably sleep through NYE. It happens, I get lazy back home.
2013 - Ah the supposed new beginnings.  At least that was what I told myself back in 2012.  I told myself a lot of things in 2012 that I was supposed to do or not do in 2013 - Like not to cry over someone again.  But reality has its way of twisting words and resolve, and it didn't plan out as I had hoped - hurting over the old one, yearning over the could-have and pondering over the 'is it?', at one point it seemed as if whatever resolve made in 2012 was going to be whitewashed by the newly found emotional person who is typing this piece!  
2013 - I started the first day of 2013 being extremely hungover, and puked on the boat and just felt really terrible the entire day.  Yes, it was a result of the hard partying on NYE.  Yea, sungsom and redbull mix isn't exactly friendly.
Oh and I dyed my hair red for once and it was fun!  I probably can't do that anymore now that I'm in a different industry, but at least I did it..
I had a year of wonderful travels and knowing great people from around the world and I am truly grateful for that!  My 2 weeks impromptu vacation to the Philippines brought much joy to my broken soul.  I got to meet whalesharks, thresher sharks, immersed myself in the wonderful underwater world in Bohol and saw the smallest creature in the world - the tarsiers! And finally able to tell the world I've been to Boracay!  That fancy, touristy place in Philippines that everyone raves about but seriously isn't really all that fantastic!  The trip presented me with great opportunities to be the adventurous self that I am (though it was not the most adventurous trip I've had, in fact nothing really went wrong in terms of mis-adventure this time which is unusual for me), and meet with great people - The fun-loving bunch from Taiwan, the adorable hip Finnish couple, the young danish lads, and the south african Divemaster!  We had loads of fun and these are people I really enjoy being with and getting to know!  This was the trip where I missed my boat to another destination because I was too hungover from the Valentines' Day party the night before, or was it the wee morning hours before? But all is not lost as a missed chance brought about a new opportunity!  I got to travel with the Finns and that was one of the best decisions I've ever made because they are so chill and cool.  And they are likely to pop by for a visit soon!
My another 2 weeks impromptu vacation to Flores was another gem.  It was amazing how raw that place still is and how nice generally the people in Flores are.  At least I think so, but that is probably because I was a tourist there and not living there long term.  It wasn't overly populated with backpackers or tourists, which is what I really admire and like and throughout my trip I can almost say I did not see a single tourist from China!  Except for that fateful day when a Shanghainese walked into the dive shop. Damn, she spoilt my record!  But it was real nice to be in a place that is still not swarmped by Chinese tourists.  Also, Flores brought about much joy and great friends and people.  An unexpected stay in labuan bajo turned into a week long diving vacation and brought me so close to the people I dived with - The nonchalant Russian, the rapid fire Spanish and the cute sexy American.  Not to mention the locals who partied with us.  I never expected to build such close ties with these people but I guess I did, and it brought me much joy to be in that place and for those 2 weeks, I forgot the fact that I had a job waiting for me back home.  It was also a trip that made me think twice about my life (but more on that in a bit).
What was also nice was visitor(s)! Visitors from my travels coming over and spending time and having fun!  Which was real nice because most of the time, people you meet on travels are just that - people you meet on travels.  They add you on facebook and never really catch up again.  And these are friend(s) I treasure who visited.  And I am expecting more next year - My adorable Finns and how can I forget the Canadian might be making a repeat appearance!
This was a year of bad health for me.  I have no diagnosis for what I'm sufferring or have sufferred but it has taken a toll on me physically and mentally.  Starting with the insomnia, which begun in 2012, it got so bad at one point I just felt like killing myself.  Waking up at 1-2am, falling back to sleep at 3, and waking up at 5 again.  Torture!  Someone told me that I probably need to sleep with someone (doesn't have to be sexual) to feel the security, comfort and be able to doze comfortably.  And I must say, I agree with him.  That was a spot-on remedy which worked.  But I do not have that luxury to have someone to cuddle me constantly.  And so, the insomnia looms its ugly head on and off on occassions and I to suffer its wrath!  Then it was the mysterious case of the back pain that almost paralysed me for 3 days.  What was scary was not just that fact that I was bedridden for 3 days, but the fact that for no reason, the backpain morphed into something so serious that I literally couldn't move or breathe.  I pride myself on the fact that I try to live as healthily as I can, and I exercise to keep myself fit and injury-free, but this episode brought me straight down to earth and really shook me to the bones.  Anything can happen in a flick of the hand, just like that, and you probably will never know what hit you.  Just like my fucked up digestive system, for whatever reason, it is a little fucked up right now.  And it is not a good feeling.  Maybe it has to do with the insomnia, maybe it has to do with me.  Who knows?  The doctors don't at the moment.  But maybe I just need to get checked for it.  When I get my butt over to the doctor's.  If I ever get my butt over.
2013 - I just realised I have come to my 10th year of working life!  10! Fuck! Where did all those years go?  4th job in 10 years!  How did I get so old?  Just a few days ago, I was reading a magazine and looking at a caption saying 1991 and I thought yea that was not too long ago only for my mathematical mind to set in, telling me that was 22 years ago!!!
Yes, I started my 4th job right about when my 10th year anniversary started.  And it was scary.  It was a right decision to leave the crap that was my last job, not for the fact that the company was not good.  In fact I liked the company, I liked the people in my Singapore office!  I just didn't like my department, and the way they treat the staff.  And of course, that particular colleague.  I wanted to move, but yet again I didn't want to move.  I had an opportunity from outside my department which I yearned for, but after months of waiting, it didn't materialize and I understood that it was time to move on.  Was it a right decision? Professionally, I'm in a better department now.  But deep down inside, I do question myself alot about what I have done in my entire 10 years.  I'm ok at my job, it's a comfortable line of work for me and I know what I'm doing.  I'm not great at it but I manage.  Passion? I don't think so, but I survive.  I admire those people who have the fire and passion in what they do, the dive instructors who live on whatever they get paid when they have a customer but truly enjoy and love what they are doing, people who quit their job to follow their lives and passion. What do I live for?  What is my passion in life and what do I want?  I cannot and do not know how to answer that question.  My trip to Flores really hit me hard and made me think a lot about my direction in life, influenced by the people I met there.  What do I like?  I like the ocean, the sea, the freedom, the adventure.  But I don't like the hassle, and the administrative part of planning an adventure.  I have a friend who told me to set up an adventure agency.  Sounds like a great plan, but the problem is I can do adventure but I'm not the most organized person in the world!  I live by the organized mess philosophy.  Look at my room and you will know.  Sure, I can plan and when I get really into the excitement of a place, there are a lot of things I can do and dig out.  But multiply that to a great scale of 10 people?  Geez did I mention that I hate crowds?  Thinking about what to eat for dinner when breakfast is not over?  I can't even think about breakfast when I wake up!  So herein lies my dilemma.  Which I may never solve.  For all you know, I might elope with someone and end up somewhere at the very ends of the world, living on a yacht, cruising through the oceans around the world.  Now that would be a story worth telling.
The nice dinner gathering with my ex-colleagues and boss was a great reminder of the me back in the older days - how much younger I was then, how much fire I had in me, how much I didn't really care back then.  I travelled the world with excitement and eagerness that befits a young girl, I loved the fact that every trip brought me to a different place.  I loved that fact that I enjoyed the company of my colleagues and I had a great boss who supported us.  I could just pack my bags and be gone for 2 weeks without a care of what was happening, come back and pack again for the next one!  Nobody to make me think twice about going some place, no worries that made me go "I dread going away".  I jumped at every opportunity to fly and get out to the world!  And I really realy love my team - the Charlie's Angels.  And I do miss The Boss.  And I came to realize it is probably real hard to find a boss like him ever.  I've only ever had 2 great bosses in my life and they are both ex-bosses now.
That is not to say I don't like travelling now.  I still do.  I guess I'm one of those who can't sit still.  Need to be on the move.  Can't imagine me having a deskbound job where I just sit in the same office, on the same chair facing the monitor day in day out, 5 days a week, 8 hours a day.  Of course, even when I travel, I still face the same monitor, but it feels different to be out of the office and be somewhere, interact with new people.  But it seems that it gets harder and harder to face the same arguments, to have to find issues, report and start the process of reporting the finding to people who sometimes just do not seem to comprehend.  And then the fighting starts and it gets tiring to have to fight your way through something that is so apparent.  But such is the job of an auditor isn't it?
Relationship.  Relationship with people is a funny thing.  Let's start with the new company.  There is a very weird dynamics between the people of the department.  It is very weird till this very day.  Although we are a team of 3 auditors, there is absolutely no team dynamics present.  Or rather, there was no team dynamics before I joined.  They are very individual and separated persons, and even though they work in the same office, they go their separate ways during lunch.  It is a very strange phenomenon I noticed which took me by surprise.  You would expect that colleagues would lunch together, but no!  Come lunch time, one of them would just walk out quietly and the other would just stay in or lunch somewhere.  No talk no nothing.  The very first time it happened, I still didn't quite grasp the fact and was waiting for that colleague to come back for lunch.  And then there is the manager.  So the fact that we auditors do not lunch with the manager, well not really that strange but still a little harder to comprehend.  It is quite individualistic over here.  And sometimes, I don't blame this situation!  I lunch with that one colleague because she is the one who has nobody to lunch with.  But I've come to realize that we have no common topics to lunch with, and that is exactly the reason why the other colleague chose to go his own way.  And it is indeed quite awkard at times, lunching with her in complete silence, racking my brain on topics we could talk about.  I do not like awkard silence.  As much as possible I try to think of something to say to fill the silence, but try as I may, I couldn't do it often enough.  So as it is, I lunched on my own a few times, preferring to read my book over lunching in silence.  And it is these times that make me really miss my old team.  How we always talk and laugh and discuss about things outside of work.  Believe me, I am as private a person as anyone could be and I do not like to share private matters with colleagues.  But with my old team, it felt natural. 
Relationship with my friends and others.  I have abused my journal too much this past year, writing tons and tons about the happenings around me.  There are things I should have said to people but chose to keep it to myself, and things I should not have said or done but I did.  They may not be pleasing to the ears, but I guess sometimes I should express what I feel.  Maybe it will help my insomnia!  But still it may be hard to say it in person, so I'm just gonna write them down here, if you read my blog, you will read it.  If not, well....
  • I will be lying if I said I am not disappointed that my besties and I have not met up/ catch up on things since a gazillion years.  I guess the last time we gathered was June 2012.  And that gathering was a gathering of the hubbies and kids, not really what I had envisioned.  But such is life isn't it?  It has come to a stage where the only gatherings we ever had were baby showers, baby 1st birthdays or house warming, and even those are usually not in full force and weren't much catching up involved.  Is it so hard to find a day or even just a 2H dinner once to come out with the girls and talk?  Believe me, i've tried to organize but as always it has never been a success.  I could blame kids for taking the attention away from the mummies, I could blame my besties for not making the effort to try to organize a gathering, but I guess that would seem selfish of me.  I could also blame myself for always being out of town during those baby showers, for not making enough effort to maybe make a personal visit to each of your houses, or simply just giving up trying to gather us after so many failed attempts.  But what I really want to say is I really do miss you guys very very much.  I miss the days when we didn't have the families to tie us down and talked like there was no tomorrow.  But we grow up, and priorities change.  I love you girls very much and do wish to catch up with you girls, just us without distractions.
  • I want to tell him that it really did hurt a lot what happened and what you said.  I guess I didn't tell you because I still cared for your feelings more than how I felt.  But in part that was what was holding me back and I couldn't let go.  I poured my heart and soul for months, only for you to say that you never wanted it to be this way.  And that one sentence basically erased all those promises you made, all those words you said and the things we were supposed to be doing together.  How hard I fell and how deep I hurt.  And it took me a very long time to go pass all that, to move on and forget about everything.  I'm happy that you are happy now. 
  • To that person who tortured me so much in my last job - I hate you!  I don't know you personally, and maybe you are a good person, but working with you killed me physically and mentally and I couldn't stand you as a colleague.  The degrading way you talk to people, like we are all stupid and guilty folks.  The way you lose your patience and temper and started shouting at the auditees - complete and utter disgrace of the profession.  The way you used to say 'I work more hours on weekends than you do', completely demolishing my entire week of hard work.  I don't work for you, and you have no rights to measure how much effort and work I put in based on your crazy idea of working on weekends.  And my weekend is my time, I do not have to entertain you on weekends!  I do not have the obligation to tell you anything about my personal life and I certainly do not have an obligation to make you feel looked after even overseas.
  • Been missing someone.. Maybe it's time to stop that missing...

You know, they said that 2013 is a good year for the Saggitarius.  Good for work, and personal relationships.  Especially you singles out there, romance aplenty and new romance may bloom into something concrete.  I guess I'm old enough to take all these with a pinch of salt, but at the same time enjoy reading them and seeing how they pan out.  Afterall, your destiny lies not with predictions and fortune telling, but in your own hands.

Next year is a new year.  2014.  I don't make resolutions.  I tried, but they are not helpful or useful.  You just do the things you want to do.  You don't need resolutions for them.  I wait for magic to happen, as I always do.  I wait for friends to come (hopefully when I'm around in town).  I wait for my sister to get married, so she'll move out of the room so I can have the room to myself and remodel the room! (throw away her bed, change mine to a bigger one, remove her desk, change a bigger wardrobe etc etc)  I wait for more adventures.  I wait for the day when I finally say "I've had it with the 3H to and fro travel to work, I quit!".  And I wait for the day I strike the 10M ToTo lottery.  So I can wait for the day I buy my yacht.

I think I might just grow out my hair. To long. Ya, just for my sister's wedding. We shall see till it gets to shoulder length.  If I can still stand it.  Check back in a couple months' time.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A Day Out On Top Of White Cloud Mountain, Guangzhou China

Little Missy here seems to have built herself a reputation - I've been labelled a Mountain Climber!  Which literally means people expect me to search out a mountain wherever I go, and hike it! It's a tough reputation to uphold, and gets harder and harder each time (like where do you find that many mountains in cities???).  Work took me to Guangzhou this time round, and well, I had to find a mountain to hike!  Internet produced two options - The easy White Cloud Mountain (BaiYun Shan) or the more adventurous TianTang Peak (literally translated to Heaven's Peak).  The adventurous spirit in me was all geared up for Heaven's Peak 2 weeks before the trip, and I was psyched up to really do it, until I arrived in Guangzhou when I realized my hotel is so out of place that I have no idea how to get to Heaven's Peak!  Ok, I would have an idea if I had done more research and asked people who actually know, but seriously, I was staying outside town, so the transport options were limited.  With sad regret, I ditched Heaven's Peak and went for White Cloud.  At least that is a mountain, kinda! 
Still it was a long way to get there by subway from my hotel.  I shall not say, but the hotel staff was NOT very helpful in this matter.  He basically said "It is too far, a taxi would still take you 40minutes without traffic. Hmm, I don't think the subway goes there".  Well, you are wrong!!  A subway does take you somewhere close enough to hop on a bus/taxi to the entrance.
I took a subway all the way to Guangzhou train station, and hopped onto a taxi for a 15min ride to the main entrance (RMB22 for the ride).  Or you could take it all the way to I think BaiYun station or 2 stations after and still need to walk or take a taxi to the entrance.  Anyway, the day was hot, the sun was working overtime, and I was dressed as if I were still in Shanghai cool autumn. 
At the entrance, you have 2 options to get to the top - Cable car (surprise surprise!) for RMB45 return or RMB20 each way + RMB5 entrance fee, or bus 11 - which means walk up.  I know I should have walked up, and I would have, if not for the late night and early morning start, and the fact that I was dressed for winter walking in summer weather!  So I took the 15min cable car ride up to halfway point.  From there, I headed to Moxing Summit, at about 345m above sea level.  At the halfway point, you can also choose cable car or electric bus if you are lazy, or walk.  This time round, I walked.  It took maybe about 45mins one way to the Moxing Summit entrance where you pay RMB5 to enter.  What's with the China attractions, everything has to be paid before you enter! 
Up at the top, you have the quintessential Locks of Love where people put up locks to secure their love for each other, blah blah blah... And you have the view of Guangzhou city from above! Kind of! If not for the "fog" (we say pollution, they say fog.  To-meh-to, To-Mah-to).  Frankly speaking, not impressive.  Well, if I had hiked all the way from the bottom to the top for this view, I think I might kill myself.  I have been spoilt by other hikes, especially Korea mountains and such.  This was the point where I regretted not going to Heaven's Peak.  But what is done cannot be undone. 
I didn't linger long, and made my way down.  I admit, I took the cable car down.  I so wanted to hike down when I took the cable car up, but after being disappointed, and feeling super hot and sticky, I gave up and took the easy way down.  From there, just hopped onto any bus, it takes you somewhere to town where you can hop onto the subway and home sweet home.  Although it sounds like a short trip, it bloody hell took me a good 2-3hrs to complete the circuit!  Unless you took the transport all the way from bottom to the summit, then you can shave a hell lot off.  If not, even walking from halfway up and back to halfway requires some 1-2hrs.

Monday, October 21, 2013



Drinking - bane or boon? Bane for making me do something I would never do in public, or in front of someone. Boon for finally purging my feelings and emotions and finally got down to deleting anything that would remind me of that memory.  So that I'll never do it again.

Sorry Alex for shocking the shit out of you.  I still blame you for asking/saying whatever it was that triggered it.  Sorry Tio, drunk texting sometimes do not make much sense, especially at the height of the emotional drunk craze (at least half of what I said was true, or all of what I said???) 
Shit, so embarrassing!!! Fuck!  Note to self: Stop talking when you are high!!! Whatever is in your mind, just stop it from being verbalized.  I need to stop the bottles from abusing me now.
Peace out! I'm fine.  Mighty fine :)

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A day out in Taejongdae, Busan Sep 2013

Thanks to Chuseok holiday, I get to spend another weekend in Busan!  Which was fantastic cos it gave me time to explore Busan at a leisurely pace.  So on a bright, sunny Saturday morning, I headed out to Taejongdae, one of the most beautiful spots in Busan, named after King Taejong who visited this place because of its beauty.

It is a fairly simple journey to Taejongdae.  Get off at Nampo station (Line 1) Exit 6 and hope onto any one of the buses that goes to Taejongdae - 8,30,88,66,101 (takes about 20mins).  Yup seems like all buses go to Taejongdae and just sit and relax till the very end.  Interestingly, once you get off the bus, the cruise touts start to guide you to listen to a briefing of the cruise, obviously in Korean.  Yup, not understanding a word they said, I just looked at the map and walked off.  

There's an information counter where you can get a map and try to ask questions to the ladies at the counter who barely speak English.  But a map is worth a thousand words!
The tram station

Basically, Taejongdae trail is a loop of 4.3km, start at the information counter, and end back there!  You could hop onto the tram (1,500won for adults) that allows you to do the hop on and off thing and takes you round the loop, or just like me - walk it!  It's a fairly easy walk, but of course the sun was cruel and 15mins into the walk, I swear I lost 1kg of water.

There isn't really much to see along the way - 1st stop was at Taewon pebble beach, where you get a fairly nice view of a small bay.  Then onwards to the big attraction point - the lighthouse and Sinseon Rock.  By the time you get to that point, you know you are halfway through the loop!
Pebble beach so called cos there are pebbles on the beach!

Getting to the lighthouse and Sinseon Rock requires a bit of exercise - first you have to walk down thousands and thousands of flights of steps (at least it felt that way) to get to the bottom where the Sinseon Rock is.  I really loved it down there where you get a view of the Taejongdae cliffs.  The rock formations create a really interesting and great scenery.  Standing right at the edge of the cliffs, it gives a really adventurous feeling - nope not to jump but to climb or take a hike.  Of course, all just in my mind.  
See that rock in the middle? Apparently that was a woman waiting for her husband

And once you are down, you need to get back right up! Up to the lighthouse where the air was so bloody stale up the top!  Frankly speaking, climbing into the lighthouse and up was not worth the effort.  Once you get up to the top of the lighthouse, you get enclosed in the glasshouse and fully experience the greenhouse effect where you feel like you cannot breathe, the air is stale and stuffy and the view is less breathtaking as when you were outside.  So don't bother with climbing up the lighthouse.

Once you hit that spot of Taejongdae, you have pretty much came to do and see what you came to do and see.  The walk back to the end is a rather leisurely one with nothing much to stop along the way to see.  I took a side track to the Taejongdae temple but like I've said many times before, really gota stop trying to walk to see a temple in Korea!  Really not impressive.  And no exception this time.  I walked close enough to get an idea of what might have been and turned back.

All in all, the trip in Taejongdae itself took me about 2 hours (to walk, hike, stop and take pictures).  Of course if you are utilizing the tram, it will take much shorter.  I was tempted to at first, as the lady at the information counter told me 4.3km from start to lighthouse which would have made the entire loop an 8.6km!  But of course I should have known!  Studying the signboards out at the tram station, I realized the loop itself is 4.3km.  So manageable walk!  And I was deterred by the snaking crowd at the tram station.  I hate crowd and I bloody hell was not going to walk 40mins to get onto a tram!  40min would get me close to the lighthouse just by walking!

It's a good half a day to spend in Busan surrounded by nature and water and rocks.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Once upon a mountain called Mt Geumjeong - Busan

What's a trip to South Korea without a hike up the mountains?!?! It's a national pastime for the middle aged South Koreans! What with their colour-coordinated sports outfit.  This time, my trip to Busan brought me to Mt Geumjeong, at 801m high.

2 options to start the hike:
1 - Alight at Oncheongjeong (Line 1), take bus 203 to the bottom of the cable car station and start hiking from South Gate through to East Gate then to North Gate and up to Godangbong Peak.
2 - Alight at Beomeosa ("Bur-Mo-Sa") Line 1, take bus 90 to Beomeosa Temple and start the hike there to North gate, up to Godangbong peak and continue to East and South Gate.

I chose option 2 cos that's the easier to find the starting point, and closer to the peak.  For the metro, best to get the transport card as you get a discount on metro travel plus you get free transfer within 30 minutes of alighting! A normal card ticket will cost you 1,400won for 2 sections and 1,200 for 1 section, while a transport card is only 1,100won for 1 section and 1,200 for 2 sections.  At Beomeosa station, exit 5, follow the sign to walk towards the bus interchange where bus 90 waits (1,200won if you do not have a transport card).  The bus will take you to the Beomeosa ticket office (you don't actually have to buy a ticket to enter the temple).  You could also choose to walk the 3km from the bus terminal to Beomeosa, but better save your energy for the hike.
Beomeosa Temple

The temple itself, pretty much not very impressive.  As is with most temples, it is not extremely majestic or grand.  I didn't spend much time walking around the temple.  If you have time, do so, if not, I suggest just go straight to the North gate.  

The stone trek up

North gate

The walk to the North gate is alot of uphill climb (stone steps) and a distance of 1.7km.  It is all a walk through the forest with some side trails to other temples.  I just headed straight on and arrived at North gate in 30mins.  The trek itself is not particularly hard, but I'm not a fan of stone steps...From the north gate, turn right to head to Godangbong peak and left takes you to East gate.  From North gate to the peak is about 1.1km and took me about 30mins.  The peak is a bigger rock than Bukhansan's peak and very windy.  You get a really good view of the city and forest below.  I enjoyed some quiet time up there just thinking about nothing much and enjoying the wind.  Another 20mins downhill back to North gate and headed to East gate.
The peak

East gate is a distance of 3.9km from North gate and the beginning is all uphill hike.  I would say this is the most tiring part of the trek where you had to keep hiking up up and up through countless steps.  But once you arrive up, you will be rewarded with great views!!!  Along the way, after you reach another viewpoint, you will be presented with 2 trails - the inner trail and the outer trail.  Both lead to the East gate but provided different views.  I followed the outer trail which takes you along the edge overlooking the scenery below.  It was a really nice trek.  At one point, the trail became like unmanned scrubs and you have to walk through scrubs and branches.  Now I know why the Koreans all dressed in long sleeves and pants.  But still the weather was way too hot to be all covered up!
Walk to East Gate

About an hour plus later, I arrived at East gate. From East gate, it is another 2.2km to South gate.  I was happily walking towards South gate, thinking I was making good time, when I spotted the bus stop!  The bus stop for 203, which is Option 1 to start the trek the opposite way.  And I thought to myself - Is this the end?  Or is the end at the South gate?  I had no idea if there is going to be a way out at the South gate, and this bustop seemed to be crowded with hikers.  Just when I was deciding, the bus came and I decided to hop on in case South gate has no bus stop.  Bus 203 is a lot more expensive at 1,800won per trip.  On the way downhill, I realized there are actually several more exits along the way!  Damn, that was when I thought I probably should have continued on the hike to South gate.  Not for the view (as the hike was mainly in the forest) but more for completeness.  But I still did a good 3.5 hour hike and made it up to the peak!  

Mission accomplished, I went back to my hotel and had a long hot sensual bubbly bath and rest.  Would definitely recommend the hike to anyone visiting Busan if you have 1 extra day to spend after all the other sightseeing.  Not for the faint hearted though...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple - Busan Sep 2013

One of the most popular and famous temple in Busan, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is THE temple by the sea.  THE temple you always see on brochures and travel agencies advertising Busan.  It is really breathtaking - Well the scenery not the temple itself.

One a fine Saturday morning, I set off to visit first Dalmaji Hill then onwards to Yonggungsa Temple.  Dalmaji Hill is nothing to brag about.  About 10min taxi ride from Haeundae Temple, it is a small hill.  Once you arrive at the pavilion, you might think that is it, but walking past, you will discover the hidden trail that snakes behind the pavilion rounding off the coast line.  The entire trail is about 5km long, and I'm not sure exactly where it ends as everything was in Korean.  So I started hiking along the trail.  It is an easy trail with a picture stop near the pavilion.  Walking on and on, I hit the main road which was the end of the trail.  From there I hopped onto a taxi to Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.  

At Dalmaji Hill
15mins later, I arrived.  There is a public bus right outside the road leading to the temple too.  Entering the temple, you will walk past the 12 Chinese Zodiac.  At the end, where the Buddha statue is, turn left to head towards the seaside and the temple.  The right trail leads to a really nice coastal walk, but more on that later.

Entering the temple area, you will be greeted with the coast, and the temple sits just by the coast.  The view is really amazing!  Temple as I said, is nothing to brag about but apparently you can have your fortunes told or something.  But in Korean, they don't really mean anything much to me.  The temple itself is pretty small.  There is a really big and tall Goddess of Mercy Statue right at the top.

After visiting the temple, I headed for the forest walk.  Remember the right trail I mentioned in the second paragraph?  Yup, there are signboards pointing to "Forest Walk" or something like that.  A tip - Once you hit the start of the trail, turn left at the first turnoff where you will see a sign in Korean.  That will lead you directly to the coastal walk from the temple to Songjeong, which is really a great walk.  Well, being not well-versed in Korean, of course that sign meant nothing to me.  I walked straight ahead and hit the parking lot.  But there was a sign (in English) that pointed to Songjeong via a coastal walk, so I followed.
So this is the gated walkway.  The sign with red slashes

If you squint hard, you can see the uncle fishing

5mins into the walk, I reallly hit unmanned grass patch, and even ventured past the gated walkway which has a sign on it, which probably meant "Do Not Enter" but I claimed ignorance and squeezed through the gap by the side.  Hey, the trail carried on past the gate! I have to follow through.  Not long after, I arrived at the coast and took a short break.  There I spotted a Korean uncle fishing.  He motioned for me to approach him and I did.  Thinking I was Korean, he started spouting Korean and I immediately stopped him.  We chatted sparingly and he told me to go back and round the other way for the nice coastal route towards Haedong Yonggungsa Temple.  I had originally intended to walk towards Songjeong (opposite direction) but this new information took me by surprise and of course I had to do it!  And I have so grateful for the uncle for pointing it out to me!

Menacing clouds in the sky

The walk was great!  Views of the coast and rock formations, and not crowded at all!  Probably only a handful of hikers along the trail and I had fun posing for pictures.  The trail led me back exactly where I started - Yonggungsa, the "forest walk" trail about 30mins or so later.  And I exited exactly where I said visitors should start.  That was when I realized I could have done the coastal walk from the start and walk to Songjeong.  Well well, at least I did the walk!

All these I did in flip flops.  All 3H of walking.  Yea I hadn't expected the walk cos I thought it was going to rain but the weather turned out great!  Highly recommend visiting Yonggungsa Temple!  Worth the time and do the hike along the coast!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Night is ALIVE!!!

Camera, lights, ACTION! The night is alive for 2 weekends in celebration of the annual Singapore Night Festival 2013.  What that means is more activities for the night owls and art appreciation for all.  For the 2 weekends of 23, 24 and 30, 31 August, there will be a slew of activities along the museum areas, stretching all the way to Plaza Singapore.  More information on Singapore Night Festival.
Projections on the facade of NMS

This year, I went!  I've decided to take more chances with activities, events and attractions in my home town, starting slowly now.  Time to get to know Singapore ya?!?! It is times when friends come to visit that I truly make the effort and time to explore the hidden gems of my hometown.  Places I've never been to - Singapore Flyer, Newton Food Center, Museums, Ku De Ta etc.  These are places I wasn't all that interested to visit, but I gave them a try when friends come.  To show them around Singapore as best as I could, and also to show myself my hometown that I don't really know.  Yes, truth be told, I am like a tourist back home.  Every excursion is like a new discovery for me.  Sad to say, I don't know Singapore as well as I should be. I know Shanghai better than Singapore! Blame it on the fact that I travel too much, blame it on the fact that I get downright LAZY when I'm back home, preferring to stone at home than to explore, losing that energy and adventurous spirit when I'm back home.  Afterall, this is my home and it's not going anywhere, so why bother to hit every spot there is?  I have time!  

But anyway, back to the point - Singapore Night Festival.  It was here last year, and I have no idea what I was doing last year to miss this.  Glad I went this year.  With Mei Mei, we headed to National Museum last Saturday for the performances and roamed the streets of Armenian.

Wow, the crowd that gathered!! I guess when you combine FREE and PERFORMANCES, you attract people.  But this is the event you should really go for if you have time and are in town.  For the 2 weekends, the museums like National museum, Peranakan museum and Art museum are opened till late night, free for everyone (that includes non-Singaporeans).  And there are street performances, stalls, lightings etc along the vicinity.  For the 1st weekend, that is when most performances were staged.  We went for the 3 highlights at the National Museum - Vertical Extraction, Pyramid of Void and Starlight Alchemy.

815pm was the start of the first performance, and the NMS facade was packed! We had to squeeze our way through to get a good spot to actually see the performers.  Unlucky for us, the 2 performances were staged on one side of the NMS facade and we were parked on the opposite side.  So we had to make our way through and stood uncomfortably for 30mins for the 2 performances.  

Vertical Extraction

Pyramid of Void
Vertical Extraction was by 2 performers, with bungy ropes strapped around their waists while they danced and jumped about the walls of NMS.  Then followed by Pyramid of Void, where 3 performers strapped to elevated wires performed Cirque Du Soleil style acrobatics around the wired pyramid.

I would say the highlight was Starlight Alchemy.  We were perfectly positioned, albeit the backside of the stage, to have a good view of the show.  It was a show of FIRE!  Yes, like the nightly fireshows you get when you go to a beach vacation, but a more professional one.  Dancers played with fire and grace to end the performances on a high!

After that, we went into NMS, hoping to catch a glimpse of some exhibition.  Well well, what do you know!  Ever seen a museum crowded with people that they had to close of the top level to fight congestion?  That was exactly what we saw.  Pretty amusing though.  We gave up trying to fight our way through and went for the Absolut Vodka exhibit.  There was a Q too, but fast moving one.  We marvelled at the different designs and bottles for Absolut, me thinking - drink drink drink all the time!  

Our night ended with a walk along Armenian street and towards City Hall station.  We were slightly disappointed by the Hawker food alley at Armenian street.  We had hoped for more stalls showcasing our hawker culture, but sadly there was only a Putu Pirang stall (what we call TuTu cake) and a Cow van that sells not hawker food.  Also, I would have liked there to be more street performers along Armenian Street.  We only saw like a few walking performers and some stalls.  A little disappointed.  Hope they have more the coming weekend.

All in all, a nice experience.  We didn't hit all the spots - there were Plaza Singapore, Fort Canning, SMU etc, but we got a feel of the festival.  Culturalized!  Next year, I would be most interested to see what they will come up with!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Lost in Translation - Chaos in Hong Kong

If you think Singapore is overpopulated, you have not been to Hong Kong.  I don't think I've ever seen that many people crammed into that small a place. EVER.  Coupled with the extremely fast pace of life, it was a little stressful for me, although technically I grew up in a city myself!

Welcome to Hong Kong, where the crowd will devour you!

It was one of those random chats that blossomed into thoughts for possible trips and that was what happened to us!  Because the 4 of us have very diverse interests, likes and dietary restrictions, coming up with one common location was both hard work and no brainer.  Beach/hiking/nature vacation was out as I was the only one who could do all these.  So we decided upon a place where you have city life and island life - Hong Kong!  Where the girls can go shopping and eating, and I just wait for my days of adventure.  

Little did we know that summer holidays were from June-Mid August and our visit coincided with the tail end of the school holidays.  Which could probably explain partly why it was super duper crowded.  But I still believe HK is forever crowded.

As a rule of thumb, I was vehemently denied the luxury of wearing flip flops in Hong Kong.  Not once, not twice but several times.  The general consensus was - You are not allowed to bring or wear flip flops out the streets.  Reason being - Nobody wears flip flops out in HK.  Apparently, the fashion conscious folks in HK don't understand the hippiness of wearing flip flops.  It's not about the shoes, but the attitude!  Bummer! So it was that I only brought 1 pair of sneakers for the entire trip.  It was the same pair of sneakers to shop, to hike, and for our girls' night out. 

All thanks to Mei Mei, we were booked into Royal Plaza Hotel family room where the 4 of us slept comfortably (kinda) in 2 double beds, smack in the middle of busy Mongkok.  And the free shuttle provided by the Airport Express Service (HKD90 single way, cheaper if you buy return and if you buy >1 ticket) stops at the hotel doorstep.  
Our first day was just exploring Hong Kong.  We walked Mongkok to Central to Soho to Causeway Bay, bracing ourselves against the crowd that started gathering at 10+am in the morning! Along the way, we sampled the HK Cha Chan Teng (HK Tea House) where the food was only so-so.  We also tried the Michelin Star Tim Ho Wan, albeit not the outlets that got the star. But food is food, and they are only famous for a couple of items, namely the Char Siew Bun, which was worth it according to the 2 who ate.  About our dietary restrictions – we have 1 who doesn't eat pork (Sa), 1 who doesn't eat meat (Me), 1 who doesn't eat green leafy vegetables (Mei Mei) and 1 who basically eats anything (Angeline).  Makes it a bit of a challenge when ordering since only 2 people eat pork, which accounts for most of the food in HK.  But we kinda survived.  
Famous Tim Ho Wan Char Siew Bun
It was a lot of walking and shopping on the 1st day.  Truth be told, not my favourite activity.  But the girls were enjoying H&M, Uniqlo and what have you.  By the end of the day, after we went to the Avenue of Stars, which by the way should be renamed Avenue of Tourists, I was exhausted and overwhelmed by (1) the crowd (2) the shopping (3) the food.  I don't like crowd, shopping and have no fervent interests in the act of food scouting and planning.  So imagine how stressed I was when we had to plan what is for breakfast during dinner, and what is for dinner during breakfast.  Luckily, Mei Mei did all the planning.
Breakfast at Kam Wah Cafe. Their Polo Bun is pretty decent. Just be prepared for the not so friendly auntie service staff

A day @ Ocean Park!

Second day, finally some action and fun! We went to Ocean Park, thinking most tourists should be aiming for Disneyland.  Right? WRONG!!! Or were there 3x as many tourists in HK?? Ocean Park was packed to the brim at 10am when the gates opened.  You literally couldn't see what was in front, just follow where the crowd is pushing you towards!  Our plan of action to hit the cable car and head for the rides kinda backfired when the crowd all headed to the cable car!  Our next plan of action was to run to the furthest rides which worked to our favour as people were still leisurely walking and stopping by the nearer attractions!  It was only when we headed back to the main area that it hit us – everywhere was Q, Q and more Q! Each ride was at least a 45min Q, such that by the time we went on only 4 rides, it was almost 3pm in the afternoon.  With the scorching heat burning down on us, we decided to give up and head back for afternoon tea at Hokkaido Dairy Milk Restaurant and back to wash up for more night activity!
Nice cable car ride up

Hair Raiser, the best ride we had!!!

This night, we visited Madam Tussauds, which is located at The Peak.  Tips – Go online and secure tickets before you go there because (1) tickets will be sold out at the end of the day (which we encountered) (2) there are many online discounts from 10%-50% depending on the time of the day you want to visit.  Smart ass me went and we bought entries for after 9pm for 50% off, at HKD100 each! A steal! And a guarantee entry into the exhibit!

We wanted to take the peak tram up just for the experience but the Q is longer than if you attempted to walk up the hill! So taxi it was – fast, cheap and more comfortable.  Dinner was at Cui Hua Restaurant, where we had really good fish paste products.  After 2 days, this was one of the better dishes I had.  
Channelling the sexiness in us

Cannot help it - My childhood idol, my 1st love

Remember the iconic song by Aaron Kwok??

Moonwalker - Our interpretation

After a nice dinner, our fun began @ Mdm Tussauds!  Good thing – not many people in the museum after 9pm!  We had a lot of fun posing with the wax figures.  I had a little star struck episode when I literally turned into a teenage girl when I saw my childhood idol's wax figure!  As my friends said, that moment in point was the most excited they have seen me throughout the entire 5 days in HK.  It was then followed by a short walk to view the scenery from The Peak and a mad wait for transport back to Hotel.  The taxi Q was too long and after almost 1H wait, we hopped on the public mini-bus and took the MTR back.

Next day morning, it was time for Macau! Leaving HK for the day, we took the 11am ferry across (1H ride at HKD170 single way).  On recommendation by the taxi driver, we headed to Restaurant Vela Latino for Portuguese food, which to me was only so-so and pretty pricey.  There were a lot of tourists though, so I figured they are only out to earn tourist money, not real authentic.  
Vela Latino Restaurant where the food was so-so and pricey
After lunch, we headed out to the sun and Senado Square where once again, people mountain people sea!  It takes skill to weave your way through crowd, and I believe I have perfected the art of weaving! After shopping for snacks and posing for pictures at the Ruins of St Paul (pretty touristy things), we rushed off to Venetian to experience the casino atmosphere (Angeline wants to do research for her counseling work) and view the indoor canal.  Time was running out as we had to catch the 530pm ferry back so it was just a quick run through the casino and off to the shuttle bus.  No time to gamble! Though the jackpot price sat at HKD62M.  Then it was another 1H ferry ride back to HK.  
Senado Square

Ruins of St Paul

The night was spent walking along Fa Yuen street to Tong Chai Street savouring street food and desserts.  I finally had the Fishball, but still missed out on the Smelly Tofu.  Was gonna have Sushi One (50% off after 10pm) but the Q once again frightened us and we left without trying.  
Desserts in HK!! The Top bowl is Taro (Yam Paste) but is cold, not hot!! Which is weird actually
On our 4th day, finally some activity I love – hiking! We went on one of the best urban hikes in HK – The Dragon’s Back Trail located along Shek O Road.  Leaving early in the morning, we abandoned Sa in the hotel and headed for some workout after days of eating.  Taking the MTR to Shau Kei Wan, then bus 9 stopping at To Tei Wan along Shek O Road, we started our hike up to Dragon’s Peak at 284m.  It took us 40mins to reach the peak, where we had unobstructed view of the harbor.  It was a great feeling to be away from the hustle and bustle of the city and away from people.   
Enjoying the view at Dragon's Peak

Just the 3 of us

It took us another 1+H to reach our exit point – Collison Bay where we took the minibus to the MTR station.  The entire hike, if you do the whole loop, takes you all the way to Big wave Beach which is a total of 8km.  We only did about 3km.  My companions already exceeded their expectations completing the 3km without 2H, so bravos to them!  I would have loved to do the entire loop all the way to the end, but oh well, at least I got to hike!  I would recommend doing this hike and if possible head all the way to the Big Wave Beach for some relaxing.  The trail is well marked and well trodden, so no worries about getting lost!

After the hike, we figured we could justify the calorie intake because we burnt enough! So the girls wolved down plates of roast meat while I slurped on noodles.  Then they took off for more shopping while I gave up halfway and went back for a nap before our girls’ night out!

Yes, this is the night when we went to Lan Kwai Fong, the pub street of Hong Kong!  We went there at 8pm for dinner, not so happening yet.  But we had our best meal so far that night!  Yes, it was Hard Rock Cafe, you might scoff at it, but seriously the food was good, the atmosphere was good, the service was top notch! And with drinks and music to go with! What more do you want?  We had the best time that night, just relaxing and slowly eating our food, not mindful of starring eyes trying to will us off the table once the last morsel of food is swallowed.  The only time when we spent more than 2H at a dining table!  We ordered 4 big plates of food and we still managed to almost finish them off.  When we left, the party outside just started!  I was very tempted to party, but next day is another early rise, I was bloody beat and I guess my party of girls is not big on partying (though we don't mind people watching).  And so it was, we headed back to sleep.
Best Meal of the TRIP!! Hard Rock, you rock!
Next day, we were all supposed to go Lantau island, but Sa and Mei Mei backed out last minute as they needed their beauty sleep. So Angeline and I soldiered on.  It was a smooth ride to Lantau – MTR to Tung Chung then cable car ride up! We took the return cable car package (HKD255 for 1 crystal 1 standard ride) which includes the boat trip in Tai-O village and unlimited inland bus rides.  If you are not extremely keen on cable car ride, you could most definitely just take the bus to Giant Buddha and Tai-O from Tung Chung. It will cost you approximately HKD14-19 each way and half the price on a weekday. 
Cable car up to Ngong Ping at Lantau

We were rather surprised that there was literally no Q for the cable car ride!  We got on the crystal cable car within 5mins of getting our tickets!  The ride up took all of 25mins and along the way, we were offered great views of the surrounding and the airport!  When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised by the lack of crowd!  We could finally walk with arms stretched out and not hitting anyone!  The highlight of Ngong Ping Village is of course the Giant Buddha!  Just a few hundred steps up and you will be up close and personal with Buddha!  The view up there is also real nice!  You can buy a voucher for the vegetarian meal at the restaurant for HKD78 each.  We didn’t.
I have the Giant Buddha behind me

After Giant Buddha, we took the bus to Tai-O fishing village.  The bus ride (bus 21) took only 10mins and when you arrive, it is like you are transported back in time.  All the houses on stilts, and old village, reminiscence of the old times.  We saw toys and stuff that we used to play when we were kids!  It was real nice to walk along the empty streets and just soak it in.  Our lunch was a simple affair of noodles, which was a nice break (at least for me) away from all those calorie-ridden food we had.  Then we headed for the boat trip which was included in our package.  The boat trip actually only costs HKD20 if you want to take it.  It takes you along the stilt houses, to the open sea to try to catch a glimpse of the white dolphins!!!  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any white dolphins.  And our boat broke down on our way back.  And so, it ends our nice quiet day at Lantau Island and back to HK.   
I love the feel of the rustic fishing village at Tai-O

Practicing my Kickboxing

So Angeline decided we should take a pic with the Shaolin Monks.

We spent the rest of the night doing nothing much cos everyone was pretty beat.  Dinner was at One Dim Sum, a Michelin recommended restaurant near Prince Edward Street.  It was cheap, 4 of us ordered about 6 items and came up to SGD20! And less crowded.  Food was pretty ok, but probably cos we ordered without knowing which were their signature dishes.
Sa decided to order something called 'Fried Egg with Honey' on the menu and this is what it was! Taste like fried dough with condensed milk and peanuts
And so ended my trip in HK.  Personally, HK is not my favourite place to visit.  And I don't understand why so many people love to go back to HK time after time after time.  The place is overcrowded, and unless you love shopping, there is nothing much to do in HK itself!  I did enjoy Lantau island, and I think I would totally like visiting some of the other islands in HK, just not staying and walking in HK city itself, getting crushed by crowds.  Although I would like to go back to enjoy the night life at Lan Kwai Fong.  Seems like a pretty interesting place for some drinking and partying... Food wise?  Singapore has much better food!  Seriously, the food didn't impress me or my friends. And we had a list of places recommended by other tourists to try out the different food!  Feel so lucky to be in Singapore where we get to devour so many delicious food.  Maybe I’m just not suited for city life or the extremes of a bustling city.  It really scared me a little facing the crowd.  And I’m really glad to be back in Singapore where I don't feel ‘claustrophobic’. 

After the trip and the disappointing food experience, we have decided to go on our own little makan-sutra hawker style trip within Singapore! First up - Probably Chinatown!! Why fly 3.5H to HK for food when you have better and cheaper food back home? A bowl of instant noodle in HK costs HKD20 (SGD3+) onwards, a plate of Char Kuey Tiao is only $3!  I shall hopefully try to capture the results of our makan-sutra hawker style