A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: dgarbely

Filipino Torture

Adventures in the Land of Videoke Addicts

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Maybe it is because I was out of the States for most of the decade...or maybe it's because I have some minimum musical standards, but I have never had the same appreciation of cheesy 80's music that everyone else seems to have. That being said, during college and since, I have learned to tolerate and maybe even enjoy some 80's songs (when I am drunk enough). But after only 2 weeks in the Philippines, however, I am sad to announce that the 'Era of Dan's Tolerance of 80's music' may have come to an end.

I'm not sure what it is, but Filipinos have an intense fascination with Videoke. As far as I can tell it is simply a mix of karaoke and random videos of girls or towns in Europe. And in the Philippines, it is EVERYWHERE and they seem to have a preference for campy 80's ballads. It's on the buses, in restaurants, in random shacks by the side of the road, even in gas stations. And it is LOUD. I have even taken to carrying earplugs in my pocket because it can be so painful at times. But to the Filipinos it is serious business and you have a considerable reputation in town based on your skills. What makes it most unbelievable though...they are usually SOBER when they are singing...oiy.

Just the other day we jumped on a ferry to head to another island and everyone rushed on board to get the best seats for the...you guessed it...on board videoke. We had a nice little booth in the next section and as we settled in for the 5 hour boat ride the first guy grabbed the microphone and started singing. It was so loud and terrible that I had to put my earplugs in while Jen suffered through the whole journey, with the videoke stars never taking a break. At one point, someone starting singing Queen's 'We Are the Champions' and if I hadn't have know the music for the song, I would have sworn that it wasn't in English. The guy was SO bad that even the Filipinos around me were cracking up, even though they usually take it so seriously. But this went on for the entire ferry trip and even when the ferry was docked and people were getting off, there were still the hardcore few that were still at it. Amazing...

All I know is that this is one cultural idiosyncrasy that I will never understand or appreciate. In general, I try to do my best to appreciate the cultures of the countries I visit, but you have to draw the line somewhere...I draw my line at videoke. Thats all I gotta say about that.

Posted by dgarbely 20:32 Archived in Philippines Tagged educational Comments (0)

Batu Caves

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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One of the more interesting sites that we visited while in Kuala Lumpur was the Hindu shrine of Batu Caves. This temple has a series of smaller shrines that are built inside a giant cave. While it is definitely set up as a tourist attraction, with all of the hawkers and beggars that you would expect, it is one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage sites outside of India and attracts over 1.5 million pilgrims a year!

The entrance of the site is guarded by a 140 ft golden statue of Murugan and a whole bunch of monkeys. The monkeys are relatively tame and really just sit around and wait for tourists to give them something to eat (or drink).

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To get into the caves, we had to climb up 272 steps to the main entrance. The cave itself was quite impressive and roomy. There we several holes near the top that let down beams of light that really gave the whole place a ethereal feel.

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All of the individual shrines were scattered in different nooks of the cave. In typical Hindu style they were all brightly colored and had intricate carvings, sometimes directly into the stone face.

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It was definitely a cool site and I can only imagine what it is like during the Thaipusam festival when all the pilgrims come to worship.

Posted by dgarbely 20:10 Archived in Malaysia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Christmas in Malaysia

Lazy days in Executive Style

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Since we didn't have to meet Jen's Dad until after Christmas, we decided to spend about a week hanging out over Christmas in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
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With our numerous HiltonHonors points and our Diamond VIP status, we were able to score a phatty room on the executive floor of the KL Hilton. It was a beautiful room, with a great view of the city, a huge bathtub for Jen, a 42" flatscreen tv, and one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in. But the best part about it all was that we got free breakfast AND free drinks and snacks in the executive lounge everyday. So while we had planned to spend a good portion of our time in KL exploring the city, we actually spent most of it sucking down free booze and lazing around our room.
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Jen particularly enjoyed the free wine, often taking a glass back down to the room for her bath.
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When we did get out of the room, however, we were able to take in some of the tourist sites around KL and had a grand old time. The Petronas Towers, now the 2nd tallest building in the world (but tallest twin towers), were pretty impressive for a couple of geeky engineers.
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We also went up the KL Tower which had panoramic views of the entire city as well as some wacky tourist exhibits encircling the bottom. The most surreal of which was the "Winter Park", which was essentially a whole bunch of plastic polar bears and penguins surrounded by fake cotton snow and Christmas decorations. We took an obligatory picture just to document the absurdity of it all.
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I'm a little embarrassed to say, however, that we spent a good portion of our time 'exploring the city' inside the numerous malls. Partially because they were air conditioned, partially because that is where a lot of the restaurants are (see the previous entry), but mostly to be blown away by the sheer unabashed commercialism. I've never been in a mall with so many designer stores, nor one that sells $150,000 watches, nor one that has a BENTLEY dealership inside the mall. Ridiculous. Someone must be making a ton of money in Malaysia....

All in all, we had a great time in KL and it was the right balance of relaxation, luxury, and exploration to get us primed for our travels ahead.
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Posted by dgarbely 19:12 Archived in Malaysia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Rain Nudle House

My First Food Blog

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Even prior to leaving Sri Lanka, we were excited to go to Kuala Lumpur for the food. When we were supposed to be writing final reports for our project, Jen and I would send links of Malaysian food blogs back and forth, and we had 20 different restaurants that we “just had to try”!. These foodie blogs had a ton of pictures and in depth descriptions of flavors and textures that we could almost eat the food off of the computer screen. Here are a couple of our favorites as an appetizer:

A Whiff of Lemongrass
Kampung Boy City Gal

In honor of these Malaysian foodies, I’m going to write my first food entry of this blog.

Rain Nudle House

Pavilion KL – Food Court
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Located in the massive food court of the Pavilion mall, the sleek modern décor and downtempo music at Rain Nudle House allows you to escape the overwhelming commercialism of the mall, and enjoy all the incredible flavors of Thai cooking. Slipping into the comfortable, white leather wrapped booth, I was impressed by the variety of ways that the repetition of vertical lines had been used to symbolize the rain. There was a wall of raindrop Perrier bottles, a cascade of bamboo stalks dividing the lounge and restaurant, and the requisite picture of the Thai King.

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While the décor was strikingly modern, the food was traditional Thai…exactly what we had been looking for after a year of rice and curry. We ordered some of our classic favorites and couldn’t have been happier when the waitress brought out the steaming pot of Tom Yam Kung. The hot pot was literally overflowing with jumbo river prawns, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, mushrooms, lemongrass, chilies, and all manner of other goodies. The flavor was just as moving with the perfect blend of sour and spiciness.

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Next they brought out the Mango Salad with Deep Fried Catfish. The Mango Salad was a mix of shredded green mango, shallots, carrots, and chili peppers, sprinkled with peanuts and topped with a lime and fishsauce dressing. The flavors and texture worked well together, but I would have actually liked the dressing to be a little spicier. The Deep Fried Catfish was not what we were expecting at all. We had assumed that the salad would have small pieces of catfish mixed into the salad, but instead it was served on the side and resembled more of a crispy cracker than anything else. It was relatively flavorless, but it had a nice crunch and actually worked well if you scooped a little salad on it and used it as a chip.

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As a main course we had Pad Kha Prao, Chili Chicken with Basil leaves and white jasmine rice. This is one of my favorite Thai dishes and a lot of Thai restaurants screw it up in the US by overloading it with onions or other fillers. Thankfully, the chef at Rain Nudle House did not disappoint, delivering us a dish with a sweet sauce, tender chicken, lots of spicy chilies, and a healthly amount of Thai basil. It was incredible, and between us we wiped the plate perfectly clean.

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Even though we were both stuffed after all of this food, no Thai meal is truly complete without some fresh Mango and Sticky Rice. We shared a small portion this delectable dessert and came away completely satisfied. We'd recommend RainNudleHouse to anyone.

Posted by dgarbely 23:08 Archived in Malaysia Tagged food Comments (0)

The Adventure Begins...

Singapore

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The traveling part of our adventure has begun in earnest! We flew out of Colombo at 1:40am on Friday and arrived in Singapore at 8am, without a whole lot of sleep on the plane. After clearing customs we started the day with a refreshing breakfast at Burger King, before heading off to an appointment with some people at the CH office in Singapore. We met some great folks and talked about future job opportunities, but by about 2pm we were both fading fast, so we headed to our executive floor room (I love being a Hilton Diamond VIP) and passed out for a couple hours. We got up just in time to get our free drinks and snacks in the executive lounge before heading back to bed.

Our first "real" day of vacation was pretty much perfect. We slept in, ate a great breakfast, and just wandered around Singapore for the day. The highlight was a visit to the Chinese Gardens. They had some beautifully manicured gardens, an incredible bonzai house, and some really cool historical statues. Best of all, it was a very cool day and we basically had the park to ourselves. Very mellow and relaxing...exactly what we needed after the chaos of closing out our project in Sri Lanka.

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After the gardens, we headed back to Orchard Road which is the ultimate shopping street. Mall after mall, shop after shop. Jen had her first real experience of culture shock. After being in Sri Lanka, where shopping can be a challenge at best, it was a little overwhelming to walk into a huge mall that was more extravagant than anything we have in Portland. Definitely took a little bit of an adjustment. What threw me, though, was how Christmasy everything is. For a country with not a whole lot of Christians they have sure embraced Christmas wholeheartedly. Or at least the consumerism aspects of it. Nevertheless, they did a great job with lights and decorations in the streets. This picture doesn't do it justice, but it was pretty incredible, even for a grinch like me.

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We decided to have a late lunch/early dinner at a Chinese restaurant in the mall and were amazed at how good the food was for a mall. We had garlic fried prawns, chicken in a sweet and spicy sauce, and some really good dry sauted string beans. It was a little more expensive than we had expected, but was worth every penny..or so we thought. We had budgeted to spend $50/day and had thus far been able to see Singapore on a shoestring (thanks to our free stay at the hilton), but after paying for the lunch tab we realized that we were fifty cents short for our subway ride to the airport the next day. So we wandered around for another hour, eyes to the ground, trying to find spare change on the street. Unfortunately, Singapore is so damn clean that we were only able to find another 5 cents, so Jen had to sweet talk the front desk in the Hilton to change one dollar so we could make it to the airport. I guess learning to live on a budget is just part of the adventure.
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We're off to Malaysia now for another week long stay in the Hilton Malaysia...

Posted by dgarbely 19:52 Archived in Singapore Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Cultural Exchange

Independence Day in Sri Lanka

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Jen and I decided that since we had been spending so much time soaking up the Sri Lankan culture over the last few months, that it was only fair to share some American Culture with our Sri Lankan staff. What we found, however, is that it is relatively difficult to come up with an "American Cultural Experience" that people aren't somewhat familiar with, given the ubiquitousness of American TV, food, etc. Nevertheless, we thought that since both Americans and Sri Lankans had tossed the British out of their countries, there was no better cultural event to share than Independence Day! And there is no better way to celebrate Independence Day than having a good old fashioned BBQ!

The first step in any good BBQ is getting the meat together, which in Pottuvil, Sri Lanka, is easier said than done. Since we live in a Muslim community, beef is rather easy to come by but it is not particularly tender, nor does it come in neatly wrapped packages. The only way to get meat is to find the person who slaughtered a cow that morning and literally go buy a 'chunk o' meat'. No tri-tips or rib eye steaks here. So, we decided that instead of steak we would settle for hamburgers. Unfortunately, the only way to get ground beef is the grind it yourself. Ugh.

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Luckily, being the boss means that I can quickly rally the staff to get to work to help us with all of the party planning (something that I have some familiarity with). So the morning of the 4th, I sent out all of our drivers to gather the requisite party materials while I busted out the meat grinder and went to work on the 6 kg (~13lbs) of beef. I hadn't finished by the time they all got back, but I was plenty happy to turn over the arm workout and get started on the rest of the meal. I cooked up a tasty tri-bean chili, Jen made some potato salad, and the drivers put together a beautiful fruit salad. Add several cases of beer and a bottle of rum and we were set. I rewarded all of the drivers who helped cook with shots of my Patron Tequila - to which they all took an immediate liking too. Go figure. Jen got rewarded by Razak, our driver, with a new Sri Lankan outfit that his wife had made. It was a little strange at first to see her wearing Sri Lankan clothes on the 4th of July, but it was also oddly appropriate.

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As we were just finishing up the food, the rest of the staff came by and we started up a game of volleyball. Usually, we can't get them to play anything but cricket, but since it was a special day I think they humored me. Actually, we all had a great time - even though Jen and my team ended up losing after being ahead the entire game. Grrr.

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After volleyball, we got the grill going and cooked up all of the burgers just as it was getting dark. Everyone helped themselves to the food, but I think we got some mixed reviews. Everyone seem to like the burgers and the fruit salad, but were a little iffy about the potato salad and especially the chili. I was a little surprised about the chili since it was the most like "curry" that they eat here - but what to do? Instead Jen and I ended up eating chili for almost a week.

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Finally we finished up the evening with some more drinking and playing with fireworks (Safety First!). One of our drivers refused to light the fireworks on the ground and instead would light them in his hand and throw them in the air. Meanwhile, I kept trying to figure out whether this was going to be considered a workplace injury or not. After a few errant bottle rockets, he was voted out of fireworks duty by the entire party.

In the end, I think everyone had a good time and we all learned a little bit about each others culture and found a few similarities between them. Getting drunk and blowing stuff up seems to be a universal cultural activity (at least for men), chili is NOT the same as curry, and everybody loves hamburgers (even when you have to grind it yourself). My next challenge is figuring out how to explain what Labor Day means to America and why it is that we pretty much do the same thing as we do for Independence Day. Or maybe I'll just buy an extra case of beer and several bottles of tequila and forget all the technicalities....

Posted by dgarbely 13:33 Archived in Sri Lanka Tagged events Comments (1)

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