Archive for the Travel Category

The Teasing Tourist

Posted in Travel on August 10, 2012 by sunshin3girl

I am sure most of us have done this at some point or the other during our travels to different cities.

Whenever I am looking to book a hotel in a foreign city that I plan to visit, besides looking for something within my budget, I look for a place that is in the center of the city for the obvious reasons. More often than not, the city center is also the financial center or the central business district.

So eventually, there comes an afternoon during the trip, when I have some buffer time between my morning and evening plans, and I decide to just take a walk around the neighborhood. That is when I end up in the business district in the middle of a weekday, wearing my shorts and an orange scarf.

On the recent trip to San Francisco, I decided to kill time walking through China Town, which was right next door from the hotel. However, living in Singapore for the past four years ensured that I got bored after walking one block. So I took a turn and started walking away. (The great advantage of the new world’s blocks is that one can take turns in a new city and not get lost)That is how I reached the financial district at around five in the evening.

So here I am, in my casual jacket slinging the baby in a carrier and leisurely strolling amidst smartly dressed men and women who are walking at a pace that means business. While I was there, I felt the odd one out. I kept thinking of the life those people led, and how it would be to be working in their city and so on. Sometimes, I heard terms that I know from my area of work and was almost tempted to turn around and ask “Which company do you work in?” But who would take a tourist with a baby seriously? So, I kept walking, clicking grey pictures of concrete and glass.

Cut to the present day.

This morning, when I was waiting at the traffic light opposite my workplace, I saw a couple in shorts and holiday shirts, pushing a toddler in a stroller. My first thought was “What are they doing here?!” But I quickly realized. They were just like me – a teasing tourist, who (often deliberately) takes one wrong turn to hit the office area for maybe a glimpse of the city’s life or maybe a shortcut to the train station.

Once I got thinking, it all came flooding back. How often have I seen a guy with a bag-pack confusingly going through the menu at my usual lunch place in the CBD or a lady standing at the busy cross-section, craning her neck and snapping pictures of the tall business towers? When I see them, I am jealous of their off time. But when I was a teasing tourist in Bangkok, Vancouver, or Tokyo, I was strangely dissatisfied and kept trying to imagine how it would be to be one of those busy workers that I was surrounded by.

The green grass on the other side is always tempting me; for I am a workhorse who likes her holidays.

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crazy, stupid, love

Posted in Travel, weird ways of life with tags , on July 25, 2012 by sunshin3girl

My infatuation with all things Korean is well-known to the Internetz. It started with their TV dramas, but slowly grew to encompass almost every K thing. So for the past two years, I have been trying to coax, cheat, and compel friends and husband to take a trip with me to Seoul. But something or the other (like work, family visits, trips to Tokyo or Paris) kept cropping up. In the end, I started hatching plans to visit on my own but then the baby came.

So you can imagine my immense delight when I saw that my flight to San Francisco had a layover in Incheon. I had let Korea build up so much in my head that a fleeting visit to its airport also seemed to excite me to no end. By the time, I boarded the flight, I was way more excited about the layover than the actual destination.

I remember holding my breath as I stepped out of the plane and onto the glass-windowed aerobridge. I tried to grasp as much as possible, though all there was to see were some faraway green hills and a lot of usual aerodrome activity. Nevertheless, refusing to let my spirits fall, I quipped, “I cannot believe I am in Korea.” To which my darling husband said, “You are not in Korea until you clear immigration. You are on the international grounds.” Damp squib.

Just then the airline staff ushered us to the transit area making it clear that we won’t have time for anything but going through customs before reaching the boarding area for the onward flight. With fallen spirits and a face reflecting so, I walked along the path indicated and just then, I spotted a duty-free shop. Obviously, the shop was not on my designated path, but if I slipped away for a couple of minutes, who’d notice? Probably my 4-month old baby! OK, so I shall take him with me. Damnit, I will even use him to get away.

And so I created a small distraction by digging into his bursting diaper bag, letting a few things fall and making the nice unsuspecting airline staff believe that I was having a new-mommy moment.

That is how I got to go to the huge duty free store which was only slightly out of the way. The store stocked the usuals – chocolates, candies, souvenirs and such. But now that I was in the store and had pretty Korean salesgirls looking at me with expecting smiles on their faces, I had absolutely no clue why I wanted to be here in the first place. Well, not like I visited any part of Korea to take back a souvenir and when I last checked Toblerone was not Korean. Flustered, I looked around and then at my watch.

“Grab the first thing!” the voice in my head said. So I reached out at the tiny Korean couple dolls (maybe they were salt shakers) when my husband whispered, “These are so tacky, one could almost call them ugly.” At the same time, I saw the price tag, $45. Forty Five Friggin’ US Dollars!

Embarrassed and slightly miffed, I looked around for something with slight value for money and zeroed on a nice tea cup, which was traditionally Korean but not of a specific touristy significance and grabbed it. “I want this,” I told my husband, who still looked doubtfully at the $40 price tag.

“You want a $40 cup?” he asked twisting his one eyebrow the way only he can do. “You have cups. A lot of them, in fact.”

“But I do not have a Korean cup that I bought from Korea.”

“You are not in Korea.”

“But I want this. It is beautiful. And I am so in Korea. Everyone around us speaks Korean.”

“And probably enough English to understand your little tantrum.” With that he came out the bigger person, and payed for the cup and we rushed back to the customs queue.

So this is how my first Korean visit turned out. For I was in Korea, and you dare not try to convince me otherwise.

Falafel Sandwich in the Castro

Posted in Travel with tags , , , , on July 23, 2012 by sunshin3girl

In the early days of July, I found myself in San Francisco with a four month old baby and a husband who was busy in meetings all day. My hotel was bang in the middle of the bustling downtown and when the view outside your window is so lively, it is hard to stay in despite the googly eyes of your little one. So I bundled him up in his leopard snuggly and took off to do all things touristy.

And one windy afternoon, the boy and I found ourselves in the metro station, looking for a train that would take us to the Castro. I had read about it in the various travel guides as a suggested place to checkout culturally. For the uninitiated, the Castro is currently the largest gay neighborhood in the US. Having lived in Asia all my life, I am genuinely interested in checking out the flavor of a gay neighborhood where people can proudly be themselves.

As I stepped outside of the Castro metro station, I found myself on the Harvey Milk Plaza erected in memory of the first openly gay person to be elected in the US office.

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As I walked down the Castro street, I spotted San Francisco’s premier movie house Castro Theater. And as luck would have it, the black and white movie fest was on. However, there are some things even an adventurous new mother must not do, and entering a movie theater with a little one tops the list. Nevertheless, I stood there admiring not just the movie posters but also the Spanish influence on the architecture, which apparently tries to copy the older Castro theater.

ImageBesides the popular landmarks, the neighborhood also catches ones eye for its vivaciousness.  The bars and cafés are all so full of character, some in tongue-in-cheek way, and some just boho as the people who were sitting inside sipping their drinks. And as I walked slowly taking in whatever came my way, I overheard snippets of conversations of people passing me by. Yes, I was paying special attention. No, it is not really eves dropping unless I follow a specific person to make sense of the entire conversation. So yes, those snippets and some of the specialty stores gave me a feeling that many artistic people also live or frequent this neighborhood. For I heard someone talking about a book they were writing, and I saw a man with his oil paints and half-finished work on the roadside. All of this just adds more and more character to they anyway beautiful and vibrant neighborhood. Of course, the rainbow flags that are on every street light and most shops and houses help a lot too.

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Of course, I did witness the obvious as well. There were people clearly in love and happy about it, and there were people having arguments over finances, and there were people walking their dogs. There were also people walking around naked for they felt like it. I especially remember this one gentleman who wore his handsome hat, stylish scarf and boots but nothing else. However, none of this was in your face and no one, not even the kids coming back from school, seemed to notice anything. And for that, I will always remember Castro. For that and for the best falafel sandwich that I have eaten in my entire life.

PS: If I ever in San Francisco again, I will definitely go back to Castro for that big fat falafel sandwich full of salad and topped with super hot sauce. Also, for the genuine smile the huge guy at the counter gave me along with the sandwich.

The Sacred Heart of Paris

Posted in Travel with tags , , , on September 30, 2011 by sunshin3girl

When you visit a city for the first time, especially if it as distinctive as Paris, everything awes you. Or at least me. Be it the fake-French-window in the building opposite my hotel, or the narrow alley leading to a florist’s shop. But the image that first comes to your mind two months later when someone mentions the city is what becomes the face of that city for you.

For me it is the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur.

It was a rainy summer morning as we made our way to the Montmartre metro station. We hardly had to make an effort to walk; the wave of commuters drew us out and we found ourselves staring at crowded market streets and bright murals. We made our way into the market street, looking at all the touristy wares on sale – fridge magnets, buttons, umbrellas, and snow globes. And suddenly, out of no where we were looking at the most glorious sight.

As if on the cue, the rain stopped. We folded our umbrellas and made our way up the flight of stairs almost impatiently. We wanted to get closer to the magnificence that stared down at us from the top of the hill. The monument is surrounded with so much beauty, the gardens, the foliage, the fountains and the most interesting people, and yet it has the power to take you into the past, the past that you may have never known even. If you were a history buff, I am sure snatches of French revolution would flash in front of your eyes.

As we walked up, we suddenly found ourselves mesmerized by what was behind us! For the monument gives you a breathtaking panoramic view of the city and its skyline. Before we could catch your breath, both literally and metaphorically, strains of melody caught our ears. At the same time, the weather God showed mercy and the sun shown from behind the clouds.

We found ourselves glued to the stairs with hundreds of others and watched an old man play his harp. He seemed lost in his music, with no visible care of the hundreds of people watching him. At that exact moment, I fell in love with Paris.

The insides of Sacré-Cœur are equally glamorous; the architecture, the intricate designs, the mammoth pipe organ – all are something to write home about. While we were admiring the huge statues outside the building, we saw the crowd gather around a petite old lady. She seemed to have a contraption* and loads of sheets of papers with her. As we moved closer, we saw that she was playing music on what looked like a box (musical box?), where she inserted sheets of music with holes (for air?) and then wound the box. Out came the most melodious tunes and she sang along. So did the crowd gathered around her.

I remember being in a trance, standing there looking at the vivacious little lady, jumping around while playing the music. The atmosphere so lively could not have been beaten by anything but rain. Regardless, we also found a lively village right behind Sacré-Cœur, where painters stood on the roadsides painting the sights they saw, while tourists huddled in little cafés.

It was my favorite day in Paris.

* If you know the name of the musical instrument, please educate me.

Jakarta Tales

Posted in Travel with tags , , , on June 27, 2011 by sunshin3girl

Although Jakarta isn’t a city I had been planning to visit but hey, has there ever been a travel experience not worth recounting? To put it simply, Jakarta turned out to be a city different from what I had imagined. Maybe because I currently live in one of the safest countries/cities of Asia, people have been telling dreadful tales of dangers lurking in Jakarta to me for the longest time.

Contrary to all that, I found Jakarta an extremely friendly city. Well, traffic jams are truly from hell, and they made the Delhi-Gurgaon jam s seem like a breeze and to be truthful, we did take care not to venture to the unknown allies after dark, but isn’t that a sane thing to do any foreign land?

Bustling with life, different parts of the city move at a different pace. The downtown area where our hotel was located is fast moving, vivacious, and loud on Saturday nights. Come Sunday evening, it sleeps. Shopping is a favorite pastime, just like its neighbor, but the demographics of different malls depict which race has clinking purses in Jakarta.

City roads are wide, with the most fascinating bus-stands in the middle of the roads, with overhead walkways. The buses just glide through the bus lanes and stop in front of the on-air bus-stops that remind one of tram stations. But the best or worst, depending on your disposition, part is the carefree driving. Our driver, who seemed to know the way to nowhere, stopped in the middle of the road, sometimes on the crossroads, and waved to traffic policeman, or sometimes the policeman, to ask for directions. No one minded the rapidly building jam behind our car, and someone on the roadside would happily wave to those stuck in the jam to take over our stationary car while our driver happily chatted to find out the way to the next crossroad where he could ask for directions again.

And so it continued, our slow journey through various nooks of Jakarta.

We drove uphill to Bandung, which is supposed to be shopper’s heaven. We did not shop, unless buying two pairs of socks for your girlfriend counts. However, we had a blast at a cultural café called Kampung Daun situated amidst green trees and rocky hills, with waterfalls in the background. We got a tiny hut for ourselves to enjoy lunch, which was the local delight. I liked the fragrant steamed rice the best, however odd it may sound.

Next day, we snuck out to view something historical and ended up at Monas, the national monument. Bang in the middle of the city, it is an extremely popular monument amongst the local tourists. We could see Indonesians swarming the area, so much so that the queue to go up the tower had a four-hour waiting. Happily, we all agreed to take photos from the outside and move to our next destination, Taman Mini Indonesia Indah, a cultural recreational area sprawling across acres of land.

However, the thing we enjoyed the most during our short stay in Jakarta was bingeing. After the big breakfast in the morning, we usually did not feel like lunching but always ended up having dessert instead. Copious amounts of ice creams, cakes, and such were had.

Another highlight of the trip was attending an Indonesian wedding. Although a Chinese wedding, it was very different from those in Singapore. For example, the bride did not toss her bouquet to single girls. Instead, the couple tossed teddy bears to single people. And the tallest man jumped high to catch it! Most people were interested only in food and getting a photo taken with the couple on the stage. Reminded me of home. 🙂

Oh, and we also got carried away with the conversion rate and carrying millions in our pockets. For the first time in life, we all were trying to find things to spend money on. The movie ticket prices flabbergasted us, three people could watch a movie in a luxurious cinema at the price of one ticket in Singapore! Why would we miss the chance? So, we saw something terrible called “Something Borrowed.” Next day, we spent a good couple of hours hunting for things to buy – anything. Ended up sky-shopping in the end, a first for each one of us.

As I always say, no place comes without new experiences. Fun can always be had in new lands.

Of Tsukiji and Odd Old Men

Posted in Travel with tags , , on May 12, 2011 by sunshin3girl

It was a chilly Tokyo morning when a bunch of us set out to the Tsukiji fish market. Gloved hands shoved deep in pockets, blue lipped, we all walked through the street lined with pickle vendors and sushi restaurants until we reached the market.

Utterly fascinated by the mechanical cars being used by the workers to carry the stock and themselves around, we dodged and walked in between the stalls of fish and sea food so fresh that it did not smell one bit.

That day, my myth of stinking fish markets was busted. It is only the not so fresh fish places that smell. I can never be sure how human beings (include yours truly) be a lover of both food and animals at the same time. We walked around taking in the sights of mammoth fish and fresh oysters and such. I was particularly fascinated by the prawns, pink and crunchy shelled.

After about twenty minutes of touristy ogling, I decided to step out of the way of the daily business. A friend wanted to take some photos, and the others followed him back into the labyrinth of fish stalls.

I stood at the corner of the busy street, watching men buzzing around in their cute mechanical cars. As I concentrated on blowing puffy breath into the cold morning, I felt someone pinch my butt. On reflex, I turned around ready to shout and scream. Right behind me stood a middle aged worker, with a bottle of local wine in one hand. With other hand he pointed at me and giggled with glee.

I mean, I am from New Delhi! I thought I had experienced all sorts of eve teasing invented in the world, or at least in Asia considering how the word is Asian. Shock overshadowed my anger, and I stepped away. By the time, the others got back, shock had given way to amusement and now, I had a Japanese story to tell.

I would have passed that drunken worker as an oddity but the next day, my friend got pointed and smiled at by some old man at the metro station. Who said pestering needs a language, huh?

♥ Tokyo – III

Posted in Travel with tags , , , on February 27, 2011 by sunshin3girl

We were lucky to be in Japan on the day of the bean-throwing festival. It is the first day of the lunar year when people throw beans to drive away the evil and bring in the good luck.

It’s called setsubun in Japanese and as per the Internet, traditinally, people throw roasted soy beans at home, shouting “oni wa so to” (get out demons) and “fu ku wa uchi” (come in happiness.) These beans are called fuku mame (fortune beans.) It is believed that people can be healthy and happy if they pick up and eat fuku mame the number equal to their ages. Also, people eat ehou-maki (sushi) for good luck.


We landed at the Sensoji shrine in the morning and saw the priests walk down to the main area of the shrine, complete with a lantern parade.

Later, the priests threw beans at the people, who had gathered eagerly to catch the beans.

I got one too!!