Looking Back, Moving Forward: 2011 in Review

12/30/11

It feels like only yesterday that we were ringing in the New Year and looking forward to whatever 2011 would bring. Twelve quick months later and we're wondering what 2012 has in store for us.

This past year was a really good and busy one; we traveled a lot and got really comfortable living in Singapore. It's times like this that I'm glad I have this blog to help me look back at the things we've seen and done. It makes reminiscing about our year a whole lot easier...

January: We rang in 2011 from Shanghai and had a blast. It was freezing! I don't think I've ever been so cold in my entire life. I also witnessed Thaipusam, one of the most moving experiences I've ever seen.





February: The second month of the year was all about hockey. Jeff played in two hockey tournaments, including the World Pond Hockey Tournament. We watched the San Jose Sharks play a home game. We got a chance to catch up with family and friends during an extended visit to San Jose.




March: March was spent exploring Singapore. We finally went to Pulau Ubin, where we visited the German Girl Shrine. I also got to experience Men's Fashion Week and the Singapore Biennale.

April: We spent a very relaxing Easter in Kota Kinabalu. Later that month, Jeff and I went to the Malaysia Grand Prix in Sepang and stayed in Putrajaya.
May: After we took a quick trip back to the US, Jeff's parents and cousin Logan came to visit us. We celebrated Jeff's birthday in Ho Chi Minh City and played tour guides for the family in Singapore. I also got my beloved bicycle, The Pidge.

June: I visited Bukit Brown Cemetery (if you haven't been, you should go before it turns into shopping malls and condominiums), we attended Beerfest Asia, and I got freaked out by the bizarre and frightening Haw Par Villa.

July: I went to the Singapore Blog Awards, where I was nominated in the "Best Travel Blog" category (I didn't win, but it's all good). Jeff and I took a weekend getaway to Malacca by bus. I also rode on the last train out of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. Oh yeah, and we saw Lady Gaga in concert!

August: We discovered one of our favorite hangouts in Singapore, Smokey's. Jeff and I visited Bali for a weekend and spent another weekend in Penang. We took the dogs to the National Dog Walk and speaking of dogs, I wrote a FAQ on exporting dogs to Singapore.




September: My birthday month! We had a great time at the Singapore Grand Prix, too.

October: Finally got around to visiting Hong Kong and we fell in love (mmm, egg tarts). We spent a day in Macau, too.

November: We enjoyed Hong Kong so much, we went back to celebrate our fourth anniversary. We also spent almost three weeks in Bangalore, and took a great day trip to Mysore. I reached my 200th post and visited the Berlin Wall without having to leave the Little Red Dot.


December: Our move back to California became official. My sister came to visit us for our second and final Christmas in Singapore.



With the upcoming move back to our hometown, the beginning of 2012 feels like a pretty good place to start over again. A new place to live, a kinda new job for Jeff (and hopefully one for me too!), and a new outlook on life. Living abroad really changes the way you see things. It has taught us a lot about ourselves, our relationship, and the relationships we have with others.

I don't really know what 2012 will be like, but I hope it involves more traveling, exploring, learning, health and lots of happiness.

We hope 2012 is full of health and happiness for you, too. Best wishes for a prosperous New Year. Thanks to everyone who has read the blog and kept in touch over the past year.

See you on the flip side! (Name what movie that's from!)

We're in a Magazine!

12/27/11

I wasn't going to write about our trip to Bangalore anymore, but then Jeff brought home an issue of India Today magazine with a picture of us in it and I felt the need to share. It's not everyday that you're in a magazine (unless you're a Kardashian). 

The photo is a part of a special feature in the magazine on "happening nightspots" in Bangalore. We were photographed having a few drinks at our hotel bar, Highland Nectar. The photographer was very discreet and we weren't told what he was taking photos for at the time. 

We're in the bottom photo, probably whispering to each other about why we were being photographed.

The only reason we found out we were in the magazine was because Jeff's boss went to India and happened to read the magazine and recognize us (he brought us back a copy).

Getting the Dogs Ready For the Move

12/25/11

The last time I touched our dogs' kennels was the day Stanley and Joe arrived home from quarantine. I quickly disassembled the kennels and hid them in the storage room so that the dogs could relax and settle in at the new apartment. I was sure they didn't want to be near the kennels anymore after sitting in them for about 22 hours straight.

The only time our dogs have used a kennel was when they flew from SFO to Singapore. Prior to the move, I got the dogs used to being in and around the kennels by setting them up in the living room and praising the dogs for staying inside of them. When it was official that we were moving back to the US, I decided it was time to get the dogs used to their kennels again.

Little Joe's initial reaction at seeing the kennels was to run out of the room and vomit. Stan was mostly curious about them, sitting next to me as I bolted both halves of his kennel together. I had a feeling the kennels might bring back bad memories of their flight over to Singapore. I've spent the last week coaxing the dogs into the kennels and giving them lots of praise (and cookies).

If you're planning on importing your pet(s) or traveling with them, it's really important that they are accustomed to the container they'll be in for the long trip. If your pet is already crate-trained, then it will be a lot easier for you. I've been gradually increasing the amount of time that the dogs stay in the kennels, getting them more relaxed about being in there.

I think the boys are finally getting comfortable with their kennels again, and I hope it helps on the long and tiring journey ahead of them. Now it's time to deal with some fun paperwork to export them out of Singapore. I'll post more on that later.

Merry Christmas!

It's a bit harder to get into the Christmas spirit in Singapore when it's really warm outside and we're wearing shorts in December, but we had a fantastic holiday weekend anyway. We put up a Christmas tree again this year (this time I didn't almost burn the tree down like last year), my sister has been in town visiting us, and we opened presents at midnight like I used to as a kid.

Last year was our first Christmas spent away from family and friends in California. We wandered through malls on Christmas day and ended up eating dinner at Carnivore, a Brazilian churrascaria. Just about everything shuts down on Christmas back in the US so it's a novelty for us to be able to go shopping on December 25th. This year we thought we'd make a Singapore tradition out of it and do the same thing again. It goes to show that no matter how unconventional your traditions might be, it's being around family that really makes the holidays special.

Merry Christmas to our friends, family, and blog followers who celebrate it. Happy Holidays and lots of love to you and your families. 

A Singapore Christmas Ornament

12/22/11


Every Christmas, I like to find a new ornament to add to our Christmas tree. Some ornaments are from one of our trips and others I just pick up at a store or craft fair. Our ornament collection is pretty eclectic, but every single one has a little story behind it.

This year, I picked up ornaments in Chinatown and Little India because I wanted to remember our second and last Christmas in Singapore. The ornament in the photo is the one I picked up in Chinatown last week for $8. It's a perfect souvenir and every Christmas when I decorate our tree, I'll remember walking in the rain along Trengganu Street.

Random Photos From Our Bangalore Trip

Sometimes I take lots of photos when I'm traveling that aren't really worth an entire blog post on their own, but I still want to share them. So I guess I'll throw a few random photos together and call it a blog post.

This restaurant was near our hotel and I couldn't help but laugh at the name, Kentacky Chicken Corner. The name is odd, but it seems like a popular place in the evenings. I didn't get a chance to try it out and now I kind of wish I did.

The birds flying around our hotel were large. Is this an eagle or a hawk? Their wing spans must have been about three feet wide. They kept the fat pigeons also flying around our hotel in check. I would stare out the window and watch these large birds let themselves drift along with the wind. There was also a large bird that was an auburn color with a white head, but I couldn't catch a good photo of it. 

Someone should make a souvenir shirt that says "I crossed a busy street in India and survived." I would proudly wear it, because after finally getting accustomed to crossing busy streets in Bangalore, I feel like I can do anything. The streets are constantly full of honking cars, buses and tuk tuks (and the occasional wagon being pulled by beasts of burden). 

While we were at Mysore Palace, we were approached by the dude in the plaid shirt asking for a "click." I thought he wanted us to take a photo of him and his friends. He actually wanted a photo with us and his friends. So we obliged and posed with them. After we took the photo, I said "Okay, my turn" and motioned for them to get back in the photo with Jeff. They giggled a bit, but were eager to pose for another photo. 

Being asked to take a photo with a random stranger has happened to me a lot since I've lived and traveled in Southeast Asia. It never fails to make me feel self-conscious and awkward, and as a result I forget to ask them why they want a photo with me. Sometimes people don't even ask, they just pull out their camera and take my photo! I can't help but wonder what they do with these pictures and why they want them in the first place.

This sign was painted every ten feet or so on the walls surrounding an all-girl school in Bangalore. I lost count of how many men I saw peeing in public. There were a few public restrooms around and lots of businesses where I'm sure people could have used the restrooms, but taking a leak behind a tree, or on a wall, or around the corner of a building just seems like a more popular choice. 

That's the last of the India blog posts. We've been busy lately because it's Christmastime and we've got a big move coming up, but I'll try and post more soon. 

Day Trippin': Mysore (sponsored post)

12/15/11

About 140 km southwest of Bangalore is the beautiful town of Mysore. Jeff and I spent a Sunday here and did a bit of sightseeing. It's definitely one of those places where you can spend a full day exploring.

Mysore is known for its beautiful silks and sandalwood, as well as for being a former Princely State. I heard it referred to as the most opulent place in India. I also heard it called the cleanest place in all of India (I will admit, it was pretty clean compared to some other places).

The first place we visited was Daria Daulat, the summer palace of Tipu Sultan. Tipu was born in 1750 and ruled the kingdom of Mysore. Tipu fought several wars against the British during his rule.

Unfortunately I wasn't allowed take photos, but the entire building is decorated with elaborate murals depicting battles between the British and the French. After Tipu was defeated, Colonel Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) lived in the palace.
Looking towards the entrance of Daria Daulat
The second place on our trip was St. Philomena's Church. It was built in the 1936 in a Neo-Gothic style. It's a beautiful structure with elaborate stained glass windows.

A statue of St. Philomena can be found in the catacomb below the church. Inside the church, some of the female statues are wearing saris. I also observed that, although there were church pews, many people were sitting on the floor during mass.
St. Philomena's Church

A relic St. Philomena in the catacomb
After that, we headed to Chamundeshwari Temple on Chamundi Hill. Because it was a Sunday and many people had the day off, it was crowded and lines to enter the temple snaked around the building. We didn't go inside because we would have waited for hours.

Women selling offerings of coconuts and flowers to temple-goers

Chamundeshwari Temple

A statue of Mahishasura, Mysore's namesake
Next, we drove up to the top of Chamundi Hill to take in the views of Mysore. The views on a clear day are really good; we could see several palaces and other historic buildings in the distance. Several of these have been converted into government buildings, tourist attractions or hotels now. 

We also checked out the Nandi bull on the way up the hill. The bull is about 16 fet tall and is carved from a single block of granite. There were lots of people coming to pray and leave offerings in front of the bull that day. There are one thousand steps to the top of Chamundi Hill; the bull is at the 700th step.

Nandi bull on the way to Chamundi Hill
Mysore Palace was our last destination of the day trip. Sadly, I wasn't allowed to bring my camera inside of this amazing building. There was even a camera drop off, where I had to put my camera in a locker while I went to the palace. I wish I could have taken photos, because the elaborate interiors were worthy of several blog posts. 

The palace was designed by a British architect and was completed in 1912. It truly is a palace; there is so much opulence inside to take in. There were halls adorned with detailed murals of life in Mysore, large oil paintings of royal family members, and a solid silver door, among other things. The marriage hall in the palace could have fit a thousand people in it, and the stained glass in this room was brought from Glasgow, Scotland. The most amazing room in the palace is Durbar Hall, where the maharaja hosted audiences from a gold throne. 

Although there are no more maharajas in India, members of the Wodeyar dynasty still live on palace grounds. The Wodeyars ruled Mysore until 1971, when then prime minister Indira Gandhi abolished all titles.

Mysore Palace
I planned this day trip with the help of my Insight Guide India, courtesy of Global Language Store. There's so much to see in a country as large as India, but this travel guide breaks down the places by regions and states.

It provides lots of great recommendations for places to eat and stay while you're traveling. There's also lots of information on Indian history, culture, art and religion.

My favorite part of Insight Guides is that they're a bit larger than most travel books and are printed in full color, so after I'm done using it as a travel guide it makes a pretty coffee table book. 

Another book I got from GLS which I also found helpful is the Culture Smart: India book. A quick read, I finished most of it on the flight over and recommend it if you're someone who is really new to Indian culture, especially if you're going to India to do business. It provides great introductions on topics like religion, politics, food, social norms and cultural etiquette.

Both of these books and others are available at www.globallanguagestore.com.

Related post: Travel Guides From Global Language Store

This is a sponsored post. Travel guides provided by Global Language Store. All opinions are my own. 




A Shoe Store in Bangalore

12/10/11

Shoe stores are my kryptonite no matter what country I seem to find myself in. I stumbled upon this little shoe store while walking around Bangalore a while ago. It was actually more of a narrow alleyway lined with walls of shoes than a shop. I had to crouch down a little bit when I walked in because there were even shoes hanging from the ceiling.


The sign outside the shop said they specialized in Punjabi juttis and Rajasthani mojaris, which are leather slippers often decorated with patterns and embroidery. These don't come with a left shoe and a right shoe, but after you wear them for a while they begin to take the shape of your feet.

The shopkeeper caught me admiring a pair and asked if I wanted to try them on. I said sure, but that I didn't know what size I'd need. He bent down to pull the hem of my jeans up to take a closer look at my foot, pulled out a pair of shoes from the shelf, and put them on the floor for me to try. It took him one guess to figure out the exact size that I needed. 

The juttis for men have a small leather flap that comes up in the front. Some have little tassels on them. All the shoes in the shop were handmade and most of them were leather. I spent a long time admiring all the different styles and colors.

This type of sandal is a Kolhapuri chappal. I ended up buying a red pair of these and a brown pair of juttis to bring home with me. 

The shopkeeper (on the left) and his assistant were eager to pose for me when I asked if I could take a few photos. The shopkeeper boasted that his shoe shop has been photographed by visitors from all over the world. I gave him my card; I wonder if he'll find his photo on this blog someday. Every time I wear my new shoes, I will think of him. 

Travel Guides from Global Language Store (sponsored post)

12/8/11

Some people collect souvenirs to serve as reminders of all the countries they've traveled to. I used to know someone who collected a bracelet charm from every country visited. I've seen backpacks covered in patches of flags from all the countries they've been to. While I often come home with a souvenir or two, I also collect travel guides from all the places we've been.

Even though several are probably out of date editions, I enjoy looking at these well-loved books on my bookshelf. Several pages are usually dogeared and I always write in them. I get excited when the time comes to shop for a new travel guide because that means I've got another trip to plan and look forward to.


Recently, I discovered a Singapore-based online bookstore specializing in travel guides and language books. Global Language Store has a large inventory of travel guides, maps, language tools, and more. Their prices are competitive and my favorite part is that they offer island-wide free delivery on purchases over $30.

During the month of December, GLS is offering special package deals on travel books and language tools for their customers. Island-wide delivery will be free all month, too.

Sign up for the GLS newsletter, to receive a discount code for 15% off all purchases (discount not valid on sale items). You can sign up for it here.

If you or someone on your Christmas shopping list is traveling in the coming year, a travel book would make a great Christmas present!

This post is sponsored by Global Language Store. All opinions are my own.

Bicycles in India

12/4/11

Ever since I got The Pidge, I can't help but pay attention to bicycles wherever I go. We were in Bangalore, India for a few weeks recently and I noticed that most of the bikes were large all-steel bikes like my Flying Pigeon.


These sturdy bikes were usually covered in dust or mud and look as though they've been in use for the past 50 years. Most of the bikes were painted British racing green. The two most popular brands I saw were Hero and Atlas. These are both Indian bicycle companies which have been around since the 1950's.

Since 1986, Hero Cycles has been recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records for being the biggest bike manufacturer in the world. There are 18,500 Hero bicycles made everyday.


Not far from our hotel, I found a bike shop that sold Hero and Atlas bicycles. I wanted to admire a Hero bicycle up close and possibly find some old bike parts to bring home for The Pidge. I was hoping the bike shop would ship a Hero bicycle to the US for me, but the salesman said they would only ship anywhere in Bangalore. So I settled with taking a few photos instead.


By the way, if you're interested in bringing one of these bikes home with you from India, they'll set you back 3100 rupees. That's about SGD78 bucks. A metal basket for the front will cost you 150 rupees (a little less than SGD4). 

California, here we come.

12/2/11


It's official: we're moving back to California.

After living in Singapore for about a year and a half, the time has come for us to pack our bags and leave the Little Red Dot. We moved here because of Jeff's work and we're heading back to California for the same reason. 

Life in Singapore has been a great experience for us and moving abroad is one of the best decisions we've ever made. We've traveled a lot (ten countries!), made some great friendships, and learned a lot about ourselves. But things happen for a reason, and the next chapter of our lives will take place in California. 

We gave our two months' notice a few days ago and will be leaving at the end of January. For the next two months we'll be busy getting the dogs ready for the move, tying up loose ends, and clearing everything out of our apartment. (If anyone needs something for their apartment, we're getting rid of it all so let me know if you're interested in anything.) 

And here's our theme song for the next two months. California, here we come.

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