Thursday, July 15, 2010

Back in Action: The Epic Asian Adventure Begins

My recent posting hiatus is due to the fact that I had friends visiting from the U.S., and we were very busy adventuring all over Singapore and outward into Thailand and Vietnam.  As a result, I now have lots of what I've come to think of as "blog fodder"- new photos, stories, and travel advice to dispense.

The friends that came to visit were KT and Mark.  KT has been my friend since childhood, and we've stayed close through my moves to Minnesota, New Mexico and Singapore.  I was thrilled when she and another friend came to visit me in New Mexico a couple years ago, but when I announced that I was moving to the other side of the planet, I didn't really expect anyone to make the epic voyage to meet up with me.  I was cautiously optimistic when KT started talking about planning a trip, and was thrilled when she actually bought a plane ticket.  A few months before her trip, she called and asked if her cousin Mark could join her, and I happily agreed- I've spent so much time with KT's family that I feel like her cousins are mine.

In the months preceding their trip, we exchanged a passel of emails, rambling about plans to travel outside of Singapore, foods to eat, sights to see, all punctuated with loads of exclamation points.  By the time I was finally headed to the airport to meet them, the excitement had built up so much that I felt like a kid on Christmas. After eleven months of not seeing anyone from home, I was giddy about their arrival.  I stayed glued to the glass wall by the arrival hall, watching for a sign of them, and spent about 30 minutes thinking that every person walking by was KT or Mark.  Once I finally spotted them, I started waving like a fool from about 30 yards away.  Mark looked buoyant and excited, but KT looked like traveling had gotten the best of her.  Her eyes looked like she'd been drugged, but she was still happy.  It was so wonderful to finally see them both.

Our taxi ride to my place reminded me of Bryan and my first view of the island, riding in a taxi through a moonlit Singapore.  We were just like KT and Mark, eagerly looking out the windows and taking it all in, especially enjoying the lit up Singapore Flyer alongside the road.  The ride flew by and we were back at the apartment in no time.  Everyone settled in and got some sleep in preparation for the first day of what we had long since dubbed the "Epic Asian Adventure."

After a good night's sleep, Bryan was off to work and KT, Mark, and I were ready to explore the city.  Our first order of business was to eat, and the hawker centre by our flat seemed like a good introduction to Singaporean food.  KT and Mark were hoping for some tame food after so much traveling and sleep deprivation, so they got some pretty plain noodles, which we followed up with yummy Portuguese egg tarts from a nearby bakery where Mark also got a piece of cake.  Little did I know then that this was the first of more than THIRTY pieces of cake that Mark would eat while in Southeast Asia.

After the hawker centre, we headed for the Singapore Botanic Gardens.  It was raining and, having been thrown out of my normal routine, I'd forgotten an umbrella.  I figured that the rain would stop within an hour, like it usually does, so we went on our way sans umbrellas.  I couldn't have been more wrong about the rain, which continued as our bus stopped outside the gardens.  It was letting up a bit, so we got off the bus anyway, only to be met with a renewed onslaught of rain.  We got drenched, but I didn't really care.  It was nice to be with friends from home, sopping wet and all.  Plus we looked hilarious.

Not wanting to wander the gardens in the pouring rain, we hopped back on the bus and headed to Orchard Road to wait out the bad weather in the comfort of the endless network of overly air-conditioned malls.  Mark and KT were appropriately dazzled by the sight of the towering, neon-adorned buildings swarming with hordes of shoppers eager to score a deal during the two month-long Great Singapore Sale.  We roamed a while, and sat around sipping coffee to warm up and to fight the jet lag that KT and Mark were struggling (it doesn't get much worse than a 12-hour time difference).

By the time we made our way back outside, the rain had stopped and we were ready to tackle the gardens.  On our way, we saw the BiodiverCity Photo Exhibition that I previously posted about here.  I thought the exhibition was impressive- the photos were easy to leisurely peruse, and there was a little room that you could go into, which was playing a slide show of nature images to the soundtrack of local nature sounds (cicadas...always cicadas).  It was especially interesting to see the nature photos displayed in the context of Orchard Road.  I thought it was a poignant example of the range of landscapes that exist on the small island- primary rainforest thriving mere miles from the ultra-modern shopping mecca of Orchard Road.

We finally made our way back to the Botanical Gardens, and we were happy to be able to enjoy it in the sunshine.  We meandered through the Spice Garden(where we saw torch ginger, my favorite!!), alongside the amphitheater, and past a few statues, eventually making our way to the National Orchid Garden.

At  the Orchid Garden, we first spent a few minutes browsing the gift shop, which is full of fun local knick knacks, including two of the creepiest mannequins I've ever seen.  I told Mark and KT that I would love to start a separate blog called "Creepy Mannequins of Southeast Asia."  I'm sure I would have no shortage of material, as most of the mannequins around here look like they were salvaged from a haunted house.  Exhibit number one...
Children of the Corn, anyone?!  And WHY DOESN'T THE ONE ON THE LEFT HAVE ANY ARMS?!?!

The garden itself is pretty amazing.  I've never seen such a wide array of flowers- all different colors and sizes- and it's so hard to believe that they're ALL orchids.

I loved these mossy statues stationed outside the orchid garden, as well as this bright red pineapple.  I've never seen pineapples still on the plant, and I was surprised to see them growing on the ground.  I guess I thought they grew on trees!  Maybe it's obvious that I didn't grow up in the tropics.

As always, the highlight of my day was the pitcher plants!  There was a whole area devoted to all different kinds- fat, skinny, solitary, clusters, plain, and speckled.  Neat!

KT, Mark, and I got a kick out of taking what we referred to as "senior pictures" in the garden.  It was silly, but endlessly entertaining.

We decided to stroll out of the park and go meet up with Bryan at Indian Wok 'n' Grill on Orchard Road, a tasty restaurant that Bryan and I tried out when we were new to S'pore and living at the Orchard Parade Hotel.  On our way out, we made a few detours, first by Swan Pond, which lived up to its name, as we saw four elegant swans cruising around.

Beyond the swans, we got sidetracked through a small area that's been preserved as natural forest, and Mark and KT got their first taste of what nature really looks like in Singapore, although they'd get much more in the next few days.  We also meandered by a delightful collection of apparently gravity-defying sculptures (my apologies for the somewhat grainy pictures throughout the post- it was alternating between raining and being incredibly humid and overcast all day- a rather honest introduction to the Singaporean climate).

There was a couple at a nearby gazebo taking wedding shots, and although the garden was a magnificent backdrop for their photos, I couldn't help noticing my sweaty self and wondering how this couple was managing to take stunning photos in a heavy wedding dress and a full suit.  Not for the first time, I wondered if Singaporeans lack sweat glands.

After our long, wet adventure, we were grateful to sit down at the Indian restaurant.  Mark and KT enjoyed their first Tiger while we waited for Bryan, who had been sleeping when my friends came in the night before, and then he'd left for work while they slept the next morning. When he finally got there, he was bombarded with greetings and stories about our day (WE GOT SOAKED!!!  MARK ATE SO MUCH!!).  The food was scrumptious, and the meal was a relaxing and delicious way to end the first day of the adventure.