Friday, November 30, 2012

Summer Adventures: The LAST one

Right on time, eh? Finished right on the 30th, as I said I would.

We managed to fit 4 weeks of souvenirs and memories into our backpacks, make our way to the airport, score two ROWS of seats (so that we could each sleep comfortably) on the 7 hour flight, and score another row of seats at Haneda airport for our overnight crash. We woke groggily at 4:30 am to catch the first train home and spent the rest of the ride in a zombie state of jet lag, relief, and yearning for a proper bed.

It’s always a strange feeling, when you return to a place that is not really your home. Upon seeing the lights of Japan, I felt a huge weight lift. One that I hadn’t realized I was carrying. A sense of relief washed over me, and it was the strangest feeling. I can only imagine how it will feel to actually come home to America.
 I do want to thank some people, for which this trip and my sanity would not have been possible. I have no idea if the people on this list will ever actually read their thank you note, but here goes…

To my roommate, Robert, who successfully freaked me out about EVERYTHING. Getting all that stress out of the way made the actual trip more enjoyable, and I somehow “felt prepared” when things went terribly wrong.

To my parents, for giving me the opportunity to travel when I was young and instilling a sense of independence. Never would have seen the places I’ve seen without it. And for the most incredible hotel experience I will ever have. I’ve officially been ruined for all other hotels.

To John, for all the emails, spotty Skype conversations, waking up at 3 am just to see my face, for making home feel so much closer, for putting up with all the “When Emma and I…” stories (I’m sure they’re never ending) and for being ready to jump into a Taken-esque mission if needed. I always knew that you had our backs.

To Emma’s parents, for the ridiculously amazing meal we had on our last night. And for raising a most awesome daughter who put up with me for 4 weeks.

To Emma. For the endless FRIENDS questions, making me laugh constantly, standing up to rude cab drivers, taking care of me the 8,943 times I got sick, and making the trips one of the best memories of my life. I am forever grateful for our friendship and can’t believe my luck that you actually agreed to travel with me.
Last official pic of the trip- 5 am train ride
Lastly, to everyone who has been reading and commenting. Sorry this took so long and hopefully it wasn’t TOO boring. I love every one of you.

WHEW! It’s FINALLY done.

Later, minions.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Summer Adventures: The Ritz-Carlton experience

The way we looked at it, our “last day” would actually be the second to last day. We would spend the day doing tourist things around Kuala Lumpur, finishing off anything on our list that we hadn’t gotten to. Our actual last day we had allocated weeks before, when my parents gifted us with one night’s stay in THE Ritz-Carlton, Kuala Lumpur. Of course, the ENTIRE day was allotted to staying inside the hotel walls- determined to experience every nook and cranny of the Ritz. So, we referred to that as our “luxury day”.

So for our “last day”, we headed to the Petronus Towers. Our trusty guidebook has said that if you arrive early enough, they actually give out 100 free tickets to the first visitors. However, the locals warned us that they don’t actually do that anymore. The fee was $50 for a ride to the Petronus Towers Bridge. Free tickets? Pfft, they all scoffed at us. Not to take our chances, we woke early on the “last day” to try and score some mystical “free” tickets.
Let me save you the hassle. Locals weren’t kidding; the ticket agents looked at me like I was INSANE for asking for “free” tickets. Totally a Diane Tango move, btw. Not wanting to drop some serious dough on tickets for a view of a city we were (at BEST) lukewarm about, we headed for the shopping center underneath the Petronus Towers. Hey, the guidebook recommended it!

We spent the day shopping (books for me! So cheap!), eating gluttonous food (I ate like a 6 year old- cinnamon pretzels, red velvet cupcakes, jelly beans, chocolate. Is anyone surprised that I felt sick to my stomach hours later?), and seeing a final cheap movie (SERIOUSLY, for $3?!? Can anyone argue with that?). It was laid back and perfect. We even finished the day with some shopping in Chinatown (yayyy, finally got my silk robe) and Subway Sandwiches. Minus the outrageous stomach ache, the “last day” could not have been more perfect.
The inspiration for Emma's future bakery
 Anddd then, it was here. The LUXURY day. We had been counting down ever since I got the “we booked you a room…” email from my Mom. Emma spent the entire trip fantasizing about how it would be, what it would look like, how amazing the service would be. We set the alarms, took great care in ironing out the “ritziest” outfit we had, and skipped excitedly to the taxis. When we arrived, everything changed. It was a 180 degree turn around from the Kuala Lumpur we had seen. Even the cab driver (who could barely be bothered to open the trunk for our backpacks), opened our doors and took great care in handing our bulging backpacks to the bellboy.
The staff was incredible. I’ve never felt more like royalty in my life. They all acted as if Emma and I were actual queens and they never had more important guests. It was surreal and, contrasted with the way our ENTIRE experience in Kuala Lumpur had been, bewildering. I don’t know if I’ve ever been treated that way in my life so to go from having your boobs gawked at to have people clamoring to carry my bags for me was a bit insane.

Someone literally escorted us to our room, opened the door for us, and asked us if everything was ok with our room. I’m telling you… surreal.

I’ll let past me do the talking here…

The fanciest outfits we could muster
After thoroughly dissecting the room, we came up with a loose game plan that included finding the pool(s) and eating lunch. We wandered around the Ritz, oohing and ahhing, and trying to act like we fit in before deciding on lunch at the Ritz café. There, I had THE MOST delicious burger I’ve ever had in my entire life (just barely beating out John’s homemade hamburgers). It was scrumptious and mouthwatering and I’m drooling right now just remembering it.
(mouth full of heavenly burger)
We went to the room for an outfit change and then went in search of the pool. It was like an oasis. If I ever become disgustingly rich, I want a pool exactly like the Ritz Carlton one. It was like swimming in a tropical paradise. We hopped from tropical paradise to Jacuzzi to rooftop infinity pool and finally the soak tub. It was incredible.

Then, we spent our time pampering ourselves in their spa and retreated to get ready for dinner.

Emma’s parents had generously wired her enough money to splurge for our “last meal” at the Ritz. We. Went. CRAZY. Salmon, wine, side of onion rings, grilled vegetables, creamed spinach. It was a meal for queens. It was WITHOUT A DOUBT the BEST meal we’d had on the trip, and definitely one of the top 5 “Best meals of my life”.

We retreated to the room and I swear, the beds there are 40%bed, 40%cloud and 10%pure heaven. I felt like I was floating and I’ve NEVER been in a more comfortable bed. I can now understand why crazy people stay at hotels like this for days (even weeks) on end. It was addicting.
They left us extra chocolate!!! And FREE water
All too fast, it was morning. We had complimentary tea, coffee, and juice delivered to our room. We did some final letter writing, made sure to take the shampoos, toothbrushes, stationary, etc… and checked out. It was a cruel slap back to reality, climbing into the peasant cab (they had to actually go and search for a local cab since the Ritz only had limo/luxury cabs). That smell was back and we had a brooding, gawking cab driver. But for 24 hours, we were queens. We ate like queens, relaxed like queens, and were treated like queens. It was unforgettable and the biggest possible BANG! we could have had to end our trip.

A million thanks to BOTH our sets of parents, who managed to take care of us from thousands of miles away. You guys ensured that our last night was the best night EVER and it was. It was better than we could have ever imagined and more than we ever expected. We are so lucky to have experienced the greatest luxuries of Kuala Lumpur

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Summer Adventures: KL Round II!

So we were back in Kuala Lumpur.
 Our hostel was in a prime location, right over the bustling street in Chinatown.
It's usually busier, but this was at like 7 am
We had a short list of “must-do’s” for Kuala Lumpur, as we spent our first time recovering from the red-eye flight/getting our fill of the Olympics/ taking advantage of the outrageous movie prices (less than $3 a ticket!!). One of them was to climb to the top of the Batu caves, a mere 272 steps to a cave/Hindu temple.
To say that Kuala Lumpur was my least favorite city would be an understatement. Emma, being the classy and mature traveler that she is, took everything in stride (minus the cab driver who tried to scam us). I, on the other hand, found just about everything to complain about. The smell of putrid body odor, the pushy, sweaty people, and of course the constant feeling of being on display. We were stared at everywhere. It was worse than the time two men took a picture of Emma’s boobs. The stares were suffocating and seemed to encroach on the tiny smidgen of personal bubble that remained.

So we headed on a mission to climb the Batu Caves. Getting to the bus stop was an ordeal, buying a ticket was another experience… but the bus. Oh man, the bus was something else. Every city bus that I had been on (thus far) has been your general city bus: a bit dirty, plastic chairs, yadah yadah. A gigantic tin can on wheels pulls up, the driver slams on the breaks and a deafening screech alerted everyone that this bus had NO brake pads. We boarded the “bus” to find that there was actual carpet on the floor, mismatched chairs and benches that looked like they had been nailed to the bus. I sat down on a bench and I swear, a puff of dirt came up and made us both cough.

Now I thought the body odor in an open air street market was bad, so you can only imagine what it was like to have the body odor trapped in a tin can of hell for an hour bus ride, and to have the “supplier” of said body odor push up against you. The feeling of sweaty flesh on mine made me want to bathe in anti-bacterial gel. The bus screamed to a stop in the middle of a random road, and all the locals all turned to stare (even more) at us. It clearly was our signal to get off.
 We got off and wandered in a random direction until we saw the gates (and huge Hindu statue) for the Batu caves. After a bit of shopping and picture taking, we started to ascend the 272 stairs to the top. Monkeys were scampering around. Besides the Singapore Zoo, this was the closest I had ever been to wild monkeys. In case you’re wondering, they’re terrifying. The wild monkeys in Kuala Lumpur have been known to steal electronics, food, wallets, anything really. The key is not to be stupid enough to pull out something important/expensive. Or you can be a complete moron, like the fellow in front of us who started to HAND feed the monkeys slices of bread. We kept our distance from him. 
At the top of the Batu Caves!
Mini- shrine people we found EVERYWHERE
We reached the top, looked around, took some pics. It was huge and impressive and really did look like a scene out of Indiana Jones. 

 Just as we were ready to descend the stairs, it started to storm. This time though, we were prepared. We busted out our ponchos (the very same ones that Emma had wanted to toss), we rarely went anywhere without them after the Singapore Zoo incident. Now, descending 272 steps in dry/non-typhooning weather would have been a bit daunting. 272 steps in a downpour? I envisioned entirely bad outcomes: one of us slipping, knee sockets popping out, broken ankles, the general sorts of injuries that comes from going down a million stairs in the rain. We slowly took one step at a time, ensuring our footing before moving an inch. It felt like we were walking down a waterfall. We were at least ankle deep in rainwater (me, calves deep), with water rushing and swirling around us, threatening to take us down the most gigantic waterslide.
It was one of the more memorable moments of our trip. We miraculously made it down, with minor water damage to our purses and MAJOR water damage to our clothes. After buying some souvenirs, unsuccessfully trying to get something to eat, we set in search of a cab. We hunted around until we found a man who would get us back to Petaling Street for a semi-reasonable price. Then Emma’s “break”. Long story short: on the highway, we paid the highway tolls, and yet the fare suddenly tripled in front of our eyes. I (certain that all strangers are going to abduct me and beat me) would have paid the outrageous price without question. Emma, however, was not one to be taken advantage of. She brought out the claws and firmly told the driver we would absolutely not be paying his new fee. I looked over at her to give her a smile and nod of confidence, only to see that Emma did not look as firm as her voice suggested. Her eyes were a bit watery, and her hands visibly shaking. She loudly told me (so the cab driver could hear us clearly) “I just hate when they try to take advantage of us. Just because we’re tourists doesn’t mean we’re STUPID”.

It was not the first time Emma had stood up for both of us. And it probably won’t be the last.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Summer Adventures: The "break" in the Singapore Zoo

Before I go any further, I feel like I should also add in the fact that Emma and I talked a LOT before our trip. Emma is three times the world traveler than I am so I depended on her for a lot of advice. The one thing she guaranteed me was that at one point or another, we WILL break. Sobbing break down, angry-rage break down, whatever… “It just happens,” she shrugged “Just let me how to deal with you.” After the Phuket incident (where I was 90% sure that we were going to be sold into sex trafficking), I figured we were in the clear. THAT was the “breaking point” for BOTH of us. And we’re back in…

So the weather that day was the usual disgustingness of HOT HOT HOTTT. Not wanting any extra baggage, we left our jackets, ponchos, and umbrellas in the hostel. We arrived, waited through a horrendously long line, bought one of the most expensive tickets ever, and headed towards the first exhibit. While peering into a river moat of crocodiles and alligators, debating their differences and GINORMOUS size, it started to rain. We laughed, and looked for cover to wait for the rain to let up.
I’m sure you see where I’m going with this. It didn’t let up. Quite the opposite, in fact. It poured like I’ve never seen it pour. Some sort of dam in the sky broke and the rain came down in never ending buckets. I can honestly tell you I have never been so bone-soaking wet in my ENTIRE LIFE. It was like standing underneath a waterfall. I guess I should probably mention the other important fact- I decided to wear the lightest, most comfortable dress I had that day (I don’t even have to wear a bra with it, yippee!). Oh, and this dress? It’s white.

So there I was. Standing in a sea of Singapore rain water, basically naked… I broke. White hot rage filled my body as I waded (the water level had risen to my ankles), following Emma from one animal display to the next. I don’t know when Emma caught on that I was absolutely NOT happy, but I know she decided to switch tactics from laughing and cracking jokes to letting me sulk in my transparent dress. We finally found a sanctuary- a café jam packed with families who had the good luck to be eating right when the torrential downpour started. As we *squish* squished* down one aisle then the next, we gathered more and more stares… which only made me angrier. The only seats available were located at a table that had one corner jutted out into the rain… so we sat in the rain with my morale seemingly beyond recovery.

I can tell you the exact moment when I started to calm down. It was after we bought some fish and chips and scored a table at the inside diner (yes, food is always the answer). There were a few magical moments of calm, filled with glorious mouthfuls of crispy (yet tender) fish and chips... until the kid next to us started vomiting loudly. Yes Emma, I told you it was just chocolate ice cream but I lied. The rain had still not let up BUTTT we had paid an arm and a leg for the entrance fee. Feeling mildly re-charged, we tried to make the most of the day. We bought overpriced ponchos, and carried on with the trek/swim. 
 We eventually made it to an elephant show and managed to score some fantastic seats (weird, no one wanted to sit in an outdoor stadium during a downpour). About two minutes before the show started, the rain stopped just as quickly as it started. The sun came out, and started to bake us in our plastic ponchos and it was back to being HOT HOT HOTTT

The rest of the day was awesome!! The plus side to being in a super lightweight dress is that it dries realllyyy quickly. We saw so many animals and ALL their animal exhibits are "naturalistic", no cages or wire fences... just moats and hidden barriers. I hate to say this, being a Socal girl (from the land of the World Famous San Diego Zoo) buttttt it's the BEST Zoo I have ever been to. In fact, it was rated the BEST Zoo in the WORLD. You could pet elephants and orangutans, kangaroos, giraffes. Monkeys were literally running around through crowds, jumping above our heads on trees. It really felt like we were taking a walk through a wild jungle.

The only photo from that day of us with the ponchos
I saw a real life Kangaroo for the first time... those things are suppperrr weird. They don't hop around on two legs like I imagined, but rather hop like a ginormous, furry frog- two front legs, then two back. Sooo weird!

Just chillin' with a family of orangutans...
 The orangutans weren't chained to that branch or anything. If they wanted to swing away (or throw their poop at us), they had the complete freedom to do that. Plus, did you see the cute baby hanging onto this mom?!? SO adorable!!!
Cheetah. Marking his territory.
 After I took this photo, Emma turned to me and said "Real mature, Tango". :D  It's just the refined sense of humor that I have.
Taking a break at the snake pit
 Notice how shiny and sweaty we look? The weather changed from disgustingly humid to horrific downpour andd back to being disgustingly humid. Singapore has a better zoo, but San Diego has better weather.
We are stilllll carrying our ponchos. Just in case. #Paranoid
Funny thing about that photo. We politely asked a man to take our photo together. He took one look at us, gave Emma the stereotypical up-and-down look (she got those a LOT in Southeast Asia), sneered and said "NO." While Emma and I cracked up in laughter, he proceeded to linger awkwardly by the tortoise exhibit. We eventually got the photo... obvi.

Corn is better than fries. And it absolutely IS a vegetable
 We ended the day with an easy meal at McDonald's. Don't judge us, it was a rough day and we didn't feel like playing the "Mystery-food-and-how-will-this-effect-you-in-three-hours" game. At the McDonald's in Singapore, you can choose to get corn with your meal instead of fries! Score!

We crossed the border once more into Malaysia,but not without a stop over in Johor Bahru. It rained buckets again. And I was wearing white. Again. Since this time, I had the good sense to laugh and make the best of it, I took another video. **Something I'd like to note: This God awful place smelled like the graveyard of millions of fish rotting in their own feces. The stench of decaying fish bodies was enough to wake the dead fish from their slumber, at which the fish vomited all over themselves from the mephitis (look who's got a college degree!) and then proceeded to decompose some more in their own filth. Are you grossed out yet? Because that is just a little slice of what it actually felt like. ** We were more than happy when our bus finally showed up.

We set in for the journey back to Kuala Lumpur for a second (hopefully better) experience. However, the nice asian lady behind us had other plans. Her kid (sitting behind me) decided that the chair in front of him was much more entertaining as a kicking board. His mom (behind Emma) decided that Emma was not going to put her chair back AT ALL. Poor Emma sat the entire bus journey (six hours or something) at a 90 degree angle. Any time she put her chair back, the woman would say "Szzzt!!! Szzzztt!!!" and physically HIT Emma's chair. Real gems, these people. 
We tend to make really good friends on bus rides.