Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Weekly Run-Down: 3/3/2010

 I apologize for not updating this as often the past couple weeks, but I’ve been busy travelling and all the things that I will hopefully write about in the next couple weeks.  I’m now back in Yanji, but I’m hoping to share more stories from our travels periodically, while also sharing stories from the present.  If this is confusing for you then you probably don’t watch Lost (and will get even more confused when I start writing about the parallel timelines where I didn’t go to China). 

Where was I?? (a continuing saga of poorly drawn maps)

When I last updated this blog with stories from my travels, we had just left Laos.  The map below shows our flights from Vientiane, Laos to Bali in red and includes our layover in Kuala Lumpur that was long enough for us to see the Petronas Towers (discussed below), and attempt to sleep in a hot and sweaty hostel.

 After arriving in Bali, we spent a few days relaxing on the beach and celebrating my 23rd birthday before taking a boat to the smaller Indonesian island of Gili Trawangan.  This is shown on the map below in red.  Following a week of SCUBA diving on Gili T, we took another boat back to Bali (the green line) followed by a van to Ubud (the blue line).  We concluded our time in Bali back in Kuta before flying up to Macau through Singapore (the blue lines on the map above).

Unable to find a suitable hostel in Macau, we decided to pull an all-nighter in the casino (probably the worst idea we made all trip) before taking a boat over to Hong Kong where we would finish our trip.  This boat ride is depicted below in red.

After four days in Hong Kong, it was time to return to Yanji to begin our second semester as English teachers, so we flew back via Beijing.  These flights are shown in green on the above and below maps.

Three Things I’m thinking about This Week:

A Story About Pants
On my last night in Yanji before the trip, I opened up Christmas presents from my family.  While the presents had been sitting for nearly a week since Christmas (and probably two weeks before that), I had been waiting to open them until my family received the gifts I had sent them.  However, mail delivery takes a long time from this side of the world (as any of you that have seen my postcards can attest to), and when it came time for me to leave Yanji for two months my gifts had not yet arrived in Northbrook.

So there I was, two months ago, Skyping Northbrook and opening the gifts that were incredibly thoughtful.  I got season 4 of How I Met Your Mother, a travel towel that I would use on the following trip, a second pair of gloves because (as I have written at length) it was really cold in Harbin.  My brother gave me a Wisconsin scarf, and I also received two pairs of sweatpants. 

Because I had already packed my bag for the trip, I didn’t bring the pants with me, but the first pants I went to wear when I got back this weekend were the pants I had received for Christmas.  The first pair were Notre Dame pajama pants (which I am actually wearing as I type this), and they are excellent.

The second pair were Chicago Bears sweatpants, and they were strange.

When I first put these pants on a couple days ago, I became annoyed with the fact that they didn’t have pockets.  While I have running shorts without pockets that I deal with, I’ve never worn a pair of pants without pockets.  Assuming that I would only really be wearing them around the apartment, I went ahead and put them on.

Once I put on this pair of pants, however, things became even stranger.  Now I’m aware that I am a thin person, but these pants could not stay around my waist at all.  I thought this was odd because even though they were enormous around the waist and hip region, they were an almost perfect length.  These pants must have been bought at one of those Big and Tall stores or something.  I would probably need to wear them with suspenders.

Luckily, they had a drawstring around the waist, and I pulled it tight and tied them in.  This might have been a weird pair of pants, but the material was incredibly comfortable and I wanted to find a way to make them work.  When I tied them up at the waist however, I noticed that the waist area was strangely narrow.  Curious to see what was wrong with these pants, I went to my wastebasket and picked up the tag I had removed earlier.  The tag said they were medium, so I guess they should be fine.

Later that night, Gavin and I went to dinner at our favorite downstairs restaurant and I noticed that the pants were kind of sliding down my backside.  I’ve never really thought about my ass as something that is there to hold up my pants, but with this bizarro pair of pants I almost had to keep my butt out just so they stayed up. 

After dinner, I went to use the restroom and realized that the pants had no fly on them.  Again, I’ve worn athletic shorts that have no fly on them, but those shorts also stayed up on their own.  These pants had a highly sophisticated knot tied along the front to keep them from only falling down as far as my ass.  So as I stood there in the bathroom untying my pants it hit me:

Are these women’s pants?

After I got the knot undone, and after I had relieved myself, I looked at the tag that was actually attached to the pants, and sure enough it had the word Women’s in white letters across it.  As comfortable as they were, I promptly went to my room and put on the Notre Dame Pajamas. 

I don’t know which one of my family members gave me these pants, and if they were trying to make some strange joke that I just don’t understand; but I assume that I won’t be able to return them when I get back stateside this summer, so I might just be regifting these pants next Christmas.

Tall, Taller, Not Quite Tallest
Over the course of the past two months I’ve visited 2.5 major international cities (Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Kuala Lumpur) as well as the amazing airport of one (Singapore, but I’ll save that story for later), and seen a lot of tall buildings in each of them. 

Having grown up relatively close to Chicago* I have a small obsession with skyscrapers.  This obsession manifests itself by spontaneously Googling the phrase ‘Chicago Spire’ every so often just to see if any progress has been made with the building that will put Chicago back on the map (no progress has been made) and occasionally perusing the pages of Wikipedia detailing the tallest skyscrapers in the world.

*In my last three years at Notre Dame I refused to say I was from Chicago.  I’m from NORTHBROOK, not Chicago.  While I was travelling, however, I lied and told people that I’m from Chicago.  I’m sorry if I deceived anybody.

My obsession with skyscrapers has caused me to sometimes be confused while visiting cities whose central area does not include them (London, Paris, Beijing) because when I think of cities, I think of skyscrapers.  Luckily for me, many Asian leaders feel the same way, so I was treated with views of some awesome skyscrapers.  Here are my thoughts of a few:

Shanghai World Financial Center: Shanghai, China
The thing about the Shanghai Skyline (at least the Pudong side) is that while it is pretty sparse, this building is actually enormous.  While it doesn’t look that way from the other side of the river, standing next to this building I could tell that it was tall.  What I didn’t realize was that it is actually the 3rd tallest in the world.

Jin Mao Tower: Shanghai, China
I think part of the reason this building doesn’t look as impressive is because it stands right beside the much taller one I just wrote about.  However, this tower is actually the 11th tallest in the world, and somewhat deserving of that measure (although some of that does come from the spire).  We had drinks at the ritzy bar on top of it, drinks that were far too pricy.

The Petronas Towers: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
In 1998, I was an 11 year old in Northbrook when I heard that my beloved Sears Tower was no longer considered to be the tallest building in the world and that some twin towers in Malaysia had taken the new title.  At the time I probably couldn’t even point out Malaysia on a map, let alone comprehend the idea that one day I would stand in front of these towers and exclaim out loud how they are definitely not taller than the Sears.

The fact that these buildings are 5th and 6th tallest in the world is a crime against humanity, and their mere 88 stories are proof of that.  While they might look cool, call me unimpressed.

International Commerce Center: Kowloon, Hong Kong
I spent far too much time inside this building than I should have spent (more on that at a later date), but it is spectacularly beautiful and clean.  The exterior also looks great, but the problem is that I never got a good look at it from afar.  This building is actually across the inlet from Hong Kong Island and not part of the beautiful skyline of the city.  It really is a shame because the building has yet to get the credit it deserves as the 4th tallest building in the world.

Two International Finance Center: Hong Kong
I’m fairly certain that Batman stood atop this building before he flew across the Hong Kong sky and kidnapped Lau in The Dark Knight.  Any building that Batman stands on top of (like the Sears Tower) is fine by me.  This one is so tall (12th in the world) that I have pictures across from it where the top is shrouded in fog.

Central Plaza: Hong Kong
This building suffers mainly because the Hong Kong skyline is so massive; it is difficult to get a good picture of.  For this reason, you can’t really stand across from the skyline and get a picture of this building and it’s two more famous friends.  It is still a decent building though.  (16th tallest in the world)

Bank of China Tower: Hong Kong
Probably one of the more famous buildings in Hong Kong, even if it isn’t the tallest, it is probably the coolest looking.  I’m also fairly certain that Batman crashed through the windows of this building in The Dark Knight, so I think it’s even cooler.  (17th tallest in the world).

One Note on Lost
While I was travelling, I met many people that came from various parts of the world.  Because it takes some level of wealth to be able to travel around the world (although not that much) we can assume that none of these people came from poor beginnings.  One thing I noticed was that no matter what country they were from, they all spoke some level of English.

This got me thinking about Lost, and about the characters of Sun and Jin.  While I can accept that Jin came from poverty and would only understand Korean, it makes no sense that Sun wouldn’t have been taking English lessons for her entire life.  If we are to believe that her family is one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in Korea, then it would only make sense that Sun would have an excellent education that not only would have included English instruction, but probably studies in an English speaking country.

The fact that Sun doesn’t learn English until she takes sketchy lessons with some guy she is hooking up with is probably the most unbelievable aspect of the show.  I can accept crazy smoke monsters that turn into humans, frozen donkey wheels that move people through time, and even parallel universes; but the fact that Sun doesn’t speak English from a young age is more ridiculous than any of these things.

One Meal Worth Mentioning
While we were still in Bali I realized that in Macau we would be able to get some Portuguese food.  At the time I wasn’t entirely sure what Portuguese food entailed, so I decided that there was one person I knew that I could ask.  My sister had just been to Lisbon (which, unlike Macau, is actually within the country of Portugal) so I sent her a message asking what kind of Portuguese food we should get.  She responded by telling me that when she was in Portugal, she actually didn’t eat any Portuguese food.

When we arrived in Macau a couple days later, I was determined to eat a Portuguese dinner just so that I would be able to outdo my sister that was actually in Portugal.

My Portuguese dinner included an appetizer of Portuguese sausage, which was excellent; and a main dish of Portuguese-style beef which was also very good.  While I wish I could do a better job of describing these things, there was nothing all that unique about them.  It seemed like a lot of thinly cut steak like you could get in America.  It was great, however.
Beers of Note:

In Bali, the beer of choice is Bintang, and while it is almost as ubiquitous as Beerlao was in Laos, it doesn’t quite have as large of a stranglehold on the market.  There are so many westerners in Bali that imports like Heineken and Guinness can be found in most convenience stores.  While Bintang is a satisfactory beer (especially to get drunk off of); I didn’t like it as much as Beerlao.

Apparently the only microbrewed beer on the island of Bali, I found this in Ubud and really enjoyed it.  The pale ale reminded me a lot of Sierra Nevada, which was a welcome surprise in the middle of Indonesia.  I only had it twice, however, as it was a bit pricier than Bintang.

Brooklyn Lager
I had this on draft when I was in New York last summer, and was so shocked when I found bottles of it at a restaurant in Hong Kong that I had to drink some.  While this is a solid beer, it is more notable for me because it  exemplifies the fact that you really can get anything in Hong Kong.

Quotations of the Week:

“Hopefully it will be cloudy so that it will be nice out.” –A crazy girl hoping for a lack of sun so that it isn’t as hot in Indonesia

Picture of the Week:

This is a picture of me in front of part of the Hong Kong skyline.  Like New York, Hong Kong has an incredibly long skyline and it really isn’t possible to get it all in one picture.  Just above my head you can see Two International Finance Center (as discussed above), and the taller, more futuristic building to the left is the Bank of China Tower.

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