Happy Valentine’s Day from a believer

Valentine’s Day gets a bad rap. Dubbed as the “Hallmark holiday,” anti-Valentine’s day activists (yes, there are such a thing) say that the hoopla surrounding February 14th is merely a product of mass marketing efforts from commercialized businesses and the propensity of consumer culture to buy into it every year. The large profits made from the mass buying of cards, chocolates, flowers, balloons and stuffed animals detract from the true meaning and significance of Valentine’s Day, which is the annual celebration of “love and affection between intimate companions,” (according to Wikipedia.com). Haters also point out that Valentine’s Day is a forced observation of romantic love, when no such tradition exists for those that are single.

But look into the historical origins of Valentine’s Day, and its real connection to the celebration of love, romance or companions remain a bit murky. In the earliest ontological records, Saint Valentine was a man who was brutally executed for his religious beliefs by a Roman pagan Emperor. Oh, but wait. He also performed a miracle by healing the blind daughter of his persecutor before his execution.

Hmmm. So maybe eschewing commercialism in the spirit of preserving the “true origins” of this holiday isn’t exactly right either.

Being a sucker for ALL holidays (hello, Martin Luther King’s day!), I particularly enjoy this day of Hallmark penned sentiments, over-priced roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. Long before I appreciated the holiday as a romantic one, I still broke out the red turtleneck sweater to wear to school, spent the afternoon poring over my homemade cards and ate spaghetti with red sauce for dinner with my family. The day wasn’t about mass consumption, or focusing on a romantic partner or lack thereof, or even about the martyrdom of that Saint who was executed thousands of years ago. It was simply about the excitement of being loved and having love to give; the positive imagery of red hearts and white lace; the sweet respite of eating chocolate throughout the day; and the appreciation of my family as we all happily ate our “red-themed” meal.

So whether you’re a V-day hater or enthusiast; single or attached; avid consumer or anti-commercialism, be happy today solely for the fact that you are loved and have love to give. And what’s so bad about a holiday that reminds us of that? Here is a neat photo slide show by the Wall Street Journal that depicts Valentine’s Day across Asia, illustrating that today’s celebration of love transcends cultures, traditions and religions.  The Pakistani balloon vendor is my favourite.

As for me: my Valentine and I will be heading to Pulau Macan this weekend for a tropical getaway. Located only an hour and half away from Jakarta (via speedboat), the tiny island offers an eco-friendly resort and spa, with plenty of snorkelling, boating and hammock napping to boot. Check the video below.

Fish & Chips the Aussie Way

 

Fish & Chips on the pier. Fremantle, Australia

 

We recently ventured down unda’ for the first time, travelling to the city of Perth on Australia’s sprawling west coast. The flight was a short 4-hour commute from Jakarta, but the difference in worlds here felt as if we were light years away.

Hello infrastructure! Is that you blue sky? Look, sidewalks! You mean we can communicate with each other using one common language? (no pointing…no signals…no drawing pictures?)

Sarcasm aside, it was great to experience 4 days basking in the glow of the developed world and the brilliant skies of Australia’s sunniest capital city.*

We took the sparkly clean and wonderfully efficient metro rail (oh, public transportation, how I’ve missed you!) over to the sea port town of Fremantle and enjoyed the day on the beach, the pier and strolling along the tiny town’s myriad of artist shops and local coffee houses. To my foreign eyes, the city oozed an eccentric mixture of New England vibes, a smaller San Francisco topography, distinctly British undertones and the general mystery of being in the land  down under (♫ where women glow and men plunder! ♫)

So when we ran into a popular eatery that touted fish & chips and local Aussie beer to be enjoyed while sitting at the New England style restaurant on the San Fran-esque looking pier by the Indian Ocean, I wasn’t in the least phased at this cultural hybrid of a situation.

But I was surprised to find that the fish & chips meal was the best I’ve ever eaten. Being once a resident of London, I can honestly say that I’ve had more than my fill of fish & chips from various pubs around the city in various life situations. When I was feeling poor (which was always) I ate fish & chips. When visitors came to town (which was frequent) we ate fish & chips. When I was drinking pints (which was also frequent) I ate fish & chips. When I was studying (which was daily) I ate fish and chips.

And honestly. This one beats them all. The fried breading was light and fluffy and falling off a juicy, fresh white snapper that had been grilled in lemon and lime. The vinegar was tangy, the chips were salty and there were no “mushy peas” to be seen. Washing it down with our Victoria Bitters made us feel truly connected to an amalgam of worlds–delightfully those of the developed variety.

* Perth enjoys 3,000 hours of sunshine a year and was voted one of the world’s most livable cities.

A kid again…

Just when you think you’re all grown up…your parents come to visit and suddenly you’re a little kid again, jumping up-and-down with excitement. My parents are currently on their 16 hour journey to Shanghai and I can barely sit still I’m so psyched. Living abroad for almost 2 years makes time spent with my family a novelty. And unlike our last visit together (now over 7 months ago), this time we’ll have two full weeks to relax.

Just sitting here waiting for my parents...

After a few days at my apartment in Shanghai, we’ll be headed north to capital city, Beijing where we’ll stay at a traditional “hútòng.”From there we’ll trek to the Great Wall of China, and (weather pending), I intend to face my fear of heights and zip line off of it.

But what I’m looking forward to doing the most with my parents is simply eating (shocker, I know). I’ve gone from “kind of liking” East Asian food, to craving the stuff daily. I’ve even mastered cooking some local dishes with the boyfriend (our “eggplant, chili, soy, garlic, chives, ginger, pork” dish is heavenly). What’s even better is that the different cuisines of China’s various regions all offer up completely different flavours, so there’s never a want for variety: Shanghai-nese, Sichuan, Hunan, Yunnan,Uygher…and the list goes on.

Anyway, I can’t wait to spend time with my parents in some of my favorite local restaurants, chowing down different dishes and giving my folks a taste of “real” Chinese food (bullfrogs anyone?). Granted my Chinese speaking skillz are still limited (my breadth of vocab is on par with a four-year-child), but I DO know my food lingo…along with my beer lingo, wine lingo and dessert lingo. 🙂

I won’t be blogging during their trip, but you can check me out on my new favorite toy, tumblr. As if the world needs any more micro-blogging sites in the already saturated market of…yeah, whatever, I’m sold.

I Like My Jungles Air-Conditioned

Our hotel snapped from the City Centre Park in KL (Petronas Towers behind)

Our recent trip to Kuala Lumpur was the epitome of tropical jungle meets business-class luxury. Think palm trees and room service, balmy breezes and heated bathroom floors, meat on a stick and lunch served poolside on a silver platter.  As the boyfriend spent the days bustling from one meeting to the next, I kept myself entertained in the wonderful playground-for-adults that is the Mandarin Oriental. But when the pool, gym and spa got “boring” (which didn’t happen, but what if…), there was always the lush tropical utopia of the City Centre Park which sprawls before the palatial hotel. With its fountains, lakes and full outdoor track (which I jogged around everyday), the park provided the perfect outdoor escape… (as if one needs to “escape” the plush palace of the Mandarin Oriental, but again, what if…).

But amongst all this verdant lavishness, we were still able to catch a taste of the city’s true authenticity when friends of ours, who have been KL residents for the past 5 years, took us out for some traditional Malaysian eats at a local outdoor spot. Here the satays were spicy and delicious, the Tiger beers cold and the grilled steaks exquisite (and cheap!).

And then it was time for us to say goodbye to this 4-star jungle and return home to chilly Shanghai…or was it? In an unexpected turn of events, we suddenly found ourselves on a small plane flying first class to the Island of Langkawi off the Malaysian coast.  Our new diggs? A little ole’ place called “The Datai.”

Langkawi Island is basically a slice of paradise floating in the Andaman sea. And the Datai…well, this place puts a whole new spin on “4-star jungle.” Located inside an ancient tropical rainforest, this resort intertwines nature and luxury so seamlessly that one can peer at the monkeys swinging from the treetops via the comfort of one’s king sized mahogany bed with 1,200 Egyptian thread count. I know this because it’s exactly what we did.

The Datai

Lobby

dusk

And for the tree-huggers out there (and at this point in the environmental crisis, we should all strive to be one), the Datai isn’t just an upscale cash-cow carved right out of the rainforest to the detriment of  its natural inhabitants. Taking the utmost care and precaution (like using herds of elephants for construction rather than noisy trucks and polluting machinery) the Datai has created the delicate balance where nature and man can meet in an eco-friendly environment. It’s just that man might be sipping on a cocktail in his bathing suit while doing so.

After sunset meals on the beach, monkey spotting from our hotel room, and dips in 3 different pools and the Andaman sea, it was time for us to say goodbye to our jungle with room-service and return home to chilly Shanghai…or was it?

Well, this time it really was. But we’ll always have the memories of this wonderful, luxurious vacation in which I popped into the jungle for a few days and didn’t chip a nail. 🙂 Photos coming soon.

A Bit of Luxury in KL

Kuala Lumpur at night

After a month spent back in Shanghai’s chilly weather, we are headed to the tropics…again. The boyfriend has business in Malaysia this week and I’ll be tagging along for the ride. We’ll be in Kuala Lumpur, the capital and largest city of Malaysia, which is characterized by its rich cultural diversity, gorgeous tropical climate and (best of all) its unique medley of delicious ethnic foods (think Malay, Indian and Chinese melting-pot)

We’ll be staying here at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, which is also directly next to the famous Petronas Twin Towers—the tallest twin buildings in the world and, conveniently, where the boyfriend’s office is located. As much as I’m thrilled to tackle this global city, I have a sinking suspicion that the only thing I’ll be “tackling” on this trip is the pool, the gym and the luxury spa. 🙂 Hooray for tropical business trips!

"Edgeless" pool

tropical luxuries

*All photos from WATG.

Twenty Ten

A Happy New Year to all!

Considering that it’s now 25 days into the New Year, I’m a bit late in the game for a New Year’s post. However, since I’m living in China and technically the Chinese New Year celebrations don’t start until next month, I’m actually early with my well wishes. Because, you know, when in Rome…assimilate to aspects of the culture that suit you best.

The last past month of travel to Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Hong Kong have been a blur of sunsets, private villas, spectacular food, bouts of dysentery, questionable dengue fever, hikes through a rain forest, “lady boys” and creepy Western men, lunching by an active volcano, fresh fruit smoothies at every meal, speeding through the hills on our own motor bike, tropical weather and balmy nights, sleeping on the beach, monkeys and tigers and bears! (oh my!), the daily ritual of sipping strong Balinese coffee, snorkeling the great coral reef for 5+hours, being both scared and touched by the presence of cows, gawking at a 50-foot tall Buddha’s big toe, learning what to do when your travel partner has a 103 fever and the shakes, laughing over Singapore Slings whilst in Singapore, praying at temple to an unknown God, the pain and pleasure of a traditional Thai message, bathing in a tub filled with rose petals, the magic of animism, the stinky but mouth-watering durian fruit, and the most crystal clear star-lit sky I’ve ever witnessed.

In my last post (which dates back to over a month ago), I mentioned traveling with my “laptop in tow” to update Foreign Exposure during my travels. But, “laptop in tow” does not guarantee a stable, consistent or a free Internet connection within your travel destinations, and thus my laptop gathered dust while I frolicked in the sand. Obviously, this was a blessing. To be truly unplugged for almost a month is cleansing for a technology addict like myself and after about the first week the incessant, nervous tic of  “Must. Check. Email.” is replaced by outright revulsion of even the thought of a “computer machine” amongst so much natural beauty.

So now I’m back in Shanghai, and the memories of 28 days of travel are beginning to fade just like my really awesome tropical tan. But as my good friend and fellow blogger quoted: no one cares how great your time away was – they will only listen in rapture to tales of travel woes. And in today’s 30-second sound bite environment, as well as the over-saturated personal blog market…well, let’s just say if you’ve read this far in this woe-devoid post, your attention span is better than mine. So no boring posts about my travels in detail, I promise. However, you can expect a quick, brief (tiny) re-cap of travel highlights with a few links to some personal photos….because, listen: as I’m adjusting to life back in the bitter-cold urban jungle of Shanghai (with massive construction and crappy pollution to boot),  I need some memories of  a much  better warmer time when I was a much tanner, healthier version of myself to fill my days, okay? Call it travelers withdrawal, call it living in the past, but when you start the New Year sprawled on a white-sand beach, sipping from a coconut, things can only go down from there.

The Holly, the Ivy and the Palm Tree

This holiday season, I’m headed to the tropics. For approximately 3 weeks, I’ll be travelling in South East Asia. Spiritual and ancient, yet chaotic and messy in its adaptation to modernity, the countries we’ll visit will each offer its unique dose of traditional beauty meets modern-day growing pains. With white beaches, laughing Buddhas, spicy food and the weather never dipping below  80 degrees Farenheit, I’m more than up for the challenge.

First stop: the island nation of Singapore for a 2-day stint in what’s dubbed the “culinary capital” of Asia. Two words: bring it.

Second stop: Bali, Indonesia—one of the best beach destinations in the world, this exotic locale will be our home for 9 days as we hike volcanoes, play with monkeys, bike in a rainforest and (my personal favorite), lay on the beach 🙂

Third stop: Jakarta, Indonesia—this year, we will ring in the New Year in the “Big Durian” (instead of  the Big Apple), in Indonesia’s  urban capital. Pull back the concrete curtain, and you’ll find us living it up in this unique, skyscraper meets rice-paddy town (I’ll be the one with the huge Happy New Year’s hat on).

Fourth stop: Bangkok, Thailand—flying North to “the Land of Smiles,”  I’ll be meeting my older sister for 5-days of fun in the ultra urban, fast-paced city of Bangkok. My guide-book tells me to “fasten my seat belt” as this place is the supposed “interchange” of Asia’s past, present and future. Bold statements. I cant’ wait to see if they’re true.

With my laptop in tow, I’ll be popping by Foreign Exposure to update my travels. I wish everyone a very Happy Holidays and a special New Year.