8:30 to Rangoon

I am back from a whirlwind three week trip through Southeast Asia and will have many great posts for you in the coming days. Check out this video of the Burmese railway as a teaser for some of the great footage I will have in the coming days and weeks.

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Meandering Through Malaysia

Almost as soon as I started my journey from Singapore to Malaysia, I knew my two day stay in Kuala Lumpur would be full of interesting surprises and unexpected turns along the way. 

It all started when I made my way to Woodlands train station, located in northern Singapore, to board my overnight train to Kuala Lumpur. For starters, this train station could have been one of the most poorly designed and signed stations into which I have ever gone. There are several different  busses and trains that depart from Singapore for Malaysia and the busses and trains have their own immigration checkpoints and checkin procedures. If only it was labeled as such. I arrived at the station two hours before my scheduled departure to ensure everything went off without a hitch, and, boy, am I glad I did. 

I walked through a long, cold, Soviet-looking corridor through the terminal and up to a set of immigration gates. What had been a cursory process in Singapore, Thailand, and all other destinations up to this point on my trip suddenly hit a snag when the immigration officer told me that i was at the bus terminal instead of the train terminal. Other immigration officers came and escorted me into a quarantine area as they ran all my documents before personally escorting me back to the immigration check at the train station. Following a lengthy wait, I was stamped out of Singapore and awaited my entry stamps for Malaysia at jointly operated checkpoint. 

I had heard stories about folks who had gone to Israel that had faced hassles entering Malaysia and were even denied entry, so I was a bit antsy given I had been to Israel in January. Certainly the border agents would not know as I had no entry or exit stamp, but that crossed my mind. I faced a lengthy series of questions as they scrupulously flipped through my passport before stamping my passport.

I lain in my bed for the overnight train when I heard two fellows speaking English in the cots near me so I struck up conversation and who knew? They were also Americans working in Japan. We had a great chat and plan to rendezvous at some point in the future. 

Eight hours later, my train rolled into Kuala Lumpur’s Sentral Station and when I disembarked I knew I was in a completely different world. Many different sights surrounded me in the train station: women bustling in every which way wearing burkas, Muslim prayer rooms, and signs written in Malay. Given this was my first time in the Muslim world, I should have expected that, but it still took me a bit off guard. 

Following a quick coffee, I was on my way to my hostel in Central KL when I ran into something oddly familiar- a Girl’s Generation (Korean pop music group) ad in the station. 

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As someone interested in the British Empire and European influence in Asia, I was very excited to see Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur. I had heard stories from my Malaysian friends and friends who had visited that Kuala Lumpur is a bustling metropolis where dilapidated colonial-era buildings stand side-by-side with the well preserved buildings and new buildings towering over them. I was in for a treat as soon as I stepped out of the station near my hostel. In front of me were various types of colonial buildings and newer hotels/apartments, but this motorcycle stuck out to me, especially as the Petronas Towers loomed large in the background. Image

From here, I went to my hostel, checked in, charged up my camera and phone, and took a short nap on account of the fact that it was extremely difficult to sleep on that overnight train. The second day of my trip was already fully booked with a tour of the Batu Caves and some other areas in KL, so I set out on foot to explore a swath of the area near my hostel: Chinatown, Little India, Merdeka Square, etc. were all within walking distance.

First up for me was the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. As the power center of British Malay, this elaborately constructed building certainly has stood the test of time. Unlike in other colonies, the British incorporated local and Muslim architectural elements into what would be the center of their operations in Malaysia for many decades. The domes, clock tower, and facade make for an interesting appearance which both stands out and fits in with the surrounding area. One of the most interesting pieces of art nearby is the Queen Victoria fountain, brought from England in 1898 to commemorate Victoria’s rule and British influence in Malaysia. Below is a photo of both of them in Merdeka Square. 

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Aside from this building, several other interesting buildings surround the square. An Anglican Church and former private British club flank the other sides of the square, which used to be a cricket ground. Certainly a must-see place if you are in Kuala Lumpur. 

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The other element of the square which I found fascinating was the enormous flagpole. I have always been fascinated with flags, and this is certainly the largest flagpole I have ever seen in my life. Eerily similar to the United States flag (and the British East India Company flag), I took a double take when I arrived in Merdeka Square. The dominating presence of the flag speaks for itself  as a symbol of Malaysian pride. 

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From here, it was off to see some colonial architecture and visit Chinatown before a trip to the Petronas Towers in the evening. 

On my way to Chinatown, I encountered some of the dilapidated and gorgeous colonial-era buildings about which my friends told me! It was truly a sight to behold. The chipping pastel paint brushing up against street signs and traffic lights is a scene that will not leave my mind when I think of Malaysia and walking the streets of Kuala Lumpur. 

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Then I stumbled upon the Malaysian Heritage Trail and saw some more beautiful colonial-era buildings which had been converted into shops, restaurants, and other places of business. It was another beautiful scene which shows off the history and richness of Kuala Lumpur. 

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Chinatown was a whole different animal. With bustling markets and the smell of street food percolating through the air, I don’t know how anyone could not enjoy a stroll down its narrow streets. That is, of course, so long as cars were not trying to make it down the alleys as well. Image

I encountered never before seen foods and shared some delicious chicken at a street side market with a fellow traveler before eventually returning to my hostel to change and head out into the Malaysian night.

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If you ever go to this part of Kuala Lumpur, I am sure you will notice what I did at this point of my journey: the streets are higher than the sidewalks at certain points in the city! I could not figure out what was so peculiar about the streets until I tripped up the stairs when leaving a shop. Years of new pavement, sewage systems, and electrical utilities are certainly the cause of this. Here’s a look. 

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I could not wait to see the Petronas Towers in person and the two skyscrapers did not disappoint. I arrived at twilight and was fortunate enough to see the lights turn on from below. The glistening eight-sided spires connected by the skywalk was certainly a sight to behold for all. Add into the mix the luxury malls beneath both towers and I could see why people would come to these towers for a day out on the town. 

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As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the interesting people I met in Singapore was in Kuala Lumpur not his evening as well. My new Korean friend and I rendezvoused at the fabulous SkyBar inside Traders Hotel to have a drink and take in the breathtaking view of the Petronas Towers from 33 Floors above Kuala Lumpur. I usually am not keen on spending big bucks for a drink, but if you love cityscapes, skylines, or just breathtaking views, you MUST go to SkyBar. Add into the mix that there is a pool inside the bar and I don’t know how you cannot go. I was very happy to meet up with my friend and discuss Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and other travel destinations in such an unlikely place. 

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As the rain began to fall for the first time on my trip, we decided to head to the streets to feast on the cheap street food that is omnipresent in the city. Once we arrived at Jalan Petaling Market, we were very pleased. Delicious street food was everywhere for the taking. I enjoyed an entire deep fried frog and some other delicacies on a stick and she had various other types of local fare. The gentlemen running all of the stands were very nice and helpful when it came to suggesting what to eat. This was my first time going to a real street market in Southeast Asia outside of the tourist-ridden markets in Bangkok and I am thrilled I went.  The food was delicious and the company was nice, as well. 

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As the rain picked up and the night wore on, my friend and I split our separate ways and I took a cab back to my hostel where I thought the night was over, but not before I made some more friends on the road. 

My hostel boasted a rooftop bar so I headed up there to see if any interesting people were still awake. I met a fascinating traveler from London and we had a few drinks discussing our travels, our college experiences, and our current travels before going our separate ways. 

Early to arrive and late to bed, my first day in Malaysia was phenomenal. From the historical buildings to the Petronas Towers and the markets in between, I was thrilled to be in KL and could not wait for what the next day had to offer. It was a marathon day of meandering through Kuala Lumpur’s narrow streets.

 

 

 

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Waiting for the Train in Kyoto

Waiting for the Train in Kyoto

I captured this image in Kyoto on Sunday, October 6th, 2013, in Kyoto, Japan. These individuals were waiting for a train to cross through the bamboo grove and bamboo path. It was a great scene and I find the shadows, lines, and action of this photo to be captivating.

Another Adventure on the Horizon

For those of you who have never met me, I have always been fascinated with adventure, travel, and finding out new things about new places and the new people I meet throughout the journey called live. This interest started as my family and I embarked on many summer road trips and vacations when I was a child. This weekend, a new chapter will unfold in the adventure I call my life.  

On Saturday, I am headed to Busan, South Korea, for my first trip in Asia outside of Japan. I cannot be more excited as I anticipate what should be an adventurous three day weekend as I traverse South Korea. 

When I returned to Temple University following the March 11, 2011, earthquake in Japan, I quickly became involved in Asian student associations and the international student clubs at school to try and help foreign students in the way they helped me when I was studying abroad in Japan. Throughout the next two years, I made many new friendships with foreign students; most of them residing in either Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan. This weekend, I will be meeting up with my Korean friends in Busan and Seoul to get a non-tourist perspective of the two biggest cities in South Korea. 

Following the first day in Busan, I will take the Korean high speed rail train to Seoul on Sunday for a day trip to rendezvous with some of my friends that I have not seen for several years. Then it will be back to Busan on Sunday evening followed to a return to Osaka on Monday afternoon. When I first started listening to Korean pop music, I was enamored by how glamorous Seoul looked, mainly because the scenes I saw reminded me so much of my third home, Tokyo. I cannot wait to see Seoul with my own two eyes!

Each day I am in Japan it truly amazes me how I am able to communicate with the Japanese and my friends in another language. I will never forget the first time I went to Japan, not knowing Japanese. It transformed me forever and spurred what is a strong and unwavering interest in the Japanese language. I am hoping my first trip to South Korea has a similar affect on me, albeit the situation will be very different than my first trip to Japan. I am blessed and very fortunate to have friends willing to show me their country, even if for a day or weekend, and look forward to learning as much as I can. Of course, many photos will be taken. 

If you are a university student in the United States or interested in foreign language or travel, I highly recommend you join your university’s international student organizations, etc. You will have a priceless opportunity for meeting new friends, networking, and learning about yourself. Having a travel partner isn’t a bad bonus, either. 

Taking in the Moment

As time comes to pass, Kobe’s Chinatown is quickly becoming one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city for several reasons. One reason, in particular, makes me keep coming back to the quaint part of town, though: liveliness. At the heart of Kobe’s Chinatown is a pagoda with some benches, a small open space, followed by more benches, and a nice fountain. Imagine this area to be surrounded with lanterns hanging above as you take in the sights, sounds, and smells of Chinatown in Japan. 

I love to people watch, so I headed down to Chinatown on Saturday for an afternoon of relaxation, language practice, and people watching. What ended up happening was very different than what I expected to encounter. 

I ran into a friend of mine in Sannomiya during the walk to Chinatown and we decided to enjoy some Cuban cigars in Chinatown as we relaxed for the afternoon. I have not had a cigar since I arrived in Japan, so this was such a great idea. Following our trip to the tobacco store, we embarked for Chinatown to do some people watching and to pass some time. Suddenly, a light rain began to fall and the mood of Chinatown changed dramatically. The edge of noise began to fall as some people left the streets while others lingered. As dusk began to settle in, Chinatown took on a different personality as it was dominated by small families bustling about, eating noodles and chatting about the weekend’s activities. For such a small part of the city, this energy should not be there, but it certainly was. Breathing in the smells of street food and watching the kids frolic about was magical for me, and I still do not know why. 

My friend and I sat back, enjoying our cigars, taking in the whole scene. I found it glorious. A passing rain shower and a random encounter with a friend really made the afternoon so much more enjoyable than I had expected just a few hours earlier. I hope this photo can do something to convey how Chinatown felt on that late afternoon. When the shower stopped, my friend and I carried on to the JR station to go to our next destination. 

However fleeting, we were able to escape from everything, even if only for a few hours, on Sunday. This is another reason why I enjoy Japan so much. Image

Reflections on Tokyo

Greetings, everyone. I am sorry it has been so long since I have posted on my website, but it has been for good reason. Over the past two weeks, I have been in the process of moving to Japan and have been without internet, telephone, cell phone, or other means of communication for quite a while. I finally have access to a cell phone and thought it was important that I post on here now that I have a little bit of free time. 

Last week, I had orientation in Tokyo for three days to prepare me for the work I will be doing in Kobe-shi for at least the next year. It was a very insightful event where I learned a ton about Japanese schools and the job I will be doing in just a few weeks. More than that, I made new friends and caught up with some old friends of mine from Tokyo in my free time. Nothing really beats that type of experience. Lots of Australians are also on this program, so it is interesting to discuss the differences between Australian and American English while bonding over what surely will be an unforgettable experience both living and working in Japan. 

On my second night in Tokyo, I met up with an old friend and ate some yakitori and enjoyed a few Pocari sour drinks, all in Japanese. Neither of us could believe it had been two years since I was in Japan but we both could not believe that I did not speak Japanese at that time. The rain that evening as we went back to Shibuya Station on the Yamanote Train really brought back memories for me; strolling through an elusive Tokyo before the 2011 earthquake. I’ve attached a picture to give you a feel of how great Shibuya square looked as we strolled back to the station. More photos and posts to come as time permits.