Saturday, September 24, 2011

I'm Still Here

autumn's coming!

University road

the park right next to the prison

rainy days are ahead of us

retail therapy

generic UK city

To all you (few) people who still check this blog every now and then, hi! I'm not dead or anything, just been busy relocating to another country. I'm currently in Leicester, and if you are from the outside of England, you probably don't have a clue where that is. No worries, even I still have trouble pointing it out on a map.

So, I'm stressed as hell here, it's just been 2 weeks since classes started and already my workload is insane! Most of the time I'm tempted to dig a hole and bury my head in it till all this (meaning, exams) just disappears but since that's not a very practical thing to do, I end up telling myself that exams are just exams, and exams can be passed with the right amount and right kind of studying. I'm also often tempted to start ranting about the high fail rate and the high pass mark, but I try to tell myself that doing so would be pointless and I should just carry on with my work as usual.

More depressing news: I found out that the longest holidays I would have over the next 3 years is one month long, and that is only if I pass this paper in January. So much for my 3 month summer backpacking plans. So kids, if any of you reading this is planning to go study medicine, DON'T. You'll be stuck going to hospitals and studying during summers when all your engineering friends are partying their life away.

However, there's always a sliver of light in all this doom and gloom. There are always weekends and there is always Ryanair. So hopefully, if I manage to work my ass off during the weekdays, I'll be able to squeeze in an exotic European weekend getaway, or two.

So that's it then. I've got to get back to being library furniture.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Pictures of Hoi An

1st awesome bowl of Cau Lau - local specialty of Hoi An

2nd bowl :D It was that good! And I don't usually even like noodles.

One of the two bridges there - not sure which

by the riverside

Sugarcane juice! 
Hoi An is famous for it's tailors. Almost everyone leaves this place with tailored clothes but I couldn't since I didn't have enough time here and really have no need for tailored clothes. I fail to see how well fitting store bought clothes are any less alluring than overpriced tailored clothes (with the exception of suits), but that's just me, a girl with not much appreciation for finer things like tailors.

Fortunately, I do have an appreciation for food, which was awesome here! As long as you don't eat in restaurants, you can get a tasty meal for about 1USD. Come to Hoi An to eat. In fact, come to Vietnam to eat. Unfortunately, this doesn't apply if you are vegetarian.

 I arrived in town at 5pm and was promptly harassed by multiple moto drivers. After giving in to one guy, I got overcharged for a short ride to the guesthouse I planned on staying at, but it was full. I spent such a long time (all the while being hassled by other tuktuk drivers wanting to take me to their "cheap cheap guesthouse) wandering around trying to find a guesthouse on my own, but every single place was either full or 20USD. Eventually I caved in and let the tuktuk take me to his guesthouse which he told me would be 9 dollars. We got there, and the poor guy got scolded by the rude lady who told him there is only a room for 12 dollars. Tuktuk guy got embarrassed and drove off on his bike without asking payment, but leaving me behind in that GH. So I ask the lady for a discount, she gets pissed and yells at me "No room here!!!". I get fed up and walk out to look for another place to stay. After a lot more of wandering around, I couldn't find a single room that was within my budget. Since the only other alternative was to stay on the streets and be the stray dogs' dinner, I went back to that guesthouse. Stupid bitch was there, waiting for me to come back, since she knew there wouldn't be any rooms left at that hour in peak season. Without saying a word, she gave me the keys and showed me the room. So like it or not, I stayed at what is possibly the nastiest guesthouse in vietnam, Thien Trung Hotel in Hoi An. Sure, the room had a rusty bathtub and cable tv, but all off that doesn't fucking matter when the service is so rude! Over the next day, they grabbed every opportunity they could to show me in my face how rude and nasty they really can be. I even got screamed at during lunch hour the next day by another rude man at the front desk - all because I switched on the fan in their steaming hot lobby. It is 12 noon in July in Vietnam - anyone would have turned on the fan! Everyone stared, and he magically became all sheepish and apologetic.

That night it rained like crazy. The next day, it didn't rain, but I got chased by so many vendors and touts it was downright annoying. No one there seems to have anything better to do with their time other than hassle tourists. So yes, I didn't enjoy Hoi An very much. Maybe if it wasn't raining, or maybe if the ladies didn't try to drag me into their shops, I would have stayed longer. So the next day, I left to Hanoi. Getting the bus was another fiasco- not only should you not stay at Thien Trung Hotel, you shouldn't in a million years buy your bus  tickets there as well. Well, at least the sleeper bus was comfy. 

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Chagar Hutang, Pulau Redang

This little trip happened a long time ago before this blog even came into existence. I was looking through my pictures and so, here they are!

Baby turtle
This was actually a week long volunteer program with Sea Turtle Research Unit (SEATRU) of the university in Terengganu. Here's the website if you are interested:

Rescued babies out of the sand where red ants were going to eat them
Chagar Hutang is a beach, part of Redang Island, where the turtles come to nest. To protect the turtles, no boats are allowed to land here other than the boat that takes the volunteers (8 people per week) there every saturday. Once you get here, you'll live at the volunteer quarters here for a week with only each other and a few workers from the university (they do the heavy turtle lifting and digging that us puny volunteers can't do) for company. No cellphone reception, no internet, enough electricity to keep the contents of the fridge lukewarm - you'll basically be cut off from the world.

Small waterfall
Apart from the usual turtle saving activities, we got taken out to go snorkelling and jungle trekking.. The usual turtle saving activities would be: cleaning up the beach every morning, checking on the nests, looking out for predators (lizards and fire ants), patrolling the beach at night for nesting turtles, making sure the said turtles can find their way back into the water, and also chasing off any boats that try to land on the beach.

hatched turtle eggs
Lots of people love this program! As for me, it had its moments of happiness. But would I go back? No. The good parts weren't enough to compensate for the parts I didn't like so much. It was a combination of circumstances and my pampered self, really, more than any real shortcomings with the volunteer program itself. Plus the weather really sucked when I was there as it was raining nearly every day.

Including Chagar Hutang, I had two beach holidays (this was more a holiday of sorts than any real volunteer work) last year and they were both frustrating experiences which I hope I don't have to repeat. Initially I thought that the reason the ocean made me miserable as hell last year is because I'm just not a beach person.
But then I went to Vietnam this year and I realized, I love the beach! So in conclusion, my unhappy experiences were just a result of bad luck and bad inappropriate company.

footprints in damp sand
You'll have to book extremely early to get a spot on this program, since it is immensely popular. By early, I mean the very day that they open bookings for that year. Even that, no guarantees.. When I went, it was RM250 per person for the whole week (Malaysian student price) but now it is up to RM400. It was an experience alright, one I won't be forgetting anytime soon.

Prawn spa

A short walk into the jungle from the volunteer accommodation will get you to this river (pond? base of waterfall?) with plenty of prawns in it. Grab a seat (rock), dip your feet in and enjoy nature's own prawn spa as the tiny prawns will happily nibble away at the dead skin on your feet. All natural exfoliation and the prawns do a pretty good job at it.

stream leading to the ocean

Moss that felt surprisingly squishy and soft to the touch

Hammocks for daily afternoon siesta

Trying hard to get out of the box

Friday, August 12, 2011

Marble Mountain

Getting here was easy and straightforward - I just had to get on one of the bright yellow buses around town that was headed for Hoi An, and ask to be dropped off at Marble Mountain which is right in between Danang and Hoi An. Entrance fee was reasonable - 15000 dong - as almost all entrance fees in this country tend to be.

If you love to shop and especially love funky accessory pieces, then beware, you'll leave this place with a much lighter wallet and for me, a much heavier wrist. Bracelets/rings/necklaces/sculptures/whatever made of stone are pretty and cheap! The same stone jewelry I saw here for 2.5USD, I saw it being sold for about 10USD in Hoi An. Bargaining was tough since the ladies had so much business, they didn't need to reduce the price for me to buy their stuff.

tired after climbing a few stairs :D

more stairs

roof of the large cave

another fancy dustbin! Feed the bird your trash

view from the temple at the top

A nice spot for an afternoon nap, for sure

View from the lift balcony
Some good news for the elderly/disabled/lazy bums: when I was there, they were constructing a lift/elevator all the way to the top if you don't want to do the long walk up from the base. It is charged separately from the ticket (but of course!).

An attempt at an artsy fartsy shot

It really was a fun day, something I totally recommend you do if you end up between Hoi An and Danang! To get out of here is equally as easy - frequent buses headed both ways, but after about 4pm it might be tough to get a bus, so leave early.