Thursday, 22 December 2011

And so it arrives - the end of an era...

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown

Days left in Singapore: 1

Days left until arrival in the Queen City: 8

Family,
And a good evening to you all from across the globe after our FINAL NIGHT in the Lion City.  I cannot believe I'm typing this, but tonight will be the FINAL POST from Team Taylor in 2011, and our final post outside the United States.  Honestly, I can't even begin to get my head around that.

And so it begins - Team Taylor in London in September of 2009 (in
short sleeves, no less!).
In his novel, "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius," author Dave Eggers opens by saying, "I've never been more exhausted in my life, I've never been more excited in my life.  Never have I known such fatigue or anticipation."  He was writing about getting a publisher to accept his first book, but I think it's equally applicable to summarizing Team Taylor's time abroad.

2.5 years abroad.  5 years of marriage celebrated.  31 countries visited on 21 different airlines.  6 total weeks in the states.  25 pounds gained.  25 pounds lost.  58 new pint glasses.  3 international beer festivals.  To quote my good buddy Tait "T-Bone" Robinson upon his return from 3 months of teaching in India and 6 weeks traveling Southeast Asia:  "I think it's gonna take awhile to understand what I've seen."
J-Wade - do you recognize that bottle?  We've
been saving that champagne for one special
occasion - the last night in Sing Sing, baby!!!
Thanks so much - 2-1-3 forever! :-)
I don't really know where to begin or how to sum up the last 2 and a half years of my life, and I'm sure you'd all fall asleep if I spent more than a few paragraphs attempting it.  What I can say is that a) Jenny and I are closer than we've EVER been and more in love than I ever thought possible, b) this entire experience has been so much more than I ever expected, and whilst I still have a billion places on my bucket list, even if I never set foot in a new place I could die a happy man, and c) I now know not only the value of the expat experience but also the cost.  The value is the work experience, the travel, and the adventure, but the cost is everything you leave behind whilst you're away.  Our amazing parents, our wonderful friends and their children, and all the traditions and activities that make up the fabric of American culture (and don't let anyone tell you otherwise - we HAVE a culture) have been somewhere between 4,000 to 11,000 miles away for the last quarter of a decade, and that takes its toll on any nomad.  And THAT, more than anything, is why we are SO EXCITED to be going home.

For the past few months, all I've been able to think about is hugging my folks, sitting on Purple couch and watching re-runs of Dodgeball, watching the Heels in action, and re-inserting myself into the lives of so many friends who've patiently waited for us to return and tried as best they could to keep us integrated into their lives.  Skype is AMAZING - but it's no substitute for Sunday dinner with the family.  I am grateful for all the technology now available, but at the end of the day nothing can close the abyss that geography creates.
The home away from home - it was great, but I've no lie to
tell - it felt much more like basecamp than a home.
Some folks here, as well as in London, have suggested that Jenny and I might be bored in Charlotte.  To that I always say 2 things:  1.  I am SO EXCITED about the prospect of being bored.  That will imply that, for at least a fleeting moment, I am sedentary, which sounds AWESOME.  2.  People can be bored anywhere if they refuse to take advantage of everything around them.  Personally, I think Charlotte will feel like a new city to us, and we've already got a lot of plans for activities in the first quarter.  We may be a lot of things in 2012, but somehow I don't think bored will be one of them.

And as to the question of the blog, Jenny and I do plan to keep it through Q1 of next year.  Now that we've shared our time abroad with so many of our American friends, we want to share our return and reacclimatization with those of you outside the US who have shared your lives with us across 3 continents.  The blog will move from daily to once or twice weekly, but we are certainly planning on continuing the writing and hope that you'll stay with us.

To the readership - THANK YOU.  For the page views, the great comments, the hilarious emails from T-Rowe and others, for harrassing me when I didn't post (TERRIER), forcing me to keep going and keep this record of our lives - THANK YOU.  I have LOVED writing this - it has been cathartic in a way that I never expected.  And some day I hope that our kids will read it and say, "Wow, our parents used to be cool.  And dad didn't used to weigh 600 pounds."  I  hope that you've enjoyed it as much as I have, had a few laughs, and maybe even learned a fact or two along the way.

And lastly, whilst this is by no means the final post, I am conscious that readership may drop off after this last entry, and there is something I simply must do.  I must thank the group of people that made all this possible:

To GC Robinson, for taking a chance on me 3 weeks after my honeymoon by sending me to London in a definite "stretch" role, and then supporting me through some REALLY rough days

To Sean Newcomb, for taking a chance on me and Team Taylor (with the Puma in tow) up in Chester and then supporting me in 2008, not only with the chance to tackle another international project but also when I need a break from Transition

To Kevin Woest, for finding me a job that let my body get back where it needed to be and then helping me to realize a dream when it presented itself

To Sean again for truly making a dream come true in 2009...and again in 2010

To Dan Deets for believing in me enough to suggest Singapore

To Andy McGuire for picking up the torch in Dan's absence and going well above and beyond the call of duty to help make this past year possible

To Martin Appel, for taking a chance on a guy from Tennessee he'd only met once at a restaurant and heard on two conference calls - it's been amazing, boet - thanks for everything

And lastly, to Ray Tavares and Matt Miller - the other 2 members of the three musketeers, without whom odds are good I would be a) unemployed, b) in prison, or c) dead in a ditch.  Thanks for everything, fellas - the laughs being paramount
And so it ends - Team Taylor trying to survive their first
12 THOUSAND DEGREE Christmas - 11,000 miles from home.
And so there you have it, perhaps not the nostalgic "farewell Singapore" blog you were looking for, but a farewell nonetheless.  This has been THE SINGLE GREATEST ADVENTURE of our lives, and coming to terms with the fact that it's ending will require more processing time.  But to quote Stephen King, "Time is a wheel, and it turns," and ready or not in less than 24 hours we'll be en route to Hong Kong, homeward bound and with our backs to another year.  Personally, I think that 2012 is going to be the best year of our lives, and for those of you stateside, I can't tell you enough how excited I am that you'll be part of the memories we make vs. reading about them on a month's delay.  Whether it's Hawthorne's pizza at the Price house, finally going trail running with Miller and Tavares, seeing Jenny's face light up when she sees lanes lines and a half Olympic pool for the first time in 2.5 years, watching our first Checkers game, eating thick bacon and drinking bottomless cups of coffee at Original Pancake House, or hugging my parents for the first time in a year - I CAN'T WAIT to get the 2012 American Repatriation Celebration going.

And I guess there are just two more things left to do with this blog...

1.  The superlatives...

Best country visited in 2011:
Jenny - Thailand
Sam - Cambodia

Biggest pleasant surprise of 2011:
Unanimous - Taiwan

Worst country visited in 2011 (THIS WAS FREAKIN' EASY):
Unanimous - Malaysia (insert the "Truly Asia" commercial theme song here)

Best weekend trip in 2011: 
Unanimous - Bali (Indonesia)

Worst weekend trip in 2011:
Unanimous - Penang (Malaysia)

Worst destination in the history of travel:
Unanimous - Penang (Malaysia)

At this point, Jenny would like to add a few more superlatives...

Most polluted city on earth - Delhi

Dirtiest city on earth - Delhi

Smelliest city on earth - Delhi

Worst sanitation on earth - Delhi

We now resume our broadcast...

2.  The 15 most memorable moments of 2011:

1.  My headlamp hitting the summit sign of Mount Kinabalu at 3:52 AM (8th through the checkpoint, first on the summit, baby!!!!), followed by me running face first into a broken chicken-wire fence at 3:53 that was the only thing separating me from a 4,000 foot drop
2.  Martin Appel lighting up a cigarette after our first Quarterly Ops Review and saying, "This was a crisis, and now it's stable.  Thank you."

3.  A perfect day at the Taj Mahal with Lady Catherine (this is a Jenny only memory, but as I was there in 2008 and saw it the same way, I can relate)

4.  Taroko Gorge - one thumb out, one clueless Japanese couple in a SWEET beamer, some opera music, and a vaccum sealed "iron egg" for a snack the next day

5.  Rounding the corner past the Heads and seeing the Opera House en route to my first day in the Sydney office

6.  That final sunset at After Beach Bar, trying to find a way to not cry because I'd never been happier in my life

7.  The look on Jenny's face when she walked out of the office the last time - seeing her that happy and knowing that I was a part of it will forever remain one of the best days of my life

8.  Pulling that first breath of air into my lungs after getting tossed in Chiang Mai - talk about a second lease on life...

9.  "Let's doooooooooooooo the Time Warp agaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaain!!!!!!!"

10.  Crossing the finish line of a half marathon for the first time in more than 2 years

11.  "Shin gow pai pai...dong xie pai pai" (TRANSLATION - a weekend in Macau)

12.  Sunrise at Angkor Wat - and everything that followed

13.  "Babe, they've got Wailua Wheat at this 7-Eleven!!!!"

14.  Telling our parents it was official - we're coming home

15.  The perfection that was Honda Bay 

It's funny, I'm finding that, for the first time in months, I don't want to stop writing.  However, I am going to close it here.  There is SO MUCH MORE that I want to say (and feel I need to say), but there are points where your cup runneth over yet words run dry - I've arrived at exactly that point.  
My buddy the Merlion, with the MBS in the distance - the old
meets the new.  I'll miss you, pads - thanks for everything.

To everyone in Singapore - thank you for sharing your lives with us this past year.  You have been so gracious and wonderful to both Jenny and I, and the experience we've had has been infinitely deeper and richer because you've all embraced the redneck and the redhead (T-bone - that was for you).  From rather exotic (for me at least!) foods to Korean BBQ shopowners to a CRAZY night of clubbing, I'll have stories to tell for YEARS to come.  You live in a truly amazing place - never forget how blessed you are to be a citizen of the Lion City.

To everyone else - see you soon. :-)

No other thing to say but to quote Stephen King a final time:  "The man in black sped across the desert and the gunslinger followed."

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat in 2012 when we're stateside!!!!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Monday, 19 December 2011

The experience that is the Deep Water Solo - (FINALLY) wrapping Railay (Part IV)...

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown

Days left in Singapore: 2

Days left until arrival in the Queen City: 9

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  Team Taylor took the day off from working out today, but I have no complaints, as we've always known that the next couple of weeks would be a shooting gallery in terms of fitness vs. calories/carbs/fat grams.  My money is on the calories, carbs, and fat grams, but hey - that's what  New Year's resolutions are for, right?

All I can say is that I'm glad I was wandering around in the
world's safest city with this cash - the thought of it still
makes me sweat.  On second thought, Come oooooon, 11!
So the day was a great one for the Bull.  Jenny and I were treated to separate farewell lunches, with the Bull hitting up Akashi (the Japanese place) for another salmon Teryaki whilst Muffin hit Thai Accent for a final fiery curry.  We then closed our Singapore bank account, at which point we were given something we had NEVER seen before -  A THOUSAND DOLLAR BILL.  Seriously - that one note is worth $785 USD!!!!!  Jenny and I just about wet our pants - I do NOT like rolling around with that much cash tied into a single sliver of paper.  Needless to see we are cashing that puppy in for Hong Kong dollars as soon as possible!

We had a team "end of year farewell" about 5:30, at which point the Bull did what he typically does when his time ends somewhere - compose and recite a poem.  This one was much shorter, used ZERO foul language, and made no disparaging remarks about anyone (unlike the usual Transition ditties), but I was proud of it and think that it went very well.  It was then over to Brotzeit for a pair of farewell pints with Emma, who's off to K-L tomorrow for Christmas (nothing says "let's celebrate the birth of baby Jesus" like spending a week in a Muslim country.  Then again, as Team Taylor is hitting the craps tables in Macau for Christmas, I guess it's all relative...).

But enough of that - it's time to make good on the promise I made to you all eons ago and slay the dragon that is Railay.  And so, ladies and gentlemen, let's return to East Railay on a Sunday morning, as we talk you through the experience that was the Deep Water Solo (DWS).

So here's the deal, Jenny had been desperate to do one of these since her visit to Railay back in October, and I had NO IDEA what I was in for.  However, I was game to try anything once, and since it was already booked, I was game for the day and DETERMINED to make a better showing than my rock climbing experience.  Oh, sooooooo naive...so, so naive.

We showed up on Tonsai Beach (the "other" beach in Railay, which is only about 250 meters from West Railay but requires a long tail due to the tides and rocks) about 9 AM and walked up to "Wee's Climbing School," the tour operators for the day.  We started meeting the other folks, including a guy named Eric who's one of the pilots for Discovery's "Flying Wild Alaska" (he and his sister Katie were really cool cats, by the way).  We also met our guide, another little pygmy climber named Tun (not to be confused with the rock climbing dude - Tu).

The X chromosome half of Team Taylor relaxing before
the start of the day's deep water solo.
So 9:30 arrives, and the boat isn't there.  9:45 comes and goes, and all Tun can say is, "Go pick shoes."  And so we go into the back to select our shoes, thinking that it will be like the rock climbing - a STACK of new shoes ready for the taking.  Instead, we find shoes that look as though they've been outside the Green Zone in Baghdad for the last 9 years - NONE OF THEM ARE INTACT.  I settled on a pair that had what could only be described as bullet holes through both of them and were so filled with sand that 30 seconds into wearing them I was pretty sure I'd shaved off 4 layers of skin.  But hey - it's not like we're about to scale a vertical cliff drenched in sea water, so I'm sure being comfortable or having secure footwear isn't really important.

Let me tell you what was important for Tun - SMOKING WEED.  Seriously - the driver pulls up in the boat, hops out, and starts walking toward shore with his dry bag.  All the folks on the tour start walking toward the boat, but the driver waves us off. He then proceeds to roll a joint, climb under this blanket contraption with our guide, and START SMOKING THE WEED OUT.  I mean seriously?  SERIOUSLY?  They popped up 5 minutes later high as kites.  THESE are the people taking us to scale cliffs?

Check out the white shirt in the center of the picture.  THAT'S MUFFIN!!!
That being said, the ride out was very smooth, and 30 minutes later we'd arrived at the first spot.  We then all jump out and start swimming for the rope ladder that's dangling from the cliff face.  Eric went up first, and Jenny was right behind him.  That girl was AMAZING!!!  She went about 15 meters up and THEN JUMPED OFF!!!!  It was EPIC - she is fearless, and I was amazed. 

Now let's play "where's Jenny?" in the photo.  Can you see the teeny little bullet torpedoing toward the water?  FEARLESS I TELL YA!!!!!!!
Rope ladders - no problem for the Striker. She laughs in
the face of sheer cliffs, high winds, and choppy seas...
As for the Bull, I was so exhausted from rock climbing the day before that I could barely get ONTO the ladder.  And whilst I did manage to get onto it, I couldn't pull myself up.  Yes, that's right, folks - I NEVER EVEN MADE IT ONTO THE CLIFF FACE.  Instead, I spent a good 6 hours swimming in the ocean.  Again, it was a (rather large) let down, and for the second day straight I was disappointed in myself and inability to at least get onto the rock.  However, when I looked at everyone else, most of whom were JACKED with muscle (seriously - we're talking muscles on their back along their spine where there should be nothing but skin), I really couldn't be that upset.

After about an hour on that rock, we wandered over into a little cove, where we swam, wandered through some caves, watched folks try bouldering.  And whilst everyone found bouldering impossible, our guide was able to hang upside down using ONLY HIS FINGERS AND BIG TOES.  I mean, it helps when you're high as a kite and weigh only 40 pounds, but still...

These guys are about 50 feet up.  the guy in the center was
the one from our group who went about 100 feet up - AMAZING.
And speaking of high as a kite, before we went to spot #2, Tun and the driver BLAZED THE CHEEBA AGAIN.  Basically they smoked through a mini-digeredoo, and they emerged from the bushes looking BAKED.  But 10 minutes later we arrived at the next spot, which was INSANE.

Tun in a rare "non-weed smoking" moment - teetering on
the edge of a cliff.   I think I'll stick with project plans for a living.
So the next spot was advanced, and only 2 guys in the group even made it up the ladder.  Of those 2, one of them got over NINETY FEET UP and at one point was straddling a stalactite and the cliff face in a complete split - it was AMAZING.  He ended up going about 100 feet up and then wandering back down to eventually jump from a different stalactite - AMAZING!!!!  Honestly, watching this guy climb was worth the price of admission (~$27 USD for the day including lunch).

"Sawadee ka....it's a beautiful day..."
It was then back to the original spot, where the gang messed around for a bit (and I continued swimming) before we headed back to Railay.  All in all, it was a really good trip, even if I couldn't participate.  We then showered and headed to (where else?) Last Bar, where we spent the evening scarfing down Barracuda and belting out lyrics along with the musician.  And in a cool end to the trip, the musician came over and talked to us a bit, as he'd seen us, well, EVERY NIGHT at the place.  He was really good (from the Philippines), and it was a nice chat.

Team Taylor called it a night about 11:30, as we were EXHAUSTED and ready to return to civilization.  Despite all the hiccups, this place was AMAZING and really should be a MUST DO for anybody with an adventurous spirit or who loves rock climbing.  It was just BEAUTIFUL - stunning scenery, bountiful activities, and some great food (oh, and REALLY cheap :-)). 

Picture of "forbidden activities" in the van for our
transfer back to to the airport:  no guns, no dogs, and absolutely
NO KAMA SUTRA IN THE BACK SEAT.  I mean, WTF???
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Team Taylor is FINALLY back to even, baby!!!!!  WOOOO-HOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!  Chat tomorrow, for the FINAL BLOG OF 2011!!!!

Love,

 Sam and Jenny

The last one of these you're gonna read about for a long time - Leaving drinks for Team Taylor...

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown

Days left in Singapore: 3

Days left until arrival in the Queen City: 10

Family,

And a good evening to you all from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull logged another morning run today, managing ~3.75 in just under 30 minutes.  It felt good, especially with the (incessant) light rain throughout the front half of the run.  It's official - running is fun again, and I'm finding myself wanting to do it every day.  Cycling was a great alternative in the heat, and I've no regrets about joining a gym here.  However, I'm really, REALLY looking forward to those outdoor runs in the Queen City - just a scant week and a half away.
Seeing your entire life packed away into 17 boxes that fit
snugly into a single air crate is, well, an interesting and
somewhat humbling experience.  There's more to Team Taylor
than those boxes, damn it!!!
So today has been a memorable one for the Bull and Striker, beginning with the arrival of the movers right on time (much to my surprise!) at 9 AM this morning.  It took about 4 hours to pack up our lives, and our possessions weighed in at just under 500 pounds (meaning that we fit nicely into a single air crate - kind of sad when you think about it). 

And now, Team Taylor is back the way they started in 2006 when we first landed in London -living out of four suitcases and 2 backpacks.  Ideally we would be traveling much lighter, however as the moving guys politely told me:  "You see, sir, New Year's Day is a holiday in the United States of America, and so we can't guarantee delivery by 13 January," Team Taylor is CARRYING ALL OF OUR SKI GEAR WITH US.  I mean, I wanted to run around Hong Kong in my stylish "UK street sweeper" ski jacket, but the mere suggestion of it sent Jenny running for the hills (and John Davies falling off a chair laughing), and so I'm back to rockin' the Nautica Bomber jacket (yes, Steve - it's time to go kill some Germans).  Mum - that Jacket celebrates 10 years on 1 February of 2012!  One of your best gifts EVER!!!

Also, in the midst of the packing and tossing out anything that was a) old, b) moldy, c) never going to see the light of day in Charlotte, or d) unidentifiable, Jenny stumbled upon her most prized possession from our trip to Taiwan - the leftover Oolong Tea, baby!!!!  Oh yeah!!!!  Now I doubt you'll remember, but after paying a whopping $10 USD for a bag of tea and the pleasure of sitting on a balcony and drinking a portion of it in Taipei back in July, the Bull felt his cultural experience was complete and had planned to pitch the tea before heading back to the bus.  Muffin Puffin, however, was having NONE of that, and consequently she wrapped up the remainder of the tea with the defiant statement:  "We're DEFINITELY drink this.  I'm keeping it."  I looked at her as though she was from Mars, because I can literally COUNT ON ONE FINGER the # of times Jenny and I have brewed tea.  But hey, SIX MONTHS LATER, Jenny makes good on her promise to drink the rest of the tea and whips out the kettle.  I can confirm that it tasted like, well, six month old tea - enough said.  But isn't she cute in the photo...

The other, bigger milestone that officially signified the end of Team Taylor's time in Sing Sing came this evening, as Team Taylor rocked up to Boat Quay and settled in at (where else?) Red Dot for our leaving drinks. 

Now I realize that this is the part where Brother Owain Morgan says, "I don't believe it - we've hosted THREE of these for Sam and Jenny in London alone." However, I can confirm that this will be THE LAST Farewell shindig for Team Taylor (for a good while, at least).  In fact, now that this soiree is over, we're counting down the days until the Repatriation Party (Hitman, Miller - now that you've teased me with the idea, don't let me down...)!

The evening was absolutely PERFECT - filled with good friends, good laughs, and multiple towers of Green Monster Beer.  It was truly wonderful to look at the crowd assembled and then a) think back to the first meeting with each of them, and b) think about how rapidly our friendships have grown here in Singapore. 

I know it's often said that expats make friends quickly because they have to, but in the case of our Singapore friends (as with our London friends), I like to think that we became friends because we really enjoyed each other's company and stayed friends because the bonds that brought us together continued to deepen throughout our myriad experiences.  Regardless of the transient nature of our time in-country and the limited amount of time we were able to spend together due to everyone's ridiculous travel/work/exercise schedules, I do feel that we've made some really great friends out here, and it is my sincere hope that we'll remain in contact (and hopefully have a few crazy trips together in some remote destinations off the beaten path) with the folks around that table tonight for many, many years to come.

Well, it's nearing midnight, and the Bull and Striker are going to hit the sack.  It's been quite the day, and as we look back at a VERY empty house (since our suitcases are already packed), I get the distinct feeling that we're just marking time at this point.  The repatriation countdown nears single digits, at which point the most AMAZING journey of our lives to date, stretching across almost half of our married lives, will come to an end.  However, I firmly believe that the most exciting chapters are yet to be written, and I couldn't be more excited about going home.

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Happiness is just like peeing your pants...

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown 

Days left in Singapore: 4

Days left until arrival in the Queen City: 11

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull got up early this morning and got back over the "Mendoza line," rolling 5 miles in the drizzle that has become a constant feature of life on the Equator.  Seriously - it has rained 46 of the last 48 hours in this city, and I have no lie to tell - I am OVER IT. 

Notice the Dim Sum Dollies at the top of the
poster - I'd always wanted to see them, and
that's what convinced me to buy the tickets.
Yes, yes - you really have to live here to
understand.
We've spent the evening finishing our packing (both shipping and for the flight), as the movers come at 9 AM tomorrow.  Muffin Puffin has been a force of nature today getting things organized (despite a 3 hour power outage when our condo shut down the electrical switchboard for maintenance), and dare I say I think we're finally ready to go.  Between the movers and our "leaving do," tomorrow really will feel like the end of an era.

And whilst tonight has been quiet, last night did feature an activity worth mentioning.  The Bull and Striker left the friendly confines of Fraser Place to walk over to the Esplanade Theater for the 4th annual "Crazy Christmas" show, billed as:  "a little bit of naughty and a whole lot of nice."  We decided to walk there (show started at 8), and so we left casa de Taylor at 7 PM in the midst of a "light drizzle."  BIG MISTAKE. 

10 minutes later (into our 35 minute walk, mind you), it is BUCKETING IT DOWN.  I didn't see pavement cracking, but I feel certain that it wasn't far off.  I was COMPLETELY soaked - my sleeves were 100% drenched, my socks could have doubled as nalgenes, and you could have squeezed enough water out of my jeans to create a sixth Great Lake.  Muffin managed to fare somewhat better - perhaps my fat ass just doesn't fit under an Asian umbrella all that well.  Details...
The warm-up act - the Christian band who didn't sing
Christians songs - long live diversity.

We did arrive a bit early to the theater, but that was fine as there was a warm-up act covering Christmas carols.  The group billed themselves as a "cross cultural Christian band," but the only songs we heard were "I'll be Home for Christmas," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and "Santa, Baby."  That being said, I definitely got more than a twinge of homesickness at "I'll Be Home for Christmas," as this really will be the first Christmas where I'm not with family.  But I remain firm in the decision, as odds are good we won't pass this way again - haffa make it count!

As to the show itself - I am REALLY glad we went.  The show was a truly unique experience for us - a cast of Singaporeans doing "Singaporean" humor speaking in Singlish, and I can DEFINITELY confirm that there were plenty of instances where we had NO IDEA what was being said.  This tranny named Kumar came out to promote "World AIDS Day" and was speaking in English, but we only got about 50% of what he said.  However, we did get the quote of the night (which is the title of the blog):  "Happiness is like peeing your pants.  Everybody sees it, but only you feel the warmth."  I could NOT stop cackling. 

There was also a stand-up comedy segment by Broadway Beng, who was dressed in a pink Santa suit.  This in and of itself was funny, but the most AMAZING thing was the fact that his ENTIRE SEGMENT WAS IN HOKKIEN (think Taiwanese - it's a dialect of Chinese), and EVERYBODY in the crowd understood it.  I thought the guy beside me was going to have a hernia from laughing so hard.  I'm pretty sure at least one joke was "look at the Ang Mo beside you who doesn't speak Hokkien - laugh at him."  Santa did say at one point, "Now I know that there are some of you out there who don't speak Hokkien.  But don't worry - I do."  Fair enough - good on you, I say.  Now I really MIGHT stab one of you on the metro this week. 

The music (brought to us by the a capella group Vocaluptuous and the Dim Sum Dollies - who really can sing and were the original reason I bought the tix - they are a famous trio here in Singapore, most recently for their MRT "please queue" ads - it's best if you don't ask...) was stellar, and we definitely had more than a few laughs.  Through in great seats, some good Christmas music, and a pair of pints at the Archipelago Brewery, and you have a recipe for a PERFECT night. 

And speaking of perfect nights, tonight wasn't bad either, as we had a little Korean wine, went out for a pizza at Mondo Mio (little Italian joint by the house), and are now almost 100% finished with packing.  4 MORE SLEEPS!!!!!!  4 MORE SLEEPS!!!!!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and Jenny

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Reunions and Farewells - recapping Team Taylor's last weekend in Singapore...

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown
Days left in Singapore: 5
Days left until arrival in the Queen City: 12
Family,
The girls on the 2nd floor terrace at Raffles Hotel.
And a good Sunday afternoon to you all from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  This weekend has been AMAZING for so many reasons, the most important of which is that I FINALLY HAVE MUFFIN PUFFIN BACK!!!!!!  She and Cath rolled in the door at 7:30 AM on Friday morning, and a weekend of immortality has ensued. 

Friday was a terrific day in the office, albeit a bit sad.  The highlights were crossing off some of the final to-do's as part of handover and a terrific lunch at the White Dog Cafe with Pumpkin and Cath, but the sadder parts were saying farewell to some of my colleagues, as I've no idea when I'll cross this way again.  Goodbyes are never fun and always too rushed, especially when they're in an office and people have planes to catch.  So Nancy, should you find yourself bored over your 2 weeks stateside (unlikely) and happen to read this - let me say that it's been amazing working with you, enjoy your time at home, and all the best in 2012.  Keep everyone in line - especially if they venture into any Korean BBQ joints or converted power plant dance clubs...

The other, tougher farewell was my final 1-2-1 with Martin.  This session obviously wasn't much about current projects, issues, or thinking through the next two weeks, but rather a chat about where my function and the program have come in 12 months.  It was filled with some good laughs, some sighs of relief, and (at least for me) a twinge of sadness at the reality that this year, one of the toughest yet most fulfilling for me both personally and professionally, is now officially at its end.  The same was true in London, but with the London crowd I always had (and still do have) the feeling that I'll see them plenty in future work - same with the US crew.  With Martin and the APAC crowd, however, it's hard to say how much contact we'll have besides the occasional email or teleconference, and that does take a bit of processing after you've been in the trenches with people for 12 months.  And whilst this is by no means my "farewell and thanks" post (although that is coming soon), I would be remiss if I didn't pause here and say to Martin:  "thanks for everything, chief.  It's been an amazing experience, and I really do appreciate everything.  All the best for you and your family in 2012 and beyond."

I left that office about 5:30 or so (I know, I know - half day...), getting home and breaking the AFD streak (stopped dead at 5 again) by cracking open our final bottle of wine to celebrate the return of my better half.  Dinner that night was over at Brewerkz, as Jenny was DESPERATE for beef after 12 days on the subcontinent.  And so we said the 3rd of our "farewells" for the day - saying goodbye to the Bistro burger, the Golden Ale, and the Blonde Assassin (so guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud...peppy cheekies).  Brewerkz - for what it's worth, Team Taylor feels that you do THE BEST burger on the island - keep up the good work. :-)

No, do NOT adjust your televsion sets - what
you are seeing actually IS happening - the
Bull is eating a salad...and SHARING his
meal with another human.  Oh, the horror!!!
We hit the sack about 1 AM, and the Bull slept for EIGHT HOURS on Friday night.  It's like a light switch - Jenny arrives and I lapse into a coma.  We woke up about 9:15-9:30, making it out the door by around 11 or so.  The day's escapades started with a Starbucks (where Cath got her annual "Christmas coffee") before heading down Penang Road, where we stopped to finally inspect both the Hindu temple and the Christian Church.  There was a wedding going on in the Church (very small one - about 8 people counting the bridge and groom), so we just briefly admired the Christmas decorations before carrying on to Orchard Road, where we walked the length of the shopping street a final time, taking in the sights of Christmas and all the decorations.  Cath actually did some shopping, and then we did what any Ang Mo's should do when craving a salad on Orchard - GO TO HARD ROCK, BABY!!!!!  Oh, yeah - hot wings?  Check.  Cobb Salad the size of your torso?  Check.  Catherine asking the waiter what year the place opened and when the bar was built?  Check (6 February, 1991 in case you're curious).    Good times.

The piano bar at Hard Rock - one of Cath's memories of
Singapore from her 1997 visit. 
I mean, when it's LASHING down rain to the tune of an inch
per hour, you know what I think is a good idea?  WALKING
IN AN OUTDOOR GARDEN.  Good times...
It was then over to the Botanic Gardens, where it started BUCKETING it down.  Jenny was shocked by this, which I at first found bizarre since it has rained EVERY DAY for the last 10 weeks.  But then it hit me - she hasn't BEEN HERE in the last 10 weeks.  Ah, it all comes full circle.  We wandered around the Botanic Gardens for a bit, checking out some mutant gold fish and peculiar shaped turtles before checking out a Sarah Smith recommendation - Christmas trees of the world.  I'm pretty sure Sister Sarah was lying to us, however, as these trees looked like something out of a Charlie Brown's Christmas - HORRIBLE!!!!  Seriously - the city of Singapore basically donated what I can only describe as "mutant bushes" to various embassies and companies throughout the island, and they have then decorated them.  We think (actually, let me stress HOPE) that the children of each company's employees designed the decorations, because if not I'm going to recommend that the Ministry of Arts and Culture STEP IT UP PRONTO.  Talk about some HORRENDOUS decorations, to say nothing of the shameless advertising from some of them (OCBC - the cardboard cutout - really?  Catering company - a tree decorated in nothing but old cups with forks sticking up out of the soil?  I hope you cook better than you accessorize and present...just sayin'...).  The embassies weren't much better (Russa - the Yuri Gregarin thing?  Are you that desperate for a "win" in times like these?  Just re-elect Putin - I'm sure he'll fix everything.  But full marks to the Brits for their tree (Olympic themed) - same kudos to the Aussies).

The Intrepid India explorers posing beside the Indian
Embassy's "Christmas bush."  Seriously - somebody shoot
that thing and put it out of its misery.
After that it was the metro to Raffles, where we had a wander around before heading......WAIT.  Hit the brakes, because as we're heading home, Lady Catherine does the UNTHINKABLE - walks into a clothing shop in the Raffles Arcade.  I've never even LOOKED at these stores, as I've always assumed that things would be a fortune.  Cath, however, will NOT be deterred.  And then Sammy the Bull makes the tactical school boy error of saying, "Jenny, go see what she's doing."  Next thing I know, JENNY IS SHOPPING AS WELL.  And before you can say, "That looks great on you, la," my wife and Lady Catherine are walking out several Singapore dollars lighter.  Cath - you're no longer welcome in our house (actually, it was a great deal - not even I can complain...).

Muffin Puffin going off piste and shopping at Raffles -
who authorized this?  But I must confess she looks REALLY
cute in her new Christmas top.  Carter's - expect to be
dazzled next Sunday!
It was then back to the crib for a shower, a review of the India photos, and then a bit of cheese and crackers before we put Lady Catherine into her taxi and had (yet another) tearful goodbye with one of our best friends.  Cath - it was AMAZING having you here, and I'm SO GLAD that you came and that you and Jenny had so much fun in India.  Safe travels home, and we WILL see you in 2012!!!

As for Team Taylor, we were UNCONSCIOUS by 11, waking up at 10:15 this morning!  That's right, folks - the Bull slept ELEVEN STRAIGHT HOURS.  I am a new man - I think I'll go solve for cold fusion or world peace once I finish this post - I'm feeling that frisky. 

The girls just before Cath's taxi - CHECK OUT THAT BAG.  Folks, you
should see the STEEL CAGE and wrapping she's got inside that blue cover.
David Copperfield couldn't get into that bag (which weighs as much as she
does, for the record).
Today's been wonderful, complete with brekkie at (where else) Boomerang, a haircut for the Bull, completion of the packing (both for the trip home and the movers), and a NINETY MINUTE MASSAGE at the Balinese Hut.  MAN - that place is amazing - we will miss that (and Autie ironfist as she works out every knot in your body).

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and (FINALLY BACK AT HOME!!!!!!!!) Jenny

Thursday, 15 December 2011

An amazing (even if humbling) experience - rock climbing Railay (Part III)...

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown

Days left in Singapore: 8

Days left until arrival in the Queen City: 15

Family,

And a good evening to you all from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull made perhaps his last visit to Fitness First tonight, logging 31 KM on the bike in just over an hour.  I must give credit where credit's due and confirm that the dudes around me were really going for it on the bike tonight - people were actually pumping the pedals and potentially even sweating a bit.  Suddenly I no longer felt like Lance Armstrong and was really glad I wasn't rocking the neon yellow Livestrong shirt (Hairless, you know that one - it's your favorite).
Team Taylor at the Railay lookout, looking back over East Railay (the side)
we stayed on.  T-Rowe - notice that I'm rocking (and sweating in)
your favorite shirt.  I'm thinking of giving this to Ben as a present...
Okay, so let's get back to Railay for the final installment, one that pushed the Bull about 700% beyond his max and left him humbled and more impressed with his wife than EVER.  Let's start with Saturday and our 7:45 AM wake-up call before our first of 2 highly anticipated activities:  Rock climbing. 

So in my first post I mentioned how we were vacationing in the fittest place on earth.  This is 100% true,  as I was EASILY the weakest and fattest guy on the island.  And granted, I do carry a nice dunlop with me everywhere I go, but still - I'm relatively thin (and admittedly weak).  But on the walk up to the rocks, I was feeling good - I'd done the indoor stuff before, I had some SWEET climbing shoes on (the rubber on the soles is the same stuff they use to make F1 tires - cool, huh?), and I was refreshed from a great night's sleep.  Our guide, Tu, was actually Jenny's guide the month before, but clearly homeslice didn't remember her.  He did have a decent command of English, and after a brief introduction, me, Muffin, and 2 Dutch cats (Roland and his wife Peternel) were ready to tackle the cliff face (mom, don't panic - you're strapped in by about 1500 cables - you ain't goin' ANYWHERE). 

Move over, Sir Edmund Hillary - the Striker is now Queen
of the Mountain.  Look at her go!
Tu picks the first spot, and Jenny says, "This was the last one we tried last time - I was so exhausted I couldn't get up it."  But since it was our first climb of the day, we figured we'd be refreshed enough to tackle it.  And so Jenny goes first, and she's a ROCKET up that cliff.  Seriously, I know I love my wife and am biased, but I'm telling you - SHE'S A NATURAL.  It was AMAZING watching her scamper up that cliff face like a billy goat.  The three of us below were, well, VERY impressed.

After that, however, we turned it over to the OTHER half of Team Taylor - this guy.  Folks, I got no lie to tell, I got halfway up and I was EXHAUSTED.  Now granted, I'm sure my technique was bad and I was using my arms too much, but regardless, about halfway up I just couldn't go any further.  After a few failed attempts (and a few bleeding wounds), I asked Tu to let me down.  The conversation went like this:

Sammy the Bull (StB):  "Tu, I can't do it, mate.  Let me down."

Tu the Pygmy Douchebag (TtPD):  "No.  Believe in yourself.  You can do it.  Don't be scared."

StB:  "Dude, I'm not scared.  I'm exhausted.  I need to rest."

TtPD:  "Don't use your arms to much.  You are not thinking.  Try again."

StB:  (louder now - others can here)  "Tu, I CAN'T DO IT.  I DON'T WANT TO DO IT AND I'M OKAY WITH THAT.  LET ME DOWN."

TtPD:  "No.  Everyone else can do it.  You are the only person I've had in 4 years who cannot do this.  Climb!" 

StB:  "(We apologize - this portion of the broadcast is edited as Sammy the Bull dropped the f-bomb about 6 times and just stopped shy of cursing Tu's mother.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog, already in progress."

Sammy the Bull in a rare moment of success en route to his
first successful summit.  Needless to say I don't look quite
as graceful as Jenny, who looked like she was born in
Katmandu and moved to Florida by accident.
Finally Tu lets me down, and my arms are hurting so bad that I can't straighten them.  I can't close my fists, and I can't pick up my shoes and hold them (they are collectively less than a pound).  And so while I try to rest, the Dutch pair scampers up the hill as well (but not as fast as muffin).

We then move to the next spot, and this time I get about three quarters of the way up (with a nice gash on my right shin that is now a sweet scar - at least I can say, "Yeah, I got that baby rock climbing in Railay") before I just can't move.  Again, Tu and I get into a shouting match, and he reminds me that he's never had anyone fail before and now I've failed twice.  His words of encouragement include:

1.  "Work harder!"

2.  "Quit being scared!"

3.  "Climb!"

4.  "Stop doing the wrong thing!" 

5.  "Don't be the one who fails!"

Movie poster for "Vertical Limit 2:  Invasion of the Chang
Powered Ang Mo's"
All of this was very positive, but after I told him to put me the @#$# down for the 4th time, he did.  However, he then announces that, after everyone else goes, I'm going to go again.  I want to kill him, but I do it, and I do eventually get to the top (he was pulling on the harness so hard I thought my balls were in my throat).  And so I crossed one off, and the view was amazing, but I was bleeding from about 30 different places, my arms felt like trucks were resting on them, and we had 2 climbs to go.

Sam and Tu acting like they don't want to kill each other.
I really did contemplate strangling him with the belay rope.
I managed the 3rd one (in a cave), acquiring only 2 new cuts this time.  But then there was the 4th - a 30 meter (100 foot) assault off what can only be described as a sheer cliff face.  I managed about 13 meters, but that was all I had.  Again, Tu refused to let me down until I just finally gave up the argument and sat in my harness for about 5 minutes.  Finally, the weight of my fat ass began to exhaust him, and he let me down.  Everyone else SHOT UP that thing - Jenny was a bolt of lightning.  I'm tellin' you - that girl has K2 written all over her.

As much as I'm bitching here, the climbing was really fun.  Granted, I was disappointed in myself (no other way to describe it - I was really down and somewhat embarrassed), but I definitely was glad that I did it and do think I'll try the indoor stuff in Charlotte (especially since I know there's a beginner section).  And more importantly, Jenny was a force of NATURE scrambling up that thing, and it was really fun to watch her go.  I was very proud of my fearless wife.

Notice the hands - the only clean spot is where
I taped over all the gashes on my hand.
We celebrated our efforts with a Thai pancake (read:  crepe) on the beach before wandering up to the viewpoint on one of the cliffs.  The climb up there was RIDICULOUS - barely a trail, and what was there was just COVERED in mud.  There was a rope the whole way, and you ABSOLUTELY had to use it - otherwise you were going to bounce all the way down (and YES - that would have hurt).  The view from the top was SPECTACULAR, and we even ran into Ronald up there (as I said - it's a small place).  The 3 of us then tried to make our way to "the lagoon," but that might have been damn near the most treacherous hiking I've ever done, and when we saw the 100 jagged, natural steps (with no rope) that were covered in mud descending straight into oblivion to get to the lagoon, we decided that we'd had enough and went instead over to the beach.  You should have seen us - we were COVERED in red mud.  It was like something out of a survival movie (WIIIIIIIIIIILSOOOOOOOON!!!!!).

We then took much needed showers before rolling over to the Diamond Cove for a few mojitos and some GREAT seafood (Yes, you read that right - we went somewhere OTHER than Last Bar).  The food was amazing, and we were starving from the day's exertions.  Seriously - I burned more calories on this vacation than I have all the others in Asia combined!  And of course, that meant there was more room for Tim Tams, which we then consumed with a vengeance back in the room.

Notice the opening behind Jenny - that's the "staircase of Doom"
descending to "the lagoon."  You know, when you think about
it, we could have been on the set of "The Descent" or something
like that.  Luckily I had Lara Croft to protect me.
Cheers to a successful day!  And to $3 mojitos...
It was then back before 8 and asleep before 9, as we had ANOTHER crazy active day in front of us - the Deep Water Solo.  I'll cover this one in another blog (which means yes - I did NOT make good on my promise to wrap Railay before Muffin Puffin's return.  But look at it this way - that's a clear indicator that you've not read a "pineapple blog" in two weeks!), but suffice it to say that, as I laid awake (and believe me, I was awake for awhile, because THE PAIN IN MY ARMS WAS SO MISERABLE I THOUGHT SOMEONE HAD DROPPED A SKYSCRAPER ON EACH OF THEM), my confidence was shaken.  I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd failed myself on that cliff, and I had the sinking feeling that the DWS was going to be repeat performance, especially given how tired my arms were.  But no matter what, I WAS confident in 2 things:  a) my Muffin Puffin was going to be a ROCK STAR (no pun intended) on the cliffs, and b) I would give it everything I had, but if that wasn't enough, I wouldn't be ashamed.  Stay tuned for what happened.

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat Saturday morning (vs. tomorrow because MUFFIN PUFFIN ARRIVES!!!!!!!!!)!

Love,

Sam and (now in the Mumbai airport awaiting her SQ flight back to the Lion City and a very lonely and excited Husband Bear) Jenny (and Lady Catherine)

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

No one mourns the wicked (not even the fourth time)...

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown 

Days left in Singapore: 9

Days left until arrival in the Queen City: 16

Family,

And a good evening to you all from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  After his second disastrous night's sleep (5 hours combined across the last 2 nights), the Bull rallied for 4.75 miles this morning.  I ran outside, and I must say - winter is CLEARLY over.  After the brief 2 month respite, the weather's already back up to a scorching 14 TRILLION degrees, and there's no break in the humidity in sight.  However, as Hong Kong is going to be colder than I'd originally expected, packing for the flight home should at least be somewhat easier.

Today was another great one at work, and a big milestone:  today I presented the "handover documentation" to the lucky souls who a) get to finish all the tasks I was too lazy to get to and b) get to clean up the mess I've made across 2 continents over the last 12 months.  There is definitely a sense of finality, as most folks will be on leave after Friday, meaning that, after the next two working days, it could be a long while before I see a lot of these folks again.  It's the exact same feeling I got when I left London (both in 2007 and 2010) - you've got so many incredible memories and experiences wrapped into a place, and suddenly everyone is gone and the city is 37,000 feet below you, almost a memory, leaving you scrambling to find your place again in a new world order.  Time is just FLYING right now (case in point - it feels like just yesterday that we started the deportation countdown at 30 days - now we're in single digits!), and I can't help but think of a quote from my favorite song by my Uncle Benny (GREEN LIGHT, BENNY!!!!):  "Life goes zero to sixty in the blink of an eye."

As for the evening's festivities, the Bull went to Marina Bay for his 4th viewing of Wicked.  This means that Wicked is now tied with Phantom for the show I've seen the most, but Wicked remains far and away the best musical I've ever seen.  Jenny and I were lucky enough to see it 3 times in London, and we always managed to secure great seats.  Given my track record with Singapore audiences, however, I wasn't about to pay $250 SGD for tickets in the stalls.  Instead, I forked over $58 for the cheapest seat in the house (LITERALLY - I was on the very back row).  I am happy to report that, for act 1, the audience was silent like the grave (but there were STILL 50% of the audience texting NON-STOP throughout the show).  During the second act, however, the Americans sitting beside me originally moved down, meaning that a local couple slid over toward me.  They were chatty chattersons for a bit, but ultimately they calmed down as well.  So all in all - cheap ticket (with GREAT visibility), virtual silence, and an amazing show = terrific night.

As for the show itself - AMAZING.  Definitely on par with London.  Elphaba and Galinda were simply SPECTACULAR - the voices a perfect match and both SUPER strong.  I really enjoyed sitting up higher, as I noticed a lot of lighting and choreography that I hadn't noticed before.  The Grand Theater at Marina Bay is truly state of the art, and I think that really helped the staging, as I'm sure they had more flexibility her than at the Apollo in London.  But I also think the dancing, blocking, and general feel of the show was (dare I say) better than London.  Again, I think a bigger stage helps, but regardless - this cast made it count.

The chorus was phenomenal vocally, and the only weak link in the show was the Wizard.  Traditionally he doesn't have a super strong voice (especially compared to the witches), but I did find some of his musicality a bit painful in places).  But hey, no complaints, as it was just great.  One thing I did find interesting - in London, people caught every reference to the book/movie and laughed.  Here, I don't think the audience really caught a single joke in that regard.  When there were jokes about looks or vanity, they cackled (consequently, Galinda was a HUGE hit).  It was just odd, because some of the segments that hte London crowd took very in a solemn fashion was considered hilarious here.

And at the end of it all, I will say that, just like every other time, the end of Act 1 left me with chills, and the end of Act 2 left me with tears.  I mean, I KNOW HOW IT ENDS AND IT'S A COMEDY.  WHY DO I GET TEARY-EYED AT THE MUSIC?  Matt, Ray - don't answer that.

And in case anyone thinks I've abandoned my old ways, FRET NOT - I did visit the casino before the show.  I wouldn't want you guys thinking I'm slipping!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat tomorrow!  Two more sleeps until the return of MUFFIN PUFFIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Love,

Sam and (most likely back from her slum tour and heading toward Leopold's for dinner before her LAST SLEEP in India - make your last day on the subcontinent count, Pumpkin!  I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!) Jenny (and Cath)

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

In the footsteps of Leo - exploring Ko Phi Phi (Railay Part II)...

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown

Days left in Singapore: 10

Days left until arrival in the Queen City: 17
Family,
Team Taylor at Maya Bay - the spot where "The Beach" was filmed.
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  So first off - HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PAPPA!!!!!!!  Today, ladies and gentlemen, my dad hits the big 6-4.  He is celebrating not only this morning not only because of his birthday but also because of the big win vs. the Manley Eagles last night.  Full marks, dad!  The Mighty Hornets strike again. :-)  And Pattie - go get 'em tonight against my alma mater.

In workout news, the Bull contemplated the bike today but instead passed in favor of getting home to get stuff knocked out.  I felt fine with that, as a) I was tired and got ZERO sleep last night, b) really wanted sushi and was starving (I had Japanese for lunch as well, but it was smoked salmon teryaki and some folks in the office took me out and paid for it - thanks, ladies!), c) wanted to make sure I could call dad in time to catch him and wish him Happy Birthday, d) wanted to get in bed early, and e) have been packing NON-STOP.  However, I'm going to get up early tomorrow and try to pound the pavement outside again.  The goal is 5 miles, but depending on the weather, I could very well be happy with four.

But enough of that, as you're ready for the return to Railay.  Tonight we'll follow in the footsteps of the one, the only, the king of the world - Leonardo DiCaprio, as we head to Ko Phi Phi Leh - better known simply as "the beach."

Made famous by the movie, this pair of islands (Ko Phi Phi Leh and Ko Phi Phi Don, with Don being the bigger one) was once pristine and completely undiscovered.  Now, however, it is INSANITY with all the tourist boats.  Jenny and I had originally planned to spend 2 nights on Phi Phi Don and then day trip over to Phi Phi Leh, but after her evaluation of Railay with a day trip vs. staying on Phi Phi Don, we decided that an out-and-back was plenty.  And so, with that in mind, we had a quick brekkie at our place and then headed over to West Railay to catch our boat.

Now if you'll remember Jenny's posts back in October, you'll remember that all 3 of the girls came back BLACK AND BLUE like they'd been on the front line of an Alexander the Great campaign.  Granted, this was a mixture of rock climbing, REDONKULOUS hiking, and various other things, but the chief source of the bruising came from the day trip boat ride.  As we walked up, Jenny said, "Don't worry - we should be fine this time because they'll pick us up first.  As long as we don't sit in the front of the boat, we'll be okay.  That's where it's rough."  Well, as fate would have it, we were THE ABSOLUTE LAST PEOPLE PICKED UP, and it was a FULL HOUSE.  We stepped on and everyone started cackling, as there was NO WAY we could sit below deck in the shade.  The guide leads us to the front, but we notice that it is RAMMED as well.  When I say, "Um, where the hell are we supposed to sit?" (I wasn't overly friendly about it, as the tour was clearly oversold), she just starts throwing girls on laps and makes about 4 millimeters of space for Jenny and I.  I'm in the DEAD CENTER front of the boat facing backwards, with my back at an angle that I imagine space monkeys must have sat at during rocket launches.  Throw in the fact that Jenny had to throw her legs over mine, if I wanted to see anything I had to break 3 vertebrae, and the sun was already beating down, and you don't have a happy Bull and Striker.  However,  we were sitting up front with 7 of our closest German and Slovenian friends, and they were pretty hilarious, so that was worth something.  My favorite discussion en route to the islands:

Slovenian Dude (SD):  (to German Girl) "So you are German, you must love sausage."

German Chick (GC):  "Oh, yes, all German woman LOVE sausage.  I get big fat ones all the time." (The Bull suppresses snicker)

Gorilla in action, baby!!!  Look at that water.  Everywhere you looked was a postcard.
SD:  "Ah yes, Slovenians LOVE sausage.  We can't get enough of them.  My girlfriend eats them all the time.  Especially the German ones."

GC:  "Yes, there is nothing like a German sausage."  (PLEASE STOP.  Please start using pronouns or something)

SD:  "Have you had Polish sausage?  It's good, too.  As I said - you can never have enough sausage." 

It must have continued this way for a solid 5 minutes.  I was thankful for it - it was the only thing that took my mind off the pain.

Stop one was probably the highlight of the day - Bamboo Island.  This place was JUST INCREDIBLE, as it was water even more pristine than Honda Bay (and WAAAAAAAY better than Phi Phi Leh).  The water was seriously something out of a movie, with various shades of baby blue, turquoise, cobalt, and aqua marine - and we could DEFINITELY have spent more time there.  However, after 45 minutes, it was time to shuffle off again to the next destination.

At "The Lagoon" - which we didn't really get to visit.  The
boat in the picture is identical to ours - they had to turn
back as well. 
The next 2 stops were less than impressive, as we hit the Viking Cave and the lagoon.  The Viking Cave wasn't even a cave, and the tides were so low (lowest in 3 days) that we couldn't really even get that close to it.  I wasn't even sure what the hell it was or why it related to vikings (cause I'm pretty sure Erik the Red never made it out here), but I was definitely less than impressed.  Jenny had warned me that it was utter rubbish - I can confirm that's the case.  As for the lagoon, the entrance was REALLY dramatic and cool, but then we just stopped short and turned around.  When I asked why, I was told that our boat was too heavy and couldn't navigate the low tides.  I was, of course, disappointed, but I don't think it was because the boat was oversold.  Instead, I think it was because you really can only get in there with a long tail (which is how Jenny got in there last time and got to swim).  However, she again confirmed that, whilst cool, all you did was putter around for 10 minutes, take a few photos, and head back out.  Consequently, I wasn't too upset. 

Jenny Taylor's entry for the SI Swimsuit edition.
It was then over to the most famous of the destinations - Maya Bay.  This is THE BEACH used in the filming of the movie, and just like DOOK basketball, all I can say is "O-VER-RA-TED."  Seriously - picture about 3,000 people on a scrap of beach that can really only hold about 100.  Throw in a tide so low that you go all the way out to the swimming line (which you have to adhere to due to all of the boats in the bay) and you're still at your waist, and then tack on tons of boats starting up, spewing diesel, and ruining the ambiance, and all I could think was "take me back to Bamboo Island!"  Jenny had warned me that this would happen, and she wasn't wrong.  True, the entry way was AMAZING, the water gorgeous, and it was a life's to-do to cross off.  However, I was definitely underwhelmed.  There was a little walk that we did and another view point along the way, but arguably the coolest thing to see were the urinals carved out of the side of the cliff!  Talk about answering the call of nature!
Snorkeling on the back side of Phi Phi Leh.

What's healthier than a donut or ice cream?
Combining both and then putting them in
a DEEP FRYER FOR 5 MINUTES.
After that it was over to Phi Phi Don for lunch and a wander, followed by 2 snorkeling spots.  These 2 spots were every bit as much a highlight as Bamboo Island, as the snorkeling was INCREDIBLE.  Of course, crazy ass Slovenian dude brought bread into the water, which meant that we were SWAMPED by a basquillion fish.  He was throwing crumbs on people (like me), and the fish would just attack you like pirahnas - CRAZINESS!!!  It seriously was some of the best snorkeling that I've ever done, and Jenny was impressed as well (which is saying a lot considering that she's rocked the Great Barrier Reef on multiple occasions).
Check out that water.  the by-product of AMAZING electrical
storms on an island that lives via runoff and rivers?  BROWN
WATER for bathing.  Good times...


Enjoying a brewski at Bamboo Bar.  Those little chairs were everywhere along the water.  And no, they weren't
that comfortable.
It was then back to Railay, where we capped off the excursion with a truly delectable treat - FRIED ICE CREAM, BABY!!!!!  Throw in some iced coffee (Cuz - we were at the Flametree!), and all was right with the world.  We then walked back to the palace, where Jenny and I hit the pool for a bit before watching a MASSIVE storm sweep over the island.  We watched the cliffs just vanish in the distance and then reappear about an hour later - it was truly impressive (the electrical show was off the chain).  We then hit one of the bars on the beach for a few before wandering over to (where else?) Last Bar for dinner (in our defense, it was THE CHEAPEST by far, still delicious, and well, there aren't that many options over there).  Whilst there we listened to the musician (who was really good) and then, oddly enough, watched the Beach!  They've got it on a loop by the bar, and so we got sucked in.  I can confirm that it's still as shitty as I remembered, but at least now I have a frame of reference for the location.

We then ended the night at "Bamboo Bar" (all the bars have just 1 name - at least it makes it easy to remember), where we had a Chang, watched a fire show (as you do EVERYWHERE EVERY NIGHT in Thailand), and then crossed off another to-do:  MUAY THAI BOXING, BABY!!!  They host local competitions every other night, and we watched a 3 round match between a cat from Phuket and a joker from Railay.  It was interesting to watch, but let's just say that I'm really glad I didn't pay 400 baht to see it in Chiang Mai.

We then rolled back to the casa, where it was lights out around 11:15.  We wanted to get some rest, as the next 2 days promised to be BALLS OUT.  And as you'll see - they did NOT disappoint.  That, however, is another blog for another time (most likely Thursday).

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and (back from Elephanta Island and most likely her second dinner at Leopold's chillin' with Linbaba before her slum tour tomorrow) Jenny (and Cath)

Monday, 12 December 2011

Vacationing in the fittest place on earth - Railay (Part I)...

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown

Days left in Singapore: 11

Days left until arrival in the Queen City: 18
Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull logged a slow 4+ outside tonight, but I quite enjoyed the run, as there was a light rain throughout, provided some much needed coolness throughout the jog.  I think I'll hit Fitness First tomorrow, if for no other reason than tomorrow might be the last time I go (especially since I'm enjoying running outside so much more now).  But enough of that, let's get back to Thailand and FINALLY draw the backlog to a close.  Let's talk Railay.

So you've heard of this place before, as it's where Cuz and Elizabeth went with Muffin in October.  They were very much on the "adventurer's tour," and as I was in Jenny's keeping for this one (considering that I'd done ZERO planning), the plan was to pretty much rinse-repeat their escapades, as well as at a few other outdoorsy activities.  We were traveling on my birthday, and I received two AMAZING presents:  1) aisle seats on Tiger, and 2) I FINISHED NOBLE HOUSE, BABY!!!!!!  Seriously, that book (all 1284 HUGE pages of it in about .4 font) was absolutely SPECTACULAR, but it took me over a month to read.  Needless to say that I can't wait to jump into Whirlwind (Book 5 of the Asia saga), but I'm taking some time off between Clavell novels, as the next one is even LONGER than Noble House.  But hey - it is fiction that you can get lost in, which is excellent for a guy with a 14 hour flight coming up.

The arrival in Krabi - and I just realized there's a Norwegian
kid about to strip naked and pee in the water.  AWESOME.

Upon arrival at the airport we took a 45 minute van ride (the vehicle looked TOTALLY like one of the "karaoke-lady boy" mobiles, except, well, minus the lady boys.  Hitman - I didn't see shim anywhere, probably because he was off somewhere pining for you...) down to the pier, where we then hopped a long tail boat (the traditional water taxi of Thailand, so named because of the reDONKulously long steering pole for the outboard motor) and began the trek around the head and over to Railay Beach.  The journey was short (about 20 minutes), but it was BREATHTAKING. 


Check out my tan, buff Muffin Puffin saying "Welcome to
the gun show...and to Last Bar."
As Jenny's said before, Railay is just INCREDIBLE - the scenery might be the best I saw in my six trips to Thailand.  And the best part is that, because you have to work just that little bit harder to get there, it's virtually untouched.  Plus, throw in the fact that you've got no temples, limited civilization, and no big resorts, and you scare away a lot of folks.  Two people this did NOT scare away, however, were 2 loud Americans (not us, for the record) who rocked up with these ENORMOUS bags (rollerboards ON SAND, no less) and needed help getting both their stuff and themselves into the boat.  It was classic when they looked at everyone else's gear (single backpacks only) and said, "Wow - I thought we packed really light."  Oh dear.


And whilst I might not be as buff as my better
half, I can sure eat like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The ride over was just amazing - dramatic cliffs, rugged islands, pristine water - exactly what you see on travel shows about Thailand.  And in a short 20 minutes, we were on West Railay (the "ritzy" half of the beach).  The 2 Americans hadn't prebooked, and so they decided to follow us.  After about 5 minutes walking, one of them said, "I think we should either go back to the mainland or stay on West Railay - this is a REALLY long walk."  They both looked winded as hell, and when I found out their previous 12 days had been spent on Ko Samui, it all made sense.  And so we bid farewell to them and rocked up to the Railay Princess, which was AWESOME.

Muffin Puffin suited up and ready for the kayak ride!
If you didn't know better, you'd think I was just chillin' in
this photo.  The truth?  I was just smiling because I didn't
have to paddle for the next 30 seconds.  Although, I must
confess - splitting these 2 islands in a kayak was AWESOME.
So Muffin had found this place during recon on her first trip, and it was just spectacular.  It reminded me a lot of the Tabacon in Costa Rica, and the best part?  THE POOL HAD A DIVING BOARD, BABY!!!!  Now granted, you were jumping into 4 feet of water, but still (don't worry, mum - I never dove).  The view from our second floor balcony of the peaks on both sides was just stellar, and I was already having a blast.  We cleaned up a bit and then wandered down through the TINY little strip of restaurants and bars, stopping at the place Jenny had frequented night on night in October - Last Bar.  We decided to have dinner here, and we FINALLY got to try Barracuda!!!!  That fish was so guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud...peppy cheekies.  However, we also had 8 big bottle Changs each, which in retrospect was just not a good idea.  However, at the time, it was open mike night, people were ROCKIN' it out, and we were sitting in an open air patio, listening to the sea in the background and good music in front of us.  Plus, I honestly didn't have a concept of how active this trip was going to be.  Had I known then what I know now, it would have been a 3 Chang night - full stop.  But since I didn't, let's skip ahead to the next day.


Team Taylor - the new faces of REI.
We popped up about 9:30 (had to make free brekkie!) and were out about 10.  We first wandered to the place JT stayed last time (yes - 5 nights for $27 TOTAL per person!) and checked out the view of East Railay before wandering over to West Railay to book a tour and then rent kayaks.  Now I will confess that I was THRILLED about the prospect of kayaks, but 2 things became apparent quickly in the FIVE THOUSAND DEGREE HEAT UNDER A CLOUDLESS SKY - 1) I am a weakling who does NOT have the arm strength to lift a gnat, and 2) kayaking with a hangover is NEVER a good idea. 


What do you mean we have to paddle back?
That being said, the scenery was just INCREDIBLE, and we had a simply wicked 2 hours paddling through coves, around rocky outcroppings, past islands, and even onto our own private beach, where we swam for about 20 minutes (in the shade, mercifully).  It was a really incredible experience - probably the best kayaking we've done outside of Norway.  But after 2 hours, our arms were falling off (actually, my wife is about 40 times stronger than me, and she was TOTALLY fine - I'm pretty sure she's the only reason we actually made it to shore).  We arrived at the shore 5 minutes past the 2 hour mark, and the rental guy kept staring at the paper as if he was stunned that we'd missed the window and should pay for the next hour.  However, his infinite compassion allowed us the grace period, and 5 minutes later we were on our way back to West Railay, where we caught the island connector path and wandered over to Pernang Beach through Pernang Cave (which isn't really a cave - it's just a carved out path on the side of a cliff - let's call it an "indentation").  Pernang Cave was less than impressive, but what was impressive was ALL THE MONKEYS running around EVERYWHERE. 
I mean...I just...can I say...no, sorry.  Can't do it without making
a wise crack.  Move on.
It was CRAZY!  I mean, they weren't "Monkey Forest rabid" like in Ubud, but it was still pretty out of control - especially for any donkey stupid enough to feed them.  We did make the obligatory stop at the PENIS SHRINE (Seriously - we are talking about a BILLION wooden and ceramic penises just piled on top of each other...and lots of women praying...no comment), but it was tough to take pictures will all the women on their knees (I mean...I CAN'T STOP TRYING TO MAKE JOKES HERE - PLEASE SOMEONE CALL THE CENSORSHIP AUTHORITIES).  It was really hard (that's what she said) not to laugh.

We then hopped in the water for a swim out to one of the nearby islands (which was incredible) before heading back to the palace and showering.  It was then back to Railay quickly for what turned out to be one of THE BEST sunsets we saw in Thailand before making a second appearance at (where else?  You'll notice a theme) Last Bar, where we AGAIN had the Barracuda (as well as about 3 other dishes).  It should be notied that this was an AFD, and Team Taylor was PASSED OUT by 8:30 back in the room. 

We'll pick up with more Railay action tomorrow, but the Bull's got some more packing to do, and so duty calls.

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat tomorrow!

Love,

Sam and (safely down in Mumbai, most likely sipping a drink at Leopold's with Linbaba and Didier as we speak, and apparently in a PALACE in Colaba) Jenny (and Cath)