Saturday, 30 July 2011

A week in the land of Dirk Straun - recapping 4 days in Hong Kong...

Family,
And a good Saturday afternoon to you from across the globe after another great day in the Lion City. Okay, the bull owes you a recap of his week in HK (as well as Taiwan, I know, I know...BACK OFF, RIEGEL!), so let's get right to it.
Sunday was an easy flight over, and it was SO NICE to NOT be a) in the Budget Terminal or b) on a Tiger Airways flight. Now granted, Tiger has done everything we've needed them to, but MAN was it nice to fly SQ (Singapore Airlines) again. Case in point, here's the treatment in coach, even for a donkey like me in row 54.
1. Hot towel upon arrival
2. Adult beverage of your choice upon takeoff
3. Full meal complete with desert
4. Selection of over 80 movies and 190 channels of entertainment (including language classes!)
5. Free headsets
6. Free refills of EVERYTHING
7. Blanket and pillow for EVERYONE
And all that on a 3 hour, 15 minute flight! Seriously - those cats KNOW how to fly. I watched "Limitless" on the plane, and it was REALLY entertaining. I'd read the book as well, and it followed it VERY closely for about 95% of the film. And whilst the ending was different, I must say that I actually preferred the film ending to the book ending.
I then checked into the J.W. Marriott, which has pretty much the swankest lobby I've ever been in. Picture a 2 story wine bar with a wall of glass that overlooks HK harbor - yeah, it was pretty sweet...
Monday was a full day of meetings, but the weather was AMAZING. Granted, it was hotter than 40 of 'em, but the sky was clear, and I had a GREAT view of the mountains and the water. I took some photos of the CBD (central business district), which features some AMAZING architecture (that looked so much nicer and clearer than when I was there in February. I was particularly fond of the Bank of China building, as that one featured prominently in "The Dark Knight" - good times.
That evening I met the Prime Minister, Mr. Andy Carter, at the Globe Pub in the Mid-levels. THIS, sports fans, was a THRILL for me, as I got a chance to cross off one of my "must do's" for HK. Here's the deal - as most of you know, each airline does a magazine that's at every seat. Tiger's got one as well (Tiger Tales), and since we were on Tiger flights FOUR WEEKS IN A ROW, I read the entire thing cover to cover (because you can't use your Kindle during taxi, takeoff, and landing). Well, one of the sections was about HK food and bev, and there was reference to the "Typhoon Brewery" in Hong Kong, which is a 1 man brewing company that specializes in Cask Ales (the guy's a retired pilot from Britain). He has a beer called "Typhoon 8" (I'm assuming Typhoon's 1 through 7 were as bad as Patient Zero for the Taylor Brewing Company), and it is currently only served at ONE PUB in Hong Kong - The Globe. So when Carter called and said, "Let's go to the Globe," I was JUICED! I had 4 of them, and they are quite good - it really is a proper cask ale! And whilst it wasn't as life changing as I'd hoped (and didn't come in a cool glass that I wanted to steal), it was a great beverage and a truly excellent evening, as I quite enjoyed catching up with Andy.
Tuesday I was the picture of boring, as I worked from about 9-11 straight through, taking room service in the hotel. Wild Card - look at me busting my tail for Shared Services - healing the world 1 Siebel ticket at a time, baby!!!! I really wanted to get up to the Peak on this evening, but the reality was that, after a week of vacation and knowing that the week in HK was full of meetings, this was my 1 chance to truly buckle down and get some stuff done. Plus I know that we'll be back in HK, and I want to experience the city with Muffin Puffin! However, there is 1 story from Tuesday that I must relate...
So I visited my team in Quarry Bay, and we went out for lunch at a Dim Sum place. The food was all GREAT, but once all the dishes had arrived, I found myself still quite hungry. Feeling that it was time to expand my horizons, I looked at the menu and ordered OX STOMACH. My team looked at me as if I was from MARS, as they'd NEVER seen an American request this before. One of them said that it was her favorite dish, but she wasn't sure whether or not I'd "like the texture." 10 minutes later the dish appeared, and I can now confirm something - she was correct. I did NOT like the texture.
Ox stomach is kind of like chewing on a fleshy sponge that's wrapped in 3 layers of slimy, chewy fat of various thickness. I had to chew each piece for about 8 hours before it was digestible, and I was queasy both at the table and on the cab ride home. So am I glad I've tried it? YES. Will I ever eat it again? HELL NO.
On Wed I was back out with Andy, but this time we also got Jill out as well. We then had a GREAT night, complete with 2 bars (and some Asahi draft) and an AMAZING meal at a place called Manchu Bistro. Seriously, this place was EPIC - complete with some WICKED soup dumplings and this REDONKULOUS fried lamb. Carter said that the fried beef was better, but I found this stuff QUITE life changing. Between the Nepal place and this place, Jenny and I now have 2 AMAZING places to eat upon our return to conquer the island (to say nothing of another meal in Macau, of course...).
Thursday was a quick one at work, as I only had about 3.5 hours of meetings before I had to jet for the airport. At the airport (which is ENORMOUS, BY THE WAY), I stopped at a Dim Sum place for lunch. I was the ONLY ANG MO in this joint, and clearly my knowledge of dim sum isn't what I thought it was. You see, back in Feb I'd ordered a soup dumpling in shark's fin because I'd been told that it wasn't really shark's fin, but that was just the name for the sauce. Well, I ordered that again (I'm VERY anti-shark fin dumplings, for the record, as they just cut off the fin and don't use the rest of the shark - they just pitch the dude back over the side to drown), but when I took my first bite and tasted stringy cartilage, I realized that I'd officially committed hypocrisy, as I think I WAS eating a shark fin. I instantly pushed that to the side, the guilt wracking my soul. I THOUGHT IT WAS THE SHANGHAI DUMPLING, DAMN IT! They weren't on the menu, and that was the ONLY soup dumpling they had!
Oh well, I then got on the plane, guilty conscience and all, and I drowned my sorrows in the movie "Suckerpunch." Not sure if anyone's seen this (same cat who directed "300" and "Watchmen"), but it was AWESOME. Crazy entertainment, body count of about 4 basquillion people, some great action sequences, and definitely worth the 2 hours invested (especially since it was free, of course).
I then met Muffin Puffin at Wine Connection, where we knocked back some GUUUUUUUUUD cheese before coming home, at which point I got to sleep in my own bed for only the 2nd time in over 2 weeks, which was a GREAT feeling. I just can't sleep without Muffin Puffin there!
Okay, that's the HK recap and definitely all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

Into the Woods, and Out of the Woods, and home before dark - again...

Family,
And a good Saturday morning to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. IT'S THE WEEKEND!!!!!! So last night Team Taylor had an EXCELLENT start to the weekend, as we hit up the Esplanade theater for a production of wait for it...wait for it...INTO THE WOODS! That's right, baby - Team Taylor got their second viewing of this show in as many years, seeing it almost one year after the viewing in Regent's Park.
We met up with Sarah about 7:40 and rocked over to the Esplanade theater, which is the nicest (and largest) theater in Singapore. I'd been to this theater before (Rocky Horror Show - "Let's...dooooooo the Time....Warp....AGAAAAAAAAAIN!!!!), but last time I'd sat on the 8th row and consequently didn't realize how HUGE this place was. We were in the 4th level this time (Grand Circle), but the seats were still EXCELLENT (and cheap!). However, we did have these 2 cats in front of us (the "metronome twins" I called them) who were TOTALLY fine until the second the show started, at which point they leaned all the way forward in their seats and rested their heads on the rail at the edge of the balcony. Now, whilst this was annoying (as I head to lean forward to have a clear view of the stage), it would have been fine if these 2 little Clockwork Oranges had just remained that way. However, clearly they'd forgotten their Ritalin, as they were bouncing around like JACK RUSSELL @#$#ING TERRIERS the ENTIRE SHOW. Seriously, moving their heads, sitting back, pointing out things, checking their phones. And when you add in the little kid beside me asking him mom to explain the show AND the homeboy whow as hocking snot rockets the entire time, I was left wondering "WHY ARE AUDIENCES IN SINGAPORE SOOOOOO BIZARRE!?!?!?!" However, by and large folks were quiet (WAY better than the Lion King), and given the size of stage (HUGE), I was able to see everything clearly and really was able to enjoy the show.
As for the performance itself, it was a lot of fun. The staging, acting, set, and costumes were EXCELLENT, and the choreography was REALLY well done. Vocally, these group wasn't nearly as strong as the London cast (or the Walters State cast, for the record...okay, just kidding...), but the performance was very entertaining and definitely GREAT value for the money. It was odd to see a complete Asian cast performing European fairy tales, but it really made the experience that much more interesting and entertaining. On the whole, it was DEFINITELY worth $45 USD.
After the show, Team Taylor said farewell to Sarah and rocked over to Barossa, where we sat down for a nice relaxing pint of Archipelago Brewing before having a nice walk home by the river. It had been a hell of a week, so it was great to end with a nice show, a good beer, and a cool breeze blowing along the river. The water show has finally started at the Marina Bay Sands (think Bellagio - just a wee bit smaller), and so JT got some GREAT shots of the city lit up at night.
We then came home to watch a little "Modern Family" (almost done with Season 1) and hit the sack, where we cashed in for 9 GLORIOUS hours, which is pretty much more sleep than I got the ENTIRE WEEK in Hong Kong.
And speaking of Hong Kong, the Bull is going to treat the readership to a second post today, as I want to go ahead and roll through HK to try and get everyone caught up on the life and times.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Walkin’ the waters of WUUUUUUUULAIIIIII!!!!!!! – Taiwan Part 2...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. That’s right – the Bull’s FINALLY back at home. We’re now to Sunday on the Taiwan trip, so let’s get back into it!
On Sunday the Bull and Striker got up early, as the featured destination was a bit of a trek outside of the city. The destination was a small village in the mountains called Wulai, and since I love the long “I” like any good Southerner (picture Wyatt screaming “KYYYYYYYYYYYLE!!!!), I always yelled out WUUUUUULAIIIIIIIIIII every time I saw it on a map. The result of this was a) Jenny getting quite annoyed with my acting like the typical tourist who can’t pronounce ANY SOUND CORRECTLY in Chinese, and b) lots of Taiwanese people looking at us funny and then scooting further down the train/bus/street.
The ride to the end of the metro was easy, but there was a bit of a flaw with the Lonely Planet book, as the bus numbers were NOT accurate. Consequently, Jenny and I found ourselves standing at a bus stop flagging them ALL down, and each time being dismissed (sound like Penang, anyone?). Basically I would get on the bus and yell “WUUUUUUUULAIIIIIII!!!!” and they would shake their heads and almost push me back to the curb.

Finally a shopkeeper noticed we’d been kicked off about 12 buses and stepped out to help us. I looked at him and yelled “WUUUUUUULAIIIIIIII” and he got us all sorted. 5 minutes later we were on bus 890, at which point we had a CLASSIC encounter.

So there’s this ang mo on there, and he asks us if we’re going to Wulai. Given that it’s the only destination for the bus and the ONLY reason to be on it, I assumed that was a given but confirmed for him all the same. He’s a really nice guy, and we find out that he and his wife (she’s Taiwanese) are looking to buy property in East Tennessee. And so I happen to drop the whole “I happen to know a GREAT realtor in TN – my mother” line and give him mum’s contact details. And guess what, sports fans – the guy has ALREADY CALLED. That’s right – Taylor Holdings And Moonshine Distilling PTE LLC is GOIN’ GLOBAL, BABY!!!!

After about an hour of the CURVIEST BUS RIDE EVER (we were standing the whole time, for the record), we showed up in Wulai. I was PUMPED, and we stepped out expecting a GREAT day outdoors. You see, Wulai is famous for its river tracing (aka – “walking up a freezing river” – but River Tracing sounds MUCH cooler), and this is THE SPOT to do it close to Taipei. We had actually looked into organized day trips for this, but as they were coming in at $276 a person, we thought we’d just pay the FIFTY CENTS and take the bus out there ourselves. Granted, that means we didn’t show up with life jackets or helmets, but details…

Our first stop was the famed “Wulai waterfall,” and I gotta tell ya – it was NOT worth the 1 mile slog uphill to see it. I’m really glad that we saw it, but it was just a bridal veil, and so I wasn’t really impressed. We then make the 2 mile trek to the Jing Jilao Stream trail, which is where you can truly “trace the river.” And so Jenny and I hopped in, having to be mindful of the camera that was in our backpack.

I have no lie to tell – it was fun, but not the life-changing experience I’d geared up for. Dad – “river tracing” up the Chimneys in Gatlinburg was WAY cooler (literally and figuratively) than this – the only thing different was the volume of Chinese people and the fact that I had clothes on. Details…
We spent about 2 hours in the water, and I even jumped off a dam! It wasn’t that high (call it 15-20 feet), but it was EXTRA AWESOME – highlight of the river trace for sure. Jenny didn’t really love it (in fact, after about 30 minutes, she had the great quote of “I think I’d rather just sit here on this rock while you go ahead”), and those rocks were bloody slippery. Normally that wouldn’t be so bad, but given that we had the backpack and had to keep that dry, it did make things a wee bit difficult.

We got back into the city about 5:30 PM, at which point we showered, changed, and then had one of the more EPIC Sam and Jenny adventures. Before getting to the room, however, we did stop at a 7-Eleven (because they are EVERYWHERE in Asia - there is seriously 1 on every block) for some brewskis. We picked up a few local bits, but my personal favorite was...wait for it...wait for it...7-ELVEN'S OWN BRAND OF BEER. Seriously - it's called "The Beer." It's funny, as they actually have a "gourmet" line of EVERYTHING - beer, bread, meat, you name it - HILARIOUS! And in case you're curious, the beer was AWFUL.
What was it, you ask? Team Taylor went to the end of the Blue Line, where we WENT SHRIMPIN’, BABY!!!!!

Seriously – this was an AMAZING find by Muffin Puffin in the Lonely Planet book. In one of the “blue boxes” in the book, there was a section entitled “If you love shrimp…” Well, since we do love shrimp, we rolled to this place, which was a combination concrete pond – local hangout – restaurant. And I gotta tell ya, it was a BLAST.
So here’s how this works. You show up and rent a fishing rod for a 2 hour period. When you select the rod, you can choose one of 2 concrete ponds (not joking, folks – picture 2 HUGE concrete swimming pools filled with dark, murky, VERY dirty water. In each pond, hidden somewhere underneath the murky blackness, are hundreds of shrimp – big, tasty, blue, hungry shrimp. So what do you do? You buy a pair of beers, thread some bait on the hook, sit down beside 20 of your closest friends who have NEVER SEEN A WHITE PERSON IN THIS PLACE EVER and commence to fishing.

For the first 10 minutes, NOTHING happened. We lost some bait, knew where those suckers were, and watched as other cats plucked monster blue shrimp after monster blue shrimp out of the water. In fact, I was already resigned to the fact that we wouldn’t catch anything when I looked over to see the guy across from us jerking his hand up and down. At first I had NO IDEA what he was doing, but then it hit me – WE GOT ONE, BABY!!!!

And so we jerked up, and lo and behold a shrimp popped up and went FLYING out of the water. I brought him over and went to put him into our little net, when suddenly the entire pond erupted with exasperated cries of “NO!!!!” And so the dude that helped us ran over and showed us that you have to unhook the poor guy first before you drop him in the bag. It should be noted that, whilst holding the shrimp, his scraggly little legs wrapped around the wrist of the poor guy helping us, and it looked PAINFUL. Consequently, I no longer wanted to shrimp, as I KNEW that I was gonna have to do that for the next one.
And then, 15 minutes later, with Muffin Puffin at the helm, we got another one. She yanked that puppy up, and it came flying toward us. I realized that this was the moment of truth, and I was NOT gonna look like a girly man in the face of my new fishing brethren. Consequently, when the shrimp came my way, I LATCHED onto that guy and squeezed him so tight I feared his head might pop off of his body. All in all, I was proud, as I felt I’d slayed the dragon. But the problem was that now I couldn’t get the damn hook off the guy! Sure enough, another cat had to come over and show me that what I THOUGHT was the hook and the mouth wasn’t actually the right spot, and so he cleared the hook for me. So there I was, 0 for 2, but at least I hadn’t been eaten by one of these creatures from the black lagoon.

No reason to sugar coat it – Jenny and I SUCKED at this. However, we did both catch a shrimp. Yes, that’s right – 80 minutes of shrimpin’ yielded TWO SHRIMP. The joker beside me pulled in about 17,000 in 45 minutes. You see, the theory is that you catch them and then have the on-site restaurant grill them for you. However, as we didn’t even get enough for a shrimp cocktail, we just gave them to one of the dudes who had helped us earlier and headed off for dinner elsewhere.
We found a Japanese BBQ joint near the shrimpin’ place. Japanese BBQ’s are AWESOME because you pick your meat and it comes out INSTANTLY. It’s a lot like the Melting Pot, as you cook your meat at the table (it’s sliced very thin, so it cooks quickly). Price – you would have LOVED to have seen the look on my face when the food came out, as one of them was chicken, and it was RAW. And it wasn’t until I’d eaten a few pieces that Jenny made the observation “we should probably be using different chopsticks to pick up the raw chicken.” DUDE I ALMOST STARTED FREAKING OUT. But I just stuck the chopsticks in the boiling water for 30 seconds and hoped for the best. I’m still alive, so all in all I’m assuming we’re in the clear.
The place spoke NO English, and the menus were ONLY in Chinese. However, Tiffanie, Adeline, and Nancy to the rescue again! I whipped out the “food list,” and coupled with some barnyard animal noises (like “bak-bak” – mom, I did think of you), we managed to get a FEAST brought to our table. It was then home, as we had another early call the following day. That story, however, will just have to wait.
Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,

Sam and Jenny

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Another AMAZING trip for the ages - Team Taylor vs. Taiwan - Part 1...

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the land of the Noble House. I have recieved multiple emails wondering when the Taiwan updates would start (and 1 email from Hairless singing lyrics from both "An American Tail" AND "The Little Mermaid" cause, well, THAT'S manly), so let's get amongst it:









Friday: Good thing this map is in Chinese


So the Bull and Striker show up at the Budget Terminal for THE THIRD WEEK IN A ROW. Seriously, Tiger doesn't give Frequent Flyer points, but if they did we'd be Ryan Bingham status at this point. Anyhoo, post McDonald's (OF COURSE), we're en route to Taiwan, where the only other ang mo's are a family of 4 Americans. It should actually be noted that there were a TON of American tourists in Taiwan. I mean, I know we were big on the whole "keep Formosa on the security council - Mao is just a passing fad" idea, but I was SHOCKED at the number of Screamin' Eagle passport holders that were running around. Anyhoo, I digress...





The flight from Sing Sing to the "Republic of China" is 4 hours and 5 minutes, but it passed very quickly. We arrived at customs, cleared through quickly, and then embarked on the first adventure - GETTING OUT OF THE AIRPORT. As some of you might know, Taiwanese folks don't really speak any English and Sammy the Bull doesn't speak much Mandarin. And what Mandarin I do speak is useless since they speak a dialect of Hokken in Taiwan and use traditional Chinese characters (vs. simplified). However, there are signs in English, and we found one for "BUS STOP." So we walk outside and it is CHAOS - a billion people, 14 billion buses, and another sign for "HIGH SPEED RAILWAY." However, as you have to catch a bus to that, that won't work. We walked back inside, regrouped, and went to the ticket counter, where upon saying the word "TAIPEI!", we were given 2 tickets to Taipei Main Station. The cost? $180 New Taiwan Dollars. Sounds like a lot, right? Well that is SIX US DOLLARS total for a 1 hour bus ride - AMAZING! That was actually an amazingly pleasant surprise - everything in Taiwan was WAAAAAAAY cheaper than we thought it would be.



So we arrived at the main station and hailed a cab. Sammy the Bull says, "Taipei Garden Hotel" and cabbie says, "Uh?" We repeat this 3 times, and then I whip out the print out, complete with Chinese characters. Then we get the thumbs up and are en route. The hotel was great, and we even managed an AMAZING dinner at the hotel bar (called La Fusion - they had the Yankees playin' ball on TV, and I'm THRILLED to report they were getting WAXED by the Rays). We tried our first new beer (of many!) for the trip - Taiwan Gold Medal Beer. It's rice brewed, and it was actually pretty tasty.



Saturday: How exactly do you gain 600 pounds in a day? Oh, that's right - THE SHILIN NIGHT MARKET



So the Bull and Striker did what all vacationers must do on their first day out - SLEPT 12 HOURS. We woke up about 11 feeling FRESH AS DAISIES, and we then headed out to tackle our first Taipei adventure - buying train tickets. So here's the deal on this one - I'd been trying for WEEKS to buy our HSR (high speed rail) tickets from Taipei to the Taroko Gorge, but every time I'd keyed in the information, it always shot me down with a system error (seriously - picture "No patience Sammy" trying to buy tickets and ALWAYS getting to the last screen before the crash - if I'd have had Kerosene and an address handy - in English, the Taiwan Railways Authority would no longer exist). As fate would have it, Tiffanie "the RRP Ninja" went onto the web site with me and read it in Chinese, where she confirmed that you have to be a Taiwanese citizen to buy tickets. And that's great, except IT'S ONLY WRITTEN IN CHINESE ON THE CHINESE WEB SITE. Again, details...



To help us, Tiff had typed up what I needed to say in Chinese, and when I got to the counter I just handed it to that cat. Homeboy went straight to work, and $45 USD bought us two round trip express train tickets for a 300 km journey each way. Seriously - that is the same cost as the 15 minute Heathrow Express - AMAZING!!!!




After that it was time for some food, so we rocked up to the Q Mall Food Court (food courts are a big thing in Asia - it's one of the few places outside of Singapore where you can actually get a seat in the air conditioning) to try some local food. Now sister Nancy (as well as others) had always RAVED about Taiwanese cuisine, and I gotta tell ya - it did NOT disappoint. We tried our first ever oyster omelets (not so good), and then we even danced with our first ever "fish ball." Honestly, I"m not really sure what's in a fish ball (Hitman - thing of squishy fish flavored air), but I found it quite tasty (and chewy).



After that it was off to something very cool for this historian - Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. I'd grown up studying this cat, and let me tell you - his cult of personality is AMAZING. The guy's memorial is HUGE - you climb 89 steps (his age when he died) to get to a statue of him seated that makes Abe Lincoln look like a small lego set-up. It's situated in Democracy Park, and the view from the top of the steps is AWESOME - the China gate (CKS's statue faces mainland China - no comment on that one), the park, the Taiwanese flag, and the performance halls - all very cool. It was then over to 2-28 Park before rocking up to our first true highlight of the day - the Beitou Hot Springs. In a word - EGGGGGGSELLENT.



So thanks to Taipei's extremely extensive Metro system (with signs in English), places that would have been COMPLETELY unreachable without a car or language skills are now very close to hand. One of them is Beitou, a local hot spring. You see, Taiwan (situated squarely in the Ring of Fire - kind of like the peninsula in Ireland...sorry, Bob - couldn't resist) is a VERY thermally active country, and there are hot springs everywhere. Beitou is a VERY local hangout, and it's right at the end of the line. Consequently, it instantly became a "to-do."






We paid $1 US a person to get in for a 2.5 hour sitting. Now granted, if it were Iceland, that would be perfect, but since it's ALREADY 100 DEGREES, hot springs are quickly daunting. We started at the first pool, which was about 96. That felt good, so we moved to the second pool (101). that was HOT, but I managed to survive (Muffin Puffin was NOT loving that one - Florida girls...sheesh...). I then tried my hand at the third pool, which was 122 Fahrenheit. I'm not really sure how best to describe the instant agony one feels when one plunges into a vat of BATTERY ACID, but I can't believe I still have leg hair (Price - this is a good alternative to using Gillette Fusion blades on those legs - you'll save a TON). I seriously made it about 30 seconds and thought "this is exactly how you die in a foreign country" before jumping to the cool down pool (of 108). After that it was into the cold pool (which really is frigid), where I finally got back to homeostasis (that's right - middle school health class REPRESENT the vocabulary!). And the



best part about all this? There is a "hot springs cop" who roams around to ensure that you're either a) COMPLETELY IMMERSED TO YOUR HEART, b) not immersed one inch ABOVE your heart, and c) don't have just your feet dangling (if you just have your feet in, the Chinese believe it's bad for your health). Seriously, this dude walks around STALKING people. It's like the movie Traffic - no one gets away clean.





After that, we showered off quickly and then headed for the nightly Taylor vacation staple - a bar! Only there was one problem - THERE ARE NO BARS IN TAIWAN, AND THOSE THAT DO EXIST DON'T OPEN UNTIL 9 PM. I'm NOT joking - we had to break out the Lonely Planet (T-Bone, that was for you) and SEARCH for places to find a beer. Finally, we found a "pub" called "My Place," which was at the ASS END OF THE UNIVERSE down a dark alley in the middle of NOWHERE. They had "Happy Hour" on (shocking, that), and so we settled down for a few Taiwan Beers (same brewery, but not the gold label - gutted!). Aside from 2 Scottish guys, we were the ONLY CATS in the bar, but Nancy, you'll be happy to know that, since the staff spoke no English, I threw out the "Nunhey Beelu!" and they knew EXACTLY what I wanted. I'm tellin' ya - LIKE A LOCAL...





We then rolled over to the highlight of the evening - the Shilin Night Markets. Borough Market beware - this place rivals you every step of the way. Picture OCEANS of street vendors, selling everything from dumplings to fresh fruit shakes (and we're talking cut up an entire fruit and chuck it in a blender) to sweets to fried chicken to stuff I've never SEEN before to ALL THE MEAT ON A STICK you can ask for. Seriously - I have now officially fallen in LOVE with honey pork - SO GUUUUUUUUUUUD peppy cheekies. We ate like KINGS, and I think I gained about 6 pounds that night alone (3 HUGE sausages covered in chunks of garlic will do that to you...along with the 400 dumplings). Needless to say, when we walked out of there an hour (and 16,000 calories) later, we felt DISGUSTING (Ladies' Man style). But that didn't stop us from going home and PASSING OUT. Good times.



Okay, that's enough for the first installment and definitely all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!


Love,


Sam and (back in the house after Body Combat) Jenny

Monday, 25 July 2011

Macau Part 2

Family,

And a good evening to you from the headquarters of the Noble House – that’s right, sports fans, the Bull is NOT in Singapore but instead the British outpost of Hong Kong! I’m actually sitting in seat 54H as I type this (that would be 2 rows from the back in case anyone’s curious), and it’s a wee bit cramped. However, as I’ve just finished “Limitless” and am quite inspired (it follows the movie quite closely 97% of the time, so all in all it was very entertaining), and so I wanted to crank out one of the many travel blogs that I’m overdue to deliver. And so, without further ado, let’s begin the slow climb back to even and give you Macau – Part 2.

The Bull and Striker fell right back into their Vegas rhythm on Sunday, pulling off a TWELVE hour sleep. We did manage to finally drag ourselves out of bed, at which point we hopped a cab for the south island of Macau (Taipa) and the newer, more modern section: The Cotai Strip. Our destination? The Venetian, baby…

So here’s the deal – a lot of the Vegas casinos are looking to recreate the Strip here in the East, and the Cotai strip is quickly embracing that. So far there are just 6 or 7 casinos there, but there are many more planned and the ones that are there are HUGE!!!! Case in point – the Venetian. In a word – WOW. Seriously, this place was just GINORMOUS. The report is that it’s 4 times the size of the one in Vegas. Whilst I have no idea about the square footage, I can say that the casino floor goes on FOREVER, to say nothing of the canal shopping district and all the food. And speaking of food, how did Team Taylor start the day? WITH FATBURGER, BABY!!!! That’s right – it was ANOTHER double cheeseburger for the Bull (Muffin Puffin just had the single burger, which was still so GUUUUUUUUUUUUUD…peppy cheekies).

After that, we discovered something truly AMAZING – machine craps! Talk about a BLAST. Here’s the deal – there are 2 dice in the middle, and everyone has a screen that they can tap and bet against. The minimums are LOW ($6 a bet), so I was in HEAVEN. And best of all, everyone has a stopper, so you each take turns “rolling.” When it’s your turn, there is this Valley Girl that comes on the speaker yelling “Push the BUTTON!!! Come on!!!! Push the BUTTON!!!!” Yes, it is REDONKULOUSLY cheesy, but man is it fun. We had a BLAST playing that for well over an hour, at which time we had to cash out (both up, for the record) to take in the feature of the day – Cirque du Soleil’s Zaia.

Zaia is billed as “the grandest show ever in Asia,” and again, whilst I have no idea if that’s true, I can say that it was an EPIC production all around. We had simply INCREDIBLE seats, and it was on par with all the other cirque shows that we’ve seen. And best of all, because we saw the 5 PM matinee, it was HALF OFF!!! WINNER WINNER, CHICKEN DINNER, BABY!!!! Seriously – there were some CRAZY stunts and dance scenes, complete with 2 folks on a suspended pole (and NO – it was NOT like Casino Grand Lisboa), trampolines, and all kinds of other foolishness. The biggest thing to note was all the stuff that fell from the sky or came from the back of the theater – it was AWESOME.

After that, it was over to the bar for a bit, where Team Taylor enjoyed “1 for 1” Happy Hour. Now it should be noted that this isn’t the same as “Buy 1 get 1 free,” as this means that you BOTH have to order a drink (and then, once finished, you receive another one). However, a couple of cold Carlsberg’s and a pair of travelers of Macau beer later, and all was right with the world. Also, we looked like kings because we were the ONLY PEOPLE IN THE BAR (as we typically are in Asia). There was a show going on, and these 2 cats could REALLY sing (although it was 100% to track and they were singing stuff from the late 80’s and early 90’s – we even heard the theme from An American Tail! Somewhere…out there…). They even waved to us when we left and thanked us for coming. To be fair, we did clap a lot (I mean, who would NOT clap when Roxette, Depeche Mode, and Cindy Lauper are performed in duet fashion?).

We then hit the “auto-craps” again before decided that we were starving. And since we didn’t feel like making the 5 minute cab ride across the bridge on an empty stomach, we did what any romantic couple on their 5 year anniversary trip should do after midnight – WENT BACK TO FATBURGER, BABY!!! AAAAAAAAAAAAhhhh, yeah…and yes, I DID have another double cheeseburger. After all, I KNOW WHAT HEALTHY IS. Price – think this diet will help me become King of the Hill so that I can join that dude playing music on the rock? Just curious…
We then went BACK to the Wynn, where we rocked the slot machine “It’s my Party (and YES, they did play the song during the bonus round) until about 2 in the morning. We then walked home EXHAUSTED and wishing that we’d booked the trip for 1 more day, as we were having an absolute BLAST. It was then back for a final passout on the bed of nails (seriously – they just DO NOT do comfy beds most places over here).

On Monday we rallied about 11, checked out and headed back to the Cotai strip, where we blended in with the locals by having some local Macaunese cuisine – PIZZA AND BURGERS AT HARD ROCK, BABY!!!! We hit the R Bar, which is basically in the lobby of the hotel and was FANTASTIC, and a few final Macau Beers made all right with the world. We then gambled for awhile in the City of Dreams, where Jenny CLEANED UP on some craps whilst I got my teeth kicked in. It should be noted that Jenny won at craps ALL THREE TIMES SHE SAT DOWN, whilst the bull only finished up twice. It should ALSO be noted that Jenny has now started betting WITH THE HOUSE, which put us at odds, especially on Monday. That being said, her winnings more than doubled my losses, which is a) good for Team Taylor as a whole and b) more proof of why casinos keep getting bigger and grander. And I made a quick $300 HKD (so $50 USD) at the Sic Bo table (yes, the “Sing Gow Pai Pai” game that I don’t understand), so in true Vegas fashion, it was a GREAT way to end the trip. We then hopped a cab for the 30 second ride to the airport, up as a couple for the trip and DEFINITELY glad that we visited Macau. And yes, it’s already on the plan to try and have 1 more go at it before we head back stateside.

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

Love,
Sam and Jenny

Thursday, 14 July 2011

It's the ciiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiircle of liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiife....

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. Okay, so first off, ANNOUNCEMENT - there will be NO BLOG until Monday, 25 July. Why, you ask? Because, fresh off a tour of the casinos in one of China's "Special Administrative Regions," Team Taylor is going back to a "contested area" to celebrate their 5 year anniversary in style in....TAIWAN, BABY!!!! Expect to be dazzled...very, VERY dazzled by my language skills. NUN HEY BEE LU!!!! That's "2 beers, please" - at least you can't say I don't know the essentials.
Tonight the Bull and Striker met up with Sister Sarah at the Marina Bay Sands hotel/casino/skating rink/shopping mall/theater district to cross off a Singapore to-do and make good on a promise from London that was loooooooooooooong overdue - watching a performance of "The Lion King."
So here's the deal - during the 6 month "death march" to complete EVERYTHING on our to-do list in the Smoke, this was the ONE SHOW that got left off the list. We'd both seen it, and we knew that we'd see it again at some point. Little did we know when we arrived in Sing Sing, however, it's a PERMANENT show at the Sands (the hotel with the infinity pool on top in the shape of the boat). We had decided then and there that we'd made it happen and cross it off the list, and so when a friend said, "I get a discount!", we said we were in.
That being said, when we said, "we're in!", we assumed that meant "so let us know what times work, what your discount is, and then we'll think about it." So you can imagine our surprise when we got a text after landing back from Bangkok last weekend saying, "Tickets bought! I (the friend) can't go but you're booked. $140 a seat!" Um, WHAT!?!?!?!!? 70 QUID A SEAT? Does it come with a backrub and $500 in freeplay chips in the casino? AND WHAT THE @#$# HAPPENED TO THE DISCOUNT?!?!?!?
I was particularly shocked because I KNEW those were the most expensive seats in the house. Well, come to find out, the discount was only 15%, and since we were all "bankers," she just assumed we'd want "the nice seats." Mom, dad - from this point on, just tell people I'm a farmer. It will make things a lot easier for me. I'm going to start doing the same thing. "Hi, we're Team Taylor. We grow pineapples and cucumbers on the Malaysian border." Sounds plausible...
All that being said, the seats were spectacular, and the show was JUST FANTASTIC. What was NOT fantastic, however, were the 2 children beside us who'd clearly never been whipped in their lives and who were pretty sure the show would only be enhanced if they spoke at random times at 150 decibels. Even LESS fantastic was the dude in front of me who was CHECKING FACEBOOK AND TALKING THE ENTIRE TIME. After 20 minutes in I grabbed his shoulder and pulled him back, and I'm pretty sure it was the scariest thing that's ever happened to him. And when "the white devil" told him to tone it down, he actually did get quieter. His lady friend, the new white boned demon, however, gave me a solid "go to hell stare." I gave her the "I will kill you like I killed the shing gow pai pai table in Macau lady - back off" stare, and we were civil after that. But he did fire it back up again, and so we actually moved seats in the second act (7th row center!).
Act 2 was much better, but when we moved I said, "these seats will be better - there's an old guy behind us." But 2 seconds into the act his wife and kids were SCREAMING as the booze coursed into their veins. All I could think of was "Sarah will NEVER trust me again. First the 2 hour walk to a food court in Manila - now this." But they piped down quickly, and Act 2 was GREAT.
In truth, you could hear LOADS of talking all over the theater, and there was tons of clapping and laughing at some really odd moments. That being said, there were some great moments on stage where the actors spoke Chinese, said la, and even made a Merlion reference. All in all, it was a really great show.
We then walked back home, where the Bull had dinner at 11:45 PM and is now about to call it a night. I know this means Macau Part 2 has to wait over a week, but that's just the way it's gonna have to be.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat with you in just over a week!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Where VEGAS, BABY meets mainland China - Team Taylor celebrates 5 years in Macau - Part 1...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. The Bull is flat exhausted tonight, as he's pulled down 24 hours in the last 2 work days. Now granted, that's not nearly as bad as what Hairless, P-Dawg, and all the Insane Clown Posse of HRO has been puttin' in, but by the Bull's standards, it's been a long road to hoe. Wild Card - look at me adding value like a rabid banshee...if rabid banshees actually ADD value.
Regardless, it's time to recap the weekend, which was truly an AWESOME experience. But let's not spoil the surprise, eh? Let's just go straight into the magic, the mystery, the misunderstandings that - Macau.
So for those of you not familiar, Macau is a pair of islands about 20 miles off the coast of Hong Kong and mainland china. Citizens of Macau have their own passports, currency, laws, and tax codes, yet it is considered part of "Greater China" (meaning the People's Republic). You don't need a visa to visit, however, as it is considered a SAR - Special Administrative Region. Translation - THIS IS WHERE YOU CAN GO TO GAMBLE, DRINK, AND RAISE HELL LIKE HAVANA IN THE 20'S. Even stranger, EVERYTHING is written in 4 languages - Mandarin, Cantonese, English, and...PORTUGUESE. That's right - it's a former colony of Portugal, and the locals speak the language of Prince Henry the Navigator as a first language. OSC - you would have LOVED it.
So the Bull and Striker had a 3 AM wake-up call and a 3:45 taxi. We rolled into the Budget terminal for the second weekend in a row, and true to form we marched STRAIGHT for McDonald's. What, praytell did we eat? That's right - McGRIDDLE'S, BABY. 900 calories of fat, calories, fake sausage, odd colored eggs, and all the plastic syrup pockets within biscuits you can handle.
The flight was on time, and so my faith in Tiger is slowing being restored. It should be noted that we were THE ONLY TWO WHITE PEOPLE ON THE PLANE, and CLEARLY the only 2 cats who didn't speak any form of Chinese. Yeah, we got a LOT of stares...We arrived in Macau right on time at about 9:30, at which point it was ON LIKE DONKEY KONG. First stop was our hotel - Casino Lisboa. So here's the deal with this place - built in 1970, it was THE ORIGINAL GRAND CASINO in Asia. For 25 years it was the only game in town, but now it's obviously overshadowed by the "big boys" from the Silver State. Mom, Dad - it's kind of like Circus, Circus (our hotel is the squat building with the two funny towers in the distance), but filled with Chinese people smoking and lots of hookers dressed in nothing wearing red lipstick that outshines the sun.
We dropped our bags and headed for their casino, considered "the original" in Macau. I had my game face on and was ready to ROCK some craps, but as fate would have it, that wasn't an option in this casino. In fact, THERE WASN'T A SINGLE GAME IN ENGLISH OR THAT I'D EVER HEARD OF. There were dominoes flying around, people throwing cards, people throwing cigarettes everywhere, dudes picking their noses and flinging boogers all over the place - it was a small version of Asian hell. Jenny looked at me and said it best, "I've never actually been in one, but I'm pretty sure this is just like an opium den." I laughed for 10 solid minutes, making some of the locals afraid of "the tall white devil."
We then wandered out of that casino and into the next one - the Crystal Palace. Sounds nice, right? It was actually more like a 1 table joint with a family around it, all of whom HATE EACH OTHER. There was lots of screaming, nashing of teeth, and bewilderment at the 2 Americans suddenly in the room. 30 seconds later, we were outside.
Then, however, things improved DRAMATICALLY. Our next stop was the Wynn, which was BEAUTIFUL. Both the Wynn and Encore are here, and they are comparable in size to those in Vegas. This place DEFINITELY felt like Vegas, and the gaming floor (located between the 2 hotels) was MASSIVE. We wandered through it, and it took us about 15 minutes to make the trek. We then rolled over to the MGM Grand, which is an EPIC building. We stopped for lunch here, deciding upon a buffet in an area built to resemble the Whale's villa at the MGM grand in Vegas. The food was AWESOME - sushi, shellfish, and SALAD. That's right - you don't often find salad out here, so when you do you make it count...and cover it in Bleu Cheese dressing. Also, I got to try Macau Beer, a local rice brew that was actually pretty fantastic. I would definitely buy this in a store, but I'm pretty sure China doesn't allow exports so they can protect Tsing-Tao.
After that we FINALLY hit the tables, only to realize that the minimums were WAY above where we wanted to start. Craps was hard to find, and the minimum bets were $12 ($100 HKD). Now that doesn't sound like much, but when you consider that means you've got $65-$80 on the table each time the dice is rolled, it gets expensive in a hurry. Instead we did what any Americans who don't speak Chinese would do - go play a game you've never heard of in a language you can't understand.
So there's this video version of "Traditional Baccarat," and we sit down to play. Now Steve, I know that you play Baccarat, but it's a TOTAL MYSTERY to me (ESPECIALLY IN MANDARIN). So we sit down, and the rules seem simple enough - you pick either the banker's hand or the player's hand. Whichever one is closest to 9 wins. Simple, right? Well, not really.
So here's the thing - each player gets 2 cards, but sometimes, for NO APPARENT REASON, they can get a third card. I would love to have understood why, but all the machine kept saying was something like "Shing gow pai pai" OVER AND OVER AND OVER. We seriously spent 90 minutes trying to figure this bad boy out, but to NO AVAIL. Consequently, we both walked away $60 USD lighter. Details, as it was HILARIOUS (and I don't think the Chinese cats were too happy we were there).
We then rolled back over to the hotel and checked in, where we were shown a stocked mini-bar with all drinks complimentary AS LONG AS WE DIDN'T TAKE THEM OUT OF THE ROOM. Basically, if the can is in the room during cleaning, then you're fine. If it's not there, you're charged. Don't ask me, man - I just work here.
We then walked over to the newest monstrosity in the old town - The Grand Lisboa. Owned by the same cats who owned our hotel, this thing was WAY newer and more impressive. We walked into this place, noticing in HUGE LETTERS the sign that said no one under 18 admitted, and then crossed into the main gambling hall and the reason for the warning became apparent - THERE WAS A STRIP SHOW IN THE CENTER OF THE CASINO.
So seriously - you would pay SERIOUS MONEY in the US for what was on display in the center of this place. Jenny and I were simply TRANSFIXED by these 3 girls WORKING POLES and shouting out. Now granted, they weren't totally naked, but the pasties didn't leave much to the imagination, if you know what I mean. Again, Jenny's line was GREAT: "If I didn't think I'd get in trouble, I would SOOOOOO take a picture right now." Tell me I'm not the luckiest guy on Earth, eh?
We played some roulette here before wandering back over to the Wynn, where we hit some fun slots and just started to relax. Now it should be noted that, despite everyone smoking like a chimney, NO ONE DRINKS IN MACAU. Seriously - finding a bar was damn near impossible. At the Wynn, however, there are servers, and the first thing they asked was "would you like beer or wine? It's on the house." HELL YEAH!!! I LOVE THIS PLACE! And so begins the descent into the Vegas mood, with the Bull and Striker (I'm gonna start calling us the B & S or just BS - I like it) knocking back 5 drinks a piece and even making some money on the slots before calling it a night around 11 PM. Oh, and lest I forget - dinner that night? McDONALD'S, baby. THAT'S RIGHT - twice in one day.
It was then back to the opium den, where Team Taylor hit the sack (in a bed harder than the Great Wall) and PASSED OUT for 12 hours. I will be honest - when I remember epic sleeps, this one's gonna be right up there with that 12 hour snooze at the Intercontinental Park Lane - good times.
Now I know I should continue and wrap this puppy, but it's 11:20 and I've got some other stuff that's got to get done this evening. Consequently, you're all going to be subjected to another blog of our antics in Macau tomorrow, at which point I'll give you the Sunday and Monday recap.
Lastly, it should be noted that I finished "Tai-pan" tonight. Simply put - THAT BOOK WAS AMAZING. I currently have it squarely in my Top 10, and I think it might move into the Top 5, as I am currently only able to think of 3 books that I've enjoyed as much or more.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Who says Buddhists are pacifists? Bangkok Part 2...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. Okay, the Bull owes you the remainder of BKK, so let's get amongst it:
On Sunday, Team Taylor popped (ish) out of bed, checked out of the Triple Two, and made our way toward some of the other temples near the Grand Palace. All I wanted was a bloody cup of coffee, but that was not easy to come by in this city. There are TONS of street hawkers and roadside vendors, but all of them are offering 1 of 3 things:
1. Fruit (which is wicked fresh and tasty)
2. Balls of random meats and organs mashed together and boiled in oil (yeah, it's like something out of the Gorgon sisters from Clash of the Titans - yep, you're welcome for that)
3. Slabs of raw chicken and beef laying side by side (Hairless - you KNOW how I felt about that)
All the same, we did find a great little place that made TERRIFIC coffee, and I tucked into a breakfast of - what else - pad thai. I mean, spicy noodles at 10 in the morning is the way forward, don't you think? The place was just terrific, and we even had a view of the old train station, which was, incidentally, the ending point for the Turkey-Thailand leg of the Orient Express (or so I think - don't quote me on that one...this is the part where Jason Martin reads this blog and says 94% of all statistics are made up on the spot - especially Taylor's...details).
After that it was off to the first spot on the interary for the day: The Giant Swing. Famous because it is, well, a swing that people can launch themselves off once a year to reach for gold during a festival. It should be noted that this custom was recently discontinued due to the fact that someone was dying EVERY year from this event, but the swing remains as a monument "to simpler times" (like the beer from Trader Joe's).
So here's the deal with this thing - on the map it looks GINORMOUS - we are talking like a 40 story building. And given that no building in this section of BKK is higher than about 3 stories, I reckoned that it would be pretty easy to spot. Well, as fate would have it, that's just not true. And given that THERE IS NO GRID IN BANGKOK, this took longer than expected to find.
As fate would have it, it was less than impressive (which is standard for the items that the Bull labels as "must do's"), but it did land us on a) the doorstep of city hall (which could NOT have looked more like the Reunification Palace in Saigon if it had tried) and b) the front entrance of 2 AMAZING temples right beside it. It would tell you their names, but they have more letters than cities in Iceland and are equally hard to pronounce. Consequently, we'll just call them Temple 1 and Temple 2.
So I've talked plenty about temples to date, and I don't want to bore you. There are always lots of amazing paintings on the walls and a HUGE Golden Buddha at the end of the room. And again, as many of you know, tradition dictates that you take your shoes off before entering a temple. At Temple 1, however, they are VERY adamant that you must keep and hold your shoes with you (because they don't want people stealing tourist shoes outside the temple). Consequently, I take off my shoes, tuck them carefully under my arm, and proceed inside.
Well, I've been in there all of FIVE MINUTES and am walking around (VERY respectfully, I might add) when I hear a voice beside me YELL and shatter the silence: "YOU!!!!!" I notice he's close to me, but I don't react, thinking maybe he's intoning some kind of prayer. But then I hear "YOUUUUUUUU!!!!!" again, and now I realize that he's talking about me and not happy about something. I continue walking, determined to get clear of this guy, at which point HE STANDS UP AND HITS ME WITH HIS PRAYER BOOK. He then pushes my shoes away and says "YOOOOOOUUUUUUUU" again as though he's the voice of angry Buddha incarnate.
Now look, I I know it's not ideal that I had my shoes with me (even though I was told I HAD to take them inside). I know that it's not ideal to have a crazy ang mo roaming inside your temple before service. I ALSO know that it's not cool I don't speak your language or understand your religion. But seriously - to bitch slap me with YOUR PRAYER BOOK? I gotta think that goes against more principles than "though shalt not rock Brooks Adrenaline in the temple." All the same, I'd like to apologize to the Thai version of Old Man River for disturbing his chi.
After that and thankful to be alive, we proceeded to the planned highlight of the day - the Golden Mount. This shrine, sitting atop a hill in Bangkok was one of those "now you see it, now you don't" kind of places, where we walked ALL OVER the surrounding block but just COULD NOT find it. We'd caught one glimpse of it, but I just couldn't locate it again, which is a) odd considering it's arguably THE HIGHEST AND SHINIEST THING IN THE CITY and b) not odd because I just simply CANNOT read a map. But luckily Jenny politely said, "Babe, I think it's this way," which is code for "Husband Bear, why do I put up with you - I've known where this was for an hour but tried to help you look manly" - 5 minutes later we were at the Mount. Awesome.
The view from the top was great, and it really was a neat spot. I got a chance to clang the bells and gongs, and we had amazing vistas of the city. There were lots of folks praying, and I should say at this point that I was surprised how many folks were actively praying or meditating in the temples. Thailand seems like a very spiritual place, with BKK being moreso than Phuket (at least in the spots we visited).
After that we hit a fine shrine - the "Golden Buddha." Muffin had a GREAT line her when she said, "Aren't ALL the Buddhas golden?", which was a point I'd never considered. She's quite right on that, as EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM WE SAW WAS 100% GOLD. That beind said, there was always something to differentiate them and make you pay that $1 USD - the "Golden Buddha," the "Reclining Buddha," the "Emerald Buddha" (we didn't see that one, so I'm not sure if it totally disproves the theory or not, but you get the point - there were a lot of gold ones).
On the way home we rolled through Chinatown, which was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, THE MOST CONGESTED PLACE I'VE EVER BEEN TO. Hitman - you would have died or shot someone - it was CRAZY. We didn't make any purchases save food and beverage, but we went STRONG in that regard. I was getting peckish, and I noticed this cat grilling squid (because why shouldn't you use an open flame in the middle of a 300 year old crowded market that's made completely of wood?) and I thought about the immortal words of Matt Miller: "When it comes to street meat - go big or go home." 2 minutes later the Bull ordered 2 skewers of squid, and when the guy said, "Spicy?" I said yes and he laughed maniacally. I shrugged him off, as I KNEW I could take it. But this guy wasn't making stuff for white tourists - he was making it for locals. And HOLY @#$# WAS IT SCALDING.
Seriously - it was, without a doubt, one of the tastiest yet MOST SCORCHING things I've EVER eaten. It wasn't quite in the Naga chicken category, but I did think my tongue was liquifying at one point. And the best part? The guy had given me 2 bags when I bought it, but I dismissed this as unnecessary because it made it hard to stab the squid. So I removed the outer bag and started spearing squid. All was good until I inadvertently jabbed a hole in the bag, letting chili oil run down my arm. At the time I just thought it was annoying because it was sticky. Two hours later (and after MULTIPLE HAND WASHINGS, FOR THE RECORD), however, MY ARM WAS ON FIRE FROM WHERE THE CHILI OIL WAS SEARING MY FLESH. And just think, that was a trickle of the stuff. The other 20 ounces were burning a hole through my small intestine. Good times.
The reward was that, DESPERATE for something to drink, I find some pure lime juice (and killed 3 bottles). Jenny had mango juice, and that was LIFE CHANGING. We also tried another street vendor treat, something I'm calling the "sweet taco" (no relation to Dirty Sanchez). It was basically a crepe, but much smaller.
We then rolled back to the hotel, where we forced them to make good on their promise to let us shower. We thought they were just going to open the gym, but instead they actually gave us a hotel room for 30 minutes, which was EXTRA AWESOME. So half an hour later I was freshly changed and washed and a new man.
We then rolled to the airport, where we ate at...wait for it...wait for it - THE MANGO TREE, BABY! That's right, it's the same chain that's in London, and it was just as guuuuuuuuuuuuuuud (peppy cheekies). And it should be noted that, even at the airport, prices were WAAAAAAAY lower than in Westminster. They must be making a KILLING on that place.
Okay, that's Bangkok in a nutshell and definitely all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

Friday, 8 July 2011

How is this possible? Five AMAZING years of marriage with my best friend...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.
Okay, so first off - ANNOUNCEMENT: there will be NO BLOG until Tuesday, 12 July. Why, you ask? Because Team Taylor is off to win basquillions of dollars in...wait for it...wait for it...MACAU, BABY!!!! Hitman, Wildcard - we are going to ROCK IT OLD SCHOOL - fret not.




Family, today is a simply AMAZING day, as it's the FIVE YEAR ANNIVERSARY of our marriage. Honestly, I just can't believe how quick it's gone, and I certainly can't believe how amazing the last half decade has been. Team Taylor celebrated at Robertson Quay, where we dined at an AMAZING French restaurant (with an impossible name) and had a simply DELICIOUS steak dinner (with free flow fries, baby!). My belly looks like something out of a Discovery Channel documentary on blue wales, but hey - I'm not complaining.




5 years ago this time (forgetting time zones, of course) Team Taylor had been married all of 6 hours, was dancing the night away at the Charlotte History Museum, Sammy the Bull had just finished singing "Gummi Bears" with THV blowing it out in the background, KJ and Dad had just delivered two AMAZING toasts. At this time we were dancing the night away with Dean and Dom, Sara, Steve, John, Rice, and a host of other crazy campers. It was the moment that we had all of our friends and family under 1 roof, with our DJ blasting "At Last" so I could try and apologize to Tom for calling it "the worst song EVER" (since it was his first dance song with Mandy - T-rowe, I'm still sorry about that one, brother - if it's any consolation, I like it a lot more now...). Everyone told us to try and remember that day, as it would be a total blur. And whilst I remember SO MUCH of it, it is amazing how quickly it flashed before our eyes.




When I think back on greatest weekends of my life, that is, without a doubt, the best one EVER. From the Barbeque at Casa de Taylor to the golfing outing ("GREEN LIGHT, BENNY!"), to me getting off track during the singing of Howie Day's "Collide" (and T-Row saving me with his guitar magic) to the bartender making a toast at the rehearsal dinner, to an ice sculpture done by someone that mom saw on Oprah, to Dennie Humphries giving us a Communion chalice made from Lake Junaluska mud, to Tom and Mandy bringing half eating pita bread for communion because I'd forgotten to pick any up, to dad not being able to find his socks because they were tucked in his ass, to Rice telling CP to "be a man and drink a beer," to singing "Rocky Top" with everyone, to singing the UNC alma mater with the alums, to finally being back in the honeymoon suite with my wife, it was just PERFECT. Truth be told, I got teary-eyed twice just typing this.




On the morning of July 9, after the farewell breakfast at the wedding, my stepfather handed me a card that I've remembered every single day of my married life and wish to every single friend we have who gets married: "May the best day of your past be the worst day of your future." Call me the luckiest man on the planet, but that is EXACTLY how the last 5 years have gone.




Jenny Elaine Tacy Taylor - I love you with ALL MY HEART. I am, without a doubt, the luckiest man on the face of the earth, and I simply cannot believe I'm the guy who gets to wake up beside you every morning.




And lastly, to Granddaddy Taylor, perhaps not using a broadband connection Upstairs but I'm sure reading this all the same: in the wedding video you gave us 1 piece of advice: "Be good to one another." And whilst I'm by no means the man you were (and never will be), I promise you I've tried every day to do just what you told me." And if, after 63 years of marriage, Jenny and I are still as in love as you guys were (and still are), then I will truly have been blessed beyond measure. And considering that my cup already runneth over (as H once told me), that is saying a lot.




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




Love,




A truly blessed and truly happy Sam and Jenny

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Balls out in Bangkok - Part 1...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. The Bull got up early for the THIRD BLOODY DAY IN A ROW to knock out some exercise, this time logging 4 miles. He's nursing a slight injury on the ball of his left big toe now, but fret not, dad - I am 100% gut divorcing it. So the Bull owes everyone a Bangkok recap, and so let's get amongst it:
Friday: Do you want fries with that? So the flight was supposed to be at 6 PM, meaning that JT and I had to arrive at the airport about 4 PM. Well, we arrived to find that the flight had been delayed an hour, meaning we had an hour to kill in Singapore's less than exclusive Budget Terminal (picture a World War II airplane hangar with a McDonald's inside it). Given that we were still hurting from the boozy Thursday before, Jenny asked if I wanted to just get some fries from McD's. I said no, but about 30 seconds later I changed my mind. So we sit there, both claiming to be "not hungry," and polish off, not one, but TWO orders of fries and 2 double cheeseburgers. The fat and grease then begins affecting my brain, and I don't realize that they've now opened check-in for us. Consequently, we were among the LAST TEN PEOPLE to check in for the flight, as we had to wait in line for an hour.
We then clear security to find the flights been delayed until 8:40, and then, whilst in line to board the plane, we find out there's been a technical malfunction, meaning we won't leave until 9:20. This isn't the end of the world for the Bull and Striker, as we found a nice little dim sum place and ate ANOTHER dinner. And I also finished Shogun! TP - you were right - EPIC novel. Consequently, I moved right to Tai-pan.
We ended up boarding about 10 PM, and we arrived in BKK at 11 PM (you gain an hour). Our driver was waiting for us, and he took us to our CUTE little hotel room, where a plate of fruit I'VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE awaited us. Granted, I've never had any desire to eat "hairy fruit" before, but I was STILL starving (you can't just give Buddha a little food and expect him to be happy), so I killed it ALL. We finally passed out about 2 AM, exhausted and thankful for a cushy bed.
Saturday: What do you mean "stop at 6 PM?"
So Saturday was truly one of those perfect vacation days. We popped up about 9, didn't bother showering, and were out the door within 30 minutes. We picked up some Starbucks en route (and BLEW THE MINDS OF THE BARISTAS when we asked for Hazelnut syrup - I mean really, is it that difficult? Seriously?). It should be noted that Bangkok has street vendor stalls EVERYWHERE, and we went CRAZY buying fruit from these people. You could get AN ENTIRE PINEAPPLE for 66 cents! Jenny took down papayas and mangoes, but I stuck to the acid scorching pineapple, and it was so guuuuuuuuuuuuud (peppy cheekies).
We made it down to the central pier, where we learned that you could buy an all-day water taxi and boat pass for $5. We procured out tix, and about 30 seconds later the "River Tourist Bus" shows up. Seriously - it was something out of a 1947 River Queen out-take - HILARIOUS! But it was a GLORIOUS day on the water, and the ride to the Grand Palace takes you past lots of really cool temples, which is EXTRA AWESOME.
So we rock up to the Grand Palace, which Big D had warned us kept some odd hours. We'd confirmed that it was open from 8-3, but upon arrival we have a guy tell us "Palace closed. You come back 1 PM." I point out that about a BASQUILLION people are streaming in, at which point he says, "No, all Thai people. No foreigner. Is ceremony." Not believing this cat (who is also trying to sell me a tour), I walk up to a guy dressed as a police officer and ask if it's open. The conversation went something like this:
Cop Like Dude (CLD): "You no clothes!"
Sammy the Bull (StB): "I'm sorry? I asked - IS TEMPLE OPEN FOR FOREIGNERS." (because when you speak louder they become fluent)
CLD: "No clothes! She okay. You no clothes!" (at this point Jenny figure's out he's referring to my shorts)
StB: "Is okay, I have clothes." (I whip out my dude sarong, which is, let's face it, a skirt) "See, I good."
CLD: "No, you rent! You rent!" (at this point I've had enough and he's not armed, so I decide to push it by walking past him - he doesn't like that) "Is closed! Is clothed! You come back at 1. You wear clothes! (I AM WEARING CLOTHES, DAMN IT)
In the end, I decide that since he's an officer of the law, I will abide. But only on the walk back to the pier does it dawn on me that his "uniform" said "Police Department of New York." That S.O.B. LIED TO ME!!! He was just another tout! SERENITY NOW!!!!!
All was not lost, however, as we rolled across the river (the boat was 9 cents a person - NOT JOKING) to Wat Arun - the Temple of the Dawn. This, sports fans, was a REALLY neat experience. The temple is a Khmer pillar, and the steps are steeper than driving "Going to the Sun Mountain Road." Even cooler, the detail is exquisite up close and is made of broken pottery - really wicked cool. And best of all, I found a Happy Buddha created in my image - tell me I'm not that dude's Doppleganger - CHUUUUUBBBYYYY BUUUNNNNYYYY!!!!!
We then left there to visit Wat Po, the other temple I was really keen on. However, when we inadvertently showed up ON THE THAI NAVAL BASE and the guard looked at us funny, we whipped out the map and realized that we were on the wrong side of the river. Jenny's cute smile and another 9 cents apiece got us back across the river, at which point we had some more fruit for energy and tried the Grand Palace a second time.
This time we were permitted on the grounds, only to be told that my outfit was not acceptable and that there was a 1 hour wait for pants. My alternative was to buy a pair of DONKEY TRASH KOKOPELLI Hammer Pants for $5 across the street. Also, when I asked the guard about coming back tomorrow, he told me that, since it was a holiday, all the buildings were closed today and tomorrow (UM, WHAAAAAT?!?!?!?!). I asked what the hell there was to do in that case, at which point he said, "Look at the buildings." BUT I CAN ALREADY SEE THE BUILDINGS FROM HERE! WHY WOULD I PAY $12 TO SEE THEM CLOSER? And so we abandoned the Grand Palace - but hey, we're back next month, so perhaps we'll make it happen then.
We then hit Wat Po, home of the reclining Buddha. This place was EXTRA AWESOME, and we spent over 2 hours roaming around. The highlight is definitely the reclining Buddha, stretching 46 meters in length! And the best part - this was the SAME Buddha featured on Season 1 of the Amazing Race! We actually did the same challenge they did, where you pick up a load of coins and drop them into the buckets around the Buddha. The sound was really cool and added to the whole experience, which was JUST FANTASTIC.
It should be noted that the temples in Bangkok are EASILY the most impressive that we've visited, and they are all between 66 cents and $1.50 to visit. Can I just say again HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS COUNTRY?
After Wat Po, we hopped back on the boat, at which point we saw 2 boats of HOT BLONDS roll past. I looked at Jenny and said, "The Bachelor!" And we were determined to email KJ as soon as well got home to tell her that we'd just seen the bachelor girls rolling past. We've since learned, however, that filming is totally done, meaning that must have been some other donkey trash program. Oh well, it was almost a good story.
The better story from the boat was the member of the crew who just KEPT YELLING at me whilst I was standing on the boat. He was COVERED in jailhouse tats, and finally he pushed me toward the center of the boat. I snapped back, "What if I want to stand here!" but he was having none of it. I complained to Jenny, "he ain't tellin' any of those other jokers to move!" It should be noted that, when I got up to leave, I noticed that Jenny and I were standing on this yellow square on the boat with a sign in English that said, "Please do not stand here when approaching the dock." Oops...details.
We got out at the top end of the canal for what turned out to be an EPIC location - the Khao San road. Made famous by the movie "The Beach," this is an area FILLED with food, massage parlors, ping pong shows, and shopping. We did 3 out of 4 - I'll let you figure out which one we skipped.
First things first - WE WERE STARVING. And so we sat down, ordered up some pad thai, and then we ordered 2 Chang beers. They were EPIC, but then our boys says - "Drink up - taps close at 6!" The look on mine and Jenny's face could only be described as pure horror.
So here's the thing (and mom, dad, sorry I didn't mention this before) - this weekend was the election in Thailand for the new Parliament. Last election was when the tanks rolled down the street, 90 people were killed, and the country was placed under Martial Law for 2 months. In preparation for this, the army had basically called up EVERYONE to stand at the polls. The government had taken the further step of BANNING ALCOHOL, but we thought it was just the Sunday. When we learned that the ban started at 6 PM, Jenny and I did the only sensible thing a couple in our position would do - BEGAN CHUGGING. And mom, dad, Tacy's - it should be noted that it was TOTALLY fine throughout the city. It was totally safe, we saw no protests, no violence, and nothing out of order. Everyone was superfriendly, and the experience was just as wonderful as times previous.
After a great meal and some booze, I was in a mind to do some SERIOUS shopping. I had seen a few shirts I liked, but NOTHING FIT MY FAT ASS. Ultimately I found a place that sold 2XL, and I managed to get into those, although now that we've washed them I've no idea. Rice - there isn't a shirt in this country for your 6'5" frame - you would just be running around naked the entire time searching for Rusty's.
Jenny scored with some great backpack shopping, and then we celebrated by hitting up a massage parlor for a 30 minute foot massage. It was EPIC, and the best part? It was $3. Again, have I mentioned that I love this country? I should note that the massage took place "upstairs" in what can only be described as a "sweatshop," with about 900 of my closest friends also getting rubbed on. Wicked.
We then hopped into a cab who knew our road but not our hotel, and so he dropped us off at the start of the road. In theory that was a great idea, only Silom road is THE LONGEST STREET IN THE WORLD. Consequently, after walking for 30 minutes, we hopped into a cab, admitting defeat. I told the drive the location, he laughed, and then drove for about .5 KM before pulling into our place. But the drive cost me exactly ONE DOLLAR, so I was good with it.
We then showered (finally) and crashed at midnight, an AMAZING day in the books. Our Sunday shenanigans will just have to keep, as it's time for some $2 sushi now that Muffin Puffin's back from Futsal! KKUFC forever!
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Can you stand the heat - women's World Championship Netball action...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. So I have no lie to tell, it's been one hell of a day across the board for Team Taylor. For starters, the Bull and Striker (OSC, MattPa - that could be another spinoff pub name - BOOK IT) saw a first today in the Lion City - A DRUNK SINGAPOREAN. Seriously, it's easier to see unicorns and dancing polar bears in Singapore than to see drunk people of ANY nationality, but to see an ASIAN who's had one (or in this guy's case - FORTY) too many is a true rarity. It's funny, because we saw all this at SIX FIFTEEN IN THE MORNING whilst walking to the gym. 2 teenagers were trying to pick up their friend, who was OBLITERATED. The cabbie got bored of waiting, so he drove to the couple ten feet away (the teenages tried to run after the cabbie but none of them could move). The next couple is about to get in when the girl DECKS THE DUDE and pushes him away, at which point the cabbie says @#$# it and just drives off - it was great. So the tally after 28 weeks in SG:
Cockroaches - 4
Rats - 2
Drunken Teenages - 1
Prostitutes - 8,794 (but they are all clean...just like the Sing)
The workout was good, as Jenny did Body Attack and I hit the bike. I honestly contemplated rockin' the class with her, but after watching 30 seconds of their clapping and the instructor singing, I pretty much decided that I'd rather KILL MYSELF than participate in that foolishness.
But then, fresh off a nice shower and ready to face the day, Sammy's day darkened when, accidentally, he knocked his Kindle out of the locker. It landed on its side, at which point there was a rather sickening "CRUNCH," and I knew it was over. Sure enough, my screen now looks like an etch-a-sketch that's been hit by a meteor. So now the question - buy another one, or switch to the i-Pad. I know where Hitman and Wildcard are - others?
The work day was pretty rough, as I had to deal with some REAL DONKEYS. But hey, if it were easy, everyone would do it, right? Plus we did get some stuff done and make good progress across the board, so on the whole I can't really complain. Plus I left right at 5, as I had a featured event to get to - the 2011 Women's Netball World Championships (that's right, I just said NETBALL).
So here's the deal - Muffin and I have never been to a world championship of ANYTHING, so when I saw this, I was keen to give it a dance. Tickets were general admission and only $10 for ALL DAY, so we picked up a pair and headed over. I got there for the 5:45 PM match where Singapore played Jamaica (and got PUMMELED 93-40). It was a lot of fun, and it was cool that the players actually hung around and watched other games. There were 2 courts side by side, and at 8 PM there were 2 matches - Australia (the world #1 and defending champs) vs. Sri Lanka (they looked like they'd never seen a ball before) and Botswana vs. South Africa. We were in the Botswana section, and I gotta tell ya - it was AWESOME. Those cats sang and danced the whole time like it was the World Cup. And when "Waka, Waka" came on, it was like being in the Shakira video - good times. No, GREAT times actually.
There were some painful moments - take the halftime "entertainment" for example. The sponsor was Mission Foods, who apparently promote "a company with a mission serving food with a taste" (out of curiosity, don't MOST foods have a taste? I mean Durian has a taste - doesn't make me want to eat it. Just sayin'...). Well, for halftime, the announcer brings out a bag of groceries, and the contestants have to guess the total cost of what's in the bag. Here's pretty much what he said (my thoughts in parenthesis):
"Ah, so this is an AMAZING price to play for. Look at this bag of goodies. What do we have in here? Wraps! That's right - you can make wraps (seriously, dude - it's a packet of 20 tortillas that Moe's diner buys for 40 cents a pack - we're not talking caviar). And trust me - I've tried them and they are SO guuuuuuuuud. In fact, all the foods being served here are from Mission foods. They are delicious! (really - cause I had a "satay stick of nuggets" that absolutely SUCKED. Wendy's would kick your ASS every day of the week and twice on Sunday.) And what else is in the pack? Ahhhh! I don't believe it - it's ANOTHER pack of wraps! But wait, there's....ANOTHER packet of wraps. This is unbelieveable. Oh, and wait - here's a FOURTH PACKET (I just wanted to crawl into a hole and DIE at this point - no one should have to suffer through this...or try to act like they're offering a Maseratti). Oh, but then there's something else (was the dramatic reach into the bag really necessary?) - TACO SHELLS!!!!! And wait, ANOTHER box of taco shells! You can make TACOS! (yep, yo quiero Taco Bell - and I'd GO THERE vs. making them in the 8 cent shells you're peddling). Okay, that's it! (WAIT, THAT'S IT? THAT is your big prize? Mother of Mercy I don't speak Japanese!)
Also, I had to participate in a 10 minute survey, during which time a Singaporean teenager who spoke at 3.5 decibels asked me EVERY QUESTION ABOUT NETBALL that you could EVER think of, such as "who was a cheering for, what did I think of the format, what's my favorite local Singapore netball team, who should have made the tournament but didn't", yadda, yadda, yadda.
Lastly - THE MASCOT. The featured mascot was "Netalia," billed as "a young and robust fan of netball who's a young, outgoing, and vigorous member of the Merlion Club." I mean, what the hell does that even mean? When I was 12 I was a "curly haired, Skidz wearing, pimpled, gold chain havin' redneck and member of the Russellville mafia" - I would have eaten "Netalia" for breakfast. Good thing she was 11,000 miles away.
On the whole it was a really neat experience. We had great seats, and it was fun to watch. However, CATHERINE CAY - I must confess that these rules made NO SENSE WHATSOEVER to me. I mean, what's with the whole "I didn't touch you but that's a foul and so I'm going to let you shoot but then try to block your shot and when you make it you get to throw the ball back to your tiniest player who'll stand in the circle and pass the ball and then the whistle will blow even though no one's been touched" thing? I was really lost, but I did at least understand the part about getting the ball through the hoop. For all you Americans - this sport is a cross between water polo, ultimate frisbee, and basketball - that's the only way to describe it.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and Jenny