Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Master Chef takes center stage...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. The Bull logged 50 minutes on the bike today, covering just over 28 KM. I felt pretty good - still not as strong as the day I kept the resistance at 5, but on the whole no complaints. I am going to blame it on the lack of sleep, as Sammy had another night of 4+ hours staring at the ceiling. The bags under the eyes looked pretty rough this morning. I don't think I quite fit the bill of "Axe murderer whom neighbors described as quiet and a model citizen," but a few more nights of this might make me a shoe-in for the next zombie film. But hey, at least the AFD's have been plentiful lately - that's keeping me looking quasi-respective. The fact that my last 2 shaves have left HUGE sections of my face ungroomed, however, probably have counterbalanced it. What can I say - I don't have my muffin puffin here to inspect me!
Turning to other news, I was treated to a feast of KINGS tonight. The venue? Fraser Place Condos, baby! That's right - Big D in the clutch showed off his wicked cooking skills in a display of culinary delights. And let me go ahead and tell you - it was soooooooooooooooo guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud (peppy cheekies).
As I'm doing another long run (20 KM) tomorrow (only 5 runs to go after that one), I needed pasta. Hearing my plea for Italian, Dan whipped up a seafood linguine marinara. And I don't mean throw some shrimp in and call it even - we're talking fresh clams, mussels, shrimp and even SQUID thrown into this mix! We consumed that food with a vengeance - it was like I hadn't eaten in weeks. I definitely feel that my metabolism is roaring again, as I had a full brekkie, crushed a huge lunch, and had 3 snacks over the course of the day before dinner this evening. At least I hope the metabolism is rolling - otherwise, Dad, I'll DEFINITELY be racing in the Clydesdale division upon my return stateside.
It was funny - Dan asked me how much I wanted, and when I pointed at the normal volume I made for myself, the look on both his and Money's face was priceless. Perhaps there is something more than genetics to explain the pouch on me. Who am I kidding, I refuse to take responsibility for anything...so Dad - I'll still blame you. :-)
Other than that, not a whole lot else to report. It's been a mercifully quiet week, but with only 18 days until the race in Sydney, quiet and time to train is EXACTLY what I need right now. Next week should be another good week for training, after which I'll just be in that dangerous final week shooting gallery of "trying to work out but not get hurt" - always an adventure!
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and (sitting on a hopefully dry beach, getting a food massage whilst listening to the waves, post Tom Yam soup) Jenny

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

And so begins the voyage of discovery...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. The Bull logged 5 miles outside today, turning in an 8:28 pace for 5 miles. That's 2 runs this week that have been less impressive than last week, but given that a) I'd just returned from Bangkok for the 5K and b) it was like breathing MUD outside today for the 5 miler (and the previous 5 miler was indoors), I am still okay with performance and training to date. I've only got 6 runs left before the Sydney 21 K, and I do feel that I'm ready. However, talk to me after Thursday's 20 KM, and you might get a different story. Either way, I'm still four times the man Matt Miller is, which definitely helps me to sleep at night.
So tomorrow is the last day of August, after which point Team Taylor will have only a scant 4 months left in Asia. And whilst I must confess that I am EXHAUSTED due to the speed at which we've tried to conquer the continent, now is no time to let up, and so it's time to kick it up a notch (Emeril style) in the realm of Singapore experiences. Consequently, I started that journey tonight on Bali Lane in a place called "Blue Jazz."
Here's the deal - there is SO MUCH MORE to Singapore than people realize. Everywhere you look, there are really neat pockets, very cool bars, and AMAZING food. However, because so much good food is EVERYWHERE, odds are good you'll live in a corner where you've got 10-20 great restaurants within a 5 minute walk from your place. Consequently, you tend to get "stuck in your ways" when it comes to food, and Team Taylor is no exception (I mean, dare I utter the word "Boomerang" again? Exactly...). True, we've stuck to the same restaurants in an effort to find some semblance of normalcy and routine during our time here, but regardless, the theory holds true - people tend to stick to their normal routine. That must end, however, as I truly want the Bull and Striker to say "we DID Singapore" when we leave. I began that crusade tonight with Money and Dan, and I gotta say - we're off to a blistering start.
Blue Jazz is this GREAT little place near Arab Street with EXCELLENT Middle Eastern cuisine, and the three of us GORGED ourselves on hummous, tabouleh, falafel, and (wait for it, Yazz, wait for it...) Shawarma! The price was right (~$32 USD a person-I know, I know - SHOCKING when that's a deal, right?), and it was sooooooooooo guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud (peppy cheekies). Muffin - I can't WAIT to take you here - good stuff!
In truth, I should hire Money and Dan as my tour guides, as they have covered practically every inch of this island that doesn't require a car. And when you combine all the spots they've recommended with all the bars and restaurants I discovered in Boat Quay last night on the walk home from working out (with the one hiccup being the TEN BASQUILLION HOOKERS IN FRONT OF EVERY BAR), I think it's fair to say that the Bull and Striker have got some SERIOUS ground to cover in the next 4 months if we want to cross off a good chunk of the unique spots on the island. Hey - we're up for that challenge!
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and (most likely sitting with a Chang in hand beside a sunburned Yazz) Jenny

Monday, 29 August 2011

Another new experience on the Equator - the arrival of Monsoon Season...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. Okay, so I know that you're all expecting "Balls out in Bangkok Part 2 - the Tacy family edition," but as Muffin Puffin currently has both cameras and therefore ALL of our photos, I think it best to hold off until she returns. Don't worry, as I fully intend to get my commentary in there for both the past weekend and the one upcoming, but I really feel you can't tell the tale without a few photos. Bob, Jan - I know that you are very keen to see your two daughters together wreaking havoc in Thailand, but it will just have to keep one more week. Fret not, however, as they are doing fine and having a blast.
As for the Bull, life is good. On Friday I got up at bloody 5:30 AM for my run. The goal was an 18 K, and all the morning preparation started smooth. Water belt? Check. Camelback? Check. All the salt tablets and goo you can handle? Check. But there was one itsy bitsy thing I forgot to do - LOOK OUT THE WINDOW. In fact, I had just finished stretching and put on all my REDONKULOUS contraptions when I heard what could only be described as a hail of gunfire hitting the windows. I looked out to find nothing less than tropical depression style winds. Granted, it was no Hurricane Irene, but it was NASTY. Consequently, the Bull availed of the only option left to him - RUNNING 11.5 MILES ON THE TREADMILL. Yeah, it was pretty much the worst thing EVER. I was able to do it all without walking, but the pace wasn't great - 1:40ish. Miller - I would have been just under 2 hours for the 21 K - a far cry from that sub-7 I was bragging about just a scant 96 hours before.
I was obviously in (wet) Bangkok was well this weekend, but skipping ahead to today, I woke to find a sky BLACK AS MIDNIGHT looming for the ride in. And speaking of the ride in, have I complained publically about Grandma Moses yet? So every day for the past 8 months I've boarded a shuttle to go to work. It's an easy ride, and the 16 or so passengers all sit there in silence or speak VERY softly to their counterparts. I guess Jenny was my good luck charm, because the FIRST DAY after JT went on LOA, this lady - let's call her Flo - steps on the bus. My 20 minutes of blissful morning reading hasn't been the same since.
It doesn't matter where you sit on the bus. It doesn't matter where she sits on the bus. It actually wouldn't matter if a SPACE SHUTTLE took off in the seat beside you. She's THAT LOUD. Which of course there's only one nationality it could POSSIBLY be - dear ole' Flo is 100% American. Oh yes.
So this gal will talk to ANYONE, and it's classic because she's clueless to the fact that NO ONE WANTS TO TALK TO HER. However, as she's a sweet old grandmother, nobody has the heart to strangle her...I mean ask her to speak a little quieter. I am lucky because I board first and get one of the "single seats" on the side, but despite not ever having a conversation with her, I know her hometown, where she lives now, the names of her children and husband, what she does for fun, how she met her husband, his favorite card games, his favorite expressions when he plays the card games, her profession, how she negotiated the deal, what her children did this past weekend, the advice she's given them, and about a basquillion other things that I couldn't tell you about ANYONE I WORK WITH. I am trying to find ways to tune her out, but there is NO WAY I'm gonna read Noble House on that bus with her. I am too excited about that novel to try and slog through it whilst getting a recount of midwestern winters. SERENITY NOW!!!!!
Anyhoo (wow, to quote the Wild Card in the "Problem with Mr. Deets" blog - that was cathartic) - The point of all that was that I arrived at the office to find the sky pretty much the color of a Mordor winter - JET BLACK. I luckily managed to get my coffee and get into the office, but about 2 seconds later rain that could have cracked the pavement rained down for about 2 hours. I'm tellin' ya, folks - storms are NO JOKE out here.
And it should be noted that, whilst the Starbucks folks finally have my coffee totally right, they are REALLY STRUGGLING WITH WHY MUFFIN PUFFIN ISN'T THERE. Every day it's the same conversation:
Starbucks Lady (SL): "You want the grande coffee, is it?"
Sammy the Bull (StB): "Yes, grande with vanilla syrup."
SL: "Ah, can can. How many pumps you like?"
StB: "5 will do."
SL: "Ah, 5 is it?"
StB: "Yes. 5."
SL: "And you want the hot milk?"
StB: "Yes (resists temptation to say lah) - that is perfect."
(SL then looks behind me EVERY SINGLE DAY. There is NOBODY IN LINE)
SL: "Just the one?"
StB: "Yes. Just the one." (resists the temptation to say - just like all last week and the next TWENTY).
SL: "So, just one coffee, eh?" (Looks around again as if to prove that I'm either lying or trying to spite Jenny by not ordering her coffee).
StB: "Yes." (then, finally giving in) "She didn't come into the office today."
SL: (INSTANTLY HAPPIER) "Ah, okay, lah." (proceeds to make drink)
EVERY DAY. RINSE - REPEAT. Gotta love it. But hey, it just shows the profound effect Perfect Pumpkin has on all those around her!
Tonight was a pretty good session in the gym (other than the fact I arrived at my local to find it closed and had to walk 10 minutes in the wrong direction to the other one). I logged a 5K in 22:47, which is exactly a 7:20 pace. I wasn't as strong as the previous Monday, but on the whole I can't complain given how tired I was.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and (soon to be following in the steps of Leonardo DiCaprio) Jenny

Thursday, 25 August 2011

The slow corruption of the Queen's English begins...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. So first off - there will be NO BLOG until Monday evening. Why, you ask? Well, because Sammy the Bull cannot stand being away from his perfect pumpkin for one second longer and is therefore headin' to BANGKOK, BABY!!!!! Oh yeah - good times, they are a comin'...
Secondly, apologies for no blog last night. However, as I'll soon explain, writing was NOT the highest item on my priority list when I (FINALLY) arrived back home last night.
Third - I am proud to report that my quest to "make the world speak Tennessean" continues to go swimmingly well. The first true victory was when I first saw Evelyn type "Winner Winner Chicken Dinner," and the second was when Adeline informed me that she "rocked the party that rocked the pinata. The third (and largest) victory to date, however, came yesterday in the form of Ms. Emma Tullett.
As you all know, I do tend to spout lots of nonsense during the work day ("you're fired," "I'll burn your house down," "I have absolutely zero sympathy of any kind for that person," "Shoot me in the face with an elephant gun," etc - you get the picture). Well, Emma refers to my daily ramblings (so 97% of what comes out of my mouth) as "naff nonsensical Taylorisms," and I can hear real fear in her voice that, if she doesn't switch cubes soon, she'll start using some of them. I confirmed this yesterday when she looked at me and said, "Sam, I just want you to know how concerned I am that, when someone asks for something I don't have, I'm going to say Negative, Ghost Rider. And I don't even know what that means!" OSC - tell me that you aren't proud. And when I got Squire McGuire in on the act as well, it was just priceless.
Today Emma learned "madder than a wet hornet" and "that's pretty much a dead stick." She hasn't used those in conversation yet, but it's only a matter of time...
The evening (and the reason there was no blog) began at Brotzeit, where Julie, a colleague, Emma, and myself knocked back a few and had a meal. The conversations were HILARIOUS, but even more impressive was the negotiation that went down. As we've said earlier, Julie is clearly "the negotiator." Her pal Adrian, however, is henceforth known as "The Hostage Taker." Seriously - this guy was A FORCE OF NATURE.
Here's how it went down. We are sitting at a table, and they ask us to move to another table to let folks take our spot to eat. Adrian drops the "do we get free shots?" And when four shots of chilled Jaeger came out ($30 a pop - we got 'em free), I was impressed. When he managed this a second time, I was amazed. But when the bill came and he pulled the whole, "Are you kidding me? No discount? These are my friends who've traveled all the way here from the states and you embarass me like this? GET THE MANAGER!" thing, I about wet my pants. 3 more conversations ensue (Brother Ish - it was like the Puma at Al-Qureshi that night in Chester), at which point the manager threatens to call the police. Then there's the 4th, at which point they actually DO knock off a beer, offer a discount, and give us ANOTHER round of shots. I was truly blown away - I am SUCH a rookie in the art of wheeling and dealing.
But then Adrian says, "So, gotta go to Raffles, right?" It's 10:30. I'm exhausted. I have an 8:30 AM meeting to run. And I'm stuffed. But I also have NO willpower, and 5 minutes later I'm in a cab bound for Asia's most famous hotel. We knock back a quick sling whilst listening to the band's last set, and then we spend the next 45 minutes talking Rugby with some Kiwi and Aussie blokes (I held my own very well, for the record).
It was then home about 1:30, bed at 2, and up at 7 to get into the office. Can you say sleep like a baby? Because THIS GUY can. But no rest for the weary, as this evening saw me downstairs with Money, Dan, and Carla at Wine Connection! Mum - fret not - I took it VERY easy and just had a glass. After all, the Bull's still gotta pack AND has a 5:30 AM wake-up call tomorrow, as he's going for an 11.5 mile run before work (yes - OUCH).
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and (just reunited with her sister after 7 months and probably celebrating with a Chang) Jenny

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Festival of the Hungry Ghost...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. The Bull logged 55 minutes on the treadmill tonight, clocking 26 KM and burning just over 400 calories. It wasn't my strongest performance on the bike, but I definitely feel as though my legs have gotten stronger recently. Coupled with the speedwork from last night, I feel it's starting to come together for the upcoming half marathon. Fingers crossed that I stay healthy.
Now that I'm FINALLY caught up on all the adventures, I can start working through a few of the cultural and reflective blogs that I've been wanting to write for some time now (I can almost hear Shogun sighing). Tonight's installment is a particularly interesting one for me - the "Month of the Hungry Ghost." Now I'll confess up front that I will probably butcher some of the history and traditions associated with this, so apologies to all Singaporeans in advance (and especially Evelyn, who is the one Singaporean that I know reads this), but given how interesting it is, I wanted to share it with the readership.
In the Chinese calendar, the 7th month after Chinese New Year is called the "month of the hungry ghost." According to Chinese belief and tradition, this is the month during which the spirits of the dead return to visit us. During this month, lots of interesting rituals appear, the most common of which is that HUGE tables of food are left on the side of the road, outside of shops, and near a lot of housing, all surrounded by incense sticks. People believe that, since the ghosts haven't eaten in a year, they will be hungry. Consequently they offer a veritable SMORGASBOARD of food (el Guapo would say a "plethera"), all the while giving incense offerings to their departed friends and family. This is interesting for anyone on an open-top bus tour (of which I've done two during this period), as you can smell incense on the wind throughout the city, and at times there is definitely a haze of smoke in places.
Another truly MIND-BLOWING aspect of all this is the burning of gifts. It's crazy, as an entire industry is now built around this tradition. You will notice several shops selling paper models of everything - most often cars, houses, clothes, and other staples of life. Again, according to custom, anything that is burnt as an offering to a relative can then be used in the afterlife. Consequently, people burn paper models of all kinds of stuff - cars, houses, airplanes - even i-Pods! Some people burn FULL SIZE PAPER CARS, and apparently fairly large paper houses are set ablaze in the more rural areas. I haven't actually seen any of this, but the stories I've heard are EPIC.
And lastly, the one that haunts me the most can be found throughout the city, but most often outside HDB flats and homes - the empty chairs. The chairs stand as a remembrance of those loved ones who used to sit with us and share laughter, tears, and many, many memories. On and around the chairs are things that friends and family liked and used often in real life - clothes, jewelry, books - you name it. It's a haunting imagine, and whilst the offerings of food and the burned paper models were something that I found truly fascinating but couldn't relate to, the chairs absolutely resonated with me. Perhaps it's the fact that I'm reading Shantaram at the moment and the guy's got me thinking philisophically, but I have thought about those empty chairs quite a bit lately. Chinese culture is obviously a bit foreign (pardon the pun) to this Southerner, and consequently I'm not participating in the festival. However, if I were I think there would be 3 empty chairs on my balcony:
1. One with a deck of cards, a cribbage board, a small set of golf clubs, a hammer, a little wooden robot with some stickers all over it, the keys to a new car - a Subaru, most likely - and a plate of country ham
2. One with a pair of overalls, the Holy Bible, at least one image of a cow, a medal that few have seen and even fewer received, and a photo of 3 generations of men who loved each other very much
3. One with a "Bye Bye, Birdie" playbill, a hockey stick, the keys to an X-Terra, a drama mask with the words "1st place," all the Matthew Sweet albums you can find, and an unpublished screenplay
To all those of you that have gone beyond - I love you and miss you so much. We will see you again.
To all those of you that I'm blessed enough to still have here with me - I love you and miss you so much. Jenny and I are on the adventure of a lifetime, and we fully intend to make these last 4 months count. But when it's over, we look forward to a new chapter in our lives, one that features all of you as the important part of our lives that you have been and will always, always continue to be.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and (somewhere eating Tom Yam and staring at misty mountains) Jenny

Monday, 22 August 2011

A tamer but equally excellent Sunday in Sing Sing...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. As I type this, my Muffin Puffin is already out and about on her first great adventure. That's right, kids - just 48 hours after leaving the Harbourfront office for the last time, Perfect Pumpkin and Yazz are somewhere over Bangkok en route to the first stop in their 2 week tour of Thailand - Chang Mai. But fret not, all those of you who are concerned for my lonliness (and I'm sure all of you are SO concerned) - because Money and Dan are back at Casa de Taylor! Granted, they are out and about at the moment, but hey - at least I've got peeps to keep me out of trouble.
On the running front, the Bull had a GREAT workout on the treadmill tonight, turning in a 21:24 5K. That's my fastest 5K in quite a while, and the first time I can remember since turning 30 that I was able to string together 3 sub-7 miles. Miller - I suggest some EPO for you come Thunder Road or the Corp Cup, because, to quote Ivan Drago (yep, I went there): "I must break you."
Recapping Sunday, it was a great one for Team Taylor plus 1. We got up about 11:15 or so (not bad considering that we'd gone to bed at 4, and we got out the door about noon for brekkie at (where else) Boomerang. I went for the Boomerang Benedict, and, as usual, it was SOOOOOO GUUUUUUUUUUD (peepy cheekies). We then wandered over to Clarke Quay, where we pulled the "Ang Mo" special for the second time in a month and engaged in one of my new favorite activities - The Open Top Bus Tour!
Seriously, I know that all the local Singaporeans laugh at all the Ang Mo's roasting into oblivion (although Yazz was turning THE ENTIRE TIME in an effort to "strategically tan") on the upper deck, but it's just such a GREAT way to see the city (which I really do think is beautiful), and when the shade does appear (which is often given the GINORMOUS storm clouds towering about 75,000 feet above us) and the wind blows through your hair (just like Fabio before that bird slammed into his face), well - it's a good trip. We did 2 of the tours (city and original - I actually still don't think I've done the heritage, but something tells me I won't be doing another one of these), and we got off at a new stop this time - Bugis Village. Billed as the "best street shopping in Singapore," I was thinking this was the ideal spot to get my cheap Tiger t-shirts. But ooooooooh, no - that was NOT to be.
Now don't get me wrong - there were PLENTY of clothing shops in this place. However, all these homemade Singapore designer specials were UTTER TRIPLE DONKEY TRASH ON CRACK. Seriously, I've seen some BAD clothes in my time, but this stuff was utter rubbish. I would describe them, but there are no words to describe the mix of bad fabric, redonkulously clashing colors, and insane prices. I think I'll just say, "cannot, lah" and hope that you all get my meaning. WOW. But on the flip side, I did get a REALLY good mango juice. I also got a kiwi juice (seriously - it was green, had the kiwi seeds, and they charged me the kiwi price of $1 USD), but when I sipped it and it had no taste, Jenny made the very astute observation - they gave you green dragonfruit. Odd, because GREEN DRAGON FRUIT DOESN'T EXIST. That being said, I really think I got duped with green food coloring and dragon fruit - the NERVE of those circus animals! But hey - I still drank it, and since it was 600 degrees, it worked a treat. It should be noted that we also saw Durian at this place, and Yazz and Jenny put their noses to the packaging to smell the seeds. The look on their faces was....PRICELESS. I wanted to buy one ($2 SGD), but the girls were having NONE of it. As for me, I say BRING ON DURIANFEST 5000, BABY!!!! After all, it was WAAAAAAY better than ox stomach.
We then wandered over to Raffles, where we walked around the lawn and the arcade to show Yazz the architecture of the hotel. Whilst there (Shogun, OSC, I hope you're ready for this), we also tried...wait for it...wait for it...MOONCAKES!!!! Now, if we just had the appropriate matching chalice to wash it down...details. I don't really know how to describe a moon cake (I tried the "Snow Mountain Durian Skin" flavored one) except to say it's a gooey, gelatinous rice and egg yolk ball filled with other gooey goodness of unknown origin. And whilst they were actually tasty, they were EIGHT BUCKS APIECE (and we're talking 3-4 small bites and it's gone), and so we contented ourselves with the samples and then headed on.
After that, it was over to the Marina Bay Sands, passing through the Esplanade underpass. This place is CRAZY, because on weekends you have all these teenage impromptu dance troopes gather there to practice their K-Pop and moves. Seriously - you really have to see it to believe it, but some of these kids can flat MOVE. It was like watching prep for "So You Think You Can Dance" (Season 7, of course).
When we hit MBS, we had a true highlight - a drink at Ku De Ta! After seeing this place with J-Wade, Rebecca, and Sven, we HAD to go back, and as it was a Sunday, there was no cover charge - BINGO, BABY!!!! It was wicked - we got up free, found a seat in the "dance club" section (but check out that infinity pool - not bad, eh? All for the bargain price of about $400 or so a night...), and had a beer whilst watching the sunset and the city light up for the evening. The music (being the David Guetta fan I am - Pop is Life, Puma!) was really chill and cool, the view spectacular, and those wasabi chips were off the CHAIN! Seriously - it was a really, REALLY cool experience. Getting our asses kicked in the casino, however, was NOT that cool.
I went in really excited about playing, but honestly the minimums are just out of control in that place. And since it was hard to even find an empty machine, clearly they've got ZERO motivation to lower the limits. However, Yazz did find Dean Martin's "Come Dance with Me," and I got to dance with "Lucky Luigi's Pizzeria," so all in all it was still fun (Team Taylor lost a combined $50 SGD in case anyone's curious). MBS - why can't you guys just put ONE electronic craps machine in there with a $5 or $10 min - come on, man! Sammy needs new shoes! Actually, I don't (no matter what T-Rowe and GC might say)...
After that we cabbed it over to Lau Pa Sat, where we GORGED on pineapple fried rice, dim sum, and some insane good Korean noodle dish that Jenny picked up. It was a quite, cheap dinner, and on the whole very well behaved (only 1 beer all day!). However, as we were EXHAUSTED from the night before, it was definitely the right call to pack it in and head home, where we arrived about 10 PM. JT then finished packing, called KJ, and did some last minute stuff, putting her in bed about 12:40 (I was in about 12, but you know me - I can't sleep until Muffin Puffin's there. Which means the next 4 nights are going to be rough...).
All in all, it was another GREAT day, and we had a blast. J-Wade, you guys have inspired us, man! We've now got a "tourist route" for people. Time for me to build another Excel spreadsheet!
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Talk about a night for the ages - WELCOME BACK, YAZZ!!!!!

Family,
And a good Sunday morning to you from across the GLOBE after another BIG NIGHT OUT in the Lion City. I gotta tell ya - all these London visitors might send me to an early grave (not really, mum), but all I can say is "what a way to go." It was a FABULOUS Saturday in Sing Sing, starting, and given that it's noon and we're about to walk out the door again, I can't WAIT to see where the day takes us. J-Wade - you've inspired us, man! And Wild Card, don't worry - I'll still be wicked productive in the office tomorrow. :-)
So the Bull and Striker were up about noonish, at which point we showered and rocked over to (where else) Boomerang, baby! You saw those photos yesterday, as the Boomerang Deluxe pizza was consumed vs. the normal brekkie fare. I even washed it down with a Pure Blonde (Australian lager), and all was right with the world.
I then popped over for a haircut, but rather than rock the Bushido place, I hit up this joint right by our local grocery store (Cold Storage - an odd name since most things AREN'T cold and they don't have much room to store anything), and the discussion over my buzz was interesting:
Sammy the Bull (StB): "How much is a cut?"
Truly Sing Stylist (TSS): "30 dollah, lah. Is cheap, lah!!"
StB: "And you're free now?"
TSS: "Can, can, ah." (StB goes and sits in chair) "You no cut in 1, 2 months. How you like, ah?"
StB: "I'd like a 4 on top and 2 on the sides."
TSS: "No, ah. Is too short. I think you no do."
StB: "Yes, lah - I do. Can can. 4 and 2." (SERIOUSLY - WHY IS THIS SO DIFFICULT? I JUST WANT MY HEAD BUZZED!!!!)
TSS: "But you still want to come it, ah?"
StB: "No, no comb. Please buzz."
TSS: "I think is better if you comb. I make it so you comb."
StB: "I DON'T WANT TO COMB IT, LAH. Just buzz head."
TSS: "Okay, okay. Can can. I leave just a little comb."
StB: "NO. NO COMB. Just buzz." (buzzing begins, and it's clearly breaking her heart. She barely presses on my head for awhile, but after the third "shorter, please," she finally gets it.)
All the same, 20 minutes later I was a space monkey ready to be shot into orbit, at which point we went to the airport and picked up.....YAZNA KLARIN!!!!!!! That's right, sports fans - after a 9 month absence from the blog, Yazz is back in technicolor. And boy, what an epic night it was.
We started with a few drinks by the pool at casa de Taylor, we all wandered back up to get ready. The doorbell rang shortly thereafter, and who rocks in but Money and Dan! That's right, fresh off a 4 week trek through Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand, the perpetual nomads are back in Sing Sing for 10 days whilst Big D sorts out his contract (that's right - HE GOT A JOB!!!!). All gussied up, the 5 of us then wandered down to Boat Quay, where we arrived at Red Dot in time to meet 2 of Yazz's mates from London - Jen (now living here) and Stuart (working here for the week). We then picked up Julie "the master negotiator" Mondello and Emma "Sultan of Norwegian Death Metal" Tullett as well, and the crew had a few before rocking over to this REALLY good seafood joint on the water. The dude offered us all a free drink, but Julie decides that isn't enough and says, "You're gonna make that two free drinks, right? I mean, it only seems fair." I expected the "diss" from this guy, but he simply says, "Sure - no problem." I mean, are you kidding me? Impressive...
The conversations were HILARIOUS, and I was quite pleased at the evening that Muffin Puffin had engineered (look at the social butterfly she becomes when she's not working!). And so, energy high (even for Yazz, who'd JUST LANDED at 4 PM from the UK), we rolled over to "Crub Street," where we hit Ying Yang and spent the next four hours on the rooftop bar. Again, Sister Julie was a force of nature, as not only did she negotiate some free shots for the girls, but she also managed to do the impossible in Singapore - tell a bartender that the drink wasn't good and convince them to switch it out. Wise in the ways of the Jedi is she. Much to learn, have I...
Amidst the 5 basquillion laughs, key topics of conversation:
1. Why Norwegian Death Metal is far superior to Swedish Death Metal
2. Why a night out in Essex can only end in "Feces"
3. Why fishnet stockings and a goth costume are the way to a man's heart
4. Why Sam Taylor's accent hasn't softened ONE BIT in 4 years abroad (I explained to them that it HAD in fact softened, but they weren't buying it)
5. Why Indian and Thai food should never hurt more on the way in than on the way out (we did this one in some length and description - I got the sense Emma was less than pleased)
We rolled out of there about 3 (it would have been 2, but Julie convinced the staff that we needed time for 1 more and then needed extensive time to finish that drink - I am AMAZED by this girl), getting home and feasting on Marmite and cheese crackers until 4 AM (T-Bone, you would have been so proud). Bed was 4:30 AM, and now we're rallying for another Boomerang run - LET'S GET AMONGST IT!!!!
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

Friday, 19 August 2011

Introducing...L-O-A Jenny!!!!!! Version 7.0...

Family,
And a good Saturday afternoon to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. IT'S THE WEEKEND!!!!!!! And whilst it really is just a scant 2 days off for the Bull, it's the start of a WHOLE NEW WORLD for the Striker. That's right, sports fans, yesterday was Jenny Taylor's last day of work in Singapore, as my Muffin Puffin has just started a six month leave of absence. Is she excited? Well, given that she hasn't stopped smiling (even in her sleep) in the last 24 hours, I think the answer has to be yes. And whilst I won't give away all of her planned destinations, adventures, or travel companions (but I really do hope that she meets up with ODG at some point for some more "tip swapping"), let's just say that there will DEFINITELY be some guest blogging over the coming months. I am SO excited for her, as it truly will be the adventure of a lifetime.
The Striker actually had a great final 2 days in the office. On Thursday, her team in the UK surprised her with a gift card during their farewell telepresence, and then on Friday her Singapore team participated in an "Amazing Race" team-building event. I just got bits and pieces of the adventure, but it sounded really, really amazing. Perfect Pumpkin's team finished 4th, but they would have won had they not bought these $2 Halloween costume hats which they thought were required for a challenge - HILARIOUS! I mean seriously, could she BE any cuter?
After the Amazing Race competition, they did what any normal group of Asian spreadsheet masters would do - throw a party with free booze in the break room! Seriously - they had catered in food, brewskis, and wine for the entire gang, and they had booked out the breakroom until 10 PM. And since they had way too much food (and drink) and since I was still in the office at 7:15 (Wild Card - look at me constantly adding value), I conveniently "popped down" to join them for 1 (which turned into 5). It was classic - Jenny was drinking "little cups" of wine and not heeding my advice to "go easy" on the premise that "Babe! They're just tiny sips!" Granted, that was true, but lots and lots of "tiny sips" eventually helped an ENTIRE BOTTLE to evaporate.
I met some of her Finance peeps, most notably a gal from New Zealand and a fella from Charlotte (fellow ACC grad), and we ended up drinking in the BREAK ROOM until 11:40 PM (it just cracks me up to even type this), at which point LOA Jenny says, "I need to go upstairs and pack up my stuff." I said no problem, but little did I know she was going to have another REUNION up there, coming down 40 minutes later. But hey, there were a lot of farewells to be said, so no complaints.
It was then home via cab, where we passed out able 2 AM. Since we didn't really get dinner last night, we made up for it with a proper Boomerang lunch today, where we crushed an entire large pizza. And now we're back at the flat, and prepping for what is sure to be an EPIC night. Why, you ask? Well, you'll just have to tune in tomorrow and find out!
JT's UK Finance Team - I doubt very seriously that you guys read this, but if you do I just want to say thank you all SO MUCH for being such a wonderful part of her life these past 2 years. She's said nothing but good things about you, and your thoughtfulness with the gift card is just one indicator of how great you guys must be. I know that she'll miss you, and drinks are on her the next time we're near the Porter & Sorter (OSC - that's right, baby - it made the blog).
JT's SG Finance Team - thank you guys for welcoming my wife in and helping her to get settled into life in Southeast Asia. Whilst she obviously wasn't with you guys as long, I know for a fact that she loved her time here, and she's said more than once how grateful she is for everything. The Amazing Race (our FAVORITE show) was a GREAT cap to the end of her working time here, and an even better start (and indicator!) of what's to come for her over the next 6 months.
JT's (former) US Finance Team - hire her please. After the next 6 months, I will be broke. :-)
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and (happy as a clam) Jenny

Thursday, 18 August 2011

And finally, the "rest" day (Borneo Part III)...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. The Bull went for a long one tonight, logging 10.5 miles outside. It was definitely the coolest outdoor run I've had (so prob 84 with 60% humidity), but it was the first one I'd done in a month or two and I will be honest - it kicked my ASS. I ended up walking a mile collectively, walking in sporadic clips for a total of 14 minutes across a 1 hour and 41 minute run. I think I was a bit over ambitious, as that was 1.5 miles farther than I'd planned to go AND the previous evening had seen us at Brewerkz with Brother Steve (Jackie - they've now got this "Scholar Red," a rice brewed red ale "14oo years in the making" that was quality. Throw in an 8 AM meeting (which does NOT happen in Asia), and you've got a few factors working against you. Or maybe I'm just fat and out of shape. Muffin logged an hour and felt strong - Sydney 1/2 here we come! But enough of that, let's wrap Borneo, shall we?
So Tuesday was a SLOW start for Team Taylor and Lily. We agreed to sleep until 10 AM, which NONE of us had trouble with. We actually had blackout curtains for a change, and we were definitely passed out. Housekeeping did wake us up briefly at 8:15, but they soon realized the error of their ways and scampered off ("NEED SLEEPY!!!!!!!").
The activity of the day was TAR National Park (TAR is the initials of some dude who was the first prime minister of Malaysia or something like that. Don't ask me, man - I just work here. And J-Money, Franchise, and Dings - this IS the part where you can say "Sam made up about 94% of the facts on his tours at Chapel Hill"). This collection of 5 islands right off KK's shore is a GREAT break from the city (as there ain't much shakin' in KK), and each island has its own unique qualities. Wanting something with a little bit of everything, we wandered over to Jeselton Point (the marina), and $5 USD got us each a seat on a bum boat for the 20 minute ride to Manukan - the most visited of all the islands.
We rocked up, paid the $2 USD National Park entrance fee (you have to walk right through the visitor center off the pier - well played, there...), and 10 minutes later we were down on the beach, snorkels, Kindles, and books at the ready. It was only then that Jenny realized she'd picked up the wrong book, at which point I saw the Frumpy clouds descending like rabid vultures on fresh kill in the Mojave. However, with the trusted Kindle not far away, $10 and a 30 second download later, "The Secret Speech" was locked, loaded, and ready to make Perfect Pumpkin happy.
Now, for some reason, the Bull just COULD NOT sit still. Perhaps it was post-traumatic hike disorder. Perhaps it was just the thrill of being in Borneo. Or perhaps I've really lost my damn mind. Regardless, 10 seconds after dropping our gear, I was in the water and snorkeling down by the pier. The coral was pretty much non-existent (thanks to a lot of dynamite fishing that took place in previous decades), but the fish were actually wicked colorful. We saw tangs, angelfish, clownfish, parrot fish, and lots of other little buggers that I really can't identify. We saw what looked like some MASSIVE beta fish, and the clown fish (think Nemo) were nestled in their anemonae like something out of a Jacque Cousteau film. All in all, it was really cool (and T-bone - WAAAAAAAY better than the Franklin Islands...classic), except for this 1 damn fish that kept ATTACKING me. Seriously, the little bastard was probably 6 inches long, but he RAMMED me on 3 separate occassions and kept swimming directly AT MY FACE. I seriously had to swat at him in the water to keep him at bay - redonkulous.
After a bit of snorkeling, I went for a walk around the island (it's pretty teeny) and then went for a 2 mile hike to "sunset point", during which time I saw some HUGE monitor lizards (one was probably 2.5 feet - the other was 5-6 feet). It was a nice (but exhausting) hike, and all the sore muscles were starting to flare up. I then wandered back to the beach, bought some rice, and sat down to eat before Jenny pulled me up to show me the snorkeling spot that she'd found. Her spot turned out to be WICKED cool, complete with this MASSIVE fish who would eat chunks of dirt, chew them, and then BLAST them back out into the water (rinse repeat). I stalked this guy for probably 20 minute - it was extra awesome. Another thing extra awesome was Lily's life jacket. You see, she was so exhausted from the hike that she didn't think she'd have the energy to swim, so she rocked a SEXY red life jacket that was about 600 times to big for her. This thing could have kept the Titanic afloat if they'd had it handy.
After that it was back to the jetty (a wee bit too short, as we'd loved to have had another hour there. However, we simply HAD to sleep that morning, and Manukan's got an early departure time back to the mainland.), where we knocked back a beer at "Don's Point" bar. Once again - FINDING TAPS OR BOTTLED BEERS IN MALAYSIA IS IMPOSSIBLE. However, the cans were cold (even if served in canas glasses), and Jenny got to try "Skol" lager - "brewed in the European Master tradition." Yeah, it was kerosene.
We then went back to the hotel, showered, and rocked over to the Waterfront, where Team Taylor plus 1 met up with...wait for it...wait for it...JASON AND REBECCA, BABY!!!! That's right - the London party bus had just arrived in KK earlier that day, and so we rocked a few brewskis on the waterfront before having a GREAT meal and then getting a final pint at (where else) the Cock and Bull. T-Bone - tell me that doesn't bring back some memories of Cane Toad racing (or was that some other place - I just remember us rocking the karaoke).
It was then back to bed, as we were still EXHAUSTED. The last funny story of the night was when, determined to keep housekeeping away but not having a "Do Not Disturb" tag on the door, I called the front desk and said, "We will be sleeping in - please do not disturb us for any reason." I had to say this about 6 more times, as the lady just could NOT understand why I didn't have the door tag. At this point Lily starts cackling, and when I ask why she simply says, "They know you're in a room with 2 girls, Sam. Making a point of screaming "DO NOT DISTURB" can only force them to one conclusion." Quality...
The next morning was less than exciting, as we had a lie in before wandering out to find lunch. Well, as it was still Ramadan, there was NO LUNCH TO BE HAD save this Chinese place that served 2 dishes - BBQ pork rice or chicken rice. No menus, no sauce options, no nothing - just some chilis, some steamed rice, and plenty of meat. But they did have some wicked lime juice, and given that it was $1 a person for a plate, you can't really complain about that...
We then headed back to the airport, where the last 40 ringits went to (what else) Cadbury chocolate. The flight was smooth, and we capped off the trip with a meal at Wine Connection, where a nice pinotage vanished (Owain, Puma - if only we could have sipped some Tusker whilst eating kudu by the Ellesmere Port nuclear plant).
So that's Borneo in 3 posts and, more importantly, WE'RE FINALLY CAUGHT UP, BABY!!!!! Man, that has been a journey, but boy does it feel good.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The toughest thing Team Taylor has ever done - cracking the roof of Southeast Asia (Borneo Part II)...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. It was a long one in the office today, and the Bull didn't get to make his 9-10 mile run. However, it's now on the docket for Thursday, and that one will be carved in stone. But hey, it's the 3rd AFD in a row, so I've been at least a wee bit healthy this evening. Well, minus that half bag of Doritos...details...Okay, back to Borneo, for 2 days that were, without a doubt, the TOUGHEST of my entire life physically - tackling the summit of Mount Kinabalu.
Standing 13, 455 feet, Mount Kinabalu is the roof of Southeast Asia and the highest point between the Himalayas and New Guinea. Nestled in Kinabalu National Park, it completely DOMINATES the horizon and area around it. No other mountain (of which there are many) even comes CLOSE to its size (height or width), and the drive up to this puppy is QUITE imposing. The four of us were picked up at 7 AM by a guy named Rafael Nudel (Because, as he said, "Rafael Nadal was taken"), at which point we were driven 2 hours to the Park Headquarters entrance. We'd paused for a brief photo on the way in, but the van was getting silent as we approached the trailhead. For the lone dude and instigator of this hike, that meant only one thing - there were three very nervous, and potentially VERY pissed off girls about to tackle that mountain.
We showed up at HQ around 9 AM to find that it was quite chilly. We were already at about 4000 feet, and there was a breeze cutting through the valley. We met our guide and were told that we had to make the Laban Rata checkpoint by 3:30 PM for the safety briefing of the summit. By my calculation, that gave us 6.5 hours to go 6 KM (3.7 miles). I felt confident, and I even paid $1 USD to buy a bamboo walking stick (Gandalf style - I said, "Youuuuuu shall noooooot paaaaaaaass!" about 10,000 times on the climb), thinking it would make for some cute photos. As fate would have it, buying that stick might have saved my life (not literally, mom - don't worry).
Now I'm going to warn you - I'm going to put WAAAAAY more photos up on this one than I normally do because, well, pictures are worth a thousand words, and these pictures are worth a thousand tears of the suffering we endured. That's right, sports fans - there wasn't a level step THE ENTIRE WAY UP. The path (if you can call it that) doesn't have switchbacks - it's just 2500 (yep, that's right - TWENTY-FIVE HUNDRED) steps on the side of a mountain. Let me try and give you some highlights:
1 KM - took about 33 minutes, we were strong. The team was panting a bit, but spirits were high, as we felt we'd made good progress getting up the mountain. Thick forest all around us, and no sign of the summit.
1.5 KM - a bit slower, steep and getting steeper. The group is still more or less together. Breathing is heavier. Heart is definitely pumping. Guide is nowhere to be seen. Luckily, it's hard to lose the path - just keep walking STRAIGHT UP.
2 KM - Conversations start to vanish. Photos (aka "rest periods") start to become more frequent. Group starts to spread. The Bull is dragging.
2.5 KM - First signs of altitude - tough to get air into the lungs. Conversations are non-existent. Team is stopping at every half click to rest a bit (there are huts with toilets and seats every half KM, complete with tasty "untreated mountain water" - ShanTan, I had your "magic pills" at the ready). Jenny hasn't said a word to me in 20 minutes - that's never a good thing.
3 KM - Legs are burning. Path gets steeper. The steps, if you can call them that, are almost 2 feet high in places. Shiva is basically having to climb and jump these (she's under 5 feet). Jenny has now been silent to her husband for about an hour. He tries to make small talk. This fails miserably. Less oxygen. More of a realization this was a bad idea.
3.5 KM - Bamboo pole is an inch shorter from the way I'm slamming it into the ground. Everything hurts. Calves ache, quads burn. Every step is a little worse than the one before it. We are just on pace to make the hut. The other girls are silent. Then all 3 girls pass me.
4. KM - Heartbeat is uncontrollable. Air is getting thinner, and the sun breaks through the sparse vegetation. Heat becomes a factor as well as the pain. Going more than 50 feet at a time takes real effort.
4.5 KM - Someone please shoot me in the face with an elephant gun.
5 KM - 1 KM to go, but there is NOOOOOO celebrating. In fact, there is no noise at all on the trail. I am afraid to look at Jenny for fear she'll stab me with her bamboo pole. The same is true of Lily and Shiva. I am a wanted man.
5.5 KM - When you think it can't get any worse, it does. Now there is no path - just boulders that you're trying to paw through over and over and over. It is straight up, and there is no air. Water is low, heartrate is high, sun is baking, storm is rolling in. I've pretty much decided that Jenny's going to have the divorce papers waiting for me at the top...and maybe and ice pick.
6 KM - we make it to Laban Rata with about an hour to spare. However, our guide then drops the bomb on us - WE HAVE TO WALK UPHILL ANOTHER 5 MINUTES TO GET TO OUR HUT. I almost killed him. My knee was THROBBING at this point, and I really wasn't sure how I was going to get up or back down.
We then checked into our huts, where Jenny, Lily, and I were all assigned top bunks in a room with four CRAZY women from Singapore. Dont' ask me how these women got up there, but they all had at least 2 bags - they were like pack mules! But hey - to each his own...
After the safety presentation, we went down to the Laban Rata hut in a TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR for supper at....4:30. That's right - it was supposed to be lights out at 7:30 for a 1:30 AM wake-up call. We ate for 2 hours, and the food was actually REALLY good. However, after the great meal, the evening took a turn for the worse.
The storm outside grew stronger, and it was cold as HELL at 11,000 feet. I'd never slept at altitude before, and my heart was definitely beating harder than normal. I'd pumped in 4 Advil to knock out the pain in my knee, and JT took down 4 Advil for her headache (common due to the thin air for a lot of folks). We might have been able to sleep, but those damn Singapore women proceeded to REPACK EVERYTHING FOR AN HOUR, LAH with all the lights on. They packed until 8:15, at which point they turned the light out but opened the door (they were afraid of the dark apparently), letting a crack of light in that hit RIGHT ON MY FACE. And when you throw in the fact that I have to pee EVERY HOUR and climb down that ladder, well, let's just say I was not in a good place and only got 1 hour of sleep (but it was an hour more than Lily). However, the sign in the bathroom, which still makes me laugh, TOTALLY made up for it.
The Sing bitches (seriously, I can't be nice about them any more - and all that Bengay they rubbed on themselves - UGH!) got a 1 AM wakeup call, at which point they needed to PACK AGAIN. It's a good thing I didn't have a knife or matches - just sayin'...regardless, by 1:30 we were all up and dressing. We'd been FREEZING during the night, so we were pretty much already covered. I tested out my knee, found that it hurt like hell, popped 4 more Advil, suited up (in a rented jacket), and had a quick brekkie of coffee and toast. Luckily it had stopped raining, but it's fair to say that we were NOT too optimistic about the climb. However, I am happy to report that this particular hike turned out to be one of the coolest things that I've ever done.
We started out very slowly, which probably really did save my life, as we could barely advance in the line of 100+ climbers, meaning that we conserved our strength. However, as I was afraid I'd miss sunrise at the summit, I soon started moving around folks and heading for the hill. Finally, after about 30 minutes, we broke free of the treeline and were on a wall of granite. It was at this point, that the summit assault went from hiking to climbing.
Let's be real clear - it was PITCH BLACK on that mountain. All you had was your head lamp, which showed you the world about 30-40 feet in front of you. Well, what it showed me was a wet rope attached to the side of a mountain with nothing but blackness on the other side. It's really a good thing I did this in the dark, because that rope is attached to an almost SHEER ROCK FACE, and falling would not have been pleasant. All the same, I cleared the mountain checkpoint at 3:45 AM and was surprised to find that I was the 8th person through the 7 KM checkpoint. Then, something clicked on inside of me, and I found a second wind.
About 30 minutes later, something incredible happened - I was the lead climber on the mountain. There were no head lamps in front of me - it was just a white rope, a slope of granite, and my own breathing for company. Readers, it was AMAZING - I can't describe it. It was total silence, it was total isolation - it was total peace. Yes, it hurt. But at that point I was DETERMINED to reach the summit first. It should be noted that, toward the end, people were gaining on my and my spirits were low. But I had to see that sign first - I HAD to be the guy who stopped walking uphill first. And so I attacked the last .25 KM, which was, well, nothing short of going straight up the mountain.
It was truly surreal, as I rounded a corner and could see no lights in any direction except what I was emitting. The rope ended, but the boulders continued upward. I then ran smack into a fence (which was a good thing, as the 1,000 drop of Low's Valley was below me (don't worry, mom - it's a BIG fence), and then I looked to my left. There it was - Low's Peak, the roof of Southeast Asia. 4,095.2 meters. The second highest point I'd ever reached, but definitely the toughest climb of my life.
And so, at 4:52 AM, I hunkered down between 2 rocks and waited for the sunrise. About 15 minutes later Shiva rolled up, and then Muffin Puffin and Lily followed shortly thereafter. The sunrise was good not great, but the walk back down was truly breathtaking. Our guide took Lily's SLR camera and just went on a CRAZY photo shoot - the dude took over 200 photos! That being said, it was just spectacular to have a photographer snapping action shots the entire time, as it meant that we could just focus on the view and think about what we'd just done. I can truly say that, whatever misery and misgivings I had on the way up were completely superceded and obliterated on the way down. That morning really was one of the coolest of my entire life, as being alone up on MK was a once in a lifetime experience that I will never forget. But as the photo tells you - we asks too much of Muffin Puffin, who just wanted to sleep...
We then rolled back down to the checkpoint hut at 7 KM, where we embarked on the next adventure of the day - the Via Ferratta. The Via Ferratta, which is Italian for "the iron road," is basically an beginning climber's way of tackling a rock face. There is a series of steps, clips, and ropes on the side of a mountain, and you go straight down them, seeing AMAZING vistas of the surrounding countryside as you descend. It was really cool, and I'm very glad we did it (for the pictures if nothing else!), however our group was MEGA SLOW because of this one Singapore girl who was TERRIFIED of heights. Seriously, she could barely move and basically tried to slide all the way down the mountain clinging to the robe with a death grip. Jenny said it best at one point when we were stuck hanging (and burning our energy) - "Why did she sign up for this?" Redonkulous. All the same, it was really cool, and I'm really glad we did it.
We got back to the hut for a second breakfast (hot dogs, hard boiled eggs, more toast, and baked beans....mmmmmmm), and then it was time to descend. We were a little worried about Lily, as she seemed a bit shaky and VERY reluctant to start down the mountain. However, we had to shove off, as Shiva had a flight to catch, and we needed to make decent time.
At the 3 KM-to-go mark, the issue was in doubt: Lily was barely moving, Jenny had fallen and busted her tail, and we were making 46 minutes a click DOWNHILL. Jenny then whipped out the magic bottle of Advil (THANK YOU HITMAN), and Lily did something she hasn't done in years - take 3 ibuprofen. In a word - WOW.
Shiva and I had been leading the charge, carrying extra stuff in our packs, and trying to set the pace. 10 minutes after the Advil, Lily was bounding down that mountain like someone in "Born to Run." Seriously - I couldn't keep up with her. and then Jenny takes off! Suddenly Shiva and I are suckin' the hind tit and gasping for air, at which point I decide to try and catch them (we can't even see them by this point). No joke - I have to run for TEN MINUTES before the finally come into view, and I finally catch them with about .2 to go before the end. At that point, the energy runs out of Lily (it was like watching a toy wind down), and suddenly she's nearly sessile again. However, we got to the van, got our certificates, and rolled to town, where Shiva made her flight,the three of us showered, and then we rolled over to Little Italy to put some of those carbs back in. Needless to say that was among THE BEST night's sleeps of my entire life.
So there you have it - Mount Kinabalu in a nutshell. I am so proud of us, and I'm so glad that we did it. That being said, I will NEVER do that ever again, and more to the point, if I knew before the hike what I knew afterwards, I might not have done it. Regardless - T - Bone - Long's Peak awaits still - I know this...
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

Monday, 15 August 2011

No other way to say it - Balls out in Borneo (Part 1)...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. It's AFD #2 on the Team Taylor purification schedule, and the Bull and Striker both made it to Fitness First for a bit of exercise this evening. It was the 3rd day in a row for the Bull, logging 45 on the bike at resistance level #5, which is the highest I've ever gone. T-Rowe - next stop: Cat 5 crits with leg hair still present. Yeah, maybe not...but enough of that foolishness - let's talk Borneo.
Borneo - the "land beneath the wind" - is one of those places that conjures up all sorts of images in the mind of the adventurer. For some it's the orangutans, for others the promise of mist clinging to stilt houses along sleepy rivers, still others think of the boundless hiking, whilst even a few probably think more about the head hunters and cannibals (mom - they're all gone and civilized now, so now worries). Whatever your passion or interest, I think it's safe to say that the world's 3rd largest island can give you an experience you'll never forget. For Team Taylor, that experience was Mount Kinabalu.
Borneo is split into 2 sections - part sitting in Malaysia and the other in Indonesia. I will be honest, coming into this trip I was pretty down on Malaysia as a tourist destination (sorry Evelyn). Whilst I've enjoyed all my trips to Malaysia (save Penag - I still cringe), I must confuse that it was pretty far down there among the countries visited so far. That being said, their ace in the hole is Borneo, and it DID NOT disappoint.
We arrived on Friday night a wee bit later than planned, checking into the Gaya Center Hotel. This place, complete with a view of the National Park islands just off the harbour, was GREAT, and it was pretty much the cheapest place in town (about $55 USD per night, which included brekkie). We were starving when we landed, at which point we were confronted with a new experience for Team Taylor - TRYING TO GET FOOD DURING RAMADAN IN A MUSLIM COUNTRY. Now granted, it was after dark, so people could eat. However, Borneo is big on their "Ramadan sunset buffets," where people gorge themselves between 6-8 and then head home. Consequently, at 10 PM, there just ain't much goin' on.
As fate would have it, however, there was a GREAT Italian joint (yeah, that's right - ITALIAN) beside the hotel called Little Italy (Shogun - I know this feels like the whole "I had Subway twice in Amsterdam" but it's not - trust me) beside us, and they offered a signature dish of "chilli fettucine" which was a) EXCELLENT and b) HOT AS BALLS. It was so good, however, that I then ordered ANOTHER one, at which point the staff was totally confused. They'd never seen anyone dog a dish like that and then ask for more, so at first they asked if I just wanted more of the sauce. When I shook my head, they had to get someone else over to confirm they were hearing the English correctly - SOOOOOO GUUUUUUUUUUD (peppy cheekies).
The Bull and Striker had an early call on Saturday morning, as we were rafting the Padas River. The Padas is apparently 1 of only 2 raftable rivers in Borneo, and given that the other one only offers Class 1 and 2 (and we are SO much more hardcore than that) rapids, we chose the Padas. We get picked up on time, meeting Lily, Shiva, and then 4 randoms (2 from HK, 2 from Oz) making up the expedition for the day. At that point, however, home boy drops the BOMB on us - the drive is THREE HOURS to the rafting site, at which point we have to then take a THIRTY-FIVE minute train ride into the bush to kick this puppy off. And he follows with "I hope no one is wearing white, as the river is very muddy - you can see nothing but brown. And your clothes will be this color when it's over." I looked down at my white shirt and white shorts and thought "At least they'll have character..."
The drive over was actually really nice. We drove through the Crocker Range, which is one of the 2 spines of the island. And the descent into the Padas Gorge was cool as well, as you just can't believe the sheer size and density of the palm trees on the sides of the cliffs. Eventually we did make the train station, at which point we had a quick meal of rice and (I think) chicken before the adventure really began in earnest. And let me tell you - it was AWESOME.
So we rock up to this single platform, expecting some 10 carriage train to roll up. So imagine our surprise when this TINY little red caboose that looks like something out of the Antarctic rolls out of this old wooden shed. Unfortunately we had to leave our camera behind so it wouldn't get soaked on the river, because this photo would have been PRICELESS. Seriously - it was something from pre-war Borneo. I'm pretty sure McArthur rode in this thing at some point.
The ride was HILARIOUS. It was a narrow gauge track, and we got bounced around like pin balls. And best of all, as there are no roads out there, PEOPLE ARE WALKING ON THE TRACK ALL THE TIME, AND SO THE DRIVER HAS TO LAY ON THE HORN CONSTANTLY. Seriously, we round a corner and people just scatter - AMAZING!
After 35 minutes, we get off at what can only be described as a shack in the middle of the wilderness. We then walk TO THE GUIDE'S HOUSE, where he climbs UNDER his porch, pulls out a deflated raft, and starts pumping it up. ARE YOU SERIOUS? And then, once it's full of air, he whips out this homemade contraption that rolls on the rails, drops the raft on it, and tells me to walk it to the water. His parting wisdom: "If you hear the loud noise, get off the tracks with the boat. That is the train." Thanks. Thanks for that.
So finally we get into the water, at which point we realize we've got 11 people in a boat built for 6, 3 of which are guides, but only 1 is paddling. The others are there to a) splash people, b) take photos, c) push people randomly into the river, and d) dunk people once they are in the river. SERIOUSLY - we've been on the river 10 minutes when the "guide" says, "Yeah, there actually aren't any licensed guides in Malaysia. We don't have a school for it, and no one can go to New Zealand for training. Instead we learn on the internet." WHAT!?!?!?!?!?!?!? 2 minutes later...our first Class 3 rapid.
So let's be clear - I've rafted the New, the Payette, The Snake, the Clackamus, the Ocoee, and plenty of other rivers. I tend to be in the front, and I think I'm a pretty decent pace-setter. However, when you have a "guide" who can't steer and 5 people in a boat NOT PADDLING, the rapids get a little tricky. When you have other "guides" who randomly push people out of the boat or are too busy smoking, it becomes even tougher. And when the "guides" are all heavy as HELL, it becomes impossible. Our boat spun around like something from the Tennessee Valley Fair on acid - it was CRAZY. And the "guide's" shining moment? Asking me and the other guy if we wanted to play "rodeo." Basically he took our paddles, sat us on the front of the boat, and then had the rest of the boat paddle STRAIGHT for this huge rock in the middle of the rapid. Unlike most of his steering, we actually HIT this target, at which point the boat almost capsized and nearly EVERYONE went flying out. Quality.
However, we did survive it, and truth be told we had a blast. Yes, it was a bit dangerous. Yes, I did twist my knee pretty good at one point. And yes - there is NO WAY this tour would have been condoned in the US. But we did hit a Class 4 Rapid, and that was VERY cool, and we're alive to tell the tale. And so we come on shore, take another CRAZY train ride back, and then stop for some snacks, at which point the guide says, "hey, do you guys mind signing these waivers? We always forget but the office needs them." IS HE KIDDING ME WITH THIS?
But hey, we got back, got cleaned up, and then rolled over to the Waterfront, where we had a GREAT meal of local fare VERY cheap. It was an AFD for Team Taylor, as we had an even earlier call the next day. That story, however, which is quite the tale, will just have to keep for another time, as it's time for a shower and food.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and Jenny

Sunday, 14 August 2011

And FINALLY - wrapping Taiwan...(Part 8 - I know, I know...)

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City. Team Taylor is at the start of a STRONG run of AFD's this week, as we need to detox from last night's activities AND we've got to prep for NEXT weekend, as we'll have another blast from the London past gracing the streets of Sing Sing. Who, you ask? Stay tuned...
So on the last Saturday in Taiwan, the Bull and Striker popped up about 9:30 to the sound of well, more construction. Granted, it wasn't AS bad this time, and they did wait until about 9 AM to resume construction of the Tower of Babel, but all the same it was less than ideal. After a final round of packing and admiring the view (we did have THE BEST view from a hotel that we've ever had, as we had a direct view of Taipei 101 and the mountains in the distance - I just couldn't stop looking at it), Team Taylor dropped our bags with the Valet and hopped back on the red line for the final batch of activities, these both taking place in the suburb of Guandu.
Guandu is home to 3 things: the oldest Taoist temple in Taiwan, the Guandu Nature park, and THE BEST Mango juices you've ever had. Seriously - we just KEPT sucking these things down. It was also the place where we discovered "Pokey Sweat," which was how we pronounced the energy that JT had fallen in love with. It's actually "Pocari Sweat" for the record, and I have NO IDEA what country is comes from - I just know that it's guuuuuuuuuuuuuuud.
Guandu temple was, simply put - FANTASTIC. It really was a major highlight of the trip, as it went on and on and on (Like Sven when you give him some 28 Black). The temple, constructed in the 1660's, has been cut into the side of the mountain, and the art work (stone, wood, gold trim, etc) was JUST AMAZING. We spent about 2 hours at this place taking in the various views, and I gotta say - whoever the long-bearded Tao God is - I do NOT want to mess with him. The big black eyeballs really creep me out. I'm bringing some terracotta soldiers with me next time for protection.
The day was INSANELY hot, but there were enough spots with shade or cover that we could explore the area for quite a while. We were the only Ang Mo's there, and we did get quite a few funny looks. However, we offered quite a few funny looks back, as the artwork and the stories depicted in the carvings and paintings was COMPLETELY foreign to me. Rice - can a brother get an explanation on some of these? There had to be a reference to "Gahenna" in there somewhere.
After that we took in the Guandu Nature reserve which was, well, less than stellar. Now don't get me wrong, we did see a few cool birds, but by and large it was just one big marsh 97% under construction. Apparently there's a HUGE section of wetlands with tons of birds, but that's the "preservation area" where humans aren't allowed to go. Fair enough, but do you have to ENCLOSE THE WHOLE THING WITH A TENT YOU CAN'T SEE THROUGH? SERENITY NOW!!!! But hey, it was $1.50 USD to get in, so can I really complain? Exactly...
After that, it was off for the final stop of the tour so that the Taylors could do the one thing they do REALLY well - EAT. We rocked back to the Q Mall (in Taipei Main Station) food court, where we set to polish EVERYTHING not bolted to the ground. During the rather impressive grazing session, we discovered a bakery called "Yamazaki," and let me tell you - this place CHANGED OUR LIVES. They had this triple cheese bread (think asiago and parmesan cheese on top of a warm bun FILLED with chunks of cheddar in the middle - yeah, EXACTLY...) that was to DIE for, and we ate 3 of them (as well as a few donuts) before setting down to our main dishes. I finally got one of the Japanese skillet dishes, and it was so guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud (peppy cheekies). Seriously - there are few countries on earth that can rival Taiwan in the realm of eats - VERY impressive.
It was then off to the airport, where the flight got off (more or less) on time, and we landed back in Sing Sing just after 2 in the morning, hailing a cabbie at the budget terminal for the FOURTH WEEK IN A ROW. But hey, no complaints, as it was the end of an AMAZING trip, and Team Taylor was ready to be back in the Lion City.
So there you have it - almost a month to the day after leaving for the adventure, I finally get all the activities committed to paper. Next up - recapping Borneo! But that, dear friends, will just have to wait until tomorrow, as Muffin Puffin is whipping up some green curry, and we're currently tucking into some bleu cheese stuffed olives - YUUUUUMMMMAAAAAAAAAHHH.
Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print. Chat tomorrow!
Love,
Sam and Jenny