Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Chiang Mai (Part II) - Why class 4 rapids in a country experiencing flooding is never a good idea...

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown

Days left in Singapore: 23

Days left until arrival in the Queen City: 30
Family,

I mean, there's sexy...and then there's those board shorts.
Please don't be hatin'...
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull actually took the day off from the gym today, and I have ZERO complaints.  There is always a bit of guilt when I pass on a workout during the week (especially when Muffin Puffin's not around!), but after 4 straight days of running, my legs definitely felt like they needed a break.

In work news, I decided to wear a tie for no apparently reason today, and let me tell you - YOU COULD HAVE HEARD A PIN DROP IN THE OFFICE WHEN I ARRIVED.  It should be noted that I rocked the marathon tie today, featuring lots of runners on the street.  Let's recap some of the highlights:

1. Adrian, ten seconds after I'd entered:  "WOW - that is the WORST TIE I have EVER seen."

2.  Sharyn, 3 seconds later:  "Um, that tie, wow.  Jenny's still not home, is she?"  (Sam nods) "Yeah, that explains it then."

3.  Tiffanie, 10 minutes later:  "You look really, um, different today."  (she then almost falls out of her chair

4.  Emma, an hour later:  "That tie is HORRIFIC.  Are you doing this just to shock people and leave on a note that makes them think you're a snazzy dresser?"

5.  Adrian (again) later via email:  "Your tie has given me an idea - let's have 'CRAZIEST OUTFIT DAY' in the office and see what happens."

6.  Martin (my own boss):  "Seriously - why are you doing this?  Is there a reason?"

Doctors from Raffles Hospital have reported that all employees suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder have since been released and put on a regimen of 4 Tiger beers per night until they realize how expensive it is.

But in other news, let's return to Chiang Mai, shall we? 

So Saturday we were up early, belts loosened for the American brekkie, and I'm proud to report that we slaughtered not only the "standard" breakfast but also a round of French Toast with our coffees.  We figured that we'd need our strength, as today's activity saw us picked up at 8:45 by Peak Adventures for something I was REALLY looking forward to - white water rafting!  We'd managed to add in a one hour elephant trek as well, so I was really pumped to get this party going.

The tour stated good enough - the other tourists were friendly, the guides weren't overly chatty, and most important - the drive was only 90 minutes.  On the other hand, we were WEDGED in the back like sardines (I was spending a LOT of time rubbing up against a sweaty Danish dude - not cool) and the A/C was broken, so I wasn't exactly in the best of places spiritually.  However, things were running on time, and so far - so good.  En route they told us that we were rafting the Mae Tung river, which is (apparently) the "6th most exciting river in the world" (the Colorado is #1 apparently).  With this information, as well as the knowledge that we were hitting 5 class IV's and 1 class IV+, I was definitely ready to get it on. 

So we arrive at the camp, where we learn that it was a good thing we booked in for the elephant ride, because if you didn't you had to just sit at the camp and be CONSUMED ALIVE by mozzies - less than ideal in the tropics.  However, we were one of the three lucky ones, and so Jenny and I hopped into the back of an old truck and rolled over to the elephant site.  We arrived on schedule, and there they were - pretty little Dumbo's, all in a row.  And it was at THIS point, ladies and gentlemen, that things started to go downhill.

For starters, we show up to find that the "German Centernarian's League" has commandeered all the Elephants.  I can tell that something is wrong, because there is LOTS of chatter going on in Thai.  And then they look back at us, park the car, and say - "we just need to wait 30 minutes."  I nod, realizing that we're somehow late and lost our spot, but thinking that all will be well.  However, when the guy riding with him says, "Yes, it will be only 45 minutes," I start to get a little concerned.

The Bull in deep thought (and still in those really cool shorts),
surveying the rapids he and the Striker are set to tackle later in the day.
As it turned out, it was FIFTY-FIVE minutes of waiting, because those cats had gone on the tour we'd booked in.  However, as we killed the time watching the rapids, hiking around a bit, and chatting with the German fella we'd met, I thought things would be okay.  Oh, soooooo naive.

Well, after the Gandalf club exits, we walk up to the podium, at which point there is FURIOUS chatter between the Mahouts (elephant drivers) and our guides.  After some nodding and grumbling, however, we're away, and I'm quite enjoying myself.  Elephant rides are MUCH smoother than Camels, and Jenny and I got to share a seat just behind the Mahout (you basically have to step on the elephant's head to mount him - those puppies are STRONG). 

All is well for about 15 minutes, until we suddenly turn around.  I'm thinking that we're going on a different "jungle path" (we'd hadn't even left the main road, for the record, let along started "trekking in the jungle"), but the guy wheels back to base and tells us to get off (we did make him take 2 photos, which he was NOT happy about.  So instead of the 1 hour elephant ride, we got a 20 minute elephant ride.  Now granted, it was still WAY better than the other touristy "rides" you get, but it wasn't what I was promised, and I intended to make someone's life hell.  I started with our guide.  The conversation went something like this:

Sammy the Bull (StB):  "We paid for an hour.  We got 20 minutes.  Are we getting a refund?"

Thai Thrasher Local Dude (TTLD):  (smiling) "No.  You go for much longer than that.  You get almost hour."

StB: (shows him my stopwatch) "This shows 25 minutes and 48 seconds - that included the loading time and walk to the platform.  You owe me at least half of my money back."

TTLD:  "No, that was the normal length of time."

StB:  "Your brochure says an hour.  That wasn't even half an hour."

TTLD:  "I don't think it says that in the brocure."

German Dude with Us (GDwU):  "Really?  Because I happen to have your brochure in my pocket.  Here it clearly states one hour."

TTLD:  (SHOCKED)  "Um, I think maybe you talk to my manager."   (YES, LA - I THINK WE WILL)

Hannibal we were not - but I was ready to go
Ghengis Khan in anger after we got short-
changed.  All the same - it was really cool.
But the debacle continues, as we then have to ride IN THE BACK OF THE TRUCK WITH THAT GUY for 20 minutes before arriving at camp, at which point we tell the manager about it.  Her response:  "We will talk later."  I already know how this is going to go, and I'm trying to remember the wise words of Tait Robinson when traveling in Asia - "just accept that things don't always work as planned and there will be nothing you can do about it."  All the same, I was pissed.

But it was then onto the river, and my spirits were lifted.  Well, momentarily.  You see, in most places, you run big water with 6-8 people plus a guide.  That way you have more weight, more strength, and generally more flexibility to move in rapids.  For these cats, however, they had FOUR to a boat.  Our boat was Muffin, the Bull, and then 2 HUGE (and not with muscles) Italians who a) had never rafted before, b) were at a ZERO level of fitness, and c) didn't speak a WORD of English.  On an 8 person boat this would not be a problem.  On a 4 person boat at flood level, however, it tends to become an issue.

The trip was a 2 hour, 10K run through an AMAZINGLY beautiful canyon - seriously some of the prettiest scenery I'd seen rafting.  Plus, the weather couldn't have been better.  And through the class II's and III's, all was well.  There was a good current, a nice breeze, and all was well.  Then, however, we hit our first class IV, and all hell broke loose.

So here's the thing - Jenny and I have rafted a lot.  She's been 10 times, and I've been 9 times, and we've hit some big water before (Snake, New, Payette, Gardiner, etc).  I am typically one of the pace setters in the front, which I like because I think you get a good chance to really feel the rush of the rapids.  However, that is with the North American style of rafting, where you actually PADDLE DURING THE RAPIDS.  You see, that's not how they roll in Thailand.  Instead, you get into the first rapid and then the guy yells GET DOWN!!!!  and you just have to hunker down and ride out the rapid whilst water PUMMELS you in the face and floods the boat.  It was an absolutely RIDICULOUS system, and going into the first class IV, I had no idea that's how they rafted. 

Well, we get into the first turn, and the guy is yelling forward, which we're doing.  We're in position, and then the guy yells "GET DOWN!!!!"  I don't know why, but I tuck in.  We get hit pretty good, and then he yells something, which I take to mean get up (as does Jenny and anyone else who's ever rafted before), so we do to start getting into position for the next section.  Well apparently he was just telling us to stay put, because we get no direction and the next then I know I am bumped halfway out of the boat, and the boat is wedged on a rock and tilting fast (because the Italian gal is probably 300 pounds - NOT KIDDING). 

I know that we're in a pickle, and I know that if I don't bail, we flip and go garage sale through the rapid.  So I look at Jenny and say, "I'm going over - see you at the end."  And with that, I fall back into what can only be described as hell. 

So I have debated how to write about the next minute of my life because, well, I can say with complete honesty that it was the most frightened I've ever been.  EVER.  I feel I can write about it honestly now that a month has passed, I'm back safely from Chiang Mai and Railay, and my parents know I'm alive and well and safe in my condo in Singapore.  But in that moment, things were scary.  Mom and Dad - I'm sure that it wasn't as bad as you're about to read.  However, to quote Pip in "Great Expectations:  "I'm not going to tell it the way it happened.  I'm going to tell it the way I remember."  Look away for the next little bit if you need to. :-)

I've been knocked out before, once in a class III and once at the tail end of a class IV, but those were NOTHING compared to the washing machine I fell into.  I knew what to do (feet first, face up, find the rapids), and I did it, but the churn and size of the whitewater was enormous, and getting my head up for air was a challenge.  Suffice it to say that twice I was under longer than I wanted to be, and I was definitely knocked around through what felt like the longest rapid of my life. 

Finally I heard whistles, and I looked up to see the rope in the middle of the rapid.  I managed to grab it and hold it, although the rope burn from the current pulling me away is STILL MARKED on my hand over a month later.  My boat did managed to bump me over to the side, where I was finally able to put some VERY shaky legs to the river bottom.  Jenny looked at me and instantly knew that something was wrong, as I was not sporting the usual "WHEW! Let's do that again!" look.  There's no other way to put it - I was rattled.  And I was scared.

Truth be told, I'll have no idea how long I was in that water. It was probably 45 seconds to a minute, but it felt like an eternity.  And I'll never know how long I was under each time between breaths, but it was definitely longer than I wanted.  Suffice it to say that, when they returned my paddle 15 minutes later, I'd just stopped the bleeding on my legs and was really on the fence about whether or not to continue.  I knew the drill now - STAY DOWN. 

One of the class III's we rafted - this was near the end (and
I was NOT complaining about getting out of the boat by that point).
The rest of the rafting passed without incident (but to put it into context - a guide who said he'd never been tossed got launched on the next set of rapids), but I was definitely shaken.  It was the first time I've ever been scared rafting, and it's the last time I'll ever raft in the third world.  We got pounded TIME AND TIME AGAIN by each rapid, and one time so much water came over that Jenny was coughing and choking whilst our guy was ordering us to paddle (which was odd, since 99% of the time we were supposed to just hunker down).  On the whole I'm really glad I did it, but I was REALLY glad when we saw the hut.

A celebratory beer - Chang NEVER tasted so
good - and ridiculous tiki umbrellas with
cheesy plastic lights never looked so majestic.
Of course, once it was over, it was back to arguing about the elephant ride, at which point the manager said, "We'll speak when we get back to the office."  And what made it MORE awkward?  They'd changed vans on us for the ride home, and we were a seat shy.  Who didn't have a chair?  THIS GUY.  So where do they put me?  ON THE DRIVER'S CONSOLE BETWEEN THE DRIVER AND THE MANAGER WHO REFUSED TO SPEAK TO ME.  So I'm sitting there, WITHOUT A SEATBELT, with my face almost pressed against the rearview mirror, easily a foot taller than the driver and the manager, and my head hits the ceiling every time we hit a bump (which, I'm here to tell you, happens A LOT in Thailand).  And it was amidst all this chaos that the driver turned up the radio, and he and I did a MEAN duet of "Numb" by Linkin Park (which perfectly described my legs from sitting on that damn console).

We were let off an hour later, with the manager saying, "I'll call you later."  I wanted to make a smart ass remark, but I was just so glad to be alive, an $8 elephant ride (and $4 if I just demanded half) didn't really seem like that big of a deal. 

It was then a shower and over to John's place, which was this really cute rooftop bar.  We caught half of the Chelsea - Arsenal game (it's the one where the Gunners won 5-3), and we even got the rare treat of seeing HUNDREDS of lanterns floating in the night sky.  They were a beautiful orange, and it was just really spectacular. 

After that we rolled to a place down the block that Jenny had discovered before - a restaurant that actually just sets up tables right on the street and cooks the pad thai out of a rolling cart.  It was AMAZING, and the meal was just $1! 

This was just before the "Swensen's fantasy" moment...
And we even saw the Belgians from the cookery school there and ate with them.  During the meal, we learned that they'd just discovered Swensen's ice cream shop, and they were now "Members" of some discount club.  Jerry (the guy) couldn't stop raving about it.  His best quote:  "You can get anything you want there.  I got to Swensen's, and I can just fulfill my fantasy."  I almost PISSED MYSELF laughing.

It was then back over to the Chiang Mai saloon for a night cap (don't worry, T-Rowe - I didn't betray you this time) before heading home and CRASHING, a day of adrenaline, adventure, and misadventure in the books.

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

Love,

Sam and (enjoying her last night with Mel before RETURNING TO SINGAPORE TO BE REUNITED WITH HUSBAND BEAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) Jenny

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The Asheville of Asia - Recapping Chiang Mai (Part 1)...

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown
Days left in Singapore: 24

Days left until arrival in the Queen City: 31

Family,

And now the next contestants on the new Season of "Hell's Kitchen..."
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull ran for his fourth straight day today, logging 4 miles in exactly 34 minutes.  That's 30 seconds a mile slower than yesterday, but as I'm into the "acclimitization" phase of moving from 3 miles to 4, I'm okay with it.  More importantly, for the first time in a long time I'm truly looking forward to my workouts as opposed to just feeling the need to churn through the miles, which is a very good thing.

So I realize that the Bull is looooooooooooong overdue in giving you all the recap of our two Thailand adventures.  In fact, the parts of Chiang Mai that I'm going to cover tonight are from October 27th and 28th, which is over a bloomin' month ago.  Oh well, better late than never, right?  And so, apologies out of the way, let's get amongst it.

We landed fairly late in the evening on Thursday night, really just in time to check in at the hotel and grab a nightcap at the bar across the street.  Jenny had stayed at this place previously with Yazz, and she'd told me that it was really nice.  However, we got an upgrade, which meant that our room was PIMPTASTIC.  Seriously - it was ENORMOUS, complete with a four poster bed and a door that would have been the envy of any temple in Southeast Asia.  Our room opened onto the pool and our table for brekkie, which was included every day (and sooooooo guuuuuuud).  All in all, the first night started off great (even if we did get kicked out of the bar when we tried to order a third Chang).

Sammy the Bull waiting patiently for his 19,000 calorie
breakfast.  Hey, travel takes it out of you - gotta carb up!
We started Friday in royal fashion after about 10 hours of sleep, rolling out of bed and making the 4 steps to our poolside table for the "American breakfast."  Basically, you had 3 options - the thai breakfast (which was fiery but small), the continental breakfast (which  was WEAK LIKE UKRAINE), and then the American breakfast (read:  WE PILE THIS HIGH FOR ALL THOSE FAT ASSES FROM THE US WHO CAN'T STOP EATING).  Yeah, I was pretty much in Heaven every single morning.  All I could repeat was, "I LOVE Chiang Mai!"

We then made the move to head into town, but we just couldn't make any headway because everywhere we looked was GREAT shopping.  We went about nine steps before finding a tourism office, where we popped in and booked our two tours for the weekend.  We then went back to the room, put the vouchers in the safe, and headed back out down our street, only to stop another 2 blocks on at a used book shop.  In a word - NIRVANA. 

Seriously - this place was piled high with TONS of books that I'd been looking for, and in true a) used and b) Asian fashion, they were cheeeeeeeap.  Consequently, 15 minutes and 8 books later, we were loaded down again and had to head BACK to the room to drop off all the purchases. 

We finally do make it into town and go for a wander along the river.  Jenny had told me that Chiang Mai had a very Asheville, NC feel to it, and I definitely got that vibe walking around.  It's in the mountains (they loom like an enormous shadow in the background against that amazingly blue sky), and you'll find that most folks are pretty relaxed about, well, everything.  I loved it instantly.  Our wanderings took us across the river and down a ways before cutting back and and wandering into our first temple of the trip.  It should be noted at this point that Chiang Mai is famous for its temples (I know, I know - what place ISN'T famous for temples in Asia) - and I must say that they definitely have a monopoly on uniqueness.  Take our first one, for example - Wat Bupparham.

Welcome to the Church of Donald Duck..."life
is like a Hurricane, here in Duck-berg..."
Now look - I'm ALL ABOUT happiness.  I'm all about religion.  I'd say I'm all about peace, but we know I have a violent streak the size of the Valley Marinaris on Mars.  If you are Buddhist and want to express your love of life and happiness, I TOTALLY support that.  But may I suggest that you DO NOT USE DONALD DUCK STATUES ON THE FRONT OF YOUR TEMPLE.  May I also suggest that you DO NOT LET WILD ROOSTERS JUST RUN WILD ALL OVER YOUR PROPERTY.  If you live by these two rules, you'll be fine. If you don't, you'll end up with another Wat Bupparham. 

This place was WICKED strange, but the architecture was actually very impressive, and I'm really glad that we went.  Plus, the sky was getting CRAZY dark as we wandered around, which a) cooled things down a bit (much needed), and b) made for some fantastic photos. 

Typical fish market stall - most of the fish are still alive and
flopping - one actually popped off its tray and hit Jenny!
After that we wandered into Chinatown, where I was on a mission to procure some uber-cheap sunnies for our upcoming rafting trip.  I was made at myself because I'd left my "fakelys" at the condo, so I was determined to spend NOT ONE PENNY above $5 for a pair of shades.  We'll I rolled up on a pair that was $1, and I had to have it.  So I offer the dude 30 baht, and he shakes his head - "No, is 50."  I look down at the SIGN IN FRONT OF THE GLASSES that says:  "ALL SUNGLASSES - 30 BAHT."  I look back at the guy and give him the "do I actually need to point to the sign, or will you just admit that you couldn't rook the white guy and take my money" look, at which point he grumbles for a bit, looks at the other shopkeeper, adn then FINALLY decides that yes, I should not be the ONLY PERSON IN CHIANG MAI WHO DOESN'T GET THE ADVERTISED PRICE.  If they hadn't been exactly what I'd been looking for, I would have chucked those pieces of plastic and stormed out. 

"Fat" selecting the spices and veggies for the evening.
After that it was back to the massage place right by the hotel (see a theme forming here?), where I went for a foot massage and Jenny went with the Thai massage.  Both were excellent, and we left there VERY relaxed when it was all said and done.  It was then into the pool right quick before showering and getting picked up for the featured event of the evening (brace yourself for this) - THAI COOKING SCHOOL!!!!!  That's right, sports fans - Sammy "I can't boil water" Taylor and his beautiful, blushing bride were on their way to prepare a 5 course Thai dinner with 6 total strangers - good times.

Now I don't think it's ANY surprise that Team Taylor does little to no cooking.  Jenny whips up a stir fry or pasta from time to time, and back stateside we do break out the crock pot from time to time.  99% of the time, however, it's either a) eating out or b) Jenny making a salad whilst I eat a sandwich, half a bag of chips, and half a block of cheese (and I wonder why I look so chubby).  But call me crazy, I was REALLY excited about this.  And I will state publically - I had a BLAST.

Muffin Puffin in action at the wok - Gordon Ramsey style.  Look at those
fish cakes!  100% oil, fat, and odd parts of fish!  Yummmaaaahhhh...and
check out the guns on that girl!  Ocean swims never stood a chance!
There were 4 couples - French, German, Belgian, and American.  Throw in a Thai instructor who's name means "Fat" in Thai, and you've got a recipe for a good evening (no pun intended).  We started off with a walk over to the local markets, where "Fat" picked up all of our incredients and explained what everything was, what it did in the mixture, and why you used certain herbs in certain dishes.  It was fascinating, as I'd walked past this stuff a billion times without EVER knowing what it was.  It was then back to the cooking school, where we donned our aprons and the chaos began.

So here's how it works - you pick 5 dishes, and then you whip them up one at a time, cooking them at your own personal wok, and then bring it back to eat.  Here's how Team Taylor rolled:
Jala posing with the sea crabs we used for "flavoring" in our
papaya salads.  She's the one I about set on fire 30 or 40 times...

The Bull:  Papaya Salad (spicy!), penang curry (the curry and the dish are considered 2 separate items), hot and sour soup, cashew nut chicken

The Striker:  Fish cakes, hot and sour soup, green curry, chili prawns

The entire night was HILARIOUS.  Jenny was WAY better than me (shocking, that), and I felt really bad for the Belgian gal (Jala) beside me, as I a) about set her on fire with hot oil 10 seconds into the first dish, and b) was a screaming lunatic when I rubbed red chili in my eye at one point in the evening.  Let me tell you - I would rather be WATERBOARDED than do that again.  My eye and hand felt like I'd put them in "the box" featured in Dune for about 6 hours.

3.5 hours later, stuffed to the point of explosion, we bid farewell to the cooking school and did what you do on a Friday night in Thailand (or any other country outside of the Middle East for that matter) - hit the bars!  Jenny knew a street that she and Yazz had visited during their time here, but she did warn me that it was a bit, well, scuzzy.  WOW.  Understatement of the century.

All smiles despite 20 minutes of swinging that 50 pound
grinding stone to make green curry - honestly, could she be
any cuter?
So as many of you know, Thailand gets a reputation for being something of a sexual playground.  And whilst Pattaya has the market cornered and Bangkok offers all the ping pong shows you can handle, Chiang Mai was pretty bad.  We are talking TONS of old, wrinkled, HUGE white dudes running around, all with 1 or 2 young, thin Thai girls just fawning over them.  Each bar was guarded by about 20 girls (all between 18-20) dressed in skin tight black outfits, looking as though they were ready to devour you.  I mean, I'm definitely not gonna win sexiest man alive anytime soon, but some of those dudes running around would have made "The Mummy" look like Bradley Cooper.  Consequently, I was a little concerned one of these girls was going to scratch Jenny's eyes out.  But then we found a sight for sore eyes - the Chiang Mai Saloon.  In a word - AWESOME.

So this place was JUST great - good drinks that were ice cold, plenty of atmosphere, and even a list of "You might be Taliban if..." quotes in the bathroom (some were bloody brilliant).  At one point, there were two guys talking at the bar, and one of them (American) said, "Honestly, you can't really tell any difference between Scotch and Jack Daniels."  I tried, readers, I really did - but I just won't stand for that shit.  And so I leaned over and politely explained to the guy about oak aging, charcoal mellowing, the reasons you use oak and maintain a cooperage on site, and why single distilled is WAY better than smoking the flavor, which is why I prefer JD to Scotch.  I did concede that Jameson's and their triple distilling method was better and smoother than JD and probably a better whisky, even though I preferred Middle TN's aqua vitae.  There was an Irish dude beside us who'd been mum the whole time, but when I gave propss to Middleton, he lit up like a Christmas tree and offered me a toast.

The highlight for this guy (but maybe not any of the other patrons) came when a local walked in with his guitar and just sat down and started playing.  At first folks were just sitting around enjoying it.  But then, for the second time this year - memories of my father struck again.

I'm sitting there with my Chang when all of a sudden I hear, "I'm runnin' down the road tryin' to loosen my load..." and I perk up like a Jack Russell Terrier.  I try to contain myself, but, well, the guy is sitting RIGHT BESIDE ME, and I just can't stop.  I wait until it the sacred moment, and then in tribute to my father I put my hand on the guy's shoulder and SCREAM:  "I'm standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see.  It's a GIRL my Lord, in a flat bed Ford, slowin' down to take a look at me..."  All of sudden - I have a new best friend.

"We haven't had that spirit here since...1969..."
The guy finishes this song and then whips out his playlist.  Now granted, most of it was in Thai, but I can now confirm that Sammy the Bull has officiall performed "Hotel California," "Be With You," and "Desperado" live in concert.  I haven't received any calls from recording studios in Thailand yet, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

It was then back to the hotel, where we passed out at 1 AM.  After all, we had a big day on Saturday - but that will just have to keep until tomorrow.

On a side note, I discovered the song "Jet Lag" by Simple Plan tonight.  I think it pretty much sums up the last month without Muffin Puffin.  I LOVE YOU, PUMPKIN!!!!! 

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

Love, 

Sam and (newly friends with a Dutch girl named Helena and now a veteran of the "Manly to the Spit 10K walk" - and home in just 2 more sleeps!) Jenny

Monday, 28 November 2011

Singularly Singapore - the 29th Annual Dragonboat River Regatta...

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown

Days left in Singapore: 25

Days left until arrival in the Queen City: 32

Family,

The starting area for the 200m sprint.  These guys blast out
of the starting area like rabid banshees - Usain Bolt style.
And a good evening to you all from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull had a great workout tonight, logging 4 miles in exactly 32 minutes.  I'd been sticking to the 5K's recently, but in the last week or so I've felt a real surge of confidence in my running, and I honestly feel like I'm starting to see some results on the efforts for the first time in a long time.  I've given up the bike and am currently sticking just with running, sit-ups (please keep the laughter to a minimum), and light weights (please keep the guffawing to a minimum), and so far it honestly does seem to be paying off.  That's odd, because 5-7 years ago running every day tended to depress my times.  Granted, I was going longer then, but still - it's interesting.  And whilst I am LOATHE to give him any credit, maybe Matt "el Burro Jefe Gigante" was right - cross-training is a myth. :-)

So yesterday was a great one for the Bull.  For starters, I managed to log 30 minutes outside, running between NOON AND 12:30.  That's right, baby!!!  The Bull FINALLY did the unthinkable and went for a midday run.  The rains have definitely cooled off this corner of the globe, and it actually felt pretty good out there!  I reckon I did about 3.6, and I'm pleased with that.

The Temple of Quality Ale - Red Dot on Boat Quay.
After the run, the Bull headed over to Boat Quay for the two main activities of the day:  drinking beer with Emma at Red Dot, and watching the 29th annual Singapore Dragonboat River Regatta.  I tell ya what - throw in some Green Monster, BBQ chicken pizza, and a downpour of EPIC proportions, and you've got a good day out.

So here's the deal:  dragonboat racing is one of the most popular sports in Singapore, and the locals are VERY good at it.  The national team moves like a jetboat on the Shotover River, screaming and shouting the entire time.  You've got teams of 12 and teams of 22, with pairs of rowers lined up down the boat (which does have a dragon's head and tail, for the record), while a lone cat steers the vessel and the person on the front of the boat pounds on a drum to indicate the stroke rhythm (huh, huh...you said stroke).  The typicall scene was 21 MASSIVELY strong dudes and then a tiny little wood sprite of a girl sitting by the drum (which was twice her size), screaming the entire time and hanging on for dear life near the finish (as the drummer's not strapped in).

Much like running, cycling, and any other sport, there was definitely a culture of athletes along the riverbanks.  A few things you'll notice:

1.  EVERYBODY has Havianas.  It's almost as though it's part of the uniform.

2.  The life jackets that folks are wearing appear as though they were made in World War II.  I'm pretty sure they wouldn't keep a beer can afloat.

Team warm ups - basically these cats are just SCREAMING
as if they're being shocked by cattle prods whilst they simulate
the movement of rowing.  It's kind of like watching the Haka,
only minus the fear of being eaten by 6'8", 270 pound humans.
3.  Dragon boat racing involves a lot of screaming - at yourself, at your opponents, at each other.  For example, when the race is about to start, the instructor says:  "Rowers, are you ready?"  At which all of them go total code of bushido and yell "HAAAAAAA!!!!"  And then, when the horn goes and the rowing begins, they are screaming out the count whilst the little half pint manning the drums beats the membrane to within an inch of its life.  You get the feeling as though you're watching some ancient ritual the Khmer, Siamese, Burmese, and Malay kings used to impose on their slaves - it really is pretty intense.

Also interesting is noting all the different nationalities and how they prepare:

1.  Singaporeans - eating chicken rice together between races, and then SCREAMING at each other in formation to loosen up again.
The view about 1/3 of the way down the chute.  The team in
the foreground is making their way to the starting area.
2.  Hong Kong - running around the river non-stop (because I guess all day rowing just wasn't enough cardio for them.  Either that, or they hadn't seen air this clean in years and felt compelled to suck in as much of it as possible).
3.  Germany - cheeks painted with the flag, laying in perfect arrangement to conserve their strength until the next event.  I didn't hear any David Hasselhoff playing in the background, but I'm sure they each had a photo of him tucked into their life jackets.
4.  Australia - just happy to be there, all in straw hats and sponsored by Brewerkz.  Their rudder dude looked STRAIGHT OUT of the Outback - Drover style.
5.  Britain - fielding about 40 teams, but much more time was spent at the buffet than in the boat.  What a spread!
The tents were the loading area - it was nuts over there, as
races were going off every 5 minutes for EIGHT HOURS. 
All the team tents were there as well - the whole place had a
great carnival atmosphere to it.
6.  America - the "official meeting point" was the bar by the start line.  I mean really, guys?  REALLY?  At least TRY TO LOOK LIKE WE'RE NOT GONNA BOOZE. 

Emma and I watched 3 hours of it, complete with a 90 minute TORRENTIAL DOWNPOUR that stopped the proceedings.  The length of time was perfect, as it enabled me to sample a 3/4 pint of every beer on offer.  It also gave me ample opportunities to watch Emma BEG for a full pint of beer, whilst they continued bringing her half pints.  I was enjoying myself immensely every time she'd try a different approach.  These included (all to no avail, mind you):

1.  "Can I have a pint, please?"

2.  "Can I have a FULL pint, please?"
I just simply had to throw this in, as this is THE GREATEST
pic of the weekend:  David in a pool at the top of Singapore,
beer (bought in cash) in hand in a monsoon, with a look that
says, "Singapore security my ass - here's to livin' the dream!"
3.  "Last time you brought me a half.  Could you bring me a full this time?"

4.  "I want what he's having (pointing at my beer), but I'd like the summer ale."  (note - she STILL gets a half pint, but she gets my beer instead of the one she asked for).

After the boating, it was back to the house, where I tucked into some sushi and hit the sack early.  I had sushi as well tonight, complete with oranges and cheese because, well - there is no better combination.

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

Love,

Sam and (successful in her quest to tackle the Coogee Beach swim and hike, as well as a 5 hour hike in Manly today - capped off by a pint of Pale Ale at 4 Pines Brewing!) Jenny

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Thanksgiving at the Ray-Yeh - one of the most memorable evenings of one-liners EVER...

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown

Days left in Singapore:  26

Days left until arrival in the Queen City:  33

Family,

And a good Sunday morning to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull is living the bachelor life once again, as Liz and David had a 5 AM wake-up call for a 6 AM taxi en route to catching their morning flight to Beijing.  Guys, we had an absolute BLAST - thanks so much for making the trip over and chillin' at casa de Taylor.  L-B-C was in the house - throw it up, throw it up!!!!!

The hostess with the mostess - Nancy serves up the 14 pound
bird, which was sooooooooooo guuuuuuud...peppy cheekies.
Last night the Bull and his guests rolled over to the East coast of Singapore at the invite of Nancy and John.  They were hosting a Thanksgiving Dinner (which, let me confirm, is NO SMALL FEAT when you see the size of kitchens in Singapore), and they'd graciously invited me and my peeps to dinner.  We showed up about 6:20, and by 6:25 I was meeting some of John's colleagues whilst gravitating to the most appropriate appetizer once can have on this festive day - a bottle of Corona.  But that was just the tip of the iceberg, as these two had thought of EVERYTHING.

For starters, their house is AWESOME.  The 63" telly made me green with envy (but don't worry, Muffin - I'm not going to buy one for our house), and the whole place was just fantastic - a nice balcony, plenty of space, and even separate washer/dryer units!  I almost wept when I saw that!  But back to the most important part - the food.  Nancy had been worried about how it would all turn out, so let me proclaim it for the masses - IT TURNED OUT FANTASTIC. 
Seriously - tell me you're NOT jealous...AMAZING meal.  And
the best part was when, after most folks looked WHIPPED from
the effort, Nancy announced, "We've got back-up side dishes if
folks are still hungry." You could have heard a pin drop...
I was just about ready to burst and throw in the towel when
John said, "Now there are some turkey legs in there if anyone
wants dark meat."  It took me exactly 3 seconds to claim one.
Picture HEAPS of green bean casserole, au gratin potatoes, chicken fried rice, spinach casserole, roles, about 3 other casseroles that I just can't think of, 3 different types of cakes, cookies, AND ONE OF THE BEST TURKEYS EVER.  Perfectly cooked, expertly moist - it was like butter, baby.  And believe me, I gave each dish a rigorous inspection.  In fact, I went back to the line FIVE TIMES before I approached "Peddlar" status and had to sit immobile for about 20 minutes.  What can I say?You can move Taylor 11,000 miles away from his rightful seat on 102 Richardson Drive, but you can't breed the appetite out of him during the 4th week of November every year.
And as for the conversation with new friends and old, it was HILARIOUS.  Seriously, some of the best one-liners EVER came out of our dinner table conversations.  Here were the six that I happened to remember:
1.  When describing a business scenario where a manager was trying to make the best of a bad situation:  "I can only pee with the dick I have..."
2.  Someone trying to describe the frustration of adjusting to life in the Singapore office after living in London:  "I think I'm just going to storm into the office and use the c-word..."
3.  A little 4 year old at the party watching me get my FOURTH helping:  "Wow - you're gonna be really fat sooner or later."
4.  Me responding to Liz when telling me I needed dessert after 5 helpings:  "Do you want me to vomit on you?  Because I can."
5.  Comment about why a guy didn't use a realtor he'd used previously:  "Well, you could blame it on her lack of response to my calls, but the truth is she's just an absolute bitch."
6. About a decision at a pilates studio:  "Well, I just couldn't hire him.  It would NEVER work with my clients.  After all - he's straight."

The evening whizzed by, and by 10:15 PM, it was time to shuffle off, as we had about an hour commute back to the condo.  Liz, David, and I said our goodbyes last night, and the house was empty when I woke up this morning.  But now it's back out and about for this guy, as it's time to watch the Dragon Boat Racing finals!

Nancy and John - thank you guys SO MUCH for having us over.  The food was terrific, and the evening was just perfect.  It was a really nice slice of Americana here in the tropics.  I can't tell you how much it meant to have a home cooked meal with some fellow Americans.

Two last bits to cover:  Welcome, Chris Taylor, as follower #25!  For those of you that don't know Chris, he's my cousin from back in Tennessee.  I am proud to report that Morristown and Whitesburg are now officially represented in the followership category.  Good stuff.

Lastly - CONGRATS TO ANDREW AND JENNIFER!!!!!!!!!!  SO excited for you guys - GREAT NEWS!!!!!!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat tomorrow (or maybe even later today)!

Love,

Sam and (already finished with her Coogee swim and now most likely doing the Coogee to Bondi walk because she is an ultra-fit ANIMAL...and really, really hot) Jenny




Friday, 25 November 2011

Introducing......Liz and David!!!!!!!

Team Taylor Deportation/Repatriation Countdown:

Days left in Singapore:  27
Days left until arrival in the Queen City:  34

Family,

And a good Saturday afternoon to you all from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  IT'S THE WEEKEND!!!!!!  It's been typically November weather in SG today, alternating between the surface of the sun and rain storms that feel like Armageddon.  However, the Bull did get out of bed at 8:30 this morning to log a 5K on the treadmill downstairs.  I turned in a 22:50 for the 3.1 miles, so about a 7:22 pace.  On the whole I was pleased, as I felt pretty strong.  Having a day off every now and then really helps...

More Charlotteans experiencing the Green Monster - this brings
a tear to my eye.
As for my Singapore observation of the week - a lot of folks have been out of the office this week "clearing their leave."  You see, unlike in Britain where folks use their full vacation entitlement traveling and galavanting all over the globe, my observation is that Singaporeans by and large just don't really like the idea of traveling.  Maybe it's the opinion so prevalent here that Indonesia and Malaysia are instant death traps once you get your passport stamped, but whatever the reason - folks just don't travel around the region.  And so, at this late point in the year, folks aren't "going on vacation" - they are just "clearing their leave."  And when you ask them what they are planning during the 1-2 weeks away, the answer is invariably the same - SLEEPING.  Now it's not true for everyone, but I have heard that exact same answer time and time again in November.  Obviously, since I only work about 4 days a year and take the other 361 off, this approach just doesn't compute with me...

The secret - startle an old Aussie couple as they check out, tell
them that "you collect keys and have already checked out,"
convince them to give you there's, take the free ride to the
rooftop bar, and then flash the card once you are topside, and
BOO-YAH!!!!!  Just always remember to pay cash up top...
Now I have been rather remiss this week in not introducing a pair of new characters to the blog, so let me correct that error now.  Ladies and gentlemen, may I present to you, all the way from the Queen City of Charlotte, NC, by way of a 12 hour connection in Hong Kong - Liz Wade and David McGibbon!!!  They arrived here on Tuesday night, and much like Liz's brother Jason and his fiance Rebecca - these guys have been a FORCE OF NATURE cutting through Singapore (and without Sven the human spark plug to encourage them!).  I typed out a list of activities for them when they arrived, and they've sawed through them like Buzzsaw from "The Running Man" (yes, I went there).  Case in point - right now they are at THE MARINA BAY SANDS INFINITY POOL ON THE 57TH FLOOR.  This is the part where you say, "Sam, you have to be a guest to swim there, right?"  And I say, "Yes, unless you take the free elevator pass to Ku De Ta and then sweet talk a group of Aussies into GIVING YOU THEIR KEY."  Seriously, before we set out today (heading to Boomerang for brekkie, of course), Liz loaded up her backpack and said, "You know, I'm just gonna throw our swim suits in here just in case."  Sure enough - she had accomplished the Holy Grail of Singapore tourism - a swim at the infinity pool.  I am TRULY impressed.  Jason - I think you're gonna get an earful about this one, as Liz is feelin' pretty good about the "one-up" on this. :-)

Dragonboat racing along the Singapore River - we saw this
on the walk to  Marina Bay Sands, and it was REALLY cool.
More to come on this tomorrow.
Work was actually crazy this week for the first time in awhile, and it felt really good to have some pressure, deadlines, and so much to do that the prioritization lists had to come out.  The flip side, however, was that I didn't get a chance to hang with them on Turkey Day.  However, we got a chance to have dinner together on Wednesday (we hit the Pump Room, and they picked up my IPA's and pork belly, that was soooooooooooo guuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuud...peppy cheekies - thanks, guys!), and it was a cool scene with the live music. 

On Thanksgiving night, I got home about 9:30, fired up the laptop, and then began Skyping mom.  We talked at full volume for about 30 minutes, at which point I hung up and was about to shut down when I heard snoring coming from the spare bedroom.  Sure enough, they'd come back for a "30 minute power nap" and ended up sleeping for TEN STRAIGHT HOURS.  I was talking at my normal 120 decibels, and they didn't stir a bit.  CLASSIC.

We also hit one of the other staples last night, rocking up to....RED DOT, BABY!!!!!  Oh, yeah - they needed the Green Monster, as I feel it is a staple of the Singapore experience.  We rocked up to this place (they'd just left One Altitude), and the hostess said she'd get us a table (the place was HEAVING).  Well, her approach to "getting us a table" wasn't the whole "I'll find some empty ones and consolidate," but rather, "I'll walk up to these two slutty looking girls who've been applying make-up for the last ten minutes and aren't drinking and kick their asses out of the bar."  It was AWESOME - she basically said, "You hookers gotta bounce.  NOW."  But to show their disapproval at losing their space to Ang Mo's, they proceeded to whip out their i-Phones and begin texting THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF SINGAPORE.  So after 10 minutes and several arguments, the hostess said, "We have second floor available as well," and so we yielded.  Score one for the prostitutes. 
Note the Christmas decorations in the background -
the beer matches the color - I'm thiking it can
become the "official ale of Christmas."  And
YES - that is my in a tie...

Once up top, we discussed beer options.  David suggested the Tower of beer (equivalent of 7 pints), and I said better to try it first, as they may not like it.  After one, however, they all approved, and the tower was starting to gain momentum.  Add in the fact that David was watching two TINY Singapore ladies crush a tower on their own, and the gauntlet was thrown down.  I was THRILLED, as I'd never ordered one before and it was FRIDAY NIGHT!!!!  WOOT-WOOT!!!   THAT, however, proved to be a mistake.

Maybe it was the chicken wings as an app.  Maybe it was the massive burger, fries, and salad.  Maybe it was the fact that I hadn't eaten lunch (except a banana).  But however you cut it, that bloody tower BESTED US.  We cleared out 97% of the tower, but there was still beer sitting in the classes when we called off the fight and waved the white flag.  It was a bit traumatic, as I expected it to be a slam dunk.  However, I am happy to report that I'm now the proud owner of 2 glasses as a consolation prize!!!!!!!!  Muffin - get excited - the collection is complete!!!!!  WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!!!!!


This is a shout out to J-Wade and all my Long
Beach posse - all you skirts know what's up
with 2-1-3!!!!!
Today was the morning workout, hitting Boomerang, and then walking down to the Sands before leaving them to their devices (which worked!).  On the way down we saw something very unique and special to Singapore - the annual Singapore International Dragon Boat Festival!  However, I am going to park this one until tomorrow, as I'm spending the day (camera in hand) there tomorrow and want to give it a proper write-up.

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

Love,






Sam and (wandering through Paddington Markets and hopefully staying dry before her big ocean swim and Coogee hike tomorrow - BE SAFE AND HAVE FUN MUFFIN!!!!!!  I LOVE YOU!!!!!) Jenny

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!!!!!! And the countdown begins…

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!!!!!!!  I cannot BELIEVE that Turkey Day has arrived, thereby ushering in the 2011 holiday season.  This is our third straight Thanksgiving outside the US, but I must admit that this is DEFINITELY the one that feels least like Dia de Caloria.  For starters, it’s a billion degrees outside.  In 2009 and 2010, London was at least cold and freezing.  I distinctly remember 2009, standing outside of the Flyer Bar (before heading to Dollar Grill with J-Wade for Thanksgiving burgers, washed down with Viru – Estonian lager) with Jenny as we called Nanny’s house to chat with everyone.  It was so cold I thought my hands and ears were going to fall off, but at least it felt festive.  Same with last year – we were eating (again with J-Wade, this time at the Tiroler Hut – nothin’ like some Austrian cuisine of Brats and Schnapps to harken back to the days of the pilgrims) with some Americans, enjoying the cold air, and still able to call the family because the time zone difference wasn’t so bad.  This year, however, I’m 13 hours ahead, meaning that, for the first time on Thanksgiving – I won’t speak to my family when they're all together for dinner (or lunch as most folks would say).  Add in the fact that I worked until about 8 PM, lunch was curry and dinner was a turkey sandwich (keeping with the theme at least) with the usual half block of cheese, AND my wife is in the Southern Hemisphere, and you have a Sammy that’s still his chipper self but definitely hankering for a bit of home.  However, I am happy to report that I’ve got company (sorry, I know I haven’t introduced them yet – I need a picture first!), and so I’m definitely getting some American love on this festive Thursday in November.  Plus I did make it to the gym this evening, logging 4 miles on the treadmill at an 8:22 clip.  I started slow, but at the end I was feeling better.  However, hitting mile 5 at that pace would have been a stretch, which is a sign that my cardio has fallen a long way since the glory days.  But Miller, LBRC - much like Ivan Drago, "I will still break you."  And the best news is that I did get to talk to momma my evening/her morning, which was great.  Nothing like hearing family on a big holiday when you're 11,000 miles from home.  Dad - I tried you as well on the cell and the house line - still no answering machines or voicemail, eh?

The other big piece of news is that today marks an official milestone in the lives of Team Taylor – We are officially inside the 30 day countdown.  That’s right, sports fans – Team Taylor will be departing Singapore for good (taxes cleared with immigration and hopefully no fines and/or caning required) on the evening of 23 December, meaning that we’ve only got 29 days left in country.  Well, truth be told, Jenny has like SEVEN days left in country, but regardless – we are gettin’ down to the wire.  So please try to contain your annoyance if you start seeing the “Taylor Ticker” at the start of each blog.  I realize that, between the ticker and recounting my exercise escapades, Hitman might just unsubscribe.  But I can’t resist, as I am SO excited to be headin’ back to the QC.  That being said, there’s definitely plenty on the docket to keep me busy for the next 4 weeks (to say nothing of Muffin Puffin, of course!), and I intend to make every second count between now and then.

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

Love,

Sam and (back in the Jones condo in Sydney, gearing up for open ocean swim #2 – this time in Manly – I LOVE YOU, MUFFIN!!!!!!  SWIM HARD AND BE SAFE!!!!!!!!!!) Jenny

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Now is the winter of our discontent…

Family,

And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull actually rolled himself out of bed at 6:30 this morning, hitting the condo gym for a 5K (right at 25 minutes) and then doing some (ridiculously) light weights before heading into the office.  But speaking of light weights, I simply must comment on yet another fascinating workout routine that I experienced today.  I’m on the treadmill (rocking out to “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes – I quite enjoy that one), and this tiny little gal walks in wearing flip flops.  Knowing that she’s not there for cardio obviously, I assume she’s gonna do pilates or something like that.  Nope – instead she goes to the weight rack, grabs the lightest weights (5 pounds), does 10 curls with each arm, drinks some water, watches a bit of the news, and just when I think she’s going back for set two, she wipes her face with a towel and walks out.  Now seriously, I will grant you that she did more exercise than most folks at Fitness First (whose primary activity is changing clothes and putting on workout gear provided by the health club, grabbing a towel provided by the health club, and then walking onto the breezeway, pulling up a chair, and GOING TO SLEEP for at least an hour), but honestly – was it worth it to get up early and come down to the gym for a 2 minute workout?  If she looks like Sheena Easton in a month’s time, I guess I’ll have my answer…
I absolutely LOVE this poster - check out the lone green eye. Very haunting, similar to several of the lighting sequences throughout the play.

In other Singapore news, the “Festival of the Elephants” is currently underway.  There are 109 elephants spread across the city, each designed by a local or international artist.  They represent various themes and charities associated with Singapore, and soon each of them will be auctioned off to the public.  My favorite one ties to the stage play currently at the Esplanade Theater, and it is that show which is the feature of tonight’s blog.

US Transition peeps - tell me this doesn't bring back memories:
VIVO CITY, BABY!!!!  WHO WANTS SOME BARCELO'S!
Last night was a big one for the Bull, as I officially crossed off my LAST to-do held over from London.  Last night I made my way to Esplanade (via the long way, for the record – I went to the wrong metro and barely made the show!), where I watched the final installment of the Old Vic’s 3 year “Bridge Project,” sponsored by none other than Bank of America Merrill Lynch.  Last year’s show, “The Tempest,” was bloody awful.  I was SO excited coming into it (to say nothing of the joy in saving 15% on tickets by being an employee of the sponsor), as “The Tempest” is one of my favorite Shakespeare shows.  However, the vision, the acting, the pace – everything was just dreadful.  They somehow transformed an intense, humorous show into something completely devoid of energy and speed.  And considering that it was the same director and artistic team this time around AND they were doing Richard III (one of the longest Shakespeare plays out there) unabridged, I was more than a little concerned.  However, the draw for me was not the show (which I did enjoy when reading it in Mrs. Ware’s English class), but rather the performers, as Kevin Spacey was playing the title role.

Spacey is the artistic director of the Old Vic in London, and he typically does at least one show a year (it was “Inherit the Wind” last year and I missed it, much to my chagrin).  When I found out he was coming to Singapore (via the really cool promo poster in black and white with his green eyes), I was thrilled, but the ticket prices almost scared me away (especially given the experience of last year).  However, I bit the bullet for a good seat, and I am here to tell you – it was worth EVERY penny. 
Simply put – the show was AMAZING – arguably the best Shakespeare rendition I’ve ever seen.  The lighting, drum sequences, staging, and choreography were all brilliant, and the staging was expertly crafted (a series of doors along all sides of the enormous stage).  Add in expert pacing (seriously – WHERE WAS THIS DURING THE TEMPEST?) and STELLAR performances by all involved, and you’ve got the trimmings for a great (even if 3.5 hour) night.  And then, to top it all off – add in two-time Academy Award Winner Kevin Spacey, and you have one of your more memorable experiences in Singapore.

He was AMAZING – the body language (Richard III was a hunchback), the voice modulation, the sheer memory capacity required for those lines – you name it:  he was on top of it all.  I really can’t say enough good things about the show, as it was everything I’d hoped it would be and then some.  If you ever get the chance
to see him perform – DO IT.  You will NOT be disappointed.

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

Love,

Sam and (now safely down in Sydney and back with the Aussies for a brief stint before her NEXT open water swim at Coogee) Jenny

Monday, 21 November 2011

Shogun might call this post a "pineapple festival" of boringness...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull was back on the bike for just over an hour tonight, logging 33KM's.  Truth be told, I know that I should have run, but I was SO ENGROSSED in "Airframe" that I had to find a way to get exercise in whilst at the same time churning through the book.  I've got 49 pages to go, and those are going to evaporate the second this blog is done.  And between the fact that it's already midnight AND I've got a page turner that I'm desperate to get back to, I will make tonight a short one (insert sigh of relief from OSC, who I'm sure has grown tired of my novellas). 

A word of warning to the readership - the Bull has company descending from the states tomorrow, staying through Saturday and departing early Sunday morning.  Consequently, blogs will be a bit spotty this week, and there will definitely be NO BLOG tomorrow night, as I've got a "prior commitment" that will remain safely anonymous until I blog about it later in the week.  Suffice it to say, I am REALLY excited about it.  So bare with me through the next week or so - I promise that I'll get Chiang Mai posted before Jenny's return on Thursday, 1 December.  That will leave Railay for December, which I know is a month late.  However, I fear it's the best I can do.

And speaking of Muffin Puffin, I am HAPPY to report that Jenny has now completed her first open ocean swim.  Whilst I couldn't pull the time off the website (Hamilton Tri people - you might want to work on the results display, as there is some room for improvement there...), I was able to confirm that Jenny was the 47th female to complete the race and 9th in her age division.  WAY TO GO PERFECT PUMPKIN!!!!!  One swim down, one to go for the Striker, as she's got another one in Sydney in less than a week's time.  Between all this and her rock climbing prowess, I think I need to start juicing to keep up.  Hairless - do you mind sharing some of your EPO or HGH with me come January?  Come on, everybody's doin' it...

And speaking of Hairless, I'm a bit late but did want to say CONGRATS ON 10 YEARS OF MARRIAGE.  T-Rowe and Mandy hit the big milestone last Thursday - great stuff, brother.  Looking forward to a Nimble special to celebrate once we're back stateside.

I know that this one was short.  Shogun, Hitman, MattPa - everyone feel free to berate me openly.  But now, if you'll excuse me, the team at Norton Aircraft awaits!

Okay, that's all the news that's fit to print.  Chat Wednesday (hopefully)!

Love,

Sam and (now safely touched down in Byron Bay, swimming medal around her neck and kangaroo steak on her plate) Jenny

Sunday, 20 November 2011

P.S. Cafe redemption, Kiwi Martinees, and "Cyanide"...

Family,
And a good evening to you from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  The Bull logged 1 hour and 5 minutes on the bike today, recording 33KM.  Couple that with the 5K yesterday (23:35), and it was one of the most active weekends I've had in a long time.  I'm hoping that the trend can continue, but given that Team Taylor will host company this week (and consequently will require morning workouts), we'll see if I can keep the momentum going.  Either way my pants are definitely feeling a bit looser, which is always a good thing.  Must be all those AFD's...

Recapping the weekend - Friday night was a CLASSIC evening, as I went out for dinner with my old team and their new boss (we'll refer to her as "Mighty Tai Tai," as that seems to be the current nickname in use).  So picture the scene - it's 6'0" Ang Mo Sammy the Bull with 10 petite little Asian girls, and we're en route to a Korean BBQ joint called the Red Pig.  All I've heard is that this place is as authentic as it gets, and we're even equipped with a Korean to tell us what to do and order for us.  I mean, that set-up isn't quite as good as "a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar," but you can tell it's set up for epic misadventures.


Rice wine - it's kind of crystal light meets Everclear
- I realize that probably doesn't help ANYONE
conceptualize it, but trust me - really good.
So we sit down, and instantly drama ensues with the staff, as we want to push our tables together.  This is CLEARLY not in the manual of acceptable behavior, and the staff is struggling to understand why we feel the need to bond and talk to each other (vs. being like 10 feet apart).  Their hesitation is that each table has a grill in the center, and above that is this "Dr. Worm suction cup vacuum" device that whisks the "food smell" away.  Once we move the tables, the suction won't work.  This, of course, didn't stop me from making a scene and putting the thing to my head to see how much suction it really had.  Well, picture the scene in Wayne's World where Garth says, "Get it off!  It's sucking my will to live!"  Yeah, that puppy basically lifted my hair Einstein style, much to the amusement of the table and the chagrin of the staff.  Yes, yes - I am ALL ABOUT great first impressions.

We then order 3 bottles of rice wine, and this was AWESOME.  The server comes out, shakes the bottles to the point that you think the cap will be a projectile when she pops it, and then rips the top off and dumps it into a teapot.  The wine is pouring out like flames from the rocket boosters on a space shuttle, and the tea pot is shaking.  You then add in some Sprite (I know, I know - TRUST ME on this), and voila!  You've got an FANTASTIC new concoction - even if you have to drink it out of mini-dog bowls.  Details...
It's all fun and games...
It is at this point that Jasmine (our resident Korean National) says it's time to order and then looks at me and says, "The woman owner is quite friendly to boys."  I dismiss this rather cryptic statement as a lost in translation moment, until I feel hands suddenly MASSAGING MY BACK AND HEAD.  Knowing that my wife is in another hemisphere, I look up to see the owner looking down at me and then counting all the females around the table.  My old team (henceforth known on this blog as "the girls") is cackling, and the cameras are flying, so I play along.  Hence - photo #1.  But THEN, just when I start to think "you know, she's been touching me for long enough - bring on the food", she leans down AND TRIES TO KISS ME.  WHAT THE @#$#!?!?!?!?!?!?  Nancy capture this action shot - I'm not sure it conveys the Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that ensued.  Needless to say I was a bit shell-shocked, and Tiff's quote was the best:  "That's the first time I've ever seen Sam blush."  Muffin - haffa hurry home and protect me from scary Korean women!!!!!

Until some psychotic Korean grillmaster tries
to make out with you.  I will wake up screaming
for at least the next month.
I am pleased to report that the rest of the night went off without incident, minus a few interesting conversation bits.  The first was learning about "siiiiiii-niiiiiiiiii," which is Singlish for those actions a really whiny girlfriend does to get the boyfriend to agree to something.  Each girl basically told the rest of us her best "siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii-niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii" technique, which usually involved 1. pouty lips, 2. lots of poking with a finger, 3. foot stomping, and 4. lots of screaming and potential crying.  This was all made funnier by the fact that I thought they were saying "cyanide" for about 20 minutes, which still worked in my opinion - you drive the guy to the point of death with incessant whining, and so he will do whatever it takes to end the torture.  Awesome...
The other came mid-way through the meal.  I'm shoveling squid pancakes and spicy pork into my mouth, when suddenly I hear, "There was a lot of pressure, and then the cut, and he came out."  I sort of, well, STOP EATING, at that point, because I'm trying to wrap my head around the fact that we're discussing C-SECTIONS AT THE DINNER TABLE.  But clearly I was the only one who found this odd, because the Mighty Tai Tai held court and kept the rest of the table in RAPT FASCINATION.  I'm still a little scarred (no pun intended).
That's not fat - it's fuel for some distance, yet to be identified
road race.  Bean curd is to the right and spicy cabbage is to
the left.  And that steel pipe is the think that tried to Flo-be
my head.

Saturday was a good day as well, as I went over to Money and Dan's place about 6 for some cocktails.  Adam and Anika (same folks as last week) were over, and so Big D treated us to some Kiwi Martinees.  Let me tell you - they were soooooo guuuuuuuuuuuuuuud (peppy cheekies).  We then rolled down to PS Cafe, where we met Emma and another one of Lisa's uni mates for dinner.  Now yes, I realize that I'd put P.S. Cafe on my "places to test nuclear weapons or other incendiary devices" list, but I must say - this experience was WAAAAAAY better and much closer to previous times.  The wine was excellent (Pinot Noir from NZ), the lasagna was good, and I FINALLY broke down and tried the 3 cheese fried toast.  Simple?  Yes.  Overpriced?  Yes.  Delicious?  You better believe it.

We then hit up a bar called 83 (which was quite cool), but I was fading by about 2:30 or so.  After a nightcap at Casa de Tullett, I got home about 3:30, and PASSED OUT about 4 AM, waking up today around 11. 

Today's been excellent - I finished Season 2 of V, got a workout in, did some domestic stuff, chatted with Dad, chatted with Rice, started a new Crichton book called "Airframe" which is EXCELLENT.  I finished another of his books, "Next," earlier this week, and I was REALLY impressed.  Once I finish Airframe, I'll have 4 Crichton books to go before I complete his entire fiction catalogue.  I am now very determined to cross them all off, as they are GREAT page turners.  Oh, and Muffin - you'll be happy to know that "The Last Samurai" was on HBO tonight, so I carved 2 hours out of my INCREDIBLY busy schedule to watch that.  You'll remember it as the movie I was SO INTO in Railay that I was entranced for about 5 minutes.  I'm now blaming that on sheer exhaustion, but I was still really into it from the start. :-)

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

Love,

Sam and (now a veteran of open ocean swimming in the Southern Hemisphere and no doubt enjoying a final dinner and evening on Hamilton Island) Jenny

Friday, 18 November 2011

Wrapping Cambodia (Part VIII) - and a Milestone for Team Taylor...

Family,
And a good Saturday afternoon to you all from across the globe after another GREAT DAY in the Lion City.  IT'S THE WEEKEND!!!!!  And believe it or not, the Bull actually got some sleep last night.  True, I was locked into Season Two of V until about 2:30 AM, but I hit the sack a bit after 3 and slept until 11 AM this morning - that's my longest sleep in WEEKS!  Today's been pretty chilled so far, with me running a 5K on the treadmill (the rain has subsided lately and it is BOILING today - no chance of running outside - can't say I'll miss that) in 23:35 and even (let's keep the laughter to a minimum) doing "limited" light weights in the gym downstairs.  I took Friday off, as I needed a break after 8 straight days of cardio.  I can tell that my legs and lungs are still a wee bit tired, but the workout felt good.

Two other pieces of news:

1.  CONGRATS MARTIN AND SARA!!!!!  For those of you not in the loop who know these esteemed members of the Granville Six, Martin and Sara welcomed Thomas Richmond Warf into the world on 17 November.  And whilst I'm personally very offended that the child was not named Samuel Kyle Warf, Thomas Richard sounds pretty distinguished as well. :-)  Seriously - SO HAPPY for you guys, and so glad that everyone is doing well.  Can't wait to meet the new addition!

2.  Today is a big day for the Bull and Striker, as travelwiththetaylors.com hit a milestone today.  At some point since my last post, the website just received it's 20,000th viewing.  Granted, I'm sure 19,986 of those were folks that hit it in error, but all the same - I'll take it. :-)  I wanted to reach the 20K mark for hits, just as I want to reach 600 posts before closing this blog.  I'm not quite to 600 (at around 540 currently), but I'll get there.  All the same, today I'll celebrate the first of the two thresholds crossed.
Cambodian Flag - during the reign of the Khmer Rouge it was
much simpler and featured the traditional communist colors:
yellow and red.  The temples of Angkor that you see now were
much more cuted on the Khmer Rouge flag.

I'm going to hold last night's festivities in reserve for its own blog, as I can assure you there were some GREAT stories that came out of the previous evening's dinner.  I am scarred for life based on 3 separate events - and I've got the pictures to prove it.  For now, let's return to the Kingdom of Wonder for a final time - this time to bid farewell to Siem Reap and what was a truly perfect vacation.

On Saturday, the Bull and Striker slept in until noon, which was EPIC.  We didn't really have any plans for the day - we just wanted to walk the river, see a bit of local culture, and have a great last meal/session on Pub Street.  We started the day by walking along the river, already a bit lower than it had been when we arrived but still quite swollen and muddy.  There were statues of various animals along the walk, and the locals found it quite humorous that we wanted to take photos beside a stone elephant.  What can I say - he was cute. 

Despite being the second largest city in Cambodia (approximately 117,000 people), Siem Reap is very small and doesn't really offer much for the tourist other than a jumping off point for the temples.  There are day trips, to be sure - but if you want to just chill and take in the "sights of the city," you'll likely be disappointed.  However, that didn't stop us from wandering past the old Royal Residence, roaming through a few local markets, and having a terrific afternoon.  We had lunch at a cute little restaurant that didn't disappoint on either the ice coffee or the mango shake (MAN, I will miss those - for FIFTY CENTS TO A DOLLAR!!!), and the food was excellent as well.  But with belly's full and the city pretty much explored at 2:30, JT and I were looking at each other saying, "What should we do now?"  I just happened to glance at a picture and see my (rather horrific) reflection at that time and said, "I could always get a haircut here and save the money."  THAT, dear friends, became a GREAT adventure.

So we start walking home, and sure enough we find 2 "beauty salons" on the walk - side by side.  One is heaving, and the other is empty.  Not thinking about laws of supply and demand and that there must be a reason that one is more popular than the other, I say, "Let's try the empty one."  So we rock up, and the haircuts are $11 for a cut and $18 for cut & shampoo (SERIOUSLY?  $7 FOR SHAMPOO?  Can I get it for $1 if you use the Head & Shoulders brand?).  She doesn't speak a WORD of English (even if the menu is in my native tongue), and so we decide that explaining "I need a 4 on top, 2 on the sides, and then even it out" might be a bit of a stretch.  Instead, we pop over to the next spot, which now has vacant chairs.

So I rock up, and it is CLEAR that they aren't used to foreigners in this joint.  Signs are in English, and cuts are FOUR DOLLARS.  This is 18% of the bushido buzz cut in Sing Sing, and so I'd already decided I was getting my hair cut here even if they gapped my scalp and removed an ear.  I could feel the excitement in the room.
The moment before "first contact" - but this lady was the
Michelangelo of Cambodian Barber Shops.

The gaggle of stylists got together, chatting furious about what to do with the Ang Mo (I'm apparently called a "farang" or "Francoise" or something in Cambodia, on the assumption that "if you're white, then you're French."  I so wish Andy Carter or some of my British mates would have been beside me when they learned that).  Finally one of them stepped forward and said, "You for cut hair?"  And I nod, pointing to the rat's nest above my cranium.  30 seconds later I'm in the chair, the gal's got scissors and clippers in hand, and there's a peanut gallery of 5 stylists waiting to see where this goes.  And it's at this point that Jenny says, "I'm gonna go buy a Diet Coke - I'll be back."  And suddenly I'm all alone with 6 Khmer ladies, their scissors, and their rapt fascination.

I point to the clippers and make the corresponding points to my head and the guard that should be used for each.  This proved wicked effective, and 10 minutes later I was a space monkey ready to be shot into orbit.  I was actually THE BEST haircut I've had in 2011, as I didn't have bushido samurai woman trying to break my shoulders or telling me that "you not cut so short, la.  It no good for you.  I cut less.  You like, ah?"  This gal was fantabulous - and she about flipped when I gave her a $1 tip.  Best $5 I've ever spent.

It was then back to the Motherhome, where we packed and hit the pool to just relax and chill for a bit.  We then showered and shuffled back over to Pub Street, where we decided to try an experiment.   We were both starving and ready to make the most of our last night of fifty cent beers, and so here was the game:  "Can you actually spent $50 USD in Cambodia on dinner?"  Confident that we could do it, we rocked up to the 8th Street Pub (which isn't anywhere near 8th street - details) and settled in on the second floor for a SESSION.
BBQ knows no boundaries - and it was soooooo guuuuuuud...
Peppy Cheekies.  But I could have done with some Memphis
Pit BBQ as well...

This place was GREAT - Western cuisine, but we were ready for that after 9 days of Cambodian soup, lots of Amok curries, and plenty of noodles.  And the best part - they featured NORTH CAROLINA PULLED PORK as an option.  You GOTTA love that, baby!  Team Taylor ordered the pork (very good), as well as Nachoes, potato skins, and chicken wings.  Jenny had six - count 'em SIX - mojitos, and I had 3 mojitos with 6 beers.  We even sprang for creme brulee desert and bottles of water throughout dinner.  At the end of it, we were almost ready to rupture.  It was as full as I've been in years, and there was no space left in the tank (mum - it wasn't the "Peddlar night," but it was still a good effort).  The bill comes, and after tip, we spend $44 USD!!!!  THAT was our answer, as we were eating at pretty much the most expensive place on pub street and had basically stripped their pantry bare.  WOW - I love this country. 


And so it was, sitting there with Anchor beers, listening to the mine victim band, watching the tourists in the fish spas screaming, and hearing the hustle and bustle of the tuk tuks on the streets, that we paused to take in a last memory of Cambodia.  I thought it would be a neat place, but this country offers tourists SO much more than is advertised.  I really have ZERO complaints about our time in Cambodia - even the length of the stay was perfect, as I was ready to get back to SG and civilization after our week plus there.  I would tell EVERYBODY to put this on your short list of travel destinations.  If you're flying from the states, it's a long haul, but add in Thailand or a stopover in either HK or SG, and you won't have any trouble filling 2 weeks (go ahead - let the vacation jokes roll).

And so that's it - Cambodia in eight parts.  Next up is the recap of Chiang Mai, which I'll get into either Sunday or Monday at the latest.  There are some activities (and visitors!) coming up, so the recaps on Chiang Mai and Railay might be a bit choppy.  But stick with me - I WILL get caught up eventually.

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

Love,

Sam and (I think finished with her 2K open ocean swim in Hamilton Island by now and probably enjoying a glass of Margaret River wine as I type this) Jenny