Archive for January, 2013

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 4: Germany

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

Germany for me was more of a working visit than anything else, since there were a lot of this that I had to sort out – I had to get a new passport, buy things including some furniture for South Africa, ship things down there, apply for my South African visa (after having collected all the required documents for that), and move the remaining stuff out of the attic of my previous apartment in Hamburg. Between all of that, however, I also managed to introduce J to my family and also catch up with my former band mates. Also, we went to a concert in Berlin, which was very nice even though Julia Fischer, who was supposed to play the violin, couldn’t make it, being replaced by Taiwanese-Australian violinist hotshot Ray Chen (which was also nice, but not quite what we had expected also in terms of the pieces he played).

In the end, I managed to get all the things done in about two weeks, and we then left on our last “holiday” trip before we will start working again: we flew to the US east coast.

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 3: Myanmar

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

After having visited J’s family in Perth, we went to Myanmar. While I had already been there before coming to Singapore, she had not and wanted to go, and we figured that we probably wouldn’t come back to South East Asia very soon again. Moreover, I had gathered the impression on my visit there that the country was changing and opening up to the world and to tourism rapidly, and that soon it would not be very different anymore from Laos or Cambodia, who are quite overrun with tourists in some places and therefore have lost a lot of authenticity. As it turns out, however, we were already almost too late to prevent that – when we arrived in Yangon after a short stopover on Singapore’s Changi airport (where we also had to surrender our Singapore student passes), we realized that there was barely any accommodation available in Yangon, and the rooms we could find had gone up in price twofold or threefold since I had been there – which meant that in comparison to other countries in the region, they now were horribly overpriced. At lest the taxi driver that took us to the city was very friendly and helpful, calling up multiple guest houses for us to find a place to stay and stopping at a travel agent for about an hour until we had sorted out domestic flights for the week that we were going to stay in Myanmar. The first evening, we walked around Yangon a bit and visited the famous Shwedagon Pagoda – which with all its gold and the lots and lots of small temples around it hasn’t lost its fascination even on the second visit.

Since we had not had much sleep the night before (we spent the night between 3am and 9am on the airport) and we had to get up at 4:30 the next morning to catch a domestic flight, we went to bed early – which meant that for the first time probably since I was 8 or so, I missed New Year’s – but there was probably not a lot I missed anyway, since Yangon is not a party city and New Year’s is nt a big deal for the Burmese anyway.

The next day, we flew early in the morning to Bagan, the most important tourist destination in Myanmar. This plain which is filled with more than 4000 temples rivals the Cambodian temples of Angkor, and has the advantage of having a bit less of a Las Vegas feeling. After having checked into a very nice hotel on the banks of the Ayeryawaddy river, we rented a horse cart including driver for the day to take us around the temples. Especially since there are so many temples, I ahead not seen nearly all of them when I was there the last time, so it was also very nice for me to see some more of this amazing cultural heritage. Especially nice was the sunset that we watched from one of the smaller temples that are less crowded (some of the bigger ones get really packed around sunset). The next morning, we got up at 6 to also catch the sunrise. It was a bit difficult to find our way around in the area of Old Bagan where our hotel was to find a temple that we could climb on to watch the sunrise, but eventually we found one, just in time to see the temple-filled plain bathed in the colors of dawn.

Later that day, we already had to fly out of Bagan to get to Inle lake, the second must-see destination in Myanmar. We again had trouble finding accommodation, and ended up in a big, Chinese-run hotel that wasn’t exactly cheap, but at least reasonably clean and provided good breakfast. We also arranged for a boat tour on the next day, which we requested to leave really early in the morning so that we could witness sunrise on the water. This turned out to be a ally great idea – especially the first few hours on the lake were amazing, with the mist of the night slowly clearing and the shapes of the hills surrounding the lake slowly becoming distinguishable from the water of the lake and the sky. Also, the fishermen of the lake, who have very flat boats and a strange, one-legged rowing technique, provided for good photo opportunities. We also visited a market and multiple handicrafts shops in villages on the lake, as well as the jumping-cat monastery (where the cats are no longer jumping, since the old monks that used to teach the cats have died). However, since we had gotten up so early, we got tired around lunchtime and went back to Nyaungshwe, the main tourist town north of the lake where our hotel was located.

The next day, we had a flight back to Yangon – and it turned out that we had been extremely luck with our schedule, since it was really foggy that day and you couldn’t see more than maybe 10 meters. While that meant that our flight got delayed by more than an hour, it wold have been much worse if we had tried to go on the boat tour that day – we wouldn’t have seen anything on the lake!
Since we had two days to spare, we rather spontaneously decided to go to the Golden Rock, which is an important pilgrimage site a few hours southeast of Yangon. The Golden Rock is an oddly balancing boulder on top of a mountain, which countless pilgrims have attached gold leafs to, so that it is now completely golden. From the descriptions in the guide book, it sounded like a nice place to see, and the hotel we got in Kinpun, which is the “base camp” for excursions to the Golden Rock and located in the valley below, was certainly the nicest and best value-for-money one on the whole Stay in Myanmar. The actual trip up the mountain, however, was quite an experience. We had decided to go up early at 6:00am to avoid the pilgrim masses as much as possible. It turned out, however, that all the pilgrims had thought the same, and so we ended up with hundreds of Burmese pilgrims at the “station” from which trucks carry the people up the mountain. These trucks basically have an open platform in the back, onto which about 35 people can squeeze. With so many people waiting for the trucks, boarding them was a nightmare. As soon as the trucks started pulling into the station, people ran up and tried to climb on, or literally threw their grandmas up on the truck. It wasn’t pretty. After two groups of trucks had come and gone, we somehow managed to get on one so that we could be taken up the mountain. The truck was full and crowded, and the trip up took about an hour (including a lot of waiting time about halfway when the trucks had to let trucks going downhill pass, since the mountain roads were too narrow for two trucks next to each other). When we had finally arrived on top of the mountain, we had hoped for it to be a bit less crowded there – but that was not the case. In addition to all the people that had come up with or before us, there were lots and lots of people who had spent the night on the mountain – just lying under makeshift tents at the side of the road. From everyone’s waste (no dustbins anywhere) the place was really filthy – and you had to walk barefoot, since it is a Buddhist sanctuary after all! All of this meant that we had enough quite quickly – we took a picture of the rock and then headed downhill again. It was again difficult to get on a truck, since people kept pointing us to different trucks (no one speaking any English of course), but eventually we made it, and spent the rest of the afternoon just relaxing in our hotel room.

The next day, we went back to Yangon. Leaving Kinpun, we realized that all the pilgrims were leaving too – we had probably just managed to come there at the worst possible time – it was a long weekend for the Burmese!

The following day, we left Myanmar for Germany – out of South East Asia, out of the warmth into the European winter!

Some pictures follow.

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 2: Perth

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

After having checked out of our Singapore apartment on 26 December, J and I went to visit her family in Perth. Since it was the middle of the Australian summer, it was hot as hell there – around 40 degrees in the daytime. At least it wasn’t as humid as in Singapore anymore!
Over the course of the four days we were there, we had a belated Christmas dinner with J’s family (more aunties and uncles!), met some of J’s friends, went to the beach, and drove down south to Dunsborough and Margaret River, where we visited a few more beaches and went wine tasting at a vineyard.

The most amazing and most important thing of the four days though was that we visited a wildlife park that had all of the Australian animals like kangaroos, wallabies, emus etc. – and I got to hold and cuddle a koala! It was indeed quite furry and was eating eucalyptus all the time that was constantly being replenished by some caretaker – and whenever she came with a new bunch of eucalyptus branches, the koala on my arm greedily turned to her and reached for the new food. It was definitely quite an experience!

On December 30, we left Australia for Myanmar.

Some pictures follow.

5 Continents in P6 Pt. 1: KL and Singapore

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

The day after graduation, we went to Kuala Lumpur to visit some of J’s family. We went there for just a few days and didn’t really do anything except eating, meeting her extended family (lots of aunties and uncles) and hanging out.
After that, we came back to Singapore and spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day there. Most of our fellow students had already gone home, but a few were still there so that we could spend some more time with them. On Christmas Eve, we had a very nice traditional Polish Christmas dinner hosted by a German/Polish classmate of ours with her husband, who also had her family visiting and invited us and two other students. We had a very nice time together, and it was again quite sad to have to say goodbye to some of our friends that evening.
The next day was our last full day in Singapore before checking out of our apartment and leaving for Australia. Since we had two bottles of champagne in our fridge from various occasions, we decided to invite a few of the remaining people over for a champagne breakfast. They brought some food and another bottle of champagne, and we hung out half of the day, talked and drank champagne – a very lazy and nice way to end our time in Singapore. After having parted for the afternoon, our three guests came back in the evening to have some dinner – and thus ended our time in Singapore.

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