Category Archives: Singapore

Final Thoughts

So now I’m on my way home, flying over the Pacific as I type. I honestly can’t believe how quickly these past few months have passed, but on the other hand, I feel so fortunate to have experienced so much in such a short period of time. I just finished watching a movie on the plane – a nice, no-brainer chick-flick and there was one line it that really resonated with me. It basically said that life is half what you do with yourself and half about who you spend your time with. I can’t iterate enough how much my personal experiences were shaped (mostly for the good) by the people I was with. Had I done this trip completely alone, it’d have been awful. But as I’ve said before, and I’ll say again – that’s the best part of traveling – meeting people.

In the past 109 days, I’ve taken 2 overnight plane flights, camped on a beach for 2 nights, spent 5 nights on bus, took 2 overnight train rides and slept in 59 different beds (yes, I counted). I’ve taken 18 separate flights (well, by the time I get back to Chicago). I can’t even count the number of buses, tuk-tuk rides, rickshaws, motorbike rides, etc that I’ve taken. I walked 150 miles in 14 days, trekked to 5416 meters, rock climbed in Thailand, surfed in Bali, climbed south east Asia’s tallest mountain, white-water rafted in Bali, saw orangutans in the jungle, climbed a sulfur-spewing volcano in Sumatra, experienced new cultures, met amazing new friends, saw beautiful sunrises and sunsets, relaxed on the beach in “paradise,” did yoga in India, discovered new food, and through it all, had such an amazing time.

My time over the past 3.5 months was divided between Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Nepal, India and Thailand. I think it’s interesting to note that the 3 wealthiest countries (that I visited on this trip) are Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore. I noticed a few differences between the wealthier countries and the poorer ones. For one, the wealthier countries tend to have more cars, whilst the poorer ones either rely more on motorbikes or foot for transportation. The other difference, which I find quite notable, is that in the wealthier countries, women play a very visible role. They have jobs and interact with the public. They are seen out at night – sometimes even alone. In Indonesia, Nepal and India, local women are seen from a bus window, or seen in groups, or seen with families, but they don’t run shops, they rarely interact with tourists and they’re hardly ever seen after the sun goes down. In most places, it’s ok being a western woman (sometimes alone) at night, but India, it just doesn’t feel safe. That’s probably due in part to the “staring” culture that’s more noticeable than anywhere else I’ve been. It’s just interesting, because I believe that women play a vital role to a country’s development and to me, I’d say that the developing countries should work on making a women’s role in everyday life a more visible and vital one.

As I’ve mentioned, the people that I met made my trip what it was. From meeting an aspiring dominatrix from Montreal to a chain-smoking Jordanian man in Singapore who had his passport confiscated and was contemplating escaping from the country to a British man nearly in tears because his Muslim Indonesian wife ran off with their two children to a tattooed British man who constantly reeked of alcohol and cigarettes, but knew great magic tricks and was a former member of the Iranian mafia who spent time in a Malaysian prison for human trafficking, I’ve met a few characters to say the least. Best of all are the friendships formed and the memories that I share with those people.

My top moments of my trip were:

Tubing down the river in Bukit Lwang with (Indonesia)

Reaching the Throng-La pass at 17,769 ft (Nepal)

Catching waves in Bali (Indonesia)

Motorbiking to deserted beach after deserted beach in Lombok (Indonesia)

Watching the sunrise from the summit of Mt. Kinabulu (Malaysian Borneo)

Rock climbing in Railay (Thailand)

Relaxing on the paradise island, Gili Trawangan (Indonesia)

Other cool moments include:

White water rafting for my first time in Bali (Indonesia)

Doing yoga (India)

Seeing orangutans in the jungle (Indonesia)

Climbing an active volcano (Indonesia)

And the only two low-lights that come to mind were:

Sleeping on the filthy floor of an over-crowded Indian train

Getting sick with stomach issues

But, I wouldn’t trade those “bad” experiences for the world, because it’s all part of the experience. Plus, I love that so much of what I experienced can’t just be seen on the Discovery Channel or from the view of a car window. I had to work to get to these places (especially on the Annapurna Circuit!), but that made the satisfaction all the more worthwhile.

And now that I’m nearly home, there are definitely some things that I’m looking forward to, and others that I’ll miss dearly. I can’t wait for consistently hot showers. I’m glad that I won’t have to carry my own toilet paper everywhere I go, but crazily enough will miss public squatters (though not the spraying on toes part of it – yeah, I think it happened every time). I’m looking forward to drinking tap water once again and not buying another bottle of water for a really long time. I’m happy that I’ll get a fair price when I walk into any store (and not the “white price”), but will miss the overall cheaper prices. I’ll be glad that when someone yells “hello” at me, it’s because they want to actually say hi to me and not because they want to lure me into their store… or in their taxi… or to their bedroom. I’m happy to have a diverse selection of ethnic cuisines available to me again, but will miss the amazing street food (especially Indian food). I’ll be sad that rent for my future apartment will cost more than an entire day’s activities. And I’ll most certainly miss the under $10 massages.

In sum, I can’t reiterate just how fantastic of a time I had on my trip. But, I think I’m also leaving at just the right time. I’m not jaded by traveling yet and really, really excited to see my friends and family that I haven’t seen in months! I’m looking forward to being in a home again, and not changing a bed every few days. And if you know anything about me, you know I’m looking forward to the food… and to cooking and baking – good thing it’s Christmas! I’m also excited about the winter ski season – I’m moving to Colorado this winter at the very least to ski for the season while I focus on my job search, but will also be looking for work permanently there, so I’m looking forward to exploring a new region of the country and establishing a new life for myself there.

Thanks for reading y’all! Your comments and happiness for me definitely meant a significant amount and kept me going during those harder moments that I might have glossed over. Have a great holiday season! J


Pictures are of my Singapore hostel – beds scattered randomly on the roof and of my holding a monkey in my hostel in KL (the owner just was walking around holding his monkey. The poor little thing’s heart was absolutely pounding the whole time I was holding him – thank God he had his diaper on!)

I flew from Borneo to Singapore and was greeted by exactly everything I was promised: a clean, neat, organized, efficient, extremely developed city. I had thought I would really need Singapore and all of it’s western comforts after 2 months of “roughing it” in far more developing places, but I was wrong – it never ceases to amaze me how adaptable we, as humans, are. I’ve gotten so used to the developing world; I just love it. That being said, Singapore was great! It was like a city from home. And the best part is that it is by far the most international city I’ve ever been in. Well, NYC is honestly a pretty good competitor. Anyway, there’s not a HUGE amount of things to do in Singapore without busting your wallet completely, so I walked around a bunch – Little India, Chinatown and in-between. I stopped in the famed Raffles Hotel and went to the Long Bar where I was going to sip on a cocktail (the Singapore Sling was invented in this very bar), but at the absolutely ridiculous price of drinks, I left (a water was $11 Singapore dollars, which is just shy of $10 USD), even though the band was just starting to play what I consider the theme song for 2009 of South East Asia: I’m Yours by Jason Mraz. Sidenote: Everywhere I’ve been, this song is played. I can’t even begin to tell you how incredibly popular this song is – you hear it on guitars on every street corner, in clubs in Bali, on the radio in cabs, in the mall, literally everywhere.

While in Singapore, I met up with two friends who live there – Des, a guy I met at a conference, HPAIR that I attended in 2002 in Sydney and Ashraf, who I lived next to in college one year. Des took me to a great restaurant where we dined on chicken rice and barley juice, which was delicious. I hung out with Ash right before Halloween, so we went to one of his friend’s Halloween parties, which was good fun. I had to wear a costume – so I borrowed an idea from my friend Erica Trittschuh, although my costume was a lamer version of hers. I went as a “Blue Jean”. I wore blue jeans, a blue shirt and a nametag that said “Hello! My name is: JEAN” I think the blue wig and jean jacket are a critical component on this costume, because no one got it. Ha, ah well. I was credited for trying given that I was backpacking. When I was out with my friend Des, we went for a drink after dinner and walked through the bar area, Clark Quay, where we passed a bar called “Clinic” where everyone sits on hospital beds. Then we went to a bar called “Heliport” which was just off the carpark, and you guessed it – looked just like a heliport. Ha – it made me chuckle.

Singapore and all it’s modern conveniences where definitely spared at my hostel, which felt like it belonged more in Malaysia than Singapore. My room was literally on the roof. When it rained one morning, a few beds got wet, as the overhang didn’t cover everything. But, the price was right, so that’s ok.

The other interesting thing is that there was this middle aged Middle Eastern man staying in my roof/dorm and he seemed like he had something serious going through his head – as anytime I was in the hostel, he was there, pacing back and forth, back and forth, smoking cigarette after cigarette after cigarette. At one point I was home for 45 minutes and I think I counted that he smoked about 15 cigarettes – no joke. So, to myself, I joked/worried that he was a terrorist plotting his next move (typical white person stereotype, I know). Well, as it turns out, he did have something on his mind. I ended up getting the story from an Italian guy who I traveled from Singapore to KL with, but basically the story goes like this: The Jordanian man was working in Singapore, teaching and apparently he got in an altercation with a student. This student reported him to the police. After 2 days in prison, they released him to wait for his trial, but kept his passport, so he can’t leave the country. He went to the Jordan embassy to ask for their help and they basically told him that they were powerless; that he’d have to wait it out – and it’s now been over two months.

So, get this, they told him to escape if he can and then just get a new passport at the Jordan embassy in Malaysia. So, he tried escaping twice already and is currently plotting his third attempt (hence his nervous jitters I suppose). If he gets caught, he gets a minimum of 20 years in prison. So, he wants to swim from Singapore to Malaysia. Problem is, he doesn’t know how to swim. So, he’s currently looking into getting a job as a fisherman off the shore of Singapore, and I guess he’ll learn how to swim and hopefully make it to Malaysia. I only heard his side of the story, but I’d be scared sh*tless of escaping from any country, but especially Singapore, where they fine you $500 just for jay-walking. But yeah, I did jay-walk, so who am I to talk – breaking Singapore laws left and right. ;-P

I left Singapore, spent a quick night in Kuala Lumpur and met a girl, Bridget, who I’d been introduced to on facebook by a girl I met at my hostel in Kota Kinabalu. We’d been emailing back and forth as she was trying to join me in Nepal, but had visa issues. Well, it’s a really small world when you’re backpacking, because guess who I ran into when I walked into my dorm last night? It’s funny that we almost traveled together without having met and then randomly meet in KL – unbeknownst to both of us that the other would be there. And now I’m en route to Delhi, where Niki is waiting for me. She and I will travel onward overland to Kathmandu over the next couple of days.