post graduation

[Stop 9 & 10]: Malaysia | Kuala Lumpur & Penang by Amanda Liew

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And finally, finally (a casual 6 months later...) Malaysia! I suppose it's fitting because in this case, I really did save the best for last. Malaysia was by far my favorite country in my entire post-grad trip for a multitude of reasons. The obvious reason being my heritage. My father was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur with one older brother and nine sisters in between. Can you even imagine growing up in that large of a family? Due to the distance, the last and only time I went to Malaysia was when I was one years old. Since then, I've been able to see my various aunts and cousins who live in the US and Australia, but never the ones in Malaysia. As I've gotten older, I've begun relying even less on my dad to get in contact with family. Two years ago, I reconnected with Christine who is Australian but living in London (and actually a London blogger herself!), who then coordinated a series of meet ups with my amazing cousin, Benita, and then I met the rest of her family at Thanksgiving! Getting reconnected with so many members of my family served as a main motivator in planning my entire post-grad trip. I realized how many other relatives I had out there and how little I knew about my Chinese-Malaysian background. I was fortunate in that Madeline/Mallika/Amy were all willing to plan our trip to include Malaysia and spend time meeting my family with me for the first time. Our trip from Ho Chi Minh to Kuala Lumpur was rough to say the least. Long story short, never ever take Air Asia. Hypothetically speaking, they might change your flight time to one hour earlier without notifying you and then ask you to wait 12 hours at the airport and then let your plane free fall for a good 10 seconds while you're in the air. Was pretty convinced I was going to die... Once we finally got there, though, we got settled and explored the next day on our own. Malaysia is an Islamic country and I was absolutely blown away by the way Islamic art influenced the architecture in the country. The Petronas Towers were absolutely mindblowing at night.

_DSC0066We also took the opportunity to go to the Islamic Arts Museum which was stunningly curated and the perfect balance of beauty and education. They had an entire exhibit on textiles, and I thought it was fascinating to learn that cardboard can be used to create the raised surface on embroidery.

I loved this quote in the museum about the way geometry is used in art:

"The repetition, symmetry and the continuous generation of geometric patterns thus became the sacred language in Islamic art, affirming and reflecting the unfolding of God's creation."

I've always been really fascinated with different forms of expressing worship even if I share different religious beliefs. I wrote about Losang Samtem's mandala and how he viewed his art as an active conversation with God since not everybody is able to sit in stillness and meditate.

_DSC0084 _DSC0115_MalaysiaThe first cousin I met was Tony and his amazing wife, Jian. Tony somehow has all of Kuala Lumpur's history stored in his brain and gave us a historical tour around the city. Fun fact, Kuala Lumpur's name means the "mouth of the muddy town." The history of the city is interesting since it was created during the British colonization. The river that runs through literally separated the British side (which literally had a Commons) and Malaysian side (which was a mix of Malays, Chinese, and Indians). The three Asian cultures are still present in the Malaysian population today, but I didn't realize how vast the divide was between them in terms of laws, incorporating businesses, educational opportunities, etc. For the longest time, I never understood why my dad would distinguish his background by saying "I'm Chinese, not Malay," when he was a third generation Malaysian, but now the cultural identification makes a little more sense contextually.

Tony helped organize a family reunion of sorts for me! I got to meet my other cousins Joyce and Emily along with Emily's adorable daughters and four of my Aunties! It was such a blessing to meet them in person.

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Before we left Kuala Lumpur, we went on the MM Adventure's tour to see the Batu caves, fireflies, and monkey sanctuary. We weren't sure it was worth the cost, but again, it was an excellent decision that I highly recommend!

_DSC0311 _DSC0361 _DSC0378 _DSC0395 _DSC0433Finally, we left Kuala Lumpur for our last stop in Penang. It was a short 24 hour trip, but filled with good food and...a freak storm. We had some very specific recommendations from our friend Nicole and made sure to hit up the Gurney Drive hawker stalls.

_DSC0466Unfortunately, after we finished satiating ourselves, the wind starts to pick up. Next thing I know, I look up and see a giant metal tin roof hurting 40 feet up in the air above the other stands heading straight toward our section. Fortunately we were all able to duck or hide in nooks and crannies until the storm passed. Trees collapsed on top of cars left and right, and as freaked out as we were, we thought maybe this was a standard tropical storm in South East Asia. Once we got in a taxi though, our taxi driver was visibly shaken and told us he hadn't seen anything like it in years. What luck!

The next day we wrapped up our morning with a visit to Batu Ferringhi beach and found our way to two must-visits: a roti canai restaurant (my favorite Malaysian food!) and a famous Cendol stand (which may or may not have made Mallika and I very sick...)

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It was finally time to begin our 30 hour journey back to the United States, and though I had some err medical hiccups on the way back, the entire three week journey was possibly the most amazing trip of my life. Now that I've been working for so a while, I'm more grateful than ever that I had the opportunity to travel extensively in between graduation and New York.

[Stop #7 & 8]: Vietnam | Mekong Delta & Ho Chi Minh City by Amanda Liew

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Took a little break from blogging since New York has kept me busy, but I wanted to keep documenting my travels, even if only for myself!  Though we didn't stay in Vietnam for too long, we were able to visit both the Mekong Delta and Ho Chi Minh City. We stayed in a homestay in the Mekong Delta to help break up our long trip from Cambodia to HCM, and we had an absolutely delicious homecooked meal (can egg rolls be in its own food group?) and experienced quite a bit of...wildlife. Our mosquito net beds were a lifesaver considering I attract all the mosquitos within a 100 mile radius, but we also saw giant lizards the size of our arms and woke up at 2AM to a thousand roosters going bezerk.

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Before we left, we took an early morning boat tour. In Thailand we had gone to a floating market, but as I mentioned in my earlier post, the market was clearly set up for tourists and hawking overpriced souveneirs and photo opportunities. This floating market actually was where locals went to buy their vegetables and fruits! As its "advertisement," each boat had a stick skewering whatever fruit or vegetable they were selling rising up for potential customers to see._DSC0903 _DSC0909 _DSC0915 _DSC0934 _DSC0942

In Ho Chi Minh City, we actually were able to meet up with Sophie, Jeremy, and Katie again who had just finished up their tour two days earlier. They brought us to an amazing South Korean French style bakery called Tous Les Jours which oddly enough, I found last night in New York City in K-Town! _DSC0943

Because of the Vietnam War, our experience in Vietnam as Americans was extremely interesting. On one hand, during our visit to the war museum and the Cu Chi Tunnels, there was a lot of propaganda/anti-American language everywhere such as a video with a cute little girl declaring who was the "Number 1 American Killer Hero!!" On the other hand, we read stories and saw photographs of various citizens horribly affected by Agent Orange. It was certainly a lot to take in, especially since I have none of my own memories to draw from.

The Cu Chi Tunnels themselves were fascinating just from a tactical perspective. The Viet Cong soldiers used the tunnels as hiding spots, supply routes, and actual homes during the war. They had multiple levels with emergency air shafts, guerilla tactic booby traps, and camouflaged hiding spots all over the place.  _DSC0951 _DSC0954 _DSC0960 _DSC0986We actually got a chance to run through the tunnels ourselves and even though I'm not a claustrophobic person at all (being 5'2 means I can just fit in more places, right?!) I quickly became terrified by the pitch black, sharp turns, and just how cramped the entire space is. photo (5)

Overall, I wish we had more time to spend in Vietnam. The rest of the tour actually continued on a 10-day excursion throughout the rest of the country, and it was so sad to say goodbye to the rest of our group. Everybody on the trip was so fun and had so many stories to exchange. Hopefully one day I'll be able to visit Germany, Australia or the UK again to be reunited! Love you all! photo (7) photo (9) photo (8)

[Nikon D3100 and iPhone Camera +]

[Stop #3]: Bangkok, Thailand by Amanda Liew

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_DSC0524 After weeks of insane and fun-filled weeks traveling through various cities, I'm finally able to blog a little bit! Things have been supremely delayed since I haven't had my computer up until recently, and I just started work as a real person this month. Looking back at all these photos, I honestly cannot believe how blessed and fortunate I am to be able to visit so many phenomenal places.So, rewind back to the month of May, and we start with Thailand, the first leg of our South East Asia excursions!

Originally we had booked a 10-day tour through G Adventures, but we wanted a few days to ourselves in Bangkok to explore and get over our jet lag. Thanks to our friend, Trisha's, recommendations, we stayed at D&D Inn in the heart of Khao San Road, the main backpacking area with food stalls, bars, clothing that looked like it was from Urban Outfitters but cost a fraction of the price, and so much more. It was insane to see how the street itself transformed from day to night: storefronts would turn into bars trying to out-blast their neighbors with Top 40 hits.

Unfortunately, our first day was off to a little bit of a rough start. We fell into multiple scams pretty early on. Long story short, there is a massive scamming network in Bangkok - so large that it's possible for them to have hundreds of people on the streets telling foreigners the exact same lies ("Why are you going to that temple? It doesn't open until 3pm!") and able to coordinate the scam with others without even talking about it! However, even though we definitely overpaid for many many things, we were able to go on a river boat tour and see a lot of the temples from the water. It was amazing to also see so many houses built on stilts - it was definitely a stark contrast from certain wealthier areas in the city.

_DSC0086_DSC0118_DSC0083One of the things on my "list" was to try as much food as possible. Our boat tour dropped us off at a local open market with endless amounts of fresh fruit like rambutan (the spiky red fruit) and my new favorite fruit, mangosteen (the purple plum like fruit):

_DSC0139 The best, though, was the sticky mango rice. The woman cut the mango fresh for us and poured sweet coconut sauce on top. It was heaven._DSC0154

Finally, we were able to go to Wat Pho, a large temple complex and home to the enormous Reclining Buddha. Believe it or not, we ran into 3 of our freshman hallmates: Eric, Sam, and Bobby! Turns out everybody from our graduating class had the same idea as us and decided to travel South East Asia after gradution too hahah. We all joked that this was the new "backpacking through Europe." What amazed me was how one temple complex could still have so many different designs and styles. All of the following photos are from one place!_DSC0161

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When we were originally planning our trip, we wanted to be on the same tour group with Jeremy, Katie, and Sophie, but there wasn't enough room. They picked a trip that was two days earlier than ours, but since we were starting and ending in the same locations, we had some overlap! Jeremy took on the ultimate role of "Travel Dad" and guided us from place to place with map & tour book in hand hahah:

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Our third day, we decided to go with Bangkok Day Tours' Extraordinary Elephant Day Trip, and it was honestly one of the best decisions we made the entire trip. Even though the elephants were about 4 hours away, our personal tour made stops along the way which was a great way to break it up. We first went to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market - it was clearly set up for tourists hahah, but it was still a great experience and really cool visually! _DSC0286 _DSC0291 Then we stopped for an amazing brunch of authentic Thai food right next to The Bridge on the River Kwai. I seriously ate unlimited amounts of mangosteen - I just couldn't stop! The insides are kind of fleshy like a tangerine, but it's tart, tangy, and sweet all at the same time. Seriously delicious!

_DSC0327After that, it was off to the elephants! Not only did we have a chance to ride them on land, but after a guided ride, we each got our own elephant to ride bareback into the river! The elephants were seriously fiesty and loved to play. They bucked us off multiple times, and the trainers would have us climb on their trunks or stand on their heads. At first I was terrified of hurting them, until I realized they actually couldn't feel me at all and I'm probably 1/20th of their weight!_DSC0336 _DSC0409_DSC0500_DSC0437And then? We got to have an actual waterfight. Using elephant trunks. It was amazing. _DSC0490_DSC0509

It was seriously one of the most amazing experiences of my life - I don't think I'll ever forget it. On our last and final day in Bangkok, we visited the Grand Palace on what was probably the hottest day of our lives. On top of that, there's a dress code at many of the temples & government sites - that meant putting on long sleeves and long dresses! _DSC0516 _DSC0521 _DSC0526

Last but not least, we got to see Wat Arun! We decided not to climb it since we had to go meet our tour group that night, but it was still such an impressive construction feat. I seriously can't believe the architecture on these buildings. _DSC0555That's it for now on Thailand! Next up (whenever I get around to it): Cambodia!