Tourist in My Own City

Hello friends! After a bit of time away from this here blog, I have decided to come back with a vengeance! (Seriously, I have so many things – ahem, vacations – that I want to post about but the pictures are sitting idly on my computer and the words are floating around purposelessly in my head!) My goal for this summer is to contribute to the blog more, but I’m not making any promises – I am teaching summer school, after all!

Anyways, I wanted to share some of my adventures from a few months ago! After our exciting fall wedding, Dangerous Dan and I decided to go on a miniature, extremely tame “honeymoon”, right in our own city. Instead of flying halfway around the world to celebrate our love, we decided to simply take public transit down to Toronto!

It’s pretty clear that I love food, and Dangerous Dan and I took the opportunity to try some cool restaurants. Here are some photos and a quick summary!

Staycation Food (1)

Planta Burger was our first foray into vegan fare, and everything was super seasoned to the point of excess, so it wasn’t a fantastic first meal for our staycation. Thankfully, our luck changed at dinner – Nana was a delicious Thai restaurant that Dangerous Dan really enjoyed with a very cool-looking interior that is supposed to be reminiscent of a busy Thai street! The sign outside is in Thai, so we actually walked past the restaurant a few times before realizing it was what we were looking for. Finally, Pow Wow Cafe in Kensington Market was the perfect place for a spot of brunch! It was my first time eating at a restaurant which specialized in Indigenous cuisine, and the Ojibway tacos were hearty and delicious and pumped me up for a day of exploring Toronto!

And now, for the food-unrelated part of our little trip! We visited Centre Island and rented bikes so we could explore. The beach was so calming and the views of the city were beautiful. Some exciting sights on the island: Gibraltar Point Lighthouse, Franklin Children’s Garden, and an abandoned Centreville Amusement Park (closed for the season!). We even biked right up to a fence to watch planes take off and land at Billy Bishop Airport!

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We ended off our weekend trip by wandering around the West Queen West neighbourhood, browsing the Drake General Store and taking in the art at the Gladstone Hotel.

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Thanks for a lovely weekend, Toronto!

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Don’t Forget!

Do you watch Once Upon a Time? It is one of my guilty pleasures – the characters consistently frustrate me to no end and I don’t find the acting particularly inspiring, but I can’t bring myself to stop watching the show, so as a result I have breezed through six seasons on Netflix in just a matter of months. Anyways, this isn’t the important part of the story!

I was watching the third-to-last episode, a “musical” episode. I’m going to spoil it for you now. Here’s what happened: Emma, our fierce protagonist, was having trouble defeating the bad guy. She was close to losing all hope, having already lost her belief … when she suddenly realized that her parents’ hopeful song about the power of true love had been inside of her this whole time. All she had to do was remember. And then she started to sing and Autotune abounded!

I had just finished watching this silly television show when I read Psalm 77. In verse 6, it says,

I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” (Psalm 77:6)

I was reminded of how easy it is to forget, and how important it is to remember: I always, always need God. I may feel at times that I’m doing okay without Him, but then I snap at someone or I put myself first or I just feel sad, and I remember that I am nothing without Jesus, my Lord and Saviour.

One of the things I find really interesting about Psalm 77 is that the author is so aware of how good God is, even when he is in a time of trouble and is so close to forgetting that God is with him.

“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favourable? Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (Psalm 77: 7-9)

God is good all the time. It is my sinfulness and my intense focus on the things of this world that make me forget that God loves me so much that He sent His own son to die for me. I need to take the Gospel personally. I sinned and I sin and I will keep sinning, but Jesus showed me God’s love when He came to earth to save me from my sin, to bridge that gap between me and God, and to start changing me now so that I’m ready for when I meet God face to face.

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. (Psalm 77: 11-14)

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Phuket

Ah, Phuket. When one thinks of Phuket, images of beaches and resorts and tourists come to mind. I just googled “Phuket” and the photos are beautiful and blue! My experience in Phuket was a little bit not like that.

When we arrived on land, thousands of taxi drivers approached us trying to look for business (similar to Penang). We just chose the guy who seemed to speak the best English. My family and I hadn’t done too much research on what we should do in Phuket, so we ended up just going along with whatever our taxi driver suggested. Not the safest way of organizing a day of sightseeing! Anyway, get ready for a retelling of the most random day ever.

NOPPARAT ELEPHANT CAMP

Elephant trekking is pretty popular as a tourist attraction in Phuket. However, I would not recommend the place we visited. (I don’t even have much info on it, but I know it’s close to Patong! This is what I get for blindly going in some random dude’s car.) We bought our tickets for the ride and were told to wait 20 minutes before our assigned time. The problem was, there was no assigned time, and everything was chaotic and disorganized and there was a huge lack of communication between the staff members on the ground and the staff members on the little raised hut above the ground (where people could actually get on the elephants), so anyway we just pushed and wormed our way through and finally we got ourselves on an elephant!

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The short ride was pretty fun; it was pretty bumpy and our elephant was afraid of a nearby bulldozer so she kept walking into the trees. We also saw elephants pee and poo and flirt with each other (splash each other with water).

(When we arrived home from our trip to Asia, a photo popped up on my Instagram feed of a model visiting an ETHICAL elephant camp in Phuket … and I truly cannot say for certain whether or not the camp we visited was ethical! I feel very badly about it.)

GEMS GALLERY PHUKET // TripAdvisor

Our next stop was the world’s largest jewellery store: Gems Gallery Phuket. The best part of this stop was a little train ride (similar to something you might find at Disneyworld), which taught us about the geography and science of how gems are made, as well as the importance of jewellery in different cultures, religions, and royal families.

Then we went into the “factory,” which was really a small workshop where we saw people working on various products. They were all so hardworking with their microscopes and little tweezers! The jewellery is so detailed and intricate and the jewellery makers have to be so careful and focussed; I would surely go blind if I ever had a job like that.

The last part of the stop was entering the store. I had no interest in buying any jewellery, but there were sharks and fish in tanks and I found that very exciting! (We weren’t allowed to take photos in the store, but just imagine the little fishies swimming around with jewellery!)

THEP-PRASIT HONEY FARM // website

Why in the world did we visit a honey farm?! My parents bought some food items and we looked at the beehives and some funnily-shaped bee houses.

LUNCH

Lunch was definitely the best part of the day for me. I have no idea where we ate or what the restaurant was called, but here is a photo of the sign for those of you who can read Thai!

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We basically ate on the beach, with a beautiful view of the water and the cloudy skies.

The ~authentic~ Thai food was delicious! I wasn’t really able to eat the curry and the tom yum soup was unquestionably much too spicy for my taste buds, but the Pad Thai was soooo tasty! I washed it all down with a deliciously sweet iced coffee.

WAT CHALONG / website

Our final stop was Wat Chalong, a temple. It was raining pretty hard and so I really didn’t want to take off my shoes to enter the temple. We took some photos of the temple’s exterior but I have no idea what the inside looks like. In fact, I don’t really know anything about Wat Chalong! I’m a terrible tourist.

I had a great time in Phuket, but if you ever go, I hope you have a better time than I did!

Penang

Our second day in Malaysa was a very relaxing visit to Penang.

First, we took the Hop On Hop Off bus to get a nice feel for the actual city of Penang. The HOHO bus is pretty easy to use and stops at several interesting points of interest! Here are a couple of things we saw – I don’t know what any of them are! (In the photo at the bottom, there is a crowd of people outside of a temple, and I think they were taking part in some sort of religious ceremony.) We also passed by a lot of schools that were filled with children, which I thought was strange considering it was New Year’s Eve’s Eve (December 30).

Our main goal for the day was to enjoy the nature provided by Penang Hill, so we got off the bus at the appropriate stop, and were greeted by long, snaky lines for the funicular that would take visitors to the top of the hill. We decided to use the “fast pass” and paid around 3 times more than the regular price. We were then ushered to a shorter line for paying, a shorter line for waiting, and also an air-conditioned room! (It was definitely worth it.)

When we arrived at the top of the hill, we had a quick lunch, then it was off to The Habitat at Penang Hill, something of an educational nature conservation centre. There had recently been landslide activity in the area, so the regular entrance was closed, which meant we had to take shuttle busses (trucks) to enter the centre from its exit! Since there wasn’t enough space for our entire party to fit inside the truck, I jumped into the back and felt the wind in my hair as we travelled along the path and I’ve never felt more free!

Once we arrived at the Habitat, we started walking along the path and admiring the nature and animals. It’s not a difficult path; everything is paved. There are occasional lookouts, and some lookout points even have a swing that can easily fit 2 or 3 people! How picturesque! (I truly apologize for the lack of pictures … it really was so beautiful!)

As we walked along, we met a tour guide/naturalist who explained so many things to us and made the walk a lot more educational and useful. He explained what different plants ate and how they grew, how tarantulas buried themselves into rock by making perfect cylindrical burrows, and he even told us about biomimicry! This guy was so passionate and seriously loved biology; I found it quite admirable and inspiring! Our guide then explained to us that tour guides purposely don’t engage with visitors until after they’ve walked along the path for a little bit – giving people time to explore on their own and form their own questions naturally is a lot more interesting and engaging than if a tour guide just droned on and on about something that they deemed important. (As a teacher, I found this very cool.) We also walked across the canopy bridge (pictured above), where we saw a giant flying squirrel and monkeys!

We also visited the 360° observatory which is very very high off the ground. It took us far above the rainforest so that we had a beautiful view of the tops of the trees, as well as the city of Penang. It was a little bit shaky and there’s no reason to be afraid, but the wind does blow very hard and I can see how that can be disconcerting for some. The observatory also has information plaques to let you know what you’re looking at (for example, there are a couple of former colonial government buildings up in the trees (Why there? I don’t know.) and I learned about who lived there and what they did.)

After our afternoon of walking, we returned to the base of the hill, hopped back on the HOHO bus, and I promptly fell asleep until we arrived back at the cruise terminal.

 

 

Kuala Lumpur

The first stop of our lovely cruise was Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia! Our ship docked in Port Klang, which is about an hour’s drive from KL. We went on a taxi tour with our very personable guide, Kelvin, who took us to see all the exciting sites that Kuala Lumpur has to offer!

THEAN HOU TEMPLE

We visited a lot of temples on this trip, with this one being the first. (They all seemed to have the same name too!) We didn’t do much here except for admire the endless rows of red lanterns, as well as enjoy a pretty nice view of KL.

I also took off my shoes to enter the temple, then walked around inside in a circle!

THE KING’S PALACE

Next, we went to the king’s second palace. (His first original residence has been converted into a royal museum!) We obviously couldn’t go inside, but we admired the gold decor, and my sister and her family took a picture with a guard who never smiled. (He was like a Malaysian version of a beefeater from Buckingham Palace! He positioned himself in the smaller arch, right beside the gates.)

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NATIONAL MONUMENT

I really enjoyed our next stop: the National Monument. The monument commemorates all Malaysians who have fought in battle, from Japanese occupation during World War Two to the Malayan Emergency, when Malaysia gained independence from Britain. There’s also a cenotaph which pays tribute to Malaysians who fought in both world wars, as well as the war for independence.

It was so peaceful and calm when visiting this area; the fountain and pond gave the space a very serene feeling. It would’ve been nice to have had an opportunity to learn a bit more about the events which were being commemorated, but I suppose that type of information is better shared at a museum than a memorial.

 

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PETRONAS TWIN TOWERS

Next, two tall skyscrapers that house a shopping centre, a few offices, and an observatory! We spent all our time in the mall, which was decked out in Christmas decorations, which made me think of my fellow Canadians who were suffering in frigid -30°C weather while I bathed in my sweat in the hot Malaysian heat!

The mall offered a wonderful air-conditioned respite, but this was also the point in the day when my sister and I realized we needed to cover our legs for the next stop in our tour (which meant we would feel even warmer)! We ducked into a Uniqlo and bought some pants, all the while marvelling at the heavy parkas and thick sweaters that were for sale inside the store.

BATU CAVES

Our final stop of our Kuala Lumpur tour was the Batu Caves, a Hindu temple which has been carved/built into a giant cave. A large golden statue of a goddess and a very long set of stairs welcomed us into the temple.

The climb up the stairs was made all the more exciting – better to distract us from the danger of the uneven steps – by the wild monkeys! There were mother monkeys and baby monkeys, and they weren’t shy about running after bags of food and stealing snacks from unsuspecting tourists. On my way down, I even saw a monkey perched on the bannister, gulping down some sort of mango drink!

Walking through the caves is pretty fun as well. The temple is still under construction, and visitors can help out by carrying a brick from one level to the next. There are statues all over, and even a little marketplace to buy little trinkets!

The caves were also quite dark and cool, which felt good after a whole day of being out in the sun. Unfortunately and surprisingly, there were even more stairs once inside the cave, and these steps were even more precarious than the ones outside! Nevertheless, it was a nice experience, and I felt like I’d completed a workout after finally arriving at the top of the steps.

There is also an opportunity to go into the “dark caves” and learn about the flora and fauna that is found in the caves, aka bats! And some pretty gross-looking bugs! We didn’t have time to go, but it looked like it would’ve been fun as well as educational – visitors can only go on that tour if they are led by a trained guide.

And that is what I did in Kuala Lumpur – a bit of history, a bit of exercise, and a bit of wildlife!

A Morning in Singapore

That is literally all the time we had.

We arrived in Singapore from Hong Kong in the depths of the night, so we went straight to sleep, and had plans to leave our hotel for the cruise terminal around noon, which gave us ONE MORNING to explore all of Singapore! Luckily, Dangerous Dan and I had both been to Singapore in the past (click here to read some of my posts!), so we decided to go somewhere neither of us had been before in the short time we had: Little India.

The transit system in Singapore is fantastic and the subway ride from our hotel to Little India was extremely quick and easy. (It also helps that everything in Singapore is sparkling clean! It just makes you feel so great!)

We didn’t have any plans in Little India; we just wandered around and followed the helpful “Heritage Trail” maps that are dotted around the neighbourhood. These maps are often accompanied by a plaque that explains the historical significance of the site as well! (There is a heritage centre as well, which we might have visited if only we had had more time!)

We visited Tekka Market, full of sights and sounds and smells!

We also walked past the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, but we didn’t go inside because you had to take your shoes off. We decided to stay outside and just admire the intricate detail of the exterior designs of the temple!

Other things that we saw on our walk: a church, a memorial for Gandhi which doubled as an Indian education centre, and a former racecourse!

Lamma Island

Hong Kong is a busy, bustling city, but if you visit any of its outlying islands (there are more than 200 of them!), you’ll find that there are plenty of places and spaces in Hong Kong to take a break from the busyness and the crowds. (I should note that it takes around an hour-long ferry ride to get to some of these places!)

Lamma Island is one of the larger outlying islands, and it’s a popular place for Hong Kongers to visit. The trip to the island was easy enough – around 25 minutes, and I fell asleep so it felt even faster!

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There are two major “cities/villages” on Lamma Island: Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan. We walked through Yung Shue Wan and admired all the storefronts and random animals (I saw a dog pooing!). The island is known for not allowing any cars except for service vehicles, and my dad really got a kick out of seeing the tiny ambulance and even tinier fire truck (it was smaller than a minivan). He was wondering when we’d get to see a police car when a police officer walked past and gruffly informed us that there were no police cars!

Lamma Island is a great place to explore nature without feeling like you’re truly working up a sweat. The walk between the two villages is mostly flat, and is supposed to take only an hour and a half. Unfortunately, my father is an avid photographer and so it took us around three hours to complete the same journey.

One of the highlights of the relaxing walk is Hung Shing Yeh Beach, which was so beautiful and quiet. There were very few people due to it being the winter months, which made it all the more serene.

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The beach marked the beginning of the somewhat hilly climb towards Sok Kwu Wan.(Before this, we had just been walking through town.) It did get warm as we walked uphill and I even took off my sweater at one point, but otherwise it was a nice “hike” and the views were magnificent! We could even see parts of Hong Kong Island from where we stood!

When we arrived at Sok Kwu Wan, there wasn’t too much to see – just a long row of restaurants. We ate at Lamma Rainbow Seafood Restaurant, which seems to have a near-monopoly on this part of the island because it seemed that every third storefront was owned by them! (It was also the only restaurant that had customers …)

We took our seats right by the water which was so blue and littered with little fishing boats. My parents completely disregarded the menu and instead pointed at the various tanks to choose which seafood we would eat. The food was delicious and perfectly seasoned – we had snails, fried squid, steamed shrimp, soup, and a plate of veggies to round it all out. The best part was the PISSING SHRIMP (such a fantastic name – actually, its name in Cantonese has a bit more nuance to it … it’s more like shrimp-that-peed-itself). I was nervous to eat it because of the name, but I looked it up online and found out that the name is due to the stream of water which comes out of the shrimp when you pick it up. It was also very intense to eat – scissors were provided to cut the shell of the shrimp along its spine (?) and then you had to rip it open in order to get the meat! Good thing this type of shrimp is like the size of a lobster!

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After our meal, the waiters informed us that the restaurant has a free ferry shuttle service back to Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, which saved us a couple of bucks! And after a foggy and rainy boat ride, we were back in the big city.

And that’s that for my trip to Lamma Island! There were a couple of things that I’d hoped to see but didn’t get a chance to, so I think I’d like to return in the future!

 

P.S. If you want to see some more outlying islands excitement, check out what I did in Cheung Chau the last time I came to Hong Kong.

Hong Kong: FOOD

Our first meal in Hong Kong was a typical dinner at a Chinese restaurant with my grandparents and a plethora of cousins. The experience was similar to any of my family dinners in Markham; the difference was that everyone except for my grandparents had literally just arrived in Hong Kong from somewhere in North America, so we were all falling asleep!

In any case, while I had lots and lots of food in Hong Kong, I did not always find it extremely exciting because I am constantly surrounded by Hong Kong cuisine even in Canada, and thus, I will highlight only two restaurants that Dangerous Dan and I visited. However, honourable mentions go out to Café de Coral (which Dangerous Dan insisted on having breakfast at … EVERY DAY) and Pizza Express in Times Square, where we didn’t speak a lick of Cantonese, even to the waiters, and felt like we were back in North America again. (Even the people beside us were speaking in English!)

GREENHOUSE / 10/F, Times Square, 1 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong

We passed by Greenhouse the first time when we were on our way to Pizza Express (which is in the same mall). Greenhouse looked interesting and said it was “Asian cuisine with a Western twist,” so we decided to go back to try it later on during our trip. The restaurant has a nice cozy feel and so much plant-based decor!

To start, Dangerous Dan and I shared an appetizer, a Curry Crab Bruschetta. It wasn’t really bruschetta (very few tomatoes), but it was a sort of dip at least! It tasted really good, especially with the toasted bread and shrimp crackers!

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For the main event, I had Fresh Salmon Spaghetti. I asked the waiter if I could have it as mild, but I guess my spice tolerance is too low because I still had trouble tasting the food amidst the spiciness! The salmon was delicious and I love cherry tomatoes though, so I still had a good time.

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I also ate some of Dangerous Dan’s dish, which was simply named Singapore Noodles. It was so much more exciting than that though! The noodles were fried along with a smooth egg in a skillet, and it was all so interesting. I think I preferred his dish more than my own.

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LAN FONG YUEN (蘭芳園) / Shop 26, WK Square, 36-44 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

This cha chaan teng is famous and important and world-renowned! The original location is somewhere in Central, but we went to this second location in TST because it was right by our hotel.

The whole process of getting in to the restaurant was hilariously intense! Since this location of Lan Fong Yuen is in a mall (sports-themed, at that!), we had to wait for the mall to open at 10:30 before we could go in, and a long line started to form at around 10:15. At 10:30 exactly, the metal door slowly moved upwards, and a staff member was standing there, warning us we couldn’t go in until the door was completely raised. This woman might as well have waved a checkered flag and screamed “GO!”, because once the door was completely raised, people ran in to the mall. We snaked through walls of running shoes and racks of soccer jerseys, and I shouted to my mother, “Mom, where are we going?! Do you know where this restaurant is?!” She responded that she did not know where she was going, but we continued to blindly follow the parade of joggers through the mall. We finally arrived at the storefront and quickly sat down in the restaurant, and the people who had been at the end of the line outside even had to continue waiting inside the mall. (That’s why we all ran!)

The food tasted pretty good and was classic Hong Kong-style cafe food. I decided to try something different and had fried instant noodles with BBQ chicken wings and a fried egg. It was all very tasty, although the chicken wings were a little spicy.

And to finish things off, delicious milk tea!

This was the last meal we ate before coming back to Canada, so it was a perfect way to say goodbye to Asia!

My Biennial Pilgrimage to the Motherland

*Biennial means every two years.

I am finally back on the blog after 500 years of not posting anything! If you follow me on Instagram, you will see that I recently spent some time in Asia! Visiting Asia is something that I am fortunate to have done several times over the last few years, and I try to do different things each visit, so I’m excited to share with you adventures from my travels!

First up: Hong Kong! I ate at some interesting restaurants, visited the Museum of History, and went to Lamma Island! I also spent time with family members who I don’t get to see very often, which was so lovely.

Then came the next leg of our trip: a cruise ship from Singapore to Malaysia and Thailand. For some reason, we were never really able to get over our jetlag, so we spent most of our time on the ship sleeping. I suppose that’s acceptable when you’re relaxing and on vacation! (Although my busybody self felt a little guilty every time I stayed in my room instead of participating in the silly activities on board!)

We spent less than 24 hours in Singapore, but we still tried to make the most of it by wandering around Little India.

In Malaysia, we visited Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Both ports had a wonderful mix of city life and wild nature!

Finally, in Thailand, we rode elephants and ate ~authentic~ Thai food in Phuket! (I apologize for the picture below of the food (or lack thereof) … I was so excited that I forgot to take a picture of our delicious meal before it was consumed!)

Given my recent track record in writing posts, who knows when the first actual post for this WINTER IN ASIA series will come out! While you wait (and wait and wait), here is what I did the last time I went to Asia, and the time before that too!

Wedding Greetings

This year, I went to a plethora of weddings, and I made cards for each of the happy couples!

Take a look:

I tried to play around with calligraphy and the shape of the cards. But I was also very lazy and often made these cards the morning of the weddings so they’re also not as beautiful as they could be! Also, I really should stop automatically moving towards pink for wedding cards. That is boring and so stereotypical.

P.S. Wedding cards I made last year.