Sunday, June 30, 2013

RTW Trip: The A-B-C's, Part II

The Conclusion of my A-B-C's for my Round-the-World Trip.

N is for New Meats

My second day in Cape Town I had crocodile ribs. That opened the pandora's box of strange, new meats to try out. Crocodile became Ostrich, which became Warthog, which became another dose of Crocodile, which became Gembok (an antelope like thing), and all of this was just South Africa. Africa as a continent has some really unique fauna, and I tasted most of them (I don't think they eat Elephant or Hippo or Giraffe), but my tour of meats didn't end there. The most bizarre meat was still to come, and that happened my last day in Cambodia, where I went to one place that is notable for a crawling little appetizer. When I first saw turantula on the menu, I was excited. When they brought those 8-legged things to me, I was disappointed at how small they were. When I tasted them I was excited at how good they were. I finished off this tour in Australia with Kangaroo, another tender, red meat that I wish we could have in the US.

O is for the Oxford Art Factory

This is the only entry about a night spot, mainly because there was a witness to what happened that night anyway, in my cousin who was in Sydney at the time. We left an already decent bar near the Sydney waterfront that had lively music, a livelier crowd and view of the harbor on a beautiful night. I was a little skeptical of this place on Oxford Street being as good, and although I'm not one to leave a good thing too easily, since he was paying, I left without too much of a fight. The entrance to the Oxford Art Gallery gave off a really 'club' vibe, and a large area of the place was a nightclub, but that was closed off to ticketed guests only because some DJ was playing there. Instead, we had to hang at the bar, which had a dance floor, a giant projection screen playing music videos (that weren't the same songs as the ones playing out loud), a long bar and a ton of young people. It was an interesting night out with my cousin, and I learned a lot, like how seriously they take trying to keep out people without a ticket from the many side entrances to the club, to the fact that in Australia, they might not know what an 'Irish Car Bomb' is, and instead charge you for Guinness and Jameson separately. It was a long night, but a damn fun one.

P is for Phang Nga Bay

I was sick for each of my first two days in Phuket, but our last day there, I braved my still pulsating stomach illness to join my Mom on a boat tour of Phang Nga Bay. We ended up going for a nicer (in terms of price) tour than originally planned because instead of two tours we were just doing one, and while we did miss out on the other tour, I can't say that this tour was anything but incredible. The view of the small rock islands jutting out of the crystal-clear blue water, the winding caves that we were taken in by kayak, made to duck to avoid the glistening limestone formations on the ceilings, the umpteen photo opportunities. Everything combined for a memorable day out in the Andaman Bay. Somehow, despite all that was excellent with this tour, my most lasting memory is having to pass over the free, ice-cold coke bottles that the rest of the people on the tour boat were gulping down as an antidote against the oppressive heat because of my stomach.

Q is for Quality Family Time (yeah, I know, boring)

Obviously, the main attraction, in terms of getting to spend time with family, is to visit my long lost family in Australia. I had met them all before eons ago, and met my cousin Lisa in the US two years previously, but this would be meeting them on their turf; spending time at their home. I would also get to spend some time with the part of my family that is trapped in India (I kid about the 'trapped' thing). What I didn't expect was to meet another cousin who lives in the US in Sydney, or meet cousins of my parents in Sydney, Singapore, Mumbai and other places. The height of this history lesson came at a party in Bangalore at my Mom's cousin's house for his daughter's communion, where my Uncle Anthony basically pointed out each person and told me how they were connected to me. Because of how Mangalore worked, all of my 2nd cousins on that side of the family (My Mom's paternal family) are basically my Mom's age, so that added to the confusion. The last family members I met on my trip were my Aunt and cousin who used to live in Boston, one last reminder of the family I left behind in the US and the long litany of them I had met on my voyage.

R is for Rendang and Roti (Canai)

I wanted to go to Malaysia mainly for the food. I would say the cuisine encompassed about 75% of my reasoning to go to Malaysia. My favorite part of the cuisine experience in Malaysia was probably the seafood in the night markets in Penang, the stalls that sold fish, squid, clams, scallops adn shrimp by the ounce with any sauce you want, delivered to your table as you sip a Tiger Beer listening to the music. That's life. But this is about Rending and Roti Canai, my two mainstay Malaysian dishes I eat in the US. Roti Canai was a little hard to find since it is a breakfast food there, but I was able to get it at a Muslim eatery across our hotel in KL that stayed open all night. Rendang was more plentiful, and although none of the Rendangs we sampled were what we have in the US, we tried a few of them and all were quite good. Some were more spicy, some were more saucy, some were just totally different, but the various versions of Rendang was almost the connecting line for our time in Malaysia. I went to Malaysia for food, and if I go back, it will be for food. I'm sure there are more authentic restaurants serving Rendang that we didn't try out last time.

S is for Sushi!!

From one food to another. I didn't only go to Japan to eat sushi, but it just so happened that I eat a metric ton of sushi.I had expected the sushi in Japan to be good and to also be expensive, but only half of that statement turned out to be true. Of course, there is very expensive sushi, and I would classify one place I went to as moderately expensive, but the scores of 'Kaiten Sushi' places, with their conveyor belt, generally gave me good bang for my buck. The best of those places served all their different types of sushi, which encompassed most of the ones anyone would generally want, for 126 yen (about $1.25). Another had most for 115 yen, and then a few in the 165, 199, 250, and 450 yen categories. I ate at these places too many times that by the end I was able to request what I wanted to the sushi chef (by yelling at him, which is what everyone does) in Japanese. Although the real revelation in Japanese cuisine was the Japanese Korean BBQ, sushi was what really sustained me. Sushi became a part of me.

T is for Table Mountain

Table Mountain has the distinction of being one of the Top 10 tourist attractions worldwide according to Tripadvisor. I knew this going in, so my expectations were damn high for Table Mountain. My Uncle also told me it was the best tourist attraction in Cape Town, one of the best tourist spots in the world, so my expectations were a little higher. Somehow, Table Mountain exceeded them. The view on the cable car up to Table Mountain was incredible,, but that was merely an appetizer for what was on top. Table Mountain is situated directly behind Cape Town, creating a perfect view of the entire city. There is also the view of the Western Cape down South of Cape Town. The best part may be the size of the 'Table' top, making Table Mountain a perfect place to get some exercise walking up and down the rocks. I haven't seen enough of the world to say if it really is one of the 10 best tourist attractions, but I can't see how anyone could possibly be disappointed with spending some time atop of Table Mountain.

U is for the United MileagePlus Program

When I first started researching the logistics of how this trip would work, I found that each of the three major alliances gave round-the-world tickets. Of course, those came with about a $6,000 price, so those were quickly forgotten about. Then, I found that United offered a round-the-world mileage ticket for 180,000 miles, but the amount of stipulations on that were about three pages of text, and nearly every itinerary I wanted was not allowed for one reason or another. I finally settled on two seperated mileage tickets, and then the fun began. United and its Star Alliance partners can basically connect any two places in the world, but the fun is maximizing the stopovers, layovers, airlines and airports. I was able to get everything I wanted. Somehow, despite Johannesburg creating a nearly perfect triangle with New York and Ho Chi Minh, it was acceptable to use it as a stopover, making Cape Town fall into my lap. The amount of iterations and mock-itineraries I made on's MileagePlus page; the amount of combinations and permutations of airlines and airports from Melbourne to Tokyo to Bangalore. I finally settled on getting a flight on All Nippon, because why not try All Nippon. United MileagePlus gave me 12 and 16 hour layovers in Singapore. It gave me everything I wanted. You rarely get a chance to say this to an American airline (and you rarely want to), but thank you United Airlines, for making your Mileage program a joy to use.

V is for the Victoria & Albert Waterfront

The Victoria and Albert (V&A) Waterfront in Cape Town was basically my city center during my stay on the Western Cape. It helped that it was a beautiful 15-20 minute walk away from my hostel. The Waterfront encapsulated everything I loved about Cape Town in one smaller than you would think area. There was great food with interesting meats, especially at City Grill, a place that gave me the royal treatment when I decided to go a second straight day. There was a mix of interesting people with awesome South African accents. There was great beer (Milk & Honey - which was so good it deserved its own letter). There was an incredible view of Table Mountain off in the distance, and there was the nervousness of leaving the place at night in fear of being attacked. If I had to do Cape Town again, I might stay closer to Long Street, but staying near the V&A Waterfront gave me an incredible start for my trip, energizing everything that had to come.

W is for Wine Tastings  

I'm not really a wine fan. I choose to drink beer, or scotch, or mostly anything over wine. But going to two of the more exotic wine producing countries, it was hard to avoid the lure of taking a lazy trip into Wine Country. My first experience was a tour to the Stellenbosch wine region of Cape Town. Given the nature of the trip (me and about 10 other mostly 40+ year old folks), that day was more about the odd entertainment of conversing with older married folk who joked in German, Danish and (for my sake) English. The other trip was near Melbourne, it a more picturesque area, with rolling hills of wineries, glowing under a purely sunny day. I still remember the names of the Melbourne wineries. There was De Botoli, there was Helen Hills, where we had lunch and I had one of the meatiest lamb legs I've ever had, and then Chandon, which was as nice as you would think, given the brand. Even after all the wine tasting, I'm still not the largest wine fan, but at least I enjoyed them enough that I can see me doing an adequate amount of wine tasting with my future wife at some point. My interest in wine will grow greater with age, much like the wine itself, but these trips to the wine regions of South Africa and Melbourne were a nice catalyst to get this process going.

X is for Xacuti

This trip to Goa was a slight disappointment, mainly because of where we chose to stay. Instead of staying at the more active North Goa, where we stayed in January 2011, we stayed in South Goa, which is quieter, but supposedly more beautiful. That may or may not be true, but if I go to Goa again, I'm definitely staying in North Goa. Anyway, back to South Goa. Because getting shack food was a little tougher and demanded driving some distance, I had more normal Goan food this time. Xacuti, a Goan curry used to cook beef, lamb, prawn and everything else in, represents those authentic Goan flavors. It took a while to get into the groove in Goa, but the food helped. Shack food was and still is great, but having Goan curries, headlined with Xacuti, on the beach with a beer, all for around 5 dollars, is still about as good as it gets in India.

Y is for Youth Hostels

You may be asking where did I stay when I was alone. You probably aren't, but you could be. And the answer, for every place where I was alone and didn't have family living there, was Youth Hostels, courtesy of or, or I had certain rules for any place I stayed. Firstmost, was to be in my own room. I lived through a 10-bed dorm-style room in Madrid in Spring 2010, and I was never going to do repeat that harrowing experience. My second requirement was air conditioning, because staying in Cambodia or Vietnam without it would have meant certain death. The final one was Wi-Fi, which most hostels give for free. All of these qualifications were met in a lot of places that were a lot nicer than what many would expect from the term 'Youth Hostel'. My hostel in Siem Reap (The Lotus Lodge) was actually a beautiful hotel, with giant rooms, a beautifully decorated pool with a bar and lodge area near it. The ones in Japan were modern, devilishly clean buildings. The best part, though, of Youth Hostels are the youth; the people there to meet. I would have never known how fun Colombians are, or never hung out with Brisbane-ites, or never met scores of other people if not for youth hostels.

Z is for Zero Regrets

When I left JFK on February 25th, on South African Airlines flight SA204, aboard a beautiful Airbus A340-600, with three seats all to myself, I was excited, obviously, but also extremely nervous. It was daunting to be away from the US for so long, especially since I was going to be alone for about half the trip. Since these are the 2010s, with Wi-Fi everywhere, I wasn't really alone, but what if I didn't make friends at the hostel? What if I got sick? What if I got injured? What if I didn't plan this well? Luckily, other than the sick part, none of those fears were realized. Only my dreams were. This trip was a great gift from a dad who I gifted with not having to pay for an 8th term at NYU. But more than that it was a chance for me to do a trip that I would never really have the chance to do again at an age where I don't have mortgages or car leases or any other real 'adult' strings holding me back. This was an opportunity to experience three continents, nine countries and countless cities. It was a chance to do anything I wanted, within the bounds of the law of course, and eat anything I wanted, and drink anything I wanted. When I left I was dreaming of eating a black pepper at Jumbo Seafood and then telling the cab driver 'Changi Airport' while telling myself 'Home'. But when I reached Jumbo Seafood on June 7th, and finished my black pepper crab, I instead of wanting to go home, wanted to start it all over again. You only get one chance to do this sort of trip, and I had my chance. Thank God I loved every part of it.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Big News Comes in Threes

Here are my quick thoughts on three recent developments in the Sports World.

1.) The Blackhawks Cement their Mini-Dynasty

I'm almost always wrong in my preseason predictions. Hell, I had the Bears beating the Giants in the NFC Championship Game before the 2012 season started, and I had picked Kansas to win the NCAA Title in both 2010 and 2011, years where they were unceremoniously beaten by Northern Iowa and VCU. So, when I am right, I usually flaunt it. And this time I was, as I picked the Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup back in January ( Of course, I had them beating the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup Final, but let's overlook that part for a second.

The Blackhawks are the first team to win multiple Stanley Cups in the post-lockout era, and while they did it with a great core of young players like Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Sharp and a grizzled vet with Marian Hossa. However, Toews and Kane scored a combined 5 goals in those two Stanley Cup Finals, and while Duncan Keith was brilliant in this Cup Final, Marian Hossa missed a game and did little when he was on the ice. No, the Blackhawks won each Cup because their role players stepped up and performed. The amazing part about this Blackhawk mini-dynasty, though, is almost none of the role players from 2010 were on this team.

First of all, the goalie is different, with the "dont-eff-this-up-for-us" Antti Niemi gone in favor of Corey Crawford. But guys like Troy Brouwer, Brian Campbell, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Kopecky, Dustin Byfuglien and John Madden have all been replaced. It took a while for that process to happen, but they were replaced by Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad, Nick Leddy, Michael Roszival and Michael Handzus, and this core worked about as well as the last one. The Blackhawks, like the Penguins, got lucky by sucking for a while and getting two first-rate players, but it is what they have surrounded those two stars with that seperates them from the Penguins.

It was amazing to watch the swiftness in the Blackhawks comeback at the end of Game 6. It brought up some bad memories, as the ending was hauntingly similar to the Hurricanes comeback in Game 7 against the Devils in 2009 (my 4th worst personal sports loss), as they too were down by one with under two minutes and came back to win scoring two goals within 40 seconds. The difference here was Boston still had to win another game, but then again, this was losing a chance to win a Stanley Cup. Boston fans have had more to cheer about over the past 10 years than any sports city should ever have to cheer about, but they've also had to go experience some terrible defeats. Add this one to the list.

The Blackhawks shouldn't be done any time soon as long as they hang onto Toews and Kane. Crawford is still young, but his price may get too high, and the Hawks have already shown that the goalie doesn't have to be a constant. Unlike 2010, their role players will mostly been back next season and some of them are exciting young guys who just got their first NHL action. There are other teams out there stockpiling talent (Hello, Edmonton), but the Blackhawks are well set up to be as close to a modern NHL dynasty as we will see.

2.) Aaron Hernandez

I don't know why, but when the Hernandez story first broke about 10 days ago, when the news reported that he wasn't a suspect, just a party of interest, I always thought that it could end up being a lot messier than that. I don't know why. Even though I was right, I would have never expected this. What Aaron Hernandez has been charged with doing (not to mention the possibility that he could have been involved in the shooting of two other people last year - this being the killing of a potential snitch on the other episode) is far beyond what I could have conceived. How someone with his life, his opportunity, his contract, could have thrown it all away is beyond comprehension.

There are many questions I have about Aaron Hernandez and what he was charged with doing. First, if you are going to 'orchestrate the execution' (great line, by the way), why be there when it happens? Why not pull a Rae Carruth and just set the thing up? Of course, that wouldn't be any better, but Hernandez compounded his stupidity by making the idiotic decision of being there, if not shooting the guy himself. Then, how deep were his gang connections? Many NFL players left the gang life behind but still have ties to the gang world through friends and past associated. Hernandez took it one step further by still seemingly being a part of that world while in the NFL. This is different than OJ or Michael Vick, or even Ray Lewis. This looks like gang violence, orchestrated by an NFL player.

Of course, when the news of his impending arrest broke, I was slightly amused that this was happening to the Patriots, that their greatest strength (TE) is being turned into a large weakness one-by-one. Of course, I then had to credit the Patriots for making a tough, logical decision to get rid of Hernandez early. They are going as far to distance themselves from Hernandez as possible, and I have to think this was purely Bob Kraft's decision (although I doubt Belichick gave much resistance) to remove the stain of a potential murderer from the Patriots organization.

To defend the Pats for a second, this shouldn't be used as some sign of a deteriorating Patriots locker room. First of all, the 'Patriot Way' has been dead for about six years, but still, the Patriots didn't draft him in the 1st round knowing his character concerns, but in the 4th. They gave him an extension I'm sure after doing due diligence, it just missed whatever was still there with Aaron. The Patriots have other issues in the locker room, particularly on defense, and this definitely looked bad in the beginning of the saga, but by cutting the cord quickly, they did all they could to remove themselves from the Hernandez trail and situation.

As for Hernandez, he's basically everything that is wrong with the glamorization of gang violence in this country. If what has been alleged is true (and I would put that percentage quite high), Hernandez chose to dole out his justice in the most primal, 'gangster-y' way possible, seemingly wanting to flex his muscles. Hernandez obviously is dumber than a rock, not only with the crime but the haphazard way he planned it (texting his associates to meet him) and the brilliantly terrible way he tried to cover it up (the 'breaking the phone' idea kind of shows how much TV Herndo has watched on such matters). Hernandez is a terrible person, but also a terribly dumb and insecure person. The NFL is better off without him, and while his ability (which I always thought was slightly overrated) will be missed in New England, his presence won't be. I just can't believe that for all of Rob Gronkowski's raunchy, frat-bro qualities and exploits, he's by far the smarter, more well-adjusted TE the Patriots had.

3.) The Fall of Rafa and Roger?

I have an almost prescient ability to predict what will happen in Nadal matches very early. The fact that Nadal couldn't break Darcis early in the 1st set of their 1st round match made me nervous. I don't know why. He lost the first set in each of his first two matches at the French Open just four weeks earlier and then he won that tournament. Still, a similar feeling the previous year made me nervous, and that ended with a similar outcome. By the time the shocking three-set match was over, it was hard to believe that that man, Rafael Nadal, could have once won Wimbledon twice and made five straight finals at Wimbledon, let alone won a major just 16 days earlier.

Yet none of that compares to watching Federer lose. In isolation, the Nadal loss is a bigger upset. Darcis is the lower ranked player, and while that ranking difference is quite close with Stakhovsky currently ranked 116, he spent much of the last 3-4 years firmly in the Top 100. Nadal is younger and still closer to his prime. Discounting last year's Wimbledon, Nadal had made the Final of 9 of his last 10 slams played. Rafael Nadal was having the best year of anyone on tour despite missing the Australian Open. Federer, on the other hand, was having his worst year since 2002, going just 27-7 heading into Wimbledon, losing meekly to guys like Tsonga and Kei Nishikori, let alone Nadal twice. However, Federer was the defending champ, and because of Lukas Rosol's even more stunning upset last year, we are conditioned to believe Nadal was beatable early.

Out of all the many records and streaks Federer has set, the consecutive Semifinal streak was always the one I was most impressed with. From Wimbledon 2004 to the 2010 Australian Open, Federer always made the last four. That's kind of absurd. Djokovic just crossed the halway point, but he would need to make it to the 2016 Australian Open to match it. The Semifinal streak ended with a loss to Robin Soderlin (of all people), and since then he's missed the Semifinal another four times coming into this Wimbledon (Wimby '10 and '11, the '12 US Open and the '13 French), but he at least made the last 8, which brings me to my third favorite Fed streak, the 36 straight Quarterfinals, which now ended. Djokovic has now made the QFs 16 straight times, with the 2009 French Open the last time he failed to do so. He would have to make it through the French Open in 2018(!) to match that. The worst part of how the streak ended was that it wasn't some rousing match in the Round of 16, but a shocking, stunning loss in the second round on his best surface.

Roger Federer is either the Greatest or the 2nd Greatest (after Rod Laver) male tennis player of modern times. Rafael Nadal is definitely in the Top 10 and would easily be in the Top 5 on most people's lists today and still has an outside shot of getting 17 slams. However, they will both probably be ranked outside the Top 3 come the end of Wimbledon. I'm not ready to call this a new era, because Nadal's deflated ranking is still mostly due to him missing everything from the US Open Series in 2012 through the Australian Open this year, but Federer, who hasn't missed any time, is clearly declining. There was so much anticipation of a Federer-Nadal Quarterfinal, on the surface where you would think the greatest chance of an epic match would lie, but shockingly neither will make it.

I have no idea what the long term ramifications of this match will be, but going forward the more interesting story is Rafa's. Last year when Lukas Rosol beat him in the 2nd round, he was clearly less than 100% during that match, but he ended up missing the next 7 months. Nadal didn't seem hampered in the loss to Darcis, and he's already said that there was no injury and there will be no layoff, but it will be interesting to notice if his confidence will drop. Despite his bulldog mentality, Nadal's confidence, in my opinion, has never really recovered from losing four straight Masters 1000 (the 2nd best level of tennis tournaments after the four slams) to Djokovic in the spring of 2011. I think that lack of confidence followed Rafa to the Wimbledon, US and Australian Open Finals, each he lost to Djokovic. He's since beaten Novak twice in majors, but I don't think he's the confident force he was through 2010. This is the lowest moment, so it will be interesting to see what happens if he has early trouble at the US Open.

The Federer-Nadal rivalry is still what carried Tennis back into the minds of many sports fans after some lean years after the end of the Sampras era. Despite Nadal and Djokovic having played far more times than Nadal and Federer, the Federer-Nadal rivalry will always mean more, will always be more special, and it makes sense that two days after Nadal's (new) lowest moment, Federer suffers his. They were tied together at Wimbledon forever because of that amazing 2008 Final, and are tied together again in defeat. A rivalry till the end,

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Acceptable Loss

GIF credit to SBNation and NBA on ESPN

One week and one day ago, Kawhi Leonard missed a free throw that would have effectively won the Spurs the 2013 NBA Title over the best Heat team out of the three. Of course, there were a bunch of other disasters and mistakes that happened late in that game for the Spurs (not to mention the Heat missing their first desperation three each time only to get an offensive rebound both times). If Manu Ginobili hits a free throw a few seconds before, or if someone just fouls Chris Bosh hard when he gets the offensive rebound down three, or if they just closeout better, the Spurs also win, so it is hard to pin this on Kawhi Leonard. It is even harder to pin it on Leonard when he had the Spurs' only two buckets in the Overtime, and then played great in Game 7, a game where Manu Giniboli was the worst version of Manu Ginobili and Danny Green basically decided to revert to the Cavaliers version of himself. But I will always remember Kawhi Leonard's missed free throw. It is a shame that even the Heat get a break every now and then.

Still, after Game 7 was over, and the Heat were crowned champs once again, I saw Dwyane Wade, a pretty unlikable figure these days, immediately go over to Tim Duncan and embrace him. I saw LeBron do the same thing. I saw the both of them go over to Popovich and have a long conversation with Popovich. All three of these things really took place before they even celebrated themselves. And while this made me feel a bit less upset at LeBron (and Wade) getting another ring, it made me feel better as a quasi-Spurs fan. Despite the Heat having lost once in this current iteration (I'm still not sure how Dallas did it), and been pushed to 7 games two other times (the Eastern Conference Final each of the last two years), this seemed like the hardest the Heat had had to work for a win. The Spurs made them earn it, and the Heat loved and respected them for it, and I do as well, even more than before.

What I'll remember about the Spurs in these playoffs and finals, after I get past the image of Kawhi Leonard, or Tim Duncan slapping the floor after missing the hook shot that would have tied Game 7, is Tim Duncan going 10-12 in the first half of Game 6, of all but Bill Simmons picking the Grizzlies to beat them and then the Spurs laying waste and getting swept. That's what these playoffs did for the Spurs. It is rare to lose the Finals, especially in that fashion (what transpired in the last minute of Game 6 was basically a collapse equal to the Bruins collapse in their Game 6) and actually have your legacy raised, but I think that is what happened with Duncan and Popovich, if not Parker as well.

In a way, the Devils had the same thing happen to them last year with their loss in the Stanley Cup Finals. They weren't supposed to be there. Their years of winning titles in the Brodeur era were long gone (for the Devils it was 2003, as opposed to 2007 for the Spurs), but Marty turned back the clock, Parise and Kovalchuk played at level with their talent, and they made one last run. The Spurs have enough good young players, and potentially enough cap space that this doesn't have to be one last run, but it felt like one anyway.

Even last year, they had the type of team that could beat the Heat, with great three-point shooting, a defensive plan that limited threes and a deep bench that could destroy an opponents bench. They just ran into the Thunder playing at their peak (and after losing Harden, that four game stretch against the Spurs may be as good as that Thunder crew ever plays). I'm sure the Heat breathed a sigh of relief last year when they drew the Thunder, a team they match up brilliantly with, instead of the Spurs, but no such luck for them this year. The Spurs played at their best in their dominant Game 3, but it was Game 5 that will be their lasting memory, the game that let everyone remember just how good that 'Big 3' was. Ginobili had one last shining moment, Tim Duncan went for 17 and 12, and some random role player hit a bunch of threes, with Danny Green playing the role once played by Brent Barry and Stephen Jackson. It was everything the Spurs were known for that led to four titles.

It was a cruel twist of the knife that the first time the Spurs would ever trail a finals series was when they lost the Finals four games to three. However, it was crueler that they did what they did in Game 7, doing something everyone hoped for but not too many thought was going to happen. They kept game 7 close. They made Game 7 extremely watchable and dramatic. They did the opposite of what a game Indiana team did a round earlier in making that particular Game 7 one of the most anti-climactic Game 7's that I can remember. It really all went downhill after Mario Chalmers' 3rd-quarter half-court buzzer beater to give the Heat a 72-71 lead. The Spurs never retook the lead, but kept the Game close throughout. At the end, they aren't as good as Miami. They don't have LeBron James right now, because this isn't 2003 Tim Duncan (no matter how amazing he was in the 1st half in Game 6). Miami had their aging star play three good games while the Spurs had theirs play just one. That's life in the NBA. You can't beat Father Time, but you can fight it.

The Spurs may never reach the finals again in the Duncan-Popovich era. Duncan may never get that 5th ring to make him level with Kobe, removing the 'Ringz' argument from the Duncan vs. Kobe debate. But the embrace of Duncan and Popovich with Wade and LeBron, you almost feel like the Spurs are co-winners. They didn't shy away from the team that won 27 straight games this season. They didn't wilt under the pressure of playing a Game 7 in Miami after blowing Game 6. The Spurs did what they have done for 15 years, played to the level of their abilities, and see how far it can take them. Maybe a year from now Kawhi Leonard has the confidence and stability to nail that second free throw, but maybe a year from now Duncan isn't quite good enough to drop 25 in one last vintage half. But it all came together this year, against that team, and made for one great series and one last moment for the NBA's model franchise.

Monday, June 24, 2013

RTW Trip: The A-B-C's, Pt. I

I've done this type of thing before, with the A-B-C's of the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 2010 NFL Season, but this is different. This is longer. There is a good chance this is the longest post I've ever done by the time it is done. Anyway, here are the A-B-C's of my trip (the first of a few trip-overview posts). I'll try to be a little creative with these, so none of these will simply be cities.

A is for Aussie Rules Football 

Well, this is a sports blog, so I'll start with the one international sport that dominated my trip. Sure, seeing the Royal Challengers Bangalore (still a terribly idiotic name) beat the Mumbai Indians by four runs was fun, but it was Aussie Rules Football that I really took too. I still feel that if Aussie Rules was an American sport (which would certainly be tough given 'Aussie' is in the name) it would be my 2nd favorite sport after 'American Rules' Football. The strategy is incredible in that game, the action end-to-end. Even sluggish defensive games seem fun and exciting. My cousins' favorite team Essendon is still #3 in the league, and if they continue to be good that will probably get me to get up (or stay up) to watch some of the AFL playoffs. Australia loves sports in a way that seems entirely American, since they follow many different sports (compared to Europe, where it is mainly just football), and it helps that I stayed in Victoria, but Aussie Rules, with their crazy fans, their 'Inside the NBA'-lite weekly show, and strategy any sports fan would love quickly became my favorite.

B is for Black Pepper Crab

One of my mental images when I was planning the trip was eating a giant Black Pepper Crab on Singapore's East Coast Seafood Center, with the planes descending into Changi flying overhead. In the beginning, this was an image of the last thing I would do on the trip (apart from flying), but I soon added a second near-full-day layover in Singapore on the way to Melbourne, making the image double in my mind. I was able to go to Jumbo Seafood both times, and eat those massive crabs. I have no real idea how they make the Black Pepper sauce taste so good. It permeates through the entire crab without being too saucy and messy. The cleanliness factor is important, because as a messy eater working with a crab that weighs nearly a kilo, there is a high chance for it being an extremely messy exercise. Somehow, I classed myself up to the point that I barely made any mess. So much so that I was able to save one of the lobster (or in this case, crab) bibs they gave me because it was so pristine. Jumbo seafood spoiled me, as now I want any trip to India to end with a day in Singapore and a black pepper crab at Jumbo seafood. No final leg of a trip will be complete without it.

C is for Columns at Ranakpur

I didn't really want to go to Rajasthan when I was planning my trip. I have disliked doing any touristy activities in India after a disappointing trip to Kerala after my cousin's wedding in Early 2011. Rajasthan was the idea of my Mom, and I went along because it is hard not to. Luckily, Rajasthan was surprisingly entertaining, with good food, good sights, good shopping (which for me meant good hand-crafted coasters) and a lack of humidity. However, nothing from that part of the trip was as memorable as the Jain temple in Ranakpur. It took us about two hours to get there from Udaipur, and we had to wait around for another 45 minutes, meandering around the temple, before the cameras (and the foreigners) were let inside. Nothing in those Jain temples are more impressive than their array of Columns, none similar to any others. I would estimate there were around 1,000 columns in that temple (quick note: estimate could be very, very wrong, but it was a large number), all carved with exacting detail. The whole temple was a brilliant testament to what India could be as a tourist destination.

D is for Dalat Easy Riders

My only regret with the Dalat Easy Rider tour is that I didn't get to ride the motorcycle. The Dalat Easy Rider tour was the first trip I did after I recovered from my first of two stomach upsets. The first bout (which took up my entire stay in Ho Chi Minh City was the worst of the two, and I was still a little unsure if I was totally healthy when the day started, but the feeling of the cool Dalat air rushing through my body, and the incredible views of the Vietnamese forest hills above, below and underneath me. The temples were all situated on these hills, serenely isolated from the rest of Dalat. The most fun was the incredible little roller-coaster descent to the Datanla Waterfall, but that whole day was memorable. I didn't really know too much about Dalat, and my tight schedule made this basically the only large trip I could take when I was there, but my God was I so happy I did. They have tours where you can rent the motorcycle yourself, but it probably was more fun being the passenger, just enjoying idyllic, forested Vietnam.

E is for Eating and Observing

No city can really go wrong with a CN Tower type tower. It is strange because the only thing those towers are selling is the ability to view the city from up above. They have no residential or commercial purpose because all they are are elevator shafts and a few revolving floors. Still, their allure is pretty hard to avoid. I went to many cities with these types of buildings, and what my Mom and I quickly realized is that the price of actually having food at one of the revolving restaurants is a damn good deal when considering the price of not having food at one of the revolving observation decks. We did this little scam at the Menara KL in Kuala Lumpur, but there we only had tea. I took the scam to its natural conclusion with a lunch buffet at the Sydney Tower. The buffet there was really good. They gave a ridiculous amount of meat choices, all presented really well. In the end, the view actually became kind of secondary to the food in Sydney. I went to two observation decks sans food in Melbourne (The Eureka Tower) and Tokyo (The Tokyo SkyTree), but they weren't the same.

F is for Flinders St. & Federation Square

Melbourne isn't Sydney. It doesn't have the array of sights to see, the world-famous Opera House, or the hustle and bustle. But it is probably the best walking city I went to on my trip (some of this is probably due to the fact that I walked in Melbourne more than any other city). And during my various walks around Melbourne, Federation Square, right opposite the ornate entrance to Flinders St. Station, was my center point. From there, you got a view of everything. The cluster of buildings to the East, the other cluster of government buildings and financial offices to the West, and the Eureka Tower and the newer buildings to the South. You had the MCG off to one side, and the wiry Eiffel-Tower styled top of the Arts building on one side. From there, I enjoyed a few brews at the International Brew House who's name I now forget, but it was just a great way to end an evening in Melbourne.

G is for General Pol Pot

Call it ignorance, but I didn't really know a lot about the Khmer Rouge genocide that Cambodia endured in the 70's before heading to Phnom Penh. It never had the cache or the scope of the Holocaust, but seeing what I saw and experiencing what I experienced, there is a definite argument to be made that it was worse. What Pol Pot and his cronies did in Cambodia defies explanation, defies everything, really. To bash babies' brains into tree stumps. To smash peoples' skulls with hammers and axes. To play loud propaganda music to cover up the shrieks and cries for help. All of it for no real reason. What is left of the Pol Pot regime is basically the 'Killing Fields' outside of Phnom Penh and the old school-house-turned-torture-prison-turned-museum in Phnom Penh, and both make for a chilling, lasting, day of witnessing just how evil evil can get.

H is for Haribeil

I mentioned how when leaving Tokyo, I was not sure if having those last 10 days in India was a mistake or not. I left India a month-and-a-half earlier wanting more time with my family, but came back dreading the heat, the humidity and all the countless other pains that one has to deal with in India. But if anything made me happy to spend those last 10 days was my trip to my cousin's friend's estate in little Haribeil.There is no better way to describe the scenery and beauty of the estate region of India than by saying that it is unlike anything you would imagine would be in India. There is nothing Indian about it, apart from the semi-frequent power outages. When I was in the estate, it was hard to imagine that this is the same country that I was sweating my skin off two days in earlier, wilting under the oppressive heat. No, this is a different India. This is the India you see in the 'Incredible India' tourism ads that are on TV every now and then. Put aside the fact that the people there and what we did during those few days was also memorable, but I've done the same with those same people in Bangalore. No, the estate was the star. That and her shortbread.

I is for Intestinal Issues

When I travel to India, I go in knowing that I will most likely get sick at some point. It is just going to happen. I usually don't get sick enough to throw up, but sick enough to ruin a few days. Well, this time I never really got sick in India. That's the good news. The bad news is I got sick two other times outside India. The first came as a real punch to the gut, as all of a sudden on my flight from Johannesburg to Bangkok, I started feeling ill. Within an hour, I was fixed in a catatonic state, zombied out and lightheaded. The stomach illness ended up lasting throughout my three days in Ho Chi Minh City, ruining that city for me. In the end, I've put that bout on having tap water in Cape Town the night before I left. The second was more normal, coming from indulging in one too many spicy Thai dishes in my first day in Bangkok, and I only exacerbated that bout by having oily food on the second evening of the bout and a Gin and Tonic on the third. I don't know what consumed me to do that, but it did lead to me eating a $7 Naan. So there's that.

J is for the Japan Rail Pass

Japan's railway system is world famous, for all the right reasons. It is ridiculously precise, pulling into the station at the exact right position at the exact right time. Of course, one of these right reasons isn't its price. Traveling by rail is not cheap, but Japan does its tourist a service by offering the Japan Rail Pass, allowing unlimited access to their JR Trains, including the slower (but still super-fast) versions of their Shinkansen Bullet Trains. The passes aren't cheap, but they are still a damn good deal. The big problem is that Japan doesn't really advertise this pass, and you have to buy the voucher to buy the pass outside of Japan. The trains, after all the messiness of getting the pass and getting on a train, were wonderful, with Wi-Fi, seats that recline far further back than any economy seat on a plane, and girls rolling food and drink carts through the cars, even selling beer. The hours I spent on the train allowed me to watch most of Season 1 of Game of Thrones and get near Mt. Fuji. By the end of my time in Japan, I became a veteran at riding the JR Rail, knowing how to confidently flash my pass to the guards, knowing where to line up to easily enter the train, and knowing just where the AC Outlets are located on the trains.

K is for Kangaroos!

Other than meeting my family, there was probably nothing I wanted to do more in Australia than fiddle around with the native wildlife. Australia's probably more famous for its wildlife than anything else, and nothing is more recognizable than those weird, hopping marsupials. My Uncle and Aunt took my sister to a wildlife farm on Phillip Island, near Melbourne, that had free range kangaroos that you can go up to, pet and feed them (and the Emus, but I was terrified of the Emus, with their velociraptorian faces and height). I never expected to see so many kangaroos and so many of them be willing to hop right over to you and beg for food. The kangaroos really were like hopping dogs. My sister told me that when she went, the kangaroos shied away from her and everyone else at the park. I was astounded by this, because they flocked to me like sheep coming to a shepard. The best moment, though, was my cousin Lisa noticing the little head of a baby kangaroo popping intermittently out of the pouch of the mother kangaroo. That basically forced me to be a paparazzi for a while, trying to snap a picture of a kangaroo baby. I was able to, and I was also able to throw feed at a sleeping koala in hopes of waking it up (failed), and was able to have a picture of me being terrified of an emu (success). All in all, a great, uniquely Australian, day.

L is for Leopold Cafe

I never really knew about Leopold Cafe until November 26th, 2008, when Mumbai was attacked. The Leopold Cafe was one of the targets, and a few people died amidst the hundreds of rounds fired into that Cafe. I had no idea it was so close to my Grandparents' apartment, but now I do. Now I also know who the manager is, what the rules of the upstairs is, the protocol for entering with a backpack, and who some of the main waiters are. Mostly because of the attack, but also due to the preponderance of foreigners, common opinion is that Leopold Cafe is more of a tourist attraction than a place to eat, but I have to disagree. Leopold Cafe's food in genuinely good. That whole little hamlet off the Causeway near the Taj hotel is littered with good restaurants that are probably a little too commercial to ever get the credit that they deserve. Both times before I left Mumbai for the airport was go to Leopold for one last meal, one last few hours spent people watching the foreigners having fun in my old family hometown.

M is for Milk & Honey

Nothing I drank had the impact of Milk & Honey Beer, courtesy of Mitchell's Scottish Ale House in the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town. I went there too many times, and drank Milk & Honey too many times. I actually enjoyed some of the other craft beer they had, but the Milk & Honey beer was the best beer I have ever had. My last day there, I had too many mugs of Milk & Honey, and because of fearing being hungover during my flight because of those beers, I had tap water in my hotel, which I believer directly led to my sickness that ruined my time in Ho Chi Minh City. Would I trade not having those extra Milk & Honey's for being able to get out of bed in Ho Chi Minh City? Yeah, I probably would. But Milk & Honey led to a lot of great things in Cape Town, most of which is ensuring that I have to go back.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

RTW Trip: Day 105 (6/8) - Coming Home

Day 105: The Last Waltz

I'll have to credit the popularity of Sevruga for this whole exercise. That expensive, fusion place in Cape Town's V&A Waterfront. That's the reason this all happened. I was jetlagged and ready for bed late on Monday, February 25th, and I decided, probably against better judgement, to be a little extravagant for my first meal of my trip (not including the food on South African Airways). They asked me to wait at the bar until my table was ready, and all I had in my hand was that little Samsung Netbook in my backpack. I decided to, instead of sit lonely at the bar, to open it up and start writing about my flight to South Africa.

One hundred and five days later, and about 60 entries later, it's all over, and I have the wait time in Sevruga to thank. The RTW Trip Diary became what connected the entire trip, what kept me sane, what kept me wanting to experience as much as I can. It became a way to unwind during long days after hours of walking around. It became a way to give myself something to do during my solo meals back in the first few weeks of the trip. Like most things, it became harder to do when I reached my family and reached the (relatively) slow, banal life of Bangalore. Still, the diary served as a lasting document for a trip of a lifetime.

It's hard to go back in time and remember how I felt that first night. I was surprised at how easily three and a half pages came that day. I kept apologizing for the length of my diary entries during my time in South Africa as they went close to four full pages on Word by the time I was done. Of course, little did I know that they would stay the same length and I would soon stop apologizing for it. I never felt really happy with how I was writing the whole diary. This trip taught me a lot of things about different cultures, different ways of life, the joys and pains of air travel, but it didn't teach me the clear difference between a diary and a guidebook.

I wasn't sure how I would feel when I was returning back to the US. The fight home is never as fun as the flight away from home (it doesn't help that the flight out is almost always a night flight while the flight home is a day flight). It helped that Singapore Airlines basically pulled out all the stops on this flight. They served a really nice breakfast with really good scrambled eggs, and then Beef Rendang for lunch right before we landed in JFK. Having Beef Rendang listed on their menu brought out so many interesting emotions out of me, as I immediately remembered just how much I love Beef Rendang in the US, to how much I enjoyed tasting different variations of Beef Rendang in Malaysia, to a sign that Singapore Airlines could pull past Etihad, of the famed lamb biryani, as my favorite airlines.

Of course, the Beef Rendang wasn't a great version of it (compared to the lamb biryani on Etihad which was one of the best lamb biryanis I've had), but that didn't spoil the flight, in which I also finished watching Season 4 of Arrested Development (I'll have more on that later). It was tough to see that 'Time to Destination' clock wind down on the flight, but I knew this day was coming sooner or later. That's why I was happy to be doing it on Singapore Airlines, the last of my 30 flights.

I'm the kind of person that after a trip passes its halfway point, I start to feel a longing sense of dread about the impending end of the trip, so you could imagine how I was feeling nearing the end of this trip. I was afraid it would take the enjoyment of my day layover in Singapore. I was afraid it would take away the enjoyment of that last flight. Luckily, the knowledge that I wasn't returning to 10th Grade helped.

When I reached JFK, I did start to feel a bit sad, and when I finished the long walk from the gate to the ground floor Immigration area at JFK's T4, I turned to the large glass windows showing the tarmac. I couldn't see the Singapore plane, but I did see something that brought back a huge host of emotions. I saw that South African Airways A340-600, the plane that I started this whole 105-day trek on. I then remembered that that flight is scheduled for 11:00 AM, while the scheduled arrival time of my flight in Singapore was 10:55. As I looked out, the South African Airways plane was pulling back from the gate. As I saw that beautiful bird being tugged away, I wondered if I would, if I could, finagle myself back on that plane and go on this 105-day journey all over again. My bank account says no, but would I do it? Of course so, and that's the best way to describe any vacation. Glad to be back, but less glad than having the chance to do it all over again.

Monday, June 10, 2013

RTW Trip: Day 104-(half of) 105 (6/7-6/8) - Singapore and Its Airline

Day 104-(half of)105: The Long Haul

One of my favorite parts of this trip before it started was that in my first United mileage iteration, I saw that I could potentially get basically a full day in Singapore as I went home. Many people have asked me, as I told them that I was flying Singapore back to the US from India, why I would do such a thing, why I would intentionally select the far, far longer option (one of my alternatives was a United direct flight from Mumbai to Newark, but there were options on Swiss and Lufthansa, airlines I regard quite highly, as well as Turkish (an airline I haven’t taken), and a slew of United/Lufthansa combinations. Anyway, I chose this Singapore jaunt because, first, I was given the most glowing recommendation possible about Singapore Airlines from my Dad. Secondly, like Hell I was going to take United to end my trip. Talk about ending on a low note. Third, who would pass down a day in Singapore? Fourth, I would never pass down an opportunity to take an A380 (although, Lufthansa would have given me my 2nd favorite plane, the A340-600). Fifth, I don’t want to take United (I can’t stress this enough – and I think United is the best of the three main US airlines). Sixth, this is the one time in my life (as far as I know) where I can laze my way back to the US. Time was no constraint. It was either get in Friday afternoon, or get in Saturday morning with a day in Singapore. If I can risk a day, I’ll take the latter every time (of course, it helped that because this was on mileage, the Mumbai-Singapore-Frankfurt-New York route was not a single mile more than the Mumbai-Newark route. When I can get a day in Singapore, take one of the best airlines in the world on the world’s largest plane, and do it all for no more cost than it would have been to take United on a different, less exciting plane, I’m doing it.

Of course, I didn’t know then that when I decided to combine the two trips (the Australia-Japan part was originally its own trip from the US), I would get another quasi-full day in Singapore on the way to Melbourne. Still, I love Singapore. It’s about as far as any place can get from the US (a place like Perth would be farther, but no one’s clamoring to go non-stop to Perth), so getting to go to Singapore twice is just the cherry on top of this whole thing. I had one image in my mind when I first booked the first mileage ticket (New York-Johannesburg/Johannesburg-HCMC via Bangkok/Mumbai-New York via Singapore), and it was on the final day of my trip, eating a messy but incredible black pepper crab at the East Coast Seafood Center in Singapore, and then going to the cab driver at the Taxi stand and telling him ‘Changi Airport’, and while I told him that, I would be telling myself ‘Home’. That was the ppicture, that was the goal, and while it didn’t go exactly as planned, that’s what happened, and I can’t thank enough the weird mileage rules that United has enough.

Before I get to Singapore, I still have to, in the literal sense, get to Singapore. That flight was on Singapore Airline’s B777-300ER. I still am questioning myself why I decided to take Singapore Airlines fewer times than Thai Airways. What I should have done is take Singapore from Japan to Bangalore, instead of the All Nippon/Thai combo, but the allure of taking ANA weighed too heavily. Singapore’s plane for some reason couldn’t gate at one of the jetbridges in Mumbai, and instead set up shop in the (for now) unoperable section of Chhatrapaji Shivaji. The airport itself is going under a massive rebuild that is about 75% complete. It’s a daunting project, made even more so because they are basically building the new airport around and through the old one. This was my first good look at the new airport, and it looks great. I’m sure, being India, it won’t turn out to be as nice as it looks from the outside, but it was about time that the International Airport at CSIA got updated.

The Mumbai to Singapore flight is only 5.5 hours, which is squarely in that too-long to stay awake the whole time but too-short to get a good sleep, as you only have about 4 hours by the time the meal service and drink service is done. I chose the Indian option of meal of Chicken Biryani. It was very well cooked. It wasn’t the Lamb Biryani I once had on Etihad, but that’s lamb and this is chicken – it would have been impossible for the chicken to win out. One of my favorite parts of my experience on Singapore Airlines is they put out a good product even on the out-of-India flights, which are notoriously filled with lesser crew members and generally lesser service (this is a bigger problem in the into-India flights – there’s a reason I got the Lamb Biryani on the New York to Abu Dhabi leg, and not the Abu Dhabi to Mumbai leg), but the Singapore product was great. They even have one of their better planes on the route. I’m actually (for once) writing this in semi-real time, so I’ll see if the true’ Long Haul’ from Singapore to JFK confirms my opinion of Singapore Airlines enough to raise it above Etihad.

The plane arrived in Singapore around 8:00 AM, and since I didn’t get a lot of sleep and since this wasn’t my only day in Singapore on the trip, I decided to sleep for a bit. I was busy walking around Terminal 3 to find a capable sleeping spot, and right around the time where I was getting dismayed, I saw a sign for a ‘Snooze Lounge’ which was on the second level. The ‘Snooze Lounge’ is exactly as it seems, an area on the upper floor that has about 20 lounge chairs perfect for sleeping in, with a view of the airport beyond. If I could design a perfect thing to put in all airports, this would be it. Man, is Changi pretty much the perfect airport.

I finally awoke from my slumber around 11:00 and again went through immigration as the only person. This time, the immigration lady remarked on the fact I was going through immigration three hours after my plane landed, but I told her simply that I needed my sleep. She asked me why I chose to come through Singapore on my way home from Mumbai, and I gave her a less wordy reason than I did at the top of this piece. Soon, I was out of the airport, just after I checked my carry-on bag for a scant 3.21 SD for the entire day (is there anything this airport isn’t great at?), and was off on my way.

The one negative of doing my days in Singapore like this is I can’t really experience nighttime in Singapore proper. Because of this, my various plans of what to do was somewhat limited. I decided first to venture to Holland Village, a largely expatriate area of Singapore that specializes in food of various international cuisines, all of high quality. Somehow, I settled on Mexican, as it was the most crowded, and had my prawn enchilada, which was as good as any I would get in the US, and a San Miguel draft, which I assumed was some strange Mexican beer they were importing, but was instead a strange Filipino beer that they were importing. Suffice to say, I have no more reason to go to the Philippines after drinking the beer than I had before it. The food was delivered quickly and soon I was on my way to do the only tourist attraction I wanted to do a second time.

I don’t know what it is about animals, but I’ve spent way too much time on this trip at Aquariums and Bird Parks than anyone normally would. Of course, I like these places. Aquariums were attractive partly because they were air conditioned (that was one of the largest selling points in KL), but I had already been to the Jurong Bird Park in West Singapore on my trip in 2012. Still, I knew I wanted to go back. That bird park is just so well organized, so well set up, that it was a surprising highlight of my first trip. The one problem with the Bird Park is it is located on the total opposite side of the island as the airport, and I have to take a cab from the nearest MRT station, but none of this put me off.

I arrived just as they were starting some show, but as you might imagine, the show was aimed at kids who are far too young for me (but the perfect age for the park, I would admit). The last time I went to the park I ended up walking uphill for much of it, so this time I decided to do it backwards, and my sweat glands thanked me greatly for that decision. The park was as nice as I remembered. It didn’t have the free-for-all birds-all-over-the-place nature of the KL Bird Park, but there’s a certain calmness and trueness in separating the birds into their normal places. The one notable section was seeing the Emu area. These Emus, kept inside a medium-height cage, were far less feisty and, to be honest, scary as those on Phillip Island. When I was done, I took a cab back to the nearest MRT, and headed back into town proper.

My plan was to walk around the waterfront, where the Lionhead statue and bridge reside, and all the main financial buildings, which creates an imposing little skyline towering above. After that, the plan was to hop over to Boat and/or Clarke Quay (it’s really hard to tell where one begins and the other ends) for a brew or two. Well, because of the intricacies of MRT pricing, it was cheaper to go to Clarke Quay first, which helped because it would space out my afternoon Irish Tea with my dinner at East Coast Seafood. I was going to go back to Brewerkz, the craft brewery I went to last time, but was stopped cold with a buy 1 get 1 free draft beer deal at this other place on the way.

 They had a nice selection of draft beer from different smaller European breweries (the most mainstream was Hoegarden, the least mainstream was bizarrely mainstream, called Berekdter, which is of course what I got). Going with the half pint options, I was able to try two of the Berekdter and two of the Cider they had on tap as well, and added that a small portion of Lamb Kofta Kebab (one of their happy-hour mini plates), and it was a great late lunch early dinner. I’m eating way too much today, and have already reserved myself to that fact.

From there, I went on my walk, partly to sober up and partly to get some exercise to make me the slightest bit hungry by the time dinner comes around. The walk to the heart of Singapore is quick, but still impressive, as most things are in Singapore. I saw a deal a travel agency was giving for a reduced rate on the Singapore Flyer. The Singapore Flyer is the large Ferris Wheel that Singapore uses as its competitor to the London Eye. The Singapore Flyer is not really affordable in general, but the deal made it slightly more so. I had quite a bit of Singapore dollars that remained from my unfortunate turn at the Singapore Hold ‘Em table, so I decided to go for it. The view atop the flyer was incredible, but the most haunting, and most ominous, part of the view was the dark storm clouds brewing overhead.

Storm clouds happen basically all the time in Singapore, but they gave me caution for my planned dinner on the waterfront at the East Coast Seafood Center. From the flyer I walked back across to the City Center, near the infamous Raffles Building, and went inside the MRT. Bedok was the destination, the second to final stop on the East West MRT line. I knew Bedok because it is the closest MRT station to the East Coast Seafood Center. Almost directly above it, the map gave me the impression that it was sort of walking distance. I learned later how stupid and uninformed that notion was, but it is still the closest MRT station. With the popularity of the East Coast Seafood Center, I’m surprised there isn’t one that is closer, but that’s the way it is.

I got into the cab over to the East Coast Seafood Center, and made a beeline for Jumbo and Long Beach Seafood, the two most famous places at the Center. I decided to start with Long Beach, as the last time I was in Singapore I gave Jumbo my business, but Long Beach told me I would have to wait at least an hour for an outdoor table. No way was I going to go for that, so I headed over to Jumbo where the accommodated me immediately. Of course, it started raining and they ushered all of us that were seated outside. Somehow, they were able to conjure enough seats to fit all of us, and soon I was under a roof, but still with a good view of the Harbor in front and the planes descending into Changi overhead.

Because I wanted to get rid of my remaining Singapore Dollars, and because it was the last meal of the trip, I decided to order a Grilled Whelk appetizer as well as the Black Pepper Crab, and while the Grilled Whelk was good, the crab was something special. I’m not sure how they make it so good. It shouldn’t be that complicated, but somehow it is so that only that one place in the world has it at that quality. Somehow I was able to not make any sort of mess. Some of it was me sucking the black pepper sauce off of my fingers at steady intervals, but the other part was that they don’t douse that in gravy. I tried to take as long as I could with the crab, savor each bite, and make that meal last forever.

It didn’t of course, but I did get to say ‘Changi Airport’ to the cab driver, and tell myself “Going Home” in my head. Before I knew it, I was in Changi airport, and past immigration and walking around their beautiful T3. 25 minutes earlier I was finishing paying the bill at Jumbo. I thought the process at Changi would take more time, so I had a lot of time on my hands. Not the greatest thing when you have 22 hours in a plane to come. Soon enough, we boarded our A380-800, our home for the next day. I settled into my seat (after getting switched to make room for a family of 3), and we were off on our flight to Frankfurt.

Singapore Airlines is about as good as I could have imagined, in the end. Their service was constant and impressive, with two full meals and a large snack in the middle of the twelve hour flight to Frankfurt. They mixed a damn good scotch and soda as well. Their seats recline more than most, and their movie selection was great as usual. I slept through about half of the twelve hour flight to Frankfurt, my last night flight of the trip, and around 8 am we reached Frankfurt. Because of the fact that the US loves to check people’s feet in security, the handful of us that were continuing on to New York had to deplane, go through security and get back in with all the people flying just the Frankfurt-New York leg. I was shocked how many people weren’t continuing to New York (easily 80% of the plane). I guess there are just as easy ways to get to New York from Singapore on other airlines (going through Dubai takes less time, even), but everyone on the plane seemed to speak German. Before entering the transit lounge, I was asked to step aside and have my bags checked. I immediately felt that this was some profiling, but most of the people they chose to rummage through their baggage were white. Soon I was entering the plane, the final of my thirty flights and the final part of my trip.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.