Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Midas Boys

Although the rugby season gets all the attention on my blog, as that is where my true passion is, I should also take the opportunity to recount the successes of the U-14 soccer team that I also coach at ICS.  These are primarily the same students that made up my rugby team with a few additions and subtractions from that team.  Despite not having much of an interest in soccer (it is seen by some as the antithesis of rugby with all the diving and acting that goes on), I have taken on the role as their coach primarily because I love them and I know how much they love soccer, and in order to play they need someone to coach them.  I had tried to pass the duty on to others far more qualified for the responsibility than myself, but no takers, so I gladly step up to the task.

These boys are crazy about soccer.  I am confident they spend their weekend researching soccer stats and memorizing rosters, which only goes to show the potential to store up just as much history knowledge if the same level of enthusiasm and interest were existent.  Not only do they watch soccer, but are constantly playing as well.  They are always looking for any opportunity to turn something into a ball and start an impromptu soccer match.  I have even had spontaneous games start in my classroom with a water bottle as the "ball", however, I can assure that was a short lived game.  This makes it quite intimidating to be their coach when my last competitive soccer experience was when I myself was in Middle School (although we did win the recreational league equivalent of the State Championship), and I have almost zero knowledge about soccer fundamentals or how to coach the sport.  Basically you could say my role was more of a glorified cheerleader rather than a coach, but I did feel that I could still benefit the team on a smaller level perhaps than I did for the rugby team, and help them to also win gold.  How I sought to do this was to help them develop a team strategy and play together as a team.  Most of these boys already had a soccer skill set far superior to my own, (although don't be fooled, I am still pretty good), so it would be quite silly of me to try and teach them soccer skills.  The strategy that I wanted the team to adopt was to minimalism their touches of the ball.  To do a lot of one touch passing and one touch shooting.  This would move the ball down the field faster and give us more open opportunities before defenses had time to recover and set up.  Also, I wanted them to focus on just putting shots on target rather than dribbling around in the box waiting for a perfect shot, as they had the habit of doing.  The goalies in our league were not world cup caliber goalies, and so my players didn't need perfect shots, in fact often times even crummy shots stood a fair chance in going in.  This is what I brought to the table and the players bought into it.  Other than that, I let the captains call a lot of the shots such as who would play which position.

The team was led by a solid core of 8th graders (all but 2), whom many of which I had observed my first year in Singapore get slaughtered every game, ending the season completely winless.  Only to bounce back the next year, the first year with me as their coach, to fight hard for 2nd place and silver medal.  Just as we had matched the previous year's silver medal in rugby with a silver medal in soccer, we had full expectations of matching this year's gold medal in rugby with a gold medal in soccer.  And in this case, it was much easier done than said.  All but two of our six games were won by more than a 7 goal margin.  The boys breezed through the competition to collect the gold medal in their final year in the U14 division.  I gave the boys the nickname "The Midas Boy's" cause it seems that this year every sport they touch turns to gold.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Trip of a Lifetime

WARNING: This will be long.

I have always been a firm believer that it is the people that make trips so memorable, not the experiences necessarily.  After all, what good is an amazing experience if you don't have anyone to share it with?  It doesn't matter if the people that we share these experiences with are people that we are traveling with or if they are people that we meet along our journey.  However, when the person that we are sharing these experiences with is family, well that just makes it all the more special.

Such was the case when my cousin, Kyle, decided he would fly out to Singapore to visit me as a post-graduation celebration.  Upon his arrival, we had a rough, VERY rough, itinerary for our trip.  Literally all we had officially confirmed was the flight for the first leg of our trip to Myanmar the following day (not even our accommodations for after we arrived).  This type of planning, or lack thereof, was going to allow for more flexibility in our trip, and as we would find out later, much more adventure!

The morning following Kyle's arrival, after a very miserable sleep on my classroom floor (I was between moves so I had to be out of my old apartment and could not quite move into my new one.  Sorry Mom and Aunt Linda) we set off for Yangon, Myanmar.  A little back story on Myanmar, or known to some as Burma.  Up until 2010, Myanmar had been run by a corrupt military regime which had tried to make Myanmar primarily self-reliant, which means no outside businesses.  Isolated, they focused on being an agrarian society with little need for infrastructure.  Ever since its democratic elections in 2010, and thus its opening to the outside world, the country has increasingly been becoming more commercialized.  Thus, I really wanted to visit this place before it lost too much of it's uniqueness and becomes just another heavily commercialized and yet vastly undeveloped Southeast Asian nation.

 The first day in Yangon we visited the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, which is a giant pagoda in the middle of the city that is leafed in gold, and legendarily holds 8 of the original Buddha's, that is Siddhartha Gautama, hairs (quick history/cultural lesson: Buddha just means "the enlightened one" and is a term used to refer to anyone who has obtained enlightenment on their own efforts and not with any assistance.  Therefore, there have been more than one Buddhas, which also helps to explain the different depictions and representations of Buddha; they are in fact different people).  It was a beautiful site as the sun was reflecting off of it, but after a few pictures and a little admiration, there wasn't much to do there so we moved on to explore the city.  It is difficult to put the city in context.  They had modernization such as roads, cars, electricity and even commercialization (very limited however), but it was far from being called developed.  You would be walking past markets and a few store fronts and then the next minute be walking past shanties and rubble with no street lights to guide your way.  It was very interesting to just take in this new unique environment.  I have traveled a lot in Southeast Asia and have seen poverty on all sorts of levels, but yet this was different.  Somewhere along our stroll through the city we realized that we had no idea how to tell a taxi driver to get back to our hotel, as our hotel was new and not that well known.  We decided our only solution was to find wifi, not an easy task considering my description of the place.  We did, however, have a city map that had select touristy spots to visit with a few restaurants marked on the map, so we figured that if they are touristy they would have wifi.  The restaurant we eventually found was a surreal experience. It felt so out of place among all the poverty in the area and was shockingly classy to the point where me and Kyle felt way under dressed.  Although it was not the authentic cultural experience I prefer to have while traveling, the food was pretty good and they met our wifi needs to help us get back to the hotel.

The next day, we mostly just stayed around our hotel and planned out, at least tentatively, the rest of our trip.  The one noteworthy experience for the day was when we had asked our hotel front desk to help us book bus tickets to Bagan, the city we would be departing for the following day, one of the gentlemen there offered to take us to the bus station where we would purchase the tickets after he had finished his shift.  This is a perfect example of the hospitality we were shown by all Burmese people throughout our stay in Myanmar.  When we headed to the bus station, we had to take a public bus to get there, which brings me to the aforementioned "noteworthy experience".  First off, when our bus finally came it didn't even come to a complete stop, but rather just slowed down, which led to us having to bored the bus while running after it (it reminded me of the scene from Little Miss Sunshine).
 Once aboard the bus, we had to cram in so tightly that people hoping to get off had to start making their move towards the door a few minutes before their stop.  Once at the bus station we were guided through the labyrinth of different terminals to the one that went to Bagan, where we bought our tickets.  I can confidently say that had we not been with the gentleman from our hotel that we would have never found that terminal because their letters and words are completely indistinguishable to me (similar to Thai or Arabic looking).  We also used our guide to help us buy the traditional wear of Myanmar for both guys and girls, which are these sarong looking long skirts called longyi (pronounced long-chee).

The following morning we woke up early to head back to the bus station to begin our 12 hour bus ride to Bagan.  It was a fairly nice coach bus that aired constant Burmese music videos on a small tv at the front of the bus for the entire trip.  Although we couldn't understand what they were saying, all of the songs seemed to be the same story.  Guy randomly meets girl.  Guy falls instantly in love.  Guy obsesses over said girl.  Guy is eventually reunited with said girl.  The two live happily ever after.  When I wasn't gawking at the incredibly cheesy entertainment being offered to us, or sleeping, I was admiring the incredible view of the landscapes we were driving through.  When I say that there was nothing, I am not talking about your backwoods small Alabama town kind of nothing, I mean literally nothing.  Vast barren landscapes with a shockingly large and beautiful pagoda, usually gold leafed, scattered every so often in this "nothing".  We did have one minor hiccup along the way when our bus blew out a tire.  At once, all the men got off the bus and sat outside watching these two men change the massive bus tire.  But after about 30 minutes we were back on our way.

Changing the flat tire (notice all the spectators)
When we finally pulled into Bagan around 8 pm, we were immediately pounced on before we could even step off the bus by a hoard of taxi drivers.  Nothing irritates me in traveling as much as people pressuring unsolicited services upon me, and so I not so kindly told the taxi drivers to go away while we at least took a moment to find out where we were exactly and how to get to our hotel.  Luckily for us, the taxi drivers were not so easily discouraged and seemed to be waiting around for our self discovery of how we needed their services as we were actually 7 miles outside of the town of Bagan, where primarily all the hotels are located.  Swallowing my pride, I returned to the first taxi driver that had approached us and negotiated a reasonable price for him to take us to our hotel.  At this point in time, it still remained unknown how much of a blessing this truly was, for it was as we were riding to our hotel that we discovered this taxi driver's powerful connections.  But before I tell you that story, I need to preface it with another story.  Well before our trip ever began, while me and Kyle were still planning where exactly we wanted to go for our epic adventure, I stumbled across pictures of the ancient ruins of Bagan.  It was in that discovery that we also learned of a hot air balloon service that glided you over the temples for a pretty hefty fee.  It didn't matter.  We decided that we were going to make this the pinnacle of our trip and splurge whatever necessary funds that it required.  However, while we were in Yangon the night before our departure to Bagan, I figured it might be a good idea to see if we needed to make any reservations for the balloon ride.  Much to my dismay, I discovered that, according to the websites suggestion, prospective customers should book at least two months in advance (as opposed to my two days in advance).  I immediately emailed the contact email provided on their website with the dates we would be in Bagan and inquired about any potential available spots on a balloon, to which his response was, "Sorry.  We are booked through the next three weeks".  I encouraged Kyle to stay optimistic as many times in my travels luck his just happened to find a way to bless me.  This is where we pick back up the story with the taxi driver, as he was the embodiment of the "luck" that I mentioned.  As me and Kyle were discussing our plans to go to the Balloons Over Bagan office early in the morning to check for cancellations, our driver chimed in with the good news that his ex-boss actually worked for that balloon company and likely could get us tickets.  Our reaction?  BOOM BABY!  When we reached our hotel, we booked the taxi driver's services for the entirety of the following day for roughly $60 USD, sunrise to sunset, for him to drive us around to the different temples/pagodas/stupas/monasteries.  But most importantly, it allowed us to stay on top of him and make sure he fulfilled his seemingly guarantee of getting us on one of the hot air-balloons.

At 5 the next morning, our new taxi friend (shamefully I have forgotten his name) picked us up from the hotel so that we could watch the sunrise from atop a 900+ year old stupa.  To get away from the small group of about 50 or so other tourists who had sacrificed their sleep for a magnificent sunrise,
me and Kyle climbed to one of the upper sections of the stupa that wasn't necessarily meant for standing on, which allowed us to just get lost in the splendor of the sunrise.  It's pretty amazing how something that literally happens everyday can still make us awe-stricken.  This sunrise was no ordinary sunrise however.  This sunrise shone onto the plain of Bagan, which contained hundreds of ancient temples everywhere the eye could see.  It was one of those moments, one that all travelers experience from time to time, where you keep taking pictures to try to capture the beauty, although never even coming close to succeeding, and at the end you have 100 or more pictures of essentially the same shot but you can't bring yourself to delete any of them because they're just too beautiful.  This was one of those moments.  Unforgettable.

After a free breakfast back at our hotel, we were back in the taxi driving around through the different temples/stupas/monasteries.  It was super cool walking through these ancient buildings barefoot, which made the experience even more real getting to feel the cold stone of the temples as we traversed through.  However, aside from a few special temples, most of them seemed very similar if not the same.  I don't say this to make them seem insignificant, but I think the significance was not each temple individually, but rather all of them collectively.  So it didn't take me and Kyle long to get "templed out", an expression used to describe the feeling one gets when the viewing of a new temple begins to feel monotonous.  So we decided rather than spend our time trying to see as many temples as quickly as we could, that we should just chill out at one stupa and just take everything in, which is exactly what we did until it became time when our driver wanted to take us to a special sunset spot.  Once again sitting a top a different ancient structure, me and Kyle watched the same sun that had just approximately twelve hours before shown itself to us for the start of the new day slip beyond the horizon back into darkness, capping off quite a spectacular day.

Had to do a handstand photo
It had also been during the previous day that our taxi driver made good on his promise of getting us tickets for the hot air balloons, which we booked for the following morning.  This once again meant waking up at 5am, but their was no complaining coming from these clinophiliacs.  As aforementioned, this was the pinnacle of our trip and we were beyond excited.  For two acrophobics, there was a little concern with the flight.  Not that I felt the flight was unsafe, but there were just so many things that irrationally could go wrong to cause a balloon to crash, and all of those things were going through my mind.  However, once in the air all those worries dissolved.  The serenity and tranquility of silently gliding over this amazing landscape with an aerial view was blissful.  There is really no more to be said of the experience except that is was worth every penny.

After the balloon ride we returned to our hotel for our free breakfast once again.  Although I have been out of college for some time now, that is one principle that I picked up in college that I still live by; never turn down a free meal.  Having seen our fair share of temples, pagodas, stupas, and monasteries, and it being Christmas eve, we thought we would go pose for a Christmas card picture to send out to our families, or just post on instagram; "same-same but different".  So donning our traditional longyis, we rented bikes near our hotel and rode out for the nearest ancient structure we could find to snap a photo.  When we arrived, there were the typical locals set up outside the temples trying to sell you stuff, but this time the guy saw our longyis and got super excited.  He asked, "where are you from?" and when we replied that we were from America he said what almost every local said upon discovering that fact, "Obama!"  He then honored us by taking our photo which is shown below.  Wrapping up our last night in Bagan, we returned our bikes, ate at the same restaurant we ate at every night there, and went to bed relatively early to catch up on some sleep before yet another early and long bus ride to Mandalay the next day.

This now made the second year in a row that I would spend the majority of my Christmas day traveling on a bus (you might remember the year before I had to take a bus from Niseko, Japan to Sapporo to catch a flight the next day).  This bus ride was not too dissimilar from the one we took from Yangon, minus the cheesy Burmese music videos and it was significantly shorter.  The one thing worth mention was when we stopped at a rest stop to either get food or relieve ourselves, me and Kyle both bought sodas that came in the old-fashioned glass bottles.  When we gave the universal sign for "we need a bottle opener" what they handed us was a handcrafted tool of pure genius.  Essentially it was a screw partially screwed into a long flat stick, which worked perfectly as a bottle opener.  When we arrived in Mandalay, we were kind of in need of another appearance from Lady Luck.  We had traveled to Mandalay only because that is where we were flying out of the following day and we hadn't actually booked any accommodations.  Again, we were just flying by the seat of our pants.  As usual, Lady Luck arrived just in time.  There was only one other foreign couple on our bus and when we arrived to Mandalay they asked where we were staying and if we wanted to share a taxi with them.  We decided that we would ride with them to their hotel and just see if there were any extra rooms available, and of course there were.  However, this is a great opportunity to tell a little side story about one of the frustrations, or perhaps the only frustration, of traveling in Myanmar.  Not only do most places not take credit cards, but if using American currency, which is very widely accepted, it must be the most pristine bills you have ever seen!  Straight off the printer practically.  No joke, if the bill had been in your wallet and thus was folded in half, they would not accept it.  Corners bent? Not accepted.  If there are any marks on the bill, then it is as good as toilet paper in Myanmar.  Oh the irony!  A third world country accepting a foreign currency but only if it is in the most perfect condition.  Luckily they were able to find enough bills from Kyle's stack of US dollars that were to their liking to let us stay for that one night and we retired to our room to Skype our families on Christmas and to plan the next leg of our trip: Bangkok, Thailand.

*A few other noteworthy things about Myanmar culture: A) Betel nut: this narcotic leaf and nut that is chewed by practically every male over the age of 16 in Burma, and stains their teeth a bright red color, leaving them, as one travel guide so adequately described, "looking like vampires". B) Thanaka: this is a cream that is produced by grinding a particular wood into dust and mixing it with water.  Most women and children then put this cream over the majority of their face, essentially painting it yellow, in order to protect their skin against sunburn, wrinkling and acne.

The King's Palace
Our next stop was in Bangkok, where had only allotted ourselves one full day because of many conversations I have had with seasoned travelers who said that there just isn't much special to see or do in Bangkok, and in my personal opinion they were absolutely right.  We spent our nights making friends at our hostel and our one day we went and visited the Grand Palace where the king of Thailand lives and walked through many markets reminiscent of a yard sell just selling all kinds of junk, which was fascinating because you never knew what a different blanket on the sidewalk might be selling.

We finally ran into a little hiccup in our "plans" that had in our minds for how our trip would go on the next leg of our trip.  Originally, we had planned to travel to Phuket, Thailand after Bangkok and spend New Years Eve there.  However, when we checked the ticket prices, last minute of course, they were ridiculously expensive. So instead we flew to Hanoi, Vietnam, where we had planned on ending our trip, first and then would go to Phuket after.

The last time I was in Hanoi I had gone on a tour of the natural wonder of the world, Halong Bay. It was beautiful, but due to time constraints I had only done the day tour where you end up spending twice as much time on a bus than you do actually on the bay. Everyone I had talked to in Hanoi on that trip had told me that I really needed to do the 3 day, 2 night tour, and so this is precisely why me and Kyle were in Hanoi. Solely for that tour, as my previous experience had shown me that there really wasn't much to do in the city of Hanoi itself.  However, we once again had failed to make any reservations for the tour, which I didn't think was a problem because last time I had gone we booked it last minute as well.  Sure enough, when we tried to book the tour through our hostel the lady told us that all boats were full for the following day but that we could start the tour the day after.  The problem was that we had already bought our plan tickets out of Hanoi and only scheduled just enough time to do the three day/two night tour.  This meant we either had to just do a two day/one night tour or change our flight.  When I looked into changing our flight it was going to cost way too much.  Supremely discouraged, we were about to just go ahead and settle for the two day/one night tour when the kind lady at the front desk of our hostel got a call back from one of the MANY people she had contacted trying to find us a boat to go on saying that two people had failed to get their visas and weren't being allowed into the country and so their spots opened up.  Lady Luck was our friend yet again!  We made sure to give the lady at our hostel a big ole hug for all of her effort.

The boat that had the spot that opened up for us just so happened to be "The Party Boat" (as it was so aptly named).  This drew a diverse group of French, Israeli and Canadian passengers to join us on this adventure.  It also meant that I was older, albeit not by much, than the majority of the group.  For the
 first day, after the four hour drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay, we mostly did the same itenerary we had done when I had been on the one day tour: go to a cave, look at some floating villages (although most are disappearing because since Halong Bay has become a UNESCO World Heritage site and part of the New 7 Natural Wonders of the World the government is forcing all of the floating villages to relocate and live in one mass floating community that is away from where the tours go), and ended with climbing one of the outcroppings from the bay to watch another beautiful sunset.  Afterwards, we retired to our "Party Boat", fulfilled its name a bit, and then got to spend the night sleeping on the boat while anchored at bay.  Surprisingly, it never felt like we were sleeping on a boat at all because the bay is quite placid and so there never was much movement.

They say that this is your friend waiting for you when you exit the cave. (*Notice the feet dangling over the edge)
The next day we woke up, had breakfast and were told we were going to an area for cliff jumping.  Now y'all know Singapore doesn't experience season changes, but northern Vietnam is far enough away from the equator to get pretty cold in late December, so I was not really considering participating and really didn't think anybody was.  That was quickly disproved by the crazy French guys who hardly let the boat stop before they were in the water swimming towards the cliff.  Then when Kyle told me that he was going to go change and do it too, I knew that I couldn't just let him have all the fun, so together we jumped off the second story of our boat into the frigid water and started swimming as fast as we could towards the cliff.  They had required that we wear these rubber shoes, and the reason for them was discovered when we got to the cliff; it was completely covered in barnacles and bivalves.  By the time we reached the cliff, the French boys had already jumped and swam back to the boat.  We, on the other hand, could not even figure out how to get up the cliff as there was no clear climbing path.  We spent 15 minutes or more looking for a reasonably safe way up the cliff (we both had the fear of falling with our backs landing on all the barnacles and getting shredded into ground meat) and were starting to swim back to the boat because we felt bad for making them wait so long on us when we heard the French guys yelling, "I didn't know Americans were such sissies!"  Now, feeling it was my patriotic duty, I was more determined than ever to find a way up that cliff.  Eventually, I was able to shimmy my way up the cliff inside this little crack that ran about half way up by placing back against one wall of the crack, feet against the other and just walk up it that way.  The cliff was about 12 meters high, or 40 feet, which is a lot higher when you are actually standing there looking down from that high.  The initial impact from that height is similar to jumping onto concrete, which can be attested by the bruises on the soles of my feet.

After the cliff jumping, we were transported to Cat Ba island were we had a secluded beach all to ourselves where we could swim, kayak, or play soccer/rugby on the beach.  The beach was run by a just a few locals who prepared our meals, and it was through them that I witnessed one of the most uncomfortable cultural experiences I have yet experienced.  It all started with a dog.  It was a young cute dog that looked very much like a husky.  When we arrived on the island, this dog was tied to a tree and barking at anything that walked by.  Eventually, some girls from our group took it upon themselves to untie the dog thinking that it just wanted to roam freely.  The dog was surprisingly friendly, despite all the initial barking, and many of the members of the crew both played with and petted the dog.  The disturbing part came late in the afternoon, after we had finished our soccer game on the beach, when we heard loud and continuous yelping from the dog.  Jokingly, some of us looked at each other and mocked, "dinner".  However, this would turn out to be not far from the truth.  Saving the horrible and gruesome details that we witnessed, this dog did in fact turn out to be dinner, not for us, but for the locals and some of their family members that came over later in the night by boat.  It was a pretty heavy experience, as none of us had ever witnessed a dog being slaughtered for food before, especially not one we had played with earlier in the day, and some of the girls took it especially hard.  But from a cultural standpoint, we had no right to judge them for a cultural practice they take part in while we were visitors in their land.  It was not as if these locals had treated this dog as a pet and then executed it, that obviously would be inhumane, but from the start this dog was nothing but a means of nutrition and protein to them and it dutifully fulfilled that purpose.  If the dog is not seen as a pet, is it really any different than if they were to kill a chicken, cow, or pig for dinner?  Personally, I do not think so.  Despite being a dog lover, it was for that reason (and the justification that my actions or lack thereof would not result in that dog's life being resurrected) that when graciously offered to share in their feast that I took the opportunity to taste a food that I hope to never be offered again.  Don't judge me.

The night carried on however, and we stayed up late talking and having a good time by a bonfire that Kyle started for all of us to enjoy before we packed up and headed back to Hanoi the following morning.  The day we returned to Hanoi happened to be both our last night in Vietnam and New Years Eve.  With no plans, we sort of just asked what people at our hostel were doing, which is how we eventually got to talking to this American guy who actually was living in Hanoi.  We asked him if there was a local place that we could go bring in the new year in and he took us to this very chill pub that had a low stakes poker table in operation, which me and Kyle immediately joined.  Although I quickly lost both of my buy-ins (less than $20 USD), Kyle was killing it!  I actually lost the majority of my money to him, so I was ok with that, but I had a feeling that our Vietnamese counterparts did not appreciate Kyle's beginner's luck nearly as much as I did.  Nonetheless, at the end of the night, Kyle was the big winner and so I let him buy the taxi back to our hostel where we got a meager nights sleep before what was about to be the most miserable leg of our journey.

As aforementioned, booking the tickets to Phuket, Thailand, the last destination in our journey before returning back to Singapore, was quite difficult as it is not a very big airport (so minimal flights in and out per day), it was peak traveling season (local schools here get their big school breaks in November/December instead of June/July), and Phuket is a very popular tourist destination.  Despite all of that, we were able to find reasonable tickets but the trade off was that we had to travel for 15 hours, including an 11 hour overnight layover in Kuala Lumpur, on what should have been just a 2-3 hour flight.  In KL, I briefly went out into the city and visited the famous Petronas Towers and had dinner while Kyle chilled in the airport.  I eventually returned to the airport with about 5 hours still to kill, which me and Kyle used feebly to try and get some shut-eye.  When we arrived to our hotel in Phuket at 6 in the morning, desperate for sleep, we were extremely frustrated to find the front desk area completely locked up.  Again, we feebly tried to get some sleep on the poolside furniture until the workers showed up.  When they arrived we got more bad news that we would not be allowed to check in until 2 pm!  That meant six more hours until we could finally get a nice shower and a bed that we so desperately were craving.  By the time we finally got our room I am pretty sure that I had made the entire hotel staff, which was all of 2 people (ridiculous right?!), hate us.  But when we were finally able to get a nice warm shower and fall into a clean comfortable bed, two weeks of non-stop traveling, countless pre-dawn wakeups for either sunrises or travels, and the hellish nightmare that was our last 24 hours all compounded to give me one of the greatest sleeps of my life!  I am not exaggerating when I say that I slept from 2 until 9:30, woke up just to go grab something to eat from the restaurant downstairs before it closed, and then went back and slept uninterrupted until 9 the following morning.  Status? Battery recharged.

In Phuket, our main aspiration was to just end our long, incredible, and yet remarkably fast paced journey with a nice relaxing beach stay.  The one definite item on our to-do list in Phuket was to rent motorbikes to cruise around on.  The freedom and fun that they provide makes them such an awesome toy.  It's hard to not want to buy one after just riding it around a few days, although, I don't think it would be nearly as enjoyable riding one in a crowded city as it was through an island paradise.  The first of our three days in Phuket, not counting the one we slept away, we primarily spent at the beach just chilling out.  We did, however, stop to get a fish massage after lunch.  No, this is not where they massage you with a fish; that would only be slightly weirder and probably much more enjoyable than the reality.  What this is is a tank that you pay to stick your feet in and let a school of tiny little fish come nibble away the bacteria and dead skin on your feet.  The best way to describe this, besides hell, is to compare it to the feeling when you've been sitting on your foot too long and it starts to fall asleep.  It tingled beyond what I could stand, and I would have to take breather breaks where I took my feet out of the tank.  Kyle, on the other hand, loved it.  The next day we spent mostly just cruising our motorbikes for the entire day.  We had set off with a destination and flaky directions in mind, but it quickly became just a joy ride as we got lost, although that word doesn't seem fitting as we really didn't care where we ended up, we were just looking for an excuse to ride.  We ended the day taking in yet another spectacular sunset from this random overlook we passed.  Then on our final day, just before we took a cab to the airport, we booked an elephant ride.  This only added to our extensive list of different modes of transportation that we had taken during the trip.  The funniest moment from the elephant sanctuary was this baby elephant, that smacked Kyle really hard with its trunk when Kyle got too close to try and take a picture.  The little guy didn't care for that too much, and had he not been chained up, probably would have charged right at Kyle. After that it was back home, at least for me, to conclude a trip of a lifetime in Singapore where we would cheer on our now shared alma mater Auburn Tigers in their championship football game from halfway across the world.

In Singapore, we had a day before the big game and I wanted to give Kyle the "Singapore in a day tour", which included hitting up the big cultural spots like Little India, China Town, and Arab Street, but also the famous Marina Bay with all the interesting architecture around the city.  The difficult part about a short stay in Singapore is not trying to see everything, but rather trying to eat everything and with Kyle's time constraints I did my best.  He got to try kaya toast, beef hor fun, legit Indian food, and much much more.  But for Kyle's last full day in Singapore we devoted most of the day for the Auburn National Championship game.  This being the miracle season, we woke up with high hopes for the game, and the first half certainly gave us a lot to cheer for.  However, Florida State mounted quite the comeback in the second half and our Tigers fell heartbreakingly short.  Although it was a great season that no Auburn fan could have expected, it still hurt immensely to come so close to winning it all.  We spent the rest of that day mourning our loss.  Unfortunately, for Kyle's last day, before he flew out that night, I had to spend at school for my first day back at work.  After I got off, it was straight to the airport to say our goodbyes.

Reminiscing on our trip, I am confident that we could not have possibly planned it better had we actually planned for it.  The tentativeness of our plans allowed for more flexibility, but also for more adventure.  This being my first real trip with Kyle, I am thankful to know that I have an awesome travel buddy who is just as flexible, whimsical, and adventurous as I am in my own family.  I cannot wait for our next adventure wherever and whenever it may be!

Thank you to those who read all of this.  Please post a comment in the bottom and tell me your favorite part of our journey.