No Golden Fetuses Were Used in the Making of this Non-Travel Post

Fun fact: my favorite travel buddy and I were supposed to be leaving for a long weekend in Singapore.

Singapore
I’m sure it’s not as nice as the pictures make it out to be.

My travel agent/boyfriend had found a great deal on tickets to Singapore a couple of months ago. He, of course, jumped on it. We were supposed to leave Thursday night and fly back on Tuesday. Just a short little weekend jaunt halfway around the world.

But eventually we came to the decision that it wasn’t a good time or a great idea (especially since I’m still paying for my greatly reduced, but still substantial portion of the Australian-Thailand extravaganza), so we swallowed the cancellation fee and cancelled the tickets.

Koala and Poe

It turns out that it was a very good decision, for several reasons. For one thing, we’re ramping up the whole house-hunting thing. And by ramping up, I mean going from zero to intense. XFE does not fool around when he makes a decision. His absolute decisiveness is one of the things I really love about him and stands in stark contrast to my decision paralysis. (Paper or plastic? Can I have both? Red or white wine? What about a rose? Chicken or steak? Ummmm, which do you recommend? — Except for ranch dressing. Then the answer is always, always yes.)

Good thing we’re not house hunting in Singapore. From Bloomberg Businessweek:

Singapore should curb the increasing trend of so-called shoebox apartments because they are “almost inhuman,” CapitaLand Ltd. (CAPL) Chief Executive Officer Liew Mun Leong said.

Shoebox apartments? I love shoes, but I would not want to live in something referred to as a shoebox.

The government last week said it’s concerned that shoebox apartments are mushrooming in the city-state as private home sales surged to a three-year high with record purchases of units that are smaller than 50 square meters (538 square feet).

shoebox dollhouse

538 square feet??? That sounds like the efficiency I lived in when I was in college. I wouldn’t call it luxurious, but it’s hardly inhumane.

The island-state’s population growth, scarce land and surging property values have prompted developers to shrink apartment space. Home prices surged to a record at the end of 2011 in a city that’s about half the size of Los Angeles.

So, uh, how much are we talking here?

Developers sold 1,764 shoebox units in the first quarter, or 27 percent of all home sales, the most since the Urban Redevelopment Authority began collating the data in 2007. Apartments that cost less than S$750,000 ($587,000) made up 42 percent of new home sales in the first quarter, up from 25 percent in the previous three months, the data showed.

What the What?? $587,000 American?? Dang! That price is a crime against humanity. We need to get Amnesty International in on this.

The trend of shoebox units may not be unique to the city- state, said Pratik Burman Ray, an analyst at HSBC Holdings Plc in Singapore. Philippine developers have built homes smaller than 20 square meters, while those in Thailand and Indonesia are less than 35 square meters, he said. In Hong Kong, apartments smaller than 500 square feet house two or three people, he said.

Makes house-hunting in Alexandria seem like a freaking bargain.

The cancelled trip to Singapore made me a bit nostalgic about our recent vacations. Especially when I saw this item in the Wall Street Journal:

Australia is living up to its nickname of “the lucky country,” with a new survey marking it as the happiest industrialized nation in the world based on criteria such as jobs, income and health.

Yep, I would definitely agree with that. Just getting to go to Australia made me luckier than catching a drunk leprechaun holding a four leaf clover sitting on a pot of gold.

Having sidestepped the economic malaise gripping much of Europe and with near-full employment owing to a once-in-a-century resources boom, Australia has come out on top ahead of Norway and the U.S. in the annual Better Life Index compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Speaking of lucky, Lady Gaga is in Thailand as part of her world tour and she’s staying at perhaps the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at, the St. Regis Bangkok. According to fans on Twitter, she’s staying in the Royal Suite. I seriously can’t imagine it being much nicer than the Caroline Astor suite we stayed in when we were there. But whatever, if she feels like slumming it, that’s her deal.

Gaga via fan instagram
I wore the exact same thing when we checked in to the St. Regis.

Gaga will be in Singapore June 3, so we would have just missed her. And you know how I love to hang out with my pop singers.

Perhaps the Royal Suite at the St. Regis is decorated with golden fetuses. From Huffington Post:

British citizen Chow Hok Kuen, 28, was arrested in Thailand on Friday after police found six fetal corpses in his luggage, according to the IndependentThe bodies, which belonged to fetuses between two and seven months old, had been roasted, and some were covered in gold leaf.

OK, what?? You roast cauliflower. You roast potatoes. Some places even roast chestnuts. You roast a lot of things, but you DO NOT roast fetuses. I don’t care how lucky that might be.

gold statues
Me, with gold buddhas, in sepia. No golden fetuses though.

Thai police made the discovery after receiving a tip that a black magic services website was offering fetuses for sale, according to the New York Daily News. Roasting fetuses and covering them in gold is part of a black magic ritual called Kuman thong, which means “golden child” in Thai. The preserved bodies are thought to bring good fortune to the owner, according to the International Business Times.

Authorities believe that Chow was planning to smuggle the fetuses to his native Taiwan, where one corpse could sell for up to $200,000 Thai baht, or $6,376, WCVB reports.

Chow faces up to a year in prison on charges of hiding and covering dead bodies, according to CNN.

Investigators say it’s unclear where the fetuses came from, though forensic tests are currently being conducted on the bodies.

I mean, honestly. That’s some really, really weird crap, pardon my Italian.

Which brings me to my last travel update. This came in the mail today:

Milan ticket

Milan ticket 2

Here’s the story: We went to Milan as part of a 14-day trip to Northern Italy and Switzerland in March 2011. Milan was our first stop and was also where we got a horrible case of food poisoning from some salami. We were sick (seriously, seriously, disgustingly sick) for 10 days. That’s no exaggeration. 10. Days. Wave after wave of disgusting symptom and discomfort for 10. Whole. Days.

So not only was Milan terribly expensive. Not only did Milan try to poison and kill us. Now Milan wants us to pay a traffic ticket that we think comes out to around $133 dollars.

Look for us on the Interpol Most Wanted list because we are not paying that nonsense.

Milan, I am currently giving you the Italian backhanded brush under the chin.

Italian style

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One Night In Bangkok Probably is Actually Sufficient

Oh Bangkok. I wanted to love you. I adore Thai food. You have such pretty architecture. And, one of my absolute favorite songs of the 1980’s extols your, erm, seedier aspects, shall we say?

A song, which Wikipedia tells me, has been covered by a Norwegian singer, a Swedish pop group, a Swiss DJ and a Danish boy band, so you have the Scandinavian vote on lockdown, so don’t worry about that.

But overall, I liked Bangkok, but did not love it, and while I’d be interested in exploring other parts of Thailand, I would probably skip Bangkok. Here are a few of my reasons:

  • It was hotter than blazes. Like sweating in places you didn’t know had sweat glands hot. Unrelentingly so.
  • It was very, very crowded. There are 12 million people in this densely populated metropolis. Compare that to the 22 million in the entire country of Australia.  And as a result…
  • It’s very, very stinky. Honestly, it gave New Orleans a run for its money. And so many different stenches. Especially along the docks by the river. As this blogger put it so well:

“Eau de Bangkok was a memorable odor. Combining the very worse Asia has to offer, it attacked the senses, an onslaught bloody enough to make a grown man cry, or at least foul enough to make a grown man’s eyes water. There was no escaping the city’s divergent odors; the sweet perfume of plumeria, the heady scent of incense from the thousands of shrines and temples, the reek of the river and canals that form an important part of the city’s transportation system (as well as a major part of its sewer system), the aroma of street side cooking on every block, weird tropical fruit that smelled as if someone had died beneath its skin, and the fragrance typical of a bustling Asian City overflowing with humanity and its offal. The aroma of Bangkok was a physical presence. It lodged in your throat like a pig wallowing in yesterday’s slop.”

  • And the poverty was nothing less than heartbreaking. Whereas we hardly saw any homeless people in Australia, in Bangkok, they were everywhere you looked. It was very humbling.

Mostly Bangkok gave me the same disoriented feeling I’ve experienced in Asian cities before: nothing looks right, even things I recognize seem off-kilter and unfamiliar. I always feel like I stumble through Asian cities in a sleepwalk state. Plus, as tall Americans, you really feel like you stick out and tower above most people, even though there were gobs of other tourists (Bangkok is a very, very inexpensive place, which makes it particularly attractive, I think).

Boat ride in Bangkok
An early morning boat ride down the river.

There’s always this aspect of sensory overload I get in Asian cities, much like what I experience in the bright lights and loud noises of Vegas. In Bangkok, there was just so much to see in such a small, tight space and so many unfamiliar noises all crashing on top of each other. This was particularly true when we were at the night market where there was just a crush of people (including tons of tourists) and stalls all crammed with cheap trinkets and fake designer goods.

We weren’t looking for anything, but if we had been, I don’t know how we ever would have found it.

Wat Po temple, Bangkok
Pretty sure I’m melting in this picture. This was at the Wat Po, which I think was named after thePoeLog.

Even when you escape the street stalls for the sidewalks, you’re assaulted with neon signs trying to lure you into the various bars and loads of people sitting on the sidewalks eating, talking to each other or on the phone, calling out to you, trying to show you a price list.

Added to that is the sense of debauchery I’ve basically coated the whole place with in my mind. I felt like everyone was hustling, or was on the make. In Bangkok, where prostitution is not only legal, but practically a sector of its tourism industry, I eyed every tourist suspiciously, sure that they were up to no good whether it was buying sex or fake Louboutins.

Gold buddhas at Wat Po temple, Bangkok
No fake Loutoutins here, just gold Buddhas here.

When we ducked outof the night market to grab a beer at a beer garden, a European couple sitting next to us were charming one of the Thai waitresses, taking pictures of her in cutesy poses on their camera phone. They didn’t know her, but sure wanted a lot of pictures of her. What in the hell would they want her photo for, I wondered. I couldn’t think of any good reason.

I’m not a puritan or anything. In fact, I came very close to buying several vibrators on chains at the night market  as party favors for Sorta Running Buddy Amy’s bachelorette party this weekend, but I know that Amy’s not into penis se toys, so me, the model of restraint, held back and did not buy those things. So that proves I”m not just not a puritan, but I’m actually quite considerate as well.

No, it’s not a sex-puritan thing. It’s more about the fact that more than anything I hate when people who have power and money take advantage of those who are weak or poor. My sense of justice and fairness runs pretty strong.

Statues in Bangkok
You have to love any place that has pink elephant statues in the median of busy roads.

I was also nervous about safety and scams, which there apparently there are plenty of in Thailand. On the day we went to the Grand Palace, they were closed for the afternoon. There were several “official” looking gentlemen out front directing us to some of the other tourists’ sites and trying to get us to use a tuk tuk. Apparently, these tuk tuks don’t actually take you to other city highlights, but instead take you to a whole bunch of jewelry and tailoring shops.

We did, however, visit a jewelry shop on our own, one that had been recommended by family friends. We spent a very cool and lovely afternoon at Johnny’s Gems, an institution among the diplomat and embassy circles in Bangkok. They even had a picture of Hilary Clinton shopping there, but I have to confess, I did not notice a single picture on the wall. I was too busy looking at the trays of gorgeous jewelry. They were quite accommodating at Johnny’s, even running next door to get you some of the best fried rice you’ve ever tasted.

fried rice at Johny's Gems, Bangkok
A really unflattering picture, but I was more interested in eating my rice than posing for photos.

We also had dinner on top of a skyscraper. The Vertigo restaurant on top of the Banyan Tree hotel was stunning, overlooking the entire city. It was an unforgettable dinner on a beautiful night.

So between the whole eating fried rice in a jewelry store and dinner on top of a skyscraper, I guess I liked Bangkok maybe more than I initially thought. It’s a pretty interesting place for sure.