Sunday, 9 December 2012

brown paper packages...

read recently in kennysia about borderlinx, so decided to give it a try, since amazon dun ship to sandland. maybe they just don't trust the desert camels?

anyway, i managed to get a good deal for a wireless headphone that i've been eyeing during the black friday sales on amazon, so i had the item sent to my US address for free. but when i wanted to forward the item from the US to me, i found out i can only ship the item to m'sia, because it's where my billing address is. 

their cost calculator showed that shipping to the sandland is much cheaper than to m'sia, but since i've already registered myself as in m'sia, then i can't change that. ok fine, pay an extra of about RM40 to have it shipped back home. i can live with that... no choice also, right?

but then i found out that i'd need either a maybank credit card or a visa card for the shipment. what?!? i only have 2 m'sian master cards! so how? my item is stuck at my "suite" in the US. i can't send it back nor forward!

so i created another account with borderlinx, but this time registered my billing address under sandland. i was thinking maybe there's a way for me to merge the 2 accounts, but no such luck. so i tried contacting their customer service via online chat (i'm a great fan of this feature!). this person at the other end, greg, was really very helpful. he checked why i wasn't able to make payment with my mastercard, as it wasn't stated anywhere that only visa is accepted. it seems that this is because i'm registered under the maybank cluster, so they only accept maybank credit cards and visa cards. i forgot, but i must've clicked on the link from kennysia, which was an advert! so of course the link will bring me to the maybank cluster, whatever that means! duh!

anyway, i explained to greg that i have also created another account but registered under sandland, and asked if i could have the item moved to my this other suite. he did some more checks, and maybe because other than the country, all the other info were the same, so he said he's able to do that. yays!

the next day, i saw that the item has been moved, so i made the (cheaper by RM40) payment for the shipment. i'm also able to pay using paypal here! *boo to maybank!!!* and like 2 days after that, i received a call from dhl enquiring about my location!

these are a few of my favourite things!

yays to greg, whoever you are! :)

jordan day 2: gadara

ok, it's very obvious that i'm getting lazier in updating. so to make it less tedious, i'm gonna post by place of interest, instead of by day... hehehe... 


a hearty breakfast from the hotel's buffet line before setting out.

our first stop was to the ancient town of gadara in umm qais town, about 1.5 hour's drive up north from amman. along the way, the landscapes changed drastically, from a crowded city, to hilly landscape, to totally flat landscape etc. very interesting to see the obvious changes, but too bad we didn't take any photos while in the van.

umm qais is situated at northwest of jordan, sharing the border with israel and syria. 

 gadara is an ancient town upon which many civilizations have been built upon. this was also said to be where, according to all three synoptic gospels, jesus healed the demoniac and sent the demons into a herd of swine which ran into the sea of galilee. anyway, the most obvious ruins here are that of the romans (who else?).

entrance into the west theatre.

west theatre, built entirely of basalt.

 the church terrace

during the byzantine and early islamic periods, 2 churches were built on a terrace which had been constructed on the western slope of the acropolis during the 2nd century a.d. the churches replaced an earlier roman public building, probably a colonnaded hall or a market basilica. during the first half of the 6th century a.d., a church consisting of a square building with an octagonal interior was erected in the approximate centre of the terrace.

the finds of 4 tombs and 5 reliquaries in the churches indicate the importance of the complex. probably this was a site of pilgrimage, in which the tomb in the middle of the earlier church may have been the grave of a venerated martyr. like the west theatre and many other buildings in gadara, the churches were destroyed by earthquakes in the middle of the 8th century.

a quaint lil coffee house on top of a small hill, overlooking the sea of galilee.

view from the coffee house. the sea of galilee is to the extreme left (not very visible) 

at the top of west theatre

in the 2nd century a.d., the west theatre was built against the western slop of the acropolis. its auditorium offered space for approximately 3000 visitors and, like the semicircular orchestra, is built entirely of basalt.

the auditorium (cavea) is built in 3 storeys, which are subdivided into wedge-shaped sections of seats. underneath the second storey runs a vaulted corridor (crypta). 4 entrances (vomitoria) gave access from the corridor to the upper part of the auditorium. most of the entrances to the theatre collapsed during the earthquakes. likewise, very little remains of the former stage building (sceanae frons), which once blocked the view of the surrounding landscape. 

theatres in antiquity served various purposes. not only were tragic plays and comedies staged here, religious and political festivities were also conducted in the theatre. 

the so-called west theatre, which was destroyed by an earthquake in the 8th century, was only 1 of 3 theatres used by the gadarenes. there was also the larger north theatre and a 3rd smaller theatre at hammat gader in yarmouk valley.

view of the gadara from the direction of the sea of galilee...

we were only allocated about 30 min here, but actually there weren't that much to see also lar...

Thursday, 1 November 2012

jordan day 1: arrival in amman

as many of you know, i went to jordan last weekend during the eid holidays. we get 3 official days off for this islamic celebration, and since it's over the weekends, it totaled up to 5 days. so yeah, my colleagues and i planned this jordan trip to coincide with this public holiday.

it was a lil risky actually, for us to plan anything on islamic holidays, coz the actual day is only determined after some moon sighting. but as our company made us finish up our leave days in summer, we have no more leave days hence no other choice. we went ahead to book our flights and tour, and kept our fingers crossed that the public holiday would fall on those chosen dates. this time, we were lucky! :)

anyway, there were 4 of us this time round, with colleagues lovely lily and sweet sheila, and my friend lanky leila who flew into amman from germany to join us.

breakfast before boarding...

the 3 of us from sandland arrived at around 2pm and were greeted by our tour representative, who assisted us through immigration and introduced us to our driver, issam. he would be our driver for the duration of our visit in jordan.

there were no activities on our arrival day and we were planning to go to town to do some exploring on our own. another colleague who've been there said we should visit a "fort" up on a hill in the town centre, where we can catch some stunning sunset over the whole city. but while on the way from the airport to our hotel, i asked issam about the fort in town. he was puzzled for a while, when it dawned on him that i was talking about the amman citadel! so he said he would make a detour to bring us there, as a special gift for us! how very nice!

unfortunately, by the time we arrived at the citadel, visiting hours were up (they close at 4pm) and they were closing the gates! so sad... so we could only take photos from outside the gate. i'm not gonna bore you with the story and history of this roman ruins, so if you wanna know more about this place, click here. it was rather cold and our jackets were in our luggage, so we didn't stay for long.

the remains of the temple of hercules taken from outside the gates...

view of the old section of amman city, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.

view on the other side of the hill, all golden and shining in the sunset... amman is a rather hilly place. all the buildings were not organised and the streets between the buildings were narrow and winding...

then we piled into the van again and issam drove down a series of narrow and winding streets to a gazebo-ed spot to show us this view below...

...a roman amphitheater right smack in the middle of the city. this is the most impressive legacy of roman philadelphia (previous name of amman) built under emperor antoninus pius (138-161 ad). *click on photo to enlarge*

at the lookout point, with our driver...

street of amman. not very clean and quite chaotic, due it being the eid celebration, hence it was a lil crowded...

...but they have quite a lot of policemen around making sure everything was in order.

then issam very generously treated us to dinner! this side-street stall is quite famous, as even the king and queen of jordan came here to eat before! so down to earth right, the royalties sitting at the plastic table and chairs in a side-street, among the commoners?

mint leaves, tomatoes and onions, and a chili dip for our fries...

authentic arabic meal of hummus and moutabal, eaten with arabic bread... the  meatball-like stuff are falafel.

happy faces...

then sweet sheila wanted to get the local sim card so that she could go on the internet, as she would die if not connected to the internet for even one day. but it turned out, she was still not able to connect to the internet even with the local sim card, so it was a total waste of money (jd 5 for card + jd 12 for top up; 1 jordanian dinar ≈ RM 5). oh, and she didn't die also from being disconnected for 5 days in jordan :P

flags of middle eastern countries on the rooftop.

finally we arrived at geneva hotel, a 4 star family-owned establishment in the heart of amman. you can read my review for the hotel here in tripadvisor (but it'll only appear in a few days' time, as i just submitted the review and tripadvisor needs a few days to approve and publish it).

i shared the room with lanky leila who arrived quite late, after i've fallen asleep at about 9pm jordanian time. i think she arrived at the hotel after 10pm, as issam also brought her on a short tour of amman city after he'd picked her up from the airport.

to note: our timing in jordan were a bit confusing, as it was supposed to be one hour behind dubai time, but they also have daylight saving time, which was supposed to happen on the day after our arrival. BUT, their government decided at the last minute not to change the timing, so it's still one hour ahead of dubai. however, when i changed the location setting in my phone, it still showed the daylight saving timing, which is 2 hours ahead of dubai. couple that with our watches still in dubai time, and sweet sheila's phone timing which went haywire completely (probably reverted back to china time), which made us a very confused bunch indeed!

*more photos on facebook, for those who are my facebook friends.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

what is this feeling...?

been feeling not myself lately... and i dunno how to describe it, nor why i'm feeling like this. wish to talk to someone but dunno who to talk to, nor what to talk about! 

whatever it is, hope it goes away soon! 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

the 2 year mark...

it was a few days after the date that i realized... i've been here in the sandland for 2 years! time really does fly. so just thought of penning down something to put a mark on the timeline.

so... 2 years. i feel this 2nd year has gone by rather quickly, as compared to my 1st year here. i've fallen into a routine, and the days and weeks and months run by like clockwork most of the time. looking back at my 1 year post, i think most of the sentiments still stand. but as with all of my previous jobs, i've been getting rather restless and ready for change. i've never gone past the 3 year mark in all my previous jobs! 

actually, i've been sorta looking around a bit to move. the good thing about my current company is that the group has many properties and we're encouraged to move around within the group. in fact, i've applied for 2 or 3 positions, all back in asia. yeah, i've been looking to move closer to home, and my most recent application was within home itself, tho' further north. but the thing is, the moment i applied and realized that i have a good chance of getting the position, i started regretting it! i even panicked a bit, enough to go speak to my immediate boss to ask for his advice on how to reject an offer if ever one was made! LOL...

i guess deep down inside, i'm not really ready to leave here yet. here're a few reasons why:

1. location - it's really great being in the middle, between asia and europe. i'm so much nearer to europe that it's opened up more traveling options for me. looking to venture more to the west in the near future!

2. money - ok, i admit that money plays a big part in my decision for now. if i go home, i don't think i'll ever be able to get what i'm getting here, with all the added benefits and remunerations, not to mention tax free income. need to put aside more for my retirement fund! :P

3. job - tho' i always tell people that this is not what i want to do in the long run, but i guess i can live doing this a little while longer. also, there has been some slight change in my job scope, where i have the opportunity to branch out into a slightly different function (which is handled by a different position for other bigger properties, but since my company is quite small, the function falls under my jurisdiction). so in the future, i'd have the option to move to a bigger property to solely handle this function in my current level or higher, and don't have to start from bottom (in order to enjoy the benefits of this level).

4. people - no, i don't have anyone that i can't leave behind here. by people, i mean the lack of a significant other to spur my desire to go home. other than my parents, of course. being single gives me the freedom and opportunity to explore more of the world out there. in a way, i only have myself to answer to. on one hand, there's  the issue of my clock ticking and time running out. of course the idea of a more settled life back home is tempting, but that can come in due time. i do see myself settling down with a man (?), kids (?) and a dog perhaps, in the near future, but if that doesn't happen, at least it's my choice. i chose this path. tho' i'd always regret not having a kid of my own, at least a dog or two would never be out of the question later on, right? 

phew, this is getting a tad jiwang, huh? well, these are the 4 that i can think of at the moment, so better leave it here for now. and would i be able to hang on for more than 3 years here? we'll see... ;)

Saturday, 6 October 2012

homemade pearls for bubble milk tea

have not been blogging much lately, just updates on my travels. hehe... been getting quite lazy. so today, i thought i'd share with you what i made a few weeks back.

as mentioned previously, i was on home vacation recently and while back, i took the opportunity to fill my stomach with all the yummy goodies that's so hard to come by here in the desert. one of my favourite is the bubble milk tea. this trip home, i found that so many outlets have sprung up, and so many brands too! every time i go out and see a stall, i'd be sure to join the queue to buy one.

fav brand of milk tea so far...

after my vacation, of course there's some sort of withdrawal syndrome from suddenly not having my fav drink in my system. actually while back home, i did wonder if these pearls are sold in the dried form, where i'd just need to take them out from the freezer and boil them up, much like those glutinous rice balls (tang-yuan) that's being sold here. then i remembered reading something in kel's place about homemade pearls. after putting it off for sometime, i finally decided to give it a try.

but first i need to go to the chinese grocers to get the tapioca flour and black sugar (or "red sugar" if translated directly from chinese). our typical grocers here dun really cater to east-asians, so it's quite difficult to get the ingredients we need.

so following the instructions in kel's place, i started kneading the flour with the melted sugar. i missed the part about having to pour the sugar mixture into the flour while boiling hot, so not sure if that's the reason for the difficulties i faced later on.

anyway, i found out that tapioca flour is SUCH A BITCH TO KNEAD!!! it's not like our typical flour at all. when kneading, it'll turn hard and powdery, as if it's too dry. but when i held a big lump in my open palm for a while, they'll melt all over my hand, like really watery mud! it's like putty! argh!!! so frustrating... so i wasn't really sure if i've used the correct ratio of sugar water to flour (i used the "agak-agak" method).

the worse part is when i was trying to shape it into balls. that's when the real nightmare began. first i pinched a small amount of dough and started rolling it with my palms. but it very quickly crumbled and disintegrated, very much like trying to roll dry sand into balls! ggggrrrr... not sure how to salvage the situation, i ended up pinching and squeezing and compacting the tiny dough with my fingers first before lightly rolling them into a ball. so means i had to do it all INDIVIDUALLY! luckily i only prepared a small amount, as i managed to get about 20+ balls out before my fingers couldn't take it anymore and i decided to throw the rest of the dough away.

anyway, the boiling part is also a headache. according to kel, we only need to cook it in boiling water for 5 minutes and then turn off the fire and let the pearls sit in the covered pot to let it continue cooking. well, maybe it's because she used potato flour and i used tapioca flour, but my pearls seem to take forever to cook! i think i cooked it for 20 minutes over the fire, but when i tried one, they still seemed quite hard in the middle. i also let it sit in the covered pot for about 10 minutes, but that didn't seem to soften them.

looked ok, though a bit pale coz i used less black sugar to avoid consuming too much extra sugar.

verdict: should have cooked it longer, and way too much work! may not attempt this again, as SO not worth the effort!

Monday, 17 September 2012

day 7: random walking around on last day in istanbul

even though we checked-in and subsequently went to bed so late the previous night, we still dragged ourselves out of bed early, coz lovely lily missed the istanbul part of our tour and i'd promised that i would be her impromptu tour guide for half a day before flying back to dubai.

buffet breakfast at the hotel before setting out. the breakfasts here were the best we've had while in turkey... 

 of course the first stop would have to be the icon of istanbul, the blue mosque... i did my best to remember what my guide told me, to tell them to lovely lily. but in order to save time, we didn't go into the mosque.

next, i brought lovely lily to the hipodrome... the weather was quite overcast that day, and as istanbul is situated to the north as compared to the other places we've been, it's still quite chilly even though it was well into spring...

very cool tourist police! 

next i wanted to show lovely lily the hagia sofia, but queue was too long! tips: always engage a guide when visiting touristy places, because they get to skip the queues at the entrance by showing their tag.

then i thought we could go to topkapi palace, as it wasn't in my tour itinerary (it being closed every tuesday, the day of my tour in istanbul). but omg, look at that queue! it's a sunday, so everywhere's filled with tourists!

in the end,  we decided to join the queue outside the basilica cistern, coz it looked to be moving quite fast. i've not been here too, so i don't really mind paying for the entrance ticket (which i think was 10 turkish lira = RM 17).

ok here, read about it yourself, but it doesn't give much info about what the cistern was used for in the olden days. so if you wanna know more about the basilica cistern, it's better to click on the link of the photo above.

view of the underground cistern from the top of the stairs we descended...

whoops, photo lopsided a bit... 

the head of medusa at the base of a column. no, i didn't forget to rotate the photo! according to legend, since anyone who looked into medusa's eyes will be turned into stone, the head will be placed upside down so that they don't end up with too many stoned tourists in the area! :P 

another medusa head at the base of another column, but this one was placed sideways... 

 tear patterns on a column... the other columns are plain without patterns.

next, we wanted to go to the grand bazaar, but i forgot that it's a sunday and the grand bazaar is closed on sundays! luckily we found a side street nearby  that has lotsa stall selling knick-knacks...

a cute lil evil eye pin that one of the stall owners pinned onto my camera strap...

when we got back to our hotel, we saw that the van for our airport transfer was already waiting there. as it turned out, there was a cycling event that day and a lot of roads will be closed. so in order for us to arrive at the airport on time, the tour agent sent over their van earlier. but we were out and they couldn't get hold of us. luckily we've already packed and just needed to go up to get our luggage from our room!

 we made it to the airport in good time, with enough time for a quick bite as we were starving! here's my last meal in turkey, popeye's chicken, while lovely lily had burger king.


*phew! finally i concluded the posts on my trip to turkey! sorry it took so long... will try to do better for my next trip, which will be happening in october! *excited*

day 6: more walking in cappadocia

after a very cold night in our cave room, we woke up to this sight!

hot air balloons dotting the cloudless blue, blue sky!

we felt a tiny bit of regret for not booking a hot air balloon trip, but just a tiny bit lar... coz it's quite expensive and it being our 2nd final day in turkey, we're sorta low on funds. also, we'd need to wake up rreeeallly early if we were to go for the hot air balloon ride, coz we'd wanna catch the sunrise. so tho' we were sad for missing it, we were also quite glad for the opportunity to sleep in a bit.

we had our breakfast outdoors on the terrace one floor beneath our room. quite a standard fare... i simply love their fresh bread eaten with assorted jams... yums!

as we were sitting outdoors, tho' the air was chilly, the sun was shining quite brightly. so the hotel people pushed of the huge umbrella for us to hide under. when i looked down, i discovered that they used marble slabs to weigh down the umbrella! marbles really so cheap in turkey, that everything is made of marble?

after breakfast, we were picked up by our tour guide for the day's tour.

walking tour along the red valley, which took about an hour plus...

panoramic view... can you spot a horse at the far left corner? cappadocia actually means "land of beautiful horses", so maybe in the ancient times, this place has lotsa beautiful wild horses...

old men and women tilling the land to plant grapes the traditional way! what backbreaking work... i seem to have been transported back to the olden days...

 arriving at the edge of the red valley...

panoramic view from the top of red valley...

going down to the red valley... a rather hot day to be trekking :(

we saw more pigeon houses along the way... 

a couple selling nuts and dried fruits along the way... they were very gracious and kept asking us to sample their nuts and fruits. a welcomed break from our walk!

some of the places we passed...

some of the paths were formed by wind and some by water...

sometimes we passed through these jungle-ish places...

this is another stall we came across... this one even has a carpeted sitting area with shades! 

that's a bottle of turkish wine i'm holding... in turkish, wine is called "sharap", which sounds very much like "shut up"! now how can we ever forget that, right?

i was wondering what these cute lil earthen wares were for... can you guess?

off we went again, after a short break...

it was a bright and sunny day... which explained me getting sun-burnt on my scalp, coz i forgot to pack my hat along!

we came to another cave dwelling, this time belonging to a nun. a few of my tour members went up (via a back entrance) but i decided i am too lazy have seen enough cave dwellings for this trip.

at yet another stop, this one selling a mixture of pomegranate and grape fruit juice. really sour and yummy, tho' a tad expensive!

we arrived at this place at the end of our walk. this is cavusin (pronounced "chausin"), the oldest cave settlement in the area. there were people still staying here till as late as the 70s, with the last family moving out in 1976 after the government ruled the place unsafe for habitation due to erosion. some parts are still open for tourists, but some of us decided not to go up, choosing instead to sit in the shades of one of the many coffee shops while waiting for the group of japanese boys to finish exploring the place.

after lunch, we went to kaymakli, an underground city that spans 8 floors! but only 4 floors are open to the public now. this city started out as early as the hittite times and has expanded over the centuries where the locals used it as their living quarters when various marauding armies passed through here.

see that big round slab of stone on the left? that's a stone door, where it can be rolled over the doorway to close off access from the enemies

the inside of the cave city is surprisingly cool, due to these air tunnels that spans all the floors to ensure that the dwellers do not suffocate...

the walkways between sections are really narrow, where we can only walk bent in single file! the people in the olden days must be really small...

next stop was to the jewelers... just a short stop coz none of us were interested in buying anything.

tree of evil eye. the evil eye has a deep-seated tradition in turkey, which is said to originate from medusa's eyes in greek mythology.

at the end of the tour, we were brought back to goreme, where we decided to take a walk into town in search of an early dinner. this is a doner kebab, different from the kebabs i had on my 1st and 2nd day in istanbul.

saw this cute display on our walk back to sarihan cave hotel & pension...

walking back to our hotel... the weather got quite chilly towards the night.

on the upper terrace of our cave hotel, waiting for our van to come pick us up to the kayseri airport for our flight back to istanbul that night... 

awesome sunset over cappadocia!

we got back to istanbul in one piece, but i had to pay for excess luggage coz the allocation was only 15kg and i was only like 2-3kg overweight! wth... and they were quite strict, no negotiating at all. they just tell you straight, "please go over to that counter over there and pay for your excess luggage. then come back here to get your boarding pass." 

anyway, we got back to istanbul in one piece and checked-in again at yusuf pasa konagi, at about midnight.