Tag: Travel

Changes

To change is to be human.  To fear change is also to be human.

The website has changed.  Whereas before it was mostly musings, it now is mostly photos.  Although more musings may occur from time to time as well.

My own life has changed.  I am departed on a new journey into new medicine and a new city.

I hope that you enjoy the updated website and the updated journey that I’ll be on.  Until next, here are some of my favourite pictures that I’ve taken and uploaded to the site:

That Time I Was Scammed in Vietnam

To celebrate being done my OSCE (Observed Supervised Clinical Exam), here’s a travel story that has nothing at all to do with medical school.

The setting was Northern Vietnam, in the last days of July 2014.  I had been on a long trip as part of a sabbatical, a trip that had taken me from Hong Kong to Myanmar/Burma, through Vietnam from south to north and eventually to Taiwan for a meeting of medical students.  Taiwan can be a story for another time.

I was running out of time in Vietnam.  I had spent a lot of extra time in Sai Gon due to falling in love with that city, so I had only days to explore the North.  There is a lot to see in Northern Vietnam.  Out of everything though, I knew that the thing I had to see was Ha Long Bay.

Ha Long Bay is often considered a world wonder.  Green and white marble formations rising from the water, towering over everything around them.  As touristy as it is, I was excited to go on a boat, to look at this amazing nature, and to sleep among them.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.  Unfortunately, this is not a story about a success.  This is a story about a failure.

HaLong2

Let me explain.  I love Vietnam.  It is most likely my favorite country that I have spent time in.  The vibrant culture, the excitement in the air, the food (oh my god the food), the people… there are very few bad things I could say about my experience in Vietnam.  However, when it comes to money and experiences, I will say that you must always be on your guard.  Although this is true wherever you travel (and hell, even at home), I found it especially true in Ha Noi.  Everybody is looking for a way to get your dollar, and people are getting better and better at it.

I am not one of those travelers who will fight tooth and nail to get local prices for goods and services.  I have a few reasons for this.  #1 I don’t think it’s worth the time investment most times.  #2 I am lucky and privileged to be in their country.   I am incredibly lucky and privileged that I was born in a country and in a position where I generally don’t need to worry about going hungry, where I can get a job that pays decently, and where I can go traveling.  I feel it might be a little disrespectful to go to another country and ignore the social situation and context just because I’m paying an extra dollar or two.  Although this has limits, and it also comes down to a respect thing.  If a person is disrespectfully trying to take advantage of you, that is a whole different beast than if they are playfully bartering with you.

I’ve gotten a little bit off topic.  But to display some circumstantial thinking, let’s circle back. The situation I had with Ha Long Bay did not feel like playful bantering.  In fact, it felt very serious, very quickly.

Now, the Internet did advise me about this.  When checking it, it said don’t go for the cheap options as most of them are scams.  The price difference between the cheap ones and the expensive ones though was about $300, so I thought maybe it was a risk worth taking.

So I pay my $30-$40, and receive the promise of getting to sleep on a boat in Ha Long Bay overnight.  I board the bus the next day, and find it filled with young people all excited to see this world wonder.  1 hour away from our destination, the first hiccup occurs.  Our tour guide all of a sudden looks sad (but not really sad), and tells us that apparently there is a problem with the boat.  But not to worry, he assures us, they have another boat lined up.  30 minutes later, and he has more bad news.  This new boat, he tells us, isn’t as big as the other, and so we won’t be able to sleep on it.  Instead, they’ll get us hotel rooms.  A perceptive girl asks how many people per room for the hotel, as she had read horror stories of them getting 10 people into a 2 person bedroom.  The tour guide has no answer.

Unhappy but without other options, we got off at the bus at the town near Ha Long Bay.  Ahhh, my first site of the amazing world wonder!  It was everything I thought it would be.  For a moment, I forgot about the loss of not being able to sleep out on a boat.  And then the tour guide spoke again.

Now, he said, all the hotels were booked (despite having said that they had already booked hotel rooms earlier).  So instead of staying here, we would go and spend 30 minutes on the boat, and then go back to Ha Noi.

Halong2

I think that they had misjudged the reaction that this could cause.  They had also misjudged their clients.  I remember the look upon one young Chilean man’s face upon hearing this.  I saw his eyes go hard, his cheeks go red, and a snarl emerge on his face.  As soon as the tour guide was done speaking, the Chilean man looked him in the eye and quietly said “I’m going to kill you.”

The other passengers managed to grab his arms before he lunged at the tour guide.  The tour guide started yelling about how he was going to call the cops.  The Chilean man was spitting at him, and snarling, while his friends told him to calm down or else he was going to get into trouble.

Needless to say, the tour guide was not excited about going out onto a boat with us anymore.  All of a sudden, the new boat was broken.  The tour guide pointed toward an old Vietnamese man nearby, and said he was the captain of the boat and he had told us that the boat was broken.  Another one of the customers, who spoke Vietnamese, spoke to the old man and he said that he had no idea what the tour guide was saying.

Another 30 minutes passed with the customers arguing with the tour guide telling him to get them a boat.  Another smaller group of the customers had formed, in which we were saying that there wasn’t a boat, and that arguing wasn’t doing any good.  To be honest, we said, there had likely never been a boat.

And so we had a long, grumpy bus ride home after a long day full of conflict.  I had managed to snap a few pictures of Ha Long Bay, so I wasn’t completely bummed.  Of course, we all fully expected that despite assurances of refunds, no one would be getting any money back.

But here’s the odd thing.  I did get my full refund.  So maybe this wasn’t a scam.  Maybe this really was a terribly organized and unlucky expedition.  Or maybe it was a scam and the Chilean man scared the tour guide to the point that he thought it best just to bail.  I guess I’ll never know.

And that is how I almost saw a world wonder,

The Wandering Scott

 

 

That Time I Thought There Was a Snake

IMG_1249-001

I am terrified of snakes. This is a simple, irrefutable truth. I would call it a phobia but I don’t think that being afraid of a slithering slimy creature that can either poison you or constrict you until all of your bones are broken is entirely irrational. I’m not telling you this simple, irrefutable truth about myself for sympathy, but rather as something to keep in the back of your mind during this story.

Once upon a time I found myself alone in the exotic, muggy, and chaotically cheerful city of Yangon, Myanmar (or Rangoon, Burma if you prefer). This river city, hot at the best of times, was also incredibly wet as it was the beginning of Monsoon season. Later in my stay, I would discover (through the hard way, as I always do) that a rain storm could literally strike at a moment’s notice during this season. That, however, is a story for another time.

Exiting the airport, having managed to exchange my carefully crisp and pristine American dollars for some Myanmar Kyat (pronounced chat), I was ready to see this city and country. Currency in Myanmar is a little odd. Although visa bank machines are beginning to appear, the best method to obtain local currency is to exchange American Dollars. They won’t just accept any American Dollars however, as their requirements include being from after 2006, not having any fold lines, and not starting with a few specific serial numbers.

 

Rolling in Kyat

Rolling in Kyat

I give the taxi driver a small note with the address of my hostel/hotel written on it, he yells at another taxi driver asking where to find this address, and off we go.

As we drive, I notice a few things about Yangon. First, there are not exactly lanes, per say. Although it lacks the ridiculous amounts of motor-bikes found in other Asian countries, it more than makes up for it with cars swerving in and out of temporary and sometimes imaginary lanes. Second, there are few things more beautiful and majestic than the Schwedagon Paya at night, in terms of imagery.

 

The Schwedagon Paya (or Pagoda) at Night

The Schwedagon Paya (or Pagoda) at Night

The better part of an hour later, after much searching and driving, we manage to find my hostel. Buildings are organized a little differently in Yangon, especially in the downtown district. Businesses aren’t necessarily on the 1st floor. In fact, you often have to look up to see the small banner for the business that you are looking for, and then climb the stairs that you find on the 1st floor up. After a while, this becomes second nature.

I finally manage to check in. I’m exhausted from the day of travel and the shift in culture from Singapore to Myanmar, so armed with the incredibly slow but still existent and free wi-fi, I decide to rest and stay in. This is where the real story begins.

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A mention of a snake while reading Burmese Days. With that one mention, I suddenly remember a troubling detail I had partially blocked out while doing my research for this trip. Myanmar is the #1 country in the world for snake bite related deaths. Not exactly something to advertise.

Mood ruined, I decide to try and sleep. A fitful sleep of unknown time later, I’m awake again. My brain is running circles, not sure of the time and muggy from the day. I suddenly think to myself “I wonder if there’s a snake under my bed.” Why oh why did that thought enter my head? Once it is in there, there is no escape. I grab my flashlight, hop over to the door, and briefly shine it under the bed to check for my nightmare made real.

At the exact moment that the light reaches under the bed, I hear an incredibly loud HSSSSSSSS noise. Needless to say, I am out the door and in the hallway before my eyes can even take in any sight of anything below the bed.

An embarrassing amount of time later, I decide that I had maybe imagined it. Or maybe not. Either way, there is no way that I’m going down to the lobby before at least looking again. I can be foolish sometimes and stubborn once I get an idea in my head.

I open the door again. I shine the flashlight under the bed. Nothing. I breathe a sigh of relief. I take a step into the room. From beside me HSSSSSS.

I leap across the room away from the noise again. From atop the bed I look at the snake.

It turns out, the snake was the air conditioner. Apparently air conditioners go HSSSS.

And that is how I spent my first night in Myanmar.

 

Until next time fellow humans,

 

The Wandering Scott