Thaipusam is a festival that is celebrated by Tamil Indians. The festival occurs on the "full moon of the Tamil month and celebrates Lord Subramaniam also known as Murugan, who is a symbol of youth, beauty, virtue and bravery". Kavadi which means "sacrifice at every step" is a form of self sacrifice that is performed by the worshipers of Lord Subramaniam. It is a physical burden that each devotee takes up in order to ask for help or to have a future favor granted. Hindus believe that Lord Subraminiam is the universal dispenser of favors.

(notice the main supporting posts of the headpiece are pierced through his skin)

The prep for this event actually starts long before the actual day of the festival. Fasting and cleansing rituals begin 48 days before the celebration. The day of the celebration heads are shaved.

A spear pierced through cheeks and tongue prevents the devotee from speaking and keeps his thoughts focused on god. Basically the greater the pain the more god-earned merit.

Yes those are limes attached to his back

And this one has metal containers filled with milk on his back

This was pretty shocking

The largest Thaipusam festivals does not occur in India but in Singapore, Mauritius and Malaysia. Evidently thousands of people will complete Kavadi in Singapore this year.

Just in case it wasn't abundantly clear, these large pieces that they are wearing are incredibly heavy (up to 90lbs) and attached by flesh.

More kittens

Yesterday I got the phone call that always puts a smile on my face and spring in my step...foster kittens! They asked if I could take 5 kittens which I knew would be a handful but couldnt bring myself to say no. So off I went to the SPCA to pick up my little bundles of fur. However, when I arrived I was informed that 2 of the kittens were not doing so well and still needed to be monitored for a few days. So we currently have 3 kittens with the possibility of adding 2 more. Life is good!
This little one has perfected the "I didn't do it" look. Kingsley gave her the name Turtle but don't worry that is only a temp name.

These two have been given the Kingsley names: iPatch and Nesbit. Trust me, I have no idea where he comes up with them. They will be given proper names very soon hopefully before the other names start to stick!

Here is a little video of kitten play time while it is torrentially pouring with rain outside...which I happened to get stuck in and totally drenched (even with umbrella) while walking back from the train on my way home from work. At least it wasn't snow!

Cell Phone Lady on the Bus

I recently had yet another shocking public transportation encounter. The typical etiquette while on public transport goes something like this:

No Eating or Drinking - $500 fine
No Durian - $ 500 fine
No Horsing around - possibly a cane(able) offense
No Eye contact with anyone - social etiquette - unless they are breaking one of the other rules.
Everyone is quiet - most important rule of all!

(side note- babies and children are exempt from all of the above rules except Durian of course)

If one must speak on the phone or to the person next to them it is in hushed tones. If the conversations do occur then it is highly encourage to cover ones mouth with ones hand while speaking (I guess that is so no lip reading occurs??). If anyone ever starts pushing the boundaries with a noisy giggle or a boisterous greeting to a friend they are immediately given the passive-aggressive Singaporean stare. Typically once they get "the look" people shape up pretty quickly. In fact I have never seen ANYONE ever ignore "that look" from another passenger. That is until I had the unfortunate encounter with cell phone lady on the bus.

The trouble began when "cell phone lady's" cell phone rang (at max volume) with a bus full of passengers, a big no no. As her phone continued its piercing ring she began to slowly search through her purse to find it. After what felt like an eternity she finally found the stupid phone and proceeded to answer it in probably the loudest Singaporean female voice I have ever heard. That's when she started getting "the look" from almost everyone on the bus (including myself). Shockingly the stares didn't work to shame her into ending the call. She just kept haughtily staring back at people and yapping into her phone. I (possibly because I was the only non-Asia or more likely because I was the one with the most aggressive stare) stood out to her and midway through her epic phone call she locked her beady eyes on me and refused to look away. For whatever reason I was in no mood to be messed with that day, so a staring...ok more like glaring competition began. Thankfully I was able to catch some of her phone call on video before all of my concentration was needed to stare her down. I am happy to report she finally did break eye contact and hang up her phone. Sadly, I am still unsure if I can actually claim a victory or if the phone call naturally ended on its own.

Video: please note the woman sitting next to cell phone lady is giving her "the look" and cell phone lady's bold refusal to end the call.

Vietnam - Mui Ne - New Years Eve

Went out for a fun dinner on New Years eve, where our waitress taught us how to say happy new year in Vietnamese and we got to watch Chinese lion dancing which was great.

After dinner we went to Sankara which is, by far, the most happening spot in all of Mui Ne. By some strange accident we were given seats at a table right in the middle of the action (all of the tables were reserved days in advance). After a fun countdown to the New Year everyone moved to the beach where a large bonfire was going. There were lots of "surfer dudes" dancing pretty close to the fire so I was little worried I may be called on to treat a few burns. Thankfully nothing major happened.

Vietnam - Mui Ne - Kiteboarding

John and Kingsley spent about 4 or 5 days taking Kiteboarding lessons and then had a few days of practice on their own. Both got the hang of it towards the end. It was really fun to watch. I seriously contemplated doing some lessons but two things turned me off. Number one - there were LOTS of jelly fish in the water. In fact, John was stung twice and Kingsley once - not my idea of fun! Number two - I heard from multiple people that this was one of the hardest spots to learn kiteboarding as the water is deep and the waves are choppy. Both Kingsley and John were pretty beat up at the end of each day, so I wisely decided to sit this one out! :)

The boys checking out the wind conditions and the kiteboarding competition on day one of lessons.

Still smiling at the end of day two!

This was a great day as Kingsley was put in a pink lifevest for his lessons. Had I known pink was an option earlier I would have gladly paid extra to make sure he got that color everyday!

Kingsley with his kiteboarding instructor Oliver who was from Germany.

There were TONs of kites on the water. Some days as many as 300 or 400 kites, which was reason number 3 why I did not do lessons!

Here I am keeping an eye on all the action from my comfy spot on a beach chair.

John after jellyfish sting # 1

Vietnam - Mui Ne - Sand Dunes

Just outside of Mui Ne there are huge red sand dunes so we went to check them out. My favorite part was sliding down the dunes. For 30,000 Dong ($1.54) I was given a sliding board and my own 10 year old dune sliding specialist. She found the best angle for me to slide down the dune to get the best momentum. Then she set me up on the slide, molding me into the perfect position for maximum speed. With a slight push I was off down the dune laughing so hard I nearly fell off my sliding board which did not impress my little dune connoisseur. With a cluck of her tongue she grabbed my hand and pulled me back to the top of the dune for round two. I managed much better the second time around.

Vietnam - Mui Ne

On our last night in Ho Chi Minh we met up with our good friend John Hawk. He came to join us for the kiteboarding part of the trip. Early the next morning a car arrived to take us to Mui Ne, about a 4.5 hour drive north from Ho Chi Minh. Its one of those crazy drives with the entire road having only 2 lanes which somehow transforms to 3 or 4 lanes when the driver deems it necessary.
Kingsley and John, finally in Mui Ne and gearing up for a week of kiteboarding lessons!

Our hotel room - at the Sui Tien Mui Ne resort

View from our hotel room

It was great exploring Mui Ne. Interestingly there were tons of Russian tourist in Mui Ne. They tended to stick to the South end of the beach. In fact the restaurants and hotels in that area would often only have menus and signs in Russian. There were also lots of kiteboarders from all over the world, specifically quite a few from Germany. On several of the days we were there there were 300-400 kites on out on the water.
Some of our favorite restaurants were:
Sankara- drinks/dessert
La Paillotte- French/pizzas
Hoang Vu- BBQ Seafood

Vietnam - Ho Chi Minh

After Hanoi we flew south to Ho Chi Minh also known as Saigon. Evidently the older population still call it Saigon but the younger people call it Ho Chi Minh. It was nice to see the capital but we were not super crazy about the place. Its a big chaotic city which isn't really where we love to spend a lot of time.
Tons of motorcycles on the roads, from what I could tell the driving is utter chaos mixed with a complex system of organized horn honking and somehow it works...most of the time.

Little guy sitting alone on a motorcycle at 11pm at night.

Everyone sits on these tiny stools at these mini tables on the side of the road to eat lunch and dinner.

This is one of the saddest things I think I have ever seen. These poor dogs were so crammed into these cages it was terrible. The worst part is that according to our driver they were on their way to the butcher shop. This kind of stuff just breaks my heart.

Although it was great to explore Ho Chi Minh, we were happy to head up to the relaxing beach town of Mui Ne.

Vietnam - Hanoi

Next stop of our trip was a few days in Hanoi which is the location of the old capital of Vietnam. We stayed at this great boutique hotel called the Hanoi Elegance Ruby hotel. The room was $45/night but the service and staff were 5 star quality. We were very impressed.

Little guy hanging out in a wedding dress shop

A few girlfriends meet for lunch on the corner of a busy street

This snake tonic is suppose to give you good health if you drink it...I now have all my Christmas gifts lined up for next year!

Some interesting things about Hanoi - we saw a lot more open displays of communism. Lots of sickle and hammer flags hanging in stores and homes. This shop was selling all sorts of communist propaganda. We even saw communist "stubby holders"!

A typical street in Hanoi- motorcycles driving everywhere and parked everywhere. The sidewalks were typically used as makeshift restaurants so most of the time we were dodging motorcycles and cars as we walked down the street.

Kingsley and I on some bridge that leads to a buddhist temple. Most Vietnamese people say they are buddhist.
Last thing we did was visit the Ho Loa Prison also famously known as the Hanoi Hilton. It use to be a prison where the french kept communist leaders. During the war with America the prison was used to hold POW including John McCain. Please note on the sign above that "no frolicking is allowed during the visit"

Vietnam - Halong Bay- Christmas Day

Christmas day we woke up early and went for hike on one of the islands and explored the Thien Canh Son cave. This cave use to have 9 families living in it. The families are now living in a floating fishing village. They chose to move to a larger village so their children would have access to an education.

The crew from the boat put a Christmas tree up in the cave for us.

Vietnam - Halong Bay- Christmas Eve

We were on the boat for Christmas eve and Christmas day. For Christmas eve the chefs on the boat made these amazing table decorations that were served with each course of our dinner.
Here are a few of my favorites:

Santa arrived by dingy at midnight bringing some small gifts for everyone on board.

Then we sat around and sang Christmas carols and Kingsley and I tried to remember our dance for our wedding song. We were a little rusty.