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Archive for September, 2012

So, finally an update since I last landed in Aberdeen. After multiple trips to ASDA, I finally managed to settle in for the two days before I was whisked along with two of my flatmates on a day trip out to explore the area. They had their hearts set on visiting Dunnottar Castle and so, with a bit of digging around the internets for some information, we set off on a pretty sunny Saturday afternoon towards the bus station.

Dunnottar Castle can be reached by jumping on a number 7 or X7 (express) bus to Stonehaven. We got onto the bus, climbed up to the top and watched the gorgeous view of the land unfurl in front of us. It was a pretty pleasant bus ride that took us through Porthlethen. The bus took us along the coastline where we passed by a sprawling golf course by the sea. It was a beautiful course… but having to deal with the winds, I would imagine it’ll get pretty frustrating really quickly. When we finally arrived at the bus stop at Stonehaven however, there was one small detail that we forgot to think about.

Maps and directions.

And the fact that we didn’t know where the tourist information office was hurt our chances quite a bit. With a bit of ambling about in the general direction of where we thought the castle was (the picture showed it on a cliff, we presumed that it’ll be close to the water), I finally stopped a nice older woman and asked for directions.

On the website for the castle, it said that the castle entrance was located 5min away from the bus stop… and that the castle itself was located about a 15min walk away. Unless the path was still under construction, this was simply NOT TRUE. We trekked our way up and found little yellow signs that pointed us towards the castle. It took us through the little back roads of farms, another long road that also bordered more farms, and all this time, we saw not a single inkling or spec of anything that would resemble the castle.

But, we persevered and hoped that somewhere along the way, the road would end and we’ll finally arrive at our destination (because being lost in a bunch of farms with not a car in sight is a scary thing).

When we finally came to the main entrance, we collapsed in relief… and saw that there was still a bit of a trek towards the castle as it was located on one of two hills.

The trek down towards the castle

To be fair, the trek wasn’t all that bad but having sprained/pulled some sort of muscle in my foot, walking was starting to become increasingly difficult to bear. I limped along behind my flatmates as they ‘ooh-ed’ and ‘aah-ed’ at the scenery. The day was turning out just gorgeous and the greens and blues in the landscape really popped out. So here’s a few pictures from Dunnottar Castle and its surrounding areas for you to appreciate.

View of the sea

One of my flatmates saw a small narrow path going up towards a crevice in the rocks and we decided to climb it. We were rewarded with this view of the beach beneath the castle.

The same beach but viewed from one of the small windows in the castle itself.

The smithy in the large courtyard. Half of the chimney is still intact.

The AMAZING weather we got when we went up.

More of the gorgeous cliffs that surrounded the castle.

A restored drawing room within the castle. I want a room like this.

A view of the castle from the other hill/cliff side

It wasn’t until we were walking back looking for a place for some lunch that we found the tourism information office. When we asked where would be a great place for lunch, she directed us towards the harbour. So, we walked along the coast and the beaches that surrounded the town towards the habour. Considering how beautiful of a Saturday it was, there were LOADS of people about.

The beach at Stonehaven

Instead of eating at the few pubs that were crammed full of people, we opted for a small little cafe tucked away into a neighbourhood. It was a cosy little place where the staff were very friendly and welcoming and the food was filling and did not break the my wallet. After that, we caught the same bus back home to Aberdeen.

All in all, I would definitely visit Dunnottar Castle again. The ruins has its charms and I don’t think I have ever been in a castle with quite so many little secret holes that we could poke our heads into yet.

~JGM

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Right. So, I have to admit: I haven’t started bawling my eyes out yet. That could mean two things.

One: I’m still in shock and everything isn’t real.

Two: It’s not that bad that I should shed that much tears.

To be fair, I did get teary eyed as I walked through those gates and turned back to see the retreating backs of my family, friend, and boyfriend. But that didn’t last long as I had to turn back and face the straight faces of the security customs officer. Whatever I felt in that brief moment was short lived when faced with his solemn face and being asked if I could please remove my laptop from its bag.

The day started out boring enough. After a flurry of activity the night before in trying to pack (alright, so I packed the night before… and forgot a bunch of stuff), I woke up to a sunny Vancouver September day with clear skies. When I finally managed to roll out of bed and jump into the shower before packing some last minute stuff, my dad came back with my travel insurance that I had forgotten about until the night before (midnight exactly). After checking and rechecking everything, we went for an early lunch at a Chinese restaurant in Coquitlam called Rainbow Butterfly for some dim sum that would probably be the last one for me for a while.

Being stuffed full of food, we headed back and I finally loaded my life for the next two or three years in two pieces of luggage into the car. After saying goodbye to my younger sister, we headed off.

It was an amusing enough car ride and the hour or so to the airport flew by. I learned a bit more about my other family in Singapore and was really, really glad and grateful that I ended up with the type of parents that I do. Some of my aunts are INSANE in that, wow I’m glad I’m not your daughter sort of way. Since I immigrated to Canada when I was really young, I wasn’t all that close to any of my cousins and the whole ride has made me feel a bit more grounded.

We reached the airport around 2pm and I went through the check in process fairly quickly as there was no line. Then, my friend and my boyfriend turned up.

I got a really cute handmade going away present from my friend. By cute, I also mean, just a little soul-sucking scary.

She also wrote me a letter that I was supposed to read on the plane. And it was complete with drawings of pictures that I’m going to miss during my time there. Not sure if it was sweet or if she was subconsciously trying to torture me.

I also made a little photo scrapbook for my boyfriend so that he wouldn’t feel so upset with me leaving. He was surprised and a little upset because he didn’t having anything to give me in return. That was utter nonsense since a few days before, he had given me a bracelet.

It was an old, tattered, red and black friendship style bracelet. He got that and a green one when he was travelling around in Thailand from a kid who made it for him. The two were his prized possessions and meant quite a bit to him. When he gave me one, I was almost afraid to take it from him. It felt like the weight of our relationship rested on me not losing this bracelet.

And I lose things all the time.

I have started tugging the knot tighter just in case the thing slipped off my wrist without me realizing it.

But I digress.

Having gotten there early and with about two hours to kill before I had to be at the gate, we sat down at the Starbucks and had some tea and coffee. I was really relieved that everybody got on well and that it wasn’t awkward despite the slight language barrier between my parents and my boyfriend.

But the hour was up pretty quickly and it was in a daze that I half-stumbled and half-shuffled towards the security point. We all said our goodbyes. I gave them all hugs and my boyfriend gave me hugs and kisses. We had a quick little moment and I remember not being able to look him in the eyes because I didn’t want to start crying then and there. That he kissed me in front of my parents was… well a pretty big deal. That they were not completely repulsed by the action… that was also a pretty big deal.

So I guess, in a way, the me leaving did have a pretty amazing outcome.

Then it was through the gates, more hellos and goodbyes to former coworkers working at the duty free stores in the International terminal of YVR, through to the gate and then, there I was. Sitting in a large seat with plenty of leg room in business class, looking out the window of a plane that was ready to take off.

I am definitely going to miss Vancouver. As we took off, we flew over the mountains of British Columbia and as I looked down, the jagged landscape were filled with small, probably unknown, glacial lakes deep in forested wilderness. I got teary eyed again looking over the landscape.

I think the next time I’m around in the summer, I’m going to try and discover one of those small glacial lakes to the north.

My dad surprised me with a one way business class ticket when he exchanged his flight points.

There’s a few things they don’t tell you about flying Business class. Or at least, not to a common pleb like me who mostly fly in economy class.

First of all, you get to choose your food. From an actual menu with choices that didn’t just involve what type of meat you’d like. I got three choices each for an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert. There was also a larger wine list that wasn’t the standard “Red” or “White” choices. I as a bit disappointed that I didn’t go full out on the menu since I was still stuffed and getting queasy from lunch and the giant thing of tea from before I got on the plane. I had a fairly light dinner that started with a nice salad, an alright if not a bit dry mushroom and asparagus linguine, and finished it off with a hazelnut cake with fresh chopped up mangoes on the side. They even gave me a pack of yoghurt chocolate that my seatmate would not stop going on about how much I would love them (he even asked for more to take with him).

Second of all, remember those annoying plastic cutlery, cups and plates when you fly? I got food served on actual plates with actual metal utensils. I was so surprised! And just like in a restaurant, every course was served plate by plate. First the appetizer came and once finished, was taken away. There was a bit of a small waiting period for digestion before they bring out the entrees and so on with the dessert. It was an actual delight and I was upset that I wasn’t hungrier. I’d felt it would’ve been a waste of food to just poke at it before giving it back, hardly eaten.

First Class and Business Class was not all that different from each other. The main difference it seems, aside from the larger seat, was the privacy. In first class, you had a seat all to yourself and did not have to converse with the person next to you. In business class, there were two seats next to each other. I was lucky enough that my seatmate was a nice old man that, despite flying in business class, was not pretentious in the least bit. Especially since there was a woman who sat across the row who ordered wine after wine before asking the flight attendant (just about the nicest and most patient German man I’ve met) what wine he’d recommend before boasting about how she had to pour out bottles of wine from France because it wasn’t up to her standards. I was so glad I wasn’t sitting next to her or it would’ve driven me insane.

His name was David and he told me he was a diamond dealer, hence the crazy shiny adornment of diamonds on his ring and watch. He was originally from London but moved to Vancouver when he was younger and have lived there ever since. He was 70 years of age though he looked younger than that and was going back to visit family. All in all, I couldn’t ask to be seated next to a nicer man. I think the age has mellowed him out quite a bit. We spoke briefly about our plans and made other small chit chat and while we didn’t speak much, it wasn’t an uncomfortable silence that we sat in. Compared to most of the other passengers where social interaction seemed stilted and limited, he was absolutely lively despite his age.

Of course, me being the younger one, I helped him a bit with moving things or calling the flight attendants when he needed something and it seemed like he was grateful for that. When the plane landed, we exchanged names and went our separate ways. Him to London, and me, to wait four hours for my next connecting flight.

The wait was uneventful as was the flight to Aberdeen. I sat in the business class cabin which consisted of twelve seats in the front. There were nobody else with me except for a guy dressed in baggy jeans and a hoodie. Having not slept for the 9 1/2 hour journey, I snoozed for the two hour flight over. When we landed, i felt a bit more rested and a bit less sleep deprived.

I got directions to the school to pick up my keys and got into a cab with the coolest cab driver ever. His name was Scot and for the whole ride there, we talked about Canada, mountain biking, outdoor sports, cycling, Whistler, and Americans. He made the whole ordeal of picking up my keys to moving to my new home for the next year incredibly pleasant so I gave him a massive tip on top of it.

But after weeks or procrastinating and stress, I was finally here in Aberdeen, Scotland.

~JGM

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So, recently, I went to the Richmond Night Market.

Those from Vancouver would already know this but for those who are thinking of visiting, the Richmond Night Market is a large Asian summer market which occurs every year running from usually May to October in the City of Richmond. It imitates the street markets seen all around Asia and is a great and fun place to hang out and to get some pretty cheap Asian goods (mostly because there’s no tax! And boy, do Vancouverites get fleeced with tax!).

In any case, the group of us were hanging around in the City of Richmond before the market opened (usually 7pm from Friday to Sunday) and we walked past a really famous fountain just outside the President Plaza.

For those unfamiliar, this is what it looks like.

And of course, having been pumped full of sugar…

To clarify, yes, that is a fish spitting water into a dolphin’s mouth. It’s quite possibly the weirdest fountain ever. What did they smoke when they thought this was a good idea?

We managed to get to the night market in one piece. It was packed, as usual despite having only just opened at around 7pm. We walked in and the first things that we always head for are the food stalls. There are four long rows of stalls offering just about any cuisine you can think of. Korean fast food, Taiwanese fast food, Chinese dim sum on a stick, candied fruits, etc. Here’s a few photos so that you’ll have an idea of what is offered there.

A general idea of what it looks like

A popular favourite, potato that has been cut into a spiral and skewered on a stick before being deep fried in oil and dipped in your favourite flavours. The chart is there to helpfully suggest
what else you could do with their “Rotato”.

Deep fried cheesecake with strawberries.

The same place that deep fried your cheesecake also offered this Chuck Norris approved product.

One of the food stalls even offered roast pork hock!

In any case, one of other reasons why I go is for the socks. Yes, I know, socks are a dime a dozen anywhere but I really, really, really like Korean manufactured socks and I go every year to the night market to stock up on socks for the year. A lot of people make fun of me for it, but you know what… erm… I really, really like socks? I also love stationery, especially those manufactured in Korea. I’m a bit of an addict but I’m also a big fan of fine tips (as in pen tips). It’s mostly the Japanese and Korean brands that have manufactured pens with a 0.38mm tip. So here’s a photo of my swag.

Would you believe that I got all that for less than $30CAD in Vancouver (voted the most expensive place to live in Canada)?

On another note, I had a surprise when I ran into a close friend of mine. Turned out he was working at one of the booths selling Pandora-style charm bracelets for a friend of his. Seeing that they had a Canadian flag charm, I figured I might as well roll my sleeves and get a bit into the patriotic mood before I leave and get a bracelet made. After quite a bit of fussing about with which five charms I want, I finally made a decision and reached for my wallet.

“Put that away,” he told me and I stared at him.

“But… you’re broke!”

“That’s why I’m working here.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, it’ll be a farewell gift from me to you.”

I gave him a really big hug afterwards and started tearing up right then and there. It was hard to say goodbye (for now) to him. I’m pretty sure I’ll be sporting this bracelet for longer than I originally thought I would.

Counting down: Four more days to take off.

~JGM

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