“We were traveling to Thailand from India, and the airport ended up in a military lockdown on New Year’s Day.
“It took hours and hours; we were so relieved when we finally got out of there and safely into Bangkok. Our stress levels instantly decreased; everyone was very polite and calm. Compared to the noisy hustle and bustle of India, Bangkok was very peaceful.
“We had an apartment in an out-of-the-way part of the city where the streets just went on and on. It was very easy to get lost. The sex districts are obviously famous there, and we did everything we could to avoid it and stay out of those sections. It was unavoidable though, and it turned out that the places where the working girls would go to eat late at night had the absolute best food. They were these little places that tourists would never know about or go to, and they incorporated cuisine from all over Thailand; not just your standard Pad Thai and the like. There were these duck egg yolk based desserts that used a simple syrup perfumed with incense. It was phenomenal.
“We were such bad tourists. We got into a routine of first trying to find a caffeinated beverage. While everyone went about checking out the beautiful ancient temples, we went in search of new markets down small alleys, or got lost trying to find an interesting vendor. We would try and get as lost as possible and find as many out of the way places as possible, and sometimes we failed miserably in our search. The watermelon there was the best in the world, and the fruit vendors were fantastic. A lot of the fish there were unnamed; the cooks would just know what to do to them based on experience. We always ate fish caught that afternoon and it was gorgeous. They would ask us at nine in the morning what we wanted for dinner that night, get on their boats and catch it. It was just a beautiful place with endless food to discover.
“From there, it was on to Malaysia and Singapore. It was the week leading up to Chinese New Year and the town of Penang was deep in preparation. It looked like something out of L.A. in the 1940s and 50s. There was a lot of art deco decoration and architecture along with beautiful colors of turquoise and coral. It was astonishing how much Chinese influence is there, considering its location between Thailand and Indonesia. The people there actually speak about five languages since there are so many influences from around Asia. It really is a melting pot.
“As part of the New Year, there is a tradition of giving a meat dish called bak kwa, which is like a meat jerky. The meat is ground and mixed with sugar and spices into a paste and cut into very thin squares. After the meat mixture was dried out on bamboo mats on the sidewalk, the men would smoke or grill it, and then stack it in piles and tie them up with bows. In the main parts of the city, we saw people just lining up to get it, but it was much more interesting to see the grandmas and grandpas in the smaller alleys giving it out to their loved ones and friends. That is what I loved most about traveling in Asia: finding those hidden gems of life and love.”