๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฉ Asia Trip 2019 ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ผ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ท

Thursday, April 11, 2019 :: Tagged under: pablolife. โฐ 16 minutes.

Hey! Thanks for reading! Just a reminder that I wrote this some years ago, and may have much more complicated feelings about this topic than I did when I wrote it. Happy to elaborate, feel free to reach out to me! ๐Ÿ˜„

๐ŸŽต The song for this post is Roar, by Treat. I will buy a ๐Ÿบ, no matter how challenging logistically, for anyone who can state why I chose this song for this post. ๐ŸŽต

I just took a trip to Asia where I visited 4 countries. It's been a while since I've done anything like this, and I had a great time!

I'll start with high-level feelings/observations, then go over the What in the photos at the bottom of each section. You can skip to any of the legs with the links below:

Singapore ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ

๐Ÿ“… 2019-03-18 โ†’ 2019-03-21
Pablo, Karen, and Saurya

The Big Reason for this trip, in my mind, was to visit my bestie Saurya. We lived together in college and it's one of the most lasting and fulfilling friendships I've ever had. While Karen and I made a bigger trip of it, we started here because I missed my boy.

Control structures (like governments) are either top-down, mandating the shape and growth of their subjects (e.g. government comes up with a tree policy, then plants or uproots trees to fit it) or they're bottom-up (government observes the trees already in-place, and comes up with a tree policy based to suit that). It's a bit like how Google used to map the Internet as an emergent phenomena, but now the Internet shapes itself to please Google.

In this way, my main reaction to Singapore was observing it as one of the most top-down states I've ever experienced. I saw exactly one dog and zero panhandlers. Every public utility had clean bathrooms. Exactly one person (a barista) had any traditionally countercultural markings (colored hair and gauged ear piercings). It's cleanliness made it look like a movie set for "modern city in the 21st century," rather than what I know those cities to actually look like. For almost everything I asked "why is it like this?", I could produce an answer along "the government wanted it that way (probably to be friendly to Western and Eastern businesses)".

(this could all be confirmation bias: besides its reputation, when our plane landed they prime your reactions by reminding you that carrying illicit drugs carries a mandatory death sentence)

All told, for a certain type of person: it works! If you have money and are okay spending it, it looks like a fine place to be. I just feel funny when things seem too orderly or clean.


It hurt my brain a bit to do too many price calculations: things were either more expensive than I felt great paying (cocktails, fancy food, some attractions, one of the hotels we stayed at) but others far less (non-fancy food, the other hotel we stayed at, transporation costs).

  • Pablo and Karen on a flight, smiling. Click for full-size image.

    Aboard our first flight, on Etihad Airlines. It was NYC โ†’ Abu Dhabi, then Abu Dhabi โ†’ Singapore.

  • Pablo and Karen selfie on a rooftop rimless pool. Click for full-size image.

    We splurged on the first day to stay a night in one of Singapore's premier hotels with a fancy rimless pool.

  • Glowing cube that says 'Please leave me alone. I am charging.' Click for full-size image.

    We visited the ArtScience museum on the first day, namely, the FUTURE WORLD exhibit. They had these interactive cubes and I thought this was a cute label.

  • Karen and another tourist mesmerized by LED strips + mirrors.. Click for full-size image.

    Another shot at FUTURE WORLD, starring Karen.

  • A reasonably busy Hawker Center. Click for full-size image.

    Our first hawker center, a great dinner for the first night.

  • Story of two suitcases: Karen's spilling its guts, Pablo's orderly. Click for full-size image.

    Dating Karen is somewhat marvelous because it makes me seem like an organized, neat person. We laughed at this and decided to photograph it.

  • A creepy and eerie large fish. Click for full-size image.

    We visited River Safari, the major wildlife park dedicated to freshwater life. A friend who works with these parks tells us this is the least popular park, because people are Wrong. I love marine life and had a hell of a time here.

  • Gaping mouth fish. Click for full-size image.

    Another totally normal, exemplary specimen of animal life on Earth.

  • An adorable mara. Click for full-size image.


  • A great, hearty-looking eel. Click for full-size image.

    Eels, man.

  • A multicolored lory on Pablo's shoulder. Click for full-size image.

    I'll limit this to one photo of Jurong bird park, but know it was fantastic. This was in their Lory Loft, a lory that took a liking to me.

  • A spread with stingray, 'carrot cake', fried oysters, and fried chicken wings. Click for full-size image.

    We went to another hawker center, the one with a Michelin star, which was mad overpriced, don't buy it. Get this stuff instead: stingray, 'carrot cake,' fried oysters, and chicken wings.

Bali (Indonesia โ€” Kuta and Ubud) ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฉ

๐Ÿ“… 2019-03-21 โ†’ 2019-03-24
Pablo and Karen

Bali came next. While it's world-famous, we went in large part at the suggestion of a friend of ours. A few life events were timed to hit Karen and I around this time (notice that we're buying a house and Karen is changing jobs?); our friend suggested "just take a break from working for 6 months and live as expats in Bali." We didn't end up doing that, but we did visit on this trip. Saurya didn't come with us, so this leg was Karen + Pablo.

Bali reminded me a lot of Guatemala: infrastructure on a comparable level, a healthy tourist economy, the dollar going pretty far, delicious climate, and exceptionally friendly people. The food was obviously amazing, I feel this is in part because its ingredients seem fresher; when you eat fruit in Guatemala it often feels sweeter, and the flesh meatier. I'm no expert, and again, this could be confirmation bias, but I had a similar experience here.

We spent our first night in Kuta, which is famous for its nightlife. Trouble is, we were still jetlagged, and couldn't stay awake past 10:00PM. It was a lovely day and a half, but I can't say we had the experience people suggested. We went to Ubud next, where we'd spend the majority of our trip.

I had a lot of fun, but candidly, Bali was my least favorite leg in the trip. Virtually all the Balinese people we saw or interacted with were in the service of tourists like us. Many of the people we saw, total (40%? 50%?), were tourists like us. This led to a dynamic where I didn't feel like we were visitors observing communities of others living their lives, it felt more like there was a buffet going on, and it was unclear if they had offered us a buffet of simulacrum attractions/entertainment for us to sample, or if we were a dish in a buffet of tourists for them to pluck at.

Everyone was friendly! But, every interaction was transactional! I felt a bit like a money piรฑata, with most interactions trying to work me. To be clear: I had a great time. And I absolutely don't judge countries for maximizing revenue from tourists (get that bread!). I just don't feel like it gets me what I want when I travel. I expect we'll go back some day, and I suspect we'll do a bit more research to avoid the tourist loop we hit this time.

  • Photo of nasi goreng with a fried egg on top. Click for full-size image.

    This sampler plate based around fried rice wasโ€ฆ exceptional.

  • A fountain sculpture looking like little buildings. Click for full-size image.

    A sculpture in our first hotel, in a fountain. Pretty beautiful.

  • Karen, Pablo, and a monkey. Click for full-size image.

    Karen and I with our new friend in the Monkey Forest in Ubud.

  • Karen with the forest behind her. Click for full-size image.

    I like this photo of Karen.

  • A sign imploring others. Click for full-size image.

    This was cute. I read a lot of Uber's issues with internationalization with interest (apparently it's a lot like NYC's soft-serve turf wars, settled with baseball bats). While I'm conflicted about ridesharing, I really missed Go-Jek in Ubud; there wasn't much sidewalk to walk long distances, and getting a cab was a miserable, price-gouging experience.

  • Dance performance with fire at the Ubud Palace. Click for full-size image.

    We went to a cultural dance presentation, which was great! That said, we were asked to be ready at 4:00 with a return time of 9:00, then spent most of that time being ferried around shops the operator had relationships with. The dance performance turned out to be 1 hour long.

  • A chicken curry soup and some chicken dumplings. Click for full-size image.

    Our last meal there, and one of the ones I enjoyed the most.

Taiwan (Taipei) ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ผ

๐Ÿ“… 2019-03-25 โ†’ 2019-03-28
Pablo and Saurya

Karen went back to the States at this point, only taking a week off. Saurya's spent a lot of his 4 years in Singapore traveling through Asia, but never Taiwan, so we visited together. So this was Saurya + Pablo.

I loved Taiwan. It's hard to separate the city itself with having 4 days of quality time with a best friend you haven't seen for years, especially considering how well our travel styles meshed (e.g. I love to walk, we walked 16 miles on our first day). This nourished me in a way I deeply, deeply needed.

Taipei seemed like a "just right"-sized city: one thing I loved about SF was how walkable it was, and Taipei was large enough to have a lot of everything without being a metropolis that makes you feel insignificant. The weather was my favorite of any of the cities I visited, literally everything I ate there was delicious and criminally affordable. I ate more dumplings in those four days than I've eaten in the last 5 years and I'M NOT DONE.

Our days often involved going to walking trail cultural attractions, and our nights (thanks to a lack of open container laws) often looked like:

After Bali, the main change I observed was that Saurya and I were maybe half the foreigners I saw for the entire trip. This gave exploration a very different vibe: it felt more like we were in a living, breathing place independent from our experiences, rather than having our foreigner experiences centered.

  • A bitten-into scallion pancake. Click for full-size image.

    Our first conquest: street-side scallion pancake. Warm, delicious, and the start of a very happy trip for my tongue and tummy.

  • Saurya and I posing in front of the Taipei 101 tower. Click for full-size image.

    "Come to the Taipei 101 in the next 4 days for a free ass-kicking."

  • A Buddhist sculpture with a very expressive smile. Click for full-size image.

    I absolutely love the expressiveness of Buddhist sculptures.

  • A Buddhist sculpture with a very expressive scowl. Click for full-size image.
  • A Buddhist sculpture with an almost threatening sneer. Click for full-size image.
  • A Buddhist sculpture with a look of triumph. Click for full-size image.
  • Cheap sesame noodles. Click for full-size image.

    These sesame noodles, for about $1.75, were unassuming and UNBELIEVABLE.

  • Spicy beef noodles and Saurya. Click for full-size image.

    Saurya posing around a bowl of spicy beef noodles.

  • Two massive bowls of shaved ice. Click for full-size image.

    You might not know it from looking, but this is flavored shaved ice. It looks massive! Because it is. But it's also mostly ice, so it goes down pretty easily.

  • Street-vendor crystal pancakes. Click for full-size image.

    A street vendor selling "Crystal Pancakes." These are tiny, stuffed pancakes that could be savory (I tried Curry, and Mushroom) or sweet (Vanilla Custard). Saurya and I will retire from tech and run adjacent, rival stalls: his will be scallion pancakes, mine will be these. We'll be therapy for all the townfolk who become regulars.

  • Sesame noodles and dumpling hot and sour soup. Click for full-size image.

    Another fantastic meal. Sesame noodles (warmer, thicker) and dumplings in hot and sour soup. I think of this meal a lot.

  • A cup of flour noodles. Click for full-size image.

    This was Ay-Chung Flour Rice Noodle. It was (wait for it) delicious, and one of the more novel things I tasted, slightly fishy, but spicy and perfect.

  • Stinky tofu vendor. Click for full-size image.

    I'd never had stinky tofu before, and in waiting in line for it, I can confirm it lives up to the promise. That smell followed me everywhereโ€ฆ

  • Our bowl of stinky tofu. Click for full-size image.

    โ€ฆ and it was great. I was pretty full on food at that point, but had a taste; it goes excellently with the pickled cabbage and takes to frying well.

  • A sign with a happy-looking frog that says 'WOW! Frog eggs!' Click for full-size image.

    These mean "boba bubbles," but I just love the sign.

  • Flavored mochi with shaved ice. Click for full-size image.

    Flavored mochi with shaved ice.

  • Saurya posing with the mochi. Click for full-size image.

    A open question of our friendship is why Saurya, the larger friend, does not merely eat the remaining friend?

  • A tiny cake shaped like a dog paw. Click for full-size image.

    Like the crystal pancakes, these were stuffed with various fillings, and had a slightly different texture. One of my favorite desserts.

  • Scallion pancake with stuffing. Click for full-size image.

    This is another scallion pancake (these have been a fixture of our friendship for years, back when we'd indulge ourselves going to Apsara Palace in Rhode Island), stuffed with melted cheese and corn.

  • Saurya and I posing by a sign at the National Park advertising Qixing Main Peak, at 2.4km. Click for full-size image.

    The "before" photo, when we wanted to hike to the highest peak at the national park.

  • Smiling at the summit. Click for full-size image.

    The after photo, and one of my new favorite photos of me tbh. Appropriately, wearing a Celeste shirt (a game where you scale a mountain), though didn't plan it that way.

  • Beef noodle bowl. Click for full-size image.

    One more beef noodle. This one was spicy!

  • Pablo posing with a sign with a cartoon dude. Click for full-size image.

    We saw this guy everywhere. I came to like him. He sells bao, though I never bought any. Next time!

  • A delicious-looking donut. Click for full-size image.

    One of Saurya's friends who moved to Taiwan from the US said he missed "a great donut every now and then." I think he meant he missed Dunkin specifically, since we took this as a challenge and found Taiwanese donuts and found them satisfactory. This was a red bean donut, I think.

  • Two bowls, one with fried rice, the other with ramen. Click for full-size image.

    My final Taiwan meal. This was at the airport, made me sad to leave.

Korea (Seoul) ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ท

๐Ÿ“… 2019-03-28 โ†’ 2019-03-31
โ€ฆ Pablo โ€ฆ alone โ€ฆ

Korea blew me away. My biggest obstacle was that I didn't pack for cold. I walked around in the hoodie I packed and slowly froze while exploring the city.

(Karen, upon hearing this: "could you have bought a light coat, or heavier sweater while you were there?" Dear reader, I never thought to do this. I can't believe I'm allowed to drive)

Seoul is massive: I don't think the States has an equivalent city where we just sprawled and sprawled while maintaining a coherent whole (it may just be my bias for East Coast cities? Karen suggested LA, which seems correct. Seoul has over twice as many people though). The city it reminded me most of was Guatemala City, where we just kept expanding, and from the top of nearby volcanos you see several "city centers" for each of its districts, rather than a single big skyline.

Getting around reminded me most of my time in San Francisco: the bus + subway system is robust, and the T-Card system (one payment card for all transport, including taxis, readily available) made me pretty jealous. Broadly speaking, I group cities into "comfortable to own a car, shitty to be a pedestrian" vs. "comfortable to be a pedestrian, shitty to own a private car" and Seoul seemed to strike the best middle ground I've seen, where roads were wide and plentiful, while sidewalks and buses also had excellent space, attention, and resources.

(my druthers would be for private car ownership to be mad uncomfortable, but we can't always get what we want)

Like Taiwan, I felt less like a guided tourist, and more "fish in someone else's pond." Being here made me more motivated than I've felt in over a decade to learn a new language. I'll come back, knowing a lot more Korean.

The most surprising thing about this trip was my internal state traveling alone. Something that comes up a lot in therapy (and my conversations with Saurya!) is how I need to improve at recognizing or grounding my wants and needs. I'm often so eager to accomodate those around me, I avoid having to address myself. This is likely related to my household and upbringing: my brother and sister are also extremely conciliatory, and neither of us has taken a "bend the world to our will" style in our adult lives. It makes us pleasant to be around and good community members, but at its worst, it's a bit like Buster Bluth's "a Milford Man is neither seen nor heard."

This type of behavior is a crutch disguised as altruism: "Since it's for other people, I'm actually very generous!," conveniently freeing you of having to exercise any agency, or assume responsibility for outcomes. It's failure-minimizing instead of success-maximizing. It's a more pernicious "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Pablo: "I can't lose if I don't play!"

So when traveling alone, without much planning, or a set agenda, I had to pay attention toโ€ฆ me. It sounds silly, but this was frequently terrifying! It's like if you hedged your personal and professional happiness on how heavy a weight you could lift with your weakest muscle. You'd really prefer to use your beefy quads or something.

(this manifests in other areas of my life: I've rarely been single, and when I have been, I've been uncomfortable. My relationships often suffer from me not articulating my needs, then getting miserable when they're not met. It's not a great pattern.)

What all this feels like is alternatively anxiety-producing ("am I doing the right thing? what do I even want? do I just think I want these things? I'll be a failure if I don't DO THE RIGHT THING ALL THE TIME") and the most creative and inspired I get (excitement to learn Korean, inspiration to learn all those things I love again, delight at working according to my own schedule/needs).

So this leg of the trip was a success. Because I made it so ๐Ÿ˜Ž

  • A panorama photo overlooking Seoul. Click for full-size image.

    Panorama 1 of the summit I climbed at Bukhansan National Park.

  • Another beautiful panorama overlooking Seoul. Click for full-size image.

    Another panorama from Bukhansan.

  • Pablo by a sign for Munsubong (Peak). Click for full-size image.

    I just went to the highest peak I could find (and climb before the park closed lol). I think there were others, it's a huge park

  • Stalls at Gwangjang Market. Click for full-size image.

    I later walked through Gwangjang Market.

  • A stall with a ton of colorful Korean food. Click for full-size image.

    As you get closer to the center, you start to see more crowded, local foods.

  • A bite out of a honey pocket. Click for full-size image.


  • Another honey thing. Click for full-size image.


  • Market stall photo with candy upon candy upon candy. Click for full-size image.

    I will eat all of these one day.

  • soO's subway billboard. Click for full-size image.

    This requires some explanation. This StarCraft player (soO) famously reached the top tournament finals (which almost nobody ever achieves) and got second place. He did thisโ€ฆ six times. When he finally won, the Korean StarCraft 2 community crowdfunded this subway ad to celebrate his win. He plays Zerg because he's great, obviously.

  • The sign for the FreecUp studio, hosting the GSL. Click for full-size image.

    I went to see professional Korean StarCraft! I've been to tournaments in the States (2 MLGs and an IPL4) but was delighted to see Code S.

  • Some video of the event.

  • Pablo by the Gangnam subway station. Click for full-size image.


  • A full-on spread of bibimbap. Click for full-size image.

    Some bibimbap and sides. This is missing the seafood soup, the whole thing costs $7.

  • Seafood soup. Click for full-size image.

    There's the seafood soup.

  • Pablo in front of a Pump It Up machine. Click for full-size image.

    I went to an arcade later and played Pump It Up (like Dance Dance Revolution). I did fine kids, but the bottle of soju was critical

  • A sign for an 'Archery Cafe.' Click for full-size image.

    Come with me next time and we can go to the Archery Cafe.

  • Cheap dumplings and a bottle of soju. Click for full-size image.

    My final dinner there was 7-Eleven soju, vendor dumplings, and some ice cream (everything else had closed). It satisfied ๐Ÿ˜‹

Thanks for the read! Disagreed? Violent agreement!? Feel free to join my mailing list, drop me a line at , or leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you ๐Ÿ˜„