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NEW WEBSITE!

Thank you to EVERYONE who has supported me as a blogger during the past year and a half. Now, I have great news! I have officially moved my website to:
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www.twentyandcounting.com

Please update your bookmarks! I look forward to seeing you at my new website!

With gratitude,
Lauren L.

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STA Travel is having a contest to choose two people to travel around the world this summer and update their adventures with videos, pictures and blogs. This is something that i’d love to do…since I love to do it anyways! Please go to the following website and VOTE for me!

http://www.worldtravelerintern.com/member/lauren-lee/

Here’s my video that I created for the contest:

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If you’re looking for a fun and culturally enriching activity in Taipei, I absolutely recommend cooking classes from Jodie’s Kitchen.

Jodie opens her cute, quaint home in the hillside of Taipei for those yearning to learn the basics of authentic Chinese and Taiwanese cooking styles. However, don’t expect those typical cooking classes where everyone stands near their own stove and plays “follow the leader.” Rather, Jodie focuses on teaching her students the truest form of traditional cooking: using the core seasonings and ingredients to create the flavors that Chinese food is known for.

To me, flavor is what truly differentiates Chinese food from any other cuisine, and once you know how to mix and match the flavors and seasonings, you can create many dishes. Jodie teaches you how to create these flavors and sauces, which can be used for vegetables, grilled seafood, soups, and more. In one aspect, her cooking class requires you to put on your thinking cap. What should I add to this mixture to create a different tasting sauce? Chinese sauces are like layers. With each layer, there is a completely new and different taste.

The format of her class is simple. It usually lasts 4 hours, but that varies depending on if you have classes for multiple days, which she offers. My group of 11 paid $2,000 NT each – which is around $62 USD. It was well worth it because not only did I learn about sauces and dishes that I will definitely teach my family, but we ate delicious food!

Here is what our group cooked during the class. I’m sure this varies depending on the group.

Ginger and black sugar tea
Soft tofu with Taiwanese dressing
Cucumber with white sesame oil
Eggplant with ginger dressing
Sour and spicy soup

Jodie’s Kitchen
http://www.kitchen.j321.com/

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Kristina and Myself along the Sai Kung waterfront

Sai Kung, located in the New Territories, is a fishing village community tucked away from the big skyscrapers, shopping malls, and jam packed streets of Hong Kong. In fact, there is no nearby MTR station – once exiting the nearest stop, you must take the public light rail bus to get there. It’s a relaxing, peaceful getaway from the business of Hong Kong city life, and it’s not far away.

One you arrive, you’ll feel the quaint, small town feel.  You can stroll along the waterfront of Sai Kung Town (the “downtown” area) filled with seafood restaurants, boats lining the harbor, fishermen selling their freshly caught seafood, people walking their dogs, and much more. Many of the seafood restaurants on the waterfront are neat because you can pick your fresh seafood in the tanks, and they cook it for you!

What I like most about Sai Kung is that it is off the beaten path, and it is not as touristy as other waterfront areas such as Stanley Bay. Stanley Bay is very much catered to the tourist, and it is almost all European – in décor, layout of restaurants, people, etc. Sai Kung, on the other hand, is a rustic, gritty, traditional fishing village. You can truly feel the authenticity of Sai Kung. I would definitely recommend visiting Sai Kung for anyone visiting the area. You’ll experience a very different side to Hong Kong.

For more information, including transportation to Sai Kung, visit the following website: http://www.exploresaikung.com/

The following is a photo montage of my day in Sai Kung! Enjoy.

Riding the mini-bus to Sai Kung. We got off on MTR stop Choi Hung, and there is a direct mini-bus route to the waterfront/downtown area.

kristina in hk!!

On the way to Sai Kung!

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View of the waterfront (I am standing on the pier):

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Elderly women relaxing along the waterfront:

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Town square. Many restaurants are located around here as well:

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Fishermen in their boats sell their freshly caught seafood to people. They hoist it up!

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Another view of the ocean:

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One of the many seafood restaurants along the waterfront. Pick your freshly caught seafood, then they cook it for you!

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Interesting fact: The very first Honeymoon Desert (popular desert chain) is located in Sai Kung!

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Kristina and I at the original Honeymoon Dessert shop.

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Our desserts at Honeymoon

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Self Explanatory

treasureyouryouth

Thank you to my dear friend, Justine, for sending me this way.

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The view of the harbor in Hong Kong

The view of the harbor in Hong Kong

It’s been a little bit over one month since I bid farewell to the California sunshine, the overwhelming traffic on the freeways, and the eclectic mix of people, places and things in Los Angeles. In its place, I encounter the heat and humidity – mixed with typhoons and torrential downpours of rain, the daily usage of the MTR and taxis, and the swarms of people invading your space no matter if you like it or not. Although Hong Kong is a huge, bustling metropolitan city, it is a stark contrast to that of Los Angeles. But just as I love living in Los Angeles, I love living in Hong Kong also – but for different reasons. It’s truly a wonderful city filled with bright lights, vibrant energy and a unique culture.

With that said, from my short time here, there are many observations – cultural, societal – that I’ve come to understand. Living in a new city is completely different than visiting a city – a very personal and real experience.

People are extremely efficient
In America – or in California, at least – people live life at their own pace. Some do things in a scurry, others have the So Cal “laid back” vibe. But in Hong Kong, everyone is so efficient and things are done in the quickest, most productive way possible. This seems to save time, money and energy. For instance, when people walk – they walk with a purpose. In the MTR, people walk from one train to another train – and they look focused on their destination. No dilly dallying, they cut to the chase. We Americans – as i’ve noticed – walk slowly and “stroll” to the next destination.

Get used to the MSG, oil, and “others” in your food.
If you live in Hong Kong, you must get used to the massive amounts of oils and MSG included in your food. You can’t escape it – everything is soaked (or so it seems) in oil. When I first arrived, I had pounding headaches because of the food. However, you do get used to it because, well, you have no choice. In Los Angeles, people seem to be more and more health conscious and eat foods with very little oil, MSG, and extra “added” ingredients. You don’t see too many things drenched with oils. But here in Hong Kong, anything goes. (But I also assure you that the food is wonderful!)

A city that never sleeps?
Even at 11 p.m. at night, swarms of people fill the streets. Food vendors are selling their delicacies, tea houses have youngsters socializing, herds of people are shopping in every store. It’s easy to accidentally think it’s 6 in the evening when it’s close to midnight – that’s because people are still out wandering the streets! You will rarely see this in Los Angeles, New York or Japan. Maybe Las Vegas, but that’s a whole different story.

People are more conservative
In California, if you wear shorts, a tank top and sandals, it is normal. In Hong Kong, people will know you’re a foreigner. People here – and in most Asian countries – dress significantly more conservative than their Western counterparts. Almost all women cover their shoulders, and wear longer length shorts and pants. They tend to layer alot – layer shirts, sweaters, etc. People will stare at you if you’re dressed “revealing” – by their terms, that is. Also – people do NOT wear sandals. Those are considered “peasant,” so if you’re wearing sandals they also know that you’re most likely a foreigner. But in California, everyone wears Rainbow sandals – it’s a no brainer.

Transportation like no other place on earth
In Hong Kong, there are several forms of transportation: MTR (similar to a subway system), taxi, double decker bus, public light bus, double decker trams (the ONLY city in the world with this), ferry, and of course – walking. Where on earth do you have all of these options? New York – no. Tokyo – no. You can live in Hong Kong and never drive a car. It’s so simple and easy to get everywhere and anywhere in Hong Kong.

Pedestrians do not have the right-away
One important thing you must get used to is the fact that pedestrians do NOT have the right-away. Taxis and cars will not stop to let you walk across the street – even if it’s clear that you’re about to jolt across. Therefore, you must be safe, and always – i repeat ALWAYS – look both ways before crossing the street. The other day in Causeway Bay, a woman was hit by a car and was transported via ambulance to the hospital. Of course, there are few hit and runs because cars have nowhere to speed off to.

Be prepared for: heat, humidity, rainstorms and typhoons
The weather fluctuates a great deal here. It is generally hot and humid, but here and there a massive downpour of rain will occur – with a few lightning showers here and there. And be prepared for typhoons – there are three levels: 3, 8, 10. When it is level 8 or above, everything is shut down: no work, no transportation, no school, nothing. Everything is closed down.

Walk, Walk, Walk!
Sometimes I wonder why everyone is slim here in Hong Kong. It’s a city of non-stop eating: restaurants, tea houses, street food, dessert shops, you name it. But why is everyone so slim? It’s gotta be the walking! If you live in Hong Kong, you’ll walk everywhere – it’s just a part of the culture and lifestyle of Hong Kong. Everything is so easily accessible because of transportation. In America, we drive everywhere! We drive to the mall, try to find the closest parking spot available (because we hate walking), and then proceed.

Snapshots from the city (more to come later!):

Stanley Bay

Stanley Bay

Another view from the Harbor

Another view from the Harbor

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Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island - One of the world's largest outdoor seated Buddha in the world!

Dinner with friends at Rice Paper. Sitting outdoors, overlooking the harbor.

Dinner with friends at Rice Paper. Sitting outdoors, overlooking the harbor.

...And the food.

...And the food.

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Bangkok should be dubbed “the city where two worlds collide.” I say this because I mean it in every way, and for lack of a better term, Bangkok is two-faced.  On the one hand, you’ll encounter the ritzy shopping malls with posh stores parading each and every corner. Fendi, Chanel, Salvatore Ferragamo, you name it and it’s there. You’ll also ride the Sky Train – an MTR type transportation above the sky – but it’s only for the wealthy Thais and tourists since it is too expensive for locals to ride.

And of course, on the other side of the coin, you have the poverty-ridden Bangkok. Once outside these shopping malls and on the streets, you’ll find street beggars with missing limbs, blind people singing with a microphone, young children whose parents make them beg for money all day. That’s the “other” side to Bangkok.  No sparkly shopping mall floors; filthy streets instead.

It’s a reality that cannot be avoided while in Bangkok. And although you may wish you could help them or do something about it…it is what it is.  It is still a developing country, and there is hope for the future.

However, I assure you that the Thai people are friendly, beautiful people. Though the poverty and street beggars may scare some, Bangkok is an amazing place to visit because there is so much beauty to the people, places, and things in this city.


BANGKOK: THE 11

1. Weekend Market
It is only open on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 am – 6 pm, but I suggest you get there as early as possible because you literally need the entire day to cover all bases. I shopped for 7 hours, but by the end of the day, I was itching to stay there longer but it was closing time! The Weekend Market is a huge flea-market type venue with everything: clothing, furniture, jewelry, food, and more. But here’s the best part: if you’re a teenager/young adult, you will find many boutique stores with one-of-a-kind clothing for inexpensive prices! I’m talking about $5 for a cute, trendy dress! For these, you MUST go to TENTS 4 – 6!

2. Rajawongse Clothier – Custom Suits for Men
http://www.dress-for-success.com/

President Bush, First Lady Barbara Bush, and Jesse & Victor

President Bush, First Lady Barbara Bush, and Jesse & Victor

President Bush and his entire family, along with many US government officials come here to get custom suits and dress shirts. It is quite famous, and the owners – Jesse and Victor are extremely friendly Thai – Indian. Mostly American and European businessmen come here, and it gets packed during the evenings! For two custom-made suits, three dress shirts and three ties, it costs around $800 USD. What a deal! Just remember it takes around 5 days to make, and it requires multiple fittings.

2. Always Drive in Metered Taxis

Don’t get ripped off. Some taxi drivers try to give you a set price from location to location, and it may seem cheap, but if you tell them you want it METERED, it will be even cheaper! The starting flat rate is 35 Baht – so make sure this is the start price.

3. Ayutthaya Ancient Ruins

Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya

It will be best to hire a driver and English tour guide for this because it is an all-day trip. Ayutthaya is the ancient capital of Siam (the former name of Thailand), but today it is known for its ruins and ancient temples. You’ll drive from place to place and visit many sites such as Wat Chai Mongko (giant bronze reclining Buddah), and more.

This is part of the Ayutthaya area, and it is a beautiful, picturesque summer palace of the ancient King Rama IV. It’s filled with luxurious guest houses, greenery, lakes and shrines. Still today, the Royal Family comes here to relax.


5. Wear the Appropriate Clothing When Visiting Temples/Palaces

Wearing a traditional Thai sarong at the Summer Palace

Wearing a traditional Thai sarong at the Summer Palace

For most temples in Thailand, your shoulders must be covered out of respect. There are guards before you enter, and they will not let you in if you don’t do this. For the Grand Palace in Bangkok, your shoulders and legs must be covered – but they give you free sarong and pant rentals.

6. Baan Khanitha – Thai Restaurant
This an upscale Thai restaurant that specializes in seafood, so be prepared to fork out $40 or more per person. Try the scallions – the most delicious I’ve ever tasted in my entire life!

7. Khao San Road (Backpacking District)
This area is filled with, well, backpackers galore. Restaurants, hostels, shopping, internet cafes – you name it and it’s here. It’s fun to lounge around the coffee shops or try out the street foods because it definitely has the “backpacker vibe” – chill, laid-back and friendly. Spend an afternoon here and lounge around the area!

8. Grand Palace in Bangkok
The Royal Family lives here, and it’s like visiting Buckingham Palace. It’s massively large, exquisite architecture, and tourists galore! It will take half a day to walk around the area because there are several temples and sights to see – but if you speed walk through the area, it can be done in two hours.

The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace

9. Pick the Right Time to Visit
Bangkok is extremely hot and humid during the summertime. It is so hot that I almost fainted in Ayutthaya, despite the fact that I was drinking water all day! All of the locals say the best time to visit is in November, so you might want to keep that in mind. But if you’re a student traveler like me, the summertime is your only chance! It’s still worth the visit.

10. Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)

Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)

Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)

You can take the taxi boat here, and it is nestled along the banks of the Chao Praya River. It’s called the Temple of Dawn because it’s near the beginning of the river, and when travelers or foreigners would enter the river, it was the first thing they saw!

11. Take the Taxi Boat on the Chao Praya River
The taxi boat is an interesting form of transportation in Thailand, and it’s beautiful during sunset (great for photography). Just jump on the boat, and take it to Wat Arun – or anywhere else you’d like to see along the river.

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