Category Archives: Asia

Macau

Along with the Singapore trip, we spent two days in Macau as well. I had always imagined it to be the Las Vegas of Asia since all I know about it are the casinos. There’s the Venetian, MGM, etc. Ones that mimic the Vegas ones.

There are two classes of ferries that you can take to from Hong Kong to Macau – fast (TurboJet) and slow (Cotai). We took the slower ferry from Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal  and it took around 1.5 hrs to get there which isn’t bad. However, you have to travel with your passport because it’s another territory of China. Upon arrival, it was a bit confusing as to where to catch buses that go to the casino vs. Other hotel buses. We eventually found the one for the Venetian and there were so many other hotels/casinos that we passed. Huge places!!!!!

Spent time wandering around the casino before we headed back to the ferry terminal to catch our bus to the hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Royal Macau in the older parts of Macau. It seemed kind of sketchy at first but when we pulled up, it was a beautiful place! The rooms were nice and the “extra” bed that we actually paid for was an actual bed. They wheeled in a whole bed and placed it next to the other ones – so cool! I hadn’t seen that before.

My mom’s friend’s cousin actually lives in Macau so we met with her for dinner that night. We wandered around and went to the St. Paul’s Ruins (lots of steps and have always seen it featured in HK drama shows). There were these almond cookies that were delicious! A particular company had numbered how many franchise stores there were and it was up to 16, I think. Crazy but really cool.

The architecture of the old buildings were reminiscent of the Portugal colonial days – very beautiful structures. It really sucked on the second day because it mostly rained so we didn’t get a chance to walk around as much. I got some shots of the buildings. We went to Lord Stowe’s for their famous egg tarts. OMG!! It was amazing! The tart was still warm from the oven; the crust was flaky; and the custard was the perfect consistency (not to liquidy and not to hard). I ended up having two of them because they were so good.

Also, we saw mainland China. It was bizarre to think that “another country” was just across a lake/river. From a port city (where ship makers/manufacturers were abundant) to abandoned warehouses that are dilapidated and most people don’t know they exist or only come to do photo or video shoots because of the atmosphere they give off.

I must say that Macau wasn’t the “Las Vegas of Asia” as I thought it would be. It’s quite beautiful and full of history – definitely worth a visit!

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Singapore

It’s been 5 years since I last saw my friend Ruth. Every time I go on a trip or mention anything of one, she hounds me about visiting her either in Singapore or Malaysia, depending on where she is at the time. This time, it so happens that she’s in Singapore and considering the flight from HK to there is only 4-5 hours, I had no excuse. My sister decided to come with me as well so we went to a travel agent to book the flight in order to get on the same flight. Ruth took us around each evening and we were very grateful for that! It was great to catch up with her and when we saw each other, it was as if no time had passed between us – which is exactly the friends I want to keep.

It also wasn’t too expensive compared to a flight from Toronto to Singapore. Flying with Cathay Pacific has its perks when within Asia – so much cheaper! Also, staying in a hostel was a good choice, though a last minute booking landed us at a place called Matchbox The Concept Hostel. I liked the idea of it but not in reality. We stayed in a dorm style room but instead of bunk beds, they were cargo style boxes stacked two high and nine wide with lockers on the other side of the room to house our stuff. The mattresses were too thin and it was just uncomfortable to sleep on.

Three days in Singapore was just a day short of being the perfect amount of time. It’s a metropolis that isn’t crowded. The accessibility by public transportation is very similar to that of HK but less people, which is great. You can get from the airport to the city centre by subway as well as be able to walk to most places, which is great. They also have a tourist pass which allows for unlimited travel on most public transportation routes for a specific amount of days. This worked out perfectly for us since we got the three day pass. It occurred to me while we were there that there aren’t any natural resources for the country to export so tourism and services are a major economy driver and boy do they know how to cater to customers.

It’s an expensive place to live though. The exchange rate was almost on par with the Canadian dollar (1CAD to 1.2 SGD). Alcohol is too – we paid for 3 drinks which came out to 42 SGD and they weren’t fancy drinks!

We visited as many different places as we could – Little India (really cool since we arrived just after Diwahli so decorations were still up), Gardens by the Bay, Orchard Road for shopping, Chinatown, Clarke Quay, Fort Canning Park, etc. It was nice to get a good sense of travelling around and the different places.

My favourite part of the entire trip other than seeing Ruth was the food!!! I travel to eat and this trip was no difference despite the short amount of time. First night was all about the chilli crab – steamed and sauced to perfection along with other foods such as noodles, rice, shrimp, etc. It was so delicious at Jumbo Seafood. We also went to Little India and ate at the restaurant sitting atop the Mustafa Centre (the Bazaar is open 24/7). It was nice to see parts of Singapore from atop. Then there are the hawker stalls – traditional Singapore/Malaysian food. OMG! There were so many things to try that I don’t remember the names of all the dishes, so here’s a picture of it! Hawker Food

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Vacation Time!

Once every year, I try to take a real vacation from work where I am virtually off the grid (no email or phone) so that I can take my mind off of the office and just enjoy myself. For my two weeks this year, I went to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Macau with my sister, my mother and her friend (also one of my best friend’s mother). It was quite the journey – full of activities/sightseeing, food, and hanging out with friends.

My original list of things to do and eat included (in no specific order):

  • Celebrate Mom’s birthday
  • Go to the Peak
  • Eat lots of street food (especially chee cheong fun AKA rice noodle roll since it’s served with a peanut sauce, hoisin sauce, hot sauce, soy sauce and sesame seeds. Here’s a good example of how it’s made)
  • Shopping at the markets
  • See the Big Buddha
  • Visit Ocean Park
  • Jog
  • Dim Sum
  • Visit museums (Here’s a list of the museums and it’s free admissions every Wednesday)
  • Hang out with friends and family
  • Take the ferry
  • See the Hong Kong night skyline at Victoria Harbour
  • Relax
  • Visit immigration about getting a HK identification card

It’s an extensive list but I was being very ambitious until the end, when I realized that I managed to accomplish most things minus seeing the Big Buddha and visiting Ocean Park.

It was a learning experience in terms of: learning more about myself (how I like to travel, personal growth, lifestyle choices), learning about my mother and her travelling style, learning that my sister has a whole different side to her when she’s with her boyfriend, and that I’m not sure I could live in Hong Kong.

Let me elaborate. Hong Kong is a fantastic city to visit because it’s a modern city where there is constant movement. The pace of life is definitely faster than life in Toronto, even their escalators are moving twice as fast so you don’t need to walk up them to go past people; it already gets you to your destination faster! Time is money and money helps you accomplish more things in life (this is true for most places) but people of Hong Kong also don’t have time for bullshit. Eating at a restaurant is often about ordering when you sit down, get your food quickly, hoover your food down and getting out of there as soon as you’re done to move onto your next task. This process is repeated for most of your day: buying groceries, getting on public transportation, and shopping.

After being there for two weeks, the constant go-go attitude of Hong Kong people made me not really want to live there because it’s fast, really fast and if you don’t get on the bandwagon, it’s hard to fit keep up in all aspects of life. However, it did make me realize that I should be more productive with my time and do things that I want to accomplish without procrastinating. You end up feeling better about yourself because 1) you’ve accomplished your goal, 2) you have more time to accomplish your other goals and not having any regrets and 3) hard work yields results (an intrinsic feeling of success).

This post has mainly been about Hong Kong. More on Singapore and Macau to come!

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So…how did you like India?

Sorry for the delayed post, I have been sick since I got home and have not been able to muster up the energy to post. So my apologies for the long-winding sentences and possible incoherence.

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As we went around visiting many of S’s relatives, there were a couple of questions that were routinely asked of me:

  1. What do you do?
  2. Where do you work?
  3. Questions about my family, what my parents do and if I have any siblings
  4. How do you like India?

The first three questions were always easy to answer because they were things that have been constants in my life. The last question was something that I wasn’t quite ready to reply to because I realized that I hadn’t seen enough of India to make a good assessment of the country as a whole.

My answer always revolved around aspects that I had the pleasure of enjoying, such as the food and people I had met as well as the different places that I had been to. I always ended the response with “I’d like to come and visit different places” because I felt that even having only been to a couple of the major cities in India, there was a different feel for each of them.

The response would most certainly be along the lines of: ” India is so big that many people come and stay for months or years and have not been able to form a whole opinion about India.” I completely agree with that. There are so many things to experience and everyone goes to India for different reasons: some to seek spirituality, for the shopping, for the food, to volunteer, etc – whatever the reason maybe, it will help to define one’s opinion of India and whether it was a positive or negative experience.

I went to India because I wanted to cross two things off my bucket list: attend an Indian wedding in India (I was very lucky to have gone to two) and to see the Taj Mahal. However, both of these were achieved within the first two weeks of my visit so with the remaining two weeks, there wasn’t a purpose/goal that I wanted to achieve. However, what I found was that there are many beautiful temples in Southern India that are still well maintained and used regularly by locals, as well as an opportunity to feel as if I was living in India.

In Chennai, we stayed with S’s aunt and family for the full two weeks. It was very much a luxury – sleeping in until 10am every morning, three home-cooked meals a day and went about our planned activities. In retrospect, it felt more like I was living in India rather than being a tourist because we lived with family and went through the daily routines of life with them. I got to know the neighbourhood and could walk back if I ever got lost (I wasn’t really allowed to go anywhere by myself so this didn’t apply – but if I ever did get lost, I could find my way back).  I recognized landmarks and different parts of the city as we were travelling. The two weeks went by very quickly and before we knew it, it was time to go home.

All in all, my thoughts on India are as follows:

  • The food, shopping and sights were all amazing! Regardless of which city I was in, each one had their specialties, tourist attractions and local cuisine to offer.
  • I love the people I’ve met along the way, aside from S’s family members. Everyone is always willing to help out, especially if they know you’ve already been sick once and will always inquire about your health
  • The modes of transportation are abundant, cheap and super accessible. I will forever want to have auto rickshaws at home because they are a way to travel short distances and cheaper to take than taxis. You can bargain for how much you want to pay.
  • There is definitely a lack of privacy/personal space. All family members live in close quarters and often share bedrooms with one another. Also, no questions go unasked regardless of how personal they may be. I’m very glad to be back in my own bedroom, sleeping in my own bed.
  • Political events and issues are discussed and on television all the time. There are shows that have a devoted hour for current issue debates where different people within the community are featured as guest speakers on the show. Very interesting comments are made, especially in light of the gang-raped victim and the general treatment and attitudes towards women. I wish we had more of this at home because it would help inform the general public on which policies and issues the government needs to work on/working on.
  • Home-cooked foods are made differently depending on the cook. Many people cook the same foods but have their own spice blends that are added to the food so it’s always slightly different when you try it. There are no recipes, they are just ingrained and learned from parents and grandparents. This has inspired to cook more at home and to revisit old recipes that I can add my own twist to.
  • Traffic lights, pedestrian walkways and lanes are all used as guidelines. At times when walking through markets and streets, vehicles and pedestrians fight for the road. The sidewalks are not often used for walking but more for vendors to display their goods so people just walk on the side of the road in between parked and moving vehicles. Kind of scary at first but you get used to it. The traffic is very congested, especially during rush hour! All vehicles on the road fight for space, you honk to signal you want to pass and you don’t have to stay in your lane when waiting to cross an intersection, smaller vehicles will just fit into any space they can find. Something that I got used to but don’t miss.
  • There are a lot of wild animals wandering everywhere! I have seen the following animals just walking around: cows, dogs, buffaloes, camels, pigeons, crows, peacocks, goats, pigs, horses, elephants, Indian squirrels (they look like North American chipmunks), chickens, roosters and parrots.

I definitely want to go back to India and experience more of the nature/outdoor adventures it has to offer. Also, wouldn’t mind seeing more beaches 🙂

G

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Chennai – home away from home

I was very fortunate to call Chennai home for two weeks. We stayed with S’s family and I’m so grateful that put up with all our antics and disrupting their daily routine. I found the best thing about Chennai were the people. Everywhere we went and everyone we met was very polite and helpful. To me, I could see a fundamental change in S’s personality and attitudes – she truly felt at home. I was very lucky to meet a lot of her family members – many took me in as an extension of her.

The city itself is big yet super walkable. Shops usually surround neighborhoods so you can walk out and grab groceries or take a short auto ride to where your destination. Street shopping in Chennai is best found in Pondy Bazaar and T. Nagar. There are a lot of stalls and a lot of people so you need to keep on moving and looking at the same time. The pricing is a little higher than Bombay and Delhi because they don’t have as much competition.  Also, the variety is not as good as the other two cities but you’ll be able to find most of what you’re looking for. Spencers plaza is a mall that was built in three phases and has a combination of retail shops and offices. We managed to find some north Indian souvenirs there.

Do not eat street food there because there isn’t much, but what is there is not that great. You’re better off going to a nearby restaurant.

I really felt like I was living in India rather than just visiting because we fell into a daily routine of getting up, bathing, eating breakfast and moving on with the day’s activities and then coming home for dinner. It felt nice to live with a routine for a bit compared to the constant on the go schedule.

We’re currently on our way back home, so I’ll post more when I’m settled in.

G

 

 

 

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Madurai – Temples

We went to Madurai for a two day adventure and I finally got to ride on a train!  The sleeper beds weren’t that bad and since we took the overnight train, it was a peaceful enough sleep. I really enjoyed Madurai because it wasn’t as hectic as other places we have visited.

The temple we went to was huge! It was kind of ironic to be visiting temples on Christmas day but it turned out we weren’t the only ones doing it. I found out that December is a very auspicious month so many worshipers make the pilgrimage to various temples in the surrounding towns.

One thing that has been apparent in most temples is that foreigners and non-Hindus are not allowed to enter the most inner sanctums of the temples. There are blatant signs that forbid it. As I am not super religious, it still would have been nice to see the architecture and the statues of the inner sanctums.

We are heading for a one day trip to the beach tomorrow, regardless of how rainy it may be.

G

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Delhi – Shopping, Wedding and Protests

I have been in Chennai for the last two days and spent the previous 10 days in Delhi. The shopping in Delhi was very different from Bombay, more street markets than shops. We did our fair share of shopping getting scarves, clothing and accessories. There is a store completely devoted to bangles! There are multiple rooms all housing bangles – a magnificent place since we were actually buying from the supplier instead of a third party seller. It doesn’t even have an official name, it was definitely one of my favourite places!

The wedding events that occurred were so over the top and probably the grandest wedding I will ever attend in my life. The sangeet was held at a place called Kingdom of Dreams. There was dancing and singing to celebrate the couple and it was so much fun! The wedding itself was held at a private residence near the Shangri-La Hotel – also a decadent place to stay! The wedding ceremony occurred at 1:30am and lasted until 6:15am. Longest night of my life, it was pretty amazing to see the entire ceremony through though. I got a sense of what was happening with each ritual and why it was taking place.

Last but not least, I couldn’t end this post without mentioning the protesting that has been taking place near India Gate and Jantar Mantar in Delhi. It started off with as a peaceful student protest in the wake of the recent gang-raping of a 23 year old women – who is in critical conditions right now. The students were protesting for various reasons: what will the punishment be for the rapists and how long will it take to convict them, what measures will the government take to actively prevent future tragic events (other rape cases have also occurred in the last couple of days – victims being a 3 year old and 13 year old). These incidents are often putting the blame on the women – she should not have been out late at night or she should have been more careful. There is no onus on the man to take responsibilities for their actions. There are constant debates on television as to what has happened but the government’s response appears to be too late and halfheartedly. I’m not sure if the protests have been televised or reported at home but there needs to be more awareness on the issues of women safety and abuse.

Heading to Madrai tonight for a couple of days for temple seeing.

Merry Christmas to all my family and friends!

G

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Jaipur and Agra

I have spent that last three days touring Jaipur and Agra. It was the India that I had always imagined this country would be! We spent two days and a night in Jaipur, staying over at a guesthouse.

Jaipur

The first place on the itinerary was the Amber Fort. It was fantastic! After a five hour bus ride, we got driven to the entrance of the Fort and it was a beautiful yellow that envelops you. Also, there was a group of goats that greeted us when we got out of the car – a nice surprise. We wandered throughout the Fort discovering new rooms and corridors at every turn.  We climbed all the way to the top and had an amazing view of Jaipur!

Jaigah Fort was at the top of the Amber Fort. Once again gorgeous views and more great architecture. It was definitely worth the hike, we walked up a stone driveway where there were shuttle golf carts to drive people to the top.

Next, we drove through the mountain top to Narhargarh which housed the largest canon in India. There was a camel where you could pay for a ride but I told S it wasn’t worth it – we could just walk 🙂  Since we were getting tired, we drove down the mountain and stopped in front of the Lake Palace, which literally is built in the middle of the lake. Not sure what the entire purpose of it was to place it there but it was beautiful to look at nonetheless.

As the sun was setting, we got walked around the Pink City (aka Old City) and did a little shopping. All the store fronts and buildings are pinkish orange due to the type of red sand found in the area. It was super crowded and there were a lot of cows and stray dogs – though this is can be found in most parts of India! The style of clothing and availability items are geared towards cooler weather such as thicker scarves, duvets and blankets, Rajasthani clothing and shoes.

On our second day, we started off visiting Albert Hall (aka Central Museum), which housed many artifacts including pottery, statues, artwork, an Egyptian mummy and many more interesting pieces of history. It was a great walk through to see so  many different facets of Indian history – especially artwork that depicted different mythological stories. A distinct characteristic of the place was the flock of pigeons that hung out in front of the building. It was quite the sight to see the whole flock in flight flying above your head.

The City Palace was enormous! A series of gardens, grand halls, numerous rooms and once again, amazing views. There were a lot of stairs but once you got to the top, it was totally worth it. Taking a short walk from there, we went to Hawa Mahal (aka Wind/Air Palace). The intricate carvings of the place was breathtaking and I could only imagine what it would have looked like if it was fully furnished. It was a beautifully symmetrical building The last attraction was the Jantar Mantar. It houses the largest sun dial/time telling instrument that is said to be accurate within two seconds. Very interesting to think how people used to figure out the time without all our current gadgets.

For food, we had lunch at Niro’s Restaurant on MI Road that served very yummy Rajasthani food (dal – it’s made of lentils and spices, gutta curry is a specialty, pineapple raita and naan). On the second day, we went to Steam in the Pink City. We all got a Rajasthani Thali which included a dal, gutta curry, chickpea dish with naan, pappard and roti. Super delicious and very filling!

Overall, Jaipur was a great visit and I would definitely recommend it. Get a composite ticket for 300 rupees because it gives you access to most of the aforementioned attractions.

Agra

The Taj Mahal was first place we visited. With a hefty price of 750 rupees, it was still worth it to see. I must say that it looked more impressive from far away. The notion of building such a monument in the name of love is quite statement. The marble inlays and patterns found on the building is something to marvel at – considering it was all carved by hand! Inside the mausoleum, lay the wife and the husband that commissioned the place – it was very dim and you couldn’t really see anything. The corridors on the other hand received tons of sunlight.

We had lunch on a rooftop patio where we got to enjoy some great food and a bottle of Kingfisher. Very light beer but perfect for a sunny day. We ordered paneer, mutton curry and dal along with lots of naan (butter and garlic).

The Agra Fort had more interesting sights to see and was a lot bigger than the Taj. There were more rooms to explore and had amazing views of the Taj. I took over 150 pictures of the place! We caught sunset over the Fort walls, which was gorgeous! There was a lot more of the Fort that we didn’t have enough time to explore, so definitely worth another visit. It cost 250 rupees to enter if you show your ticket to the Taj Mahal (50 rupee discount).

Overall, it’s been a great couple of days but looking forward to a day of rest and then second wedding, here we come!

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Bombay Dreams

After being in Bombay for the last six days, there are some observations that I have made:

  • The gap between rich and poor is enormous – it can be seen in everyday life from people living on the streets to one of the richest man in the world building a multi-storey home complete with a ballroom floor and helipad in the roof 
  • Anything can happen in India – such as a man riding a white horse down a busy street and totally owning it
  • Tele-communication is very fast in this country – a lot can happen with just a phone call
  • The cost of living has to be compared in the local currency rather than converting it back to our currency because it has to be relative to what it’s worth in India. For example, a top can cost 300 rupees which is around $6. To us, that’s not a lot to us but in reality, it’s probably only worth 150 rupees. Knowing market value is an important piece of knowledge
  • Getting sick in India is not fun. I got something like the 24 hour flu/food poisoning symptoms and it felt horrible; luckily it was after the wedding festivities.  I’m very grateful for having a friend who knows what to do when someone falls ill. My sickness was most likely a result of exhaustion, eating a lot of street food and not staying hydrated enough. With a lot rest and sweating out the fever, I eventually ate a little bit. I was given some herbal medicine, peppermint and mint tablet, glucose water and harjmola (a candy that helps me to suppress nausea), which in the end made me feel a whole lot better.
  • People have huge appetites here. We would meet up with friends after work at 6 and we would go for a “snack” but in meal portions, walk around and then go for dinner at 9pm, eat a full, meal and then walk to get dessert. Insane amount of food that I would never imagined eating, especially so late at night
  • Working is a way life. Many people will leave their homes for work at 6am and don’t return until 7-8pm. Then when they get home, dinner still needs to be made and then possibly more reviewing of work and then bed. Work-life balance doesn’t exist here. You’re expected to pick up your phone and check emails when on vacation as well as respond to them
  • Street food!!!!! Keep cannot imagine why any city would limit the varieties and availability of street food because what I’ve had in Bombay was amazing!! Pani puri is a little puff ball filled with lentils chutney and mint water – one of my favourite foods of all time. Vada paved which is bread stuffed with deep fried potato patty with red and green chutney – had this at a street stall that was delicious. Kareem’s was a street side restaurant. That served great tandoori food. Paneer, tandoori mushrooms, chicken, raita, dal and a Thumbs Up (similar to Coca-Cola). The food is worth the wait
  • Shopping – one of my loves of life. Both street shopping and showroom shopping (going to the actual brand’s store) is heaven!!! The amount of variety plus low cost is bound to put you over budget – that is if you had one to begin with 🙂 We’re shipping some items back with my friend’s cousin so that we have more room to shop in Delhi

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Bombay because Delhi is our next stop. More adventures to follow!

G

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Bombay aka Mumbai – updated

It has been quite a journey so far. The flight to Bombay was an adventure. We learned that you have to pay for Internet at some airports such as Zurich and it takes a long time to fly halfway across the globe. We landed and quickly found the driver that was to take us to our accommodations near Coco Farms – where the wedding was to take place. The entire car ride took just over an hour. We didn’t really get to see the place until the morning where I realized that we were staying at the Samara Gardens and the wedding ceremonies were taking place at Coco Farms – a whole 5mins walk where we were staying.

With that said, the wedding ceremonies were great! I got some great photos of the bride and groom performing traditional wedding rituals. Long story short, I learned that there different rituals you perform depending on which part of India you’re from.

More to come soon, very tired and sleepy right now -it’s been a very long day. Also, we just got Internet so I’m going to try and update more often.

After a good night’s sleep, I’m ready to continue this post. The wedding rituals in the morning was in the south Indian style and started at 7:00am the day after we landed so we had around four hours of sleep and got up to get ready. Completely exhausted, my friend and I were running on adrenaline which was great until we hit 9:30am when I was ready to pass out. There was a second ceremony in the evening done in the Bengali style – east Indian – because the bride’s mother is also Bengali. Following each ceremony, there was food! My favourite part of the day. There is something about eating with your hands that you just feel more connected with the food you’re putting into your body. The food was great and we got to eat on banana leaves! A feat that I wasn’t sure I could handle since I’ve only done once.

I wish I took pictures but was so excited that I just ate it all! The food on the following day was quite different since it was just the reception,there wasn’t a formal ceremony; it was all passed appetizers and there was a bar! However, I didn’t end up getting a drink, which is probably shocking to those who know me but I didn’t eat much that day so didn’t want to embarrass myself.

The following day, many people were leaving early so we got up and had birthday cake to celebrate my friend and her cousin’s birthday. It was awesome cake! Pineapple cake is amazing with fresh cream – perfectly moist cake and delicious pieces of pineapple. Anyone know a good recipe for upside down pineapple cake? I want to make it when I get home.

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