Happenings of 2012 – Melbourne, Singapore & India

Oops, I have completely abandoned this blog!
It is now the new year – 2013! Very excited for this year and the many opportunities and fun this year will bring.
A lot has happened in the last few months of 2012. It is going to be hard to remember details but here are some significant things that have happened in the second half of this year. The whole year has been full of 21st celebrations – literally having at least one or two each weekend. Glad it has slowed down a little this year but still have them until May!

September
– Had a ICAA touch day and we overall did quite well but I ended up falling on my knee funny. Only realised two days after playing touch again, that I starting feeling pain and realised I did some damage to it. I had numerous physio and specialist appointments but they couldn’t really figure out what was exactly wrong which was frustrating. Luckily it’s fine now but still can’t really run like I used to anymore and just generally have to take it easy!

October
– Did a quick 3 day trip to Melbourne. Flew down with Matt to visit the University of Melbourne’s Microfinance Initiative team. We went and got breakfast at Degreaves Street first and then headed to the university. They were having a case competition which we also watched into and then had some lunch and chatted to some of the team.
– Headed to the Rooftop Bar on Swanston Street and had jugs of sangria in the sun. For dinner, we headed to Izakaya Den, a cool underground Japanese establishment (which reminded me of some of the places I went to in Tokyo) The food is Japanese fusion which was really delicious and had lots of good sake as well!
– I stayed at Steph’s place in Hawthorn East. Went out to Hawthorn Hotel for student night on Tuesday nights (or also known as “Tightarse Tuesdays”) Was a fun night!
– The next day, we were both hungover but had a late brunch in Camberwell and then headed into the city to do some touristy things. Although I’ve been to Melbourne many times, I never really went up the Eureka Sky Tower. It really did have a great view of the city!

– Had some drinks at Federation Square and then dinner at Dragon Boat Chinese restaurant and had peking duck pancakes, fried rice and pork which were all good. Decided to have a quiet night as I had a really early morning flight to Sydney the next morning, so watched movies at home and relaxed!

November/December
– Busiest time of the year with exams and so forth. My exams finished so late (26th) and then flew out to Singapore the next day. It was generally just an annoying time to go overseas as I missed both KPMG & Chadwick Christmas parties and other events as well as missing out on summer school..but the experience was so worth it! I received a travel grant to partake in a Microfinance and Social Business program in India. I travelled for a week or so beforehand.

Singapore
– Singapore has an ethnic mix of Chinese, Malays and Indians as well as expats from all around the world. Due to time constraints, I was unable to see much of Singapore at all, but still enjoyed the city.

– Arrived in the afternoon and went shopping at Orchard Road.
– Headed up to 1-Altitude (one of the best spots in Singapore for the view of the whole city!) and sipped on a Singapore sling whilst enjoying the view. Met Kim and went to Clarke Quay and went to Butter Factory for ladies night (which is every Wednesday) and got free entry + at least 5 free drinks. After ended up at Avalon near Marina Bay Sands.– Next morning was so hungover but went for a walk then had lunch at the famous No Signboard Restaurant in Geylang for some Singapore Chili Crab. It was finger-lickingly delicious!– That afternoon, got the MRT to Changi airport and had a 5hr flight to New Delhi.

India
“India is, the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most instructive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only” – Mark Twain

Delhi
– Delhi is chaotic, dirty and the poverty is a little confronting. Being the capital city of India, it is definitely busier and more polluted. Surprisingly I hardly felt any culture shock as I was somewhat expecting it to be like this.
– Met Emily at our hotel in the Paharganj area of Delhi (which is meant to be for budget travel and backpackers, yet no foreigners in sight in all of Delhi in general) The area is a little dodgy and I wouldn’t really recommend staying here if you are here by yourself because I didn’t feel too safe in this area. In Delhi, girls and even guys do not walk around the streets at night by themselves because it’s considered quite unsafe. But in general, you just have to be cautious and on guard and you will be fine. Also, it was so hard to sleep because of the noises – horns beeping, dogs barking, engines roaring! Bring ear plugs!
– Also at this time of the month, because it is winter, it is quite chilly in the north! I am glad I brought enough warm long sleeved tops as it gets really cold at night.
– Our first day was spent sightseeing. We took a rickshaw to the centre of the city, near Connaught Place and then the metro (which is very clean and modern plus only cost 10R!) then walked to the India Gate. After, we went to Humayun’s Tomb and the Red Fort which were both stunning. Entry for both were 250R each. We also did some shopping in the markets and got some pashmina scarves for bargain prices!
– The whole day, we were getting lots of attention from locals and asking for “snaps” and “one photo miss?” It was getting really tiresome – I can imagine how much worse it would be if you were blonde with blue eyes! Nevertheless, they are just fascinated by foreigners.

Humayun’s Tomb

Agra
– We caught a 6am train in first class express (cost only 610 rupees which is equivalent to about $15) to Agra. The first class experience was great with a 3 course meal and a comfortable ride and it only took 2 hours. From the station, we took a rickshaw to the Taj Mahal. The entry costs 750R for foreigners which is a lot compared to what Indians pay for but it is worth every cent! The monument took my breath away – it was simply amazing! We were there for a good two hours just walking around and taking photos. Then we headed to Agra Fort which is the first fort of India – entry is 300R.

– We had finished everything in the Agra area by 2pm and so headed back to the train station to try buy another ticket back to Delhi (as our ticket on the way back was at 6pm and Agra city itself is dull). The line to get tickets was ridiculous. It was near impossible to get a ticket and so we decided to played it by ear and just catch the next train Delhi bound. However, the train was delayed for over 3 hours and we just wanted to leave so ended up catching a sleeper train. We were with a few other travellers but also spoke to a local who had been on the train for 2 days from Hyderabad (which is over 1,500km away!) Gladly, our train ride was only about 3.5 hours.

Incredible Taj Mahal
Jumping shot

Bombay (Mumbai)
– We took an hour flight from Delhi to Mumbai and was picked up by someone from the Indian Study Abroad Centre (ISAC) and taken to our apartment in Lokhandwala Complex in North West of Mumbai. It is known to be a more affluent, residential suburb in Mumbai. We had an apartment with a housekeeper, Krishna. He is from Nepal, working in India and couldn’t really speak English but thankfully we had Surya who is Nepalese who could translate for us!

– Our two week program was in Mumbai and Pune (Malvali), one week in each city. This meant that both urban and rural microfinance models were explored. 
– We visited four different microfinance institutions (MFIs) and 2 were for-profit organisations and the other 2 were not-for-profit organisations. It seemed that a lot of them were fairly similar in their processes and operations, however, they were still vastly different in terms of their mission, values and culture.
– Visiting the slums and doing field visits was the most rewarding aspect of the program. This gave me a real hands on insight into the lives of those receiving the microfinance loans and it was making a positive impact on their livelihood.
Dharavi slum is one of Asia’s largest slum and it is on Mumbai’s prime real estate. We heard of one story where a woman sold her land and received enough to get out of there! In comparison to the other slums we visited, Dharavi was “5 star” as the houses had tiles, was clean and had electricity.
– We still had free time to go out and explore the city. We took a train to from Andheri to Churchgate and saw the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Palace as well as go to some markets.
https://microfinanceinmumbai.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/india-introductions-hindustan-microfinance-3/ – this is a piece I wrote on the BUiLD blog showcasing our time and taking you into a more in-depth explanation of our experiences through the microfinance and social business program.
Dressed in a sari
In the slums
Dharavi slums
Nightlife in Mumbai 
– Unlike Delhi, Mumbai is booming with bars and cafes. There are lots of places to go out that suits all budgets and ages but we mainly went out in Bandra West. It is a hip, young and fashionable suburb and bursts with cool bars, cafes and shops.  
– Second night – we were with the group wanting to go for some drinks and decided to go to Escobar in Bandra West. Unfortunately one of the guys wasn’t dressed appropriately so we had to go find somewhere else. Emily & I walked around a bit and came across a bar called Lagerbay and it was packed with young locals. Em & I didn’t know it was ladies night but after we found out, we asked the bartender for some free drinks and he happily gave us vodka shots. As nightlife in Mumbai ends at 12am – 1am most week nights, the locals head to someone’s house for more drinks. We got invited by some locals (who are now our friends – Varun & Shibani) to their place and drank more.
– Third night – We went to The Den which V’s and Shibani’s friend owned (and wasn’t opened to the public yet) and had some drinks and food. After, went to WTF but it was pretty dead so decided to go to China House at the Grand Hyatt but it was dead! We headed to Big Nasty and was a little grungy but had cheap drinks. V spotted a Bollywood “star” yet Em and I obviously had no idea who he was but still got a photo with him! Again, the place closed at around 12:30, so headed back to their place and continued the partying.
– Fourth night – we headed to Toto’s Garage in Pali Junction and it is a really cool bar with a garage concept in mind. There is a beetle VW at the top of the bar and has number plates and other mechanical tools stuck on the walls. The bar staff are dressed as mechanics and it had a really great vibe. We even chatted to the owner who was asking us for suggestions and feedback. We then headed to Bonobos! We had two xo patron shots in a row and from then, it started to become messy! Was also funny bumping into some girls we met at Lager Bay the previous night!
– For the four nights in a row that Emily and I went out, we always stumbled back to the apartment between the hours of 3-6am and felt some what bad as Krishna (who was sleeping) had to open the door for us every time haha
– Another highlight was after our big nights, Em and I would always make it to the gym the next morning – dedication! However, one of the mornings, a resident had a go at us saying that we were not allowed to use the gym facilities as we were not residents. Bit of a joke as we were living in the complex as guests and was pretty funny how security just kicked us out. Luckily it was the second last day of our stay!

Lagerbay! First night meeting Shibani & Varun
                                                                           Toto’s

Goa
– Goa is the party destination of India. The vibe in Goa is more chilled out and relaxed due to the Portugese influence in the city. Majority of the people here are foreigners and tourists, taking advantage of the beaches and party lifestyle. However we noticed that there was a much older crowd of couples ie. over 50 year olds. To be honest, if I was over 50, I don’t think I’d be coming to Goa!

– We had a free weekend between Mumbai and Pune so Goa was the destination of choice. We arrived at around 11pm on Friday night and we took a taxi to Baga/Calangute Beach area to get to our hotel, drop our bags off and get ready for our night out. The taxi driver couldn’t find it and we were just getting frustrated. We finally got to the “hotel” we booked for and pretty much was a hotel that didn’t exist and the “name had changed”. Honestly, I never thought it would happen to me as I read reviews before I book accommodation, but it did! Luckily, we only paid a booking fee to hostelbookers (which ended up being refunded anyway).
– Walking around to find a place was tiresome as we had to accommodate for 6 people. Finally found Ronil’s Beach Resort and decided to stay there. It was in a really great location, a short 3 minute walk to Baga beach and right on the main street where all the food, nightlife and happenings were. After a quick shower and change, we headed to Cafe Cape Town to start the night (by then it was well past 12am) This place was absolutely packed! We had numerous “large” (they call double shots large in India) drinks, guys bought us drinks, met people and danced. The bar closed so we walked up to Tito’s for more drinks & dancing. At 6am, we stumbled back to the hotel.
– The next day, woke up at around 2pm and then headed to the beach to recover. Only in India would you see cows walking on the beaches! Lots of Indians taking sneaky shots which was frustrating at times but you just have to ignore it, I guess!
– That night, we headed to Baga ground for David Guetta’s concert. We pre drank alot plus we got our “water bottles” in anyway. We bought one vodka red bull there and literally, more than half was vodka which got us over. The vibe was pretty amazing and it was fairly intense – nothing like you could really imagine. Well maybe…just imagine moshing with pretty much 90% Indians who are SO keen to party! David Guetta produced a great set and the night, apart from some drama, was very fun.
– The next day, we were recovering again and headed to the beach and lazed around the resort pool. Then we had another flight to Mumbai.

You only see cows on Indian beaches!
                                                        Drinks at Cafe Cape Town

Pune/Malvali

– After an exhausting weekend of partying and sun in Goa, we got picked up from the airport in Mumbai and went east to Malvali, taking us around 3 hours. It is a rural town and it was actually very cold unlike Mumbai.
– We visited a few more organisations and learnt more about microfinance in a rural perspective.
– Getting henna done!
– Trekking about 8km up to a fort in rural Malvali was pretty amazing. The view from above was serene and breathtaking.
– The program had finished in Malvali and we drove to Mumbai again. Our driver was soo dodge and we had so many people fitted in one car (Indian style)

                                                              Views from the hike
Hiking with Jess
                                                                            Henna
Hanging out
Mumbai
– Back to Mumbai and civilisation! Emily and I had an extra day and night so we decided to splurge and stay at the Oberoi on Marine Drive. Our room had a great view of the pool and the Andaman Sea.
– Before we checked in, we both went and got haircuts at b:blunt – an apparently well known and good salon in Kemps Corner. The hairdresser asked me “when was the last time you straightened your hair?” and it had been at least 3 weeks ago in Sydney. She was so surprised at just how straight my hair was and kept saying how nice it was! In the end, she didn’t listen to my request at all and just cut it so short (especially the front layers) Was so upset but just left it (at least I didn’t get charged for it!) Never, ever get an Indian to get your hair, unless you’re hair is like a typical Indians! They just don’t get Asian hair here haha
– By the end of the trip, Em & I were really over Indian food – we did have it for every meal for the past 3 weeks! We walked up Marine Drive and went for some pizza and pasta which was so satisfying!
– Later, we met V who took us out. We first went to the famous Leopold’s Cafe in Colaba where we had a few drinks and some food. Then headed to Blue Frog and Shiro (both in Lower Parel) and danced the night away. It was so nice to come back after a big night to a nice bed and hotel!!
-The buffet breakfast the next morning was Western food which was such a good change! Had fruit, eggs benedict and pastries – something we take for granted back home!
 
The program was frustrating at times but generally, I had a great time meeting new people, learning more about India’s microfinance and social business scope, going out and experiencing the Indian culture and way of life. I am really wanting to go back to India, just to travel, catch up with new friends and to explore other areas of this vast, diverse and intriguing country!
          ——————————————–
 
After I got back, I worked for a bit then had the Christmas break off. New Years Eve was low key with a BBQ at Loui’s then Liz & I working at Barangaroo from 5pm. It was so dead that we were getting paid to do nothing whilst enjoying the fireworks! Field Day work was the next day and I am so over working at festivals now! After working at over 10, this is definitely my last!!
 
KPMG starts back on the 14th so I have literally been relaxing and taking naps everyday – no joke. This.is.life.

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