Travel superstitions, do you have any?

travel superstitions

I’m a rather superstitious person. I’ve been known to change my travel dates just because my horoscope said it would be a bad period to travel.

Of course, I only changed it because there was a change of timing to my flight and I could get my tickets changed for no extra charge. I wouldn’t change it if I needed to pay extra.

Amulet for safety

Another time I was superstitious was when I was planning my round the world trip.

I made up my mind that I wanted to travel around the world during a trip to Japan with my mom. I decided that I need to buy one of the “Travel Safe” amulets (omamori) from Meiji Shrine.

However I was worried that the amulet’s powers have an expiry date and it would be less effective if I buy it too soon.
Continue reading “Travel superstitions, do you have any?”

Visit to Santiago’s General Cemetery [YQrtw Day 82 Jun 30]

santiago general cemetery

Location: Santiago, Chile

Despite sleeping at 3:00am in the morning, I woke up at 8:00am. I couldn’t fall back to sleep so I headed to the hostel basement for breakfast.

To my horror, the scrambled eggs were not there. I was hoping eggs would be refilled soon and I even hung around after finishing my bowl of cereal. Unfortunately, there was still no eggs no matter how long I waited.

I head back to my room and got ready for the day out. I wanted today to be museum visiting day since I had not been to any museums in Santiago yet. Plus, most museums close on Monday so I had better get my fill of museums on Sunday.

The first museum on my list was the Museum of Memory and Human Rights. I bought a transport card–adorably called “Bip”–and loaded it with some money. A ride on the subway is 600 peso (S$1.50).

When I got to the entrance of the museum inside the subway, I found out that it was closed I then remembered that today was elections day. I went out of the subway to take a look at the museum.

Near the museum, there were several TV cars and a few policepeople standing guard. I wondered if the building next to the museum was where voting happened.

Heavily guarded building
Heavily guarded building

I took a peek at my Tripadvisor app to see where to have lunch. I walked down the street, hoping to find the elusive restaurant but failed. Instead, I captured a few photos:

Santiago building
Santiago building
Santiago, Chile
Santiago, Chile
Museum of Education
Museum of Education

I headed back to the subway station and looked at the map. I saw a subway station called Cementerio. I remembered reading about how the cemetery here in Santiago is worth a visit.

I hopped back onto the subway and switched a line to reach the cemetery.

When I got there, I wanted to see if there were any restaurants around. Since I did not have a good breakfast, my energy was quickly sapped away. I needed food.

While I was waiting for the traffic lights, a young man in a small old car turned into my street, grinned and yelled, “CHINO!”

I didn’t know if that was supposed to be racist or just for fun. I should learn the word for “asshole” so I can use it in situations like these.

There were no restaurants around the entrance of the cemetery. Instead, there were stalls and stalls of florists, all selling blooming flowers.

Santiago General Cemetery

Without lunch, I walked into the cemetery.At first, the building on the left looked like an administration office.

Santiago General Cemetery
Santiago General Cemetery

Looking closer, I realized that the floors had shelves with plaques. This wasn’t an office. It was places to put urns.

There were many of such constructions in the cemetery–rectangular boxes with inscription in the front and presumably urns in the back.

Unlike Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires where only the “elite” were kept. The Santiago General Cemetery seemed to have a mix of rich and middle class.

The rich had elaborate mausoleums or underground tombs while the middle class were kept in rectangular space. It’s a little like real life where the rich could afford bungalows while the middle class stayed in flats.

Landed property for the dead
Landed property for the dead
HDB for the dead
HDB for the dead

The cemetery was huge! I didn’t walk from one end to another since the other end looked really far.

Interestingly, the cemetery had a few large buildings housing many different people. One of these was the “Circle of Reporters” where I assumed the remains of famous reporters were kept.

Circle of Reporters in Santiago General Cemetery
Circle of Reporters in Santiago General Cemetery
What's inside the Circle of Reporters?
What’s inside the Circle of Reporters?

This concept of keeping related people in the same place after life is quite fascinating. I had always assumed that people want to be “kept” near their families after they die.

I discovered one grave that was decorated with a lot of flowers and children’s toy. There were many notes printed on marble, thanking Carmenita for something. At first I thought this was where people came to pray for love.

After poking around my Spanish translation app, I deciphered that women who want children would come and pray for one (or two).

Carmencita's grave in Santiago
Carmencita’s grave in Santiago
Carmencita is able to bless you with babies
Carmencita is able to bless you with babies

Soon, it was time to head back. I took the subway back to the hostel. I walked around and discovered a large supermarket. I bought a large pack of green apples before heading to lunch at a restaurant.

Then I got back to the hostel and had a refreshing siesta.

Trip to La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires [YQrtw Day 62 Jun 8]

la recoleta

Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina

If you’ve been following me for a while, you probably know that I like creepy things, such as places where skeletons are artfully arranged and cemeteries.

When I learned about La Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, I knew that I must visit the place. I didn’t have an exact visit schedule so I slotted it in for today.

Since Google Maps does not have public transport directions for Buenos Aires, I did the safest thing and walked all the way from my hostel.

Good thing Buenos Aires has a grid system. I just needed to walk straight and turn when there is a bend and continue walking.

On my way, I stopped by a GIGANTIC Carrefour for a pack of biscuit (in case I get hungry from the terrible hostel breakfast) and a cup of coffee at the Carrefour Cafe.

I found out that raw steak is sold at as cheap as A$22, making me determined to make my own steak instead of spending A$80 outside for a restaurant steak.

Back to the cemetery… I found it easily since the crosses and angels peeped over the high walls surrounding the resting place.

The place was amazing. Larger than life statues were littered everywhere looking mournful.

La Recoleta Cemetery

Many of the mausoleums were exquisite. My sister mistook the crosses for churches when I sent her and mom photos of the cemetery.

La Recoleta CemeteryLa Recoleta Cemetery

I walked for so long that I decided to take a rest at one of the partly sunny benches. I read through several chapters of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban during the wait.

At last, it was time for me to leave. Before that, I visited Evita’s grave. It looked more like a small black marble box, not as glamourous as many of the “houses” in the neighborhood.

After seeing the cemetery, it got me wondering what people nowadays prefer to be placed after they die.

Swindled by a restaurant

As I walked back from the cemetery, I peeped at the different menus. Alas, everything in proper restaurants cost about A$80 (S$20). I was in my miserly mode of mine so I didn’t go into any of them.

In the end, I found a dingy place near my hostel that offered set meals for A$45. I was tempted by the photo of the steak.

When I went into the restaurant, there were 3 men sitting side by side with their backs to the counter. They stared at me when I walked in. Oh well, I guess none of them wanted to handle the foreigner so I grabbed a menu and read the dish, adding a “Si?”

They said, “Si.” I mimed sitting down and one of the man nodded.

He asked, “Frites?” I replied, “Si.”

The dish took a while to cook. When it came, it was decent but not spectacular. If I wanted spectacular, I should have just gone to the A$80 shops.

When it was time to pay the bills, one of the man asked another man something. The other man said what clearly sounded like “30 pesos” in Spanish because the “t” was audible.

But the change I got back from the first man was change for A$45. I stared at the bill, turning it over to see it taped down the middle.

I could have asked the guy who gave me change, “30 pesos or 40 pesos?” I could do these numbers but it didn’t seem worth it making a scene for what is only S$2.50 of change.

I took leave, vowing to have enough guts to confront that swindler in the future.

#Bilingualsummer achievements

O Google Tranlated “Can I buy a SUBE here?”, memorizing the translation and using a broken version of it to ask for a SUBE. Extra points for understanding the lady’s question of how much I want to load into my card.

X Not asking for the correct change during lunch.

A walk among the dead in Montparnasse cemetery

Montparnasse cemetery, cross against a blue sky

[To increase the level of spook, check out My visit to the Empire of Death before this post.]

I didn’t plan for my third day in Paris to be full of death.

In the morning, I visited the Catacombs. When I was doing my travel research, one guidebook or another recommended Montparnasse cemetery where among the dead laid Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.

I do not know much about de Beauvoir, apart from her being a famous feminist and a on-and-off partner of Sartre. I learned fake existentialism from a French-teaching armadillo on the University of Austin Texas’s Web site.

I do not remember how I got to the cemetery. I might have taken the train to Rapsail stop, since Google Maps is telling me that it’s a 1.5km walk from the exit of the Catacombs.

Following my trusty portable map and some road signs, I reached the Montparnasse cemetery area. There was a high wall separating the dead and the living. I wish it was a short gate so I could have jumped over it and get finished with my itinerary.

Secret door of Montparnasse cemetery
Secret door of Montparnasse cemetery

There was a high wall separating the dead and the living. I wish it was a short gate so I could have jumped over it and get finished with my itinerary.

I walked the a long stretch of road to the gates. For someone who do not know what is behind the walls, the vine-covered bricks might mean a private garden lay behind. A garden of the dead.

Plaque about Cemetiere de Montparnasse
Plaque about Cemetiere de Montparnasse

When I did reach the gates, I studied the map of the cemetery. The map was too high up for me to take a good picture to use as a walking guide. Instead, I studied where de Beauvoir and Sartre laid and mentally mapped my way there.

Map of Montparnasse cemetery
Map of Montparnasse cemetery

Looking for de Beauvoir

It wasn’t that easy finding their graves. I was expecting something grand with wreaths decoration which was why I missed out the grave when I walked past it a few times.

The tombsone was a pale marble, hidden among the other gray grave markers. Craved on the tombstone in gold were the names of de Beauvoir and Sartre and their birth year and death year. (Is there such a thing as a “deathday”?)

Grave of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre
Grave of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre

Grave of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre
The tombstone was small, I had expected something flashier given how big they were when they were alive. There were a lot of souvenirs on the tombstone. If it weren’t for the seriousness of being in a graveyard, I might have laughed out loud at the gifts.
Souvenirs from fans of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre
Souvenirs from fans of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre

Souvenirs from fans of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre Love the family portrait
Souvenirs from fans of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre
Love the family portrait

I particularly like the drawing of de Beauvoir and Sartre. A few lines from a de Beauvoir admire were scribbled on a piece of paper, probably torn out of a journal bought especially for the trip to Paris. A train ticket stub. A withering flower.

I regret not buying a bunch of flowers near the gates of the catacombs although it’s a little silly since the dead would not be able to smell them.

I didn’t expect de Beauvoir and Sarte to share one grave, like they aresharing an apartment. I thought that they each had their own plot of land, instead, they laid next to (or even on top) of each other.

Knowing what had passed between them during their final years, I wonder if the people who buried them were too romantic and decided that they must be together even in death.

While looking at the grave, I was overcome by sadness and wiped a few tears. What does it mean to live and be famous when in the end, we all would die and end up buried in the ground.

A walk in the park

Road sign in the middle of Montparnasse cemetery
Road sign in the middle of Montparnasse cemetery

After contemplating life at the grave of de Beauvoir, I decided to walk about in the graveyard.
Cross in the sky
Cross in the sky

The graveyard was shady, and very much like a park or a garden. I sat down at one of the benches and regretted not buying a picnic. Come to think of it, I might have lost my journal in the graveyard. I guess that’s much more poetic than losing it in the public toilet.

There was a grave marker in Chinese but I do not know the history of the two people who laid inside.

Chinese grave at Montparnasse cemetery
Chinese grave

There was another lady in the graveyard that day. She was refilling her bottle at one of the taps. I was worried that she might be drinking non-potable water.

The cemetery ground was large. I didn’t find other famous people’s graves even though there are supposed to be more.

I did find some lovely graves.

Tombstones in Montparnasse
Tombstones in Montparnasse
Familles Daniel Meyer et Ernest SAMUEL
Familles Daniel Meyer et Ernest SAMUEL

Graves in Montparnasse
Graves in Montparnasse

Yes, really large.
Cordoned tower of Montparnasse cemetery
Cordoned tower

Family grave
Family grave at Montparnasse cemetery
Grave with leaves
Grave with leaves
Statue of sad lovers
Statue of sad lovers at Montparnasse cemetery
Obelisk at Montparnasse cemetery
Fresh flowers
Fresh flowers at Montparnasse cemetery
Tombstones at Montparnasse cemetery
Tombstones at Montparnasse cemetery

I was surprised to see an apartment next to the graveyard. Being raised in a Chinese culture, any accommodation next to a graveyard means “bad things will happen”.

But Montparnasse didn’t look that much like a graveyard, so I suppose not much bad things will happen.

Bad feng shui?
Bad feng shui?

Do you have a favorite cemetery?

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My visit to the Empire of Death


This post contains some disturbing images. If you are not comfortable with looking at bones (and one rather creepy photo of a photo of skeletal remains), please stop here.

Thank you

Today is October the 31st Halloween so I thought it would be appropriate to have a spooky post to mark the occasion.

In case you’ve missed it, we in the Chinese world have a Ghost Month which does not involve dressing up in costume.

The Empire of Death in my blog post title refers to the inscription before the real entrance to the Catacombs of Paris.

Stop! This is the Empire of Death
Stop! This is the Empire of Death

When I was planning my May 2011 trip to Paris, the Catacombs was on the top of my list, right below the Lourve and the Eiffel Tower.

I first knew about the underground ossuary [Definition: A container or room into which the bones of dead people are placed.] from TV.

The Catacombs was shown on the rather unscary Scariest Places on Earth, hosted by Linda Blair who played the kid in The Exorcist. I was fascinated by the number of beautifully arranged human skulls.

By the way, I don’t think I’ve shared this, but I am a lover of anything spooky. New Orleans, I will visit you one day for your creepy plantations.

I started queuing up before 10 a.m. so I could finish the walk through the Catacombs early and visit the rest of Paris. There was a short queue when I reached.

Entrance to the Catacombs
Entrance to the Catacombs

It took a while before I was admitted into the tiny room selling tickets. With more body language than my broken French, I asked for a ticket and an audio guide.

I recommend getting the audio guide, or else you will be left with walking past graffiti and skulls without knowing what on earth is happening. (Not much is happening, by the way.)

The audio guides also make the visit seem more like a video game. Looking for the next audio point is like trying to find the treasure chest in old Chinese RPG games.

Ticket room to the Catacombs of Paris
Ticket room to the Catacombs of Paris

There are a few exhibition areas in the tunnel, telling the history of the Catacombs. One of it featured this rather scary photo of skeletal remains.

OK, this is rather creepy
OK, this is rather creepy

Be prepared to walk, a lot

Before going to the Catacombs, you should know that there is a lot of walking involved.

Walking up the stairs,

Catacombs of Paris
Light at the end of the tunnel

Walking down the stairs,

Well well well...
Well well well…

Walking in puddles.

Catacombs when it's wet
Catacombs when it’s wet

Walking in low roof areas.

Watch your head
Watch your head

Walking in the semi dark and so on.

There are no toilets in the passage so do your business before heading in.

As the tunnels are built underground, there are signs showing which part of the streets you are at.

Underneath Rue Hallé
Underneath Rue Hallé

The catacombs was not built in one day and neither is Rome, so I heard. But the tunnels were not built to keep human bones and was partly an old mine.

On parts of the walls, you can find carvings of years when that particular part was built.

Established since 1781
Established since 1781

Entering the Empire of Death

Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T
Show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T

The real part of the ossuary comes after the long walk. You’re not supposed to take flash pictures inside but so many tourists were happily flash snapping away. Grits teeth.
Not to do list
Not to do list

Behind the walls of skulls are piled up bones which reminds me of the bones song: “The thigh bones connected to the hip bone.”
Interesting patterns, who thinks them up?
Interesting pattern, who thinks them up?

Catacombs of Paris
Skulls and thigh bones
Curved wall with skulls
Curved wall with skulls
Great interior design
Great interior design

Poetic Death

There were a lot of poetic inscriptions.

My favorite was this:

Where is Death?
Where is Death?

“Where is Death? Always in the future or the past.
And when she is present, she is no longer here.”
(The “she” being Death.)

My second favorite:

At the banquet of life
At the banquet of life

“At the banquet of life, unlucky guest,
I appeared one day, and I die:
I die, and on my grave, where I come slowly,
No one will shed tears!”

 Blessed is he who
Blessed is he who

“Blessed is he who keeps the hour of death in sight,
and who spends his days ready to die.”

O death
O death

“O death that your judgment is filled with fairness” (Help with translating this, please.)

Not quite poetic
Not quite poetic

Great walk

YQ at Catacombs of Paris
Happy camper!

I like the Catacombs a lot. The tunnels did not feel creepy since the bones are arranged beautifully.

It makes Death seem less scary.

But I am sort of disappointed that I didn’t feel any paranormal vibes. Maybe next time!

Visiting information
Catacombs of Paris (Catacombes de Paris)
Web site:
Nearest subway and RER: Denfert-Rochereau
Open from 10a.m. to 5p.m. (Closed on Mondays)

Interesting sites nearby: Montparnasse Cemetery

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Among the ruins of Kellie’s Castle, Ipoh

Kellie's Castle

My blog is turning into a Visit Japan blog with all these posts about Japan! We interrupt your regular program with a visit to Kellie’s Castle in Ipoh.

I first read about Kellie’s Castle in a guidebook. It sounded like a fairy tale gone wrong. Let me tell the story with a bit of help from Journey Malaysia.

“Once upon a time, in a land far far away, a Scot by the name of William Kellie Smith made a lot of money in Malaya.

“In 1909/1910, he built a Moorish-styled manor for his family (wife Agnes Smith and daughter Helen Agnes). When his long-awaited son was born, he decided to extend his house into an even grander building.

“Unfortunately, the great building was never finished as many of the workers caught the Spanish flu and died. Smith was said to have died in Portugal of pneumonia.

The wife, daughter and son who left Malaya never returned.

“Nobody lived happily every after.


Yes, that is the sad tragic tale of Kellie’s Castle.

Kellie's Castle Ipoh
Kellie’s Castle Ipoh

From town to Kellie’s Castle

As L and I were not familiar with the public transport, we took a private cab recommended by the Tune Hotel Ipoh receptionist. I believe it was a RM40 trip to the site and back to Ipoh town.

The castle wasn’t as creepy as the travel brochure portrayed. Kellie’s Castle wasn’t the grey stone castle of Scotland which I had imagined. Instead, the walls were mostly brick red.

Most of the castle was crumbling. There were dangerous areas on the upper floor with nothing to protect the visitor from falling of the building.

Living on the edge at Kellie's Castle
Living on the edge at Kellie’s Castle

One of the rooms was reportedly haunted by a young girl. The problem is, I don’t think Helen died when she was young. I think it’s one of the stories people make up to pretend it is more mysterious than it is.

Haunted room at Kellie's Castle
Haunted room at Kellie’s Castle

Yellow House

Yellow House of Kellie's Castle
Yellow House of Kellie’s Castle

Behind the red building was a crumbling yellow house. This used to be the original manor but was somehow damaged really badly.

I mostly felt sad wandering in the unfinished compound. Some of the walls were newly painted but most were uncovered and other had moss crawling all over.

What made me happy were the two sets of people having photoshoots.

A couple was taking pre-wedding photo shoots while we were there. I adore wedding shoots at historical places as they are more interesting than generic flowerbeds.

Wedding shoot at Kellie's Castle
Wedding shoot at Kellie’s Castle

Then a bunch of people were also taking cosplay photos. The people dressed up in futuristic warrior outfits while the camera folks held reflective boards.

Cosplay shoot at Kellie's Castle
Cosplay shoot at Kellie’s Castle

When I showed my colleagues photos of the castle, they were unimpressed. I think they wanted to see buildings as grand as Edinburgh Castle.

Have you visited Kellie’s Castle? Did you see ghosts there?