Singapore

Oh Singapore, you never fail to please!

It’s official. I’m in love with Singapore. When I landed at Changi airport on Thursday it felt like I’d come home. I know that sounds really sad but it’s true. I was very happy to be back. I headed to Aljunied, my MRT station a stone’s throw from the hostel. I’m staying across the road from where I stayed last time, partly because I knew where it was, mainly because it was the cheapest on hostelbookers.com.

I arrived quite early, too early to check in according to the stroppy receptionist (she is genuinely mental), so I took the opportunity to head into the city and hit the malls. I walked loads, which probably wasn’t the best idea seeing as I’d spend the next two days pretty much on my feet. Oh well! I saw loads of Singapore that I didn’t quite see the first time – Chinatown, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, the Botanical Gardens…so it was worth the walk.

I thought that Friday might be a good chance to escape from the city before two days of malls, music and madness followed by Bangkok on Monday. So I took the MRT to Tanah Merah and hopped on a bus to Changi village, where you can catch a bumboat (don’t ask, I don’t know why they’re called that) to Pulau Ubin. Danny Wallace went there when he took a weekend trip to Singapore in Yes Man, which I read in Malaysia, and I’ve been intrigued ever since.

It’s essentially one of the last escapes in Singapore from the malls, MRT and money. It’s a small island that can easily be explored in a day by foot or bike, just don’t stay too late because the boats only leave when there’s 12 people! I hired what I’m going to call an “Amsterdam bike” – basket, high handlebars, no gears – and headed to the coastal boardwalk that takes you out to sea and back again. A bit like a pier. It’s a lovely place to spend the day, but being worried about not making it back in time, I headed back to the jetty at lunch time.

“Are you getting the boat?” a prim and proper lady asked me in an Australian accent.

“Yes, how many of us are there?” The jetty was full of men sat around, so I wasn’t expecting to be waiting long.

“Six! I’ve been here an hour already!”

“Oh, but all these men…?”

“They are just waiting for business. They’ve all got boats, but, they’re just waiting to fill them. Maybe we should just charter the boat? It’s $30, so between the six of us, $5 each.”

Not feeling I really had a choice, I had to agree with the posh lady and pay double the fare! Never mind, it got me back in time for a chilled out afternoon in Little India – another area I thought I saw last time, but it’s now apparent I didn’t.

Walking around the city over the past couple of days, I literally had to bite my tongue with excitement to stop myself from jumping up and down whenever they played Shakira clips in the street or Sebastian Vettel was advertising a watch on the side of a bus. It’s all very exciting! So I couldn’t get much sleep. I therefore started my Saturday very early at ION mall at Orchard MRT station with the intention of weaving my way in and out of the malls (and air conditioning) all the way down to City Hall, where Gate 3 into Zone 4 awaited me. This plan worked and at 3pm I headed into Zone 4!

I was instantly amazed at how close to the track you could get, and then even more amazed when I later found the bridge with the track on one side and audience on the other. As a short person, I was rather pleased to find lots of free standing platforms to raise you up without the help of Westlife to get a better view of the races.

However, I was clearly more of a Shakira fan than others because by the time she’d finished on Saturday night, the platforms were jammed for the qualifying. Speaking of Shakira, she was amazing, as expected. I was glad I got the wristband given to me because I was so close! Take a look here to see what I caught of the show.

Sadly, I was a little too slow getting food and so had no chance to see Rick Astley as the seating area around the Esplanade stage was absolutely rammed with people who have probably been Rickrolled at least once in their life and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. HOWEVER – not sadly, this bit’s exciting – from where I was stood, Rick Astley did walk right past me (literally less than a metre!) as he headed to the stage. HOWEVER – sadly, this bit’s devastating – I’d treated myself to a coconut and had slightly sticky hands and couldn’t get to my camera. Told you, devastating. He sounded good though. Well, as good as cheesy 80’s pop can sound.

After the qualifying, Shaggy was next in line on the entertainment front. He was pretty good. The audience were pretty annoying. I’d got there nice and early, making the most of my wristband and was one row back in the fan zone – even closer than I was to Shakira! After watching the end of the qualifying on the big screen, out popped Shaggy. And in popped a bunch of people “excuse me-ing” their way in front of me and the girl next to me. Who was even shorter than me. To be expected at a gig so we didn’t mind too much, but when some other guy tried it on I wasn’t having any of it.

“Excuse me,” he pointed to his ‘friend’ in front as he attempted to make his way past me.

I tapped him on the shoulder, “Ehh! Where you going?”

“My friend…”

“Who? Where? Nuh uh, I’m stood here, get back.” And I made my way in front of him and carried on cheering. Felt brilliant.

After such a good day I couldn’t wait for Sunday!

I did the same as Saturday and drooled at the drinks menus in the food courts of the malls as I made my way down to gate 3. A band called London Fog played early on the Esplanade stage. You know in Mean Girls when Janis draws the canteen for Cady? Well these guys would be sat on the Cool Asians table. I managed to catch a bit of Earth Collide who performed some acoustic covers of Muse, The Killers etc, before heading back to the Esplanade to catch Forbidden Broadway, which was very funny. Definitely worth a Youtube search if you get the chance! Or just click here for The Lion King segment and click away in the sidebar for more.

Then of course, the reason all this was happening, it was race time! I left Forbidden Broadway early despite absolutely loving it and there still being 40 minutes until the race started. Ahh ha! I wasn’t going to be caught out like yesterday! I was going to get up on that platform!

No I wasn’t. Still full. How long had these people been waiting?! I did get right up to the front of the barrier though so could see (and hear) pretty well! After about 10 laps of jumping onto the barrier each time the cars came round, I decided this could get quite tedious 61 times, and so headed for a screen. Ahh ha! I wasn’t going to be caught out again! I had a plan, I headed for the Padang field where Linkin Park would be performing after the race. This time, the plan worked! I wasn’t too far back from the end of the fan zone (no wristband this time) and sat on the grass in between two parts of the track watching on the big screen.

It all got very tense at the end when Jenson Button nearly caught up with Vettel, everyone started standing up! So up I got and stayed that way until the last few songs of Linkin Park, by which point the sweat was dripping down the backs of my legs and I had to get out, so I made my way backwards to a bigger space where I could breathe and soon it was all over.

It really was an amazing weekend and I’d recommend it to anyone! One of the many immigrants staying in my dorm looking for work (long story, not going to go into it now, this post is long enough as it is!) told me that Abu Dhabi is a good track, maybe that should be next…

I’ll be uploading some clips of Shaggy, Linkin Park and of course the racing over the next couple of days, so check my Youtube channel to see what I saw!

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Categories: Singapore, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Thoughts on Penang (and other exciting news!)

In keeping with the rest of Malaysia, Penang is very nice. In difference to the Cameron Highlands, Penang is very hot! I haven’t really sweated yet since I’ve been away, yeah, it’s been hot, but Penang? WOAH! I’m thinking it could just have been the change from shivering at night in the Cameron Highlands to stepping off the plane into a blanket of heat but wow!

After my wonderful night at Jim’s Place, (not only was there a bratty jungle kid but my fan didn’t work!!) I awoke bright and early and was ready to leave ASAP. I showered, packed my bag, checked the map for an idea of which direction to head for cheap hotels and so I was set. I headed downstairs. Complete darkness. Brilliant. The shutters were down, no-one was around…then I saw a man on the sofa. It was Jim.

“Jim? Jim?” I whispered, “Jim?”

He stirred.

“I need to leave now”

“Ok. You can go out the back, baby.” That’s the kind of guy Jim was. He had notice boards on the wall filled to the brim with quotes from “Sir Jim”, mainly about having sexual intercourse with the Thai population.

Glad to have finally left, I ended up in Banana Guest House! Doesn’t sound much better, does it? Thankfully, it was, and I had a very pleasant last night’s rest in Penang. A much needed one after my 8km trek through Taman Negara Pulau Penang earlier that day. That’s Penang National Park to you and me. It was a fun, sweaty hour and a half before reaching a beautiful white sandy beach with a turtle conservation centre – and a tank full of baby sea turtles! It was very cute!

I met a lovely man called Izman and his two cousins who were so kind, and gave me a lift to the Toy Museum that I’d seen on my way over. However, when I got to the entrance, I noticed the ticket price – as far as I could make out, it would have cost me 100RM (20quid!) just to see some toys. I was kinda hoping for 1-10RM…so I headed to the bus stop straight away to catch a bus back into town.

“Where do you want to go?” came an angry sounding voice from the shelter.

“Err, I need bus 101? Into the city, Komtar?”

“Ahh, yes, ok, it will come. But i’ve been waiting half an hour already. Huh!” She was quite a character, “So where are you from?”

“England.”

“Ooo, long way. How do you like Malaysia?”

“I love it! I was in Indonesia before, and I hated it. So Malaysia is great in comparison!”

She nodded and smiled. We sat for a few moments and then she asked, “What do you believe?”

“I’m sorry?”

“What do you believe? Like, God, religion? Are you a Christian?”

“Oh, I’m not religious. I…don’t know what to believe.” This was an easier answer than getting into a religious debate. I turned the tables, “And you?”

“I’m a Christian. I used to be a Hindu but then I changed. What is the point of a religion when I can’t do anything, you know? But being a Christian, I can ask for forgiveness, you can’t do that in Hinduism, I mean, we all make mistakes sometimes, we need to ask for forgiveness and my old religion didn’t allow for mistakes so now being Christian LOGOS HOPE!!!” The endless monologue was interrupted when two minibuses drove past with the words “Logos Hope” on the side.

“What’s Logos Hope?” I asked.

“It’s a boat, a travelling book fair, and it’s here in Penang, first time in Malaysia and first time in Penang and it’s here!”

What a lovely idea. A book boat shop that travels the world.

She was chatting all the way on the bus too. A very nice, open woman called Mala.

The following morning I left Penang and after a few hours stop in Kuala Lumpur airport, I arrived in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah on Borneo yesterday. So far, so good! I caught the bus into town for 30p as opposed to at least a tenner for a taxi and went for some lunch in a shopping centre. I found a small cafe in a supermarket where I chowed down on a plate of fried noodles for 40p, only to be filmed by the women on the next table…I wasn’t literally chowing the noodles down, I’m not a dog. I was eating sensibly despite being ravenous. So that wasn’t the reason they were filming me. I did still have my backpack on but get a life! I even turned back as I walked away and she was still filming me!!

It was a half hours walk from the bus station to Lucy’s Homestay (the cheapest in the book!) and if they were full there looked to be plenty of other options nearby. Thankfully, they had space and I’m now in a lovely hostel for the next three nights (well, two now!) with free breakfast and wi-fi AND I’ve had my laundry done! Hooray!

Even more exciting news is…

  1. I may be able to do a try dive in the Semorna Archipelago – apparently one of the best dive spots in the world!
  2. I have planned Borneo down to a T and should be able to hit the orang-utans (not literally), Semporna, Gunung Mulu National Park and Kuching within a time span allowing me to…
  3. GO TO SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX!! Yes! How amazing is that?! It falls just when I’m ready to leave Borneo, flights from Kuching are dirt cheap (I’ve already booked one!) and Shakira, Linkin Park, Shaggy AND Rick Astley are playing!! I mean come on, Rick Astley? Cherry on top of a fantastic cake or what?! It’s a night race around a track in the city centre so different to most races around the world. What a cool place to see my first Grand Prix! Of course, I’ll be rooting for Hamilton and Button….if I’m not too busy singing along to Rick Astley that is!

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Categories: Malaysia, Singapore, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

So long, Singapore!

So tomorrow I head off to Bali and leave Singapore. Having been here 2 days longer than originally planned, it’s beginning to feel quite comfortable.Singapore really is the perfect place for first time Asia. I think! Remember, this is my first visit to Asia! I am expecting things to get a little tougher from here though – visas being stricter, transport being less frequent etc…but we shall see.

Yesterday I headed down to East Coast Park. In an attempt to save my MRT money to leave me enough (including the $5 deposit that I can get back and spend on a cheaper ticket) to take me back to the airport, I decided to walk it. It didn’t look too far on the map from my hostel – but that was the country map, not the city map. Either way, I decided it’s not a big country, it’s only 5 MRT stations, and because they’re raised overground and not underground this far out of the city, it would be easy enough to follow the track and then turn right, keep going right and eventually hit the beach. And it worked!

It’s a really cool place. The beach itself isn’t worth writing home about, but what they’ve done with it is respectable. There’s plenty of bike hire, inline skate hire and weird two board scooter hire. There’s a cable water ski, an amazing and very clean “emo”-free skate park and a great hawker centre. It’s not very easy to get to even from the MRT closest it’s a little walk but it’s worth it for a relaxing afternoon.

Here’s my overall opinion of Singapore:

  • Clean. If you were getting fined $500, you wouldn’t eat or drink on the MRT either. Although it’s not an overly helpful rule when you’re having a coughing fit on a train.
  • Less people speak English then you would think from the signage. And unleash the linguist in me, if language is boring to you, skip to the next bullet point now…..Most signs are at least bilingual, (even quadlingual in some cases!) which is what I was expecting from what I’d studied about Singapore’s linguistic ratio. However, sometimes, they’re not. Sometimes, the signage is just in English, or just Chinese if you’re in a Chinese community area. This would be fine, but then from the locals I’ve needed to speak to, I can’t recall more than 5 who have been completely fluent in English. Proving that Singapore is not as bilingual as I thought. If you don’t speak English, it would be hard living here in my opinion unless you were in a Chinese/Malay/Tamil etc community. If you do speak English, you’ve got a great advantage. Essay over.
  • Safe. Even roaming the big sights in the city at night, Singapore feels very safe.
  • Just. Plain. Awesome. Singapore is cool. There’s no denying it.

And so, my Singapore fling is over. (Geddit? Singapore Sling/fling?…It was weak, forgive me.) Tomorrow brings Bali and I’m preparing myself for a very different experience…

Categories: Singapore, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Seven! Twice!

Singapore is a small fortune in the money making machine that is Apple. Everywhere you look an iPhone is in sight. I counted 7 iPhones in view on 2 seperate MRT trips. And they were full MRT trips, as in, no room to look very far. Seven! Twice!

Speaking of the MRT it really does put the London Underground to shame. It is quite possibly the best metro system I’ve used so far in my life. Bear in mind, I’ve not used one outside of Europe yet, but I have seen a fair few European attempts. It whoops London’s ass for the following reasons;

  • It is clean. Impeccably so. I think the fact that a S$500 fine is attached to eating or drinking on a train or in the station has a small part to play in this.
  • It is calm. Yes, I know, I know, you must think I’m crazy, “Calm + Underground?! Those two words don’t match!!” Well Singapore has proved they do.
  • It is one long carriage. To be fair to LDN, I did recently ride one that was a long carriage there….or it could have been Paris….probably Paris.
  • It is cheaper. If you get yourself an EZ link card then you just swipe away. Ok, London has the Oyster card, 1 point for London.
  • But really, it’s just better.

I can’t really take pictures of the metro, if I get a late MRT one day I’ll try but when there’s people it feels a bit awkward to grab the camera.

Day One. Singapore.

On my first day in Singapore, I took the MRT from my hostel to City Hall and walked a pretty big circuit of the CBD (Central Business District) and Chinatown, followed by stumbling across Clarke Quay and Fort Canning Park.This was interspersed with an uncountable amount of mall walk arounds (mainly because it rained!) and a brilliant meal in my first hawker centre.

It was Lau Pa Sat Festival market, and it was not far out of the CBD so it was full of people dressed very smartly on their lunch breaks, all queuing and eating in this very different environment to where I imagine they had spent their mornings. It was nice to see that even the Big Wigs love this part of Singapore culture. I didn’t see a restaurant that day that was as full as the hawker market.

The only problem you may encounter in one if you visit yourself is deciding what to eat and where from. There is so much choice and a small bit of variation in price so it was definitely worth me taking a little wander round before deciding where to eat. In the end I settled for a S$3.50 (1.75GBP) veg and tofu dish with rice. It was huge for what I paid! You couldn’t even get a Boots Meal Deal for that in England!

I found myself on the edge of Chinatown when I left, which unless I didn’t hit it in the right spot wasn’t overly exciting. The antlers horns in the Chinese medicine shop windows put me off slightly. So I didn’t stay long.

After that, I headed for Clarke Quay which is a quirky looking area of Balamory coloured style buildings. They’ve all been converted into restaurants, bars and nightclubs now, and seeing as I was wandering throuhg at around 5.30pm, not a lot was going on! One place diod catch my eye though – Clinic. They had real wheelchairs spraypainted gold, a dentist’s chair and converted hospital beds for chairs. The menu included such delights as a ‘blood transfusion’, ‘Oral Me’ mouthwash (in 3 different flavours!) amoungst others. All priced at….S$50 each. 25GBP!

I meandered out of Clarke Quay and crossed the road into Fort Canning Park. A rather nice unexpected discovery. From what I could gather from the info on the signs, basically, this is where that Raffles chap set up base. It was then used by loads of different folk including the Japanese army and…I forget who else! I was paying a little more attention to the fact that I’d just left a busy, bright, brash clubbing hotspot and entered a silent National Park! There was lots of lovely art sculptures including some mooing cows and ladders crawling up the trees! I sat myself down on a bench to check the map and there was an old man stood by a pillar reading the newspaper out loud in Chinese….fair enough. Nice place to do it if you’re gonna do it at all. Then he calmly placed the newspaper down on the bench, and started to do some Tai Chi. As you do. I wish we could do that in England and not get looked at. How cool would that be!?

I ended day one with a waltz through Funan Digitalife Mall. A mall literally dedicated to IT, computers, camera, mobile phones, TV’s and all things techno. Except for raves. And glowsticks. By now I was starting to discover that 99% of the gazillion malls in Singapore have a food hall/market in the basement, so I headed down and had my bargain meal of the day #2. This time  I was feeling a little more adventurous and so I opted for “Yong Tau Fo” (I think). I stood and watched a few people before me picking 7 fresh ingredients, then passing the bowl to the lady who puts it all into a deep mesh pan in boiling water and adds noodles. I ended up with a massive soupy mix which was delicious and very filling. This time I only spend 2GBP!

Day Two. Singapore.

I felt like I’d had my fill of the city on day one, so I planned to spend day two at a wetland reserve way up in the north of the island. I’d found the leaflet at Fort Canning Park, and it wasn’t in the Lonely Planet so I figured it would either be a hidden gem or a waste of time. I was intrigued by the journey so I took the risk. It paid off as soon as I arrived at the entrance to find a HUGE lizard sat on the walkway! Luckily a German couple had got the same bus so I was able to ask for a photo with it. (See Flickr!) I took an hours walk through the reserve. I was feeling up for opting for the 4-5 hour jaunt but then I saw this sign:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In particular, this bit of the sign:

 

 

 

 

 

PYTHON?! ROAMING FREE?! IN THE PARK I’M ABOUT TO ENTER?!

I walked 300 yards and saw this sign:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I took the short way round.

I spent the afternoon browsing the expensive delights of Orchard Road and the evening in the Asian Civilisation Museum which is well worth checking out. Full of artifacts and explanations on Asian history, religion etc. So all in a all a good start!

And unfortunately, due to my phone deciding it can’t be charged via USB, I’ve spent most of this morning browsing the less expensive delights of Orchard Road (the basements!) and found numerous phone shops that will hopefully be able to help me out tomorrow when I actually have it with me! Fingers crossed…

Categories: Singapore, South East Asia | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

“Can I ask you a question? I’m too dark to be a mixed race guy, right?”

Erm…. How do you reply to that?! After a very successful airport experience on take two, I was very relieved when I sat down on the plane. Of course, I wanted a window seat but booking it only the day before meant they’d all gone, so I settled for a happy little middle seat. Until one of the stewardesses came and asked the man next to me if he wanted to swap so someone could be closer to their family. He didn’t want to because he didn’t want a window seat,  but I said I’d be happy to and jumped at the chance!

Not the best idea I’ve ever had. Yes there was some good views, but my God was there some weird questions. The title of this post being one of them. At first I thought the two people next to me were traveling together. They were both blokes, about the same age, just seemed to make sense. Unlike the one of them who was “too dark to be a mixed race guy”. Who was unfortunately the one next to me. He didn’t make sense.

As the flight went on, I began to notice him doing some repetitive muscle flexing and that the guy I thought was his friend wasn’t talking to him very much. “Maybe he’s autistic”, I thought. Then the questions started and the comments started and that’s when I began to think there was something odd about this bloke. “Maybe he’s got learning difficulties”, was the thought that now crossed my mind, “Maybe the other guy isn’t his friend, but his carer. Nice of him to take him to Dubai. That’s some good caring, right there.”

When he went to the toilet, I had to find out what was going on.

“Are you guys travelling together?” I asked his friend/carer.

“No! He’s something else isn’t he? Well done you, you’re getting all the questions!”

“So he’s traveling alone?! That is worrying.”

When he returned, I had to find out more, “So are you staying in Dubai or transiting somewhere else?”

“Yeah, I’m getting a plane from Dubai to Somalia. See my family and that. Got no family in London. Gets very lonely, you know? I love London. London is my home you know? I love London.”

“You live in London on your own?” I asked.

“Yeah, 11 years. I moved here when I was 11.”

“Ah right.”

Somalia?! I don’t know a lot about Africa, never mind Somalia, but what I do know about Somalia is that there’s famine there. And pirates. “Maybe he’s a pirate,” was my next thought.

Towards the end of the flight, he asked me if I smoke weed and I decided then that maybe he was stoned. I told the air hostess as I left the plane and she said they’d all noticed him too. I wasn’t surprised.

If you’re reading this and thinking I’m being a bit harsh, then here’s some examples of what he said:

  • On opening a butter carton, “What’s this?”
  • On cheese, “Is this cheese? What do I do with it?”
  • To the stewardess whilst grabbing the bag she was holding: “What’s this?” Stewardess, “That’s full of rubbish, sir.”
  • “So are we going straight to Dubai or are we gonna stop at other countries to pick people up on the way?”
  • “What country are we in now?” constantly, throughout the flight.
  • On taking off, “Are we gonna go higher?”
  • “Is this your first time in Dubai?” x7
  • Taking a sip having taken a drink from the stewardess’ tray, “What the hell?!”. He then put it back on the tray.
  • On flyinginto Dubai, “I love Dubai man. I never want to leave.”

Think I had a valid point in thinking he was odd now? Thought so.

After escaping him and getting off the plane, I was in Dubai airport for 6 hours. That wasn’t too bad, there was a lot to do and see as far as airports go. I took some amazing pictures of Dubai as I took off to Singapore. The aerial view is fantastic. Definitely somewhere I’d be interested in going – and that’s just from visiting the airport!

I sat next to some normal French people on that flight, which was a nice relief after my Somalian pirate on the last flight.

I arrived in Singapore at about 9 last night. Got all my luggage, checked through immigration, then followed the signs towards “Train to the city”, which I assumed would be the MRT. Turned out the MRT ticket machine doesn’t take cards for payments of S$2.90, so I headed back up the stairs to find an ATM. Then across to the shop to get an idea of how much things cost and figure out how much I’d need to get out. Then back to the ATM. Then back down to the MRT. With 3 S$50 notes. Which the machine also doesn’t accept. Luckily, the information lady could give me some change for a 50, so I got myself a ticket and headed off.

My hostel is average. Considering it is only costing 5 pounds (no pound sign on this keyboard!) per night, it’s pretty good. I got a good nights sleep, a shower and some toast and set off for the day.

I won’t expose much of Singapore just yet – I’ll save it for when I’ve been here a bit longer and have more to say – but so far I’m very impressed with it all…apart from the rain!

Categories: Singapore, South East Asia, United Arab Emirates | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

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