Posts Tagged With: fun

A Whistle Stop Tour of KL.

Back in the day, when I was out here all alone, these 5 weeks with Ashley became a difficult thing to organise over Skype. After a bit of sketchy planning in Myanmar I came up with a plan. Ashley’s birthday/Christmas present could be diving! We had 5 days ‘spare’ in which I could fit what became known to Ashley as the “Mystery Destination”. For a while, the Mystery Destination was also a mystery to me. Do we go to the Philippines? But we’ve never been so would 5 days be enough? Do we go to Indonesia? But I hated it; do I really want to go back there? Or do we go to Malaysia? The place I was originally planning to dive myself – the Semporna Archipelago – has sea turtles. Sea turtles!! I opted for Malaysia. To Ashley it was still Mystery Destination.

When it came to booking flights, it was always going to be a two flight trip from Tokyo if we were to go to Semporna, so I booked us on a night flight from Tokyo and an evening flight to Tawau, the airport for Semporna, leaving us with a day in Kuala Lumpur in between!

It took us some hot and sweaty trips back and forth from the left luggage area to the check in area before we found the security scanner and the lady with the bag stickers that meant we were allowed to leave our bags having been scanned for guns and the like. Phew. It also took us some hot and sweaty trips back and forth from ATM to ATM before they decided that yes, I do in fact have sufficient funds and yes, they can in fact serve me today. Double phew.

Finally on the bus into the city, I glanced up at the clock. 8.30? Of course! Kuala Lumpur is an hour behind Tokyo! The near hour spent shuffling from ATM to left luggage had been a freebie! Hooray! The bus journey was an hour long.

It must have been quite a tiring bus journey because Ashley fell asleep. I managed to stay awake. The prospect of navigating my way around the place again but without a map helped. We arrived at KL Sentral and I had a vague, vivid yet hazy memory of my mum back in August picking me up from KL Sentral and telling me and my sister we only needed to take one stop on the LRT train. The next stop up was Pasar Seni. Pasar means market, we wanted to head for the Central Market, I guessed and luckily it was right. It felt weird to be back there. We stopped off for a little drink in the Central Market food court, it being nearly 10 and us not having had the chance to get breakfast. I told Ashley there was a place I wanted to take him to eat so we didn’t eat there, but instead made our way down Petaling Street and found the food court where my mum and me ate on the last night in KL. It was just as I remembered!

After our curry laksa to welcome us to Malaysia, we headed back on the LRT to the Petronas Towers, wandered around the Suria mall a bit, took some Petronas Towers photos and whizzed back down to the market so that we were closer to KL Sentral to get our bus back to the airport. Still having some time to spare, we ate again (it was past 12, this could be classed as lunch) and decided to have a little look around the market. We were soon distracted by what was my first Malaysian experience last time – a fishy foot spa. It was the same place and possibly the same woman working there. This time I was a little braver and didn’t waste half of my time with my feet out of the water. I think it must have long lasting effects though – the fish nibbled me a little but not half as much as they flocked to Ashley. FRESH MEAT!

It was a quick little jaunt but pretty fun! And much more rewarding than I think 12 hours in the airport would have been. As a matter of fact there was only one hour in the airport, and off we set to Semporna.

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Categories: Malaysia, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

If you buy clothes in Harajuku, does that make you a Harajuku Girl?

So I’ve talked about Akihabara, I’ve talked about food, now I’m going to enlighten you to the wonders of Harajuku. If you don’t know me that well, you might not know that I’m a bit of a No Doubt fan. They’re amazing – the most underrated band ever. So consequently, I quite like Gwen Stefani. Now, when she got those 4 Japanese girls and gave them names and stuff, like you I presume, I also thought it was maybe a little extreme. However, having been to Harajuku I can see why she’d want to spread the word. You can walk around Harajuku wearing almost anything. Having said that, wearing  jeans covered in 3 weeks of dirt and sweatand my big baggy coat, I did feel slightly uncool. We’d read that weekends are the time to see all the girls gathered in their Cosplay get-up so had to wait until our last day to see them. There were still plenty of shops to be trawled during our weekday trips though. Despite most of it being “vintage” aka, overpriced charity shop, I did manage to find a 2 for 1000 Yen rail. Get in. So I got me some threads from Harajuku. Oh yeah.

After almost a week of waiting, we arrived on Sunday morning to a mass of tourists but no girls! All I can think of is that they have naturally moved on, as young people do, and now congregate somewhere else. If you know where, I’d love to know! This meant we had our last morning in Tokyo to kill in Harajuku, which meant I finally got to do something I’d really been looking forward to – KARAOKE. The daytime prices were a fifth of the night prices so the lack of Harajuku girls meant we’d hit the karaoke jackpot at 11am. The only catch was you had to buy a drink per person as well. I’d just indulged myself in another Calpis from the 7/11. I wasn’t ready for another drink. So I settled for a rosehip teapot, at least that way I get more than one glass full. Anyway, it was awesome. I absolutely loved it.

When we went in, we opted for 30 minutes, sticking to our budget ‘n’ all, but we ended up staying two 30 minute blocks longer. They don’t tell you when your time is up by the way – you have to keep track, which we did, we just wanted to stay longer.

You get a little room, with a built in sofa around 2 walls, a coffee table, a TV on one wall and the door and phone (to order more costly drinks) on the other. At first, we didn’t really know what to do. I pressed a few buttons and BAM! AKB48 came blaring through the speakers. I think I failed to mention them on the Akihabara post. They’re very specific to Akihabara so I won’t go into them now, but Google them. It’s mental.

Anyway, we found our way back to the menu screen, found the “English Songs” button and sang away! I think it’s fair to say Adele would have been proud of my rendition of Rolling In The Deep. Hey, she’d probably be a fan of Harajuku too and end up with some Stefani style girls. You never know.

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Categories: East Asia, Japan | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ghibli – say it fast three times.

The good thing about going home after my stint in the Bangkok hospital was being able to sort out our Chinese visas. After a bit of Googling, it seemed like a long old process but it turned out to be rather simple. More simple, almost, then getting tickets to the Ghibli Museum. It’s a good job I did go back as we’d have never known that we needed to order/reserve/pay for our Ghibli tickets long before we arrived in The Land of the Rising Sun. Take note if you’re thinking of Ghibli-ing it.

After our journey out of the city and into the suburbia of Mitaka, we followed the signs to the museum. The entry is staggered throughout the day to ensure an enjoyable experience for all. Then in you go and you get your ticket, which is an amazing start. Each ticket is three cells from a Ghibli film. Having only seen Spirited Away and Ponyo, I didn’t recongise mine – Ashley tells me it’s from Princess Mononoke, one of their most famous– although I did recongise his ticket cells from Ponyo!

The first room is full of awe-inspiring film and animation related displays; including a carousel of solid figures in slightly different positions spinning under a strobe that gives the impression of moving models, a giant robot juxtaposed with projections of moving butterflies, a house with a Ghibli film image behind each door and a model set of Miyazaki and his crew. All of the films and reels were visible as part of each exhibition, which makes you view the film as more of an art form in my opinion.

The rest of the museum is a Wonka-styled, child and big kid friendly building, which you’re encouraged to view as you wish. This includes a replica of an animation studio, a Cat Bus (there’s one that kids can clamber on but also one that adults can walk through) and a roof top garden complete with a giant robot.

It’s a very cool place, but maybe a little small for all the preparation involved in getting tickets. Having said that, perhaps this makes you appreciate what is there all the more. Like I said, I’ve only seen Ponyo and Spirited Away, and it did make me want to watch more Ghibli films, however, if you’re reading this thinking “Who’s Ghibli? What’s Ghibli? When’s Ghibli?” then maybe it’s not worth the preparation involved. On the other hand, anyone from a Ponyo and Spirited Away novice like me to an uber-Ghibli fan like Ashley is bound to enjoy the place.

Sadly there’s no photos allowed inside so this is about as good as it gets on the photo front…

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Watch E.T Toddle and Bobble to the Maid Cafe!

Tokyo is exciting. We were both really excited about coming here, and it’s definitely lived up to expectations. As soon as we arrived (ahem, perhaps coming from China helped, ahem) people couldn’t have been nicer. Strangers ask if you’re ok when you’re looking at maps, shop assistants smile and are incredibly polite and best of all – NOBODY SPITS!!

We had a bizzare double plane journey from Beijing to Shanghai and then Shanghai to Tokyo. We were put in a torturous glass holding area in Beijing because we hadn’t really left the country and were going to land again in Shanghai for an hour. This meant that we could see the beautiful shiny restaurant sign but only through a big glass wall. We had no restaurant – just toilets and a water machine. It was a real last minute “This is China, thanks for coming, now buggar off” moment.

When we arrived in Tokyo, we were overly excited yet overly exhausted so headed straight to the hotel and arrived about midnight after we got lost and 4 staff and a customer held a mother’s meeting with an iPad in the 7/11 to help us before the customer walked us to the hotel! Japan 1 – China 0.

In case you’ve missed my excited rambling over the past couple of months, we’re staying in a pod! A capsule hotel! The best thing about which is the shared bathroom. Loads of products to use (including Skin Water and Hair Water), a spa bath and Ashley has told me the male bathroom also has a sauna and a massage chair! The pod itself is pretty cool too. There’s a TV, radio, alarm clock and an internet cable all built in. You get new towels, pyjamas and slippers everyday as well as fresh sheets. It really is very cool.

What’s turned out to be another good thing is that the cleaning begins at 10am, so you have to be out by then, which means we’ve been setting our pod clock to wake us at 8 and having a little spa treatment before heading out for the day to explore. And there’s so much to explore!!

The first couple of days were spent hitting different districts but today I’m going to write about one. I’m in awe of Akihabara – the manga/”geek”/anime/neon/maid cafe capital of Tokyo – aka, Electric Town. It’s insane. Everything is so kitsch and cute and trashy yet somehow you want it in your life. There’s Sega arcades with floor upon floor of teddy pickers (I didn’t win the Squid Girl headphones), there’s shops selling retro in-packet toys (you can watch ET toddle and bobble), there’s sex shop “department stores” (you can easily mistake for manga stores from the outside) and then there’s the maid cafes. Maid cafes…hmm, how to explain maid cafes when I’m not sure I understand myself? Here goes…

You’re walking through Akihabara, you see a girl on the street with bunches in a French maid dress, handing out leaflets, smiling and talking in a squeaky voice. You notice them a lot. You kind of get the idea that it’s a bit like an anime geek’s version of Hooters – instead of big jugs, they got big frills and Hello Kitty hair bands. But you’re not sure if tourists are allowed, if girls are allowed, maybe they’re allowed but maybe it would be awkward. After a few days you give in to the curiosity and up you go. Now replace the word “you” with “Me and Ashley”. and you’re up to speed.

So this evening – one of the girls hands us a leaflet and we ask her where it is, she walks us to the building with her friend who also works there.

“Ahh, ok, thank you!”

They come in the lift with us and take us straight in. Now that’s pretty good service. In we go. A warm welcome from the maids! Lots of high pitched ‘konichiwas’ and big smiles. Not such a warm welcome from the single, hairy men in there.

We’re given some seats and shown a menu and asked in Japanese to choose between “Cafe” or “Bar”. We looked back at our maid blank faced. Luckily she spoke a little English.

“Erm..you have 30 minutes with Cafe for 800 Yen or 60 minutes with Bar for 3,000 Yen.”

We really wanted a meal. Plus, we’ve been avoiding Starbucks because it costs so much – 300 Yen – and you get to stay longer than 30 minutes there! It seemed offensive to Starbucks to spend that much on 30 minutes worth of cafe time.

“Food? You do food?” we asked, pretending to nom nom nom with our hands.

“Erm…yes, little food.” She went through the overpriced menu. So we’d have to pay 800 each and then more for food? We can get a meal for 500 Yen!

“We’re really hungry. Big food? Big meal?”

“Erm…sorry, I don’t know!”

We pretended to confer and left. They were very nice about it all, she even waved us down the lift. I think it’s because I said I liked her necklace.

So, yeah, that was our maid cafe experience. I was thinking it was all very cute and (mostly) innocent until I saw the clientele. But I guess if I had to choose, I think I’d rather work in a maid cafe than Hooters, at least then I get to wear a nice necklace.

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Categories: East Asia, Japan | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hong Kong: A non-spitting, non-staring introduction to China.

We eventually arrived at our hostel in Hong Kong after many long and slow attempts to leave the airport. It had been made unbelievably simple, yet we still managed to be stuck there for about an hour longer than we needed to.

Our address was blah blah Hostel, 14/F, blah blah street, Hong Kong. After a stroll to find the hostel and many a sign saying ‘Restaurant! 1/F’ or ‘Shop! 2/F’, we soon realised that everything in Hong Kong works upwards. So 14/F was 14th floor. Thankfully, our actual room was on the 8th floor, a little less time in the lift every day.

What had we decided about Hong Kong by this point? Busy. Verrry busy. But it was a Saturday. And it’s nearly Christmas. So it might not always be a battle to cross the road.

On our first afternoon we headed to the “goldfish market”, which wasn’t too far from our hostel on the map. This turned out to be a part-adorable, part-sad pet shop street, complete with puppies in glass cages and fish in plastic bags. Lovely. From here, we wandered the local area and came across some interesting looking snack stalls and foam shapes floating up and up from a Nokia stand in the street. Look out for the potential TV advert – I caught a foam smiley!

The next day, our first full day in Hong Kong, saw us set out around 7am (I blame the jetlag) and return at least 12 hours later, to then head out again for the evening. We knew we would be spending the majority of the next day on a train so thought it best to use our legs whilst we could. We managed to see quite a bit in that time – we walked all the way down the riverfront and saw the “Avenue of the Stars” (like a Hong Kong Hollywood) before heading across to Hong Kong Island on the Star Ferry for a bargain 30p! The seats were amazing – the backrest bar flipped so you could sit facing whichever way the boat was going. Very cool.

As we wandered through the mass of skyscrapers, we soon came across what I’d most been looking forward to about Hong Kong…yeah, I’m gonna say it, no matter how uncool it makes me sound…the longest escalator IN THE WORLD. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. I was expecting an 800m long escalator cutting through a luscious green grassy hill. Instead, it was loads of smaller escalators making their way through a concrete jungle. There were some interesting looking restaurants in SoHo on the way through though, including “Yorkshire Pudding” – a British restaurant surprisingly.

If you can work your way around the roads when you get to the end of the escalator, you’re not far off the entrance to the Victoria Tram. For which you will undoubtedly queue for at least 45 minutes. We weren’t sure what to expect from the Peak. The answer? An obscure looking building with what’s known as the “Sky Tower 428” on the rooftop and which will block your view for any chance of a decent photo of the skyline. Oh, unless you want to pay extra to get on it yourself that is. We didn’t. We did find the free rooftop of the shopping mall opposite gave a decent view though, and it isn’t even that much shorter. Yeah, that’s right, I said shopping mall, at the top of a hill. A touristy hill, mind you. Complete with a Bubba Gump Shrimp Restaurant. There is a nice walk around the Peak though. A very safe walk – the slopes all have “registration numbers” so you can be sure, they’re regularly maintained, and even if a slope does cause you offence, you can report it to the slope maintenance team, because, believe it or not, they exist.

That’s one thing I did find quite entertaining in Hong Kong – the construction industry. The water man is really concentrating to get the job done for you, the slopes have to be registered and the scaffolding in made of bamboo. See below.

Amusing building work aside, Hong Kong is a pretty cool place. I had been told it’s a “poor man’s Singapore”, which is a little harsh. It has its own identity. It knows it’s bright, brash, busy and kind of quirky and it’s not trying to tell you otherwise.

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Observations on Myanmar.

In theory, I shouldn’t like Burma. It made me ill, at least twice; it’s full of stray dogs and skinny horses; the internet connection is like the one I had at home in 1999, which at the time was amazing but we’d moan about now in England. All the reasons I didn’t like Indonesia exist in Burma. I think there’re two differences this time though.

  1. I was prepared. I knew it’d be a bit grubby, I knew the internet would be rubbish and I knew travel would be slow and on terrible roads.
  2. The people are lovely. The local people gave up their seats for me countless times on buses, the hotel and restaurant staff went above and beyond the call of duty so many times and if people want to help you, they’re not after money!

Burma is a really interesting place to visit, and after the indecision to come or not, I’m glad I did. Here are a few things I’ve noticed;

  • The lack of internet access and blocking of Facebook, Hotmail, YouTube etc is overhyped. I was never once denied access to any of the above, although I couldn’t load the BBC or any reliable news websites. I think the government is changing, albeit slowly. The speed is sometimes annoying though. The only place I had problems getting on the internet was Bagan – which was only when there were power cuts.
  • Incidently, Bagan is the only place I’ve had power cuts – also slightly overhyped – most hotels have generators. The only thing is sometimes the air-con doesn’t run off the generator, presumably because it sucks the power.
  • Skype is always loaded on the computers and often advertised on the banners outside the internet cafes…but it rarely works and when it does, it’s only really good enough for audio only. Mandalay is the only place I got it working.
  • Betel nut, Betel nut, Betel nut. You’re walking down the street in Burma, someone walks past and smiles baring their horrible, red teeth. You look down in disgust and are met with a sea of red blobs of spit on the pavement (or more often than not, sand) below. Eww. It’s the betel nut stuff that the locals mix with tobacco, paste into a leaf with lime juice, wrap up and chew. When the flavour is gone and they’ve spat out enough phlegm to choke a small child, they pop a new one in. They can get through loads in one day. Personally, I think it’s a disgusting thing, worse than smoking. I would rather breathe in someone’s dirty cigarette smoke than walk through someone’s red betel phlegm.  But hey, who am I to judge.
  • Through The Wire. Telephones are expensive business in Burma. Mobile phones cost hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds to own and foreign SIM cards are blocked. I was surprised I saw as many mobile phones as I did to be honest. What I was more surprised by was how many of these I saw;

There are so many people who make their living from having an old landline phone or two wired up to the line from the street side! It’s amazing.

  • All That Glitters Ain’t Gold. Let me give you a bit of background knowledge first; in 2005, the government changed the capital of the country to a random town with no real historic relevance because their astrologer told them to. Wow. So they neglected poor, old Yangon and headed north with plans for a swanky new capital. On my first of many night buses, we skirted the “new” capital. It’s weird. Loads of big, new-build, empty hotels, glowing, empty shopping malls and vast, empty, smooth tarmacked roads…
  • Speaking of buses…if you get a bus in Burma, which is the only form of transport not controlled by the government so it’s recommended; your driver will honk his horn at anything. And it’s a bloody annoying horn. Really loud and honky. And he doesn’t care if it’s 3am and you’re sleep deprived. It doesn’t appear the other passengers care either because no one bats an eyelid.
  • Pure, honest kindness. I’ve already gushed over how lovely the people are here – here’s another example. In Bagan, we got horse carts. The next day, I was walking back to my hotel and I’m met with a “Remember me?!” It was our driver! After a quick catch up (didn’t take long, it hadn’t even been 24 hours) he offered me a free ride back to my hotel. When we pulled up and I gave him a dollar, he genuinely didn’t want it. I made him take it. For that I think I’m probably the mean one.
  • Despite a bizarre political history, Burma is changing. I’m glad I visited when I did. One of my fondest memories is sitting in my hotel reception in Bagan watching BBC News with the hoteliers and giving them a thumbs up at the political prisoners being released. Since returning home and seeing Myanmar all over the news, I’ve taken a real interest in how well things are going at the moment for the country and can’t wait to see what happens next.

If you come to Burma, which I’d recommend, you need to be prepared to begin or end bus journeys at unsociable hours, sit for longer than you’d want in an internet café and possibly have to go to the doctors! Above all, however, you need to be prepared to be welcomed with open arms, to chat with your new found Burmese friends and to make some long lasting memories.

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Burmese Days – Part Three

Mandalay – The Road To Mandalay

I will now tell you some interesting tales of the road to Mandalay….

  1. A woman dropped her baby. By that, I don’t mean she gave birth, I mean she dropped her already living, breathing, screaming baby. There was a thud, I turn around, and a woman is picking her (quite rightfully) screaming child up off of the floor. I didn’t know whether to laugh or tut. I chose to laugh, a lot, and on the inside.
  2. They played bad music videos with lyrics running across the bottom of the screen – nothing new there – but one of them was HILARIOUS. There was a man, I assume sad and depressed and in love as they always are in these videos, and then he laid eyes on a woman, I assume his girlfriend, in a wheelchair. He looked really sad, as if she’d had an accident and then he pushed her and there was a close up of his hands on the chair and everything as if he was having to swallow some serious pride to push that chair. Again, I didn’t know whether to laugh or tut. Again, I chose to laugh, on the inside.
  3. Around 1.30am, after hours of bumpy riding in the rain with people being sick all around me, we stopped. I hot footed it out to pee and hot footed it back to the bus so as not to miss it. Only, it turns out we were going nowhere fast. We had a puncture. What do you do when you have a puncture on a tyre that big? It’s not like you can carry a spare, surely? Do they not have an AA equivalent in Burma? (By AA I mean the car related acronym, I don’t think Alcoholics Anonymous would have been much help. Besides, they’re probably all drowning their sorrows at 1.30am.) We sat for 2 hours and 45 minutes. As painful as it sounds, it was actually a bonus 2 hours and 45 minutes sleep on solid ground with no one being sick around me – oh no, I’m sorry I retract that last bit, one woman was still puking up a weeks’ worth of dinner. If you’re that ill, get off the bus and get some fresh air while you can! Crazy.

Day seven.

I arrived, gladly, nice and early and made my way to the hotel. I settled down, had a shower and headed out for breakfast – but the hotel has no maps! So I had no idea where to go, which meant after 2 banana pancakes and seeing Daniel and Sarit from Yangon again, I had to head back to carry the Lonely Planet around with me all day. So I got my backpack, which means sweaty back. So I hired a bike, if I’m gonna get a sweaty back, I may as well make it worth it.

I am by no means of the definition an urban cyclist. I suck at riding a bike with cars, motorbikes and lorries all around me. It even takes a bit of courage to ride on the road on my tiny, quiet, 20mph estate. So to get a bike in a city like Mandalay was quite brave of me! Luckily, there appears to be no rules of the road here – there are definitely no traffic lights at 90% of the crossroads – so I fit in just fine!

I set out for some food and ended up in the midst of a market. A lovely woman offered me some sweet, sickly lemon thing, which I tried and was then met by a homeless woman with a big bag on her head and her little son. The lemon lady told me to go and that the woman was crazy, but I wanted dinner across the street! So I pulled up my bike, put on the padlock and sat down for some 50p laksa. All the time the woman with the bag on her head was watching me. I was beginning to feel sorry for her, but knew I wouldn’t cave. Eventually she pulled out some bread and had a nibble and left! If she has food, what was she after from me?! I’m not gonna buy her a house!

In the evening, I went out for dinner with Daniel and Sarit and we ended up at the chapatti stand recommended in the Lonely Planet. It was really good food, and just like last time we ate together, we got a table full of the stuff! I need to find Daniel and Sarit more often!

Day eight.

Today has been nice. After an easy (but sweaty) morning meandering around the market, which was rubbish, I headed to the post office to buy some post cards from the vendors I’d seen yesterday. I counted on my fingers how many I’d need – eight – and she said they were 100 Kyat each (10p, so 80p all together – bargain!). Then she said she’d give me 10 for 800! Woo!

So I settled down to a lovely papaya juice a few blocks away and spent an hour writing them all out. Speaking of blocks, I’m useless with them. Blocks, grid systems. Can’t cope. Give me windy little country lanes any day.

I decided to set out for a slow lunch, and I found a little side street café selling noodles. I hovered over, not literally, and said hello and asked how much it was in Burmese. The older woman was unphased by this and answered back in Burmese with the price. The younger one, however, looked shocked and amazed that I was speaking Burmese! When I nodded in agreement with the price and went to sit down, her face was a picture.

The following conversation took place in Burmese, but I’ve put it in English so it means something to you!

She said, “Three hundred?”

I nodded, “Yeah, three hundred!”

She laughed in amazement.

I said, “One, two, three!”

She laughed some more, even more amazement!

I spent the next hour or so chatting away in Burmese with the three ladies (the third was a customer). For that I whipped out the phrasebook!

Then guess what? I saw Daniel and Sarit walk past!! What are the chances?! They came over, sat down, had them some noodles and then we agreed to meet again for dinner tonight. I’ve seen three people twice so far but never two people thrice! Incredible!

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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

Observations On Malaysia

I’m gonna throw it out there, no backlash please, but Malaysia is nicer than Indonesia. It feels safer, friendlier and just generally a nicer place to be. Here’s why…

  • ANGRY BIRDS.  This isn’t why Malaysia is better than Indonesia, it’s just an observation. Malaysia loves Angry Birds. You can buy Angry Birds fans, t-shirts, balloons, cakes, lanyards, iPhone cases and even toothbrush holders. I know because my sister has one.

 

 

 

 

  • ROADS. Malaysia’s roads are a much more pleasant experience than those in Indonesia. Not only are then generally well surfaced, but drivers don’t overtake for no apparent reason. To top it all off, their CAUTION signs remind me of one of my favourite films…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • CELEBRATIONS. Maybe I just got lucky with this one but Malaysia seems to always have a reason to celebrate. I think having so many different religions helps, but since being in Malaysia, I’ve seen the National Day, Hari Raya (end of Ramadan), World Wakeboarding Championships, Sarawak Independence Day and some people standing very still to Scotland The Brave…

 

 

 

 

  • FOOD. I hate to sound like I’m comparing Malaysia and Indonesia all the time, but in Indonesia, most food is goreng. Fried. In Malaysia, however, you can get plenty of fried food if that’s your thing, but you can also get curries, laksa, Chinese and Indian more so than in Indonesia.

 

 

 

 

  • FRIENDLY. I’ve given up now, it’s impossible not to compare. In Indonesia, people see your white skin and their eyes go ker-ching. In Malaysia, people are just generally more friendly and willing to help. Or wanting to take your photo, like this lot last night who had more cameras than an Argos stockroom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I like Malaysia. It’s a welcoming country with plenty to see and do, and despite being one of the more expensive destinations in South East Asia, it’s still possible to live for a tenner a day. I don’t mind that I didn’t climb Mount Kinabalu, or dive Sipidan, or see sea turtles because I know that Malaysia is one place I’ll be visiting again.

Categories: Malaysia, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A not so long house.

So today I did something! I woke up early and instead of heading up to the TV room to practice some Chinese, I headed to the reception area to practice some Chinese while I waited for my minibus to a longhouse.

The longhouse is a traditional way of living for Borneo folk and it was not what I expected. I’ve heard a lot of people who have visited a longhouse say it wasn’t what they expected; and I’m not naive, I was expecting satellite dishes, mobile phones and various other mod cons. It was what I expected in that sense. However, it wasn’t what I would describe logically as a longhouse. Let’s break it up:

LONGHOUSE

If you’re imagining lots of houses connected in a loooong line, then we’re on the same wavelength (I’ll let you be the judge as to whether that’s a good thing or not). What it really is is a small village community built on stilts. Most houses are made of bamboo and wood in the traditional fashion, however, there is the odd concrete one dotted here and there, which makes for a bizarre mix of old and new.

In an attempt to save money after spending rather a lot this month already on Mulu and the Grand Prix, I opted for the half day trip, which involves just a nosy around the village rather than an overnight trip, which involves staying at the longhouse (in the purpose built concrete building) and various activites. Initially, I was in two minds as to whether or not I should splash out and go for the overnight stay (the cheapest I found was 420RM). After having seen the place, I’m glad I just visited for the day. An overnight stay would offer nothing more to me. The activities were all things I did on my tour in the Cameron Highlands and sleeping in a purpose built concrete building would have taught me nothing additional about the longhouse communities than an hours stroll did.

When it came to 8.50, my pick up time, I put my Chinese book on my bed and headed outside to wait for the minibus. I wasn’t waiting long before a Chinese man came and found me. We had to walk to the bus because lots of people who stood around while “Scotland The Brave” played were blocking the road. Apparently it’s the Governors birthday and they are doing dress rehearsals…that require the roads empty…despite them being in the park. They were there yesterday too, which is why I couldn’t find my bus to Kubah National Park and therefore spent the day learning Chinese.

Anyway, we get to the bus, pick up two more tourists and away we go. Our guide was a nice chap who laughed a lot at his own jokes.

“This is the dragon fruit tree,” he said as we drove past some weird looking short trees, “it is pink inside. It is imported here from Vietnam and China because it is good for the health. It clean the body. I eat the dragon fruit one time, and I go for shit to the toilet, and my shit is red! I call my wife, “I think I’m having a period or something!” Haha! Because it is red! But it is just because it cleanse the body. Haha!”

Awkward… I’ve just met you and you’re talking about poo. At least wait an hour.

When we arrive at the longhouse, we are given a shot glass of rice wine, which I knew we would be given. I don’t drink alcohol. I had read that it is very rude to refuse the rice wine, and the only way people get out of it is if they have heart problems. I didn’t want to offend, and so drinking small sip by small sip so as to be able to hold my wincing face at bay, I eventually managed to finish it.

We then began our walk through the first longhouse, admiring the electricity and kittens.

“This pink slip,” our host began, pointing to one of the pink slips that was outside every front door, “is from the doctor. The tribe people and people who live in the longhouse in Malaysia all get free health care. And the yellow one is for free electricity when there is enough money from the government. Sometimes they need to pay but water is always free – from the river, yeah? This is their water source.”

Free health care? The Malaysians who don’t live in the longhouses pay 1RM every time they want to see the doctor.

We soon came to the second longhouse, which wasn’t much different to the first other than the amount of people. There were a few more people in the second longhouse. One young looking 72 year old was weaving a ratan basket, one 60 year old man was making a wooden spinning top. He was brilliant and let me have a go. He wound the string around the spinning top and then wrapped the other end around my hand. When he had finished, I threw the top and pulled on the string as instructed and send the spinning top into orbit. Yaaaaay! Feeling quite confident, I tried again, this time with me doing the wrapping.

“Like this?” I said to the man, showing him my hand.

“Not like that!” he said, with real comic tones in his voice. He re-wrapped it. And I couldn’t do it. Must have been a fluke.

Before we left, we were offered some durian. Again, I didn’t want to be rude and so I took a piece of the revolting, creamy, gone off mango flavoured fruit.

In the minibus on the way back, I agreed with the Australian couple on the tour that it wasn’t what any of us were expecting. The longhouse not durian. It is a worthwhile experience to see how people live, but it is changing rapidly. A few doors down from the old woman weaving her ratan basket are a couple of 20-somethings smoking and playing on their mobile phones. Next door to the “typical” show house of ratan rugs and bamboo cooking poles is a comfortable living room set complete with sofas, cushions and Barbie flip-flops by the door. If you look up, that tin roof holds up the satelite dish.

I’m not claiming that this is a bad thing, or that these communities should not have TV, or mobile phones, or ambition. What I am saying is that in 5 or 10 years time it would not be worth visiting a place like this. The idea is that you see how people live, yes, and this is how they live, satelite dishes ‘n’ all. However, would you bother to go to a council estate in Corby or a penthouse in Plymouth to see how people live? I’m pretty sure the answer is no (if the answer is yes then we’re definitely not on the same wavelength).

“It’s not the same thing!” I hear you cry, “You go to a longhouse to see how people live because it’s different to you!”

Exactly my point, in 5 to 10 years time, I don’t think it will be that different to how me or thee live. Yes, the stilts and bamboo will still be there, but with the smart, young ones moving to the city for money, you’ve got to question who’ll still be in the longhouses?

I think the answer is the real smart ones. If the tourists are still coming and giving the odd gift here and there, and the government is still giving free health care, and the world around them is still giving free food then really they’re made up! They may be living differently to me, but I’m sure if I asked anyone today who Lady GaGa was then they would have known.

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