Posts Tagged With: iPhone

Essaouira a.k.a The Best Language Day Ever!

I’m pretty sure if you know me and we’ve seen each other within the last six months you will have heard this story. It’s one of my all time favourite travel stories. And one of my all time favourite days. It goes a little like this…

We were settling down nicely on the bus from Marrakesh to Essaouira when I noticed an Asian man on the seat opposite and in front of us. He was alone, and swiping his finger across the screen of his phone at lightening speed. After a few seconds of watching him I realised he was writing Chinese characters with his finger, which were then being registered into the phone and put into a text message. Incredible.  If you’re reading this and do this on a daily basis you’re probably slightly stumped by my awe. I apologise. Small things, small things. 🙂

I pointed out my amazement to Hannah (who was pretty amazed too, I’d like to add!) and we thought nothing more of it. The journey was simple and hassle free. Until we reached Essaouira and were met by a gaggle of touts. Armed with our well practised “laa, shukran” (no, thank you in Arabic) that came in very handy with Marrakesh ladies taking our hands to give us Henna tattoos, we Laa-Shukran-ed our way through the crowds and headed with a small group of English tourists towards what their map said should be the city.

The Chinese man followed loosely with his troop of touts snapping at his heels and clearly exploiting the fact that he spoke no Arabic, French or English.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” I said to Hannah.

I headed towards the Chinese man, mentally dusting off my Chinese knowledge.

“Thank you but he’s with us.” I explained in French to the tout, indicating to the Chinese man to follow us. “He has a reservation with us.”

“I speak a little Chinese.” I said to the Chinese man. His eyes lit up. That gave me the strength to stay strong against the tout.

“No, he doesn’t! He doesn’t even speak English! Now you come over here speaking Chinese! This is my life! I have a family to feed!” I clearly wasn’t going to make it onto the tout’s Christmas card list any time soon.

“Thank you, but no thank you.” I replied in French. I walked the Chinese man away with me and back into the group of English tourists, “Let’s go, quick!”

“What’s your name? I’m Lindsay. She is Hannah.” I asked him on our way into the city.

“I’m Shounian. Thank you.” he replied.

Fortunately the tout didn’t follow us. Unfortunately, the hostel we had reserved wasn’t easy to find. After about an hour and a half of dragging Shounian around, we stood almost defeated in the hustle and bustle of market day. He pointed to a couple stood with a map.

“Ahh! Very good!” I smiled at him and we headed over to the tourists.

“English?” They shook their head. “¿Español?” Another shake of the head. “Français?” Shake number three. “Italiano?”

“Sì!” They replied gleefully.

I opened the Italian box in my brain, “Perfect! I speak a little Italian! We are lost. Can we borrow your map for a moment?”

The Italian couple were wonderful and even offered to help to take us there. When we got there, there was nothing. A local boy even came and showed the Italian man exactly where it was. But there was nothing. Just a door. We knocked. We waited.

“What do we do?” Hannah asked.

“Well, how much is it?” I asked.

“8 pounds. We’re paid about 80p deposit so they have our card details.”

“I’m happy to pay £8 not to stay here. And we’ve dragged poor Yang around for hours now.”

We headed to the main street from our dark side alley and straight into the first hotel we saw. I switched my language brain back to French and asked if they had a room for 3 before realising that after all of this, Shounian might want nothing more than to get away from us! I flicked back to Chinese and asked him if he wanted his own room. He was happy to share so I asked the receptionist in French for the price and if we could see the room. When I told Shounian the price, he instantly pulled his wallet out. Me and Hannah burst into a chorus of ‘no’ insisting we see the room first. He took some convincing but eventually agreed to wait downstairs while we took a peek. He also took some convincing to let us pay and as it turned out, the best we could offer was to pay for dinner that night.

Walking around with him for the rest of the day, we learnt Shounian is a travel writer and photographer and has been to a grand total of 42 countries in his 68 years of life – all with no other language skills whatsoever!

Essaouira itself is a really nice place and definitely worth visiting if you’re in Morocco for any length of time. It is a complete contrast to Marrakesh!

That day in Essaouira was a real highlight to me of the importance of language learning (if you don’t know, I teach languages when I’m not speaking them to Chinese men and touts in Morocco!). Having some knowledge of foreign languages had helped me save a man from paying over the odds for a room, got us to our “hostel” and given us a free night in a nice hotel. On the other hand, there was Shounian. Making his way around with his camera paying far too much for accommodation and transport by throwing his money at someone if they give him a figure. I hope as he travels on, he doesn’t get exploited like he nearly did that day, but it saddens me to think that he probably will.

Moral of Essaouira? Keep learning languages.

Have you ever ended up speaking any unexpected languages on holiday? I’d love to read about it in the comments below! 🙂

Categories: Africa, Morocco | Tags: , , , , | 3 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:


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

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:







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

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