Singapore and Milk

Note that the next three posts are all new today as I managed to grab some WiFi to get them online.

So leaving India early to go to Singapore was always going to be a bit of a paradox for me. Leaving the place I was looking forward to most to go to the place I was looking forward to least and only really staying to apply for some visas.

The good news is that I’m enjoying Singapore far more than last time I was here. Maybe it’s getting more laid back (people even jaywalk here which they don’t in Japan) or maybe I accept it more having been to Japan which it is similar to in many ways and yet also different. To give it a European analogy maybe it’s like the English and the French cultures.

On Friday I slept in the morning after a healthy Mcdonalds breakfast and afterwards headed out to lunch at a nearby and excellent restaurant. It was cheap too at S$5. After this I had some shopping to do including a smartcard for public transport and a copy of the Singapore and Malaysia bible Rough Guide. This took all afternoon before I had a burger king supper (I seem to have lost some weight in India.) before heading over to a nearby cinema to catch a movie.

There wasn’t much on so I picked the film milk which from the poster looked only OK. After sitting down to watch the film it wasn’t just OK and I will fully admit to crying at some of the more emotional moments. It is a great film that I thoroughly recommend and it is definitely a true story.

For those who aren’t aware Milk is about a gay businessman called Harvey Milk who in the 1970’s who was elected to the city of San Francisco as the first openly gay city official and they shot down a proposition banning the removal of teachers for being gay or supporting gay rights; in fact though at the time even Reagan supported them.

The sad truth is that this is still happening today with proposition 8 banning gay marriage and that influential organizations such as Apple are supporting gay rights today (though they weren’t as effective as Milk. In the UK things are much better as we have “civil partnership” for gays which has the rights of marriage but not the name to avoid upsetting the religious which is fair enough in my book and it seems the American gays haven’t taken that compromise position.

Chennai (Madras)

First the really good news. Chennai is much nicer to visit than the north and is much more laid back and fun to visit. It was still not totally easy but far more comparable to Viet Nam for example.

After arrival I wandered around the airport to find the station to get the train into town. The given directions weren’t clear but the station can be accessed by walking across the carpark between the domestic and international terminals. Once on the train it is usually not too bad especially if you travel first class like I did. I also found it quite difficult to always actually find the ticket office to buy a ticket and once found they were expensive at 76 rupees (US$1.50) to get to the airport first class – this is probably to cover the probable overwhelming majority of people riding for free. I also had my first experience of the traditional indian method of crossing a railway which is over the tracks to make my way to the station to catch the train into town.

After getting to the centre I first went to the tourist office to see if I could go on a tour but none were available for the day. Then I walked through the interesting Muslim district to have lunch at the excellent Saravana Bhavan. For lunch I had a vegetarian special suggested by the waiter and it was delicious (guess what – he got a tip). It was pretty hot but not unbearable so he got that one right too! The chain also has restaurants in London and New York among other places which are would be a great place to try southern Indian food send me an email or make a comment if you want the phone numbers.

After lunch I made my way to Georgetown fort which was the old British fort in the town. Inside the fort I went to the chapel and museum both of which were pretty interesting. After that I wandered around Georgetown itself before catching the train back to the centre of town for a delicious supper at Vasanta Bhavan. This was a bit different from lunch as no cutlery was provided meaning you had to eat with your fingers – given how much you use your fingers it was surprisingly hard. Much more difficult than even chopsticks.

After this I headed back to the airport on the train which was a little busier but fine in 1st class. At the airport I found India is having issues with fuel meaning I timed my departure well!

Taj Mahal and Agra

On Wednesday I took a tour from my hostel to the Taj Mahal. We left early at 7:30am and made our way on the 5 hour bus journey to Agra. This was fairly uneventful if slow. I chatted to an Indian from Mumbai (Bombay) who spoke excellent English on the journey.

After arriving in Agra we first went to the very impressive Agra fort which was built around the same time as the Taj Mahal itself. Though the fort was actually built by four different kings and the Taj was built by a single king in the middle of this period. After this we headed to get some lunch and for a shopping opportunity where I got a marble Taj mahal model for 1100 rupees (US$23) – whether it is real or not I’m not 100% sure but as the tour was booked by the Indian YHA it should have been kosher (though actually there were some issues later). After this we headed to the Taj itself where we got to spend an hour looking at it’s stunning beauty. It actually really is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen and is up there with the Grand Canyon, Maccu Pichu and Iguazu Falls. The building is literally completely built out of marble and even after seeing all the photographs it still took my breath away. Even the gates surrounding it are impressive. We got views of it from far away and up close and even got reflections. We also went inside the maulsoleum itself to see the stone coffins inside. They are probably the only thing not built of marble.

The other interesting thing about the Taj Mahal was that even though it is a wonder of the world there were far less European and American tourists than at the other sites I mentioned. Probably even including the Iguazu falls which is far less well known than the other three. It wasn’t exactly unbusy though – lots of Indians had made the journey there. It was good that that didn’t spoil it however.

After this we headed back to the bus quickly but it was in vain and we managed to be first back (though it’s the Taj so I’m not convinced that is a good thing!) and we headed to the birthplace of Hindu god Krishna which was very interesting to see I also had some delicious warm milk and sweets before returning to the bus once more.

This time it wasn’t so great and we headed to a dodgy set of 5500 temples nearby. I went with the English speaking group and we were asked to donate large sums of money to the temple we were taken to. I basically told them to fuck off though not using those words so we didn’t lose any cash. What was more shocking was that the main group of Indians got this treatment which although this isn’t that dodgy as my experience in India went it’s something I’ve never experienced on a coach tour before in any country. Even the tour was fairy cheap at US$9.50 that is comparable to what Sinh Cafe charge in Viet Nam for one day tours and they offer far better service as they have more comfortable fully AC buses and give you loads of information enroute about Viet Nam as well. It was also booked through the Indian YHA so should have been 100% ledgitimate.

After this diversion we got back to Delhi very late and I only got a couple of hours sleep before my flight to Chennai in the morning.