Relaxing, trains and Chinese New Year

After the museum the next day I just chilled out in Kuala Lumpur and read the excellent book Absolute Power. This is about an American president who has rough sex with a woman which goes too far and she lands up dead. The problem is that there is a witness; a three times convicted burgler so from there the plot unfolds.

Apart from that I chilled out in my dorm. On the 25th I then took the train to Singapore which actually ended up taking 7.5 hours to complete the journey. This is due to the extreme speed of the Malaysia/Singapore border controls which took absolutely ages to complete. The issue is that Singapore and Malaysia have a lovers tiff over a few different issues including Singapores water usage and the railway line which is owned by Malaysia. I can see why the Singaporeans are upset about the railway. It is hardly used but the space taken up would allow six tracks to be constructed all the way through Singapore. To put this into perspective the Japanese run a Shinkansen up to 9 times an hour between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka with only two tracks (aside from stations which have four tracks – two fast, two slow) and some of those trains are much faster than others.

After arriving into Singapore I caught the bus from the unmarked railway station bus stop (evidence of the lovers tiff from the other side) to the MRT to get to my hostel. After arriving in Singapore I headed down to get some food first of all – as it’s Chinese New Year I expected to have some Chinese food. Unfortunately all the Chinese restaurants were shut leaving me with a choice of McDonalds, Burger King, KFC or fish and chips. After careful deliberation over my difficult choice I went for the fish and chips – however it was only average as it was in breadcrumbs rather than only being cooked in batter.

After this I headed down to the bay to watch some free live Chinese jazz by the waterfront (the venue is actually called Esplanade outdoor theatre) before returning to my hostel at 9pm to see who was there. I liked the atmosphere on the waterfront it was chilled out and relaxed and not tense at all so it was very non-Anglo Saxon in a good way. They do this every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and it isn’t a Chinese new year think so if you’re in town go and check it out.

At this point I returned to my hostel were I met some English guys and we had a few beers before going to Chinatown via the longest wait ever at the MRT ticket machines – if you go to Singapore at festival time get an EZ link card – do not pass go do not collect £200 (which at the current exchange rate is US$200 :p – seriously it’s only US$270 when at the start of my trip it was US$400.) the people I was with didn’t and we had to queue for 30 minutes. After this we hung around Chinatown waiting for midnight. At which point there were some cool but loud firecrackers followed by frankly mediocre fireworks. My local school has put on better for bonfire night in the UK.

More time in KL

After seeing the Islamic side of KL the next day I headed to the Petronas towers and the KL aquarium.

First I met up with some people from my hostel for a morning drink at my favourite restaurant – McDonalds. After this I walked over to the Petronas towers to pick up my free ticket to go onto the skybridge as they limit the numbers allowed before I returned to have a look around the aquarium. Once I arrived at the aquarium which frankly was only OK especially for the money. The problem was that there weren’t that many minor tanks and they were all either too small or had too many fish in them for my liking. There were a lot of fish swimming round in circles or barely able to move at all in their enclosure. Overall the only good tank was the main ocean tank which was massive and contained sharks and other sealife. This tank was actually excellent and contained a huge tunnel through the bottom which gave you a great view of the fish there. For me the perfect aquarium would contain the main tank here with the smaller tanks of the Osaka aquarium.

After seeing this I headed back to the petronas towers for my skybridge visit. Firstly we watched a glossy 3d film before going up the south tower and crossing the skybridge half way up. What’s incredible about that is that you are still taller than practically every other building in the city which really shows how much taller the Petunas towers are than the other buildings in KL. The view from the top is fine but KL isn’t a particularly great city to look down on. To be honest I prefer the view of the buildings themselves from the outside.

After that I went and had a look around the colonial district of KL which contains beautiful European-style buildings but is tiny essentially consisting of a single square. After that I was hungry as malaysian dishes are often very small so I went to Burger King before returning to my hostel for the night.

The next day I headed out after breakfast to the national museum which was supposed to be rubbish but actually wasn’t bad – especially for the enterance fee of 2RM (40p). The first gallery was excellent and on the prehistory of Malaysia. Things got worse as the museum progressed mostly down to them being in the middle of a refurbishment. They even talked about independence and while they criticize the British for lack of education and not fully integrating the country they do give them implicit respect too for giving them independence and building things like the railways.

After this I went outside where they had an exhibition on ASEAN this was interesting as it showed the cultures of the countries and was intended to show how integrated they are but frankly it failed – most notably their economic status which aside from Viet Nam were in native currencies rather than the standard US dollar (or Euro) so a comparison can be done between the countries. Also from the list of bodies each country chose to include that they were a member of it was clear each country had made their exhibition piece separately – they’ve clearly got a long way to go before they’re anything like the EU.

After this I again returned to the hostel as I was tired given how hot it is in KL.

Islam in KL

On my first full day in KL I went to the Islamic Arts museum. I did this by public transport which involved first taking the monorail from Times Squsre shopping centre to KL Sentral station which went past a lot of interesting architecture.

From KL station I then took a damp (probably from the air conditioning) commuter train north to the old Kuala Lumpur station. This was apparently reminisant inside of an old London railway station but if so it was like Fenchurch street or something – not Paddington. The outside of the station was suitably impressive however as was the KL rail headquarters across the road which were built in a cross between British and Islamic style. I’m starting to understand Islamic style more now I’m in Malaysia and it seems to be very mathematical and geometric. This is because you aren’t able to display pictures of people in mosques you have a lot of beautiful patterns instead.

After seeing this I went to the Malaysian national mosque which was fairly attractive though not particularly impressive. There they were supporting a boycott of American companies as their government supports Israel. This was of course highly ironic as the posters were probably made on computers manufactured by an American company using American chips (possibly even chips made and designed in Israel as Intel has a multi-billion dollar microchip factory there – source: Arstechnica.) running American software and researched using an American search engine and hosted by an American webhost.

Prehaps a boycott of Intel (use AMD instead) would be in order to show that people feel Israel acts appallingly (which frankly they do – though the Palestinean terrorists also behave badly towards Israel.) and that would also severely affect the Israeli economy.

After this I went to the Islamic arts museum just up the road. This had a couple of special exhibitions on including one on Islams role in Britain. This was very interesting photographic exhibition funded in part by the British High Commission (the equivalent of an embassy in a commonwealth country.) here in Malaysia. The exhibition included pictures of a lot of British Muslims including a white, female Judge (this was occompanied by the punnish title never judge a book by it’s cover – probably only funny if you have been away from puns for a while.). I think the pun is a piece of humour that only the British do and it is part of our culture. This exhibition was a very interesting look at my culture at least partially from the outside – the exhibition would do well to be shown in the UK as well.

Although Britain took Islam into account as far ago as 1911 when Halal meat was allowed most of the progress has occurred within the last 10-15 years. I do think that the London central mosque should be demolished and rebuilt as it is a concrete monstrosity and is undoubtably one of the ugliest mosques in the world. From further looking at the museum this seems to be typical as Chinese and South East Asian mosques seem to take a traditional local style – though the mosques I’ve seen in Malaysia seem to be styled as you’d expect.

After seeing the exhibition on Islam in Britain I went to a local street stall for lunch as the museum restaurant was too expensive for me (45RM – £9) and after this I returned to the museum. The next exhibition I saw was on Islamic architecture which was interesting and even included the mathematic significance of it including the golden ratio which is apparently also the ratio between the sides and radius of a pentagon as well as linking the terms in the Fibonacci sequence. These relate to many things in nature as well as music and buildings like the Taj Mahal also has a lot of mathematics in it’s construction.

After this I saw the main exhibtion galleries which included some Islamic history as well as beautiful ceramics, metalwork and cloth. The ceramics especially looked very European as 19th century European pottery took a lot from Islamic pottery. These were also very interesting to see – it is clear there is a lot more to Islamic art than Persian rugs! There was also some more stuff on several of the Islamic empires including the Mughals in India – there apparently wealth and power had to be displayed.

After that I had a wander around before getting a new cover for my Nokia 6230i to replace the old and busted cover. After that I went to a food court for dinner which was excellent; except for the main course which was average. Then it started absolutely pouring down with rain so I went indoors to McDonalds for some chips.

Kuala Lumpur: First Impressions

I decided to come to Kuala Lumpur (or KL as it is often known.) on a fairly last minute basis. I was planning to go to Penang in the north of Malaysia but I hadn’t arranged my onward transport to KL and it was otherwise going to be a bit close to Chinese New Year for comfort.

The bus was a little quicker than expected taking just over 4 hours to reach the bus station in KL (which is being rebuilt so we got off outside.) then there was the usual attempt to overcharge with the taxi which I avoided by catching the bus instead – this did seem to be shocking to some of the passengers who didn’t seem to realize that we have buses in Europe too. Then I checked into my accommodation and then continued to read my book before having some lunch at the shopping centre across the road. I had a dish with Japanese noodles and a Chinese sauce which as great. To eat it I was given a spoon and fork but to be honest I find chopsticks easier to eat noodles so that I asked for them instead. To be honest I think it was an attempt to just be more western as when I’d finished my meal everyone else seemed to be using them to whereas beforehand they all seemed to be using a spoon and fork.

After this I went to the cinema to while away the afternoon before supper. I saw the film four Christmases as it looked like a bit of shallow fun. It was actually very amusing though not exactly the best film I’ve ever seen. It did have a good message which reiterated the point that being able to communicate was the basis for any good relationship.

I did also get a bit of a feel for the city. There is a lot of half finished construction and some stuff is first world and some really isn’t it’s definitely an interesting mix. It does feel very multicultural but it does feel like the Chinese are running the show – though it may be the time of year. It does feel a bit like an inferior Singapore which is interesting but it also seems to be more influenced by the west than maybe it should. We certainly aren’t the best at everything – chopsticks are better for noodles for example :p.

The Cameron highlands

I took the bus up to the cameron highlands on Friday evening. After arriving I had supper at the hostel and had a chat with my roomates before falling asleep. The next day I got up fairly late as I hadn’t slept amazingly on the train and had brunch of a mostly tradtional English breakfast at a nearby restaurant before returning for another chat. Then at 2pm I headed out on a walk up the side of the valley to a peak called G. Jasar. This was a tough climb through the trees to reach the top and get views of the jungle and the hotels starting to invade it – there is more jungle left than in Argentinas northern province however. I also got to walk directly underneath an electric pylon which was quite interesting to see architecturally. After this climb I then climbed down again to an electric substation – once there I could see a road on the other side but not how to reach it so I turned back and returned the way I had come.

Then on Sunday I decided not to do a walk and instead took a totally average tour to see various sites. These included a beautiful rose garden. A strawberry farm that was just an opportunity to buy strawberries (these were good, but not up to my mothers standards. There these are grown in plastic to keep them healthy and to stop pests eating the strawberries. This seems to work but I’m not sure on the plastic usage – at home we use straw. After this we went to a tea factory and then a butterfly park both of which we good before heading to the beautiful Sam Poh Chinese buddhist temple that included interesting but slightly tacky gold Buddhist statues probably including the four kings (the guardians of the Buddha from the north, south, east and west) as well as the laughing Buddha – the guide didn’t seem to know anything about the temple so I didn’t push.

The next day I got up early and after checking my email and doing some shopping I headed out on a fairly ambitious walk. I was going to return to the Sam Pho temple but the final bit of path was very steep so I gave up and did a circuit back to town which took about 6 hours and covered about 9km or so – though most of it was on narrow and twisty woodland paths. This walk was a success in another way as this time I didn’t have to turn back. The woods were beautiful though I heard a lot of birds I didn’t see much wildlife except a snake very briefly. I thought I saw the bushes move in a snake-like fashion on the first walk as well.

One thing I like about Malaysia is that the prices are reasonable so you don’t have to bargain as much as in other countries which makes a nice change!

Ipoh and Singapore Zoo

On my last day in Singapore before I caught the overnight train to Ipoh I went to Singapore Zoo. It takes quite a while to get to the zoo, taking almost an hour from the railway station where I was buying my ticket out of the country, but it is quite out of the way for Singapore.

The zoo contains lots of different types of animals and some, like the Orangutans are able to freely go around a large area of the park, I really enjoyed it and spent about 3 hours there. One thing to note is that the zoo has a tram which cost $5 extra, that I didn’t use, basically the problem is that it doesn’t have enough stops so it isn’t obviously bad until you are actually there.

After visiting the zoo I caught the bus/MRT back to town so I could go to the excellent Hawker centre Lau Pa Sat which I went to last time I was in Singapore, there I had some Indian food before returning to the hostel to collect my bags and head to the Singapore railway station.

The Singapore railway station is actually owned by Malaysia and you can tell the Singaporeans don’t like it much as there isn’t an MRT station (even though a line passes straight underneath and there is a numbering gap for a station there) and most of the bus routes avoid it too. Anyhow the train ride was fairly uneventful but the first half was very bumpy until we got near to Kuala Lumpur where everyone except me in my carriage got off. After this the train went on practically brand new and smooth track all the way to Ipoh (which is pronounced eepoh with a “spanish” i; not iPoh like iPod or iPhone :p).

Ipoh is a nice friendly little town with very cheap food costing just $1.50 for a full meal, it is an OK town with some really nice building and some that aren’t so nice, it reminds me of Italy to be honest though and it is much nicer than I expected. I spent a few hours waiting for the bus to the Cameron Highlands where I am going to tonight as I just missed one at 11am and then had to wait until 3pm.

The HSBC treewalk and more

On Tuesday after I left off I headed to the Asian civilization museum. This was quite interesting and had lots of exhibits but it didn’t really hold my attention. This is probably because their technology which made the museum more interactive didn’t really work very well. It was supposed to recognize your ticket to personalise the mseum but basically it failed to work properly. They did have an excellent special exhibition on photography of Asian people taken in a couple of London photography houses.

After this at 3pm I headed over to the HSBC treetop walk not knowing I wouldn’t arrive until nearly closing time at 5pm which saw me rushing through the jungle to get there. Basically as is typical in Singapore the bus took ages and all in all took an hour to get from the museum out to the carpark for the treetop walk. From there though the treetop walk wasn’t very close as implied by the guidebook but was actually 3.5km away meaning I had to practically run the last 1km to get there! Not fun in the Singapore climate. I shouldn’t complain too much as the walk was through the beautiful (and surprisingly empty) jungle. The treetop walk itself was quite good and was a good way to overlook the trees I’d been walking through. However the main highlight of the walk was after this when I got to see wild monkeys in the trees above me which was amazing – especially in the middle of a city! All in all it was about a 10km walk in a loop to the bus stop at the bottom of the park. I really enjoyed it too. From there I took the bus and MRT back to my accommodation on a very roundabout route.

The next day I had no reason to get up early so I didn’t. I spent the first few hours booking accommodation and transport to get me back to Singapore for Chinese new year. I just missed the train tickets by about 5 minutes and found the bus situation to be worse and it took several hours to get it all sorted. Seriously though I don’t think the long distance buses are as developed as in South America or even New Zealand which is why it was so challenging. Booking the train (which is how I return to Singapore) was fairly painless however.

After all this I went to Sentosa; it was getting late so was shutting down but it seemed to be expensive and unfortunately sterile. Tonight is my last night in Singapore.

More time in Singapore

Over the weekend here in Singapore I didn’t get up to much at all – just uploading photos, sending a parcel, relaxing, playing games on my iPod touch (I’ve just discovered ronaldo and fieldrunners – both are excellent; especially ronaldo) and chatting with people in the hostel. I deserved it after having only around 2 hours sleep each night for my last couple in India. I also went to MOS burger.

Then on Monday morning I got up bright and early; first I had some admin to do so I had to sort that out and I had to catch the bus down from my hostel. This worked well thanks to the EZ link card – it’s a great piece of technology that actually “just works”. After that I headed to Burgis where I had some more admin to complete. While there (well Sim Lim tower actually) I picked up a new memory card for my camera – this is the first place I’ve ever seen memory cards for the same price or less than Amazon.co.uk. After this I had some pizza for lunch and went to a hairdressing salon unfortunately I didn’t manage to ask for the length correctly so it is now much shorter than I’d like.

After this I went to the Singapore National museum for the afternoon which was very interesting and was one of the best museums I’ve been to on my trip. It had an excellent section on the history of Singapore and went back before the British arrived. It did critise the British rule a bit and said we didn’t do enough education of the Singaporeans but overall it took a much more mature line to the British than the Indians generally didn’t. Although I’m sure we weren’t perfect many of the countries we ruled over the past several hundred years are now rich from the USA to Canada to Singapore itself.

After this I had a wander through the colonial district which was very European though there were buildings with a Singaporean twist and with bright colours before I caught the bus back to my hostel. This was a bit of an adventure as it didn’t actually quite go were I wanted and took ages. The moral of the story is if in doubt take the MRT. Then I had dinner at my hostel before going out for a drink before bed.

Further photos uploaded

I decided to get my computer time finished this weekend and I’ve uploaded and named all the photos I’ve uploaded over the past couple of days.

A final reminder, personal photos require having a Flickr account and me as a friend, view the help page for how to do it, though its not completely intuitive it is worth persevering on.

I’ve updated the instructions a little to make it a little more than a link and send me an email if you have any problems, as someone who wants to work in computer programming its important for me to be able to get this stuff right.

PS I should note I’ve met and helped people who’ve had problems switching off the flash on their digital camera and that is always incredibly easy, so I won’t bite your head off for asking for help :p.