Thaipusam and Langkawi

On Saturday evening I thought I wasn’t going to get up to much, but in fact I had had quite an interesting evening. I was pursuaded that it would be a really cool idea to go to Thaipusam festival which was being celebrated by the Tamil in Penang. First to get there we headed up towards the festival by bus which took almost 90 minutes; unfortunately we didn’t get off at the right place so we had to get a taxi back towards the festival so the whole process took ages. After we eventually got to the festival we grabbed some food before heading towards the temples themselves.

The festival is actually a two day affair and I only caught the first day, where a chariot is brought up from one temple to another pulled by bulls. The festival also involves people piercing themselves which people do to prove their resistance to pain. They often had a bar in between their teeth to stop them biting off their tongue so it must have hurt a lot. First we had a wander around the temples, one of which was surprisingly in a colonial style building and the other opposite was more traditional before we walked back to the bus stop and the chariot. This took absolutely ages as there were tons and tons of people walking, and there was a bit of a crush as we tried to pass the chariot which got a little scary for a moment or two.

The festival was really good overall – much better than the mediocre Chinese New Year.

On Sunday morning I left Penang and I arrived into Langkawi on Sunday morning on the express boat, the journey was fairly uneventful, except that they didn’t have breakfast on board the boat and I got to watch some tom and jerry cartoons. That evening I had a pizza for dinner which was expensive at RM30, but the main issue was that I ate it too fast as I hadn’t had much food that day, so I had to sit down afterwards on the beach for 30 minutes to digest it fully.

Over the next few days I basically just chilled out, and on Monday I sat on the beach for several hours and managed to get really sunburnt which still hurts a bit now a couple of days later. I’m not going t-shirt less on the beach or snorkeling again as its actually pretty embarrassing. One of the main problems was that I didn’t get all the sand off as the showers are cold so that probably made matters worse. On Wednesday I went up to a nearby mountain to go on a cable car which gave great views of the rest of Langkawi island which was really good to see.

Langkawi itself is a tropical island in the north of Malaysia near the Thai border, basically it has lots of restaurants and the prices aren’t too bad, really its like a combination between Tahiti and Moorea though the prices are literally less than 20% of those on Tahiti, and I’m eating all my meals out here, rather than buying food from the supermarket as I did on Tahiti, except for one meal/day where I’d buy a meal on the side of the road.

Singapore over the Chinese New Year holiday

After celebrating in the new Chinese Year I had a pretty relaxing new years day like the rest of Singapore appeared to be doing. The first thing of note I did was watch the British horror movie “Eden Park” this was a great film until the end. It started subtle with some teenagers cycling across a red light (which is a crime in UK the average Oxford don probably commits.). The movie in general is great as mostly it just twists the rules of society and adds a bit of ignorance to create a great horror film. There are no monsters or demons in this film which is great. The film is flawed though in the last 2 minutes which turns it from the probable overall winner of the Patrick Levy award for cinematography to something little better than Four Christmases. If you watch it walk out in the scene with the inflatable swimming pool.

Then I went to the waterfront to see another free concert though this one wasn’t as good as the last one I saw and I walked off early before I returned to my hostel. Once back I found a copy of the Economist which I read – primarily to see why the British currency is quite so weak at the moment (it’s up to US$1.40=£1 today). On reading the magazine I did answer a curious question about racism in the UK that I’ve been pondering for a while. Now it is true in the UK that most of the rich areas are mostly full of only whites but that most people there have no/little overt problem with ethnic minorities. The issues is more subtle than this and there is actually a lot of pregudice based on class instead – as blacks and asians start more likely to be poor then due to this class pregudice they don’t get richer.

Of course there is a flip side to this argument as the economist also published an article on some psycological research on racism which said that although people aren’t overtly racist they don’t seem to act appalled when someone is racist in front of them.

The next day, which in the west would be Boxing Day, I first went to McDonalds again as the food courts still appear to be closed. After this I had a little shopping to do as I managed to lose my washbag. Of course the most expensive part of the replacement was the washbag itself; it was also the los difficult to replace and it took 2 hours including a lot of time borrowing the Singaporean free wifi (Singapore has free wifi practically nationwide now – well at least in the numerous shopping centres.) to find something. After this it was getting quite late so I headed to the Singapore botanic gardens for an hour or so to wander around. It was good; especially the national orchid garden which was beautiful though being a public holiday it was fairly busy.

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.

Visiting Japan around New Year

It’s worth noting that if you choose to visit Japan in the few days around new year that many attractions will be shut at that time. Lots of museums and attractions aren’t open for the week around new year and some aren’t open longer.