London

I’m now working in IT which is mostly good fun so I don’t have much time for blogging anymore. I’m also learning a lot of new technologies too which is interesting. In fact the only reason I have time now is that I’m heading up to Manchester by train to meet up with a good friend from University, which means I have three hours to kill. Additionally as I got an advance ticket I managed to grab a first class ticket for less than £20 one way, which as the train was pretty damn full was probably a good idea. It was nice to get a table, a bit more space and free food and drink (which alone almost made up the extra £7 it cost over standard class.) the only problem with first class is that its a damn Voyager as my friend Dave would say and the seats aren’t any more comfortable than standard class (I’d go so far as to say they were less comfortable.).

However last weekend I headed down to London a couple of days in a row. The first evening I headed to a gig of Earthless and Pontiak, these are both American rock bands that are fairly heavy but also pretty damn good. I wouldn’t have gone on my own, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. The second band only played four songs in their entire set (including encore) and the second lasted for a good 20 minutes, which was really cool to listen too. It was a little long for my tastes (and I did get a little bored halfway through) but it still managed to work well as a song.

The gig was at a great little venue called Borderline which is just a short distance down Charing Cross road from the Astoria. It is a great little venue, and I can’t wait to go back as I’m sure it made the music even better. The Astoria is one of London’s more famous music venues and it has now been shut so that a CrossRail station can be built underneath it. I have to admit its not my favourite venue, but a lot of famous gigs have been played there. After CrossRail is finished the venue is apparently going to be re-opened – hopefully they can make it into a decent venue at the same time :p.

When we went to the gig we went on the bus from Oxford to London which is probably the nicest bus journey in the country in terms of quality. Even so you get 4 seat across rather than 3 you’d get in other countries. The only bonuses are the toilets which were decent enough and “free WiFi” though on 2 out of the three buses I took it didn’t work with my iPod touch at all – and with the other it was barely functional – “broadband” only to the standards of developing world free hostel internet. That said it still manages to take the timetabled 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to London even on the way back after midnight which means that that estimate is really only an aspiration of how long it will take most of the time which isn’t really very good.

I mention this as when I was in Cambodia I was talking to the people who owned my hotel about the buses you can take there and they didn’t believe that the buses in Cambodia were better/as good there as in the UK – sadly it is true. Mostly because those who are rich enough take the train – though to be honest Via Barriloche in Argentina spanks the first class train I’m on now in terms of comfort – maybe we should sell our railways to the Argentineans :p.

As we went on the bus we got in a little further into London than you would on the train so we got a nice walk down Oxford Street including the eastern end which I have never been down before. Oxford Street is quite nice and Selfridges is in a very impressive building though the sign outside seems more than a little tacky to me. What surprised me is that even though the east of Oxford Street is fairly posh overall it is more like Nanjing road in Shanghai than Orchard road in Singapore.

The next day I headed into London to meet up with some other friends who I mostly know online in Hyde park this was great fun until it started to rain and then we decamped to the pub in Kensington to the south of the park. This was great fun and I had a great day. Unfortunately I stayed a bit too late missing the last train back to Oxford so I had to take the bus home taking bus three of the weekend. After all that excitement I was due a relaxing evening before Monday morning.

Smart cards

I’ve got some smart cards left over for Tokyo, Singapore and Shanghai and the latter two even have some credit on them so if you’re going to any of those cities and would like a smartcard then drop me an email. Note that the one for Tokyo is less useful as if you dont have a railpass you get a “free” one with the narita express into central Tokyo.

Summary of the trip: Mainland Euroasia

I was always going to give some awards at the end of my trip and this is the award for the final third of the trip. As well as this I will follow this post with some overall awards which will include some additional awards as well. That post will follow this evening UK time.

Best site

The Great Wall, China, the Great wall was stunning, especially seeing it snaking off into the mountains – apparently 20% of the entire Chinese population worked on it at one point, meaning it probably wasn’t the great military success it was supposed to be.

Honourable Mention

Taj Mahal, Agra Although Agra and frankly the rest of northern India isn’t exactly the nicest part of the world to travel in, the Taj itself is absolutely stunning. Angkor Wat was pretty damn cool as well too.

Best museum

Hermitage, St Petersburg, although some of the artwork wasn’t amazing a large proportion of the artwork spread over 400 rooms was stunning, the rooms it was kept in were pretty good to look at as well.

Honourable Mention

Shaanxi Museum, Xian, this museum gave an excellent overview of Chinese history – excellent.

Best tour company

No Winner, all of the tours I have been on in this part of the trip have been significantly flawed though I have to admit I haven’t been on very many.

Best city

St Petersburg, Russia, St Petersburg is absolutely stunning to look at and it is great to see a European city that hasn’t been ruined by plate glass like Oxford has for example. The European style buildings that exist throughout the centre are stunning and the streets are wide enough as well.

Honourable Mentions

I thought that Singapore was going to win the best city award as there was enough to keep me busy for the 8 days while I was there, that was until I got to Beijing, which was frankly better as it has two world class sites within its city limits. It was then pipped to the prize itself by St Petersburg. This is undoubtedly the top 3 however.

Best non-Family accommodation

Etour hostel, Shanghai, I was going to give it to the Beijing Novotel but they offered a dodgy tour to the Great Wall so I’m not granting it to them, but Etour hostel was well located behind the JW Marriott on People’s Square. It also had a great lounge with good food and drink – and excellent staff and th

Best food for under US$25

Food court, apm, Beijing, after eating far too much Western food in China it was good to get some Chinese food for a change, and the apm food court in central Beijing was excellent.

Honourable mention

Singapore and Malaysia’s foodcourts for being consistently strong and cheap too.

The Lee, Mohan and Tim award for the best burger

Burgers seem to be turning into a staple on this trip and in honour of my time in Chicago when I had four burgers in six days with the guys from Chicago (including two for two successive meals.

Rice Burger @ MOS Burger, Singapore, this was gorgeous, disappointing I had to wait until Singapore before I could understand the menu enough to get to try a rice burger. The burger was delicious too – can we have a branch in Oxford please.

Best nightlife

St Petersburg, Russia, because clubs in half finished buildings are cool and the ballet was pretty solid as well.

Best Activity

The acrobatics, Shanghai Centre, Shanghai, this was absolutely awesome and kept me riveted to my seat for 90 minutes.

Friendliest People

The Russians the Russians always seemed to be friendly and went the extra mile to help pretty damn frequently, given their limited resources it was great to see.

Best Transportation Company

No Winner, nothing particularly stood out, but China rail, the metros in Beijing, Shanghai, Singapore and the buses in Xi’An were all pretty damn good.

Best bargain

“Russian” coat from Giordano, ¥299 for a coat that would probably be the better part of £100 in the UK was a great deal.

Biggest rip-off

The tour to the great wall for costing probably 3x as much as just doing it yourself on public transport with the Chinese and then taking us to a dodgy medicine centre on the way back.

The Patrick Levy award for cinematography

When I went to South East Asia my friend Patrick (who doesn’t need much sleep) would watch films before going to sleep in the evening. Therefore I am dedicating this award to him. However even though films you watch while travelling are usually bad I’m giving this award to the genuinely most entertaining film.

The winner is Milk, a great film on American gay rights – and given the “great” state of America at the moment, maybe it has wider importance to all the other issues in the country.

Pictures named

I named the rest of my photos this morning.

Sorry I don’t have time now to post about what I’ve been up to here in KL as I need to go and get my bags and head over to the airport for my flight to China this evening. It has been pretty good however.

Photos uploaded

My friend Rupert has kindly uploaded a bunch more photos for me, which I’ve started to name, I’ll finish when I’m not in the most expensive internet cafe in Malaysia in the KLCC complex (it costs RM8, 1.60GBP for 1 hour!). I’ve named some of them as well

The Night Safari

After arriving into Singapore once again I took the MRT back to Bugis and my accommodation, the Inn Crowd hostel. In the afternoon I uploaded some photos to Flickr and did a brief bit of shopping. After this I had a delicious Burger King burger before heading over to the Singapore Night Safari using my pre-purchased ticket I got at the bird park before I went to Cambodia.

To get there I took the special S$4 bus which was an adventure in itself as I was running late for the bus (something I’ve *never* done before.). Once I got there the Singaporeans around tried to be helpful but failed miserably – the first guy refused to tell me which street I was on and instead gave me directions somewhere else. The second then told me to stand on the wrong side of the road where there was a public bus bus stop so I had to cross like it was Viet Nam to get the bus.

Then after all that fun I arrived at the Night Safari itself. The night safari itself was absolutely amazing and was well worth the entry fee. First I saw their night animal show – this was complete at the beginning with a request not to use camera flash in 5 languages (everything else was only in English.) – unsurprisingly this wasn’t followed through and people used their camera flashes anyway. The show was pretty good and entertaining even so. Probably the flashes where on because the people didn’t know how to switch them off – or they are like my Canon which auto-reenables the flash in auto (and even night scenery) modes. Yeah it’s lame Canon – the Panasonic Lumix range doesn’t do this.

After this I ignored the crowds going on the tram and walked around the enclosures that you can reach on foot -this enabled me to see lions, tigers giraffes as well as a sloth bear and giant flying squirrel which was amazing to see. The animals also seemed to be fairly lively.

After a nearly 2 hour walk around the animal enclosures (I don’t have photos as my camera was out of battery.) I decided to not be cheap and shell out the S$10 for the tram which took me round some more of the animals I had missed in my initial explorations with surprisingly few duplicates before I headed home to bed.

The next day I arranged my bus to Melaka and finally found the decent priced food court in Bugis junction – finally I could get a decent priced meal there and for which I had the speciality “carrot cake” and a delicious ice dessert.

Note that the food at the Night Safari is expensive at at least S$10 a meal. Also if you are catching the public bus back from the zoo/night safari then the 927 bus and changing onto the MRT at the far end is probably about 5 minutes faster even though you go to a more out of the way MRT station if your accommodation isn’t on the red (north-south) line. You could also probably get the 138 and transfer at the end of the upper thomson road to another bus and then get the MRT from Newton if you want to be really cool and that would probably be even quicker – though its only viable with an EZ-link card and you’d need to ask where to get off.

Photos uploaded

I’ve been slowly uploading some photos this afternoon, but its so slow here that I’ve got bored of the process, but more should join them in the next few days. They are of course as usual on my Flickr acccount.

I’ll also title/tag them in due course.

OH MY GOD: Jurung Bird Park

On Wednesday I caught the MRT out towards the Jurong bird park. First I had some lunch in the mall at Boon Lay – the far end of the east west line. I had a chicken curry noodles. This was really tasty and also pretty damn spicy -a nice random dish. It also wasn’t too expensive at S$4.60 – at least it was a better price than I’ve been paying over the Chinese New Year holiday while the food courts were shut.

After that I caught the bus from the MRT station to the bird park itself. The bird park is run in a similar style to Singapore zoo and while it isn’t as impressive it’s still pretty good. I got to see lots of birds – most of which are in large cages from Barn Owls to Crested-woodpigeons. There are also lots of tropical animals like Macaws and a lot of smaller birds too. After that I saw a hawk display that was pretty good but not totally brilliant to be honest.

One problem with the zoos and wildlife areas in Singapore is that there is a sizeable minority who don’t know how to behave in venues like this – and I’m not talking about the children. They seem to think it’s acceptable to shout like they are in a crowded bar and bang on the glass – there are no signs telling you not to but it’s obviously unacceptable behaviour. It’s sad that they don’t have the common sense not to do stuff like this when it isn’t explicitly forbidden. Of course even then they do jaywalk :p.

After the birdpark I headed back to my hostel where I had a cheap supper before settling down for an early night before my early flight to Siem Rep in the morning.

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.