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.

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.

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.

Arrived in Singapore

I arrived in Singapore this morning from Chennai. I didn’t get much sleep for the past couple of nights so this morning I’ve been resting. I have to admit I liked Chennai more than Delhi; it was a far more laid back city. I’ll post more later as I don’t have much time online now as I want to get some lunch.

I’ve realised that Singapore is also quite like Japan, except with worse trains, slightly less clean, but with an architectural style.