Ashley Zoch

Friday, August 26, 2005

For Great Democracy!

We hit up Monkey Shock 3rd for dinner on Wednesday night. We had planned to go to Monkey Shock 2nd (there's four of them) but it seems to have closed. I'm not entirely sure why I wanted to go there. It sounded familiar for some reason. It was more 'restaurant' than I expected, but it was reasonably traditional. We sat on mats on the open sided second floor and enjoyed a few chicken dishes and some very nice smoky flavoured beef.

Cranky guy marketing in China Town.

On Thursday I visited the Democracy Monument (celebrating Thailand's constitutional monarchy) and had some good fun playing with the local touts (Another Buddhist holiday today? Again? Really?) and their attempts to steer me to temples and over-priced shopping.

Democracy Monument.

I spent most of the day wandering the streets of Chinatown. The little side street markets are a real olfactory assault. Seafood. Spices. Seafood. Spices. The main streets are lined with gold jewelry stores (that seemed more like investment houses that shops for engagement-ees) and beautiful old Chinese stores selling either confectionery or spices in walls of wooden drawers and glass cabinets.

Tuk Tuk trying to run me down in China Town.

I finished the afternoon with a browse through some guitar and drum stores (incredibly cheap knock-offs of popular guitars) and picked up a reasonable steel-string acoustic guitar as a thank-you to Chris for letting me stay with him (and for a bit of a strum while I'm here). I also checked out a neat little vinyl store that seemed to be more concerned with archiving than selling. They had a good range of classic old albums. I could have spent some good money in there if I had a turntable and a way of getting the records home.

Why have British Airlines installed TV controls into the armrests so you can no longer rest your arm?

We ventured west on foot last night (I bought a little compass at one of the night markets and I've grown quite attached to it) in search of new food sources. We settled on a little stand a few streets down and had a tasty Pad Thai and a Heineken. We picked up a few meat-sticks (balls of beef, chicken or pork on a stick cooked on a little grill at the stand) and some pineapple pieces and sat with some local motorbike riders on the street corner. Most of the side streets here are serviced by motorbike taxis to take commuters home.

Sunset in Bangkok (from the wrong side).

Chris' ADSL was installed yesterday so we setup his internet and wireless. I've spent the morning catching up on some news and enjoying some rejuvenating Vegemite on toast.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Never Assume

I awoke in a sweaty daze. Disoriented and confused about the past days. I had to wonder - Was it really all just a wild alcohol fuelled dream?

Assumption College, Bangkok.

Was I really in ... Kilmore?

Inside Assumption College.

That was a really limited audience in-joke, so here's a picture of Bangkok's (probably not) famous Robot building on Sathorn Rd.

Robot Building (Look blue sky!).

Muay Thai at Lumpini Stadium

I caught a train to Lumpini Park yesterday and spent the afternoon wandering around and sitting by the lake. Lumpini Park is known for it's '20 ring circus' of aerobics classes, fencing and other activities but I guess I was there at the wrong time because I just saw a few old white guys running around the track. Regardless, it was cool and quite and a nice respite from the city.

Lumpini Park.

I met Chris after work and we hit Lumpini Stadium for Tuesday Night Muay Thai (Kick Boxing). We bought discount tickets from one of the shiny jacketed ladies out the front (unlike this nervous fellow), grabbed a couple of beers and took our ringside seats. The only thing between us and the fight was a couple of rows of Press seating that appeared to be used by bookmakers rather than press members.

Muay Thai Match.

We met a nice English couple outside buying tickets so they sat with us and we all tried to work out the scoring system and rules for the boxing, and the complex frenzy of betting going on behind us. The first match was a couple of kids (not much more than 14 year olds) and was pretty light on. The second match was the same. We then realised that these were preliminary fights. The real fighters looked much more unpleasant to deal with.

Muay Thai Match.

The fighting ranged from pretty tame to quite ferocious depending on the stakes. The Main Event was particularly aggressive. The crowd in the stands were right into it. Wildly waving hands signally bets in between rounds. There was a demonstration round of traditional Muay Thai in the middle that included a flying knee that would have been at home as the finale in any fighting movie. The whole thing was sweaty and smoky and loud, and it smelled of Decorub. It was great.

Traditional Muay Thai with Rope Gloves.

We went back to the champ's changing room after the main event, shook his hand and got a photo each. We finished the night with some Khao Pat Gai (Fried Rice with Chicken - and a couple more new Thai words for me) at a stand at the local market and then a taxi home.

Me with the Champ (I need to work on my Boxing Stance).

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Luk Krueng

Chris caused a very amusing social misunderstanding in the elevator on the way out to get food tonight. He greeted a young lady holding a baby in Thai and then asked 'Some English or only Thai?' planning on some further chit chat. The lady replied 'Some Thai, some English' in relation to her bi-racial child. It slowly dawned on me and I bit the side of my mouth so as not to make the situation any worse.

Fortunately the folks here are pretty open with their personal information and she didn't take offense.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Temples, Tigers & Touts

Chris and I jumped a Sky Train to Siam Station for a day of shopping. We drew the attraction of three separate folks on the way out advising us that the shops were closed and suggesting alternate destinations (presumable for a small commission). The last one confused us into taking a short Tuk Tuk ride to a the nearby Wat Saket temple as it was open for only one day this year. After a short walk around our Tuk Tuk driver tried to push us onto further shopping locations, but we caught on and headed back to our original destination. I'm still not sure how much of this was true but it was a cheap and quick diversion. Apparently Wat Saket has some great views from the Golden Mount atop but we weren't aware at the time and didn't go up.

Phra Sirtana Chedi at the Grand Palace.

We finally made it to Panthip Plaza (Bangkok's IT Shopping Mall) and wandered the floors of computer gear considering the odd wild purchase. We picked up a pair of speakers for some evening beats and a few odds and ends. Chris bought a copy of Tiger Woods golf to try out on his new laptop. After lunch we went to Big C (which is like a big K-Mart) and collected some domestic necessities (ironing board, mop, etc.) for Chris' new abode. We finished the day off with a couple of rounds of Golf.

Me at the Grand Palace.

Today I visited the Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). The complex was built in 1782 and previously housed the Thai Royal Family. It's a popular sight-seeing destination and was full of fellow fereng (foreigners) getting in each others way taking photos. The architecture was impressive but everything is close together so it makes for difficult photos. I enjoyed the exchange of cameras with strangers to get oneself in photos and the awkward dance to work out who spoke what language when asking.

Statue outside Wat Phra Kaew.

There were Thai guides showing folks around in every language and some were very animated (one particular fellow showing around a group of somber Japanese tourists). The tours looked like a lot of fun. The temple itself is open to the public and quite heavily visited so it has lots of racks around it for people to store their shoes. These are numbered to help you remember where you put them, but I thought briefly that they were sorting folks into shoe sizes. The inside of the temple is beautiful but it's hard to find much serenity with a steady stream of people moving through and guards ensuring everyone is following the required customs (particularly not pointing your feet at the Buddha).

The Grand Palace.

The palace itself is under quite intrusive repairs so I only had a quick look and then took a taxi home and sat in traffic for an hour with a lovely chap who helped me practice some basic Thai.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Laura Photos

The kind folks from Melbourne Post-Rock outfit Laura have included some of my live photos on their site. I'm tickled pink!

An Empire is Built

I commented on a few occasions in Malaysia that Lau should start his own culinary tours. He had a knack for knowing great little spots that won't appear in your Lonely Planet guides (I think often because they didn't seem to have names). I was surprised to see that he's already making crossroads into Thailand.

Malaysians love Milo more than the folks of Waponi Woo love Orange Soda.

Market Day

We whipped on the shorts and Air Jesus last night and went in search of a late night dinner after a few quiet bottles on Chris' balcony. We ended up wandering into the notorious Pat Pong market - endless stalls of knock-off T-shirts, copy watches and pirate DVDs. Each side lined with an array of sex clubs offering an impressive array of novelty acts. I remember it all being a lot seedier a few years ago. I'm not sure if I'm a little less wet behind the ears or if it's been cleaned up a bit. Maybe a bit of both. In any case the folks are good natured and it's a lot of fun to wander through.

Chris in the Morning.

We zig-zagged through Pat Pong and appeared down a neon soaked little alley full of bars with tourists spilling out and raucous music. Each side was competing for volume. You could literally hear a different song in each ear (as we quickly realised our mistake and high-tailed it out of there). Chris busted out his mad Thai skills and asked for some directions. We finished up at a little hawker stand and had a beer and some chicken & rice.

Ash in the Sun at Chatuchak.

This morning we visited the 'mother of all markets' Chatuchak. It's a nice easy introduction to Thailand. Thousands of stalls selling all kinds of stuff that I don't have room for in my backpack (which is probably a good thing). It's exactly the place you'd drop your mother and sister off for a day. Two single blokes in Bangkok are a little less organised in their market trudging. We bought a little rattan Takraw ball (foot volleyball) for a kick around and an audio cable (that didn't work and was scientifically dissected and then thrown out). I think we saw most of it.

Requisite Stealth Mullet Shot.

Technology is truly a remarkable thing. I'm in Bangkok posting photos I took a few hours earlier using a computer small enough to fit in my backpack that has no wires hanging out of it. At the same time I'm chatting with my buddy in London. So hello to Pepe the Pool Boy. There'll be a place open for you at the Pulau Zoch when you're ready. The pool is very large and salty, so please bring your own snorkel.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Sa-wat-dii Bangkok

I caught an afternoon Air Asia flight from K.L to Bangkok, Thailand yesterday. I had planned to catch the 'jungle-line' third-class train from Gemas to Kota Bharu in Malaysia, however warnings of civil unrest on the border convinced me otherwise. I was a little sad as it's described as one of the most amazing train journeys in the world.

I caught a taxi from the airport to Chris' office with some over-the-phone directions from one of his colleagues and we headed back to his (very nice) apartment for a few bottles of Chang beer and a catch up. He only arrived here a few days earlier but he's already a bit of a guru on the city.

We took a Tuk Tuk to his local bar (where everybody knows his name). I forgot the advice I received last time I was here - don't smile when the driver grins at you in his rear-vision mirror - it only makes him go faster.

We settled in for a few beers, some pool and a light dinner of satay, a hot curry and rice. Despite his modesty, Chris is already chatting away in Thai. I was struggling to pick up anything more than a few simple words.

We finished off with a night-cap at the swanky bar at the bottom of his building and made estimates on how long it would take to polish off the hundreds of bottles of sprits carefully suspended in a 10 foot tall glass case over the bar.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Home Again

Well not home, but back to KL.

Lau and I somehow managed to get up before the others so we woke them and enjoyed a lazy breakfast while they got themselves packed and ready. We settled our account and took a few final photos before the midday boat back to Mersing.

Kylie, Nat, Suhana, Lau, Andrew, Ash.

The boat ride home included an amusing Arab family who refused to load their own baggage (despite having an enormous son who should be playing American football). Language difficulties and general stubbornness led to a funny stand off between them and the boat crew. The same occurred at the other end in Mersing.

Waiting for the boat.

We were pleased to discover that the haze had cleared quite well on the way back to KL (apparently it's worsened further north at Langkawi). Kylie dropped me back at Andrew's place - a little salty, sandy, sunburnt and ready for a shower and an early night.

Me at Mersing.

Laying on the beach can be quite tiring... :)

Hookahs & Nemo

I got up mid morning on Sunday and wandered down to the beach. Lau and Kylie had gone out for a day of SCUBA diving. Diving here is very cheap and very good.

Dive Instructor with Kylie & Lau.

I joined Andrew and Nat for a morning snorkel around the reef that surrounds the island. We saw a remarkable number of tropical fish and even a turtle. Kylie left us a disposable underwater camera, so we took some silly snorkeling shots and a few fish. The reef is only about 2 - 5 metres deep so we could get nice and close to the fish and coral.

Lau, Suhana & Nat transformed.

As well as a police station, Salang Beach has a bottle shop, a couple of restaurants, a supermarket and more diving instructors than you could poke a stick at. It's also home to a great many cats, roosters, hens and chicks, all of which wander freely.

Suhana, Nat & I.

The afternoon was spent snorkeling and snoozing on hammocks. Mother Nature managed a decent sunset for us (we got shutdown by clouds the previous night) so the cameras came out. We proceeded with as many stupid poses as we could fit into the last hour of sunlight. Kylie and Lau returned with some great diving photos, including some pics of Nemo.

Nat upside down.

Natalie mentioned that she would like to try all the different varieties of rice so we made dinner a 'Rice Challenge' and ordered one of each type on the menu. Although it proved to be an amusing theme, most of them were the same and we all ended up sworn off rice for a little while.

Rice - Lots of it.

After dinner we retired to one of the two beach bars and played some more cards, drank a few Tiger beers and listened to some pretty reasonable dance music. I had joked with Lau the night before that we should get a Hookah (as were being smoked by many others at the bar). He was surprisingly calm despite a misunderstanding between Hookahs and Hookers. His main concern was how to accommodate me on an island with no working girls. It turns out they're called Shishas here anyway.

Me enjoying a late night Shisha.

We passed the Shisha around and smoked some strawberry flavoured tobacco. I don't think it's actually tobacco. It's a cube of some type, but you get strawberry flavoured smoke when you suck on it. It's fun once in a while despite not having any effect other than making you look like the caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland.

Everyone got a little sleepy from the day's activities so we decided to give up the cards and call it a night.

Early Risers

On Saturday morning we loaded into two cars at 4am, handed out the two-way radios and decided on the call-signs 'Maverick' and 'Goose' from the movie Top Gun. Andrew drove myself and Suhana and Kylie drove Natalie and Lau. Fortunately we were 'Maverick'. Our destination was an island resort on Pulau Tioman.

Suhana & Lau waiting for the Boat.

We completed the 350km drive to the coastal town of Mersing at around 9:30am and had a quick breakfast of noodles and some delicious tea (that frothed like a cappucino and tasted like it had biscuits dunked in it). We boarded a speed boat and zipped across an hour of ocean to arrive at Salang Beach Resort on Pulau Tioman. Salang is a popular destination among backpackers. It cost us about $8 each for bungalows and the same for food. There was just the right number of European beauties and other travelers.

Salang Beach

The afternoon was spent snoozing in hammocks on the beach and exploring. We ate dinner and drank a few beers and then settled in for an evening of outdoor cards. We played a couple of card games that Natalie & Kylie picked up in China, who's names I will not utter here (OK - Arsehole and Shithead).

Nat and I resting by a Palm.

All the sleeping and snoozing was too much, so we turned in for an early night. The rooms were simple - a couple of beds, a fan and a bathroom with a showerhead and a toilet. I thought we might have been a bit warm, but with the fan on we were fine. Unlike mainland Malaysia, the islands have a nice cooling coastal breeze.

Nat & Kylie in front of the Bungalows.

Mrs Chicken-Fish

Kuala Lumpur was still pretty hazed in on Friday. A 'state of emergency' was declared in a few of the other Malaysian states and there was talk of the same in KL if things worsened. I think schools and government offices were given the day off. Surprisingly it didn't play havoc with my asthma at all.

The Streets of Kuala Lumpur

I spent the day wandering the streets and taking photos. Kylie and Natalie arrived back from China so we caught met up at the ExxonMobil building and said hello to a few old colleagues. People were in various states of understanding whether I still worked there (I don't) and why I was wearing shorts and no socks while on a business trip (I'm not). I guess I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Dinner at Chicken-Fish

I met up with Kylie, Natalie, Lau and Andrew for dinner at a street hawker, infamously known as 'Chicken-Fish' as they serve a type of fish that either looks or tastes like chicken (depending who you ask). I thought there was a little of both. The stand is run by Mrs. Chicken-Fish, a grumpy middle aged lady - apparently the fish isn't as good when she's not there.

The infamous Chicken-Fish

We ate Chicken-Fish and a bunch of other dishes and listened to tales of Kylie & Natalie's trip to China.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Hazing Rituals

We've been pretty much 'hazed' in for the past couple of days in Kuala Lumpur. The smoke from fires drifting over from Sumatra combined with the general haze here has made it a little unpleasant to be outside. I've taken the opportunity to put my feet up for a bit and do nothing.

We had (yet another) great meal at a Street Hawker on Tuesday night. I told Lau that I had not eaten a single bad thing since I arrived and that he should think about doing some culinary tours for visitors. I think he's considering it. I'm suggesting he calls it "Lau's Chow".

I've spent some quality time lazing by the pool at Andrew's apartment too. Despite a lack of sun and the smoky air, it's been warm and pleasant. I caught up on a couple of old issues of Wired and some serious ipod listening.

I somehow managed to get myself into an odd situation yesterday when a middle aged lady sidled up beside me and started asking where I was from, etc. I had the same thing the day before and was a little curt, expecting some sort of con than never transpired. I felt a little guilty, so I indulged this lady a little more and accepted her help to locate a pharmacy. Rather than make it to a pharmacy we stepped out at a Delifrance just down the main street where she invited me to join her and her brother. I saw an opportunity to exit, so I gave them a polite wave and headed off. I still don't know if there's a con.

Everyone else in this internet cafe is playing Guild Wars, so I'm off before I start pining for Warcraft.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Holy Monkeys, Batu-Man!

On Sunday we picked Suhana up from work and headed out 30 minutes to Batu Caves. The roads and signs here are unique and don't always seem to apply to each other. Even the locals seem to have some trouble. Driving here is quite different but I can see how it works when everyone follows the same 'rules'.

A Monkey at Batu Caves

Batu Caves is a Hindu temple located up some 276 steps in an enormous cave. It's inhabited by Hindu pilgrims seeking enlightenment, tourists seeking photos and a large number of wild monkeys seeking food. We marched up the steps and took a good number of monkey photos. The caves are remarkable. They look like something from Indiana Jones - especially with the flood lighting on the statues and pathways.

Andrew & Suhana at Batu Caves

The monkeys are quite shy considering they have food thrown to them by visitors. I did see one going though one tourist's plastic bag and helping himself to a banana. One the walk back down I glanced at a poor lady who'd only made it up the first 3 flights and looked like she'd been through hell. I gave her a quick smile of encouragement and wiped yet another litre of sweat from my forehead. I hope she made it.

Inside Batu Caves

After Batu Caves we drove on another hour to the Genting Highlands. Genting is a holiday resort built on top of a moutain with theme parks and a casino. The view from the mountain was limited due to cloud and smoke but there was still plenty to see. It's surprisingly cold due to the altitude (somewhere around 2000ft above sea level). I'd guess it's around 15 degrees C compared to KL where it's high 20's.

Andrew & I outside Batu Caves

We walked through the shops and inside theme park and then over a bridge that gave us a nice view of the outdoor park. There were a bunch of rides but I think we all agreed that it was a bit late in the day to start riding rollercoasters. We took a few photos and then Suhana took the reigns of Andrew's car for the descent back to KL.

Inside Genting Highlands Resort

We collected Kevin (another ExxonMobil visitor from Houston) and enjoyed another feast at a restaurant called Hakka (apparently a region in China where this style of cooking originates from). We ate a variety of fish, chicken and beef. The chicken dish that I selected contained some very hot dried chilis (I had to pick them out).

Genting Highland Park

Andrew, Lau and I finished up giggling like school girls at a few episodes of Family Guy before turning in for the night.

The 'View' from Genting Highlands

Like Normal Malaysia, But Smaller

We woke early on Saturday and washed clothes in the shared Laundry at Andrew's apartment. After a week of washing in a hotel sink it was nice to have proper clean clothes.

Local Costumes at Mini Malaysia

Lau arrived at Andrew's place and we drove about 90 minutes to the state of Malaka. Malaka is where the first town was started in Malaysia. We visited Mini Malaysia where an example of each of the 12 state's houses are shown. Mostly the houses are wood with a tiled or thatched roof. They are all build off the ground (to save them from flooding?). The 'long houses' from Eastern Malaysia are large and would house numerous generations of a family. They also have very uncomfortable bamboo floors.

Oxen at Mini Malaysia

After Mini Malaysia we visited the town of Malaka and enjoyed a delicious lunch of the locally renown 'chicken and rice' with some fish and calamari. The restaurant was so busy we had to queue outside. After lunch we wandered the streets and took a few photos. I guess the closest approximation would be Daylesford to Melbourne. A few tourist shops and some local flavour.

Local Transport at Malaka

We drove back via Port Dickson. The name was somewhat familiar to me - the guys pointed out that ExxonMobil has a refinery there. We stopped the car and wandered through a market, snacking on chicken sate (satay) sticks from a street vendor. One thing is very clear in Malaysia - they like to eat. The vendor enquired whether they would be too hot for the 'Mat Sallehs' - the local name for foreigners. Fortunately they were not.

Lau & Andrew inspect a canon at Malaka

The sun was a dull red disc behind the hazy sky on the way home. As we drew closer to KL it was like a foggy morning. It turns out that fires to the east in Sumatra were causing smoke to drift over to Malaysia. It's still a little smoky a couple of days later.

The Bamboo Bar at Malaka

We finished the day with a 'light' dinner at a restaurant next to Andrew's apartment. They had tanks of live sea creatures for us to select, so we did a lap and marveled at the weird and wonderful sealife before deciding to stick with rice, vegetables and some calamari. One creature (labeled a 'Geoduck') stood out. It was a large clam that appeared to have a baby's arm growing out of it. The waiter pulled one out for me to hold but luckily I caught onto his rouse and held it away from me as it engaged it defense mechanism and sprayed a jet of water.

Shopping at the Port Dickson Market

I don't think I could select something from a tank with the intent to eat it.

Red Sun due to fires in Sumatra

Ears, Trains & Chili Crabs

Sharni got the all clear from an ear specialist on Thursday night. He was a lovely fellow, showing us models of the ear and explaining what was going on. He was quite confident that she was ok to fly out of Friday night.

On Friday morning I caught a taxi to the Keppel Rd station and tried to purchase a train ticket to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Unfortunately they don't accept VISA (but they take AMEX and Diners?) so I made a quick dash to the near-by hospital ATM and made it back in time to board.

The six hour train journey is comfortable and relaxing but there's not much of a view. It's almost all palm plantations (harvested for the oil) and the odd small town. I listened to some Thievery Coporation and Gotan Project and switched between dozing and starting at the palm trees.

I arrived at KL Sentral Station and caught a local Putra LRT train to KLCC (City Centre) station. I got a little stuck on the (one of only two working) ticket machines but fortunately the folks behind were kind enough to help me with some change. The people here are much more engaging than in Singapore.

I met up with Andrew and we had dinner with ex-colleagues Lau and Suhana at an unnamed restaurant about 30 minutes north of KL. The guys here call it the 30 Crab restaurant because they serve crab 30 different ways. We feasted on Chili Crab, Black Pepper Crab, Fish, Calamari, rice and noodles. It was all delicious. Lau, Andrew and I finished up with a beer at a nice quite outdoor bar called Little Havana.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Straits Records

Yesterday we zipped over to a local independent record store called Straits Records (43 Haji Lane, Singapore). They have quite a small range, but they stock a good selection of stuff that I wouldn't expect to find elsewhere here.

I picked up (local groups) shamejoannshame's Gossips EP (on CDR), Plainsunset's Lovesongsfortheemotionallywounded and Return to Fall's "A sense of the bitter A sense of the sweet". I was lucky with the shamejoannshame CD as they thought they'd sold out. The guy wandered out as I was taking a photo to let me know he'd found one last one. I had hoped to pick up something by local post-rock act "I am David Sparks" but they are apparently still recording.

Straits Records

I had a quick chat with the guy at the counter about local music and the (very good) 65daysofstatic CD they were playing and then took a couple of snaps of the storefront. He told me that shamejoannshame and I am David Sparks are playing together on the 17th, but unfortunately I'll be gone.

I've only given the CDs a cursory listen so I can't comment on them much. I enjoyed the shamejoannshame but the other two were a little too 'straight up' rock for my tastes.

I'd recommend a walk up Haji Lane. There's a couple of metal stores there too. Straits Records doesn't open until 1pm and they don't appear to have a phone.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


Today we whacked on the loud shirts and baseball caps, looped the cameras around our necks and spoke to people very slowly and loudly (like they were 3) on our way to the number one tourist attraction here – Sentosa Island. Just kidding about everything but the cameras, although Sharni is speaking a bit loud due to her ear infection.

Sharni & Merlion at Sentosa Island.

Wikipedia says that Sentosa is the closest Singapore has to Disneyland.

Palawan Beach.

We hopped on the MRT to the Harbour Front and then a bus over the causeway to Sentosa. Half the island is a golf course with a couple of fancy hotels. The other half is a mostly ‘locally themed’ theme park. Buses transport people between the attractions around the island. It’s pretty reasonably priced (about SNG$50 would cover the main attractions).

Turtles at Underwater World.

We started at the big brother to the previously blogged Merlion statue. I estimate this one is more than 100ft tall. We then wandered down to Siloso Beach where there were a variety of resort-like activities going on. It’s a nice beach but the horizon is covered with enormous container ships from Singapore’s harbour. We then wandered over to the aquarium and checked out the huge sea turtles and rays outside.

A Parrot.

We hopped on an open tram and took a short drive around a few attractions. We stopped and took some photos of parrots at a bird show and then bought tickets for the Cinemania ride. An obnoxious tourist interrupted our ticket purchase and then ended up sitting next to me in the ride. I couldn’t work out what language he was making amusing exclamations in for the whole ride, but it doubled my enjoyment of it (seriously). The ride itself was a cinema with a dozen hydraulic 4 seat pods that moved in time with the rollercoaster visuals. It was a lot of fun.

Sentosa Island from the Cable Car.

We finished up with a (fairly bland) Magical Fountain show and then took the Cable Car back to the main island. The cable car was cool as well.

Aunt (Johor) Bahru

I collected my newly tailored shirt on Saturday morning. I was happy with the result and probably would have considered more if I planned on being in an office any time soon. It wasn’t any cheaper than a shirt at home, but it’s nice to have something cut to fit. I suspect someone might tell me that I paid double what I should have.

Sharni and I decided to visit Johor Bahru just over the Malaysia border to do a bit of shopping. Our hotel doorman gave us a couple of travelers tips on the way out (basically don’t get pick-pocketed) so I was a little hesitant but I figured I’ve been in enough dodgey cities not to fall into any obvious traps. Sharni had been there before as well. We visited one of the many, many Starbucks on the way to the taxi and I realized it was the first one I’ve ever been in.

We took a Malaysia operated taxi from the Singapore CDB across the border for SNG$40 each way. Sharni told me that they have to comply with strict regulations when working in Singapore so as not to compete with local taxis (e.g. they cannot stop anywhere apart from their taxi rank). Our driver Mr. Shan was a pretty abrupt fellow, but he warmed to us on the ride home. I suspect it was mainly language difficulties. He said he spoke some English but not ‘clever words’. I wish I knew even just a few dumb words in other languages.

The drive is one long highway with trees on either side. We passed a Singtel building that had the biggest satellite dishes I’ve ever seen. I guess it’s the main point of presence for the country. At the border we saw at least 1000 motorbikes queued 5 or 6 across waiting to clear the border control. Mr. Shan advised me that these were Malaysian nationals who worked in Singapore and commuted. The drive is about 30 minutes from the Singapore CBD to Johor Bahru. We cleared both country’s border control without any issues. I also realised it was the first time I’ve entered another country by land.

Sharni couldn’t remember the shopping centre she’d been to before so Mr. Shan selected the biggest one for us – The Holliday Plaza, so named for it’s proximity to the Holiday Inn. Johor Bahru reminded me of Port Moresby in PNG. I don’t think I’d like to walk the streets at night. The shopping centre, however, was just like any in Singapore except every second store had a few legitimate DVDs out the front and a young fellow eagerly motioning for you to pass through a door to their ‘back room’ where any movie you like can be had for 6 Ringgit (about $2 Aussie). It appears much like Singapore previously was – piracy is policed, but only in a very cursory manner.

Me outside the Holiday Plaza Shopping Centre.

We bought a few very cheap bits and pieces. I grabbed a wallet and a pair of Air Jesus (sandals). Sharni picked up some girlie stuff and we grabbed a few DVDs (3 or 4 music ones that I didn’t expect to see elsewhere). Mr. Shan arrived back at 5pm and we headed home.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped off at Sim Lim Square for Sharni to buy a zoom lens for her camera. I must admit that I have been well and truly schooled in the art of bargaining. It’s like a science with her. I was mostly worried that no one was making enough margin to feed their kids. I think that was naïve.

Holy Tequila Batman

With a big weekend planned, I took it very easy on Friday – wandering around town and looking in shops. I caught an afternoon showing of the film Stealth which was way over the top but an enjoyable way to wile away a few hot afternoon hours. I had a look through the Borders store here and then picked up a couple of books at a small second hand bookshop.

After a bite to eat we went out for a night of partying with Marco and Sharni’s friend Peng. We started at a wine bar on Emerald Hill Rd that had a Mediterranean mixed with Sea Shanty feel. One of the EY partners joined us for a drink and we chatted a bit about the modern history of Singapore and the working relationships with nearby neighbour Malaysia. I’m curious about the dealings between the two countries as they are so close but a lot of stuff in Singapore costs twice as much.

We jumped in a pair of taxis around midnight and headed to Clarke Quay to a club called Gotham Penthouse. I haven’t been inside a nightclub for some years, but this one was just how I remembered them. They played an assortment of 12” mixes of pop tracks and what I would classify as ‘commercial dance’. The stuff you’d find advertised in this year’s compilations on TV. I think I’ll name the genre 'Sharnicore' as she appeared to know it all. We chugged down a variety of spirits and beer at crazy high Singapore prices and finished off with a couple of rounds of Tequila shots.

As an aside – they serve their Tequila shots a little differently here. The glasses are salt rimmed and they arrive with the lemon slice in the Tequila.

I decided to call it a night when the dancing started.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Sight Seeing

I dropped into one of the many many tailors here on Wednesday night to pickup a cheap shirt and pants for traveling. We looked through a bunch of different fabrics and patterns and decided on some simple neutral colours. I was shocked to discover that I would be up for $400 instead of the $100 I had expected. We did a little bartering and I ended up with a $70 shirt to be collected tomorrow.

Yesterday I caught the (simple, efficient) MRT train service to Raffles Place to see a few sites I'd made notes on while researching the trip. I started at Salvador Dali's statue on Newton which was cool - spooky and conservative at the same time. It stands in the atrium of a bank building.

Dali's tribute to Isaac Newton.

I then walked past the Fullerton hotel (which is a remarkable building) to see the Merlion statue that is the symbol of Singapore. A few old fisherman were sitting around, so I watched one fish for a while. It was a bit like Ultima Online but he didn't catch anything and I didn't feel my fishing skill improving, so I moved on (sorry, horrible, obscure, nerdy joke). I then crossed the Singapore river and walked up to the location of Raffles first landing. There was a statue.

The Merlion statue.

With the sun beating down and plenty of time to fill up, I hopped on a riverboat to see some more sights. I discovered that I was at the same spot that we came to for dinner on Monday. It's great how much more you absorb of your location when you take the time to travel and don't just catch taxis back and forth.


The riverboat had been patched up plenty of times but it ran at a nice slow pace so I sat back and relaxed for an hour. One of the boat-hands told me that the government plans to de-salinate the river in the next 5 years. Unfortunately I didn't get to ask him why.

Fullerton Hotel (previously the Post Office).

I wandered south to visit the Sri Mariamman temple and then Chinatown. I had an interesting conversation with a gent who claimed to sell elephants. Apparently they go for between $20k and $30k depending on colour. I can't verify the truth of any of this.


Chinatown is a little dull compared to little India. By this time I've been accosted by enough tailors. One did offer me a cold beer though. The shops seem to sell much the same goods but there were a few with an odd assortment of dried squid and the like. I sat down to watch a street performance just as they decided to open a sewer for some works, so I took that as an omen to head home.

Fortunately I was this tall so I could ride the MRT.

Poor Sharni appears to have developed an inner ear infection so we spent a quite night in the hotel. Hopefully she will get to a doctor today as it may affect her ability to fly home on Monday.