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Indulge in the Uniquely Singapore experience

I love travelling, and have blogged about hitchhiking to Romania, drinking coffee in Laos, a room with a view in Provence, beers in Belgium, being a tourist in KL, shop signs in Kuching, a sunrise in Kelantan, clouds over Phuket, and a cute devil in Tasmania.

Somehow, although I've been to Singapore a number of times, I've never blogged about it :-| Maybe because my trips were normally work-related, or quick day trips?

Nuffnang & Uniquely Singapore are offering tickets to the Nuffnang Asia-Pacific Blog Awards ceremony, and an "exclusive Uniquely Singapore experience", which sounds intriguing :-). But they want to know why I should be given this special opportunity to experience Singapore: for me, I would like to have the chance to discover more of its history and hidden secrets, and blog about what makes Singapore truly unique.

Singapore is a 21st century multicultural metropolis, steeped in the trading history of ancient Asian and colonial empires - it is discovered slowly, its different shades revealing themselves in the rich nuances that make up the character of this hidden gem of Asian culture and history. Inhabited for at least 1800 years, from the 7th to the 13th century it was part of the great Srivijaya Empire, and from 1819 onwards it grew rapidly under the British Empire. Known as an island city, it is sometimes difficult to see the history amongst the skyscrapers and the shopping malls, and to forget that it has natural areas of natural beauty too.

For my dream day in Singapore, I would want to start early with a Peranakan breakfast - perhaps Otak toast. While it’s still cool, I would explore the park around the MacRitchie Reservoir, established in 1860...
macritchie reservoir singapore

check out the Treetop Walk, enjoy the nature...
fauna flora macritchie reservoir singapore

and dream of finding the elusive Yamashita Gold :-)

For lunch, the 19th century Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus, now a marvelously restored national heritage site known as 'Chimes', would give me a choice of fusion dining venues. To digest my light lunch, I could stroll around the cloisters, and view the stained glass windows in the restored chapel.
chijmes singapore

In the afternoon, tired of walking, the Singapore Sightseeing Pass which has unlimited access to hop-on, hop-off bus and boat tours looks ideal. I think I'd focus on the HiPPO River Cruise: Singapore was always first and foremost a naval city, which breathed the monsoon wind. A global city before globalisation was heard of.

Seeing Singapore from the river would bring back the perspective that the sailors and weary travellers would have seen, welcoming them from around the world
singapore river scenes

Followed by dinner at one of the relaxed riverside cafés of Boat Quay, and an evening of cocktails and jazz
boat quay singapore

To finish a perfect day, I would luxuriate in the sumptuous comfort of the Golden Chersonese Suite of Raffles Hotel,
raffles hotel singapore

drifting into happy dreams and fond memories of the day when I was truly able to...



Pictures under CreativeCommons licenses, credits to: arti47, Eustaquio Santimano, mgrenner57, mjmyap, madaboutasia, Rojina, RWM, The Shopping Sherpa, tuis

The Golaniad ID

This is one of my most valuable souvenirs - it may not look like much, but for me it's from a time that I will never forget.
Golaniad ID

In April 1989 I flew to India on the Polish Airlines, LOT. When I came back in October, Poland had liberated itself from the Soviet Union and the totalitarian communist dictatorship. The way I noticed this was through the greater choice of drinks in the plane: on the way out the choice had been "Orange or beer?", the diluted concentrate and warm beer being served by a brusque stewardess holding two one-litre bottles in each hand. Coming back, I remember soft drinks, cartons of cheap fruit juice, and more. And a smile.

I arrived at Glasgow University late, and signed up to do English, Sociology and Arabic. Eastern Europeans were ripping the geopolitical landscape of my childhood apart in one momentous shove after another. By Christmas, when we watched TV reports of armed skirmishes in Romania, and the hurried dispatching of Ceau?escu, Europe was transformed beyond all expectations.


Back in Glasgow for a second term, I was unhappy with my courses and chafing to get back on the road; although I loved Glasgow, I felt I was missing out on history. So, I decided to start university again the next year, and go to Eastern Europe - specifically, Romania, which seemed like the most exciting place to be. Elections were scheduled for May 20th, and I decided to be there.


I hitchhiked from Brussels to Vienna - via Luxembourg and Nuremberg, and from there across the border into Hungary. From then on I took the train: at Budapest a man hit me in the face while I was walking in the street - I can't remember why, he must have been drunk and I looked at him the wrong way or something. Or he knew I was a foreigner perhaps. Anyway, it didn't hurt much, and nothing else happened. I was scared for a while though.

I got a train to the town closest to the border with Romania: international train tickets usually cost more, so by getting across the border on foot or something, and taking the train in the new country, I would try to save money. Anyway, that was the theory, but in this case the town was too far away from the border or something, so I had to get an overnight international train anyway. I took the cheapest ticket, but was able to pay the conductor five Deutschmarks and get a first class sleeper cabin for the night. I slept really well that night :-)

In the morning, I was woken by the border guard who wished me 'Welcome' - he was friendly, and that set a pattern for most of my time in Romania. Everywhere, people were welcoming - in the two months that I eventually stayed there, I stayed in a hotel for only about seven nights in total. The rest of the time I stayed with people I met.

So, back to the tatty envelope, with a photocopy of a 'V for victory' hand and my name... When I got to Bucharest, I went straight to what was then being called 'Piata Libertilei' (I think, or 'Libertati'); it was the place where thousands of demonstrators were gathering every day and protesting against the newly elected FSN government, made mostly of Communist apparatchiks who had orchestrated the coup against Ceau?escu. They were called 'Golani' (hooligans) by the government, and so they called this space of protest 'Golaniad'.

Most people came and went. But some slept there in the tents that had sprung up on what must have been a lawn. And when you stayed there, you had to register with the committee in charge, who gave you an 'identity badge' so that you could be marked out from informers, and random others. I was number 269.
Golaniad ID

Proletarians of the world, unite!

I'm starting a new category, to talk about things from my past. I used to travel quite a lot, and although earlier on I was 'too cool' to take photos (because that's what 'tourists' do), I do have some. So I'll try to have a picture and few comments about it.

This is my first one: taken in either Berlin or Warsaw in August 1991. I was with S; we had hitched from Brussels to Berlin, and took the train to Warsaw. The Soviet Union still existed then, though it was in its last throes, and the sleeper wagons that came from the USSR had the coat of arms of the United Socialist Soviet Republics embossed on the side.
USSR coat of arms on a train 1991

During the Cold War, there was a constant diet of warnings of how the Communists/the Russians/the Soviets wanted to take over the world. I was always suspicious of this propaganda, but later learned more about how deeply the Soviet Communist Party managed to infiltrate many organisations in the West.

This symbol, with the hammer and sickle stamped on the globe, was a powerful symbol of the internationalism of the Soviet/Communist ambitions and it was a bit creepy in a caricatural way.
USSR coat of arms on a train 1991

The writing around the edges translates as "Proletarians of the world, unite!" and it's written in all the languages of the USSR I suppose (clearer picture here). It's a slogan from The Communist Manifesto by Marx & Engels.

Australia - 'England-upon-Mediterranean'?

One thing I often say when I am describing my impressions of Australia, is that it's kind of like 'England-upon-Mediterranean'. By that I mean that it feels kind of like England - the buildings, the language, the shops, the queues, and so on - but it's sunny! And there's good food and wine :-) The state assembly building is classic 'Empire English' architecture, but there are palm trees in front of it. You can do barbecues in the middle of 'Winter'. And they celebrate Christmas on the beach :-)

It's more than that though: other things happen that remind me I'm on a different continent altogether - I see a black and white bird and I think it's a magpie, but it let's out a melodious squawk and fans its tail feathers and it's most definitely not a magpie! The trees and plants are nearly all different, even an ant I saw yesterday at the bus stop looked different to any I've seen before. The sky is blue, the night sky is full of stars and you can see the clouds drifting off over a large land mass inland.

Talking of bus stops, another difference here (though this is somewhat like UK), is that the bus drivers are friendly. They say good morning to you, or 'G'day mate', when you get on the bus, and of course people respond; many people getting off the bus will call out "Thank you driver!", or some variety of that. People in shops, or wherever, are helpful and friendly, and will try to help you out.

OK it ain't perfect, no doubt if I lived here I would meet grumpy Aussies, and encounter dense bureaucrats as there are anywhere. But generally Australians do a good job of making a nice social environment to spend time in.

One thing that was not so nice was the Friday-night-when-everyone-is-pissed experience in town. That also reminded me of the UK but not in a good way. Anyone who has lived in the UK will surely know that feeling when you are going home late at night and there are loads of noisy drunk people around; of course most of them are just having a good time, but I've seen too many fights and problems happen in those situations to ever feel at ease - unless I'm drunk enough myself of course! :-P

Anyway, generally it's very nice here and, as they say 'No worries!' :-)

Brisbane, Internet studies, malls

I’m feeling a bit lost without my camera, which is interesting as it says something about how important pictures have become for my blogging. For most of my posts, the process is like this: I load pictures (of a blogmeet, a place I’ve been, food I’ve eaten...) onto my computer, delete the ones that are no good, then do a simultaneous process of choosing which ones to use for a blog post and how I will tie them together with words... So now, without pictures, I have change my way of writing posts.

Anyway, I’m still very busy so I’ll just do little stream-of-consciousness thing :-)

I’m in Brisbane right now - attending the OII Summer Doctoral Programme, hosted by the Creative Industries Faculty at Queensland University of Technology (QUT): basically, 30 PhD students from various disciplines who study the internet have been brought together, we are given seminars by luminaries from Internet Studies and explain our PhDs to each other. In other words, it’s perfect for me and I am thanking my lucky stars (maybe the Southern Cross? :-P) for being here. It’s tiring, but good.

Talking about lucky stars, the reason I don’t have a camera is that WW’s car was broken into and her bag stolen; and then I was loaned a camera to come here, but the card decided to die on me...

Brisbane is very nice! The public transport is great (the buses have their own roads!), people are friendly and helpful (though the Australians tend to mumble/swallow their words a bit - which I find difficult to follow), food is good, and you can even get a decent curry laksa! Another thing that struck me is that there are many local public libraries, and there was even one in a mall that I went to yesterday. Now that strikes me as a useful function for a mall! There was also a Post Office in the mall. I don’t think that happens in Malaysia: I think that every mall should be required to fund some public services too - they could have a post office, a health clinic, a police station (may be more complicated), a library, a children’s crèche, an arts centre... Not all of these necessarily, but at least a couple. When you think of it - all that money is spent on malls and for what? So people can spend money and give profits to (mostly) big shop owners and property developers. Not to say there isn’t a social benefit in that too, but malls have become such an important focus of life that is almost completely dedicated to one narrow realm of our social life - the buying of material goods.

I’m here for one more week and will try to update more frequently.

Air Asia eXperience

How was my Air Asia eXperience? To check in and get on the plane was OK - the usual minimal service and bus-station-like experience of the LCCT. Though I must say the international departures lounge now has many more shops than before - and it almost feels like a real airport.

The flight was much cheaper than the cheapest MAS flight, about RM1700 cheaper. The ‘Brisbane’ flight lands in Gold Coast Coolangatta airport, which is about one hour from Brisbane, but there’s a Malaysian/Australian company called AAExpress that runs a bus service that will pick you up at the airport and take you to Brisbane for AUD38.

So money-wise, it’s great value and I can’t complain there. But I do have two major grouses.

The seats are pretty minimal, narrow, and don’t lean back very much - OK it’s budget travel... but there is no footrest! Maybe it’s just because I have shorter legs or something, but I find that a footrest can make so much difference and surely they can’t cost a lot to have! It’s rare even to find a bus without them now.

And the second problem is the food - I booked a ‘Vegetarian meal’ and this is what I got...
air asia meal nasi lemak

yep, like one scoop of rice and a few spoonfuls of some (admittedly tasty) fake meat-type thing. Oh, and a bottle of water. It’s really not enough - and they only serve one meal in an eight hour flight. I mean, I would be fine with paying more to get a proper meal! Some fruit, bread roll, whatever... shame! :-(
air asia meal nasi lemak

And because they spend so much time giving people change, etc, it takes ages to serve.

Anyway; something I would recommend is that it’s probably well worth paying in advance for the entertainment (i.e. films, etc.) - if you’re saving RM1,000+ on the flight, might as well allow yourself RM30 or less to avoid spending the whole flight staring at a map with the plane’s flight track... And bring a pillow and blanket.
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