Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 - 2014

The year I travelled abroad on my own for the first time, the year I ventured through some stunning areas of south east Asia and turned 40 whilst there, away from the UK. A year that will be 13 hours shorter for me than any of my previous full years spent upon this planet.

I lie here in New Zealand waiting for midnight to come and bring with it 2014 and I wonder where I go from here. This year I did things I never thought I would do, met people I'll never forget (unless I get dementia)  and had experiences that have changed not only the way I see the things around me, but also the way I see myself. But that last bit could just be a dodgy mirror.

But all good things must come to an end I guess. So far my time in New Zealand hasn't been all I wanted it to be and I see some of the negativity that had dogged me in my recent past starting to find it's way back. I guess that's something I will need to address again in 2014, but at least I will have a little more time to. Another 13 hours ontop of the 365 days infact, assuming I end that year in Blighty.

So as I watch my money dwindle and try to focus on how I can top this year with the next, all that is left for me to do for now is wish the old friends I miss, new friends I've met and anyone who has taken time to read any of these poorly written blog entries all the best for the coming year. I hope that's enough for some.

Please feel free to send me a message, if you're really unlucky you might even get a reply.

You have been warned :-)


Friday, 27 December 2013

Singapore to China - New Zealand - 6th - 7th December 2013

At 4am I finished up my coffee, wrapped up my messages and went up for a long shower to wake myself and freshen up ready for the day ahead. By 4:45am I was back downstairs dressed in long comfy jeans running a final check on my bags and re-organising things in my hand luggage, ensuring that I had additional injection pens and needles available to cover any losses or breaks should they occur in transit. a note pad and pen to complete any forms required en route, along with my passport, completed Singapore exit card and details of my flights. At 5am I left the InnCrowd hostel and walked out onto Dunlop Street and immediately managed to flag down a cab to take me to the Airport.

The taxi ride took about 20 minutes and once inside the terminal I joined the short queue for my flight and checked in my luggage which weighed at just over 17kg, well under my flight allowance. "Kelly" the lady who was dealing with my check in also asked me whether I wanted window or aisle seats for my forthcoming flights which was the easiest question of the day. The first flight was only going to be relatively short, the second flight however was going to be more of an endurance test at 11 hours and its on these long ones where its much more beneficial to be able to get out your seat at your pleasure and have a wander, use the toilet or access the overhead locker than any lure of being able to look out the window at a bendy wing at night, so "aisle" it was. Kelly also informed me that she had given me a seat with extra leg room due to me being be being quite "large". I took it she meant tall rather than anything kinky or abusive. As it turns out the promised extra space never materialised anyway. On both flights I was afforded the same space as almost everyone else. I think the pilots may have had more but I wasn't allowed in to check.

Clearing security at Singapore took no time at all and I was soon was sat having a breakfast and coffee waiting for boarding time to arrive, I also took the time to peruse the duty free area and picked up a mobile battery pack for my phone as it had fallen flat a couple of days over the last couple of months, especially when using the GPS.. The packaging was discarded immediately in order for the pack to fit snugly into my hand luggage with the minimum of effort.

The first flight departed on time and at 8am my journey through Asia came to an end. The plane was small and pokey, the seats were hard and the ride was rough but I managed to sleep for a good portion of the first stint, waking briefly for on board refreshments. Seemed my lack of sleep from the previous days was starting to benefit. By the time the plane landed at Guangzhou airport in China however my bum was beaten and sore, my neck felt crooked and my back was far from good. As I made my way to the waiting area for the next flight that was due to depart at 2.30pm I noticed another similar sized China Southern Airline aircraft being loaded up with stock and the thought of another 11 hours on the same kind of plane filled me with dread. I needed to get back to Thailand for a massage or find some strong muscle relaxants ASAP. What I found instead was a cup of extortionately priced lemon tea which i  supped slowly to ensure i got the most taste out of every Singapore Dollar that slipped past.

I took the opportunity at this point to purchase a bottle of water, some chocolate wafferthin biscuits and with thought of forthcoming discomfort over 11 hours playing on my mind, a travel pillow for my crocked neck. After a just couple of hours my time in china was over and I lined up to board crate no cz335 for its scheduled 14:30 departure.

As I embarked it was immediately clear that this was a much bigger plane than I had been fearing. With 3 seats each side of the central row of four, my aisle seat was located a short way  down on the left hand side of the plane and came complete with an old grinning chinese lady sat in it. Alongside to another grinning chinese lady in the middle seat and an empty window seat which they gestured for me to sit in.

Notaneffingchance went through my mind, ran down my arm and out of my finger as I pointed towards my ticket number, and the number above the seat. Each repeated smiling gesture from the chinese people towards the seat in the window was met by my own non smiling gestures. Shake of the head, finger point at ticket, finger point at seat, my seat. Rinse and repeat.

It took a little while but the message finally got through and their smiles dropped away. It turns out that their group numbered around 20 or so and had just been trying to get hold of the my allocated seat for themselves rather than moving amongst around accordingly, thus started their game of musical chairs with no music, plenty of puffing and huffing from the disgruntled onboard chinese community as they all switched around due to being an aisle seat down. I got the feeling at this point that I was now public enemy number wan.

There was no conversation for the next few hours, no witty anecdotes or light banter, just the occasional daggers thrown in my general direction whenever the head of the group in the row in front got out of her chair to organise additional food for the rest her group. The headphones I had picked up in Melaka a few days before had now earned their keep and I couldn't hear a thing over the various films I had buried my head into. Everytime i saw the leader fussing or sorting someone or something else during the flight I smiled at the thought of the boys and girls of New Zealand customs and the fun they were going to have with this lot when the plane landed.

Over the next 10.5 hours the overly firm seats became increasingly more uncomfortable. My weight was shifted from left tock to right, right tock to both tocks and both tocks back to left until the weight trasitions were no longer effective and my travel pillow was deployed to cushion the ride. It had little effect. Every slight shake no matter how brief from air turbulence was met by my inside voice assuring me that it was almost over, I was nearly there. As the morning broke at 6.30 along with my will, the plane finally touched down and  I immediately unclipped my seatbelt, I couldn't wait to get off that bucket.

I cleared customs quicker than I had dared to anticipate. A few "good mornings" were exchanged, Bags were scanned, a few questions were asked and then I was through. I took the opportunity to have a quick wash, change and freshen up, grabbed a coffee and a spot of breakfast. After just under 10 weeks of fantasic travels through some of the beautiful countries of Asia I had finally arrived in New Zealand. It would be interesting to see how it would compare.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

singapore 3rd - 6th December

By 5:30pm I had passed through Singapore immigration, re-boarded the bus and had crossed the causeway that linked to Malaysia en route to the bus drop off which I hoped would not be too far from my accommodation for the evening. I had splashed out a little extra for the last couple of days before my flight, booking a private twin room in the YMCA that was located at 1 Orchard Road. The house that I had previously part owned and lived in Bristol before things had gone to a bit to tits was located in a small cul-de-sac called The Orchards, so it seemed like an apt place for this part of the journey to  come to an end. The privacy and room would allow me to have a final good sort out, discard anything that was worn out or no longer needed and just relax a bit before the 15 hours worth of flights that would be taking me to New Zealand via China in thr coming days.

The "bus station" where I disembarked was just a normal roadside bus stop in the the Little India district of the city. I switched on my phone, loaded up my Mapswithme application and waited for the GPS to lock on and display my position so I could see exactly where I was and work out my proximity and route to my destination that I had "pinned" onto the map when booking my stay from Melaka. Luckily it was well within walking distance so I mounted up, secured my straps and headed off on the 25 minutes walk through the traffic filled streets, stopping just the once en-route to grab a subway to keep me going. No one crosses a road in Singapore until the green man signals, even if the road is completely clear. Quite a contrast compared to the rest of the locations I have visited so far, where any traffic signals have been largely ignored by road traffic and pedestrians alike. Like all the other places I had visited though, I followed the lead of the locals.

The YMCA was a clean and tidy hotel, with just the odd bit of Christian paraphernalia dotted around to make me feel a little uneasy in my surroundings due to being non religious. The bigger disappointment lay in that despite everything I had been told in the past was a lie. No motorcycle cops, Red Indians, workmen, cowboys or leather clad bikers seemed to be staying here. Hell, no one apart from the odd passing female were even sporting moustaches so I hurried off to my room, cleaned up and removed the 0.1 mm worth of facial hair that had taken me 2 months to cultivate. That night my face stuck to the pillow like Velcro.      

In the morning I ripped the pillow back off my face and tried to decide what I was going to do with my day in Singapore. There is no shortage of ways to while the hours there, but I thought I would spend my time checking out the museums that were dotted around the city. A ticket covering entrance to 5 of the museums cost $10, worth the price of admission for the aircon alone and I was happy enough spending the rest of the day wandering the venues, learning about the culture and talking "art" to the friendly staff who were eager to come over and chat to anyone who was showing interest to further understanding the meaning behind the   displays.

A boat full of bottles with messages inside them was a piece where the artist had gone to one of the jails and asked the prisoners to write down a promise to themselves. What they hoped for in the future, what they wanted to do and what was important to them. Visitors were then invited to reply back to any of the messages that appealed to them, hoping this would inspire the prisoners and keep to the promise they had made. Another at first glance looked just looked like simple wooden boards with insets of small class beads. When you got closer to each glass though it became apparent that each bead contained a picture. This was the artist trying to say that humility (bowing) is important for you to be able to see a full picture.

The mix of abstract, modern and traditional exhibits throughout the museums were wide and varied and dutifully covered off a diverse range of subjects such as the Asian film industry, the changing fashions and attitudes through the 1900's, photography, wildlife, food and the heritage of the Peranakan's, a name which describes a native born person of both mixed local and foreign ancestry. All in all it was a very cool, educational and enjoyable day and as I left the last museum in the early evening my thoughts were on what to have for dinner and how I was going to humour myself for the rest of the night. Bungee jump perhaps?

Back at the hotel I dug out my paperwork that contained the flight details for the next day and logged onto the website to check everything was still scheduled according to plan. It's amazing sometimes how many times you can re-read the same word thinking that maybe you've read it wrong, or hoping it changes on a page refresh, "Cancelled" for a brief period seemed to be a word I was unable to comprehend or put into any context. I dug around for more information on the agency and airline websites and finally found that the flight had been moved from from 16:50 on the 5th to 08:00 on the 6th. A quick check at reception clarified that there was no room at the YMCA the following evening so I was going to have to find another place to crash for tomorrow evening to take me through to the morning of the 6th. By 5:30am I had managed to settle,  book a room I was happy with and had time to crash out for a few hours before breakfast.

Just before mid day with old clothes, rubbish and broken Bluetooth keyboard cluttering the bin and cowboy hat, spurs and moustache not left on the bed, I checked out, hauled my bag onto my bag for the final time and made my way to the new hostel which lay a ten minute walk away. By now the temperature had hit 30 Celsius and it was around 96% humidity so after dumping my bag I sought out the cool air of the coffee shops and shopping malls between wandering around some of the other sights of Singapore, walking a stretch of the f1 circuit that runs through the city. A slight word of warning to those who don't yet know, the large coffee that is served in the many Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf outlets around the globe is served in a mug which I'm pretty sure is around a pint.

By the end of the day I was pretty wired and spent a bit of time back at the hostel arranging my bag ready for the 5am departure the next day. Everything that was no longer needed was packed away ready for the trip, clothes for the following day were placed separately next to the bag along with my towel and toiletries for a shower in the morning. I then went downstairs, talked to a few other travellers both beginning or ending their travells and drank some more coffee. At around 11pm I took the decision to go without sleep for the rest of the night. I justified this with the following reasoning;

Whenever I have a few hours sleep I always wake up feeling absolutely rotten.
The amount of time I would be spending on a plane in the coming days it would probably benefit me being knackered.


once I get a stupid idea in my head, its often hard to shift the bugger.

As I nudged forward into the 6th December I put the kettle ready for another dose of 3 in 1 instant coffee and plugged in my phone in order to have something to keep my mind occupied with music, movies and messages for the next few hours. Time never goes at normal speed when your sat there watching and wanting the time to pass quickly.


Tuesday, 17 December 2013

30th November - 3rd December 2013 Melaka.

The next few days in Melaka were thankfully less of an ordeal than the first. The Roof Top guest house in which I stayed was beautifully kept and the owners Mani and Raymond were friendly and accommodating, a natural fit for the profession they were engaged in. I stayed an extra night here as I intended only having a short stay in Singapore before I embarked on my flight to New Zealand on the 5th December.

Melaka itself, or the old heritage area in which I was staying is pleasant. On the weekend there is a bustling market that runs along both sides of the of the long, narrow Jonker Street that cuts centrally through it. The Market has a great slow, busy ambiance where traditional food, refreshments, t-shirts, trinkets and the like are available in plentiful supply. At the top end of the street there is an entertainment stand where some of the the local talent provide entertainment for the crowds that amass there in the evening,  under the souless watchful gaze of a printed Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes and several other Manchester United Players as they hold out their tubes of  Mr Potato crisps, a brand with whom Man U are global snack partners.

It's maybe worth mentioning here just for the record that Manchester United have by far the largest Premier League presence in South East Asia. Then again maybe it's not worth mentioning at all, but the delete button seems so far away now and I don't want to exert my digits anymore than is necessary. Otherwise I'll never get to the bottom of my ready salted tub of Wayne Rooney crisps.

The one negative of the evening was provided by a cortege of pony tailed hare krishna's armed with microphones and loud speakers who brashly crashed the natural good feel of the town and entertainment area with their overbearing presence that could only be measured in WHATTS? I'm all for tolerance, be that personal, religious or cultural but also honestly believe this has to work both ways. These idiots displayed absolutely no respect or understanding for those whom they were interrupting and disturbing, but I refused to let it get my hare off.

Maybe it was due to the more tourist based feel of the place that I also noticed here for the first time trend for large family gatherings and groups to all be clothed in the same coloured garbs. It's really quite a simple and nifty idea, dress everyone in identical loud t-shirts and no one can ever get lost among the busy crowds, streets and shops. The flip side being if your trying to hide from your kin any reason, they will find you!!

Away from the market area are the local Trishaws. 3 wheel pedal bikes and carriages that are traditionally dressed, in bright coloured lights and fairy wings. These ferry the young and old, couples in love (ollocks) or parents with joy faced kids through the the night time street whilst the distorted booming sounds of dance tracks pumped out from the on board music systems. The hits range from the modern classic "Gangnam Style" right through to "Gangnam Style". It's enough to make you Psy.

(Alternative bad punch line:- It's enough to make a groan man psy.)

During the last couple of days I spent in Malaka, the temperature finally cooled to a point where I was able to comfortably wear jeans whilst ambling around. I even got to take out an umbrella, which when not being used to keep the falling rain off my coiffed bonce, could be tapped on the floor to accompany every other step. Very English but utterly ineffective as a walking aid, especially on the highly polished floors of the local shopping malls where the mere hint of pressure placed upon it would cause this tip to try to get away like an over exuberant puppy on the end of a short leash.

The little bugger almost got away from me twice, but I had a handle on it.

At 2pm on the Tuesday I left Melaka on a bus heading to Singapore. Whilst very spacious and  comfortable on board, the bus groaned and creaked loudly over every bump and every turn as it began it's 3 and a half hour journey towards the border. It humoured and  bothered me slightly for a minute or 2 before my eyes fell and I eased off to sleep.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

one night in malaka

I arrived at Melaka Sentral late afternoon, took a quick toilet break in the station before getting the number 17 bus to Red Dutch Square in the old part of the city where I was staying. When the bus arrived at a square surrounded by very red buildings, I figured it was time to jump off. Luckily my gps position that was overlaid onto the map on my phone decided that for once, I was right.

My first night was to be at the Tidur Tidur hotel just a short walk away and I followed the rather vague and confusing directions from hostelworld website passing the locations of named buildings that no longer existed before happening across it by complete chance. It was as though they had been scribed by some sort of idiot.

Inside the building said idiot showed me my room the facilities which consisted of a hole in the ground for the toilets and some less than pristine shower cubicles. The whole place had the feel of a disused freight boat about it. Buckets had been placed at strategic points on the concrete floor to capture the drips from the ceiling if it rained and the rooms although clean were wrapped in thin corrugated metal sheets with a single fan above the door to ventilate the room. The dank shower cubicals were similarly clothed with additional rank touch of cheap pink 70s style plastic doors and locking hooks that were barely secure enough to stop an angry/perverted Mosquito access to my wretched white and brown body if it so desired. They have seem to have developed a taste for my blood for some reason. Usually they get me just above the back of the ankle, but on the rare occasion where thy have been denied by a covering of some sort, then it it seems they like a nice choice cut of inside elbow / forearm as an alternative. The drinking water is reputedly safe to drink in Malaysia. I massively doubt that the water here is to be included in this consumption assumption so the brushing of teeth was once again completed using bottled water. The bed in which I sweated the night was a bunk bed that rattled and groaned with every movement I made, her whinging amplified in the darkness by the echoey confines of my ships container pod. At just over 6ft 1, I barely fit.

In the morning I asked the idiot on reception if it was ok to leave my bag there for a couple of hours whilst I got some breakfast.

"You're leaving" he asked?

"Yes" I said and went to get some sustenance for the day.

When I returned a couple of hours later the metal door grate on the front of the building had been drawn across and there was no sign of life inside, so I grabbed a lemon tea in a nearby cafe before I headed around the corner to check into the Rooftop guest house that I was unable to secure the night before, after which I returned again to my previous lodgings where the metal gates were still drawn across.

I peered in, nothing was moving. It was quiet and dark inside so I tried to force the gates open. They were unlocked but stiff and clattered loudly as I inched them apart before trying to enter the building looking normal and unsuspicious. A white western tourist breaking into a shut building in the narrow traditional streets of Malaka, who could possibly get the wrong idea?

Once in I made my way quickly through to the cupboard at the back of the building where my bag had been left and retrieved it with all the skill of a pissed up ninja.

"James, is that you" came the idiots tired voice from the shadows before he appeared rubbing his eyes on his face.

"Where have you been? I waited for you, I was supposed to be going out"

"Your doors were shut" I replied. "I've been past 3 times thinking you weren't here".

"I took the lock off and put it on the side here, i thought you might notice"

The lock had been placed on a shelf out of view, i wondered if this guy was managing to breath on his own or whether he has an application on his iphone to do it for him. The plant from the right appeared to look down on him with utter disdain, wondering why he was the one in the pot.

""Well, thankyou" i said as I hoisted my bag onto my shoulder, "but from the outside it just looks closed and empty, but thanks again"

He smiled at me, slightly crooked and chipped teeth playing the backing to the tuneful vacant look on his face"

"Bye idiot" i thought to myself.

At least, i think i only thought it..........