“…I flew into Borneo direct from Bali. It was good to be back on Malaysian soil where things are a little more developed and go a little more smoothly than in Indonesia. Street lighting, an absence of nagging touts and huge craters in the pavement, hot running water, internet which works and internet cafes that aren’t split into convenient ‘masturbation booths’ (I’m not kidding – this is the set-up in Jakarta – and the fella running the place goes in with air freshener afterwards. True story.) Despite the relative comforts, you still have to go to Brunei before zebra crossings hold any authority and the toilets can handle toilet paper. I almost peed a little with delight when a car actually stopped at a crossing in Brunei – I thought it was coincidence at first, but he actually ushered me across with his hand and a smile. I also managed to hitch-hike without even holding out my thumb, such was the amicable nature of the locals.
…I’m spending a few days now in Singapore, everyone’s favourite nutty regime. Hong Kong and Singapore share similar histories and are often compared — people rave on about how clean the city is, and it’s true that it’s quite a ‘sterile’ and law-abiding place. You might say Singapore is to Hong Kong what Windows Vista is to XP. Singapore is more stable, cleaner and ‘just works’ – but, aside from the extra expense, HK does many things a lot better, and Singapore is always paranoid, asking stupid security questions at every corner. I could probably live just fine here, but I’d very quickly want to downgrade back down to Hong Kong…
Geeky analogies aside, it’s certainly fair to say that Singapore’s less polluted, the food is more familiar, there’s more of an ethnic mix and a higher prevalence of ‘hotties’ compared to back home in the Kong. A typically futile attempt to communicate with a fine example of the latter ended in the usual humiliation yesterday. After asking where my hostel receptionist was from (err.. Singapore), I said “ah, you’re sick?” noticing that she seemed to have the sniffles. This was meant to come out with sympathy, warmth and concern, however, it just sounded accusatory and the tone came out more along the lines of “ah, you’re sick! <i.e. in the head>”. Congratulations Tom, you’ll be single forever.
My travel notes are a slight departure from the norm this time round, as I decided to visit Myanmar over Easter – home to an oppressive military regime and target of an international tourism boycott. My reasons for going are set out below, and I attempted to minimise the amount of money I gave to the regime, though this was not always straightforward. I’ve also attached this email as a word document and since internet access was restricted, this comes to you shortly after returning to Hong Kong!
“Burma will be here for many years, so tell your friends to visit us later. Visiting now is tantamount to condoning the regime.”
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the League for Democracy (NLD).
“We don’t want tourists on the government tours; we want more tourists like you.”
Retired civil servant, Yangon.
“The cost of a holiday could be someone’s life”
Free Burma Campaign UK
“[We] fully support tourism and travel to Myanmar (Burma) as part of its support for the emergence of an open society.”
Free Burma Coalition
“We thank you coming during this difficult time”
William, travel agent in Yangon.
A festive ‘hi-ho’ from the beautiful Philippines. As a terrorist hotspot, famed for its military coups and a high-risk of kidnap for foreigners, I felt it was important to keep a low profile. Therefore, in an effort to ‘blend in’, I’ve donned a full body rabbit costume and have been insisting I’m the ‘Christmas Bunny’ to any fool who’ll listen (see fig.1). It’s the Christmas school break in Hong Kong and I’m back in the capital, Manila, wrapping things up after joining 15 friends at a beach resort on Mindoro island.
At first glance, Manila bears the hallmarks of any other Asian city. The hustle and bustle, random scraggly dogs, a lingering smell of street food and shit, street kids weaving in between a dozen different forms of honking, beeping gridlocked vehicles, blistering heat intensifying the thick pollution, sprawling shanty towns meters from glittering new shopping malls, spitting and deep-excavation-nose-picking in public, frightening toilets and hawkers ambushing tourists. In the Philippines, however, there are a few subtle differences. Everyone’s English, for instance, is fantastic and the people themselves are genuinely super-friendly – it’s said to be the only ‘Latin country’ in Asia and certainly has a very Latin feel – plus, it’s a Catholic country so Christmas is celebrated fervently. Around the hostel, I’ve found that the touts and prostitutes aren’t as persistent as elsewhere, though it’s the first time I’ve been offered Viagra on the street, several times in a row. I’ve taken to walking down the middle of the road to avoid it, choosing to risk my life instead of risking my dignity.
The world’s biggest and world’s coldest country, spanning 11 time-zones – home to the planet’s deepest lake, largest plain, most expensive city (Moscow), home to every mineral on the periodic table – and, for a short time, home to yours truly!
Much of my 6-hour train journey from Estonia was spent at border control. Sniffer dogs, beady-eyed officials and guards swept through the carriages, scrutinised my visa, raised eyebrows at the hard-drive I was carrying, grilled me on my finances and eventually awarded an entry stamp. St Petersburg was only just getting dark as I arrived around midnight. I’d heard that ‘any car’ is a taxi, you simply had to flag down a passing vehicle – probability of death and kidnap was minimal if there is just one chap in the car, and if you’ve checked the back foot well for hidden nutters…