Friday, July 29, 2011

A childish day out again again again again again

Sentosa didn't quench my thirst for immature days out in Singapore - luckily Singapore Zoo was on hand for all my incarcerated wildlife needs.

Because it's Singapore, I correctly anticipated something more in the conservationist style of Taipei Zoo than the slightly harrowing leg-irons and irresponsible feeding of Bangkok's Dusit Zoo. The animals are still here to be ogled and laughed at (especially the ridiculous proboscis monkeys), but not touched.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The lunatics are in the hall

I don't want to make light of mental illness, as I'm no stranger to the seriousness of such conditions - my first girlfriend had a tragic history of depression and other mental issues... which probably explains why she was interested in me in the first place (oh hang on, I thought I wasn't going to make light of it). But some of the people I've talked to or done my best to avoid in hostels over the last 10 months have been bona fide screwballs.

I realise it's been a while since I wrote a misanthropic blog post about dickheads and other assorted freaks I've met while travelling, so hopefully this gallery of oddballs will make up for it.

I've avoided mentioning peoples' races, as that's irrelevant and would just be unfair... you know; rather than the bastion of morality and good taste that this post otherwise is.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Learning Korean

So you've kept up with the Mandarin Chinese studies, right Dave? Like you said you would in that over-optimistic blog post?

Screw you, guilty conscience - when have you ever done me good? You can't guilt-trip me out of being lazy, I already feel bad about my lack of linguistic skills. I still have recurring bad dreams about being back at school and bunking/flunking German A-level.

I'm seriously impressed by bi-lingual skills - any time I hang out with a local person or ask someone directions and they reply in perfect English, I'm bowled over. Native English speakers are so damn lazy by comparison, including me. But until now, I've just lacked a little motivation (beyond guilt) to really learn a language, and been unsure exactly which language to focus my efforts on.

I really like Chinese writing, but I was never planning on spending long in China. Japanese is much easier to speak, but I don't think I'll be visiting there for a while yet. Luckily, I've met a Korean girl now, so the decision was made for me. Besides, she bought me an ace pocket Korean phrasebook, so it would be rude not to at least try!

As usual, I started with numbers.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Singapore - The Isle of Wight of Malaysia

Why they don't use that as the tourism motto is beyond me.

Possibly because any comparison between the Republic of Singapore and England's largest island fall flat if you think about it in any terms other than their positions at the bottom of landmasses (though I stand by the comparison between Haw Par Villa and Blackgang Chine). And both are places I'd like to return to one day - just keep me away from the British mainland.

Anyway, I'm leaving Singapore today, so here are some fun buildings. (Update: Turns out I haven't actually left yet...)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ridged for her pleasure

Singapore isn't just a city/country of commerce and grotesque statues. It is mainly that, but they've also managed to hang on to plenty of green outdoor spaces amidst all the capitalism. Which is a good thing, because these people really need places to relax.

Not that they're really using them. I've spent plenty of hours reading and writing in massive public parks and seen about three people cycling by. When I spent an afternoon walking along the famed Southern Ridges Walk (which apparently cost 25.5 million Singapore dollars to construct), I only passed a few joggers and a couple of other tourists.

Considering pretty much everyone I've talked to in my hostel is here looking for work, rather than visiting for the sights (spending all day sending applications and waking me up with their corporate phone calls), this place seriously needs to learn to relll ('relax' + 'chill' - you try coming up with a catchier portmanteau).

I'm aware this is coming from me - someone who had little concept of the value of relaxation until a few months ago. But at least they have options.

Friday, July 15, 2011

They love performing for your amusement too

It's pretty clear that the animals at Sentosa's Dolphinarium are treated better than the wrestled crocodiles of Bangkok's Samphran Elephant Ground and the seals of Dusit Zoo.

But did they really need to make it so goddamn mawkish? Check out this nauseating spectacle of a girl meeting a pink dolphin (I didn't add the soppy soundtrack - they actually played this). You'd think some rich people got married or something.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sentosa? No thanks, she already has a full complement of toes

These hopelessly oblique pun titles have been scraping the barrel for a while, but now I've dug through into a deeper barrel I didn't even know existed. It's a barrel of laughs!

Sentosa is Singapore's purpose-built leisure resort. It's as pristine, tedious and needlessly expensive as you'd expect.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Back in the land of the living

While the Ten Courts of Hell is undoubtedly the main appeal of Singapore's Haw Par Villa, it would be remiss of me not to give you an insight into the rest of this outdated, near-derelict attraction. Some of it's a lot scarier than what was going on in hell.

I've always had mixed feelings about cheap and shoddy 'theme parks' that substitute exhilarating rides for poorly sculpted dioramas, having encountered plenty of them during childhood family holidays around the coast of England (Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight was the ultimate example - unless it's finally fallen into the sea).

On the one hand, they're a nostalgic look into a time when kids were, supposedly, more easily pleased, and before one crazed man's ambitions could be hindered by things like market research and customer feedback.

On the other hand, they're fucking rubbish.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

See you in hell

'We got totally lied to by our album covers.'
Bill in hell (Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey)

Remember I was concerned that I might have seen the best of Singapore on my first day here? I've never been more wrong about anything in my life. Today, I came across what is undoubtedly THE best thing in Singapore. Maybe in the whole of Asia. Hell, this might be the best thing there's ever been.

The Ten Courts of Hell at Singapore's hilariously dilapidated Haw Par Villa was apparently built to educate Chinese emigrants about their cultural traditions and beliefs, to keep them alive so far from home. But clearly, whoever built it had a bigger agenda than just education. There is no need for it to be as absurdly graphic as it is. I absolutely love it!

Like an over-zealous Sunday school teacher, this is an attraction designed to terrify young Chinese kids into being good, upstanding citizens. I first heard about it in a novel I read a while ago, in which a young Singaporean's grandfather took her here repeatedly to instil mortal dread. You can't imagine my delight to discover it's actually real!

There are only two ways this spectacularly grotesque attraction could be improved: if it included animatronics, and if I'd visited here when I was 10.

Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

Monday, July 4, 2011

We came, we saw, we opened a bank

When refugees approached New York City in the late 19th century to begin their new lives, they were greeted by the proud, welcoming sight of the Statue of Liberty. When rich American businessmen arrived in Singapore in the 1970s, they were greeted by a lion-headed mermaid thing vomiting water.

Singapore is a nice but strange city/country. It's as if some mad, rich sultan gave a tropical island paradise to his nephew - a nephew who wasn't interested in preserving wildlife or even looking after his island's own heritage, and just built loads of skyscrapers instead. If you're interested in seeing the sights of colonial-era Singapore, going to Georgetown in Malaysia is probably your best bet.

I actually really like clean, efficient, silent Singapore, and there are still a few nice relics lying around. There's apparently loads of green here too, which is a relief, because I thought I'd once again exhausted all the main tourist sights within 24 hours of arriving.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Well, that about wraps it up for Peninsular Malaysia

Check out how much stuff I did in Malaysia! And I haven't even been to the Borneo bits yet.

I wanted to finish on a deliberate anticlimax by recounting my trip to Subang Jaya to experience Malaysia' tallest pencil (formerly the world's, but it doesn't even have that going for it any more). But after walking around the city for hours and discovering that no one who lives there even knows about its existence, I left empty hearted.

Luckily, I went to Johor Bahru next, the gateway to Singapore, which turned out to be an even more effective anticlimax. As well as a reminder that, if somewhere is generally ignored by tourists and is objectively of no interest whatsoever (it doesn't even have any oversized stationery, that's how crap it is!), this should be taken as a hint rather than a challenge.