Posted by: danguard | June 11, 2010

Bienvenido a Trinidad! Huh?

Greetings all. I’m sure you’re excited to know that the long-awaited return of my blog is here, and over the next 6 weeks (when I can be bothered) I’ll be writing to you about my experiences out here in Trinidad and Tobago and the Cayman Islands. I’ve got a lot to cover after my first couple of days here so I’ll dive straight in.

I arrived in the early hours of yesterday morning after a epic 27 hour commute, which was exacerbated by a 3 hour delay leaving Miami to Port of Spain. Nothing much happened of note during the journey (I managed to avoid drunken Aussies this time), and I have to say that despite the recently well-publicised dispute of the BA cabin crew and the general lack of public sympathy towards them (including from myself), I have to say that their service was exellent on my flight from Heathrow – I didn’t have to call for a drink once, they just kept topping me up! Much better than their reticent Emirates Airlines equivalents, but then I guess alcohol is culturally frowned upon out there (note to self, don’t visit the United Arab Emirates without hipflask).

Yesterday was spent acclimatising myself with the University of the West Indies St Augustine campus on which I’m staying, getting my computer access set up and arranging meetings for today. It’s the summer so there are few students about unfortunately, and I don’t think I’ll be experiencing much of the nightlife out here, it’s just too risky for an obvious foreigner to walk alone at night. I’ve seen less than half a dozen white people here and in the city since I arrived, so I do rather stick out, though my ‘swarthy’ complexion has so far suggested to two people that I’m Spanish, who I then inadvertantly insulted when I didn’t reply to them in that language after they made such an effort to speak to me in my ‘native’ tongue!

I ventured into Port of Spain, the capital city, today. The transportation system here is crazy. Most public transport is conducted by ‘Maxi Taxis’, essentially a massive fleet of privately-owned minibuses which travel along designated coloured routes, and pick up and drop off passengers at will as they go along. They’re very cheap, around 50p a ride, but you’ve got to be careful when you hail one as the direction in which you hold your thumb out indicates where you would like to go. I therefore held out my thumb upwards as you would when hailing a cab or bus in the uk, for the Maxi driver to get pissed off at me after stopping and finding out I wanted to go in a different direction to the one I’d ‘indicated’! Once you get used to the system though, they’re very useful, and great value.

I met two local contacts today; Christopher Joefield, General-Secretary of the T&T Veterans Association, and Jerome Lee of the Chaguaramas Military Museum (which is built on the site of the old US Air Base from the Second World War). Both were extremely helpful and have put me in contact with a number of other people who I’ll be meeting over the next few days. Not before the epic match tomorrow though between England and the USA! Mr Lee’s suggested to me a few good bars to watch it in, so I’ll report back with what the local vibe is, though he says people here tend to support Brazil or the Argies in the World Cup. I’m still unsure as to whether I should wear my England shirt and make myself stand out even more, though maybe it will put an end to people speaking to me in Spanish! On one final related note, what do you lot back home think of the Dizzee Rascal/James Corden offering? I’ve got to admit, I find it rather catchy; classic chorus hook (I loved the original Tears for Fears version), and the production on that killer synthline and driving beat really gets me pumped up (though the ‘come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough’ line is probably not the image we want to project to the world when the decision as to who will host the world cup in 2018 hangs in the balance). I am confused at one bit though carried across from the original, what exactly are ‘the things I can do without’ in this context? WAGs I presume. A lesson for us all perhaps…

Posted by: danguard | July 18, 2009

40 Days & 40 Nights – Final Thoughts

Well, in a few hours I’ll be on a plane back to Blighty. It’s been a hell of a ride. I’ve accomplished so much more than I was expecting; have come away with heaps of research material including 7 invaluable interviews; met some incredible people and have been overwhelmed by their warmth and generosity; made some good friends; and have lived, worked and breathed two incredible cities for 6 weeks, and feel I’ve really seen sides of both KL and Singapore that the average tourist wouldn’t. I’ve enjoyed both cities, KL is an exhilarating place to visit, but it’s Singapore that I come away from having fallen in love with.

It’s certainly not perfect. Perhaps it tries to be a little too western (American) at times, at least superficially. One advert selling a skin whitener I find particularly unsettling (didn’t Michael Jackson teach us anything?!). If you really look around though beneath the shiny surface, eat at the hawker stalls, walk around Little India on a Sunday night when all the Bangladeshi workers come out, walk off-track, go to local theatre productions and art, you’ll see the city’s multiculturalism shining through. Some people before this trip told me that Singapore was bland, lacking in character, too clean and sterile. To be fair, most people only experience Singapore for a day or two as a stopover to other destinations. They go to the obvious tourist spots during that short window, and that’s the impression they take away with them. It’s a very vibrant city, a city which appreciates the value of culture, and all around you you will find public art exhibitions and free daily musical performances in addition to the larger productions. One of the things I saw which really stuck with me, was in one of the underpasses, groups of youths were crowded, not causing trouble nor congregating in an intimidating way, instead they were practicing breakdancing and skating. In restaurants and coffee shops here, you will regularly see teenagers studying. In fact in some places, they have to put signs up saying ‘No Studying’ as otherwise they’d be no room for other customers to sit. When news headlines back in the UK are constantly professing about ‘the broken society’, ‘hoodies’ and knife crime, it was a refreshing contrast. At no time here have I had to worry about my personal safety or my possessions. It’s comfortable, safe, and (relatively) harmonious.

It is not quite utopia. I say only ‘relatively’ harmonious, because like Malaysia there are some ethnic inequalities, only here it is institutional and structural favouritism towards the Chinese populace. The country also has a long way to go when it comes to gay rights, and abandoning the death penalty. National service is another dodgy issue, though in reality it is difficult to see how a country of this size could maintain an effective military otherwise.

Having said all that, the pros certainly outweigh the cons, and I can honestly see myself living here, which I can’t KL. I’ve always had my eye on perhaps doing a post-doc for a couple of years away in one of the countries I’ve studied, and it might just end up being here. In the meantime though, bring on Trinidad/Cayman Islands in 2010! (Hopefully).

Cheers for following, and I look forward to seeing you all soon.

Dan

Posted by: danguard | July 15, 2009

Week 5 – Dan on gangs (and other reflections)

Well, I’m now on the final leg of my trip, but the pace has picked up. Just as I thought I was running out of useful material I uncovered a wealth of sources in the old newspaper archives which are all conveniently catalogued and digitised and has resulted in me spending most evenings in the library till 9pm rather sadly. In between I’ve been nipping out to conduct interviews, another 4 in fact which have got increasingly better as I hone my interview technique. It makes research so much more interesting to be able to actually talk to people about their experiences rather than just reading them off a page, alone, in a dusty old basement (though the facilities in Singapore are far from that).

I’m currently staying in Little India which is great for food! I hadn’t realised quite how much I love Indian food until this last week and have been eating it constantly. Some dieting and exercise is needed when I get back methinks. The hostel is a little impersonal and was hampered by two absolutely obnoxious Kiwis staying here last week. One of them even threw a pillow at my head for no reason other than to wake me up, cretin! In what little spare time I’ve found I took a trip to Sentosa, the leisure island across from Keppel Harbour, where I visited Fort Siloso, an old British wartime fort, went to the butterfly park which was pretty cool and I got some good pictures from, as well as having a go on the luge, skyride and segway they had there. The Segway was particularly fun, I have no idea why those things never took off (‘you look like you’re off fighting dragons… in the future’ – little AD reference there for a few of you). I’ve also been to a rather excellent Tchaikovsky concert with a stunning rendition of Grieg, and to a performance of Stravinsky’s ‘Histoire du Soldat’ (A Soldier’s Tale). Today I’m taking the day off to visit the zoo and night safari, so long as the weather clears up.

The interview I conducted yesterday was particularly revealing. It was with a former Chinese gang leader, now a Reverend. He wasn’t a navy man but a lot of his gang were, and apparently most of the local ratings and officers in the navy were members of gangs, or secret societies, and even some of the British officers were attached to the gangs. In exchange for ‘favours’, they would release their men when needed for a fight with another gang, and the men would then leave the naval base, in uniform and navy trucks, and roll up to the rumble. A lot of navy stores – alcohol, cigarettes, and even ammunition – would find their way into the hands of the gangs and the blackmarket. One of the navy’s primary tasks here at the time was to prevent smuggling, but apparently what would happen is, when a smuggling vessel was captured out at sea and it’s cargo seized, before the naval vessel entered harbour smaller boats manned by the gangs would go alongside and the contraband would be dropped over the side to them. There are more startling revelations, but I’ll save them for the paper!

Posted by: danguard | July 7, 2009

Final days in KL (days 23-27)

Well, I’m back in Singapore, and am enjoying the safe, sterile, comfortable order and familiarity of the place after KL’s hustle and bustle. Here’s an overview of my final days in Malaysia:

 After frustrations already covered under my tirade against Malaysian state coercion, I was pleased to ‘lock down’ my interview with L.Cdr(Ret.) Karu on Tuesday, which meant another trip to the Royal Selangor Club and several more drinks signed on chits for me! I think the information garnered will be even more useful than the stuff from the Admiral, as there was a lot of discussion about the institutionalised discrimination that existed regarding promotion, and the islamisation of the force. I was also told a very moving tale about how Karu lost his command because he chose to let a group of Vietnamese refugees land in Malaysia rather than sending them back out to sea in a storm where they would have most likely died.

Sky Bar, Traders Hotel, KL

Sky Bar, Traders Hotel, KL

The rest of the week was spent tying up the few remaining sources left open to me, mainly old newspapers, and getting a digital copy of a book from Mudzaffar. I also explored the remaining cultural attractions. On Wednesday, a Canadian guy I met called Kacper and I went to check out the Sky bar, another elevated watering hole built on top of a hotel with views of the city. Although it has a closer view of the Petronas Towers, it’s not quite as breathtaking as the Luna bar as it’s not open top, plus it’s more pricey!

On Thursday I visited Malacca, as there was a RMN museum there, but also because it’s a major heritage city. The museum was rather superficial for my own work, but I enjoyed seeing the city’s sights. It’s unfortunate to say that once again, next to the old Portuguese fort, A Formosa, is located a shopping mall, but the north side of the river still retains its original Chinese character, with interesting streets, a fantastic temple which draws the city’s Taoist, Confucian and Buddhist communities, and also an interesting old Mosque built with Chinese and European architectural influences, quite unique. I also bought an original piece of art from a local artist named Titi (don’t laugh Neil!).

Had a foot, shoulder and head massage last night for under a tenner which was relaxing and painful in equal measure. Visited the rainforest reserve today without insect repellent which was a big mistake as the mosquitoes had a right old feast on me, but it was worth it to see monkeys swinging through the trees in a more natural environment than the tourist and litter-infested Batu Caves.

KL’s been both frustrating and exhilarating. By the end I even enjoyed haggling with the locals and bagged a couple of bargains in the process! I would definitely recommend a visit here to anyone.

Posted by: danguard | July 4, 2009

State of Play: An Exposé on Malaysian State Coercion

The nature of my visit to Malaysia has given me an insight into this state, its government and institutions, which the average citizen and tourist would not be privy too. Consequently, I feel obliged to write up my observations in the hope that unknowing others, especially Malaysian citizens, will begin to question the society in which they find themselves and the coercive measures those in power utilise in order to preserve their authority.

To provide some historical context, Malaysia, since independence, has effectively been a one-party state, with the UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) dominating the Barisan Nasional Coalition. Stories of government corruption and growing support for the opposing Islamic Party has undermined the the state’s political authority in recent years, and dissenting voices have begun to speak out. When they do, however, they run the risk of being arrested under the ISA (Internal Security Act), a system initially created for detaining without trial suspected Communist armed insurgents, but which was maintained after the Communist threat had long-since disappeared. Consequently it allows the government to detain, without trial, anyone deemed as threatening the security of Malaysia, giving them a rather wide scope for interpretation. Last year alone, ten people were arrested under the ISA, with the official reasons still not known for over half of them, and the others including a blogger arrested for insulting Islam.

Clearly this is a dangerous legislative mechanism for a ruling party to be able to wield, particularly one as powerful and dominant as the UMNO which in essence does not have to answer to the electorate and is relatively immune to swing voting. What I say up to this point is not new, and there are those which have already risked voicing criticism, such as Tan Sri Thanabalasingam , whom I interviewed last week. I will now discuss some of my own personal experiences which I find are inherently interlinked and indicate a wider and more insidious problem.

I visited the National Museum last Sunday, and I was rather shocked at the selective history displayed and the coercive messages propagated in what should be an objective educational institution. First, in the exhibition documenting the nation’s history, the Japanese occupation is virtually omitted. More damning, however, is the story from independence to modern Malaysia. There is a video which shows an elderly Malay man with his Malay grandson, Indian grandson, and Chinese granddaughter (hmm…) all playing together happily in the garden. He goes on to tell them about ‘Merdeka’ and the story of Malaya’s independence. Interspersed with tales of British wickedness, is the overriding message of national unity, reinforced by the image of racial harmony displayed on screen. As you walk around the exhibition, it talks about how Malaysia was created by Malaya’s merge with Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, after which it grew from strength to strength. There is no mention until right at the end, at the bottom of the display in small print, of Singapore’s departure after 2 years due to ‘disagreements’. Certainly there was no mention of the race riots that occurred between the Chinese and Malay populations, as this would contradict this myth of national unity that the curator, and I suspect political pressures from above, is propagating.

When I interviewed Lt.Cdr.(Ret.) Karu this week, what emerged strongly was how Indian and Chinese members of the navy were discriminated against for the benefit of Malay officers promoted ahead of them because of their race. He also told me how his son, a straight-A student, was denied a place at a local university because he was an Indian. Under the surface and the image of a harmonious, united Malaysia which the government would like to portray, is a prejudiced system which in fact exacerbates ethnic difference and inequalities rather than heals it. This uncomfortable truth is hidden from its citizens and from tourists (including potential foreign investors) through a carefully constructed and distorted representation of the nation through public forums, including the manipulation of history in the National Museum.

I have found my research efforts frustrated here through both linguistic and beaurocratic impediments. I appreciate the desire for post-colonial states to disassociate itself from the language previously imposed by the imperial power, however, bahasa melayu is yet another mechanism the Malay-dominant population and ruling party can use to solidify its privileged position. I am certain there are significant numbers of the Indian and Chinese populations who don’t speak Malay, and therefore, like myself, their access to official information becomes limited. How do you prevent a population from speaking out and criticising the state, something the government is clearly concerned with judging by the preservation of the ISA? One way is to restrict the population’s access to knowledge that allows them to formulate their arguments in the first place. As I have discovered, access to official historical documents, of the kind normally open to the public after 25-years in the UK and which I have been able to consult freely in Singapore, is restricted only to those in possession of a letter of reference from the government’s economic planning unit, and such bureaucratic processes are renowned for their complex, lengthy and frustrating nature in Malaysia I am told.

When I have spoken to Malaysians this week, particularly young Malaysians of voting age, they appear to have little awareness of the extent to which these problems exist. A selective memory of the past helps cover up the injustices which still exist today, and it is but one mechanism by which the ruling party, paranoid of losing its grip on power, is able to preserve its moral and political authority. This paranoia is evident in the continual existence of the ISA, and restrictive bureaucratic procedures which serve to limit access to knowledge to a select few personally endorsed by the government. In Malaysia, knowledge truly is power.

Posted by: danguard | June 30, 2009

Days 19-21 – A tour of KL

The weekend was my chance to play tourist and take in KL’s cultural attractions, and I sure took advantage of that. Here’s my summary of some of its main sights:

Kuala Lumpur Railway Station

Kuala Lumpur Railway Station

The National Art Museum – Located in to the north of KL centre, you have to get the monorail to ‘Titiwangsa’, preferrably without giggling like an immature schoolboy, with another 25mins walk down smog-filled dual-carriageways. This really isn’t a pedestrian’s city, but I was on a personal crusade to deprive these money-grubbing taxi drivers of my hard-earned ringits, which filled me with a sense of smug satisfaction which offset any personal discomfort. The museum itself predominantly held contemporary work, focused on Malaysian and Asian artists as one would expect. One exhibition I found of particular personal interest in a poscolonial/postmodern sense. It explored the occidental eye, and how cultural perceptions are shaped by colonial/commercial interactions. The work challenges your assumptions regarding its author, for quite often you feel you are viewing an original older piece of indigenous/tribal art, though in fact it is a contemporary immitation. Similarly, pictures of tribal scenes and of ‘natives’ invoke the sense one is viewing them through the occidental, or western, eye, that they are the product and are representative of imperial constructions of the native. These colonial ‘imaginings’ have, however, in this case been appropriated by indigenous artists to challenge our preconceptions, to raise questions as to the nature of modern identity particularly within plural societies such as Malaysia, and to highlight the fluidity of cultural interactions in a globalised world.

Masjid Negara

Masjid Negara

Islamic Arts Museum – Despite the quite grand design of the contemporary building which houses it, the collection inside was actually rather limited. I found the weapons and armour section quite cool (the artistry of some of these pieces was quite stunning, ironic considering their use. The islamic architecture section was interesting, just because i’m into that sort of thing, but it was essentially little more than a collection of pictures and models of Mecca, the Taj Mahal, etc. To be honest, I only visited in order to cool down after my long walk and kill time before the National Mosque was open to the public, and I certainly didn’t need much more than an hour there.

The Masjid Negara (National Mosque) – Another fairly contemporary building, with some nice features such as the minaret, and the 18-point star roof, but you have to get into the grounds of the building to really get a good view of the latter. Tourists can do this between the hours of 3-4 and 5.30-6.30, though they’re not allowed in the main hall, only to peer in from the outside. Once you’re in, it’s not as grand and opulent as you might expect, and so whether you find it worth going depends on if you’re in the area at the correct time or whether you’re going out of your way especially. Luckily there are plenty of other attractions in the vicinity.

Engravings from Chan See Shu Yuen Temple

Engravings from Chan See Shu Yuen Temple

Sin Sze Sin-Ya Temple – Oldest Chinese temple in KL, shrouded in the scent of burning incense, it has some interesting decorated beams, doors and carvings. Worth calling in if you’e walking around chinatown as it’s on the main street, you’ll find it set back at a strange angle behind the main gates for reasons of feng shui, but beware the beggars congregated at it’s steps.

Chan See Shu Yuen Temple – Another chinese temple about 10-15mins walk away. Not as old but more grand, with some beautifically intricate carvings adorning the front of the building, and a courtyard at the centre which really highlights the building’s symmetry and classic Chinese design. Definately worth a trip, perhaps more so than Sin Sze Sin-Ya. 

Kuala Lumpur railway station – built by the British in 1910, it posses the distinctive ‘Moorish’ architectural stylings synonymous with British colonial Asia. Not much to admire other than the asthetics from outside, it offers some nice photo opportunites, particularly coupled with the grand KTM railway administration building located opposite and is built in a similar style, though both have clearly seen better days.

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

Batu Caves – Hindu shrine 13km to the north of the city and place of pilgramage for many Malaysian Hindus, the caves lie at the top of 272 steps ascending behind a large golden statue o Murugan, the Hindu God of war and patron deity of the Tamils, the largest ethnic Indian group in Malaysia. Though the caves themselves, complete with resident mokeys, are quite a natural wonder, and a couple of the temples are nice, the place is very touristy now, and the caves themselves are littered with rubbish that the monkeys have collected and hoarded. The place isn’t very well looked after, and that reverence you expect to encounter was somewhat lacking, unless you worship the God of consumerism that is.

I’ve saved my summary of the National Museum for the next post, as it ties in with some harsh criticisms I have to level at the Malaysian state, so if you want controversy, watch this space…

Hello again. Sorry I’ve not been on the blog for a few days now, been quite busy. Will now try and fill you in.

Tuesday was my meeting in the Petronas Towers. Despite some confusion over the purpose of my visit at reception, my contact came down to collect me and we went up to his office on the 48th floor. To put this into context, tourists who want to go up the towers to get a view of the city would normally have to queue from half 7 in the morning (only 800 tickets are given out daily), and then they only get as high as the 41st floor. To be honest, the view was alright, but I couldn’t really make out any of the other main KL landmarks, the landscape surrounding the city isn’t that significant to speak of, and then a haze frequently descends over the city from Indonesians burning forests for palm oil. You have to have said you’ve been up the Petronas Towers if you’ve been to KL, but I’m glad I hadn’t got up at the crack of dawn and queued around for over an hour especially for it. What was cool though was the executive Mitsubushi meeting room we used. My conact, Mudzaffar, was a lovely man with a clear passion for the subject and gave me some useful leads to work on. In the evening my Eastern European friends and I went to Zouk, a big SE Asian nightclub, however this was tempered by the urban music they were playing and the overpriced beer I bought. It wouldn’t have been so bad but I have a tendency here to mishear ‘ty’ for ‘teen’ and vice-versa, so you can imagine what happened. Anyway, it was ladies night, so we only stayed for the girls to drink their free drinks which they kindly shared to offset my grave miscalculation, and moved on to some other bars.

Luna Bar, KL

Luna Bar, KL

Wednesday I ventured out to the Ministry of Defence library. I was told that there was lots of material I could use there, but sadly, most of it’s in behasa melayu. The language barrier is more of a problem here than I’d anticipated, and I caused a bit of a scene at the army base which I walked into by mistake and couldn’t explain where I’d intended to go. There was some material I was able to take from the trip but it’s not worth going back. It was a little bizarre to be sat in the library reading and to suddenly hear a military band pipe up on the parade ground outside. That evening was Ruta, Monika, and Maceij’slast night in KL so we met up for some final drinks, along with a local German travel writer and photographer, Herry, who took us all to the most amazing bar I’ve ever been in my life. Called the ‘Luna Bar’, it’s on the rooftop (34th floor) of the Panglobal hotel. The main bar you walk into has a pool in the middle and is surrounded by private booths where you can lie back and look out across the city, and there’s also an upper-deck to step out onto. Lit up at night is definitely the way to see KL, and it was a great way to say goodbye while sipping a Singapore Sling.

Thursday was my big interview with Tan Sri Thanabalasingam (‘Tan Sri’ is the Malaysian equivalent of a knighthood), the first Malaysian chief of the navy. We met at the Royal Selangor Club with my other two contacts out here, and after a spot of curried shark for lunch (with ray substitute as they can’t harvest shark now – tasted a bit like haddock) and a couple of drinks to establish some ‘rapport’ we set down to the interview. I had optimistically said it would only take an hour but it was quite clear we were going to overrun and it ended up lasting closer to two. We managed to cover most of the points I wanted to go over, though there’s always a couple of questions you wish you’d had a chance to ask. At the end of the day though, I got a lot of good material I can use, and have created a great original resource with perhaps the most influential man in the history of the Royal Malaysian Navy that future historians after me will be able to benefit from for years to come, which fills me with satisfaction. Afterwards there were a few more drinks before Hamid, the World Veterans Federation President who helped set-up the interview, drove me to the exclusive golf club here for a tour and one last drink. He’s been fantastic to help in the way he has, and will definitely get an acknowledgment in the book!

One more thing to note. Though I like KL, I feel constantly suspicious and untrusting here. There are two prices – the right price and the white price – and if you’ve got white skin and appear to be a tourist people will constantly try and scam you. You can’t avoid taxis here as the public transport is so poor, but though it’s still cheap compared to Britain, you end up paying twice what the locals do. I also don’t trust eating in any of the street stalls here, or buying anything from the bazaars for a similar reason. It’s a shame, because I feel unable to throw myself fully into the local culture if it’s only going to hurt my wallet. Maybe some of my dad’s tightness is finally rubbing off on me!

Finally, RIP Jacko. Despite your dubious morals and sanity you made some cracking tunes. Remember, ‘it don’t matter if you’re black or white’, unless you’re ordering a taxi in KL that is…

Posted by: danguard | June 23, 2009

Day 15 – Banana tree leaves and ‘Aha’

Well, great first full day in KL. I’m very quickly warming to this city (and that wasn’t some lame heat-related pun!). It feels so much more colourful and vibrant compared to Singapore. It definitely feels like I’m more in Asia now.

The Royal Selangor Club

The Royal Selangor Club

At 12 I was meeting Hamid Ibrahim, president of the World Veterans Federation. He drove me to the Royal Selangor Club, an exclusive members-only club, Mock-Tudor in style, originally built and used by the British. There we met Lt.Cdr (Ret.) Karu Selvaratnam, a retired Royal Malaysian Navy engineer who served from the 1960 to the 1980s. He had some very interesting stories to tell about his experiences, and has agreed to participate in a more-formal interview later on. Furthermore, he is contacting Tan Sri Thanabalasingam, a former Admiral and the first Malaysian (non-British) Chief of the RMN to sound him out about an interview. Hopefully he agrees. We topped off the meeting with some Tiger beers and a very tasty Indian meal served to us on Banana tree leaves. Very cool.

Then in the evening I went out with three of the people I met the night before, Ruta, who’s Lithuanian, and Monika and Maceij, who are Polish. Although we arrived too late to go to the top of the KL tower, which though it’s not physically as tall as the Petronas,offers higher views as it’s built on higher ground, we ended up going to a couple of bars, having some drinks and at one point danced to ‘Take On Me’ by Aha, which is always good fun! It’s a little creepy in some of the bars here though. There are large groups of dressed-up young ladies hanging around and dancing with much older men who look a little out-of-place to be honest. Something’s not quite right, we suspect they’re escorts, and it’s all a little sleazy.

Will speak to you after my meeting later at the Petronas.

Posted by: danguard | June 22, 2009

Day 14 – Here and hungover

Greetings from Malaysia, and my first proper hangover of the trip! I took the early morning train from Singapore to KL yesterday having enjoyed little sleep thanks to a lacklustre Lions performance (actually, I do them a disservice, it was a rousing comeback in the 2nd half) and some loud inebriated Frenchmen, which at least meant I managed to get some kip on the train to help pass the 7 hours journey. It was a bizarre system though, as the station, a fantastic art deco-style construction, though in Singapore, is technically Malaysian territory, so you first pass through Malaysian immigration there. Then 45 mins into the journey the train stops at Woodlands, north Singapore, where you have to disembark and pass through Singapore immigration before re-boarding and crossing the Johore Straits into Malaysia. From what little I saw of the journey, between sleep and the tiny gap of a window in front of me – just my luck to not end up with a window seat – it was rather exotic, with jungle, rubber trees and various tropical plants.  It was rather fitting as in my book I was at the point just before the British and Japanese start jungle-fighting!

Anyway, I made it to KL with no major incidents. The hostel I’m staying in seems great on first impressions. Though the one in Singapore was generally not bad, clean and comfortable, despite the local smells, it was lacking in the social scene with little of a common room. In this place though I’ve already met some great people, and was up drinking on the outside patio with them till 2 this morning, thus the hangover. Despite this I managed to rouse myself up at half 8 to work through some of the material I’ve gathered and prepare for my meeting at 12 with the President of the World Veterans League, which will hopefully develop into several leads. Then tomorrow I’m meeting a local RMN expert for a meeting at his office on the 48th floor of the Petronas Towers! Should be interesting! Before that I’m going to embark on what appears to be quite a trek to the archives here, which are a bit out of the way and not serviced by the trains or monorail, so its either a couple of buses or a taxi, which are thankfully relatively cheap here.

Anyways, catch you all later.

Posted by: danguard | June 19, 2009

Day 12 – Random rants and ramblings

Bonjour. Ca va? Ou est la piscine? ‘Splish splosh’? (sorry, this isn’t completely random. Some guy in the lift thought I was French today)

Well, I managed to get a little lost this morning trying to find a post office. Though on a map this city looks fairly simple and well-designed, in reality I’ve never been so confused about a place, and I’m usually an ‘excellent’ navigator. First, you have a myriad of complex underground labyrinthian malls which serve as the city’s high streets but provide no real geographical bearing to indicate where you actually are. I only found out the other day that every day for the past week I’ve been walking back on myself ten minutes away from the destination I wanted to get to, so a journey that should have only taken 15 mins or so was taking me 35 mins! And in the sweltering morning sun that’s no fun (hey, that rhymes!). No wonder I was the only one regularly dripping in sweat when I arrived! Then, I’m sure the street names are all pointing in the opposite direction, you know, like rugby union referees point in a different direction to football and rugby league referees when they’re awarding a free kick? Or perhaps I’m just imagining that.

What hasn’t been helping my sweat problem is the fact there is a whole different system to crossing the road here which it appears only the locals know about. Most pedestrian crossings seem to take a good couple of minutes before the man turns green, a long time when you’re literally being cooked in broad daylight. What I noticed today when I was standing at one such crossing, however, was a man walk out of a nearby shop, up to the button to press it, then walk back to wait in the shade of the building. Genius! All this time I imagine there have been dozens of Singaporeans quietly sniggering behind my back, watching this idiot speaking to you stand guard at the crossing while they wait in the comfort of the shade. Well not anymore!

'1 for 1'? You must be joking!

'1 for 1'? You must be joking!

Another thing that has perplexed me here are the numerous signs outside bars, restaurants and stalls, advertising a ‘1 for 1’ offer on drinks. In the UK, this wouldn’t be a particularly enticing deal, as you expect to get one when you pay for one. Usually you’d want at least ‘2 for 1’ to be enticed into such places. And if ‘1 for 1’ is the special rate, then what is it normally, ‘buy one, receive half’? Crazy! Needless to say, I’ve been staying well clear of such unscrupulous establishments. You have to get up very early in the morning to put one past me!

I can’t wait for the first British Lions test tomorrow night and seeing some live (broadcast) sport which isn’t Brunei FC vs the Singapore Armed Forces. Thankfully the match falls at a decent time out here (9pm), and I plan to go and watch it in an Irish pub. I just hope there’s not a ‘1 for 1’ offer on the guiness…

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