DownUnder2Borneo

A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December

Tag Archives: holiday

Coming Home

It was a 5.30 start this morning and a huge day of fishing getting home around 9.30pm but I can’t sleep. Together with Christmas presents and Nani’s relentless shopping she will be flying Tiger Airways to KL where we will rejoin and fly through to Melbourne on AirAsia. There are two things I’m panicking about. One is that I’d asked Nani to call Tiger and book a check-in bag for Abbey (Tiger don’t allow this to be done online whereas AirAsia does)  for all the extra stuff we’ve accumulated. I find out she hasn’t done it and she wants me to sort it out. She says she couldn’t get to a phone all day today. Hmmm. The second thing I’m really worried about is that I discover that there are in fact two airports in Kuala Lumpur about twenty kilometers apart and I heard that Tiger flies into KLIA whereas AirAsia will depart from LCCT. This means Nani will have to virtually run through KLIA customs (people hurrying through customs is not a good look), get a taxi and whip over to LCCT to catch our international flight out, with no time to spare.

I call a friend in Singapore who works for Tiger and he’s going to see if he can fix something with the baggage, but given that their call centre doesn’t open til 9am tomorrow, and Nani’s flight is 10, it looks slim. On the plus side, he assures me Tiger does fly into LCCT. I’m relieved. I can sleep now, but the taxing day hasn’t done any favors to my chest infection and I double over whenever I cough.
We eat a huge breakfast before saying farewell to Mark and Deb and their wonderful family. Jonathan doesn’t come down to stay goodbye to the boys because he’s a bit teary. I tell Ong Jia Chen the miniature whirlwind that if he eats and sleeps well, I’ll see him again one day when he’s bigger (time doesn’t mean much to four year olds). I tell him that he doesn’t need his mum to feed him anymore.

At KL Sentral buses seem to leave every two to three minutes (basically as soon as they’re full) and only costs some paltry 6RM for adults and half that for kids for the 75 minute trip to LCCT. On the way we pass the Malaysian Sepang Moto GP circuit. We bump into a flustered Nani at the airport after first spotting Abbey. She has had a drama trying to check in her luggage at the wrong terminal. Thinking she could save time by scanning her bags (an operation performed before baggage check-in) while waiting for us she has had an altercation with a bunch of what she describes as Arab men. Apparently they accused her of cutting the queue and made her get to the back, whilst ushering their mates in front of her. The irony is, she was at domestic, and we were flying international and there’s no need to scan bags prior to check in. I find out that an announcement was made on the Tiger flight to wish Abbey a happy 7th birthday and the captain personally met her.

On AirAsia, Abbey lets the flight attendants know it’s her birthday following on from the success she had on the Tiger flight from Singapore. A group of the flight attendants come down and sing happy birthday to her, and one re-sings it in Korean. They present her with a cute little AirAsia bear. Abbey of course is delighted.

Ahead of where I sit, I notice some beautiful marketing from tourism Malaysia on the bulkhead. It’s a huge poster covering most of the space available. A gorgeous looking Asian couple runs down a white tropical beach. Her yellow sun dress flies in the breeze with a full head of jet black flowing hair behind. He is in a white cotton shirt and knee length khaki shorts. Laughing with gay abandonment they run bare footed, hand in hand toward… the camera I suppose. In the corner written in white script, are the words;

Tranquil Nature. With her tranquil waters and clear blue skies, it is the perfect place for that getaway you deserve. Watch the sun rise and set with your loved one, or spend the day frolicking on the beach with your family and friends. It’s not what you do, it’s where you do it. Malaysia. Truly Asia.

I like the award winning Truly Asia campaign and will really miss Malaysia, but there should have been a postscript saying PS – the sun is friggen hot and will sneak up on you and belt the life out of you if you don’t hide in the middle of the day. Sweat will pour off you and you will dehydrate. Any frolicking in the midday sun without a hat or umbrella will be punished by severe sunstroke and heat rash culminating in a visit to hospital involving a drip.

As you can guess, I still feel hot after yesterday’s fishing adventure.

Later, on touch down just after midnight Disney’s Happy Birthday Princess plays over the PA and Abbey proudly and loudly announces that she’s in fact the birthday girl, just in case anyone around us had forgotten. Whilst taxiing toward the terminal, an announcement regarding Australian border security makes no mention of drugs and the death penalty that we’re used to hearing, instead the message is all about  animals and plants. I love that about Australia. Let’s protect the great outdoors – our native flora, fauna, agriculture and aquaculture. We don’t give a shit about druggies and we’re definitely too laid back to kill people anyway. I recall that India recently sentenced someone to the death penalty but all their hangmen had gotten old and given up, and they had to track one down and resurrect him from his retirement to bump off a particularly nasty criminal.

We reflect on our travels as we exit Melbourne airport. It’s 1.15am and the air is beautiful and cool. There’s a three hour drive ahead to dad’s farm in western Victoria but no-one is bothered. We consider making up a bunch of Borneo 2011 t-shirts for the Ongs and ourselves as a memento of an epic adventure. We decide we wouldn’t have changed much about our holiday but after backpacking for a month with my family I have wondered a few things though ;

Why is it that when kids take the last biscuit they hand you back the empty packet?
Don’t you love how your kids hand you back your iPhone and the screen looks like they used it to eat takeaway food off of?
Should there be a word for when your spouse takes your iPhone and doesn’t hand it back until the battery is in the red?

KL and the snakehead adventure

John and Ik Hui are kindly dropping us to Key Point in the Beach Road area from where Golden Express Coach departs. Their hospitality has been amazing – as is all Asian hospitality from which Aussies have much to learn (ours is the more shut-the-door-on-your-way-out, laid-back kind). Whilst saying our goodbyes, the boys are looking the wrong way. I’m wondering why they are so rude and ask them to turn around. They say their goodbyes then turn back to study their original distraction – Doritos Man. Their jaws drop and they stare unashamedly as this fellow traveler stands awaiting the bus and eats an entire pack of Doritos without touching a single one. If you can imagine how that is done, you can understand why they would be so captivated. I might try it some time just to see how doable this is, but I feel it would be at the cost of very cheesy powdery lips.

Catching a bus to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore involves going to the Woodlands Checkpoint and exiting Singapore’s border control, then hopping back on the bus, crossing the border, hauling your luggage off the bus, going through customs in Malaysia, then hauling everything back on. It probably adds an hour all up to the five hour trip. On the bus the little boy next to me says “a lizard just crawled under your shoe” looking genuinely concerned. Without moving my shoe I say “would you like me to catch it for you”. His eyes widen and he shakes his head. Later, Lachie taps me and says I have a gecko on my shoulder. I ask him to grab it which he does. The kid is amazed but frightened. Lachie offers it to him but he’s actually petrified and his sister starts protesting. She says that if he touches it, he can’t sit next to her anymore. Their dad stretches forward with his camera and says “I have to take a photo of the hero!”  People here poison them with insect spray because they’re frightened of them and think they’re dirty. We reckon they’re great though and they do a fantastic job of keeping the insects down. Lachie gets really close and checks the lizard out from head to toe. He names him Gary Gecko.

I enjoy the bus trip. From the confines of Singapore’s high rises, to the open road, the hills, valleys and now familiar tropical vegetation makes me feel relieved. Singapore is busy, densely populated and highly built up and while I enjoyed visiting, being a country boy I always like to fall back to open spaces.  Along the way and bloke has been asking the driver to stop and dashing out to sort stuff out. I got to thinking “hang on mate, you’re holding all of us up here, why can’t you just sort your shit out?” It was getting a bit rich I thought. At the lunch stop however, after we re-boarded the bus, I couldn’t believe it when he was even given a turn at driving. When’s my turn?

Lachie, Oscar and I get lots of rest on the bus which is just what the doctor ordered. It gives us time to be with ourselves and our thoughts since we are sitting in the single seats. The kids actually enjoy this and said they preferred the coach to the plane. We arrive at KL around 3.30pm and grab a taxi to Mark and Deb’s in Petaling Jaya, just 16km out of town. I didn’t actually have enough cash for the taxi so I gave him everything I had including a Singapore $2 note. The cabbie took the lot. Inside, I say “Merry Xmas” to their smallest child (the one I dubbed “ninja” on our earlier visit) Ong Jia Chen. He replies “Merry Christmas. Who are you?” and proceeds to tell me that he likes Uncle Carter (his swimming coach) but that he made him disappear back home today…Ong Jia Chen has some powerful Chi going on in his little body. Later he asks him mum if he cries harder will I return?

We’re getting ready to go snakehead fishing. I’ve carried my rod and reel around Malaysia for four weeks hoping to target this species because they are widespread and have adapted to drains and ponds being a swamp type ambush predator that can even live outside of water. I saw a River Monsters program on the bullseye snakehead that is aggressively invading North America and was gripped watching Jeremy Wade catch these then track down its cousin, the giant snakehead that had allegedly killed a man in Thailand. One of these was kept in a tank at Nomad B&B in Kuching and when I’d asked if I can submerge my underwater camera for a shot, they mentioned that someone from Sweden had tried this and it bit him.  Mark and his dad have organized some seventy little brown frogs for bait, and these are being kept in the shower and get a bath everyday to keep them hopping and fresh. We re-bag these ten at a time for each fisherman and load up our rods, food, drinks and eskies into the 4wd for a quick getaway in the morning. A couple of frogs did get loose in the bathroom, but they’re no match for ten year old boys.

At 05:30 there’s a knock on my door. It’s Jonathan, but I don’t don’t need a wake-up call, I’ve been awake since 4 – as is common when I’m going on a fishing trip. It’s a quick breakfast of enormous meat and veggie bao, out the door at 6:14 and into the pajero for the long drive to the district of Bidor in the neighboring state of Perak. One of Mark’s friends Sam joins us who is an equally keen fisherman. At Kampung Coldstream we pull off road and into farmland and palm plantation where ponds and lakes abound. We pull up at a beautiful large pond surrounded by tall tropical grasses and covered with thick kang kong pond weed (kang kong is one of my favorite vegetables by the way). One side of the pond borders a palm plantation, another has nesting storks in some tall trees adjoining a Peking duck farm. These scatter as I approach, all herding away from me. In the distance I smell a pig farm and at various intervals can hear the squealing of feeding time. There is a family of Asian Otters in the pond behind bobbing up and down busily (everything otters do looks busy).

Excitement mounts as we see fish rising all over the pond and arcing fins scything the surface. Big fish. These are the telapia and carp that are being raised here – I suspect on effluent from the pig farm – suspicions founded by the smell and crust at a drain pipe entering the pond on the other side. Mark shows us how to stun the frogs, then pierce their heads to kill them and rig them up so they can be cast and retrieved over the weed without getting snagged. This is foreign fishing to me. We cast the frogs on top of the weed and slowly retrieve them. They get caught as we drag them back toward us, then release in a jerky hopping motion which simulates a live frog. Top level predators, the snakehead living under the weed sense the vibrations and sound and strike at the frogs – that’s the theory anyway.

Lachie has a couple of hits that mangle his first frog but doesn’t hook up. I eventually have one grab a frog but on setting the hook, the frog pulls straight out of it’s mouth. The next take I get, I actually strip line to let it really swallow the bait before trying to set the hook, but the strike pulls it free again and the frog sails past my head. Mark has missed a couple too, though his dad has landed one. I’m a bit perplexed so I switch to something I know. Maybe being the aggressive “eat anything” predator, they’ll take a soft bait. I rig up with a hot pink Strike Tiger grub and start a slow retrieve and bang I’m onto a good fish first cast. These fish are so powerful and the waters full of weed and snags that we’re fishing high poundage line and a locked up drag so I just hold it and let it tire whooping “I’m on!!!” across the water. The kids grab the fishing bag and start running toward me. On landing the fish, it’s grabbed the lure so hard, I have to physically prise its jaws open and use pliers to get the hook out. I’m elated that I’ve landed my first snakehead. I lift up the fish and take a good look and snap a few shots. The head is flat and pointed like a snake with two beady black eyes on top. The mouth wide and hard. The skin on the fish actually looks like snake skin – black on top changing to white underneath with a primal type of fin running over it’s back and halfway under it’s belly. These ancient monsters are well represented in the fossil record and look like it too. They are prized for their healing ability when served as soup to convalescing patients.

After a few more casts, I lose the princess on a snag. Switching to an old faithful Berkley black and gold T-Tail after noticing some small grey baitfish in the water, a few casts later I’m on again. This one’s a bit smaller, so he gets to go play another day but he’s completely chopped the T-Tail in half. I head back toward the car where the kids have retreated and on the way back notice a snakehead hovering in the water a couple of feet from the bank. I toss out the T-Tail and draw it past it’s nose. I dangle it there, then jig it up and down – it pays no attention. Perplexing. Somehow these fish need to have their aggression triggered to make them strike – the most aggressive are ones protecting their nest. These have been known to attack people – such as the kayaker in Delaware.
I wander back to the opposite shore to find the boys have given up because it’s hard to cast and retrieve a dead frog continuously with no result, and are playing around the car so I tell them just chuck the frog in the water instead of baking it crisp on the roof of the car where their rods are leaning. The sun is really up now and starting its torment. The rods are now leaning against some tall grasses with the frogs sunk to the bottom. It’s not long and Oscar’s rod pulls flat. He races over and strikes to find nothing on the end. The hook fails to set again. These fish are tricky. I cast it back in for him, but this time strip of lots of loose line. The snakehead are taking the frog into their mouth, moving away before swallowing. Any resistance leads to the frog being spat out. The next time he’s rod bends, he has his first snakehead.
Around midday, the heat starts to beats us into submission. Even though we’ve got full sleeves and hats on, the heat is what I consider an preview to hell. Eventually, with my core temperature rising, I give up and sit in the shade of a short palm oil tree, half naked trying not to move. The boys accompany me and we suck back water and 100 Plus an isotonic fizzy drink. We are wilted. Husked. Punished. Oscar plays around a nearby palm trying to climb it and I let him know that there are sometimes ant nests in there. Sam who has joined us for some relief mentions that he doesn’t usually venture too far into palm oil plantations because of the cobra’s. I let Oscar know about this too.

Eventually Mark and his dad pull over and give way to the juggernaut that is the scorching, oppressive sun and sitting down in the shade with us. Mark has copped a leech helping land my third haruan (the local name) which was tangled in a mass of weed. We decide to head into the nearest Kampung and get some drinks and shade. Oddly, his dad recommends the curry noodles, which equally strangely were so delicious the boys were nearly licking the bowl.

I photograph the lady preparing them, scooping the noodles into a huge boiler to cook them and the old aunties around a plastic table on the corner all laugh and tease her in Malay. She ducks and looks embarrassed, which encourages me, so I switch to video and film the scene. A table of men are flipping and shuffling mahjong tiles. They must be escaping the heat too.

Around 4pm we head back checking out a few other ponds on the way, but returning to our original site. The boys continue with their bottom fishing as this seems to be the most effective method in the middle of the day. Jonathan has hooked a fish but struggles to land it. Oscar takes over manning the rod and Lachie gets down and hand-lines the fish in. They call it a team effort and chalk it up as a “Band of Brothers” effort. Lachie still hasn’t landed one on his own, but just before we call it a day, manages a small one, so we’re all happy.

Thunder clouds begin to roll out across the horizon and we hear the rumble. The odd lightning flash goes off and a cooler breeze has picked up. The light changes from the harsh white light of a fiercely hot day, to the warm evening glow of a monsoon clouded evening. The pond looks really pretty now, and I can see rain on the mountain range. I count the time between the flashes and rumbles and conclude the storm cell is still a few kilometres away. The breeze is waving the grasses and the white storks are hovering over their nests. Eventually it starts to spit and satisfied with our catch of thirteen, we decide to start our long trip home.

It’s dark now and the boys are all asleep in the back of the Pajero. We’ve had a sumptious feed of charsiew, roast pork, yam, fried sweet potato leaf, and soup on the way back through Bidor. We fly south along the Utara Selatan Highway toward Selangor and the road is relatively uncrowded. In the back it still smells froggy and the silence as each of us is lost in thought is punctuated by pounding on the roof of the esky, as the prehistoric channa striata launch themselves out of the shallow water and crash their bony heads into the molded plastic in a bid for freedom.

I still feel hot.

   

 

Singapore’s East Coast Park

We’re on the MRT to East Coast Park to sample some of the best seafood Singapore can offer with Nani’s school friends. I like the MRT particularly the touch screen ticket machine where all you have to do is poke a spot on the map you want to go, slip some money in and bingo, out pops a swipe card for a few bucks. The trains seem pretty efficient although to the utter horror of Singaporeans a train broke down recently stranding passengers in the dark tunnel and grid locking peak hour. Not an issue in Australia, just get off, go find a bus or phone a friend. Singaporean’s want blood though. Heads must roll and at a minimum the CEO should be fired and made homeless. A comforting female voice recording drifts through our carriage encouraging me to report any suspicious people or activities and to by all means feel free to press the little red button next to the sliding doors. I eye the red button and hope that I don’t look too suspicious.

I do have a confession to make though, now that i have this nasty chest cold from the kids, i did cough up something that looked like durian and spat it in the bin. Am I in trouble? By the way you aren’t allowed to bring any flammables, weapons or durian on the train. $500 fine.

East coast park on reclaimed land is where Nani learned to ride a bicycle. These can be hired cheaply and the pathways along the beach with the sea breeze made it tolerable. I don’t think many people own bikes – for a start there’s nowhere to store them and anyone who thinks “this would be a great city to bike around” probably hasn’t had the pleasure of being drenched in sweat two minutes into their ride. Although Cambodians use them extensively they ride slowly and don’t wear suits to work.

Jumbo Seafood serves up a mean chilli mud crab arguably one of Singapore’s most famous dish. I’m not sure I’ve had it before but I loved it, although someday I’d like to try a less sweet one. This was complimented by bamboo clams, stir fried baby squid (crunchy), crumbed whole prawns (you eat the head and all), sesame seed crusted squid and mee goreng. Our waitresses name is Bell Song. I try and motion to everyone when she is standing at our table to look at her name badge but no one seems to notice. When she leaves I point out “did everyone see her name? It’s Bell Song – get it? Bell – Song??” Everyone is blank. Ken explains gently that they pronounce this surname “Soong”. As a teacher he can understand why I might read it the way I did. A former company I worked for had our regional head office in Singapore with a receptionist called Dawn Poo. I suppose this isn’t funny either.

Singapore Christmas and Light Show

We’re invited to dinner with the Hi (prounounced Hee) family. Driving past the botanic gardens and national orchid garden with its 1000 species on the way there I really wish I could go in. We’re obviously in the upper end of town because all the homes here are gated and free standing. As we pull into the driveway I notice three Mercedes and an in-ground pool. Mr and Mrs Hi have been bestowed the prestigious titles of Datok and Dating which I think are a bit like Lord and Lady and reserved for people who have made a bucket-load of money. They must be wondering what happened to us when we arrived looking bedraggled and exhausted from travel and our colds (there should be another name for this in the tropics). Lachie falls asleep on their couch. Dinner at a restaurant at the six story shopping mall Great World City though, was sensational. The highlights being the shark fin and crab soup, along with roast pork and roast duck. Still in need of rest, I make an excuse to leave early to take the kids back to Pearls Centre and their beds leaving Nani to enjoy the company who all communicate in Foo Chow. There’s only so much nodding and smiling one can do when one doesn’t speak the lingo no matter how appreciative of their generosity.

Christmas is a laid back affair which I love. We had decided to celebrate with Nani’s side of the family on Christmas Eve because we were intending to catch up with my side Christmas Day, but sadly they felt it best with our coughs and colds, to not expose my elderly grandmother so we won’t be seeing them this trip (one of my main reasons for going to Singapore). John has booked the function room at his River Valley Rd condo alongside the three pools, sauna, spa and downstairs from the gym. Luxury. Honey baked ham with scored fat and a little clove in each square made by the scoring glistens invitingly. The turkey tastes smoked and while a little dry is very tasty. This complimented by hainan chicken, satay and topped off with trifle (yes trifle!) makes for an east meets west fusion Christmas dinner.

The kids after being inspired by The Karate Kid were doing the usual moves on each other and having a wrestle, but were all being told by well-meaning adults to either stop it or be careful. I told one mum that as long as our kids don’t bleed or break bones we didn’t mind them bashing each other up a little – it’s all part of growing up isn’t it? It appears this behavior is off limits to Singaporean kids and she replies she didn’t fancy a trip to the hospital tonight. One child was even told to be careful sitting on a fitness ball. It was annoying that the kids couldn’t really be kids and I end up telling Nani that the next person who says “Be careful!” was going to get it. The words were barely out and a shortish lady with a brown top and short hair (looking somewhat Filipino) said to one of the kids “Be careful!” I mutter into her ear that I have to shoot the brown-bloused lady now. Apparently rough housing is not the Singaporean way but the way I figure it you can mend broken bones and stitch up cuts, but raising kids to be afraid of getting hurt is something much harder to fix.

I’m trying to book this train to Kuala Lumpur for boxing day and not having much luck. I’ve registered online with the Malaysian transport website KTM Berhad and it’s telling me that there are five seats available, but when I jump through all the online hoops, the final step tells me they don’t accept online bookings less that 48 hours before the journey. WHAT?!?! I finally find a phone number that someone will answer and they tell me there’s no seats left. But there are online I say. They repeat that there aren’t any. I say well what about tonight? Can I book the night train? She says that she can’t sell me tickets, but there are berths available if I just rock up at Woodlands Checkpoint in Singapore (about 45 minutes away) I should be able to get on. I’m thinking, so I’m supposed to get two boys and their packs to Woodlands by 11pm tonight and maybe, hopefully, possibly get a ticket? I’m starting to get frustrated. I have been so looking forward to going cross country to Kuala Lumpur off the bitumen and through the country side by train due to some nostalgic idealism that train travel would somehow be quaint and going clickety clack rolling through the Malaysia would be a great segue to the fishing day that we’d planned there. Brother in law John confirmed my thoughts. I would have to coach it instead. I conceded that it was still better than flying. Yes it is only and hour and fifteen by plane, but it seems so surgical and artificial. Ground travel gives time to absorb, to think and reflect. To really leave one place and arrive in another.

While all this is going on, it’s Christmas day and where else would Nani be than shopping? She puts in a five hour effort today. Looking for what and buying what is anyone’s guess. I suppose she figures that she’ll make hay while the sun shines – not many people get to shop on Christmas Day after all. I wonder how things would go down if I went fishing on Christmas Day, but I don’t dare to find out. Call me under-the-thumb – call me whatever you like, but experiments like these are best left to either the more daring, the more stupid or both. She has been saying that she doesn’t know how she will cope coming home to Tasmania because she’s gotten so used to being able to buy whatever she wants to eat, whenever she wants it.

Nani regales her horrified family with tales of how dangerous it was to visit Bako National Park and warned them against being there. She said the boat she traveled on was virtually un-seaworthy. She mentions how it got so bad the boatman ordered her pack off and life jacket on and how the waves were so big her small boat almost capsized. She claims that tour guides don’t book people to Bako during monsoon because it’s so dangerous – and that’s just getting there. Once there she claims the jetty is crumbling and she almost fell through. Crazy monkeys with fangs like “this” (demonstrating on her own face with a couple of index fingers how big the incisors are) and poisonous vipers hanging from every tree not to mention the sting rays. She goes on to tell the spell bound audience that “no-one goes to Sandakan” (not sure how she knows this) and claims that the men on every street corner with dark skin who stared at her until she was out of sight were in fact pirates. At what point pirates jump ship to sit on street corners and leer at Chinese girls is anyone’s guess, but there you have it. I’m annoyed and interject claiming that they’re great places to go and not to listen to her. I had booked the itinerary after much reading and discussing with other travelers and had good reason to be in those places. She switches to mandarin and finishes the story in a language I don’t understand. I resign to being misrepresented but also with some satisfaction that no-one would listen to Nani tell stories about the good times she had shopping at ViVo, Ion, Far East Plaza or Great World City mega malls. At least I’d given her tales to tell – and tales that grow taller with the passage of time.

Being our last night Ik Hui has really bent over backwards to try and check off a couple of things I’d mentioned we’d like to do whilst in Singapore so we’re off to the luxury Marina Bay Sands to watch the water show Wonder Full. On Singapore’s famous waterfront a couple of times each night is an amazing celebration of life using light projection, multimedia, sound, lasers, sprays and jets of water. Sitting together on the steps we are wowed by the display together with a few hundred others in the warm night air. The back drop of Singapore city was equally picturesque. I watch as our children jump up to try and grab illuminated bubbles floating past and failed to make them sit down. There is something about bubbles that are magnetic to children isn’t there? After the show, people were slow to leave. While it was crowded, it seems that the beauty and wonder of the show somehow united our humanity and we were connected by a common experience and the emotion generated.

Singapore may be a place geared entirely around making money the most efficiently as possible. Its benevolent oligarchy has ensured that anyone who gets an education and works hard has the opportunity to be wealthy, live in a condo and employ a maid. In the little spare time that families have, the two national past times of eating out (which can be done incredibly cheaply) and shopping in the latest and greatest malls are pursued with passion but it’s the constant kaching-kaching of Asia’s cash register that actually allows them to put on amazing free displays like the one we just saw and develop one of the world’s most beautiful waterfronts – just because they can.

After the show we slowly walk to Cold Rock for an ice-cream (the one where you choose the flavor and lollies you’d like smashed into it) and wander past Fendi, Armani, Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton. I wish I could tell you that these were people we met on the way but I can’t. Chrome and glass and the polished tiles refract and reflect light coming from every direction in this luxury shopping area. At some point, Nani can resist no more and walks into Tiffany & Co for a quick look. I don’t understand why. Bemused, I try and shout through the closing bullet proof glass doors as she darts in that I’d already got her a Tiffany ring but she appears not to hear. I had visited a diamond mine in the Northern Territory of Australia a few years earlier and bought a champagne diamond. Together we trawled the Tiffany website and selected a beautiful white gold diamond ring, printed the design off and sent it all to my aunty in Singapore a jeweler who had it made to size and sent it back. All this to replace the original diamond engagement ring I’d bought Nani after proposing. She lost this one within ten months of being married – it’s loss presumably contributed to by the fact that she considered it more a grain of sand than the “rock” she was hoping for. But the replacement – this counts as a Tiffany ring doesn’t it? Evidently not, because Nani says one day she wants to get something from Tiffany in that little blue box. I wonder to myself if those boxes can be bought on Ebay.

Singapore; Selling out at Sentosa

We’re at Tiong bahru market for breakfast, an enormous food hall. The range of cuisine here is absurd! I only ever eat one of two things for brekky back home; muesli or oat porridge. Here we eat roast chicken rice, noodles and char siew, char siew bao, chicken glutinous rice, goreng pisang (deep fried bananas) and other dishes I can’t identify. The vast number of stalls selling every kind of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Nonya cuisine you can think of beggars belief. If one could measure say food density of a nation – say tonnes of food per square kilometre, I reckon Singapore would take the durian cake. I take video of the various stalls until the Kuih stall lady yells at me to go away. I dig kuih, but I”m not buying any of hers today.

What I can’t understand is that despite eating huge breakfasts, cooked lunches, and dinners there are actually skinny people here! I can’t eat the quantities of these people who are three fourths my size and they are still thin?! I feel these people should be co-opted and dissected to find out by what dark magic they process all these calories defying the laws of thermodynamics and remaining thin.

A huge sign on a building with a leaping tiger says Tiger Balm works where it hurts – but if you ask me there are definitely places that might hurt (particularly orifices) that you definitely don’t want Tiger Balm anywhere near – think Deep Heat.

Our next stop is the Wee Clinic which has nothing to do with urology. My aunty Wee Hong Neo (the phoenix lady my brother in law tells me) is an excellent GP. In fact on our way home from India in 2000 Nani was similarly sick and we stopped by and she diagnosed our first pregnancy – news to which we were both aghast due to the cocktail of vaccines we had been pumped with to go to the sub continent. She’s probably getting sick of us being sick and dropping by to arm ourselves to the teeth with scripts but goes about her business in a very business like manner but generously (and surprisingly) produces three ang pow for the children, who are quite amazed. Sadly because of the condition of the kids, she feels it best not to visit for Christmas because their great grandmother may just not be strong enough to fight their germy germs so we’re at a loose end for Christmas day. I had been looking forward to seeing my Singapore relatives, but it won’t be this trip.

We have stashed the kids with John at River Valley Rd and Nani urges me to visit ViVo an enormous new shopping centre. She says I need to experience it to have my world broadened. Who is she kidding? I politely decline (well, I just decline) and she knows well enough not to persevere without wasting precious shopping time takes off like an Olympic sprinter.

I head out of ViVo situated on the water front along the almost deserted 525m Sentosa Island boardwalk across the causeway to “Asia’s favorite playground”. Think Disney World meets the far east. Along the way, marketing plastered on columns tells me;

Exciting variety awaits.
Be surprised
A dazzling musical extravaganza
A theatrical circus spectacular
The worlds largest anamatronic crane performance (there are others?)
Ride the movies
Indulge in luxury shopping and rejuvenate yourself
Savor eclectic favors

With such anticipation tempered by some healthy skepticism I eagerly pay the $1 entrance fee.

I wander through the visitor centre and there seems to be lots to do here so grabbing a map, I head off. Happily the place seems fairly deserted (it comes alive at night when it’s cool – only dumb westerners would come here in the day). There are a few people around the entrance to Universal Studios – maybe everyone else is inside. I’m here to see what I can see for free though so I keep moving.
I’m looking for the Lake of Dreams – this appeals to me and might be a good place to just contemplate. It turns out to be a complex series of sculptures and

various pools and water that shoots periodically into the air. The sculptures are kind of other-worldly so I can see the connection to dreams but it’s no place to dream

except of finding a urinal which so far has eluded me. It seems there is one at a nearby hotel (there are lots of hotels here. I can’t believe anyone would stay though) – but alas this one is closed for cleaning.

Another building proudly proclaims “A million moments. One World.” which I like really because I have no idea what it means. It’s cryptic – the sort of thing a sage would tell you when you’re young and then when you are old you realize he was right and you nod knowingly. A huge statue of Rodin the great philosopher sits contemplating above the lake of dreams. He’s doing what I like to do. Sitting and thinking. I’m pleased that some thought has been given to … thought here because all the other statues are of pinnochio and his kind. Rodin is wondering what “a million moments – one world” means. I leave him to it.

I ascend past the five foot high letters that spell Sentosa. It is here that I discover an interesting game – photographing people photographing people. I mean simply photographing the word “Sentosa” would be boring for me and even more so for the people upon whom I inflict my slide show when I get back. So the challenge is thus; capture the photographer, their camera, their subject and the thing their subject is standing in front of. I always mock these kind of tourist photos – “oh this is me in front of the colliseum. And here’s one of me in front of the Great Wall. And that’s one of me in front of the plane we flew on”. These photos are as boring as bat shit (and after Mulu, I know my batshit). and they are totally uncreative so this game – which I admit is a little stalkerish really does make it fun and quite a challenge because you have to be really fast to get into position and catch that Kodak moment.

Ascending further I take mild interest in the 37 metre high part lion, part mermaid the famous Singapore mythical Merlion. The 16 toothed (not four as you would initially think) beast has 320 scales and is decorated with a “sand dollar” icon, or so say the cutesy little information boards. It’s nice that the sculpture that is most identified with this nation pays homage to the mighty dollar. I mean what do Aussies get? A furry mammal with a pocket in front that has a penchant for jumping in front of cars and B Double trucks! Great.

Pleasantly I start to notice some luxurious gardens and cooling waterfalls. A beautiful and colofully designed Merlion Walk through which water flows among sculptures of fish and other aquatic life gently slopes down toward Beach Station. Trees on both sides reach their canopies toward one another forming a green tunnel through which I walk. I get a few more tourist photos of tourists wishing that I could get one standing behind a spouting fish that would make me look like I’m doing a whizz, but the people here look so… wholesome, I don’t dare ask them.

Beach Station where hot pink shuttle trains on the overhead skyflier rails weave their way across the island has a huge indoor sky diving centre The Singapore iFLY “where anyone can fly” – except I assume the very young, the very old, the pregnant, the stroke victim, the blind, the…. From here I can see the beach but I’m running out of time – so much to see and I’m actually enjoying myself.

Heading back toward the mainland I hear the familiar scream of cicadas in a strip of virgin rainforest. The Imbiah Nature Trails fork here and I’m sorely tempted. Near a place where huge brightly colored Macaws sit with tourists for photographs is the beginning of the Feng shui trail. This could be just the yang I need to counter Singapore’s all-pervading consumer yin, but sadly I have to settle for descending the leafy and impressive plantings of Imbiah terrace at the bottom of which is KFC which to my amazement sells egg tarts. At 5pm having not eaten since breakfast the devious consumer Yin wins and I succumb bowing before the Colonel’s great multinational.

On my way out along the still deserted boardwalk (does everyone drive or catch the train across?) Bosch speakers mounted all the way along plays acoustic instrumental music (sounding to me like Tommy Immanuel) and a butterfly drifts past. The plantings beside which i walk are tropical rainforest (a sign tells me so). I wake the sleeping ticket counter lady to ask what the music is. She doesn’t know. No matter, I feel happy. Reaching ViVo to meet Nani with seven minutes to spare, opposite Marks and Spencer I notice the white tiles, are gold flecked.

Mulu Farewell and Canopy Walk

The rain started sometime in the night and continued through breakfast. We farewell the Ongs and stash our gear with security (although there was no one guarding it). I check if the canopy walk is still on and it depends on each guide but ours says for now “yes”.

I tear Nani away from facebooking in the gift shop and our family and two young Parisians join us. The walk is 5km return all up and takes us high above the forest floor into the canopy between 25-35 m above the ground. The Mulu canopy walk along rope bridges slung from tree to tree at 480m is the longest in the world. We are told that if it wasn’t raining we could see giant squirrels, hornbill birds, maybe monkeys and insects of all kinds. We don’t see any but after acclimating to the vertigo and the rocking rope bridges the experience of the canopy is peaceful and quiet – until Nani gets ticked off with the noise of our kids and them jumping on the rope bridges and gets stuck into them. No-one is enjoying the ambience now and abbey is crying.

I separate the kids from their mother and take them out of sight in front so she can chill and listen to the guide who follows up the rear. Our guide is a Penan one of the original nomadic jungle dwellers of Borneo. His name is Ishmael and he is also a Christian pastor after his grandfather a powerful shaman converted.

After descending from the tree tops the boys and I make for HQ stopping to touch the feral rattan plant we looked at yesterday. A type of palm, it supplies the familiar rattan for basket weaving, but is covered in nasty spines. This doesn’t make it feral though. When I touch it, the whole plant shivers and rattles like the sound of rice tumbling inside bamboo. What would make a plant react to touch? It’s symbiotic little friends the ants. When you touch the plant, the ants jump to attention all up the inside of the stem. You can’t see them, but I’m pretty weirded out by it because I can imagine the whole plant splitting open and a monsoon of ants falling all over me. I much prefer seeing the majestic metallic blue Raja Brookes butterfly fluttering past and the hammer head worm on the hand rail as we move on.

Mulu Park is run really well. The place is open 365 days, it is clean and the food is good. It caters for everyone (from hard core adventure caving to simple easy walks) and the infrastructure is impressive from the concrete paths and board walks which get high pressure cleaned to prevent them getting slippery, lights which tastefully show off features of the cave and the commitment to conservation and nature appreciation and education is laudable. All the amenities are clean and it’s easy to organize guided walks which are a bit exe but worth it and self guided walks are available too.

Most of all it’s just mind blowing the scale and variety of the caves and of course the bats flying out on dusk is spellbinding.

Abbey sings the flamingo song which is a ridiculous song she made up that seems to be constantly evolving. Initially the boys were hysterical but it has been overdone now and they hate it now, which inspires her even more. It is to a tune similar to the Farmer in the Dell;

flamingoes like to fly
They fly to the sky
They fly so high
That they die die die

The dogs start to bark
Cos the cats go in the park
A rhino comes along
And says roar roar roar!

And then a horse comes along
And scratches you across the cheek
With one almighty sharp claw

Lachie comes along
And stomps his feet
A cow comes along
And listens to the beat
Stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp

Abbey comes along and eats a chewy bar
Chew chew chew
Oscar comes along
And says la la la
Dad and mum comes along
And says blah blah blah

We’re on our way to Sandakan

Kuching, SIM disasters and shopping in the rain

20111202-212730.jpghe 5am start today made it the equivalent of 8am AEST so going back to sleep wasn’t going to happen. I had walked Nani to her taxi and she asked me to photograph the drivers I.D in case she went missing. She either has a vivid imagination or an over active sense of caution.

It’s pouring rain which makes the shower drain in our lunch box sized room gurgle. Somehow the storm water downpipe and our shower drain are intimate in ways I’m sure are not healthy (something like brothers and sisters marrying). I pretend I like the gurgling like its a water feature as I lie on the hard mattress and wait for dawn.

20111202-214059.jpgThe kids are awake around 6 so by 6.30 we can’t hold out any longer. We head down to the common room for the second B of the B&B. When we enter we rouse someone sleeping on the floor. It’s Chris the manager – now that’s commitment to the cause! He gets up and starts pulling out fruit, fresh bread, spreads, cups and plates. He laughs with the kids and teaches them to juggle while I toast their bread. After brekky he plays guitar while the kids play Jenga and scrabble on the floor. 16 Brisbane Grammar year 12 girls on an end of school trip with their minders appear. Time to clear out.

Chris makes Nomad B&B what it is. He’ll probably blow dart my aussie ass for saying this but oddly he reminds me of Rob Schneider and who doesn’t consider Rob a close friend? You can do eeet!

It’s not the most modern nor the cleanest of hostels but judging by former guests texta scrawls on the wall it’s one of the most popular. An Iban by birth Chris sports traditional tattoos by world famous Ernesto the Borneo Headhunter and his hand tapping method. He tees up an appointment for me to get a consultation for some inkwork on my shoulder.

A pet giant snakehead lurks in a fish tank in the common room. Ernesto had tried for 2 years to catch one before landing this one in a lake “somewhere” and repatriating it to become Nomad’s mascot. I ask if I can photograph it by inserting my waterproof camera. Chris says it bit the last person who tried. Snakehead have been described as the mafia of the waterways because they literally mug their prey without warning so I take a happy snap through the glass. The snakehead drifts towards me nonchalantly, eyeball swiveling as he sizes me up. He’s thinking he could take me.

A smaller fish swims around with him. This confuses me as snakehead are renowned for being aggressive and territorial. Chris explains it was put in there as food but it had refused to eat it. Normally it just inhales live fish so fast you can’t even see it happen, but it seems it’s taken this little guy under his wing and decided to befriend him. Chris said he did this with another fish once before. I ask what happened to it and he says the snakehead ate it after 2 months. Must have been a fishy falling out I guess.

I get to Celcom to buy a SIM card and am directed to a reseller because they didn’t have stock. The sun was merciless on our walk to the reseller. I break out the umbrella. After hacking a normal SIM down to a micro with some expert surgery involving a cutter and blade it’s slid into my iPhone. This is where things go pear shaped. We learn the phone is locked. This is after me calling Telstra last week to discuss using an overseas SIM. I jump on the resellers laptop and find a number for Telstra that can be dialed from overseas (not easy). I call and am on hold freaking out because I’m global roaming and I’ve heard the horror stories of the charges people have been extorted. Telstra ask for my IMEI and process the unlock (something they used to charge for) and tell me I will need to sync with iTunes after waiting anywhere from 5-72 hrs. Umm hello? I don’t have my Mac with me?!? Thank god I’ve sent the kids off to look around because this was starting to really stress me out. My head is starting to hurt. I pay for the celcom SIM wondering how the hell I’m going to sync to iTunes and take the kids to buy some sandals because when we arrived Oscar ripped his sandals apart.

We catch a taxi back to Nomad after lunch and on arriving Abbey says she’s lost her shoulder bag – I mean the shoulder bag Nani’s friend had lent her for the trip. You have to be kidding me! I round on her and say “so we have to spend another 24rm to go there and back to retrieve a bag with 10rm and a 6rm pair of socks in it? Huh?!” Then I read her the riot act. All I want is for you just to look after your own stuff!” I’m ticked. My head hurts. The taxi driver takes us back. We go upstairs to the hawker store and I make her ask the staff. No bag. I find the waitress who cleared our table. Nope. Now we’ve spent 24rm retrieving nothing. Hang on. Maybe she left it in the toilet.
We had been to the toilet earlier. A strange experience as there was a bloke sitting in front selling tickets. The boys walked straight past him. I stood and looked at what was going on. Half of the patrons paid, half just walked through. I decided to pay 20sen for Abbey. He gave me a blue ticket. Was there a ticket collector in there like at the movies? I ask for toilet paper when I see the little rolls in front of him. 10sen. I gave Abbey the TP and in she went. I then went in myself. Nobody collected my ticket. The urinal was an amazing baked on yellow color from decades of abuse and the smell might have been similar to the smelling salts they must give boxers who are partially KO’d because it really jolted me and cleared the sinuses. The boys reckoned the toilets were long drops and the floor was all wet in there and there were hoses lying in there for two purposes (use imagination). They thought it was amazing in an amusing “check this out!” kind of way. Fortunately my kids are used to gross stuff and have an appreciation for levels of grossness that deserves an award. What was amazing was that it was the only toilet we had been charged for and it was the worst! No wonder half the people didn’t pay – silent protest?

So we rush back to the box office of the toilet from hell and our ticket seller notices us and hands over the red shoulder bag. I make Abbey use all her money to pay the taxi driver. He must have pitied Abbey and gives me a 3rm discount.

I send the kids to the room to rest instructing them not to open the door for anyone. We decide on a line from their favorite movie Benchwarmers as my password for them to let me in. I wander over the road keen for some man-time to chill out and restore my zen. I knock on the door of the Borneo Head Hunter Tattoo Studio and Robinson lets me in.

I head upstairs to Ernesto’s dimly lit and smoky studio decorated with antique malay artifacts, statues and art. Neither Robinson nor Ernesto wear tops – just shorts. They have long hair and traditional Iban tattoos on their backs, chest and arms. Ernesto is playing a guitar. I meet another Aussie there who is psyching himself up to have a tattoo banged in with a stick the ancient tap tap method for which Ernesto is world famous for. He gets flown around the world by conventions who bring him out to demonstrate his craft. The Aussie from Melbourne teaches English in South Korea.

I start to chill out and we start to discuss what I want. I tell them my life changed after a difficult experience and that I had to fight to get to where I am today after experiencing severe depression. They discuss how Iban would symbolize this. Warriors used markings to commemorate significant events on their journeys. They say that the dragon represents my story of victory but I don’t want a dragon. Then they say the serpent has new life because it sheds its skin. I don’t want a serpent. I have second thoughts. We talk a bit more and they speak in Malay and Robinson starts drawing. I’m not sure what they’ve decided but I’m chilling so let it all happen. I flip through their albums and learn the significance of various patterns. I learn how the dragon is embedded in the pattern (unrecognizable if you don’t know what to look for). I ask if they can omit this element and they’re cool. I eventually find the style I’m looking for and Ernesto said that’s exactly the style they were working up for me. Bingo. It’s based loosely on a stylized crab prized because of its tough armor. The first draft is readied and held to my shoulder. But it’s not yet what I had imagined I wanted. I suggested some modifications and Ernesto and Robinson made some changes. It looks great. The consult has gone an hour and another Aussie arrives. he’s from Healesville but works in Singapore. I ask if his tap tap tats hurt much. He reckons its much better than machine and you bleed less so it heals faster.

It’s time to wrap up. The ESL teacher has waited an hour so i ask for a quote and we make a tentative date. they spread out a bamboo mat. I ask to watch a bit and he asks me to take a few happy snaps. Ernesto dips a long stick with a needle attached into the ink. Robinson seated on the other side stretches the Aussies skin and Ernesto starts tapping. I click a few off and it’s time to go.

After a good one hour man time my zen is restored and I cross the road to make sure the children haven’t become the contraband of a well oiled people trafficking operation and aren’t already en route to Thailand – one of Nani’s concerns about them being out of eyesight. They’re are still there and much password asking and giggling takes place. I doubt much rest took place.

With the kids still bouncy (remember that neither pooh, rabbit, or eeyore appreciated tigger’s bouncing) I had to take them out again despite needing zzz’s myself. I’m looking for shoes for Lachie that he can bash around jungle trails tomorrow. As we ready to head out the heavens open with a downpour and a few flashes of lightning. Everyone outside takes cover. We do too but ours is umbrella and waterproof jackets. We walk in the pelting rain that is so hard it penetrates my umbrella. We slosh through roads now running with water. The air is cooler now and much more pleasant. The kids are loving it. Isn’t it fun walking in the rain? Sometimes it’s good to be reminded to see things as a child.
After trying three or four shopping centers we find shoes. Our pants are soaked from the runoff but i didn’t buy quick dry for nothing. The kids don’t mind. Time to eat.

We ask shop staff and they point “down there” for some good makan. We eat chicken and mushroom handmade noodles and drink iced teh tarik. We finish this off with fried bananas. There were other fried things. We asked about them but language failed. A boy came over and tried to help but he couldn’t remember the English words for them either. I figured one was sweet potato and bought a few of the other small fried mysteries that were about chicken nugget size. The food comes with a plate of red sauce. The bananas were yummy but the sauce turned out to be sweet chilli so it was strange but we kept dipping. I bit into one of the nuggets and there was a nut inside it. A chewy fairly flavorless nut a bit like a chestnut but firmer. It wasn’t til I got to the end of it I detected a faint taste like durian then realized it was something like jack fruit and the seed wasn’t meant to be eaten. Duh. I informed the rest.

We decided to walk along the beautiful paved waterfront along the swollen Kuching river as the light faded. Small hawker stores dotted the banks selling drinks, ice creams, souvenirs and popcorn. Abbey says hi to a group of soldiers. Some say hi, others ignore her. She keeps going and I’m thinking “maybe not a good idea honey”. Then she starts marching alongside them (they weren’t marching).

We wend our way through the old part of town with its rustic old buildings, narrow streets and open drains buying pink and white sticky, soft chewy kway? Queh? The pink turtles steamed on a square of pandan leaf had yellow bean inside and the white golf ball looking ones had sweet shredded coconut.

I have succeeded in wearing out the kids. It was their best day of the trip so far they said. I’m wondering where on earth can I hook up to iTunes.

My Singaporean Dilemma

Singapore will be no doubt be a welcome and dramatic contrast with East Malaysia. Unique in that Singaporeans have managed to turn shopping and eating out into a national sport – I know because I’m married to one, and the son of another. If there were an Olympic event that involved a marathon of shopping and eating, a Singaporean would be atop the dais proudly lifting his gold medal as Majulah Singapura played. On days off, Singaporeans seem to plan their days around where they will eat and shop. When the food arrives, it is mandatory to photograph it for some reason. The mantra played out is “eat til you drop, then shop shop shop”. Everything else is incidental.

So my wife will be disappearing down some dingy hawker lanes periodically (approximately four times daily) and in between those times, shopping in massive malls. In Singapore, you can experience all the excesses of western consumerism and affluenza happily minus the chewing gum, spittle and graffiti. Unfortunately, being an Aussie and a country one to boot, I can’t stand it. Actually I lie. I can stand about an hour of it, then I go ‘troppo’ as we say down under.

The kids will only slow her down (she tends to move at lightning speed with the meal breaks also serving as a pit stop) as she attempts to cover as much retail floorspace in as little time possible, so they get sick of being dragged from shop to boutique to department store in about a half hour. All this means, the kids and I will be finding other more sedentary and enjoyable pursuits, hopefully away from the main tourist beat, where we can just enjoy Singapore and each other.

Here’s what we’re thinking of doing:

I haven’t heard of anyone who has visited Little India and said they didn’t enjoy it or didn’t recommend it to others. Travelers note that if they didn’t know they were in Singapore, they would think they were actually in India. Think amazing colors, people, food smells, buildings, shops and temples.

Although touristy, I think I’ll make a concession as the kids would absolutely love the Night Safari, Jurong Bird Park and Singapore Zoo. We’ll probably buy a 2 or 3 park hopper pass which will allow us to see these attractions for a small discount.

Stories are powerful and Australia has a shared history with Singapore given that many of our troops were stationed there under British command during WWII. Sadly the British believed the Japanese would only attack from the sea and had all their defences directed seaward. Instead the enemy cleverly commandeered bicycles and rode down from the north. Singapore capitulated in a short few weeks and 15,000 of our lads were imprisoned in Changi prison where stories of survival in Japanese internment are now legendary. I’m looking forward to our children discovering some of the story of our joint history at Changi Museum. Lest we forget.

Sentosa Island would be great (maybe), but we’ll probably shy away because of how much everything costs there including food and I’ll probably be sick of seeing tourists and being shuttled from one queue to another by that stage. I hate theme parks too, and while Universal Studios is located there, the whole of Sentosa Island seems to be one giant theme park (to someone who lives on an island 90 times bigger than Singapore with 10 times less people)

Early immigrants from Canton and Fujian provinces in China settled where Chinatown is today. It will be nice to just wander around here in the old part of town and maybe visit the Chinatown Heritage Centre, check out the old temples and shops.

The Singapore Flyer is a great way to see the city. It’s the equivalent of the London Eye only taller.  There’s also a rainforest discovery centre there, which may be a bit passe after Borneo, but we’ll see. The ticket also includes entry into the Journey of Dreams which is a multimedia and interactive experience around the history, culture, architecture and aspirations of Singapore and the building of the flyer.

Sands at Marina Bay, puts on a Water and Light Spectacular a 13 minute show to a 140 piece symphony orchestra soundtrack. It’s free and apparently it’s really good (possibly even spectacular).  Since I’m avoiding Sentosa, this is a little concession to keep Nani happy since she has fond memories of Sentosa’s light show. Show times are 8 and 9.30PM with an extra 11PM thrown in on the weekend. Wandering the Singapore river would be nice visiting Boat Quay, and Clarke Quay seeing the historical buildings, bridges and even doing a cheap river cruise.

As far as nature goes, Singaporeans have actually done a pretty good job of keeping the city green, despite their desperate need for more land and the effort they go to reclaim it from the sea. For just getting outdoors and experiencing nature their national parks look great. If we want to just chill out, we could visit Mount Faber, one of the oldest of the parks which connects to Sentosa via cable car. If we do end up at Mount Faber, I’d love to walk over Singapore’s highest pedestrian walkway Henderson Waves an amazing wave form bridge. At the end of gardening hub Hort Park a Canopy Walk through secondary rainforest connecting to Kent Ridge park looks beautiful. It’s 300 metres long and ends up at Reflections of Bukit Chandu which is a museum covering the history of Opium Hill and the battalion of the Malay Regiment in the Pasir Panjang Area 1400 of whom bravely took on 13,000 Japanese soldiers during WWII.

Finally, the most historic and oldest areas of Singapore is only a stones throw from the infamous Orchard Road in Fort Canning Park where ancient relics dating back to the 14th century have been unearthed and the Fort Gate, remnant of the fortress built in the 1860s, is a reminder of Singapore’s colonial past.

We’ll probably travel mostly on the MRT and by foot since the Singapore train network is one of the best in the world. Trains are a novelty for our kids, so just buying a top-up rail pass and getting on and off at random places will be fun. The MRT website is pretty cool, since you can select a particular station and see what attractions are around it.

So aside from these distractions, we’ll be catching up with plenty of friends and family and celebrating Christmas Day on this beautiful, clean, hi-tech but somewhat green island-city, also known as the cash register of Asia.

Adventures with kids

I love the website JM Cremps Adventures for Boys. Even though I haven’t yet purchased anything there, I love their idea “If you want a life filled with adventure, you better start when you’re young.” And they have very cool stuff, that I would have loved when I was a boy – hunting, fishing, military, science, camping and treasure hunting stuff – who wouldn’t love it?

Hence our philosophy with kids and travel. We regularly take the kids hiking, climbing, swimming, geocaching, fishing and camping. They absolutely love the outdoors and the way we look at it, everything is an adventure.

We reckon it stimulates them, promotes learning and is great for their health and it sets them up for a curious and active lifestyle as adults.

The trick is though, to avoid turning kids off (I’ve heard the stories of kids who hate fishing, because their dad took them fishing for hours and hours on end and bored them silly with it), their experiences have to be positive. That doesn’t mean they can’t have hardship – we definitely don’t cotton wool them, but the hardship can’t outweigh the positives. So what we do is make sure they have the right gear.

Yeah, I was taken to the snow in gumboots and jeans with no gloves as a kid, and if you’ve ever done that you know exactly what I mean – scarred for life. We try and equip our kids with the right gear to have a great experience. That means they have to be warm (if it’s cold) and cool when it’s warm. They need decent rainwear and footwear. Sleeping bags have to warm enough. When fishing, I don’t take them for hours and hours without a bite, in fact I do a fair bit of homework to make sure we’ll get fish. In fact, on one particular day Lachie and I caught so many trout an article I wrote about it was published in Freshwater Fishing Magazine.

The difficulty with all this is that it can get fairly expensive, especially when they keep growing out of stuff. Fortunately with boots and jackets, they can pass it down the food chain to the small one, so we can buy quality stuff so it lasts. Labeling is a big deal since they tend to leave stuff behind at various places (there’s a bike helmet looking for its owner in Low Head). Other stuff is going to be a compromise between decent quality and price if they’re going to grow out of it quickly.

We’ve found eBay pretty useful. Lachie’s first hiking boots are HiTec from UK. I think I paid about £4 for them and asked for the slowest (cheapest) sea freight they could find. Abbey is now wearing them. Other stuff we get online from the US. The sting with them is international shipping. I’m experimenting now with a freight forwarder who repack and ship with cheaper shipping options.

The other issue to keep in mind when it comes to gear is not to buy the best whenever getting into something. Some people decided to take their kids on a hike and end up spending hundreds of bucks on the best gear, never to be used again because the kid hated it, or it just didn’t press their buttons. You never know with kids. Not only that, they trash stuff. Get the good gear after using make-do stuff for a couple of years, to make sure it’s not just a fad.

Lastly, I think it’s best to consider moving slowly with kids. Everything takes about twice as long. They just take ages to do everything. They have to poo, wee and drink often. They like investigating stuff. They stand about talking to each other instead of walking. They don’t keep up. It can really frustrate if you’re running tight on time. So we plan to do half as much and have loads of time up our sleeve. In fact, moving at kids pace is an awesome way to go on holidays. The experience is so much richer and recharging.

PS. on the pooing issue – always carry wet wipes
PPS. nudie swims are really fun

Travel Insurance and Procrastination

When Nani mentioned that I’d better buy insurance, I felt that inward groan you feel when you’re faced with something you definitely don’t want to do, but know you definitely have to. Like going to the dentist. In my mind I said “Why do I have to buy it? Why don’t you?” but then I don’t like tempting fate and having never been a victim of domestic violence, I’d like to keep that record intact for a while longer.

I know she’s right, so I can’t fight it. But I can procrastinate. A kind of of silent protest. A sit in if you like.

It’s just I hate comparing policies and wading through voluminous words put together by legal eagles paid obscene amounts to turn normal English into some kind of Englishese sub-dialect comprising words rarely used of more than four syllables and as little punctuation as possible. They probably get bonuses for constructing whole paragraphs out of one sentence through the devious use of colons, dashes, semi colons, parenthesis and commas.

So I turn to cousin Roger who’s a professional couch surfer overseas and a bit of a maven. In his spare time he works as a patent attorney (more or less to support his couch surfing habit). From his borrowed couch in Hernhut he messaged me that he is using Southern Cross which has flashing gifs on the website about some five star rating or something.

I just pumped our details in the “Get Quote” section and it came up with $188 for the family, but who knows what that covers?? Do I really want to read the fine print – aka schedule of benefits? *shudder*

On the other hand, my virtual “friends” at Indie Travel Podcast (I say that because when you listen to people podcast enough, you feel like you know them) rate World Nomads who want me to donate $212 to their cause and I have to add high value items separately (they want an extra $45 to insure my iPhone).

And on it goes… A solo female traveler I know of whose email address is minxymail@apopularemailsite.com recommends QBE. I insure my motorbike with QBE – maybe minxy is onto something… I wonder if they’ll give me a discount for being a good customer so far? What does minxy mean? So many questions. Too many options. Procrastination really is the best for now.