Wednesday, 5 June 2013

They are coming to get me...


On Monday night it was a cockroach, that scuttled from between my legs whilst I was sat on the loo. I have never 'nipped off' so quick in all my life. It clearly sensed I was at my most vulnerable with my pants round my ankles and went for me. But I summoned all my human wile and cunning and trapped the beggar under a glass. As punishment I left it there all night until the daylight came and I could release it in a verge a considerable number of metres down the road from where I live. In hindsight, I should've mercilessly killed it because it clearly told the insect world that I was easy. A rollover. There for mocking and humiliation.

Last night, as I lay peacefully sleeping, I felt something on my leg COCKROACH! I thought and leapt like a salmon out of the bed and straight to the light switch. I thought I saw something in momentary darkness before the bulb came on. But then could not see anything. I laughed. Ha! It must've been the fan moving my leg hairs. What a twerp! I was climbing back on the bed when I saw it.

A spider the size of a basketball (a small basketball, about the size of a CD, which in fairness may have been emphasised by the night and my fear, so lets say a basketball the size of my fist). Whatever, it was the biggest spider I have ever seen (even bigger than them ones in Seil Island in Scotland many years ago) and I froze. It froze. I froze more. It wiggled its front legs a bit. I thought SHIT! NO GLASS! Not even a long pole to squish it with! It sat there, in the place where I wanted to be so much (it was 3.30am), I was insanely jealous of it and it had to be gone. I look around for the heaviest object I could find - "Practical English in Use" by Michael Swan (second edition) - and launched it at the beastly thing. To my eyes it seemed like the SPIDERSAURUS REX just palmed the book away with one of its mighty leg-hands. In truth, I probably missed it by a whisker. Shit. What next. I considered my laptop briefly but then saw sense - if it got hold of that it'd send an email out to all his pals and they'd all be here and I'd have to burn the room down. I was at a loss. WHAT COULD I THROW AT IT?! Then I glimpsed "500 Activities for Primary School Classes" (lobbing the book at spider is probably not one of them). HA ARACHNID! You are breathing your last breath! I had to move the other book out of the way to get a good shot. That meant getting within jumping distance of the lithe 8-legged facebiter. I edged close and tried to delicately move the book, but then the spidder king ran like the clappers up my wall and up on to the ceiling... I CAN'T THROW A BOOK AT A CEILING THAT JUST WON'T WORK!!! I had to wait. It needed to be on the ground. I had to wait. I waited. It sat up high, probably thinking that my eyes looked like great places to lay some eggs in. Then it scuttled. It scuttled faster that a Renault 5 around the ceiling closer to me. I retreated to the safety the light. THIS IS NO GOOD DAVE. Show him who is boss here. I needed a ranged weapon with enough sting to take down the ARACHEE GUNSHIP. I had a pair of socks, the pants I had on and a pencil. No. Bloody. Good. Then I thought I could whip it with a towel. That should be enough to crush its kevlar-like exo-skeleton, or at least take 1 of it's 8 eyes out. I wound the towel up. Took aim. then the bastard scuttled again in to a safe corner where I could not unleash the power of my towel SCUD missile. Shiiiiit. This was the end game. It was winning. I needed a clear shot in the open, it crouched in a corner, seemingly knowing it was safe. I did what I had to do. I told facebook about it.

IN THOSE BRIEF 20 SECONDS my gaze was averted, it turned it's invisibility on and vanished. Oh fuck. This is the last thing I wanted to happen. I'm tired, it's 2 hours until my alarm goes off. What do I do?! I waited it out for 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes. It did not appear. I decided I would try to sleep, but I could not sleep where I was before. It knew my habits. I had last seen it mere centimetres from where my head would be. So I slept in the furthest possible corner of the bed like on the attached diagram. I slept with one eye open and a readiness to leap.

And I am still alive now. Tonight will bring new terror. 

BE SURE TO CHECK UNDER YOUR LAPTOP FOR THE SPIDER. It may have attached itself to this blog entry and be coming to terrorise you. I AM SORRY. SO VERY SORRY.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Thailand calls...

Singapore was done, for now. Thailand was the final destination on my little jaunt, and Railay in particular was the spot where I was to meet up with Graham (who'd been in Kuala Lumpur for the F1 Grand Prix), Paul (a long time mate who has been in Thailand for the last 7 years) and Gareth (Jill's fella, who'd just finished work on the Malaysian Apprentice which he had described, in no uncertain terms, as an "thorough clusterfuck"). In fact, Gareth and Jill had not seen each other for nigh on 6 weeks as Jill had been in the UK for a few weeks, and Gareth had been in Malaysia, and yet he chose to come to Thailand with me. I think Jill was quite happy about this as she said it would mean he'd be way more chilled out than coming back to Singapore straight from the mess of The Apprentice. Now there's a top lass. I did make clear to him that as he was out with Jill's big bro he was on a strong warning of 'look no touch'.

So yes. Ao Nang bound. I had missed out on cheap flights to Krabi (about an hour to Ao Nang) so plumped for a flight to Phuket, a mere 3 hour bus ride. The 7 minute taxi ride from Phuket airport to the bus stop cost me 300B. The 3 hour bus ride cost me 150B. Oh Thailand, how I had missed thee.

YES! I WAS BACK! Thailand! The land where wing mirrors are for preening, 'blended spirits' are drank by the gallon for breakfast and the sun mostly shined.  A broad smile was on my face throughout the taxi ride as I took it all in again. Palm trees, bad driving, THE SUNSHINE. The bus stop was a dusty, broken bench next to the road with an old woman selling tickets and bits of food. I tried out my rusty Thai. She laughed and helped me out, to the extent of even peeling some boiled quail eggs for me. Not that I'd asked for them mind, she just assumed I wanted them and then charged me.

As I waited at the bus stop a taxi pulled up and a western lass struggled to exit it. I half-expected the leg in medical bandaging to be honest, and wasn't at all surprised to see it. Apparently according to Thais us westerners are always dropping off scooters and the like, and its a running joke really among them. I'm not sure why we're so shit at it. Anyway, Bea was her name and she was Norwegian. As though the blonde hair, blue eyes and stunning looks didn't bely that already. She had travelled the world in celebration of completing her Psychology Masters, taking in the Caribbean, the US, Bali and few other stops. In Bali her fella had flown out to meet her. One night a car had decided to reverse out in to the road without lights on and her fella smashed the scooter he was riding in to it. She was on the back, and her knee was left looking not unlike a Predator's mouth judging by the photos. Pretty soon after that, her fella scooted back off to Norway for work, leaving her to travel on rather incapacitated. She was OK with this, and was quite pragmatic about it - she'd rather travel/hobble on than go home.

As the bus arrived I did the English gent routine and made sure her bags were on the bus and she got a decent seat. We had a good natter on the bus - she was keen to hear about India - and by the time we arrived at Ao Nang I'd decided I rather liked Bea and we'd agreed to meet up later for drinks with the rest of my lot. Ultimately she ended up knocking about with us for a couple of days, in which time I introduced her to Railay and laab muu. Railay was our actual final destination for this trip; I'd been there previously and was blown away by it. So far it's the best beach resort Thailand has shown me in my 4 trips to the country. It was just as I had remembered it - soaring limestone karsts erupting out of the sea, bookending two fantastic beaches, and despite being on the mainland, only reachable by boat. There was perhaps a little more development, but it wasn't overdone.

We rocked up on Railay west beach, and after making sure Bea's leg remained dry and that she was installed on a beachfront table, me, Graham, Gareth and Paul sauntered off to find some value digs. We found some. We found a tent. A tent in a tropical climate. With one fan. Four lads, in a tent, in a tropical country. What on earth could go wrong? Well, nowt actually. Just a very pleasant few days pottering about, catching up with Paul and Gareth and chilling out. It was ace. Railay will be the beach destination of the eventual trips over by the parents.

Hairy monkey climbs rock

Gareth indulging in one of his favoured hobbies

One conversation amongst many we had was inevitably about lasses and Thai lasses, and generally lasses around the world. I'm not sure why it cropped up, possibly Paul answering why he had decided on Thailand. He himself won't mind me saying that part of his reason was an attraction to Asian women, or rather he suffers from 'Yellow Fever', as he succinctly phrased it. After falling for Bea ever so slightly I did ponder aloud whether I, in that case, suffered from Norwegian Wood.

We headed back to Ao Nang for Graham's birthday and following some extraordinarily good go-karting had a very boozy night out. We found an entertainment complex which, sadly, mirrored the worst that tourist Thailand can offer but it did us fine for the intended drink-until-you-fall-down session.

Following Ao Nang/Railay, the next stop for me and Graham was Bangkok. I had forgotten how shit travelling long distance is in Thailand. The trip to Bangkok, using one of the tourist buses, saw us transported in two different minibuses (with a decent wait inbetween), then put on a larger coach with shit aircon and knackered seats. We left Ao Nang in mid-afternoon and arrived in Bangkok on 2 hours sleep at about 4am. We needed to get the MRT (underground) to my mate Tony's gaff but the MRT didn't open til 6am. As it was a tourist bus, we were dropped off close to Khao San Road and left to the mercy of rabid taxi drivers. The nearest MRT station was at Bangkok train station, no more than a 10 minute ride at this time of day. 600B (£12) was the first quote I laughed off. Ultimately we got one off-meter at 100B. On the meter it would've have been closer to 50B but no fucker would take us on the meter. Landing at Tony's a little weary we immediately went to a market to buy stuff for a barbecue that evening.

It was great to catch up with Tony and Cholor. I hadn't seen them since I was last here 3 years ago and they had just moved in to their place. We caught up with each others news, drank a few beers and had the BBQ. Very pleasant indeed. After a couple of days it was time to head north, to make my return to St John's and say hello to some familiar faces.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Haw Par Villa, Singapore. Featuring a tit and 'national treasure' (not the same thing).

Jill had visited Haw Par Villa quite early on in her time in Singapore and insisted I visited it whilst here. It was built by the Aw Boon family, who were behind Tiger Balm - the Asian cure-all for any and all illness. Their intention was to build something that would encourage and teach traditional Chinese values. I'm not really up on Chinese values insofar as the myths and legends they are based on. And since visiting Haw Par, I still have very little idea. They clearly built it whilst experiencing some Tiger Balm induced LSD-type trips, as it is absolutely, undeniably batshit crazy. Let me take you on a (not remotely educational) tour...

A lovely entrance in typical Chinese architectural stylings
The entrance to Haw Par is a colourful affair with concrete-formed rocks and 'waterfalls', cute animals poking their heads out from between rocks and a few signs to point you in various directions.  Once in, you are confronted with a bunch of oversized owls(?) with VERY STARY EYES.

Stary-eyed owl(?)
Onward I progressed up the hill in to the start of the park/villa/thing. Passing through some more concrete re-imaginings of Chinese myths and legends, such as happy looking Buddha types, oriental folk in traditional garb and other scenes of Chinese life. Of sorts.

Happy buddha type. Surfing.

Traditional Chinese folk, doing traditional Chinese things in China. Traditionally.
After 5 minutes of looking through the information boards and various other 'basics of Chinese values' vignettes, I turned a corner and came across an antelope/stag being served by a tortoise with what appeared to be a cup of tea, whilst sat next to the antelope was a rat on a phone. In the same room (which looked a bit like an underground drinking den from eastern Europe), a worried looking hare (possibly rabbit) was being lead somewhere (possibly unpleasant) by another rat. All of them in clothes. Shit just got unreal folks.

See, told you.

Riiiight. And so it went on as I walked about in a state of thorough confusion and excitement about what would come next. Obviously it would be a tortoise riding an ostrich being chased by a toad in a blue hat riding an ostrich, and an angry looking gorilla. Well, a bunch of gorillas, but I only took a photo of one.

I was gaining a valuable insight in to traditional Chinese values at every step, or so the Aw Boons had dearly hoped when they built this acid-trip of a 'theme' park. What I was getting was progressively violent scenes of Chinese folklore. Yep, once the animals were out of the way, humans became the focus of many features. Humans inflicting terrible pain and suffering on other humans. And Stephen Fry trying to kick a baby.

Knife to the head, mo fo'.


Fuck knows whats happening here, but it looks like someone's lobbing ketchup about.

Cop for this, slag.
This is a tale about friendship. Something about not trusting friends who run away when trouble is about.
Trouble being a wolf snapping your leg in half.

Stephen Fry tries to volley a baby.

It was about this point that I began to wonder who the target audience for Haw Par Villa actually was, or had ever been. Perhaps it was built to scare the living bejesus (or Confucius) out of naughty kids. The bloody thing was free in, following years of loss making. Which comes as no bloody surprise. It lost £15million quid in the few short years that the Singapore Authority they tried to charge an entry fee. "Hey family, let's go down Haw Par Villa and see people getting stabbed, chewed and mauled! We can have an ice cream as well!" "Yay!".

But the absolute top end bloodlust was saved for a part of the park/sado-masochists wet dream named THE TEN COURTS OF HELL. The 'feature' depicts, in gory detail, scenes of Hell in Chinese and Buddhist myth. I veritably skipped down the path towards it! But first let's just take a break with a car with a tiger's head on it and some tortoise overcrowding.

OK. Hell it was. Off I ventured. each of THE TEN COURTS OF HELL featured a list of crimes and the punishments meted out to those who committed them. Let us start a little way in, just beyond THE ADMINISTRATION BLOCK OF THE TEN COURTS OF HELL (not actually real, I just made that up to get round the fact I forgot to use a flash at first so pics are a bit crap, but then I remembered).

I won't put too many words in amongst the pics, as I think they're fairly self-explanatory...

Straight out of Haw Par Villa and in to UKIPs manifesto, I believe.
Clearly all these crimes are on a par and no differentiation in punishment should be made. 

Cheated, cursed or abducted someone? Then you will be thrown on to a hill of knives!

A cheater, curser or abductor, on a knife, on a hill.

Sorry mate, you misused a book or wasted food so we're going to have to saw you in half.  

Neglected the old (all of them?!) the utter bastard. Be crushed under boulders you heartless tit.
So yeah, if the kids weren't bawling their eyes out and wimpering before THE TEN COURTS OF HELL you can sure as fuck be sure that they'll be sleeping in your bed for the foreseeable future after coming out of THE TEN COURTS OF HELL. And if that wasn't quite enough, you come out in to the blinding light after 50 metres of dark and blood to be confronted with...

...two giant cockroaches fighting and being egged on by elephants and rats carrying small firearms...

...and an old woman suckling on the breasts of a younger lady, whilst a minor looks gleefully on...

What. The. Actual. Fuck. OK Haw Par, you beat me. Even I'm not weird enough for this shit.

So yeah, Chinese values. Still no fucking clearer but that opium trade really did give the Chinese a wonderful imagination. 


They may as well rename Singapore 'Futuretown' and be done with it. After battling through a rush hour metro system without any sleep for nearly 24 hours, I landed at Jill's ridiculously high-in-the-sky gaff - the curvature of the earth was quite apparent from her balcony - and immediately slumped in to a bed for a few hours.

Let's just set Singapore in a bit of context; in it's modern form it's a young country, only 50 years old. It used to be a huge swamp and now it's apparently the fourth leading financial centre on the planet and has the world's third highest per capita income ($60,000p/a). This has spurred on possibly the most mental development of a country outside the oil lunatic states in the Middle East. Whilst Singapore hasn't decided to construct islands in the shape of  the world or a palm tree or a giant dollar sign for the grossly nouveau riche, it has quite efficiently removed all its virgin rainforest and is undertaking a continuous programme of land reclamation. I can only assume also that the planning department has a super-deluxe version of SimCity, as the city pretty much is SimCity

Having recuperated a little it was time to strike out and get amongst it. We strode out in to the monstrous humidity and within 5 minutes I was sweaty mess. No chance of hiding it. Obviously the best thing to do in humidity of a level similar to falling in a bath is to go for a 20km bike ride on a bike slightly too small for you. Which is precisely what we did. Our journey took us through a linear park that runs alongside the coast, which allows for some breeze to make you fractionally less hot. Unless you're peddling furiously. It was nice ride though, plenty of stuff to see and and one point we were riding parallel to the airport runway. Runways seem quite short when you're hurtling down them at 300kph in a metal tube full of flammable liquid; when you're sat atop several metal tubes attached to pedals they're long bastards. A good 12km of the 20km ride was runway.

Quite a few ships waiting to dock at the port.

This gang was doing some sort of religious thing. I have not a clue what, but it was being led by an old chap at the front. One of them had a dog in there with them. Maybe they were praying to the ship gods. 
Thankfully at the end of the trip there was promise of food, which I'm quite a fan of. Being still slightly dazed from a long trip I wandered through the stalls of a hawker market looking for something I recognised. Jill had told me about the wonderful food here and I pottered round eyeing up various stalls. Not really having a clue how it worked I sort of was a bit crap and opted for a fried rice dish. Luckily Jill then went off to sort out something a little more better and landed back with a cracking stingray sambal and another dish that slips my mind right now. Way better than my rather safe choice.

Throughout the week in Singapore, and despite being in work, Jill was a cracking tour guide. We walked for a few hours along the coast towards the Marina one day. The Marina is home to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. This is potentially the most iconic building in Singapore - bearing in mind Singapore is home to Raffles, this is some feat. How does it achieve this? It manages to do this by being one of the most ludicrous looking buildings in the world. Essentially, it is three skycrapers stood very close to each other. Doesn't sound too great no? Perched across the top floors the architects decided - clearly off their tits at the time - to place a boat.

Here it is.

We got the lift up to the bar at the top and settled with a beer to take in the vista, with some cracking tunes being played by the DJ, including a disco edit of a Human League track - one of several reminders of Sheffield I have had on this trip.

Port through the skyscrapers
Most recent reclaimed chunk of land.
Note the glasshouses - where Sheffield leads others follow...

The Marina, with rain rolling in.

The world's second busiest port.

Louis Vuitton's floating shop.
In parts Singapore is super-modern, in others can be a picture of quaint shutterboarded shophouses. In stark contrast to India, litter was non-existent and the streets were spotless. Absolutely spotless. Its almost though a secret army of workers descended in the night to polish the street lights, handpick dead leaves from trees, and scrub between the paving stones. Despite being in Asia, Singapore manages to achieve 'Western' standards of civic cleanliness, and is a sort of Diet Asia. A safe introduction for those new to Asia - TAKE NOTE DAD. Hint hint.

Now, one more thing I did was visit a little known tourist site, so unknown that people who have lived here for years don't know about it. This site is Haw Par Villa. I took a trip one morning to visit it. That'll be the next blog, because frankly, it's worth a entry of it's own.

It was a lovely week and just what was needed following India - home comforts such as a bed with a mattress that was note merely for decorative purposes, hot and cold running water, wonderful blessed air con and a cracking catch up with my sis. I'll end this entry with shitloads of pictures for you all. You lucky devils.

Ice-skater in a shopping mall.
Slightly obsessed with building facade treatments...
this one was many little silver  things that fluttered in the wind.

Looking up inside Marina Bay Sands hotel.
Symphony Hall, I think, at night. 

Some more buildings at night.

Marina skyline at night. As if it isn't obvious.
"A large hotdog juice please". 

Old Singapore.

Pretty much encapsulates Singapore's approach to development - old and new.
Looking down shopfronts.
Table and chair.

Marginally more humane than clubbing them I guess.

Roof detailing in Marina Bay Sands mall.

Roof detailing on Symphony Hall.


Prada shop on Orchard Road.

Prada facade. 

Building facade.
I didn't quite capture the name of this huge sculpture of a baby.
I shall call it "Windsock Fanny".

Lambo parked up outside a radio-controlled car race track. You have a lambo, and you're driving RC cars.
Out of shot, Ferrari F40, honest. 
Just more buildings.