We only took a day trip to the town of Ubud which is a town north of the main tourist area of Kuta and the capital Dempasar. Unfortunately for some of the day I was a bit distracted by having a case of the rather unpleasant “Bali belly” bug. What I did get to see when I was feeling well was great. Ubud is the creative center of Bali and is home to many painters, dancers and other creative types. Driving into the town is like driving through an art gallery as so many road side galleries put their paintings outside hoping to attract a buyer. The streets of the town are lined with more galleries, gift shops and cafes. At night there are many performances of various styles of Balinese dance (see previous photos post). The tourist demographic in Ubud is very different to Kuta- the typical Ubud tourists seemed to be middle aged European women rather than the bogan Australians of Kuta.
Near the city center is the monkey forest. The monkeys look cute in the photos but in reality are cheeky brats. I had one leap at me from a ledge a couple of meters away to try getting into my bag. Myself and my bag survived unhurt. Often the other tourists were more entertaining than the monkeys because many tried really stupid things like picking the monkeys up or dangling food infront of them. The monkeys have been known to steal valuables like cameras from tourists who annoy them or come too close. The most stupid thing I saw was giving food to a small toddler to give to the monkey. That's just asking for trouble! Because the monkey wasn't that much smaller than the toddler, the monkey successfully pushed the kid over and grabbed the food.
Monday, December 28, 2009Links to this post
Sunday, December 27, 2009Links to this post
Compared to Singapore Bali seems like a different world entirely. Before I'd even made it out of customs I'd already been scammed. In most countries if someone in uniform grabs your bag in the customs area, they are customs staff who want to check it. This guy was actually a porter who demanded a S$10 (AU$8) tip for carrying the bag a small distance. How such con artists are allowed inside what should be a secure part of the airport I do not know. Here things are a lot more chaotic- concepts such as road, food, or fireworks safety don't seem to be given a great deal of thought. The roads can be a bit crazy, especially all the motorcycle drivers.
My auntie I'm staying with and I don't intend to spend much time in the really tourist areas. We did however briefly visit Kuta which is a favorite of Australian tourists. The last few months I'd seen relatively few Australian bogans (the alcohol is probably too expensive for them in Singapore). In Kuta they were out in force. It was like the Gold Coast with extra crazy drivers. The place had all the bogan essentials- surfwear shops selling clothes that reveal too much, (likely unsafe) tattoo parlors and of course, plenty of pubs and bars. I even had someone try to sell me overpriced copies of the Melbourne Herald Sun newspaper! I'm not sure what exactly compels them all to come to another country to be in an Australia-like environment. It is a shame many stay in Kuta because there are other parts of Bali that are much more interesting.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009Links to this post
I decided that since it was only an hour away by ferry, Macau would be an interesting day trip. Macau is a tiny former Portuguese territory that is now a special administrative region of China (Hong Kong is a former British territory which holds the same status). Special administrative region status means the area is part of China, but maintains its own currency, immigration controls, many of its own laws and some freedoms not available in mainland China.
I decided to not take a guided tour and instead catch public buses to the attractions like the tourist books said was possible. Looking back, this was not such a wise choice. It was not very obvious where to get off the bus, almost all the signs were in Cantonese and Portuguese (nether of which i speak at all) and the bus drivers don't speak English. I missed where i was meant to get off and ended up at a bus depot somewhere deep in urban Macau. Thankfully some other foreign tourists who spoke both Cantonese and English and were trying to get to the same place as me had made the same mistake so they were able to seek assistance from some locals to get us back to the right place. When i tried to get back to the ferry terminal later in the day I managed to get the right bus route but heading in the wrong direction so had to get off and double back. Macau isn't really an English speaking tourist friendly place. McDonald's gets a bad rap in regards to their globalising of generic restaurants but I was very glad for the familiar food, English language menus and clean, free, western style toilets they provide!
Macau has lots of beautiful architecture inspired by both its Portuguese and Chinese backgrounds (photos of that coming). Unfortunately the buildings that are becoming the most dominant in Macau are the many casinos. The casinos are huge! Casino gambling is illegal in mainland China and Hong Kong so many gamblers flock to Macau from across China and the Asian region. Macau takes in higher gaming revenues than even Vegas!
Monday, December 21, 2009Links to this post
Due to the insanity of the few weeks prior to coming to Hong Kong (exams, camp in Malaysia, moving out of where I'd been staying....) I hadn't got to do much planning beyond booking my airfare and hotel room. One of the things I didn't get to plan for is the change of climate out of the tropics back to winter. Singapore doesn't really have a winter- it never gets below 20 degrees C. Because Singapore does not get cold, I wasn't in possession of any winter clothes. Getting off the plane in my summer clothing was quite a shock. Finding suitable clothing in Hong Kong was quite a challenge. I am certainly not Asian sized and the language barrier was a bit of a problem in asking about my size because I speak no Cantonese and most of the sales attendants spoke limited English. I've ended up wearing the same things a lot.
Its been quite weird to be seeing all the Christmas decorations while cold, since Christmas back home is usually accompanied by very warm weather. Its like being in those Christmas movies set in New York where people are seen walking past lavish shop windows and huge Christmas trees while all rugged up in big coats. Christmas trees and decorations are everywhere here and the Christmas music is almost inescapable.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
I was at El Sanctuary (near Malacca, Malaysia) for a camp with the Varsity Christian Fellowship group I was a part of at NUS. It was a great camp. Here's a few photos
Monday, December 14, 2009
Singapore is connected by bridge to the south end of peninsular Malaysia. Crossing the border into Malaysia is quite a different experience of international travel than what I’m used to. The Singaporean public bus network doesn’t just cover Singapore, it also extends several kilometres into Malaysia. A trip from a train station in northern Singapore a bus terminal a few kilometres into Malaysia costs S$1.21 (AU$0.95, US$0.87). Coming from Australia where it takes hundreds of dollars and at least several hours on a plane or days on a boat to get overseas, the idea of travelling internationally at that price and on a city bus is a little mindblowing. I don’t think you could get 2 bus stops down the street in most Australian cities for that price.
Unfortunately Singapore and Malaysia did not co-operate by putting their customs and immigration centres together. That means you have to get off the bus at the customs centre for the country you are leaving, get back on the bus to cross the bridge, get off again at the customs centre for the country you are entering and then reboard the bus for wherever it is you are bound for. I must look like a shady character because both going into Malaysia and leaving Malaysia I was pulled over for bag checks. Coming from Malaysia to Singapore after you’ve cleared Malaysian customs and are just about to get on the bus there is a convenience store. I suspect they get a lot of business selling chewing gum. Chewing gum remains illegal to buy, sell and import in Singapore (with the exception of gum prescribed by a doctor for medical purposes) so some Singaporeans bring it back with them from Malaysia. Chewing gum takes on a whole new level of rebelliousness here!
Wikipedia article on the Singaporean chewing gum ban
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The internet connection I had access to in Malaysia was very unreliable, hence the lack of blog posts. Hopefully over the next few days I should be able to get some of the backlog of stuff to post up, although it might not end up posted in exactly the order stuff happened.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Google Maps has just released their street view feature for Singapore. Street view allows you to see high quality street level photos from major streets. The street level coverage isn't quite as good as in Australia, and the satellite level photos seem to be fairly old but you can still get a good look around.
Where I live
Part of the university campus
The merlion, Singapore flyer and construction of new casino (rotate the image round to see more landmarks)
Orchard road shopping area
Rural Singapore 2
Across the straits to Malaysia
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Exams are a pretty big part of the Singaporean education system. Even at primary school level they get exams that determine their educational future. Given they’ve been doing exams for so long and only the best at doing them are going to get into university, most Singaporean university students seem really good at studying. The library and quiet study rooms get very crowded. Sometimes getting any desk is difficult but the ones near powerpoints for laptop charging are particularly hard to find. Judging by the piles of stuff on some of the study room desks, I suspect some people don’t leave the building for days at a time. It is not at all uncommon to see people asleep in the library or study rooms. You have to watch out for the ones that nap on the floor.
Waiting around for the exam to start can be a bit intimidating. Heaps of people still have their heads deep in the most complicated readings 15 minutes before the exam starts. One thing I noticed in the exams that is different to back home is that very few people finish early. People do that often back home despite the fact that they exams papers require a similar amount of work. Unfortunately for me most of my exams were essay based. One I had successfully guessed on the basis of past exam papers what 2 out of the 3 questions would roughly be so had memorised plans. The other ones were hard work, trying to plan and write essays on huge topics in 40 minutes. It seems a bit absurd that the essays we have to write in 40 minutes in an exam are worth the same as our term papers we spent weeks researching and writing.
Of course I've missed people from home while I've been overseas but it is strange all the other things I miss. Some of them have been.....
- Foods- (Burritos, Tacos, Australian McDonalds, meat pies...). I don't eat those things very often in Australia but I've often been craving them here. There is a few Mexican restaurants here but Mexican food is not common. The McDonald's food here tastes different and not for the better. While there is plenty of food involving pastry, I haven't seen much that looks like an Australian meat pie.
- Television- Trying to watch grainy ripped versions on youtube several days after the original broadcast is just not quite the same as watching reality shows live in TV.
- Book shopping and reading- I've had to be very restrained about buying books while here because I ether have to give them away when I leave or pay excess baggage fees to get them home
- My pets- I keep seeing stray cats that look a lot like my own. Unfortunately many of the cats here aren't very friendly (but some are)