Thursday the 29th of April 2004.
Well this year's travel has started, here I am in Singapore after a good night's sleep but more of that later.
As usual there were the usual or unusual holdups or snags to be sorting out for this tour, the first problem came in leaving it too late to start organising the trip properly, which left me a month to get all of my visas, and with Tunisia taking three weeks it was obvious that something had to be changed. So was a simple substitution of going to Sicily instead and so then all the other visas were sent off to the Visa agency, to be obtained at urgent rates, so that was goodbye to almost $1000.
My tour through Romania and Bulgaria was getting finalised and then they told me that I would need to have a Visa before arrival, and I had been doing visas for so many different countries some of which you obtained at the airport as you arrived and I assure that Romania was one of these. So was panic stations again with the thought that this Visa would have to be obtained in Cairo or Warsaw but in the end the panic was for nothing because that was one of the first visas that I had obtained.
Next problem arose in getting the passport back in time for my departure, and with Anzac Day in Australia being taken as a holiday on Monday this gave me one less day so then it was a courier fee of $55 which would give me the passport back on Tuesday or Wednesday. It was the "or Wednesday" bit that was the worry is that was my day of departure so I cancelled my hotel booking in Singapore in case I had to fly the following day, but Tuesday morning came along and there was the passport.
Then I decided to do my hotel booking via the Internet and found that the hotel I was booked in for could be booked for $30 less per night through this Internet company, but of course they needed a three day lead time so I hunted around and found another one an booked through them but that reservation never arrived, I discovered on my arrival, and as they worked off the sheet of paper that I had for the room rate I should brought the cheaper one and save myself some money.
I am travelling on around the world air ticket which has some several interesting restrictions, you are allowed to travel 34,000 miles, have 28 sectors, 15 destinations, and you're not allowed to transit through one airport more than three times. I ended up with 26 sectors, 15 destinations, and just under 34,000 miles at 33761, which are ruled out going up to St. Petersburg again which with very little effort is turning out to be one of my favourite destinations because of the treasures that are on show in that city which really take a long time to see.
I was on a direct flight from Christchurch to Singapore, a daylight flight arriving into Singapore at 8 p.m. so that it made no sense to try to sleep so I saw 4 3/4 films, yes the ¾ bit was the annoying factor because now I have to try to catch up on the film some time to see how it ends.
Last year I purchased a new carry on bag, change my camera lenses and computer so that my total carry on fitted in within the Air New Zealand seven kilo carryon limit, even if you fly Singapore airlines you are still checked in via Air New Zealand and on my departure last time I had to split the bag into two to get within their limit. This was the only time I had to do this in all of my travels and so I had declared that I was not going to be caught again.
Declarations like this are easily forgotten because I found I was two kilos over the limit which was certainly better than five Kgs last time, so I removed my camera and computer and put them into a separate bag, at check-in and they never even looked at my carry on.
So back to Singapore, this morning after breakfast, which consisted of the various Chinese dishes, small sausages, and baked beans, I went over to the Internet cafe that I discovered last night, but it was not open until 11 o'clock.
I thought, okay, I will go out to shopping centre and see if I can get some spectacles delivered in the two days that I am here, checked at the front desk with someone that wore glasses, and they told me to shopping centre to go to with the comments that it is a large optical shop which I cannot miss, which of course I did, found a small one, and for my type glasses it was going take a week but the price was extremely good at 250 Singapore dollars.
So that was no good, then out to the Sim Lim centre, this is the electronic and computers and cameras, I guess you would call a supermarket, they are in actual fact lots of shops of various sizes, where you can buy almost any sort of camera or computer parts or accessory.
I purchased a another external hard drive that will operate through a USB port, it's almost half the size of the one I purchased a New Zealand, I then brought in extremely thin, portable DVD writer and a pack of DVD discs. This makes my travelling backup procedure for my digital camera now complete.
Around 1.30 I was getting a little hungry, and I was told there was a restaurant down the basement, and down there I went to ensure enough there was and I had been there before, these are little cubicles that contain kitchens, there probably about three metres square, and as a whole row of them selling different dishes, and I purchased some fish and chips for five Singapore dollars, which I thought was very good, and the can of Diet Coke cost me a 1.20 which may give you a measure of value.
One of the dishes that sticks in my mind, was that of pigs intestines, and for some reason, totally unknown to me, I decided to give that a miss.
With my shopping done I went back to the hotel by taxi, the took my computer over to the Internet cafe that was now open, hooked into their system, and obviously I had not set up the parameters correct because I could not get the e-mail to work. The guy in charge was having a lunch and interrupted it briefly made a couple of comments, which did not help, so I paid my three dollars and went off to the next cafe, they were not help either, onto the next cafe, the manager there took me to his technician, who, in a few seconds, had everything working so for Singapore anyhow it is all systems on go for e-mail.
Having sorted that out, I decided to go for a walk up Orchard Road, very hot very humid, the shops were of course absolutely incredible, there are either a lot of wealthy tourist going through Singapore, or the locals must be extremely wealthy, or both, every major brand, make that expensive brand, has a shop along this road it would be a simple matter to spend many thousands of dollars every hour if one had the where-with-all and the inclination.
I must comment on the very attractive, extremely slim, Asian girls, one cannot help but notice, of course a lot of them are wearing high heels, very high heels, and one does stand out, sorry I did not have my camera with me, but remember it was a hot humid day, this lass had stockings on, very high heeled pink backless shoes with one of the shortest mini dresses, no I think that called Micro dresses, that I've seen, obviously she had in extremely good figure, and only her face let her down.
Yes I must also add, I did see a lot of ugly and lots of plump Asian ladies, but those of course I will not remember.
I absolutely love books, books of every description and of every subject. I went into this large bookstore which already took up the whole floor of this large department building, it has to go down as one of the largest bookshops I've seen, and being at the start of my trip I knew I could not buy anything, even at the end of my trip I would probably needed a new suitcase to do any justice to the shop.
Now it evening so is back to the Internet cafe, send out a few e-mails, get a bite to eat, and that will be the end of day one.
I must add I've just heard a large noise which I thought was an explosion, but it was thunder, the sky is extremely black, it is just started to rain as it can only do in the tropics. Not quite sure how far I will get with this weather this evening.
Went to draw some money out of an ATM machine today, then realised I had forgotten my pin number because I had not use the Visa card for this purpose for over six months. Sent a letter off to the National bank telling them of my situation, they suggested a call into a branch closed by, in Singapore? So I sent another e-mail all for telling them more clearly of the situation.
The trip hopefully is going to create no more problems than I have already experienced, I realise that I was preoccupied, before I left, with my new job, and I realise that, job, is classified as a four letter word, work, and so that started explaining it all.
Before I left I went to my normal hairdresser, struck a new girl and told her that I wanted a reasonably short haircut. I believe her last job must be with the Marines or some similar organisation because when I showered the following day the hair was not even long enough to feel the hair running through my fingers, just stubble. I've commented on previous trips about short haircuts, but this one is the granddaddy of them all, hopefully by the time six-month passes it will be back to normal.
I discovered one day as long enough for me in Singapore, just long enough to do whatever shopping I require and then get on my way. Had a pair of trousers made by new tailor, 70 Singapore dollars is a very good price, have to see a long the stitching lasts. Passing another opticians today and they suggested I come in for an eye check, yes they could get it done in time, evidently they claim they have their own factory, and Yes I do need a new pair of glasses, two pairs of glasses, graduated lenses, light sensitive, and the other pair prescription sunglasses came down to a price of 840 Singapore dollars, but they start applying a little bit of pressure has sometimes Asians do, so I passed up this bargain and will look again when I will have a little bit more time.
It is interesting when you wear something different like a bow tie as to reactions you create amongst different people, in Christchurch I was thought to be tour bus driver, and the Greek Islands last year a waiter suggested I could join them, in Singapore has been suggested I was a captain of a jet or a doctor, a Russian friend mistook me for a musician. It is interesting what the way you dress, as to the statement you are saying to various people.
When I was doing some interviews for the professional photographers records in New Zealand of some various retired photographers, I recall talking to one who was 91 years of age, had all his wits about him, his wife had died the previous year, he made the comment that the problem of being his age was that all his friends had died. Today I received an e-mail that the wife of one my older friends, who I dined with two days before I left, had slipped and fallen, received concussion, and died. It makes you realise what a very fragile thing life is.
Do not take your friends for granted, make a special effort to see them whenever you can, tomorrow may be too late.
The flight from Singapore to Bangkok was uneventful and as I was on Singapore airlines I was able to see the end of the film that I've missed flying into Singapore, everyone can relax the hero got his lady and I guess they would have sailed off into the sunset.
It was hotter in Bangkok in Singapore if that is possible, the humidity was up, coming from the arrival hall, I was approached by many offering me a taxi, I ended up taking one at 650 Btah, which was somewhat under NZ$30. The driver very kindly offered to take me on the expressway if I paid an extra 75 Btah, but I was here to see Bangkok and I decided I did not want to whip through it on the expressway, not that I saw much anyhow.
The Grand Ville hotel is about seven K. from the centre of the city appears to be right in the centre of most of the tourist attractions like the temples the large Buddha, the markets, Chinatown and many other things. I checked into the hotel and decided to go out for a familiarisation walk around the area, and found I would not go hungry with a Kentucky fried, a McDonald's, a Swenson ice cream and that was just for starters.
This is the first Asian country I have being in the I've seen so many cats and dogs wandering the streets, which is a little bit reassuring as to what you won't get served in one of the restaurants. I wonder what it will be like in Chinatown?
I've reached the conclusion that Thailand is an Asian country, and Singapore is an Asian business centre, full of Asians living in a Western type society.
It appears as if I have arrived in Thailand on one of the religious holidays as all of the shops seem to be closed, there was a few open but the streets were fairly well deserted. With most of the town closed I took the line of least resistance and went to the Kentucky fried for the evening meal.
Last night looking from my 15th story hotel window I got a little of an orientation as to where there are some of the temples and things were so this morning I set off down the road that I figured was the major temple complex and again most of the shops were closed which is most unusual for Asia.
Just because the shops were closed and did not mean to say that the wide boys had taken a day off, about threequarters the way there I was stopped by a putt putt to driver, who assured me that today being a religious holiday that the temple was closed until this afternoon and what I should do was pay him 20 Btah and he would take the around all of the other sites whilst we were waiting for the temple complex to open, and when I said no them it was reduced down to 10 Btah. I still felt like the walk so I walked on and several other stopped me telling me that was closed until various times and suggested I walked a different direction until that time arrived, but I carried on walking, but, below and behold as I got around the corner there were about at least 30 buses so I carried on and sure enough it was open.
So along with all of the other tourists I wandered around taking photographs and reach the conclusion that was not half as good as seeing the first time over 30 years ago.
After a while I started heading back towards the hotel and took a couple of other turns and ended up at the Golden Mount and that must bit about a thousand steps to the top in the heat of course, I had been reassured that was a beautiful view of Bangkok from the top, but the view out of my 15th story window was better.
Heading back towards the hotel I realised that perhaps I might be in trouble as to the direction, but eventually, thro more good luck than good management I recognise a building that was on the way back and so I was on the correct road. About three blocks from the hotel I found a primitive Internet cafe, full of very small children playing computer games, and yes I could go on the Internet, after about three machines I found one that worked and was able to look at my e-mails, and clear out the rubbish.
Back at the hotel I looked to see what tours I could take the following day, I always remembered the floating market, were all the locals shopped for produce, so I thought that could be a interesting days out, so sure enough for I was able to book a tour after them trying several agencies.
I been observing restaurants as I had been walking around, and it appeared as if they watch their dishes by placing the dirty dishes in a bucket of water that was a nondescript colour, I guess they may still do the same in a smarter restaurant bujt they may do that out the back where you don't see it. So I decided to try the hotel for my evening meal, surprisingly their knowledge of English was very poor and after struggling with the menu, beings brought something which I did not order I decided that it is hard to mess up a McDonald's meal.
Yes I took the coward's way out, of course they did not have Diet Coke, and yes there were some very fat children there, it did appear as if the people patronising this organisation were the well-to-do so for some reason it has become a status symbol to eat a big Mac.
At 645 sharp and minibus pulled up with seven other people on board and myself making the last passenger to be collected. The last seat was that behind the front passenger with a bulkhead between them and me and no space to stretch out my legs. I put up for this until the first stop about an hour away and then spoke the guide who promoted me to his seat, the suicide seat, at least there was leg room. It was then on to a location where we were showing into a long narrow boat, with a V8 mounted on the back driving a propeller about three metres away from the motor at the end of a long tube.
It was then to a dropoff point, where there are we were guided to another area, a long and narrow waterway with tourist stalls on both sides boats being paddled up and down this kilometre of waterway, boats with tourists, boats with locals selling things to the tourists, stalls staffed by locals selling to tourists, yes it had moved away from being a local event to one that was purely an event for the tourists with no locals involved in the buying of any produce or articles.
You actually could walk on dry land, I should say walkway in front of the shops, the full kilometre and see all of the activity going on in front of you, all around your fellow tourists! I guess this is progress and removes the attention from the local people were trying to get on with their lives and it does place all of the tourists into one large group at one location where it is easier to sell them for souvenirs to remember the floating market by.
From there it was on to the Cobra show, evidently one person in a party had booked for that, and I thought well for 200 Btah it will save waiting at the craft market were the others were being taken. It was extremely interesting with the handler teasing the snake until it was ready to strike, and as the snake struck with lightning speed, the handler pulling his hand out of the way. Later they milked the snake of venom just to let you know that everything was real. Evidently the trainer has built up an immunity to the Cobra poison as he's been bitten so many times.
Were shown a mongoose in action, they evidently can kill a Cobra, they grab the Cobra's mouth and destroy his fangs and then eat the snake. This all happened inside a glass cage, neither the snake nor the mongoose seem to be terribly interested in each other, they had to get the snake upset before it went after the mongoose, then the mongoose sprang into action grabbing the snake by the mouth and at that point they separated them, which is probably why they were so disinterested in each other knowing the outcome.
The Cobra trainer and others then demonstrated their skills with several other types of snakes with the grand finale being Cobra man demonstrating his speed against three other snakes, finally picking one snake up in each hand in the last one in his mouth. No they were not willing participants.
After this the driver was there to collect us to take is to the craft market, evidently there was a third person we were not aware of there, so we waited while the guide and driver went back to collect the missing person and I wandered around the craft market to see some of the incredible carving that they do, a whole large panel of wood of complex figures, one of them had a timeline of time spent, to date, of nine months. There were males and females doing this carving and the ability of both of these sexes would put the ability of our local natives to shame.
It was then the long trip home, being the last day of long weekend the traffic was worse than that of the traffic returning to Auckland after a similar weekend, at least I got to see a little bit of downtown Bangkok, it was just like any major city anywhere in the world.
Back at the hotel was time to clear my e-mail so I went the three blocks to the Internet café at a cost of five Btah I cleared my e-mail's, received the good news that they could not give me a new pin number for my Visa card under any conditions. Suggest that I use my eftpos card, and having tried that some three years ago in about five countries and it been rejected in each country, it was not a very good suggestion.
It is an interesting event that year, it was a National bank Visa card, and the owner of National bank, Lloyds bank of England, would not accept the National Visa card. So I passed all this good news on to the National bank thinking perhaps things have changed and decided to try it out the following day.
Each morning and breakfast, you have the option of coffee or tea, you look at the glass containers and they both look identical, that is because the tea container has about five teabags in it and they are left just to stew, consequently when you put that in a cup, it would probably turned an Englishman pale. It is a buffet breakfast, and it really doesn't matter what time you go for breakfast, just after opening time at 6 a.m. or at 9 a.m. the temperature of the breakfast remains the same almost cold.
Checked with the hotel this morning, yes they do have the Internet available, 100 Btah for 15 minutes. Well I need the exercise so I decided to walk the three blocks and save myself 95 Btah. No reply from the bank this morning, so I decided to check out the eftpos card, and wonders it worked! What Neil Armstrong say, one small step for man, one major step for mankind! Well I am not sure if that was it, but it certainly looks like the banking system may be catching up to what it promises.
The search for an eftpos machine took me through Chinatown, and a lack of cats and dogs was noticeable. Mind you there was not much space for cats and dogs as all the footpaths were chock-a-block full of street vendor's giving hardly enough space for two people to pass.
But it is not too bad, these footpaths full of vendor's, if one goes into what I call the underground, this as a area that runs under lean to roof's, the length of the city block, with cubicles 3 x 2 metres, if that, piled full of merchandise, with just enough space for two people to squeeze by between you and your shop opposite, and the whole place is a rabbit warren of cubicles, passageways and people. You would hope you were not there if fire broke out, you would not have a show.
Some of the vendor that were on the footpath were selling swords, springloaded knives, switch blades, sword walking sticks, throwing knives and every other sword or sharp killing object. I guess you do not pick a fight with a local.
By the McDonald's shop was a very large arcade, you could almost buy every type of product in there from satellite TV to bridal gowns, there were even three photographers there, very much Asian type of photography with badly made albums and low imagination on posing. I thought was good positioning for the photographers, with such a large population going through this shopping centre all the time, they were had a very high exposure.
Talking of photographers I passed by a large studio, going by the shop frontage, lots of very important people on display, two people sitting behind the counter, and on both times I went past nobody was in the shop, not much difference from New Zealand's studios!
Remembering we're not in the centre of the city, however the streets are jampacked full of cars, all moving extremely slowly, I've one more day here in seeing the traffic convinces me that wherever I go it should be on foot.
Every time I travel I do things a little differently and is time I booked hotels according to my scheduled where as previously I just turned up in a city and have taken whatever I could get, I'm becoming convinced that this way of doing things, pre booking, is not the way to do it, as previously I could fly out if I got bored, onto the next location, or even off in a different direction. As I booked all these on the Internet, using a credit card I'm sort of locked in to a lot of the schedule that I've planned, at least until I get to Romania.
Wednesday the 5th May 2004
Last night I wandered down to the Internet cafe to see if they would let me connect my laptop, of course no one spoke English but the shake of their heads and the waving of their hand in front of the face signified no way Buster.
It's interesting that countries that you would expect to have no problems with the internet you do and that countries like Rajasthan India and the Ukraine both some other poorer countries of the world you can connect to the Internet with your laptop almost anywhere.
The hotel that I'm staying at whilst it is near a lot of the tourist destinations is obviously well off the beaten path for English-speaking tourists. The people at the front desk can perhaps manage all of five words, they have a beautiful brochure printed in English, yet if you ask any of the reception staff where any of it is, first they don't have a clue of what you're talking about, second they can't read English, they don't have a map, so Buster you're on your own.
This morning after the almost cold breakfast and the hot strong tea, I wonder if they are meant to compensate for each other! I went down to my Internet cafe and cleared all of the e-mails, it will be good to get them into the computer so I can reply to them at leisure rather than trying to type at the cafe which I refuse to do, each time a visit the cafe is costling 22 New Zealand cents, even if I think I've been a long-time it is still only 5 Baht.
It was drizzling this morning and without knowing of any attractions about, not being able to find a map, I decided the only course open was to go for walk through Chinatown, so I set off, of course there was an obstacle course all along the footpath, I am of course referring to the vendor's stands, it was quite interesting the large number of shops specialising in selling the gold chains, bangles and all sorts of other golden objects. I walked into one shop and they proudly told me that all of their chains etc where 80% gold. I guess it is a form of quick currency in the world we know as Asia.
It is interesting how many times I get stopped on the street and told the direction that I'm heading there was nothing of interest, but I always thank them politely and keep on walking. This morning that happened about five times, once when I was heading out I was told there was nothing of interest ahead, I once when I was heading back I was told there was nothing of interest ahead. Both times I was told the things of interest were the way I had just come. Three times I was offered a ride by a putt putt driver, he offered to take me to all of the scenic routes for 10 baht an hour, I wonder what else he would do to supplement his charged out rate! In all cases I just kept on walking.
In reflection, I would have probably been better in the centre of the city, but then I would have to come out here to see the sights I have seen, but they would have been definitely more shops of interest to the tourists than where I am, which is strictly local consumption.
Walking through Chinatown is absolutely incredible the amount of equipment they can cram into one small building, and still have room to make all sorts of product, I went past one that was in the fabricating business, they were all busy working on the or with bits and pieces of metal being welded bent and shaped, you can certainly see that they keep their overheads down, you could also see that there are very few restrictions on working conditions, a lot of this goes to explain the loss of so much of the fabrication work of all varieties from the West.
It is also interesting to note that I see less no hopers hanging around street corners that I do and the West everybody seems to be working, oh I forgot I have seen about three beggars, less than what I see what I walked down the main street at home. I guess here the old philosophy of if you don't work you don't eat still applies. Yes I am aware of what they get paid, but I am also old enough to remember what I got paid years ago before inflation reared its ugly head, and I remember what things used to cost in proportion to the wages, but I must not complain because in the West we call that progress.
Looking at some of the items being sold in the shops it is obvious that things are still worthwhile being repaired here, instead of being thrown a way and replaced, with the net result that is all sorts of items you can buy that have totally disappeared from the shops in my town. Before leaving for overseas I looked for some wood screws that were little bit out of the normal as far as width and length were concerned and I know they would still be a specialist shops somewhere, I would hope, but I did not know where and so I had to give up. Here everything still has a value, it is worthwhile being sold, and thousands have little shops selling these items, little shops rewinding motors, little shops repairing circuit boards, little shops repairing almost everything. I guess they have what we call on the West full employment, no I'm not about to shift here, just trying to get my mind around the advantages of the West.
Thursday 6th May,
Another drizzly Thailand morning here in Bangkok, today I fly out to Pakistan, I will leave the airport about noon so as not much that one can do in this weather with that much time.
I've been told by many people how attractive the ladies are in Thailand however in the part of the city I am in I did not see any I would leave home for! I guess if you are above average in looks you're probably move into the centre of the city where are they pay extra for a pretty face like they do in most cities throughout the world.
I walked the three blocks to clear my e-mails, then went back to the hotel, messed around for while and decided I might as well be at the airport. So about 11 o'clock I decided to check out, that took 20 minutes by the time they fiddled around with the bookwork, I asked how much the taxis should be to the airport, I was told 200 baht, so it would appear as if I was slightly ripped off on my arrival. There was one consolation and that is there were dozens of others taking advantage of this wonderful offer of 650 baht along with me.
So I checked in, paid by 500 baht departure tax, wandered around the shopping area and bought a couple of books, then headed to the business lounge for the next four plus hours to take advantage of the refreshments provided. Checked to see whether I could plug my computer in, and recalled from my last time through there was no provision. After a while I noticed a couple of others with their laptops in front of the existing computers, and when I checked after one had left, I found he had undone the network cord and had plugged into the network. I looked around and there was no security forces with their machine guns waiting for me to make a move So I plugged my laptop into the cord was able to download my e-mails. For some reason it would not let me send any e-mails so I've yet to get a connection to do that.
Eventually was time to board the plane, our carry on luggage was all x-rayed, we all then went through a metal detector, and has usual my knees made themselves known, then I walked a few yards to the gate, when all the hand luggage was examined, and we are again scanned with a metal detector. Interesting precautions they take for a plane with the Karachi destination.
In spite of the precautions, or perhaps because of them, it was an uneventful flight, until our arrival. On arrival we were led to what we assume that was the baggage area, and were greeted with locked doors, after a lot of milling around it was decided we would return the way we came in to get to baggage a different way. So was a good long walk and we went through the health check almost at a run to stand in line at the passport control. There at the head of the line was a gentleman, loosely defined, who is there for the next 30 to 40 minutes whilst we all waited. The guy behind me who was travelling on a Japanese passport but was from Pakistan shook his head and made the comment that none of them are trained for the job but they get it through family or political connections.