Date: Fri, 2 Nov 2001 03:14:32 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald Subject: arrived in Singapore
I have arrived uneventfully in Singapore. 13 hours in the air from San Francisco to Taipei, then 3 hours on the ground, then another four in the air to Singapore. But neither flight was anywhere near full -- I got a row to myself (three seats) on the long flight, so I didn't actually sleep too badly. I saw the last two-thirds of four different movies.
Date: Sun, 4 Nov 2001 15:25:55 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald Subject: leaving Singapore
So it's 7 am in Singapore and I've been up for two hours -- I still have a little ways to go in adjusting to the time here. Am in a 24-hour internet cafe, which is about the only thing I can find to do in Singapore at this hour.
It's a lovely city, and perhaps only a step more foreign than places like San Francisco and Vancouver have already become -- English is still an official language (one of four, and seemingly primary) and you can still shop at Borders Books or California Pizza Kitchen, but white faces are much rarer on the street. And there are Chinese malls full of hawkers selling discount luggage and strange drinks with floaty jelly bits in them ("pearls"), but you can find those in SF and Vancouver, too.
Date: Tue, 6 Nov 2001 20:35:09 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald Subject: malaysia
So I guess I've only been in Malaysia two days -- it feels like much longer. Am in Penang now, my third city. I spent a couple hours in grimy Johor Bahru before boarding the train to Kuala Lumpur, then 22 hours there, then a night train up to Penang, which got in a little before 7 am.
Johor Bahru was dirty and poor-looking, or at least it seemed that way after Singapore. There are some almost shocking contrasts -- a big shiny modern mall that wouldn't look out of place anywhere in North America (except for the menu in the food court) sharing a block with abandoned shells of buildings. Boarded-up old buildings ready for demolition seem to be a common feature of all the places I've been on this trip -- signs of *really* rapid development -- but in Johor Bahru they weren't boarded up. They were just gutted, and some looked to be inhabited by squatters.
Date: Sun, 11 Nov 2001 19:30:34 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald
Well, I've bounced back and forth across Phang Nga Bay a couple of times, but I've finally found the little island beach "resort" I'd been looking for, with friendly hosts, cheap bungalows ($5/night), a tiki bar and a volleyball net. Have done a lot of travelling in the last few days, since leaving Penang, through beautiful country -- turquoise waters and sheer-sided green limestone cliffs -- and by a ridiculous number of different means.
Date: Sat, 17 Nov 2001 22:17:24 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald Subject: koh lanta
I've just left Koh Lanta this morning -- rode a minibus for a couple hours through rubber plantations to the town of Trang, where I am waiting for the night train. I've got a couchette reserved -- it's 17 hours to Bangkok. It took a bit of work to gather the initiative to break free from the beach, but I'm now looking forward to some stimulation in the big city.
Have had a blast on Koh Lanta -- it's still very rural and undeveloped. They're building as fast as they can, but it looks like all local money -- no big foreign hotels or expensive tourist infrastructure. The roads are dirt, red clay, and there are still chickens and goats and a few cows and water buffalo wandering around. The fancy houses have cinderblock walls and tile roofs, but no glass in the windows -- most of the rest of the places are wood or corrugated-aluminum shacks. Some have electricity, but not many seem to have plumbing. Driving along the road at night, you generally see people's lives pretty much open to view.
Date: Tue, 20 Nov 2001 00:57:04 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald Subject: big chang 40 baht
Khao San Road is a bizarre place -- possibly the densest concentration of backpackers in the world, kind of a free-for-all 24-hour street fair. Calling it "Khao San Road" makes it sound bigger than it is; Khao San itself is basically a two-block-long side street, and the area as a whole is maybe eight or ten square blocks, not that Bangkok has square blocks. It's packed with discount travel agents, pirate CD sellers, fake designer clothing, Osama bin Laden t-shirts, miniature disco balls, wind-up cellophane flying butterflies, henna tattoos, $3-a-night guesthouses (I'm relatively at the Ritz paying $7.50 for mine), and of course, rows and rows of cheap bars. You walk down the street after dark and you constantly pass Thai women singing out "big Chang 40 baht" (which is nearly the only English they know) -- ie., double-size bottles of Beer Chang for 40 baht, or about 95 cents. Little bars are set up any place there's room for a couple of table, including nearly all guesthouse lobbies and up and down the sidewalk (any place not occupied by someone selling counterfeit press cards). There was one guy with serving a full bar out of the pop-top of a red velvet Volkswagen minibus -- it's hard to describe exactly, but it's the kind of thing that I thought had died with disco.
Date: Fri, 23 Nov 2001 06:50:16 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald
Subject: a muddy old river and a reclining buddha
Was "One Night in Bangkok", from the "Chess" soundtrack, only a hit in Canada, or do you Americans know it too? I find myself humming it -- "I get my kicks *above* the waistline, Sunshine."
I think this note will be something of a miscellany.
Date: Thu, 29 Nov 2001 01:07:48 -0800 (PST) From: colin roald
I'm in Phnom Penh now, and since my last message was from Bangkok I have a lot to cram into this one.
I'm really enjoying Cambodia. The place is poor and has had a terrible recent history, but the Khmers are wonderful -- friendly and welcoming and -- I'm not sure how else to say this -- really quite cute. Broad smiles. squashed noses, and the most perpendicular jug ears you've ever seen.