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Archive for January, 2008

Notes from the road

Friday, January 18th, 2008

Landed in Singapore, I guess it was a week ago now, seems like longer. Singapore was a very strange place. Just a bit too clean and way too modern to have any business in South east Asia. It was here that the fucker American piss ant kid got cained for spray painting a car a few years ago, lousy little so and so. It is here that it is illegal to chew or sell gum, ride your bike in the park, litter, jay walk, murder people in or out of a rage, detonate fire works, and while I think some one was pulling my leg I heard tell of a fine for neglecting to flush after a number two. The rest of them are real and levy heavy heavy fines or worse, so they say it is the safest country in the world. Calling Singapore a country is like calling Rhode Island a state, really just a technicality but size wise it is smaller than greater metro Atlanta, I would guess anyhow. cleaner too, and safer.

I stayed at a backpacker hostel called Betel box which was a cool spot run by hip funky kids in their 20’s who would often sink beers with us in the common room. The dorm I was staying in was a large room with 10 bunks holding 20 people, all of whom now know that I snore, or so I understand.

Among the people in my dorm were a couple from India along with their five year old servery developmentally disabled son. His limbs were too small for his frail body and useless leaving him confined to a baby stroller where his mother was spoon feeding him when we first met. He was also ;mentally disabled but it was hard to tell the extent without being able to speak his language. I talked to them for a long time, the boys father told me that he had been offered a good job in Boston where he could get good medical care for his son but his application for US visa was denied. So here they were, having traveled to Singapore to find a doctor and a job and a place to stay and a new life in a strange place and for hope that their son may get just a smidgen better if he were to get the right treatment they couldn’t find in India. They had given themselves one week, after which if still empty handed they would go back to India. The boys father seemed to glow with such optimism he talked of his problems with a broad smile which refused to be defeated. He seemed to be a rock for his wife, she looked like she need it. I heard myself telling them that my mother used to work with kids like their son, as it came up in conversation. Their faces lit up and he almost jumped up and down as he told his wife who sprung out of her chair. I tried to calm them and explain that my mother couldn’t really do anything to help them but he said it would be so good to talk to her about their son and I gave them her email.

That night I hung out in the common room striking up conversations with the other back packers and struck up conversation. There was one guy from Austraillia in town for two weeks to study mui thai boxing, a couple of kids from Wales, some Aussie girls. A bunch of us went the next day to the little India section and then wandered around looking at Hinu temples. We got lost for a while in the down town area trying to find a street that wasn’t fucking there. As we were looking at the map, there was a very real flash of a moment, just one tick, one little pop in time before which the air was filled with air as opposed to massive heavy sheets of crashing water, where as after the afore mentioned pop we were instantly cursing the heavens, soaked to our skin, and running like hell for shelter which wound up being a veranda roof of a nearby building. We were stuck there for quite a bit, lost and wet, having to speak up to one another over the screaming rain which was punctuated with scatter shot thunder all around. Monsoon season you know. I went running off to scout where to go, came back drenched only to realize that everyone else had decided on a nice, safe, dry cab to the very posh, very pretentiously historic raffles hotel, fine I said.

Very instrumental white people used to hang around out in the Raffles hotel all the way back to the Dutch colonial days, I think. Dutch east India movers and shakers would sit around and smoke cigars, talk about trading spice for beads and about how fine it was to be so white in Singapore in those days and they barked orders at the help and laughed at how funny it was to see them wearing the proper clothes of non-savages. They also sipped a drink called the Singapore sling, which was invented here at the Raffles hotel and has the appearance of a five star gourmet frilly umbrella drink that wouldn’t really get you drunk and cost too much money. I was right about the money part and we all passed, so I can’t comment on it’s buzz quality. One glass of that shit cost more that two nights at the backpacker hostel, so we all had the cheapest thing they had, English tea which came with little silver tea pots and finery. Somebody went to the john and came back raving about how nice it was, so soon there we were soaking wet in tee shirts under a glowing chandelier talking about going to the toilet and about shit and we all giggled ourselves silly much to the chagrin of the staff of the Raffles hotel. Next time you want to seem smart to your friends and annoying to your bartender just order a Singapore sling and say “from the Raffles in Singapore, don’t you know.” Fake British accent is optional, but well worth the effort I would say.

So we drank that night and a few backpackers left and a few more left and we all had the same conversations with each other about where we had been and where we were going and what country we were from. There was a German girl who just seemed completely rude to everyone, and another German girl who was way cool. This one decided that the next leg of my trip would involve her and a dude she had met at a conference that week.

They were stuck in Singapore for the weekend, having been there for over a week on a conference. I turned out to be a fortuitous option, you see I was on my way to an island off the coast of Singapore where I was catching a ferry to Sumatra Indonesia, this was as far as my plan went. So they figured we could all hang out on said island for the weekend and they could escape Singapore with it’s hustle and bustle and chill the fuck out on a beach, and I figured that I could hang out too. The connection island, Paluo Bantam, is a shithole from what we had heard and read, so we opted for the close by Paluo Bintam. The half hour ferry took almost two hours, and we landed in a very remote looking city. They were surprised to see us and everyone started in with their desperate offers of taxis, and hotels for us. The customs was a desk where they asked Ines how long she was staying, she said two days and they took our passports, and asked for ten dollars american each. I ponied up and waited, when my passport came back it said 7 days, which was not good. I asked for a 30 day visa and they explained that I should have said so, they only thing to do now was to turn around and go back to singapore and come right back. I didnt want to do that and just decided to have a good time and figure it out later, I still had 7 days.

We hired a car to take us to the east end of the island where all the cool shit is supposed to be. We finally made it to a guest house that was a network of long pier walkways that stretched far out over the water. At the end of the walkways were the bungalows, hanging over the ocean. We stayed up all night, drank every drop of tiger beer they had under a limitless star filled sky, the water so perfect. We laid on the dock and talked endlessly about how happy we were to be there, how perfect our lives were at that moment, and we talked about other things too. Danial is a few months from a PHD, his thesis concerns the cleaning radioactive water, so I picked his brain for a while about alternative energy and about climate change and the future. I asked him if he thought we were all fucked. Good news, he says we are not fucked, and he is a smart guy. so that is good news, no? And he talked about his girlfriend and we talked about traveling and there was a family from Malaysia who were staying there and fishing all night, they smoked some fish on sticks and brought them for us. It was a great night.

Next day we mostly slept, I laid in a hut over the sea and read a book, sipping beer and eating peanuts. Day after that, we all got up early and rented two canoes and paddles out to a nearby island to go snorkeling. We walked around the island, untouched and heaven by the way. The water was so clear and a slight breeze made the blazing sun forgivable, momentarily. We went to the middle of the ocean where there was a sand bar in the middle which we could stand on. The edge of the sand bar were coral reefs for snorkeling. Lots of clown fish (little nemo) and cool black spikey things and schools of fish, the occasional eel. We were about twelve feet up, so you could hold your breath and dive straight down and look around. that afternoon we went to go to the port city where I found out the boat to sumatra was leaving the next morning so I stayed at a guesthouse there called Bongs. Bongs is in the lonely planet and located (no sign mind you) in an sub alley off another alley, which seemed to be filled with a combination of police drinking around a card table and prostitutes. At bongs I met a chap from Amsterdam and we went for lunch. As we were leaving the guy who ran the place asked if we liked music and wanted us to quiz him, name any song. On the wall he had a picture of Madanna and I said like a virgin which he knew and we told him how smart he was, he looked disappointed. a dude took us to a place where they started pilling trays of food all over the table. We tried this and that, the guy was eating too. The bill came and was close to $14 American, they were charging as much for each small bowl of food as a whole meal anywhere else, so we had been had. I sat there refusing to pay. Finally we put down $8 which was still way too much but enough so we could leave without trouble from the locals, who all knew where we were staying. My new friend and I then took a boat to a nearby island to see some ruins of Muslim forts and mosques, which was ok.

That night we drank beer. the old man who ran the place once again asked us to quiz him and so we did, started easy and he knew everything. Then I said, ok, what about Telegram sam. Figured I would test him, without thinking, through heavy accent he said T rex. I sat up, amazed. The guy from Amsterdam said I wanna be your dog and he said Iggy and the stooges. This guy really did know his shit. so for hours we all tried to stump each other. He asked me who wrote the song come on feel the noise and (like an idiot) said quiet riot, he corrected me. FYI it was slade. Then we tried movies and I ruled but he did manage to get me once, I had forgotten that Nichole Kidman was in Days of Thunder. Not the kind of info I store. But still, this guy was so cool, his favorite all time was Zepplin and I told him that John Bonham was my hero. So if you are into music and on the island Paluo Bintam, check out Bongs, kind of a shit hole but good fun.

So next I looked at my choices. The US embassy In Sumatra is in Medan, which puts me in good position to go to a lake in a volcano crater, which is on my list. I am here now, actually. The problem there is what if they just say they can’t extend my visa and I have to leave and come back? Than I would have gone to the south end, spent all day and night in a bus, just to have to leave. So on the night before I decided I would just say fuck it and head to Malaysia. Which I did.

more later
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Happy Birthday

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008