Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Selected Photos From Singapore Zoo

On Sunday, I went to the Singapore Zoo on a day trip, and managed to get a few photos. I would have liked to have produced some more good shots (i am my worst critic) but still, there are some here which turned out not so bad. Enjoy!

Beginning to Settle In....

G'day, G'Day from Singapore, where chewing gum and jaywalking are illegal. Apparently. Except for the fact that in the past three days, I've chewed chewing gum and jaywalked... on numerous occasions.

Much of the talk about Singapore's crazy rules are just that - crazy. Sure, they say you can't jaywalk or chew chewing gum but I haven't heard any stories about anyone being fined for doing it. I also have a packet of chewing gum on the dining room table - which was brought across from Malaysia. Its not that the actual CHEWING of chewing gum isnt allowed, its the importation or selling of chewing gum in Singapore isnt allowed.

It creates a mess. Fair enough. Singapore people really don't like mess. For example, I was eating my sandwich at the local swimming pool (waiting for Bart to start teaching us diving) and the lifeguard nearby nearly went into absolute meltdown because of the three bits of lettuce that had tumbled from my sandwich onto the ground beneath me. Instead of risking him going into cardiac arrest, I exclaimed "sorry, sorry!!!" and swiftly picked the bits up, putting them into my pocket for appropriate disposal at the nearest bin.

On the train on the way back from the zoo the other day, I was just finishing the last delicious crisp from the packet i'd purchase prior to getting on the train, when over the loudspeaker came a warning that no food and drink were allowed to be eaten on the train or at train stations. I would have ignored the message, except for the fact that the entire train carriage was staring at me licking my fingers. I then swiftly folded up the crisp packet neatly and in a very obvious way, placed it nicely into my hangbag with a smile to the audience.

All the rules mean that Singapore really is a lovely place to live. Birds sing, the sun shines (except for the 1 hour of thunderstorm that happens both at about 7am in the morning and about 2pm in the afternoon), laughter is all around. Yes, Singapore really is "the Stepford Country." To open up a bank account today, I didn't get shuffled down to a cue by an auto machine. Instead, I was ushered upstairs into the "new customer area" and into an office where I was greeted by my own personal banking customer service attendant.

Upon completion of the transaction, I was then asked to turn to the little machine at the edge of the desk, which read "Please indicate how happy you were with the service, with a big smily face for "very satisfied", expressionless face for "satisfied" and then a big frown for "not satisfied". I was almost tempted to press "not satisfied" and watch the eloquent, fragile Singaporean young lady break down into tears, except for the fact that she was SO helpful, I couldn't NOT press "very satisfied". The funny thing was that when I did press "very satisfed", she was quite overwhelmed by the result and looked like she was about to cry tears of joy.

Singapore. I love it.

In Australia, I would have walked into the Commonwealth Bank and pressed the "you morons have posted another $1 billion profit and you are still overcharging me for ATM transactions, screwing me over on credit card fees, failing to pass on interest rate cuts and keeping me on hold on the phone for too long" button. Ha! I wonder how CBA would have liked them apples...

Anyhoo, all is fine now in Singapore. For the last couple of days, I've been reassessing a lot of the issues that were upsetting me, and decided that it is all being sent to me to teach me more about myself and more about others. When i left Australia, I thought I had the world all sussed out, but until you get to Asia and see how it really works, you know nothing!

I don't think I will ever get bored here in Asia. There is too much to learn.

More good news - I have signed up for the Bintan Triathlon, which is being held in Indonesia on the 22nd May. Yes, that is less than four weeks away. It will be a 700m swim, 20km bike and 5km run. So this will be the longest triathlon i have done and will certainly be the toughest, due to the climate. I am just trying to train hard in the climate here in Singapore so that my body is prepared for the event. The good news is that my body is responding quite well to the climate change so far, except for the fact that my body is getting stripped of every bit of moisture every time i do the slightest bit of activity (sweat due to high humidity and heat). If you are not afraid to get a little sweaty, then Singapore is for you!

I am back on the road tomorrow night, so stay tuned for some more stories.... this time it is.... (drumroll)....


When things are crappy, and I am missing home, I think about the fact that I have been given the opportunity to travel to these exotic places on a WEEKLY basis.... I really am the luckiest person alive.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Different Genes. Different Jeans.

Tonight, my blog is going to take more of a contemplative turn as I sit and ponder my first two weeks in Singapore. I was going to "hit the town" tonight but then I realised that I actually don't enjoy going out to pubs, getting trashed, and stumbling home - if i didn't enjoy it in Australia, why would I suddenly enjoy it in Singapore?

I already know that being in Asia is going to force me to learn a lot about who I really am. Not only is it going to challenge my idea of how my "way of life" should be, it is going to challenge how I see myself as another human being. Singapore is one big melting pot of nationalities - Chinese, Indian, Malays, Filipinos, Europeans, British and of course, Australians. Everyone lives quiet happily together. In fact, at a BBQ the other night, there were people from Singapore, Malaysia, France, Poland, Australia, Germany, and Italy. We each had our own characteristics, our idiosyncrasies, our own particular type of humor, own interests, own plans for the year. As we all got talking, we all found each other very interesting. The conversation carried on for hours. Having said all of this, I have been a little overwhelmed by the fact that, for the first time in my life, I am a minority - in so many ways.

At first, I was a little amused because people stared at me a lot, wondering what kind of country could possibly produce a very white girl, of athletic build, with auburn hair and blue eyes. However, now that I have gotten used to that to some extent, I am now beginning to pay closer attention to the way I feel here in Asia, not just how I look.

I am different in so many ways and I do not just mean physically. In Asia, not only is my physical build larger, but my personality as a woman feels as though it is larger. Almost too boisterous. I feel too unforgiving in my views. I feel as though I overwhelm people too much with my enthusiasm.

Everything about my life in Australia (at least in the past 6 months) was about "getting in there and getting it done". My attitude was all about it being "me against the world." I was slaying dragons. I was conquering Everests. I was saying what I meant. I challenged people to challenge themselves. I was being an independent woman. It was all about developing not only my body but my mind. Facing pain and overcoming it. Challenging my fears and overcoming them.

I have taken this attitude with me to Asia and I feel isolated by my own drive to succeed.

Here in Asia though, there does not appear to be an overwhelming number of women with that outward drive for taking life by its teeth and rip it to shreads.... I am in no way suggesting that women here are underachievers or that they are helpless and are not independent. However, women here appear to be so fragile... and in turn, it makes me feel unfeminine, clumsy, large and over the top.

I am trying to come to grips with the discomfort that comes associated with this reality. I am also trying to come to grips with how it is that I will be able to manage this in the coming year. By tempering the very essence of who I am - that larger-than-life, driven, fiesty, determined woman - I feel as though I am not going to be who I truly am.

This year was all about learning to be happy, learning to be comfortable in my own skin, learning acceptance as well as personal freedom. How will I be able to reconcile this and still feel like a woman?

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Mighty Petronas Twin Towers

This was always going to be one of the highlights of my trip to Malaysia - in fact, of all of Asia. These Twin Towers are the tallest Twin Towers in the world, and until 2004, they were the tallest buildings in the world (before the Taipei 101 was built).

You cannot help but stare at this monolith complex. It is huge. Stratospheric, almost. It is daunting, all encompassing and you would think that they are not actually real - that you are just looking at a postcard. The sight really is unbelievable.

Built in 1998, these Towers have 88 floors and our office is on the 45th floor, a few levels higher than the Sky Bridge, which links the two towers together.

It took over six years to build, commencing in 1992 and completing in 1998 when it took over the "worlds tallest" from the Sears Tower in Chicago, US. The amazing thing was that the parts of the buildings were actually built on Malaysia's race track, and then transported into KL.

I am not sure whether i am comfortable about this, but it is actually made of reinforced concrete, rather than steel. The reason for this, Wikipedia tells me, is that the cost of imported steel (and lack of local steel) meant that it would have been far too expensive. Instead, they used super high strength concrete - which is apparently "twice as effective as steel in sway reduction". While that is comforting, the idea that you have 88 floors of concrete around you still makes you feel a little uncomfortable, should it all come tumbling down around you.

The design of the building is largely based on Islamic art, given that Malaysia is of the Muslim faith. If you fly over it and look straight down on it, it forms the 8 sides of the Islamic star.

My company is a tenant of the building - interestingly, the Malaysian government are very strict on who can be tenants of the building and companies need to pass strict criteria, including being a locally registered company, be in a certain industry and have a certain amount of turnover.

Given that we are tenants, I managed to get the company to book in advance my ticket up to the (usually fully booked out - its on a first come, first serve basis) Sky Bridge, which is the "the highest 2-story bridge in the world"(they seem to want to be "the highest" of this, the "highest of that" - men and their stoopid building competitions!).

Wikipedia says that it is "170m above the ground and 58 m long, weighing 750 tons". It apparently also a safety device so that people can evacuate one tower through the other tower (that said, 20,000 people trying to get across to another tower through a bridge? hmmm). Needless to say, after Sept 11 (where both towers simultaneous fell), they agreed while the tower was a good idea and the staircases were useful, the sheer amount of people getting out of BOTH twin towers was something they needed to consider. They are finding a solution to that as we speak.

Live. Singapore.

This is the view from my room. Its beautiful and looks across the pool, and then beyond, across Singapore. I've decorated the room with white covers, white pillows, white sheets, white walls, and then I use tones of olive and burnt orange. It is my little haven. I love it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Madness of Malaysia

Last week, I was hit with the first Asian Culture Shock. That culture shock has come in the form of Malaysia, a country which looks to its neighbours, Singapore, and says "to hell with your stupid, stuffy regulations and laws!"

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 9am after arriving at the airport on Tiger Airways. International flying is so easy here and it was actually quicker to get to KL from Singapore than it was getting from Singapore out to the Night Zoo, the previous night before (which is only about 30km out from the centre of town!!!). They load you on, load you off and send you on your merry way. I had barely purchased my cup of coffee on board before i had to pack it all away and get ready for landing. It was still boiling hot when the PA system announced that the cabin crew had to prepare the cabins...

One thing I noticed as I was flying was that Malaysia appears to be doing its absolute best to destroy its natural resources. I know this because, when there weren't big patches of construction, there were Palm Tree Plantations as far as the eye could see. I knew that it wasn't natural forest because the Palm Trees are all lined up in such even rows, with the same distance between each of them. The sight of such terrible deforestation almost brought tears to my eyes. I have read that 86 per cent of deforestation in Malaysia from 1995 - 2000 was for oil palm plantations. 85 per cent! As a result, there has been a remarkable 85 PER CENT reduction in numbers of mammals, birds and reptiles in Malaysia. Many annimals cannot move through plantations while others (such as orangutans) are seen as crop pests, making them susceptible to defensive poaching by plantation owners. I also read that the use of herbicides and pesticides have made the situation worse. I suspect that my time in Asia will teach me a lot about some of the mistakes human kind are making with respect to natural resources.

Malaysia is the antithesis of Singapore, with its dirty streets, openly operational black market for counterfeit goods and roar of an over populated city. The change in surroundings hits you as quickly as the Malaysian heat does, and all of a sudden you need to have your wits about you as you weave your way through the stalls and the touts, begging you for business. "Miss miss, hand bag!! Madam, taxi?" they shout as you keep your head down, intent on making it to your destination. Taxis even slow down the lines of traffic behind you in order to toot the horn. They continue to toot at you, in order for you to pay attention but its best you ignore them, otherwise you would be forever waving off taxis and touts.

I managed to ignore the taxis at the airport and find a bus to take me from the airport to the main station in the city. There, I struggled to get my bearings. Once I determined where I was, I began the hot and sticky walk to the Bird Park which took 20 mins - that said, 20 mins in the Malaysian heat makes you feel like you've walked across the Sahara Desert for an entire day. Thankfully I had topped up my bottle of water before getting on the flight so I was well prepared. I detoured through the Malaysian Heritage Centre (i admit, the prospect of staying indoors was tempting, but i carried on...).

I managed to get to the Bird Park and all of a sudden, dirty stinking hot Malaysia transformed itself into a world of nature and tropical birds. It really was phenomenal. I was greeted by a canary upon arrival who took pleasure from sitting on my shoulder and licking the beads of sweat of my cheek. It would have been cute had it not have (1) scared the crikey out of me, and (2) been a bird licking my neck! Not even the fact that i have been single for five months meant that I felt any form of intimacy with the thing. I was far more concerned about it pooping on my shoulder and neck, to be honest. I managed to get a photo and that should tell all.

I spent a good three hours in the Bird Park. Over the years, I have traveled to many places and I would often speak to "Days On Tour" where something magical happens. Ie. days on the Cinque Terre in Italy, nights by the fire in Gryon, Switzerland.... and I list this day in Kuala Lumpur as one of them. I found this perfect form of serenity, walking slowly around this partially enclosed bird haven, the roar of the Malaysian traffic well and truly in the distance.

I hope you enjoy the photos of the Bird Park.... if anyone wants to know the species of bird, ask and i will try and find out for you. There were too many to write them all down!!!

Birds, Birds, Birds - KL's Amazing Bird Park

These are definitely some of my favourite photos I have taken to date. It just shows how completely at peace, and how happy I was, while i was taking them. There were so many photo opportunities that I didn't know where to point the camera first!! Check out the charismatic and photogenic Ostrich - she loved having her photo taken! Look at those eyelashes!

Orchard Park - Kuala Lumpur

After the Bird Park, it was off to Kuala Lumpur's Orchard Park, where i managed to find at least 20 different types of orchards. I get a bit frustrated photographing flowers with my camera. It is here that I notice that my camera does not have the capabilities of some of the other big daddy's of the camera world. I know, I know, I am my own worst critic, but while they look good, they arent great. The pics are lacking in depth of focus :( Okay, enough complaining. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Madness of Malacca

I am writing these blogs a little out of order, as I visited Melaka after I went to Kuala Lumpur, however I finalised the Melaka photos prior to the KL ones, simply because there are so many of KL.

Melaka. I am trying to consider how best I can describe Melaka. On the surface, it is a mess. There is a log jam of traffic, street after street of half completed construction and large shopping malls cram the main area. In amongst of this, however, lies the true Malacca Town - the World Heritage Listed site. And it is here where the real fun begins. Most of the tourist attractions lie concentrated in one small city centre, where you can go from one interesting site to the next.

Malacca has such a rich history as it was the centre of Asian trade over a number of centuries, because it lay between Indonesia and the other Asian countries. Back in the 15th and 16th century, it was the capital of the Malaccan Sultanate and was the centre of the Malay world. However, Malacca was then invaded by the Portuguese in 1511. Following that were centuries of colonization by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British as well as development of Straits Chinese (Peranakan) culture. All of this heavily influences the architecture of the town and it remains a melting pot of a number of cultures. It was fought over so regularly because of the spice trade that existed between Indonesia, India, and the Chinese based countries.

I arrived in Malacca after two days in Kuala Lumpur. I went to Malacca because Ruth, a good friend and her traveling companion had planned to be there that weekend, having come across from Australia on holiday. I spent my time with Ruth and Gillian, exploring the sights, sounds and different flavours of southern Malaysia. Sit back and enjoy photos showing the madness of Malacca!