Singapore

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The Merlions are coming to Singapore

 

On a humid summer evening in 2005, I stood outside the door of my service apartment in the heart of Singapore, panic swelling in my chest. I valiantly attempted once more to open the door, and failed. I was surrounded by my three suitcases, which appeared to stare up at me in mute rebuke.

 

I had landed in Singapore just two hours earlier. It was my first time travelling alone outside my home country India. I had travelled widely before that. In fact, by age twenty-four, I had covered more than ten countries. My formative years were spent in Oman, during the roaring eighties. Using Muscat as our base, my family and I had travelled to Europe for a whirlwind tour that lasted fifteen days but left us with years of precious memories.

 

Later when my sister moved to Belfast, I stayed with her for a stretch of four months to help her take care of her toddler daughter.

 

Each time, I had the benefit of being accompanied by an adult. Even when I visited my sister as a precocious twenty-year-old, I handled the passports and immigration interviews by myself, but my mother assisted with filling up the required forms.

 

So when the opportunity to travel to Singapore for a work assignment landed in my lap, I jumped at the chance, without even sparing a thought to the fact that I had never travelled alone.

 

For me, bravery is possible only if I don’t think too far ahead. If I project too far into the future, my wondrous imagination steps in, and conjures up scary images that put most realistic worst case scenarios to shame.

 

While the Indian monsoons were in full swing, I boarded a Singapore Airlines flight from Mumbai airport and landed at the Lion City five hours later, shortly after dusk.

 

As I stood there staring at my keys, wishing for a magic wand that would open the door for me, an elderly gentleman emerged from a room a little ahead, talking into his cell phone. Normally I would rather swallow raw eggs than accost strangers for help, but on that day, I threw caution to the winds. I patiently crouched nearby, waiting as a tiger does for his prey, and the instant he hung up, I sought his assistance in opening the door. It posed a challenge for him too, but he managed it, and I thanked him profusely.

 

Over the next few months I broke a record of personal firsts. For the first time, I rode alone in cars with strangers – respectable estate agents – to look for good houses.

 

Once I did select a house, I moved into it, set up the gas and electricity connections, signed the agreement with my landlord and paid him rent in cash. Those were things I’d never done alone.

 

I opened a bank account with difficulty, having to hunt for a bank that would accept my Q pass (a work permit given to less-experienced professionals).

 

When my mother visited me for a week, I took her to an AR Rahman concert. We took a cab and returned home well past midnight, driving through roads illuminated by street lamps.

 

In time, my husband joined me in Singapore. Barely two years later, we decided to pack up and move to India. He went ahead and took the trip back home, so while returning too, I de-cluttered the house, donated surplus baggage, and packed everything on my own.

 

On the evening I had first landed in Singapore, I sat in the three-bedroom service apartment with all the lights on, as the sinking feeling of loneliness and depression crept into my bones. I called my sister. She instantly detected the gloom colouring my voice. When I shared my problem, she said, “You have done very well! What are you worried about? Do you know how proud I am of you? Even I haven’t done what you achieved on your own.”

 

That’s when I realized the import of her words. She was always the “brave” one in our family, and even she had never undertaken a cross-country move in her early twenties.

 

At the turn of the fourteenth century, a Prince named Sang Nila Utama accidentally came across the land that was Singapore. He spotted a lion which disappeared in a flash into the jungle.  He considered this a good omen and named the city “Singapura” – combining the Malay words for lion (“Singa”) and city (“Pura”).

 

So Singapore came to be known as the Lion City. Its symbol is the merlion – a half-lion, half-fish creature.

 

I can say for sure that the city brought out the lion in me.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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I have never been particularly fond of the winters. But one city made me change my mind. And that was Rishikesh…..

Sometimes I can still feel the icy winds haunting me, calling me back to Rishikesh, but what can I say; I am a busy person. When I visited Rishikesh it was during November. All my life I have been living underneath the glorious rays of the sun but as soon as I stepped of the airplane, holy moly was it chilly. Not so cold but still it was chilly. Anyways, as I left the airport I came across something that was amazing and that was the scenery. It was something that you would expect from a movie chase scene on a mountain. Speeding vehicles that are a just a few feet away from instantly dropping down the valley. Landing in a river, in this case the Ganges. And yet somehow you know that it’s never going to happen.

Since I was in Rishikesh for a school trip with my friends, we went with Snow Leopard Adventures (a touring company). I would recommend you to travel in a group of 6 – 12 people whether family or friends. As I was saying, when I arrived at Camp Panther I enjoyed the beautiful scenery of trees, tents and the weather. You could even smell the sweet nectar of the flowers. And after a hearty lunch of rice and tandoori chicken; me and some of my friends set of to embark on a journey through a narrow yet satisfying hike. I’m not going to bore you with too many details but if you are a foreigner here then let me tell you that something as simple as a cow or some nice local children will brighten your day and make you see the upsides of India. And when we returned we showered, had dinner and then slept.

But what was really exhilarating was the rafting. That is something that you must, and I repeat you must do.  I got in with my friends in a group of 6 and a teacher. The scenery was so mesmerizing that it just took the breath out of me. My mind was just dazzled by how beautiful it was. But what made this really worthwhile was the pleasure of rafting with my friends down a beautiful river bursting with memorable scenes that is still unspoiled by mankind. But what annoyed me was the water. It was really cold. A quick dip will send shivers that will take over your body. But what made it also really fun and terrifying was when our teacher pushed my friend onto my face and as I submerged into the water. Terror seemed to scream throughout my body even though it lasted for only a few seconds.

But after a nice lunch on the pure white sand that glittered with happiness, we were refuelled with more excitement as me and my friends set of at quick pace to try and complete our journey faster than the others. And when we finally finished our journey of 32 kilometres we dried our cold and wet bodies as we embarked on an hour bus journey back to our new camp. The beaches on the banks of the Ganges in our camp were just so phenomenal. In fact we had quite an interesting game of volleyball going on and as we relaxed ourselves until night fell and then we dozed off.

 Now if you are a hiking enthusiast you are in luck because for the next part of my journey I am going to talk about hiking in the Himalayas. These were the smaller mountains but the scenery was just beautiful. Steep winding paths with an abundance of life of plants and animals. But reaching the summit was amazing. Just looking down was so refreshing as the air felt so fresh. You could even see some snow covered peaks! And so the treacherous journey of hiking back down began where in fact I had slipped a few times. And then we went back to our other new camp and prepared for the night.

The next day we visited an orphanage and went to the city to buy a few things. I had actually bought a stunning marble lamp case although you have to be careful about getting ripped off. My friend actually got ripped off for a piece of ‘sapphire’ that was only 1x1x1 cm. He had paid around 30 SGD for it and so you should really be careful!

But the next day we sadly had to say good bye to Rishikesh as we flew back to Delhi and then we boarded our night flight back to Singapore! And that was the end of my adventure.

 Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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Singapore musing:  Singapore in Rain and my  village

Wow! At last I am in Singapore, the fabled city. Seating comfortably in my hotel room and looking at the Singapore skyline with a warm cuppa of tea. As I am looking out a nice drizzle of rain engulfs the city .I am looking out fascinated by the rain as always.

As I am looking out suddenly I recall my time spent at our ancestral village in India. I am surprised. There can be no connection between the ultramodern city of Singapore and Mhangrun (Pronounced as   Mhaang-roon).

In fact Mhangrun is a tiny village not even mentioned on Google .It lies about 150 miles from Bombay (Mumbai) on a rocky outcrop surrounded by barren rocky hills. It consists of Few houses clustered around what you may call the main street .Add another few houses scattered nearby and you cover the whole village. Most of these are empty as people have left for Bombay to have better life. Mostly the elderly are left with few women and children. Our former house was probably the largest house right in the centre of the village. It was a massive two storied mud and brick structure with red clay tiles on the sloping roof. There were neither any shops nor any vehicles barring an odd bullock-cart on the middy street as far as I can remember.

          I had gone there just a couple of times in my childhood. The last time I went there my grandma recalled how she hated those rocky hill in the backdrop constantly visible to her from the kitchen window where she spent most of her time. She came to this rather desolate place from a green nice town of her parents nearer the coast after her marriage at a young age of 12 .She recalled how she used to constantly used cry at the site of those hills, how bad the weather was. It used to be scorching hot in the summer, cold in winter and heavy rains in the monsoon. It seems it was a place of extremes. No wonder the village looked so empty. Probably my grandparent’s family stayed there as they owned most of the land around.

As you walk to the end of the main street, which will happen pretty quickly you see a narrower winding path leading to a small hillock. A small square building is standing with pyramidal roof covered with tiles which were red once upon a time but now black with patches of dried grass and moss on them. There is no door. If you walk in you will see three statues of gods .very roughly cut, coated with red vermillion paste and looked really scary to a small child. This is the village deity or the “Vetaal” (Literally means king of ghosts) as they call it. Just as you come out you will see couple of most handsome champak tree (Also called Frangipani or  Pagoda tree  which is species of Plumeria )I have ever seen  with a crown of  white flowers and very few leaves. How they survive in such an extreme climate is a wonder.

If you take a long walk down and go towards a winding path that takes you near the river flowing deep inside the deep gorge cut in to the rock over millions of years. Surrounding area is mostly barren except a small temple .This is the famous “Walane Kund” and I was told an interesting myth associated with it.

If you carefully come near the edge of the gorge you can look at the deep water 40-50 feet below flowing so slow that it appears almost stagnant.  If you have some rice flakes and drop it you will see huge fishes jumping out of dark water for it. But be careful to throw further. This is because of this strange story.

It was said that each time you offer rice flakes down the gorge successively bigger fishes will come out of water. You are not supposed to offer them beyond six times .But a lady from other some other  village  got married to a man from Mhangroon .After marriage she came to “Doha of Walne” with her husband .She expressed the desire to see the fishes. The husband offered rice flakes .First time smaller fishes jumped out and progressively become bigger .As he offered rice flakes for the sixth time at his wife’s insistence fishes as large as a man jumped out to eat them. His wife now asked him to do an encore for the seventh time to which the husband refused. A quarrel ensured as is the usual case between a husband and wife. Ultimately the man agreed but he tied himself to the rock temple and asked his wife to do whatever she pleases. She went ahead and offered rice flakes for the seventh time. And nothing happened for a moment. Then there was a huge whirlpool formed over the water and a huge fish that came out and sucked out everything on the bank including the wife. The man was saved by the strength of his rope.

Though I was a child at that time I was really old enough not to believe in this story. But I could not muster the guts to offer rice fakes beyond the prescribed limit. The gorge really looked deep and water seemed bottomless. While growing up I came across similar stories associated with many places in the world.

Now seating here in the midst of one of the most modern cities in the world it seems incredulous that I recall this story. Then I looked out at the rain and the city visible through the haze. The rain and haze looked so similar to my small village. I realized how humanity is bounded by this bounty of god whether in a small remote village or the most modern city.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

If you’ve ever thought of backpacking, or you have backpacked, or are currently backpacking, you most likely have heard of Couchsurfing. For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about – Couchsurfing is a travel community of sorts where people all around the world, in many different countries, open up their homes, couches and spare beds, to travelers at no cost. Travelers can set up their itinerary on the site allowing hosts in the area to view and invite them to their homes. Travelers can also review profiles of hosts and send personal requests. Yes, you are staying with a “stranger” but almost all hosts are travelers themselves and use it as a way to meet people of different cultures and learn about different parts of the world.

You should use it this way too!

I’m a traveler and so I know the expenses that we have while traveling. I know living on a tight budget and thinking, “if I just have half a sandwich for lunch, I can eat the rest for dinner and therefore don’t have to pay for two meals.” So I get the lure of a “free place to stay”, but Couchsurfing should be about so much more than that. It should be about learning from a local and creating a lasting friendship with the perk being that the traveler has a free place to stay – not the other way around.

Right now I am staying with a friend and cannot host, but I do seek out those coming through the Boston area, hoping that I can meet up with them for a coffee, beer, dinner, a walk in the park, etc. I cannot tell you how many of these people don’t have a full profile or have no references or friends. To me, that says that they’re using it only to have a free place to sleep. I could be wrong, but these two things are VERY important to hosts. I’ve heard that from everyone who has ever hosted anyone on Couchsurfing. Full profiles and references are what hosts generally go by. Hosts are not just going to welcome someone into their home who is looking for a free ride.

Some of my closest friends while traveling I’ve made through Couchsurfing. It’s a very special thing for someone to open their home to someone they don’t know. Think about it! How trusting is that?! Different hosts work in different ways – some want to spend every moment showing you around, invite you out with his/her friends, sharing their life with you, and some may just want to have a dinner or beer with you. Either way – these hosts are OPENING THEIR HOME to you!

Seriously, let this sink in for a minute!

It’s a big deal and I hate that this thought is being lost in the idea of just a free place to crash. I know not everyone uses it this way, but there does seem to be a lot of people who go off traveling, setting up an account a week before they leave, not knowing a single person in the community and just hoping to stay somewhere for free, sending out requests without even reading profiles of the hosts. This kills the spirit of Couchsurfing. The more people do this, the less hosts are willing to host. The less the hosts are willing to host the less likely it is for travelers to find a host, to have a cultural exchange, and potentially a lifelong friendship.

I haven’t surfed a whole lot but all my experiences have been positive ones. I am still in contact with my hosts and those I’ve met at Couchsurfing meetups along the way. I consider my host in Singapore one of my very good friends. We message each other on whatsapp almost daily – talking about life, travel, dreams, etc. just like you would with a friend from home. I feel very fortunate that she accepted my couch request, because now I have a friend for life.

And that, to me, is more important than the money I saved.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

I live in a country I love. A country that through it’s stringent laws, and perhaps suffocating tendencies, holds a place I call home.

Home is arguably one of the most common topics we talk about here in our tiny island. After all, it is difficult to find a sense of belonging in a land where your road is laid out on golden linen for you. When you’re so constrained to this place, never experiencing how the other half lives, you can never find freedom that comes with sheer happiness.

But over the years of writing essay after essay about Home, about it being where the heart is, or where you can close the door and feel like you’d opened one instead, I never found out what it truly was.

But not long ago, I did. Unfortunately, I paid the heaviest price for it – my grandmother. With her, I had travelled much of the globe. I watched a purple dinosaur dance on stage, and people drawing with sugar. She was always by my side, and when she left I guess I realised – that she was home because she let me be myself. She let me free and be free. I miss her so much; I miss her presence and her ability to allow me to talk about writing as if I was writing at the moment. I miss the fact that she brought me everywhere and with her I saw what passion for life meant.

Beside her was where I was free. But you need to see the world before you find out about that. You need to find yourself before you can let yourself free. Everyone finds freedom in different places, it could be with someone, or at the top of Mount Fuji. It could be under the Atlantic Ocean or in the oldest car on Earth.

I travelled to china and saw chefs wrap dumplings like they were folding precise origami, I travelled to Bangkok and saw dancers flow as if they were the wind, I travelled to Australia and saw sunsets that were only possible by God’s art. And they were all free. Although the chefs were in a cramped kitchen, and the dancers were on a broken stage, they were free. They were free because they were happy.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

I saw the world, and I saw her, in the places I’ve seen, people I’ve met and songs I’ve heard. Although she left, I will see the rest of the world for her.

I will see the vast oceans, amazing sun rises. The high mountains and the breath taking Northern Lights. I will see the beauty of the world and share the fascinating sight that is freedom. I will find myself and share the rawness of it with everyone I love. I will find a place where I can be as free as I was beside her. And one day, when I meet my grandmother again, I will share with her that I found beauty second only to Hers.

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Apple in Germany

Michael Wigge redefines the term “adventure travel.” For some, adventure comes in the form of scaling mountains and bungee jumping. For Wigge, the adventure lies in engaging with strangers, couch surfing, getting from one country to the next with no money and even crossing Germany….on a Razor scooter.

 

After travelling the world for 150 days without money while writing his first book, How to Travel the World for Free, Wigge took on a new challenge: turn an apple into a house in Hawaii.

 

For his latest book, How to Barter for Paradise, Wigge traveled through 14 countries and 6 continents exchanging goods for more valuable ones, meeting an array of good-humored people along the way who took his deals.

Singapore

After sixty-five days of bartering, I sit with my jade on a plane, and I’m just in time. Jim Rogers, the billionaire in Singapore, promised me weeks ago to devote thirty minutes of his precious time to me on May 25th at exactly 11:10 a.m., just as long as I bring some jade with me. And I have it!

I call up the most important facts about Jim again:

He retired from finance at the age of thirty-seven, since he has made enough money in the stock market.

He moved from New York to Singapore as an adventurer and investor.

He is married to a young blonde.

He has made two big world-wide trips, one on a motorcycle, and in the process set a world record: over one hundred countries visited in three years!

Now I understand why I was granted an audience. Jim likes adventures. He has also written books about them with telling titles such as Investment Biker and Adventure Capitalist. I’m very excited for my appointment as I prepare myself. A meeting with a billionaire is the chance to really make a big jump. So I have devised the following plan: first, I’ll offer only the two small jade pieces, and then I’ll throw in the big stone, and then, when I’ve already gotten a decent offer, BAM! The little jade Hawaii house is also on the table. And then, when that has added a nice amount to his offer, Jim Rogers will turn the house over and, ding! the inscription “for Jim” on the bottom, which I wisely made in advance. Who could refuse an offer like that?

It is May 25, exactly 11:10 a.m., when I ring the bell to Jim’s house, or should I say his estate, in Singapore. A maid leads me to a conference room decorated with Asian art objects. I wait ten minutes until an older but athletic man of just 5’4” enters the room, says hello, and gets right to the point: “Did you bring jade?”

Yes!”

Let’s see it.”

Here, two beautiful jade art pieces.”

It doesn’t really look like good jade.”

No, here are the certificates.”

They aren’t real!”

Unbelievable! I was so sure that a totally euphoric bartering agreement would happen here, interrupted only by the clinking of champagne flutes and the entrance of attractive maids who would discreetly shove caviar hors d’oeuvres into my mouth.

And then this: a brutal business deal where I have to be extremely careful not to leave the house empty-handed. I realize that Jim will disparage anything I offer to strengthen his own position. But luckily, the image of the woman in the Dharavi slum of Mumbai appears before my eyes again. She whispers in my ear: “When bartering, always act as like you are completely dissatisfied!”

I immediately have the opportunity to put those words into action. Jim offers me two gold coins, an ounce each. When you think about the fact that an ounce of gold is worth about $1,500, that’s not bad. But still, I listen to the words of the woman from the slum and act dissatisfied. At the same time, I set the six-and-a-half-pound jade stone—bam!—on the crystal table like magic. Jim looks at the jade with big eyes. He hadn’t counted on there being more. Now the shell of the stony businessman is beginning to crumble, I think, as he says, “What is that?”

Six and a half pounds of jade.”

It doesn’t look like good jade.”

No, here’s the certificate.”

Come on, it’ll cost me $10,000 to get it cut.”

I almost have a small crisis, but luckily Jim disappears wordlessly into his gold and silver cabinet and places a third ounce of gold on the table. Wow! That’s almost $5,000 in gold, and I’ll definitely be able to trade it, since gold has value all over the world, which makes it much better than jade. And the best thing is that I still have my trump card. The moment comes—ding!—I place the little house wordlessly on the table at the same moment Jim looks at the door politely but impatiently. My thirty-minute time with the billionaire is over.

And what is that now?”

A jade Hawaiian house that I made myself, for you.”

I don’t say anything, I don’t show a certificate, I just calmly turn the house over. Then I say, in my most charming voice, “I made it especially for you. It has an inscription, here: for Jim.”

An inscription? For me? That’s . . .”

Both of us feel tears in our eyes. For a moment, emotions win over the tough business atmosphere. Jim disappears into his cabinet again. It takes a moment, but he returns with three ounces of silver, which he puts in my hand with a smile, but without wasting words. He quickly sees me to the door, probably so as not to risk me seeing him wipe the tears. Or maybe just so that I can’t magically proffer another piece of jade out of my pocket.

Wow, I made a good deal and now I’m sitting with three ounces of gold and three ounces of silver in a hostel room in hot, humid Singapore, right on the equator. This city state is distinguished by its imposing skyline and its atmosphere of order and cleanliness that beats out Germany in every way. It’s a great city, but with unusually strict laws. A taxi driver tells me that the slightest infringement is punished immediately with jail time. I wonder if I’m allowed to walk around Singapore with six ounces of gold and silver in my pocket. I hastily look for my next country and decide on Thailand.

How to Barter for Paradise_Book Cover_Low ResolutionAbout the Author:  Michael Wigge redefines the term “adventure travel.” For some, adventure comes in the form of scaling mountains and bungee jumping. For Wigge, the adventure lies in engaging with strangers, couch surfing, getting from one country to the next with no money and even crossing Germany….on a Razor scooter.  After travelling the world for 150 days without money while writing his first book, How to Travel the World for Free, Wigge took on a new challenge: turn an apple into a house in Hawaii.

 For his latest book, How to Barter for Paradise, Wigge traveled through 14 countries and 6 continents exchanging goods for more valuable ones, meeting an array of good-humored people along the way who took his deals.

Picture 955A NOT SO PRIVATE TRAVEL DIARY:

MY ADVENTURES TO FREEDOM AND HAPPINESS

Many years ago, I was a frequent traveller…in my dreams. I enjoyed seeing different places…in books. In reality, I was a prisoner. I was imprisoned by fear of exploring the world. I was in a lonely and dark place.

Luckily, that’s all in the past. Now, I can truly say, I am fearless and I am free. You can call me Steph and this is my not so private travel diary.

I have never been adventurous. The thought of travelling alone scares me. This is the very reason why I really had apprehensions when it comes to exploring new places. I have always been guarded and will always settle to just dreaming. That’s it.

Everything changed when I finally decided to brave the progressive and beautiful Singapore…alone. I was given a chance to stay in Singapore for a couple of months. And now, I can truly say that my experiences there changed my life forever.

When I decided to stay in Singapore and check out their culture, I had the time of my life. The sceneries, attractions, food and people were all wonderful. I never had difficulties in adjusting to their way of life. For me, the best thing about Singapore is the fact that the place seems to be a mixture of different cultures. Because of how progressive the country is, there are a lot of foreigners from different parts of the world. In fact, there are a lot of Filipinos too which really made me happy. To cut it short, I was able to meet people from almost all walks of life.

Aside from Singapore, I was also able to visit Malaysia. I only had to ride a bus to go to the southern part of Malaysia from Singapore, cool right? In Malaysia, I was able to see how similar the place is to my home country. I had fun exploring the place. It was truly an exciting adventure. It was freedom at its best.

During my stay in Singapore, I have learned a lot of things. First, there are so many amazing places that I should visit. Second, there are so many people that I should meet. Third, there are so many cultures and happy memories to experience. Lastly, I believe that the most important learning I got from my travel experiences in Singapore and Malaysia is that we all owe ourselves the experiences we can get from travelling the world.

Picture 616We need to be brave in experiencing other cultures in order to truly appreciate who we really are as a person. Through our travels, we are able to widen our horizons even more. Also, we get to exercise our freedom. My personal mantra now is: If you want to be free, travel more. Each one of us should realize how short life is to be a prisoner of fear. It is healthy to get out of our comfort zones once in awhile. The experiences we gain from our travels are truly priceless. These experiences will help us realize how beautiful life is.

The day I went back to the Philippines, I was able to say to myself that I was truly free and happy. My travel experiences freed me. I am hoping that you will find your freedom and happiness too!

Again, I am Steph and this is my story. It’s time you write your own travel story too. Enjoy!

About the Author: Stephanie Almeda is from the Philippines. She enjoys reading books and visiting new places. She works as a researcher and writer for a US company based in Manila. Read more of her writing.

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Magnificent bull elephant, Chawang, salutes visitors as they enjoy a tram ride in Singapore's Night Safari. Chawang, the park's largest resident, is one of five Asian elephants that calls this attraction home.
Along Night Safari’s Leopard Trail, peer into the often hidden world of our Sri Lankan leopards in their forested habitat.

Just before my nephew was born in December 2000, my parents came to visit me at work. I was living on a “Renaissance Cruises” ship amidst a fifty-day sailing from Athens, Greece to Bangkok, Thailand. Being the senior assistant cruise director, passengers had seen me on television, on stage, in the halls and in port various times. My parents’ arrival as new cruisers was akin to a royal sighting. Everyone wanted to meet them and inform them my antics.

There were many highlights and a few dreary moments during the fifty-day sailing packed with different ports; we were in Oman during Ramadan, had troubles with the local seaman in Qatar, and some evening performers showed up hours late or not at all on several occasions.

I was thrilled to have my parents visit me and could not wait to share amazing sites with them on their first visit to Asia. Singapore was one of my favorite places on the sailing. I loved when my mom and dad took me to the Singapore Zoo. We participated in the Jungle Breakfast program with the orang utans and enjoyed each other’s company.  

The quirky yet enchanting Malayan tapirs will captivate you during your Night Safari tram ride.

Because of responsibilities onboard, I regretfully missed the Night Safari  that my parents later raved about. During my seven years at sea and two sabbatical years in Asia, I have had very few regrets except missing out on viewing the animals at the nocturnal zoo. George and I will take advantage of discounted accommodation to see the sights and enjoy the shopping in Little India and Arab Street. Don’t miss out! travelmob Facebook Fans only:   

CLICK HERE for the 10% discount which ends May 31 along with the Great Singapore Sale. Want to meet us there?

 

All photos courtesy of Wildlife Reserves SingaporeBelow: The magnificent bull elephant, Chawang, salutes visitors as they enjoy a tram ride in Singapore’s Night Safari. 

Chawang, the park’s largest resident, is one of five Asian elephants that calls this attraction home.

 

 

Mouthwatering wonton noodles at Mak's Noodles

This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Nicholas Yong from Singapore. Thanks for your entry Nicholas!

Hong Kong: former British colony, Special Administrative Region, and one of the most densely populated cities in the world, is not a place for the faint-hearted. But it is one of the most dynamic places I have ever visited, and draws me back time and again.

Much of Hong Kong’s energy comes from an outspoken populace of more than 7 million, which has little qualms about expressing its views. Large-scale demonstrations and protests happen each time I visit, but it is a smaller incident that sums up Hong Kongers for me. While on a family trip, my mother witnessed a woman having a loud, vociferous argument with a traffic policeman who had given her a fine. This went on for a good 15 minutes, until his supervisor had to come over and intervene.

Mouthwatering wonton noodles at Mak’s Noodles

There’s lots of touristy stuff you can do, like going to the Peak and Madam Tussauds and taking the Star Ferry. But back in 2011, I set myself a challenge of exploring the lesser known parts of Hong Kong in 24 hours with S$100 (HK$623), based solely on tips from my Twitter followers. This is called a Twitter trip, and the whirlwind nature of the challenge was befitting of the often frantic pace of life there. There were lots of little pleasures and delights to be discovered as I explored the city with my girlfriend, from having tea at the rustic Mido Cafe in Temple Street, to the eye-watering incense smoke at the 19th century Wong Tai Sin temple, where many students often go to pray for good exam results.

The highlight of the trip occurred when we went to 41 Cumberland Road in Kowloon Tong in search of martial arts legend Bruce Lee’s last home in Hong Kong. We found it – only to discover that it is now a love hotel. Such hotels cater to amorous couples looking for privacy for a few hours. I can still remember the old woman sitting at the lobby gruffly asking us: “Do you want to rent a room?” And the feeling we got as we emerged from the hotel and realised that we looked like we had just checked out.

But the best thing about Hong Kong is still the glorious, glorious food. Sweet or savoury, spicy or mild, stir-fried or steamed, the city has it all. As you pound the pavements day or night, you can see and smell it everywhere – dim sum, wonton noodles, roast goose, roast duck, roast chicken, mango-based desserts, and more.  Take a short walk in Hong Kong at any time of the day, and there’s a more than fair chance you’ll end up eating something, whether you’re hungry or not. Simply because it tastes so, so good. It was also fitting that many of the tweets I received in 2011 were food recommendations.

Sitting at the historic Mido Cafe along Temple Street

The streets of the territory are packed with people at all hours of the day. And you are constantly surrounded by the sounds of the singsong Cantonese dialect, the main language of communication and commerce in Hong Kong. Though I am not fluent in Cantonese, it is intimately familiar to me, as I grew up watching Hong Kong movies starring Asian icons such as Chow Yuen Fatt and the late Leslie Cheung. Cantonese is also one of the hardest languages for an outsider, even a Han Chinese, to pick up. Just consider that, compared to the four intonations of Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese has nine intonations. Not to mention a myriad of proverbs, puns and slang terms. It’s pretty telling that even after more than 150 years of British rule – which ended in 1997 – English standards in Hong Kong are still pretty abysmal. Hence, signs such as the one I saw in a doorway warning people to beware of “swine fluid influencer” (it actually meant swine influenza, a reference to the swine flu outbreak that started sometime in 2009).

But if there is one thing I dislike about Hong Kong, it’s the horrendous pollution that blows in from mainland factories in neighbouring Shenzhen. This creates a dark, poisonous smog that perpetually hangs over the city and obscures the skyline. As an expatriate financial analyst living there once told me: “There are days when I look out over the Pearl River Delta and I can’t see a thing. That’s when I wish I was in Singapore.” I can testify to the effects of the pollution – the last time I went there, I caught flu that was so bad, I was literally coughing up blood in my phlegm. But that still didn’t stop me from stuffing my face.

It’s been a while since I’ve visited Hong Kong. I should really start planning for my next trip there.

About the Author: Nicholas Yong: I’m a travel and entertainment journalist working for the lifestyle section of The Straits Times, Singapore’s main English newspaper. I also blog about travel and pop culture at www.incoherentboy.com. You can follow me on Twitter @incoherentboy.

writing-contest-india

This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Fang Wei Goh from Singapore. Thanks for your entry Fang Wei!

India is a country that I have been to 5 times since 2009. People visit India for their own various reasons; some are followers of the late spiritual guru Sai Baba while others seek to practise yoga. I first went to India out of curiosity as a Sociology student and keep finding myself going back. Not without vehement objections from my family and friends, of course. Coming from Singapore-perceived to be a place where nothing can go wrong to India where nothing seems to go right, saying that I had a culture shock there is an understatement.

As a professor in Hyderabad has remarked, visitors to India will only have two reactions: love her or hate her. I have a love-hate relationship with the country. No visitor can escape the witnessing of her dirtiness and poverty but India is so much more than just that. This country is one of a kind. Whatever you say about India; it is true and so is the opposite.

 

writing-contest-india

 

Whoever thinks that all Indians have dark skin and look similar would be surprised to find that North Indians are fair and Northeast Indians have an Oriental appearance. This is how I-a Chinese was able to sometimes pass off as an Indian from Assam and avoid paying the tourist price at places of interest. Often, a tourist ticket can cost ten times as much as a local ticket. Nevertheless, I like this policy of making it affordable for domestic tourists to visit other parts of their own country. India is so diverse; a different state can be as unfamiliar to an Indian from another state as to a foreigner like me.

India is currently at the crossroads of tradition and modernity. Like other major cities worldwide, her capital Delhi has the same multinational brands. McDonalds prides itself for always offering customers a uniform experience in food and environment no matter which country they are in but Delhi gave me my first experience of a blackout in McDonalds. Accustomed to such occurrences, my Indian friends did not bat an eyelid and just said “Welcome to India”.

Of the places that I have been to, the greatest finds are yet to be flocked by tourists. Most people dismiss Bangalore as an unexciting IT city but the scenery at Nandi Hills took my breath away. The Naida Caves in Diu was also a phenomenal sight. The Tiger Fort in Jaipur is always crowded with people during the day but it is transformed into a very tranquil and romantic spot at night. The list of tourist sites is endless but my best takeaway is that just by being in India, I feel spurred to push my boundaries. Things that I will never think of doing back home, I begin to ask myself “why not”.

Riding pillion on a motorbike for 2 weeks without a helmet and boarding an illegal cab alone are just a few of the crazy things that I did, admittedly without much thinking back then. I would not be so reckless now but I urge those visiting India not to be overcome by paranoia. Personally, I find that, for every person in India who tries to harm you, there is someone who will help you. On our part, we just have to exercise caution and trust our instincts.

Once we let go of our fear and prejudice, there is plenty that India offers. Some of the best entertainment is free. The highways are filled with cheesy road signs such as“It is always better to be Mr late than being late Mr” and when you go to the cinema in smaller towns, the animated responses of the audience can be more amusing than the movie itself. On the road, you can find yourself surrounded by resilient beggars, entrepreneurial hawkers and sleepy buffaloes, all at the same time. Even when I was climbing the Himalayas, I met an inspiring group of environmentalists called Mountain Cleaners!

I always remind myself that when I travel, I am not the only one forming ideas about other people. In a Mumbai slum, one of the leaders had visited Singapore before. He shared that when he mentioned the word “India”, the reaction he received was people’s wrinkling of noses to indicate their view of India as smelly. This was a humbling experience. Of the 22 countries that I have visited so far, only the eateries in India have the practice of offering diners mouth fresheners (pan masala) after a meal. Who are we then to judge India?

I chose the title My Incredible India because this is my love story. Not everyone will fall in love with India like I did but to borrow and use Mother Theresa’s quote in the context of traveling, “find your own Calcutta” and spread the love.

About the Author: I am Fang Wei, a 26 years old female who is born and bred in Singapore. I handle the student exchange programme at National University of Singapore International Relations Office so I get to travel for both work and leisure. I am an avid couchsurfer and postcrosser (http://www.postcrossing.com/user/Windgurl).