Wednesday, August 31, 2005

the wondrous east

i've just come back from a whirlwind trip through south east asia. The trip - like hanoi traffic - was organised chaos and lots of fun. some random anecdotes:

- When you cross the street in saigon, be sure you've got life insurance. its not changed in the five years since ive been. imagine stampeding animals.. the miracle is that it works.

- Travel by bus. Always. You get some amazing bargains - HCMC to Phenom Penh for $4, PP to Siem Reap for $5. Just be sure that you know when the bus leaves, as my travelling companion and I embarassingly rushed down pham ngu lao chasing a bus that carried our luggage. with hangovers and flip flops. We lucked out in Poipet and got a pimpin' (I use the word fairly) bus - lace curtains but red leather fittings, disco lights and lounge music. This was our reward for taking 8 hrs to do 150km on unpathed roads. It was like riding a washing machine.

- Bangkok has some of the best nightlife and shopping in the world. In ze verld. Thank you, MM, for the local expertise.

- Go to Phenom Penh. Easily one of the most underrated cities in Asia. Just bring a good pair of sandals, you'll have to trek through drain water at some point in time.

- Food in Asia is the best in the world, easily. Or at least a step above haggis...

Okay, thats all for my pearls of wisdom :P Ill update on Berlin shortly, what a place it is here.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Run, Visa, Run

This weekend I will do my third visa run of the summer.

Now, Im neither a PR or a citizen in Singapore, and if you take a moment to imagine me shooting a rifle at imaginary Malaysians, or with any weapon, or anything even potentially hazardous actually, you can probably see that it was quite wise of them not to let me immigrate. So I traded the thrill of running 12 kilometers in 30 degree heat for national service for the dubious honour of going to Malaysia every fortnight for the sole purpose of - simply - coming back to Singapore.

The process itself isn't much fun. After being crammed into the 170 bus, which has conditions to rival that of your local battery farm, you have to ride along for thirty minutes in a steel cage that's hot as hell with the invariable screaming child. Now this happens to me on aeroplanes, busses and trains - but was I fated to be hounded by various screaming children? Is this natures way of stopping me from ever reproducing? Anyway, after I smother the yelling brat with my backpack, I disembark the bus to declare that Im officially leaving Singapore. Why do customs officials always look so happy when you leave?

Then its right back into a doubly cramped bus, with the ghost of smothered child deafening you and of course its a sport to elbow people on the bus to Malaysia isn't it? But after you endure that smelly, sweaty ride over the Causeway, you get to be thrilled by the modern miracle that is Malaysian immigration.

How does it work you ask? Well while the Malaysians stroll casually through the autogate, flaunting their passports for no doubt the first time, merrily watching you as they drift further away and striding purposefully towards their homelands, you are left angry, daunted by the long line and - but of course - next to a screaming child. Im fine with the autogate, it makes sense for people returning to their native lands - but does it have to be so bloody visible? The second sort of 'class' of tourists are the Singaporeans, who have three queues and customs officials attending to them. Frustrating, yes, because its slow going but thats nothing compared to..

The Serfs. The 'Foreign Passport, Non-Singapore' queue. That's right - its just one queue. Clearly it never occurred to them that the 'Not Malaysian, Not Singaporean' contingent of the world might make up a - well - quite a lot. Your passport's your ticket to a two/three hour wait, in a boiling and barren hall without air conditioning. Need to use the loo after an hour? Bam! some bitch behind you has nabbed your place. Fancy listening to music? Well you couldnt even if you tried to hear over the hoards of Indonesian workers. Think first impressions matter? Haha, hahaha...

To spice things up a bit, they handily leave all of your immigration forms AT THE DESK so instead of filling it out at your leisure (a letter every five minutes, say), you find yourself frantically scribbling down the details as you are one person from the desk. Then, after the security camera seems to focus on me, the incredulous immigration officer will ask "You were in Singapore for a whole two weeks? Why?" (bloody good question) and somehow "I wanted to see the Merlion" doesn't quite cut it. Then, after eying me very suspiciously (they must have all visited the Merlion), he will imperiously stamp my passport, indicating that I am to grovellingly take my leave in a quest for cheap DVDs.

And then I get to do it all over again on the way back, but Ill be doing it with a new copy of The Island and series three of The Family Guy.