Monasteries and music

 A busy day this one. There was a tour organised by the hostel around the Lian Shan Shuang Monastery. This is the older Chinese Buddhist monastery in Singapore and has quite a history, a lot of it closely linked to the government and its lack of appreciation (until recently) of non-Christian religions. I will spare the waffle, but recommend the tour if you’re in the area and see it advertised. The monastery is free to visit, but we gave our guide (Chan) a donation towards the work he is doing in payment. Chan was a great guide, very knowledgeable and not just sticking to the textbook stuff. Chan – if you’re reading this, can you give me your email address and web details again? I didn’t note them down before I sent all the paperwork home to my folks!

 For the second time, Singapore was holding “a dance music event” called zoukOut. There were some live bands on as well, and the ticket price was only $40 – far below what you’d pay for an equivalent event in the UK. It’s an all-nighter, running from 8pm to 8am, and a goodly portion of the folk from the hostel were going. Karen couldn’t as she had the night shift, but Dylan made it after his shift finished.

Unable to find a cheap booze shop (I was told they did exist) I stuck to the hostel’s Tiger beer until we staggered to the MRT and then hopped on a bus from Harbour Front onto Sentosa. Traffic was chaos as you’d expect for a festival, but the atmopshere once we got inside was amazing. There were five stages, if memory serves, though the live music one was only on until around 1:30am. It breaks my heart to see massive crowds in front of a guy playing his CD collection with a screaming frontman, while a bunch of genuinely talented musicians gets a fraction of the attention. All the live bands I caught were really good as well.

 Of the acts, I’d heard a grand total of one: DJ Jazzy Jeff. Courtesy of exactly one hit in the UK around 12 years ago. And, based on his performance at zoukOut, I’m glad I’ve hear nothing else. He’s awful. I mean, I used to think Ziggy at Rios was dreadful (or at least predictable) but this guy had no clue whatsoever about what he was doing.

I’m not a DJ. I did radio and one or two clubs. But I do know something – you’re meant to gauge the crowd and play to them. “Jazzy” managed to get this completely on its head. The most obvious example was late on. He started up “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. The crowd went mental. So he cut the song short and replaced it with a slow blues-ey number. There was an audible groan from the crowd, and the insane jumping mass was replaced by 5000 people stood still while 6 women in the middle somewhere wiggled about a bit.

 Regardless of the naff music and overpaid, over-ego’d CD tray loaders trying their best to ruin the atmosphere the whole place rocked. The people were great (thank you to the numerous ones who’d caught the football score and came up to me to let me know Newcastle had won – yes, I was wearing a Toon top), the free stuff was a giggle (bunjie trampolines, gyroscopes, top end PCs with Quake IV on them), the food was good and cheap (£1 for a festival burger?! I’ll have three, please!)… Sure, there were some organisational slip-ups, especially regarding transport but I hear that this was a vast improvement on last year, and I’m sure they’ll be patching more holes before 2007.

I slipped off at around 5am when the only stage left was the trance/techno one. Partly because I was knackered and partly because I had to pack for my bus trip!

The incredibly kind people at Inn Crowd let me keep my locker to store my laptop in even though I checked out on the Saturday morning. In fact, they actually refunded the night I’d paid for. The hostel is so popular that there was no worries about the bed being sold on to someone else anyway. There was no point paying for a bed when I wouldn’t be in before 6am! I crashed on the beanbags at reception for about 2 hours instead. I think I may have drooled on them. I apologise for this. Posted by Picasa

Catch up

 OK, I’ve been “inactive” for a while so this’ll be a big catchup post! All the relevant pics are at FotoPic so please pop over there and check them out! Updated just before I left Kuala Lumpur on December 12th.

So what have I been up to? Well… chilling out, mainly. My last few days in Singapore were spent with some really nice people and I’m definitly going to stay in touch with them all. The main “crew” were Karen. Angelo, Raj and Dylan. Karen and Dylan work at the Inn Crowd, Raj is a local and Angelo’s from the Philippines. We pretty much spent a good few nights painting the town red with a couple of other backpackers in tow.

Wednesday night was moderately quiet. We took a poor, unsuspecting American guy out to a bar near Raffles. Free entry (good), $14 for a bottle of Bud (bad). I just enjoyed the music and the incredibly drunk middle-aged Brit pretending to be Mick Jagger in front of all his work colleagues. I don’t envy him when the work newsletter comes out next week.

 Thursday was, as they say in the trade, a “doozy”. Raj is one of those people who make connections. He’s a talker – very outgoing – and completely mental. As we left the hostel, he flagged down a man driving a flatbed truck and tried to convince him to give us all a lift into town. I swear he almost managed it as well.

Instead, we split up between two taxis and arranged to meet outside “Double O’s”, only that failed as Raj went straight to the end destination bar and then didn’t answer his mobile. A pain as Karen didn’t know where it was. Eventually, he picked up and we walked down. The bar was opening that night, and Raj had been to school with the owner. That’s how we ended up being in a very small crowd drinking very free alcohol until 2am. Beer, Drambuie on the rocks, two types of Sours, Souther Comfort, tequilla… When the bar closed, we walked to Monkeys. Raj had a bottle of Black Label behind the counter and we split that between us.

 Next stop was Ministry of Sound – the largest of their clubs in the world, although it’s not the biggest club in Singapore any more. $20 got us entry and two drinks, which was enough to last me the rest of the night. Impressive club, naff music.

I think it was 4am when we got the taxi to a nice street restaurant. I had chicken steak (with spices, obviously) and a glass of milky tea. Then I fell asleep. Back at the hostel I discovered insomnia and ended up eventually going to bed around 8am.

 The following day was quite chilled. A Canadian girl who’d arrived wanted to go to the Botanical Gardens and, as I’d not been, I decided to join her. It did mean getting public transport as it’s a bit of a hike but it’s free to get in and a lovely place to spend a few hours. We managed to waste three of them, in fact, and we were rushing a bit. Albert would love the Bonsai section, there’s a lake with swans in, and the Evolution Forest with it’s description of the flora of the region over the millenia is fascinating. All free as well!

A quick dinner was followed by a walk to the Fountain of Wealth and then time to collapse at the hostel. The next night was to be a biggie. Posted by Picasa

Hard Rock and Four Floors of… erm… ladies

 What a weird night. At around 11pm, Karen suggested a night out and we gathered a couple of people from the hostel and the bar next door. We got a free taxi as the chap gets a lot of custom from the hostel and Orchard Road was on his way home. Nice of him.

Stop one – Hard Rock Cafe. This is only the third of these I’ve ever been in, as far as I can recall. Edinburgh and Birmingham being the only other two. This one has less memorabilia, and is also quite small from what I saw. Still, it’s nice to say I’ve been. As with every Monday, apparently, they had stand-up from one of Singapore’s most famous cross-dressers, Kumar.

Well, we have Julian Clarey, the Aussies have Dame Edna, Singapore has Kumar. I needed Karen’s translations as Kumar did his/her set in a combination of heavily accented English, Singlish and Malay often mixing small bits of conversation in all three. The audience loved it, and as I think is true with comedy the world over, you can learn a lot about the locals from it.

 Kumar’s humour would be classes as incredibly racist in the UK and would likely result in him being banned from everywhere, and followed by a bunch of do-gooders trying to ban him/her from performing in their towns. The thing is, Singaporeans have what is known as a “sense of humour” and realise it’s all a joke. This includes the Chinese who make up the vast majority of the population here and who were the butt of most of the jokes.

I won’t go into the price of the drinks as I don’t know how much they were. Thanks to Karen for buying a huge jug of Long Island Iced Tea for everyone to share!

After Kumar finished, we walked over the road to Orchard Towers – also known locally as “Four Floors of Whores” and with very good reason. Women (or at least, they look like women) outnumber men roughly eight to one in the clubs here. Essentially, it’s a slightly more upmarket way for them to tout for business than to walk the streets. I pretty much clung to Karen all evening…

 We went to a club called Ipanema which had a live band and DJ – and no cover charge. Again, thanks to Karen for getting the beer in. Generous lady! The band were fantastic, doing material from bands as diverse as Pink Floyd, Evenescence, Pink, RHCP… The guitarist was astoundingly good and both singers (one male, one female) were astounding. The drummer even played flute as well.

Part of the fun was watching the “ladies of the night” with their customers. While facing them they were all smiles and giggles, when faced away they looked like they just wanted to go home. Alone.

The club emptied around 4am when the band finished their last set, although it didn’t close until 5:00. We left then, though, and spotted a photo machine opposite. One of our party was in desparate need of a passport photo for a work permit by 9am, so he jumped in.

Five minutes later we located the plug and managed to switch it on. This helped. Briefly.

 Seconds after he dropped his money in, the machine died. Then a lady/boy/? Ripped open the curtain on the machine and proceeded to force him/her/?-self on our helpless compatriot. Of course, we took immediate action. And got our cameras out. Well, you didn’t expect us to help him, did you?

Eventually, he struggled free. He/she/? made a grab for him and he tried to lift his/her/?’s skirt. Very big mistake. I’ve read that one of the Thai kickboxing champions had “the op” a couple of years ago, and the way this individual lashed out, I have a feeling we’d just encountered her… An impressive roundhouse and a kick to the back.

At this point we did the think every journalist in the UK is trained to do – made our excuses and left.

Two taxis took us to an outdoor hawker centre where we sat and chilled (if that’s the right word in the 20-degree-plus heat of early morning) and drank beer. Well, I drank beer as I wasn’t hungry. Everyone else had food. As ever, it was a mixed group and I finally got to find out where some of the people were from. Malaysia, Nepal, the US, India, Singapore… All sat around drunk at 5:30am talking about a dodgy comedian and ladyboys.

Great night.

I finally got back to the hostel around 6am and spoke to a few people on Skype before retiring at 7:00. So much for the early night I had planned. Posted by Picasa

Shopping perils – avoid Mobile Hut

I’ve been lucky. Being male and part Scottish, I’m incredibly tight with my money and will shop around like you won’t believe to make sure I don’t get ripped off. Sim Lim Square near the hostel, then, is fine for me as I have the patience to wander round all six floors of electronics shops to pricematch and haggle deals until I find a retailer I’m happy with.

As such, I settled on Song Brothers on the ground floor to buy my new camera. I took Gurpreet back there to get her iPod and if I get a PSP I’ll likely buy from them as well.

However, not all retailers in Sim Lim are so helpful and genuine. Some are a bunch of rip-off… merchants – for want of a better term I can use on this family-friendly blog. One such “merchant” is Mobile Hut. Located on floor 2 (that’s the 1st floor to us Brits), at the opposite corner to where the escalator drops you when you go up. Avoid these pirates. Avoid, avoid, avoid.

A young girl in the hostel came in earlier, puzzling over her new Panasonic camera. She was puzzling as the box didn’t say “Panasonic” on it. Well, OK – in fairness it did. In small letters next to the details of the CCD (the part that takes the picture). Essentially, this camera is as much a Panasonic as a Ford is a Volkswagen.

She’d gone back to ask for a refund. The staff member (Max) ripped his copy of her receipt up. Erm… that’s not a credit card refund. So he took her card off her and swiped it, charged $600 to it and then refunded the $600 back on again. “There! Refund! Now leave!”

Back in the hostel, one of the staff said he’d join me in walking back down. We met a fat Chinese guy in a black t-shirt who was entering lots of large numbers into a ledge as they approached closing time. He couldn’t have looked less concerned if he’d tried.

“Not my deal. Go away. You need to speak to Max. His deal. I cannot do anything. Now get out of my shop.”

“Your shop?”

“Yes, my shop.”

“So you own the shop. So Max is your employee? So you can do something, you’re just choosing not to.”

“This Singapore. Things not done the same way they are in your country.”

“You don’t know what country I’m from. He’s from Singapore [the guy from the hostel] and he says that’s not how things are done. You’re really putting your country in a bad light.”

Then he had a go at the guy who’d come with us (a local). “I ask you to leave because of that silly b*st*rd. You nice guy – he’s trying to be funny. Please leave. Come back tomorrow.”

So we will, though the girl flies out at 15:30 so we’ll have to sort stuff fairly quickly in the morning. If he refuses to refund the money then I’ll spend the rest of the week stood in front of their shop – a public area that they don’t own – and tell people not to go in there. I’m stubborn like that. I’d love for him to call the police on me, though I can’t see that happening. Glass houses, stones and all that.

Anyway, pizza is due shortly. In an effort to be seasonal I’m ordering a turkey-turkey flavour. I don’t think I’ll be able to get much of the stuff in Sri Lanka, Nepal or wherever I am in 20 days’ time!

[update – the aforementioned girl just found out she was supposed to fly to Bangkok at 1530 today…]

Oggy, oggy, oggy!

 Singapore Marathon day. Had I known far enough in advance, I’d have signed up. OK, I may have just gone for the 10k run that’s done alongside it, but I’d certainly have been up for it! The previous night as I was going to bed, one guy in the hostel was eating his breakfast in preparation. Due to the heat, the race starts around 6am.

I woke just before 9am and grabbed some food before heading out to the finish line. By the time I got there it was mobbed. A lot of people had already finished, though how many were 26-milers I’m not sure. The finish was by the war memorials I’d been to a few days before, and the field was filled with tents. One was giving complimentary 10-minute massages to marathon runners. Another was concessions. Another housed a bouncy castle. There was the obligatory shouty DJ annoying everyone as well. Just like back home.

 As I am wont to do round here, I strolled the shopping malls for a while (they were all shut – they open at 11 on a Sunday) and then, on Karen’s advice, walked up to the “Gotham” building I mentioned on my first trip here. It looks like a reject from a Batman film. I discoverd it had a courtyard on the first floor containing about 20 statues of famous people from history and some nice waterworks. I still don’t have a clue what’s in the actual building, but it looks nice.

I bumped into Naiomi back at the hostel. She was after some things, so we went to Mustafa’s and then on to the shops I’d been in earlier. And then I walked around the electronics bit pricing up PSPs again. Gah.

 On the way back, we had munchies including some of the delicious local ice cream wrapped in a slice of bread. It sounds weird, but it’s fantastic!

For dinner, I went to Baa Baa Black Chic round the corner for a $6 barbequeue and got chatting to some more people from the hostel. Upon my return I was pressganged by Gurpreet to help her haggle for an iPod in Sim Lim Square. How she managed this I don’t know as I’d never buy one of the damn things myself!

I decided to have an early night after that. Early morning, rather. I crashed at 4am. Free internet is evil. Posted by Picasa