Sunday, September 30, 2007

Fun in (and about) Malaysia

I've recently come across a blogger who is a near neighbor of mine, writing from just across the Causeway in Malaysia. I've been taking a look at Kher's Malaysian cartoons and his Star Cartoons and can only say -- funny stuff!

Stop in and visit if you'd like a look (and laugh) at Malaysia life. I've really enjoyed visiting his blogs.

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No Soul

This post originally appeared under the title "Casting the First Stone" on the first blog I ever kept. That site is now defunct

“Singapore has no soul,” she said. We were on a train to Jerantut, Malaysia. It was a holiday weekend, and the train was crowded, and kept getting slowed down (sometimes to a standstill), making for a very long journey. I had known her for a very short time -- the duration of the train ride -- but her insights were amazingly on target with my own experiences in the 2-3 years I’d been living in Singapore.

She was from Australia, and had been living in Singapore for 23 years. I knew exactly what she meant by “no soul” -- Singapore was a city with structure everywhere. The infrastructure was top-notch. Efficiency was the rule, not the exception, wherever you turned. The common idea was expressed in the words (oft repeated), “We have no natural resources except our people, so we have to make the best use of them we can.”

But much of that mentality has changed over the years. Don’t get me wrong, Singaporeans are as hard-working as ever. But there is a growing recognition for a multi-dimensional life, and a growing commitment to building a life with what the lady beside me on the train had called “soul.” I could almost say I have seen the generation of a nation’s soul in the time I have lived here.

I hope that this process of Singapore coming into its own can be seen in some of the blogs I’ve presented over the past couple of weeks. In the arts scene, there is less and less reliance on foreign leadership, and a growing voice that is uniquely Singaporean. There is a growing awareness of a story, uniquely Singapore’s, to be told, as demonstrated in Lee’s memoirs and the stories my friends have shared with me over the years.

For some recommended books that give a good representation of Singapore, please see this reading list.

Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei (Lonely Planet Travel Series)
Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei (Lonely Planet Travel Series)

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Travel Opportunities for Students

I was very pleased to receive a request from my sponsor today, asking me to write about educational travel opportunities. As I was relating in my post yesterday, I was fortunate enough to have opportunities to travel when I was a student, and I think it was life-changing for me. As a student, I visited Mexico, Dominica, Antigua, Singapore, Malaysia, and England, all on trips organized by groups that were interested in using the travel opportunities to nurture students as they grow and learn.

Collegiate Explorations Tours (CE Tours) is interested in offering precisely this sort of service for students. CE Tours believes that learning doesn't come strictly from textbooks, nor does it happen mostly in classrooms. Rather, students often learn best when they have the chance to see and to do. I agree with this thinking, and I love the programs that CE Tours offers. With CE Tours, students get to engage their senses and their minds all at the same time, soaking up first-hand those things which we hope they will learn.

Today, I teach, and I have been fortunate enough to be involved with this sort of educational tours "on the other side" now too. I have found that there is so much to be gained by taking students to a place away from home, different from what they have known all of their lives. I think it is great that CE Tours is offering this opportunity for more students to engage in.

This is a sponsored post. If you'd like to write sponsored entries on your blog, click the tab below

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Pearl Harbor

This post originally appeared under the title "Casting the First Stone" on the first blog I ever kept. That site is now defunct

I made my second trip to Singapore in my undergraduate days, my first having been as an exchange student in high school. This second trip was taken with a group from my university. On the way home from our time spent in Asia, we stopped in Honolulu for a few days (a student’s life is a rough life, huh?).

Sadly, jetlag left me not thinking much of that stopover in Hawaii, the only time I have spent a significant amount of time there (though I’ve had several hours of sleep in the airport on several other occasions). But one thing stuck out during the hazy jetlag-induced state, and it wasn’t the beaches or even the spectacular sunsets, or any of the other things one normally thinks of when talking about a few days’ vacation in Hawaii. Instead, it was a short visit to Pearl Harbor that stays in my mind now so many years later.

But actually, it probably wasn’t the little tour we joined to the site that actually made much difference to me. I don’t remember the sights all that well, honestly. What I do remember, though, is a conversation I had with the elderly gentleman who was leading this pack of students about on this trip, one of my professors.

We were standing on a jetty overlooking the sea, a wrecked ship somewhere down below us. He turned to me and said, “Well, it is easier the second time.”

“What is?” I asked.

“Coming to this place,” he answered. “I was here for the first time a few years ago, and I found out something about myself that I didn’t like. I found out that I know how to hate, and hate indiscriminately and deeply.”

I was surprised by his words. I am not kidding you when I say that he might have been the gentlest, kindest man I had ever met. I couldn’t imagine him feeling real hate toward anything. It seemed a passion a little too hot for the cool temper that he always displayed.

But, as he explained, he was on the plane that flew with a bomb over Nagasaki. He had been trained to hate, and hate enough to kill thousands of innocents. He told me, standing there on that jetty, that after he left the service, it took him many years to deal with the emotional strain of knowing he had killed those people, and ruined so many lives for years after as well. As time wore on and stories about the effects of the bomb emerged, the guilt was nearly overwhelming. But he managed, over time, to work through it.

Or so he thought. Until he set foot on Pearl Harbor, with the nice little tourist center commemorating that horrible day in American history. And he saw Japanese tourists with their cameras happily snapping photos at the site where a nation’s pain had been conceived... by their forefathers.

“I couldn’t believe the rage that welled up inside of me,” he said. “I was so furious that I think I would have tried to kill one of them with my bare hands with just the slightest provocation. I couldn’t believe the urge toward violent behavior that overcame me, an old man, so many years later.”

Then he quietly added, “What right had I to feel that rage toward them? At least they weren’t there, personally. I was. And whatever their forefathers have done on this soil, I have done as much on theirs.”

That is a conversation I will never forget. I am sure that my friend and teacher has long forgotten that he spoke those words to me, but they are words I will carry for a very long time.

Further recommended reading about WWII in Singapore from Amazon:
The Killer They Called a God

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Exercises in Human Cruelty

This post originally appeared on the first blog I ever kept. That site is now defunct

One of the stories of WWII that I have heard from my friends who lived through it has haunted me because of the pettiness that is displayed in the cruelty inflicted by the Japanese soldiers on the local Singaporeans.

Uncle Chin was a very quiet, shy man. But when he began talking to me about the things he had suffered as a boy during the war, he became very vocal, even eloquent, and could talk for hours. One day after lunch he told me, “It is strange, but the worst thing that the Japanese did, the one that affected me most, did not involve any real physical torture at all.”

When Uncle Chin was a boy, he wouldn’t dare to walk down Orchard Road, the “main drag” in Singapore. The reason? The Japanese soldiers had taken over the display window in John Little (a shopping centre by the same name still stands in that spot), and had put up a humiliating display of their own. Each day, they would take women whom they had captured, strip them naked, and force them to stand in the display window. When any man or boy passed by, if he averted his eyes out of respect to these women, he would immediately be caught by the soldiers, likewise stripped of his clothing, and forced to stand beside her for the rest of the day.

Uncle Chin, so many years later, told me that this had been the most difficult thing he endured in the war. He said that, to him, this was worse than the beatings that were often heard of or seen because it stripped the local people of a sense of human dignity. “Physical pain,” he said, “was bearable. This was not.”

But as akimoto_baby brought up in a recent discussion in the comments on another blog, cruelty didn’t travel on a one-way street during that period in Singapore’s history. (She has recommended a title that I also heartily recommend to you: Totto-Chan, the little girl by the window.) Nor did it only occur across racial and cultural boundaries. In fact, one of the groups that was worst-treated during the war were the “Han jian,” or “traitors.” This word can only be applied to the Chinese -- it means Chinese people who turn their backs on the Chinese, supporting the enemies of the Chinese instead.

The Han jian suffered greatly during the war. Naturally, they were not treated very well by the Japanese, seen only as useful in giving the information or aid, but still outsiders. But the worst treatment they received was at the hands of their own people, the Chinese whosaw them as betrayers of their race and nation. The most common form of “punishment” was to break a number of glass bottles and force the traitor to crawl across the broken shards on hands and knees. After this, he would be left to care for himself, often without any help from anyone at all.

War is a cruel, ugly thing. It causes people to do horrifying and ugly things, prompted by hatred. And, as akimoto_baby has rightly pointed out, no one has it easy during a war.

Further recommended reading about WWII in Singapore from Amazon:
The Killer They Called a God

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lost Puppies

This post originally appeared on the first blog I ever kept. That site is now defunct

“Huang Gou, lai!” she shouted, for the fourth time. “Yellow Dog, come!”

But her small voice, despite her best efforts to raise it loud, went unheeded. And it worried her.

Huang Gou always came when called -- at least when she called. She and the dog had been inseparable for as long as she could remember. He was her best friend. Her only friend, really.

She had been sent to live here when she was just a baby. As happened to many other girls, her own parents had thought her too expensive to raise themselves, and they had fostered her to another family. It turned out to be for the best -- at least her foster family’s kampong was of less interest to the soldiers, poor as the village was. And it was not such a bad life, so far.

Perhaps now that Baby Brother had come along, there was something to worry about. When the first child born to her foster parents was a girl, it didn’t make much difference in her own status, but a boy might be a very different story. That was more than her nine-year-old mind was ready to process now, though. For now, she was only concerned for Huang Gou. She looked for him everywhere -- behind the house, under the house, in the disused chicken coop, all the way up to the edge of the jungle.

As she looked into the thick jungle growth, her brows furrowed in anxiety. What if a soldier were hiding there, having taken Huang Gou away?

She and Huang Gou were very scared of the soldiers. Her foster parents seemed to think they should be. Every time the soldiers approached the kampong, her parents sent her and the dog to hide. “It would be a sad end for either of you to come to the attention of those demons,” Father often said.

And so, she and Huang Gou would huddle together, each meaning to protect the other, when the soldiers came around. Huang Gou had spent many hours with the child in hiding, listening to her whispered anxieties. She liked to think she’d listened to his too, expressed through whimpers and his warm tongue licking her hand.

“Girl!” Mother shouted from the doorway. “Come in for dinner!”

“I’m looking for Huang Gou,” said the girl as she walked towards the little shack where they lived. “I don’t know where he’s gone.”

“Aiyah, forget that dog,” said Mother gruffly. “You’ll see him soon enough.”

The child was greeted by a warm smell as she walked into the house. It looked like tonight was the night for this month’s meat. Her stomach rumbled in anticipation. She sat down, and Mother put the steaming dish on the table.

“What if he doesn’t come back before dark?” the girl asked.

“Hush Girl,” said her mother gently, “and eat your meat. If the dog doesn’t come back, he doesn’t come back.”

Hearing her mother’s unusually soft tone, horror seeped through the girl. Her hands trembled as she picked up her chopsticks. Too hungry to stop herself, she reached out and picked up the meat that Mother placed before her, thinking still of her lost friend.

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Ugly Buildings

I just stumbled across a blog entry that claims to name the world's 9 ugliest buildings. I have to admit that most of the buildings shown there don't strike me as anything beautiful. A polite "That's, um... interesting," is probably the best most of these buildings would get from us. I'll bet Tomorrow Square, the building in Shanghai's People's Square that has captured my attention because of it's rather jarring design, would easily arouse the ire of that blogger too. I can think of several buildings in Singapore that might also manage to do so.

I have to question, though, which makes a bigger eyesore on the landscape -- a building that attempts to be interesting, to do something that challenges our perceptions, or a building that does nothing to our senses at all. There are countless buildings that fit so neatly into those surrounding them -- as if they all came from the same mold -- that one wonders what the point of so many structures of the same design could possibly be.

I'll admit that several of the buildings shown on that list of the top 9 don't do much for me, but like the blog says, you gotta give the architects some credit. It would have, after all, been much easier to just make one more building that looks like all the others we are already surrounded by.

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Sunday, September 23, 2007

Puzzling World

In Wanaka, on New Zealand's South Island, there is a really fun visitors' center for the whole family. If you go to Stuart Landsborough's Puzzling World, you are sure to find something to please the whole family. When I went, I was with fellow travelers ranging from age 2 to age 70-something, and we all had a great time (there were 7 of us). The outdoor maze was challenging, the illusion rooms were fascinating, and even the toilets made us all laugh out loud.

I think my favorite was the Ames illusion room. It was used in The Lord of the Rings films to create illusion in viewers' perspective, making the hobbits look smaller than average (or was everyone else made to look bigger?). With our group, we were able to invert one family, making the kids appear to be bigger than their parents. Of course, all had a good laugh at that one.

If you are driving toward Queenstown from the north, a stop in Wanaka is a good idea. We spent the morning at Puzzling World, had lunch at the lake, and were in Queenstown by late afternoon. It was a fun day for all of us, and a stop well worth making when you travel across that amazing land.

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dog Days in the Middle Kingdom

I usually know I’ve landed myself in really foreign territory when the dogs I run across won’t respond to my friendly gestures. That has happened to me more than once in China, but through my travels there, I’ve learned over time to communicate with the Middle Kingdom’s canine population.

Before going to China, I had never thought before of the country being a particularly doggy place. Most of the tales I’d heard about dogs in China usually involved them appearing on a plate. I’d never stopped to think about the origins of some dog breeds being in China. The Shih Tzu (now generally spelled “shi zi” in modern Chinese phonetic systems, meaning lion) and the Sharpei (“sandy skin”) breeds both wear Chinese names, and the Pekingese is hailed by the city of its origins.

Small wonder, then, that I have found friendly canine faces on the streets of Chinese cities as I traveled there.

More than once, I’ve stumbled across puppies I would have gladly taken home. The first, out in the lonely barren grounds of rural Sichuan, accompanied me while I sipped a hot cup of tea. The winding roads traversing through the mountains had left me a little woozy when we stopped for a short break. With a typical doggish sensitivity for the soul suffering discomfort, the little mutt snipped at my gloves as I sipped at my cup, bringing a smile to my temporarily green-complexioned face.

A pair of Sharpei puppies, one on each end of that vast land, have likewise captured my heart and settled into my travel memories. One, on the streets of Kunming, the City of Eternal Spring, peered at me from out of his owner’s embrace. He was the first Sharpei puppy I’d ever seen so close up, and he seemed to be on his best behavior, as if to leave a good impression on me as his owner placed him in my arms. Years later, his more playful cousin in Shanghai pulled just as hard at my heartstrings, nearly tempting me to make her a housewarming gift for my friend.

Of course, I’ve seen my share of doggy menu items as well. At one time, meat markets were one of the most common places to find puppies in some Chinese cities. While that is changing as the law is allowing Chinese urbanites to keep dogs as pets at home, it is still common to see dog meat on the menu. I’ve been in the odd situation of having watched a dog, already dead, dragged to the river side, strung up on a branch, and bled out into the water flowing below. Having watched this process, I turned back to my two traveling companions, only to see them both wiping tears from their eyes. And I’m the one who is supposed to be a dog lover.

Upon each trip home from China, there’s nothing like the greeting I receive from my own pair of canine housemates. One is half Shih Tzu; the other wears half of Marco Polo’s name.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A New Place

I've just begun a new blog. I plan on closing down some of my older blogs (not this one). Some of those have served a purpose for a while, but I find their usefulness has more or less run out, and so I want to move on to something else. That is part of what prompted me to migrate this blog to its own domain and begin to focus more exclusively on it.

At my new blog, I will be talking mostly about literature, movies, and other forms of culture (popular or otherwise). I've started there with an entry about a sense of place in writing. I hope to continue along that path, and work my way toward an exploration of some particular text(s).

Blogging, for me, has felt in many ways like a journey. There is much to see in the blogosphere, and it can be both exciting and disconcerting to travel about in this strange landscape. But, ultimately, like any journey well taken, I find that an excursion into the world of Blog leads the traveler to learn much about herself.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

On Reaching Home

I love to travel. I like seeing new places and trying new things. I like the break in routine that travel affords.

My mom always jokes that what she likes best about travel is arriving back home at the end of it all. I just got home today, and had to smile to myself at my mom's way of looking at it. It is true that there is a good feeling associated with coming home after a long journey. Your own shower, your own bed... it's hard to beat that feeling.

Perhaps that is part of what makes travel so valuable. Not only do you get to see the new and unfamiliar, but you also get to view the ordinary and mundane with refreshed eyes. And that's a good thing.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Olympic Excitement Builds

The excitement is really building. I don't think I will be able to get to Beijing next summer, but it is going to be such an exciting time for China.

I remember attending the Olympics in 1984 in LA. It was such a thrill to be there. I can only imagine how it will be in Beijing next year. It is fun to watch the excitement mount!

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Sunday, September 09, 2007

Blogging on the Road

It can be frustrating to try to access the internet when on the road sometimes. And, depending on where you've traveled to, it can be tough to maintain a blog nicely while away from the conveniences of having access to the internet from the place you are more used to.

For me, I am away now, and have had a tough time finding a steady connection. I can get on just fine most of the time, but then the connection will drop, and I have to find it again... things like that.

The worst part is that my present location prevents me from viewing my blog. I can get in and post, but I can view any of the posts. I can see, from my dashboard, that there are new comments waiting to be read and answered, but I can't get into the pages where those comments are located.


One of the beauties of the internet is how we can keep in touch with home when we roam far away. That seems to make it all the more frustrating when we lose that convenience for a short while.

Funny thing is, I did plenty of traveling in the pre-internet days, and survived just fine. Strange how quickly we become dependent on it all.

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Friday, September 07, 2007

Asia Hotels

I've been browsing through another travel blog, filled with Asia hotel news. There are other fun posts there as well, with Strange Cultural Habits in China being one of my favorite reads. I enjoyed looking at China through the eyes of another. Being that I am writing this review from the Middle Kingdom, it made for an especially fun read for me.

Finding good reliable Asia hotel news can be difficult at times, so this blog is especially useful, I think. Asia hotel news at many of the sites I've visited on the web can be sketchy, so finding a blogger who is writing nice, solid content about Asia hotels is refreshing. If you are on the lookout for some good information, you will want to stop in and visit the Asia hotels blog. You'll also find fun articles about travel in China, alongside the info on Asia hotels.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Migratory Lifestyle

Late night. Pack bags. Double check. Tickets. Passport. Cash. Visas. And then the important stuff... iPod, cell phone, a good book. Triple check.

Wee morning hours. Double check. Alarm set. A cat nap. Alarm sounds. Shower. Check bags one last time.

The dawn breaks. Grab the bags (now double checked, triple checked, and checked once more). Catch a cab. Sit and wait, perhaps enduring idle chattering. Pray there are no morning traffic jams.

The airport reached. Get in line. Check bags (a different sort of check this time). Flash passport and boarding pass. Wait in line. Immigration clearance.

A deep breath. Grab a bite of breakfast. Last stop in a clean restroom. Flash passport and boarding pass. Board the plane. While away the hours until landing.

Rush about. Sit and wait.

Posted from Changi Airport, using the free internet service the airport generously provides for those hours of sitting and waiting

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Botak Jones... sedap!

I few weeks ago, I wrote about Botak Jones, a Western food stall that has branches in several coffee shops in the heartland regions of Singapore. This past weekend, I finally got to try the food, and it was sedap! *

The portions served were really generous. And, even though we were told we might have to wait 30-45 minutes (it was Saturday night, and crowded), the food actually came out very quickly. The prices were good, and the coffee shop atmosphere makes it feel like a hassle-free evening.

I ordered the chilli dawg (HUGE!!!!), while others in my group had the burgers (excellent!), steaks (juicy and tender -- wonderful), and fish and chips (I didn't try that one), and we had a big bowl of gumbo to share to get us started. All enjoyed the meal immensely. We did decide we would have been better off if we'd ordered one meal less. There were 4 adults and 2 kids, and we ordered 5 meals. We thought that it would've worked out better if we'd just let the kids share with us, rather than ordering a separate meal for them to share. As it was, we didn't quite manage to finish all of the food on the table.

We visited the Ang Mo Kio branch (Block 608 AMK Ave 5). The service was efficient and pleasant. The food was really good. All round, it was just a pleasant evening out.

There are also branches in Toa Payoh, Tuas, and Clementi. I think there's at least one more location, but I can't remember where it is. It's alright... I will definitely go back, and I can look it up then.

* "sedap" is Malay for delicious

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Photos From Otago Peninsula

In an earlier post, I wrote about the great trip offered to the Otago Peninsula by Elm Wildlife Tours. Elm is located in Dunedin, and it is really a wonderful trip, allowing only a small number of visitors to the area each day.

Here are some pictures of the yellow eyed penguins and the sea lions we saw that day. It is an excellent chance to see the wildlife up close in their natural habitat.

The yellow eyed penguins swam up to the coast as we stood watching. We never moved from that spot, and they just walked right up to where we stood. The first walked close enough that we could've touched him.

It is actually fairly rare to see 2 yellow eyed penguins together, as they are private animals. We were lucky to see 2 males that day, and further up the hill, their mates were waiting for them. Some travelers, I understand, are not even lucky enough to see 1 penguin up close, but we saw 2 at very close range, and 2 more up the hill. It was really an exciting sighting for us. Even our guide said he could not remember when he had seen one as close up as we saw this guy, and he makes that trip every single day.

The sea lions are animals we had to stay a bit further away from. They are not agressive, but can be quite playful. As big as they are, they can cause harm very quickly without ever intending to.

These are big, big animals. Very impressive to see them, and quite intimidating.

The Otago Peninsula is a great place to visit for any animal lover. It's a place I really enjoyed being, and wouldn't mind seeing again one day.

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Driving the East-West Highway (Malaysia)

The East-West Highway, running along Malaysia's northern border, is quite an amazing piece of road. It makes its way winding here and there through the jungle, taking the traveler from Kota Bahru straight across to Penang. There are few stops along the way, and those are mostly at small eateries and a few petrol stations. But it is a wonderful way to spend a day of travel. The scenery along the road is amazing. And really, when you stop to think about the work that must have gone into building that highway, it pretty much blows the mind.

Along the side of the road, as you drive, you will see signs warning that elephants and tigers will often make their way to the highway, and should (of course) be avoided if seen. I have never been lucky enough to see such exotic creatures while traveling the highway, but many stories of their sightings abound. In fact, it is not advisable to travel the highway at night because it is said that elephants often make their way to the black topped surface to enjoy the warmth as they sleep at night. One can only imagine the horror of a car accident involving a sleeping pachyderm.

That is, of course, not the only danger to night travelers. Bandits and hi-jackers are known to frequent the area, and so travel on the East-West Highway is best undertaken during the daylight hours. In addition, the road is narrow in spots, and quite a winding path as it makes its way over the hills in the region. Night travel can be both tedious and dangerous on the East-West Highway, and it is best to avoid traveling this stretch of road at night, if at all possible. Besides, the scenery there is so beautiful that it would be a bit of a waste to travel at a time when it could not be seen.

Some photos I found here and there give an idea of the sort of beauty you see along the side of the road during a journey traversing the East-West Highway in Malaysia. It is magnificent. If you can find an excuse to make the drive yourself, make sure and avail yourself of the opportunity. It is great fun.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

The New Guy in My Neighbourhood

I've been seeing him around, this new guy in the neighbourhood, and he's kind of cute. Mostly, I've seen him hanging around downstairs from one apartment block or another, usually alone, and always seeming to be pretty curious about his environment. Just today, I saw him downstairs meddling with a motorcycle. Oddly, I don't think it was his. It doesn't seem he knows how to drive. Most monkeys, after all, don't.

He showed up in my neighbourhood a few months ago. Shortly after, I saw animal control out, and figured he'd end up either back in the jungle somewhere, or (more likely) in the zoo. But it seems not. It seems, instead, that he's managed to evade the long arm of the law. At any rate, he keeps turning up around here.

That's one of the things I love about life in Singapore. You often see things here that seem incongruous, yet somehow manage to live happily side by side. Whether it is the Chinese stall selling its pork rib soup sitting next to the stall selling Muslim fare, or the old traditional-style temples sitting at the base of an ultra-modern skyscraper, somehow Singapore seems to accommodate it all very nicely.

That's how this monkey makes me feel too. He probably wandered out of the jungle into the bustling neighbourhood where I live. The jungle, after all, lives on nicely just a few kilometers away in nearly every direction from my otherwise typical urban flat. It's nice to see how the two can continue along so harmoniously, resting in close proximity to one another.

I have been trying to catch the monkey with my camera, but seem to miss him every time. When he shows up again, I'll try one more time. When I do finally get him, I'll make sure to post his photo here. I think you'll agree that he's a rather nice looking fellow.

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

Tourism Saves the Day?

A friend of mine wrote earlier in the year about staying on a coconut plantation in Phuket. The place there looks really fabulous, like the sort of place you can really relax and enjoy yourself.

In a comment on his blog, someone asked if the pictures were taken before or after the tsunami. The photos were pre-tsunami, but the question is a reminder of how much that disaster affected the region. Many tourists have purposely planned trips to the area, specifically in order to help those suffering regions to recover economically.

When I hear of travelers doing things like this, it always makes me feel good about the whole travel and tourism endeavor. What can often seem to be a self-centered thing, with little regard for the people and places one visits, doesn't have to be so. I salute those travelers who put some thought into what their money spent might mean to the region they are visiting. It is nice when a trip is about more than just consumerism and me-first.

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