Archive for July, 2011

The departure terminal at KL was chaos.  There was no clear signage as to where to go.  Eventually I found the right check-in counter (our tickets weren’t accepted at the kiosks).  At duty free we looked at liquor to see what me might take back when we returned home.  The flight was quick and we arrived at the budget terminal in Singapore.  We were met by a black guy who picked us up in a flash new black Mercedes.  I felt spoilt.  No wonder the transfer cost was more than expected!  The road from the airport to Singapore was just as I remembered with beautiful flowers and trees lining the road (obviously the trees had grown).  Singapore is such a beautiful city.  It was so different to KL.  We arrived at the hotel and checked in.

This was our view from the room.

In the evening we went for a wander along the riverfront.  It reminded me of Brisbane with all the lit-up bridges.  We avoided a new covered area beneath which were a lot of expensive restaurants and headed over the bridge to a building with a foodcourt downstairs.  Much cheaper.

The next day we went on a city tour.  I hadn’t been in Singapore for about 22 years so wanted to see all that had changed.  We were picked up and headed over to the colonial-looking Fullerton Hotel (very posh) and while we waited for the guest, we wandered to the riverfront.  There were a couple of nice statues (one picture of which I’ve posted elsewhere).

The guest was late so the driver left to meet up with the relevant buses (he was just a shuttle).

As expected we did the Botanical Gardens where they just take you to the orchid garden (I had done this many years ago with my father).  The orchid garden was now in a different place in the gardens so I didn’t recognise it and actually was quite disappointed at the layout – there didn’t seem to be nearly as many orchids as before.

I can’t remember the order of the city tour, but another stop was in Chinatown to look at one of the temples.

Also on the tour was a visit to a gem factory.  In the display room were all sorts of expensive objects and large pictures encrusted with gems.  I thought the vast majority of them were hideous and thought what a complete waste of earth’s treasures.   The waterfront was an obvious stop but I barely recognised it from when I last walked along it 22 years ago.

That building with the boat-like structure on top was only completed and opened earlier this year.  It has a casino and hotel, naturally and there is a pool at the top.  You can just make out some palm trees on the top.  The white flower-type building is a museum, I think.  Some people went on the Singapore Flyer, the Singapore equivalent of the London Eye.  We didn’t bother.  The last stop was Little India.  We got off there and had lunch in a restaurant where the ‘plates’ are banana leaves.  They do give you the food on bowls and plates but the locals tend to eat off the leaf.  We had a very brief look at Little India then started walking in the general direction of Orchard Road, with the idea of catching a taxi.  We had no luck but found ourselves at the top end of Orchard Road anyway.  We started on our trek with occasional visits into malls we passed, stopping for drinks on the way.  It was hot and crowded and our feet hurt.

At one clothing store I bought a cheap pair of sandshoes to wear instead of my sandals which had created a blister.  We did see an Indonesian travel expo and saw some Indonesian dances, which was cool.  I’d wanted to see some sort of cultural show but those things are expensive.

It was getting on for 5pm by the time we ran out of shops.  We waited at a designated taxi stop (for ages) to get a taxi back to the hotel (and taxis are cheap in Singapore – between $5-$10).  In the evening we ate on the waterfront further round from the expensive restaurants and foodcourt.

On the following day we had a tour to Jurong Bird Park, which I had also visited with my father in the early 80s.  Back then it was new and virtually treeless.  I didn’t recognise the place.  There was a monorail which took us around the park first and you could get off and look at a couple of enclosures.

It finished in time for a show about birds of prey.

After a very brief period of free time we were advised that the other show was worth watching.  There was no real time to explore the park but what I did see was disappointing (again in contrast to my earlier visit).  This little kid was so cute.  He was singing to himself as his dad pulled him along in the park.

In the afternoon daughter and I took a more leisurely look at Chinatown where we bought a few cheap things.  I also picked up a “ball head” for younger daughter’s flexible tripod, which in NZ costs as much as the tripod itself.

From Chinatown we took a taxi to Arab Street.  I had hoped to find some jewellery or costumes for bellydancing but I was disappointed to find that the same cheap stuff was sold at about the same price.  I did find a beautiful silk scarf (as light as a feather) which I bought for younger daughter (she’s into scarves).

In the evening we went on the Night Safari tour in a section of the Singapore zoo.  My camera is no good at taking night shots, so I have none to show.  Flash was naturally not permitted although some idiots continued to do so when they were told several times not to use flash on the little tour train.  After the guided tour we walked around and looked at the animals at a more leisurely pace.  We had to keep an eye on the time (as you always do with these tours).  On the way out we got our first look at a fish spa.  Before we left, daughter had expressed a desire to go to a “Dr Fish”.  When I asked what it was she said you put your feet in a pool full of fish which nibble at your feet.  I’d heard of it but never seen it.

The next day we had free of any tours.  We decided to go to Sentosa Island.  It used to be accessible only by boat or by gondola.  Now they have a boarded walkway across, which was basically deserted as everyone else took the gondola.  The entrance via the boardwalk was deserted but we found our way round to the ‘entertainment’ section.

I wasn’t in Singapore to look at any yankee stuff, so we continued on.  We eventually decided on a triple-attraction ticket which included the butterfly enclosure, aquarium and fish spa (the decider).

I took the following picture because I thought it was a brilliant way to decorate boring concrete.

Mostly I felt sorry for the large fish (and penguins) in their small tanks and also for some insects (including tarantulas in a small jar each).  Note daughter’s finger pointing on the left of the following photo to indicate the size of the huge spider crabs.

Sydney aquarium is far superior.  Next stop, the fish spa!  This place was hygienic – you washed legs and feet both before and after.

It was a very weird feeling.  It felt like little jets of water, as in a spa.  Our feet afterwards felt so soft.

Afterwards we went for a wander along Sentosa beach.  It was very pleasant.

A view of the many container ships.

That evening we met up with an old friend of mine who was a Massey student from Malaysia.  He now lived in Johor Bahru but came across to Singapore with his family to shout us dinner at Little India.  It was great to catch up after decades(!).

We checked out the next morning and got a taxi to the Golden Mile complex where our bus for KL was departing.  I felt rather sad to be leaving Singapore.  Next time I would spend more time at the Botanical gardens and visit the museums and galleries.

Our last glimpse before heading for the border…


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It sucks being back to being poor. Thanks to the car purchase I’m low on funds for all those things I had thought about purchasing – like a new cellphone, a netbook, repairs to the bathroom… and now a car stereo.

While the “new” car does have a working tape deck (one point up on the Nissan), it only has AM radio. I can put up with it for a bit but I would like a CD player in the car. I want to replace my tired old tapes (which I’m sick of listening to anyway).

Other improvements on the Nissan are: a clock I can read at night; intermittent wiper that works, a rear window wiper; seats that go down (so I can fit kitset furniture in if I wanted) and a tow bar (without the actual ball bit); and lastly, it can go up hills at the speed limit.

As well as the expense of the car (and insurance excess, not to mention insurance on the new car), the local garage are charging me a call-out fee (a few metres down the road) just to tell me the car was dead and IRD, the tax department, are saying I owe them money. Bastards. (I never know how they work these things out but shit – at least it’s under $100.)

I feel sad and poor and wanting another holiday away from the tedium and gloom.

Oh well. That’s life, innit.

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We checked out of the hotel at 6am and got a taxi to the airport (the shuttle didn’t turn up).

It was about an eight hour flight to Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia.  We’d ordered meals which were adequate (most airline meals are pretty average these days).

I guess when you book on a budget airline you have to put up with budget airports.  The one at KL was ghastly with a long line to get through immigration.  I stared, as did others, at two very tall American black guys – they  had to be basketball players.  Through the immigration and after claiming bags, found a guy standing there with a sign with my name on it.  Brilliant.  Booking shuttles (when they turn up)  is brilliant.  It was chaotic near the exit with people and taxi drivers milling around.  We had to wait for another family and then we were off on the one hour drive to KL.  Daughter was interested in the nearby mosque – it was the first she’d seen.  I was extremely disappointed to see the highway surrounded by palm oil trees.  The entrance to Kuala Lumpur itself was nothing like my previous trip.  There were heaps of apartment buildings everywhere and it wasn’t pretty.  We did see the Petronas towers in the distance.

The traffic was madness and then out of the blue the guy said our hotel was just down the road (when he could get there).  Finally we got there, checked in and relaxed for a bit.  We wandered down the busy shopping street, Jalan Bukit Bintang, to get acquainted.  I recognised nothing from my previous trip to KL in 1988 (as you’d expect, I suppose).

The hotel (photo from website)

I’d promised younger daughter that I’d take photos of the food, which I’d been looking forward to, but I forgot that night, and can’t recall what we had.  It got dark about 7pm and we wandered down to one of several shopping centre malls and ate in the basement in one of the food courts.

It was very pretty anyway with all the lights.  I was struck by the dangly blue lights which resembled the dangly vines during the day.  It was pleasantly warm and foreign – a great first night to get acquainted.

On our first full day we had a city tour in the morning.  After a complimentary breakfast (yay) and arranging to change the room from smoking to non-smoking, we were picked up by a van and only one other person was on the tour.  We visited the gates of the Sultan’s palace where it started to rain and onto the national monument.

Daughter with provided umbrella.

Thankfully the rain didn’t last long.  It had stopped by the time we’d finished visiting the national museum.  Our final stop before being dropped off at the hotel was near the Petronas towers (which are still the tallest twin towers).

In the afternoon and evening I think we browsed the shops.

Things weren’t that cheap so we didn’t buy anything.  But food in the food courts was varied and cheap.  We also bought a lot of bottled water and bottled or canned tropical juice during our holiday which was very nice.  Our new room had a view!

Day two of our stay in KL was a day trip to Melaka to the south.  Melaka has the history of Portuguese and Dutch settlement in the 16th and 17th centuries.  I’d been before and again didn’t recognise the entrance to the town – it’s all highways now.  The town itself looked familiar though.  We went to a Chinese temple which had a famous well which at some point was poisoned by the Dutch(?).  Nearby was a guy selling fruit – pictured is dragon fruit, pawpaw, passionfruit (which looks different to our passionfruit) and rambutan.

We didn’t taste any during our stay, sadly, as we had no knife to cut into it.  The Chinese temple was one of many we’d see on the holiday.  At one stop to see a Dutch church I visited the toilet.

It was clean but of the squatting variety.  I wasn’t fazed – had seen these before both in Melaka and in Europe.  I didn’t rinse with the bucket though – it was drip dry!  Others were put off and decided to wait.

We had a lunch stop at a very nice Chinese restaurant.  Surprisingly on the tours there were few Westerners.  Mostly they were from Asian countries and quite a few Indians from India.

Next stop St Paul’s church ruins.

The church sat on a hill from which you could see the Straits of Malacca and several container ships.

Within the ruins were gravestone plaques of Dutch and Portuguese which had been moved and set upright to prevent damage.

We had a wander down Jonkers Street, a famous old part of Melaka which had an Indian temple a mosque and a couple of Chinese temples.

I think that was our last stop after the Red House area where all the old buildings had been painted red.

It had been the hottest day so far at 36 degrees Celcius – and I’d worn jeans because it had been cloudy in the morning in KL and I’d judged on the rain the day before.  Mistake!  I also got a little sunburned.

In the evening we decided to go to a Middle Eastern restaurant we’d passed.  It always played Middle Eastern music, to which I felt like belly dancing.  I can’t remember what dish I ordered but it was vegetarian and absolutely delicious.

There were heaps of very tasty olives along with cucumber and some crunchy bits I couldn’t identify – the whole was magnificent.  A video of middle eastern music played throughout.  So ended our second day in KL.

On our third and final day in KL before heading to Singapore we had a tour to Batu caves and to a batik “factory” and pewter factory.  Batu caves used to be in the countryside north of KL.  Now it’s surrounded by apartment buildings.  It’s very popular in January when Hindus celebrate Thaipusam (not sure of spelling).  I knew to expect monkeys…

We wandered up the 272 steps to the temples in the cave.

At the top of the second set of stairs was another temple and more monkeys.  One big male was adept at retrieving discarded soft drinks from the rubbish bin and biting a hole in the bottom.

Afterwards we had juice from a fresh coconut – there’s nothing like it on a hot day.

In the afternoon we checked out of the hotel and got driven to the airport for our short flight to Singapore.  (I, for one, was relieved we reached the airport safely.  The taxi driver looked like he was falling asleep at one set of lights and occasionally crossed his arms over the top of the steering wheel as he drove.)

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I had intended to write part two of my holiday over the weekend but the weekend was busy, nor did I have the inclination. I think the past week had depressed me somewhat.

I arranged for my dead car to go to the wreckers and they needed paperwork signed on Friday. Daughter had the car for the day so the logistics of getting to them was nigh impossible. I was tired, grumpy and headachey anyway that morning so since it was all too difficult and misery-inducing, I took a mental health day.

That done, daughter joined me in looking round car sales yards for a potential replacement before doing the stuff she wanted the car for. It was depressing. Cars were either over-priced, too big, or white. I hate white cars. I can never see myself driving a white car. Again I saw a car like my daughter’s – an early 90s Toyota Corolla grossly overpriced at $4500. We did see a nice little black Mazda hatchback but at $5000 it was over my budget. We went for a test drive anyway but I found it noisy and the automatic gear changes were jerky. It had low kms but was far too basic for the price. I was later advised to avoid that particular car sales yard because of bad post-purchase customer service.

On Saturday we went around any remaining car sales yards we’d missed and I was disappointed. It seemed everybody was selling bigger cars in order to buy more economical smaller cars – just my luck. My one last hope was a contact number for a Toyota which had been seen by a work colleague. I got in touch and we went round to have a look. Coincidentally it was another black hatchback but 1500cc instead of 1300cc and $1000 cheaper. We went for a drive and I liked it immediately. The owners were an elderly couple who had cared for it fondly and they said they’d miss the car because their new one wasn’t as good. I decided there and then to buy and haggled the price down and up to an agreed $3800. Daughter and I were desperate as she wanted to drive to Wellington this week to get aspects of her car fixed by an auto-mechanic cousin. Relief indeed after a visit to the bank (thank the gods they now open all day Saturday) and paperwork done. Daughter went on her way to the boyfriend’s and I headed home in the new jalopy.

Later, that evening, car and I went on our first real journey together to the annual bellydancing event in town. I had been very nervous about the performance of the dance I dislike but after a large glass of red wine I was mellow enough not to worry. Daughter and friends turned up a bit late but saw most of the performances (including mine). I managed to dance the choreography with only a minor hiccup which I hope no-one noticed.

Back home and parked my little black friend behind the dead Nissan (which was due to be picked up on Monday). You’ll notice the new car has a personality unlike the Nissan which was just something to get me from A to B and for which I felt nothing at all. The Toyota will have to have a name…

Back to the grind but at least the sun is shining.

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I caught the bus to Wellington on 24 June, a Friday.  It was a beautiful day, which was lucky because I had to walk up to the Terrace with my bags from the bus stop opposite the Wellington railway station.  I had a light meal and tried to sleep as the airport shuttle was picking me up at 3.30 am.

I didn’t sleep well.  I had perhaps about 3 hours sleep.  Just as I had begun to fall asleep I got a call from my brother saying that they were travelling after all.  Because of the ash clouds, their flight through Pacific Blue had been cancelled, whereas the Air New Zealand flights had not been (such a relief) so they’d bought tickets with Air NZ instead.  I woke before my alarm, had a light breakfast and waited for the shuttle downstairs, which turned up.  Worry number one over with.  My journey began.

The flight left at 6am and the aeroplane ascended only to about 4800 metres, just skimming the lower clouds.

About  halfway across the Tasman sea, the plane ascended to the more normal 10,000 metres.

It was a sunny day in Brisbane but with a cool wind.  I caught my shuttle which took me to the Hotel Grand Chancellor.

(This photo’s from a website.)

I was pretty tired but couldn’t really sleep.  I got in touch with one of my cousins and we arranged to meet for dinner that evening.  My daughter, who was joining me on the holiday,  had arrived in Brisbane the day before and was staying with her father on the Gold Coast.  She was to join me that night.  Anyway, I went for a bit of a walk and randomly discovered this old mill.

It’s the oldest surviving structure in Queensland, dated 1828 when the area was a penal settlement.

I walked on to the centre of town not far away and wandered aimlessly through some shops.  I wasn’t in the mood for shopping and everything looked expensive.  I did grab a map at the information centre.  I must have bought some lunch but I can’t recall, I was so tired.  I did buy some cheese slices and buns for breakfast as it wasn’t included in the hotel rate (as most seem not to be these days).  I headed back to the hotel and tried to sleep.  Perhaps I did for an hour or so.

View from the hotel room’s balcony:

The sun sets on the balcony…

It had been a wasted day really.  I was too tired to appreciate where I was or to make use of the day and also felt lonely being on my own.

I refreshed myself for the meeting with two cousins, daughters of my aunt who was turning 90 the next day.  We had arranged to meet at the railway station not far away.  I had walked past it during the day but, looking at the map, decided to go a different way.  Stupid decision – I got lost.  I was cursing to myself and about to turn back the way I came when I saw a sign for the railway station and hurried in.  I went down two flights of stairs and out into a familiar street but just to be sure asked a woman passing by, who directed me straight on.  My cousins were waiting on the corner.  Cousin K was familiar to me as she had visited NZ a couple of years ago.  I hadn’t seen cousin H since I was a kid though, so I wouldn’t have recognised her.  She was looking her age (in her early 60s), if not older.

We headed on down towards the riverfront to find a restaurant and ended up at an Italian place called Il Centro.  We ate “outside” (there were screens and patio heaters).  The heaters were, in fact, too hot – for me anyway.  I had barramundi and a glass of viognier – very nice – and caught up with my cousins.  Cousin H and her mother are estranged, so I was surprised to see her.  Apparently she lives in Brisbane but doesn’t see her mother or her older sister, M.  She was a strange woman – not warm at all.  The bill came to about A$50 or more and I was prepared to pay but the cousins insisted on paying, which was very nice.  We then shared a taxi which dropped me off at the hotel before they headed back to H’s place and H said she’d see me tomorrow (perhaps she’d changed her mind about attending the birthday party!).

Daughter turned up just after I’d got to bed.  A very long day one was over.

Day two and this was my aunt’s 90th birthday on 26 June.  My brother and wife were arriving that morning and they picked daughter and I up after they got their rental car at the airport.  After picking us up, we headed to their motel on the other side of the river and they checked in.  We had a cuppa outside and enjoyed the sun.  Then we headed off towards aunt’s retirement village for the birthday lunch.

We got there and discovered it wasn’t there after all.  Brother said he thought I knew where it was and I said I thought he knew!  He had been the one in contact with cousin K all this time, who had arranged it.  I hadn’t thought to ask her the night before as the last I’d heard it was going to be at the retirement village and had not been told any differently.  Thank goodness for cellphones.  Frantic texting and we were directed to the local RSL (equivalent to RSA in NZ for returned servicemen).  Cousins K, M and P were there (no H – she’d lied about being there) with their mother, J, who didn’t look 90!  I expected her to look frail, but she didn’t.  I hadn’t seen her for about 15 years and she didn’t look much different.  M, the eldest daughter, looked much younger than H.

Cousin M and aunt J.

We had a lovely time and all agreed we’d meet again for her 100th!

In the evening daughter (C) and I met brother and wife (A and G) in the CBD with the intention of having dinner.  We went into a Belgian pub and had a drink but none of us were hungry – we’d eaten so much at lunch.  Nor could we find anywhere reasonable to eat.  Brisbane seemed dead on a Sunday night.  We walked for a bit then separated, agreeing to meet again in the morning.

We wandered past this church:

Day three and A and G picked us up from the hotel after we’d checked out.  C and I were spending that night in Coolangatta, ready for our flight to Kuala Lumpur early the next morning.  A had kindly offered to drive us to Coolangatta and on the way we headed into an IKEA store.  A had warned me that I would need at least a couple of hours for my first visit to an IKEA store.  He wasn’t wrong.  It was amazing.  The display floor was set up as rooms and whole houselots of furniture and everything that you could possibly need for the home and they were stylish, well made, and amazingly cheap.  C and I were astounded and both thought if you moved to Australia you’d do well to sell up everything and just buy stuff from IKEA.  We even thought of making a special trip with empty suitcases in order to buy stuff to take back.

The road trip south was pleasant enough, past all the theme parks, which I have no interest in at all now the kids are adults.

We arrived at the hotel, the Greenmount Beach resort in Coolangatta.  It looked ok from the outside and from the lobby but the room was terrible.  The place hadn’t been maintained since the 70s which were its heyday, I imagine.  The bed covers were faded, the TV was ancient and had no reception, the remote didn’t work, a power point didn’t work, a panel off one of the side table’s drawers had come off – it was appalling.  Luckily it was only for one night.

We wandered down the street, enjoying the sunshine and the view of the sea with Surfer’s Paradise in the distance.  It reminded me very much of Mount Maunganui.   We had a beer at one of the bars and enjoyed it all.

A and G headed off north to spend two more days in and around Brisbane before flying home – theirs was a short trip.

We mucked around and had an evening walk before preparing ourselves for the flight to Malaysia the next morning…

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I haven’t felt like writing details about my trip yet. Other frustrations have arisen.

The car, which I picked up from the panelbeaters, promptly died. Apparently this had nothing to do with the accident. Perhaps it was brought on by it sitting idle for two weeks. Regardless, insurance won’t pay and the car’s not worth fixing. I’m now on the lookout for a cheapish car to replace it. In the meantime I’ll have to use daughter’s car (who’s obviously not too pleased to be without transport in the short term).

I thought the ghastly weather we’re having was enough punishment for having a good time on holiday. Evidently not. And I’d just forked out the excess for the car being “fixed”. What a complete waste of time and money. Hopefully the wreckers will give me a decent amount to compensate a little.

It’s a wonder I’m not completely depressed. Just as I was starting to save money to get some work done around the house…

Perhaps the annoyances have been offset by watching a 10-part series daughter had got hold of called “Game of Thrones” which was addictive. I watched all 10 one-hour episodes in three nights and I’ve only been back home three and a half days. It was a goody and apparently the next series is due out soon. Naturally such good (British) programmes never appear on TV (or they might in about a year’s time, if we’re lucky).

Back to the depressing grind. The trip full of warmth and sunshine already seems like a distant dream.

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Back from holiday

And back to the cold and wet.  I couldn’t have chosen a worse day to return, weatherwise.  The weather was fine on arrival and departure to and from Christchurch and equally fine on arrival in Wellington.  Then it started clouding  over and by the time I waited for my bus to Palmy it was raining.  Then it got progressively worse.  We were held up in traffic because of some merging on one part of the highway, then just past Waikanae we were stuck in traffic again because of merging but this time we saw why – a van was flipped on its side in a paddock by the side of the road.  We thought it must have been a serious car crash but we heard later, through a woman in contact with her mother via cellphone, that it was due to a tornado!  Well the rain pelted down and near Palmy there were constant flashes of lightning.  This didn’t let up for the next hour.  It was pouring and when I got off the bus it pelted down even harder.  In the few seconds from the bus to daughter’s waiting car, we both got drenched.  The lightning and clapping thunder continued for another couple of hours, with hail thrown in to add to the feeling of the end of the world.

Welcome  home!

Back to work tomorrow and I’m not looking forward to the enforced inactivity in front of the computer all day every day.  The great thing with staying in hotels in cities is that you can walk basically everywhere, and the public transport was cheap and on time.  We walked a lot and got sore feet, but there were numerous foot massage places along the street our hotel was in in Kuala Lumpur.

Great holiday overall and everything went along smoothly.  Food and public transport was dirt cheap so all up I probably only spent about NZ$700 over two weeks (and that includes buying little souvenirs/clothing) so pretty good.

I’ll write up the holiday in little blocks.  But first, I’ve got to alter this pesky belly dancing costume in readiness for Saturday’s performance (which I’m NOT looking forward to).  I’ve just spent about an hour or so reviewing the hotels we stayed in in Brisbane, Coolangatta, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Christchurch (at tripadvisor.com).  Overall all pretty good but Coolangatta was a shocker.

I may have to take a day off in the near future – I can’t bear the thought of five days a week work for the next three months…

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