Thursday, April 30, 2009

Singapore Day 1: Orchard Street

Orchard Street is the big shopping street in Singapore. It has all the expensive stores, malls, and restaurants as well. I walked through the street, in the hot sticky and humid night but didn't eat at any of those places. I figured I was backpacking and maybe I could enjoy these more luxurious things another time on a different kind of trip.

It was approaching Christmas time (these pictures are from 11/27/08) and Singapore was getting ready for it. Orchard street was lined with extravagant decorations everywhere despite not being a Christian country. Over 42% of Singapore is Buddhist and only 14% is Christian so Christmas is basically purely commercial... though I'd argue that's what is back home as well only we pretend it's about Jesus Christ. Well there's no pretending here, it's shop for fun and for friends and family. Singaporeans remind me a bit of Hong Kong people, they like to eat and shop for fun.

Christmas decorations in Singapore.

Christmas decorations in Singapore.

Christmas decorations in Singapore.

Christmas decorations in Singapore.

One of the expensive stores along Orchard Street. Ladies... this one's for you.

A small stand selling cheap curry. I got one and liked it.

Interestingly as I walked around the streets I heard birds chirping. I thought they were just in the trees or something like that. However I continued to hear them all the way down the street, the same exact chirps. I looked around the trees and there was no bird poop below or within the vicinity of the trees (or anywhere for that matter). I think Singapore is so strict about cleanliness that they don't want real birds in their trees so there won't be bird poop around. Instead I think they may have used speakers that play the sound of birds to make the area pleasant for people! I don't know... maybe I'm crazy. It's just a hypothesis, I don't know for real.
Singapore... litter free. Yep, except for 2 places.

Shop lifting is dangerous! The police cannot help you! Really? Duh.

Christmas decorations in Singapore.

House of Condoms? Kinky Singaporeans?

Wtf?!?! Urban male??? It's a clothing brand! Weird!

Singapore Day 1: Little India

I passed through Little India really quickly, so I don't have many pictures here. Unlike, say Orchard street, Little India wasn't all that clean. One of the few places where Singapore is dirty. Where is the other place?

There's litter on the ground in Singapore's Little India! Litter in Singapore??? Say it ain't so! Well, this isn't the only area. The other area is... guess! I'll have pictures of that place in another post.

A menu of Indian Muslim food.

A menu of Indian Muslim food.

A market selling fresh fruits and vegetables in Little India.

Another look at some more veggies in Little India.

I want to say that the smells of Indian spices filled the air making my mouth water at every turn... but it didn't. It didn't smell very good until you got right next to the restaurant. I figured I would have time to come back and try some Indian food so I decided to move on to Orchard Street. Too bad I was wrong about coming back... oh well, I'll just have to go to India to try some authentic Indian food (or I guess some good Indian places back home).

Singapore Day 1: Chinatown

My first day in Singapore was November 27, 2008 (Yeah, I know, what an incredible lag in my blog). As with most first days in a new place I got acquainted with a little bit of the area first hand while looking over maps and areas of interest for the next few days.

Thailand was under going major political protests leaving the Bangkok Airport shut down due to demonstrators. Many of the flights were diverted to Singapore where many unhappy travelers were trying to figure out how to continue their trip.

I on the other hand was happy to be traveling again after my long rest in Phuket. I was interested in exploring again and seeing what sites and smells Singapore had to offer. As I wrote in an earlier post my hostel was Service World Hostel located in Chinatown, so after landing in the airport I caught the subway there. By the way, public transportation is great in Singapore.

Map of Singapore's Subway System

So here we go... this is a quick look at what I saw in Chinatown as I wandered around looking for my hotel. I'll have more pictures of these places later when i went back for a little more exploring.
My first glimps of Singapore's Chinatown as I exited the subway.

While wandering around chinatown looking for my hostel I bumped into the Sri Mariamman Temple.

Sri Mariamman Temple

street vendors line the streets of chinatown.

Empty rickshaws parked next to the Chinese Cultural Center.

Found my hostel!

I was in need of a little snack. Luckily the hostel was right next to the Chinatown Hawker center - filled with cheap chinese food. It's one of the few places you can find cheap food in Singapore, so it's perfect for backpackers.

A cleanliness sign. Perhaps it is gentle persuasion considering the strict littering laws in Singapore. Then again... this is chinatown, will the people here follow the law? This question will be answered in a post to come. Stay tuned!

A quick cheap snack, peanut butter on bread.


Illegal drugs kill!

This stand was for the Ah Lo Famous yam cakes. Most of the other stalls were empty as it was between lunch and dinner time but this one still had quite a line (or queue as they say in Singapore).

This snack requires a more... traditional chinese taste in sweets to appreciate. I don't have that, so I skipped it.

The Hawker center selling clothes
More clothes being sold.

Hawker Center sign to be clean.

Stingray? Should I try some? I think the scuba divers wouldn't like that i'm tempted...

Ok, the scuba divers won't be happy! Stingray! It had some very spicy sauce on it. The texture and taste were like fish. It wasn't bad, just too spicy for me. I'm a spice wuss.

Chinatown Complex.

Old people playing mahjong and chinese chess by the Chinatown Complex. This reminds me of a picture I took in Hong Kong, the one labled: Outside Tin Hua Temple.

Right across from the Chinatown Complex is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum.

A quick peak inside the Tooth Relic Temple & Museum. More on this later.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Capsule Inn in Ahkihabara Closed

I got an email tonight from the Capsule Inn I visited in the Ahkihabara district of Tokyo today. Sadly, they told me the inn would be closed April 21, 2009. They'll reopen on December of 2009 in Kyoto.

My blog entry on my stay at the Capsule Inn.

This is the email I received from troilus[at]
Dear Mr. **********

Along with the real estate redevelopment project of the vicinity region,
Capsule Inn AKihabara has decided to cease operations as of Tuesday,April 21, 2009.

Thank you for your patronage for twenty years since 1989.

At Kyoto in December 2009,
Capsule Inn Akihabara is completely reborn to the hotel of the novel style.

Let's meet by all means in Kyoto next time.

「9h」nine hours

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Ah, Singapore, one of the surprise delights of my trip. I really wasn't expecting much from this small country, but it quickly became one of my favorite places in the world. In general the people here are so nice, and I couldn't believe how clean Singapore was. I mean... people think Japan is a clean country.... well, wait until you get to Singapore. Singapore puts Japan to shame with it's cleanliness.

It's really easy for English speaks to get around. Most people (around 75%) in Singapore are of Chinese decent, varying from the Canton or Fukken areas of China, but there are also Malays, Indians, and Arabs living there. Because Singapore was a former British colony everyone speaks English, and they speak English really well! But you will run into what's called Singlish, an interesting mix of English, Chinese (usually mandarin but sometimes other dialects), and Malay. It wasn't too bad for me though, everyone there can switch to just English, though from my limited understanding of mandarin I could get by with Singlish too.

I arrived in Singapore from Thailand on 11/27/08 and stayed at a Hostel called Service World Hostel. It was run by a delightful man named Andrew Yip (I showed him how to use skype). The hostel was nice, but there are only shared bunks. It was similar to a place I stayed at in Japan. Singapore is not a cheap place to visit, it's quite expensive and Service World was clean and safe, but still affordable. It was located in Chinatown and right next to the Hawker Center filled with delicious cheap Chinese food. Yum!

Andrew Yip is a very interesting guy. You couldn't ask for a better hostel owner. The man knows everything about the city. He knows it's history, it's politics, it's soci-economic situation, and was once Singapore's Director of City Planning. This means he's got tons of stories if you're interested. If you need directions anywhere he knows exactly how to get there. He'll rattle off bus routes without looking any directions up. He can tell you the quickest way there or the cheapest way there, always offering the most economical way.

He also sells his father's breath taking photographs. His father was an award winning photographer who was awarded Honorary Outstanding Photographer of the Century by the Photographic Society of New York. I bought a few for my family. There is a website which shows some of the photos, you can find some wonderful pictures of Singapore there. Andrew's a poet, and writes poetry to his father's photographs. He read me some, and he could tell I was not one for poetry. I had to laugh a little; was it so obvious? I tried to be polite. His poetry is not bad at all; I would simply say that I do not have the capacity to appreciate poetry in general... as in all poetry. =) Andrew's poetry to his father's photographs can be found here.

At this time political protests had exploded in Thailand and the Bangkok Airport was overrun with protesters preventing planes from landing safely. This meant people trying to fly to Thailand were all diverted to other countries. Many of them were diverted to Singapore. I met many Europeans in Singapore. Most of them were quite a bit younger than me, and those that were supposed to be in Thailand were very angry. Some complained that their around the world tickets were all messed up now and they might not be able to get a different flight or refund. Others were, well, spoiled kids. Still I met a hilarious bunch of English and Irish guys. One of them, the brother of a UK Royal Marine told me that the UK marines had a clear shot of Osama Bin Laden and were told not to fire... by the the Americans! I don't know how true that is... it is hear say, but it would be sad if that was true.

I also had a very interesting conversation with a guy from Pakistan. He was a friendly guy, then he learned I was American. At this point, he did not turn violent or anything like that, but he clearly said he did not like America. He said American is bombing Pakistan and innocents are getting hurt. I spoke with him about the issue. I said, America is not at war with Islam despite what the nut jobs may say. Americans do not cheer when a innocents are injured in war, innocents like the children he said that had been harmed by America. Innocents get hurt in war... I don't think there has been a single war where an innocent wasn't hurt, that's why war is hell. Osama Bin Laden clearly attacked America with the events of 9-11, and he has not been brought to justice yet. These radicals are now hiding in your country, and we want them brought to justice. This has nothing to do with the Pakistani people, but rather the the terrorists hiding in it.

I asked him about his views on the attacks of 9-11 and violence in general. He said Islam is a religion of peace, and he did not condone the attacks. Also mentioned was that people involved in suicide attacks are actually paid. They themselves are not paid, as they die, but their families are paid handsomely. These people are usually young, and come from poor families. There isn't much for them to live for, so why not die a martyr, get a hundred virgins in heaven, and allow your family to live in comfort with the money paid to them by organizations like Al Queda? These people are easy prey due to their economic situation and easily manipulated by their religion.

We then went into a conversation about how history has shown that men in power will manipulate those without, and that religion has a long history of having men in power. Even religions like Buddhism, which is viewed as a peaceful religion, once had a history of bloodshed, monks were once an extremely powerful fighting force in ancient China for example. We ended up concluding, it wasn't necessarily the religions that were evil, but evil men using and manipulating religion to harm others.

We also talked generally about why America has the presence they have in the Middle East. It's obvious, it's for oil. And while I think most Americans, myself included, would rather not trade blood for oil as we unfortunately have lately... Still, someone has to sell it to us... so I don't think you can blame the United States entirely for our presence in the Middle East, but I think we must acknowledge that a large portion of blame does fall upon us.

I guess and hope he walked away with a better appreciation of why America is in his country now... even though he does not like it. I hope we don't have to be there long, I certainly would prefer our young men and women in the armed forces be safe than in harms way.

Well, I guess you can get a little hint of the many different cultures in Singapore from this first post... from the Chinese Singaporians, to the Indian Singaporians, to people from neighboring regions like the gentleman from Pakistan I had that conversation with. I loved the melting pot that is Singapore, the people were so friendly and speak English (easy for me to get around), the food is great, the place is clean, what more could you ask for? I originally intended to only stay for a couple of days in Singapore but ended up staying 8 days.

Ok... more info in the next post... and I'll bombard you with pictures of Singapore.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Diving in Phuket

While in Phuket I saw scuba diving schools everywhere. After seeing them so many times I gave in to temptation. I looked up the dive shops I saw online until I found a review of one I was comfortable with. I finally settled on Phuket Scuba Club (their blog).

I started out at their Karon Beach facility which was basically really just a tiny little hut on the beach. It makes for a nice classroom though. Normally you go through book work, videos, quizes and tests over three days while doing water work as well. Well I didn't get to do that thanks to a scheduling snafu. My first instructor, Rachel, apparently did not realize she needed to go on a visa run until after we started the class. Because of that we decided to do all the paper work, videos, quizes, and tests crammed into two days with no water work. Then I did all my water work with a different instructor. Normally you just get one instructor for the whole course. It worked out though. I passed my tests and for PADI open water.

It was on to water work at their other location at Karon Beach with Ashley (Ash), one of the other instructors there. What seemed to be a horrible mistaken on Phuket Scuba Club turned out to be pretty good. I thought Ash was a wonderful instructor. He was able to show me all the techniques I had to learn and was an absolute wealth of knowledge as he answered all my questions effortlessly. He also took me to a some yummy places to eat, and took me to a bar to catch the Ricky Hatton fight. All in all I owe my diving success to him and would highly recommend him to anyone. He's now running his own diving company teaching privately: Elite Scuba Europe.

Scuba Diving has been one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had in my life. What that says about my life I'll leave up to you. What you can take away from that statement though, is that if you've never done it I highly recommend you try.

I had never experienced anything quite like the act of diving. It's as close as you can get to the weightlessness of space without being in space. Floating along the ocean floor, moving up and down as you breath in and breath out; it's quite exhilarating your first time. In fact, you'll probably get a kick out of just being able to breath underwater.

I grew up watching Jacques Cousteau (inventor of scuba diving) videos as a child. I was always amazed with the sea life he was able to capture on film. Of course, as a first time diver, I didn't exactly do the dives or see the life of the famous Jacques Cousteau. Still diving off long boats from Kho Phoo Island in Phuket Thailand was still special as I was able to see an abundant amount of tropical sea life in the very warm and comfortable waters of Phuket.

I did five dives off Kho Poo Island / Phuket, where one of them part of my training and, three were my open water dives for my class, and one of them was just a fun dive after my training was completed. In these dives I saw a small school of barracuda, of course all the tropical fish from the movie Nemo, a puffer fish, a blue spotted manta ray, angel fish, many many different schools of fish that I cannot name, and of course sea anemone, and star fish (even saw a few moving... slowly).

The highlight had to be my last dive, the fun dive. I dove with Bank, and dive master from Europe of Thai decent I believe. We saw lion fish, cleaner shrimp, of course tons of schools of fish (Bank actually got a few fish and shrimps to play with him) and this beautiful rock formation home to so many little fish. We had to swim against the current to get there, and it was more taxing than any dive I had done before, but it was well worth it. Around this large rock (easily larger than two of me) were tons of different schools of little fish all swimming in different rings. Some around the rock, some through the holes in the rock. Think of those pictures of plants with rings around them only where there are many rings and the rings are made up of little tropical fish. I thought it was absolutely breath taking.

Now I'm making little dives and not in the more well known places in Phuket like Phi Phi Island, or the Similan Islands, so I didn't get the most amazing views of sea life. But despite that I had such a blast. I really enjoyed watching the marine life though. The warm and clear waters of Phuket probably spoiled me too. I'm really looking forward to future dive trips where I may be able to see sea turtles, sea lions, kelp forrests, and maybe if I'm lucky whale sharks. I do plan on getting my Advanced certificate so I can dive deeper and into wrecks.