Friday, 31 October 2008


It feels kinda crazy, sitting at the rooftop of some building at this time in the morning, looking out at the lights across at the Jurong island refinery, and the fires from the refineries lighting up the skyline at regular intervals. With a coffee in hand, blogging, and rushing my term paper for tomorrow. Talk about crazy. But so far this is my favourite spot for some personal space to just sit back, reflect, and stare out at the night sky and the twinkling lights when i get bored. Its a nice place, a small rooftop space with benches and potted plants, and no one at all at this time in the morning. Kinda like my loft - not too big to feel impersonal and intimidate - i never liked huge spaces, especially at night, trying to do my stuff alone. Always more for the cosy, personal space feel - hence me colonising this little space where it feels that im all alone, looking out towards the night, the little lights in the distance at Jurong, the refinery, the future...

I don't know, but to me, tomorrow is always beautiful - it is always a promise, a fresh start, where everything takes care of itself as it unfurls. Just do as best i can, and let things be. Everything sorts itself out in the end. To quote, i think previous bit was in the Dharma Bums, and now Chozanshi, only a fool worries about what he has no control over. Let tomorrow come, and let tomorrow be. Thats why i always go to sleep at peace and happy however screwed up my day was, knowing that whatever tomorrow brings, will be, and knowing that if i have done my all, there is nothing else i can do but accept and find joy in what transpires. Que sera, sera. Whatever will be, will be.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Hong Kong - Llhasa

Call me greedy, but heh, getting excited about next year's planned mega trip from Hong Kong to Llhasa, and then out from Nepal Kathmandu. Ought to be amazing. Then its most of Asia "done" for me save for Great Mother Russia and the 'Stans. Oh yea, and Japan and Korea of course - just don't feel the pressing need to join the hordes of package tourists there yet on 5 day 4 night packages. Not to mention its hellishly expensive too (actually that might be the main reason).

The HK-Llhasa is still between the conceptualisation-planning stages, but it should be a go, i think, thats if i can get the Chinese visa from Hong Kong (and the Tibet permit, of course). The least i'd do is probably go around China, sort of going back to the "homeland", i guess. It's surprising how many Chinese have never been to China - i'm one of them myself and even if i don't feel any strong kindship ties with the homeland, it would still be nice to go back to where my ancestors came from, and see what it's like for myself.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Lips of an Angel

Inexplicably, my song for Kathmandu is Hinder's Lips of an Angel, the song playing in the wet Thamel night, navigating the narrow, crowded streets in the nightly drizzles, the bars and restaurants and bakeries, the bookshops, souvenir shops, trekking shops, Tibetan shops... all a blur of lights, people and sound in the rain. Beautiful. And being broke (well almost) staying in cheap rooms and carefully budgeting my money - part of the fun of which was taking long walks to surrounding sights in the Kathmandu valley and finding innovative ways to skirt the ticket counter.

Thamel has really gone upmarket though, that its almost sad-funny (and builds camarederie) when you walk past the really posh looking restaurants with their doormen and the impeccably clean glass facades -and theres no one inside. In the monsoon, the only people here are backpackers, who gather in the small alleys off the main street at the hole-in-the-wall juice shops and Tibetan restaurants for that cheap smoothie or momos, and who all seem to enjoy the Thamel bakeries' 50% off breads offer at 8 p.m.

I kept to 2 meals a day, breakfast at the rooftop at Helena's - at 90 NRs (1.5 USD) for eggs, toast with butter and jam, excellent sauted potatoes, a grilled tomato and tea/coffee. Quite a steal. Then i'd walk all the way out of town into the Kathmandu valley to visit the sights, often as there's nothing in the way of transport due to the frequent bandhas (strikes) over the president issue and the fuel price increase/student discount issue. These are pretty much a fact of life in Nepal, and as the Himalayan Times sum it up perfectly, quoting a student leader, "if we don't burn tyres, no one will listen to us." Talk about diplomacy and dialogue. The common response of the Nepalis is usually, what to do, Kathmandu, accompanied with a little head wobble and a shrug.

And so i walked, out of Thamel, into the old, medieval, fabled city, marked by the regal Durbar Square in its heart, past the Rani Pokhari (Queen's pool) and the fantastic gardens of the Kaiser Mahal on days, out of town into the Kathmandu valley, where the buildings thin out, and roads become more pot-holed and uneven, forming pools of muddy brown water after the nightly rains. And sharing the road with the Nepalis from all walks of life, porters carrying huge, impossible loads on carts and on their backs, women balancing urns of milk on their head, children in fresh school uniforms running off to school, youths enjoying a cup of hot chiya (tea) seated around an ancient square, a tole that marks most of the intersections of Kathmandu's streets, playing badminton, the odd saddhu, the saffron robed Tibetan monks... I enjoyed these walks immensely, disappearing into a Nepal that felt so ancient with tradition and its architectural quirks and splendour, yet so alive and breathing, and welcoming.

*As usual, pics coming up soon - i have yet to sort through my 5 CDs and 2 DVDs worth of photos taken on this trip - so far im only about halfway through it...

Saturday, 18 October 2008


A moment of morbidity at 4 in the morning prompted me to recount my travel near-deaths; well, thats pushing it, but you get the idea. The times when you feel that, hey i dont know if i can make it this time. Maybe its the end for me. The time when what separates life, and death is the thin line that becomes so clear to you in that instant.

Those times which, thankfully, are not too numerous to remember,

1. Angkor, Cambodia - climbing up one of those huge stone temples outside the main complex along the Grand Circuit, where almost vertical steps cut into the rock crumble and blend into each other, worn smooth by time. Ta Keo takes the cake for being the impossible-st temple to climb up to. A crazy, intimidating stone spire that rises from the centre of the complex, supposedly abandoned after it was struck by lightning. The uncompleted work, as if suddenly abandoned, cast an eerie pall over the temple, even in the midday sun.

2. Vang Vieng, Laos - getting lost in a cliffside cave somewhere in the karst mountains around town. Without a torch.

3. Luang Nam Tha, Laos - dumped by sawngthaew at night in an unnamed, dark and silent road out of town, with all the shops and residences closed, shutters down, and silence all round except for the howling of dogs, and cats screeching eerily.

4. India - the madman's tour of Mahabalipuram. Its a long story, worth a post on its own - ill get to that soon once i settle my exams. Yes, its that time of the year again, before i head off.

5. on the Annapurna Base Camp trail, Nepal - crossing a frozen waterfall horizontally hanging off the cliff side. Actually, that was nothing compared to going down into the South Annapurna glacier, an almost 90 degree, sheer rock face of thousands of millions of sharp, jagged rock fragments. And walking along the glacier on the Fang (mountain) approach march before, climbing back up again. The glacier was another world totally - underground caves and eerie, green unearthly pools of still water, and the rumble of distant rockfall and avalanches.

6. Chitrasali, Nepal - The worst of the lot. It nearly spelt the end of my academic life when due to time zone miscaluculations, guaranteed power outtages in the afternoon and crawling, sporadic internet in the Terai plains of Nepal, i very nearly, and i mean very nearly, missed my subject registration exercise for the new academic year.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Amrit Sarovar - the pool of nectar

Amritsar. The Golden temple.

In the northern Indian state of Punjab, another of my favourites, a very welcome respite from stepping off the plane from Tamil Nadu's tranquil, palm lined country roads into the New Delhi chaos that still persists at 3 a.m. in the morning. I had stayed at this really freaky place and made up my mind that night, making sure all the doors and windows were locked and tight, to get my tickets from the New Delhi railway station the next day and make an early exit. The buying tickets bit was easy enough - thanks to the International Tourist Bureau , a "nice and spacious office" on the second floor - and after minutes of filling in forms for the trains i wanted and playing couch shuffle waiting for my turn at the counters, i managed to end up with all the tickets i'd ever need for this India trip - in total around 55 dollars of tickets. This is by far the bit of Indian bureaucracy i'm most impressed with, other than the State Bank of India experience in Chennai of course, which made me feel so like a native Chennaiker - yea and i do support the Super Kings in the IPL. One surefire way to make friends (and influence people) in India - talk about cricket and how fantastic Tendulkar is etc...

New Delhi! the old town around Jama Masjid

I went (escaped) up north to Amritsar on the evening Shatabdi, squashed between a rotund Sikh and a prosperous-looking Indian businessman, on second class A/C so i shan't complain too much. The service was awesome anyway - being served tea the moment we got in and all the way to supper when we were almost in Amritsar. The train, however, was delayed due to some "technical fault" - basically euphemism for we don't know whats going on, so we had tea in the train while it still was in the station - kinda weird, actually. But other than that, a pretty uneventful ride into Amritsar, where in stark contrast - that is so typical of Indian travel - i shared a crazed, chai-fuelled autorickshaw ride into the old town around the golden temple with an Irish couple on honeymoon, our bags almost bouncing off the rear as he took off towards the destination, cutting through side streets and screaming down alleys barely wider than his rickshaw.

The Golden Temple, Sikkhism's holiest shrine, was beautiful. One of my fondest memories was everyone getting to their feet, standing around the Golden Temple, in the fast fading evening light as prayers are recited in the Golden temple, electronic speakers carrying it through the entire courtyard. And the scent of imminent rain in the breeze, raking ripples across the now dark surface of the pool of holy water, the Amrit Sarovar, surrounding the Golden temple, light drops of rain touching our faces.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Taj Mahal

Some of my favourite pics:

Wednesday, 1 October 2008


Got my tickets today! And judging by the Chinatown crowds, apparently half of the island's population had the same idea to go to the travel agents today, seeing its a convenient mid-week public holiday.

And i saved around 50 dollars for waking up early - the 0900 flight after Christmas was like 25% cheaper than the 5 o clock?? I wonder why. The new trick seems to be making you pay for checking in luggage, instead of it being included in ticket price. Anyway, 370 S$ for the 2 flights into Hanoi and out from Saigon, i reckon i got a decent deal. Throw in cheap insurance and i'm all set.

No Daffy Duck this time out to hand out secret maps; i'm disappointed. Really.

Rainy nights

I love these rainy nights, sitting in my room by the window and listening to the rain pour down, and feeling so cut off from the world, so alone and so free, where nothing else really troubled me any more. The rain slowing to a drizzle, accompanied, at this time, 3:30 in the a.m., by the sound of crickets (i know, its supposed to be a garden campus - we even have funny looking white birds and the occasional wild boar/pangolin), and the ****ing birds honking at regular intervals. Ok, actually, its quite therepeutic, when i have tomorrow off and am just languidly looking through my notes - Barthes' semiology - while reading my borrowed copy of the Da Vinci Code. Ignoring the fact that i'm actually ashamed to be caught reading it now (a bit outdated, i know, and hypocritical considering i thought it was just another mystery novel when it first hit the shelves (and i never read mystery) and that i cannot put it down now), i actually cant tell now, after a grand 4 hours of doing both at the same time, that which belongs to which. For example - did Barthes analyse the sacred feminine in modern myths or was Langdon the one who.... And the worst bit yet - I quoted Jacques Sauniere for some semiotic theory. This is looking very bad...

I hence resolve to finish reading the book before going back to my work. There, how's that for willpower and determination.

Going to get my tickets for Vietnam tomorrow - same old place, and i can feel the excitement building in me again. It's gonna be another trip, another journey, and one that i have planned to do almost 2 years ago, as a high school kid poring over maps and guidebooks borrowed from the library.

Decided to push this trip to the 4th of December - so i hopefully get to do my registration exercise first (fingers crossed - and don't get me started on why can't they give us the specific dates earlier), this time older and wiser after the ambulance incident at Chitrasali. Definitely not one i would forget. And probably the best reminder ever to - check your email regularly! and pray hard in a town that has frequent, guaranteed power outtages and crawling internet. And that is in the middle of nowhere on the sprawling Terai plains of Nepal. Lovely.

The rain outside, and the solitude and quiet i so enjoy in the early hours of the morning actually stirs memories of Nepal. Kathmandu, where in the evenings, the skies would just open, deluging Thamel and turning it into a foggy sea of rain and misted lights from the cars and neon signs of bars, restaurants and bakeries.

I also think of Pokhara, sitting in the cosy, hole-in-the-wall Tibetan kitchen eating momos with soup while it rained heavily outside, a torrential downpour that drew us all to under the leaking wooden awning to gaze out in wonder at the pouring skies and the gushing river the streets have become, the herd of buffaloes wading down the street across the tiny shopfront making it all the more surreal and unbelievable. It was my third day in Nepal, and if i could possibly fall more in love with her than i already was, i would, i had.