October 21, 2006

Singapore - The 'Mer'-Lion City

SINGAPORE - The Statue spitting water is of a Merlion: a sort of fish/lion that guards the city and is supposed to make a great photo with the skyline in the background.

The last couple days have been a perfect trial run for Asia. Singapore is all of Asia crammed into one tidy, orderly, modern, first world city. I've been feasting on Indian, Chinese and Malay food and culture and am now frothing at the mouth to actually get to some of these places. For me, Singapore has been an appetizer, a sort of teaser of what's to come.

My only real complaint has been the constant haze. I haven't seen the sun since I got here here and it's starting to make my throat itch. It makes terrible looking city skylines. I hear Kuala Lumpur isn't much better.

In other news, one of the comments on a previous post reminded me that I've recently passed my one year travelling anniversary. Geez, that seems like a long time. At this pace the trip will last another year. The Indian Ocean, off the coast of Perth happens to be the furthest you can get from Toronto on the planet earth.

To say that if you dug a hole in your backyard (from Ontario) straight down that you'd reach China is a myth. You'd actually emerge somewhere in the Indian Ocean with Perth, Australia as the closest bit of land. At some point on the Cargo ship as I rounded the corner of Australia I hit the half-way mark.

From here I'm no longer moving away from home, but rather towards it. Homeward bound.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to meet some people at the legendary Raffles Hotel for the customary, over-priced, experience of drinking a Singapore Sling, at the bar that invented it, before I hop on a bus bound for Malaysia.

October 20, 2006

Baltrum Trader

The CrewSINGAPORE - We were more than 400 km south of Australia, somewhere in the Southern Ocean, weathering a strong gale. Giant waves were regularly coming over the bow and no one could venture outside. Even though the ship was pitching and rolling more violently than any of the crew could remember - the, always cheery, Filipino crew managed to drag out their Karaoke machine and the Polish officers started on their vodka shots and I tried 'em both. It didn't seem as strange as it sounds when one of the crew suddenly appeared in drag; his red dress allegedly a requirement for anybody celebrating a birthday at sea.

Most of the voyage was dreadfully boring, some of it was interesting and sometimes is was just plain fun. I'll always remember my time on the Baltrum Trader; I'm happy to have done it, but will probably never have the urge to again. It was one of those random travel moments that can never be fully explained and will never occur again.

Singapore and most of the South China Sea are currently covered in a thick haze; something about farmers in Borneo and Sumatra burning forests. In any case, we could barely see the front of the ship for the last few days of the trip - A perfect cloak for us as the Straights of Malacca are notorious zones for trouble with pirates.

It's a relief, after so much effort and criss-crossing of Australia to finally be in Asia. From here it's simply a long, relatively inexpensive, trek to Europe. I won't have to worry about crossing any big bodies of water for some time now.