Wednesday, 25 April 2012

A strange piece of paradise

The Beautiful Pulau Perhentain Kacil, an island of north eastern Malaysia.
I came here for a few days after working a couple weeks on a farm in the jungle. The beaches here were magic. The island you dream of, all that typical post card perfection.
It was strange to be in a place that was accessible purely for tourism reasons. Their was a fishing village on one side of the island, but it was well away from any of the tourist action, and i can understand why. Their island, as with many others in South East Asia had been transformed into a sunbaking, party making, coral breaking tropical escape.
I enjoyed my time here though, lazing about reading and writing, going for walks through the rainforest and one day stupidly made the mistake of hopping on a snorkel tour.
A day tour where you were taken to 5 different snorkeling spots around the island. The first place was more like a learn to swim school, people with their heads out of the water more than in, awkwardly stomping the shallow coral regions and getting used to their fluro orange floaty vests. The fish came if you had a lump of bread in your hand, but the coral was devastated, those in the shallow parts broken by the feet of foreigners and the deeper parts tainted by the constant fuel from the boats and anchor dropping.
Shark point was next, i 'think' i saw a shark, more of a shadow than a shark, and the shadow sure was quick to retreat, as would you at the sight of 10 people eagerly flipping their feet stalking it. Then to turtle point, this was really hilarious. The tour guide eagerly searching around the deep clear water, and then viewing one on the surface, yelling TURTLE! JUMP! all 15 people on the boat jump in and scatter trying to follow this poor turtle that just wanted to come up for air. 3 other boats then see that we found the turtle, and another 50 people come to join in the completely natural experience of scaring this turtle almost out of its shell. Lucky the thing can hold its breath for 3 hours or more, otherwise i think it would have willingly decided to end its life than come up again.
The most beautiful stop off on this trip was at the lighthouse, the coral and marine life quite deep so somewhat unharmed by snorkeling tours. The coral was electric and the fish big and friendly. Swimming through some underwater coral caves which was awesome. And then finishing the day by jumping off the top of the 30m high lighthouse, eeep!
As i was walking through the forests, i found some great emty old resorts and bungalows, so anyone heading here in a group or at least with one other person i highly reccommend squatting rather than paying. i took some pics they at the bottom of this blog entry, lil pieces of free paradise! 
I met some other backpackers here from sweden, norway and france, had some great nights talking about travels. This was the first real tourist place i have been in ages, so it took me a couple days to come out of my shell and openly start sharing travel stories. Im not used to the whole, " where you from? where you been? how long ya been travelling? when do you go home?" questions that every traveller seems required to ask the other. Its a bit tedious and im keen to get back off this trail.
But the roads are unpredictable and i guess in the end i will always be considered a tourist, no matter how much you try to escape it. A stranger in a foreign country.
Gringo, Bule, Malai, Farang, Foreigner.


Squat this building!
Squat this building!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The house of fire

Rumah Api, Kualalumpur

Yet another friend of a friend of a friends house that i was lucky enough to stay at. This place is awesome!
I caught a bus from Singapore and arriving at the train station with a mobile number and address in hand stating "Ampang". Exhausting myself looking for a public phone, i jumped on the train and headed to Ampang, they wouldnt mind if i just rocked up on there doorstep rite? Well thats what i had planned until the lovely people sitting next to me started asking why i was heading out into the suburbs, why wasnt i staying in China town or little India, then letting me use their phone  and 10 minutes later i was at Ampang train station awaiting Man and Arip. Two punk looking boys walk towards me and i knew it was them. Helping me with my bags, these boys were very friendly and the punk house, a very peaceful and welcoming place to stay at.
The place is in an old industrial building, two storys, the bottom is a big kitchen where they cook feasts for "food not bombs" every sunday, and a big performance space where they have punk, metal, harcore whatever gigs on most friday and saturday nights. Upstairs is the living space, half a room of matresses with air conditioning pumping hard, so much so that you forget that you are in Asia and instead start to form icicles in each nostril. And another room dedicated to a library, information , chill out space and floor for travellers that drift in regularly to sleep on.

While here i had a good time cooking my own food with the beautiful Nunu, we would have our morning routine of sitting in the kitchen and making some delicious food like a couple of Ibu women in a Kampung village. All the food was donated free from the local market, and i was overly excited at the amount of eggs they were given weekly, indulging maybe too much.
One day we rode our bikes for a good 2 hours to the other side of the city for a Womens day celebration protest. It was a lot bigger than we expected, bus loads of women form villages and cities all over Malaysia arriving, and the estimated attendence in the end was about 5000. All wearing purple, holding banners and flowers with white gloves, to symbolise solidarity!We walked through the city and finished in a field where there was rallying and discussions.
We had a night of workshopping, making jewellery from stones that Nunu and i had collected at the beautiful river that was only a 15 minute bike ride away. A small workshop that was enjoyed, but maybe also testing some of the boys patience, their fingers a little too chunky to be tying intricate knots.

This house was comfortable, too comfortable. The days drifted by fast and before i knew it id been here a week. Frantically deciding that it was time to move on, id had enough of the city, its traffic and noise, i wanted to leave and decided i would find a way to see some of the Malaysian jungle, that of which i left. 
Taman Negara sounded like a beautiful place to go, but overly touristy, and it was hard to find a way to get there avoiding group tours. I was getting a little frustrated (sometimes the internet can leak an endless supply of ideas) until a shining light of idea walked in named Alex. He had just been staying on a farm in Perak, a permaculture farm in the jungle. It sounded perfect. I flicked them an email, and two days later was on a bus to Lenggong, to spend 2 weeks learning about farming in the tropics.

Rumah Api
The boys being hardcore with their hats!
Womens day protest

Installation art? 
The piece of paradise 15 minute bike ride from home.
Wonderful Nunu!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Singapore, the land of concrete, air conditioners and manicured everything.

A 35 hour boat ride was what it took to get from Jakarta to Batam. Most of it involved sleep, eat, walk
around the boat, sleep, watch others sleeping and eat. The Pelni boats are huge! This one was very clean and well set out, we were even given bed numbers (very surprising, usually its a tumble of bodies lying in every space available). The sleeping quarters were comfortable, a large room filled with about 20 rows made of 5 beds next to each other. So you are right up close and personal with the people around you, I became friends with my neighbors, and after exhausting all the question, answers I know in Bahasa Indonesia, we resorted to sharing food and looking after each others things when one wanted a cigarette ( yes you couldn't smoke inside on this boat, I really felt as though I was leaving Indonesia).
The seas were calm, and people aboard friendly, a little too friendly at times, a couple of instances where people approached observing the little of my legs that were showing, touching whilst commenting on the hairiness of them, possibly questioning if I was a man or woman, following with why I was on this boat not flying, and why was I traveling alone, and why was I not married. This list of questions is an everyday thing and I presume those of you that have traveled especially in South East Asia or India are quite aware of it, it allows a bit of creativity though, throwing in new countries of origin, "I'm from Mexico", married, have 3 children back home, i follow Buddhism for example.
Finally arriving to Batam and we exit the boat, i stand back and wait but watch as 100+ people begin ramming the door to get out, like pushing a papaya through a keyhole. Eventually bursting out the other side bags knocking heads, people clinging onto the railing avoiding the scary descent into dark water. It works though. They do not rely on lines and order here, i really like that.
I follow my neighbours for the trip, and they offer me to come to stay at their place, I was in Batam on my last day of Indonesian visa, and so we decide i will go to their house for some dinner and then head to the dock for my boat, the kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze me as their son drops me off to the boat terminal on his motorbike after a delicious dinner.

I arrived in Singapore late at night, a new country, a very different, tiny country for South East Asia. Am greeted with lights, advertisements, concrete and people with their head in their iphone. Nina a friend that i met in Lombok meets me at the station close to where harrys house, where i will be staying in Singapore. Everything around me is robotic, clean and monitored, it is a completely different world!
Harrys place is lovely, i was very lucky to be staying in a house in Singapore, houses are very rare commodity. Most people live in multiplex style buildings small and congested rising high above the city, but harrys place is out of the city a bit, and there is even a chunk of nature behind his place, its very 'wild' and 'untame' for this place with tangled vines wrapping trees, muddy grasses and birds!
Although it was a large shock to my system being in such a controlled environment, i made the most of my 10 days here hanging out with some friends that i had met previously on my travels in Lombok, Nina and Guna!

When people head to Singapore it is usually for the purpose of buying electronic equipment, gambling, staying in a fancy hotel and generally spending money or working for money. This type of travel disgusts me, but to my suprise i actually took part in a couple of the above.
I really enjoyed Singapore, and although it is such a structured country, i found that you can escape it. You can be intrigued hearing of all the crazy juxtaposing ideals, and you can really tell that the country is finding it hard to create its own identity. It relies on religion and race to dictate so many of its social structures. Even if you were born in Singapore, you still must have on your ID card what country you are from, so if you are Indian you write INDIA. But if your father was Indian and your mother Malaysian/Chinese, what do you write? you write "India, Malaysia, Chinese" and what happens if you have a child with a man that is half Indonesian, well they have on their ID "India, Malaysia, Chinese, Indonesian" so you can imagine how out of control this could be getting over the next couple of generations. They have a China town and a Little India to expose there integration of each culture, yet they enforce rules to divide, only a certain amount of familes from each country can live in each multiplex building.
There are many more, but i will not ramble one, generally i had a great time listening to Nina jabber on about Singapore, her love hate relationship with it, and its completely warped identity, it has so many different religions and ideals living in such a confined place, but no culture.


Singapore was a time to chill out after a hectic month in Java, but it was still full of many adventures. Days of browsing art galleries, walking through forests, cruising around china town looking for herbs, dancing to reggae beats, playing with Harrys kittens, buying a camera, painting, drinking lots of coffee.
Actually i came to realise that a lot of my time in Singapore somewhat revolved around the human body.
One day i went to a free life drawing class in the city with Nina, it was good to get my eyes painting people again, but its definitely a skill that needs to be practiced regularly as my proportioning is going down hill!

Heading to the renound four floors of whores was another fun night! A club that Guna had been raving on and on about when we were in Lombok, 4 floors of strippers, thai strippers, thai lady men strippers, we had a few drinks at the water front and after a bit of convincing headed to this place to have a look, and the women, they were gorgeous, it was hard to believe they had penises under them dresses!!

One night Nina and  I went to a "Pleasure Salon" run by a group that helped organise the Singapore 'Slut Walk' the pleasure salon is good in concept but this was definitely a draft evening. There were a few speakers and it was a discussion about sex and making it more of a talked about thing, not such a taboo subject. The group was mixed range and it was fun sharing and listening to stories. Slut Walk for those of you who dont understand, was a potest that occurred almost globally. It began with an incdent in Toronto "You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here,” the officer said, according to Hoffman. “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this, however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.” Women were pissed off and slut walk was born, women all over the world have been marching some dressed scantily and others not, chanting "whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!" Reclaiming the word "slut" and re opening the topic of victim blaming, many think that it is not a problem anymore.
These guys are also holding an exhibition called "Portraits of Defacement" where they asked artists to make a portrait of their own genitalia to reflect on their relationship with their genitals. I made one for the show out of scrap metal bits and pieces, of daintily patterned rusty metal that i have found throughout my adventures over the last 7 months.
Slut walk interview with Vanessa and Cher
It was easy to forget that i was actually staying in a big city on most days. Walking through Macritchie reserve on a couple of occasions with Nina, the first time through a really old Chinese cemetery, with graves hidden in the forest and one the size of a swimming pool. It was a shock on my first day in Singapore to be walking through lush forest with birds overhead, fig trees blooming and staghorns hanging. But it was not surprising when Nina informed me that the government want to remove this cemetary/wildlife reserve and build a huge motorway.

A few days later we were walking through another part of this forest that surrounds the cities water dam, we were collecting small red seeds when we found a magnificent tree that grew sideways over the water. Nina had never climbed a tree before so i insisted that this tree was begging for us to climb it. We took off our shoes, put our bags down, and clambered across the wide length of tree. Balancing on the edge knowing that if we fell we would get wet i was distracted when i heard rustling through the forest. I realised that it could be monkeys coming to see what we were doing, and then i remembered our bags and shoes were on the ground. The noise was getting closer, and the instant i grabbed the bags a monkey jumped down with a dissapointed look on its face. I climbed back up the tree to help Nina down, and they followed, and they were not happy! showing their teeth and being aggressive, i moved them off with my shoes and with a fast beating heart climbed down. We quickly walked away questioning why the monkeys were so uninviting to us, maybe they never see people climbing trees, maybe this was a very special tree, and we were monkeys that were invading their territory, it all made sense, and they followed us for a little bit, but it was a funny experience all the same.

We had a bit of a technological breakdown when harrys place decided to trip out and trip over its own wiring and stop producing electricity, it was nice to be detached from electricity again. I had an interesting night with a swarm of bugs that were attracted to the candle in my room. I woke up with bugs zipping past my ears, and i knew that it was these bastardy long winged ones that like to come and mate all over your room for a few hours, their wings fall off and then they die. So i blew out the candle and grabbed my torch, slowly luring them out of the room to another candle i had lit in the lounge room, i then turned my torch off and the bugs resumed throwing themselves uncoordinated into the flames of the candle, it was a massacre. I then returned to the window of my room, and lured the rest of the bugs out to the front verandah, to a candle i had set up there, suicide was eminent, i went to bed and when i woke up in the morning after a sweet bug free sleep. But was some what saddened to see these bug corpses drenched in candle wax, some of them with their legs still twitching, trying to fight their bottom out of the wax prison.

During the blackout we also had a day in the sun of chilling out and painting, Harry so kindly gave me a wall to paint. I unknowingly produce a work that really suited the colours of his house, not even realising as i was mixing.
The finished work!

The last couple of Days came as a bit of a suprise, Harrys auntie works at Marina Sands which is this Alien Space ship looking building that stands above the city on 3 towers. She had a couple nights accomodation andgave the stay to harry becuase of his technological breakdown, so lucky enough, Harry, Nina, Guna, Me and other friends got to spend the night at this rediculously fluffy blanketed bed and pool on top of the world. Nina and I enjoyed swimming with all the other tourists and gamblers around scaring them with our leg and underarm hairs :)
On top of the world, 5 class style.

This is the Nature reserve that they have been building, this is a great representation of Singapore, look at how manicured it is! and giant metal trees!!

Banana man!

After these comfortable nights in the hotel, i said goodbyes, Harry your awesome thanks for letting me stay and showing me all the alien conspiracy movies, Nina i will miss you dearly dear, and Guna keep on mixing!
I walked to the bus stop and caught a bus to Kuala Lumpur Malaysia!
7 months on the road, and i aint' going home.