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Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore are three countries that we ended up combining by chance on this trip, yet there are a lot of similarities. All contain (well, two are) big shiny cities, as well as noticably less shiny areas. While Hong Kong is now under the control of the PRC, Malaysia is noticably more democratic, and is trying to integrate its diverse ethnic population in the 50th year of its independence. Singapore has been run by an autocratic government since 1965. In each place we encountered a large mix of people- Indian, Chinese and Malay in Malaysia and Singapore, and a huge mix of people in the Chungking Mansions! (Chungking was voted “Best example of Globalisation in Action” by TIME Magazine, 2007).
First up on our trip was a return for me to Hong Kong! Last time I was there Tim had selected the excellently named “Wang Fat” for us to stay at, but this time I decided we should try the infamous Chungking Mansions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chungking_Mansions). Chungking was every bit as edgy and intruiging (or dirty and dangerous as Georgina would probably put it) as I’d expected, and a night there was well worth it (or a complete mistake, as Georgina would probably say). We also toured the HK housing estates, where much of the population lives- I got some interesting photos of the less shiny-shiny side of the territories.
After just one night in HK we flew to Malaysia, getting upgraded to business class (!!), and thus spending the 3 hour flight sipping free champagne and tucking in to tubs of Haagen Dazs.
Langkawi was great! Quality beaches, good weather, cable cars, good Indian and Malaysian food (even a curry on Christmas Day!). We stayed in the Zackry Guesthouse, owned by Mr. Zackry who was very moody. A great place for Christmas though!
After Langkawi we headed by bus to Kuala Kangsar, to visit the Ubudiah Mosque. After a boat trip and 2 buses we made it there in one day, as hoped, and saw the mosque the next morning before heading to KL. I managed to catch the Chelsea-Villa game (4-4, what a match!), which I watched behind the reception counter of the hotel we were staying in with the manager (a Man U fan). He explained to me some interesting things about Malaysia, a truly multicultural country. Malaysia consists of three main ethnic groups, the Malays, the Chinese and the Indians. All speak their own mother languages (Malay, Chinese and Tamil), and most of the latter two also speak the national language, Malay. Religion is clearly a big issue, and the Indian/Hindu hotel manager clearly harbored several grudges against the Muslim population of the country- I explained Birmingham, my home town, was a very multicultural place, and he launched into a tirade about how Muslims are trying to “take over the world”. Apparently he would have to convert to Islam before he could get married in Malaysia. Throughout the trip, speaking to various people, all displayed antipathy toward other ethnic groups in their country, be it Hong Kong, Malaysia or Singapore.
KL was an interesting place- bustling, busy and dirty. It has lots of character, but is light on truly impressive sights save for the magnificent Petronas Towers. Inspired by Muslim architecture, the towers are one of the most impressive buildings I’ve seen- beautifully designed, and something Malaysians are justifiably proud of. We were also very lucky with food, stumbling on the colonial Old China Café, a magnificent early 20th century café that had great food, and Kopfi, an interesting coffee shop where they have all kinds of “mad-scientist” devices for brewing excellent coffee. On the last day in KL I went to the Batu Caves, large caves complete with a big golden statue and loads of evil monkeys. In the evening we ate street food in Kampung Baru area, and I spotted a guy in a Blues shirt! Fantastic stuff.
Singapore was undoubtedly the highlight of the trip- it had both modern, shiny shopping places (including Topman and Japanese department stores) and dirty Chinese street cafes. The Chinatown was head and shoulders better than KL’s. We were judased by the hostel we were meant to stay in, which led to us spending 3 nights at 98SG hostel. The place was run by manager Eric, a true legend who’s laid back approach frustrated everyone until they got to know how cool a guy he was. It was great watching new arrivals get irked by his absent mindedness, or frequent long lunch breaks as we did when we first arrived! I played him at chess, and he praised my “powerful chess skills” despite being so woefully inept I couldn’t help but win. On New Years Eve we went out with a bunch of ppl- Michelle and Lisa from England, Kristina from Australia, Flo and Flo from Germany, and David from Spain. We met many random people as me and Kristina embarked on a “friend war”, trying to make as many friends as possible. I also got into a long animated discussion about Rafa Benitez with a random Malaysian guy. We eventually got the first metro home at around 7am. Other highlights of Singapore include the famous Night Safari (lions, tigers, elephants, giraffes!), the nice waterfront area, excellent Ya Kun Kaya toast breakfasts, chicken rice at Boon Tong Kee (thanks to the recommendations of my Singaporean friend in Japan, Penny), and more football to watch live alongside lots of Chinese people! Singapore was so impressive I’d love to live there for a while- people speak Chinese and also English, perfect as I could slowly learn Chinese but opt-out and take the lazy English route whenever I wanted!
After Singapore we got a bus back to KL, then a flight to HK for another two days there. By this point we had very little money, so I had to rely on my credit card when we found…a H&M!!! Mwah ha ha! We went up the Peak, and did the other usual touristy stuff before living off bread and water on our last day. I kept my nostalgic reminiscences to a minimum (I avoided the dodgy club in Wan Chai this time), and enjoyed revisiting places I’d be too two years earlier, despite being eaten by mosquitoes.