Archive for January, 2015


Malaysia is a country of contrasts.  The capital, Kuala Lumpur, appears as a modern, progressive city with fabulous architecture ranging from the restored, British colonial buildings to the sky – reaching  Petronas Towers. It is a show piece that belies the divePenang an 'island' state of Malaysiarsity of its peoples,  living standards,  and awe-inspiring natural environment  – from islands with beautiful beaches to jungles with some of the world’s most fascinating creatures.   The ‘island’ of Penang, with its World Heritage Listing for its colonial history and architecture is worth several days just wandering the streets especially in the Indian section, where an alternative culture is very prominent.

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MEDAN – Capital of Sumatra.

My last blog was about Singapore – a modern, dynamic, city constantly changiTrishaw Driver Wng and concealing a lot of its Asian-ness.  In total coRubbish Picker Wntrast, a few days later I was ankle deep in mud, inhaling the exhaust fumes of trucks jammed abreast on the only road to the port (where my ship was waiting), overturned lorries, traffic clogging the city streets, beggars darting between moving cars and rubbish pickers collecting anything recyclable – this is Medan!  Sumatra is a very Muslim Island in Indonesia, but Medan, its capital is not in, or near the radical, Sharia state of Aceh.   Medan typifys the old Asia and I was delighted and a little surprised by

Medan Traffic WMotorbike Travel in Medan W

the warmth and friendliness of the local people.

Women in their hijabs offered soft, welcome smiles.  School girls with their cell phones wanted selfies – well,  with us in them and the men in the mosques nodded their acceptance as we admired their place of worship.

At the lavish SultaRoyalty For a Day Wns’ Palace, families donned for a few hours, the gold clothes of royalty again, for those photographic moments.

The Grand Mosque – is very grand, the old Chinese Temple offers advice for wealth and prosperity and roadside ‘repairers’ fix bicycle tyres from the gutters and trishaw drivers, without passengers, snooze in the sun.

Chinese Temple Medan W

Repairer W


I have been going to SingaSingapore Harbour Wpore for many years – usually as a stopping off point on longer hauls or as a cheaper gateway into Asia.  It is a city that never seems to stop changing and re-inventing itself. Every time I’ve been back it looks different.  Years ago when I used to stay in the cheap dumps that were scattered around Bencoolen St, you knew you were in an Asian country just by walking outside the door.  It was exciting and exotic. It smelt of Asia it looked like Asia and it promised adventure, excitement !and cheap shopping – not so much anymore

Singapore Port W

If you Merlion Singaporewant to experience ‘Asia’ – Singapore is not the place.  Forget tourist traps like ‘Little India’ – where you are constantly hassled and ‘Chinatown’ which is a tourist precinct of organised stalls selling the worst of cheap bling.  Forget the ‘Asia’ thing and enjoy Singapore for what it has become –  a dynamic, modern city state that is not only unique but constantly transforming itself.  The city heads for the skies with tall buildings show casing amazing design and innovative architecture. Acres of gardens and parklands transform a city of glass, concrete and steel.  The preservation of the old colonial buildings is a reminder of its history, while the Changi Museum makes you realise its considerable achievements after years of war.

It has clear traffic flows, a super- efficient underground rail system, cafes with excellent coffee, world class hotels and restaurants and designer stores in every shopping mall.  It is slightly sterile, safe, with some of the lowest crime figures in the world.  Littering, graffiti and chewing gum are all forbidden. It is controlled but its citizens Helix Bridge Singapore Wseem content with the status quo.Shop Houses W

You can still wander the waterfront and see the old ‘shop houses’, find a snake charmer, drink Turkish coffee in the Arab Quarter or just escape in the new and beautiful Bay Gardens fashioned from reclaimed land.

Back in Singapore last week – I have decided that I have great respect for this tiny country.  In the years when I visited between the Asia of decades ago and the period when everything ‘authentic’ was pulled down to make more sky scrapers and block housing, I despaired of it.  Now, due to lack of space they are still pulling down and puModern Singapore wth Art & Science Museumtting up – but in this era, with a lot of style and consideration.

Singapore hSnake Charmer Was much to be proud of and one outstanding achievement is tolerance and harmony. With its diversity of citizens and religions – Indians, Chinese, Malays and ex-pat Europeans – its people all live as and are proud to be, Singaporeans.

Orchid Gardens W

Malay Quarter Singapore

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