Sawadeeka!

Well, I find myself sitting here in my little study trying to reaclimatise myself into Australia life after our whirlwind trip of Singapore and Phuket (Thailand). It has taken me several days to return to this blog, namely because I was trepidatious about the HUGE list of stuff I’d talk about from the holiday. Instead, I’ll break it down and try to keep it brief

The Flight

Leaving at 1am in the morning is always tough, especially on an international flight. Fortunately the journey from Perth to Singapore is a short 5 hour jaunt, and the two cities also happen to be in the same timezone! Huzzah! The Signapore Airlines inflight entertainment was great, with a Krisworld multi-channel movie and Nintendo screen in front of every seat. While the Nintendo games were quite dated, I did step back in time with fighting on the conversion of the immortal coin-op game Street Fighter 2. I don’t think I mastered the controls as well as I remembered because my Ryu didn’t throw ‘Hadokens!’ and dragon punches, my Guile just looked pretty and combed his hair while the opponent went to town on him, and my Honda was just a useless lump of Sumo. In the end, despite my non-responsive controller, I settled in to kick some arse with the brawny but simplistic Russian, Zangief. Ah the memories!

Singapore

Landing at 6am was surreal, as was negotiating the vast airport terminal. For some irrational reason, I tend to panic when it comes to presenting tickets, boarding passes and especially passports. My trend of becoming a fidgeting document control freak started on the first morning, and continued with the following flights to and from Phuket, and back to Perth – so I won’t go into any further detail on that.

I did have the pleasure of having a cute little man wave a sign with our names on it at the arrivals gate. It made me feel like a movie star. Well, almost.

Needless to say, we arrived at the hotel – the very elegant Swissotel Merchant Court along Clarke Quay – at an ungodly early time, so we had to wait for our room. We had to walk, nay, stumble, around the area for two hours before we secured the first of our rooms. That walk demonstrated two things – 1. we were REALLY tired, and 2. Singapore in April is a steam room. The 100% humidity was amazing. I sweated just looking out the window at the balmy jungle that threatened to engulf the buildings at any second.

After a brief nap, Ange and I awoke to be regaled by the story of Hayley and Tracey locking themselves in a stairway and having to circumnavigate the entire hotel before they found their way back. Following that little adventure, Ange and I watched them closely for the rest of the day.

We later caught the shuttle bus and ventured to Raffles City Plaza, a largish shopping centre in the CBD. It was there we discovered the buying power of the good ole Aussie dollar. It was also there that the lurking beast that dwelled within both Hayley and Tracey emerged, harsh and horrible, as they transformed into bargain-hunter barter sluts.

We (being Ange and I, as Tracey and Hayley left us in a cloud of dust) picked up a few good books for around A$14-15. We also experienced a hybrid asian food court. It was a food court, but with twenty stalls selling, at least to my western eyes, variations on the same noodle dish. And it was packed. Sardine packed. Our fat Aussie bodies were very much a liability in the narrow confines of tables and stalls.

Day 2 brought a more relaxed approach after we caught up on much needed sleep. Our helpful Mr. Kumar (the appointed tour-guide-at-large) booked us a couple of tours and gave us useful info, even if it was with from his slightly sleazy Indian take. In the morning, we scouted nearby Chinatown, reacquainted ourselves with the INTENSE HUMIDITY, and Ninjas! A shop in Chinatown sold awesome handmade ninjas that were fully bendable/poseable, and with handmade weapons. Needless to say, that was my shopping highlight in Singapore. They were incredibly priced too! We bought several that day, stewed over it that night, then came back and bought a bundle more the next day. They were so cool!

In the afternoon of Day 2, we took the city tour, which bused us around all the main CBD sights – a couple of temples, the Orchid garden, the mountain top cable car station that goes to Sentosa Island, and oddly (or not so oddly if you’re a cynic and realise tour operators and businesses are in cohoots), a really large gem store. That tour also introduced us to Singapore tour guides. For a country that teaches English in schools as its first language, the guides are awfully hard to understand. And not because of the language. While passing (and missing!) several important looking landmarks, our tour guide subjected us to a vague treatise on Singaporean real estate law and school uniform codes. The tour probably wasn’t worth it, but it was important just to say we had really seen Singapore, all 22x44kms of it.

We ended up jumping ship, waving on the rest of the tour at Little India. Unfortunately we arrived just as they were shutting up the market stalls, so we grabbed some Burger King and headed over to the Night Markets close by. As an aside, the Singaporean taxis are amazingly cheap, even without the favourable exchange rate. The meter seems to barely move. A trip that costs $40 locally would cost maybe $5 or so. Once at the night markets, Ange and I separated from the shopping twins. We had seen one too many useless western knock-offs and trinkets, and after wandering around in a daze, headed back to the hotel. The girls lingered on, apparently having a ball.

Day 3 brought more shopping. We hiked over to Raffles, the big, fancy, original hotel. So fancy in fact that they refused me entry because a true gentleman is expected to wear pants (long pants that is). This despite the fact that I was the best dressed of our group, and the sauna-like weather was set to ‘kill’. Seems women DO get away with things men can’t.

We hightailed it over to Suntec city, a large shopping centre a few blocks away. Not being shoppers, and finding some shopkeepers too pushy (one electronics storekeeper we asked about memory sticks, just casually of course, believed the line ‘how will you be paying for that’ in broken english was the way to seal the deal – it seems they don’t teach Singaporeans the phrase ‘we’re just looking, thanks’), Ange and I retired to the hotel to wait for our night safari at the zoo.

When the girls returned, they reported jumping into a taxi and heading for the Orchard Road shopping district – THE place to shop. The taxi driver convinced them Orchard Road was too expensive, so he guided them to a place called the ‘Mustafa centre’ in Little India. Apparently, after five minutes of being ogled by seedy looking Indian men in the diviest shopping centre ever imagined, they soon rejoined us at the hotel.

The night safari was a bittersweet experience. The tourguide also graduated from the Singapore Tour Guide School – constantly referring to vague and unneccessary things, waffling incessantly about stuff we didn’t care about, while ignoring the blindingly obvious stuff we DID want to know about. The night zoo (apparently there is a day zoo and a night zoo – a concept we found odd, and also a concept our contact Mr. Kumar didn’t know how to communicate) was massively overcrowded. We rushed down some food, including the world’s hottest and largest chicken wings (I suspect they were actually Pteradactyl wings), rushed through to see a pretty good show that featured Serval Cats, weaselly/beaver things, a big fat sloth/possum that walked on a rope just inches above our heads, and a humungous anaconda that was pulled from a trap door beneath a few unlucky audience-members feet. The latter was fun, because although were were many metres away from the snake, a few women in our row totally freaked out, refusing to watch the rest of the show. After the show, we were packed (literally packed) onto a three carriage tram and sent into the darkest jungles for the safari. I became nervous when I realised the similarity between it and Jurassic Park. When the deer and other animals strolled across the gloomy road, it dawned on me there were few, if any, fences. We then proceeded past the largest Rhino in existence (well, in my mind at least), who looked like he was owed a fresh goring or two. All in all, the zoo was good, but the rushing and the crowds detracted majorly.

It did however coin a phrase that lingers today – “It’s a grrr-ape” . Seeing the little white kid on the stage, saying that line in the most inappropriately humorous tone we’ve ever heard while the zookeeper held a grape, was simply the best crackup.

Thailand

Despite my misgivings, Phuket was really where the holiday began. Singapore was fun, and I’m glad I visited, but Phuket had a nice blend of exotic other-cultureness and western capitalism. My expectations wavered as we drove through dirty little shanty towns and saw many a run-down dwelling. The traffic seemed at first a chaotic nightmare. Hundreds of scooters filled the road. Traffic rules, including things like lanes, appeared to be vague guidelines only. But over the next few days, something strange happened. I became used to it. Soon, I understood that common sense reigned, despite the superficial chaos. The people were risk-takers on the road, and elsewhere, but as I discovered, everything is negotiable.

When we first arrived at the resort, the excellent Merlin Beach Resort just south of Patong Beach, we were personally greeted and given aromatic iced towels, a fruity cocktail and a friendly chat. The resort had three pools, four restaurants, five bars, a beauty salon, an internet/recreation lounge, shops, a gym and its own private beach. It was heaven. Our rooms were next to the waterfall, overlooking what I called the canal pool. It formed a rough figure eight, winding its way around two artifical islands like a canal. The weather in Phuket was still very humid, but lacked the total immersion felt in Singapore. Consequently, we spent a lot of time relaxing in the pool. The water was amazingly warm.

Our time in Phuket was spent in a blur of bargain hunting in Patong. The city was a sprawling tourist mecca. What amazed me was every shop was basically a variant on the next. They all sold many of the same things. And of course, nothing had a price tag. It was ALL negotiable. The hardest part was converting Australian dollars in Baht ($1 = 29Bht approx at time of trip). The bargains we drove were incredible. The shopping twins in particular loved it. They flirted shamelessly with the shopkeepers. One guy said Hayley had a nice bum. Another was fascinated by her eyes. Even so, I don’t know if that helped their negotiating.

While in Patong at night, we had a few strange encounters. While I was off chasing down a hand statue I saw, Ange had a snake thrown over her! The guy wanted money for pictures to be taken with it. He didn’t get it. He was also lucky to keep the snake, I think Ange fell in love with a kindred spirit. The mentioned hand statue I enventually bought, but not after being initially quoted at 550, 750 and 1200 Baht by three separate people. In the end, I nabbed it for 320 (from the woman who quoted 1200). The girls learned quickly to name a low price, look interested and then walk away when they didn’t come down all the way. While the bargains are too numerous to list, Hayley was about $500 poorer when we returned.

As for Ange and I, we picked up the hand, a see/hear/speak no evil frog statuette, silk rolls and plenty of sarongs. The quality of the material was fantastic. We picked up stuff for all our respective families (just have to send it off now!).

On the tour scene, we had a bad one and a great one. Just a note of advice. When travelling the legendary Phang Na Bay, DON’T take the slow boat. We did. Eight hours later, after seeing everything from a distance and getting tired/sunburnt/sick/bored, we regretted the choice. The Panyi village was interesting, a 1000 person town on stilts on the edge of the bay. The conditions were alien for we westerners, but a valuable comparative experience, especially for Hayley.

The great tour suffered for being too short. In half a day, we canoed down a river (turning in circles, fighting against the current, making me uptight, then duelling with South Africans), took an ox-cart ride (a very very very short one, around the outhouse and back I think), saw some coconut and rubber manufacturing, danced with baby elephants (and Hayley scored an elephant kiss, which was supremely cool), and finally had a long trek on elephant back. It was well worth the money, the operator was Siam Safari.

While individual stuff will make this too long a post (its already a record length as it is!), the overriding thing was we loved every second of the holiday. Sure, there were some down sides, like the ultra-sticky weather, but we adjusted, and in many ways altered our perspective. The constant accosting, the good humoured bantering with people we didn’t understand, the fun little jibes, it all made for the best holiday imaginable. Dragging our friend Tracey along was the best move ever as she and Hayley got on like a house on fire. Best of all, we laughed and laughed, to the point where the locals thought we were wrong in the head. THATS the stuff of legendary holidays.

I must also mention before I finish the awesome breakfasts served at both the Merchant Court in Singapore and the Merlin Beach Resort in Phuket. Having your fill of the unlimited serves of cooked meal, continental delights and a large assortment of fruit gave us the energy that sustained us for all those heavy shopping trips. Rarely did we feel the need for lunch as the breakfasts were so hardy.

The other handy convenience was the health spa. The girls returned on a cloud after having hours of massages, beauty and facial treatments. The prices were just too damn inviting. The massages, hair and beauty treatments in Patong were even more outrageously cheap – as long as you didn’t stumble into a ‘gentleman’s massage’ parlour. Believe me, I tried, but just couldn’t seem to slip away…

It was with great sadness that we drove back to Phuket airport. The chaotic roads and seemingly haphazard landscape had opened a little of itself to us, transforming it into a wholely different place, making us richer for the understanding and happier for the amazing, irreplacable memories.

Writing and other stuff

Okay, first of all, Ange and I just celebrated our birthdays. Both were low key affairs. I lost my official title of ‘young’ as I transcended a new decade.

I also applied for, had an interview for, and failed to win, the Peter Cowan Writers Centre Young Writer-in-Residence. Apparently extraneous, pretentious literary bullshit seems to be in vogue, so I lost out to a smutty mouthed poet. Poor Lucas, the brow beaten coordinator at PCWC, did encourage me to apply next year, saying I was highly thought of. That’s something I guess. He did say my CV needed to be bigger. Fair ’nuff I spose. We’ll see my respective position next year.

While the first days after returning home were a lethargic strain, I have managed to put together two completely brand new stories. Well, I’ve mentioned them before, but they’re finished!

Autobahn Dance tips the scales at 3900 words, and was shot like a speeding Porsche over to the Dark Highways anthology. I have high hopes for its success there.

Moist Chrome on Void, retitled from ‘Examination’ was completed today, with a tentative length of 2800 words. With a polish tomorrow, it’ll be off to Stephen Dedman’s Consensual A Trois anthology.

While away, I received two rejections, one rather screwed up one from Ideomancer (the HTML code on the email was practically unreadable, but ‘have to pass on this one’ was evident) for Practical Joke, and another well-explained rejection from the Daikaiju anthology editors for Kraken. On that one, they suggested a major trim and rewrite, believing the story had potential. They also mentioned they’re hanging onto Plan Ni, and approved of my rewrite. While I resubbed Kraken to ASIM, I’m quietly hoping Plan Ni will make the grade. At least its passed first muster. Practical Joke was zipped to Strange Horizons.

Oh yes, and Ion at Antipodean SF accepted Bump in the Night for the July issue. It will appear with a dedication to Hayley (it was her quirky dream that formed the basis of the story after all!).

For now, that’s all folks!

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