Archive for February 2009

Piercing A Typical Singapore Night By Mike

February 11, 2009

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Singapore nights tend to be a little on the tame side.  Usually a nice meal, perhaps followed by a visit to a club, then home.  That’s why this Saturday, when some new friends of ours suggested we head to Little India to see preparations for the Thaipusam festival, I jumped at the chance — even though it was 3AM.

img_1290Thaipusam is in many ways, the Indian Thanksgiving.  Devotees to Murugan, the Tamil God of War, march along a set route carrying a burden of some sort.  For some people, this burden is a silver pot on their heads.  More strikingly, for others, it’s an elaborate metal pyramid-like structure attached to their bodies with dozens of long needles that pierce their flesh.  Through these burdens, the devotees either thank the God for his help throughout the year or implore his help for relieving a troubling issue in the year to come.  img_1361

Saturday night was the preparatory night and we were lucky enough to find the temple in Little India where the devotees were getting themselves ready for the festival that would take place the following morning.  We were graciously invited inside the temple after being given a bag to remove our shoes and were allowed to wander among the participants as they were being pierced.  Due to days of preparation that involve fasting and prayer, they hardly seemed to notice that the rods were being attached to their skin.  img_1339

img_1364Pounding rhythmic music played at all corners from duos consisting of a thavil drummer and nadaswaram (think snake-charmer flute, only this one is the world’s loudest non-brass acoustic instrument) player.  Intoxicating incense filled the air, creating a haze that was pierced by the amazingly colourful saris and makeshift shrines created by attendees.  In all it was a rare, intimate glimpse at a culture that felt completely other and completely non-Singaporean.  Sure beat a night dancing to an an anonymous DJ somewhere!

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Some devotees are also pierced with bells or fruit on hooks.

Some devotees are also pierced with bells or fruit on hooks.

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Adieu Kota Kinabalu by Mike

February 3, 2009

A forgotten foundation.

For larger versions of all pictures, please click here.

So as any faithful reader of this blog knows, we like to travel a lot.  And, for the most part, our travels have been richly rewarding experiences.  But I guess the odds were that we would eventually pick a destination that would have been better left off our ever-expanding itinerary.

Enter Kota Kinabalu.

Located on the northeastern part of Malaysian Borneo, our idea in visiting this town was to take advantage of the Chinese New Year holiday and go somewhere close and affordable.  It was both of those things, but that’s about it.

Kota Kinabalu (KK) is really just a starting point for people to do more interesting things in Borneo, like hop a small flight to the other side of the island to see the Sepilok Orangutan Reserve. Being a little burned-out from our marathon trip to the States in November, we decided to not move around very much.  Of course, the Achilles tendon I damaged on New Year’s Eve from hopping around like an idiot also helped contribute to that decision.  So we stayed in KK which was kind of a drab, run-down little city with unbelievable traffic jams and a maddening lack of good restaurants.  We should have left.

In fact, the few times we did escape the city limits, we had a pretty good time.

A three-year old orangutan just hanging around.

A three-year old orangutan just hanging around.

Our first day, we headed to a small Orangutan Rehab centre at nearby Rasa Ria resort that works in conjunction with Sepilok.  After viewing a really good documentary about how the orang’s natural habitat is being destroyed through palm oil plantation expansion, we went into the jungle to spy on two young males who were lured out with sliced fruit.  It really reminded me of how much different creatures are suited for different environments (like me and tropical beach bars), as I watched them effortlessly climb, swing and navigate the canopy with astonishing grace and ease.

On day two, we hopped a boat to the nearby TAR Marine Park and visited Manukan Island — a welcome tropical respite from the city.  Despite what the tour websites and guides said though, a decent stretch of coral for snorkeling couldn’t be found.  I also had my flip-flops stolen from the beach.  At least my foot wasn’t already injured or anything …

A pirate surveys the scene off Manukan Island.  (Or is that a pirate's wife?)

A pirate surveys the scene off Manukan Island. (Or is that a pirate's wife?)

Our final day, we hired a driver for a two-hour journey to Mount Kinabalu.  Most tourists head to this part of Malaysia to climb the mountain, but the park itself is worth days of exploring.  It has ten species of carnivorous pitcher plants, 1,400 types of orchids, over 300 species of birds, and the world’s largest flower – the raffleasia, with horrendous-smelling blooms that can reach 3 feet in diameter.  Of course, we didn’t see any of that because it was exceedingly misty and we weren’t at the right part of the mountain, but it was still pretty magical to be in cool woods hiking past Jurassic-Park-like foliage.

Yup, it really grows like that.

Yup, it really grows like that.

While we left only footprints, I managed to take something more than memories with me.  After we were back at the hotel Diane said, “Wow, you have a lot of blood on your pants.”  I said, “No, that’s just mud, it was a reddish color.”  When we got backt to the room though and I took them off, she was absolutely right.  Not only were my pants bloodied, but the upper band of my sock was pretty soaked too.  Strange thing was, I didn’t feel any injury at all.

That was one mean little leech!

That was one mean little leech!

Remembering what one of the park rangers had told us, we hopped on the Internet, looked up “leech” and found out that not only do you not feel them bite because of an anisthetic they inject before they attach, but they also leave behind an anti-clotting agent which keeps the blood flowing long after they drop off.  Nice.

Time to nurse the wounds of the day.  We headed out and got strong fruity drinks at one of a few seaside bars.  That led to more drinks and finally a decent Thai meal on the dock where we watched Nora Jones serenade us from a large outdoor TV screen.  This was followed by a Madonna concert (on screen of course) then a trip to the Karaoke bar where I sang the Lion Sleeps Tonight with a drunken band of Chinese New Year revellers.  Somehow a fitting way to bid adieu to Kota Kinabalu — which we actually left two days early, a rarity indeed in the vacationing ventures of Mike and Diane!

Magic Market

These shots were all taken at a nighttime market which we could look down on from our hotel room.  The amazing thing was that the market sprung up at night with dozens of carnival-coloured tents, cook stoves, produce, fresh fish, and chiles, chiles, chiles … and by morning, it was all gone only to be reconstructed each night.

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And now for something completely different and one of the weirdest things we’ve seen on a sign in Asia yet.  Your guess is as good as ours …


And here’s a little video of a couple of hairy little guys:

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