Published: April 26th 2008April 23rd 2008
Hong Kong in the Moonlight
The city, for as gaudy as I imagined it would look, even in the reflection of the many photos I have seen, was beautiful at night. There's something about standing back from the frenetic pace, and beholding the false stillness of the night.
Big Mamma, Con-men, Crab Shrapnel, and a Birthday to Remember
Bangkok: Soi Cowboy
I've been to Bangkok before, but had never managed, or cared enough to make the trip to Soi Cowboy, the lady-boy / stripper district that in many ways defines Bangkok. I told Darren though that I wasn't making an decisions about his only night in Bangkok, but being Canadian, he also didn't want to have to make decisions about his only night in Bangkok. But his friend Grant suggested Soi Cowboy, then Peter and Feyette, the couple we met en route suggested it as well. So we went. It's lit up like Vegas, and has that sort of exciting unseemly feel too it. Ladies and lady-boys alike try to tempt you into their establishments, dirty old men whisper to you with offers of a ping-pong show, men lead baby elephants down the streets, lured with sugar-cane treats to interact with tourists like me. They're so cute
- (Postcard to the first person that get's that reference backed up by an internet source. Not valid for Darren, who doesn't actually read the blog anyway.)
We went into a couple of places at first, drawn in by the
Basically stripper central in Bangkok. An interesting, and even hilarious place.
offer of relatively cheap drinks. It turns out though that you get what you pay for on Soi Cowboy. The girls on the stage didn't look like they were enjoying themselves in the least, and paced with a kind of soporific shuffle to the music, as if lulled rather than enlivened by it. So we moved on to another place, which looked much the same, excepting that the wall artist and owner had coordinated to make hilariously misogynistic paintings upon the wall, such as one dipicting two women, looking at least decently dressed. One says
I like to work and f***, I make lots of money
, the other mournfully declaring
I'm a lazy b****, I have no money.
We left quickly. We finally settled on Suzie Wong's owing to the sign featured in the blog. To much moaning by my companions I declared. "That's just Wong." I can't help it, it's a sickness.
The women their were certainly having a better time there, and it showed. Darren was more than a little uncomfortable there. I think though that one the day when you become perfectly comfortable in a strip club, is the day you've lost what little semblance of class you once had (such as the fellow behind us who leaned forward to ask Feyette if
Sure it was expensive, but the view was great, the company was great, and they used Bombay Saphire, my favouritest of gins. It's what tiggers like best.
she liked spaghetti - it was a euphemism to be sure, but it left us laughing and scartching our heads for some time). The lucky fellow had Big mama, a name I'd given to the madam (I don't know if that's what you call them in a strip joint, but she was the woman in charge) take a liking to him. They brought around ping-pong balls and none of us knew what to make of it, so Peter forked out and bought five, giving one to each of us. It turned out we were meant to throw them at the excited women, who must have gotten a bonus for getting them. Big mama grabbed Darren's, put it down her shirt and was encouraging him to get it. For the rest of the evening, Darren had to use the skills of Jet Li to block her attempts to grope him. He was also rubbed up against by a drunk man, and one of the dancers walked by, and perhaps in a grope attempt, smacked him in the balls just a little too hard. He continued to point out that this had happened until I said:
Okay, I get it, you were punched in the balls by an exotic dancer, can we move on now?
The most hilarious part
From a Distance
Everyone who has had the (mis)fortune of hanging around for me know of my penchant for singing the worst possible songs cued by random agglomerations of words. Can you guess what song I started singing to myself here?
of the whole night was this middle aged Japanese guy who sat across from us. He had the look of a child in Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory who'd never seen so much candy in his life. It was probably true that he'd never seen so much "candy" in his life given his expression. His jaw sat agape, his eyes bulged widely with a delirious amazement, his head swung and bobbled from one gyrating bottom to a shimmying leg, to set of bobbling breasts as though he were a starving dog at the base of a dinner table; he sipped his wine but was drunk on the scene. At one point he was so consumed by the many dancers, on the other end of the room that he failed to see the woman right in front of him squatting down, nearly sitting on top of him. We laughed and whooped about it for quite a while. He never did notice.
Sticking it to the Confindence Man
The next day I decided I should take it easy, but got the urge to do at least a little sight seeing part way through the day. So I set off to see Wat
I'm not sure what made the Angel implode, but the full-ish moon was sure pretty as it shone down upon it. Mostly, I just think it was a pretty picture on a beautiful Singapore evening.
Arun. On my way I ran into a fellow who claimed to work for 7-11 and was offering some friendly advice. He asked me where I was going and I told him. "Oh," he said, "you'll have to wait for 3:30. It's a public holiday today so the water taxi's are all booked with Thai people, taking them to the palace." I immediately knew where this was going, but thought I'd play the fool for a bit. Waste his time and effort that could be better used scamming an unwitting chump.
Normally this scam brings you to the gem shop, where they offer you tea spiked with an agreement drug. You
Bangkok's Bird's Eye View
From high atop the Banyan Tree hotel at the posh Vertigo Lounge, you'll find what may be the best view of the city. It's worth the $10 drink.
like tea, and you like free, so you drink it and then start agreeing to buy gems you know nothing about, handing over your credit card and buying an excellent array of quality blue glass. Cory 1 - Con Artists 0.
So I walked back the way I came, took another avenue and went along my way. Later I joined Fayette and Peter to go to the well tauted, but exhaustively exorbitant Banyan Tree Hotel bar, the Vertigo Lounge, perched atop the building's 60 stories, looking down upon the bustling cityscape. The drinks were pricy, especially by Bangkok standards, but the view was spectacular, making it worthy of a second drink. I happily found out that my spirit of choice, gin, was cheaper than most anything else on the menu. So I put in my order for a Bombay gin and tonic made the way I like it and settled into the great seat along the edge of the tower's roof (which didn't freak me out surprisingly) for a luxurious view and a round great conversation with my new-found friends.
Singapore: Attack of the Chili Crab
I had a couple of contacts in Singapore who invited me
This fellow was gracious enough to teach me how naan is cooked with a tandoori oven. Very cool.
to call. They suggested I should whenever I arrived in the city. I, however, was feeling very anti-social, which happens to me as it does to others from time to time. So I decided I would quite happily spend my day on my own making as little conversation as possible with strangers. Not possible you say. Okay you're partially right, but it was minimal, which met my goal.
After my arrival at my hostel of choice I read a notice at the bottom, saying that the hostel frowned upon illegal drug deals and prostitution going on there and would not tolerate this action. It was illegal and bad for business. They were right on both accounts because I set off to find a new place to stay. This didn't take me long and I checked into a nice place, and asked the girls at the counter if they could recommend a good Indian place in Little India. One of the girls, clearly Indian herself was set abuzz by my request and gushed with excitement over the suggestion that I go to one of her favourites, Mathu's Curry Restaurant
. It was good, not mind-blowing, but tasty. What was
The Hindu temples in Singapore, like this one at Sri Mariamman Temple, are ornately decorated with various scenes from Hindu religious texts.
cool though was that one of the chefs taught me how to cook naan in a tandoori oven which. He looked a bit perplexed, either by my desire to know about, or my ignorance surrounding, the use them. It was very cool.
I spent the rest of my day mostly just walking around, seeking out the ideal place to find the highly recommended culinary treat, Chili Crab
. It's a Singapore specialty. I wandered around the Esplanade and found that most would cost around $50 SGD. Reasonable, but not great, especially being in tourist central. It didn't take long for me to find the same dish for around $15 SGD. It was delicious, but I underestimated the strength of a crab's shell, and overestimated my spoon's and fork's tag-teaming abilities. The crab's armoured claw did break, but not without spraying me with an oil-drenched barrage of shrapnel. Ah, my new "Danger!! Mines!!" shirt. Well, I guess I'll tell people that it's a stain from a war wound; shrapnel from a mine by-passed my shirt, sliced me open, and that's why I'm wearing it. It's a warning.
Besides. I wasn't willing to pay $15 to launder a shirt I paid $1.50
Singapore does a great job of lighting up their monuments and old buildings at night. Very pretty.
to purchase in the first place.
I decided, since I was enjoying my solitude to go see a movie...The Forbidden Kingdom. I figured it was appropriate to watch a Jackie Chan movie since I'd be heading to Hong Kong the next day. The trouble was finding the place. I managed to find the mall it was located in, but the enormity of the building made locating the theatre a dauting task. Even the people who worked there couldn't explain it to me. There wasn't even a language barrier, as nearly all but the elderly speak English in Singapore (it is the common official language - the linguistic glue of the island country one might say). On the contrary, they either didn't know there was a theatre in the mall, or the directions were too complex an undertaking for them to attempt an explanation. They pointed me off in vague directions. After about 10 minutes of this, I finally got close enough for one fellow to give me a complex set of instructions that included several right turns and a couple of lefts, indicated by various retail landmarks, and a set of escalators. I'm never that afraid to be lost
in a mall though. It's air-conditioned, there's plenty of food and drink, and I learned as a very young child that if you sit down and start crying some nice lady will come and help you. Fortunately it didn't come to that embarassing end.
This one, closed the last time I was in Singapore was open, but empty, showing no signs of life, save the smoking incense.
In the end I found my way, but I have received less complex directions travelling across whole countries than in that mall.
Hong Kong: Microcosm of the Universe
I'm not a big fan of big cities. Whenever I enter a city I think to myself. Oh great, buildings, streets, and sidewalks, how original. As my default, this was my initial reaction upon arriving in Hong Kong. This was quickly compounded by the fact that when I showed up on the bustling city's doorstep, there was, quite literally, not a bed available at a backpacker's rate anywhere in the city, save one at what one reviewer, an extensive traveler, called "the worst backpackers in the world." Admittedly, I was curious, but not enough to find out. So I was left with the unfortunate choice of Hotel or sleep on the airport floor. I opted for the former.
When I got to the YMCA, the
Worst Menu Ever
At least the first page was. What is it with the Chinese and innards...blech. But I did have an amazing order pork fried noodles at this back street food stand.
cheapest hotel in town by some accounts, they told me it would be the equivalent of $150US. I blanched and wandered off to consider my options. I decided finally that it was the end of my trip, so why not. I got back - the room was gone, not a one left in the hotel. They directed me to the next cheapest hotel, which I jumped at despite being an additional $60. I didn't want to keep playing the inflation game with the hotels. It was a heavy bite, but such is life.
Bit by bit, Hong Kong began to win me over. I'm still not sure I could live there, in as much as being lost, surrounded by Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana, Hugo Boss, and the like, with posters of emaciated women holding bags with straps twice as girthy as their arms is about as close to my idea of hell as possible. That said, it is beautiful, mostly airconditioned, and has a sort of frenetic energy that gives it a life I haven't seen elsewhere. I thought the universe an fitting comparison for the city. It sparkles at night, matter flies around at speeds hard to comprehend,
The Wisdom Path
Displaying the scriptures of the Hear Sutra, this short path is simple, but a great treat, especially when you have it all to yourself.
and there's a black hole at the centre, from which no money can escape. Still I'm a fan, if a reluctant one.
My 31st Birthday in HK
It was, to start, a pretty unremarkable 31st birthday in Hong Kong. I had started off by sleeping in. I figured with the great bed I'd paid far more than I'd expected for, I should stay in it as long as possible. I came out, unfortunately with several dozen bed-bug bites. Oh, the irony of it all. They were, however, high class bed bugs, and I take solace in knowing that I was for that night the Grey Pupon of bed-bug meals.
I checked out, and checked into a more reasonably priced hostel for my remaining budget, and set out to explore. I walked around the park, had a great lunch at an organic vegetarian restaurant, went to the library to check email, and treated myself to a massage, but by time the evening rolled around I was starting to feel lonely and wishing I was home, spending my birthday with my friends rather than walking around a city in which I knew not a soul.
It was about this time
My Birthday Saviors
This wonderful German couple rescued me from my birthday doldrums and helped to mark this as one of my most memorable birthdays yet. Thanks guys :)
that I stopped in Soho for a beer, and as I drank mournfully from the bottle, I was overcome, as I so often am on the road, by my need to make chit-chat with a couple sitting close to me on the stairs outside of the bar Aussie bar. They soon waved me over and we began talking. A few beers later I was already feeling it (no dinner and a light drinking year have made me a lighter-weight), and they took me out to this GREAT French jazz club to listen to some live music. I had such a good time.
After about an hour, some girls showed up and sat down across from us. I smiled at one of them as she sat down, noticing what perfect hair she had (an unusual feature for me to notice...it's usually the eyes or the smile - which I might add were stellar too). It was one of those movie moments when time slows. As Venus strikes fast in the twilight sky, shining brightly while the other stars in the galaxy wait in the wings for the sun to fade, so to did she shine with a singular beauty, alone
and radiant in the twilight universe of that lively little lounge.
Why Hong Kong? Why?
What purpose could you possibly have for numbering so many urinals? Maybe it's for maintenance purposes, or maybe it's like a lottery system, and you hope to hell the guy in front of you doesn't have stones.
Cupid spared me no arrows, raining them down upon me without mercy.
We danced together for the better part of 3 hours, and they brought me along with them to another club for a short time before they had to leave. They had to work, or something. I had planned to take a bus back to my hostel, but she explained that the buses stop running at 1:00.
It's 1:00 already? I exclaimed.
Um, it's more like 3:00 or 4:00.
Damn you and your relativity Einstein. It was three O'clock, and I had to be up in four hours if I was going to catch the Big Buddha and
It was a great night, and a great birthday. It was so nice to meet a woman to inspire me, if only for the tiniest sliver of time. Was she single, who knows. It didn't occur to me to ask. She may have been, she may have been married, or a lesbian, thought I was a douche. I doesn't matter. If I thought I'd ever see her again, I'd admit love at first sight - hopelessly and unabashedly romantic as I am. But I am tempered
Am I fuzzy, or was that just me? Actually I didn't have much to drink that night.
by the practicality of a cynical culture. Bless the Italians for their impracticality in these matters. For if I were a Roman, this may have proved a different sort of tale. But then again, it should likely have ended in tears (as Italian tales are wont to do) instead of a single perfect, albeit fleeting, moment in the extraordinarily beautiful life I am living.
And this is where I will leave you....for now.
There are more photos below