Monday, July 05, 2010

[The Life of Shaun #409] Back from the land of the durians

I sent out some postings while I was away, so just a short 'woof' (for The Office fans).

Hong Kong is definitely one of the most visually stunning cities out there; I am sure the comparison's been used countless times before, but it's like dropping New York on top of San Francisco. You have the concrete canyons of New York amplified from being built improbably over steep hills like in San Francisco. (Hmmm.... the Big Apple + the Big Martini = Big Appletini. I need to write a marketing proposal.) It's hustling and bustling and has all the life a (second tier) world city should have. But, that's not really why I go to Asia...

Kuala Lumpur was much more what I was looking for. The Petronas Towers are stunning, and there is a fa├žade of modernity, but you don't have to go too far in any direction to see the third world coming through the cracks - sometimes literally: a heard of goats on the edge of downtown, holes in the sidewalk "fixed" by laying boards over them, a repressed and depressed gay scene. I know there is more to the city than we saw, but our brief time there was further truncated by severe rain, so we just had a taste -- but I can't say it left me wanting more.

Next was Singapore, which was my favourite of the trip. This is largely because we had a handsome tour guide, Prashant, who not only beguiled, but was able to make sure we were in the right places at the right time and drank and ate in the appropriate places. We were able to turn off and be led, which was nice. I had expected an island version of Canary Wharf, but instead got a city that, despite its antiseptic reputation, had a 70s edge to it that I adored and, due to its immigration policy and history, a cosmopolitan and, importantly and distinctly from everywhere else, integrated population that was more suitable to my palate.

Last was Macau, where Russ is stationed until the Autumn. "The Vegas of the Orient" is how it's billed - and in some respects it is. Old casinos crowd the original city centre, new megaresorts have sprouted on the outskirts. However, here the historic core is actually that, historic, and the resorts are emphasizing quality more than Sin City and so lack the teeming masses streaming between the machines and tables of Vegas's "resorts". We also popped over the border into mainland China to shop in Zhuhai, where as gwailo (Westerners) we naturally overpaid. It was still super cheap to us and, being lucky enough to be so much better off, it is only right that we did so.

Fantastic trip, and it was wonderful to see Russ again after missing his special day in April. I've loved getting to see more of Asia this year - it really is a different world - but think that's it for a while. So next year - India? Africa? South America? Middle East? First let's see how long it takes my bank account to recoup from dual antipodean adventures; perhaps 2011 will again be a year to see Britain.


Attached are a few of my fave pics from the trip. For those who like this sort of thing, there are more here:

Hong Kong -->

Kuala Lumpur -->

Singapore -->

Macau & Zhuhai -->

01 - Tried to get a pic from our hotel with the Hong Kong skyline... kind of worked.

02 - Older tower blocks in Hong Kong. New construction is demonstratively glitzy, showing the global stature and wealth of the city, but the older stock is decidedly functional; however, the size and density shows the longstanding status of Hong Kong as a centre for business - and refuge.

03 - Bank of China building; not loved by many feng shui masters, but it is by me

04 - Hong Kong from Victoria Peak. Definitely one of the top urban scapes.

05 - Petronas Towers, at night

06 - Downtown Singapore. The trio of buildings with the new Sands. I loved it.

07 - Downtown Singapore, orderly and clean as expected

08 - Some of colonial Singapore, with the charming 70s punctuating the skyline

09 - The "Gherkin farm" outside Russ's flat

10 - Macau Island from Russ's flat

11 - Macau's central square

12 - Grand Lisboa, Macau's first (and for a long time, only) big casino

Shaun H. Coley
Shadwell, Tower Hamlets
London, UK

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