Singapore Day Two: Part Two:

In the evening, I headed over to Little India to experience what all the fuss was about: the food.

Just past Mustafa Center is the section of town that leads to Arab Street, the famed location of many amazing restaurants and even the growing glamour of Kampong Glam (Glam Village).  Here, you’ll find an array of delicacies – not the least of which is stingray sauté.

And of course, how can one eat out with friends and not share some “shisha?”

Shisha is a long time favorite item of restaurant goers here.  After dark, younger adults to  senior citizens group-order food and wash it all back with a bubbly brew of their choosing – much to the chagrin of the Muslim locals in the area.

The key ingredient, though, is flavored tobacco from a giant water bong known as a hookah.  And because of the way that it is inhaled, it’s both incredibly addictive and extremely harmful.  In fact, it’s about 200 times more dangerous than smoking cigarettes.  But that doesn’t seem to stop these anxious smokers from indulging.

In any case, after some lovely eats and chats with others having a coke-and-a-toke, I ended my night by catching up on journals and planning for the next day.  Which, of course, was epic.

Be sure to come back in a couple days and check out the video from indoor skydiving, swimming with man-eating sharks, a mile-high cable car and much more!

Singapore Day Two: Part One:

Today, I was in for another wonderful day of heat.  But I won’t complain about that anymore than to just say that I sweat non-stop for every moment that I was not indoors.  In fact, for the most part, If I was awake I was pretty much sweating the entire time.

That’s not to say that all places in Singapore are hot.  In fact they love their malls so much that they air condition the sidewalks just so that people are comfortable walking around to buy things.  Now that’s a generation of dedicated shoppers.

And amazing malls aren’t the only things that I’d see on my photo-walk through Singapore’s Bugis area.  I must have walked seven or eight miles throughout the course of the day, too.  And while incorporating old colonial era architecture with the new age design of the world’s elite planners, this region of Singapore is truly worth the work to see.

It was nice to see just how much of the old cultural influence still has a hold on this futuristic, artsy, progressive city.

I stayed mostly away from the myriad shopping complexes in the city.  I know that Singapore is famous for its shopping.  But because of that, I am sure there are other places to find documentaries and blogs about them.  No, sir.  This trip was more about squeezing the “real” Singapore out of this place.

And where better than cultural heritage spots, museums and the old quarters.  In this tiny island nation, there are plenty of those.  But luckily, while the culture is spread out all over, the museums and dedicated architecture has a centralized location and can be browsed at an even walking pace in one afternoon or so.

I eventually made my way around to the opulent palace-like hotel where the original Singapore Sling was invented and first served.  There is a lot of history in this place as well.

In 1887, the Sarkies brothers, Armenian emigrants, opened this bar in its first form – a 10 room bungalow.  From there, its success was certain.

It soon grew into what was known around the world as the classy-people’s diner.  Ngiam Tong Boon invented the Singapore sling, which now costs a bewildering $26 and tastes like costs much less.  The very last of the world’s Singaporean Tigers was shot dead underneath a pool table, having escaped from the zoo and finally cornered here.  In 1991 it had a $160-million renovation which brought it to its present form.  And if you’re in the area and have an extra $750 lying around, feel free to book a room.

After cooling down and taking a breather, I headed back out to continue my photo walk to check out what else there was.  There are churches and cathedrals all over the place.  And there’s no need for a guide to make it around to all these places.  Anyone walking around in this area likely works or lives there.  So they should be able to direct you to all the hot spots.

And speaking of hot spots, I stopped by the Cafe La Caire and made some new friends, ate some great food and made another wonderful memory for the second day of my trip.

Singapore Day One: Part Two

When I woke up, I realized that I’d slept away a good part of what was left of the day.  But I still had a couple of nighttime hours left.  So I decided to do the night safari next to the Singapore Zoo.

It was amazing!  Saying that it was up close and personal doesn’t really do this cage-free park much justice.  I saw a pride of lions feeding on fresh beef from right across the street.  There were wild giraffes, elephants and rhinos roaming free — no chains, no fences — nothing to keep them from leaving their little area.

 I’ve included this video as an outtake.  But I won’t give too much away.  You’ll have to see the full video once it’s released to get all the goodies.

I was inches away from giant bats called flying foxes inside the exhibit.  These guys had three-foot wingspans and I was so close to them, they were grabbing at my camera.  One even flew over my head and touched down for a fraction of a second as he buzzed me!

I even saw a 7-meter crocodile-like Indian Ghavial from right underneath my feet as I leaned over an eerily low-built bridge.  Never fear, however, because while these animals look like they’d make quick work of just about any size of animal, this is a fish-eating reptile. 

The list of animals is a little too numerous to name here.  But the video should be coming out soon.  So keep an eye out for that.  Suffice it to say that I was impressed and overjoyed to have had the opportunity to see this amazing, new part of Singapore.  It’s highly recommended.

On the way back, I decided to hop off the bus at the Chinatown center and walk back from there.  It was a hell of a walk (which ended up taking me from 11pm until 1am), so I would probably advise against doing this at night, since it traipses through a small red light district where plenty of drunks are stumbling about.

But the nightlife was cool to see.  Singapore definitely ties one on in the wee hours.

One last shower would finish me off as I could feel my eyes getting heavy by the time I hit the bunk for the night.

Singapore Day One: Part One:

To get to Singapore, I boarded the train at Bahau, Malaysia.  They said it would be a nice, comfortable, air conditioned 5-hour trip.  Instead, it was an uncomfortable, overcrowded, 8 hour trip with a rattling air conditioned unit that broke 30 minutes into the trip.

I was in good spirits, though, so I didn’t let that get to me.

There was a slight drizzle when I arrived at the station that turned into a downpour that only let up just before we got to the Singapore border.  And all the while, I was shrugging off the unbelievably smelly, older Chinese man that kept falling asleep on me like I was his wife.  Eventually, I found that it was a bit more comfortable (and hidden away from the slight smell of human bodies cooking in the humid air inside the coach) sitting at the opened door of the back of the train.  Thankfully, the rules are much more lax on these third-world transit monsters.

I can say with all confidence that I was very pleased at my forethought to bring along food with me on the train.  Something told me that it would be a non-stop train on which there’d likely be no in-transit food service.  When the train left, 25 minutes behind schedule (6:10am), I figured it would be a bit longer than they told me.  But the food (some plums, bananas, a couple ramly burgers and a hotdog cooked into a croissant) definitely stayed me over what would otherwise have been an uncomfortable, hot, elongated trip while starving – and therefore likely being very cranky.

The night before I left, I only got a couple hours sleep because I was busy catching up on things and packing for the early morning trip that left after a long day at work (when I was called in unexpectedly).  So I actually wound up getting some sleep along the way.

Once aboard the train, I asked the coach official where I needed to go to find my seat because the ticket was written in Malay and of the 10-or-so words that I know in Malay, the ticket included none of them.  He shrugged, not seeming to care that much whether I found my way and I brushed past him with my equipment in tow just to passively let him know that I was not in the mood to give him any more patience than he’d offered me.

I was panting and sweating all over the bags that I’d just finished organizing in a safe and out-of-the-way place (as much as possible on the zoo of a train car that it was), when the same coach official came to me and asked for my ticket.  It was then that he began to care about where my seat was located.  He then directed me to move from the slightly uncomfortable, air conditioned car that I’d slumped over in, to the very uncomfortable, hot one for which my ticket was designated.

I made little fuss and grabbed up my things to give him a second pass at the back of my tripod bag, ensuring that he knew I was still aware of his universally translating distaste for foreign travelers.

In any case, I spent the next 10 sweaty minutes wading through overflowing luggage, pushing open steamed glass doors to each next car and tripping over the little, Asian feet sticking out into the aisle to finally get to my seat.

Reluctantly, but with optimism, I made myself as comfortable as possible and positioned myself to catch some shut-eye after eating a little bit of my breakfast.

Once past customs, I found out that my train would not be continuing any further into the country.  So I had to head for the taxi queue outside.

Next stop: Little India, to lock in my accommodation at the Shop House Hostel and take in the flavor and atmosphere of the Kampong Glam – the sauciest, hippest gathering of restaurants in the east-of-center downtown area.

Once I’d exchanged some money I checked in, locked up my things, ate the rest of my food and took a quick shower, I napped for a few hours in hopes of catching up to the non-groggy, non-agitated person that I strive to be.  Then it was off to explore Singapore.

Journal 53: The end of my Southeast Asian Travels

Well, this journal ends almost three years of wonderful travels throughout all but one country in Southeast Asia.  In order, I have visited Thailand, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Indonesia, Borneo-Malaysia, Brunei Darussalem and the Philippines.  In the fall, I will be headed out to East Timor to begin my video trek which will bring me east and then north as I make my way up to Myanmar, the last country on my documentary goal of hitting all eleven countries on one shot.

In a way, this blog marks the end of a period of wonderful memories in my life.  It also stands as a series of lessons that I have learned.  It also resembles the broadest expansion into my photographic and journalistic efforts.  And through it all, I have been able to do enough in-country studies that my documentaries at the end of this year are sure to be complimented by experiences throughout these great countries.

All told, I have collected more than 10,000 fully edited images (almost half my career total); created a feature length documentary along with many outtakes, interviews and shorts; two published books on research from two separate countries in the region — and about to publish my third; eight manuscripts awaiting publication ranging from the religious and cultural, to the traditional and historical aspects of the diverse micro-societies in each nation; traveled nearly 14,000 miles; and lived and worked here the entire time.

But while seeing all this in my rear-view mirror might inspire pensive appreciation, it is the future that brings me more joy.  As I look with anticipation to the year ahead, I know that it will be just as memorable and meaningful as these many months in my past.

Coming up this year is a full lineup of some really great things that I plan on incorporating into my focus for the blog, for my commercial website, and for my travel lust.

Firstly, I will be releasing tons of new books.  I have been writing for the last eight years (as you know) throughout my travels about all sorts of things.  And in the last year I have been able to bring many of them to completion.  So in the next year, as more of my works become completed, I will be releasing ebooks in droves.  These will mostly be articles that I have written for magazines, articles I’ve written for myself and the enjoyment of my close friends and, of course, this blog.

I have also written several full length novels.  And as soon as I am more settled, I will be sending them off for professional editing and then publication.  But I wanted to release all the smaller works first so that by the time the larger works arrived, I will have established a wider reader-base and hopefully a larger audience.

I have also been working with designers for a few ideas that I have had to incorporate my photographic and video exploits into apps for the iPhone, the iPad and Android phones.   I won’t ruin the surprise, but they should be finalized soon and I will be really excited to see them come to life.  It will provide a lot of people access to the photography that might never have knew that travel photography could be so interesting.

Additional books planned for release on the iPad, Kindle, eReader, and others, are photo books of specific regions that I’ve gone and taken some amazing images.  These photo books will be available in hard copy, but the primary mode of publication will be within the obvious future of book publishing — electronic copy.  So look for those to start coming soon.

Also, because I have been spending a lot of time filming for my most recent film, Travel Geek: Documentary Taiwan, I will be releasing snippets and teasers of that in upcoming blogs.  It will be really exciting to finally release that.  The date, by the way, that I have slated to release it is set for May 10th.  If I can get it out before then, I will definitely do that.  But because I will be going to Macau and filming for the Hong Kong/Macau documentary and editing double-time, that might not be possible.  But, again, I am working on it!

Here in Taiwan, they have some really strange holidays.  For instance, every year in a new place the entire town dons protective gear and has an all-out fireworks war where they shoot each other with flaming, exploding firecrackers.  Some people stand atop huge pires of billowing flames and rockets shooting out all around them.  Some people spin in circles while swinging enormous ropes of M-80 fire crackers blowing up as they move and filling the streets with huge pockets of smoke.  It’s really amazing.  And that is the type of thing that I have traveled all over Taiwan and filmed for this latest one.  It’s going to be pretty exciting.

And finally, the big one:  For the last six months, I have been preparing for the grandest of all my exploits.  Over the summer, I will be returning to the states and take a refresher course in film studies.  Then, when I have finished the intensive (and expensive) six-week course, I will be putting the hands-on studies to the test.

This fall I will be headed back out to this are of the world to complete four months of filming documentaries in all eleven countries of Southeast Asia.  I am slated to start my journey in the country that I missed on the first run, East Timor, and then make my way west and north until I reach Thailand.  Midway there, in Malaysia, I will be flying out to Borneo to tackle both Indonesia and Malaysian island life, but also to Brunei Darussalem which I wanted to see more of the last time around.  And then after a run through the southern islands of the Philippines (which I sourly missed this last time) I’ll continue my trek back through peninsular Malaysia.  Once I’ve reached the mountains of Chiang Mai, Thailand, I will be headed over into Laos, south to Cambodia, east and then north through Vietnam and then straight over to Myanmar.

Because visas expire and require careful planning, I have chosen to do Vietnam and Myanmar back to back.  So that will be the end of my trip.

After this trip I will likely be settled in Thailand while I edit the content for the videos, tackle the gargantuan task of compiling the library of photos from the trip and updating the website, completing the journal entries and begin marketing the release of all these materials.

I hope that by the time I am finished with the films I will have enough support with ad sales and book purchases that I can simply release them for free right here and everyone can enjoy them.  But not everything works out the way we hope.  I have been keeping this blog for more then 7 years and have even transferred an old blog that I used on Blogger to import it into the new and improved WordPress format.

But in all that time, it’s never been quite as expensive a hobby as it’s become in the recent past.  So I am asking all of you who enjoy this blog to visit as often as you can, to spread the word to others about the site and to bring the site stats up so that I can offer advertising and help replenish the expenses that have gone into the content that you see here.

It won’t cost you anything to come back and visit, read through and click on all the photos.  It’s free to send a link to friends who might enjoy the blog.  And I have never charged for any of the content I put up.  So return the favor and keep the blog alive by visiting everyday and spreading the word around.

Hopefully I will get enough followers that I can move to a bigger site that will support more traffic and I will be able to keep blogging as more than a hobby — a passion that pays!

Below is a video of my fond farewell to the Southeast Asia Journals and the welcoming in period of this year’s coming projects from other parts of the world.  I also discuss my slated return to the region to compile several more Travel Geek Documentaries.  Exciting stuff!

Journal 52: Philippines Day 15

Last day in the Philippines — and Last day for the Southeast Asia Journals:

This last day in the Philippines was very bittersweet for me.  While I have loved this trip and been able to do a lot from it, it also symbolizes the end of my journey throughout Southeast Asia.

From the Philippines alone, I have made a full length feature documentary spanning the middle to the north of the country.  A gallery of more than 300 photos was produced from the HDR image above to the black-and-white still-lifes that capture the essence of its timelessness.  Documenting in journals and articles, I have savored my thoughts and reflected on the amazing times that can’t be conveyed in visual media.  And then, of course, are the amazing friends and experiences that will remain in my memory throughout the rest of my days.

Here, I am setting up for taking the picture shown above. What a great shot it turned out to be.

But for the rest of Southeast Asia, I will have similar and unique experiences that memorialize my time in each country Ivisited.  Each province had its own rules — attempting to better itself for the benefit of its inhabitants.  Each town remains in my memory with its own feel — its own energy.  Each village carried an air of playfulness or excitement, based on the number of children running after me as I walked through.  Every beach drew different waves.  Every face brought new emotion.  And they all add up to something deeply personal for me as I worked my way through every country in the region.  Every country except one.

Photographing the Bomod-ok Waterfall, Sagada, Ifugao.

I have visited all but East Timor.  I tried to get there when I was in headed east in Java.  But it simply wasn’t in the cards for me to make my way there.

Of course, I don’t mean that in the sense that I will never be returning.  In fact I will be back this fall to start filming on a huge project that will hopefully take me through all eleven countries of Southeast Asia.  But I will be talking more about that in upcoming journals.

This last day in the Philippines really brought home the sense of awe that I remember having upon the first day that I arrived in Thailand.  And while the surprise may have dulled with each new experience, that sense of awe has never faded.  The culture and diversity that exists here is more than just the metaphorical “world apart” from the western society that encompasses most of my memory.

And these were my thoughts as I walked along the beach, leaving behind me the incredible place that, while no less impressive, stands as a symbol representing the many years, countries, miles and memories that I have spent and acquired in this part of the world.

Quite a moving experience indeed — pun proudly intended!

The final part of the six-part series is below, please enjoy it.  And be sure to watch the full length video on my Youtube channel HERE.