Saturday, April 10, 2004

April 10th, 2004

Last night after I went to the internet cafe I went to a bar right next to my hotel. It was called 20 Leith Street and it sits right across from the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. The Mansion is all painted in a sea blue color and adorned along the ridges of its roof with a very elaborate Chinese design that includes colorful dragons and flowers. It has 38 restored rooms and I believe the story goes that there was a Chinese merchant who came to Penang penniless but slowly built up his businesses and gradually became richer than rich. The mansion stands as a testament of what dreams may come true when you are strong in luck and will and might to pursue your fortunes and visions.

The 20th Leith Street Bar is quiet large and has a few old video arcades and billiard tables. There are three long rooms that are all connected and a wall-bar in the room to my far left. I sat down just off center from a live band that was performing. I was curious to see and listen to some live music in Malaysia. The band looked like they were simply going through the motions. I was reminded of the work I did with The Hit Men and how difficult and almost depressing it is to play music in a bar full of people who are really apathetic of your performance. There were two lead singers, a Chinese man and woman. The two were complete opposites in terms of their performance. It was funny for me to see. The woman was not into the gig at all. She was simply stepping from side to side in rhythm with the music. And I can understand why. She was bored to death. She only got to sing one out of every four songs or so. When she was not singing she simply had to stand and look pretty which I can see she was not digging at all. The bass player would take turns singing a few tunes and the male lead singer would sing about half of all the tunes. He was loving it. It was amusing to see him really get into the songs and his dances steps. I think in his mind he imagined himself to be singing before 10,000 people or so in a stadium. Good for him. I hope his aspirations do come true.

After eating and drinking a bit at the bar I walked to a nearby Salsa club so see what was going on. Sadly though there was no Salsa music being played within and they fact that the girl to boy ration was about 1 to 10 I decided not to go in. There was live music though and at a level way above the band that I saw in the 20 Leith Street bar. The band, from what I could see from the street window, was full on with professional equipment, monitors, and smoke! I then walked back to my hotel.

Well this morning I had one priority to begin with. To go to the train ticket agency by the boat ferry port and to buy my ticket out of Pulau Penang and to Hat Yai in southern Thailand. And I succeeded but the down side is that my train leaves at 6:10 a.m. so I will go to sleep very early tonight so that I can wake up at around 3:00 a.m. The reason I have to wake up so early is that I have to take a ferry from Pulau to Buttersworth and the ferry doesn't depart very often in the early morning so I have to arrive there very early so that I arrive on time to the train station. The good thing is that the train ticket only cost me about $3 U.S. The train is direct to Hat Yai; its about a four hour journey.

After I got my ticket I then walked through a bit of Little India and China town before entering the Khoo Kongsi (The Dragon Mountain Hall) in Cannon Square. This place is remarkable. A scene was shot here for the movie Anna and the King starring Jodie Foster. The Hall and Opera Stage (which face each other and have a stone court yard spaced between them) are designed in an exotic blend of Southern Fujian and Anglo-Indian architecture. The columns and the roof of the hall are done in the Southern Fujian design and the staircase, the terrace, and the verandah are done in the Anglo-Indian style. There are tiny little mirrors (they ward off evil) placed within many of the colorful murals and tile designs of the hall. There are Chinese red lanterns hanging down from all the ornamentation of the roof. There are too many details for anyone to totally take in. You can spend months trying to study and interpret all the little designs and carved stories that are throughout the hall. There is a central hall and two annexes. The central hall is where several idols are enshrined. The idols are very ancient. Two of the idols are of Tua Sai Yah (The Great Duke) and Ong Soon Yah (The Noble). They are the patron saints of the Khoos. I should mention that a Kongsi is a clan house. So the Khoos is the name of the family clan of the Khoo Kongsi compound. The hall I am describing sits at the center of a compound of two-storey buildings that used to house all the family members of the Khoos family. Getting back to the idols. The real names of these idols were Cheah Hean and Cheah Aun.

History has it that in the 4th century there was The River Fei war in China. Premier Cheah Aun and his nephew General Cheah Hean were able to defeat an army of one million with their own army of 80,000. Thus they saved the Eastern Jin Dyansty from being destroyed.

Before entering the central shrine you will see two turbaned watchman statues. They represent the Turbuned watchmen that used to be employed to stand guard before the shrine. You will also notice two stone monks at the base of the handrail of the steps that leads directly to the central shrine. Both monks are sitting and one of them is laughing while the other is crying - very Tao . . . two opposites together representing the joy and suffering of life and human existence.

Behind the shrine there is a walkway and on the wall I found three large painted murals. I took pictures of all three. The stories behind the murals emphasis the old values of the Chinese.

The traditional agricultural societies of China preached that it was the duty of "the peasant to work hard and to be self-sustained while cultivating good morality and improving his temperament through reading."

"Loyal officials and dutiful sons are 1st class human beings" while "farming and studying are the two things that matter most for peasants."

These stories emphasis the Confucian values of loyalty and filial piety.

After I was done checking out the hall I went to the souvenir shop and bought a drink. The kind lady at the counter asked me to pick up a box that was sitting on a shelf to my right and to open the box. I fumbled a bit to put down my drink and picked up the box. I slowly opened the box and saw something curios within it, then I opened it all the way and a spider jumped out and grabbed my finger. I screamed and the lady behind the counter began laughing and apologizing. After catching my breath I saw that it was a kind of jelly spider toy that was rigged to the box to jump out. It was a good trick and told the lady behind the counter (who was still laughing) that she fooled me well :)

From there I walked to the Kompleks Komtar which is the modern shopping mall of Palau Penang. It was a mall. Just like any in the U.S. Part of me was upset to see it, especially the damn Star Bucks outside of it. Malaysia has some of the most fantastic and exotic fruit and coffee drinks. Why the hell would anyone, both Malaysian and tourist, every want to go to Star Bucks!!! It kind of pisses me off to see Western chains like Burger King, A&W Root Beer Restoran???, Kenny Rogers Restoran (that is the way the Malays spell restaurant) here. And the mall!!! The beautiful and unique thing about Malaysia are all the Mom & Pop run-down nearly falling apart stores that have been trading, selling, buying, repairing, for God knows how long. That is the charm of this place. But giant malls are a serious threat to the livelihood of these Mom & Pop shops. Within the Mall I found store after store after store selling pirated DVD's. Most DVD's were of high quality and selling for less than one U.S. dollar. What a bargain!!! I went up to the movie theater to see what was playing and found that there was nothing that I wanted to see. I wanted to rest somewhere and watching a movie would have been perfect. Instead as I walked around I discovered one pirated DVD shop with two massive T.V.'s and chairs before them for anyone who wanted to sit down and watch a movie for free!!! Fantastic I thought. So I sat down and watched the movie Big Fish for free and loved it. Wonderfull story. I nearly cried but I was in a public and well lit place so I tried desperately to hold back my tears ;)

After the free movie I had some Chinese food and then I went to the Penang Museum.

Here are some notes that I jotted down from the Museum concerning it multi-ethnic diversity.

Siamese: They are from Southern Thailand.

Eurasians: "Were so named by the British administration in Penang to denote their mixed ancestries of Portuguese, Dutch, English, Irish, Scottish, French, Italian, and German on the one hand and Malay, Chinese, Indian, Siamese, and Burmese on the other."

Traits of the Eurasians: "Roman Catholic religion, and a unique English dialect that had elements of Portuguese, Siamese, and Malay."

Achinese: "Immigrated to Penang from Acheh in northern Sumatra."

The Arabs: "Today most of the Arabs in Penang have been absorbed into local Malay communities but a couple of centuries ago they were among the wealthiest inhabitants of Penang . . ."

Today in Penang the Malay, Chinese, and Indians compose about 90% of the population.

Indians: "The Indians of Penang came from all over the Indian sub-continent but the dominant group is the Tamil from southern India. The other groups include Sikhs, Gujeratis, Bengalis, and Sinhalese . . ."

Europeans: "Compared to Singapore the Europeans enclave in Penang was much smaller . . . The British were stationed in Penang to senior administration and military positions. Many early European settlers owned large spice plantations . . ."

The Japanese: "The Japanese settlements were obscure and limited to individual traders, artisans, and adventurers! After W.W.I. (1914-1918) the development of mining, agriculture, etc. attracted more Japanese entrepreneurs and workers. Entering the financial and commercial spheres they played an important role in handling the country's vital commodities of tin and rubber.

"The early Japanese settlements tended to be self-contained; operated their own schools and maintained religious and other socio-cultural organizations."

Armenians: "The first Armenians to Penang came around 1800 from their homeland in the Caucasian Mountains. They came as traders and were small in number. The most prominent Armenians were the Sarkies brothers, Tigran and Martin. They were major hoteliers and established, among others, the Eastern and Oriental Hotel in Georgetown (Pulau Penang) and the famed Raffles in Singapore.

"Most were Christian Armenians but there were also a significant of Armenian Jews who came to Penang."

Burmese: Many came as well to Penang as a natural result of its close proximity to the Malaysian island.

The Chinese Secret societies in Penang: "The Hue (secret society) emerged in China during the 13th century as a brotherhoods with a mission to engineer the downfall of the ruling Mongol Yuan Dynasty.

"Revived again in the 17th to the 19th century . . . they were formed to bring an end to the foreign Manchu Ching Dynasty . . ."

"The secret societies were established in the British Straits Settlements and Western Malay States for self-help and self-protection in an alien environment . . . In 1867 there was a major ten day clash between two main Chinese secret societies."

Also of note:
Thaipusam is a religious festival that is celebrated in Penang honoring the Lord Subramaniam. The festival takes place in January. Devotees (both Indian and Chinese) bring offerings of coconuts, cow's milk, and honey in brass pots to the Nattukottai Chettiar Temple on Waterfall Road. There they receive sacred ash, holy water and Kum Kum (a reddish sandalwood paste).

In Hinduism the smashing of a coconut symbolically represents the smashing of one's ego. As a result the Waterfall Road is literally covered in smashed coconuts thus purifying and paving the road for the gods.

"In reverence for the deity (Lord Subramaniam) many devotees carry either a gaily decorated wooden frame or steel hundreds of spikes which penetrate the flesh.

"Some penitents pierce their tongue and cheeks with a silver spear. At the sacred altar in Subramaniam Temple the spears and barbed hooks are removed from their flesh by priests and holy ash is put on their wounds."

My thoughts:
The amazing thing so far on my travels has been the reminder of the prevalence of religion in most countries. Even as I write this I am listening to the call to prayer of a Muslim mosque just across the street from this internet cafe. Japan, in my opinion, is nearly devoid of religion and religious practices. The Japanese do not practice any sort of faith to the degree of most people of different cultures and religions outside of Japan do. After living in Japan for three and a half years I have nearly forgotten about how important religion is to so many people around the world. Although I am Catholic by blood and heritage I have forgotten about most Catholic holidays. And this weekend is a fine example of that. If I did not get emails from my relatives yesterday wishing me a Happy Easter I would not have known or remembered or cared that this weekend is indeed Easter. Im afraid to say that after living in Japan for so long I have changed in that respect. I am not a religious person by western standards or even by Chinese Buddhist, Taoist, Confucist, or Indian Hindu standards. Although I am very spiritual - and you will find elements of this in my writings, and thoughts, and conversations. But I have no need anymore to talk about what I believe. My religion, my personal religion, my truth, is what I have discovered and continue to discover about the mysteries of the cultures, countries, peoples, faiths, religions, that I come across in my travels and in my day to day experiences. I do believe in reincarnation. But that was a fact (to me it is not a belief it is a fact) that I adopted many, many years ago. It is the backbone to most of my thoughts and you will find this fact (belief according to you) played out in the epic story arc of my Books for Dark Legacy (Click on then click on WORDS and then DARK LEGACY). Buddhism plays a big part in my first Book entitled Dark Legacy: Book I - Trinity. But I dont practice Buddhism. I lived in a Korean Zen Temple for nine months but today I dont practice Zen (well maybe I do . . . since I do without thought) but all those experiences within that Zen Temple have formed apart of who I am today. Just as my experiences in Japan have formed apart of you I am today. Just as this journey is forming who I am now and who I will be when you meet me. I dont preach anymore. I have my truth and I expect people to respect it as I most certainly respect other people's faith, religions, and beliefs. Doesn't mean I always agree but I can respect it. And here in Palau Penang is a beautiful example of this. Indian Hindu's, Chinese Buddhists, and Taoists, and Confucists, and Muslim Malays all living so wonderfully together respecting each others culture, way of life, faith, and religious practices.

India and China together make up 2/5ths of the World's population. They are a wonderful people and have fascinating religious practices and faith. Respect them and their way of life. I have tremendous respect for them. The people of Malaysia have only shown me sincere gratitude and friendship. No one here has cheated me or tried to. It is a wonderful country and place to visit.

When I return to the U.S. I know that I will face again many hard-core Christians who believe that it is their duty to save the world from burning in hell for worshipping an exotic God or gods. All I have to say really to them is . . . Bugger Off ;)

Good night,

Friday, April 09, 2004

April 9th, 2004

I woke up at about 7 a.m. I slept about 9 hours. I went to the shower and found something or things that made me want to vomit. I will not go into any details. Such is the life of the traveler going from one hostel to the next.

In any case I finished up in the shower and got dressed and so forth and then used the computer in the reception area to write about my day on April 8th. After I was done I still had some time to kill before my bus departed so I sat in the reception room watching a football (soccer) match as I drank some kind of canned tea that I bought that had jelly bits resting on the bottom of it. I have been trying all the drinks here in Malaysia, from sugar cane juice to sweetened soy milk, to coconut juice straight from the coconut itself.

At around 9:40 I made out for the train station which was literally across the street from my hostel. After finding out what platform my bus was departing from I went downstairs to where all the running buses were and stood at a wall far from the buses themselves to avoid all the fumes that they were spitting out. Once I saw people boarding my bus I got my bag and loaded it under the bus and then got on and sat down.

An Indian gentlemen occupied the seat next to me. He was extremely friendly and as I discovered he was on his way to Pulau Penang to escort a group of labor workers who were arriving from Indonesia back down to Kuala Lumpur to work in the factories and so forth. We talked a bit about Malaysia and its Proton car of which he was very proud of. Along the bus ride north he pointed out a Proton car factory.

As we road I noticed more palm tree plantations and then mountains that were literally blown in half. These mountains were being viciously ripped apart to become stone quarries. Other than that the vegetation along the way was beautifully lush and green and tropical.

The bus made one pit stop. I followed everyone on my bus to a large open-air eating area. I noticed that there were sinks at all sides of the eating area. After washing up in the bathroom I lined up in front of what appeared to be the most popular place to get some food. As I stood in line I noticed that the Malays who were already eating at their tables were not eating with any utensils. They were simply eating with their hands - thus the need for all the sinks. I then was worried that I would have to eat my meal with my hands as well but luckily I saw a small plastic jar with a few forks and spoons. I took a fork and the lady behind the counter then gave me a plate of rice. I then picked up with a ladle some green something or other and chicken and some curry. I then ate and loved the spicy little meal.

Then I was on the bus again and away we went.

Before my bus got on the Penang bridge (one of the longest bridges in Southeast Asia) everyone on the bus, including myself, noticed a group of police escorts escorting a single car. I asked the Indian fellow beside me what was going on and he explained that they were escorting the Mayor of Palau Penang back onto the island. As a result the traffic to get onto the island was pretty bad.

Finally my bus arrived in Georgetown on Pulau Penang. Once I got off the bus I was approached by an Indian rickshaw driver who wanted to take me to my hotel. I explained that I needed to made a few phone calls first for I had not reservation. He then said that he could take me to the Cathay Hotel. Immediately I took this as a good omen and said that I would be grateful if he could take me there.

A few scenes from the 1995 movie Beyond Rangoon were shot in The Cathay Hotel. I saw the movie in my parents home in Wilmette when I was in college. The movie made a great impression on me. So much that I am very much looking forward to my trip to Myanmar (Burma) in the next few weeks.

I checked into the hotel without a problem and paid off my rickshaw driver, whose name I discovered was Richard. My room costs about $15 U.S. and I finally have my own bathroom. The room is very spacious. It feels so good to have a descent room again. The Cathay Hotel is old but that only adds to its charm. Just before the old reception desk is a table surrounded by old Chinese men talking their talk.

After getting settled I went on a quest to find a Citibank ATM. Once I found the ATM I then walked along the northeastern coast of the island until I found a beautiful monument that was clearly very ancient; it was enrapped by vines. The monument has four sides and on each side is a statue. Below each statue is written one of the following: Wisdom, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude. There was a moving inscription on the memorial and this is what it said:

"This monument is erected by the peoples of the Straits Settlements as a tribute of their respect and gratitude to James Richardson Logan.
"Advocate, F.R.G.S._F.E.S.
"Whose death in the prime of his manhood they regard in the public calamity.
"He was always first, and sometimes stood alone, in every movement having the welfare of those settlements for its object and the whole colony, but most especially Penang owes much of its present welfare and success to his personal efforts and to his unflagging zeal and great ability.
"He was an erudite and skillful lawyer, an eminent scientific ethnologist and he has founded a literature and editor of the Journal of the Indian Archipelago.
"Above all he was an upright, true and honorable man, held in the highest respect and esteem by his fellow countrymen and loved and implicitly trusted by all the native races around him.
"He was born at Hutton Hall in Berwickshire, Scotland, April the 10th 1819, arrived in the Straits Settlements in February 1839.
"He died at Penang on the 20th Day of October 1869."

May we all die having been remembered in such a way :)

From there I continued along the cost and saw Chinese kids fishing as at a distance away we could all see cargo ships coming into and out of port.

I found the old Pedang of Palau Penang or Esplanade. A rather romantic tale to note about the Pedang was that many decades ago on the 15th night of the Chinese New Year (called Chop Goh Meh) "the Straits Chinese would gather
at the Esplanade. The highlight of the occasion was a procession of Nyonya maidens . . . This was the only opportunity for young men to view the girls, and then to make enquiries that might lead to marriage. The girls would alight from their carriages or cars to throw oranges into the sea, wishing for a good match."

Further along I came across a clock tower that was dedicated to Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee (1837-1897).

I then walked a bit along the old streets of Penang coming across Indian shop after Indian shop. All the roads here have been ripped apart. They are paving new streets here but the destruction of these roads only adds to the exotic feel of this place, making me feel that I am in some old Vietnam town that has been bombed or has yet to be developed.

I should get some dinner . . . it is getting late and I have a lot to see and do tomorrow.

With dreams and thoughts,

Thursday, April 08, 2004

April 8th, 2004

I woke up and had my shower in a unisex bathroom. This public bath area in my hostel is about 5 steps down from The Inn Crowd hostel that I stayed at in Singapore. Fruit flies were buzzing about and clinging to the blue-tiled walls.

After getting myself dress I checked my email. As I checked it I heard someone behind me giving an American a hard time. He was showing him the paper and telling him, "Don't you think it is funny that you, an American, are here in Malaysia, a Muslim country, when today on the front page there is news that the Americans in Iraq bombed a mosque!" The guy was pissing me off. I turned around and said, "I'm American," I then asked him, "Where the hell are you from?" He replied, "Germany." "Ohh," I said, "Where in Germany?" "Hannover," he replied. He then shut up. I think he knew that if her pursued this comment of how funny it was for Americans to be in Malaysia when the U.S. bombed a mosque in Iraq I would probably begin talking about Germany during W.W. II.

I soon left my hostel and crossed the street to the Puduraya Bus Terminal. I went in to inquire about tickets to Pulau Penang which is an island about 5 hours north of Kuala Lumpur and less than an hour away from the Thai border. On the spot I decided to leave Kuala Lumpur the morning of the 9th and bought my ticket.

The bus terminal is a bit interesting. It is dark and filled with little shops selling food, magazines, drinks, etc. There are a great many little bus ticket shops as well. There are staircases leading down - one flight - to the buses that are all parked and waiting to depart. The fumes from these running buses carries up to the bus terminal through the openings these staircases make, thus making the bus terminal kind of dirty from the fumes which combines with the humid air.

From there I walked to Chinatown which was only about a 5 minute walk. There were plenty of Chinese restaurants and open-air markets. I walked down Jalan Petaling which seemed to by "the" main street in Chinatown for markets and such. The light of the sun is blocked from penetrating the street by a row of plastic blue-tinted window frames that run from one end of the street to the other - it stands high, just above the roofs of the buildings. Along the street you will find plenty of food stalls, stalls selling pirated DVD's, plastic toys, and prepared food, and skinned ducks hanging from their heads ready to be cooked and eaten or taken away.

There was one side street that I found that was a full on fresh food market. I love to see and walk through these markets. This market reminded me very much of a fresh food market that I saw in Gyeongju, Korea. Right when I walked in I saw live roosters moving around within wooden framed cages and also outside of cages. I guess these roosters that were not locked up were tied down somehow - I didn't bother to find out. In any case as I walked down this side street I saw cut-up pieces of chicken, plenty of fish, prawns, etc. And I saw fresh tofu, yummy!

After taking a side turn or two I came across a Chinese temple. This temple was very different from the one I described in Singapore a day or two ago. Upon entering the temple I noticed large, spiraling, incense sticks, one hanging below the other. On my right there was a brick kiln/chimney and within it devotees were burning inscribed pieces of paper. Perhaps these pieces of paper were prayers that they were burning so that the prayer could rise up as smoke to the heavens and be heard and answered. Just past this kiln/chimney there was a central alter and to the left of this alter there was a smaller alter where I saw a man rubbing something along the mouth of a statue that looked like a boar. Very odd. Again I can not decipher what was going on here. Once I return to the U.S. I will begin researching this along with Hindu temples so that my many questions can finally be answered.

A few blocks away from this Chinese temple was a Hindu temple - this is what I love about having traveled through Singapore and now Kuala Lumpur - you will find Chinese Buddhist or Taoist temples and Hindu temples often right next to each other.

I didn't bother to go into the Hindu temple though, I simply carried on walking south.

I was in search of the Post Office and following the general direction I believed it was on I crossed a bridge over the Sungai Klang river. As I crossed the bridge I saw the Kuala Lumpur Train Station. This train station was originally built in 1892. The building was designed by Arthur Benison Hubback who had lived in India and as a result the train station's design was inspired by Northern Indian Islamic architecture. The train station is marked by a large number of domed towers, supposedly this train station has the largest number of domed towers in Malaysia.

This train station was the first to connect K.L. to any part of the Peninsula. The rail system to and from K.L. was eventually extended to connect the northern tin mining areas to it - tin has been and continues to be a significant export of Malaysia.

North of the train station I came across the National Mosque which has a very sleek design. The tower of the mosque has 245 steps and can accommodate up to 15,000 worshippers during prayers. The mosque was opened on the 27th of August in 1965 by the King - His Majesty Tuankn Syed Putra Ibni Almarhun Syed Hassan Jamallulail.

Further north I found the National History Museum which is free to enter. Within it I spent some time reading and learning about the Mesolithic (12,000 - 4,000) culture in Malaysia. Malaysians at that time were nomadic and usually lived in caves and under stone ledges. They used an assortment of stone and bone tools and buried their dead with pottery, stone tools, and a stone bangle or two. Red iron ore was used for their cave paintings and often depicted groups of winged human figures dancing and arrangements of boats.

India and China began trade with Malaysia as early as the 1st century A.D. and it was at this time that Buddhism and its relics was brought to the region.

Of Note: According to written record Malaysia is first believed to be located and written about around the 2nd century A.D. by Chinese and Middle Eastern pioneers.

"The Kingdom of Malacca (named after the port city of Malacca - it is south of K.L.) was founded in the late 14th century by Parameswara, a Malay prince from Palembang in Sumatera. He died in 1414 and was succeeded by 8 kings or sultans who were all direct descendents of Parameswara.

"Foreigners in Malacca at that time included Arabs, Gujeratis, Indians, Siamese Chinese, Japanese, Cambodians, Persians, and Malay from throughout the Archipelago."

Islam is thought to have been brought to Malaysia through Islamic sufi's and it is believed that Sayyid Abdul Aziz converted the 2nd Sultan of Malacca to Islam.

In 1511 the Portuguese (the first European power to go to Malaysia) destroyed the Malacca kingdom. Sometime later . . . I believe in the 19th century the British took over power in Malaysia.

Japanese Occupation of Malaysia was from 1941 to 1945. The Japanese landed in Malaysia on December 8th, 1941 and on February 15th, 1942 the British finally surrendered to the Japanese.

When the Japanese surrendered to the British in 1945 they did so by symbolically giving up their Samurai Swords. Approximately 1,500 swords were given up.

The current Prime Minister of Malaysia is the 4th Prime Minister of Malaysia - his name is Tun Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohammad and he took power in 1981.

One interesting thing that I did discover within the museum was that Malaysia has their own national car called the Proton. After I left the museum I then realized that indeed the Malaysian Proton car was everywhere. I also saw plenty of Hyundai and Toyota cars.

Right infront of the National History Museum is the Merdeka Square which reminded me of "The Padang" in Singapore. It is a well manicured square of green grass that sits between the Royal Selangor Club and the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. From there I traveled north and finally sat down for lunch. After that I continued north to Chow Kit (the former red-light district of K.L.).

From Chow Kit I grabbed a bus to the northern outskirts of K.L. I was on my way to the Batu Caves. The caves house a famous Hindu shrine in Malaysia. The shrine has existed there since the 1890's. It is famous because of the Thaipusam festival which lasts for three days at either the end of January or at the beginning of February. During this three day festival over 1 million devotees come to partake in the event.

"Thaipusam is a time for carrying out acts of penance, in fulfillment of vows made to the deity, Lord Muruga. Some devotees carry the "Kavadi" which is a large decorated wire frame whose ends are used to pierce the skin. Many have their cheeks and tongue pierced by sharp wire-like instruments."

There are 272 steps leading up to the caves and along the way I was easily entertained and fascinated by all the monkeys that were literally running about in all directions. The cutest thing I saw were female monkey's breast feeding their tiny little young. On the way out of the cave I found two mother's breast feeding their babies. I stood near them taking pictures. I was very close to them and as I took several pictures I was surprised that the father of these babies was no where in sight to protect them. Then, there was a strong, sharp tug on my pinky finger. I quickly turned and saw one of the father's of the baby monkeys angry and shining his canines at me. I was terribly scared and backed away from the two mothers and baby monkeys immediately. It took some time for my heart to calm down from the experience.

The caves themselves are very, very impressive. I was in awe of them. I felt like I was in the movie, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Along the walls of the caves, in scattered places, were statues of Hindu gods and such depicting various scenes of Indian mythology. Once within the cave I walked across in its darkness seeing birds flying high above me and monkeys chasing eachother. There was another set of stairs at the far end of the cave and it was illuminated by natural light. I approached it and saw that high above there was a large opening in the earth allowing the sky and the sun to shine down. Once I climbed up this last set of stairs I found another Indian shrine and a ritual going on within it. I got it on film!

On the way out I saw more monkeys. Also of note - it was amazing to see baby monkeys holding on to their mother's stomach as their mother ran at Mach 2 down the stairs.

I highly recommend the Batu Caves. It is truly an amazing sight and experience.

Good night ;)

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

April 7th, 2004
I took a 6 hour bus ride to Kuala Lumpur from Singapore. Everyone had to exist the bus twice. Once on the Singapore side of the border and another on the Malaysian side. There is only two bridges that I believe connect Singapore to Malaysia over the Strait of Johor. I believe we took the northern-most bridge.

In Malaysia I was struck with the forests of palm trees that would stretch for as far as the eye can see on both sides of the road. I later discovered that these palm trees were palm trees planted and used for their oil-palm. Although Malaysia is located in a tropical climate I saw little of the rain forests for they had all been removed for these oil-palm plantations. The roads themselves were very modern. I wasnt sure what to expect in Malaysia. But, keep in mind that Malaysia is one of the strongest economies in Southeast Asia and English is widely spoken due to the British colonization of the country 2 centuries ago.

I arrived at Puduraya Bus Station at around 3:30 p.m. Once I got off my bus I was approached by an Indian gentlement who was seeking to lure newly arrived tourists into his hotel. I had no reservation and since it was right next to the bus station I decided to follow him to the Anuja Backpackers Inn. I got my own air-con room but there is a separate bath for both sexes.

Once I got settled I took off in search for food. I also had been battling a head cold since the morning and the cool interior of the bus mixed with the humid air of Kuala Lumpur Im sure was confusing my body. As soon as I walked about two blocks heading north-west to the Sungai Klang river a few heavy drops of rain began to fall, but it was nothing I was too worried about. Then suddenly there was a huge down pour. I immediately took cover under a bus stop. The rain let up just a bit and I ran in spurts between buildings; running through the rain, taking cover under a building, and then running again. I didnt want to waste anytime by waiting for the rain to stop so I kept moving in search of the Petronas Towers (the tallest two buildings in the world). I went north up Jln Ampang street which was lined with Indian stores selling dresses and shoes for Indian women. I finally saw the Petronas Towers and headed east but the rains were taking their toll on my health and clothes. I was nearly soaked so I rested under some financial building for about 45 minutes reading my book.

When the rain let up some more I continued until I finally reached the Petronas Towers. The towers are truly amazing. Im from Chicago so I was a bit pissed to see the towers that stole the title of tallest building in the world from my city. In any case the towers are truly impressive and a fine symbolic representation of how well the economy is in Malaysia. Malaysia in many respects is very westernized. There are Muslim mosques and Indians in all directions but still in terms of stores, and what you can buy here it is very western. Which is disappointing though to see a country with so much rich culture and tradition being wiped away by modernization. In Kuala Lumpur there is really nothing to see of the culture and heritage of the country. And upon entering the Petronas Towers, into the shopping mall that sits between the towers, I felt like I was back in a mall in the U.S. There was Starbucks, an incredible movie theater, California Pizza Kitchen, KFC, Burger King, The Body Shop, and Kinokuniya Book Store which is on par with Borders or Barnes and Nobles Book Store. I went into Kinokuniya and was seriously surprised to find that about 80% of their books were in English. I bought a book . . . but I forgot the name so Ill mention it in a later email.

Oh, by the way I just finished reading The Aquariums of Pyongyang by Kang Chol-Hwan. It details Kang's ten year hardship within a North Korean concentration camp. It is a must read. I highly recommend it. It is a fine literary example of why North Korea and Kim Jung-Il are a political sham.

Within the shopping mall I rested at Dome Cafe and had some wild mushroom soup and a Pesto Chicken sandwich - I was trying to rest my head-cold.

Soon enough it was night and I decided to walk back to my motel by crossing through the Golden Triangle (K.L.'s famed entertainment, business, and shopping district).

Once I arrived at my motel I went straight to bed.

Well, my own thoughts. Ive been writing about all the things Ive been doing. What has been going on inside my head. Overall Im feeling good. At times I feel a bit lonely but at the same time I enjoy my solitude. I love my silence. Sometimes I see other backpackers traveling in a group of friends and others who are couples. I find myself wishing that I had someone to travel with but then I think that I am free to do whatever I want without compromising to anyone. I think that this will be my last journey by myself. I know that once I return to the U.S. things will be different. I will be settling down a bit and who knows after that but I know that I will need to learn to be with others again. I am too attached to my solitude. It will be something that I will need to let go off.

My friend Thomas told me something that he read from a book. First we are dependent, then we seek to be independent, and then we grow into the joys of inter-dependence. Inter-dependence is the next stage for me. Learning to be with someone of the opposite sex for more than my record 3 months. I know it will be extremely hard for me. Extremely hard for me!!! And extremely hard for the person I end up with since she will have to deal with me departing on solo trips (both physically and mentally) - or need to be alone, every so often. That has usually been the most difficult thing that girls I have been with have had to get used to . . . my need to be alone. They usually interpret it as some kind of rejection and freak out and come too close causing me to get angry. I then break free of the relationship . . . seeking freedom again, never ever looking back.

I know more about my patterns but I dont really feel like discussing them now.

This journal will more likely be not too much of a private account of my trip. More of a public one. When I return to the U.S., and if I feel like it I will take all these notes and then get into the more private aspects of the trip. I know exactly how I am feeling during this journey and I think people are more anxious to read about that than about what I am actually seeing and learning on this trip. Maybe I am wrong. We shall see . . . so far my mind is simply at peace. It is on holiday from everything. Im sure later on my affections and emotions will begin pouring into this journal. For now . . . I am at total rest.

Peace from the East,

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

April 6th, 2004

On Waterloo street there is a Chinese Buddhist temple called Kwan Im Hood Cho Temple. The temple is named after the Goddess of Mercy and was built in 1884. Urban legend has it that about 60 years ago a thief broke into the temple to steal the temple's money box. He succeeded in stealing the money box and ran off with it but when he arrived home he opened it not to find cash and coins but oil. Fearing that the Goddess of the temple had somehow tricked him he returned to the temple and soon became its caretaker. The story of this thief and his foiled attempt to steal from the temple spread quickly among the Chinese practicing Buddhists of Singapore. As a result the temple's fame grew and it is now one of the most popular and famous Chinese Buddhist temples on the island. The temple is also famed for the belief that no prayer goes unanswered in the temple.

Before the temple gates there are carts selling lotus flowers. Devotee's of the temple can buy - they don't have to - a lotus flower or a few of them and bring them as alms to the Goddess of the temple. When you pass the temple gate you will notice devotee's praying before the temple's main entrance.

First a devotee must pick up some incense sticks which are supplied at the two flanks of the main entrance gate. Once you past the gate you will find a cauldron filled with ash and burning incense. To the right and left of the cauldron there is a flame where one can light his incense sticks.

Now what you must do is first have your back to the temple. Facing away from the temple you hold your incense sticks in your clasped hands just before your face, just in front of your forehead. You must face away so that you can first pray to the Heavenly God - the God who is above all things, the King of Heaven. Once you have paid your respects to the Heavenly God you may then turn and then pray to the Goddess of the temple. When you are done then you place your incense sticks in the cauldron that is just before the temple's entrance.

Now it is not necessary to take your shoes off upon entering the temple grounds and the temple itself. Once inside you will find at the far end an altar and shrine. At the center of the shrine are two statues, one is of the Goddess of Mercy and the other is of the Heavenly God - I believe this God is known as Sakyamuni Buddha. The Heavenly God is seated just above the Goddess of Mercy. If you are looking at the shrine you will see to the right of the Goddess of Mercy another statue, it is of Da Moh Bodhidarma who is the chief of the six Buddhist Patriarchs. The statue to the left of the Goddess is of the King of Medicine and Healing.

Before the shrine there is an altar where people may place their flower(s) or food offerings. People may offer an assortment of fruits to the Goddess but again it is not necessary.

Now, before the shrine and altar there is a large square red carpet. Before stepping on the carpet you must take your shoes off. But, before you step on the carpet you must go to a desk that is to the far right of the temple and retrieve a bronze vase that is filled with 99 inscribed sticks (each stick has a number on it) and two plastic pieces that when they are fitted together look like a red pepper. When you have these things you can go to the red carpet and begin your prayers.

Now what you do on the red carpet is you ask the Goddess your question or confess your problem to her. The Goddess will answer. The Goddess answers the devotee through the 99 sticks in the vase. What the devotee must do is shake the vase at a 45 degree angle until one of the sticks falls out. When a stick falls out then you must use those two pieces that when put together look like a red pepper and drop them on the ground. These "red pepper" pieces have a curved and a flat side. The curved side is "negative" and the flat side is "positive". When you drop the two pieces they will either fall as: positive and positive, negative and negative, or positive and negative. If you get negative and positive then it verifies the stick that fell out of the vase. If you don't have a negative and positive then you must put the stick back into the vase and shake it again until another stick falls out and try to verify it again with the two red pieces. Once your stick has been verified then you look and check to see what number it is. Let's say you get the number 34. Then you take the vase, the two red pieces, and your stick back to the desk and the person at the desk will look at your number and give you a pink slip that is in accordance with your number.

The pink slip has some info for you on it but if you want more information then you can check a red reference book for more details. You simply look up your number in the book and read what it has to say in reference to your original question. If you have a question about a relationship you are in, or some business problem, or whatever the book will tell you if you have good news or bad news and possibly why.

Very interesting wouldn't you say ? :)

Right next to the Chinese Buddhist Temple there is a Hindu temple called Sri Krihsna Temple. Im afraid that I still have no idea how a Hindu temple works and what a devotee is supposed to do within it so I have no info there.

In the late afternoon I took the MRT subway and then a bus to Changi Village which is situated just north of Changi airport. I was hoping to catch a ferry to a small island called Palau Ubin but the ferrymen explained that they need 12 people to take to the island to make it financially worth while for them. There was only me and another guy so it was a no go. The only other option was to pay for the other 10 non-existent passengers to the ferrymen but I aint rich so, no. Instead I simply walked to the beach and relaxed as I watch cargo ships and tug boats pass. I could see Malaysia from where I sat.

And now here I am back in the hostel. Im going to chill in Little India for dinner and then call it an early night because I have to wake up early to catch my bus tomorrow morning to Kuala Lumpur.

With Magic,

Monday, April 05, 2004

April 5th, 2004

I started my day by taking the MRT subway to Ruffles Place which is in the financial heart of Singapore. There was a beautiful plaza when I exited the station. People were resting upon the sides of these elevated and well trimmed mini-parks. These mini-parks (that is what I will call them for now) were divided by two walkways that cut through them. There was a large TV monitor advertising the newest live Red Hot Chili Peppers DVD. I walked to Marina Bay from there and saw the famed MerLion statue of Singapore. The MerLion is the symbol of Singapore. I do not know the full tale of the MerLion other than that some sailor (or possibly a prince) who approached Singapore for the first time saw what he believed to be the head of a Lion attached to the body of a fish. This sailor/prince took it as a good omen and settled on the island.

I took several pictures of the MerLion and then walked across Collyer Quay to the Marina Promenade where I bought some Hagan Daaz ice cream. Then I walked toward the Civilian War Memorial of Singapore by traveling west on Raffles Avenue.

The Civilian War Memorial is dedicated to all those who died during the Japanese Occupation of Singapore from 1942-1945. The memorial is composed of four towering pillars that stand at over 70 meters. The four pillars are symbolic of the four races (Chinese, Indians, Malays, and "other" races) that suffered during the occupation.

The remains of unknown war victims are buried beneath the monument.

"Among the civilians who lost their lives were numerous Chinese targeted under the Sook Ching (literally "to purge" or "to eliminate") operations.

"On February 18th, 1942, large numbers of Chinese were driven from their homes and assembled at designated mass screening centers. Many were unjustly accused of involvement in anti-Japanese activities, or arbitrarily condemned."

Unofficial figures place the number of those killed by the Japanese at around 50,000.

Next I went to the City Hall building. It is a beautifully designed area. Right in front of the City Hall building is The Padang ("flat field") which is a beautifully well kept park meant for sports and civic events.

It was at the City Hall building where Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew proclaimed Singapore as an independent state from the British on June 5th of 1959. Singapore was then merged into Malaysia on September 16th of 1963. But then Singapore separated from Malaysia and became its own self-governing country on August 9th, 1965.

Also of note: It was at the City Hall building where the British accepted the surrender of the Japanese on September 12th 1945.

The City Hall building was finished in 1929 and was used as the official office of the Municipal Council. This building was also the home of the Prime Minister's Office. Today though the City Hall building is occupied by the Supreme Court, the Singapore Academy of Law, the Public Service Commission and the Industrial Arbitration Court.

At the southern end of The Padang stands the Singapore Cricket Club, which is also known as "the Jewel of the Padang". The Club was established in 1852 and women were no admitted into the Club until 1861. During the Battle for Singapore in February of 1942 the Club was turned into a temporary hospital. Then after the British surrendered on February 15th of 1942 it was then used only by the Japanese officers as a restaurant and bar.

Finally, after World War II all ethnic groups were permitted to join the Club as members. Today it has an international and multi-racial membership.

I spent a good chunk of time at the Asian Civilizations Museum (it is just behind the Cricket Club). It was at the museum where I learned a bit about Singapore's history and its importance for trade between East and West and why it, as a small island, is so full of so many different ethnic groups.

China-India-West Asia Trade: There has always been a constant flow of boat traffic between the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean for the past 2,000 years. It was through the Straits of Melaka that ships bound for either China or India would pass and as a result the tip of the Malay Peninsula was loaded with various stopping ports for ships that sought shelter from the monsoon rains and storms, or to trade with locals and other passing merchants.

Over time the Straits of Melaka became an incredibly important route for acquiring exotic commodities valued by the cosmopolitan elite of China, Arabia, and as far as the Mediterranean. Because of this islands like Singapore became a meeting and settling point for scores of Chinese, Arabs, and Indians merchants and Malay traders.

Control of the trade routes led to the rise and fall of several successive maritime empires all the way up to the 16th century.

Also interesting and of note: Malay became the lingua franca for all these sea-faring merchants sailing and trading through these routes.

Originally Singapore was called "Temasek" which simply means "sea town". Later when Singapore came under the control of a Malay kingdom was its name changed to Singapura.

In 1511 the Portuguese conquered Singapore and thus ended the maritime empires. When they burned the Singapore settlement down in 1613 Singapore fell into maritime obscurity until the famed Stamford Ruffles arrived in 1819, developing it into a major sea port for the British Empire.

During the time after 1819 there were Chinese, Arabs, Indians, and Malays all living and working together. It was in this time that Opium became incredibly popular among all classes and races for it offered "sweet relief" from the tiring work days on the sea ports, etc.

It is estimated that a third of the Chinese "adult" population were addicted to Opium by the mid 19th century. Thus making Opium a lucrative commodity for the British government. "Opium was expensive. A worker could spend up to two-thirds of his wages on it." The drug was officially abolished in 1910.

One thing that I found interesting about this developing time in Singapore were the Chinese Secret Societies. The largest gangs were the Ghee Hin and the Ghee Hoch. They were also known as "the triads". These gangs preyed on those newly arrived Chinese migrant workers to Singapore by offering them "friendship, protection, and an identity". Although these secret societies were outlawed in 1889 they're presence was still felt especially in the "brothels, gambling, houses, opium dens (which they effectively ran) and in the lighter and godown trade, from which they collected "protection money"".

Members of the different gangs could identify themselves by caring a membership token.

After the museum I took a bought ride along the Singapore river which I believe is only about 4 km in length but was very important during the heavy trade period of Singapore in the 19th and early 20th century.

The Singapore river is lined with a tremendous number of pubs and restaurants catering mostly to the expatriot community based in Singapore. These restaurants, which are all colorfully painted, is right next to the heart of the financial district of Singapore.

From there I walked into Chinatown. To be honest I didn't find this area very impressive. It was full of tourist shops. There were plenty of curious Chinese shops selling ginseng roots and other traditional medicines but overall it was nothing I cared for visually. The one cool thing though was too see Chinatown mixed with the old colonial architecture of the area. All these old colonial buildings were converted to Chinese shops and so forth so that was a bit odd and humorous to see.

From there I searched high and low for the Colonial district but here again it seems like it has disappeared. I was hoping to see old colonial buildings, and I did . . . a few, but really all there was there were more shopping stores and tourist shops and so forth.

I forgot to mention. In the early afternoon I went to Ruffles Hotel. It is in the heart of the city and very pleasant to walk through. The entire hotel is in the old colonial architectural style. It is a wonderful and romantic hotel with tremendous history. Many famed politicians, artists, musicians, actors, have stayed at this hotel. If you can afford it it is definitely a place to stay for at least for one night. For all those soon to be married couple out there consider spending your honeymoon in Singapore. This island is ideal for the rich. It is modern, safe, expensive, loaded with so many exotic restaurants, and shops that it really is a playground for couples who are well off and seeking a bit of paradise paired with convenience and loads of shopping.

I know that my father would love this place.

A must to do in Singapore - it is very romantic so I highly recommend it to all the couples who are in Singapore or planning a trip here - is the Night Safari.

The Night Safari is to the north of the island. It is in the Upper Pierce Reservoir. The Safari opens at 7:30 and closes at midnight. The hole experience is done at night. It is very exciting and romantic and pleasant. There are trails within the Night Safari that you can walk and there is a Tram that you can ride on as well. Within this Night Safari I saw the endangered Indian Rhino (there are only 2,000 of them left), the Gir Lion (also known as the Asian Lion - Panthera leo persica) which is also highly endangered for there are only 250 individuals left in the wild Gir forest of India. I also saw the Clouded Leopard (Neofelis nebulosa). "It is the only living saber-toothed cat. It has the longest canines in proportion to skull size. It is endangered due to poaching and habitat destruction". I also saw two Leopards which only hunt after dark. They coolest thing about the Nigh Safari were the fruit bats. They were kept in this enclosed walking path that you obviously can walk through. The bats are completely harmless but they are HUGE!!! I, to be very honest, was scared. They were all within touching distance. Some were hanging above me and some just before me. I can not describe how exciting the experience was. They were honestly huge. From head to toe they were probably a meter and a half. And they're wing span was probably 2 meters or so. I saw only fly right along the path. If I was in its way I would have probably screamed. I highly recommend the Night Safari and definitely go and see the bats :)

Good night ;)

Sunday, April 04, 2004

April 4th, 2004
During breakfast at my motel in Seoul I met two German musicians who had just wrapped up playing at a music festival in the south of South Korea. We talked a bit about jazz and I answered a few of their questions about the music scene in Tokyo. Then I had to get ready to catch my bus to the airport.

While walking to the bus stop I saw the same two Germans that I met during breakfast waiting at the airport bus stop. The three of us took the bus to the airport together and along the way we chatted about the curiosities that we found in Korea.

My flight left Seoul at about 1:05 p.m. The flight was pleasant and uneventful. Then about 6 hours later I looked out the window and saw a glorious deep blue ocean and clouds fading in color from a bright white into a light gray. It looked as if there was a tropical storm a brewing.

About half an hour later we arrived at the airport in Singapore. I grew excited as we flew just above Malaysia in our approach to Singapore. The land was a lush tropical green. And there were palm trees!!! I finally felt like my journey was beginning. Korea was a bit cold and not a very exotic difference from my life in Japan. But here in Singapore I found paradise. A place where my travels, adventures, and leisures could finally begin.

The airport was extremely modern and clean. It was like being back in Japan. On a timeline I would place Tokyo in the future. Tokyo is perhaps what life in New York will be like in 2010 A.D. Traveling from Japan to Korea was like going from the future into the present of 2004 A.D. Then flying to Singapore and arriving at their airport was like going back into the future year of 2010 A.D.

The train (MRT subway) again was extremely clean and heavily lacking in advertisements that were screaming for you attention. As I sat waiting for the subway to finally depart from the airport terminal I saw a sign that said:

No Smoking - Fine $1,000
No Eating or Drinking - Fine$1,500
No Flammable Liquids/Gas - Fine $5,000

As you may or may not know Singapore is extremely strict. Anyone caught distributing or carrying any illegal drugs is given the penalty of death. Gum and obviously chewing it is illegal here. As you can imagine of such draconian laws and penalties Singapore is an extremely safe country.

Well, after reading that warning sign on the subway I turned and looked and saw a junior high school girl eating Burger King and drinking some cold drink from Starbucks on the train. Odd, I thought. She must not know or care about being caught and fined $500 Singapore dollars for illegally eating and drinking on the subway.

After checking into my hostel (The Inn Crowd) I took a stroll around Dunlop street and its surrounding areas. I quickly discovered that my hostel was actually located in the heart of Little India. There were Indian men by the thousands shopping and talking in all directions on every street. There were food markets and food stalls open and selling their fresh goods. It was amazing to see so many Indian men everywhere. Where were the women? Did all these Indian men spring up from the ground? Do they not have female counterparts that bears their children? I kept searching and looking and failed to see any Indian women. The scene reminded me very much of Morocco where the streets and cafe's are the domain of men. What also reminded me of Morocco were the Indian men who were holding each others arms and hands. In Morocco it is not uncommon to see men showing their friendship to each other by holding each others hands. I assume that this act and its meaning is the same here in Little India of Singapore. And although there were men in all directions completely surrounding me none of them bothered me. No one came up to me asking for something or trying to be my tour guide. They all simply let me walk in peace and observe.

This experience was an amazing one for me. I am American raised by South American parents whose roots trace back to Europe. I have friends from Israel and have experienced a bit of Islamic culture in Morocco. I have lived in Japan and know a bit about Asia but India I do not know anything about. Indian culture is a completely exotic one to me. And as you can imagine my curiosity has grown in leaps and bounds about India. Especially when I came across an Indian temple in Little India. I never in my life have ever seen an Indian/Hindu temple. I don't understand it or what one is supposed to do within it. The Temple was amazing from the outside. All along the walls to its apex were small statues (hundreds of them) painted colorfully. There were statues of humans and exotic Indian gods in different stages of a story, or series of stories, from what I could tell. Shoes, or sandals rather, littered the three walkways leading up to the temple entrance. Again, I only saw men entering the temple. When they walked or left they would ring one of the several bells that hung from the main entrance doors. What I saw inside was totally amazing and completely unknown to my eyes. Men were carrying a highly decorated statue and rocking it from side to side in the rhythm of the music that was being played live inside. The music would speed up at times and the men would quicken their rocking motions accordingly. At the center of the temple was a pillar. I saw several men bowing and then laying their entire bodies on the floor before it. It was an awesome sight. It was exactly what I have been looking for. Something exotic, something that I have never seen before.

After filming the temple a bit and taking a couple of pictures I continued walking around the many streets of little India. I eventually sat down at an outdoor Indian restaurant for some chicken masala curry and garlic nan bread. I am sorry to report that I was actually not impressed by the food. My curry was over loaded with who knows what. There is a hole-in-the-wall Indian curry shop in Ikebukuro, Tokyo that holds the record, according to me, of cooking up the "best" Indian curry and nan.

Later that night I found a street sign that explained the following:

"Serangoon Road - built in 1905.

"A humble bird used to inhabit the muddy banks of the old Serangoon River. The Malay villagers called it Rangongi; the Europeans knew it as the Marabou Stork. From this feathered creature, the river and, later, Serangoon Road, got their names.

"Serangoon Road is now one of the many main arterial roads that slice through Singapore, but when it was first built it stood as the only road that cut across the island. Early Indian immigrants gravitated here. Mostly milkmen and cattle traders, they were drawn by the natural pastures, fed by the waters of Rochler Canal.

"Lime was also found here, giving rise to a brick-manufacturing industry. The Indians who worked here in the numerous brick kilns that used to line Serangoon Road called the area "Village of Lime." Over time, a thriving Indian community developed, which engaged in an array of different occupations, including gold-trading, astrology, tattoo artistry, tailoring and money-lending. Places of worship, like the Sri Veeramakaliamman and Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temples, and the Angullia and Abdul Gafoor Mosques were built. With the passage of time Serangon became known as Singapore's traditional Indian quarters - Little India."

Time to go ;)