A tribute to... vindication

Alright, I guess I do happen to have some time on my hands now that I've finished another topic and don't want to start on another one so late...

I was vaguely thinking about putting up more narratives about my life. Like, oh!, today I bought a frying pan and a microwaveable pot at Takashimaya because crockery is so shiny and there's the Great Singapore Sale and I have an additional 10% discount! But unfortunately I wasn't on the lookout for any interesting details which would interest my imaginary audience. Oh I bought a suitcase too! Right, all set then.

I was watching Steven Gerrard lifting the cup again and I guess he's going to stay because well, he realised it's wonderful to win the Champion's League with your boyhood club. What a difference winning makes! How wonderful it is to be vindicated... as manager who's failed at the final twice, as a crappy goalkeeper, whatever... It's so sweet to win when you're down and out... And it seems that it all comes down to those 120 minutes in the final, enough to redeem a frankly disappointing Premiership season.

And then life's like that isn't it... It's wonderful to be proven right... in moments. I don't know. To be saved by someone, something. oh god stoppit please ok i was just being sentimental.

and i think i will buy a webcam for jr. i don't know. i am starting to miss people very very much.


Howay ye lads

Howay ye lads
Originally uploaded by ButzBE.
When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Tho' your dreams be tossed and blown
Walk on, walk on
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone


Better than sex. (You'll never walk alone.)

I guess the stage was set... before the match... why should Liverpool win? They've hardly been the best team all season, although their attitude in getting results in Europe is certainly commendable. Add to that AC Milan are seasoned winners of trophies with robotic precision. But I respect Benitez for finally achieving his dream... failing twice with Valencia to get this prize, and trying again with what many would consider a lesser team (Traore has a Champ's League Medal!)

We decided to catch the match at M.I.A (Made in Anfield), the recently relocated LFC fan club at UE Square. I was wearing a yellow replica kit from the 97-98 season kindly loaned by Kevin. The atmosphere was raucous... dance music, freeflow drinks... but it did seem a little tacky for a football match... you know... i would have liked hot dogs and balloons. Still... there were hot babes prancing around in nothing and cheesy music and lots and lots of Carlsberg.

6 hours before the match begins. 6 hours to wait... we got to know the Liverpool fans around us...

And then the match happened... the class and composure of Milan told as they scored the goal they promised to get in the 1st 3 minutes. The way Liverpool played was... well as usual uninspiring when they've formed up with bad tactics and a little like kangaroos and headlights. don't go together. shevchenko and kaka rightly shredded us apart. there it is. 3-0 down at half time.

okay... the place emptied... plenty of people left... i was thinking, lets just play for pride, just show we deserve to be in the final, and maybe we really don't deserve it because we're not champions of england. still... i felt gutted... supported liverpool since young, don't know what it means, but i sure know how it feels... visceral.

had to stay on... could never have forgiven myself if i left, if i missed something... and i got more than i bargained for. 75 more minutes of pure torture wondering if we would make it. 3-0, 3-1, 3-2, 3-3... it all seemed to be adding up... what with the sheer heart of them... you can't deny they worked their socks off... as legs were streched with cramp and carragher throwing himself and mopping the floor with his jersey to cut out passes.

that's why liverpool will never walk alone... it felt as if the kop kept the ball out when dudek made a double save...and with all the penalties... penalties are a lottery... but... having lost out to this lottery before, and ancelottie benefiting from it... i guess... it would have been a heartbreak for benitez to be 3rd time unlucky.

nothing i say changes anything. i was there. 13 years in the making for me. 1st time i see what it's like.


Big brother's watching you.

As much as I respect the media for giving us information and fun stuff in life, I think it is like having a voice... be careful about using it too much.

4th column, whatever... from a personal point of view, it sometimes pays to keep your mouth shut.

Now fuck me if I break this.

In order to solve the general problem of apathy regarding the institution of lunch, induced by working irregular hours, I hereby resolve to correct my general boredom with the state of take-out food in the Bukit Timah area by making my own lunch from now on, and I pray that I may keep to this resolution, for once.


More stuff for my home

Originally uploaded by ButzBE.
You got to give it to them, they got good artists.

What I would pay for one of these.

Originally uploaded by ButzBE.

Originally uploaded by ButzBE.
"You say you want a revolution, well, you know.

We all want to change the world.

You say you'll change the constitution, well, you know.

You'd best free your mind instead

If you go carry pictures of Chairman Mao.

You ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow.

You know it's gonna be, all right
It's gonna be all right"

-Revolution, John Lennon
Other stuff in Saigon, which I shall not put in prose.

-Eating pho at pho 2000, where Bill Clinton had his bowl. Well. Wasn't that great.

- Buying really cheap dri-fit clothing

- Sipping coffee at Trung Nguyen, reading Robert McNamara's "In Retrospect."

- Visiting the War Remnants museum, seeing all those "Solidarity with Vietnam" posters from Japan, Germany and all of them... really colourful.
Saigon and its environs.

Step into the post office at Ho Chi Minh city ("Buu Dien") and you will see that Vietnam is a huge place. Well, it says so on the map.

Nearer to town though, there were a couple of things we wanted to see... First up was a trip to Tay Ninh province, which meant going back a bit of the way we came from and a bit more up north. We'd be going to the town of, well, Tay Ning, to the Cao Dai Holy See.

Around this time, another Holy See on the other side of the world was buzzing with excitement. Pope Benedict XVI had just been elected, and I was informed thanks to our well-informed guide who happened to be a Catholic. He also happened to be a veteran of the South Vietnamese Army and spoke good English, and you could tell why the Americans wanted him as an interpreter.

Cao Daism, well, is supposed to be a monotheistic religion which worships the eye, like the one behind the US 1 dollar bill. And all the major religious figured in the world today form various tiers of God's messengers, for example, Buddha and Jesus were in one era, Prophet Muhammad in the next and so on. The guy who created the religion, the first pope of Cao Dai, happened to be someone who was really well versed in languages and read extensively across religious and philosophical influences. They built a tomb for him, but it's empty because the body happens to be somewhere else.

These influences show in the architecture of the temples, part mosque-like with its patterns... yet with a Christian-like altar, incense... and the works. Its devotees tend to be of a slightly older age group, where, as our guide said, they have rather more time for contemplation and preparation for what lies ahead... and hey... if you're facing a hard time choosing, why not Cao Daism?

The rituals were rather noisy, and not really contemplative... and plenty of chanting. But I really like their temple wardens, who were really mild-mannered, friendly, and polite, even when telling hordes of tourists who didn't really listen to them which way to go and not to go across the parade square.

I like the painting they have of a certain Vietnamese poet, Victor Hugo, and Sun Yat Sen scribing "Dieu et Humanite, Amour et Justice" "God and Man, Love and Justice"... it's like... man they worship everyone.

After lunch, we made the trip down to Cu Chi... where the famed tunnel complexes were. On the way, our guide made clear many of the intricacies of the conflict, explaining the differences between the South Vietnamese Army, the Armed Revolutionary Forces of Vietnam and the Vietcong. He told us many lies were told to Vietnamese on both sides, that they were fighting for freedom, and that many in the Vietcong simply thought they were fighting for a free and unified Vietnam, not a communist one. He told us how he hoped Vietnam, with peace now, will learn how to prosper... and told of his experiences in jungle re-education camps with hard labour... really did put things in perspective... and he exhorted us, the young people, to love peace and make a new world... you know, inspiring stuff. his 15 minutes of fame.

The tunnels in Cu Chi have really small entrances...well the real ones anyway... the rest of them are quite huge and I could wander through them pretty easily. There's a huge assortment of spikes and booby traps (nasty) and displays of how hardworking peasants would reclaim scrap metal from dud American bombs.

Something particularly interesting was the introductory video... which tiraded against the "American imperialism" and "brave female peasants taking up arms" and how the "poor innocent villagers were victims of policies made 4000 miles away in Washington D.C", all said in a very earnest, Vietnamese accented English voice with little or no sense of irony. Really interesting.

I've always been really influenced by "Apocalypse Now" when it comes to the Vietnam war... ... Americans dropping bombs on villages to the tune of Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries"... soldiers treating the war as a joke and all... hmm, sad.

We returned to Saigon in the evening, and with the sun-setting, and quickly approaching our hotel, he pointed out his old French missionary school which gave him a Western education... the view of which was blocked by construction on the new Saigon Commercial Centre, which, as seems to be the case in many developing cities, seems to be delayed forever. It complicates things when you're in a Communist country and so much red tape exists and they can even take the land back any time they want to. Oh well.


The next day, I woke up at the insane hour of 4 am... and so did Alex... because the sun rises really early in Vietnam and they have sunrise mass at 5 am. Apparently, Saigon is full of early risers... good work there. "Zao shui zao qi shen ti hao."

People exercising, 2 cops chasing each other!?, and we had an early roadside drink from a shop which had barely opened. I attended mass, which was in Vietnamese but thanks to the uniformity of the Catholic masses, I could make out a bit of the sequence of the mass. We explored early morning Vietnam (Good Morning Vietnam!), people slowly getting to work, setting up shop, arranging newspapers for distribution. We explored the stadium area, which had a mini "Queensway" for cheap sports goods and apparel. We tried to find a coffeeshop but none opened that early. Also had really sweet soya bean milk. Return the bottle of course (I love the bottle culture. Coke in a bottle always tastes better.)

We also had tried the staple, pho. In my opinion, the stall we ate at had the best pho in all Vietnam... and it was near Pham Ngu Lao. I had an interesting stew type one but Alex's traditional version tasted really good (maybe I'm just a sucker for pepper)... or perhaps it was just something new that stunned us.
It is at night and I am not sure if I should continue on to Saigon. Part of me wants to play Warcraft 3, the other part wants to sleep (although I have no want of it at all), just so that I can set my body clock straight and get up early to work tomorrow.

Meanwhile, indecision means, continue!

Getting there

At Moc Bai... the Vietnamese had a spanking new immigration complex which made us go "wow"... this is their new found prosperity.

First. You don't need a freaking visa to enter Vietnam... not even if you have an Indonesian passport... apparently it's 30 days for everyone... not 14! *mutter*

I had completely no dong on me. It was 37 degrees or so... real hot season stuff... the guide on the bus was really nice... speaking earnest English... salt of the earth kind... in general.. I would come to have that impression of the South Vietnamese, mostly honest people trying to make a decent living.

We arrived in Saigon earlier than expected... as the roads in Vietnam were much better. We headed off to the backpacker's district at Pham Ngu Lao. Now... most of the cities in Vietnam would have the same recurring street names (well isn't that the case in many countries anyway).

We got a decent room, and we started to explore the city. I was looking for a church considering I hadn't been to one since I went on the trip... there was a nice one outside the area... and Vietnam is 10% Catholic, thanks to the French, so I didn't really have trouble finding one.

Saigon is absolutely bustling! Plenty of motorbikes... and you know those pictures with girls in ao dais scooting around are not fake! Schoolgirls wear them in Vietnam, and they're incredibly sexy!

Also... plenty of Communist posters around... in preparation for, wait, guess what, the 30th anniversary of the liberation of Saigon.

We went to the Central market at Ben Thanh and also did some minor shopping... I changed some dong, which gave me a false sense of wealth... considering I was a millionaire in that currency. We were also afraid of bird flu, so we tried not to eat anything with chicken in it.

We checked out the Reunification Palace, the gates of which were rolled over by a North Vietnamese tank in a grandiose act of symbolism in 1975. Saigon was also full of parks... and little lovebirds all around... I got a sense that the standard of living, in the sense of amenities was pretty good in this city... not another shitty claustrophobic city which I though Bangkok was. We also went to the Notre Dame (the Vietnamese Incarnation)... nice architecture, but all the stained glass got blown away.

We walked all the way to the waterfront too... but the Saigon river was pretty unimpressive. However, there was an impressive statue of Tran Hung Dao, who, according to Lip Jin, was a really smart navy chap who repelled Chinese invaders with bamboo stakes in the 15th century... and thus they named a street next to a sea or river after him in every major city in Vietnam.

Originally uploaded by ButzBE.

Originally uploaded by ButzBE.

Bangkok traffic

Originally uploaded by ButzBE.

I fell a little sick in Phnom Penh... under the weather.

Phnom Penh is a really nice city to walk in... well apart from the fact that it's blazing hot... there are all these wide promenades which are not chock-full with cars (although, admittedly it was a public holiday). Still, I really doubted if the streets would ever be full because they're really wide.

We walked past the Embassy district, down to exotic sounding roads like Blvd Charles de Gaulle, Norodom Blvd and Mao Tse-Toung Blvd. We also saw a massive independence memorial commemorating independence... near which we found a nice restaurant with the best fruit juice.

Went to the supermarket (seemed to be the only one in town), and also found a betting store... where it was tempting to bet on the match for the night. The city never once gave me the impression that it was a very poor city, and perhaps the fact that it is not really faced yet with urban overcrowding (I believe it's 1 million in the city) really did mean the city still retained a bit of its charm.

An interesting highlight was the Tuol Sleng museum of torture, where Pol Pot had one of his concentration camps, or at least interrogation centre. Now we happened to be in the city on the 17th of April, which happened to be the 30th anniversary of the "liberation" of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge...

The camp, which was once a high school, looked normal enough, well apart from the barbed wire surrounding it. It is a little spooky, in the way old high schools are spooky. I must say that the displays and the explanations were really good, and they really did try to convey a sense of "never again". You could see the faces of all the poor victims and the horrible instruments of torture which were used... I've never been to Auschwitz or Belsen... but I'm sure you can't compare the scale of horror like that.

We also went to the "killing fields", at Choeung Ek... but by then I guess it didn't really strike us... not the tower of skulls... or the sites where they bludgeoned people to death... because at Tuol Sleng, they had really touching stories and in the end... it's the story which matters... the stories of lives, because if you just display dead skulls they're just skulls... you never knew what was in them.

Phnom Penh at night was also really cool... we perhaps stumbled upon a bar district, which looked pretty sedate, because many places are still closed because of Hun Sen's ban on certain nightspots (after people started shooting each other). We didn't encounter anything really bad, although probably in other spots in the city there would be the red light district with the child prostitution and all that.

I must commend our guest house, "The Last Home", for their tremendous hospitality, their lovely little cafe where I could sit and read... lovely drinks and food... and we did share a bond! They loved watching Singaporean Chinese drama serials. Yay! We're exporting our culture.

We also got some good advice which told us to take the bus straight to Saigon (I prefer that name), via Bavet and Moc Bai. Originally I did want to take the boat crossing into Chau Doc to see what the Mekong Delta was all about (you know, great river and all), but we were advised that the Mekong was just some muddy water and it was low-water season anyway.

We continued down NH6 to Bavet... and we got a bit of the "Wild West", no-man's land experience there...

On the way we managed to cross the Mekong too! We got onto a ro-ro(roll-on roll-off) partially sponsored by the Danish government, which our bus drove on to, together with hundred of other Cambodians... well, the Mekong is a muddy river, but it's a really wide one...

Originally uploaded by ButzBE.
Let's be havin' it? No... they're baggin it.
Baggies bag it.

Congratulations to West Bromwich Albion for pulling off a minor miracle and staying in the English Premiership.

This weekend has actually given me more passion than I've ever felt in recent matches... football can get a little predictable sometimes... or focusing too much on the top teams... it's nice to see good ol' scrappin and emotion on the final day which we haven't seen in recent seasons. Best season since '94-'95, when Blackburn did it on the final day of the season... made me feel like paying footy for a living again.


The Tonle Sap/ Sisowath Quay

The Tonle Sap/ Sisowath Quay
Originally uploaded by ButzBE.

We had another morning in Siem Reap before we left for Phnom Penh, which we dutifully took to explore the Old Market (Psar Chaa)... I wasn't interested in the textiles and the merchandise, though I did take some photos... but what we found was cheap food! Plain baguettes for 200 riel, Cambodian tau sar piah and assorted dishes with rice.

Our bus would leave at noon. We finally left Angkor Green, which wasn't the best hotel in the world... i mean they forced us out of our room into another one the morning we were to leave for Angkor.

The small bus brought us to the big terminal where the big bus was. It was a whole bazaar of people, and many other people were heading to Phnom Penh, apparently, not just tourists like us. It was a huge bus, as promised, with toilet, just like the huge ones in Taiwan which play CDs and DVDs, except this particular bus played Cambodian comedy shows... didn't get much... I know roughly that they made jokes with a Cambodian guy pretending to be Carlos Santana and saying "I am Carlos Santana" and "love" and other simple words in the only English he knew, while they all laughed in Khmer.

At one of the rest stops one of the women from the bus got off to get some fried spider... traditional Cambodian hospitality meant she offered some to Alex... who bit the legs off with glee... I think its spider, I took a photo.

The roads sucked... more potholes and dirt, but slightly better than Hwy 6... I think we were on Hwy 1. We drove into Phnom Penh as the sun set... across the Japanese bridge spanning the Tonle Sap and driving down, dropping us at the Central Bus Terminal... we had a little walk and found a guesthouse "The Last Home", which was one of the first ones we looked at... but it had a really big room and we were happy with it so we took it.

Phnom Penh is another place with wide boulevards and vestiges of French colonial architecture... it was also full of honking motorbikes because, guess what, it's New Year too, and they have water in it... so we still had to be careful. We strolled down Sisowath quay, a lovely waterside promenade... we were also looking for "Happy Pizza" to be happy people!

We ate some and got some pizza back where we would relax at our balcony with a TV! There was also a low beam coming down from the ceiling which Lip would periodically walk into, upon which he'd fall on the bed and start writhing. The toilet was also interesting, as Alex said he could see cockroaches fucking.

It was soccer then, and a Jean-Claude Van Damme B-grade movie on Star Movies, together with shitty pizza that made you feel sleepy. Life.

Originally uploaded by ButzBE.

Face to face

Face to face
Originally uploaded by ButzBE.

T-shirt says it all.

T-shirt says it all.
Originally uploaded by ButzBE.


A break from the usual programming

Alright, this is not about the trip. I'm sorry... trip updates have to wait.

I was at 'Diagnostic Radiology' this afternoon, waiting for an expert to pass judgement on me. Red light on, red light off. Please do not enter when the red light is on, with a big menacing radiological sign on the door. I like the name of that 'diagnostic radiology'. It is part of the millions of phrases that dance around my head, reminding me i am alive and i am living in a world of labels.

The resident radiologist didn't look local, but she was friendly and professional. She would tell me if I was ok. And I was.

I go through moods ocasionally, triggered by conversation with like-minded souls while watching the world go by, where you can take a step back and ask yourself questions. oh no, not more self reflection!

i'm perhaps too closed and never speak my mind, maybe always diplomatic answers. yes i have plenty of inhibitions, i'm not my own person sometimes and i can't say "fuck the rest of you all, i'm going it my way."

but deep down (ah yes, geography of the heart now isn't it?), where as commonly believed the core radiates with an inner heat, i know i really hate some things, and find many others laughable or pitiful. i'm building on those long bus rides overnights where you realise the same thoughts in your life keep recurring, and i'm sorry if it's boring but i'm afraid it's going to have to dominate your agenda?

if i open it up, and i show you "principles." it isn't pretty. principles are sometimes ugly on the outside. you can take mine and poke little holes into it, or hang it out to the sun to dry, where it becomes a raisin?
(what happens to a dream deferred?)

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

And if you want me to be honest then yes there's so much I have to hate about the world today. Langston Hughes, thank you. To all the bad people in the world, who I have so hated and not said anything about:

I hate it that people can do so much wrong and get away with it. No, i'm not even talking about big oil or big industry exploiting workers or any of that bullshit. I hate it that things are so impermanent, ephemeral (fuck not that word again), that so much bullshit goes under the cover of individualism and making the most out of life, that you take these excuses without the quotation marks and put it through that meat grinder of a brain together with your morality until you start dripping in your self-centredness.

me me me. fuck.

i hate money, not because it makes you rich, but just because you think you have it you can bury me in lawyers and what not and i could never touch you. no i'm not broke either. i know i would just hate it if you used all that extra money you had to fuck around with me.

i hate these words which will betray me to serve another more beguiling master who will use it to cover their lack of substance.

i hate people who mess around with people and think they can get away with it because they're young and it's okay because they're supposed to be stupid when they're young.

i don't mind if you mess around with yourself though. doesn't concern me.

urgh. i hate all the SHIT that is sold in this world. i hate hip-hop, people being "true to the music", and people who tell other people that they should be free. individualism, fuck off? who're you asking to be free? in fact, i'm going to be an adolescent party-pooper and scream FAKE!!!!

i talk to so many people and i just respect some of them but gosh some of them just infuriate me.

in the end... what is life? did you will yourself to be born into the world? no? so why is this life yours and what right does it give you to fuck around with others? responsibility free?

i can't... i just can't... ghosts say: be like me, who roam the world, who take from the world but give nothing to it.

be a ghost, floating around. that's responsibility free.


Stairway to heaven

Originally uploaded by ButzBE.

i am finally going to add photos to my blog. i think.


We ate at a Chinese restaurant, having not had much food, it wasn't that cheap, food wasn't great, but we hadn't had lunch and dinner and it was 10 at night. Alex got his cheap beer and all was great.

We decided to cycle to Angkor the next day, renting some bikes for a dollar each. The traffic was full of motorbikes, but after adjusting to the pace and learning how to cross junctions, it was fine. From our area, Psar Chaa (Old Market) in Siem Reap, we would cycle by the river, Stung Siem Reap, down the Blvd Charles De Gaulle... past the opulent hotels, the Grand Hotel D'Angkor, Le Meridien etc... the riverfront was pleasant... lined with lamps left over from colonial times, and there were still buildings in the French colonial style. Admission to Angkor was 20 USD for a day, and we decided to pay for that and not 3 days as we needed to move on soon. We got ourselves some riel to pay for little things. Inside... we still had a few more kilometres to cover, but it was tree-lined with good roads... we finally hit the dirt track and our first glimpse of the famous moat... it was amazing.

Now Angkor of course, is filled with tourists, being a famous temple just like Borobudur in Indonesia... but it didn't feel as if it was swarming with touts... we parked and locked our bikes just outside Angkor Wat itself. Many of the visitors were Khmer or Thai, and perhaps we missed the busloads of tourists by arriving a little later... it was really majestic, and you could imagine that kings strolled through the fields and forests... and the strategic addition of donkeys and horses added to the rustic feeling. From the outside, the silhouette of Angkor is stunning, but what's amazing are the carvings up close.

Inside the temple, which is restored, of course, not in its original state, there are numerous corridors and windows, which are themselves lined with colonnades and pillars. Some parts are dark, and a sudden streak of light from a hole can seem almost holy. There were statues of Buddha, yet the carving was predominantly of Hindu figures, like Tanah Lot in Bali. There were garudas, devas, asuras, apsaras and everything. Especially apsaras, who are dancing nymphs. Angkor Wat is roughly symmetrical... and there are huge murals on each side... in fact 3 on each face. There was the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, where the gods and demons fought over an elixir of immortality in the sea, using the giant serpent as a tug-of-war rope.

We adjourned for lunch, then cycled north to the Bayon. Now Angkor has this really "theme park" feel, but not in a bad way... I mean... it's such a huge complex, with so many temples, and each has its own attraction... and the large dust paths make and open fields make it look open and huge. And it's also lined with forest. The Bayon is another temple, with various faces of Avalokitesvara, whoever that is. It's also grand. Gosh, I'm out of words. We went to the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King, which sound really grand, but it's really nice terraces decorated with elephants.

In Angkor you get the feeling that archaeology is alive and ongoing, as you see various sites closed, as temples are currently being rebuilt or restored by archaeological teams from around the world... like China and Germany... we say Phnom Bakheng... where they filmed Tomb Raider and trees grew wild among the ruins.

We cycled back towards town at around 6... along the way, I saw the first p�t� baguette for just 1000 riel! It was wrapped in paper and behind there would be lists of common infectious diseases and ticks indicating what the said patient was suffering from, taken from the nearby hospital... hmmm.

at night, there was a "big religious debate" fuelled by the book "history of god".

Next: Phnom Penh
We decided to get the tickets the next day and we'd then be able to get off from Bangkok earlier than scheduled. And the train tickets were really cheap and would save us plenty!

The next day we crammed into one tuk-tuk to Hualamphong, it's amazing how they can cram four of us and 4 backpacks... (I've seen them do 8 people before) For once the streets of Bangkok were deserted, and I guess I'll always remember the traffic... I remember taking a photo of it from the overhead bridge...

The night before we headed to the World Trade Centre, a rather more expensive place near the Amari hotel with DFS and all that... I had some doughnuts, something which Singapore sorely lacks.

I love trains because rail lines always cut across the geography of the country... and you see the urban giving way to the rural... from Bangkok, where developments or slums srpind out on both sides of the track... to tracts of cultivated land. We had no idea what we paid for... and the reason the tickets were so cheap were because we were in 3rd class carriages... being train novices, having previously experiences only sleeper class on the S'pore-KL express... we lunged around having coffee at the train station before boarding the train to Aranyaprathet 10 minutes prior to departure at 5.55 am. It was a first-come-first-served carriage though, with limited seats... so we had to stand... but luckily we had some good standing seats where we could sit on the window-sill and look out.

And so it chugged away... I love the sound... and where we were, most of the occupants were Thai. There was a girl doing a Thai crossword puzzle and possibly it was her daily commute. She struck up rather nice conversation with another Thai youth on the train and probably made another friend. We would speed past the provinces of Chacheoengsao, stop at the provincial capital of Prachinburi... and these people with fruits and snacks would board the train at intervals to peddle stuff... and we could see that some had finished their weekly marketing and were returning to their rather more isolated homes. It was a 6 hour ride as the train was about 40 minutes off schedule... the terrain was really flat and unspectacular... but full of rural flavour, off to Sa Kaeo province where we finally got seats... and we tried to learn the Thai script by matching it with English names for the train stations.

At Aranyaprathet, we linked up with a couple from New Zealand to share tuk-tuks... it was a short ride to the border bridge... where we saw a huge and overwhelming QUEUE.

No problem. We're Singaporeans what. We got some water, I asked someone in the middle how long they'd waited. An hour. Alright.

Wait wait wait in the hot sun. 1 hour...2....3, the crowd would move forward in sudden surges during which I would suddenly feel the threat of stampede. There was a Thai Chinese family next to us speaking Teochew, I think, and they could understand a bit of Chinese. They were here to go to Poipet, to gamble. Well, more precisely, the casinos were located in no-man's land in between the two countries... apparently a Singaporean owns one of them. It was a horrible wait... we finally got into the air-conditioned immigration office at around 5 pm. There were what seems to me some sex tourists discussing their exploits behind us... which rather discomforted me... the time allowed us to strike up some casual conversation with English backpackers.

As we drew closer to the immigration booths, part of the reason dawned on us. "Sorry for the inconvenience, we are in the process of upgrading our computers." That and the large crush of people eager to flock to casinos to spend their new year's supply of luck away, lef to an insanely long wait at the border. Singapore beware!

We crossed over to no man's land where we were immediately solicited by a young man from the Cambodian side... he offered to show us what to do... bring us to the visa agent and all... he seemed rather shady and said it would cost more for a Singaporean to do a visa when we said we were Singaporeans. Eventually we found the visa agent and it would be 1000 baht for the visa, definitely cheaper than 30 USD. But we kind of regretted not doing it at Bangkok since it was on-the-spot visa registration and we didn't have sufficient baht... the local store, which charged rather high prices for water, offered us a ridiculous exchange rate of 37 baht for 1 USD... we decided to change some money with traveller who had excess baht and managed to get a marginally better rate of 38, considering that we couldn't deal in the cents... but it was better than being ripped off by a shop. What was interesting were the glitzy casinos in this place, giving no hint of the poverty on the other side of the border

The Cambodian side of the border was really high-tech, with digital cameras to capture our faces and we were cleared quickly. It was late and we didn't want to be stuck at Poipet, yet we knew transport would be expensive at this hour... we kept walking, pestered by the shady young man and managed eventually, to find a taxi that would take us there for 30 USD... of course it started at around 50 USD... but thank god he was probably making his last trip of the day... at 7.5 USD per person, along with about 3 USD for the train ticket, that made about 10 USD/person for the trip. Poipet reminded me of a Wild West town, dusty, remote, and full of dangerous people.

We were hustled by many young children begging for things, some who tried pilfering stuff from our pouches and just desperate for some money... Lip gave them 2 SGD which seemed like a novelty to them, but they'd probably try to change it for money they could use.

Our taxi driver was a decent, nice guy, didn't speak English. It was a relatively straightforward route on National Hwy 6 from Poipet to Sisophon and on to Siem Reap. That is, when we realised it was the highway. That meant no need for navigation to ensure the taxi driver wasn't bringing us to a remote Northeastern province to kill us and make off with our belongings.

He stopped for fuel just aways from Poipet which came in the form of bottles... really cute. The road was filled with potholes and his considerable skill in avoiding them showed, as he took the potholes with aplomb and impeccable technique. Clearly, he knew the road well and would save us some time. Alex wondered about the integrity of the tires and the taxi-driver said something about "Cambodian-made". Well, anything works.

Night fell soon (it falls around 5 plus throughout Indochina) and a storm soon beset us... made the road a little muddy. There was virtually no street lighting, and of course the "National Highway" was something like a Type Y track with many potholes. You found yourselves thinking that countless army rovers have driven past before. To the left and the right there wasn't much to see and you could see lightning across the plains. The countryside was devoid, sparse, lacking in trees and you found yourself thinking, god, how many mines have been lain here. You didn't know which side of the road Cambodian's drive on, (this particular one drove on the left, like in Singapore, meaning the driver's on the right.) because there was only one side of the road, and they would horn to pass and to warn oncoming vehicles... and the bridges were army-style bridges easily identified by Lip and Alex.

What added to the atmosphere were large signs (the only billboards, not much advertising in Cambodia yet) with drawings of AK-47s and other firearms, exhorting to Cambodians in what seems to be "Guns are not needed anymore." And some habitations or buldings had banners in front proclaiming "Sam Rainsy party", or "FUNCINPEC" or "Cambodian People's Party (CPP)", in English above the Khmer script. FUNCINPEC is of course a French acronym, and is the party led by Prince Ranarridh Sihanouk, whose father, Norodom is the king of Cambodia. Sam Rainsy is a trained accountant who represents the opposition in Cambodia and is slowly displacing FUNCINPEC as the main opposition party in Cambodia, since FUNCINPEC's power-sharing agreement with CPP broke down. Now of course, Hun Sen is in power, just as he was when Vietnamese forces removed the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979.

We arrived in Siem Reap safely and thank god, the storm abated. We looked for accomodation, but Siem Reap looked like some expensive town for tourists... but we did find a guesthouse in the end that was cheap enough, called Angkor Green... down a cheap alley.
Bangkok, 2nd day.

I woke up late and it was 10. Zhenliang was the earliest riser. I decided to look for him because I remember he said there was a parade in the morning... okay pretty fun, kinda like a poor man's Mardi Gras.

We then set off looking for famous duck rice... navigated, asked a few questions. Walking through Bangkok was hazardous because of people in tuk-tuks and trucks and cars with super soakers, some with flour... and I had to clean myself up at the restaurant.

Having enquired at several tour agencies about getting to Siem Reap, we decided it was rather expensive during the Songkhram period, if the buses left at all. Thought then it would be better to do it ourselves. I loved that because it meant taking the train and I love trains. Choo Choo! (Selphie I think, FF8)

Because I was stupid and I didn't see Bangkok Central on the map, and I thought eastbound trains leave from the east station, I brought everyone to Khlong Tan station in Phetburi district... sort of an outlying suburb of Bangkok...we also had trouble communicating with the taxi driver so he didn't drop us at the station but further down... we thus had to follow the railway track down to Khlong Tan station. As we walked we passed by slums and saw the other face of Bangkok, with plenty of marginalized denizens... but a few of the kids were still so happy and in the new year spirit.

We arrived at the station and were lucky to run into a helpful "station operator", for want of a better word. The train schedules were all in the Thai cipher, and a few helpful lines helped us... and we realised we could book from Bangkok Central... so we took a train back there.

Bangkok Central, at Hualamphong, is a really large train station in the tradition of large train stations.... trains, carriages... wide roof... big portrait of the king... i always though locomotives were symbols of power and largesse of a nation... see... people and produce from all the various provinces pulling in at one place.... trains carry much more than buses. and of course the blast of the pa system. unforgettable.
Perhaps the rest of the night was coloured by that incident... I was in rather no mood for fun. I realise too I got some of the chronology wrong... because Patpong just stands out in my mind. Before that though, we had lost Lip Jin at the MBK shopping mall... we had arranged to go our own ways for shopping and then meet at KFC at a pre-arranged time. Now of course there were 2 KFCs in the shopping centre, in accordance with the Rule of Murphy, which all retail shopping centre managers learn in Year 1 of their MBA course.

He got lost. Ohmygod! The biggest, tallest of us has been kidnapped by a Bangkok gang and had his limbs chopped off so he could become a beggar. Or maybe he was simply shopping around. Alex went off to look for in while I dutifully waited with Zhenliang. After some time, I was getting really worried and decided that finding him outweighed any embarassment caused to us or Singaporeans... so I went to the information counter and asked the obliging counter staff to help us make an announcement.... which nobody heard because it was really loud.

Eventually, I think Lip realised there were 2 KFCs and found the 2nd one... a potential crisis averted.

Back to the narrative. After some junk snacking at McDonalds, we decided to return to Th Khao San... we thought the morning was bad, but the night was simply insane.

There were thousands of revellers on the street spraying people like nobody's business. And we couldn't sleep so we decided to join in the festivities... time to change into clothes which we could afford to get wet in, buy some super soakers (a tad expensive), and steal some water from outside the hotel... okay I was still feeling rather disconsolate so I must admit I didn't really have fun and I thought that I hated the noise and the stupid people... and one brute stole some water from me.

We returned to a hotel and we had conversation with a drunk Swede. I forgot his name because I didn't really like him. He's a backpacker who's been around, had something to drink, and said stuff about Singapore having "fucking cheap electronics". He had a bit of trouble with the calculator when we told him the price of an ipod and he tried to convert it to crowns (it's crowns right, in sweden, or euro?) He then proceeded on with his grand philosophy of life. Being a psychology student, he said that shaking a man's hand firmly is important... and trust him... he has experience... people who shake hands limply are pussies and you can't trust them... while a firm one means you can trust the person... I was very irritated and I thought he was crazy and a nut because he started repeating it... and what's wrong with putting your hands together and bowing. fuck. crazy shit. I like some crazy shits, but not worthless ones.

The room we had was rather hot and had a hard bed... still managed to sleep well though.