Back from Malaysia

Emilie and I got back to the UK from our trip to the Far East yesterday, after a grueling 16-hour trip back on Emirates and, after some much needed rest, I'm about to embark on the frightening task of catching up on two weeks worth of email, work and OSFlash requests :) But, before I do, a quick run-down of our trip:

First stop: Kuala Lumpur. My goodness, how it has changed in the last 15-odd years and, unfortunately, not all for the better. The city I remember as being a faultless collage of nature and high-tech has almost eradicated the former in favour of the latter. Apparently, KL went through a period of rapid "modernization" at some point in the 90s, resulting in a sprawling concrete jungle replacing the remnants of countless tropical ones. Pollution is a problem on a scale that was unheard of when I was last there.. There are, of course, positive developments too, like an underground and monorail system which we made judicious use of during our stay. The Shangri-La hotel had changed little and our stay was comfortable, but nothing compared to our stay in Singapore. Touring my old schools, meeting Amelia (the little girl next door with whom we terrorized the neighbourhood as kids) and seeing the sights, hearing the sounds and breathing in the smells of my childhood was an amazing experience. It also made me realize concretely what I had suspected all along: that the magical kingdom I left as a child will only live on in my memories. The realities of the land are today (and perhaps have always been) far different from my limited experience of them as a child.

Second stop: Tioman island (Pulau Tioman). We stayed at the Berjaya Resort, which has apparently changed hands many times and, like most things in Malaysia, grown in size with many new chalets and a new pool, etc. The net effect is that the idyllic island hideaway I remember is now a little more crowded but still quite an enjoyable retreat. If you're going to go, I wouldn't recommend staying more than three nights, though, as five nights left us with not too much to do towards the end. (And try to stay away from invitations to wild parties at private chalets with too much booze and too little sleep to regret the morning after!)

Last stop: Singapore. Wow! I have never in my life experienced such friendly people, such a safe and inviting place and such great service. What're you waiting for -- go! And if you do, you must absolutely stay at the valley wing of the Shangri-La. It's just beautiful. The staff are indescribably friendly (thanks Nurun, Edward, and the rest of the team) and the buffet at The Line restaurant just has to be experienced to be believed (try not to over-indulge, as we did, unless you're prepared to miss out on breakfast and possibly lunch also the next day!) Emilie ended up getting herself a nice digital SLR (Nikkon D70s) from DG Image Marketing -- where we got both a good price for it and friendly service without any of the usual tricks you may encounter in other places (bait and switch/"no stock" etc.)

(Oh yeah, and I fought temptation like a master and actually did *not* get a PSP from either KL or Singapore. I did end up getting a wireless bluetooth keyboard though -- I guess I'm not completely cured of my gadget addiction.)

All in all, it was great to go back. I do wish my parents could have joined us but at least my dad's tests didn't bring up anything worrisome. That said, I don't think I will be going back to Malaysia again for a holiday but Singapore will probably become a regular destination for us :)

[Update] I just realized that I forgot to include a warning about Emirates: Unless you enjoy sampling -- for hours on end, potentially continuously and in an airtight, confined environment -- the best in vintage bodily odour, gastrointestinal displays of self-expression, and a cacophony of bodily noises (some of which you probably will be hearing for the first time in your life), please do yourself a favour and do *not* fly with Emirates. The London-Dubai and Dubai-London legs of our trip were somewhat all right but the Dubai-KL and Singapore-Dubai legs were a disgusting affair to put it mildly. To add insult to injury, our bags were delayed on the way back (we still haven't received them.) All in all, an experience to be avoided for all but the most masochistic.