China Part One: Shanghai

The next few blog posts here will be the long-in-the-making summarisation of my two week trip to China in October – due to my lack of preparation for the trip, my photo storage was not up to par, and I ended up having to store photos all over the place whilst on the road – my friend’s laptop, his dad’s laptop, a usb stick, and a couple of cds being the main areas. It’s taken a while to pull all of these together, and I’m still missing photos – stuck halfway between my computer at the office, and my laptop at home. Bear with me – and trust me when I say this – never again will I travel with merely a 4gb sd card.

“Diary Entry – 7 October 2011

I am sitting on flight MU544 bound for Shanghai. This is the beginning of the long awaited trip to mainland China, after planning started in May. We are meeting up with a friend from university days – Kuang, and his girlfriend Angela. Together we will be traveling for two weeks, seeing the sights and sounds of Shanghai, Chengdu, Jiu Zhai Go, Xi’an, and Beijing. I am highly excited to be back on the road for a reasonable amount of time – short trips such as our Vietnam one are good for breaks, but longer trips seem to leave the soul enriched and nourished. Hopefully this trip will also cure us of our mounting unease in Singapore – two weeks off work is a very very long time.”

Clear skies and crisp fresh air landing in Shanghai.

We arrived in Shanghai at around 5am in the morning, having spent the last few hours trying to catch some sleep on a cramped and crowded China Air flight. Fortunately our customs transition was smooth and painless – our China Visas having arrived the day we were to fly (tip: Apply for your visa about a month out. Don’t give it 2 weeks like we did. No matter what the visa website says).

Powerlines leading into Shanghai.

About 3 months prior to our arrival, I had been idly chatting with my good friend Kuang, who is originally from Shanghai, but has spent much of his teenage/adult life in New Zealand. From our discourse, we realised that we were both planning on going to China for travel, and that our current plans would see us in the country at about the same time as each other. Suddenly our original intentions went out the window, as we realised that we could travel together, making our travel group a total of four (myself, my girlfriend Yean, Kuang, and his girlfriend Angela).

Flash forward a few months, and by some amazing luck, we were waiting for Kuang and Angela’s flight to land from New Zealand – our flight from Singapore had landed a mere 2 hours prior to them. While we waited, a woman approached me, pointed to me and said ‘Kuang’. It turns out, this lady was Kuang’s mother, and my 6’4 figure had labelled me clearly as his friend. Might have also had something to do with the ‘Kuang’ sign we had scribbled and held up just prior.

We spent three days in Shanghai, making sorties into Pudong (the city centre) and surrounding areas. We saw some incredible sights, and some rather un incredible sights. Our dinner with Kuang’s extended family was one of the incredible sort – the energy and passion that was shown at the dinner table was not one I was expecting, and the food was nothing short of amazing. On the lazy susan that night included roast goose, bitter gourd, sea cucumber soup, roast fish, garlic snake, and steamed jellyfish. I’m glad I took several months in South East Asia prior to making the trip to China – before leaving New Zealand, my tolerance of sea food was limited to deep fried fish from the local chippy. Since my travel in Malaysia, and subsequent settling in Singapore, my palate has grown and developed. So it was with relish that each dish came, and I was able to enjoy the food for what it was, and not what my 6 year old imagination said it could be.

Kuang’s Family hosting us for Dinner.

Savory Crepes – Shanghai Street Food

Hand Pulled Noodles.

Produce Transport, Shanghai

Eels at the market

Our trip into Pudong the next day was eye opening – the scale of construction in Shanghai has to be seen to be believed. Everywhere the eye turns, there will be inevitably at least one high rise building being constructed. There’s plenty of sights to see, and then there’s plenty of sights to no bother with. High on the recommended list is the World Trade Centre, and the river side walk. Both give unique views of a city that’s seen incredible change and growth, not just in the last 10 years, but over the course of a couple of millenia.

The Plank.

View from the Bund looking at Pudong.

Skyscraper under Construction.

Shanghai Cityscape.

The Bund at Night.

Another place of worthy mention is the M50 Art District. Located a comfortable subway ride from Pudong, it’s quickly becoming the epicenter of art in the Shanghai greater area. Set in the buildings of an old textile mill, the compound takes on a village-like air with numerous side roads and alleys, hiding small single room galleries that are showing the works of one or two undiscovered artists, while the larger galleries on the main passageways show artists from around the Asia Pacific area. Like any art village, there was the inevitable mediocre work to get through, but that just makes the gems even greater when you stumble across them.

Footpath Decor at M50, Shanghai

Wall Art at M50, Shanghai

Yean at M50, Shanghai

“Diary Entry – 10 October 2011

I am sitting at Gate 25 in the Hongqiao Airport, waiting for our flight to Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan Provence in West China. Shanghai was incredible. A world apart from Singapore. The traffic is chaotic, the people a contradiction in polite rudeness, and the stratification of societal classes even more severe than Malaysia and Singapore. But the climate is much more agreeable, customer service is sincere and ernest (if not always well guided) and the prices are genuinely cheap (besides branded items and anything within the Bund).”

2012: Resolutions

So it’s that time of year again – I keep finding myself seated in a peculiarly meditative fashion, reflecting on the past year. The mistakes, the successes, the great ideas and the less great ideas come back bit by bit, as I try to piece the year together and see how it flew by so fast.

It’s been a year of massive change for me. I’ve been out of New Zealand for just over a year now, and while I was originally bound for Europe, I have since landed quite happily on my feet in Singapore.

With my life looking like it’s getting on some sort of track, and great things on the horizon, here’s what I want to achieve in 2012.

My 2012 Resolutions:


1) Develop my creativity and ideation capabilities. Push the envelope in every project I do.

2) Become fluent in Rhino 3D.


1) Hit the gym at least 3 times a week.

2) Match my alcohol consumption with my gym attendance – 1 pint = 1 gym session.

3) Compete in the 2012 Men’s Health Urbanathlon.

4) Develop my ground fighting abilities at Fightworks Asia.


1) Travel through Japan.

2) Visit Mum and Dad in Salisbury, UK.

3) Go on more weekend trips to nearby countries – Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia etc.

Personal Pursuits:

1) Get back to drawing.

2) Live more sensibly.

3) Improve my sense of fashion.

4) Get my blog caught up to present (yes, I’m STILL writing up my travels in China – stay tuned for that)

5) Learn Mandarin.

Phew. That’s a list. I’ll get to work on it tomorrow.

What’s your plans/hopes/dreams for the year to come?

The Big OE: Singapore

“Diary Entry – 24/9/11”

Today marks nine months since I left New Zealand. What an epic nine months it’s been. To date, I have:

Toured Malaysian Borneo on a pit bike;
Explored Penang (several times);
Scored a job with a high end design agency in Singapore;
Visited Kathmandu, Nepal and laid eyes on Mt Everest;
Learnt a new 3D CAD program – Rhino;
Attended Beer Fest Asia 2011;
Travelled to Hanoi, Vietnam;
Sailed around Halong Bay, Vietnam;
Sat in (nearly) front row seats at the inaugural One Fight Championships;
Went to Formula One Grand Prix Singapore; 

and in a few days time, we fly to Shanghai, there to tour China for two weeks. What a year.”

This year has not gone at all how I planned. My original aim was for Europe. Singapore was meant to be a stop-over. But then things changed. I planted. I found a job. I grew to enjoy a life style that seems so far separated from my previous life, it’s hard to remember what my previous life was like. I even call it My Previous Life.  So it is that nine months after my departure from the motherland, I am in Singapore.

A few things I’ve come to learn whilst here:

Taxi drivers in Singapore are crazy.
I’m not talking funny crazy either. I’m talking homicidal/suicidal crazy. So far I’ve seen taxi drivers exit their vehicle to abuse other drivers at red lights, taxi drivers falling asleep at the wheel, taxi drivers launch into half hour rants on how the Government must leave power immediately, or racist slurs against whoever had taken the previous fare. Ok, I understand it’s a high stress job, with possibly low profit margins, and some really really annoying clients. But the levels some of these guys take driving to often leaves me speechless, breathless, and almost empty bladdered.

When communication breaks down, speak Maori
Or at least pronounce vowels as you would in Maori-ora. Turns out, the languages of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Polynesia are remarkably similar in structure and sound. Something to do with all life starting in Malaysia or something like that (note: I believe this fact is skewed by my better half, who by chance is from Malaysia). If this communication technique fails, I also have found talking as if you were a goose often gets good results. This may be due to the comedy factor of it though.

Work Culture in New Zealand is really, really, really relaxed
Or at least my experience of it has been. Gone are the days of starting the computer shutting down at 4.55pm. Now I feel guilty if I ever happen to leave at 7pm.  But in a way it’s a welcome change. I am able to fully immerse in my work, learning and growing with each day that passes. It’s meant I’ve been able to learn Rhino 3D, develop my illustration and visualization skills, and take my design abilities far past where they were when I left New Zealand. I can’t wait to see where my skills are at by this time next year.

The less English a Muay Thai Instructor speaks, the more urgent you are to do his instructions
I joined a martial art gym in March, with the intention of trying new martial arts I’ve never had a go at before, while keeping my skills up in my current areas of strength. As I’ve always wanted to improve my standing game, I have taken to Muay Thai, it’s fitness, conditioning, and brute force pushes me far beyond comfortable limits every session, and then there’s techniques to remember on top of all that. I hope to take up some BJJ sessions towards the end of the year, when I get my Gi from it’s storage box in New Zealand, in order to get my ground game flowing as well.

Friends come and go, but mates cross oceans to hang out
This might get a bit soppy, but I’ve been absolutely amazed at how many friends and family have passed through this year. We have averaged one group of visitors per month thus far. I guess Jetstar has helped make this possible, but the people that have made the trip, wether you were on your way further north, or just here for a Sam and Yean dose, it’s made us feel loved. To the army ruperts Hamish and Tom, the uni friends Kim, Savannah and Stephen, Granny and Granddad, and most recently my old work mate Simon, thank you. No pressure for anyone who hasn’t made it. No pressure at all. *stare*.

Here’s a few photos of the last few months here to sum it up thus far. Needless to say, there will be more updates on life in Singapore as I learn and grow, and develop more vocabulary.

The Infinity Pool at the Top of Marina Bay Sands

The New Office - Holmes & Marchant Asia Pacific

My one and only one photo of the Merlion

Dorito decides to visit. And stays.

Life is incomplete without wheels. So we went out and brought some.

Tom and Hamish visited. Singapore and Malaysia will never be the same again.

Double Baked Crab. The best crab I've ever had thus far.

One FC. Now the largest MMA tournament in Asia.

Singapore Grand Prix. A far cry from Pukekoe Trackdays. Not sure which I prefer watching though.

Vietnam: Hanoi and Halong

“Diary Entry: 9-8-11

I am on a minibus, currently navigating the streets of Hanoi, en route to Halong Bay. After 3 days in Hanoi, I am looking forward to some comparatively quiet time. Hanoi is a most incredible city, and I wish I had more time to explore it. It has all the hallmarks of a developing South East Asian city, however it seems also very determined to get out of the ‘developing’ status as soon as possible. The rate of change is tremendous, and in many ways, they seem to be emulating what other developed SE Asian cities such as Singapore have done: good roads, daily street cleaning, well maintained public parks, and an emphasis on Services as an industry. It seems only just around the corner that food safety standards are adopted, road traffic made more stringent, and the prosperity skyrockets. It will be interesting to observe. I can also see how my Grandpa became so impassioned upon his visit here, the hurt and suffering that this country has been through is beyond comprehension, and the strong worded government makes pains to ensure it is not forgotten, that this country has beaten off multiple super powers, and are now independent and proud. It definitely reflects in the attitudes of the people – ‘service, not servants’.”

We arrived in Vietnam on a Saturday morning, just before lunch. One of the first impressions we had as we flew over the country was that it was waterlogged. Rice paddies stretched across the landscape, creating a patchwork effect much like the Canterbury reigon in New Zealand, and all the towns seemed to edge right onto a sizable lake.

Vietnam Landscape

Vietnamese countryside from the air

As our airport transfer wasn’t forthcoming, we decided to cab it to the hotel – a nerve racking experience after all the horror stories of taxi drivers exploiting the naivety of tourists and charging them an extortionate amount. We arrived at the hotel safe and sound, and more importantly, still with money in our pockets. We were staying in the Hotel Elegance, one of a chain of boutique hotels, highly recommended to us by a friend. The service and facilities here were second to none, with helpful staff, lovely rooms, and comfortable beds.

Hotel Room at Hotel Elegance

Hotel Room at Hotel Elegance

We spent 3 days making sorties to different parts of the town – exploring the Old Quarter, Ho Chih Minh Memorial park, Army Museum, and the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison. In between, of course, we gouged on Vietnamese cuisine, taking guidance from an array of suggestions from friends, guide books, and our hotel map.

Hanoi Streets

Streets of Hanoi

Old Quarter Hanoi

Old Quarter Wall

Hanoi City

Yean and Hanoi

Ho Chi Minh Museum

Ho Chi Minh Museum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Hanoi Army Museum

Hanoi Army Museum

Temple of Literature

Temple of Literature

Stamp Carving

Street side stamp carving

Of note were the restaurants Cha Ca La Vong, and KOTO. Cha Ca la Vong is a family restaurant, in a rather ramshackle (but clean) old shop house, that sell one food, grilled fish. While it is fair heart attack food, with a lot of butter involved, it was beautiful, tasty, and left us wanting more.

KOTO is a charitable restaurant that takes in street kids, gives them accommodation and income, and trains them up with amazing hospitality skills. The food was divine, and despite a substantially nicer interior (upstairs have nice plush loungers to rest on), the prices were not significantly higher than the other places we had dined at.

One of the interesting cultural oddities I noted in Hanoi is the wake up time for the city. I woke up early one morning to get out and experience the city as it woke up (an activity I highly recommend when in a strange city). I was out on the street at 5am, but I wasn’t the first. Already lining the streets were flower and fruit vendors, hawking their goods to the fairly sizable traffic already on the road. I got to Hoan Kiem Lake in the center of the Old Quarter shortly after, to find that what appeared to be half the city out and about jogging or walking laps of the lake, playing badminton, doing Tai Chi (or a Vietnamese variant of it), and even ball room dancing. Needless to say, I was impressed. Singapore seems to be the opposite, with the city still fairly sluggish and sleepy by 9am.

Early Morning Street Vendors

Early Morning Street Vendors, Old Quarter

Morning Exercise at the lake

Early morning exercise at the lake

After three days in Hanoi, we moved on to the second part of the trip, an overnight cruise through Halong Bay. We booked this through Ocean Travel, and chose the Glory Cruises option – with a newly refitted boat, and a good reputation, it was the easy choice. After a 4 hour mini bus drive across to the cruise terminal of Halong City, we were transferred to the ship via tender boat, and were on our way. It wasn’t long before we were cruising through incredible rock formations, green capped and jagged – reminding me of the legend of the Dragons Teeth that formed the islands of the bay.

Glory Cruises

Glory Cruises

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Sunset over Halong Bay

Sunset over Halong Bay

Yean on Deck

Yean on deck

Cove in Halong Bay

Cove in Halong Bay

Rock Formations

Spoting shapes in rock formations

The accommodation on the cruise ship was lovely, and the service was great. For the first time whist on a holiday, we were forced into doing nothing, only to sit on the deck, sip a pina colada, and watch the islands move by. A wholesome experience overall, and nicely punctuated with side trips like a swim at a cove, a kayak through a floating village, and a walk through an extremely large cave system, where upon we spent an hour or so looking at rock formations and trying to see the animals and shapes that the guide was pointing out.

Our overnight location was beautiful, and despite the presence of about 15 other ships, it was extremely quiet, with only the faint drone of the generator and the lapping of the water against the hull to disturb the silence.

The next day we were back on land at mid day, after a hearty brunch that filled us up for the rest of the afternoon. Another 4 hour mini bus trip back to Hanoi was spent dosing and occasionally taking pictures out the window. After being dropped off at the hotel, we had a couple of hours to spare before we had to head to the Airport, so we dined at a quaint French cafe, and then found a small coffee store where we brought a bag of Vietnamese coffee to add to our collection of Borneo, Cameron, and Himalayan tea that we’re building up at home.

Cafe de Paris

Cafe de Paris

Finally it was time to race to the airport, only finding out there that the flight had been delayed another hour. Note to self: NEVER run out of books to read whilst waiting in the Hanoi airport at 9pm. There’s not too much to do there.

Vietnam is now high on my list of places to recommend, and I’d love to get back there for a more extensive trip one day – I feel a bit disappointed with myself that we didn’t get far out of Old Quarter, which turns out is the main tourist area, and I’d love to see more of Hanoi, for instance the water theme park, the business district, and the West Lake area.

Oh well, next time.

Sunset over Hanoi

Sunset over Hanoi

Kathmandu: The Company Trip

“Diary Entry – 21/5/11

I am sitting on a hired coach making it’s way through central Kathmandu during an organized city shutdown in advance of a key meeting in the Nepalese Government. We are on our way back to the airport, bound for Singapore. Two days ago, the staff of Holmes & Marchant met at 5.45am at Changi Airport, Singapore. We flew to Kathmandu, stopping over in Bangkok. This was the long awaited company holiday announced at dinner in February, and I couldn’t have been more stoked to be there for it.

Holmes and Marchant in Kathmandu

Holmes and Marchant in Kathmandu

Checking into the hotel for that night, the Dwarika Hotel, was breathtaking. The woodwork and stone work that went into the structure of that place was nothing short of incredible. Helpful and friendly staff ensured everything was taken care of, and we merely gazed around in slightly sleepy wonder.

Dwarika's Hotel

Our room at the Dwarika's Hotel

Dwarika's Hotel

Courtyard at Dwrika's Hotel

That afternoon we went to visit two religious sites, a large Buddist Stupa, and a Hindu Temple of Lord Shiva. Both were amazing, eye opening experiences. We observed a Hindu funeral ceremony on the banks of the river, ending in the open-air cremation of the body.

Prayer wheels

Prayer Wheels at the Buddha Stupa

Buddhist Temple, Kathmandu

Colours of a Buddhist Temple

Buddha Stupa, Kathmandu

Brooding Buddha Stupa

Colours at the Stupa

Colours at the Stupa

Temple of Lord Shiva

Temple of Lord Shiva


Riverside Cremation

The evening consisted of a traditional 6 course Nepalese dinner, which promised much, but ultimatly was quite bland and sleep inducing. Essentially it consisted of grains done in different ways, low grade meat mashed and stewed, and served with about 30 minutes betwen each course. After a full overnight of work the night before, by thte time the last course was served, I was practically asleep at the table.

The next day we had a sightseeing flight to Mt Everest and back, taking in much of the Himalayas as we went. Knowing the extent of the ranges, and some of their significance, it was an amazing sight.


The Mighty Himalayas

Mount Everest

Mount Everest from the aeroplane

Upon our return a few of us struck out for the town center, taking in the street life of Kathmandu. This was the first time I’ve seen real poverty, incomparable to the likes of Malaysia, dwarfing it on a grand scale. Of particular note was the ramshackle approach to architecture, with most of the buildings in such a state of disrepair that it was difficult to see if it was being constructed or demolished.

Streets of Kathmandu

Streets of Kathmandu

Building in Kathmandu

Building in Kathmandu

Streets of Kathmandu

Streets of Kathmandu

Streets of Kathmandu

Streets of Kathmandu

Yean and Sam in Kathmandu

Yean and Sam in Kathmandu

Streets of Kathmandu

Streets of Kathmandu

The afternoon consisted of moving to our new accommodation, Gurkana Forest Resort, which had promised to be a more intimate affair, far removed from the city, surrounded in forest and a Golf course. Alas, it was a large scale resort, with a rather bland spa and massage area, and all within a walled compound from the forest and Golf range. We had a stroll around and outside the premises, stumbling across a Hindu temple with a large celebration going on in and around it.

Man with Hay

Man with Hay



Goat Sacrifice at Temple

Goat Sacrifice at a Temple

All in all, I have to say I’m not in any hurry to return to this lodge – while it was very nice, and luxurious, the historic and quaint Dwarika’s Hotel we stayed in the night prior was far more interesting. I have learnt much this trip, both about culture, life, and my work colleagues. Tomorrow we are back to work. It seems as though we are going back ‘home’, a sign that I am acclimatizing to Singapore perhaps?’

Kathmandu from the Air

Kathmandu from the Air

Thaipusam: Hooked in.

‘Diary Entry – 23/1/11

I am again sitting on the sofa in the living room of our friends apartment in Marine Drive, Singapore. Thaipusam in Penang was an acute eye opener fo me – the dedication and faith of so many people is something I have not seen the likes of before. On a more superficial level, the most exciting part of the Thaipusam was the smashing of the coconuts, occuring on the last night of the three night festival. This event took us off guard, which made it all the more spectacular, as we watched it grow into something completely unexpected and huge. While I’m still struggling with the religious significance of this act, it did provide a great specticle and activity.’

We returned to Penang about a week and a half after leaving, to watch the spectacular events surrounding the Thaipusam festival. It is a Hindu festival, focussing on self sacrifice, penance, and asking divinity’s favor. Coming from a rather conservative Christian background, this festival fairly took me by suprise. What seems to be the main focus of Thaipusam is the inflicting of pain and suffering on oneself in order to prove your dedication and passion for your request (please correct me if I’m wrong). This involves piercings through the tongues, cheeks, back, and chest. Many also carry immense structures on their heads and shoulders. This forms into a long parade of worshippers and assistants through the heart of the city and up to the main Hindu temple.

A worshipper preparing for the walk.

Worshipper at Thaipusam

We went for three separate trips to the events over the weekend, two of them to the street parade – the second of which was at night, when the already packed streets became a crush, with people climbing over drains and walls to escape. It struck me as like a very odd, inverted Christmas parade, with the sidewalks fenced off for the various stalls and reserved areas, and the crowds contained on the street, to intermingle with the gigantic floats being pulled by trucks and the thousands of worshippers with large piercings through delicate parts of the body, each surrounded in loudly chanting assistants who kept the crowd from pushing in and causing serious damage to the pierced bodies.

Thaipusam Float

The third trip to the event wasn’t actually intended that way – after narrowly escaping the crush by vaulting over the barriers and picking our way through the open drains behind the stalls,  we felt quite sated with our cultural ventures, instead spending our final evening relaxing over a lovely dinner and winding down at a cafe. It was on our way back that we were caught up in more crowds – friendlier this time, all grouping around large piles of coconuts in preparation for a signal to smash the coconuts in the streets. The signal came in the form of a large mobile pagoda being towed down the street by oxen. As the pagoda passed, the coconuts were picked up and thrown, frantically, and as fast as the arms would allow. As fast as it had happened, it suddenly died away, and the street was full of bulldozers zipping around and clearing the street, until about a minute later, the street was clear of coconut shell, and the only signs of the madness were the gutters flooded with coconut milk, and the sweet smell of coconut lingering everywhere.

Smashing Coconuts

Smashing Coconuts at Thaipusam, Penang

Eager Participants in Coconut Smashing at Thaipusam, Penang

Streets of Coconut, Penang

Clean up of the coconuts, Penang

The Big OE: Borneo

“Diary Entry – 26/12/10

I am sitting in the departure lounge of Penang Airport, our flight to Kota Kinabalu has just been delayed by another hour. The last two days have been eye opening ones, spending the greater part of 2 days in Penang with Yean and her family has been incredible. I cannot however seem to wake up. I feel as though I am following, sleep touring so to speak. The next phase in KK will prove if this is due to Yean’s familiarity to Penang, or if I just need to apply myself more. Remorse for leaving New Zealand is dwindling. I think I will be away for quite some time.”

Arriving in Penang was the first time I’ve ever stepped foot in a tropical country. I instantly realised my mistake of wearing jeans, as my legs suddenly started leaking sweat. We did a two day blitz on Penang Cuisine, with Yean charging ahead with her sister and brother-in-law, and me trailing wide-eyed and madly disorientated.

I’ve always been fairly confident with my ability to navigate, whether it be around cities, suburbs, farmland, or forest. I was thus dismayed at myself that despite the clear landmarks all around, I was constantly at a loss as to where I was. This wasn’t going to be the last time I felt this, as future entries will highlight.

My initial impressions of the first SE Asian country for me to have landed in were… sketchy. The Airport was mayhem, the fact half of it was taken up in construction work didn’t help either. The streets seemed littered with stray dogs, families on scooters, and road side stalls, selling what appeared to be sun roasted food.  The heat was stifling, and the air conditioned car was freezing.  To add to this, I was severely lacking in sleep: I had planned to spend most of the 10 hours we were in the air sleeping, but I hadn’t factored in the general excitement I always experience when flying.

It was with weary gratitude that we reached our accommodation, and I crashed out while Yean went out for family photos. That night we headed out to Gurney Drive, for some local Penang cuisine. I’ve always been a reasonably conservative eater (in selection, not quantity), however upon arriving at the Gurney Drive hawker markets, I realized how much learning I had in store for me over the coming months. Fortunately, Yean and her sister must have seen my wide eyed expression, and went soft. They introduced me to the Ramly Burger, a Malaysian icon, involving a rich beef patty, skillfully split and seasoned with pepper and what appeared to be Worcestershire Sauce. It was then wrapped in a thinly spread fried egg, all prepared straight on the hot plate.

We returned to our accommodation in the early hours, with full bellies and tired feet, and my head still reeling with the sights and sounds of a foreign city at night. I still felt, through all this, that I was trailing behind, not really registering where I was or what we were doing, as if in a daydream.

Thus by the time it came to get back to the airport for our flight to Kota Kinabalu (in Eastern Malaysia) I was hoping that a fresh city would kick start my tourist mode, to get active, to WAKE UP.

Penang from the Air

Penang from the air, as an early morning mist rises off the sea.

Penang Airport Sign

A welcoming sign at the Penang Airport.

Ramly Burger being prepared

Ramly burger being prepared in Gurney Drive, Penang.

Sunrise over Penang

Sunrise over Penang - the signal to head back to the Airport.

“Diary Entry – 29/12/10

It has been four days in the tropics. Yesterday I had my first encounter with stomach upset while being abroad. It was one of the most miserable days in my living memory. In hindsight, it wasn’t too severe, however it was bad enough to make me question what I am doing here.

I believe the upset was caused by a heavy meal of seafood, consisting of an unknown fish, prawns, crab, and a most unusual shelled crab, with a spiral shell and a single claw. When the demonstration of how to eat it involved the instructions ‘Cut off the s*!t and eat the rest’, I decided a tributary taste would be all that was required. I will have to watch my seafood intake, especially of shellfish. It is starting to dawn on me that I may be intolerant of them, as I recall a similar upset feeling after eating mussels in Auckland at regular Mussel Mania nights.”

We were in KK for almost a week, in order to attend a friend’s wedding. As it was only my second SE Asian city, things were still very novel on the most part. Even the little things, like crowding onto a rusting, creaking bus next to the Beach house Backpackers where we were staying were miniature cultural jumps that I delighted in taking. It was here that the general uselessness of carrying a large DSLR whilst traveling in general dawned on me – as soon as you raise it to your eye, everyone suddenly changes. A wave of seriousness comes over anyone within the lens, and the conversation dies as people realise they are about to probably end up on a magazine cover somewhere, as why else would someone care to lug around such a serious looking camera? I made a resolution there that when I was next into surplus cash, I would invest in a good quality point and shoot, so that candid photos could be made discretely.

After our friend’s wedding, we hired a motorbike, from GoGo Sabah. My first ever motorcycle I brought in New Zealand was a KLX 250. It became a special friend, one that I shared many good memories with, and it left such a positive impression on me that when I saw that they had KLX150’s available for rent, it was a done deal. What I didn’t realise at the time was that the KLX 150 is pretty much exactly the same proportions as a 250, except scaled down a whole heap. So, it was with a fair amount of surprise and much laughing that we picked up the bike and saw the miniscule size. Jumping from a Ducati to what is technically a child’s pit bike is amusing at least!

Sam and the KLX150

“Diary Entry – 1/1/11

I am sitting in a treehut, in Usukan Cove, just north of Kota Kinabalu. The sun is about to set, and the rain is coming in across the bay. We have had a good stay at Usukan, not one that I would highly recommend (especially for anyone who has spent much time diving and swimming in New Zealand), but it has been good. On the whole, Eastern Malaysia has been amazing for me. My confidence with the culture and ways has dramatically risen, and I feel a lot more independant than when in Penang. My run in with stomach upset on the 28th has left a dent in my adventurous eating, however it seems to have strengthened my resolve to see this through.

We have hired a small KLX 150 for the next week, as we do a short tour of the north western area of borneo, prior to heading to Sandakan for Uncle Tan’s. I am hoping for a few really good days on the road to stretch my legs again. My optimisim for the next few days on the road is high, but it does not compete with my optimism and excitement for the job prospecting in Singapore.”

Yean and the KLX150

Usukan Cove

We spent the next week touring around Borneo, traveling up north initially to join the crowd from the wedding for New Years celebrations at Usukan Cove. About an hour or two’s drive from Kota Kinabalu, Usukan Cove is a reasonably large bay, with a few islands outside of it to create a very calm interior. Our first dive lasted about 2 minutes until a jellyfish saw fit to give me a couple of stings on the arm. While it was nothing serious, it did have an immediate impact on how we saw Usukan Cove for the rest of the stay. On the 2nd of January, we headed out again, heading north for the Tip of Borneo, which seemed like a good landmark to aim for. On the way, we spent a night at a traditional Long House. While the hospitality was warm, the facilities beautifully spartan, and the food delicious, I couldn’t help but feel sad, as the only people there maintaining the house were elderly folk, clearly passionate about their culture, but with all the youth migrating to the city centers in search of a modern, hip life, there was no chance they could pass it on. That night we were treated with a traditional dance, and a recital from a nose flutist.

Malaysian Longhouse

Nose Flute

Early the next morning (around 4.30am), we were on the road again, determined to get to the Tip of Borneo for Sunrise. It was an experience I’ll never forget, zooming (as much as you can on a 150cc motorcycle) along the ‘highway’, dodging large potholes that would appear out of the darkness, bracing as we’d hit the unavoidable ones. Occasionally we’d hit gravel, sometimes clay. It was around then that I thanked my excitement of the dirt capable KLX, preferring to take that through sheer affection of the brand than the larger, sporty ER650 that was available. While sunrise was ok, my main memories of that excursion are of going through villages in the dim light just before sunrise, startling dogs sleeping on the road, seeing ramshackle huts in the palm grooves, and then bursting out onto a beach, surf pounding, and thinking I’d somehow managed to end up at Muriwai, New Zealand.

Globe at the Tip of Borneo

Yean at the Tip of Borneo

From the tip, we turned around and traveled south again, taking a bit of an ‘accidental’ detour that involved a decent stretch of clay roads, much to my delight, and much to Yean’s horror. Passing through the back country of Sabah, we finally found the highway pass over the central highlands, crossing the saddle just next to the highest mountain in South East Asia, Mt Kinabalu. Of course, while riding around the low lands, where the temperatures were hovering around 30 degrees constantly, we were in jeans (for safety) and t shirts. It did not occur to us while we were making the somewhat slow ascent (150cc of power doesn’t take to pulling two people and luggage up a long climb terribly well) the temperature was steadily dropping. It wasn’t until we reached the other side, in a sizable town called Ranau, that we realised that our bodies hadn’t taken the temperature change too well. We both fell sick that afternoon, calling for a impromptu stop for two days.

Offroading in Sabah

“Diary Entry – 3/1/11

We have been on the road for 3 days. I am lying in bed at Gold View Inn, in the town of Ranau, near the center of Sabah. It was a long ride today, totaling about 190kms, not long compared to my NZ rides, but with a small bike, and the ‘relaxed’ driving style of the local population, it has taken it’s toll on us both.

Last night’s performance at the longhouse is still processing in my mind, mainly how sad it seems that tese old timers are still the only custodians of the old traditions and culture of the indigenous Borneo population. I compare it to NZ, where the Maori traditions and culture are revered and observed by all, and the Maori youth are by and large eager to learn it and pass it on. Perhaps the disaster that is associated with the treaty of Waitangi isn’t such a disaster after all, if it has helped facilitate such a supportive mood across the population, both indigenous and more recent immigrants.

Tomorrow is a rest day, while we recover from our saddle sores and wait for the weather to improve. While I can’t wait to get back to the convenience of Penang, I am warming to the relaxed atmosphere of Sabah.”

While we were recovering, we took the opportunity to do a couple of side trips, including morning tea at the Sabah Tea Garden, a Fish Massage in a river, and a rather disappointing outing to the nearby hot pools. In retrospect – I’d highly recommend the Fish Massage. Not the hot pools. Again, anyone who has spent time in New Zealand has been spoiled in regards to geothermal swimming.

Sabah Tea Gardens

Fish Massage

War Memorial near Ranau

After our two days of recovering, we took the long route back to Kota Kinabalu, circling around a ridge line to the south east, and encountering a most impressive decent from the ridge line to the city. With a new found respect for a small capacity motorcycle, we returned the bike, and returned to the backpackers for a stretch and a sleep, to recover in time for an 8 hour bus ride to Sandakan the next day.

Motorcycling in Sabah - an exercise in hazard detection.

Seeing Kota Kinabalu from a distance.

“Diary Entry – 7/1/11

I am lying in a hammock at Uncle Tan’s Camp, near the Kinabatangan river. The last couple of days have been remarkable, with a bus trip across Sabah, a routine police stop, and a frustrating episode at Uncle Tan’s HQ, where they turned out had no Credit Card facility, requiring a taxi ride to the closest ATM. We have been for two river cruises, and a hike so far at Uncle Tan’s. This morning’s cruise was especially notable as it involved the rescue of an owl that had become hooked on a line, dangling from a tree. The most precious and lingering memory of the event was while we were finding the other boat, which had a vet on board, I was holding the bird and petting it. Instead of snapping and clawing at me, which is what I was expecting, it just lay there and looked at me with large, yellow, and strangely  intelligent eyes.

The monkeys are clambering through the treetops, yelling at the tops of their lungs at each other. I’m in a Borneo Rainforest, and my outlook on life is currently extremely high.”

We spent 3 days on the Kinabatangan river at Uncle Tan’s wildlife camp, located in a large pocket of Borneo rainforest. Coming from New Zealand, I’ve spent a fair bit of time immersed in the wild. I wasn’t, however, prepared for the sheer amount of wildlife that we encountered. We went on morning and evening cruises along the river, and daily walks through the jungle. Everywhere we went, we’d come across such an abundance of animals that by the end of the trip, the only way I recalled an animal we’d encountered was by the prompting of the photos on my camera.

River Transport

Kingabatangen River

Kinabatangen River

Orangutaan in it's nest.

Trapped Owl

Owl caught on a fishing line.

Owl Rescue

Rescue of the Owl

River after the rain

Out of the river after a downpour.

Fruit Bat

Fruit Bat

Uncle Tan Staff

Staff at Uncle Tan's



The staff of Uncle Tan’s were extremely energetic and knowledgeable. My hat goes off to them for making the most of a difficult job, both in the environment they work and live in, and the fussy clientele that I can imagine would come through the basic camp. Fortunately, the group of people that were there for our stay had no Stella actors, and within a day everyone was chatting and hanging out like old friends. A few of us afterwards went on to the city of Sandakan, on the far eastern coast of Sabah. Here we went to the Orangutan Sanctuary, an amazing preservation reserve to save the extremely endangered Borneo Orangutan from certain extinction through habitat lost. A very special experience indeed.




“Diary Entry 10/1/11

I am sitting in a leather arm chair in Yean’s family apartment in Penang, waiting to head out to dinner. Tomorrow we depart for Singapore. At long last, we will see what we are up against in terms of finding work in a foreign country.”



The Big OE – First Blood

I’m sitting on a couch in a decent sized apartment building. It’s a muggy 28 degrees, and the living room only has a couple of ceiling fans to push the warm air around. Outside it’s pelting down with cup sized drops, forming tremendous puddles in the park downstairs. I’ve now been on the road for just over 3 weeks, and the road has led to Singapore.


Matamaka: To Spritz or not to Spritz?

As a photographer and retoucher, I love glass. The clarity, reflections, and refractions create amazing opportunities to capture something beautiful. Thus it’s always a pleasure to do a hero bottle shot, a shot that is specifically to make the product look as good as possible. A while back I was tasked with doing the Hero shot for Matamaka Beer, a brew made in New Zealand for the Kingdom of Tonga. They required two shots – one ‘straight’ shot, with no glorification or distractions, and one ‘spritzed’ shot, or in other words, looking like it had just come out of the chilly bin at the beach, ready to drink.

The first shot was no real hurdle, with a bit of back lighting, superimposing shots, and a fair amount of retouching it was looking pretty good.

The second shot was a bit more of a challenge. Prior to this, I have dodged spritzing a fair bit, using pre-shot droplets and overlaying them onto the subject. Due to the bottle shape, and the quality of end product needed, that process wasn’t going to hold up. After a fair amount of researching with water, I found it was just too light a liquid to hold any sort of desirable shape for any length of time. Gelatine was found to be a good mix, thickening up the water, making it ‘glob’ together and stay there. To cut a very long (and probably quite tedious for some readers) short, after quite a lot of fiddling, experimenting, and retouching, a final product was achieved that I think looks pretty damn good.

The best thing about it is that now my systems are in place for a repeat shot. Where this took me the best part of 2 days to achieve, now that I’ve found what works (and what doesn’t), it would now take drastically shorter time frames to do it again with another bottle. Onwards and upwards!

Biking: Back to the dirt.

Mid 2009 I joined up to an exciting, fast paced, and fresh community called CouchSurfing. It’s a great principle – you create a profile, state what type of person you are and what type of person you want staying on your couch, and hey presto, suddenly you’re inundated with about 5 requests per day from people around the world needing a place to crash for a night, two nights, or a fortnight in the case of a particular German. It’s an amazing way to make friends and contacts around the world, and I’m hoping when it’s my turn, they’ll return the favour.

In March I had the pleasure of hosting Robin and Jia, a couple from Singapore, who are in the process of living the dream – driving around New Zealand in a van with a dirtbike in the back. You can check out their blog at Amazing people, they are rivals for the best couchsurfers I’ve ever hosted. They initially stayed for a week, after which they headed off to the Bay of Plenty. They left behind, amongst other things, a present of a pair of dirtbiking gloves, with the message ‘Stay Frosty’. I put them on my dressing table, thinking ‘I’ll never use those… I’m a sports biker now.’

A week later and I was sitting in bed, staring at them, recounting all the adventures I’d had back in the day with my KLX 250S dirtbike (see ‘A Wet Weekend‘, and ‘New Zealand on a (small) Motorbike).

‘I could do it’ I mused. ‘I could do it… buy a cheap road legal dirtbike, and get back into it’. I disregarded the thoughts as mid sleep nonsense.

Two weeks later, I was in Putaruru, test riding a KLR250. ‘This feels good’ was about all my head could process, as I revelled once again at the glorious fun that is a single cylinder.

No idea what I’m talking about with all the bike terms? This is the latest addition to the garage – a 1996 KLR250.

My aim is to get onto the dirt at least once a month, as last time I was in possession of an off road bike, I didn’t use it anywhere near it’s full potential. To record and preserve my progress at getting back to the dirt, I’m taking my helmet cam with me on every ride.

First up was the 42nd Traverse, in the Tongariro National Park. This is a 40+ km track with several river crossings, and some amazing terrain to ride over. It also has plenty of clay at the start, not a good thing for a returning noobie like me. Here’s what happens when you hit clay at a bad speed, bad stance, bad attitude, and bad tyres.

With night quickly closing in, we sped through the whole ride, which was fun in it’s own way, but I’m going to have to get back there at some stage for a more leisurely take on it! Here’s a few snaps of the day!