There he lies sleeping slightly curled up on the bottom in a small hole not far from the beach: the slender suckerfish (aka Slender). It was him (or one of his kind) who made our first dive on Redang’s life difficult. He looks sweet, soft and innocent. I shine with the flashlight on him so I can see him better. I do a night dive with Meltem, our dive guide and a Greek man. He is the first Greek I met. The Greeks go on holiday in their own country, young people already live abroad and others have no money because of the crisis. For example, he handed in a third of his salary and paid three times as much tax. The night dive is not far from the beach, so we walk with our diving cylinders into the water and then look at the fish and everything that comes to life at night. As quiet and beautiful as life on the seabed is, so crazy is the week that is coming. The highlight: sleeping in the most beautiful hotel in Singapore, in the Marina Bay Sands – you know, the one with the ship on top of the hotel.
I am more cheerful and talk more about diving on Redang than in my last blog. Apart from the fact that diving is addictive and fun, I am happy because I have finally seen sharks. Not one or two, but a lot! Because of my disappointment that I didn’t see a shark, because my diving goggles didn’t, the dive guide proposed to go diving at the same spot to see if we could see sharks again. It is a successful proposal: the whole dive we see sharks, four or five swim around each other and two others swim around along the bottom and the rocks in the sea. It is fantastic to see. Sharks are impressive because of the speed in the water and because they are bigger. These are not gigantic, but certainly one meter to one and a half meter.
The sharks is not the biggest news I have: Thomas, the Frenchman, has come flying over from China and we see each other at Redang. It is crazy to see each other while we met each other more than a month ago on the train in Mongolia. Then we had a conversation with our two Russian nationalistic coupe mates about Ukraine and now I sit on Redang in bikini and he in swimming trunks. Meltem and Bart are also there.
After two islands full of diving experiences and adventures with Meltem our roads separate for a few days. Bart goes back to KL a few days. Meltem goes diving on Tioman and I go with Thomas to George Town.
In the bus to George Town (a seven hour drive) we meet a French couple who have books about Malaysia. Not the Loney Planet, which most Dutch and other travellers have, but the Router, in French of course. We borrow the books and take in a few tips. Our hostel is located in the Router. It is a beautiful hostel in the old (and UNESCO) part of George Town. Touristic, but it doesn’t feel like that, the atmosphere in George Town is friendly.
We check in and the receptionist shows us the room: a double room with a glass wall to the bathroom. You can forget any kind of privacy in this room. I laugh, but I don’t say anything about it: the room is fine. Later I learn that French people (or Thomas) look at nudity in a different way, but he doesn’t say anything at that moment either.
The next day we go to the butterfly garden. The entrance fee is a bit expensive, but when it comes to the work they do, preserving butterflies and all kinds of other insects, it’s definitely worth it. Upon entering we see the French couple again: you get that when you read the same books. The owner of Loney Planet also seems to regret his books; a town or village changes when it’s in a popular travel book.
In the blue house we’re going to later that afternoon, a woman – who looks like an expat woman – tells us that refurbishing the house has made the city think about applying for UNESCO status when they saw what you can do with heritage and how many tourists it attracts. George Town has been on UNESCO’s heritage list for more than ten years – and rightly so – and that has made it possible for tourists to find it. The Portuguese, the English and the Dutch, they have all been here. The city takes on UNESCO status well. They organize a competition for residents to come up with ideas for the city: this is where the street art project came in. Because of this there is street art everywhere in the historic city centre that tells more about the history. They say that Jimmy Choo started in George Town.
Melaka or Malaka is the other location on the UNESCO list and what our next destination is, but first we go to KL, because that is on the road and Bart has given me tips on things I still have to see: the Heli Lounge. The bus trip takes us more time than expected and we arrive late. Thomas knows a good Indian.
Thomas knows a good Indian restaurant and after that we go to the Heli Lounge which is more than worth visiting. It is a bar on a helicopter platform. You look out over the city and because it’s a holiday – it’s liberation day – you can see fireworks which makes it even more spectacular. We order wine from the region where Thomas lives (in Lyon) and it is our best evening.
In Melaka it is suffocated by Chinese Malaysians. It’s the weekend after the day off, so that’s why it’s busy. I – and I don’t think Thomas either – am not as enthusiastic about Melaka as about George Town, despite both being on the UNESCO list. We still have the idea to go to the movie, but are too tired, we didn’t sleep much that night before we left and go to sleep. In the hostel I hear Piaf and Thomas starts singing. Beautiful, the French language cannot compete with the Dutch language with our ‘g’. Something I have tried to teach some people, but the g, remains difficult if you are not a Dutchman or an Arab (who can pronounce the ‘g’).
The next day I go early to Singapore. I go alone, because I want to see Meltem alone before she goes back to Holland. We see each other in Orchard street, the shopping street of Singapore. We start around four o’clock with the wine. In the evening we find a good Mexican who has her favorite wine from New Zealand. It’s certainly the third or fourth time we have had her favourite wine during our holiday – pretty, because how well known is New Zealand wine?
Marina Bay Sands
There we are: in Singapore and on our way to the hotel with the most luxury of the city, the Marina Bay Sands. Bart is back from KL, Meltem and he checked in early, because they don’t want to miss anything from the swimming pool on top of the hotel. I go with Thomas to the national museum in the morning to know more about Singapore. It remains a special country. It is the size of the province of Utrecht and has a thriving economy. Almost all major international companies have their Asia headquarters there, because many western people want to live there. The city feels international and the whole of Asia is just a stone’s throw away – figuratively speaking – from Singapore.
Bart talks about Marina Bay Sands, he is the expert on hotels and hotel chains. It is a world of which I did not know the existence. Marina Bay Sands is part of an American chain from Las Vegas, Las Vegas Sands Corp. The hotel has the image of very chic, so my expectations are high, which makes it a bit disappointing. The tourists on the roof take – just like us – selfies all day long. There are two men who should have more than five thousand photos according to Bart and Meltem who see their eight hours of taking photos. The view is beautiful and the photos do well on Instagram, but I don’t think I will stay there again.
Bart stays in Singapore for a few more days and then returns to the Netherlands, Thomas flies on to Thailand – we’ll see if we’ll meet again next year – and Meltem and I have a Chinese dinner at the airport. She goes back to Holland, looking for work and with the idea to work as a diving instructor for a season in Thailand. You have to pursue dreams, so I hope she does.
I have visited Greece, Russia, China, Malaysia and Singapore so far. It feels like the sum of people who seem different, but if you look and listen carefully, they look and look alike. Food and habits do differ: Singapore is a mix of everything. All the food (and people) are here, from western to eastern. In Malaysia the food is good, but not fantastic, but that may be because we were on the tourist islands. I am a fan of roti with egg or chocolate (Milo). China: I love the food. People who have been to China agree with me. In the Netherlands we also know Chinese, but that consists of Nasi and Bami, both Indonesian or Malaysian. Where exactly food comes from is hard to say, because people travel and take over eating habits from each other. Russian food is close to the Dutch kitchen with their potatoes, meat and cabbage.
The months so far have been instructive, especially these last weeks. My dream was to visit India and that is exactly where I am going. The peace at the bottom of the sea at the moment I looked at Slender feels far away. I let my thoughts go to bully Slender, as he did with us. I could have ‘buried’ him in the sand, but I’ll let him sleep.