The Malaysia trip, part 5

The Malaysia trip, part 5
JISHOU, HUNAN, CHINA — Let’s see if I can wrap up my travelogue before classes start in a few days. As you probably have guessed, Singapore was my next destination after Penang. My friends who have been there praised this city as a good place to visit, and since I was in the neighborhood (so to speak), I decided to spend a few days there. It was not nearly enough. Singapore is like Hong Kong, or New York City, or any other big metropolis. There’s so much to see and do, that even locals have not seen or done it all. My plan was to spend Chinese New Year there, as I knew Singapore would have a massive fireworks display on Feb. 7. There were at least two, one in Chinatown and one on the waterfront, and in the end, I saw neither one. I had not counted on one major factor: the crowds. Navigating the crush of people in Chinatown just got to me, and round about 10 pm, I decided to bail out and head back to my airbnb place in Little India. So, I can’t offer any photos of massive fireworks displays. Which is not to say ...

Malaysia trip SIDEBAR 2: the Hong Kong-mainland ferry

Malaysia trip SIDEBAR 2: the Hong Kong-mainland ferry
This is another sidebar, and I’m breaking the chronology of my tale by skipping momentarily the Singapore and Kota Kinabalu portions of my trip. Please be patient. I’ll get to them soon enough. GUANGZHOU — I’ve been to Hong Kong several times now. Usually, I take the high speed rail to Shenzhen, then the metro to border control, walk across the bridge to HK border control, then use the MTR to get around. While this is inexpensive, the worst part is having to queue up for two passport checks, which usually takes an hour all told. This time, I wanted to try something different — the ferry. When I booked by hotel in Hong Kong, I chose the Butterfly on Waterfront, which is very close to the Macau-HK Ferry Terminal. I had been considering visiting Macau before returning to the mainland, but decided to stay an extra day in Hong Kong instead. [Butterfly on Waterfront is described as a “boutique hotel,” which is a fancy way of saying “your room is small, but trendy!” Room rates are between $80-120 a night, which is cheap by HK standards, and for that price I got a very comfortable room with a desk, ...

Malaysia trip, part 5 SIDEBAR: The quest for Singapore’s Bitcoin ATMs

Malaysia trip, part 5 SIDEBAR: The quest for Singapore's Bitcoin ATMs
HONG KONG — As you can guess from the dateline here, I’ve come to the end of my Malaysian adventure, and I’m still running behind in talking about it. This post is a sidebar to the forthcoming narrative about my three days in Singapore. It’s about my efforts to find Singapore’s Bitcoin ATMs (plural), and finding perhaps the only surviving member of the species. I’m still a cautious booster of Bitcoin, the computer-based “cryptocurrency” that’s been behind both scandals and successes in the financial world. For my purposes, it’s a relatively low-cost way to channel Chinese yuan from my Chinese bank account to American dollars in my US bank account. Depending on market prices, sometimes it’s a no-cost way to move money, and if you time transfers right, somewhat profitable. I move funds roughly once a month, after payday. Usually, I use two exchanges, BTCC, which is based in China, and Coinbase, in the USA. [Coinbase is not technically an exchange, but it does permit you to move between dollars and bitcoins. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll call it an exchange for now.] Buying bitcoins in China used to be a piece of cake, using a Chinese version of PayPal called ...

The Malaysia trip, part 4

The Malaysia trip, part 4
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA — Cameron Highlands was a bit of a snoozer, but George Town was a real treat. Several writers have described George Town as one of the top places to retire, and I can see why. Great food, lots of things to see and do, great people, interesting culture. I was reluctant to leave at the end of my week there. It’s only a five-hour trip by coach from Brinchang to Butterworth. The coach leaves from Tanah Rata, just south of Brinchang, and stops in Brinchang to pick up passengers on the way to Ipoh terminal and finally Butterworth. As I discovered, the head office of the coach line, Unititi, is at the Brinchang Hotel, but the main bus terminal for the Cameron Highlands is in Tanah Rata. Good to remember for the next time I come. I could have stayed on the bus all the way onto Penang Island, but my Airbnb hosts told me the ferry from Butterworth to George Town would put me closer to their home. Plus, it’s a lot more picturesque. Here’s some history about George Town. Like many other cities with similar names, it’s named after King George III (the fellow we ...

The Malaysia trip, mapped

The Malaysia trip, mapped
Rather than clutter up the last post with a map, I’ll put the map up here. As you can see, most of my travel has been in peninsular Malaysia. Eastern Malaysia, on the island of Borneo, reaches the end of its monsoon season in February, usually. 1. Kuala Lumpur/Batu Caves 2. Brinchang, Cameron Highlands 3. George Town, Penang 4. Singapore 5. Kota Kinabalu, Sabah 6. Kuala Lumpur For the geographically challenged, Brunei is an independent sultanate wedged into the state of Sarawak, Malaysia, and Indonesia controls most of the southern half of Borneo. The Philippines are to the northeast of Borneo, and easily accessible by boat or plane from Sabah (where I am now). Thailand lies to the north of peninsular Malaysia. So, you could land in Bangkok, Thailand, take the train to Kuala Lumpur, or even Singapore. Fly to Jakarta, Indonesia, then hop over to Pontianak on Borneo (and stand on the equator!), then take the bus to Kuching in Sarawak, Brunei, Kota Kinabalu, and finish up in the Philippines. Six countries in all. Yes, I did consider it. But rather than rack up “countries visited” points, I opted for leisurely exploring one — well, two, counting Singapore.

The Malaysia trip, part 3

The Malaysia trip, part 3
KOTA KINABALU, SABAH, MALAYSIA — The rough itinerary I worked out before coming to Malaysia was (1) Kuala Lumpur (2) Cameron Highlands (3) Penang (4) Singapore (5) ???? (6) Kuala Lumpur. Right now, I’m in segment (5), so there’s some time delay at work here. I ended up staying six days in the Cameron Highlands, specifically in a small town called Brinchang (or Berincang, which is the Malay name/spelling). Two of those were basically downtime, partly because of rain and partly because I needed to give my feet a rest. All that walking in Kuala Lumpur had raised blisters on my left foot. [Note to self: Next time, bring the shoes you know are comfortable and don’t chafe anywhere. And wear two pairs of socks. OK?] The Cameron Highlands are, well, higher in altitude than the coastal regions of Malaysia, and naturally cooler. Temperatures in KL were in the 90s (°F) while I was there, but Brinchang temperatures were 20 degrees cooler, even during the day. Great weather for walking or hiking, and the area around Brinchang and Tanah Rata offers plenty of hiking trails. For reasons of space and weight, I did not bring my hiking boots, which in ...

UK accuses China of treaty infringement over missing booksellers; China replies, ‘MYOB’

UK accuses China of treaty infringement  over missing booksellers; China replies, 'MYOB'
KOTA KINABALU, SABAH, MALAYSIA — British and Chinese officials have engaged in a war of words over the detention of five Hong Kong booksellers, with UK’s foreign minister accusing China of interfering in Hong Kong affairs and Chinese officials replying that the UK should mind its own business. When Britain handed over its former colony, Hong Kong, to China in 1997, all three governments agreed to the “one country, two systems” policy, in which the Beijing government agreed to leave Hong Kong free to deal with its own citizens, as well as honor Hong Kong’s longstanding guarantees of free speech and a free press. But, when five Hong Kong men who publish and sell books critical of Communist Party officials abruptly disappeared over the last few months, Hong Kongers quickly suspected mainland authorities were behind it. One of them, Lee Bo, holds dual citizenship in the UK and China. British, Swedish and American officials have tried to persuade Chinese officials to explain what’s going on, but China, per its usual habit, has not obliged those requests. Yesterday, The Guardian reported UK foreign secretary Philip Hammond stated to Parliament that it was apparent that mainland officials had clearly interfered with Hong ...

HK indie dystopian film outperforms Star Wars VII on opening night, disappears

HK indie dystopian film outperforms <em>Star Wars VII</em> on opening night, disappears
KOTA KINABALU, SABAH, MALAYSIA — An independent film set in a dystopian Hong Kong of 2025 opened last month, and outsold the latest Star Wars episode. Then, it quickly disappeared from theatres, probably because it’s very critical of the mainland government. Ten Years (十年 shi nian) consists of five shorts, all set ten years in the future, when Cantonese has been outlawed and an oppressive government rules with 1984-like efficiency. One short depicts the self-immolation of a protester, which has been a common form of protest on the mainland by Tibetan and other dissidents. There’s no evidence the Beijing government has banned the film in Hong Kong. But its disappearance may be a form of “self-censorship” by theatre operators unwilling to deal with government censors. Links for further information: CNN Jan. 20 Radio Free Asia Feb. 10 Wikipedia entry Filmmakers’ interview with HK magazine TimeOut

The Malaysia trip, part 2

The Malaysia trip, part 2
GEORGE TOWN, PENANG, MALAYSIA — So, I’ve been here three weeks so far. What have I been doing? Walking a lot and riding buses, taking lots of pictures, eating interesting food. Soaking in all these new places and experiences. And trying to relax. No hurries, no worries. So far, I have spent about a week in Kuala Lumpur, about five days in Cameron Highlands, and tomorrow I will finish a week in George Town, Penang. Next, I will spent three days in Singapore for Chinese New Year — which should be fun — and then a week in Kota Kinabalu on the island of Borneo. Then back to KL, and China. The most interesting thing I’ve done by far is witness the Thaipusam festival (see photo at right) at Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur on Jan. 24. It’s a religious festival, but a joyful one. So the feeling was very light hearted. I like Kuala Lumpur in general, too. But I grew up near New York City, so if you’re not a city person, KL may leave you feeling exhausted. There are tons of things to see and do (and eat!), but it’s also crowded, noisy and not especially hospitable ...

Ten years! How did that happen?

GEORGE TOWN, PENANG, MALAYSIA — I’ve been blogging here for ten years! I just realized it today, while talking to a fellow blogger who is staying at the same airbnb location as I. My first post was Jan. 18, 2006. And here it is, Feb. 3, 2016! I missed the anniversary. Better late than never. That is all. Have a good one!

USA, UK, Sweden also wonder what happened to 5 Hong Kong booksellers

USA, UK, Sweden also wonder what happened to 5 Hong Kong booksellers
US State Department officials have joined British and Swedish counterparts in questioning mainland Chinese authorities about the sudden disappearances of five Hong Kong booksellers during the last several months. The five men are part of a publishing house and bookshop specializing in gossipy exposés about officials of the Chinese Communist Party, including current president Xi Jinping. According to the “one country, two systems” rule established after the return of Hong Kong to the mainland in 1997, the Beijing government is supposed to honor the autonomy of the former British colony and guarantee Hong Kongers’ rights of free speech and free press. However, Gui Minhai, who holds Swedish citizenship, turned up on China’s national TV last month, saying he had turned himself over to mainland authorities voluntarily for a decade-old fatal drunk driving accident. Gui had been vacationing in Thailand when he mysteriously disappeared last October. Lee Bo, who holds dual Chinese and British citizenship, turned up on the mainland after disappearing from Hong Kong on Dec. 30. His wife met with him at a mainland resort, saying he was part of an investigation. The other three men are also believed to be detained somewhere on the mainland. [UPDATE Feb. 5, ...

The Atlantic Monthly fails Science 101, #FlatEarth ers rejoice

<em>The Atlantic Monthly</em> fails Science 101, #FlatEarth ers rejoice
GEORGE TOWN, PENANG, MALAYSIA — There is just so much wrong about a science writer equating “fringe science” with real science in a major magazine that I feel compelled to write a response. I know, I should be writing about my wonderful vacation trip instead of grousing about an essay praising science cranks for their creativity and inquisitive spirit, but Lizzie Wade’s essay in The Atlantic Monthly, “In Defense of Flat Earthers,” just irritates the crap out of me. It bothers me because Wade, whose background as a science writer seems pretty solid, gets all touchy-feely, New-Agey and says fringe scientists are just so adorable, trying to make sense of the world in their cockeyed ways. Why, they’re just like real scientists! No, they are not. I will explain why momentarily. Even more annoying is Wade’s response to criticism that she’s fundamentally missed the boat on what science is and does. She tweeted this rejoinder to one such complaint: It’s not my job to promote science or encourage people to become scientists. https://t.co/lepZqYmMH2 — Lizzie Wade (@lizzie_wade) January 28, 2016 What in blue blazes do you think your job is, Lizzie Wade? A science writer shuld be writing about science, ...
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