The new Asia

I love traveling in Asia.  I missed out in my younger years but in the past 10 years I have been to many countries, one could spend a lifetime and not see it all.  I love the people, the bustling cities, the colors, the food.  I am in awe of the energy that is in the air, it is in stark contrast with Germany where things are just settled in many ways just routine.

In the past couple years I have spend time in Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.  This time we spend a weekend in Kuala Lumpur and this time around the Formula 1 weekend was on and we were right in the center of town.  There were a lot of promotional activities going on and we saw our share of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and other exotic and very expensive cars.  I could not help but think how the western world has influenced the globe in so many ways and not all of them are necessarily good.  It does not matter where you are in the world if one wants to buy luxury items, whether a car or a watch it is going to be mostly a European brand and to a lesser extend an American brand.  It is interesting that a local Chinese in Malaysia when he can afford it he buys an Italian exotic car (not a Fiat), a Swiss watch, they go to a French restaurant and when they travel they go to Europe.  I read that most fancy boutiques and shops in Paris, London, etc. employ Chinese speaking staff in order to cater to these clients.  The masses, modern urbanites of the different mega cities all over the developing world, then try to emulate by buying up as much as they can.  This has led to an erosion the local cultures and societies that changes the character and the mentality forever.  It is ironic that we fly so many miles to “exotic” and far away places but end up with people who very much like us have become victims of aggressive modern marketing and peer pressure.

Every time I am in Asia, I wonder how it might have been even 40 or 50 years ago when Asia was truly different and unique in every respect.  I would like, even for the briefest of moment, to able to experience the sights, the smells, the air and the colors of these by-gone places.

I realize that this post may sound judgmental but it is by no means judgmental, I have no right to judge anyone but myself.  It is just an observation, probably a subjective one but that is how I see it.  When I visit places in Asia, I tend to stray away from the beaten path and I try to get to places where I am the only one that looks like me and where I use an honest smile and many gestures to get by.  These places still exist out there and I relish experiencing them every single time.

So long…

Adelaide, SA

The driest city in the driest continent, that is what the say about Adelaide.  The city was named after a German Queen, who married William IV and became the Queen of the UK and Ireland.  As we approached the city we could see a brown landscape, I expected more green.  The city sprawls for miles in the horizon, there are some taller buildings in the center but the skyline is nothing spectacular.  As we approach from the north we can see the famous Adelaide Hills to our right (eastward).  On the other side somewhere in the distance is the Kangaroo Island, the island without kangaroos.

Our arrival was uneventful, the red eye flight was short and Ben only slept 6 hours during the night, he did not complain.  It took us less than 15 minutes to get through immigration and pick up, again I thought of my last time when I arrived in Chicago.  It took me more than an hour, why?

Crocodile Dundee wannabe in Adelaide

Well, we have been in Adelaide for a few days now and we are catching up with relatives and friends.  We feel a little bit like being in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.  On the first night though, I met a miner from Coober Pedy.  Theio (uncle to the non-Greeks, a term we use to show respect to elder people and of course for actual uncles) Aleko has been a miner over there for over 30 years!  Coober Pedy is one of the hottest places on earth and the city is known as The Opal Capital of the world.  We will stop in this town on our way to the Northern Territory along the Stuart Highway sometime later this month. Interesting about this town aside from what most travel books talk about is that there is a big Greek community that has been active there for many decades, along with Italians, Yugoslavs.  Life there is harsh, lonely and quite; time is on a different schedule.  Anyway, the pace is slow going right now and we are organizing our time, I have arranged for a rental and we should be going to Flinders Ranges National Park and the frontier town Quorn.  Besides some family matters that we have to attend we will also be doing excursions around Adelaide and hopefully see some festivals as it is that time of the year here in Adelaide.  Towards the end of the month we will be heading out to see Uluru and the real Outback.

They are in the pool again!

The house

Where we are staying

We are staying with Beth’s godparents in Vale Park which is about 10 minutes drive from down town Adelaide.  The suburbs here are a bit different compared to the typical US suburbs.  The houses are mostly ranch style house, there is no basement.

The neighbourhood

The lots seem to be much smaller and most of them are fenced in, in some cases with plain, ugly, metal sheets, I find that very weird and somehow depressing.  The houses are simple in their construction like in the US and unlike Germany nobody seems to even think about energy waste and eco friendly housing.  People are much more friendly than in Germany though and when you walk around here strangers tend to greet each other.  The cars are older and the contrast is especially stark cince our last station was Singapore where most cars were not older then 2 or 3 years, streets are very wide and the traffic at least here in Adelaide seems to be ok.

The Greeks that I have met here til now are very similar to Greek-Americans, they keep the idea of Hellenism alive.  The people here are more Greek than their brethren that live in Greece.  Through love and a lot of hard work they keep the Greek and especially their Pontianheritage alive.  To those of you who do not know Pontians are a distinct Greek ethnic group that lived in what is now day northern Turkey in the Black Sea area.  This is where my father’s family came from.  This love which is common to so many Greeks even in 2nd or 3rd generation in far away places is very strong, it is the fact that they miss their homeland so much that this flame alive even after 40 years of living in far away places like Australia.  Adelaide has two Greek radio stations, 14 Greek Orthodox churches and according to some estimates about 50,000 to 60,000 Greeks, that is very small compared to Melbourne where the number is well above 100,000.

So long….

I did not have the time to work on some of the videos that we took since we left home, you can watch them here.

Singapore – The rest

The stay over in Singapore was far too short or far too long we cannot decide.  We did not see everything we wanted to see, with a baby it is hard to keep a tight schedule and the heat did not help much.  On the other side travelling with Ben is a blast he does not complain, not once has he complained during the past few days and we put him through many ordeals.  Quite the opposite through his sweet toothless smile we were approached by many people.  In Germany when you walk around with a baby in a stroller you’re a nuisance, people tend to look at you in a different, not necessarily a positive way.  Here, we were stopped by mostly Asians, Westerners could not care less, and they wanted to talk to him and play with him.  They wanted to enquire about his age and if he can walk and stuff,

Oh, so tired!

it was an awesome experience and one that has really showed us how blessed we are.  Even now, it is late at night at the airport and we had to check out this morning he is still smiling at people.  It makes you think and he forces you to believe, to try better and to just smile.  He has definitely enriched our trip.  The picture on the right is shows how tired we all were by the end of each day.

A white tiger


There is not enough I can say about Ben, as a proud father I guess that is normal but I got to move on.  The second day we

A white rhino

went to the Singapore Zoo, the zoo is awesome, the best I have seen so far.  I guess the location helps as many of the animals feel right at home, in Wuppertal an elephant or a tiger does look a bit out of place as it is far from its natural environment.  There were some special things to see but the white tigers, the cheetahs and the white rhinoceros were the ones that impressed me the best.  The orangutan’s colony is well known and there are different shows that are quite entertaining, Ben did not seem to care much about the animals.

We chose to not rush to any other sites for the day and instead we went back to the hotel and went down to the pool.  Ben loves the water and his mother does too.  The day was hot and the pool helped us to cool down.  The Shangri La hotel was not as good as I expected it to be.  It had a nice pool area but the room was a little old, it was spacious but it looked like it needed some renovations.  The staff

Mother and son

were excellent though, they were very friendly and some people knew Ben by his name.  Lying by the pool I also started reading “One for the road” by Tony Horowitz a Travelogue about his trip a hitchhiker around Australia.  Funny stuff and a way to prepare at least a bit for our trip to Uluru.

On Sunday we decided to sleep in and use the pool again before we headed out to see the Singapore National Museum and meet up with my colleague Pamela.  Relaxing next to water is for some reason a great relaxing experience, the best.  We left to go to the National Museum at around 14:00, when we got there though there was a long queue to go and see the different exhibits so we decided to leave the place and walk down to the Esplanade to see the Merlion and also get a view of the business district and possibly the Quay.  On the way down we passed Fort Canning Park, best known for being the Allied HQ, headed by Lieutenant-General Arthur E. Pecival in that tragic loss to the Japanese in 1942.

We then walked and -did I mentioned it was hot!- saw two very peculiar things.  One was the arrest of what seemed to be a migrant worker, we did not know why but it seems a strange experience in a place like Singapore.  The other thing we saw and we actually looked on as he went through the routine was a bus driver dusting the outside of his bus.  We have never seen something like that but it also goes

Ben, me and the CBD

to show you how clean the place is.  The first time we used the stroller was in Singapore and we walked for many miles in the city and the different parks, the wheels do not even have dust on the them, they look like they have never been used, it is that clean!  We moved on and walked around the Esplanade and the

Raffles Place - Looking up!

Theaters on the Bay, we saw the Merlion and the CBD.  The sun was scorching hot and we were running a little late so

The Singapore River

we rushed to the Raffles Hotel where we met with Pam.  We took the MRT (their version of the Underground), which again was impeccably clean, how is that possible with the thousands of people that use the thing is beyond me to the Raffles Place, where the three tallest buildings of Singapore are located.  We were looking to go to the Singapore River to take a boat ride.  It is a touristy thing to do I guess but it also gives you a spectacular view of the city.  As he did not have lunch we got hungry early and we headed out of the city towards the East to the East Lagoon Seafood Plaza, chili crab and prawns were in order and they were tasty!  I find food in Asia to always taste better than what we have back home and we were not disappointed.  We then walked

Pam with Beth and Ben

along the beach looking out towards all the big ships anchored waiting their turn I guess.  On Sunday there was also some type of Kite gathering and there were quite a few people flying their kites along the beach as well.  Pam took good care of us and we are ever thankful for her hospitality.  We will hopefully see each other again soon.

Our last day in Singapore, we had to check out early and our flight was at midnight was spend at the pool in the morning and then at shopping malls where we had japanese lunch, oishi soba noodles and also kept cool for the main part of the day.  It is here also that we saw one too many Montblanc and Zara stores.  Doesn’t the value of exclusive brands diminish when they have shops every few hundred meters?  It is also here that we realized that Singapore has lost most of its past in these malls and high end hotels.  We went up to the 34th floor (….or was it 36th, hmmm) of the Mandarin Gallery/Meritus Mandarin Hotel where we had a spectacular view of the city.  The only thing that one could see is this mega city very few patches of green and even less of its past, which had been cleared by bulldozers to make way for the neon lights, the malls, the ever lasting hunger of people to spend money buying stuff they do not really need.  Little has been left of the old colonial Singapore, there are some patches where one can glimpse the old glory of this trading post or let alone the remnants of the Sumatran Srivijaya empire that was long before any white man set foot here.  The apetite for development is insatiable, there are more shopping centers and malls being build not only along Orchard Rd but all around the city and more housing units as the population is projected to grow from 5 million to 6 million within the next 20 years or so.  So while we liked many things in Singapore, I loved above all the multicultural aspect and the boring weather reports, there are a few things that are not as exciting as we had maybe hoped for.

So finally after a few days in Singapore we were ready for the flight to Adelaide, the airport -another shopping mall in disguise- is excellent.  The flight though was leaving at midnight and the day had been long, as soon the seat belt sign went off, we put Ben in his cot and we all fell asleep…

So long….

Singapore

We do not seem to suffer from jet-lag, well not much anyway!  So on our first day we naturally woke up a little later, had a long breakfast and decided to take it easy by heading to the Botanical Garden.

The National Orchid Garden

Of course we did not think that we will be exposed to  the sun for the better part of the morning with the temperature hitting 32C in the shade.  Beth, the eternal organizer had brought sun cream and lots of water for Ben and us but the heat was unbelievable.  The garden was very nice but the highlight is the Orchid Garden which is a 3-acre garden

within a garden and the only part for which we had to pay an admission.  It was wonderful we have never seen so many pretty flowers in one place.  I do not care much for flowers but it was amazing to see all the varieties, the many shapes and even more colors.  The walk through the park though took its toll on us, we had visibly difficulties dealing with this extreme weather, we were not used to it.  Ben was an angel, he did have his difficulties but he never complaint, not one bid.  We tried to give him more water and repeatedly whitened him with heavy sun cream but he was beat.  On thing that we noticed repeatedly is how Ben interacts with this strange environment, he smiles and engages people at will.  It is also true that people all

over Asia are much more child friendly than most places in Europe.  So many women but even some men would stop and interact with him, they smiled and played with him.  We went with the flow and let Ben do his thing and work the crowd, this was even more so later in the evening on Orchard rd.  We quickly decided though that staying out exposed to this sun was going to get the better of us so we got on a taxi, after feeding Ben, and went to Maxwell Food Court in Chinatown.  Maxwell’s is an open FC where mostly locals enjoy food so the taxi driver was a bit taken back when I asked him to take us there, his question was “You know Maxwell FC?”, I guess we did not look like locals.  The place is colorful, so many smells and so many different foods.  Some did not look like as appetizing but chinese kitchen is not only kung-po chicken or sweet and

Maxwell’s FC

sour pork.  There is such a variety and as the chinese themselves say they eat everything but the table!  We decided for some chicken and rice, supposedly a specialty of the Hain province and some greens that I have not seen before, it was all very tasty.  Meanwhile Ben was sleeping in his stroller and people were stopping by to look at him and then looked at us approvingly.  It was a bit embarrassing but we also felt proud.  Nearby there was a chinese Temple and a market that we took a stroll through.  I love local markets as the products they offer are profoundly different than what you get at home and it is the best way to see to familiarize with the locals.  It is funny because back home we never go to street markets but whenever I am anywhere in Asia I love walking through them, they

Chinese lanterns

become more interesting when they are far away from any urban area.

By now we had been out of the hotel for the better part of so we decided  to find our way back to the hotel and relax at the pool, Ben seemed to agree with us.  We do not understand why but it has been difficult to get a taxi but thanks to a very kind young man from Rhode Island, who called a cab for us, we were able to get into a air conditioned taxi that took us back to our hotel.  It was only when we returned back to the hotel that we realized that we were all red from the sun, Ben who used sun screen fared better but he got a nice little tan.

The hotel pool

Back in the hotel we decided to find some shade out by the pool and enjoy the rest of the day. The room is spacious and cool but we are not here to stay in the room, so we went down and promptly fell asleep.  There is nothing that compares to sleeping outside with the sound of water and Ben as you can see in

Father and son asleep at the pool

the picture enjoyed it too.

Later we again went out to Orchard road, we spend most of our evenings there and I will describe the experience in a later post.

It has been barely 24 hours since we left home but it could not be farther away and we were enjoying ourselves immensely.  More to follow, so long…

First day in Singapore

So, we are finally here it has taken us more than 18 hours of flying and layovers, this compares favorably with the first Europeans who showed up here a few hundred years ago so there are no complaints.

Singapore is a city state at the tip of the Malay peninsula, it is about 85 miles north of the equator.  Its population is about 5 million some estimates say that about 50% of that are foreign born.  Singapore is a a parliamentary republic but according to some NGOs it is a repressive place politically speaking although in terms of the economy it is one of the most liberal globally.  Somewhere in this mix lies the secret of its success, according to one of the statistics I read lately about 1 out of every 13 citizens is a millionaire, Singapore has the 5th highest GDP in the world and according to my limited experience one of the highest concentration of exotic and luxury cars in the world!  What makes Singapore so unique besides its economic strength is its unique way of dealing with the diversity of its people, about 50% are of chinese origin, with Malays, Indians, Europeans, etc. making up the rest.  All live and work in harmony!

Now back to our trip.  Immigration and luggage pick up was a breeze, it is about time that the US learns something from others.  Nowhere besides Russia and US does it take so long to clear immigration, it is keeping me away.  The drive to the city from the airport is surreal in many ways.  I have done it many times before but it is always astonishing how pretty, how perfect everything looks.  It is clean, the cleanest place I have seen, no wonder as even spitting carries a hefty fine.  I guess there is a lesson there somewhere for most of our democratic and free nations of Europe where abusing, damaging or destroying city or foreign property is excused as a difficult childhood, freedom of expression or some other absurd excuse.  It is hard not to compare the situation especially when the differences are so stark.

The Shangri-La in Singapore

As you may have surmised I like Singapore, I have been a fan of the city since my first visit 13 years ago.  We arrived at the hotel and as some hotels do our check in was done in our room.

The service was impeccable, Shangri-La is known for being an excellent hotel and they did not disappoint.  It was already late in the afternoon so we quickly freshened up and as internally it was a still lunch time for us we hopped on the hotel shuttle bus that took us to one of the malls on Orchard rd.  It was a quick dinner at a chinese restaurant where we had the choice of dumplings or dumplings but they were very tasty nonetheless.

We were too wired to get back to the hotel immediately so we walked around Orchard rd. with all its glitz and glamour.  Orchard rd. is the major shopping street in Singapore and a major tourist attraction.  It seems to have one of the highest concentrations of shopping malls in the world, over 20 if I counted correctly, I wonder why there is a need for a Zara store across a Zara store but I guess there is always a reason.  It was enough for us to look at the malls from the outside to know that they were all the same from the inside.  They are surely full with more exclusive stores than your average mall in Germany, the US or the UK but on the boring side nevertheless.

The Main Entrance of the Shangri La in Singapore

Ben and Beth on Orchard Rd in front of the Isetan shopping mall

The time was 22:00 and the street was bustling with pedestrians, the temperature had now fallen to a cool 28 degrees.  It seemed that the street side cafes and bars were full of people enjoying the warm night, it was very difficult for us to imagine that not quite 24 hours ago we were in the cold and miserable winter that has gripped most of Europe this winter.  After walking for a few blocks we got ourselves a taxi and went back to the hotel where we gave Ben his milk and fell asleep …..

So long…..


Preparing for the trip

We have been preparing for this trip for a long time.  Last summer we had to start buying clothes for Ben so that he would have some clothes in the hot and humid weather in Singapore and Oz.  We had to organize many small and big things with the house, the cars the bills.  You do not think of all the little bits and pieces that you have to take care before the trip, these bits and pieces rise exponentially with a little infant in the group.  All these things slowly fell into place by the time we had to leave and the ones we forgot I guess are not as important as we might have thought.  So the last few days before the trip were not as hectic.  We were long prepared, mostly thanks to Beth, who is very well organized and works well with task and to-do lists.  I would have forgotten half of the stuff….

So as last few days were filled with goodbyes and farewells from friends and relatives.  We saw my grandma the day before we left and she enjoyed playing with Ben, who always seems to be very happy to see her.  On the 27th, the day we left, they had a snow storm warning for most of Germany, we were a little worried so we left a little earlier and met with friends at the airport.  We got lucky and they changed our flight to an earlier one and we could leave Düsseldorf earlier than scheduled.  In Frankfurt we had to walk, what felt like a dozen kilometers and go through security checks again as we the two terminals were not connected, what’s up with that?

Beth and Ilias checking in

I fly a few dozen times a year and I avoid the airport in Frankfurt and this was certainly a reminder of how bad this airport really is.  Anyway the lounge was very good and quiet, besides some speeches that little Ben had to give.  It is this new thing of his when he mumbles loudly gesticulating like a skilled politician.

Our flight out of Frankfurt was boarded on  time but by the time we were ready for take off it was snowing heavily and we needed to de-ice the plane which took more than an hour of waiting in the plane all with fastened seat belts.  Thank goodness the quality of the air is always bad in the plane so it helped us doze off until we took off around midnight.  The flight was a little bumpy and felt sorry for Beth who seemingly has bad luck with long haul flights, the bumpy part started right after dinner and it made her feel really sick.  I, like most people hate it as well, but it does not bother me much.  I was able to watch the “Surrogates” and “Public Enemies” while also catching some sleep.  Ben got the royal treatment, as they hung a baby cot on the wall so that he could sleep in peace and we could have our hands free and best of all this service was free of charge.

Ben and Despoina during our check in for our flights to Singapore

Ben in his special airplane baby cot

We finally arrived with a slight delay in Singapore where the temperature was at 32C with a  comfortable 90% humidity, when we left it was -8c and snowing heavily.  We have had weather like that for the better of the month so it was very nice to see the sun and very pleasant to feel the heat.  The sun, the palm trees, the open water and Ben’s excitement to finally be able to get out of the confined spaces of the plane brought smiles on our tired faces.

I will try to update this blog as often as possible, I will have internet access for the next few days here in Singapore but I am not sure about later on.

So long….