Saturday, 8 December 2018

Graham Norton's novels. Forget Scandi-Noir...try Mammy-Noir


Both "Holding" (2016) and "A Keeper" (2018) are both delightful reads.
Graham Norton is known as BBC top TV host, actor (2 episodes of "Father Ted"), The Telegraph's agony aunt, author of two autobiographies and a non-fiction book on 20th century gay icons. I did not expect the complexities of the characters, the poignancy of the situations or the intricately structured plots spanning several decades.
Both books capture Irish village life - numerous visits to the local pub, nattering in the general store and countless cups of tea being offered. Norton's love of West Cork comes through in "A Keeper" as well as his love of dogs. There is a touching bit midway through about a loyal dog's reaction to the death of his owner: " Dora the collie had continued to sleep on one of his old jumpers till death claimed her too..."
Love, disappointment, loss, secrets, motherhood and new challenges are recurring themes. Things get pretty dark in both novels and Norton knows how to build a cracking climax.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Taking the train(s) from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur

1. Closest MRT to Woodlands Train Checkpoint is Marsiling. A local bus takes you straight to the Checkpoint or it's a 1.5 km walk.

2. KTMB (Malaysian Trains) have shuttles running regularly (often every 30 minutes). Journey time to Johor Bahru Central is 5 minutes. You may choose to overnight in JB. Loads of attractions/theme parks for kids plus retail outlets and restaurants for adults.

3. If you want a leisurely day train journey to KL:
Take the 9:15 from JB Central. Arriving in Gemas around 13:25. Then catch the new electrified line (nicer train) from Gemas at 15:10, arriving KL Central around 17:30 (signals permitting).

JB Central

Leaving JB Central

JB Central to Gemas carriage (only one class) Limited power points.
They don't call it the 'jungle line' for nothing. You also have to like palm plantations
Last station before KL Central is the magnificent KL Station.
Modern interior of the Gemas - KL Central train. Warning - rug up - the air conditioning is icy and unrelenting. Seats have power points.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Batu Caves - a cheap and cheerful half day excursion by train

Forget the coach tours, take the air-conditioned commuter train (Line 1) for about $US 2 return from KL Central. You buy train tickets (tokens) at a ticket window, not ticket machines.
The station is at the entrance to Batu Caves. Admission to Main Cathedral Cave and main temple (the one with 272 steps) is free. This is about 5-10 minutes walk from the station.
Wear long pants/sarong so you don't have to rent a sarong. Allow 1-2 hours at the caves. Trains leave hourly from Batu Caves Station. Feed monkeys at your peril. The main temple is a 10 minute walk from the station.
The nearly painted steps

If you have the time, there are other caves and temples near the station.

Kuala Lumpur Sightseeing using Rapid KL trains and Monorail

Old KL Station

Driverless train

Great views from the front if you are an underground train fan
Plant yourself at the front carriage for some spectacular photos of KL. Rapid KL trains are driverless, so you can position yourself facing up the track.
Depart from KL Central on Line 5 (toward Gombak).
For another route, try the KL Monorail (Line 8). Fares are cheap, trains are clean and frequent.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Haw Par Villa (Tiger Balm Gardens) Free Stuff to Do in Singapore No 2

The 8.5 hectare park contains hundreds of giant statues and dioramas depicting Chinese mythology, legends, folklore and morality tales. The Ten Courts of Hell section is jaw-droppingly gory. Built in 1937, the vivid displays are meticulously maintained.
A unique historic theme park.
Free Admission
Haw Par Villa MRT is next door.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Singapore Botanic Gardens (Go here before Gardens by the Bay) Free stuff in Singapore No 1.

No wonder this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While Gardens by the Bay is flashy, the Botanic Gardens (established in 1859) are more impressive. Allow at least 4 hours. Even if you are not into horticulture; the landscaping, sculptures, animal encounters (swans, monitor lizards, tortoises and otters) and the fact that it is free; makes this place a must for visitors to Singapore. Return at night for a totally new perspective (the only section not flood-lit is the rainforest trail).
Opening Hours 5 a.m. to midnight.
The National Orchid Garden has a $5 admission.
Closest MRT is Botanic Gardens (right next to Bukit Timah Gate).

Maps are available at all gates.
Swan Lake, look out for otters

Otter taking a short cut

Otter No 2

Walk of the Giants

Ginger Garden

Rain Forest boardwalk

1.5 metre monitor lizard in Symphony Lake

Kepppel Discovery Wetlands

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Malaysia's Pulau Melaka - Ghost Town or White Elephant?

This is Riviera Hotel/Suites at the entrance to Pulau Melaka (Malacca Island). Row after row of empty shops and restaurants,  unleased or unopened. We were the only tourists in the area. The place resembles a ghost town.
In the streets around this man-made island it's the same story. The only activity seems to be the 'floating mosque'  (A little over 1 km from the island's bridge) and the construction on the second reclaimed land/island. A promised Ferris wheel was never built. A wildlife-encounter park looks abandoned. Security guards seem to be the only viable enterprise.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Tiring of Scandi noir? Try some Gallic noir...

French television is full of juicy crime thrillers. Many have surfaced on streaming services like Netflix in the last couple of years.
The French seem to enjoy serial killer-related dramas served with a large serve of revenge. Currently on Netflix you have :"Le Chalet" (murder most foul in a scenic village in the French alps), "La Foret"/"The Forest" (disappearing teenagers in the Ardennes forest), "La Mante" (a female Hannibal Lecter helping the police catch her a copycat killer), "The Frozen Dead"/"Glace" (murky deeds set around a psychiatric facility perched high in the Pyrenees).

Thankfully, these limited mini-series contain only 6 episodes, rather than some inflated English language productions that are dragged out to 10 - 13 instalments.