Monthly Archives: October 2009

SCULPTURE BY THE SEA – Sydney

Lost boys

Is there anything that does more to make you think Sydney’s a pretty damn good place than the annual Sculpture by the Sea event?

For those unfortunate few who may yet know nothing about it, it’s billed as the world’s biggest outdoor art event. Each November some hundred or so sculptures are arranged along the 1km long cliff walk from Sydney’s famous Bondi Beach to Tamarama.

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The work is seriously good and entry is highly competitive, attracting some of Australia’s and the world’s great artists.

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Sydneysiders turn out in their droves to see it, particularly at weekends, so we went this Friday morning, Day 2, as soon after sunrise as possible. Miraculously we found an unrestricted parking spot, then lugged the child’s stroller and (3 year old) grandson up and down the steps, dodging the joggers and the dog walkers.

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The grandson found plenty to interest him – particularly the eyes staring from the cliff, the hands-on cubby house made of second-hand toys, and the Lost Boy on the beach.
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Controversially, the creator of the hyper-realistic but oversized Lost Boy had been asked to give him a swimsuit to hide his modesty. A fascinated toddler, naked himself, lost his balance in the soft sand and clutched at the lost boy’s garment, nearly causing a major wardrobe malfunction.  We all got a laugh out of that one.
Lost Boy crop
I went to the Danish version of the event in the town of Aarhus this year. It was well done, and massively popular with locals and visitors. But the Danes just don’t have the spectacular cliff-top setting that Sydney can offer. Does anybody? Has there ever been any sculpture created in the history of the world that wouldn’t look better perched on a headland with the Pacific Ocean crashing on rocks behind it?
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Sculpture by the Sea is a beautiful thing. If you live in Sydney, go and see it right now – it’s on till November 15th. If you don’t, plan to visit in November next year. If you’re too busy this year and next year, just hope that Sculpture by the Sea will be around for many Novembers to come.

http://www.sculpturebythesea.com

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LAGOS, NIGERIA – The ducky potty man

As soon as I caught the vendor’s eye through the car window I knew I’d made a mistake. I was new to Nigeria. I’d just arrived in Lagos that morning, less than an hour ago. I’d shown a flicker of interest in what he was selling and now he expected me to buy it – a toddler’s ducky potty.

I didn’t mean to stare. I know that in these potentially awkward situations it’s best to hide behind sunglasses and feign blindness, or to speak loudly into a cell phone so you look like a busy man on a mission. After several stints in Asia and four whole weeks in Africa, I was an old hand at smiling politely and brushing away zebra necklaces, phone cards, Ladysmith Black Mambazo CDs and Rolex watches as if they were troublesome flies.

But this was new to me – a young man in a traffic jam (‘go-slows’, I was soon to discover they’re called in Nigeria) trying to sell ducky potties to passing motorists. I mean, when you’re caught in a traffic jam, in the heat and oppressive humidity, it’s possible that you might develop the need for a bottle of cool water, or an orange, or a bag of nuts, or a newspaper, or even a phone card if you have to let someone know that at this rate you won’t make it to the office for another five hours. Other enterprising vendors were already selling these items. It seems totally improbable that you’d suddenly experience an overwhelming urge to buy a ducky potty.

Who is this ducky potty man? I wondered.  What made him decide to sell potties by the roadside? Are they his potties, or is he an agent for someone who’s found a large batch of toilet items fallen off the back of a truck, and who now needs help to offload them?  How many potties does he sell in a day?  In a year? How much profit margin is there in selling a potty?  When he was a kid, did he aspire to be a potty vendor when he grew up?  Do his parents talk proudly about ‘our son who’s in Lagos doing something very big in potties’?  Is he hoping this potty business will be a temporary phase in his career; something to tide him over in hard times until a more glamorous and lucrative job turns up?  Is he maybe an actor between engagements, or a student putting himself through college?

The point is; the ducky potty man has no choice.  If he could do anything else in life, he wouldn’t choose to stand in the heat and the traffic fumes, hoping against hope that someone in the next car to inch past might just want a ducky potty.  If he had any say at all in what he could sell, he’d go for something with a bit more commercial oomph than ducky potties.

 

We fill our lives planning what we’d like to do, where we’d like our careers to take us, what our children will be when they grow up, deciding where to go on our next holiday. Such decisions cannot possibly be a part of the ducky potty man’s world.  There are an awful lot more people in his situation than there are in mine.

I raised my eyebrows at him, trying to indicate amused incredulity that he might think a big grown up boy like me might still need a potty. He put on his best pleading expression.  I shrugged. I didn’t even have any local currency yet, so I couldn’t even make a donation. The ducky potty man gave up, grinned broadly and gave me a cheerful wave.  I had to admire him. If I had to swap places with him, I don’t think I’d be grinning and waving very often.

The car crept away from him, and his place at the car window was taken in turn by vendors selling dog leashes, magazines and dartboards. ‘American International School‘, said my driver, pointing into the middle distance. I looked out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the place where I would be working as a writer in residence for the next week. All I could see was a group of nondescript buildings surrounded by other groups of nondescript buildings.

’How long until we get there?’ I asked.

’Depend on traffic,’ he said, ‘we must take long way round, then come back. This street, only driving one way.  Maybe a half hour more.’

The cars in front were still barely moving. My plane out of Nairobi had been cancelled the day before and I’d been awake all night waiting for the next flight to leave.  I was expecting to work that afternoon, so I’d boosted my consciousness with a few cups of coffee on the plane. Now the third and fourth cups were working their way to my bladder. There was nowhere for the driver to pull over. We were in the middle lane of a highway in a built-up area, maybe even within sight of the students and parents and teachers from the school.

 

I crossed my legs and wished I had a ducky potty.

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LAWRENCE WOZ HERE – in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia

Saudi5 049T.E.Lawrence, aka Lawrence of Arabia, lived in this house in old Yanbu, on the Red Sea. It is boarded up now, surrounded by rubble and the crumbling, graffiti-smeared ruins of other once elegant buildings, ornate woodwork peeling off the balconies. Only a small plaque acknowledges the house’s famous former resident.

In most other countries in the world, this building would be a major tourist attraction, but it’s not easy to be a tourist in Saudi Arabia. They don’t encourage it, let alone promote it, especially to westerners. But I was lucky enough to be invited there to talk to students about my children’s books and TV series (yes, the Bananas in Pyjamas made it to Saudi Arabia too).  I filled in lots of forms and was allowed in for a few fascinating weeks.

On one of my weekends off,  my hosts offered me a choice of excellent diving in the Red Sea, or an archaeological trip into the desert. I know I can dive in other places (and usually don’t), so the history tour was far too good to pass up. It turned out to be absolutely the right choice.

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We set out from Yanbu in 4x4s driving in convoy, at first on excellent roads, then sometimes on rough rocky tracks with wild camels wandering across them. I always thought Arabian desert would be all sand dunes, but this terrain was rugged, rocky and mountainous. And hot enough for thirst to kill you very fast if you didn’t have an airconditioned 4×4 with an esky and a few cold (non-alcoholic) ones inside. I was reassured too to have a convoy – even on the good roads there was very little traffic, and a breakdown could have been disastrous.
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In the course of a day we discovered abandoned mud villages 1000 years old, disused shepherd’s huts and the ruins of an Ottoman fort (maybe Lawrence and his chaps had a hand in ruining it). No effort was being made to preserve these relics, and I was even told plans were in train to bulldoze them since they were considered unslightly. Arabs want to see themselves as modern, progressive people and unfortunately that means neglecting their heritage. A great shame, I think.
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Later, back in old England, I joined busloads of tourists visiting Lawrence’s grave in Moreton village, Dorset, outside the lovely St Nicholas Church, where his funeral was held. Moreton is very attractive, and makes a great play of its connection with Lawrence, but the dilapidated house in Yanbu was considerably more interesting.
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STOP PRESS: The ‘Lawrence House’ has now been renovated.

What do you think? Is this a restoration or a replacement?

What do you think? Is this a restoration or a replacement?


Thank you to my correspondent who sent me the photo. To see more, I highly recommend a visit to the website almiskeenah.com

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CYCLING AND CRAIC – 5 Star bike tour of Connemara, Ireland

Bog Road, Connemara (red)

Imbibing the culture of Connemara in Ireland’s wild west.

In the Shamrock Hotel, fiddles and uilleann pipes rattle out a reel. A young man, his cap at a rakish angle, jumps to his feet. He grabs a broom and sweeps a couple of drinkers off the tiny stage in the corner. Then he dances, back straight, feet flying across the broomstick, heels and toes beating out the rhythm in a dazzling, virtuoso display.

This is no show for tourists; he’s just having fun with his mates and impressing the girl watching from across her pint. Welcome to Connemara, where this sort of thing goes on every night.

I’ve come here to start a cycling tour tomorrow, so this cultural experience is a bonus. My bike can wait. I’m staying in the lovely Anglers’ Return B&B by a beautiful trout stream, and I’ve eaten fresh local mussels and lobster, before heading to the pub for the ‘craic’, the famed Irish party which goes on into the wee hours.

At a slightly fuzzy breakfast next morning (well, later the same morning), I fortify myself with coffee and hostess Lynn’s home-made bread, and check out my fellow cyclists, who foolishly left the craic hours before I did. They look very fit in their lycra. Kim from Florida has brought her own pedals – the mark of a serious rider. Her friend Lisa, and Spanish girls Maria and Cassandra claim not to ride much at all, but I’m not sure I believe them.

Fidelma, our guide from Cycle West, arrives to pump up tyres and adjust saddles on our comfortable hybrid bikes. She loads our luggage into the trailer behind her car and gives us directions to the day’s first coffee stop. It’s a pleasant, sunny ride around the coast, on quiet, undulating roads…behind five women. I chivalrously leave the navigation to them, and tag along behind as we roll into Roundstone.

Roundstone Village (red)

It’s an attractive 19th century harbour village, whose old Franciscan monastery is now an arts workshop making whistles, flutes and the world’s best bodhrans (Irish drums). The house on the corner belongs to Michael Flatley, of Riverdance fame.

Then it’s back in the saddle, onwards and upwards and downwards and upwards again. The predicted showers are holding off and the countryside is jaw-droppingly beautiful. I shouldn’t be surprised. On my touring map of Ireland, every centimetre of Connemara road is marked with green borders, indicating a scenic route.

The grey, domed mountains in the middle of the peninsula are the Twelve Bens, a popular challenge for walkers, but fortunately not on Fidelma’s designated cycle route. Below them stretches boggy heath, where white cottages have been dotted strategically to provide focal points for our photos. Little bays pit the coast, with moorings for battered fishing smacks and gleaming modern yachts. Connemara used to be one of the poorest parts of Europe, but now has some of its most expensive holiday hideaways.

We aim to ride a moderate 40-60km a day, and can shorten this if we want to, so there’s a long lunch and many camera stops. A stray dog who adopts us is able to keep up for hours, until Fidelma hands him over to an animal refuge, confident they’ll find his owner; Radio Connemara is still olde-worldy enough to make lost dog announcements.

In the afternoon there’s a solid, steady climb. Kim leads a breakaway and, forget the chivalry, it’s game on. Phew, those personalised pedals give her a huge advantage, otherwise I definitely could have won, maybe. At the peak we can admire stunning views towards the Bens on one side, the Aran Islands on the other, and I can catch my breath on the downhill run into Clifden.

Down to Clifden (red)

Last night’s lodgings set the bar high, but Clifden’s Quay House clears it. Paddy and Julia have furnished their hotel from Paddy’s antique business with eccentric oil paintings, mahogany bedsteads and totally politically incorrect elephant tusks and tiger skins. Plaques on the wall celebrate their recent wins of Ireland’s best accommodation awards.

The place oozes character, but what most impresses me is that Julia greets me by name. She knows us all, and boy, that’s a trick worth learning if you’re in the business of making people feel welcome.

The Quay House,Clifden (red)

At night it’s into Clifden for dinner, then a stroll to yet another bar with yet another music ‘session’. Everyone’s encouraged to sing their party piece, and I remember just enough words to fudge through Eric Bogle’s No Man’s Land, once a big hit in Ireland and now a modest success in Lowry’s Bar.
The blueprint for the trip has been drawn up; humungous breakfast, gorgeous day’s bike riding, warm welcome in charming B&B, dinner in the best restaurant in town, then craic until very late. Sleep deprivation is an issue, but I wouldn’t miss a moment of this.

When we have a rest day, with a chance to play golf or ride Connemara ponies, I take option C – more cycling, dodging black-faced sheep on the Bog Road, coffee at the superb Ballynahinch Castle (also an accommodation option on a Cycle West tour), then visiting Kylemore Abbey, glowing by a lake in the late afternoon sun.

Kylemore Abbey (red)

I love bike riding. There’ll be other tours in beautiful surroundings. But when I’m dragging heavy panniers up hills, dodging traffic, getting lost, living off muesli bars and sleeping in a clammy tent in muddy campgrounds, I’ll think wistfully of the luxurious days of cycling and craic in Connemara. And some time I’ll do it again.

The Sky Road, Connemara (red)

The writer was the guest of Tourism Ireland and Cycle West, and flew courtesy of Aer Lingus.

TRIP NOTES:

Aer Lingus flies from London to Shannon Airport, near Galway from GBP77.12.

Staying there: Angler’s Return, near Roundstone has double B&B from EUR98. See anglersreturn.com. The Quay House Connemara EUR150 double B&B. See thequayhouse.com

Further information: Guided 7 day tours with Cycle West, including accommodation and most meals, cost from EUR1515. Shorter self-guided tours are also available from EUR685. See cyclewest.com. For other accommodation and activities in Connemara, see discoverireland.com.au.

First published – Sun-Herald, Sydney

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Filed under Cycle touring, Cycling, Ireland, Travel, Travel- Europe

VERMEER OF TRANQUILLITY – a leisurely view of Delft, Holland

vermeer-little-streetThere’s nothing better than having some slow time on your hands. Many years ago, in late spring, with my university exams finished and the party and vacation mode not yet begun, I bought an art print that perfectly summed up my mood.

It shows a red brick house with step gables. A woman sits sewing in an open doorway while another works at a washtub in an adjoining alley. Children kneel on the street, possibly concentrating on a game of marbles. Warm light floods the scene, and everyone looks completely relaxed and comfortable; like students who don’t need to study any more, I thought at the time.

The painting is Johannes Vermeer’s The Little Street, painted in 1658 in Delft. Having a spare day in Holland, I thought I’d pay that town a visit. Everywhere in the Netherlands is close to everywhere else, and Delft is less than an hour south of Amsterdam.

This house is not in Delft, it's in Edam, but you can see why I liked it. Note wheelie bin, ca2009.

When my train rolled into Delft, I felt an initial twinge of disappointment; the modern buildings across from the station were nothing like those in Vermeer’s painting. The church tower leaning over the top of them promised better things.

I cut through an alley to a canal called Oude (Old) Delft. This was more like it – rows of little terrace houses with Dutch gables and white bridges arching over the water. Even the glass-topped tourist boat was moving noticeably slower than those in Amsterdam do, inching its way down the narrow canal, either to avoid scraping paint off on the walls or maybe to make the tour of the little town last longer and give the customers better value for money.

The leaning tower turned out to be the spire of the Old Church, where Vermeer now lies buried, and it’s been developing that tilt for nearly 800 years.

The square between the beautiful shuttered town hall and the New Church (well, it was new in the 14th century and people felt the name was catchy) was closed to through traffic because it was market day. Stalls were selling herrings, huge round cheeses and fresh vegetables. Banter was exchanged. Church bells rang.

I could imagine I was stepping back into Holland’s Golden Age of the 17th century, when Delft was a prosperous town of potters, brewers and weavers, and HQ of the Dutch West Indies Company. At least until I noticed that the carillon tinkling from the church tower was playing My Way.

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Shops lining the square were unashamed tourist traps, selling fluffy clog-shaped slippers and Delft blue pottery. ‘Bill Clinton ate poffertjes here,’ announced the sign on a cafe, referring to the popular Dutch pastries. A little further along were workshops where I could watch through the windows to where genuine Delft women were hand-painting 100% authentic traditional tiles and vases.

Delft itself has no original Vermeer paintings; they’re all in larger towns, where larger galleries have bigger budgets, but a new Vermeer Centre has opened on the Voldersgracht, the canal thought to have been the inspiration for The Little Street. I was the only visitor until a small tour group joined me.

Inside were annotated prints of all 37 Vermeer works. They include two cityscapes and a couple of early classical scenes, while nearly all the others are quiet domestic interiors, with sun filtering in from the left of the frame, through the same leadlight window. Vermeer’s themes are peace, quiet and a celebration of ordinary activities – writing, reading, making music and doing household chores.

Little is known of Vermeer’s private life, though we do know he was active in the arts community of Delft, as a member of the artists’ Guild of St Luke. He died aged just 43, and his output was relatively small. He’d only turned out two or three paintings a year, so he can’t have been rushing. You’d imagine he must have enjoyed a leisurely existence, but maybe he didn’t. He had fourteen children, always struggled for money and lived at his mother-in-law’s, so perhaps life at the Vermeer house wasn’t quite as laid-back as his work suggests.

Moreover, that quiet little street is probably a fantasy scene. Shortly before it was painted, a quarter of Delft and many of its citizens were destroyed when the gunpowder magazine exploded. Vermeer’s images of peace and quiet may well be a result of wishful thinking.

Upstairs in the Vermeer Centre, I learned how he mixed his paint, adding sand grains to the red he used to portray masonry, thus creating the effect known as ‘brick Vermeer’. Sorry.

There was an explanation of the double perspective in his characteristic chessboard-tiled floors. A slightly embarrassed volunteer from the tour group sat at the table by a reproduction of Vermeer’s leadlight window so a guide could explain to us the play of light and shadow, and we examined a camera obscura.

Little Street in Delft

Outside, armed with a small map from the tourist office, I took a Delft walking tour with a Vermeer theme – a pleasant short amble, though there’s little left of the town Vermeer knew, other than those two churches. The city wall and gates he depicted have been demolished, as has the house where he lived. A rather nondescript church stands on that corner now.

There was still time left in the day to see the real paintings. There was no rush. I knew there were Vermeers in The Hague, just a fifteen-minute train ride away.

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The Mauritshuis in The Hague is the most beautiful art museum in the Netherlands, according to many, and they’ll get no argument from me. It’s small; a former nobleman’s residence, with polished wood staircases and intimate rooms lined with deep green or red wallpaper.

It holds some of the greatest treasures from Holland’s Golden Age, including two Rembrandt self-portraits and his famous anatomy lesson. I’m afraid I walked past them and went straight to Floor 2, Room 15.

There was Vermeer’s brilliant View of Delft. Two women chat in the foreground as a cloud shades the buildings across the harbour, leaving those behind them in the light of the low sun. As a fully-fledged expert I could now admire the technique at close quarters – thick grainy paint for the bricks, contrasting with the almost translucent reflections on the water.

On the opposite wall was a small painting, bought in 1881 for 2.30 guilders. Even allowing for 128 years of inflation it was still a bargain price for ‘Girl With a Pearl Earring’. Vermeer’s work, only moderately successful in his lifetime, had fallen into obscurity, valued only by a few connoisseurs, until in the nineteenth century he was rediscovered by German art historian Gustav Friedrich Waagen and French art critic Theophile Thore-Burger.

I had the girl all to myself and, at the risk of cheapening great art with popular language, she’s drop-dead gorgeous. The painting is so simple yet powerful, the world-famous pearl rendered by just two brushstrokes in a dark shadow.

It was disappointing to learn that the girl herself is likely to have been invented, because she’s someone you want to know more about. Small wonder that Tracy Chevalier’s novel about her was so popular. I understand too that the evocative film version of the story, starring Scarlett Johannsen and Colin Firth, was largely shot not in Delft, but in Luxembourg.

Finally, back in Amsterdam I dropped into the Rijksmuseum, to take another look at The Little Street. It hangs beside his lovely Kitchen Maid (the girl in yellow pouring milk), and is surrounded by work of his contemporaries, notably Pieter de Hooch and Jan Steen. Steen is famous for crowded scenes of raucous activity, but de Hooch, like Vermeer, specialised in quiet interiors.

That’s a pity for de Hooch. His work is fine, but it’s unfair to hang it on the same continent as a Vermeer, let alone on the same wall. It just seems flat when compared to the master’s magic.

Vermeer’s amazing handing of light does the trick, conjuring up watery sun and still air, and capturing forever those wonderful moments of precious slow time.

TRIP NOTES:

Getting there: Return train ticket Amsterdam-Delft via The Hague is EUR19.30.

Entry ticket for both Old and New Churches in Delft costs EUR3.20.
Vermeer Centre entry is EUR6.
Mauritshuis entry is EUR9.50, including audio guide.

Rijskmuseum Amsterdam entry is EUR10.
Tip: A museumkaart (museum card) costs EUR40 and gives free entry to most Dutch museums, including the Mauritshuis and the Rijksmuseum, and discounts to others including the Vermeer Centre. It can be bought at larger museums and is valid for a year

First published -Sun-Herald, Sydney

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SINGAPORE – Cheap deals for a cheapskate

Katong housesA stopover in Singapore’s Katong district at a bargain basement price.

I admit it; I’m mean with money. That’s reasonable these days, in light of the recent global and personal financial meltdown.  So faced with an unavoidable stopover in Singapore en route to a modestly paid job, I was determined to do it on a shoestring.

I made one rule, though – if luxury was out of the question, my stay had to be comfortable, interesting and fun. That turned out to be surprisingly easy to achieve.

Tip One: Don’t take a taxi from Changi Airport.

Singapore cabs are relatively affordable, but for a scrooge like me, the SMRT (I read that as ‘SMART’) metro system wins hands down. ‘Next train 2 minutes’, said the sign as I arrived.

The ticket machine was a little daunting, but as I fumbled for coins, a kind Singaporean lady behind me pressed the buttons, fed in my $5 note, and out popped my ticket, with change! I could dive onto the train just as its closing doors threatened to separate me from my backpack, and watched the sign change to ‘Next train 4 minutes’. The trip to Paya Lebar station took just 20 minutes. No cab would have been faster.

Cost: $2.60 for a single ticket, $1 of which is refundable when the card is returned.

Tip Two: Walk from station to hotel.

Singapore is not known as a walker’s paradise – it’s too hot, too humid and there’s too much traffic. Not to mention the torrential downpour that began as we pulled into Paya Lebar. No problem for this canny traveller, I thought, pulling out the plastic poncho I’d thoughtfully stuffed into my backpack. Unfortunately I discovered I’d brought the child’s model, a souvenir of a family visit to Taronga Zoo. It looked like a baby’s bib on me, and the tiger picture on the front amused the locals.

So I scurried through the deluge to a shopping centre, and searched for the cheapest available brolly. ‘Don’t buy the first one you see’, I thought. A mere hour later, I found the perfect specimen; big, blue and on special at Fair Price Supermarket. Delighted with my shrewd purchase, I strode bravely back into the elements, to find that the rain had stopped, as tropical downpours sometimes do.

Cost: $9.90 for unused umbrella.

Tip Three: Stay in simple hotel.

I had no time for a gym or a business centre. I wasn’t in the market for Gucci or Sony, so there was no need to stay near Singapore’s famous shopping drag, Orchard Road. Prices for hotels in that area seem to have escalated massively over the last few years.

Instead I booked a place in Joo Chiat Road. It’s in Katong, the old Malay area in the east of the town, which now has a dubious reputation as Singapore’s red light district. There were plenty of cheap backpacker options, but a double with en suite was my bottom limit. We tightwads like a little privacy. Hotel 81 Joo Chiat was indeed basic, but comfortable, and there was no red light out the front.

Cost: Standard double room, $79.

Tip Four: Explore Katong.
I’d wisely downloaded a free walking map of the area from http://www.ura.gov.sg/rediscover before I left home, though thanks to my inadequate tiger poncho it had become a tad soggy in my pocket.

Katong was indeed interesting, safe, and most important, it really felt like Asia. A hundred years ago, this was mostly plantations and rice paddies, and even though Singapore’s sprawl has now engulfed it, some 700 old buildings have been preserved. The little shop houses along Joo Chiat Road were very photogenic, with their brightly painted facades and ornate wooden lacework under the eaves.

The ersatz Malay Village was a well-meaning attempt to recreate Malay culture in Singapore, but it was run-down and all but deserted. Its main attraction seemed to be a used car sale advertised for the following weekend.

A more authentic Malay experience was just a hop, skip and a dodge of a taxi across the road at the Geylang Serai Market. Chillies and exotic vegetables were piled high on stalls, food and drinks were on sale, women wore headscarfs, and everywhere was the rich smell of the mystic east. It was quite unlike the modern, generic Singapore I’d seen before.
Hindu temple

There were mosques, churches and the Sri Senpaga Vinayagar, the second oldest Hindu Temple in Singapore, and a “Heritage Site” since 2003. Anything with rows of elephant-headed Ganesh statues looks good to me. All in all it was an enjoyable walk, with no hassling hawkers, and if this is really the red light district, then it’s so discreet as to be invisible.
Cost: Nothing!

Tip Five: Eat a great dinner.

Joo Chiat was very well supplied with eating options, and a meal of Singapore’s famed chilli crabs or lemon chicken could be had for a fraction of their cost in a city restaurant. Your stingy correspondent wanted to do even better than that, so I went for the ‘famous Katong laksa’ – an excellent spicy coconut noodle soup, and a generous meal in itself.

Cost: $3.50

Tip Six: Evening entertainment.

Where else in the world could you watch ‘Survivor Fiji’ in the air-conditioned comfort of a cosy hotel room? Hooray for Singaporean TV!

Cost: Nothing!

Early next morning I stopped off for breakfast at Geylang Serai Market, where local workers were tucking into unidentifiable dishes. I took the advice of a friendly Malay diner who, judging from his girth, clearly knew a thing or two about food. Egg roti with curry sauce is not my usual morning fare, but it certainly did the job, and look at the price!

Cost: $3.00

Then it was back on the train to Changi Airport – there’s plenty of food out there, but I had a plane to catch. A quick ciabatta sandwich for $14? It seemed an outrageous rip-off after the value to which I’d become accustomed, so I waited till I was on the plane and could eat the meal I’d already paid for.

I sifted through my wallet and found I had 76 dollars left. Enough to do it all again, if I’m a bit more frugal next time.

PS. For sale: Umbrella. Blue. Excellent condition. One careful owner. All offers over $10 considered.

First published – Sun-Herald, Sydney

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