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The Travel Map - April 2007

Signing On For Sin In Singapore

April 29th 2007 08:25
Carrying outlawed substances through South East Asian airports is not the smartest idea. But I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t take it any longer. I gave into my inner demons and cracked under the pressure. My head was ringing. I couldn’t think straight. I just needed some relief. I needed a fix, bad.
“Have you got any chewing gum?” I asked over the counter at a pharmacy at Singapore’s Changi International Airport.
My ears had popped on the first leg of a long-haul flight from Australia to Europe and with the longer, second-leg still to come, I needed some gum to try and chew out the pain in my eardrum.

The pharmacist looked quickly to his right, then his left, as if to make sure no-one was looking. He then leaned forward and bought me in closer to him with his gaze.
“You want chewing gum?” he whispered. Add a big black hat and lower voice and he could have been straight out of central casting as a bar room villain in a cheesy western movie. “If you want chewing gum, I’m gonna need your passport.”
Now I know rules are rules. And if you like them, then Singapore is definitely the place for you. The super efficient island state is renowned for its ruthless organisation, strict regulations, zero tolerance government and law-abiding citizens. But this was ridiculous.
A passport to get some chewing gum? Yep, chewing gum is outlawed in shiny, happy Singapore where everyone sticks to the rules and there is no crime, no jaywalking, no littering and no chewing gum on the ground to stick to people’s feet.
They have started to introduce some exceptions to the chewing gum ban though, and the airport is one spot where you can get a fix (due to the pleading requests of travelers with sore ears).
However, the chewy stuff is strictly over-the-counter pharmacy material and you will need to hand over your passport to get your hands on it. They copy down your details onto what I presume is the top secret ‘Chewing Gum Register’ of all those hardcore addicts who have signed up for a Singapore fix.

It is a bit hard to enjoy it after all that fuss. It does provide some relief for the sore ears, especially on the impending take-off, but you find yourself walking around the airport trying to chew as silently and as innocuously as possible knowing that you are guilty of indulging in a forbidden (juicy) fruit. By the way, the chewing gum you get from a Singapore pharmacist isn’t Juicy Fruit, PK or Extra but some weird thick, rubbery medicinal looking stuff coated in heavy alfoil-like wrapping.
Your paranoia is compounded by the knowledge that you will be well and truly in the firing line (perhaps literally) if you accidentally dropped any of the devil’s gum on the floor. In my mind, that’s where the precious ‘Chewing Gum Register’ would really come to the fore. “We’ve got some chewing gum in the carpet on the way to Gate 32,” a machine-gun wielding cop barks into his walkie talkie. “It is a real mess, a man’s got some on his Nikes and is screaming furiously. People are fainting and being sick. Get out the Chewing Gum Register now and round up all the suspects.”
Imagine standing in a police line-up or being questioned in a dark interview room over chewing gum? Is this your chewing gum sir? Can you please chew on this new piece of gum for us so we can check your teeth indentations against the offending piece?
The only thing weirder than that would be ending up in prison and being asked by some mean looking criminals what you were in for. Some chewing gum dropped out of my mouth as I sneezed at the airport. How about you?
Who says long-haul travel and hanging around airports doesn’t mess with your mind?
I gotta get some sleep.

In Praise Of Belgium

April 20th 2007 06:52
It has been brought to my attention that I may have been a bit harsh on the country of Belgium in my ‘Seven Blunders of the World’ post (March 1, 2007).
This shows, firstly, that the travelmap has readers in Belgium (or a reader in Belgium) and, secondly, that I was not overly impressed with Belgium’s man-made tourist ‘attractions’ – namely Manekin Pis and Atomium.
But let’s move past that and get down to the things that really matter:

1. Belgium has the biggest and best range of beer in the world
2. Belgium has the biggest and best range of chocolate in the world

Now if this is not enough (what more could you possible want?), they also do a pretty mean waffle.
Belgium is also home to one of the prettiest towns on the whole planet in Bruges. I can’t remember a better place to stroll the streets than Bruges, soaking up the stylish architectural, peaceful canals and cultural squares (and, of course, indulging in some beer and chocolate).
For an Australian abroad, Belgium’s Western Front battlefields of World War One are also a very memorable and emotional experience. Many more Australians died here than at Gallipoli and, while it doesn’t have the same iconic status or mass tourist appeal, the red poppies of Flanders Fields and the countless war cemeteries here are poignant reminders of the sacrifices made by Australians on this foreign soil. There are plenty of great guided tours of these former battlefields and my visit took me inside a preserved bunker complete with empty bottles of Australian beer and biscuit tins.
However, arguably Belgium’s biggest asset is its people. All the ones I have met, either there or in other countries, have been extremely engaging, warm and friendly, including the Nun who helped me when I was lost after arriving at Brussels train station at 3am.
So lay off Belgium (that includes me). Be like Belgium’s famous adventurer TinTin and get out there and experience it.

Heard the one about Melbourne?
Melbourne, fairly or unfairly, is the butt of many jokes in Australia – mainly due to its highly unpredictable, four-seasons-in-one-day and often gloomy weather.
However, the joke is on the rest of Australia in April when the Victorian capital plays host to The Melbourne International Comedy Festival, as it has for the past 20 years.
With 1,500 comedians performing in 288 shows over three-and-half weeks, this ranks among the top three comedy festivals in the world, alongside Edinburgh’s Festival Fringe and Montreal’s Just for Laughs Festival.
Attending the festival for the first time this year, the biggest dilemma (notwithstanding how to fit an umbrella, raincoat, two jackets, gloves and a scarf into our luggage) is deciding who to see. Taking in the opening weekend shows, we eventually went for one from our own backyard and one from someone else’s.
Australia’s Adam Hills sits atop the tree of Australia comedic talent and has soared to huge levels of public appeal through his hosting role on the popular Spicks and Specks music quiz show on the ABC. He is also one damn funny stand-up who delivers a high-energy show with plenty of audience interaction, capped off with Footloose-inspired car rooftop dancing. A great way to kick off our festival experience in Melbourne’s Romanesque Forum Theatre.
On night two, we opt for the headline international act – Ireland’s Dylan Moran, a.k.a the world’s grumpiest bookshop owner Bernard Black of the BBC’s Black Books – at the festival’s unofficial headquarters, the imposing Melbourne Town Hall. Dylan provides an entirely different style of show to Adam, very little audience interaction but lashings of self-indulgent loathing, rambling, sarcasm and enough dry wit to fill Australia’s outback.
His show contained many observations on Australian life, including his belief that Australians should be satisfied with the standard spider bite on the bollocks as the exotic mode of death of choice, rather than seeking out even more exciting options by flinging ourselves into shark, stingray and jellyfish-infested seas at any opportunity.
Dylan’s show also provided a neat contrast with the previous night’s show by Adam, who had recently spent time in Ireland and provided his own observations on Irish life, including the potential for great misunderstanding based on the vastly different meanings of the word ‘deadly’ in Australia (deadly) and Ireland (great) – particularly in relation to aforementioned bullock-biting spiders.
With Guinness as a major sponsor of the festival, our visit had a distinct Irish feel (well, it is about having a laugh after all).
This is just a small taste of the international smorgasboard of comedy that is The Melbourne International Comedy Festival. There are dozens of shows on every night with prices averaging a very reasonable AUS$22. A blackboard outside the town hall is updated daily and shows what’s on and what’s available, including free street theatre and performances. There are also plenty of impromptu shows at bars and clubs.
Melbourne’s futuristic Federation Square is another hub of activity during the festival and from here you can link up with the cafes and bars lining the Yarra River.
Melbourne is Australia’s multicultural melting pot and the diversity and quality of food on offer is outstanding. Just like the comedy, choosing is the hardest part and we went for Vietnamese and Greek on our two-night stay (to provide some variety from the Irish theme starting to dominate the weekend).
When in Melbourne, also be sure to check out the huge Queen Victoria Markets and do like the locals and catch a tram out to St Kilda beach.
Plenty of laughs, great food and beer in a vibrant, multi-cultural city, all under clear blue skies that ensured the swath of warm clothes stayed packed in the suitcase. It is hard to think of a better place to be than Melbourne in April - and that’s no joke!

Sunshine Sanctuary

April 5th 2007 07:33
Think Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and vivid images of sun-soaked beaches and bodies immediately spring to mind.
What you don’t expect to find in the middle of this coastal playground is a secluded tropical rainforest complete with cascading waterfalls and crowned with a majestic Bed & Breakfast at one end and an historic boarding house cum award-winning restaurant at the other.
While this contrasting world is readily associated with the well-known Sunshine Coast hinterland towns of Maleny and Montville roughly 50 kms inland, it also exists (in relative anonymity) smack bang in the middle of the coast – just a short hot sand-induced jump from the beaches of Mooloolaba and Maroochydore

[ Click here to read more ]

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