Picture follow-up

22 03 2008

Singapore:

Indian tailors


House your foreign workers… A glimpse into the issues faced in Singapore


In the Muslim sector of Singapore


In the botanical gardens

Sumatra:

Believe it or not, this is where your tires come from. Strip a bit of bark, collect the latex sap in half a coconut, sell it to Goodyear.


Lots of things that bite, sting, pierce, or prick you in the jungle


Our guide preparing pineapple for lunch. Washed in the creek (haven’t gotten sick yet…) If you haven’t been in the tropics in Asia, you simply have no idea how pineapple is supposed to taste. Sweet like sugar, tender like oranges, melts on your tongue, no fiber, no chewy bits, no sour. Unbelievable.


First glimpse of orangutans in the jungle. Some of these are wild, some have lived in captivity and are readjusting to the wild here. All are accustomed to the presence of humans, so are comfortable near us and sometimes very curious.


Mom…


and baby.


Mmmm twigs. This one is a wild juvenile.


Yummy twigs, thumbs up


Having a bath at the campsite in the forest. Quite luxurious – soap, running water…


…just a few giant lizards hanging around looking for scraps.


Six of us backpackers at the campsite, sharing a family-style meal with seven Indonesian dishes


Then playing Uno by candlelight.


The next day, at the public feeding – much more of a tourist affair than multi-day bone-drenching treks in the jungle. Food is provided for any orangutan who wants it, however the constant diet of bananas and powdered milk is considered very bland – only recent arrivals and some nursing mothers are interested.


Leaving town. Kids here are extremely friendly and playful. The adults some of them will grow up into, however, seem to know no other way than to follow, harass, and prey on tourists. Travel in this part of Sumatra is very frustrating for a foreigner.


There are garbage cans in some places, however no one will come around to take it somewhere so there’s little point. Most trash ends up being burned in big piles, or just left to wash away in the rain.
Plenty more photos in the gallery. Note that many are out of chronological order, as I was shooting with two different cameras and arranging the photos in the gallery seems to take years. Most of the close-ups of animals were taken around 200mm + 1.4x extender on a 1.6x camera, effective focal length 450mm. I was often 30-50 feet away, though at times I was much closer.

Thanks for the emails last time, it’s nice to hear from everyone.  My next stop will probably not have internet access, so it may be a week until you hear from me again.  Nothing to worry about, this part of Indonesia (Sulawesi and Maluku) is very quiet and peaceful.

Best,  Andy

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no pictures for now

19 03 2008

I’m on the world’s slowest internet connection, so uploading the latest batch of pictures will have to wait. Last I posted, I was in Singapore. Spent some time there shopping for odds and ends – new camera battery charger, very particular type of polarizing filter, deck of playing cards for rainy days, etc – and eating spectacular food three or four times a day. Vegetarian food abounds, and the backpacker hostels are the dangerous kind where the internet is fast and free, people are hanging out and chatting all hours, and movies are always playing on the big screen TV. A little too comfortable and easy to blow a week, when you’re counting days to try to fit everything in.

So I flew on to Sumatra, Indonesia. Had the world’s worst transit from Singapore to the airport in neighboring Johor Bahru, Malaysia – stuck in a mile-long traffic jam to leave Singapore, then a several-hour slow-motion shoving match to get through Singapore customs, being elbowed in the gut by five foot tall grandmothers. Then an hour wait at the bus terminal for a bus than never came, gave up and took an expensive solo taxi ride to the airport, followed by a short hop to Jakarta, Indonesia on a bargain flight. The trip itself was comfortable, but the two heavily-riveted metal patches on the fuselage of the airplane gave me a bit of pause.

Indonesia has a notorious rule, seldom enforced, requiring proof of onward travel before the expiration of your 30-day tourist visa. I don’t want to admit to anything incriminating here, but there were some hasty arrangements made with the help of a shady fellow who hangs around the immigration desk to ‘facilitate’ such issues. Finally I exit into the empty and closed Jakarta airport around midnight, having left Singapore at 3pm. My next flight on to Sumatra wasn’t until 6am, so I had to nap on a bench in the smoke- and mosquito-filled air waiting for the domestic terminal to open. More shoving matches to enter the terminal (no waiting area at all, everyone waits outside on the sidewalk until their flight is called), another short hop, and landed in the ugly sprawl of Medan, Sumatra. Life for a westerner here is constant catcalls – “mister, where you go?” “mister, taxi!” “mister, motorbike!” “mister, you want?!” – which I can endure without too much stress.

Eventually got on the right bus for Bukit Lawang, home to a famous and extraordinary orangutan rehabilitation center in the jungle. Displaced, captured, or domesticated orangutans are brought here to readjust to life in the wild through a sort of half-way house with daily milk and banana feedings, then gradually they wander off into the adjoining national park. The feedings are open to the public, and a mighty female with a tiny baby orang clutching her side passed by me only two feet away. This plus a two-day jungle trek into the park, where we saw four separate orangs over the day and climbed some really dizzying trails, directly up and down the very rugged contours. Lugging quite a bit of heavy camera gear, I was drenched to the skin in sweat all day long both days. But we camped on a comfortable bend in a river, ate an excellent and varied meal cooked in woks over a simple twig cookfire, scared off a variety of 3- to 5-foot long monitor lizards determined to get to the chicken bones, swam, and showered under a waterfall. Slept in the open on the thinnest foam rubber mat you’ve ever seen, but despite our fears were hardly bothered by bugs at all (this area isn’t considered malarial anyway). The return trip was a decidedly touristic affair, on giant inner tubes lashed together into a raft, shooting down some water optimistically described as “rapids.” Close call though – an hour after getting back to town, the heaviest downpour I’ve yet seen began, and the river gradually turned to full flood. That would make for exciting rafting indeed.

A hundred-year flood in 2003 wiped out the village and killed 280 people. The guesthouses are rebuilt and open, and the trekking guides are all on the prowl for customers. Unfortunately the tourists have not yet returned in their former numbers, which means that guides outnumber visitors some two to one. Competition is cutthroat and a little nasty. The guides prowl the three-hour bus ride to the village, pretending to be friendly, disinterested fellows just going home from shopping or visiting family. Then they launch into the hard sell, complete with books of photos and letters from happy tourists – hard sell on which guesthouse, hard sell on a jungle trek, dire warnings about all the other guides in town, following you from the bus, constant nonstop harassment. But nonetheless, seeing the orangutans in the wild was pretty spectacular.

So now I’m on my way to Sulawesi, toward what is reputed to be one of the world’s top ten dive sites. Sumatra has a well-earned reputation for being difficult, exhausting, hard-sell – I’ll be glad to leave it behind for mellower parts of Indonesia. From here it looks like I’ll be in Sulawesi, Maluku, and/or West Papua until sometime in April. Then on to Bali until my visa runs out. Transfer to Malaysian Borneo, exploring the jungle parks and hilltribe villages before the well-known Sabah Fest in Kinabalu. Then back to Indonesia, exploring Java and finishing with the Buddhist holiday of Waisak at the ancient Buddhist temple complex at Borobudur. I’ve been led to expect thousands upon thousands of orange-robed monks deep in devotional rituals and a massive quantities of vegetarian food – we’ll see.

Send me email!

Andy Radin





Perhentian

13 03 2008

The night bus is always the worst. Noise, distractions, heaving over bad roads – everything conspires to keep you awake late into the night. When you’re finally so exhausted that you just can’t stay awake any longer, the bus arrives after only an hour of sleep. But sometimes, even after waiting in the rain for hours for the weather to calm, enduring a terrifying ride on a 20-foot powerboat in 5-foot seas – you step onto soft, clean sand on a southeast Asian island:

Pulau Perhentian Kecil


No shoes in this beachfront cafe. Most of them however are just tents over the sand.


Young Malay girls in the cafe


“Awas” is Malay for danger


This corner of Malaysia is strongly Muslim, thus the flag. A few days ago, the whole island was glued to the few televisions here watching the election results where the center coalition started to fall apart. The Islamist party is quite strong here, but have had little luck pushing mainstream opinion towards strict Sharia law and conservative standards – most Malay are just a little too relaxed to tolerate that for long.


Barbeque on the beach – freshly caught barracuda steaks, mackerel, kingfish…


Stars!


Just after dawn. Had the whole island to myself.


Monitor lizards abound here. This fellow was about 5-6 feet long. Not dangerous to anyone except the chickens – unless you surprise them in the forest, in which case you might get a lacerating whip from the tail. Usually one just sees a flash of movement and great crashing fleeing noise.


Just after sunset, waiting for customers. The monsoon stayed late this year, meaning the sea route has just opened up and many guesthouses are still repairing damage from the storms and preparing for the floods of people in the summer high season.


This one’s for Mike. Threatened but not endangered (yet) green sea turtle, this one about 5 feet long.


Clownfish, or – as they’re universally known among the dive and snorkel operations here – Nemofish.

Return trip was on a badly overloaded powerboat (18 on a boat rated for 10), barely one foot of freeboard in three foot seas. The driver was extremely skilled, steering around swells, stopping dead on top of waves, shooting sideways from trough to trough. Still everyone got drenched and I was glad to be on dry land. Spent a few hours in the town of Kota Bharu (pics here), then on another night bus to Singapore where I am now. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to your comments.





Megapost: Kuala Lumpur and Georgetown

11 03 2008

I’m simplifying things. I’ll be uploading great numbers of photos to andyradin.smugmug.com, and I’ll post a representative few of those here to tell the story of what’s going on. Feel free to browse all the photos over at smugmug if you like.

I think I’ve said most of what needs to be said about KL. So I’ll just illustrate a bit:

Gigantic shopping malls
Gigantic shopping malls


Nighttime dinner market


The national mosque


Monkeys


Him: “Mister, you wan buy watch? Rolex, Omega…”
Me: “Already have watch!”
Him” “Mister, one more! Mister! Mister…!”
It’s amazing how quickly one’s English devolves to the lowest common denominator, actually.

Georgetown is on an island in the far north of peninsular Malaysia, in a strategic spot fought over by the Dutch, Portuguese, British, and Japanese. Despite all that conflict, it’s the Chinese and Indian immigrants who really made their mark here. In a symbol of the Malaysian multicultural heritage, one corner here holds a mosque, a Chinese temple, and a Hindu temple all facing each other, and all seem to call to prayer at the same time. It’s a pretty relaxed town, full of busy street life, gracefully crumbling buildings, and excellent street food.

Apparently rickshaw transport is the tourist thing to do


This is an ancient Hindu symbol – in fact this temple surely precedes the Nazis’ appropriation of it – but it’s still always a little jarring


Relaxing by the water’s edge


Little India in Georgetown is chock full of incredibly colorful clothing stores and bizarre mannequins (see my Peru pictures…). These two men just happened to complete the family here…


Incense at the Chinese temple


Holy man in the Hindu temple


Sun setting behind the mosque


The naked wonder of riding the bus

Up next: photos from the idyllic island of Pulau Perhentian. At the moment I’m posting from Singapore, having spent four nights on Perhentian Kecil and gotten quite painfully sunburnt. Survived a 16 hour epic bus ride from the northern reaches of Malaysia all the way to the other end and into Singapore, where it promptly turned to torrential dumping rain. Will be here a few days running errands and getting malaria meds. Next stop will be Indonesia and deeper into the wild. Plans are still in the air due to the unseasonable weather – the rainy monsoon started a month late this year, and seems to be holding on an extra month now. Water visibility for diving and snorkeling (one of my primary objectives) is really ruined by this. More to come.





moving on

3 03 2008

Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur wears out rather quickly, to be honest.  It has an aspect a bit like Las Vegas, in a way – everything brand new, a great deal of concern about being the biggest (world’s tallest flagpole, [formerly] tallest buildings, world’s largest free-flight aviary, etc.), and everything hinting at being an imitation of something else.  Lots of effort into making truly gargantuan malls and shopping zones, yet the streets run like rivers with every afternoon’s tropical thunderstorm.  And let me tell you, the sight of thousands of rats evacuating the sewers in unison when the thunder starts pealing out is a litle unsettling.

However it’s good spot to shop for all the things that didn’t turn up in a last-minute frantic packing job.  The food is great and cheap, and sitting at the base of the Petronas Towers is truly humbling.  The brain cannot comprehend the scale of them, and there’s something about the powerful spotlights illuminating the low-hanging clouds that exaggerates that even further.

So now I’m in Georgetown, on Penang Island in the north of peninsular Malaysia.  It’s an old British colony town, filled with the crumbling mansions of eighteenth-century Chinese shipping magnates.  In the town’s Little India tonight (every Malaysian town has one, settled by South Indian Muslims fleeing various pogroms) I recorded the most amazing mashup of Indian classical music, Malay pop, and Bollywood musicals blasting from half a dozen competing CD/DVD stores on the same corner (all bootlegs, of course – apparently Malaysia is the world’s copyright piracy capital).

The photography has gone well, despite torrential rain every afternoon.  However posting photos remains a problem – if anyone can suggest a blog that will let me upload pictures in batches (this wordpress blog can only upload one at a time, which is simply not going to work), resize automatically and restrict the expanded-view size to considerably less that original full size, then I’ll move this over…  As it is, the only option I see is to upload to a dedicated photo site, edit the photos there, then cut and paste image links over here.  That’s a little more fussy than I’d like, given the infrequency of my internet usage over here.  We’ll see.