Currently showing posts tagged: Asia

harmonicas, and a reharmonisation of “Foreign Lander” by Tim O’Brien

By , January 15, 2011 2:38 pm

How do three music addicts survive when attempting to travel for 25 days without a musical instrument? Answer: they cheat. I caved in on day 3 and bought a harmonica in Kuala Lumpur:

Despite being sold as a “chromatic” harmonica, it could only manage a rough approximation to three octaves of C major. Also, the holes are in a different place for the top octave, which meant every time I attempted the “do re mi” major scale, I accidentally finished with “… fa sol la ti MI” followed swiftly by a profanity, and consequent howls of laughter from Corinna. It cost very little and sounded progressively worse the more I practiced it, although I only place the blame partially on the harmonica for that. In case you don’t believe me, here’s the proof:

(Now seems a good time to mention that if you haven’t already seen Shane singing 5 octaves on the piano, go and watch it immediately.)

Eli followed suit shortly after, although he managed to buy a harmonica which was not only roughly in tune with mine, but even stayed in tune with itself! He also proved to be a quicker and more dedicated student than myself. Nevertheless, by the time we reached Xmas day in Bangkok, we were able to give reasonably credible renditions of the harmonica duet version of Jingle Bells to our unsuspecting families over Skype.

Corinna sensibly eschewed* such a crude instrument in favour, sorry, favor of something much sweeter – her voice. She also steered us very gently away from the harmonicas towards singing too, although with my range being comparable to Shane’s, and Eli’s “occasionally unstable” falsetto, I’m not sure that was quite as sensible.

Anyway, I digress. We learnt Tim O’Brien’s beautiful song “Foreign Lander”, and figured out some harmony and a bass line, which by the time of the final performance with banjo in Changi airport actually sounded pretty good! However my jazz tendencies mean that I sometimes get the urge to take something simple and beautiful and do evil corrupt things to it. So when I got back to London I reharmonised it as follows:

(If you know how to play the piano properly, please ignore the fact that I don’t …)

[*] One of the many running themes of the trip was “words you write/understand but never say” – for me ‘eschewed’ falls into this category. ‘Sidewalk’ used to too, but after 25 days with two Americans, I found it magically popping out of my mouth. Eli came up with ‘idyllic’, Corinna with ‘laviscious’ and ‘ephemeral’, and there were several others I will need help remembering …


Singapore – Asia baby steps

By , December 31, 2010 8:09 am

As a Westerner you couldn’t ask for a gentle introduction to Asia than Singapore.  With English speakers and signage everywhere, shopping malls, American chain stores, and skyscrapers to rival New York, it would be entirely possible to completely miss out on the real Asian experience.  As the plane descended into the airport I even spotted a huge ferris wheel which looked near identical to the London Eye (near the right hand side of the image):Singapore from the air

Luckily however Corinna booked us into a little place in the heart of Little India, which couldn’t be further from that mirror image of the West. More on that later.

On arrival in the airport my first task was to locate Eli, which proved more difficult than anticipated as neither of us had remembered to agree a meeting plan, and somebody had accidentally directed him to the wrong terminal.  That hiccup aside, we finally figured out how to navigate the various metro lines to get to the hotel. Immediately it became obvious how modernised public transport is here. The trains were cleaner and quieter than in London, and even had coloured LEDs built in to the maps above the carriage doors, so you can see exactly where you are.

After freshening up at the hotel and re-arranging the contents of my shiny new backpack a few times, I headed out with Eli to soak up some of the local atmosphere. It wasn’t long before we encountered our first of undoubtedly many temples on this trip, in this case an intricately decorated Hindu temple on an otherwise fairly bland road in the district:First of many temples in Asia

We headed in the direction of where Corinna was about to finish work and experienced our first “Asian” shopping mall, which was incredibly similar to something you might find in London, other than a slightly creepy Santa at the entrance:Creepy Santa

Then we found Corinna who had just finished work, and after playing human frogger on a large roundabout just as the heavens opened, the newly formed Epic Adventure Dream Team had our first meal together:

first meal together


Adventures in South East Asia Quiz

By , December 24, 2010 5:58 pm

“Which Team Leader Are You?”

You are deciding how to pack for a 3.5 week trip to Southeast Asia. Do you:

a) find a promising looking 46l pack and then revisit the same hiking shop twice more over three days deliberating whether it will be big enough, finally deciding it will after googling for packing advice on your phone to find a backpacking article which says that travelling light is the one true way to exploration nirvana?

c) pack all your worldly possessions into two small suitcases, move house, choose a tiny 32l pack over Skype which will fit 6 items of clothing which can be worn in a total of 712 ways, several phrasebooks, and large amounts of sickly sweet cough medicine?

e) opt for a rather charming and slightly oversized brown leather pouch from World War One, together with a 36l pack with attachments for two shoes which masquerade very effectively as two extra suitcases surreptitiously enough that no airline hostesses bat an eyelid when you take them on the plane as hand luggage?

You’re feeling social and decide to check out the local nightlife. Where do you go?

a) You read every Lonely Planet publication and internet review for the best spots, and use Google Maps to successfully navigate to a beach party/concert of local music where you purchase a rá nâat and jam along.

c) You accidentally accept an offer from a John who asks to “enjoy” you, and after realizing your mistake and fleeing the scene, you spend the rest of the night practicing the Thai phrases for rejection.

e) You befriend two Thais who turn out to be diplomats who gift you an elephant on which you ride to Cambodia.

The sun is up and Bangkok is bustling. Wake up! What is your breakfast choice?

a) You don’t dare open your eyes before 10am. Ask again later …

c) You haven’t exactly eaten in five days, but when you see a stall selling Pad Thai, you are instantly transformed into a drooling mutant and scarf down three servings in one bite.

e) Strange new food makes you happy. You search out unrecognizable treats from street vendors, then skip off to find a boat ride, temple, or whatever might be around the corner before your companions are even conscious.

After deciding to part ways for a few days to explore your favorite parts of Thailand, you arrive at BKK airport at your designated meeting point only to find your companions are missing. Do you:

a) write a computer program which hijacks government satellites and tracks down your friends?

c) never actually make it to the airport as you are still lost in a national forest somewhere in central Thailand?

e) buy a tuk-tuk in a chance encounter with a newfound Thai friend and drive it to Hanoi to meet them?

You’ve been elected to choose lodgings in your next destination. Do you choose:

a) a room with ensuite bathroom, fast wifi, and at least 42 power outlets to charge your gadgets

c) the forest, as you are still lost and cannot find a hotel

e) a tin hut with local children, for the fee of a harmonica lesson


flying East

By , December 19, 2010 6:16 pm

Farewell England with your freezing / wet / windy climate and general lack of daylight, I’ve left you for a more exotic and more enticing alternative. I’ll probably reluctantly come back and pretend to beg for forgiveness in January, but right now I’m off to Singapore courtesy of the most excellent people at Quantas.  The parting shot from the British weather was a rather rubbish attempt at sleet which ended up looking like tiny polystyrene foam balls bouncing off the plane wings just before take off.

My general sense of smugness whilst settling in on the plane was furthered by Quantas’ choice of relaxation music: Tina May (I think), the Pat Metheny / Brad Mehldau duo, and Herbie Hancock’s take on the slow movement of  Ravel’s piano concerto.  Finally an airline that eschews musack for real quality!  (God, I’m such a snob.)

The Quantas experience continued to impress.  The seatbacks had very large touchscreens with a slick interface to a wide range of films, ‘Skycam’ offering a view out of the rear of the plane, and even phone calling, SMS, and webmail.

At the beginning of the flight, they explained that you could continue using the touch screens even after touchdown because “entertainment this good should be gate to gate”.  Nice!

They also provided a food menu card which included a very cool Journey Planner timeline showing what to expect for each hour of the flight, which is very useful when planning when to sleep:

After a short stay in Singapore I’ll be travelling to Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and maybe even Cambodia for a bit, with two of the best travel companions anyone could ask for.  Internet access is going to be sketchy in places so bear with me if these blogs arrive with you a little late.

P.S. OK so I’m way behind with these.  It’s just turned into Christmas day here in Bangkok!  Many pictures and stories still to come …


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