Practising What I Preach

Singapore 1969, On Guard with my slouch hat and trusty SMLE .303 MkIII*

I’m off to Singapore and Malaysia on Friday, flying the new budget airline ScootAir. I will be away for less than two weeks but lots can happen in that time. When I first booked my flight I went for the economy seat with the extra leg room and took the last seat at the back. It has a space between it and the aisle seat and as the tail survives more often in crashes than the nose, I figured I could quickly escape providing I was still ambulatory. Then reality sank in and quite frankly eight hours in a seat precisely as wide as my butt did not appeal. I upgraded to ScootBiz and now I’m at the sharp end. Weighing the odds I am confident of getting there and back safely. New Boeing 777 aircraft and Singapore Airlines maintenance schedules all add to the equation. In fact, I am at more risk getting to and from Sydney Airport!

Once in Singapore I will be staying at a small hotel across the street from where I lived as a boy in 1969 and 1970. In those days the hotel was a row of shop houses with a ‘makan’ or restaurant on the corner and a mechanic next door. The intersection is where I was hit by a car one evening when a local drove through the red light and sent me flying over his bonnet. The forecourt of my old apartment building is also filled with memories. I was bitten by a dog, had my collar bone broken by a kid showing off his judo skills and my nose broken by a flying cricket bat during a game of Rounders. The field the giant python slithered out of is now housing and the street where my sister was nearly dragged into a car now seems so much narrower. I know this because of the magic of Google Maps and their street view camera. It has allowed me to recce my trip in infinite detail. I am keen to ensure this trip to Singapore, my first in 42 years, will be less accident prone.

Singapore isn’t the real concern though. Malaysia is a different story and as I will be taking a coach form Johor Bahru to Kuala Lumpur, there is mild cause for concern. More concerning will be driving the rental car I will use to recce Muar, Gemas and other WW2 and Malayan Emergency battlefields. To avoid the notorious KL traffic I will rent from the international airport, a swift 25 minute train ride out of the city center where I will be staying. It will be much simpler and less stressful to get off the train, pick up the car and drive out onto the motorway and head off in multi-lane safety. YouTube is full of video clips demonstrating the road behaviour in the country, again a 21st Century tool being used to full advantage to prepare and plan this trip.

The Internet has helped me locate all the main sites I wish to visit, as well as determine to the minute the bus and train timetables,  comparing them to what it would cost to take a taxi. I know what the fares should be, the buses to catch, where to transfer and so on. Is this taking anything away from the joy of travel? The adventure of the unknown? Not for me. I have ten days to accomplish a ton of stuff. I want to collect information for various papers and essays on the conflicts of the 40s and 50s, experience a little W. Somerset Maugham like magic and also relive my halcyon days as a schoolboy in the immediate post-colonial days after Singapore became an independent nation. And eat satays. In fact the risk of my gout flaring up thanks to inhuman quantities of satays and peanut sauce is a concern.

My health is not what it was prior to my death in 2009. Despite serious attempts my weigh is still an issue and now I am diabetic with gout and cellulitis in the left leg. None of which will stop me doing what I wish but it does give me reason to plan ahead, to throw caution in rather than to the winds. This trip has objectives I wish to achieve and as I was taught in the army decades ago, always keep the objective in mind. The first objective is to return home safely and healthy. I will be wary of strangers, especially overly friendly ones and I plan to stay away form known red light areas. I have no interest in fleshspots any more and they are a magnet for criminals and trouble. Like avoiding shark attack, just don’t swim where the sharks are.

I will be careful crossing the street, choosing modes of transport and the security of my belongings. I will double check my luggage to make sure I am not carrying anything that will get me into trouble. Drugs means death in these countries and you must guard against anyone slipping anything into your bags; it happens. Alcohol is also a trigger for unwanted consequences so I will be careful where I enjoy my Singapore Sling (Raffles Hotel is the only place!). Food is another issue, but common sense will keep me away from salads, unbottled water and of course ice if it is not from a decent establishment. Fortunately hygiene standards are high in these two well developed South East Asian nations but you still need to take care.

I will buy my toiletries when I arrive as regulations against carrying even a large but half empty toothpaste tube are strict, let alone liquids or aerosols. Better to nip into the nearest 7/11 when I get there than worry about arguing with an airport security officer over a few dollars worth of deoderant. I have prescription medication so I will take the prescriptions, just in case I am questioned about them. Money is another issue and fortunately ATMs are everywhere nowadays. I plan to have some cash but keep the rest in my VISA Debit card. I bought one online from Australia Post I can charge online if need be and if it is stolen then they won’t have access to much, plus I will have a backup stored somewhere else. Online security is another issue as all hotels have free WiFi, but you never know who might be monitoring the signal so I have precautions in place to manage the risk. In the evenings I will roll down the sleeves and protect against mosquitoes and generally be aware of infection from cuts and so forth, carrying a small first aid kit in my day pack.

So is this paranoia or simply common sense? I think the latter and because I am prepared, have done my homework and have a good but not overly rigid plan to follow the trip should be a great success. Time will tell.

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