Days 1,244-1,248: The War At Sea

Mon 28.05.12 – Fri 01.06.12: There’s a war going on. Did anyone tell you? Bet they didn’t. The UN wouldn’t tell you, because then they may be called upon to do something about it. The IMO (International Maritime Organisation) wouldn’t tell you, because then they’d perhaps feel a tad silly for issuing advice akin to the hilarious ‘Duck and Cover’ leaflets distributed in case of a nuclear strike. Your local retailer won’t tell you, because even if there is now a 20% shipping surcharge slapped onto every product you purchase, they still make the same amount of profit. The insurance companies won’t tell you, because they can now charge a hefty premium on any ships crossing the Indian Ocean. The only ones really losing out are the mariners, the people of an already war-ravaged East African country and YOU. I’m talking, of course, about the Somali…

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Day 1,243: The 10 Courts of Hell

Sun 27.05.12:  Today I met up with Maryanne, the CouchSurfer who shared Mike’s flat with me in Hong Kong. Together with Kuni and our new CouchSurfer Callum we headed over the Haw Par Villa Theme Park to go see the TEN COURTS OF HELL!! Hell isn’t an exclusively western concept. What happens to you after die has obsessed the upright ape since it first climbed out of the trees, touched the monolith and killed off all the Neanderthals. In some instances the fanciful fables of the hereafter have assumed the status of myth (that place religions go when they die), but for many people on this planet hell is as alive and as real as Disneyland. So why not make a theme park out of it? That was the idea of brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, the developers of Tiger Balm, who came…

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Day 1,242: Gotham City

Sat 26.05.12: Gangsters. I hate them. I hate their pathetic lust for money, their shocking insensitivity to the misery of others, their child-like desire for trinkets and weaponry. But I especially hate their taste – yes I may sound like a rambling old lord bemoaning the trashy habits of the nouveau riche, but sod it: these people are not just morally bankrupt, but creatively bankrupt as well. The kind of goons who would erect a tasteless golden statue of themselves as though it’s not going to be melted down the minute they shuffle off this mortal coil they’ve done so much to ruin for others. The kind of goons that buy cars that look like glorified roller-skates, spend more on sound-systems than looking after their kids, hang out with women more plastic than Barbie and wear shirts louder than Krakatau. One of the reasons I want…

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Day 1,241: The Arab Street Preachers

Fri 25.05.12: I lost my debit card last week in Bangkok. Foolish I know, but it’s only the second time I’ve lost my card since Dominican Republic back in February 2009, so don’t be too harsh. In fact, I lost both cards to the same lousy trick. Some cash machines have this bastard habit of giving you your money and THEN your card, rather than the eminently more sensible other way around – card then money. Because of the increased likelihood of you taking your money then wandering off with your card still in the ATM, there are very few countries that have this system. Dominican Republic is one, and Thailand is another. There is a circle of hell reserved for ATM designers who do this. Anyway, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice; Dude, Where’s My Card? So today I had to trek…

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Day 1,240: Fish n’ Chips n’ Curry Sauce

Thu 24.05.12: PIL you are the BEST!! Not only did I awake to find an email granting me passage on board the MV Kota Wirawan, which leaves next Monday for Colombo, I have also been offered a place onboard a ship leaving Sri Lanka to come back to Singapore and then a third ship to Madagascar. Now I have just TWO more shipping jaunts to organise and I’m done: The Maldives and The Seychelles. Behind the scenes while I was on board the Mell Sembawang last month, Dino, Mandy and my Mum were working tirelessly to try to get me on a ship from Hong Kong to Colombo. Once it became clear that Hong Kong was a dead end and that I intended to head down to Singapore, Dino put me onto a mate of a mate of his, Philip. He had been looking for a…

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Day 1,239: Wednesday Night Social

Wed 23.05.12: I had arranged to meet with Captain Paneer of PIL, the shipping company responsible for my crucial forays to Tuvalu, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand and Taiwan. I wanted to thank him and the company for being so incredibly generous and helping me to over half of my final 17 countries. And so I headed over to the PIL offices in the business district of Singapore clutching a bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label. About 45 minutes later I walked out with a spring in my step. Captain Paneer had offered me a spot on a ship going to Sri Lanka. A few more days in Singapore and I’d be on my way. It was a huge weight off my mind. Country 198 effectively in the bag, I turned my attention to countries 199, 200 and 201. My current plan for The Maldives…

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Day 1,238: The Road To Singapore

Tue 22.05.12: One day, a British gent called Tom sat down before a map of the world. At the very tip of the Malay peninsular he noticed a small, jungle-covered island. Being a genius (a British syndrome if ever there was one), he figured that if he put a settlement there, one day it would be the shipping capital of the world. All ships travelling to and from The Far East and Europe would have to stop there to trade goods or pick up supplies. Tommy Boy convinced the British East India Company to get onboard with his crazy brilliant scheme and thus Singapore was born. I left the bus (a wave and a glad-to-never-see-you-again smile to Wolfgang the old Nazi, who responded with a ‘Sieg Heil’ as if it was funny… he’s probably at home now putting his cat in the oven) and headed over…

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Day 651: Lion City

13.10.10: Singapore! World’s End!  You can get here all the way across the mega-continent of Eurasia from John O’Groats to Raffles via the Channel Tunnel, the Urals and the causeway without ever stepping foot on a plane or a boat.  But this is the end of the line I’m afraid.  From now on it’s going to be ship-this ship-that and ship’s-your-uncle.  Ticking a magnificent 179 countries off my list: a daunting and unsettling task lay ahead: the final 21 countries are all islands, parts of islands or full-on archipelagos and (as if I haven’t been at pains to point this out already) I’M NOT ALLOWED TO FLY. Nature’s borders prove much more troublesome to me than man’s invisible lines. I am more than happy to pay lip-service to Singapore, with it’s miles and miles of docks and smug (and lucrative) placement right in the middle of…

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Days 649-650: To The Ends Of The Earth

11.10.10-12.10.10: After two hours kip (I actually didn’t bother using my bunk – the communal area of the backpackers did just as well), by 7.30am I was shovelling breakfast into my fat ginger gob and by 9 o’clock I was on the bus to Bangkok.  The wheels on the bus went round and round, round and round, round and round as I tore south through the country like some kind of angry Scotsman.  Only without the girly skirt. Arriving at Bangkok in the evening, I once again skirted the manic city I know and love and snapped up a ticket on the last bus to Singapore – country 179 – which if you’d care to glance at a map of the area (or, even better, work from memory) is on the other end of country 178 (Malaysia) and just a short ferry ride away from country…

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