I’m hot and sticky all over like some sort of depleted chunk of mango, my hair is slick to my head with humidity and I’m being attacked on all sides by smells both appetising and hideous, this can only mean one thing; Asia how I’ve sort of/not really missed you. Arriving off the plane in Singapore there were undertones of that fragrant rice smell that epitomises SEA for me, lemon and cardamom maybe, but it didn’t quite hit me like a truck as it did the first time I flew into Bangkok four years ago.
However the familiarity of friendly faces didnt go amiss as I shared a ‘grab’ with a Singapore Airlines stewardess who was very sweet and despite my drunk-with-fatigue haze I still managed to engage in some sort of conversation- even if I didn’t make any sense. I binge watched GoT series 8 on the plane which took up all but 2 hours of my 13 hour flight so was a bit confused when I staggered out of the airport to find high rises and feature fountains instead of the cobbled streets of Kings Landing and the fresh smell of sword wounds.
My time in Singapore begins again tomorrow for as quickly as I arrived I’d gone again, hopping on a roomy air-conditioned bus heading for Malacca, Malaysia, on my Malay friend from homes’ recommendation. I was a bit dispirited when I was driving on the wide motorways of Singapore to see a scenery not far off from the one I’d just traded in, double decker buses, English road signs and Starbucks coffee hinted at a heavy London influence which I was semi-prepared for but which didn’t lessen my slight disappointment.
Which is why when I arrived at the sketchy looking bus stop I was relieved to look around me and see the hard, cracked whites of local feet in worn flip flops, kiosks selling anything they can shove on a skewer and that familiar feeling that you’ve got absolutely no idea what the fuck is happening but you know you’re in safe hands, that’s my Asia.
After getting on the right bus, thankfully, and positioning myself next to a head scarf clad mother and her two daughters (who were laughing hysterically the whole time and were super amusing to watch) I watched miles and miles of dense palm tree-d forest roll by as I thought anxiously of the last time I was in Asia and how different things had been then.
I’ve just embarked on my first proper solo travel (joining ships and mini breaks excluded) for 3 months, starting in Singapore, quick excursion to Malaysia, then onto Tonga for whale season, Fiji Yasawa, New Zealand both islands and the Bay of Islands, West coast of Australia and finally a quick stop in Bali on my way home for Christmas. Last time I went ‘travelling’ like this was 3 years ago when I made the terrible mistake of changing my original plans to accommodate the needs and wants of someone else (needless to say I left him there and escaped home) so this time I am thoroughly remembering my lesson learnt and coming alone.
And although I have friends and family in certain places throughout the trip, the majority of my time will be spent by myself or with people I meet along the way which is exactly how I want it to be. I’m pretty sure for most people the thought of travelling alone brings an unpleasant cocktail of anxiety and disparity, but for me, all I’m drinking is relief. Sweet stress-free joy as I carry myself from one country to another with no one to please but myself. Bliss.
Yesterday consisted of a peaceful Batik lesson where I dabbed at a cloth canvas with all the colours of the rainbow and watched it spread like tie-dye, traditional Malay houses painted in yellows, pinks and blues, the teacher told me she could tell from my choices that I was a happy and free person, a person who did ‘whatever I liked’, I hope that is me. I then had a good walk around, down the river looking at all the colourful buildings and street art, and then to make a solid start at releasing a years worth of tension I, of course, had a massage.
I can’t justify the prices anywhere else in the world but MYR65 (£12) for an hours full body and a foot soak thrown in seemed pretty decent to me (although I have been known to pay no more than £4 before in rural Thailand). Kit off and mounted by a tiny woman with hands like rolling pins I was absolutely ruined, as per usual touched in places I didn’t even know one could be massaged- ears? Earholes? Sure. She was rough as hell, battered me really and bent me into many compromising positions before slapping me a few times and sending me on my way. Not sure whether I’d just been abused or treated I paid up and hobbled off to get ready for the night market.
Had an amusing conversation over Google translate with the only other person in my room, a rubbery Chinese man pushing 50 who asked me in patchy English why I only ate vegetables after I turned down his offer for a questionable looking meat skewer. Rested, I headed out into the thick heat and straight into a more unpleasant situation, a bustling night market, one of many I have shuffled through and a highly uncomfortable must-do that I was pleased was just a one off. As I nibbled at various street food items (satay fish curry, chilli tofu skewer, sushi, whole coconut with juice) I tried not to stomp on all the wee locals like the freakishly tall Scandinavian-like giant that I am.
Terrible jetlagged night of very little sleep and new series of Great British Bake off, I’ve got a belly full of chia seed smoothie bowl (because I’m hideously western) and a bus to catch at 5.30 back to Singapore. So far so good, although I feel like I’ve had either a very successful night in the sack or been pummeled by a woman half my size… sadly it’s the latter.