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allrite
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Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Wed Sep 25, 2019 11:45 pm

A warning: This report is long, almost 14,000 words with lots of photos. It is not about the minutiae of luxury aircraft travel. It's a meditation on travel, exhaustion, fear and the joy of looking out the window of an aircraft at the world beyond.

This journey began with a durian. That giant spiky maggot yellow fleshed and putrid stinky so called king of the fruits, though it in fact calls to be deposed from its membership of that order by violent revolution. Is it a reflection on me that my wife loves both it and I?

Her brother-in-law brought some durian to a neighbour's dinner, so my wife B desired more. Not wanting its pungent and cloying stench to pollute our abode, I suggested that I purchase cheap Scoot or AirAsiaX tickets for her so that she could eat it fresh from the source. After all, the prices for frozen durian, for some reason sold in the local supermarket, aren't that much less than the cheapest fares.

Somehow this suggestion morphed into plans for a family trip during the next school holidays.

So here I am with my ten year old son Alex at the Stamford Plaza Hotel in a room overlooking the domestic terminals of Sydney Airport. My wife, B, will join us later after she finishes work, travelling direct from the city.

It's a near perfect view for an aviation fan and, hey, there's even a train line below the window. I should be excited at the start of a big adventure.


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Instead I'm flustered, anxious and exhausted.

Every day of leave is precious, so I'm still nominally working. I have managed to get online only fifteen minutes late for our team meeting after giving up on the bus from home and driving instead. Tomorrow I have to drive back and do a do a dozen tasks before heading back to the airport to stay at another hotel.

And that's still not all.

I like to say that holidays should begin with exhaustion to make them feel worthwhile. It's been a massive six months or more. I've just delivered a massive set of projects, graded to second kyu in karate after up to nine hours a week in the dojo and much else besides. So I'm bloody exhausted now. And it's going to take me a while to let go.

Meanwhile I'm worried about the dog, the house, turbulence and trying to ensure everybody has a good holiday, not just me.


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The reason we are staying at the Stamford is not for me, but for B and Alex. They are flying up to Singapore via Melbourne a day before me as I've got a prior commitment. Their flight departs at seven AM. I could have driven them from home, but Sydney's traffic is risky. Also, Alex loved our two previous early morning departures from this hotel, this is his dream as well.

Me, I would have loved to be able to sleep in, but we are up at a quarter past five and half an hour later are walking in the dark to Terminal 2. It's not quite as early as for the Jetstar flights to Queensland and onwards to Japan, but it is early in the school holidays so we need to be prepared for a crowd.

Indeed there is a crowd, though it seems to be moving. I've already checked Alex and B in online and so we just need to print out bag tags from the automated kiosk. Then join the line for the bag queue. After that, the multiple long lines through security.


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All done, we are into the shopping centre, err, airside of the terminal. The food court is stirring, but I have purchased the Plus package for B and Alex's tickets and that means that get $10 credit each on the domestic leg and $15 on the international segment. That's rather a lot for a one and a half hour flight, considering the selection. So they choose to wait for breakfast and we head to the gate. But not without stopping at the new Lego shop first!

The flight is delayed by about 45 minutes. On the plus side that means more time together. In the negative, no chance to go back to sleep in the hotel room. The dark sky brightens as dawn arrives and the crowd of passengers head aboard, including Alex and B.


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I stand at the window, waiting. The last few stragglers head through the airbridge or cross the tarmac, depending on their location. There are final calls and threats of offloadings on other flights nearby and I wonder at the passengers' excuses for their delay. Is it the congestion and failure that is Sydney's roads and public transport? Perhaps it was the crowds at check in? Or were they selfishly just shopping and taking their sweet time? It's none of my business.


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Finally the rear stairs and airbridge are withdrawn and the Jetstar Airbus A320 backs away from the gate.


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I walk to the circular end of the pier, where the Tigers and their prey lurk. I've never flown Tigerair. Never had much of need to that couldn't be satisfied by their alternatives and the Tigerair branding doesn't entice. I think they need a rebrand.


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A mother and her two kids try to squeeze in for a selfie. I offer to take the photo for them, thinking of Alex and B as I do.

Their aircraft waits for its turn to taxi, lets other aircraft pass, then slowly trundles away, out towards the distant third runway. I silently wish them a safe and happy flight and head back.


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I feel that I should at least inspect the shops. I have this fantasy, one that I have had in one form or another since childhood, of going to the airport with only the clothes on my back, my wallet and phone and making do with whatever I can purchase there or on the holiday. It's a rather silly and expensive fantasy, because I have travelled so many times that I already have virtually everything that I could need sitting in wardrobes and cupboards at home. But there are a some things that I still need for this trip.


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I couldn't find my swimming togs at home. I feel like reading a book. Maybe constructing something craft or electronics related in a hotel room, calming the mind. Keeping a scrapbook of the trip instead of just a blog. I keep promising myself that I'll do that. Never do.

I look in the Lego shop, the newsagent, electronics store. Come away with nothing but a couple of snacks for breakfast, but another half and hour has gone by the time I am walking back to the Stamford. Too late to watch B and Alex taking off into the sky.


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Check out is not until 11 AM. I complete a few work tasks on my laptop, then grab half an hour's sleep, drifting off to relaxing music played over portable stereo speakers. Small though they are, in the interests of minimising weight and packing I'll have to leave them at home to be replaced by a single, lighter, version in my bag.


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After I check out I find that my car is blocked in by another in the basement car park. The concierge sorts it out and I drive out of the hotel. My intention is to go to the shopping centre at Miranda for my swimsuit and other things, but the roadworks around the airport make everything confusing and I miss the ideal turn-off. So I just head straight home. B and Alex call me from Melbourne. They made it safely and without hassle, but their onwards flight is delayed.

Alex is a bit upset that he didn't get to use the Qantas lounge. After our Europe trip he made Silver frequent flyer status, which includes a complimentary lounge voucher. I could have gifted B mine as well, but judged the connection to be too short. Unfortunately, they need to be pre-booked 24 hours or more ahead.

At home I repack bags, bring in the washing, throw rubbish, monitor incoming work tasks, eventually switch off electronics and lock the doors. Finally free to go!

I lock the doors and step outside into a warm sunny day. My journey starts now. I should be excited, soaking up the quiet suburban atmosphere, gazing down the Georges River valley towards the city and airport, feeling the anticipation of adventure.

No, I'm still tense. I have to hurry to make the bus, the wheels of my roller bag clattering rhythmically against the concrete path, disturbing the midday silence. I am rushing to the airport, but not towards a flight.

Bus, train, they are just a commute. They could be more. They are not. I step out at the International Airport station, take the escalator up into the light and cross the road to the Rydges Sydney Airport hotel.


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This is the same hotel that we had such a horrible sleep on their so-called "Dreambeds" last year. They only have to cope with the weight of one tonight. Despite me booking online, the hotel appears to have mixed up my dates of stay. Fortunately, I have proof and status and I get my room with a great view of the runway.


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My flight tomorrow morning is late enough that I could probably have gone direct from my home to the airport. But I have a concert to attend tonight at the Sydney Opera House: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in Concert with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and won't be back until late.

Besides which, I always like staying in a hotel near the airport before a flight. It can be difficult to relax at home, whereas once at the hotel you are already packed and without all the options and distractions of your own house.

Almost already packed. As I did this morning, I go down to the airport shops and try to find that swimsuit, to imagine that I am here without any luggage with the intellectual challenge of making do with whatever is available.

Modern big city international airport terminals are rather like shopping malls, but with a more eclectic range of goods for sale. On the any-can-visit land side are the more regular shops, the post office, the pharmacy, newsagent. Last minute souvenirs, luggage for those that arrive and suddenly need to pack more.

There is a surf shop, but it doesn't have the style I want. I'm both hungry through a lack of lunch and feeling queasy due to anxiety and stress. In the end I just eat a couple of rice paper rolls and watch passengers and crew stride through the glass corridor between the food court and the tarmac, silhouette shadow stories silently staged against a backdrop of big jets arriving and departing, carrying them away to distant sets.


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Small vignettes abound in airports. Families saying their farewells to loved ones as they set out on adventures or return home. Tourists young and old carry stories back with them or setting out to make new ones. Tour groups dutifully playing follow the leader. Business passengers determined to reach the airline lounge as quickly as possible, resigned to the interruption to their lives and business that is flying.


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I can't find my own story here right now, so I head back to my hotel room. Though compact, the room is clean and comfortable. The window has views of the northern end of the main runway, overlooking the gates where the big A380s and Boeing 747s dock. Imagine being one of those passengers, scurrying down those long corridors, about to board a very long flight to the Americas or Asia and Europe.

By the time the aircraft pass my window they are already rising into the air. I stare into the windows, try to put myself into the heads of the passengers. What are they feeling now? Nervous? Excited?


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Much as I'd like to just relax here and watch the planes take-off, I've got business in the city to attend to. A train takes me to Town Hall station, the journey mostly underground. There is a greater selection of shops in the city than in the airport and I find my small satchel to replace the one that broke a few days ago. I guess people really are going cashless as none of the outdoor stores seem to sell travel wallets anymore and the shopkeeper at Kathmandu is rather surprised to see the old wallet I had bought from them a few years ago. Thankfully the Japanese still use a lot of cash and Muji has something suitable.

Despite this being the middle of winter, Rebel Sport still sell swimsuits, and I am now all set for the trip. I hurry through the darkening city streets, still crowded though the offices are closing for the week. I want to catch the pre-concert talk and the Sydney Opera House is quite far from Town Hall.

There is no pre-concert talk. I have a lonely hour of gazing over the harbour through the big windows at the rear of the opera house. The gigantic structure of Sydney Harbour Bridge is lit blue in support of the New South Wales rugby league team in their State of Origin match against Queensland and beneath it is the dazzling amusement ride lights of Luna Park.

All these elements are part of my imaginings of a perfect trip. I'm still not feeling it.


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The concert is wonderful, the Harry Potter movies an excellent distraction, although they feel so disconnected from the upcoming trip, for Hogwarts is definitely not part of Asia. During the interval I use the Flight Radar app to track B and Alex's descent into Singapore, watching them arc across southern Malaysia. The elderly couple next to me think I'm checking the State of Origin score!


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My return to Sydney Airport is just before the 11 PM curfew and so too late for spotting anything, but as I exit the building there is a great roar as a rather delayed A380, QF1, heads up into the sky, bound for Singapore and London. I hope it doesn't herald any problem for my own Qantas flight to Singapore tomorrow.
I like artificial banana essence!
 
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allrite
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Wed Sep 25, 2019 11:46 pm

I don't need an alarm clock to wake me up. It's still dark outside and I wish I could sleep longer after yesterday's very late night. My bags are all packed and I'm ready to go, but I wait until the golden orb of the sun peeps over the horizon, bathing the waiting aircraft in gold light, reflecting patterns off their so smooth surfaces.


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It's a decade since my first overseas flight alone. That, like my very first overseas flight at all, was also to Singapore. Today I will also be flying Qantas, though not their A380 and not onwards to London.

That first time I felt the trepidation of leaving B and my four month old son behind. Today I am also feeling anxious about the 50 km/h predicted wind gusts across Sydney and the possibility of a turbulent jetstream over the Australian interior. I entertain not leaving at all, going home and enjoying the peace and quiet of home without the myriad commitments that come from being a family.

But I cannot leave Alex and B alone in Singapore and Malaysia. And I console myself that the winds will be brief, we will probably not encounter the jetstream and the rest of the weather looks really good. Even the storms seem to be holding off over Indonesia and Singapore. If there's any time to go it's now.


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So I farewell my room, check out and roll my bag across the road and one level up the escalator to the departure floor of the airport. Despite its many renovations, the check in area retains the dark, low ceiling look of that very first trip. I don't mind that, as I desperately try to recast my frame of mind back to the excitement of more than twenty years ago.

On thing that has changed, and only in recent times, is that some of the Qantas check in desks have been replaced by automated kiosks and bag drops. I have no problems with either, but a couple of passengers ahead of me struggle and give up at the automated bag drops. In some ways I miss the little bit of interaction, the friendly smile of the desk agent, before heading off.

The immigration desks are still mostly manned at Sydney Airport. There is only a short queue for both them and through security, then I am out into the luxury goods shopping mall that is Sydney Airport.


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I normally hurry through the welcoming maze of the duty free shop, but today I stop at the electronics section. I miss the old Sony shop, though they no longer make computers, tablets and other interesting things, now replaced by JB Hi-Fi. I buy a tiny, cheap, HP Sprocket photo sticker printer, thinking that I will encourage Alex to keep a physical diary of the trip.

Beyond the duty free store the airport opens up into a bright public space lined with more luxury brands and eateries, some upmarket and expensive, others more familiar fast food. There are corners of panoramic windows with views across the tarmac. In some ways I would like to be sitting there in the light, eating the overpriced meals, watching the crowds of passengers hurry away to all their different destinations. However, I've got a Qantas Club membership and should take advantage of the facilities and the "free" feed.


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The Qantas Business Lounge is busy as always. The buffet has two styles of bacon, the crispy American and the edible kind, the usual hot accompaniments, a selection of pastries and fruits. I eat sparingly, unwilling to trust my stomach.


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The Business Lounge has lost some of its lustre and is probably in line for a refresh. It's a little dark, the views outside interrupted by the terminal roof below and the overhang of the first class lounge above.

There are so many things I should do, especially as I'm going to be stuck sitting down in a small tube for the rest of the day, but I have no great desire to do any of them. So I just plonk myself down in a comfy seat, listen to relaxing music through headphones and try unsuccessfully to sleep.


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Eventually the call comes through for the boarding of QF81 to Singapore. This is it. I am going!

Following the path of gate number signs I'm disappointed to discover that we are headed to a bus gate in the basement. I've arrived but never departed from a remote stand at the International Terminal and this one is crowded with passengers for other flights, each in separate queues. Somehow it lacks the cachet of a jetbridge gate, staring out at your aircraft while you wait.


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Instead we are winding our way around the aircraft, Boeing 787s and Airbus A330s, plus a lone Air New Zealand A320, parked on the tarmac between the passenger and freight terminals, where our remote stand is located. The wide body panes look so impressive from below, huge wings shading the tarmac, bodies ingesting food and freight.


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The bus disgorges us on to the tarmac and we climb up the stairs of the Qantas Airbus A330-300 VH-QPG, also known as Mount Gambier. I wish that I could take a photo, but I don't dare. The wind isn't so bad out here and I feel hope as I step inside the aluminium tube that will be my home for the next eight hours.

The cabin looks the most recently refurbished of the series of Qantas A330's that have carried me aloft over the past couple of years. The slimline seats are covered in red fabric with adjustable red leather headrests and black plastic backs. At the rear of each is an 11 inch Panasonic EX2 screen whose early Android operating system origins are easily visible after a quick play.


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The interface appears to have changed since my last Qantas flight less than a year ago and it takes me a little while to find the simple flight map. The soundtrack selection has not been updated however, apart from a superhero theme music collection performed by the frequently less than wonderful Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. I decide to listen to music from my phone instead.

When I try to check out the food menu the screen just says "Oops".

The pitch feels poor on the seats. Fortunately I have short legs, but it does almost make me wish I had a bulkhead seat like last time. I do, however, like to have my screen accessible at all times and a bag beneath the seat.

After an introduction by the cabin manager, the captain pipes up with his own welcome. He apologises for the delay, caused by the remote stand, and informs us that we can expect a few bumps during our ascent over Sydney, but that the rest of the flight should be "pretty smooth". So, as I expect, which is comforting.

I watch the wind tug at the tarpaulins covering pallets being loaded on to a neighbouring aircraft, study other aircraft ascend towards the northern end of airfield, keeping a close eye out of signs of turbulence. I remember other flights in gusty winds, recall how quickly it all passed.

Finally the last of the passengers are loaded and the cabin doors are closed. A safety demonstration is performed by the crew as we begin our slow thirty minute taxi out to the southern end of the main runway. I let myself doze, the lack of sleep greater than any anticipation. Outside my window the waters of Botany Bay are blue under clear skies, few white caps dancing atop them. Maybe the wind isn't so bad after all.


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We turn on to the piano keys and the pilot quickly applies higher thrust to send us racing down the runway, the acceleration pushing me back into the seat. Even before the crossing of the East-West runway we are leaping up into the air.


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The Domestic Terminals pass beneath us, the Alexandria Canal and the road works of the new Westconnex tollway. The skyscrapers of the Sydney CBD, where I was last night, pass by in the distance, almost lost in the glare of the shimmering inner harbour waters.


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Yes there are bumps due to the wind, but truth be told they are not bad, and we are still over Sydney's northwestern suburbs when the seatbelt light is extinguished.


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A great weight is lifted from my shoulders and now I can relax and try to enjoy the flight.

The Hawkesbury River winds through the semi-rural landscape below like a silver snake, joining the dams and irrigation channels reflecting the morning sun as we pass Windsor. Below us is the single runway of Richmond RAAF base. Then we reach the boundary of Greater Sydney, flying over the crenellated dark green landscape of the Blue Mountains.


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The crew pass through the cabin handing out flimsy menu cards with the swirls of a lavender field printed in front. I know which meal I will choose when the time comes.


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The sky outside our windows is bright and clear and so is the cabin. The Airbus A330 is the unglamorous widebody workhorse of the Qantas fleet, lacking the classic lines and history of the soon to be retired Boeing 747, the modern hype of the 787 and the sheer size of the A380. I find their exterior design attractive, but inside undistinguished. It exists to take you to your destination with the minimum of fuss.


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I am largely tuned out from the goings on within the cabin. I have my big noise cancelling earphones on playing a selection of relaxing, then random music from the very extensive collection on my phone. Music means a lot to me. I listen primarily to soundtracks and music is the soundtrack to my life, the trigger for so many memories and feelings.

Sometimes music gets associated with a trip even if I never actually listened to it during the travels. The eclectic score to the movie Heat is like that, somehow always feeling like it should describe a flight across the Australian continent to Asia. I switch to that score for that purpose.

The young girl in front of me has reclined her seat to the maximum, pushing my video screen uncomfortably towards my face. The person in the exit row ahead of her has done the same, so I cannot blame her, but it makes the lack of seat pitch apparent.

The Blue Mountains were a barrier to the early westwards expansion of the Sydney colony, but once ways were found it opened up the lands beyond to agriculture. The lands below are a patchwork of green, brown and black depending on the state of the fields. Here and there the sparkle of morning sun reflecting off a dam or creek, like diamonds and mercury scattered through the landscape. There is the odd tiny cloud, but most of the scene is clear.


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As we move further westwards, past Dubbo, the land becomes harsher with ochre soils visible through low woodlands and scrub.


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Most of my previous flights to Singapore and Malaysia have followed a more southerly route, passing over the great salt lakes of South Australia before swinging up to cross the Western Australian coast near Derby. At this time of year the eastern flowing jet stream driven winds over Australia tends to migrate southwards towards the pole and so we take a more northerly path up towards western Queensland and the Northern Territory.


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Surprisingly the story told by the inland scenery below is less about the harsh deserts of the Australian interior and more about water. The hydrology of Australia is a fascinating and very contentious topic as farmers, miners and the environment fight for water, pitting those upstream against those further down, state against state, with tales of corruption and mismanagement leading up to the very highest levels of government. Meanwhile crops and livestock are dying, fish float lifeless across evaporating puddles, starved of oxygen and townsfolk must ship in water from afar.

None of that is apparent from up high, but the mark of the inland waterways across the interior is the defining feature of the landscape below.

We begin with Australia's longest river system, the Murray-Darling. Far to the south of us, the Murray River marks the boundary between the states of New South Wales and Victoria, eventually meeting the sea in South Australia. It is joined by the Darling River and fed by other rivers and creeks from across northwestern New South Wales and southern Queensland draining westwards from the Great Dividing Range that splits the eastern coastal regions of Australia from the interior.

The Macquarie Marshes, part of the Macquarie River, form a khaki and sandy coloured interruption in the drying landscape.


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The Macquarie River feeds into the Darling system. Further west of it is the Bogan River, named prior to the pejorative for the uncultured. If you look on a satellite map you can see the Bogan, which also flows into the Darling, separates the green countryside from the red lands beyond. We fly over the confluence of the rivers, the Barwon and the Darling, where they turn back to begin their southwards flow, across the Paroo and the twin lakes of Numalla and Wyara. One fresh water, the other salt.


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A hundred million years ago all this land was beneath the Eromanga Sea and today the salt remains, exposed as the continent drifted northwards, the inland lakes dried and the forests disappeared to be replaced by desert.

The Bulloo River is the first to never reach today's oceans, petering out into a few small lakes. Beyond it the waterways reach down to Kati Thanda Lake Eyre, Australia's lowest point at 16 metres below the current average sea level.


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There has been enough rain in Western Queensland that the Diamantina and Georgina Rivers and Cooper Creek have water in them. They are not singular waterways but fractal filigrees of mercury and black, splitting and reforming as they course their way down towards Kati Thanda across the dusty ochre and tan lands between.


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They may never make it. Most of the water will evaporate or be soak away by the ground and the vegetation that clings to the waterways' edges. Occasionally, just a few times a century, enough water flows to turn Kati Thanda into an inland sea once more, bring with it an explosion in aquatic and avian life. What a sight that would be!





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As I admire the changing landscape below the crew hand out our lunches. I love a good satay. Small chunks of chicken, mutton or beef marinated in spices, grilled over charcoal and served with a peanut sauce. It was my first meal overseas. I ate thirteen sticks of satay delivered by motorcycle to B's Aunty's house in Singapore, gorging until the heat of the spice overwhelmed my mouth.

I'm even partial to that pseudo-satay dish they serve in Australian Chinese restaurants and take-away shops at food courts where they pour the satay sauce over a stir-fry and frequently served up with fried rice.

Unfortunately, the chicken cashew satay with Indonesian fried rice I select is not a good satay. In fact, it's not a good dish full stop. It doesn't even look nice. I've had better meals from the freezer section of a supermarket.


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The green beans and spinach are soggy and the combination of spices in the satay chicken are more harsh than flavoursome. Much as I love cashews, they don't have the flavour to compensate for peanuts. The rice lacked flavour.

At least I know that I will get better at my destination, but it's disappointing because Qantas usually serve up quite reasonable food in my opinion.

Fortunately, the warm garlic and herb focaccia is soft and tasty and there are cheese and crackers as well.

Despite the printed menu it is not a Weis ice cream that we are served later, but a dairy free frozen boysenberry, acai and coconut Weis bar. I really like it and was tempted to ask for another. Though the cabin temperature is reasonably cool and I have my air vent open, staring out at the bright clear sky and harsh landscape outside, combined with a lack of sleep, makes me feel hot and I am developing a headache. Fortunately, I remembered to buy some Panadol in the city last night.


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Further into the Northern Territory the red and brown of desert is replaced by the khaki of the tropics in dry season. Smoke plumes from burn-offs dirty the outback air and there are a few bumps, though nothing too major. In fact, the air has rarely been still over the interior on this voyage.


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The girl in the row ahead of me, who seems to be doing some studies, drops her protractor and we both struggle to reach it, having to use feet due to the narrow pitch. Success eventually comes.

Four hours in and we have already completed a little more than half our flight at the point that we finally cross the coast to the west of Darwin and Bynoe Harbour. The soothing blue of the ocean is a relief for my eyes.


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The flight is starting to feel long. I doze off for a short time, but sleep is difficult for me in flight. While there is nothing but ocean below I decide to distract myself with a video. There are plenty to chose from, not counting those I brought myself on my phone. It would need more than an around the world flight to watch a complete set of Game of Thrones episodes. All the Harry Potter movies might take a bit longer than the longest flight, though I'm keeping those for the live concerts or have recently seen them at one.

Then there are all the Marvel superhero movies, not including the latest Endgame.

The type of movie that I want to watch while flying has the following attributes: It is preferably science fiction, it should be visually stunning and it should have a great score, either dreamy electronica or orchestral. Those are also the kind of movies I'd like to watch on a big screen, which is often a downside of watching them in an aircraft.

The movie doesn't need to be fast paced or have a good story. At 38,000 feet above sea level my brain is not particularly switched on.

I have lots of movies in my collection that I consider great flight movies, though I've only seen some in an aircraft. Sunshine, Tron, Oblivion, Interstellar, Monsters, the list goes on. Some of them even have more than one word in their title.

There are plenty of other movies I've enjoyed in the skies. A fun adventure or comedy flick is good watching no matter where you see it. An engrossing story or great acting is the same. A John Williams score is another.

In the end, what wins out is the opportunity to watch a movie that I might not be able to find otherwise, buried in the foreign movie section of the inflight entertainment menu.

Mirai is an animated movie in Japanese with English subtitles about the fantastic adventures of a young boy who is jealous of the attention given to his new baby sister.

I enjoy the chance to practice my Japanese listening skills and the many train references. I want to share it with the others in the family, especially Alex who has his own Plarail toys and will undoubtedly go wild when he see Mirai stuck in an automated train ticket gate.


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What I don't do is focus on the movie continuously. There are constant bumps along the way. Niggling more than dramatic, but enough to make me need to look out the window.


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We also cross over a number of islands.First is Timor, much of the interior under a thin layer of cloud.


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I pay closer attention to the East Indonesian islands of East Nusa Tenggara. The islands host a number of active volcanoes, their origins on display.


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The yellow sulphur and pale blue lake of Mount Sirung on Pantai Island. White deposits, maybe also sulphur, within the crater of Lewotolo volcano on Lembata.


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Iliboleng, Flores. According to a translation of an Indonesian website you shouldn't wear a red shirt up this volcano, which hints that it was visited by a Star Trek away team.


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Coming from a continent without any active volcanoes, these sights are both fascinating and beautiful.

Having crossed the main arc of the Indonesian archipelago the number of sights decreases, with only the odd coral atoll or small island for company until we reach the southern tip of Borneo. I watch some more of Mirai, occasionally accepting a cup of water from the crew as they walk through the cabin.


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The interior of South Kalimantan at the bottom of Borneo is covered with cloud, some forming the cumulonimbus anvils of small storms. Fortunately the skies are mostly clear on our route with very little high cloud from the tails of storms, unlike our normal flights to Asia. The air is still bumpy so there must be high level winds, demonstrating that you still can't fully trust the turbulence maps.


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It keeps me on edge, never lets me fully relax in the way that I really need to.

With an hour to go we are handed our evening snack. It is dinner time at home. The choice is a pumpkin and feta tart or a box of steamed dumplings. I chose the latter, a miniature pork bun, two chicken siu mai and a "Shanghai" dumpling. I don't bother opening the accompanying sauce and request an orange juice as a drink.


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They may not be up to proper yum cha restaurant standards, but I find the dumplings quite nice.

It is then time to clear the cabin and prepare for our descent. The captain pipes up, hoping that we have been enjoying our flight and describing the skies above Singapore as partly cloudy.

I am both excited that this flight is almost over and nervous at the anticipation of flying through cloud. My mind goes back to that Scoot flight a few years ago when we suddenly dropped after hitting a small cloud right on our path to the airport.

The engines sounds and the aircraft's angle to the ground both change in pitch and I feel us beginning our journey down to the ground. The crew come through collecting rubbish and eventually to ensure that the cabin is ready. Seat backs upright, window shades open.


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We do the normal circuit over the Indonesian islands of Bintang and Batam, the false Singapores as I like to think of them. I guess this is a standard measure. As we turn I get more nervous surveying the cloud below and ahead.


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We skim past the puffy clouds as we continue our descent. Our path follows that of Alex and B's Jetstar flight yesterday, flying north past Singapore up along the Desaru coast of eastern Johor state in Malaysia. The skies are clear along the edge and I am excited to spot the water park and hotel that we have booked for later in the trip.


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Then we curve back towards the south to align ourselves with Changi's runways. A band of cloud lies in our path, hazy light from the sun shining right into my window. Will we have to pass through them? A last barrier waiting to spoil the trip?


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No, we descend beneath the clouds! The air is smooth, our progress determined.

We cross the Johor River, past the suspension bridge and ships. I am confused, thinking it the narrow gap of water between Singapore and Malaysia, then encountering new port loading facilities that are still definitely Malaysian, as we keep heading down.


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I am so used to the approach from the south with its parade of ships in the Singapore Strait!

Finally, in the last few moments of flight, we are over Singapore itself, then touching down at an airport that holds so many memories for me. I am jerked forward as the breaks and reverse thrust is applied. Welcome to Singapore Changi Airport!


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It's over. Hopefully I can relax now.

As we taxi around the terminals, past the many other airlines that service Singapore from across the globe, I spot the glass dome of the new Jewel building hiding behind the other buildings. I am eager to take a look at it with the others in the family.


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I pack away my headphones, switch my mobile off flight mode and get the bags under the seat ready.

We come to a rest at Terminal 1 and the jet bridge is attached. Waiting in the queue to exit the aircraft I overhear another passenger complaining about the lack of coffee served on the flight. I realise that I can't remember the crew doing any hot beverage runs. Or perhaps it is because I was too engrossed in the scenery outside and the movie on the screen to notice the crew. I feel that I have barely looked inside and wonder if that is a good or bad thing.

I should say that it was a great flight. I want to say it. In the end I was okay with the constant niggling turbulence and there were no big bumps. The scenery was fantastic, the service was sufficient for me. I was comfortable enough, though I've experienced better. It was the mood that was lacking. At no point did I feel like I belonged in the air, sailing in smooth skies. That is not the airline's fault. It's me.

It's over now, and I am in a hurry to get out. Terminal 1's brown carpet and internal layout feel so familiar to me that I walk on autopilot. Even immigration is surprisingly fast for me today without the usual confused hold up ahead.


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Baggage collection appears to have been spruced up with orchids and other greenery. It just feels brighter.

The real shock comes when I exit. The front wall of the terminal (was it glass? A road?) is gone and it now opens up into the Jewel, a glass torus with the world's tallest artificial waterfall as its centrepiece, edges a forest of plants and trees.


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It is a welcome and relaxing sight after eight hours stuck inside a sterile tube.

I want to explore it further, but my phone pings me. There is a message for me on Google Hangouts. Go to the hotel quickly. We are hungry!

I haven't even had a chance to use the bathroom since departing Sydney, but I make my way out to find transport. As the hotel is in Katong train is not an option. There is a free shuttle bus but that means waiting. I decide to splurge a little and catch a taxi directly to the hotel, though at S$13 it isn't so much.

I am tired, really tired. My headache is starting to return with a vengeance and I want nothing more than to relax.

That will be difficult to do. My phone keeps pinging as Alex messages me telling me how starving he is. They have spent the day at Sentosa Island riding the luge.

Outside, it is my favourite time in Asia. The golden light filtered by the green canopy of trees along the motorway from the airport gives a sense of being in a dream where time has stopped and the future and past have converged with the present. I want to treasure this moment, but, ding, another message has come and needs a reply.

The Grand Mercure Roxy Square features in ideal trip fantasy. A decade ago, on my first solo trip overseas, I spent that first night at the Hotel 81 Tristar on the opposite end of Joo Chiat Road. The hotel itself was not very nice, but Joo Chiat Road is lined with colourful old Chinese shop houses and retains the feeling of old Singapore, though that is rapidly disappearing with increasing gentrification.

The road continues on to Katong, where it is intersected by East Coast Road and Marine Parade. Roxy Square, named for the now demolished old theatre that stood there, sits between those two cross roads. Wonderful food abounds, reflecting the Peranakan heritage of the area, that mixture of Chinese and Malay cultures. There are still old fashioned kopitiams, open sided food courts where the "coffee shop" owner serves drinks and other tiny stalls food. Across the other side of Marine Parade is a local hawker centre with some pretty good food and none of the tourists.

Diagonally opposite the hotel is Parkway Parade, a reasonably large shopping centre, but one setup for locals.

You used to be able to cross to Marine Parade on a pedestrian bridge covered with flowering bougainvillea, stepping out of the airconditioned comfort of the hotel into the sticky tropical air and a sense of entering somewhere exotic. The bridge has been demolished now, along with the sense of tranquillity, by the huge MRT subway construction work alongside the road. When it is finished in a few years the MRT will make accessing the rest of Singapore a lot easier than the current bus service, but I do wonder if it will be the final death knell for the character of the area, making it just another part of sterile Singapore with its remanufactured history.

For the moment, the Grand Mercure still features in my fantasy travel imaginings. A few years back, after a very late night flight from Osaka and Taiwan, we collapsed into bed there, falling asleep to the sound of the storms that had dogged our flight.

I would love to do the same now, though the skies remain clear of rain. That wonderful feeling of washing away the grime and perspiration somehow acquired by flying and drifting off to music is one of my favourite moments of travel, despite being so mundane.

It's not an option. The other two are alert and hungry. I barely have enough time to go to the bathroom before we head out again. B has found a chicken rice restaurant she wants to try.

Katong Shopping Centre is only a little way up the East Coast Road. It's old and run down with the majority of shops seemingly devoted to the hire of maids from the Philippines and the subcontinent, the dingy corridors near empty at this time of the evening. Chicken rice is a good choice though, bland enough for a troubled stomach without being tasteless. There is acar too, sweet pickled vegetables which I adore.

On the way back we pass the world's first Norwegian salmon ATM, a vending machine for frozen salmon fillets. Another beside it serves ice cream in baby bottles.


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We are not going back to the hotel yet. First we cross Marine Parade to the food centre. Outside are a series of night stalls, one of which is Parkway Durians. Neither Alex nor I have any interest in the fruit, but I promised B. So we sit down at a table and are brought a durian split open in half. There are disposable plastic gloves to allow B to pull out the flesh without getting the difficult to remove juice from her hands.


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Somehow we tolerate the awful smell of the durian until a couple of girls sit down at another table behind us and to eat what seems to be a more acrid scented durian than B's.

A whole durian is too much for one person and she offers the other half to the girls. Fortunately the fruit is banned from hotels.

To wash away any remaining memory of durian from my system I have a drink of blueberry flavoured, toilet water coloured, "juice" and eat a couple of the very nice popiah wraps from a hawker stall I remember from last time. Then finally we can return to the hotel to rest. Or in my case write my blog then sleep.


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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Wed Sep 25, 2019 11:48 pm

When we were planning this trip B was a bit resistant to spending an additional day and night in Katong. But one of the reasons that the hotel and area features in my travel fantasy is that I feel that I could have a holiday here without needing to visit the rest of the island, to truly relax.

Take breakfast. We head down to the back of the Roxy Centre, to a small indoor food court with one of our favourite stalls, Katong Janggut Laksa. Unlike the usual laksa, this is not just noodles in liquid curry, but a different broth featuring ground up prawns, stock and coconut milk. Here the noodles are cut short so only a spoon is required. To accompany it, Milo Ais, Milo dissolved in boiling water, to which is added condensed milk and ice to cool it down.


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Afterwards, we cross Marine Parade to engage in another activity I've long included in my imaginings of the perfect holiday here.

For all the countless times we have driven down the parkway along the coast between Changi airport to our hotel we've never stopped to explore the long park and beach that runs beside it, an outdoor playground for locals.

We hire a bicycle each from a shop behind Marina Parade and use the underpass to cross to Area B of the East Coast Park.

A cycling path runs through the length of the park beneath a canopy of tropical trees. Waves lap at a sandy beach, while offshore lie hundreds of ships waiting to transfer their cargo of containers, cars and other goods for destinations across Asia and the rest of the world. We hear Singaporean fighter jets from the base at Paya Lebar roar across the sky, while passenger flights from nearby Changi take off more sedately towards the morning cloud offshore.


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As we ride along under the dappled light we pass a beachside campsite for locals, a wakeboarding facility, a skate park and playgrounds for kids. The East Coast Lagoon Hawker Village is closed until night, the Jumbo Seafood Restaurant is just thinking about opening for lunch. We've dined at both and I especially relish the memory of sitting at the latter, looking out to sea as storm showers approached.


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We ride as far as Bedok Jetty, cycling out past the fishermen tangling their bait fish into the gentle waters as seaweed washes up on the shore. Looking back you can see the landmark skyscrapers of Singapore, but I am happier out here, enjoying this manicured Singaporean version of nature, feeling the wind against my skin.


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In the evening we return to the East Coast Lagoon Hawker Village by taxi for a huge meal of grilled stingray, pippies, rojak and sticks of real satay grilled over charcoal. The storm that threatened when we arrived passes away, leaving us free to enjoy the evening outdoors. I think of a other acquaintances who, on such a trip to Asia, would be posting about their western meals taken in posh restaurants and think about how they are missing out on such wonderful and cheap local food.


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The thing I love most about Singapore and Malaysia is the food and the places you eat it. Not airconditioned international cuisine hidden away in shopping centres, the glamorous Michelin starred restaurants or the cool hipster cafes in repurposed shop houses. I prefer the plethora of choices in a hawker centre, the grimy old open sided kopitiam with decades of grease in every nook and cranny, the old Chinese restaurant with the bare walls and Formica tables.

We walk up Joo Chiat Road to the Al Falah Barakah kopitiam for a breakfast of roti, dosai and Milo ais. Though I've tasted better, the setting is timeless, sitting on plastic chairs under awnings, breathing in the already warm and humid morning air, surrounded by colourful shophouses with their decorative reliefs.


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Afterwards B has a second breakfast of bak kut teh, the strong Chinese herbal pork broth and though I don't eat it myself, I enjoy just soaking up the atmosphere of the place.

She is not content to just stay in Singapore. When planning this trip the desire was to go to a resort, preferably with a water park, but also with good food. We considered Langkawi and Penang, but to be honest I did not relish the flights or the having to get transport around those islands. The food around the resorts of Penang tends to be bad, but Georgetown lacks the resort accommodation.

I personally want to visit Ipoh and Taiping, after passing them by in the train on our last trip to Malaysia.

In the end we settle on sticking closer to Singapore, staying at the Hard Rock Desaru Resort on the East Coast and returning via Johor Bahru city on the way back. After weighing up the various options, we organise a minibus to drive us to the resort directly from our hotel.

It's Saturday and the crossing to Malaysia is packed, taking us an hour or so to cross. The Singaporean authorities handle our passports through the car window from a booth, but on the Malaysian side we take the bus and taxi route so have to get out and wait in a short queue at the more run down facilities.


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Then it's another hour's ride through rural Malaysia, past endless palm oil plantations, fruit farms and old kampongs.


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The Hard Rock Resort at Desaru is new and the facilities are very nice, though the exterior design is a bit bland. There's lots of connectivity options and services on the big Samsung smart television and non-alcoholic minibar drinks and snacks are included.


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From the infinity pool we watch flights descending into Singapore. I spot today's QF81 and Jetstar flight from Melbourne.

Unfortunately, the food situation is not so great. We eat lunch at the somewhat pricey resort restaurant and two of the three Malaysian dishes we order are neither genuine nor much good. The breakfast buffet is impressive with Malaysian, Indonesian and western choices on offer.

B wants to dine at a seafood restaurant on our first night, but our travel options are very limited so we begin walking along the side of the road the two and a half kilometres to the Nelayan as monkeys race up into the trees. Then we see a resort minibus coming towards us. It's Salman, one of the resort staff, looking for us! He drives us to the restaurant and back when we are finished.

The Nelayan looks out towards Desaru Beach. Offshore are approaching storm clouds. When I look closely I can see a waterspout forming beneath one!


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The cooling sea breeze through the open front of the restaurant provides welcome relief, though we are glad for the shelter from the heavy drops of a passing tropical shower as we dine on salted egg crab and Teochew fish. These seafood restaurants, while not cheap, are one of the pleasures of the coastal regions of Asia.


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Nearby to the resort the only other dining option are the stalls inside the newly constructed Desaru Coast Tourist Village adjacent to the hotel. The landscaped gardens around the village grow edible plants like bananas, gingers and pandan and contain artworks made of recycled goods, promoting an environmental theme. The small stalls serve Malay and Thai style noodles and rice, along with a western stall with chips and pasta. Televisions mounted above the seating area display the sports channel, and we languidly watch replays of the tennis at Wimbledon while ceiling fans recirculate the tropical heat. The food itself isn't very good, but it's cheaper than elsewhere.


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At night, the village gardens are attractively lighted, but the stalls begin to close early in the evening.


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Also adjacent to the resort is the Desaru Water Adventure Park. We spend a morning drifting around the lazy river, wait for waves in the large pool. B tries the combination rollercoaster flume ride just once. Alex is unwilling to try the larger waterslides, just sticking to the young children's area. The vast concrete spaces reflect the harsh light, despite the large tropical clouds drifting across. It's fairly quiet at the park apart from the music blaring out over the speakers. We return early back to the hotel, take lunch at the tourist village.


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In the evening we take a walk down to the beach in the hope of finding food. The Westin Hotel has a beach side cafe, but the food isn't local and the prices aren't cheap, so we stroll further along the coarse sand as the Moon rises above the horizon.


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There are families out walking, fishing, wading in the water. At the Public Beach further up they have just finished an international kite surfing competition and the competitors and spectators are heading back. There are still some tents selling deep fried Malay style food and colourful drinks. It would have been fun to be here earlier, but the leftovers do not look in the least bit appetising so we walk back the way we came, with dinner again at the village. Behind the hotel, another tropical storm provides a spectacular light show.


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The other two seem a bit bored of the resort and the limited dining choices in the area, but I feel could stay longer. It would be better if we had a car and could explore some of the outlying towns.

On the way back to Singapore we spend a night at the border city of Johor Bahru, on the opposite side of the Straits of Johor to Singapore Island. It was the first place I visited outside of Singapore on my initial overseas journey twenty four years ago and I was shocked by the contrast between clean and modern Singapore city with its smelly and decrepit neighbour across the water.

It wasn't all bad. I had probably the best beef rendang I've ever tasted and today we are back in search of great Malaysian food.

Superficially, Johor Bahru has changed substantially from that time. The skyline is full of modern towers, colourfully lit up at night and the city centre is dominated by big shopping malls and the huge station and immigration centre.

There's a Legoland that we stayed at during a previous visit, an Angry Birds adventure park inside a shopping centre that Alex refuses to go into, saying he has no friends to join him in the fun.

But scratch the surface and old JB is still there. The heritage old town may be full of trendy cafes for the Instagram set, but lurking away in between them is a bare Chinese restaurant that doesn't look like it has changed in fifty years, with foldout tables and plastic chairs.


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We join the queue of tourists lining up at the Kam Long Ah Zai restaurant whose sole dish is a delicious fish head curry. At night we head up to the KSL Centre for a pasar malam, or night market. The temporary stalls setup along the street serve a dizzying array of street foods, Assam laksa, sticks of charcoal grilled satay, char kway teoh noodles, apom balik pancakes, colourful kuihs and deep fried delicacies. At the fruit stalls huge jackfruits are shredded for ripe flesh that is so sweet that it is almost fermenting in your mouth.


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It is not just food on sale. Poor quality ripoffs of branded clothes, bags and shoes, cheap toys, gadgets and knick-knacks can be purchased for a few ringget. The pasar malam is one of B's most cherished elements from her childhood in Malaysia, somewhere to escape in the evening for a bit of fun and food.

In the morning we wander along the streets looking for breakfast , happen upon an Indian run kopitiam setup outside the entrance of a shopping centre. The roti canai is chewy and salty in the way I love it, not like the roti prata of Singapore. The Milo ais is thick and sweet too. I had seconds.


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Further along, B ordered more bak kut teh from another footpath stall, then we order a bunch of spiky red rambutan fruit and devour it all.

A heavy tropical downpour threatens to soak us, but we find shelter in a shopping centre, and it passes. Then we return to the hotel to check out.

We are told that the taxis direct to Singapore are no more and advised that the easiest way is probably the train. I took that route last year. They should use one of the older commuter sets that I saw scrapped along the tracks when I caught the train down from Butterworth, but instead it's a run down locomotive hauled passenger train that travellers scramble to board with their luggage.


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The journey itself is ludicrously short, five minutes to cross the causeway separating the two countries. The immigration formalities take longer than the journey. There is no MRT connection at the Singaporean end. With rain threatening and luggage we opt for convenience and hail down a taxi to take us direct to the hotel.

Our other favourite area to stay in Singapore other than Katong is near Tanjong Pagar, close to downtown. It also has rows of old shophouses, but these have been gentrified, turned into hipster friendly bars and cafes, Korean barbeque restaurants or wedding dress boutiques. It is still attractive, but there are more tourists and expats.

We watched the erection of the Oasia hotel on previous visits, its striking red steel exterior framework a trellis for a vertical garden of vines and ferns. I had booked us rooms in the hotel. Though modern, they are not particularly remarkable and fairly small. But I do enjoy the top floor swimming pool area, with its hanging basket chairs and poolside reclines, the breeze blowing through the steel lattice entwined with vines.


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Again though, the focus is on food. The Maxwell Food Centre is a short walk away and the others insist on eating the signature dish of the famous Tian Tian Chicken Rice stall, along with all the other tourists and school kids filling the centre.


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In the evening we travel out to the unpretentious Old Lai Huat Seafood Restaurant at the end of Rangoon Road and gorge ourselves on chilli crab and sambal pomfret.


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Alex tells us that he wants to revisit the Singapore Science Centre. We've been to science centres across the world, from Spotswood to Stockholm, continuing a tradition that started when I was a kid. Some tiny, others vast, but each offers something unique. My first visit to the Singapore Science Centre was on my very first overseas trip. Last time, it involved a temporary exhibition where we entered through a mouth and exited via an anus.

The museum features big spectacles like the lightning generating Tesla coil and the unique fire tornado, along with many smaller, but no less interesting exhibits. The radioactive particle spotting cloud chamber is back from my very first visit, though where I work has a science centre with one, so I am no longer quite so excited about it. I do enjoy the new addition of a mirror maze, where we use foam batons to find our way around. There is also a fun exhibition on fears and phobias, including the fear of turbulence and flying.


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There is almost too much to see for a single visit and we skip some areas we have seen before. I'm exhausted and I can feel a migraine coming on as we walk out four hours later to have a late food court lunch at the Jurong East town centre.

It's a long ride on the MRT to the airport. We aren't actually leaving until tomorrow night, but we are off to experience the Jewel, after glimpsing it on arrival into Singapore.

This brand new structure only opened a couple of months ago. A flattened glass toroid with the world's tallest artificial waterfall as its centrepiece, the Jewel sits in the square between Terminals 1, 2 and 3. It houses attractions, shops, restaurants and a hotel and around the walls of the inner ring of the toroid is a vast indoor forest leading up to the Canopy Gardens at the top floor.


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We buy combination tickets for the attractions in the Canopy Gardens. I choose the less adventurous options, while Alex and B have more inclusions. Alex is too scared to try the faster Discovery Slide, where safety gear is compulsory, but both he and B try the bouncing Sky Nets, with all of us going over the Walking Net, a rope spiderweb with vertiginous views of the gardens and shopping floors below.


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The hedge maze isn't on par with those we did in Tasmania and the Mornington Peninsula, but our second mirror maze of the day is fun for all the optical effects, if a little short. The gardens themselves are very calming, with topiary animals and a lawn with fog generators to give it a mystical look.


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I admire the view from the Canopy Bridge, watching the waterfall change colour, turn to mist, the Sky Trains to terminal 2 passing by, affording passengers their own wonderful views of the Jewel.


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We watch the light show, projections playing out across the central waterfall to Steve Jablonsky's music to Transformers. Film musics plays constantly throughout the Jewel, much to my delight.


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It is very late by the time we are finished exploring and we give up on finding local food, just join the queues for burgers and milkshakes at the Shake Shack. Alex fights efforts to explore shops like Tokyu Hands, though he shows more enthusiasm for the crowded Apple Store. Unlike the airport, most shops in the Jewel are not open twenty-four hours and it is time for us to finish for the day.


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The Jewel is an impressive option for those with long transits at Changi Airport, with its combination of shopping and dining with activities and soothing greenery and water. And I think it encapsulates modern Singapore in many ways.

There is no doubt in my mind that I love wandering through planned gardens, be they in Jewel, Singapore's Gardens By The Bay, the tourist village in Desaru or the famous gardens of Japan amongst many others. But they represent the human imposition of order upon nature, stealing away the chaotic surprise of the unknown, the undiscovered, the rough and the raw. Like the disappearing old towns and shop houses of Singapore, the grimy kopitiams and featureless restaurants, replaced by sterile streets and shopping malls, glitzy Michelin starred restaurants and trendy upmarket bars where the point is to be seen. A city where history is rewritten to suit the present narrative, where the old stories are demolished for not fitting in with the future.

I think there should be room for both.
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Wed Sep 25, 2019 11:51 pm

As the holiday comes to a close I feel that I am finally, too late, reaching a point of relaxation and contentment. Instead of walking to the Maxwell Food Centre I finally convince them to cross the road to the nearer and smaller Tanjong Pagar Plaza Food Centre. I actually think the food is better here, especially from the Ah Seng Laksa and Prawn Mee store and I regret wasting valuable eating time in its more touristy cousin nearby.


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We do a bit of shopping, at the tourist spots of Robertsons Quay and Orchard Road, before retreating back to the Oasia Hotel. I paid extra for a package that allows us a late checkout. Lying alone on a sunbed by the pool area, feeling the warmth of the tropical air, listening to susurrus of the breeze through the lattice and vines, I regret having to return home. I feel the urge to do nothing but eat and relax, to spend time doing nothing in that way that the other two cannot.


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As always, there is a sense of apprehension prior to flight that hangs over the day. We leave the hotel later than we usually would, catch the MRT to Terminal 3. Unfortunately our Sky Train to Terminal 1 doesn't pass through the Jewel and, considering the time we spent there yesterday, it is fortunate that we did not wait until today to explore it.


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Check in via a desk this time and immigration is the fastest its been on this trip. The first thing Alex wants to do is go to the lounge. He's obsessed with visiting them. To his disappointment, but not to my surprise, the Qantas Business lounge is full and we are directed to the SATS Premier Lounge nearby.


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The chairs are comfortable and the food selection seems reasonable. I eat sparingly, some turmeric rice, curry, tomato soup. Alex gobbles down the beef bolognaise with mashed potatoes, B has hor fun, noodles in broth. There are cakes and drinks as well. I sit and relax, use the Internet. The weather maps show little in the way of turbulence between us and home.

The school holidays rush has meant that we are flying home via Brisbane, connecting to a domestic flight to Sydney. It won't be our first international arrival there, as Jetstar flights from Narita used to also stop in Brisbane on the way back.

When we leave there is little time for exploring the airport further as our gate, D49, is at the opposite end of the terminal, though Alex does stop to play at the Social Tree. It is necessary to give additional time in Changi as the security scans are done at the gate. Fortunately, the large waiting area has toilet facilities and plentiful charge points as we wait for the actual boarding.


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QF52 is completely full tonight. Families with children under the age of five are invited to board first, followed by boarding by blocks of rows, starting from the rear of the Airbus A330-300.

When we board I am seated at the window over the wing, stranger seated beside in the aisle seat, with B and Alex behind me, the seating configuration being 2-4-2. The interior doesn't feel quite as fresh as on the flight up, though the facilities are the same.


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The Captain welcomes us on board and praises the passengers for boarding quickly, saying that it is only a short taxi to the runway and should be a pretty smooth flight, words of comfort.

There is a safety demonstration, then it is indeed not far to the runway to begin our take-off towards the south. As we rise and turn I can see the lights of Singapore city to my right, the floating lanterns of ships in the Strait. The sparkling jewels of the land are replaced by inky darkness, the aircraft turning again towards Borneo, layers of cloud obscuring any light below.


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Printed menus are handed out. The selections look attractive:
  • Salad of prawns, with rice noodles and cucumber, lime and chilli dressing
  • Linguine with tomato and olive ragu and parmesan
  • Roast chicken with lemon garlic jus, oven baked potatoes, spinach and cherry tomatoes.

All served with herb bread.



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I'm not hungry and I just accept the Weis passionfruit and coconut ice cream bar when it is offered for dessert.




Once the meals are finished the cabin lights are dimmed and I can at last see the stars outside the window. The Southern Cross points our way south, Scorpius' long tail wraps around the sky with super giant Antares, a star nearing the end of its life, a bright red in the imaginary line.




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Antares is estimated to be six hundred and eighty times the diameter of our Sun, taking it out beyond the orbit of Mars. Their cores have exhausted the hydrogen to helium fusion process that powers main sequence stars like our sun, their cores collapsing further to such pressure that helium and heavier elements can fuse to create new elements. But their grip on the outer layers of gas becomes more tenuous and they expand and cool, their spectrum moving to the red end.

So too will our own Sun expand to swallow the Earth before gradually fading away into a white dwarf, unable to burn any longer. But a star as massive as Antares will retain so much mass in the core that the energy generated by fusion will no longer be enough to stop it collapsing before it explodes into a supernova.

I love astrophysics, studied some at university and started in my current job with the group that looks after most of Australia's radio telescopes. So gazing out at the stars far from city lights and high above the clouds brings much comfort.



B and Alex are either asleep or busy watching videos behind me. I use the quiet time to listen to an Art of the Score podcast on the Empire Strikes Back. One of the podcasters conducted the Harry Potter concert I attended prior to departure. It's difficult to find time to focus for a whole hour and a half when the day is broken up into so many little bits.



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Even now there are distractions. Despite the captain's statement and the lack of high cloud, the flight is not smooth. There are constant bumps, like passing over a rough road, as we seeming fight the same winds as on the way up. The seatbelt lights are never lit and there are no great drops, but it is annoying. B actually says she felt motion sick and she normally doesn't care.




Once the podcast is finished I try watching an old movie, The Accidental Tourist. It features William Hurt as a business travel writer who doesn't show much interest in the places he visits, though the main reason I watch is for John Williams' score. I make it half the way through and give up.




We fly over bumpy Timor airspace and meet the Australian continent across the Northern Territory. There are lines of fires below. A colleague who was visiting the area for a conference at the time tell me that the air was very smoky and that Indigenous people are paid to perform burns and may perhaps go overboard, though it plays a major role in traditional environmental land management.



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There are glimpses of the lights of mines and towns, though much of the land is sparsely inhabited.




Fortunately the air stabilises as we move into the interior and it is possible to enjoy the flight. I try another movie, Doctor Strange. I'm not really a Marvel fan, but have seen the odd one, and Doctor Strange is diverting. I've left it late, which means that I can't afford to pause it too often.



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Breakfast is served with about an hour and a half to go and I am hungry enough to eat now. It's a tiny lemon muffin and a fruit salad, which is fine by me. I'd rather eat that than a hot breakfast.




B's hand taps me on the shoulder and I take my earphones off to discover that she wants my sick bag. Alex has woken up too early and is feeling so nauseous that he throws up, fortunately in the bag.




There's not much we can do. We have begin our descent into Brisbane. The movie finishes and I quickly switch to the audio playlist of the few soundtrack albums on the system. Brisbane's city lights come into view, the causeway bridge at Redcliffe that I remember from previous trips. It's not even six AM and most of the city is still asleep as we drift downwards in the darkness for a smooth landing, a pleasant end to a flight that started roughly and gradually improved.



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As we approach the terminal I spot the Brisbane International sign lit up in bright blue italic letters. Suddenly I am transported back a couple of decades. In January 1991, about to start my final year of high school, I was given the opportunity to travel to Canberra to attend a science summer school for a couple of weeks. Alone for the entirety of my high school with a passion for learning and science it was a magical experience.


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It was also the first time I had flown since I was maybe 18 months old. That is a story in itself and the aerial journey was a precious part of my memories.

I had a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator 3 and a couple of IBM compatible PCs in our house. The graphics were very primitive in those days. The default starting point of Meigs Field aerodrome off Chicago was populated with the widest range of structures. From there I would fly out to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which had another interesting array of buildings. You needed to use your imagination to fill in the details in those days and for me I would pretend that I was back on those flights between Canberra and Rockhampton. Somewhere, in amongst all those structures, was a terminal building with a big blue sign that was like the one in Brisbane.

I used to shuttle between Rockhampton and Canberra with stops in Brisbane and Sydney and, as with that flight in 1992, the transit times in Brisbane were around four hours. Enough time to catch the bus to Roma Street Station, a train into the city, do a little wandering and return.

The big journey is over, one last flight remains and we don't have anything like four hours, less than an hour and a half. Alex is still feeling queasy and clutching on to a sick bag as we exit the aircraft. We use the Smart Gates to pass through immigration. It takes a while for our luggage to appear, as you need to collect your bags and pass through Customs and Quarantine before transferring to a domestic flight. Fortunately, customs is quite quick.

We already have our boarding passes and the bags are tagged for Sydney, so dropping them off at the Qantas domestic transit desk is very quick. Unfortunately, the process of transferring passengers is rather more complicated.

We exit the International Terminal in the brightening dawn light and join the queue for the free shuttle bus to the Domestic Terminal. A bus pulls up, but its capacity is too small for the line, so we are left waiting another ten minutes for the next one. Others behind us miss out.





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The route between the terminals is tortuous. A bit more of a delay and we may well have missed our flight. I remember Qantas offering an even tighter connection, which I'm glad we did not accept.

Sadly there is not enough time to visit the refurbished Qantas Club lounge and grab a more substantial breakfast. Also to use the facilities. When we reach the gate the only nearby toilets are out of service, meaning that I still haven't gone to the bathroom since departing Singapore.


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Our ride to Sydney is a Qantas Boeing 737-800. I've caught only few of these aircraft over the past few years, which is surprising considering their ubiquity in the Qantas fleet. This particular aircraft is one of the older versions with fold down screens and an interior that brings back more than a few memories.


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What is new is that it offers free wifi access, though it takes me a while to work out how to authenticate properly. References to the Qantas Entertainment App, which is already installed on my phone, also seem circular.

Outside, the newest edition of the Qantas fleet pulls up, a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. I haven't caught a Qantas one yet, only Jetstar and Scoot.


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The flight is again absolutely full. The captain welcomes us aboard over the PA and a safety demonstration is performed by crew and displayed on the drop down screens as we taxi towards the runway.

We roar up into the sky towards the south, then curve over the Brisbane River, though always staying inland of the coast, the shimmering morning ocean to our left before it is obscured beneath a blanket of coastal cloud.


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The ceiling screens are lowered down again after being hidden for take-off and show the latest news, audio available through the armrest sockets. The seat backs have slots for holding a tablet, but I am just using my phone. There is no proper flight map available in the Qantas app, but there is a moving map showing points of interest below. I really like the concept, though I wish the information was more detailed. As mentioned on the flight to Singapore, I'd love to know the history, geology and environment of the lands beneath us.


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A breakfast is served. I select the warm ciabatta with streaky bacon, guacamole, cheese and sriracha ketchup. I wish it didn't have that thin layer of avocado, but it is otherwise pretty nice. I'm now starting to feel really hungry after not eating much last night.


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Often an early morning domestic flight is a pure joy of drifting through smooth skies. Not today. Like the previous flight, there are lots of niggling bumps the whole way. They aren't scary, but it's annoying and doesn't help any of our stomachs.

We are all exhausted. I drift off for around ten minutes. When I awake the green landscape below has patches of morning fog clinging to valleys and rivers and dams shimmering quicksilver as they reflect the sun.


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At least there is no cloud in the sky as we begin our descent into Sydney. We make a turn out towards the sea, crossing over the Northern Beaches in order to loop around for a final approach from the south. It's a pity. I always associate long distance arrivals with landing from the north, despite doing the southern route so many times now.

The aircraft fights the crosswinds as we descend lower and lower. There's the cliff walls of the Royal National Park, the Hacking River and Cronulla Beach. Over the fuel terminal and sand mining of the Kurnell Peninsula, crossing into Botany Bay.


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We touch down on the third runway, reverse thrust and brakes, momentum pushing our bodies forward.


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Then we trundle towards the Domestic Terminal 3, past the morning operations, the wide bodies from distant lands, the smaller jets and turboprops to places nearer by.


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As a domestic flight, there are no entry formalities and our luggage is quickly available on the belt. B has left her phone and Opal card back in Singapore, but fortunately credit cards allow her to tap through to the train and the local bus driver remembers me from my frequent journeys in years past and waives her through.

It's a warm sunny day as we roll our luggage home along the footpath and we enjoy the clear fresh air in contrast to Singapore's humidity and the aircraft cabin's stuffiness.

After my unwillingness to leave, is it good to be back? I cannot be certain, for just as I had settled into the holiday, life's routines have returned and I must work straight away. I feel more energised in some ways, less so in others, unsettled.

I wonder if it's a bad idea to have a dream journey, if setting expectations is just setting you up for disappointment. So many of the best travel memories are only realised well after the event, tidied up and embellished by the mind.

I miss the spontaneity that comes with unplanned travel compared with the need to ensure that everyone is satisfied. When I fantasise about my ideal journey it's only the beginning that is fixed, and even that has many options. Everything else is just a collection of moments, of colours, textures and emotions. That's what makes it so hard to pin down, so difficult to express.

In the end it doesn't matter if a trip was perfect or not, just that you had a good time. And I did. There are many little moments to remember. The flood plains in the desert, a waterspout off the coast, riding bicycles beneath a tropical canopy, a breakfast of roti canai, the stars out the window as we fly home. Small things that, when assembled together, make a journey worthwhile. That is what we live for.

You can find further details of our time in Singapore, Malaysia and many other countries at https://travelling.allrite.at. There is also a version of this report at https://stories.allrite.at/durians-and-jewels/.
I like artificial banana essence!
 
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Schweigend
Posts: 528
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Thu Sep 26, 2019 5:06 am

Thank you for the extraordinary depth and detail of this report !

I enjoyed it very much --

Formidable !
 
extender
Posts: 335
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Thu Sep 26, 2019 11:13 am

Very nice TR. Great pics.
 
planemad1
Posts: 33
Joined: Sun Dec 05, 2010 12:01 am

Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Thu Sep 26, 2019 3:48 pm

Fantastic report. Must have taken you forever to write and upload those pics.
 
ozzietukker
Posts: 60
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Thu Sep 26, 2019 7:05 pm

A good read as always!
 
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kurt
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Thu Sep 26, 2019 10:51 pm

Brilliant words and photos as usual! I love your reports. :P
 
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allrite
Topic Author
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Thu Sep 26, 2019 11:20 pm

Schweigend wrote:
Thank you for the extraordinary depth and detail of this report !

extender wrote:
Very nice TR. Great pics.

planemad1 wrote:
Fantastic report. Must have taken you forever to write and upload those pics.

ozzietukker wrote:
A good read as always!

kurt wrote:
Brilliant words and photos as usual! I love your reports. :P


Thank you all for your kind words! Actually, the typing doesn't take long, just finding contiguous chunks of time to research and write is the issue. The photos and blog posts are generally uploaded on the day of travel, assuming that there is decent wifi access (I copy them from the camera to the phone and let Google Photos do its magic). I also write the trip report in Blogger, which allows me to easily insert photos from Google Photos. Then it's a matter of running a search and replace to increase the image size settings (s640 to s800) and running the html through a BBCode converter like the one at https://www.seabreezecomputers.com/html2bbcode/.
I like artificial banana essence!
 
Kent350787
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Sat Sep 28, 2019 6:23 am

I think this one is your best yet - personal struggles and great detail. And I'm pleased we'd already planned Cinta Rasa for dinner with our 11yo (16 yo who only eats Roti Canai there is in Berlin (no trip report on his QR travels unfortunately). :)

Great to see the east coast in Singapore, and to actually see JB. We've only been to Legoland in the south.

Hungry for my next travels, and very hungry for Malaysian food.
 
Ryanair01
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Sat Sep 28, 2019 10:56 am

Great report, thank you for sharing. Have you ever tried Changi Beach Park? It used to be my Saturday afternoon hang out. If you like East Coast Parkway and Hawker Centres you might like it.

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QF93
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Sun Sep 29, 2019 7:37 am

Thanks for a wonderful TR. Very well written and some great photos: especially of the delicious food in Malaysia! You’ve given me a craving for laksa and some (proper) satay.

I hope Alex is feeling better now after being unwell on the return flight.
 
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allrite
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Sun Sep 29, 2019 7:59 am

Kent350787 wrote:
I think this one is your best yet - personal struggles and great detail. And I'm pleased we'd already planned Cinta Rasa for dinner with our 11yo (16 yo who only eats Roti Canai there is in Berlin (no trip report on his QR travels unfortunately).


Thank you! Still haven't tried Cinta Rasa as Mother-in-law always demands Albee's, who now have a branch in Kingsford. We visited Peranakan Place in Auburn a week ago for lunch and the noodles tasted just like in Singapore. Been years since we last ate there.

Ryanair01 wrote:
Have you ever tried Changi Beach Park? It used to be my Saturday afternoon hang out. If you like East Coast Parkway and Hawker Centres you might like it.


Unfortunately not that I remember. It's at least an hour by public transport. Another Ryanair drove us to the Changi Village Hawker Centre about a decade ago, but we haven't been there since. Now Alex doesn't mind planespotting we might be able to convince the third member. Looks like a fantastic spot for it!

QF93 wrote:
Thanks for a wonderful TR. Very well written and some great photos: especially of the delicious food in Malaysia! You’ve given me a craving for laksa and some (proper) satay.

I hope Alex is feeling better now after being unwell on the return flight.


Thank you! Alex didn't take long to recover. A bit of fresh air and a proper bed saw him back to normal.
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RyanairGuru
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Fri Oct 04, 2019 6:30 am

Allrite, your reports are always phenomenal. Quite frankly I don't come to this side of the website very often anymore as too many trip reports have turned into the 'look at me' of the Instagram age. Sadly this means I have almost certainly missed some of yours (I had no idea you'd been to Europe recently, I'll check out your blog).

Your trip reports are always real. Personal. Reflective. And I always learn something from them.

As much as I am a Qantas fan it is a shame to see the cuts to their international Economy product. They are still an ever reliable option and your flights seem decent enough.

I'm not sure the Hard Rock resort is my cup of tea, but it looks like you had a great time in Malaysia and Singapore. I love all of the pictures of food!!!

I couldn't believe Alex was 10! In my head I was like 'isn't he four?' and realised I've been reading your trip reports for 8 or so years and have watched him grow up through your travels!
Worked Hard, Flew Right
 
L0VE2FLY
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Fri Oct 04, 2019 9:07 am

One of the best and certainly the longest trip report I've seen on a.net. I especially enjoyed the aerial views pix, lucky you were not on a 787 as the dimming windows allow the crew to dim and lock all windows and deny pax the ultimate IFE, enjoying the beauty of our planet from high altitude.
 
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allrite
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Fri Oct 04, 2019 12:50 pm

L0VE2FLY wrote:
One of the best and certainly the longest trip report I've seen on a.net. I especially enjoyed the aerial views pix, lucky you were not on a 787 as the dimming windows allow the crew to dim and lock all windows and deny pax the ultimate IFE, enjoying the beauty of our planet from high altitude.


I've flown the 787 a number of times with Jetstar and Scoot. I hate it when they lock the windows, but at least you usually get some view, unlike on other aircraft where they may make you shut the blinds altogether.

RyanairGuru wrote:
Allrite, your reports are always phenomenal. Quite frankly I don't come to this side of the website very often anymore as too many trip reports have turned into the 'look at me' of the Instagram age. Sadly this means I have almost certainly missed some of yours (I had no idea you'd been to Europe recently, I'll check out your blog).


Thank you! The last Japan/Scandinavian report is at https://www.airliners.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=9&t=1414925.

RyanairGuru wrote:
As much as I am a Qantas fan it is a shame to see the cuts to their international Economy product. They are still an ever reliable option and your flights seem decent enough.


My last few flights with Qantas have been on their A330s and I don't feel like the service has been substantially cut over that period. Perhaps I'm just not paying as much attention. I do find their menus a bit hit and miss sometimes with too many trendy or healthy food options with the alternatives being meat and three veg. But there's usually something. The rest of the bells and whistles seem to be there, apart from legoom... What I really like is that I trust their flying style more. Yes there's fun in new experiences, but when you are feeling a bit anxious, consistency is nice.

RyanairGuru wrote:
I'm not sure the Hard Rock resort is my cup of tea, but it looks like you had a great time in Malaysia and Singapore.


We don't usually stay at resorts, but room wise it was better than others we have stayed at. Not a rock person myself, but it's pretty easy to ignore that aspect.

RyanairGuru wrote:
I couldn't believe Alex was 10! In my head I was like 'isn't he four?' and realised I've been reading your trip reports for 8 or so years and have watched him grow up through your travels!


Scary, isn't it? Time flies faster than we do. He's grown up on planes and travel. One more year until high school...
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igtrader88
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Tue Oct 08, 2019 12:21 pm

thank you for this report, haven't been to Singapore for a while I am starting to think to go again next year thanks to your report reminiscent of the old Singapore!
 
VapourTrails
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Wed Oct 09, 2019 5:28 am

allrite wrote:
A warning: This report is long, almost 14,000 words with lots of photos. It is not about the minutiae of luxury aircraft travel. It's a meditation on travel, exhaustion, fear and the joy of looking out the window of an aircraft at the world beyond.This journey began with a durian. That giant spiky maggot yellow fleshed and putrid stinky so called king of the fruits, though it in fact calls to be deposed from its membership of that order by violent revolution.

Hello - lots to see and read here, I will need to read and break my reply into two parts! :eyebrow:

I agree with another comment, and say this could be your best yet. Thanks for taking us along. :smile:

Well, I have heard of durian, and its reputation, that's about it! I like your comment about it being banned from hotels! :knockout:

The sunrises at SYD are just beautiful, I haven't been back up, or down there, as Canberrans orientate the two, yet - wasn't intending on leaving it twelve months, but life gets in the way. :sigh:

~ Those views from the hotel are the best, and the airport terminal ones too. :sun:

allrite wrote:
My flight tomorrow morning is late enough that I could probably have gone direct from my home to the airport. But I have a concert to attend tonight at the Sydney Opera House: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in Concert with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and won't be back until late. Besides which, I always like staying in a hotel near the airport before a flight. It can be difficult to relax at home, whereas once at the hotel you are already packed and without all the options and distractions of your own house.

That concert sounds amazing. :thumbsup: I like to use the hotel the night before a flight too, for the same reasons, or even on the return home. This depends on an early departure or a late arrival, it just makes it easier I agree.

allrite wrote:
The concert is wonderful, the Harry Potter movies an excellent distraction, although they feel so disconnected from the upcoming trip, for Hogwarts is definitely not part of Asia. During the interval I use the Flight Radar app to track B and Alex's descent into Singapore, watching them arc across southern Malaysia. The elderly couple next to me think I'm checking the State of Origin score!

:mischievous: Interesting assumption there!

Bus to a remote stand, now that is a great photo opportunity, thanks for sharing this. :thumbsup: The photos of the interior and your comments were very descriptive too - thank you. Don't those pilots just have the best view though. :profile:

The Jewel looks amazing! Now I see the title! Well I'll leave it there and peruse and comment re the rest at a later time.

Cheers. = :wave:
A.net member: 2001-2004, 2014-
 
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allrite
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Re: Jewels and Durians: With Qantas to Singapore and Malaysia

Fri Oct 11, 2019 9:48 am

VapourTrails wrote:
I agree with another comment, and say this could be your best yet. Thanks for taking us along.


Thank you! My philosophy is that travel should not just be about getting from A to B. The journey itself should mean something. Even on a regular commute you should look out the window and observe how the world changes. I like reading trip reports, like yours, that share the journey and the experience, not just collect statistics.

VapourTrails wrote:
The sunrises at SYD are just beautiful, I haven't been back up, or down there, as Canberrans orientate the two, yet - wasn't intending on leaving it twelve months, but life gets in the way.


I've just come back from a driving trip to Canberra and realised how much I miss those short flights, the good ones at least, especially on the Qantas 737-400s. There was that point, so brief, that you thought you could be flying anywhere forever, before it was time to get ready to descend. I was very tempted to go into the Canberra Airport building, even if not flying, just to pretend and enjoy the light.
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