Daily Archives: March 8, 2012

You can sling Singapore, bring back India!! (by Gilly)

I can’t quite believe that after two days in Singapore, I was actually thinking this. What was the problem? It was incredibly clean, ordered, fantastically easy to get around and a shopping paradise….. a huge contrast to India. It suddenly felt less of an adventure and more of a huge jump into consumerism and excess. (I am turning into a backpacking snob!) India was a big step out of my comfort zone but there was always something amazing around every corner, a wealth of colour and culture. The people were incredibly friendly and happy, with an enduring faith in the way they live their lives (mind you the bathrooms were pretty dire!!)

Singapore is also very expensive – especially compared to India! – and money seemed to be slipping away rather too quickly. After looking through a few leaflets in our apartment, the kids had already formed an itinerary that included a trip to; the aquarium, Universal Studios, the zoo, Bird World, cable car ride etc etc. After we had told them we could only do a couple of these things, they were not best pleased!

Interestingly, the kids had been practically perfect in India, no nagging, no complaining and trying all the local food. Now, as they were faced with a wealth of choice and temptation, their more unpleasant childlike qualities were emerging; nagging, moaning, whining…….. you get the picture!! The heat didn’t really help either; a hot, sweaty, sticky heat which you can’t escape.

Comfort Food!

On the plus side, everywhere indoors is air-conditioned and we had a lovely clean apartment to stay in with a pool, which the kids loved. They were also delighted to get their fix of fish and chips (Josie) and spaghetti bolognese (Morgan). The Night Zoo was also a great hit (thanks for the top tip Claire).

So as we left Singapore and headed for Borneo I imagined a return to a more adventurous and cultural location. Wrong! Kota Kinabalu was a heaving, built up city with traffic jams, shopping malls and a KFC on every corner!! The heat was even more overwhelming. Luckily, after two nights in a slightly dodgy hotel with cockroaches, we headed off to a tropical island: Pulau Mantanani, which was breath-taking and sooooo relaxing! (Big high five to Mr B). I also discover that there is a reef just off the island named after me!! After one blissful night, which included a moonlit walk along the beach and swimming under the stars, we headed back to the metropolis of KK.

My very own reef!

We stayed for another three nights in a large apartment with use of a pool. During the rest of our time in KK, we try to explore less commercial, more authentic areas of the city as well as visiting the vibrant night markets and Sunday market.

Josie choosing her fish supper at the night market in KK.

We also take a trip up to Mount Kinabalu National Park. The highlight of our stay here is when we visit Rasa Ria Resort where they have a small nature centre to rehabilitate baby orangutans (another top tip, this time from Sue and Darren). We get to watch two infants swinging through the trees to the feeding platform followed by a baby orangutan (TenTen) learning how to climb and swing. Once these infants have mastered all they need to survive on their own, they are returned to the jungle at Sepilok.

Baby TenTen

The next part of the story turns slightly sour (you will have already read Mr B’s very entertaining Top Gear post I’m sure). Yes, we make our first big mistake of the trip (I wont blame my dear husband entirely as I could have refused), to drive across Sabah from KK to Sandakan. This seemed like a feasible journey to make initially, but due to our late departure, we drIve most of the way in the dark (not good with rain, fog, large pot holes and a crappy little car). Needless to say, I was not a happy bunny!!! In fact, after SIX AND A HALF HOURS in said ‘crappy little car’, I am a weary, aching, hot, cross Mrs Bunny with evil thoughts about Mr Bunny in a pie, hopping through my mind……. Amazingly, the kids, bless their cotton socks, are totally oblivious to the slightly volatile situation and do not even ask AWNTY (are we nearly there yet). When we finally arrive at our hotel in Sandakan I am hoping that it will be skanky so that I can rip Mr Bunny’s ears off. However the room is huge and the beds very inviting, so I collapse into an exhausted, stress induced sleep.

Luckily, I am not one to bear grudges and the next morning I am laughing with Mr Bunny, I mean Mr B, about the road trip from hell.

Next stop, Australia. Thank goodness I persuaded him to fly from Brisbane to Sydney……..

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Top Gear: Borneo Special.

TopGear have finally got round to this (only 7 years after this suggestion).

Feb 2012

[Dear Andy Wilman. Since you are series producer of Top Gear I’m addressing this open pitch to you first. I’ve decided to write this in the style of a Top Gear film so you can consider a Borneo Special. Everyone in Mexico and India are offended by the three “lads”, so Malaysia would be in good company.
I’ve written Clarkson, May & Hammond voiceover scripts as you’ll see below. Clarkson’s are hammed up, oddly emphasised, ignorant sounding. Yet the most basic truths and facts are present. The other two more accurate. The following events are 100% true and are reported faithfully.
It’s not a whole show, but maybe one element. The Beers are available for this kind of thing provided we get enough notice and the Wiltshire education authorities play ball. I know an amazing news producer who is au fait with the Beeb – she always seems to have loads of spare time – and my brother-in-law is pretty special with cameras. If not there’s a Dad from school who films reality telly shows, I could ask him?
Anyway Andy, if you’re not interested I’ll go direct to Hammond – his kids go to the same nursery as a mate’s – or Clarkson – camera Bro-in-law lives in Chipping Norton.
Let us know?
The Beers]
Opening credits/music: Da-doo-de-daa-daa-do-de-dada, do-de-de-dooo…. [fades to 3 idiots in a studio]

Clarkson: And on tonight’s show…BORneo. Land of the Orang-utan. Of forests. Of even more forests. Of head-hunting tribes. And even more forests.

May: The 3rd largest island in the world.

Hammond: Do they do Frosties and Shepherds pie?

Clarkson: Seeing as WE are too highly paid and celebrities. We didn’t want to go.

May: [Affronted] I did.

Hammond: [Sheepishly] Lucrative Total Wipeout and Blast Lab contracts forbade me.

Clarkson: So we sent someone else. [To another camera] Some say they are simply skipping school for 3 months and that he is too bald to work in the corporate world. That SHE is a teacher of fearsome repute and together THEY are wanted for modelling in several Indian states. All we know is they are called THE BEERS.

[Cut to Beers, straining their necks waiting for rental car to arrive. Expectations are high. Fade in David Arnold/Propellerheads bond theme then hilariously cut to the music from Steptoe and Son as the Perouda Viva 660 limps into view. Zoom in to see expectations dashed: Dad’s shoulders slump, kids are nonplussed.]



MrsB: Well I think it’s sweet.

Clarkson voiceover: Behold the Viva 660! This is without a shadow of doubt THE wheezy-est, weediest car I’ve EVER DRIVEN. And I’ve driven A LOT of vehicles. It looks like a modern little hatchback, but show it anything other than dead level and it starts to struggle like a 60-a-day smoker running for a bus. To think, in the USA you can rent a V6 Mustang Convertible for the same daily rate. On the plus side, it seats 4, has a/c and sips fuel. The latter being of less concern here as the Malaysian government seems to apply little tax to petrol. A fillup is little over a tenner.

May [Voiceover]: I’m going to search desperately for positives here. When you grit your teeth and floor it, the three cylinder motor sounds like a fifth of a Porsche engine. Which is because it is! (660cc is almost exactly 20% the capacity of a modern entry-level Porker with half the number of cylinders.)

Clarkson [Voiceover, footage of car struggling uphill]: Floor it they do, just to climb Highway 1 to the National Park: 2nd gear yowling to 5,000RPM with the a/c switched off to prevent the engine from melting as the mountain rears upwards. Only managing to pass the occasional laden truck as it is reduced to walking pace, belching thick black diesel smoke. Everything else passes them. Everything. This tempts you to indulge on the downhills. A mistake, as wheel wobble becomes, er, exciting at 90kph. This is ill-advised, like riding a shopping trolley (sober) down the high street. [Cut to worried looking family on board.] 90km takes two hours. Ah, the freedom of the open road…

Hammond [Voiceover]: Car culture in Sabah involves alloy wheels with everything, mirrored glass – sensible, to keep the heat out – and modified exhausts. The latter to make the car sound more sporty or annoying depending upon your point of view I s’pose. The highway code seems loosely in operation. There’s a pleasing lack of aggression but a worrying degree of ego with young bucks making eye watering overtakes. It’s rare to hear the horn used even when jostling for position and cutting folk up. The main challenges in KK are 1) congestion and 2) car parking. On the open road, whilst the surfaces and bumps can be challenging, they are nothing compared to the rain. When it rains here, it pours.

[Cut to internal shot of wipers on double speed. A filthy truck rear end filling the entire field of view.]

May [Voiceover]: The plan is a simple one: to avoid aircraft and see a bit more of island life by taking a leisurely drive across northern Sabah from sea to shining sea: KK to Sandakan. Contrary to what most people might imagine, Sabah – Malaysian Borneo – is very western. The road network laid by the British and developed by the Malaysians. There is mile upon mile of plantation and to get the lucrative product from the field to consumer requires good roads.

Clarkson [Voiceover]: Oh dear.

May [Voiceover]: So we have a road trip planned. [Mr Wilman: It’s a trip and a half that brings near divorce/nervous breakdown. Whilst we survived unscathed, what hair I have left turned several shades greyer on a 6 and half-hour cross-country hack in a car better suited to trundling between urban malls. But we won’t tell the viewer yet, okay?]

Hammond [Voiceover]: The first challenge? [Handed to Beers by man in lab coat.] Leave KK, head over to a baby Orang-utan rehab centre – these young primates have a terrible drug culture, or something – and finish up there around 4PM. Then head out to the main Highway 1 to make the 300km trip to Sandakan. Working on averages, they’ll be barreling along at 90kph I figure. 3.5 hours, 4 tops.

Clarkson [Voiceover]: WRONG. Up hills they were stuck behind every crawling truck, without the muscle to claw their way past. On the downhills, following maniacal unhinged truckers with steam and then smoke pouring off their brakes, they scythe past where they could. 660cc, four up with luggage on poorly surfaced mountain roads? Scything may be beyond them. They dribble past. That’s better. What were they thinking? The journey barely averages a pitiful 50kph.

Clarkson [Voiceover]: Then it got BAD.

Hammond [Voiceover]: Darkness, rain, fog. The more rural routes had roadworks that were all but unmarked. Imagine: you’re carrying about 90kph (50mph or so) when the surface stops being a road and becomes the surface of the moon.
Clarkson [Voiceover]: You want a LandRover for this, not a Perouda SHITEbox 660. The ride goes from sensible and orderly to rumbling, thumping, bouncing in a heartbeat. [No need for voiceover here. A screen cam’ facing the passengers with audio should give excellent terrified knee-jerk reactions.]

May [Voiceover]: As endless tracts of palm oil plantations are passed a new hazard shows up: tankers. These six-axle battle wagons are loaded with 25,000L of palm oil. They throw up a huge amount of spray and mud. They brake for no one and think nothing of travelling two abreast. Headlights are useless now – covered in a thick layer of grime – with the centre line of the road obscured by slurry and oncoming vehicles unwilling to dip their lights. This is becoming dangerously random.
[Cut back to screen cam’ capturing MrsB looking terrified, Mr B squinting and vexed. Emanating from the back seat: a 100% genuine soundtrack of two blissfully unaware children listening to their respective iPods on LOUD, singing enthusiastically but flat-as-pancakes. Bruno Mars & Pixie Lott, different pitches, different tempos. As headphone wearing kids are wont to do.]

Clarkson [Voiceover]: May, I’ll take your random and raise you A SURREAL.

Hammond [Voiceover]: Potholes that you’d give a wide berth in the day become like landmines in the dark. You’re focusing on where the road goes… where’s that truck heading? Are those oncoming folks sticking to their side o… BANG! You’ve hit a pothole. [In car shows reactions of actual pain as shocking bumps bounce the occupants around.] They do not have a pothole shortage here: The Beers found lots. It’s a miracle they didn’t get a puncture.

Clarkson [Voiceover]: A puncture. In the pitch dark. In rural Borneo. With palm oil wagons hammering past. What were you thinking bringing your family here?!

May [Voiceover]: According to good authority [story supplied after the fact by Ian’s Cousin Phil] when driving through the mountains, if you happen to be unfortunate to knock down a pig wandering on the road, DO NOT STOP! The local villagers (more like tribes-people) will want to exact punishment on you as compensation for destroying their prized possession and source of wealth. Usually a spear in the leg – sometimes commuted to a monetary payment – but be warned: they don’t take Visa!

Clarkson [Voiceover]: The mile markers seem to be telling utter lies as Sandakan – apparently – fails to get any closer. Mr B is in a sweat that is not just due to the a/c being off because it steams up the OUTSIDE of the windows making visibility even worse on the muggiest night you might care to consider.

Hammond [Voiceover]: It’s now a balance between making progress and staying in one piece. When they roll into Sandakan, screen cam’ shows Mr Beer almost crying with sheer relief. Mrs B wears an expression that is not impressed (he says with understatement).

May [Voiceover]: Then they get lost. They really ought to try signage here, it’s a great idea. I can even recommend a company to provide the materials.
After a stop for directions from a very surprised looking petrol attendant, the Beers rock up at the Hotel Nak gone 10PM.

Hammond [Voiceover]: And Nak-ered they are. [Laughter track here? Too much?] Thankfully they have a reservation and are to bed in double quick time. (No goodnight hug from Mrs B we note.)

[Cut back to studio, shot of the three presenters leaning over a filthy Perouda.]

Clarkson: Top Tip. In Borneo? Travelling from KK to Sandakan? Got wife & kids along? FLY. Thanks for watching, GOODNIGHT.

[Theme music, credits, annnnnnd cut.]

Handing it back to the rental company….

Handing it back to the rental company....

Categories: Our posts | 8 Comments

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