Friday, 18 September 2009
How Do I Feel?
So... I'm in Singapore, namesake of a very fine Tom Waits song, home to ASEANs highest per-capita GDP, and four million people on an island about a quarter of the size of Leicestershire... How does a nation fit four million people on an island a quarter of the size of Leicestershire? It's easy, you just remove all of the character and personality, build flats and tower blocks, and imagine what George Orwell had in mind whilst writing 1984... Fill 1984 with Chinese, Malay, and Indian faces (and in that order of importance too), and you have Singapore.
But how do I feel about being in Singapore? Well... I feel that I just had a bowl of muesli, with thick, creamy yoghurt, a little honey, and fruit salad, and I feel that I followed that with a normal bowl
of cereal covered in lovely, cold milk, and that I accompanied both of those things with cups of tea, suffixed two poached eggs on toast to them, and crowned it all off with an espresso - brought to me by the very good people at illy - and a slice of toast with nutella and butter all over it. I did all of that after sleeping for 14hours on wonderful, fresh sheets, and having a couple of really good showers. So that is how I'm feeling, and it feels good.
I don't know how closely you lot follow my day-to-day progress, but, having found a guy in Singapore who could fix the gremlins rattling in my Rohloff hub gear, and having found that this guy was to leave for Thailand in a little over forty-eight hours, fate set me the challenge of riding what transpired to be over 400miles/660kilometres in a little under 48hours...And I'm grateful for that challenge, because it was, all in all, great fun... a wonderful piece of limit-testing, exercising of my focus, and a nice little adventure within an adventure... I'd probably have felt less positive about the experience had all not worked out, but as it did, I'm smiling.
I rode throughout two nights, took a trio of well-timed power naps at intervals dictated by a combination of necessity and the desire to avoid midday heat/humidity, ate ice cream at every petrol station, made myself drink coca-cola even though I hate the stuff, and over the last 200km I ate a bunch (literally, ten) of bananas given to me by a Muslim lady putting about the goodwill for Ramadan. For all that, the whole thing didn't tire me out too much, not in my muscles anyway. What was really interesting to behold was the collapse of my skin-condition into nasty, oily spots across my thighs and forearms, and a pernicious sweat-rash under my arms... again, this seems more interesting now that it's gone, but it's incredible the way that those fourteen hours of sleep were all it took to address the problem, and for my body to go about its repair. One of my favourite things about riding is the opportunity it gives to witness just what a machine a body is, it's pure mechanics, but of such an intricate level that it's amazing... bananas in particular are fantastic, within minutes of eating one you can actually feel the energy being combusted out of it and suffusing into the body.. Equally amazing is the way people can overlook this so entirely in normal life when all the resources we need are abundantly available.
The final part of my high spirits is that Paul Moir, the excellent soul with whom I spent yesterday afternoon working on my bike, the same excellent soul who then went to Thailand for a team adventure race (mountain biking, trail-running, kayaking... sounds cool, doesn't it?) told me that I would be welcome to stay at his house while he's away, which is what I'm now doing...I've not been given sole trust of Paul's house, there's a maid here too, and last night the maid made fried rice, and now she's just rustled up a fine bowl of noodles... Even without having someone cooking for me, it feels so much more comfortable than being in a hotel, I'm going to finish writing this and then finish changing the oil in my hub, replace the parts of my drive train that we couldn't replace yesterday, and then I'm going to have another shower and spend some time oggling Paul's pretty beautiful collection of bicycles. Travelling with a bicycle really is fantastic, in a million different ways, but also because it puts you immediately in touch with a whole community of people all over the world.
Anyway, the ride from Bangkok to Singapore was, pretty much, a breeze. I was confronted by such enormous difficulties as selecting between a red or a green Thai curry, and whether I wanted shrimp or chicken in my pad thai. Another great challenge was learning to wipe my arse with one hand whilst directing a hosepipe accurately with the other, and mustering just enough moral fortitude to resist being lured into lobbies, illuminated in pink, and with a concierge of pretty pretty women offering their massages and glowing smiles for sums of money that scarcely exist once exchange rates are considered. Part of the allure here was that I'm not entirely sure what a Thai massage consists of... see, if part of a traditional Thai massage involves being rubbed by a pair of oiled breasts, well, I wouldn't want to be the sort of xenophobe who would shirk from new and culturally enlightening experiences such as these ... prostitution though... even if the prostitues don't seem too unhappy at their job... for all my bad language, I'm a soppy wimp and useless romantic deep down, and I've got a mother and sister and unborn daughters to weigh on my conscience, so I walked-on back to my own hotel, less-exciting and more modest though it was... Hurrah! A good, Christian ending!
The other feature of Thailand and Malaysia was that it really made me think about how much I disliked much of Chinese culture... I don't know if the term, Sinophobe, exists, but in my head it certainly does now... On an anthropological level, the attitudes of the Chinese towards foreigners is fascinating, on an everyday level, it just makes me think 'why can't you be a tiny bit nicer?'... Which is exactly what the situation is in Thailand and Malaysia.. only they're much nicer, and in some regions it's explained by the familiarity brought about by tourism, and in others, where there aren't tourists, the folk are still really warm and opening and welcome. And they're relaxed too, people would walk up to me, we'd shake hands, and have a conversation using the relevant place-names in my journey... and it was great to return to having interactions with people who didn't think me a circus exhibit or a harbinger of evil spirits. Anyway, that's enough bad blood for one blog.
For now.... I fly to New Zealand on the 20th, arrive there on the 21st. Henceforth there will be no unbearable heat, no high humidity to give me calluses, I'll be able to start taking it for granted that I can buy everything that I eat back home at the same relative prices as back home, and I'm going to ask for directions, in English, and understand answers, in English, at every opportunity life affords, and even in some needless situations, just because I can.
The record... Apart from my pre-departure statements of 18000 miles in 180 days, I've never set any targets, or even spoken of beating the record as if it were a certainty. James Bowthorpe of GlobeCycle is about to beat the record of Mark Beaumont PLC, so a huge congratulations to him, not least because he has done what I set out to do; beat the record, by some margin, and without all the corporate fanfare and bullshit factor of the Beaumont ride... for those of you that might be interested, James is to be at Hyde Park at 18:30 on Saturday 19th September, and is meeting other riders on the road from Portsmouth so as to get a bit of a procession going. Better details than that can doubtless be found through www.globecycle.org
James is likely to ride in between 170-175days, so my 180 days goes out of the window on account of that anyway. That said, even if I didn't accelerate from this point onwards, but maintained 100mile days as the goal, I've already made enough time to get me in around day 170. On the ride up to Auckland I'm going to consider it hard, and crunch some numbers, and put a definite day and date for my being back at Rouen Cathedral. I think 160days is the minimum I'm aiming for, 150days would be cool, not least for knocking a month and a half off of Beaumont and his train of corporate rot... 149 tempts me for being sub-150. We'll see, but it'll be big.
Pictures... I should put this paragraph at the beginning for all those who probably get bored by reading the entire blog entry... Anyway, we have one of Thailand's rather odd, big-eared cow, we have a coconut plantation, we have flies at the watering hole, a Thai beach, a monkey headed for a delicious-looking bag of rubbish, another monkey showing exactly what he thinks of westerners and their cameras, and me at Singapore airport, trying to figure out what had happened to 400miles...
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