I Can’t Believe That It’s Real

Hello readers and spammers. I say spammers because one of my blogs in particular has been subjected to many comments by spam. The robots won’t read this but let’s acknowledge them anyway. Greetings, you fraudulent lot.

I am beginning to write this next edition of the blog from a little place called Coffee and Thyme in Gili Air, an island 2 hours from Bali, close to Lombok. I have been here for 3 days. The focus of this blog however will be of my time in Singapore and Malaysia, where I was last week.

I’d ended the last blog saying that I was heading to Singapore, for the sole purpose initially, of seeing UB40. When I say UB40, I mean the band featuring the original vocalists Ali Campbell and Astro as well as original keyboards player Mickey Virtue. They are the 3 original members who were playing in this line up. The rest of the original band still play and tour, also with the name UB40, but without the vocals of Ali and Astro. I’ve heard their album and seen clips on YouTube and it’s just not the same. Two bands touring and releasing music under the same name has obviously caused some confusion amongst the fan base and both parties are currently awaiting a tribunal in court to determine who can legally use the name.

As I said in my last blog, I had originally put Jakarta on my itinerary as UB40 were scheduled to play there, but following the January attacks in the city, that gig was cancelled. Undeterred, I looked for other dates in South East Asia and was pleased to find a date in Kuala Lumpur. So I booked an additional flight before I left England to fly to Singapore and commute to the gig from there.

I arrived in Singapore on 29th March and headed for the MRT system, which is like the underground in London (but has lines which run above the ground also). I had been offered a bed for the night by Jeni and Owen. Jeni and I went to LIPA together and she now lives and works in Singapore with her partner Owen. She had given me directions to get to her apartment from the airport. I got off the MRT and got a bus which went a few stops and arrived at the apartment blocks where she lives. They were situated on a long road with many other resident blocks. When I arrived Jeni was still at work, so Owen and I had a bike ride and went to get something to eat.

On the bike ride, I noticed that there was a lot of churches and places of worship of all religions and denominations. There was a similarity to Dubai, in that this was a very modern and affluent city, but there was building works going on all over the place. We headed to a local food court for some food and then back to the apartment to get showered.

I then went to the rehearsal space which Jeni and Owen rent to see rehearsals of a performance Jeni’s directing. It was good to catch up briefly and settle in to see the rehearsals. It made me miss performance and directing, something I’ve not done for too long now. The group consisted of adults from all over the world, who have come together to perform a piece of drama.

After the rehearsals we headed back to the apartment and caught up properly. I’d not seen Jeni since our graduation day back in 2012, so there’s been nearly 4 years of life that has happened for the both of us. We reminisced about our days in LIPA. The classes, the tutors, the group of people who we studied with and times we spent together. It was lovely.

I had to be up early in the morning for the bus to Kuala Lumpur, where I was seeing UB40. I knew the time my coach was due to depart was early, but wasn’t sure of the exact time. I couldn’t see the email confirmation for love nor money on my phone either. I searched every folder in my emails…..nothing. I was resigned to having to book the bus again. I thought ‘Maybe I’d imagined booking it.’ But I remembered having to input my passport number, my details etc. In the end, time was getting on and I needed to sleep, so I bit the bullet and paid again for the journey. I think it cost 20 quid. Little did I know at this point that this was going to be the start of a series of problems with transport over the next couple of days. Coach booked, I lay may head and got some rest.

My alarm was set for 6.30am the next day as the rebooked coach was due to depart at 7.30am. I wasn’t sure of where the station was or how to get there, so took one of the taxis in the street. The sun was just rising behind the tall buildings in the heart of Singapore. Unaware of the hierarchy of taxis, I hailed the first taxi that came my way. I later found out this is one of the limousine taxis. Inevitably, this was more expensive than the regular blue taxis. Another transport faux pas. So 17 Singapore dollars later, I got to the hotel where the bus was departing from. The coach was big and there was plenty of room…..I suppose that was a little consolation for the double booking. I relaxed back in a massaging chair on the bus and headed for Kuala Lumpur. I love a massage and the idea of a massaging chair on a coach is brilliant. It just wasn’t vigorous enough, but it was a little Brucey bonus as I was unaware the seats had this facility when I booked. I felt like I got something for free. Similar in a way if you book a trip and you get food when you didn’t expect it. Even if the food is rubbish, you’re still made up you got free food.

The journey took about 5 and a half hours, which included a few stops at service stations as well as crossing the border from Singapore into Malaysia. Before I left this morning, I debated whether or not to bring my passport. I thought because the coach company had asked for my passport number I may need it. The thought that it was a different country didn’t even enter my head. I nearly didn’t bring it which would have been a massive fail. Crossing the border was quite straightforward and only took a few minutes. I think this was due to the time of day. Apparently it can get a lot busier in the afternoon.

The coach pulled up in Kuala Lumpur outside a huge and modern shopping centre. I got a coffee and read one of the local papers which ran a story about the ongoing feud between Malaysian taxi drivers and those working for Uber. It appears the Uber friction crosses many countries. There was an interesting letter in response to the local Malaysian taxi drivers’ protests against Uber, where the reader said; if the local taxis don’t want the competition, then they should up their game. The letter said Uber was reliable, prompt and with a set fare, something the local taxis didn’t offer. Reading it made me think about the dilemma in relation to my flight to Jakarta. It seems everyone is against Uber.

After my coffee, I got on the MRT system to head for the Life Centre, where the gig was taking place tonight. I got on one line, as I was told by the lady at the ticket office. I ended staying on the train not realising I had to get off and change (no-one told me). So I was heading in the wrong direction, like I have at many intervals in life. Realising I was getting further away from my destination, I got off and went through the barrier to the station. When I realised the error, one of the women in the station said I needed to buy another ticket. I said I’d not even reached my destination yet and had not been told that I needed to get off and change. I’d literally went three stops, so after a little hesitation, she kindly allowed me back in with a replacement ticket. I eventually came to the Life Centre and went to pick up my ticket for the gig.

The venue was on the second floor of another shopping complex (they’re all over the place here), which also housed restaurants and a coffee shop. It wasn’t very big. I headed up and seen that one of the doors to the gig was open. Curious, I peered in and seen the crew on stage, in front of the illuminated backdrop of Ali, Astro and Mickey’s faces. I thought I may be in luck and get to hear a sound check, so waited around for a bit. To the right of the stage, there was the band. Standing round talking. I hung around like a competition winner for a bit in the hope of maybe bumping into them, and getting a picture, but they headed off for the hotel through the other exit. This wasn’t because they seen me by the way haha. One of the crew came out and said that they’d already done their sound check earlier. Gutted. There was a few hours to spare, so I went into the floors below in the hope of getting something to eat in the Indian restaurant. It was shut until 6pm, so I opted for somewhere else outside of the Life Centre. I then had another coffee and read the local Expat magazine, where I seen Nik Kershaw was due to play here soon. Wouldn’t it be good?

I returned to queue for the gig at about 6pm, when presumably people where downstairs enjoying an Indian. The doors opened at 7pm and the band was due to begin at 8.30pm. I had a standing ticket. One of the security guards said they’d put seats out (which I had seen earlier) where the standing area was and we could choose where to sit. I got chatting to a couple from London, who now live in Kuala Lumpur. They said they weren’t massive UB40 fans, but came along as they miss going to live events back home. It turned out they knew the Wirral and had friends there still. That’s happened a few times whilst I’ve been away and got chatting to people; first in Dubai, then in Chiang Mai. And now here. There was a professional photographer milling around who captured this shot of us outside.

When we got in, there was reggae music playing, before a selector came on for the half hour warm up slot before the band. I managed to get a front row central seat. Brilliant. The Life Centre reminded me of the theatre space at Pacific Road in Birkenhead. It was a hall, with a bar at the side towards the back and a small balcony with tables and chairs upstairs. It was like Malaysia’s equivalent of a place which has had a profound affect on my life.

The lights went down, and the band appeared. They began to play ‘Flying High’ from Ali’s solo album of the same name. Then on came Matt Hoy. Matt is a vocalist with UB40. ‘Flying High’ ended and the band went straight into ‘Here I Am (Come and Take Me);’ one of my favourite songs that UB40 have done. I love the live version Ali has come to play over the years since his departure from the rest of the band. Astro and Ali both walked on to a chorus of cheers. I was up. I am not sitting down. Seconds after beginning to dance I realise I’m the only one stood up in the whole place and I’m on the front row. Ali looked around, sees that I’m up dancing, nods in acknowledgement and smiles. That’ll do. He comes over to where I’m stood, I reach out, he reaches out, we share skin. One of my heroes. A social commentator and a Don within the industry, who’s worked with all the greats across most musical genres. Security come over to tell me to sit down. Here’s a photo that the professional photographer must have captured…..haha. I was unaware. The photo could suggest it was a volatile football match, but I can assure you it was a peaceful reggae gig.

Another fella further down the line stands up to dance, and yet another security guard goes over to him to try to tell him to be seated. Ali is shaking his head as though to say ‘No…..let them dance.’ More people get up knowing that together we’re OK. The majority of the crowd were, initially, slightly reserved but enough of us were now standing. After the first few songs, Ali announces ‘We’re a reggae band and we’re a dance band. We want you to dance and enjoy yourselves.’ Yeah man. That was cue for the reserved majority to get up.

The gig was fantastic. They played lots of the UB40 back catalogue, especially from the ‘Labour of Love’ series, as well as songs from the most recent album ‘Silhouette.’ By the end of the evening lots of people had headed to the front row where I was. It was a great night. The band were on point, and Ali’s vocals were faultless. I entered my details to win a signed guitar but didn’t win. You can’t win them all can you? It didn’t matter, because today and tonight I was winning at life.

After the gig, I made my way back to the MRT and got talking to a fella who is from Singapore who lived near Sefton Park for, I think he said 13 years. He said he was very fond of Liverpool. I got back to where the coach had dropped me off earlier in the day, ready for the return 6 hour journey to Singapore. My phone was nearly dead, so I asked if the staff in Starbucks had a charger. They did, thankfully. I charged my phone as much as I could and sat around as I had about 40 minutes to spare before the coach left at 11.59? Most strangest time ever? Just go at 12.00.

I waited outside for the coach. There was no sign of it. I sensed something wasn’t right. I checked my emails and looked at the confirmation email and realised that I was in the wrong place. Can you see an emerging pattern of my inability to navigate some effectively in some instances? The place I should be was Chinatown. I asked a concierge of a nearby hotel where this was. He said walking, for him, 20 minutes away. It was 11.45pm. I have exactly 14 minutes. I reckoned I could half his time, because he was older and not as mobile as I am. I decide to get in a taxi and just get to Chinatown for 11.58pm (according to my watch). The coach is gone…..WHAT? A fella comes over and says the coach has gone and says it 12.07 on his watch. It was. But on my phone it was 11.59. He says I should have been here 30 minutes before. I’d messed up. I ask if I can get it from the next stop, wherever that was.

At this point my phone was on about 12%, I had no Malaysian money as I had spent what I had thinking I wouldn’t need it, because it’s different to Singapore money and I discover the cash machines are all off until the morning. I had an English 10 pound note in my wallet. That is all. The man who told me I was late makes a call (which I thought initially was fake) and says I can get the coach at the next stop but I must be there for 12.35am at the latest. It’s now about 12.15am. Brilliant. I thank him and head for a taxi. The taxi driver however, says he can take me to the bus station, but it’s 30 minutes away. I say I only have 20 minutes maximum and ask can he make it in that time? I needed the truth here. I say I’ve only got an English tenner. He asks to see it. He inspects it for what seems like an eternity, thus taking valuable minutes from the already depleting time frame I have. He finally says he will accept it and says he could get me there in 20 minutes. I ask is he sure. He says maybe between 20 to 30 minutes. Come on man, what’s the deal? I then say if he can’t make it in 20 minutes to please tell me, because I didn’t want to end up stuck in the bus station with no money, until the next bus at 6.30am. He says I should get another taxi.

Resigned to the fact I am not getting back to Singapore tonight, I get out of the taxi and trudge back up to where there was some bars and hostels. I ask a couple outside a hotel if they knew of any rooms around. The fella says he has rooms, and also lets me use his charger overnight and accepts my English money as deposit until the morning. It was a frustrating end to an otherwise wonderful day. I was thankful to have a bed given the circumstances though.

The next day I was up for 8am and headed for the train station, to get the train to the bus station for the return journey to Singapore. Because I had missed the bus last night, I then had to pay for the return journey again. This was the third time I’d paid for this having previously lost the email confirmation and having to book again a few nights before. As you can imagine, I was having an absolute ‘mare.

I eventually got back to Singapore and had a little look around near to where I got off the coach. There was a football stadium, which had a pool next to it. I heard laughter and cheering and peered over the wall to see a kids’ swimming competition. I envied them in the cold water in the heat of the afternoon sun. I mooched around for a bit before heading back to Jeni’s apartment. Here’s a picture of the football stadium.

That night Jeni and Owen introduced me to a TV series called ‘Teachers.’ I’ve never seen it before but there was literally some laugh out loud moments. I’ll have to have a little delve into it when I get back or if I find some spare time whilst away, utilise the Netflix account on my iPad. It’s not my account, but I know someone’s log in deets haha. Given freely by the way, I’ve not hacked the poor person’s account. I was falling asleep on the couch after the day travelling so headed to bed.

When I first arrived in Singapore, I’d made a decision about my flight to Jakarta. I was going to miss this one out and head straight for Bali, rather than spending one night in Jakarta and having to fly from there. This meant I would avoid any potential Uber related caper going on and I would be able to take in a second UB40 gig in Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. I found a hostel closer to Marina Bay so headed there.

In the morning, I got up and headed for a hostel in Chinatown where I was to stay for the remainder of my time here. Jeni and Owen had already left for work, so I left them a little note saying thanks for their hospitality and headed for the MRT again. My confidence was growing on this system having used it a number of times now. I almost felt like a local.

The MRT station in Chinatown opens up into a long narrow street with lots of shops and restaurants on. There’s a temple at the end of the street which joins on to another road, where my hostel was located. The hostel was nice enough and in a convenient location. I dumped my bags and headed back in the street for a look round. I got some Thai food and seen this jacket outside a suit shop. After my purchase of a salmon pink 3 piece whistle and flute in Hoi An, I thought ‘Can I go one step further and get this?’ It was a passing thought. What do you think folks? I don’t know what occasion this would be appropriate for.

I headed out in the evening for food and then went back to the hostel. The next day was pretty much a chilled day. Didn’t get up to much to be honest. Wondered round the streets of Chinatown and the nearby place, visited a temple and ate good food. The next day was the second UB40 gig in Marina Bay Sands.  Here is  a picture of the temple.

I woke up, had breakfast and watched Stewart Lee’s stand up show ’41st Best Stand,’ on Netflix, which I’d not watched for a good while, then got ready and headed down to Marina Bay. Confusingly, you don’t take the MRT to the stop named Marina Bay, as you’d think. To get to Marina Bay, you have to stop at Bayfront. This station takes you into a massive shopping complex. Similar to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore too, love a shop. There was loads of designer shops, restaurants, a few coffee shops, the venue for the gig which houses two theatre spaces and other booths selling all manner of things. I found out upon arrival to collect my ticket that ‘The Blue Man Group’ were also playing here tonight in the other theatre next door.

I pottered around, wanting to find a reasonably priced place to eat and drink. In Singapore, and depending on your definition of ‘reasonable,’ this can be quite a challenge. The prices are ever so slightly more than England and a lot more expensive than the other countries that I’ve recently visited. The Marina Bay Sands complex overlooks the Singapore River. It was absolutely baking hot when I was there. If you follow me on Facebook or YouTube you may have seen my little Vlog from the banks overlooking The Float @ Marina Bay. This is the football ground which floats in the river.

Needless to say, like Dubai, the buildings here are very modern. The Marina Bay complex is just metal and glass and there’s nearby hotels which tower above all the other buildings around. Here’s a few pictures from near the Helix Bridge. I was particularly impressed with the football ground in the water. A place I’d seen on numerous occasions online. If you played on here, you’d have to get your shooting boots on and hit them low. Imagine the hoo-haa of having to go into the ‘drink’ every time someone blazes it over the bar.

‘Lad, it’s your turn.’

‘No, it’s not, I went in last time.’

‘Oh, just go in again lid, your keks are already wet and me ma will do her nut if I go home with wet clothes. She said I’m not allowed to get wet.’

Has anyone’s mum ever told them they can’t get wet? Remember when kids would say it when you were having a water fight in the long hot summer holidays?

I had a little wander in the shopping precinct. All the top designer names were there. I was like a little kids in a sweet shop who’s been naughty and knows he isn’t getting a treat. Even the coffee menu was sticking two fingers up to my backpacking bank account. I found a place that was like the Singapore equivalent of HMV. A shop selling CD’s and records which also offered the opportunity to have a free listen of some of the CD’s on sale at three listening posts. I was furious to see they had a Christmas selection out. It wasn’t even one or two rows, it was like a whole side of a bookshelf. Furious. Absolutely furious I was. Christmas is ages away. And it’s rubbish.
I headed into a restaurant and got some food and was pleasantly surprised by their reasonable-ish prices and the portion sizes given the reasonable-ish price. From there I headed up to the next floor to the theatre and went in. I got talking to a fella from London, who supported Fulham. We spoke about football and music and he said he was in a band years ago with Don Chandler, who is now UB40’s bass player. Don worked on Morgan Heritage’s latest album Strictly Roots which recently won a Grammy and he’s a boss bass player. Well done Sir.

I went in and took my seat. I was in the stalls but towards the back block and was next to a couple who got up to dance as soon as Ali came on stage. The row in front of me was sat down and I seen that some people had headed to the front of the seating towards the stage and were stood in the aisles. After the first song, I headed down there, just to the left of the stage in front of Astro and enjoyed the gig amongst the dancers in the middle of the aisle. They were fantastic again. The set list was the same but the atmosphere was more vibrant than in Kuala Lumpur. At one point Matt Hoy looked over and gestured towards me, recognising me from the Kuala Lumpur gig. ‘There’s the dancer from Kuala Lumpur who was having murder with the security guards.’ Here’s a link to a short clip of the band playing ‘Here I Am.’ Brilliant.

For a number of years, whenever Ali Campbell has been touring, my mum and I have looked at tour dates and said how good it would be to see him in these far off places. I’m blessed to have been able to see him and the band in two places in South East Asia. Great memories.

After the gig, I met up with Jeni and Owen who I’d randomly bumped into before the gig. They were off to see the Blue Man Group in the other theatre next door, as Jeni’s friend was one of the performers. We went to the Casino on the complex and took advantage of their generous free drinks rule. I also lost 20 quid at the roulette table. You win some, you lose some. And similarly to the night in Kuala Lumpur, tonight I was winning at life.

After that I headed back to my hostel and watched a Liverpool game. I can’t remember who they were playing, Amy have been Tottenham? It was the same night as Sean ‘Masher’ Dodd’s fight against Scotty Cardle. I was hoping to stay up for it, but a couple of Spanish lads had ‘baggsy’ed’ the TV to watch El Classico, so I headed to bed, waking the next morning to the news that Masher had lost and that it was a terrible decision. I still haven’t seen the fight, but hope to catch it at some point.

The next day I was catching a flight to Bali. Forgot to mention I had to pay the equivalent of 10 quid to get a wash done in the hostel I was staying in. Absolutely scandalous. The woman had said the day before she could give me a handful of washing powder and I could wash them myself. I had assumed she meant in a machine. She didn’t. She meant in the sink. The sink which would just be big enough to was The Borrower’s clothes, not a 6″2 chap from the West. Only that I had sweaty gear (after my stint in Jeni and Owen’s gym) I’d have just hung on until Bali. But through fear of having a smelly backpack, I paid it. They should’ve worn a striped jumper and a mask.

The last day in Singapore, I headed to a little island called Sentosa. This is a little island which houses; a beach, a theme park, Madame Tussaud’s, a water park amongst other attractions… It’d be a great place to bring the kids, or if you’re an adult without kids but have loads of money, you’d also have a boss day here. I bought tickets for the Tiger Tower, which is the tallest viewing gallery in Singapore. It’s similar in shape to the Radio City tower in Liverpool, but not as high. The pod spins round giving you a 360 degree view of Singapore. Here’s some pictures I took whilst I was up there and of Sentosa itself.

After that, I got back on my home from home, the MRT and headed to the airport for my flight to Bali.

So that was Singapore in a nutshell. Apologies for the delay in writing this one. I said I’d wanted to get it done sooner, but I’ve had a few problems since. Some of which I will talk about in the next blog about Bali. Bali was amazing and I had an absolutely unbelievable experience, which you can read next time. I’m actually now in India at the time of editing and finalising this, so I need to shake a leg and get the other one done.

As always, I hope you’ve enjoyed this latest edition and I look forward to your comments, if you make any. If not…..sound. Feel free to share the blog on whatever form of social media you use…..or even by mouth. Does anyone use them anymore?

Bless up

Big Love

Matty x

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