Well it is time for us to start our travel odyssey again for this year you will see a map of the tour at http://www.ivan.co.nz/t8/2008Map.html already we have made slight modifications on the route and I guess this will carry on with modifications for the rest of our travel. The secret I believe is to be flexible on where you are going and we certainly intend to be flexible.
One of the destinations we have is to visit is David and Ann from the television series “A place in Slovakia”, it is evidently all finished and running like clockwork if that is possible!
This year on my way to Europe I decided to stop all of Singapore for three days and look at their massive range of cameras and electronic goodies.
I also decided to get some khaki trousers made when I discovered that I could have tailor-made ones in Singapore would cost a maximum of $S150 and off of the rack trousers in a camping store in Christchurch cost a $NZ169, I e-mailed them and they said there was no problems.
So I did an Internet booking of the hotel, I chose a hotel and about $S150 a night is that was just me by myself, this turned out to be what they classify in Singapore a budget hotel that was closed to Sim Lin Square a six storey shopping centre for of cameras and electronic bits and pieces.
So it is usual there was no problems arriving in Singapore, of course was the heat and humidity the moment you step outside the airport, the taxis are very easy to get unless of course you arrive at the same time as 12 jumbos which fortunately I did not. A $S25 dollar taxi ride took me to my budget hotel and at check in the Chinese receptionist ignored the letter confirming my hotel arrangement, they specifically asked for it to be passed in at check in, it had my name spelt nice and clear, no that was too simple so he copied my name out of the passport and I became Mr Ivan because the Chinese have their surname first. Perhaps if I held a Magnum revolver at his head he may have got the message that that was not my name, but then of course I would ended up in jail so I stopped arguing, which unfortunately would have consequences as you will see later.
On up to the room, yes it was budget, one large bed in the middle the room with a small stool to sit on, the bathroom was also small but clean and it did have a television. Oh well I am by myself, it is only three nights, have stayed in much worse, but not at this price!
So I went out to see my tailor, and whilst I was close to my camera and electronics shopping I was a 30 minute walk from the tailors so that of course required a taxi.
Singapore is a very, very small island but not small enough to be able to walk from side to side in 10 minutes.
Absolutely no problems at the tailors, yes they could alter the two pair of trousers I brought with me that had been made slightly wrong, yes they have plenty of khaki material, and produced masses of books of samples for me to choose from, absolutely no problems in getting the material and absolutely no problems in making the delivery.
The following morning was off to my “camera and electronics” shop, they of course did not open to the 11a.m., of course there was first the Asian breakfast that was included in the hotel cost, that was quickly dealt with so at about 10:30 a.m. I headed off to the feast of electronic goodies that I thought I was going to experience instead I had total and utter disappointment.
Singapore it used to be a Mecca of shopping for cameras and electronics, and once upon a time you used to be to save substantial money, but not any more.
We have basically, in New Zealand, all the cameras one can see in Singapore be it not in quite the same volume. Electronic goodies, (of course cameras now fall into this category don't they) again unless you go for an obscure brand everything again is available in New Zealand.
Saving money in Singapore? Not on your Nelly! A lens that I purchased in New Zealand for $750, the starting price in Singapore was $1050. This was basically the same experience I had throughout the day from every shop. Occasionally somebody would attract me into their shop by quoting a price, that on reflection was less than their cost, but of course they operating on the old “bait and switch” technique and will make any sort of offer to get you into the shop and then try to sell you something similar from which they can make their normal markup, but they are unsuccessful at that and you say you want the original article, they will tell you the original item which was working extremely well during their demonstration, is in actual fact faulty, and they will get you a new one from the other shop!
And of course the other shop does not have any, then they make a pretence of ringing the supplier and they tell you yes they can supply that will be here in four days, counting on the fact that most people are not here for that length of time.
Do you actually save money? Perhaps 10% but with warranty problems to content with the something goes wrong and the New Zealand importer tells you to return it to where you bought it you are just going to have a bad experience if you strike trouble..
Singapore is not like New Zealand or most of the West, if you are in retail selling of electronic goodies, with hundreds of other shops selling the same item, to a passing flood of gullible tourists, I guess you quickly learn to seize on the moment, promise anything to get a little bit of this flood into your shop because if you don't you will be back sweeping the streets.
But there are lots of gullible tourists, I saw many of them buying cameras at prices in excess of what they cost in New Zealand, and there were very happy assuming they had obtained a bargain, after all had they not negotiated the shopkeeper down from $1000 to $600? I guess the extra hundred dollars they paid in Singapore could be written off as entertainment!
So was with some disappointment I returned to the hotel, with sore feet, there to be given a message to telephone my tailor where I was told that the “no problem order” had developed a problem. The material that I wanted was not available for five days, but they would send them on to me at no extra cost. The fact that for the next six months I had no fixed abode seemed to be lost on them, but when it finally got through, no problems will send it to your home!
So I asked for my money back, and other as it was a credit card sale, in Singapore this shop evidently they can not issue a credit, he was told by his bank that as the transaction had been processed, he would have to write in to get a credit, and of course this went down with me like a lead balloon.
After some mild discussion they asked me would I accept cash, of course I would so left the shop very much aware how hard it is in Singapore to make a living, and how easy we have it in the rest of the West.
In Singapore they promise you everything with a wonderful smile, you walk away feeling that the consumer is king, and they only worry later if a link in the chain breaks and they are unable to make a delivery, they are still very friendly & apologized profusely saying how the other person let them down and are quite upset when you want your money back.
So I had had my fill of electronic shopping, but still had one half days to fill in, so I wandered around the main shopping centre being stopped on a regular basis by Indians wanting to make suits for me and not taking no for an answer, getting upset when you do not follow them into their shop, yes it is a hard country to make a living in and it is not for the weak.
Eventually I did wander into one shop, said yes I want some trousers, but I leave tomorrow, no problems, I was told and again the dozens of samples were produced, but I had learnt my lesson, as slower as I am, and said no you must have the material here, to be greeted almost with tears being told that it is not possible to carry all stock.
I said what about that material there, was about the right colour, it turned out to be a mixture of Cashmere, wool and and silk, not exactly what I would choose wandering round the wilds of Russia and the Ukraine but I decided to proceed anyhow. Yes they would be delivered to my hotel at 9:30 p.m. so I decided what the hang and ordered two pairs, at a cheaper price than my number one tailor.
Of course with my luck, they were not there the following morning, after about 30 minutes it appears that my number two tailor had tried to make the delivery to Mr McLellan to be told that that room number was not for Mr McLellan, remember when I checked in they record my name as Mr Ivan. Well I was not very amused, but did stop somewhat short of describing the parentage of the people that checked me in, and they did have the decency to be a little bit embarrassed of what happened.
I did get out of them a late check out which suited me fine and they arranged for the trousers to be delivered at 12 noon that day, which this time did happen, so I left Singapore with my one purchase and the thought that I could have had them made by a bestoke tailor in New Zealand for less trouble and possibly less money once one added on the hotel costs, and a taxi fares.
At least I now know to forget Singapore for all electronic shopping, and Luda has already worked out that the majority of dresses in Singapore are made for Asian sizes which are substantially different to European sizes.
So it looks like my visiting to Singapore, in the future, will be simply to change planes on the way to Europe.
The Lufthansa flight was accomplished with normal German efficiency, passport control in Germany required no forms, just a quick glance at the passport, a stamp, then a continuation of the long walk from terminal C. to terminal A, on to the Lufthansa to Amsterdam flight, and the long walk to the baggage terminal in Amsterdam, through almost non-existent customs control out to a spring morning which was substantially different to the heat and humidity of Singapore.
For many years I have thought of putting my photographs together with my words in the form of a book.
As a test I did a small 40 page book on my travels through the Ukraine with the photographs. I did this through a company called Blurb an online book publishing company that will print one book for about $US32, if you want more information on the company just go to http://www.blurb.com/about .
If you would like to have a look at my Ukraine book you can see it at http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/107157 and they are set up to handle single copies, in fact the discounts don't start until you ordered 10 copies and then it is only 10%.
I had arrived in Holland, With my luggage I went through the exit and was greeted by Hank Buyck who took me to his home in Castricum a little bit north of Beverwijk, I was there for the next 14 days getting the motorhome ready for the five months travel, however I must admit that Hank did most of the work installing three new leisure batteries to give us sufficient power to be camping without electricity. This involved removing the old batteries, during a rewire of the charging system, removing the safe we had installed, reinstalling the safe in the new location, and in general he did a very professional job where as the writer is inclined to be a little bit slapdash.
The second day I was here I dropped my expensive Sony laptop, while I was walking down the stairs and one of the hinges did not want to move so the screen surround started parting so now it has a piece of duct tape wrapped around it and hopefully it will last the trip.
My backup computer I started installing my backup software and then found I had a vicious virus in the system which took over the processor with its own activity making any of my access to the computer impossible. Thankfully Hank was able to remove the virus with a lot of work and 24 hours later it was back in action.
It appears that my luck with computers lasts for about one year and by then with all the use they get and the rough treatment wandering, they are due for replacement!
Saturday the 2nd May I stocked up with provisions, and we travelled out to the airport on the Saturday evening to collect Luda who had flown in from Keiv, Sunday we made the final adjustments and was ready to leave Monday morning by nine o'clock.
Our first port of call was to Bielefeld to pay for the insurance and motor tax on the motorhome for this year.