I Drink Your Milkshake

Data slurp (v) Compiling user data, especially personally identifiable user data, in order to make money from advertising. Companies that do this (such as Facebook and Google) push users to provide as much information about themselves as possible in an attempt to collapse the public and private spheres of life, while making it difficult to opt out of or learn more about such data gathering. See the Daniel-Day Lewis explanation for more information.

Data-slurp acquisition (DSA) (n) – Purchasing a company for the express purpose of acquiring extant user data — usually much to the horror of the existing user base.

I posted a bit about the ‘slurping’ phenomenon in my post about Facebook’s purchase of WhatsApp, but I wanted to pose a few additional questions now that Facebook has added Move to its stable of data-slurpers, and changing Move’s privacy policy to allow for data slurping (h/t @gruber).

Some questions, since I’m not really up on the latest in the legalities of data wrangling:

-I was under the impression that by law users are required to be informed of any privacy policy changes, and that companies can’t proceed under the new policy until agreed to- is this true?

-If true, how do data-slurpers handle user data? Say I used Move and quit using it in disgust when I found out Facebook bought them without agreeing to a new Privacy Policy — this isn’t the case with WhatsApp, by the way, because their Policy explicitly allowed them to transfer user data in the event of a DSA. Does Facebook have the right to my data?

-If not, how do they go about parsing it, and what do they do with the old data? Do they specifically have a column in their database for ‘agreed to the latest policy’, and they only search through records that have that bit flipped? Do they just dump the data from users that haven’t agreed to the new policy within 30 days?

-This might be an extremely silly question, but who enforces that?

Given that these DSAs are coming fast and furious, inquiring minds might want to know. It would be kind of nice to not be blind-sided by such an acquisition in the future.

On the Tech Bus Protests

It looks like the tech bus protests are continuing in force, now with extra vomit.

I’m a little torn on the whole thing, because when I lived in the Bay Area I actually rode one of those buses to work every day for a year. I couldn’t have lived in SF without it, because commuting to the South Bay sucks otherwise. And that’s kind of the point. Right or wrong, there certainly wouldn’t be as many tech workers living and working in SF if those bus systems didn’t exist. If you provide that sort of service people will start using it, and then start demanding an expansion of that service, which is exactly what’s happened with the private buses. My main objection to the buses is that instead of the city/region investing in good mass transit, they’ve let private buses come in and create a two-tier system that won’t easily go away. Even if they extended BART to Mountain View through the Peninsula tomorrow, Google and Google workers feel much safer working on proprietary code on a Google-run bus than on public transit, for example.

But the housing problem in SF has very little to do with tech workers and everything to do with lack of supply. San Francisco has a height limitation for buildings in much of the city (I think it’s 65′), so even if developers wanted to build more high rises they can’t. San Francisco proper is one of the most highly desirable areas of the country to live right now, and moral or not, I don’t think it’s exactly reasonable to expect that existing residents can both NIMBY their way to keep the city’s character the way it is AND expect that people aren’t going to be evicted or otherwise priced out of the city. Regardless of the rent control or other measures put in place, market forces are going to be too strong. I see SF as being the ‘Manhattan’ of the Bay Area, and both mass transit and urban density should be developed accordingly. Market forces will do what they will, but cities certainly can (and in my opinion, should) shape the results of those forces. While density will probably increase in the long run, the city should use urban planning to encourage mass transit usage, walkability, and local ownership of shops and restaurants. Areas like SOMA are the wrong way to develop, in my opinion- It’s a sanitized version of SF that’s a second-worst of all worlds. The worst of all worlds would be a SF that continues to devolve into a place where people are so afraid of change that their NIMBYism destroys the vitality and most interesting aspects of the city that they are trying to protect.

Chercher la User Data

The initial popular opinion is that Facebook paid too much for WhatsApp — $19B in combined cash, stock, and eventually vesting stock.

People have pointed out that the acquisition is worth $500 million per Whatsapp employee, and that if every human on earth paid to use WhatsApp, it would take nearly 3 years for Facebook to get their money back.

What people don’t seem to understand is that Facebook didn’t buy WhatsApp for their existing revenue stream, they bought them for their existing (and future) user data stream.

As has been pointed out by Facebook and WhatsApp, the app has 450 million active users and 320 million users daily users. Mark Zuckerberg crowed that WhatsApp is on their way to a billion users. That’s not more than Facebook, but Facebook is notoriously light in developing countries, and what’s important here is the user data that Facebook gathers from this.

Facebook has tried everything they could so far to gather mobile user data. On the desktop, Facebook can capture most things that users do on the world wide web through cookies and cross-website integration. Mobile has been Facebook’s Achilles heel for a while. The success of iOS and its robust security, which silos apps and web behavior, has made data tough to gather for Facebook outside the FB apps and Instagram. Despite Facebook Home going over like a lead balloon, they can usually get comparatively more data from Android users’ photos, text messages, etc, as long as those users don’t disable them.

WhatsApp can give Facebook the keys to the kingdom, since according to WhatApp’s privacy policy, users can often provide personal info like names and phone numbers, text, photo, and video information, location information, and payment information — you can bet WhatsApp payment accounts will soon be tightly integrated with Facebook — and social graphing, or who people talk to and why. All of this information can be used to extend Facebook’s behavioral models for selling advertisements, and since WhatsApp is truly cross platform, it can be a full replacement for email, text messaging, and other services that Facebook cannot gather data from.

What I found particularly interesting, and a little distressing, is this blurb from WhatsApp’s privacy policy from the link above:

In the event that WhatsApp is acquired by or merged with a third party entity, we reserve the right to transfer or assign the information we have collected from our users as part of such merger, acquisition, sale, or other change of control. (emphasis mine)

This blurb is like a matador waving a red flag in front of the Facebook bull. I joked earlier that the blurb was placed there for the express purpose of attracting this sort of acquisition. So Facebook now has the potential personal information described above on 450 million users, with many more users to come.

I think as a matter of government policy the least FTC could require is allow users to opt out of this sort of user data transfer. Unfortunately any such requirement, though pleasing to privacy advocates, would be unduly burdensome and would almost certainly cause a collapse in the fortunes of other tech startups lining up for their payout for trading in user data. We’ve gone way too far down the path of profiting off personal data.

The Comcast/Time Warner merger is okay with me.

I think the government should approve this merger, but with specific conditions.

To go all Buzzfeed on this, here’s a  list of the wishful thinking conditions I think the government should impose.

1. New Comcast has to be a ‘common carrier‘. This would make them subject to much more regulatory oversight, especially with regards to pricing, than before.

2. New Comcast, as one of the nation’s largest internet service providers, has to accept Net Neutrality, and both present a plan per the above common carrier oversight to implement it, and agree to not oppose any legislation implementing true Net Neutrality.

3. New Comcast has agree to a strict privacy policy where user data is not stored or used for marketing or any other purposes aside from law enforcement or actual performance improvements (issues with bandwidth, etc), and this data is never to be given to a 3rd party (including various federal spy agencies) for any reason

4. New Comcast has to agree to support and implement new open standards to improve security to deal with the above.

5. New Comcast has to divest itself of its content creation business (i.e., NBC and all of its cable channels).

6. New Comcast has to allow any channel that has a large enough potential viewership to be listed in its lineup, and they have the right to choose which tier they join (the Al-Jazeera America clause).

7. New Comcast has to provide channels on an a la carte basis at a reasonable price.

8. New Comcast has to provide capability to migrate, backup, and use recorded programming for any purpose covered under fair use — watermarking content with subscriber ID information, etc, to track down illegal distributors is acceptable.

9. New Comcast has to provide full HD-quality (where available) affiliate broadcasting and public access to any household with a cable hookup for no charge (as long as they have a digital-ready TV set), and they have to provide DVRs for said customers for the same price they charge digital cable customers.

10. New Comcast has to agree to work toward an open standard for cable boxes that can push standard television programming along with over the internet content and other added features (the Apple TV clause).

…and no toothless consent decrees here. I want all the executive-level people signed on to this decree, and facing perjury charges and jail time if they violate it.

Do you have any others to add?


Photo Barrage 5 (Part III)- Singapore

Part III- Singapore

The last part of my southeast Asian journey was a few days in Singapore. Taking the bus down from Malacca wasn’t too bad. The bus pretty much dropped me off at Malaysian immigration, and then again at Singapore immigration, which you can kind of see in the first picture below (taken from the bus on the causeway). Not much of a line at either place. Considering the amount of transit that goes through there every day, not a big surprise. There were no mints given out at Malaysian immigration however.

IMG_3966.jpg Taken from the bus. That’s the Singapore immigration and customs building in the distance.

While Singapore is a pretty small island..if you look at the Thai/Malay peninsula on a map you can’t really even make out Singapore at the very bottom, it’s larger than you would think. After going through immigration, we probably drove for another 20 minutes to get to the bus stop. Strangely, that’s all it really seemed to be – there wasn’t any mass transit in evidence nearby- I needed to get a SIM for my phone, and then try to find the nearest subway/MRT station.

IMG_3972.jpg Sure enough the random SIM they gave me at the phone shop was an Angry Birds themed one from SingTel — the main phone company there (I’m guessing the Angry Birds guys get money for THAT one). Still only phone and text messaging, so I had to get by with searching Google Maps at the hotel and taking screenshots.

After getting my phone in order and hitting the ATM, I set off for a subway line.

IMG_3975.jpg The inside of one of the MRT stations. They are all very new and VERY CLEAN. This is pretty typical for Singapore, which is a bit uptight about cleanliness and order. Being a little bit of an authoritarian state, that’s kind of the way it is. Not surprisingly I felt very safe the whole time I was there.

But I loved the subway stations. Not only did they have great design and were clean and efficient, they were also oases of air conditioning in the greenhouse that is Singapore. Did I mention that it’s hot and humid near the equator?

IMG_3987.jpg Here’s a sign on one of the pillars of the subway. Our old nemesis the durian fruit makes its return, and you can see the hefty fines they slap on people for sipping on their beverage while waiting for the train.

IMG_3988.jpgMy hotel was pretty centrally located, but in my research I didn’t find out that the street where its located was under construction at the moment. Specifically, Singapore is adding to their existing 4 subway (MRT) lines by building 3 more. Simultaneously. So this street was closed, which made it tough to get around the neighborhood, and there was pounding during the day. Luckily, it started at 8am exactly and quit at like 8pm exactly. This was cute PacMan themed signage they had on the walls blocking off the construction for DTL 3 (3rd Downtown Line).

IMG_3990.jpg Across the street from the hotel was a hawker center, although this was more of an ‘upscale corporate’ hawker center I guess. Hawker centres are where people go for Singapore’s legendary street food. Previously people had carts or stalls set up on the street, but in the interests of health and safety they mandated that all the ‘street’ vendors move under a roof (although they are all open-air to my knowledge) where they could utilize running water, electricity, and the government could do pretty rigorous inspections. Thus was borne the Hawker Centre, which are kind of like food courts are at malls, except these places are destinations unto themselves.

This particular one was open 24 hours a day. I think I ended up getting some Vietnamese pho, which, after months of eating ramen for my soup needs seemed kind of weak. Still tasty though.

IMG_3998.jpg This is the Singapore School of the Arts building, which I passed several times a day between my hotel and the subway station. I got a bunch of pics of it.

IMG_3999.jpgIMG_4011.jpg This is a movie theater/shopping center that’s next to the School of the Arts. One of the days I was walking by there and there was a Chinese Lion Dance competition going on.IMG_4023.jpg I’m a bit of a transit and city design nerd (if you can’t tell). In the distance there is an Electronic Road Pricing gateway where they charge people tolls if driving in certain areas of town during rush hours, etc. I’ve heard its insanely expensive to own and drive a car in Singapore. On the other hand, even with a pretty good subway system, living there without a car when it’s 80+ degrees and 80%+ humidity all the time probably wouldn’t be tolerable for me.

IMG_4029.jpg Singapore’s Chinatown.IMG_4034.jpg Near Chinatown there was a rather large Hindu temple. Since I had missed my chance at walking through one in Malaysia, I spent a good amount of time walking around here and taking pictures. I particularly love the multi-tiered piece above the front entrance, which appears to be typical of Hindu temples, at least in this part of the world.

IMG_4047.jpgIMG_4048.jpg It’s amazing how colorful everything is here.

IMG_4051.jpgIMG_4054.jpg There are statues of various Hindu gods and other people, and it was a little unnerving, given the looks on their faces and that they appeared to be STARING AT ME.

IMG_4059.jpg Cows. Naturally.IMG_4064.jpg Down the street was a mosque.IMG_4069.jpg And down the street from there was the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which is a fairly new temple (built in the last 10 years), but it’s pretty large.

IMG_4072.jpgIMG_4074.jpgIMG_4075.jpg For being known as a peaceful religion, Buddhhism has some really mean-looking guardians.

IMG_4076.jpgIMG_4077.jpg This is the Maxwell Food Centre, a hawker centre located across the way from the Buddha Tooth Temple.

IMG_4083.jpg This is what the inside of the hawker centre looks like. There were a bunch of stalls shut down at that point- I think it might have been mid-afternoon, so they were probably closed between meal rushes.

I’m a big fan of Tony Bourdain’s No Reservations show, and when he came to Singapore, he went to a chicken-rice place at this hawker centre. From what I’ve read, the line is really long to get food. I walked around the hawker centre two or three times and didn’t find a place swarming with people, so I looked closer.

IMG_4086.jpg This was the place. How did I know that this was the place?

IMG_4078.jpgBecause they have Bourdain himself and his speech bubble posted up there. Anyway, I ordered the chicken-rice, which obviously is chicken with rice, but the rice is mixed with chicken broth, and they have sides of hot sauce and a few other things.

IMG_4081.jpg This late lunch of chicken-rice, a beer, and a bottle of water cost me less than S$10, which is probably about US$7. Not a bad deal for some very good chicken. It didn’t floor me, but it was certainly worth the trip.

IMG_4093.jpg After leaving the hawker centre I continued heading east, wanting to take in some of the sights.IMG_4095.jpgRandom building.IMG_4096.jpg I thought this pic was an interesting combination of old (in the foreground) and new (part of the downtown area towering behind it).

IMG_4101.jpg A bridge over Singapore River. You can see the old Supreme Court building on the right.

IMG_4103.jpgA shot of part of downtown from near Clarke Quay, which was the direction I was heading.IMG_4105.jpg That’s the Singapore Parliament building.IMG_4108.jpgThis is a river walk-a number of restaurants, etc. I got a picture of the sign since it’s a little more blunt regarding the whole ‘lack of order’ thing.

IMG_4111.jpgWalking along Clarke Quay with tour boats on the river.

IMG_4117.jpgIMG_4120.jpgIMG_4123.jpg On my way back to my hotel I got this picture, which I suppose is a reminder that we’re living in the tropics, I suppose.IMG_4125.jpg This is the next day- it’s a Sikh temple outside one of the MRT stations.

IMG_4129.jpg I took the subway down to Little India. Lots of good looking Indian food at this adjacent hawker centre as well as halal (Muslim) food as well.

IMG_4131.jpg I ended up getting some curry, naan, and  a coconut.

IMG_4132.jpg It had started pouring rain by this point, so I wandered around the complex. The second floor of the centre was more shopping, various apparel, etc. And this altar in the corner.

IMG_4133.jpg This is looking down the street.IMG_4135.jpgAnd some of the various shops.

I figured that I’d jump back on the subway and hopefully the rain would let up by then.

IMG_4139.jpg I came out of the subway next to Raffles Hotel, and thankfully the rain had stopped. However, it was still so humid out I felt like I was swimming through vaseline, not walking down the street.

Raffles Hotel is named after the British businessman who created the first western (British) settlement on Singapore island. It is also known for having a bar where the Singapore Sling was invented. As I’m not really a fan of fruity drinks, especially ones that the natives don’t drink themselves, I took a picture and moved on.

I was heading for Marina Bay, which was where the majority of my tourist checklist was located. As I did in Malaysia, I used as much available air conditioning as I could, and found a mall between Raffles Hotel and Marina Bay.

IMG_4141.jpg Where I ran into this monstrosity — a Guiness Book of World Records attempt at the largest 3D Balloon sculpture, whose official team came from 4 different countries.

IMG_4156.jpg On the other side of the mall (after enjoying an iced coffee and soaking up some cool air, I found an outdoor venue where some music festival was going on. It was getting late in the afternoon, still very muggy out, and I had more walking to do, so I pressed on.

The first thing to know about Marina Bay is that it’s a body of water enclosed on just about all sides by buildings, so the following pictures were taken by me walking about a half-circuit around the Bay.

IMG_4149.jpg This is taken from near the band shell above across toward downtown. If you look closely near the water you can see the Merlion, the Singapore mascot, cursed to endlessly spit-take like a slapstick comedian condemned to hell. Singapore is Malay for Lion City, despite Lions never having lived here. I just learned from the great and powerful Wikipedia that the Merlion was created as a symbol for Singapore by the Singapore tourism board in the 1960s.

IMG_4158.jpg  From the band shell to my left is the Marina Bay Sands buildings and the Helix Bridge on the left (which you can’t see very well during the day — I unfortunately didn’t get down here at night)

IMG_4159.jpg This is walking across a bridge looking downtown. It was starting to look weird out, so I turned around and looked back toward the Parliament building.

IMG_4162.jpg..and saw another thunderstorm coming. By the way, the cool UFO-like building next to the old Supreme Court building (which is under renovation) is the new Supreme Court building.

IMG_4163.jpg Here’s a shot of Marina Bay Sands with the Merlion in the foreground.

IMG_4167.jpg This is looking back east toward where I came from, you can see the band shell. The giant metal pufferfish building on the right is a performing arts center.

IMG_4172.jpg A few more shots of the Merlion spitting on various things.

IMG_4174.jpgIMG_4181.jpg ….and the weather is coming in. Must hurry.

It was maybe another 10 minutes or so walking into downtown and I could tell that any moment it was going to start pouring. Downtown Singapore is essentially one bank building after another. A pretty good looking downtown, though. I was hightailing it down the road as the wind kept building up, and asked a guy where the nearest MRT station was. It was just around the corner thankfully.

IMG_4188.jpg I got this picture of Raffles Place (different than Raffles Hotel) just as it started to rain. A nice little green area in the middle of downtown — that I’m sure nobody is allowed to walk on.

So following my policy of using the MRT to travel while the weather was bad, I decided to head up to Orchard Road, which is Singapore’s main shopping area, for a look around.

IMG_4194.jpg The MRT station actually empties out into a giant underground mall. I should have taken a video of this escalator area, because I’m not sure if they used projectors or what, but there were black silhouettes of fish moving around on the walls and ceiling.

IMG_4195.jpgI found this picture to be highly amusing in a “far too honest advertising” sort of way.

I poked around a bit in the mall, cooling off, and decided to check outside- still raining a little bit and humid as ever.

IMG_4198.jpg A pic of an adjacent shopping center. Really wild glasswork.

IMG_4204.jpg This was the atrium of (you guessed it) yet another shopping center.

IMG_4196.jpg Same atrium looking up from the inside.

By that point I had just about melted, and had a late flight to catch. I headed back to my hotel, where they were holding my luggage, and then headed out to the airport. One of the very nice things about Singapore’s Changi Airport is that they have an MRT line that goes right to the airport. As in, you get off the train and you have a short walkway and you are in the airport. I think the last place that was that convenient was maybe Atlanta’s airport, but the rest of the airport doesn’t make up for its mass transit convenience.

Changi was also the area of Singapore that, during World War II under Japanese control that a work camp was set up for British and Malay prisoners, with not too pleasant results. James Clavell’s King Rat is a quasi-fictional retelling of his personal experiences there. So it was a bit strange to walk through one of the best and most modern airports in the world and know that nearby there had been some pretty horrible WWII history.

IMG_4220.jpg Picture of Changi Airport.

Changi Airport has a ton of amenities- there’s hotels that are inside the secure area, so if you are just connecting at Singapore but either want a nap or are coming in one night and leaving the next day, you don’t have to leave the secure area to get some shuteye. There’s also a club anyone can go into (unlike many of the airline-specific ones) that has a gym, facilities to clean up, etc. After walking around all day, I paid the nominal fee to get cleaned up and changed, and got a bite to eat and used their internet for a while.

Changi also has a movie theater that plays free movies 24 hours a day. The movie that they were playing while I was waiting for my flight was..The Green Lantern. Which I’d already seen. Oh well.

My flight back to Tokyo was a red-eye- left about midnight and got back into Tokyo first thing in the morning.

IMG_4229.jpg Coming off the plane and heading down the escalator toward immigration, there’s a sign. On the left is in the picture and on the right it says Welcome to Japan. What it actually says in Japanese in the picture おかえりなさい (okaeri-nasai), which means ‘Welcome Home’. And I guess I did feel like I was coming home.

More on Japan soon.

Photo Barrage 5 (Part II)- Malacca


Currently: Rainy day in Tokyo- This week is Golden Week, which is the Japanese excuse to take a 4 or 5 day weekend. I might have explained this before but, since Japanese companies don’t really give their people vacations, the government took it upon themselves to sprinkle holidays throughout the year, so there’s a 3 day weekend in most months. They’ve created national holidays on April 29, May 3, 4, and 5th, which has affectionately become known as Golden Week, and many people take the rest of the time that week off work, and a few employers mercifully just shut down offices for that day. Unfortunately, this year it’s been raining cats and dogs this week, so nothing super-interesting going on with me this long weekend.

Back to our story…

PART II: Malacca!!! (Day Three in Malaysia)

When we last left our hero (?) he was on a bus headed south to Malacca. To set the scene:    Malacca has long been a factor in Asian and European history and economics, due almost exclusively to the valuable choke-point that is the Malacca Straits. To this day, rights of way on waterways remain valuable and often a cause for tension (which is why neither the Moroccans nor the Spanish are too thrilled that the British continue to control Gibraltar, for example).

The Portuguese established their beachhead in Malacca way back in 1511, and ever since it’s been a favorite whipping boy and point of debarkation for various nationalities trying to control or make a career off of trade going through the Straits. Because of this infusion of various cultures, it’s a fascinating place to walk around, and makes for a very interesting culinary experience. Malacca City itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pictures from Malacca:

IMG_3775.jpg A street picture. There’s a bunch of 2 or 3 story buildings around where the ground floor is retail space, and is often open-air. I think I took this picture because there’s a Proton dealership or office there on the right. Proton is the Malaysian national car, which I had frankly never heard of, but there’s Protons on the streets everywhere.

IMG_3777.jpg I thought I took more pics inside the Malacca bus terminal, but this blurry one is the only one I have. It was significantly less fancy than the one in KL, but on the other hand I’ve seen nastier bus terminals in the US. I was struck by the number of vendors in the bus terminal selling hijab (the required Muslim female headscarf). It was interesting to see all the hijab-bedecked mannequin heads lined up showing off the latest in Islamic fashion.

IMG_3782.jpg This is the entry to Jonker Walk, which is the historical Chinatown section of Malacca. There were cars everywhere. Luckily we found a parking space early and just walked around.

IMG_3785.jpg This is a closeup of the Jonker Walk Chinatown Gate.

IMG_3784.jpg Mister Potato is the Malaysian Pringles equivalent. I just wonder how much Wayne Rooney and the other guys from Man United got paid for a Malaysian potato chip billboard.

IMG_3837.jpg A little fountain near one of the other entrances to Jonker Walk.

IMG_3783.jpgA giant, world-record setting cookie. They take their world records seriously in this part of the world. This will come up again in Part III of this Photo Barrage.

IMG_3786.jpg Angry Birds. Were. Everywhere.

I kept a loose mental count of the number of different Angry Birds products I saw in Malacca. T-shirts. wallets. footwear. I think I stopped counting after 2 dozen. The conversation I had with X went approximately as follows:

Me: I can’t believe all of these people play Angry Birds- do they play on iPhones or computers or what?

X: Oh, they probably don’t play..they just love the characters.

(later, after seeing yet more t-shirts and other merchandise)

Me: Wow, if even 50% of this stuff is licensed and authorized, those Angry Birds guys have to be rolling in the dough.

X: Oh, none of this is licensed.

IMG_3789.jpg Another shot of the Jonker Walk area. With requisite cars.

IMG_3793.jpg For lunch we went to a restaurant that specializes in Nyonya food, which is the name of the Chinese culture and food that developed in Malaysia and Indonesia after incorporating all the various cultural influences that were around.

IMG_3794.jpg I had the Nyonya Laksa, which was pretty darn spicy. It cost about 2 bucks.

IMG_3796.jpg This was the walkway celebrating the Chairman of Jonker Walk, who was in charge of turning it into a tourist attraction. Apparently this gentleman used to be quite the body-builder in his day.IMG_3801.jpg DURIAN. I tried durian fruit. Despite the smiley-durian on this sign, durian is pretty well known for its…rather strong smell.

IMG_3800.jpg I figured if I was going to try it, something small and easy to eat would be the way to go, and we found this durian puff place on Jonker Walk, so I bought one. It was…. actually pretty good. I liked the taste a lot. However. Durian also has an aftertaste that’s kind of acid-melony tasting, not really pleasant, and it doesn’t go away for a long time. So..I’m glad I tried it, but it’s probably not something I’ll repeat any time soon.

IMG_3807.jpg Here’s the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, which is the oldest functioning temple in Malaysia (built in 1645). Some really amazing carvings here.


IMG_3811.jpg This sign points out the danger signs to look for when fake monks collect fake-alms. Kinda sad that they have to do this. Maybe Christian churches should have done the same thing during the televangelist heyday.

IMG_3818.jpg Outside the temple there was this street with a bunch of shops selling all these little paper cars, motorcycles, you name it. X explained that people buy these to burn during funeral ceremonies so that people have these objects in the afterlife. We looked around a bit and they actually sold paper iPhones as well. I bet AT&T’s signal still sucks in heaven.

IMG_3822.jpg We had been walking from the Buddhist Temple and heard a Mosque’s call to prayer, which I think might have been the first time I’d heard that. This mosque was about a block down from the Buddhist Temple. IMG_3828.jpg …and this Hindu Temple was the next block down from the mosque. It was apparently the oldest Hindu Temple in Malaysia, built in 1781, but it was closed when we were there.

IMG_3834.jpg Berhenti means “stop” in Malay. In case the red octagon didn’t give it away.

IMG_3835.jpg Random cute character atop restaurant.IMG_3842.jpg This is a Chinese clan house. There were a bunch of them in the Jonker Walk area. From what I’ve read, these were essentially set up by expat Chinese long ago to help those of the same clan find a place to live, get a job, have a safe place to go if needed, etc. This is a clan house for Hokkien-speaking people, which is one of the main dialects spoken in Taiwan and the area adjacent to it in mainland China. Many of the clans are for people with a certain last name. X’s family name has a clan house there too.



IMG_3790.jpg Here’s another clan house with a slightly more interesting entrance.

IMG_3844.jpg I think I complained before about the ‘open gutters’ on the streets in Okazaki back when I was taking classes. Same thing here in Malacca, although these are about 18 inches deep. Watch your step.

IMG_3846.jpg We stopped in to a coffee shop to get something cold to drink. I got a green tea, and X ordered a coconut. I hadn’t realized that a coconut was an option.

IMG_3855.jpg This was my hotel: Baba House right in the Jonker Walk area. It was pretty inexpensive and charming, but I probably wouldn’t recommend it. They had some issues with mold that could have been minimized. Nothing seriously disturbing, but still, ugh. When I checked in that 10 year old girl in the corner was furiously abusing the PC in the corner, using Facebook as if her life depended on it. She kept switching between some Facebook game and Facebook chat with one of her friends. They had free Wi-Fi in the hotel, and when I checked in they admitted that the Wi-Fi sometimes wasn’t that great and that people would have to come into the lobby to connect, or use the PC. I dreaded the prospect of trying to pry this girl away from her Facebook. Luckily, the Wi-Fi actually worked pretty well for me.

IMG_3856.jpg Another pic of the lobby. Some cool furniture.

IMG_3850.jpg My hotel room.

IMG_3927.jpg I had no idea of what that little green thing on the ceiling was. When I looked closely, it says “Kiblat”, which from a wi-fi enabled, non-10 year-old-girl-interrupting internet search, means in Malay the direction one faces to point toward Mecca for prayers.

IMG_3920.jpg An outdoor area at the hotel.


IMG_3921.jpg NO DURIAN.

IMG_3857.jpg A cool looking building near my hotel. A bit in ruins though.

IMG_3867.jpg Speaking of ruins, across the Melaka river from the Jonker Walk area is more historical stuff. This area has Portuguese, Dutch and Malaysian history all in one area. This picture shows  all that remains of the Portuguese fort built there in 1511.

IMG_3873.jpg After the Dutch took over in the 1600s, they built a settlement nearby called the Stadthuys or ‘city house’. All of the tell-tale red houses in the area were built by the Dutch. They also built Christ Church, above, in 1753.



IMG_3875.jpg Note that it’s still a functioning church, providing Sunday services in 3 different languages.IMG_3879.jpg A fountain in front of Christ Church.

IMG_3909.jpg This is a history museum down the street from Christ Church and the Portuguese remains. It shows the history of Malaysian independence. While Kuala Lumpur is the seat of government and the first Malaysia flag was first raised there, the first reading of the Malaysian independence announcement occurred in this area in 1956.


Rewinding back to Portugeuse times, as there was a big hill to climb to get up to this landmark, we find St Paul’s Church, originally built in 1521, but completed with the second floor in 1590.

IMG_3890.jpg St Francis Xavier spent some time in Malacca, running a school and using it as his base for his missions to China and Japan. After he died in China, his body was temporary buried here before being sent to his final resting place in Goa, India. Here is a statue of him in front of St Paul’s Church with a look on his face that eternally says “Okay guys, which one of you took my hand?”

IMG_3894.jpg St Paul’s is in ruin now, hollowed out.IMG_3898.jpgThere’s a large number of tomb stones that are lined up along the wall. Under the Dutch and later the British the church was deconsecrated and used for military purposes.

IMG_3904.jpg From the hill where St Paul’s Church is, you can see a lot of Malacca. From this direction you can see the Straits of Malacca in the distance.

IMG_3908.jpg From here, you can see the Portuguese fort ruins, the independence square, and the newer Malaysian buildings rising in the distance. Probably one of my favorite pictures I took this trip.

IMG_3872.jpgAfter walking down the hill, I got a picture of the heavily over-decorated bike rickshaws that give people tours around the historical area.

IMG_3864.jpg I found this little tidbit interesting as well. Apparently there’s a few different companies in Malaysia, McDonalds and KFC among them, that give out these free stickers to attach to your windshield. And every time you go through the drive thru at McDonalds, you get a free small fries. But..you have to drive around all day with a McDonalds sticker on your window. Interesting means of advertising. It was probably something like 1 out of every 25 cars or so that I saw at least one of these stickers on windshields.

IMG_3863.jpg X drove me out to the beach. I was a little disappointed honestly. I was expecting the namesake of the Straits to have some fairly major beach action going on. There were some families out there, but really not a whole lot there. I guess there’s a pier closer to where the Straits meet the river where there’s some nightlife though.

IMG_3914.jpg We drove out to this mosque as well: Masjid Selat Melaka, which I think means the Straits of Malacca Mosque (someone correct me on my Malay). It was pretty huge.

IMG_3915.jpg We actually couldn’t get much closer than here since they don’t allow non-members to enter the mosque during worship hours.

IMG_3932.jpg Breakfast the next morning. We tried to find a chicken rice place, but the one X knew of was closed, so we went for duck noodle instead. Note the prices listed in the lower left corner there.

IMG_3931.jpg Duck noodle. Mighty tasty.

IMG_3933.jpg So my plan for the morning was to catch the bus from Malacca for the ~3 hour journey to Singapore. We had some extra time, so we did some more looking around. This is a Buddhist temple on the way to the bus station.


IMG_3952.jpg On the bus ride down to Singapore, we stopped at some random city for a 15 minute break. I honestly don’t know what town we were in, and my GPS wasn’t enabled on my phone, so this picture is of a random hawker center-slash-truck stop somewhere between Malacca and Singapore (it’s not Johor Bahru, that’s next).

IMG_3959.jpg These are a few pictures of Johor Bahru, which is the Malaysian border town across the straits of Singapore from Singapore. Again I was a little surprised at all the high-rises and development, considering my experiences with border towns were mostly Mexican ones, where there’s not so much vis-a-vis high rises.

IMG_3962.jpgI think both of these are actually on the causeway across the straits.


Part III will cover my time in Singapore, and then after that I can get back to regularly scheduled blogging/pictures of Japan. More news on that coming Real Soon Now.

Photo Barrage 5 (Part I)- Kuala Lumpur

Currently: Rainy day in Tokyo.

Okay, okay, okay. Sorry I’ve been slacking. I came back from my Malaysia/Singapore trip with a lot of pictures, so I’ve been dreading doing the posting for it, and my general rule is to not post other things until I get rid of my backlog. So I’m breaking up the trip pics into three different posts for your clicking pleasure.

So I was in Malaysia and Singapore in March. I wanted to do some more traveling in Asia beyond Japan, and in choosing my initial venture there were a few things to consider, such as price, whether or not I needed a visa, and ease of travel in-country. The easiest place to fly to is South Korea — Seoul is maybe an hour flight from Tokyo — but Singapore wasn’t much more expensive, I didn’t need a visa for either place, and the bonus is that English is widely spoken in both Singapore and Malaysia (we’ll get into why during the history lesson portion of the blog).

Interesting Note: maybe half the East and SE Asian countries require visas (China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Russia are the ones I can think of off the top of my head). Most every other place (South Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, The Philippines) have an agreement with the US to allow people into their country for a limited time without a visa. Japan is in the latter bunch as well.

The kicker to all this is that a friend of a friend — I’ll call her X — is Malaysian, speaks Malay and Chinese (and English), and offered to be a tour guide for the Malaysia portion of the trip. Sold.

First stop was Kuala Lumpur, the capital and biggest city in Malaysia.

I got there by flying into Singapore from Tokyo, and then from there to Kuala Lumpur (known as KL by just about everyone). Just to forewarn you if you ever fly in Asia: Most economy airlines (in my case, Tiger Air) don’t fly out of the same terminal as the standard airlines (I think this is quite similar to Ryanair in European cities). I mean, it wasn’t a horrible experience by any means, but instead of there being a neato tram going to the budget terminal like it does the other terminals at Singapore Changi Airport, I had to walk through the bowels of Terminal 2 to an underground bus terminal and wait out in the humidity and carbon monoxide for the budget terminal bus, and then stand in line to get my ticket to KL. I guess for a one-way international flight that cost me about US $29 total, I can’t really complain (it was only that much because I opted to pay more for an exit row seat… the advertised ticket price was FREE).

Here’s some things that I saw as I got off the plane, walked to immigration, and out to the airport proper were (in this order):

-The “Welcome to Malaysia” sign, written in 4 different languages: English, Malay (which is written in Latin script), Chinese…and Arabic (did I forget to mention that Malaysia is a major ity-Muslim country?). While this was fascinating for me, the other thought that popped into my head is that there’s a substantial segment of families that I knew growing up in Kansas and Iowa who would have wet themselves seeing that sign.

-Next (after we got indoors, because people flying on budget airlines get to walk on the tarmac in 85 degree, 80% humidity weather) was a Sony Style store and a toy/children’s apparel store where the general theme was ‘Angry Birds’. ‘Angry Birds’ was a recurring theme throughout this trip.

-Down an escalator and you have all the various passenger services. Pre-paid phone cards, ATM machines, etc. All of the ATMs were run by Islamic banks — Islam has a prohibition against charging interest, so they have separate banks who make their money through one-time fees, which pretty much cost the same as charging interest. Go figure.

-Out into immigration, which is a medium-sized warehouse with 6 foot across square pillars going up to the ceiling. Covering these pillars are giant banners warning about human trafficking. Immigration itself, aside from maybe a 10 minute wait in line, was a breeze. The only question they asked was “First time in Malaysia?” *STAMP* “Next!” Much easier than the interrogation I have to go through getting back into my own country every time I come home from traveling abroad. Ugh.

Note: Going in and out of Singapore earlier in the day was even easier because a) Changi airport proper is a lot nicer b) the border agent who let me into Singapore was this attractive Singaporean woman who said my name aloud in what I took to be a very sensual, teasing manner, as if she’d never read the name “Joshua” before but liked it, and finally, c) on the way out of Singapore, they give you candy. You think I’m kidding:IMG_4224.jpg

Bad picture, but that’s Changi Airport candy. The border agent (this time an older gentleman) gestured to a basket on the table next to him when I walked up. Candy. At immigration. They have ways of making me talk.

The rest of immigration at KL was easy. I didn’t have any bags to pick up and nothing to declare , so customs was essentially walking by a few customs guards near the door. Out in the arrivals area it’s open-air, which is another theme for this trip. There were a number of coffee shops and a McDonalds. Not really very different at all from your medium sized airport — the actual Kuala Lumpur International Airport is down the street a bit.

While I was waiting to meet X, some Malaysian guy came up to me and said:

He: “Texas?”

Me: “Um, yeah I lived in Texas for a while..why?”

Him: “No, TEKSI”

Me: (realizing that “Teksi” is the Malaysian word for “Taxi”) “Oh….no, I have a ride already, thanks.”

X and I finally met up- she and her friend took me to dinner, and then to my hotel. X recommended I stay outside the city core to minimize commuting hassles, and referred me to a few different hotels that were a little further out. One of them is right next to a major horse racetrack. It’s called the Palace of the Golden Horses and to say that it’s ‘horse themed’ is a bit of an understatement.

After seeing the pictures on their website (linked above), and noting that (at least by American standards) the price was fairly reasonable for a “good hotel” and there really weren’t any other hotels outside the city core that approached its quality, I said “Hey, why not? I’ll splurge a little on the trip, it’ll be a nice place to stay, and I can laugh a little at the audacity of staying at ‘the Palace’.” So I booked a few nights there.

Here’s some pics I took at the Palace. It’s a very nice hotel, although if you are doing the ‘tourist thing’ in KL, it’s not exactly easy to get from there to the touristy areas. But if you are a really big fan of horses, go for it.

IMG_3628.jpg Outside the front of the hotel.

IMG_3627.jpg Front of the hotel.

IMG_3760.jpg This is from the balcony out back. You had to go outside from the elevator to enter your room, which let a bunch of warm air into the corridors. Not the brightest design.

IMG_3764.jpg Some pictures of the lobby. You probably can’t see it, but the dark squares on the flooring have a horseshoe design in them.

IMG_3762.jpg Lobby ceiling (Horses).


IMG_3619.jpg You know that comment on Pink Floyd’s The Wall where the girl says “This bathroom is bigger than my apartment”? Yeah. This bathroom had to have been over 100 square feet. All of the shampoo/conditioner, etc bottles were horse-shaped too.

IMG_3621.jpgThe room was incredibly large. I was disappointed that there wasn’t anything horse-themed on or in the wardrobe on the opposite wall, however. I had to look inside to make sure there wasn’t a horse stowed in there.

IMG_3625.jpg Note that even the mirror has horseshoes around the edges. What came to mind for me was the scene in Being John Malkovich where Malkovich sees through his own mind’s eye and everything and everyone is Malkovich. This hotel is like that, but with horses.

Okay, enough horse-dom (I almost said ‘horsing around’. Aren’t you glad I didn’t?). I was pretty wiped out from traveling and crashed fairly early. The next day X and I took in KL proper. She and her friend came by the hotel to pick me up, and we got dropped off at the nearest light-rail station.

IMG_3630.jpg KL has a pretty decent rail infrastructure. Their roads are hopeless mainly because they’ve been growing so fast. Nothing really goes in a straight line. They used to have issues with rail because up until a year or two ago they had a few train lines (one that goes from Singapore through KL to Bangkok up north) and an express line that goes to the airport, 2 different light rail lines, 2 commuter lines, and a monorail line, and they were all different companies with different payment systems. They’ve melded most of those (at least the light rail, commuter, and monorail lines) into one payment system with shared stations (and it’s incredibly cheap to travel around), so honestly the worst part about dealing with mass transit there aside from occasional crowding is the outdoor stations.

IMG_3632.jpg This is inside one of the light rail trains. If you can’t read the sign in the back, it’s for a fruit beverage that has licopene in it, and the tag line is “Oh boy, no-one boosts fertility like me.”

IMG_3639.jpg Outside one of the train stations. Lots of advertising everywhere.

IMG_3645.jpg This is the Sultan Abdul Samad building, built in 1897. It was named after the Sultan who was in power at the time KL was founded (more on Sultans in a second). It now houses Malaysia’s Ministry of Information, Communications, and Culture.

IMG_3648.jpgAnother picture of it from across the street.

IMG_3650.jpgThis is a fountain at Merdeka (Independence) Square, which is across the street from the previous building. This, not surprisingly, is where Malaysia first raised the Malaysian flag in 1957 after gaining their independence from the British. Here’s a (hopefully short) historical recap: Much of south and southeast Asia had been colonized or at least controlled by European forces for hundreds of years. Indonesia used to be the Dutch East Indies. Siam (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos), the French. Singapore was a British trading post starting in 1819.

Malaysia wasn’t really a unified country until its independence. It had previously been a number of kingdoms ruled by Sultans, many of which had been conquered by each other or by European forces (Portuguese, Dutch, and British). Starting in the 15th Century, some of the Malay leadership converted to Islam, which led to its aggressive spread there. There had also been a massive influx of Chinese and Indian laborers, leading to the multicultural states that Malaysia and Singapore are today. Around the time that Singapore was taken over by the British, they had also conquered several of the other kingdoms on the Malay peninsula, and most of the other kingdoms either ‘chose’ to obey their British ‘advisors’ or deferred to the British. After WWII, where the Japanese had taken over just about all of Southeast Asia and had been particularly brutal to people and captives in Malaysia and Singapore, the Malay people rebelled against the British plan to integrate them into a Crown colony and got their independence. There’s still apparently a lot of bad blood between the ethnic Malays and the Chinese, which occasionally erupts into skirmishes. They just need to remake West Side Story and get over it.

IMG_3663.jpg This is Jalan Petaling, which is a famous  shopping street in KL. “Jalan” is the word for ‘street’ in Malay, so this is technically Petaling Street.

IMG_3665.jpg Another picture of Jalan Petaling. I wasn’t really super impressed- there were a lot of closed stalls and it wasn’t very busy. I guess because it was a weekday? Lots of fake merchandise on display, of course.

IMG_3667.jpg This is the Chan See Shu Yuen Buddhist temple. What strikes me about this and other Buddhist temples here is how bright/colorful they are. Some really amazing and intricate artworks, too.


IMG_3672.jpgIMG_3674.jpgIMG_3678.jpg This is another Buddhist temple down the street, called the Wei Zhen Gong Guan Yin Temple.IMG_3682.jpgIMG_3684.jpg I took this picture because while the bell is rung from the outside like the Buddhist bells in Japan, the shape is quite a bit different.IMG_3699.jpg This is Masjid Jamek. I took this photo from a staircase at a light rail station named after it. Masjid is Malay for ‘Mosque”.

We decided to go down to the ‘city center’ which is the area near the Petronas Towers. It has a 6-floor mall underneath it.

IMG_3709.jpg The nice thing about malls when you are a few degrees from the equator is that unlike many public places, it is not open-air, and you can cool off in air conditioning.

IMG_3708.jpg This is Rotiboy. “Roti” is Malay for “bread”. They have buns to die for.

IMG_3733.jpg I have to admit: they were tasty buns.

We spent quite a bit of time in this mall, between the mid-day heat and a spot of rain to avoid. The Petronas Towers buildings are connected to the mall, but tickets for the observation deck on the 44th floor were sold out already. We had lunch at the mall, explored the Kinokuniya (a Japanese book store)- I was surprised that it was more or less a normal bookstore, since the ones I’ve been to in Japan and California are overwhelmingly Japan-centric. We decided to stay indoors for a while longer and bought tickets to see a movie- John Carter. The movie wasn’t that bad, but the ticket and concession prices were amazing. Tickets went for 9 ringgit, and I got a medium coke and a medium bag of carmel corn also for 9 ringgit, when its currently 3 ringgit to the US dollar. so a total of 6 bucks for a first-run movie and concessions? Not bad.

IMG_3716.jpgThis is the view out the exit of the mall, the Petronas Towers were behind me.

IMG_3719.jpg This is my “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” shot. The Petronas Towers are named after a rather large oil company in Malaysia, so riding around in the car you see lots of Petronas gas stations. These buildings were the ones that knocked the Sears Tower off the top of the World’s Tallest Buildings list in 1998, but only stayed there for 6 years. They are now the 6th and 7th tallest buildings in the world. They’re taller than the Kuala Lumpur Tower, but because of differences in elevation the observation deck of the latter is higher off the ground.

IMG_3732.jpg A picture from further back.

IMG_3726.jpg A picture out the front of the Petronas building- the complex also houses an opera house.

IMG_3737.jpg This is an area near yet another mall. I guess I didn’t really know what to expect from Malaysia but I didn’t really expect this. I think a big part of it is I haven’t done that much traveling abroad, and most of the places I’ve been have been developed countries (Canada, Japan) or kinda weird situations (2 of the Mexico border towns, the Soviet Union). I guess I wasn’t expecting Kuala Lumpur to be as modern as it is. But I guess considering the city itself is relatively new and there’s been so much economic development there, it’s not too surprising.

IMG_3740.jpg Next three pics are the other mall where we walked around. You can see the Petronas Towers peeking out in the second picture.IMG_3741.jpgIMG_3743.jpgIMG_3745.jpg There was a Carl’s Jr in the food court. Not exactly what I was expecting to see in Kuala Lumpur.IMG_3749.jpgThis was an outdoor food center between the mall and the light rail station. Kind of a more traditional food area. We didn’t partake.IMG_3768.jpg We took the bus from Kuala Lumpur (toward the center of Malaysia and inland) a few hours down to Malacca where X lives (it’s right on the Straits of Malacca, which separates the Indian Ocean from the Pacific). IMG_3770.jpg A pic of the bus we rode in to Malacca.

I would have liked to spend another day or so in Kuala Lumpur to see a few more sites, but in all it was a nice day in a really interesting city. More pics to come…