Beyond the Bike 2015/16 - Bamboo with a View.

Stories from the people, places and personal challenges encountered by riding a bamboo bike through Africa and Asia.
4 minutes reading time (747 words)

UAE and Singapore - Gateways to Asia

The most expensive gateways to Asia and good models of benign dictatorship? A short blog about the start of our Asian adventures where the most shocking things were the amount of building work and how much money we spent! After four months in Africa where we usually got by on a few dollars a day (apart from visas and a few touristy things), we were very upset!

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We flew from Cape Town to Dubai (after bribing the Emirates man to let us put our bikes on the plane - his suggestion, not ours FYI). We had a week in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, again experiencing wonderful hospitality. Our best experience was heading out to the desert for a camping, dune bashing (Stu drove, I didn't) and golf. A wonderful day/night albeit very cold!

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Human evolution lessons in the desert?

On our first day a Dubai resident asked 'what do you think of our sterile city' and that adjective does make sense. The city is certainly impressive and it was a great experience to see the huge and rather beautiful skyscrapers and lovely to be somewhere where everything was clean and worked! However, there was something very 'unreal' about everything. The amount of money shown so ostentatiously only made us wonder all the more about the poor underclasses who usually are building the awe-inspiring skylines. Abu Dhabi felt a little more 'real' but Saadiyat Island's amazing cultural city plans are something to behold! Emiratis only make up a very small percentage of people living in the UAE and they are treated very well and it must be said that Sheik Mohammed (and family) has a lot of vision and even generosity. Yet again discussions  often turned to the role and benefits of ‘benign dictatorship’. These discussions started in Rwanda surfaced again in UAE and, of course, in Singapore where Lee Kuan Yew’s vision has seen this island become one of  the most successful  economies in Asia.

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 The impressive and very new skylines of Dubai and Sinagpore

We spent time in two schools, Dubai College and Cranleigh Abu Dhabi. We enjoyed both very much and the staff and pupils impressed us a great deal.  We are very grateful to their donations and support for the charities. We talked at both schools about the 'value of life' (one of Stu's economic themes) and this was never more brought home to us than when we hard about the blood money of 200,000 dirhams (c.$40,000) payable to the families of people run over and killed.  This has led to terrible and tragic occurrences of people from the poorest families walking into the (14 lane) roads so their families got the money.

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 Stu leading a year 13 Economics seminar and speaking to year 12 and 10 pupils for PSHE!

Then to Singapore, the real gateway to Asia, where the humidity was the first and most striking (and worrying for the future cycling) thing to hit us. Again, we spoke at two great schools, Tanglin and United World College and again we were most impressed by the staff and students. At UWC after speaking I was approached by a girl call Kim who said she was from Cambodia and wanted to talk about her country before we went there.  Later, her teacher told us that Kim used to work on a rubbish dump and was at UWC on a full scholarship and doing brilliantly. There were several other students like Kim there, which was very refreshing and very different from lots of big international schools.  Again we were delighted and grateful with both schools’ support and donations for the project and charities.

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 Cycling around Singapore we met Larry and Apple the parrot!

We had a lovely time in Singapore, catching up with several old friends (even if one of them does work too hard - Charlotte!), and spending a weekend with both sets of our parents. We enjoyed some jungle hikes and some warm up cycles around the island, (I especially enjoyed the flat terrain) before setting off for the bridge to Malaysia accompanied by an eclectic group of new and old friends. Final thanks to Patrick at UWC for helping to organise this.

As one of our hosts remarked ‘Singapore is Asia Light’  and so it really was a great gateway to Asia. Now we are in Malaysia which is 'a mixture of Africa and Singapore' as one of the teachers commented. So far that seems pretty true. More on Malaysia soon.

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