Melaka, Malacca, Malaysia

Melaka, a city I last visited in October 2017, is a UNESCO world heritage site thanks to its history and the buildings that persist. It used to ‘be’ Malaysia, in the sense that it was a kingdom that spread over much of the area of the country, and had huge influence. The kingdom converted to Islam, which remains the national religion, despite colonial influence from Portugal, the Netherlands and Britain.

Apart from that significance, it’s a city of good food, beautiful views over the canal, especially at night, the call to prayer sounding out and the smells of food, joss sticks and lavender as you walk through. I didn’t have long enough there in October, so headed back for six days between Singapore and KL.

The place is a little disjointed. Walking the river is a delight – albeit very hot during the day – while there are several big malls, and walking from one to the other is a pain. There aren’t many pavements, you’ll cross largish roads and be strolling along the side of some of them. You might spot the odd big lizard galloping (away from you) in the drains. Either there isn’t a will or there isn’t the money to setup pedestrian infrastructure. It is very hot, mind, so after a walk the malls are an air-conditioned joy. Each has a cinema at the top – when I was there, your choices were a couple of Chinese films, or Avengers: Infinity War.

Bus in Singapore, skyscrapers behind
Waiting for the bus in Singapore. This is not my bus.
Walkway from the bus station, Melaka
Walkway from the bus station, Melaka.
Sign: Don't mess with Melaka
Don’t mess with Melaka sign. Faintly menacing, but I think it means ‘leave our loveliness alone’.
Construction in Melaka
Construction in Melaka, view from Ringo’s foyer.
Bottle of beer by the river
Beer by the river.
Riverside living, Melaka
Riverside living, Melaka.
Bright Hello Kitty decorated cycle rickshaw.
Bright Hello Kitty decorated cycle rickshaw. These sorts of things are all over the tourist area, and make a right racket.
New mall, by the bay, Melaka.
New mall, by the bay, Melaka. Mostly empty for now.
The Dutch Graveyard.
The Dutch Graveyard.
Tourists milling in the square
Tourists milling in the square.
Proclamation of Independence memorial.
Proclamation of Independence memorial.
Cycle rickshaw making a racket.
Cycle rickshaws gather outside the Stadthuys.
Cycle rickshaws gather outside the Stadthuys.
Narrow street, Melaka
A narrow street.
Canal view from a bridge
Canal view from a bridge.
Canal view from a bridge
Canal view from a bridge.
There is art all around the river.
There is art all around the river.
Wall art (man working at bench, painted onto wall)
Wall art.
Wall art, Melaka (girl leaning out of window, painted onto wall)
Wall art, Melaka.
Tables outside restaurant on the water front
Waterfront eating.
Upstairs at Ringo's foyer, people drinking and talking
Night time at Ringo’s foyer.

Bishan parkrun, Singapore

Bishan parkrun route
Bishan parkrun route.

Singapore’s parkruns start at 7.30. A fact which surprised me, even though I have run two of them before. Still, it meant that I didn’t have to be up quite as early as I had reckoned on (when thinking it a 7am start), and could have hopped on public transport. Though, word to the wise, the nearest MRT stop, Bishan, has a late start at the moment, though the bus replacements ought to whizz you through the quiet streets in the morning.

I had realised the night before that my hostel wasn’t that near a convenient MRT station, nor that near the park, but an 8km jog isn’t that daunting, so I left at 6.25 and passed plenty of other people taking advantage of relative cool to slot in some exercise. For many people (though not everyone, I’ve seen a few out at midday), if you haven’t been out by 9, you’ve missed your slot.

I was pretty hot and sweaty by the time I got there, with no real chance of cooling down in these temperatures. The runners gather by the finish, a little further on, anti-clockwise, than the start. So long as you’re in the right bit of the park, you can’t really miss them, though nothing much is visible before 7 – you might find a cone with an arrow on, depending on how early they’ve set them up. Attendance was down to 29 after the opening week, which made for a happy group of runners and volunteers chatting together.

Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park.
Bishan-Ang Mo Kio park.

The run itself is two loops of the park, plus a little bit to the finish. It’s all flat, and there are no 180 degree turns, but it still isn’t as quick as it might be. I think that was partly the heat, but also just that the park is busy, and you’ll be dodging a few people as you scoot round.

Bishan parkrun finish.
Bishan parkrun finish.

Afterwards I waited around and chatted, then wandered to the MRT to get back. My kit was still soaked through after an air-conditioned ride, so it was some relief to shower and change. Heat, that’s the main thing you’ll experience on your Singapore parkrun, but they are all friendly and fun too.

Singapore Botanical gardens

My day started early, meeting ex-colleague and my frequent visit in Singapore, June, to go and see Avengers, Infinity War. On her recommendation we went to Shaw Lido, which has some great screens.

Thanos' Gauntlet on display outside a cinema, in front of a large A for Avengers
Thanos’ Gauntlet, Avengers Infinity war.

Sitting outside after lunch, it took me a while to notice the ornament on display. It had a steady queue of people wandering up to take photos, but I found a moment.

Having walked the few kms to the Lido, I wasn’t too far from the Botanical gardens so, as the clouds cleared to leave a bright, sunny and hot day, I walked up there to have a look round. It’s a large area, with a learning forest, orchid display, marketplace and so on. Lots of people there, but enough space to leave it uncrowded.

Singapore Botanical Gardens entry gate.
Singapore Botanical Gardens entry gate.
Swan Lake
Swan Lake.
Swan Lake, with a sculpture of swans in the middle.
Swan Lake.
Trees in the Botanical gardens.
Botanical gardens.
Wide paths and verdant views.
Wide paths and verdant views.
Tall pink flowers tower over two people
Pink flowers.
Looking up at AA giant tree
Giant tree, pre-dates British involvement in Singapore.
Rainforest walk.
Rainforest walk.
Gardens on a sunny day.
Gardens on a sunny day.
Gingers waterfall, just a couple of metres high.
Gingers waterfall.
Two people stand behind the waterfall, holding a hand out to feel the water tumble.
Step behind the waterfall.
A large lizard on the ground
Nearly stepped on this lizard.
Orchid garden. A riot of red, pink, yellow and white colour
Orchid garden.
Pink orchids
Orchid close up.
High plants that you can walk in between as their leaves meet over the top of you
Botanical gardens walk through.

Heading home, I decided against the 5km+ walk and hopped on the MRT to visit the National Library and read some Marvel. Also recommended.

Darwin parkrun, NT

Darwin parkrun route
Darwin parkrun route.

Peel club! That’s what the Aussies call the group of people who have run a parkrun in every Australian state, and today I joined them. This wasn’t the toughest in gradient or terrain, being a mildly undulating run on paved paths along Darwin’s waterfront. But it has to have a 7am start because otherwise it is too hot. 25 degrees or so for the run, and heading up steadily to 35 over the day, and very humid, which makes a lovely warm blanket settling over you on the run. It’s not the easiest. Apparently it can be much less humid in winter, and around 19 degrees – pleasantly warm but not punishingly so, and if you can visit in July, I’d recommend it.

Runners, Darwin parkrun
Out and back course, so you can see others.

It’s all as well organised as you’d want. No marshals out on course, but it’s pretty straightforward – cross the field to start, run along the main path of the esplanade, ignoring the loops off to the left (on the way out); turn around at the cone at the far end, back to the path at the beginning (but not the field), turn around and do it all again. On the second lap, cut left across the field to finish, as the cone tells you.

The sign on the cone shows you, at any rate.

View after the turnaround point.
View after the turnaround point.

There are toilets at the start, which is near the car park at the South end of the esplanade. From the YHA I stayed in, it’s a short walk, so I could roll out of bed at 6.30 and make it without any worries.

Darwin parkrun finish.
Darwin parkrun finish.

It’s hot, though. Really hot.

Mansfield QLD parkrun

Mansfield QLD parkrun route
Mansfield QLD parkrun route.

Back in Brisbane, and I was staying in Carindale. It’s a large, well-to-do suburb, which means parts of it are not terribly convenient for public transport, if well linked by roads. But it is well served for parkruns, with Wishart, Minnippi and Mansfield within a few kms. I ran the inaugural at Minnippi in November 2013, so the offer of a lift there from my host still wasn’t enough to tempt me. Nor was the idea of getting up before 5 to run to the station in order to hop on a train to Zillmere. Stuff the Z, I’ll go for a nearby one.

Race to the finish, Mansfield QLD parkrun.
Race to the finish, Mansfield QLD parkrun.

All of which sums up my decision – Mansfield QLD, because it was a jog away and because it’ll let me attempt a Mansfield match-up when back in the UK. And, when I looked, there’s a Mansfield, Ohio, with a parkrun, too, so I will take that in if I get near later in the year.

The start line, head in this direction. Blue signs give an idea of where to stand according to your finish time.
The start line, head in this direction. Blue signs give an idea of where to stand according to your finish time.

The route is usually on a bikeway which is currently being resurfaced, so they are running an alternate course. It involves three out and back sections, the first heading up and round the water, the second back along there, under the bridge and along the edge of the golf club at the top of the map. Then finally, back along the original path, past the start/finish, out to the bridge that is being worked on, and back.

View from the bridge, as you’d see it on the way back from the second out and back section. Or not at all, if on the usual course.
View from the bridge, as you’d see it on the way back from the second out and back section. Or not at all, if on the usual course.

On a sunny day, 7am felt the ideal start time as the sun climbed in the sky. There’s a gradual climb on the top section, and the 3 u-turns are there to slow you down, so it isn’t the quickest, but is on very good surfaces. The event team were as competent and friendly as ever.

Runners cross the finish line. The taller runner didn’t actually win the sprint, but the other fella stopped short of the line.
Runners cross the finish line. The taller runner didn’t actually win the sprint, but the other fella stopped short of the line.

Numbers vary. We had 161 finishers, the same as three weeks before, but the two weeks in between saw 90 and 105 runners. Those are all manageable numbers for the paths, with a nice stream of people coming by on the other side of the path. The inaugural saw 375 runners; plenty of other parkruns in Brisbane for people to visit from, and they have only once got over half that number since. That said, this was only event 39, so there’s plenty of room to grow.

View of the beginning/middle of the course, on the alternate route.
View of the beginning/middle of the course, on the alternate route.

Pegasus parkrun, New Zealand

Pegasus parkrun route
Pegasus parkrun route. It wiggles, but is fast.

My final bit of time in New Zealand, with just time to squeeze in one last parkrun. I started in Christchurch, running Hagley, and could now run what is for now the other one in the city, Pegasus (edit – Foster started on 27/10/18).

Pegasus is actually a separate place, a little North of the centre of Christchurch. It’s mostly pretty new, so there’s not that much there, but it does have a lovely sculpted park, with a path that runs, weaving as it goes, round its edge. The course is two equal laps, running through the start after lap one, then veering off to the left for the finish after lap two.

Pegasus parkrun start
Pegasus parkrun start – I spotted the camera.

It isn’t actually perfectly flat, with a slight downhill at the start as you head off the grass and onto the path a few metres in. On a cool Autumn morning, with volunteers draped in clothes to stand around, there was a fair breeze, too, which made the back straight and run in to the finish testing. But it was behind us at the start, and that helped get me going. Even though I must have lost more time than I gained from the wind, I thanked it for helping me to my quickest mile in some time, comfortably under 6 minutes, and managed to hold on to two more just-over-6 minute miles to come in with my quickest parkrun since December 2016. It’s also my quickest in New Zealand, with Lower Hutt the next fastest. Not that that means much about the relative merits of other courses, as my fitness has varied – Palmerston North and Anderson are definitely fast. I was chuffed, though.

Finishing Pegasus parkrun
Finishing Pegasus parkrun.

The course has lots of small curves in, and has a relatively small field (so you may not have a group pushing you on). That said, it’s a great atmosphere, a lovely run, and surprisingly quick. I can only think that all those little wiggles forced me to check in with myself, reminding me to keep pushing, rather than allowing me to drift down a long straight. It’s a lovely run, with great people, and highly recommended whether you fancy a blast or just easing yourself round.

Apparently it also has a great cafe nearby, but I had to dash off to hop on a plane to Auckland and thence to the Gold Coast. I got an envious look or two from people seeking out their warmer clothes and anticipating colder days to come.

Air Force Museum of New Zealand, Christchurch

Near my accomodation in Christchurch, albeit 8km from the centre of Christchurch itself, is the Air Force Museum of New Zealand. As at April 2018, it is a work in progress, expanding, but there is still plenty to see. The history is interesting, and the numbers of pilots and others from New Zealand involved in the World Wars is salutary – giving the lie to the idea of plucky Britain standing alone. The museum does a great job in livening things with the stories of individuals, though there are facts and figures as well. Those from combat operations are poignant in themselves, and also because those squadrons are now retired; most with the end of WW2, but some more recently, when New Zealand removed its combat capability.

A gallery of some of the sights to see is below.

Hagley Oval, Christchurch, England v New Zealand 2nd test

Cricinfo scorecard, Eng v NZ second test.

An Autumn test match, in often Autumnal weather – a risk, but one that more or less came off. That said, the clocks went back on the Sunday morning, before day 3, and the last three days started half an hour earlier. But not an hour earlier, which would have been effectively the same time. The change was only announced a day or two beforehand, suggesting it just hadn’t been thought of. Ultimately, that cost a pile of cricket, not so much on the last day, when England under bowled James Anderson but rushed through overs with Root and Malan contributing and got through more than the 98 mandated because of a clear day. But the night before, play had ended early because cloud cover made it too dark, and over 20 overs were lost.

Sunny weather, Hagley Oval
Sunny weather, crowd lazing from the side of the pitch.

I missed the first two days, heading down to Wanaka for the parkrun, but the match was nicely poised on day three. It was still so on day 5, with England needing all 10 wickets to win. They would have wanted 2 or 3 the evening before, denied by stubborn openers and a curtailed session. That mattered less after 2 balls, when Broad removed Laval with a loosener, chipping to mid wicket, and Williamson with a decent ball. That made up for the lack of wickets on the Monday, but ultimately New Zealand held out. Although England finally took a wicket in the 100+th over of the day, by then there were only minutes left, Wagner wisely reviewed it to kill a couple of them, Southee meandered out only to be told there was no need. New Zealand picked up a great draw and a deserved series win, albeit one that was secured in the first couple of hours of day 1 at Auckland, after which England gradually improved and were the better team (if marginally) for most of the second test. They didn’t take 20 wickets in either test, though, again looking toothless, though at least the changed attack for test 2 saw wickets for the support acts, Wood and Leach, the latter’s celebrations particularly joyous.

View from the bank, Hagley Oval
Dark shadows later in the day.

As for the supporter experience; it was great, though cold after 2 or 3 in the afternoon. The wind whips across Hagley park, and finds you wherever you sit. I was in a jumper from 2 each day, even the sunny ones, and by the close was glad to switch into running gear and warm up by running the four miles home. The ground is beautiful, apparently one of 6 (or so?) ’boutique’ grounds around New Zealand. There’s only one permanent structure, covering maybe 10% of the boundary, with some stands erected to provide seating opposite the main building, a few large umbrellas for shade and otherwise everyone sitting on the raised banking. As TMS put it, 5-6,000 makes it look full, where at Eden Park even twice that looks empty. I wandered round at different times, partly for a different view and, later, to keep warm. During the lunch break, supporters were invited onto the field, whereon those with kids would play on the outfield and those without would stand at one end, near the pitch, gazing and looking for clues. Brilliant.

Hagley Oval panorama.
Hagley Oval panorama.

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