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Win a second wife – free

Putting the “Wow” back into travel with incredible giveaways and even a Lexus if you're under two.

Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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SUDDENLY ASIA’S LIMP NOODLE has sprung back, cautiously al dente. Wherever I turn there are now people beseeching me to come up and see them some time – usually, to pay my bills. Just a month ago travellers were pariahs, confined to 10-day quarantines if they so much as looked at an air ticket. I started looking at legs instead but my wife was not impressed. Finally mustering the moxie I flew to Malaysia only to be informed by a major multinational company that it was corporate policy not to meet with persons from SARS-affected countries. Malaysia was a SARS affected country back then and I worried over how this company was getting staff to work and back without bumping into anyone else.

Now sniffy Hongkong is wooing the feckless Philippines and the tourism boards of both countries have signed an M.O.U to jointly market the two. Who said never the twain shall meet? Asia’s World City meets WOW Philippines, as the two tag lines go. It’s a clever combination. Take a dollop of slick financial centre and toss in a coral island or two and you get Asia’s World Island. No, you get Wow What the Heck is a World City? Sorry, um… Philippines Asia’s World City? Well, you get the drift.

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On the one hand you have Hongkong, with all the trappings of a glitzy international centre – traffic, pollution and a former finance secretary whose baby tossed the pram and demanded a Lexus, as befits any baby born in Asia’s World City. (So what if the finance secretary raised the tax on luxury cars a week after his purchase?) On the other, you have the romantic Philippines – with sun-drenched islands, music and visa-free mystery ASEAN tours by innovative travel agents like Abu Sayyaf. Put it all together and you get the highest per capita incidence of babies who own Lexus cars and possess the ability to sing just about any top-40 MTV song, contrapuntally. WOW!

You'll find sun-drenched islands, music and visa-free mystery ASEAN tours by innovative travel agents like Abu Sayyaf

Visitors to Hongkong also get a Welcome Passport listing shopping and dining discounts and free gifts at jewellers – most with thoughtful stickers reading, FREE GIFT OUT OF STOCK. Get 50 percent off a tour that takes you up the Central escalator. Or simply go up the escalator FREE as most people do. Read up on Hongkong, Beijing’s Asia City, at the lively www.HkUnmasked.com.

But wait a minute. How can Hongkong be Asia’s World City when we all know that Malaysia is Truly Asia? Michelle Yeoh would never lie. And Truly Asia has a party planned all year, like no other. Just make sure you are not a Norwegian named Sars. August kicks off the Mega Sale Carnival. Prices are set to drop lower than Anna Nicole Smith’s décolletage.

Business travellers may also wish to mark their diaries for the Livestock Asia Exhibition and Bugfest Malaysia 2003. It is not clear if the latter involves eating bugs (which might interest Australians) or simply bugging Singaporeans by taking pictures of sparkling spring-fed mineral water as they stock up on bottles of recycled toilet sludge or New Water, as it is fashionable termed – because Malaysia is turning off the tap.

Sentosa foam parties are another way to keep clean. there's a webcam there too so you can keep your bosses posted

Yet Singapore has been quickest off the blocks. It has launched a “Singapore Roars” campaign that combines lucky draws and terrific discounts. “Roaring Great Deals” includes buy-one-get-one offers. Get married in Singapore and they’ll give you a second wife FREE. Now you’ll know what a CONVERSATION really is.

If this were not enough, there’s a new website, www.SingaporeCanLah.com, offering among other things, a live webcam from five spots including the Orchard and Scotts intersection. This is a great tool for executive travellers as they can gather on Orchard Road and wave to their bosses around the world to prove that they are ACTUALLY IN SINGAPORE AND DOING THEIR JOB rather than goofing off.

Singapore has more. You could lunch with the lions at the zoo (though breakfast with Ah Mei the orang-utan has been stopped after protests from do-gooder animal rights groups). Spoil-sports. Ah Mei was evolving quite nicely and was about a week away from getting a driver’s licence and her first Harry Potter. Goodbye Charles Darwin. Hello bananas. Sentosa foam parties are another way to keep clean. Fortunately there’s a webcam there too so you can keep your boss posted.

In Thailand things are more understated. Amazing Thailand has given way to Unseen Thailand and people are now burrowing into back sois and people’s homes to look into laundry baskets and under the beds, turning up remarkable unseen items. My mother has been searching about 25 years for my school underwear to give it a good wash. Perhaps it will turn up. October 28 is my birthday. Mark it down. I may not be the finance secretary’s kid but I’d be happy to accept a Lexus.

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