Siem Reap

After an easy trip via MRT from the Cruise Port to the Changi Airport, and a pleasant night at the Crowne Plaza, where we discovered we could check all the stuff we didn’t need to bring (souvenirs, formal wear, etc.) we lightened up our load and headed for Siem Reap, arriving bright and early yesterday morning. Formalities at the airport were minimal, with the major event being the purchase of a visa. If you come here, be aware that you need to bring copies of your passport picture (or possibly, an equivalent size photo) for your visa. I had read that somewhere and threw in a couple, fortunately. US dollars are widely accepted in Cambodia, and without the ‘new bills only’ emphasis that we found in Myanmar. We were picked up at the airport by our hostess Judy, and our driver for the duration of our stay Mr. Chang. It is HOT here, worse even than Myanmar and Malaysia, I think. We opted to get settled in at the hotel, the Borei Angkor Resort, and spend a couple of hours at the National Museum to get oriented for our several days of doing temple tours.

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The National Museum is relatively new and quite well done, with excellent exhibits, ample English language signage, and a multi-lingual audio program with short film loops at various points in the museum where you can select the language you want for the audio. In addition to English, it is available in Cambodian, Chinese, Japanese, French, and, I think, Korean, although I didn’t really quite recognize the script, as well as Thai and, again a guess, Vietnamese. Our two hours there provided a good grounding for our first day of temple exploration today.

After consulting with hostess Judy, we decided to start with the two temples built by King Jayavarman VII, Ta Prohm, which was dedicated to his mother, and Angkor Thom’s Bayon Temple. Ta Phrom is also know as the Lara Croft Tomb Raider temple, and the dvd of the movie was available in our hotel room. We watched a bit of it, just to see the part that was filmed here. Also advised by Judy, we decided to start out at 6:30 AM both to avoid the crowds and to get our start before it became unbearably hot – both good ideas. We were met in the hotel lobby by our guide and set on off on our first day’s adventure promptly at 6:30, and were on the temple grounds by 7:00. It is an amazing site, which has had relatively little preservation and restoration work done, and serves as an example of what the French found in 1901 when the overall Angkor complex was rediscovered. Inscriptions (and our guide) indicated that some 80,000 people were engaged in the construction of the Ta Prohm temple in 1186 AD, and the complete site is enormous, with 39 original towers linked by galleries. Most of it is in ruins now, and it has been heavily looted over the year, most recently by the army of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot, but there are still incredibly well preserved carvings and bas relief panels that provide a sense of how magnificent it must have been in its prime. Now it is wildly atmospheric with all the vines and tree roots and tumbled stones.

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In both Ta Prohm and the Bayon Temple in the Angkor Thom complex, early conflicts between the Buddhist and Hindu kings resulted in many of the Buddha statues and carvings being defaced or repurposed and recarved as Hindu deities, although both temples were constructed during the time when animism and Hinduism were being replaced in Cambodia by Buddhism. Bayon was built a few years later, around 1190 AD by the same king, either in celebration of a great victory over his foes from Thailand, or in compensation for the great slaughter that took place during this conflict (opinions vary) The Bayon temple is also known as the Temple of the Smiling Buddha. Most of the monumental smiling faces, of which there are over 200, were left intact by the later conquering Hindus, because they are four sided and could also be representations of the four faces of Brahma. It is thought that the faces are modeled on the face of King Jayavarman VII, himself, and there is a great resemblance between the monumental images and the smaller relief portraits that are known to be representations of the king. Walls and galleries are intricately carved with images of the battles, both land and naval, as well as with scenes of daily life in Cambodia during this period, with people shown cooking, eating and drinking, training for sports and combat, dancing, and working at all manner of tasks and professions.

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By the time we got to Bayon, it was around 8:30 or so, and the tour groups were starting to arrive so we didn’t have the site as much to ourselves as we did at Ta Prohm, and it was starting to get hot as well. Our guide was quite expert at moving us around the groups, though, for the most part and we were able to get a good perspective on the highlights of the temple, although we were quite ready to leave when it was time to go at about 9:30. Showers and breakfast were followed by a massage for Dennis and a nap for me.

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Tomorrow, we will start early again and have Angkor Wat itself on the program. Since we have several more days here, we plan to just do that tomorrow morning, and perhaps visit the Artisan’s Village in the afternoon.

Singapore Redux

We arrived back in the Singapore Cruise Terminal a day before scheduled on what was to have been a sea day according to the original itinerary. This made two nights in port and an extra part of a day and a full extra evening in Singapore. We didn’t take advantage of the evening out, however, as the long hot day in Kuala Lumpur took a lot out of both of us, so we checked a couple of transportation issues from the Cruise Terminal and had an early evening on our ‘bonus’ night in Singapore.

While we were sailing, the founding father of Singapore, the 91 year old Lee Kuan Yew, passed away, and his funeral was on Sunday, our full day and night in Singapore prior to disembarking. We had already booked the Night Safari for the evening, and decided to take the MRT to Marina Bay to visit the Gardens by the Bay. We had been told that traffic in downtown would be horrible as close to a half a million people were lining the route of the funeral cortege and that everything would be shut down at around 3:45 as silence would be observed in respect for Mr. Lee. We planned our day to be back by around 1 so we could watch the solemnities during the afternoon.

In spite of a forecast of partly cloudy, we got caught in one of Singapore’s cloud bursts, accompanied by thunder and lightning and opted to explore the two indoor domed gardens at the Gardens by the Bay – The Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest Dome. Admission prices are steep, but the two domes are amazing. The Flower Dome was featuring a special display of tulips, designed around a fairy tale theme with the tales of the Little Mermaid, Cinderella’s Coach, the Snow Queen, and Snow White presented in tableaus with massed planting of, mostly, tulips and hyacinths. The standard exhibits were grouped by ecological zones and were equally impressive. The Cloud Forest dome was amazing. It houses the world’s highest indoor artificial waterfall which helps to provide the proper atmosphere for the tropical plantings which included thousands of orchids, many varieties of ferns, anthuriums of all colors and descriptions, and pitcher plants and other carnivorous plants, which were also colorfully portrayed in Legos. There were suspended walkways at various levels throughout the dome so that the observer could get close to the vertical plantings and also look down upon the canopy plantings. All in all, a truly remarkable indoor garden experience.

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We learned a lot about the development and history of modern Singapore from listening to the eulogies for Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, and about his many remarkable achievements. Among other things, although of Chinese ancestry, Mr. Lee grew up during the British colonial era, speaking only English. He learned Mandarin at the age of 30 and then went on to also become fluent in Malay and spoke some Hindi as well. His commitment to multi-lingualism, multi-culturalism, education, and a core set of values promoting hard work, honesty, opposition to corruption in government, thrift, and pride in self and nation shaped Singapore into the place it is today. He must have been a truly remarkable man, and clearly was still much loved here and valued by his colleagues around the world. Personalities as different as Henry Kissinger and Bill Clinton both called him friend and were in attendance at the services, along with other regional and world leaders. Nearly a half million of the citizens of Singapore lined the rainy streets to watch his coffin go through the city from where it had been lying in state and tens of thousands more gathered at community centers throughout the city to watch the eulogies and funeral services.

After this, we weren’t all that much in the mood for the Night Safari, but the plans were made and not cancellable, and the rain had let up, so we went ahead and arrived to find even more information about Mr. Lee and his support for biodiversity (he brought back plants from his travels that he thought would thrive in Singapore’s climate, and followed up personally with the botanists in the gardens to see if his finds were doing well!) and for the educational missions of the botanical gardens and zoological parks. The Night Safari turned out to be a disappointment for Dennis, especially, as the lighting was such that photography was impossible. We were able to see something of the animals, but it wasn’t my favorite of the zoo and garden experiences in Singapore. We did enjoy the ‘Fire Dance’ show and I was able to get some video of it, as well.

 

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This morning we packed up our things and disembarked the ship and took the MRT back to the Crowne Plaza at the Changi Airport, to prepare for the next chapter in our Southeast Asia adventure. Tomorrow, we will fly to Siem Reap and spend the next several days exploring the Angkor Archeological Park and the other attractions around Siem Reap.

Phuket

What a difference a day makes! Plus a really terrific guide, and a much smaller group. Still hot and humid, but we had a terrific day with our Tours By Locals guide Jo – a charming and very witty young woman. We had a nicely appointed spacious van with great air conditioning and a good driver and made our way first to an overlook point where three of the most famous beach areas on Phuket were visible. From there, we did our elephant ride. These are all over the tourist region, and our particular ‘elephant camp’ also had a zip line and ATV rides on offer. There truly isn’t much to the whole process but at least we can say we’ve ridden an elephant, and the animals seem well treated and well fed, if a little bit bored by it all, as I’m sure they are. Still, probably a better life than they used to have hauling logs out the jungle.

 

From the elephant ride, we went to visit the Big Buddha on top of one of the higher hills on Phuket Island and overlooking Chalong Bay. A bit like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Cathedral, the Big Buddha temple complex has been under construction for decades, and there are still decades of work to be done, but it is still an impressive work, even at the current state of completion. The principal figure of Buddha is a seated 45 meter statue covered in white marble facing.

 

Jo kept us laughing, while also providing a good bit of historical and cultural information as we toured the various sites, and during the drives between as well. Our next stop was the Wat Chalong temple complex, which reputedly houses a fragment of bone from the Buddha and is said to be a place of miracles. It also has a chimney affair where fire cracker offerings are set off on behalf of worshipers who have made vows to make such offerings if their prayers are answered. From the number of frequency of fire crackers going off, it certainly sounded like a like of prayers were indeed being answered! Our final stop was a cashew nut factory with lots of yummy free samples and many flavor varieties.

 

Phuket is, along with Chang Mai, a largely tourism driven economy, with over 70% of the local economy dependent on the industry. It is also home to a large colony of expats – largely Australian and Scandinavian retirees – and a couple of enclaves of surfers and surf instructors. Foreigners can own homes and condos, but not the land beneath them. This law was enacted largely to protect the other regions of Thailand, which remain largely agricultural. Although there are a few high rises, they have now been banned, preserving view corridors. Historically, Phuket was the center of the tin trade, established first by the Portuguese, dating back to the sixteenth century, then taken over first by the French and later, by the English. There are numerous off shore islands that are included in Phuket’s district, and the island itself is about the same size as Singapore, but far less densely populated. Nature preserves and national parks in the district feature elephants, gibbons, and lemurs, and there are numerous road side bird and monkey shows, often in conjunction with the elephant camps. Beaches are the principal attraction and several movies have been made in the area, including one of the James Bond series and the movie The Beach. Phi Phi island is often included in lists of the world’s best beaches.

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Volendam

This is our first time on this ship, the third Holland America cruise and vessel we have been on.  She is a sister ship to the Rotterdam, which was our last ship, for our trip last spring to Scandinavia.  She was just in for a major drydock and revamp in December of 2014 and the public spaces have been rearranged, and some new cabin categories added.  Holland decided that some of the formerly ocean view cabins located along the Promenade Deck could be converted into something between and ocean view and a balcony cabin by making a patio door in the wall facing the Promenade Deck.  Many people have found this to be very objectionable, while others adore this new configuration.  I don’t think I would particularly care for it, as you would have virtually no privacy without keeping your cabin drapes closed all the time, and there are folks tramping by on the deck outside your door at all hours of the day and night.  Other people object to the loss of space on the Promenade for deck chairs as room has to be made for the cabin occupants to come and go through their patio doors.  It must make economic sense for Holland, though, since they went to the expense of retrofitting the ships in this class to accommodate the new cabin category.  In addition to the reconfigured bar and shop area and new cabins, the bathrooms of some of the higher end cabin categories got a remake and the soft goods got a spruce up as well.

While not as small as our favorite former Renaissance Cruises ‘R’ships that carry just under 700 people, the Volendam and her sisters are comfortable sized vessels, spacious without being overwhelming, with ample entertainment and dining options and a passenger capacity just under 1500.  We so much enjoyed our experience with the Neptune Suite on the Rotterdam that we also booked that cabin category for this trip.  In addition to a nice large cabin with separate seating and sleeping space, we also have access to the Neptune Lounge which is similar to the club lounge in a hotel, with the exception of the free alcohol at happy hour.  There is a continental breakfast, snacks and coffee, lattes and expressos all day, and a dedicated concierge staff who seemingly, can get anything done you need to have done with any department on the ship from the dining room reservations to the excursions desk.  There are other ‘perks’ with the suite, but it is principally the lounge and conceirge that we use and find is sufficient ‘value added’ that we will spend the difference for the upgrade.

Our minimalist packing was such that we don’t even scratch the surface of the available storage, but, like most people in this modern world, we have more gadgets to plug in than we have plugs. We do carry ‘multiplug’ strips with us now, having learned from prior trips that this is usually the case.  This is such a port intensive itinerary that we won’t have much ‘recharge’ time for our devices (or for ourselves!)  We start right off with a port call in the morning to Malacca (or Melekka) Malaysia.  We will be doing a walking tour there, booked through Tours by Locals, with five other people from our Cruise Critic roll call.  This will be our first day together, and we will be sharing several other tours over the next two weeks.  Fingers crossed for good compatibility!

Penang

IMG_6741 IMG_6756 IMG_6740 IMG_6734 IMG_6724 IMG_6717 IMG_6713 IMG_6709 IMG_6700 IMG_6696I must admit that I started the day with ‘attitude’ – Penang is famous for the food and there are a lot of food tours. We had booked one called Heritage on a Plate that had been getting rave reviews on Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic. Unfortunately, a few days before we left home, I got an email from the tour operator cancelling our tour, because, he said, his competitors were, evidently resenting his glowing reviews and increased business, starting to harass his guides and guests and he didn’t want us to have a less than pleasant experience. So, since time was so short, I did a ship’s tour booking for a similar tour The Penang Spice Trail, a walking tour with a food demonstration and sampling. When we got to the ship and started going through all our assorted information, that tour, too had been cancelled. We picked, more or less at random, a 4 hour tour called Hills and Temples. I wasn’t happy, but figured we’d get to see something of the area, at least.

 

Well, a lot of circumstances can influence how you experience a port in a one shot few hour exposure. Yesterday, for instance, we had a brilliant day with a fabulous guide who was charming, well informed and knew how to pace a tour and a group. Today, in the ‘sister’ UNESCO World Heritage site-Georgetown and Malacca are linked, so that if one loses the designation, so does the other – we had an almost exact opposite experience. Of course, yesterday was a private tour for 7 people and today was a ship (or as my pal Dee calls them sheep) tour, three buses of which we were the last – group of 27, I think. Our guide started out with a couple of unfunny sexually oriented jokes and sort of went downhill from there. The two sites we visited were both mobbed, it being one of the four major school holidays in this district of Malaysia.  Traffic was heavy and it took quite a while to reach our first stop, which was Penang Hill, which is very reminiscent of the funicular ride in Bergen Norway – I think the funicular trains were actually made by the same Swiss company. The primary attraction in both cases is a stunning overview of the city and waterways that lay below the vantage point. The lines were enormous, and it was very very hot and humid. There is substantial commercial development at the summit and you can have pictures taken with parrots, kids can visit a 3-D interactive Owl Museum, there are numerous food vendors, caricaturists, artists, and hawkers of all stripes. Back in the day, it was principally a summer residence area for the British officers and officials, and now there are some upscale hotels and resorts in the same area. Views were pretty minimal due to haze, probably from air pollution, and after a fairly brief stay, we were herded back down to more lines to reboard the funicular for the ride down, which was pretty thrilling, as we were in the front car and it is really steep and goes pretty fast – reminiscent of a straight roller coaster.

 

We then re-entered the heavy traffic for our ride to to the Kek Lok Si Temple, or the Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas. The builders of this particular temple seemed to be governed by the principle of ‘nothing succeeds like excess’ – really gaudy, moving into the realm of kitch. Overrun with vendors, beggars, and, the ever present hawkers, along with all the shops and stalls run by the monks themselves to raise money to maintain the existing temple and build even more. Our guide did manage to give some history of the place, but most of his commentary was concentrated on the differences between the school of Buddhism he practiced and that practiced by the denizens of the temple, and there was no doubt which one he considered superior. He got so involved in this theological lecture that he seemed to forget what time he had told the folks who didn’t want to walk up the 200 plus stairs to the temple’s main level to be back at the bus. Consequently, the whole excursion ran late, and we had early dinner reservations, so by the time it was over, I was getting to the point of crankiness. Adding to my lack of thrill at this particular guide and tour was his very near order to the tour participants to be sure and tip the driver! I did tip the driver, but not the tour guide!

 

Anyway, not my favorite excursion ever, and I didn’t come away with anything like a sense of the place, unhappily, other than that it is very crowded, not very well maintained, and excessively hot. On the fact side, I did learn that this is the only state in Malaysia’s federation where the majority population is Chinese, and Buddhist, although they are gradually losing ground to the Indian Muslim population. We did see a wide range of Muslim dress from the full on head to toe black with only a slit for the eyes to younger women who wore the head dress but otherwise western dress, some even in leggings – no shorts though – the girls in shorts were either tourists or local non-Muslims, but no one seemed to be uncomfortable nor did I observe any harassment or difficulties between the Muslim and non-Muslim populations and there were even groups of girls that included Muslim girls in traditional dress and Malay and Chinese girls in western dress, including shorts. Perhaps a hopeful sign for all of our futures? One can hope at any rate.

 

Tomorrow we are back to a private tour, in Phuket Thailand – it will include an elephant ride, so that should be interesting!

Malacca

IMG_6653 IMG_6668 IMG_6670 IMG_6676 IMG_6682 IMG_6691If you read enough ‘period’ literature, you will associate Malacca with walking sticks, and/or sword sticks which the hero is likely to whip out to rescue the damsel in distress or save himself from footpads.  Malaca is a derivation of a Malay word for rattan, and it is from rattan that these walking sticks were made.  The city of Malacca (or Meleka in Malay) is the principal city in the region of Malacca, the third smallest of the Malaysian states, located in southern Malaysia on the narrowest part of the Straits of Malacca.

Historically a sultanate, Malacca was conquered by the Portugese in the early 16th Century, and remained a Portugese colony until 1654, when the Dutch defeated the Portugese in the region, and it was ruled by the Dutch from 1654 until it was ceded to the British in exchange for territory in Sumatra in a treaty in 1824.  It remained under British control from 1824 until the post World War II era, when it became first, a part of the Malaysian Union, then the Malaysian Federation, and at last, current day Malaysia.

Malacca’s population is multi-ethnic, but dominated by the Malay people, with over 60% of the population. There is a substantial Chinese minority population, something over 23% and the remaining population includes the decendents of the Portuguese, Dutch and English settlers, as well as Indian and other southeast Asian ethnic groups. The population is predominantly Muslim, with Buhddism a distant second, followed by Hinduism and a sprinkling of various Christian and other practices.

Our walking tour here took us principally to the older sections of town where we visited the Dutch Square complex, the ruins of St. Paul’s church overlooking the Straits of Malacca, and the Porta de Santiago, the remains of the Portugese Forteleza which was otherwise destroyed by the British.

We arrived in Malacca around 7 AM and were able to get our group off on one of first tenders around 8:15, and were met by our guide for the day’s walking tour, Melissa Lua. We found Melissa through Tours by Locals and she proved to be all that her reviews had indicated – articulate, charming, and very knowledgeable. Malacca has deep roots, existing as a settlement and port since around 1400 AD, when it was a part of a Sultanate and a port for Arab and Chinese traders. The Portuguese arrived in 1511 and established a fort and settlement and controlled the area until the Dutch defeated them in 1641. They remained in control for around a century, when they were in turn displaced by the British, who remained in control until the Japanese occupied the area during World War II. In the post-war era, Malacca became independent, as a part of the federation of states that became Malaysia.

Malacca attained UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2008 for the Old Town section, and that was the focus of our walking tour.   Starting early in the day was a good plan, as it grew increasingly warm throughout the day, and all of Malaysia is hot and humid. We initially walked through the port area, much of which is new and on land reclaimed from the sea, making our way to the original seashore and port area of Old Town. The street names retain their Dutch flavor and the two principal streets are Herren (Gentlemen’s Street) and Jonker (Younger Sons) Street. These two and their cross streets – one named Harmony Street, because it houses a mosque, a Buddhist temple, and a church – and the others named, creatively, First, Second and Third Cross Streets. After a stroll through these streets and visits to the various houses of worship, we visited the Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum. This home was converted to a museum by the fourth generation owners, to preserve a view of the culture and way of life of the wealthy Chinese-Malay or Paranakan merchant class. The home is a sort of snapshot of life in Victorian Malacca for the very well to do. Baba is the term for second generation Chinese-Malay men, and Nyonya is the term for the women. The home preserves fabulous examples of the furnishings, traditional wedding costumes, and household goods, and, within the architecture and divisions between the ‘women’s sections’ and ‘men’s sections’ of the home a glimpse of the social structure as well. From there we then visited the Dutch Square, housing the Anglican Church, the Dutch city hall, and the English Victoria fountain and clock tower. Then, we climbed the high hill overlooking the harbor where the fortifications had been built by the Portuguese (and subsequently largely destroyed by the English) and visited the remains of St. Paul’s church and the last remnants of the Portuguese Fortaleza. After that, we all returned to the ship via trishaws – bicycle powered rickshaws – decorated colorfully, largely in cartoon motifs, Hello Kitty, Pink Panther, Frozen, generic Disney characters, Superman, Disney Princesses, among others.

 

A half day, particularly for a walking tour, in the heat and humidity was quite enough, although there is still quite a lot to see outside the Old Town. There is the Kampong Morten – a living history museum devoted to traditional Malaysian life from the many cultures that make up the population, a replica of the Sultan’s palace, and, further out of town, the modern Straits Mosque, an impressive modern structure located on an island off the mainland.

 

 

Singapore

Glorious Singapore – it is such a wonderful city.  Safe, clean, fabluous public transportation, beautiful parks and green spaces, amazing food.  The Changi Airport is its own little city, with a very nice in-airport hotel (the Crowne Plaza) an easily accessible metro station, and a mall/food court under all the airport functions.  You wouldn’t really need to leave the airport to get pretty much anything you need, but it would be a shame not to.  This is our fifth visit to Singapore, two as port stops, and, counting this one, three as embarkation or disembarkation points, and we still have things we haven’t gotten to see or do.

One of the “must see” attractions for the first timers would be the Singapore Zoo – even if you don’t care for zoos, this one is worth a trip – it is the first of the ‘habitat’ style zoos, where the environment is geared to the comfort of the animals and the people are kept at an appropriate distance by way of moats and plexiglass, not bars and cages.  The Jurong Bird Park is also a wonderful green space with huge walk through aviaries and hundreds of species of exotic birds.  There are marvelous museums of many types – art, historic, cultural – and the ethnic neighborhoods – Little India and Chinatown in particular – are worth spending time exploring.  A visit to the fabled Raffles Long Bar for the signature Singapore Sling is virtually obligatory.  It is also the only place in Singapore where you are allowed, nay, encouraged, to litter – with peanut shells.  The drinks are hideously expensive, but most feel it is worth it for the experience.  The grounds of the venerable hotel are also lovely and worthy of a look around as well.

And the food – the glorious food.  Like most ethnically diverse places, the food is, to some extent, fusion oriented and it is wonderful.  And safe to eat, even the street food, which I would not do elsewhere in Asia.  You can spend a small fortune on restaurant meals in pricey Singapore, but you can also eat exceedingly well and quite inexpensively, at the food courts scattered around the various ethnic neighborhoods (and, of course, in the basement of the airport!)

A more tourist oriented area is Sentosa Island – it also houses a Universal Studios theme park.  There is a modest admission fee for the island, and much more expensive tickets to the theme park.  The island has numerous foot paths leading through imagainatively planted green spaces, a Gaudi-esque fountain, a huge merlion sculpture, and the requisite  shops and food stalls.  All in all it is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

It is hard to believe that this modern, efficient, clean and safe city-state had such a long history as quite the opposite.  For most of the long history of Singapore it has been anything but what it is now, with overcrowding, rampant epidemic disease, high unemployment, crime, and squalor being the primary characteristics through years of colonial rule, occupation by Japan during World War II, and even into the post-war period.  Although Singapore has existed as a port or settlement since the 12th or 13th century, it didn’t reach any level of prominance until Sir Thomas Raffles established a free trade port there in the 1820s.  The small village grew to a city of over 100,000 by 1869.  Waves of immigration brought laborers from South China, Sepoy soldiers and plantation workers from India, and immigrants from Malaya and other parts of Southeast Asia seeking employment.  The nominal ruler of the area that was to become Singapore was the Sultan of Johur, and in a series of treaties, he gradually ceded governance to the British East India Company, and from there, it became a British colony, which it remained until after World War II.

In common with many other colonial territories in the post-war era, Singapore sought and ultimately obtained independence, after which it allied briefly with Malaya to form Malaysia, then broke away again to establish independence.  After a period of considerable civil unrest and economic depression, Singapore embarked on the modernization program that made it what it is today.  In the 1960s an ambitious economic development program, coupled with a massive public housing construction program began the process of reshaping Singapore into one of the most stable and prosperous republics in the region.  While there are occasional complaints that the ruling party is authoritarian and restrictive, Singapore’s populace continues to support them in general elections by overwhelming majorities, and it is clear that their policies, both social and economic, have been effective in creating a bastion of prosperity in the region.

On our morning walk about today, we took the Metro from here at the airport hotel to Chinatown, where the decorations for the Year of the Ram (Goat/Sheep) were still up, then wandered back from there to the Raffles Place Metro stop, admiring the pocket size garden spaces that are tucked into every nook and cranny and add to the livability of Singapore, and also taking in the many public sculptures and squares with huge screens and entertainment in multiple languages that abound throughout the downtown.  It has been a few years since our last visit, but things seem to be pretty much the same – no graffiti, very little litter, no visible signs of poverty or homelessness.  Clean, efficient public transportation, orderly streets with minimal traffic and no honking.  Like the tee shirts say, Singapore may be a place with a lot of laws and a lot of fines, but it seems to us to also be a pretty fine place as well.

Year of the Goat/Ram/Sheep
Year of the Goat/Ram/Sheep
gardens in a parking garage
gardens in a parking garage
Henry Moore sculpture
Henry Moore sculpture
pocket gardens
pocket gardens

 

 

Getting ready to travel

We will be on the road again soon and that means going through all my pre-travel rituals. We always have house sitters, so the first thing on my pre-travel list is updating the ‘instructions for house sitters.’ This time, somewhere in my cleaning up of computer files after I quit working, I discovered that I had erased or discarded my master copy. Fortunately, I still had the last print out, but it seemed like a good time to have an overall look at it and a re-write. That took a couple of days, but is now complete with better organization after the re-write.

Next up is reconfirming everything – from airline seats to hotel rooms and tours. It is always good to make sure that everything is still the way you want it to be and that, if you have special requests, like late or early arrivals, non-smoking rooms, etc. that these are acknowledged and on the record. I’ve also learned, especially if you book hotels through third-party vendors like Hotels.com or Priceline, and you have booked a particular class of room – like executive floor, it is a good idea to print out a hard copy of the confirmation reflecting this and bring it with you. We had a recent experience with a hotel in Rotterdam where our reservation clearly spelled out that our reservation was for an executive floor king bed non-smoking room but the front desk had none of this on their record and would not have honored the reservation had we not had our print out of the email spelling everything out.  I’ll start the reconfirmation process this afternoon.

I’m in the early stages of ‘wardrobe planning’ and pre-packing. Everything I am thinking about taking with me gets a check over for condition and a try on for fit, then it hangs on the door for a couple of weeks while I go by and add and delete. We are doing a cruise with an add-on land trip involving two regional flights, in addition to the international ones, and I’m trying to keep the packing to one 21″ suitcase and a PacSafe over the shoulder bag for the electronics, medicines, etc. May not make it, but that’s the objective. I have gotten much better over the years of traveling and take less and less each time, but this is pretty extreme.

I usually carry a small pharmacy with me that takes up a good bit of space and that may have to be cut way back this time in order to make the alloted space.  I’ll just have to hope we don’t get sick or injured!  I normally carry a full week of cold meds and a full two weeks of various kind of digestive meds, along with ace bandages, band aids, neosporin, and other first aid stuff.  And that is in addition to our usual prescription meds which, after you reach a certain age, is not an inconsequential amount of stuff.

Next up is getting the house ready for ‘company’ – cleaning closets, cleaning out the refrigerator, turning in the recycle stuff, getting the oil changed in the car and so on. That’s what I’ll be spending most of my time on for the next few days, along with getting a fresh hair cut (tomorrow) and picking up the dog’s medicine and giving the names of our house sitters to the vet.

Finally, the last day, I will print out all the boarding passes and other ‘official’ documents and put them in my travel folder, and triple check all the required documentation.

By the time it is time to go, I really do NEED a vacation!