Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Happy Happy people on the platform and don't Play Play

December 9, 2009
We heard that phrase at least a hundred times yesterday on the subway from the automated voice messages as the doors open and close. "Don't Play Play" means the people waiting on the platform to board should let the exiting passengers get off before they try to enter the subway cars. "Happy Happy people on the platform" means the exiting passengers should not push or shove those people trying to board the subway cars. In other words, act polite when entering or exiting a subway car. Sort of a cute way of saying it. Play Play and Happy Happy are used on signs and videos on various things all over Singapore; so it must be a commonly used local expression.

Yesterday we made another bus trip from Puteri Harbour Marina to Singapore....just for the day. Had a blast! Considered it my birthday present since the previous day was my birthday. (December 7, a day which will live in infamy (but not because it marks my birth). Not sure exactly why we enjoyed the day so much unless maybe it was just a very relaxed day with beautiful weather and we now knew the routine for clearing in and out both countries. And we did our bit for the economy by shopping for hours at Sim Lim Tower and Sim Lim Square and finally finding a few electronics items to buy.

The EPIRB was ready to be picked battery in place and inspected and recertified for another 5 years. Bill had done some prep work on the internet and had mapped out routes from the MRT (subway) station to NOAH Marine Services out in the industrial section of Singapore (not far from Raffles Marina). Thanks to Google maps and the online bus schedules and route maps that Bill had printed, this was surprisingly easy. Singapore has excellent, excellent public transportation. Bet we wouldn't even want to own a car if we lived in Singapore because a car would be more of a hassle that a benefit. This little island country is probably about the geographic size of metropolitan Houston. Houston needs to take mass-transit lessons from Singapore and get with the times.

While at NOAH we learned that they also sell flares and re-certify fire extinguishers, including fixed-system halon. Now, THAT was good news. Can't get halon in the States anymore. Our watertight engine room has a remotely activated fixed halon fire extinguisher system. Since the boat is nearing 7 year of age, it probably is time for the halon system to be checked and serviced. We will bring the boat over to Singapore at some point before heading toward Phuket next autumn and get fire extinguishers serviced and buy new flares since ours will be expired by then. NOAH also will inspect and recertify our inflatable life vests. So glad we found this place.

After NOAH we returned to the subway and went to Little India. Knew exactly where we were going for a change. We shopped 4 floors of Sim Lim Square looking for a new monitor that had all the various types of video imput like our current monitor, but no joy. Next stop was Sim Lim Tower, where we found a "TV" that has every video imput that Bill could want. This looks exactly like our old flat-panel monitor except larger and with the newer widescreen, but they call it a TV. Not a TV for us because we have no TV signal receiver on our boat, nor do we have cable pre-wired. (Nor is there cable TV service available at the marina so that is a dead issue for now.) This "TV" can be used to watch DVDs played on our DVD player or computer or radio. And if we ever get to a place with television signals, we have the option of then buying a receiver or cable. All that said, to me it is just another monitor. Wanted this replacement before our old one failed since watching DVDs is our major source of onboard entertainment, besides reading.

While in Sim Lim Tower we found a money tree.

Always wanted one of these but have no place to put it on the boat.

Saturday, December 12, 2009
We awoke to the sounds of gunfire this morning. But don't be alarmed, it was just the Malaysian Army having drills. The military range is just north of Puteri Harbour Marina. And the Singapore live ammunition range is just across Johor Strait. The marina staff were joking that maybe the Singapore army and the Malay army were practicing against each other. Guess the F16s will be circling Singapore again all afternoon. Singapore is an awfully tiny island country for those F16s to circle and stay out of Malaysian airspace. Malaysia does not like it when the Singaporian F16s violate Malay airspace......tight circles, guys, tight circles.

Received an email this morning confirming that our friends on S/V FREE SPIRIT have sold their boat. Congratulations to them. We hated to see them sell the boat and become landlubbers again, but this is what they wanted for this point in their lives. Paul and Michele and their kids Merric and Seanna will be moving back to the States. Seanna has never known a land home because they moved aboard and started cruising when she was only 8 months old. I am willing to bet they end up back out cruising again sometime in the future. We will miss you!!!

Tomorrow around noon we will take the marina shuttle to the Gelang Datah bus station and begin our long travels home for the holidays.

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go!

Friday, December 4, 2009

A weekly update

The day after Thanksgiving both of us began to feel sore throats and general aches and pains. Miracle of all miracles.....I was better within 2 days. Usually upper respiratory things turn into infections and I am sick for a couple of months. This time it was Bill who had trouble kicking it. He is finally feeling better but still not 100%.

On November 3 we had left our EPIRB in Singapore for routine maintenance check and battery replacement. We would have preferred to take the EPIRB back to Houston since we will be there a month and have it serviced there, but it has a lithium battery and cannot be transported on a passenger plane. There is a newer model that has a "safe" battery, but ours is an ACR 406 and that model has the "dangerous" lithium battery. The dealership in Singapore did not have a battery in stock for our model and had to order one. They tried to talk us into purchasing the newer model with the safe battery but we were not interested in spending the additional money unnecessarily. After all, why spend $1500 Singapore dollars when we could replace the battery in our perfectly good 4-year-old EPIRB for only $550 SGD. The new battery will be good for another 5 years and technology night change again by then. We were supposed to pick up the EPIRB this week but Bill has not felt well enough to make the trip. We must go to Singapore next week and collect our EPIRB because on Sunday December 13 we will begin our month-long vist home to Texas. Certainly cannot expect the service center to hold onto our EPIRB until mid-January.

Bill needs to go up the mast and remove the wind instrument. He planned to do that today but it is raining yet again. It is always a good idea to remove the anemometer any time a boat is berthed in a marina or in a boatyard for a long period of time. It is also a good idea to remove it periodically for thorough maintenance inspection. Bill noticed during our basically windless passages from Darwin to Singapore that our anemometer sometimes did not turn during very low winds. Once the wind is up to at least 5 knots then it begins to spin. I would probably never have noticed this as I don't spend a lot of time looking at the top of the mast. Bill contacted the B&G service center in the USA and thinks he knows which little part is beginning to fail. That replacement part is waiting for us at our son's home in Houston. Bill needs to disassemble the anemometer to make sure there are no other parts that need replacing.

There are very few people left in this marina and we are getting bored already. There are a lot of boats, but very few people. This is a popular place to leave a boat while traveling home or doing land travel in SE Asia. Earlier this week I planned a trip to Cambodia for us in early in February. Travel on Air Asia is so inexpensive that we have decided to make several round-trips to the various countries rather than flying to one country and continuing onward from there. It makes much more sense for us to do a one or two week round-trip to Cambodia one month; come back to the marina and get bored again; then maybe round-trip to Vietnam the next month; and repeat this process until we have visited all the places we are interested in seeing. That will be much easier than packing and being gone for months. That isn't for us. Might work well for others but we would get homesick and want to return to check on the boat. Doing separate trips will work much better for us, especially since we will be in the area for almost an entire year. Why cram all that travel into just a couple of months when we can leisurely spread it out over many months at no additional expense.

Unfortunately, the Air Asia website is programmed incorrectly at this moment. We cannot purchase tickets online because their website will not process any of our credit cards. We contacted our bank after the card was declined online and learned that the problem is on the Air Asia website. Our bank said the charge is not even being submitted to the bank; it is being declined strictly on the Air Asia website. We have talked with Australians and they have no problems using credit cards on the Air Asia website that are issued by Australian banks; but our credit cards issued by USA banks are not processed. How annoying!! It had taken me over a week to get a hotel reservation for agreeable dates for the trip to Cambodia, and now we couldn't purchase the airline tickets!

But Puteri Harbour Marina saved the day. I asked the front desk if they could take us to Danga Bay so we could personally visit an Air Asia ticket office. The next morning we had a fast boat ride up to Danga Bay. The boat driver walked with us to the Air Asia office, then walked with us to find an ATM, and back to the Air Asia office and waited while we purchased the tickets. All for no fee and he also refused to accept a tip. Cannot say enough compliments for the staff at Puteri Harbour Marina. They really go out of their way to help the cruisers in any way needed. We probably could have taken our dinghy to Danga Bay, but the current in the Johor Strait runs very strong and it is not somewhere we would feel comfortable traveling in an inflatable dinghy. Hopefully Air Asia will correct the programming problem soon so we can book future trips. I am so ready to start planning trips to Vietnam, Thailand, Maccau/Hong Kong and China.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving in Malaysia

November 27, 2009, Friday
One day last week Teh surprised us with the gift of a wok with a lid and steamer tray. We had discussed at lunch one day the fact that I had given Bill's sister my old large wok (which also had a lid and steamer tray) when we moved aboard because it was too large to fit in the boat cabinets. Teh called from the store to confirm the width of our boat locker doors so he wouldn't buy one that was too big. He knows how much both Bill and I enjoy fish steamed the Malaysian way. The wok Teh gave us fits perfectly in a drawer beneath the settee. Now we can prepare this delicious dish at home on the boat. In fact, sometime before we fly home for the holidays next month I will steam the last portions of fish in our freezer. We still have some Spanish mackerel that we caught, and that should steam nicely. When we leave the boat in a marina slip to travel for a few weeks, we always turn off everything except the battery charger. So the freezers/fridges must be empty before we fly home.

Yesterday Teh surprised us with some Malaysian flags and some great fly swatters. Flies are a constant problem here. We had commented at lunch one day that the Malaysian courtesy flag that we had purchased from Bluewater Charts & Books in Florida was not correct. The proper Malaysian flag looks quite similar to the American flag. It has horizontal red and white stripes of the same color as the US flag; and a dark blue rectangle in the upper left corner with a crescent moon and a star-burst sun where the US flag has the 50 stars. Malaysia has (or had, I'm not sure if this is still true) 14 sultanships. The Malaysian flag has 14 stripes, 7 red and 7 white; and the star-burst sun shape has 14 points. Both the 14 stripes and the 14 points represent the original 14 sultan regions of Malaysia. In the USA, our flag has 13 stripes which represent the original 13 colonies. Our flag has a red stripe on top and a red stripe on the bottom. Because the Malaysian flag has an even number of stripes, it has a red stripe on top and a white stripe on bottom. Anyway, after that very long explanation, the very expensive Malaysian courtesy flag we purchased from Bluewater for $74.95 USD was missing the bottom white stripe. It is a very well-made flag; but it is not correct for this country. We needed to buy a correct Malaysian courtesy flag. We contacted Bluewater and they agreed to give us a refund when we ship the incorrect flag back to them. But we were having difficulty finding a replacement flag locally. Teh remembered that conversation and went to the trouble to find us a courtesy flag. In fact, he brought us a streamer of many Malaysian flags. We cut the strip holding the flags together and that left strips of fabric to tie the flags to a halyard. We split this bonanza with S/V B'Sheret. These flags are made of heavy plastic and we have never had a plastic courtesy flag before, but this worked perfectly. And we have several spares if the first flag begins to wear in the wind.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day in the USA. As there is only one other American boat in this marina at the current time, we invited them over for Thanksgiving dinner. The supermarket did not have any turkeys so I opted to roast a chicken instead. Probably could have found a duck but I have never tasted duck and have no plans to develop a taste for that bird. Since this is not USDA country, I followed my cookbook (circa 1930) and cleaned it the old-fashioned way by thoroughly coating in baking powder after first washing. Then thoroughly scrubbed off the baking powder and used lots of lemon juice to clean the interior cavity. Rather than do stuffing, I stuffed the chicken with lots of celery and small cut limes and seasonings and trussed it. This seemed to work well as it tasted pretty good.

As I cooked in the hot kitchen, Bill enjoyed a few glasses of wine. I cooked the roasted chicken, my famous cornbread dressing, gravy, green peas, candied yams, and a homemade fresh apple pie. Our guests brought the wine, a delicious cold vegetable salad, fresh fruit salad and cranberry sauce (canned, from Panama). Turned out to be a fairly traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Amazing since many of those ingredients/foods are not available locally. We cruisers do have well-stocked larders.

We enjoyed dinner with Michael and Linda from S/V B'Sheret. Bill and I have a lot to be thankful this year. Both of us still have good health even though we are in our sixties now. Our cruising budget is holding up to our projections and Bill is now collecting Social Security to supplement that budget. Our Amel boat has suffered none of the various maintenance issues faced by all the other cruisers we know. All our family members are healthy and still employed during this time of financial uncertainty. And we look forward to seeing them in just a few weeks. Life is good!

November 28, 2009, Saturday
Both of us awoke today with scratchy throats and feeling rather crappy, though not really sick. We are taking it easy and staying inside our cool boat and drinking lots of vitamin C juices and sipping soups and hot teas while it rains. I was playing jigsaw puzzles on the computer in the forward cabin when we heard and felt a crash. Went running topsides to find a a sailboat crazily trying to get their sails down as they were being blown sideways into our bow and into the bow of the Japanese boat berthed on our starboard side. This boat did not have an engine and the wind was blowing about 15 knots straight into our bow.

Turns out this boat had left the slip directly in front of us on the next dock windward. They had put up both their mainsail and their foresail while still tied in their slip because they have no working engine. The wind caught their boat and blew it back toward our bow as their boat turned sideways in the wind. We yelled at them to get their dinghy running and to use it to move their boat off ours and the Japanese boat. The marina staff came running down and we all used fenders to keep the boats apart. Marina staff quickly came in their large orange inflatable boats and towed the engineless sailboat away from the slips, where the 3 men on the engineless boat again raised their sails and departed the marina. Supposedly this boat is going out just to "assess" something on their boat and will be returning to the marina later today.

The Japanese boat sustained gel coat damage when that boat hit their anchor. Good thing the anchor was tightly tied into position or the Japanese boat would have sustained greater gel coat damage. Our boat sustained 2 scratched places in the brown fiberglass rub rail. We do not want money from the boat that caused the damage, but we do want them to repair these scratches. Hopefully, the scratches will compound out.

Another thing to be thankful for -- the damage could have been much worse than just a couple of small scratches.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Salt Egg Crab -- YUMMMMMMM!!!!

A few days ago our Chinese friend, Teh, invited us to accompany him to a large shopping complex in the big city of Johor Bahru. Michael and Linda on S/V B'Sheret joined us for what turned out to be a very enjoyable day. We weren't much in shopping mode but it was good to see more of the area. Both Teh and Bill needed new leather watch bands for their everyday watches, and each was pleased with their selection. After shopping in the large mall, Teh brought us to the Alam Seafood Restaurant. which is built out over the water on the Johor Strait. The thin tree trunks supporting the large sprawling restaurant building out over the water looked exactly like one would expect to see in this part of the world. This place was well off the beaten path and we would never have found it without the assistance of a local person as there were no signs directing traffic on those narrow country roads. There was another restaurant nearby, also built over the water. There were fish farms with float markers in straight rows all around these 2 restaurants. This was great!!!

Teh explained that these fish farms and restaurants are owned by a segment of Malaysians who refuse to convert to Islam. For that reason, they can receive no assistance from the government. I do not remember the name of this group of Malaysians; but they stick together and live in poverty and manage to eek out a survival form of living, usually along waterways. Owning a restaurant and fish farm is to be considered wealthy among these people.

It is so nice to go to these restaurants with someone who speaks the local language. We would never have been able to order so well in English. We selected the fish we wanted steamed and which size prawns we wanted from the live tanks. Teh discussed various methods of preparations with the restaurant manager, as well as what additional dishes we might enjoy. Three of us prefer spicy food so we added an extra dish of spicy calamari which turned out excellent. This soon turned into a feast. Linda was impressed with the flowers made out of food and dyed with food color that decorated our serving plates.

We were afraid that we had ordered too many dishes. Normally a group of 5 would order 5 dishes which are served the typical Asian communal style and shared by all at the table. We sort of got carried away and ordered:
1) steamed fish
2) prawns fried with rolled oat coating and also fried with normal crispy coating
3) spicy calamari
4) broccoli with oyster mushrooms
5) mangrove crab prepared typical Malaysian method in a tomato-type sauce, not spicy
6) mangrove crab prepared salt egg method
Plus we each had the normal individual bowl of steamed white rice

Thank goodness the fish we had chosen was on the smallish side, otherwise I would have filled up on that. Bill and I have discovered that we really like the steamed fish. It is steamed with the skin attached; sprinkled lightly with grated ginger and chopped coriander (cilantro) and maybe slivers of spring green onions; with a very thin sauce made of dark Chinese soy sauce, regular soy sauce and sesame oil. The sauce is poured onto a large deep platter and the steamed fish is placed on top, then sprinkled with small amount of additional thinly sliced spring onions and chopped cilantro. This is amazingly good! And very low-calorie and healthy as long as you don't need to watch your sodium intake. Regardless of the size of the fish, it never takes more than 20 minutes to steam a fish in the Asian manner in a wok. Obviously, certain fish are better than others. Strong tasting fish would not taste or smell good prepared in this manner. But it is an excellent way to prepare any mild flavored fish.

The Malaysian tomato-type sauce preparation method of the mangrove crab was okay, but extremely messy. The video at the bottom of this posting illustrates how messy it can be. Bill and I are accustomed to eating blue crabs and know how to pick them clean. I wasn't about to deal with picking a crab that was submerged in this messy sauce, and Michael and Linda did not know how to pick crabs. They are from Wisconsin/Chicago and did not have the advantage of growing up on the Texas Gulf Coast. So Bill got the job of picking the crab meat out for everyone at the table except Teh. Teh ate the crab in the Malaysian fashion, which is to just suck the meat out and break the crab shell with your teeth a little at a time. Teh calls this munching food.

The best dish of this meal was the salt egg crab. Absolutely fantastic! The mangrove crab is very large so there are large chunks of mild white crab meat. This method of preparation uses duck eggs mixed with salt. The crab is cleaned and broken into pieces, then dipped into the salted duck eggs, then quickly deep fried. The salted duck egg batter with the sweet white crab meat makes each bite pure heaven. It is now a tie which is my favorite Malaysian food -- either the steamed fish or the salt egg crab.

Every restaurant we have been into, including KFC and A&W and Pizza Hut, has had a sink for washing your hands -- right inside the restaurant. It is customary to wash your hands before eating and then again after the meal -- right inside the restaurant in front of all the other diners. This restaurant was no different; and we were glad to have that sink after eating crabs with our fingers.

There is a local custom at restaurants that tourists should learn about before traveling to this area. Very often a restaurant will serve a small plate or two of peanuts to a group of people. This is added to your bill and normally costs only 3 or 4 ringitt, which is roughly 90 cents to $1.20 USD. Westerners sometimes complain that they did not order the peanuts and don't want to pay when they get the bill, even though they usually eat the peanuts. Or they send the peanuts back because they don't want them, and then make sure the peanuts are deducted from their bill. Either action is a big faux pas. The cost of the peanuts is the tip for the server. One does not tip in restaurants here; it simply is not done. But the owner of the restaurant gives the retail price of the peanuts to server. So if the customer sends the peanuts back or refuses to pay for the peanuts, then the customer is really screwing the waiter for his tip. Of course the local people are too polite to say anything about this gross insult. So file that in the back of your mind in case you ever travel to Malaysia. For this large meal we were served 2 small plates of peanuts, one sweet and one salty. As you can see from the photo, we managed to eat them all.

Later in the week we made a dry run to Singapore for the day. Our flight home next month departs from Changi Airport in Singapore, so we wanted to figure out how to get there from our marina in Malaysia. The marina staff are wonderful about taking us wherever we need to go, which is a great thing since this marina is very isolated and a long distance from any town. Michael and Linda on S/V B'Sheret accompanied us on this day excursion so they also could learn this routine. The marina van dropped us off at the Gelang Patah Interchange (bus station) and we took the CW3 bus over the Tuas Bridge, which is localy known as the Second Link bridge. The main bridge to Singapore is the Causeway at the big city of Johor Bahru and we wanted to avoid that if at all possible because traffic on the Causeway is horrendous. There was virtually no traffic on the Second Link.

We cleared out of Malaysia; re-boarded the bus and crossed the bridge; cleared into Singapore; and re-boarded the same bus. That bus dropped us off at the Jurong East station on the green line of the MRT. Very inexpensive and easy way to get to Singapore, although it took 2 1/2 hours from the time we left the marina. The bus was standing room only, so doing this with any luggage could be a challenge. We took the MRT (subway) to Little India and ate lunch at the Tekkah Market; then walked a few blocks to the Sim Lim Tower and Sim Lim Square, which are large buildings full of electronics stores. Believe me, consumerism is alive and thriving in Singapore! There might be a recession world-wide but people are shopping and buying here.

Bill was in heaven in the Sim Lim Tower. He found numerous items that were on our shopping list for our trip home next month. Good! Less to pack and bring back on the plane! He could have stayed there an entire day. Sim Lim Square is basically a block-sized shopping mall that is at least 4 stories tall and filled with retail computer and electronics stores. You can find anything you might want in that place, but you should go there prepared with the knowledge of what you want and what the price should be. One is expected to bargain for prices at Sim Lim Square. The normal discount should be 15% from the marked price.

We reversed the MRT and bus back across the Second Link bridge and were soon back in the marina. This was a learning trip. I'm sure we will be doing this again.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Brief overview of Malaysian history

Archaeological evidence found in the Niah Caves in Sarawak in the country of Malaysia indicates that human beings began inhabiting the general area well over 40,000 years ago. Neolithic culture was well established by 2500-1500 BC. Most scholars believe the earliest settlers on the Malay Peninsula came overland from southern China in small groups over a period of thousands of years. These early inhabitants became the ancestors of the Orang Asli. During the 1000's B.C., new groups of migrants who spoke a language related to Malay came to Malaysia. The ancestors of these people had traveled by sea from south China to Taiwan, and later from Taiwan to Borneo and the Philippines. These people became the ancestors of the Malays and the Orang Laut and they settled mainly in the coastal areas of the peninsula.

Small Malayan kingdoms existed in the 2nd or 3rd centuries AD, when adventurers from India arrived and initiated more than 1,000 years of Indian influence. About A.D. 1400, a group of Malay-speaking migrants came to the Malay Peninsula from Srivijaya, a trading kingdom on the island of Sumatra (now part of Indonesia). Led by a Sumatran prince called Paramesvara, these newly arrived immigrants established a commercial kingdom called Malacca and secured Chinese protection for the city-state. This Chinese societal influence continues today, especially in Penang and Malacca..

The Europeans arrived on the Malay Peninsula in the 17th century. First the Portuguese established trading centers at Melacca in 1511 and later in 1641 the Dutch established trading posts along the coastlines. The Dutch held onto the area for 150 years. The British acquired Penang Island in 1786 and established a settlement called George Town. They gained more and more territory and ruled the region for about 150 years. By 1914, Britain had either direct or indirect colonial control over all the lands that now make up Malaysia, which it called British Malaya. A movement for independence started after WWII. Independence was not gained until 1963.

"It was the British who recognized the strategic position of the Malay states and their abundance of natural resources, subsequently colonizing and controlling the region for over 150 years." Ha-ha-ha-ha!! That statement is taken from a website supposedly about Malaysia, and it is obviously written from a British viewpoint. This is utterly ridiculous! Ships from Egypt, Rome, Arabia, Africa, Persia, India and China had been using the area known as Malacca Straits and visiting and trading with what is now known as Malaysia for several thousand years before the Europeans arrived. They traded glassware, spices, camphor, cotton goods, brocades, ivory, sandalwood, perfumes and precious stones. They all recognized the strategic position of the Malay states and their abundance of natural resources. Only difference was that the British wanted to control the region and take those resources rather than trade, as the Brits did throughout the world during the time of their colonial empire.

During World War II, the Japanese invaded in 1942 and occupied the area for over three years. The Chinese Tong jungle fighters formed into bands of 10 men each and harassed and murdered Japanese soldiers during the entire time of occupation. The Japanese could not defeat the Tong because the Tong were so adept at jungle warfare. Before abandoning the area to the Japanese, the British handed out guns to the Tong and promised them land if they fought the Japanese. After Japan finally surrendered and the war ended, the British returned and insisted that the Tong return their guns but the Brits did not honor their promise of giving land to those who had fought. The Brits did a typical British thing and insisted that the Tong submit documentation of their orders to fight the Japanese and to substantiate their claims for land. Of course, there were no written orders. Even if there had been, there would have been no way to preserve a paper document in the wet jungle for 3 years during the 1940s -- not like plastic ziplocks had yet been invented. The Tong were ripped off by the British and did not get their lands. But the Tong were smart enough not to turn in their guns; instead, they turned in guns taken from dead Japanese soldiers. This enabled the Tong to remain armed to fight for independence from the British.

In 1948, the British-ruled territories on the Malay Peninsula (southern parts of Burma (Myanmar), Thailand and the Peninsular Malaysia) formed the Federation of Malaya. In 1957, after a decade of intense negotiations, the region gained independence from Britain. Malaysia itself was formed in 1963 when Singapore and the states of Sabah and Sarawak joined the Peninsular Malaysia Federation. Therefore, Malaysia today is divided into mainland Malaysia and eastern Malaysia some distance across the China Sea on the island of Kalimantan (Borneo) just south of Brunei. Singapore left the Malay States in 1965 to become a separate nation. There is a sense of anymousity today between Singapore and Malaysia, each preferring to think they are the better country.

Malaysia is located In Southeast Asia, just north of the Equator. The exotic, tropical islands and lands of Malaysia contain some of the most beautiful beaches on the planet and a collection of unrivaled rainforests and national parks. Unfortunately for us, those beautiful beaches are on the eastern coast. We will be sailing up the western coast, which is not known for any beautiful beaches. We will be sailing northwest along the Malaysian coastline through the Straits of Malacca toward the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal.

The Straits of Malacca are the busiest shipping lanes in the world. The narrowest point is Phillips Channel near Singapore where the passage is only 1.7 miles wide. Over 94,000 cargo ships and oil transports transit the straits annually. The staits are relatively shallow and are filled with shipwrecks that create traffic hazards. The shallow depth and the narrow constraint of Phillips Channel dictate the maximum size of ship that can transit the Malacca Straits, especially for oil tankers. This size ship is called a Malaccamax. The larger oil tankers today cannot transit the Malacca Straits and must go west around the Indonesian island of Sumatra and north through the Lombok Strait at Bali in order to reach the South China Sea. That just happens to be the route we took through Indonesia.

If pirates or terrorists or some other disaster were to block the Malacca Straits, then nearly one-half of the world's shipping fleet would have to be re-routed around the western side of Sumatra and through the Lombok Strait. That 50% number was found on the website of the Energy Information Administration of the US government reflecting World Oil Transit Chokepoints. There are a couple of major pipelines under construction at this time which will eventually reduce the amount of oil transported via ships. One pipeline is being built from Saudia Arabia to China, paid for by China. Another pipeline is being built along the southern border of Thailand and through northern Malaysia. Construction began in 2007 This $7billion pipeline should reduce the oil transport traffic through the Malacca Straits by 20%.

There has been another canal proposed. China offered to pay for construction of a canal across the narrowest point of the isthmus of Thailand. But the Thai government feared the possibility of separation of north and south Thailand and that the southern population (which is mostly Muslim) would soon want independence. Thailand cited environmental concerns as well as inability to govern their country effectively if Thailand were separated by such a canal; and that canal deal now appears to be a dead issue. That is a shame. A canal across Thailand would not only be great for shipping but would also be cherished by cruisers like us. It would open up a cruising area that is seldom traveled today. Only a few cruisers take the northern route through the Federated States of Micronesia and the Philippines, an area we wish we had had an opportunity to see.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

This and that and nothing much

On Saturday 7 Nov the marina sponsored a regatta. About a dozen boats participated; S/V BeBe was not one of them. Racing is just not my thing. Bill would have crewed on another boat but the opportunity did not arise so he was out of luck and stuck ashore. There was no wind that afternoon and the boats basically floated down-current to the Tuas bridge and then turned around. Coming back there was a tiny bit of breeze from the rear quarter. All the boats put out their spinnakers and we were told that it was a pretty sight with the colorful sails on the narrow Johor Strait. We will have to take the participants' word for that since we could not see the racing boats from the marina. The boats got a radio call from the marina telling them to slow down (they were only going about 4 knots in the first place) because they could not re-enter the marina until 4:30. The racing boats pulled in their spinnakers and drifted about in the current until allowed to come back into the marina at 4:30.

The reason they couldn't return until 4:30 is that the marina did not want any interruption to their signing ceremony for the new phase of the family-oriented indoor theme park. After all, they had Barney, Bob the Builder, Hello Kitty and several other brand name characters on stage and participating in this signing ceremony. This signing ceremony is probably a Malaysian custom; after all, this country was occupied by the British for many years, and everyone knows how the British love paperwork. Copies of documents were all signed and distributed to the various parties. Then the boats were allowed to re-enter the marina.

That night the marina sponsored a free dinner and band with dancing. We have been here 5 nights and already the marina has done this twice. It was a lot of fun both evenings. The people here are so friendly and nice, almost always have smiles. We saw a mock-up of the entire city they are building here. On the model board this marina facility looks tiny and lost in the vastness of what is planned to be built. This is a mega-billion dollar project.

Sunday morning Teh knocked on our boat and presented us with a gift -- a mean-looking small jungle machete. That was a surprise! We sat and visited at the marina cafe for an hour or so. And we were yet again pleased with the opportunity to have a conversation with such an interesting man. Later in the day Bill talked with a company that was doing gel coat repairs on another boat and he arranged for them to repair several tiny gel coat chips on our hull. These were ever-so-tiny chips caused by native wooden boats approaching too rapidly while we were anchored in various places. Unfortunately, their white repair product was not the exact same shade of white as our gel coat. In fact, it wasn't white at all. The idiot used gray gel coat material. Now everywhere we had a tiny inconspicuous nick in the gel coat there is a large circle of gray. Bill is not happy about this, to put it mildly. Needless to say, we did not pay for this botched job.

Wednesday November 11, 2010
We worked 5 hours compounding and buffing the rear quarter of the port side of the hull after Bill sanded away the gray gel coat repair mess from our white hull. Tough job. Using an electric buffer while standing in a dinghy is not easy on either of us. I stood in the dinghy and held onto the toe rail to keep the dinghy close to the boat while Bill used the electric buffer and compounding liquid. So he is pushing the dinghy away from the boat while I am holding it close to the boat. Both of us had aching backs by day's end. The messed-up gel coat repairs on the stern will require a lot of sanding and will have to wait for another day.

Last evening I brought quesadillas to an Australian boat for Happy Hour -- some filled with just sauteed onions seasoned with oregano for those who don't eat spicy foods and some filled with very tame jalapenos that I think barely have any flavor. They thought the jalapenos were hot. I think even my small grandchildren would not consider those jalapenos hot. An Australian cracked me up when she asked if I made my own "burrito bread." Thought the whole world knew about tortillas by now.

Today the marina has arranged for two 200 liter barrels of diesel to be delivered to our boat. Marina staff will hand-pump the diesel into our main fuel tank, and we will top it up with diesel from jerry jugs that we purchased in Bali. It is best to leave the fuel tank full since the boat will be sitting here for months plugged into shore power. And, I must say, it is so nice to be in this marina enjoying air-conditioned comfort on the boat. I'm sure we will get bored but for now it is great sitting in the air-conditioned boat and playing on the computer catching up on friends' blogs. We have been researching on the internet and think we have figured out the bus system and train system, both to Singapore and also to Kuala Lumpur. The local airport is a hub but most of the flights to points of interest in Asia depart out of Kuala Lumpur, and it appears that it is best to take either a bus or train to KL instead of taking a puddle jumper flight to KL

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A day in the country

Yesterday we spent a very enjoyable 12 hours with a local Chinese gentlemen, riding around in his car while he checked on his plantations. We met Teh the previous day while at a large shopping mall. He was ahead of us in the cashier line of a supermarket. He looked at our cart and asked in perfect English if we were from the marina. Guess our purchase of a case of beer and a couple of 6-packs of Diet Coke was a dead giveaway. Most beer in this muslim country is sold by the individual can. This led to a conversation and an invitation to accompany him on his excursion today. Teh had already invited another cruising couple to accompany him and there was room in his car to hold 5 people. Sounded like a plan to us. Let's go see the countryside. The other couple is from Australia, Reese and Linda on S/V Windy Spirit. They own a catamaran which they built themselves and this is their first year out cruising. This was our first time to meet Reece and Linda.

Teh is an impressive man. His specialty is economics but he also is a history buff. Bill and I also enjoy history and we spent hours talking about the Tartars, Ottoman Empire, the various dynasties of China, Persian wars, all of Asia with an emphasis on Malaysia and many other topics. His stories of the Tong people fighting in the jungles against the Japanese invaders and occupiers during WWII were particularly interesting. I can't remember when we have spent a more enjoyable day discussing such a wide variety of topics with so intelligent and friendly a man. Teh filled us in on a number of local customs and mind-sets which might help us from performing some unintended faux pas. Teh is from a wealthy Chinese family so thus was afforded a quality education. He has traveled worldwide and has homes in several countries. He is a joy to talk with.

After driving for what seemed like forever we arrived in Sungai Rengit in the Pengerang area of Johor, where we enjoyed a superb lunch at the Jade Garden Seafood Corner. This is the sultan's favorite restaurant. It is not fancy; the decor is simple plastic chairs and basic large round tables and a tile floor. This is typical throughout Malaysia and also in Singapore. People are concerned only with the quality of the food, not the ambience and decor of a restaurant. Oftentimes the best meals are found in less-than-impressive or dumpy establishments. The Jade Garden is one of those.

Our meal was wonderful. The 5 of us shared 5 dishes: fried jumbo prawns coated in rolled oats (absolutely delicious!), steamed fish (to die for!), stir-fried prawns and vegetables (always good), homemade tofu (lightly breaded and fried and served with a sweet sauce and vegetables -- very tasty combination), and ostrich with spring onions and ginger. The ostrich was my least favorite dish, but it was okay and the others liked it more than me. It was a bit heavy and rich for my taste. All the seafood dishes were much better in my opinion. Linda does not eat seafood so she preferred the ostrich. The steamed fish was fabulous. It was very mild and served with a blend of dark soy sauce, light soy sauce and sesame oil with unidentified spices. It was a large freshwater fish called a Kurau. I have no idea what that is. This was quite a feast.

After lunch we drove to Sebana Cove Marina. No real reason, just to see what it is like. Reese and Linda might go there eventually as they plan to go up to Hong Kong. But going to Sebana would mean backtracking for us and we have no desire to go backwards. Sebana is on the northern side of Singapore, which would mean going around Singapore island and up the shipping channels before turning west to reach the river that leads to Sebana. Pretty little marina but not for us.

Then we finally drove through Teh's plantations and he checked on the health of his palm oil trees and Josephine pineapples. On the long drive back to Puteri Teh pointed out a couple of buildings that were built to house swallows for the harvesting of birds nests to be used in birds nest soup. One of these buildings belongs to a man who was not able to get a permit for a commercial birdhouse or birds nest farm house. So he obtained a permit to build a residential house. He built a concrete house, complete with non-functional windows. I don't see how anyone inspecting this "house" even with a cursory drive-by inspection could possibly consider it a human residence. It has little holes all over it for the birds egress and it doesn't look like anything a person would inhabit. But, hey, this is Malaysia. The inspector probably wouldn't care as long as the proper donation was made to his favorite cause.

BTW, the name of our marina is strange to our western tongues. Puteri is pronounced POOT-tree. The "e" is not totally silent, but the voice should skim over it ever so lightly -- as if saying lottery with a very soft southern accent making it only 2 syllables. Bill talked with the marina manager and worked out an agreeable rate for long-term berthing. The marina is complete (and totally filled with boats at the moment), but there is still lots and lots of other construction going on in this development. Basically, they are building an entire new city; and the province or state government offices of Johor have already been relocated to their new buildings nearby. Another phase will be the travel lift and hardstand area near the marina. Another phase is a large shopping mall. Another phase is an indoor family=oriented theme park or amusement park. Plus several types of residential habitations covering quite a large area. All of this is under various stages of construction; the streets and roads and freeways and utilities have already been completed. So there is quite a lot of construction nearby. We are paying for 9 months in this marina at such a bargain price that we won't feel a whit wasteful if we leave months early. This should give us plenty of time to research and do some Asian land travel. Guess we ought to start figuring out where we want to visit and when.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Settled in at Puteri Harbour Marina

The 30 mile trip from 1° 15 Marina in Singapore to Puteri Harbour Marina in Malaysia was easy since it did not involve crossing the shipping lanes again. We circled in the Western Quarantine Immigration Anchorage for about 45 minutes waiting for the officials to come out to our boat so we could legally leave Singapore. Then we stayed well outside on the western side of the shipping lanes as we headed toward the Johor Strait that separates the island of Singapore from mainland Malaysia. We saw literally hundreds of large cargo and LNG and other types ships. There was a favorable 2+ knot current almost the entire way. As we approached the Johor Strait the current became neutral and then was 1 to 1 1/2 knots against us; but this did not last a long distance so it was a non-issue. We turned north into the Johor Strait at the top of the tide and made our way northward up the strait during the descending tide. Current was again a non-issue. That was a relief. Bill had been a bit worried that we would have a strong current against us and that it would take hours to go just a few miles.

However, there was one major difference in reality than what was shown on our 2005 C-map chart and also what was printed in our 2006 sailing guide. The guide and the chart both indicated that we should go beneath the Tuas bridge on the eastern side rather than go beneath the center. The chart indicated an extremely shallow spot right in the center of the bridge and that the height clearance was greatest on the eastern side of the bridge. T'aint so, folks!! That was the old bridge.

Now there is a new Tuas bridge and the center of the strait has been dredged to a depth sufficient for almost any sailboat. There was a sign on the eastern side of the bridge and we slowly made our way towards it until Bill could read it with the binoculars. The clearance where the chart and guide book said to go beneath the bridge is now only 12 meters. The mast clearance is 25 meters at the center of the bridge. The mast height on S/V BeBe is 20 meters. The tides in this area rarely exceed 3 meters, so there should be no problem fitting our boat beneath this bridge at any stage of tide.

There are 2 radio antennas mounted on top of our mast, but there should be sufficient clearance for those also.

This was our first time to take our yacht beneath a bridge. Our friend Pam has sailed on the Chessapeake Bay and has gone down the ICW and is familiar with going beneath bridges in a sailboat. She had warned me that it often looks like your mast is going to hit the bridge. So I was prepared to just ignore that altogether and deal strictly with driving the boat, and let Bill deal with taking a few photos when we went beneath this bridge.

I aligned the boat with the 25-meter sign on the side of the bridge and drove straight beneath that sign while Bill took several photos.

He also took a photo of the sailboat that was following us. We do not know the owners of S/V Brio so we cannot forward this photo to them, but you can see that it sure looked like a close clearance when they went beneath the bridge at an angle rather than straight beneath the 25 meter sign.

After the bridge it was a short motor up the strait to the entrance of Puteri Harbour Marina. There was a lot of dredging work going on at the marina entrance, but getting in was not a problem because they sent a boat out to guide us to our berthing slip. Again, the C-map chart was incorrect. Since that chart was produced there has been a huge amount of development in this area. A Dubai company is sinking many, many millions or billions of dollars into developing this area of Malaysia. Puteri Harbour Marina is part of that development. There are gorgeous new buildings of government offices near the marina, all part of this development. The marina is isolated and quite a distance from the nearest town or city. The marina staff are the nicest people imaginable and go out of their way to accomodate guests. They have several shuttles and cars and provide free transportation to numerous places, including the airport and bus station and shopping malls.

Tuesday evening we went in the marina shuttle to a local Night Market. There have been night markets in Australia and all through Indonesia and are the same here in Malaysia. There are several night markets at various small towns in this part of Malaysia, but the marina only provides transportation to the one on Tuesday evening each week. We walked through all the stalls of produce, cooked foods, clothing, DVDs and CDs, and all kinds of things for sale. We ate dinner there and bought a sim card for the phone so now we have a local phone number.

Wednesday evening there was a party at the marina. Many of the boats participating in the Sail Malaysia Rally are berthed here in Puteri and in Danga Bay Marina. They were supposed to depart on 1 Nov but many still have not yet departed to sail up the western coast of Malaysia. They do not stay together and instead tend to follow their own schedules. Several of those cruisers play musical instruments and they wanted to get together Wednesday night for a jam session. So the marina quickly put together a potluck dinner. They provided the grilled meats, salad, juice drinks, plates, cutlery and napkins. All for free. And they brought in a local band for some real music. The cruisers had their fun playing music but weren't very good. Then the local band played and they were much better than the cruisers. One band member looked like he was a Willie Nelson wannabee. We really liked him.

The predominant religion in Malaysia is Islam. Bill said he likes the local version of Muslim-light. Women have a choice whether or not to wear a hijab. Women drive cars and scooters. We haven't seen any women covered head-to-toe but would guess about half the women do wear hijabs. It seems odd to see a woman in tight jeans driving a motor-scooter and wearing a hijab on her head. They look happy and joke around just like women in the western countries.

Today we took the marina shuttle to a shopping mall. While checking out at the supermarket the man ahead of us asked if we were from the new marina. He introduced himself and offered to take us with him when he drives out to check on his plantation tomorrow. How nice of this total stranger! We plan to take him up on his offer. He explained to us that people of his generation speak English but that the younger generation does not. Malaysia had a strong British influence for many years but after gaining their independence the government stopped requiring citizens to learn the English language and stresses Malaysian in the schools now. They are also trying to stress Mandarin Chinese as being the new international language instead of English, but that program is not very successful at this point in time. I know that Mandarin Chinese is also required today in Australian public primary schools, so maybe there is something to the idea that it will be the new international language. If so, the US schools need to get on this bandwagon ASAP.

Every day there are several F-16s that fly overhead. Seems like they are going round and around Singapore. I am surprised that these fast-flying planes can turn so tightly as to encircle the island of Singapore; it isn't very big. It does seem a might silly for F-16s to be circling Singapore. Cannot imagine what purpose this could possibly serve.

It is raining. And raining. And raining. And then I bet it will rain some more. It has rained every day since we left Indonesia. Not all day most of the time, but it has rained at least part of each day. At least there isn't any lightning with today's rain, as there has been every other day.

But, ah! There it is! I hear the rumbling of thunder in the distance. The lightning should arrive soon. And it isn't even monsoon season yet.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Leaving Singapore, but not going far

Today we met our friends Michael and Linda from S/V B'Sheret at Vivo City for lunch and to say goodbye. They will be staying at Raffles Marina at least another week and are not sure where they are going next, maybe to Puteri Harbour Marina or maybe start working their way up to Langkawi. Rather than go to China Town on this rainy day, we opted to eat lunch in the food court beneath Vivo City shopping mall. The food is just as good as in China Town and is less expensive, plus it is air-conditioned and not out in the rain. I finally had an opportunity to try Bee Hoon, which is a very popular dish locally. It tasted okay but was not what I expected -- too much like a soup filled with thin clear rice noodles.

The four of us walked around talking for a couple of hours. Bill and I did a tiny bit of shopping. Our toaster died yesterday and we have gotten spoiled and wanted a new one. For the first 2 1/2 years we made toast in a skillet until we finally bought a toaster in New Zealand almost a year ago. These cheap appliances certainly don't last long. Then our friends headed off for Raffles Marina and we returned to our nearby marina. I really do like being in this centrally located marina on Sentosa Island once we figured out the buses and subway.

Today the marina handled our clearance out of Singapore. We will leave the dock in the morning, move to the nearby Immigration Quarantine anchorage and submit out clearance paper; then motor the 30 miles to Puteri Harbour Marina on the Malaysia side from the island of Singapore. So we can still take a bus or taxi into Singapore whenever we like since it is just across a bridge.

A couple of days ago Bill spent several hours dealing with Emerites airlines, Continental airlines, hotels in Birmingham, England and in Bangkok. Net result is that we canceled our original flights from Bangkok to Dubai to England to Newark to Houston and will now fly on the same dates from Singapore to Tokyo to Houston. Even after paying all the penalty fees the net result cost us nothing and this will be a much easier itinerary. If only we had known we would stop in the Singapore/Malaysia area for months instead of pressing onward to Phuket or Langkawi. That is what happens when you plan things so far in advance. This is a far better place to be based for the land travel we hope to do in Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam. Heck, Bill is even thinking of a short trip into China while we are here, although I doubt that is going to happen.

Next posting will be from Malaysia -- just across the bridge.

Friday, October 30, 2009

More sightseeing in Singapore

Our second full day in Singapore was again spent running around on the MRT and seeing the usual touristy places downtown. First stop was China Town for a Thai lunch at one of the hawker places. Food was good but prices were not the ultra-cheap that some of our friends have talked about. A simple lunch for 2 with one beer and one iced tea was $25 SGD. The food court at Vivo City had food for the same prices and it looked and smelled just as good if not better. China Town was good for the local atmosphere but I am afraid the hawker food stands (at least in China Town) are overrated.

Back to the MRT to continue sightseeing. We managed to change from the NE line to the NS line on the subway and reach the intended destination of the City Hall station. But as we were walking outside Bill informed me that he was not the slightest bit interested in visiting the famous Raffles Hotel and having a Singapore Sling at the Long Bar -- the home of this world-renowned drink. Bill said he has never tasted a Singapore Sling and had no interest in trying one now. Well, duh; couldn't he have said something about this before we got off the subway?

On to Plan B. Next on the itinerary was to visit the Asian Civilisations Museum. Yeah, I know that civilization is spelled wrong; but that is how the Brits and locals spell it. The Asian Civilisations Museum has 3 locations. We wanted to visit the Asian Civilisations Museum II which is located at #1 Empress Place on the northern side of the Singapore River. It wasn't that far of a walk; so rather than going back underground and riding the subway to the next (closer) exit, we decided to hoof it. Without a street map. And not knowing exactly where we were or where we going. But we found it. We also found the Old Parliament House, the new Parliament building, the Supreme Court and a really pretty stark white church on St. Andrews Road, which one must assume is St. Andrews Church.

The Asian Civilisations Museum should be the starting point for any Singapore visitor interested in Asian history. Their exhibits rank first class. The oldest artifacts we saw were dated 1700 B.C.E. There was a special gallery exhibit from China that was spectacular. There were no explanations in English for the exhibit from China but everything was still interesting to me. There was also a special exhibit from the Phillippines called "Land of the Morning" that was really interesting. Would have loved to take photos of some of the Phillippines exhibit but photography was not allowed. Did you know that there was a common Austronesian language spoken all the way up into the Phillippines more than 7000 years ago? I find that astounding. The culture in this part of the world is so much older than we were taught in school 5 decades ago. Oh, and BTW, since Bill and I are each over the age of 60 the museum charged us a discounted admission price of only $4 SGD each. In Australia the senior discounts only applied to Australian citizens; but here in Singapore we old folks are granted discount admission prices. The one and only good thing about being old.

By the time we finished touring the museum we were both exhausted for some reason. Have no idea why we both were so tired, but there you are. We walked back to Raffles City to pick up the MRT at the same place where we had exited earlier and re-traced our routes back to Harbourfront Center and Vivo City. We found the larger and less expensive supermarket located down on the B2 level of the mall and learned they will deliver to the marina if we purchase more than $200 worth of groceries (not including beer or wine). Sounds like a plan to us. But I honestly don't feel that we need to do such a major provisioning right now since we will be leaving in 6 weeks for the trip home for Christmas. I enjoyed a cappuccino milkshake in the mall. A milkshake here in no way resembles a milkshake in the states. It does not contain ice cream. It is lots of ice cubes whirled in a blender with some clear flavored syrup and protein powder. Then they added a dipper of coffee flavored balls that are chewy like gummy bears, and it is served with a wide straw. You suck up the coffee flavored gummy bears along with they icy slush. I didn't care for it at first. Chewing those gummy coffee balls was strange. But I was addicted to this silly type drink by the time I finished it. Want another one or two before we leave S'pore. This icy drink is very refreshing in this hot, humid climate.

Saturday we made arrangements with friends to meet them at the MRT station in Little India. We stood there for 1 1/2 hours and they never showed up. Found out later that we missed them by 10 minutes. They are staying way out at Raffles Marina and had missed their first bus and were over an hour late getting started on their trip into the city. I am so glad we chose One° 15 Marina. It is so convenient for getting into the central business district or to anywhere serviced by the MRT subway. Our EZ Link cards are also good for travel on buses but we haven't yet needed to use a bus except to get in and out of the marina/Sentosa Island and that is not part of the MRT system.

We walked through the Little India section for a very short distance and decided to try one of the food stands for lunch. Bill had nasi ayam (Indonesian chicken and rice dish) and I had chicken briyami (an Indian dish). Both were good and cost only $3-$4 each. I think you could find any kind of food you might desire at those food stands in the Tekkah Markets, all very reasonably priced. Everything looked delicious. We bought a few produce items in the market. Unfortunately the meat market adjoins the produce market and the smells of the meat were overwhelming so neither of us wanted to linger in the market area. The tiny eggplants the size of plums looked interesting, although I did not even recognize many of the vegetables. We were not interested in seeing any of the temples or the mosque so that was enough of Little India for us.

Back on the subway, changed lines and got on the most crowded traincar seen in S'pore so far. Soon we were at the infamous Orchard Road shopping district. This was one busy place!

The subway egress is below the multi-level ION Orchard shopping complex. The shops are fairly high-end; the type stores we shopped in back during our working years. Zegna, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Prada, Chanel, etc., all had individual stores and all appeared to have shopping customers. We made our way up to the street level and sat on a bench beneath some trees and people-watched for awhile. ION Orchard blended into one after another of big buildings of more retail stores. The next impressive "mall" was the Ngee Ann City where there were even more high-dollar retail stores. Must be a lot of money in this town. This is a very vibrant section of the city and business looked to be thriving.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

China Town

Our first day in Singapore was spent figuring out how to catch the right bus from the marina to Harbourfront Center; finding a working ATM; exploring the truly enormous Vivo City shopping mall; figuring out the MRT; exploring China Town; getting back to Vivo City and doing a bit of shopping; and then finding the right bus back to the marina. There was some big golfing tournament held on Sentosa island today and it took us 4 attempts to find the right bus off this island; the first 3 buses were just golf tournament shuttles. By the time we found the right bus I was about ready to say to hell with it and just leave this marina and go to Raffles. But the day got better once we got away from the marina.

Vivo City is a 3 to 5 level shopping mall that is just enormous. It is larger than Houston's Galleria 1, 2 and 3 combined, with the free-standing Dillards and Nordstroms added in. This is the largest shopping mall that we have seen anywhere. And filled with upscale shops. There is one small supermarket tucked in a corner and we found more American products there than we have seen since leaving the good old USA. Of course, everything carries a hefty price, too. A six-pack of Heineken beer priced at $20. A half-pound of bacon for $11.50. A tiny box of Bisquick costs $8.75. You get the picture.

The MRT terminal is beneath the mall. This is the subway and it is really, really nice. The ticket clerk tried to talk us into a day pass for $18, allowing unlimited travel with $10 refunded at the end of the day. Or we could pay individual tickets for each segment we traveled. We opted to purchase an EasyLink Card for $15; $5 for the card and $10 value for travel. This card can be replenished with a credit card at any terminal machine. Plus the rate charge for each segment of travel is reduced when you use an EasyLink Card. The EasyLink Card can also be used on any bus. Seemed like a no-brainer to us.

We rode the MRT to China Town and walked around for hours. It seemed to never end; the narrow streets just went on and on and on and on. With vendors of every kind lining the sidewalks. With hawkers trying to convince us to stop and shop. It was fun. We wished we had waited to eat lunch at one of the hawker eateries instead of eating at Vivo City before we set out to play on the MRT. So we probably will go back to China Town tomorrow for lunch. Lots more small shops and big Chinese stores to check out.

The first thing I did in China Town was have my face and eyebrows threaded. I have always wanted to try this. Unlike most women I cannot have my eyebrows or anything else waxed because it tears off the top layer of my skin. Over the past 2 decades I have tried 4 separate spas where they were skilled in waxing, but my skin is just too delicate for this process and it leaves raw oozing places where the top layer of the skin is ripped off with the hot wax and cloth strips. So threading has intrigued me but I just never found the opportunity to try it. We were walking down a narrow alley and saw a sign for various spa treatments, including facial threading. Full face for only $15 SGD. How could I turn that down! So I trekked up a long narrow flight of dark stairs and found the tiny spa staffed by 2 young Chinese women. They asked me to remove my shoes to enter the shop. Soon I was lying down and one of the women held the thread between her teeth and in each of her hands and deftly removed every trace of blonde peach fuzz from my face and around my eyebrows. It stung a little bit but nothing bad. My face is now smoother than a newborn's bottom. If we lived here I would have this done once a month. If you have never heard of threading, it is a process that Asian women have used for centuries to keep their faces (and sometimes arms and legs and other parts of the anatomy) silky smooth. Tis a bit painful but you know the price of beauty must be paid.

After we were shopped out in China Town we road MRT back to Vivo City. Did a quick tour back through part of that mall and picked up a few salad items at the expensive grocery store. It was easy finding the bus back to the marina. We arrived home seconds before a thunderstorm struck with lots of lightning flashing. No nearby strikes this time. These lightning storms seem to occur daily in these parts but they usually don't last long; not like that 9-hour lightning storm over Borneo a couple of weeks ago.

All in all it was a good first day in the big city.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Singapore arrival

Crossing the 4 shipping lanes of the Singapore Strait wasn't as tense as I had feared.

Boats less than 20 meters in length have no rights-of-way in the shipping lanes. Since S/V BeBe is only 16 meters long that meant that in the shipping lanes we are never the stand-on vessel. Regardless of the situation, we are the give-way vessel. Also, small boats like us are supposed to cross the shipping lanes at a 90-degree angle to the shipping traffic. The other important rule is using sails is forbidden in all Singapore waters. Anchoring is also forbidden except for the few minutes that one is required to stop in the designated Quarantine anchorages for Immigration clearance prior to approaching the island of Singapore. Another relatively new rule is that all vessels are required to rent an AIS transponder and obtain a special permit when moving between marinas or from a marina to a boatyard. That won't affect us because we have no intentions of moving from this marina slip until the day we depart Singapore.

The first 2 shipping lanes were a breeze to cross. We waited for a break in the traffic and followed a fast ferry straight across. There is a separation zone that provides a few moments of break before tackling the second set of shipping lanes. This second set was more challenging. It was slightly nerve-wracking to time our crossing while avoiding 2 fast ferries, 2 tug boats pulling large barges, and 2 cargo ships coming toward us from the starboard side; while at the same time there were 2 cargo ships coming toward us from the port side and 2 more fast ferries overtaking us from the rear. And, remember, we are supposed to keep the bow of our boat perpendicular to the traffic; so we were not supposed to turn to go behind any of these ships or barges. Well, that just wasn't possible. The only safe way to get across through all this traffic was to turn to starboard and point to the stern of the second barge and then to the stern of the second ship on the starboard side. The port side traffic seemed to handle itself and we were never in their way. But we did have to turn to go behind traffic from the starboard side. Then we were across and what a relief that was!

We arrived in the Western Quarantine Anchorage and hailed for clearance as instructed. The anchorage was full of cargo ships and we did not want to drop an anchor in the midst of all those large ships. The depth was 19 to 32 meters and that was another reason we didn't want to put down our anchor. Instead we idled and circled on the fringe of the ships while waiting for the Immigration officials to deal with us. We had all the paperwork ready. After an hour they finally approached our boat. A man held out a net on a long pole and took our paperwork. They stamped our passports and gave us the Immigration Clearance and we were off to the marina which was a very short distance away. We will let the marina handle our clearance with Customs and Harbor Master. They charge approximately $30 in and $30 out for this service, plus they collect the $30 fee for the Harbor Master. Fine with us; let them do the running around for this paperwork dance. Worth $60 for them to do it and us not have to deal with finding the offices to do it ourselves.

One°15 Marina is nice but the facilities are private. There are several upscale restaurants onsite that are open to us any time even though we are not members. There is also a gorgeous swimming pool that supposedly we are allowed to use Monday through Thursday only as long as there is not a private function being held. The outside wall of the pool is a water wall and there are tables and chairs sunken in a spa section back in a corner near the bar. Technically the pool is only open to members and marina guests are not members, so if someone at the pool asked to see our membership card we would be asked to leave. That is just not our style so likely we won't be using this nice swimming pool. We chose One°15 because of its close proximity to downtown Singapore where we will be sight-seeing. Friends went to Raffles Marina which is way out on the southern tip of the island. From their description Raffles Marina is nicer than One°15. But we aren't moving now. Tomorrow we will begin exploring on the MRT--subway, train, buses.

When we were checking out the marina facilities I encountered the first Asian style toilet in the ladies' showers. I had heard about these. Bill said the toilets in the men's room are just normal toilets. But in the ladies' room the toilet is installed recessed into the floor. There are 2 foot pads on either side of the toilet that is flush even with the floor level. I assume one is supposed to squat over it and let nature take its course. No wonder most of the women here wear skirts. I would imagine it takes a bit of contortionist to accomplish this feat with a pair of tight jeans scrunched around your ankles and keep them dry. There is a hand-held spray faucet mounted on the wall for rinsing off instead of the normal toilet paper. Guess you are expected to drip dry after rinsing. Welcome to Asia.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Final comments on Indonesia

Hard to believe we will have been in Nonga Point Marina for an entire week tomorrow. Several boats that had participated in the Sail Indonesia Rally arrived several days after us. We knew none of these folks so it has been a week of getting to know new people while enjoying the amenities of this nice marina. Linda and Michael on S/V B'Sheret arrived on Sunday and it was nice catching up with them and hearing about their river tour on Borneo (Kalimantan) to see the wild orangutans.

Saturday night the marina had a special barbeque set up around their beautiful swimming pool. That was an enjoyable evening hearing lots of stories from the rally folks about their adventures in various parts of Indonesia over the past 3 months. Most of these folks are now heading straight to the Sail Malaysia Rally and will skip Singapore altogether. Singapore has a reputation for being expensive for marinas and clearance fees so they are going straight to Malaysia for the rally that starts on November 1st. These rallies can be fun with parties and celebrations and do promote a sense of comradarie among the participants, as well as often providing substantial discounts at marinas along the scheduled route. So it is easy to understand the attraction of participating in a rally. Unfortunately, the Sail Indonesia dates were impossible for our schedule for the past 4 months; and the Sail Malaysia dates are also impossible for our intended schedule for the next 2 months. We have yet again changed our plans and won't be going to Langkawi before we fly home for Christmas.

We have decided to stay put in the Malaysia-Singapore area for at least 6 months and do land travel from there. There are far better and far less expensive flights out of both Singapore and from Kuala Lumpur for SE Asia travel than the flights from Langkawi. Plus, and this is a big plus, we found a marina that is offering huge discounts for long-term berthing. The new Puteri Harbour Marina is in Malaysia. More about that in a future posting after we get over there and check it out. If it meets with our approval then S/V BeBe will be staying there for at least 6 months while we fly home and then do some land travel in Asia.

Since leaving Opua, New Zealand on May 5 we have sailed a total of 6406.1 nautical miles (that is 7,046.7 statute miles for you landlubbers). I have decided we need a break from sailing or motoring and Bill is in full agreement.

Our final notes on Indonesia:
1. The Indonesian people are friendly and greet you with smiles, except for a few places where they are sullen and obviously don't want the intrusion of visitors. We avoided the dangerous zones of Sumatra and Java altogether.
2. The poverty is depressing in some places, although the people in the poorest areas were some of the nicest people encountered.
3. Bali is lovely and the Balinese people are the nicest of all the Indonesian islands.
4. According to our sailing guide, the archaepalago of Indonesia consists of 13,677 islands -- they must be counting every single rock that sticks above the sea surface because it doesn't seem like there are that many islands on our charts.
5. I think we have seen every type of boat imaginable.
6. The jellyfish in this area are downright scary. The main body usually is about 3 feet in diameter, with tentacles 12-15 feet long. The bodies look like flowers--all pink, orange and yellow. And they float a foot or so below the surface of the water. Definitely get your attention and we definitely don't want to tangle with one.
7. As with other places we have visited, the rumors are worse than the reality. These people are generally friendly and Indonesia is no more dangerous, and possibly less dangerous, than the Caribbean islands.
8. Sailing in this part of the world during this time of the year is difficult because of the strong currents and light winds. That rally should be renamed to Motor Indonesia rather than Sail Indonesia.
9. Indonesia has been over-fished. So badly over-fished that I don't know that these waters could ever repopulate even if all fishing ceased today. In some areas they are even using explosives to fish and are taking fish that aren't even 6 inches long. It is so sad. Guess it was inevitable when a traditional fishing culture grew to a population of over 270 million people.
10. Flies are terrible. Every place we stopped had lots of flies, even way out in the anchorages. The flies at Nongsa Point Marina nearly drove us crazy. The marina sprayed pesticides nightly but the flies still swarmed out around our boat which was in the last outward slip from land.

The marina office is supposed to handle our clearance out of Indonesia early tomorrow morning and we should be out of here by 10 a.m. Then we are off to motor the short distance over to Singapore.