Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Where are you on the globe?

During our recent stopover in Tokyo I was looking at a magazine and this image totally freaked me out. This supposedly is how the globe appears if Japan were the center of everything. And we all know that Japanese believed for a very long time that Japan was the center of the world. You can click on the image for a larger view. I think it is the way South America wraps around the right side that bothers me the most, although Africa and Europe are also totally weird.

Does anyone else feel freaked out by this map?

We were in Narita for only about 24 hours because of flight connection delays.  We had flown through Narita previously but always made the connecting flights with no problems.  This time our originating flight from Houston was delayed many hours which meant there was no connecting flight when we finally arrived in Japan.  So the airline had to put us in a hotel until connecting flights to Singapore would arrive later the following day.  This made a very nice break in the long trip from Houston to Singapore.  Actually ended up preventing any jet-lag when we eventually reached our destination 2 days later in Malaysia.  The hotel was not too distant from the Narita airport so we saw very little of the area but what we did see appeared very, very close quarters.  The twisting roads were extremely narrow and the vehicles very small.  The hotel room was ever-so-tiny but provided everything one might wish for comfort.  We skipped dinner (even though it would have been paid for by the airline that caused these delays).   

Breakfast was interesting.  The chef prepared 'omelets' using ulra-long chopsticks while cooking in a wok.  The omelets had no filling.  It was simply beaten eggs spread very thinly in the wok and then rolled with the chopsticks so the result resembled a crepe.  Then each person could add whatever topping preferred drizzled over the rolled egg.  Bill opted for something very American (pancakes) but I decided that since we were in Japan then I should try the traditional Japanese breakfast.  I had grilled squid pieces and roasted salmon.  Both were fabulous!!!  The squid was about 2-inches wide by 5-inches long and scored well and had been marinated in teriyaki sauce.  Somewhat chewy and I loved it.  The salmon filet had been cut into 1 1/2 inch strips and then dry roasted.  Does not sound appetizing but it was delicious!  I had to go back for seconds for that.  Wish I knew exactly how they roasted that fish.

The people we encountered were so polite.  Wish we had the money and time to visit Japan someday to truly enjoy that country.

The king is dead. Long live the king ! (or rather sultan)

Almost every morning we walk a few miles around the new government buildings and construction areas near the marina. Last Sunday morning we happened upon a public bus stopped at the new unoccupied bus terminal. Bill had his wallet in his pocket, so we jumped onto the bus on the spur of the moment. Had no idea where it was going, but what the heck; we didn't have anything better to do that day. The bus followed roads we had not previously seen, and after 40 minutes we were dropped at the same mall that the marina shuttle takes us to each week. So now we have figured out a way to get to the mall -- if we can just find out the bus schedule. The driver did not speak English, but I did understand from him that the next bus would pick us up at the CausewayLink Bus/public bus interchange a half-block away.

We had not eaten breakfast and hit the food court first for a mango-yogurt ice drink for me and peanut butter toast for Bill. Thank goodness they had not yet started cutting up those stinking durians in the supermarket before we finished our breakfast. We strolled around the mall to waste time inside the air-conditioning before walking the half-block or so across a small field to the bus interchange. The attendants at the bus interchange had never heard of the bus number and could not tell us when it should arrive. This is a brand new bus route and no one seems to know anything about it. We decided we would wait up to 2 hours before hailing a taxi -- people watching would keep us entertained. An hour and half later, the bus drove up and we headed back to the marina. While waiting, I had walked around are tried to read the posted signs and found one indicating that there are now 2 daily express buses from that bus interchange to Kuala Lumpur. Hey, what a find!

We need to get to Kuala Lumpur next Monday for an early morning flight on Tuesday to Cambodia. We had not yet decided whether to take the bus or the train, but the information that we had found thus far indicated that the bus would depart from the Larkin main terminal, which is a good distance from the marina. Finding this new express bus that departs from the interchange near the mall makes getting to KL very simple. I purchased tickets for the 9 a.m. bus on Monday morning and we already have seat assignments. The marina shuttle will deliver us to the bus interchange for a very minimal fee. So easy.

While we were on this bus excursion through the villages and while in the mall we noticed that all the local people were dressed up more than usual and that most of the men were wearing small black hats encircled with white double bands. We thought maybe it was some muslim holy day or a national celebration day. When we got back to the marina we noticed a few of the men were wearing black arm bands on their upper right arms, so we inquired about this and were told that the king had died. Well, okay; which king?

Bill did a bit of internet research and learned that the king who had died was the sultan of the state of Johor Bahru. We had seen the sultan/king back in November when his yacht was docked here in Puteri Harbour Marina for a few days. He traveled with several nurses always walking a few paces behind him, even though he did not appear to be ill. His name was Duli Yang Maha Mulia Sultan Iskandar and was 77 years old, which explains why the nearby new government building complex is named Kota Iskandar.

Malaysia has a system of rotating kings. Each state has a sultan and the states rotate having their sultan serve as king. Sultan Iskandar had previously served his 5-year rotation as King of Malaysia; and I presume that once a king, always a king, because the marina staff always referred to him as the king rather than as the sultan. Duli Yang Amat Mulia Tunku Ibrahim Ismail ibni Sultan Iskandar (age 38) has now been appointed to serve as the new sultan for the state of Johor Bahru. I believe he is the son of the recently deceased sultan/king.

The king will be mourned for 7 days. State and federal flags will be flown at half-mast. People go about their normal work routines, although I have noticed that most of the women are visiting the female prayer room near the marina cafe several times daily. Normally the female prayer room is vacant most of the time. The men are more viligant in making their 5 daily required prayers. The local radio stations are playing the mourning chants all day long and the marina is playing this "music" on the sound system at the marina cafe for us all to enjoy all day and night, 24/7. All the women are wearing long skirts covered by long tunics and most are wearing white headscarves. The fabrics of these dresses and headscarves are beautiful. I haven't photographed any of them because I am afraid that would seem disrespectful.

During our walk this morning we took photos of some of the new government buildings. These are all state government buildings; the federal building haven't been built yet, although the infrastructure is already in place. The first building completed was the mosque, as required in this Islamic country. I am afraid our photos don't do justice to the size and beauty of these buildings.

Two other buildings in the complex intrigue me. One is a light-colored metal-clad building that curves. This is an unusually shaped building. And it has 29 lightning rods installed at various points on the multi-leveled roofs. Not taking any chances with the heavy lightning in this area.

The other intriguing building is more striking in appearance. It is basically a concrete block construction that has squared angles and patios on roofs. Except that this angular squared building is topped with very high slatted multi-level roofs. These slatted roofs are constructed of brown metal slats and I-beams. This provides shade and the large space between the actual building and the roofs causes the sun-heated breeze to flow in the shaded areas. This is an excellent method of cooling the actual building beneath; far more efficient than dead-air attic space that would just heat up and require ventilating. And the high slatted roofs are architecturally appealing. We walked inside one of the buildings and saw a table mock-up of what the area will look like once construction is complete. The aerial view of the slatted roof buildings illustrated how curved these buildings actually are.

The key hole effect of repetitive arches with multiple open air courtyards at varying levels at the entrances to some of the buildings is quite Arabic in appearance. As noted in some of our prior postings, this new city is being built by a Dubai company and the Arabian influence is very evident in the architecture. Our marina looked tiny on the city mock-up table. On the return portion of our walk we saw our marina from a different angle. The island of Singapore is in the background just across that narrow spit of water behind the marina (a/k/a Johor Strait, where current runs through like a river).

One thing that Bill has found interesting is the communications tower. Rather than leaving it as one normally sees communications towers (plain metal tower with small satellite dishes and antennaes pointed in every direction), this one has green branches attached randomly on it so that in the distance it looks like a tall narrow tree.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Routine Stuff

January 15, 2010
On the first morning back on the boat after our Christmas trip to Texas Bill decided to run the main engine and the generator and a few other routine maintenance items. He likes to do this every few days when we are berthed in a marina for any length of time so the saltwater circulates rather than sitting and corroding inside the engines. Before we left for the month-long trip we had filled the engine and the generator with fresh water. We also filled hoses to the toilets with fresh water, rather than let salt water sit and sour in the hoses and stink. The engine ran fine and Bill burst the throttle control forward and reverse to sling off any slime growing on the prop. But when he started the generator we immediately got a "no water intake" code and it shut itself down.

The first thing he checked was the impeller even though he had changed it just days before we left on the Christmas trip because it was at 400 hours according to his maintenance spreadsheet. There was nothing wrong with the impeller so he began the process of disconnecting hoses and checking for water flow or blockage........ found no problems. This was getting frustrating. After re-doing everything again hoping to find something that he had missed, he finally realized that the problem was the shaft key which locks the impeller in place on the shaft. When he removed the salt water pump for the second time, he found that the shaft turned freely, but the impeller did not move. We did not have a key, but did have a spare pump (in fact, we carry 2 spare pumps for both main engine and generator), so soon it was fixed and the generator running smoothly again. Did a bit of research and learned that we can purchase a replacement key and ordered one immediately so the old pump will become another spare. Seems odd that a key on a shaft would fail. Don't think we have encountered such a failure on anything before this.

January 21, 2010
Rain, rain, rain. Provides a nice break from the hot sun.

Puteri Harbour Marina now has city bus service nearby. This allows us an opportunity to get out more easily to explore, but it also means that the marina no longer is eager to provide transportation for wherever we might want to go. Or so rumor tells us. So far, the marina has taken us wherever and whenever we have wanted to go somewhere. But one cruiser said the marina refused to come pick him up at the Gelang Patah bus station one day last week; they told him to take the local bus back to the marina. We reserve judgment on this subject until we personally experience it. If we have learned anything by now, it is not to believe everything said by other cruisers. People sometimes tend to exaggerate and to omit pertinent information.

When we went to the Night Market in Gelang Patah this week I purchased a dragon fruit. This fruit looked so unusual that I had to try it. It is pink on the outside and the edible inside is white with tiny black specks. The black specks are not seeds and do not have a grainy texture. The white edible inside has the texture of a very firm kiwi fruit. The taste is very mild and ever so lightly sweet. Dragon fruit gets a thumbs up from me. Durian, on the other hand, is beyond my capacity to try. I cannot get past the awful smell. It turns my stomach to walk anywhere near the section of the supermarket that sells durains. The interior of a durian has the texture of custard (otherwise known as pudding to Americans) and supposedly tastes good. I cannot force myself to taste something that smells so awful. A Dutch lady here in the marina summed it up the best. She said that eating a durian is like eating custard from a sewer. 'Nuff said. Not trying it.

I cannot resist adding a short video of our 6-month-old grandson, Damien. This baby loves to jump. Here is a short video of him in his new jumper for the first time, taken last month when we were in Houston. Ignore the door which was eaten up by the dog trying to get to the FedEx deliveryman. I think Damien will get a lot of use from this jumper.

Back to Malaysia via Tokyo and Singapore

One of our sons has the worst luck with cars. Shortly after posting the last blog we received a phone call asking us to meet him on the side of the Loop 610 freeway and pick up the baby and our granddaughter because they had just been rear-ended -- in their new BMW. Since the car that hit them was not drivable, both drivers had to wait at the scene until the police showed up to take the report, about an hour later. Luckily no one was injured in our son's car, just sore. They were all buckled up and the baby was in a top-of-the-line car carrier. The baby was flopped forward and backward in the crash but did not suffer any injuries. Now that infant car carrier must be discarded and a new one purchased. Things are so different now than when my kids were infants and babies rode in those old-fashioned infant car seats with the flip-over tops and toy steering wheels. Thankfully. infant car seats are much safer now.

They were rear-ended by a young girl who was driving with her right leg in a temporary full-leg brace. How bright is that!! Both her air bags deployed so she received the typical bruising from the air bags. Our son's car is one of the new clean-air diesels by BMW. It was the first one sold in Houston and I think that girl's insurance company is going to be surprised at how much it will end up costing to repair what looks like minimal damage. This car has active head rests and they deployed in the crash. Since this is such a new car, the BMW dealership isn't even sure if the head rests can be re-set after a crash or if the seats including headrests must be replaced. Fancy cars; fancy prices.

We picked up our visas at the Chinese consulate a few days before our flight back to the boat. That turned out to be a very simple process. Glad to have it taken care of. Now, if we can just decide where and when to arrange a trip. I would like to see the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Sunday morning we arrived at the airport more than 3 hours before our scheduled departure, only to learn that our flight was delayed more than 5 hours. I overheard other passengers talking and learned that this flight is quite often 5 hours late departing on weekends. I think Continental must have a scheduling problem with this particular flight. Bill has a lifetime membership at the President's Club so we had a comfortable place to sit and wait those 8 hours.

The 12-hour flight to Tokyo (Narita) went smoothly. Bill slept but I was wide awake the entire trip and watched 4 movies. Of course, we missed our connecting flight to Singapore. Continental put us into a hotel for the night and had booked us on the first flight to Singapore the next morning on ANA (Al Nippon Airways). There was time for an early breakfast before taking the shuttle back to the airport. Bill opted for traditional western-style breakfast fare, but I decided to eat a Japanese style breakfast since we were in Japan. The roasted salmon steaks and grilled squid were delicious, even if it was only 6 a.m.

We were way over the luggage limitation on ANA and they wanted to charge us a very hefty fee; but Bill explained that the rule is that the baggage allowance is whatever applied on our originating flight and that Continental allows two 50-lb bags per person on international flights. It took almost an hour to get our four 45-lb bags checked with ANA, but at least they did it with typical Japanese polite smiles on their faces.

Another 4 hour wait for this flight; then 8 hours flying time to Singapore. The marina was sending a private car to pick us up at the Singapore airport, so we stood around waiting for another hour after arrival. The car was delayed in extra-heavy traffic in Singapore, and we could certainly see why as we drove back through Singapore towards Malaysia. Four hours later we arrived back at the marina. This trip normally takes one hour. We had dinner at the marina cafe and crashed for the night. The overnight layover in Tokyo helped us avoid any jet lag. We slept all night and awoke at 5 a.m. with no jet lag whatsoever.

Today was like Christmas morning. We order various things all during the year and have them shipped to our son's house. Then when we make the annual trip home for Christmas we pick up everything purchased during the past year. Even though we maintain a spreadsheet of items ordered, there are always surprises -- usually clothes, books or DVDs. So today was like Christmas morning as we unpacked the 4 large duffel bags and discovered what all we had bought during the past year. Finding a home for everything was challenging. This boat is getting too full. Our new rule is that nothing can be purchased unless an equal weight item is discarded.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Christmas in Houston 2009

Bill had arranged a car to transport us from Puteri Harbour Marina in Malaysia to the Changi Airport in Singapore, but the car did not show. Instead we could have been transported in a van but that negated the entire effort. Everyone crossing the country borders in a van must exit the vehicle with all luggage and clear out of Malaysia and again when clearing into Singapore. Passengers in a regular car can clear both places seated in the comfort of their car; luggage remains in the trunk. We decided that the van would be a waste. If we were going to have to deal with luggage during immigration and customs clearances, then we might as well take the bus for 3.50 ringitt instead of the car for 300 ringitt.

Turned out to be a wise choice. Clearing with our rolling duffel bags and backpacks was not difficult at all. We were traveling on a Sunday mid-afternoon and the bus was not crowded to standing-room-only as it normally is on weekday mornings. We switched from the bus to the subway at the Jurong East MRT station and were soon in the Changi Airport. We stayed in the Crowne Plaza Hotel right inside the airport. This made it very convenient to board our first 6-hour flight very early Monday morning, December 14. We arrived in Tokyo right on schedule. A couple of hours later we were on our 12-hour flight to Houston. We arrived right on schedule mid-afternoon on the same day we had left even though we had been traveling more than 20 hours -- thanks to crossing backwards on the international date line.

Jet lag was awful on this trip! When we flew home from New Zealand last year neither of us experienced any jet lag. We crossed an additional 5 time zones on this year's trip and arrived to a full week of rainy dreary gray weather. Maybe if there had been bright sun for the first few days we were back in Houston then we might have adjusted to the jet lag quicker. It took about 10 days for us to finally feel normal during the days and to be able to sleep most of the night.

This trip allowed us to enjoy seeing our younger son graduate from college. He qualified to wear a colored stole for making high grades; but being the thrifty man that he is, he opted to wear the traditional cap and gown sans honors stole. He didn't see the point in paying for a stole when his grades weren't anybody's business but his own. We also were in town for our older son's 38th birthday but missed seeing him that day because we attended our granddaughter's school Christmas music program. I enjoyed playing with the new 6-month-old grandson while his dad took video of the music program. Another night we drove with the granddaughter to Santa's Wonderland in Bryan-College Station. Traffic was horrendous; if you plan to visit this display you really need to arrive there no later than 5 p.m. or you will sit in traffic until almost midnight. It was a very cold night, but a nice way for kids to celebrate Christmas.

One day we met up with friends Paul and Michele and their 2 kids for lunch. They had just sold their boat, S/V FREE SPIRIT, in New Zealand and are now landlubbers again. They haven't yet decided where in the US they want to live, so they were visiting Michele's sister in Houston area for a few weeks. It was really wonderful to see Paul and Michele again. We will very much miss them as we continue onward on our circumnavigation. They had originally planned to sort of casually buddy-boat around the globe with us. We had touched base with one another at various places throughout the Caribbean and across the South Pacific. Hope they enjoy land-life again.

That same night our grandson Zachary exhibited his developing cooking skills. He cooked cheese enchiladas for dinner and they were quite good! Looking like he might follow in his dad's footsteps and become an excellent cook.

The day after Christmas all the relatives came to our son's home in Houston for our traditional Christmas get-together and that was fun, as usual. Our elder son and his wife took off to New Orleans for a few days to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary. Bill and I were staying at our son's house with grandson Zachary while his parents were in New Orleans. So I invited all the relatives to our son's house for our Christmas family gathering. This year I did not feel like cooking or eating anything traditional. Instead, Bill and I had been craving Strack's Farms special potato salad and barbeque for months; so that is what we served. Everyone seemed happy with this very casual food choice. It was really more about visiting with each other than about a specific meal. It was great to see everyone again and catch up. And having the new grandson made Christmas special this year. Christmas always seems better when there are small children to enjoy the festivities. Didn't take long to teach baby Damien how to rip the wrapping paper off his gifts and get into the spirit of opening gifts with all the other kids. My favorite gift that anyone gave anyone was a tee-shirt received by grandson Zachary. His dad always purchases something each year from This year Zachary received a plain bright short-sleeve red tee-shirt with black trim on the neckline and sleeve edges. On the front is printed "Expendable." If you don't get that, then you are not a Star Trek fan.

I caught the flu and stayed in bed for a few days and missed New Year's Eve. Bill's brother, John, treated him to a celebratory special evening at our favorite restaurant Ruggles while I stayed home snugly tucked in bed. The next morning I was feeling well enough to drive down to Kemah and visit with friends who have a boat docked at Watergate Marina. We enjoyed wonderful shrimp and oyster po'boys and gumbo for lunch. We very much enjoyed visiting with Pam and Larry for several hours.

Next celebration during this home visit was the baptism of our 6-month-0ld grandson Damien. Nice that this was scheduled during our visit so we didn't miss the occasion. He looked so adorable in his very manly baptism apparel. No christening gown for this little boy. And he smiled throughout the entire ceremony. The outfit included a hat of sorts but we ditched that item of apparel. It looked way too Quakerish!

And here is a photo of our family at the church for Damien's baptism. The 2 men in the back row are our sons Trey and Aaron; middle row are their wives, Kristina and Lynn; and the other 4 are our grandchildren, l-r: Zachary, Elisabeth (BeBe), her baby brother Damien and big brother Sebastian. The photo on right is of Bill with me holding baby Damien. That baby is just so darn cute. Sound like a proud grandmother, don't I? And here is Damien with his godparents, Uncle Trey and Aunt Kristina. And, yeah, Trey is a really big guy. We grow 'em BIG in Texas!

We visited with several old friends during the month visiting home in Houston and it was just great to see each and every one of them. Some friends are in poor health and this might have been the last time we see them. Other friends hope to visit us aboard S/V BeBe for weeks of sailing in Turkey or Greece in 2011, assuming we manage to evade the Somali and Yemeni pirates and terrorists and actually make it to the Med. Bill did his annual medical check-ups with the VA Hospital and got approved for another year of scripts to treat the Crohn's Disease. That is really the main reason we make the annual trip home, to renew his prescriptions and the mandatory VA medical check-up.

One weekend Bill and his brother John made a nostalgic road trip back to our hometown Beaumont, Texas. Two men in their sixties recalling memories from when they were only 3 to 4 years of age. Surprisingly, they found everything they were interested in seeing again. They found the old home of their paternal grandparents and the home where they grew up. They even talked the current owners of both these homes into allowing them inside. This brought back all kinds of childhood memories of each place. Also looked at some churches and the places where their father's business had been located; the building is long gone. They think they found the spot where they owned a retail furniture store while still in high school; but they couldn't be sure because that building was also long gone and the streets had changed so very much. Heck, even the street names have been changed in that part of Beaumont. They thoroughly enjoyed visiting the old home town for a few hours. I thoroughly enjoyed staying in Houston that day and skipping that nostalgic trip.

We visited the Chinese Consulate to obtain visas. Have not yet planned a trip to China but needed to obtain the visas just in case we are able to put together a trip to fly to China from Malaysia. According to the China website, the visas can only be obtained from our home country so we needed to take this opportunity to get that handled.

Our flights back to Singapore start Sunday morning, January 10. This time we fly Houston to Tokyo and then onward to Singapore, arriving slightly after midnight on Tuesday, January 12; thanks to crossing the international date line in the other direction and gaining back that day we lost en route here. As much as we enjoy seeing everyone and visiting our home town of Houston and being Americanized again, we miss our boat home and are ready to settle back to our marina and cruising life. Love these annual trips home ---- and always love going back to the boat which is our real home these days.