Days 18 and 19 – Sea days on our way north-west to Kuala Lumpur, our final stop before we head back south-east to disembark for good in Singapore. It's not long before we're so far out to sea that we no longer can smell land. We are of course in the watery realm of King Neptune, and today, Day 19, is the day we've crossed the equator. Apparently, ancient naval tradition requires, when this line is crossed, a small ceremony involving Neptune himself, complete with his trident. So that was the big entertainment for us at noon today, with the pool deck jammed to watch the fun. Having achieved this milestone, we now are Crusty Shellbacks. Or so we are told. All in all, kind of a fun thing. A look at just a few of the hundreds of ships crowding Singapore's harbor. Clearly, a whole lot of cargo flows through this place.
There's another important line to cross. That happens, on Saturday, several days from now (today is Tuesday, March 7, I think), when we cross the international dateline again on our way home. Shortly after that happens, perhaps I finally will know, for the first time in weeks, exactly what day and time it is.
Interesting. As we pass Singapore, a huge city marked by many skyscrapers, we find hundreds of ships in the harbor, many of them tankers riding high and dry, waiting for loads. Makes me think of an invading navy. A lot of petroleum passing through this port. A lot of other stuff, too. It's a huge and very busy port that processes something like 90,000 containers per day. Think about that. The ships here comprise a navy of commerce. Overall, the effect of this huge harbor - miles long, the number of ships here, the backdrop of the city, and a glorious sunset, is absolutely jaw-dropping.
Day 20 –Kuala Lumpur. I'm up a little before six and out on our veranda to watch as we glide through a harbor channel to tie up alongside this city's new cruise-ship center. There's a strong chemical smell in the air, the framework of many chemical plants on the skyline, and the sort of hazy red sunrise that suggests air pollution. Makes me think that we in the U.S. are very fortunate that we have the environmental protections that we have. Breathing this cannot be healthy.
Seems like this is a very prosperous place, with, in order, petroleum, palm oil, manufacturing, and tourism bring the biggest sources of income. There must be a lot of it, as this place looks the opposite of Bali - modern and relatively clean.
Our trip today took us not to Kuala Lumpur, the country's commercial capital, but to Putrajaya, the country's administrative capital. We were absolutely wowed. Built fresh from the ground up in 1995, the city is a showplace built to accommodate digital communication. The highways between it and the port are wide and modern, with not much traffic. They are lined by mile after mile of palm oil plantation. The highways accommodate much cargo from the port, our guide said, and that's the reason they are quite rough in places. Weight beats hell out of highways. Here's a look at the so-called Pink Mosque, newly built in the newly-built city of Putrajaya, Kuala Lumpur's administrative capital. Very impressive and very beautiful.
The best feature here? For us, it is a large and very beautiful botanical garden filled with trees and plants we've never seen. We had an hour here but could have spent much more time.
And now it's our inalienable afternoon on board. Tonight we will enjoy a group dinner with the Aragons and the Hooffs, then return to our stateroom and pack for tomorrow, which starts early. The final challenge? To Web surf all I can, burning my last wi-fi minute at – well, at the last minute. We've had 250 minutes to play with and we've had to husband them carefully. Just as I wish to die just after I've spent my last dollar, I hope to leave the ship tomorrow with my zest for information satisfied and with a zero wi-fi balance.
Day 21 and 22 – Singapore, about 250 miles south of Kuala Lumpur. As I said, we're up early. I'm up at 6 am to shower, dress, collect our passports, which have remained in the hands of the ship's security officers. We grab a quick breakfast and then, at 7:30, we disembark, clear immigration and customs, grab a cab, and check into our hotel here in Singapore.
Man, what a place! Older sections comprised of shuttered, sprawling three-story buildings compete for space with modern high-rises. And what buildings! Lots of interesting and creative architecture here, which we viewed from the top level of a bus.
What architectural creativity and freedom! There aren't many straight lines here, not many right angles. It's all curves and waves, very interesting stuff. And clean? No litter anywhere, men operating miniature street sweepers to keep the sidewalks spotless. You litter, you receive a draconian punishment that might well include being caned, with up to seven strokes. Not good!
The place is incredibly prosperous and very busy. Lots of young people. Or am I just old? (The chorus answers with a resounding "Yes!")
We got an overview today courtesy of the hop-on, hop-off bus, and well worth it. Tomorrow, our last day before we catch our ride home? Not sure. Laura wishes to shop. I'll have go find something to do. Should not be too difficult. The subway here makes this whole huge city easy to access. But after a tour on the bus, we stay close. We're checked into the Royal Plaza on Scotts, a very nice hotel here on one of the city's upscale shopping districts. After 19 days aboard ship, it is nothing short of wonderful to have a real bathroom, a real toilet, a real shower. What incredible luxury!
Fun thing today? We stopped into the bar at Raffles, a wonderful old hotel that harkens back to the heritage of the time of the British here. Our merry band took refuge in the bar at Raffles. The assignment? Sample a batch of Singapore Slings. Delicious!
Very high ceilings, busy ceiling fans, dark wood, and of course Singapore Slings for everyone. The drink was invented here in this bar, so it's something that you just have to do. Delicious, if a little sweet for my tastes.
Morning ritual complete the morning of Day 22, we're going adventuring, Laura and I. This afternoon, she and Ginger plan to shop. Paul and I will go off on our own, see if we can avoid trouble. Highlight of the day? A trip on the Singapore Flyer, the enormous Ferris wheel, with its air-conditioned pods, for an unparalleled view of this beautiful city and its incredible architecture. And to my glee, we see portions of the Formula 1 Grand Prix track winding past just below that. And the final treat, a trip through the Marina Gardens – not exactly botanic gardens, not exactly not, but beautiful and creative in any case. One of the best things in Singapore? A ride on the Singapore Flyer. We liked it!
Later, while Laura and Ginger shopped, Paul and I made a brief shopping foray into the Lucky Plaza, an incredible, multi-level warren of tiny discount shops. Then we collapsed into a sidewalk cafe to snack and watch the world go by. People-watching always is great sport wherever we go, and Singapore is no different.
Food? Our one exotic meal here is at a place called Kam's Roast at the end of our first day. You can have anything you want, as long as its duck. Cooked any way like, as long as it's roasted. So we both ordered roast duck. It was absolutely delicious, washed down with a couple of Tiger beers. Yes, when we travel, we always sample the local beer. This was really good. The specialty here is chili crab and we badly wanted to try it. But we both were so zonked on our last night here that we passed on dinner.
Day 23 – Up at 4, a cab to the airport at 5 am for our 8 am flight to Hong Kong. Then on to LAX for customs and immigration, then on to Portland, and, finally, a short hop to Roberts Field, the neat new airport that serves Bend and Redmond. It promises to be another very long day.
And on this 35th-anniversary trip, that promise was kept. We arose at 4 am Singapore time, caught our flight at 8 am, crossed the international dateline so that Saturday lasted twice as long as it usually does, endured two excruciatingly long layovers in Los Angeles and Portland, and arrived home, exhausted, at about 11 pm. All in all, we were traveling for about 46 hours. But it was worth it.
This has been a wonderful experience. I don't know that we will pass this way again, Europhiles that we are. Which is why we have attempted to extract full value these past few weeks. Favorite city? Easy: Singapore. Favorite experience? Great Barrier Reef, in spite of my experience there. Biggest surprise? Bali and the density and poverty we saw there. Biggest worry? Those damned ugly and terrifying Komodo dragons, their sharp teeth and powerful claws. Biggest relief? Arriving home. Biggest joy? The sharp tang of our local juniper forest, which assaults my olfactory senses the moment we step off the airplane. It's indisputable proof that we are home.
Home, you see, always is our best place. I'm sure it is for you, too. But the thing is, I suspect that it won't be long before we're thinking about our next adventure. It always seems to work that way. And as much as we love home, we also love that.