Sunday, May 27, 2012

A Day in KL, Malaysia

Arrived bright and early this morning in Port Klang – an Island port, off the coast of the Malay peninsula, in the Straits of Malacca. This is the main port for Kuala Lumpur and was expected to be a major area for future growth and development but instead all the residential buildings and commercial sites are run down and either empty or in very sad occupied shape.

Nothing really to do in Port Klang or Klang City so the attraction is Kuala Lumpur – which is a major commercial city bustling and ever-enlarging.

The trip to KL requires a bus ride and there were 9 busloads who were on our trip. Its remarkable how much angst lining up and getting on board the bus causes. Its almost a full contact sport involving elbows and heavy luggage.

It’s a 90 minute drive from the port to KL so Deanna our guide had plenty of time to tell us the history and demography.
It turns out that the coastal region of Malaysia has a long and sad colonial history – first the Portuguese, then the Dutch and the British – each for over 100 years – then the Japanese for 31/2 years and finally independence in the 1960s after a Communist uprising and war.
Along the way the Malay majority has melded with a Chinese population (that arrived primarily to work on the tin mines) and an Indian minority that the British brought in to work on the rubber and palm oil plantations.

We had selected to spend the day in KL on our own – meaning we had no plans for sightseeing but rather were going to spend our time downtown mooching around and shopping – I did the mooching and Merle did the shopping. I also caught up on internet – messages (few), finances (diminishing) and blogging.

The place we always start in KL is at the big shopping mall associated with the Petronas Twin Towers. There are a few important attractions here – Kinokuniya – the amazing Japanese bookstore is the main one – for coffee (me), wireless access (me) and magazines (not me).

I got the appropriate first-thing in the morning 10am welcome from the staff when we arrived.

Then we caught the light rail to go to the Central Market and Chinatown – getting around here is extremely easy – English is a second language and everything is clearly labeled!

The Central Market was once the “wet market” for the tin miners but now offers shopping as the main attraction. 

At first, the watch stores amaze and (possibly excite) with their variety and multiplicity; as do the handbag and wallet stores, the t-shirt stores and the tzatchke palaces. However, the joy is shortlived in mudville because there is absolutely no end to the number of repetitions of the above.

Chinatown, specifically Petalling Street, has more of the same to the point that eventually the intrepid traveller has to focus on the more unusual in the attractive line – the lovely flowers

Or the more bizarre line, like the fish that massage your feet, eat the dead skin and generally restore health and vitality

Or the multitude of “zoological specimens’ on sale – including birds of great variety, rabbits and puppies whose fate I would only want to lightly skim over

finally, came across this store roasting (in this case coffee beans) or chestnuts or whatever. the look of the coffee made me thirsty so off I go looking for a Starbucks. 

Brandname stores are now global. KFC is in Chinatown; as is McDonalds (where do you think the puppies go?) but what amazes and impresses me is that Nando's is now a 'global Brand' - thats Nandos from little bitty CapeTown I believe. must have made a $ or two huh?

Memorial Day in Singapore

Today was our day in Singapore and I'm writing this as we sit in the brand new Marina Bay passenger terminal. This new terminal has been constructed on reclaimed seafront land - reclaimed from the sea by filling in the previous ocean front with tons and tons of sand - first obtained by flattening all the hills on the Island now imported from Indonesia. The area around here, beyond the terminal, is the new growth area of this unbelievably vibrant city. There is a new 'Garden by the Sea' under construction that is going to include acres of gardens, two large conservatories and these odd looking 'tree buildings' that will actually house vertical gardens. This in a city that already has one of the most impressive Botanical and Orchid gardens I've seen

Singapore is an island nation of 5 million people (of whom 3 million are Singaporeans) and despite its commercial and financial strength is suffers from a major shortage of local natural resources - first, population, apparently the birthrate of 1.1 per family makes the island non-sustainable so it is importing skilled immigrants!!! second, water - this despite over 100 inches of rain a year! It has to import water from Malaysia, desalinate the sea and reclaim waste water.

On February 15th 1942, it was the Japanese capture of Singapore's water supplies that actually led to the most catastrophic surrender in the history of the British Army. Our tour today focused on the events around battlefield Singapore which was of particular interest to Merle because her uncle - Lionel Cheerin from London was actually captured here and held as a Prisoner of War by the Japanese.

The story of the Japanese invasion of Malaya - which they wanted for its resources - rubber, tin, oil and labor and Singapore (which they wanted as a port to ship the loot back to Japan) was a sad one. The British Army was ill-prepared, ill-equipped, ill-trained and probably poorly led. General Yamamoto troops defeated the British in SE Asia in just over 70 days.

The final defense of Singapore was led by General Percival from an underground position called the 'Battle Box' and we toured this facility looking at the communications center, the command and control area to manage air defense and the conference room where the leadership of Malaya command made the decision to surrender

We also went to the Kranji war memorial and cemetery which was established by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission after the war. This is a beautifully maintained area of lawn with thousands of gravestones marking the last resting place of the known and unknown soldiers who died here.

We were astounded to learn that the YMCA in Singapore had been converted into the HQ of the Japanese Secret Police (kempeitei) and they tortured to death huge numbers here

felt it would be good to leave a sign that we had come to visit Merle's uncles' compatriots

There are also walls with lists of the dead by nationality (mostly Indian and Sikh) but also Australian, British, American and Dutch

We also visited the famous Changi Prison Museum - also a very moving experience. The old prison wall still exists only in part at the front of the new Changi prison and drug rehab center.

Before we entered Singapore we were given all the warnings of things you bring into the country that could get you into serious (chewing gum and cigarettes) and even more serious trouble (this is our entry visa)

The museum itself had graphic presentations of the terrible suffering endured by prisoners like Lionel - here in Changi and those moved to Borneo and to work on the Thai-Burma Railroad.

It also showed the unbelievable resourcefulness of the prisoners through what they made, their art, their university, the cultural activities and most interestingly through their retained spirituality - they built a number of places of worship in the prison which were really quite beautifully done - even to the point of murals on the walls

Humbling indeed! Happy Memorial Day to all

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Spice Route

Since departing Darwin we have been following some of the most travelled sea lanes in the East. We are on the path of the explorers – ranging from the ancient Indian and Chinese to the Medieval Marco Polo and the later Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and English. Exploration and discovery were part of their motivation, trade (and particularly spices) another, then in the end it became all about subjugation and commercial profits.

Spices were in particular demand in times of no refrigeration apparently in large part to disguise the taste / smell of less-than-wholesome food. Pepper and Nutmeg were major products of the part of the world we are currently traversing – Indonesia.

We have followed romantic sounding routes – North through the Timor Sea, then the Lombok Strait between Lombok and Bali (last year on our cruise Bali was enjoying a religious holiday so we went to Lombok instead); then West through the Bali Sea and on into the Java Sea.

These areas were invaded by Japanese troops very quickly between December 1941 and mid-1942 . The resulting defeat of the local and colonial troops led to their being imprisoned and treated very poorly. We will be visiting the areas of Singapore on Sunday from where its defense was conducted, where the surrender occurred and Changi the infamous prison. Prisoners captured here also had to build projects for the Japanese victors that included the Thai railway commemorated in ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’

Indonesia was known as the Dutch East Indies at that time and it was the Dutch military and civilians who bore the brunt here. Singapore and Malaya were one confederation then under British Colonial rule;

Wherever the British Army were, so too were the Anzacs (the Australian and New Zealand forces) so a large number of Australian prisoners – soldiers and support staff and civilians were captured in New Guinea, Singapore and Malaya. Many family members are here on this cruise; in fact, tomorrow morning at 6.30am family members and the Captain invited passengers to attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the site of the sinking of HMAS Perth.

The weather has been perfect as we have sailed on (and on) and as we get closer to the Equator, its getting hotter and the sun stronger. I have been sun bathing for an hour or so each day so that I can be sure my wrinkles are all evenly tanned.

Merles activities…

This morning bright and early I joined a group of Australian and New Zealand lady crafters.  

The ladies admired and enjoyed my work........ :-)

The queen bee and her court

Some things are not confined to the US as a fast-food nation!!!!!

One of the lady”s had brought projects with to teach and charge the grand amount of $2.50 for the materials, per project. 

Today was a cupcake pin cushion, which was a lot of fun.  This pin cushion will be for Maddie, who is a budding seamstress.  

She is following in her great grandmother’s footsteps.  My mom sewed beautifully and made many of my clothes while I was a teenager.

Tomorrow morning the project will be a scissor holder In the shape of a shoe.

Must now go and get ready for the formal dinner tonight, black skirt, black top and of course a Swarovski necklace

Monday, May 21, 2012


Good Morning! as depicted by Wilson the 'barrista' of deck 14

Land at last, after five days at sea. 

Arrived in Darwin and hooked up at the cruise terminal which is a short walk away from downtown

We decided not to go on an organized tour but rather to wander around on our own. Walked along the lagoon and see the commercial vessels - ranging from tour boats to pearlers to fishing boats

Darwin has a great story to tell ……. It’s a small city by most measures – a population of around 130,000 today, they say. It was founded in the mid- 19th Century by just over 100 settlers. A very diverse population has developed as its basic industries developed – Pearl Diving and aquaculture, mining including for Argyle pink diamonds and as a port for the embarkation of livestock from Queensland and the Northern Territory.

Darwin has regularly been demolished, depopulated and regrown until that has become one of its major tales. In February 1942 the Japanese bombed Darwin attacking in two waves. They dropped more bombs here than they did on Pearl Harbor and destroyed many of the buildings, sank civilian and naval shipping (including a US Naval ship) and caused substantial loss of life. The extent of the destruction was kept a secret for long after the war and even now the extent of the loss of life is disputed – officially 250 or so but potentially twice that or more because no one really knew how many Aborigines were killed. Given the extreme risk of invasion the area became a military zone and civilians were all moved to a line parallel to Brisbane half-way down the continent!

Again in 1974 on Christmas eve and Christmas Day there was major destruction of Darwin – this time through Cyclone Tracy. Pretty much every habitation was destroyed and again there had to be a mass evacuation.

Darwin has survived and grown and is the center of a fascinating part of Australia – one I will definitely revisit (probably next year). The major sites are areas of great natural beauty and homes to relatively authentic Aboriginal culture.


The two areas that sound most interesting to me are the Litchfield National Park with its waterfalls and Kakadu.

On this trip, sadly, we are only here for the day so it will be hard to see more than the city itself - although one of the tours offered by the ship is a Darwin Pub Crawl (which starts at 10am and finishes at lunchtime)! A vague sense of the place is also provided in the blurb we received about Darwin that tells us “ locals in the top end consume over 60 gallons of beer a year…..”

I have a feeling that if I cant get a decent internet connection while here that might be my activity of last resort!!

Ah well – back to the ship and on to Singapore. Interestingly, together with a bevy of Singapore Immigration Officers – they know how to live they will be doing our clearance en route on board ship.
As Lael would say – must be nice!!!