Tawnya...Thanks so much for your very kind note, and you're right, Cheryl rocks!
It’s 6:30am, Sunday morning, & scheduled to dock in Singapore in 90 minutes. Earlier, around 4:15am, we entered what is known as Singapore Straights, one of the world’s busiest waterways. I was awake naturally, but I also wanted to see what they say is one of the most famous navigational marks, the Horsburgh Lighthouse on the eastern entrance. It’s quite impressive (for a lighthouse) and marks the beginning of what they call a traffic separation scheme. This “scheme” has been set up by the government to regulate the flow of the hundreds of vessels that pass by this area each day. A traffic separation scheme can best be described as a highway for ships, including crossroads, speed limits and driving directions. All ships must report information about speed, position, course, next port, and type of cargo. This information is then used to inform port authorities & other ships in the vicinity to regulate traffic & prevent dangerous situations. The “highway” as I’ve seen for the past couple hours, is VERY busy. With a heavy concentration of oil drilling in the South China Sea, there are as many oil transport ships as there are container & cargo ships – they’re in front of us, behind us, & coming from the opposite direction on the “port” or right-hand side of us, directly off our balcony – the smell of diesel fuel is overwhelming as you step outside, even on a Sunday morning.
Singapore, an island country and the smallest country in Southeast Asia, is located on the very southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. As we learned, Singapore was a Malay fishing village when it was colonized by the United Kingdom back in the 19th century. It was further occupied by the Japanese Empire in World War II, & was later part of the merger which established Malaysia. When Singapore acquired independence & having few natural resources, it was socio-politically volatile & economically undeveloped. There was subsequently a lot of foreign investment combined with government-led industrialization – which has since created an economy which relies on exports of electronics & manufacturing. Singapore is probably best known for having the highest standard of living in all of Asia. They say that Singapore is the 22nd wealthiest country with a foreign reserve of US$$119 billion – this is measured by GDP per capita. Similar to Hong Kong, 83% of the population (4.3M) live in housing constructed by the Housing Department Board, & nearly half use the various public transportation systems each day. The city has been highly criticized for having some pretty tough domestic laws – but you can’t argue with their low crime statistics, which are some of the most impressive in the world. Perhaps we can learn something?? Example – you can’t chew gum in many public places. Why?? The city was spending too much money cleaning it off sidewalks. Another – no smoking in public. The most severe – it’s the death penalty for drug possession – period.
Here’s an excerpt from our ships arrival newsletter: “Attention all guests - Singapore Customs regulations prohibits the following to be brought ashore: chewing gum, chewing tobacco or imitation tobacco products, pistol or revolver shaped like cigarette lighters, controlled drugs or psychotropic substances, endangered species and their by-products, firecrackers, obscene articles or videos, and reproductions of copyrighted materials. Offenders are subject to severe fines and/or incarceration.”
Some of these leave me scratching my head – others make perfect sense. We’re so anxious to spend quality time here and better understand this fascinating society and city…they must be doing so many things here the right way or at the least, a much better way than we’ve experienced in the US. It’s time now to wake Cheryl – I can just begin to see the skyline – I don’t want her to miss a moment.
We just learned that a ship we were docked with in Vietnam last Friday (the Silver Seas Shadow) was involved in a collision with a container ship – no injuries. I’d mentioned the fog & rain that followed us from Hong Kong for several days – apparently that was the cause according to news reports. It’s amazing though - with today’s navigation technology, there’s no valid reason for this accident – it’s simply human error. Today (Tuesday) is still quite overcast – we haven’t seen a sunny day in over a month – there’s a weather system between Europe & Australia that just keeps swirling – Singapore wasn’t as bleak as Hong Kong, but it would be great to have a nice sunny day!
We initially docked at a container port about 5 miles from the cruiseship terminal – our sistership (Holland America’s Zaandam) was in our berth disembarking about 1,500 passengers. They chartered several dozen busses for the day to run us back and forth between the regular terminal & container port. There was never an inconvenience – very well organized & efficient. The plan was to move the ship at 4pm that day to our normal berth after the Zaandam departed on her next journey. We caught one of the shuttle busses after breakfast and went shopping. The mall at the cruise terminal is several stories tall and seems to go on endlessly in every direction – anything you could possibly need is available, & reasonably priced. Finally got my new pair of dress shoes and I didn’t pay $3K, unlike Hong Kong’s asking price! Since leaving back in January, we bought our first meal (not arranged & paid for by the ship) – you guessed it – McDonald’s!! Close your eyes, and the Big Mac in Singapore tastes exactly the same as Phoenix! I think I’ve mentioned that our meals aboard the ship have all been fantastic, but I’ll tell ya, that Big Mac & fries sure tasted GREAT! Even though they were served in paperbags and not on fine china, it was a real treat, though we both felt a little bloated after inhaling our lunch! After several hours of shopping & people-watching, we took a shuttle back to the ship. We wanted to be back on board when the ship repositioned from the container port to the regular terminal at 4pm. As we were preparing to leave, a huge thunderstorm rolled in – check out the two pictures below. The clouds were rolling & black – like something you’d see in The Wizard of Oz – lightning was vertical, close to the ship and the thunder was deafening – just a tremendous storm! There was a waterspout a few hundred feet from the ship that I was able to capture on video – hopefully I can share it with many of you at some point in the future. At any rate, the storm passed & cooled the temps very nice. We were an hour late repositioning because of the storm. We had a city tour schedule for 6:45pm and made it with about 5 minutes to spare. After touring by bus for the first hour, we then had a walking tour followed by an old-fashioned rickshaw ride – quite fun and very scenic. We boarded a small boat and toured the city via river – we passed many historic landmarks along with modern nightclubs & cafes bordering the waterfront – Singapore is very active after dark, even on a Sunday night. Put Singapore on your bucket list! I take my hat off! The city itself is by far the cleanest I’ve ever seen - & the people, unlike Hong Kong, were absolutely wonderful. I don’t know what the difference might be between these two Chinese cultures, but folks in Singapore are so much more upbeat, friendly & helpful. The city is pristine – it’s impeccably clean. Every bush is manicured, every tree is trimmed, or so it appears. Singapore is a very progressive city – it seems to have the latest in architecture, engineering, transportation, retailing & fashion. We returned to ship around 11pm, grabbed a quick snack, showered and hit the sack. Up early Monday morning, we hopped on a cable car and took a very scenic ride over to Sentosa Park – a beautiful setting directly across the bay from the cruise terminal. Once again, incredible landscape & very scenic. It was extremely humid – we were both tired & thirsty from all the walking in the heat. We grabbed a cold beer and just people-watched for a couple hours. With 4 Singapore dollars left, Cheryl insisted we needed to go back to the mall and spend it – I knew what that meant! She found a bathing suit – it was a little more than $4 so a credit card was used for that! We ended up spending the last $4 on a bag of nuts at 7-Eleven. It was “all aboard” by 9:00pm – we grabbed a light dinner, showered, and sat on our balcony as we departed Singapore at 11:00pm. A great, very beautiful city – thank you for such a wonderful experience!
Next stop, Phuket, Thailand – scheduled to arrive Wednesday morning, March 21st – about 700 miles northwest. There, we plan to spend several hours at an elephant orphanage. Chris & Shana – don’t worry – I promise not to adopt a baby elephant and bring it home, even though I may be tempted!