Monday, December 31, 2007

Goodbye 2007! WELCOME 2008 !

Here's Wishing all visitors to this site:


A HAPPY AND PROSPEROUS


2008

May you be richly blessed
May you have peace and joy
May you be successful
May you have abundant good health
and
May your store of Wisdom multiply !!!


From: The Wise Old Owl






Saturday, December 29, 2007

The 2004 Dec TSUNAMI

Photo: Top - Big Game Fishing in the Andaman Sea, off Phuket, Thailand. Bottom - At Patong Beach , Phuket. I befriended some locals who were fishing for "pasir-pasir"[ snelt]. I had my fishing gear with me and joined them .They provided me the live bait...sea worms. There was a plentiful supply of the fish that day.

It was only 3 years ago on Boxing Day 26th December 2004, that the greatest Human disaster in recent times, caused by natural forces took place, killing more than 240,000 people with 140,000 still listed as missing. No one can forget the great castatrophe that was labelled the Asian Tsunami.
A week prior to that fateful day, D2 and I had returned from an overseas trip. We were contemplating to take a short getaway break at Phuket, one of our favourite places. We like the relaxing atmosphere and the usually fine weather there as it allows us to partake in more than one of our luxuries....enjoying unending Thai food, enjoying the vast expanse of the sea and sand in calm waters, enjoying the various exotic and exquisite body and foot massages....and fishing!
If we had gone it would definitely have been over those 3 days, including that fateful Boxing Day.....26th December 2004. And we would most likely have been at the Patong Beach front at that time .....for 2 reasons. The 1st is we usually prefer a hotel that is close to the beach. And the 2nd was after breakfast, we would have headed for the beach....as was our usual custom.
However, we had a family Christmas eve party to attend and on the 27th there were work related matters to attend to. So...in the end we abandoned the idea and kept Phuket for another day. I had often wondered what would have happened if we were out there on Patong beach when the Tsunami waves hit. Not so fortunate were the 5 thousand plus people who had no inkling what hit them that day. They lost their lives.
We were shocked at the almost complete destruction of the main Patong Beach thoroughfare. We had eaten at many of the cafes, restaurants,coffee -houses and patronised many of the other shops and businesses. The scale of destruction was hard to comprehend.
I remember that morning clearly. My Tv set was on....and remained on the whole day, overflowing with images of the death and destruction from so many places....Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Andamans, Sri Lanka, Burma, India, Maldives and even Africa.

Monday, December 24, 2007

MERRY CHRISTMAS !

Dear friends and readers of this Blog,

May I take this opportunity to wish each and everyone here a


MERRY, MERRY CHRISTMAS

AND

A HAPPY NEW YEAR !


From: Uncle Dicko

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Your Comments and Feedback....so far.

Photo: Main feature page 8 April 2007, Sunday NewPaper
Three months have passed since I started this blogsite recounting my true life experiences in travel and education. I would like to thank all visitors to my site and hope that you found something of interest, of knowledge or hopefully of value...in your reading. There is still much more to come. My intention is to archive in readable story or anecdote form, all my various travels, trips and expeditions and to highlight certain unforgettable, some even unbelievable, moments or experiences. Nevertheless, all the things described really happened. Nothing here is a figment of the imagination.


I have received many comments and feedback from visitors who e-mailed me or commented on the site. Your kind words of support and encouragement will spur me to continue on my archiving journey. For that, you all have my grateful thanks. To show my appreciation, I have decided to reproduce briefly some of the comments here in this post.


I dedicate this post to all of you ......visitors!


  • " Good job for a start, Mr Yip!"........ Alice Lesmana, 21/9/07

  • " Interesting Blogspot. A good laugh in English Lesson. I think the site should remain as THE WISE OLD OWL . Wise indeed !"......... BaBajoe 21/9/0

  • " Not bad for a start. Must learn from you how to start a blog site." ......Ronnie 21/9/07

  • " Interesting blog you have here. Must have taken u some time to enter all the information. Thanks for sharing." .......K Heng 29/9/07

  • "It's great to see you are keeping yourself active 'post retirement period', in fact even more active judging from it. Cheers and keep up the activity.".......Winston C, 1/10/07

  • " Congratulations on your blog site. It's GREAT! "........Maree, NZ

  • " What a lovely entry....keep em coming!! ".........Ferunk, 22/10/07

  • " It's been great reading all about your South Island adventures. You really did well to cover so much distance in the middle of a cold winter. I haven't been on the Tranz Alpine yet. But I really want to go.".......David T, 3/11/07

  • " Congratulations on your very own travel blog. You truly are a well-travelled person. Perhaps you should consider writing a Singapore version of the Lonely Planet Guide. I especially enjoy your New Zealand posts." JackieY 14/11/07

  • " Your Blog has received votes today !"........Fuel My Blog website, 21 and 22 Nov

  • " If you ever make it back to New Zealand again we would love to meet you! " .......Glynis, owner of Albatross Inn, Dunedin, 22/11/07

  • " Your Blog received votes today ! ".......Fuel My Blog website, 29/11/07

  • " Your incredible but scary adventure in Lake Toba and Medan makes great reading". ......TF Chan

  • " I enjoy viewing and reading about places, events, people, life and culture"......Evelyn Chin

  • " Your terrifying escapade in Medan airport on the day of your departure and what followed is much like an extract from a 007 movie clip: exciting, gripping, absorbing, fascinating....your presence of mind and the ability to stay calm saved the day. It's a "miraculous escape". I wish to commend you for your beautiful narration and crisp writing. You are blessed with a photographic memory, every tiny detail adds spice to your greatly engrossing encounter. Thanks! ".........TF Chan, 16/12/07

  • " Really impressed by your Blog pages on your encounter with the customs of Indonesia. Very Wise and Knowledgeable indeed ! ".....LeeSY, 18/12/07

There are many other messages and comments I've received but not included here yet. Will include as many later. Thanks for your comments....keep them coming!




Saturday, December 15, 2007

Heaven and Hell ( almost ) ! Part 4

The concluding story.....

The events which unfolded previously had pushed me into a most terrible predicament, an unwanted major crisis and a potential hell-hole. I was at the tip of a disaster. The entire heavenly holiday trip was turning into a huge nightmare. My entire tour group, including my family, had cleared customs and immigration, without any problems. But I was driven back to Medan city in a jeep and now approaching the main office building, escorted by 2 customs officers to have a face to face meeting with the Director of Customs.
As we ascended the lift to the Directors' office I already knew what had to be done, what needed to be done....on my part. [ In case anyone here thought I would "buy" my way out.....I can assure you that I am TOTALLY against offering of bribes and totally ALLERGIC to Corruption. Those who know me well will and can attest to this.
On many of my travels both long and short, I have been subjected to unexplained, irregular stops, checks, roadblocks, etc..purportedly for " something nebulous". I HAVE NEVER GIVEN A CENT AWAY despite all sorts of threats and accusations...with some openly asking for bribes as a way to "release" me/us....especially in a neighbouring country.] I will share some of these later.
As we entered the Director's plush office, the customs officer escorting me, closed the huge door and greeted the big boss.....and began to speak or rather make the accusations about why we were there. I gave him no chance to influence the boss. No chance! It would be dangerous for me had he succeeded in making a mountain out of a molehill over this Blunderbuss thing.
So I went into overdrive mode.
I must state here that I cannot reveal the entire details of what and how I put forward my position ( note....I did not use the term"case"here as it was 100% apparent to me there was no case at all in the 1st place ). Suffice to say that firstly....I only spoke in ENGLISH although I could speak Bahasa. I asked the Big Boss, " Can you speak English ? "
He answered ," Certainly "....that's why he was sitting in that big armchair!
I said," Excellent! Then let me tell you exactly what this matter is simply about before your
man here confuses you and get You and the others into any unwanted trouble."
I briefly recounted the Blunderbuss buy, check-in, commotion created by his men, his customs chief declining to make any decision, and me being whisked away like a common criminal to appear before him right then. I urgently impressed upon him that should I miss my flight home because of all this nonsense...I can almost assure him that the following things will happen...
(a) and (b) and (c )....part of my 3 step checkmate.
Meanwhile, the escorting officer who had not spoken out yet...opened his mouth to speak.
The Big Boss yelled at him, " Diam !" [ Silence or quiet! ] .
He waved the chap over and asked for the Blunderbuss to be placed on his desk.
Big Boss held the antique gun, looked it over carefully and asked me just one question....ever so politely that I was impressed.
" Will you allow me to use a key to scratch my initials on the butt of the gun ? "
I replied, " Go right ahead. No problem to me at all. "
He took a key from his desk and made some tiny marks scrapping off the tiny bit of surface wood from the butt.
Photo: [ see the previous blog picture of the close-up butt of the gun ]
He then said," It's ok now."
The escorting officer, who was standing at attention, and watching all these must have been briefed on what and how he should make out the case against me. He began to speak again..and was " Diam!" a 2nd time by the Director.
Now , the Director showing this nincompoop and "the others" who was really Big Boss ordered him to return me to the airport safely and to further escort me to the plane and ensure I did not miss my flight! The Nincompoop, turned around and saluted to his Big Boss who thrust the towel wrapped gun into his hands.
The final order by Boss, " Cepat !"
The shuddering and non-plussed nincompoop asked in a soft voice what should he do with the gun. " Return it to him. It's his. He can bring it home with him. I don't want any more problems you understand? "...said Boss.
" Yes Sir!" ...the deflated and demoralised nincompoop answered. Obviously, he and the others must have thought they were to be hugely complimented or rewarded for "this case". What a dressing down he got and the others may yet received.
I thanked the Director of Customs and shooked his hands warmly. I felt that he knew that I knew he had openly shown a strong hand to his nincompoop as I was critically assessing the situation and his leadership and how I would evaluate the whole matter later.
Nincompoop and the jeep driver then drove me back at breakneck speed to Polonia airport.
We rushed through all the checks, collected my suitcase and when I was standing before the last X-ray scan machine as my suitcase went through, the monitor screen showed the image of a gun.....and the security officer manning it shouted," Senapang!"
Not again! My Goodness, I thought.
Then the nincompoop yelled at the X-ray officer to ignore the image and just let me through.
" On whose orders?" X-ray challenged.
" Director Besar!" nincompoop answered with a full air of authority now.
"And we are to assist him into the plane ! " Poop added.
" You have written orders?" X-ray added.
" Director's initials on the gun Butt !"yelled Poop.
And so it was fated that the SIA plane on the tarmac, engine thrusting, about to take off, still had one final passenger....yours truly! When I entered the plane, everyone looked at me in total disbelief as though they had seen a ghost. They thought I was a "goner". Many had thought they might not see me again for a long time.
My family members were relieved and estatic.
I was gone for an hour but the weight of that experience felt like an ETERNITY!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Heaven and Hell ( almost ) ! Part 3







What is the origin of the name Blunderbuss? The term has Dutch origin. The Dutch called it the Donderbuss or the "thunder gun". Donder means thunder, buss means gun. The Blunderbuss was a favourite weapon of pirates. Why? It was an effective weapon for close quarters fighting as it fires a load of shot pellets much like its modern day cousin....the shotgun. The loading of shots and powder is done from the front end of the muzzle which is flared like a trumpet. Then an iron ramrod is used to ram all the stuff deep inside the gun barrel. The firing mechanism was a superb piece of middle -age technology incorporating a metal striker, a tiny bit of flint, a flashpan and gunpowder. And this technology invented in the 1500's, perfected by 1630, lasted for over 300 years until the American Civil War in the 1860's when another new invention revolutionised gun warfare.
Though use of flintlock guns soon faded away, they had already left some lasting marks on the landscape of history, particularly in the English Language. The terms, " lock, stock and barrel" and " flash in the pan" as well as " going off half-cocked" are still very much in use today. All originated from the association with the flintlock gun.


Nightmare at Polonia Airport, Medan

The story continues from Part 2. From Parapat, we soon arrived at Medan and checked into the Garuda Plaza Hotel...an upscale, classy hotel which had a swimming pool too. D3 and D4 enjoyed the food and comforts of this place most. The next morning, after breakfast, our tour guide ensured that our tour group left on time for the airport for our return flight to S'pore. On reaching the airport, we headed first for customs clearance with our luggage. It was very crowded that morning being just 2 days before Christmas. We stood in the queue, waiting for our turn. Soon we found ourselves before the uniformed customs officers who signalled for us to place our bags and suitcases on the long table. They told us to open our luggage for inspection.
D2 and my daughters' bags were checked. No problem. They were zipping up their bags when my own suitcase, which was opened caused an immediate stir! One customs officer pressed on my clothes and found something very hard, wrapped in a towel and paper. He asked, without first opening it, " Apa ini ?" [ What's this? ]
I replied that it was a souvenir I bought in Parapat.
Slowly, he peeled off the towel and paper and blurted out just one word when he held the Blunderbuss for all to see, " Senapang !" [ gun ] . The eyes of everyone there were trained on him, the object and then me. Immediately, like a magnet, other customs officers drew near.
Then the questioning started....right there and then, in full view of everyone, my family and fellow tour members included.
One over zealous officer rubbed it in saying, " ini senapang antique !"[ this is an antique gun ] and required an approved permit. " Have you got a permit for this?" I gently replied that the genuine antique shop I purchased it from had stated categorically that no permit was needed for this particular Blunderbuss...and gave reasons why. I fished out the written address slip and showed it to them. They were all unimpressed! The zealot upped the tone and tempo when he said," Ini banyak mustahak !" [ This is very SERIOUS !]
Another asked, "why were you hiding this in your bag?" [ So, the accusations had started ].
I explained that it was no hiding. The gun is very old, rusted in some parts and must be wrapped up to prevent soiling my clothes and also to protect it too. None of my explanations impressed them at all. Meanwhile, my family was waiting for me to join them as they waited nearby. The officers did not release me. They upped the ante!
They took my suitcase and placing the Blunderbuss in a plastic bag asked me to follow them.
I told them to hold their horses first. I asked, " Where are you taking me to ?"
To see their Chief Officer they told me, who was in his office. So, I promptly spoke to D2 nearby telling her " Not to worry. Just look after our little girls well.....even if the plane takes off without me. I can handle it."
They escorted me to their Chief officer in an office nearby. He was a surly fellow who did not want to take responsibility for making a decision, any decision at all. He did not even give me a chance to speak. He gruffly instructed his men to take me to see the Director of Customs !
Now, I had no inkling where this Director was located presuming it was likely nearby within the airport premises. You can imagine my great shock and disbelief when the same officer ordered that the 2 men take the customs "jeep"[ landrover]. Surely, I thought to myself...I must impress upon these chaps that I'm just an innocent traveller with his family to boot and happened to buy a souvenir, a Blunderbuss..an inactive firearm... and now about to board my flight home. And I must have some basic rights!
I fired the 1st salvo. I told this Chief whether he was listening or not this.
"I bought this from a souvenir antique shop for $ 40. Not thousands of $. The owner stated no permit necessary. No need to declare. He even gave me his hand written shop address here. What is the big deal? If it is so much trouble you can have it! But my plane is taking off soon. I cannot afford to miss it ! My family is waiting for me."
He did not respond to me... but one other thing I said must have impacted on him for he chased them all out with the order" Cepat!" [ Fast!]. I am afraid I cannot divulge what I told him openly, here.
The 2 men escorted me out of customs clearance to their vehicle bay area. I was asked to get into a jeep. I was not told where we were going at first. When the jeep moved out of the airport itself onto the main road I was concerned. Multiple questions and possible scenarios flashed through my adrenalin charged mind....most were unpleasant, I should add.
But I DID NOT PANIC....never did !
Rather than waste my energy speculating on unknown outcomes on what was to befall me, for example....detain for further questioning, pay a big fine, hold till everything is cleared , etc...etc.., I used the approximately 20 minute drive to plan a double quick checkmate.
The driver told me we were going to see the Director but his office is in Medan city, not at the airport. He drove very fast. So, I was going back to the city again! Unbelievable !
He said it would take about 20 minutes to get there. And not forgetting the return trip...if they allowed me to return at all. Our plane was taking off in an hour's time or less.

Follow the dramatic conclusion tomorrow !

Heaven and Hell ( almost ) ! Part 2




This is the actual Flintlock Blunderbuss which I mentioned in my previous post. To continue the story...the shopowner asked me to quote him a price. I wasn't certain how to go about it. One common mistake most buyers or shoppers make in such a situation of uncertainty is to unknowingly offer a price, that is almost always ,way above the value of the item. And finding out later, with great regret, frustration and anger that the same item costs only a fraction of the price you paid for...further down the road! At the extreme end, being "kiasu or kiasi"by offering an unfairly low price may invite a scolding from the seller or worse, being chased out of his premises altogether. It has happened before!
So, using all my wisdom....I offered him $30[ Singapore] not rupiahs. He took it all in and asked me to make a "better" offer. No scolding, no chasing off for me...phew! Meanwhile, my family were in the shop and watching this to and fro bargaining. They have much to learn still....it's definitely an Art or Skill worth developing. Like fishing, much patience is required before you land the deal. To be sure, both sides must be a little flexible. Some humour and understanding can go a long way in coming to terms.
I upped my offer to $ 33 then later $ 35. Still no deal but he would not give me a counter offer. I was stuck.
If continued in that pattern....I would be the "loser". So, I changed tack completely.
Thanking him for his time, I told him it was no problem to me...not something that I must have.
Before leaving, I mentioned that we will be checking out of our hotel the next day and heading back to Medan ( a long way off ) .
The next morning, after breakfast, we had 2 hours or so to spare before we leave Parapat. I decided to wait until we were almost boarding our coach before I popped into his shop again to bid the owner farewell. He was cheery and so was I. " So, how about this.?"he held up the Blunderbuss . I said , " It's too late now. All my things are already packed and I don't have the time to do the paperwork/permit part anyway". He said, " No need permit for this. I guarantee.
Only 100% antique must have permit." The tide has turned in my favour. He wanted to sell!
He was now making me various offers from $ 80 onwards. I declined. Finally he said," Last price I give you $ 40 ok? ". I grabbed it and he wrote his shop address as a reference point in case I meet with problemmatic customs at the airport.
I took the Blunderbuss and left it in my main luggage, wrapped in paper and a soft towel to protect it. We departed Parapat and headed for Medan. Stayed a night there before our flight home the next morning.
The nightmare....soon in part 3 of this story.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Heaven and Hell ( almost ) ! Part 1

This story took place in December 1983, almost a quarter of a century ago. The setting was Sumatra, Indonesia. Our two lovely kids D3 and D4 were looking forward to this trip very much.
It was to be their 1st ever trip overseas by plane. And it would only be the 2nd country they have visited, Malaysia being the 1st. Predictably, they were counting the days to actual departure and boarding our very own Singapore Airlines boeing jet...and experience flight for the very first time. It was also a trip that D2 and I felt most happy about as we were travelling together as a family, on a fabulous vacation to a fabulous place....Lake Toba.
The whole journey would last 5 days.
From Polonia Airport, Medan our tour coach from Worta Holidays Ltd, would travel to Berastagi, then to Sipiso Piso waterfalls, to Simalungun (the Batak King's Palace ) and finally to Parapat. The next few days were wonderful as we explored the lake which is the largest volcanic lake in the world. It is 100 km by 30 km in size and reaches a depth of 505 metres. Another little known fact......Lake Toba is actually 906 metres above sea level. In the centre of the lake is an island called Samosir which is roughly the size of Singapore !
D3 and D4 truly enjoyed the food, breathtaking scenery, language, songs, culture and history of the various towns and places visited. And all of us enjoyed shopping as the exchange rate of the S'pore dollar to the Indonesian rupiah allowed us to buy more than we can get, back home.

While we were at Parapat, by the Lake, we went shopping in our free time. D2 and the kids bought haversacks, bags, clothes, a lampshade, souvenirs etc. I had a good buy of 3 lovely batik shirts.
Top photo: Typical Batak houses

Lower photo: The clothes shop at Parapat with the owner.
Bottom photo: King's Palace at Simalungun
Next to this shop was a shop selling antiques. I have always been fascinated by history and the very nature of antiques is based on their past life and hidden history. I walked in and was confronted by many articles of interest. But the piece that caught my attention was an antique Flintlock Blunderbuss. It looked very old and was genuine, though not in mint condition. I could see a screw that was holding the firing mechanism, that was not originally part of the firearm. My conclusion then was that it is a real antique but not 100%...maybe close to 99 % [ the added modern screw ] . Otherwise, it was a most interesting collector's item with a very high value. I estimated the age of the gun to be at least 300 years old. Of course, it would not fire anymore although all the parts were intact mostly. I asked the boss to name me a reasonable price. He did not do so. Instead, he asked me to give him a price. In case you are not aware, this process is another method of " taking stock"of guessing what that item was of value ( can be very BIG! ) to me, personally.
The antique shop address written down by the owner himself can be seen here [ inset].
Our 5 days in lake Toba was Heaven ! But Hell was soon to come at departure for home, at Medan Airport. Catch the scary but true dramatic events in part 2 of the story soon.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Maldives....and one UGLY S'POREAN family


The beauty of the sea atolls that make up the Maldives surpasses that
shown on these postcards. The beauty is both above and beneath the sea. To truly appreciate and enjoy nature's gift or God's gifts to us, one need to have enough time to simply relax and take in the wondrous and exotic scene and atmosphere around us.
Maldives is the same. D2 and I, together with 2 other Singaporean families we met there, got along very well throughout the trip. We even kept in touch long after that trip.
But, there was another S'porean family numbering about 7 persons that completely turned everyone off, including the local staff of the resort. Though basically English-speaking, they were nevertheless most uneducated and were a constant embarassment to the rest of us fellow Singaporeans. Their behaviour and speech were painfully obnoxious throughout. With my sharp senses, I had actually noticed them at the departure lounge at Changi Airport when the father was the only traveller in our Silk Air flight to carry his Golfing things and his son openly leafing through a Medical textbook. And other family members similarly engaged....everyone seeming to project and advertise they are well-heeled and perhaps super intelligent! What a LOAD OF RUBBISH they
all turned out to be at our resort! The mother, a well-oiled and dolled -up uppity type, scolded the poor washroom boys," What kind of soap is this ? In SINGAPORE we do not use such LOUSY soap! You all here GOT NO CLASS. NO STANDARD ! I want some BETTER soap than this ! "
When this was going on, I was actually at the common wash basin next to her. Looking closely at the 2 poor Maldivians and staring at her with my steely eyes, I could not contain myself any longer. I spoke...." Nothing wrong with this piece of soap. It is GOOD enough for me ! And I AM FROM SINGAPORE ! "
She stared at me with dagger eyes but not for long. Why?
Those who know me well can confirm that I NEVER BACK off from BULLIES of any kind,
whatever size or shape, colour or skin. My eyes pierced right through hers and made her realise that her uppity behaviour were all a facade and so much smokescreen to me and the other normal S'poreans. We saw through her and her obnoxious family. I took the incident further.
Sensing the need to set the record straight and to protect the good name of our country, I went straight to the manager's office and spoke up for the washroom boys. The office staff were most appreciative of my gesture and "big heartedness" and were even more pleased to hear that most S'poreans do not behave like them and that back home we do not condone such rude manners. We call them" Ugly S'poreans" in our travels. At dinner that night, we [ S'pore angels..ha ha! ] were served with a big platter of fried fish and curry fish in a pot and mineral water on the house [ very expensive]. The UGLY S'porean table, next to us were served ordinarily by icily cold waiters. They could not "Tahan" and the mother beast reared her ugly head once more. She pointed to our superbly set table and questioned the staff why " they have fish curry, water , etc,...and we don't have??"
We all chuckled and truly ENJOYED our dinner that night!
ps: BTW, our resort has no golf course.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Maldives.....Olhuveli View Resort




Our paradise resort in the Maldives was called Olhuveli View Resort located in one of the southern most atolls of that long chain of islands. Water is the most precious commodity on the island especially drinkable water which cost around $US 2 per large bottle. The mineral water was imported. Food was also quite expensive as all are imported.
I added fresh food to the dining table through some of my fishing activity.
There were plentiful fishes around the atoll.
Top Photo: D2 and me in our most common attire daily...next to"our" boat.
Lower Photo: Ourselves and our dearest new friend Ms Okabe from Japan.
She captured some shots of us during deep scubadiving.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Maldives....ScubaDiving

These are actual photos taken from our Kodak underwater camera as well as by our friend Okabe on her camera. The top picture was sent by airmail to us from Japan ...with a letter from Okabe recollecting her fond

memories of our trip. She too made the dive that day.

The cables attached to the sea bottom were aids to ascent mainly.

We dived to a depth of 0ver 10 metres, taking our time to enjoy the unique scenes before us, giant manta rays above us, sharks around us, all kinds of big and medium size fish frolicking amongst the coral reefs.

D2 had agreed to take this plunge into the depths of the unknown on one condition...that I should be holding onto her hand throughout the entire dive....come what may! I agreed as I had no other choice.

In the end whether she held onto my hand or vice-versa was inconsequential as it was apparent to me, at least, that she did not show

any sign of panic beyond the initial rookie fears. She took to the underwater world quite sublimally. I was greatly RELIEVED!

It took more than COURAGE to go to that depth on your very 1st attempt at ScubaDiving...and she accomplished that without any problems. On surfacing, her instant feedback was nothing short of the Superlative. Much later, when I asked if she would want another diving

experience her response was, " WHEN? ".
Photos

Top: D2 and me during our ascent. Picture by Okabe (Japan)



Centre: We are diving into the depths of the Ocean.



Bottom: I took this picture of Okabe earlier while we were snorkelling

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Maldives.....Snorkelling !

The waters in the Maldives are probably one of the best in the world for snorkelling and diving.
There is plenty of cool, clear water where safe skin diving can be done. As you can see from the


top photo, I did not put on any diving shirt or suit. In the lower photo, D2 had on a long-sleeved shirt more as a protection against scrapping the corals on the reef.
Water temperature is really good for even children to have a go at this activity.
I brought along our own snorkelling gear from home.
Otherwise, one can still rent from the dive centre.

I started learning snorkelling on my own, back in the mid 1960's, when there was a small group of us who used to dive either in the Southern islands and at Pulau Ubin.

On one of those southern diving trips to Sisters Island, I could have and should have drowned had I not developed a knack of NEVER to PANIC, even in extreme conditions and situations...a personal trait that has saved me from CERTAIN DEATH many, many times....since then.
I will likely recount all my TRUE -LIFE ESCAPADES at this blog site. THEY ARE NO ORDINARY RUN OF THE -MILL INCIDENTS.
I can only thank my Heavenly Guardian for my still being here to tell my story.
Cross my fingers but I hope not to encounter any more death-defying situations from now on.
I have had more than what most normal persons would have experienced in one lifetime and many of those unfortunate ones did not even live to tell the tale.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Maldives....Pre -Diving

We had booked a deep sea dive for the two of us. It will be at a popular dive site off our resort. But the earlier sessions were carried out right at the dive centre located close to the long jetty, by the beach. This was a not the usual scenario back home which requires learners to have compulsory lessons in a swimming pool before they can go to open water diving.
The instructors here were confident in teaching one to dive... all in one day. I strongly believe them. D2 can be their testimony to that....all in one day, from learning about the diving equipment to be used, to using it comfortably and safely, and gaining deep water confidence.

The photos showed us in our boat heading for our dive site.
On board, we had a fellow traveller from Japan, a very nice
girl called Okabe. She was travelling alone...most adventurous!
Okabe was with us for this dive and she snapped a couple of underwater shots of us.
I had a Kodak deep water camera too and did likewise for her.

Monday, December 3, 2007

A Big Surprise at Bintan Island, Indonesia.

In December 1996, my former colleague and close friend from HJC Arts Dept, Lee Hoon Cheong
had needed a helping hand for staff to accompany his Geographical field trip to Bintan Island. He approached me and I immediately agreed. Not only that I told him I would ask for D2 to come along too. And so it was, that we left for a 3 day visit together with about 20 odd students of HJC [ Bottom pic: Group pic ].
We had been given a 1/2 day city tour of the place covering the main historical and cultural sights which included remnants of the old Dutch fort [ Top pic: D2 and me at the fort ] temples and kelongs. Then the kids and Lee went on their field trip to study the eco-system. D2 and I had time to soak in the sun at the resort. I was just beginning to survey the sea front, looking far to my left and right, when I spotted a lone angler on my far right among a rocky outcrop. I told D2 to let us go check up the fisherman. He was too far away for us to discern anything, let alone whoever he was.
As we narrowed the distance between us, I could make out the general appearance of the angler.....and there was a 2nd person, probably his wife, I thought.
Then came the shocker!
All at once...we all recognised one another and called out to each other.
The angler was none other than Mr Cheong Cheng Swee and his wife Anita was with him. [ Centre Pic: CCS in Blue T-shirt and wife, Anita ]
CCS, a retired Insp of School, was not only my Primary 6 form teacher but my former Scoutmaster of the 19th Owl troop, Geylang English School. His wife, Mrs Anita Cheong, also taught me in Primary 5. They both met while at the school and I played a small but nevertheless important part as a courier of messages between them. Why me? I was only about 11 then. I suppose I could be trusted scrupulously to keep my SCOUT's HONOUR. I never told anyone, not my classmates, neither my schoolmates, not my scouting brothers.....no one. I'm only telling this sweet story now. CCS was a former S'pore National Doubles Champion with Ronnie Oon and also National Coach in Badminton.
He and Anita were the Best teachers I ever had.
I learnt much about many things from CCS.
From him, I improved on my fishing skills especially the technique for fishing ikan pasir pasir [snelts ]. In later years, we fished together at Changi, Loyang,Pasir Ris, Ponggol, etc..
Fancy meeting an angler who happens to be your form teacher, scoutmaster, Badminton teammate (MOE), friend and MENTOR in the most unlikely of places.......secluded Bintan!

Friday, November 30, 2007

PA.....JAVA, INDONESIA. More snapshots

On many of my travels, I often bring along a Ukelele of which I have several. I prefer my Kamaka Hawaiian- made uke as it is kept safe and secure in a very compact carrying case.
When that is not possible because of luggage constraints, I often can discover somewhere and somehow, someone usually a local, would have a guitar around.
Top photo: Outside the restaurant where we stopped for lunch. I borrowed this guitar from a local chap nearby to try out some Indonesian keroncong songs....Bengawan Solo, Ole Ole Bandung and others. Enjoying the whole scene was my ex-Comex friend Roger C.


Centre photo: A beautiful waterfall gave us some respite from the heat.



Bottom photo: The signboards said it all.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

BEIJING !....Tian'anmen Square & Great Wall

Today, all of us know Beijing is the capital of China. But it was not always so, both in name and in location. History records that King Wu was the first to locate his capital here between 1045-1057 BC. It was then called Ji. Later the state of YAN [ 473 - 221 BC ]which existed during the Zhou Dynasty renamed it Yanjing. After the Mongols conquered China, Kublai Khan made himself emperor and founded the Yuan Dynasty. He kept the capital here but changed its name to Dadu or Khanbalig. Marco Polo recorded it as Cambulac in his travel journals. But it was renamed Shuntian after the Chinese overpowered the Mongols and re-established their Ming Dynasty. Beijing means " Northern City" same as Peking [ the name used by westerners before 1949 ] . At one time, the city was called Peiping meaning" Northern Peace".

Whatever its name, Beijing had a very, very old history.....690,000 years ! That was when Peking Man first appeared at present day Zhoukoudian, about 48 km S-W of Beijing. It is generally regarded that between 1425 -1650 AD, Beijing was the largest city in the world. A total of 34 emperors, of various dynasties, ruled the country from here.

Photo: Tian'anmen Square [top ] ...is the Biggest central square in the world.

We were simply amazed and swamped by the hugeness of everything around us...sheer mass of people, sheer volume of traffic, gigantic buildings both modern and ancient, myriads of activities and movement, the hustle and bustle of life evident. Everything seems huge and big in China.

Photo: The Great Wall of China....this section where I was at, is the popular Badaling section. If you can climb to the top section of the tower they will present you with a stamped certificate as proof. Was it easy....the climb ? It can be quite tiring if you aim to go higher and further. One thing I had to do was to sit quietly on the parapet that provided a fantastic panoramic view of the ever extending, unending wall and reflect on what took place there. Who were the builders?

How did they build this monolith? What tools did they have then? What resources?

You see....questions and more questions especially when I examined the finer details of the ramparts, wide paths, defensive openings, control rooms, the wide steps......etc.

But my wild guess is that the people living in those times must have been bigger, stronger and fitter than us today. They needed to go up and down these huge steps daily...and for a far longer time. We climbed up and down once ....and felt exhausted!
After taking in the Great Wall, my perspective of our modern skyscrapers and tall buildings has changed forever. Our modern-day building achievements pale into insignificance when put beside the only man-made structure visible from outer space.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Singapore - Songkhla Cruise, THAILAND




My first visit to Songkhla and the surrounding provinces was back in the early 70's. This particular trip we made was a sea cruise on the cruise ship, Superstar Aquarius in mid June 1998. Our travelling companions then were and still are some close friends SK Teo, Theresa and Eunice.
We set sail from Harbour Front and before long settled down to explore the full range of possibilities for gourmet food, exquisite cuisine, specialty/ theme restaurants, music places, games, casino, theatre, pool, etc.. We made a rough plan for where we wanted to have our lunch and dinner for the entire cruise stay. We were spoilt for choices.
Throughout our stay, there was never a dull moment. When we had some free time, I took out my " Guitarlee" and an old songbook and then we had lovely singalongs and dancing!
We arrived at Redang, a sea resort of the Malaysian east coast, the next day. It was most idyllic for swimming and diving. The next port of call was Songkhla, the capital of Songkhla province and the oldest sea resort in Southern Thailand. I found the city still charming and still as laid-back as in the 70's.
It is a coastal trading port city with much history. The main industry is fishing and tourism. The beaches here are better than many of the others elsewhere. The most popular is Samila Beach which is just 3 km from the city centre. I first swam there in the 70's. The waves are huge at certain times. From here, Hat Yai, the main entertainment, business, communications and transportation hub, is only 30 km away. Bangkok is about 950 km away to the north.
Since then, we [ D2, SK Teo, Theresa and I ] have made other journeys together including an unforgettable and memorable China trip covering the historic cities of Hangzhou, Suzhou, Wuxi, Nanking, Shanghai and a few more cities. It is an advantage to travel as a tight, small group of 4 as besides companionship, we have the added bonus of economy of scales, sharing of costs, bargaining power, safety and security, better insights of history, geography, politics, economy, facts and figures, travel tips and knowledge.....from four wise heads, rather than one.
Photo: Top - Songkhla harbour
Bottom - My guitarlee and our singalong in the ship's Recreation Room.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Gold Coast....Brisbane, Australia


This was the trip that we were offered as " compensation" of or in lieu of our pre-booked China tour that turned into a complete fiasco. We could have turned down the offer but then our intention of taking a much needed break from our exhausting work regime would have slipped away into oblivion. It was our decisive ok that landed us here....in Gold Coast, Brisbane.

The airport is about 20 km to the CBD. And we had a 70 km stretch of the Gold Coast to explore before us either from our nearby Chevron Hotel or in our chauffeured limosine. We visited several beaches including Surfers Paradise about 45 minutes south of Brisbane. After dinner, we took a relaxing stroll along the beach filled with people out to enjoy the sea breeze, the sounds and happenings at the sea front. We came upon this young man strumming his guitar and singing some familiar Peter,Paul and Mary folk songs. We stopped and listened to him. Soon, hearing the familiar tunes we joined him in singing and clapping. He was most happy, surprised and encouraged that we knew the songs. Then he asked me, " Do you play the guitar too? " When I said I certainly do, he handed me his guitar and requested me to play anything.
I gave him my rendition of the ever popular" House Of The Rising Sun ". He asked for more as he was much impressed. Soon, a few other beachcombers came by too. And I obliged them with a couple more songs....all of us strangers in the night....joined by the sweet sounds of music!
Memories are made of these!
During our stay there we visited quite a few not to be missed highlights.
The GINGER FACTORY...was one.
Located at 50, Pioneer Road, Yandina....it has a 60 year history. Set amidst beautiful gardens full of exotic gingers and heliconias, ponds, lush forests, train rides, walkways, the entry is free.
We went into Gingertown and was blown away by the huge varieties of ginger products available. We tasted many....that were so, so good. But the most tasty of all were those tangy cubes and pieces of the rhizomes that fascinated even Confucius in the ancient past. It looked a little light brownish and a little translucent, coated with sugar. We had never tasted anything like that before or since. No choice...this was a must buy item. We bought a prodigious amount.
We also visited the Big Pineapple located at Nambour, Connection Road, Woombye.
It was a fascinating factory tour too. We did not realise how important the fruit was to the Sunshine Coast.

A NIGHTMARISH EXPERIENCE ! Part 2

In all our travels we had never been in such a situation before. It was still a Saturday night when we arrived home from the airport. It was most embarassing for us as we had earlier bade farewell to our neighbour" Apek", cheerfully. And now, 3 hours later, we were dragging ourselves and our luggage back.

We had no clue or any idea or any rational explanation what had actually transpired. No one was in direct communication with us except Ms cba from ABC agency. Although, we were dead tired from all these wasteful exertions and energy, my mind was still clear.

I rationalised that we were both innocent victims of a most unprofessional foul-up either by ABC agency itself or in conjunction with their 2 or 3 other business affiliates.....that led to this dead end. As Ms cba told us that she was also in the dark as to what had really happened, we had no choice as to our next course of action. The only instruction I gave her was to have our passports returned to us by noon the next day( Sunday ) and " better for your ABC agency not to take this fiasco lightly ".On her side, she promised to get her superiors to do something about the situation and get back to me urgently.
Nothing more happened that night. We were so drained that we had no more energy to be boiling mad and fell asleep rather fitfully....expecting to be awakened in the middle of the night.
I believed that Ms cba must have contacted her superiors and her counterparts from the 2 affiliate agencies....sometime in the night and tried working out a plan to salvage the already precarious situation.
Remember, the original group we were supposed to be in, had already flown off to Beijing. We did not even know then if our 2 names were on the list. XYZ airlines refused to divulge to us.
And even Ms cba could not confirm that. Even though we had zero information on the fiasco,
I was and still am not an ignoramus about the processes and the ins and outs of this business.
And any number of possible reasons could have resulted in this....but all were bad and negative.
Like what? Incomplete payments/ outstanding debts between ABC and their affiliates, lack of trust in each other, lack of faith, cutting-corners to the fine wire ( prevalent practice, quite common ), deliberately putting ABC agency under pressure by the others due to business rivalry or other reasons....etc....etc.
The next day, SUNDAY......early morning.....
The phone rang. I jumped up to answer it. It was Ms cba on the line. "Urgent!" She said.
I looked at the clock. It showed 7:15 am.
She:" Sorry to have awoken you suddenly but we have just got confirmation, although at the last minute, that we have 2 seats for you both for Beijing. But the flight is leaving close to 9:00 am. Can you be ready in half an hour and I pick you up from your main road junction, to save time.
I'll drive you to the airport myself.
Me: "Ms cba, I don't think there is enough time. It's already 7:15 am now and we have to go through a proper check-in, security, immigration....and whatever! "
She: " My friend from the other agency will be bringing your passports and meeting us there. This came from them. To save more time, I will get my mother to accompany me so that I don't have to park . I'll just ask her to wait for us in the car while I help to check you in."
Me: "Ok. We'll meet you in 30 minutes."
D2, awakened by then, heard the conversation and nodded in understanding. We got ourselves ready in 15 minutes and began to lock up our home again, after calling family members to inform them we were off to the airport again. As we walked out of our porch, a smiling "Apek" greeted us cheerfully.
Apek:" Where you going today? CHINA again? "
Me: " Yes, last night some problem. Now, must rush to airport again. Yes, Beijing!'
Apek: " Ok. Good luck and take care! Bye bye. "
Ms cba kept to her word. She picked us up and drove us to the airport and left the car as she said she would, with her mum in the front seat and hazard lights on. She was a careful driver and did not speed at all. I kept looking at my watch, the minutes and seconds ticking away sadly.
Her friend from the other agency was waiting for us outside the unloading bay area.
We rushed to the counter which was still a distance away.
When we approached XYZ airline staff there we were told check-in had closed. And the plane was already ready for take-off on the runway!!!
No amount of pleading from us and the other 2 ladies could budge the XYZ staff to let us through on an urgent basis.
So, for for the 2nd time and two days in a row...we have been left high and dry.
This has NEVER, EVER happened to us in all our life !
Then I took charge!
I asked the 2 lady travel consultants to, " let's go sit down somewhere as I have important
matters to tell you and discuss with you, your bosses or your agencies ".
At the sit down meeting, still within the airport, I asked for the return of our passports.
I told them both I'm still in the dark about the fiasco the day before. I asked them both to listen to me most carefully as it might affect the future of their agencies.
I told them I was quite familiar with the workings of travel agencies as I was the former President of S'pore's leading travel adventure club. I too was familiar with many aspects of air-ticketting, filling-up airline seats, double-booking, over-booking, boosting of groups by affiliate co-operation, group discounts for 8 or 10 pax, early-booking discounts, air, land and hotel arrangements, etc......etc... ." The looks on their face showed they were very worried and took me seriously.
And I told them," Your agency have made us EMBARASSING FOOLS.......TWICE ! I am not sure whether we are your only victims or maybe there are others unknown to us. But you have picked the wrong passengers to make a fool of. I have so many friends and contacts in the press and media waiting,...no dying, to have such a story, especially from me. Think what the consequences will be for your agencies."
" The only saving grace in this whole NONSENSE is this young lady here... I pointed to Ms cba, who all my trained eye and experience, tells me is an innocent, frontline staff used as a buffer by her agency to delay,deflect blame until a way out is found. She has acted beyond her call of duty on all occasions though things were beyond her control. She tried her BEST to try to help us and maybe her agency too. Right now, her mother is still sitting in her car outside! "
With my reminder to her, Ms cba asked what I would do next.
The other lady said there was a mixup in communications between the 3 parties....that our names/seats were not confirmed for Saturday flight but no one informed ABC agency. She did not explain why we were not confirmed since we were told everything was 100 % confirmed by ABC people. I was under no delusion to believe her or anything she said.
Clearly afraid now, this 2nd lady asked to keep our passports " so that they can work out something by tomorrow ( Monday) . "
I thought for a moment and told her, " Ok. I will give you all until tomorrow noon and if nothing comes up by then, please return the passports to me in person, at my home."
Ms cba apologised profusely and her mum also felt very sorry for us. We reloaded our luggage in her car and she dropped us off at our place.
My neighbour, "APEK" saw us returning again....with UTMOST DISBELIEF in his old eyes!
Surely this cannot be, he must be thinking.
Apek: "Wah Mr Yip...so fast come back from CHINA again? Beijing must be very near huh? "

It was less than 3 hours ago since he bade us farewell!!!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A NIGHTMARISH EXPERIENCE ! Part 1

Sometime in November 1993, I booked a 6/7 day tour to China for the 2nd week of December for D2 and myself. The travel agency, let me just call it ABC, had been in the business for some years.
Although, the agency was not among the well-established ones, it was not new and I've heard
of them...their prices quite competitive. So I decided to give them a try even though I know quite a number of the more reliable agencies. I also have friends and contacts in that industry.
A few days before the departure date of our trip, our passports were handed over to their
agent for the necessary documentation and safekeeping. We were informed that our passports and the air tickets will be given to us at check-in time. We were told that it was a group tour. When I asked how large the group was ....they were uncertain, maybe 18 or 20 plus people.
[ This should have been read as a reasonable forewarning...and I did feel uncomfortable with that answer given]. Why?
They should have confirmed and finalised the total number in the group since it was only a few days before departure. Still there was no clear indication of any need to be alarmed then.
On Friday, a day before our trip, we received a phone call to remind us to be punctual for the checking-in at Changi Terminal. We were to meet the rest of the group by 8.00 pm at the
check-in counter of XYZ airline.
Saturday...night plane departure around 10:20 pm
We made all the necessary arrangements before locking up our home. Our immediate neighbours, a nice nuclear family, bade us farewell. My neighbours' father whom I respectfully refer to as "Apek" owing to his age ( late 70's ), had a short chat with us....about visiting China. He was an affable and most amiable old man.... bidding us to take good care as we pulled our luggage along.
The time was about 7:00 pm when we caught a passing cab for the airport. It only took about 30 minutes. We were early or so we thought! The meeting-up was scheduled at 8 :00 pm at the XYZ check-in counter. We proceeded straight to that counter. There seemed to be no queue at all. In fact, not a soul was at the counter save the XYZ staff manning their computers.
Perplexed, I asked the front staff about the scheduled flight that was given to us.
They confirmed that, that particular flight had taken off earlier and there was no such flight at the 10:20 time stated. I asked to see their passenger list wondering if our names were on it.
They denied me the request saying it was confidential.
All this while we were there, not a single representative from our booking agency ABC, was present! Unbelievable! Absurd!
We were at a total loss for information! Any information would have helped in some ways.
There we were, all ready and packed to board a plane for what would be our very 1st trip to China. And yet the airline staff were shaking their heads in disbelief that such a situation had arisen....and they wouldn't even let me have a mere look at their list.
We were in the dark. We were in a quandry. We were boiling MAD and FURIOUS.
Where were our passports? Who was holding them? Did they take them to China on the flight??
Those were some of my fears.
I told D2....whatever the outcome, to let me handle them from then onwards.
I called the ABC's travel staff who was the only person liaising with us.
Me: "Ms____, I'm Mr Yip. Where are you right now? "
She: " Hi Mr Yip. I'm at home. "
Me: "Do you know what is happening here? "
She: " No! Is there a problem? "
Me: "My Mrs and me are on time at check-in. No one from your agency is here. The others in
the group are not here. The XYZ airline staff told us that flight had taken off earlier.
There is no such flight at 10:20pm.
What on earth is happening?
She: " WHAT! No one from the other 2 agencies have met with you? "
Me : " What other agencies are you talking about? We only booked and dealt with ABC.
I have no idea what you are talking about.
And where are our passports right now? "
She: " My Goodness! I am sorry for this mess you are in. Mr Yip, please stay put.
I will come down to see you now."
When she came, she quickly explained the fiasco. Apparently they, ABC agency wasn't the conducting agency for this group tour. Their role was merely to channel clients to this GOONDOO company, together with another 2 other agencies. And the GOONDOO agency staff were in charge of co-ordinating everything.
We had no way to check the truth of the matter. Anyway, how they divided their roles or responsibility, had nothing to do with why we were left behind like BIG FOOLS while the others
were properly briefed and departed without problems.
This lady felt very sorry for us.
But she claimed she was in the dark too!
However, she told us she will be in touch with us later that night.
As she was driving, we loaded our luggage in, and she drove us home.
When we unloaded our things, my dear neighbour"Apek" saw us, and could not believe his eyes.
He said," Wah come back from China so fast already huh ?" It was less than 3 hours since we spoke with him!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

PA.....AUSTRALIA !

A TRIP FROM OUT OF THE BLUE

This was a trip that came from out of the blue ( maybe blues will be more apt ) literally ! For the whole hellish story read my next post and for background info see my post on PA..... China ! And tell me if you ever had such an experience as we had encountered over those 3 topsy-turvy days.
All our meticulous plans for our very 1st visit to CHINA were completely dashed by the unbelievable and utter incompetency of our travel agency.
The sheer magnitude and total lack of professionalism on their part defies
description.
Fast forward to the better part of our story. The time.....December 1993. The agency that had wrecked our China trip was still holding onto both our passports . I had given them an ultimatum to return the passports to me by noon the next day (Monday). Should they fail to do so, I told them, the whole sordid story will be out in the press.....and that would only be the beginning of my action! I spoke to the agent slightly past midnight by phone. She sounded worried and apologised profusely....knowing full well that, that could not ensure further disasters from happening still.
About an hour later, she called me again ," Mr Yip we are very sorry for all the trouble we have caused you both. We have been trying to put you both on a trip somewhere, today if possible, so that your approved leave will not be wasted. But so far we have no success yet.....no available plane seats for two. We will be working on it. "
I was flabbergasted! They had totally wrecked our holiday plans and now, like the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back, still clung onto the hope that they might, just a big might, be able to salvage something for us. They were asking a LOT from us......renewed TRUST!
My reply, " We have no choice. You have our passports. Do whatever you want until noon!"
She, " Have you both visited Australia before? Have you a valid visa for Australia right now?"
Me," Yes to both questions...but why? "
She, " We are trying to put you on Gold Coast tour. One of our tour groups had just left for Brisbane. But the seats are not confirmed yet. If we can get them would you be interested?"
Me, totally lost for input," I give your company till noon to work out something....anything that is about equivalent in time and cost to our original bookings." I gave them this last hope as the lady dealing/liaising with us was a very nice person who was not responsible for the comedy of errors. That was that and we took a look at our luggage, all neatly packed for a winter trip to China that did not materialise....before exhaustion and lack of sleep overtook us.
At 6.30 am our phone rang! I jumped up with a start. It was the lady again. She spoke very fast and excitedly.
She: " Mr Yip we just managed to confirm both of you for a return flight to Brisbane. The flight leaves at 8: 50 am. If you can both be ready, I can drive over to pick you up and head straight for Changi Airport in say half an hour, is it ok? "
I took a good look at all my clocks and my watches....no error there....they all confirmed it was 6:30 am! I wasn't dreaming! D2 was still in dreamland. Rubbing my tired eyes in total disbelief, I answered " OK! But can we make it THIS time? " without even checking with D2.
She:" To save time, can you get to the main road junction of your road? I'll leave soon!"
Me:" Sure thing!"
Everything I did was then in double quick time...awoke D2, told her briefly what transpired, what was coming, unzipped our luggage, poured out everything mostly winter clothes( it was summer in Australia ) kept the essentials like toiletries etc., and we were on the move in 15 minutes. Unbelievable yet true!
Fast forward again.....we were the last 2 passengers to board the plane, they had to make some announcements......but in the nick of time, we made it! Our luggage was carried on board, not in cargo....no time, cargo door closed. Everyone seated looked at us when we entered the plane...wondering what on earth happened to these two... looking so out of sorts! If only they KNEW!!!

Photos: Top: We stayed at the lovely Chevron Hotel in Brisbane.
Center: We were given VIP treatment on arrival at Brisbane Airport.
A limousine with a full time chauffeur was at our disposal. He ferried us to all the attractions as the main tour group was in a coach that was on the move, God knows where!
Below: Warner Brothers Movie World

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hong Kong's Return to China, 1996

Hong Kong was where my late father grew up as a young boy before moving to Singapore in the early 1910's. He had a sister who lived there and nieces and nephews. I was fortunate to have met all of them on my 1st visit there back in 1972. And they showed me around, brought me to one of the best "Dim Sum" restaurants in Kowloon.
The people here speak mainly Cantonese, a dialect of people from Kwangtung province, China. As a Cantonese myself ,I have no problems making my way around Hong Kong on my visits.

This particular trip we made after our 1st-ever visit to mainland China in December 1996. We wanted to be there to soak in the atmosphere of the handing over of the former British Colony to the PRC. I remember speaking to local people and friends there about their feelings then. There was unbridled joy for some who believed that it was for the better...to be part of Great China. But for the majority I detected a deep sense of insecurity, fear and trepidation.
A fear not without foundation, after all they had lived through a period of relative peace under the protective British umbrella. Top most in the minds of many people were what would become of them. Would they be better off? Would there be excessive central controls over the economy, finance, education, industry etc.? What would be allowed and what would be changed drastically? Those were all genuine fears and apprehensions.
But as practical folks, most everyone joined in the festivities and celebrations while D2 and I were there. We caught a spectacular fireworks display over HK harbour area. In the aftermath, we swooned with the crowd, over the euphoria of witnessing the end of a mighty era and the beginning of a new dawn and a new age for Hong Kong.

Photo: Top - The skyline of Hong Kong from Victoria's peak

Bottom - The Big Buddha at Lantau Island

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

PA.....PHILIPPINES ! Manila

The Philippines is an important founding member country of ASEAN. My first visit to this country was back in June 1976 when as the Director of Travels and Expeditions, COMEX Club Singapore, I organised and led a 34 member expedition group that covered a route from Manila, the capital, to Baguio City in the far north. That was a major expedition with many true and most interesting anecdotes and I shall have a more substantial post of that later.

This particular visit was in December 1992 while we were on our way home from the States. We flew in Philippines Airlines from Honolulu to Manila. While making enquiry at the airport concourse about taxis to the city area, we were told to avoid all taxis except those licensed to operate from the airport. This was the 1st sign to me, an experienced old hand, that things on the ground in Manila and likely elsewhere, were not right. The political landscape and economic climate has changed quite drastically since 1976.....about 16 years after my last visit. The country was in the doldrums after the Marcos era. Crime was on the upsurge...all kinds of crime. Kidnappings, murder, brazen daylight armed robbery, corruption, gang clashes, etc.. Everywhere we went, we were advised to be extremely alert and to avoid going to unknown streets, sights and places. Many shops hired armed guards on sentry duty. It was very difficult to be a tourist in such circumstances...especially as I have D2 and D4 with me.
We decided to cut short our trip and headed back home just after Boxing Day. We did spend Christmas in Manila though.

Photos:
Top: Downtown Manila, Next: Rizal Park, Right: Fort Santiago, where National Hero Jose Rizal was incarcerated and later executed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

PA.....INDONESIA !





Indonesia, our largest neighbour in ASEAN, is a must visit place for me, my family and most of my friends. Why? They are our nearest neighbour besides Malaysia. That's why. We ought to know how the different people in Indonesia live, their towns and cities, their history which impacted upon us in the past, their music, food and culture which are so closely intertwined with our own in singapore. And their unique geography....no country has more volcanoes, dormant or active, in the world. The most populous Muslim country in the world. The Land of " keroncong" music...that special blend of soothing sounds that conjures images of Balihai, of peaceful kampongs amidst swaying palm trees and gentle lapping waves by the sea shore. The type of music close to my soul!
I have made many trips to different parts of this huge chain of the archipelago.
The 3 photos were from a trip I made back in 1989 together with D2, D4 and my friends from former COMEX club, Singapore. D3 could not be with us as she was also busy travelling elsewhere with her friends.
Photos:
Top: At Borobudur temple...where the ruins have been painstakingly restored.
Center: The town of Mataram
Bottom: At the foot of Mt Bromo, a live volcano that was and still is bubbling at its crater top. We stayed at Probolinggo and from there proceeded to Ngadisari at the foothills where the expedition up the mountain began. The view from the top is not to be missed if you can withstand the high sulphur air around you.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

PA.....THAILAND !

Land of the Smiles! Land of Sawadee! Land that D2 and I love! And it is only figuratively speaking, 'a stone's throw away' from us. We love the land of Loy Krathong for many reasons...fantastic shopping at good prices, fantastic Thai food at reasonable prices, the give and take attitude of their people, their music and culture, the ambience, nightlife and their sea and mountain resorts.
My 1st visit to Thailand was back in the mid 60's when Bangkok was the host city and venue for The ASIAN GAMES. Since then, I have visited many parts of the country over many years.
This particular visit was in year 2000. D2 and I checked into the Patong Beach Hotel which was located close to the sea front. One highlight of this trip was we decided to try as many types of "massage" as we could find.....not those sleazy ones.
Top photo:
This lady giving me one of the Best massage ever..she was , one of many, that we found along the packed sea front of Patong Beach area. She used a variety of oils that we felt were very effective and that produced a far better tone and relaxation for us. It was so super GOOD that after it ended, we booked her and her friend again for another session the next day.It only cost about $10 in Sing dollars per person,per session. And on top of that they were certified and licensed.
When the Asian Tsunami broke out on the morning of 26th December 2004 and spread its disastrous effects over many countries and areas, including Phuket....Patong Beach front received the worst assault. That morning, D2 and I were hoping and praying from home, that those like this sweet lady, managed to escape.
Bottom photo:
Being surrounded by the stars of the famous Transvetite Review/Show of Phuket.

PA..... TAIWAN !

I have friends in Taiwan whom I have not seen or heard from for nearly 35 years. Yes, since these snapshots were taken back in July 1972. The top picture showed us the participants from the 2nd ASIAN YOUTH VOYAGE 1972 after the main programme ended in Japan. We were all on the way home to our respective countries. The 4 of us from Singapore together with the 4 reps from Malaysia spent some time in Taiwan hosted by our AYV reps from Taipei....especially Grant C Lin. My fellow participants were all around 20-22 years of age. I was senior to them. They should all be in their late fifties today.


Photo: We visited the National Palace Museum rated as one of the best 4 museums in the world. It is located in an area where the mountains formed a backdrop. There is a good reason for this. This museum has the largest collection of Chinese artifacts in the world. They total over 700,000 pieces and the number is increasing. At any one time, only 15,000 pieces can be displayed. This is rotated once every 3 months. What this means is that it would take you 12 years to see the entire display. Items not displayed are kept in deep, underground vaults in the mountains.

Most of the treasured pieces came from the private collection of various Chinese Emperors through the ages. During the civil war between the Communists led by Mao Tse Tung and the Nationalists [ Kuomintang] led by Chiang Kai Shek, when it became apparent that the former were winning and moving towards the cities, orders were given to cart away all these treasures and history to the stronghold and final bastion of Taiwan.

There they remain to this day.



Bottom Photo:

Grant Lin on extreme left. We were enjoying a picnic and testing the waters of Taiwan.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Singapore's 1st Organised Club Expedition by Train in EUROPE, 1978





Besides the love of good food, for most people, setting aside time and money for travelling is high up on their list of priorities. Unlike food ,where one can still expect to get a good satisfying meal for a reasonable price...travelling abroad, especially in the 60's and 70's, will burn a big hole in one's pocket. There were few tour agencies then and most that existed catered mainly to the nearby region of S-E-Asia and Hong Kong. Other agencies may book overseas tours for clients, with their foreign counterparts. Plane fares were very expensive as there were not that many planes and airlines in service then. But the yearning to travel, to leave our little island.....to see the world at large, has always remained an unquenchable attraction for many. The main obstacle to seeing to their dreams has always been ....time and money.
For some of these reasons, COMEX CLUB, Singapore came into existence. The setting up of this travel and adventure club began as an extension of the Commonwealth Expedition Club of UK, with Hqrs in London. The expeditions to various parts of the world ..India, South-America, Middle East, Africa etc..generally required participants to travel overland for many months, something that most working people can ill afford.
Thus, we at COMEX Singapore began to plan and organise trips of different durations of our own making. A few days, a week, 10 days , a fortnight, a month and even longer to provide choice and variety to our members numbering more than 600. All kinds of outdoor and indoor activities were organised by our various sub-committees. But the main attraction, for most members ,was joining our overseas trips and expeditions which were truly affordable.
As we were a non-profit club, all savings were passed back to members, resulting in attractive discounted group airfares, land and accomodation packages etc.
In 1977, as then President of the club, I began to research the railway transportation system of Europe. Many people aspired to visit and explore Europe which comprises so many countries. But
the cost of such packages, covering so many countries, was beyond most members.
I found a much cheaper way to see much, much more for much, much less....very much less in the final analysis! That was to buy the Eurailpass train ticket...a 1st Class trainpass pre-paid upfront ,that provided unlimited train journeys covering most of Europe.
In June 1978, the 1st COMEX European Expedition was launched. I organised, planned and led the entire group of 22 members for that 6 week historic journey.....for all involved, a dream of a lifetime fulfilled remarkably, never to be forgotten. The furthest point north we reached was beyond The ARCTIC CIRCLE....Narvik,Norway. South was Italy. And all the main countries of Europe and the UK.
In Europe, we travelled on the Eurail Pass, which came with some fringe benefits in certain major cities...free ferry, some free city bus, sleeping berths, all 1st class coaches! I have yet to blog in detail about this historic journey...Singapore's 1st organised group expedition by train travel in Europe June-July 1978.
Photos:
1. Club asst treasurer V Yap and me, near COMEX Hqrs
2. Buckingham Palace
3. Hyde Park...Speakers' Corner
4. Statue of Winston Churchill
National Library Memo:
Unk Dicko was invited, as President of COMEX Singapore, to give a Talk cum Slideshow showcasing the adventure we had at the old " National Library, Stamford Road ".
The slides, numbering over 300, are still with me today. It cost me a small fortune back then.
But ....they are still BEAUTIFUL !!!

Friday, November 16, 2007

PA.....MALDIVES !

The Maldives consist of about 1190 coral islands that stretch 820 km from North to South and 120 km fro East to West. One visit and visitors will be addicted to the irresistible charms and sea magic of the islands. It has often been described as" the last paradise on Earth" in most travel brochures. I would strongly concur. The major earning power for their economy is the revenue generated from tourism.


photo: After our diving adventure...all smiles !

D2 and I decided that we should check out the place for ourselves in November 1995. We headed for one of the furthest resorts situated at the southern tip of the chain of islands. It took us nearly 3 hours to get there from Male, the capital city by a fast cruiser. But...boy was it worth the long sea journey when we arrived. Before us was paradise! Or at least it was that close! Pristine, tranquil beaches with pure-really pure white sand, swaying palm trees in the gentle sea breeze, brilliant turquoise lagoons and the wealth of marine life as we walked along the jetty, with fellow travellers going goo-goo and ga-ga, as they pointed excitedly to the numerous varieties of fishes swimming about everywhere.
The best was yet to come....below the surface of the resplendent sea!
The fabulous coral reefs got me hooked and I made a decision to somehow coax my dearie D2 to learn Scuba Diving there and go where
she has never been before. That was a feather in my cap. She, a non-deep sea type, actually went diving with me into the depths of the deep ocean, surrounded by huge sharks, stingrays, giant fishes and other denizens of the deep.
Owl's Recommendation: A visit to Maldives and scuba diving not to be missed !

PA.....MONGOLIA !

The land of the greatest World Conquerors the world has ever seen......The Mongols !
This was one of the best trips I've ever made with D2 in our travel quest. It took place in the summer of 1999 and was a first in many ways.
Since young, I had read and studied about the great Mongol Empire and have never forgotten the stories of their great leaders and their world empire. Some names always come to mind when discussing the Mongols...Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan and Marco Polo.
Mongolia is a huge land, twice the size of France.
And it can be very cold even in daytime summer.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

PA.....CHINA !

The land of my forefathers and ancestors. The birthplace of my late father and his everlonging dream of revisiting it since he left her shores in the early 1900's. The land with the most people on earth and the longest unbroken history. The land of probably the most surprises.
This land is......CHINA !
We made this trip in June 1996 but.............
D2 and I had planned to make our 1st historic visit here back in 1993
. However, despite having made the payment for the trip for the air tickets, board, accomodation and land arrangements, for the 1st time in our travel experience....we were literally left in the lurch...stranded ! Going to the airport but never getting onto the plane! It was a most crazy happening that must be told in a major post separately. A story charged with drama after drama that unfolded beyond our control and which eventually sent us down to Kangaroo land instead of to the land of our ancestors. Initial excitement, apprehension, confusion, anger, downright disappointment, frustration,...all the realms of human emotions we had experienced that time." Unbelievable!" was and still is the word to describe what we both went through, those 3 days in December 1993.

Far left:
Emperor Wise Owl, of the obscure Yip Dynasty, with his faithful consort Mama Boo-Boo-te enjoying the splendour of their Imperial Gardens at the Summer Palace in Chengde, 250 km NE of Beijing.


Left:
Emperor Wise Owl travelling incognito to the Beijing Summer Palace. Here at the main entrance his credentials were checked by the" Main Door Keeper " in the authentic uniform of the Qing period. The Imperial Garden within is the largest in the world. It was begun by Emperor Qianlong in 1750, taking 15 years to complete. In 1860, foreign troops destroyed and pillaged the place. In 1888, Empress Dowager Cixi restored it.