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.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

PA.....Hong Kong !

This picture was taken by Ms Tomoko Shibuya a fellow participant of the 2nd Asian Youth Voyage 1972. She hails from Hokkaido where I was fortunate and privilege to go to after our main Voyage ended at Yokohama port, Japan.
This was my 1st ever visit to Hong Kong in June 1972. The people walking along this street with me were my fellow "Block A" members, taking care of me. Japan Jaycees was hosting the whole programme. They were all from various parts of Japan. We had some free time after our pre-briefing before we officially boarded the SS Coral Princess, the official Youth Ship docked at Hong Kong harbour.
The 2nd AYV made a big impact on my understanding of post-war Japan and the new generation of younger Japanese youths. There were selected participants from most of the other Asian countries...Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand,Sri Lanka, Taiwan, etc.... .

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

PA.....HAWAII ! Honolulu


The one and only Wakiki Beach at Honolulu, Hawaii.
Back in 1992, my boss Mr TF Chan ,who was then the Principal of Hwa Chong JC had casually asked me whether D2 and I had visited our daughter D3 who had left Singapore in 1990 for Harvard University, Boston USA ,on a President's Scholarship. I said ,"No,not yet." He asked," Why not?". I explained that to visit the US and make it worthwhile, I would need to be away for about a month and knowing myself and more importantly my job responsibility, I could possibly squeeze 2 weeks at a stretch from the year end term break.
I was then the Head of Sports, PE and CCA at the college , a position that is both challenging and loaded with great responsibilities. He zeroed in," What is the main problem for you?" My reply," During the school holidays....my weekly coaching and training sessions in certain sports actually intensifies. Most of our sporting reps are prepared to sacrifice their family vacation for training even harder. I can't simply cancel holiday training. And moreover, it has been the practice for years since I was headhunted there." His gentle response, spoken like an order, took me completely by surprise. In short, he urged me to take that long break from work and hopefully ,together with D2 and D4, make that trip to the States to visit D3. There was still more! Boss said to go as soon as the holidays begin," so that you can at least have the full 5 to 6 weeks for your trip. And, don't worry about your work and anything else. I want you to have full peace of mind when you travel. I will see to these things. " I was astounded! I was flabbergasted! I was overwhelmed !
D2, D4 and I did make that long journey. The pictures here is a testimony of that.
In my 4 decades of service, he remains the ONLY BOSS who has touched my heart deeply. We have both retired from service but remain in very close and regular touch, even today.

PA.....the SEYCHELLES !


December 1999
D2 and I decided to take a totally laid-back vacation in the Seychelles islands, off the east coast of Africa. It was like paradise on Earth. The sea was so pure and unbelieavably clean we could see fishes down to a depth of 60 metres or more. There were numerous unspoilt, pristine beaches in various islands.
We went Big Game Fishing in a large Chartered Cruiser and landed a 26 kg beauty .......it was a kingfish, a close cousin of the tuna. It took two of us to hold it steadily. This was the biggest fish we ever held. It was to bring much casino luck to both our chief boat pilot and myself that very night.
This exotic group of islands is pronounced .....sea shells

PHOTO ARCHIVES.....( PA )




There is a saying that a picture is worth more than a thousand words. Similarly, a photograph however taken, by whatever camera, captures the unforgettable image of a certain moment in time and at a specific location.



I first handled a Yashica box camera back in the early 60's. Most of the pictures were in black and white film. Since then, I have literally taken thousands of pictures with a clutch of different cameras, graduating from Nikon 35mm to the latest, easy to operate digital cameras. My latest is the Canon IXUS 70 SLD which I purchased in June this year.

Photo: Official Welcome given by Noboribetsu City, Hokkaido, Japan during the 2nd ASIAN YOUTH VOYAGE June - July 1972. I was the Leader of the Singapore Delegation.



I have also tried photo developing in a friend's homemade lab. The large volume of prints I've accumulated over 46 years poses a difficult problem..... Display and Storage. Photo Albums are too numerous and bulky. Framing all your pictures is out of the question. Mostly, I keep them in plastic boxes. Thus, they remain hidden and "buried" in the storeroom, totally forgotten. Such precious memories! Today, I have decided that I will change all that entirely. I intend to scan my entire collection of photos as a personal project even if it takes a couple of years. The next step will be to organise and categorize them into sub-sections for easier retrieval and reference.
For this blogsite, I will continue my posting on ....journeys, travels, anecdotes, incidents and insights and personal experiences from education, all with picture content. PHOTO aRCHIVES or PA will be where much of my photo collection will be displayed. Most will have brief details and comments about the picture. It will be grouped by country, city or year.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Buildings......South Island,NZ


Top far Left:
This is the house that DT's dad Adrian was building when we came a-visiting. But no one was in then so we snapped a picture of it and carried on with our journey.
It is in the Dunedin area.
Left:
D2 at the front of the Marsden Elementary School in Shantytown, Greymouth.
Bottom:
Me outside an interesting phone booth at Cathedral Square, Christchurch.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

More Snapshots...South Island,NZ

Far left: D2 looking like she owns the place...Cathedral Square, Christchurch. We had completed a city tour by chartered bus, with only the two of us on board. What a bonus! No need to wait for other fellow passengers to re-congregate after visiting a spot. Thus, we saved valuable waiting time here which gave us more allowance for a leisurely guided tour.

Left: Near the Portobello Road corner where we stopped to have ice-cream at the parlour. The sign clearly point out Latham Bay. The winding road goes around the bay. We had driven out in the morning of the 2nd day from Dunedin in our rented car.

Bottom: DT and D4 on the castle steps of Larnach Castle.

Friday, November 9, 2007

More Snapshots...Cromwell, Larnach C, Fruitlands

The photos : The giant sculpture of the stone fruit outside the northern end of Cromwell town.
Larnach Castle grounds, Otago. D4 and DT at Fruitlands, a nice homely cottage where we had our lunch.

Cromwell

The town of Cromwell lies in the valley of the Upper Clutha River in Central Otago, between State Highway 6 and 8.
In 1862, gold was discovered here which led to thousands flocking here to try their luck at finding this irresistable fortune hidden in the grounds. When gold became scarce those who had settled here turned the area into a centre of pastoral farming and stone fruit production. There are vineyards too.
History
The town was likely named after Oliver Cromwell [ 1599 - 1658 ] whose New Model Army defeated the Royalists in the English Civil War and which led to the execution of King Charles I in 1649. Cromwell dominated the short-lived English Republic, conquered Ireland and Scotland and ruled as Lord Protector until his death.
Flashback: I remember D2 and I enjoying the movie " Cromwell" which starred Richard Harris, Alec Guinness and Robert Morley, a long time ago around 1971. It was a very good movie with top rate performances by the cast, especially R Harris, who acted as Cromwell. If my memory serves me correctly, it also garnered an Oscar Award for....maybe Best picture. Has any reader here seen it too?

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Mount Cook, Franz Josef and Fox Glacier




DT and D4 had bade us farewell with much hugs and kisses as they headed back to Dunedin. We all parted by the side of the lake opposite Alpine Motel in Wanaka. As we had time, D2 and I went to assess the eateries for dinner. We settled on some takeaways which we could not finish.After a restful night, we were up and about early the next morning by 7.30 am. I went outside to get some fresh Wanaka air. It was still very dark and chillingly cold. My thermometer showed 3 degrees Celsius. We made ourselves warm coffee and tea with the packets we had. These are items amongst other things that we never fail to pack on our travel. We still had the beef steak and bread from the previous night's dinner. We warmed them up and that was a nice, solid breakfast. We settled our bill which came to $65 and checked out of our suite # 18. Our Atomic Shuttle coach which had been pre-booked arrived at 9.00 am sharp outside our motel. Our luggage was loaded onto the trailer behind the mid-size coach. In the coach were 2 guys from UK, 2 girls also from UK, 1 Japanese guy, ourselves and the driver whose name is Doug, aged 52. This portion of our journey would end at Greymouth on the same day.
Leaving Wanaka ,we next arrived at the town of Makarora where we had the first morning break for coffee and a quick breakfast for those who missed it. It was 10.00am. The drive was scenic and beautiful even in winter. At 11.30 am we arrived at Haast. At these scheduled stops, passengers may disembark or new visitors get on. The next stop was a major lunch stop at Paringa. It was 12.30 pm just in time for some chow at Salmon Farm Cafe. It was a fabulous place, amidst a very rustic setting. Here, we bumped into a 17 member group from Singapore who were with Diner's Travel.
After lunch, the coach driver, Doug, announced that the next two stops will allow us some time to see the Fox Glacier and the Franz Josef Glacier. We were in the heart of glacier country. We were warned to adhere to the stipulated time to return to the coach as the coach could not wait for anyone late or missing. So we arrived at Fox Glacier at 2.00 pm. There were shops and other eateries nearby. D2 and I walked around and soaked in the atmosphere of the place. Back in the coach again, we proceeded to Franz Josef Glacier which was about 45 minutes away. This place looked bigger than the previous town. There were more people around, perhaps more visitors.
All of us trooped out of our coach and were soon "lost" in the surroundings, surveying and doing mini-walks as we were given much more time here. After the stipulated time, all came back to the coach except for one guy. He was missing! As advised earlier, the coach has a strict policy of punctuality, of responsibility to those who need to drop off and those they will be picking up at exact stated times. Doug did delay a couple of minutes as he completed the switchover for a new driver to take over. The driver's name ...Tayo.
Thus, I wasn't surprised the coach moved off without the missing or late passenger.
But not to worry, since it was entirely the poor guy's fault, he will have to catch the next passing Atomic shuttle to re-connect, likely with Doug's help.
From the glacier, we travelled towards the town of Hokitika, arriving at about 4.45 pm. We saw Mt Cook, the highest mountain in NZ, along the way. It was truly a majestic view. Another beautiful sight was the sunset over the West Tasman Sea. We rolled into
Greymouth at about 5.30 pm and when we emerged from the coach we could catch the unmistakable scent of sea breeze. We were after all close to the sea. It wasn't difficult to locate our Motel with such an apt name......the Breeze Motel. At the motel's office, the owner Bob and Sandra Holbrom introduced themselves to us. They were such a nice, charming and friendly couple who told us they were great admirers of Lee Kuan Yew and of Singapore. Hearing this made D2 and myself feeling very thankful, blessed and proud to be Singaporeans!
And we chatted a little more, mainly about Singapore, before we were shown to our beautiful suite # 9. It was excellent.
From our suite we called D4 and DT who were staying with Maree in Dunedin.
We told them that we were loving every minute of our adventure in South Island.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cruise on Milford Sound




It was in deep winter that all 4 of us D2, D4, DT and I arrived at the wharf at Milford Sound after one of the Best Coach journeys we've experienced. The stretch from Te Anau to the Homer Tunnel to our final destination is truly breathtaking for its views. The drive up the mountain passes with high walls on one side and sheer drops on the other requires much experience especially in deep winter. Our coach had to wait for certain sections of the mountain road to be cleared of rocks and snow due to a minor avalanche and heavy snowfall. On our return journey, we had a half hour delay at the Te Anau stretch when our Coach driver had to fix chains to the wheels on the advice of the police monitoring the traffic there.
Milford Sound
Milford Sound was carved out during successive ice ages over millions of years and at its deepest point off Mitre Peak ,plunges to a depth of 265 metres. This long, deep valley, now filled by the sea, has walls that rise vertically some 290 metres from the sea floor to the surface and then continue more than 1500 metres above the Sound. The scenery is spectacular with sheer walled mountains, hanging valleys, remnants of ice age glaciers, cascading waterfalls and the deep brooding waters of the Sound. The 16 km long fiord was named prior to 1823 by a sealer, John Grono, after his birthplace, Milford Haven in Wales. The grandeur of this fiord can best be appreciated from the water. Bowen Falls, hurtling 165 m into the sea, and Stirling Falls down the sound are truly spectacular after rain, set amidst the towering cliffs and dwarfed by Mitre Peak. So it is no wonder that Rudyard Kipling described Milford Sound as " the eighth Wonder of the World". The wildlife here is unique. We saw Dolphins behind our launch. We saw seals on the rocky ledges. Exotic birds were flying around. Because of the high mountains all around there was little or no wind turbulence and this create a powerful atmosphere of solitude and serenity, peace and tranquility. It is a truly magical place...Milford Sound of Fiordland.
Legends of Fiordland
This place was well known to the Maori and many legends pertain to its formation and naming.
Demi-god Tuterakiwhanoa is said to have carved the rugged landscape from formless rock. Few Maori were permanent residents of the region but seasonal food-gathering camps were linked by well worn trails. Takiwai, a translucent greenstone, was sought from Anita Bay and elsewhere near the mouth of Milford Sound.
Captain Cook and his crew were the first Europeans to visit Fiordland and in 1773 spent 5 weeks at Dusky Sound. Cook's maps and descriptions soon attracted sealers, and whalers who formed the first European settlements of NZ. From the middle of the 19th Century surveyors, explorers and prospectors began to penetrate the unexplored interior of Fiordland.
I do not have a single photo of this trip as my camera had malfunctioned probably due to the very cold temperature that day. I had to bring my camera to a shop back in Queenstown for them to give it "CPR"! My camera did recover from its heart attack and served me well again.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Route to Milford Sound

Homer Tunnel

















Having heard quite a lot about the Fiordland and especially about Milford Sound , we embarked on this journey by taking the luxury coach from Queenstown. DT and D4 were also with us on this trip. The single day return trip, including the cruise on the Milford Sound Fiord ,takes more than 12 hours....especially in full winter season. Our very early morning journey began as we sat ourselves comfortably in the coach which moved southwards towards Mossburn. The roads on either side were enveloped with snow. Soon after reaching Mossburn we turned westwards heading for Monapouri , which houses a large power station. Then we headed northwards to Te Anau an internationally renowned resort described as the sightseeing" Walking Capital of the World." It is nestled on the tranquil shores of Lake Te Anau. From here, the road winds down the Eglinton and Hollyford valleys, then through the Homer Tunnel, to be met by Mitre Peak ,towering over the glassy waters of Milford Sound.

All in, the road to Milford Sound is one of the world's finest drives.

And Milford Sound is the most famous and accessible of the various fiords.

Monday, November 5, 2007

The FIORDLAND of South Island


In my more than 4 decades of journeying abroad, I have obviously accumulated a wealth of travel experience borne by a keen sense of history, a deep love for the great outdoors and the adventure that beckons beyond our safe shores. Having a sharp observation and the ability to appreciate the music, arts, food, language and culture of the destination, is always an added bonus for any traveller.
In many of my travels, rather than simply buy souvenirs for its sake, I prefer to collect local memorabila such as brochures,
stubs, tickets,postcards, natural foliage, shells, gemstones, etc..
My collection has naturally grown over the years and many are still wrapped up in their original wrappers.
The best travel brochures I've seen anywhere comes from New Zealand...as shown here. They are simply superb in style and quality. The pictures are of a very high standard. I took the trouble of collecting and keeping more than a 100 different types of brochures from this trip alone. Collectively, they represent a wealth of information for anyone keen on visiting,
studying or working there.
The Fiordland
Some of the most wild and dramatic scenery in NZ can be found in Fiordland, in the south west corner of South Island. Fiordland is one of the largest National Parks in the world and declared a World Heritage area. Here, D2 and I, including DT and D4, were stunned by the power of mother nature....from its waterfalls tumbling hundreds of metres into virgin forested valleys, lonely fiords, endless stretches of shimmering lakes and giant granite peaks.
If you are ever in South Island...don't ever miss this......MILFORD SOUND !

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Christmas in JUNE ! ???


On our final night in NZ, after our Tranz Alpine arrived at Christchurch Train Station, we made our way to Bella Vista Motel at 193 Bealey Avenue. This cluster of beautiful motel is only 3 streets away from Cathedral Square...the city centre. Nevertheless, after checking into our suite, with the map of the city in hand, we headed into the city. There was no snow but we could see bits of frost in nooks and corners along the pavement as we sauntered at a leisurely manner. We were going nowhere in particular but looking out for some eateries or restaurants to have dinner.
The next morning, 15th of June 2000, we headed for the city information centre and booked a city bus tour on the spot. When the bus arrived with a guide to boot, we were pleasantly surprised that the only people were ourselves....just the 2 of us, the driver and the guide!
We visited many of the main attractions in and around the city and suburbs. The tour ended at the square.
With much time on our hand before our flight back home, we explored more of the city centre.
Top photo: This one caught our immediate attention. It says," Try our Mid-Winter X'MAS Buffet " at the Riverside Restaurant ( Oxford on Avon ). For a moment we thought the people here celebrated X'mas in June rather than in December. But the ambience, the cold climate and environment stirred our memories of winter Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere. Strange....but we felt as though it was already X'mas back then!
ps: the date on the photo was 14.6.00. This is an internal camera error. Should be 15.6.00.
Centre photo:
Relaxing after punting on the Avon River in the park.

Bottom photo:
The official Town Crier at Cathedral Square

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Don't ever miss this ! Part 2



























All 4 photos from source: http://www.seat61.com/ ( Mark Smith)
Our Journey took off from Greymouth at 2.25 pm. We passed through the old mining town of Dobson, then crossed an ancient suspension bridge over the Grey River. Soon we arrived at Old Brunner Mine which was the site of New Zealand's worst mining disaster in 1896 which claimed 65 lives. The conditions inside our train was cosy and pleasant but outside was very misty. Still the scenery and views in winter was absolutely stunning. Chugging along smoothly, we passed by waterfalls, mountains, valleys and crossed over many low bridges which criss crossed over the river. We followed a deep valley across a shallow river and then came to Otira. This is the place where our train entered the Otira Tunnel at 8.6 km long( 5.3 miles ), making it one of the longest in NZ. It was completed in 1923. As soon as our train emerged from the dark recesses of the tunnel, we were at Arthur's Pass which was a major stop.
Passengers can get off the train for picture-taking, walk around or have a good stretch. We were in the heart of the Arthur's Pass National Park surrounded by snow everywhere. With so much snow around it wasn't surprising that people began to make snowballs and threw them at one another. We did so too! A very good relaxation activity.
On resumption, we passed more hills and plateaus and headed for the famous " Staircase",the highest viaduct at 73 metres high. This vantage point gave us all spectacular and panoramic views of the scenery before us. The train slowed considerably as it slowly wound itself over a series of short tunnels, deep gorges with steel girder bridges and then to the Waimakariri River Gorge of the Southern Alps. Descending, the train passed through Springfield and its foothills, Darfield a commuter town, animal farms and edged further away from the Alps.
Soon, we were on the flat Canterbury Plains open farmlands, passing small wooden suburban bungalows, freight yards, and the Addington Cement Works.
By then it was already early darkness of a cold winter evening as our Tranz Alpine train came to a halt at Christchurch station. Our location was about 3 km SW of the city centre.
We bade farewell to some of our fellow travellers as we went to retrieve our luggage.
Thus ended a journey never to be forgotten.




Don't Ever Miss this ! Part 1


































All 6 photos from source: http://www.seat61.com/( Mark Smith )

The Tranz Alpine train journey is rated as one of the top 6 train journeys in the world. It travels from the west coast of NZ to the east coast from Greymouth to Christchurch and vice-versa. It crosses old mining towns, suspension bridges, waterfalls, mountains and valleys, tunnels, climbs the Southern Alps right into the heart of forests, the Waimakariri Gorge and fertile farmlands of the Canterbury Plains.
The carriage allows amazing views on board. There is an open-air viewing carriage that affords spectacular and stunning scenery. However, as we were in winter, the conditions outside were extremely cold, as the chilling winds made it an additional challenge to remaining outside for long. But it was worth the exposure.
The train is centrally heated in winter and has a buffet carriage. It is run bythe privatised NZ train operator TranzScenic. It runs once daily, to and fro. On flatland it travels at 60 mph. In all, the train will cross 16 tunnels, 5 viaducts...the highest being the Staircase at 73 metres.
Owl's Recommendation
This is one train journey no one will regret making.
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Friday, November 2, 2007

The Tranz Alpine ticket


This is the actual Tranz Alpine train ticket in my name.
On the front of the ticket is a picture of the train.
The reporting time given was 2.05 pm, that is check in time. The train promptly departed at 2.25 pm.
The same journey from Christchurch will depart from there at 8.15 am and arrive at Greymouth at 12.45 pm.
The 3 baggage claim stubs are still with me!

The Tranz Alpine Journey

Back in 1978, as President of Comex Singapore, an adventure travel club with more than 600 members in Singapore, I had organised and led our 1st European Expedition using the Eurail Pass mainly. It was a month long train journey that covered most of Europe, including the remote region of the Arctic Circle plus another 2 weeks of adventure in the UK. That was, for me and those with me,
an unforgettable journey of a lifetime, a dream spectacularly fulfilled.
But this Tranz Alpine train journey would top all that. It was that good! It surpassed all my previous train journeys for the sheer splendour and panoramic views D2 and I had experienced. Nothing in my previous experience had come close, except perhaps, our train journey on the Taieri Gorge Railway, South Island, NZ in 2005. But details on that will come much later on this site.
The advance booking for this was done by D4 while we were still in Singapore. The cost was $ 82 in NZ currency for a single ticket from Greymouth to Christchurch, a journey of 223.8 km long and takes about 4 and 1/2 hours in all.
After we had a simple lunch in the town centre, we headed for the Greymouth Train station by about 2.00 pm. We collected our tickets and our luggage was checked into the Baggage Carriage. We had 3 pieces of luggage. We proceeded to our assigned seats which were very comfortable. All in the carriage were excited and animated fellow travellers from various parts of the world. There was a couple who ran a poultry farm in the North Island and that was their 1st trip to the South! Amazing! And they weren't that young. I asked them for their honest opinion ...the beauty of the North, where they came from, versus the South. Without any hesitation their joint answer...."the South wins handsdown !".

[Hey you southerners....Maree, Nic, Karl,Judy,Margaret,Finnigan, Adrian and all....You owe me more than a beer huh, when we next meet ! ]
The photos
showed us at Arthur's Pass, where all passengers were allowed to get off the train, shoot pictures, have snowfights, do whatever until the whistle blows for re-boarding.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Jade Boulder Gallery,Greymouth


After we arrived at Greymouth, in the late evening of a cold and dark winter day, in June 2000, we had checked into the Breeze Motel. It was a cosy, quiet place centrally located in the heart of town. The town isn't large by any standard but is still the most important town along the west coast. We walked out from our suite and headed for the edge of the town centre. The night lights were already on as we ambled along, catching in the sights, sounds and tranquility of the surroundings. Most of the shops and other attractions were closed for the night by about 5 pm. And we haven't yet had dinner. It was heaven-sent that, as we headed back towards our motel, on a corner of Chapel Road, we noticed a very small, Chinese take away food shop, hidden in a secluded corner of a row of buildings. The shutter was half-way down. They too were about to close shop. The signboard read Hong Kong restaurant. The owners were a Chinese couple who had the Cantonese look about them. So, I spoke to them in Cantonese ,my native dialect. Bingo! The man was from Hong Kong and his wife was from Malacca before they came to NZ. We chatted like some long-lost cousins, asking about our forefathers' origins in HK. Then, he asked what we were doing there. And I said we were desperately looking to get us some dinner..of any kind, but had no luck. After hearing of our plight, my newly found "countryman"fried us half a chicken, and added fries,bread and other stuff...and beef noodles and traditional fried rice, just for us, he said. He went about his cooking rather happily. He told us there were few Asians in that town,let alone Chinese and one who could speak his tongue!
We thanked the kind couple profusely and wanted to pay him extra. He declined. Such hospitality is normally absent in the bigger cities. This meal turned out to be the "biggest meal" we had throughout our trip.
The next day, we had time for NZ's premier Jade Gallery situated at 1, Guinness Road.
The brochure is attached here. We bought a couple of pendants. They are lovely.