Out the front door of the Edo Sakura Hotel, turn right and we are head towards Uneo Park and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. The small street our hotel is on is somewhat more intimate than the major traffic road one block west. We approach my first victim. Konichiwa I say, the fellow returns a pleasant smile and konichiwa. We then got our first lesson in Japanese. For a very long time I believed kon-e-che-wa was Japanese for hello. Seems it proper use is only in the afternoon. Oheyo, pronounced like the state Ohio with the accent on the last 0, is the greeting for the AM.
The gallery experience is very different here. The Japanese in general have a much greater interest in art than any culture we have passed through before. There is an exhibit of Impressionist art and on a Tuesday morning the masses are here. There are hundreds passing through the gallery. We have to find our way around at least 10 people as they take an elongated view of each painting. For me there were no jaw dropping pieces but there were several very famous paintings, the ones seen in art history books, and it is always an bonus to see the real thing. (Debbie on the other hand was enthralled with a Renoir, a couple of Cezanne and a Manet.)
First day here and we need to get our bearings around Tokyo. We have a couple of maps and navigation is quite easy today but we still have to stand on this street corner or that and decide where we are and which way to go. Just about every time we paused someone has approached us and asked if we need help. Totally cool. It happens everywhere in the world, but not with the frequency that has been the case so far here. Although walking along the street is somewhat of an internal experience, no one give a nod or greets us with oheyo but when we looked perplexed we have no shortage of angels.
Murray writes….Sooner or later it is bound to happen. I don’t know how many nights we have spent in hotels over the last 25 years but I would estimate it to be over 500 but less than 1000. A big gap but the exact number is not really that important. Last night, just short of midnight the fire alarm started blaring. It woke me up but being somewhat groggy I was not sure what was going on. The noise itself was unfamiliar and not the loud ringing bell old people might expect. Then, this being the 21st century, there was an announcement. Something like, ‘The fire alarm has been activated. Please stand by for further instructions’. As this blurb repeated over and over Debbie and I got dressed, as I think it would be inappropriate to descend the emergency stairs buck naked. Eventually it was determined it was a false alarm and we returned to bed. Emergency procedures are rarely practiced once you leave elementary school but it is good to know they are in place and reasonably easy to implement.
Debbie writes…..Yesterday we toured the Raffles Hotel (uber expensive and slightly snooty) and the Fullerton Hotel (high end but not snooty). The reason why I say snooty vs non snooty is that the Raffles only lets guests into the main building. The riffraff, us, could walk the grounds but not the inner sanctum. Whereas the Fullerton allows us to wander through and the staff even acknowledges us with a “Good Morning”! The Raffles was built in the late 1800s and the Fullerton in the 1920s, so they are the grandfathers of the modern hotels in Singapore.
Last evening we watched the light show at the Gardens by the Bay. If I were a kid, I would have been enraptured with it, but as an adult it was okay/good, but not stellar. The highlight was when the skies opened up and let loose and we were thankful we both had our umbrellas!
Today we plan to walk a short portion of the Rail Trail, which is an old railway line turned into a walking path. We alight from the train, find the trail and are chagrined to learn that it is blocked off for construction. We walk along the road beside it, thinking the construction will end, but it doesn’t and we get a confirmation of its full closure from a local couple out walking. We decide to keep walking and end up on a, sometimes rugged, trail to the MacRitchie Reservoir. We figure we walked a total of about 12 km, and oh my aching feet! But it was worth it as we saw some wildlife…..monkeys and a flying lemur!
We noticed the other day that rush hour in the MRT tunnels flows similarly to the traffic on the roads. Everyone flows at about the same speed and everyone gets to where they are going in good time. If a speedy walker were to try to get through the people traffic, he/she would cause more disruption than just keeping the same speed. It is quite fascinating!
We must have needed a shot of North America yesterday. Don’t tell anyone but we ate a lunch of fish and chips at a riverside restaurant and then I had KFC for supper and Murray had a slice of pizza. Tonight we are back to Asian cuisine.
We make the jump to Tokyo tomorrow where we will meet our friends L&R and start a three week adventure in Japan. See you on the other side.
Consumerism runs rampant in SE Asia. In the west there is a certain factor that is on the down slide from wanting to own everything but the apex of that curve has not reached Asia yet. It is unlikely to do so soon. The corporations of the world realize that in order to sustain themselves they need constant turn over of goods and the huge population of Asia is a perfect target. If you want to find the crowds in any Asian city head to the main shopping areas. In Singapore it would be Orchard Road. The sidewalks are at least 10M wide and are quite crowded. We feel like we are the only people not carrying bags. Sales are good today.
Wherever in the world it is generally accepted one walks on the sidewalk as the traffic is on the road. If the cars drive on the left side of the road, on the sidewalk you walk on the left. Here the sidewalks do not necessarily follow that pattern. We try but no matter what side of the walk we are on we feel like we are swimming up stream. The one place where this pattern is strictly followed is when we move vertically, up and down stairs or on an escalator. On the escalator, the rule of stand on one side, here the left and walk on the other is followed. Again something we could adopt in NA a little more stringently.
Last night we thought we should indulge ourselves and stop for some ice cream. After a search we found a shoppe and were checking things out when we realized an ice cream cone was $10, that’s Singapore dollars but they are roughly equivalent to Canadian dollars. Must be a real treat to eat ice cream in Singapore. We did however satisfy our urge after stopping at a 7/11 and saw that Magnum bars were on sale for $2.90. We shared one!
The humidity here is killing us. The temp is a mere 31C. A perfectly acceptable and workable temperature but as we walk through the very dense air we sweat and the fatigue sets in. Debbie checks the weather when we return to the hotel room and it indicates ‘feels like’ 37 C, no wonder were are cooked.
Chili crab is signature dish of Singapore. We headed to Newton Hawker Centre to see what the fuss is about. It was OK but not something I would return for. At the suggestion of the hotel concierge we ordered it with mild chili paste. It comes on a large plate with a smashed crab covered in the sauce. Crab meat does not have a very strong taste and it is far over powered by the heat of the sauce. Both Debbie and I had our mouths on fire by the end of the meal and we were underwhelmed by this local delicacy. This one was better then the last though as last time I spilled chili crab sauce all over my pants and had to go buy new ones.
The Newton Centre is a slight more upscale hawker court but, although tourists have a greater presence, it is still overwhelmingly occupied by locals having dinner. We think that the majority of the meals here are not cooked in the home. The living area is small and the luxury of a kitchen and dining area would be a rarity. That is just a supposition.
In some cities the pedestrian puts their life in peril just crossing a street. Even if the light says “Walk” cars have the right of passage. In some cities like Edmonton, the pedestrian walks out on the road without so much as looking up from their cell phone and they truly expect to live. In Singapore the pedestrian/vehicle interface is one of respect from both sides. If it is more efficient for a pedestrian to pause and let a vehicle into a gap in traffic they do. If there seems to be no urgency for a car to move, the driver will pause and let the peds cross. It is easy even for a non local to get the hang of. It is sort of passive aggression.
At home the city in all its wisdom has adopted a system that encourages and trains pedestrians to cross on a wait light. The green walk man is extinguished and a count down with the flashing red wait hand commences, but pedestrians still cross during the countdown. Here the count is coordinated with the green flashing walk man and when the red hand shines the pedestrians stop. In my humble opinion this simple difference unconsciously trains the population to obey the law and the end result is smoother traffic flow on both the walking and vehicular side.
Tonight we are off to see a light show at the Gardens by the Bay. Saturday night out on the town, OH BOY don’t we lead an exciting life!
Today is the day we master bussery – the art of traveling by bus in a foreign city. One of the places we are going is not only off the map but as best we can make, not near an MRT station. Holland Village is our first stop. The reading said it is a place of smaller shops and eating establishments. First thing we notice is the higher frequency of expats. It is an upscale neighbourhood but the shops and restaurants are mostly closed. We arrive mid morning and the restaurants and bars will not be open until later in the day. The area is nice enough but I think the evening would be a better time to visit.
Dempsey Hill is another old army barracks, this time converted into a boutique shopping area mixed with several eating establishment. Again it is upscale but it is far more interesting and unlike yesterdays visit there are a few more people wandering about.
We wander about having fun talking to the folks in the shops and as we walk out the door of the exotic food market the skies open up and a torrential tropical downpour commences. We find a seat and watch as the roadway fills with water. The rain abates and we commence our journey.
The next shop we are again chatted up by the attendant and as we are about to leave his shop the rain starts anew. The fellow looks outside and he knows we only have one umbrella to share so he offers us a ring side seat to watch mother nature perform. He then disappears into the back and produces an umbrella that he hands to me and says ‘this should help, you do not have to return it’. I promise to pass it on to someone I meet in need. We leave, both under cover, and for the most part stay dry.
It is a well known fact, Singapore is clean to the point of being sterile. It is the city SE Asian travelers, from the western world, descend upon to regen when cultural burnout is an issue. I don’t really notice the lack of garbage on the street until I see a single solitary piece of paper blowing in the wind along the sidewalk. Really, it is the way the world should be and I think it is that way here because the rules are enforced. Spit your gum on the street and you can expect to pay a hefty fine if caught. Sure you can Jaywalk but don’t get caught or your wallet might be $500 lighter. There are always people that will not live in a civilized fashion and enforcing the laws that are in place seems to work. Maybe the western world should take note.
Orchard Road it a mega shopping street in Singapore. For the record it is also a mega street, 4 lanes of traffic each way with a boulevard running down the middle. There is signage on all the sidewalks proclaiming the street is non-smoking. As I walk along a remote edge of the 10M wide sidewalk I notice a wide yellow line on the concrete and within the barriers of the yellow lined area stand an elbow to elbow crowd of smokers and one stainless steel ashtray/butt can. A penalty box for smoker. It is as though the smoking area puts the smokers on display similar to the petty criminals of old that were confined in the ‘stocks’.
Much less embarrassing but still adhered to are the yellow lined bicycle parking areas. There are not too many bikes here but when they are parked they have special areas and people use them. Like that would work back home?? It minimizes the mayham that can be caused by bikes left willy nilly and I think again if you do not park your bike there it may not be there when you return.
Tonight we will venture further for supper so we can try Chili Crab. It is a specialty here and the hotel concierge recommended a certain hawker to us. He also explained to us how to order it so it is the right degree of spicy for our western palate. So we are going to put our scuba diving morals aside and go eat crab.
Singapore’s MRT is going to save Debbie’s feet so we start the day with a bit of a circuitous walk to the subway station. I don’t understand why 98% of the cities we go to have a better way to run a subway system than Edmonton, but they do. My h0me town should have the very best LRT in the world as it is one of the newest and the designers should have learned from the ones that existed previously but as far as I can see nothings was learned. Our subway runs on the surface, eats up valuable land, and interrupts traffic at every opportunity. Singapore’s MRT is mostly underground. There is not one place where the flow of traffic is stopped to let a train trough. It gets us to where we want to go quickly and the real estate above is utilized for whatever use best suits the surrounding area.
Before we arrive at the station Debbie spots an Art Deco-ish building. It is a highrise picture right out of Ayn Rand’s book The Fountainhead. It is quite a monumental building and presuming it was built in the 1920’s it has been maintained perfectly. We detour a couple of blocks to tour the office building.
We are both stunned by the detailing. Graphics and elements directly lifted from Frank Lloyd Wright, art deco details and patterns that should be in every architectural book ever printed, and sculpture and friezes that could have been designed by Howard Roark, Ayn Rand’s protagonist. I was baffled as to why I had not run across this building before. As I walked passed the front desk I ask the young lady, when the building was built and who was the architect. The first question was answered immediately, 2002. My face must have looked very puzzled. The second question was researched on Google and she told me it was an American fellow, James Adams. Although I think almost every detail was lifted from somewhere, there was one mountain of research compiled to pull off such a prefect replica of days gone by.
Our tram ride took us to Tiong Bahru. Singapore’s first public housing estate built in 1936. It was built in the fashionable, at the time, Art Deco style. It is the part of Chinatown that see very few tourists. We both like that era and completely enjoyed a walk up and down the streets.
Most of the building are residential and we just skirted the perimeter of those but part of the estate was some strictly commercial building and some mixed use buildings with commercial on the ground floor and residential above. After 80 years the area has been maintained to a high standard and is still a lively and vibrant community.
The next stop was a repeat of one we made two weeks ago when we passed through on our way to Indonesia. Hawker Chan has been made famous by the Michelin people by bestowing upon his hawker stall one star. It was the first stall in the world to garner a Michelin Star of any kind. Be warned, the line up can be an hour long but thankfully we wait around 1/2 that. We passed the opportunity but last time but Debbie felt we should go back and test his wares. I got to the front of the line, ordered the specialty of the house, Soya Sauce Chicken and Rice, paid and sat down to what we expected to be a first class meal. May be our expectations were too high but frankly it was not only not spectacular it was just better than edible. If that is the case of other Michelin Starred restaurants I am not interested in following the trail.
The last venture of the day was to a former military barricks, the Gillman Barricks. It is an example of reuse that seems to work reasonably well but the use chosen has a limited public appeal so I don’t think it is a booming commercial success and I hope it can be sustained. When the armed forces no longer had any use for the space it went through a number of iterations before the government, in 2012, converted the area into a centre for the arts. It now houses several commercial art galleries, a few bars and restaurants and the NTU Centre for Contemporary Art. As with all art some of the things grabbed us and some did not appeal at all but for us it was worth the time.
The feet are tired now and with our MRT pass we choose to take the public transport most of the way home. See what tomorrow brings.
It seems this time of the year is a bit of a down time around Indonesia. As the last post indicated we are living and diving with groups far below resort capacity. Also noticeable is the amount of construction and renovation taking place around both of Froggies outlets. Froggies has been here for quite some years and although everything is not brand spanking new it has been maintained very well. Any place right on the ocean deteriorates very quickly and often we stay in newer places where things just don’t work any more. Here everything works. It would appear things are in a constant state of upgrade and improvement. A testament to the owner’s resolve to have a great dive resort for the customers. I would have to do little research for a place to stay in Bunaken and Lembeh, if I were to return. Froggies would be my starting point.
Our room, cabin, villa, bondok in Lembeh is right on the water. Literally. When the tide comes in we can look through the boards on the deck and there is no more dry land. One cool thing about this is the sound of the lapping water that lulls us to sleep each night. That is after we discovered we did not want the AC while we slept (The AC is noisy and you cannot hear the water). The boats motor in and out at a much less frequent rate then the cars on any street. So we sleep very well.
The people we have met on this trip have been absolutely charming. Mostly Europeans from Switzerland, Germany, Great Britain, France, a young South Korean, one American, and one fellow from Shanghai. We had great conversions in the boat and around the eating table. As things go I will most likely email a few of them next time we are diving and see if we can match schedules and meet up again.
The Indonesian people are absolutely fantastic. Extremely polite. Wonderfully caring and attentive. They jump to help when asked. They are quiet, no loud screaming matches, they keep their voice down when on the ubiquitous cell phone, when they use the car horn it is a short beep rather than a drawn out blare and when they address us it is so quiet we usually have to ask pardon. I have said this before that a the place is its people and Indonesia rates as a great place.
Indonesia is up. Every where we go it is up. Debbie mentioned we had 70 some steps to bed in Bunaken. Here we live on the water but we rise up 56 stairs to the restaurant every meal. For breakfast it wakes you up, after diving it is hard work for lunch, it is OK for dinner by that time we have rested and the climb is not bad. When we did the land excursions off the live a board it was mostly rock climbing. Steep, scary, and using hands and feet to both ascend and descend. I think these steep slopes are the result of the islands being formed by volcanoes.
This morning we awoke to a several beached jelly fish. They don’t last long out of the water. When we come down from breakfast one of the grounds keepers is digging mass graves in the sand and filling it with jelly fish carcasses. There are still a lot of free swimming jellies, the non-stinging variety, but it is still sad but there is not much else you can do with them.
Tomorrow we board a plane to Singapore and leave diving behind. We’ve had a great time and are already looking into returning to dive different areas. More creatures await!
The other day, I mentioned in the post that I hoped to see unusual critters when we dive in Lembeh. Right now I am stunned by how many weird, creepy, surprising and unknown creatures we saw on our first two dives. I take so many pictures that the battery in my camera runs out. Guess tomorrow I take both batteries and change them between dives.
We know that we might see a Hairy Frogfish, and we saw two! They mostly walk as they are very awkward swimmers. Their little feet/fins plod along the bottom oh so slowly.
Murray and I love watching mantis shrimp and take many photos of their colourful sectioned backs. Today one is peeking out of its hole in the sand and I grab a shot of its underside. It looks like an alien!
There are jelly fish here. There are many different shapes and sizes and kinds. We spot this rather large and intimidating one as we ascend to the surface on our first dive. Luckily, none of the jellyfish we encounter are poisonous, but I still did not get too close.
And finally, a pretty fish! It is a Bangai Cardinalfish. After looking at so many greenish earth tone weird creatures it is a pleasure to spot this colourful fish.
Today is transfer day. We are leaving Froggies at Bunaken and moving to Froggies on the island of Lembeh.
Exclusivity is becoming one of our trade marks. We arrive on the Coralia live a board which has room for 16 guests and we are two of 6. At Bunaken we sit down to lunch and there are 8 of a possible 22 guests. (over the 4 days there the number did climb to a somewhat crowded 14). Today we move make landfall and sit down to lunch with the one other guest. He is not diving today because he is leaving tomorrow and so Debbie and I will have the resort to ourselves. Private dive guide, private boat driver and assistant, private chef, waiter, bus person the entire place to ourselves. Weird is all I can say.
72 steps. It’s a 72 step climb from the main path up to our little abode called “Gobi” at Froggies Dive Resort on Bunaken Island. We are both breathing hard at the top, but we do not dawdle up, we hoof it. At least we are getting some exercise! The bungalow has a main room with a bed, small table and chair, low table, armoire and there is a small bathroom at the back. It is a very cozy place to wait out the heat of the day, with the AC and fan running.
Froggies is very laid back. Just what we need after the intense diving at Raja Ampat. We do two dives in the morning, come back for lunch and chill for the afternoon. The diving is mostly walls, with tabletop corals on the top of the wall in shallow water. Today we see so many turtles I loose count. There is current here and we drift along too fast to take pictures, so we just enjoy the view as it cruises by.
Froggies is on Liang Beach in a protected bay.There are other small resorts down the beach, but in our walk today, we decide Froggies is the choice. The water in the bay is ankle deep at the shore and gets quite hot midday. We walk to and from the dive boat and the water only comes up to below my knees.
We are the only native English speakers staying at the resort right now. There are divers from Germany, Switzerland, Maldives via Spain, South Korea and France and we all share the love of diving.
Speaking of languages, Murray and I are trying hard to get the Indonesian greetings correct. We say “Salamat Pagi” for good morning, but only until about 10:00. Then “Salamat Siang” from 10:00 to about 1:00, “Salamat Sore” from 1:00 to about 4:00 and then “Salamat Malam”. Goodnight/ sleep well is “Salamat Tidur”. So confusing! It has only taken a few weeks to get this straight, but we try and the locals seem to appreciate our attempts.
One more day to dive and chill here and then we relocate to another Froggies resort on Lembeh Island where muck diving is the thing to do (sand, rubble, no corals, turtle grass), where we hope to see some unusual critters. See you there.
I mentioned this before but the driving system here is random at best. There is an order and it did not take long to figure out but the free flowing system is not very comfortable for us stick up our butt North Americans. The motor bikes flow like water in between and around the cars. The cars flow like oil over the pavement, markings only indicate the center of the road. A couple of things have struck me. One is a comparison of the horn use from 30 years ago. It has diminished greatly. Only 20 or 30 toots per 15 minute cab ride and the cacophony of noise when we are in the hotel has been reduced to single audible beeps. Funny enough the horns still talk. Each beep has a meaning and everyone around seems to know what it means. “Hey, look out I’m right behind you”, “I’m passing on the right”, “Hi Bob”, “I have my signal on but here’s a warning I am going to make a right hand turn”. All of these and more messages are passed on by a single short toot on the horn. The other thing is in all this madness the drivers have infinite patience. Vehicles cut off others, make random right turns, squeeze their way into traffic and the others around just wait patiently. None of the actions solicits a blast on the horn as it would in NA.
I went for a walk in the hood. We had some time to kill in Sorong and I’m not real good at sitting being idle. A few feet from the entrance to the hotel we were spending time at is an entrance to a residential neighbourhood. Off I go camera in hand. Some people don’t like to do this but I still believe the majority of the world’s population are good people and unless I do something really stupid I am in little danger. Being somewhat lighter skinned than the locals I am in instant celebrity. Not more than 100M down the walk and I am accosted by a group of youngsters wanting me to take their picture. Of course I oblige. They gather up arms around shoulders like a team photo. I snap the shot and show them the picture. It elicits huge smiles and a hardy round of laughter. This happens 5 or 6 times in the hour I’m outside.
It also develops into the older folks wanting me to pose with them while their buddies take pics of me on their IPhones. I get back to the hotel and while we sit by the pool there are a couple of vacationing kids that think it is a good idea for them to have a digital record of the white folks they observed on the pool deck. So our two friends, Debbie and I all take our turn at being congenial and smiling for a few photos with our new found fans.
On that walkabout I was next to a mosque when the time came for the Mu’azzin to call the faithful to prayer. We have been here for more than a week now and the sound is beginning to infiltrate my being. The call in Indonesia is a little different than other Muslim countries. I have heard it before elsewhere but it does not have the same haunting quality. If history is any indication these sounds will remain with me for a long time.
Diving begins anew tomorrow off the island of Bunaken where we are located for the next four nights.