years is a big chunk of time - If you're a Bernese mountain dog, it's
like ¼ your entire life! Certainly, it's too long to wait between
international travel adventures, yet that's exactly how long it has
been since Lisa and I went to China.
are perfectly good reasons for the lapse, like fleeing Cleveland in
the dark of night and setting up a new life in Portland, contractual
work that offered zilch on the vacation bennies, etc., but all that
is now behind me - I have vacation hours and a fat balance of frequent
flyer miles to go somewhere interesting..
Easter Island. Believe it or not, I started this odyssey trying to
get to Santiago, Chile where I would then jet out to the huge stone
Moais and inviting coral reefs of Easter Island. But Continental would
have none of that. In fact, they seemed to delight in vetoing every
one of the proposed destinations I rattled off:
Santiago, eh? Howabout Viet Nam?
What about Hong Kong?
alright.. How about Bali?
get me to Thailand?
just tell me where I can go?
it's best if you just tell me and I'll check for availability.
okay - what am I missing.. um.. Singapore?
hey, I CAN get you into Singapore through Houston and Narita (Japan)
Houston?! I live on the West Coast of the United States, why in the
hell would I have to fly East to fly West (to the Far East)? Answer:
Because frequent flyer miles are a freakin' joke, that's why. There's
only a few seats per leg available for the airlines to "reward
their loyal customers" - I'm sure if they could, the airlines
would just have their loyal customers fight in a big pit for the coveted
- for $36 in fees for a round trip ticket to Singapore, I won't complain
about my back.
weeks leading to the trip, I managed to ignite my recurring lower-back
problem. I'm not exactly sure how this started, but every 18 months
or so for the past 6 or 7 years my spine snaps in two, spewing its
spaghetti-like innards all over my intestines (and delicate pancreas).
Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but it FEELS like that's
what's happening. And on the day of my trip, it took a turn for the
going to dwell on this much longer, (I'm not THAT hard-up for your
sympathy), but in the hierarchy of pain, lower back pain is supposedly
#3 behind childbirth and kidney stones. I would need drugs if I was
going to fly 24 of the next 30 hours. Lots and lots of drugs.
sympathetic to my cause and armed me with an anti-inflammatory, an
anti-spasmodic and a painkiller. 2 of the 3 had the added benefit
of inducing drowsiness, which sounded like a good thing on a trans-pacific
"go East to go West" thing did have an unexpected benefit
- with a 5-hour Houston layover, I would have some time to enjoy breakfast
with my Sister and Brother-in-law. Lisa has been a companion on several
of my previous adventures (see China, Costa Rica & Malta), but
this time, the responsibilities in her new life as a goat farmer (I'm
not making this up) will keep her stateside. (Next year, she says
- after the goats are grown and in college.)
was probably a good trip to do solo anyway, I wasn't sure how mobile
I was going to be with the back thing (and who would want to hear
constant whining about my degrading meat-cage for a week).
for drugs! The 13-hour flight (which ties for #2 in the "longest
flight" personal record book) from Houston to Japan was uncomfortable,
but not horrible - Only 6 more hours to go! Actually, the praising
of my drugs brought up an interesting question. I was about to enter
a country where 15 oz. of heroin on your person gets you the death
penalty. I wonder what their take is on a personal stash of narcotics
for "granny back"? We'll soon see.
to the magic of the international date line, I lost a day of adventure
during the flight to Japan. Eh, no biggie, for upon my return, I'll
make the magic work FOR me..
I just walked through customs. Nothing to declare - certainly not
a vial full of narcotics to declare - nope.
I exchanged some money for cab fare, I met a young German woman in
the cab line. Once we found out our destinations in town were close
to each other, we decided to share a cab ride. This is good for two
reasons: One, I'm already saving money, and two, I'm already meeting
sure if it was the series of drowsy drug-induced power naps on the
plane trips, but I was able to coerce my body rhythms to Singapore
time with little effort. I finally got to bed at 2:00a.m. Singapore
time, and woke up refreshed for breakfast. I wasn't sure exactly what
time my body thought it was, but I find that if I don't try to figure
it out, I can do pretty well adjusting. Plus my back felt reasonably
good - I decided to pop my pills, but without the painkiller (which
became my standard for the remainder of the trip).
free breakfast buffet was more than adequate (I found myself drawn
to the noodles and fried rice - not normal breakfast staples for me,
but tasty and full of yummy, carb-y goodness). Fueled up, I consulted
my handy Singapore travel map and ventured off toward the Botanical
Gardens - only to find out I was turned completely around as I stumbled
upon the Esplanade theater complex. This was quite the happy accident,
as the outer shell of the theaters are covered with thousands of metal
"scales", each adjustable to let in more/less of the tropical
sun as needed. The fantastic repeating pattern made my inner photographer
dance and sing.
a.m. and it was already creeping towards 90 degrees.. bleah. With
2 or 3 miles to the Botanical Gardens, I quickly calculated the following
+ 2.5mi +/- .5mi. = cab
in Singapore are plentiful and reasonably cheap; and thanks to the
"follow the rules" Singapore culture, I can add "honest"
and "consistent" to the description.
Gardens were very impressive. I imagine having your country situated
60 miles above the equator means you don't have to go far for interesting
tropical plants. It was very well maintained and I found the plant
life photographically compelling (even spending $5 for the Orchid
gardens, which were also awesome). I wandered around and eventually
discovered the "Evolution Garden" which was a windy trail
through multiple gardens specifically designed to look like different
eras in Earth's vegetative history: Lichens, cycad forests (simulated),
fern gardens, etc, - each documented on a timeline with interesting
reading, culminating with the emergence of flowering plants. I was
delighted - every public garden needs something like this! (But, my
excitement was a little diminished by the discovery that I was the
only person in the gardens.. Oh well, it's still awesome, even if
nobody else is learning).
with the gardens, I noted the temperature was still "butt hot"
(that's right - every bit as hot as a butt), so I elected to take
another cab ride. An important thing on my to-do list was figuring
out transportation to Kuala Lumpur next week. I read on the interwebs
that there was "luxury bus service", which sounded fine
to me (5 more hours for my back though). I asked my cab driver where
I might find a travel agency and he knew just the place in Chinatown.
He was spot-on - I was dropped off at a large mall.. a mall of travel
companies. It was like a mall in the US, but instead of 50 Starbucks
next to each other, there were 50 travel agencies. I had no trouble
booking a bus to Malaysia.
with that, I needed food. I wandered into a Chinese "food court"
which was somewhat of a surreal experience, given I couldn't recognize
many of the foodstuffs and ingredients on display. I tried to rationalize
ordering a random dish (hmm.. if Chinese people eat it, I probably
could too..) I eventually saw a Chinese man walk away with an amazing
looking plate of noodles and seafood. "Ooh, I'll have what he's
having", I motioned. I watched as the noodle matron whipped up
a tantalizing plate of spicy seafood noodles with robotic precision.
They were phenomenal. I only wish culinary exploration was always
was getting dressed up for the Chinese New Year. 2008 is the Year
of the Rat, which sort-of creeps me out a bit, though they do their
best to hang happy-cartoon varieties of the rodent instead of the
beady-eyed, plague-carrying version. Even Mickey and Minnie were wrangled
into the festivities, as they are distinctively "rat-like"
- I imagine the cryogenically preserved head of Walt Disney was spinning
in its sub-zero holding tank.
if I was going to get around this city over the next few days, I would
need to figure out the subway system. It wasn't too bad - The Singapore
subway system uses magnetic cards for fares, allowing you to purchase
and "re-charge" the cards for repeated use. They also have
one-time use cards, but add $1 SGD (Singapore Dollar) to the fee.
Upon reaching your destination, you can get your dollar back from
the ticket machines. It's not a bad system, though standing in line
to get your buck back sorta blows (in which case I usually just pocketed
the card until the next time I rode).
I took the subway to Little India, another of the cultural centers
of Singapore (there's also Arab & traditional Malay areas as well).
After a bit of exploration, I consulted my map, found I was a only
few blocks from my hotel and added "rest" to my must-do
abated, and with my newfound subway expertise, I went down to the
harbor front, where I spotted cable cars passing over a parked ocean
liner. Figuring the photographic pay-off was probably worth the cost,
I found the cable car ticket booth and climbed aboard. It turned out
the destination of the cable cars was Singapore's newest tourist-trap,
the island paradise of "Sentosa". It was still in the middle
of development, but I spotted some miniature golf, hotels, overpriced
shopping, and HOLD ON A SEC.. a working observation tower - now we're
talking! Of course I paid the steep admission to the "Carlsberg
Sky Tower".. It's hard to make POOP (Pedersen Observation-deck
Oriented Photography) without the observation deck..
that's a full day in Singapore. As I made my way back to my hotel,
I noted how beat-up I felt.. sore feet, back, sunburn. These adventures
were so much better when I was young and immortal.
thing that struck me about Singapore is how clean and orderly everything
is. Large cities in the tropics tend to have a certain "beaten-down"
feel; a sort-of rougher around the edges look to things as the tropical
heat and rain wear down and rust away the infrastructure. Singapore
is 60 miles north of the equator but you'd never know it looking at
the fantastic sky scrapers, well-maintained roads, expertly manicured
foliage, and general lack of trash/dirt in the streets. I did notice
a small army of sweepers and landscapers when I decided to look for
them (often Indian workers), and I didn't envy them for their fight
against tropical entropy.
on my Singapore "must-do" list was the Jurong Bird Park
on the Western end of the island. The tourist literature mentioned
things like "species conservation" and "tallest man-made
waterfall", but I was hoping for things like "colorful pictures"
and "close-up photography" - and I wasn't disappointed.
It was a very well designed and maintained park (I have come to expect
nothing less in Singapore), and I was treated to some habitats that
allowed for great pictures and even some interactive opportunities:
(That photo is from an immense walk-through aviary with over 1,000
lorikeets.) I purchased some nectar for feeding, but needed free hands
for photography, so I gave my bird-food to a nearby family of Japanese
tourists and happily snapped away.
breakfast carbs were exhausted from walking around the miles of pathways,
so I decided to try the on-site restaurant. Although I try my best
to eat local foods when I travel, I opted to sacrifice exotic for
immediate at the African-themed "Bongo Burgers". Hold on
a second.. they have hamburgers made from lamb (lamburgers?) That
was exotic enough to keep the tourist guilt at bay. I then learned
it was the custom in Asia to serve the food at the temperature of
molten aluminum, so we can now add "burned-up mouth" to
the list of ailments I was collecting this trip.
the public transportation (now with busses!) back to my hotel, but
I still had another important task to complete, and that was finding
hotel accommodation for my last night in Singapore (after I returned
from 3 days in Kuala Lumpur). I tried the lazy route first, and checked
if my current hotel had availability for the following week (They
did not). I tried the nearby Carlton Hotel - nope. I was suddenly
a little nervous, thinking next week's Chinese New Year celebrations
may have the whole city booked up, but was relieved to find a nearby
hotel with vacancy for the following week (probably because they looked
a little crappy - but all hotels are the same when you're asleep,
right? - hold on to that thought..)
time for shopping. I usually don't put shopping on my adventurer's
"to-do" list, but it was my mom's birthday this week, and
Singapore is pretty much the Asian shopper's Mecca, so I needed to
find a little exotic something for a gift. I opted for a cool Japanese
handbag, and discovered there really is no manly way to buy a purse
- you can flex, repeatedly say it's not for you, but ultimately the
girly feelings will linger until you are at least a block away from
levels restored, I went back to Little India, where I remembered seeing
a ton of Internet cafés - Part of the fun traveling to exotic
lands is the ability to nyeah-nyeah friends and family back home.
friend or family member,
in beautiful Singapore, where I flew round-trip for a total of $36.
Today I fed lorikeets by hand. How is work? I heard it was -20 in
Minnesota today. It's 85 here.
a fine line between good-natured jealousy and seething hatred. I often
dance on that line while laughing and making obscene finger gestures.
afternoon excursion, I took the subway to the southern end of the
island. There, I walked among the financial center skyscrapers. Singapore
has a great skyline ,
and after experiencing it first-hand, it was easy to promote it into
my top-5 (And for those of you keeping track with the Lance Bubo home
game: New York, Toronto, Sydney and Tokyo - I expect the list to change
after I visit Hong Kong)
I was getting pretty good at navigating Singapore on foot, my feet
were starting to object to the constant navigation. Blistered and
battered, I vowed to fire my aged timberland hikers and get something
new and well-cushioned the next day (maybe after the zoo..)
rules, rules - the cornerstone of any good utopia is a complex system
of rules. Singapore is known for its strict laws governing all aspects
of social life. I have already mentioned the strict anti-drug laws,
but even behaviors like chewing gum and mandatory flushing of public
toilets are among the enforced mores. I must admit to a certain amount
of jaywalking while I was there, and I was never approached by anyone,
which brings up another interesting observation - With the exception
of machine-gun toting airport police, I never once saw a uniformed
police officer or marked police vehicle while I was in Singapore.
Sure, it could have been a coincidence, or it could have been a manifestation
of a huge plain-clothes police presence, devised to instill a certain
amount of rule-following paranoia in the population. I did find this
which apparently shows camouflaged authority figures waiting to jump
out and poke you with their bayonets if you do the wrong thing. I
decided to stay on my best behavior.
I love fried rice for breakfast!
excited about seeing Singapore's zoo - it seems to be in the running
with San Diego for the traveler's favorite. It incorporates an "open
concept" design, which emphasizes large, open areas for the animals.
a combination subway/bus strategy to get to the Northern part of the
island where the zoo was located. The north was more of an industrial
area, and the immaculately maintained city gave way to the slightly
run-down look I was familiar with for jungle cities. But jungle does
wonders for zoos!
they didn't even have to landscape the park - they just carved out
display areas from the dense island rainforest - and the result was
gorgeous! It had a very natural feel, and the density of the landscaping
helped isolate the different areas of the zoo. The open habitats were
very well designed. The white tiger display had a large swimming area
(which the tigers seemed to thoroughly enjoy), complete with waterfall
and climbing rocks. All the primate habitats were equally spacious
(which gladdens my own primate heart) and to me, it seemed the animals
were happier for it.
for me was the walk-in "fragile forest" display, which had
a variety of animals, free to roam around and do whatever it is they
do - sloths, lemurs, flying foxes, butterflies, birds and this little
who I came across on the path.. we both just kind of slowly edged
past each other as we went our respective ways - it made me smile.
the whole zoo made me smile - it really was exceptional. I highly
recommend it to anyone wanting to see "the Best of Singapore".
And speaking of that, after three days, I was getting the feeling
that I was pretty much done with the city. I hadn't seen everything,
but I had seen everything I wanted to see. Oh, someday I'll probably
return, and I'll check out the museums and nature preserves at that
time, but I was ready to head up the peninsula to Kuala Lumpur.
first - the ceremonial retirement of my shoes. Evil things.. you will
never blister another foot again (Actually, they might. I just left
them at the mall store where I bought my new Columbia "adventure"
hikers - hopefully the shoe guy didn't just clean 'em up a bit and
put 'em on the shelf.. eww). My blisters were in cushy, new-shoe heaven.
I should be able to walk all over Kuala Lumpur with relative ease
way back to the hotel, I stopped in a trendy little coffee restaurant
for lunch. As I sucked down some kind of exotic slurpee, I witnessed
my first rain of the trip. I knew the equatorial forests (also called
RAINforests) got their fair share of precipitation, but I had forgotten
all about that during my gorgeous 3 days of blue skies.. My pre-adventure
research said that these things usually just blow by in an hour. The
rain blew by in an hour. Imagine my surprise.
bus to Kuala Lumpur was to take ~5 hours, including 2 immigration
checkpoint stops (Still no narcotics to declare.. nope). While my
fellow passengers slept, I enjoyed watching enormous expanses of palm
trees whiz by (farms, I gathered). There were also legions of highway
crews out making sure the jungle didn't encroach on the expertly manicured
highway. Fighting equatorial entropy must be a big expense for Malaysia.
in a very different city; The large metropolitan disrepair, dirt &
trash so conspicuously absent from Singapore was here, along with
swarms of angry motorcyclists darting in and out of the stalled traffic.
Eventually the bus driver felt we were "close enough" to
our drop off point and cut us loose. An enterprising cab driver saw
what was going on and approached me, offering his services. I told
him I only had Singapore & US dollars (that would be fine, he
said, as his pupils turned into little dollar signs).
at my hotel, which I call "The Internet deal of the millennium".
When I booked my airfare, Continental asked if I would like to talk
to hotels.com, their partner for travel accommodations. "Sure",
I said - And while I didn't find a great deal for Singapore, they
were able to find the 5-star Sheraton Imperial in Kuala Lumpur for
$130 a night. That sounded like a fabulous deal, so I jumped on it.
I was excited to see what kind of luxury I would be enjoying for the
next 2 nights, but that would have to wait, as I was informed that
my room wasn't ready yet. (doh!)
my stuff and headed out to explore on foot. It was another gorgeous
day on the Malaysian peninsula, perfect for skyscraper photography.
In 1996, when the Petronas Towers were erected (BTW, Petronas is derived
from "Petroleum Nasional" - because I knew you were wondering),
they were the tallest buildings in the world. I have been a fan ever
since and when I learned Singapore was my vacation destination, I
decided to extend my adventure to KL, so I may meet the towers in
person (and walk across the awesome sky bridge which spans between
the first things I discovered on the KL skyline was a tower &
observation deck (which looked like Toronto's CN tower or the Space
Needle). My afternoon was now booked - I would be making some POOP.
I grabbed a cab back to my hotel (cab fares are negotiable in KL -
I prefer this, especially when I'm low on funds). My hotel room was
ready, and Holy Crap!, It was phenomenal. I was on the 25th floor,
I had an amazing view of the city, a giant plasma TV, an unbelievably
comfortable bed, an arrow pointing to Mecca, but the highlight was
the "Bathroom with a View"; The back wall of my shower was
also the hotel's outer wall - completely glassed - so I could, if
I wished, enjoy a wonderful view of Malaysia as I washed my privates.
(And I wished it!) I did, however, do a little pre-exposure reconnaissance;
The windows on the Sheraton were smoked glass, allowing privacy during
the day, but depending on your floor, perhaps it was a good idea to
put down the privacy blind after the sun went down).
neighborhood exploration revealed that all my meals would be easily
found during my stay, as my hotel was next to a strip of new, trendy
clubs, each sporting a restaurant which served lunch and dinner during
the day. Each restaurant had a wide variety of regional and universal
(what I call pasta, pizza & sandwiches) entrees.
also had plentiful amounts of Malaysia's "Tiger Beer" -
which, combined with the insane amount of walking I did during the
day and the most comfortable bed in the known universe, assured a
good night's sleep.
it was the "lone white guy traveler" thing, I had going
on, maybe it was some kind of sad, lonely, girlfriendless vibe I was
giving off, but many of my cab drivers in both Singapore and Kuala
Lumpur asked if I was interested in being driven to where I might
find a 'local companion' (perhaps a young, Chinese companion?) Each
time I thanked them, but politely declined, as my cultural exploration
was limited to er.. more conventional pursuits this trip. A cab driver
in Singapore was nice enough to describe how far my money would go
if I decided to fly up to Bangkok - I thanked him and stored the information
away for (possible) future reference.
for today was to get over to the Petronas towers ticket office early
to assure a morning Skybridge time (advice from one of my cab drivers).
As I arrived at 7:30, a full hour before it opened, I was already
in a long line with about 100 people..
how it works: Although the tickets are free, they have a limited amount
to distribute, with 2 groups of visitors on the bridge every 15 minutes
to ½ hour. If you show up late, you are stuck with a mid-morning
or afternoon time. I felt I had better things to do than wait all
day for a trip to the 41st floor, so I was relieved when I got the
second morning time (9:15, which was only 20 minutes away). I did
have to find a bench for the short wait, as the hour of standing in
line did a little number on my sensitive back.
up with my group of about 30 people. Before we could ascend to the
Sky Bridge, we were first rounded up into a small theater to watch
a 10 minute commercial presentation about the National Petroleum company.
It was in 3-D, which helped balance out the pretentious info-mercial
aspect of it. We ultimately got 10 minutes on the Sky Bridge before
we were ushered off to make room for the next group. I suppose it
was enough time to appreciate the views
I got my free's worth, anyway.
an afternoon now free to explore, I found out that there was a Hindu
festival (Thaipusam) happening during my stay, and that the nearby
Batu caves would be host to a grand assembly of devoted pilgrims.
This sounded like an amazing cultural experience, so I quickly negotiated
a cab to the temple area, about ½ hour from downtown KL.
particular festival drew thousands of worshipers from Malaysia and
beyond to present offerings at the temple. The 272 steps up to the
temple extracted a little extra devotion from the participants. I
discovered that some of the faithful engage in varying degrees of
physical torment to enhance the intensity of their offering. Some
shaved their heads and carried metal containers (full of milk) to
, while others hung objects (I saw lime-like citrus fruits) from hooks
embedded in their flesh
. The most painful displays involved large hooks with streamers that
can be pulled by friends or family in tow, and some had even pierced
their cheeks and tongues with metal skewers
from my knowledgeable cab driver (who planned on shaving his own head
later that evening), that the displays I witnessed were mainly to
show thanks to the Gods (most likely to Murugan, the brother of the
elephant-headed Ganesh, who's birthday it happened to be) for having
a wish or prayer fulfilled. Color me practical, but why pierce your
face with steel dowels when maybe a nice thank-you card would suffice?
around and climbing a few hundred steps in the tropical heat takes
a lot out of people, whether you're a devoted pilgrim with hooks in
your flesh or a tourist photographer, so I went back to the Sheraton
for a rest. I enjoyed my hotel room so much, that spending the late
afternoon in a comfy chair with a 25th floor view with a book was
actually time well spent. For some odd reason, I was craving pizza.
I took a dinner break and went on my own pilgrimage of the neighboring
restaurants (ooh, wood fired - score!) I returned to my book and another
great night's sleep.
back to Singapore was scheduled to depart at 3:00 p.m., so I had the
better part of a day to kill. First, I extended my checkout time by
a couple of hours to maximize my last-minute exploration. I noticed
the KL monorail passed in front of my hotel and decided to see where
it went. I procured a little map from the hotel and rode the train
to its final stop, which turned out to be walking distance to Kuala
Lumpur's main collection of museums and (gasp!) another bird park,
this one claiming to be the world's largest walk-in aviary.
probably would have went in even if it was the 4th or 5th largest,
as I was developing quite the obsession with close-up bird photography.
It wasn't as nice as the Singapore bird park, and the mid-morning
heat was pretty oppressive, but I'm convinced the worst day at a bird
park in Malaysia is probably still better than the best day of work.
I took a cab back to the hotel to pack and get back to Singapore.
way back, our "Deluxe Luxury Tour Bus" crapped out (I asked
- missing engine screw, which was vague, but brought to mind a quote
from the Breakfast Club: Screws fall out all the time, the world
is an imperfect place - it seemed appropriate). Luckily we didn't
have long to wait before the next "Deluxe Luxury Tour Bus"
drove up and rescued us. It was packed, but we made it to Singapore
with no more incidents or renegade screws.
hotel turned out to be quite the dump. The paper-thin walls offered
an interesting opportunity to learn Arabic, but I was more interested
in sleep, which didn't come easy (as the temperature was a little
warm). Amazing to think I was paying the same price for this experience
as I did for the Sheraton in KL. I tried not to think about it.
up at 4:00 a.m. looking forward to sleeping on the plane.
24 (The Post-Adventure Adventure)
the plane trip is the most boring part of any adventure and barely
worthy of a mention.. until today. About 2 ½ hours into the
flight from Japan to Portland, I overheard one of the flight crew
describing a passenger in the forward cabin with abdominal pain -
an announcement for a doctor was made, and a little while after that
the captain announced that we would be turning the plane back to Narita
for a medical emergency. Crappy crap. That would mean another 2 ½
hours, then (assuming they can get the plane back up in the air promptly)
ANOTHER 8 hour flight. And I was really looking forward to gaining
that day with the magic of the International Date Line (If we had
been on time, I would have arrived in Portland only ONE HOUR after
leaving Singapore, according to the clock). I was disappointed, but
oh well, I suppose it could have been worse (I could have been Mr.
Appendix, I mused..) So I put it all in proper perspective. And hey,
since I planned on going right to work from the airport (I'm out of
vacation time!), now I would only have to work half a day. Thank you
impromptu adventure, this one turned out rather well! My old-lady
back held up surprisingly well, the weather was incredible and really
contributed to a great collection of photography (here
, and here
). Plus, I got to see a part of the world I've never been to before,
which is one of the best things I can think of to do with surplus
time and money - all $36 bucks of it. (yay!)