Happy Birthday Russell! Today is Russell's birthday and so far he has had two birthday cakes (one at lunch and one at dinner) and been serenaded with birthday wishes in three languages (English, of course but also Indonesian and Romanian). He also received some flowers from me and an appointment for a massage tomorrow. And we went shopping this afternoon and he got himself a couple of shirts and a couple pairs of shoes. (Good job Russell!) But wait, it gets even better. This morning we went on a tour called "Chinatown and Tea Experience." This was a tour that he had been looking forward to and it did not disappoint. We first visited a Buddhist temple. That was followed by a visit to a Hindu temple. Then we visited a tea house (retail store) where we received instruction in the Chinese method of tea preparation and drinking. We bought some exquisite Chinese tea and tea-related accoutrements before finishing the tour at a Chinese restaurant where we had dim sum and chocolate-hazelnut cake for dessert in honor of the birthday boy.
As you can well imagine Mr. Russell is a very popular and well-known figure here on the ship. Me? I am happy to bask in his reflected glory. Seriously though, Russell is consistently friendly and tries to help all kinds of people plus he has made an effort to get to know the names of people on the ship -- both passengers and crew. In conjunction with our high visibility as the needlepointing boys and our hosting a party for the folks going on the India excursion the other day , I would say he is the most well-known and well-liked passenger on this ship. And he's mine, all mine!
I better stop though because I know he is going to think I want something from him or some such nonsense like that so I'll just tell you about the rest of our visit to Singapore. We've been here two nights. We arrived Sunday at six p.m. -- rather an unusual time but it gave us an opportunity to go on our first nighttime excursion. We first went on a "tri-shaw" ride through the streets of Chinatown and Little India. Sunday night is apparently the best time to visit Little India because all the Indian workers here in Singapore have Sunday off and the popular thing to do on Sunday night is to go to Little India and walk the streets with your buddies. There were thousand and thousands of Indian men between the ages of 18 and 38 walking the streets, eating and relaxing together. Needless to say, we felt just a little bit conspicuous in our "tri-shaw" being conducted through the crowd by our seventy plus (?!) year old, 135 pound driver. The driver (who may have weighed possibly as much as 150 pounds but certainly no more than that) was quite fond of making loud whooping and chirping noises. At first we thought perhaps he had Tourette's syndrome but gradually we concluded that he was making these strange noises in lieu of a using a horn. He was also fond of talking. Unfortunately for us we could only understand every tenth word he said and no word seemed to bear any relation to the previous or the subsequent words so it was all just gobbledygook to us. But it was fun.
Next up was a ride on the Singapore Flyer which is their version of the London Eye. It was great to see all the lights and the skyline. The wheel is actually taller than the one in London. Fortunately it was totally enclosed, fully air conditioned and ultra smooth so R didn't have a big problem with the height. Our last stop was a ride on an electric boat on the Singapore River. Once again it was great to see the lights (including lasers) and the skyline. Russell and I scored seats in the back of the boat which were totally open to the sky, the gentle breeze and the warm summer-like evening air. It was so nice we both felt guilty about keeping others from having the same experience but just when we were about to get up and let others have our seats (it's true, I swear) the ride was over! Oh well what can you do? We certainly appreciated our premium seats.
On Monday we had another tour. This one was the "Best of Singapore". We had the same guide as we had had the day before -- Georgie. We first went to Gardens by the Bay. This is a botanical garden featuring two huge conservatories as well as a forest of giant metal "trees" that you've likely already seen at one time or another as they have become icons of the city. The trees are illuminated at night. They change colors and we saw them from the Ferris wheel the previous evening. They are however just as impressive in the daytime as at night. Impressive too are the two very large contemporary glass houses that shelter in one a collection of Mediterranean plants and in the other an indoor waterfall and "cloud forest." As it was already quite hot and humid outside (we are at a latitude of one degree north here) the cool, dryer air of the Mediterranean house was a God-send. Even the moist air of the tropical house didn't feel half as uncomfortable as the much warmer air outdoors.
Next up was a visit to the Marina Bay Sands. This enormous project consists of three high rise hotel buildings that are joined together by a surfboard looking/ship-like structure on top that features an observation deck, restaurants and the world's largest infinity edge pool. Also included in the Sands complex is a convention center and an Science museum. Our group visited the Skydeck only. The views were outstanding but strangely there was no breeze up there and we had to content ourselves with just glimpsing at the crowded pool from afar because it's only open to hotel guests.
After visiting the Sands we made a quick stop to look at a model of Singapore island (yes, it is an island or more precisely many islands). We learned about upcoming plans for Singapore (rail-to-trail greenway, moving the port, etc.) from the iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove government. Afterwards we went to a local dim sum restaurant for lunch. I kind of figured we were in trouble when they seemed surprised to see us. This was followed by a long wait (as it turns out for the other bus from Holland America to arrive) before we were finally served thoughtlessly prepared, mediocre food by unfriendly and disorganized servers. R and I skipped out on the lunch early and decided to forgo the rest of the tour which was mostly a repeat of what we had seen and done the night before (with the exception of a visit to the Raffles Hotel for a Singapore Sling which were glad to do without). Instead we got into a cab (driven by Roger who has sleep apnea and can't afford a C-PAP machine) and went to a local craft store that we had heard was "huge" and "excellent" and "would certainly have needlepoint". Well, it did have needlepoint -- sort of. The few canvases that they had were printed (not painted) on Penelope (not Mono deluxe) canvas and the thread selection was completely from hunger. I did find some beads and other unnecessaries but in general the store was no more than a glorified A.C. Moore or Michael's.
Back at the ship we were able to relax and enjoy some free time before our "tea experience" tour today. So, our time here in Singapore has been well spent but not overly taxing which is good. We both were impressed by Singapore. Indeed, it is hard not to be given the state of its neighbors (Malaysia, Indonesia). This place is clean and well organized/planned out. Like any planned community it offers numerous benefits but lacks a certain chaotic vitality which one would expect in a city of five plus million people. We could (and probably will) return here as there are many more things to see and do. And I look forward to seeing what changes are made as they certainly "think big" here. But it's hard to imagine becoming passionate about this place as one can about say Rome or Paris. Those places you love in spite of their filth, rudeness, expense, crowds, etc. Singapore has nothing to overlook unless you count its authoritarian government which as far as I am concerned is too much to forgive.