Back to the first world

Tue 26 Oct 2010 07:18

Position:  01.20N  103.38W

It's no coincidence that as I write this the Singapore Stock Exchange is making a bid for it's Australian counterpart. Coming from Indonesia we are finding it a huge culture shock to be in such an incredibly modern city where everything WORKS! Since we were here about 10 years ago Singapore has become an extremely sophisticated city with world-class architecture that  makes Melbourne look like a provincial town. And the food! It's said that that Singaporeans live to eat, and since we've been here we've been lucky enough to experience a huge variety of local and regional Chinese food, all of it excellent.

We arrived at Raffles Marina a week ago .Raffles is quite a distance from the centre of Singapore, on the banks of the Johor Straits, just across from Malaysia. We're here because it offers the best technical services and we have some serious work to be done on our auxillary engine which is being removed to be taken to the Yanmar hospital. The water maker is also in need of some serious attention. Being so far out of town isn't much of a problem, thanks to a first-rate public transport system which whizzes you around Singapore. There's also a nice swimming pool and a good, cheap restaurant at the marina--and the Straits Times is delivered to the boat each morning, as we listen to the BBC World Service on the radio. It doesn't get much better than that.
 After nearly three months of anchoring out in Indonesia, it's a treat to be in a marina where the power is good enough to run air conditioning. Heaven, especially at night. There's a torrential downpour every day, usually accompanied by spectacular thunder and lightning. We were enjoying a cool drink at the Country Club on the weekend when the storm alarms went off urging everyone to get out of the pool and off the golf course. Not for nothing is Singapore known as the lightning capital of the world.

Getting to Singapore was not without excitement, as the shipping lanes into Singapore are the busiest in the world, and crossing from the Riau islands of Indonesia requires you to take your courage into your hands and make a dash for it, crossing  in front of  a ship that is travelling at 20 knots--and with a 3 knot current running against you. There's a new ship coming every 12 minutes, so you have to be watching every direction. You can see on the computer screen (pic 3) the mess of blue triangles, each of which represents a large ship.  Of course, being Singapore everything is very well controlled, with a very noticeable armed military presence. With so many gas and oil tankers in the Strait, it would have to be a prime terrorist target.

Just before we left Indonesian waters we were approached by a uniformed guy in a patrol boat asking for money. I didn't see the gun he was carrying so told him very firmly to go away as he was about to bash into our boat and leave a nasty mark on it. Off he went , only to approach several yachts and demand (and be given) money by them. Of course I wouldn't have been so brave if I'd noticed the gun! That was the only piracy-like incident we experienced in the whole of Indonesia although we heard from others that they had experienced a similar problem in the same area last year.

Our time in Singapore has been made even more enjoyable by the fact that we have been spending the weekends at the beautiful and spacious 'bungalow' of an old friend, Chiu Leng Campos. Leng is a serious 'foodie' and it's been great fun accompanying her to the early morning market to buy the ingredients for the evening's dinner party. Of course, you don't have to actually carry the food you have purchased--two of her maids and her driver come with us. Back at home Leng supervises as the three maids prepare the most delicious local dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Many  of the dishes involve intricate wrapping of meat, vegetables and spices in various leaves such as pandanus and steaming them.   Others such as propiah are wafer thin pancakes used to wrap vegetables and sauces. There's a wonderful contrast of textures and flavours--and it's all very labour intensive and not to be attempted without skilled household help. I wish I'd been able to photograph the meals, but unfortunately my camera decided to go on the blink for the weekend.

If the cooking was my highlight, John's was chauffeuring Leng, me and her grownup children, Ian and Eugenia, in their classic Lagonda, not a task for the faint hearted.

Our plan is to leave the delights of Singapore next week and make a week-long trip up the west coast of Malaysia to Langkawi where we will leave Storyteller while we go home for about six weeks. Then it's up to the Phuket area of Thailand for two or three months until the wet season begins. 

We can appreciate now the great attraction of South East Asia as a base for cruising, especially for a motor boat. There's very little wind, the weather is hot, there are no cyclones, marinas are pretty cheap, and the food is first rate. Apart from Indonesia, the bureaucracy is minimal and everyone speaks English. And best of all, there are no crocodiles and stingers!

Crossing the equator.


Our equator-crossing party with Anne from Harmonie, Susie
from Priscilla and Martin an Austrian guy doing a circumnavigation
in a pretty 'character' boat. With 2 good guitarists
and Tom on didgeridoo, it was a memorable
party on the top deck of Storyteller.


The computer screen, showing us waiting to make our dash across 
the Singapore Strait. The 'blob" represents dozens of ships.