A Travellerspoint blog

The Malay Peninsula

where it's usually about 100 degrees hot

sunny 100 °F
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For the past week we have been traveling along the Malay peninsula from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Phuket and Sabang. As elsewhere in Asia, we have seen great contrasts on our journey: incense-filled temples next to soaring skyscrapers, bustling street markets with exotic fruits and vegetables next to shopping malls with Starbucks and MacDonald's. We have seen people of different ethnic backgrounds (Malay, Chinese, Tamil, Indian) and religions (Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem) living together in harmony.

Singapore is actually a country all by itself, a small island with 5,200,000 people off the southern tip of Malaysia. Everything is very modern and efficient here with a very strong and visionary government determined to make Singapore the a global business and financial center. There are also very strict rules about such things as littering and gum chewing, with the result that streets, sidewalks, and subways are immaculate.

Phuket is a little island off the coast of Thailand that has become increasingly popular as a resort destination. The film Impossible that has recently been showing in theaters in the U.S. is about the devastating tsunami here in 2004. We avoided the beach and went on a visit to an elephant park instead.

Sabang is an island at the northwest corner of Indonesia off the tip of Sumatra. It is a very simple place with no hotels or resorts. Everyone turned out to see the cruise ship arrive and children from the middle school and high school gave dance performances to welcome us. We love this hospitable place and its beautiful beaches.

Trishaws

Trishaws

Khoo Klan temple

Khoo Klan temple

Elephant ride

Elephant ride

Buddhist temple in Panang

Buddhist temple in Panang

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

Hindu god

Hindu god

Penang cafe

Penang cafe

Luxury mall - Kuala Lumpur

Luxury mall - Kuala Lumpur

Dancing girls on Sabang

Dancing girls on Sabang

Children watching dancers

Children watching dancers

Posted by HopeEakins 04:02 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Bangkok

A golden city

sunny 95 °F
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We flew from Siem Reap, Cambodia, to rejoin our ship in Bangkok, Thailand. Our guide Kay (short for Chawanwit Kupdhabhorn) took us out to explore this huge metropolis both by night and by day. It is indeed a city that never sleeps. Wholesale and retain markets sell all kinds of exotic vegetables, fruits, and flowers at all hours. High-rise office buildings share the night sky with flood lit golden temples and palaces. We had dinner on the terrace of a restaurant overlooking the Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun) on the Prabang River. The next day we visited the Royal Palace of the King and several of Bangkok's many temples. One of these temples was that of the Golden Buddha. This Buddha is made of pure gold and weighs 5 1.2 tons! It was made over 600 years ago and during an invasion by the Burmese was covered with plaster top keep it from being stolen. Over the years that followed, people forgot about the golden statue beneath and thought it was just made of plaster. It was not until 1955 that a monk looking carefully at a crack discovered the incredibly valuable Buddha that lay within.

How much is the Golden Buddha worth today? Calculate how many ounces are in 5 1/2 tons and multiply the number by the current price per ounce of gold.

Wat Arun

Wat Arun

Royal Palace grounds

Royal Palace grounds

Figure at Royal Palace

Figure at Royal Palace

Golden Buddha

Golden Buddha

Garlands for the gods

Garlands for the gods

Wat Pho

Wat Pho

Gold, gold, gold

Gold, gold, gold

Posted by HopeEakins 03:05 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Cambodia

sunny 98 °F

From Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City, we left our ship to travel on a 3 day overland excursion to Siem Reap, Cambodia. To visit the ancient temples of Angkor. These Hindu and Buddhist places of worship, the greatest of which is Angkor Wat, were built some 800 years ago by the Khmer kings who then ruled over most of southeast Asia. The huge size of Angkor Wat (its moat alone is 3 1/2 miles long) and the number of people it took to build it (500,000 workers and 2000 architects) are a testimony to the wealth and power of its royal builder.

By contrast, the people of Cambodia today are very poor. Little children are put to work selling postcards to get money for their families. There are almost no public schools in the country, and parents put their sons on the care of Buddhist monks to get a basic education. Girls don’t go to school at all but work beside their mothers growing rice. We visited a silk farm where few lucky girls were learning how to make a living spinning and weaving silk.

Before leaving Siem Reap to rejoin our ship in Bangkok, Thailand, we bought some bamboo instruments for all of you. They are played by a combination of blowing into the mouthpiece and twanging on the other end with the hand. You'll soon figure it out when they arrive.

Angkor Wat and moat

Angkor Wat and moat

At the center of the temple, Angkor Wat

At the center of the temple, Angkor Wat

The encroaching jungle

The encroaching jungle

Bill and many-armed Hindu god

Bill and many-armed Hindu god

Young monks at Angkor Wat

Young monks at Angkor Wat

Girls spinning silk thread

Girls spinning silk thread

Girl weaving

Girl weaving

Posted by HopeEakins 00:33 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

Viet Nam

It has been a strange and unsettling experience to visit Vietnam. From 1955 to 1975, the USA fought a brutal war here to stop the spread of communism, and we lost that war. 60,000 American soldiers gave their lives in Vietnam’s jungles and rice paddies battling the Viet Cong, the elusive communist guerrilla forces. Many thousands of Vietnamese, including many civilians, also died. Finally the United States withdrew its troops and left the country. The Viet Cong took over Vietnam and changed the name of Saigon, the principal city, to Ho Chi Minh City, in honor of the revered communist leader.

For all who lived through what the Vietnamese call the “American War,” there are bad memories. A fellow American on our cruise told us that he found it very hard to go ashore in the country where he had once served as a soldier. During his visit to Hue, he kept thinking of his three army buddies who were killed there. Still-ruined buildings destroyed by US bombs and artillery are on-going reminders to the Vietnamese of the horrors of the war.

What is remarkable is that the Vietnamese do not seem to have hard feelings toward American tourists like us. Over and over we have heard our guides tell us that Vietnamese have put the past behind them and look to the future.

As I write this blog, I am looking out from the ship at a Ho Chi Minh City that is full of new buildings and where the streets are filled with a bustling prosperity. Yes, Vietnam is a communist country and not a democracy like ours, yet the people are happy because the war is over and they are rebuilding their country after centuries of domination by the Chinese (1000 years), the French (1887-1940) and then the Americans. There are very few schools in the country and rural families live in one room concrete houses, but before communism, the houses were made of bamboo and washed away in floods. There are almost no cars in the cities and motor bikes cost a great deal, but there are schools there for most children. The people do not have the freedoms we enjoy in America, but they have more freedoms than they used to - and they have hope.

Posted by HopeEakins 20:57 Comments (0)

Hong Kong

A city of contrasts

sunny 71 °F
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After a very rough passage (monsoon rains + big waves = seasickness) on the China Sea from the Philippines, we were grateful to sail into Hong Kong. Skyscrapers surround the harbor on both the island of Hong Kong and on the mainland of Kowloon. These tall buildings are crowned with name of banks and corporations that make Hong Kong the thriving business capital that it is. Other skyscrapers provide apartments for the 7 million people that live and work here; occasional floors have no walls so that the wind can blow through the buildings instead of making them sway. Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Our guide, Shermone, along with her husband, 2 children, her grandmother, and a domestic helper occupy a 600 square floor apartment. The domestic helper sleeps on the floor next to the children's’ bunk beds.

Honk Kong is a city of great contrasts; communism and free enterprise, ancient traditions and the latest technologies and fashions exist side by side. Pedestrians in business suits talking into cell phones pass by incense filled temples where chickens are slaughtered during worship. Huge street markets selling everything from canaries to corn, Nike sneakers to netsuke figurines operate in the shadow of hundred story high corporate towers.

There was great anxiety about what would happen when, after 150 years as a British Crown Colony, the city was returned to the communist government of mainland China. Fifteen years later those fears have proved to be misplaced. It would be hard to imagine a city that is better run and whose people have more energy and hope for the future.

What do you think makes a city a great place to live? What do you think would improve life in Hartford?HK by night

HK by night

From the Peak

From the Peak

Chi Lin Nunnery

Chi Lin Nunnery

Temple worship

Temple worship

Temple of Absolute Perfection

Temple of Absolute Perfection

Posted by HopeEakins 21:31 Archived in China Comments (1)

Bali

A beautiful and peaceful country

sunny 95 °F
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We spent yesterday on Bali, one of the islands that make up Indonesia. Our guide, Bawa, took us to see a typical Balinese house, a temple (where we had to wear sarongs in order to enter), and workshops where people carved wood sculptures and printed a fabric called batik. Also during lunch we were treated to a performance of gamalan music and traditional dance.

Bawa took pride in explaining to us the distinctive culture of his people, and we left Bali admiring the strong community values that govern life on this island. Balinese own their houses, but the property on which their houses are built belongs to the local community, and every Friday all the women walk through the neighborhood to make sure that the whole village is kept clean and tidy. The men gather on Sundays to keep the temple in good repair. All the generations of a family live in the same compound, and all the adults in the community and not just the parents see to raising the children. Within individual families there is little privacy. The bedroom pictured below (without any doors!) belongs to a teenage girl, and the cupboard holds all the family’s clothes together. People don’t have last names but are given the name of the community in which they live. Even when people die, they are cremated together and the combined ashes are placed in coconuts and floated out to sea. There is almost no crime or poverty in Bali.

By contrast, we in the US place a very strong emphasis on individualism and live much more private lives than the Balinese. We prize personal rights and liberties (consider, for example, the current debate in our country over gun control). Parents might resent it if neighbors criticized or disciplined their children.

What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of the Balinese and American ways of life?

On the pier

On the pier

BALINESE DANCER

BALINESE DANCER

At lunch

At lunch

Bedroom

Bedroom

Family cupboard

Family cupboard

Temple

Temple

BILL AND BAWA

BILL AND BAWA

Rice paddy

Rice paddy

Posted by HopeEakins 20:36 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

Perth and beyond

Leaving Australia

sunny 95 °F
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We are now two days into the voyage from southwest Australia to Bali. We led a brief Ash Wednesday service (with ashes combined from St. James, Farmington, and St. George’s Cathedral, Perth) on board the whisper as we slipped out of Fremantle late on February 13th, and for a quick change of ace celebrated Valentine’s Day as we traveled up the Australian coast on the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Today we are somewhere off to the west of Australia’s Great Sandy desert, and it is very hot indeed. Most passengers are avoiding the broiling sun of the open decks.

In leaving Australia, we are leaving behind a country that although very different from the USA in some respects, nonetheless has much that is familiar - people who look like us and speak our language, who enjoy a culture of affluence and share with us western European traditions of architecture, dress, worship, government, and cuisine. Now we are headed for “the mysterious East” (although we have bought and posted a large Pacific-centered wall map that keeps us ‘oriented’”) to visit lands and peoples where we expect to feel much more like foreigners. We are excited and intrigued by what awaits us!

Re photos: At the General Post Office, in the very center of the stunning city of Perth, a great plaza is filled with people and kids playing. At the welcoming Anglican Cathedral, a large statue of St. George and the dragon towers. Note George’s lance rises like a flagpole; the rest of him and his dragon aren’t as easily discerned. And at the Supreme Court Law Museum, a display tells us directly that the gavel has NEVER been used in the courts of Western Australia. Why do you suppose that is?

Playing in Perth

Playing in Perth

St. George's Cathedral, Perth

St. George's Cathedral, Perth

Gavel

Gavel

Posted by HopeEakins 01:07 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Sydney and Melbourne

Australia's largest cities

sunny 80 °F
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We are sailing around Australia, which is like sailing around the US (if one could), so it takes a while! After Tasmania, an island province, we sailed into Sydney Harbor, one of the most dramatic, and amazing travel experiences we have known. We saw the Opera House and people climbing the Harbor Bridge waving from their high perches.

First glimpse of the Opera House

First glimpse of the Opera House

Opera House

Opera House

Then on to Melbourne whose skyline is dominated by a tall building that looks like a ruler. Yarn bombing flourishes in the city: knitters cover the tree trunks with knitted designs! The street flowers are abundant - and people apparently leave them alone. And then there are the sweet shops! The Cathedral is where Australia’s first women deacons, priests, and bishops were ordained. We arrived as a local girls’ school was rehearsing for the installation of their new Headmistress/Principal, and our hearts sang along with them because they were so proud of their school.

Oh boy!!!

Oh boy!!!

Street flowers

Street flowers

The Ruler building - Melbourne

The Ruler building - Melbourne

Dangerous font

Dangerous font

Yarn bombing - Melbourne

Yarn bombing - Melbourne

Now we are sailing along the southern coast, enjoying one of our ship’s new lecturers, Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots, and Leaves (the best seller on punctuation). She also wrote The Girl’s Like Spaghetti (a children’s book on the value of the apostrophe).

Posted by HopeEakins 21:38 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Adelaide

Bound for South Australia

sunny 78 °F
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We spent the day in Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, established by people with a real pioneer spirit - not convicts transported here, but folks who bought a chance to start over. They landed seven miles from the new city’s (non-existent) foundations and had to lug all their stuff and kids by hand up the river. The road has an old hotel on almost every corner today - you can almost hear echoes of “But, mom, I can’t walk one more mile...”

We went first to an aboriginal center where we heard the didgeridoo played (It's amazing and you can hear it on YouTube) and saw beautiful examples of native art. The cathedral here is famous because coverage of the game of cricket always refers to batting from the “cathedral end.” The Magdalene window celebrates the role of women in the Scriptures, the Church, and the social history of Australia, and it is absolutely stunning.

We are praying for you all as the snow storm threatens.

IMG_1379.jpgIMG_1380.jpg

Posted by HopeEakins 21:29 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

From Tasmania

A loooooooong way away from Hartford

sunny 75 °F
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We arrived today in Tasmania, the island off the southeast coast of Australia, that is Australia’s smallest state. Aboriginal people lived here for many thousands of years before Europeans first came to the island in the early 1800’s. Most of the Europeans were convicts sent here from England to live in penal colonies. In addition to convicts, there were also settlers from Ireland, Scotland, and England. By the end of the 19th century, the aborigines of Tasmania had almost entirely been wiped out both by disease brought to the island by Europeans and by a policy of deliberate killing of the native [population. As Americans, we cannot help making the parallel with our own treatment of the native people of our own country.

A striking feature of Tasmania (as in the rest of Australia) is the presence of animals that are very very different from those to be found anywhere else in the world. Among these creatures are kangaroos, koalas, wombats, and wallabies. In addition, Tasmania has its own special animal - the Tasmanian devil. The latter are ferocious carnivores with such strong teeth and jaws that they can consume an entire animal including the bones! They have also been known to eat cameras and cell phones. When we saw them today at Bonorong Nature Preserve, we made sure we kept a safe distance from their pens. Why do you think Australia has such unique animals?

Port Arthur prison

Port Arthur prison

Wombat

Wombat

Kangaroo with joey

Kangaroo with joey

Koala bear

Koala bear

Lorikeet

Lorikeet

Tasmanian devil

Tasmanian devil

Posted by HopeEakins 13:44 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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