Wed July 3, 2013rd
Today our short trip to Singapore must end. We fly back to KL this afternoon, but we have a morning to squander which Phil and Andy dedicate to shopping along Orchard Road (read Oxford Street squared) and Sue and David dedicate to the Singapore National Museum. I am more and more impressed by the cunning / stunning presentation techniques that museums use these days. Long gone are glass cases filled with dusty and meticulously labelled artefacts associated with a place or event. Audio guides, personalised tours, Ipads on neckstaps are de-riguer for the visitor. Movie, Computer generated graphics, audio, tableaux are the minimum necessary descriptors for the exhibits. The sum of it all is usually quite amazing and this museum fits the bill very well. The history of Singapore is depicted from ancient man through European conquest, to Raffles deal, through the growth of trade to the foundation of the city. The war years are brilliantly done – not through the eyes of the Generals, the politicians or the historians, but through the experiences of individuals, their personal records and testimonies.
It was a brilliant experience.
We regroup and after a leisurely lunch take the metro back to Changi Airport and home to KL, By the time we tumble into bed it is late and we sleep the travellers’ sleep.
Thu July 4th
Today is a down day. Recovery, rest, washing of clothes are required so we slob about Andy’s house in the morning and read and research Vietnam. In the late afternoon we visit a local night market and take the ritual cold drinks made from crushed iced and flavourings. We meet yet another charming niece and are invited to her and her husband’s brand new house to inspect and admire it. (You know what girlies and house furnishings are!). The chaps set about a slab of Tiger beers and before long we are all bosom pals. You cannot visit a Malaysian Chinese family without food being offered. Even though we are pigged out on endless street nibbles (we thought that was it for the day), we are sandbagged to a nearby, very grand food court and required to participate in another Chinese meal + beers. We are becoming very adept with chopsticks and those little Chinese table shovels!
Fri July 5th, 2013
Our kind friends with the spanking new house are up for a day out and own a 6 seater car. They offer to take us to Melaka, (NB modern spelling) on the west coast of Malaysia. It is a 2 hour trip and we gather early in the day to assemble our party. Malaysia is a prosperous country and its highways are grand and well maintained and, like most countries, in a seemingly endless programme of improvement. (Did anyone ever fly to an airport that was completed?) We pass the journey discussing jobs, children, ambitions, travel (recent and forthcoming) and get to know our hosts a little better. Melaka is a charming bustling town – much given to feting tourists and has the usual array of shops selling tourist souvenirs. How is it that tourist tat is the same miserable, gaudy, poor quality rubbish the world over? We ignore it all and explore the streets and harbour-side vistas. The Portugese were the first to Europeans to settle this place and build a rather grand church on the highest hill which is a tourist must. We climb hundreds of steps hewn from the volcanic stone of which this part of Malaysia is made (The rest – including the capital city – seems to rest on sand.) At the top we are informed that the Dutch, when they invaded and drove out the Portugese enlarged said church and rededicated it to the protestant cause. Then they build a new one lower down the hill and abandoned the grand one. (why would they do that?) The Brits, when they arrived deconsecrated the whole thing (fearing a Dutch led insurrections) built a tower onto it with a lighthouse on the top of that and a grand flag pole for the Union flag. Now that sounds much more practical. Furthermore, a neat Governors’ residence (low-rise Palladian style. white painted balustrade, ornamental canons, etc) was built next door to it on the same high hill. Very pukka, just the job.
We gaze out to sea towards Sumatra, the long Indonesian island that cuddles up to the western shores of Malaysia. It is about 30 miles away but shrouded in a smoky haze from the deforestation fires that have been so much in the recent news. (The smoke from these fires was reputed to have obliterated Singapore so we arrived bearing filtration masks as per FCO advice. What a waste of effort and money that was. One rain shower and it was all washed away!)
We see ships, not the odd one, but dozens of ships all standing still, presumably at anchor and all pointing south. They are bound for the port of Singapore to load up with containers full of who knows what to bring to bring to India and Europe. I can’t help trotting out such lines as I can recall from Masefield’s poem “Cargoes”. We amuse ourselves trying to complete the recollection but fail. We have to make our way down for a cooling iced tea (it is very humid today) and then home. We fear that we shall (we do) hit the KL Friday night rush hour on our journey.
More talk of shopping. David sleeps. We say our thank yous and depart for Sze Towers at a late hour. Tomorrow the second phase of our adventure begins and we fly to Vietnam.