Tourist visit to Singapore, and sailing around islands of southeast peninsular Malaysia to Tioman
29th April to 15th May
With Henrietta cosy and secure at Sebana Cove, Malaysia, I left her and took buses for a few days’ holiday in Singapore. (My sailing budget doesn’t run to the agent fees and marina charges for Singapore by yacht)
Singapore is fascinating for many reasons.
But before I launch into the usual tourist tales and tell you how amazing and wonderful it is, I should remind you that despite its amazingness, Singapore is a member of the shrinking club of countries that still retains the death penalty, and thus demonstrates its lesser known credentials as a ruthless, ultimately arrogant cruel and intolerant sort of nation, earning itself a place alongside some other well-known beacons of medieval enlightenment such as Texas and Saudi Arabia.
And should you believe it’s an appropriate form of retribution and deterrent to serious crime, it’s best first to seek out data to support your view.
(In case you wondered, Singapore’s preferred technique is long drop hanging, at Changi prison at dawn on Fridays. And in 2018 it possibly had the world’s highest per capita execution rate – 13 prisoners ended their days that way.)
When it comes to maintaining law and order, you probably already knew that you cannot buy chewing gum, spit or walk across the road against a ‘red man’. I am usually a law-abiding sort of fellow, who detests spitting and doesn’t much like chewing gum, but I feel tempted to try all three. It is surely innate in man to challenge rules that seek to bind us too tightly? (perhaps I’m just naughtier than I’d thought)
Anyway I was about to move on and tell you how efficient, clean, helpful and friendly I found the place. But then I recall the immigration hall queues at the Malaysia/Singapore border, a vast warehouse sort of shed that handles hundreds of thousands of people a day.
Up until I’d experienced this shed, I’d thought nowhere on the planet could surpass the United States for slow intractable unsmiling uncompromising border control. But I’m unhappy to announce that Singapore can; it’s even worse than busy times in American airports.
I know the land crossing is not Singapore’s Changi Airport (which I gather has a better class of visitor and has streamlined itself), but nonetheless, we’re still human beings even if we arrive by bus. After over an hour in the queue, which was moving more slowly than a meditating monk in neutral, and we were perhaps half-way there, a young child started screaming inconsolably in front of me; loud, incessant yells of anguish, and I know we all sympathised and wished we could join in the screaming. But of course we didn’t dare.
(If you find excessive queues when entering Britain, let me know and I’ll send you the address of the Minister to write to.)
Okay, enough of the sorry state of Singaporean rules and controls.
It is, despite its abhorrent sense of justice and these seriously negative comments, a fantastic sort of place. (I’d been born there a very long time ago, revisited a few times in the 1970/80s but not been back since.)
I shan’t whitter on too much about Singapore as a tourist mecca and streamlined business hub as you may have already visited yourself and, if not, the guide books will fill you in.
For me, the architecture (imaginative, super-modern, fabulous high-rise vistas from anywhere you choose, somehow still incorporating a few gems from its colonial past); top-class museums and galleries (well planned and beautifully assembled); a transport system – once you’re in – that should be the envy of any city in the world (spotlessly clean, quick, cheap and easy); fabulous gardens and public spaces that are both beautifully laid out and perfectly maintained….all these things make it unique, beautiful and a credit to urban planners, architects, engineers and the many others who create such a city.
And if you’re into shopping and eating, there seem to be all the fashion labels and perfume houses you’ve ever heard of plus many more; and diets to suit any palate and any size of wallet in settings that vary from colourful roadside stall to air conditioned splendour (though I didn’t actually try any of the latter.)
Here are some slides…
Big deals were managed pretty quickly in those days – though not without careful diplomacy of course, plus a lot of work, ambition, vision and surprising empathy.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. And I do still marvel that over five million people now live peaceably, tidily and politely on such a poky little hot and humid island.
I don’t know whether Singaporeans are happy (there didn’t seem to be much laughter going on). And perhaps more of us will have to live in such cities if we are to squeeze over 14 billion humans into planet earth in a generation’s time. But I’m glad I shan’t be one of them.
Oh yes! Here’s a little table to show which Chinese Horoscope sign applies for your year of birth. Combine it with the myths of the Western Horoscope and you’ll know exactly who you are…
Once back aboard Henrietta a few days later, it was time to catch up other boats and I sailed off east and thence up the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia to islands around Tioman (which is itself an island).
I soon meet up again with sailing friends and find several more new good-natured folk to chat with. There are at least 20 boats of various shapes and sizes assembling hereabouts in a rather haphazard sort of way, and it’s a sociable way of life if you so choose.
Day 1 in Tioman: I’d arrived just in time for games with local children and adults (Silly games and plenty of fun).
Day 2: We sweat and puff our way a few hours up a gorgeous tropical forest path to swim in cool not-so-clear waterfall pool.
Days 3 etc. More walks, more islands, more waterfalls, more snorkelling (lovely clear coral waters again), more chat, more friends, more beer ………I especially liked visiting a Turtle Project on Tioman’s East coast. Perhaps a dozen young volunteers from around the world have created an information hub and turtle nesting area, where they enthusiastically tell us of the horrifyingly rapid drop in turtle numbers – in large part a direct consequence of man’s impacts (plastic and global sea temperatures). The year’s first batch of baby green turtles hatch in the evening of one day I’m there, and 120 of these mini turtles scurry into the waves. Of a thousand that start out, they reckon as few as two will reach fertility, some 20 years later. Without ocean plastic it could be as many as ten.
Next stop after Tioman will be the islands of Anambas and Natuna in Indonesia. These islands are about half way to Malaysian Borneo (Sarawak), and we’ll spend a month there.
Some boats seem to have left already. The rest of us wait for wind to fill our sails, not wanting to motor such a distance. (And anyway I’m licking some minor bruises and wounds from a little local motorbike accident….which was probably mostly my fault!)