"Arctracer" Letters

Singapore & Malaysia, Nov 2005

Since arriving at Danga Bay near Johor Bahru and the only causeway from Malaysia to Singapore we've been keeping busy as usual.

We exchanged our Australian and Indonesian money for ringgits. Here we're no longer millionaires since $1 US is about 3.73 RM (Ringgit Malaysian), unlike the Indonesian rupiah where $1 US was worth 10,000 rupiahs. We can still get a meal for under $2 for both of us, so we've eaten out a few times. However, the Malaysian food hasn't been great so far. We ate Chinese food one day and it was much better. We found a supermarket with some fruit and vegetables and other stuff, but not many "European" products. For example, we'll probably be substituting two-minute noodles for spaghetti and fettuccine before heading for Africa. For the cost of groceries and taking public transportation it is a good place to live when you're on a pension as we are! We got 3 bags of groceries for the equivalent of $10 US. The bus systems of Singapore and Malaysia are excellent, and a typical air-conditioned bus ride an hour long costs each of us about 50 US cents. Many Australians stay here for years as it certainly is much less expensive than their homeland.

We went to Singapore twice. The first time we ordered new boat parts which had to be shipped from California and the second time we picked them up. After taking care of business, we went to Jurong Bird Park where we really enjoyed seeing all the hornbills and birds of paradise plus many African and Asian birds, and then to the zoo's "Night Safari" which was highly recommended by several people. We, however, would much rather see the animals in their natural environment. It was what we expected - a walk along dimly lit paths past many animals that were usually difficult to see because it was dark. We also went to the Asian Civilizations Museum and enjoyed that, but it was so huge that we got tired before we saw it all. We especially enjoyed the parts dealing with Southeast Asia since we'll be in Malaysia and Thailand for a few months. Here we gave the receptionist our $10 (Singapore dollars, each worth about 40 US cents) to enter and she gave us back $5 because we looked like senior citizens!?! It's amusing to think of ourselves as senior citizens, but we don't mind half price tickets. We did a lot of walking around the city. The government puts many controls on what people do, such as requiring gas tanks to be more than 3/4 full when driving from Singapore to Malaysia, so Singapore (with higher gas prices) won't lose money by people driving across the border to fill up. It is a relatively clean city with lots of gardens and friendly, educated people, but it is a city where most people live in high-rise apartment blocks and hustle all day, and you know we like quiet, remote anchorages.

(view Singapore photos)

We haven't done much in Malaysia yet, but did walk around what one cruiser called the "crime capital of Malaysia" - Johor Bahru. There really wasn't much to see, and it didn't seem dangerous at all. All the latest gadgets and brand names are on sale here, as well as in Singapore. Jerry bought new shoes (Timberland brand, a New Hampshire company) to replace the worn-out ones he bought in New Zealand over 2 years ago. We did take one photo of an elaborately-decorated Indian temple. And, we got groceries and found an email cafe to collect our forwarded photos, newspaper articles, etc.

Yesterday we took a 3-hour adventure up a river near where we're anchored. It was absolutely wonderful. We passed two small villages with the houses built on stilts and saw quite a few net-fishermen at the mouth of the river, but once past the villages it was quiet and very peaceful. We watched two different families of monkeys for a while - some long-tailed macaques including mothers with babies hanging on to them and a cute monkey family with huge black eyes with white fur around the eyes and on the nose. We'd never seen the second kind before and look forward to finding out what kind they were. We also saw lots of birds - many herons of two kinds, Brahminy Kites, colorful woodpeckers, two kinds of kingfishers and two other kinds of colorful birds that we couldn't identify. It was a lot of rowing, but well worth it.

(view Johor Bahru photos)

We've had to clean walls and ceilings every week lately. The heat and humidity are amazing! Mildew grows VERY quickly. We've done some necessary sanding and varnishing, but it takes it forever to dry in these weather conditions. And, we've had more time to read than usual - a real pleasure for us. So far we've escaped a lightning strike and sure hope the lightning continues to miss us. We've heard of one boat that got hit and is now replacing all its electronic equipment - not a fun thing to think about. Singapore has more electrical storms than any other place in the world (from what we've heard).

Presently Jerry is dealing with officials and checking out of this port as tomorrow we plan to go down the Johor Straits on the west side of Singapore. Once out of the this strait we'll be in the Straits of Malacca which has been known for piracy for eons, however presently the pirates only attack big ships, so we aren't worrying about sailing/motoring north to Phuket, Thailand. We'll only be traveling during the day because of the ships, numerous fishing boats, and fish traps and nets everywhere. The Northeast Monsoon season is supposed to be from November through March, but we are still in the transition period between SE and NE monsoons with very little wind. Once the NE monsoon sets in we'll be able to sail, but we'll undoubtedly be motoring down the straits tomorrow. Present plans are to stay for a few days in the old port of Malacca, visit Port Klang and Lumut, then do some stocking up on the island of Penang. After Penang we'd like to stop at Palau Paya (an island that is a National Marine Park with only moorings to stop on (no anchoring) and what we hear is a spectacular coral garden (providing the tsunami last year didn't wreck it). Then Langkawi has many islands to visit and is a duty-free port. We haven't seen any wine for sale since we were in Darwin and we're looking forward to having wine and martinis again. Phuket, Thailand will be the next major stop after Langkawi, Malaysia. We really want to get our rigging fixed so that it won't give us grief in mid-ocean again. Having that happen is very scary!!

Probably from the island of Penang on the west coast of Malaysia (and on the path we'll take to Phuket, Thailand) we'll go to Malaysia's capital - Kuala Lumpur. We're hoping there is still an American Embassy there. Jerry really needs a new passport since there is no room for another stamp in his and it expires in a year anyway. Since we have to have at least 6 months left on a passport when we check into a new country, this is a good time to renew it. And, Nina needs a tetanus shot as it has been about 10 years since she had one and she has a couple of suspicious spots that she wants to have checked for skin cancer. We attempt to stay out of the sun, but... It's easier to see doctors, dentists and get passports in Malaysia as we have 3 month visas here, whereas in Thailand US citizens only get one month at a time.

We've heard that we can get DVDs for about $3.50 US each so if there are any you've been wanting let us know. We don't know what kind of selection we'll find, but we'll look for them. Then we'll attempt to take time to watch them before giving them to you. We don't watch too many movies as we find ourselves reading in our spare time.

If you want to read a good-to-us book about Malaysia you might find "The Cultural Background of the Peoples of Malaya" by N.J. Ryan 1962. Unlike Indonesia where 95% of the people are Muslims, in 1957 Malaysia had 43% Malaysians, 44% Chinese, 11% Indians, & 2% Other. We imagine the proportions are similar now. The Malaysians are mostly Muslims, the Chinese are Christians or followers of Confucius, while many of the Indians are Buddhists. Most of the Muslim women in the area of Malaysia and Singapore we've been in so far wear full head scarves and very nice outfits including long sleeves and full-length skirts, while the Indians wear long pants or long skirts and long sleeves, and the Chinese dress like Americans as far as we can tell - midriffs showing, shorts, sleeveless tops, knee-length skirts, etc. In Indonesia we usually said we lived near Canada, so usually with the limited English the people had they assumed we were from Canada. In Muslim countries these days (with the policies of the Bush Administration) we don't like to admit that we're from the U.S.!!! We've heard that in Malaysia, since there are so many ethnic groups, they are much more tolerant of Americans.

Another good-to-us book is "Dude, Where's My Country" by Michael Moore, 2003, which came out before the last Presidential election. He gave many reasons why Bush should be defeated. He said Oprah would be a much better President. Also he cites many organizations/businesses that Bush is involved in and people that he deals with on a financial basis. We also borrowed his documentary DVD from another cruising boat. It's called "Bowling for Columbine" and questions why thousands of Americans are killed by guns each year - far more than in any other country. They are both excellent from our point of view, since we think many of the people in countries we've been visiting do indeed see Americans as rude gunslingers, and we'd like that to change.

TODAY, our plans are to leave Thailand about March and go to the Maldives for a short visit before spending a couple of months in the VERY remote Chagos Archipelago. From there we want to visit Madagascar so will have to see when their hurricanes end, and the best time to go from Madagascar to Durban, South Africa is November, so we'll probably do that, and go on a safari there before going around the tip of Africa (best time December & January during the southern summer). Of course ALL our plans are subject to change, but that is what we're thinking of doing TODAY.

It may be a while before we write again as we don't anticipate having too many adventures for a few weeks.