Fretwell's Travel Journal: Chapter 2 -- Cruise departure and tour in Jakarta.

March 10th through 12th -- We left home at 3:30 pm, driven by friends, Johnnie and Linda Elkins, to the Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. Just over 32 hours later we arrived at our hotel in Singapore, tired, still in the same clothes, and ready for a shower and a nap. We had uncritically believed the airlines' flight times of 25 hours, and failed to consider the pre-boarding wait in Phoenix, and the layovers in Los Angeles and Hong Kong, our mistake, not the airlines', so our journey was 7 hours longer than we expected. We traveled 9,160 miles, using three different planes, and we finally got to Singapore.

From LAX we flew two legs of the journey using Cathay Pacific Airlines. What a wonderful experience. Our first flight was in a Boeing 777, a first for both of us. Awesome plane; awesome food, awesome service, reminiscent of what our airlines used to provide. And the seats are equipped with individual TV sets installed in the back of the seat in front of you, with a wide range of movies (recent, first rate ones), TV programs, music, kids games, and maps of exactly where you are at any moment. Oh, and they even have a TV camera mounted under the plane, so you can watch the runway, up close and personal, during takeoffs and landings. International flying has changed a lot since my last big flight in 2009.

Sometime in the early morning of our flight, while my mind was still foggy, I started thinking about the number of time zones we'd passed through, and I became temporarily befuddled. We were traveling west, so every time zone we crossed should have made the time an hour earlier. Singapore is nine time zones west of Phoenix, so there should have been 9 hours difference, with Singapore 9 hours behind Phoenix. But this isn't so. Singapore is 15 hours ahead of Phoenix. Ahh, that tricky International Dateline! As the Earth rotates, Singapore indeed sees daylight 9 hours later than Phoenix. But we humans had to put a line of demarcation for where a new day begins, and it is just between Alaska and Russia. So you can, indeed, travel west and gain time -- as we measure it in days. So, a day begins at the International Dateline, and 8 hours later Singapore sees the start of its new day. 15 hours later, Phoenix sees the start of its new day, which makes Singapore 15 hours ahead of Phoenix. Well, the explanation aside, the International Dateline added a day to our trip, so we arrived early afternoon on March 12th.

I was surprised at the changes in vegetation since my last visit to Singapore in 2009. Singapore is suffering the longest drought in its recorded history. Usually they have almost daily tropical downpours. Not this year! The ferns growing in the crotches of stately trees are wilted, and barely hanging on. Some have completely succombed. It is still glorious vegetation, especially by Arizonan standards, but I can really see the impact of their drought.

We had a delightful dinner this evening. Our hotel, the Naumi Liora, is in the heart of Singapore's Chinatown, chosen deliberately to avoid the American hotel chains. It is a funky little hotel, with modern oriental décor covering a very old building that has been well maintained and expertly reequipped with modern amenities. It is absolutely spotless, the service is fantastic there are no windows in our room, and only about 160 sq. ft. of space (excluding the bathroom), but it is authentic Singapore, and we like it.

We asked where we could get authentic local food, and the hotel clerk said, "Any of the hundreds of little cafes all along our street." So we strolled down Keong Saik Road and chose one. Awesome food, and awesome conversation with the owner and her mother.

March 13th -- Our bodies are starting to adjust to the changes in time zones. We were both wide awake at 4 am, but we were reluctant to get up so early, such early hours are unGodly, and very much against our religion, so we watched the news until 6am.

Singapore is not an early rising town. Many restaurants don't open until 8:30 am, and many businesses open at 10. The nearby bank opens at 10 and closes at 3.

We had an (expensive) American breakfast at the restaurant next to our Hotel. Great food, but the prices were steep.

Lunch was superb. We'd seen a Korean BBQ when we strolled to the bank to exchange U.S. currency, and went there for lunch. To our surprise, there was a BBQ at every table, and you are expected to cook your own food, a vast array of raw meats, fish, veggies, and noodles. We also had a cast brass pot of boiling water beside the BBQ, so we could boil cabbage, corn, dumplings, and greens. Once I got into it, we had a great time. And the Korean sauces were out-of-this-world good.

Most of our day has just been recovering from the flight. We'll have tomorrow to do tours, and 2 more days in Singapore later on our Cruise, so we elected to pretty much take it easy, stroll around Chinatown, and relax.

March 14 -- Our morning tour of Singapore was a flop: A guide who spoke such heavily accented English I couldn't understand him. And he pointed to buildings and the river and said something like, "It’s a building; and it’s a river." No history, no knowledge of how or why. He took us to a temple and I asked him "What religion?" He responded, "Chinese." Hmmm. I thought Chinese was a language and a nationality, but I didn't know it was a religion. So I tried again. "Buddhist?" "No, Chinese!" Yah, right. So we asked inside the temple, and an elderly Chinese man told us in perfect english that it was a Taoist temple. So I went back and told our guide that it was indeed a Chinese temple, but the religion was Tao. I got the "Whatever!" look. This isn't the first time we've had guides that couldn't figure out that they need to be more than an oral map, so we were happy to photograph the many parts of Singapore we have never seen before.

We boarded Holland America's ms Rotterdam at about 3 pm, and debarked Singapore at 7pm. It is good to be back at sea! We have a very nice stateroom, with a great bed, even a couch, loads of closet space, and a nice desk to work at. It seems hard to believe, but our stateroom is larger than the hotel room we had in Singapore.

First impressions of the Rotterdam? Much better food than we had on Princess Cruise Line's Diamond Princess. The variety of offerings is more limited, but the cooks are better. But the Rotterdam is not nearly as well maintained. The Diamond Princess was spotless inside and out, and I looked carefully but could not find any rust. The Rotterdam has huge patches of paint lifting off of rusting plate steel -- because routine maintenance has been neglected. The woodwork has been sloppily maintianed, and the brightwork is not as spiffy. On a ship, this is not just an appearance issue; it is a structural issue, and very penny wise and pound foolish! But the Captain is Dutch, and totally up to standards! Given a choice of better food or a spiffy ship, I'll go for the better food -- unless, of course, the outer neglect of the ship reflects neglect of critical elements too. And that we don't know -- and would rather not know now that we're committed. The Internet connectivity on the Rotterdam is 10 x faster than on the Diamond Princess, but that may be a comparison between 2009 and 2014 instead of between cruise lines. Anyway, I'm tickled that I have Internet that is way faster than dial-up modem.

March 15th -- Today we crossed the equator into the Southern Hemisphere, a first for both Ardie and me. The temperature is similar to Mesa, Arizona, about 85 degrees; but the humidity is 90 to 95 percent here! What a difference. When we are outdoors, I feel like wilted lettuce. And the locals are wearing light jackets! I wouldn't want to be here when they were in shirtsleeves.

March 16th -- We arrived at our first stop: city of Jakarta, Island of Java, Indonesia. Indonesia is a country of about 238 Million, which makes its population larger than Russia's. The island of Java, where we are today, has 58 percent of Indonesia's total population. It is 85 percent Muslim.

Jakarta is the capital of Indonesia, and is between 12 and 20 Million population -- depending on your source of information. We expected a modern city. It isn't. It has many modern amenities: sewer, water, electric, and telephone, but it is a decrepit city, a city that was more modern in the 1950s and 1960s than today. Many buildings look like they are remnants of the colonial era, and are getting very ramshackle. We drove for about 45 minutes through areas that hark back to the barrios of Mexico and the shantytowns of Vietnam. Trash is piled high everywhere. It is a real shock to us, because we'd heard so much good about Indonesia back in the 1950s and 1960s. Most likely what we saw today is an unfortunate byproduct of the recent history of Indonesia, following its declared independence from the Dutch in 1945.

Indonesia was a Dutch colony for 350 years, from 1595 to 1945. Indonesia helped make the Dutch very rich. The Dutch were extracting the resources of Indonesia for their own benefit, but that is not to say that they were bad managers of the country. They established schools, hospitals, infrastructure, and rule of law. All children get free education from kindergarden through grade 12.

During WW II, the Japanese occupied Indonesia, until the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan's surrender, at which time they abandoned Indonesia and fled back to Japan. Shortly thereafter, President Sukarno declared Indonesia's independence. He wanted his "new" country to be successfully governed, so he contracted with the Dutch to leave advisors to teach the Indonesians how to govern.

He did not try to institute a democracy. He hated all imperialism, a natural reaction to having been under colonial rule, so he didn't want to emulate the countries he saw as imperialistic. His vision, according to our guide, and I have not studied this myself, was to create a society that tolerated many different religions, because he had a huge diversity of religion in his country, and to pick and choose the best traits of the various political systems. About 85 percent of the Indonesians are Muslim in faith, but there are many Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, and other religions. He also wanted to integrate the best of the various political forms of governance, but he leaned more towards Communism than Democracy. For this reason, the U.S. didn't like him.

In the early 1960s, the Communist Party in Indonesia, which didn't agree with his vision for the country, decided to end run Sukarno and attempted a coup, assassinating nine of the 10 generals of the Indonesian Army. The coup failed, largely due to local student and populace resistance, and General Suharto rounding up all the Communist Party members and jailing them. He then replaced Sukarno as President of Indonesia.

Suharto didn't try to institute democracy either. After he was ousted in 1998 the new president has worked hard to institute democracy. I know nothing about how successful his attempts have been or are, or about how good or bad he may be. What is painfully apparent is that the country's people are little better off economically than the residents of South Vietnam. A real tragedy, because the people are very industrious and desperately want to do better.

Jakarta is the city in which President Obama attended primary school for a few years. We saw many of the little Muslim students, like the ones he was schooled with, today on our tour. All the little girls wear headscarfs, but their faces are not veiled. Neither are the teachers' nor mothers'. The Muslim women and girls here do not cast their eyes down; they will look you right in the eye when talking with you. And they are very friendly and outgoing. They wanted to talk with people on our tour and interact with us.

(As an aside, most of our Holland America ship workers are Indonesians from Jakarta, and today Holland America hosted many of their families to lunch. We saw many Indonesian women with headscarfs aboard the ship today, most lugging an infant or holding the hand of a youngster. The government is trying to encourage two children per family, but it may be a generation before the birthrates decline.)

Once again, today, like happened to me in China in 2009, I was approached by a group of students who wanted to have their picture taken with me. I'm a big guy, size-wise, even in America, so amongst the diminutive Chinese and Indonesians, I am a giant; a big rolly-polly giant. They were in awe, and they wanted a picture of themselves beside me. So I said sure. Afterwards, they all thanked me, and were so polite and gracious. In China the group was about six teenage Buddhist girls. Here in Indonesia the group was eight young Muslim boys, probably about 12 to 13 years old. I think I'll call President Obama and ask if I can be the Ambassador of Obesity for him! I seem to be quite an attraction in Asia.

-- Marvin O. Fretwell, 3/16/2014

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