Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Last Cast

Well, it has happened--  our two years in Singapore has come to a conclusion, and we are now making our way back to our home base of Boise, Idaho.  The actual span of time was 25 months, however a good percentage of time we were away from Singapore, either on adventure travel to other parts of South East Asia, or sadly, for emergency visits to the States to attend to family crises.

It is a mixed emotion-- we met so many interesting people and made new friends that we are going to miss, and there are so many places that we just weren't able to go see, that it would be easy to extend our time in Singapore with hopes of checking off a few more adventures, and a having a few more times together.

But there are the friends and family back in the States, who really have made our time overseas happen, with their support, and connection to everything we have back home.  And, it is probably time that the items cached in storage at various locations are collected, and our supporters get the space in closets and garages back.  If I haven't said it, or said it enough, thank you so much!

There are also the mountains of Idaho, which I have missed a lot.  Singapore has only hills, the tallest (Bukit Timah) at 167 meters.

We have been asked by several people, "Will you miss Singapore?"  The answer is an easy yes.  There are so many things about Singapore that make it such a wonderful place.  Because I heard this question so often, I began to wonder if the question was motivated by people extremely proud and happy to be in Singapore, or because of a secret desire to get away from it and be somewhere else.  Perhaps it is a little of both.  I think that fortifies my belief that everyone should see and experience other places in the world, to better understand other cultures and societies, and to better appreciate what we each have at home, where ever that may be.

Is there anything about Singapore that I will be glad to be away from?  Well, only one--  the humidity.  I was told that I would become accustomed to it after a year or so.  I never did.   It is fall here in California (where I am as I write this), with beautiful fall colors of red and yellow, a bit cool (certainly by Singapore temperatures) and I am enjoying it immensely.  I am a dry climate person, which perhaps requires more than a year to appreciate and adjust to the humidity.  My fear is that the warmth of the tropics (about 81F to 83F every day) will make it difficult for me to deal with any cold weather of Idaho.  Another adjustment.

Our last week in Singapore was a grand finale-- we attended the world touring production of Richard III starring Kevin Spacey , had high tea in the Tiffin Room of the grand old Raffles Hotel (so P.O.S.H.!), and stayed on the 35th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, with a commanding view of Singapore's marquee center, Marina Bay.  Each day we were able to share the MBS infinity pool experience and the Sky Deck with different Singapore friends--  a great closure to our two year expat experience.

My intentions are to post a few more pictures and tales of our adventures that somehow never made it to the blog--  Tasmania, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc.  There is considerable work ahead as we move back into our house, and other priorities, but Casting About Singapore still has some gaps to be filled.

The last cast--  but as all serious fishermen will tell you, there is always "just one more cast...."

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Russell Palmer 1936 - 2011

It is with sadness that I report that Elaine's father Russell Palmer, passed away peacefully on Sept 14, 2011.  Russell's health had been declining for the past nine months, after a serious head injury occurred last December.
Russell at a recent special event last year--  an opportunity ride in a special edition Ferrari.
Russell was in London in December for a business event, and for Christmas. While there, he sustained head injuries in a fall on stairs at the hotel he was staying. After a long stay in hospital in London, with complications in his recovery, he was transported back to a hospital in the U.S. near his home in Florida, for treatment and rehabilitation from the injury. Elaine, Susan, and Nathan travelled to visit him in February. Shortly after, it was determined that he had a small brain tumor, and entered hospice-- we will never know if the tumor caused, or was a result of the original trauma.  Elaine and I traveled to Florida in August to be with him, visiting him everyday until his passing.
Russell was a man of the world, with a part of his life in several corners. A celebration of his life was held in three locations-- Boca Raton, FL (his residence), Pasadena, CA (his birth place and family home), and Milwaukee, WI (company headquarters). A forth celebration gathering for friends and acquaintences will be held in Europe. (Russell lived in London for over 25 years, and spent considerable time in southern France).
Russell had a life long passion for motor racing, beginning in his youth in Southern California working for the Don Blair Speedshop, an early iconic group involved in land speed record racers. As a young man he entered the family publication business. He was able to bring his passions and business interests together in the trade magazine Diesel and Gas Turbine Progress, the flagship of a set of trade publications.  His business success allowed him to enjoy a very comfortable life, traveling the world, and a collection of Ferraris.
Russell was larger than life-- when he entered a room of people, he would often turn heads. He was an impeccible dresser, and quick witted. He could come up with the perfect quote, or a joke that fit the occasion.  He had many stories from his many experiences, and I suspect at least most of them were true, if maybe only embellished slightly.  His gift was to be able to easily connect  with whomever he met, and make them feel at ease.
Sadly, due to our busy lives, and the miles between our homes, I don't believe I really got to know Russell well.  Although I was always interested in learning more about his business and publications, any inquiries about them were usually answered in a modest and polite, but short answer, followed by a change of subject.  Russell, I found out, came to learn during his career that few people knew of or understood trade magazines, and more to the point, could not comprehend the technical content of his publications.  So instead of attempting complicated explanations, he found it more polite to avoid the discussion.
In the weeks following his passing, I have come to learn a lot about him, that I didn't know before.  The new knowledge helps explain a lot of the contradictions and mysteries of the man, and also makes me realize we had a lot in common.  I regret that we did not get to talk more, and discover these shared commonalities.
Our time in Singapore has been a mixed experience.  It has been a great opportunity to see South East Asia and experience another culture outside of the United States.  It has been a life changing experience for us.  However, it has also been a very difficult time to be so far away from friends and family, who are progressing with their lives, and some moving into declining health.  Despite the diminishing size of the world today, 10,000 miles is a very long distance to be apart from family members.
Russell ca 1970s.  In his early role with sugar and automotive trade magazine publishing, Russell frequently traveled to many interesting locations around the world.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

So you want to buy an automobile...

For those of you in the U.S. and other locales complaining about the prices of fuel, the cost of an automobile, etc. take a look at this.  The Singapore LTA (Land Transport Authority) just released the recent premiums for a COE (Certificate Of Entitlement).  Yikes!

Singapore, being a small and densely populated city-state, cannot really accommodate a large fleet of autos traveling on its roads and filling its car parks, so it has adopted policies to encourage use of public transportation, and discourage private auto ownership.  A quota system controls the number of autos in the city.  It also makes a nice revenue stream for the government.  The discouragement part of the strategy is apparently not working.

In order to purchase a vehicle, you must acquire a COE.  This entitles you the privilege to buy and own a vehicle.  A quota is established each year for the number of COEs to be issued, and it is necessary to pay the bid for one.  A COE is good for 10 years, after which you must must export (sell) or scrap the vehicle, or purchase a new COE for the auto.  With a limited supply, and an ever increasing demand (ask any taxi driver--  the roads are "getting worse", even with the controlled increase in autos) the COE prices continue to rise.  The most recent prices were published in the news today (shown above).  Note that this is the price for the COE-- in addition you would still need to purchase the automobile, and license it.

There is a growing demand for Category B COEs (1600cc and above engines).  Category A includes small cars and all taxis (1600cc or less).  There are a significant number of luxury cars here--  BMWs are very popular, as are Mercedes Benz.  It is not uncommon to see Lamborghini's, Maseratis, and an occasional Ferrari.  If you are going to pay a fortune to own a car (and you have the fortune to do so), you may as well own a nice one.

If you are whining about paying US$4.00 per gallon fuel in the U.S., be enlightened that fuel prices nearly everywhere else in the world are much higher.  Singapore gasoline is currently about SG$2.00 per litre, which equates to about US$6.06 per gallon.  Fuel is cheaper in Malaysia, just over the bridge.  However, to leave Singapore you must demonstrate that your auto fuel tank is 3/4 full or more, or suffer punishment of a fine.

It doesn't stop there.  Many of the roads have ERP (Electronic Road Pricing).  Basically these are toll road areas.  Everyone who drives in these areas must have an electronic reader in their vehicle and an account for billing (similar to the electronic toll systems now in use in the U.S.).  The ERPs tend to be in the busier areas of the city, discouragement to drive in these congested areas, if possible.  The prices vary depending upon the type of vehicle, and the time of day.  Shopping centers and office buildings typically have car parks with fees as well (EPS or Electronic Parking System--  do you like the TLAs?).

Contrast that with the subway or bus travel (about SG$0.86 for short ride on the train, SG$0.75 by bus, up from there by distance).  It's an outstanding system here!  And no parking, insurance, or maintenance worries.

Vacheron Constantin Exhibit NSM

One of the benefits of living in a large metropolitan city are their museums, and the interesting special exhibits that show up.  Singapore has several museums, and we've taken advantage of touring several of the exhibits that have come to town during our stay here.  Currently the National Museum of Singapore (we are members) has an exhibit called "Treasures of Vacheron Constantin:  A legacy of watchmaking since 1755".  With some fascination with watches, I decided to check it out.  The exhibit seems a little different than most-- it is apparently sponsored by the watch company itself, in celebration of its 250th anniversary.  The exhibit presents 180 watches produced by the company during its long history, several pieces of early horological equipment, and an interesting story line of the company.

I have always wondered why Geneva Switzerland is known as the center for watch making in the world.  Mechanical clocks showed up around the 13th century in Italy, and watches in the 15th century.  In the 16th century many protestant craftsman and artisans migrated to the region around Geneva, including jewelers.  The Calvinist movement was central to this area at the time, and flashy, expensive jewelry was frowned upon by this conservative group.  However, watches were viewed as a tool or instrument and not an ostentatious accessory, and were more acceptable.  Consequently many artisan jewelers moved into the watchmaking trade.  Watches and the ability to measure time was something in demand world wide.  The craft in Geneva was strictly controlled, with a required apprenticeship of four years necessary before becoming a master.  Masters were allowed only one or two apprentices, and were bound by their membership to the guild to teach them everything they knew about their craft.  At one point in time one in five residents in Geneva were involved in watchmaking.  The craft evolved from the fine craftsmanship necessary to produce a quality one-off timepiece, to more sophisticated techniques and machinery that enabled greater consistency, and also greater complexity to the components.  It seems amazing that finely machined watches with miniature components were being produced at a time when medicine and other sciences and technology still had a long way to develop.

Many of the Swiss watch companies from the 1800's and earlier are still in business, including Vacheron Constantin which is now part of the Richemont luxury products group that includes Piaget, Cartier, Mont Blanc and several other luxury good brands.

Watches are a beautiful blending of art and mechanics.   With the advent of smart phones, perhaps they are an artifact of the past.  Yet the art and fashion of a watch now outstrips its usefulness and purpose as a time measuring instrument.  Perhaps this will continue through the ages to come.

Here are some the watches and artifacts from the exhibit.
Traveling Case--  This is the traveling case of the company founder Jean-Marc Vacheron, ca late 1700s
Pantograph--  This duplication machine was invented by one of Vacheron's employees in the early 1800's.  It allowed unprecedented production and replication of parts, maintaining relatively tight tolerances.  The machine was kept as a trade secret until 1844.
Guilloche Machine--  Guillochage is a technique from the late 18th century which cuts intricate patterns in metal only 0.1 mm in depth.  This machine moves the pattern material, while the artist holds a cutting tool against the metal, controlling the pressure on the tool.
Engraving vise-- the chisel tool to the right is used to cut fine artistic patterns into the metal held in the vise.

Pocket Watch, ca 1800.  Early watches provided simple time-- hours minute seconds, with more complexity (day, month) coming in later year.

This watch design has a unique if novel dial, almost appearing as a sundial. 

Dual Time--  This watch from the turn of the 20th century allows tracking time in two locations.

Complexity--  More complicated time keeping, including moon phases requires considerably more parts and difficulty for a mechanical time piece.

Platinum--  This watch from 1931 has its case made from platinum and is only an amazing 0.95 mm thick.
Aviator Watch--  This watch design is from ~1915 and was built for early aviation pioneers.  The watch has a large face, and is worn strapped to the thigh.
Aluminum--  The movement and housing of this watch from 1945 are made from aluminum, making it one of the lightest mechanical watches made.

Engraved huntsman case--  Fine engraving of the watch case
Enameled case--  Enameled art requires very fine work done under microscopes to produce pictures on the case.  The paints are a special ceramic powdered paste that are applied to the metal in engraved areas, then fired to vitrify the ceramic pastes.  The case may require as many as 20 firings during the process.
Louvers--  This watch has louvered cover.  Another watch in the display had shutters.
Jewels--  Embellishments with jeweled cases.  One watch on display (a replica) was for a design with over 100 square cut diamonds.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Terracotta Warriors

Xi'an Terracotta Warriors
Several months ago the Nat Geo channel here ran a program on the Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Xi'an.  I had not heard of them before, but was completely fascinated by the show.  So I was very interested when I learned that the Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) here in Singapore was presenting an exhibit of a few of the terracotta soldiers.
For those who are not familiar, the Terracotta Warriors are an army of clay "soldiers" that were discovered in Xi'an, Shanxii, China in 1974.  They were buried in what appears to be a mauoleum for Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, dating to ~210 BCE.  The army was intended to provide him with a protection "army" for ruling his empire in the after life.  A practice perhaps similar to that used by the Egyptians.

What is remarkable about the terracotta warriors is that they number in the thousands-- estimates are around 8000 (excavation of the site is incomplete, and has been ongoing since its discovery).  The pieces are life size, and no two pieces are the same.  Because of the sheer number of pieces, it is estimated that it required nearly 35 years and perhaps as many as 700,000 persons to create the army and mausoleum.  In addition some archeologists believe there may be additional burial sites nearby that have yet to be discovered.
Mount Lishan archeological site--  now a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Singapore ACM Exhibit:
The exhibit at the Singapore ACM is rather small-- about 12 of the terracotta soldiers, some additional artifacts, and a replica of a bronze carriage that was found at the mausoleum.  The original is apparently "too fragile to leave China", as the poster for the replica indicates.  The exhibit also includes some terracotta burial figures from earlier period ruler's mausoleum--  this was apparently a common practice of the time.  (My ignorance of Asian history and culture is evident).  However, his were miniatures in comparison with the Xi'an soldiers, which are life size, each unique, and far more detailed.  Qin Shi Huang, as the first Emporer of China, apparently was not to be outdone by anyone.  As they say, "He who dies with the most toys, wins!"  Now I finally get that saying!

The exhibit was worth seeing, and I hope to visit again, when we have guests here next month.  My camera battery died shortly into my first minutes at the exhibit, so some of these pictures are phone quality only.

Terracotta soldiers--  these were once brightly painted, now laid bare with time.  Some smaller clay figures, from a different tomb (not detailed) in the exhibit once had wooden arms that moved, and clothing, which has completely decomposed.
The terracotta soldiers on exhibit
Kneeling Archer--  The front line of the archery division.  These soldiers wore light armor, unlike their companion archers who stood behind them.  It is believed the soldier figures in the mausoleum were equipped with actual weapons--  wooden bows and arrows, which have turned to dust centuries ago.  The exhibit included some remnant components of weaponry-- a silver trigger from a crossbow, and bronze tips and axes blades from battle lances.
Standing archer-- The terracotta soldiers were aligned in the burial pit as they might be in true life.  This is a standing archer, who wore very light clothing, no armor.  These archers would stand behind the kneeling archers in battle formation.
Infantryman--  infantrymen were distinguished by the soft cloth cap they wore.  (This one looks like he was holding a beer or something!)
Cavalry Horse--  This is believed to be a horse for cavalrymen, but perhaps actually for some other function.  Note that saddle has no stirrups, which would have made mounting and controlling the horse difficult.
Bronze bell-- 
Ceremonial dagger--  gold and jeweled handle, with bronze blade

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Walk In the Park

[Update 17-Jul:   Big Bug has been identified!]

We have been fortunate with the condo we have been staying in during our stay here in Singapore.  We are at the bottom of a hill called Mount Faber (OK, by Singapore standards, a mountain), which contains Mount Faber Park.  Our balcony gazes out on an edge of the the park, which is tropical forest.  By U.S. standards, Mount Faber National Park is more on par with a large city park in the U.S. than the large reserved natural areas we think of as national parks.   With that in mind, the presence of restaurants, manicured garden plantings, and concrete walkways found in Mount Faber Park is not out of place.  It's crowning attraction is the terminus for a cabled tramway that links Mount Faber with Sentosa Island, a major tourist center and resort.  Mount Faber provides a wonderful vista out across Sentosa, and into the Singapore Strait to the southwest, and downtown Singapore to the southeast.

The park links via a greenbelt and sky walks with several other parks along the Southern Ridge.  It is a great area, and is well utilized.  Busloads of tourists are brought up to the peak in the evening (that part isn't so great-- it's a narrow road, past our condo) for the view, and it is a popular place for people to exercise--  runners, cyclists.  A little trivia--  it is also the location of one of three Merlion statues in Singapore.  Do you know care where the other two are?  (I thought not).
Elaine and I have been making a routine of vigorous walks up and through the park in the evenings .  The temperatures are most tolerable for this kind of thing from 6:00 PM to 7:15 PM, just prior to sunset.  This is also when you see many others with the same idea in mind.
On one evening last week during a walk (Elaine is traveling) it was apparently 'Nature Night' along the route.  It seemed the animals were out, and uncharacteristically quite bold.  I heard and saw several varieties of birds, and the macaques were visible, and particularly brazen on this evening.   The weather was also very pleasant, with milder temperatures and a light breeze.  The lighting was perfect.  With these unusual conditions, I enjoyed the outing, and snapped a few photos with the cell phone.  This was one of my longer outings, about 5 to 6 Km by my estimates.  Here are the photos from my Walk In the Park.
The pool--  Some people have asked, "what do you do all day while Elaine is working?"  I tell them I sit and lounge by the pool all day.  This is it.  It is double length, which is attractive to those who like to swim laps for exercise.  I'm not sure why I am including this picture in this blog entry, but it is another great attribute to our living location, in addition being so close to Mount Faber Park.

The Towering Lone Tree--  This tree stands a couple hundred meters from the condo complex, on the edge of the rain forest, and is one of my favorite views, actually.  I pass by it almost daily.  I have no idea what species the tree is, but it stands above its neighbors, and has a distinct shape.
Big Bug--  Some of Singapore's near by nature.  This guy (deceased) was on the walk near the condo complex, on the way up Mount Faber Road.  The wing colors are spectacular, and it is daunting in its size (maybe 30 to 35 mm in length).  I wonder if I would be so intrigued if it were still alive and buzzing about?  Big bug!  At first I thought it was a cicada (they are large, and 2 species are found here), but  I don't think that is correct.  I'm working on keying the critter, and will update this post if I learn what it is (was).

[UPDATE 17-Jul:  With the help of a local entomologist via the web, Big Bug has been identified.  It is a male Carpenter Bee Xylocopa latipes  which is the largest species in Singapore (I believe that!).  They can sting but very rarely-- only to protect their nest.  I've seen large bees here, probably also carpenter bees, but never one this large.  Mystery solved.

The reference coin is a Singapore 20 cent piece (21mm diameter), a little smaller than a U.S. quarter.

Masked bandit--  I've seen these birds frequently, but they're usually more shy-- this one was only 2 or 3 feet away for this picture and didn't care that I was there.  The entourage of 5 or 6 other birds kept a greater distance.  Another critter I haven't yet been able to identify.  It looks something like a jay.

Long-tailed Macaque--  This fellow is busy eating a banana (contraband provided by a passer-by--  feeding the macaques is highly discouraged, as they become brazen pests).  Odd animals--  I had to wait a while before he would look at the camera.  They seem to turn away and avoid looking at you if you are looking at them.  Camera shy?  Sorry to disturb your supper.  The location is the Henderson Waves bridge, a  foot bridge that connects Mount Faber Park with the next park in the Southern Ridges string, Telok Blangah Hill Park, crossing a busy street below (Henderson).

Sunset from Mount Faber--  this is view looking west.  No, your eyes aren't going bad-- the buildings do bend.  These are some new high rise buildings being constructed, nearly complete, which are architecturally 'clever' with a bend in their design.  I guess they are something to talk about, but I'm not impressed-- I don't think it adds a lot to the sky line.  I am also sure the clever design made the construction significantly more expensive-- it seems gratuitous.  Beyond the buildings is the entrance to Keppel Harbour, and beyond is Sentosa Island.   This side of Keppel Harbour is for cruise ships and some local ferries that service the local region (Indonesia). In the far distance, beyond Sentosa, you can make out some faint lights of Jurong Island (Pulau Jurong) and perhaps Pulau Semakau.  Jurong is the site of an enormous oil refinery.  Pulau Semakau is actually two former islands, Semakau and  Semakeng, which were fused together by fill.  This is Singapore's landfill.  However the fill is actually only ash from an extremely large incinerator plant.  It is a fascinating technology in operation.  Although it has its issues and critics (e.g. there are/were coral reefs around these two islands, and required relocating the inhabitants of a small village previously on the island), it seems like a preferable approach than simple burial (of whatever) with hopes of timely decomposition.

Singapore sunset--  looking northeast from Mount Faber.  Downtown Singapore is off picture to the right.

Henderson Waves Bridge--  This architecturally intriguing foot bridge spans Henderson Road below, and connects Mount Faber and Telok Blangah Parks.  It is a very popular site for wedding pictures, and clothing modeling, taken at sunset.  On this evening alone there were three separate photo shoots of bride/grooms going on.  It was a little tricky to avoid becoming a sweaty body in the background of some one's wedding photo.

Danish Seaman's Church-(see the better photo in the link)-  This is my favorite historic building in Singapore, and is located in Mount Faber Park--  it was built in 1909 by Thomas Knox Leonowen, who was in the hardwood trade business (Louis T. Leonowens Ltd, still in business).  Thomas was the grandson of Anna Leonowen (Louis T. her son), made famous in the fictional account of her time in Thailand, Anna and the King of Siam.  It is now a Danish church, founded for serving Danish seamen and other ex patriots away from their native land.

Friday, July 8, 2011

T.L.A.s (Three Letter Acronyms)

One thing that seems to be popular habit in Singapore is abbreviations and acronyms.  (TLA has always been my favorite TLA).  This is apparent in newspapers, advertisements, and even the road signs.  It takes some getting used to, and for a while you think that there is some alternate name being used for the street other than what you know it to be.
For instance, a major road near us is Telok Blangah Road.  The street signs for this are "Tk Blg Rd".  This is satisfactory if you know about "Telok Blangah", but for first timers to the neighborhood, it's a bit daunting.  To make this more confusing, there is also Telok Blangah Way, Telok Blangah Heights, Telok Blangah Green, Telok Blangah Avenue, all in the same area and connected to one another, which makes for exciting travel and navigation.  Apparently the persons in the city engineering department weren't terribly creative.  But that's another story.
There are four official languages in Singapore--  Malay, Chinese, Tamal, and English.  However because of the acronyms in use, sometimes knowing English is not sufficient.  In general, you just "gotta know".

Here are some of the acronyms that I've seen in common use:

KG Bahru Rd:  Kampong Bahru Road-- just outside our condo.  Kampong is Malay for "village" and Bahru is "new".

ERP:  Electronic Road Pricing--  There are roads and motor ways in the city that are toll roads.  Autos traveling on these roads are required to have an electronic pass in their vehicle that registers when they travel on them.  A toll fee is charged to the owners account.  (Similar to EZ-Pass in SF Bay Area)

GST  Government Service Tax.   Prices on goods often will show two prices-- the price with the tax included, and the tax amount.  I find it a nice change that the price I see on an item includes the tax, as compared with the United States and elsewhere where it is necessary to mentally adjust the price by the incremental tax amount.

GE General Election-- this occurs every five years, and was held this past June.

JB  Johor Bahru (Adjacent city in Malaysia)

KL  Kuala Lampur  (Major city (capital) in Malaysia)

PRs    Permanent Resident.  Used frequently in documents for applications for various licenses, etc.

NRIC  National Registration Identification Card.  Every person in Singapore has an ID card, which is used for everything.  You cannot get a bank account, a cell phone, rent an apartment, or get a job without it.  There are different classifications, dependent upon status-- permanent resident, guest worker, dependent, etc.

UP:    Usual Price-- Seen on most newspaper advertisements or on store price tags, typically on sale items.

Ltd:    Limited--  a business organization scheme left over from the British
Pte:    Private--  another business terminology.  Not owned or run by the government

S'pore or SG:  Shorthand for Singapore

M'sia:  Shorthand for Malaysia

MOM:  Ministry of Manpower

IR:  Integrated Resort-- a frequently used term with the two mega-casino resorts in Singapore.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Return to Palau Ubin

[Updated 8 July, 2011-- Photos from Sec-Sea]
Palau Ubin--  Getting the kayaks ready to head out.  Rosita (watching from the surf) was our lead guide-- very pleasant, and a fun attitude.  Our total paddle was about 4 km.
Last weekend Elaine and I made our second trip to Palau Ubin.  (Palau is Malay for "island").  Palau Ubin is one of five small outer islands that are a part of Singapore.  It is mostly a reserve, but there is a small village of inhabitants.  It is accessible by "bum boat" ferries, which cost S$2.50 for the 10 minute ride across the strait.  The boats are a bit dodgy--  they are wooden, and look like they have been in service since the time of Sir Stamford Raffles.  However the captains are quite skilled, and I'm unaware of any mishaps, at least since our time here.  Palau Ubin is quite crowded on weekends, as it is a popular destination for a day trip to fish, mountain bike, or hike.  It is very rustic-- and touted as "what Singapore was like 25 years ago".  Tin roofed shacks rather than concrete high rises are the norm.

Our purpose for a second trip to Palau Ubin was to take part in a sea kayak tour.  Elaine has been wanting to do kayaking in Singapore for quite a while.  For some unknown reason, you must be "certified" to be able to hire a kayak and paddle about the reservoirs and/or coastal areas.  Certification means taking a course from the agencies that rent out the kayaks.  Since Elaine and I have been in both river and sea kayaks, it was not clear what we might gain from the certification.  However, the training course schedules just never worked out.  The kayak tour was guided through the mangrove area of Palau Ubin, and required no previous experience.  The kayaks were tandem, the sit on top type.

Full disclosure:   My interest in kayaking in Singapore has been significantly less than Elaine's.   Actually zero.  The reservoirs are limited, and thoughts of four plus hours in the tropical sun/humidity were not appealing to me-- I would have skipped the whole event.  However, Elaine persisted and the kayak tour was booked.  It turned out to be a good day.

We were fortunate--  there was a nice breeze blowing (unusual), and periodic cloud cover, which kept things relatively cool.  At one point during the tour it rained.  Since we were dressed to get wet, it was not unpleasant, and the rain lasted only a few minutes.

Although we have kayaked previously, I think this was our first time together in a tandem.  Marriage on trial.  Kayaking is similar to canoeing, but because of the double bladed kayak paddles and smaller boat, there is a greater requirement for synchronization (and communication).  Compared to others in the tour group I think we did very well, but not without some disagreements and confusion.  Elaine did not drown me and we both returned safely to the jetty--  no one left  behind stranded on a mangrove sand bar.

I would rate the tour as OK-- but too many people on it.  Perhaps one of the longer tours would be better. We saw (briefly) some Oriental pied-horned bills (like a toucan), and mudskippers--  a strange, nearly amphibious fish that skates along the surface of the mud and/or water.  We've seen small ones before, but  saw a couple that were 6 to 8 inches in length.   And lots of hermit crabs.  Apparently a Collared Kingfisher was spotted by the leader (these are highly colorful birds) but it was long gone before we reached the location-- the tour consisted of 30 persons, and in places in the mangrove, we needed to pass single file through a narrow channel.  A much smaller group would have been preferable.  There are wild pigs on the island, but none sighted on this excursion--  we saw some on our first visit to Palau Ubin.  The tour was hosted by Sec-Sea (Sea Expeditions Centre of South East Asia), a professional and fun tour outfitter.  This is the tour we did.
Training--  A little orientation and training before we head out.  Yes, I've always been the attentive student.  What did you say?

Instruction --on how to parry and block that blow from your exasperated kayak partner's paddle.
Trained, suited up, and ready to paddle
Heading out--  This picture captures a tragic reality of the waters around SE Asia-- the plastic and trash.  Singapore works hard to keep things clean, but with the dense population and the enormous ship traffic in the region it is an enormous task.  We were required to wear closed toe shoes as a precaution against glass, etc.  Fortunately this was only a particularly bad area--  most of Palau Ubin is much better.

I'm providing directions and encouragement, Elaine is doing the paddling (heh, heh, heh)
Don't try this at home--  What's that they say?  Never stand up in the boat...

Single file--  With a large number of kayaks and narrow passages, we go singe file into the mangrove lagoon.
Mangrove--  the mangrove trees are salt tolerant and provide an ecosystem habitat.  Algae grows on the roots, attracting small marine life, which of course attracts larger marine life.  The mangrove provides a habitat where the fish can hide.  The mangroves also act as a filter to trap nutrients.
Getting really narrow now .  The water also was very shallow in the lagoon. We nearly got trapped in a lagoon, as the tide went out, which would have required pulling or carrying the kayaks out on the mud.  I'm glad we avoided that-- the mud is super fine, and sticks to everything.
Oriental Pied-Horned bills--  Do you see the horn bills?  No, we barely did too.  The horn bills flew over and landed high in the trees.  However they give away their location by a cackle that can be heard for quite a distance.  (Probably just laughing at the amateur kayakers below).

Better picture--  Here's a picture of the Horned bills, courtesy Sec-Sea.

Hermit crabs--  We stopped at a sand bar near the entrance to the lagoon, where there were hundreds of snail shells, and a proportionate number of hermit crabs.  The crabs eat the snails, and take over their shells.  There is one (in a shell) at the top of the photo.  Not a terribly exciting picture, but the first underwater photo with the new water proof camera  (thanks Lois & Gary!).
Shell Squatters--  Lots of hermit crabs in the estuary  (Sec-Sea photo)

Mangrove lagoon--  This is the lagoon that rapidly lost its water due to the falling tide.  We paddled about in here for only a few minutes (maybe 5) before we realized we had better paddle out or face walking out.