Guam, N. Mariana Islands to Male, Maldives

Third Segment

 

Our odyssey on the Pacific Princess continued into the Far East with port visits in Japan, Korea, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and the Maldives.  

 

Guam, N. Mariana Islands

 

Guam is an island in the western Pacific Ocean and the Guam Organic Act of 1950 established Guam as an unincorporated territory of the United States after the war…one of five U.S. territories with an established civilian government.   Guam is the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands and its capital is Hagatna. 

The Chamorro, Guam's indigenous people, first populated the island approximately 4,000 years ago, but Guam has a long history of European colonialism. First discovered by Europeans on March 6, 1521, by Ferdinand Magellan, the first colony was established in 1668 by Spain with the arrival of settlers including a Catholic missionary.

It is believed that Guam was first visited by people from southeastern Indonesia around 2000 BC.   Most of what is known about "Ancient" Chamorro’s comes from legends and myths, archaeological evidence, Jesuit missionary accounts, and observations from visiting scientists.

Spanish policy during colonial rule (1668–1898) was one of conquest and conversion to Roman Catholicism. This led to the gradual elimination of Guam's male warriors and displacement of the Chamorro people from their lands.    We visited the Chamorro village where I tasted the local cuisine and visited some of the local shops….this where the locals shop….not tourists. 

Clockwise from the upper left:

The Latte Stone used for the construction of a Chamorro house, made from a shaft stone and the cap stone...the floor of the house would sit atop the latte stone;

The Chamorro Village;

The Caves constructed by the Japanese using Chamorro, Korean and other captured prisoners;

The Memorial for the Chamorro's who died in the war and the statue to commemorate the visit of Pope John Paul in 1981; and

Asan Beach where the Americans landed to secure Guam from the Japanese in 1944..they had to climb that hill to get at the bunkers built by the Japanese.

By 1890 the native population was reduced by ninety-five percent to approximately 5,000 people with the introduction of diseases by the Europeans.  The island was controlled by Spain until 1898, when it was surrendered to the United States as part of the Treaty of Paris following the Spanish-American War.  Many remnants of the Spanish occupation, including churches, forts and bridges remain to this day.   We visited the Plaza de Espana in the old part of Hagatna, where the Spanish had maintained the government of Guam.  

As the largest island in Micronesia and the only American-held island in the region before World War II, Guam was captured by the Japanese on December 8, 1941, hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and was occupied for two and a half years.

During the occupation, the people of Guam suffered terrible atrocities including torture, beheadings, and rape, and were forced to adopt the Japanese culture. The Japanese also imposed a new name to the island's name to “Great Shrine Island” for that same purpose. Guam was subject to fierce fighting when American troops recaptured the island on July 21, 1944, a date commemorated every year as Liberation Day, in a celebration that lasts all month.  

After winning back control of Guam, the US forces quickly built airfields to support an ever increasing air assault against the Japanese Empire.   We walked the beaches where the US forces came ashore to regain control of Guam from the Japanese…it was emotional to imagine the soldiers that had died there and maybe someone like a John Wayne character coming ashore with his men…..

Hagatna and Tunon have become Guam’s destinations for thousands of Japanese and other tourists who come here every year.   We visited both areas, old and new respectively.  In Tunon there are high-rise luxury hotels …we had lunch in the Hyatt hotel on the ocean…..upscale shopping malls and recreational facilities that have converted this once quiet island into a tourist Mecca  mostly for the Japanese who holiday on the island in record numbers.   Guam's second-largest source of income is the United States military which operates many facilities on the island.  

Due to cultural influence from outside forces, important aspects of the original Chamorro culture have been lost over the years. There has been resurgence, however, to protect and preserve the culture during the last few decades.

 

Nagasaki, Japan

 

Prior to WWII, in contrast to the modern appearance of Hiroshima, almost all of the buildings in Nagasaki were of old-fashioned Japanese construction, consisting of wood or wood-frame buildings with wood walls and tile roofs.   Many of the smaller industries and business establishments were also wood buildings or other materials that were not designed to withstand any type of explosions.  Nagasaki had not been subjected to large-scale bombing prior to the explosion of the atomic bomb.     

After six months of intense strategic fire-bombing of sixty-seven Japanese cities the Japanese government ignored an ultimatum given as a result of the Potsdam Declaration.  By executive order of President Harry S. Truman the U.S. dropped the nuclear weapon "Little Boy" on the city of Hiroshima on Monday, August 6, 1945, followed by the detonation of the "Fat Man" bomb over Nagasaki on August 9. These are the only attacks with nuclear weapons in the history of warfare.

Within the first two to four months of the bombings, 90,000–166,000 people were killed in Hiroshima and 60,000–80,000 in Nagasaki, with roughly half of the deaths in each city occurring on the first day.   In both cities, most of the dead were civilians.

 

Clockwise from upper left:

Atomic Bomb Explosion Epicenter Monument w/remains of a temple wall that was moved to that site;

Peace Statue w/ outstretched arm and folded leg representing outreach and peace;

Peace Memorial from Belgium;

Second Torii Arch at the Sanno Shinto Shrine;

Bet Olam Section of the Sakamoto International Cemetery; and

Young School Girl during the Cultural Show

 

 

Six days after the detonation over Nagasaki, on August 15, Japan announced its surrender to the Allied Powers, signing the Instrument of Surrender on September 2, officially ending the Pacific War and therefore World War II.   Germany had signed its unavoidable Instrument of Surrender on May 7, ending the war in Europe. The bombings led, in part, to post-war Japan adopting Three Non-Nuclear Principles, forbidding the nation from nuclear armament.

In Nagasaki, we again visited the epicenter of the atomic bomb explosion, commemorated with a monument.  We visited the Peace Park, very near the epicenter area…. which has a peace statue and sculptures representing peace themes dedicated from countries and cities from all around the world.

We walked to the Second Torii Arch at the Sanno Shinto Shrine.    This arch was severely damaged by the blast, but was left with one leg and is today the symbol of survival in the face of the atomic explosion.   We continued on to the Sakamoto International Cemetery, where people who have contributed to the growth and development of Nagasaki are buried.   It is a huge burial ground on the side of a steep hill and includes varied nationalities and religions.   In the International Cemetery, we found the Bet Olam section, a cemetery for Jews that had lived and worked in Nagasaki over the last century. 

Before returning to the ship for a cultural show put on by local school children, we had lunch in a most delightful mall filled with many stores and restaurants and even has a ferris wheel on the roof of the mall.  

 

Pusan, Korea

 

Busan (previously called Pusan) is South Korea's second largest city after Seoul, and is the largest port city in South Korea and is the fifth largest port in the world.   The city is located on the Southeastern most tip of the Korean Peninsula and faces the Korean Strait.   Busan is the fifth busiest seaport in the world, with transportation and shipping among the most high profile aspects of the local economy.   Since 1978, Busan has opened three container ports.   It can handle up to 13.2 million shipping containers each year and also has a major ship building industry that successfully competes with other countries.  

Korea is a very sports oriented country….baseball being the favorite, followed by basketball and then soccer.  Golf is also a favorite sport.   Busan was the host city of the 2002 Asian Games, one of the host cities for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, and in 2005, the city officially announced its bid to host the 2020 Summer Olympics Games.

Busan is home to the world's largest department store, the Shinsegae Centum City and the city hopes to construct a 110-floor, Lotte Super Tower in 2013, which would become one of the world's tallest buildings.   There are countless high-rise buildings in Busan, many of them are apartments or condominium buildings that over look the city, the harbor and even commercial enterprises adjacent to the port areas.   These buildings are built in very close proximity to each other and are connected below ground for shopping and parking.  

Korea is a religious country…primarily practicing the Bhudda religion, and their type of Buddhism is unique from other forms of Buddhism.   Early Korean monks refined their predecessors' ideas of Buddhism into a distinct form, which now consists mostly of the Seon lineage.

Buddhist monks had helped repel a Japanese invasion at the end of the 16th century which then stopped the persecution of their form of Buddhism.   Buddhism in Korea then remained subdued somewhat by the second Japanese occupation, which lasted from 1910 to 1945.   After World War II, the Seon school of Korean Buddhism once again gained acceptance.

We visited the Hae Dong Younggungsa Temple, which is an amalgam of prayer sites that are built on the side of a large hill descending directly into the ocean.  There are many Buddha’s located throughout the temple at each prayer site .   Getting to and from the temple required walking down and then up one hundred and eight steps with many of the steps carved into the rock formation on the hill. 

We visited a downtown market with stores showing all types of clothing including many “knock-off” products.   Peddlers, sitting on the ground in the middle of the market, were busy selling cooked fish lunches to the passing shoppers.  Later, we walked to the Ja-Gai-Chi fish market where we were treated to an amazing array of fresh fish that remains a stable diet of the Korean people.  

Korea maintains a rather large car manufacturing and shipping business that is marketed throughout world.  While, Korea  maintains extensive port facilities, their primary industry is the processing of oil products.   And even though the country has approximately fifty million people and Busan, 3.7 million people…their industries could yet absorb more workers.   Companies in Busan operate to keep their workers employed first and then focus on making a profit.   Even further, Koreans are interested in purchasing products made in their country first, thereby supporting and growing their own industries rather than purchasing imported products.          

Clockwise above from upper left:

Hae Dong Younggungsa Temple;

Golden Buddha at the temple;

Temple Guards; and

Temple Pagoda

 

 

Clockwise below from upper left:

 High Rise buildings (many are located throughout Busan);

 Shopping Market w/ peddlers selling lunch; 

Ja-Gai-Chi Fish Market; and

Mollusks at the fish market.

 

 

Beijing, China

 

On this cruise, Beijing was an overnight port visit…just one of two that made it possible for us to remain overnight in the city.   Our port stop of Xingang was three hours by coach from Beijing so about two hundred passengers booked a tour that gave us a night’s stay at the Marriott City Wall hotel in Beijing (their largest hotel outside the United States) to permit us to see more of the city during our visit. 

 

We had been in Beijing before, but we looked forward to another visit to this city.   Beijing has so much history as it is China’s cultural, political and administrative capital city and has seen the rise and fall of many dynasties.   I would refer you back to the write up in our 2002 China visit for more information about Beijing.   China has a population of about 1.33 billion people and Beijing's population is estimated at eighteen million people. 

 

Construction of the Imperial City in Beijing was started in 1266 during the Kublai Khan’s Empire of the Great Khan.  Under the Ming Dynasty the Imperial City became known as the Forbidden City and was further fortified with the building of the Great Wall.   The Great Wall is 3,600 miles long and is so massive that it can be seen from the moon.  Each block in the Great Wall was put in place by hand making the walking surface irregular in addition to being extremely steep as it follows the contour of the ground.   During the same period, construction was started on the Temple of Heaven, a beautifully decorated temple located in a park dedicated to a good harvest. 

 

The Forbidden City is a 250 acre complex of palaces, pavilions, gardens and ceremonial courtyards that was the home of the imperial court of twenty-four Ming and Qing emperors.   We visited Tiananmen Square, the Square of Heavenly Peace located in between official government buildings and considered a place for gatherings, but was the scene for student protests that were severely repulsed by the government resulting in many deaths

Clockwise above from upper left:

Pavilion in the Forbidden City;

Forbidden City Moat;

Beijing City Skyline; and

Tiananmen Square facing the Forbidden City

 

Clockwise below from upper left:

The Great Wall;

The View from the Great Wall that I walked;

Lila in front of the Olympic Village's Bird Nest Building; and

The Temple of Heaven

The last Qing Dynasty ended in 1911 and the last time the Chinese people were ruled by an Emperor.  With the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in the 1940s, dramatic changes took place in China under the Communist party.  In the last thirty years the country’s gradual move toward Socialism and away from Communism, has created extensive economic growth and increased freedom for the people.   There still remains a one party system that totally dominates the political spectrum; the growth of capitalism has been worthy of note.

 

Driving through Beijing, or rather attempting to drive through Beijing tells the story of people that are moving away from an ancient society to a more modern way of life.   Building after building reaches well into the sky and the traffic is horrendous.  There are many modern hotels that have been built to meet the needs of the thousands of tourists who now arrive each day.   Restaurants are everywhere as are shopping malls and office buildings.  

 

No longer did I see beggars chasing us as we stepped off a tourist bus and the cost of everything is now more expensive in China than it is back home.   Still there remains a cast system for apartment homes; with older and wealthier residents getting the bigger units.  Costs for 1,000 square feet of living space have grown from $8,000 dollars just a few years ago to perhaps $35,000 today.   

 

Socially the divorce rate in China has increased to somewhere between forty and fifty percent today especially in the big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing.  The middle class is growing and so is a wealthy class that could be the product of political vice and/or inefficiency.   Overall, I was astonished with the growth and the changes that I had seen in Beijing in just the last eight years.

 

Hong Kong, China

 

Clockwise above from the upper left:

Hong Kong Skyline from Victoria Peak;

Local Market on Hong Kong Island;

St Joseph Cathedral; and

Kowloon City Skyline

 

Hong Kong began as a coastal island geographically located in southern China. While small settlements had taken place in the Hong Kong region, with archaeological findings dating back thousands of years, regularly written records were not made until the engagement of Imperial China and the British colony in the territory.

Hong Kong today is a bustling financial center of the Asian community, but it began as a group of small fishing villages that was acquired by the British in 1842 after the First Opium War with China.  China failed to stop England from trading in opium and the islands were ceded to Britain by the Treaty of Nanking.    In 1860 the Kowloon Peninsula was handed over to the British.  Subsequently, Britain obtained additional land and as much as 235 islands north of Hong Kong that were placed under British administration in accordance with a ninety-nine year lease that was signed in 1898.  

Britain was legally bound to cede control of that territory to China in 1997 but since many people from Hong Kong now lived in that area it was not feasible to return just the leased area.   Under a “One Country, Two System” agreement, Hong Kong was then designated a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China which allowed Hong Kong to have unique levels of independence.  

Hong Kong retains its capitalistic system, its own money, free trade, freedom of speech and an independent judiciary.  Hong Kong's currency is the Hong Kong dollar, which has been pegged to the U.S. dollar since 1983.   The Hong Kong Stock Exchange is the sixth largest in the world, with a market capitalization of three trillion dollars in October 2007.  In 2009, Hong Kong raised 22 percent of worldwide IPO capital, making it the largest center of initial public offerings in the world. This has provided China with an important entry into the world market place and the introduction of facets of the western world that makes China a rapidly growing economic power.  

Clockwise from above left:

Clock Tower on Kowloon Waterfront;

Hong Kong Island Buildings with Massive Construction in the Foreground;

Chinese Junk in the Hong Kong Harbor: and

Kowloon Cultural Center Building

Hong Kong’s Victoria harbor, which is an essential factor in its importance in the trade and economic markets of the world, is ranked along with Sydney Harbor as the most beautiful in the world.   After a ferry ride from Kowloon, where the ship was berthed, to Hong Kong Island...we had a Dim Sum lunch savoring the wonderful Chinese appetizers.  

We went to Victoria Peak with a tram that climbs up the side of this 1805 foot hill to view the harbor and the many multi story buildings below. Unfortunately, the weather was overcast as it often is, but we were able to see the harbor.   We didn’t get to Stanley Market, a source of local crafts and clothing, because the bus ride was a bit too long and it was getting late. 

We visited St Joseph Cathedral…an interesting gothic design with beautiful stained glass windows.   Then back over to Kowloon to see the Clock Tower and the Cultural Center…a building with a most interesting design.   We stopped by the famous Peninsular Hotel with its Rolls Royce vehicles and an afternoon tea service.   We checked out the local shopping on Nathan Road…with a Rolex store on every block and the Harbor mall where our ship was docked…….

This is a city with the most expensive stores and the people who can afford them.     The city just keeps growing and being a part of China can only have been a positive influence on their impact on world markets.  

 

Hanoi, Vietnam

 

Hanoi has been inhabited since at least 3000 BC.    In 1831 the Nguyen emperor Minh Mang named the city "Hà Nội" (translated as Between Rivers or River Interior).  Hanoi was occupied by the French in 1873 and it became the capital of French Indochina after 1887. 

The city was occupied by the Japanese in 1940, and liberated in 1945, when it briefly became the seat of the Viet Minh government after Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independence of Vietnam.   But the French came back and reoccupied the city in 1946.   After nine years of fighting between the French and Viet Minh forces, Hanoi became the capital of an independent North Vietnam in 1954.

During the Vietnam War (Vietnam refers to it as the Second War, the First War being with the French), Hanoi's transportation facilities were disrupted by the bombing of bridges and railways, which were promptly repaired.   Following the end of the war, Hanoi became the capital of Vietnam when North and South Vietnam were reunited on July 2, 1976.

As the capital of Vietnam for almost a thousand years, Hanoi is considered to be one of the cultural centers of Vietnam, where most of Vietnamese dynasties had left behind their imprint. Even though some vestiges of those eras have not survived through wars and time, the city still has many cultural and historic monuments.   After the French took control in 1888 and modeled the city's architecture to their tastes, it provided an important aesthetic to the city's rich stylistic heritage.   Hanoi hosts more cultural sites than any city in Vietnam, including over 600 pagodas and temples.

Clockwise from  above left:

Halong Bay with Limestone Formations;

Halong Bay;

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum;

Individual Homes in Village along the way to Hanoi;

Motorbike Traffic in Hanoi;

Presidential Palace (Former home of Indochina's General Governor);

Workers in traditional dress in the fields;

Traditional Bicycle Taxi in Hanoi; and below

Family Burial Site in Rice Paddies

The Old Quarter has the original street layout and architecture of old Hanoi.   At the beginning of the 20th century the city consisted of only about thirty-six streets, where each street then had merchants and households specialized in a particular trade, such as silk traders, jewelry, etc.   The street names nowadays still reflect these specializations, though few of them remain exclusively in their original trade.   The area is famous for its small artisans and merchants, including many silk shops.   The other sites that we visited were: The Temple of Literature the oldest university in Vietnam dating from 1070; the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum; the Presidential Palace grounds; the One Pillar Pagoda; and the “Hanoi Hilton”, the infamous prison.   

The Hanoi Hilton was a prison constructed by the French and used by them to house Vietnamese prisoners.   Today, Vietnam depicts their ruthless treatment by the French in this prison, now a museum, but seemed to indicate how well they themselves treated and cared for  their American captives held in that same prison during the Vietnam war.

Our trip into Hanoi from the beautiful Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with its majestic limestone formations known as karsts and isles took over three hours each way.   It was a long day through countryside villages and small towns that depict a very poor, but a very proud people that work extremely hard.   Their homes are often the width of a garage with two or three floors above where the family lives and the garage generally serves as a business site right along the road.   Each house stands alone waiting for one to be built beside it, so the common walls are not finished and remains unfinished until covered by an adjacent structure.  

But as they wait for a house to be constructed, rice paddies are ever present in any available site between homes.   Out of town the rice paddies are everywhere, carefully laid out with walking paths between each large plot.   Families bury their relatives in the paddies believing that their souls will protect the plants and ensure that they have a good harvest.  The locals are in knee high water paddies in order to tend the important rice crop. 

Vietnam exports cement, rice and coffee as a part of their economic base.  They also have coal mines in the hills that we passed on our way into and out of Hanoi, which contributes to the exceptionally poor air quality.   The roads are paved and dusty and many people where masks as they move about the city or villages.  

There are literally millions of motor bikes everywhere, but none more than in Hanoi, where these are the staple for transportation by the young and the old.    Without fear or trepidation, the women and men navigate through massive traffic to their destination competing for space with large buses and trucks.  

As you travel in Hanoi you cannot fail to see the multitude of wires on telephone poles that seem to bring new electric power or some other type of communication capability to each home.   There are literally hundreds of such cables hanging from telephone poles and running up each street or local alley.

The people we observed in Hanoi or in the villages were dressed in western style clothing and the only cultural dress we experienced was in the hotel restaurant where we had lunch.   This hotel was very beautiful and the food was excellent.   Most of the city looks old, because it is old…Hanoi is going to celebrate their one thousandth anniversary very soon…..  

Clockwise from above:

Prison cell in Hanoi Hilton;

View of the Prison Courtyard; and

"Hanoi Hilton" Prison

 

Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

 

Kota Kinabalu is in Malaysia, well…it is in eastern Malaysia which is on the island of Borneo, an island which Malaysia also shares with Indonesia and the Sultanate of Brunei.   Western Malaysia is four hundred miles away, south of Thailand and across the South China Sea.   That is where the capital, Kuala Lumpur is as is eighty-six percent of the more than twenty-five million people of Malaysia.   

The city we visited, Kota Kinabalu is in the state of Sabah, one of thirteen states in the country and one of only two that are in eastern Malaysia….the other being the state of Sarawak.     But Sabah with its relatively few people is rich in resources… timber, oil, and natural gas deposits that make this state quite wealthy.    Actually, the country is endowed with natural resources and with its strong government leadership it has become a very prosperous country.  Its economy has moved into both manufacturing and services as the country’s per capita income has soared since Malaysia became independent in 1963.

The population of Malaysia consists of Malays (48%), Chinese (23%), Indian (7%) and indigenous (22%) people.   What is most significant about the population mix is the ethnic diversity of the people with regard to their religion, language and culture…and yet they live an extremely stable and incident free existence.  Peace and harmony are treasured components of a life style that encompasses these principles.

Malaysia is a parliamentary democracy where nine of the states have hereditary rulers and under their agreement of independence, the Head of State is a King chosen from one of these princes for a five year term.  The Prime Minister is Head of Government and is responsible to the elected House of Representatives.  The Members of the Senate are appointed by the King or by the states.  

Magellan visited this island in 1521, the first westerner to visit Borneo.   In 1704, the Sultan of Brunei gave this state to the Sultan of Sulu for….well, because he helped him out with a rebellion.   In 1763, the Sultan signed a contract with the British East India Company granting them wide trade concessions.  And with time, the British continued their penetration of the island’s administration and gained virtually complete control of the government by the late 19th century.  

During WWII the Japanese occupied the area and allied bombing then destroyed much of the infrastructure of the city.  It was rebuilt into a modern town after the war and in 1968 the city was renamed Kota Kinabalu.   Today there are high rise buildings and a very exciting thirty story tower (a 72 sided polygon of glittering glass) called the Tun Mustapha Tower.  It is a hanging structure building using a single pillar in the center to support all the floors and a revolving restaurant on the top.

Signal Hill is the highest point in the city with great views of both the town and the port.   The State Mosque is also quite impressive, has a tall minaret, with an impressive golden dome that incorporates a large honeycomb design.   The Atkinson Clock Tower built in 1905 was named for the First British District Officer and survived the Allied WWII bombing. 

Clockwise from above left:   City Mosque in Kota Kinabalu;  State Mosque of Sabah; Tun Mustapha Tower (Sabah Foundation Building); The Clock Tower that survived the Allied bombing; Skull Hut at the Sabah Museum Heritage Village; and the Heritage Village at the Sabah Museum

 

Brunei 

 

Brunei, officially known as the State of Brunei Darussalam or the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace, is a country located on the north coast of the island of Borneo, in Southeast Asia.   Apart from its coastline with the South China Sea it is completely surrounded by the state of Sarawak, Malaysia, and in fact, it is separated into two parts by Limbang, which is part of Sarawak.

Brunei Darussalam consists of a total area of 2,227 square miles slightly smaller than Delaware.  Ninety-seven percent of the 381,000 people live in the larger western part, while only about 10,000 live in the mountainous eastern part.  Of the total population of Brunei Darussalam around 130,000 live in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan.  The Pacific Princess docked in the port town of Muara which is one of Brunei’s major cities.     It was a forty minute ride into Bandar, a city with all the modern amenities and home to one of the Sultan’s palaces and the government offices for the country.   There are a number of mosques, but one in particular is the Taman Haji Sir Muda Ali Saifuddien, which is most beautiful and opulent and was built by the Sultan to commemorate his late father’s life…

We arranged for a tour of the Kampong Ayer water village, which is home to 22,000 people who live in traditional homes that are built on stilts in twenty-eight communities.  They go to school, pray in their own mosque and could even shop in a store within the water village.   Much of their life revolves around life in the village from fishing and working within the community. 

Under Brunei's 1959 constitution, His Majesty Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah (not his full name) is the head of state with full executive authority, including emergency powers since 1962.  The Sultan's role is enshrined in the national ideology known as Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB), or Malay Muslim Monarchy. The country has been under hypothetical martial law since the Brunei Revolt of 1962.

Clockwise from above left:

 

Water Village House (upscale); 

Water Village House with satellite dish;

Taman Haji Sir Muda Ali Saifuddien Mosque;

Water Village scene;

Bandar City Skyline; and

Sultan's Ceremonial Chariot at the Royal Regalia Museum

Although a constitutional monarchy, Brunei is governed in accordance with Islamic law and is a successful welfare state with no taxes, and an education and health care for everyone.  The Sultan is the 29th ruler from the same family dynasty and is probably the oldest or longest reigning royal family in the world.   We visited the Royal Regalia Museum which houses the Sultan’s vast collection of the opulent ceremonial objects and dress of Brunei’s monarchy.

The earliest history of this region is mentioned in Chinese documents of the Tang Dynasty during the 7th century when they traded with each other.  Principal exports were camphor and timber with China during the Song and Ming Dynasties through the 10th century.   Later the region was influenced by early Indian culture from the Buddhist Empire of Sumatra and the Hindu influenced empire from Java.  

Brunei developed its culture by blending both Chinese and Indian on top of the Malay social order.   In the fifteenth century, the Chinese explorer, Admiral Zheng visited the island many times and used the harbor as his base of explorations.   Magellan first arrived in 1521 and was quite impressed with the city he observed at that time.  

Around the early 1500s, the Sultanate was expanded to include all of Borneo and other Indonesian and Philippine islands to establish Brunei as a regional ruling power.  Portuguese, then British and Dutch came to the region to learn about and then try to colonize the country.   By 1888, Brunei became a protectorate of the British Crown which lasted until the end of the colonial period. In 1929, oil and natural gas deposits were discovered which proved to be significant in enabling Brunei to follow a very independent way forward.   The Sultan chose not to join the Malayan Federation that eventually became Malaysia. 

 

Singapore

 

Singapore is an island city state located at the tip of the Malaysian peninsular….that is western Malaysia.  It is about twenty-five miles by twelve miles and has a natural harbor and with its free trade policy it has been perfectly situated to serve as a trading center between east and west.   Its economic growth has been on fire with shipping traffic second to only Shanghai, its oil refining second to only Texas and its movement into technology makes optimum use of its limited area.  

Singapore’s 4.8 million people are seventy-seven percent Chinese, fourteen percent Malaya and eight percent Indian.   It enjoys a unique multi-racial and cultural harmony among all the ethnic groups creating a unique atmosphere for an unfettered lifestyle.

The legend claims that the name Singapore comes from the 14th century when a visiting prince saw an animal he believed to be a lion and he renamed the island Singa Pura, the Lion City.   In 1819, a British East India Company representative Sir Stamford Raffles selected Singapore as his trading center.  Today the Raffles Hotel that bears his name is known the world over as one of the renowned 19th century fine hotels and is the place of origin of the famous Singapore Sling cocktail.  

Singapore grew rapidly as the center of east west trading until the Japanese occupation.  After the war, Singapore achieved independence in 1955 from being a Crown Colony.   It was originally a part of the Federation of Malaysia for a period of two years, but then left in 1965 as an independent republic.  

Today Singapore is a cosmopolitan center for commerce and industry, has communication and transportation networks reaching all major countries throughout the world.   Huge skyscrapers are everywhere; there is a popular Chinatown and a bustling India town with shops, markets and restaurants.  Singapore is a modern country with all the amenities and services, but you had better not throw litter on the street or try to abuse any of their strict laws.   While the people enjoy complete freedom, the political system is quite stringent and is essentially a one party system.  

The weather is extremely warm and humid and made our visit very challenging.   There were many markets in this very modern city both in India town and Chinatown…..and we walked among and through many of them.   Narrow streets and crowded alleys with vendors everywhere, each appearing to sell the same merchandise…..they were.   We visited Hindu temples and Buddhist temples each more beautiful and ornate than the last.  

We also took the monorail over to Sentosa Park, which just a few years ago was a park with many nature trails that is now being transformed into a Disney like amusement park.   Also had an opportunity to use the Singapore rapid transit system….a very modern fully automated subway that serves the entire city with very clean trains.  

Clockwise from above left:

City Skyline from Harbor;

Oil Refinery; Chinatown;

Hindu Temple; The Merlion;

Buddha Temple;

and India Town 

 

Phuket, Thailand

 

Phuket is an island off the southwestern coast of the Thailand peninsular in the Indian Ocean.  It lies just opposite Indonesia which just a few years ago suffered a terrible earthquake.  A resulting tsunami directly hit Phuket killing many people and destroying much of the coastal seashore.    It is an island about the same size as Singapore…..twelve miles wide and thirty miles long with hills filed with lush vegetation.  

With its beautiful beaches on the west coast of the island facing the Indian Ocean, tropical forests and picturesque plantations, it is referred to as Thailand’s “Pearl of the South” and reflects the natural beauty that few other places can match.   Its original economy was based on rubber trees and tin, but it soon became a favorite tourist site.   Famous for its diving and beach water sports, it also has other tourist sites such as an aquarium, shell museum, a marine biological center as well as a beautiful waterfall.  

The main town on the island is Phuket, but much of the excitement for visitors is at the beaches and in exploring in the hills on the island.  Kirk, a friend now living in Bangkok came down to visit us for the day.  We visited Patong Beach, which has hundreds of restaurants and a great beach and we had coffee at the local Starbucks. 

We then went to Tonsai Falls where we hiked up to the falls and then up a rock trail bringing us yet closer to the falls.   We had an opportunity to visit an incredible Buddhist monastery and temple, Wat Chalong where the local people of Phuket were celebrating a religious holiday.   Then we had lunch at an outdoor Thai restaurant in Kata Beach ….the weather was hot and humid, but it was nonetheless a great experience. 

Clockwise from above left:

Kirk at Patong Beach;

Tonsai Falls;

and the four other pictures were all taken in the Wat Chalong Temple

 

 

Male, Maldives

 

The Maldives...described as one of the smallest and poorest nations and yet, its name means “garland of islands”.   It is roughly twelve hundred coral islands and atolls…..spread across an area of 460 miles by 70 miles in a double chain….. Southwest of India, with a population mix of 386,000 people of different cultures and races.   They include Sinhalese, Dravidians, Arabs, Africans and Australasians, many who came to visit and stayed.  One third of that population lives in Male, which is one hundred and sixteen square miles, just a little larger than Washington, D.C.

The capital the Maldives is Male, it is a republic and the language is Dhivehi, which incorporates fundamentals of Arabic, Hindi, and Tamil.  In 2000 B.C., trade routes through the Maldives existed between Egypt, Mesopotamia and India.  Early settlers in the Maldives have been known to worship the sun with mosques facing the sun rather than Mecca.  

Before the middle of the twelfth century, Buddhism was the main religion, but then Islam became widely accepted enough so that the last Buddhist king became the first Moslem Sultan.  This was followed by six great dynasties with the islands being ruled rather firmly and today Sunni Islam being the sole religion practiced. 

They lived a very simple, but good life even as the Portuguese, Dutch and British visitors came to the islands.   Before the Suez was opened, the Maldives were in the path of many trading routes often challenged by European nations who wanted to control the islands.   But the British made the Maldives a protectorate, which lasted until 1965 when the country became fully independent. 

It is important to note that the average height above sea level of the islands is only about five feet, with a high point of seven feet, seven inches making them incredibly susceptible to rising sea levels.   The island of Male has a sea wall completely around the periphery to protect itself from the sea.  Thor Heyerdahl visited the islands in the 1980s and took particular interest in the ruins of the Buddhist temples and excavated carvings and stone figures of the pre-Islamic period.  

Today, life in the Maldives is still relatively uncomplicated …..beautiful skies, warm weather, and the diving and snorkeling is especially unique.   While this is a special place to vacation, do not be fooled, the cost of a holiday here is not cheap.    The Maldives have an amazing diversity of sea life, with corals and over two thousand species of fish, ranging from reef fish to reef sharks, moray eels, and a wide variety of rays: Manta rays; Stingray; and Eagle ray.  The Maldivian waters are also home for the whale shark.

As I sit on the ship looking out at the Maldives, I see Male which has a skyline of multi-level buildings from one end of the island to the other; I see an airport on an adjacent island dedicated for only that purpose thereby necessitating a visitor to transfer by boat to Male, the capital; I see many other islands with resorts on them for visitors who fancy the water sports that they offer.   Many of the other islands are being now utilized to meet the agricultural needs of the country’s people.   Water is produced from desalinization plants while most other needs must be satisfied through shipments into the country.    Boats are everywhere in the harbor as they carry people or products from one island to any other of the six hundred islands that are inhabited.  

We visited the old Friday Mosque, now a museum, and the cemetery at that mosque.   Women and men’s burial stones were differentiated by the shape of the stone and the height of the stone was a function of the age of the person who died.   The new mosque and minaret was open and we were able to visit.   Fishing is a major industry as is tourism for the water related sports.  

 

Clockwise from above left:

Male Skyline;

Grand Friday Mosque;

Men in Sarongs Visiting the Mosque; and

Inside the Grand Friday Mosque

 

Clockwise from below left:

President's House;

Cemetery (round stones for women, pointed stones for men and the height for age);

Motorbikes waiting for traffic to pass;

and Rainbow fish at the market.