Last Reflections on Singapore

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Faithful Readers,

We are now on the very sunny waves of the South China Sea, in about 90 degree F weather. The tropics indeed! The seas are very smooth, thank heavens, as we sail up the east cost of Malaysia toward Thailand.

Today we’ll have a final round up of some of the other fabulous spicy cuisine of Singapore that we enjoyed, and then some final reflections.

Among the other delights that we sampled were the following, especially in the River Valley district of the city.

At various times, we feasted on:

From the Equator

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Faithful Correspondents,

This morning we are preparing to embark on our voyage which will take us away from Singapore.

This has truly been an eye opening experience, not least due to the fact that we are a scant 85 miles north of the Equator. The Tropics, of course, are defined by the area between the Tropic of Cancer (to the North of the Equator), and the Tropic of Capricorn on the South.

The Tropic of Cancer to the Equator marks out the zone where the sun will be directly overhead at its zenith on the June Solstice. The Tropic of Capricorn is the corresponding southern zone where the sun stands directly overhead at its zenith on the December Solstice.

The tropics are essentially in perpetual summer, and I can vouch for that here in Singapore!

And by the way, the term “tropic” comes from Latin and Greek, as Wiktionary shows:

“From Late Latin tropicus (“of or pertaining to the solstice, as a noun, one of the tropics”), from τροπικός (tropikós, “of or pertaining to a turn or change, or the solstice, or a trope or figure, tropic, tropical; etc.”), from τροπή (tropē, “a turn, turning, solstice, trope”); see trope.”

It ultimately derives from τρέπω (trépō), to turn. I will leave you to find out about the related forms tropic (in science) and trope (in literature). Please add these in the comments to this posting!

So virtually all of our journey this time is in the Tropics. Wow!

Now, to return to our Singapore narrative where we left off in mid-meal.

On Friday evening I had the great pleasure and honor, as you recall, to be dining on sumptuous local fare with the Grand Councilor, the Pronaos Master and many of the members. Unfortunately, Frater Chris had a previous engagement, but sent his best.

At the meal, the Fratres and Sorores brought dish after dish from the well-stocked serving lines. The hotel gathers these local ingredients and brings them to present with style and great flavor.

As I am learning, Singaporean cuisine is a evolution of its constituent sources, primarily (but not exclusively) Chinese, South Indian, Malay, Tamil, Portuguese, and Peranakan (an early Chinese-Malay fusion). Today, other Western influences may also be felt.

The essential experience I take from this addictive cuisine is the harmonious blending and fusion of cultures. In the ubiquitous Hawker stalls, Indian chefs may use Chinese ingredients, while Chinese chefs could use Indian or Malay spices.

We had soups, curries, raw Octopus, Oyster Omelette, and an amazing fruit drink made from Roses. It was like drinking our incense!

There were so many more dishes, each with a unique flavor (and a lot of heat!) that I cannot describe them all. I just say: come to Singapore!

During dinner, our conversation naturally followed the development of The Rosicrucian Order here in Singapore, the unique nature of Singaporean society, and of course, the upcoming World Convention in San Jose, July 29-Aug 2, 2015. One of the Fratres is already registered, and another is planning on doing so soon, to celebrate the centennial of the re-emergence of The Order in 1915.

We also discussed the amazing diversity and relative harmony of all of the elements that make up Singapore, and its relations with the world. They really are working on building the City of Tomorrow, cherishing its traditions, and moving toward sustainability.

It was amazing to sit with a group from the opposite side of the globe and feel as natural as with Rosicrucians here at home. I had met two of the Fratres at the Library at Rosicrucian Park, and they were surprised to see my pony-tail gone. Ah well, All Things Change–Panta Rhei–Πάντα ῥεῖ. (This is used by Simplicius to summarize the philosophy of Heraclitus, and literally means, “All things Flow.”) Get with the Flow, Dude!

We bid our farewells, and one of the Fratres most kindly returned me to the hotel.

Fr. Chris and I then rendezvoused in the city with some friends of his, and the evening continued.

On Saturday, we headed out to one of Singapore’s newest marvels, The Gardens by the Bay. This spectacular project opened in 2012, and is not yet fully completed. It is a fully sustainable set of indoor and outdoor gardens. It has to be seen to be understood: Google and Wikipedia it!

We took the 20-minute tram tour of the grounds (the first of three garden complexes to be completed, the others are in process). These grounds demonstrate the importance of the native flora to each of Singapore’s constituent peoples.

We then entered the Cloud Forest, a huge climate controlled structure that encloses a 35 m waterfall and a mountain trees, flowers, carnivorous plants and much much more, in a blissfully cool, misty environment which recreates the tropical mountainous eco-systems. I overcame my fear of heights to walk the cloud bridge (and Chris has pictures to prove it!). We spend more than an hour in the magnificent garden. You could spend more. The journey up and down the mountain completes with a film about what is going to happen to all of this in the wild, if the temperature rises 5-degrees C over the years to come (it isn’t good).

I was pretty much walked out by that time, so we did not get to visit the Flower Dome, and even larger eco-system with trees and plants from around the world, including 1000-year old olive trees from the Mediterranean and (just like at Rosicrucian Park) a Monkey Puzzle Tree! We are coming back, and there will be more to see each time, as the sustainable construction continues.

Singapore intends to transform itself from the Garden City to the City in a Garden, and to show the world that we can halt our precipitous ecological disaster sustainably and economically.

As far as I am concerned, when completed, these three huge gardens will be one of the modern wonders of the world!

The rest of the day was spent in what Singaporeans like to do most: eating! I’ll save that, and my reflections on my Singapore experience for tomorrow at Sea!

To all those who celebrate the Western Christian Easter today, and any other celebrations, may all the blessings of the Feast be with you!

… Sorry for the brevity and typos: Sent from remote on the phone.

Thank you!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant, Member and Customer Services

Tropical Topics

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Faithful Correspondents,

I have a brief pause in the whirlwind that is Singapore to catch up on some very pleasant details.

This is my second time the Tropics. Last year, I was in the Caribbean and Yucatàn, and now in SE Asia. This is MUCH hotter (I was in the Caribbean in January, and it is almost April now). And Humid. Wow. I am moving slowly and languidly, lizard-like. But it is doable, and their air conditioning is excellent.

On Thursday when we checked in to the Residence at the Singapore Recreational Club (since 1883) in the heart of the city, we had lunch, and immediately fell in love with a Malay dish, Nasi Goreng Ikan Bilis. It is a fried rice with fresh shrimp, fish cake, egg, vegetables and little dried fish called Ikan Billis, with green cut spicy chilli.

It had just the right blend of heat and flavors. This was an auspicious beginning.

Later that evening, we enjoyed the nightlight of the old historic center of Singapore, Chinatown. The old shop fronts have been preserved and converted into shops, clubs, bars, and restaurants. One of the features of Singapore, I have found, is varied levels: a step down here, a step up here. Cobblestone, humid heat and people everywhere contribute to the festive atmosphere.

On Friday–a National Holiday due to its being not only Western Good Friday, but also major holidays in all the other religions here too–we began with a visit to St. Andrew’s, the Roman Catholic Church nearby, where the Mandarin Good Friday service was going on. It was packed to the rafters, and I noticed something I had seen in one of the Churches in Australia: video screens up and down the aisles of the large church so that everyone can see clearly.

From there, not wanting to disturb the worshippers, we went to the huge Raffles City Mall in search of ATMs (which are scarcer than one would think).

This is a mega-mall, four stories, modern, immaculate, and totally western style. We were greeted by McDonald’s and Starbucks at the entrance, and every store you could imagine is there: Tommy Hillfinger, L’Occitan en Provence, etc.

This could easily be anywhere, but for a couple of things. There is some Chinese signage (not much), and most tellingly, the entrance to the very efficient transit system opens right into the Mall (of course, we have Muni right under the San Francisco Center…).

Signage in downtown Singapore (Central Business District), and on the Busses, etc., is all in English. When you venture into more traditional neighborhoods (Chinatown, Little India, etc.) the languages multiply, but usually English is there as well.

It seems to me that the entrepreneurial spirit that is strong in Western, Chinese and Indian Cultures (and presumably in Malay and Tamil cultures too) has been perfected here. This is one of the world’s most important financial centers, and “the easiest place to do business,” and along with New Zealand, the “least corrupt country on earth.”

I am getting used to what to Americans seem like restrictions, and my conversations with Singaporeans is that they are on the whole, happy with their clean, safe country. And they have fun: the national passion is eating!

After the mall, we visited the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple on South Bridge and Temple Street in Chinatown. Singapore’s oldest Hindu Temple, it is a riot of color, vibrancy, sights and sounds. Originally founded in 1827, it is built in the South Indian Dravidian style.

There was a wedding going on, and several other holiday worship activities, as well as individual devotions by the faithful. We all deposited our shoes before entering, and immersed ourselves in the vibrations.

Having completed our visit, we retrieved our shoes (no shoe theft!) and re-emerged to walk down a few blocks to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, a magnificent example of Tang Dynasty style, its construction was begun in 2005, and completed two years later for S$62 million. It houses not only an active temple, but a museum, and the relic of the Buddha’s tooth, unearthed in the ruins of a collapsed Stupa in Burma in 1980.

Holiday rituals were taking place, with sonorous chanting, lines of faithful leaving offerings of fruit, and a truly spectacular stupa of pure gold. The parallel to Byzantine Liturgies was hard to miss. Perhaps this is the legacy of Greco-Buddhism!

Following the Temple, we ran through the typical noon-day downpour to a small restaurant on the incredibly crowded Smith Street, which is filled with stalls of all kinds. The highlight of our Chinese meal was “Century Old Egg,” the famous dish which features an egg buried in spices and mud for a considerable length of time (not a century). It was a taste treat: salty, succulent and spicy. That’s a repeat!

Lunch was followed down the street by an hour-long foot massage, and then back home for a brief respite before being a wonderful dinner with AMORC Members.

Pronaos Master Jay picked me up in a cab at 7pm, and we met the others at the hotel where they hold convocations. In the huge dining area Grand Councilor Richard and quite a few of the members of the Pronaos. Warm fraternal greetings were exchanged, and then for the next couple of hours I enjoyed one taste treat after another.

The group is diverse, as befits AMORC, in age and background. All were uniformly welcoming. The restaurant is famous for its Peranakan cuisine, gathered inn Malaysia and faithfully brought to Singapore and perfectly presented. It is like being at a famous Food Hawker Court, with the comfort of a luxury hotel.

Leaving you on the tip of your gastronomical seats, I will continue the very pleasant–nay sumptuous–tale of the Rosicrucian Dinner when we return this afternoon. The Botanical Gardens await!

… Sorry for the brevity and typos: Sent from remote on the phone.

Thank you!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant, Member and Customer Services

A Quick Dispatch

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Faithful Readers,

Greetings from very rainy (and hot) Singapore!

This will be brief, as the day has been long and will continue in a few minutes, but I wanted to sketch out what I will talk about in more detail in my next posting.

Wednesday Night we enjoyed the night life in Chinatown’s Neil Road.

Thursday, we visited St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, a wonderful Hindu Temple, a beautiful Buddhist Temple, and had lunch on a crowded Singapore Chinese lane.

In a few minutes, members of the local Rosicrucian Pronaos will be picking me up in the downpour to go to dinner.

I will report on all this, and more (mega-mall, foot massage, the Tropics, and reflections) in the morning!

… Sorry for the brevity and typos: Sent from remote on the phone.

Thank you!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant, Member and Customer Services

Southeast Asia: The Beginning

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Faithful Readers,

Part 2 of the travels has begun.

On Wednesday morning at 1am, we took off from SFO on Eva Air, the national airline of Taiwan. The ground and in-flight service was excellent, making the 12:30 flight bearable. I watched Skyfall, a very creditable entry in the James Bond series.

Eva has the onboard entertainment set up which is taking over, with individual AV console on the back of each seat.

We landed in Taipei at about 5:30 am Thursday morning, due to the Date Line change. Taipei’s airport is modern, spotless and…seemingly dedicated to Hello Kitty! Eva Air even has a line of planes, “Air Hello Kitty”! It’s really a big deal there. All in good fun.

One of my observations is that those little luggage carts in airports are free just about everywhere in the world, except in the USA. It is another way we welcome guests to our Country…no free lunch (or luggage carts)!

Since we weren’t staying in Taipei, but transiting immediately to Singapore, we just went into the Transfer line and were rapidly ready for the next flight.

In preparation for this trip, I had been thinking that in the Australia-New Zealand trip, I was still pretty much in Western Civilization, just transplanted to the South Pacific. I anticipated that the SE Asian trip would take me to another world altogether.

It still may, but here’s what I’ve noticed so far. Taipei is clearly Chinese. The Chinese took the island over from the original inhabitants (Formosans) and it is now thoroughly Chinese. But even so, English is ubiquitous. I never realized how much English (or Western Influence) truly is the Lingua Franca of the day. Here are some examples from Taipei and Singapore airports:

Friday Commuting

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I am experimenting with blogging from CalTrain. It would be easy on the newer trains with upstairs tables, but the older one’s you have to type in your lap, which slows me down.

My first day back at work went well, and I got everything I needed to do, done. I’ll bring my bag of travel gifts on Monday, I’m not completely unpacked yet!

I have found an answer to an age-old question: Is time travel possible?

The answer is: Yes. Just fly from California to Down Under and back! When we flew out, we left on Saturday afternoon and arrived on Monday morning. Sunday vanished!

On returning, we left at about 2:45 pm Wednesday, and arrived back in CA at 9:40 am Wednesday, several hours before we left.

Naturally, this is not really time-travel in the dimensional sense. It is a result of the International Date Line which we humans have created to help us make sense of the tracking of time around the globe.

In 1884 the line was standardized at 180 degrees longitude in the middle of the Pacific, exactly opposite the Prime Meridian (formerly Greenwich Mean Time, now UTC [Universal Co-ordinated Time] or Zulu). The concept though is much older, being mentioned in a 12th century Talmudic commentary.

This became more important, as travel speeds improved, and for the calculation of Longitude. Of course, the dateline zig-zags around various islands and land masses for convenience. For example, Alaska’s time and date changed when it was sold to the USA. That also involves the Julian and Gregorian calendars.

The first major city to greet each new day is Auckland!

Time Zones are another story. Greenwich Mean Time was established in 1675 for the calculation of Longitude, and was later used to regulate Train timetables. New Zealand was the first nation to adopt a standard time zone on Nov 2, 1868, and most other nations followed suit in the decades that followed.

We’ll talk more about humanity’s calculation of time, but the traIn is nearing SF and I must sign off for now!

Happy Weekend!

…Sorry for the brevity and typos: Sent from remote on the phone.

Thank you!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant, Member and Customer Services

Back in the USA!

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We are back in the US of A!

We made it back in one piece, but not without a little travel drama.

The Virgin Australia flight boarded efficiently and on time, and we recognized a number of fellow Cruise members returning home on the plane as well.

We were a bit delayed, however, since mysteriously the Captain came over the PA system and announced “A passenger has decided not to fly with us today. She has already left the plane, but we must find and off-load her luggage.”

So we waited, enjoying the excellent
Virgin on-board entertainment system, and then took off. The pilot made up the time, and the 12 hour flight was uneventful and rather enjoyable, insofar as such a long flight can be.

I watched 3 movies as well as one of the last three episodes of Boston Legal (which I have been saving for just this purpose). I’ll wax eloquent on Boston Legal during the next cruise when I have seen the final two episodes. The team that produced Ally McBeal, The Practice, Boston Legal, Harry’s Law, etc., is among my favorites in current TV.

The three movies were as follows:

Red Dawn (the remake): I actually liked it. After one willingly suspends disbelief that North Korea could invade and occupy all of the U.S. (I think Arizona, Montana, and ??Mississippi?? were still unoccupied), and that our response was not to turn North Korea into a sheet of glass (I’m not necessarily endorsing that…but it would be expected), the film moves well. The other thing about it is that the dialogue subtly suggests that this is not really about NK vs the USA: it may be about a foreign power invading others under the pretext of saving them from their own problems. Hmmm? When has that happened recently?

An interesting note is that the villain country was originally the PRC, until they objected, and the producers realized that they would lose a huge potential movie-going market. Post-production digitally changed everything to North Korean. Aside from the previous Dear Leader, I don’t think they watch our films, so no loss of Market share.

The second was Paranormal Events 4: Don’t bother. I would turn this off is they were showing this for free on KOFY Creepy Movies.

Hitchcock: A great movie: the acting is perfect by two giants of the screen, and the story quite entertaining about the making of Psycho! I am looking forward to seeing it again.

While in the airport I was also very happy to see that Kate Moss’s The Labyrinth is now a German-South African mini-series, filmed on location in Carcassonne. Anyone know if this is available anywhere?

So, the flight went well, and the service was Virgin’s usual high level of inflight service. My assessment of Virgin is that they are a great airline–in the air. Their ground service leaves a great deal to be desired.

A case in point: this trip. We made our SF-LA-Syndey-Auckland and Syndey-LA-SF reservations well in advance (months). In January we checked with them to make sure that our frequent flyers numbers were in the reservation. Lo! and behold, they had redone the schedule without letting us know. After a long battle on the phone, we arranged to fly in a day earlier.

The 14 hour trans-Pacific flight was typically fine–even pleasant. We got to Sydney in the morning, and went through customs, since the Sydney-Auckland flight was a separate leg. We went to the Virgin counter to check in, only to find that our flight did not leave until 3pm: many hours would be wasted in the airport.

We very politely asked the ticket agent to change the short (3 hour) flight to one of their many earlier ones.

The surprising response came, “Sir, we cannot change any pre-booked flights here at the airport. We don’t actually work for Virgin,” she said, with a Virgn uniform on standing under the Virgin Australia sign at their own ticket booth. “You’ll need to call the toll-free number from your own cell.”

OK, we had provisioned the phones to work overseas, and so we called. After several minutes on the phone with a very confused Virgin agent (in the Philippines, no less!) Chris got nowhere, and he went back to the ticket agent and went ballistic. Needless to say, our tickets were changed (with a $100 change fee) and we got to Auckland on a non-Virgin, cross-listed flight as three different airlines.

On the way back, US Customs took so long to process the plane (more on this later) that even with a almost two hour window, we didn’t make the baggage transfer deadline. We rushed from Terminal 5 to 3 across LAX (!), dragging our bags along. We got to the ticket window at 11:05 for the 11:35 flight, but the baggage window had already closed, and they would not take us.

Then there was a great deal of hemming and hawing and speaking to supervisors about changing our flight. The next one was at 2:40 pm, but they could only put us on Standby. We didn’t like it, but it was the only choice, and so we took it, with assurances that the plane was not full.

The bottom line on Virgin Air: I was one of the founding members of their Elevate frequent flyer program, and was one who petitioned the U.S. Government to allow Virgin America to get established here in the US. I want to like them.

In the air, it is one of the best experiences, no matter which fare class you are in. The attendants are great, and go out of their way to help.

The booking and ground operations are deeply flawed, and really off-putting. I’m not boycotting Virgin, but I am very wary now, and will “trust but verify” each step. Later today, I will be making sure our Elevate points got posted properly.

After clearing security, we went to Gladstone’s in the terminal for some delicious Shrimp Cocktail, Clam Chowder and Cod Tacos.

Sure enough, the plane was not full, and we got on just fine. The flight was peaceful, and we slept the short jaunt back to SF. We got home to be greeted by a jubilant Skye Terrier.

Now, about the U.S. Customs in L.A. Both Chris and I have traveled extensively over many years, and neither of us has experienced this. The Customs was badly understaffed, and disorganized.

When we all got off the plane, we walked the normal multiple football fields to the customs area. This was a 777, so there were a lot of passengers.

As soon as we arrived in the customs area, we were greeted by a guard whose first words were “Everyone, up against the wall!” Nice…welcome to the USA.

She then had us form two lines, US Citizens and non-citizens. Then she consulted over her walkie, and reorganized the lines as those with connecting flights and those without. The connecting passengers then went to claim their luggage first. It came down two different carousels, and many of us, after waiting quite a while, found that our luggage had been off-loaded and stacked to the side already. Cool announcements, guys.

We then queued up to have bags inspected. The line stretched all along the walls of the entire luggage area, the length of two full baggage carousels.

For the whole plane, there were two–2!–customs officers clearing the whole line. If you were lucky enough to be approved, you went out, if not, you went to the inspection tables. Happily, we were approved, and exited, but it was still too late to drop the bags at the transfer point, and we began the mad dash to terminal 3. The whole process from disembarkation to clearance took about an hour and a quarter, or near 90 minutes.

Now I stand behind all of our men and women in all of the forces that keep us safe. This was not the fault of the Customs agents who were on duty. This was a management problem, not being clear about procedures with the ground personnel, and no providing enough agents to expedite the passenger lines.

I guess our taxes are going to our wars like Iraq (can you say, Red Dawn?) and providing bail outs for dishonest and inept business who should be closed. You or I do not get bailouts, only those “Corporate Persons–too Big to Fail.” Robert Reich is correct to remind us of the old saying: “We have two systems: Socialism for the Rich, and Capitalism for the rest of us!”

Let’s get those taxes working for the people–citizens and our visitors!

But in the long run, these were minor irritations in an overwhelmingly wonderful experience Down Under!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Over the next three weeks I’ll keep you up-to-date on the happenings in San Francisco and San Jose, and some linguistic fun.

Sorry for the brevity and typos: Sent from remote on the phone.

Thank you!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant, Member and Customer Services