From Hong Kong to Vietnam to Singapore, much to experience in terms of diversity of cultures and people

Venice couple continues Pacific voyage

By Ed Martin
Guest Columnist

(Editor’s note: Ed and Peggy Martin of Venice have begun an 82-day Pacific cruise, which will take them to the Asian coast, Russia, Bali, Australia, Hawaii and other islands before they return to Los Angeles on Dec. 12. Ed Martin is providing periodic reports from the trip for the readers of The Sarasota News Leader.)

Nov. 4: Kowloon

This is a view of the harbor in Kowloon. Photo courtesy of Ed Martin

To our surprise, 7-Elevens have emigrated to each city we have visited in Japan and China.

In Japan, we have sampled the 7-Eleven brand of saki, both the 20%- and 25%-alcohol versions, and found the little cardboard cartons — about 330 ml — to be handy for carrying on board the ship (don’t tell).

Hong Kong and Kowloon, we have learned, are the most densely populated urban areas in the world. High rises? Twice as many as NYC!

We enjoyed sampling the local culture, including a drum circle.

Nov. 9: Phu My, Vietnam

This is a view of the port in Phonm Penh. Photo courtesy of Ed Martin

There are three things to do at the port of Phu My:

  • 1) Look at shipping containers from the pier and then take a five-minute, round-trip sightseeing shuttle bus trip to the roadway, where there are no shops, cafes or signs. Taking a cab to an unfamiliar city, with no information available beforehand about the expense, was not recommended by our ship’s security officer, who reported, “I went last year and almost didn’t get back on board …”
  • 2) Browse the cluster of tent-covered shops temporarily erected on the pier. I did purchase a cap, with a red star on it plus the word Vietnam. Advised to bargain, I started negotiating with an employee who wanted $5 and came down to $3 before I made a last offer of $2. The employee had to take that to Madame herself — apparently the shop owner — who said a few words, disdainfully, but took the $2.
  • 3) Take an eight-hour trip to Saigon (locals still call it that, rather than Ho Chi Mihn City). For an unguided tour, the trip takes 3+ hours round-trip on the bus, with five hours of do-it-yourself sightseeing. Peggy and I almost always — having made only one or two lifetime exceptions — choose the self-guided option.
These are among the souvenirs available in Vietnam. Photo courtesy of Ed Martin

Yesterday, we ended up soaked to the skin in Da Nang and needed a “day at sea in port,” to rest up from that and for Peggy to deal with a cold and cough.

The next day, we were preparing for a real sea day, and then Singapore. After our last visit there, about 18 years ago, I described it as “the Las Vegas of shopping centers.” I hear that was before major growth. Chewing gum is a jailable crime, with a fine of $1,000, or maybe $10,000; memory dims.

Nov. 10: Hong Kong

The Hong Kong Jockey Club appears to be a busy place. Photo courtesy of Ed Martin

Hong Kong, for us, was almost a non-shopping experience. It is a city of stores from everywhere.

I visited Little India, recalling our 2000 visit, when we ate vegetarian with Harimaya, (aka Harry Meyer), a wonderful sharer of myths from around the world.

This time, in a vegetarian restaurant, I ended up with a mystery crepe, but I ate every bite. It probably had cottage cheese with veggies, but the cheese was a bit crispy. The sides were good, but a bit above my temperate zone.

The ‘mystery crepe’ proves to be tasty enough. Photo courtesy of Ed Martin

Nov. 11-13: Singapore

Skyscrapers rise up out of the Singapore landscape. Photo courtesy of Ed Martin

There is much to like about Singapore. This island-city-nation is multicultural — with Indians, Chinese and Westerners — as well as the various dimensions of Indonesia and Malaysia culture. That means multiple religions, styles of architecture and food to all tastes.

It was a small fishing village as early as the 11th century. Then it developed under various rulers. In 1824, the Sultan of Johar deeded the property to the English. World War II brought the Japanese occupation; afterward, the English came again, followed by the Malaysians and finally independence in 1965.

It is CLEAN! Not just clean. Most readers have heard of the strict enforcement of laws against littering, throwing away gum, etc., resulting in long prison terms and high fines. Dictatorial? Yes. Effective? Yes.

The local rapid transit is second to none in terms of good signage, cleanliness, frequency, coverage and more (about $2 for our trip from the port to Little India and to the Botanical Garden, one way). A special joy was traveling with the friendly people and the adorable children.

Perhaps more impressive are the reports from residents, including younger and older women, that they are safe at night in the city.

The Singapore Botanical Garden has a harem of five hens. Photo courtesy of Ed Martin

In 2000, we visited the famous Raffles Hotel (named for Sir Thomas Raffles, the 1819 British colonial administrator), to purchase an expensive Singapore sling in its place of origin; $25, as I recall, and that still is the price. Raffles is closed for renovation, but management keeps a bar open for tourists, although not us. At the time, we preferred the “Writer’s Bar,” where we rubbed spiritual shoulders with Somerset Maugham, Kipling and other pencil pushers.

Is Singapore expensive? There are malls of shops, representing everything from local merchandise to the most famous international brands. I expect real estate is sky-high. In Little India, lunch cost me about $5, including a bottle of water. I had a delicious large, vegetarian crepe with some small curry sides and some spicy sauces.

In the small shops, the food is the local product of pride. We learned of one stall where a chicken and vegetable dish with rice was $4, and the owner has one Michelin star! (Without my phone, which I lost in Los Angeles, and the ubiquitous GPS app, I could not find that stall, and a source for WiFi, which is available freely, was not visible in the narrow, shop-lined streets where I strolled.). My lunch was very good, if not worth a Michelin star, perhaps.