March 3: At Sea Day-Crossing the Equator.
This morning, we witnessed the Crossing the Equator ceremony on the Lido deck. Crew members who have not crossed the equator before are put through a trial which is supposed to humiliate them, thereby making them fit to be on a ship, I suppose. First, they were paraded through the audience of passengers on the Lido, then placed behind bars, then forced to kneel before the ship’s officers, then massaged with a disgusting egg-white substance, then tossed into the pool. It was all great fun, for the spectators, at least, and was topped off by the Captain and senior officers jumping into the pool as well. We have heard of this “initiation” being applied to passengers, but that would never work with the ones on this ship. We all just got a nice certificate.
March 4: Singapore.
We are blown away by Singapore. Together with our next-door neighbor Janice, we toured the city today on the Hop-on-Hop-off bus, taking two of the three routes during the morning and afternoon. Aside from the bus ride, our main activity was to shop in Arab Street, which Janice was kind enough to do with us. Here are some of our impressions of Singapore:
- What a beautiful city. Most amazing is the architecture: so many skyscrapers, each with a different take on what it means to be a tall building. They were of different shapes, with different exterior materials, different roof lines, different relationships to each other. The landscaping also impressed me. Trees, bushes, hedges, lawns, flowers, waterways, sculptures were all well-tended and contributed to an overall feeling of competence and of attention to human comfort. The older buildings and homes seemed particularly substantial and were also well kept – and were worth millions of dollars!
- Automobile traffic in the city seems to be completely under control. The bus tour commentary explained how the government has been able to keep vehicles from ruining the city – with punishing taxes and environmental regulations. As a result, most cars are new, there are few motor bikes on the roads, public transportation is given a high priority, and rush hour was not a traffic nightmare.
- Arab Street is a fabric mecca. It’s like the Garment District in New York: one fabric store after another for several blocks. We spent a couple of hours there buying fabric and pashminas. In one store, we talked for a while with the proprietor, a Muslim lady whose son is getting his master’s degree at Yale. She loved the idea of our cruise and said we should look for each other on our next one. We felt a little connected with this person who lives a life entirely different from our own.
March 5: Singapore.
We got a relatively early start today because we had to be back on the ship by 3pm and wanted another full day of sightseeing in Singapore. At the tourist information desk in the cruise terminal, we found out how to use the metro and took off for our day’s excursion. When we were out yesterday, we drove by the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, which looks like three towers with a platform across the top (see Denise’s pictures). Close to this hotel was a park called Gardens by the Bay. So our plan for today was to visit these sights, and the metro made it easy.
First, we went into the hotel and were totally amazed by the interior spaces – so open and filled with light. The exposed infrastructure and artwork kept us looking up. We walked the length of the hotel to signs for the Skywalk, which is the name for the platform at the top. An elevator ride to the 56th floor brought us to the public observation deck from which we could see the entire city of Singapore. The skyscrapers seemed to go on forever – at least as far as we could see on this very hot and hazy day. Descriptive panels in several different languages identified the highlights, including some of the pre-modern buildings, which were dwarfed by the skyscrapers.
We would have stayed overlooking the city longer, but we wanted to make sure we allowed enough time to visit the Gardens by the Bay, so we left the Skywalk and made our way across to the park. Given the small amount of time we had, we picked only three features to explore: the Supertree Grove, the Cloud Forest, and the Flower Dome.
- Supertree Grove. The Supertrees are vertical plant displays which have the shape and branching effect of trees (see Denise’s pictures). Ten to fifteen of these “trees” are grouped together, and a walkway is provided about 70 feet off the ground for strolling among them. One “tree” even has a restaurant inside, but we didn’t go there. Maybe next time we’re in Singapore we will.
- Cloud Forest. This is a domed structure (like a conservatory) containing plants which thrive in a cool-mist tropical forest. They are living on a man-made mountain from which flows a 113-foot waterfall. I’ve never seen so many orchids in one place, not to mention other tropical plants from all over the world. How they brought everything here – and how they’re all still alive – is but one of the mysteries of this remarkable place.
- Flower Dome. This is another domed structure; this one has a cool-dry subtropical climate, with flowers, bushes, and trees from everywhere. My favorites were the beobab trees. I have always wanted to see one but didn’t think I’d ever get to Madagascar. Now, I don’t have to go there.
Our time at the Gardens by the Bay was way too short. When we come to Singapore again, we’ll plan to spend at least a day here. For me, this is the most interesting and thought-provoking aspect of this park: When will some of the technology used in building these structures be needed as we humans continue to make our existing ecosystems uninhabitable?