Checking in from deployment, Charles passes a review of one of Skippy-san’s most favorite locations in the Far East – Singapore (we’ll let Skippy wax eloquent on the joys therein on the comments if he’s of such a mind and can tear himself away from an ongoing email war 😎 ) And “ship’s liaison group”Â instead of shore patrol? *That* just doesn’t seem right…but, we’ll pass and let Charles get on with the story:
I know it has been a while since I have written a postcard and I had hoped to be sending pictures with this one, however some issues have come up with my camera and downloading pictures from my last port visit. I was just in Skippy-San’s favorite city, Singapore. Singapore is a great city and a wonderful place to visit. Quick run down for those that don’t know. Singapore is a very modern country, it came into existence in the mid-60’s and before that it was part of Malaysia and before that it was basically the colonial capital of the British Southeast Asian colonies. It is a very modern city and a number of very modern conveniences. It is also one of the most racially diverse places in Asia that I have been to. There really isn’t any native Singaporean, rather it is a broad mix of Indians, Malayans, Indonesians, Han Chinese, and Anglo-Saxons. Singapore is also the cross roads between Asia and Europe. Since most of the sea borne trade routes between Asia and Europe go through the Straits of Malacca and Singapore sits right in the middle of it.
We pulled in pier side to Republic of Singapore Naval Station Changi and took buses in and out of town. I am sure that is different from your time there having to take a liberty launch in and out. It made some logistical things easier. The buses dropped us right off at a Metro Regional Transit rail station. These trains are the way to get around town and even easier to use then the JR lines in Japan. For about Singapore$15 (or approximately USD$18) you could buy an all day pass. Most train rides weren’t much more then five or six dollars. Go up to the turn stiles, swipe your card, and go through. Then at your destination swipe your card to get out. Taxis were another way to get around and most places on the island it was about S$15 to from the train station to a few of the more popular tourist destinations.
My first day in I had dinner with some ex-pat Americans as part of an adopt-a-sailor program that the Navy League in Singapore offers every time a ship comes in. It was nice. They were living in a place that was an ex-colonial home for the folks who ran the old Singapore water works. Dinner was awesome we had it on their back patio, it was green curried chicken, black pepper prawns, Thai style white rice, some butter steamed veggies, and some yogurt with cucumber to cool our palette. It was my first time to try green curried food, it was good. However, my tongue lost all taste afterwards and my mouth felt like it had been Novocain. The prawns were awesome and if I had thought of it I would have asked the people hosting us for the recipe. After dinner we sat around with our hosts drinking some wine talking about our adventures to date. Overall an awesome night and a great way to connect with people. Oh, Skippy-san, if your looking for jobs back in Asia after walking from the Navy. One of my hosts was telling me that Raytheon and a few other defense contractors are making Singapore their Asian HQ and people are making money hand over fist out this way. So if you want to re-settle out in Asia and Singapore specifically it might be good to talk to a few head hunters and see what is out there.
My second day I spent the day walking around with a couple of people along Orchard Park road. Orchard Park road is the prime shopping district in town. Shopping here is interesting. Because on one side of the street you can see a shopping arcade with eight different camera/electronics shops in the basement floor and on the other side of the street you can see what we would define as a mall with Tag Heur and Cartier jewelers on the first floor. It was really fun. The best fun was walking through a few of the cheaper shopping arcades. In the basement is typically a food court and you can get your fill from fried geese to tofu soup. Just depends on what your willing to try. That is what I like the best is trying the different food around each place I visit. So for lunch that day I had squid tofu soup Korean Style. This is actually better then it sounds, because they also had some tiger prawns and some mussels mixed in as well with these little bits of squid in a tasty broth. The other cool thing about some of the cheaper shopping arcades is how almost each floor is a different country theme. There was one I walked in that on one floor had all sorts of stores that catered to the Filipino’s who sail on most of the cargo shipping in the region. Then the next floor was all Indian. The only thing that was hard to deal with was some of tailors. They can get very pushy and aggressive in attempts to get our business. I had to almost shout at one that I wasn’t in the mood for a suit, but he still followed me to the door of the arcade.
The third day in town was on Shore Patrol or actually the more PC term for it now, Ships Liaison Group. I helped to deal with the buses and make sure they went every place we needed them to and that people didn’t make a mess. Singapore is interesting in that, as someone I had a chance to talk to describe, it is the ultimate nanny-state. You can receive a fine for failure to flush a toilet or you can receive a caning and a fine for an act of vandalism. That has kept crime in the nation low, major crime (i.e. murder, rape, etc) aren’t heard of around here and you can actually walk around the street at midnight with out fear of that. That being said they do have some crime usually it is petty theft, con-men, and pick-pockets. So you still need to pay attention. One of the more interesting events happened while I was on SP was that at the gate going off the base a Singapore police officer wouldn’t let a guy out in town because he had the imprint of a chewing tobacco can on his jeans. Spitting, chewing, and even chewing gum is against the law and leads to a fine. That has lead to one of the common jokes about Singapore being a “fine” city. So this guy had to go back and change, submit to a full inspection of his person and gear to make sure he wasn’t bringing in any chew and then let on his merry way. One of the other interesting things to talk about with Singapore is for as modern it is and nanny state, they also know the government knows it can’t stamp out the worlds oldest profession. So instead they keep it all concentrated in one district. That district is called the Geylong district. From what I learned talking to one of the police officers while on watch, most of the women have to register with the police and though they aren’t subjected to checks by the government, they are required to report and communicable diseases they contract to the proper officials. On top of that there is no open solicitation, rather you go to a bar with the women there, pay a “bar fine” to the madam and go on your merry way. That is the way they found to control the problem.
The fourth day I went out pretty late because I was up late on watch. Noon to 0300 is not good. Anyhow, we had some new check ins, who were just hanging around. So I talked them into going out into town. The first place we went to was a place called Changi Prison Chapel & Museum, http://www.changimuseum.com/. It is built near the national prison called Changi and near the location of the old Colonial prison with the same name. When the Japanese invaded Singapore, they took all the Europeans and stuck them in this colonial prison. Approximately 25k people were living at one time on the ground equivalent to three football fields. The prison itself was about four stories high from what I was able to read and on average about four people were living in cells that were five feet wide by 8 feet long. There was a wash basin and a toilet and a concrete bed in the center of the room. They had an actual mock-up of one of the prison cells and it didn’t look like a healthy place. After an incident called the Selerange barracks incident, the Japanese dispersed most of the military from the prison and used them to build the Thai-Burma rail line, the infamous River Kwai Line. Some of those men went through the same if not worst hardships that ours in the Philippines went through. I was awestrucked by some of the things the people did to keep themselves entertained. The civilians took scraps and formed quilting bees, people taught various subjects and tried to keep the kids educated. The military maintained their discipline and the British specifically seemed to keep that typical self-deprecating humor they are famous for. After visiting there we took a taxi down into the china district and walked around there doing some shopping. The china district in Singapore is what I would have expected if someone described it to me. A number of narrow streets with all sorts of vendors hanging out of it. In one corner was the prime eating places. In other corners were the tailors, stores that specialized in little brass trinkets, others that sold “Dragon Lady” dresses, etc. Really kind of fun to look at and talk about what would be fun to buy or bring home.
We pulled out on 11SEPT and started the transit from the South China Sea into the Indian Ocean. Since then we have been getting more flying in to prepare and sometime in the next few days we are suppose to meet up with the Regean and get turn over from her. Like I said I am now in the Indian Ocean and getting ready to cross that magic line where I quit paying FICA taxes, start to draw hostile fire pay, and drawn some extra pay for being in a combat zone. Most everyone in the mil-blogosphere has heard about us being extended. I don’t know what to say beyond look at my previous card talking about deployment stress. Some people think us sailors are complaining. Well, I am not. I know this is part of the job. The only thing I am complaining about is whether or not I will surge with in three months of going home. Because if that is the case then leave me out here for the next calendar year, just make it easier. That way when I come home I know I will be home for longer then three to four months. My father did a few cruises that were a full year and a few others that because of other world events he was extended. Such as when he was on the America with CVW-1 and because of Lebanon and then because of instability near the Persian Gulf transited the Suez to relieve a carrier on station near Gonzo Station in the IO. Another time he was extended because of Libya while on the Coral Sea. While he was still single an uncle of mine left on cruise with a carrier in 1968 on 3rd of January and didn’t come home until the 24th of December 1968. The powers to be officially ruled that one an eleven month cruise. Being extended is the way of life. Out of the five deployments that I have done (2001 with CVW-8, 2004-05 with CVW-3, 2006 to Iwakuni, 2007-08 with CVW-3, and now) nearly all of them have been extended for a month and few weeks. There is nothing I can do about it, just groan and get on with my life. I just wish leadership would be truthful with us about the extension and what is going to happen post return. Rumor mill onboard had been talking about our extension since April of this year, so we all knew it was going to happen. Now the question is are we going to surge or are we going to stay home at the end of cruise?
Well that is it for right now, just on the way to Gonzo Station. Things are clicking along and hopefully I will be able tonight to download my pictures for Singapore and mail them out to you.