A Komodo Dragon in Thailand and some Badgers in Singapore
On our way to Bangkok we stop at a small private island , Ko Kood, Thailand, site of three luxury resorts. The island is owned and has been developed by a Thai businessman who has a gorgeous home on the water,
At the tip of the gulf is the mouth of the Chai Praya river which flows through the Bangkok and which on my third visit to this glorious and ever improving capital city remains to my mind the best way to sightsee here.
At the moment the Bangkok metropolitan area is home to fourteen million people. It's a major force finance and business in this part of the world yet remains as exotic and lively as ever.
It's still Tet to the Chinese residents of Bangkok and from the red lanterned roadways to the gatherings outside the street food and produce stalls, the holiday atmosphere is evident.
The tuk tuks are loaded with produce.
And in the flower markets heaps of jasmine, marigolds, roses and orchids are being turned into wreaths for temples and gifts.
Along the river cheap ferries carry Thais and visitors to shopping, hotels, restaurants , temples and pagodas.
We visit Wa Arun, the Temple of Dawn.
It's full of tourists, celebrants, monks, musicians and vendors (small stalls on the temple grounds sell everything from cheap souvenirs to handsome handbags and cashmere scarves).
Everywhere you go in Thailand on the streets, and even on the river, people are cooking and eating food.
and yet Thai people are as a general rule quite slender. It is one of the mysteries of life but it does make traveling the streets here with the smells of delicious cooking in the air a sensual pleasure.
Traveling through the canals of the city we see houses built on the banks. Some are shacks though pipes carrying potable water to them and to the richly appointed homes and apartments, which exist side by side with the hovels, are visible. So (barely) is this komodo dragon, a protected species here.
At the moment the beloved king, whom I once had the great honor of meeting about 15 years ago at his home, is seriously ill, He has three daughters and one son. Most popular of his offspring is the princess known affectionately as Pratep whom I also had the great pleasure years ago to meet and share a luncheon with. Under the rules of Thai succession though his son would be the next king if anything happens to the present king.
Singapore is our last stop and there, Tet continues, Singapore consists of 60 islands, but most people consider only the main island, home of Singapore City when they talk of this country. It is a place where laws are strictly enforced. Our visa has stamped on it in bright red letters, "Drug Trafficking is punished by death in Singapore", and there are reminders everywhere, even on our Hop On Hop Off tour bus that littering is not permitted.
Singapore, once a British Colony, is a strikingly multicultural place. Most of the residents are of Chinese descent but there are sizable Malay and Indian communities.The major faiths are Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Hinduism. A variety of Christian sects are here and at least two synagogues.
Most striking to me is that so many people -- 5.4 million -- manage to live in such a small but immaculate space. There is no litter. None. The fines for littering are heavy. There is absolutely no graffiti. There are no tuk tuks on the road and few motorbikes. The cars are clean and well kept and almost none are older than 10 years (as a result of a steep registration law). Next to Japan, Singapore is the second largest exporter of used cars because it's too costly to keep them here.
Most people live in high rises, but these are the product of such imaginative architecture that there is plenty of green space and parks and light in such a densely populated city.
Some of the most exciting buildings are in the Marina area. In the distance of this picture you can see the Marina Bay Sands, one of the exceptional structures in the Marina. It was designed by Moshe Safdie and consists of three towers topped by a platform which has space for 3900 people and a 150 meter infinity swimming pool.
Along the elegant Orchard Road which seems like Rodeo Drive on steroids, home to every imaginable international luxury goods store, are malls which contain first rate restaurants, like a seafood restaurant where we stopped for some dim sum. When I asked a nearby patron about the protocol for payment, she volunteered that her brother had gone to school in the US and was working in Eugene, Oregon which he loved. Upon hearing of our journey, she volunteered that she expected Thailand and Cambodia and Viet Nam to be fully developed quickly -- "in 5 years," she said.
That evening, in preparation for an early flight home from the very elegant and navigable Singapore airport we stopped for dinner at the Four Season hotel's fine Chinese restaurant, Jiang-Nan Chun. As we were finishing our meal, the hotel pastry chef, Audrey Yee, walked through and started talking to us. Her accent sounded familiar, and it wasn't Chinese.
She said she was from Wisconsin, from our home town, Milwaukee, to be more exact, and it turned out that her parents were friends of parents of kids I went to school with. She majored in history at the University of Wisconsin, our alma mater, too.
On hearing this the manager rushed out a special Singapore New Years dish for us -- Salmon Yu Sheng -- made of shredded radish, beets, pickled ginger, rice vermicelli, cilantro, plum sauce, shredded carrot, preserved leek, shredded cucumber, sesame seeds, fried shredded potato and sweet potato, rice crackers, sun flower seed, calamansi (a local citrus fruit), enoki mushrooms, olive oil and pineapple paste.
We were told that the higher we tossed the salad in the air with our chopsticks the better our luck in the coming year would be. We followed the instructions and it really is a delicious special dish. We couldn't finish it all but Audrey said that was auspicious -- to leave some for the next year.