22 April, 2008


paradise indeed. this picture pretty much sums it up.

apparently Milton never made it out to Indonesia, because a couple of weeks into our legendary Southeast Asia tour we found paradise there in a big way. the tiny island of Bintan is one of more than 17,500 in the Indonesian archipelago, and conveniently sits just a few miles to the south of Singapore. after restless nights on trains, and days of backpack-laden wandering around hot city centers, a couple of days on a deserted white sand beach was just what we needed. plus, i wanted another stamp in my passport. (in fact, that was the only reason i wanted to go, but i had to sell it to Jill on the grounds that it was only a 45 minute ferry ride away and there was a beach.)

the awesome "turbocat" ferry that took us on the short hop from Tanah Merah in Singapore to Bintan Island, Indonesia--a very beautiful ride across clear blue-green waters. below, upon arriving, we found our old friend the humble durian was equally as discriminated against as it was back in Singapore.

the ferry was one of the huge turbocharged catamarans that seem to be so popular in this part of the world. through large windows we looked out over pristine waters glistening under a beautiful blue-sky, and leaving the Tanah Merah ferry terminal turned exhilarating as we sped into an ocean channel teeming with huge container ships and buzzing speedboats. the trip was brief and we soon found ourselves pulling into a bay whose wooden huts looked like they could have been plucked from the 19th century. going through Indonesian "customs", which was really just a money grab--$20 each for a three day visa, US currency only, please--and arriving at the Nirwana Gardens resort with its "no durian" signs quickly brought us back to the present though, despite the refreshing remoteness and primitive feel of the resort.

the secluded pathways and beach front chalets at Nirwana Gardens. below, one of the diversions in the open-air lobby of the main hotel makes Jill and i feel like queen and king for the day.

there wasn't a whole lot to do on the island, but then that was the point, and for a only couple of days lounging on the beach or in the horizon pool it was pretty much perfect. so we rested and recouped, we ate in the restaurants and we drank the best smoothie concoctions i've ever had at the swim-up bar; we even had our picture taken by the very enterprising barkeep. but all the relaxation threatened to come to a premature close when we were presented with the bill for all this fun and it ran to more than half a million Indonesian Rupiah! all's well that ends well, however, and a quick crunch of the numbers revealed that our two days of splurge had cost only 50 real bucks, so we sailed back to Singapore calm in mind as well as in body. incidentally, while foreign money often feels like play money, nowhere has this been more true than in Indonesia in my experience. i still have a worn 1,000 Rupiah note, small and dirty--and worth about a dime. you wonder why they don't just drop a couple of zeroes to revalue the currency; maybe counting in hundreds of thousands is easier than using decimals? in any case, it's their business, and i feel like we got our money's worth. and i'd definitely use some more to go back and explore more of the paradise that is Indonesia.

Jill and i get our picture taken by the multi-tasking tender of the pool bar at our Bintan Island resort. he also turned out a mean "snowy": Nirwana's smoothies made with ice cream and orange and raspberry juices.

20 April, 2008


a big part of writing posts for this blog is actually just selecting the pictures that should go along with and will best illustrate the story. the pictures are chosen to fit the text, and often the text is shaped by what pictures are or aren't available. fortunately, there are usually more pictures available for everything i'd care to write about than i could ever reasonably use, and we all know who's mad camera skills are responsible for this good fortune. on the flip side of that however, is that all too often her beautiful face doesn't get around to the front of the lens, and i'm not usually in photographer mode so i don't think to ask if she wants her picture taken. i've noticed recently that there are comparatively few pictures in our huge collection featuring just Jill, and while this is an oversight of mine that needs to be corrected, i thought i'd brighten up these pages with just a very select few pictures that i do already have of my girl.

very shortly after we met, in Taiwan, Jill and i became fast friends and visited all kinds of places all over the island. here Jill stands in a dry riverbed in Taroko Gorge with the Eternal Spring Shrine behind her. below, she graces the Singapura sign inside the Sentosa Island Merlion in Singapore.

there are more than just these pictures of Jill, which fact, though i have tended to favor pictures of the two of us together, will give me the chance to put up some more just of her in future. and it may remind me to invite her out from behind the camera a little more often, which you can see would be good for all of us.

okay this one i stole, as it was taken by one of Jill's sisters on our wedding day, but it's such a good one i couldn't resist.

15 April, 2008


welcome to Singapore...

though once again it's been a while, and by now the story may be getting just a bit disjointed, the last time we left Southeast Asia we were skipping out on our tour guide Dr Nick's tip at the KL Sentral train station. this time we were going as far as it was possible to go by that method of travel, all the way down to Singapore. this ride was just a few hours but was even more jarring at its conclusion than the trip into Malaysia had been. as the sign above, taken in a subway car, demonstrates, Singapore can be a pretty strict place. don't get me wrong, it's a very nice place, a clean place, an orderly place; but upon stepping into a cool, modern train station to go through customs one is little prepared to be greeted by a phalanx of paramilitary-looking guys holding submachine guns and demanding... that you spit out the gum you're chewing and hand over the rest of the pack, evil foreigner! no fines for possession, just a volley of bullets from a teenage Rambo. a bit scary, but did i mention Singapore is clean?

other than the nagging terror of being an outsider in pretty much a police state, i really liked Singapore right from the get-go, it providing a welcome contrast to the clamor and bustle of all the other places we had been for the previous six months. i liked it for the same reason i liked Japan: that it was organized and quiet and people give you some space. not that there's much space to give, mind you, as Singapore sits on just 271 square miles of land, at least 30 of which are man-made or reclaimed from the ocean (to put that in perspective for the Utahns among us, Salt Lake county is just over 800 square miles). but people there speak English, just like in Malaysia, it being the most official of the four official national languages. the others are Chinese, Malay and Tamil.

but if one can't chew gum in Singapore, and it's small enough that you could spit a piece cross-country, what does one do, i hear you cry? fortunately, we had asked the same question before leaving Taiwan, to a young native of the tiny nation, a missionary of the LDS Church named Elder Merican. though he gave a long list of things to do during my hour-long conversation with him, i quickly got the point that Sentosa Island came at the top, so it was there we went first.

the Sentosa island Merlion, majestic symbol of the city-state of Singapore; and below, Jill beautifies the view from his crown over Keppel harbor. Singapore is said to have the world's busiest port in terms of tonnage shipped (or second busiest, behind Shanghai, depending on whom one listens to).

funnily enough we didn't see much of the island, which we thought small at the time but is actually rather large, with several five star resorts and long beaches made of white sand hauled in from Malaysia. a lot of the attractions there were also placed since our trip in mid 2005, but there was at least one important structure we got a very thorough look at. the Singapore Tourism Board explains what it is and why we went looking for it:
The Merlion has a lion head and a fish body resting on a crest of waves. The lion head symbolises the legend of the discovery of Singapura, as recorded in the "Malay Annals". In ancient times, Singapore was known as Temasek, a Javanese word for sea. In the 11th century A.D, Prince Sang Nila Utama of the Sri Vijaya Empire rediscovered the island. When the Prince first landed on Singapore's shores, he sighted a mystical beast which he later learnt was a lion. The Prince then decided to name the island "Singapura" which in Sanskrit means Lion (Singa) City (Pura). The fish tail of the Merlion symbolises the ancient city of Temasek and represents Singapore's humble beginnings as a fishing village.
beginnings indeed; Singapore has grown so fast and been so economically successful that it's considered one of the four "Asian Tigers" and even ranks up with the world's wealthiest countries. nevertheless, it's still a tropic with its fair share of jungle and wildness, which we decided to experience in a couple of very different ways. first, there was the incredible Night Safari at the zoo, which is just what it sounds like but even better. the problem with safaris in general is that most of the animals are nocturnal and so asleep when you're driving around to look at them. not so in Singapore, where they are awake, alert and on the prowl as the open sided bus conveys you around the park, stopping whenever Malayan tapirs cross the roadway or come to sniff the passengers. amazingly, when you're done with the motorized tour, you can wander almost the whole park on a series of paths that in many cases cut right through the animal habitats, all of them totally open and lacking any type of enclosure! and we're not just talking about tapirs and sloths either, there are lions, tigers, hyenas, elephants, giraffes; you name it, it's out there wandering around with you in the dark. awesome! it seems hard to imagine Singapore having lax liability laws, so we couldn't figure out how the safari keeps folks from being attacked. our best guess is that in addition to keeping the animals very well fed, there may be some kind of ultrasonic fence system in place around the areas of the scarier beasts.

well, even after all that we hadn't quite had our fill of dangerous creatures, so the next day we bussed and hiked out to the middle of suburban nowhere to try and find one of the most highly recommended attractions in our guidebook. it was a very odd thing indeed, and made me wonder about the zoning laws in Singapore; we had thought for sure that we were way off track when we finally got to the place as directed. but lo, to our astonishment, set back a little way from the rows of other houses in the neighborhood, was a sign for the grandly named but highly unassuming Singapore Crocodile Farm. they do have a website though, on which we read:
Six decades ago, not long after the end of the Second World War, an enterprising Chinese man, Mr. Tan Gna Chua, decided that he wanted to share his home with these unloved reptiles. With the help of his family, he transformed the one acre of land that surrounded his home at Upper Serangoon Road into a reptile farm, which was the first of its kind in Singapore. They started with only ten crocodiles. With careful breeding, the numbers grew rapidly. Being the entrepreneur he was, Mr Tan opened his farm to the public. Within its premises he set up a factory, where the crocodile skin was processed, made into various products, then sold at the gift shop as well as overseas. Visitors were free to come in to take a look around, without having to pay an entrance fee - and this is still the case today.

the Singapore Crocodile Farm, clockwise from top left: a house that ended up serving as offices and a shop for the farm, complete with all the handbags, watch straps and souvenir crocodile heads you could ever want; and at least there's more out back if you don't see something you like: a not very deep pool full of caymans is one of several that sit where other folks would have their back yard; this may be the industrious Mr Tan himself, who spent a good 15 minutes stringing these chicken heads onto some kind of wire before throwing it to the crocs at precisely 11am, just the time this last fellow likes to be fed, apparently.

despite its distance from everything, making the trek to Mr Tan's place was one of the most singular experiences i have had while traveling. it's totally surreal that in amongst all these very dull houses there are pools and pools of various teeming crocodile species, and that if you show up at just the right time you can see them snapping at each other to get to the food that is so unceremoniously tossed them. the folks there were indeed set up to receive tourists, but it was clear that this had never been the point of the place--we were the only visitors there at the time, and they carried on with their operations as if we hadn't been. truly remarkable.

as long as we're talking about wildlife, we should mention another kind that is prominent in this part of the world, one that despite its total inertness and vegetative state may be as potentially harmful as many of the creatures heretofore mentioned. i'm talking about the humble durian, a fruit that is banned not just from underground trains, as the first picture shows, but from most other public places as well. the lack of a specific posted fine suggests to me, rather sinisterly, that getting caught breaking the durian rules will net you an encounter with another squad of riot police rather than just a ticket for a few hundred bucks (incidentally, each Singapore dollar was worth around 60 US cents while we were there, to give you an idea of the magnitude of those fines). this is a very strange thing, especially considering that the cantaloupe-sized delicacy is extremely popular and can be had quite cheaply on any number of street corners all over the city. and it's really very good. so what gives? that it only seems to be sold in the open air is a clue: durian basically consists of a full-frontal assault on the olfactory system, each one containing the sulfurous pungency of a month-old crate full of rotten eggs. they also look a bit dangerous, as the picture suggests, but they really are very tasty. if you can get past the smell. and you don't get arrested for possession.

so as long as you can stay out of jail, there are a few other things you should see before leaving Singapore, one of which is actually a giant concert hall and performing arts center whose shape and design are said to be inspired the durian, belying a national love for the eggy treat. i'll leave you to check out the Esplanade website for an idea of what the center, which is also reminiscent of a pair of bug-eyes, looks like, and then i'll leave you with this cool picture of the sign in front of the buildings, one of the most entertaining bits of modern art we've come across in all our travels. and it's true:

06 April, 2008


while we were anticipating the arrival of the Kusudas at Thanksgiving, Jill and i had to occupy our time with other activities. we had decided, as evidenced by our thrilling trip to Wendover, that we should try to get out and see as much of our hometown as we could, treating it as we had our foreign homes on our travels, like we were tourists. it seems as though you never really get out and see the sites when you are "home", even though you run around like a crazy person to cram every last thing into any vacation you're on. and there are plenty of things to see in Utah, and lots of awesome outdoors to discover, as i had done at Arches.

a very hazy view of downtown Salt Lake City, taken on a cool October day from Ensign Peak. the state capitol is fairly clear at the far left of the picture, and the silver domed roof of the Tabernacle is about the most prominently visible feature of Temple Square, approximately in the center of the picture.

we decided to start gently however, with the short and relatively easy hike up to Ensign Peak, above the Utah state capitol building in the hills north of downtown. the significance of the place historically, and especially to Latter-day Saints, may have best been described by Boyd K Packer:
On July 26, 1847, their third day in the valley (the second having been the Sabbath), Brigham Young, with members of the Twelve and some others, climbed a peak about one and a half miles from where I now stand. They thought it a good place to raise an ensign to the nations. Heber C. Kimball wore a yellow bandana. They tied it to Willard Richards’s walking stick and waved it aloft, an ensign to the nations. Brigham Young named it Ensign Peak.
Brigham Young was the second prophet and president of the church and was also the effective founder of the Salt Lake Valley and much of Utah.

the trailhead for Ensign Peak lies among a cluster of houses in the "Avenues" area of Salt Lake, and would be hard to find if it weren't for this bold entry marker. below, Jill and i stand in front of the monument atop the peak and prove that it's not just Chinese people who will cut off the tops of your photos for you.

the peak itself does boast a great view of the valley--when smog conditions permit, at least. it was a good introduction to some of the many other, probably more difficult hikes that we could undertake around here, though we wisely timed this one so winter would prevent us from having to do more for several months. but we did celebrate this small triumph with a good old fashioned Halloween party a couple of days later. Jill's class at school decided to celebrate that most wholesome of holidays with an evening of fancy dress, though for some reason they all showed up as pirates. Jill and i, on the other hand, threw together some costumes with the effects we had on hand and so went as Japanese people, or at least as people vaguely inspired by the Japanese.

Jill sticking out among the pirate girls in her class; here Lindsey, the hostess, Sharon, comprehensively failing to look as menacing as a pirate should, and Hailey, who may have been a little too creative with the boot polish. below, Jill and i look much more reasonable as dressed up people when there aren't any pirate types around. the facial hair was all me, by the way.

so the autumn of 2007 was a good time for us, if a touch slow. not that we weren't busy, however. i was studying hard for my licensing exams and Jill was going to to town trying to facialize everyone she could get her hands on. she's very good at her aesthetics, by the way, and i didn't do so badly on my tests, as it happened. and now that she's done with school and i'm all licensed and registered, we may just have the time and the weather to get out there a little bit more in thespring.