Southeast Asia Ballroom Dance Cruise: Singapore and last sea day just cruising
We are nearing the end of this 16 night cruise from Beijing to Bangkok. Singapore is the last stop before we disembark in Bangkok. I spent a week in Singapore in September 2005 when the International Association for Pediatric Laboratory Medicine had its triennial meeting there. Although much of the time was spent at the conference - really, we did get to tour a bit. I visited the Botanical gardens, and a group of us made the mandatory trek to Raffles Hotel to sit in the bar and drink a Singapore Sling. Actually I sipped someone else's Singaproe Sling just to taste it and then had white wine instead.
I also spent some time shopping and found some terrific tops in a regular department store on Orchard Street. They actually became my most often worn tops for casual and for dance wear. So this visit I really want to see if I can get back to the same store.
Friday, November 20th, Singapore
From the South China Sea, the Diamond Princess entered the Singapore Strait around 3 am and was docked at the pier around 7 am. Although the weather was cloudy it was hot, hot, hot. The noonday temperature was 29 C - maybe not that hot for many people but way too warm for hot-blooded me.
For Singapore, there were 6 of us in the "Weinstein and Women" gang that signed up for the river cruise and Singapore sampler excursion, Carol and Jeane having joined the original group of four, Raoul, Joan, Bernie and me.
I am sure the other guys are wondering just how Raoul does it - getting to explore exotic locales with 5 women trotting quietly and obediently - (not!) after him. But actually as I am sure he will tell you, the reality is that despite, or perhaps, because, he is an organizer and map-reader extraordinaire, he spends a lot of time "herding cats" so to speak - as we rush ahead, fall behind or dash off in various directions to shop and to washrooms, while, gentleman as he is, he waits patiently till the group is together again - and usually will have some newly thought up highly relevant joke to share.
As we boarded the tour bus our guide told us some history and explained the program for the day. In Jan 1819, Sir Stamford Raffles came to the fishing village once known as Temasek, at the southern most tip of the Malay Peninsula and signed an agreement with the Sultan of the Island that made it an independent state. The name Singapore derives from a legend that a visiting prince saw what he thought was a lion and renamed the island Singa Pura or Lion City. It has a fascinating history as a trade centre and military base but trade was cut off when it was occupied by Japan during WW II. In 1965 it was declared an independent republic.
The population is about 76% Chinese, 15% Malay, 7% Indian and Pakistani and the rest - others. We were going to see the older part of Singapore, the more modern part, and take a cruise on the Singapore river.
Our first stop was in the older part of the city where we were going to taste the Malaysian and Singaporean breakfast specialty called Kaya Toast.
This is bread toasted over an open fire and spread with the Kaya mixture of egg, sugar and coconut milk and served with a cup of rich tea or coffee.
The place we visited was one of a chain of kopi tiams (breakfast and coffee shops) in this area, called Ya Kun Kaya Toast.
I have to admit that I could not eat the stuff - it was that cardboardy type of white bread and soooooo sweet! But then at home I don't eat jam or marmalade or honey on my toast either. I do enjoy whole wheat toast soaked with my oh-so-healthy butter/oliveoil/grapeseed oil blended spread (tastes like butter, spreads like margarine and has the healthiest oils). But other people seemed to enjoy the Kaya toast a lot. Sweet tooth versus savory, I guess.
The guide pointed out the old style houses built with storefronts below and second floor verandah-like doors that lead nowhere to let the air flow through to lessen the heat.
She was describing the life of the early Chinese labourers. The statue commemorates the street pedlars. my shoulders ached just standing next to it.
From there we walked through a mall towards the more modern part of Singapore, on our way to the river for the river boat cruise.
The Singapore River is a small river in Singapore but of great historical importance. The Singapore River flows from the central region in the southern part of Singapore before emptying into the ocean. The Central Area is a business district, with huge buildings and shops surrounding it. This is where Sir Stamford Raffles established the 1st trading port in Singapore and the Singapore River is the most famous river in Singapore.
The downtown core surrounds the mouth of the Singapore River and southeastern portion of its watershed, and is part of Singapore's central business district. It is one of the most dense areas in Singapore and impressive skyscrapers tower around it.
The cruise in this area takes you past Raffles Place, the Parliament House, the Supreme Court and City Hall as well as numerous commercial buildings and cultural landmarks. Refurbished warehouses have been turned into enticing tourist malls.
We also passed the Esplanade Theatre on the Bay which has a magnificant concert hall apparently and a 2000 seat theatre.
After the boat trip on the Singapore river we went off to Chinatown on the Southern banks of the Singapore River. We visited the Fuk Tak Chi Museum, that focuses on life in the original Chinatown.
We finished off with about half an hour to shop in the street markets of Chinatown. Weinstein's Women all promptly disappeared into the nooks and crannies of the street market leaving him to sip his beer in peace. Unlike the sailor with a gal in every port, Raoul told me over supper way back in Beijing that his objective was to make sure he had a beer in every port. Much safer I'm sure, and less expensive.
Eventually we all emerged carrying bags of various sizes and made it back to the bus which took us back to the ship. Unfortunately there was no time to go to Raffles Hotel or for me to get to Orchard Road - the one place I really wanted to shop. The ship was to sail around 4:30 and we had to be back well before that.
After dinner dancing was again a bit messed up as Club Fusion was featuring a Country and Western Hoe Down Party - Yee ha ! Carrie suggested that instead we dance in the central atrium area where Mauritzio was playing great dance music from 9 pm. Kim and I sat and chatted for a while waiting for the others to arrive but finally they drifted in and Mauritzio started up.
It was quite a strange experience dancing in the atrium. As you can see from the pictures people were lined up along the railings at each level, looking down on us. It almost became a performance rather than just dancing.
I got to do a bolero with Brian, who of course can really perform with great extension and gorgeous lines: and I must admit it made me stretch taller and try to match his extension. The bolero really lends itself to that sort of opening up, I think - its so slow and gentle and feels so great to dance. I guess that a little more "performance" is what I need.
Later we moved into the Wheelhouse Lounge but it was quite full and the band seemed a bit off and the guys were tired, so we stopped early.
Saturday, November 21st, the last full day cruising - towards Bangkok and the end of our journey
Although it was the last day of the cruise we had a busy schedule. Apart from the morning workshops Carrie had also arranged for an extra workshop to be taught by Greg on Quickstep. We also had to sort out disembarcation, and pack our suitcases.
Brian taught a workshop on Westcoast Swing trying to get us to feel the connection for the forward and back movements. So he gave us an exercise to work on for that.
We also did a couple of variations on the basic steps.
Then he also went over the salsa variation he had taught us way back. The bit with the checks and the jazzy step.I remembered it fine again when he went over it but incorporating the steps into the dance - well, again we will see how the guys lead it.
After the workshop Raoul, Helene, Jean and I went off to the Reception where there was quite a line up of folks sorting out bills, travel and other things. There was some confusion about the disembarcation process for the next day and we spent a lot of time trying to sort things out at the reception area.
Basically Raoul, Helene, Jeae and I were staying at the same hotel - not one on the Princess transfer list - so we wanted to disembark together and get transport to the hotel. For some reason Princess had me listed for a transfer to the ShangriLa Hotel where Carol was staying and I did not want to end up paying for something I was not using.
It took ages but Raoul managed to make contact with the hotel where we were staying and arrange for a van to pick us up - "at the pier not the airport" as he repeated about a hundred times. We picked up identically coloured luggage labels and arranged the time tomorrow that we would meet in the Savoy Restaurant to leave the ship.
Then we dispersed. I went back to the cabin. By this time Carol had finished her packing so I could get down to finishing mine. Because I was spending two nights in Bangkok before travelling home I wanted to sort out my luggage so that everything I would need would be in my one smaller duffelbag. That took some planning. I really have to figure out how to simplifiy these trips - the difficulty is accounting for the dancing - clothes and shoes.
Those of us who were up for it met in the Wheelhouse lounge at 5:15 for some instruction on quickstep before supper. Greg basically focused on the spin turn. I guess that most people there had not done much quickstep. Actually now that I think of it I think I may have got to dance only one quickstep the whole of this cruise. And even on previous occasions, the range of steps I have encountered is pretty limited compared to the numerous patterns I have learned back home.
Generally they do the basic steps: quarter turn to the right, progressive chasse, forward lock step and a spin turn. These are what I was taught in the beginner bronze class. Very occasionally someone will do a back lock and running finish or a fish tail.
The American smooth dances are waltz, foxtrot, Viennese Waltz and tango - quickstep is not included so I suppose it does not get taught much at the lower levels of dance.
Actually I think it would be difficult to dance for example my Gold level routine in this environment, even if we were the only couple on the floor as the space is fairly confined for the speed of the music. Maybe it would work on a floor like the Queen's Ballroom on the Queen Mary II but even that is a little small I think. Pity because its a fun dance and great aerobic exercise.
We had to have our luggage tagged and ready and outside our cabins by 10 that evening so after dinner most of us went to finish packing before meeting in the Explorers Lounge to dance to the music of Exotique. We all packed it in fairly early and said goodbye to the folks we were not going to see the next day.
Marci, Carol and I made our way up to the Horizons Grill for a late night snack. I had some fruit. And I was asleep by midnight.