Saturday, March 06, 2004

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia--Day 36

Today I woke up and caught a cab over to the Petronas Towers which used to be the highest buildings in the world. You can get tickets to go up to the top of the towers and look out, which I thought sounded pretty cool. However when I got there I found out that they had already “sold out” of the free tickets for the day and unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to go back. The Petronas Towers are also part of a gigantic shopping mall, so I wandered around that for a bit, then made it outside where there were several fountains and a nice garden area, as well as a little swimming area for children. I sat down for a while and was approached by two separate groups asking for a picture with me in it. I agreed, as long as I could take some pictures too!

I walked around the gardens for a while and then went back inside the huge mall for lunch. Then I got a taxi over to the Islamic Arts Museum and National Mosque of Malaysia which was absolutely fantastic. I had to wear a head scarf and cover my legs (I mistakenly wore my skirt instead of trousers) and had a peaceful time walking around and taking some neat pictures. Afterwards I headed over to the Museum for another few hours of wandering around and then heard some music playing as I was walking out. I followed to where it was coming from and found a huge outdoor amphitheater where a large outdoor concert was being held. I sat down and watched (until the ants started to bite!) and then walked around a bit leistering to the music and taking some pictures.

After listening for a while I walked over to the sculpture gardens nearby and then caught a cab back to my hotel where I packed up my things, getting ready to head to Thailand tomorrow!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia--Day 35

Today was a surprisingly wonderful day. I woke up and met up with my taxi driver Zainal after eating breakfast at the hotel (where I had to explain again that yes, it was just me wanting to eat) and we headed off towards Taiping, which is about a two hours drive from Kuala Lumpur. The scenery was just fabulous with magnificent palm trees everywhere and green hillsides and amazing rock formations. We eventually got to Taiping and had to drive through the town to get to the zoo, which was just on the outskirts amidst a beautiful park and golf course.

That's when I saw them.

The signs. The signs that I couldn t believe that I was seeing: Zoo Taiping and NIGHT SAFARI. What?? NIGHT Safari?!? I didn t know about this! Oh no, please, Please, PLEASE don t mean that the hippos are on display at the Night Safari! My heart starts pounding. My hands are sweating. My knees are shaking. Its 10 am and I figured I had a 50/50 chance that I would be seeing the hippos this morning, but the horrible pit that was forming in my stomach was telling me otherwise.

Once we arrived at the zoo and parked, I headed to the ticket counter to get my tickets. Zainal was going to come in with me, but then opted not to at the last minute. So I headed in alone and to my relief, I found that the day zoo and night safari were in fact the exact same thing. The night safari part just meant that they were also on display at night under  moonlight as well as during the day. Thank goodness.

More joy came with finding the zoo map with a huge NILE HIPPOPOTAMUS sign pointing out where they were. However the zoo was laid out with two loops, with visitors asked to head in one direction only. I inquired to a zookeeper if I could go the other way, and he told me that I couldn t because he feared that I would  get lost. Hmm, considering that the map pointed out very clearly where the hippos were (which was not far from where we were standing, just in the  wrong direction) I assured him that I wouldn t get lost. After much debating, he finally pointed me in the direction that I needed to head and not a minute later I was standing in front of the home of Raye (the male), Alif (the female) and Agos (the baby).

Alif and Agos were really interested in me and their habitat composed of a really huge pond and a dirt area for them to lie on, but mostly the gigantic pond. So I walked over to the far side away from them and Alif and Agos followed. It was funny cause I couldn t see them since they were walking under the murky water, but I could see the trails of bubbles that they were leaving and could see that they were heading in my direction. I snapped a few photos but that s when the best thing that has happened to me in a long time happened.

The zookeeper came. It was FEEDING TIME!

Whohoo! I couldn t believe my luck. Well, I guess it was bound to change at some point. So the zookeeper came over and started throwing what looked like coconuts into the water (they weren t I m sure, but I was so far away I couldn t really tell) and the four of us (me and the hippos) raced as fast as we could to where the food was. It was amazing-all three of them got right out of the water and stood there with their HUGE mouths wide open waiting for food. Snap snap snap. Perfect! I couldn t hold back my excitement and was just laughing as the hippos chomped away. The zookeeper smiled at me (although I am sure he thought I was nuts since I was so excited) and pointed out their names to me while he threw whole bunches of bananas and bread down to the hippos hungry mouths, which were so close that I really could have petted them, but left that up to the zookeeper.

This lasted for a good five minutes, which was just great and the perfect amount of time to get lots of pictures. I was happy, and I had only been there for like twenty minutes which must have been a record. I grabbed the rest of my things and headed back out to the entrance of the zoo where I ran into a nice Australian guy who was photographing the Macaws. He mentioned that he had been at the zoo earlier this week and for a brief moment I thought that he too might be a zoo photographer, but no, he was just traveling around.

I wasn't really up to touring the rest of the zoo even though it was a really nice looking place, since I had walked around for a long time yesterday at the Kuala Lumpur zoo and 4 times at the Singapore Night Safari. I was feeling a little zoo-ed out. Apparently the zoos in Malaysia are huge for the tourist industry (according to the Australian) which explained all of the construction that was going on at the zoo--they were acquiring more and more animals due to its popularity and needed more space for them! I chatted with him for a while and then headed back to the taxi where Zainal was waiting for me.

So short? He says to me, you walk very fast through the zoo! I just smiled and said yep, let s go!

So we headed back out of Taiping and back in the direction of Kuala Lumpur (or KL as they call it here). However this time we took the more interesting and scenic route, rather than the direct highway approach that we took on the way. At this point it was about 11:15 am and so we had plenty of time to get back since I had hired the taxi for the entire day, just in case my luck was different at the zoo!

After driving for a quite a while we stopped to eat lunch around 2 o clock in a small town, where I was greeted with a lot of stares which I am now used to. People are just as interested in me, the foreigner, as I am in them. Zainal and I ate lunch together, he got me a plate of rice and showed me what to put on it (there was a buffet) but I chose not to follow his lead on eating an entire fried fish, scales and everything. We ordered some lemon ice tea which was just fantastic since it was so hot outside but I do have to say that I kept thinking about what might be in my future (aka in the bathroom) after drinking it, ice cubes and all.

After lunch we drove on and it was really nice to take the long road back. We had passed a waterfall on the way to Taiping and on the way back there was an exit for it, so Zainal asked if I wanted to take it and see the waterfall. Of course! So we headed over to the waterfall which was about 6 km off of the road and he kept asking me if I was going to go swimming in it. In the waterfall? I didn t think so, but when we got to the base of the falls I realized what he meant. There were several families and young people there all swimming in the pools at the bottom of the falls. It looked really inviting and I was seriously tempted to just jump right in. Zainal and I walked up several flights of concrete steps to get to a hanging bridge that went across the waterfall, which was really neat. I snapped a couple of pictures and then figured that we would be on our way back. But Zainal wanted to actually go up to the waterfall, so we walked through some bushes and ended up right at the waterfall.

That' s when I slipped. I don t know how it happened (well, I do, the rocks were really slippery) but I managed to fall over with this sort of slow motion grace that only happens when you fall sometimes and Zainal managed to miss it entirely as he was walking further towards the waterfall on some rocks. The group of teenagers nearby saw me though and luckily I didn t get hurt too much and was just laughing about it, but in reality my foot hurt really, really bad.

We sat down and just watched the falls for a bit and it was great. It was much cooler by the falls and it was nice to just sit down and take a break from the car. Zainal keeps asking me if I want to go in. Umm, I don t have any more clothes other than these, I try to explain. But I will go in if you go in he says and tries to explain that he doesn t care if I get his car wet, that I could just take off my top if I wanted. I wasn t quite sure if I had heard him correctly but I could tell from his smile what he had said. I told him, in a good natured way, that I wasn t going to be taking off my shirt, thanks.

Although the water did look inviting, I decided not to jump in with the others and we started to head back to the car, where I promised that I would call him tomorrow if I changed my mind and wanted to go in. He told me that he would bring his suit too if we decided to go.

We keep driving and its around 4 o clock at this point so its already taken much longer to get back than it did to get to Taiping which was fine. After driving for a while longer, Zainal asked me if I was tired and if I wanted to get some tea. Um, sure! So we drive a ways to the point of where I was wondering if we were going to get tea and we finally pulled off at a small town. Zainal got out of the car at a little street stall and ordered some fried things and then got back into the car and drove us over to a little open-air restaurant. We got out and he handed me the bag with our fried food in it (when I asked him what they were he told me that he couldn t tell me) and he ordered us two teas.

The fried things turned out to be delicious, and were just long pieces of fried batter with this nut sauce that came in a little bag. They were really good, and the tea was equally as interesting and tasty. The tea was thicker than ordinary tea but it tasted just the same, if not less like tea at first but then having a strong tea aftertaste, if that makes sense. Zainal and I didn t talk, but it was nice that he was taking the time to make our way back to KL and stopping off at these different places.

We made one other stop before making it to KL and that was at a lake which was really pretty, but we only stopped long enough for Zainal to get in a quick cigarette break. The rain kept coming and going and it was really wonderful to be driving around with the smell of fresh rain in the air.

We made it back to KL and I had to stop off at a bank to get money to pay him, so we drove around in the traffic (more like stopped in the traffic instead of driving in it) and eventually found a bank that accepted my card and made it back to the hotel around 8:30. What a long day! I paid and thanked him and he reminded me that if I changed my mind about the waterfalls, just to let him know. After washing up I headed back downstairs to eat dinner and then worked on organizing the pictures from today.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Singapore--Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia--Day 34

It seemed best that I keep going on my original itinerary instead of trying to stay another few days in Singapore in hopes of getting some good pictures of the Night Safari hippos as there are so few days that I have at each place along my way. So, I had to put the Singapore hippos  on hold and head off to Malaysia today.

Today started off early with checking out of the hotel and catching a cab to the airport for my 8:45 am flight. I made it to the airport 2 hours early and checked in my bags and spent the remainder of the time waiting while flipping through People magazine. As always, my flight to Kuala Lumpur was just fine, and it was really a short journey (only about 35 minutes total). Once we landed I got in line for immigration and finally had good luck with the lines and made it through in no time. I got my bags and met my driver to take me to the hotel.

The hotel that I am staying at is in downtown Kuala Lumpur which is about an hour from the airport, so we had a long drive to get to the hotel. That was fine, I spent most of it trying to watch the scenery and not fall asleep because I was so tired from not getting much sleep last night. After checking into my hotel and putting away my things, I grabbed my daypack together and went off in search of the Zoo Negara (National Zoo) of Malaysia.

This time around though, my taxi driver was a little less helpful than Anil and Ruberu. J When I suggested that he go into the zoo with me, he looked at me as if I were nuts. Hmm, maybe I didn t need him to come in and things would be just fine. He offered to wait for me outside of the zoo which sounded like a good idea since it seemed like not many cabs passed through the area. I went and bought my ticket and found out that the hippos have feeding time everyday at 3:45! Perfect! I ran back out to tell my taxi driver that he probably shouldn t wait 4 hours for me and that instead we arranged for him to pick me up tomorrow and take me to the Taiping Zoo, which is about two hours north of here.

I headed back into the zoo. It was hot. It was muggy. I hadn t had anything to eat all day with all of the traveling and grabbed some water and an ice-cream to keep me going (very healthy, I know). I looked on the map for the hippos and there they were, right next to the giraffes. Only problem was that when I went to look for them, I couldn t find them. Oh no! I walked down this long path past the giraffes, where they should ve been, and there was nothing but a blocked sidewalk with workers fixing it. Frustrated, I walked in circles (not literally) before finally finding another map which showed the hippos, right where they were supposed to be, past the giraffes. So I made a second attempt to find the hippos and walked past the men that were working. I found the hippos all right, but the PYGMY hippos, not the Nile. Argh.

After wandering around again for a while and then finally finding a handheld map, I found out where the Nile hippos were, right were they were on the paper maps, but not on the huge maps plastered around the zoo. So I went past the monkeys and past the children s play area, and finally found them.

There are three Nile hippos at the zoo, two males and one female. There are the father and mother (Chombi and Kibu, respectively) and their baby son Duke, who was a feisty little fellow. He was constantly chewing on the bars and making quite a fuss. It seemed though that Dad was on one side of the water and Mom and Baby were on the other, and so the three spent their afternoon sleeping and playing in the water with their faces all pointing towards each other in a little huddle, even though they were separated. Chombi is a huge male and I was able to get a glimpse of his body when he rose up out of the water a few times. Luckily Kibu got out of the water and walked around a bit, however there were many bars in the way so it was difficult to get a clear shot. Duke was really funny, and kept harassing Mom and Dad. Snap snap snap.

By this time it was about 1:45 so I had another 2 hours until feeding time was going to occur. The trio didn t seem to be moving all that much (Duke settled down) and so I walked to the baboons nearby and watched them for a while, who are funny to watch and not nearly as cute as the hippos, but entertaining nonetheless. Several minutes passed as I read my guidebook on Southeast Asia and started reading all about the dreaded mosquito bites and Malaria again. This is when I realized that I had forgotten my long sleeved shirt and was probably being eaten alive by infected mosquitoes that very moment. So I got up to go try to find a nice, cooler place to be (weather wise) and relatively free from mosquitoes.

My plan didn t work, I couldn t find anyplace so instead I opted for the tram stop (the dreaded trams again) and read while I waited for time to pass. Several minutes later I was joined by an interesting guy who was more interested in me and where I was from, and we chatted for a few minutes. He wanted to know why I came all the way to Malaysia just to go to the zoos! J He left and not two seconds later it started to downpour with rain.

That s when I realized that I forgot my umbrella AND my rain jacket. Ugh. I just kept thinking, well at least today is not as bad as yesterday. Throughout the rest of the time that I waited, the rain came and went several times. I finally put down my book and went to see where the loud music was coming from that I could hear over a loudspeaker. It turned out to be a chimpanzee show with a host and all, and so I took shelter from the rain in the amphitheater along with all but 10 other people. There was this show going on and hardly anyone there and rain kept interrupting it. I was definitely amused.

Finally it came just about time for the hippo feeding so I went back over to the hippos who were enjoying the wet rain. They saw me and grunted a lot and Duke even got out of the water a bit to take a good look at me and of course, pose for his picture J I waited. And waited. And waited for the zookeeper to come and feed them! Soon it was well past 3:45 and heading into 4:30!! I didn t want to leave the three because I knew that if I did THAT would be the moment when the zookeepers came, and so I kept on waiting. Finally I figured that something was up and that there wasn t going to be feeding time today, so I went on a search for some answers. I found a zoo employee and he told me that they don t feed the hippos on days that it is raining. Hmmm, not ever? They must be hungry hippos then!

Anyways, he was very helpful and we talked to the hippo zookeepers over the intercom and they gave us the names of the hippos and apologized for not feeding them today, but that it was too late because the zoo closes at 5 o clock (it was about that time).

So I hit the gift shop and then went back into the parking lot to find a taxi home (the ONLY taxi in the parking lot). Anyways, as my luck had it there were two other young people like me also heading for the taxi and we all sort of got there at the same time. So we decided why don t we share the taxi? So we hopped in and I met Tim (from Germany) and Kristy (from Georgia) who were both extremely nice. We had a great time talking in the cab to the center of Kuala Lumpur and it was really nice to meet people my age!

After parting ways with them I headed back to the hotel to do the usual photo stuff and then had dinner at a Chinese restaurant in the hotel. The people working in the restaurant were really nice to me and were interested in talking to me, which was nice. So, where are you from? The waiter asked. Oh, from the States, I say. Oh? The State? Where is the State? He says back. Oh, I mean, uh, not the State& umm& I meant, oh, well, never mind. Both the waiter and waitress who brought me my good kept insisting that I switch my chopsticks for a knife and fork, even though I kept saying that I was fine, I could use chopsticks. You don t want chopsticks? Are you SURE? The waitress says giggling profusely. Umm, yeah, why? Do I look like I need them? I say back smiling (knowing far too well that the disaster on and around my plate gave it all away) My food kept falling everywhere and at least we were all getting a good laugh at it. I stuck to my chopsticks and ended up having a nice dinner and excellent frozen mango custard for dessert.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Singapore--Day 33

So today was the day that I was supposed to get the hippo pictures of the three hippos at the Night Safari. I had organized a private tour, and was going there early to make sure that everything would work out ok. I would go, take the pictures, then be able to leave& .right? Not quite. Here s how what turned out to be the most frustrating and stressful day of the trip started out.

I woke up and again had to wait until later on in the day to go to the Night Safari (hence the night part) so I thought I would go check out an exhibit going on at the Singapore Convention Center. Well I didn t make it that far, but ended up in Little India which is an interesting area of Singapore which was much like, well, India. J So I walked through a few shops and then saw a girl getting a henna tattoo on her hand. Ooooh, I ve always wanted to get one, so I queued up and asked to have something done on my foot. When I meant foot, I meant sort of on my ankle so that I could still wear my shoes but before I knew it she had taken off my shoe and started drawing with the henna on my foot.

Great. I mean, it looked great, but this also meant that either I wasn t going to be able to wear shoes for a while or I would have to wait for it to dry. Turns out, what she said as  only 15 minutes turned out to be about 45 minutes waiting for the henna to dry so that I could put my shoes back on. However, honestly, it was worth it because now I have this awesome design on my foot (don t worry, I won t go any further in trying to get this permanently done!) and I am impressed with how it turned out. Anyways, after Little India I headed back through some more shopping centers (as it goes in Singapore) and tried to walk to the Botanical Gardens but ended up walking the wrong way and having to just head back to the hotel since it was around 5 o clock by this point.

I got my things ready for the zoo and went to a camera shop on my way to pick up a tripod. I was all set, I was going to use my nifty new tripod and take pictures of the hippos with my ultra-cool camera and life was going to be great!

So I catch a cab to the Zoo (I should really be calling it the Night Safari). Anyways, I get there at 6 o clock and it doesn t even OPEN until 7 o clock so I eat dinner at one of the restaurants there and wait for the ticket booth to open. Once it does I am one of the first people in line to get my tickets and I proudly state to the ticket lady that I am part of the private tour and she hands me the special sticker that is going to get me on my own private buggy and to take pictures of the hippos.


Well, she hands me the sticker and tells me to go wait over there by the trams for my guide. Okok, so I go and sit down. My guide comes over to me and I immediately recognize her as the girl who gave me my first tour of the Night Safari (on the first tram that I went on) and she turns out to be a really nice person, but gets extremely confused when I tell her that I would prefer to see the hippos FIRST, then go on a tour of the rest of the park. Oh no, she says, we have to go to the show first and THEN on the tour. Oh NO, I say, I don t WANT to go to the show (please!) I want to just please go take some pictures of the hippos first. Hmm. I try to make my case with her but she decides that she has to go talk to her supervisor first. Meanwhile, let me remind you, the sun is quickly going down.

So I wait. And wait and meanwhile, several trams have already passed on their way to the hippos. I JUST WANT TO SEE THE HIPPOS I am fuming in my mind and eventually she comes back with her supervisor who is VERY unhelpful. I m sorry m am, you cannot go on this safari tour before the show, and he goes on this who tirade of what happens if other people come and want to pay for the private tour and then they can t go because we have the buggy?

But I PAID for a PRIVATE TOUR!! Screw them, I just want to take the hippo pictures!!

I try to make my case with the Supervisor but am VERY annoyed at this point and try to explain to them that this is the REASON I am here is to do this. Take the hippo pictures. Please. Now.

Finally after some debate (and a lot of waiting) the Supervisor finally gives in but now has to go in search of the keys for the buggy. Oh man, I can t believe it!! He locates the keys and we hop into the buggy and set off for the hippos. By now my spirits have set, much like the sun. Mr. Supervisor could tell that he had done something very wrong by making me wait (based on the mood that I was in at this point) and then began apologizing profusely that he made me wait. I was furious and went off about how I came here for this, and how NO ONE was accommodating to me and how hard is it to just get a stupid buggy so that I could take these pictures? (ok I didn't say that last part but that was that I was thinking!)

I m not sure exactly how to explain how I felt at this moment, but it was mostly in between bursting out crying and having a panic attack at the same time.

We get to the hippos and I ve already gotten out my tripod and so quick as a flash (haha, yeah right--I m not ALLOWED to use flash dang it) I start snapping away. But then, to my horror, a stupid tram comes and Mr. Supervisor makes me get back into the tram and then speeds off so that we can go see the show. WHAT?? I don t CARE about seeing the same show again, Mr. Supervisor, I just want to take pictures.

He feels really bad. REALLY bad, but he says that he has to take me back and then if I needed to after the show and then after my tour he could take me back to the hippos one last time--if I promise NOT to use my flash.

Oh man. For the next two hours I am subjected to not only the same silly show as my first night, but another tour (this would be my fourth) and I had to get out at all of the walking trails with the group and pretend that I was interested in the other animals. Ok, that was harsh. Of COURSE I was interested in the other animals, its just that at this point my morale had dug itself sooo deep, soo low into the ground that I didn t really care about seeing the spotted leopards and golden cats, or the world s largest rats.

Finally we make to back to the hippos, but alas, only for a few short moments. The girl sensed my desperation and knew that I was here just for the hippos so she let me off of the tram to dart across the tramway to take a few pictures. And I used my flash. At that point I didn t care if I got kicked out of the zoo, just as long as I got SOME pictures and without my tripod and with no light, there was no way I was going to be able to get a good steady shot.

Back on the buggy, I knew it was not going to work. I had failed. I hadn t gotten these pictures that I was supposed to get. And tomorrow I am heading to Malaysia and there is now no time to go back to the Night Safari and get the much needed pictures. What was I going to do??

Back at the hotel I downloaded my pictures and saw the three black hippos with red eyes laying in the water.


(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Singapore--Day 32

Since I couldn t go back to the Night Safari tonight, I decided to spend the day touring around Singapore and then ending up on Sentosa Island, which is this manmade beach island just off of the shores of Singapore, which you are able to get to via cable car.

This morning I spent first walking through Singapore s Chinatown, taking in a few shops here and there and stopping off at a really fantastic Hindu temple on my way walking around. Afterwards I walked over to the central business district of Singapore where there are lots of really huge skyscrapers all along the Singapore river. I decided to get some lunch and stopped at one of the many seafood restaurants along the Quay (which is pronounced  key btw). I ordered crab meat and broccoli, which sounded just wonderful but then when I got my food, it turned out to be more like lumpy broccoli and this sort of horrible looking white goo all over them. Hmm. Not too appetizing, but I ate a good portion of it anyways since I was really hungry, hoping that I wouldn t be seeing this later on in the day! J

After lunch I hopped on a boat cruise which takes you around the downtown area on an old junk boat (that s what they are called). Along with a family of three (the parents and a very cute little girl) we were off on our cruise. Starting along I sat on one side and the family sat on the other. We exchanged hellos and they were really interested in my camera. So I showed it to them while the tour was getting started (more like an automated tour, not a live guided tour) and then sat back to listen to the recorded commentary. The little girl on the boat kept looking at me and so I would smile, then she would smile back and then her mother told me (they were German) that she (the little girl) wanted to sit next to me, and was that alright?

I smiled and the little girl came and sat right next to me and showed me her drawing that she had made during her lunch and so I took a photo of it with my camera and then showed it to her on the screen. Her eyes widened and she smiled at me with absolute delight. I then took a picture of her and then showed her on the screen and she was thrilled. She kept pressing the little viewing button (where you can see the last picture taken) and it was so cute.

The boat cruise lasted about 45 minutes and was actually really interesting because it was obviously a lot easier to sit back and take in the sights then to walk through to them all in the muggy heat. After the tour (and saying goodbye to my new friend) I headed to the Asian Civilizations Museum which was extremely interesting. They have numerous displays of practically everything related to all of Asia.

One funny thing about it was that it had these automated guides. You would walk into a room and there would be a TV screen with a person s face on it (a real person) and if you pressed the screen or even came near it (they were motion sensors) the person would start talking to you. This at first totally caught me off guard when all of a sudden something started talking. The funny thing was that when the  guides were not in use, instead of sitting there as a still picture, they would sit there and sing, or hum, or pray, or do whatever (one woman was looking around in all sorts of directions, another was rubbing a piece of material against her face) and so you would also walk into a room and hear some humming and wonder where on earth it was coming from? Oh, the automated guide, of course!

I spent a good deal of the rest of the afternoon at the museum then hopped on the MRT (subway) stopping first at a shopping mall place to transfer over to Sentosa Island. After a bit of confusion I figured out where the cable cars were to get onto the island and I boarded a  glass bottomed car on my way over to the Island, getting some nice views of Singapore on my way over.

The island was interesting, but very, very touristy. On the island there are several things to do, including a butterfly sanctuary, beaches, and even a golf course. I opted to go to the aquarium as I had heard the night before at the Zoo that it was supposed to be spectacular. Well, spectacular is not the words that I will use to describe it, but it did turn out to be interesting. The best (and really only) part about it was that you could stand on this moving walkway and then the fish and sharks were swimming right over you, so you were in this glass tunnel. It was surprisingly interesting, especially when the HUGE sting rays passed overhead, as I have never really seen the bottom of a sting ray. I was impressed, but not by how much it cost me to get in!

After the aquarium I headed onto the Monorail system and took sort of a mini tour of the island on the Monorail, which was interesting but I sort of had that I m-at-Disneyland feeling and it took quite a while to get back to where I wanted to go, which was the musical fountain (again feeling like Disney). Each night they have a water and musical performance so I sat down and waited for it to begin, along with a bazillion other people just like me.

The show was impressive and even included parts where huge fireballs were shot up into the air, actually quite close to the audience and to the plants nearby. The  high point of the show was when the Merlion statue (a cross between the mermaid and the lion- Singapore s sort of mascot) lit up its huge green eyes and so there was all sorts of lights and water spraying everywhere and music blaring. It was neat for all that it was worth and after the show I eventually wound back up at the cable car station to hop back onto my car over to Singapore.

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Singapore--Day 31

Today began with a trip down Orchard Road, which is the heart of Singapore’s shopping district. The hippos at the Singapore Zoo are not actually in the Zoo, but are to be found at the Night Safari which is next to, and completely separate from, the Singapore Zoo. it’s the first night safari zoo in the world! Pretty exciting! However, this was to pose the inevitable problem of trying to photograph hippos at night, and without the use of a flash (prohibited by the park).

After getting ready and eating breakfast and making copies of the hippo photos, I set off to find a cable release for my camera so that I can use my tripod and take more effective pictures of the hippos. No luck. I couldn’t find a store that sold them, which is funny because there were about a billion electronic stores around.

So the rest of the afternoon was spent browsing though the shops. I headed back to the hotel with enough time to get my things and head to the zoo before it opened at 7:30. I decided to take the Mass Rapid Transit (Singapore’s subway) but found myself among many commuters and a very crowded train. I got off at the second stop and decided to hail a taxi from there, which I assumed would be faster than the subway since it would be more of a direct shot.

Unfortunately we hit some bad patches of traffic, but all in all it wasn’t too bad, however I am not sure whether or not the subway was slower! J Anyways, I made it to the Zoo and headed inside, in search of the hippos.

I got my ticket and opted not to go on the tram ride around the park, and hit the first walking path that I found. Unfortunately I had to walk quite a ways to get to where the hippos were on my map and it was raining, but luckily not too much. The Zoo was absolutely fascinating and it was awesome to see the animals in the dark.

Before I knew it, I had passed where the hippos were. How could I miss them? Turns out that they are located on the TRAM ONLY side of the pathways. Oh no! So I double backed to where I could get off of the pedestrian walkway only to see a huge sign DO NOT WALK ON THE TRAMWAY. One of the zookeepers saw me backtracking and was worried that I hadn’t seen the Tiger yet. I didn’t feel like explaining to him that I didn’t really need to see the Tiger right now, but instead just told him that I was planning on seeing it later. I asked if I could hop on the tram at that point and he said that I could since there was a tram station nearby. Perfect! Maybe I could hop on and then hop off at the hippos?

No such luck. You were definitely not allowed to just “hop off” of the tram. I prepped my camera and as we passed the hippos tried to photograph them, but with no avail. We were moving too fast and the light was obviously not too promising and my window of opportunity passed quickly. Putting my camera back into its case, I had a half and hour more on the tram until I was back at the beginning of the zoo.

At 9 o’clock each night the Nigh Safari puts on a wild animal show, so I thought I would check it out (since the light wasn’t getting any better at this point!) So I went and watched the show, which was very entertaining. They brought out huge mountain lions and some little (and not so little) rodents and brought up some “helpers” from the audience. The best was when they brought out a gigantic boa constrictor that had been kept under the stage right in front of where I was sitting. I never knew one could scream so loud than when the woman in front of me did when they brought it out. She had been sitting with feet on its hidden holding area the whole time and never knew it and was shocked to see it so close.

After the show, I bought another ticket on the tram, this time a full roundtrip ticket. I inquired about private tours of the park, but was not impressing the woman at the counter since I was not part of a large group. I got back on the tram and rode for another 20 minutes before getting to the 2nd tram stop (where I boarded the first time) and I got my camera ready. I decided that I should try and video tape the hippos on my digital camera (due to all of the conditions) and see how that turned out.

We came, we saw, we went. It all happens so fast that I had just enough time to get the hippos for a few precious seconds before we were off again to repeat what I had already heard before. This definitely was not good. I needed to be shown the hippos in day light and given a proper walking tour.

Back at the main entrance (45 minutes later) I decided to inquire at the reception desk for a private guide after stopping at the satay kiosk and getting a late dinner. The woman at the desk was extremely helpful and said that if I came on Wednesday at 7pm, I could have a private tour (which meant me and four other people) and I would get to see the wild animal show all over again. J

So I left on the shuttle bus heading to Singapore with hope that I will get to see the hippos close up on Wednesday night, with a better chance to take their pictures. The shuttle ride was great, and I met a nice woman named Vanessa who was a playwright and thought my story about hippo photographing was great!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Colombo, Sri Lanka--Bangkok, Thailand--Singapore--Day 30

As I wrote out my header with where I am and the days, I had to strain to think about what day it could possibly be.

Where am I?

Its been about a month on the road, and I have already hit 7 countries on 3 different continents, not to mention my stopover flights in Thailand and Hong Kong. Its been a crazy journey, that’s for sure.

My flights have been just fine so far, the same goes for the two today and I have become really immune to all things that used to bother me on flights before (turbulence, etc.). Obviously this is because I have been doing SO much traveling and I have realized just how many flights take off each and every day, and that the chances of anything actually happening are so very slim. And considering that I’ve already had something happen to me once before (prior to this trip--the left engine exploded mid-flight) I have had absolutely no worries about anything happening to me. Knock on wood.

Waiting in the Bangkok airport was rough- I almost fell asleep so many times. Plus there was a massage center right across from where I was sitting and I couldn’t stop thinking about getting a massage and how nice that would be, which would make me very sleepy.

I made it to Singapore just fine and was seated next to two Irish girls about my age. I met my driver and we sped away to the hotel. I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived as the man at the hotel check in informed me that I had a package awaiting me from the Concierge. Really?!?! I was so excited. For me?!?!? (Thanks for the hippo t-shirt Dad!).

My hotel room is great and I immediately set up my things and decided to take a “nap” and then get some dinner. Yeah right. It was about 5 o’clock at this point and so I laid down and before I knew it, it is now well past 8 o’clock Monday morning!

(c) 2004 Sarah Galbraith. All Rights Reserved.