September 2007


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Our friends Ken and Susan loaned us a very basic underwater camera, so we decided to give it a try.  It was almost impossible to see through the viewfinder, wearing a snorkeling mask so it felt like I was guessing at each shot.  However, I really couldn’t go wrong and this will give you a bit of an idea of why we love to snorkel.

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Our trip began early on Sunday morning, as we were instructed to check in at the Subang Airport by 7:10, ninty minutes before our scheduled departure.  Unsure of reliability of cabs and distances to the airport, we arrived at 6:50, to a totally empty airport with no sign of an airplane; but the doors were open and we managed to locate the Berjaya Check-in counter.  I think it was close to 8:00 before staff started to arrive and our luggage was weighed and x-rayed, both of which seemed to be totally unmonitored.

 Right on schedule, a Dash -7 plane arrived and the 20 or so people gathered, boarded, assisted by the same people who had issued our boarding passes and x-rayed the luggage.  Take-off was a little shaky and as we climbed, the cabin vents began to emit what looked suspiciously like smoke.  Apparently there are pressurization issues and this was simply condensation from the air-conditioning, much to our relief.

The flight was a short, one hour hop to the island with a very rough landing on a short airstrip on Redang Island.  We were met by a hotel bus which took us to the Berjaya Redang Beach Resort, one of only three resorts on the island, about five minutes down the road.  We were welcomed with a drink of something that tasted very unusual and even the staff’s explanation of it didn’t make us any the wiser.  It might have been fruit juice.

For some reason that we don’t understand, it is “off season” in Malaysia so there were less than 100 people at the resort.  The hotel was a beautiful, open air design nestled on the hill surrounding the most amazing beach and the blue waters of the South China Sea.  We all decided that it was this island that is used for photographs on all the postcards and travel advertisements that make you long to visit a south sea island.

We spent long hours reading on the beach, punctuated by little naps, examining the tidal pools, and snorkelling amongst the coral along the shoreline.  We spent a morning snorkeling at Marine Park and another on a four stop trip that circled the island.  We came to the conclusion that the producers of “Finding Nemo”, had spent time snorkeling before making the movie.  It is indescribable what it feels like to swim surrounded by hundreds of fish of all colours, shapes and sizes, that are feeding on coral that is in itself breathtakingly beautiful.  It did at times feel like you were in a scene where you might just find Nemo.

 We finished each day with our friends over a leisurely meal in the Palm Court restaurant serenaded by the d’Island quartet, who had just an amazing repetiore of all our favourite songs from years gone by, each of which set Bill and Steve off on great discussions of the original artists and their history.

 The week really was a trip of a life time and extra fun because it was ridiculouly inexpensive.

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Twenty-four years ago Pam went into labour with our third child. We had two wonderful sons at home, and as befits a woman of faith, Pam wasn’t asking for a daughter, just a well-born child that she could raise for God. We had Elizabeth (dedicated to God) picked out as a girl’s name for months, but really had not been able to decide on a boy’s name. Perhaps that alone was telling.

I however was praying earnestly for a girl. Not for myself, but for the joy I knew that it would bring Pam. She didn’t know it, but I had already developed a special bond with the boys, a bond that only another Dad will understand. I wanted her to have that special bond with a daughter, and I was just delighted when they announced Liz’s birth.

Through the years I have always tried to let Pam have a little more room with Liz to develop that bond. When discipline was needed I always tried to be the one to step it in so as to preserve their friendship on an even keel. It has meant a rocky road for my relationship with our daughter, but nothing worth giving ever comes without a price.

So on her twenty-fourth birthday I am going to take the opportunity to say just how privileged I have been to be the father of a wonderfully spirited and delightful girl who has put her poor father through the wringer on more than one occassion. I love you dearly Liz, more than I will ever be able to express or even show this side of heaven.

My wish for you this coming year is that you will begin to realize the incredible ability and personality strengths you possess, and start to experience the joy that the full exercise of that ability and those strengths will give you. Happy Birthday, sweetie.

Yesterday morning at about 7:50 we both felt the effects of the second large earthquake that hit Indonesia.  Steve was on the fifth floor of Taylor’s College while I was in our condo, also on the fifth level of the building.  It was an eerie feeling but no local damage was done as the quakes were on the south-western side of Sumatra, away from Malaysia.

There have been 40 tremors in all in the last three days. They are called aftershocks here, but ten of them were above 6 on the Richter scale. Anywhere else each of them would be called significant earthquakes.

Tomorrow we fly out for our first real vacation together since we arrived. We know. It hardly seems fair as we are already in Malaysia. The place is called Palau Redang, and it supposed to be a snorkelers paradise. We will let you know when we get back. Our cell phones will still work, but we may not be able to ‘moderate’ your comments until we get back, so please don’t be offended if you don’t see your comment right away. Love you!

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The week that I spent in Singapore meant much more to us than simply a visit to a wonderful city.  I left early Monday morning to spend a few days in the Singapore office of Trans World Radio, wondering if I could possibly have a role in supporting the team there, specifically in Project Hannah

 I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the team members, hearing reports of the work in various countries in Asia and trying to gain an understanding of the myriad of tasks that go into developing and airing radio programs.  It was great to finally meet Noelle and Andrew, with whom I have been conversing by email and Skype since April.

One of the major projects that has been identified is the need for women’s health programs in many of the target countries.  I have been given the opportunity to work with Andrew and Serene, who has a background in broadcasting, and focus on developing a Women’s Health program, initially for Cambodia.  This will involve doing the background research on health issues and resources so that we have a thorough understanding of the needs of Cambodian women, developing a framework for the programs, visiting the country to understand the relevancy of the information and to develop networks with those who are already active there, as well as providing background information and ongoing support for the script writers, translaters and broadcasters.

I also hope to work with Noelle in the Human Resource area to assist her with a review of their accountability framework, staff performance development and learning plans, and some training and team building activities.  There is clearly enough work to keep me busy for years to come and I am thrilled to finally have a clear plan in place.

Although I have some real doubts about whether I have the knowledge I need to do this work,  in terms of health care, I have much more than anyone  else currently available.  I also have a large network of friends back home, with much more expertise than I and I fully intend to access all the help I can get.  You know who you are so you might as well start sending me information now!

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The Rough Guide (thanks Wyn for the gift) says “(Singapore) has sold its soul for prosperity” and that “improvements in living conditions have been shadowed by a steady loss of the state’s heritage as historic buildings and streets are bulldozed to make way for shopping centres.” Somebody must have dialled that one in from elsewhere, for that is not what we found.

Instead we found the most intelligently designed and conspicuously people-oriented city we have visited in our forty plus years of travel. Historic sites have not only been saved, but lovingly restored so that they gleam with classic elegance. Take the Fullerton Hotel, a frequent stop for Joseph Conrad in his many trips through this port, or the even older Raffles Hotel. Both are still very much a part of the architecture of the city, as are the old Parliament buildings and Court House. The new structures that have been build around them haven’t dwarfed them, as happens in so many cities. In Singapore the new buildings are not huge monoliths like the Petronas Towers in KL, or the TD Center back home, but are modest in height and focused on enhancing the existing streetscape both in proportion and beauty.

 The riverfront is alive with little cafes and pubs in a wonderous fusion of traditional ethnic origins and modern kitsch – like The Clinic, with its hospital bed and wheelchair decor – and at night the entire river and esplanade is alive with people and colour, song and laughter. We had two delightful evenings there, and no, it wasn’t that expensive.

During the day we went to some of the city’s lovely beaches, which were refreshingly clean, both on the sand and in the water (we couldn’t resist!), or strolled through the parks, which were numerous and well-kept. The bike paths were full of cylists, strollers and skaters, all out enjoying the breezes which blow in off the Straits all day long. We did stroll along Orchard Road, the city’s main shopping thoroughfare, but found none of the anxious bustle of KL. Rather there was a leisurely ease to the crowds and a gentle, considerate attitude which was so refreshing after the rudeness of KL’s crowds.

Even the drivers are courteous here, stopping promptly at the crossings to allow pedestrians to cross, signalling on turns and staying in lane. Odd how quickly that all goes out the window once you cross into Malaysia. The traffic is relatively modest for two reasons: the cost of owning a vehicle in this island is extraordinarily high, and the public transit system here has to be the best in the world.

The subway system is clean, prompt, frequent and efficient. That goes for the bus system as well. We never waited longer than four minutes anywhere. All public transport is accessed by a debit card sytem that charges you just for the distance you travel. No one lines up at ticket booths, the stations are spacious and since there are no 7-Elevens or anything else everyone moves through rapidly and I don’t think we saw a single speck of litter or even dirt.

But that goes for the whole city. It is wonderfully clean, with real attention given to providing people space: parks, walkways, open plazas, trees for sound barriers instead of concrete walls. In short, everything that an intelligent and industrious people could do to make their city a liveable and pleasant place for people has been done. The result is a city that is a joy to visit. We will certainly be back!

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August 31st marks Malaysia’s 50th year of Independence and everywhere you go there are signs of the celebration. Not only are all major buildings, parks and highways adorned but individual homes, shops and even vehicles are decorated.  On Saturday night we decided to take the bus out to Putrajaya to see the Fireworks competition, along with several thousand Malaysians. 

The fireworks display, put on by Italy, was fabulous but not nearly as amazing as the gridlock that occurred when every vehicle had to pass through just one intersection to get out of town afterwards. There were no lights at the intersection and the sole policeman that we had seen earlier had disappeared. I can’t say that I blamed the poor man, it was an incredible mess. We were lucky and got through before it locked up and got home in a mere two hours. Some people spent two hours just getting through that one intersection, I’m sure.

Anyway, it’s all part of the learning experience over here, and Malaysia is still a young country going rapidly through stages of development that it is not quite ready for. Everyone is very pleasant and patient with each other so it makes it all fun, if somewhat frustrating for us Westerners. We wish this country well. After only fifty years, it has made some remarkable progress.