Thursday, April 28, 2011

BANGKOK - DUBAI 4/10 - 5/3/11

This beautiful python weighed close to 20 pounds
Not all of Southeast Asia is as described in my last blog.  Indeed, Singapore is just the opposite: Exceedingly clean, well run and economically successful. With a population of 5 million people, Singapore is highly controlled democracy and one of the busiest cargo ports in the world. Our Round Island Tour showed us parts of the island we had not seen before. 

Tiny fish nibble at our feet to clean away dead skin 
Another Asian success story is Malaysia.  Our first ever visit to Kuala Lumpur was a happy surprise.  It is not quite as clean and pristine as Singapore but it too is thriving economically and is actually much more reasonable to live in.  The country has about 28 million people, a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian people.  Like Singapore, it was invaded and occupied by the Japanese during WW II.   It was fun to be driven around the city of Penang in trishaws.  We had tea at the Eastern Orient Hotel -- designed by the same architect who did Raffles in Singapore.

The beautiful Eastern Oriental Hotel in Penang, Malaysia
Sri Lanka is finally at peace after years of civil warfare.  (Although we heard some fighting broke out after we left.)   It is crowded and poor like most of Asia, but thanks to a government led initiative, the sidewalks and streets are very clean.

Life on Kerala backwaters Cochin, India
India is quite a different story.  What a country of contrasts!  Some of the richest people in the world are Indians.  Yet 900 million of the 1.2 billion population live on $2 or less a day.  Everything about India is colorful and chaotic.  Two of the most fascinating things about India we discovered in Mumbai.  The Dobi Ghat laundry employs 10,000 people.  They pick up your laundry, wash, iron and deliver it back to you.  No item has ever been stolen and it is rare that items are sent to the wrong home.  Then there are the lunch trains.  This defies the imagination…

Dhobi Ghat Laundry Mumbai, India
First of all, imagine over 5,000 people crowding into trains meant to hold about 1,500 people.  These workers may travel up to 3 hours each way to work in Mumbai.  There is not a spare inch on the train to carry lunch buckets.  So laborers pick up their lunches from home in the morning and put them on a later train.  Other laborers pick them up at the train station in Mumbai and deliver them to the work place.  Then the lunch buckets are picked up from the work place around 2pm, put on a train for the journey back, picked up at the station and delivered to the home from whence they came.  The lunch buckets may be handled by up to 15 people in a single day.  How many times has the wrong bucket been delivered?  Once in millions and millions of deliveries.  One can’t help but think these illiterate workers at the Dhobi Ghat and who deliver the lunch buckets could run India better than it is presently being run. 

Our wonderful cabin steward
Nonetheless, India’s economy is growing at the rate of 8.8%.  It has come a long way in recent years, but still has a long way to go.  One reason China surpasses India in virtually every area is that India is a democracy and cannot be as easily governed and controlled as China.  But the place is fascinating and the people are wonderful.  I feel very fortunate that we were able to spend 5 weeks here in 2007 to see and experience so much of Incredible India. 
Our first stop in the United Arab Emirates on the Arabian Peninsula was Fujairah on the Gulf of Oman.  It is a dry and barren land but very clean.  We did a Desert Safari.  4 wheel SUVs drove us out to the desert, up, down, over and around the beautiful dunes.  It’s quite a thrill.  The weather now is extremely hot and will continue to be as we make our way into the next segment.