Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ugly Guam

The few times we have picked up visitors from the airport, I have felt the need to add a disclaimer as we headed out onto the main road back toward base. Basically, don't judge this place until we get to where you can see the water. The general rule of thumb here is that nature on Guam is gorgeous, even breathtaking in places. But the manmade stuff is what our Thai cooking instructor would outspokenly label "not beautiful." The same elements of moisture, rain, humidity, sun, and heat that make things tend to break also tend to make their beauty deteriorate at an alarmingly fast rate. In fact, destruction may be the only thing around here that happens quickly.
  This is Guam's central library (there may be more, but this is the only one I know of). As you can see, it is broad daylight, a time when perhaps someone may want to go check out a book to, say, learn something. Too bad it is closed. And even if it were open, it sure doesn't look very inviting. Power washer, anyone??

Last Sunday I woke up and specifically remembered to grab my camera before leaving for church so I could hopefully get some around town shots for the Broken, Slow, Ugly Guam series. Ironically, our brand new church sign was vandalized the night before, so it added one more shot for the series. Not great for our church (although it is cleaned up now), but it sure does highlight how frustrating it is to try to keep things here looking nice.
A pretty typical look down Marine Corps Dr., the main drag. "Not beautiful."

Some apartment buildings. And no, this isn't a "bad" part of town, per se. This picture was taken from the parking lot of the fairly nice resort hotel where our youth group spent the day at the water park yesterday. The ocean is directly behind the white apartment building. Not exactly swanky waterfront real estate.

Parking lot... and a great example of why I haven't bought any nice shoes in the last 15 months. (And also why there will be a major shoe shopping spree in September 2012... just warning you now Nick).

So many businesses close and are never repurposed. They sit at main intersections and rot.

 There is a sad display of graffiti on the island. Unlike some urban centers, it's not artsy graffiti, just bored teenage punk spray paint use. Although I have to ponder if the colorfulness of the spray paint in this case doesn't at least slightly detract from the giant moldy dirt drippings down the side of the wall?

PS - Nick just alerted me that in the above picture, there is a TOILET ON THE ROOF! How did I miss that???

This is the building (or what's left of it) on the other side of the vandalized wall. I can't even tell from this what it was once supposed to be.
This is the old marquee in front of the police department, home of "Tha Non*Sense Kings."

Finally, I don't know about you, but this is EXACTLY where I want to go for home improvement advice and materials. Look out Home Depot!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Slow Guam

Raising money to renovate a gym... this is just sad!
In my first post, I explained one of the common phrases heard here on Guam, "Hafa Adai." This friendly greeting can be heard at the beginning of church services, on the other end of the phone, at the checkout counter, etc. And my favorite is at the airport going through customs and immigration because it means you're back home from some much more foreign place. The running joke, though, is that it sounds like people are saying "half a day," as in, everyone here only works half a day... and it takes half a day to get anything accomplished. True story.

Just this morning I helped out a friend and found myself in the thick of her frustration with Guam's red tape. She is in the process of trying to move off Guam, her husband is deployed, and they are trying to get their three firearms properly registered so customs won't confiscate them when they move back to the States. To get this accomplished, my poor friend has had to jump through so many hoops. In order to even make an appointment on base to even START the process of shipping any of their household goods, she was told she needs to have the "blue cards" for each of the guns they own. But no one could tell her where these cards come from or what you need to do to get them.

Having worked at a police department, I offered to help her wade through the system since she didn't even know where to start. We made a few phone calls and a very helpful guy at the armory on base told us that blue cards are issued by the police department, the same place she and her husband have already made about 11 trips to get a firearms ID card made (and were told you don't get blue cards there, but somewhere else they got lost trying to find). We looked up online what documents were needed... a customs form from when they moved here and a bill of lading that states ownership of the gun, as provided by the movers. Thankfully my organized friend still has this piece of paper in her files (she even called the moving company to verify it was the right document).

So the next step was taking this document, plus the weapons, plus her power of attorney document to the Guam Police Department Armory to get them inspected. Easy, right? Except no one, not even the women in Records who work at the police department, could tell us how to get to the armory. And the building doesn't exist on Google. No, not just on Google maps, but even in Google general search or on the Gov Guam or Guam PD websites. But somehow you have to get there to get this inspection to get the blue cards so you can make an appointment to start your PCS off Guam. THANKFULLY a very helpful guy in a military uniform was at the police department this morning and offered to lead us to the armory since, he told us, it took him 30 minutes of getting lost to find it himself. So we followed him back to the other side of the airport runway and found this completely official looking building where we were supposed to take the guns to get the magic document:

I mean, how could anyone miss this? Oh, and that's a 3" deep puddle under the chain-link fence door that you have no option but to wade through (my friend actually had to roll up her jeans).

For those of you who have stumbled upon this page by googling Guam Police Department Armory, I am going to make it easy for you and tell you that this building is directly across from the office for Skydive Guam, which doesn't post a map on their website, but they will email you a very good one if you call them and ask for it. Print out the map and head to Skydive Guam. Once you get to Skydive Guam (which also is no small feat) and are facing it, turn around and face the dump on the other side of the barely paved road, and voila, you have found the Guam PD Armory in Tiyan (which we more commonly refer to as Barrigada because Tiyan is nowhere to be found on Google maps either). By the way, they are only open for inspections from 7:30a.m. to noon (yes, the sign says 7 to 1, but it's actually not). The guy inside was extremely nice and helpful. And that's the thing. The locals as individuals here are really friendly and generally want to help you out. But somehow as a group of government workers, they all collectively seem to exist to make your life hell. The locals themselves make fun of how inefficient and frustrating Gov Guam is (93.9 FM, for example), so it's not just us haoles!

The super nice guy at the armory used my organized friend's paperwork to complete the safety inspection. He instructed us that the next step in the Guam firearms registration scavenger hunt is to take these documents to the Records department back at the main police station. On this 5-minute ride back around the air strip, my friend and I started getting excited. Wouldn't be long and she'd have the infamous blue cards in hand and could go on about her merry way making arrangements to move off this high-functioning, impressively efficient island (no sarcasm here, folks). So she stands in the long line full of smokers (the line is outside under a walkway awning, even though it's raining and the rain is blowing under the awning getting everyone wet, even though there's an entire waiting room inside that they aren't letting people wait in, forcing everyone to stand outside... with the smokers... in the rain). I used the time to call my mom and catch up.

I could not believe it when she got back in the car some 45 minutes later to announce that she was not able to get the blue cards because she only had a sales receipt for one of the guns, and even though the other two were gifts and no one had receipts, and even though their website said nothing about needing ownership documentation other than what came from the moving company, they were requiring her to go to the legal office on base to get a notarized letter stating her husband, in fact, owns these guns.  Surprise!!!! You're not done yet!!!

So now my friend is at the legal office asking for this letter so she can take the letter along with all the documents actually listed on the PD's website to drive all the way back there (a 30-minute trip each way) by 1:00p when they close (HALF-A-DAY!) for the weekend. It's all nothing short of absurd.

This is one story of MANY that I have both heard and experienced. One of the reasons I chose to spell this one out is because the information does not currently exist on the internet, so my hope is that someone some day will save themselves one extra maddening trip to Guam PD by reading this... or better yet... people moving to Guam, just don't bring any guns! Trust me, it is NOT worth the hassle or expense (it's $45 per gun for the registration fee alone and their outdated websites that say a security clearance letter will waive the fee is bogus... you have to pay it... cash... which is an improvement from money order only which was one more trip my friend had to make to a post office to stand in THAT line for a money order back when they did not take cash or check... unbelievable. To clarify, they do now take cash, but don't expect them to have change).

An example of one of my own battles was trying to do the proper thing and get a Guam driver's license when I moved here. As a military dependent, I am still required to get a Guam driver's license despite the Sailors and Servicemembers Relief Act (yes, even though it just got updated... we checked with legal and because Guam is a territory they can still require us to follow certain local regulations). So three times now I have shown up at their equivalent of the DMV (it's actually called "Tax and Revenue"... which the very name itself has nothing to do with motor vehicles and everything to do with collecting fees... weird) and attempted to get this driver's license. The first time I did not have my original social security card. The second time the line was so long (I was there for something else) I bailed.

The third time I drove the 30 minutes across town to the office, filled out the form, waited in line, and sat down with the lady who instructed me that since my Social Security card listed my maiden name as a middle name but my CA driver's license did not list any middle name, that these documents did not match (even though I had my passport, original birth certificate, AND marriage license, all of which clearly indicate I am who I say I am and that the SS card with my unique, hyphenated maiden name could only possibly be me). She directed me to go to the Social Security office across town to get a new card, wait for it to arrive in the mail, and then return to get a driver's license. With that, I was done. The rule says you have 30 days after coming on island to get a Guam driver's license, and I figure as much as I travel off island, it's never much of a stretch for me to reply, "Actually, Officer, I just got on island a few weeks ago."

Hey, improve your processes and I am happy to oblige. I mean, I worked at a police station! I understand the rationale behind a lot of annoying local registration procedures and hoops people have to jump through in the name of safety or following the law or whatever. But this place collectively flushes common sense down the toilet.

I haven't even mentioned the slow (and terrible) drivers (usually when people here die in car crashes it is in SINGLE-CAR ACCIDENTS, if you can believe that... like hitting power poles or having a heart attack while driving), the slow shipping it sometimes takes things to get out here in the mail (Priority Mail usually takes 5-7 days and is typically great, but I have had some regular mail items take two months!!!). The flip side, of course, is how nice it is to be on "island time" and have a slower pace, which I for one totally appreciate. A slower pace is great for enjoying more time with friends and family or for relishing the view on, say, a lovely hike or dive.

A slower pace when you're trying to get something accomplished is just maddening!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Broken Guam

For the longest time I have envisioned a series showing you the other side of the story here. Let's face it. My rosy outlook and forgiving photograph selections on Peyt's Island may have given you a slightly unrealistic impression that this place is, in fact, a perfect paradise. Fair and balanced storytelling is in order, and so I continue.

I have hesitated to go down this road for a couple of reasons. First, I thought by sharing with you all the ugly, broken, sick and slow things about this place, some of you may change your mind about coming to visit us. But over halfway through our time here, I have already figured out that few of you have the time or the money to actually come visit. I have given up expecting any more visitors after my family comes and will just be pleasantly surprised if anyone else shows up (so the few dear friends who HAVE made it out here get MAJOR points for the rest of their lives for making the effort! Thank you!).

Second of all, you all know my partyline is that I LOVE it here! And I really do. Up to this point, most of my little jabs at Guam have been in jest. A slower pace than we're used to back home, some terrible radio stations, a bowling ball found in the jungle. Cute...

Today I had lunch with a friend who I don't see very often because she lives on the Air Force base. We became friends because we both went to the University of Florida, and if you're a Gator who's found a Gator, you're a Gator who's found a friend. But her outlook, generally speaking, has bothered me. She started our lunch today with, "I'm not going to sugarcoat it. I hate this place!" (I have removed the expletives, but feel free to insert what and where you find appropriate... or inappropriate). My guard immediately went up. I love Guam! That's my partyline and I'm sticking to it... right?

So as she continued, I learned that they were forced into orders here (whereas Nick and I so luxuriously chose to come here). Her husband is a helicopter pilot who will spend the majority of his time deploying from Guam instead of actually being here (yuck!). They just got married in February and she gave up a job and professional career in the States she really loved (I gave up having a career years ago), in addition to living away from her family for the first time (whereas I haven't lived near mine in 10 years). She now finds herself substitute teaching (babysitting kindergartners) as many wives here do. Her husband is hardly ever home when she is (due to flight schedules) and they are basically just biding their time until he deploys in December. Considering her circumstances it dawned on me... if her Guam were my Guam, I'd probably hate this place too!

So during the course of our conversation, my friend's perspective made me realize that my emotional fondness of this place has very little to do with Guam itself, and is actually centered around all this bonus time with Nick! Same reason I am not too excited about Virginia Beach. It has little to do with the location and very much to do with how much time I foresee spending with Nick there.

So with that analysis now on the table, I proceed with... the other side of the story.

Segment 1: Broken Guam

The short version of the story is that everything here breaks. Everything! And I don't mean in the move across the ocean on the way out. We only claimed three damaged items out of 8+ crates of stuff we moved out here. No, instead it's everything that has any contact with the harsh, hot, humid, salty, moist outside air is destined for needing repair. Here's a short list of some of the items we own that have broken since we've been here (in 15 months):
  • My mountain bike (spokes on back wheel popped in half for no apparent reason... Nick put on a wheel from a different bike. He keeps his fancy road bike in the guest room!)
  • Bike lock mounting (no longer holds the lock in place... this just happened last week and is still broken... oh wait, update! Nick just told me he fixed it tonight! Wow!)
  • Soaker hose in the herb garden (springs a new leak every few weeks...  Nick fixes it periodically)
  • Lawn mower (quits running halfway through mowing the yard... Nick fixed it)
  • Weed wacker (which we bought brand new when we got here... pull cord to start it came out... Nick fixed it)
  • Underwater camera flash (wouldn't turn on... company replaced it)
  • Waterproof Timex watch (had it less than a year and it got water damage and wouldn't tell time... points to Timex for sending me a new one).
  • Macbook Pro (I can't link this one to Guam, but the hard drive crashed and motherboard spun out, so I'll add it to the list)
That's all well and good, right? Small things that Nick has become a pro at fixing, or thankfully are covered by warranty. At least nothing big or really expensive has broken... right?

Don't get me started. 

That brown circle is where the transom used to connect to the pontoons
Notice that you haven't seen any stories featuring trips on our fabulous boat, Propeller, in the last SIX months? We came back from Australia in May not just to a bout with pneumonia, but also to a very broken boat. The weight of the outboard motor combined with the harsh outdoor conditions here caused the transom to rip off the back of the boat. Yeah. An entire side of the boat (the side that holds the mechanism that propels it... kinda important) is no longer fully attached. Or functional. We've had no luck contacting the manufacturer for advice. The warranty ran out last year. And our advice from other local boat owners is that if you drop it off at the marine fix-it shops here, there's a chance they may not fix it properly and the boat will be irreparable after that. In other words, best to do it yourself. Ugggghhhhh. Everyone wish Nick luck as he starts to seriously tackle this daunting project this week... in hopes of finishing so we can use it to take my parents around.

Having a boat out of commission when you live on an island is a huge bummer. But at least we haven't experienced car trouble, right? Here we go...

Why yes, that's our truck floating around in vacation blue water
Many of you already know about this, despite the fact that it was never mentioned here. I was in Houston in January when it happened. I got a call from Nick telling me there was a "major problem" with the truck... the "major problem" being that it was IN Sumay Cove. Sumay Cove, remember? The place I posted a picture from in my very first post about Guam, citing "vacation blue" water? Nick had backed the truck down the ramp, put it in park, put on the parking brake, and got out to head to the dock to pull the boat around onto the trailer. I guess it had been a while since someone powerwashed the ramp? Or just a really unlucky day?

The mangled trailer we spent so much time customizing :(
Well, a few seconds later the truck (poor Nick) is sliding (not rolling) backwards down the ramp... into Sumay Cove. Luckily the trailer wedged itself at an angle against the ramp keeping the truck from sliding further in or even floating away. They towed the truck out, but the damage was done. It was completely totaled in 3 minutes. The truck only had 40,000 miles on it :(

So our truck and trailer were totaled instantly... but at least our boat didn't break, right? (ha...ha...). Insurance helped us out with the new truck and trailer so after a month we were back in business. Until the boat broke and has been broken ever since. Awesome.

In addition to our woes, there seems to be a trend for brokenness on the rest of the island too. Whether it's careless citizens breaking things, poorly maintained infrastructure due to severe lack of local government funding here, or just extra wear and tear from the everpresent enemies of sun, rain, and salt, stuff here just breaks. This whole place is a petri dish for the second law of thermodynamics... the one that basically says everything in the universe is in an irreversible state of decline. That's Guam alright... or at least one of the very real and frustrating things I don't love about this place.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The winds of change

Exactly two months ago, Jen and I were in Thailand heading to the Phi Phi Islands, our first adventures just beginning. That thought in mind, I realize these last two months have been some of the most exciting of our 15 months since moving to Guam. The chance to do so many new things (skydiving!) and explore so many new places is one I never expected. When we moved out here, my travel goal was to make it to three places... Japan, The Philippines and Palau. I never imagined I would make it to so many others as well (with Palau still to come in 2012... I can't believe it either).

Throughout these two months, amid all the travel, there have been some changes brewing. One big change, that I have had a chance to share with many of you but have failed to mention here, is that we are likely no longer going to be moving back to San Diego after our tour in Guam. To those who might not feel the impact of that change like I do, please understand I'm finally getting to the point where I can tell people that and write that here without tearing up. Those of you who know me well, know how much I love, no, LOVE San Diego, especially Coronado. It has somehow become part of my soul. Ever since we moved, I have been envisioning what my life would look like there on the other side of our time here, how I would tuck this adventure into my heart, wrap these memories into the essence of who I am, and arrive back into my old circles of friends and resume my Sunday sailing routine with a refreshed sense of self. Now I must tuck those visions away, hoping (as only a navy wife can) that they still may wind up possible down the road one day.

Instead, Nick and I are choosing orders to Virginia Beach. The discussion to change coasts first emerged the second week of August, and though it had nothing to do with the awful news of the previous week, I couldn't help but be reminded of just how different things will be once he returns to his regular role. Workups, training trips, deployments. All the routine of San Diego, but on a new, unfamiliar stage. Contemplating this next step instigated premature thoughts about life after paradise... afternoon snorkeling trips, a Saturday morning discovering a waterfall not on the map, fitting in a super-twilight round of golf on a workday afternoon. All of these will be things of the past, things I will have to reach back into those tucked away memories to relive. I'm already so glad they are archived here for me to turn to in those future moments when reality seems too much.

All that said, I am starting to get excited about to look forward to our prospective new location. Our new city is home to dear friends we have not connected with much these past few busy years. It's an opportunity to put down roots and to be nearer to family who live up and down the East Coast. And like any new place, it holds the prospect of worthwhile ventures, relationships, and experiences yet unknown. There is no part of me that fears where we will live or what I will do there or who I will call my friends. I am confident those details will be taken care of. No, it is not arriving in Virginia Beach that will be so difficult. It is leaving Guam that will.

Which is why I am so excited that along with our orders east, we are given an extra couple of months here. We anticipate it will be September next year when we make the big move, leaving us another summer here, packing out just as rainy season begins again. I know two months are short on the calendar these days... but when it comes to two extra months in paradise, you have little choice but to smile and say thank you.

Another significant change in the works is that after nine years here, the beloved pastor of our church (who also happens to be my boss) put in his resignation a few weeks ago. He, understandably, plans to move back home to be closer to children and grandchildren. His last Sunday will be Christmas Day, meaning a new boss and spiritual mentor is in my future as well. I'm not so much worried about the new leader who will pick up where Pastor Jeff left off. I'm more struck by the recognition of a very important season here on Guam coming to an end. But I suppose that is what seasons by their very nature are so inclined to do... they come... they go...

Nick and I returned from Singapore to a noticeably cooler Guam. Highs this week have been only around 86, with ample sunshine despite the sogginess of rainy season that continues while we sleep. The evening breeze has turned a shade cooler and the darkness of the night sets in much earlier. Even here, in eternal summer, there is evidence that the seasons are changing, as seasons do. And though I catch myself thinking about the bulk of sweaters and the wisp of scarves I will be wearing this time next year, I force myself to stop and simply enjoy the current day's warmth. Sometimes anticipation of change can seem heavier than change itself. And so I pause, intent on enjoying every day we have left here... every blessed gift of a day together.

...and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.
~Acts 17:26

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign

The one thing most Americans have heard about Singapore is that they have some crazy laws there. I remember the story in the 90s of the American teenager who was caned for vandalizing cars and stealing road signs. It isn't just that their punishment is so strict, it's also that they have so many laws, all of which I image are geared toward promoting public harmony and cleanliness on this tiny island inhabited by millions of people representing a huge diversity of cultural backgrounds (apparently you even have to get a permit if you want to speak in public about any racial or religious topic). Makes sense, I suppose. But as an American, you can't help notice all the signs everywhere...

There are signs that show you where to walk and where to ride your bike (nice that they have two separate sidewalks, right?). Of course, just because there are signs doesn't mean people follow them...
This seemed to be the sign least followed. There were constantly bikers in the walker lane and walkers in the biking land.
No jaywalking. Also a sign frequently ignored by pedestrians trying to get to the train station, not willing to wait for the light to turn. (Seems reasonable to me).

It appears Singaporeans take many of these signs with a grain of salt. 

There are signs directing you at the train station... check out those fines! They aren't too far off from the US dollar. The first three seem like pretty reasonable requests for keeping the station clean and safe for all travelers. But the bottom right one is just funny... no durians! I think this is because durians (fruit) tend to stink like smelly sweet cheese.

More things you can get fined for at the train station

Signs telling you what to value... interesting.

Signs making healthy suggestions... the top stair sign reads something like "I burned 5x the calories by taking the stairs"
Signs showing you how to use the bathroom. The most ridiculous part is this was posted in the women's restroom. Aim properly, ladies!
Signs on the trails of Pulua Ubin. These all make sense to me, but I thought (and Google confirms) poaching is, by definition, illegal. I guess a little redundancy never hurt anyone.
Signs at the Botanic Gardens... no segways! 
The upper right sign deserves a closeup... perhaps the most ridiculous of all...
I guess since not everyone speaks English, the picture is necessary. Or is it?? Really, dotted line, arrow? Does the average person need help understanding how a dog's digestive system works? Oh Singapore...

In addition to the ridiculous signs, there were also some helpful ones. Like when it's lunchtime and you spot this sign... very helpful.

Or if you are driving your car around looking for a spot in a parking garage. Every car in Singapore has a card and card reader that is also used to pay for tolls and parking. The card system gives you an up-to-the-minute count of how many parking spots are available in any given parking garage. Pretty impressive!

Also impressive is the amount of stuff to do... in their airport! Shall we check out the butterfly garden on the way to the gate? How about the koi pond? Great food and shopping here too. And I must say I appreciate how across Asia they really don't jack up the prices of stuff at airports. They also have Starbucks and free wifi.
Lastly, we saw the sign for this restaurant. Simple, to the point. Didn't have time to stop here, but I think Nick would really enjoy a place like this, judging by the sign.

There were a few key signs I did not get (like the "do not feed the monkeys" sign!). Nick also saw a sign in his restroom that indicated "No washing your feet in the sink." If you want to see a few more ridiculous Singapore directive signs, check out this post

PS... a number of you have told me you have had trouble getting your comments to post... boo! Am sending feedback to Blogger to hopefully fix this.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Weekend in Singapore

So I started my weekend in Singapore by doing something I have never done before. I mean, that's what you're supposed to do when you travel, right? Okay, get this... I took a Zumba class. I have put this off for well over a year now because, let's face it, this white girl can't dance. I was fortunate enough to have gym access every day on the base, so I took note of their class schedule and showed up for their Friday morning "Group Exercise" class, which was a sneaky title for Zumba. I figured, hey, if you're gonna try dancing to Latino music in public, best done in a public you will never see again. There are no pictures or video from this little side excursion, but I will admit... it was fun. Okay, I said it. Moving on!

I spent the rest of the day at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I brought my Bible study and journal and had a great writing/reading session surrounded by nature. This was my view from the fabulous cafe I had lunch at. Total Feng Shui.
 The water in Singapore was not even close to the beautiful water of Guam...

But they had much more beautiful and somehow different flowers.

Again, the water... yikes! But Guam could never pull off something as pristine and tidy as this. And not just at the Botanic Gardens, but all over the island there was beautiful landscaping. Singapore to me was like a cross between Coronado (pristine, perfect, beautiful) and Washington, DC (functional, productive, efficient... that's the city, people, not our federal-level politics I'm referring to).

Anyone tired of the self-pictures yet? Oh wait, I am!

Luckily someone jumped in and insisted on taking a picture of me...
yay... one without my armpit in the picture.

 So backing up a bit, I once again had ridden "my bike," to the train station... that is, the bike available to me from the lodge where I was staying. I parked and locked it among these neat rows of well orderly standing bikes. I felt quite like a local, even if old white bread didn't quite look like one (there were zero European-looking people on the trains I was riding). Coming back from the Botanic Gardens, I was shocked and appalled to see this sight:
Anyone from Coronado knows what's going on here. The bike I rode a total of twice managed to get yanked! I was actually pretty grateful they left the lock there, so I had confirmation that it was indeed stolen and not just in some forgotten parking spot (I would have looked forever just to make sure). Bummer dudes! I showed the clipped lock to our liaison on base at a party that night and he said that bike theft almost NEVER happens because the fines for getting caught are so severe. Le sigh. Lucky me. I lived in Coronado, bike theft capital of the world, for five years and never had a problem, but I ride a bike in Singapore twice and it gets stolen. They insisted I not worry about it, as being the lodge's bike, they could just use whatever fund and buy a new one (thank goodness...).

One of the guys bought the item he is holding... any guesses?
Speaking of Coronado, Saturday we headed back into Singapore proper to have lunch with friends currently deployed on an aircraft carrier who happened to be in town on their port call. Awesome coincidence in timing! Introducing Ben (center) and Mason (right), husbands of my friends Kristi and Mary (in Japan) respectively. We ate lunch at Maxwell Center, one of the famous hawker centers in Chinatown, then went shopping together in the market. I have seen Kristi and Mary multiple times each since we all moved from Coronado in 2010, but always when the guys were deployed. So it was fun to see them, though still a bummer that they were there in Singapore on deployment instead of home with their families. Luckily they only have a few more weeks to go. Come on Thanksgiving!

PS... Mary & Kristi... I saw what you are getting from Singapore! 
Not telling though :)

What's more fun than traveling from one small tropical island to another small tropical island? Hopping to yet another island, of course! After our exceptionally fun lunchtime rendezvous, Nick and I peeled off and headed to the northeast corner of the island to Changi Village Ferry, where we took a ferry to an island off Singapore called Pulua Ubin. This island is touted to be rustic Singapore, what Singapore looked like before the big city and highways and trains took over the equatorial landscape.
The bumboats at Changi Village Ferry Terminal... 
so named because they bump into each other

Once on the island, Nick insisted on getting a bicycle built for two... cute, right?!

Cute... until the easy paved road became a tiny, sandy, 
uphill/downhill mountain bike trail... holy crap! 

Oh how I wish we had video of us riding up and down the mountain bike trail on this rickety bicycle built for two that had no gear shifts and was NOT suited for this kind of rugged trekking. I have never wished I was wearing a helmet more than during this ride!

Some nice views along the way
 Chek Jawa Wetlands, with what I believe is Malaysia in the background.

Nick is tired of the self pictures... yet I insist

Wild boar family coming out in search of food

Nice sunset views

They have boonie dogs here too! 
Though I must say, I didn't see a single stray dog on mainland Singapore...

Our ride back "home" took a lot longer than expected. We found ourselves at a different train station than usual... and ran into this Singaporean Flash Mob! No seriously, this crowd of people were all dancing in unison to the live band playing... it was kind of remarkable. And no, it wasn't the electric slide. Still perplexed by this one! 

That about wraps up our time in Singapore. And, unless some unexpected surprise emerges, likely wraps up this very exciting season of traveling in Asia (at least for 2011!). Since June, I have managed to hit up The Philippines, Hong Kong, Thailand, Korea, and now Singapore. Add that to Japan from last year, and it's been quite the tour! It goes without saying that I am VERY fortunate to get to do all of this traveling. But I also know there's a deadline looming in the future when being a four-hour flight to so many exotic, foreign cities will be a thing of the past. Nothing quite so motivating as a deadline... and nothing quite so inspiring as an opportunity to see a new slice of the world.