The White Rajah

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James Brooke (29th April 1803 – 11 June 1868)

The picture is from a painting by Sir Francis Grant in 1847

Sarawak, the name brings forth ideas of head hunters and ‘daring do’ from comics that I read in the 1950’s.

Little did I know that one day I would sail up the Sarawak River to the town of Kuching on the island of Borneo.

Sarawak had been James Brooke’s & his descendants fiefdom since about 1841 – until . .

In April 1942 the Japanese captured Sarawak, and for three years they ran the place as part of the Empire of Japan.

The Japanese surrender to the Australians in 1945, and Sarawak became a British Colony.

In May 1961 the PM of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, put forward a plan for a greater Malaysia, which included Singapore, Sarawak,  Sabah & Brunei. In 1962 eighty percent of the population of Sarawak & Sabah voted to join Malaya to create Malaysia, along with Singapore.

Indonesia and the Philippines didn’t like the creation of Malaysia. So Indonesia  encouraged discontent with the communists of Sarawak and trained them in military tactics, and also supplied armed ‘volunteers’ to causes problems for Sarawak and the newly created country of Malaysia.

The fighting began in 1963 with infiltration forces from Indonesia in to Sarawak. By this time the British were involved in support of Malaysia, who had only gained independence from Britain a few years earlier in 1957.

Later Australia & New Zealand became involved in support of Malaysia.

Knowing little of the details that I know now, I flew in to Singapore to join LST (Landing ship tank) Frederick Clover in April 1966. The company, British India Steam Navigation Co, held the contract to man various LSTs based in Singapore, Malta, Aden etc and I’d drawn the straw for Frederick Clover, based in Singapore.

If you wish to see other photographs of the LST and why I fired a machine gun click on the highlighted letters.

CloverFrederick Clover, alongside in Singapore, her bows open to accept military cargo for Borneo. The photo is old and not very clear.

meAs you see she was an old ship, built in 1945. The captain’s chair had to be lashed down to make sure we didn’t lose it in a strong wind. My hair isn’t moving because our top speed was 10 knots . . . .

3rd mateAt least we had a compass. Although we could have found our way to Borneo using the echo sounder by following the empty beer cans from our previous trips. At that time being Green meant you were sea sick, not environmentally aware.

TroopsWhile we were alongside in Kuching the ‘Auby’ moored astern of us. She was to take a Gurkha regiment back to Singapore. The Auby was a cargo ship of about 1700 tons , with facilities for a few passengers in the for’d accommodation. I can only assume the soldiers traveled as ‘deck cargo’. The Auby carried about 31,000 troops in and out of Singapore during the ‘confrontation’. The picture is not all that clear but the troops can be seen formed up on the quay.

In 2011, Maureen & I attended a reunion in Singapore of cadets from HMS Conway Training College, so after the reunion I thought it would be an ideal time to take Maureen to Kuching and a spot of ‘I remember when’ for me.

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While in Kuching we did a river cruise in a small boat, which allowed me to photograph the quay, (see above), which I think is the same one in the photographs showing the Gurkha troops.

IMGP3782r  Our boatman and his boat that we used.

We stayed at the Pullman Hotel, which overlooked the town.

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IMGP3766rThis one shows the Sarawak River

Kuching is also known as Cat City – there are a number of anecdotes as to why Kuching got its name. It used to be called Sarawak until James Brooke arrived by sea and asked his guide the name of the place, while pointing to the small town. The local guide thinking that James was pointing at a cat, answered ‘Kuching’, which is the Malay word for cat i.e ‘kucing’.  Against this story being true is that the local Malays who live in Kuching call a cat a ‘pusak’

Another story is that the town is named after a river called Sungai Kuching, which means Cat River. Another idea is that it is named after mata kucing, which is a fruit grown in Malaysia, Indonesia and the northern parts of Australia. The name means Cats Eye.

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The mata kucing fruit looks like a lychee.

So with a name like ‘Cat’, Kuching turned itself in to a tourist attraction by becoming the Cat City.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe above cat statues are outside our favourite restaurant.

IMGP3786rcThe James Brooke on the water front.

IMGP3955rIt is also a bar, and you do not have to order food.

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Of course we ordered lunch – Laksa – beautiful, and for me a cold beer helped it down.

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The following year we returned to Kuching with two other couples, and it wasn’t a hardship to revisit many places again.
During one evening in the James Brooke restaurant I overheard an accent that I recognised – it was a Liverpool accent. The four men having their evening meal worked as contactors for an aircraft company and flew around the world fixing problems. Because Maureen originated in Liverpool it didn’t take long for us to get chatting.

I asked one fellow where he lived on Merseyside and he told me Birkenhead. I mentioned that I came from Lower Tranmere in Birkenhead, and we then swapped details of the exact area. It turned out that he knew where my childhood street was, because he lived quite close.

The following night we met him again and he said that he had phoned his father in the UK, who was retired and still living in Lower Tranmere, and told him of meeting me. It turns out that his father was our milkman, and he used to deliver milk to my home when I was a child. Talk about a small world.

During my remember when holiday I couldn’t understand why the river never dropped as the tide turned.

FrederickCloverDressed overall for the last voyage to Singapore before the ship would be sold.

Generous meals, as the guest of various army units, helped to break the boredom of being in an out of the way port. We were not there to make a profit through trade, but in support of our own troops, a huge difference.

When we heard that the ship was to be sold on our return to Singapore, we decided to have a farewell dinner along with a number of army officers. Tables were booked at the local Chinese restaurant and all the ship’s officers left the ship, leaving just a watchman. It was a quiet night with little river traffic so we felt a single watchman was enough. The majority of the crew were allowed shore leave, because they would soon be out of work once we reached Singapore.
The evening went well until we returned to the ship and found her lying at a strange angle. What had happened was that the tide had gone out and the river had dropped causing the ship to settle in the mud. Being flat bottomed she would have settled upright if the watchman had slackened off the mooring lines – he’d not done so, and Frederick Clover was lying with a very large list away from the wharf – her mooring lines were bar tight with the strain.
There was little that we could do but wait for the tide to turn and raise her back to normal, which fortunately is what happened.

So during our holiday I asked why I hadn’t seen the river drop as the tide went out – it was all down to a barrage that had been built at the mouth of the river in the late 90’s, which controlled the flow of the river. The gates would be opened each Friday afternoon to flush out any rubbish etc.

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They do have the facility to allow small fishing boats to enter the river – which means that they must have a lock system.

At least I wasn’t going mad, because I was sure that the river would drop as the tide changed.

WhiteIf you are interested in Sarawak and the island of Borneo, but don’t wish to read a great tome, try the above book, which is an easy and interesting read.

The wife of the third Rajah, Sylvia Brooke,  who wrote her own autobiography in 1970, also wrote a synopsis of the life of James Brooke, which was bought by Warner Brothers film studio.
Errol Flynn wanted to play James Brooke, but in the script that he wrote, after reading the synopsis, he had James Brooke arriving in Borneo with a young woman dressed as a boy.
Sylvia Brooke refused to allow Flynn’s story to go any further, because there wasn’t any ‘love interest’ when Brooke arrived in Borneo. According to Sylvia Brooke James Brooke was the first white man to set foot in Borneo – which I find hard to believe.

Finally when Somerset Maugham visited Sarawak, it was suggested that James Brooke’s life would make a good film, but Somerset Maugham said, no it wouldn’t, because there wasn’t any love interest.

James Brooke’s life was full of love, he inspired love and felt love, so perhaps it is time for the right actor to take up the challenge and recreate The White Rajah.

KUL to SIN

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Not so long ago Maureen & I planned a visit to Singapore to meet up with other Old Conways for a ‘Conway’ reunion. The reunion was mainly attended by those living in the Australasia area.

I looked at the various airlines and their prices and decided on our old favourite (which was our favourite at that time) Malaysian Airlines, which would require us to transit Kuala Lumpur, but we were on holiday and getting to a destination is half the fun..
We could have stayed at the airport and transited KL later that night to Singapore, but as we hate night flying we decided to stay a couple of nights in KL before carrying on to Singapore.

I’d always wanted to do the train journey from KL to Singapore, but when I looked at the schedule the journey would have taken over seven hours. I considered this to be far too long for such a short trip, knowing that from KL to Malacca was only a two-hour drive and that Singaporean tourists would drive from Singapore to Malacca for a weekend break, so I decided to investigate a road trip, which would only take five hours.

There are several coach companies that run the five-hour trip from KL to Singapore, so after checking out a number of them  I decided to book us in Solitaire class with Transtar Travel, which is a Singapore listed bus company.
If the transit time was correct at five hours, then using the bus would be quicker than flying. Our hotel in KL was nearly an hour’s drive from the airport. We were expected to check-in two hours before take- off, followed by just over an hour’s flight. Then we would wait for our bags, clear customs & immigration and finally take a taxi to our Singapore hotel. The bus would be faster!
When I made our booking over the internet I was asked to pick our meals! We had a choice of four types of meal, and our choice would be served during the trip.
We left our hotel after breakfast and a short taxi ride saw us at the terminus for the Singapore destined bus. The terminus was not a giant place with hundreds of people jostling for space, but a side room of the travel agent.

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Tea, coffee, water and some snacks were available while we waited a few minutes for our bus, which was originating from our agent’s office in KL so we wouldn’t have to worry about our seating.

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Our bus arrives . .

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The downstairs area of the bus had been fitted out to accommodate a group who might wish to have a meeting. They also had toilets and I think a small kitchen to heat the meals.
Upstairs we had the choice of eighteen seats (nine down each side of the bus) for three passengers. Maureen & I and another lady. Staff took our bags and loaded them on to the bus.

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Each seat had a TV screen in the armrest, in the manner of a business class seat on an aircraft, as well as a pullout tray for meals. There was plenty of room to have your tray out and to watch a film while you had your meal.
We had a good choice of films and TV shows, in various languages, and I watched ‘Angels & Demons’, the film from the Dan Brown book. Maureen prefers to watch the world go by.
I believe that the entertainment system now has a choice of 100 films, as well as interactive games.

Being on the top deck we could see over the many palm oil plantations, which can be monotonous at ground level. The freeway system is very good in Malaysia and a constant high speed is not a problem.
A couple of hours in to the journey the stewardess came round with our hot meals and a choice of tea, coffee or a small bottle of cold water.
After about three hours we stopped for a toilet break, and to stretch our legs.

At the border we stopped for immigration and customs. The procedure was straightforward and I think we were back on the bus after about ten minutes. We didn’t have to present our luggage, just our passports.

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Approaching the Singapore bridge.

Our arrival in Singapore we were once again outside a travel agent, where we could change money and book a taxi to our hotel. A very relaxing trip and inexpensive at $30 (Australian) for each of us, which was lower than a single fare on a low-cost carrier from KL to Singapore.
If you plan to do the trip from Singapore to Malaysia the cost per ticket is higher than the rate from Malaysia to Singapore.
In May 2016 the through train is no longer in service and now passengers have to use three different trains to travel from KL to Singapore.

The lowest advertised fare is not always the lowest overall cost.

When I arranged our holiday in Vietnam for my wife and I, and our friends, we were all price sensitive, so I had to be careful of the costs.

Flying out of Sydney we could fly with Vietnam Airlines VietnamAirlines  or Qantas Qantas_Airways_Limited_logo.svg, but when I checked on the prices I realised that Vietnam Airlines had a virtual ‘monopoly’ on the route. Qantas did not operate their own aircraft, but sold tickets on their subsidiary airline Jetstar  Jetstar . Once I knew this I checked the cost of the Jetstar tickets. Their tickets were still too expensive after one added various additional charges for food, drinks, and entertainment.
My wife & I and another couple had flown Jetstar on a domestic route for a ninety-minute flight. We found them satisfactory, but as I am over six feet tall (188 cm in new money), the limited space in economy was tolerable for a maximum of ninety-minutes, so for a flight of eight-hours or more it was was out of the question, so it had to be Vietnam Airlines. Or did it?

I spent some time checking a number of different airlines Malaysian Airlines  MH (our old friend), which would require a night stop in Kuala Lumpur (more cost), Cathay Pacific Cathay_Pacific_logo.svg via Hong Kong was too expensive, Thai International  250px-Thai_Airways_Logo.svg ; a possibility over Bangkok, but they were expensive, so I finally checked Singapore Airlines Singapore_Airlines_Logo.svg and their rate was the same as Jetstar fare when I add on the additional cost for food, drink & entertainment. In fact Singapore Airlines was a few dollars cheaper than the total Jetstar price, and much cheaper than Vietnam Airlines, so it was Singapore Airlines, which would require an hour and a bit transit time in Singapore; but our bags would be booked through to Saigon. (Ho Chi Minh ).

Having flown with Singapore Airlines before I retired, I knew that their economy seating was larger than Jetstar – more room for all of us..

I booked with Singapore Airlines and we left Sydney at 8.30 am and connected with the 2.40 pm flight from Singapore to Saigon, arriving at 3.45 pm local time. I found it ironic that if we’d have booked the more expensive Jetstar we would not have arrived in Saigon until around 10.00 pm.

By using Singapore Airlines our booking would give us the opportunity of taking advantage of their ‘special offers’, which included discounted hotel rates in Singapore, discounted entrance fees to many places of interest, a free tour of Singapore, so a couple of nights in Singapore, at the end of our Vietnam trip, was the way to go.

Am I the only one that finds it funny that Ho Chi Minh’s city code, for the airline industry, is still SGN (Saigon). I suppose it is the same as PEK (Peking) for Beijing or RGN (Rangoon) for Yangon, BOM (Bombay) for Mumbai, CCU (Calcutta) for Kalkata . . . . it must be me.

Singapore, 53 years after my first trip

We left the ship in Singapore on the 11th April – my 72nd birthday, and moved to the Concorde Hotel on Orchard Road. We’d stayed at the Concorde Hotel in Kuala Lumpur so we were aware of the standard.

Having visited Singapore on and off since 1963, every new visit is a new learning curve. Our last visit was 2012 and things have changed again.

The hotel was as we expected

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Taken from the ninth floor (top floor) with three or four levels below ground for shops and car parking areas.

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Our room

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View from the room

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The younger generation might have their focus on back packing, camping, caravanning etc but as one grows older, and you can afford a few luxuries, comfort rise to the top of our travel plans along with good food.

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Club lounge, which is usually on the top floor of many hotels, but in this hotel the Club Lounge is on the ground floor. Happy Hour with drinks and snacks from 6 to 8 pm.

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Around the corner from the hotel, just off Orchard Road, one can still find pieces of yesterday.

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At the bottom of the above picture is Orchard Road, but this road has a feel of a quiet enclave, with the roar of traffic at the bottom.

The haves and the have nots. . .

We sailed from Thailand for Vietnam’s southern main port of Ho Cha Minh (used to be called Saigon), and once again we couldn’t get too close to Ho Cha Minh city because of our size. We berthed at Phu My, which is a 90 minute drive from Ho Cha Minh city via the fleet of buses waiting for us.

This time I took more care of dashing from the cabin to the balcony and the sudden change of humidity. Phu My is a ‘working’ port and it brought back memories of my time at sea in the ’60s.

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Just before sunrise as we approached our berth.

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The start of a new day.

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The ‘giraffes’ have woken up, and are watching us arrive.

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The port is waking.

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A local barge waiting to go alongside.

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As we swing around in the middle of the river to face seaward for our departure I notice that the opposite bank is undeveloped. Using the ship’s thrusters we are able to turn on a sixpence (five cents for the younger readers) without the help of tugs that stood by just in case.

DSC05369rWhile we turned in the river I watched a ship coming down stream and getting closer and closer (I took a set off pictures just in case), as she rounded the bend in the river she gave a long blast on her whistle and altered course to starboard to pass down our starboard side as we had completed our turn. The one long blast is the international signal that a ship is altering course to starboard so that everyone in the area is aware of that vessel’s movements.

Because my wife and I had been to Ho Cha Minh during a previous holiday we did not return to that city on this trip. The local council offered a free shuttle service from the ship to the local town.

After we left Phu My on our way to Singapore I noticed the high number of local fishing boats, which brought the title of this blog home to me.

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DSC05332rcThe sea was calm, the Diamond Princess had 2900 privileged passengers who dressed for dinner, while those fishermen that we past hung their washing on a long rod attached to the stern of their homes.

I wondered what they would do if the weather changed for the worse – I doubt that we would feel the change. Our twenty seven foot stabilisers would help keep our 115,000 gt vessel steady, so as not to upset the fortunate passengers.

The following day we arrived in Singapore, just before dawn.

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Books that influenced my travels

Have you noticed that travelers write about travels, and the main people who read about those who travel, are those who are travelling?
Even foodie blogs write about travels – because many have pictures of food from various countries through which the writer has traveled – not a complaint, because I love to read about other people’s food & travels. My wife’s hobby is cooking, so she collects recipes from around the world, and my hobby is eating, and this makes for a perfect combination!
The seed of travel for me was sown when I was a boy after the war listening to my father’s travels during WW 2. I followed him to sea; he was Royal Navy, I joined the merchant navy.
Combining a love of the sea, with the love of books in my youth, my favourite authors, were C.S Forester, the Hornblower series,
HappyReturn
First Edition Cover – 1937

Somerset Maugham short stories of life in the Far East –

Cas tree
The Casuarina Tree
Gent in Parlour
The Gentleman in the Parlour

 

Eric Newby travel writer, describing his voyage at 18 years of age in 1938.
TheLastGrainRace
Joseph Conrad’s novels – such as
Lord Jim,
Lord Jim
Rudyard Kipling’s stories & poems of Burma and India.
Who can forget
 or
– Rudyard is the name of a man-made lake in Staffordshire, UK, and Rudyard Kipling was named after this lake because his parents met there in 1863. Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay (now Mumbai).
I first went to Burma (as it was then) in 1965 /6 and it hadn’t changed that much when I visited for a holiday in 2012.
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Street cafes in Rangoon 2012

I never did make it to Mandalay!

In my late teens I moved on to Jack Kerouac’s – On The Road – a must read for many a teenager.
JK
As one grows older travel books still have a fascination, but for me I seem to be looking back over my shoulder thanks to Gavin Young’s two books
Slow Boat to China (Pub 1984)

 

Slow boat
Slow Boat to China

A great book to read while my memories of China where still sharp &  Slow Boats Home (Pub 1986) when ships where still ships, and not floating warehouses.

Slow boat home
Slow Boat Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

The two books below are travel books, but they’re not . . . they are about a boy living in Singapore and going to school in England – it is the author’s memoirs. For me, they are real memories of traveling fifty years ago.

One for the road   Eastern.jpg

Both books bring back ‘yesterday’ of life in Singapore & Malaya.
Davison’s memories are not so far back that they are history for for me, because I can remember much of this author’s life experiences in Singapore & Malaya (for me it was Malaysia, but it hadn’t changed that much ).

You can always combine cooking and travel if you try. I bought my wife a Christmas present in 2014

French eating

mainly as a present for her, but also for me, because I also wanted to read this book.

The author Ann Mah, travels around France for a year cooking and eating . . . what more could you want?