Tales From The Sand Box - Episode 2

Trip Start May 01, 2005
Trip End Nov 15, 2005

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Flag of Singapore  ,
Friday, June 13, 2008

Dear Family and friends,
I would just like to start by letting those of you who don't already know that I am an Uncle again and that Taylor has increased her number of cousins from 8 to 10. Keanne's brother Ryan and his wife Ruth have had twin girls. Yvette and Nicola.

Anyway, on with the saga. Singapore has been run and done. We ended up being there a bit longer than expected but all is well and we are now on our way. As most of you know, I have had a love affair with Singapore for about 15 years now. The culture, the people, the food everything about the place I just love. This trip was no different.

Day 1. We got in very late on the Thursday and I didn't have time to do much more than go to the PX store and buy some toiletries before I went back onboard to do some washing and get an early night. For those who are
not familiar with the term PX, it stands for Personnel Exchange. It is a mini department store run by the US military for it's people. Wherever you find yanks in uniform you will find a PX. The PX store in Singapore is a relatively new thing as the US Navy has only really started to have a presence there since about 1999. Prior to that, the Sembawang (pro. SEM-BAR-WUNG) Basin Shipyard was run by the Royal Navy, the Kiwi's and the good old RAN. It was originally built in the late 30's as a purely Naval Shipyard and base to support the Royal Navy's south china fleet. It was from this very base that the Battleships Prince of Wales and Repulse sailed in 1942 only to be sunk 24 hours later by the Japanese. Since then it's naval purpose has been slowly overtaken by commercial ventures and there are now only a couple of US navy ships based here and the occasional Aussie or Pommy ship stopping for a visit. The Shipyards themselves have grown immensley and now cater to some of the biggest ships in the world for refits and general maintenance. While we were there there was a giant refinery ship in refit. This thing must have been at least 100000 tonnes (compared to Newcastles 5000 tonnes). The thing wwas sitting high in the
water and it must have been at least 200ft from the waterline to the top of the hull and then another 150ft to the top of the refinery. It did not resemble any ship that you could imagine. It was just a hull with an impenetrable maze of pipework and machinery sitting on top. Truly amazing. I am trying to hunt around if anyone took a photo of it so I can send one when I get a chance.

Day 2. I had a sleep in on Friday and got up about 1000. I just sat onboard until 1500 when I had to go and be shore patrol. Shore patrol is like a military policeman who goes out to where the tropps are having fun and just makes sure that everyone is being sensible and not causing a ruckus. The only place I had to patrol was the Terror Club. Horrible sounding name but quite a nice place. The Terror Club is just outside the gates of Sembawang and is named after HMS Terror which was the original flagship on the South China Station. When I first started coming to
Singapore the Terror Club was still run by the RN. It was in decline as most of the RN infrastructure was slowly being removed. The place had sawdust floors and chicken wire over the widows where the glass used to be. The pool was an interesting shade of green and the only time you would go in it was at the end of the night when you were drunk and your mates threw you in. These days it is run by the US navy and is used as an all ranks club for sailors who have families stationed with them in Singapore. The USN graciously allows us free use of the facilities while we are there and the standards have changed a great deal. The club is now set in landscaped gardens and provides meals in air-conditioned comfort. The pool is constantly patroled by a lifeguard and there is a childrens pool at one end. The Club now boasts a soccer field, two tennis courts a basket ball court and a beach volleyball court. Needless to say the shinanigans that myself and my reprobate mates used to get up to there are no longer
tolerated. Hence my role as shore patrol. Thankfully the boys behaved themselves and I had a fairly uneventful duty. A couple of lads got a bit loud and had to go but that was about it. I knocked off about midnight and headed back to the ship for a goodnights sleep. Unfortunately that was not to be. At about 0100 my mate Lennie wakes me up and tells me that I have to go and collect one of our sailors from the police. From the smell of him Lennie appeared to be well on his way to an appointment with Dr Hangover and so I think to myself "he's having me on". Alas no. He was serious and five minutes later I am being dragged out of my rack by the Officer of the Day. As it turns out, the sailor was only at the police station because he had fallen asleep in a park and the cops were concerned for his safety. So I collect the sailor, put him to bed, and go back to sleep myself.

Day 3. Because of the previous night, I once again slept in. I got up around 1100 and had a quick bite to eat before heading out into my favorite city in Asia. Once we are in the Gulf ports, we will not be allowed to step ashore by ourselves. With this in mind I decided that I wanted to get one last little bit of solitude in before the chance was gone. I caught the bus to the nearest suburb which is Yishun. From there I caught the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) into Orchard road which is the centre of Singapore, figuratively speaking. I'm sure you have heard me wax lyrical before about Singapores MRT train system but it really is the best in the world that I have seen. Melbourne and Sydney could learn a great deal from these people about running a public transport system. Once I was in Orchard road I started by having something more to eat. I stopped at a little locals eating place and had some claypot beef. This is beef and chineese vegies over rice served in a boiling hot claypot. It is so hot that the rice fries on the side of the pot so as you mix it all up it continues to cook. I washed down this delicious feed with my all time favorite soft drink, A&W Root Beer. Unfortunately you can't buy it in Australia except at Christmas Bloody Island and the drink is not worth it to me to go back there again. Anyway, after my second lunch I set about soaking up the atmosphere. We happened to have arrived in Singapore during one of their two shopping festivals of the year. For an entire month everything in Singapore is on sale. It is a brilliant tourist marketing scheme. The shopping capital of Asia has a country wide sale. And it really is marketed as a festival. The streets are full of hawkers and actors acting as live advertisements and such like. I wandered around for most of the day and bought a couple of little things for my girls. In the late afternoon I met up with Lennie and Jamie, the other two Combat Systems Supervisors, and we sat in a little street side bar under a fan blowing atomised water over us and enjoyed a few Tiger Beers. Tiger is the Crown Lager of asian beers. And on a forty degree day with 90pct humidity nothing goes down better. While we were sitting there another couple of people from the ship arrived and we sat around for a couple more Tigers just to be polite. By 2000 it was time to stop being polite and head back to the ship. I had planned on dining out on my favorite Singaporean dish, Chilli Crab, but time got away so it would have to wait until tomorrow.

Day 4. Sunday dawned overcast and generally unappealing. I left the ship to head down the Terror Club for a swim and had lunch down there. I had an item off the american menu which was called "The Kentucky Double Cheese and Smoked Bacon Hickory Burger Deluxe". It took me longer to order it than it did to eat the bloody thing. I spent the afternoon around the pool working on my tan and then headed into the city determined to shorten the life
expectancy of a few crabs. I hooked up with Lennie again and we headed into Boat Quay. Boat Quay is where all the Ex-pat's hang out and is not as touristy as it's more well known rival Clarke Quay. One of the advantages
of it being less well known and more of a locals hang out is that it is much cheaper. We sat down to a meal of Nasi-Gorang (fried rice), Pork rolls, and Chilli Crab washed down with Tiger Beer. Oh god I love Singapore. Even being the cheaper place to eat it still came out to over a hundred dollars between us so there was no way we could hang around and drink anymore in the city ($13.00 / pint). So we grabbed the oldest looking Tri-shaw peddlar we could find and headed for the nearest MRT station. After a few "life flashing before my eyes" moments we arrived at the MRT and caught the train back to Yishun and then cabbed it around the corner to Sembawang. As I have said, Sembawang used to be one of the biggest naval bases in SE Asia. As you can imagine, just like any big port town there are a lot of rough pubs. Or at least there used to be. Once upon a time there was a strip of pubs along Admiralty road that catered exclusively to the british and australian Jacks that inhabited the base. This strip of about
twenty dingy little rough houses was known as "The Wang". The Wang has bred many number of legends over the years and I have myself been a part of creating one or two memorable moments there myself. But that was all very
long ago and The Wang now is three little bars clinging onto life precariously. One of those three bars however has outlasted all the changes that have been forced on the area and is known as The Lord Nelson Bar. This is a very grand name for what is not much more than a hovel. It is however a hovel that holds a very special place in the heart of most sailors who have ever been to Singapore. It is not a strip bar and it is not a girlie bar (In fact the only girl in there is a lovely old lady who we call Mamma-San who is about 100 but will be your friend for life if you bring her a jar of Vegemite). The reason this bar is so special is because it's walls are a written history of fifty years of the Royal Navy and the Royal Australian Navy. Every Jack Tarr who enters is encouraged to leave his mark
on the wall or cieling or wherever. There are names there from my first days in the Navy and names from blokes who died on the Repulse and Prince of Wales. There are funny little ditties and poignant words of wisdom.  So anyway, Lennie and I rasied a beer or two to sailors past and present and then headed back onboard the ship because we were sailing early the next day.

Day 5. As it turned out we didn't get to sail the next day but by then I was out of cash so it was a quiet one for me. We played some touch footy and volleyball down the Terror Club and then went for a swim before heading back to the ship. I scraped together enough money to go to the greasy spoon on the Base called Dins Diner. Dins has been around since Jesus played fullback for the Nazereth first 11. The one sure thing about Dins is that a bowl of his Beef Curry and Rice will ensure that any bugs you have picked up during your stay will die quickly. There are a couple of other side effects to Dins curry that I won't go into detail about but it is just so tasty that you can't let some minor unpleasantness later stop you from eating it now. After that it was back to the ship for an early night just in case we sailed the next day.

I won't go into detail about when we finally left Singapore but be assured that we did. We sailed up the Mallaca straits, the busiest waterway on the planet, and we even managed to miss running into anything. We turned west
out into the Indian Ocean and into some nasty weather. I guess it is probably just my imagination, but the Indian Ocean always looks greyer to me than the Pacific. I can't explain it but it just does. I am not really a fan of the Indian Ocean because it usually means another trip to Christmas Bloody Island. Not this time though. We will eventually pass between Sri Lanka and Diego Garcia and turn north again into the Arabian Sea. But that will be a different part of the tale. So until then I wish you all well and my love to everyone at home.

Bruce (Jock) (Daddy)
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