Marv and Carole Feldman Return to Asia

SINGAPORE―GETTING THERE

The Feldman's traveling to Asia. Photo courtesy of the Feldmans.

The Feldman’s traveling to Asia. Photo courtesy of the Feldmans.


We had made several unsuccessful attempts to visit Singapore and Southeast Asia over the past few years but this time we hit the jackpot! There were no military flights heading west when we wanted to travel so we started with Southwest Airlines flights across the USA from Jacksonville to Sacramento, then took the excellent Aloha Airporter (with “Duke,” (707) 301-6837; email: aloha.airporter@gmail.com) to Travis AFB. From here, most of the Asia-bound military flights originate and we were fortunate to catch a USAF C–5B from there.

The terrible weather in most of the US had played havoc with ALL flights and our Southwest departure from Jacksonville was delayed one day causing us to miss the rare “perfect military flight” from Travis direct to Singapore. Never mind― our trip would just take a little longer!

First stop: Hickam AFB, HI, for what, we thought, would be a brief overnight then on to Yokota AB, Japan. Our stay in Hawaii turned out to be several days (due to the ever-changing nature of military flights, e.g., C–5B “hard broke” for three days), but this afforded us the wonderful opportunity to visit with dear friends in Honolulu.

When we finally landed in Japan, we were greeted by a blast of 32 degrees Fahrenheit cold air and snow! Fortunately, we are always equipped with warm jackets and looked forward to spending time in the Tokyo area for a few days before our Singapore flight. (It turned out that the Singapore flight with which we had hoped to connect had left half an hour before our C–5B arrived at Yokota.)

TOKYO AREA

Enjoying some warm food in Tokyo. Photo courtesy of the Feldmans.

Enjoying some warm food in Tokyo. Photo courtesy of the Feldmans.


Having settled into our comfortable, on-base Kanto Lodge accommodation and knowing we would be at Yokota AB for several days before a flight to Singapore, we planned a full day in Tokyo (some 30 miles away = two hours in traffic). The Kanto Lodge-New Sanno Hotel morning shuttle for about $10 each worked out well.

Glorious sunshine (and bitter cold) greeted us but we determined to make the most of our outing and rugged up with all the winter clothing we could muster. Having arrived in “downtown” Tokyo around lunchtime, we headed to a tiny, (recommended by staff at The New Sanno Hotel) soba (noodle and broth) place where we were the only gaijins (foreigners) and enjoyed the hot and delicious meal. Although Tokyo is incredibly expensive, the little back alley establishment gave us a most economical and traditional, local lunch and an opportunity to practice our very limited Japanese.

Passenger that froze to death while waiting for a flight from Yokota AB, Japan. Humor and Photo courtesy of Marv Feldman.

Passenger that froze to death while waiting for a flight from Yokota AB, Japan. Humor and Photo courtesy of Marv Feldman.


Warmed and satisfied, we chose to take an afternoon tour (booked at the New Sanno’s tour desk) with a stop at a 17th Century Shogun’s former private park, a boat trip from Tokyo Bay along the Sumida River to the Asakusa district where we visited a Buddhist temple, Shinto shrine and sampled tasty delights at numerous food stalls. We were impressed by the sophistication and elegance of well-dressed locals and as day turned into night, the bright lights of the Ginza and other areas of this amazing city were dazzling. We returned on the last shuttle to Yokota AB after a delicious dinner at the New Sanno Hotel. Just as well that we toured (and returned to base) when we did. Back on Yokota, next day, we awoke to heavy snow and a winter wonderland of white. Steamy Singapore beckoned!

SINGAPORE—1

We made it! After 10 days of delays, flight cancellations, a blizzard and actual travel (a mini-adventure in itself), we finally arrived on the ATI contract Boeing 757 flight (Patriot Express) at our “home away from home” and favorite destination in Asia. Having trudged through snow and ice to get to our plane at Yokota, we were thrilled to be in Singapore—pleasantly hot by day and balmy by night (it was the dry season).

Well over our jet lag, we hit the ground running. This time, we never made it to the country’s tourist area (Orchard Road) but crisscrossed the island by its excellent bus and MRT (subway) system, giving us a very different glimpse of Singapore from our previous visits (we have been here dozens of times). One such visit this time was to the Changi Prison Museum, the infamous World War II Japanese POW camp. It was a sobering experience.

Marv enjoys sates in Singapore. Photo by Carole Feldman.

Marv enjoys sates in Singapore. Photo by Carole Feldman.


Food is an obsession here and 24/7 dining is the norm. From delicious offerings in Little India, to Malay dishes near our hotel (Tristar 81 in Paya Lebar, + 65-6244-8181, email ts-res@hotel81.com.sg) and to sizzling satays at the Asli Satay “Club” in the Financial District’s Lau Pa Sat market, anything was possible! We even enjoyed dinner one night with Marv’s cousin (he is on assignment with IBM). Here in Singapore, Carole began brushing up on her rusty Malay/Indonesian in preparation for our next stop, Malaysia.

MALAYSIA—1 (Kuala Lumpur)

When our journey to Singapore took longer than expected, we realized that our rather ambitious travel plans around this region would need to be downsized as our “travel window” had been reduced. Nevertheless, a return visit to Malaysia was very tempting (we had been there on several previous visits). Our slow, relaxing, eight hour Malaysian train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur (KL) provided fascinating scenery (dense jungle, lazing water buffaloes, endless palm groves for palm oil, rubber plantations) as we headed north up the Malay Peninsula. When day turned into night, fellow (male) Muslim passengers laid down rugs on the train car’s floor and began praying. All quite interesting!

Our KL accommodation was the Hotel Sentral (tel: +60-3-2272-6000, email hskl@hotelsentral.com.my). Since we stayed there on a previous visit, they upgraded us to a huge room on the “Executive Floor”). It was well-located and very good value. We headed to the main shopping area of Bukit Bintang where we spent hours in an eight story shopping mall, devoted only to electronics—Marv was like the proverbial “kid in a candy store.” To sooth our feet, tired from all the walking around the mall, we pampered ourselves with foot reflexology treatments. Afterwards, we watched a Chinese Lion Dance, performed over tall poles—quite an amazing feat—then headed to lunch at what must be the world’s largest food court—Food Republic in the gorgeous Pavilion Mall. KL can certainly give Singapore a run for its money in food and shopping opportunities and the city has really progressed over the years during our several visits here.

Now we were off to the bus station for the four hour journey across the country to Kuantan, on Malaysia’s East Coast.

MALAYSIA—2 (Kuantan)

The first time Marvin heard of Kuantan was about 20 years ago when he read the Australian novel, “A Town Like Alice”. In this WWII story, Japanese soldiers invaded Malaysia (then Malaya), taking prisoners. Women prisoners were force-marched hundreds of miles north until they came to the village of Kuantan. Now, Kuantan still has very kind locals and is no longer a little village but a thriving city with freeways, air-conditioned shopping malls, Burger King and McDonald’s, and even Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks! By contrast, its beaches and resorts near the Gulf of Thailand are spectacular. And while this was Marvin’s first time here, Carole visited Kuantan about 30 years ago.