Summer 2000 vacation letter
      Hello everyone.  School came to a close a little late this year.  After it ended I drove immediately to Tobermory to dive some wrecks with my dive club, the Superturtles, including the Niagara II.  The water was cold - 41 degrees at depth on one dive, but it was fun.  Thank goodness I had a wet suit that could deal with that kind of temperature.
      Right after my return from that weekend, we flew to Singapore. 
We visited Deborah's brother Geoff and his kids Joseph and Kymberly, and Christie Maria ("Yaya").

(me with Kymberly and Joseph)

(Deborah with Kymberly)
    We saw Luisa for one day, but then she had to go to work at her job as hostess with Cathay Pacific.  She'd just finished a holiday here in Canada with the family.

      We visited the Singapore Zoo to have breakfast with an orangutan.  We also saw the penguin and polar bear feeding (in glass tanks), an elephant show and lots of well-kept animals in open enclosures, not behind bars. 
      We went to a botanical garden and saw acres of orchids, and to a bird park where we watched shows by many different kinds of birds - hawks and eagles, parrots and macaws, and many others.
      We toured the city, saw Little India, Chinatown, etc, and ate all kinds of great foods in the hawker stalls.  We took a "bumboat" ride on the river and photographed the Merlion. 
     We spent a day in Sentosa island, taking in the underwater world, Fort Siloso, the butterfly farm and a show called Images of Singapore.  All in all, Singapore is a hot, humid, clean, modern city much like Toronto but with no debt and somewhat better architecture.  The cost of living is much like Toronto, too; cars and houses are more expensive, but food is cheaper, especially when you're eating out, which Singaporeans seem to do much more than we do.

    We made a side trip to an island called Pulau Dayang, which means "pregnant woman island" because that's what it looks like from the sea.  It is on the east coast of west Malaysia.  We stayed in a rustic, primitive resort in cabins with bunkbeds and meals served buffet style on the beach, and I did six dives including a night dive; Deborah did four or five, and completed her open water certification - so she's now an official scuba diver.  The beach was lovely, with tan coloured sand as soft as icing sugar, and I really enjoyed several of my dives.
   After that we went to Bali, where we did two more dives at Menjangan Island, and toured lots of interesting places.  We saw Tanah Lot, the temple by the sea, where I pet one of the holy snakes - a very dramatic temple site, by the way.  We went to Kintamani to see the volcano and crater. 
    We handfed rhesus monkeys in the Monkey Forest temple, toured lots of craft factories, went to several other temples including the ancient ruin of a Ganesh cave temple where I had to wear a sarong to cover up my legs.  This is the carved stone doorway to the cave. 
   I treated myself to a drink of fresh coconut juice on the way out.  You can't get it any fresher than this.

  Bali is a great vacation destination.  Like Hawaii, but poorer economically and many times richer culturally.  The Hindu customs and religion run very deep.
    You might imagine this flight of stairs lead to a home, but it actually leads to a family shrine, a place where the family who runs the business on this property leaves offerings of fruit, beautifully bound flowers, cigarettes and beverages every morning to ancestors and spirits of earth and sky.
      There are shrines in every home, every business, every village, every stream and river...there are literally more shrines than houses in Bali. 
    I shudder to think how much time and expense is spent in daily offerings, but of course, that's their business, not mine.
      The craft ability and artistry of the people is awesome, from painting to stone sculpture, and including papermaking, silverwork, furniture-making, and many other skills.  The people are very nice, once you get past the ones trying to peddle stuff to you at every junction, but we did meet up with a pickpocket.  We foiled him, but fell victim to a theft of cash ($250!) right out of our safety deposit box in the three star hotel we were staying in, where we'd already paid too much to stay.  I'd read a warning about that...too bad I didn't take it seriously enough.
      The cost of a vacation in Bali doesn't have to be much, though.  You can eat very cheaply, and you can stay in perfectly clean two and three star hotels for $20-$25 a night, or even in smaller local hotels called "losmen" for around $7.
July was kite festival month.
  We saw kites that took seven guys to carry down the street, and hundreds of smaller ones for sale to tourists - butterflies, birds, dragons, and bats. 
One can enjoy surfing on Kuta beach, where the waves are perfect for beginners and the sandy bottom is gorgeous, perfectly sloped and devoid of rocks or even sharp shells; and you can go sailing, farther up the coast.  There are many dive sites in the region; although the visibility isn't much different than the Carribean, the marine life is rich and there are many Pacific species there that you won't see on this side of the world.
     From Bali we went to Jakarta and stayed at Kelly and David's house for a few days.  This is Kelly with Deborah, of course, not David.  He wasn't home when we got the camera out.  They took us out to a lovely dinner the first night, and on another day to a movie. 
Then we went on a three day side trip to Yogyakarta (pronounced and sometimes spelled "Jogjakarta"), where we saw the ancient Buddhist temple Borobudur, the ancient Hindu temple of Prambanan, the Sultan's Palace and an earlier Sultan's Water Castle, bought some batiks, and generally enjoyed ourselves.
Borobudur is one of the seven ancient wonders of the world.  It is an enormous temple which served (and still serves) as a method of study and contemplation of the life and significance of the Buddha.  Here is a superb website that you can lose yourself in for hours which describes and explains this monumental 12th Century achievement:
http://www.bergerfoundation.ch/Home/high_borobudur.html

 
     We also visited a 
complex of Hindu 
temples at Prambanan. 
You can learn about them on the net too, at http://www.emp.pdx.edu/
htliono/temples.html
Inside each temple is a statue of its deity - in this case Vishnu, if my memory is accurate.
     After leaving Java, we went to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, where we visited with Larry Shuett and his wife Jee, and daughters Angela and Lorena.  We visited the temple at Doi Suthep - lots of gold leaf - and an elephant training camp where we went for a half-hour ride in the jungle.  I actually got to sit on the elephant's head and steer her, but you'll have to see my videotape for that.  I don't have a photo of it.
   One day we drove north, took a ride in a "long-tailed" speed boat in the Golden Triangle on the Mei Kong river to an island in Laos (more of a tourist trap than anything else, mind you), and stopped at the border of Myanmar (Burma).
    We really liked the people in Thailand, including our hardworking tour guide.  We had a pretty good trip, all in all.  We flew home on August 2nd, a 25 hour trip on three planes. We actually rode on thirteen different planes in the four weeks we were away, plus a couple of overnight trains and a lot of minivans.  So it was a bit fatiguing, as well.
    Upon our return, I went to Brockville right away for three more days of scuba diving.  Heavy current, exhausting, with my jet lag and all going on, but very interesting to see some of the wrecks in that area, and the water was a balmy 70 degrees from surface all the way to the bottom.  I finally completed my "advanced plus" PADI certification, which is a goal I'd begun working on somewhere around last January.
Now Deb and I are doing lots of home maintenance chores on both houses, following up on basement leaks caused by all the rain they had in Toronto through July, reshingling my garage roof, doing the windows in the other house, moving all Deb's stuff to her new school...and lots of painting and sanding and floor finishing and stuff waiting to be done after that.  In between the chores we're finding time to play tennis and go sailing, and we'll try to see a movie or two before school starts again.
We hope this letter finds everyone well.

Best wishes everyone,

Steve & Deborah

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