About My Trip to Southern Asia
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Date: October-November 1997
Indonesia national flag Singapore national flag
Malaysia national flag
Duration: 3 weeks
Purpose: Business + vacation
Favorite Memory: The guided tour of Bali, the side trip to Malaysia, the three-hour conversation I had with the Malaysian tour guide after returning to Singapore, and the enthusiasm with which my Singaporean colleagues introduced me to all their favorite sea food.
Favorite Foods: Barbequed sting ray

In September of 1997, just when I was starting to believe my days of international business travel had come to an end, my manager surprised me one day by asking whether I would be willing to spend a week in Singapore giving a workshop for one of our customers.  I, of course, said "yes" immediately, and what started out as a week of business plus a week of vacation eventually grew to three weeks total when an additional week of training was added to the beginning of the trip for a company kickoff meeting in Bali.  Yes, I can honestly say that I went to Bali on business.  :)

The timing of the training in Bali and the customer workshop in Singapore was such that I had lots of extra time in Bali for sightseeing.  However, the somewhat short notice about this part of the trip had left little time for planning, so I had no idea where to go or what to see.  I decided it would be best to start with a guided tour.  That turned out to be one of the best investments I have ever made.  Since I was sightseeing alone, I had the tour guide all to myself.  While en route to the numerous places we visited--a performance of the Barong dance, various Hindu temples, an ancient pagan temple called Elephant cave, and a traditional "outdoor" Balinese "house" (to name a few)--the guide told me all about the traditional Balinese lifestyle.  What amazed me most about this small country is the way the Balinese people have made their religion (a unique "Balinese" version of Hinduism) literally the center of their lives.  Everywhere were offerings of flowers along the sidewalk, on the post outside their homes, or just sitting on the counter.  From the men who play the chimes around the clock in front of the hotel, to the beautiful dances at sunset, the reminders were everywhere that this is a country inhabited by a truly devout people.

I was also impressed by how similar the traditional lifestyle in Bali mirrors that of the ancient South and Central American cultures, such as the Maya, Aztec, and Inca.  Perhaps it was fate that I had become interested in these ancient cultures a few months prior to the Asian trip, and as such, had recently read several books about them.  When I heard the tour guide talk about how the different buildings in the outdoor "house" had to face in certain directions, how the matchmaker-arranged marriages worked, how the same four "primary" colors were used in their "classical" era paintings, and even down to the type of calendar they used, I could not help but wonder at the remarkable similarities between this culture and those of the ancient Americas.  It was as if I were seeing how life in Central and South America might have evolved had the Conquistadors not gotten there first.

Once my stay in Bali ended, my next destination was Singapore.  My initial impression of Singapore was one of awe over how many people live on this one tiny island.  I cannot imagine what Singaporeans must think when they visit a US city such as Dallas.  Our big sprawling shopping centers and huge neighborhoods of individual houses must seem an incredible waste of space to a people accustomed to building "up", not "out"!  

Singapore consists primarily of three different ethnic groups--Chinese, Indian, and Malay.  I was able to visit each of their neighborhoods while I was there, as well as several popular tourist attractions including Jarong Bird Park, Sentosa Island, and the botanical gardens.  Thanks to several of my colleagues, I was also introduced to some of the "strangest" food I have ever eaten, such as jellyfish (or so I was told!), seaweed, and stingray. 

I took time out from sightseeing in Singapore to spend a couple of days in the historic city of Malacca, Malaysia.  It just so happened that on the day I arrived, an anti-USA protest was staged in Malaysia's capital city, Kuala Lumpur.  It was all over the front page of the newspaper the next day, so when Malaysians mistook my foreign accent as Australian, I didn't argue with them.  :)  In reality, though, everyone was very friendly, regardless of where they thought I was from. 

No trip to Malacca would be complete, of course, without delving into the city's long and fascinating history dating back to the 1400's.  Because it has been told many times before, and far better than I could ever tell it, I will not attempt to include it here.  A good place to read about Malacca and its history is http://www.interknowledge.com/malaysia/malacca.html.