Sunday, March 23, 2014

Penang And Phuket Cycling Cruise Expedition - 16 to 19 Mar 2014


Group picture before the ride in Penang

The idea of combining cruise vacation with cycling was first mooted by Sandy of Star Cruises sometime last year. Indeed I was honoured to be invited by her to help organise this unique cruise program - a first by any cruise operator in this part of the world.  Our maiden voyage took place in October last year where we cruised to Phuket and Langkawi onboard Superstar Virgo for our cycling tour.  It was an enjoyable experience for all, we had load of fun & laughter and very soon, we were already planning the second departure with Xuejin and her team from Star Cruises.  

Check-in of bikes at Singapore Cruise Centre

Our second edition was scheduled on 16 to 19 Mar this year and this time we will be heading to Penang and Phuket onboard Star Cruises' largest vessel, Superstar Virgo.  For good measure, it is a 75,338 gross tonnage vessel that can carry more than 1,800 passengers.  We were better prepared for our second departure as we received valuable feedback from the cyclists in our first trip.  One major change was to break into two groups instead of one big group rolling off together.  The first group was categorised as "competitive" for the faster riders and the second group, "leisure" for the slower riders.  The aim was to cater to cyclists of varied fitness levels and to let them enjoy the ride as much as possible.  To 'double up' the fun element, we added fancy dress ride on our first day of ride in Penang and the theme was "Superheroes".  To encourage participation, we even offered a mystery prize for the fancy dress winner.    

Briefing at Celebrity Lounge

When the reservation deadline was up, we have had 53 cyclists with their age ranging from as young as four year-old Hannah to 70 a little over Michael all ready for action.  In our support team, I am pleased to have my co-organiser, Pekya, the inseparable husband & wife team in Tan Wah Soon and Jane from West Coast Rider (WCR) and Christopher Ho.  Xuejin will be the main contact person throughout and she will be in the safety vehicle throughout the ride.

Signing of indemnity form and collection of Star Cruises jerseys at Celebrity Lounge

Prior to the departure, everyone was informed to arrive at Singapore Cruise Centre by 1100 hrs on 16 Mar, Sunday where their bikes will be checked-in first.  One by one, our cyclists arrived with their bikes, roadies, mountain bikes, hybrid bikes and foldies, you name it.  Many arrived early which made the check-in easy for us and by 1230 hrs, we were ready for boarding.

Bonding moment between young Hannah and her mother, Carolyn in Phuket

Briefing was conducted at 1330 hrs at Celebrity Lounge by me and our second edition cycling jerseys were issued to all too.  The usual safety rules were reiterated to the cyclists, among others.  The support team was introduced to all the cyclists.  Pekya and Christopher will lead the "competitive' group while Tan, Jane and I will take the bigger contingent of "leisure" group.  It was during the briefing that I mentioned a go-pro camera worth more than S$600 will go to the the best dressed fancy costume cyclist or maybe, two prizes could be given out.  This piece of good news did inspire some who did not prepare any costume prior to that to think out of the box at last hour in bid to win the top prize.  One particular cyclist was Kelvin Tan who did surprise everyone when he appeared before us with his "stunning" costume. I shall talk about it when I come to that later.  Please read on.

Briefing at Celebrity Lounge

After briefing, I joined Tan, Jane and few others for dinner and then we adjourned to The Lido to watch the main performance of the evening. The guest artiste is the sexy and sultry "Fabulous Chan" who teased the audience with his, no, her...no, neither here nor there songs and dance moves.  How should I describe her best?  Well, she is a woman trapped in a man's body.  Get it now?  She was doing lip singing by the way but she was really good in engaging the audience to sing and dance along with her.  Nelson was one lucky fellow to be pulled out to the stage to dance with her but when he was not looking, she publicly 'molested' him on man's most vital part - much to our laughter.  It was a great performance by "Fabulous Chan" but for Nelson, it could be another story.

Tan, his wife and friends at Celebrity Lounge 

After the show, I decided to retire to my cabin while some proceeded to enjoy the rest of the evening at Taverna.  I heard Nelson was pulled out again to perform Elvis Presley act.  In just one night, he has become a popular figure by now.

Conditioning workout by coach Pekya 

The following morning, I joined some for a body conditioning lesson by Pekya at the Promenade deck.  Pekya really gave us a good one hour hellish workout prior to our ride later.  We had breakfast after our workout.  Our first ride was to commence at about 1200 hrs when the ship pulled alongside Penang Sweetenham Pier Cruise Terminal.

Betty making her grand entrance

We were to gather at deck 4, mid ship lift lobby area at 1100 hrs.  I donned my "Flintstones" tee and was waiting there by 1030 hrs.  Tan and Jane wore a matching "Batman" tee while Chris had a cap and a big shinny bow tie on him and Pekya wore a mask.  Some like Richard, Mary, Tze had their Superman tees.  Andrew was in his "Ironman" mask and he even had the light built in.  Two best friends, Hui Ting and Hui Ting wore their favourite "Doraemon" costume.  Alasdair appeared in full "Batman" suit, mask and costume and all.  He even had a black trash bag to improvise his wing.  Even Joanna came in full "Supergirl" costume.  What a sport they are.  But when Kelvin appeared in his effeminate "Betty Boop" costume, it immediately rocked the ship.  He even played the part well.  Had "Fabulous Chan" seen him, she would have signed him up as part of her effeminate act.  We really had a good laugh and without doubt, "Betty Boop" was the clear crowd favourite.  Kelvin did not come prepared for any costume wear but when the prize happened to be a go pro camera, he and some of his female friends started to discuss about the plan.  I heard the discussion went on till 0200 hrs.  To prepare for it, he borrowed a sport bra from Mary which stretched the bra to the limit, given his size.  Mary's hand sleeves were used as tights.  To complete the job, powder and lipstick were added on.

The Superheroes and Betty

The ride distance in Penang was 50 km for the "leisure" and 60 km for the "competitive".  Led by two motorcyclists for each group, the "competitive" group was flagged off first followed by the "leisure" group.  Upon exiting the port, we cycled on the coastal road heading to the direction of the airport.  Admittedly, the road was quite congested with traffic and we had to cycle with much care.  Desmond had his four year old daughter, Hannah as pillion rider.  He is an experienced rider joined by his wife, Carolyn who has just taken up cycling.  I was at the rear with Freda, a novice cyclist.  She was quite nervous on road.  Our first stop was the snake temple.  About 10 km into the ride, Pekya's chain broke and followed later, Ann had a tyre puncture. They were eventually scooped up by the safety vehicle at that early stage.  When we were about to arrive at the snake temple, the first group was already on the way to Kek Lok Si temple, our second stop in Ayer Hitam.  It was at the snake temple, Freda decided not to cycle and I did heave a big sigh of relief.  The route is mostly flat but we had to climb one fairly steep slope.  Alas, one of our cyclists fell while on the descent. She was immediately sent to the ship for medical attention.

Rolling off in Penang

After our rest at Kek Lok Si temple, the first group went off first.  The second group rolled off about half an hour later.  It was about 1530 hrs.  We cycled into Georgetown, to Gurney Drive and finally arriving at Sweetenham Pier.  It was a smooth ride though traffic was quite heavy.  All of us arrived at about 1700 hrs.  There were still more than two hours before the final boarding and some hit town while I returned to the ship.

Group picture after the ride in Penang

The second day ride in Phuket started early.  We had to gather at the 4th deck lift lobby by 0720 hrs.  Everyone was in their Star Cruises jerseys.  The ship had to be anchored off Patong Beach and everyone including our bikes had to be transferred by boats to shore.  The support team disembarked first while the main group will join later.  The bikes were all ready when we reached the floating platform.  When the cyclists arrived, they just picked up their own bikes and proceeded to shore.  It was a hot morning and traffic was quite heavy in the Patong area.  Once we were ready, we rolled off in two separate groups led by a motorist.

Group picture before the ride in Phuket 

We will be cycling in the southern part of the island where the best beaches can be found starting in Patong beach.  However, the terrain can be quite undulating throughout the entire journey.  The first group was led by Chris and Pekya.  Tan, Jane and I will handle the second group.  Before 0900 hrs, we were ready to roll off.  Tan was taking the front, I covered the mid section while Jane took the rear.  Whenever there was a break or turn, Tan would instruct the motorist to stop for the rest of us to re-group.  Credit to him, it was smooth sailing which allowed everyone to constantly remain together.  The weather was getting hotter and the constant up and down did test the endurance of most cyclists.  Young Hannah who was the pillion rider told her dad that she was feeling giddy from the constant rolling.  She decided that she should take the safety vehicle and in the comfort of aircon, she can enjoy her games on i-pad.  Smart decision for a young girl.  

Ride in Phuket

At about 1100 hrs, everyone arrived at our mid point.  The first group will do the scenic but more challenging coastal road to Patong beach.  For the second group, it will be the same u-turn back.  Xuejin managed to get two support vehicles for the two groups.  The origin plan did not have support vehicle for the first group but with the inclusion, this certainly eased the mind of some cyclists.

One of the slopes in Phuket

The ride back was more challenging as it was already mid day.  Fatigue and cramp got the better of some, few decided not to ride but to take the support vehicle.  Notwithstanding, it was a smooth ride back.  All of us finally arrived at Patong beach by 1500 hrs.  After settling our bikes, I joined Tan, Jane and few others for a good foot reflexology before heading back to the ship.  

A scenic shot of the beach in Phuket

While onboard, a gala dinner was arranged for the cyclists.  Like in the last trip, completion certificates will be presented but this time, it will be done after the gala dinner at 2100 hrs at Tarvena.  This time around, the hotel manager, Michael Seet will present the certificates to us.  Before that, we had some fun and game organised for us by the ship.  After the certificates were done with, I took over the mike to announce the two winners for the fancy dress contest.  Xuejin was the one to decide who are the two winners.  When I took the first opportunity to announce that "Flintstones" played by me was the winner, I  received 'violent' objection from the audience.  Of course, that was done in jest and they just played along with me.  Anyway, Alasdair in his "Batman" suit and crowd favourite, sultry Betty Boop played by Kelvin Tan were the two lucky winners.  If I had a third prize, I would have given to Andrew for his "Ironman" play but Xuejin had set aside only two prizes.  A birthday day specially baked by the ship was presented out for those who are born in the month of March, total 10 of them.  Many stayed on, drinking and chatting away.  I finished one glass of white wine (my maximum input) and already feeling a little tipsy, I headed for my bunk.

Our most senior cyclist, Michael receiving his completion certificate from the hotel manager

The ship arrived in Singapore on 19 March, Wednesday at about 1900 hrs.  We had to wait a little while for the bikes to be ferried out from the wharf.  When all the bikes were accounted for, we bade farewell to each other before parting way.  With my backpack and first aid slung around me, I cycled home.  It was another great outing with friends and new friends and I look forward to our third departure if it does happen in the near future.                

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Boo-Boo At Airport



It happened in the 80s when I was working at the airport.  It was another typical flight departure where our flight was bounded for Amsterdam which left on time.  After the flight had touched down, we were informed by the Dutch immigration that there were some Middle Eastern passengers on the flight who were travelling on forged passports.  As an international accepted practise, they had to be deported back to the port of origin since their nationality could not be ascertained and in this instance, it was Singapore.  They were then immediately put back on the same flight to Singapore which had a stopover in Delhi on either way.

I was not on duty when the return flight landed at Changi Airport.  There was no need to call for enhanced security as it was a normal case of deportee where the arrival staff would escort them to the immigration.  There were about five men if I remember correctly.  When they arrived at the arrival hall, two suddenly dashed past the immigration, past the customs and finally past the police check point.  Three were stopped in time and the other two could not be found.

The Singapore immigration was furious and insisted that the airline had to send them back to where they were originally headed.  They remained steadfast that their passports were original.  Reluctantly, we put back the three persons on our first available flight to Amsterdam again.  I was on duty for the departure flight and that was the first time I caught a good glance of the trio.  They were mostly rotund looking Middle Eastern men and bulky figure aside, some can really make a quick dash.  This time, we had security to escort them.

Off they went on their second consecutive trip to Amsterdam.  The Dutch would not budge.  They were very sure that their passports were forged and to prove their point, they sent one of their immigration officers to fly with the deportees.  However, the Singapore immigration insisted that we should not re-board the passengers and if we do so, we could be barred from entering into Singapore airspace.  As a commercial entity, we were caught in between two authorities.  However, the Dutch were no pushover either.  They were not wrong to insist that the passengers be deported back to the port of origin.

I was on duty to handle the arrival flight.  When the men walked out of the aerobridge, one of them quickly kneel down begging us not to re-board them again.  They had been flying for more than 48 hours, they did not have any proper bath and they certainly had enough of flying.  They were finally handed to the Singapore immigration officials and that was the last time we heard from them.