I’m back in Singapore for another round of training and such. We decided to move across town this time to the marina area. We have been to a lot of places in the marina part of town but never stayed here. We ended up in the Swissotel The Stamford hotel, which is the tallest hotel in Asia (I’ve heard). 70 floors of hotel. I ended up on the 45th floor and the room has a quite beautiful view and a working balcony — I’ve not been in a hotel in the US where they would let anyone out on a balcony, particularly at these heights. Pretty cool, though, for getting pictures of tall places that will make my mother wince and feel vertigo. 😉
Thanks to Bill, Michele, and Steve, I’ve been through a good portion of the Caribbean but I’d never had the chance to visit the Bahamas until January 2006. Brenda Becker, Bill’s mom, rented a villa on Harbour Island for a few weeks and invited me to come along with Bill and Michele for one of the weeks.
Let me just say, uh, “wow.”
I’ve placed some pictures in a .Mac photo album so you can get a feel for the place.
When traveling to Singapore, I take my normal T-Mobile GSM phone with me and it “just works.” People can call my U.S. number and it rings and acts normal in Singapore. GSM phone service is in use in most places in the world, allowing you unprecedented uniformity of communications. Everything is great except that it costs $1.65/min in Singapore with a U.S. SIM (Subscriber Identity Module). Youch.
Naturally, I didn’t use the voice part of my phone very much when I’m here to avoid the terrible cost. Instead, I turned to Skype. Skype is a free internet telephony application and network that allows computer to computer calls for free using a broadband Internet connection. Skype’s strengths are its simplicity and it has been tuned for good audio quality under poor network conditions.
Computer to computer voice communications isn’t terribly useful most of the time, though. So in addition to that, you can subscribe to SkypeIn and SkypeOut. SkypeIn is where you attach a phone number or numbers in any number of cities to your Skype account. SkypeIn and SkypeOut are where Skype makes its money by renting you the numbers and charging per-minute rates.
When people call your SkypeIn phone number(s), your computer can receive the call just like someone calling you with Skype from another computer. SkypeOut lets you call regular phone numbers from your computer. These services, along with a bluetooth headset (earphone/mic combo) let my laptop communicate with any land or cell phone in the world for generally astonishingly reasonable cost (mostly where I call is 2 to 3 cents a minute.)
Now, one of the features of GSM phone service is that your identity (phone # and other stuff) is stored on a little smart card called a SIM. These cards can be removed from your phone and put into another GSM phone and that phone will then become the phone number associated with the SIM card. In the U.S., generally this isn’t done because cellular phones are sold “locked” to a particular provider. If you buy a phone from, say, Cingular, the phone will only work with Cingular SIM cards unless the phone gets unlocked.
In most other places in the world, this doesn’t appear to be standard practice. When here in Singapore, I tend to buy cell phones so my cell phones are unlocked and can work with any SIM card. In addition, when we are here, I buy a StarHub Green prepaid SIM service which gives me a local phone number that is very economical for voice and data locally (around 14 cents US/min)
The problem with that is that while the local SIM card is in my phone, my telephone # in the US will just go right to voicemail. While the US SIM card is in my phone, I get charged terrible roaming fees. What to do?
Well this time, I thought of a clever trick. Skype is testing a new service called Skype forwarding. This service lets you forward your skype account to another Skype account, or any phone # in the world — costing only as much as it would if you were using SkypeOut.
So, here is what I did. I installed my US SIM card in my phone. I turned on the call forwarding for my US number to forward to my SkypeIn number that is in the same area code as my US mobile phone. This allows me to receive calls to my mobile phone on my computer.
Next, I installed my local SIM card in my phone, turning it into a local prepaid phone. Using the Skype software (had to use a Windows version using virtual pc because the Mac OS X version of Skype doesn’t yet support the feature) I set my Skype id to forward to my Singapore mobile number.
The result? Calls to my US cell phone are forwarded to my Skype account, which is forwarded over the Internet to my local prepaid mobile phone.
The result? I can receive calls transparently from my US mobile phone on my Singapore mobile phone for around 15 cents a minute and the callers don’t really know any difference. Outgoing calls to the US, cost around 13 cents a minute because of #5 below.
There are a couple of gotchas.
1. SMS messages are not forwarded
2. Forwarding calls from a US mobile phone to another phone number still uses mobile phone minutes as if you were making a call from the mobile phone to the forward-to number. This is not a problem for me because my plan has sufficient minutes for all my calling and during the time that I am up here in Singapore, my cell plan is under the unlimited nights and weekends usually.
3. It isn’t real speedy to setup the call. It takes 5 rings on the caller’s side before my phone rings the first time here. Longer if Skype is online on my computer so I have a chance to intercept the call there before it goes to the local mobile #
4. There is a slight conversation delay because of the voice over internet thing, just like using Skype on the computer. Although the delay is less than the computer version, very tolerable.
5. Outgoing calls from the local phone use normal minutes for local calls and StarHub rates for international long distance. The reason I chose StarHub over the other providers here is that they are running a promotion that if you dial outgoing long distance with a special prefix (018) rather than +1 the long distance is “free” costing only local minute charges.
The world of VOIP (Voice Over IP) is changing everything. Telephone providers need to know that people will use the most straightforward service if the price is reasonable. If my roaming rate was even as high as 30 cents a minute, I would probably just use the phone normally. This scheme is not straightforward, but the price is fabulous. International roaming charges at $1.70 USD per minute is just stupid.
Today held an important new first for me…traversing an international border on a bike! Pulling up to the guards on my bike in spandex gave me more of a thrill than it should have but that was a blast and, no, I wasn’t carrying any firewood.
We had to climb many miles of uphill to get to the border crossing. That’s a pain that’s gonna linger I must say.
I think there were two major hill sections with 10 miles of uphill combined and then various other hills. One amazing thing was a 5 mile DOWN hill ride where I maintained 40-45 mph for the duration.
Bugs hurt at those speeds. Also small potholes become … well they hurt a lot unless you get your butt out of the saddle in time! Zowie!
We had to fight a heinous headwind for the last five miles of the ride. Zoiks! We arrived at the ridiculously beautiful Prince of Wales hotel/lodge just before 3pm and have a few hours of down time.
My total ride distance was 52 miles with 3500 ft of ascent.
Biking with a van full of snacks and cold drinks following you around is a Good Thing ™. I could get used to it big time. 🙂
Tomorrow (Monday) is a day off where we get to choose our own activities and schedule. No clue what I am going to do other than SLEEP IN.
Actually, I do… there is a nice 10 mile uphill bike to a lake where you can rent Kayaks! Sounds perfy… with a downhill 10 mile return! Both Bill and I are very interested in that particular option.
We’ll see if I can drag my sorry carcas out of bed.
Well we were a bit disappointed as we climbed the hill on our trusty Titanium steeds because after the first 5 miles it seemed that we started to go down hill. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem but we were looking forward to a 10 mile downhill blast when we were done.
Anyway, we got to the top and rented two kayaks and paddled around the ridiculously beautiful lake. In the rain. Sort of. It rained off and on on the way up the hill and while we were out on the lake, nothing major.
This was my first time in a yak and I really liked it-as I suspected I would. Bill and Michele can tell you that I’ve been ranting about trying or buying one for a year or so.
A single user boat is quite responsive and it was very stable.
We were forced to buy some hot chocolate to have with our bag lunch and Pie in a Bag ™ and then geared up for the half downhill ride home.
Well, I’m not sure what happened, but it really was downhill the whole way-with two or three speed killing dips, I couldn’t stop smiling the whole 10 mile blast and I still haven’t. It almost made me want to go back up and do it again. Almost.
Our two trip leaders and the 9 participants are all great, which is a relief (see Tim Cahill).
We got a briefing about what to expect for the day and packed ourselves bag lunches for our 7 mile hike in the park.
Our group is sized small enough that we all fit into one van which makes it spiffy.
The drive up the “going to the sun” road was spectacular as expected and we got to Logan Pass around 10:30am to start our hike.
Our route took us above the road we drove in on for a total of 7.4 miles and just over a thousand vertical feet of ascent.
The weather was perfect and the views spectacular and clear. We timed it perfectly it sounds.
We just arrived at our furst lodge: Many Glacier Lodge which, like all of the lodges, is rustic. Ill leave it at that. However, the view out my window is devistating-making up for a lot. A glacial lake surrounded by mountains. Darn.
The lodge is location rich and grand in stature yet appalling in acomodation if compared to anything modern. However, if thought of as a cabin in an unbeatable location, it works. It is also packed.
Anyway, its off to a wine tasting and then a get aquainted dinner, although the hike and van rides already did that mostly.
Pictures will be added later as I’m posting these from my phone and am having trouble with them.
Tim Cahill wrote an essay regarding travel (what else) where he provided a set of travel rules. This set of rules is something that I’ve taken to heart to avoid bad travel situations where you end up across the campfire from someone saying “Lazlo, give me the gun.”
This trip is interesting in that I really had no control over who else is on the trip-something that never really crossed my mind during the planning phases. Mostly, I suppose because I didn’t realize how much time we would actually be spending together, which is a lot.
Happily, I am pleased to report that our small group rocks. Very fun and interesting people…3 couples and 4 solos. Apparently the trip before is (the same itinerary) was 19 people. I can’t imagine trying to manage that number of people.
I genuinely like everyone on this trip and will definitely be keeping in touch!
We made it to grouse mountain lodge at about 10:30pm…a couple hours late due to train issues.
There was a nice guy standing right where we got off the train with a sign with our name on it! Woo! he drove us to the hotel and gave a quoite detailed restaurant inventory on the way.
This hotel is the starting place of our expedition tomorrow morning bright and early at 8.
I have discovered that getting off the train is just like getting off a boat… Everything is still moving!
Ok, first class train travel does not suck. Bill and Michele have a room, I have a roomette-which means it is two seats facing each other with a door. The seats fold flat to form a bed and there is also a bunk that folds down.
This thing books. I turned on the gps and measured our speed at some points in excess of 80 mph.