Weeks 30-32: Aluminum: Foil or Can?

It is hard to believe, but as of July 6, Greg and I have been married for ten years. Apart from a few trying periods here and there, most of which involved digestively challenged infants and a shocking lack of sleep, it seems like just yesterday that I was trying to bribe my closest friends to take me to Mexico instead of to the church. I wanted to pick up Greg on the way, of course. It wasn't the marriage that I was trying to escape with my attempted trip south of the border, but the wedding itself, and specifically, the walk down the aisle. I am sure that this time-honored trek toward lifetime commitment is fraught with cultural and fashion significance, but the mere thought of parading down a narrow path in full view of a room full of people I know and a mess of people I don't know was enough to give me dry heaves. Pretty dress or not. Seriously, a nervous, and potentially nauseous, bride has no business marching a hundred feet or more in an outfit designed for accentuation not ambulation.

But, since my allegedly loyal friends refused to accept the money that I did not even have in the first place, and because I feared our families' wrath almost as much as the wedding march, I had no choice but to go along with the plan. Plus, our favorite band was scheduled to play at the reception. So here we are - ten years, two kids, and almost ten thousand miles down the road from where we started.

To celebrate this marital milestone, we decided to take a vacation. To enable us to have a few days of that vacation to ourselves, Greg's parents, Troy and Sherrie, thoughtfully flew in for their second visit a few days before our anniversary. After a relaxing weekend at home, during which we made trips to Singapore's Botanical Gardens and the zoo, Greg and I left the children in their grandparents' loving care and embarked on a very short journey to the Indonesian island of Bintan: a short 45-minute ferry trip from our own island home.

Although we had a rocky start, with the ferry lurching back and forth on the huge waves of the South China Sea until the dry heaves of my wedding day were much more than a memory, we had a wonderful time in Bintan. We spent the first three days of our Club Med extravaganza sleeping late, watching non-Disney television (Greg watched E! for four hours straight the first day), and indulging in the traditional gift associated with one's 10th anniversary: aluminum - in the form of ridiculously overpriced cans of beer.

On the fourth day, the parents and offspring joined us, and we spent another three days lazing around the resort doing a whole lot of nothing. We did leave the property once, on our last free afternoon, to take a tour of the nearby mangrove: a very interesting ecosystem within Indonesia's rain forest, where salt water and freshwater meet to yield a twisted thicket of mangrove trees, the bark of which is useful in both grilling satay and growing orchids, and the roots of which provide a unique natural water treatment system and offer shelter to a wide range of wildlife.

As many of you well know, I am a bit paranoid when it comes to my children's safety, so the idea of piling into a small motorboat and touring what amounts to a swamp, regardless of how wonderfully bio-diverse it may be, gave me pause. But, I agreed to the trip, because I was assured by several parties, who shall remain nameless but not blameless, that this adventure would pose no threat of physical or emotional harm to my family. I realized the extent of the deception, innocent though it may have been, and cursed said parties mightily as liars and charlatans when the driver of our open vessel stopped the engine, and thus our movement, and pointed out a mangrove snake, wrapped around a tree branch, hanging directly over our heads, only a few feet away.

The snake in question and close proximity - which really is a beautiful creature - has been described by the Singapore Zoo as friendly, making it a favorite of snake charmers, and mildly venomous. The varying levels of strength attributed to snake venom are, I now know, quite subjective. Our knowledgeable guide through the mangrove swamp, an eerie domain that apparently is awash with the snakes to which it gives its name, told us that a bite from this particular yellow-striped serpent will kill you in three to 24 hours. As opposed to the king cobra, a snake that also resides around the murky waters through which we were floating, whose venom is of undisputed and universally known strength. It can kill you in five to 55 minutes. I suppose it is all relative in the world of snake bites, and perhaps three hours is a veritable eternity to live when compared to just five minutes. Mildly venomous my ass.

So, as we continued to drift under the aforementioned mangrove snake (the fourth one we'd seen in less than 20 minutes, by the way), I tried to focus on two thoughts - because I want my children to respect all of God's creatures, but not to fear them, and hearing me scream expletives wouldn't help much in that effort:

  1. These snakes are nocturnal, so they sleep all day, posing no danger and offering no possibility of dropping into the boat looking for a snack - a little trick for an easy meal they like to employ on occasion (one of many little-known facts the insanely cavalier guide parsed out at inopportune moments); and

  2. Even if one did fall into our laps unexpectedly, we could always jump into the safety of the water, since we were all carefully outfitted with lifejackets.
The reality of our precarious position, however, was a far cry from the saccharine-laced propaganda of the tour's brochure, because:

  1. The snake under which our boat rested was wide awake (as you can see in the picture below), and was eyeing us with more interest that I would prefer from a potentially deadly reptile; and

  2. According to another dramatic piece of information shared by our guide, the snakes swimming amok in the water were even more poisonous than the one that was hanging over our heads. A quick dip into the water would most assuredly be fatal. Sheesh. Why they bothered insisting that all passengers wear lifejackets, I have no idea. Troy helpfully suggested that it facilitates pulling snake-bitten bodies from the water. And you can forget about a land-based escape from a mangrove snake drop-in, because most of the shore's plants shoot sharp roots up through the ground that would all but prevent safe travel, assuming you could get past the king cobras of course. Where is Riki Tiki Tavi when you need him?
Despite my totally justified fears that my children would perish in a swamp in Indonesia, we made it back to the resort safely and without incident, and, without me screaming even one manic profanity. All in all, the tour was both educational and entertaining, as advertised. In addition to the mangrove snakes (four of them I said!), we saw a young python (also pictured below), a few fleeting glimpses of monkey parts passing through the tree branches, the biggest, most beautiful butterfly I have ever seen, flying close enough to our boat to touch, and a mangrove fisherman - not an actor supplied for tourists' entertainment, but an actual wizened old man leaning over his boat, with a grin and a cigarette hanging on his face, grabbing a trap out of the water. There are few things that re-set one's perspective more effectively than seeing a fellow human being who earns a living, and a meager one at that, by spending his days in the deadly waters of an enchanting, but terribly frightening swamp. Following the excitement of our afternoon tour, I headed straight to the bar to open some more anniversary gifts.

At the end of a glorious week of indulgence, we reluctantly returned home. Unfortunately, Sherrie had to head back to the U.S. two short days later, but Troy was able to stay in Singapore for another week. Sadly, he left this morning, and we are alone in Asia again. I know I have said it many times before, and I will say it many more times hence I am sure, but, despite the beauty of this land and the richness of our experiences, we really do miss our family and friends, and we look forward to the time when a quick visit does not require a 24-hour flight.

I'll leave you now with a little poem dedicated to our Indonesian eco-adventure:

No black spitting cobras were found
But the mangrove snakes did abound
If they fall on your head
one bite and you're dead
So I recommend solid ground

Take care,
Shannon et al.

p.s. We have a new feature! Since the boys spend so much of their time drawing, coloring, etc., and because they so frequently lament that there is "no one who's not a mom or dad" to appreciate their artwork, we will, from now on, include a few of their favorite masterpieces in our updates. (Artwork will be posted below the photos.)


Pawpaw & Cameron at the Botanical Gardens



Pawpaw & Alec


July 6, 1996

July 6, 2006



Mema, Cameron, Pawpaw, & Alec






Mema, Pawpaw, Shannon, Cameron, Greg, & Alec


Cameron & Greg





orchid garden at the zoo




Mema & Cameron



Botanical Gardens - Swan Lake







Cameron & Pawpaw


python in the mangrove swamp


Bintan, Indonesia

Pawpaw & Mema













Cameron & Alec watching a stork trying to catch a fish


Pawpaw & Cameron









Mema & Cameron


Botanical Gardens







Pawpaw & Cameron



smiling giraffe





mangrove swamp


mangrove snake (awake, mind you)



Mema, Cameron, Shannon, driver, Pawpaw, Greg, & Alec in the mangrove swamp

king cobra (also found in the mangrove swamp)


Greg, Alec, & Pawpaw



Pawpaw & Alec


Botanical Gardens



Pawpaw, Shannon, Cameron, Mema, Greg, & Alec after the swamp tour






komodo dragon


sign at the hotel in Bintan :)


Alec, Cameron, Pawpaw, & Mema




giant tortoise



Pawpaw, Alec, Cameron, & Mema in Bintan

New Feature: Boys' Artwork

Cameron's Art...

"Mickey Mouse"

"Party Car"

Alec's Art...

"Mr. Bean"


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