We arrived in Singapore from Jakarta literally covered in mud and dirt (and feeling much too filthy to be in such a clean and trendy city); a result of having stayed the night in a fairly gross hotel in Jakarta, and having walked through a lot of mud on the flooded streets of Jakarta in search of food. Needless to say, we were not impressed with Jakarta, and Singapore was a welcome break from the living conditions in Indonesia. We only wish that this bit of respite in the Western world would have come a little later in the trip, and it begged the question: if we were tired of living in dirty hotel rooms after only 2 weeks in Indonesia, how are we going to last another 3 months after Singapore?
We were greeted at the airport by a friend of Chiswell, named Shawn Ang. Shawn lived in Singapore until he moved to Edmonton a few years ago, and he was our gracious and fearless tour guide for the four days we spent in Singapore. Knowing him made things a lot easier, as he taught us how to get around on public transit and showed us awesome places to eat and cool things to see. After hanging around the airport for a few hours (the airline lost my bag again!) we took the MRT (subway) to our hotel, then headed out downtown for a bite to eat. Shawn took us to Glutton’s Bay, an aptly named little outdoor food court where the best restaurants all have kiosks. Shawn was eager to show off Singapore’s awesome cuisine, so he got us a whole bunch of different dishes and stuffed us right up. Incidentally, Glutton’s Bay seems to be a great name for all of Singapore – it seemed like all we did was buy stuff and eat delicious food, baking and bubble tea, as Singapore is covered in shopping malls and food joints and it seems the city’s favourite pastime is shopping.
Chinese New Year and the Land of the Malls
Next, Shawn took us to the Esplanade, where there were still a bunch of celebrations and displays for Chinese New Year (Singapore is 70% Chinese, however the main language is English, or ‘Singlish’). We saw the beautiful city all lit up at night and many displays for all 12 animals of the lunar year. We also stopped to watch a traditional Chinese puppet show, a visit to the famous Singapore “Merlion,” and a stop for good luck in wealth at the “fountain of wealth” (also, of course, found at the heart of a mall). Singapore apparently has 180 malls in the city/country, which made it a bit fascinating to travel through. Every MRT stop is located inside a mall, and you inevitably pass through several on any given journey, making cheap good food fast and easy to find.
We spent our second day in Singapore basically exploring all the malls. Our first stop was a yummy sushi restaurant, where we ordered via computer. Not as cool as Sydney (you used a mouse instead of your finger and the food didn’t come instantaneously like it did there), but still fun. We then went in search of Scott’s Mecca: a mall called Sim Lim, which is an entire mall dedicated solely to technology. We were thinking that perhaps we could find a cheap camera or laptop, since Singapore has some of the most advanced products in the world. Upon arriving at the mall, however, we discovered that it was not cheap, and it was worse than West Ed – nearly every level duplicated the same store. We wondered if perhaps the stores on the uppermost levels were cheaper, since fewer people make it to the top? Nope. Apparently, you just have to go into each store searching for a deal and asking them for what you are looking for. My eyes pretty much glazed over within the first 15 minutes (now I really know what it is like for Scott to come shopping with me for clothes…), but Scott was in a limbo between ecstasy and overwhelm. We spent awhile chugging around, but since the deals weren’t really to be had, we pretty much left empty-handed.
After the Sim Lim mall, we went walking around the city, but unfortunately, it started to rain…which essentially forced us into more malls. We were pretty tired of all the malls at this point, so we just headed home and tried to go for a swim in our “resort’s” pool. Oh yes, now this resort (this is a bit off topic, but requires explanation nonetheless). When I booked online, it told me that the place we were staying was a Hostelling International Hostel. We get there, and it’s what Shawn described as a local Singaporean “chalet,” or type of campground. Every suite had a designated BBQ and picnic table on the ground, which resulted in approximately 1,000 of them. On Saturday night, it was intense – everyone was out there grilling meat! It also had this amazing pool located on a second level outside, whereby you passed underneath it to see people swimming above you. And, of course, it was located inside a mall. Most bizarre place I’ve ever stayed…and so NOT what we expected when booking an HI. Anyway, so we spent that evening attempting to swim in the pool (which was a glorious 50 meter pool), but the four dollar goggles I bought in Indonesia broke as soon as I put them on…and I’m really NOT a fan of swimming blindly and crashing into other people (which did ensue at this point). Needless to say, our workout was short-lived, and our priority list for the next day involved buying a pair of goggles…in….you guessed it: a mall!
We were scheduled to meet Shawn and his wife, Agnes, on Sentosa quite early in the morning…but didn’t end up making it until later in the afternoon due to a very rough sleep on my part. My dreams have been getting weirder and weirder as we travel, and I think it’s because we keep experiencing SO MUCH new and crazy stuff in any given day that my brain is having a hard time processing it all. Anyway, so we set off to attempt the public transport to Sentosa, which involved the MRT, and a light rail to the island…departing from another mall. (!!! – is this getting ridiculous yet?!)
Sentosa Island is Singapore’s man-made paradise, constructed with imported sand. It’s quite lovely, if you can get over the fakeness and too-perfect-ness of it. We met our friends and ate some more delicious food and just lounged around on the beach before heading to a place called “Underwater World.” I was pretty hesitant to go somewhere as touristy and commercial as this (and likening it to something like Sea World), but Shawn told us it was a must. Considering he is a local, and a true dive enthusiast (which we discovered early on that we share that same passion, although perhaps not to the same degree as he has dove most places in the world and a dive teacher, and we only have about 20 dives under our belts…), we took his word for it and went. And wow, we are so glad we did!
The first thing you see when you get into Underwater World is something called a “touch pool” where you can stroke a few different kinds of fish. They are pretty tame too and will let you do it! I’m not sure how hygenic, or healthy, it is for the little guys – thousands of dirty hands going in and poking at them all day long…I was inherently against it in my heart, but it was pretty fun. Next up was a stingray pool, where you could buy food and try to feed the giant (and I mean big…not little ones AT ALL) stingrays. It was pretty tough, and after a few tries of me trying to feed the various stingrays, and them getting pissed off at me (I was really praying for a non-Steve-Irwin incident…) I figured out that you had to hold your hand on the glass so they could suck the food FROM YOUR HAND. It was so weird…I actually squealed when it happened, because it felt like a giant vacuum thing. Scott had a go too, and he also squealed like a girl. There were tons of exhibits and other areas where you could feed the fish, and we learned a lot about marine life and the names of various fish we’ve seen on our dives. There was also a neat little section where a piece of automatic side-walk takes you through a sort of cavern, where all sorts of fish are swimming beside and around you. It was a really cool experience.
Part of our ticket allowed us to go watch some dolphins…now normally I’m really not into this (and I still wasn’t this time – this is where the whole Sea World crap came into play)…but the dolphins were PINK. Who can resist seeing PINK dolphins? Not me. So, we sat through a cheesy and gruelling show for me, which involved lots of clapping, hoola hoops, and bad dance music. At least I saw pink dolphins…(and a few little fur seals too).
That night, we decided to head to Little India for some dinner. Getting off the MRT station was almost like stepping back into the real Asia (albeit cleaner and less stinky). It was so weird for us to see such a traditional place in the suped-up-modern Singapore! There were markets and restaurants everywhere (most of them catering to vegetarians), so we hunkered down at one of them to eat. It was delicious and definitely the best Indian food bang-for-your-buck. The quality was as good, if not better than, Khazana’s (and they even served the same cups and dishes as they do there)…but we had two dishes, two different types of naan, rice and beer, all for the price of….drum roll….twenty four dollars! And that’s Singapore dollars! That’s like, $18 Canadian! Scott and I were in heaven. We can only hope that all the hype we’ve heard about Penang in Malaysia can live up to this. We waddled back onto the MRT, to go home…and topped it all off with our favourite treat: bubble tea…and a stroll through Pasir Ris (the neighbourhood in which we were staying) looking at all the people running and walking their dogs.
The Singapore Zoological Gardens
Before heading off to the zoo the next day, Scott and I decided to take another swim in the glorious pool of our resort. We had purchased some very nice goggles the day before…and we had a lovely time swimming. Now, the only reason I really mention this, is that at the 25 meter mark of the pool, there was a giant glass window….so as we would swim by, we could see people below walking around. It was a very interesting experience. The pool could be used publicly for only $1…imagine that – swimming every morning, in a 50 meter pool, on top of a roof with a window looking down, every day of the year in the beautiful weather that being only 136 km from the equator yields (Singapore’s lowest recorded temperature is about 19 degrees celcius, and highest is 35. Pure heaven!). Sounds like the life to me….
Anyway, so the zoo. I’m generally not one to enjoy going to a zoo (or, in Singapore, the very eloquently put “zoological gardens”…). I don’t like seeing amazingly stunning animals like tigers and lions and bears cooped up in tiny little cages. But, the Singapore zoo is world renound for being a progressive zoo, with an open concept design. So we decided to go check out the zoo more for that purpose than anything.
We got very lost in Singapore’s transit system trying to get to the zoo. Shawn had warned us that it was tricky and it was best to take a cab…but we are a bit stubborn and like doing things the “local” way. We got off at the wrong MRT station, where the bus to the zoo only runs on Sundays. We were about to give up and get into a cab (after asking a few people how to get there, with no one really knowing…), when a lovely lady asked if we were going to the zoo. Her and her husband were zoo workers and on their way to work – they would take us with them! We had to take two more buses (after having been on two different trains for a few hours already). We never would have gotten there without them, as the transfer involved getting off in the middle of nowhere, and crossing the street to a bus going in the opposite direction.
Overall, the zoo was really neat as it WAS truly open concept. All of the animals were out in the open, separated by the humans by moats – so they all essentially have their own islands. The more dangerous ones had barbed wire separating us…and the really dangerous ones had glass in front of them. It was a neat experience and I’m glad we went, but returning to a zoo anytime soon is not on my list of things to do….it was still hard seeing things like gorgeous cheetas not being able to run the way they are born to, and polar bears looking quite sweaty and miserable in a tropical landscape. The two most memorable experiences were the giant tortoises who were hanging outside of their fence: one was half asleep and sticking far enough out that I could touch her head. She looked at me with these weepy eyes, the spitting image of Morla, the Aged One, from the Neverending Story…and I could almost hear her asking me in that same croaky voice “why are you disturbing my sleep?” The second was the proboscis monkeys, of which the males have giant floppy noses. The head male came over very close to us, proceeded to get an erection, and then freaked out and started banging around on the trees. It was very odd.
Singapore’s Strange Laws
We spent our last night hanging out with Shawn and some newly met friends by drinking on the street. We had gone for a drink on our first night, only to discover that a pint of beer costs $20…slightly ridiculous. In Singapore, you will get hanged for drug trafficking, caned for raping someone, fined extensively for spitting, chewing gum, peeing in public, and even drinking water on the MRT. But, oddly enough, you are allowed to drink booze on the street. So, we did. And it was glorious. Scott enjoyed Tiger, a Singapore beer…and I of course, couldn’t leave this country without sampling a Singapore Sling.
The Mystery of Toilet Paper: Solved
We boarded our bus to Malaysia the next morning, sad to be seeing Singapore go. I found it to be one of the most interesting places I’d ever been: all the crazy laws seem to actually work together to provide a spotlessly clean city completely devoid of crime. The culture there is also very interesting, given that the mix is Chinese (who are generally Buddist, Taoist or Christian), Malay (Muslim), Indian (Hindu), and Western. The result is a highly modern, delicious and fashionable city. Who could ask for more?
But finally, I figured out why Asia doesn’t have toilet paper. As we had crossed back over into the Malay border, I used the public toilet – back to squatting holes and no tp. At all times in Asia, I carry tp and purel as a sound rule of thumb. Now, we had heard from Shawn that most of SE Asia uses their left hand to go to the bathroom and their right hand to eat. And it’s true. I witnessed a mother wiping the behind of her young son! Every squat hole has either a hose (if it is more ‘modern’) or a pot of water and a bucket. You wash yourself out with the water and use your LEFT hand to clean it up. Now that’s love – wiping your child’s bum here. Most restrooms also do not offer soap – so these same people who wiped then go eat with the other hand. But this leaves me wondering – what about the people who COOK the food? Do they only cook with one hand? Pfft. No wonder I spend most of my time in Asia writhing in pain from the various tummy ailments I seem to contract!!