Published: December 1st 2009November 30th 2009
Can anyone name the movie I stole that quote from? ("Clearly you've never been to Singapore.") If you think you know, post your guess! I love movie trivia, don't you??
And on that note, no, up until today, we
had never been to Singapore either! But here we sit, in a groovy lounge at the "Inn Crowd" Backpackers, smack in the center of Little India, Singapore. The instant we stepped off the plane, we loved it (and not just because we were out of Phnom Penh)! Actually, I guess I should back up just a tad.
Yesterday we endured a nearly seven-hour bus ride from Siem Reap back to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh (which we'd passed through last week on our way in from Vietnam). When we arrived at the "bus station" (a joke, really), there was no sign of our driver, and I, in my fever-induced-stuffed-up stupor, had somehow managed NOT to write down the name of the hotel, nor the address, nor the phone number - you know, MINOR details! So there we were, after dark in the dirtiest city we've seen yet. I stayed with our bags while Jeremy went to try and find an internet
cafe to pull up our hotel information, with no luck. Fortunately, just as we were getting ready to scrap our hotel booking and go find a new one, our driver miraculously appeared with our "Rogers" sign, and we were whisked away to our hotel for the short night. While we chowed down on a late dinner (burgers topped with fried eggs - I know, it sounds weird, but that's how they do it here, and it's actually pretty good!), we chatted with 3 Californians who are on their way home from a year working in Australia (and loved it!). We had a fairly restless night full of honking horns and noisy neighbors and were thrilled when our alarm went off at 5:30am so we could just GET UP and get on our way.
Driving through Phnom Penh was not pleasant - mounds of trash blowing in the streets, open sewage, dogs and goats on the sides of the road eating garbage, flies everywhere...we were thrilled to arrive at the airport (though horrified at the whopping $25 departure tax you have to pay before you board your flight - wow!). Smooth, 1.5-hour flight down to Singapore. Stepped off the plane
and headed for the restroom - automatic toilet, auto sink, auto soap dispenser, auto hand dryer...there was even TOILET PAPER! (Asia 101 - ALWAYS carry your own toilet paper. Only about 1 in 50 bathrooms will have any). Auto moving walkways, auto doors, the world's fastest escalators...we felt like royalty walking through the terminal! Stopped for a quick snack at a cafe and had (brace yourselves)...a CAESAR SALAD!!! A real one, with caesar dressing and croutons and everything. I almost cried. We topped it off with New York style cheesecake and thought we'd died and gone to heaven.
Stepped onto the immaculate subway and were surrounded by the cultural mix that is Singapore - Indian women in beautiful brights sari gowns, Muslim women in full hijabs, with only their eyes showing, men in turbans...right next to the giggling Chinese teenagers in tank tops and sparkly mascara. It's almost too much for your brain to process. Every sign in the city is written in English, Chinese (Mandarin), Malay, and Tamil (Indian language). It is a tiny island about the size of New York City, and only 85 miles north of the equator! 75% of the population is Chinese (Buddhist), with
Indian (Hindu) and Malay (Muslim) making up the rest. The city is filled with mosques, temples, shrines, pagodas, and cathedrals...we're about three buildings down from a large mosque and we can hear the call to prayer sounding through the streets every morning and evening...
So now that our geography lesson is over...we're staying at a hostel in the section of the city known as "Little India," which smells of fish head curry (supposedly really good) 24 hours a day. We've spent the last two days simply walking around in awe. It is a beautiful city, sparkling clean, no noise, no honking horns, no traffic (though they do drive on the left...even the escalators are on the left, which you wouldn't think you would notice, but you do!)...it is a true testament to the concept that you can have an enormous city and keep it in pristine condition! This is probably due to the fact that Singapore has some of the strictest laws in the world. Right when you step off the plane and are going through customs, you have to sign a form that directly says: "Drug traffickers will be put to death." No fine, no jail term, no
court appearance...death. Signs abound in the city listed with horrific fines for such things as eating on the subway ($500), riding your bicycle in an underpass ($1000), carrying something flammable ($5000), and so on. Apparently you can be fined and beaten with a cane for chewing gum. And no, we're not kidding!! It makes you feel incredibly safe, as no one would dare to break any MAJOR laws here if the penalties for minor offenses are so severe!
But we're enjoying it very much. This is a shopper's paradise...the entire island is literally one giant connected shopping mall, underground and above. We got lost for an hour in one shopping center and literally could not exit to the street for what felt like an eternity (I jokingly called it "Satan's Shopping Center," as I'm not much of a shopper). Although we did discover what is apparently the world's largest fountain, as well as wandered the lobby of the uber-lavish Mandarin Oriental Hotel, during our ordeal escaping from the shopping labyrinth. The two national pastimes of Singapore are shopping and eating (probably because both are done within an air-conditioned building!), and that pretty much sums up the extent of our
visit here...not so much shopping, but definitely eating! Last night was tried the Indian place next door...the naan bread was good, and I ordered the nasi goreng again I'd had in Hanoi...this version was heavy on the curry and not really to my liking. Jeremy ordered a full-on curry dish of chicken tikka masala...curry is growing on him but remains out of my taste buds' comfort zone, for now. Way too intense for me! Breakfast this morning consisted of pancake stuffed with sweet red beans (sounds a little weird, I know, but it works...there is a Portuguese dessert that is delicious and very similar!). We found ourselves in a sudden downpour (monsoon season) around noon and ducked into a Turkish restaurant (Jeremy's first time), where we feasted on lentil soup, cucumbers with yogurt, roasted lamb, and their version of moussaka - yum!!! We cruised the river and walked around the financial district (holy tall buildings!) before heading back to the hostel to cool down and clean up.
Tonight we headed literally across the street to a Spanish tapas bar (yes, in Little India...in Singapore...I know, I'm confused, too)...and wow!! They suckered us right in with the promise of one
free tapa for every drink consumed...how's that for marketing? So we ordered two Caipirnhas (lovely cocktails made with Brazilian cachaca rum and muddled lime) and sampled tortilla espinaca (my beloved tortilla espanola - egg-and-potato-omelette - with spinach added in this version), and chili-garlic chicken wings. Our waiter tried to talk us out of the wings - he said most people found them too spicy - but we decided to go for it. I nearly cried, and my lips were numb for about ten minutes, but we downed them!!! (And explained to our dumbfounded waiter that, being Floridians, we are subject to spicy Mexican and Jamaican foods at home...although, truth be told, these were THE hottest wings I've ever stomached). Next was a glass of their homemade sangria, followed by shrimp sauteed in garlic and chilis, chorizo sausage, and pork and cheese croquettes - all heavenly Spanish goodness!!
And then...we decided to be brave. For those of you unfamiliar with absinthe, allow me to introduce you to our new friend. And NO, the knock-off "absinthe" they're selling at Ale House and in our liquor stores is NOT real absinthe; it's some absinthe-flavored liquor or something. The real stuff can only
be had abroad (and in some northeastern states, I'm told), and STARTS at 70% alcohol (not 70 proof, but 70% alocohol, as in 140 proof!) and goes up to 85% alcohol (170 proof). It is made of fermented wormwood and has a taste somewhere between licorice and peppermint. In the old days, it used to be hallucinogenic, but they've now toned it down to just knock-your-socks-off strong. The proper way to drink absinthe is as a shot, set on fire, with a sugar cube melted into it through a special spoon-like device with a hole the sugar drips through. It's all quite mesmerizing to watch, which I did as Jeremy stuck a straw in and sucked it down WHILE it was still on fire (we went all out and got the "black" absinthe - 85% alcohol)!! Brave man!! He saved a little for me at the bottom, which I sampled (not on fire)...it's quite tasty but I definitely would NOT want more than one, as it's the strongest thing you've ever tasted in your life. It's very popular in eastern Europe, which is why I was surprised to find it here and figured we simply HAD to try it, just
After tapas (which was going to be just an appetizer but ended up being our whole dinner), we caught the subway back to the river and walked around downtown under a full moon and light drizzle...a collection of shops and restaurants called Clarke Quay had the most diverse set of restaurants I've ever seen...Spanish, Moroccan, Mongolian, Persian, Scottish, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Balinese, French, Italian...all right next door to each other! I think every country in the world was represented, except for maybe Antarctica!! We opted for vanilla cognac gelato and chocolate bailey's gelato (yum!) before calling it a night (well, not really, because I'm still sitting here typing)...
So!! Tomorrow we have another full day here in Singapore before catching a 10pm flight to the land down under! After a 3-hour layover in Darwin, on the northern coast of Oz, we will arrive in Sydney early Thursday afternoon. A few days there to see the sights, and then we will finally arrive in New Zealand to begin our year there and get back to some semblance of normalcy...
There are more photos below