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Published: March 24th 2009
So our time in Singapore didn’t start all that well. The journey there was pretty good; armed with a couple of bags of Malaysia’s answer to Haribo the time flew by. And customs was seamless (which was a bonus given we had a few DVDs in our rucksacks that may or may not have been 100%!l(MISSING)egitimate - Singapore is a little “sticky” on such matters). We even had an Australian kid give us directions to a small store along the East coast of Australia where we can find the hard-to-come-by delicacy of sugar-free chocolate (no thanks), when we’re there next month. But after spending over an hour circumnavigating the way to our chosen hostel that then turned out to be part of a building site, we were pretty fed up. At about 9pm we eventually decided to stay in the one hotel that we came across. Which cost us $100 - nearly £50. Still, we enjoyed the en-suite and plasma screen TV for the 12 hours or so that we spend there.
The following morning we set off again to find some more “affordable” accommodation. Which, in Singapore, is a little like trying to
get your hands on a bottle of gin at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. (Although in retrospect I suppose that probably isn’t too much of a challenge). When people tell you that Singapore is expensive, they ain’t lying. We ended up at the “Hawaii Hostel” which bears less resemblance to the idyllic Pacific island and more to Guantanemo Bay. I bet Obama would shut this place down too given half the chance. The first thing you notice when shuffling towards the shabby, stained man at reception, having huffed and puffed your way up 30-odd stone steps, is a black and white A4 poster depicting the kind of man you wouldn’t want to hold up at a petrol station. Along with a number to call if you were hapless enough to run into him. That number, of course, being the police. Now what would your first thought of been at this point? “Let’s get out and quickly” perhaps? “We might be poor but hell we’re not that poor”? Or maybe “there is a chance I will get murdered in this establishment so let’s hotfoot it down to plan B”? By way of comparison - mine and Dave’s first thought was “ah -
at last - somewhere we might be able to afford!”.
The bedroom was even worse than we could have imagined. First there was the smell that hit you as soon as you pulled back the door. The smell of a thousand sweaty sleeps in a windowless room. The smell - perhaps - of a wanted felon. It was a room just big enough to fit a double bed (on the floor) and a shower cubicle. When in the shower I could touch the bed with my toe. Now this may not be a feature you necessarily look for in a hotel but let me tell you, when you discover a cockroach (and it might have only been a tiddler but I don’t care it was still a cockroach) in the shower, a nearby mattress to step onto while you chase the little git down the plug hole with the showerhead is actually quite a plus. Not that I looked at it that way at the time. We didn’t see the wanted man during our one night stay and gladly checked out the following morning to avoid further opportunity.
Our third and final accommodation in Singapore was the ‘Superb
Hub @ Bugis City’. Catchy name eh. Mr Hilton didn’t think of that, did he? Our room this time consisted of a bunk bed with a locker and a mirror. But it was white and clean and cheap. And that pretty much fulfilled each of our requirements so we signed up for a few nights. Dave was unsure (primarily due to our room being located on the third floor of an otherwise disused apartment block) and wanted to look at another place out of town. But, having already wasted several days just trying to find somewhere to stay, I agreed to take the slack should the place turn out to be crap.
The hostel was located only a few metres from one of the largest - if not, the largest - mosque in Singapore. It’s a beautiful domed building and we had a great view of it from the landing near our room. We had earlier visited the ASEAN Civilisations Museum, and learnt a lot about Islam, like how, for example, Muslims pray 5 times a day - at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and evening. To signal each session there is a ‘call to prayer’ heralded in Arabic and
cast over a loud speaker. A repetitive low chant lasting for several minutes, the call to prayer is to some, like me, strangely hypnotic and to others, like Dave, a source of great bafflement and quiet frustration.
At around 4.30am on our first night at the hostel mine and Dave’s opinion, regarding the chant at least, aligned. It was so loud it sounded like the chap was calling prayer from my bed. He wasn’t, I verified after a quick check, but the noise was enough to stir us both. Neither Dave nor I like being woken up at the best of times but before dawn? In the oft used words of my dear David - are you kidding me???? Many sarcastic and bitter comments were exchanged as the chanting echoed around our hostel room. My favourite one probably “why don’t they all just buy a f**king watch??” (I’ve since discovered that the timings of the calls change slightly every day so this isn’t a particularly helpful suggestion).
The proprietor was the nicest man in the world, which went some way - though not nearly enough - to making up for our pre-dawn wake-up call. Every time we saw him
he gave us a bottle of water each. By the end of our stay we had enough to drown ourselves. Which didn’t seem like a half bad idea each time that call to prayer sounded.
Anyhow, with our accommodation sorted we spent the remaining 5 days in Singapore doing the usual touristy stuff. On the animal side we visited Singapore Zoo (good), the Night Safari (a zoo in the dark) and Bird Park (it rained). To satisfy our (minimal) cultural itch we went to the Colonial District, Asian Civilisations Museum and War Museum. Lastly we visited a Science Museum (ruined by an ever-increasing horde of schoolchildren consuming every inch of the place) and spent a day at Sentosa Island.
Sentosa Island is the singularly most tacky place we have visited during our trip. We arrived on the free shuttle (don’t let that fool you. It’s also the singularly most expensive place we’ve visited) and as we disembarked about 4 or 5 colourfully dressed Sentosa workers grinned and waved to us and the other new arrivals inanely, like they’d had way too many skittles or coca-coke or maybe a class A drug. First we visited an aquarium that cost
almost as much as it disappointed. After seeing a few stingrays and an (admittedly very large) octopus I asked Dave what was next. The answer was the exit. The ticket to the aquarium included admission to see a show of the dusky pink dolphins so after 10 minutes on the manmade beach we mosied on down to have a looksie. The show was good - the dolphins were indeed pink and seemed to be having a nice time. It was slightly marred by the over-enthusiastic American-esque presenting, which involved far too many ‘alright!!! Hey, are we gonna have a good time today?? I said - are we gonna have a good time today?!!!’ Thus followed lots of cheering and ‘yeah!!!!!’s from fellow Americans and/or those with an arguably too keen liking of dolphins.
We then went on a cable car and had a ride down the luge (go karts down a hill). Dave got down the bottom before me but it’s not like we were racing or anything… (Dave: We stopped racing after I overtook). Finally we saw the end of a show about birds of prey and a rock python called Lucy. Course Dave couldn’t hold her as
it was a Thursday. (Typical isn’t it - on Tuesdays he can’t hold scorpions, which was the day we visited the insect farm in Malaysia and on Thursdays he can’t hold snakes and that’s the day he comes face-to-face with a 2m constrictor. How awfully inconvenient.)
During the rest of our time in Singapore we ate in food courts, watched an English football match projected onto a wall from plastic chairs on the pavement and felt endlessly scruffy in the company of the stylish and svelte Singaporeans.
On many levels it’s difficult to fault the place. It’s clean, modern, well designed. The transport is immaculate, the people are courteous and there are plenty of things to see and do. But for all its perks, both Dave and I found the city a bit lacking in character. It would have been a good way to kick off our foray into Asia but maybe not such a great place to end it.
Although, there was one part that did stand out. During the night safari we went to watch a couple of shows. The first one was called ‘creatures of the night’ and was pretty good. There was an
otter that could sort litter into recycling bins and a big cat that could jump really high. But the best was yet to come. The second show was a fire display by a group of Borneoan tribesman. They wore loincloths, stomped around the stage with their oiled muscley chests to jungle music and breathed fire. Just what they’d do in their native Borneo I’m sure. Midway through, one of them came into the audience of the few hundred people to find any would-be tribesmen. Before I knew it Dave was being led towards the stage and the fun really began. After a quick brief (which Dave tells me consisted of ‘You. Copy me.’) they got started. First of all he had to take his top off and I could see him say to the blokes ‘no! Come on!!!’ but he’s a good sport and did it anyway (like he had much choice). They nearly extinguished a flame in his mouth - getting to within a few inches - but pulled it away just at the last minute. My favourite part though was when he had to growl ferociously while flexing his muscles in a number of body-builder poses. I wish
I had pictures but he cleverly kept the camera on him, the scamp! In my mind it even surpasses the incident in Thailand when, in a bid to convey that we wanted to visit the Tiger Kingdom he imitated a tiger, actions and sound effects. This time there were more people to see him make a fool of himself. Based on what I saw though I would say he would make a very good tribesman. So long, that is, as the gods aren’t prejudiced against the more slight of body and thick of chest hair.
Singapore may have been sterile but Dave’s performance was anything but. If you’re heading to the night safari remember not to stand too close to the front of the fire show. Unless you’ve been putting a lot of time in at the gym. And the waxing salon.
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