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Published: January 27th 2009
One quick bounce through Kuala Lumpur, and we were back on a plane down to Singapore... well, actually just to the boarder town in Malaysia, Johor Bahru, from where we caught a bus across the boarder into Singarore.
After nearly 3 months of travelling by old motorbikes, horse-carts, ex-army jeeps, minivans, 3-wheel motorised 'cars' and ancient rusting busses on some of the worst roads in Philippines, Borneo & Sumatra, we finally found ourselves cruising down the smooth, straight highway towards downtown Singapore. Briefly.
Ten minutes into the country our bus chugged a bit and then rolled to a stop on the side of the highway. Our first breakdown of the whole trip, in Singapore! 38 frustrated Sinaprians and 2 laughing South Africans climbed down off the bus to stand by the side of the road and wait for a lift. When the next bus did eventually arrive, it was already full, and so our bus' passengers had to squeeze into the aisles for the rest of the jouney.
We found the whole thing hugely ironic, but the guy next to us kept telling us about how he was going to complain to the government
. He then took out
Lush greenery but ultra-modern
is cell phone and proceeded to do so, even sending them some video he'd shot with his phone's video camera. We'd just crossed a boarder into a whole new world.
Singapore was not as we had expected. The cliched remarks about how clean and orderly it is are certainly true. In fact the contrast is so marked that it feels as if you're no longer in an Asian city at all. But since this entire developed nation is built on a small island, I'd expected it to be all concrete high-rises. Instead, the road cut straight through a lush rainforest, which seemed almost comically held back from invading the pristine asphalt by a short, neatly-trimmed hedge.
Once in town we ambled along wide streets carrying little traffic. Between stylish skyscrapers were large, open, grassy areas and many of the streets were lined with trees, which had been decorated with faerie lights in the spirit of the upcoming festive season. All of this comes at a price, however, and the cheery but simple hostel where we found a bed was our priciest so far.
Our afternoon was spent admiring the old colonial buildings left by the British, beside
glitzy shopping centers wih their modern architecture. We escaped a thunderstorm by ducking into a mall built with glass ceilings where we could see and hear the rain pelting down above us.
As soon as it had appeared, the rain was gone, and were once again making our way South, until we arrived at Chinatown just as the sun was setting. As we walked into the flea markets, we instantly noticed that something was different to all the other markets we have been to in Asia. It took us a few moments to notice what it was, but when one of the stall owners tried to get us to take a look at his silks with only a subtle gesture of his head we realised what it was. There was a conspicuous lack of hassling! There was no one shouting at you to buy what they were selling. No arguing, no insisting, no pulling back on your arms (like in Vietnam). Hesitantly at first, and then with increasing boldness, we went over to have a look at the items being sold, without being pounced upon like fresh meat. It was fantastic to be able to just browse the stalls
View from the top
Looking back down at Singapore from the top of the Flyer
As we made our way past restaurants serving chinese dishes and expensive ($9) beer at plastic tables, we came to the focus of Chinatown's nightlife. Below a large oriental building was an open paved square. At one side rickshaws were parked for the night, and along side them chinese men were seated at tables playing checkers. Some of the games were clearly rather big events, because large crowds had gathered around the players to watch and discuss their moves.
At the opposite end of the square, in front of a raised stage, a large set of speakers was belching out folk songs to which rows of dancers stepped in time under the open skies. This was obviously a fairly regular occurrence, since the majority of the dancers were able to follow the fairly complicated routines. Some dancers had come dressed in shorts and running shoes for the aerobics, and others bounced in frilly spanish dresses, but all seemed to be loving the communal dance classes. Cathy couldn't resist diving into the middle of them, and was soon stepping and spinning like a pro. I have no idea how she knew what to do.
Stranded on the highway for the first time in 4 months
our evening of dancing, exploring, and Chinese food with a walk along the river, and a drink at a bar overlooking the reflected lights in the water.
The next morning, as soon as we'd indulged ourselves on the hostel's free toast and marmalade, caught the subway towards the world-famous Singapore Zoo. The park has been very creatively built, and well-stocked too. The thing that amazed me the most was the “free-range” primates. Instead of keeping the large apes in fenced enclosures, the zoo has a series of ropes strung between several of the trees, sometimes high above the paved footpaths and roads. This means that the Orang-Utans may not be where they are indicated on the map. They may be in a tree overlooking the hippos or (as we once found a large male) hanging by one arm from a tree above your head lazily throwing seeds down at the passing visitors. It made us cringe to thing how a the 20 metre drop onto the paved path would end should his fingers slip.
The real drawcard of the zoo are their three terribly rare white tigers. We took so many photos of them that you could flip
through them and watch the animated tigers prowling around their enclosure. Our camera which had previously quit in Sumatra decide to break in a whole new way, and though I opened it up again outside the KFC and tinkered, it was not going to be fixed. The deal was sealed when a lose piece of the lens fell off into the bats' cage. Fortunately we were in just about the best part of Asia to be looking for a replacement camera.
Back in town we ambled along the river, looking for a place to buy a Singapore Sling to finish off the evening. The riverside restaurants were all ridiculously expensive, except for one, which had delicious mexican food and a table by the water. It also happened to be a part the American franchise Hooters - although the concept doesn't really work in Asia.
Our third day started with a trip down to Little India to go camera shopping. This is a a very different part of Singapore. The streets are crowded, the shops are over-stocked but cheap and there are even some small street markets. We managed to replace our camera with a demo model for a
great price and completely stuff ourselves at an Indian cafeteria.
As the day was fading we headed back to the harbour where the Singapore Flyer, the world's biggest ferris wheel (yes, it's bigger than the London Eye) dominates the skyline. Expecting an exorbitant rate, wandered over to take a look and found a nearby restaurant offering free tickets along with their reasonably-priced 3 course meal. Since it was getting late, we had to eat pretty quickly, but as we were just about the last people onto the Flyer for the evening, we were given our own car. It was an incredible feeling to be soaring above the bustling city on such a clear night in complete privacy. You could even see the lights from neighbouring Indonesia and Malaysia.
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