Slinging it in Singapore

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Asia » Singapore
August 8th 2009
Published: August 8th 2009
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Singapore sling

I'm currently in the land of Oz, and internet availability has been expensive, non existent and very slow. I've not had time to blog (some people will have sighed I'm sure). Anyway, here's my sojourn to Singapore....

Hospitality and making your own luck

I arrived in Singapore secure in the knowledge that I had a place to stay with a friend. This just goes to show that being nice people not only makes you feel good but also has very occasional tangible benefits.
Whilst staying at the Earthwalker hostel in Siem Reap we met Stefanie who was travelling alone; AJ and I invited her to come dine with us a few nights in a row and as a result of that kindness we received an invitation to Singapore to come stay with her.

Despite Singapore being in the centre of south east Asia, everything is Western priced and the “hostels” are not nearly as cheap as in the rest of Asia. I therefore gloried in the fact that Stefanie was putting me up in her flat and I had the run of the town. Placed in her spare room I no longer had had to sleep with strangers
View from Stefanie's apartmentView from Stefanie's apartmentView from Stefanie's apartment

Her swimming pool, yes sir!
in dormitories, nor constantly lock away belongings every time I left the room. I enjoyed the new privacy and the freedom very much.

Not only was Stefanie living in the centre of the city, she had her own gymnasium and outdoor swimming pool. However, I wasn’t able to take advantage of this fitness freeness because since Kota Kinabalu (KK) I was feeling pretty rough. I had a temperature, my body ached and I felt as if I was in the midst of the flu. Not only that but my appetite had left me and I hadn’t eaten properly for a few days. So, I didn’t get to use the “facilities” that Stefanie’s place offered.

Stefanie: French super host

I arrived in Chiangi Airport at the stupidly early hour of 1.30 in the morning, but thankfully Stefanie was there to meet me as she had the use of her boss’s car. We went back to her place and stayed up drinking till about four in the morning, chatting about travels, her expat life in Singapore, working as an engineer (7am to 7pm!) and the city as a whole. She said she was happy here, which surprised me a little, what with her being French and all…in my own experience the French have a world view that other cultures could of course be appreciated on their own terms but that France was where they returned to. But Stefanie didn’t fit into the stereotype; despite the chain smoking, a classic French shrug and lip movement denoting “c’est la vie”, she had a ready smile, and a clearly a bloody hard work ethic. No French 35 hour working week for her!

First impressions

Anyway, the next morning I got acquainted with the city, but first stuffed myself with Paracetamol. I had a wander around the shopping precincts (modern, Western to the core) then searched for a cheap eat before settling upon a Chinese on a corner eatery.

Singapore is modern, clean and efficient and it’s how a city should be, indeed the one I wish London would be (if I let my control freakery get a hold). It’s multicultural, for sure, with lots of Indians and Malays (head scarfed women) as well as plenty of visible expats (in baseball caps, chinos and polo shirt tucked in) but it’s also 70 percent ethnic Chinese. However, it’s also a bit “too clean” and the city lacks a certain edge to it.

I got on the clean, fast, modern, and surprisingly stain- free MRT (Mass Rapid Transit). And later discovered why it was so damn clean - I didn’t know at the time but eating and drinking on the system is banned and you can get a $500 Singapore Dollar fine (250 GBP) just for sipping water on a hot day! Pretty harsh, huh? This of course, would and could never happen back home. Here in Singapore, under a one party state, everyone obeys the laws; and this is an example of the lack of edge I found.

I visited the Asian Civilization Museum, where I was in time for a 90 minute guided tour; this place was impressive. Not only for the ancient exhibits of Burmese Buddhist statues, Chinese royal clothing and art but also for the amount of money that was clearly been spent on presentation and technology, it was very slick. The building was impressive too; British colonial white and Palladium architecture style, having been the seat of colonial government therefore.

Half way through the tour however, I began to feel unwell and I struggled to concentrate through most of the Indian sculpture galleries (the myriad guises of Shiva and Rama and Ganesh). When I got back to Stefanie’s we went out to an area called Little Arabia, full of restaurants, cafes and carpet shops(!). I could only stomach eating humus and pita and it was quick to leave my stomach the next morning too.

Day trip to Johor

I managed finally to get my Fujifilm camera repaired again (having stopped working in Laos months earlier). I had first handed it into Penang, got it sent to KL for pick up and then finally onto Johor for me to pay and pick up. Luckily my travel insurance paid for the whole thing being replaced and I can now sell the camera on EBay and make some money back from it. So, the trip over had to be done and even though I really wasn’t feeling 100 percent, I got a bus just a short walk from Stefanie’s apartment which took me to the border. It took rather longer then I expected, about an hour but I got to see a large segment of Singapore which didn’t seem to have any poor or run down areas. When the bus got to the border there was endless walking through one country check point to the other. Finally inside Malaysia, there was more walking through a shopping centre, and then some elevators which took me to the small office of Fujifilm where I finally got my hands on the bastard thing.

Raffles Hotel etcetera

Still feeling a bit shite the next day I did a walking tour of the city starting with the famous Raffles Hotel. I had now completed my trilogy of grand British imperial hotels of the Far East - all owned by the Sarky Brothers; the Strand in Rangoon, Burma; and the Eastern and Oriental (E&O) in Gerogetown, Penang, Malaysia and now Raffles Hotel in Singpaore.

What a hotel and what a history this place is! Named after the founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, I was in awe at the colonial conviviality of the place. The place was opulent to say the least, hosting its own exclusive shop, designer boutiques, fountains and open restaurants in the courtyard as well as its own perfect little museum outlining the history of the place, and even a Sikh turbaned door man out front.
It’s hosted high ‘n’ mighties of society, royalty, presidents, writers such Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward and others. It even has its own cocktail concocted in the famous long bar, named the Gin Sling, but commonly known as the Singapore Sling. Sadly I was put off from trying one at the bar, because it cost 27 Singapore dollars (14 quid)!

I walked the rest of historic Singapore including the scenic cricket pitches, law courts, old parliament building, governor’s residence and Sir Stamford Raffles’ statue. It reminded me of London with the juxtaposition of sleek modern sky scrapers with those from the past.

Meeting up with Mark

So, rewind to 1998, I’m 18 years old and in my first year at Leeds University, sharing a room in digs. I share with a guy named Mark from October to May, and we’re in each other’s company, sleeping, eating and socializing. Fast forward to July 2009 and I’m in the same city as my old room-mate, this time in Singapore, where he’s from and it’s a bit of a weird experience. Contacting him initially through stalker heaven (Facebook), I am finally in Singapore meeting him once again. But not before an abortive first attempt at a Metro station where we couldn’t find each other and I stupidly forgot to take my mobile phone. However, we met up the following evening at Stefanie’s apartment building.

Mark is now married, head of English in a school and hasn’t changed much; still as reticent and bashful as before. He thinks I still look the same, which is encouraging at 29! We go to a Chinese restaurant fave of his and his wife and eat lots of different kinds of dumplings that I can’t really handle because I am still feeling feverish and off-colour.

An abiding memory of Mark is getting pissed on two pints of cider in some random pubs in Leeds and the cheeks of his face turning red. I don’t think that’s gonna happen again tonight, so we settle down for some coffee on a street corner in the “dodgy” sex red light district. It’s definitely edgier here and most of the slutty dressed chicks are Vietnamese or Thai on their “holidays” before going back with their earnings. We discuss the above, Singapore politics (the opposition which is gathering more support amongst citizens), his career (he’s gonna leave at the end of the year because remarkably he his head of his department but gets barely any increase in salary). We discuss where I’m going onto next and maybe perhaps I could get a job in Singapore. We leave on good terms, sharing a cab together, it’s nice to see people again from your youthful past. It’s also strange to see people essentially haven’t changed.

Me and illnesses

So, I’d left my old travel companion mister Dutch AJ in KK, on his way back to Amsterdam via Vietnam. However, I learned from an email that he was turned back from Hanoi at the airport because he didn’t have the correct visa. Considering he was only there in transit for a connecting flight, it’s incredible that he had to leave and so decided upon returning to Singapore. So, he was in the city the same time as me and so I sought him out. I was still feeling pretty sick by this time and so decided to go to the doctor’s who diagnosed me with having food poisoning! Got about 7 different types of pills and then headed off to AJ’s hostel.

He wasn’t there but reception told me that he was in fact in the Raffles Hospital, and had been taken ill. I rushed over there and only find Mr AJ in bed on a drip suffering from Dengue bloody fever! Both equally surprised to see each other, he explained how’d he’d been feeling sick for days and had lost all of his energy and then could barely walk to the hospital.
Poor AJ ended up spending a week in hospital with this dangerous mosquito borne virus inside of him; in fact it doesn’t even have a vaccine.

Zoo it and leaving Asia

The last thing I did in Singapore was visit the night time safari at Singapore zoo. I went with Stefanie (who’d never been before) along with her two French friends. It was expensive and although I did see a lot of animals lit up with lights, it seemed a bit unnatural. Coincidentally, one of Stefanie’s friends was going to be on the same flight as me to Perth, so we decided to get a cab to the airport together the next morning.

I’d actually really enjoyed Singapore and it was an awesome place to get in touch with Western style living after many months travelling around Asia. It even got me thinking about living somewhere like this, but before that would happen I had Australia to contend with and I’d heard it was pretty cold at this time of year too...

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