11.06.2010 - 16.06.2010 32 °C
I was in for a bit of a culture shock in Singapore. Having now spent over 2 months in SEAsia, Singapore felt much less Asian more a global city, everything running to time, everything in its place, and everything in order. The country that has banned chewing gum, Singapore gave me a 5 day break away from the SE Asia intensity and pace of adventure, a very liveable city and one of the most impressive and pristine I have ever been to. I was able to relax here without too much concern for safety or how to get around. This was so darn easy. It was also eye-poppingly expensive. A Tiger beer while watching the first game of the world cup in Clarke Quay, the swanky centre of Singapore nightlife, was 13 Singapore dollars (about £6.50) for a small bottle. I wouldn’t expect to pay this in central London. Hang on a minute, isn’t Tiger beer from Singapore? Its not some fancy import. Why so expensive? It was less than a third of the price in neighbouring Malaysia.
During the game I met up with Zul, a local from Singapore, also crazy for rock music and football, so we had a lot to talk about. Clarke Quay was pretty glitzy and pretty lairy with all kinds of theme bars, including one called ‘the clinic’ where you sit in a wheelchair and take your cocktail from a drip! Also many annoying drunk westerners (I am glad someone could afford it!) I asked Zul if we could go somewhere ‘more Asian’ and we ended up in a 24hr coffee shop until 4.30am. Now this more or less finished me off. I already knew Zul liked to stay up all night but I had been up since about 6am to catch my flight in Manila so was stupidly tired and didn’t surface til well into the next afternoon to enjoy one of the best things about Singapore THE FOOD!!! Jeez, after the blandness of Filipino cuisine, the hawker food in Singapore was near-orgasmic. I stayed in a hotel in Geyling, actually the red light district of Singapore but was also one of the best places in the city for street food. Hot, fresh, tasty, perfect Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, or Indian dishes for pennies. My favourite dish in SE Asia so far has got to be Popiah.. mmmmm mmmmm mmmmmmmmmm.. I first tried this in a cafe in Borneo and enjoyed it then but the street version in Singapore was streets ahead. It is basically a very thin pancake, like a spring roll, filled with vegetables, beansprouts, lime, peanuts and chilli. Washed down with rose bandung, a drink found in Singapore and Malaysia basically rose syrup and milk over ice, absolutely perfect.
That evening I was so tired and went to bed at 9pm but set my alarm at 2am. Why? Well, I was in a very stupid time zone about 6 hours ahead of South Africa and it was England’s very first game in the world cup finals against USA. So there I was, the only woman apart from prostitutes, 4.30am in a 24 hour coffee shop in the red light district of Singapore very grumpy and disappointed in a terrible England performance and a 1 all draw. I was getting lots of annoying questions and a couple of lads were trying to wind me up by cheering on US very loudly, but then cheering even louder when England scored! The ‘multipurpose’ coffee shops in Singapore are very popular hangouts for locals, similar to a local pub in the UK. Here you can buy drinks, including alcohol for a fraction of the swanky bar prices, grab a bite to eat, have a chinwag and watch some TV or sport. Being on a budget I spent a lot of time in the coffee shops but I did feel that this also gave me a good taste of genuine local life.
In some areas of Philippines, everything, all life, stopped at about 9pm, it was lights out tucked up in bed so the shock was I was now in the city that never sleeps! So i felt somewhat ‘jetlagged’ by this change in routine and slept through the whole of the next morning again. I ventured out to walk off some of the excess calories from the way too amazing food and check out the Singapore skyline. I made it to watch sunset at Merlion, the half-lion half-fish statue that is supposedly the official symbol of Singapore! It was real nice though watching the sun go down over the Singapore skyline and as I walked for a good couple of hours felt much better for the exercise. Other than seeing the place and catching some world cup action, the other main reason to spend time in Singapore was to get my visa sorted for visiting Myanmar, my next planned destination. The internet informed me that as of a month ago (may 2010) you can now get a visa on arrival for Myanmar but it was not clear as to which nationalities are included and didn’t know anybody who had actually done this yet so thought it safer to get it sorted in advance. Bit of a hot hilly trek from Orchard MRT stop to get to the Myanmar embassy only to be turned away and told to get it on arrival after all. I double checked, triple checked with the agent there, ‘I have a British passport, i can definitely just turn up?’ Well the guy made it clear that he wasn’t going to process my visa in advance so I just had to hope that everything would be OK. Consoled myself with some shopping along Orchard road, that contains the most densely located shopping malls in the whole world or something and it didn’t disappoint. I don’t even normally enjoy shopping but this was incredible and relieved myself of a few Singapore dollars to replace some of my very limited backpack wardrobe that by now was boring me to death.
That evening I had arranged to meet a couple of Singapore locals I met on TB, Layla and Hadi, for dinner and drinks. It sure was a fun evening even though it was a work night for them, tasty Chinese dinner, obligatory rose bandung, then some weird but not so wonderful green tea sesame milkshake concoction at a cute little cafe at Raffles place. Excellent company, very sweet people and made me feel very welcome. Hadi was also the man to go to for local knowledge, which i took maximum advantage of sure enough. Final full day in Singapore, I went to the zoo. Pretty impressive overall, although the white tigers looked a bit cooped up. I then went to little India for dinner, vibrant area with some pretty colourful colonial buildings. Awoke next morning ready to checkout and catch the bus out of Singapore but there was an absolute torrential downpour. I still didn’t think it was anything unusual until i glimpsed the local news and saw that many areas in the city had been flooded and people were having trouble getting to work. Wasn’t sure if there were any buses running but checked out anyway then failed miserably to flag down a cab to the bus station. Apparently, half of the taxis in Singapore were stranded in various parts of the city due to the floods, the others were in great demand due to heavy rain. Argggghhhhhhhhhh..... Much waiting around and I eventually made it onto the bus out of Singapore over the border back into Malaysia headed for the town of Malacca.