BootsnAll Travel Network

Asia, but not quite.

There is a Hooter’s in Singapore. I walked past it my second night there, and stopped and did a double-take. Pushing aside the temptation for spicy chicken wings, I passed the girls in bright orange shorts spinning hoola-hoops to try and attract customers, which seemed to be working as the bar was full of people, foreigners and Asians alike, families sitting alongside groups of businessmen. It confirmed my initial reaction to Singapore; that is was not quite Asia, not quite the West, but languishing somewhere in between.My arrival the night before was easy and uneventful. The 4 hour flight from Darwin was comfortable and relaxing, in a new plane on Qantas, complete with your own TV screen and a decent meal. Scrolling through the huge selection of movies, I resisted the urge to watch Walk the Line again, and chose Chronicles of Narnia and the first part of March of the Penguins, which I didn’t get to finish as we landed ahead of schedule. The Singapore airport is fairly well known in being completely awesome. It has free internet, a pool, movie theater, spa and a vast array of other options to keep you occupied while waiting for a flight. It is not a bad place to be stuck on a long connection or delay, if you must. But I strolled through Immigration and Customs, got my backpack and tried to find transport into the city. My attempt to take the airport shuttle, which was S$7.00, or about US$4 (US$1=S$1.65), was thwarted as the shuttle desk said it would be at least an hour for the next one, and even then it would be “inconvenient” for me, as the traffic into Chinatown would be bad. I got the impression it would be inconvenient for them to take me to Chinatown, but no matter. I found the wonderful Singapore train system, or the MRT, and with great directions from my guesthouse, reached my destination in about half an hour, for S$1.80. I concluded during this trip, however, that I had accumulated far too much stuff in Australia, and would need to get rid of some of it, for in the short walk from the MRT station to my hostel, I was completely drenched and exhausted.

The heat, but more importantly the humidity, was a shock to my system, as Australia had been cooling off by the time I left, and even Darwin, while hot, was not humid in this way. I immediately took a shower, and even though my guesthouse had hot water, I had no need for it, and sat under the cool but not cold water for some time. Since it was past 9pm, I decided to forget about dinner and just get some rest, and settled in for the night in my dorm room. Exhaustion quickly overcame me, and I fell asleep instantly, only to be woken up repeatedly as the other 5 people in my room came in at all hours. I was used to it by now, but it still wasn’t all that fun. But for S$18.00 a night, I couldn’t complain.

The next morning, I set out on a mission with deja vous of sorts, to find a camera repair shop. The protective shutter on my lens wasn’t closing, and I was worried about it getting scratched. My hostel recommended a shop near city hall, and suggested I take the MRT. I asked how far it was, as I liked to walk to see the city better, and he shook his head. “Very far, 2, maybe 3 kilometers.” I smiled, and said “Oh, I like to walk. ” He shook his head, but gave me directions to the shop. After walking past Chinatown and further towards the city center, I realized why he suggested I take the train. It was insanely hot outside, and I was quickly drained by the time I found the shop. It wouldn’t open until 11am, and since it was only 9:30, so I found a place to get some coffee and relax a bit to plan the rest of my day. After my coffee, I found myself wandering around the Raffles City complex, a huge indoor mall complete with a Marks & Spencer, Aldo shoe store, Crabtree and Evelyn and a Belgian Leonidas chocolate shop. I had arrived in Singapore at the beginning of their sale “season,” an 80 day sale which puts the day after Thanksgiving sales to shame. While the prospect of new clothes was tempting, the prices were not, and even with the exchange rate and sale, the clothes were not as cheap as I thought they would be. 

The camera shop finally opened, and they gave me the bad news; it would cost about S$260.00 to fix, as they’d have to replace the whole lens. Since my camera still took photos, this was obviously not worth it, and I just needed to be careful with it. They suggested I try the Sony shop, located on Orchard Road, to see if they could fix it there. I made my way to Orchard Road, a huge shopping street, and passed numerous shopping malls and eateries, including a Taco Bell and Baskin-Robbins. On every street in Singapore, there was some sort of shopping complex, and in it’s interior, a huge food court full of cheap Asian food. The midday heat was starting to get to me, and I repeatedly found respite in the freezing cold malls, only to exit again in a blast of heat.

After the Sony shop, which told me the same as the repair store, I wandered around Orchard Road and found Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill, an Western restaurant serving “American portions”  of burgers and such. Scary. I quickly found another food court, and had a huge heaping plate of noodles, veggies and chicken, for S$4.00. Realizing after lunch that I was exhausted, I headed back to my hostel and found my dorm room empty, showered again and took a nice nap in the air conditioning. After my nap and some internet therapy, I changed and decided to head out for some dinner. Strolling along Clarke Quay, a huge riverside complex of restaurants and bars, including Hooter’s, I realized I was out of my price range, and headed to another mall for some Asian food. I headed back to Clarke Quay and sat by the water, enjoying finally some cool breezes and people watching. The day was quickly over, and I hopped on the MRT once again for the short ride home.

My hostel had only a very small sitting area in the front by reception, and since it was still early, I sat on the couches with a few other travelers and watched some TV, avoiding my dorm room. There I met Chris, an English guy from Bath, who had tried unsuccessfully to get a bed in my hostel, and was gleaning information from a young German couple about the must-do’s in Singapore. After eavesdropping a bit, i offered to head to the zoo with him the following day, and we made plans to meet up and do some sightseeing in the morning. After talking a while, I was suddenly unable to keep my eyes open, and headed up for some sleep.

The next day, Chris arrived at my hostel, after having spent the night in what he called The Cupboard, a teeny room in a hotel in Chinatown. He had to switch hostels, so after checking him into his new place, we set off for a trip to Little India. There are many walks and suggestions of things to do in Singapore, so we strolled through the streets of Little India, and entered the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, dedicated to the goddess Kali. After removing our shoes, and me putting on a long-sleeved shirt to cover my shoulders, we entered the temple with other worshipers. There were many people inside, making offerings and things, but we understood little of what was going on. Along with people praying and making offering, there seemed to be families having a picnic, and other unexplained activities going on inside. But the colors and statues were beautiful, and after a walk through, we exited to the busy streets again.

Since I hadn’t eaten breakfast, we walked past a small Indian restaurant, complete with a menu outside and linen and glasses inside. Expecting a pricey establishment, we were surprised to read the very cheap prices, and went in. It was sort of a strange little place and we were the only customers, being waited on by about 5 different people. But we had a cheap meal of naan, chickpeas and such for about S$9, and my bottle of water cost more than my meal. Feeling better, we headed off into the heat once more, only to realize we weren’t sure what we wanted to do. Chris wanted a view of Singapore, so we headed towards the island of Sentosa and the cable car which runs from the mainland. The prices were sort of high, and we didn’t really have any desire to go to Sentosa, which is a big amusement park really, so we opted for a cable car ride in the other direction to Mt. Faber. Again, the person selling us our tickets advised against walking down Mt. Faber, though he said it would only take half an hour. But we bought a one-way ticket, and after a very short cable car ride, we arrived at Mt. Faber, a small hill with views over Singapore and Sentosa in the other direction. After the obligatory skyline photos, we headed further up the hill to a nice lookout and rest area, where we spotted a huge dark area in the distance. I was hopeful that is was mere pollution, but Chris convinced me it was a thundering mass of dark clouds, and the first rumble made our decision to head down the hill.

A short jaunt down the hill, we now looked stupidly at our map, realizing that Mt. Faber wasn’t on it, and we had no idea how to get back to Chinatown. We picked, luckily, the right direction, but had no clue how far away we were. After about 1/2 an hour, we reached a street that was finally on our map, but it was too late. The rain had started, and with a few minutes, it was a monsoonal downpour. I had an umbrella, but travel umbrellas are barely good enough for one person, let alone two, and we were both quickly soaking wet. We found respite in a small eatery and quickly downed a can of Minute Maid Limeade, though raining it was still warm. Braving the wet, we made our way back to my hostel in Chinatown and arrived completely dripping. I couldn’t tell if my hair was due to the rain, sweat, still wet from the morning shower, or mixture of all three. My hostel owner cluck-clucked at us, “It’s wet outside, yes?!” And we sank into the couches to dry off a bit.

The rain continued for about an hour, and then let up and finally stopped altogether. Chris headed back to his hostel, and we planned to meet up for dinner in Chinatown. Singapore’s Chinatown is a huge area, with the main street shut down to traffic at night so food hawkers can set up their stands and tables. Stall after stall of souveniers lined the streets and alleyways, and we browsed through the streets, careful not to show interest in any one product. If the owners thought you were interested in their stuff, they immediately began offering prices and deals, and only a quick smile and immediate departure allowed you to extricate yourself. A mindboggling assortment of food options stalled us for a while, and we both settled on some food and huge bottles of Tiger beer, the local brew. As sweat continued to pour down my face as I ate spicy laksa, we chatted and drank a beers, desperate to cool my burning tongue and our sweaty bodies.

After dinner, we had decided we had to be complete tourists, and head to the Raffles hotel the must-have Singapore Sling. This drink was made famous in the hotel, and now it was pretty much a requirement to head to Raffles for the pricey S$17 but cool and sweet drink. We were worlds away from Chinatown here, as a jazz band played background music and we sat among well-heeled couples, drinking pricey glasses of wine and enjoying the ambience. Raffles doesn’t allow shorts and sandals, but even in our best duds, we still felt scrubby, and no amount of effort could hide that we were backpackers. After a drink that cost the same as my bed for the night, we headed to Boat Quay for a few drinks along the water. Singapore is expensive to drink in, but many bars offer special deals, some with confusing names like one-for-one, meaning two-for-one, and house pour, where you pay a cover amount, about S$20 and drink for free for a few hours. We settled on a one-for-one outside and drank cheap wine. The heat had taken its’ toll on me, and after our drinks we decided to call it a night. We were right down the street from Chris’s hostel, so I hopped in a cab to head back to Chinatown, making plans to sleep in a bit the following day, and meet up again for some more sightseeing. I had moved into a smaller room in my hostel, and with what seemed like about 3 minutes, I got ready for bed and feel asleep.

The following morning, I headed to Chris’s hostel to meet for the day. We didn’t have much of a plan, but he had some errands to run, and so we headed to an internet cafe to burn his pictures to a CD and find a post office. What seemed like an easy task quickly turned south, as the post office seemed to elude us. We got directions, it was clearly marked on my map, but it was just nowhere to be found. We finally got proper directions from a shopgirl, that is was located behind the building we were in, and located the post office after much ado. After our errands, we headed to the Singapore art museum (S$3) a weird assortment of old and contemporary art, and what I can only describe as the scariest baby room exhibit I’ve ever seen. Weird plush animals hung on the walls, and blood red carpeting lay at our feet. The best exhibit was a dark room with a TV playing static, and as you moved your body, the static was projected onto the wall, and our jumping jacks became sparkly butterflies.

After the museum, we decided to head out to the Singapore Zoo and Night Safari, which had been recommended to me by numerous other travelers, and the young German couple helping Chris earlier also raved about the Night Safari. It was far out of town, and an hour long MRT and bus ride finally brought us to the gates of this sprawling zoo. After forking over the stroke inducing fee for both the zoo and safari tram ride (S$36), we were given a map which seemed immense to try and complete in the 1 1/2 hours we had before closing. I don’t normally like zoos, and they seem to be a necessary evil in the world to me, the best ones which have conservation projects and offer huge open spaces for the animals. While this zoo promised “open” living spaces for the animals, we were actually quite shocked at the size of the cages and living areas for some of the animals, most notably the big cats and crocodiles. The foot and trams paths for the humans were given more space than the animals, and while the variety of animals was remarkable, I didn’t see anything particularly groundbreaking about the zoo. Chris was more shocked than me, as I haven’t been to a zoo in ages, and the ones he frequents in England are sprawling wildlife parks compared to this zoo.

Within an hour of walking around, thunder and lightning surrounded us, and we were quickly taking refuge under an awning to escape the downpour. The tram picked us up, and we were whisked back to the exit. The zoo closes at 6, but the night safari doesn’t open until 7 or so, so we grudgingly but ravenously dined at KFC, the only budget option available. We entered the night safari complex and quickly got in line for our tram ride. The night safari promised us that we would “see nocturnal animals as they come to life at night,” but what we got was more of the same, animals in sort of unfenced areas, but languishing around on dirt floors and under lights for us to see them. Looks like I still need to go to Africa, as Chris assured me this was no substitute. The tram drove us along the path to each animal cage, with our tour guide’s voice remiscent of a sportscaster proclaiming victory, briefly pausing as each enclosure for us to get a better view. The repeated request to not use flash photography was of course ignored by a few people who think rules don’t apply to them. We were quickly irritated and relieved when our half hour ride was over.

Silenty cursing the large entrance fee as we sat on the bus, and wondering who these people are that recommended the zoo to us, we made our way back to the city center to find some booze, the only cure for wasting money. We headed back to Boat Quay, since we knew where it was and knew they had a few bars there, but after finding out the deals at our previous night’s establishment, decided to continue on down the street. We came across an Irish pub, beckoning us with promises of Guiness and live music. Only a few options of draft beer, we quickly ordered and as the bartender left to pour us our drinks, I could have sworn she said, “28 dollars.” “Did she just say 28 dollars?” I asked Chris. He pondered for a minute, and not confidently said “No, couldn’t have.”  “Because that would be crazy, right?” She brought our Heinken and Tiger beers, and Chris handed her a $50 bill, and after counting his change, said “Yep, 28 dollars.” We stared increduously at these two beers, sweating on the bar, costing us a weeks worth of travel in Laos probably. “I don’t even like Heineken that much, and you’re drinking local beer.”  I started to laugh, because it was so ridiculous, and we should have known better but didn’t.

After savoring our beers as much as we could, we left Molly Malone’s for a cheaper establishment, a Chinese restaurant offering jugs, or pitchers, of beer for S$13. The equivalent of about 3 beers, we spent more on that than one beer at Molly’s. We laughed sadly into our beers at how stupid we were for not asking, or just not knowing, and shared a few pitchers along the waterfront. Since I was leaving the following day for Malaysia, we repressed the urge to go clubbing at a freepour establishment, and said our goodbyes and headed home around 1am. Chris would be staying another day, and then leaving for Malaysia on his Intrepid tour. I was heading to Melaka, Malaysia and still hadn’t bought my bus ticket.

The next morning, I packed my stuff and made my way to the train station, stopping off at yet another mall to change some money into Malaysian Ringgits. After hauling my increasingly heavy bag to the bus terminal, I was buggered to find out I wouldn’t be leaving until 3pm, as all the other buses were full. With 4 hours to kill, I left my bag with the nice woman at the ticket counter, and walked through the back streets until I came to Little India again. This time, the streets were insane, as it was a Saturday and everyone was out. The huge Mustafah shopping complex heaved with people, looking for bargains on toiletries and gold jewelry. Security guards checking incoming and outgoing bags, and after fruitlessly fighting the crowds, I left to find an internet cafe and some food. A quick cheap meal of roti and daal, I found the internet cafe and confirmed my guesthouse reservation in Melaka. With the last of my Singapore money, I bought some samosas and water for the 4 hour bus ride, and went back to the bus station to wait in the shade.

Luckily for me, my bus was almost empty, and as I sat in my sweaty clothes in the freezing cold air con, I pondered what I was going to get rid of in my pack to make it lighter, and wrote some postcards finally, some which I had still been carting around from New Zealand (sheepish grin.) We made a quick stop at border control, where we exited Singapore effortlessly. We stopped again another 2km up the road, and had to enter Malaysia now, which is connected to Singapore by a sparkling highway. Immigration was easy, and though I was clearly the only foreigner in line, my passport was quickly stamped and I was given a 90 day visa for free. We boarded the bus again on the other side of the border, and I settled in to finish the book I was reading, desperate to shed any weight out of my pack as I could.

After we arrived at the bus terminal in Melaka, a nice Malaysian man sitting next to me on the bus asked me where I was going, and he helped me get a taxi into Chinatown where my hostel was. Because it was a Saturday  night, there was a night market going on in Chinatown, and the taxi driver advised he couldn’t take me all the way because the streets were closed off. For 15 Malaysian Ringgits (US$1=RM 3.67), I was driven to Chinatown, a few streets from my hostel. That is when I realized I was out of Singapore, and actually in Asia. No street signs anyway, and people stared at my as I struggled in the heat with my bags. The long sleeved shirt that saved me from the A/C on the bus was now a detriment to my health, as I quickly shed clothing to no avail. After asking three different people and given three different directions, I finally found my hostel. Recommended by LP, the owners were happy to see I had finally arrived, as they wondered what took me so long. I had a single room to myself with two beds and a fan, but no A/C, for RM17 a night. After another cold shower, I changed and went into the crazy market streets of Chinatown, and had a quick meal before heading back. The owners of my guesthouse warned me of a storm approaching, and the rumbling thunder in the distance confirmed this. Even though I had no A/C, my room was cool enough with the fan, and I quickly succumbed to sleep, only to woken by some of the loudest thunder I have ever heard. Rain pounded the roof shingles, and I quickly got out of bed to shut my windows, fearing a flooded room. Though the pounding rain put me to sleep again, the sporadic thunder kept waking me, and my sleep was interrupted over and over again.

I’ve been strolling around the streets of Melaka today, a large port city on the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It is hot here, and I think I’ve realized that the weather will be like this for the next months in my travels. There has to be a local secret to the heat and keeping cool, whether hereditary or something they eat, the Singaporeans and Malaysians don’t sweat, and walk serenly around in jeans, long sleeved shirts, full make-up and madeup hair, while I struggle in shorts, a tank top and my hair in a ponytail. In the distance, I can see the hills and jungles of Malaysia, blurry in the smog and humidity. Motorbikes whiz past me, and I quickly pay 1RM for an ice cold can of Coke. My first stop in Malaysia, and then I’ll make my way to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow. I haven’t seen too many travelers yet, and my guesthouse is almost empty, due to possibly the start of the rainy, and therefore off, season. Though some of the houses and building look run down, the streets are well-paved, certainly putting the pothole ridden Chicago streets to shame, and the people have been nothing to friendly to me, even after I hand them a sweaty bill. I’m trying to learn a few words of Malaysian, though all the hawkers call out to me in English. I’m sitting in an internet cafe, the only white person, surrounded by about 30 young boys all playing computer games with each other. I’m definitely in Asia now.


Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *