Singapore

11 Jan

Singapore. Hmmmmmm. It’s hard to find the words to sum up our brief three day experience in this country/city. My feelings about the place are jumbled and we certainly had a tumultuous experience from the start. We should have known we were doomed when the bus driver forced us to throw out our just purchased coffee and teas before boarding the bus from Melaka, The bus ride itself was simple enough, about two or two and a half hours from Melaka to the Singapore border and a 30-45 minute drive from the border to the bus stop. We got out at the border, were easily stamped out of Malaysia, hopped back on the bus, and got out in Singapore to go through a rigorous customs process. Now, we’ve been through plenty of border crossings and most are simple enough. We’ve had to put our bags through two security checks previously, one in Thailand with no one even watching the screen and one in Malaysia with some lackadaisical guards more concerned with their conversation than your bag contents. Singapore was a whole different game. There were plenty of signs upon walking in stating that you needed to declare alcohol and cigarettes, but honestly we didn’t seem to think it a big deal. I had a half drank bottle of vodka in my small bag, Angela had the same along with a bottle of wine and silk worm rice wine and Josh had one unopened and a half-smoked pack of cigarettes. Of course looking back, Angela should certainly have looked into the customs process with that much alcohol on her. But, again, given our past land border crossing experiences we didn’t think too much of it. 

Angela was the first to put her bag through and her body through the scanner. She was taken aside and asked about the bottles she had. She went digging through her bag in an attempt to find them while the guy looking at the security screen pointed out that my bag had a bottle in it as well. I admitted that I had half a bottle of vodka, which they took out along with my passport, handed it to someone else and asked me to follow them to the customs room. While the man examined the bottle and filled out some paper work, I was joined by Angela and a different man examined her bottles and started filling out paper work. I could hear Josh’s voice from outside the room and wondered if he would be joining our criminal party as well. Sure enough a few minutes later we were joined by Josh, with his cigarettes in a plastic bin and paper work to be filled out. I was taken out by the man who did my paper work and brought to a separate counter where yet another man told me about the strict customs rules of Singapore, tried to make me feel stupid for not reading any of the many signs around me and informed me that the fine is usually 100 Singapore dollars for this “offence”. Since I had never been to Singapore before and had no previous “offences” they let me off with a warning and forced me to pay what the tax would have been on the vodka, which was 11 dollars. I paid an 11 dollar tax on a half bottle of vodka that originally cost me under five dollars. When I asked if I could just throw the vodka out instead of paying for it they told me I would have to pay the fine if I did that. Eyeroll. While I was handing over my credit card to pay the fine, Angela and Josh were taken into a room behind the counter I was standing at. While I got a fairly nice talking to, Angela and Josh were berated by a woman who clearly hated her job. They were yelled at for not reading the signs and paying attention, forced to read the signs in front of the woman and told about all the consequences of their actions. She told Josh he would have to pay a tax on the unopened pack, which he refused and told her to throw them out so she did, allowing him to walk off with his half-smoked pack while Angela was told she would have to pay a 100 dollar fine (which ended up only being $45). While waiting for Angela and her fines to be sorted, I was getting nervous about the bus leaving. A pamphlet in the bus claimed they would wait 30 minutes max for people to get through customs. I had Josh run down to the bus to make sure that it would wait for us and thank God I did because the guy was threatening to drive away as Josh was yelling at him that we were coming. We appeared on the stairs walking down to the bus just in time for Josh to point up to us that we were coming, giving the huffy driver no excuse to drive off just yet. 

Back on the bus we felt the disdain for Singapore in our blood. We had been told how great and how clean the city was, so we jokingly pointed out each flaw we saw for the rest of the drive and for the walk to the hostel. A piece of garbage on the street? HOW CAN THAT BE. Something in the river? Singapore you are so dirty. But in reality, it was a very clean city. Almost too clean that it was stripped of character as Josh pointed out. You need the nitty gritty in cities, and from the piece of Singapore we saw, it wasn’t there. The city imposes a number of fines, so much so that they have shirts that make fun of Singapore as a “fine city”. One that we fell victim to was the no eating or drinking on the subway, even water. If they saw you drinking water you were called out for it. While it does seem a bit aggressive, the subway system is absolutely spotless and definitely the best I have ever been in. 

Now, back to the walk to the hostel. We arrived at our hostel, Traveller’s Lodge Backpacker Hostel, and were put into a jam-packed and steaming dorm room. The dorm itself cost $13 US dollars, when we pay anywhere from $5 to $8 for a dorm normally. Singapore costs are high and we expected this, and this was one of the cheaper hostels we could find. We didn’t have extreme expectations for cleanliness or comfort so the room didn’t necessarily surprise us. After standing in the room for about five minutes and becoming covered in sweat we decided to get out and do something. We took the subway to Chinatown, walked around the bustling food market area and ate a really damn good pork bao and some sort of scallion pancake. We eventually found ourselves on the main road and it was clear there was some sort of big celebration going on. It was the opening celebration of the start of Chinese New Year. We walked down all the side streets through numerous market stalls before grabbing a spot in the crowd to await the festivities. Someone had told us that there was going to be a parade so we were excited for that, but it turns out there was no parade, just music on the stage. After watching some terrible hosts talk back and forth about God knows what, we decided there was nothing to see any more and headed back to the hostel. 

That evening we all crawled into bed tired and done with the day. Between 2:00 AM and 3:00 AM we were awoken by a guy in the room (one who is clearly there long term) who decided it was appropriate to turn all the lights on and start talking super loudly. He had brought a friend in and they were moving things around and talking back and forth. I asked him if he would turn the lights off, which clearly pissed him off and got him angry. Josh jumped in to tell him to turn his own light on. He was not happy. With the lights off, he continued yelling about anything and everything and talking with his friend. A little bit riled up, I asked the guy to at least feign respect for the people in the room. He was not happy and decided to let all his anger out in a very mature way through some very beautiful statements such as “you bitch”, “go fuck yourself” and “shut the fuck up bitch.” Josh and Ang immediately came to my rescue yelling back at the guy and everyone was on edge. I was shaken up by the event and the following morning we asked to be moved to a different room. They didn’t have another dorm room of 14 beds available and were attempting to make us pay the difference to get moved to the 12 dorm, which Josh quickly shut down. So that night they moved us into the 12 dorm for the same price, which was luckily far nicer than the 14 dorm.

We knew that we needed to do something good after our horrible arrival and night and decided to go see the “trees”. We didn’t know much about it, but Josh and I had seen the famous Singapore park, which has been applauded as a location promoting plant and animal life within the city, on Planet Earth II’s cities episode. I quickly googled the park and discovered that the trees are part of the Supertree Grove within the city’s Gardens by the Bay. After some Roti and eggs, we hopped on the subway straight to the gardens. We exited the subway into a mall which had a small river flowing through it with boats you could pay for a ride in, which certainly confused us. Eventually, after a few wrong turns and asking guards where to go, we made it across the street into the gardens. The garden is truly amazing, with a beautiful river flowing through it, a walkway along the river, the Supertree Grove in the middle, and smaller themed gardens surrounding. We walked up to the bridge to cross the river and entered the Supertree Grove, which has multiple metal tree structures seven stories tall, with plants growing along the length of them, allowing multiple different plant species to grow within a big city. Josh and I paid the eight dollars to go to the canopy walkway between the trees and were thankful we did. The walk provided a gorgeous view of the gardens and the greater city, and granted vision into the enormity of the trees themselves. We spent the rest of the day wandering the park and all its nuances, including a cactus garden, a children’s adventure park, a big fish aquarium, a lily pond and more. 

We wanted to see the light and sound show at the Supertree Grove, but the first one didn’t start until 7:45 and we had time to kill, so we decided to take a quick detour to Chinatown to try the cheapest Michelin Star meal in the world at Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle on Smith Street. We waited briefly in a line outside the door, moved inside to order on a screen (note: it was previously a hawker stand when it earned its star) and got our food quite rapidly. I ordered the signature chicken and noodle and, while it was certainly delicious, I was not blown away. Angela and Josh agreed, both of whom tried the chicken and the pork. I must say though, the pork was very good and, while I normally don’t like pork belly, it was rendered nicely with crackling on the outside. I enjoyed the few pieces that Angela handed over to me. With our meal done, we hurried back to the Gardens to see the show, which started just as we got there. It was a well done production and, while we couldn’t hear the music very well from where we were, the light portion was impressive. That night, inspired by our Planet Earth sighting, Josh and I watched the only episode we missed of the season before heading to bed. 

We got a lazy start the next morning, and after the same roti from the morning before, we decided to head to the Botanical Gardens, which we read is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We were not impressed with the park as a botanical gardens, if we’re being real it was simply a park. It would be a great place for a long walk or a run, but nothing anyone needs to see. We took the subway back to Little India, one stop before our hostel’s stop, and walked through the area, again not as impressed as we had been in Penang, and headed back to the hostel for some wifi and lay time. Angela was on her noodle game as usual and found a Wan Tan Mee place close to the hostel that we walked to for dinner that was super delicious. Afterwards, we bought beer at the corner store to celebrate our last night together before Angela and I moved onto Indonesia and Josh went back to KL. The hostel apparently has a no drinking policy, and when someone saw us walking into the hostel with beer in a bag, they came up to creep on us in the room and make sure we weren’t drinking. At that point, an old Chinese man walked into the room to sleep in a bed that, while his stuff was there the night before, he was not. Giving us another reason to think the people that stay in this place are bizarre. Nearly everyone is old and either living there or on business, and everyone is weird or straight up bothersome. Anyway, Chinese guy made us move our belongings from around his bed. That, coupled with the fact that some guy was creeping on us, made us realize we would not be drinking in the hostel. We went outside to the 24/7 restaurant, which has a table just outside our hostel door and asked them if we could use their table. They very kindly said yes so we sat to have a few beers and play cards together for one last time. Of course, the hostel owner/worker came out creeping around us to see what we were doing.  

Additionally, my whole Singapore experience was shrouded with a cloud of sadness, due to the the imminent and unavoidable goodbye I would have to say to Josh before we went our separate ways. Everyday got a little bit sadder and that last night was no exception. The following morning, we were all up at the crack of dawn, Angela and I to head to the subway to the airport and Josh to catch the early KL bus. A sadness hung over all of us. Three people that have known each other since Vietnam, and have traveled together for the past two months. Through the best fucking times anyone can think of, to times when no one wanted to talk to each other, I wouldn’t change it for anything. While the goodbye was hard, it’s certainly not the end. I left Singapore feeling terribly sad (fitting with how we entered) and moved with far less excitement than usual onto the next adventure.

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