( 5.0 )
( 15 votes )
Feb 05, 2004 17:31
Pros: beautiful, interesting,
"I'm flying off to Singapore
Where women dance and tigers roar
I'm lying on a distant shore
Living life as fast as I can
A nod, a wink, another drink
I am the domino man!"
- Beautiful South
Saturday night I realized that I'd accidentally kept my key from
Sirwa Homestay on Gili Trawangan, so I did the responsible thing
on Sunday morning and hunted down a place where I could send it
back. There was actually a branch of the post office that was open
near Masa Inn, and I felt like a better person after I paid my 9000Rp
and got rid of the thing. After that little errand I overpaid for
a ride to the airport; it was hot and I didn't have the energy to
haggle. The airport was dull. I gave myself two hours, which was
way too long since the place was empty. Every duty-free souvenir
hawker saw me as a walking opportunity, so I spent the whole time
pacing around saying "no, thanks." Next time I go to Indonesia
I'll bring a T-shirt with the word "NO" printed in big
letters across the front so I can just point. I used my last 15,000Rp
online and reserved a dorm bed at the well-respected New 7th Storey
Hotel in the center of Singapore.
It's amazing how fast that big stack of airplane tickets that I
left home with shrunk down. I used my next-to-last [pre-purchased]
one flying from Bali to Singapore. I can't stay awake on airplanes
no matter how hard I try, so I don't remember much about the flight,
except that the food choices were beef courgette (?) or beef [something
I can't pronounce and couldn't begin to spell]. I had the latter
and didn't notice much that was beefy about it (it looked like a
corn fritter), so I ate it without complaint.
Changi Airport in Singapore was a different world from the Bali
terminal. I expected it to be modern and techy... but I didn't expect
to find 100% English signage, free internet, showers, and an entire
mall! I figured I'd shop later, so I grabbed my bags, breezed through
the almost non-existent customs area, and jumped on the MRT subway.
The hotel was close to the Bugis station, which was convenient,
and the subway was simple to negotiate. I checked in at 6pm, dumped
my stuff in the well-appointed dorm room (TV!), and walked across
the street to the Parco Bugis Junction Mall.
Singapore is just north of the equator, and it's a hot & humid
consumer heaven (or hell, depending on your viewpoint). It's also
one of the greenest and cleanest cities I've ever seen, thanks to
beautiful gardens, strict litter laws, and prohibition on things
like selling gum. Most everything is in English, although the population
is over 75% Chinese. Downtown is literally wall-to-wall shopping
malls, and prices vary wildly so it pays to look around and then
bargain hard. I'd decided already that I was going to buy a portable
CD player here - the i-Pod is great but I need new music - so I
started comparison shopping immediately. That led to browsing the
music & dvd shops, looking for contact lenses, and stopping
in virtually every retailer that was still open. The hours here
are different from home: stores open around 10 or 11 and stay open
until 8-10 at night. That suits me fine!
In the end the only thing I bought that night was the newly-released
(just that day!) "Lonely Planet: Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei"
guide. I've been using mostly LP guides so far on this trip, and
for all future releases starting in 2004 they've completely overhauled
their presentation. So far I'm impressed; the maps are much better,
the organization makes more sense, and everything is cross-referenced.
I went to a design-your-own pasta place for dinner and started planning
out my next few days.
First thing Monday I walked up the street to Sim Lim Square, which
is an enormous 6-storey complex filled with specialist electronics
shops selling everything from wires to video cameras to computers.
Three hours later I left with a headache and too many digits (prices
and model numbers) floating in my head. Next up I headed for Orchard
Street, which is the heart of commercial Singapore. It's non-stop
shopping of every kind for a few miles, and it's jammed with people.
I spent hours in HMV & Borders (who knows when I'll see stores
like those again!) catching up on pop culture via magazines and
music listening stations. Over the course of the afternoon I roamed
through Plaza Singapura, Centrepoint, Ngee Ann City, Lucky Plaza,
Wheelock Place, the Heeren, Far East Plaza, and too many more to
remember. I forgot how much of a pop culture junkie I am by nature
until I found myself surrounded by it! By 7pm my feet were killing
me, so I walked home and re-discovered the joys of the McDonald's
McFlurry along the way. Back in the dorm I met a couple of guys
from Spain and Ausralia. Singapore is a fascinating place to meet
other travellers because it's a major transport hub between Europe,
Asia, and Australia/NZ.
Tuesday I decided to take a day off from shopping to mull over my
potential purchases. I walked up to the Little India neighborhood
to have some authentic Indian curry for lunch. It was very different
from the stuff I've had at home, and I think in typical fashion
I like the US bastardization of Indian food better. I browsed the
bustling local Mustafa market (more for the cultural experience
than to buy anything), and then took the subway downtown to the
misleadingly-named Raffles Place station. I assumed that the famous
Raffles Hotel would be nearby, but I was wrong, so I walked for
another hour across the Esplanade Bridge and through some parks
until I found the hotel. The Raffles Hotel is a relic from early
1800's Singapore, and it's the epitome of colonial luxury in the
city. Pretty much every tourist stops by to have a Singapore Sling;
I relaxed in the hotel's atmospheric Long Bar, pretended I was a
colonial spice trader, and tossed one back.
Wednesday I finally made some decisions about what to buy, and I
subsequently spent a horrific amount of money in one day. My first
stop was Sim Lim Square, where I had to haggle at three shops until
I found a good price (meaning "not much more than I'd pay on
Amazon.com") for a beautiful little portable Panasonic region-free
DVD player with a 5" screen. I am now officially the least
backpacker-ish backpacker EVER.
Once I had the means to listen to new tunes, I went back to HMV
& Borders and loaded up on CDs from Mew, the Stills, Belle &
Sebastian, Sophie Ellis Bextor, the Rapture, Longview, and South.
I'd never heard four of the acts before, which made it even more
exciting. Prices were US$10-15, which was better than I'd expected.
I held off on buying any big name acts, because I'll be able to
find those (along with bootleg DVDs) for super-cheap elsewhere in
After the CD spree, I bought the Region 1 extended version of "Two
Towers" so I could test the "region-free" DVD functionality
before skipping town. Finally, I bought some accessories: a case,
and an extra long-life (5 hours, ha!) battery which I had to seriously
bargain for. I'm getting good at that; a few guys tried to sell
the battery to me for S$330 (US$180!);, and I managed to get one
of them down to S$160, which is about what I'd pay at home. I was
exhausted after all that, so I limped back home and played with
my new toy (it works) while chatting with my new roommates, Barry
and Jen. Jen's heading up north next, too, so hopefully we'll bump
in to each other.
Today I walked to the bus station and bought a ticket for tomorrow
morning to Mersing, on the east coast of Malaysia. From there I'll
be able to take a boat to Pulau Tioman, which is supposedly one
of the most beautiful islands in the world (it was the setting for
Bali Hai in "South Pacific," I think). Then I walked back
through Little India and saw part of the Thaipusam festival, which
was really exciting. It's a Hindu celebration in honor of Lord Subramaniam,
and devotees parade down the street wearing big, elaborately decorated
cages that are attached to their bodies by dozens of hooks through
their skin. They also pierce their tongues and cheeks with metal
spikes, but they're in some kind of trance so they supposedly don't
feel the piercings. I'm not sure I believe that, because the marchers
didn't look very comfortable, and those hooks looked painful!
It's hot as blazes here, so I'm dreading leaving the air-conned
sanctuary of the mega-gaming-internet complex. These places are
very popular with young guys playing first-person-shooters on LAN
connections, and they're huge (100s of computers), cheap, and loud.
Anyway, I hope you're keeping warm in February, wherever you are!