South East Asia on a Hamstring – January 29


Singapore – January 29, 2000

My flight from Jakarta to Singapore was on Garuda Airlines. I had heard only horrible things about Garuda but flew with them for their partnership with Northwest and the frequent flyer miles. (How do you think I get all of these free trips anyway?)

Garuda left promptly at 9:40 and there were no problems.

The Singapore Airport is a modern, pleasant airport, but it is nowhere nice as the new Hong Kong airport that I was in two weeks ago (was it only two weeks?). The one major benefit of the Singapore Airport is that there are three small postal centers. All three are open 365 days a year and two are even open on Sundays. I was able to ship all of my goofy Bali souvenirs home, plus a few items of clothing that I am obviously not going to wear on this trip.

The Airbus is no longer in existence, so cross it out of your Singapore guidebooks. It has been replaced by the “Airport Shuttle.” For seven Singapore dollars, the weary traveler gets door-to-door service.

I needed it too. I had barely slept the previous night and, regardless, was zoned out simply from traveling. I spaced out on the shuttle, barely noticing the wide, clean boulevards of Singapore.

Tall, modern, new buildings lined the streets. It seemed like most of them were filled with shopping malls. Familiar names were everywhere – 7-11, Toys R

Us, Starbucks, Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Chili’s. It was disconcerting given that I’d been in Jakarta three hours earlier.

Singapore is a small island-nation just off the coast of Malaysia. It was a part of Malaysia briefly in the late 40’s but that didn’t work out. Singapore is probably most notorious for outlawing chewing gum, killing drug offenders, and caning that American kid who had vandalized cars. It is extremely wealthy and many people go to Singapore for the shopping, which as far as I could tell, is like going from mall to mall in the States. The population is multi-ethnic, as are the languages. There are many Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Arabic residents of Singapore and English appears to be the common language.

I checked into our hotel – an upscale place with in-room safes, new bathtubs, good lighting, TV, and telephone. The receptionist informed me that my roommate for the next two weeks was to be “Paloma.” She was not yet in.

Bleary-eyed, I had a Whopper Jr. and attempted to get my laundry done, only to be thwarted. No laundry service could do my laundry in 24 hours and for some reason this was due to the upcoming Chinese New Year.

At 7pm, our group gathered in the hotel lobby. What a switch! Our size had swelled to 10 plus the leader. Peter was in charge and he was in his 40’s-50’s and married, but taking time out to do his dream Intrepid job. He specializes in China but was doing the Singapore-Malaysia-Thailand route for the winter. He carries his Psion palmtop PC on his trips.

The 5 new group members are all Australian women from Sydney. Paloma is my age but the other 4 are much younger.

I spent the evening at the internet cafe, enjoying the high-tech infrastructure of Singapore. When I returned to my room, Paloma was talking excitedly and non-stop. I spent a long time in the bathtub, letting her decompress from her flight.

Singapore – January 30, 2000

In the morning, Paloma and I took the Singapore Airlines Hop-On bus for a Singapore city tour. The bus was officially $5 but I never saw the driver ask anyone for money. If you had a Singapore Airlines boarding pass, you got a free ride so I guess he just assumed everyone had flown on Singapore Airlines.

From the bus, the city still appeared to be all orderly traffic and shopping malls. Everything was very clean. The cars all appeared to be new.

We got off at the last stop and followed our map to Little India and Arab street. The architecture there was more interesting than the modern shopping mall aesthetic in the rest of the city – the buildings were short and colonial, with a lot of shutters and ornate metalwork. Open sewers lined the streets, but it has probably been a long time since they held anything but clean water.

Ultimately, we ended up at a shopping mall. I was hunting for a bookstore and left Paloma behind and took the MRT (the subway) to Borders.

I had heard a lot of nice things about the Singapore subway. It is nice – it has a farecard system and is clean and timely, like the Washington Metro or the San Francisco BART. The one thing that distinguishes it from other subways is that the tracks are not open to the public. There are doors that keep you on the platform and open only when the train arrives. It’s like waiting for an elevator or an airport monorail.

Our afternoon excursion was to Raffles Hotel for high tea. For S$30 ($18US), you get to go to a fancy old hotel and gorge yourself silly on selected finger foods, dim sum, and decadent desserts. Nine of us went and only Peter and one of the new girls stayed at the hotel, in the two “day-rooms” that Peter had rented for the bunch of us.

Of course, the day-room thing didn’t exactly work out because Peter trusted us to divide up equally. No one went to room 509 except the two residents. Everyone else came to our room. It was a mob scene, travelers everywhere, me waiting for someone to finish changing in the bathroom to spit out toothpaste, not exactly efficient.

Raffles was a good, bonding experience. Our group of travelers from Indonesia sat at one end and the new kids sat at the other, but Jitu charmed all the new

girls. Pratima “I do like my food and I’m less than 120 pounds” ate so many desserts that eventually the wait staff started bringing her various sauces and creams that they thought she’d be pleased with. The rest of us had to get up and go to the dessert buffet.

One dessert that Lorraine brought back was a small, tubular pastry. She put cream on it and Pratima said, “don’t eat that, it’s prawns!”

“But it was in the dessert section,” said Lorraine, concerned.

“I thought it was a dessert too and I ate it with chocolate on it! It is prawns!”

Lorraine tasted it anyway. “You’re right, but it tastes pretty good with cream on it.”

Raffles was a decadent, expensive festival of small treats, a real contrast to the foods of the past two weeks. We reflected on the flies on nasi goreng we’d witnessed at the roadside restaurants in Indonesia and felt guilty for gorging ourselves.

We have tickets on an overnight train to Kuala Lumpur and I am looking forward to my own private berth and am desperately hoping for a small curtain or something so that I can get a little privacy.

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