The Millennium Trip – Letter #17

Ni Hau everyone,

Apologies for the delay in writing this letter.  I have been a bit pre-occupied lately, as will become clear.

On the way to Singapore (map) I stopped in Kuala Lumpur and Melaka. In KL I went to see the striking 452 metre high Petronas Twin Towers. For the time being at least, their 88 storeys (above ground) make them the tallest buildings in the world.

However, construction has already begun on the 91-story cheese grater shaped Shanghai World Financial Center. Chicago City council has given the go-ahead for a 112-story building at 7 South Dearborn. And the Hong Kong government has approved plans for the Kowloon Station which will be 8 metres taller than 7 South Dearborn.

The Twin Towers were designed by Cesar Pelli & Associates, the same architects who were responsible for Canary Wharf. The ingenious design of the towers means that they resemble twin minarets, reflecting the Islamic nature of Malaysia. Sadly though, members of the public are not permitted higher

than the second floor.

No matter where I stayed in Malaysia, bed bugs kept biting me. I tried washing all my clothes, I used insect spray and insect repellant, but nothing got rid of them. By the time I arrived in Singapore on Wednesday last week, I had begun to suspect that perhaps they were not bites after all. On recommendation from the Singapore Visitor’s Center, I made an appointment to see a Doctor at the Raffles Medical Surgery in the center of town.

The Doctor was a clean-cut Chinese man with wire-rimmed spectacles and a cheerful demeanor.

“Hello Keeran,” he greeted me with a smile. “Where are you from?”

His American-educated familiarity caught me off guard.

“South Africa…er, Ireland. I meant Ireland…”

His neat little eyebrows rose askance above his Lennon-like spectacles.

“…I have an Irish passport,” I went on, blabbing. “Actually I have three

passports; Irish, British and South African, but I am travelling on my Irish one at the moment.”

“Oh,” he said. “That’s nice.” He continued quickly. “So what seems to be the problem?”

I stripped and showed him all my bites. There were thirty-eight of them on my left arm alone.

“Well, those are definitely Chicken Pox,” he concluded after I had got dressed.

“Have you ever had Chicken Pox before?” I said that I had, twice.

He prescribed Camomile lotion and told me not to use public transport for at least a week.

Two days later the pox had all but cleared up, but my lymph glands had swollen up and I had developed a distressing ache in my groin. By Sunday evening my testicles too were swollen and I was in considerable pain. I took a taxi to the all night surgery where the on-call Doctor gave me some painkillers and made an appointment for me to see a specialist the following day. After a fitful night I was back at the surgery first thing in the morning.

The Internal Medicine specialist, Dr Kheo, was a fashionably dressed man of about middle age who spoke impeccable English. His office was tastefully decorated and there were fresh flowers on his desk.

“Mmm,” he mused, weighing my balls in the palm of his hand.

“It is definitely not Chicken Pox. It may have been Varicella – some people just don’t develop enough antibodies at a young age – but this is a secondary viral, re-infection.”

I believed him. It sounded like me. When a long awaited bus has been and

gone, I am generally the one left standing on the pavement wondering “Should I have taken that bus?” It made sense to hear that my immune system is dopey too. Dr Kheo prescribed bed rest and a battery, a veritable arsenal of drugs for me to take and told me to come back and see him again on Thursday.

And so I spent four days cooped up in my lime green and mauve coloured single room, with my goolies on ice, contemplating the emasculated consequences of a runaway infection of the testicles.

“I am sure there is nothing to worry about,” he had answered sympathetically. “But perhaps you should do a sperm count in about two months time. Just to be sure.”

God knows how you count the buggers anyway. Besides, since I have never tried to count them before, how am I to tell the difference?

I need not have worried. The drugs did their job. Upon my return visit everything had returned to its original size and I was given a clean bill of health.

In Singapore, my hotel room was three metres by one and a half, had paneled walls on three sides and was delightfully colour coordinated. The three paneled walls stretched only seven-foot up from the floor. Netting covered the gap from the top of the walls to the ceiling.  The result of this was that although I could not see my neighbours, I could nonetheless hear everything they said or did as if they were sleeping in a bed next to mine.

One of the cubicles next to mine was occupied by a much tattooed and portly Chinese labourer who worked long hours and who I think used to dream he was Kung-Fu fighting.  Every so often during the night he would sit up in bed (I imagine he sat up) and yell out a frightening Chinese expletive like “Aeeee-ya!!”  The first time he did this I got up and checked that my door was properly locked.  After the first two sleepless nights however, I became more accustomed to his habit and started pretending I was his opponent.  Every time he woke me up with another nerve shattering “Aeeee-ya!” I responded with an equally clever Karate chop of my own. “Eeeeya-cha!” I’d shout in a Bruce Lee sort of way.  There was usually a moment’s silence while he pondered my cunning.  Then, defeated, you would hear him sink back onto his bed and go to sleep.

Raffles Hotel

Raffles Hotel, Singapore
29 October 1999

The overriding impression you get in Singapore is one of order.  Everything works as it should.  The roads are spotless.  The lawns are trimmed.  The gardens are manicured.  Pedestrians wait for the traffic lights before crossing the road.   People simply do not litter.  I don’t think the trees would dare drop their leaves without being told to do so.  The Food Courts, Singapore’s answer to the

street stall, provide you with an astounding variety of food at reasonable prices.   Coffee-shop culture has taken Singapore by storm.  On virtually every corner there is a Starbucks or a Coffee Bean or a Java Coast.  The heavenly smells of Cappuccino’s, Lattes and Mochas follow you everywhere.

Sight-seeing wise, I am afraid that Singapore has been a non-starter for me.  I did make it as far as the Jurong Bird Park, which is highly recommended.  The live shows there are even better than the one at Taronga Zoo in Sydney.  Later this afternoon I catch a ferry to Batam Island in Indonesia.  Tomorrow I will take a ship across the Equator to Jakarta, arriving on Sunday morning.

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