We came upon a massive complex, with all clean lines, stainless steel and glass. A cavernous mouth greeted us large enough for the Millenium Falcon and a few squads of Tie Fighters to land in. The ceiling soared a hundred feet above us, with multicolored glass shimmering in the rain. Our bus followed a caravan of trucks and buses. Motorcycles shot off some side passage while cars also went in their own carriage way. Once under the roof, we were quickly escorted off the bus by soldiers, up numerous floors on escalators, into another large room where we passed through customs, then down another large set of escalators. At the bottom was a parking lot of buses, all revving their engines, ready to shoot out of there as soon as they re-picked up their passenger load. Finding your bus through the haze of exhaust was an adventure of its own. We practically lost two Brits who got turned round in the haze. Then we drove out of that complex into another one of equal stature. Once again out of the buses, up some escalators, and through customs again. This time we were careful to listen to the drivers rushed instructions and to take note of the exterior markings on the bus. Once past some grumbly customs guys, paying some silly visas, we shot down a massive staircase to the waiting buses. All this was done in such a hurried manner you would think a tidal wave was about to roll in. It was all very science fiction feeling, and we realised that we had truly entered a new world, welcome to Singapore.
The city was still on the other side of the island, and so we crossed a huge bridge to the actual island. There were thousands of scooters lined up on the bridge, waiting to leave the island, getting totally drenched in the rain. Glad I was cozy on the bus. Malaysia was modern, but Singapore was ultra high-tech high rises everywhere. We traveled for an hour and entered the proper city. The bus pulled over to the side of an avenue, and unceremoniously dumped us on the side of the road, not a bus station, hell, not even a proper bus stop. The rain had simmered down to a drizzle, and street lights reflected in the wet concrete. We went up to an ATM to pull out some Singaporean dollars, not really having any idea how much the conversion rate was, we took out the maximum amount. An older Asian lady asked us where we were going in an American accent, them pointed us in the right direction. Wow, what great English. We were able to find our location on the Lonely Planet map, and off we went. A few times we asked directions, and got great instructions. I was amazed how great everyone’s English was, what a change from everywhere else. Then it dawned on me, English is the first language here. First lesson of the night. Dumb ass.
Well we found our bar/hostel in the middle of Little India, which of course, was the Indian section of the city. Duh! The buildings were all two stories, hundred years old or so, twisty streets, lots of bars, whore houses, and pool halls. We turned a corner and there was a sign with the words Prince of Wales with a picture of a dog under them. We had no idea how good this place was going to be, but a friend who lived here, Jeremy, recommended it. We walked in and damn if it wasn’t a proper pub. The sign said walk-ins get a free beer, but we had booked online. Well I quickly sorted that out and we were promised our two beers. Thank god because our room was seventy bucks a night with a shared bathroom. Second lesson is “Damn this city is expensive!”
We had decided on two nights, three max cause of cost. In addition, we made an agreement not to worry about money and forget about the budget while we were here. Of course we brilliantly decided to do our monthly budgets before we got there, to see how much we were actually spending, and it was twice what we had thought we would be spending. Third lesson, always do your budget after you go to the second most expensive city on your trip, not before.
Tossing the budget out the figurative window, I sat down to have my first of many beers of the night. On top of that, I was craving proper western food, steak to be specific. Seeing how all food was half off here, and Victorian Bitters only five bucks, I was looking forward to a long eventful evening at the bar. The waitress asked me how I liked my steak, I kid you not, medium rare please. No problem she says. No problem, hah, I loved it. Well by time my second bitter showed up, my large by American standards Steak showed up, and I sliced it open and it was bloody in the center. Perfect. I was happy as a pig in shit. Jeremy had chosen well for us.
Well on top of my To Do List was the Singapore Zoo. I had heard from a zoo designer that it was amazing, a must see. So the next day we hopped on the subway and a bus and an hour later we arrived at the front gates. What made the zoo special he never told me, but I was excited to discover for my self, and here’s what I found. The layout is nice and relaxing, with tropical plants and trees surrounding you, so none of the exhibits were crowded or squashed together. The animals’ exhibits were designed to feel like their natural environments, and also designed with the animals needs for privacy and space also.
The Singapore zoo is at the fore front of saving the proboscis monkey, that rather goofy looking monkey whose nose was so huge that it flopped over the animals lips. The bigger the nose the hotter the monkey, so with those standards I would do pretty damn good. This zoo has managed to breed these guys and has two troops of this rare monkey. We then went over to our favorite guys the Komodo dragons. They had a great display telling all about the dragons, way better than anything actually at Komodo National Park. It would be great if they would donate the signage to the park, just saying, in case anybody is listening.
As we are casually walking down the path an orangutan swings right over our heads. Their enclosure is open so they have tons of flexibility where they go, including over our heads. Best exhibit ever! The clouds got ominous above us, and the deep rumble of thunder told us it was time to jet. As big fat rain drops started to pelt our heads and lightning shot down from the heavens, we started a mad sprint to the bus. Unfortunately, we had to dodge an electric golf cart careening down the path. Looking over our shoulder we saw an orangutan baby chilling in the back seat like he was Jack Nicholson on the ninth hole. I thought this was a fitting end to our visit.
Saturday night I was very excited because we had big plans, it was date night, and we were going to do it in style. We were going to hit an old colonial hotel, Raffles. It was strictly dress shirts and slacks for the guys, a real classy joint. I love these 1900’s colonial hotels, with all the pomp and circumstance that go with them. It was in the Long Bar in Raffles in 1915 that the Singapore Sling was invented by Ngiam Tong Boon. Why this drink captured the world’s attention, no one really knows, but I for one, was excited to try the original flavor. Rumour has it the last wild tiger in Singapore was shot here when it escaped in 1902. The likes of Ernest Hemingway and other literary greats drank here, so I felt like I would fit in just fine. So we walked to this little gem, and were greatly disappointed to see all these tourists there in shorts, tank tops, and flip flops.
Well we saddled up to the bar, knowing full well we were the best dressed couple in the house, and our faces turned white. Twenty-five bucks for a drink, that’s robbery. But we made a pledge not to worry in Singapore, so we did not. But if I was going to pay that much for a drink, it will be a nice Whiskey, so at least I know I’ll enjoy it. So Yvonne got the Sling, which was tasty, but not twenty five-dollar tasty. The decor inside was nice, lots of wood with a dark bar, peanut shells on the floor. But I have to say, all the tourists ruined any vibe it might have had.
The night was young, and for what ever reason we were hot to trot, so with no map or plan, we began to wander. Singapore is a great city for walking, with wide pedestrian walkways and parks scattered about. In the skyline we could now see a very strange looking building, well three actually, all connected on top. In truth it looks like a giant space ship crash landed on top of three sky scrapers. This was our first look at the Marina Bay Towers lit up at night. Well seeing them put a little itch in my side that would not let up, but more on that later. We walked for twenty minutes more and ended up in the quays, which was along the river. Here there were hundreds of bars and restaurants. We found the second Prince of Wales, which was perfect timing, because we got good prices for staying there, so some cheap five dollar beers were in order. We then followed the river down to the lower quay, and here’s where things got really crazy, cause we were in club land. Beautiful people everywhere, drinking, smoking, being shot hundreds of feet in the air on one of those catapult things. One whole bridge was packed with people hanging and drinking. It was a good vibe and looking good like we did, we fit right in. But all nights must end, and it was getting near three thirty in the morning, so we chose to hoof it back. We did so much walking I never even got a buzz.
Once we got back to our fine establishment, that itch I was talking about came back in full force. I logged online to see how much it would cost to stay in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. You see, before we even arrived we had both been curious about this building. The space ship part of the towers which I talked about earlier is actually a giant infinity pool stretching across all three buildings, over looking all of Singapore. Really cool, I know. You see, sometimes I enjoy modern architecture. Earlier on our trip we had both read a book called The Jungle by Clive Cussler, which was more of a Screen Play for a Stallone style action movie then a good book, but an easy read. There was a battle between extremist and mercenaries, and a grenade blows a hole in the side of the pool, causing tons of water to shoot out the hole over Singapore. Some poor child unaware of such horrible things as extremist is being sucked out the hole, and it’s just terribly dramatic, but will be great on the big screen I know. I won’t ruin this plot twist for you, but needless to say I needed to swim in this pool. Then on one of our flights, there was an article on the building, and this just cemented this need in me. Did I ever mention I am a sucker for marketing, well it’s true, I am. Funny thing is, Yvonne was just as taken with it as I was. So back to the point, three hundred and thirty dollars does not seem like that much when you are on a nine month life experience, not bad at all. Well my finger was already dropping down to hit the Buy button when Yvonne said I should wait till the morning. Aaaarrrgggghhh, my finger was so damn close!
(This image is from their website http://www.marinabaysands.com/)
Next day of course we weighed all the logic, and a deep sense of disappointment settled over me, if only I had pushed the button. Instead we could take a tour for twenty bucks, not swim in the pool. Screw that, I’m not paying that much to just look! Well this could only be solved by seeing the ocean. So we hopped on a subway and got off at a stop called Harbour Front. Well let me tell you, there was no harbour and damn well no view from the front. It was of course, a mall. So we ended up going to China Town, which was so much classier then Kuala Lumpur’s. We went in to a gorgeous temple and the bouncers grabbed Yvonne and told her she was dressed inappropriately. Well yeah, pink never goes with green. Just kidding. She was showing too much leg, which I like, but they insisted she put on a very classy sarong. Respect people. Well the temple was really cool, ornate, with monks praying, chanting, beating drums. Architectural wise it was gorgeous, definitely worth seeing. Love all the dragons. If Catholics had put dragons all over their churchs I might have believed in their theology a little better, but probably not.
From China Town to Little India, and what a difference it was. We climbed out of the subway, to be greeted by thousands of Indians, if not tens of thousands, and all men. We were in a sea of Indian men, all in their twenties, hanging out, drinking, smoking, joking, fighting, everything. It was surreal. We grabbed a folding table and sat down with some new Indian friends while I had delicious lamb curry from a street vendor, and a king Fisher Strong, which apparently, only strong men drink. We found out later that Indian men get a two-year contract to work and Sunday is their day off, so it’s party time. It was a blast, but sadly I took no pictures, so you will have to just trust me on this one.
Well Jeremy came rolling in around eight, went straight to the bar, and bought some beers, my kinda guy. It was odd to see a family friend in Singapore, specially one that I had not seen for thirty years. I’m old, I know. My memories of him were of a boy with a blond bowl cut who loved to swim. So I’m not sure if I was expecting a forty-year old to show up with a blond bowl cut in a Speedo, but I had my camera just in case. Instead he had brown hair now, in good shape, and could hold his alcohol like a champ. The one thing that didn’t change was he was a hell of a nice guy. He immediately apologised for Raffles, he said he would never have sent us there nor is it worth the money to swim in the infinity pool. Can’t say I agree with the latter, but so be it. Jeremy came over after college and has moved his way up the ranks. He now has a lovely family, with two boys. We caught up on all the details of both our families to make sure our moms were all up to date. He filled us in on the life of an ExPat in Singapore, and how there were more expats than native Singaporeans on the island. For those of you who are confused about what an expatriate is, you are not alone. I used to think it was people who left their country because they did not believe in their politics. But it actually just means a foreigner working in another country legally.
The next day was a rest day for us, as they say on the tour books. So shopping and movie were on our agenda. I mean, Singapore had more malls than all of the United States, so we should take advantage. Lots of malls, nothing to buy. I’m not going to bore you with details, but I did buy two tickets to see Argo. All I can say, you go Affleck! That movie was phenomenal, best of the year. It had the feel of the gritty 1970’s classics. Argo, Fuck Yourself.
How many nights were we going to stay there, that’s right, two, because of money. Well, that did not work out, we ended up staying four nights because we could not get a flight out. I stayed strong and never pushed the button for our fancy hotel, so I never got to swim above Singapore.