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Slings, sleaze and au revoir in Singapore

SINGAPORE | Sunday, 19 July 2009 | Views [6689] | Comments [3]

It was long before dawn when the nicest coach in the world crossed the bridge over to the island state of Singapore.When we saw the customs complex it was immediately clear that this would be a lot more organised than anywhere else in SE asia. It was massive, with seperate sections for cars, minibuses, coaches and trucks. As it was such an ungodly hour there were no queues and our bags, and our passports were scrutinised meticulously. My bag was identified for opening. I thought it was for the pack of illicit chewing gum I was smuggling in but not so. Whatever it was, was ok by the customs official.

As a treat for the final section of Claire's journey we had splashed out on a 4 star hotel, The Furama City Centre, in Chinatown. We arrived at the unusually shaped building at about 5am, hopeful of a room being ready. As they were full would have to wait. We sleepily traipsed around the local area looking for somewhere for breakfast that wasn't noodle based (not easy in Chinatown). Finally we found somewhere nondescript serving nondescript food that wasn't noodles. We stayed as long as we could, to give the hotel time but alas they still had no rooms ready when we got back. We took a seat in the quite posh (compared to what we were used to) lobby and waited, like only backpackers can in a 4 star hotel. They found a room soon enough after Claire and I sprawled out on a leather sofa while Japanese business men and pilots were checking out.

I'd like to think the hotel manager took one look at us and said “get them out of my lobby – I don't care how!” because we had landed an executive room. At the price we paid we should definitely have been in standard. Despite the nice room it was shocking to see how much they charged for broadband and minibar stuff. To think that no so long ago I had thought nothing of paying such crazy sums for being able to send a few emails when working away on a project. Now though there was no way I was spending our normal accommodation daily budget on the an hour's Internet access.

Yet again the arrival in a new city had the Olympus theme. After a sleep and a late lunch we made for the office, a few MRT stops away. The MRT is Singapore's highly efficient metro system.

Colm, my oldest brother had once described Singapore as Asia-Light. We had sort of felt that about KL in that it was quite organised and efficient but Singapore seemed to us to be devoid of any Asian feel at all. It looked more like Boston than anything Asian. Once we found the Olympus office and dropped off the camera we called it a day, having an early night preceeded by the decadence of takeaway McDonalds in front of the TV. We had to get into the non Asian spirit of things you see!

Out and about for our first proper day in Sing we wandered around Chinatown, only to discover most things closed and no-one around. We gave up and made for Little India instead. A few shops selling saris, gold and tat. Not so appealing. We passed by an English pub and, at a loss, had an overpriced but cheeky pint. Singapore was not blowing up our proverbial skirts so far ... but perhaps we were looking in the wrong places. A swim at the hotel pool and a quick Jacuzzi quickly got us back in the right frame of mind. We went out for a walk around the city, checking out the skyscrapers oddly juxtaposed with the elegant cathedral.

Raffles hotel is a world renowned Singapore institution since (arguably more exciting) colonial times. We had a look around the building and visited the compact, interesting museum. You have to be impressed by a hotel that has its own museum, about itself!

Across the road is an unpronounceable entertainment complexed called Chijmes with a trendy bar called Insomnia just off the main courtyard. We took a seat outside and had ourselves some Singapore Slings. They had been invented in Raffles, who decline do a 2 for 1 happy  hour. Iit was an economically lead but tasty decision.

After a while a guy with an acoustic guitar, a great voice and a repertoire that came straight from my ipod came out and kept us singing along for the rest of the evening. Riza, a friendly Philippino girl sat down beside us and we got talking. She confirmed that the principal pastime in Sing was shopping. We had done plenty of mall crawling in KL  and our retail bags were full.

Keen to try and get out of the city we visited Pulau Ubin, a small island off the east coast of Singapore proper, near Changi Airport. We somehow managed to persuade Riza to take an impromptu Friday off her accountancy duties and join us for the day. We met her at an MRT station and she showed us the way  and a good job she did too as we would have ended up in altogether the wrong place.

Pulau Ubin is supposedly what Singapore used to be like in the 1950s. We took a small boat across the channel and were greeted by strip of shops renting out sub-standard mountain bikes. We chose our three steeds for the day and disregarding the free map we were given, went off to get lost.

Riza had been here before but hadn't veered off the beaten track too much. We did a little, down a muddy one way path only to return. Riza's whiter than white trainers, which I suspect had never been used outside, were ruined, covered in mud but she took it in good spirits. Later we came across a wildlife observation path built out onto some of the remaining coral on the island. He path then weaves through some beautiful mangroves with tiny fiddler crabs boisterously fiddling away in the mud below. Tantalisingly close, across the channel was Indonesia.

There was a wooden tower to climb where you could check out the local bird life but it seemed most (ok I admit it I) was more keen on looking at the planes come in to land in Changi Airport. Never did catch an A380 but I suspect it was the wrong time of day. It was a lovely afternoon, spent cycling around the woods and tracks ... such a far cry from the strangely muted hustle of the city.

We indulged in another swim in the hotel and did some outrageously expensive laundry before the evening was upon us.Vietnamese Casino Heist Nick had just come back to Singapore. He and our new friend Riza came over to the hotel for a few beers.

The Singapore food festival was on so afterwards we walked down to nearby Read Bridge, the epicentre of the festival. It had been marketed as restaurant food at hawker prices but in fact the inverse was true. Perhaps we were a touch too late but it did not impress. The people at the stalls were bored, the food was stodgy and there was a crazy system of buying tokens in order to  buy food and drinks. We moved on.

After a stroll along the quays with its seated bungy jumps, we ended up in Chijmes. We hit a few bars, testing Nick's ability to get cheap, airline staff drink discounts even though he doesn't have a job. He did surprisingly well, even when we ended up back at Insomnia where Riza was mates with one of the managers. The Singapore Slings flowed and a good time was had by all. Nick, with a grin, suggested another place, Orchard Tower for a last drink. Claire and I were game but Riza declined when she found out where he was taking us. Shopping mall by day, multi-storey all purpose sex emporium by night, Nick referred to it as the Four Floors of Whores. It was just that ... seedy, neon, brash, in your face, but not scary or pity inducing. It was quite strange getting an escalator up while a giggling group of lady boys fluttered their eyelids at us going down ... We had our last drink in one of the slightly less seedy bars, finished it quickly and called it a night. We had to start packing up in the morning.

Needless to say we weren't operating at 100% the next day when we had to go back to Olympus to collect the camera. It's a simple journey. One MRT stop from Chinatown, change to the only other line and then one more stop. When we got out at the other end nothing looked at all familiar. We had somehow sleepwalked, assuming the other was keeping an eye on where we were going. In one change and stops we were not only in the wrong station but in the wrong end of town. The second attempy, by taxi was more successful and we got another example of native Singaporean disaffectedness. The driver bitched and moaned about taxes, the government, the crazy laws and the lack of personal freedom. We could have been in London but for the Chinese accent and the genuine smile.

Olympus, without saying why had deigned it necessary to change the circuit board of my camera. With the work done in KL and Singapore the little camera had now had the equivalent of a multiple organ transplant. On testing it seemed as though the colours had come back and it felt better so we took off.

Once again, I am ashamed to say we indulged in some fast hangover food. This time BK was the beneficiary. The staff were amused at my insistence on a BK hat.

We wandered around, eventually taking the MRT (correctly this time) back to Chinatown. As we were walking back into the hotel we passed by a little shop which had a massage sign outside. We went in and had the most painful chinese style pummeling we had ever had. There were a few small similarities with the Thai massage style we had learnt in Chiang Mai but it was mostly elbows and knees in painful places in our backs. Afterwards all we were fit for was a nap – in fact it was a struggle to make it through the few steps and a lift to the room.

It took a freezing cold swim and jacuzzi to wake us up for the evening. It was our last evening in Singapore, our last evening together (for just a while) and essentially the last evening of Claire's trip. Understandably there was a melancholy air to it. We put on our finest attire (ill fitting Bolivian jeans and a shirt for me, the twice repaired El Bolson dress for Claire) and made for the Long Bar in Raffles, ... dahling. We had to give this institution its due – visiting the museum was not enough. We ordered a pair of outrageously expensive Slings and sipped away, savouring the opulent sights and sounds, a little disappointed that they had been prepared using a mix and not fresh as we expected for the price. We used the time to write notes for the blog which was now ludicrously out of date. We ran through part of Thailand before covering the whole of Malaysia and finally Singapore. It was fitting that we returned to Insomnia one more time for a bite to eat before retiring.

The original plan had been to visit the Singapore Flyer, Singapore's taller answer to the London Eye on the morning of our last day. Nick had also invited us out to his apartment near the airport for some lunch. When we had packed up though we didn't really have time for either and the desire to be sociable wasn't great either. We settled on a long walk through the sultry city, through the maze of subterranean malls and passages, making the most of each other's company.

We had a tasty asian lunch and marched on further until we reached the destination, the Chocolate Research Facility. It's essentially a shop selling lots of types of chocolate but oh the chocolate. There are heaps to choose from, all superbly packaged and marketed. Claire settled on Champagne while I went for Chilli Pepper flavour. They tasted great (with a price tag to match) but it didn't take the edge off the facts. We needed to bade each other farewell, albeit temporarily.

It was a quick but emotional goodbye. My flight to Mumbai was early evening and Claire's back home nearer midnight. We had decided to not draw things out any more than necessary so I took the MRT and Claire stayed in the hotel until she could check in for her flight. While I made the journey with my newly svelte bag, Claire had acquired a whole new bag. Inside were some souvenirs but mostly of my heaviest belongings which I wouldn't be needing in India. Like a dive watch or PADI course books. I can only imagine the  sight of her on the MRT to Changi. A red-eyed English girl with a big rucksack, a small rucksack and a cargo bag, all full to bursting and sporting the Kathmandu logo.

Changi Airport is renowned for its comfort and efficiency but it was all a little wasted on me in my somewhat forlorn humour. I went into the lounge priority pass lounge only to be told that my card was expired. I paid anyway, not in the mood for retail therapy. When the flight was called I made for the gate and finally caught a glimpse of the Singapore Airlines A380 which has fascinated me since I hear about it. But only a photo for me this time. Jet Airways don't have any A380s.

I was however incredibly impressed with the A330 they provided for the flight (despite the unnerving recent tendency to inexplicably fall out of the sky). It was very new, months old at most and the service was impeccable. I managed to keep my melancholy thoughts at bay by catching up some of the blog and catching a movie on the surprisingly large screen. At the back of my mind, a persistent yet unanswerable question: What would India hold in store for me? In a few short hours I would find out.

Tags: camera, city, fast food, fast food, island, live music, massage




Well well... the airline discount must have worked! I Cant remember much apart from insisting that the taxi driver turn off his meter on the way home at 4am and take us somehwere that we could both have a bite to eat. We sat down in an Indian hawker centre near Chinatown and bothed stuffed our faced for a total of $7. It was my shout, I had never had a happier taxi driver! Oh... I also remember the pain the next day. Hope you're well mate :)

  Nick Aug 2, 2009 2:04 AM


Hey eoghancito,

We liked your blog and decided to feature it this week so that others can enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!

World Nomads

  World Nomads Aug 3, 2009 3:09 PM


Hey eoghancito,

We liked your blog and decided to feature it this week so that others can enjoy it too.

Happy Travels!

World Nomads

  World Nomads Aug 3, 2009 3:09 PM

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