Singapore 2015: The last mile


Actually, from Singapore to Montreal it’s more like 9,190 miles. But who’s counting? (Hint: I am.)

This is always one of the (many) weird parts of solo travel: the last few hours of cocooned comfort and connectedness and relative knowingness before diving down the rabbit hole of a long, time-warped chain of airports, airplanes, continents, and curt customs officials. Bye bye, Singapore. Hello, no-man’s land.

When you’re on a series of long-haul flights, time zones do funky spirograph-like loops around each other. As you streak along above the clouds, the Masters of the World’s Clocks add and subtract hours in some complex secret formula that can result in astonishing occurrences like multiple sunrises or sunsets, as well as produce confusing things like a meal of curried rice for what seems like should be breakfast time, or eggs and chicken ‘sausage’ for what seems like should be dinnertime. “Would you like a glass of wine with your meal, ma’am?” Sure, what the hell. I think it’s around 6 am Eastern Standard Time, but who really knows for sure, or cares? It’s happy hour somewhere in the world.

I was prepared not to like Singapore. I’d received so much negative input about how it’s nothing but soulless skyscrapers and super-air-conditioned shopping centres that I admit I arrived with a mild but preconceived disdain for the place. The 15-hour-long shuttle-ferry boat-bus-taxi journey from Tioman Island didn’t help matters either. I imagine the two Swedish girls who never emerged from Singapore customs and subsequently got left behind by our tourist bus likely weren’t feeling too friendly towards the city-state either, when and if they ever did make it out. I hope they’re ok.

But about Singapore. It turns out I like Singapore, or at least the bits of it I managed to see in 2 short and admittedly lazy days. It’s like the western world, but with eastern sensibilities and culture woven in; you just have to look a little harder to find it sometimes.

As some of you may have read in my previous post, I was pretty wiped out by the time I hit Kuala Lumpur and despite a few days of crash-time at Juara Beach on Tioman island, the hella-long trip here knocked me right back down again (for effect: My flight from Hyderabad, India to London, England will take less time than it took me to travel 164 km overland from Tioman to Singapore). Luckily I landed at a hotel that offered me the most inviting balcony I’ve ever encountered on my travels. At first glance I swear I heard the swing chair whisper to me through the frangipani trees, ‘Sit here. Sip wine. Never leave.” So of course I obliged.

Alright, not entirely. I did venture out a little. I reconnected with Des and Richard, a lovely couple I’d met at Juara Beach, as well as with Stephi, whom I’d also met there. Singapore is old hat for all for them so it was nice to discover pockets of the city through their eyes and without having to keep my nose shoved in a street map every second. To my new friends, it was a pleasure meeting you all. Keep in touch.

Singapore is slick and sleek and straight. Everything connects and makes sense. All the streets have street signs! The city-state also has really friendly, thoughtful things like public pixel boards that alert drivers as to how long their commute should be to various points around town based on current traffic volume, and digital signs inside the commuter train cars to tell you what stop is next and which side of the car the doors will open on (all in their official language of English). Thanks, Singapore!

Chewing gum is banned. You can’t buy it in any store, and you get a fine if you’re caught with it. It’s illegal to spit, jaywalk, and smoke in most places, too. It’s lean and clean; and yes, with battalions of dizzying, soaring, modern skyscrapers standing guard, but with a tad of Asian kitsch sprinkled around for good measure too (just Google the famous “merlion” if you’re curious.) I steered clear of the glitzy, expat-heavy areas (too expensive) and the theme-park-ish areas (not interested) and instead dug into character-filled districts like Little India and Campong Glam. I ate the cheap, delicious and ubiquitous street food and enjoyed happy hours on my lovely balcony, soaking in the heavy, sultry heat. I paddled around the hotel pool (another infinity pool!) and slept in every morning, resting up my body in preparation for the Big Trip Home.

On the corner of my hotel’s street, a Buddhist temple with a giant prayer wheel out front that chimes each time you spin it (I spun it the recommended 9); directly across the street, a church. In the distance, a call to prayer emanates from the mosque. The astounding mix of cultures and religions that prevailed throughout Malaysia is here in abundance as well, only it all feels just a little more organized. From the tiny glimpse I’ve had, I could see myself living here (and just imagine the cheap flights to everywhere in Asia!)

But for now, it’s time to disconnect. Clear security, board the first of four planes, step across the threshold and let the Masters of the World’s Clocks have at it.

See you on the other side. I’ll be sleepy, but I’ll be there.

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