Welcome to Asia Lite
Trip Start Mar 07, 2006
56Trip End Jun 30, 2006
Well, anyone who has been to Singapore is probably laughing right about now. Asian culture, my foot. Yes, it's true that the locals look an awful lot like the people from the rest of Asia, but that's pretty much where the resemblance ends. Singapore is a clean, modern city, where the people wear Armani and Versace and virtually everyone speaks English (the primary official language, though signs are also frequently in Mandarin, Tamil or Malay, and there are a host of other languages spoken as well). Here, the incredibly modern trains run on time, the technology is more advanced than back home, and locals and tourists alike tend to be well-off and unruffled, just like the city itself.
I flew into Changi International Airport on Monday night, after a very pleasant flight from Darwin. Qantas is now my new favourite airline for international flights. The seats are roomy and comfortable, the flight crew relaxed and friendly, and the personal entertainment system on the seat backs is the most extensive I've ever encountered - literally dozens of movies, games, TV shows and music stations to choose from. I'm almost looking forward to my twelve-hour flight to Frankfurt, so I can see the second half of a movie I started watching on the way here.
Changi Airport is supposed to be one of the best airports in the world. I didn't hang around very long, since it was late when I arrived, but I'll be heading there early tomorrow to browse before my flight.
The first thing I noticed about Singapore was the heat. I'd just come from Darwin, not exactly a cold city, but Singapore is just a giant sauna. If you look up at a street light at night, you can see a constant mist in the light, the result of over-saturation in the air (more than 100% humidity). It doesn't cool down at night either. Five minutes outdoors and I feel like I've just had a steam bath. (The locals don't seem nearly as affected, for whatever reason; they're better-adapted, I guess). Luckily, the Singaporians seem to have an addiction to air-conditioning, and it's quite possible to spend most of the day going from one climate-controlled place to another.
The next thing I noticed was how clean the place is. Sure, I'd heard that from a lot of people before, but they were usually comparing it to Malaysia or Thailand or India. I, on the other hand, flew in from Australia. The contrast was no less amazing. Everything is efficient and organized. Sure, it requires draconian nanny-state laws against littering, spitting, chewing gum or jaywalking to achieve this, but if you ignore that, the effect is quite something.
Singapore is also a city of contrasts. This is most clearly visible in the ethnic districts. My hostel is in Chinatown, which I explored yesterday, and I also visited Little India today. Both are very colourful, full of historically restored buildings and street markets and a dizzying array of foods and spices and sights and scents.
Last night, I visited the most popular attraction in Singapore: the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo. It was really fascinating, and the dark made it seem like the animals weren't really in cages, because it was impossible to see the cages in most cases. I saw lions and snakes, leopards and porcupines, giraffes and owls and even elephants... just to name a few. The dark makes it possible to see nocturnal animals while they're awake. Unfortunately, it also makes it nearly impossible to take photos, since a flash would bother the animals. The few photos I did take are a bit hard to make out, but it's all good.
This afternoon, I headed to Orchard Road, which is the main downtown shopping street in Singapore. Most of it is much too steep for my budget, but the sheer quantity of shopping malls and brand names is impressive. On Orchard Road, you can get a suit or a silk dress tailor-made in 8 hours, you can buy the latest fashions, and you can enjoy a mochaccino in air-conditioned comfort. Also, if you should happen to be in the market for a brand-new digicam, ipod or mobile phone that hasn't been released back home yet, you can visit any one of the literally thousands of dealers all vying (quite aggressively) for your hard-earned cash. As they say here, shopping isn't so much a hobby as a national sport, and they take it very seriously.
I've been backpacking for nearly three months now, and everything I own is shabby and wrecked, so I browsed the shops with the vague notion of picking up a few chic new items of clothing for the upcoming European leg of my trip. I soon realized that any attempt to shop here in Singapore is futile, since Asian women have no hips and none of the stores sell clothing in any size larger than stick-figure. It was still fun to explore.
Late afternoon, I was getting ready to head back when the heavens opened up and I got to experience one of the famous thunderstorms that Singaporians are always talking about. It really is an awesome sight to behold... assuming you're standing under some sort of shelter. If not, well, no umbrella or raincoat on earth is equal to the task. I just shrugged and grabbed a coffee and watched the show until the rain let up a bit. I'd been planning to stop by Raffles Hotel to take a photo and maybe even splurge on a Singapore Sling, but the weather wasn't cooperating. Ah well, I'm not exactly fussed.
Tomorrow, I have one more day to explore Singapore before heading to the airport for my flight to Europe and Phase Three. I'm really looking forward to it.