*Day 48: Big Things & Lights! Phase 2 Begins

Trip Start May 20, 2008
Trip End Aug 19, 2008

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Flag of Singapore  ,
Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Double-reverse culture shock is fun. It started on the airplane... an Indian style meal of dal, chicken curry, and rice was SilkAir's dish of choice. Totally not expecting that rare gem of thing called silverware to be included, I impulsively started eating the meal with my hands. The mistake was caught and corrected rapidly. Then came the arrival. The second I stepped into the terminal, I swear life revved up into a mild fast-forward. Everyone just seemed to be walking... faster? Odd it was. Then I saw it... a brown and white temple to the cocoa gods... a Coffee Bean. I had more important matters to attend to however, needing to make sure my baggage made it to the correct place in one piece. The check-in agent at Kathmandu Airport was having his first keyboard typing lesson while printing out my boarding passes and baggage claim, not the most reassuring sight to see. My "welcome back to civilization" treat check list would have to wait. Luckily, the rucksack and suitcase were there, and off I went to hunt down the night's accommodation, Betelbox Hostel. A brief MRT ride and my first use of an escalator in seven weeks was required for this. It was needless to say, the most singularly awesome escalator ride I had ever had.

As I boarded the shockingly clean train, a cocky feeling came over me. "Ooh look, the locals ride on cute rainbow colored trains! This is just like Disneyland!" It wasn't Disneyland though, it was, you know, a normal, functioning Westernized city. An abnormally clean westernized city (Singapore is that infamous "benevolent authoritarian"state where bubble gum lands you a $1,000 fine), but a city nonetheless. It just seemed like child's play compared to Kathmandu, and the perfect place to take a boiling, sterilizing bath in hydrogen peroxide & rubbing alcohol and reboot the hygiene; exactly what I needed to unwind. Upon disembarking the shiny choochoo train, I was greeted with bakeries, soya drink bars, a 7-11, food food food food! Delicious looking dirt cheap food that I didn't have to be frightened of and was literally everywhere. The thoughts going through my head were probably watered down versions of the wonder a Nepali would feel setting foot in the developed world for the first time.

...a local warned.

I was about to get hit by an oncoming runaway taxi. I was so used to vehicles giving a warning honk as they passed pedestrians (extremely annoying when you first arrive in KTM, but life saving shortly thereafter) that my road awareness was at minimal strength. Over the next day, about five more J-walking related near death experiences followed before I finally got back into the grove of cars not honking their horns at 2 second intervals. I think I've got it down now. The tedious luggage overloaded walk to the hostel was nearly complete when I stumbled across one of Singapore's most renowned traits: A "hawker" food court. This spartan outdoor cafeterias serve up dirt cheap meals of every shape and size for the local working class, and can be found everywhere. I stammered through it in awe and got tripped by an adjacent janitor. Instead of saying "sorry" though, he repeated "aggh! aggh! aggh!" ala Oddjob while patting my shoulder. I gotta say, Singlish is one baffling language. It's a hackneyed blend of English, Chinese, and mostly Malay, and was rapidly driving me insane. At the MRT station, "Mind the patetat" was posted instead of "Mind the gap." The station announcements read out something like "Changfew; Pakan Beru; Chingpingdong; Wongtangping; (sudden flawless Brit accent) Chinese Garden; Tewkedaodeedah..." In a 7-11 the next day, I asked the shopkeeper if she had any nail clippers...

"Nail cha-cha?"
"N-a-i-l C-l-i-p-p-e-r-s." (motions to nails)
"Nail cha-cha!"
"(grumble) Yes, nail cha cha..."

I've since gotten somewhat used to it.

Sweating like a dog, I found the hostel in the midst of a mildly seedy suburban main nightlife drag and scrambled upstairs. The helpful owner Mr Lum showed me the dorm room where a Congolese/Australian girl named... shit forgot her name... was settling down for the night. We broke the ice and chatted for a bit, though my extreme tiredness reduced my undeniable charm. jk. I went down to the common area to give the blog the massive update it needed that I'd written on the plane, and made friends with an Indian man whose name I also forgot. I told him tales of Nepal and a juicy culture oriented convo ensued. He was a bit of a bigot (referring to Muslims as "those bastards - excuse me..." (while in a Muslim country, mind you), but seemed friendly enough to make up for it. Then the question came.

Him: "Did you get any pussy?"
(double take)
Me: "I'm sorry, what?"
Him: "Girls."
Me in my Head: "Oh boy..."
Me: "Haha, no. Got a bunch of hints, but no results."
Him: "Hints like (graphic descriptions of sexual things)"
Me: "Oh haha no, just exchanged numbers..."
Him: "Oh. That's too bad, because Nepali girls are much more liberal than Indians. They already think you're God, all you have to do is buy them a drink and they're yours for the night."

If you are one of my parental units, read sentence number 1 & skip 2. If you are a friend, skip 1 and read 2.

1-Me: "Oh no, I'd never do that. I'm saving myself for the one special one."
2-Me: "Goddamnit, why didn't anyone tell me that sooner..."

In any case, this creepy Indian fellow had been staying in the hostel for months, doing "software development," and it rapidly became clear that he was probably a local pimp. Double checking of my handy Singapore Rough Guide revealed that the neighborhood, Katong, "Is home to a large devout Malay population. Not so Malay though is the rampant prostitution problem that goes unchecked by authorities." I had inadvertently found my way into Singapore's defacto Red Light District. No wonder I was so culture shocked by the skimpy, even by American standards, dress of the local women. That said, the area is, like the rest of Singapore, uber polished and by in large safe. I made an awkward exit from the conversation, finished my writing, and slept... not so well. The normal mattress was too soft, I'd gotten used to cushioned particle board. Oh wells.

---Vital Signs---
Hygiene = Awesome
Laundry = Sparkling
Juices Sampled = Starfruit, Chestnut + Sugar Cane, Guava Ginseng, Almond Soya, and Watermelon
Stomach = Currently engaged in battle with a stir-fried squid tentacle. I think the tentacle is winning.
Light Cold = Mostly Recovered
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