Days 49-50: Singapore to Yogya

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

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Flag of Indonesia  , Java,
Friday, July 11, 2008

In the interests of time, I'm gonna kind of gloss through Wednesday, my only full day in Singapore, cause it wasn't quite up to interestingness-par. After waking up and dropping off my laundry, I set out and traversed basically every main ethnic district on foot in hopes of people watching or finding something interesting. The "hustle & bustle" (Lonely Planet) of Chinatown was nowhere to be found, though I did find some neat Buddhist pagodas and an alleyway of air conditioners. Whole sides of buildings literally covered in AC, funniness. Maybe it was just the time of day, but the only people on the streets were tourists and the buildings were improbably perfect. Strike 1 against the Singapore section of the LP book.

Moving right along... the Colonial District, "where you can find remnants of British rule" ...all three unremarkable buildings of it. There was an apparently excellent museum here, but I was in more of an outdoorsy walking mood and opted out. Half a strike against LP, we'll give them props for the museum I prolly mistakenly missed. Next up, Orchard Road, the biggest of the highlighted areas on the map. Unfortunately it was just one modern shopping mall after the other.

I popped into one, and the reverse counter shock reasserted itself. It was consumerism overload, and I had a much harder time navigating around it than I usually do in malls. The "More Shops that way!" directions posted on every bathroom etc arrow didn't help, I could hear that three note Psycho violin playing every time a "More Shops! :-D" sign appeared. Enough with the malls, what else was there to do here that didn't require a $40 zoo admission ticket... Little India! "Disorganized and pungent, could be another country unto itself." (LP) To get here, I had to transfer MRT lines... there was a full scale mall built into the junction-station, with the entrance to each line built at either end. One was forced to traverse a section of the mall to transfer lines. It was disgusting. The MRT station for Little India emptied out into a budget outlet mall. "You've got to be kidding me...."

After a 5min walk, I found myself in the beating heart of Little India itself. Having just come from what might as well have been India just a day prior, this fake India naturally failed to amuse. "Disorganized & pungent" it was not, and describing anything in Singapore with that adjective would be akin to calling Switzerland's creepily efficient train system "a baffling maze where it's about the journey, not the destination! :-D" Strike 2.5 .

By now it was 6pm, and one of the worst headaches in recent memory was taking effect. It felt like a particularly bad hangover (not that I'd know what one feels like, of course...), though I had not consumed any alcohol and had in fact been drinking an excessive amount of juice. Couldn't be dehydration. On the MRT ride back to the hostel, I began to feel faint and a bit queasy as well. Fearing the worst, I opened up the guidebook that I was gong through a rough patch with and searched the health section. "HEAT" bingo. It wasn't recommended to engage in strenuous physical activity (like walking across a city on foot) during your first few days in SE Asia, to give your body time to adapt to the unreal humidity. Since I failed to heed this advice, I'd come down with a case of clinical heat exhaustion.

The headache took another day to go away, but following LP's recommended treatment (stay in the AC, put cold cloth on head, elevate feet) made me well enough to do battle again. 2.5 strikes removed. I was forced to spend the rest of the night confined the hostel bed recovering however. It was all good, Anna (Congolese-Australian girl) was there getting an early night's sleep as well, and we kept each other good conversation company.

In my haste to write this entry, I forgot to talk about Singapore's best single attraction, the food. I'll just go over my food intake, intake by intake. Firstly, at the hostel MRT station was "Mr Bean", a Jamba Juice/Starbucks type chain of exclusively Soya Milk based drinks. The most expensive drink cost 1.50 Singapore dollars. The exchange rate is 1.4 $SGD = 1 $USD. It was awesome. I got a simple almond-soya drink, but there was other cool stuff on the menu. Don't remember what. Goshdarnit I've been in this Internet cafe for an hour and a half now, thanks for stalling me, Ryan! Friggin Facebook Chat. It's the devil's work I tell you. Anyways... For lunch I stopped in a Chinatown Hawker Center (hawker centers are the working class food courts, if you remember from the last entry), and passed one Chinese food eatery after the other looking for something appetizing. This was REAL Chinese food, FYI... "Pig Testicle Fry + Soup/Dry Noodle" and the like, not "Orange Chicken" (though to my utter shock, I did in fact see that at some places.) I settled for a 3$SGD,giant bowl of "Laksa." Dunno what was in it, but it tasted and looked much like Thai coconut soup which has an unmistakably distinct look and taste. For my beverage, I selected a long lost toddler-hood favorite that had been MIA in my life since Odwalla stopped making it... WATERMELON JUICE. It was heavenly. So yeah lunch was lovely... umm yeah its 11pm now, if I keep writing more I might get mugged on the walk back, umm... Oh, dinner on Tuesday night, a hostel-area hawker stall. Ordered some "Kaew Teow" or something like that, out came what I nicknamed "Devil Noodles." Chow mein, but bright red and spicy as hell, with random fried egg on top. Dinner Wed night was noodle + unknown Mandarin word, turned out to be stir fried squid. Oh well, first time for everything... Not surprisingly, it tasted like chicken. Beverage wise, I had starfruit juice, sugarcane juice, water chestnut + sugar juice, some random ginseng tea concoction, and other fun. All of this failed to cure the dehydration half of the heat exhaustion, because I'd just sweat that much. The headache was terribly epic. An oral re-hydration salt/electrolyte packet from my finally coming in handy travel 1st aid kit was necessary, and successfully cured said dehydration. I'll be more careful from now on. This entire blog entry hasn't been one giant paragraph, has it? If yes, oops... I'm really in quite the rush here.

Thursday... sick of sterile Singapore, which had turned out to be this trip's West Berlin (the sterile start of '06's Eurotrip, possibly the 7 best weeks of my life), I began a search for greener pastures. Everyone seemed to want me to go to Vietnam, but Indonesia sounded more adventurous and was $15 a day vs $25 a day, so... Indonesia it was. I put the extra suitcase into triple-padlocked storage in the hostel safe-room, made triple sure they knew I wouldn't pick it up for another 6 weeks, and hired a taxi to the ferry station. Public transit would require a 15min walk not counting the heavy rucksack, and still feelin wobbly from the dehydration I felt it was worth the splurge. At Harbourfront Station I boarded Batam Fast Ferry "Sea Raider II," which would take me on an hour journey to the nearby Indonesian industrial island of Pulau Batam. From here, I'd take a budget AirAsia flight to Jakarta (Indonesia's capital.) Flying within Indonesia was much cheaper than flying to Jakarta directly from Singapore, FYI. On the Batamfast,Ferry was a TV screen playing the randomest selection of entertainment I've seen from a transit company. An episode of "Ducktails" was the main feature. That's how random it was. The flight was at 1:30, it was 11:50 when the ferry left and 12:50 when it arrived. Things seemed grim.

Once docked at Pulau Batam, I rushed & hired another taxi (only method of transit here) to the airport. I looked at the taxi's clock... it was a full hour behind! Of course! Indonesia is in a different time zone! I was saved! Oh wait, no I wasn't. For a such-a-bonehead-stupid-mistake-I'm-not-gonna-mention-it* reason, I had to go back to the ferry terminal, do something, and then go back to the airport. By the time the chaos was over, it was 1:20. 10min before takeoff. All was lost. Or not... Indonesian flights, even AirAsia ones, regularly run an hour or more late! I actually was saved, and successfully arrived in Jakarta with enough time to catch an overnight train to my real destination, Yogyakarta. Though I had two hours to kill once the train ticket was bought, I did not exit the garish and strange central station to explore the city. Jakarta is a very large - larger than NYC - very POOR city, with little in the way of tourist attractions. The train station was enough for me. While passing time, I met a Spanish mother and her 18yr son. The "another white person! yay!" bond is a strong one, and we chatted quite a bit. Every so often I'd be started by the blow of a train horn, which on Indonesian trains sounds less like a honk and more like a Mordor battle-horn from LOTR. It added to the strangeness. g2g but the overnight train was fine, nicer than some American trains, and I arrived without incident in Yogyakarta at the wonderful hour of 3 o'clock in the morning. The nearest vacant LP recommended guesthouse was 20min on foot away. To be continued ASAP,though nothing that bad happened.

*I was in such a rush to hire the taxi that I forgot to pickup my rucksack from the ferry baggage claim. I did not realize this mistake until we pulled into the airport. A 5,000 rupiah (50 cents) bribe was required to rescue the rucksack from the ferry baggage claim Nazis.

PS: I'm now entering Indonesia day 3, and it's quickly rising to the title of "favorite country I've traveled to." More thoughts on this next time, but google any picture of Borobudur, Bromo, Bali, or Sumatra, and you'll get a taste of why.

---Vital Signs---
Hygiene = Acceptable
Stomach = Won the battle with the squid
Food Poisonings = 0
Orangutan Sightings = 0
Balinese Tribes Joined = 0
Paradise = Found
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