I would say that it has been a while since I have actually posted something, but I have managed a couple of posts since getting everything back after seven weeks outside of the Australia (though these were posts that I had written before I left). What I discovered, and I have found this with others as well, is that when I am travelling I find it very hard to actually blog at the same time, namely because there are so many other things that I could be doing, which includes reading books, going to museums, and sitting in cafes drinking Belgium beer. Okay, I do manage the odd Facebook status update, but then Facebook really doesn’t require too much effort when it comes to posting stuff. Oh, I also managed to post a few things on Yelp, but as the trip progressed, and as the number of places that I wanted to write about grew (as well as the photos of said places), it just got so far behind that by the time I reached London I simply said stuff it (but then again the hotel I landed up in London ended up not having any internet – despite the fact that Webjet said otherwise).
Since I was away for quite a while, and really didn’t have a day where I pretty much sat down and did nothing (though when you have a limited amount of time, and lots of places to visit, that tends to happen), I now have a pretty large backlog of things to write about, which isn’t actually a bad thing. However, what I will do is write a general post about each of the cities that I visited, and then come back and write about specific places in each of these city (along with accompanying photographs, and videos of trains). Also, other than saying that I was in Europe, I won’t reveal, at least at this stage, where I actually went, namely because I want it to be a surprise (though if you have been following me on Facebook you probably already know where I have been). So, enough of the introduction and let us get on to my first stop – Singapore.
Back in the City State
The last time I took my brother to Europe, on our way back we found ourselves stuck at the airport for pretty much most of the day (namely because the plane from London arrives at something like 7:00 am in the morning, though when I booked the flight the travel agent tried putting us on the one that left Heathrow at 9:00 am, and considering that it actually took us two hours to get from the Heathrow Express station at Terminal 2 to our plane, I’m glad I booked one that left a little later – which was the same one that we caught the last time we were in Europe). So my brother insisted that instead of spending the day catching up on sleep we should instead go and explore Singapore. Needless to say I wasn’t at all impressed, but agreed to his demands, even if it was only for a couple of hours. However, this time I decided to nip it in the bud and take him to Singapore on our way over, namely because I would at least be reasonably fresh and wouldn’t end up falling asleep all over the place (as I did last time).
As it turns out this is the second time in a year (just barely though) that I had been to Singapore, and I remember somebody telling me that the thing with Singapore is that there really isn’t all that much there to do – in fact you can pretty much do it all in a weekend, though I would probably suggest an extended weekend. Okay, that is probably an exaggeration because even though I have been to the Night Safari (twice now), I still haven’t been to the River Safari, or even the zoo proper. Actually, I’m not really sure why I went to the Night Safari originally – I guess it looked pretty cool and wanted to go on at least one tour while I was in Singapore. However, since my brother adores animals I thought it would be a good idea to go with him (and he certainly did enjoy it). Mind you, that which I didn’t do (like Lego Land in Malaysia) I can always leave for another time because I am sure I am going to end up in Singapore again.
Hanging at the Airport
Okay, I actually didn’t spend a huge amount of time at the airport, namely because when we arrived we made our way directly to customs. However the airport itself is, well, literally a self-contained city, or at least a shopping mall. It does have a couple of transit hotel – hotels where you can book a room for a short time (a few hours) so you can catch up on some sleep that you missed while sitting in economy class (and it certainly beats paying the exorbitant business and first class prices – though it has been suggested that money is relative – the more you have the cheaper things appear to be, and I have to be honest, if I had the money to blow on business class I would probably end up going business class). What I have discovered is that travel does have this annoying habit of taking an awful lot out of you (energywise), and the fact that you land up stuck on a plane for twelve hours when you are travelling between Singapore and London, does take is toll on you, which I find a little odd because it isn’t as if you are exerting yourself – you are just sitting in a chair. However, the other interesting thing is that when I head over to Europe (or even Singapore) I am nowhere near as tired as I am when I am heading back. Okay, we did end up having a rather interesting experience on the way up, namely the plane flew around for a couple of hours, dumped all of its fuel, and then landed back in Singapore, which meant that we ended up in Frankfurt at noon as opposed to 7:00 am, but it all worked out in the end.
As for the airport it is pretty much designed to keep you entertained. For the smokers there are plenty of smoking rooms (though I have noted that you can’t actually buy individual packets of cigarettes, you can only buy them in cartons, which is pretty annoying when you can only bring a limited number into most countries, usually corresponding to one packet, or one packet minus one cigarette – in Hong Kong it is 19 cigarettes), and for the shoppers there are heaps of stores. I’m not your typical person, so pretty much all of the shops at Singapore Airport bore me, though they do have free wifi, and plenty of power sockets, so I can sit down and fiddle on my laptop. Also the fact that you can only bring a limited number of stuff, duty free, back into the country means that spending big on cigarettes and alcohol is not really an option – and I have no need for perfume. Okay, my Mum does, and maybe I should have bought her another bottle of Chanel No 5, but I was too out of it to actually think about that at the time, and was more interested in writing a review for the book I had finished reading, and also finding an adapter for a European power socket for when I returned to Australia (my laptop power supply blew while I was in Rouen so I had to buy myself a new one), so the last thing on my mind was spending money that in the end I really wasn’t all that interested in spending.
One thing that I noticed as I passed through immigration was how quick, and easy, it happened to be. Even more noticeable was that when we hit customs we simply said that we had nothing the declare and walked straight through, and here I was expecting them to go through our possessions with a fine tooth comb. In fact I noticed that a lot of places seem to rely upon honesty – namely that we don’t have three cartons of cigarettes hidden in our luggage that we are attempting to slip into the country without having to pay the excise on (and considering how much cigarettes are taxed in some places that does end up being a significant sum). Mind you, I always work on the principle that the one time when I decide I want to sneak something into the country is the the one time when they decide to stop and search me.
Life on the MTR
One of the things that I discovered this time in Singapore was how owning a car works – or doesn’t. What I mean is that unless you are really wealthy, or really important, the chances of you owning a car is going to be pretty slim. First of all there is the fact that pretty much all of the major roads happen to be toll roads, or at least have toll points. The other thing that makes owning a car pretty difficult is the registration process. Actually buying the car isn’t a problem – they probably cost the same as they would in Australia – it is actually being allowed to legally drive them that is where the costs skyrocket. You see the government only allows a limited number of cars on the road, which means that there are only a limited number of registration permits, and they are basically auctioned off to the highest bidder. Oh, and even if you do manage to get your hands on one of these registration certificates you are then going to have to find a place to park the car, namely because, unless you are incredibly wealthy, you won’t be living in a house with a driveway (let alone a garden).
Which basically leaves use three ways to travel – by foot, by bike, or by public transport (okay, there is uber and taxis, but they probably fall under the heading of public transport, even though they aren’t strictly public). The interesting thing is that I don’t actually remember a huge number of cyclists in Singapore – it wasn’t like, say, Amsterdam, where you have to constantly watch out for the cyclists that seem to come out of almost every space available. Maybe it has something to do with the climate, but despite the fact that Singapore is small, and relatively flat, I would have expected there to be a lot more people on their bikes. As for walking, that is always an option, but even though Singapore is small, it isn’t that small.
So we have public transport, which basically consists of buses (usually of the double decker variety, though there are some single decker ones about), trains, and a couple of sections of light rail (though they are being expanded). Mind you, the MTR doesn’t actually feel like a train in the traditional sense, particularly since some of then are automated – to me a train should at least have a driver out the front, but with these automated ones you can literally sit in the front and watch the train as it travels through the subway.
It is similar with regards to the light rail (I sort of want to call them trams, but once again they look like anything but) – they seem to be small carriages that zoom along specifically built tracks.
The funny thing is that when you return to a place, especially after such a short time, you begin to notice subtler things, things that you may not have noticed the first time, namely because you are so overawed with the whole experience. With Singapore one of those subtle things is that when you are traveling by the MTR you actually spend more time changing trains at the interchange stations than you actually do on the train. In fact I probably ended up spending an awful lot of time at Douby Gaunt, namely because I always seemed to end up having to change a train there (and it is the intersection of three lines). Fortunately for us this time I picked the hotel, and it ended up being a short distance from a railway station, which meant that we could get to various parts of the city much quicker.
A Fine City
It seems as if one of the running jokes with regards to Singapore is that you can pretty much get a fine for anything and everything (with the exception of drugs – you definitely don’t just get a fine when it comes to drugs). The funny thing is that I couldn’t actually see anybody who dished out those fines. As a matter of fact I don’t even recall seeing a single policeman wandering through the city – which I found pretty odd because there are very few places that I know of where you can get away with not having any police officers out on the street. Mind you, being a foreigner, I probably didn’t know what to look for, not that I go out of my way to actually look for police officers, it was just something that I noticed. Wikipedia does indicate that Singapore definitely has a police force.
What I did see were these people that seemed to sit on a seat at the entrance to each of the MTR stations. Sometimes it would be empty, usually late at night, but generally there would be somebody there. At first I didn’t pay all that much attention to them, namely because they simply seemed to be part of the furniture, however at one time I did notice that they were supposed to search bags – except that they didn’t. Not one time was I ever stopped by one of these people to have my bag searched. In fact I don’t think I ever saw them search anybodies’ bags – all they ever did was just sit behind this counter and watch people wander by, which was funny because I was always under the impression that people who had authority actually liked to exercise that authority once in a while, even if that authority simply involved searching people’s bags.
As for the fines, well, I do have to admit that Singapore is actually a pretty clean city, though I wouldn’t go down to the beach expecting some tropical paradise. Actually, the only beach I found in Singapore happened to be on the island of Sentosa, and the view from that particular beach was of an industrial zone on the other side of the straights – which made me think of the concept of externalities – sure, Singapore is a really clean city, very green, very organised, but that is because all of the industry has been moved off shore. Oh, and all those ships that plough through the straights of Malacca probably don’t do all that much good to the environment either.
Oh, and before I move on, I probably should make mention of how courteous the Singaporeans happen to be (though it may have something to do with its fine culture). It is almost ingrained into them to actually stand up for the elderly and disabled. In fact I saw children and teenagers getting pushed off the seats by their elders simply to let a disabled person sit down (and sometimes they would also stand for the carers as well). Mind you, the other thing I noticed about these trains (as well as a lot of the other trains at places that I visited) is that the seats are spaced to allow a lot more room for standing, and the seats are really only there for people who absolutely need them, which is something cities like, well, Melbourne should adopt, particularly since the morning trains get pretty packed (though I do like the way the seats are configured because it does allow me to be able to snooze in the morning).
Eating and Sleeping
I was going to start this section talking about the beggars in Singapore, however now that I come to think of it I saw as many beggars as I saw police officers – none (though Reddit seems to indicate that they do exist). Okay, there were probably police officers around the place (and I suspect if you spat some chewing gum onto the ground you would encounter them pretty quickly), but the lack of beggars was also pretty interesting, particularly since Singapore doesn’t have any form of welfare. I would suggest that Singapore is probably a little like Hong Kong, but you do see beggars on the streets of Hong Kong (though not many), as well as some rather shifty characters selling Rolexes on Nathan Road – which is another thing that Singapore seems to lack – shifty characters. In fact, I could almost equate Singapore to be like one of those planets that you see on Star Trek the next generation where the entire population has actually learnt to get on with each other, and people don’t go around committing crimes. Look, I’m sure Singapore does have a shady side to it (and they do warn you against pick pockets), but they seem to be able to keep it pretty well hidden.
One thing that I did discover was the nature of housing – namely most of it is owned by the government and leased to the citizens. In fact they tend to hold 99 year leases, and what is interesting is that the lease holder can actually sell these leases (though the buyer of the lease may discover that after, say, 25 five years, the lease will expire and the government takes the house back). That doesn’t mean that Singapore doesn’t have private property because you can, if you wish, rent, or purchase, privately. Actually, it is my understanding that only citizens get leases on the public housing, and if you happen to be a foreigner working in Singapore then you basically need to arrange your own accommodation (and if you do happen to be a foreigner who has scored a job in Singapore then you are probably on a pretty decent salary as it is).
Actually, come to think of it, I believe that beggars take a slightly different form in Singapore, as they do wherever you happen to be. While I didn’t notice it this time I do remember when I was here a year ago you would get people wandering around selling small packets of tissues – which was similar to what I saw in Thailand. However, I also noticed that in the food courts there were signs forbidding hawkers (though ironically they also called these particular places hawker centres). I guess they do things like buy the tissues in bulk and then attempt to sell them with a bit of a mark up. Hey, at least they are providing a service, even though I tend to consider middle men add an extra layer of unnecessity to a transaction (though the middle men that I am thinking off tend to wear suits and ties, and there is a better term to describe them as well – leech).
The food courts, or Hawkers Markets, or whatever you want to call them, is probably a good point in which to finish off this particular post, namely because they are the one thing that really defines Singapore. You see them scattered about everywhere, and many of them are quite small, though you do have some pretty large ones as well, such as the one in China Town (that also has a couple of craft beer stalls as well). The food is actually pretty – or should I say incredibly – cheap in these places. In fact if you only eat at these food courts you can actually save quite a lot on food (though it also depends on how much you actually eat – I suspect most people buy a lot more than the single dishes that we ended up buying).
From what I was told the government actually provides subsidies for the stalls in these food courts, though the stalls actually tend to be pretty small – about half the size of your typical stall in one of the food courts you find in shopping centres around Australia. Mind you, they do get pretty crowded, but they also provide a more down to earth experience that actually adds a bit of atmosphere to what is in effect a rather cold and sterile city state. The other one that I visited this time was the food court in Little India (though surprisingly it wasn’t dominated by Indian stalls, which was annoying because I really wanted some vindaloo – I should have tried some when I was in London, but oh well). Actually, one of the really cool things about this food hall was that down stairs on the level below was actually a collection of fabric and clothing stalls, which are all quite Indian in appearance, and I have to admit that the Indians really make some beautiful clothes.
Oh, despite the fact that it is called Little India (in the same way that Chinatown is called, well, Chinatown) doesn’t mean that the area is inhabited predominantly by Indians – the government makes sure of that. In fact the Singaporean government does its best to prevent cultural enclaves from developing and actually will mix people from different cultures up. This is another thing that I find quite interesting because despite the fact that Singapore economically quite liberal, the government certainly seems to have it’s fingers stuck into pretty much everything. In fact, I’m not entirely sure how I would classify Singapore because it certainly isn’t a socialist state, though the government does seem to like to intervene in the social development of the city-state.
Anyway, I’ll leave it at that, though I will be coming back to Singapore in the not too distant future, particularly since there is a number of places that I visited while I was there that I wish to share with you.