Friday, October 2, 2009

4 Days in Singapore

3rd-Oct-2009, by Swiss


Off to the Airport
Our last day in Sydney arrived with me feeling somewhat better, a presumed function of the drug cocktails I've been ingesting for the last few days: Cough Syrup, Sudafed night and day, and Antihistamine eye drops. By better I mean that my eye was no longer the color of *insert name *'s panties (pink), the time interval between me hacking up my lungs was extended from every 5 minutes to somewhere around 2-3 hours, and I got pretty good at emptying my sinuses (sini?) in a relatively controlled and civilized manner. On the flip side, Lawton woke up to a light cough and runny nose. Uh Oh. Needless to say, we were both super excited about Singapore customs.

An AUD 15, 30 minute train ride (it's more than taking BART!) landed us at the Sydney airport late morning only to be greeted by what looked like a 30-40 minute line for check-in. Shortly after we got in said line, however, one of us spotted what appeared to be a line-less rouge counter in the corner with a screen displaying “Singapore.” I quickly ducked out of the crap line to check with the nice lady there, who informed me that yes, indeed, we were better than the minions in the other line and could check in with her. It's little victories like this that make my day. A short moment later we were checked in, and we proceeded on to the security checkpoint putting forth a conscious effort not to make eye contact with the antsy passengers stuck in the minion line.

Leaving on a Jetplane
The flight to Singapore would be accomplished in two 4 hour segments, with a 90 minute stop in the metropolis known as Darwin. Since the plane didn't crash and no near-death events happened, I'll keep this portion brief: Got on plane, plane took off, both went to pee once (at different times), I finished my book, fastened seatbelt and put tray tables up, landed, got off plane.

Now, Darwin as an airport is nothing to write home about. So the lesson to future travelers is that if you plan on flying through Darwin, a) bring some extra food (there is barely any decent food available at the airport), b) don't finish your book on the previous flight (D-oh!), and c) bring a computer with wifi, as that's about the only worthwhile thing to do at the airport since the wifi is free. I did manage to unload all but 10 cents of my Australian money by buying a chicken cheese burger and a packet of Sweet Chili sauce (super good, now #2 on my list of favorite condiments topped only by Ranch dressing), so I guess that's an achievement. Lawton, with a slightly larger bank roll than I, opted for a gourmet chicken sandwich and a bag of tasty cheese chips. Unfortunately, the “tasty” portion of that turned out to be what I like to call “false advertising.”

After filling out our OZ departure document, it was on through a security checkpoint with agents and an X-ray machine. We were instructed to remove liquids and gels (check), but didn't remove our laptops, which earned us the ire of the X-ray machine operator. Funnier, however, was that we were then instructed to remove our laptops for them to re-scan our bags. “And the laptops?”, we inquired, “Oh, Just hold on to them while we scan your bags” was the response as they signaled us to the gate. Now, I'm not advocating anybody sneaking anything illegal on a plane, but if you want to do so, doing it in a laptop might greatly increase your chances should you happen to come through Darwin. Just sayin'

On to flight number two, which was much like flight number one plus an annoying baby and a tad more space. To summarize: Got on plane, plane took off, baby screamed, realized had nothing entertaining to read anymore, read airplane magazine, played built in games on laptop (solitaire and some yahtzee derivative), baby cried, ran out of laptop juice, read airplane safety card, read airplane puke bag, baby cried, listened to couple behind us bitch about how annoying that baby was, chuckled, consumed expensive airplane beer and crummy airplane sandwich, read sandwich wrapper, read beer can label, tried to sleep with ipod playing bootie, fell asleep, woke up, fell asleep, woke up, etc, fastened seatbelt and put tray table up, read tray table label on back, baby screamed some more, landed, got off plane.

Welcome to Singapore, please don't spit

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Much to our disappointment, processing through customs was rather uneventful and dare I say, boring. We were prepared for a similar treatment that we had received upon arrival in South Korea earlier this year, which involved infrared cameras and a body temperature check (thermometer) due to the Swine flu scare.  However, short of the note on the immigration form warning us that the penalty for drug smuggling was death (we hoped that our combined stash of sudafed, cough syrup, zyrtec, tamiflu, malarone, a couple of different antibiotics, and Lawton's heart meds wouldn't typecast us as actual drug smugglers), there was very little intimidation going on.

A brief wait in the immigrations line, which was spent observing the immigrations agent in the adjacent line escorting away about five different people, yielded a nice stamp in our passport. 5 minutes later, we picked up our luggage and walked out to the terminal via an open door. Easy.

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Come and ride the subway train
Contrary to Sydney, Singapore has a very efficient and affordable subway system. SGD 1.9 (just over $1 US) bought us a ticket, and a couple of transfers later we alighted (“alight” apparently is the term for getting off the subway) at our stop. It was a little after 11pm, so we were both tired after having spent all day traveling. Oh, and it was hot and humid. Like Texas in Summer, we're talking around 80 degrees and 80-90% humidity at that hour.

As we worked our way to the exit of the station, we tried to figure out the directions to our hostel, the “Rucksack Inn.” As luck would have it, two women who turned out to be the owners of the hostel noticed our confused looks and large backpacks, inquired whether we were looking for the Rucksack Inn, and after positive confirmation pointed us in the proper direction. They were apparently hungry and on a quest for a midnight snack, a quest that ended up unsuccessful at the local burger king by the station. Only later did we learn that they quite often eat in the middle of the night, which may or may not explain the poster in the hostel for McDonalds 24/7 home delivery service. And yes, they do have a website where you can track your order. Ah, Asia, it shall be fun times.




5 minutes later we arrived at the hostel, sweaty and ready for some Internet and bed. Shoes had to be removed prior to entering, after which the super helpful staff at the hostel promptly checked us in. As part of the check-in procedure, they gave a brief tour of the facilities (small, clean, A/C, coffee maker, free breakfast in the AM, showers, toilets suited for people under 6'-2” due to knee restraints, free Internet, wifi, room with 32 dorm beds), and we were set. I managed to stay up about 45 minutes to check email and Facebook, while Lawton, ever the warrior, kept going. I downed the remainder of my cough syrup, popped some night time sudafed, and was off to bed, despite a very peculiar smell of sweat and cigarettes that thankfully disappeared when two of the guests checked out.

The following morning we had a casual breakfast (with real coffee), where Lawton struck up a conversation with yet another German. Toby (full name Tobias Bender, which mixes two great Fox characters, Tobias Funke from Arrested Development and Bender from Futurama – or just Toby from NBC's “The Office” for short), is a mechanical engineering student on an international internship here in Singapore. He turned out to be super cool, and we would become our partner in crime the next couple days for seeking food and drinks in Singapore. Ah, but how I miss Arrested Development.

Satisfied with breakfast, it was off into the upper 80's humid environment (highs apparently range between 85-90 all year round given the close proximity, 137km, to the equator), something that may explain the abundance of shopping centers (A/C) and banking jobs (A/C and limited outside activities). Plan was to hit up Orchard street, the equivalent to Michigan Ave in Chicago. Below are some pictures, it was nifty, I guess, especially if you enjoy shopping and aren't broke like us. The little excursion also yielded some bubble tea, which at around USD 1 was both delicious and affordable.

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It was here that we discovered the most fancy McCafe thus far, which supposedly is very popular on this continent. We also enjoyed the no smoking sign just in front of tables full of ash trays (and yes, people were smoking there).

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Having consumed our bubble tea, we were on a quest to find a geotagging device to help add geotag data to our digital pictures. The object of our affection would be a device that continuously logs GPS data and has it's time synchronized to our camera's. We would then be able to take the SD card of the camera, insert it in said device, and it would automatically add the gps data to the picture files based on the time the picture was taken. I'm not sure if such a device exists, although I swear I've heard of it. Yes, we are nerds. But I would venture to say that at least we are badass nerds, and would be even more badass if your pictures had geotag data. And what better city to find such a device than Singapore?

So off to the Hunan digital life mall, a mall purely dedicated to electronics.

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Actually, I should say “dedicated to electronics and a haircutting school.” The latter item caught my attention, as they offered a full haircut by students for SGD 6 (USD 4). Being the cheap ass that I am, and being in need of a haircut, I couldn't pass it up. So while Lawton continued the quest for our little elusive GPS device, I threw down $6 to get myself a spot on the barber chair. The haircut lasted almost an hour and included a full shampoo session, cut without clippers, water rinse after the cut, and gel for styling. The dude cutting my hair actually did a pretty good job, so I was happy. And no blood. For USD 4. Victory for the day achieved.

Unfortunately, Lawton wasn't so lucky in finding our elusive device, and grew a tad restless after I had not emerged from my haircutting session after over 40 minutes. In his defense, there are only so many electronic stores you can hit before it becomes redundant. So no GPS device, and lunch at the food court instead. Meals ranged from SGD 4-5, ergo lunch was cheap and tasty. Notice a theme?

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After a short break at the hostel, our night commenced with an exploration of nearby Clarke Quay (saw more white people there than Asians), where Lawton found a restaurant that had been frequented by our friend Joe Janas on his trip here, so a picture was taken. It is hospital themed, and I guess you get to sit in wheel chairs and get drinks from an IV bag. Different. Pic of spot below, although it was empty due to the early hour.

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There were other attractions along the river front, including a giant bungy swing (supposedly very popular with the Genentech crowd, who has a facility on the western part of the island) and tons of little restaurants and bars, suited for people living on a company expense account and somewhat less for poor backpackers like us. Nonetheless, we had a couple of happy hour beers at one of the bars while taking in some soccer and eating wasabi potato chips. Very relaxing, albeit a tad overpriced.

As it began to get dark out, we ventured on to China town, which was celebrating the Mid-Autumn festival. This meant that the entire street was lit up and decorated, very nice. There were tons of stalls selling anything from toys to clothing to food. Pictures, unfortunately, didn't turn out quite as stellar given the lack of ambient lighting.

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As part of the festivities, there was a stage where a couple of Chinese performers were, well, performing. The crowd was very much into it, we were slightly less so due to our complete lack of knowledge of mandarin. I think we got the singing part. But they also had a kind of dialogue going on, which was way over our head. But we were waiting on Toby to get in touch with us, so we sat for a good 30 minutes observing and people watching. Enjoyable.

The goal for the evening was to have some food at one of Singapore's hawker stalls. Two main options came recommended, one being the “Maxwell Food Centre”, the other being “Lau Pa Sat Food Centre”. Based on guide book info, we opted for a walk-by on the former and food-intake at the latter. In hind sight, doing the reverse may have been a better, as I got a better vibe from the former. Food again ranged in the SGD3-5 range and was very tasty, as usual.

End of the world
It would be sometime during the day that we learned about the two earth quakes and tsunami affecting Indonesia and Samoa/American Samoa islands. A couple of people asked us whether we noticed any of them, given the close proximity of Singapore to the epicenter of the quakes. Neither of us did, but it did cross our mind that we were going to be in Indonesia in just a few days. As I write this, I just learned about Typhoons affecting the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. Between the dust storms and earth quakes in Australia, and now this, we are starting to wonder what is going on and hope we're not actually approaching the end of the world. Our thoughts go out to the victims of the these disasters, and we hope things settle down in the next couple of weeks.

The quest for Chili Crab
Thursday would mark the official beginning of the quest for Chili crab and Durian. Now, chili crab is a local specialty that came recommended by multiple people as a must-try while here. Durian is a nasty smelling (but rumored to be decent tasting) fruit quite popular amongst locals. I guess it should be noted that Lawton was more gung-ho on trying Durian than I, an idea that I'm slowly warming up to. More importantly, I need to mention that apparently the smell of this fruit is so nasty that some hotels and subway cars have signs forbidding the possession of this fruit due to it's pungent smell.

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Attempt #1 was unsuccessful after meeting up with our friend Julia, who we had met in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago. She just happened to be in Singapore at the same time, so we decided to have lunch together. Lunch was had on Smith street in Chinatown, but the quest for decent Chili crab was aborted after the selection was so-so and a decision was made to postpone it for dinner. Instead we had some chicken and rice, which at SGD 2-3 was cheap and, yes, tasty. We even opted for some fried fish and “lime” juice on the side. The juice didn't taste anything like lime we're accustomed to, but apparently that is what it is called.

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Did I mention it was tasty and cheap? Julia was then off to meet up with her friend and spend time on Sentosa island, think Singapore's version of Disney land. Lawton and I opted out, and instead did some touring of the city, including the Raffels hotel (home of the Singapore Sling) and the Merlion where we took some cool pics as we were surrounded by a Chinese tour group (last pic)

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Speaking of pictures, they love them video surveillance cameras here. The picture below is my favorite, where we counted nine cameras at the inlet of the subway station. When you enter the subway, they also continuously play a video alerting travelers of the threat of terrorism with images from various attacks on train systems throughout the world. I would recommend to never leave behind a bag when alighting a train, as you will probably get beat to a pulp by an angry mob.

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It was at the Merlion site where we also found the remnants of the F1 city race course, a race that we unfortunately missed by just a couple of days. Tough luck.

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It was an enjoyable tour of the city that got us plenty hungry for dinner, i.e., chili crab and maybe Durian.

So what better place to get crabs that the red light district? No really, we got a multiple local recommendations that some of the best food can be found in the Geylang district, which happens to coincide with a hub of the oldest profession in the world. And it wasn't listed in Lonely Planet. So that would be our dinner spot. Toby was in as well.

We decided to skip the hookers and focus on food instead. The district was full of activity, and after vetoing one of the most highly recommended chili crab places due to the high cost of the product and the managers immediate recognition of Lawton's Genentech shirt (read: corporate expense account), we spent a good 45 minutes strolling around the hood. It was there that we found some moon cakes, which were purchased for our after-dinner celebration of the Moon Festival. We eventually managed to find a good little food stall with affordable chili crab and other tasty things, which mixed with Carlsberg beer (see pic of their tag line below, humorous and just slightly insecure/non-committal)

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made for an enjoyable evening. The best part was the almost complete absence of Caucasians, yielding a much more authentic feel of the city. Although we did see (and smell) some Durian, the tasting of the fruit would be postponed for a later date.

Later in the evening we headed back towards the direction of China town, to a what we thought would be popular night spot. It turned out to be largely dead, and after splitting a pitcher of overpriced and crummy tasting Tiger beer among the three of us, it was off to bed.

Night Safari – Lines Galore
Friday would mark our last full day in Singapore prior to our quick one week trip to Bali. The main event for the day would be a night safari at the zoo, which of course happens at night, so the day would be spent somewhat lazily bumming around, getting the blog stuff written, and meeting Toby for lunch. Lunch was had at the Maxwell Food Centre, where Lawton has some Laksa,

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I had some dish that I don't remember the name of plus an Oyster cake once sampled by Anthony Bourdain (a move that earned me a “pretentious f%#$#r” label from Lawton, referring to the fact that I just had to visit the same stall that Bourdain did), Toby had some kind of chicken, and all of it was good.

The more interesting action happened in the drink category, where Toby got himself a fresh coconut, whereas Lawton and I opted for fresh squeezed sugar cane juice (SGD 1.5). The conclusion that it was yummy, but did have a slight grassy taste to it. We'll just call it an “acquired taste” for now.

The rest of the day was sunny (read: veeery hot) and lazy. We opted to book the night safari directly from the hostel, as they offered a direct shuttle and the price was almost equivalent to taking the MRT (subway) and bus connection. The girl at the hostel told us to take the tram tour first and then catch the show later. I only write this because we didn't and it was a little bit of a mistake.

Anyways, the shuttle ride was about 45 minutes in which we met a nice couple from the UK (Joe and Rachel), and was spent chatting while experiencing Singapore rush hour traffic. Upon arrival at the safari place, we were informed to be back at the entrance 10pm sharp. The bus driver also gave us her phone number in the event of delay, so technically I did get a girls phone number that night. Score.

The safari was basically a night jungle walk where you get to see a bunch of cool nocturnal animals. Flash photography is frowned upon, leaving us a little light (no pun intended) in the picture department. There are also a couple of other events, including the before mentioned 45 minute tram ride through the facilities, an animal show, and a fire spinning show. Some pics of the last item are shown below, pretty cool.

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Our master plan was to walk around the walking paths for a bit, catch the 8:30 show, and then hop on the tram to conclude the evening. This is in violation of the “take the tram first” suggestion from the Hostel. What we didn't take into consideration were the hellish lines for the tram and show, which resulted in the 8:30 show being full upon our return.

So tram was out, and we waited in line an hour for the 9:30. So it was a bit disappointing, especially given my hatred for lines (I remember going to Disney world when I was 8 and HATING it solely due to the lines – Bush Gardens, however, was cool.)

The show was ok, a little more geared towards kids, with the highlight being the otters doing a cool little recycling routine where they recycled cans, cups and bottles into their respective receptacles. Bottom line, the safari is pretty cool, hop on the tram first, the zoo next store's day tour may be better terms of lighting, and allow for plenty of time to stand in lines (although it should be noted that we may have hit the weekend crowd too).

So that wrapped up Friday. Later today we're off to Bali for a week. Can't wait. Maybe we can find some Durian to take on the flight in order to check that one off the list :)

5 comments:

Shanna said...

I enjoyed reading about your trip here (i'm singaporean). I never realised that we seem to have an excess of video surveillance cameras here :D
Have a good time in Bali (:

Swiss said...

thanks for the kind comments and well-wishes. we very much enjoyed our stay (and will be back for more in a week) :)

Alvin said...

You can also get durian back here... Ranch 99 has everything an Asian could ever want.

Chris said...

I think you can use a GPS device that then you can download the data to the computer and a program will sync pictures and GPS data.

Paul said...

This (http://www.amazon.com/Columbus-V-900-Bluetooth-Driverless-Compatible/dp/B001JJRBU8/ref=pd_sbs_misc_6/183-0522963-5567915) seems to be a well-received GPS logger, and there are links to a few more on that page. Of course, you have to find one... But they do exist. I hope you can find one, I'd like to check out jasonswissrtw.kml.

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