“It’s a nice place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit here.” Emile Baizel, when he visited here.
I stopped by Singapore for a couple of days after India and on my way to Australia. On the way here I was pretty pumped to be seeing a new country as I always am when going somewhere new. I was thinking I’d stay for a week to see all the sites and really do it right. But after just a day I was done with it and ready to leave. I was bored.
It’s not because Singapore isn’t a great place. It’s clean, very modern, people are friendly and peaceful. They have countless laws and restrictions that would make even a Westerner raise an eyebrow. Spit in public: $500 fine. Chew gum: $500 fine and on top of that, you can’t even buy gum in the country. You have to sneak it in when you come in from abroad. Imagine that. How would a Valley girl ever survive here?
A big plus about Singapore is you can get all sorts of food at really good prices. I went to Little India both nights and got a heaping plate of biryani with naan and an assortment of other stuff for around $2. Little India is the equivalent of a China Town except, you guessed it, with Indians instead of Chinese. It’s a radical concept, I know. Packaged foods like Pringles or Snickers are expensive because they have to import those in from afar. Restaurants are much cheaper because they import a lot of the foods from Malaysia which is within an hour away by land.
There ain’t much room to grow stuff in Singapore so it’s all got to be brought in. Cigarettes are a whopping $8 a pack, mostly I believe to deter people from smoking. And they have more than Surgeon General’s warnings on there. They have pictures of people’s cancerous cheeks taking up half the packaging. My favorite one was a picture of a decrepit, mangled foot with the warning “Smoking causes gangrene.” Really? A foot? Maybe he should have tried using his hand to hold the cigarette.
Basically, Singapore would be a great place to live but not to visit, at least not as a solo backpacker. After walking around the city for a few hours the first day, I felt like I had seen all there was to see. Plus, I’m kind of burning out on seeing sites and more into the experience of being in some place and engaging in some activity like hiking or something else.
And not really knowing anyone in Singapore I was pretty much doing more of the site seeing stuff. There is a whole lot of shopping around, including the famous (although I hadn’t heard of it previously) Orchard Road, which is an endless boulevard of malls and shops selling everything from electronics to clothing to Rolex watches (the real variety). Seeing as I don’t really have anything I urgently need while I’m traveling (except maybe a Rolex watch) I found myself just kind of drifting between different shops.
What I could use is a used book store as I’m looking to buy another book soon. Right now I’m debating between ‘Life of Pi’ and ‘The Witch of Portobello’. I’m currently reading ‘God of Small Things’ which I picked up on the Everest Base Camp trek in a lodge, trading in my previous book for it. I did find a regular book store but as with most things in Singapore, the books were not cheap, about $15 for a paperback. I was getting used to the knockoff books in India which you could buy for $1 each. Yes, they make knockoff books. They really have replicas for everything in India and Nepal. I’m still waiting to see someone making knockoffs of knockoffs. I guess that may also be called the real thing.
One of the highlights from Singapore was seeing an Armenian Church here in the city. I was browsing the map trying to get my bearings and all of a sudden I see ‘Armenian Church’. Very random. An Armenian church in Singapore? I had to see this. I walked over there my first evening and luckily there happened to be a couple of men doing some administrative work who were still hanging around. We chatted for a while and I learned that there are a whopping thirty Armenians in Singapore. “Thirty thousand, I asked?” No, thirty. And they still have an active church which they’ve had now for over 150 years. Leave it to the Armenians to keep a church going with a tiny community.
My first night I decided I’d go out and check out some of the local night life. My hotel was in a bit of a distant area so all the area was quite tourist free. And the big thing to do in Singapore is karaoke. They have karaoke bars everywhere so I figured why not and wandered into a karaoke bar down the street.
They greeted me with a pitcher of Carlsberg beer (a whole pitcher for myself) but couldn’t understand when I told them I wasn’t drinking and I only wanted a Coke. I moved seats at some point and the pitcher kept following me. They placed it right in front of me even though I hadn’t taken a sip. Amazing. As always I had a lot of nerves before getting to sing my song but it turned out to be quite alright as everyone sang along with me to ‘You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling’.
I met this great guy Foon who took me to some local hole in the wall for late night noodles and fried fish. He’s a gambler on the side and every 5 minutes was checking his phone for updates to the Hoffenheim vs Schalke 04 football game. He’s been gambling on sports for years and claims he’s way ahead in winnings vs losses. So I got interested and asked him his secrets. And I won’t go into the details here but the man does have a plan. I may have to try a few of his suggestions. Ironically, as we were walking to get a taxi he was telling me that Asians are by far the biggest gamblers in the world, that they love to bet and bet on everything. We get into the taxi and he’s checking his game’s score when the taxi driver looks over and asks “What’s the score of the Chelsea game? I’ve got big money on that game.” Nice.