Monday, August 1, 2011

Singapore Weekend

My two days in Singapore went so quickly, but it’s also beginning to feel like I left home ages ago because so much has happened. Singapore is unlike any place I’ve ever been before, and I feel like I just got a small glimpse into its idiosyncrasies. People joke that the country is “Asia lite” because the population is largely of Chinese, Malaysian and Indian descent but the place itself is almost completely westernized. As my aunt pointed out to me recently, it’s one of the few places in the world where poverty has gone from overwhelming to near zero in four decades. The cost of living is insanely high here, and in many ways it is good I moved on because it would be easy to spend my Watson stipend here in about a month or two.

The government in Singapore is somewhat legendary for their punishments but a lot of their restrictions keep things remarkably efficient. The streets are completely clean and signs dot the highways that tell you how many parking spots are left in each major parking lot so you can plan accordingly. To ride the metro, you simply use a touch screen to tap where you want to go and the machine will print out the amount your fare should be that corresponds to it. Taxis aren’t legally allowed to pick up passengers who aren’t at a designated taxi stand unless they have called ahead (supposedly, this keeps things fair). Chewing gum (and transporting a large amount of it in to the country) is considered illegal. Every restaurant or business is given a grade (A, B, or C) that corresponds to their cleanliness and quality and this grade must be displayed on the outside of their storefront or food stand.

All of this orderliness makes it an easy country to travel in, and it was made even easier by the fact I had Eric as such a generous tour guide. I feel quite spoiled as I head onto the next (much longer leg) of my journey.

Highlights of the Weekend’s Activities:

Eric & I started off with a bus tour so I could get a lay of the land a bit and figure out which sights looked interesting to explore later. We then went on the Singapore Flyer which is the World’s Largest Observation Tower and gives great views of the city.

After the Flyer, Eric convinced me to go to a “Fish Spa” which is quite popular in Singapore. Basically, for a small fee, you put your feet in a tank with fish (called Garra Rufa, or “Doctor Fish”) who eat all the dead skin off your feet. Essentially, it’s like getting a pedicure but little fish do all the work. The fish also progress in size; we had our feet in with some little garra rufa for 15 minutes before warming up to the tank of bigger fish. It doesn’t hurt at all but it is quite ticklish and a little freaky to watch.

On our way back to Eric’s apartment, we were faced with some road blocks. Apparently it was Singapore’s Independence Day Practice. Although Independence Day isn’t until August 9th, Saturday was devoted to a dress rehearsal of the events. This meant the streets were shut down for a military parade and a fireworks display that evening. Yet another example of the orderliness of the Singapore government; they have a practice Independence Day just to make sure the real one will go okay. On the walk back, Eric introduced me to a Singapore ice cream sandwich which can be acquired for a lovely $1 on the street. And this ice cream sandwich is actually a literal ice cream sandwich. It’s a block of ice cream put between two slices of “sweet bread” (essentially white bread with green and pink food coloring and sugar).

That night we went to a barbecue at the house of one of Eric's friends. I met a very internationally diverse group of people (mostly from the UK) who had all been living in Singapore for about a year. I had a particularly memorable conversation with a young woman who grew up in India and Dubai but had a masters in post colonial literature from a university in Chennai. It turned out that between her degree in that and my Swarthmore Theories & Literatures of Globalization Seminar, we had read almost identical books and authors. It was incredibly exciting (and super nerdy) to be having a conversation about “world literature” with someone who had studied “world literature” in a completely different context, in a completely different place. We were babbling on about these authors until everyone else at the dinner party got the message to leave us to our lit theory for an hour or two.

On Sunday Eric and I had a delicious (and beautiful) breakfast at Keppel Bay Marina. We walked around there and then took cable cars to Mount Faber & Sentosa Island. On Sentosa we walked along the beach and went to the Tanjong Beach Club where I had my first (and only) Singapore Sling.

After that was Chinatown where we visited the Buddhist Temple and the Hawker Center for a cheap and local lunch. We had Nasi Lemok with banana fritters and pink guava juice, and for dessert, attempted to eat something called “kachang.” It tastes kind of like a cotton candy snow cone except stuck inside the ice are blocks of a jello-like substance and on top are black beans and corn topped with sweetened, condensed milk. I kid you not.

While we were feeling brave in the culinary department, we found durian, a fruit that is so stinky it’s banned from public transportation but is quite popular among many of the locals. As the photos may reveal, neither of us were big durian fans. At all.

We ended our day with a boat ride on the Singapore River and then Eric took me to an elaborate Singapore movie theater experience. They have these special tickets you can get there where the seats in the movie theater recline and come with blankets, so you’re basically in bed while watching. You can also order drinks and food to your seat. I never want to go to a non-Singapore movie theater again.

All in all, a busy, lovely, and sweaty weekend.

And now, for more Independence Day practice, I will quote Singapore's national anthem and say, “Majulah!” (“Onward!”)


1 comment:

  1. In New York City we also have letter grades for cleanliness, but our ice cream sandwiches are much smaller. Your pictures are great, as are both of these new posts.-Sam