Singapore, July ‘06

It all stared long before I got here. In fact, I'm not sure WHEN it started, but it was at least a month ago. Not that I started packing until the day I left my house, but everything leading up to my departure was necessary for things to have gone the way they did. Essentially I never planned my trip, and only barley made it to the airport. This, despite leaving MY house 24 hours before my flight. Without getting into the various jobs, license test, post office, bank, school donations, and EVERYTHING else, lets just say I had a busy day, week, AND month before my flight.

...Which is why I almost didn't make it. No, actually I DIDN'T make it. But luckily I had the choice. The airport in Tokyo which I have learned so well, had decided to pull a fast one on me, and build a new terminal. I went to the old one, and was already within an hour of my departure, when I realized United Airlines (along with about a dozen other airlines) was NOT there anymore. I busted my ass over to the other terminal, which they were very proud about, but was identical (no really) to the old terminal, except that it HAD United, and now the old one didn't. So I see the LONG line, and I mention kindly to the lady that my flight is KINDA soon. To which she says "oh no, we overbooked that flight... it's VERY full... would you like an upgrade to Singapore Airlines, the best airline in the world, PLUS a check for $100 instead?" OK, well she didn't put Singapore Airlines on a pedestal, but she did offer the rest. She may as well have said "Congratulations! You won a free upgrade to first class, PLUS we're just gonna give ya some money for the heck of it. Wha'dya think?" Though I paused in shock, she must have taken it as a "no" so she started throwing in extras like a free dinner at a nice restaurant, and offering me the money in cold, hard cash. I had entered the dreamland terminal! This terminal had suddenly become every flyers fantasy world!! Maybe THIS is why Terminal A was "so much better" then that cheap old Terminal B, where you have to PAY for substandard airline tickets. Fuck them!! Yeah!!! We want Terminal A, where you only fly the best airlines, and THEY pay YOU to do it!! Yeah!!!

Well, in truth, my Singapore Airlines "experience" was not all I expected from the #1 rated airline. In fact, I'm not sure WHERE I heard that statistic. It could well have been Playboy Magazine. Because, though it did afford me the chance to fly a 747 for the second time, I didn't see what the big deal was. I didn't even have power under my seat (not available in economy!!) and it was not a new aircraft by any means. I vaguely recall that the rating had to do with service, food, and the outfits they wore. So if that's ALL the rating was based on, I don't deny it was among the best I've had (probably only surpassed by business class on British Airways, but I don't know if it's fair to compare different classes), but I am pretty sure the rating was weighted heavily towards the outfits. Now, before you roll your eyes, go have a gander at their outfit online. These are custom tailored, skin-tight, beautiful dresses. AND (why I'm sort of suspecting this rating was earned by Playboy or Maxim or the like), it was apparent to everyone that they weren't (couldn't be) wearing bras or underwear. Awesome. Oh, and of course they hired models. They definitely aren't slave to unions, like American Airlines (worst flight attendants in HISTORY). These women were GORGEOUS!!! Literally, I couldn't help but stare. I TRIED to watch my movies and sleep, but whenever I saw their cute outfits coming by, I just stared like an imbecile. And of course they were all super nice, and attentive... until the ASSHOLE Aussie tripped one!!! No joke. These guys were all surfer-dude and sunglasses on their head (at night), and started their flight by making a big show (as if no one around them could understand their English) about asking to be upgraded to 1st class for free. Ha! Looking like THAT?! Hey, I want to be upgraded too, but at least I can admit I don't look the part. I don't think 3 guys dressed in Helly Henson shorts and Oakley t-shirts are getting any favors. So they don't make a fuss, and I assume they are done making a scene. But as the cutest flight attendant walks by we all hear, "ahh!!" CRASH!! The skirt of their outfit is TINY, and they have to walk like geisha. The fucking prick Aussie stuck his foot out and tripped the girl!!! I truly can't bring myself to believe it was on purpose, but... people are fucked up, and there was many reasons I could imagine he COULD have to do it maliciously. Well, she's probably trained not to grab the seats (just in case he hits a passenger and they sue the company), so she fell full-force on the floor in the isle. She sprained her ankle and was OOC for the rest of the flight. I saw her in a wheelchair at the Singapore airport. Jesus!! Other than that, and a really good quality meal with REAL silverware, and REAL glasses and plates, the flight was uneventful. I guess take-off and landing were much longer and rougher than usual, so the take-off was actually kind of scary. But I arrived 6 hours later in Singapore and made my way to my youth hostel.

Hostels have changed a lot over the past 19 years, that I've been hosteling.

So, some people ACTUALLY say Singapore is so perfectly planned, so well built, that it is BORING. In theory I guess it's possible. Maybe someday the Amish will build a perfect little city, and it might be boring. But at least everyone can agree that this city is planned to a tee, and is built damned-well. After walking around all day I was most impressed by the architecture. I can't believe how nice everything is! And classy, and shiny, and new-looking - even if it's actually old! Design and impressive buildings have been taken to a new height in this city. They toy with the look of age. Some old buildings look new, and some new buildings look old. I walked into a stunning gothic building today that looked like it belonged in a Batman comic, or some Film Noir. The lobby was over the top with brass and bronze detailing, and Metropolis-esque sculptures and shapes. I thought it must have been built in some Art Deco era in Singapore, but when the guard told me to stop taking pictures, I asked how old it was. FIVE YEARS!! Then I took a stroll over to the National History Museum and Raffles Hotel. The museum was a beautiful colonial with tinted blue glass in discrete places, and a HUGE modern glass box built around the back of the building. Inside the old melted away into a modern architects dream. Steel, glass, and black were balanced with the natural tones of a marble and wood floor. Waterfalls fell outside, and streamed inside under the glass. Oh, and the AC was a nice bonus. The Raffles Hotel was one for the first (or THE first?) hotels in Asia, and was world famous in its heyday (100 years ago). Then I guess it fell into disrepair until the city bought it or something. Whatever. All I can say is WOW. They immediately kicked me out for being underdressed. A first for me - not because I'm such a snazzy dresser... but they just never hold to these rules. What I saw of the lobby was jaw-dropping (perhaps another reason for kicking me out - I obviously wasn't a guest).

An equally famous thing people love to mention about Singapore is that chewing gum is illegal. So is jaywalking, smoking in public, and a heepload of other things. And these are not just blue laws left over from another time. All these crimes are subject to prison, and thousands of dollars in fines!! Oh, and you can forget about drugs - LIFE in prison!!! Gays risk the DEATH penalty!!! So, things aren't so "perfect" in Perfectland after all. But what we hear, and the reality might be slightly different. I've been taking pictures of people breaking the law RIGHT next to a sign. Most people don't jaywalk, but plenty run across the crosswalk if no cars are coming. So they must not be very scared of a police officer holding that law up.

I can't help comparing Singapore to Hong Kong. Hong Kong is my favorite city in the world! But I was ready for Singapore to challenge that. And it has. Some things are even better than Hong Kong. For instance, in Singapore EVERYONE speaks English. Everyone! And it's not like some distant memory of grade school English. They speak English to there friends and family just as readily as their native language... which is NOT "Singaporean" by-the-way. Singapore is a diverse collective of all Asian cultures. As far as I understand the ACTUAL native inhabitants of this island are gone. After the successive conquering of the island the British established a colony (recognizing the strategic port) and have since been followed by other immigrants, namely Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai, Indian, Arab, and representatives of every other Asian country. And of course once their economy really took off, it attracted people from all OVER the world. So now Singapore is a hodgepodge of probably every nationality in the world, and agreeing to speak English as their shared language. Very international, and very convenient!

In the few days I spent there, I saw the majority of the sites, and regions of the city. Like Boston, it is a very walkable city. Not the sprawling size of Tokyo, and not even as big as Hong Kong. The districts are very small, and they are all neatly pushed up against each other, so there is no need to walk across town through boring neighborhoods. In the center there is a river, and a hill. The river, once the heart of the city, is now the nightlife centerpiece of Singapore. They have been slightly "Disneyfied", with cute bubbly umbrella shelters lining the riverbank and an ornate color-changing glass ceiling, but they are JAM packed with bars, restaurants, and clubs. Only. Nothing but places to gorge and inebriated yourself. FUN!

On the hill is a nice park with a reservoir, gardens, and even an old secret British fort/bunker built under the hill. I never got to actually visit the fort (the "Battle Box")because it was so popular, but what i know is it is a bomb-proof shelter that the British used when the Japanese attacked. Unfortunately the British were not able to protect the island from the ruthless Japanese, but the Battle Box never got damaged. Among the gardens is a pleasant spice garden which smelled great. It felt like some sort of homiotherapy just walking through. On the edge of the spice garden is a Hindu temple, but I knew it from the smell before I saw any signs. It was a nice preview of Nepal. The smell is a very specific incense used in Shiva and Vishnu temples. Sure enough when I found it, it was nothing like the rest of SIngapore. People left their shoes on the path and were burning incense (just like the signs specifically told them not to), and the temples was dark, old, and ornate. I was getting excited about Nepal!!

Now, everyone in Singapore is totally comfortable with white people, and don't give us the shocked stares they do in China or rural parts of Asia. But for some reason I was getting the BIGGEST stares on my second day! I thought it COULD be that I was wearing shorts, but no one was looking at my legs, and plenty of Singaporeans wear shorts. I thought, maybe it's my sunglasses, which had a certain "I don't want to be recognized" look that famous people always love. But considering my ensemble (book bag, gym shorts, superstar sunglasses), I suspect it's more likely the combination of the 2 factors that may have just made the uber-trendy Singaporeans want to puke! Oh, and the icing one the cake is that my legs are shaved right now (for biking). Oh God, what have I done?! In retrospect, I'm lucky no one ran in fear, or jumped off any bridges!!! So in short, if you come to Singapore, look respectable... or at least like you have some SELF-respect.

Speaking of people, I think the stereotype of Singaporean's is very Chinese. After all, 80% of the population is racially Chinese. But that doesn't mean they are culturally Chinese. I found Singaporean's to surprisingly like Americans! Not that that's a good or bad thing, but their manner of socializing, code of ethics, and sense of humor all seemed to be pretty in line with Americans'. Most speak with some degree of a Singaporean accent, but many of the people I met had a very slight indistinguishable accent, and seemed as American as anybody from Boston. They may be a TAD on the consumeristic side, and are certainly more fashion conscious, but put them in NYC, and no one would know they were a tourist.

The one exception to this was my dealings with service people. They still have a very Chinese view on service. So basically it sucks. For whatever reason, many salesmen don't give a shit if you buy or not. And they don't want to help you, or inform you, or talk to you even. The shocking part is that many of the salesmen ARE THE OWNERS. How do they justify not caring if you buy from their shop?!?! It's not like I saw a steady stream of people in these shops. Usually I'm the only one! Maybe it's some fort of "saving face" thing. Like maybe they think if they act like they want business they will look desperate. I don't know, but the ever-watchful government has noticed too, and has decided to do something about it. They have stared a huge nation-wide campaign to make Singapore more customer-service oriented. I don't know how they will do it, but it's being talked about on the streets a lot. My friends in Singapore think it's a good thing, but I'm not sure how the rest of the country feels. My hostel is a good example. When I showed up the woman clearly was trying to respond in a "western" way, but still had to make some snide comments about me being late (ummm... it's called an airplane. I don't exactly "have control" of the thing!!). The next morning a different woman treated me like total shit. So much so that I felt compelled to watch her make my breakfast (after forgetting my order 2 times...) to make sure she didn't spit in it or anything. Her specific problem seemed to be that she didn't want to work. Maybe there. Maybe at all. I don't know. The other woman's problem was that she did want to work, but didn't know, or care, that yelling at a customer for being late doesn't solve anything, and just makes the customer feel bad about the service. Why create bad vibes, man? These people need, like, a peace pipe, man... Oh, and when she saw me taking pictures (who doesn't allow pictures of the public places of their hostel/hotel???), she yelled at me again, and then said I was not allowed to post them online. Seems, they must have had a bad experience. She was very specific. But the strange thing is, the place looked FINE. So why not show it. Actually the dorm rooms and bathrooms were SUPER nice, and modern. So what was her deal?

On top of that my bed ended up having bed bugs ( a first time for me, but let me tell you, these are NO fun. It could have been worse, because they only lasted from about 4am-5am. But they bit the shit out of my legs, and arms especially. My arms were still covered in the scabbie bites 3 weeks later!! So despite LOOKING nice, I decided I would NOT be coming back to this hostel with bitches at the counter, and bed bugs waking me up at 4am.

taxi driver said apts were 20,000 dollars (US$15,000/mo!!)

beer is US$2-7 in the grocery store!!! (Absolute is US$60!!!!!!!!) - Cigarettes are US$10!!!!!

pink drink

singapore houses

singapore airlines!!! sing sling

Singapaore highlighted in red

I will be in Singapore on July 22-26, 2006.  Come back then!