Sunday, September 23, 2012

Living in Sin

No, not like that you dummy!

Event compared to the 12-hour flight in the dirty Delta, from Seattle to Beijing, I was more happy to step off the incredibly cramped Tiger Airways flight in Singapore and stretch my legs a little. Thankfully I'd used the time somewhat productively, writing blog posts etc and doing my best to sleep...

(not actually my photo but I have one incredibly similar...)

We arrived at the inspiringly-named Budget Terminal and walked some distance (it was clearly quite humid here already) to a very efficient passport control and, again, a slightly concerning wait for my bag which I hadn't seen since dropping it off in the town centre of Hong Kong. But of course it trundled out to meet me eventually!

We had to take a bus over to Terminal 2 in order to catch the SMRT (Singapore Mass Rapid Transit) system into town. I withdrew about $100 (£50) to get me established, then arrived at the platform 5 minutes before a train departed. But then it was announced that this was the last train! And the ticket office was closed! And it's rejecting my $50 note, not enough change! And it is ignoring the card I have inserted!!!!!!!

But then a very kind Western couple helped me out and donated the $3.50 fare to get into the city. I am so grateful for their help, I had just enough time to thank them before running to the train before the doors closed. Panic over - thanks random strangers :-)

So my first lesson learnt was how early the MRT system in Singapore closes. Around midnight every day, apparently, even at the weekend! Although it was clean and efficient, I would much prefer that it ran a little longer...

I texted my Bath Uni friend Chay Him to enquire when the NE line (which I needed to transfer to to get to my hostel) and just when the train doors were closing on the final station where I could have otherwise walked to the hostel, he got back to me to tell me that the final train had already left! Luckily though, at the next station I changed to go back in the other direction and caught the final train back towards the hostel and walked the rest of the way - helped again with directions from the GPS on my phone and also a friendly local businessman on his way to work!

I arrived at the hostel around midnight and, following the instructions they had given me, collected my key from the drop-box, showered and took to my bed (the first top bunk on the trip!). zzzz.

The next day, I had arranged to meet up with Chay Him but beforehand had the opportunity to explore my Hostel:

The Hostel (Five Stones Hostel) is NOT a YHA / Hostelling International establishment but has its own very unique feel. It's really homely, with a nice living area with a big TV and way too many DVDs etc just calling for you to slob out and enjoy relaxing for a bit.

Breakfast was good, cereal and toast and boiled eggs, for the first time since leaving the USA! The hostel is quite compact, it has 7 rooms (I think) spread out on 2 levels, ranging from 6 to 14 beds in each. Very homely. And normally there are many more people around than these photos insinuate but I took them a couple of days later in the middle of the day!


So Chay Him met me in a taxi outside the hostel and we were driven a couple of blocks to the Maxwell Food Centre, a very well-known canteen with over 100 stalls selling things like chicken rice, fish noodles, pork bones in tea and other interesting dishes which I have long since ceased being surprised with! We had caught it in the middle of the businesses lunch hour and it was thus pretty busy!

Chay queued up and ordered for us while I chatted to an aunt and her niece, sat at our table. I was surprised with just how much English is spoken around Singapore, but after all it is one of the official languages. Chay then turned up with fried fish in a noodle soup for me, it was delicious and warm but I made the mistake of trying to eat a whole sliver of ginger!

We then started walking back to the Hostel, giving Chay an opportunity to show me some of the sights of Singapore. Firstly, the heat - it's generally 30-33 degrees all year round but (as everyone will tell you) it is the humidity, around 70%, which makes you uncomfortable. You just feel sweaty everywhere you go! It was worse than Beijing and Hong Kong but certainly bearable, even when walking round for the entire day as I found out later.

The stranger thing for me was that, being only 140km from the equator around the time of the Equinox, the sun was genuinely overhead (straight up!) and thus our shadows were tiny and directly underneath. This messed with my navigation a little bit (I'm used to being able to identify which direction I'm pointing using my shadow and knowing what the time is) but also made it easy to seek shade, since all the pavements have covers. The tops of your feet are the first things to be burnt and some people walk around here with umbrellas as shade devices. Chay said he was really looking forward to returning to the UK (the following day) primarily for the weather, which was quite flattering, considering how often I have heard people (mostly Americans) moaning about the British weather!

Being nearly mid-autumn festival (September 30th), the Chinese quarter of the city had many decorations out, which we enjoyed.

Then we caught the MRT back towards the hostel. People say that Singapore is a very strict, clean city, and this is why:

Hopefully I can tell you more about the weird, smelly fruit that is the Durian later!

So we said farewell and I headed back to the hostel and spent some time updating the blog and generally chilling out. I went out a little bit later, around dusk, to try and collect my Grand Prix tickets, purchase a SIM card, nd see a bit more of the city, including the impressive Marina Bay harbour.

At the base of the Swissotel, where I was due to collect my Zone 4 Walkabout tickets (having pre-ordered many months ago), a Costa Coffee had just opened and outside were all the bouquets from neighbouring shops, congratulating it for opening and wishing it the best for its future commerce!

I also caught my first glimpse of the F1 circuit! It is truly integrated into the city, and you can see here that this straight was a normal road about a week ago. I took the advice of one of the hostel staff here and visited an underground canteen for dinner, had a nice cheap Mayanmar supper then came back to the hostel for more chilling out and blogging (and chatting with some of my other hostellers).

The next morning I continued with the above. You may be surprised to hear that I wasn't dashing around town, trying to explore as much as possible, and there's a good reason. Mainly, having been on the go (and seriously hectic!) for the past 5 weeks, I am in real need of just chilling out a little bit, catching up on the blog and also my reports for the Royal Academy of Engineering, getting some sleep, and just enjoying myself. As can be seen by the photos of the chillout area of the lounge, I am in the perfect place to do this and of course it will be good to emerge refreshed for India and Nepal. Plus, I'm here for 2.5 weeks and have plenty of time to explore the city once it quietens down after the Grand Prix! I just have to convince myself not to be guilty about this!

Around lunchtime, I journeyed across town to the Singapore branch of my Dad's workplace where a kind lady had received on my behalf a package sent from home containing toys, clothes and shoes for my working placement in Nepal. It was lovely to receive such items from home, of course there was no note though because it would have been out of date by the time it arrived and I'd been keeping in touch by email and Skype anyway! But I was looked after when I went to collect it and we had a go on the recorders that had been included and played a little duet together...

Later in the afternoon, I went out for a meal at the Maxwell Centre with Liz, an Australian visitor who was taking a little holiday to Europe and was stopping off here on here way home to Darwin, where she is a midwife. It was nice to have some good company, and Liz was great fun to speak to, although I was generally unconcerned at how quickly the conversation turned to cervixes... But she was flying out that evening so, after our duck and dumplings and a wander round town, we headed back to the hostel for her to take a taxi (the bus hadn't turned up) to the airport.

Once dusk had fallen, I headed over to the Marina Bay Sands hotel where I knew there was a rooftop bar with excellent views of Singapore and the F1 circuit. I was not disappointed...


Singapore also has its own daily light show, and I was able to catch the 9:30pm performance. I think this one was a bit more classy than that in Hong Kong and featured some very clever projection onto plumes of water in the bay, as well as lasers and lights and strobes and even some fireballs!

Once I came down from the hotel, I wandered over along a closed road towards the F1 track to see if there was anything worth seeing there. But probably the most impressive site was looking back at the crazy Marina Bay Sands hotel:

It's actually in the shape of a ship, suspended 60 storeys high on top of 3 towers! It's the weirdest building in the Bay so you will see many more photos of it from me soon...

I could also see the grandstand for both Singapore's premier football pitch (on the surface of the water) and doubled as a big F1 viewing area. The circuit actually goes in front of and then underneath this grandstand.

Looking back at the Hotel, the Helix Bridge, the Art and Science Museum across the water.

The Singapore Flyer over the F1 circuit. Any resemblance to the London Eye?!

I then went back to the Sands hotel and explored the mall underneath. It's a huge structure, lots of very classy shops but not in the least bit Oriental! There was another ice skating rink here (closest one to the Equator maybe?) and I bought an expensive icecream to consume (and drop on the marble floor) as I wandered round.

More Caxton Card frustration, this time I had hit the 5-day withdrawal limit (I didn't know there was one!) and had to get cash out using my Debit card in order to top up my MRT card. But of course I got back to the Hostel fine!

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  1. You've really earned your chance to chill out CJ.

    I chuckled at the mention of the recorder duet when you picked your bag up - glad it arrived safely.

    Look forward to you keeping us updated on your F1 experience......

  2. Enjoy your stay here! Hope F1 was awesome!