After turning a corner, I encountered a sign advertising for a spa called the "Rainforest Lounge," which immediately conjured pleasant childhood memories of meals at the theme park restaurant Rainforest Cafe, which was housed curiously in the Sawgrass Mills Mall back in the South Florida of my youth. This particular spa offered temporary sleeping quarters, and, more importantly, appeared to open at this unsavory airport hour. Robotically I ascended the winding staircase bedecked in faux jungle foliage until I arrived at a lobby where several fellow journeymen and women sat contently in plush couches, imbibing late-night cocktails and rekindling their romance with humanity by checking emails. I approached the desk attendant with extreme malaise, too dead to care the result of my imminent inquiry, but still clinging pathetically to the unjustified arrogance of hope. To my tempered delight, I was informed that there was a bed available for me to drop my weary bones. Wanderlustus, the patron saint of travelers, had finally heeded my call for mercy with a mattress and sheets that I could call my own for all of 3 hours (S$35). Graciously I gathered my belongings and slowly slithered to a dimly lit cavernous room, flanked by twin vertebra of micro-accommodations on either side. The layout of the space reminded me of the scene in the movie Taken when Liam Neeson found himself furiously rummaging through a concubine warehouse in an effort to locate his kidnapped daughter. Had I been any more alert I would have been alarmed at the lack of privacy evident, as a mere two curtains, slotted wood partition, and no doors separated me from my involuntary "roommates," or anyone else for that matter. Idiotically I sought the cheap comfort of curtain-blessed intimacy in the way a small child might draw the covers over his head in an attempt to psychologically evade the frightening advances of the boogie man. Security be damned, I set the alarm on my iPad for 7:10am (so as to not violate the stipulations of my contractual agreement) and drifted off as quickly as I had purposively set my things down for the night.
I awoke at 7:18am to the ire of my iPad, which flashed several push notifications indicating that my alarm had sounded (however silently given that I forgot to adjust the volume prior to falling asleep) and that I had not been a considerate owner who responded with alacrity to the demands of my electronic companion. Fearing I might be charged some kind of financial penalty for illegally occupying my bed a paltry 3 minutes beyond my allotted reservation, I bolted out of the partially enshrouded cot-room to use the shower. After enjoying an unnecessarily hot shower I cleared my bill with the concierge and learning that no additional charges had been levied, I grabbed a small breakfast consisting of toast with kaya butter, soft(?) boiled eggs in a paper cup, and a cup of coffee from a nearby kiosk (S$4.50) and headed on my merry way into Singapore in the hopes of getting a jump on my sightseeing in order to avoid getting caught in sweltering midday heat.
Prior to my arrival in Singapore I decided that I would embark upon not the free tour organized by the city (which does not allow for alighting the tour bus to see sights up close), but rather the City Sightseeing Singapore tour aboard a double-decker bus (which does allow and indeed encourages hopping on and off the bus to see the sights at one's own pace). When I informed a woman working at the visitor centre of this decision, she happily agreed it was for the best. Following a 30-minute ride on the cleverly-acronymed "SMRT" (Simpsons fans should pick up on that reference), Singapore's public rail system (S$2.10), I came to a couple of early conclusions: (1) Asia clearly understands how to properly execute a major public transportation endeavor (corroborated by my experiences in Hong Kong); and (2) America, with its crumbling network of asphalt arteries evoking a strange sense of pride and an environmentally criminal obsession with misguided notions of "individuality," probably won't "get" public transport for a long time to come. That we as Americans feel a bizarre entitlement to inefficient road mongering and pollution mitigated by mechanical regulations not behavioral change is beyond the comprehension of this environmental researcher.
Once I navigated the labyrinthine underground CityLink Mall and made my way to the Suntec Hub, I purchased my tour ticket good for 24 hours (a reasonable S$33), and set out to explore 4 areas in Singapore. A brief synopsis of each location is provided below.
Little India: On my first stop, I came to this cultural enclave. I walked along Serangoon Road and entered Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. Once I had walked around the temple and paid my respects (as much as a foreigner with a camera could, anyway), I strolled along the streets, ducking in and out of various shops. I was surprised at how inexpensive the clothing items were (save for Levi's jeans, which command something of a supernatural status throughout Asia), given how the rest of Singapore I had seen read like a who's who of high end fashion (I saw no less than three Prada stores while I was there. Isn't one enough for a tiny country?). After purchasing a couple items (and being given a bottle of water for free by the merchant), I walked back to the bus stop to venture to my next destination.
Chinatown: Unlike the American incarnations of this major city mainstay (from the glorious version in San Francisco to the seemingly apocalyptic attempt in Portland), the Chinatown in Singapore was surprisingly dense and heavily trafficked even on a Sunday. Brits, Aussies, and occasional Americans crowded the narrow streets in search of trite novelties they will proudly boast upon returning home (think T-shirts that read: I ❤ Singapore). Famished and flushed, I traversed the side streets to find a spot for lunch. After perusing several menus placed outside candidate restaurants, I decided to enter Feng Bo Zhuang, a place that, until I became a sworn patron, did not feature the presence of any Westerners (i.e. the sign of a reputable local establishment). I ordered hot tea (against my better judgment given the temperature hovered at a suffocating 90F with 74% humidity), spicy beef with glass noodles (more like a powderkeg of pepper flakes drowning in seasoned broth guest starring 10 pieces of mediocre meat), and steamed pork dumplings. Hungry as I was, I ate without abandon, testing the limits of my gastrointestinal fortitude by lapping up nearly every bit of the cilia-searing soup and chasing it with bouts of tastebud-dissolving tea. This meal would prove sufficiently satisfying for hours on end (and those of you who know me understand what a challenge that can be!). My strength restored, again I found my way to the bus in order to embark upon the architectural portion of my jaunt.
Marina Bay Sands/Gardens by the Bay: In a country where East meets West in myriad ways, perhaps there is no greater example of this sensibility than in the creative amalgamation present in Singapore's built and natural environments. While evidence of a pan-Asian tradition is unmistakeable, it is the modern feats of architectural achievement that truly and literally stand tall. In Singapore, the buildings walk a fine line somewhere between grandeur and audacity. The Marina Bay Sands, ostensibly a hotel, looks as though a mighty typhoon picked up Noah's Ark and placed it carefully atop three existing colossal pillars. The resulting marriage is strange, but not overwrought. To observe it from afar is to stare into the capacity of human imagination. All of a sudden curing cancer doesn't seem that far off. Once I passed through (as if into a new dimension) the hotel, I followed a bridge over to an installation of gargantuan proportions, the Gardens by the Bay. Aside from the numerous adjoined gardens paying homage to various ethnicities and hedgehog-like biospheres (the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest), the most notable visual structures are the grove of Supertrees. These wire-frame saucers poised atop trunk-like obelisks seem like props developed for an upcoming cross-over film based on Avatar and Independence Day (Will Smith has already signed onto the project). These Supertrees are nothing if not inspiring and breathtaking. They should be considered part of the pantheon that is the 7 Wonders of the World. After gawking at unfathomable exemplars of human ingenuity, I headed back to the bus stop, where I rode the red city route to its conclusion and hopped aboard the yellow city route to my final point of interest.
Botanic Gardens: By the time I arrived at the Botanic Gardens, it had begun to thunder and the evening was falling upon me. Little did I realize (though given Singapore's unabashed embrace of magnificence and nearly peerless conquering of scale perhaps I should have been more keen) that these gardens were so massive there was simply no way I could see everything the park had to offer in one day. Dauntless and yet cognizant of the possibility that it might literally rain on the tail end of my parade, I zoomed along the paved paths, ignoring the protestations of my Toms-protected feet. At the behest of my mother, I decided to visit the National Orchid Garden. The normal charge for a student is S$1, but seeing as how I was by myself and it was the early evening on a Sunday, I was granted entrance pro bono. Once there I found species of orchids I had never seen before in hues of bright pink, leopard print purple, and pollution dusk yellow, and coming in an array of shapes that resembled everything from starfish to peeps aligned consecutively on a branch as if reporting for military duty. The exhibit also featured rare orchids in the Tan Hoon Siang Mist House and eerie Cool House (both of which could have easily ruined my iPad or camera due to moisture intrusion). Fearing that the thunder might produce something even more sinister, I galloped post haste through a large field where the public had gathered to hear a youth jazz orchestra play in the bandshell and sprinted toward the bus as it began to pull away slowly.
I feel like I covered significant ground in a single day thanks to the well-oiled City Sightseeing Singapore tour. I was certainly glad to make it back to the airport, however, where I retrieved my stored luggage (S$3 for 24 hours) and sprung for a much needed shower (S$8 including toiletries and towel). I would say I "treated" myself to dinner, but that would not accurately describe a situation in which I ordered a bowl of "lunch meat" (read: Spam-like substance) with ramen and a scrambled egg, two BBQ pork buns, and a 7-Up from an airport restaurant, but suffice it to say that I left Singapore showered, shaven, and sated.
Next time: Fear and Phoning in Sri Lanka