One week ago I crossed back over to the northern hemisphere- albeit just barely. Singapore is a mere 1.5 degrees north of the equator. I had a 730 am flight from Yogyakarta to Singapore, meaning my alarm went off at the amazing time of 505 am. I have never been, and never will be, someone who enjoys waking up that far before 9 am. My eyes barely cooperated, and I had to hit the snooze button once. There are few feelings that are more pleasurable to me than the ability to instantly fall back asleep, so I enjoyed that feeling once before peeling myself out of bed. Turns out those airplanes don’t just wait for you to show up. Every time I head to the airport I also enjoy some extra anxiety about missing a flight. It doesn’t matter how early I leave for the airport (within reason- I don’t depart for the airport 5 hours early)- there is a sense that I will get caught in traffic or the car will break down or something else. These are irrational thoughts, but I get them almost without fail. Not a highlight of taking a double digit number of flights within several months.
Upon arrival at the airport, I was greeted once again by third world infrastructure. The airport in Jogja is tiny with only two sides to the check in area- left is international and right is domestic. There must have been a decent amount of international flights the morning I was flying out because the international half of the check in area was completely packed. Every line, broken down by carrier, was 20-30 people deep. Thankfully it moved fast, and I made it to the front within about 20 minutes. In classic Indonesian fashion, the local guy next in line desperately wanted to cut in front of me. He kept inching closer and closer, pushing the luggage cart directly into my heels. The dude had a porter pushing his baggage cart, and any time I moved even a single inch forward he would aggressively motion for the porter to move right away, as if someone might (gasp) cut in front of HIM. When I made it to very front of the line, he was standing directly NEXT to me- not behind me- so had to keep moving forward until I was basically hugging the traveler at the counter to ensure Mr Wants-to-cut doesn’t get his wish. Ah, Indonesian lines.
I spent the last 10 days wandering around and exploring the city/ island/ country of Singapore. It has been the only stop so far where nearly everyone was shocked I was staying so “long.” I had 10 days before I could return to Indonesia for my second 30 day adventure, so the options were either Singapore those 10 days or take a trip to Borneo. The Malaysian part of Borneo seemed great, but at this point of my trip I was feeling a bit of travel fatigue- moving every few days, packing up my stuff, getting to the airport, getting from the airport to my hotel, inevitably getting lost a few times in between has gotten a bit old. The choice was made to stay and relax in Singapore the entire 10 days. The reaction of “10 DAYS in Singapore?? Why??” was nearly universal from everyone I talked to- locals especially. I guess when you live your entire life on a relatively small and crowded island with a desire to go somewhere else, they expect everyone ELSE to want to leave as well.
Despite the shocked responses when it was learned I would be in their small nation for 10 days, I really enjoyed Singapore. Being in a truly modern, developed, first world country was a great change of pace from Thailand/ Malaysia and especially Indonesia. One aspect that I ALWAYS appreciate is a great public transit system. Singapore’s MRT (subway line) isn’t good- it is excellent. Lines run all over the city, and you can get pretty much anywhere within a transfer or two. The weather is scorchingly hot all of the time, so spending even a few minutes on the air conditioned subway is a welcome relief from the heat.
Besides the wonderful subway system, what Singapore has in abundance is food and shopping. One street- Orchard- is lined with one gigantic mall after another, some brand new while others an ancient decade old. There are more restaurants/ eateries per capita than perhaps anywhere else on earth, ranging in price from “extremely affordable” to “astronomically expensive.” Singapore is definitely not a cheap city, but there are plenty of bargains to be had if you are willing to be a bit patient and search around a bit. Within the aforementioned malls exists a massive number of food stands that offer much higher food quality than your average food court in the States. A $4-6 meal can easily be found within a block or two of wherever you are. The food is all very tasty. Most of it is Chinese influenced, as the majority of Singapore’s citizens have Chinese ancestry (even if that goes back a long way). Besides Chinese/ Singaporean food, there are plenty of Indonesian, Malaysian, Japanese, Indian and western options- among pretty much anything else you can think of. There were even a few Mexican food places, which were tempting. At this point, after not having a burrito or taco for over 2 months, they sounded delicious but I decided to pass and simply wait until I return stateside for a proper Mexican meal.
Spending time in a modern city afforded me some modern luxuries. One day’s highlights centered on the consumption of a real salad and a actual IPA- my first of either in over 2 months. Both were beyond delicious. It turns out salads and craft beers are not popular or widely available most places in Asia. Fried food or cigarettes can be had by the truckload, but real salads or IPAs not so much. I cherished each respective bite or sip of the salad/ beer with the knowledge that I will likely not have either for another month or so.
There are a few items that are NOT cheap within Singapore, and unfortunately they are two of my favorite beverage choices: coffee and beer. Word on the street is that the beer is so expensive because of local taxes, but I did not confirm this with the local government. Whatever the reason, getting a bottle of beer at a bar will set you back at least $8, while a pint can be $12 or more. And I am not talking about a fancy pants 10% Belgian ale- this is for a Carlsberg or Heineken. Crazy prices. Coffees are at least $5, and go up from there. Because of the astronomical prices for both coffee and beer, I didn’t have a ton of either.
Another bonus of being in a modern and more diverse city was not sticking out like a sore thumb as MR TOURIST MAN. Singapore’s status as a modern nation means they regularly see people of various races, colors, and nationalities. The population is overwhelmingly Asian, with a decent amount of Indians as well, but there are enough white folks wandering around that I don’t stand out nearly to the same extend as I do in more remote areas of the earth.
One of the negatives of being in a First World city also means First World prices. As mentioned, bargains on food can definitely be found. However, deals on hotels don’t exist. The price for my hotel room was very reasonable- $40- but the room and overall accommodations were far from great. I was sharing a bathroom with the rest of the hotel, and my bed was a single bunk bed. I made sure that I had my own room, but the single size bottom of a bunk bed was still where I laid my weary head at night. I switched hotels in the middle of my stay (to a different place across the street) because I had a bigger room- with 3 bunk beds/ 6 beds. It was a bit silly to have 6 single beds all to myself, but it was a better option than my first room which was beyond small. Comically small I would call it. When my bag was on the floor I couldn’t even fully open the door.
An added bonus of my stay in Singapore was the time I spent with some locals. I was shown all sorts of areas, restaurants, coffee shops, and bars that I would never have found or seen on my own. I also got a much better feel for what it is like to actually live in Singapore, and the unique country that it is. The island-nation is filled with a dozens of diverse areas, thousands of restaurants, hundreds of shopping malls, and roughly 5 million humans. There is no real sense of Singaporean national pride either. Being from the good ol U S of A, I am more accustomed to an overwhelming level of pride in one’s home country as opposed to the opposite. I got a sense that there was a bit of claustrophobia associated with living in Singapore for your entire life, as the physical size of the country is tiny. Imagine living in one massive city that is also your entire country, where there are no mountains, no real beaches, no open spaces, and one never-ending concrete landscape. I can understand the desire to want to leave that. A big thank you to my Singaporean tour guides. Hopefully I can repay the favor if you ever come to America.
Singapore is also a much more affluent nation than its’ neighbors, which shouldn’t come as much of a shock. The amount of luxury cars I saw in one day alone (Ferraris, Lamborghinis, BMWs, Mercedes, Jaguars) dwarfs what I have seen in Vietnam/ Malaysia/ Indonesia/ Thailand combined. Everyone has a smartphone (that they stare at 99% of the time), the clothing is mostly new and brand name, and there are plenty of other more expensive items on the locals. Another surprise was that English is the main language of the country, so it is very widely spoken, although everyone has an odd accent. It sounds like they actually learned English as a second language as opposed to having all of their classes in English.
My stay in Singapore was a nice change from the developing world. A reminder of the things I appreciate (and often take for granted) from the land known as the First World. Despite everyones protestations, 10 days in Singapore was not too long, and I enjoyed my time in the city/ country/ island immensely. It is a city I would both recommend and could see myself returning to someday. Now I return to Indonesia- this time to Bali and Lombok. Back to cheap food, booze and beaches. I could use one of those $3 haircuts, too.