Our trip (in my eyes) goes through 3 phases. Firstly the English speaking, similar-in-culture section starting with the US and ending with Oz. Phase two follows this up with a language and comfort clash through South East Asia, and finally phase 3 delivers culture and communication shocks in China and India en route home.
We were about to enter the second phase – South East Asia – via Singapore. A place many Europeans live and based on its former British colony status speaks English. So not too dramatic a change to take in at 1AM when we arrive.
The hotel room is small, has air con (finally) but strangely it’s toilet is a glass box in the corner. Not much privacy, but as a married couple we are on this journey to learn about each other (ideally not by witnessing each other’s ‘movements’ I hasten to add).
A small sleep is broken by the smashing of drums, the crashing of symbols, and a dragon freaking out to the music in a shop over the road. Lunar (Chinese) New Year wasn’t the alarm clock I was hoping for but we needed to get up anyway to visit the visa office.
We changed our flights, you may remember, or I may not have mentioned (I can’t remember), so that we could get our Chinese visas. In Singapore we were told we could get a tourist visa expedited in two working days, so we needed to escape the heat of Perth a day early to ensure that. The cost of doing so mitigated by actually obtaining a visa, which seemed impossible given the Chinese want us to physically leave our passports with them for a few days.
Hello China, have you heard of the Internet? Or electronic visas? Nope they haven’t.
So all prepared with our print outs of our flights in and out, hotels, excursion itinerary and passports, we trundled to the office in high spirits. You guessed it by the tone of my voice, we couldn’t get a Chinese visa in Singapore. Well apparently even though Kelly sent dates and checked via email – tourist visas can only be issued for a month and we weren’t going to be in China for three. Thanks. For. That.
A saunter back to the room and Kelly needed to top up her sleep. I wandered round Chinatown just outside the hotel, using a virtual tour called Pocket Guide on my phone. Listening to which I visit my first Hindu temple, a temple of Buddha’s tooth, and plenty of street food stalls.
It’s exciting to be in Asia having never been before, other traveller stories made it seem daunting and difficult. But it ain’t.
Singapore is a very clean city, and feels a lot like Canary Wharf. So I woke Kelly up and headed to Little India to see the hustle bustle side of the city. The previous audio tour went well so I plugged in and dragged Kelly round trying to relay what information was playing. It didn’t really work for her as we wandered around temples and market stalls.
Earlier in a fit of organisation I booked our tickets for the Singapore Night Safari. Travelling across the island in the bus I realised how much bigger Singapore is than first expected. The city part is walkable but then out in a forest to the north lies a Safari. A safari that as the name suggests is only home to nocturnal creatures, for nocturnal tourists.
Before joining our allotted time slot for the mahoosive entry line, I began frantically trying to fix my camera screen with a little screwdriver I purchased in Suntec shopping arcade downtown. It doesn’t work unsurprisingly (especially when I’m doing it in the dark), so a bit crestfallen at the probability of being unable to see my photos we head into the park.
The major thing with a night safari is that, well it’s at night, and my eyes don’t work 100% in the day. So my initial experience was of seeing nothing. The fishing leopard sat in the open seemingly fulfilling its obligation to be seen before disappearing. Luckily a pack of otters screaming at the visitors was endearing and bought the park some extra time.
Then they all came out and we observed Bintourangs, civets play fighting, Lions roaring in the distance but sleeping when we turned up, hippos, elephants and rhinos. We learned that African buffalos are hard as nails, so much so that only tigers can compete with them, and even then it’s a fairly 50-50 affair. After a Fruit bat dives at me in their enclosure we call it a night and grab a taxi.
No visit to Singapore is complete without a double header of the Singapore flyer and a visit to the Marina Bay Sands hotel observation deck. The flyer is basically the same as the Millennium wheel in London. Up top we get a full glimpse of the city, and more impressively the port is full of hundreds of ships bringing their wares into the continent via the sea.
A few days prior I had, for reasons both unknown and solely for Singapore, logged into LinkedIn to see if I knew anyone working here. The only name to come up was that of Cath Willingham, a former colleague who had posted asking if anyone knew of any roles in Singapore. She’s looking to move here but hasn’t yet I thought. Imagine both our surprise then when I walk out of the lift at the top of the Marina Bay Sands only to bump into Cath, on her way down. She had been living there for some time, and a quick chat filled us both in. It really is a small world.
Up top in the Ce Le Vi restaurant we ploughed into some Oysters and fries, plus an excellent sweet potato beer. Yumzers.
Down at ground level Singapore has a cinema which claims to be Gold Class, and we wanted in on that action. After submitting to Kelly for directions, and 20 joy-free minutes later it became abundantly clear that map reading, even using Google maps is not in any way something she should put on her CV. We get lost. Like silly lost. As in the area we had to walk was so small it would’ve been easier to have stumbled across it accidentally. Anyway after some bickering in torrential rain, we eventually found said Cineplex.
Deadpool was the film, but that wasn’t the important part of the experience. For we few (32 per cinema), had large reclining seats with footrests, and (this is the cool part) a little buzzer which once pressed, quickly produced a little man with either a menu or the beverages you desired. So whilst we enjoyed the movie; beers, pizza, and an ice-cream sundae, came our way. ‘Twas the true way to do a film.
Our early rise the following day set for 5:30AM, we retired, stuffed, entertained and pleasantly surprised by the city-state of Singapore, our first foray into Asia.