Friday 24 January - Changi airport in Singapore is spacious, well organised, and spotlessly clean. An impression I realised can be extended to the whole of Singapore, during my taxi ride into Singapore’s Downtown district. Apparently the reason for this is an unwritten contract between the people of Singapore and the Singapore government. The Government provides prosperity and a high standard of living for all, and in return the Singapore citizens must hand over some of their personal freedom. The result is several petty but rigorously enforced laws, backed by heavy fines, prohibiting chewing gum, eating on public transport, and even failing to flush a public toilet! It’s even rumoured that to deter loutishness some lifts are equipped with urine sensors. Having said this, you can't deny it works. I've never seen a cleaner and safer city anywhere. And so I think it is not without a sense of irony that the locals refer to Singapore as a fine city.
I had arranged to meet up with Tom, whom I had met previously when he was visiting London. I arrived outside his house near Spottiswood Park, or 'Spotty woo pa', which, I had been correctly informed by Tom, was what the taxi driver would understand.
Tom welcomed me in and I met his Girlfriend, Yuki, who also lives and works in Singapore. I knew if I stayed in the house I would succumb to jet lag so I decided to visit a place called Bukit Timah, which is the last remnants of Singapore’s ancient rainforest. And so I left Tom to find a bus going that way.
On route I saw a sign pointing to a nature park and thinking this was Bukit Timah got off the bus. It turned out to be another smaller and more manicured rainforest park called Bukit Batok, but since I had plenty of time I decided to take a look. I'm pleased I did as it enclosed a magnificent still lake bordered by 300 metre cliffs and overhanging trees. The lake itself was teeming with large terrapins.
A couple of bus stops on from there I reached my intended destination, Bukit Timah. By this time it was extremely hot, so the canopy of the rainforest was a welcome escape from the sun. Despite the abundance of signs warning against feeding the monkeys, disappointingly there were none to be seen. There were, however, lots of exotic species of birds and squirrel-size animals, which would appear whenever I stood still and quiet for long enough.
After reaching the summit of a nearby hill I saw a Singapore man sitting in the shade, and as I walked past him he asked if he could join me. Ever wary of con artists, but thinking it unlikely a con artist would stalk in the jungle, I agreed. He turned out to be pleasant enough, and told me he had left his home in Bombay two years ago looking for better paying work in Singapore. He worked on the harbor as a welder, which he later told me pays 12 Singapore dollars a day (around GBP6). I found it slightly embarrassing to be so apparently wealthy, but he didn't seem at all phased. We finally parted and I took the bus back to Downtown Singapore.
By the time I reached Tom's house the jet lag was really beginning to kick in but it was only 5 pm. Thankfully Tom kept me awake by inviting me and and Yuki out to one of his preferred seafood restaurants. And the food was very good, despite including things I must admit I usually shy away from, like whole crab. But I figured I'm going to have to get used to eating unusual foods from now on, so what the heck.
Getting home was more of an ordeal after the first taxi company we called got back to say their computer system had gone down, and the second we contacted then had to cancel because the car had broken down on route. Eventually we got a bus, but I couldn't help being amused at how impotent Singapore can be when it's so dependent on technology.
Saturday 25 January - My first night in Singapore was so hot and humid that when I eventually slept it was already getting lighter outside. I woke very late and a few hours later found myself in a food court, surrounded by a wealth of choice - as long as you’re a meat eater, that is. Being vegetarian the choices were fairly limited. Here you could buy fish heads, pig brains, or if you’re brave, the worryingly vague pig organ soup. I settled on a veggie dish from a Muslim food stall.
On my return to Tom's house I made the frustrating discovery that my room in fact has air conditioning hidden discretely above the wardrobe. At least on my last night in Singapore I should get a good night sleep.
Tom and Yuki were going out in the evening and so we all said our farewells, and I left to visit one last place.
I had read that the Singapore zoo did a very good night safari and since I had not been able to do much during the day I would make up for it this way. The 'Safari' consisted of a Jurassic Park style ride through the rainforest, where all the zoo animals roam free, with only trenches to keep them from approaching the public (or vice versa). The idea of viewing animals at night had several advantages, the main being it was cooler, and the animals were far more active as a result. Furthermore, it was far more atmospheric at night with the cries of the animals all around, and you could almost forget it was a zoo. Almost, except for the hilariously patronizing scripted monologue of the tour guide, where their every third sentence warned of the evils of deforestation, or the extinction of wildlife. Doesn't everyone already know this stuff? I could sense others were getting irritated after an hour of this and by the end I think the tour guide was in danger of becoming extinct if he said "just think about it" one more time! Apart from that it was quite good, in Singapore’s sterile and pre-packaged way.
The next morning I got up early for the bus to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which I expect after Singapore will seem a lot bigger, more chaotic but best of all, I'll be closer to the real Asia I came here to see.