November 30, 1995 - December 13, 1995

Arrival and Orientation

Arriving at the airport in Singapore (no visa required for entry, though MasterCard and American Express are accepted :-), the first thing that struck me was how hot and humid it was! A day ago, I'd been scraping ice off my car, and now I was sweating like a pig! I don't think the temperature dropped below 75 degrees Fahrenheit the whole time I was there (Singapore is only one degree off the equator, after all).

When I took the cab to my hotel, I thought I was getting ripped off when the cabbie charged me S$30 for a S$20 cab ride: it turned out that there is a 50% surcharge on cabs after midnight and before 0600 (Singapore runs on military time). I got a look at the fare charge sheet later: it was about three pages long! All sorts of restrictions about times, where to drive (many streets are Restricted Zones certain times of the day), and other rubbish.

(By the way, If you need a good moderately-priced hotel to stay in, the Chinatown Hotel is a GREAT place. Not as many frills as the big Hiltons or Marriots (which can also run about S$400 a night!), but it is very close to the subway stations, very clean, and only S$90 a night.)

I'd arrived on a Friday night, so I had the weekend to myself. After a snooze I found myself waking up around 0530 in the morning, and could NOT get back to sleep (I didn't myself in sync until just before I had to leave, about two weeks later). That morning I decided to take a walk around.

The First Days

One thing struck me immediately: the smells. The feeling was probably enhanced due to the fact that I was in the middle of Chinatown, but the place just smelled so different. Not all were bad smells, although a few things cooking in the street shops did make my stomach lurch a bit.

Shopping, by the way, is BIG BIG BIG. Orchard Road, one of the main shopping districts, is just CRAMMED with stores of every kind. At least every other shop was selling electronics of some kind, usually in a small range: one store would sell cameras, another stereos, another CD players, etc. Lots of store selling interesting little knick-knacks. I was struck by how westernized most of it was, though: I had to really search for stores that did not sell things I couldn't find in the department stores in America.

I've heard that you can get a suit very cheap in Asia: I didn't find out, though. Not for lack of trying on the part of the clothing stores, mind you. Once they spot you as a Westerner, they practically attack you! Every one wanted to give me his card, know where I was from, which part of America, would you like my card? I got the hang of just ignoring them after the first few tries.

Most people were very polite, actually. Everyone speaks English (more or less) and all signs are in English, making it very easy to get around. Not that it would be too hard in any case: Singapore is only about 25 square miles, with about 3 million people (less that the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area!). You can practially WALK the whole island, for Pete's sake. Plus, there is an excellent subway and bus system that can take you anywhere in the island within minutes. Or off it, for that matter. I took a trip to Sentosa Island via cable car, did a little tourizing, a little shopping, and was back at the hotel in time to find some local cuisine before it got too dark.

Speaking of food, just about anything you can think of (and a lot you rather wouldn't) can be found to eat. I tried fish balls, prawns, various fruit drinks, various unidentifiable substances, the works. There is Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Muslim, food everywhere. Lots of little stalls were all along the streets, selling different foods. And when I started craving a burger, there are about 20(!) McDonald's and other Western restaurants floating around.

The Next Weekend

After a week of work, I did some more tourizing of Singapore. I visited the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, toured the Jurong Bird Park, and nearly got eaten at the Crocodile Paradise. All lots of fun. I especially liked the Night Safari, which was a nighttime tour of parts of the Singapore Zoo. Many of the animals are more active at night, so you got to see a lot more than you would normally during the day. You can get tours at many of the parks, or you can explore on your own.

None of the parks were very big, of course: Singapore is too small for a park like the San Diego Wild Animal Park or a Disneyworld. But everything, including the parks, is very clean. The cleanliness is enforced, too: Singapore is a very regulated society (far fewer freedoms than in the US) and has high fines for all sorts of things: spitting, chewing gum, jaywalking, etc. Some fines reached into the thousands of Singapore dollars!

I also took the time to do souvenieur shopping. I found that you can still get ivory in Asia, but since it's apparently illegal to bring any into the U.S. that's under a century old, and I sure as hell don't know how to date ivory, I skipped that particular temptation. There were some fascinating jade carvings, lots of stones (there was a really nifty fossil fish on display at one store, but alas it was too pricy for me), watches priced outrageously (would you pay S$20,000 for a watch?!?) and, of course, lots of electronics. I should have picked up a calculator while I was there. What I did get were some fish-bone carvings and a few other assorted knick-knacks. Then I found out that the cash machines in Singapore accepted my cash card. Uh-oh!!

Home Again

After completing my tasks, and figuring out what I did with my sweater, I steeled myself for the 24-hour trip home. I was caught a little flat-footed a the airport (there is a S$15 fee just to leave the bloody country!), but otherwise was glad to be going home. All in all, though, I'd say Singapore is a great soft introduction to Asia. I hope I get to go there again.

- William Geoffrey Shotts


Up ] Next ]

© 1995-2002 William Geoffrey Shotts. Last update: Tuesday, March 09, 2004