Singapore: So shiny, so clean

I write this while about to take off on my next adventure, i.e. an exciting red-eye to Florida. But I’ll leave you on tenterhooks about this story for a few moments: first, we have Singapore to cover!

Singapore Art Museum (my camera malfunctioned so I'm a bit light with photo evidence of our time in Singapore)

I chose to spend the last three days of my trip in Singapore partially for logistical reasons. Most of the SNU Crew was going to be leaving Bali earlier than my return-flight to the US would allow, so I decided to pick one more destination that I could see in a short period of time and that would be close to Kuala Lumpur, from whence I would be flying home. Singapore fit the bill perfectly.

Amy, an SNU friend, and I left our hotel in Bali at 4:30 a.m. and by 10:30 we were happily ensconced in a hostel by Singapore’s Clarke Quay. The first hour in country was already delightful: getting from the airport to the hostel on public transit was very straightforward, and the hostel (Five Stones) was the cleanest and swankiest I’ve ever visited. One deterrent for budget travelers to Singapore is the higher prices compared to the rest of Southeast Asia—but at only about $20 per night for a dorm bed, at least lodging wasn’t too horrifying. Side note: this will be the last time I will ever sleep in a 14-bed dorm room. But that wasn’t your fault, Singapore.

One of the next things we noticed was how excited Singaporeans seem to tell visitors about Singapore. The Singapore travel bureau website is the fanciest I’ve ever seen (and I used to look at travel bureau websites for a living), and everyone we spoke to was eager to help, eager to suggest attractions, and eager to talk about their life in Singapore.

Day One featured a guidebook-inspired walking tour and a pair of museums—the fun Singapore Art Museum, featuring modern and contemporary works by Singaporean and Asian artists, and the National Museum of Singapore, a fancy schmancy and high-tech ode to Singapore’s history and culture. We also enjoyed Singapore Slings in their birthplace, the Raffles Hotel—even if it was one of the most expensive drinks I’ve ever enjoyed, and even if there is a bit of a mass atmosphere in the long bar (two busloads of German tourists shared the hall with us), it was still amusing. (And we ate our money’s worth of their peanuts.) To round out the day of classic, touristy Singapore we supped in a hawker market, filled with dozens of stands offering specific Singaporean or Asian dishes. Yummy, and another money-saver.

Now, I shouldn’t have to remind any readers of this blog what a fan I am of good theme parks—Hong Kong Disneyland was probably one of the highlights of Peace Corps China, let’s be real. So when I found out there’s a Universal Studios Singapore it was easy deciding to allot it one of our three days. We arrived at opening time, obvi, with the intent of beating the crowds, but that was hardly even necessary since there were five minute waits or less on every ride all day (note: visiting on a weekday in January is a great plan).

I haven’t been to Universal Studios Hollywood or Florida in several years, so although many of the Singapore park’s attractions are repeated in other parks, they were almost all new to me. (One of my major problems with Universal in general, compared to Disney, is that too many of their rides are dependent on current movies that not everyone may have seen. After the Transformers, Mummy, and Madagascar rides I had to have Amy explain all the plot gaps I didn’t get….) In any case, it’s a great park—similar to Hong Kong Disney in size and scope, meaning smaller than the US parks, but we can hope it’ll grow over time. The only horrifying part? I’ve been on a lot of cruises, but perhaps the most cracked-out musical revue I’ve ever seen was Monster Rock!, which features slutty classic movie villains singing and dancing to hits like Flo Rida’s “Low” and Chinese power ballad “Wo Ai Ni.”

That night Amy and I got to see another silly side of the nation’s “culture”: that of the expat businessman in Singapore, swimming in cash and unafraid to throw it around. While having a beer in the financial district Amy and I made friends with a couple of such, and we were just happy we weren’t going to be around when the time came to pay the piper. But if ever you’re looking for a swanky bar recommendation, the 282-meter UBC building houses a lovely rooftop bar called 1-Altitude.

You can imagine that the third morning was a little rough, and Amy and I opted for the low-effort activity of riding a hop-on hop-off bus and boat long enough to get a nice drive-by view of the city’s main neighborhoods and attractions. And actually, between that tour and our previous forays we had a pretty thorough experience of Singapore’s sites and history–we never even visited the Marina Bay Sands resort, but I’d be happy to tell you when it was built, what it was inspired by, or how much it costs to rent the top floor for a 700-person company party.

During one of my last moments in Singapore, I stopped in a 7-Eleven to buy gum in advance of my three flights back to California, but couldn’t find it in the store. I picked out mints but asked the cashier what was the deal—silly me not to have realized that gum cannot be sold in this cleanest of countries! Yes, Singapore can feel a little sterile and cold—a couple of people I spoke with complained about the lack of creativity or vibrancy of culture—but as long as you know what you’re getting into it provides a great contrast to most of Southeast Asia. One of my biggest disappointments is that I never saw the giant slide in the Singapore airport, so twist my arm, I guess I’ll have to return some day.

I’ve been home for three weeks now, and two days ago Roberta and I made a last-minute decision to join my grandparents and two sets of great-aunts/uncles on a two-week Caribbean cruise. Yay for “funemployment”! As mentioned, we’re on a red-eye to Florida, and I’m very excited to enjoy the sunny tropics on a different side of the world, but also to spend time with some fam and help out. I’ll be back in mid-march for some more fabulous travel blogging!

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