Singapore Travelogue

(copyright 2000)

by Keith Stanley

    I was in Singapore in late 1998, the second stop on my (first) Asian Vacation. Basically, I kept a journal while on vacation and took pictures. After returning, I wrote this page, based on journal excerpts and the pictures.

Saturday, November 28

    I am in Singapore and feel good about it! It is very green here. Coming to Y from airport, there were beautiful branching trees all along road. I used a cash machine (debit card) after arriving at the airport (after having had trouble at the first cash machine I'd tried, owing to the lettering on its alpha-numeric key pad not being on the same key as in the U.S. The taxi ride from airport to Y was very reasonable, no traffic, and my driver (native Singaporean) was friendly, telling me about sights along way.

    Upon coming into Y lobby first thing I notice were Christmas songs. Seemed incongruous (although my seat companion on flight from Bangkok had said he thought "this was the week" of the big Christmas Parade in Sing); temperatures here are tropical.

    I really love this Y! About $60U.S. Helpful staff, maps and brochures in lobby. Free use of gym and I got a good workout first thing.

    My room is excellent, apparently recently renovated, pretty good view (nothing like HK, of course). As in HK, power is turned on/off by sliding "card" into slot inside door. Here even A/C power is controlled (no problem, it cools room quickly). When I first came in room A/C was not on, but I soon realized it was cooling fast & A/C was on circuit). Most comfortable bed so far--quite firm, foam mattress. [a bit of anxiety as I realize foam in US (latex) no longer use because of friability health concerns, oh well, I will deal with it]

    My room has some design features I've not seen before. Remodeled bathroom is neat (& different). High quality ceramic wall tiles all around, marble look, not colors, patterned band separating beige and brown-beige at waist level, floor is light gray tile, fixtures are new and basis in heavy stone-substitute. Shower door is 3 paneled sliding glass. There is no hot water plumbing in the bathroom! In shower there is a separate heating unit with temperature control to get desired water temperature for shower. The flow is small but adequate, this is intentional to conserve water. I guess they figured they didn't need hot water in the basin because the ambient water temperature in this tropical climate is never cold (it does make shaving a little harder, though). Bathroom window is louvered glass permanently opened, so I keep bathroom door closed to not let room's cool A/C air escape. The toilet is also very good! First thing in, I did a big one--huge (over a foot long, substantial diameter, a true test of any toilet). It took it on one flush (just barely, it was very close, the maximum of its capacity). The toilet incorporates very nice flush technology. To flush, one presses down a knob in the middle of the tank top--one can control the intensity of the flush based on the size of the need. If just piss, just a slight, short depression of knob takes care of it w/o using a lot of water. For big jobs one can get a full, big flush, with a large standing wave, by pressing knob all the way (and holding)(which I instinctively seemed to know on the first momentous flush). The Y serves complimentary breakfast and there is a cafe (and maybe a restaurant)(and a McDonald's) here also, plus Y sponsors activities, it's a good organization (maybe I'll leave them something in my will). Free use of an adaptor, which adapter is necessary because Singapore outlets take 3-pronged plugs, (rectangular cross-sectioned prongs of substantial width and depth (US prong very wimpy in comparison)(more like what you see in US for 220 high current situations, like kitchen electric range/oven)). Water thermos (generous size) in room to keep water from fountain cold. Building is of interesting design, in that portions are permanently open to the outside (most notable being the bathroom, but also the elevator lobby).

    Singapore feels very safe out on street. I went to a grocery last night and got rolled oats (which turned out to be just fine, not too hard) and milk. Singapore is predominantly Chinese, English is spoken by just about everyone (and well), the women look better here than in HK. Everything seems proper, clean, law & order, open, spacious, safe to be on street at night. City atmosphere itself feels sterile, though, not as bad as Crystal City or Rosslyn.

    Days here stay light longer and are hot and very humid.

Saturday, after breakfast

    Today is sunny & I want to take advantage; botanical garden. But is high and hot, though. I wonder if it's "ok" to wear shorts in Singapore. Most of the natives don't.

Later (re Singapore):

    On my only full day in Singapore, I decided to walk from the Y to the botanical gardens (a couple miles). I walked down Orchard Road, the heart of the central shopping district, browsing, people watching, noting all the Christmas decorations on the street.

    It was hot and humid as hell and it only got worse as the day went on. In this regard, the botanical gardens was just as miserable as the city proper, and I was already looking forward to getting home (to the Y) and getting a shower as I entered the gardens. I found myself walking slowly to minimize my suffering (not to great avail). Next time in Singapore, I'll wear shorts like other tourists do. To hell with the sensibilities of the native Singaporeans (not really, I think they don't really mind).

Botanic Gardens Botanic Gardens Botanic Gardens--flower close-up Botanic Gardens--close of (who know what?)

    In the botanical gardens, the tropical? rain forest was a highlight for me. It's thick and dark, without as much growth of vegetation on the forest floor as a layman might expect (owing to the fact not much light gets down to the floor through the canopy, etc. I figured it wasn't undisturbed "old growth," however, in that I didn't see very many old, decaying, fallen trees being reclaimed by the forest (maybe, though, in that humid environment they decay so quickly that there are few to be seen).

Botanic Gardens--'tropical rain forest'

    In another part of the gardens, adjacent to the rain forest, I enjoyed walking under plant-covered trellises. I've always felt it may a good picture, looking from a place of darkness to one of greater light, and took several of that nature in both the forest and from under the trellis, looking out.

Botanic Gardens--plant covered trellis

    As I thought about it, I realized that I've always liked such places because I feel a certain security there, that I'm relatively safe and hidden in the dark but able to see what's going on around me, who might be approaching. I like the idea of watching, myself unobserved. I think this comes from my childhood, when I didn't feel it was very safe being myself, expressing myself & my emotions, in the family. I wished I could remain unseen, yet still see what was going on.

    There's the old saying (said of a child): "better seen and not heard." In my family, I took this to heart, as modified: "better seen and not heard . . . better yet, not seen either." Yes, it is sad I felt so insecure in my family, and undeserved. Reflecting on it, I sometimes feel it was "unfair." But that is how it was. No one planned or intended it to be that way, it just was. In this regard, I remember then-President Jimmy Carter saying "life isn't fair" when responding to the charge that some policy or other (I've long ago forgotten which) was "unfair." That summarizes it nicely.

    Somewhere, a part of or contiguous to, the Botanical Gardens there was supposed to be the National Orchid Garden, but I had trouble finding it, leaving the gardens by a side entrance and not knowing just where I was, which way to go to get back to a major road where I might get a cab back to the Y. I walked up one small road and down another, asked directions, was told to go back (part of) the way I'd come and continue in the opposite direction. When I did, I soon came upon the "lost" National Orchid Garden, paid the small entry fee, went in and took some pictures, before continuing on the the main road back.

  National Orchid Gardens National Orchid Garden National Orchid Garden National Orchid Garden

    The next morning, my last in Singapore, I walked around to see other sights near the Y, including an ornate Hindu temple, Fort Canning Park and the old fort on a hill overlooking the city, and the Padang greensward partly lined with Colonial era government buildings.

Hindu Temple ornamental roof facade A view in Fort Canning Park A view from Fort Canning Park Colonial Buildings along Padang greensward

    The most beautiful and touching part of the morning came at the Episcopal Cathedral near the Padang, stunning all white in the morning's sun, entering at the main entrance to see the interior with Sunday service still in progress. An usher offered me a program but I refused it, saying I couldn't stay long. The interior was also very white and light in its relative simplicity. I wanted to take a picture but waited, watching a bit first, and got a sign from the usher that it was ok. I was standing just behind font or planter in the center of a vestibule at the back, looking right down the main aisle, the length of the sanctuary.

    The choir, perhaps joined by the clergy, was exiting, still singing, down the middle aisle directly toward me, led by a standard bearer. I didn't realize the service was just then ending, getting my picture just as the procession reached the exit portal. To my delight, the choir flowed right around the font (and me) on either side as they continued singing. To my surprise, I realized the choir had surrounded the font (and me) facing back into the sanctuary, as was I, as the final concluding words of the service were said from where we stood. I left lighter, my mind filled with the beauty of it.

Episcopal Cathedral

    After the Padang area, I walked back to the Y, passing through the old landmark Raffles Hotel on the way, seeing some runners coming as they were finishing the Singapore marathon begun four hours after earlier. I got back to the Y, showered again, packed, checked out and had lunch at a new food court a block away. I spent a couple of hours looking around the museum of history located right next to the Y, then decided to go to the airport early (it was mid-afternoon and my flight wasn't until 8:40pm), figuring I'd get some food there and do some reading and journal writing in air-conditioned comfort.

    Once at the airport, I got very frustrated trying to find a place where I could plug-in my laptop computer and get some good food. I was looking for some American food, but there was none to be had, other than McDonald's, which I consider pretty much the choice of last resort. I didn't want to eat at the food court of Asian food because it was very similar to where I'd eaten lunch and I didn't want more of the same. So, after what seemed like well over an hour of stumbling around, checking out various food places scattered around the terminal and getting weak with hunger, I settled on trying the upstairs cafeteria as the least of the evils.  It was awful, the worst airport food I'd ever had. 

    Perhaps I overly 'sanitized' the last paragraph.  My thinking at the time, recorded verbatim in my hand-written log was:

I hate this goddamned, f---ing airport!! Not a damned place anywhere to plug in. No good food--I just had the worst airport meal! $6.70 for crap fish curry garbage (but at least the service people were nice). I took an hour looking at every damned food place in the terminal before going to the cafeteria that was so nicely uncrowded. Well, baby, it was uncrowded for a reason--no one who'd ever eaten here once would do it again, and most apparently had enough sense not to do it the first time! I wish this airport had had a Pizza Hut like the one in Bangkok. I should have gone to McDonald's. What an indictment of this airport's food--McDonald's the epitome. At least my meal had some vegetables, one portion of which actually seemed to be fresh--most likely healthier than McD's.

Miscellaneous observations about Singapore:

    () Singapore had an amazingly good (or at least ubiquitous) storm sewer system. Literally every few feet (maybe only 10 or 20 feet apart) along the sides of many streets there are drainage inputs to the storm sewer system, often open to the air and lined with concrete, serving as a sluiceway to a larger storm sewer "vein." To put so much into such infrastructure, I can only surmise that Singapore must get some very heavy rains or have a very low tolerance for flooded streets.

I welcome any questions or comments.  

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