(ed: We just got internet in Mt Hagan and it is very slow. We are putting up a few days worth of stuff, and then will catch up completely back in Singapore.)
I should start this by saying that I have no idea when this post may actually make it to the internet. We are now sitting on a flight en route to Port Moresby, PNG (via KL – yes, I am asking the same question).
Anyway, suffice it to say that today more than made up for the disaster that was yesterday.
Andy, our more than helpful check-in friend at the St. Regis, managed to work some miracles last night when we got in that not only got us a great suite but also secured us a much needed late check-out so we could have a full day and then be off to PNG.
We were up early on our last full day in Singapore. After gorging on hotel breakfast, we set off first for the colonial district in the heart of the city. It looked like a newer, cleaner, more thoughtfully planned version of London – which I suppose it should. We had confirmed again just how late of a starting city Singapore is – we roamed the streets virtually alone until almost 8:30 when the morning commute spontaneously began.
From there, Jen was dying to go to the zoo. Singapore is famous for its zoo and though I am not really the zoo type, I acquiesced in good marital fashion.
It was indeed quite the zoo. Instead of having animals in cages or behind glass walls, they actually set up wide moats (or have no barrier at all, like for kangaroos and lemurs) so that there is no synthetic barrier between you and the animals. As you can observe from the below photo – that includes Orang-utans!!! We scoped out the animals that we might see in PNG and Borneo later in the trip, spent some QT in the gift shop buying exotic stuffed animals and then headed back downtown. To be more precise, Chinatown – we were starving.
Over the next four hours, we slowly meandered through the beautiful restored streets of Singapore’s original (and current) Chinatown. The shop fronts were colorful and vibrant, the atmosphere fun and the streets, well, clean – exactly as you would expect from Singapore, not what you would expect from Chinatown. I loved Chinatown. We went from Hawker center to Hawker center (including, for those who might wander through here someday, La Pu Sat, Amoy Street and Chinatown Complex) sampling the local delights - soya sauce noodles and chicken, Singapore coffee, chicken rice and pork buns. All were delicious. We wiled away some time as well at Tea Chapter, a beautiful old tea house, where the staff taught us how to execute a full proper Chinese tea service. We had had some education in this before, but never to quite the degree we learned this afternoon.
All in all, we walked about 15 miles over the course of the day in about 95 degree heat, but couldn’t have been happier. Singapore rocks. Many times throughout the day we wondered aloud why everyone always says that Singapore is boring – it most definitely isn’t. There are tons of highly-recommended local and international museums we won’t have time to make it to, concert halls, opera houses, shows and more. It is a vibrant city with tons to see and do. It is clean, safe super efficient and has undoubtedly the best taxi drivers in the world. The Timeout Singapore cover says it all.
After a not as quick as desired stop for a second fitting at the tailor and a very quick indeed stop in Little India to get a tailor-made Sari for Jen, we booked it back to the St. Regis to GTL (more accurately, shave, shower and change) and get to the airport for our flight to PNG.
Two other interesting anecdotes from the day:
At the Chinatown Complex, we followed the adage of looking for the longest line. I confirmed with the on-line locals that it was worth it and waited patiently for my chicken and noodles. The lady in front of me was a negative Singaporean who worked for Credit Agricole. We chatted about travel and food in Singapore, but we also struck up the banking conversation that you would expect. She asked, quite abruptly: “How is the mood in the states? What are you guys doing? We just keep waiting for you to recover and nothing is moving.” We didn’t have much of a response – what do you say to someone who’s GDP grew by 20%+ annualized last quarter?
On the flip side, while Jen was getting fitted for the Sari I had to run to an ATM to get money to pay for it. To show me the closest one, the shop keeper sent me out with her brother. I joked that we loved Singapore so much we wanted to move there. He answered with an emphatic “no.” “This place is terrible,” he insisted; “I was born here and have lived here my whole life. The government is oppressive, things are too strict. It is not a place to live.” He continued on to explain the lack of some freedoms and that the economy and clean appearance come with a cost.
The sights, sounds and food are interesting. So are the economy and politics.
Air Niugini is now insisting I shut this off as we land in KL. Nothing like going northwest to go south east. Hopefully we’ll be able to post this and other notes soon, but as we have been told numerous times from our PNG guides “you never know what is going to happen in PNG.”