8th December, Singapore
Our final day of traveling and even though we had a late evening the night before, we managed to wake up at a respectable hour. We only had one day in Singapore but since it was our last day, we didn't feel the urge to try to see everything we possibly could of what Singapore has to offer.
I have a couple of friends who live in Singapore but they were not around on this occasion. A new baby in the family had meant that one friend had to temporarily relocate to his second home in Hong Kong. My other friend, a family friend, who lectures at one of the universities in Singapore didn't get back to me in time regarding his availability. If they had been around, I'm sure we would have tried to arrive in Singapore sooner. Instead, we stayed longer than we'd planned to in Kuala Lumpur with my Uncle Gary and Auntie Anita.
I had been to Singapore a couple of years ago and had also spent just one day in this busy metropolis. What should you do if you only have one day in Singapore? Well, for us today it definitely included a motorised-sampan boat trip along the Singapore River. I remembered doing this trip with a tour group the last time I was here and it is by far the best way to see the city if you have limited time here.
The last time I was sitting on one of these traditional lantern-adorned open-air boats (with canopy), grey clouds were looming ahead and shortly into our journey the heavens opened up. So much so that rainwater was literally coming in from the sides of the boat and due to tidal conditions, water was being hurled in from the front as a result of steering against the strong current. Even though we'd opened our umbrellas inside the boat and held them sideways, we were still drenched. Not exactly ideal conditions to take in the city's skyline, the theatre, the numerous bridges that line the river and Singapore's landmark, the Merlion Statue.
Fortunately, we were very lucky with the weather today - we managed to get some excellent views of the city on our forty-five minute cruise. After taking a trip all the way up to Robertson Quay, we made our way back down passing the famous Fullerton Hotel before disembarking at the Merlion Statue. Flashbacks of our skipper, on my previous visit here, came to mind. He'd made the boat stationary at this point (well, in terms of stopping the motor as the wave action was making the boat sway anyway) and asked us whether we'd like to get off the boat. Once he finished the sentence, a big swell came over the front and engulfed him completely. As if he'd asked himself a rhetorical question, he then proceeded to turn the boat around and carried on.
The strange-looking half-fish-half-lion statue that is known as the Merlion Statue sits at the mouth of the river. It was designed in the 1960s (heck, that probably explains it!) by the tourism board and somehow became the island's mascot. This was where we were dropped off for a closer look. Yep, it looked just as weird as it did from a distance. Opposite the Merlion Statue sits the S$600 million Esplanade Theatre. It is shaped like a durian fruit and like the taste of a real one, it is very distinctive. Ian winced at this point as he despises the smell of this (as he describes it) 'rancid-smelling' fruit.
From there, we walked over to the Supreme High Court, Old Parliament House and Raffle's landing site (where Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles first landed in 1819, setting up the colony for the British). Here Sir Raffles' statue looks haughty with his arms folded and looking resolute against a backdrop of skyscrapers. Funny to see, then, at the base of the statue a couple of colourful lion statues who seemed to be put there to mock the old guy and his serious demeanour. These lion statues could be seen dotted around the city as a result of a public art project, each one uniquely painted by a local artist or celebrity.
We walked across one of the many bridges to the opposite side - back to the Boat Quay where there is a street full of colourful outdoor restaurants lining the river's edge. We had our lunch here at a fairly pricey venue (it is our last day, after all!), especially once tax and service charge had been added on top, and watched the world go by as we tucked into our Tex-Mex combination set meal. Very authentic, I know!
The thing about Singapore is that it is very westernised. Education and commerce is conducted in English, which made today's experience of walking around the city (especially the Raffles Landing site) feel very much like we were sightseeing in the heart of London. Except much cleaner and ordered.
Singapore is well known for its strict cleanliness policy and before I arrived here I was expecting to see a sterile environment, along with Stepford Wives-type inhabitants. How wrong could I have been? Even though chewing gum in public is a fineable offence, as is crossing a busy intersection not in a designated crossing area, I think I was expecting to see a cop at every street corner. This is not the case though and people seem to understand that these policies are for the good of all and respect them. Take road rage for example, this has been more or less curbed by the policy of whoever throws the first punch will be thrown in jail. Extreme but it seems to work. Anything bad for you is clearly labeled - like the graphic health warnings shown on a packet of cigarettes:
The Singaporeans don't do things by halves and if they have a message to convey, they get straight to the point!
In the afternoon, we made our way over to Suntec Shopping Plaza. Happy that we had seen enough of the tourist sights, we were going to head to the shopping centre to pick up some last minute souvenirs. Taking in a bird's eye view of the island from Suntec Tower 4 was also a possibility - but it had started to rain and that put paid to that idea. We picked up a few odds and sods before heading back to China Town.
Time was slipping by and before we knew it, it was time to head for Changi Airport for our last flight of the trip. Together, we lugged our backpacks and bags from the hotel all the way to the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) train station fifteen minutes away, then since there were no lifts and we were not allowed to carry our bulky belongings down the escalators, we had to use the stairs. After making our way down three flights I nearly passed out! "How much money did we save, Ian?", I asked. Finding out that we had only saved about £5 by taking the MRT instead of a taxi, I exclaimed, "Next time, I'll pay the difference! No, next time, I'll even pay for the whole journey by taxi!". It seemed like I was already working my way out of 'backpacker-logic'!
Changi Airport was cool - not just in terms of the air-conditioning. There was free wireless/network Internet access for laptops, as well as a handful of standalone Internet terminals. And this is where we remained rooted to the spot during the last two hours prior to take off.
As we boarded our 11.20pm flight bound for London Heathrow, we both looked at each other and for a split second wore a Thelma and Louise expression. After one year of traveling, this was it ... we're finally heading home!