Thursday, July 10, 2008

Singapore, What we got up to.

I'm sitting in Changi Airport right now, enjoying the free wireless and watching over the gear as Penny sleeps. Two days ago we were in this same viewing mall watching the action on the tarmac, only then it was raining hard and all the little men in yellow vests were working extra hard to service the planes and avoid getting wet. Inside, this is a sheltered corner of the terminal where people come to wait and sleep. At first glance the long room seems empty, but then as your eyes adjust you realise that huddled figures lurk or slump around the periphery of the room. The atmosphere was reminisicent of a cloudy morning once on the summit of Mt Fuji, where I found myself surrounded by a silent circle of Japanese waiting for the sun to rise (which it never did). This time though the silence wasn't broken by the bells of the line of pilgrims nearing the summit but by the snorting, farting, clucking and scratching of a dozen strange men as we tried to doze off. Early yesterday morning we headed off on our mission into Singapore, changing some currency and buying a pass for the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) Train system. Alighting from the MRT at Lavender and being very careful not to fall from the parapet (they use very elegant English in Singapore) we first checked out the ethnic business quarters of Arab Street and Little India. Before heading to the upmarket Orchard Rd shopping district before finally a strolll around the waterfront and Chinatown where our backpackers was located. Actually in the middle there somewhere we popped back out to the airport to have a coffee with Zoe as she came through on the way back from Europe to Darwin, or more particularly the remote aboriginal community of Wamena where she is currently based. The backpackers was an interesting concept, 12 people packed into a room with no windows, a hallway to the outside world in which there was the basics of the kitchen and a small bathroom where as far as I could make out you pulled the shower curtain to stop the toilet getting wet (the toilet being the only thing behind the showe curtain. We met several other travellers including a Canadian couple who have recently been travelling through Indonesia and enjoyed it muchly. The owner was quite a character, but discussion of his stories will have to wait for a future post when I have got my head a bit more around the phenomenon of Singapore. This morning we rose leisurely, as surprisingly did all of the other 10 people in the room, perhaps the lack of windows had something to do with it. Packing and saying our good buys we headed off to find a bus to catch thinking about heading out west and looping back to the zoo. We got a few stops before I espied a cable car strung between a skyscraper and a little hill. A scenic ride was in order, not so much for the scenery but more to get the hell out of the city for a while and try to gain some wider spatial context on the crazy city. Having purchased some tickets we ascended the skyscraper to catch the cable car which looped not only to Mt Faber but also to the resort island of Sentosa.

There was a massive building site on the city side of Sentosa, I had a little google to see what they were up to:

Back on our feet and we decided we better head for the Zoo to make the most of it. When i was a kid my grandparents had visited Singapore Zoo and came away with a souvenir book which we had ended up with. It was a pretty cool book with lots of exotic animals, so I was quite excited to get there. Its a pretty special place, I started writing a list of the animals we saw: mouse deer, siamang (a Sumatran gibbon), a false gharial (like a crocodile thingy), otters, tapir, babiruska (a feral feral pig), white tiger, pygmy hippo, but I tired of that pretty quickly, a couple of the highlights were the baboons, talk about planets of the apes! (I wonder if humans had butts like that when we all lived in Africa and if it was sore! ) and the fragile rainforest dome complex where we could walk through the bush with ringtailed lemurs, 2 toed sloths, tree kangaroos, flying foxes as well as lots of colourful birds and butterflies, giving us various degrees of space.

The final highlight was some real wildlife action. I was watching a dragonfly cruising around and then it got wasted by a leaping lizard, which then posed for a photo. Back into town and the plan was checking out the well regarded Asian civilisations museum, but it was getting a little late to justify the entry fee so that will have to wait for next time. The consolation was the impromptu joining of a running race round the riverfront. Penny wasn't up for it in her sandles but I had a blast running with a whole heap of Singaporean harriers, pretty similar to NZ runners with all the club gear and stuff but mostly way younger. Then it was time to make our way back to the airport via a food court of two and a couple of interesting glasses of juice "bitter gourd, pineapple and honey" and "pearly banbang and soya". The former definitely won the taste and appreciation test. We found a real nice spot to leave Singapore city itself. Raffles station in the evening is full of people sitting around soaking up the atmosphere in the cooling temperatures, listening to music and watching the flashing billboards of the skyscrapers. Tomorrow early we are off to Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia and are expecting a much different world.

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