Singapore- A visitor’s guideDecember 1, 2011
Before you start reading this, I should probably warn you that this is *not* a traveler’s guide. No, Sir. If you wish to read a traveler’s guide you should befriend our very dear Google. There isn’t much about Singapore that isn’t already floating about in the whole world wide web, so I don’t really want to venture into those waters. What I want to do here is simply put into words everything that I noticed and felt and remembered in the ten days that I spent in that place as a visitor.
I had heard a lot, of course. Read a lot too. But nothing had prepared me for the awe I felt the moment I landed in that beautiful airport. Any practical person would have fully utilized the duty free shops that sold goodies for a much, much cheaper rate than inside the country, but 8.30 in the morning after a sleepless overnight flight didn’t quite appeal to impulsive shopper in me. The duty free shops are specially known for perfumes, liquor and chocolates, and sometimes the price difference could be quite significant. There are regulations regarding the amount of liquor per passport holder, just so people don’t obviously go overboard. For the record, I did exploit the duty free shops. Before my flight from Singapore to Hanoi, that is. I took my own sweet time picking and choosing the right perfume and ended up having to rush to catch my flight. But that is a whole different story.
Now you see why I call this a visitor’s guide and not a traveler’s guide. Being one of those fortunate ones who have relatives living in Singapore (meaning you don’t have to shell out big money to stay in one of the hotels) I am unable to give you details about the “where to stay” in Singapore. So the brand new husband and I took a cab and straightaway went to my sister’s place. Which reminds me of this poster I saw in the airport itself, and the strong message in it that even my sleep deprived mind registered : “When in Singapore, call your cab-driver Uncle. It is considered good manners to do so”. Cab drivers, at least the ones I encountered, are friendly, and love to talk. One cab driver, I remember, actually told us the story of his life in our twenty-minute drive, and even made sure we got the moral of the story in the end. Cab rates out there are on the expensive side because Singapore believes in public transport, so it is more practical to get the hang of the buses and the LRTs and the MRTs while in Singapore, as early as you can.
Most LRT and MRT stations are situated near popular malls for convenience. I mean, seriously, convenience should be the alternate name for Singapore. I bet while structuring and planning the place, the only question them people had in mind was, “How can we make this more convenient for the people?” Even though there are slot machines where you can purchase one-trip tickets for the MRT, you can easily get an EZLink card made with a minimum charge of 12 SD, which will let you use any of the public transport facilities, including bus, LRTs and MRTs. In fact, for people visiting Singapore for just three-four days, there is an option to pay a fixed amount, and get unlimited access to all the transport services. Once you get the EzLink card made (they can be made in any MRT station), it is just about letting the machine scan your card at the station you travel from, and then once when you get off at your destination. The fare will be deducted without you having to calculate any of it. Now this might not sound very impressive but I was pretty impressed with how you don’t even have to take the card out of your wallet or purse for the machine to scan it. I had even seen a lady place her entire bag on the machine for her card to be scanned. Simple, eh? No more digging into the purse for the elusive card that always manages to escape your searching fingers. Don’t we all hate it when that happens? Oh, just in case you were wondering what LRTs and MRTs are, to put it very simply, LRT (Light Rapid Transit) is like a mini bus with transparent walls, which runs on a track built high above the streets, so you can have an aerial view everything while traveling in it, and MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) is exactly like our metro trains which run underground. There are different MRT lines with different stations on them, and everything that you need to know about them is available in the stations itself. Bragging is not in my nature, you see, or else I would have told you about how I could figure out which line to take or if I had to change my line any where, on the second day itself and by the third day I could easily figure out my route from anywhere to anywhere in Singapore. But then, maybe it is not me. Maybe it is just the way Singapore is.
Another reason why this is not a traveler’s guide. I didn’t actually do any of the “tourist” stuff. If you don’t count gawking at the spectacular night sky and gaping open-mouthed at the high rise buildings and all the twinkling lights, that is. The husband being old to Singapore and me being the newly married, we skipped the Singapore Flyer, the Jurong Bird Park and its famous night safari, Sentosa Island and the Universal Studios, and instead ran to the Ministry of Manpower office to get my dependent visa done. What we did indulge in, was a lot of mall hopping, because I was perpetually on the lookout for sales, and there is always some sort of sale or the other going on in some mall or the other! My sister being more “Sinapore-wise”, does add in a pearl of wisdom. It doesn’t make sense to buy anything in its full price out there, because it is just a matter of time when that will be on sale, too. And I fully agree. In case you want to make the most of the time you are there, I suggest mall-hopping and just ambling around with your eyes wide open. You are bound to find something or the other just waiting to fulfill your craving to shop.
Eating out is I guess the most convenient thing to do. Singaporeans by habit have all square meals in food courts, and I have to agree it makes sense, since nowhere else will you get such a variety of options for such a reasonable rate. You have different cuisines to choose from, thanks to the cosmopolitan crowd, although if you are like me you will end up having the same thing everyday because it is so consistently good! There are, obviously, places you can go to splurge, but eating out in a food court is more a way of life than an option out there.
There’s a lot to do with your time in Singapore. And even though I am no way near done exploring all the options, I do know that Clarke Quay is one of those uber cool places you want to check out if you want to feel the pulse of Singapore nightlife. East Coast Park is an awesome way to spend a lazy Sunday, if all you want to do is lie down on the grass by the beach wrapped around a good book, and more so if you want to make amends for neglecting your exercise regimen over the week and go cycling or jogging out there (there are special tracks dedicated for cycling and skating). Little India and Farer Park with its famous Mustafa Shopping Center are the places you want to go just in case you miss India. And Arab Street with its narrow streets and Bollywood music blasting from speakers is the place you want to go if you find all the swanky and glitzy a little monotonous. But how, you may ask, does the swanky and glitzy become monotonous? You know how it is when you see a perfectly groomed woman, with not a strand of hair out of place, her hands and feet perfectly manicured, her perfume just right, and her make-up flawless? And you know how it is when she smiles and her smile reveals her even teeth but doesn’t quite reach her eyes? That’s exactly what Singapore felt like to me, and I’m being blatant here. This might be the Indian in me, but after a while it all started feeling a little too system-dependent. Or maybe I am just used to the “beautifully imperfect” and the adjustments we make to wrap our lives around the lack of discipline in India.
But you know what my favorite bit about Singapore is? Everything is so freaking easy! I mean, for somebody who’s been brought up in India, where crossing a road in most cities means holding you life in your hands and sending desperate prayers up above so you reach the other side of the road in one piece, being able to cross the road at the touch of a button (yes, a button!) is unbelievable. Even while going down the escalator, people who are “chilling” are supposed to stand on the left side of the escalator to make way for the ones who want to rush past (this mostly happens if the escalator leads to an MRT station) so there’s no jostling and nudging around. There are a number of seats reserved for the elderly, women with kids and expecting mothers and the injured, in every coach of the MRT trains. And for a change, people actually live by these guidelines.
In case you are bored even of Singapore, there are many places you can escape to for the weekend. Indonesia is just a few hours away, and there are islands like Bintan and Batam that you can travel to even by ferry. We did actually visit Bintan, so I can tell you that it was two hours by ferry and another forty-five minutes to the resort where we stayed for the weekend. But more on that in the next issue. So keep watching this space for more “visiting” stories (not traveling ones, I emphasize yet again) and if you have any queries regarding the technicalities of visiting Singapore, and are *not* looking for poems in rhyme about the beauty and grace of Singapore, do contact me. I will be happy to help.
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