I blog when I go abroad, and occasionally when I do stuff in the UK too. There's a nicer interface over here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Singapore sling your hook

Originally uploaded by Darren Foreman.
Like an Englishman with a mad dog for a pet I went out in the midday sun last Thursday. What an arse. Prefixed with another few lengths of the pool (I lost count 3 fucking times, so not sure how many) I'd decided that Singapore wasn't going to defeat me. If the weather was hot then so be it. I'd sweat, I'd stink, I'd take deodorant and spare shirts with me, but damn it I'd fucking go out and see it.

So, yes, after the swim I went out. With the 48-hours-since-I-landed mark rapidly approacing I thought it was about time to get some non-cab transport sorted and bought an ezlink card. Like the Octopus card and Oyster back home, it's a pre-paid thing valid on the tube and probably buses and other places too. I only used it on the tube though. It was possible to get to the platforms of Bugis station without going outside, and only being non-airconditioned for about 20 seconds, and that's the route I'd chosen.

With no firm plan in mind I thought I'd go see the coast, and picked the stop named "Marina Bay" as a likely candidate for somewhere I could do that. It was also easy to get to, not sure i needed to change, can't remember. Anyway it's the end of a line (implying beyond it lies the sea?) and, err, in the middle of a park. Actually it's on the edge of a park, by a motorway underpass. Going through the park are a couple of roads with bus stops on, but from no side of the station is the sea, or indeed any water, visible. No marina. No bay. Just trees and roads.

Well, fine. OK. So plan one didn't work. Maybe I should consult a guidebook after all. But not before food, which was an awesome chicken-in-pitta (but not a kebab) concoction at a greek place in one of the shopping malls. Raffles City? I can't rememer. it probably had the word Raffles in it somewhere, because fuck me are they ever good at acknowledging their heritage. There's Raffles Hotel (obviously), Raffles The Plaza, Raffles Boulevard, Raffles City Hall, Raffles This Raffles That Raffles Fucking Everything in Singapore. Eesh.

Anyway, lunch done the guidebook told me to go to Sentosa, so I did. This means a cable car ride from the harbour because Sentosa is an island. Got the tube to, er, wherever it was, and followed the signs to the cable car place. When the signs ran out I wandered around lost for a bit and spent another 20 minutes before finally finding the terminal. In Singapore they seem to have a habit of only signposting things up until you're around 500m away, and from there it's assumed you know how to do the rest. The cable car fiasco was just one example of this, but it happened to me a number of times (eg to animal enclosures in the zoo as well) and I found it really frustrating. Grr.

But, find it I eventually did and I was on my way. This cable car goes over the busy cruise terminal (busiest in the world, did I read? or maybe that Singapore is the busiest harbour in the world, when taking cruises and cargo into account? I dunno) to the island. A bit different to the Ngong Ping ride in Hong Kong, the ride is a straight point to point thing rather than going up and down and left and right and stuff, plus the cars are a lot smaller and only hold 4 people. I was alone in mine and it was a bit more hair raising (for a wouss like me) than in HK, plus the audio commentary didn't work. Oh well.

I hadn't just bought a cablecar ride, but a set of tickets giving me access to a bunch of attractions on the island. There are shuttle buses between the bits where they are that are free too. What I hadn't know was that I was actually part of a tour group, so I joined up with everyone as directed and got given the bit of introductory spiel before shoved on a bus to the first place, the aquarium.

Small but cool, the main thing about Sentosa's aquarium is the travelator that lets you ride around the tunnel through the huge tank containing most of the fish. They swim all around next to and above you, sharks and all kinds of stuff. Took a bunch of photos, although the best one was probably the one I've put on this entry of the jellyfish in a separate tank.

Being so small it was a bit crazy that they gave us 1h20m to explore it. Even the kids were getting bored of riding the travelator and i was in no mood to hang around in the baking non-airconditioned cafe, so I decided to jettison the tour and strike out alone. No-one probably wanted a sweaty fuck like me sat or stood next to them anyway. So, 2 singapore dollars for 2 diet cokes (bargain!) and I jumped on one of them buses, a nicely airconditioned affair, to the next main place, some gardens and a thing called Cinemania. I think Cinemania is an amazing cinematic recreation of a series of scary fairground rides, all rollercoasters and shit but with the seats doing everything for you. I say I _think_, because I don't rightly _know_. After battling against the signs that finish too early again I found the place and it was deserted, so didn't bother going in. Instead I decided it was way too fucking hot and went back to the bus stop, bought a drink, bought an ice cream, got the non-airconditioned greenline bus back to the cable car terminal and fucked off back to Singapore. As it happens I also had a ticket for some viewing tower thing but this was a circular row of seats that you board on ground level, and it rises up to the top to give you your view. Look, right, the cable car is height enough, I can't be fucked with it as an attraction any more. It seems pretty clear that my fear of a certain kind of heights is never going to be cured through putting myself through these things so bollocks to it.

In fact, bollocks to Singapore. By the time I got back to the hotel I was in a right mood. The weather had fucked me off too much. If I'd gone out at 9am, the earliest I could with attraction opening times, I still would have been outside in the hottest part of the day. If I'd gone out at 3pm I'd have been too late for most of the things. How the fuck do people cope with this heat? Kevin reckons it took him a year to get used to it, well screw that, 2 weeks or so of being in various mad humid cities and I was really pissed off. I couldn't understand how the entire population, those that ventured outdoors, weren't as drenched in sweat as I permanently was. Oh well. I bitched about this to various people when back in the safety of my airconned hotel room, having given up.

Then I realised I couldn't give up 'cos I had somewhere to be. D'oh! Having met Jenny the Australian at the races in Hong Kong she'd given me her business card and suggested we meet up to go and eat some Singapore pepper crab, a national/signature dish, because she was in town at the same time as me. We'd arranged to meet in Raffles, for both convenience and the tourist aspect, so at 6pm I headed to the Long Bar and then the cheesiest of all drinks given the specific location (ie, where it was invented), a Singapore Sling. Quite nice it was too, even if they are pre-mixed if you believe the rumours.

A colleague of hers had listed a few places to get the crab but generally the advice was to head to "the east coast", shorthand for a selection of eateries in a big industrial-park-type-thing-for-restaurants over on Singapore's east coast. So that's where we went, and fucking hell was it popular. Took a while to get seated, upstairs, and even longer to get served. Beer came first, then about 40 minutes later or so finally came the two crabs, one pepper and one chili, together with rice.

Eating Singapore pepper crab requires, and in fact demands, that you use your hands. No cutlery. It's a monstrously messy dish and the finger bowls are very useful. Fucking nice though. We were given a few deep fried buns to mop up the sauces with too, plus copious amounts of beer. It seemed quite an upmarket place, in fact the whole area did, so when the bill finally came we were prepared for a shock. And we got one, only a pleasant one: for 2 jugs of lager, two massive crabs and a bunch of rice, plus the buns weren't actually free and nor were the serviettes(!), it was still less than 50 quid. Quite a result that.

Cab back into town and we tried to get a drink in the 70th floor bar in Jenny's hotel, the tallest building in Singapore? The highest bar, anyway. It was rammed, all across the East (and for all I know the West too) hotel bars aren't just for residents, they're just bars and people go there for a night out. With such a view this one I guess gets really popular, so much so that sitting was impossible as was standing at the bar. Settled for a swift one in the bar on ground floor instead before calling it a day. Grabbed a photo of Raffles on the way back, if there was anything that requires a photo in Singapore it's that but in my inability to cope outside in daylight I'd utterly failed to get one before.

If the trip has taught me anything about the business of travelling in business, it's that the worst thing ever (flying hungover) is very easily mitigated when you've got a lounge to lounge in and free alcohol to avail yourself of. So I raided the mini-bar (but only for one) with CNBC on for a bit before actually putting my head down, unafraid of the consequences.

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