Wednesday, June 11, 2008


My father and I just arrived in Singapore.. it's hot, humid, and oh so nice to be here. The plane flight from Bangkok to Singapore only lasts about 1 1/2 hours, but it's always amazing to me how in this part of the world- or at least, on this level of latitude, that little an amount of time can give way to such dramatic turns in varying degrees of hot & stickiness.

Still, I have a special fondness for this city. It is clean, organized, civilized, and completely unique. The jungle gives way to about as close to a perfectly played game of Sim City you can find, and the people here are just as proud of that as they are of their ability to coexist as one of the smallest nations in SE Asia along one of the most heavily travelled shipping lanes in the world.

Singapore was more or less "founded" by Sir Thomas Raffles in 1819 when he came across a Malay fishing village and quickly identified what could become a deep water port and strategic trading post. He had spent many years searching the area, waving off sites like Malacca because of concerns ranging as far and wide as Malaria to defendable terrain. So Singapore it was, and with it came a true melting pot of culture and law. Even today, Singapore has four official languages that locals speak with fluency and harmony: English, Malay, Tamil and Mandarin.

As a tourist, Singapore is about as safe as it gets. Rumors about gum chewing are over-blown (you can bring it in and chew it, just don't expect to find it for sale or spit it out on the street), the caning of Michael Fay did happen, although it was largely for show. And whatever you do, don't even think about bringing drugs here- the landing card says it all in big, bold red letters on the very front: "WARNING DEATH FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS UNDER SINGAPORE LAW"

So there ya have it. In honour of Singapore's roots dating back to Sir Thomas Raffles, and also in honour of the deep English roots still prevalent in Singapore, I will use the Queen's English to spell and provide proper pronunciation in other parts of this post.

Our flight out of Bangkok on an Airbus aluminium (pronounced aloo-min-e-yum) aeroplane was smooth and uneventful, despite myriad of bags which we somehow managed to dodge yet another excess baggage fee on. I don't know how this is possible, but I learned in Bangkok after placing our bags onto the Thai Airlines carousel that dad's two bags are almost equal in weight to my three giant climbing gear bags, for a combined whopping total of 90 Kilos!! 90 Kilos. Brilliant! I don't know how we didn't get hit with an excess baggage fee, maybe the agents just felt sorry for us or something like that. We were therefore able to avoid some controversy (con-trah-ver-see). Father and I looked at each other and said "good show, old chap!"

I had made a mental note to see if I couldn't search out the fabled A380 Superjumbo once we landed in Changi International Airport - keeping in mind that I'm a bit behind in my recent news from two months of news blackout bliss. I last heard that only two were in service- both with Singapore Airlines. So here I am, winging along to Singapore and getting more and more giddy about the possibility of being able to see one of these new aerocraft. And truly, it didn't take long. As we taxied along the long I-shaped terminal that is Changi, we rumbled right by one that was parked for a flight to somewhere like London. This image shows the giant bugger parked next to a 747-400, which was extremely nice of Singapore Airlines to do that for me since I wasn't expecting them to go through all that trouble of allowing me a size comparison shot. But, very kind of them nonetheless.

This is dad's first trip to Singapore, so it was great to see him commenting on how clean, neat and organised everything here is. We are staying toward one end of Orchard Road, which is truly great since any visit to Singapore isn't complete without a stroll down this famous boulevard. I have difficulty trying to explain this road to people who haven't been to Singapore, but it's essentially an everything goes supermall spread out along a tropical five lane road. Comparable roads would be if you somehow morphed Paramus Park in New Jersey, an Asian supermarket, the Champs Elysees in Paris and Kalakaua Rd in Honolulu together where kitchy trinket stores, 6 storey malls, and movie theaters could somehow be squished in between Cartier and Tiffany's with durian stands and restaurants thrown in for good measure. All of this with taxis and other cars whizzing by as thousands of pedestrians wave magazines in the scorching sun or dodging from awning to awning in daily cloud bursts. It's extremely unique in it's own right.

So once we made our hotel, we quickly unpacked and headed out to "Night Safari". This attraction is a part of the Singapore Zoo and worldwide, is the first Zoo attraction ever to be dedicated strictly to nocturnal animal behaviour.

While there are walking paths to follow between animal pens, the most effective and quick way of maximizing your time at Night Safari is via a tram that winds it's way through the park and is narrated by a well-informed guide. The thing that makes Night Safari so special is the pens truly seem like natural habitats and allow you up close and personal views of animals not traditionally viewed during the day.

The last image shows a tiger laying in the grass. Yes, just like in Bardia National Park.. play Where's Waldo with the tiger if you feel up to the task.

After spending several hours at Night Safari, we made our way back downtown and prepared for the next morning, when we set off fresh and new for one of the worlds best zoos- The Singapore Zoo. While at the Night Safari, we bought a discount pass that works across all three of Singapore's wildlife parks. Since we are no longer in a place where you need to drop the equivalent of GDP for a Third World country in tips, its nice. But in leaving that sort of environment, we did wind up in a place known for being insanely expensive. So? We buy the discount pass.

The Singapore Zoo, has tigers. Wily... How many times are you going to dodge us, cat? We set out determined to get a good shot of one, and the Zoo does a great job of letting you know just where to go in order to see one.

Here's dad about to be eaten by an anatomically correct tiger statue:

Scary! But not as scary as this little fun-fact we found painted on the sidewalk. In a nutshell, what it says is that if a tiger pounces, it can happily maul Bob Combs from a full 10 meters away. Ten meters. How tall were our elephants? Not ten meters, that's for sure.

Finally, we found a tiger, in exactly a pose we hoped for in Bardia. Maybe I'll photoshop this into some Terai grasslands shot we took. Success!! The tiger hunters return successful. Talk about calm though. I wonder if the zoo has them on Prozac.

After the tiger, dad managed to make friends with some of the locals:

We spent a great deal of time running up and down Orchard Road, even catching in the latest Indiana Jones movie (yawn) at a Singapore theater. But the road side restaurants? Out of sight cool! We stumbled on this place, complete with Tiger Beer, pizzas and swamp coolers to keep the midday heat away. None of the previously mentioned durian though. I was hoping to introduce dad to this spiky fruit that many love and others hate with a passion.

For our final night in lovely Singapore, we went on a bank busting dinner to the top of the city- a restaurant as close to Windows on the World as you are ever going to find. Located on the 70th floor of the Swisshotel Stamford, Equinox boasts stunning views of this city, allowing diners to look all the way to Indonesia and Malaysia.. ok, not that hard given that they are only a few miles away. But the view is incredible.

It would be even better if we had a window table, but we learn after a few minutes that unless you drop an additional 20 Singapore Dollars per-diner, you don't get a windowside table. And... this is where we notice yet another Singapore trait. The added surcharge for things that you don't understand the surcharge for. Want a taxi before 6am? That'll be 10 dollars. Taxi to another part of the city? Sometimes you pay the rate on the meter, sometimes the driver pushes a little button and -poof- that 7 dollar taxi meter magically turns into 18 dollars with a surcharge referenced. There's really no rhyme or reason to any of this, it just happens. Sometimes we pay, sometimes we just look at the waitress like she's an alien.

Speaking of expensive with no cause, we wandered over to the Raffles Hotel, one of the oldest and most prestigious hotels in this part of the world. It's not for the faint of heart.. this is the place where the likes of Prince Charles stay when they swing through town on their golden chariots.

We wandered into the Long Bar- fabled to be the place where the last tiger in Singapore was shot (ok, I just SAW a tiger in Singapore. Let's change the story to make sense, shall we?). Editors note: Place where the last wild tiger in Singapore was shot. Wait. That doesn't work either. The back story on this tiger is that it escaped from the zoo. So what's the deal? Ok, there is actually a tiger, and it actually was shot when it was discovered under a pool table in the Long Bar. This is also the place where the Singapore Sling was invented. So while I had a beer that I later found out was 22 dollars, dad had a watered down Singapore Sling, which I later found out was 27 dollars. Seriously. Maybe the tiger was shot because he was protesting these ridiculous prices. How can they justify that sort of highway robbery? Well. While we were sitting there eating Pygmy Peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor, no fewer than 30 tourists in two tour groups came in. This in-turn caused me to look around the room in curiosity, and I counted seven (including dads) Singapore Slings on tabletops. Oh. Now I get it.

Time to head out, next stop: Tokyo

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