Wait, what day is today?
Upon arriving in Singapore around 3 am local time today, we stood in the lobby of our hotel, desperately trying to determine what “tomorrow” meant – Monday, May 15th, Tuesday, May 16th or Wednesday, May 17th? We had traveled through so many time zones that “yesterday” and “tomorrow” had become meaningless and induced only furrowed brows and confused looks. One thing, however, was pretty clear – the day was just starting here in Singapore and we were too curious about our surroundings to go to sleep. And so we set off to explore our immediate surroundings at about 6 am that morning.
Just a short walk down the street from our hotel, we were rewarded with great views of the Singapore Flyer – the world’s tallest observation wheel. We could only imagine the views it provides of the Singapore skyline, as just across the water from it stood the magnificent, newly-opened Marina Bay Sands hotel – the one with the boat on top of it. Further down, we stumbled upon what seemed to be remnants of the Singapore Formula One Grand Prix circuit – a long row of stacked garages bearing the names of all of last season’s F1 drivers. Chicanes black with rubber makrs dared us to imagine what this portion of the track would look like, so much so that we could almost hear the humming noise of the engines whizzing by. But alas, the sun was rising, our tummies were empty and there was a breakfast bar at the hotel calling our name so that’s where we headed next.
Later in the morning, we decided to take advantage of our spare time and lack of money changer nearby to take the Singapore Metro to Orchard Road – the major shopping street in town. It was a funny mixture of major designer stores and little mom-and-pop shops, and it seemed surprisingly, well, Western! If you stared at Salvatore Ferragamo’s storefront for too long, you might almost forget that you were not in the US. If culture shock was to come our way, it wasn’t likely that Singapore would induce it.
After this little excursion, we embarked on a city bus tour. Although thankful for the air-conditioning on the bus, we also enjoyed several opportunities to disembark and explore Little China, Little India and Merlion park. We even took a short cruise along the Singapore River, after which we visited the Singapore Botanic Garden. The National Orchid Garden within it was especially beautiful.
We learned from our tour guide that cars are more expensive in Singapore than anywhere else in the world. Before you even buy a car, you need to buy the right to buy a car!!! These so-called Certificates of Entitlement, or COEs, currently go for 40,000 Singaporean dollars (S$) for a small car and over S$ 70,000 for a larger one. In addition, the government levies a tax in the amount of 220% of the face value of the every car that gets imported into Singapore. Thus, a Toyota Corolla that would cost $20,000 in the US costs around S$ 70,000 here. To top it all off, gas is also heavily taxed and it costs about S$2 a liter, which translates to over $7 a gallon. All of this keeps Singapore’s population of 5.1 million using the extensive subway and bus network or the inexpensive cabs to get around. Could you imagine this being the case in the US? At first it sounds ridiculous, until you realize that taking surface streets to avoid the standstill on the highway is just as ridiculous. Weren’t highways built so you can get somewhere faster? There just can’t be as many cars on the road as there are people in a densely populated area. Why didn’t we think of this??? 🙂 But i digress.
After the city bus tour, we decided to visit a hawker center. Hawker centers are collections of food stalls that offer a variety of cheap local fare. Although technically “street food”, hawker stalls in Singapore are inspected for cleanliness so often that we had no worries whatsoever about eating here. Seating is outdoors only and on this warm summer evening on a national holiday – Singaporeans celebrated Vesak day, the birth and enlightenment of Buddha, today – we had no problems finding an empty table, but only after having to “fight off” multiple stall owners who were desperately trying to secure orders from us before we had even had a chance to walk around. We all ended up getting different things from different stalls and our table was a wonderfully tasty collection of beef and chicken satay (meat skewers served with a delicious peanut sauce), fried rice, buk choy, tiger prawns, noodles and some other dish involving chicken meat, naan bread and eggs that we still don’t know the name of. We drank freshly squeezed mango and sugar cane juices and big bottles of Tiger beer, the Singaporean staple.
Soon after we ate, the lack of sleep and/or jet lag finally got to us and by 9:30 pm, we were back at the hotel ready to sleep in an actual bed for the first time in two days. Or one day if you count in LA time. Or something like that.