An afternoon in Singapore
Updated: May 21, 2020
10 hours, a visa run, and a leisurely stroll of 16 Km
It was 5 am. I had slept for only an hour (don’t ask why) and needed to get to the airport. My bag was ready, I hopped in the shower to freshen up, and opened my phone to order a motorbike taxi. Bali has its own sort of Uber, with a fleet of scooter drivers eager to take you anywhere, even if it’s only two blocks down the road.
I opened the app and tried typing in the name of the airport.
You are not connected to the Internet.
Network Error: Cannot load page.
I’d been in Bali almost a month at this point, and now, exactly now, my data has decided to run out.
This was without a doubt the most inconvenient moment to have no service. It was 5 am, completely dark, and I had to be on a plane in an hour and a half. I rushed to the main road, praying to spot a taxi, or anyone, willing to give me a ride.
I must have looked exasperated because as I passed a hotel down the street the janitor man outside sweeping the patio approached me and asked what was going on. I asked if he could call a taxi for me, but he went ahead and offered to drive me to the airport himself because he had his own motorbike, he proudly told me.
I let him know that I was in a rush and he hurriedly, but safely, got us to the airport in no time. Thank you, man, whoever you are!
6:30 boarding time, 7:00 take off.
I never sleep on airplanes, no matter how long the flight or how exhausted I am.
I wish this wasn’t so.
The flight to Singapore is only about 2.5 hours, and we arrived without delay, thankfully, because I had to rush to the visa office before they closed for the morning. I hopped in a taxi and after another half hour and 20 Singapore dollars, I was dropped off just outside a small building where the visa office was located. It was around 10:30 by now and I was supposed to return around 5:30 to pick up my passport again.
This left me with about 7 hours to go wander around the hot, humid city, in my already exhausted state.
China town was first on my list and, thank God, it was located just a few blocks away. The place on Google Maps that denotes the beginning of China Town is not actually China Town. The architecture had changed from towering skyscrapers to quaint rows of 2-story colonial buildings, but it didn’t resemble anything Chinese, except for the people walking along the streets.
Singapore reminded me of the UAE a little bit, in regard to the people who live there. In both countries, the number of true locals pales in comparison to the number of foreigners who have taken up residence there. In both cases, the majority of those foreigners are Indians and Asians. The Asians in the UAE are from the Philippines, however, while the Asians in Singapore are mostly from China.
Back to China Town.
I knew that a real China Town did exist, so I ventured onward into the heart of Google’s highlighted area and eventually stumbled upon giant, traditional temples, an entire street lined with food stalls selling noodles and dumplings, and a small market selling traditional Chinese goods.
I had seriously been craving some noodles, but it was somewhere around 40 degrees that day and, in the end, a flaming bowl of steamy noodles didn’t seem like the best idea. I looked for the cheapest place selling veggie dumplings instead and ate them happily along with the spiciest ginger sauce on the face of the planet.
I knew there were a few more cute streets in the area to wander around and so I mazed back and forth from street through alley to street again, stopping to admire all of the amazing art that had been painted on the walls and buildings.
I think this was my favorite part of the Singapore I saw, all of the amazing artwork that decorated the city, telling stories of the past and how it has collided with the present.
One of the main streets through China Town is called Temple Street. The uninformed visitor (like myself) might assume that this temple would be a Buddhist temple, colorfully decorated and full of people worshipping the Enlightened One. These uninformed visitors (like myself) would be wrong. The temple is actually a Hindu temple and is full of tourists wandering around. I found this odd and wonderful at the same time, that in the middle of China Town, we have a holy site dedicated to the Hindu faith.
What’s even more wonderful about it is that after you exit and continue down the road the next street you arrive at is Mosque Street. You are allowed to enter the mosque, but you’re not really permitted to wander the grounds as the interior is roped off for worshippers only.
Have you read the book A Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? The motto of the book is “Have Towel, Will Travel”. I love this idea so much, but I’ve adopted it to my own liking. I prefer to say “Have Scarf, Will Travel”, for you never know when you’ll need a cloth to cover your eyes as a blanket, to roll up as a pillow, to wrap around you as a skirt, or in this case, to throw over your head so that you may enter a place of worship.
Juxtapositions like these are all my favorite part of traveling, the mingling of past and present, the coexistence of religious sites and faiths and cultures… I find it all inspiringly beautiful.
Once you pass Mosque Street and begin to leave China Town behind you, you cross back over into the modern, high rise side of the city. I still had hours left to go before I needed to return for my visa, so onward I walked.
Every time I passed a sign for the nearest metro, I very strongly considered getting on it, but in the end, I kept on by foot. I was beyond exhausted by this point, and the walk from China Town to Little India took me well over an hour. I stopped a few times searching (unsuccessfully) for a place to charge my phone, and detoured through a few shopping malls to relish in the A/C.
There wasn’t much to Little India besides cute, colorful, colonial housing. The signs all still seemed to be in Chinese, and only a few Indian restaurants and chai shops lined the streets. The people there were mostly Indian, at least.
There was some nice street art in the neighborhood and towards the back of the last few blocks you could find a few shops and stalls selling typical Indian goods, like fresh garlands of flowers, incense, gold, bangles and saris.
By the time I reached the Little India metro station I’d walked almost 14km. I wasn’t exactly sure which stop I needed to get off at, or which line to take really, but I guessed that the train to China Town was the correct one, and that I should get off one stop further.
Well, I guessed wrong. I made it to the right general area but was still about another kilometer away.
The man at the info counter was extremely helpful and between the map he had of the metro lines and the very limited map I had showing where the visa office was, we managed to piece together in which direction I needed to go.
The people of Singapore were all overwhelmingly helpful. No one ever showed any annoyance at my inquiries, and always, very excitedly, stopped what they were doing to help or point me in the right direction.
In many major cities around the world, I’ve found that the people are too busy, too numerous to take the time to care about anyone else. But I’m happy to report that this was not the case in Singapore. Every single person there was lovely, welcoming, and happy to be of assistance.
And this is what makes getting yourself lost, without a phone and feeling exhausted while trying to cover 15km of city all worth it in the end.
Knowing that there is still an abundance of warm, inviting, and genuine humans on our Earth.