What follows is the tale of my third and fourth days in Singapore. Click here to begin the tale from day one.
Day three, Sunday, consisted of my favorite kind of traveling bar none: travel someplace exotic while visiting friends.
My younger brother’s good buddy Mike moved to Japan to teach English the same year I stopped living there. It was nothing personal from either of us, just bad luck and bad timing. He stayed rather longer than I did, and wound up in Singapore. Growing up, I remember Mike as a fun kid who was nice to my brother, like role-playing games and music, and was generally all right to be around. He and I connected now and again over Facebook, and he was one of the most compelling reasons I chose Singapore for my 72-hour visa vacation.
I woke up, checked out of my awesome Chinatown hotel and rode the MRT out to Little India where I met Mike at the station. We hadn’t seen one another for 20 years, and were both kids when we had, but sometimes being a gawky white man in Asia has its advantages. Thence commenced the best kind of travel experience, bar none.
We wandered through Little India neighborhoods, through and past shops with antiques, spices, handicrafts and jewelry, talking about everything and nothing at all. The neighborhood gets its name from the spontaneous Indian district that appeared there when the colonial government opened brick kilns and lime pits with a mostly Indian workforce.
Then we stopped for some roti and tea, and talked about other stuff. Mostly family and work, catching up and news about people we knew mutually. One thing that’s still odd to me about 21st century life is how short those conversations end up being. We’re all on Facebook. We already know what’s up with everybody we give a damn about.
Then we wandered through Kampong Glam, the historical Arabic district with its hashish and its carpets and its cafes, and the famous-for-good-reason Sultan Mosque. And we talked some more, about history and business models and drugs and sex and how Mike converted to Islam because he fell in love with a Muslim woman.
Then we stopped for coffee and talked books and movies. You get the idea. Time with people you’ve known a while is effortless — you know each other’s faults and forgave them long ago. And time with those people as a guide and traveling companion is priceless. I’ve done this in Hawaii, Alaska, Colorado, St. Louis and New Zealand and cannot recommend it more highly.
The most memorable local site was what Mike dubbed “The Batman Building.” Lame people call it Parkview Square. Built this century in old-school Art Deco style, it’s a massive block of concrete and marble with all the flourishes you’d expect from a Gotham City skyscraper. It has gargoyles and statues of burly laborers building grand things, and a three-story bar on the ground floor with even more statues and paintings.
It sits there, crouched amid identical concrete housing blocks and 70s sci-fi office towers, looking like a building bloody well should. And the bar is a great place to sit for a couple hours drinking beers and talking with an old friend.
We ultimately wound up at Mike’s place, where I met his wife and infant son and a pal of his wife. They cooked me dinner, then Mike, the pal and I went to get a moderate drink on in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. It was night time, so I didn’t see much of the gardens themselves. What I noticed was
(a) How many spaces were filled with people doing exactly what we were doing: drinking from large bottles of lager beers and talking about life.
(b) The shocking number — and audio volume — of the huge bullfrogs in the storm drains. Seriously, if we teleported them all to do battle with all the rats of New York, the rodents would have a rough time of things.
Around midnight we called it quits and, after I f
ulfilled this part of my quest to publicly urinate while at least one sheet to the wind in as many countries as possible before I die, headed back to the house for me to collapse onto Mike’s couch.
Come morning, I discovered the growing frog in my throat and mild headache weren’t a reaction to the air quality of Singapore but rather one roaring bastard of a head cold. I got out of the baby house quickly so as to not subject the little one to my plague, and strode forth into the world knowing my bus left that early evening.
My first stop was at a food court for the spiciest TomYam soup I could talk them into making for a white dude. The food courts in Singapore are pretty much the same as the ones in Malaysia — a covered, al fresco seating area surrounded by carts or stalls selling the best ethnic food I’ve ever had. A nice lady made me a bowl of noodles and pork in a broth that was one part pork stock, one part salt water and one part fire from the bowels of Hell itself. It didn’t cure me outright, but cleared my sinuses all the way to my hippocampus. I still had the headache, and my energy levels were shot, but I went from 40% of my healthy self to 60% or so.
Pro Tip: When ill in a place where you don’t have a home base…go to the movies. They let you sit very still for two consecutive hours, in a dark room with climate control. I went to two of them. I don’t even remember what they were except that one had a girl with a bow so I think it was The Hunger Games.
When it came time to walk the three blocks to the bus station it was raining. Not drizzly Oregon rain. Not even New Mexico monsoon rain. I’m talking rain that limits visibility and makes you think about that part in Forrest Gump where he’s talking about rain coming in sideways and up from underneath. I bought a damn umbrella and was still soaked through by the time I’d walked a block. At least the bus station had a covered area.
I’d learned my lesson from my way into the country, and was careful to get back on my damn bus at each of the two stops between Singapore’s Queen Street Bus Stop and the Melaka Sentral station in my home town. I arrived safely, if worse for wear and destined to spend the next two full weeks in bed.
Good times. Goooooood times.