Singapore

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My travel day from Brunei to Singapore was pretty uneventful.  I had a six-hour layover in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and the most exciting thing that happened was when I fell face flat out of my chair in the middle of the airport.  Yes, I’m okay.  It was in slow motion when I hit a small bump under the carpeting.  I fell right on top of my backpack that I was holding on my lap, and when I turned over, the wheelchair was completely upside down and next to me.  Only one person saw it and I was not injured.  Seriously, that’s about the most riveting part of my travel day.

When I arrived in Singapore, I was instantly wowed.  And I hadn’t even left the airport yet!  I knew that Singapore would be different and that they were extremely wealthy, but holy cow.  I had no idea!  I was over elated and snapping pictures here and there and everywhere I went as I shuffled with the crowds towards the exits.  It was in the customs line that I was scolded, “Ma’am.  This is customs.  You cannot take pictures here.”  And suddenly I was reminded that I was in Singapore, and like everywhere, there are rules.  When I told Tony about this, he said, “Babe, come on.  You know you can’t take pictures in any customs line.”  None the less, it was a good reminder for me that I had to follow the rules, even in Singapore.

Some of you may have heard about the ‘rules’ in Singapore.  They have some odd ones, like no chewing gum.  Ever.  You can’t bring it in, and you can’t buy it here.  A few years ago the government realized it was making the city ‘dirty’ and they outlawed it.  Another interesting rule is that public nudity is forbidden.  I mean, this doesn’t sound that ludicrous on the surface, but if you forget your towel when you get in the shower and have to go streaking across your home, you can be fined if your neighbor sees you and reports you.

Litter is completely outlawed, and it’s noticeable.  The streets are impeccably clean.  Talking on the subway system is illegal.  There are signs all over the subway stations and on the subways.  And, no one talks.  It’s completely silent on the trains.

There’s an utter respect for the disabled like I’ve never experienced before.  Everyone allows me my independence but if I ask for help, they jump in immediately.  The elevators are reserved for those with mobility needs, and if there’s an individual or a group that arrived to the elevator before I did, they clear the way for me to enter first when the elevator is ready.  You can imagine that ramps and sidewalks are everywhere given this mentality.

Singapore became its own sovereign nation in 1959, so it’s new, but it’s wealthy.  It has some very interesting statistics on population, geography, finances, and so.  I won’t regurgitate what you can find on Wikipedia, but a few things that stood out to me are that everyone speaks English.  It’s considered the dominant language.  And almost everyone speaks another one or two languages on top of that.  The birthrate is declining and the government is taking measures to encourage women to have children, and are also working on robust immigration plans to be sure they have a large enough workforce to sustain the economy.

A large portion of the population is not from here, and because there’s some healthy tax advantages for the uber wealthy, much of the population is expats, and wealthy expats.  In fact, it’s considered one of the most diverse countries in the world.  And it’s pleasantly noticeable walking the streets.

So, given all of this, I knew Singapore would be different.  It’s small – you can drive across the entire country in one hour – and has a dense and diverse population.  This coupled with their wealth makes it incredibly unique for this part of the world.

It was dark when I landed, so I had planned on getting a Grab (an Uber equivalent) to my hotel.  I would take the subway system for the rest of the trip but didn’t want to be wondering around in the dark looking for my hotel.  For what it’s worth, Singapore is considered one of the safest countries in the world, so I probably would have been fine walking the ten minutes from the subway to my hotel, but it was nice to have an easy pickup and drop off.

It was about a 15-minute drive and shortly after we got on the road, my driver asked if he could stop at a gas station to use the restroom.  He explained that he had been driving all day and needed a quick toilet break.  I told him that was fine and he proceeded to tell me about his prostate, constipation, kidney stones, and everything related for the next 15 minutes.  All I could think was, Man, culture.  Cultures are so interesting…

I checked into my hotel and made it to my room.  I always hate my room on the first night.  It smells different, looks different, the beds are different.  It just doesn’t feel like home.  But when I wake up the next day, it magically feels like I’ve been there for days.  It’s a strange thing to be homeless and literally 12 hours later not want to leave.  None the less, the room is great now and works for my needs.

I set my bag down on a bench in the room and opened up the top zipper.  As soon as I did, I realized my first stop the next day would be the laundromat.  The stench coming from my backpack was something else.  Plus, I had only done laundry once on this trip.  It was time.

I woke up the next morning around 8 am.  I think it’s safe to say that I have fully adjusted to the 12-hour time difference and am operating on Asian time.  This is a first for me.  I’ve never been in Asia long enough to fully adapt, and it’s really nice.  I had some coffee in the room on this particular morning.  I’ve started drinking the instant coffee packs that come in the room with a hot pot.  It saves me a few dollars and is convenient when I don’t have time to stop by a coffee shop.  But mostly, it’s about the money.

The shower in this particular hotel is fantastic, so I took a long shower before heading out.  It’s probably important to note that not all showers are super easy for me to use.  I often have to find something to sit on – an upside-down trash can, a plastic chair from the room, or the side of the bathtub.  This room has a plastic chair and the shower itself was easy to get into.  The water pressure was great and they provided soap, which I didn’t pack along to save space and weight.  It’s safe to say I took more showers here than anywhere so far!

After getting my bearings – coffee and a shower – I ventured off with my bag of dirty laundry to find a laundromat.  There was one within two blocks – perfect!  I found it pretty easily and entered in.  Now, knowing that Singapore is so modern, I didn’t pull cash out of the ATM at the airport.  I figured I could use a credit card anywhere.  Well, that’s not the case.  I asked the employee working if there was an ATM nearby and she just pointed.

I ended up finding an ATM on Google Maps about 20 minutes away and made the hike there and back.  I had a $50 Singapore bill.  Well, turns out the coin machine can only accept $20.  Ugh.  I found the employee again and she so kindly took my $50 and broke it down into smaller bills.  Thank goodness.

It took $3 Singapore dollars and 27 minutes for my laundry to run its wash cycle.  At this point though, it had collectively taken me over two hours and I didn’t want to waste more time (or spend more money) on drying my clothes, so I put them in my bag, wet, and trekked back to the hotel.  I hung them all over the room and two days later, they finally dried.  But, I have clean laundry!

For the first time on this trip, I am able to drink the tap water.  This is so fantastic.  I’m not on a constant search for drinkable water and it saves some dollars.  I’ve been getting my fill here while I can, and I filled up my refillable bottle before heading out to see the city.

I found the train station just ten minutes walking distance away.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, but these train stations are incredible!  Every stop has a functional, clean, efficient elevator.  They’re not hidden back in the corner, hard to find and dirty, and everyone is so respectful about the trains.  I didn’t need to buy a ticket; I just tapped my credit card on the entrance and exit gates and it would bill me based on when I got on and got off.  Getting into the trains was no big deal, they are completely accessible and passengers would clear the way if I needed space to park.  Oh, and the maps of the subway stops are sooo easy to use.

My first stop was at the Marina Bay Sands.  Here, there are some gardens, but the most iconic building in Singapore is also at this stop.  You know, the building that looks like it has a ship sitting on top of three buildings?  The train station at this particular stop was something else.  There were shops all along the walking paths.  And not 7 Elevens and street food stands.  I’m talking Dior, Gucci, Hermes.  It was so different than anything I’ve ever seen before.

I took the elevator up, not sure exactly where I was coming out, but right there in front of me was this fantastic building.  I don’t really understand why, but I had such a surreal feeling seeing this incredibly large, famous, extravagant building.  I walked the entire area for several hours, just taking everything in.  It was clear that this was an expensive part of the city, although everything in Singapore is costly, for what it’s worth.  I eventually made my way to a large, open-aired food court and had my one large meal for the day here, some vegetable fried rice.

I spent the next day just wondering the city.  I spent some time in the botanical gardens, explored some temples, found more food courts, stopped for coffee and a gelato, and just people watched and observed.  The people of Singapore exuberate a level of class like something I’ve not seen before.  Everyone is dressed to the nines, everyone is polite, everyone is considerate.  No one is sloppy, no one is rude, no one lacks confidence (or at least not on the outside).  It’s evident that all people are welcome in Singapore, regardless of where you are from, your religion, what you are doing in life.  Everyone is welcome and everyone is treated with the utmost respect.

So, I knew that Singapore would be different, and I knew it would be wealthy and sophisticated, but it was better than I expected.  There’s no doubt I will visit Singapore again…it’s just one of those places that will be hard to avoid!

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