My first sight of Singapore was of lamps burning on a dark night. It was just before dawn. I was reminded of Tortuga in Pirates of the Caribbean. I was not even sure if it was Singapore. More because the Singapore I had seen in photographs was all about skyscrapers and brights lights. Obviously, there would be no bright lights at 5.20 AM, but the skyscrapers?
And, if I had to see lights, I expected bright LED lights.
Why Tortuga? Because these lights were in the sea. They were from ships and boats anchored off the coast. It was magical.
At Changi airport, the landing, immigration, collection of baggage was a breeze. But then, I got stuck. Took me about an hour to connect with my pick-up. The effort cut into my sleep time. Which would reduce my waking hours in Singapore.
After check-in at the hotel, I had some juice and hit the sack. Before that, I made sure that there was no sliver for light to disturb my darkness.
I woke up feeling like I needed a good bath. After a bath and a small lunch in the hotel, suprisingly, I did not know what to do. I returned to my room and fell on my bed.
Perhaps, it was the lack of sleep. And, the knowledge that I had limited time on my hands (I had to get up early the next day) and no plan of action.
I willed myself to step out and take the Hop On Hop Off bus. But first, I needed some local currency. I found a shop that would do that. Interestingly, they claimed no commission would be charged.
Then I asked directions to the bus stop. As I was walking to the stop, I saw a bus moving out. I flagged down the bus. The driver stopped and opened the door for me. He also told me that this was the last bus for the day. That’s how to make an entry!
The lack of drive
The Hop On Hop Off bus is the best possible way to see a new city, actually the best parts. In this case, the tour lasted only an hour because I did not step off the bus. But you can theoretically stretch the tour for an entire day by hopping off at places of interest and then hopping on to the next place of interest.
During the course of this short trip, there were times when I was wondering if we were travelling on pathways inside a forest.
The tour in the open top bus lifted my spirits. It gave a few pointers on where I could head once the tour ended. After the tour, I headed back to the hotel. I just was not up for more exploring yet. I got an hour’s sleep and then met fellow journalists at 9.30 PM. After that meeting, I felt energised. For some reason, the feeling that I was not alone lifted my spirits. It’s quite ironic because I prefer being alone and travelling alone.
I had gotten back my drive, the desire to explore the city. Around 10.30 PM, I stepped out. But with each step, I was wondering where was I headed. I had the energy, the desire, but no plan. I kept walking randomly. I lost my bearings within 500 metres. I had GPS on my phone, but sometimes I can’t get my directions right. Frankly, I just did not know where I wanted to go.
After walking here and there, back and forth for about 10 minutes, I firmed up my path. I still did not know where I was going, but I would be going somewhere.
I chose to walk because Singapore is very safe and good for pedestrians. I started in the general direction of Chinatown. I took in all the sights. And, I never had to look down, for dirt, potholes or some other danger on the path. The footpath was totally clean and smooth.
I walked for around 4 kilometres. At Chinatown, I found a place that I liked. It’s called Spring Court. I liked the pictures of various dishes posted outside and looked at the menu. Sounded just right for me. Sadly, it was closed. I considered coming the next day but knew that I would require a cricket team — who are open to all types of meat and fish — to try all the dishes I had liked.
As I made my way back to the hotel, I stopped at a 24-hour restaurant. As I looked at the options, the dishes looked familiar. It did not seem like an Indian restaurant when I looked from outside, but all the dishes were Indian and it was run by Indians.
I would not like to have Indian food abroad as I take the opportunity to try the local food. I was intrigued by the rush at that late hour — it was past 11. The place was nearly packed and people were continuously coming in or leaving after a meal. All other places had shut down — I learnt that they shut around 9 PM on weekdays.
I guess like I try non-Indian food when abroad, the locals and possibly tourists from other parts of the world try Indian food in Singapore. So cool. No need to visit India. You get great Indian food minus the dirt, squalor, the non-transparent food prices, the filthy hands. It was unfamiliar territory for me, but a great feeling. Actually, mixed feelings.
I then crossed the road and went into a shop. At the counter was a lady. I picked up a bottle of mocha coffee and went to the counter to pay. The lady told me to deposit the money in a machine, which then returned the correct change. The wonders never cease.
One of the things I had noticed was that the currency notes seemed fresh off the printing press. Very crisp. No creases even after folding. Perhaps, that’s why they can have automated tellers.
I made my way back to the hotel, walking past the parliament, the Supreme Court, the Marina Bay Sands. The weather was just fine for me.
Singapore is possibly one of the safest cities in the world for women. See the city as per your convenience, 24-hour transport is available and there is no need to fear about anything. You want to talk to friends sitting under the starlit sky, go to Singapore. Feel like snacking at 3 AM, go to Singapore. Feel like sitting on the street-side and discuss music with other music fans, try Singapore.
— Dhiraj Shetty