There’s nothing to see on the train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur but palm trees, so what better way to pass the time but on my laptop!
We’ve been kindly hosted on our short stop in Singapore by Jenny and Dan from Jo’s college days, and Sarah and Tones from mine. Many thanks to them, you’ve given us a great start to our time away!
Travelling got off to an appropriately middle-class start in a date with St Catharine’s college alumni, a meal in a family restaurant with a karaoke-singing host and free-flowing wine. Hangover successfully defeated jet lag.
Singapore is hot and humid, and lightning is forecast every day. We walked a lot, so saw plenty of the city centre. Once we got used to the tropical conditions and drinking a lot more water than usual, in many ways it’s just another western city. The “benevolent dictator” approach means it’s rich, clean and safe. It has its share of curiosities, such as caning as a punishment for nudity while allowing prostitution, the reclaimed land a mile past the original shoreline over the last few decades thanks to Cambodian and Malaysian sand, and a bizarre theme park with sculptures depicting the tortuous punishments that await you in the afterlife corresponding to prostitution and cheating on exams. But in the city everything seems to work, the people are kind and friendly and the taxis are cheap.
Food is tasty, cheap and decidedly Asian. We visited a few hawker centres, which are roughly the equivalent of the food courts in British shopping centres with a Spud-u-like. Loads of small independent stalls sell all sorts of food from around south-east Asia. It’s all pretty good and it’s dirt cheap. For westerners who like cereal, breakfast being no different to other meals is a strange concept – rice and chicken at 10am was tasty but will take some getting used to. The highlight was little white balls called char sieu bao (sp?), about the size of a tennis ball, of sweetish bready stuff a bit like brioche filled with BBQ-ish flavoured pork. I think Jenny and Dan were becoming a little concerned with our infatuation over these spheres of tasty goodness!
We visited the zoo on Friday, where Jo thought we might find ourselves. There were monkeys, giraffes, but no sudden enlightenment, maybe a little early in the trip for that! She even nearly dozed off in the crocodile enclosure… We walked through the botanic gardens, which has orchids, ginger and name-your-colourful-varietal in abundance, in different areas around the park – there’s even a section of carnivorous plants! The quiet of the small slice of preserved rainforest was overrun by the sound of a school band playing in the ampitheatre.
The city itself feels somewhat manufactured, and shares something of the spirit of Las Vegas or Dubai where the quest is for grandeur and shiny things (and foreign money). There’s a lot of high-rise in the city centre, and the variety is much greater than London’s few interesting skyscrapers surrounded by big boring square things. The view over the CBD at night is cracking. Quayside zones for organised fun sit next to what heritage the young island has, much named after Raffles (we didn’t have a customary Singapore Sling at the Raffle’s Hotel Long Bar, in accordance with rule 1). It’s small so very compact: school, motorway, shipping port are all right together. It’s a mix of many cultures and races (and something like 20% foreign ex-pats), and it’s interesting to see the casual way in which race describes people. Singaporeans and westerners almost all have maids, who are all Phillipino women. The taxi drivers are all Chinese. The construction workers are all Sri Lankan or Bangladeshi.
We’ll be back briefly after the Malaysia and Cambodia legs of the trip. Basically everyone has said KL isn’t as good/fun as Singapore but that it’s worth seeing for a day or two, so that works out well. (Singapore is better than Malaysia at everything, if you believe all of the anecdotes!) We’ve booked to go on a tour to an elephant sanctuary a little north of KL, so we’ll get out of the city for a little, before a zero dark thirty flight to Cambodia and temples on Thursday.
All of that is conditional on surviving the mosquitoes for seven hours in this train carriage. Does DEET work in confined spaces?
- Rice-based meals: 4
- Taxi journeys: 14
- Lady-boys: difficult to count