Someone read my mind in Malaysia. He leaned out of his top bunk, looking at me with complete sincerity and declared that “Singapore was soul-less.” I was glad he said it first, though my word of choice would be different. ‘Sterile,’ is what I would choose. Be it soul-less or sterile, I still liked it after the crush and dust and chaos of the rest of Southeast Asia. What does that say about me? I’m still struggling to decide, but I believe the heart, the temperament even, can be compartmentalized and split between the wild and the cultivated. Such is Singapore- a steely, pristine jewel that sits in the midst of chaos, serenely in the midst of the Indian ocean.
Getting to Singapore from Malaysia came in the form of a 40 minute flight- which is pretty much the ideal flying time. I was fully ready to mark the airport as my permanent residence, hoping no one would notice, and would, were it not for the $70 I had already dropped on two nights at a hostel. Singapore is blessed by a remarkably efficient and clean and high powered subway and train system that took me from the warm, clean, technological womb of airport safety and into the city up to little India, where my hostel was located. I walked the two blocks to the building and was surprised by the vastness of it all, the color of the buildings in Little India and the scent from a multitude of different curries.
Other areas, too, were vibrant in their representation of self- Chinatown was a bustling, red lantern filled zone packed with tourists and doodads for sale and topped with orange tile roofs while a gorgeous Indian temple flanked its left side. The wide, wide wide streets were lined with charming buildings, occasionally with architecture reminiscent of colonial style, most new and steely, covered in vines and other greens.
I took a day to walk from Little India to the Bay area, where I fully accepted that Singapore is a city from the future. The suspension bridge over the river was an absolute feat of engineering- its skeletal steel structure looked as fluid as flowing rivulets of water and the whole thing lit up in a symphony of colors. Gardens by the Bay was just as exciting. It was quiet and serene, and I was happy about this because my pit stains were massive and it doesn’t seem like Singaporeans sweat at all. The gardens were punctuated by the ever recognizable ‘techno trees’ covered in plants that light up at night. I was less enthralled with those than I was the actual plant exhibits, including one- the silver forest- which is just masses of those beautiful silvery palms. The tranquility here is not displaced- Singapore itself is tame. I never felt like I was going to get run over and the cars always left me a wide breadth while passing. I headed back to Chinatown for a bite to eat and ended up with a raw vegan pad thai that was 17 Singapore dollars. As a makeshift grace, I fervently prayed that Singapore dollars were nothing like US ones.
Singapore left a bit of an impression like Malaysia: vast and wide and high- it is easy to feel like an ant here. It is easier to feel like an ant- and a poor one at that- at the Marina Bay Sands, where I found myself on foot, desperate for a view of the city. After walking for what seemed like 2 and a half years, I found the tower that housed the elevator and for 28 Singapore dollars zipped on up- my ears popping from the pressure. The view was spectacular with everything glittering and reflected in the bay and tourists leaning in various poses of anxiety against the clear glass wall that keeps you from tumbling into the thick, Singapore air. Mission fulfilled, I walked home through the quiet, marvelous city, though it was difficult because some streets are so wide they require a reroute to an underground pedestrian tunnel.
My scariest experience in Singapore was checking my bank account and doing so made my hair stand on end. I vowed only to walk and to eat cheaply, which was how I ended up at the best stocked 7/11 I’ve ever seen in my life the evening of my second day. There I bought a cup of noodles and a vacuum sealed ear of corn (inexplicably from Chiang Mai- bittersweet) for dinner. The 7/11 was in the heart of Little India and it was a swift departure from the business clad downtown world. Surrounded by almost exclusively men and the unfamiliar dialect tones of Pashtun and Hindi, I started to grow nervous, as if I had shed the hard, shiny shell of courage that I had built up and shellacked meticulously during my adventures in Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia had suddenly crumbled after softening in a familiar environment. Catching my own silliness, I relaxed and began to appreciate the vibrancy of Little India in all of its colorful buildings, street art, and clean streets as the men ignored me and flowed into a nearby temple to pray.
On my last morning, I strolled through more narrow and vertical alleyways that were lined with well maintained shops and eateries and shrouded- much like Malaysia- under little arched corridors that ran perpendicular to the shops entrances. Singapore seemed in harmony with its encroaching nature and there were lush green palms everywhere- a jungle removed and then superimposed on the city that replaced it. My time in Singapore city had come to an end, but I wasn’t particularly bummed, after all- that just meant more time at the airport.