Singapore: The Singapore shuffle
There’s little sense of time in our small Singapore cell. The only sign that perhaps it might be daytime outside is the raised level of noise around us. Before hunger and claustrophobia overcome us completely, we take to the streets to attempt to orientate ourselves and seek out some viable sources of food. Going from the chill of air-conditioned air to the deadening heat outside isn’t pleasant. The desire to find food drives us forward with a very vague plan of taking a North-West route that may or may not bring us to the main shopping district. We’re figuring that any street with countless shopping centres is bound to have quite a few places to eat.
Making our way around is a tiring process. The traffic lights are slow to change as you stand in the heat feeling your energy quickly ebb out of you. The locals all seem to have adopted what I call the Singapore shuffle. You take a wide-legged stance and amble along at the kind of snails pace that indicates you might come to a complete stop at any second without warning. It works better wearing flip-flops so you can add an irritatingly slow slap slap beat, and it’s preferable to walk alongside others and spread out to block as much of the area as is possible. That’s to ensure that no one around you forgets to slow their pace to match. Even better, waver from one side to the other to catch anyone trying to sneak around you. I can see the benefits of moving slow enough that you don’t work up too much of a sweat, but for such a large and crowded city it can be infuriating to have to inch your way along towards the next patch of shade or air-conditioning. The humidity seems to have sapped some of the vitality you expect to find in a city as developed as this.
Singapore itself is quite a sight. Buildings tower in every direction mixed in with the random architecture of brightly coloured temples and churches. Hidden inside the buildings and below the streets is a vast network of air-conditioned passages. We slowly begin to learn our way through some of these mazes. We soon pick out Central Shopping Centre as our closest option for a good breakfast. Somewhere in the bowels of the building we wander through the maze of stalls following the smell of freshly baked goods. By the time we identify some muffins that look pretty good we’ve found a fruit stall just across from it. Ambitiously we each select a 3 dollar tray of fruit and get started on that. A platter of fruit like this would be several times more expensive back home. The oreo cookie muffins are still singing their siren song to Brodie, so just to make it a balanced breakfast we pick up some muffins. Armed with baked goods we make our way back to the surface to get some overpriced coffee and tea in Starbucks.
Feeling ready now for some real exploring, we continue up to the river and stroll along Clarke Quay with its brightly coloured buildings overlooking the muddy brown waters of the river.We take a look at the Singapore swing but Brodie has decided he’s all bungied out after Taupo. Instead, we sweat our way further up to Orchard Street – the shopping mecca of Singapore. The long street is lined with shopping centres reaching both high above and deep below the ground like a severe infestation that you’d never be able to exterminate. Gucci and Prada signs scream from the windows of every building. Of course preparations for Christmas shopping are well underway, so Santas and reindeer are strung up at every available opportunity and buskers are tuning up for carols and Christmas jingles. It doesn’t seem real to see such an abundance of gaudy decorations in a climate where there’s no hope of having a white Christmas at all. Escaping from the heat, we wander through a few cool buildings full of expensive shops. It’s all wasted on us as the price tags are far above what we’d ever spend on clothing even if we were inclined to add any more weight to our rucksacks.
An unfortunate aspect of walking the streets and shopping centres in Singapore is the constant attention from shop assistants. We don’t enjoy haggling or having someone stand over us as we browse. This is one of those countries where they can’t recognise customers that are only going to run the opposite way if harassed. They insist on trying to hunt us down, sometimes cooperating as a team. I promptly revert to my tried and trusted tactic of sailing past with averted eyes and never slowing my pace. I found it very effective in Egypt where they usually recognised a dead loss and focused their attentions on someone else instead. They’re not so clued in here. They’re also oblivious to the fact that while I’ve got my “I might have been interested in your wares but I’m never going to buy from you now that you’ve started talking so quit it” face on, Brodie has his “I’m furious and I’m going to hulk out and punch you in the nose if you keep talking” face on. Brodie is actually interested in getting a new mobile phone at some point to replace his outdated hunk of junk with a dusty screen, but we soon decide that the annoyance of purchasing anything here isn’t worth the savings there might be.
After some refreshments we return to our cell to cool off for a while before venturing back out in search of dinner. Returning to Clarke Quay we circle, trying to read the menus without getting caught by the restaurant staff lying in wait. We decide on the very reasonably priced Satay House. The meat is recognisable, and we get through some curried rice and noodles. The soup is quite oily though and my stomach is rebelling by the time we return to the hostel. At that point we lose track of time without a window to remind us that it’s gone past midnight. By the time we call it quits, Brodie has probably caught up on the whole internet and I’ve booked the remainder of our flights after a detailed calculation of routes, fares and the amount of things we might want to do in each location.