Singapore: What will you pay?
For our last day in Singapore we make the usual trek for a breakfast of fruit, muffins and tea. That’s one aspect of Singapore we could get used to. As we eat it’s steadily raining on and off with no sign of a change to the pattern. All the umbrellas are out today adding more bursts of colour to the streets. Our last area for exploration is going to be Little India. We catch the MRT there and pick our way through the chaotic market stalls. There’s an immediate population shift. It’s tough to spot an Asian face among the throngs of Indians bustling through the streets. The strong smells of Tandoori and curry waft out of every other door and the kerbside shops are drenched in bright materials. With no end to the grey sky in sight we give in to the inevitable and purchase some umbrellas for ourselves. In heavy rain we push our way through the streams of crowds over to Mustafa Centre which is apparently as close to our kind of shopping as we’re going to get. According to wikitravel we shouldn’t get scammed with fake products, the prices will be clearly marked, and the sales people might even leave us alone to the extent of virtually ignoring us. Sounds like bliss!
Sure enough, the Mustafa Centre contains almost everything you can think of. For the most part we’re left alone and can happily browse to see if there are any price tags low enough to catch our eye. If this were the last stop in the journey or if we weren’t already carrying around a wealth of electronics then I’d be loading up here, but ultimately there’s nothing that we need and is cheap enough to be worth the hassle of lugging it the whole way home. I attempt to pick up a telephoto lens for my trusty Finepix E900 camera, but every time I ask I’m told there’s not a chance of getting it here. One more verbose assistant ventures to suggest that I should try the Peninsula Centre. We’ve never heard of it, but take note.
Having fulfilled our sightseeing quota for the day we return back to Clarke Quay where we plan to have lunch After a bit of aimless wandering around we finally locate the suggested Peninsula Plaza close by and enter the Fujifilm shop there with a sense of foreboding that this may not be a pleasant experience. As usual assistants leap to attention, scurrying over to demand we look at their wares. This time, instead of turning and running, I present my slip of paper and the shop assistant’s eyes light up at a prospective sale. A small box is quickly produced. I’ve no intention of buying anything without some surety that it will actually work, so I nod and produce my camera for inspection. After glancing at it, a different box is proffered. Of course with no price tag on it. The prices they try to charge in these shops are so outrageous that they won’t even say them out loud. Instead they tap their offers out on a large calculator and pass it over. It feels like I should have a lawyer present. My assistant, who I’ve nicknamed Jimmy, keys in 285 SGD. I’m almost speechless. I’m not convinced that I couldn’t get the Fujifilm lens for less, and I’ve never even heard of this brand. I wonder does a huge markup ever really work for these guys?
Brodie mutters something about seeing the lens for $60 back home. Without querying what kind of dollars, Jimmy assures us that would be impossible… you’d never get this lens for $60. He then promptly drops the price to 185 SGD. This only goes to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that he’s flagrantly making these figures up. I’m losing interest in prolonging this. I smile at him and announce that we’re just going to go away and have a think about it. As I start edging away his facade crumbles and in a tone that reeks strongly of desperation, he urges me to key in the price I’m willing to pay. I guess a small mark-up works out as better than no mark-up at all. I’m sorely tempted to key in 60 and see the steam gushing from his ears as he pretends to be hugely insulted, but I offer a very generous 80 instead. “85”, he counters immediately. I figure I can live with that if it means no more shops or being badgered by lying shop assistants, and walk away with my new camera lens.
Once we get back to the hostel I do a bit of research on this unknown brand. After a wild goose chase of a search I establish that the manufacturer sells a lot of lenses to other companies who rebrand them and sell them on. Seems the lens should do the job. I see varying prices, but this definitely cost me a lot less than ordering and shipping it from the States so I’m pretty happy with the haggling session. I see comments from other visitors to Singapore on various websites complaining about getting charged up to $400 for the same lens. It seems my negotiation tactics were reasonably good, for a stupid foreigner. I’m finding it hard to believe that there are people out there who’ve actually paid so much. It’s hard to blame the shop assistants for their sales tactics – finding someone gullible must be like hitting the jackpot for them. They can probably take the rest of the week off after a sale like that.
Later in the evening when the temperature has cooled as much as it ever does in Singapore, we go out for an evening stroll along Clarke Quay. At night Singapore really comes to life. The buildings look new and shiny, lit up in the dark sky. The quays glow, generating a buzz around the area. The break from the heat of the day encourages people out in droves. We purchase some Turkish icecream from a stand we’ve noticed before. The guy puts on a performance every night, pretending to fumble and drop the icecreams as he hands them over. When we taste the icecream we can see how easy his antics are to perform. It would more accurately be named “Sticky, taffy, bubblegum icecream”. You can stretch this stuff like play dough. I’m getting very suspicious about the ingredients in the stuff.
Having soaked up the night time atmosphere (which is probably the best time to enjoy Singapore), we retire to try and get some sleep. This is our fourth night in the hostel and the constantly recycled air in the room is stale and dead. Fighting off claustrophobia we eventually drift off to sleep to the usual chorus of coughing and spluttering all round. It seems like something in the hostel is catching. Another few nights and we might also sound like victims of some horrible disease. Thankfully, we have a ticket out of here tomorrow and soon the hostel from hell will be but a distant memory.