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Busted for gum smuggling

Last night, after buying some fake CD’s on Kao San Rd. (the tourist district of downtown Bangkok), I met a Dutch girl and we went to get a few beers and chatted about Holland, Thailand, Australia, and some other random stuff.

As we sat, a man came up to the guy sitting next to us and smashed his fist into his face. The tables flew in all directions, beer bottles shattered, I got drenched with beer (awww, damnit…I’m gonna have to wash these shorts now…) and the man stood there over the other guy pounding his face into a pulp. I stood up, backed away a few steps to a safe distance and calmly and curiously watched. There happened to be a cop standing right there and he put them all in handcuffs and hauled them away. An ambulance and the cop cars showed up, put the bloody faced guy in and then left. As the dust settled and the waitresses straightened the chairs and tables, the cop went and bought a beer and went back to his motorcycle. He couldn’t figure out where to put it so that he could drive, so he put it in his storage compartment.

We sat back down and continued talking.

I think I’ve gotten a bit desensitized. I think the only thing that has surprised me in the past 6 months has been that flower. It was just so random and strange – but I think I’ve seen quite a bit now and it’s interesting how that changes the nature of the trip.

Singapore was a shock. I am so used to chaotic street corners, people yelling and screaming, running around, begging, selling, cars everywhere, people pissing in the streets, crazy smells – you get the idea – that when I showed up to Singapore, I found myself constantly wandering around saying to myself, “Where the hell is everyone??” The place is remarkably clean (although, even though it’s illegal, you can still see chewing gum stains on the sidewalks) and everything is so orderly and uncrowded. It’s crazy. People stop for you on the streets, people are friendly, everyone speaks English. And of course, the prices are higher.

After hopping on a bus in the morning in Kuala Lumpur, I eventually arrived in Singapore. I met two Swedish girls on the bus and we decided to go to the same hostel, which I had picked out due to its rave reviews on and due to the fact that although it was a bit more expensive, it had air conditioning, free Internet and breakfast and was very central. After the bus dropped us off, we wandered around for a while and tried to find a bus to Chinatown. We met a guy who tried to give us directions, but then just said he would take us in his car (which was really tiny but we all managed to fit with our backpacks in our laps) and he gave us a bit of a tour as we drove. He was a really nice guy and even gave us his phone number in case we ran into trouble.

I asked him about the illegality of chewing gum.

“Sooo, chewing gum is illegal here, huh?”
“Yeesssssss, but it’s no problem. You can chew it. You just don’t tell anyone, you know?”

Visions of a man running down a dark alley and hurriedly shoving a piece of chewing gum in his mouth as he chewed frantically and looked around furtively for signs that someone was approaching popped into my mind. I smiled.

“Yeah, I understand.”

When we eventually arrived to the hostel, I got settled in and relaxed for a bit. It was indeed a great place ( and I really enjoyed my stay there. I didn’t do all too much except lay around and play chess on the Internet (I really needed a break to recover) and occassionally venture outside for an hour or two to visit a museum or site. I would go out to dinner with people from the hostel in the evening or just read. It was really nice.

Singapore was a really nice place and I enjoyed my time there. It was really really (reallyreallyreallyreally) hot though. I liked wandering around and looking at the architecture, which is quite a mix of colonial style with new modern buildings. I mostly sweated though. I bought a shirt too. The subway is nothing short of remarkable, too. You buy a ticket from a machine and you just have to pass it over a magnetic detector for it to let you in. It’s impecably clean and it’s usually deserted (which I still don’t understand). And the girls are beautiful there. I mean, it’s not like Argentina, but you have a lot of classy girls there. I was in constant dismay about the fact that I couldn’t find many pretty girls in Beijing and I chalked it up to maybe not liking Chinese girls. But I come to Singapore and I see that that’s not true. There are some really hot ones, let me tell you. They look a lot more western in style though and have a lot more attitude – which is attractive. Singapore girls carry themselves differently from Beijing girls.

Singapore is such a mixture of Indians and Chinese and it’s really interesting to see how they all work together. You can listen to a Chinese (by ethnicity, of course – they are Singaporean, really) and he has a heavy Chinese accent. You listen to an Indian and he has a heavy Indian accent – but they both probably speak English better than Chinese or Hindi. I met a girl from Singapore in Laos and she told me that although they speak English in Singapore, they speak “Chinglish”, which is true. It’s almost like it’s their own language trimmed for maximum efficiency. Who really needs articles and the past tense, anyways?

Yesterday I took the train to the airport (I’ve only done that in Australia – usually you have to take a bus or taxi), and after marveling at the Singapore airport (they even had a movie room, where I sat in a huge cusioned seat and watched some flicks), and zipping past the army guys with huge AK-47’s (which seemed a bit out of place), I took off to Bangkok. I counted it up – I’ve taken off and landed 19 times in the past year and a half now. Beat that!

When I landed in Bangkok, I bought a ticket for the shuttle in to town and was informed that I would have to wait for 30 minutes so I took a seat inside – where there was air conditioning. Some really old German lady tried to talk to me and I looked at her apologetically and said I didn’t understand – that I only spoke English. She was then quiet. Three minutes later, she started talking to me again and I shrugged my shoulders as she rambled. She made a sign like she understood and had just forgot. She stood up, shaking like a leaf, took a drink of water and sat back down. She waited three more minutes before talking to me again at full speed. I looked at her and said I didn’t understand. She made the same sign like she had just forgot and would keep quiet. She stood up again and took another drink of water. It’s about that time that I realized that she probably had a really interesting story. She was obviously crazy. And she was sitting in the Bangkok airport arrival lounge with no bags and knew no English. How did she get there and what the hell was she doing there? Seeing as I couldn’t ask her anything and it was getting really awkward with her looking at me, I looked at my watch and pretended like I had to go somewhere. I moved outside and continued waiting.

Two hours later I arrived back at Kao San Rd and booked into a hotel. I then bought a ticket to Nepal. I then went and got something to eat and met the dutch girl. Then I watched a guy get his face smashed in by another guy, and that’s where I started this post (full circle!).

I leave for Nepal in two days, so I will take the train this evening to Ayuthaya, spend a day and then come back in time to leave. I am flying with Bangladesh Air, which is not only the cheapest option at $180 bucks (Nepal Air is $230), I also get a one night layover in Bangladesh – with the hotel paying for the hotel and all the food. Score!

There is some unrest in Nepal right now – which I’ve read quite a bit about in the Economist and (and the worried emails with attached newspaper articles I’ve been getting from my dad). But there is unrest everywhere. I’ve talked to people there now and they say there are no problems – it’s just a local thing and as long as you stay away from the trouble areas, you’ll be fine. Luckily, I’m not a Maoist and thus won’t be obliged to attend any protests where I might get arrested. I’ll also be hundreds of miles away from all the drama as I hike in the mountains (where the Maoists merely hold you up and ask for a “donation” of $5 bucks – and then give you a reciept which guarantees your safety and is your proof that you paid and that you don’t have to pay again to the next group). The Maoists want tourists to keep coming so they can get the money (their only source of funding) and so they don’t cause any trouble for them. The government is the only problem and it’s fairly easy to steer clear of all that so as not to get caught in the crossfire. I’m not too worried about it.

And with that, I go.