Arriving in Singapore felt like landing in heaven.
Don’t get me wrong — I loved Cambodia enough to consider staying there long-term, and absolutely plan to visit again. But after several months of squat toilets, buckets, and questionably wet floors, I have NEVER been so happy to see a clean bathroom in my life. (Singapore loves sparkling toilets enough to make cartoons about it.)
Singapore is one of four top leading financial centers in the world, and it shows. Not only is everything exceptionally clean, but the buildings are fantastically designed, and prices are sky-high. A latte at Starbucks is about $8 SPD.
Most of my trip up to this point had been accomplished by penny-pinching , deal searching and sheer determination — riding the wave of dirt cheap living while I fought to line up work — and especially in Singapore, I was on a tight budget. But going from villages in Thailand and gritty streets filled with begging children in Cambodia, to the posh upscale environment in Singapore where every man seemed to wear a suit and have an iPhone, felt strange.
For the first time in my life, I felt privileged.
Singapore was a lot like home. It reminded me of the financial district in San Francisco, in fact, where I used to work and play on a daily basis. But it felt different. Like I didn’t quite belong there.
If I had been back in San Francisco, I would have felt the same. An unsettling feeling of not belonging. The places were the same as they had always been. It was me who had changed. I didn’t just feel privileged — for the first time I saw that my culture, along with any other modern and well-developed culture, is very privileged.
It’s easy to forget this when you’re surrounded by it. It’s easy to hear about starving children in Africa and maybe feel pressured to finish the food on your plate — but when you see it, when you really understand? You can never forget.
With that being said, I instantly liked Singapore.
In Thailand and Cambodia, I had grown used to cold showers and non-existent public transportation systems, but in Singapore — a place of complete convenience — I remembered what it was like to not have to try so hard to order breakfast or find a bathroom. I felt a little guilty for loving it so much, but damn, it was nice. And the Singaporean English accent is unforgettable. Imagine British, Australian, and American accents combined with a splash of Asia.
I checked into a backpackers hostel in Chinatown — a fantastic place called 5.Footway.Inn, with keyless entry door buzzers, lockers, unlimited fancy coffee and tea, and an ample supply of cat photos — and headed out for the day.
I knew I would only be in Singapore for a couple of days, and I wanted to see as much as possible. For me, this doesn’t mean hitting up all of the tourist spots. Because I often hate them. It meant: a short list of bookshops, a map, a ton of walking, a handful of spontaneity and intuition, and being prepared to get lost.
By the end of the second day, I had walked over ten miles and seen about 1/3 of the city on foot. Chinatown (with some oddly suggestive souvenirs), Little India, the Arab District, Duxton Hill, and a few less memorable ‘hoods. (I also picked up my first Haruki Murakami book — a choice I would later cherish and regret — brilliant, but shit is weird, and he freakin’ kills cats. The bookstore where I found it didn’t allow photos, but was fantastic, and I recommend visiting Littered With Books if you get the chance.)
On my last night in Singapore, I knew I wanted to do something nice before the big train and bus trek ahead of me.
I had seen a flier for the Singapore Cable Car on the first day, and thought: “Pshhhh we have one of those in San Francisco.” — but when I realized that it’s an aerial link system that travels across the water and connects to Sentosa Island, traveling 300 ft above ground at the highest point, I HAD to do it.
Because each cable car can seat eight people, I thought I would be put in a car with strangers.
Instead, I was put in a cable car ALONE. As I left the protective fortress of the take off point, the cable car began to wobble. I looked down, and froze. I’m not particularly afraid of heights, but when you’re in an unstable aerial car high above open water — by yourself — it’s a little terrifying.
By the time I reached the first stop — Jewel Box Restaurant — I definitely needed a few drinks. I ran in to catch the last 15 minutes of their Happy Hour (treating myself to a nice glass of wine — I’m an awesome date), before gathering the courage to hop on the death car again and head over to Sentosa Island. The second leg of my journey was far more enjoyable, and I actually managed to take some selfies and futuristic photos that weren’t totally blurry.
A ticket generally costs $28 SPD, a total splurge for me, but the kind woman at the counter gave me a discount and it ended up only costing $20 SPD. Regardless, it would have been well worth it at the regular price.
The next morning, I woke up early and headed to the train station — the first part of my journey to Malaysia.