Since I cannot access my laptop where I wrote all about our fabulous adventures in The Great Barrier Reef, I will have to backtrack to that one when we get to the next country, where I will hopefully be able to purchase a universal adapter to plug it in!
The law in Singapore states that citizens may not chew gum or use spray paint in public. Imagine M’s dismay – gum is an integral part of his everday life. Why no chewing gum or spray paint? Well, from what I’ve come to understand, Singapore prides itself on being a clean and safe city – those in their eyes are the two things that contribute to other city’s lack of those qualities.
You have the remain silent – nothing new to us right? Well actually not only do Singaporeans have the right to remain silent but they almost always do remain silent! As we stepped foot into the airport, there was no music playing and the silence hit us like a tsunami (mainly because it is the opposite of our American and Australian cultural tendencies). It’s not that you feel out of place, necessarily, only that you are painfully aware of the lack of chatter, laughter and the usual sounds of the bustling public. The silence amazingly extends to the train system, which is nearly the best I’ve encountered in my life – everything is automated, the cars are absolutely spotless, and actually it’s quite relaxing to zip across the brightly lit city in a silent train.
M got sick the first night we were in town, so we headed to the Bugis Junction Food Court across from Tree in Lodge Hostel where we are staying to grab some grub. Food Courts in Singapore are not what you would think back home – they are in malls and shopping centers, but they include nearly 100 food vendors all selling authentic local and international cuisine. Insanely cheap prices make picking your poison quite a daunting task. Good thing we were so tired or we could have been there all night looking at the different foods, NONE OF WHICH we recognized. We settled on Omu Yakisoba, singpore noodles topped with egg, mayo and a sweet sauce.
Day two and I am jetlagged beyond recognition – we decide to head on a day trip to Batam Island, Indonesia, about a 45 minute boat ride from Singapore.
I will just lead into the story by saying that as we waited to go back home to Singapore, this was our exchange:
“You have to write down the highlights of this day so I don’t forget” – k
“Ok…geez, where do I start?!” – m
As I suspected, Batam Island was not much of a sight to see. When we stepped off the boat, I felt as if I had been transported to the SuperMall on Pulaski in Chicago, and for those who don’t catch my drift, think rows of black market goods and sketchy vendors galore.
We headed across the street to the “Matahari” (or Mega Mall), alert to the consistent stares and whispering from the locals around. I have never been more proud to have a tall and handsome American boy on my arm haha.
For the next two hours, we got lost in the overcrowded shelves of the severely discounted stores. We bought a personalized keychain for 50,000 rupiahs, or $2.00. Beers were a measly $1, no matter which one you wanted.
We went to HypeMart, which I assumed to be similar to WalMart or Big W. Walking through the doors we had salesmen pitching us to buy a motorcycle – random, pass. We checked our bags at the counter and got a number as we continued on this culture shock trek through the mall. Rows and rows of every kind of Ramen noodle you could imagine, chefs cooking cheap local eats in the store, children dancing to Christmas songs on a stage.
After nabbing a few local treats made of pressed fruits and some fresh fruits we had never tried, we decided to get some lunch.
We were browsing the menu of an Indonesian restaurant (which was completely in Bahasa, or Indonesian), I felt a tap on my shoulder, and turned around to find a man with a Canadian accent saying “The food here is pretty good if you are wondering.”
Excited to hear a familiar accent in such a deeply foreign atmosphere, we turned to start conversation with him. Before we knew it he was ushering us into the restaurant and insisting on buying us on beer and having his wife order our food in their language for us. Why not??
The lunch was beyond interesting. My senses were stimulated by a strange dessert – his wife had me try it, it was a bowl which looked like the strangest soup concoction you have ever seen. She explained in broken English that it was icy cold coconut and strawberry milk with chunks of avocado, lychee, papaya and jello in it. Wowsers!! I tried the avocado and lychee and was blown away, it was amazing – tasted a bit like melted ice cream with sweet fruit in it. Her 5 year-old daughter was an even stranger dessert – sweet corn with chocolate chips, which I decided not to try.
We settled on two adventurous but safe options – authentic chicken sate and corn/chili cakes that were deep fried and a local favorite. The food was delicious, and the local Bintan beer was…well we’ll just leave it at that. Even though it took nearly an hour to get a waiter’s attention, and nearly another 35 minutes to receive our dishes, we are happy we ran into this place.
As the lunch went on, M and I exchanged glances to say “time to go.” The couple were strikingly accomodating, which raised questions in our minds (all translated through brain waves and facial expressions, of course). They insisted that we go home with them and the man ushered Max into a plan of riding his motorcycle around the island. Every minute a new plan was in order – they would take us to their favorite beach a couple hours away – no, they would take us to the jungle where the monkeys lived – or to see their luxuriously big house which the whole island envied (according to him they paid only $1200 USD each year!).
Spying a dodgy plan when we saw it, we gently insisted on going our separate ways as we had plans back in Singapore to tend to. They countered with force, saying that we could reschedule and that once we left Indonesia we wouldn’t be able to get back in. She enticed me by telling me I could call all of my American friends from her home phone, and he promised Max his motorcycle and a cell phone for the day.
Prying ourselves away, we bid them farewell and looked at each other in disbelief. Well, even though the experience wasn’t quite what we had anticipated it was quite a rush. We headed back to the ferry, where we sat down to have a beer and Max bought a pack of Djarum’s, the Indonesian clove-like cigarettes he smoked in his younger years.
I fell fast asleep on the ferry ride home, losing all control of my overtired and worn-out body. When we got back to Singapore we went to Brewerkz Brewery in Clarke Quay, which was amazing! Reminding a little of City Walk in Orlando, everything was brilliantly illuminated and clubs lined the pedestrian-only paths as crowds of people gathered round to see street performers and live music. Singapore at a glance is truly amazing, cultural and English-speaking as well! We are now heading to lunch in Tanjong Pagar and then a three-hour Feng Shui conference in the city – stay tuned!