The flight left Brunei on time. The flight itself, on Singapore Airlines, was not the best. Alas, the person assigned the seat next to mine had different standards for personal hygiene than I did. Or, to put it another way, he smelled bad. His strong body odor was enough to put me off my lunch. I doubt he had bathed in the previous week.
Lunch was a chicken in brown sauce, served over noodles. The flight was just over an hour, I cleared customs very quickly, only to have a long wait for my luggage. For "the world's most efficient airport" they were quite slow in getting luggage off the airplane. I also cashed one of my travelers' checks, so I had some cash for the stay. I was amazed to notice that the airports had better rates than hotels and banks. They must make their profit in volume. (In Europe, I found better rates in banks than in airports.)
It was about 45 minutes from the airport to my hotel, the Cockpit Hotel at the east end of Orchard Street. Orchard Street is the shopping street in Singapore. After dropping off my bags, I immediately went to Sentosa island. This is an island amusement park that is one of the main destinations where Singapore residents go for fun. To get there, I took the cable car. One takes an elevator to the 15th floor of the World Trade Center, where one can board a tiny little car, about the volume of the inside of a New York taxi. This is carried suspended over the harbor about 200 feet on some cables. It sways in the breeze, and is certainly one of the more unnerving rides. (My last cable car trip was up Bridalveil falls in Utah in 1992.) It takes 8 minutes to cross the harbor and descend to the cable terminus on Sentosa.
On arrival I went to the butterfly park. This is a museum of butterflies, followed by an open aviary with all sorts of different butterflies flapping about. Too bad it was dark, as the pictures I took did not come out as well as I'd have liked. The butterflies were quite beautiful. Next, I headed over to Underwater World, Singapore's aquarium. It was fairly expensive, and compared to aquaria in the United States, very small. You ride a moving sidewalk for about 200 feet, and that's basically it. The last stop was the Singapore history museum. As you might imagine, history began with the British takeover. (Well, not really, but the history before that was not covered in depth.) Half the museum was devoted to the War years. The loss of Singapore was probably the worst defeat the British military suffered in the Pacific war, and the occupation of Singapore was harsh on all parties.
One gets around Sentosa on a monorail. This was quite slow, as the lines were long. By the time I left the museum, it was already 7PM. I hopped on the cable car and went back. This time, I was alone and the lights of Singapore shone.
For dinner, I went to the Apolo Banana Leaf cafe, as recommended by Mark Mitchell. Here you are given a banana leaf, and then rice and sauce, and papadams. You can order some dishes from a menu, but the real highlight was the atmosphere. Since it was Deepavalli, the Indian new year, the place was packed with people celebrating. The food was good, and the price was cheap. I had a mutton curry, to go with my rice, papadams, and sauce.
I went to bed, after looking around the shopping area. The next morning, I had to do some laundry. There was a laundry across the road in one of those shopping malls, Washy Washy, that cleaned all my clothing for a mere S$18. Unfortunately, the place didn't open until 10AM, so I had to wait. After dropping off the clothes, I had to wait out a thunderstorm before going to Jurong bird park. Everything in Singapore is heavily influenced by man, and the bird park was no exception. I had some very mixed feelings at this place. It was nice to see so many different species of birds, but to see a golden eagle straining on a tether to be free was heartbreaking. Ironically, some of the best birds were some egrets that were passing overhead. Plus, the bird park had some large aviaries, where the birds had every opportunity to fly. One was a couple acres in size.
It was here that I ran into the rudest people of the trip... The stereotypical ugly American. I was photographing some of the egrets, when these people came up to me and said, "We're from North Carolina and we think Duke sucks." I was too stunned to say anything... It took a moment for me to realize that I had a Duke basketball shirt on that day. I ignored them and went back to my photography.
I actually spent several hours in the bird park, and bought some presents. (Since my parents are going to read this, I won't say what I got, so I can keep them surprised.) Most of the lunch places were closed, but I found a Chinese restaurant that served spicy crocodile over the Jurong crocodile park. I also visited here briefly. Not much to say, except the crocs were sleeping, as were the snakes. The crocodile did not taste like alligator, more like beef.
Back to the hotel to drop off the photo gear, then to look at the shops on Orchard Street. Lillian would love Singapore. Or, at least, she'd love Orchard Street. It is like Fifth Avenue, Union Square, or Rodeo Drive. Each building is actually a shopping boutique. You enter the building, and the air conditioner chills you; I was moving from about 95 degrees outside (35 centigrade) to 65 inside (18 centigrade). Since I tended to sweat, that cooled, and I picked up a slight chill. No matter.
In one of these malls, I found a fairly comprehensive bookstore. Naturally, I checked. Yep, UNIX Secrets is available in Singapore, so I offered to sign some copies. The manager told me that UNIX Secrets is one of the best sellers in Singapore! Also, apparently, autographed copies are not popular; since they are viewed as being "defaced." Different cultures, I guess.
For dinner, I stopped by an Indonesian Restaurant on the fourth floor of the same shopping center. The name was Samur, and I had Javan Chicken soup, chicken in pepper sauce, and satay. It was all delicious, with different flavors. The chicken in pepper sauce was the best, with a nice strong flavor of black pepper.
I slept well, and was met early in the morning, for my ride to the airport. Back to Air Malaysia, for the flight to Phuket, changing planes in Kuala Lumpur. Before boarding the plane, I found the "Internet Center" at the airport, and sent some quick email messages after telnetting to my account at netcom. It's a small world.
I really liked Singapore. Perhaps, I went with lower expectations, and consequently was amazed... No matter. I would go back, and I wish I had junked the day in Brunei to get an extra day here.
On to Thailand.
All images are © Copyright 1991-1997 James C. Armstrong, Jr.