Happy by the Bay

Singapore, 12th -13th January

Official apology: Due to lack of negligence and distraction, a large part of the Singapore photographs have been lost forever. The Vivid Key creative team apologiseс for this monumental mistakes and will do their best to fill the visual gaps.

12th January

I don’t know if you’ve noticed that good luck has been with us from the first day on the roads of the world. If we go back in time we can see that we successfully avoided the Northern Territory (Australia) wet season. Yes, we may have melted from the heat but drowning would have been the only alternative otherwise. Also, we somehow skipped all bushfires on the way and were never in any danger, especially during the newsworthy events from the end of last year. We are yet to pick the right time to go back to Europe before all borders close due to the well-known pandemic.

But one event from this series of fortunate events is missing. Seemingly a big event, but it was lost in between the others. On the 12th of January 2019 (today), the Taal volcano erupted in the Philippines and brought great destruction to the archipelago. According to our initial plans, we should have flown to the Philippines after Bali - meaning we would have landed there today. But destiny guided us to skip this stop of our trip and distanced us from the natural disaster. If that isn’t pure luck ...

This morning, we get up early and load ourselves in the taxi to the airport with Balinese bracelets for health tied around our wrists. At Denpasar airport we check in the luggage and enter the terminal looking for breakfast. Who could have known that would be a big mistake? Why would it be a mistake? Because it turns out that we had food included with our flight. And when buying the tickets, Nic didn’t realise that so ordered extra. So now, after two large falafel wraps at the terminal, we end up with four more airplane food portions. Wow! Maybe we’ll take them to the hostel.

Since the plane isn’t taking us to the Philippines, it will land in Singapore. A city-state located in the southernmost part of the Malay peninsula, a hop, skip and a jump away from Indonesia. It is half the area of London and double that of Sofia. An ex British colony, the city is now an independent state and one of Asia’s titans. They call them the Four Asian Tigers (or Dragons) because of their incredible economic bloom in the second half of the 20th century - China, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong. And that means only one thing for us, the tourists - Singapore is an incredibly expensive destination. Anyone who has visited would warn you not to plan a long stay because of its ridiculous prices. Fortunately, it is only a city.

Our first aim is located at the airport itself - The Jewel or the inside waterfall at the main terminal. I have definitely been waiting impatiently to see it in real life. The entire airport complex has been planned as a tourist destination, not just as a portal to one. You don’t need a boarding pass to enjoy the colourful sculptures, water installations, family walking paths, restaurants and shops. Why leave the airport at all?

Nic and I wander up and down the corridors with our bags on our backs (because someone didn’t want to take a trolly) and we can’t find our way. It is time to ignore the manly instincts of my husband and ask for directions. But at the Information desk, we get quickly disappointed - “The waterfall is closed for maintenance until the 15th January”. Great! Exactly the day we’re leaving. No, I haven’t at all been waiting for a year to see it. I am not at all disappointed by this turn of events.

Let’s just get to the shuttle for the tram then. It’s not like there is much to see here any more. Tired, overfed and annoyed. With a swing, I slam my rucksack on the floor like a child angered by the smallest difficulties. Nic is trying to diplomatically get me on the correct bus, perhaps some time in the stuffy space would calm down my nerves. Why did I listen to him not to take a trolly for the bags? Why do I have to carry 25 kilograms on my back when I can just push it???

While we wait for the tram to arrive, we are intrigued by an interesting structure. The access to the tramlines is blocked on the entire platform. Once the train arrives, the doors line up with those along the platform which open only so you can get on. There isn’t a single moment when there is a possibility of one falling (or jumping) under the machine. The Singaporean transport system is the first in the world to install such screens for the safety of all passengers, as well as the acclimatisation of some areas. Every station we visited was barricaded in such a way, even those in the open. With a thought for sustainability …

And in the subway itself, we are accompanied by colourful stickers that remind you of the manners we should follow in public transport. #StandUpStacey advising us to offer our seat in need. #MoveInMartin, on the other hand, is guiding us to stand closer during peak hours. Around them are also #BagDownBenny, #GiveWayGlenda and #HushHushHannah. How could you not be an example commuter when there is always someone to remind you in such a fun way?

The line to downtown Singapore is long but we reach the end anyway. It is hot and sticky outside and we are yet to find our hostel with 25 kilos on our backs. We have booked a place in Little India which is the Indian equivalent of Chinatown worldwide. The streets are busy, colourful and smelly (nice or not so much), full of trinkets that you would never need but buy happily regardless.

The hostel lobby allows us to breathe in deeply with its cold conditioned air. But it is also full of people and their luggage. There is another hour before check-in; everyone is waiting in the cool. Well, we won’t miss that either. We line up our bags to the wall and relax into the only free chairs. Not that I want to waste precious time in Singapore, but such are the circumstances. Or maybe not … Nic is quickly called back to the receptionist. “If you cancel your reservation on Booking.com, we can take you to your room immediately for the same price.” Someone doesn’t want to pay commission. But what do we care?

Our beds are in a room for twelve. I would give anything to be the first to choose our places and they aren’t even asking anything of me. The dormitory is narrow, with one shower and two toilets for so many people. The bottom bunks have short curtains for privacy, the tops don’t. I pick the ones with a nook in the back to toss rucksacks into and not worry too much about something disappearing. The lockers are also next to us to put in all our valuables under a key. Well, we’ll manage somehow.