I can tell you one thing about Singapore – ain’t nothing “poor” about it! Just this year it replaced Tokyo as the most expensive city on the planet.
My husband has been to that part of the world [a trip to Viet Nam, all expenses paid by the US Army, and a little side trip to Hong Kong for R&R], but I never thought I’d get anywhere near there. As it turned out, however, one of my cousins is working in Singapore for a couple of years so we figured we’d better take the opportunity to visit the place while he’s there and we could spare the cost of a hotel. Besides, a ticket from Berlin to Singapore costs less that a ticket from Berlin to the US. And you really get a lot of flying for your money—you only get to fly for about 8 hours if you’re going to the US, whereas you get to fly for about 12 hours if you’re going to Singapore. That makes it, even cheaper if you figure the cost of the trip by the miles/flying hours. Which is not to say that a 12-hour flight is 50% more enjoyable than an 8-hour flight (especially when you’re pushing 70 as hard as we are). Even more importantly, you can never get enough time with your cuzzies, so whimsical senior citizens that we are, we decided to go for it.
The airport alone is worth the trip! If you have to spend several hours in transit at an airport, this is where you want to be. It’s clearly designed to accommodate travelers. The luggage carts are free (no having to find the right change/currency); they even have free strollers, so parents can check their own strollers with their luggage and just use the airport strollers and ditch them at the gate. There are places for families that have diaper changing counters (so you don’t have to change a diaper on a chair or on the floor), nursing rooms, and play areas with cartoon channels on TV for the kids. There’s also a kids’ playground where you can run the little buggers ragged so maybe they’ll sleep for a moment or two on the plane. [And if the kids sleep on the plane, the other passengers will be eternally grateful.] I don’t know if you’ve ever traveled with small children, but every single thing you can do to make the parents’ lives easier is a wonderful thing.
Do you have a long layover? Do you think the passengers on your next flight would really appreciate it if you took a shower? Yep! You can do that. There’s also a transit hotel—the kind of hotel room you can rent by the hour and can actually register under your own name, instead of as “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”, and you can catch some quality ZZZs between flights. There’s a gym and a pool (which you can use free if you’re using the transit hotel).
You don’t have to lug your carry-on luggage (or your coat) all over Hell’s half acre until you board the plane; you can check it while you wander about the airport and retrieve it just before your flight. There are different kinds of lounge areas. Some have actual lounges where you can lie down and snooze (and withOUT TVs); other lounge areas have seats and TVs. Feeling a bit sick? Well, there’s a clinic to take care of you. Do you have a sharp object you forgot to put in your checked luggage? Well, there are kiosks where you can pop that puppy into a mailer and mail it to yourself.
Do you want to get some walking in before you settle down into a 12-hour flight? Well, you don’t have to just walk around being bored. You can walk around and see the sights inside the airport—the Kinetic Rain Sculpture; the Lilly Pad Garden; the Cactus Garden; the Enchanted Garden; the Orchid Garden; the Sunflower Garden; the Butterfly Garden; the Koi Pond; and the Perankan Exhibition on Porcelain of Asia. Had enough walking? Well, go to the Entertainment Deck, where you’ll find a casino and a movie theater. Do you need to do some work? Well, there’s a full service post office, a business center, and free Wi-Fi, Internet access, and mobile charging points. This, of course, is in addition to all the shopping, restaurants, massage chairs, and opportunities to get a manicure, pedicure, or a real massage that you may find at other airports.
And you go through security right at gate—so you don’t have to stand in line with ALL the passengers going through the airport; the only folks ahead of you in the line are the folks that are on your flight.
In short, you could just have the Changi Airport in Singapore as your destination and have a great time, even if you didn’t have cousins in town!
My cousin arranged for the company driver, Ricky, to pick us up at the airport. Good thing, too, because (as with any place the Brits had anything to do with) those folks drive on the wrong side of the road. Combine that with a place as busy as Singapore and a couple of old folks who haven’t been behind the wheel of a car but once in 4 years, and things could get really ugly really fast! Well, Ricky is used to picking up important business folks up at the airport so he has a spiel on Singapore that would rival that of any tour guide you can imagine. He told us so much about Singapore on the drive from (and, later, to) the airport, that I decided to call him “Ricky-pedia.”
Singapore is tiny—about 20 kilometers by 40 kilometers—and it has 5 million people. They use every square inch of space. (And, despite the fact that some folks say land is a good investment because they aren’t making any more, well, in Singapore, they ARE making more land. Bit by bit, they’re reclaiming land in the middle of the ocean. That, of course, doesn’t change the part about land being a good investment, especially here where it’s so scarce.) With so many people and so little land, the best way to build is up, and up, and up…. And if a bit of land isn’t part of a road or part of a skyscraper, it’s landscaped. Every single inch of it! You don’t even have to look at ugly utility cabinets along the roadways, because the roadside is landscaped and the utility cabinets are painted with murals that blend in with the landscaping. In some parts of town, they don’t even want to see cell towers so they put up artificial palm trees (which blend in with the real ones) that conceal the antennae.
Folks here really, really hate “ugly”, so there’s no graffiti or trash anywhere. In fact, they’ll fine you if you spit on the sidewalk. And it’s illegal to even bring chewing gum into the country. They started out by fining folks who throw trash on the street, but there are so many rich folks for whom a fine is no big deal that now, after multiple offenses, they’ll snatch you up, put a shirt on you that says “I am a litter bug”, and make your sorry behind spend several hours cleaning up the streets.
And they don’t even want you to act ugly. Throw the “F” bomb around, and you’ll pay a fine. Shoot someone the bird, and you’ll pay a fine. I wish I had bought the T-shirt that captures this aspect of Singapore. It had the 3 monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) except they said:
See no litter
Hear no fireworks
Speak no vulgarities
As we were driving toward my cousin’s apartment building, we saw Lamborginis, Ferraris, Bentleys, and Rolls Royces. Although I paid as much for my last car as I paid for my first house, my Volvo S80 would look like a jalopy here. I’d say these folks here have money to burn (but they probably wouldn’t burn it themselves—they’re so rich that they’d hire someone to do it for them, and they’d have to find a clean way to burn it).
And they are so efficient! If you have a car, you have a device that’s affixed to the inside of your windshield. You put a cash card in it and it works pretty much like the devices we had for the toll road in Virginia—you can just drive past the toll booth and it will charge your account for the toll. Except this device works for almost everything—access to your gated community; access to the parking garage in your apartment building; payment for parking everywhere. You can manually add money to the card almost anywhere, or, if you have a bank account in Singapore, you can automatically upload more money when you’re getting low. (Of course, the bad news is that if your card doesn’t have enough money on it to get out of the parking garage at the shopping center, the folks in line behind you may be tempted to risk getting a fine for shooting you the bird.)
And yet, as modern and high-tech as Singapore is, it still retains some old-world touches, which are especially apparent at some of the food markets, where you can buy live frogs and eels, for example. I don’t know what they do when you buy a live eel, but I saw what they do when you buy a live frog. First, they grab the frog around the middle and whack its head on the counter top. Next, they slice off the head with a knife, and cut off the feet with a pair of scissors. Then, they take the scissors and cut down from his neck to his butt and back up the other side to his neck again, and just peel his skin off like they’re taking off his jacket. And, not 100 yards away, you can buy some specialty ice cream in flavors like “Black Forest Red – Taylor Swift Limited Edition.” Of course, I don’t know what Taylor Swift has in common with Germany’s Black Forest; I’d think something like “Grandma’s Peach Cobbler” might be a better match with Taylor Swift (but what do I know?)
And, yes, we did go to the Long Bar at Raffles (which my cousin, having sent his daughter and his dollars to the University of Texas, thought was the Longhorn Bar) and had the original Singapore Sling. It cost 27 Sing dollars, which is $21 US! Told you the place was expensive!!!