The Sundowner Report, Episode 2

Our infrequent feature, posing as a frequent feature, is back! The Sundowner Report, Episode 2, comes to you not-live from a beautiful sunset in Singapore. Watch the video, live the excitement, see high-tech panorama technology at work.

Singapore glossy bongotron Sling

Happy Fourth of July, blog readers! Let’s celebrate by talking about Singapore.

By the time we got to Singapore, we were all pumped up to enjoy both the great and the lame things about it.

People are opinionated about Singapore, and we’d been told to expect some significant pros: delicious street food centralized into clean, easily accessible hawker centers, plus amazingly comprehensive shopping options, which would allow us to stock up on stuff like sunscreen before heading to Kenya. Great. Then, on the flip side, were the cons, all seemingly having to do with the country’s twin obsessions with order and conspicuous consumption – everything a little too clean, a little too safe, a little too well supplied with mile upon mile of air-conditioned shopping mall… wait, what’s bad about this again? After a month bumming around southeast Asia’s more chaotic cities, the cons sort of sounded like additional pros.

Our bus from Malacca was double-decker, and from our high perch we got to keep one eye on the feature film (the awesomely terrible Skyline) and the other on the sun setting in a pink haze over the dense palm jungle. Six hours’ ride time, and then Singapore welcomed us with the hugest, cleanest, most efficient customs and immigration building we have yet seen. It was like a space station. However, Singapore must expect visitors to be picked up from said space station by a flying limo, because the alternative – spending 10 to 11:30 p.m. in a grumbly, nearly unmoving taxi line outside the bus depot – struck us as poorly thought-out. Fortunately, this would not happen to us again, because as soon as we got a SIM card we could just text for a taxi and one would appear! The system would even text us back the license-plate number of the taxi so we knew which one to look for. In certain limited regards, I would like to put Singapore in charge of the future.

Without enough time to seek out its (presumably existent) artsy and independent underbelly, though, Singapore did feel a little bland and officious. We went to more than one allegedly cool bar that turned out to be an expensive tacky snobfest full of well-ironed dudes smoking cigars. And there’s a pretty blatant hierarchy of perceived status: Velvet ropes and reserved tables and “VIP” signs are everywhere. At the (lovely) botanical gardens, there are VIP orchids. At the original Raffles hotel, you can go to one of the bars for a Singapore Sling, but the restored lobby is “residents only” and guarded by doormen in absurd colonial-throwback uniforms. Taxis are metered (which is bliss), but there are all kinds of fiddly surcharges – Friday surcharge, central business district surcharge, rush-hour surcharge, wrinkled-shirt surcharge, yadda yadda yadda.

The Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

The food, though, is paradise. Every short walk from the subway to a hawker center was hot enough to kill, but then we’d get to the center itself and it would be like dumplings? Juice? Beer? Strange sweet soup? Strange savory soup? World’s best chili crab? Grab a chair, eat until you can’t stand up, it’s our pleasure!

And we sure did get to stock up on supplies before heading to Nairobi. In fact, torrential rainstorms (which put even Malaysia’s to shame; OK, southeast Asia, we get it! You win at rain!) stranded us in malls a couple of times, presenting us with excellent opportunities to buy feminine products and an umbrella and anything else we thought we had a shot at fitting into our backpacks.

Also, kind of as a present from Kevin to me, we stayed at a really lovely boutique hotel, called Naumi. Our room had a bathtub, and a seating area, and one of the most comfortable beds – well, actually, the variability of our trip has meant that I am wildly appreciative of even a moderately comfortable bed, so I don’t know how objective I am at this point, but I will say that every time I got into this bed I would sing a little song of glee. And the hotel staff were unfailingly cheery and helpful. If you find yourselves in Singapore, Naumi comes recommended.

It wasn’t until we were in the airport ready to leave that I remembered Mary Oliver’s poem Singapore. And, if I may egregiously miss Ms. Oliver’s point for a second, I will say that if you have to wash things in the toilet, Singapore is among the best places to do that. You could probably wash your hands in the water of a Singapore toilet and then safely perform surgery. But still, I felt a chime of extra recognition when I recalled the poem – like it not only beautifully sums up something about the world in general, but maybe also about Singapore’s slick surface (and its out of-sight-out-of-mind immigrant labor force) in particular.

Pictures! These may give you the impression of a weekend-long food bender that serves as the ridiculous flourish at the end of a month-long food bender. That impression is accurate. But that’s not all: there’s also a great series on local birdlife, and Kevin really outdid himself on this round of captions. Come along and be transported to this muggy city of the future!