I had a stellar experience in Malaysia, and I’m definitely coming back someday.
I only spent three nights in Singapore but I really enjoyed it as well. I arrived on a Thursday afternoon and navigated my way via bus, train and foot to the Backpacker’s SG hostel. I’m getting a lot better at arriving in a new country.
A nice, clean hostel with free breakfast, although the coffee is ridiculous. It’s the same in Malaysia, “3-in-1!” coffee. That means a little bit of coffee, a lot of creamer, and about a cup of pure sugar, all blended together into a vile powder. Pouring a single serving into your mug fills it up almost halfway, so you know it’s just full of crap. At least it’s free.
After getting settled in I pretty quickly went out to find a park and exercise. There are a lot of benefits to going for a workout as soon as you arrive in new country, and I was seriously pumped to be in Singapore.
After a smoking-intense workout and a tasty, cheap and filling dinner, walking back to my hostel I passed a big soccer stadium with all the lights on and, apparently, a game underway. Having seen the stadium on my way in I had actually hoped to catch a game, so I wandered toward the entrance. Well, I continued wandering right through the gate, through the concourse, up the stairs and directly into the stands, no questions asked. You never know where you can go with a little confidence (it was in fact halftime, which may have had something to do with that).
This was a fun, albeit unexpected, experience. Sitting down just as the second half began I start chatting with two guys in front of me, a Singaporean and an American. I learned this was a semi-pro Singapore-League matchup. I decided to cheer for the “home” team, although both teams are kinda from here anyway. But at least the crowd was divided by section based on team colors.
American guy: “not bad for only five dollars!” Me: “Yeah!” I didn’t tell him.
I was a few rows behind a rather underzealous cheering group of about five fellows calling out their team chants lacklusterly. C’mon guys, from the diaphragm.
More like this.
“AHHH YEAH THAT’S WHAT I’M TALKIN ABOUT!!!” immediately after one of their chants, inducing a few look-backs.
“YEAH BABY GET FIRED UP!!!!” More Singaporeans look my direction nervously.
One of the opposing team’s players fakes an ankle injury, bringing a yellow card.
“C’MON REF WHAT GAME ARE YOU WATCHING?? PULL YOUR HEAD OUTTA YOUR ASS!!!!” The American guy slides a few inches further from me.
“LOOK AT HIM REF! HE’S A BUM…..AND YOU’RE A BUM!!!” Finally a few people in the crowd erupt into laughter, the cheering squad looks back at me, clapping.
Should I open up the dual .50 cals, circa Harrisonburg, December 2008? (please comment if you were there). No….they’re probably not ready for that yet.
Anyhow, despite suffering a 2-0 loss in a dismal performance, the Geylang United crowd got a little taste of some classic American highly-aggressive cheering/heckling.
The next day I got on the hop-on/hop-off bus to get a lay of the land, which is really quite helpful in a new city. I went to the national museum, Fort Canning Park and the Battle Box, the last outpost of the British before the Japanese took control of Singapore in WWII.
The following day I was determined to rent a bicycle and ride around the city. After calling a dozen places I finally found a bike rental with good rates that seems like it would work. Only when I got on the train, the station I was headed to was 10 stops away. Hmm…how long is it going to take me to get back into the city? Eh, probably 20-30 minutes, no problem.
I finally arrived with a distinct feeling that I was WAY out there. A 10-minute walk to the station brought me to the rental shop, where they were all smiles and got me dialed in on a bike. “So how far do you think you want to go?”
“I was thinking about going to Marina Bay…how far is that, maybe 30 minutes?”
He chuckled visibly, then started breaking down the ride into segments, “well it’ll take you a half-hour to get to XXX, then about 45 minutes to get to East Coast Park, then from there if you’re really going fast you can make it in another 30 minutes.
Ooook. Well, I can get back on the train and rent a bike within the city, or I can just give it a go here. So, where do people usually ride around here?
With my visions of cruising through town dashed, the guy gave me a map and sent me pedaling along some rivers and canals on a not-so-sight-filled sightseeing ride. It was fun enough, great just to be on a bike, and I did see a roughly five-foot iguana right in the middle of my path at one point. I was too slow to get any decent photos but managed to get a few distant shots on my way back.
Despite the ill-advised journey to the outskirts of Singapore, I still had several hours left to explore the rest of the city. I made it back just after 2:00 and headed to Marina Bay. It was a national holiday and there were all sorts of people about, with some boat races going on in the bay as well.
I walked all around Marina Bay, checking out the Marina Bay Sands resort, the ArtScience Museum (ok), the SkyPark (awesome), the helix bridge (very cool), and got some great shots of the skyline at dusk.
I made it back to the hostel and showered up to meet Kishore and his family, who had driven down to Singapore for a comedy show.
Last night in Singapore!
I brought a guy from my hostel along for the ride, telling him I had a friend we would meet up with for a few drinks. Arriving at the train station and figuring out where to go, I looked down the way to see them all standing there about 50 feet away, having just arrived as well. With Kishore’s parents, sisters, brother-in-law, cousin, friend and girlfriend, they were about 12 deep. YOOOO DUDESS!!! startling everyone in the train station.
Had a great last night out with everyone who I would call family by now, and for the first time actually sat and watched an entire “football” game. Liverpool, Kishore’s team, was taking on Chelsea for the FA Cup championship so it was a big game.
Being an avid, if not fanatic, sports enthusiast, away from my favorite sports and teams, I’ve made it a point to take up soccer as best I can. So, talking with Kishore I’ve learned about the different European leagues and cups and tournaments and how the whole thing works and now have decent understanding. I still need to choose a team, although no one has solicited me yet, strangely enough (if someone is deciding who their American sports team is going to be and they are with me for 10 minutes it’s a done deal). Will keep you posted on that.
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world. I can buy in. It takes skill, a ton of hustle, and despite the low scoring I can still be entertained by the strategy, the passing and ball movement, the individual player skills, one-on-one battles and the exciting scoring opportunities. The flow of the game is fun to watch.
Here is the problem for me. In my perhaps biased American mind, the element of sport requires toughness, both mental and physical. Getting knocked down and getting back up. Taking a shot in the face and brushing it off. Running full-speed head-first into a concrete wall (ok maybe not advisable but I did that once playing racquetball). Playing through pain. Bleeding. I’ve never been a professional or even a collegiate athlete, but as an avid amateur athlete and throughout high school I learned enough to know that you have to be tough.
In every competitive soccer game I’ve ever watched, players are constantly falling on the ground, clutching their knee, shin or ankle, suing the official for a yellow card against an opposing player. They lay there writhing in pain, rolling around, pissing and moaning while the training staff comes out to have a look. After a minute they get up, limp a few steps, and then, PRESTO!, back in action, no worse for the wear.
I am sure that many of those little collisions and falls and scrapes and bruises hurt. I’m sure you feel something. But we all know it’s a show! A sham, a ruse, a subterfuge, a show, a flop, a ploy, A FAKE! Have some respect for yourself and your team man!
I hold these truths to be self-evident for any self-respecting athlete:
A) if you get carried off the field on a stretcher, you should not be walking again for at least three days. B) if you fake an injury to try and get a penalty, you are a pussy.
I told a friend that I will choose the team that doesn’t fake injuries and lay on the ground crying then get back up and play two minutes later. He said there isn’t one.
So, I’ll watch and enjoy and have some fun with it, and I really hope to go to at least one professional match while I’m in Europe (and maybe even South America). But as soon as someone starts talking crap about American sports they are going to get whalloped.
That was quite the digression. Hope you enjoyed that.
Here’s what I have to say about Singapore: you have to give them a lot of a credit. Having only separated from British rule in 1963, and further separated from Malaysia to become an independent nation in 1965, Singapore has only been in business for less than 50 years. Despite it’s youth, it’s an incredibly developed city-state. Here are a few notes from Wiki:
Singapore is a world leader in several areas: It is the world’s fourth-leading financial centre, the world’s second-biggest casino gambling market, and the world’s third-largest oil refining centre. The port of Singapore is one of the five busiest ports in the world, most notable for being thebusiest transshipment port in the world. The country is home to more US dollar millionaire households per capita than any other country. The World Bank notes Singapore as the easiest place in the world to do business. The country has the world’s third highest GDP PPP per capita of US$59,936, making Singapore one of the world’s wealthiest countries.
From my observations: everything there is high-class, top of the line, best in the business. The buildings, the skyline, the attractions, the views, the way the city is kept; it’s like Jurassic Park: spare no expense!
Most impressive to me was Singapore’s approach to building a country after their independence, which I learned about in the national museum. They set out to become a very particular nation. They wanted to be the “cleanest and greenest” nation in SE Asia. They wanted people to own their own homes. They wanted financial strength and security. They wanted to have a respectable national defense. They wanted to foster national pride. And so on. Then they went out and made those things real. They decided who they wanted to be and put the pieces in place to become that.
It may not have been pretty or easy all the way, but in less than 50 years, with 272 square miles of land, Singapore has become not just a strong nation in the world, but a nation that its people are proud of.
Singapore has demonstrated what may be a valuable individual lesson for each of us; about becoming the person you want to become.
We stayed out late, we made it count, and I said my goodbyes to Kishore, his parents, sisters, cousins, friends and Michelle. Another country, another experience, another adventure already growing distant in my rearview mirror.
I’ve been traveling for three months and been to seven countries (counting Hong Kong, and eight if you count my return trip to the USA). I have eight months, two continents and about 20 more countries on the horizon.
That’s why they call it a round the world trip..