We landed to light rain in Singapore. I breezed through immigration and within 30 minutes of landing, I was getting on the train to my hotel in Chinatown.
A couple of days before leaving Jakarta, I had scoped out how I would get around in Singapore for the 48 hours that I would be there – I would arrive late Sunday afternoon, get my business done on Monday, and fly out again on Tuesday afternoon. My research said that the Singapore subway, called the MRT, was cheap, easy and reliable. Still, I made my way to the shuttle bus desk in the arrivals hall at the airport because, with visions of the New York City train system in my mind, I feared getting lost in the subway. I was all set to pay SG$9 to get to my hotel when the lady told me that the next shuttle wouldn’t arrive for 45 minutes, by which time I could already be at my hotel by train for one-tenth the cost. I asked her for a map, she told me which interchanges to switch trains at, and I was off.
At the airport subway kiosk, I bought a subway pass and boarded the train. Forty-five minutes and 2 train changes later, I wandered out of the bowels of the Chinatown station through Chinatown Point mall and down 1 block to my hotel. It had been so easy! And interesting! Here was a reminder to me not to fear the unknown, but to venutre out and try new things.
While wandering through Chinatown Point trying to find the exit closest to my hotel, I had stopped at a pharmacy and bought a box of hair colour and a few other necessities, like astringent and lotion, since the ones I had left Jakarta with that morning were now the property of airport security. I had so much fun walking around that store and another down the corridor, looking at brands that I hadn’t seen in ages, like Jergens and Clean & Clear. Yes, those brands are in Indonesia but I rarely go to the places where they are sold (which are not the Indomaret and Alfamart across the street).
So that evening at my hotel, I busted out my new hair colour and got to work. It was not a smashing success because my hair wasn’t blonde as I had anticipated, but my greys were (mostly) covered so I didn’t dwell on it too much.
The next morning, I got up early and had breakfast at a cafe in Chinatown Point, then dropped off my passport and documents to the visa agent at around 9 am. He told me to come back after 5 pm to pick up my passport, so the day was mine to spend as I wished. My plan was simple: get a facial and an eyebrow wax. Everything else was gravy.
I jumped on the train and headed for Holland Village, where my facial was scheduled with a well-reviewed makeup artist and aesthetician. All the way there, I people watched on the subway. I had little shivers of pleasure fashion watching, in particular. Cute outfits bombarded me from every side and I almost didn’t know where to look. There were cute dresses and shorts and short skirts (I hadn’t see 1 of those in months!) and shoes and sandals – and not 1 pair of flip-flops in sight, except mine. People actually cared about their footwear!
As I people watched, I also noticed that the population of Singapore (well, at least the subway-riding population, anyway) is made up mostly of Chinese people, followed by Indians. In fact, most of the signage that I saw was in English and Chinese, and station announcements were made in English and Malay (there may have been Chinese too; I don’t remember). This meant that just about everyone in Singapore probably speaks at least 2 languages. Impressive.
As I sat on the train heading to my facial appointment, a feeling came over me like I was visiting reality; a reality where people travel to their jobs and dress nicely. I haven’t travelled to a job in 2 years, since I stopped working in an office, and I haven’t dressed really nicely in 7 months. For a moment, as I sat watching these people, I felt like I was observing real life from a distance.
It was quiet in Holland Village. I was about an hour early for my appointment so I wandered around a bit looking for postcards and just absorbing the atmosphere. It was so serene. Whereas in Jamaica there is always music playing somewhere, and in Jakarta there’s always the roar of motor bikes and heavy traffic, Singapore had none of that. There were very few bikes that I saw, so there was no noise pollution; and the traffic was fairly light, I assume because the train and bus system is excellent, so there was no observable smog. Hardly anyone was wearing a face mask, unlike in Jakarta, where it’s the norm.
Finally, it was time for my facial and that feeling of civility swept over me again. The aesthetician told me that my skin was dehydrated and that I had some blackheads. We chatted a little bit as she started working on me, and I noticed that she wore a mask so she wouldn’t breathe in my face. So civilised! Over the next hour or so, she did a deep cleanse and sorted out my pores. It hurt so good.
After my facial, I jumped on the train again, this time bound for Orchard, where I had my eyebrows waxed (civility!) before spending the rest of the afternoon wandering around ION Orchard mall looking for a pair of shorts. I hadn’t brought any with me from Jamaica and I would need a pair for the last stop on my itinerary the following week. My simple desire turned into quite a hunt since short shorts seem to be in fashion in Singapore right now, and I don’t typically wear shorts that go much above my knees (knock kneed people know why). Still, it gave me a chance to wander around a beautiful mall; all of the major high-end brand names were there – Tiffany, Marc Jacobs, BCBG Max Azria, and True Religion, to name a few – and there was a concierge on every floor. I stuck to H&M, Top Shop and Uniqlo. Eventually, I settled on a pair of shorts that I know I paid too much for (SG$19) but by that time I was hungry and tired and ready to go.
That day, as I had ridden the train from Chinatown to Holland Village to Orchard and back to Chinatown, and as I had walked around those areas of the city, I grew to really like the Singapore subway and I developed a little crush on the city itself. Both were spotlessly clean, not smelly, and easy to navigate. I was a stranger and already, after 24 hours, I felt comfortable moving around without the aid of Google Maps (no roaming for me on this trip, only wifi).
I ended my day’s meanderings with a brief stroll through the Chinatown market (tourist trap) outside the MRT station and a Big Mac, fries and Coke at McDonalds (decent burger! Yaaaaaaassss!!!), followed by a dip cone for dessert.
As I headed back to the visa agent to collect my passport, I felt content with a day well spent. I had unexpectedly enjoyed my time in Singapore. What was I missing there by deciding to spend only 2 days?