Thursday, August 29, 2013

Singapore/Bali trip diary - day 6

We certainly aren’t fooling ourselves that five days  is enough to glean much of a sense of the real Singapore. Given the pervasiveness of English at least in the areas we visited, you wonder whether many residents must feel somewhat distanced from their own country. Plainly, the wondrous development we’ve seen downtown doesn’t directly affect the lives of most people. It’s apparently a fairly authoritarian state, but we haven’t seen that either. Some of the older looking apartment buildings are festooned in national flags, which one of the cab drivers told us (we think) indicates subsidized housing, including a program in which people are paid for living with their parents for as long as the parents are alive. Presumably, as you get further from anywhere the tourists would likely go, you encounter lives governed more by such calculations. You see little trucks zipping along, with maybe ten people riding in the back, often all wearing matching jerseys; we take them to be transporting construction crews to and from wherever they’re staying (you see them in the middle of the day too, all stretched out in a row in some shady spot, having a group nap). The hostess at the Long Bar told us she’s from the Philippines and rides over an hour to get home every night. These are just fragments pointing to the inevitable unreliability of our impressions.

We certainly appreciate the fact that no one pays attention to us, since any attention you attract as a tourist is usually at best annoying and at worst outright dangerous. The only real exception is that there are always rickshaw drivers outside the hotel who try to get us to take a ride. They’re a bit of a mystery actually since we’ve only once or twice seen them anywhere other than around the hotel, and they all look too old to go very far, so I’m not sure how much action they can possibly have going. Anyway, we liked Singapore even more than we expected to; we settled into it quite completely, and can completely imagine coming back one day, although I suppose that’s unlikely (if we do, we want the same room, #130, or else one of those next to it – it’s hard to imagine one of the rooms in the main building would have felt as special a hideout, even if they’re more luxurious by some measures). Even the heat becomes less of an issue with every passing day, as you ease into ways of dealing with it. For example, back home everyone stands at the edge of the street waiting for the lights to change, but here they hang back in the shade until the green man actually appears.

On our last day we checked out and left our bags, and then walked to the last major area we hadn’t covered, the historic Chinatown. Whereas Little India feels like a thriving, warts-and-all neighbourhood, Chinatown is clearly much more designed for visitors: you have signs throughout educating you on the wretched lives of the earlier inhabitants of the area, but now it doesn’t feel like much real life goes on there, let alone much suffering. Everything is clean and quite spacious; there are several very handsome temples - we went into one which felt like a happy meeting place. From there we wandered through some nicely preserved old streets, mostly home now to nightclubs and galleries, but with some interlopers such as “O’Bama’s Irish Bar.” We walked back through the heart of the business district, in the middle of the lunchtime rush, and then back along the river one last time. Just a perfect morning walk.

The hotel let us freshen up in the spa, and we caught a cab to the airport, where the whole check-in process took about ten minutes. We took the KLM flight to Denpasar in Bali, lasting around two hours: I slept for most of it, Ally a little less. Compared to the absolute serenity of Singapore airport, Denpasar airport had more of the happy chaos of a tourist destination, but fortunately we’d prearranged a ride to the hotel, so someone met us and walked us to the car. The ride took about an hour, almost all through somewhat chaotic traffic with motor cycles weaving in and out; the roadsides were a constant stream of low-end commerce – people selling things out of carts or off tables or in whatever way they can, punctuated throughout by little stone masonries displaying what might be a lifetime’s worth of inventory (the potential customer base is significant I guess, because we were told every home in Bali has its own temple). We went through one area where you could fleetingly smell the presence of surfers, but it was too dark to glean much (aside from again, the overwhelming presence of know, I think Esperanto may not be doing so well on becoming the global language).

Suddenly in the middle of all this, the entrance to the Four Seasons resort appeared, and after a security check (complete with sniffing dog) we were in an entirely different world. Actually, given the darkness, we’ll have to wait for tomorrow to discover quite how different. But we’ve been upgraded to a private villa with a somewhat unprocessable three thousand feet of space, including our own pool and four different seating areas to lie around it, two showers (indoor and outdoor), a bathtub (which when we arrived had been filled with floating petals) and a general feeling of staggering secluded opulence. We couldn’t really take it all in, and so didn’t try. We went for dinner at the hotel restaurant, on a vast and gorgeous sheltered terrace, where the only other diners left after ten minutes or so, leaving it all to us (it rained for a while, making it feel even more exotic). We ordered from the Indonesian side of the menu, which was excellent, although I swear that my tofu and mushroom main course was overwhelmingly reminiscent of meals Ally has made at home. The walk back to our villa took only about two minutes, but we were still asked twice whether we wanted to be driven in a buggy. I’m sure there’ll be a lot of things like that since the main notion seems to be that you stay at the resort and relax rather than explore (we’ll see how it works as a base for doing the latter). I would say we fell asleep in a state of happy bewilderment.

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