We woke up early, to the rain; at around 6 am I think I heard a ceremony of some kind in the distance, although I couldn't tell for sure. We ordered our final breakfast and ate it on our covered patio table (as opposed to our other table, the one under the big umbrella...what a place...); then we packed and left. When we'd checked out, they gave us something from a local textile batik as a final gift. By chance, we had the same driver again, Agusta, but today’s drive was much more slow and functional (at least there were no shakedowns). I didn’t mention before how much garbage we noticed in Bali (especially in comparison to Singapore) – even on our emblematic walk through the ricefields. It’s a small thing, but a further reminder that unspecific notions of an island paradise (which I think is as much as most people have of it; it’s certainly as much as we had) can’t come very close to engaging with the reality of a place. In some ways, the West seems fairly tightly at bay here – we didn’t for example see the images of Hollywood celebrities that you see throughout Japan, and the usual brand names seemed fairly scarce (the Starbucks in the middle of Ubud looked rather out of place); I don’t think the locals brandish their cellphones as much as we’ve seen elsewhere. But there’s also a lot of noise and rubble and tumbledown houses and, from the looks of it, some very strained economic realities.
When we got to the airport, he handed us off to another Four Seasons person who happily steered us through the process. It’s not much of an airport for such a storied location – actually it feels more like a bus terminal (a new airport is under construction however). But I guess a steady stream of notable visitors pass through it, currently including the participants in the Miss World contest which is happening here shortly (we caught a glimpse of Miss Singapore, who I guess from a local perspective would be one of the most exciting ones).
In retrospect, it's possible I didn’t book this part of the trip very skillfully – I initially booked the Toronto/Singapore return flight and then as a separate exercise booked the return flight between Singapore and Bali, but I could have cut out the return to Singapore, most obviously by having us fly directly from Bali to Hong Kong, where we make our connection. But on examining the logistics, it probably wouldn’t have yielded that much either in terms of additional quality time nor cost savings. Anyway, it’s hardly necessary to stain this account by musing on such trivial imperfections.
And if we hadn’t done it this way, we wouldn’t have had our last night in Singapore. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza at the airport – you glide right into it from the terminal. It’s a very striking hotel, built around a large garden and swimming pool; our room also has a glass-walled toilet, the rationale for which is a bit difficult to grasp. At around 5 pm we took the subway system downtown – we’d never used it during our earlier stay. It was of course very smooth and handsome and stainless, even if we might have forgotten how long it inherently takes to use the subway.
We returned to the site of our first morning walk – Marina Bay and the Gardens by the Bay. They were much busier this time, filled with joggers in particular – we walked down to the bottom of the Gardens area, where the path elevates and gives you a stunning view of the city skyline as it gets dark. There were people hanging out, having picnics, taking formal and informal pictures, playing Frisbee. There’s an area of fountains which recalls the recently-developed spot at Sherbourne Common in Toronto where I walk Ozu most mornings – the difference is that in Toronto it’s the whole destination, whereas here it’s just a throwaway detail within a project of incomparably greater vastness. And it’s still being enhanced – construction workers were working on what seemed to be some high-tech (naturally) water and light show.
It’s impossible to convey the glory of the sightlines, albeit an imperial, potentially deranged kind of glory – for example, it feels like we’ve been able to view the Marina Bay Sands hotel, the one with the ship-like platform on top, from every conceivable angle; likewise the London Eye-type attraction. At the foot of the hotel there’s a reportedly vast casino, and near there a retail mall of what seems like just irrational grandeur, with a canal and boat rides through the centre. It feels like a city that just throws out absurdly overreaching ideas and then effortlessly does reach them, just to show it can. And while we’ve seen more than a few impressive urban waterfronts around the world, this one might be the most stunning, in its size and diversity and total command of its effects (equally impressive, if you go to the end of the Gardens and look out in the other direction, the waterscape is entirely different, crammed with industrial vessels, because along with everything else this is one of the world’s busiest ports).
The inherently absurd and yet hypnotic “Super Trees” were cycling through different light schemes and pulsing in tune to some suitably eerie but pulsating music. A little later we encountered something similar by the bay, with a crowd gathered to watch the water - as if without human intervention - generate flames and bubbles and colours and effusions in tune to a blaring soundtrack. It’s crass and airheaded of course, judged as a cultural performance, but certainly expresses a city possessed with easy confidence. We sat at a restaurant there and shared a pizza and a salad (so the culinary expeditions on this trip are over). And then we caught a cab back to the hotel. The cab driver chattered happily about the country’s continuing growth, how every citizen recently received some kind of $500 bonus, how the government plans to grow the population by some 2 million people in coming years, mainly by immigration, but of a kind veering toward the skilled and the committed. You can’t help thinking this sounds like a bubble that can only at some point catastrophically burst, but the way the city looked tonight, I think anyone would have mused about signing up…