28.06.2014 - 28.06.2014
Yesterday I checked out some of the more popular sites in the new, flashy parts of Singapore. Today, I took it back a few decades to the Singapore of the 1960s (ish?), by trekking over to the island of Palau Ubin. After moving over to my new, fancy hotel (more on this in a bit), I took a cab to the Changi Point Ferry Terminal, where I caught a "bum boat" over to the island.
Once on the island, I rented a bicycle for 8 dollars, including a basket (important for carrying purse; lesson #1 in biking is don't carry a purse). I then took a moment to remember HOW to ride a bike (it's been a year since I last rode a bike in Holland), but as they say, it's like riding a bike. And this, I set out to explore a bit of what they call the Singapore that was. As you can see, it's not much, but what it's "authentic", and it was really nice to see a completely different side of Singapore than the modern, shiny city.
I rode around aimlessly for a while, and then decided to have an aim, which was the Chek Jawa Wetlands. This is an area that was once almost "loved to death" by tourists, and they have now put a boardwalk around it to protect it while still giving visitors the ability to enjoy the nature. There is a coastal boardwalk, a Mangrove boardwalk through the Mangrove trees (which are important because of something to do with silt and their roots) and a lookout tower. Of course I climbed the tower, counted the stairs (105), and took a selfie. There are a lot of selfies when you are traveling alone. The most dangerous, of course, is the bicycling selfie, in which you take one hand off the handlebars and promptly steer yourself off the road. Brilliant, soon-to-be Ivy Leaguer.
When I got back to pick up my bike and ride back to the public jetty, these silly guys were checking out the bikes. No, don't worry boars, I didn't need that bike...
I also saw a Chinese temple, completely by accident since I don't read Chinese characters (I don't know if it was Mandarin, Cantonese, or other, since I can't read them... Yet), but I do know to always follow pretty colored flags and balloons.
After riding back to the Main Street of the island, I grabbed a bite with a view, then bum boated back to the mainland. It was a really nice but of nature time, a good workout (I reckon a few hours biking is enough exercise for ten days in Singapore, right?), and I was literally dripping wet by the time I left. Hair had reached epic level of grossness, so it was in a topknot- I'm sure it would have reached Malaysia otherwise.
Back at the Changi ferry terminal, I caught a cab back to the city. My cab driver was super nice and friendly even though I'm sure I smelled like a teenage boy after a hockey tournament, and he gave me some tips about where to go, where not to go, and most importantly, where and what to eat. He was my first friend in Singapore.
After a quick shower, I headed over to Chinatown for my evening activity. Following the "off the beaten path" theme, I decided to take a walking tour that showed the underbelly of Singapore; the side no one believes exists in Singapore, and that my taxi man friend told me I should not go to. It was a night tour of Chinatown and Geylong, the old and new red light districts in Singapore. There are no photos of this, as if I took photos the pimps would have beaten me up, and I'm really getting to old for getting beaten up by pimps.
We spent about an hour walking around Chinatown to get the history of prostitution, gambling, and drugs in Singapore, and then took a bus over to Geylong, the "ghetto" area. This is where many migrant and illegal workers live in crowded conditions, and where the official Red Light District of Singapore is located. Prostitution is legal here, but only on the odd numbered streets, in licensed brothels with registered prostitutes (ladies of the night). We also learned that this is an area where illegal gambling has started to flourish, as Singaporeans have to pay $100 to enter the casinos built for tourists (to curb vice, of course).
Our guide, a five-foot-nothing woman, was our bodyguard as we walked through the streets, keeping our eyes peeled for ladies of the night, ladyboys of the night, gambling, and other illegal activity. She told us about some of the schemes they have to prevent raids, including regularly placed scouts who were actually keeping a close eye on our group, as well. We learned how brothels are identified by lighting up their street number, and how the johns are able to pick their girls, among other things.
This provided another insight into the "other", and although it did feel a bit like voyeurism, it was really just a history lesson on the world's oldest profession and its history and present in Singapore. Of note, we also tried some non-pharmaceutical virility agents (read:little blue pills): crocodile, which I've previously tried in Africa; and Turtle Soup, something I never ever really needed to try. I ate turtle. Even though, as the song I made up last year in Hawaii goes, "Honu are sacred, don't touch the turtles. They may look sacred, but you can't eat them". I'll sing it for you another time, for now I'm just trying to pretend that it's okay, because when in Rome and all...
Anyhow, after the tour, another girl on the tour and I met up with a friend of hers and went for a bite at the Chinatown a Food Street, followed by some beers on Club Street. Then it was time to go back to my new hotel, the Pan Pacific, to await the arrival of my colleagues, some doctor and Karina. This is the view from our room, where they are graciously letting me crash, in exchange for the pleasure (?) of my company. Something tells me I'll pay for this somehow, but the view from here is looking pretty nice so far...