Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We’re Millionaires! We’re poor . . . . Indonesia and Singapore

Sound great, but it’s not so impressive when 1,000,000 rupiah is a little over $82. 

So I’m sitting in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia writing this, but thought that I’d go back and say a little more about Singapore before going on to the “Island of the Gods”.  
The train pulled into the station in Singapore about 9:30 at night.  We were hoping to grab the local skytrain/subway called the MRT, but soon realized that it did not attach to the train station.  As a result, we grabbed a cab to Backpacker’s Cozy Inn in the Colonial District of Singapore. 
The hotel was full, so we started attempting to find another in the middle of the burgeoning metropolis. 
My amateur history of Singapore is thus.  Singapore was a completely new city basically built by the British on top of a small fishing village.  There was not a large indigineous population, so the majority of the people in Singapore moved in to work with/for the British until independence.  As a result, the British (and English speaking world) are not seen so much as “those colonial invaders” and are seen more as a sibling/parental figure.  Modern Singapore is constantly trying to prove itself to be a world leader in modernity, economics, architecture, biology, etc. . . . . and they’re doing a pretty good job. For example, the “Eye of Singapore” is basically a HUGE ferris wheel.  You can see all the way from Malaysia to Indonesia and Singaporeans are happy to remind you that it is much larger than the “Eye of London”. 
There are many Malay, Chinese and Indians in Singapore.  As a result, the public language is English, as it’s everyone’s second language.  It was nice to be in an English speaking country again. 
There are about 4.5 million people in Singapore, but the city has been immaculately planned for 6.5 million.  As a result, Singapore is still actively recruiting foreign workers.  The city is huge and it’s rather refreshing to have so much space in such a large city.  The sidewalks, subway, et all are built to hold 2 million more people than are currently there.  As a result, it’s a monstrous city . . . that doesn’t feel crowded.
Well  . . . . except for the colonial district when you cannot find a hotel.  After walking a little bit Leslie sat down at a restaurant and watched the packs, which freed me to run around the city at breakneck pace trying to find a place.  Leslie ate valentine’s day dinner by herself in an “authentic New York deli” with a S$22 ($16 US) cheeseburger.  I ran up North Bridge Road and eventually found ABC hostel and checked us into our first dorm room for S$17 ($12US) per bed . . . so that’s $24 for two beds in a six person dorm. 
I (literally) ran backi to Leslie and we headed to the hostel.  Where the room was FREEZING!  The AC was completely cranked up and one girl was actually sleeping in a mummy bag. 
The next day we decided to go shopping, so went to the “cheap mall” on Orchard St. We took the subway, which was pretty easy and went to Orchard, which was huge, beautiful and INCREDIBLY clean. 
A popular shirt indicated that Singapore is a “Fine city”.  Spitting on the sidewalk?  S$100 fine.  Littering?  S$100.  Forgetting to flush the toilet? S$150.  There’s a line on the subway to stay behind until the train comes to a stop.  Passing the line?  S$500.  The fines are stiff, but as a result, NOBODY breaks the law.  Punishment for shoplifting is 7 years in jail.  There is very little crime and the place is VERY safe. 
I found a book I wanted on Orchard St. That was the third in the series.  In the US the first book was $7.99.  In Thailand, the second was 180 baht ($6ish), in Singapore, S$22 ($17 US).  I did not buy the book.
We did have to get food though, so ended up eating in a very multi-cultural food court in one of the malls.  There was food from just about every country imaginable while drinks, biscuits and dumplings could be purchased from mobile carts moving throughout the mall. 
We then saw “The Outlander” and “Bride Wars” as we felt we needed to relax.  In keeping with the orderly society concept, movie theatre tickets entitled you to a specific seat, so you didn’t have to wait watching trailers, just buy your seat early.  
The waterpark the next day was a blast.  I thought it was the biggest in the world, but was VERY wrong as it was TINY.  Fortunately, the MRT (subway) took us to a bus that only required 2 stops to get there and it was almost empty.  We didn’t wait in a single line all day. 
That night, we headed to Little India and wandered around before finding a spot to sit down and hung out with some Australians, they were fun.
Our last day in Singapore saw us head to a mall in little India with some decent prices.  It wasn’t the cheapest spot to shop, but we knew we could find what we needed (shorts, socks, etc.).  We then returned to the expensive burger place as Leslie *insisted* I eat the expensive burger.  It was great and then we headed to Changi Airport for a 7:05pm flight to Bali. 
Changi Airport was an experience of it’s own.  There are three terminals and it felt more like a cross between a mall and an amusement park than any other airport I’ve ever seen.  There was free internet, free movies, a free three hole mini-golf course, free bus tours of Singapore (if you had at least a 4 hour layover), a rooftop pool and every shop imagineable. 
We spent a few hours in the hotel but probably could have spent more.
Landing in Bali was interesting.  We needed to pay US $25 to get into the country, but they didn’t take visa and we didn’t have rupiah (650,000).  As a result, they let me past customs to use the cash machine as long as I said I’d come back . . . . okay . . . . .
We hopped a taxi at 10pm with a few Swedes to Kuta, which is the really touristy area.  We checked into a room and just stayed the night before heading out this morning. 
This morning we slept in,before checking out and trying to find out how to get to Ubud, which is where Jez and Faye (16 month travelers from England we met in Cameron Highlands) recommended.   It’s also highlighted in a book called “Eat, Pray, Love” that many around here have read.  
We found some food and then hopped onto the taxi about 1.  We made it to Ubud, which is a wonderful little town in central bali.  The trees are green, dogs and cats have returned to the streets and the humidity has gone through the roof.
We found a place called “Wena” in the guidebook that we checked into for 100,000 rupiah.  It’s okay, but smells like mildew and there’s no mosquito net.  There’s an extended family that also lives in the cottages.  It appears that about 5-7 cottages are taken up by the family with 3 for rent.  There’s a great jungley-garden that has a little path to walk through until you reach the room.
We weren’t entirely sold upon it, so went to explore the city of Ubud while looking at different hostels.  We probably saw 13 hostels this afternoon, with the vast majority of them looking exactly like the place we’re staying, with costs ranging from 70,000 to 100,000.  ($7-$10)
Number 14 was different though.  It’s a bit outside of town and located in a complex with many different pricepoints.  To get there we ducked through a stone archway and walked down a two foot wide stone path with plants on either side growing above our heads. 
The first room we saw was beautiful tile, enclosed with grass, overlooking some rice patties with marble counter-tops.  It was 400,000 rupiah ($40).  We asked to see the cheaper ones and found a nice tile room on the second floor of a building with a great view for 100,000 ($10-ish).  We check in there tomorrow. 
On the way back to Wena we split dishes at two places.  The first was rather expensive ($5 a meal) and we had a nice fettucine in a cream-avocado sauce with ham and spring onions.  It was great.  We also had our first avocade milkshake.  It was AWESOME!
We then stopped by and got some info on visiting a local volcano and local dance preformances before finding some traditional Balinese food.  The restaurant is very adament that they do not accept “Chinese influenced” food as acceptable.  
We had Mee Goreng (noodles and veggies) for $1, a potato appetizer for 50 cents and another 50 cents for a sticky-rice ball dessert.  That’s what we’re talking about! 
Fortunately, we’ve found an internet place that has decent speed (and a Linux operating system) for me to write this and catch us up on the blog.  Leslie headed back to take a shower as we’re constantly sticky around here.  
I’m gonna head back and see how she’s doing.

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