Although I toyed with the idea of catching the train from the airport into the city, I settled on a taxi instead. I figured Sydney’s public transport system was sometimes hard enough getting my head around, let alone trying to navigate my way around a city I’d never been to before.
And even though English is an official language, and clearly the language of business, my experience is that although widely spoken, it’s not spoken all that well.
My first experience of this was with the cab driver. I estimate he was about sixty years old, and he told me that he was born and bred in Singapore. “I’m Chinese Singapore”, he told me. He also told me he never goes to “Little India”, the part of Singapore in which I’m staying and that he’d never heard of “Madras Street” before. Even after calling someone and asking for advice, and having me show it to him on the street directory, he still seemed a little confused. “That’s a very old part of Singapore”, he told me, and then asked me why I wanted to go there and not somewhere new. “Because it’s old”, I told him which seemed to leave him absolutely cold, and then I also told him because it was cheap, which seemed to make a lot more sense.
For a while I was beginning to wonder if I’d booked accommodation in somewhere so incredibly dodgy that even the locals didn’t go there. As it was, I was really pleased when I did book in. Although small, the room is clean, reasonably quiet (though there’s obviously a mosque nearby as I’ve heard the call to prayers twice), and the wifi access is fantastic.
It’s also located in what’s possibly the most interesting part of Singapore I’ve seen today. As the name implies, Indian culture is everywhere. And although there’s a backpacker hostel around the corner, I haven’t seen too many caucasian faces. When I walked into a nearby cafe for dinner tonight and ordered the marsala dosai, you could see in the eyes of the bloke behind the counter a sense of genuine interest or curiosity in the arrival of the pasty-faced bloke from Australia.
I had a similar experience earlier today in ordering some food from a nearby food hall. Although we both spoke English, the older woman behind the counter and I just couldn’t understand each other until finally, her son intervened.
After my plate of chicken rice which was exactly as the name implied I went looking for a new camera, as I left mine in the lounge room at home. As it was, I’ve ended up with a significantly better camera than I had at a reasonably good price. As I walked into the mall which specialised in electronic goods, the first shop I saw was one which sold cameras. “Come around the corner”, the bloke said to me when I told him why I was there.
He sat me down on a stool and proceeded to begin to try to sell me a mid-priced Canon. He then showed me a Kodak and I told him I don’t like Kodaks, and that I didn’t think they were as good as Canons. For the next time minutes or so, he demonstrated to me just how good the Kodak was, and to be honest, I was pretty much convinced by that point. I then returned to my arguments about Canon cameras being better, and pointed towards another Canon on the shelf. “That’s a rubbish camera”, he told me, “why would you want to buy that rubbish?”
So anyway, the upshot of it all was that I bought the Kodak at a reduced price, got an extra battery and 2meg card, and despite the hard sell, held my ground and didn’t purchase the additional lens. I’m pretty happy with the purchase, even if I did spend more than I’d planned. And besides there were so many great photographs that I wanted to take, and will take over the next few months.
I covered a fair bit of ground today, walking around “Little India”, “Chinatown” and parts of the CBD.
Not as interesting as “Little India” but still interesting was Chinatown. And it was at a market area there, while ordering a lemon drink that my friend Jacqui called to wish me all the best. It’s also then I discovered I can receive international calls, but can’t make them. Go figure.
The newer parts of Singapore left me enirely cold. It could have been anywhere in the world from what I could see. Architecturally there were times when I actually thought I was in Melbourne. They even have their own “Southbank-like” development. I’m not one of the anti-development crew who think it should be “just like it was”, it’s just that I personally don’t find modern office blocks all that interesting. You know what I mean?
By this time I’d conquered the public transport system and was able to make my way back to “Little India”.
I toyed briefly with the idea of going out for a drink somewhere, but common sense got the better of me, and after dinner decided a night inside with the aircon was probably a better idea.
I’ve got another long flight ahead of me tomorrow. I can’t wait to see what Lufthansa is like. And I can’t wait to use some of my high school German which, thanks to a great teacher, is still strongly with me. With a three hour stop-over at Munich before heading off to Stockholm, I can hear the words already… “Ich mochte ein bier, bitte.”
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