DAY 34 - Thursday 30th July - Shining Singapore

As the taxi whizzed us into the country-which-isn't-quite-a-country-but-is-more-like-a-large-city, it became quite evident that Singapore is, in fact, a giant construction site. A huge, invisible sign looms over the sprawling metropolis, declaring: "Construction in progress; please return in five years!" Three enormous concrete towers have sprung out of the harbour, dominating the city skyline, draped in a cobweb of cranes and scaffolding. Nick's parents, having stayed in Singapore for a few days, described the towers as casinos, Singapore's first ever. The Singaporeans were certainly taking their debut into the wicked world of gambling in their stride.

The casinos

While Joy, Nick's effervescent and charming mother, chatted to the taxi driver, we relayed our journey to Nick's camera-enthusiast and equally football-mad father Steve. They had picked us up from
Singapore's surprisingly diminutive train station, the destination of our lengthy day-long journey from Kuala Lumpur. The rolling green fields and luscious forests had met a rude halt at the river, the divide between Malaysia and one of the world's smallest and most prosperous nations.

Due to an amusing misunderstanding, my train ticket named me as "Mr Edward Carles"! Ho ho ho!

Oh, and the toilet was just a hole in the floor of the train, with a toilet plastered over the top.

Our hotel, the Pan Pacific, was worthy of several attacks of hyperventilation. Upon entering the cavernous lobby, it took a few seconds of stupefied blinking before our eyes were drawn irrevocably upwards, darting from the gleaming glass lifts, settling on the first few levels, before travelling up the jaw-dropping, sky-high triangular corridor of floors, the ceiling barely visible. I would not have been surprised if the highest floors had been shrouded in clouds and their rooms inhabited by heavenly beings. Well, this is a lie. I would have been very surprised. But that's beside the point.

"...our eyes were drawn irrevocably upwards..."

It was safe to say that our new hotel was jolly impressive.

Looking down from our floor.

After an ear-popping ascent to the twentieth floor in one of the smooth lifts, and after studying the complimentary shampoos and deciding which were worthy of thievery, my attention turned to the room itself. It is my belief that a hundred words can, on occasion, be summarised by just one. The occasion is now and the word is this: "wow". A seizure-inducing television set; lazy, remote-controlled curtains; a foolproof, spring-loaded mini bar (blast it); the shower which could peel skin from bone with a single blast... Sophistication reeked from every nook of this room (or perhaps that was just the post-journey stomach wind) and has, thus far, remained undefeated in terms of sheer, wonderfully unnecessary luxury.

"...sheer, wonderfully unnecessary luxury."

And the view. If I was equipped with a head susceptible to black-outs upon being faced with dizzying heights and a stomach prone to spilling its contents at the slightest increase in altitude, then the view from the balcony would have been practically vomitorious. It opened onto
Singapore's commercial harbour with the towering cityscape providing the backdrop, and, if you dared to lean out precariously and crane your neck to the left, it was possible to see Singapore's latest iconic addition, the Singapore Flyer, just one-year-old and current holder of World's Largest Wheel record, having snatched the title from our very own London Eye. (Conniving bastards.)

My stupendous photography captured the Singapore Flyer at night beautifully, I think.

The evening beckoned, and our stomachs demanded nourishment. Taking the advice from James, a friendly manager, and with Nick's parents leading, we found our way to
China Town.

You could be forgiven to expect a bustling, thriving
China Town community in any city to be caked with grime, the pavements littered with old grease-stained boxes, drinks cartons and possibly chopsticks. Not in Singapore. It was extraordinary; every paving stone and curb seemed to gleam, as though recovering from recent and repeated attacks from a wire scrubbing brush; not a single splodge of chewing gum blemished the cement – an inexorable and permanent plague in British cities; there were no graffiti murals to be spied besmirching the building walls and rubbish bins sat on corners, the very idea of a spillage of their contents an unspoken blasphemy. The explanation to this borderline-OCD spotlessness is, quite simply, because filth is illegal in Singapore. Tempted to carelessly toss a wrapper over your shoulder? Be prepared to be presented with a cool $500 fine. Itching for some gum? Can't be bothered to spit it into a bin? You may as well write out a cheque for $600. And so on. Like Big Ben, the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, the Petronas Towers and the Sydney Opera House, the Singaporean Government's addiction to cleanliness is legendary and replaces any need for a defining, symbolic landmark despite their efforts to provide one, whether a glorified ferris wheel or a mermaid-lion statue (more on that later).

Chinatown isn't full of caucasian disabled old men, I just somehow captured one in the photo. Just in case you were, you know, confused.

Much menu-eyeing and laborious decision-making later, we finally settled into our seats in a traditionally Chinese steamboat dinner restaurant. The concept of a steamboat dinner is an unusual one. Despite the name suggesting as much, each table is noting fact equipped with a miniature edible ferry, but a large heated metal basin divided into two sections, each containing bubbling and frothing flavoured waters, emanating mouth-watering odours. After placing each order for our choice of ingredients, several waiters would swoop into the room, each bearing countless platters of sliced-up raw meats and vegetables, only to encourage us to fling them into the bath, allowing our dinner to be boiled within seconds.

The steamboat.

This was the easy part. To my dismay, I discovered the only way of transferring food-to-mouth would be through the use of chopsticks. I spent the next hour or so suppressing my desire to request a good-old knife and fork, stabbing at random grains of rice, fishing in the basin, dribbling sauce across the table and lifting precariously captured pieces of chicken or beef towards my mouth before realising they had mysteriously vanished and weren't to found anywhere. By the end, the table looked as though it had been the centre of a violent food fight.

Despite feeding mostly on air, I managed to leave the restaurant feeling quite full, occasionally snacking on pieces of food stuck in the crevices and folds of my clothing. We walked out of
China Town and flagged down a taxi, eventually finding ourselves back at the Pan Pacific.

Although we had only been introduced to but a fraction of
Singapore, I had already enjoyed what we had so far discovered and the impression the gleaming country had made on me.

(Although staying in a 4-star hotel admittedly helps.)

The lifts in the lobby.

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