Welcome Home (to Singapore): February 4, 2010

Overnight flights are often disorienting but our arrival in Singapore after an overnight flight from India was particularly disorienting.  Our time in India ended in typical Indian fashion.  After spending a few days in the southern part of the country (visiting Jed’s friend Sanjeeth in Bangalore and spending al lovely day in Mysore) and squeezing in that final Indian meal, we set off to take the bus to the airport.  There were so many obstacles in getting to the airport, it’s hard to describe them all:

-       finding someone who spoke English (which hadn’t been a problem in India until, of course, we really needed it to leave the country)

-       finding out which bus to take and where that bus picked up passengers

-       ignoring the rickshaw drivers who gave us erroneous information so we would use their (not needed) services (well, mainly ignoring since we did end up taking one rickshaw that dropped us off at the wrong bus station),

-       navigating traffic (both car and pedestrian) with our luggage while traipsing all over town

-       being asked again and again if we wanted the new airport or the old airport; the old airport is now closed so it is unclear why we would want to go there. One gentleman was so insistent in his belief that we wanted to go to the old airport that after giving us directions there (which, by that point, we knew enough to ignore) that when he passed us again five minutes later, when we were (finally) waiting at the correct bus stop, he tried to give us directions to the old airport again thinking we hadn’t understood the first time; it took Jed pointing at the (huge) sign that said “Express Bus to the Airport” to convince him that we knew where we were going

-        and finally waiting an hour for the bus that “comes every 30 minutes.”

(And, of course, the money we saved by taking the bus, Jed promptly spent on Indian scotch as a “gift” for our Singapore hosts- he really bought it because he wanted to try it-but it turns out that Indian Scotch is one step below straight rubbing alcohol.)

So when we stepped outside in Singapore, after the initial disorientation passed, we realized we were not only in a different country, we were in a whole new world. With an efficient and orderly taxi line (a line!), a new taxi cab with a working meter (that the driver actually used!) traffic rules being obeyed (cars staying in their lanes!), sidewalks being utilized (by people walking not by vendors or farm animals), and, of course, trash cans, it was truly an amazing experience- who says that travel doesn’t change the way you view the world? We saw more trash cans in our first 10 minutes walking in Singapore than we saw in many of the countries we have visited.

It really was like being in the US- so in many ways we spent a lovely few days back home in the US during our stay in Singapore. The main differences were that beer was much more expensive (one bar advertised a “deal” where beer was only USD$8) and the food was unique and fabulous (we were fortunate enough to be staying with our friend Sarah Peterson who not only knows the best local restaurants, she knows exactly what to order.)

Singapore’s order and efficiency was best highlighted at the Urban Planning museum where they illustrate in great detail the “plan” for the city—very methodical with every building, neighborhood, and street mapped out. And they have an almost unhealthy adherence to the rules (and people say extreme punishments aren’t a deterrent!). People actually wait for the light when crossing the street (even if there are no cars in sight). Cab drivers wouldn’t pick us up because we were standing in the wrong place (some system of roadway markings that we still don’t understand).

Singapore was a brief lovely change after India but in some ways it is almost too perfect-- images of the Truman Show and Disneyland came to mind on several occasions. India and Singapore are studies in the extremes of societal order. While Singapore was certainly a refreshing change from the disorder of India, it lacks the vibrancy that India’s chaos brings to everyday life, where the inefficiencies were minor sidenotes as we developed a great appreciation of the county, its successes, and its potential. Whereas Singapore seems to have reached a near ideal state, India is still on the rise, making a tremendously exciting and interesting place to visit. Indeed, we found India to be a magical place with amazing people, culture, sites, and food; we are already planning and looking forward to our future trips to further explore the country.  Thus for all its facilies (which are easy to focus on for comic effect), given the choice we’d actually rather live in India than Singapore. In fact, our (wonderful) Singaporean hosts are moving to Tokyo after a year in Singapore because things are just too easy for real life there.

So after a brief trip home, we too hit the road and headed back out for the inefficiencies of Indonesia (otherwise known as real traveling)….

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