Singapore – Reverse Culture Shock

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While shopping for tickets to Thailand in Argentina, we looked at the usual sources like Expedia and Google’s ITA Matrix. And just to be thorough decided to check out Singapore Airlines, we have a bit of history and loyalty with them.

The first time i flew to Seoul to visit Hyein, was a spur of the moment kind of decision. We were chatting, saying how much we miss each other and i decided to surprise her by buying a ticket for only 4 days in Seoul..on my cellphone. Hm…probably not the smartest decision to visit for such a short time, but my boss at the time was not very pleased with taking time off, so i had to make a decision.

Anyway, the second time I actually took more than 1 minute to make a decision and went with Singapore Air. Nice flight there and on the way back, I was trying to fall asleep the old school way (i.e. drinking), my sorrow for leaving Hyein behind was too big and i kept ordering drink after drink without even a hint of sleep. I told the flight attendant our story of long-distance love, he disappeared only to come back with the rest of the bottle of Congac. “You need this”, he told me and went about his business.

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Back to present day. Looked at SA website, found a good price and an option to stay in Singapore for a few days for only $40 extra. This was not on our original plan, but what the heck, lets go see this place we keep hearing about.

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Now we are officially done with South America and even though we stuck to our schedule we now come to conclusion that next time we do this we can probably slow down a bit. There is nothing wrong with doing what we did, but if you are planning your trip and thinking of a good pace… I would shoot for 50 miles a day. Yes, it will take longer, but the cost should be roughly the same, maybe a bit more for food.

Our general plan for the next month is to visit Singapore, Thailand and Korea, where we meet up with our car.

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To get to Singapore from Sao Paulo it was a 2 leg flight of 10 hours to Barcelona and 12 hours to Singapore. And we managed to score full 3 seats to ourselves. Yes, a total of 3 per person. On the first flight after a few glasses of wine, i stretched out and passed out for 7 hours – best flight of my life. All i remember is the take-off, dinner, wine and then boom, we are landing.

From Barcelona, similar story except i couldn’t sleep for more than 5 hours. Overall not bad 🙂

Singapore greets you with a very stern reminder that they don’t mess around here. Don’t do drugs kids…cuz then you will never become adults.

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Trying to maximize our time here, or basically having no choice in flight schedules, we got to Singapore at 7 am on Saturday morning. That weird hour when Friday night partiers have just gone to bed and the good people of the faith are making their way to the temples. The streets are quite, clean and already suffocatingly hot.

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Due to some sort of mix up with our booking, we were upgraded from a shared hostel dorm in Chinatown to a private room in a hostel in Clark Quay (prettier part of downtown). The only downside was that we didn’t know this happened until we let our taxi go and had to walk with our backpacks for 20 minutes to the new place. Now i can officially say that we are REAL backpackers and not just using them as a method of moving our luggage from hostel to hostel.

Okay, so i have to be real with you, in April Singapore is HOT…like i want to die kind of hot. We walked at 7 am for 20 minutes and i felt like i was going to pass out from dehydration and heat shock. I’m not even talking about needing to take a shower – when i got inside the hostel lobby it looked like i just took one. Humidity was probably around 100% and the heat around 100F (36C).

Fine, it was hot, but that is not going to stop us. We have 3 full days here and we are going to use the to the max.

First step, get some delicious food at the Chinatown hawker center. We walked back to where our first hostel was supposed to be and by this time the stores were open and serving delicious foods. We got whatever looked good and went to town.

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I thought that English was Singapore’s first language, so whenever we were ordering food maybe it be in Chinatown or Little India i spoke in English. But to my surprise half of the time the people didn’t seem to understand me. Dude, did i forget English in just 5 months? No you couldn’t have… you speak English with Hyein everyday. Well, that’s not quite true, Hyein and i communicate in a weird mix of mostly English with Korean, Spanish and Russian mixed in and it has gotten significantly worse due to our isolation. Our language is like the Darwin finch, evolving on an isolated island.

Wow…you took that way too far, Ivan.

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After a quick breakfast in Chinatown, we didn’t know what else to do during the day and went over to Little India. These hawker centers are just like street food that you would see in Mexico, just a bit more organized. Instead of cluttering the streets with endless carts, gas cylinders and chairs, the government put up large shaded centers with little stalls. This cleans ups the streets and walkways, now you have bathrooms right next to your food and most importantly shade. When we got to Little India, the sun was on full blast, roasting the streets and grilling you alive.

We walked around and of course got hungry again, watching all this delicious Indian food.

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After thoroughly stuffing my face with some delicious lamb, we tried to shake the food coma and jet lag by entertaining ourselves in any way possible. For example, here is a photo of me, taken in a tailor shop in Little India. Now, Ivan, why would you go to a tailor shop?

AC, period.

Oh…and we wanted to try on the sexy Singaporean flight attendant uniform. Fantasy, fulfilled!

And only for $5 SGD, instead of buying the outfit we got to try it out, take pictures, hang out in this oasis of cool air. Realistically, you don’t need to buy these costumes, when would you actually wear this? To work, to a party, at home? The answer is NEVER! All you want is a picture…so just pay the man a few bucks and have a blast. This way you don’t feel bad trying it on and not buying it. And the owner gets a few coins. Everyone is a winner.

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Looking a bit haggard. Kids, this is what 24 hours of flying will do to you. I’m smiling, but it hurts to keep my eyes open or even blink. And it is only noon…how are we going to stay up for the next 9 hours to beat this?

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I know, we could go to a temple, where it is cool, quite and…a perfect place to fall asleep. No…stay awake damn it!

I guess we are back at taking photos of churches or temples. Obviously we are guilty of this as well, but we do we as tourists seem so fascinated with taking pictures of place of worship?

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In our Central and South America posts, we had a church picture in almost all of them. Why? Is it the architecture?

The tourist photographer is looking to capture the iconic image of the city and most of the time it becomes a church.

Why did we take this pictures of the temple? Well, it was my first time inside of an Hindu Temple and i was generally fascinated with it, so i thought i would share it with you guys.

Except for more vivid colors and absence of Jesus in the center, the basic idea in the temple is the same as church. Come in, pay respects to either your saints or your gods, feel better and move on with your life. Right?

I heard Islam is different, no figures or paintings, just symbols. We will report when we get there.

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Best business in Singapore is not the financial sector or the port – its selling cool drinks year round. Since I have a PhD i can say this as a doctor, that in this kind of heat you need to drink at least 30 gallons of water and 10 beers just to stay hydrated. Fun fact, that i just learned on the internet, so it MUST be true: beverages with alcohol content of 10% or less will actually hydrate you. So next time you are going for that wine cooler to cool off, put on all your grown up pants on and have a beer – doctor’s orders.

Btw, that dude is doing his best impression of a smile. We asked him like 30 times to take a picture and this is the best that he could come up with.

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Thats me in the background trying to cool off my brainz. At this point we are just trying to find stuff to do to keep ourselves awake. We can’t go back to the hostel, because the second we lie down we lose the game of jet lag.

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We can’t go outside, so the only option is to wonder the various malls and stare at people. Like this white guy waiting for his wife to get her eyebrows tattooed. Doesn’t he look excited? He just flew halfway around the world to watch an Asian lady cut his wife’s face with a sharp knife. Btw, these “permanent” tattoos are actually temporary and require retouching a few months later…so whats the point? Hyein was thinking of doing this, but then watched it happen live and decided to think about it some more. I agree babe, I’ll never complain about you taking your time with make up again.

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We failed! All our efforts to stay up only got us to about 3pm. We then decided to rest for just like 20-30 minutes aaaaaand woke up 4 hours later. Shit, this is going to mess up our adjustment. Oh well, let’s go get some food. With Chinatown and Little India done, we decided to complete the Singaporean Trifecta and went to the Arab Quarter. Having woken up from a midday nap, we were groggy, still tired and a bit mean to each other. Managed to find a place to eat, snapped a photo of the mosque and headed back to the hostel.

Where all of a sudden at 12 am our bodies decided that it was time to PARTY, so we did. Just outside of our hostel we found a les party and since this is an exclusive events for girls, i had to be “invited” by someone on the inside. Met some people just outside the bathroom who gladly vouched for me! I’ve always known that bathroom are a perfect social place…its just that we guys, don’t talk in the bathrooms, the opposite sex considers the restroom a prime socializing spot.
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Jet lag gone, drinks and our daily budget go down the drain. Damn, Singapore is an expensive city. We spent more that one night than a week in Nicaragua. More about finances later, when we finish Asia i will do another expense report just for backpacking. We partied way too much and until too earlier into the morning.

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So when we were supposed to meet our friend the next day at 2 pm….this is what we looked like at 4 pm. Jet lag and alcohol is a bitch! Dont drink and fly kids.

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Only through the power of will, we took a shower and got out of the hostel. Thank god we had plans, otherwise we would have woken up at 9 pm.

Today, we were meeting our friend Stephanie, who just like Hyein did a one year exchange program in UCSD.  Stephanie is a native Singaporean, so this will be fun!

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First order of business – cat cafe. If you don’t have one in your area, then start one. Its puuuurfect…god was that really necessary? Anyway, for a small fee you get to hang out in a room full of cats. Now this is not your typical “crazy cat lady” house, the cats are mostly rescues and are very well taken care of.

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If you have cat allergies then this might not be a place for you, but if you love cats and too lazy to have your own, then you can come here and play with them. The rules are strict – don’t wake up the cats, let them come to you, don’t pick them up. Otherwise just enjoy!

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Met up with another exchange student friend – Euntaek, a Korean guy who has been living in Singapore for the last 8 years. We messed up all their plans of showing us Singapore, by completing the coveted Singaporean Trifecta in just the first day.

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Instead went to try some “traditional” Singaporean food at Song Fa Bak Kut Teh. The place serves various pork dishes and is extremely popular with the locals. The waiters take your orders while you are waiting in line, so by the time you sit down the food arrives immediately.
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We tried to eat our food as slowly as possible, but it was just too tasty. And perfect if you are a tad hungover. Without any food on the table, the waiting staff kindly shooed us out of the place. I think Gordon Ramsey would be proud of this place – clean, efficient, great food, good service! I approve.

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History Part – Must Read!

We will not take a short break from monotony of our everyday lives and talk about REAL Singapore.

Singapore is an island city-state, the only one in the world. It has no natural resources, except for durian (a stinky fruit). From 1800’s to 1960’s it was a British colony and only in the last 50 years has been completely independent. So how is it that they have the World’s 3rd highest GDP of $82,0001?

Thanks to their glorious leader, Lee Kuan Yew, they focused on becoming the financial, business and trading center of Asia. Until recently, Singapore was the world busiest port and still a strong 2nd these days. During his rule from 1959 to 1990, Lee Kuan Yew held Singapore with an iron fist. Implementing laws that he thought would improve the financial wealth as well as cultural state of the nation. This is where we get laws that fine you for spitting gum on the street and death penalties for drug traffickers.

Although they might seem a bit harsh, it does get straight to the point – do litter and don’t mess with drugs. He did have some crazy laws that forced people to marry someone of equivalent education level, basically if you had a college degree you couldn’t marry someone who did have it. Eugenics at its best…California also tried something like this by sterilizing drug addicts and people on welfare, so don’t judge Mr. Yew just yet.

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What it did achieve is something real miraculous – a Utopian society. We will not talk here about how clean the city is – everyone knows this. What were amazed at, especially after living in the Americas for 5 months, is the behavior in public. The subway, here it called Mass Rapid Transit (MRT), looks more like a mall. Very well lit, spotless and all the tracks are hidden behind safety doors. You don’t even see the trains, as far as you know the rest of the subway moves while you stand still inside the train.
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Inside the train, it is quite, very quite. I could not bring myself to speak louder than a whisper, as i would destroy this beautiful silence. When you get off the train, people calmly walk to the escalator and then LINE up to get on. Never in my life have i seen a more organized group of people. There is no pushing, no shoving, everyone knows the right thing to do and actually does it.

We had the utmost pleasure of traveling on the MRT during a rush hour, wow what an experience. It might be the jet lag, but you actually get dizzy. Hundreds of people moving rapidly through a large train section, but there is no noise. Its like someone muted the sound on the video. You brain can barely keep up with this, expecting a roar of footsteps, yelling, clanging and mechanical noises and all it gets are just some hushed murmurs.

A very drastic change if you remember that we just came from Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo.

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The great thing about running a city-state is that you can control every single aspect of you country. And Singapore got very lucky with their first and greatest Prime Minister. It doesn’t seem like he was a complete douche and let the power get to his head. He did limit free speech to a single park in the city and even then you have to apply for a permit before speaking.

DSC05731This all sounds oppressive and it can feel that way if you get a bad guy at the helm (cough, cough – Hitler, Stalin and Kim Jong Il), but this Mr. Yew guy seemed like righteous dude. Really cared for Singapore, tried to get everyone a home to live in and some food on the table. Is that not what we all want? Well, i also want to travel 🙂

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You can take a boat ride that will show you the nighttime stunning views.
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Like Las Vegas, Singapore comes alive at night with a brilliant display of static lights and dynamic laser shows. Sidewalks, bridges, all the buildings are lit up for display.

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The city is planned as meticulously as it is cleaned. Sidewalks are wide and plentiful, at night you can stroll down to the bay and enjoy the absolutely stunning city view.
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The high-rises of the financial quarter come alive at night with carefully sculpted lighting. The architecture is beautifully accentuated by the various colors creating a view that rivals New York.

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Oh and lets not forget “The pride of Singapore” – the merlion. As our friends have pointed out, more like “the shame of Singapore”. Merlion, just like the name hints is upper part lion and lower part mermaid. Seriously guys, why did you think that this is a good idea?

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No, no, i get the significance…but does it have to look like this? Couldn’t you have picked a single animal instead of creating your own weird …thing?

Whatever floats your boat Singapore.

From a distance it looks a bit better, but that’s because you can’t see what it actually is.

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It was really hard to capture the true view, because it is actually 360 degrees around you. So this is the best we could get at night and without a tripod.

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In the background is the famous Marina Bay Sands Hotel, with the infinity pool looking over the city. As you probably have guessed by now, we didn’t go because it was too expensive to get a room there. Shame, could have been an awesome place to take some pictures.

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The daytime view of the financial district. With time tastes will change and i wonder how people will feel about this architecture. It looks great now, but will it withstand the test of time?

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I’m not sure about the other stuff, but this SHOULD withstand the test of time. Look, it has so much green space worked into the fabric of the building itself. When other buildings have trees growing from their sides it’s a sign that you are looking at ancient ruins. But here its just the opposite, this hotel brings us forward in time where we can coexist with nature…uuhhh, too hippy?

Whatever, i love this place because it’s not just earth friendly, it is Earth itself, look – the bottom looks like a weather stone or a rock that has been eroded by the sea, then you got the grass or seaweed growing on top of it. Then you have the blue sky, aka the glass exterior, and green balconies are the little island.

Oh, i get it, this hotel is Singapore itself – a rocky green island with blue skies and little island around it. Hahaha, good job Ivan.
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This is all starting to sound like a commercial for Singapore, don’t worry I’ll rip into it a minute. Just one last thing.

The money, this is the first country where every single ATM worked and didn’t even charge us a fee. Woohooo!

The currency is not paper/cotton mix like US, here its made from plastic. Its tear resistant and i swear the government replaces the bills every week.

Every bill feels brand new.

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Mmmm, so why is there a picture of a Nikon camera?

Because we decided to get a DSLR to document our travels in high-definition!

So from now on we will use it much more and if you can’t tell the difference in the quality of the photos, then it’s not the camera’s fault but the guy pushing the button, aka me.

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Our flight out was also butt-early in the morning, which is a good thing, It gave us the opportunity to see the sunrise and with sober eyes.

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I’m still amazed how the city manages to mix old colonial style with futuristic designs all in one setting. Omg, i just got it – the thing on top of the Palms hotel is supposed to be a container ship, paying homage to Singapore’s famous port!

Don’t let the serene setting fool you, even at this early hour you know that you are next to the equator.

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I’m not sure what this building is, i just really enjoyed the absolute symmetry in color and geometry. I think this perfectly summarizes Singapore to me, it is just too perfect. We spent a short time here and had a blast. Everything is good…too good. I feel like there is some dark mysterious underbelly that is hidden from us. And the prettier it looks from the outside, the darker the secrets it hides inside. We live in the States, but coming here i feel like we live in the past. Maybe its the jealous that is making me look for the problems here, why can’t we have nice things like this?

Our New York City is amazing, but its dirty and definitely not as safe. The NY subway is a joke compared to MRT. Rats seemed to be a tourist attraction, rather than a nuisance. The payment system is older than the average population of the city. And where is the AC?

The only issue that we encountered here is the heat.

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New camera photo – is it just me or does it actually look good? Let me know in the comments!

Up next – Bangkok, Thai Food, snorkeling and elephants!

 

 

4 Comment

  1. max says: Reply

    Всё выглядит прилизано и конечно сильно контрастирует с Южной Америкой!

    1. irazinkov@gmail.com says: Reply

      Dazhe pervoe vremya stranno bilo hodit…kak v Disneyland dlya vzroslih vdrug priehali.

  2. Albert says: Reply

    Enjoyed you article and is glad that you have enjoyed Singapore too, I’m from Singapore. I Wanted to correct you on the item about marriage. There is no rule about must marry the same qualification partner. However, you are right that Mr Lee did wish that the man here are open to marry to ladies of higher qualification. (And hence better gene), this is because traditionally, the guy here like to choose ladies that is of lower qualification and the reserve is for the ladies here. As a result, we have plenty of highly qualified ladies that remain single (including his daughter that is the head of a Neuro hospital here)

    1. irazinkov@gmail.com says: Reply

      Thanks for the correction Albert!
      Singapore is an amazing place, i wish i get a chance to visit and explore it one more time!

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