23 April 2012

I Don't Heart Singapore

We arrived at Istanbul Airport at the same speed we left it a few days ago – supersonic.  Our taxi driver really outdid himself – it felt like we were in a movie car chase.  And this time, instead of just sitting back and enjoying the ride I found myself wondering if there were airbags in the doors – oh dear, is this a sign that I’m turning into a fogey?  The driver was beaming when we got to the airport.  See, I got you here really fast, he said.  Yes, we said, Yes you did.

Then a few hours to lurk about Ataturk Airport.   It’s always boring hanging about airports, but here’s a sight you don’t see every day:  in the Ladies there were a bunch of very old, very short, very fat ladies in their burqas, struggling to get their feet up into the hand basins.  There were foot washing facilities not far away, but why visit them when you can just contortionalise yourself to get your feet in the nearest available hand basin?  I was somewhat taller than the lot of them and figured I could probably get my feet into the right spot if I needed to, though it wouldn’t have been comfortable.  But these little old ladies were determined to get the job done, and hoiked up their multiple layers of clothing to do it.  One old lady forgot to turn the tap on before she started her gymnastics and by the time her quite chunky ankle was under the tap she was stuck because she then couldn’t reach the tap.  I did not point and laugh (though I did smile on the inside) and stepped forward to help, but one of her friends quickly came to her rescue.  Ah, the enriching experiences of travel.  I don’t think I will forget this sight for a while. 

Then we had two days in Singapore, and I must admit I’m not so fond of that city.  We had a good time at the Zoo on the way through five weeks ago, but even that raised concerns in that the big cats appear to have zero enrichment in their small cages.  Big animals like the rhinos couldn’t even raise a trot before reaching the other side of their enclosure.  The orang utans have a world class environment, it appears, and it seems to be excellent for them but for other species the enclosures are less than adequate.

But beyond the Zoo, there isn’t a great deal to do.  Little India, where we stayed this time, is full of gold shops and Indian restaurants and that’s about it.  China Town and Bugis Street have markets selling the knock-offs and cheap t-shirts that markets the world over sell, but we found way cooler and unique t-shirts in the Amsterdam markets.  If you have any interest in the antique shops you’d better crank up that forklift you use to carry your enormous wallet about, because you’re going to have to empty that enormous wallet.

Sure you can visit Asia’s first Cable Car Museum (didn’t).  You go visit the Stamp Museum (didn’t).  You could visit a number of parks and enjoy the park-like nature of all the trees and grass (didn’t).  And stuff you can do that might be interesting, the Zoo, cruising down the river, touring the city, etc, we have long since done.  So these days it’s all a bit of a yawn and we’re not finding new and interesting things to see and do each trip, as you can in other cities (not counting Brunei, which is even boringer).  The one thing you can be sure will be good in Singapore, though, is the food.  You can’t really go wrong, wherever you end up. 

And what a difference it can make to your visit if you encounter sympathetic and professional staff at your hotel (or not).  Because of the limited flight choices when flying from Istanbul to Singapore we landed at Changi Airport at 5.30am.  Last time we arrived into Singapore at some ridiculous hour we went straight to our hotel and they arranged early check-in for us with no fuss at all.  And on that basis we chose the same hotel, knowing that we would need an early check in.  I had sent an email eight weeks ago advising of our very early arrival and asking to be advised in return if this would present a problem or if there would be any additional charges.  And having received no reply I assumed there wasn’t a problem, the same as last time.

So we arrive at the hotel, having been awake for that point for approaching 24 hours (cause there was no sleeping on the plane for either of us).  And we encountered Mr-I-Don’t-Know-And-I-Don’t-Care at the reception.  No, he had no knowledge of my advice of our early check-in – even though he had all the other information contained in that message.  And no, nothing could be done because the hotel was fully booked and anyway if he could arrange an early check-in it would cost almost as much again as the room had in the first place.  Fine, I said, I shall just sleep on your couch in the foyer for a few hours, shall I?  He didn’t care what I did, so my hopes of embarrassing him into removing the dishevelled woman flaked out in the middle of his foyer were dashed.  Doug was more awake than me – God knows how, so he perused various tourist brochures and stood guard over me while I dragged out my pillow and didn’t sleep but at least put my head down.

But after an hour the shift changed, Couldn’t-Care-Less went home and was replaced by a lovely young woman.  I explained the situation to her and how during our last trip to the hotel this had not presented a problem, and she advised that no indeed it was not a problem this time either, and within half an hour we were in our room.  Hurrah for professional young women!  So up we went to our room, which is described on their website as Superior but was actually little more than a very tiny dog box.  You don’t get much for your money in Singapore, I’m afraid.  But you know what?  You don’t notice that when you’re unconscious, and I was unconscious for the next seven hours. 

Doug went out exploring several times while I was comatose – I have no idea how he functions on no sleep because I have never ever been able to do that – and he found somewhere for us to have dinner a bit later.  A few false starts later, while Wrong-Way-Palmen got us horribly lost trying to find a restaurant literally just down the road from the hotel, and we both enjoyed a light dinner. 

Lack of sleep was finally having an impact on Doug, so we wandered back to the hotel and on the way I found a hairdressing salon that did permanent hair straightening.  I had this procedure done about 9 months ago and was very happy that all my curls and frizz (which can get downright unruly for gels who live in the sub-tropics) were magically transformed into smooth and shiny and sleek.  Doug says he prefers the curls, but I like smooth and shiny and sleek.  And seeing how it was about half the price it costs in Australia and I was feeling all jetlagged and frizzy and not very smooth and shiny and sleek, I booked myself in for a hair make-over the next day.

Ah, smooth and shiny and sleek is the way to go.  The 2.30am Wide Awakes have made their presence felt already and will be with me for the next week, I know from experience, but even looking all haggard and jetlagged it feels better to have good hair.  I think my head still smelt a little bit chemically on the flight back, but I was sitting next to Doug and no-one else and husbands are obliged to put up with their wives’ hair adventures.  It’s The Rule.   

As an aside, I wasn’t stopped once in regard to the electric lamp in my hand luggage which was a big surprise and on that basis I shall get more adventurous with what I cart back in my hand luggage next time.  Doug was asked about all the whopping big carving knives in his suitcase after Singapore Airport Security noticed that he was carrying a whole bunch of deadly weapons with him, but when they learned they were kitchen knives they didn’t care anymore.  One of them has a blade almost a foot long, but there’s no problem if it’s for cooking (rather than to further your Gangsta career).  We’re not complaining, but I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – go figure.

So we killed a few hours having lunch, endless drinks and a bit of Duty Free shopping at the airport (this LancĂ´me stuff had better make me look 18 again, for the price they charge).  A seven hour flight, we were back into Brisbane and stepped straight into a Customs Detector Dog training exercise.  I have done a bit of recruitment for this Customs Unit in the past and I am totally supportive of them and their work, and the dogs being trained were all young, with their tails wagging madly and so, so, so happy to be there.  Not really like the rest of us, who were tired after the flight, but nonetheless every single passenger had to line up in turn so the dogs could be walked past us.  But as I said, I am very supportive of their work.  Until they stopped at me!  Well, not really stopped as such, but the dog hesitated with me long enough to have the Customs lady ask me what was in my pockets or strapped about my waist.  And yes, I was in Turkey a few days ago but nothing was in my pockets and that thing about my waist is a spare tyre that we don’t talk about in polite company.  In the end she decided he was just being all wiggly and friendly towards me because when he came up to me I said Hello gorgeous to him and he liked any attention he got.  So note to self, don’t be so friendly towards drug detector dogs at the airport any more. 

So, having escaped my last chance at imprisonment for the trip, it was a few more hours to the Sunshine Coast and we were home.  The moggies all look like perfect angels, and we didn’t believe for a second the tales of paper towel shredding, cardboard box destruction, wee small hours chasey/wrestlemania games across the bed, and the demands for different food (like smoked salmon) and point blank refusals to eat that muck ordinarily referred to as The Best Cat Food Available.  They had been specifically instructed by me to be on their best behaviour while we were away, and I have no doubt they heeded my every word.  Except that Calypso got into Doreen’s handbag and was caught red-pawed chewing her way through the mobile phone charger just as we were arriving home.  It’s a bit hard to deny culpability when a bit of the cord is still dangling from your mouth as we walk through the door.  So okay maybe there was the odd incidence of naughty, but they were all immediately snuggly and cuddly so she was forgiven and it’s easy to replace a mobile phone cord.  Except if she ever gets caught red-pawed by me doing something like that, in which case it’s Smacked Bum City.  Yes I’m home people, and it’s back to doing as I bid.  More-or-less.

We’ve already heard from the packers and our consignment should arrive in Australia on 2 June, all going well.  Then it’s our bi-annual fun and games with Customs and Quarantine, and the new things should be on the shelves by mid-June, all going well.  I’m back on deck in the shop on Wednesday 25 April (and so is Calypso, which will shock her furry little socks off, having run amuck for the past five weeks).  I have plenty of good stuff in my hand luggage for Show and Tell, and I’m looking forward to seeing everyone.

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