27 January 2010

Surrendering My Soul to Singapore

In the Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring, the section on Singapore begins as follows: "One of Southeast Asia's most remarkable success stories, immaculate Singapore confirms and undermines popular stereotypes in equal measure.  Yes, it's modern, clean and organized.  No, it's not stifling, strait-laced and dull.  What you have here is a dynamic 21st-century metropolis with a culture, history and cuisine that's remarkably rich for a place so small."  As it turns out, the LP and I have that attitude in common.  Yes, Singapore just might be my soul city-country.  No, I am not kidding.

I had a good feeling about this last stop on my itinerary before I got there, and I wasn't disappointed.  After arriving by bus from Melaka, Luna and I found the nearest metro station and hopped on the amazingly easy-to-navigate Singapore Mass Rapid Transit to head out to the friend's apartment where we would be staying.  I mean, what kind of city has a public transportation system whose acronym spells SMRT?  I liked this place already.  

Our first night in Singapore, we headed down to Little India where I proceeded to consume possibly the most amazing Indian meal of my life at a restaurant called Komala Vilas.  Luna, who studied abroad in India and had just returned from almost a month of travel there, admitted that this was maybe the best dosa she had ever had.  Actually, it was the best dosa she'd ever had.  Not that I needed any convincing, but Singapore's Little India went straight to the top of my List Of Places To Return To As Soon As Possible.  The next day we explored Chinatown, where I was introduced not only to pink bubble tea but also the most aesthetically beautiful, chicly hipster and if-I-had-a-million-bucks-I-would-buy-everything-in-this-bookstore-y bookstore, called BooksActually.  Even the name was chic and hip.  I walked inside and was drooling within 4 seconds.

With a superhuman display of self-restraint on my part, I managed to exit BooksActually having only purchased two items: an bilingual anthology of Malaysian/Singaporean poetry called Dari Jendela Zaman Ini/From the Window of this Epoch, and a vintage red and turquoise notebook -- but you can bet your behind that this little independent bookstore also shot straight to the top of my List Of Places To Return To As Soon As Possible and snuggled in up there with Little India.  I decided that if I ever live in Singapore, I will just go ahead and allot a portion of my monthly salary to my very own BooksActually fund.  It will be like taking out taxes, only I will be the one withdrawing the money, and it will come back to me in the form of books and extreme intellectual and aesthetic gratification.  [:: drools ::]  Later that afternoon, Luna and I took an excursion to the grocery store around the corner, where we discovered that, contrary to our experience in Indonesia, you can buy the following items at any old corner grocery store: real bread, blue cheese, mixed-berry jam, and red wine.  A veritable feast, and then two sulfite hangovers, ensued.  I love Indonesia, don't get me wrong, but if I expect to attain any sort of long-term happiness in my life, both wine and its immediate procurability are going to have to be in the picture.  

The next day -- and last day before heading back to reality -- was spent goggling at the shopping sights of Orchard Road, wandering through the Singapore Art Museum and gorging ourselves on incredible mexican food (one more prerequisite to my long-term happiness that is sadly missing in Yogya).  And though our flight was the next morning, I wasn't too bummed out.  I mean, it was love at first step-on-the-SMRT.  And though Singapore does have its potentially creepy idiosyncrasies (the signs on buses urging you not to pretend to be sleeping so you don't have to give your seat up to grandma, for example, or the lanes that separate walking traffic in the SMRT stations), it's all just part of the package, and I know I'll be back.  Come on, I have to be back -- the whole damn country's holding court at the top of my List Of Places To Return To As Soon As Possible.  And as anyone who knows me knows, I don't take lists lightly.  No siree.

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