Thursday, February 21, 2008

Singapore with no Slings.

The scariest two hours of my life on a bike occurred while I was in Singapore. It was beyond intense, however while I was in the mix of it I was so focused on living that I didn't realize how scared I was. Once it was over, my hands shook, blood slowly crept back into my knuckles which where white from gripping my handlebars so hard and I took my first deep breath in hours.

The day started off pleasantly well. Flying from Kuching to Johor Bahru was painless, with the Airline giving us absolutely no hassles with our bikes. Once landing in Johor we than biked 40 kilometers to get to the Malaysian/Singapore causeway to cross into Singapore. Easy enough. We had directions to a couchsurfer's house, Pontis, where we were staying for three nights.

Our directions called for us to go on the Singapore expressway. I thought nothing of this, I had been on the Malaysian Highways, they weren't pleasant to bike, yet they were like all other highways I had encountered in Asia. I was yet to learn that Singapore is not Asia.

It happened without me consciously noticing it. Next thing I knew I was on an eight lane express way with cars, simi-trucks, buses, and motorcycles flying by me at 120 kph. This wasn't that bad. But when we had to cross four lanes of traffic for on and off ramps, or simply bike by an off-ramp or on ramp when previous stated vehicles were exiting and entering, all while we were cruising at a speed no faster than 25kph. It was not safe. We only had 20 kilometers to travel, but we quickly found ourselves lost, missing our exit as only we can do while going so slowly. We ended up on the wrong side of Singapore, finally leaving the express-way to ask directions. It was only than that Tintin and I looked at each other, I could see the wear, fear, and stress in his eyes and I knew he could equally see it in mine. We vowed not to return to the expressway no matter what. We ended up paying a taxi to take us to Pontis's house, and than finding detailed directions online to leave Singapore by a different route.
This experience, like so many others, was a cheap lesson. Before getting to Bangkok, I will take train from about 100 km before the city. I have no desire to ever return on my bike to a road even similar in nature to that of Singapore. For those of you in the Midwest, it would be like biking on I-90 leading into Chicago, but not at rush hour when its bumper to bumper. Only there someone would probably run me over with road rage before I made it 2 miles.
Once safely there, I loved Singapore. If only I had more money! It is the consumption capital of Asia! I saw more cars that cost over 6 figures in an hour than I saw in 3 years working at the Pfister Hotel. I also enjoyed the most expensive beer I have bought in Asia, at $10 USD for a single Budweiser. It was good, and I drank it slowly, thinking of Derek Reinke while doing so. This took place in the court-yard bar of the world famous Raffels Hotel. It was fun to sit and try to imagine what that bar, the original location of the first Singapore Sling, had seen throughout the last century. It was an unchanged oasis from the rest of the bustling city outside.
We also went to the roof of the Swiss Hotel to have a drink and look out over the city. From there you could see the sprawl that has become Singapore, creeping further into the distance, and higher into the sky.
I look forward to returning to this city, for the few liberties its citizens give up, they gain so much in cleanliness, security, comfort and order. I could see myself happily living there. However upon my next return, whenever or however it happens, I will not be on a traveler's budget, and I will enjoy what is perhaps the most unbelievable cluster of bars I have ever strolled through in my life. By cluster I mean hundreds! Just walking through on a Saturday night left me with an urge to throw caution to the wind and have a blinding night out. If I had done so, I may have been returning home a month sooner at the cost of one night. I kept telling myself, "Next time, next time." Indeed.

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