I’d been in Singapore too long. For eight months I’ve been sweating in this country without traveling apart from a quick jaunt over the border into Jahor Bahru, Malaysia. With a week of public holiday leave about to expire, I decided to head to the closest destination with the most opposite environment to Singapore: The Volcanoes of East Java.
With Indonesia being the most geologically unstable country on the planet, and less than two hours away, it was a no-brainer that this was a spot I needed to hit while in Southeast Asia. (Plus, as I either want my body to be ejected towards the next nearest star or dumped into a volcano when I eventually cease to exist, this would give me a head start on choosing the right volcano should my space idea become too popular.) I decided I would fly into Surabaya, hit Mount Bromo, and leave the rest of the week open eventually making my way to Bali.
Seated next to me on the plane was an extremely nice, older couple from Surabaya. They only spoke a few words of English, but it was enough to ask me where I was going. The woman approved greatly: “Bromo, good!” “Bali, good!”. This however followed with the husband saying, “Surabaya, … ” and then acted out a little skit that depicted money being put down underpants and being knifed in the belly. “Surabaya, not stay,” I replied and they nodded their heads. Apparently they enjoy it, but I guess they aren’t a twenty-something year old tasty piece of white ass someone can either just shank for my underwear money or kidnap and use as a piece of furniture in their basement until someone coughs up enough dough to buy them a ticket out of town.
Before we parted ways, they were nice enough to write out a series of directions to get to Bromo. With my tighty-whities bulging (because of the cash, you dirty creep) (but also I was slightly aroused by so much money being so close to my junk) (also, how do strippers manage? It is really quite itchy) (seriously, if strippers are reading this, please comment. I’d like to know for future knowledge) (for purposes of hiding money only) (also leave any names of clubs that may be hiring) (thanks) I stepped out of the airport and was hit with a bit of a shock. I’m used to being outnumbered racially, here in Asia, but not only was no white, but everyone was much much older. I’m talking get-a-graveplot-ready-because-someone-is-going-to-fall-over-dead-any-second old. Apparently anyone younger than sixty doesn’t travel in Surabaya. On top of that I attracted stares from every corner of the street. I felt like I was a giant sign that said “STAB ME, AND GOLD WILL FLOW FROM MY VEINS” on it. Everyone wanted me in their taxi. I simply said no thanks, that I was taking the shuttle bus and they kindly pointed me in the right direction. (It helps to act very sure of what you are doing, even if you don’t have a clue.)
Note: I’m going to pause for a moment. I feel bad that I’m starting this adventure off on such a negative note. Perhaps the city of Surabaya is actually quite nice, I never saw it. All I saw was the airport, and the main bus depot, Purabaya. I gotta say, everything in between is kinda what I imagined third-world-poverty-stricken-Africa to look like. I didn’t get many photos on this leg. Even with my camera pimped out to look like it was owned by a dirty hobo, I didn’t dare take it out. What I saw was dirt roads, trash piles burning in people’s “yards”, stray sheep grazing in sewage filled ditches, and little mopeds packed with a man, a girl, a woman and a baby in her arms. Somehow that little two wheeled vehicle could still move.
However above all, I’ve never come across nicer people. Everyone I encountered was extremely kind and interested in where I was going. A young woman who was a Damri shuttle bus attendant at the airport told me all the information I needed on how to get to Probolinggo, and then on to Bromo. She then told me how she loved my mustache because it made her nose look small…? I think I missed something there. Next she proceeded to tell me to keep my stuff hidden or I’d get stabbed. I got to the bus depot just in time for the bus to Probolinggo and set out right away.
The guy next to me on this bus was about my age and had a guitar with him, so I felt pretty safe for the time being; when was the last time an a musician was strapped for cash? He didn’t speak more than a couple words of english either, but convinced me to try the strange food a vendor was selling on the bus. It was green and mushy with coconut on it and burst in your my mouth when I bit down on it. Not too bad, sweet and tangy with the texture of play-doh. The guys sitting around me told me it would give me energy to climb Bromo. At least that’s what I think they were getting at. Either that or it will give me super powers and turn me into the hulk. And then they told me not to take out my stuff or I would get stabbed.
I did not get stabbed.
Stay tuned to read the rest of the journey through Mount Bromo, the acid lake of Mount Ijen, and the monkeys and temples of Bali. I promise more pictures next time. And less imagery of my underwear. Unless, of course, that’s what you want.
So I read somewhere that the Giant Water Monitor Lizard is harmless to humans. I really need to stop reading these sort of things.
On my day off, here in Singapore, after a nice swim in the morning, I decided to go check out the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve. It’s way up on the North-West end of the Island near Malaysia, so getting there is a trek on it’s own. After thirty minutes on the MRT, twenty minutes on the bus, and then a twenty minute 1.5km walk to the entrance of the reserve, I finally made it. Did you know Singapore had a Crocodile farm? I didn’t. At least if I was murdered out there, I felt comfort knowing someone could always follow the long trail of sweat to my dead, naked body (don’t worry, I wasn’t taken advantage of, I just walk the streets of Singapore in the nude because it’s the only way I can handle the heat.)
Near the start of the trails there were several groups of school children screaming like someone had just been…well, murdered. Naturally I pushed them out of the way to see what the hullabaloo was all about. There it was, the first of many Giant Water Monitor Lizards I would see. I thought it was pretty big, being about three feet long, but a girl was quick to to take the opportunity to prove they were much smarter than a stupid white American, and informed me they get “much bigger”.
I quickly escaped the overly happy cries of children who have at last escaped the daily monotony of “maths”, science, & inappropriate staring, and made my way into the wetlands. For Singapore standards, it was quite nice. A break away from the urban uprising and slow walking robot people who approach escalators like its the first time they’ve ever seen a set of stairs move.
I did, however, expect to see more birds. For the little bit of wetland Singapore has remaining, you’d think every creature with wings would crowd from near and far to get a piece of this sweet wetland action. There were a handful of white egrets and a few other tiny brown shore birds, but they were all too far away to identify. I caught a glimpse of a bright blue King Fisher, and some other hipster bird that looked like it was wearing a bright red scarf, but they were snotty little pretentious birds and quickly flitted off into the dense jungle growth. Probably to cackle about which migratory route has the best bird baths.
The wetland is quite large. Much larger than I first anticipated. After coming across a sign that read “WATCH IT!” with a little graphic of a crocodile, I told myself that if I didn’t cover every square inch of this place, I could potentially miss out on seeing one of these rare beasties (which has probably never been actually seen since the 1950s.) Sadly, I never found a crocodile, but after getting stung by about a thousand mosquitoes (I didn’t have my friend Autumn’s sweet blood around to distract them), I did stumble across a giant aquatic lizard of another kind.
This Giant Water Monitor Lizard was, in technical terms, “much bigger” than the one found by the school children; around five feet in length it looked like it had a nasty habit for cheese burgers. He was just sprawled out, relaxing next to his little pond, and minding his own no-good lizardy business; probably trying to come up with even more adjectives to tack on in front its name.
I took a few pictures from afar, but that wasn’t good enough. I remembered reading somewhere that they were pretty much harmless to humans, so I got a bit closer. And by “a bit”, I mean close enough to see a tiny ant cruising around making a jungle gym of its face. It didn’t care about the ant, and for the most part it didn’t care about me. For the most part…
You see, when I decided that we needed a photo together for our profile pics, so I got out the remote for my camera and all of a sudden he got all pissy. He started grumbling, flicking his tongue around, hissed at me a few times, so like any normal person wouldn’t do, I got closer. They’re harmless right? And I figured we were pretty much besties by now, so it was all good. IT WAS NOT ALL GOOD. Whipping his tail around he outright threw our minutes of friendship in the trash and tried to slap me! He slung his huge tail over and if it wasn’t for my cat-like reflexes, I would have gotten a face full of scales. Needless to say, I got the hint. After a couple more pictures I bid him and the reserve farewell.
If you have an afternoon free in Singapore, check Sungei Buloh out. Sure beats battling the masses on Orchard road, and it’ll leave your wallet (as well as your waist size) much happier. You might even make friends with a lizard or two, and you’ll probably see more birds than I did. At the very least you’ll discover one of the few natural places Singapore has left. As I neared the bus stop to return home I looked back at the sun setting over the mangroves. For a split moment I forgot I was in Singapore… I escaped the island of durian and digital devices to a place I always imagined Southeast Asia to be… And then it was gone. With the clanging of metal on rock, I was sprung back to reality as a back hoe ripped up the earth to make way for a new parking lot.
A few more photos from the day
In other words, Saturday is the worst day to go. More info can be found on the Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve website.
It’s been one week in Singapore, and I’ve barely had a chance to sit down apart from sleeping. Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s been going on for those curious, or just want to do a bit of healthy stalking.
Wednesday: Arrived around noon Singapore time and checked into our hotel where we will be staying for the next month. Then got some blood taken to make sure we weren’t disease mules, clambering across the border to infect a nation with HIV, Hepatitis, and Republicanism.
Thursday: We got up, ate some free hotel breakfast and got our bank accounts set up and our badges made for Resorts World Sentosa. When I asked how it looked the nice man taking the pictures said, “Looks good!” Apparently looking like a serial killer is desirable here.
For dinner we went to The Banana Leaf Apolo in little india where instead of plates, you eat off a giant banana leaf. The food was fantastic, but considering the fact that it was my first real meal in singapore, and Indian on top of that, lets just say I spent a fair share of time sitting on a white throne later that night.
Friday: With friday off we went down and explored Sentosa Island. Rode the cable car across, hit up the gym, and went to a party with a bunch of the current Universal cast in Clarke Quay. It is here that I came to discover that 90% of my coworkers were gorgeous Australians. Even better, apparently straight men are a rare commodity in this crowd. Even better than that, I’ve got the serial-killer-vibe DOWN.
Saturday: A few of the other newcomers and I, hit up Mustafa Centre. HOLY BALLS. Okay, it’s really hard to describe this place without actually going in. But if you can imagine a Walmart, Target, K-Mart, Safeway, Sears, Best Buy, Wallgreens, Home Depot, and a homeless shelter combined, it would be about half the size of this place. It just keeps going, and going and going. I’m pretty sure I changed time zones while walking from one side to another.
Later that night, we went to this place called the Blu Jaz Cafe, an awesome restaurant and music venue over in the Arab District. Spanning three floors with great food, it was hard not to have a good time here. First floor – main area of sit down eating with live jazz and violin. Second floor – dance club and full bar. Third floor – live music venue with full bar along with the menu from the first floor. I’ll definitely be back.
Walking around a mile at 3:30AM back home, it never for an instant felt that some creepy man with combover would step out of an alley way and request I be their sex slave in a sultan’s pleasure room. We did however run into five or six friendly Germans who were headed to Orchard Towers, otherwise known as the “Four Floors or Whores.” (Prostitution is legalized and controlled here.) They were very confused as to why we were headed home.
Sunday: I went and hit up the Singapore Botanical gardens including the National Orchid Garden of Singapore. With grassy fields, turtle and swan filled lakes, and lush sections of rainforest it was a hard place to leave. Later that night we hit up a place on Marina Bay for dinner. Amazing view of Downtown Singapore.
Monday / Tuesday: First day of work! Well, not really work. Corporate Induction. That says enough.
Wednesday: Training! Basically I get to just play a live video game all day. Can’t beat that. It was also staff preview night for Halloween Horror Nights here at Universal Singapore. AMAZING. I cannot imagine the work that goes into this thing. There were pits of bubbling lava, creepy demons on bungee cords leaping into sight and disappearing less than a second later, and padded rooms with strobes going off so bright that they would literally blind you for 10 seconds. You stumble around blind with the last image you saw imprinted in the back of your retina – a bloody figure in a straight jacket lumbering toward you. While never experiencing Horror Nights at Universal Hollywood, a couple people I work with said this was a MILLION times better.
And that brings us back current. So far Singapore has been a blast. It is an insanely beautiful city, filled with a surprising amount of greenery everywhere, and not a single bit of trash to be seen. If you like shopping and eating, this is the place for you. The art community seems to be quite large here with huge amount of expats. And when you do see a white person, chances are they’re Australian… and beautiful… and single… and want my body. More to come on that shortly.
With mall after mall after mall that all seem to connect to each other in the ice cold air-conditioned atmosphere underground, Singapore becomes an interconnected web of infinite shopping, tasty affordable food, and square toilets. Trust me. The toilets and I know each other quite well by now.
Well here I am, sitting at Gate 120 for Cathay Pacific flight 883 to Hong Kong with a connection to Singapore. I’ve got a little less than an hour till I say good riddance to Uncle Sam’s hairy ass and say hello to my new asian world.
Bu that’s not totally true. I know I’ll miss it. I’ll miss Panda Express making me feel like was just had an alien baby implanted in my belly; I’ll miss the hours spent every day in the only true free parking in Los Angles that many seem to call Freeways. But most of all I’ll miss the people. Yeah sure, I’ll miss my friends, but there’s that lovely contention and egoism that only LA knows, that I think I’ll miss most. While I don’t know what the people of Singapore are like quite yet, I do have an inkling I won’t just be able to assume that girl at Starbucks with the blonde hair with her hand on her hip isn’t a downright bitch anymore. While the main reason will be that asians rarely have blonde hair, it’s partially because chances are a pretty girl in LA is an actor, and hates her job working at Chili’s .
Okay they’re calling me on the plane now so I’ll have to cut this short. See ya on the other side. Literally. The other side of the World.
Alaska just won’t let me go. It’s got the grip of a dead homeless man, frozen on the streets of Anchorage in December.
Around 3:00 PM Sunday I left Homer, riding with my dad on the 5 hour drive to Anchorage where he dropped me off. Noon the next day I was still at the airport ironically named for a senator who was still alive at the time of the naming, then died in a plane cars later. (Thanks for the correction,Shawn)
While I have said in the past that the Anchorage airport is one of my favorite airports I’ve had the pleasure of sleeping in, I am somewhat grateful that for once I didn’t have to.
US Airways Flight 217. “Cancelled for Maintenance.” To me, maintenance just sounds like more fun, but of course someone has to get all worried about safety and cancels the flight. With a scheduled departure at a lovely 1:45 AM, this left over 150 passengers stranded in the middle of the 25 degree fahrenheit night in Alaska. Because of my inherent laziness, I was one of the last people in line to complain to the gate counter. When they directed everyone to rebook at the main ticket counter, outside of security, I suddenly found myself at the front of a herd of upset travelers. Smoking past some old ladies I was sixth in a queue of 150 to fix this mess.
They gave us a number of booking representitives who I surprisingly got ahold of relatively quickly. After twenty minutes on the phone, however, they basically told me the next US Airways flight wasn’t until Wednedsday, and they couldn’t book anything with the other airlines because they were sleeping. Thus I waited. Two hours later, I had a new booking on Alaska Airlines at 12:35 PM, and a free hotel room at Quality Inn. I don’t even want to know how long it took the rest of the 144 or more people to get rebooked. I was sleeping in a bed with oddly square pillows and dreaming of the mediocre continental breakfast in the morning.
The rest went fairly smoothly. I went through security again, hopped on the Alaska Airlines flight, and now I’m in Seattle, waiting for my 6:55 on United to the city of angels. And traffic. Mostly traffic. Maybe one angel smoking crack with a bum under the sixth street bridge. But on the bright side at least his sweaty grasp is a little easier to escape from.
Update – 8:15 pm: I spoke too soon. My US Airways/United flight operated by Skywest (who is actually flying this thing I don’t know) was delayed by two hours then cancelled. I ran to the United customer service desk, spent 40 minutes at the desk while this cute little bald man pecked away at a keyboard. Rebooked once more, I’m again flying on Alaska Air to LAX arriving at 9:45. Good news is I convinced him to give me a food voucher.
Update – 8:30 pm: Alaska Air’s flight apparently is landing late. Delayed 25 minutes. Wheeeeeeeeeeeee
Update – 3:00 am, wednesday: After United losing my bag in Seattle, it has finally been delivered.
Total time for everything to get from Point A to Point B: 60 Hours.