Tuesday, November 15, 2005

City of Many Aromas

I've been back from Singapore for a few days now -- have had a nasty bout of traveler's flu. No, not the Asian Bird Flu thingie; I'd probably be dead by now if it was that. No just the usual crud you pick up by spending an entire day's worth of hours in airports and planes when you travel internationally...

What can I say about Singapore? If you're as big a "Firefly" fan as I am, you've seen what the big cities in Joss Whedon's future 'Verse look like. Asian/AngloSaxon influences and hightech/lowtech living side by side. Well, that's Singapore. You arrive at the spiffiest airport on Earth (there's a traveler's "lounge" where you can pay 20 bucks and take a 3-hour nap in a quiet dark little cubicle, how civilized is that?!?) and take a super-clean cab through streets lined with coconut palms -- and yes, your cabbie is driving on the left side of the street, which makes some of us a little nervous, it feels like he's playing "chicken" with the world -- against a backdrop of skyscrapers that seem to go on forever... I stayed in the Shangri-La Hotel, which is hands-down the most jawdroppingly luxurious place I've ever been. They have a PILLOW menu, for chrissakes. A tub AND a shower stall in your bathroom. Nice big towels. Huge bay windows in my 14th floor room looking out at the city. A multilevel koi pond and not one but FIVE restaurants on premises. Flowers fall from the sky at night there, and a little old Chinese man sweeps them up in the morning and hands you handfuls to take back to your room. I am not kidding.

But you gotta' get out of the hotel sometime, right? Walk the streets of Chinatown and munch on cheap dim-sum... that's where the City of Many Aromas becomes clear. Singapore is a crossroads, has always been a crossroads, was founded by some British entrepreneur called Raffles just a couple/few centuries ago specifically to be his own personal crossroads. Biggest container-ship port in the world. Basically, we're talking the closest thing Earth has to a "Babylon 5" space station, here. Aliens of every shape and size speaking a dozen languages all around you, etc. etc. And every step you take smells different: "Mmm, seafood!" "Ew, someone peed." "Is that patchouli?" "Barbecue!" "Wet dog." You get the idea. More so than anyplace I've ever been -- and that's taking in a lot of places, friends: NYC, Frisco, Paris, New Orleans, Barcelona, Zurich, Geneva... Wait. Out of all those, believe it or not Geneva comes closest. It had even more varied TV channels. Mostly what you get in Singapore is Chinese, Indian, japanese, Malaysian, BBC World, CNN, and a couple of US cable channels with Chinese subtitles. Sorry, Fox News, apparently no one in Asia cares what Bill O'Reilly thinks. Isn't that comforting?

"So what," says Bill. "Their opinions don't matter." Oh yeah, sorry, they're just something like half the planet's population, right? Or more? Right, who cares what they think... Remember, this is a guy who thinks "Uhmaricuns" when you say the word "we." He can't imagine that some of us say "we" and think "Humans."

Malaysia is very tempting. I was 2 degrees north of the Equator in November, OK, and it was 85-95 degrees every day. Humid. No, I mean REALLY humid. Like swimming through the air. Walk out of your air-conditioned room into the air-conditioned hall, take the air-conditioned elevator down to the air-conditioned lobby of your luxury hotel, and there's already a river running down your spine. That kind of humid. But beautiful. Like all those jungle-animal exhibits you see at the zoo, only, like, it just keeps on going forever. For real. A million kinds of flower. And gorgeous jewel-tone color prints on everything. Weird food. Weird. Some of it good. Some of it... well... awful. Dragonfruit good. Durian baaaaaad.

Someday I want to take the Orient Express -- it's now got an extra line from Bangkok down to Singapore, and from what I can tell that would be awesome. Singapore is its own country, and only about 10 x 20 miles or something like that. You've probably heard how strict their laws are. Well... gee... it's a very clean and civilized place. Maybe strict is what works for cities, I don't know. But this "Asia with training wheels" taste of the Orient definitely gave me a few more ideas for what to do when I get rich and famous.

Heh. Right. Next time we'll talk about why that's never gonna' happen...

--CAS
(home and trying not to hork up a lung)

2 comments:

Loreen said...

Wow...
Just wow -- to pictures and descriptions.

Glad you tasted the fruit.

blue said...

Yip.
The Smell and Sounds of Humanity - the real Human pageant, not our little strip mall excursions. Americans spend so much effort trying to avoid the joy of smells and new experiences - shop on the internet, avoid downtown, sterilize their houses with chemicals.

Thanks for stepping your feet in it for us :) - beautiful imagery. "Seafood!' 'Someone peed!' Love it.

Next time I go to Singapore . . .
vicariously . . .