Saturday, August 5, 2017

Home Time

With just one full day in Singapore, we decided to focus our attention on the Gardens by the Bay.
The MRT transit system is just like the London Underground but cleaner and quieter. The automated trains (no drivers), run on a continuous loop between stations and arrive punctually, every 3-5 minutes. There is no gap between the doors of the train and the doors of the platform, so entry and exit is seamless and there are a series of cartoon characters to remind you of the rules –

Hush hush Hannah, my favourite 
I don’t think I’ve ever felt safer in a city than I do here. There are signs of the sensible rules everywhere, which seems like overkill but clearly works because everyone seems to be completely law abiding (if you ignore pedestrian crossings – no one stops for them). There is no vandalism, no littering; people don’t push or shove, everything is orderly and calm.

Maybe there is a sinister side to Singapore that we haven’t seen but certainly on the outside it seems like the utopian version of a dystopian future city.
Extending the futuristic theme, the giant, artificial trees in the Gardens by the Bay tower over the Marina area. With a skeleton of metal, the exterior of these beautiful, triffid like structures is covered with plants, blending technology with nature, almost seamlessly. When you walk through them on the Skywalk it’s like being part of a scene from Avatar.

We spent almost 5 hours in the gardens and the time just whizzed past. Apart from the beauty of the plants and flowers, the opportunity to be within the climate controlled interior of the domes was too good to pass up. Singapore is hot!
The Flower Dome is home to species from all over the world. Taine even spotted some eucalypts and kangaroo paw in the Australian garden. At the moment they have an orchid display as a central feature; the colours are truly amazing.

The Cloud Forest spirals around a central core of forest plants that cover every climactic region on the planet, from the Tropics to the Arctic and it is all self supporting, both in the structure of the plants (no metal girders etc) and the environment. Part of the continuous evaporation cycle includes the world’s highest indoor waterfall- it’s truly awe inspiring.

Near the gardens is the Marina Bay Sands area where they are busy erecting a Grand Prix track and spectator stands. This sector is home to the rich and famous. The shops – Hermes, Dior etc, etc, had more posh looking attendants than they did customers but maybe they were all in the casino or by the pool during the afternoon.
We took the MRT to the Chinatown markets before going back to our hotel for a swim and recovery session. We were hoping for some shopping opportunities but haven’t really seen anything we want to buy. Good quality in Singapore is very expensive, poor quality is the same price as the junk we get at home.

So enchanted were we with the gardens that we decided to go back to see the trees lit up at night and thank goodness we did. If they were spectacular by day, words cannot describe them by night! Solar panels on top of the trees provide the energy for the nightly light show and it's accompanied by reasonably non intrusive music. After the display you can stroll back through the gardens to the train station or along the walkway to the harbour.

I think we discovered the dark side of Singapore today in the form of the crass, gaudy, over priced Sentosa Island. This is one giant theme park with all sorts of activities, mostly ticketed. You even have to pay to enter the island, a bit rich since that's just a preamble to the fleecing you're about to get when you arrive! You're also encouraged to buy 'fun passes', a discounted (apparently), pre selected list of activities that you will do when you get there. We had seen that the Skyline Luge was running on Sentosa. This is the same company that runs the NZ luges at Rotorua and Queenstown so Taine and Geoff were keen to try that. We also chose the Segway tour because, you know, everyone needs to ride a Segway in their life! 

I found a bench under a tree to sit and read my book while they luged. After nearly an hour I was starting to wonder if they'd fallen off or maybe the ride was so good they'd gone back up for another. No such luck. Apparently, 'the worst luge track ever' and a 'disgrace to the Skyways name'. Bummer. On to the Segway, where the instructor was busy on his phone. After some wait, he proceeded to 'train' the three of us, all the while keeping his thumbs on the keypad. Geoff asked if they could mind our bags. No, but there was a locker available- minimum price $4. Unfortunately Geoff only had a $10 note and the machine didn't give change. Pity we hadn't kept the bags on our backs because the advertised 'fun ride' on the Segway went for exactly 3 minutes- 400 metres down the road, turn around and back again. Double bummer. 

So, hot and bothered and so ripped off by now that we couldn't face the inevitable disappointment of the 3rd activity, we decided to cut our losses and return to the train. As bad luck would have it, just as we arrived they announced that a malfunction had caused the train to stop running and we would have to queue for a shuttle bus. Queue we did and then boarded it with about 3 times as many people as it could possibly be legal to carry, in 32C heat and with no air conditioning. Instead of express like the train, it stopped at every stop where, unbelievably, more people squished in. By the time we got back to Vivo City we were drenched in sweat and close to heat stroke. The coolness of the shopping centre was a welcome relief but because it was Saturday the place was packed and it was virtually impossible to get anything to eat so we decided to collect our luggage and head to the airport (very) early and have dinner there. Having only broken our no taxi rule once on this trip, we used our Ezy cards to get back to the airport on the subway. This was no mean feat with two line changes, four big bags and our backpacks but it only cost $1.72 each so the angst of the Sensota money wasting was somewhat assuaged. 
Bus trip
Unfortunately the food at the airport turned out to be just as expensive and equally disappointing as the Sensota activities, so here we are charging our batteries and waiting for our gate to open.
Today was probably the only unpleasant experience in an otherwise brilliant 5 week journey. 
It's a sign to go home!

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