Singapore, Pt. IV
July 27, 2012 § 1 Comment
On my third (and final) day in Singapore, I was slated to meet up with Benny, a mutual friend of me and CK that I had also met while studying abroad in Hong Kong in 2010. I was actually a bit nervous about it because I had only met Benny briefly at a house party and hadn’t really spent time with him after that, so I hoped that the day wouldn’t bee too awkward or a waste of his Sunday. (I’m sure he felt the same way, haha). Thankfully, we ended up getting along quite well, and I’m very thankful for his hospitality!
We planned to spend most of the day at Sentosa, an island resort on the south coast of Singapore. I got dropped off at the MRT station in the morning, where I mustered up some intrepidity and took the subway by myself to the Sentosa station to convene with Benny. For lunch, we dined at Toast Box on some traditional Singaporean grub:
I think it’s funny when Asian countries like Singapore and Hong Kong have toast as a traditional food, because eating bread just seems so un-Asian to me! I guess we have the British to thank for their
colonialism cultural influences. One of my coworkers had warned me against eating the half-boiled egg, which is basically a tasteless soft-boiled egg that is mixed with soy sauce. It was an unfamiliar experience, but I like a runny yolk and enjoyed dipping pieces of toast into the mixture. My favorite Singaporean dish, though, has to be laksa — creamy, spicy soup with vermicelli noodles. I wish I could get this stuff easily in the States. The laksa noodles at Toast Box were shaped like slugs, so that was a little weird.
After that, we made our way over to Sentosa. There are so many ways to get there: train, car, bus, cable car, etc. It’s astounding because the island isn’t really that far from the main Singapore island, but I guess Sentosa is a huge tourist attraction, so the more easily accessed, the better. We decided to stroll across the bridge because it was such a nice day, but even that cost us a dollar.
Upon paying the mildly exorbitant park entrance fee, Benny and I were free to roam about. We passed the Universal Studios park, which we opted out of because that kind of stuff is better experienced in America. But that didn’t stop us from taking some photos as if we belonged.
Sentosa is like any other tourist resort: big enough to hold a lot of people and attractions, but it can get old pretty quickly, especially for the locals. The place wasn’t very crowded (perhaps because it was Easter Sunday?). Everything on the island is extravagantly designed, including a large fountain that happened to be turned off during the day.
Singapore’s mascot is a merlion, which, for those into bestialception, is a lion crossed with a mermaid, or for you more conservative types, a lion crossed with a fish. The one on Sentosa is pretty impressive, and I think you can pay (extra) to venture up into its mouth like a regurgitated parasite. (I don’t know why this paragraph is so disgusting.)
The tickets we bought allowed us to choose a few of Sentosa’s attractions, so after walking around for a bit, Benny and I braved the Luge, which was kind of like go-carting, except it’s all downhill so there’s no motor necessary. I was a little apprehensive due to my fear of going downhill at great speeds (ie. roller coasters), but even elementary school kids were riding enthusiastically, so I strapped on my helmet and took a video (apologies for my ever-present toes). It was quite a dangerous operation, holding my precious camera between my knees while steering.
The Luge is cleverly adjacent to the Skyride, which is a ski-lift-type thing that brings passengers back up the hill. After the rider dismounts, the empty Luge carts are positioned under the Skyride benches so that every lift brings three carts back up to the beginning of the ride. Ingenius! Or I’m just easily impressed.
We then made our way to the bird and insect part of Sentosa to get an eyeful of things with wings, which was cool because both the bird section and the butterfly section had the animals flitting about freely while we humans tried to coax them toward our cameras. If I used my imagination, I could imagine that I was an explorer trekking through the jungle (HAH). Later on in the Insect Kingdom, I didn’t notice that one of the insect tanks was mysteriously missing its front glass panel, so I almost accidentally reached in and grazed a giant beetle with my hand while trying to take a picture of it — eek!
After getting our fill of nature edumacation, Benny and I fulfilled our inner childlike desires and went on some virtual amusement rides, where we made friends with campy pirates who inexplicably had American accents, shot up some villainous cowboys and lived the tumultuous (and EXTREME!!) life of a log journeying downriver. (Honestly, the last one was the most fun LOL.)
All that visual stimulation necessitated a more relaxing environment, so Benny and I headed to the beach.
The beachfront is pretty long, and somewhere in the middle, there’s a rope-and-plank bridge that leads to an even smaller island that purports to be the southernmost point of Asia. On the small island was a four-story pavilion that we climbed for…a better view of the beaches?
Upon finishing our long stroll along the beach, Benny and I headed back to Singapore mainland to meet his sister and her friend for dinner. The location was Newton, a popular outdoor food court. Like many other places in Asia, the Newton Food Centre was full of hawkers — people employed by the various food stalls to persuade you to buy their food. It was weird but nice at the same time; they act like waiters, bringing you menus, utensils, food, and our lady even helped move our belongings into the sheltered area when it started raining lightly.
The interesting thing is that, according to Benny, this type of activity is prohibited. Well, since it’s been three months, I can’t remember exactly what he said, so I might be misquoting him. In any case, customers are supposed to decide what to eat on their own without this type of polite harassment, but competition among the food stalls is so fierce that they have to resort to these aggressive tactics. Regardless, we had a tasty meal of Singaporean delicacies (including stingray!), and I consider it a tragedy that fast food in the US can’t even begin to compare. Sigh.
Our last activity of the day was a very interesting experience indeed. Singapore has this park/reserve called the Night Safari, which is basically what it sounds like: a safari. At night. Luckily, Benny’s sister Jocelyn had their mom’s government employee pass thing, which gave us all a discount. Yay! The Night Safari turned out to be one of the most eye-opening parts of my trip for a number of reasons.
Firstly, there was a fire-blowing performance featuring some mostly naked male dancers. (Hot. Literally.)
I got so caught up in watching and filming that I accidentally dropped and lost my ticket for five minutes LOL.
The second show we watched was called “Creatures Of The Night Show,” which was a more kid-friendly spectacle featuring trained animals doing tricks, like guessing in which fist a volunteer is hiding a grape. Simple stuff. The host was pretty charismatic and charming, so we were all adequately amused. However, one part of the show curtailed my merry mood and gave me quite a bit to think about.
The scene unfolded thusly:
A boa constrictor was brought to the stage. The host asked the audience for a volunteer. The audience dithered at the sight of the snake, but the host already had his target picked out anyway. He walked up to the third or fourth row and indicated a young woman. She was hesitant, so he got the audience to cheer and clap until she agreed to join him onstage. She turned out to be from Taiwan. “Soo, we have a sexy volunteer from Taiwan!” the host declared. “Come on, do a sexy pose for us!” She awkwardly made a peace sign with her left hand. It was the opposite of “sexy,” but nobody could be expected to break out Playboy moves in that kind of setting. Then the real action began:
As you can see in the video, the host’s accomplices tried to sneakily hoist the snake onto the woman’s shoulders. However, not everybody is Britney Spears, and she recoiled mightily. I’ll admit it — it was funny! You can hear me cackling unsympathetically in the video. But I sobered up when I reflected on what I had just witnessed.
It has to do with the roles that society dictates us to play. The host played a somewhat lecherous entertainer. The woman, hapless “volunteer” that she was, played the squealing victim perfectly. How she reacted is pretty much as amusing as it gets. Anyone would probably be afraid of a giant snake, but the host deliberately chose an attractive young woman to fit into his scripted surprise. What if she refused to fit that mold? What if she turned out to be a veteran snake handler? What if, out of fear, she was genuinely upset and refused to play along for our entertainment? I won’t even bother going into how demeaning the whole “sexy pose” thing was.
In the end, I understand that this was just a minuscule incident in a spiel that the host is paid to act out an infinite number of times, but it still irked me to see those kinds of tropes carelessly reinforced in a show that’s supposed to be about furry (or scaly) critters.
Anyway, after that hullabaloo, we embarked on the actual safari part of the park, taking a tram through the different wildlife sections. It was nighttime, and the dim lights allowed us to see the animals quite clearly but provided terrible conditions for pictures/video. (Seriously, the videos I took, which seemed fine at the time, just turned out to be black on black.) I loved how Night Safari was set up so that instead of cages and glass walls, the animals seemed to be enjoying themselves in peaceful pastures. The most exciting part was that some of the hoofed animals were allowed to roam freely along the path, so as we drove by, we were close enough to touch some of them (though obviously we refrained).
As with any zoo-like place, some of the animals were visible and active, and some were not. Apparently we got lucky and got to see a majority of them roaming about. Passengers can disembark from the tram at designated points and walk along the path, though some parts are legitimately scary because you’re walking around in the dark with a bunch of wild animals. Our group, for example, got spooked by some bats flying around at head-level. Friendly security guards (sentries? I don’t know what to call them) with flashlights are posted along intersections of the path to keep people from getting lost or wandering into forbidden territory. We wondered what it was like to stand there alone in the pitch black all night, with only the occasional passing tram or pedestrian for company.
In the darkness, from far away, it was sometimes difficult to distinguish whether an animal was real or not. Obviously I have no doubt that they all were, but I imagined this ride taking place 1,000 years in the future. Visitors wearing futuristic outfits would peer out of their hovertram. Children would point and say, “Mommy, is that a real elephant?” And parents would respond, “No, sweetie, elephants became extinct 500 years ago due to global warming and illegal poaching. That’s just a mechanical one to show you what they looked like.”
The theme of the park, of course, was all about conservation and education. The slogan that the guides repeat at the end of the tram ride sums it up nicely: Conserve what we love. Love what we understand. Understand what we are taught. I think that could be applied to a great many things that we humans take for granted or even despise.