Singapore - why I will one day live there. A story of love, heartbreak and lost wallets.
Arriving in Singapore is like stepping off the aeroplane and into 2100. The airport itself is like something from another planet entirely. It is like waking up and finding out humanity has moved forward into the next stage of evolution and left you behind. The journey to the city centre via the high-speed MRT on the East-West line from Changi Airport zips you through the industrial heartland and into a metropolis of space age architecture.
In his epic “The Art of Travelling” Alain De Botton stated that:
“Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversation than a moving plane, car or train”
So grab a window view seat, sit back and pour over the scenery that flashes by.
If there is one place I have visited in my lifetime that truly personifies a ‘Green Future’ of sustainable living, it would be Singapore. The only way I can describe what I mean here is to simple say ‘green’. So very green. Every available open space is covered with a tapestry of vegetation, which seems to give the whole place an uncanny ability to ‘breathe’ and feel clean. Singapore is famed for being designed as a ‘City in a garden’ then the crown jewel of this accolade would have to be the Gardens By The Bay.
I was utterly in awe. I’ll confess, despite knowing their importance and diversity as a geographer, I just don’t enjoy plants. Still, I was pacing around the world’s largest greenhouses dragging my jaw behind me as I dipped in between different biomes, in acutely controlled micro-climates and seeing flora and fauna from all corners of the map. I particularly enjoyed the focus towards the conservation of our planets ecosystems. Throughout my journey around the Gardens By The Bay I was constantly reminded about the vulnerability of our awesome yet fragile planet. Impacts of over population, over consumption of resources, irreversible damage to ecosystems, plastic in the oceans, info-graphics and statistics were everywhere and it really hits home. You can’t help but leave with a sense of pride for what we can showcase as a species but also a sense of guilt that we simply are not doing enough to safeguard the world in which we live. It is hard hitting, but absolutely essential. Good job Singapore.
The Gardens By The Bay; views from the skywalk and the SkyPark @ Marinas Bay Sands Hotel
Singapore is clean. So very clean. I trekked through several of the major urban hubs in a pitiful attempt to find litter and pollution. Bar the exceptional wrapper or plastic bottle, the city was outrageously clean. It is like the people of Singapore are showing off their ability to reduce, manage and dispose of waste so efficiently and so they should. I am not just talking about litter here either. Escalators were sparkling, floor surfaces were shiny and swept, everything just had that ‘new’ smell and gleam to it; despite me knowing full well some of these areas are over 20 years old. I was even greeted to a McDonald's that would have given the Double Tree @ The Hilton a run for its money; the arrogance of it all!
The city itself is well-designed. Everything is so slick. Every signpost, every information board, every walkway intrinsically explicit and detailed yet user friendly. It flows; even during the busiest hours of the day l. It works and I love it.
Despite the sincere concern for the need of a sustainable future, if I had to describe Singapore in one word it would have to be diverse.
Singapore has everything. From tropical beaches and theme parks @ Resorts World on Sensota Island, to the beautiful Marina Bay and fabulous Marina Bay Sands hotel, to tropical rainforest and accompanying Singapore Zoo and Night Safari (which is #1 on my top 10 things to do in Singapore - see next blog post), to several bustling urban shopping and leisure centres, to quintessential urban subcultures such as Chinatown and Little India and finally an electric night scene such as what can be experienced @ Clarke Quay. It’s a playground and I cannot wait until the next chance I get to return.
Views of Marina Bay and Marina Bay Sands Hotel from Helix Bridge & Merlion Point.
I wanted to finish this blog post with probably the most powerful experience I had in Singapore. This is a story of love, of heartbreak and of redemption. It is, of course, the story of my lost wallet.
Mum & Dad here is your disclaimer because I didn’t actually tell you this.
A story of love: It had been a whirlwind morning in Singapore. I had beaten the alarms to race to Marina Bay for an epic sunrise over the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. Lovely. Topped off by a traditional breakfast of chopped fish head soup. Fantastic. Singaporeans are not advocates of any early birds catching any worms and therefore the city does not really kick start until after 10am in most cases. Winner winner chicken dinner for me as I strolled through a virtually abandoned Gardens By The Bay and collected some dramatic shots (see Instagram). Brilliant. I was on cloud 9.
As the city began to open its weary eyes and the masses flooded in from all over the world, it was nearly midday and the intense sun and high humidity had me thinking about a cool iced latte and small siesta. So I voyaged back into the city on the MRT where I flatlined in my seat. Awoken by the smell of fresh bagels and the screeching sound of closing doors at my stop, I scrambled for my rucksack and dipped. I squeezed through the gap in the closing doors by what I can only imagine was by the hair on my chinny chin chin (FYI I cannot grow any form of meaningful facial hair so this was by definition a ‘close shave’) and barrel-rolled down the platform giggling to myself. What a champ, I thought smugly and bounded off in search of caffeine.
A story of heartbreak: I will always remember that feeling. The sudden change in bodily temperature. Feeling the colour drain from my face. Hands shaking. The ground beneath me opening into the darkest and deepest of chasms to swallow me in my entirety. Horrible.
“Can I take your order?”.
The very second my hand reached out and felt an empty pocket everything changed. Where was my wallet? I began to panic. Was it in my rucksack? No. Was it in my satchel? No. Panic turned into meltdown. WHERE WAS MY WALLET?! Synapses were firing all over my brain. I could feel them like daggers inside of my head poking and probing in search of answers.
My wallet was lost. Disaster.
Local currency, both of my only sources of withdrawing funds, identification, contact numbers and hostel key card (what a smart move that was), gone. I was royally buggered. However, I make a professional living (trying) identifying, tackling and overcoming unplanned conditions in the classroom, so I knew how to handle myself. Sit down. Re-assess. Identify the last place you distinctly remember having your wallet. Retrace your exact movements from that point until now. Evaluate the most likely scenario in which the wallet could have been misplaced. My brain was working on strategies A through to Z, whilst my heart was sinking further and further inside on my body.
The last place I could distinctly remember having my wallet was queuing for tickets to cross the skyline walk @ The Gardens By The Bay. I knew this because I could vividly remember that sound of ripping Velcro as I searched for shrapnel and thought to myself “how embarrassing that a grown adult still uses a Velcro wallet” - this emotive memory was as clear as day, cognitive science to the rescue!
My wallet had not been handed in @ the Gardens By The Bay. So I decided to fill out a lost item report form in a vain hope that it might show up; this was strategy C thank you brain! It was at this point I hit an unexpected barrier. I was in Singapore with a mobile device on flight mode, without satellite data and without any way of the lovely tourist information centre contacting me should my wallet miraculously turn up. Bugger. I left my email and a detailed paragraph about why it was essential that any contact be made via email as I was a hopeless tourist. My plan was to work through the remainder of my strategies (D-Z) and then sit by a WiFi source and continually refresh my inbox.
Strategies D-Y. At this point I could essentially confirm that (unless my wallet had grown hands, learned the intricate mechanisms of a zip and leapt from my pocket whilst walking to the MRT) I must have left it on the seat in what I had thought to be my heroic ‘great escape’ through the closing MRT doors earlier that afternoon. Not quite a hero after all it seems.
Side note: Top tip for travelling with ALL of your valued possessions: try not to fall asleep on public transport and disorient yourself.
I whizzed back to the station and retraced my EXACT steps from that afternoon. From a mutual perspective I must have looked utterly bonkers staring at the ground tracing an invisible, snaking pathway through Chinatown station; or perhaps I just looked like a regular jet-lagged ‘basic’ British tourist... one for another day perhaps.
No wallet. Tourist information centre? No wallet. Leave details. Customer services? No wallet. Leave details. I ventured the entirety of the north east MRT line (10 stations) and followed the same procedure in a desperate attempt to find my wallet or at least raise awareness everywhere that it was lost.
From this moment I was essentially hyperventilating. Strategy Z. For any other fellow strategists, you’ll know that Strategy Z is the no-man’s-land of strategies. The no-go zone. The do-or-die moment. A Hail Mary. In my case it was simple but absolutely terrifying; phoning Dad.
Disclaimer for Dad: This part's for you.
For those who know me well, you will know that my dad is my hero. I never tell him. Obviously. But to me he is an icon of intelligence, organisation and a seemingly organic ability to never be fazed and find the best route from A to B. The man’s meticulous. So naturally losing something is just about the daftest thing you could do in his eyes and I had to tell him that not only had I lost my wallet but that he would need to phone on my behalf to cancel his international bank cards. All at 4am English local time. Oh crap. I hung my head in shame, grabbed the first MRT back to my hostel and planned my speech.
A story of redemption: Every step closer to the hostel was worse than the last. I felt so guilty. I was so prepared, secure and organised on my travels so far, without any minor incidents at all. How had I managed to do the WORST thing possible and lose my only means of actually surviving? How was I going to explain this to my Dad? What was I going to do next? Would I have to return home? Would I have to load money onto a travel card? How would I contact my banks to cancel cards? What a mess.
I knocked on the entrance to my 5th floor hostel (remember I had lost my key card in my wallet) and I will never forget what happened next.
I do not think I have seen a larger grin than the one of the face of the lovely hostel owner (who’s name has unfortunately slipped away but I will endeavour to find out) as she opened the doorway and greeted me.
“Hello Mr Thomas I am much glad to see you”.
I can’t imagine why love, I feel and look like hell and I’m about to have my life ended on a telephone call. What reason could you possibly have for being ‘glad’ to see me?
“You have lost your red wallet, yes?”
I froze. Not even to blink. What sorcery was this?
“................... yes” was all that would stumble out of my mouth.
She scurried behind the counter and returned. “I have”, she exclaimed as she thrust her hands towards my face. There it was. Clear as day. My bright red Velcro wallet.
What on Earth? Pathetically, all I could manage in the heat of all those racing emotions and encroaching confusion was a meek “thank you very much!”.
THANK YOU?! Are you joking? Your life has just been saved. Anyway, I digress.
After an hour or so to recompose and thank the hostel owner properly, I heard the most remarkable story of human kindness. As it happens, a friendly neighbourhood Singaporean sitting opposite me on the MRT has witnessed my miraculous escape from the train with aplomb, but had also noticed a now rather lonely-looking red Velcro wallet on the seat where I had just seconds ago been fast asleep. Calling after me must have been hopeless as I dipped through the closing doors and raced off into the station. The Singaporean had a decision to make - what do I do next?
I still firmly uphold a strong belief (maybe naively) that the world is predominantly made up of kind, considerate peoples and that 99% of you would have handed that walled in first chance you got. If you have ever lost a wallet or something extremely valuable you will understand those feelings and how a simple act of kindness can be a miracle for another.
This story had a plot twist however. Naturally I was in a precarious position as my travel wallet did not have any of my own contact details within (poor planning on my part) so no mobile number to contact. I was also a tourist passing through so the address on my identification was about as useful as a parachute made entirely from bricks. Nevertheless, nothing was going to stop this Singaporean local from his hero moment. Turns out he dug around my wallet and found a receipt for a mango smoothie (get one - trust me on this) from a cute little bistro in the same road as my hostel. He pieced together that I was, evidently, a backpacker and went out of his own way to track down where I was staying. Apparently he went from hostel to hostel (to my knowledge there were at least 6 on my street alone) asking if there was a guest in my name. I was told that he had success after his 4th hostel, handed the wallet over, then made swift exit. No demand of a reward. No expectation of credit. Nothing. What a trooper.
Funny thing is, my wallet had exactly SGD$150 (around £88) of cash inside, fresh from a withdrawal that morning - which to be perfectly honest I would have happily surrendered for the safe return of my wallet and cards. Exactly SGD$150 was inside my wallet when it was returned to me, as well as of my bank cards, my identification, even the receipt from the bistro!
It was at this moment I knew for certain that one day I would move to Singapore, at least for a small period of time. I had loved every minute in the city before this traumatic event and had begun to romanticise about a life here. But the kindness and selfless endeavour of one Singaporean convinced me. He was a reflection of a city that stands up for what is important about humanity and I can buy into that.
Here’s to you Singapore! One day I will be back to return the favour.
More top pics from my time in Singapore: