Finally catching up on a few overdue blogs! This post recounts travel from July when we left Vietnam and, for the first time since arriving in SE Asia, hopped on a plane to our next destination: Singapore!
July 25, 2015
Leaving Hanoi was bittersweet. It meant the end of our month-long stay in Vietnam which I loved every bit of. I loved the frenzy and grit of the city streets, the buzzing motorbikes, the honking and horn-blaring cacophony, the food stands with plastic tables and stools spilling out into the sidewalk, even the daily panic attacks as I risked life and limb to cross the motorbike-packed streets. In the small towns, I treasured the friendliness of the locals, the kids chirping “hello, hello!” as they giggled and ran away (or sometimes waggled their butts at us). I was bummed to leave Vietnam. And yet, as we arrived at the airport, the last glimpse of Hanoi behind us and the Noi Boi Airport in front, I realized how, on some subconscious level, I must have been ready for a change of scenery.
Our taxi rounded the corner, and I peered out the window and gazed up at the Noi Boi Airport, pulled in by what seemed to me, in contrast to where I had traveled the past few months, a palatial setting. Lofty ceilings, huge expanses of windows with sunlight pouring in, gleaming white floors. Forget Angkor Wat and its ancient carvings, here’s where I marveled with delight! To me, in that moment, as I stood bedraggled in thrice worn jeans and t-shirt, my hair matted down with sweat and pulled into a messy bun, I found myself (surprisingly) stunned by the concept of air travel in all its first world glory.
As the airport doors glided open, we stood awestruck at the sight inside, giddy for more. (I say “we” with the vain notion that Chris and I share the exact same experiences, but I’ll concede to the possibility that maybe while I stood gawking like the most faithful devotee before Heaven’s gates, perhaps Chris was simply standing in front of the airport ready to walk in.)
My astonishment continued throughout the airport experience. I relished the icy cold air-conditioning, the pristine bathrooms with pearly white toilets (magnificent porcelain thrones!), even the perfectly normal Burger King seemed a splendid wonder to me with its golden fries and fountain Coke ambrosia. Orderly rows of chairs – uniform in color and NONE plastic – in soldier formation stopped me in my tracks; I had to stop and snap a pic. And the wide walkways – what a concept! No honking, no traffic, no panic attacks, no risk of something rolling over my feet, no need to simultaneously look down in front and up ahead to avoid a getting run over or stepping in poop. A pedestrian’s paradise! Luxury at the highest heights, and we hadn’t even taken off yet.
This feeling of awe caught me off guard. It’s not like I’ve never been on a plane or seen an airport. I’ve flown countless times and seen dozens of airports, usually making every effort to spend as little time as possible in one. But this time was different; all our SE Asia travel until that moment had included sleeper buses, local buses, minivans, slow boats, speed boats and overnight trains. No planes to speak of. No gleaming departure terminals either. (I felt lucky if I could find a western toilet at any of the bus or train stations we had been to.) My shock was simply a reaction to the stark contrast of travel experiences. Just as the unknown and endearing places that we had traveled to took getting used to, reverting back to “luxurious” airplane travel and all its first-world delights was a jolt too. Enchanting and thrilling, yet unsettling all the same.
The magic continued as we touched down in Singapore and emerged from the MRT station and into the land of international stores, restaurants and brands. Starbucks, McDonald’s, Kate Spade, Banana Republic, ZARA, even 7-11 – so many familiar faces smiling down on me. It was like getting off the plane and being greeted by friends I hadn’t seen in a while. I embraced them and gushed over how fantastic they looked and how long it had been. Oh Starbucks, dear friend, how’s that grande-vanilla-no foam-soy-latte of yours? And, ZARA – my, what fancy zapatos you have today!
My sudden fondness for these international brands had little to do with wanting to shop or spend money, and everything to do with cloaking myself in the warmth of something familiar. After months in wonderful yet unfamiliar towns in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, stepping foot into a city with familiar names was a comfort I didn’t know I wanted or needed, but fully embraced.
And so, that’s how I arrived in Singapore. Not a standout day in terms of typical tourist oohs and ahhs – no extraordinary ancient temples or breathtaking scenery (unless you consider uniform rows of chairs marvelously breathtaking) – but memorable in that I was reminded about how every experience lends fresh perspective. I hope to always gain fresh perspective – it reminds me to appreciate things and experiences I might typically take for granted.
Two Days in Singapore in Photos
In Singapore, Chris and I did an equal share of sight-seeing and tooling around the city. We had both been to Singapore before and didn’t feel the need to rush around to see major sights again, so we took a laid back approach . We took long, sweaty walks around the waterfront, Clarke Quay, and the Gardens by the Bay. We stopped in at Marina Bay Sands (to pee) but also started a crowd of people wheeling coins around one of the circular fountains outside. (That was a lot of fun, piddling around with pennies outside the billion dollar hotel/casino.)
We went to the Singapore Art Museum, which happened to be free the day we went thanks to Singapore celebrating its 50th year of independence from Malaysia, and I found myself intrigued by a multi-media exhibit showcasing an agency’s creative process for “rebranding Communism.” TWBA Vietnam was tasked with rebranding Communism to make it cool and captivating for younger generations. The exhibit featured everything from the strategy team dissecting and discussing the creative brief, to the tissue session of creative ideas and finally to the final product, a :30 TV commercial. Quite fascinating , especially having sat in similar meetings tasked with other challenging and interesting objectives.
I did indeed do some shopping but it was all FUNCTIONAL shopping, no retail serotonin hits for this backpacker. I NEEDED another pair of shorts – magenta from Uniqlo – to increase my traveling wardrobe to two. I admit I was tempted to buy more, but the reality of my small pack size killed any shopping craving I might have given in to.
Our stay in Singapore was a blast though short-lived. We stayed two nights before departing for Melaka, Malaysia. Here are a few of my favorite shots.
Enjoy the full photo album below!
|Two Days in Singapore – Photos|
For Chris’ take on Singapore, check out his post at: Singapore – He Said