Welp, this is a big one. We went to Southeast Asia! This is a lot outside of our typical travel radius, but we got invited to a wedding so figured if we don’t go now, when else would we go? The wedding was at the end of our trip. First, we went to Singapore, then Langkawi, then headed to Penang for the wedding festivities.
If we flew from Indiana, it would be 2+ stops and take at least 23 hours. From London, it’s a quick 12-13 hour flight directly to Singapore. And to put the icing on the cake, it was also a lot less expensive to get to Singapore from England vs. Indiana. It took some convincing, but in the end, I’m very glad that we went even though this was a completely different world than I was used to.
We flew direct from Heathrow to SIngapore on an A380, which is the biggest plane (double decker) in the world right now (also with RR engines). That itself was pretty cool and one of the deciding factors in actually taking the trip. The ride was super smooth and the plane was very nice and new. There were no weird sounds during takeoff, which is a great feature that all planes should have. There were tons of bathrooms. The cabin was well insulated, and you could even stretch your legs and take a walk upstairs if you wanted to.
So 12 hours and a lot of movies later, we landed in Singapore. We were lucky enough to have some friends there. They just happened to be friends that we hadn’t actually met yet. Tara’s work colleague and good friend Runa has a sister (Rupa) that lives in Singapore. Runa insisted that we stay with her sister, even though we had never met her. I admit, I was a little concerned about this whole arrangement, but Rupa, her husband Prakash, and their daughter Rosanna turned out to be amazing people who showed us a great time in Singapore. The level of hospitality they showed us was unbelievable. I hope one day we can return the favor if they ever decide to visit Indiana.
After we arrived and dropped our bags, we headed for a local Malay restaurant near their apartment. We had some great food while Tara and I got to know Rupa and Prakash. The Malay food on this trip may have been my favorite so far. It’s all very spicy and has amazing flavor.
The next day, after some much needed sleep, we took the bus and the metro to the marina bay area to see the sights. Rupa was nice enough to give us her cell phone so that we could stay in touch.
After the mall and some more great Asian food, we headed back to the suburbs to freshen up for the upcoming night out. About 70% of the people in Singapore live in high rise government apartment buildings like the ones below. Because Singapore is so tiny (about 3x the size of Washington DC) and densely populated (5 million people), this is the norm. We stayed with Rupa and Prakash in one of these apartments and it was actually pretty spacious. It was bigger than our flat in Derby. The fact that it is government-owned would give it a negative connotation in the US or UK, but that is not the case in Singapore. The government owns it, and seems to do a pretty good job keeping it in good condition and keeping it updated. One really weird fact is that you actually buy your apartment from the government, but you can only buy it for 99 years. After you’ve owned it for 99 years, the government gets it back and then you either have to buy it again or it goes on the market.
Anyway, we rested up for a bit and then headed out for the night.
Prakash plays the drums in his spare time and had a gig that night. We all went along to see him play and have a few drinks. It was a lot of fun seeing Prakash play. The lead singer was taking requests and he was nice enough to play some John Denver for us. I don’t think anyone else in the place knew where West Virginia was on a map, but it made for a really good song.
When the next band came on, we witnessed a proposal. Needless to say, Tara video taped the whole thing on her camera.
The next morning, we had to get up pretty early and catch our flight to Langkawi. It was only a 1 hour flight, but it would have taken us 16 hours by train or 10 hours by bus so it was definitely worth the price of the plane ticket.
In our very short time in Singapore, I feel like we learned a lot. Staying with locals really accelerated our learning process. Rupa told us exactly how to take 1 bus and 3 trains to get across the entire country. Prakash happily answered my endless questions about the ridiculously high car taxes (cheapest tax certificate cost $50,000!). And even little Rosanna gave us a feel for how elementary schools are run.
Also, it seemed like everywhere we went, we were faced with lots of rules. On the metro, you couldn’t drink any water or you’d be fined $500. If you didn’t flush the public toilet, you could be publicly caned (I’m not making this up). If you were spotted naked in your own house, you could be imprisoned because any and all forms of pornography are illegal. Don’t even think about littering…. that will cost you $1000 and some forced labor.
Somehow, this very strict society makes it work. The people all seem to follow these rules. I’m not sure if they follow because they believe they are necessary or if they just don’t want to be publicly caned. Either way, the streets were clean, the toilets were immaculate, and I didn’t have to worry about pesky roller skaters on the sidewalks. I felt very safe the entire time I was there, even though in many cases, Tara and I were the only non Asian people in the whole room/train car/restaurant/etc. If you can get over the eery almost communist feel of the country, this is one of those places that really has its act together. If countries are judged on the cleanliness of their streets and public toilets, then Singapore could legitimately be the greatest country in the world. But if that’s the ranking criteria, Malaysia wouldn’t be in the top 100…. so I’ll probably have to revise my criteria.
Anyway, enough rambling, here is some delicious food.
Okay, next up is Langkawi for some R&R.