It is strange to reflect on how different our trip has been to what we had imagined. Our main objective was to travel from our home in Britain to Bali without flying and to arrive in time for Yoel to start his academic year at Green School. Our second objective was to learn about the world as we travelled and record some of our observations along the way. We did not really have many expectations, but were ready to be culturally jolted. Whereas my perspective was more influenced by the history books of my youth, Yoel’s was more direct – looking at what was in front of him. More surprisingly, we both got reminded time and time again, that people the wold over were more similar than different and that urban centres increasingly resembled each other due to globalisation and capitalism. Nowhere was it more apparent than in Singapore. Cities are like complex machines and this one was particularly well oiled.
We went directly from Koh Samui to Singapore by boat and coach. Our original plans had been to take the train and to stop a few days in Malaysia on our way, but we were behind schedule, and had to chose the fastest route we could. During a short stopover in south Thailand, we saw a remain of the steam-powered past.
The journey was comfortable but long and I am still amazed about how patient Yoel has been during the countless hours spent in transport. Slow travel allowed us to see the world go by and daydream: it was a lesson in watching and in being.
As soon as we arrived in Singapore everything appeared to change scale. The cars were bigger, the roads wider, the buildings taller, even the trees seemed enormous. We swiftly needed to take a taxi to get to the Indonesian Embassy and there also the queue was very long.
Once our visa application lodged, we explored the city and went to the harbour front to inquire about our boat to Jakarta. We had been told that the office of the national shipping company of Indonesia (PELNI) was to be found there. We saw some luxury cruise ship and wondered what type of vessel we would be travelling in: Paul Gaugin or PELNI Gado-Gado?
After searching for the PELNI headquarters for about an hour, we found ourselves on the second floor of a mostly residential building in a tiny office with two desks and a photocopy machine, and were told by a kind Indonesian lady that we were in the right place. She informed us that our boat would leave from Pulau Batam (an Indonesian neighbouring island) and that we would have to buy a ticket there prior to departure. The next available boat to Jakarta was in four days time.
Singapore is rather expensive compared to the rest of South East Asia, so we were very fortunate to be put up by some friends of friends. More accurately our hostess was the cousin of our neighbours at Brockwood and it was lovely to find ourselves in an English family home with lively children and a black Labrador called Marmite. Their house was in a green suburb at the centre of the Island near the Polo Club and the edge of a nature reserve. It was quiet and a good retreat from the overdeveloped town centre.
We were impressed by the underground transit system and used it a fair bit. It was clean, fast and easy to use, but according to Yoel not as good as the Moscow Metro! Both transit systems shared a similar paper-ticket system with a magnetic circuit that Yoel liked to peal off and put in his phone.
But one of the most memorable moments of our stay in Singapore was when we learned that our friends from Switzerland, who coincidentally had chosen to spend a year at Green School at the same time as us, were also in town processing their visas. We meet up with Nicole, Christian and their three sons: Leander, Celine and Marlon, on the 23rd floor of their temporary apartment that overlooked Marina Bay and the business district.
Singapore is modern and in many ways full of surprises, sculptures, water fountains, shiny towers and contemporary architectural fantasies.
The trees and the vegetation were the only indications that we were in the tropics. It was interesting to see how climbing plants readily covered the concrete pillars of elevated highways.
Strangely, Singapore reminded me of Canada with its connected underground malls that disconnects us from the land and the elements.
Before leaving Yoel and I bought and planted a Bougainvillaea in the garden of our host family.
Having a nice place to stay meant that we managed to relax and prepare ourselves for our last leg of the journey – venturing into the unknown.