The first day, and after an exotic breakfast consisting of coffee and toast with Scottish jam, we took the bus to Haw Par Villa. Definitely a mini-point for the Singaporeans on the theme of transport: The bus and metro lines connect practically all of the city and are clean, cheap and efficient. When I say clean I’m not precisely referring to good for the environment but to the fact that they shine like an advert for kitchen cleaner.
I suppose this has something to do with the fact that if you drink on the transport they fine you; if you eat they fine you; if you run they fine you; if you bring animals, they fine you; stinking fruit, they fine you… well, you’re getting the idea, no? I’m not inventing the part about the fruit although it might sound that way, carrying durians is forbidden on public transport because the smell is so incredibly unpleasant, or in the words of Fergus who tried it sweetened and in ice-cream form, it’s a bit like an ostrich had vomited on top of rotten food. I chose not to ask him how he knew that, there are times that ignorance is a blessing. What’s funny is that there are people that like it, in the same way that some people like to drink ashtrays (i.e. they drink Laphroaig whisky).
(Translator’s note: The video that follows is an English video on the same topic of the Spanish original but with slightly different content).
Anyway, let us return from my rabbiting on. We took the bus to Haw Par Villa more than a paragraph ago. It’s a park created by the inventors and distributors of ‘Tiger Balm’, that I’m sure I’ve used a few times in Spain. Well apparently it was created by two brothers, one with a head for business and the other with a big heart (and I hope that somebody also had a minimum of medical knowledge to create the balm and suchlike…). The kind brother insisted that the balm always, always had to remain priced so as to be accessible to any social class, so it became so popular between rich and poor alike that they couldn’t meet demand and they ended up made of gold (not literally, of course). When one of the brothers died, the other constructed this park in his honour.
From a distance it seems like they’re figures make by a hipster with FIMO clay to sell in a jumble sale, but once you enter you notice that the coloured statues follow a guiding thread, representing the values and stories of Hinduism through such strange people as Varaha or the Monkey King, and that it features such instructive areas as ‘the ten circles of hell’. This was one of my favourite parts, I learnt fascinating things such as that rape and swearing are crimes perfectly comparable that take you to I can’t remember which level of the underworld for them to saw you. Well, they rip you apart from head to spine (well, coccyx for the pedants) with a toothed saw, to make sure you learn. And be careful copying in exams because that takes you directly to the ninth level, where I don’t remember exactly what they do but let’s just say it wasn’t a manicure, the usual punishments run more along the lines of attaching you to a bed with spikes, throwing you into a pool of boiling oil, pushing you downhill while chained to a giant rock or dismembering you, that sort of thing. All of this is (very) vividly represented in the sculptures so you don’t have to make too much effort with your imagination. Which I was grateful for because after two hours in the sun my brain was fried like pork rind. And speaking of pork rind… we were already so hungry. We stood open-mouthed watching industrial tortures for so long that it reached four in the evening before we ate the first thing that we found nearby (it being a Sunday there wasn’t much to choose from): a pseudo-hamburger with egg and a croissant with a sausage inside.
After that we spent the evening wandering, swimming and recovering from the jet lag that in truth wasn’t too bad. I changed the time as soon as the plane took off and I think that did the trick. That, and imagining that the breakfast they served us on the plane was really the midday meal, which isn’t so difficult when they serve you a bacon omelette.
That night we ate dinner in a restaurant inside a shopping centre. Little digression (yes, again I’m going to beat about the bush): if somebody asked me what is the most typically Singaporean thing I would say it’s the shopping centre, together with the skyscraper bank. The whole city seems to be interconnected by an immense labyrinth of escalators, shops, shops and more shops and yet more shops. There were a couple of times in which I felt lost, frustrated and hopeless at not being able to find an exit, at the point of accepting that I’d have to start a new life in there because there was no way of escaping from the shopping centre (Drama queen, me? Over the top? Never!)
Anyway, returning to where I left off several years ago, we had dinner inside a shopping centre, in a restaurant specialising in vegetarian burgers, nomVnom. That might not sound very interesting but things change if I tell you I ate a tempeh burger (no, I don’t know what that is), with a drink of pear and aloe vera, some jap chips (that either), with sesame mayonnaise and a little Vietnamese yam roll (I’m not being clear enough? Well, I had no idea either. It was all good, that’s all I can say).
With the stomach already (well) full we went for our most touristic moment of the day: a little cruise in a bumboat (translator’s note: I tried to find a translation for this and discovered it is also a term in English. Who knew?). It’s the name of the typical boats, that are long and a little plain with eyes painted on the prow. Or the poop. You know, on the side that goes in front, where else would you put the eyes? The superstition is that with the eyes painted on the boats are more alert and therefore safer. For me, personally, it worries me a little that they put their trust in the eyes painted on the wood instead of in their own…
The little boat takes you to Marina Bay, a bay constructed artificially, and from the cruise ship you can see, apart from a spectacle of lights and sound, all of Singapore’s financial centre.
Singapore has two faces: one of traditional neighbourhoods, multicultural, with a unique, very marked, identity and an authenticity perfectly conserved and not especially stained by tourism, and another face that is the epitome of ‘the most’: the most rich, the most big, the most magnificent and impressive. A face that seeks to intimidate, to show the world “look how much money we have and look how ostentatiously we’re going to show it”. So from the boat you can see enormous skyscrapers (in one of those you can fit three hundred times the population of Las Peñas – the small Spanish village where I grew up), a shopping centre with Gucci, Louis Vuitton etc, and the Skypark, a hotel crowned by a banana / casino (additional translator’s note: Nieves uses the English word banana here. It could be that presents a better image than the Spanish word, platano, or it could be that I interrupted her while she was typing and threw her brain into ‘English mode’) where there are probably people happily playing three months of my salary in a single “all on red”.
After getting down from the little boat a little bit sickened from so much savage capitalism and extreme inequality, we folded our conscience into our pockets like good tourists and we had a nutty ice-cream on Clarke Quay (that it seems is pronounced Clark Ki! Then why so many letters?) before we went calmly home to sleep (There’s a pun in the original Spanish here but braver men than me would die attempting to translate it whilst preserving amusement), putting an end to our first day on the other side of the globe.