Getting closer to Total Monkey Awareness

Trip Start May 17, 2006
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Trip End Jul 01, 2006


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Flag of Singapore  ,
Sunday, May 21, 2006

I have done a lot since my last entry, so this may go a bit long. Friday I got up at 5 as I have been every day (can't sleep any later) and went walking around. I took my first ride on Singapore's awesome subway system. It is super clean and efficient, and the ticket system rules. You don't even have to take the ticket out to scan it at the entrance, you just wave your bag over it. The escalators in the subway stations go about 3x faster than any I have ever been on, so stepping off was kind of funny. Also, they had these signs all along the escalators with photos of people standing in the way and blocking escalator traffic so they could chat. There was a crowd of people backed up behind the people in the photo and the caption said, "careless behavior has consequences." Since people blocking doorways and stairs makes me so mad that I want to kick someone in the face, I think importing these signs to the US would be a good deal. After the eventful escalator ride, I walked around some neighborhood in the middle of nowhere to a place where old men walk their birds. Unfortunately, I get up earlier than they do, so I saw nothing. Then I went over to the Quays, which is where there are all these restaurants, museums, etc. along the Singapore River. Again, nothing was open. I was waiting for the Asian Civilizations Museum to open.

That museum is really impressive. They have a lot of interactive displays, mock-ups that look like the inside of temples, teahouses, etc., plus these flat panel TVs that have the face of someone of the ethnicity whose art is displayed in the gallery. The faces move around and sing and whatnot and you can go up and tap them to listen to what the person has to say. Kind of cool, but kind of like the moving paintings in Harry Potter, could be alarming if you are not expecting one.

After that I wandered around Little India and went back to the hotel early because I was tired.

Yesterday I did all of the best stuff to do in one day, so now my feet hurt a lot and I need to take a day off. First I went to the Singapore Zoo, where I made some serious headway on TMA. Their zoo, although not as big, is up there with San Diego's and in some ways is better. There are almost no enclosures; any animal that can be is kept in with moats, and some are free-roaming, even a few monkeys. The zoo is on an islet in the middle of a huge reservoir that looks like a jungle lake. First I had breakfast at an open-air restaurant overlooking the orangutans. Full western breakfast buffet(even potatoes!) and omelet bar, a few Chinese and Indian breakfast items, etc. Then I went to peep some howler monkeys. I have already seen these in the wild, so they don't count for TMA, but guess what does? Fucking proboscis monkeys! I was super pumped to see these guys. I also saw a white tiger, some tapirs (one of my two favorite animals), a bunch of other monkeys (TMA, TMA), a sun bear, a ton of lemurs, plus the zoo staples like 800 kinds of antelope, giraffes, lions, and zebras, plus a tiny hippo. The zoo bathrooms are awesome. They have waterfalls, tropical gardens, and stone sculptures, plus signs inside the bathroom stalls telling you why you should conserve coral reefs (without them there will be no more fish to eat, medicine and other products, etc.). I find these bathroom ads much more useful than the ones in SF that tell you how to make some shitty drink like a Midori margarita or something.

After the zoo I went to Jurong Bird Park. They have a lot of cool birds, nice grounds, a waterfall aviary, and some other good shit, but they also had about 10,000 visitors, so I tore off (you know how much I love crowds).

Next I went to Haw Par Villa, probably the weirdest tourist sight in the world. It is this big park built by the guy behind Tiger Balm in the 1930s. The whole place is made up of painted cement depictions of events from Chinese mythology and some Alice in Wonderland-looking pagodas (plus a reproduction of the Statue of Liberty, for some reason). The best part was the Ten Courts of Hell, a manmade cave full of smaller caves that depict the different punishments in hell, such as being thrown on a hill covered in knives, being boiled in a "filthy blood pool," and having yourself cut in half. The best part is when you look in a mirror that is supposed to tell you who you were in a former life and it shows you some monster. Also, the name of one of the guardians of hell is "horse face." HA!

Finally I went to the Night Safari, which is the best zoo experience ever. You take a tram ride through this zoo that is lit kind of like moonlight and there are animals on both sides. When you go to the swamp zone, the tram goes through water and you think you are in a swamp. I saw leopards, tapirs, CAPYBARAS (my favorite animal), porcupines, bears, rhinos, giraffes, tarsiers (cute!), elephants, and some fruit bats in a walk-through aviary. There were tiki torches everywhere, Bornean tribal dance demonstrations, bars to sit at and drink Singapore Slings, and even a "gourmet safari" tram where you can eat while you go through the park. The tram ride was kind of funny because the announcer used this silly voice that sounded like a cross between the guy that narrates movie trailers ("one man... who knew... too much...") and a really enthusiatic TV ad. And it was not just him - they all do that.

Some observations about Singapore: There is no translation problem, so although the signs all make sense, they are kind of silly anyway. Some common phrases are "experience a world of difference" and anything with the word "lifestyle" or "indulgence." There are about a million condom stores in town. Not dirty movies, not anything weird, just thousands of condoms. They love rainbows. Even the police station, in an old colonial building, has rainbow shutters. Flat panel TVs must be free because they are EVERYWHERE, even when they don't show anything but a static picture. Cab drivers love to tell you how safe Singapore is and how totally fucked Malaysia is in comparison. One even told me that I should not take my wallet out when paying for things in Malaysia. Uh, that should be difficult. (Don't worry, anyone. Malaysia's crime rate is lower than ours.) No one does ANYTHING by themselves. The only people you see doing so are foreigners or expats. All in all, this is the most orderly and well-run city I've ever been to (including any in Japan or the US, or Europe). Everything is electronic and easy, everything is convenient, they even have 24-hour malls. I can get anything here I could get at home (excpet maybe Taco Bell) because they have all of the chains we do for clothes, food, etc. Plus, everyone speaks English and all the signs are in English. Imagine Honolulu with 10 million people, no crime, everyone dressed nice, 1/3 of the price, etc. Actually, the only thing they would have in common is the plants all over the place, and Singapore has way more plants.

Although I was happy to see the zoo monkeys, I am excited to be leaving here today for Borneo where I can really kick off my quest for TMA.
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