We left KL on a mid-morning train that would take us over the border and into one of Asia's most developed countries, Singapore. We travelled second class, although we had impossibly wide seats with leg room that even Mr. Vanderson couldn't complain at, and after a brief interlude with Singaporean Customs (I'd forgotten to declare the 750ml of Mongolian Vodka I've been carrying for the last two months) we left the city-state's Woodlands Train Station. Here we were met by Kathy, Kate's aunt, who'd not only kindly agreed to pick us up, but who was also letting us invade her home for the next few days.
It won't be the last time I say it, but we're both immeasurably thankful to Kathy and Chris for being so generous and hospitable whilst we stayed with them. I know both Kate and I enjoyed our stay so much and it really was invaluable, both physically and mentally, to have a taste of home-life after living out of a backpack for so long.
That being said, some of you might have gotten the impression from my last post that I was a little shell-shocked at being in the bright lights of a big city and had become a little disillusioned with seeing the raw, but well oiled, machinery of capitalism at work again after seeing so little of it on the trip thus far. In the face of this cultural malaise, I decided there was only one solution; something that would enrich me as a person and remind me of why I'd gone travelling in the first place - Going to a theme park!
After a great meal (with G&Ts - thanks K&C!) and a good night's sleep, we got a taxi down to Universal Studios Singapore, a slightly smaller version of the one in Florida, which is located on the small island of Sentosa (more on that later). We walked through a flawless array of trendy bars and restaurants, past the spinning globe of Universal and into a world that I've been to a few times before but that changes with every visit.
This park, as you might expect, looks, smells and even feels like it's American counterpart but it's scale is smaller, more intimate, and a little less hyperbolic than you might find in the States. People queue politely, staff are keen to help and everybody waves as your roller coaster leaves the loading platform and claps on your return. The whole experience is flavoured by that stereotypically demure Asian charm, everybody is respectful, retiring and just there for a good time. It was quite refreshing, and made for a great day.
As the park was quite compact, and the Jurassic Park ride was out of action, there are only a handful of killer attractions, the most notable being the Battlestar Galactica-themed double roller coaster. After picking either the Human side (a sled-style coaster with no loops or corkscrews) or the Cylons (a dangling-leg ride with plenty of loops and corkscrews), you are fired out into the humid Singapore air to chase the other coaster around a track that often makes you think you're going to clip your feet (or head) on the opposite car. I'm not sure what the Battlestar Galactica franchise has done to earn such a fun ride, but the non-existant lines and screaming Japanese schoolgirls made it hugely enjoyable and something we went on half a dozen times.
Other worthwhile rides included a carbon-copy of the Mummy ride from the US park, a childish but cute Madagascar themed river ride and a Shrek interactive film. All fun, but I was more than a little disappointed to see that a new Transformers ride would be opening just after we left... Anyways, it was a genuinely fun day out, in that easy, thoughtless way that comes from strapping yourself in to several tonnes of metal before hurtling away at amazing speeds, and was the perfect antidote to any pretentious soul searching I might have been engaged in.
After Universal, we explored Sentosa Island a little more. Sentosa, meaning 'peace and tranquility' in Malay as a leaflet kindly informed me, was, until recently and somewhat ironically, a heavily fortified artillery position used by the British in the second World War. Since then it has been transformed into a kind of massive theme park in its own right, full of hotels, restaurants and attractions that draw in millions of people every year. It's quite an odd place, but fun nonetheless, and we walked past a 37m high merlion (Singapore's half lion, half fish mascot), a cable car and a sky needle before reaching Sentosa's two kilometres of artificial beach. Whilst the sand is white, the beach is lined with bars and palm trees provide plenty of dappled shade, the experience is marred somewhat by the tens of massive shipping vessels plowing their way in to and out of Singapore Harbour, close enough to make the water something I wouldn't risk dipping my toe in (although many were) for fear of having to be dragged out and scrubbed down with a toothbrush like an albatross caught in an oil slick.
We wandered on, past an awesome collection of standing-wave machines (I have some great footage of a guy trying to master the surf), an aquarium and even the restored Fort Siloso, still maintained and exhibited as it would have been during the British occupation. We saw animals too, macaques and peacocks, turtles and lizards, before turning around and climbing to the top of Sentosa's hill and looking out over some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.
We left the island via the monorail, which helpfully dropped us right in th middle of a massive shopping mall. From there we caught a taxi back o out adoptive home and had yet more G&Ts and a wonderful home cooked dinner - only our second since leaving the UK!
It's been a really great day, so I'll leave you on a high.