Singapore and Bangkok could not be more different. One is a chocolate chip cookie and the other is sorbet…both have their merits, but they suit different moods.
But suggesting that Singapore is sorbet does not mean it is cool and refreshing; it is hot, hot, hot! It is a humid, equatorial heat. Like the crotch of a volleyball team captain after a grueling regional semifinal.
Luckily, our hotel was well air conditioned and we looked forward to the moment when we would cross the threshold into its lovely chill. And such a hotel. The Marina Mandarin is a big high rise hotel that tops an equally large mall. Its rooms run around a central atrium that towers some 18 stories and to look down can induce vertigo. It brings to mind the senate chamber in the more recent Star Wars movies. One can almost imagine Natalie Portman gently floating up to floor 15 or so to plead her case for the people of Naboo.
While Bangkok is very ancient and friendly and warm, Singapore is slick, modern and almost pathologically clean. Public spitting and gum chewing are illegal so, if you want to do that, better go to China. Also on the illegal list: male homosexuality. (Though I think someone forgot to tell quite a few of the waiters.) Lesbians are okay in terms of the law, it seems, and cheerfully butch women can be seen all over the city.
The skyline is dominated by some impressive architecture, including the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, known as the “surfboard” thanks to the roof deck that curves gently across the tops of all three towers of the hotel.
Singapore also boasts the Singapore Flyer, a large, ferris wheel-like structure that carries little pods around slowly up and down and affords some of the best views of the city (more on that later).
After a day in the airport and a rather confused cab ride that left two of us at the wrong hotel, we settled in for (what else?) fried chicken and fries from the mall. Yes, it seems an odd choice for a city known for its culinary wonders, but boy, that fried chicken was GOOOOD.
Our first sightseeing excursion took us to the beautiful Singapore Zoo. This is a world-class, happy-animals zoo and not one of those cement Communist Bloc zoos where the animals all look sweaty and tired all the time. We started the day with an elephant show, highlighting elephants at work and play.
Supposedly, this used to be a show about the elephant as tool of manual labor in the logging industry, but has now been updated so that when the elephant drags a log, it looks like fun! In another update for a sensitive audience, they took pains to tell us that the water the elephants were spraying liberally over the first several rows was in fact purified water from a trough. Well, what fun is that?!? No dirty trunk water?
Not all the elephants found the log dragging that amusing and one actually dropped dead.
Just kidding! She’s resting after eating a large cantaloupe.
At the end of the show, there was the option to feed the elephants. Naturally David and I nearly trampled a sea of small children to get up there and grab our basket of apples and bananas. It’s interesting: I always thought that the business end of an elephant’s trunk would be all moist like a nose, but in fact it is quite dry and articulates very precisely. These elephants are quite the bottomless pits. They would gladly have stood there eating all day given the option. Like everyone else in Singapore.
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After you feed the elephants, you’re given the opportunity to handle their turds. There’s not much more to be said about that.
After the elephants, we took in a show about the rain forests that featured some rather shapely wildlife.
These shows are all wonderfully predictable. Perky Asian Girl: “Oh, hi! I didn’t see you there! Welcome to the Rain Forest. I’ve been exploring here for some time—let me share with you some of the exciting friends I’ve made.”
Show me a Rain Forest Explorer that looks like she does promos for Japanese Children’s Television, and I think they deserve every cent of their grant money.
Cue monkeys, peacocks, “native drummers,” etc.
But, hey, it’s 90° with 80% humidity, so anyplace with fans is a MOST welcome diversion.
Entertainment having been accomplished, we went on the rest of the zoo.
Here’s a slideshow in which you will see a Sun Bear letting it all hang out, a white rhino having his sores picked by birds (ewwww) and other surprises.
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In our next post, Singapore’s legendary food stalls and a trip the the Botanic Gardens.