Journal 26: Day 5: Singapore to Indonesia:
Singapore is unbelievably creepy. With its pastel colored, numbered, cookie-cutter condos and polished and posh corporate behemoth high-rises, I am not sure that I have ever seen quite a funny looking little doll house replicated over and over until the madness of it all finally stops at its tight, watery borders. This little island city is like Disneyland and a million maids.
Upon coming in from the northern entrance (if there is a distinction for an entrance in any other direction that I am not aware of), the first thing I see out the bus windows is the endless assemblage of rows of finely manicured shrubberies lining the curbs of every street, ally, driveway and even the gutters. Every blade of grass looks to have been cut to what looks like 8.33 cm, kept from growing in a precisely circular perimeter around each tree by exactly 5.2 Kg of cedar chips, thereby matching the distance of the cedar chips to the bushes aligning all walkways and terraces and all to be watered at exactly 5:30 a.m. should the courtyard’s dew index meter reading show less than an acceptable amount of collective moisture per square meter.
The rules of a community like this must fill a scroll that could make its way around the world. This place is so clean and kempt that I am afraid I might mess something up just being white. The most impending dread came over me as though it didn’t matter anymore than I had a backpack with me that my innocence of hippydom would simply escape me before I could even calculate the last time I showered. There would be no fleeing my execution for charges of trampling the grass which would come swift and without trial.
This place was so clean that the air passing along the bus was being dirtied by our Malaysian road grit. Even the rain sweeping up the ground funk seemed to be clean enough to drink. It is simply mindboggling how squeaky clean it is here. It makes me wonder if anyone has time to enjoy the pools around which laborious attention has been paid to ridding every possible nook where refuge could be sought to any remaining specks that might one day sift down from the heavens and look somehow out of place.
One thing was for sure: I needed to leave this place immediately – if not sooner.
Enter factor number five on my list of reasons that Indonesia will be tackled on this trip. But it wasn’t all so scary. For instance, the architecture was really amazing. Their larger buildings and the bridges were simply works of art – no doubt paid for by works art. Their choice in flora abutting all the major roadways was also very appealing to the eye.
As a matter of fact, the only thing that was not completely symmetrical (and apparently left to Darwinian chance) were the [name – banyon?] trees whose finger-like branches intermingled helplessly as they scratched at the sky like dragon claws crested with umbrella-esque plumage. Long and slender, these trees were also home to the very Asian [fern] which seemed to sprout roots in the ditches and knots – every semi-level landing pad or limb junction along the trees’ trunk and limbs – where taking root was possible. Their cotton-like canopies seemed to explode away from the tops of the trees reaching out to procure every shaft of sunlight available.
Beyond these could be seen poking up huge communication towers and enormous signal dishes all aligned to the same innocuous point in space. These megaliths juxtaposed the entire scene which was then made to seem as though it had all been a presentation to the visitors of the highways entering Singapore’s “Garden City” allure. But since I wouldn’t be staying here very long, that ultimately didn’t concern me all that much.
I had to get out of here fast. But the first stop for the cab was at what looked like a small mall. Upon entering the building there was a merry-go-round surrounded by name brand shops from Subway to Foot Locker. And beyond that was a small gathering of parent onlookers who had assembled to watch this post-toddler dance her fingers across the keys of a Steinway piano as if each digit was trained by Fred Estaire. And beyond that, if there needed to be anything at all, was a full-sized water park complete with see-through tubing so that the nearby parents could keep an unhindered eye on their future investments.
I honestly couldn’t think of anything more ridiculously Caucasian. But here I was, the only white man for miles and I was in awe of these posh, magna-riche, tennis pro dads squirming around in their yacht club turtlenecks and eyeing their Ralph Lauren wives who were busy balancing their ability to chew bubblegum and push Baby Gap strollers.
Beyond the lavish grounds of expensive, walled villas, the four-car garages, overflowing foliage and idealistically green blanket that covered this island city, there is also something to be said about their apparent dedication to education. Or perhaps that’s what it’s made to look like. Perhaps it’s actually educational institutions that have come here to compete for the fat pockets of the wealthy junior-elite’s trust funds.
I was on my way to the airport so that I could get out of the city as soon as humanly possible when I saw what simply floored me. I was on the skytrain that connected the far reaches of the city when I passed what looked like a huge jungle gym. It looked almost like a firefighter’s training camp. There were rope-net obstacle courses, hanging walking planks, suspended rings, a huge climbing tower and many other things that I couldn’t quite place. I kept looking and trying to figure it out. But as the train moved on, more was revealed all within the same compound.
All within one huge city block, there was a huge sports complex complete with Olympic-sized swimming pool (lanes and launches), basketball courts, tennis courts, volleyball courts and an officially sized soccer arena – all of which sat in front of a peculiar black-tint glass building with a crescent faux-roofing. I leaned over to ask a passenger on the train what that place was thinking that I would get some response that somehow tied together all the links in my mind (Olympiad training center, world-class pro athlete fitness center, a conditioning center rented out only to Hollywood movie stars, etc.).
As though looking at me sideways and with a sarcastic was the norm, the passenger replied, “That’s a high school.” His glance kept mine for what must have been a small eternity before his words bounced off every nerve ending in my body all at once and finally came into recognition. And as I tried to come up with some kind of facial expression that would indicate that I was not mentally handicapped or physically ill, the only words that I could manage were, “high school?”
The man backed away.
Click on the images for more detail. It’s kinda scary.
I had to get on the returning train and go back to the last stop just so that I could get some photos of this place. There would be no point in my ever going to Singapore if I had not documented the most ludicrously obtuse assault on human morality ever to besiege the wallets of mankind. ‘How could this place exist,’ I thought, ‘when so many governments (many of them within one hundred miles) are so desperately seeking out options that would allow their country’s children to get pencils to write with?’
I understand that each country has their own problems. And I understand that it is not up to Singapore to float their profits into neighboring countries or to those countries around the world who cannot afford the basics. But it is this kind of flaunting and taunting that cost the Khmer’s their early empire and their temples left to ruin. And when there is a huge billboard rising high above a million-dollar kindergarten proclaiming “Academic Excellence,” it means someone’s got the wrong image of what a kindergarten should be.
So, on to the airport. This was to be a quick, if doleful judgment of little speck of gold in a sea of pollution and poverty. I was hoping for something – anything – reasonable. Instead what I found was my sixth factor of good fortune founding the idea that I needed to be in Indonesia.
Lion Air had a one-way ticket flying to Jakarta about one hour after I arrived at the airport for about US$34 nonstop arriving at 10 p.m. How’s that for good luck? I made it into town and after pushing through the hoards of pigmy cabbies and toothless money changers, I found a driver to take me to the Jalan Jaksa district. It was Hostel 35 to be my place of rest and port of call for the next two nights. And by the time I arrived in my room, distributed my belongings around the room in the messiest possible fashion (saving for myself just enough room to crash on the bed) I wrote this journal with the firm belief that I know that I was supposed to come here and do something epic as I have had the occasion to do in many other wonderful places.
Because it was too dark outside to see anything on my way here, I really didn’t get the full picture of the effect of what years of refuse neglect and complete lack of any sort of trash management services can have on a city of 12 million souls. But that story picks up in Journal  Day 6.