Ahhh tropical heat! God how I had missed it. It had been 3 years since I was in the tropics… Sure Spain got pretty damn warm in the summer, but it was nothing like this sticky, humid heat that I am used to.
Saturday, June 15, 2002.
My neighbour from the plane and I decided to share a taxi downtown from Changi Airport. I had never been to Singapore before and all I knew about it was that it was roughly 1km from the equator and not cheap compared to some other Asian countries. What I noticed through the window, even though still completely stoned, was that everything was tidy, no rubbish and fairly new cars – mostly Japanese.
We drove around for a while, my neighbour went off to his seminar and I ended up at the New 7th Storey Hotel. It wasn’t bad, seventeen Singapore dollars a night for a bed in an air conditioned dormitory. Not cheap, but still a lot less than could be expected in europe. I put my bags away and went for an evening walk down the street. By now I had a serious case of the munchies and my nose was like a running tap again. Apart from the heat, I knew exactly what would cure me and headed for the first street food stall I could find. For only $3 I ordered a huge bowl of super spicy laksa and asked them to throw in as much chilli as could be deemed fit for human consumption. Within a few minutes it had arrived along with an ice cold Tiger beer for backup. It was just what I needed and I ate like it was my last day on earth, the chilli serving to open the tap in my nose to full stream and if I wasn’t sweating enough before…
Feeling like a new man, my entire mouth numb with chilli burn and my shirt soaked with sweat, I wandered back to the hotel again, went straight up to my bed and passed out.
Sunday, June 16, 2002.
I awoke I think around midday, somewhat disorientated, no longer on another planet, but in another country, the one I had arrived in yesterday – apparently. My cold was all but gone and I felt alive again. There’s nothing like tropical heat and massive amounts of garlic, ginger and chilli to cure a London illness. In the room with me was the obligatory orange haired and suntanned Japanese bloke who speaks two words of English, is travelling alone, has the latest cool electronic gadgets and who can usually be found in all the most remote parts of the world. These guys always keep to themselves, until someone else breaks the ice and you couldn’t find a more friendly, enthusiastic or polite person anywhere – even though the conversation is usually limited to “Hello!” “You name?” “Yes, very good!” and “No!” Then with all conversational possibilities rapidly exhausted, the bloke will generally return to reading his Japanese version of Lonely Planet.
A little later on a Chinese bloke entered. His name was Yan and spoke almost perfect english, though constantly protested that it was not good enough. He was on a study break from China and just having a look around. We quickly became friends and went off exploring Singapore together, so naturally the first thing on our agenda was to go and drink beer and sample more super spicy delectable delights of Asia. Singapore is basically a city island nation, where groups of various cultures, mainly Asian, have settled, bringing their lifestyles with them. Therefore, the food (oh the food!), is something very special. It was a good thing also that though Singapore is generally not a cheap place, food is still very affordable and at that time I was very mindful of my budget, or lack thereof. I didn’t have a credit card and had very little left over from the actual airline ticket purchase. Tiger beer, great stuff, but unlike the food, it’s damn expensive in Singaporean pubs and clubs.
On one of my forays with Yan, we walked into one of the many shopping complexes and did a little window shopping. If I had had any money, it would have been a shopping spree. So many cool things on display, and all tax free.The shopping centres are huge and after a few hours walking around inside in the cool airconditioning, we emerged from an exit, in a different part of the city. Ah bugger it, shopping centres are nothing more than frustrating and tiring, when one has no money anyway. Yan wandered back to the hotel while I went in search of more food.
I was crossing a street when I heard a woman’s voice with an Indian accent calling out, “Excuse me, sir! Excuse me!” I turned around and sure enough a little Indian woman was awkwardly running across the road after me. She was a little out of breath and hurriedly asked me if I had ever done any acting. “Er, nope…” was my reply. She then asked if I would like to earn a little cash tomorrow; hell yeah! She said they would pay me $30 per hour to act as a professor in some educational TV show. A professor? Is that what she thought I looked like? I found myself wondering how long she had been working as a casting agent. She told me to meet her at 7am outside a hotel (the name forgotten) the next day.
7am and there I was bleary eyed and waiting along with a handful of other caucasian people obviously recruited for the same production. The little Indian lady was there and two mini-bus taxis turned up. Off we went for a bit of a drive (all paid for) and eventually found ourselves at the wardrobe department of the Singapore Television Studios. Everyone had their parts to play and costumes were claimed while various bits of clothing were sorted through in a bid to find something for the Professor. Apparently my role was to stand at the front of a class, pointing with a baton at a whiteboard, as if conducting a lesson.Filming was likely to take the most part of two days.
Suddenly another lady turned up claiming to be the producer. She briefly appraised me with an up and down glance, shook her head, took the Indian lady aside and had a discussion apparently regarding my unsuitability for the role of Professor. “No, no, no, he is not what we want”, she said. The idea that perhaps they could find something else for me came up momentarily, but all the other parts were taken, so I stood there somewhat at a loss for some time while hot little starlets from other productions milled about among myself and my fellow “co-stars”. Eventually they paid for a taxi to return me to my hotel and that was that. Damn, the money would have been good. I still sometimes wonder what all that was about.
I spent a couple more days hanging out in Singapore and eating as much fresh Asian fare as possible and meeting fellow travellers. The latter part of my stay I spent in another hostel called Ah Chew Hotel and saw the sites with a friendly English girl who’s name I also forget, but who offered a good shoulder to cry upon. Eventually the time came for me to make the final stage of my journey, back home to Australia. I bought orchids for my mother in Changi Airport, which apparently are accepted by customs and a duty free 1L bottle of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey. The flight was fairly uneventful and for once I wasn’t stoned, so I had several Bloody Marys instead. The only thing Australia’s notoriously strict and thorough customs paid any attention to, was the expanded can of Swedish Surströmming, or “sour herring” I had in my bag. Basically it’s a Swedish delicacy of fermented fish, hence the can expanding at the ends. Apart from a curious inspection, they let it through.
On Wednesday, June 19, 2002, I presented mum with her flowers when she picked me up at the airport and for some reason I had a look inside my wallet. I had two Singapore $1 coins left. It was the sum total of all the money I had left in the world.
I laid low for a couple of days, then turned up on the doorstep at my best friend Xenek’s place with the whiskey in hand. Nobody knew I was back in Australia and their reactions were varied. At Xenek’s place, it was obvious there had been a party the night before, because I basically woke the dead. There were bodies all over the floor, signifying it might have been a big one and though Xenek was fairly broken, he seemed rather happy I was home and grudgingly accepted the fact that he would be forced to drink even more. Another friend asked me how long I had been away and said it had to have been at least three months. As a matter of fact, it was three years.