Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Singapore, Shit, I'm Still Only In Singapore...

Twenty-four hours in Singapore; already, I remember all too clearly why I don't live in the tropics any more.

The kids did really well on the flight across. It's an eight-hour jaunt from Melbourne to Singapore, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology, that's eight hours which can be spent playing video games or catching up on Stephen Chow movies. Elder Son and I both watched 'From Beijing With Love', which is pretty fraggin' funny if you've ever seen a Sean Connery/James Bondflick, and still pretty damned funny even if you haven't. I also sort of watched 'Kick-Ass', which was both better and worse than I suspected. I may have to watch it again, though. It's about two hours long, but it took me nearly four hours to get through it, what with the constant interruptions from Younger Son, on my right.

Anyway, we landed in Singapore, and made it through customs in good time, without a hitch. Well – one hitch, anyhow, though that one occurred twenty-four hours beforehand. Natalie had prepped for the trip by laying in a stock of sleeping tablets. She doesn't sleep well at the best of times, and as you may guess, shared hotel rooms do not constitute the best of times. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have occurred to her that Singapore might have different drug laws to Australia. I, however, was less sanguine, and I jumped on the Net to do a little research. ...Annnd it turns out you can take presrcription benzodiazepams to Singapore – but only if you notify their people at least ten working days in advance.

So. Now I shall be shepherding a sleep-deprived wife around the place, as well as the three kids. Yay.

We made it to the Landmark Village Hotel without trouble. It's a good choice: there's plenty of local shopping and eating – Bugis street is no more than a stone's throw away, and there's a lovely mosque right on our street corner – and we're within walking distance of Chinatown and Little India, but the hotel itself is clean and solid. Minor issues: not enough bedding for the Mau-mau, because apparently they didn't realise we'd actually want a foldaway bed for her. No big deal: she's happy to sleep curled up on the floor between a couple of beds.

An evening expedition acquainted the kids with true tropical weather. Thirty-odd degrees of heat, and the air practically wringing with moisture. Personally, I completely hate it, and I have done so since I was a wee kid. I will never understand my father's proclivity for the tropics.

We wandered aimlessly around until we found a hole-in-the-wall food court, and then for about twenty Singapore dollars, we stuffed ourselves on ubiqitously tasty Malay food. Yeesh. I know things are improving in Australia, but honestly, the food culture still has a very long way to go before it reaches Singapore standards. Even the kids were pleased. Half the time I had no idea what was being put in front of 'em, but it was all tasty, and it went down a treat.

We're making great fun of trying odd things: bizarre soft drinks (Pocari Sweat; Aloe Vera Juice with Peach Nectar and Pulp), strange clothing (the boys both now have a set of silken shirt and trousers which would fit right in with any of Jackie Chan's Chinese period-piece movies) and most especially, fruit. I bought a decent serve of durian from a market last night, and insisted everyone give it a go. Despite the fact that the stuff reeks like garlic, carrion, cat-pee and fermenting mango, the kids screwed up their faces and had a try.

Now, let's just expand on the description for a moment. The pulp is roughly the colour of over-ripe avocado flesh, but it has a texture a lot like near-melted ice cream. And it tastes... um... it tastes... well, it's sweet, but that's not what you notice first. For me, the first thing is the pungent blast of onion/garlic, then the sweetness, and then the horrid, cloying banana-mango fruit flavour.

Durian is often called 'The King Of Fruits' in this part of the world, but for my money, Elton John still has that particular title locked up. Durian is just plain horrible.

The kids were good about it though. And an old, teak-coloured Chinese gent standing nearby on the street while we were sampling this... ugliness... just about shit himself with good-natured laughter at their responses. He managed to recover enough to send us the thumb's-up, and generally let us know he thought we were doing the proper parental thing, but for a minute or two there I was worried about his heart. I guess watching three white kids take on their first batch of durian is pretty funny, mind you.

I made up for the durian by buying a couple kilos of mangostines, You can't get these in Tassie at all, and it's rare enough to find 'em in more northerly parts of Oz. Mangostines are one of my all-time favourite tropical fruits, and we chomped our way through two kilos without much effort at all.

And then it was bedtime.

Of course, the younger two haven't even come close to adjusting their body clocks for the time change yet. Nat and I, we tried keeping them up late. Didn't go to lights-out until 2130. That was 2330 Tas time, and when you realise their usual bedtime is 2000, you'll understand why we hoped they might sleep in just a little, given that they'd travelled several goddam thousand kilometres in the interim.

Nope. Not a hint of it. 0500 local time: Younger Son and the Mau-Mau were up and at it with a vengeance. At just shy of 0700, a very frazzled Natalie bonged the doorbell to the room I'm sharing with Elder Son. He and I were both still in the dark, mostly asleep. But we pulled ourselves together, and went down for breakfast. Then we all shouldered arms, and went for a Big Walk.

Big Mistake.

Apparently, pretty much nothing opens for business before 1030 in Singapore. Sure, mostly they'll then stay open until 2230... but if you happen to be burdened with a couple over-active kids at around 0800, you're fucked.

We walked. Past Bugis St and all the shopping – closed, yes. Found the legendary Raffles Hotel, and managed to snag an expensive Yum Cha second breakfast... but the shops were all closed, as were the various museums and tours. So we walked farther. Found a toilet in the Raffles City shopping mall, though pretty much all the shops were closed, yep. Walked farther still, Found Chinatown – mostly closed. Bought a little dizi (odd Chinese flute) in the one-and-only store which was open in an interesting spiral mall thing... and surprised hell out of the proprietor by playing it easily. Walked down some kind of a mall/street lined with little stalls and stores, even though it was just barely opening up...

By this time, the heat and humidity had really put the zap on the kids. Every step, they were groaning and complaining of life-threatening tiredness. I have to admit, I knew better, but I couldn't convince Natalie... so in the end, we climbed into a cab and went back to the hotel.

Lo and behold! Three minutes in the air-con, and all three kids are running back and forth, bouncing on beds, and making goddam nuisances of themselves. Tired? Who, us? No way!

I'd tried to explain it to Natalie, but she's always been in denial about the tropics. Truth is, when the heat and the humidity close in like hammers, the kids feel trashed. They're sweating, they're uncomfortable, the air is hot in their lungs – and their bodies are telling 'em that they've obviously done so much activity that their metabolism is overheating. The closest sensation they know is the tiredness that comes from prolonged physical activity.

But they're not tired. Not really. The moment they cool down, all that energy kicks in, and they're back on the move.

Think kindly of me, friends. My wife isn't sleeping. The kids are bamboozled by the tropics and they know not the meaning of jet-lag. And I have to keep them all from killing each other until this holiday is over...