Singapore proves vibrant but ‘oh so very, very expensive’
Eagle County CO, Colorado
Editor’s note: This is the 13th in a series of travel stories from local resident Luc Pols, who is traveling through Southeast Asia.
It’s the last couple of days of the quest. Leaving Yokya behind, I train and bus to Pangandaran, Indonesia, in the pouring rain. I am learning quickly about the rainy season. These tropical storms are not what you would call typical American rain showers. Seldom, if ever, have I seen that much water come out of the sky in such a short period of time.
The main reason to visit the coast here is to explore the Green Canyon. In between some rainstorms, I manage to float down the Green River, now brown. The jungle I pass through is lush and it is a worthwhile trip, made all the more fascinating by an unexpected “tourist stop” at a Wajang doll facility. We are shown how the heads are carved out of the wood of the acacia tree and when put together, these dolls are used in performances, something like the “Punch and Judy” shows. There is one big difference, though, according to the man who performs a short but delightful show for us. These are not only entertainment shows; they are also used as teaching methods, e.g. family planning. Additionally, political messages or complaints are voiced here on occasion, sometimes resulting in a government crackdown. One of his friends was caught, and as punishment, was not allowed to perform for two years.
I relax at the pool for a day and a half before motoring to Bandung, a city of about 3 million. I was going to skip this town altogether, but I am forced to spend the night here, because my transportation is six hours late. I don’t seem to have a lot of luck with the hotels in big cities, so I can’t wait to go on to the Puncak Pass for a two-night stay with supposedly magical views. The weather is not cooperating and it is not until the second morning, just before my departure for Jakarta, that I see some of the beautiful landscapes, but even then, the clouds move in quickly. I do walk for about five miles to the village and everybody stares at me. Not just because I am a Westerner, but because I am walking. Rich tourists (in Indonesian eyes all tourists are rich) don’t walk. I do, so I get looked and laughed at as a rarity. Oh well.
There is a last small quest my sister Els asks me to do. She spent a couple of years in Jakarta in her youth and she wanted me to check her old house and neighborhood.
Completely accidentally my hotel is located about a 15-minute walk and it turns out her old neighborhood is one of the premier ones. However, her old house is just an empty lot almost across from the Romanian embassy.
One remarkable thing I notice is the very tight security. When entering upscale hotels and shopping malls, you have to pass through a metal detector. Doesn’t particularly give you that warm and fuzzy feeling now, does it?
A lot of people, including locals, told me that Jakarta isn’t worth the time and mostly they’re right. It is very big, way too much traffic and too many people, way too polluted, way too noisy, but the people overall seem to be OK. After visiting the very disappointing Kota Tua (Old Town), I end up in the middle of a, I think, communist demonstration at the Monas, the Independence Monument, which locals irreverently refer to as Soekarno’s last Erection, Soekarno being the dictator who liberated Indonesia from the Dutch in 1948. There were more police than protesters and a confrontation seemed inevitable, so I meander on before ending up behind bars.
Welcome back to “civilization.” I land in Singapore in a blinding tropical rainstorm ” I know, what else is new? ” and have trouble getting into the country: My passport looks “too used.” Then they confiscate my “Kris,” an 18-inch sword/knife in a sheath, which is inside my packed suitcase, but which they X-ray upon arrival. This is also the country where you are not allowed to chew gum! Then comes sticker shock. The hotel costs twice as much as the most expensive one I’ve stayed in since arriving in Asia and not as good as many. I go out for a beer in the evening and I hear the waiter say “S$7.50” (US $5). He smiles when I give him a ten, a bit condescendingly, and says “No, 17”! This for a beer without even the entertainment of a Don Watson, Beth Sweringen or Kathy Morrow. Makes the King’s Club at the Sonnenalp look distinctly well-priced.
Despite the high cost, it is quite a city: Exciting, vibrant and beautiful even with all the condominiums here. But, as Captain von Trapp said to the freeloading impresario Dettweiler in the Sound of Music: “Quite entertaining, but oh so very, very expensive.”
Have a travel essay you’d like to share with Vail Daily readers? E-mail High Life Editor Caramie Schnell at email@example.com.