Seeing the city skyline of Singapore’s skyscrapers had the promising sign of a city that appreciated architectural designs.
And a challenge to my fear of looking up – Anablephobia.
Inverted what of the who now? I hear fingers scratching scalps.
Basically, it’s the reverse of Acrophobia – fear of heights.
I have no issues with standing atop a tall structure and looking down. In fact, I love that shit. But put me at the opposite end of the structure – the bottom – and I can’t look up.
Bare with me. It works like this:
If I stand directly under a tall structure, like a skyscraper, lamp post, Bazza (he towers at 6″4) I can’t look up. I’ll get weak at the knees and would most likely fall over as though I were sensing vertigo. But if I’m under said skyscraper, lamp post or Bazza in a car, I can look up no problem because the roof of the car gives me the confidence to look up.
I dunno where it comes from or why I have it, I just do. If you ever hangout with me in a city with tall buildings, you’ll notice that my head will be down and I’ll be walking close to the walls rather than in any open space between structures.
Yes, whatever you’re thinking of me right now I am that.
So with Singapore being mostly a skyscraper country with a height limit at 280 meters (aviation safety) with 3 buildings meeting that height, my day around Singapore started calmly at the Royal Botanical Gardens.
The gardens have been around since the late 19th century and house not only some of the oldest trees in Singapore – like the Silk Cotton tree of 150 years (the fruit of which is used to stuff pillows) – but also the world’s largest collection and centre for orchids.
It includes hybrid orchids of all kinds, some named in honour of historical figures such as Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher. It was an additional $5 charge to get in to the large area and see the hundreds of varieties and species of orchids and the step-by-step explanation of how hybrids work and the years it takes to get one going.
The gardens itself were huge with two lily-padded lakes and a stage for shows in the middle of each lake. There were large green fields of grass between the various types of palm trees with huge, widespread prongs, shading the areas for the visiting visitors.
One section was cornered off as a rainforest experience; another was called ‘The Evolution Garden’. It tells the story – through plants – of the birth of our planet from about 4,600 million years ago when the landscape was arid and there wasn’t enough oxygen to sustain life to this day.
As we walked around I coughed up something that had lodged itself in my lungs. I was about to set it free when I remembered that Singapore had a funny law about spitting.
“Shit,” I swallowed, Baz looking at me funny. “I almost broke the law, dude. I almost spat.” Something I’d never thought I’d ever say.
Regardless, the next load that I coughed up was not going back down. I looked around and, seeing that there were no cameras or anyone that might dob me in to the government, I set it free into the bushes.
“Feel like a criminal,” I said.
It took us almost three hours to go through the gardens, sweating like wild boars being chased by tigers as the heat and humidity unleashed everything it had on us.
A $1.50 air-conditioned bus-ride later we hopped off at the Suntec exhibition centre. Nothing like coming off a bus only to see a moving image of the planet you inhabit roll across a screen the size of which U2 would be astounded by.
The moving image, that had the Earth rolling from the far left escalators to the far right ones, changed to underwater life of what appeared to be a life-sized video of a whale shark swimming at us.
Baz and I stood, shocked to our spots as we watched wide-eyed and beaming.
We trekked on, dangerously crossing the road as the pedestrian crossing was cut off due to the fences being placed around for the upcoming Singapore Formula 1 Grand Prix, the world’s only night race set to hit the small island nation over the weekend.
We went underground through what appeared to be a sub-station where a rollerblading class was being held and kids skated by on skateboards – right under the ‘No Skateboarding’ sign on the wall.
We walked out into the sun, passed what I like to call ‘The Hedgehog Building’. An elongated shaped building with triangular-shaped spikes all over it. We crossed the bridge and as the city skyline of 200 meter scrapers loomed above my head, I could feel my knees nudging at me like a small kid who’s had enough at a grownup’s party and wants to go home.
I knew the sense straight away. I focused my sight on the Mariana Sands Bay Casino across the water. Three tall buildings with a strange, UFO-shaped bridge going across the roof of all three towers. On top of that bridge was a rainforest and pool that carried a $20 entry fee.
We walked on down to where the 8-meter Mer-lion statue stood, shooting water from its mouth into the bay.
I’ll save the question. A Mer-Lion is a mythical figure with a head of a lion on a fish’s body. It’s been adopted as Singapore’s national mascot. The fish represents what Singapore was before it became the booming economic island nation that it now is – a small fishing village called Temasek.
The lion represents the original name of Singapore – Singapura – meaning ‘Lion City’.
A large crowd of tourists were gathered taking photos and Baz and I mixed in, offering to take photos of couples and groups in exchange to photo-bomb their shots.
As we walked around the 3.5 K circuit around the bay towards the casino, Baz kept trying to make me look up.
“Dude! That building is so high! You gotta check it out.”
“Yeah?” I’d respond, looking at my shadow. “Take a photo and show me. I can’t look up.”
He enjoyed torturing me as I watched the small sea turtles frolicking in the bay. The casino hotel was huge. It was on a Vegas-scale, each tower seeming to rise to at least 180-200 meters. It had its own shopping mall with a small river flowing through it where you could hire a small gondola-type of craft to paddle your way down it.
The air-con was a breath of fresh, dehydrated air as we walked through the crowd of the suits and well-dressed people. Stinking of sweat and looking like a pair of deadbeat backpackers, we weren’t exactly a sight for sore eyes.
Or healthy eyes.
I was surprised they even let us into the casino floor where we watched gamblers lose and win money in a blink. I sussed out the free water and re-hydrated as Baz lay down a $10 bet on black at the roulette wheel.
“Green! Double-zero,” called out the dealer.
“Tough luck, bro,” I comforted him. Maybe if he laid off the torture Karma might have dealt him a better hand.
We took advantage of the free coffee station as I noticed the casino was the only indoor place that smoking was allowed in the whole of Singapore.
We headed off to the food court to eat and use the free wi-fi service provided. The food court is located right beside the skating rink. Instead of ice, it was a wax floor. Mostly kids were flailing about, trying not to break a hip as they slipped and slid across the white rink.
Lee, our gracious and generous host, caught up with us and took us over to the Gardens by the Bay, a huge park with tall structures called ‘supertrees’. These were trees made of concrete (I think) and were at least 30 feet in the air with glowing lights that changed colours.
We ate at a food court completely dedicated to one type of food – satay. Hence the name, Satay by the Bay. We could see the world’s largest observation wheel (the new technical name for a Ferris wheel), the Singapore Flyer, turning slowly on the other side of the bay, lighting up like a disco jellyfish.
After we ate we walked among the tall structures with Lee having to split for a job.
“We’ll meet at 22:30 under the restaurant, OK?” he suggested.
“OK,” we agreed.
Baz and I walked around under the huge structures, admiring the lightsת walkןמע down a footpath with statues made of cloth with lights lighting them up, looking like anime characters.
A huge, snail-looking building served as an atrium. Although it was closed, the information by the ticketing office informed that it housed a rainforest system complete with a 10-foot waterfall.
At 22:30 we met Lee under the restaurant that was perched atop the tallest ‘supertree’. I noticed the blue-lit Skywalk that seemed suspended mid-air in the night sky. It went around in a semi-circle between two of the tallest ‘supertrees’, looking like something straight out of a James Cameron movie (specifically, Avatar). The restaurant charged an $18 entrance fee that included a choice of draft beer or house wine/spirit.
$18 was too rich for our blood even though Lee wasn’t letting us pay for anything every time we hung out. We insisted not to go up as we didn’t feel right that he should pay $54 to cover us.
As we walked back to the car we passed by a sign that hung on a door with a window. Peering in I saw large machinery. The sign on the door explained how Singapore was cutting its greenhouse emissions by 13,280 tonnes annually by converting it’s horticulture waste of 500,000 tonnes into fresh oxygen through the chimneys that were the ‘supertrees’.
“So, essentially,” I stood back from the sign and looked behind me at the Gardens by the Bay, “this whole area is a power plant that’s putting fresh oxygen back into the air.”
“Amazing,” Baz agreed as we stood with new admiration to the place.
Lee drove us over to Resort World, an island resort that housed Singapore’s Universal Studios. And the tallest Mer-lion statue in the world (I’m assuming they’re only found in Singapore so really, there’s no competition).
It stands at 37-meters and instead of shooting water it has a viewing platform.
Arriving late to the quiet, empty resort we took some snapshots and headed back home to Malaysia. After staying two weeks with Lee, we were making our way north to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city of Malaka for a week before heading into the jungle Taman Negara National Park to volunteer in the protection of the endangered Malayan tigers.