Part two of the 1974 travel chronicles of Max Williams

The Singapore alley is dark, and as we turn to face the person following us, his raised arm is waving. We notice that he is holding what looks like a truncheon. He is a little out of breath when he gets to us. “You dropped this,” he says in his Malay accent. We smile as our heartrate settles down – the truncheon is a bloody umbrella!

This unusual meeting is a blessing in disguise, because 25-year-old Hadi becomes our unofficial guide for our four days in Singapore. He is a nice young man who doesn’t want anything in return for helping us. He is one of 12 children and supports the family of 14 by working in a technical/high school with 3000 students for the equivalent of $270 a month. We visit the school and his home during our stay. His family is impoverished but have a TV and stereo set. We are surprised with their priorities, but it’s not our place to judge here, is it?

This culture is so different to what we are used to. Singapore is lush, tropical, hot and humid and is made up of multi-race people, mostly Chinese, Indonesian and Malay. We are Anglo tourists who stand out like the proverbials hanging from a dog. There are obvious extremes of wealth on show here – poverty, lots of children begging, and many expensive Mercs and fancy designer shops.

Read: Max’s Memoirs: A travel faux pas in France

The touristy stuff

Our feet get sore walking many kilometres during our stay in Singapore. We have extended it for two more nights because of our departure flight cancellation and rescheduling. We need a brolly here with frequent heavy rain showers throughout our stay (thanks for the ‘truncheon’ Hadi!).

We visit thieves’ market (which is fascinating), restaurants, hawker stalls, a mosque, Buddhist and Chinese temples, monuments, Jurong Bird Park, the aquarium, Tiger Balm Gardens, Change Alley and Clifford Pier. We marvel at the flimsy bamboo scaffolding on buildings and structures being renovated. This is new to us.

A visit to Bugis Street market is interesting – the home of transvestites, transsexuals and pickpockets. We walk through holding our bags closely and are abused by Chinese vendors for not buying anything.

Read: Tips for coping with culture shock

Hadi takes us to the satay club where we enjoy a large meal for less than $1 each. Food here is so cheap, particularly at the outdoor hawker stalls.

We encounter spruikers on every corner, coercing us to their shops. The shopping is fabulous and relatively cheap in Singapore, and there are a multitude of items to buy. We can’t help ourselves, and practice our bartering skills for cheap calculators, lighters, cigarette holders, jade Buddhas, gold trinkets, batik shirts, and more expensive camera equipment.

Cigarettes are so cheap – a carton of Dunhill cigarettes costs $5.50. We all smoke, so that is a great purchase (Oh yeah, great eh Max? Not! Now it’s 48 years later and I have had years of ongoing chest infections).

Singapore’s harsh censorship laws

Along Queen Elizabeth Walk hundreds of young people promenade. Some are same-sex couples holding hands and kissing. We have never seen this before – none of the locals bat an eye. We are taken aback by this open display of affection and the obvious flouting of the laws. There is a two-year imprisonment if convicted for this ‘offence’.

There are other tight censorship laws in Singapore, such as, no long hair (we were concerned about our beards), no chewing gum, no spitting, no walking around naked in your own home – three months in the clink if convicted (WTF!). No smoking in public (we weren’t aware of this law, but didn’t get caught), feeding pigeons, various media censorship laws, and get this last one – committing suicide is a crime! What would the sentence be – death?

Now here’s something that should be against the law – the crazy drivers of Singapore (nearly all drivers).

I was in the suicide seat, and it was bloody scary!

Off to Mother England

We have had an eye-opening start to our big trip away. It was a real cultural buzz, enhanced by the weird chance meeting of our local ‘guide’ Hadi, who showed us places we would never have seen without him.

The four days will be etched into our memories. But now we are ready to experience our next adventure.

Read: How to use your Singapore stopover

We wait many hours in the Singapore airport departure lounge. Ursula writes –

However, we do have a pleasant night flight from Singapore to Bahrain for a one-hour stopover arriving at midnight (we stock up on cartons of cigarettes and lots of booze at the duty-free store), then on to “where the hell is Gatwick?” We are fed well and actually get some sleep on this British Caledonian (privately operated airline taken over by British Airways in 1987) aircraft.

Join me next time and I’ll let you know about a place where you’re likely to be crapped on. Can you guess where?

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Written by MaxWilliams

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