Wednesday 28 March 2012: The Singapore trip
Hardly a fitting title as I saw very little of Singapore, more a study in airports really. My immigration officer decided that the half a page in my passport was not sufficient for his stamp. I had planned on going to the British embassy next month, to get extra pages, but now I had to leave the country and return the same day, to get the extra month. What an almighty pain!
I set off 08:30, to arrive at the airport in time for the AirAsia sales office to open. I had a choice of Kuala Lumpur, my usual destination, or Singapore. I chose Singapore because KL messed about with the prices last trip and I nearly got stranded and penniless! Also, I wanted to try and get my hands on an extension tube for the camera and Singapore would be the place for that.
I managed to get a flight out but the returns the same day were full, so I booked onto the first flight back the next day. This was going to be a real pain, as I had only brought my camera, expecting to be back home in the afternoon. No time to go back home as the flight was in an hour, so I was committed, but at least the price was very pleasant at US$150.00. I grabbed a couple of snaps of the airport sign, just in case they tried to charge me tax for a new camera, proof that I already had the camera before I left.
The Bandung immigration was the first hurdle, as this was the marked last day of my VISA and I was half expecting them to claim that I was over and fine me, but I escaped that one. Good start.
The flight out was fine and then I was faced with Singapore immigration. No problems here, but once stamped, I was expelled to the Singapore side of the desk and would not be able to return to the fun side until I checked in again. Still, I had the shopping to do and the duty free camera shop did not carry tubes.
Normally I would have jumped in a cab, but being on a tight budget, I decided to explore the Singapore underground system. Singapore is probably the most modern and progressive city in the world and they have an underground train system to match. It is like they studied all the great systems in the world and picked the best bits for theirs.
Touch screen ticket machines. First select the type of ticket, single, then press the station that you want, displayed on an electronic map. It displays the price, feed in the money and it gives you your chipped card AND change! The maps were based on the London underground system and very easy to navigate, only one change to get to Orchard.
The next thing to strike me was the safety. Zero access to the rails. The train pulls in and two sets of doors slide open, one on the train and the other on the platform. Impressive.
The signage and notifications were so clear and concise, it was impossible to go wrong. German standard time keeping, I never had to wait more than three minutes for a train. The prices were right too, just over $3.00 SGP for a 14 stop journey which took about an hour.
Less than 100 yards out of the station and I was amongst the camera shops. No luck here though. Plenty of tubes, but just too expensive in my opinion. I did get one down to my price range, but the tube failed to work on the camera. I needed to research the prices first, but there was just no time. If the prices were obviously competitive, I would have bought, but Singapore is an expensive and affluent city.
After a bite to eat in the cheap food court, I returned to the airport in the hope of checking in and relaxing for the next 18 hours, no money for hotels. Most airlines would have allowed me to check in but not AirAsia, so I was stuffed, trapped in the cheap seats until 7am. You would think that with my ample body cushioning that sleeping across three chairs or the floor would be no bother, but just like Tom Hank's discovered, you would be wrong. One of the longest nights of my life, again, no preparation, a pillow would have been packed for a start.
Chiangi airport brags about it's carbon footprint and yet is spends a fortune trying to recreate the Swedish winter for it's customers. Why! They are nearly all Asian and used to the warm, ask them if they want to have their nuts frozen to the size of garden peas!
The flight back went well. So, back in Bandung and now the whole point of the trip, to get the 30 day stamp and NOT the VISA on arrival, full page sticker, as explained to me by my immigration guy. Sure enough, they wanted to give me the sticker and told me that I should have got the extra pages in Singapore. I knew that, but the immigration dickhead convinced me that this was the best plan. DUH!
They took me in to see the big honcho and he said that he would help me out this one time, by - well I am not going to write that down on a public forum. But what this probably meant was that he was expecting a present from me in return. So while we were walking, I sneaked all my spare cash out of my wallet and into another pocket. But I was wrong and he genuinely did help me out, what a pleasant surprise!
That sorted, all that remained was the taxi home. Airport taxis are always more expensive, but the booking guy quoted me Rp100,000 which was double what the price was last trip and even Rp50,000 is way more than the ride should be. I lost the plot at this point and went into a huge and very loud, graphic rant. Fortunately, his English skills were no match for the finer details of my oratory, but I think he got the gist of it. So me and my flips started flopping the tarmac.
As I suspected would happen, one of the drivers spotted me, figured out what happened and came after me with a modified tariff which worked for us both. Several smaller fares are better than sitting all day hoping for one big fare, especially with twenty other drivers waiting too!
I chose today's image as it sums up my trip, sitting on the floor, hoping the light at the end of the tunnel is not another train coming the other way. Sorry about the length, but I didn't think it warranted two days, not that interesting a story. If you read it all, well done!