I took a 5-day trip to Singapore last weekend, mostly to play in the Grand Prix, but the opportunity to get away from the country for a while was appreciated. These are some notes and anecdotes from the trip. (Not about the GP itself, that’s a separate post on its own.)
By my count this would be my 5th visit to Singapore. That means Singapore now ties Hong Kong for my most visited foreign destination. My last HK visit was back in 2009, there was no overlap.
Normally when flying out I prefer to check luggage so that I’m not carrying much on the plane. This time I decided to go the opposite route. I hadn’t prepaid for any checked baggage so I tightly packed 5 days worth of clothes into a single backpack for hand carry. It was 0.2kg over the limit, but the lady at the check-in counter didn’t bother to check.
My flight was 5am from Manila to Singapore, mostly so I wouldn’t run afoul of the horrible December traffic on the way to the airport. This plan would have worked better had I not also decided to watch The Last Jedi on it’s first night, mere hours before the flight. That meant I was quite sleepy while waiting at the airport. I’m not one of those people who can sleep alone at the airport – I’m worried about people touching my stuff.
The plane I was getting on was one of those smaller ones with six seats to a row and a single aisle in between. I’d ridden in one of these before, but this was the first time I managed to take a look at how tiny the plane was from the window at the boarding gate. It was barely bigger than an EDSA city bus. I’ve flown many times and I understand the physics, but I’m still amazed that basically a big chunk of metal carries us across the skies by momentum.
Tall people problem no. 37: practically impossible to get a decent sleep on these budget airlines with their little to no legroom and seat backs too short. I managed to get a few pockets of sleep but nothing continuous as I had to keep adjusting my neck every so often. The flight was three and a half hours, fitbit says I managed to get around 1 hour of sleep.
I met up with a friend at Changi’s new terminal 4. This terminal was new enough that my flight itinerary still said terminal 2. I would be crashing at my friend’s place for the trip. I think I’d stayed at their place twice before.
We took a long train ride to Tiong Bahru where we had a Mos Burger for brunch before taking a bus back to their place. When I originally booked the trip, I assumed I would have free time Thursday to wander about a bit, since the MTG event starts Friday. However, due to lack of sleep I ended up just taking an afternoon nap and mostly lazing around for the rest of the day.
Internet in Singapore is of course much better and faster than in Manila. But it’s a bit less tourist-friendly than say, Tokyo, where every Metro station and 7-11 had free wifi the wandering traveller could use. My friend lent me a mifi to use for the stay, but luckily there was free wifi at both our transition point at Tiong Bahru plaza and at the Singapore Expo where the event was being held.
I had turned off my mobile data prior to boarding the plane to avoid exorbitant roaming charges. Despite that, I managed to accidentally pocket dial someone back home. I’ll find out how much that costs in my next bill.
Aside from the internet, the other thing I like about visiting foreign cities is the public transit. Buses and trains were pretty much the same as I had noted in previous visits, except that they had managed to add a new train line since I was last here, giving us a secondary route to the expo. Basically while Manila’s MRT had been continuously breaking down over the past three years, Singapore managed to add a new line and there’s even another one in construction already. Stark contrast.
Singapore doesn’t have as many train lines yet as HK or London though, and the place I was staying with was out of reach of the train lines, so I still had to transition to buses often. My friend lent me an EZLink card I could use to pay for buses and trains. A robust public transit infrastructure including buses and trains, with predictable schedules and routes you could track online, and a universal payment scheme – some of my modest hopes for Metro Manila.
I’m not much of a foodie, so I don’t really go to other countries to experience their food, so nothing too special to note in that regard. However, I found out that in Singapore, Burger King doesn’t have the 4-cheese whopper (!). Later during the MTG event I spoke with an American dude who works for BK in Singapore and he mentioned that even though the 4CW is a best seller in the Philippines, it didn’t do too well in Singapore. Their best seller is the mushroom swiss whopper thing. (Yuck mushrooms!)
This my first time in Singapore in December, and I think also the first time I’ve experienced rain here. It was a bit heavy while I was at the expo on Friday, I had to wander around Tiong Bahru Plaza a bit on the way back, to give the rain time to settle. Of course I had no umbrella, as I believed I was not allowed to bring one on a plane.
There were book and IT sales at the expo during the weekend I was there. I thought about buying some Marvel trades. They were selling for 10 for S$50, but I would never have been able to fit those in my backpack for the trip home. The electronics and laptops still seemed expensive, even for a sale.
Well, Singapore is an expensive city in general. Meals typically cost 2-3 times what they would back home in Manila. When I’m in a foreign country, I try to avoid doing the conversion math all the time for meals – I went here knowing how much it costs to live here after all. I do the conversion when browsing around for stuff to buy for back home. The conversion rate of around 37php to 1SGD wasn’t convenient, but luckily my friend was a math major and told me to just divide by 8 and multiply by 300. Intuitively it didn’t seem like it would be easier, but it actually was.
Another thing that strikes me whenever I’m wandering about in Singapore is the diversity. On the train, there’s always a smattering of Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, White people, etc. With the recent rise in worldwide news of people expressing hatred towards people who are not of the same descent, it’s refreshing to be in such an environment.
My flight home was just before 7pm on the Monday after the Grand Prix. That meant I had the day to kill, as it were. Packing when quickly (since I didn’t bring much). Spent some time wandering around a mall in the Orchard Road area. Malls in Singapore are a lot more… high end than malls in the Philippines. More like Podium and less like SM Megamall. Browsed through comics in Kinokinuya for a bit (and decided they were too expensive), then headed back to Tiong Bahru for a late lunch and then back to Changi.
Sadly, I had forgotten to web check-in for my flight. Because of travel anxiety, I’m often well-prepared for flying out, but have no similar best practices for flying back. They didn’t have any of those automated check-in kiosks available either, so I had to queue with a whole bunch of OFWs. The annoying thing about OFWs flying back is that they’re often a bit older people who have a ton of luggage and hence take forever at the check-in counter. Some will even argue or haggle over how much they’re allowed to bring. One lady in front of me said she wasn’t even aware there was a limit to check-in baggage. @_@
When it was my time to check-in, I was done in around a minute. The lady behind the counter asked to weigh my hand carry bag, luckily I had somehow shaved off some weight and it was at a comfortable 0.5kg under the limit.
For outgoing immigration at Singapore, if you had your biometrics taken on your way in, you can just do automated immigration. You just scan your passport and boarding pass and your fingerprint and you’re good to go. Neat. The last time I was here, outgoing immigration gave me a scolding for losing the small piece of cardboard that was once part of the card I filled up on the way in. I didn’t need it this time.
Terminal 4 seems much smaller than terminal 2. It’s still large and spacious and kind of like a mall though. I didn’t have much time to browse around, other than buying some bakkwa for people back home. There was an arcade area where I could play Marvel vs Capcom 2, but I was too lazy for that. And of course, there’s ample places to charge, which was nice.
The plane for the flight home was bigger than the one coming on, one of those with 3 sets of 3 seats per row, with two aisles. Amazingly, I had the same seatmates as I did on the flight coming in. They were a young couple that I guess were on their honeymoon or something (they had wedding rings on). We didn’t really talk or anything, just the “Oo nga!” when I noted the coincidence.
I wasn’t really sleepy during this flight, so I spent some time drafting this blog post instead. I also managed to win some kind of Cebu Pacific pouch thing off one of those trivia games that they sometimes have. I managed to answer the incredibly challenging question “Where did the child see mommy kissing Santa Claus?”
Flight landed around 10:45 without incident. This schedule I booked had the same rationale as for my outgoing flight: I wanted to avoid Metro Manila traffic. However even this late wasn’t enough, and I failed many times to get an Uber or a Grab. Reluctantly I queued for a regular taxi. Fighting through Metro Manila traffic, I finally managed to get home a bit past 1am, despite my cab driver being obviously sleepy. Our cab also got sideswiped along the way, with some severe damage on the front headlights and bumper.
The trip is in the books. Aside from doing poorly at the GP itself, it was pretty good. Good to get away for a bit and see old friends and hang out. It felt a bit weirdly casual too, like I randomly popped in to Singapore for no reason. The weekend went quickly, and so back to the grind.