A Special Singapore Sling

Simple travel moments often turn into extraordinary memories. Two years ago I went to Singapore as a part of my inaugural trip through Southeast Asia and I had a great time. Between the bustling city, the interesting nightlife in Clarke Quay, and the new friends I made along the way, it was a memorable and unique trip.

Over the past year, some of my travel memories have gone to the wayside only to be rediscovered at a later time. While I was reading about the passing of former Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, my memory bank was tapped and I recalled one very special moment I had in Singapore. I made friends with complete strangers and would like to share this story with you.

As the typical budget traveler in Southeast Asia, many backpackers lambaste Singapore. They often say some things about Singapore that are meant to dissuade you from going.

“Oh, everything is so expensive,” they say.

“There really isn’t much culture there,” they say.

“Skip Singapore. It isn’t even worth it,” even more say.

As a big city lover who lives in one of the world’s most expensive countries, nothing could tarnish the allure which Singapore holds. For a history lover (tons of British colonial history) and an architecture lover (one of the world’s finest waterfront skylines), nothing would stop me from seeing Singapore and jotting down notes along the way.

As soon as I arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. Changi Airport was spectacular in every sense of the word. Transportation into the city was flawless. Aside from the strict rules and signs referring to the numerous prohibitions at every corner, Singapore was a nice place for me as a tourist. At least these signs made a great photo opportunity.

DSC04230

Everyone spoke English and there were a lot of interesting things to do for someone there on a budget.

The highlight of wandering the streets was the chance to eat a real ice cream sandwich. Believe it or not, this version of the sandwich was more delicious than the typical version served up in every convenience store in the United States. Take a look for yourself!

DSC04195

While Thailand was a budget traveler’s heaven, I did not like the lack of English and cleanliness.  After seeing the Merlion and taking in the skyline on my first night, one Singaporean staple catapulted to the top of my list. Glistening in the evening fog across the way was the Marina Bay Sands. After seeing it from the Merlion, I knew I needed to get to the  pool atop the ship-like casino.

DSC04296

The pool is something about which you read in travel magazines, see on the Travel Channel, and about which you hear stories from your friends who had the money to stay there. The imagery from reading about it, seeing it on TV, and hearing stories turns the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool into a place that seems larger than life. Palm trees swaying in the subtropical wind while jazz music plays in the background make for an interesting atmosphere.

When I heard even more stories about the heated towels and the special drinks they serve at the top, getting there without paying the expensive price for the room became my number one Singaporean travel goal.

To make a long story short, I made it to the pool atop the Sands. Here is the the unconventional way in which it happened.

Before I left Japan, I developed a scheme to get to the pool. I would wear a nice set of clothes and just walk by the guards like I was staying there. Simple enough, I thought, as the typical tourist would not be wearing a button-down shirt. The average tourist would be wearing shorts and a t-shirt. They would have a camera draped around their neck and they would gawk at the skyline, right? Wrong.

Much to my chagrin, almost all of the tourists with whom I rode the elevator dressed nicely. They were all wearing button-down shirts and slacks. Even though we had tickets to the lowly “visitors space” atop the Marina Bay Sands, I came to the realization that  I would make it to the top and get some good photos of the harbor without making it to the pool.

I walked around and took in the atmosphere to plan my next move. I took photos of the boats docked outside the Sands.

DSC03939

Then I took a photo of the golf course island and the ferris wheel which seemed so close to this mammoth structure.

DSC03929

As I positioned my ¥100 tripod for my next shot of the harbor and the city, I felt a quick jolt and my camera was knocked to the ground.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, young man,” said the kind woman.

Her husband quickly apologized, as well. They had bumped into me while they were posing for a photo with the ferris wheel, mere inches away from my right arm. Fortunately my camera was still working and I was in a good mood because my luck that evening was about to take a change for the better.

The three of us got to talking about traveling in Asia, living and working abroad, and the exciting nature of being young. They were fascinated by my tales of living in Japan and traveling the world alone at such a young age. I was equally struck by their stories of working on Australian mining and oil operations while having also worked with the Australian equivalent of the Foreign Service. While slightly older than my parents, we were able to converse like old friends.

In passing they asked where I was staying and when I revealed that I was staying at a budget hostel, they presented the nicest offer to me:

“Why don’t you be our son for the night? We would like to talk to you more and share some drinks poolside with you,” said the gentleman.

With their kind invitation to join them poolside, our scheme was set in motion. I was to walk in with them like I knew them and there would be no questions asked, they said. They added that the guards would not stop anyone who looked like they belonged for fear of offending a wealthy or important guest.

Within a few minutes, they gave me their extra room key to prove I was staying with them. We quickly lined up to pass to the “hotel guests only” region on the roof. After a cursory checkpoint, I was through and at last!!

As my excitement swelled, they quickly ushered me over to a reserved table with their name on it! Drinks and food quickly came our way as they insisted to treat me for the evening. Their kind hospitality and welcoming nature is something I will never forget. As we peered off into the night, the lights came on in far off Indonesian islands and boats passed through narrow channels to their docks for the evening. Tiger Beer and intermittent appetizers made the evening pass effortlessly into the night.

DSC03976

What was once a young evening had become old, and with the passing time, my gracious hosts had to return to their room for the evening, but not before they gave me one parting surprise.

“Behind us is the infinity pool. We have ordered a Singapore Sling for you and hope you enjoy the rest of your evening on the lounge chairs and in the heated pool. You made our night. Have a fine evening, young man,” the woman said as we embraced and parted ways.

As I settled into my lounge chair after a quick dip in the pool, I marveled at the palm trees and the poolside atmosphere.

DSC03957

Looking past the lifeguards, frolicking children, and waiters, I saw a group of women at the edge of the infinity pool, overlooking the Singapore skyline.

DSC03959

At that moment, I was tapped on the shoulder by an energetic waiter. In his right hand he held a heated towel. In his left, he carried the world-famous Singapore Sling. He also brought a message from my new friends.

“Share an experience like this with a young man someday,” they said.

All seemed right in the world at that moment. As the Rolling Stones played, I toasted to my new friends. I hope we meet again someday so I can share the impact this moment had on me and my subsequent travels.

DSC03973

With Singapore in the background, I enjoyed this drink to the last drop. Sometimes the most human moments during our travels are the most memorable ones. This was a special Singapore Sling.

Advertisements

Tantalizing Taipei (Day 1)

I have just returned to Japan from a grueling, three-day tour of Taipei with my good friends from college, and there is only one word that can describe the experience as I think about it in retrospect: tantalizing. Eating the delicious street food in Taipei’s famous night markets, traveling through the city with my friends on motorcycles, and making new friends are the experiences that make this trip unforgettable in every sense of the word. Taiwan will always have a special place in my travel heart. My parents always talked about “doing what the locals do” on vacations to the American South, and I was finally able to experience “doing what the locals do” and “eating what the locals eat” while in Asia and I will not forget it anytime soon.

Following months of discussion with my Taiwanese friends about when I would make the short journey from Osaka, Japan, to Taipei to see their country, I was off on a Saturday morning flight to begin a nonstop weekend of sightseeing and indulging in local style. Things started off rather uneventfully in Japan as I took in a remarkable sunrise at the airport.

IMG_9548
Sunrise at Kansai International Airport Terminal 2. (c) Erik Jacobs, erikabroad.com

Following the short flight and about an hour long bus ride from Taoyuan International Airport to the Far Eastern Hotel, the trip was set to begin and I could not have been any happier. Meeting my friend, David, from college in Taiwan was something that I had always planned to do but never knew exactly if or when it would happen. To make a long story short, I joined the International Students Association at my university following my return from Japan in the wake of the Great Tohoku Earthquake in 2011. My friend and I joined because we wanted to return the favor that Tokyo residents had given us during our time there. Showing them around America and helping them come to love the United States seemed like second nature to us. I made some great friends in this organization, and it is always a real pleasure when they host me and how me the ropes of their homeland much like we showed them America.

After a few minutes of waiting outside the hotel in the sweltering Taiwanese heat, David showed up on his motorbike and we were off to his university to drop off my bags and head to our first stop of the day, a pool party in the heart of Taiwan!  Along the way, I was quite nervous because it was my first time riding on a motorbike. Aside from worrying about falling off of the bike as we weaved in and out of traffic, I had to contend with my concerns that other bikes would hit us. Add my insatiable desire to take photos into the mix, and it was a stressful and enjoyable ride to the university.

DSC06737
Riding through Taipei.
DSC06731
First time on a motorbike, Top Gun style.

 

After we made it to the university, we met with one of David’s Taiwanese friends, Eric, and continued onward to the pool party. Along the way, we passed Freedom Plaza, which is a gargantuan monument and plaza in honor of Chiang Kai-shek, the founder of Taiwan. It was cool to drive by here given how many lectures and discussions we had in my AP American History course with Mr. McKenrick about the Red Chinese and Nationalist Chinese, but more to come on this landmark in my post about my second day in Taipei. Here is how the main gate looked from the road.

DSC06725

Our marathon day then continued as we traversed some shopping areas in Taiwan, as my gracious hosts wanted to make sure I had some famous Taiwanese bubble tea and chicken cutlets the size of your face. I didn’t believe them, but I sure did when they arrived a few minutes after our order was placed.

DSC06742DSC06751

After some more bites to eat and a stop at Starbucks so I could use the wi-fi, we checked into my hotel and were off to more famous Taipei attractions, on motorcycles, of course.

DSC06763

DSC06757

First up on the list of things to do on Saturday night was a stop at the world-famous Shinlin Night Market, located in northern Taipei. I first heard about this location on the Travel Channel and was tying to see if it would live up to the muster. Fortunately, the bustling corridors of tourists and locals, vendors and peddlers lived up to all of my expectations. I told my friends that I wanted to try “all of the foods the Taiwanese eat at these places,” and we sure did. First up on the list was a food I saw on one of Anthony Bourdain’s shows, the oyster omelette. I love oysters and eggs, so what’s not to like about this option? It was delicious and hit the spot! The coolest part about this market is that there is also an underground section!

DSC06764

Market

Omelette

Next up were two more famous Taiwanese dishes, stinky tofu and fried crabs. I also head about both of these on the Travel Channel and I can confirm their deliciousness. I am always skeptical about eating new foods, but for some reason I was a little more willing than usual on this trip. The tofu tasted delicious for something that smelled as putrid as it did and the crabs were just as I had hoped: crunchy, salty, and delicious.

DSC06773

DSC06775

After these foods, we passed by some delicious fruits and tried some more great street food, papaya milkshakes! They were tantalizing. On the way out of the crowded market, the sounds of Chinese merchants, Japanese tourists, and the pattering of feet created a harmonious sound that somehow brought calm and order to the chaos. Shinlin Night Market was one for the ages as far as I am concerned. The only downside to it all was the cockroaches infesting the parking garage. No more commentary on that!

Fruits

Those of you that read this website that I fixate on a few things when I travel. First and foremost, I try to capture the energy and excitement of the moment in which I am by taking candid photography. After that, there is nothing more interesting than architectural photography. In Asia, the unique blend of Western influences (Macau, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia) and Eastern style make for some exciting photographic canvasses. The modern cities like Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong, and Singapore also offer spectacular nighttime skylines and viewing opportunities. Few things compare to shooting Shanghai from across the Bund or Hong Kong from Victoria Harbor. Taiwan also offers a spectacular night view, but the trek to get there made it all the more worthwhile.

Once we were done at the night market, David, Eric, and I hopped on our motorcycles and headed to a more secluded, “locals-only” location to view Taipei 101 and Taipei’s Ferris wheel all at once. My friends said this site was relatively unknown until more recently, and for good reason. We turned up an unpaved roadway and ascended a large hill for nearly ten minutes over bumps, potholes, and ruts to make it to our final destination. With little surprise, we were greeted by dirt on our clothes from the kicked up dust, and a lot of Taiwanese locals posing for photos with and taking photos of the city skyline. It was remarkable. Unlike other cities i have seen in Asia, Taipei is dominated by Taipei 101. There are few other buildings in the city which stand out or even rival its height. Other cities I have seen usually have a “high-rise district,” much like Shinjuku in Tokyo, but that is not the case in Taipei. As we stood there, I thought about where I was and with whom I was.  Looking out over a vivid green Ferris wheel, the world’s second tallest building with one of my good friends in college was a beautiful sight. After a while at this spot, we headed out for some more late night food before splitting our ways, only to rendezvous the following morning for my Taipei exploration.

Night View

My first day in Taipei was fantastic, but I had no idea how much better things would get as the weekend progressed!

People Watching at the Lincoln Memorial

Good afternoon, everyone. I have just a few more posts from the United States until I take off for Japan in just over a week. Last weekend I visited some friends in Washington, D.C., and decided to try out my new GoPro3 camera at some of the famous tourist sites. Here is an accelerated view of the crowds at the Lincoln Memorial. Enjoy!

v

One Minute at the Jefferson Memorial

Good evening everyone! I have finally completed my YouTube profile and look forward to sharing my GoPro videos and videos from my Sony HX20V whenever I get the opportunity; preferably in far off and interesting places while I live in Asia for the next year. My first video is a GoPro high speed clip that I recorded at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C., yesterday while sitting on the steps. Six minutes of video footage have been compressed into one minute, so see what it is like to sit on the steps at the Jefferson Memorial. Full HD is available. Please join the conversation on twitter: @erik_abroad.