Thoughts of a geek

9 May 2010

Singapore — First impressions

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , — qwandor @ 3:12 am

I wrote this blog post while on the bus from Singapore (well, actually Johor Bahru in Malaysia) to Melaka on Wednesday, but was unable to get my laptop online in Melaka so am posting it now.

The MRT system in Singapore is very well run. I had to get a standard ticket for the trip from the airport to my hostel, but after that I got a stored-value card for $15 ($5 for the card + $10 initial credit) which lasted the rest of my time there, quite a few trips. Trains come every 5 minutes or so during the day; some of them are very full but the terminals let masses of people get through very quickly so there is hardly any waiting. There are many parallel gates to get into and out of the terminal, and it only takes a couple of seconds per person to scan your card. You just scan it once at the beginning of your journey, then again when leaving the final station; there is no need to do anything when getting onto or off the train or transferring. The same stored-value card works on all the buses in Singapore, too. The cards can be topped up, and standard tickets purchased, from machines at every station. There are screens and automated announcements on the train saying what the next stop is, maps of the MRT system and surrounding city at each station, and screens at each platform saying when the next train will arrive.

After the air-conditioned airport terminal and MRT, stepping out into the open air was a shock, even at 8:00 pm or so. It is just so hot and humid, sauna-like, even in the shade or at night. Despite knowing to expect this I still found it rather overwhelming at first. Getting from the MRT station to the hostel with all my bags was rather tiring, even though it was only a 5-10 minute walk. The footpaths did not help. On many roads, especially around Little India, the footpaths are narrow, often blocked by various things from shops, or sometimes non-existent. Without a big suitcase to carry it is fine, you just keep your eyes open and walk on the road as necessary. Cars (and motorbikes, bicycles and other forms of transport) do sometimes drive quite fast down the narrow streets, but they seem to be fairly observant.

Another thing that I noticed about the streets is that there are a lot of one-way streets, but this does not seem to apply to bikes. Bikes often would ride up streets the wrong way on either side (even on four lane roads!), or on the wrong side of two-way streets. This was important to beware of when trying to cross the road.

At pedestrian crossings in Singapore, when the time to cross the road is almost up, the green man flashes (rather than the red man as in New Zealand). This confused me the first couple of times. I guess either way makes just as much sense, but I was not expecting it. At some crossings there is also a countdown of how many seconds are left to cross, which can be helpful.

Speaking of walking on the street, people walking or on public transport in Singapore do not smile! In New Zealand, if you smile at somebody as you walk past them, or sitting on a bus or somewhere, there is a good chance that they will smile back. In Singapore it seems that the only time people will smile at a stranger is if they are also a tourist visiting from somewhere else, or if they are trying to sell you something. The street vendors are often very pushy, if you walk past or look in their direction they will say “Hello sir! Where are you from? Come, we tailor suit for you.”, or hand you a menu and tell you to sit down “Sit, sit, sit here. You like noodles? Rice?”.



  1. Sounds like a vast array of new sights, sounds & experiences. Yay!

    London has done it’s usual May trick and we’re back to rain and cold weather – despite the sun of April.

    Two questions – do you want a had with your luggage from Heathrow? I’m very happy to
    come and be a welcoming party/luggage carrier 🙂

    Secondly – do you want to come to our church on Sunday 16th? We alternate between the 11:30 service (like All Saints feel) and the 4pm (a slightly upbeat afternoon cafe version of the same) and would love you to join us for either if you think you’ll be awake.

    Let me know – looking forward to seeing more of you 🙂

    Comment by Fi — 9 May 2010 @ 10:49 pm

    • I look forward to the cold and not sweating constantly, day and night, though not so much the rain.

      My dad’s friends, who I am staying with for the first week, have offered to pick me up from the airport so I should be alright for luggage. Thanks for the offer though. You are welcome to be a welcoming party if you want, but I will probably be tired and jetlagged and just want to sleep, so it might be better catch up a day or two later instead.

      I would like to go to your church at some point, but I am not sure what I will be doing and how awake I will be that Sunday. Which church is it again? I guess I will be in touch once I arrive. Can you email me your cellphone number?

      I am looking forward to it, though currently there is lots to do in Malaysia. And lots of photos to upload and blog posts to write. (-:

      Comment by qwandor — 10 May 2010 @ 2:38 am

  2. Hey Andrew, it sounds like you’ve had fun traveling on the buses and trains. I learned all about the MRT at school for 6th form geography, as we studied Singapore in-depth. It sounds even more efficient than Snapper! Sauna-like weather must be hard to live with, I remember a teacher of mine telling the class that he would be drenched in sweat the second he stepped out of the door when he was in Singapore.

    I’m glad you’ve managed to avoid being run over by those crazy drivers! I’ve been praying for your continued safety as you travel. God bless you!
    From Sharon. 🙂

    Comment by Sharon McGowan — 11 May 2010 @ 1:42 pm

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