It’s not in the blogosphere where I first bumped into this creative writer. I got acquainted with his articles in CQ (Collegiate Quarterly) many years ago. It’s just surprising how we end up collaborating. And I’m grateful for God’s gift of friendship authored by the Heavenly Wordsmith.
A Visit to the Lonely Lion
by Worthy Habla
I fumbled for my passport in my baggage, a backpack and a small walking bag. I clutched the small booklet from my bag to present to the guard at the airport. This was the first time I was going to use this. I didn’t know protocols and stuff so I had to play this by ear. I don’t know why but I was slightly nervous as I handed my passport and the travel itinerary. Maybe because for the first time in my life, I was going to another country.
My destination was Singapore. I don’t know anything about the country other than the steep fines and punishments to maintain law and order. I was invited by my friend, Harold to join him since he booked a ticket a year ago and had no companions. I decided to join since I was looking for a destination to celebrate my 30th birthday. Outside the country seemed like the big adventure I was looking for as a 30th day celebration.
I was not disappointed.
Singapore is an island-state probably the same size as Metro Manila. This country is actually a huge city. It takes 4 hours by plane to get to the country of diverse cultures and populations and probably a week to go around all the good spots. Diverse might even be an understatement. The moment I stepped off the plane, I was surprised to see people of various nationalities at the airport. These people are not the tourists you see in airports, rather they are the ground attendants, concierge assistant and even toilet cleaner. It has a Little India, a Chinatown and an Arab street. There’s also this Orchard road where most Filipinos hang out on Sundays. The country might as well be composed of every country in the world.
Despite the diversity, I was able to see what made it a first world country. I thought cleanliness was a factor but I saw some bits and pieces here and there. The discipline though is uncanny. People had to walk to designated bus stops regardless of the distance and cross at the right crosswalks at the right stoplight. People are dedicated to their work more than their social life.
More so, that even the aged and persons with disability are given ample opportunities to work and earn a living. Their social life involve sports and similar recreations as evidenced by the many futsal and cricket fields and countless recreation centers around the district. People here probably understand that they had to give up certain rights to earn certain forms of freedom. Seeing all of these actually make me want to live and work here.
I loved the transport system of the country. There are three means of public transport in the country. They have a seemingly complicated system of trains and buses that allow you to get around the city. If you prefer comfort over efficiency, there are taxis that would look like luxury cars in our country. I was fascinated by the efficiency and complexity of the trains and buses. Both could be paid via a single card system where our beep cards in the MRT were derived from. When traveling here, I had to plan each day using an app on my phone which train to ride or which station to stop.
When using the train, you can get around easy. You could check out your route at each station and pick the easiest one. Often times, you had to walk some distance to get to a transfer station but that is just half the challenge. Often, the places you had to visit require more walking.
The buses on the other hand provided a challenge. I thought I would have to leave my street smarts at home but it was actually needed if you want to travel by bus. You had to figure out which bus number to ride and how many stops it would take. You also had to check each stop because the buses do not stop at each bus stop. Once the bus stop is empty the bus skips the shed unless someone inside the bus hits the stop button before the desired bus stop. I felt like I was embarking on an adventure each time I had to take the bus.
Google maps had to be open at all times to know which route the bus is taking and if I missed any stop. There were times you had to go down a stop to take another bus. There were also times that you had to wonder which stop is which. It was also a delight when a double decker bus pops up.
Money and Accommodations
A Singapore Dollar is equivalent to almost 40 pesos. One rule of thumb when traveling abroad with this kind of currency exchange is to travel on a budget. You should not rely on credit card even if almost all stores here could handle a credit card transaction unless you own a business empire. I took this rule to heart and decided to withdraw a certain amount which I will use throughout the duration of the trip. Another rule of thumb is do not compute the value in your local currency. Although for me this was hard for tourists especially from the Philippines because our local currency has a lower value.
However, I later realized that the prices in Singapore and Philippines are almost the same. Burger king meal is 4 SGD which is almost 150 PHP. Almost the same but if you are there, why eat at Burger King? Better try the local hawkers more on these on the next segment.
Since the rule of thumb is to travel on a budget, accommodations should also be on a budget. If you are single and do not mind sharing a room with an assortment of individuals, the best and more affordable places to stay are travel lodges or inns which offer just a bed space (bunk beds on some) and a locker to stash your things. These inns are relatively cheap. Ours was around 600 PHP a night or around 20 SGD. The room is air conditioned and the bathrooms are communal. There is also free WiFi and breakfast.
My companion, Harold, gave me explicit guide to traveling abroad: to save money and experience the culture, never eat at restaurants. Instead, try the cheapest street food. I also read this from a friend’s blog about being an expat in Thailand. However, a highly urbanized country like Singapore does not have street food. Instead, they have hawkers. Hawkers are a glorified and slightly cleaner version of our mall food courts. I learned near the end of our stay that there are hawkers at almost every block. Some more likable than others.
The famous one was the Makan Sutra near the Merlion Park. This was more tourist friendly but with higher prices. Generally, hawkers sell really cheap food options with multicultural variety with vegetarian options. They were designed for the common worker, which was why office looking people were prominent in one hawker near our lodgings. Of all the food there, the best food to try is the Durian shaved ice and the Iced Kacang (I still don’t know how to pronounce it). Sorry those are all desserts but they are really good!
Merlion: The Lonely Lion
Our first stop was the Merlion park. A train or bus ride and a few kilometer walk took us to the iconic park. On our way there, we passed by a street full of restaurants ready for the nightly happy hour. We were surprised when one lady stopped us and said, “hoy! Kain kayo dito!” We were taken aback! How did this woman know we were Filipinos? After begging off their offer, we were stopped yet again by another kababayan. This happened twice. What is more amazing was that Harold and I were not even talking to each other. How did they know that we were Filipino? Were they stalking us? Was it something that we did?
I was preoccupied with the thought as we walked through the line of shops to the park. We navigated the walkways until we reached the giant stone monolith of a lion’s head with the tail of a fish. This was the famed Merlion. The regaled statue was a dwarf compared to all the buildings surrounding it. It seemed lonely as it was the only statue along the river, It was not as huge as our Rizal Statue in Luneta but it looks cleaner probably because it was white.
Other than that, our own Rizal statue looks more grand especially with the guards surrounding the statue. We spent some time exploring the park and its surroundings. Across the Merlion was the Marina Bay Sands towers that looks like a huge boat was placed on top of two buildings. We took pictures and sat down while waiting for our friends. It was crowded. Lots of people were also taking pictures with the Merlion.
Continue reading this story: “A Visit to the Lonely Lion Part 2”
Worthy Habla is speech pathologist by profession. Obviously, he’s a bookworm and blogger by passion. Aside from being a nature enthusiast, he’s empowered being an a youth leader, a deacon, a deaf ministry co-coordinator and volunteer.
As much as he loves to capture memories, he is fond of chasing the wind through running. He strives to rise above the state of mediocrity, and literally, he challenges himself to conquer heights though hiking.
Check out more of his musings through his blog, MANACLED.
Keep posted for the other guest bloggers! Who knows, the next could be YOU!
© 2016 LAF
Note: Photos credit to Worthy Habla. This blog has a copyright. The photos and articles should not be used, reproduced and manipulated by any means without a written request and consent from the author.