Continued from “Gateway to Dreams – The Airport”
Since the time I remember, I have always had this fascination towards Window seats, be it a bus, car, or a train. The reason being, the rushing wind! While the wind factor did not apply here, I still felt overjoyed on getting a Window seat. The kind lady at the check-in counter probably had read my nervous excitement perfectly! With the aircraft taxiing, I transported myself to Singapore via the dreamland express! Suddenly, there was a loud knock at the dreamland gates! I was just about to check-in to the hotel! Paused the show, and reluctantly opened my eyes! There I find a lovely lady smilingly asking me if I needed a drink! After a few moments of contemplation, Baileys Irish Cream beat the Hotel Check-in by narrowest of margins! The drinks were shortly followed by the food, to be again followed by another round of drink! Realizing the compactness of the on-flight itinerary, I closed the doors of Dreamland express and focused on the work at hand.
The Pilot announced that we are about to prepare for descent! Looked out of the window just in the nick of time to discover that we were about to enter the fluffy white clouds! After few bumpy moments, the view changed to that of immaculate geometrical shapes, perfectly aligned, and inviting! The picturesque view had an immediate feel-good effect. Stepping into the Changi Airport was a heady experience in itself! Passenger convenience seemed to be topmost priority for the Changi Airport Authority. The immigration was cleared without a hassle, and the checked in baggage came in a jiffy! Now, the Limping Singha (Lion) was ready to flaunt himself in his land, “Singapura” (The Lion City)!
I followed the signs and proceeded towards the Taxi bays, and was in for a pleasant surprise. All the cabs were shiny and smart, unlike the ungainly Amby (HM Ambassadors) that I was so used to. To top that, all of them seemed to be Air-conditioned! This was too much for my modest background! As luck would have it, my turn at cab coincided with that of a Mercedes. As the gorgeous beast rolled in and halted near me, I was overjoyed. Having settled in the backseat, I got a new lesson! In Singapore, even the passengers in the rear seats needed to wear seat belts! As the journey towards Mustafa started, so did the commentary of the driving gentleman! After initial pleasantries, he got a good measure of mine, and began satiating my thirst for information and knowledge about Singapore. Was overjoyed to see that my hero Subhash Chandra Bose was a well revered personality in Singapore, and had even a memorial to his name. I was surprised to know that in the initial days of British rule in Singapore, Bengalis (people from undivided Bengal) were synonymous to Indians in Singapore, which, now has been replaced by people mostly from Tamil Nadu. Apparently, British government brought over plenty of Bengali Clerical staff from Kolkata (Babus) and whereabouts to help govern the Country!
As the car went out of the Airport area, the views immediately changed! On the left hand side was the sea, while everywhere else were greenery! Unfortunately, the view has now (over past 10 odd years!) changed drastically with the advent of Civilization in the form of Buildings and high-rises! The roads were superb, bereft of any potholes, which was another pleasant surprise! So was the driving discipline of all the motorists and pedestrians.
As we approached Little India area, I started feeling at home! Suddenly, I could see people jaywalking, and cars honking! Even my pleasant driver’s composure was on the verge of a breach, as a young man ran across, making the driver break and honk. The Car stopped in front of a busy marketplace, which, I was told, was Mustafa! I happily paid the fare adding a 5 SGD tip! The driver pleasantly refused the tip and advised me to get something back home for my mom! This kind gesture almost brought me to tears! Singapore had indeed welcomed me with open arms!
I checked in and called up my friend to announce my safe and grandiose arrival. She promised to meet me the next day. I had rest of the evening with me to roam around and soak in the atmosphere. The interview was scheduled for the next day. Woke up early the next morning and proceeded to the Interview venue, all decked up! That is when I realized the futility of the same! The humidity, inside and out made me remove the jacket and loosen the neck tie, as soon as I got down from the cab! That was a Saturday, and hence, was the weekly off for most of the offices. The office was in Tower 4 of Suntec City in Temasek Boulevard, an Iconic Office space in Singapore. As I walked in to the elevator and pressed the button for the intended floor, it barely took a few seconds to reach the 28th floor! Till that date, that was the fastest climb for me!
I was welcomed by a very pleasant lady in the empty office, who turned out to be my to-be Manager! Nothing in her demeanor would have made me suspect of the extent of her position or stature! A big lesson learnt! She made sure that whatever butterflies were there in my stomach were resting in peace! Had a very satisfactory discussion with her, before she took me to the HR head of the Organization! Another very warm discussion already made me feel part of the play! To my immense joy, I was informed that they were happy with me and what I brought to the table, and would like me to be part of the family! The consultant would get in touch with me with other formalities!
I almost floated down to the ground floor (which they incidentally call 1st floor in Singapore). Everything was looking even more beautiful. Decided to roam around a bit and went down to the “Fountain of Wealth”, a sort of landmark. People have a practice of going round the fountain while wetting their hands and make wishes. I also did the rounds, but could not wish for anymore!
Had a very pleasant lunch with my friend, and she took me in and around City Hall! Had a walk around the majestic “Big Durian” and “Small Durian”, in the Esplanade area. The 60,000 square meter structure is the Center for Performing Arts, which reinforces the local arts and culture of Singapore. Had an ethereal feeling vising the Indian National Army monument reminding me of my Hero, Netaji. Then went to the Merlion Park, which houses the mythical symbol of Singapore, i.e., a Half Fish, Half Lion figure (Merlion – Mermaid + Lion) spurting out water into the Marina Bay. By this time, my feet started protesting, and I had to give in. Yet another Cab ride, and I was lying down contentedly on the soft bed of my hotel room!
Was scheduled to head back to India, the very next day. I was assured that Mustafa is the most economically convenient venue for any kind of shopping spree! For me, it was logistically convenient as well! Just had to go down couple of floors to immerse myself into the mad crowd! Very soon, I realized that more than being a shopping center, it was a venue for get-togethers. Most of the crowd would just roam and look around the immense array of items and add them in their wish list! Unfortunately, I did not have the luxury of time to adopt that way of life. Made a whirlwind tour of the multiple floors, before zeroing on the Chocolate section. Picked up a few kgs of various chocolates along with some other items. Even this apparently mundane exercise took me more than couple of hours!
It was time to leave. While I was very confident of coming back to continue my romance with Singapore, never thought that it would almost be like a second home in the years to come. Till date, have visited Singapore on more than 30 occasions, and every time, my appreciation for the City-State has only grown. In the coming days, I intend to write about some more adventures involving Singapore! But memories of the first overseas visit would always be etched in my being in indelible ink.