Welcome to Singapore Travelogue. This is a continuation from the Pre-lude in the Home Page of “Trodden Paths” –> The Trodden Paths
Ray of Hope
The Consultant informed me of the Interview date. Doctor informed me about the day of cast removal, which left only 3 days for travel! He did not seem as confident and enthusiastic as I was in making the travel happen! But then, there are times, when one needs to pay no heed to the conservative views! This was definitely one.
Since I have not been privileged to travel abroad before this time, I found myself wanting in the areas of preparation! In those days, Google was not considered the be all and end all of all matters! People tended to be dependent on others with adequate experience and expertise on the hitherto unchartered territories. Remembering my employment status, Company Travel Desk had to be discounted! Although golden rays of hope was making their way through the dark clouds of despair, my ego was still injured! Hence, I could not bring myself up to get in touch with my immediate ex-colleagues to seek assistance.
A dear friend bailed me out of this dilemma! She used her clout to have the Travel Agent of her company come at my doorsteps (remember, I was still immobile!) to collect the necessary documents to apply for a Singapore Visit Visa. With my Bank Balance determined to put up a depressing view, my Sister came to the rescue, lending me enough money to book the tickets and make the trip.
One of my Ex-Colleagues and friend was working in Singapore! Had numerous chat discussions with her to understand what is in store for me when I reach! Requested her to book a hotel room for me, which should provide princely facilities at a paupery price. To alley her misgivings, I assured her that the Prince is on his way to attaining nirvana, and hence, won’t mind little less princely disposition! She did an extensive research and came with the option of booking a room atop Mustafa! For those, who are uninitiated to the phenomenon called Mustafa, this is a hypermart, which sells everything under the sun that a person might need! Now a days, it Is open 24×7! This store acts as the gelling factor for Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani expats! More about that later.
The Trip Starts
The trip started 3 days before the scheduled departure, with my cast (not so pristine white anymore!) deciding to abandon me! To my horror, I realized that while rest of my body has grown, my left feet appeared under-nourished and sickly! With numerous limping miles clocked while traversing different rooms of the house for hours, the feet was just about in alignment with rest of my persona, albeit, with some degree of limping gait still reminding me of the past months!
Those were days, when one used to be given a royal send-off, whenever travel was by Air, irrespective of the reason for travel. Hence, the crowd outside the Airport was not necessarily dominated by the actual travelers, but by the send-off party! Also, the news of my travel spread fast, and demands to bring various items from Singapore started pouring in! The items ranged from Body Soaps to Televisions, with Chocolates and Liquors being firm favourites! Tackling that proved to be much more challenging that tackling the actual job interview! Apparently, I was perceived to be richer by being jobless! When I had a job, the expectations that people had of me were pretty non-flattering!
Hence, with a motley crowd (owing to my vehement opposition to the show of love, that my friends and family were so eager to shower on me!) to see me off, I stepped in to the Airport, overtly conscious to project myself as a well-travelled individual. My English assumed an accent, which surprised even me! My “well-travelled individual” avatar was shattered in no time, when my passport let me down! It was too clean (just one page used!) to help me in my endeavor to appear well-travelled! The Immigration officer was in a chatty mood, and seemed to be impressed with the fact that I was going for an interview. He informed me about his prodigiously talented son, and just stopped short of sharing his son’s Resume! After extracting a promise on me looking for opportunities in Singapore for his son, did the gentleman let me head towards Security checks.
I was feeling lucky to escape the punishment of carrying “home food”, as the trip was meant to be only for 3 days! I cleared the security check effortlessly, and glided towards the departure gate with the same limping gait, that was fast becoming a signature move for me.
Limping Singha in Singapura
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. I cleared immigration without any hassle. The checked in baggage also 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 appeared 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. To my delight, the gorgeous beast came and stood by me. 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!
Mercedes Cab in Singapore
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, 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. Next day was “interview 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!
Suntec City Towers
The pleasant lady, who welcomed me in the empty office, 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! I was happy to notice that my hosts shared my enthusiasm as well, as they congratulated me! The interview got over on a positive note, as I looked forward to a bright future.
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!
Fountain of Wealth
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!
Indian National Army (INA) Memorial
The Iconic Merlion – Symbol of Singapore
The Mustafa Experience
I was already on my penultimate day of the stay. Got assurance 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! I would still be cherishing the wonderful memories of by first overseas trip.