Sarah and I arrived via bus into Singapore, late in the evening. Of course we didn’t have reservations, but we had a plan. Our plan was to take a cab to the hotel Sarah had picked out in her Lonely Planet. We found a cab in short order, and even managed to get all of our luggage into the cab with us. We used the front seat for our large bag, putting it on end like a sag of potatoes next to the driver. Once inside the cab we were delighted to have the driver ask if we would like to use his cell phone to make sure there was a room available. After about 10 calls we determined the popularity of the Lonely Planet had filled all the “affordable” rooms in Singapore. We went to plan “B”. That was go to the hotel Odyssey would be staying in the next night. We figured we would drop off our massive baggage and then go find a hostel or something. Our reasoning was we didn’t feel safe leaving all of our bags in an insecure hostel. We knew or felt fairly sure the “fancy” Meridian Hotel would hold our bags for a day.
The Meridian Hotel was rather fair away, but it was close to the airport. When we arrived, Sarah immediately went to the front desk and asked for the manager. We were told to have a seat, he would be right out. Within a few minutes, he arrived along with the night manager. We introduced ourselves and they immediately thought we were the owners of Odyssey! Oops! I didn’t want to be mistaken for someone other than myself, so I quickly asserted we were riders and NOT owners.
The manager was a bit confused, but completely polite. Then Sarah enlightened him by asking if we could have the same rate as Odyssey. We didn’t know what that rate was, but we knew Tim would never spend very much to put us up in a nice place, unless he absolutely had too. We were right!
The manager responded with an embarrassed smile. He said that never in the history of the hotel had they ever let their rooms go for such a “low price”. He said Mr. Kneeland negotiated an extremely low price, but we could have it for our stay.
Of course my friend Sarah is relentless, she asked if that price would continue after the Odyssey group left on Sunday. He said he would let us have it for the duration of our stay! But he did ask that we not tell anyone, because there were a few people staying there already and of course they were paying full price, because they hadn’t bothered to ask.
Sarah, you go girl!
We said goodbye to our cab driver and moved into our very cheap room in a very nice hotel. I knew I was going to like Singapore.
Singapore is an oasis in Southeast Asia. After months of living in developing countries of the third world, Singapore was like coming home. It is clean and modern. The population is very proud to live in this city-state and love to tell you about it.
Our first impression came from the cab driver. He was so polite and willing to be of service. At first I thought we ended up with a rookie cab driver who had just started work that day. He was genuinely nice, offering to us full command of his radio, by saying he could put on any type of music we wanted. Then he gave us an oratory on the country telling how safe it was and we needn’t worry about being a victim of crime. Later Sarah told me she read that the cab drivers are trained in customer service and we didn’t just happen to get a nice guy, they are all that way.
The city is very clean. Our cabbie told us there is a huge fine for littering, so people just don’t do it. He also told us that chewing gum is a no-no. Actually, selling gum is illegal, but you can chew it. They just don’t want to catch you spiting it out places where it is considered litter. I of course had gum in my pocket, contraband! I wonder how much a pack of gum goes for on the black market!
The purpose of coming to Singapore early was to arrange for a shipping container to send all my stuff home. I am serious, I had a lot of stuff. At first the idea to get a container was just a joke. I had emailed Larry, jokingly asking him to check into container prices, because I had done too much shopping. He missed the joke because for some reason the email never reached him. But in the meantime, I mentioned it to someone else who said, “do it! That’s a great idea!” So out of a joke a new job was born.
The previous week I looked up a few freight companies on the internet. From that connection, I made plans to meet with someone in Singapore. Sometime in the afternoon I had an appointment with a Chinese gentleman who was to help me get a container for me and a few of my friends.
Once again, I was sailing in unknown territory. I have never shipped anything over seas. I had no idea what it entailed, how much it would cost or what the risks, if any were. I was soon to learn.
Containers are a cheap way to go, if you have enough stuff to fill them. If not, it is an expensive way to ship. I didn’t know at the time how many folks would need to use a container and it was the weekend. I needed to make a commitment to do it soon or not. I began to feel much pressure, almost to the point of saying “forget it”. But I had a list of 2 dozen people and I felt an obligation to proceed, if not for myself, for them.
Over the next couple days I was able, with the help of Kevin (the amazing cycling accountant) and a few other folks to pull this whole thing together. We ended up getting enough people to pay for the container so it didn’t cost me a fortune and enough help to load the thing so I didn’t have to do that all alone either.
We loaded the container with our camping goods and bikes. Many of the folks had already left Singapore for parts unknown, so I was left with the job of loading a lot of stuff. It was like moving out of a house! Of course, I didn’t have to do it all alone. I had more help than was necessary, thanks to the group.
I must say the power of our group was awesome! I will always remember our moments of glory when we would all put our heads together and get out of a situation with ease. For me, organizing the container together was one of those moments. I was struggling by myself to get it done, when others saw I needed help, they just showed up and did what needed to be done.
Thanks guys, my hat is off to you!
Sarah and Lynne for finding bike boxes when Mr. Kneeland once again failed to do as promised.
Kevin Glenn for collecting the cash and balancing it, resulting in not getting any sleep before heading off to trek in Nepal.
Shelli for picking up the slack and teaching Lynne how to email before she left for New Zealand while I completed the mountain of paperwork.
Sarah for putting up with me as a roommate and dealing with all the people coming to the door, night and day. Not to mention the lack of sleep the last night when I got in at 2 and left at 5.
Dick, Marcus, Ron, JT, Marie, Sadie, Diane G., Lisa, Deb, Shelli, Cousin Bob and Barbara H. for taking time to drag all the stuff up 2 stories from the basement into the 100 degree heat and load the container. Didn’t you have something else better to do?
Our stuff was sent home to America via a Korean ship. I worried each night that the ship would sink. It didn’t. Too my great satisfaction, it arrived safely in the port of Oakland some 3 weeks later. Success!
Thanksgiving came while we were in Singapore. The Odyssey group as a whole didn’t have turkey, but one of the riders arranged for a few of us to have a turkey dinner at the house of one of his distributors. I was blessed to be invited.
It was a fun evening, there were about 20 of us riders and about another 10 guests from Singapore. One couple were Canadian ex-patriots living and working for a bank in Singapore. They had lived in Townsville, Australia, before transferring to Singapore. During the course of conversation, to our amazement, Pam was talking about how she and Dave had met the nicest couple when we were in Townsville. The Canadian guest asked politely who that might be. When Pam said the name, she squealed she knew the folks and had in fact worked with them in Townsville. Talk about the world being a small place, Americans and Canadians in Singapore knowing the same people in Australia.
The theory of 6 degrees of separation continues to fulfill itself.
Our dinner was catered, it was turkey and stuffing with rolls and vegetables, all traditional American Thanksgiving food. After dinner we were treated to pie with ice cream. It was quite a feast! I was getting more and more homesick.
Our guest, as most people in Asia was really into Karaoke. He had an amazing setup in his living room, with a DVD player, stereo speakers and 2 microphones. He kept getting up and singing. He would try to get us up to sing with him, but as shy and reticent as we are, we declined! Actually, I don’t get the attraction to Karaoke, but it is all the craze in Southeast Asia.
Singapore is famous for it’s landmark hotel, the Raffles Hotel. It is a very beautiful, ritzy hotel that made the drink Singapore Sling famous. Naturally we had to go there to drink. Singapore Slings are very much like “Hurricanes” in New Orleans. They go down easy like fruit punch. You don’t notice you’ve had too many until you try to stand up. Then “oops” it’s too late.
Of course that was just something I observed, by watching others….
As soon as the container was locked, it was time to make plans for the next step. Odyssey was over, but I wasn’t quite ready to go home. I wanted to spend a week winding down before I made a re-entry into my former world. I can’t explain why I felt that way, I was both homesick and tired, but not ready to end my trip of a lifetime. I still wanted more.
Shelli felt pretty much the same way. We had not planned to go home until after the new year, now here we were with a month of free time. I was happy to be able to go home for Christmas, but that was still a few weeks away.
We devised a plan. While I was busy doing container organizing stuff, Shelli had gone to a few “bucket shops”. Bucket shops as I explained to Larry are travel agencies that specialize in finding and selling cheap airline tickets. They are very popular in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. We hoped to find some really cheap tickets to fly to Cambodia and then fly home.
Shelli did all the planning for me, since I didn’t have the time. She arranged for us to go to the travel agency that night to pick up our tickets. After a completely wild day of finalizing and shipping off the container, I was now ready to proceed to the next step. That would be to leave Singapore.
We were in no big hurry to get to the travel agent, since he told us he would probably be there until midnight. He said for us to come at any time. We were so busy and we didn’t’ finally get there until about 9:30 that night. Pishu the Indian travel agent was the owner of the agency, located in a mall downtown. When we arrived he was very busy on his computer and he wasn’t even ready for us. He hadn’t even started the ticket process.
Guess that should have been our first clue, yes we were in Singapore and yes, that is still in Southeast Asia. Time is different here.
Pishu is a very personable guy, he chatted with us, and even offered us scotch for refreshment, while he plucked away at his computer. He was telling us all about his life and how things work in Singapore. Finally sometime after 11, I got a little impatient. I had not eaten since breakfast and was starving. I wanted him to hurry up. After he started to tell us for the third time he was flying to Vietnam to play golf, I asked him what day he was going. He said Saturday. I then told him, he wasn’t going to make it there by Saturday if he didn’t hurry up.
I think he got the point. By 11:30 we had our tickets and were out of there. Geeze! How do you make money when it takes you 2 1/2 hours to do a 5 minute job?
Pishu did have some redeeming qualities. He referred us to a very nice restaurant for dinner. Then after we went there, he showed up and claimed the tab! He then took us to an Indian nightclub for drinks. We asked him why and he said because he wanted us to have nice memories of Singapore and besides he had just made a lot of money on us!