In the summer of 2003 I made a two-month trip to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, with a stopover of a few days in Singapore. Below is the first part of this blog.

A first sign of life from Singapore. I am now sitting in my own apartment just outside the center with a beautiful view of a nature reserve. Cup of tea, the latest Harry Potter book, music and delicious Dim Sum snacks: I’ll make it through the evening!

The day before I left I joined Servas, an organization that wants to bring travelers and local people in contact with each other to promote understanding between cultures. When you travel, you get a list per country of people who would like to host foreigners in their home. Normally you have to let them know 7 – 14 days in advance that you are coming, but of course I didn’t have enough time. Still, the morning of my departure I sent an email to a few people in Singapore. To my surprise I already had two responses half an hour later!

A woman offered me this apartment from a friend who is traveling. The first evening she told me about life in Singapore and took me to dinner with Indian friends. Dear people and terribly good food. It’s just a pity that those Indians are so hard to understand when they speak English…. Their mumbling reminds me a bit of that Swedish cook from the Muppet show…. With my tired jet-lag head, I was seated next to a man I really couldn’t understand. The entire evening I nodded politely during his story and said at random “aha”, “yes” and “no”. Apparently he was explaining what life is like in Singapore – or India-, because every now and then he asked “… Holland…?” The only thing I could think of to say was: “ehhhh….the same?”… The poor man must have a very strange image of our little country now…

Singapore is exactly what they say about it: super clean, safe and well organized. A melting pot of cultures. Luckily everyone speaks English. The only thing people seem to do here is eat and shop… Behind the scenes, however, they work hard.

In the busses there are signs saying that throwing garbage (even chewing gum or a piece of paper!) on the street results in a $1000 fine! It also says that you are not allowed to smoke or eat in the bus and there is even a separate picture to show that you are not allowed to eat Durians (that delicious, but smelly tropical fruit) in the bus….

SARS disease is now completely under control. It is unbelievable how they dealt with it: there is even a special ‘SARS channel’ on the TV! With tips on how to wash your hands and how to wear a mouth cap to cover your mouth… All taxi drivers and waiters were tested in the morning and got a sticker saying “I’m OK”. Even now in the street proudly wears such a button… There are information leaflets everywhere and mouth caps for when you don’t feel well… On the plane we even got a special single use thermometer…. After all, you never know!

Today I took the bus into town and walked around all day. And had a nice meal of course! They really have everything here: Chinese, Thai, Indian, Malaysian and also a mix of everything. I feel completely at home.

The night walk through the zoo is also highly recommended. This way you can see (and HEAR!) the nocturnal animals. The lighting is so well thought out that it doesn’t bother the animals but you can see them clearly. You just can’t see that they are in cages… Exciting!

Tomorrow I’m going into “little India” with my hostess. The next day I fly to Sydney again for the Australia adventure…

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