We had been right next to it when we exited the metro but we didn’t look up. It wasn’t until we were at the top of the Gardens by the Bay dome we got a clear view of whole the building called the Marina Bay Sands.
I stood there my mouth ajar, gazing out of the curved octagon shaped dome windows.
“It’s like we stepped into a sci-fi movie,” I said to my sister.
The building comprised of a hotel, convention center and mall was made up of three enormous curving pillars each filled with 1,000’s of rooms, shops and offices. But what really made the building was the blimp-shaped tree lined promenade that joined the buildings. It didn’t look real.
None of it did — the Gardens by the Bay was equally as surreal, like stepping onto the
movie set of Avator or Jurassic Park. The Cloud Forest dome, one of two domes in the Gardens, is the largest greenhouse in the world and filled with plants and trees, crystal towers, orchid gardens, a large waterfall, sculptures of dragons and tribal figures, and on the top floor a small pond surrounded by insect eating plants.
It was all a lot more than I expected or imagined. I mean is Singapore real? Take the streets and sidewalks. They were so clean that when my flipflops began to hurt my feet I walked around barefoot. Right downtown. I wondered if the city mopped the streets every night, it was that clean. And the locals many of whom were of Chinese descent fit in perfectly — neatly coifed and fashionable dressed, young and attractive, I rarely saw old people and definitely no homeless people. There was something too perfect about the place. I wondered if I had stepped onto the set of the movie the Stepford Wives or something, Was there something sinister going on?
Perhaps. In 2018 Singapore was ranked 151st out of 180 nations for human rights by Reporters Without Borders in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index and the government has restricted freedom of speech and freedom of the press according to the Singapore wikipedia page. It showed in incongruous ways. For example there were little squares painted on the ground every few blocks for smokers and I was told that smoking outside these tiny boxes would get you a ticket for $200 Singapore dollars ($146 USD). On a more serious level my cousin who lives in Singapore part of the year emailed me a warning.
“Don’t bring drugs in!!! They will kill you!!!” She wrote.
I thought she must be exaggerating but when I talked with other people they assured me that if you were caught bringing illegal drugs into the country they killed you, for real. Then there were the walk lights. Everyone waited at them to cross the street even when there were no cars coming at all! I suspected that jaywalking might be ticketed as well. Once when I was standing at a deserted intersection waiting for the walk light to turn green I asked a local man.
“Can you get a fine for crossing now?” I asked.
He shrugged his shoulders. “It’s dangerous!” he said.
But there was no cars in sight. Weird. I crossed.
Yeah. Singapore. A most amazing town and also a little bit strange. I could go on. Like how a number of the buildings had plants growing up the sides like a mini forest right on the buildings, a testament to the cities dedication to ecological building design. Not far from our hotel Orchard Road was a shopping extravaganza lined with one huge and beautiful mall after another each filled with tantalizing products and shops from all over the world. On the top and sometimes bottom floors of these malls and elsewhere in the city were food courts and markets offering so much delicious Asian food — Malaysian, Japanese, Chinese, buns and soups, stir-fry’s of infinite varieties and fresh fruit and juices — that I ate until I was stuffed on many occasions, sad only that I couldn’t eat more.
It was getting dark when Debra and I left the domes. As we made our way down a long and very clean promenade, my flipflops swinging in my hand, we heard live festive music. Speeding up our pace hoping to locate the source we spied a Chinese New Year parade of kaleidoscope proportions across the river. One square of marchers were waving big red flags in time to the music and I could make out several neon lit floats. We continued to walk fast hoping we could get to it but soon realized it was too far away. Conveniently we found ourselves next to another dazzling mall — one of the 103 malls in this tiny city — and headed inside for food.
On our way back to the train station we remembered about the dinosaur eggs. Giant ones floating in a lily pond called Dragonfly lake which naturally had two giant dragon fly sculptures in it. After walking in circles trying to find the train station we luckily stumbled upon the dinosaur egg art installation
again. They were lit up now in bright colors — royal blue, magenta, yellow, green, turquoise, and red — and there was peaceful chime music coming from somewhere. It was like a magical fairly land with the music and the eggs changing colors and with the giant mushroom shaped structures called Supertrees nearby upon which flowering vines were slowly taking over.
Maybe if I stayed longer I too would have morphed into a giant botanical mushroom-y human-dreamscape. But alas our five days were over too fast. My sister had to fly home to Olympia Washington and I too alit, my dirty backpack filled with new purchases and my mind filled with memories of gardens and domes and food. I rode a super deluxe double-decker bus to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Five days later I would fly back to the land where men piss on the side of the road anywhere they please, trash piles up on the corners each night, cows roams the streets and leave behind poop, and rickshaws and motorcycles pollute the air. Ah India. It’s definitely not Singapore.