A Travellerspoint blog

January 2019

Singapour, mon premier amour

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30 January 2019

Singapore was my first ever overseas destination way back in 2010 and it is where I caught the travel bug that will be with me the rest of my life. It is therefore no surprise that I have some affection for the place. Yes, it has a rather nasty authoritarian corporatist government that turns the buttocks of petty criminals into Peck's paste with heavy bamboo canes saturated in water just to make them even heavier and more brutalising, slaps crippling defamation lawsuits on those few brave souls prepared to criticise government leaders, and relies on blatant exploitation of low-skilled foreign labour. So I can't see myself ever living there. But it does have marvellous modern architecture, amazing food, one of the world's greatest public transport systems and a flag-carrier airline that consistently ranks among the world's best.

I had never flown with Singapore Airlines before, nor had I ever flown on an Airbus A380. I was eagerly looking forward to both these things. Singapore Airlines' reputation is well deserved. The service is polite, professional, clinically efficient, and the food is better than in most restaurants on terra firma. The food even comes with proper stainless steel cutlery. The A380 is a commendable enough plane and the seats were comfortable and roomy. The main noticeable difference is how deeply recessed and far away from my seat the window is. I usually book window seats because I like the view but I had to lean all the way to the left to get a glimpse of the terrain eleven kilometres below.

The plane pushed off from Gate 57 at Kingsford Smith's international terminal a few minutes early and we took off from Runway 34L. We banked to the northwest and soon encountered heavy cloud and turbulence until we reached the Outback somewhere west of Tottenham. I kept myself occupied by listening to an excellent Big Ideas podcast from ABC Radio National about the broader socio-economic causes of mental health disorders (look it up - I think the guy's name was Yonah Hari) as well as a podcast from Boonta Vista, a troupe of three young Australians whose programs consist of an hour engaging in sardonic and understatedly hilarious commentary on Australian current affairs. I did the crossword and Sudoku in the complimentary dead-tree edition of the Sydney Morning Herald and watched the Outback scenery glide past thirty-seven thousand feet below. I passed over Lake Eyre, Australia's largest "lake", really just a vast desert salt pan that looks like a giant white turtle.

We also passed right over Uluru, but just as it was about to come into sight, the plane flew over a bank of clouds. I got to see a little glimpse of Katatjuta anyway, a nearby landmark consisting of a few dozen closely-spaced breast-shaped monoliths that is just as interesting and awe-inspiring as its more famous neighbour.

Four hours and twenty minutes after leaving Sydney, Flight SQ 222 finally crossed the western coastline of Australia between Derby and Broome. The vastness of this country is something Australians don't think about often, we are kind of aware of it in the abstract, in the background. It is only when you are flying over it for hours and hours that the colossal magnitude of Australia is brought home to you. The flight is scheduled to take seven hours and twenty-five minutes. That means that over half the flight from Sydney to Singapore consists of just crossing Australia. Broome is closer to Singapore than Sydney.

Night fell as we passed over Bali with its volcanoes puncturing through the soupy mist. Not too long after, we started our descent and I got to see my first love once again, the Lion City with its brilliantly lit waterfront skyline and hundreds of ships scattered through the Malacca Straits like so many Christmas decorations. The plane approached the runway over high-rise housing estates and illuminated sporting fields and the Airbus A380 touched down at Changi.

The plane docked at the far southern end of Terminal 3 from which it was a lengthy walk to the Skytrain, a driverless people mover system with cute little trains that whisk transferring passengers from one terminal to the other. There was only a fifty minute interval between SQ 222 and my next flight so I didn't get to savour too much of Singapore before boarding commenced.

Posted by urbanreverie 22:25 Archived in Singapore Tagged singapore airport changi Comments (0)

Out of the frying pan

overcast 30 °C
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C7ACA9BA-86A9-47F4-BFAA-632F747655B8.jpegF7574A23-2403-4A0E-9DF0-3EF62C5FC775.jpegA5A7CC62-FA77-4403-AAFA-ED8A36C7A389.jpeg1708F442-CBA1-4453-9CE6-54823B97BCE3.jpeg173D5294-E4AD-4EE4-9ACC-CC4391EAA504.jpeg0219F3FF-C411-49F2-B906-E0BC4E15BE10.jpegI awoke early having slept very soundly due to being awake until midnight packing my bag and going on a housework binge. I can't explain it but I always go on a housework binge the night before I go overseas. Perhaps I am subconsciously terrified of an impromptu tenancy inspection by my real estate agent while I am away, or maybe I don't want some burglar to judge me for the soap scum on my shower tiles. In any case, it is baffling because I don't particularly care much for cleaning my flat at any other time.

My flight is due to leave Kingsford Smith at 16:10 so I had a leisurely morning cleaning out the fridge, putting the garbage out, checking and double-checking and triple-checking all the locks, washing up and ironing. I left home shortly before midday and trudged up the steep hill to the station with eleven kilograms on my back in the ghastly humidity of a Sydney summer. The dew point today was a decidedly oppressive 22 °C. Now that climate change well and truly has the world in its grip all the climate zones are shifting. The Queensland climate has moved down to New South Wales, Victoria has inherited the New South Welsh climate and the Victorian climate has cascaded down to Tasmania. Pretty soon Bega will be famous for its bananas rather than its cheese, I fear. I console myself with the fact that I chose a good time of year to go to my tropical destination because the weather over there is certainly no worse than what it is in Sydney right now.

I didn't have to wait too long for the first of many trains on this adventure in which trains shall be a salient feature. The 12:05 Inner West Line service to the City Circle arrived at Summer Hill on time. I boarded the K set grateful for its air conditioning and that I didn't get an even older S set without air con.

I changed at Central to an Airport Line service operated by a Millennium set and got off two stations later at Mascot. Why did I get off at Mascot and not the airport? Because I'm a cheapskate! Ladies and gentleman, please allow me to show you Urban Reverie's Tightarse Guide To Cheap Travel To Kingsford Smith!

The Airport Line was built as one of those dreadful public-private partnerships where large corporations and consultancy firms get to screw the taxpayer and the service user sideways. In return for the private sector building the airport stations (but not the tracks, tunnels or the trains themselves which were all paid for by the state), they get to charge the airport traveller a $14.30 "station access fee" on top of the regular train fare. For Summer Hill to the airport, the regular fare is $3.08 outside of peak hours so I would end up paying $17.38.

But if you get off one station before the airport at Mascot, you avoid the station access fee. There are two bus routes, 400 and 420, that each operate every twenty minutes and combine to come roughly every ten minutes. So you get off the train at Mascot, walk a hundred metres south, cross Coward Street and board a bus at Stand B and you are at the airport within minutes. The cheapskate option from Summer Hill costs only $3.28 ($3.08 train + $2.20 bus - $2.00 transfer discount).

Singapore Airlines baggage drop was quick and efficient except for one lady in front of me who thought it would be a lovely idea to repack her entire luggage at the counter. Seriously, how difficult is it to arrive at an airport well prepared with all your appropriate documentation? There is nothing quite like watching people at airport check-in counters that makes me despair more for the future of the human race. Except perhaps for the comments below every YouTube video. But apart from that, nothing.

I went through customs and immigration, waited forever, got the full-body pat down as usual, almost felt like laughing at how the formerly civilian professional public servants have now been turned into the Australian Border Force complete with starched black uniforms and shiny gold insignia. They look like nothing quite so much as stage extras in some Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera. The militarisation of airport bureaucrats and attempts from some quarters to turn them into heroes is a tad unnerving. Most customs and immigration personnel are no more virtuous or courageous than an average motor registry clerk or Australia Post delivery rider. Yes, the work they do is vitally necessary and socially purposeful and is worthy of respect (and you can't say this about all jobs nowadays). But this idea that airport public servants are up there with people who run into burning blocks of flats to save babies or defuse IEDs on the nature strip of some dusty Afghan highway is absurd. Let's face it - the militarisation of our airports is nothing more than the satisfaction of the uniform fetish of the current Home Affairs Minister.

After passing through passport control and security screening I grabbed some lunch at Sumo Salad and awaited my first plane, an Airbus A380 on Singapore Airlines flight SQ 222.

Posted by urbanreverie 19:53 Archived in Australia Tagged trains sydney airport transport Comments (0)

PROLOGUE: The best-laid plans

overcast 27 °C
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Sydney, Australia
28 January 2019

Those who were masochistic enough to read my previous travel blogs on Travelpod (now closed and archived on Travelark) may possibly remember that, at the end of my last trip overseas to Europe in 2017, I was definitely going to move to Europe to engage in postgraduate study.

Ah, but the best-laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley.

After a nervous breakdown with a lengthy period off work and a slow, faltering recovery, the death of one parent with its attendant convulsive grief that turns one's world upside down, another parent who has also had some medical scares, and - perhaps most importantly from the practical perspective - a sober appraisal of what emigration, even temporarily, would do to my finances, I have decided to stay in Australia.

And really, you could do much worse than Australia. I have my friends, my family, a stable well-paying job that allows me to indulge in my travel addiction. Life is peaceful and safe (as long as you avoid the hordes of drunks with severe anger management issues swarming around town centres on Friday nights). Nobody starves from want of food or dies due to lack of medical care. Sure, Australia can be improved drastically. Like, perhaps a huge plastic air-conditioned dome could be built over the whole country. And maybe the railways could be sold to Deutsche Bahn who will know how to run a proper transport system. And Rupert Murdoch's printing presses that daily pour forth millions of column-inches of unadulterated bile could be blasted to pieces. But other than that, how many countries are there that have more civilised conditions of existence than Australia? A dozen countries in Northern Europe, possibly Canada and New Zealand, perhaps the four East Asian democracies. Out of nearly two hundred countries that's not too bad.

In any case, I have reached my maximum allowable amount of annual leave at work which I have to use, and it is time for me to keep exploring this world. I have picked a country in a part of the world that has yet to be thrilled with my electrifying presence. Where shall I go this time? Follow this blog to find out.

Posted by urbanreverie 14:42 Archived in Australia Tagged prologue Comments (0)

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