Stories from Singapore, part 2

Things in Singapore are going excellently! Although I have this delusion that we can do like, three tourist things a day, Beth and I are nevertheless making our way around a most incredible country.

One of the highlights I forgot to mention was the “doctor fish” at the night safari. Kangal fish (also known as doctor fish or nibbling fish) have the most peculiar habit of nibbling dead skin off a person. There is a fair amount of research that suggests this is very healthy and can help with various skin disorders. As we were leaving the safari, we heard a woman scream and a splash of water, and when we investigated she had pulled her feet out of the tank because the fish were swarming her. I found it irresistably tempting, so Beth and I paid for five minutes, washed our legs then dropped them in the tank as well. I personally burst out laughing uncontrollably for the whole five minutes, though I only had perhaps two dozen fish on me at the most. Beth, who appeared to be wearing socks made of fish, got used to the sensation very quickly and just shook her head at me. Photos (and possibly video?) to come.


Another highlight of the trip was visiting Virtual Land at Bugis Junction, after it was recommended by a friend of a friend. And what a fantastic recommendation it was. Virtual Land is a fantasy dreamscape where any video arcade nerd can happily nerdgasm him (or her)self to death. It was the biggest, loudest, flashiest arcade I have ever seen with some incredibly cool technology. In one corner, a group of machines was set up to play a hybrid card-video game, where the player brought his own deck of cards, laid four of them out on the table and moved them around the board. In real time on the screen above him, those cards would manifest as armies and the four armies would run around in the direction they were aimed, trying to defend their gates, assault the enemy’s and survive the encounter. It was incredible how much strategy could be employed with four individual units, each of which could change focus within a moment from a quick slide of the hand or the press of a button – some very fluid and mesmerising gameplay there. There were a few 4D machines, which were 3D games inside a carriage that jolted and shot air at you when you were desperately trying to fend off zombies. A LAN station upstairs overlooked the arcade where hardcore and casual PC gamers united to check emails and play DOTA. Various machine-gun and pistol shooting games (most of which were very good) lined the walls. Groups of six people crowded around a single machine, each of them controlling a battle station to shoot or capture aquatic animals. (I was particularly delighted by how many children, women and casual gamers were drawn to this simple but addictivly rewarding game.) The Skilltesters were largely untouched, the racing games of excellent quality, and the physical games all very flashy (though there was no DDR to be found, which amazed me – Singaporeans seem big on hand-based rhythm games instead, pressing flashing buttons and panels in time to the music). But most pleasurable of all was the back room, almost as big as the rest of the arcade, full to the brim of fighting games. There was Tekken and Soul Calibur and Street Fighter IV, but also rarer games like King of Fighters, Blazblue, X-men vs Street Fighter and Street Fighter II. And the kids (and men) who played these games, my goodness… Having amassed a pile of discarded coke cans, their reflexes were lightning fast as their hands twitched and mashed and flittered around like hummingbirds. Some of them were mediocre, but many of them were incredible to behold. Ah, it was a night to remember (and I’m happy to report I didn’t spend a single dollar).


But perhaps the most enjoyable highlight so far was seeing Ivy again for the second time this week. Beth stayed in the hotel to rest while Ivy and I went to her hotel to practice Muay Thai. It was a crazy fun experience for me, and I think I adapted quite well to the “rules”. It was a matter of reducing my available skill set to straights, hooks and uppercuts, push kicks and shin kicks to the body. At first I found it incredulous that the massive gloves could be held up in front of the face and form an impenetrable shield, but I soon got over the unrealism and just had a great time wailing on Ivy and getting wailed on in return. I’m also amazed and delighted to report that there was nothing egotistic about our exchange – I wasn’t trying to show off or dominate, I was just having a great time learning from and playing with my oldest friend. As a very special and unexpected gift, she also gave me the handwraps she wore in her first championship fight, and taught me how to wrap them. I will practice every day until they’re perfect!


Now, for some lessons I learned from the fight…

  • Ears actually ring when they’ve been beaten. (The gloves are huge striking surfaces, so I think it’s the first time anyone’s actually hit me on the ear with a hook rather than on the face.)
  • When fighting a left-hander, watch their left hand. I got caught by more left-hooks than any other technique because I kept dropping my right hand to deflect kicks.
  • Keep your hands up! If you’re wearing gloves, they’ll stop a punch in its tracks no problem, even if there’s a fist-sized gap in your defence. Gloves are much, much bigger than fist-sized.
  • This isn’t so much a lesson as an insight. I was throwing a left-hook towards her at the same time she was throwing a left-hook towards me. Rather than risking hitting her but also taking a hit, I changed the direction of the strike and punched her in the bicep instead, stopping her hook in its tracks. It was a glorious moment of reflexivity.
  • It’s much harder to catch or hold someone when you’re wearing gloves that are so big you can barely wiggle your thumbs!
  • Muay Thai employs one-legged take-downs if you’ve caught a kick. It does not condone two-legged sweeps, though.
  • I have a preference for throwing certain techniques from my right side, and certain techniques from my left. Although I’m far more ambidextrous than I used to be, this is still something to be conscious of.
  • Muay Thai basics: The stance is front-facing, with the back heel slightly off the floor (or ready to come slightly off the floor). Elbows typically cut from top to bottom, or straight up. Knees are not angled up, but forwards: to achieve this, lean the torso back and bring the patella into prominence as if you were hitting straight ahead.

All right, that’s enough about fighting. God I love martial arts.


After that, Ivy and I went for a run around the harbourside. It was a lovely experience to be running with a friend! I’ve only had one other friend whose ever enjoyed running, so this was a highly pleasurable delight for me. And the view, my God the view! The durian-shaped Esplanade, the magnificent double-helix bridge, the quays, the fort park, the mynah and ko-well birds, the Marina Bay Sands hotel, the Art Science Museum, Gardens by the Bay, the dam, the hotels and buildings and Muay Thai fighters who were out for their training runs… It was a beautiful way to see the city, though as I discovered this morning, my calves did not approve. We were going to get bubble tea afterwards, but Ivy needed to slip off to see her boyfriend so we went our separate ways once more. Hopefully we’ll get the chance to meet up again before I leave!


Beth and I had a vegetarian lunch beneath the Buddha’s Tooth Relic Temple, a hearty meal for a very small donation, and spent the rest of that day at Marina Bay Sands. We shopped a while, exploring the wonders of TWG (an incredible tea store), before heading to the Art Science Museum. We wandered through the photo exhibits before we were too exhausted to keep going (what a crazy idea it is to be up at 8 in the morning!) and stopped for tea and coffee. To my surprise, it was thoroughly invigorating, and we soon pressed on to the lego exhibit. Man, the art that can be made of lego was both profound and exquisitely beautiful. The artist, Nathan Sawaya, has great insight into the human condition and is able to express it so very well. If the exhibition ever comes to your corner of the globe, I give it my stamp of approval!


Afterwards we returned to the MBS shopping complex where Beth found an adorable stationery/bag/paraphernalia store, and I rather foolishly attempted to wax-skate. It had promoted itself as “ice skating”, but it wasn’t even close. The lack of friction lead to some pretty pathetic slips and slides, and one very waxy fall. Although we were running late, we were hoping to catch the sun set across the bay, but I had utterly forgotten the way and we wandered around quite lost and exhausted. Finally giving up, we asked for directions to the train from a man at the concierge desk. But as we reached the train station, I thought I recognised where we were and convinced Beth to follow me. What a terribly sad moment that was, because while I recognised the general direction we had to travel in, I hadn’t realised just how far away it was. Twenty minutes later, we turned back and approached the same concierge desk with the same question. I tapped my nose at him and he gave me a smile, and off we went again. For reals this time.


One and a half days left in Singapore. Well, one day really seeing as it’s nearly noon and Beth’s still asleep. Undoubtably I would be as well if she hadn’t woken me. Our sleeping patterns really have been quite awful since we arrived, struggling with jetlag and a new environment, and with no natural lighting whatsoever. Ah well. Hope everyone’s enjoying their holidays! Go see The Hobbit and The Life of Pi if you haven’t already!


One thought on “Stories from Singapore, part 2

  1. […] from my recent adventures in London, York, Yorkshire, the Peak District, Singapore (parts 1 and 2), Penang and Ipoh. The formatting isn’t great, and captions make it worse, so you’ll […]

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