Somewhere over the Bay of Bengal, whilst John and I were busy decanting our cabernet sauvignon into plastic glasses and grinning manically at each other (it was the first red wine we’d had in two months. The fact it was 10am seemed inconsequential – as I argued to John – somewhere else in the world it was 10pm and at 36,000 feet wine o’clock concepts are literally out the window) but somewhere over the Bay of Bengal Qantas diverted our flight to the planet Natalie Portman lived on in Star Wars.
It’s immaculate and shiny and perfect here. Like a sci-fi version of the Truman Show. I half-expect our taxi to the hotel to be a space pod with a robot at the wheel. Everything is pristine and clean like the world has been rinsed in floral scented bleach and then buffed with a chamois. Even the radio playing in the taxi is sanitised. Phil Collins croons to us softly as I sink back into the cool leather seats with a sublime smile.
‘Is this still earth?’ I ask John.
‘No. It’s Singapore.’
Just eight hours before this we were in a creaking death trap of a taxi spluttering and honking and careering our way through the streets of Mumbai to the airport, passing slum after slum and beggar after beggar along the way.
There are no slums in Singapore. There are no beggars either. Considering they fine you for jaywalking here imagine what they’d do to you for asking for small change. It takes a while to realise what else is different here. Then I realise it’s the noise of a billion tuk tuk drivers honking in unison. The cars swish here. They stop in a neat line within their lanes. And they are silent. The traffic light beeps for the pedestrians. There is actually a Green Man. I stare at him like a long lost friend unsure of what to say or how to treat him. The cars rest patiently, indolently, before cruising smoothly off into the night. There is a pavement on which to walk. A smooth, shit-free pavement. How is this real? How does Singapore exist in the same world as a place like Mumbai? It’s like living in The Truman Show. I’m not sure this can be real.
Our bed is made up of white sheets. White feels like a brand new colour. Our bed seems to sparkle. It makes me blink just to stare at it. And it makes me cry to lie on it. It’s a mattress. Not a hardboard plank. There’s a duvet. It’s soft and warm – like lying in a cradle of feathers.
We pass by Raffles hospital.
‘I want to get ill just so I can go in there,’ I tell John. It looks like the Ritz through beer goggles.
I enter a coffee shop and three people rush smiling towards me as though I’m the Queen come for tea. I sit. The waitress brings me some iced water without me asking and then she compliments me on my necklace. In the USA when customer service people are this nice I want to slap them (I say the US because in the UK this would never even happen. It’s not even capable of being a hypothetical) but here, here I want to take this girl home and make her my best friend.
But you want to know the best bit? The very best bit about Singapore?
There’s a Topshop. That holiest of places. It gives me chills just to enter it. But that could be the air-con. I’m not used to air-con. I want to fall to the floor and sob in relief and gratitude and happiness at the sight of all these pretty clothes and shoes. Which are definitely not, in any way whatsoever too young for me.
And then I check out the price tags and realise that even if it didn’t come from Dharavi, there is no way I can justify spending £40 on a bikini. Not anymore. I turn my back on the bright enticing lights of the shop of top and walk away.
Maybe something happened to me over the Bay of Bengal too.
There is however a Topshop in Bali.
So we’ll see how long this commitment to virtue lasts.