Singapore. It was a year almost to the day that we landed in Singapore after three months in India. It felt like landing in another galaxy far, far away. Everything was so shiny and intergalactic and air conditioned after the noise and dirt and chaos of Mumbai, it was a culture shock unlike any I can recall. I remember crying and almost tumbling to my knees at the sight of Topshop. Of lying in crisp white sheets gripping a tv remote in my hand, a rictus grin of happiness stretched across my face. And HOT water. It was almost too much. I felt like I’d escaped with Michael Schofield out of Sona and been put up in the Ritz.
We’re back again in Singapore. I know, I know I’ve long lamented how much I dislike Singapore. It’s like a city designed by and for Christian Union students. Nothing wrong with that of couse, it’s just not really me. John insists that there’s a whole subculture here that I just haven’t seen, and he does know better (at least on this) because he comes here every week for work – but what kind of subculture are we talking? Is he visiting the hellmouth after work? Frequenting satanic speakeasies?. I’m just going on what I’ve seen from several stopovers. This is a city where they’d put you in front of a firing squad for jaywalking. A city where the number one visitor attraction is the zoo (the lion enclosure). But anyway, needs must. Visa is up for renewal, wardrobe too.
It has been 6 months since I’ve been anywhere a) air conditioned b) where clothing retail therapy is an option not a punishment. And Singapore is a Mecca to the god of shopping, the streets crowded with glistening, glass and steel temples with so many thousands of people prostrating themselves before them it’s like the second coming has been announced on Orchard Road. Forget what I said about Christian Union Students. I’m at the head of the queue for this kind of redemption – soulless, capitalist, shallow heathen that I am.
After an hour and a half I’m experiencing sensory overload. There are too many people, too much noise, too many things to see and do, too many things to try on I’m having a panic, which builds to destructive melt-down levels when Topshop tell me I can only take 3 things into the fitting room. I persevere and end up buying a lot of stuff including trousers that are so inappropriate for tropical climes I’m not sure what I was thinking except ooooh pretty, oooh hareeem, oooh I must have them.
We eat sushi and I stuff myself on masala dosa for dinner and again for breakfast the following day. I drag Alula around 4 enormous shopping malls enticing her with the shining beacon of Toys ‘r us at the end of the journey. We go to the cinema and eat popcorn. At the airport John and I covertly drink some red wine I had forgotten we couldn’t take on the plane (together with 500ml of organic shampoo and conditioner – we didn’t drink that). Then on the after effects of half a litre of quickly imbibed merlot (it’s been six months since a drop of wine passed these lips) Alula and I go wild in duty free.
‘What are you doing?’ Alula asks.
‘I’m looking for the most expensive moisturizer in the store,’ I tell her slathering on some SKII $400 something or other followed by some Chanel eye cream.
‘No to utilise.’
We slap on some bright red lipstick and go find John.
‘I don’t want to go back to Bali, I like Singapore,’ Alula says.
‘Oh, no why?’ I ask Alula.
‘Because in Singapore there are lots of shops and you buy me things.’
‘You’re such a shallow consumer.’
‘What’s a spallow spooner?’
‘A shallow consumer is someone who isn’t interested in anything deep or meaningful and who only likes to shop.’
I’m grateful that Alula doesn’t yet know the saying involving a pot and a kettle.
‘Oh, rinky dinky dinky dink, rinky dinky doo, I love you singapore.’ Alula sings all the way home.
I join in the chorus.