This is totally insane. It’s 3 am, a time when most people with any semblance of sense are fast asleep. Instead, I’m out with fellow journalists, shopping (yes, shopping) for things like chocolate, perfume and shoes. I repeat, at 3 in the morning. Where exactly are we doing this? At Mustafa’s, the totally bonkers 24-hour shopping centre in Singapore. Why bonkers, you ask? Hello, weren’t you listening? I said ‘3 am’! Who shops at 3 in the bloody am?!
Well, apart from us, it looks like the whole of Singapore does, or the tourists in Singapore, at any rate. What a place! I’ve never seen anything like it – some 75,000 square feet of real estate selling everything from groceries to digital SLRs, all at prices they claim are the lowest in town. It’s a completely different universe in there – thousands of people dedicatedly engaged in buying stuff, a slightly glazed look in their eyes, a mind-boggling array of merchandise, a riot of colours, harsh fluorescent lighting; it’s all very disorienting and vaguely distasteful. Doesn’t stop me from smoking my credit cards, though; I pick up all sorts of things I don’t need. The scene outside is almost as surreal; the long sidewalk alongside Mustafa’s is crammed with eateries, mainly serving Indian food, and every single one is packed. After a point, it’s a bit much for me and my body clock is telling me to turn over on my stomach and squash the pillow, while my brain is trying to deal with noise and crowds and food smells at close to four in the morning. I flee.
Not the best possible start to my Singapore sojourn, possibly, because it could have coloured my opinion of the place. However, a good night’s rest is one of the all-time great curatives; I awake with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. Staying with an old friend whom I haven’t seen in over ten years; he’s got a lovely old house in a quiet part of town. He doesn’t speak too encouragingly about the city, though. Man, there’s really nothing to do here except eat and shop, and for how long can you do that?’ Still, he’s lived here a few years, so perhaps he’s a touch jaded. Nevertheless, he tells me about a few things I could get up to, so off I go. The metro’s a short walk away, and on the way there I find that the whole cleanliness thing in Singapore isn’t ALL true; a housing complex I walk through has soda cans and plastic bottles strewn on the edges of a playground. Still, I’m sure the perpetrators were hunted down and caned, or given wedgies at the very least. Metro station’s the very picture of cleanliness and efficiency, on the other hand; it’s almost like someone comes and scrubs everything every few minutes. Am again reminded that an efficient, safe and comfortable public transport system is the way to go. Only quirk is a safety film that airs every few seconds; it’s full of gory images from train bombings and essentially exhorts you to be suspicious of just about everyone on the train. Hell of an incentive for commuters!