Down and Out in Singapore
Bitten by the travel bug
Columbus had one. Livingstone died from it. Everyone knows that it’s not a real adventure without at least one tropical disease. Fed up of living in paradise on Gili Trawangan, I took the short trip to Singapore and – like all the great explorers – swapped my sunbed for a hospital bed.
Singapore is a city that thrives on luxury, with an abundance of glittering malls and expensive hotels. Clearly, though, budget backpackers have been missing a trick: the secret to a week’s clean sheets, free meals and endless wifi – not to mention all the drugs you can imagine – is a few mosquito bites and a bad case of dengue fever. Just don’t forget the travel insurance.
It started out as a weekend trip to attend my friend’s wedding. Before flying to Singapore, I spent a night in Kuta, Bali. This grotty resort is Australia’s answer to the European party resorts like Malia and Magaluf. The city’s epicentre is Skygarden, a hellish 8-club complex overrun with booming hordes of drunk Aussie teens and locals pushing hard drugs. Boarding the plane the next day, a customs official spotted me shivering with fever and I had to argue my way out of quarantine to catch the flight.
The fever didn’t pass. A week later, I woke up in Mt Elizabeth Hospital recovering from dengue. I had happy, if hazy, memories of the wedding: a jubilant Catholic service and generous reception at a lovely hotel, the first time I had worn shoes, socks or a shirt in weeks. I remembered the culture shock of bright lights and luxury shops, far removed from island life in Indonesia; even a delirious drink at the grand old Raffles Hotel and blurred glimpses of the city skyline from the marina. But after a third fervid night, my friend Lauren dragged me to hospital – and there I stayed for the next six days.
Fortunately, my recovery was as quick as my decline. After a few days’ eating and resting, I finally had the chance to explore Singapore. This heaving city is South East Asia’s prodigal son, a bizarre outpost where eastern culture swirls with western wealth. Like Kuala Lumpur or Hong Kong, Singapore is a melting pot of Chinese, Malays, Indians and European expats. Yet unlike these messy cities, Singapore’s relative wealth makes it stable and comfortable, which some people unfairly equate with being boring or sterile. In fact, the city state boasts incredibly diverse history and culture within its tiny boundaries.
The downside of a week in hospital was that I was forbidden from diving until January at least. There is nothing worse than being told to stay on dry land! So I flew to Bali to tie up loose ends, meet friends and enjoy the sunshine before spending Christmas Down Under.