14 - Under The Red Umbrella (Singapore)
Just a little hop to Singapore for a “fast food” visa and some fish therapy for my wheels. A brush with stardom? So close, yet so far away…sigh.
by The Nostomaniac
I FLEW TO SINGAPORE, but not for Singapore’s sake. I had no desire to tear myself away from Bali. Indeed, I was just getting warmed up. I needed a new visa, one I could renew without having to leave Indonesia. Singapore was the path of least resistance and had a well-established protocol, however illicit, for nomads like moi.
I stayed at a fifteen-dollar-a-night hostel. Yes, it was as nice as the price implies. Dorm rooms, shared bathrooms (males and females), preposterously small toilets (Taking a shit was a circus performance), air con only at night, and a crowded kitchen area were all included. No extra charge. This was a way station for the frugal and parsimonious. It almost felt like a competition to see who could get in and out on the smallest budget. Get there. Get visa. Get da fuck out. Singapore!
The upside to cheap hostels in expensive cities is the wide array of travelers you meet along the way. This place had them all. I had a relaxing few beers with an American teaching English in Borneo and an Irishman on his way to a job in Australia. Ain’t got that at the Sheraton.
I applied for a visa exactly where you’d expect: McDonald’s. Ba da ba ba ba, I’m lovin’ it! An email exchange preceded my rendezvous with an “immigration official.” If memory serves, I received his contact info on Lonely Planet’s Thorn Tree forum. He instructed me to meet him under the red umbrella at the McDonald’s next to the Hilton. Sounds shady cause it is shady. At least he wasn't wearing a trench coat and carrying a briefcase.
Singapore is expensive. No office, no overhead. Easy access to milkshakes. I can see the draw. Who needs an office to bribe folks at the Indonesian Embassy? You’re paying for two things: convenience and speed. The standard procedure could take three to five days. In the meantime, there’s expenses: food, lodging, fish pedicures, etc. Nothing to be gained by following the rules. Of course, they know this and exploit it. Hell, the waiting period probably exists with this system in mind. Singapore is one of the least corrupt countries in the world, but I wasn’t really dealing with Singapore, was I? If this path had not been well-worn and documented, there’s no way in hell I’d have handed over a couple hundred dollars and my passport to a stranger under a red umbrella outside McDonald’s. But, I did…and had my visa the next day.
Ever heard of Doctor fish therapy? You have now. Basically, it’s a fish pedicure. You stick your feet in a tank and let hundreds of Garra ruffa suck the dry skin off your feet. The American I met at the hostel shared his experience at a nearby mall. Ten dollars for ten minutes? Count me in. It’s like a hundred tiny mouths tickling your toes. I bet it’d work wonders for a chapped ass. Next time.
A young woman approached me on the street and asked me if I'd ever done any modeling. I hadn’t, but maybe my time had come. At the very least my smooth feet were ready for prime time. She smiled, gave me a card, and told me to stop by the office. Normally, I’d brush off such nonsense, but this was too random to ignore. And I had time to kill. Also, I’m fucking beautiful.
The waiting room was full of foreign-born hopefuls. I met a young Swede who’d been approached as well. He was much prettier than I. Luckily, he went in first so he was able to provide a sneak peek. It was nothing more than a sales pitch, an offer to set up a portfolio for the bargain basement price of five hundred dollars. Ummm…pass. I didn’t stick around. If a handsome Swede couldn’t get fast-tracked to stardom, what chance did I have? So, my big break broke. No billboard image of my rock-hard ass outlined in elegant Calvin Klines for me. Women would not adore me. Men would not envy me. Ego? Crushed. Hopes? Dashed.
Due to the transitory nature of my visit, I took few photos and engaged in few adventures. In hindsight, I probably should’ve carved out more time, but I was impatient to get back to Bali. Singapore is clean, organized, and well-developed. I was in no mood. Mission? Accomplished. Time to bounce.
(Below) Two of my favorite signs from Singapore's streets. And yet, chewing gum is outlawed. Huh.