An intrepid writer travels to Southeast Asia and the Middle East in a time of great upheaval but in grand fashion, part I
My journey got off to an unpropitious start before it even began.
When my adventure was first booked at the beginning of the year, I was set to travel to Southeast Asia and the Middle East on a whirlwind cruise. Joining me would be my girlfriend and my parents.
But something happened on the way to Singapore.
A little over a month ago, my father had emergency surgery in the middle of the night. Like most emergency surgeries conducted in the dark of the night, the operation was serious. Though he has made a miraculous and near-full recovery due to his excellent health and fantastic care, he and my mother long ago gave up the idea of going on the trip.
Left to go was my long-time girlfriend and me. That was until several weeks ago when we, quite amicably, called it quits. If you are keeping count, that leaves me as the lone journeyman.
Things have also changed in the region. You may have noticed that there is some turmoil engulfing the Middle East. It is not yet clear that by the time I get to the Middle Eastern leg of my journey that the countries I am slated to go to will still exist. Glenn Beck’s prophesied Caliphate may have already devoured them.
Finally, there was the issue of the plane journey to Singapore, which I embarked on last Tuesday. It was supposed to be something like a 23-hour flight from Atlanta to Singapore that went by way of — cue the drums — Tokyo. I wasn’t sweating it though. I was only supposed to be at the airport for a couple of hours and Ann Coulter says that a little bit of radiation can be healthy for a person.
But instead of being at the airport for two hours, I was at the airport for six hours – before the plane was eventually cancelled do to “mechanical issues.” Perhaps the radiation melted the plane’s insides. I spent a no-fun filled night, along with the rest of my fellow passengers, at an airport hotel outside of a city that the Japanese government claims is safe – yet simultaneously tells local parents that it may not be a good idea to give their children tap water. I am not a child, but I too chose not to use their water.
I doubt the limited amount of time I spent in Japan was enough to do any damage, but we will find out for sure a few decades from now. This section of my travel log may not read as funny then.
Welcome to Singapore
A little less than a day late, I finally arrived in Singapore. As I pulled up to my hotel, which looked like a former British colonial outpost, I was greeted by an Indian gentleman decked out in full colonial garb. Frankly, the hotel’s decor and the service of its marvelous staff were enough to make one nostalgic for colonialism (I’m kidding — kind of).
It was evening when I arrived, so after checking in, I went to the concierge to see what a lone gent should do on a Thursday night. She suggested going to Clark Quay, a bustling area full of bars and restaurants on the waterway. “It is where all the yuppies go,” she said. She meant this in the nicest possible way.
Before going to yuppie-ville, I first decided to have a drink at the famed Long Bar, which was attached to my hotel. The drink Singapore Sling was invented there and when I asked the concierge if I should stop by for a cocktail, she said something to the affect of “all the guide books say it is one of the things you should do.”
I should have caught it then, but her rhetorical formulation breezed right by me at the time. She said “the guidebooks” say I should go. She didn’t say she thought I should go.
I understand why she used this formulation after having experienced Long Bar. If you are ever in Singapore, I can’t recommend you not go to Long Bar highly enough. It is a horrid, horrid tourist trap – and not even in the way that the Hemingway Bar at The Ritz in Paris is. Long Bar has all the charm of Gilbert Gottfried with none of his entertaining novelty.
But the same can’t be said of Clark Quay. Yuppie-ville was actually quite splendid, thank you very much. There were innumerable restaurant options along the water and within the big mushroom like structure protecting fun-seekers from the rain. And as cheesy as it may sound, all the restaurants seemed to offer a different ethnic cuisine, though this is not to suggest there was some fake façade of culinary diversity. Embarrassingly, the restaurant featuring “American” cuisine was Hooters.
For what it is worth, I spent my evening at a cozy Spanish Tapas bar where a Singaporean band led by an attractive native sang popular American songs as the warm Singaporean air swept through the open doorways. It couldn’t have been nicer.
In the morning, I essentially did everything there was to do in the city before lunch – and that even included going to a museum, which I am generally reluctant to do. I am simply not a museum person. But when I was told a famous modern art exhibit was in town – and I had run out of worthwhile things to see – I decided to go. I have scoffed at modern art in cities around the world, and I certainly wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to do so in Southeast Asia.
During my final evening in Singapore, I went to the top of American billionaire Sheldon Adelson’s new giant casino for dinner. The structure itself is architecturally stunning (warning: this is coming from somebody who believes Vegas is architecturally stunning, so judge for yourself) and the view at the top is just as spectacular. After dinner, I went to the adjacent club, which I am told is among the most exclusive in Singapore, for a few drinks. As the night wore on, I had a little fun talking with some of my fellow patrons.
Most of the clientele were expatriate European, British and American financiers who are surely doing their part, like Nick Leeson before them, to bring on the next financial crisis. The other portion of the crowed consisted of Singaporean, Indonesian and Malaysian elite. After striking up a few conversations, I noticed a certain contempt for Americans that wasn’t at all apparent with the other people I interacted with in Singapore. The contempt wasn’t exactly hatred of America, but a certain not-so-well disguised disdain for Americans.
I, however, am an American patriot and a great propagandist of American exceptionalism, which I have the habit of promoting most especially when I am abroad to people that have the exact opposite viewpoint. There is nothing more pathetic, in my estimation, than Americans pretending they are Canadians in order to avoid, in their estimation, all the burdens that come with being an American.
Anyway, in one conversation with a club patron who was exuding this subtle disdain, I pointed out that each and every song that she was dancing to that evening was by an American artist – in fact, several were ballads about the glories of New York. The truth is that those who pretend to hate America or have disdain for Americans often only do so because they want to be Americans. They listen to American music. They wear American clothing. They follow American culture. It is the same story all over the world.
Away we go…
On Saturday, I began the cruise leg of my journey. Had I the option, I may have forgone going on the cruise altogether. This is certainly not because the cruise’s itinerary doesn’t interest me – it very much does – but because being a lone journeyman on such a trip is more than a bit absurd.
Think about it for a moment. The trip I planned with my then-girlfriend and my parents was on a small, luxury cruise line, meaning my fellow passengers weren’t likely to be in my age demographic. Given the length of the trip, this seemed like it would be doubly true. At over two weeks long, the chance that I would find Spring Breakers, even those who were dying to ditch the traditional Caribbean cruise adventure and take a more exotic trip, seemed very remote. In fact, very few working people can find over two weeks to take off. Only older, retired people and people who work at The Daily Caller can find so much time.
This wouldn’t matter much if I was going with the others I planned the trip with. But a lone journeyman on what I imagined very well could be a geriatrics ward-at-sea did seem a bit outlandish. Cancelling the trip, however, wasn’t really an option. When my traveling companions bowed out, the cruise was already within a zone of time where I would have lost the entire cost of the cruise by cancelling. Unlike my father, I couldn’t use an emergency surgery as an excuse to get the trip-insurance to cover it.
Still, to the astounding surprise of some, I remained as excited as one could be for the trip. Unlike some of my friends, I didn’t imagine the isolation would be that bad. But as I arrived at the cruise ship Saturday and saw the passengers board with their walkers, the sense of isolation became much more acute. I was clearly the odd-man out. So much so that when I entered the cruise ship to register for the first time, they said they couldn’t find my name on the manifest – that was because they were looking at the crew manifest.
Fortunately, as a small depression began to envelop me, my spirits were suddenly uplifted by the stunningly attractive Eastern European stewardess who greeted me when I first went to my room. What’s more, in my room was a letter from the assistant cruise director himself inviting me to dine with him and some other guests that very evening. Well, I am sure he thought he was inviting an “us” to dine with him. Still, a little company couldn’t hurt.
So as the ship sets sail, I will be chronicling my Kramer at Del Boca Vista journey for TheDC’s readers. Follow me as I travel from Singapore to Malaysia, across the Bay of Bengal and the Indian Ocean to India, across the Arabian Sea and past the Somalia pirates to Oman and finally through the Strait of Hormuz to Dubai. I will do my best to provide humorous, and perhaps even informative and insightful, updates.