If you type the phrase “What to do in Singapore” into Google, a row of captioned images entitled “Singapore points of interest” pops up under the search menu. Enticing possibilities such as Universal Studios, Singapore Zoo, Singapore Flyer, Singapore Botanic Gardens, Underwater World Singapore, Jurong BirdPark, Peranakan Museum, and about a dozen other opportunities scroll across the screen for as long as you care to keep clicking. Just before we left our room to get into our taxi transfer to the airport, I ran through these with Dani. I knew we wouldn’t be able to do much, seeing as we were very close to broke and terrified of missing our flight (even if our flight out of Singapore wasn’t until 10.30PM that night), but I was excited to at least look around Singapore and get a feel for another country. Dani was sceptical at first, convinced she would be too scared to leave the airport. But I had her convinced with a closer look into the Underwater World where you can either swim with dolphins or dive with sharks. With butterflies in my stomach and a bounce in my step, I walked around what had been our home for the past eight nights and made sure that we hadn’t left anything behind. Then, once our possessions were locked into our suitcases and our carry-on was slung over our shoulders, we took one last look and closed the door behind us.
It was the second we got downstairs, that things started to go wrong.
I had been very careful to leave a 10THB coin out on the night stand the night before because, after paying our hotel tab yesterday, I found that we were out of bottled water. Instead of just stealing the water, I thought I would give the man behind the desk my coin with a smile before bouncing out of the hotel, ready for our Singapore adventure. What actually happened meant there was not a lot of reason to bounce. The man behind the desk greeted us with a warm “hello!” and started rustling some paper on his desk. When I looked down I saw that it was the half dozen hand-written receipts the receptionist had shown us the night before. The man started gesturing to the paper and the figure 435 at the top of the page.
“Oh no, I paid that yesterday!” I chirped, going to sit down next to Dani on the couch. But the man continued to gesture at me. 7AM was much too early to be talking finances. So about five minutes after some confused back and forth, I finally realised that we (read: I) hadn’t actually paid the minibar tab the night before. Given that I had shelled out $400AUD, or thereabouts, for our hotel expenses I wasn’t too thrilled about having to pay any more money, but 435THB (the figure at the top of the page) equates to about $16AUD. With a sigh, I pulled out my traveller’s card and indicated that I would use it to pay.
- Obstacle 1: The EFTPOS machine doesn’t work in the mornings.
I was a bit agitated at this point. Getting cash out meant going out into the onslaught of rain that, surprise surprise, had been going since we woke up this morning. All I wanted to do was get into the car and to Phuket airport ASAP so that I could have some breakfast. The man handed me an enormous umbrella and pointed me towards the 7/11.
- Obstacle 1.5: The ATM at 7/11 was out of order.
It wasn’t such a big deal because there were about a six ATMs in our street alone. It was just a bit of a pain in the arse to have to walk further in the pouring rain. When I finally reached the next ATM, I inserted my Visa card. Even though I knew I had enough for the minibar tab on my traveller’s card, the ATMs in Thailand charge about $6AUD to withdraw your money. Really the only thing in Thailand that I found to be expensive. And I didn’t have that much THB in my account. So I entered my card and my PIN and waited for the machine to catch up.
- Obstacle 2: The ATM was saying I didn’t have enough money on my card.
I tried my card a few times more, just in case I was entering the wrong account information, but every button-pushing sequence I tried led to the same horrible red letters telling me I had no money. Which I knew was impossible because, after shelling out all of that money the night before, I checked my balance which said that I had at least $310 AUD sitting in my account, waiting to be useful. I tried to double check my account balance. The same judgemental red lettering flashed on the screen, sneering “Data incomplete”. By this point I was fuming. What the hell was I supposed to do? And how the hell were me and Dani supposed to eat, let alone amuse ourselves, when we got to Singapore?
This all happened just after 7AM.
I marched back into the hotel and may have been a tad snippy when I said “Look, I can’t withdraw the money so I can only settle this bill with my traveller’s card.” I pointed at my card, the EFTPOS machine, and the receipt waiting on the desk. The guy looked lost. I had to wait, heart in my mouth, fingers tapping a tense tattoo, as he called the lady receptionist from the previous night. The poor woman sounded half asleep when she picked up and instructed the man to take my card number and process the transaction later. With this situation finally resolved, Dani and I could follow our taxi driver to his car.
By this point I had come to the conclusion that Visa had seen the $400AUD transfer and cut off my card for my financial protection. Comforting if someone had stolen my card, but not particularly helpful right now. I figured there would be a way to get into contact with Australia at Changi airport so I glared out of my window and thought hateful thoughts at the universe. I think that tiny action brought me some horrible karma.
When we finally arrived at Phuket I was still annoyed but I no longer felt like ripping out someone’s intestines and pulling them out of their throat. I was further calmed by the fact that the line to get into the airport moved a lot faster than what I was used to; the barely visible silver lining to this shit storm of a morning. And so, after passing through security and debating about which direction would get us checked in, we found our queue. A lot shorter than the queue for our first flight. I sighed with relief and waited, excited to get some overpriced and undercooked breakfast within the next fifteen minutes.
- Obstacle 3: The line took as long to be processed as that the overfed anaconda of a line had at the Gold Coast eight days ago.
Dani and I stood there, stomachs growling, as the line millimetre’d forward for the next half an hour, hour, day, or however long it took in the end. I still have no idea why it took so long to process everyone. Possibly severe disorganisation. And believe me, the fact that we were being served by disorganised incompetents was not doing anything to help my mood.
Once we stepped up to the counter and Dani handed over her passport and the itinerary, I checked the clock above our heads. We’d have to scarf down our breakfast in order to make our pre-flight ablutions but we would still have a chance to feed our snarling stomachs. Well, I thought we would.
- Obstacle 4: The woman behind the counter had a problem with Dani’s booking.
Let me run you through a quick bit of backstory. Once my dad had transferred my “guest” tickets into my sister’s name, he emailed me a copy of the updated itinerary. Because mine and Dani’s passports have our middle names on them, we had to give our middle names to the airline so our tickets matched our identification. Now, I was there when my step-mum contacted Scoot to change the booking. She said “Margaret” (Dani’s middle name) about fifteen times, give or take, and enunciated very, very clearly. So when the itinerary came back with a typo where Dani’s middle name should have been, I told my dad straight away. Fast forward to about two weeks ago and I got another email from my dad which included a forwarded e-versation between my step-mum and Scoot airlines. The email she got from Scoot told her/me that they had attached a note to our booking that supposedly flashed Dani’s correct middle name to whoever processed us at the airport.
Fast forward again to this morning and the woman behind the counter gave us grief about Dani’s middle name. I could not believe it. We had not had this problem on our trip into Singapore from the Gold Coast, so I could not understand why it was happening to us now. Staying as calm as I could, while injecting as much righteous anger and venom into my voice as humanly possible, I explained the situation to the woman. I was very careful not to say “this was your mistake”, because it wasn’t actually her mistake. It was whoever botched up the booking in the first place. But my trying to be polite had no effect. This woman would not believe us until finally I whipped out my phone and pulled up the emails I still had in my inbox. It wasn’t until then that this bloody woman believed me. Quite clearly Dani had arrived in Phuket under the booking we were shoving in her face, but apparently this was not enough for our “customer service” representative. She needed evidence she could read. The official stamp in Dani’s passport must have been smudged or something.
By the time we had, finally, been processed we did not have a lot of time before we had to get on the plane. But Dani was adamant about getting some breakfast. I wasn’t complaining, but I did insist on rushing. We got to the café, grabbed two sandwiches and a chocolate cookie, and headed to the check out. Dani pulled out her traveller’s card and handled the transaction. I tapped my feet, rolled my eyes, and crossed/recrossed my arms to create the illusion of time moving faster.
- Obstacle 4.5: Dani didn’t have enough money on her traveller’s card.
This wasn’t such a big deal to Dani because she had barely used her Visa card, so hers hadn’t been frozen by her bank. But by the time she had been given the “declined” receipt, signed the new receipt, and given her new “approved” receipt, we were out of time. The food was shoved into my purse and we hurried to the gate. It was 8:55AM and time to board. I got my passport and boarding pass out and encouraged Dani to do the same. She wasn’t too happy with me because I was so incredibly pissed off at the universe. And no matter who you’re angry at, your anger rubs off on the people around you. She browsed through the contents of her bag, casting a casual eye over her possessions. That is until her search turned up nothing.
- Obstacle 5: Dani didn’t have her passport.
“Don’t you have it?” she snapped at me.
“No,” I answered, keeping my voice level, “I saw it on the bench and gave it to you.”
Dropping her bag at my feet, she hurried away with a muttered “I know where it is.” She may have mumbled something else as well but the angry buzzing in my ears meant I could not for the life of me hear her.
I was imagining horrible scenarios in which we couldn’t leave Thailand and we would be stuck with no money and no way of letting people know where we were, when Dani came jogging back in, the navy and silver flash of her passport clasped in her hand. Without speaking, we got in line and made our way to our seats.
It took me most of the flight to calm down. Thank God I had my book with me. Otherwise I would have had my imagination working overtime on the ways in which I could avenge the injustices we had been subjected to that morning. Thank you, Lauren Oliver, for your Delirium trilogy. Because without it, I may have just done something I would have regretted. Like send a strongly worded email to the customer complaints department of Scoot airlines.
I had calmed myself down and even managed to make sure Dani was happy with me again when I started flicking through the magazine that was in my little chair pocket. You know the one I mean: the magazine that is basically advertising for the airline with which you have chosen to fly. I had flicked to a page with an image of a suitcase with its luggage tag attached. The one that tells the luggage handlers on the tarmac where a certain piece of luggage is going. This one had an extra one attached to the usual flimsy white tag: a rigid pink and white tag with “Changi Scoot-Thru” written in funky font. In my mind’s eye, I watched and rewatched the stupid woman in Phuket attach the luggage tags to our suitcases. And I could not integrate the image of the Scoot-Thru tag into my memory with any kind of certainty.
- Obstacle 6: Where the hell did we have to go to get our luggage?
For the last twenty or so minutes of the flight to Singapore I grappled with a decision: did we go to the Scoot-thru counter and risk our luggage being blown up by airport security for being left unattended, or did we go to baggage claim and risk wasting a bit of time? Since we had an almost nine-hour layover I figured it would be easiest to go to baggage claim, see if our bags were there and if they weren’t head back up to the transfer lounge and register for Scoot-Thru. The worst that could happen was that we used some of the inordinate amount of time we had to play with. I relayed my plan to Dani and, upon arriving at Changi, we headed to immigration and then to baggage claim. I was both relieved and annoyed to see our bags on the carousel. Once we pulled them off the carousel, I saw that that stupid woman had, indeed, forgotten to put the Scoot-thru signifiers on our bags. We had made the right call. Only now we had to go back into the airport and check our luggage ourselves without getting lost.
It wasn’t so bad. The people at the information desk informed us where we needed to be and, after a bit of confusion as to which desk 10 we had to go to, we saw the glorious yellow screen with the words “Early Check-In” beckoning us over. It was beautiful. Something had gone right. If I could remember how to dance, I would have busted some moves right there. The only downside to this discovery was the tourist family in line before us. I understand that Dani and I are tourists as well, but there are tourists and then there are tourists. The ones that need every tiny single detail confirmed three times and need directions to find directions. We stood at the head of that queue for so long. My temper had started to flare up again and almost hit boiling point when this man went to stand directly behind the tourist family. Dani and I barrelled over there, so that the guy would have absolutely no opportunity to push in. The family finally confirmed their last, insignificant detail when Dani and I reached the counter. We pulled out our boarding passes and passports and were just about to load our suitcases onto the conveyor belt when the woman said:
“It costs five Singapore dollars to check your bags early.”
With a roll of our eyes and my temper rearing its ugly head, Dani just flashed her Visa and said “Fine, whatever.”
“Cash only,” the woman replied.
- Obstacle 7: Obviously, we had no Singapore currency on us.
I was at a loss. What the hell were we supposed to do? It was a while until I remembered our botched Scoot-Thru reservation. I tried to explain to this woman what had happened in Phuket and why it was we had had to collect our bags in the first place. But she insisted that we shouldn’t have collected our bags and that we were in the system and that because we had collected our bags we had to pay the additional S$5 (that means $5 in Singapore currency. Weird, right?). I tried to explain to her that we had to collect our luggage and that if we truly had been processed as having Scoot-Thru that it shouldn’t have been possible to get our bags in the first place. But this woman either really loved or really hated her job and she was having none of it. Defeated, we retired to a nearby bench and tried to figure out our next move. As annoying as all of this was, it would have all been solved if I could have accessed my bank account. On the way in, I had asked Information whether it was possible to call Australia from the airport. It wasn’t until we had already left that I realised they had told me that I had to pay for a calling card. Which I couldn’t do. After our loss at the Battle of Early Check-In, I ran all the way back downstairs, leaving an annoyed Dani on a bench with our suitcases and her phone, and asked Information whether it was possible to call Australia without buying a calling card, seeing as I had no money. The very lovely man behind the counter handed me a phone equipped with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), which means that I could call Australia on this phone using the internet and not have it cost a thing. I punched in the number, remembering the Australia code, and got connected to a Customer Service Rep almost immediately.
- Obstacle 8: The connection was absolutely appalling.
When I finally got someone on the phone, I could hear them but they could not hear me. It was like someone just rabbit punched me to the heart. So close and yet so far. I could feel the beginnings of a lump in my throat and a burning behind my eyes. On my third attempt I got onto someone who could hear me OK. I told him my predicament and he told me that there wasn’t actually any lock on my account. A horrible realisation dawned on me and I asked the gentleman whether he could check my transaction history for me. So he put me on hold and went to have a look.
- Obstacle 9: My account was overdrawn.
What had actually happened was that my phone bill had come out of my account. Only my unemployed-for-however-many-months-now roommate never put in his half of the bill (for the second month in a row). I don’t want to go into how angry this made me because it just detracts from the story I’m telling you and this is already at almost 3,500 words. Let’s just say it’s a good thing he was on another continent.
Anyway, the very helpful bank man gave me some options. I did have emergency money in another account and he said it might be possible to change which account my card was attached to and then just use that money to buy food for Dani and me. He put me on hold again and tried to work his bank magic.
- Obstacle 9.5: There were pending transactions on my primary account.
This meant that he couldn’t actually change the account because there was money in the process of being taken out of the account my card was currently attached to. What he told me to do instead was transfer the money I had in my other account into my primary account and withdraw what was left. Out of the $75AUD I had sitting there, I would see just over half of it. I swear I was seeing red by this point. Possibly masked by some unshed tears of frustration. He said that if it were possible, to try and call someone who could put money in my account to help us out. I thanked him for all of his hard work, hung up, and tried calling my mother. My beautiful, superhero of a mother.
I think it’s a good time to point out that all of these conversations were happening right beside the Information desk as I had the lovely man’s phone, or at least the phone he used at work, so I was constantly being buffeted by his coworkers going in and out from behind their little cubicle.
Anyway, I called Mum’s number and after a few rings I finally got her on the phone.
“Hello?” she answered.
I don’t know how many of you have experienced this but when you have had a shitty, shitty day, hearing your parent’s voice is like a huge warm hug through the phone line. And it all just hit me: paying the hotel bill all by myself, paying the phone bill all by myself, trying to make sure Dani and I got fed, being stuck in a foreign country with absolutely no money whatsoever, and the incompetence of the airline staff we had been dealing with all day.
I burst into tears.
Unfortunately, my connection to Mum over VoIP was even more atrocious than it had been when I was trying to talk to my bank. She couldn’t hear me at all. I tried calling back again but the same thing happened. So I hung up, wiping my face with my arm, gave the very helpful man a watery “thank you” and ran off to the nearest bank of computers. As quickly as the shoddy connection would allow, I transferred all of my emergency funds into my primary account, logging off internet banking, and then tried to Facebook message Dani to tell her where I was and what I was doing.
- Obstacle 9.75: Facebook Messenger wasn’t working.
With our phones out of commission, I had no way of telling Dani what I was doing. I had to work at double speed so that she wouldn’t leave where she was and come looking for me. If you haven’t been before, Changi airport is absolutely enormous. If she moved, I would not be able to find her. Sprinting from the computers, gripping my thongs with my toes and holding down my skirt so I didn’t pull a moving Marilyn Monroe, I ran straight to the currency exchange and asked for a calling card so that I could call Mum back (no idea why it’s the currency exchange that sells calling cards, but there you go). They told me cash only, so I sprinted to an ATM and withdrew S$40 and then sprinted back to the currency exchange. Calling cards cost S$15, but calls to Australia only cost about 8c a minute. If calling cards have no expiration date, next time I go overseas I’m all set! The lady explained the four step system to using the card and the second she finished speaking I was off. The nearest phone was just across the hall.
I dialled all the digits and finally got Mum on the phone so she could hear me. Explaining to your mother that you’ve run out of money even though she was the one who gave you your spending money in the first place is not a pleasant thing, even if you had no control over the fact that all your money evaporated like rain hitting a hot Thai street. Before any of that happened, though, I had to reassure her that I was still breathing. When I called the first time all she heard was crying. That couldn’t have been fun, listening to one of her daughters crying into a phone in another country. Once I sorted all that out, I told her my story. She listened and was angry, sympathetic, and relieved in all the right places. She was talking to Dani via Facebook Messenger at the same time, so she explained to Dani where I was and what I was doing and told her not to move. Once I asked Mum for the money I was calling to ask her for (really, really not fun), I heard her husband in the background saying that my dad was on her mobile. I didn’t find out until later that Dani had put up a Facebook status about our predicament that had alerted our dad to our situation. So Mum had to try and fiddle with her mobile so that I could talk to both of them at the same time and sort everything out. Poor Mum. She’s not so technologically literate. But she did well! Found the speaker button and everything.
Mum, if you’re reading this, I love you and you’re awesome! But it was funny listening to you try and sort out your phone. It cheered me up. 🙂
Anyway, all three of us sorted everything out. An emergency, make-shift 3-way call. Pretty ingenious, I think. Mum told me that she was putting the money into Dani’s account so that we could eat and possibly keep ourselves amused. She gave us way too much money, so throughout the day we tried to spend like Ebenezer Scrooge and give Mum as much change as possible. With money sorted, we all said our goodbyes and thank you’s and then I was off and racing to the bench where I had left Dani. I think I had taken about half an hour in total. That could not have been a fun wait. But now we had the money to check in. We checked our bags and made our way into Changi airport.
We whittled down the hours by walking around, checking Facebook, reading, taking photos, price-checking massages (too expensive), eating every once in a while, buying chocolates, talking, laughing, pulling faces until finally we were on the 10.30 flight to the Gold Coast. Then it was a few hours of fitful dozing and then waking up to an incredible sunrise. It looked like one of those cocktails that separates into different levels in the glass. Bright, ferocious orange along the bottom that split into layers, shifting to Chalong Bay blue and then a slab of navy blue that dominated the rest of the sky. Looking out of the window behind me, my sunrise cocktail tailed off. The whole image looked like a celestial speech bubble meant for my eyes only. I dozed off every few minutes only to wake up and see that the blues shifted to the pale royal blue of my old school uniform, then the periwinkle blue of the summer sky; and the oranges became less and less outspoken until there was no whisper of that molten orange left. And it was that sunrise that made all of the horrible trials of the day almost worth it.
Now just some images to paint a picture of the less intense part of our day in Singapore. I’ve used enough words, I think.
- Day 8 – Almost But Not Quite (infernalimagination.wordpress.com)
- Singapore!!!! (reisendiana.wordpress.com)
- Singapore June 2013 (anythingbutmarzipan.com)
- List of Recommended Budget Hotels and Hostels for F1 Singapore 2013 Grand Prix by BudgetHotels.sg (prweb.com)
- Moments in Singapore: 24 Hour Travel Guide (devarshi110599.wordpress.com)