One step forward, two steps back

First published

I arrived at my hotel on Monday at 5:45 in the morning amid a light drizzle. The roads on the way from Changi had been almost completely deserted, save for a couple of trucks and taxis. There were even a few pedestrians wandering the streets, even though nothing was open: couples walking hand in hand past shuttered shops, a quartet of teenagers laughing as they ambled through an empty square, a few more sitting at an umbrella table by a riverbank. The quietness of the whole place — I wouldn’t quite say tranquility — surprised me. I thought large cities just never slept.

The original plan was to take a shower and then immediately collapse into bed, but the front desk’s offer of complimentary breakfast from 7:30 to 10:00 made me bump eating up to my first priority. I may have been tired as well as starving, but I wasn’t about to pass up free, easily-locatable food just so I could get a few winks of sleep. In the meantime, I made plans to check into my permanent hostel, most of which consisted of trying to find out how to get there. I breathed a huge sigh of relief at finding out that it was a one-bus trip, and so decided to handle it instead of pushing it off until the next day, where it would compete for time with class registration and hotel check-out.

I was delighted to find that one of my roommates had already arrived before me: B., another exchange student from Georgia Tech. B. spent a few minutes lamenting how the room needed some work; there was a large amount of dust and trash behind one of the beds, a kitchen cabinet door was missing, and our wireless router was out of commission. He also seemed confused by why the toilet was inside the apartment shower. I decided that now was not the time to explain Asian bathroom layouts to someone I had just met, so I just nodded when he mentioned how weird it was. Hey, I thought. At least it’s not a squat toilet right in the middle of the shower floor.

We went out to hunt for room supplies at the shopping center near the local MRT station. I was in the market for some hand soap, since my hotel room didn’t actually have any and I had been trying to ignore the feeling of dirtiness whenever I just ran my hands under the tap. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of looking a little lost next to two store employees, who proceeded to recommend nearby skin care products as well. Without my usual daily treatment in the morning and with the humidity causing me to sweat ridiculous quantities that day, my face admittedly looked horrendous. Still, I was used to being left quite alone on shopping trips, and this sudden intrusion left me shocked into silence. I nodded vigorously as one girl sampled various bottles of solutions, rubbing them into my arm and explaining their benefits at light speed in Mandarin that I could barely understand. Put that way, perhaps, it sounds like something I should have enjoyed, but I mostly just wanted to get the hell out of Dodge at that point, and so I nodded vigorously and let boxes of stuff fall into my arms. I eventually managed to discreetly shed the excess merchandise and get out spending less than $10, at the expense of some of my sanity.

After eating lunch together with B., I hopped on the bus back to my hotel, taking a brief diversion to find out exactly what the sign pointing to Bank of America at HarbourFront was all about. I was hoping for a fee-free ATM that I could use to my heart’s content, but found that it was just a Merrill Lynch office. Stupid investment bankers ruin everything.

By the time I got back to my room, it was three in the afternoon, and I was far overdue for some sleep. The sound of my thudding into bed probably echoed through the hotel hallways. Sorry, tenants. It just kind of happened.