Singapore Adventure

Saturday, August 13, 2005

No Way Out
by jima

No, it's not the Kevin Costner movie; it's our day trip to Johor Bahru, Singapore's Malaysian neighbor, just north across the causeway. We need an escape from our day-to-day lives in Singapore, so we're heading to JB with the plan to check out its single noteworthy tourist attraction, the Royal Abu Bakar Museum. What could be simpler?

The guide book described how to cross the border using the city bus lines. How could we go wrong? Walking to the museum looked simple; walking back to the border crossing, a breeze. How could we miss?

We have the bus system down, so everything went perfectly right up until we left the border checkpoint in Malaysia, thinking we needed to re-board the bus to go to the station we wanted. As we stepped off the escalator, we were assaulted by taxi drivers, offering us rides and informing us that there was no bus. "Hah!" we said to ourselves knowingly, "they're just lying to us so we take a cab! Oldest trick in the book." Well, maybe not. We walked a bit further and saw not only no bus, but no place where a bus would even fit. They had all vanished while we stood in the lines in immigration.

After a bit of reconnoitering, we discovered where we were not only on our map, but we were also less than a block from the place we'd picked for lunch. No harm done. Just a bit of confusion.

Energy stores replenished, we commenced our trek to the museum. We knew we were heading in the right direction - following the coastline makes this pretty easy even for me, the anti-Magellan - and shortly came upon a large decorative gate leading into beautifully manicured grounds. We felt some trepidation, though, at the distinct lack of any kind of sign indicating that tourists were actually welcome. And the uniformed guards carrying rifles didn't look all that friendly.

Lacking other good options and in dire need of a restroom, we bravely ventured forth. Thankfully, the first guard we addressed was friendlier than he looked, and he assured us that this was, indeed, the museum. "No problem.", we said to ourselves. "We must just wandered in the wrong gate. that's why there were no signs."

But several hours, a crystal furniture set, and an gaur-leg ashtray later, as we attempted to leave the museum, we discovered that we had not come in through the back gate. No, we had entered, as near as we can tell, through the only gate. We asked a guide for directions. We wandered in the stifling heat. We saw the Japanese temple on the grounds. We asked a ticket-taker for directions. We wandered in the stifling heat. We sat in the shade of the gazebo amid the flower garden. We asked other tourists for directions. We wandered in the stifling heat. We saw the "royal zoo". Venitha walked down a sunny path beside the emus yelling "Let me out!" We decided to take our chances and jump the monsoon gutter to escape.

After escaping the museum, we spent the afternoon walking along the waterfront in search of the great seafood for which JB is known. This sounds immensely more pleasant than it was. It was hot and sunny. The waterfront in this part of JB runs along a very busy road. It did provide a nice view, though, described by the guidebook as "the industrial backside of Singapore". Charming.

As the afternoon waned, we made our way back to the border crossing. Up the same busy street, through the same tunnel, up the same escalator, thinking to ourselves, "Yeah! We're finally escaping back to Singapore."

Well, maybe not. Turns out you have to dodge traffic for about a kilometer in the opposite direction along a very busy we-don't-need-no-stinkin'-sidewalks street, then cross the very busy we-don't-need-no-stinkin'-crosswalks-either six lanes of traffic to get to the part of the checkpoint that would actually let you out of Malaysia. Think we should have just taken a cab? Maybe flagged down Kevin Costner as he cruised by in his limo?

Say what you will about Singapore, and Lord knows, we have, they do understand the concept of exits. We're happy to make regular use of them, but nothing makes us happier to be here than arriving back after a trip away.