Now as anyone who knows me well will attest, I am NOT an early morning person. Rather, I am a certified (or is it certifiable?-hmm, lets not go there!) night owl. Thus, staying up all night packing and preparing for my trip was no hardship. Getting up after 3 hours sleep, however: a whole other story. Still, I was showered, dressed and raring to go when my cab showed up at 6.30am. And I was happily daydreaming about the fun time ahead on the (long) ride to the airport, when my bubble burst. Air India had decided that they would magic away my 8.30am flight to Chennai, and instead put me on one that went via Kochi and arrived in Chennai at 2.15pm. My irate demand of the customer service agent on the other end of the line, of what the hell was that, my connection to Singapore was at 1.15pm, was met with a placid and rehearsed “please contact the airport manager ma’am, I cannot help you.” Greeeeeeeeeeat! So it was that I arrived at the airport in full battle mode, backpack and anger on hand. After being ignored by the first 2 guys who were supposedly helping us dislocated souls, I finally got hold of another chap and began blasting away. He, harried enough, made a few assurances and took off, claiming he would see what he could do. In the meantime, I got on the horn to my best friend, who was planning on meeting me at Chennai airport and hanging out for a couple hours. Sorry babe, change in plans-the idiots have canceled my flight and I am not even sure I will get out of Bangalore in time to make my connection, much less hang out in Chennai. Not exactly the news you want to give your oldest friend whom you have not seen in 3 months and who rearranged her whole damn day to see you![singlepic id=2017 w=320 h=240 float=right]First promised passage on the 9am Kingfisher flight, I saw that one fly away. At this point, irate beyond measure, I adopted a new tactic and began following the Air India representatives around. Next I was told there was a Jet Konnect flight, and so those of us absolutely determined to make that connection to Singapore, trotted over to the Jet counter. Here’s when the bad news sank in…they were overbooked themselves and there was no chance they would be able to accommodate all us Air India fallouts. At this point, I increased my volume and pitch and began bemoaning anew, much to the chagrin of the AI employee who “requested” that “ma’am” refrained from yelling as we were at another airline’s counter and they would not like it. Umm, how about the way YOU have been treating me, I am even less happy, I retorted, tired of following you around like a dog and not getting any satisfaction, either! This is when I heard a snatch of Tamil being spoken, and cottoned on to the fact that the “big boss” manager was a Tamilian. Quickly switching over from American accented English to full blown Tamil, I proceeded to pout and complain to this personage until he promised to come himself with an update and hopefully, boarding pass. And amazingly, less than 15 minutes later, he and his entourage flagged me down at the Coffee Day counter (whose hot chocolate was quite disgusting and a total rip off at Rs. 105 for a small cup), and handed me a shiny boarding pass for the 10.30am Jet Konnect flight to Chennai! Wow, never in my life have I been so grateful to look “foreign” and yet speak fluent Tamil-if that’s what it took to charm my way on board that flight, more power to me!
Thus it was that getting to Singapore was a massive operation. But let me tell you, it was worth every moment and irritation and certainly every cent spent. I fell madly, deeply, and completely in love with this island. Whether it was being able to sit at a Starbucks rather than a pale imitation, and eat a fabulous French chocolat croissant while sipping an Earl Grey Latte (S$ 10 for both), or going shopping at H&M, I found lots of touches of my former home. Singapore really is the perfect mix of east and west and one of the safest places to roam around. You can get pretty much any food or drink you desire, eastern or western. And being a mere 4 hour plane ride, rather than 30 hours away from the motherland, is a huge advantage in my eyes. Yes it’s definitely pricier than the US, but hello, its not like India is cheap anymore, and I am happy to spend for those items I desire and just cannot get here! I unblinkingly spent S$ 15 for a pint of wheat beer, drunk at Boat Quay while listening to a fabulous band of middle aged English and Canadian dudes, who made me happy with Rolling Stones and such classic rock, and even indulged my request for Queen. Those are the experiences that I enjoyed so much in the US, and which I have as yet been unable to recreate in India. Great live music, a laid back atmosphere, good food and drink…these are the things that make me feel content. Boat Quay was also the site of an incredible Italian meal. My friend had a savory crepe and I ordered something I have not found on any menu in Bangalore or Chennai–Risotto (in a mushroom and white wine sauce). And to start with, he and I shared a blue cheese dip that was served with warm, crusty bread: mmmm, heavenly! And with a price tag of about S$ 65, it was not an expensive meal, given the quality and the locale.
The next night I had a totally VIP experience. My college roommate is friends with the Executive Chef of a fancy restaurant–the kind of place you go to see and be seen. This particular place, called Ku De Ta (it exists in HK too, and soon will be in Bangkok), was atop the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, and offered an unbeatable aerial view of the city. The previous day my friend and I had gone on the Singapore River Boat Cruise and he had pointed out Marina Bay Sands as home to a really spectacular swimming pool that traversed the length of the building and from the end of which one felt like one was floating above the Singapore skyline. Little did I imagine that the following night I would be able to experience this phenom firsthand! We started off at the outdoor eating area of the Ku De Ta restaurant, but thanks to my friend’s “in”, we got into the exclusive club, on the house, in the VIP section, which translated to us sitting adjacent to the Infiniti Pool! The food we had was gourmet and luscious, and since a large number of tapas style dishes made its way to our table, I can only say they all looked and tasted amazing. Tuna, Scallops, Salmon, Black Cod, Pork Belly Salad, Squid, Eggplant, Mushrooms, Fried Rice—the list was never-ending! And having the Chef send out a selection of desserts with his compliments was the finishing touch to a grand meal. Strawberries, Coconut, Mango, Chocolate, and more was passed around our table as the five of us made loud oohs and aahs and shamelessly dug in. For me personally, the excellent white and red wines I had also contributed greatly to my enjoyment of the evening and my meal. Good wine at a less than exorbitant price is not something I have found to date, locally.
The cap to my VIP travel was that I got upgraded to first class on my return flight, which on the Singapore-Chennai sector, is a blessing! Not that it redeems Air India in my eyes, given the earlier drama and of course, the fact that every single flight I was on (Chennai-Sing, Sing-Chennai and Chennai-Bangalore) was delayed. I was in Chennai for about 9 hours, from 11pm on Sunday night, during which time I got to see and hang out with my best friend, her husband and his friends, so even though I landed back in Bangalore on Monday late morning supremely sleep deprived and having to take the morning off from work thanks to lateness of the flight, I am so glad I at least got that time with her. Oh, and having Sunil Gavaskar and Harsha Bhogle walk past, literally inches from my nose at Chennai airport, was quite entertaining, too!
This is part I of II of my Singapore adventures, since I ate multiple times at this outdoor food court called Newton Food Center, a mere 3 minute walk from my uncle’s apartment. I indulged in my love of noodles and duck and tried all the local specialties. All freshly prepared and quite divine! So for that, do check in again next week…
Ed: The front cover photo is from Gung. A big thanks to Duncan for taking the photos on this page.