Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A not-so-lonely planet

A not-so-lonely planet.
Traveling is fun. More so when it’s with your kids who are wide-eyed and learning to expand their horizons. I took my two boys on a short vacation in the Lion City.

I’ve gone to Guadalajara, Mexico to watch luchadore wrestling all the while chugging down Tecate in an effort to show the locals I wasn’t some lost tourist. I’ve gone on a tour of haunted houses in San Diego that was half a dare and half plain silliness. I’ve paid several hundred dollars for a black market ticket to a Juventus-AC Milan game at the San Siro in an act that put a severe crimp on my spending power but was an act I will remember ‘til my dying day. Go, Juve!!!

I love traveling and experiencing new cultures and although I have yet to run with the Bulls in Pamplona, I feel I’m ready to be a host for the Lonely Planet.

While that isn’t a far-fetched dream, I got to be Ian Wright for a few days with my two sons in Singapore.

It isn’t their first time abroad. But the last time they went was nine years ago. The reason it took that long again was I felt that they lacked the maturity to fully appreciate the joys of traveling. Back then it was go to Toys ‘R Us then go back to the hotel room. Somehow, traveling with a pair of young tykes can put the killjoy in things. You simply aren’t able to maximize the experience.

Rick’s Rules in Traveling #3 – no fastfoods! I know they are money savers but puh-leeze! I’m going to barf the next time I deign to chomp on a McDonald’s burger. When in Rome, or more appropriately, when in Singapore – we go to Bugis and Geylang for Indian food, to Food Republic for chicken rice, we go to Lau Passat for sate and other hawkers’ street food, and we go to Clarke Quay for Balinese and Mediterranean cuisine.

But before we had a chance to sate our stomach’s desires, there was a reality check when my youngest son, Anthony, tugged at my arm and said, “Dad, it’s clean here. Unlike in Manila…”
And later still, “Dad, that’s the fifth Mercedes Benz taxi I’ve seen…”

I thought that was very observant and it justified my earlier reasons for waiting for them to be a little older. It reminded me in fact of my first time abroad (in Hong Kong) and I saw an Aston Martin in one of those mansions around Victoria Peak. “Dad, I just saw James Bond’s car!” I exclaimed with such fanboy abandon that it was almost as if I had seen Sean Connery.

And that leads to Rule #1: Know the lay of the land. I told my boys to pick up all those tourist brochures they were giving out at the airport. Once we got to my cousin’s place where we were staying for the trip, I had them pour through the map and look for MRT stops. Perhaps from one end to end, the total drive time through the Lion City will amount to 45 minutes. To go around will take a little longer. With those bearings in mind, it’s to look for Orchard Road as a point of reference in the same manner that 5th Avenue divides Manhattan into the East and West sides.

I taught them how to travel via MRT, read the map, refund tickets, and wait on the sides of the exits of the train in order to first let out the commuters before entering – something that my quite observant son quipped about: “Dad, they’re kind of disciplined here!”

You and me – it’s good to learn something new everyday.

And for my kids, it also meant a history lesson while walking around the Esplanade, Merlion Park, and riding the bump boat right through the heart of Singapore.

But perhaps the one realization about this city-state is that the island is one huge mall. Again it was something that wasn’t lost on my son who gave up counting the number of Mango stores after he finagled store number six. “How can there be so many Mango stores? Do they sell something everyday?”

Unable to answer that, we went up to the Tourist Information officer at SunTec City to just to satisfy our common interest. The tourism official seemed flabbergasted. “Ask me where Toys R Us is. Or ask me where to get the best sate. But I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that!”

At this point I figured he was ready to pull his hair out then he mumbled: “Maybe so. Maybe so.”

I saved my son from being a fashionista. We instead spent our hard-earned dollars at HMV, Kinokuniya, Borders, and all that merchandise from Universal Studios.

At times during the trip, I wondered who was more excited – my kids or I. When Woody Woodpecker came walking down the road in Universal Studios, I gawked and pulled my kids for a picture. And I guess, in that picture, you could very well surmise who was the kid here.

All throughout we interacted with people of different races. At the Night Safari, we sat beside this family from Arizona and had a great time chatting with them. At Universal Studios, we found ourselves going through the same rides and displays as this family from India. While pausing from our tour on a hot Wednesday afternoon, we sat by the banks of Clarke Quay and ate ice cream with some Dutch tourists.

We maximized those four days going around that I wondered after a while if they were going through a sensory overload. The thing is – never underestimate your kids. At the end of our stay, they didn’t even want to go home.

As we boarded our plane for our flight home, my youngest son once more tugged at my arm said thank you and asked, “Are we going abroad this Christmas?”

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