What's a global gent like myself to do on a Saturday in a city on the complete opposite side of the world from home? And who may have just gotten paid. To the casino!
I have been gambling before, but am generally not a gambling person. I like wasting my money and getting something definitive in return: music. a good meal. a book. And gambling is essentially paying a place for the privilege of giving them your money, based on the possibility that you MIGHT come out ahead. But there's a new casino in Singapore, and the building looks cool and I'm told it's something I have to go see. Mandarin Bay Sands, and Skypark, are a huge complex right on the edge of the island. It's three hotel towers, topped by a horizontal piece with trees and such (this is the Skypark), and then a bunch of shops and the casino. It's large, it's modern, and it's very impressive.
To get there I took my first trip on their subway, the MRT. Unlike bus schedules and their mass of confusing numbers, train maps to me are really easy to me. It's a fairly uneventful trip, and their subway is just like every other city train you've been on. The main exception is that on the platform, you can't see the track. Where the ledge would be is just a wall with sliding glass doors. No jumpers on these tracks, buddy. (It's a bit like the airport trains, now that I think about it). And buying a ticket is interesting- there's a map just beneath the monitor, and when you buy a ticket you press down on the destination on the map. You then get a ticket for that destination.
It's a short walk from the station to the casino. Aside from the likelihood of losing money, the casino had one other feature that rubbed me the wrong way: locals have to pay to get in. You have to bring your passport to the casino, and there are two lines. One for foreigners, one for locals. Locals have to pay $100 just to get in the door. I get it, but it's not something I'm totally on board with. And I'm not sure if I'm more or less on board when I saw that there were quite a few locals going in. Not only do they check your passport, they checked it more thoroughly than customs did. I wonder how many people are using fake passports to get into a casino these days anyway.
I'm in, and it's time to find some blackjack. I foolishly stop at a slot machine first, because look at the pretty shiny lights and the beeping and...must...play. Slot machines are stupid. If it was as simple as 'money here, pull lever' I'd be okay. But slot machines are nothing like that these days (though they do have the lever, in case you want to be retro). They have buttons to determine whether you're betting 2x, 5x, 10x, and so on. And there there are other buttons that are '50 lines, or '100 lines'. And you have to put your money in, decide on a combination of those buttons, and go. It's ridiculously confusing, and the whole process is measured in credits. They lure you in with a big "5 cents!" sign, but then when you sit down you notice the minimum bid is $2.50, measured in 5 cents. I note to myself that these people probably have advertising degrees. It takes me all of about 3 spins to lose $10. But hey- I won $1.25 in the process. WHICH, I may add, they don't pay you in coins. They print out a receipt that you've got to take to the cashier.
Slot machine ripoff out of the way, it's time to find blackjack. Blackjack is an idiots game. It takes zero skill. There is just a set pattern of what to do, and you follow it. You look at your cards, you look at the dealers card, and you either hit or stay depending on what each is. Sure, you could "gamble" and take a chance and do something else, but other players get mad at you if you do. "The dealer had 3! And you had 14 and you HIT!? You're supposed to stay! Aaaarrrrgghhh!" At stores near casinos, you can almost always buy a credit-card sized piece of paper that tells you what to do (hit or stay) depending on what your cards are. It takes like 5 seconds to learn and memorize.
So this is my gambling. And I'm not in the mood to lose lots of money, though I got $200 from the ATM. I'm scoping out for $5 tables- these are the tables where it costs $5 to play one hand. There are none. Nor are there $10 tables. Or $20. I'm not sure if it's because it's Saturday, but the cheapest tables are $25. And there's only like four of them. The others are all $50 and up. Grrrrrr. At $25 a hand, and $200 in my pocket, I can afford to lose 8 hands. Eight. Losing eight hands in a row isn't suuuuper likely, but it's a definite possibility. And 8 hands will take approximately 2 minutes. So I am now realistically looking at the possibility of an "afternoon" of blackjack being over in less times than it takes to find a parking space. (and yes, for the record, I considered putting a 'your mom' joke in the 'less time' line just now). So, heart racing like I'm taking a test I'm not prepared for, I start playing. It was stressful, though ultimately uneventful. I ended up leaving down about $15. I was only ever up as much as $50, and never down more than $50. I couldn't tell you how long it took. In the end, I'm glad I left without losing more, since the only real long term outcome is to lose it all.
Now I decide that last night's dinner of Cool Ranch Doritos (what? I was excited to find them) has worn off, and I'm starving. I head back through the mall shops, and follow the signs to the food court for something hopefully cheap.
What I find is indeed cheap, as far as Singapore goes. It's a row of food places, and there are pictures of every meal you can order on the wall. Apparently these were all different food places, with registers every so often to indicate where one store began and another ended. To me though, it might as well have been one big restaurant. I walk around for like 15 minutes trying to decide. I'm skipping the one over there, because it has birds hanging in a case and they're...well, they're smiling happy, if you get my drift. Yucky. I'm also skipping that one, as their display has what looks to be a small fish completely just dipped in breading and fried. And by 'completely', I mean it looks like they just caught it from the river and fried it up. It has all its fins and everything. So yeah, not having that. I order some prawns and noodles, and it's here I notice that there's not a drink menu. And there's no soda machine back there. And I'm super thirsty. Surely I've missed something....I mean, people drink with their meals right? I look for a place to sit, and...no. No, they do not apparently drink with their meals. It's a full blown food court- tables, lots of people. And none of them have drinks. Everyone happily eating away, friends, families, kids, old people. I would guess maybe 150 people, and probably 3 of them have anything to drink. And they've got bottled water. Oh man, I'm going to die. My throat is closing up. I've never wanted something to drink more than right now. And yet I'm way starving, I've GOT to eat. So I eat my yucky watery noodles and prawns with their heads and antenna still attached. And then it's off to find something to drink.
This mall is a desert. It has a freaking river- with boats- in the middle of it. You know what it doesn't have? A water fountain. I pass 3 bathrooms, and not a single water fountain. I walk about a hundred stores, and none of them serve drinks. Possibly the ice cream store, but as it was $10 for a tiny kids cup, I wasn't going to ask, because screw them.
Ladies and gentleman, I walked 20 minutes back to my apartment. I walked straight into that 7-11 around the corner and served myself the biggest Big Gulp that 7-11 had ever served. That Coke was the sweet nectar of life. I should've tipped the cashier I was so happy.