Imagine, two cities worlds apart. You fly from one to the other, leaving a world of poverty, dirt, and crowded roads for intense cleanness, organization, and streets that work. Here’s a tale of a pair of such places.
The taxi pulls in front of my hotel in Paharganj near New Delhi’s Train Station. Tons of horn honks greet me as I avoid the onslaught of cars, tuk-tuks, pedicabs, motos, and people all vying for space. I make it into my hotel, a refuge from the chaos outside.
Later, I try to cross the street. Looking in all directions, I make my way through the almost continuous traffic. Honks surround me—heaps of garbage line the road. Smells of rotting garbage compete with delectable aromas from spices escaping the restaurants, most too dingy to eat in. Dives stretch along the road, with dark, tiny lobbies repelling potential customers.
I enter my tiny, windowless room in Singapore’s Chinatown. It’s quiet and cheap for expensive Singapore, but no bathroom. Where do I put my luggage? It costs almost four times a nicer room in Malaysia. The washroom is far. The other guests cannot keep it clean. Outside, the traffic moves with great efficiency. No one honks their horn. High fines keep the streets clean. Even feeding the pigeons can net you a S$10,000 fine.
An efficient metro system whisks people to their destinations. Modern malls line Orchard Street. No hovels here. Girls in short dresses carry their latest acquisitions while people fill high-end cafes.
I venture into one of Delhi’s lanes. It’s dark, even by day. Almost everyone is male. I go further into the uninviting filth, driven by curiosity. What did they say about the cat? Hole-in-the-wall stores populate the decrepit alleys. A rat darts by. I retreat to the main drag.
A modern skyline arises from Singapore’s Bay. The highrises mingle with traditional shop houses, all kept in good shape. Hawker centers provide cheap, good food, some of it better than nearby restaurants for a much lower price. I can’t avoid feeling a sterility from something just a little too perfect.
I try to cross a busy street in Delhi. Stop lights exist, but don’t work. I look all ways, trying to spot a vehicle or even the occasional ox cart that could run me down. I think of a giant video game, with objects coming at me that I must shoot down or evade. It’s an adrenalin rush combined with fear.
Buildings, crying for renovation, line the road. An earthquake would bring the whole thing down, but somehow, they still stand. Most are a rat’s paradise. I soon venture over to Connaught Place, the antithesis of old Delhi. White colonial buildings house smart shops full of monied locals. The odd beggar breaks the illusion.
Two cities, two worlds, two experiences back to back, that’s what travel is about. Which do you Prefer?