Year 2012. I have just posted something about the transformation Malmö City in Sweden has done in the old shipyard area and how they managed to give to the city tax payers a huge beautiful water front otherwise impossible to reach. This time I want to turn your attention to the other side of the world in South East Asia. Singapore will this year celebrate its 50th anniversary since its secession from Malaysia in 1965. The forefathers of this small nation-island-city have seen far, unusual far, in their concepts how a country should be; economically stable, organised, clean, friendly, mannered and socially fairly equal. Singapore was just an ordinary island with some nice spots from the British colonial era but that was it. Vagabonds, drug dealers, society parasites, mafia groups, extorters, prostitution and crime was ravaging when they took over from Malaysia governance.
Plans for the city to make it a modern and functional island were made but with vision to keep, the most they could, of the island historical places, facts and artefacts. The city has been expanding to a garden. Singapore is in itself a huge garden. In normal circumstances an island of that size with 5 million people living in it would be a real mess as it happens so often in big cities and specially in South East Asia. Not in Singapore. They keep transforming old areas into gardens while in many places around the world it gives rise to monsters made of concrete. Yes, there are also concrete monsters, and the picture shows one, but most of them have been planned to accommodate some kind of gracious environmental look, if we can say so in modern times. The area we can see in the photo I took in 2012 was part of the old shipyard and container port for which Singapore is still famous. Instead of building massive construction projects which can be very appealing in such small island, the modern leaders are following their forefathers and transformed the place in a huge new garden, Gardens by the Bay is called, with auditoriums, museums and environment interpretation centres. In all and after all we can still breath in Singapore. In all big cities I have been working and staying in Asia Singapore was the only city I could run in its streets, make rounds of the island and breath without fear for its mess and pollution. Accidents occasionally happen when running and having said so I tested this nation-city-island in something I would not believe it could actually happen anywhere in the world.
Since December 2011 I was in Singapore professionally assigned to a project of the company I was working for. I regularly do my jogging after work, an average of 10km by five days a week. I have had a surgery on my left meniscus the year before and was doing good after my convalescence period. I was already into my 5th month of full training the day I decided to go for another daily training from the Holiday Inn Parkview till the entrance of the new Gardens by the Bay at Marina Bay by contouring the Hotel/Casino Marina Bay Sands shown in the picture. If you have read my post The Durians you will understand the following.
It was Friday 17th March. As customary on Saturdays I would go for a even longer training, stretching it above 20km, because I knew the day after I had other things to do, it was my birthday. I felt fit and challenged a Spanish colleague to come with me but at the last minute he declined, so I went alone which was rather normal, not the other way around. All went as planned and keeping a 4m45s pace made me feel physically in great conditions. I left Marina Bay and turned to Raffles Hotel on Raffles Boulevard to continuous my jogging through Bras Basah Road which turns into the famous Orchard Road, the shopping paradise as it is known. When I crossed the Singapura Plaza my Garmin clocked the 20th kilometre and with 1km more to go I still felt great. I crossed the crowded front square of the Presidential Palace and just ahead I turned to the right at Buyong Road which would lead to Cavendish Road and then the hotel. My head was busy with thoughts inclusive about the Swan Lake Ballet performance I would see the day after to celebrate my birthday. Apart from that I was thinking about the dinner I would have with friends this night and eat some Italian pasta which would be perfect to put back the 16o0 calories I was burning at this precise moment.
I look again at my Garmin and it clocked 6:18pm. After turning to the right at Buyong Road the pedestrians path paved of asphalt starts to narrower before linking to a wider path and again made of concrete. In less than a second, at this precise place where both paths linked, I went to the ground without having time to protect the fall with my hands. I was nocked down and found myself with the impression something had happen to my left eyeball! It took me some seconds to realize what had happen and what to do in case something went wrong with my body. Buyong Road is an isolated secondary road common pedestrians do not use so no one saw me, no one could help me. Most of finger tips, in both hands, were scratched by the last minute attempt to prevent from hitting the ground directly with my face. I sat for a while to assess the consequences. My running shirt had a hole on my right shoulder and consequently I had a huge bruise under it. My knees were heavily kaput and I thought again about my meniscus… My right upper leg was scratched. Bleeding was happening from all the bruises I could see or feel. But the most dangerous and scary scratch I had was the one under my left eye and the one between my upper lip and my nose. Without seeing the damages I had in my face I just though one thing; God thanks for letting think to leave my eye glasses in the Hotel Front Desk at the last minute just before starting my warm-up exercises!
I painfully walked to the hotel, at a pace I could, which was some five hundred metres away. Singapore has a steady 30 degrees celsius temperature and 100% relative humidity average across the year so my running shirt was naturally soaked in sweat. I took it off while walking to stop the bleeding in my face but the salty sweat motivated me to take it out from the bruises right away because it hurt like hell! When I arrived at the lobby of the Holiday Inn hotel the customers on the lobby looked at me as if they were seeing the green hulk and that made me even more scared because I had not yet seen the damages done on my face. Coincidently the Key Account Manager of the company I was working for was just there talking with some customer apparently from Saudi. Linq was her name, she ran to me and pointing to my face asked what had happen. She was just worried this would be a hit-and-run by a crazy driver. I told her this was my problem and nothing to report, I just made a wrong step while running. Please give me some oxygenated water, if you have, and I will go to the hospital after shower. She brought me a towel to cover my stripped torso and led me to the elevator helping me with the her master key because I could hardly touch something with my finger tips. She kindly communicated with the Housekeeping Manager to open the Suite Room the hotel had generously provided me for my long stay. As far as I remember this was the most painful shower I ever had in my life. But I was very aware that in tropical countries bacteria grows at an incredible pace and therefore I should not behave like a chicken. Instead, I opened the cold water as much possible it can be in these countries, put a face towel in my mouth, bit it hard to help to support the incoming pain and clean all my body and wounds without fear and force in order to clean the pieces of asphalt, sand and dust from under the skin before I could reach the hospital. Only after that did I look at my face. Oh, God! My left eye was already turning very red though no indications of inner damages, just burning but burning like fire. By then my upper lip had swollen like a boxer after 5 heavy punches though no damage in my teeth.
Arrived in the hospital with my passport and vaccination booklet in hands – which I always made sure to be up to date – and checked-in at the Emergency counter. I went through all he formalities and taken good care without waiting to long. The health care in Singapore is a social benefit for all documented citizens and consequently free but not in my case. I left with a bill of 250SGD and was to return to change all pads and so some other check-ups 4 days later.
When I arrived in my hotel room I had one big cake, a bottle of wine and some chocolates with a card saying; this is not about your birthday Mr Barros, but an apology in name of Singaporeans for what had happen to you. We hope you get better soon and can run again in our streets. I was feeling miserable and although the doctor said to avoid water near my wounds I could not stop my tears from running down after reading this warm and so gentle note. Why isn’t the whole world always like this when someone is suffering, I was lost in these thoughts until the pain caused by my tears reminded what had happen one and half hour before…
Obviously I cancelled my dinner with friends and had my past at the hotel lounge instead.
The day after I waked up at my normal time on the weekends, 8:00am. I took my breakfast and decided to go to the crime scene afterwards to assess the situation and try to understand what had happened to me. After all I have been running almost all my life since I was teen and had never fall this way. I took the left side after leaving the lobby of the Holiday Inn and crossed the overpass to the other side of Cavenagh Road to walk down alongside the Presidential Palace fence on the Southwest side. When I arrived to the spot I realised that the junction between the narrow pedestrians path made of asphalt and the wider pedestrians path made of concrete was uneven being my front jogging side slight higher. So I hit the bevel on the concrete side and bummm!
Mostly for professional reasons I’ve been staying long periods in Singapore many times since 2003 and knew, by experience for other reasons, the public services worked. To be honest the level difference between both paths is rather common in cities, perhaps a bit higher for Singapore standards but rather very normal for the common cities around the world in countries known by having good safety standards. Nevertheless I decided to test the Singaporean Government because I actually have this habit to challenge the authorities in anything related to the benefits back the tax payers should have. I believe the silent will surely not help to improve in any way, anything, anywhere. I went back to my hotel room and searched in the internet for State Departments. I found Land Authority and read that they were responsible for any road work in the whole Singapore. Found a feedback link and sent them an email explaining what had happen. I did not claim but reported and asking them how does these kind of accidents, due to road work imperfections, works related to costs. Believe me, I honestly did not expect any answer. We are used to silent it when it comes to authorities in a broad sense at high level, but…
…the answer came 3 days after my email. On 21st March I got an email from a road work company to whom this area is sub-commissioned. They answer my email with cc to the Land Authority of Singapore and asked me details of where exactly and to be as much precise as possible so they could assess the place. As they have behaved with responsibility and politeness I decided to be the most cooperative possible and went back to the crime scene and counted the steps from the red traffic light of the South corner between Orchard Road and Buyong Road till the exactly point. The distance is 194 steps in my walking stride, I told them.
Two weeks later, when I expected nothing more, I received a new email communicating me that the surface has been repaired and levelled. They asked me if I was in the area to please kindly check which I did upon arrival from work on that day. It was perfect!
To my biggest surprise they sent me an email 1 month later asking me the hospital receipts, taxis and other expenses related to the accident to be reimbursed. Wow! I found this amazingly responsible! As a matter of fact the company’s insurance covered these kind of accidents while traveling and the claims have been made to my company instead.
I remember the day after when I went to see the Swan Lake Ballet most of theatre goers were looking at my face… and perhaps thinking I have had a rough night in some bar of the city…
I also remember to walk back to the hotel after the Ballet performance, and after crossing the same smashing spot, thinking why can’t this world be this much perfect… a more polite and respectful society would make this a better place to live in.