Man at His Best

First Person: In The Past 5 Days, I Walked Over 60 Kilometres Around Singapore To Catch Pokémon

What 60 kilometres, 1,000 PokéStops, 700,000 XP and over 1,500 Pokémon have taught me.

BY Patrick Chew | Aug 11, 2016 | Culture

The phone rang. It doesn’t usually do that so early on a Saturday morning, so I let it go to voicemail. Thirty seconds later, it rang again. Curious and agitated, I turned my phone over to see who it was—Beatrice Bowers. Damn, could it really? There’s only one reason why she’d call. I sat up immediately to gather myself before answering although I didn’t really need to because, in that moment, I already knew. I knew it was Pokémon Go time. 

Beatrice Bowers is a colleague, who, upon reading an announcement last month, stating that there were no plans to release the app beyond New Zealand, Australia, US and Germany any time soon, collapsed on her desk and proceeded to write an angry open letter to Niantic (the makers of Pokémon Go). That day, the two of us made a pact—as soon as the app is released in Singapore, the first person to find out about it would phone the other with the news. 

Hello?”

“Get the fuck up. It’s out.”

“Okay. Thanks. Bye.”

I sat on my bed with a decision to make—proceed with my long weekend plans (I had taken Monday off) of furniture shopping for my new place or begin the long arduous journey to be the very best that no one ever was. I went with the latter. This is what my journey has taught me. 

***

1 | Singaporeans Have A Newfound Communal Spirit

Because of the countless hours spent sitting beside and listening to a Pokémon Go-obsessed woman in the office, I was a lot more prepared for this than I should have been. That meant that I already knew what I needed to bring along for maximum efficiency. I was ready to set off after a mere 15 minutes of receiving the phone call with Squirtle by my side, a lucky egg and an incense activated and a backpack packed with two 1.5-litre bottles of water, two portable mobile chargers, and two sets of clothes. 

As fate would have it, the Japanese cemetery a few doors away was a Pokémon gym, with six PokéStops around it. It was my first hunting ground, as it was for five other Pokémon Master-wannabes. 

It was then when I suddenly became immensely self-conscious. I don’t want people to think I’m a fucking weirdo, catching Pokémon in a cemetery. But, as I glanced around at the others, it was clear they felt the exact same way. 

Everyone was unsuccessfully pretending to appear as if they were simply taking a refreshing early morning stroll. Only problem was we’d simultaneously feel our phones vibrate, stop dead in our tracks to swipe furiously at our screens, before walking away and acting as if absolutely nothing out of the ordinary had just happened.

We’d simultaneously feel our phones vibrate, stop dead in our tracks to swipe furiously at our screens, before walking away and acting as if absolutely nothing out of the ordinary had just happened.
 

“Did you get the Bulbasaur?”, I asked as I walked past a man. 

“Yeah I did,” he replied instinctively, before realising what he had just replied to and smacked his forehead. “Was I that obvious?”, he asked sheepishly.

“Dude, we’re all obviously catching Pokémon.” 

“Yeah, you’re right. No need to paiseh right?”

We laughed and introduced each other, spent the subsequent 10 minutes catching Pidgeys and Weedles together, before wishing each other luck, shaking hands and walking in separate directions. 

Say what you will, but he’ll forever be remembered as the Brock to my Ash (his real name is Jeremy) and is off somewhere fulfilling his dream of becoming a world-renowned Pokémon breeder.

We laughed and introduced each other, spent the subsequent 10 minutes catching Pidgeys and Weedles together, before wishing each other luck, shaking hands and walking in separate directions.
 

Throughout the day, it was amazing to witness a “change” in Singaporeans—we had, all of a sudden, become a very friendly bunch. The contrast was almost jarring. Strangers who’d typically not even look, let alone bother me (as I them) on the street were now concerned about where I live, what I had been up to and where I had been that day. 

“Oh my god! There’s a Pikachu over here!”, “Let’s take down that gym together”, “What level are you?”, “How many Pokemon do you have?”, “Where were you earlier? Did you catch anything interesting over there?”, two teenage girls asked. 

At that point, the app had only been out in Singapore for less than six hours. 

It’s amusing, yet very heartening to see how, of all things, an app can bring Singaporeans together in a way no flag-waving, patriotic parade or speech has. 

By the first evening, there were Facebook pages and district-specific Whatsapp groups set up with open invitations to form hunting packs for night walks and cycles. Thousands of people were sharing tips and screenshots of rare Pokémon sightings, and banding together for a common goal. 

Sounds vaguely familiar? That’s because we used to have that. When Singapore went up against Pahang in the 1994 Malaysia Cup Final at the Shah Alam stadium, thousands, if not millions of Singaporeans rallied as the twelfth man to cheer on our footballing heroes. 

We had somehow lost that along the way and have been quietly going about our daily routines without so much as an obligatory ‘thanks’ to the lady who packs our takeout lunch. But now, Singaporeans are starting to talk to each other again. 

It all comes down to the app’s genius—accidental or otherwise—decision to make its game mechanics as user-unfriendly as possible (everything from how to fight in a Pokémon gym and catching Pokémon to maximising distance to hatch eggs and evolving Pokémon was unexplained). And that compels you to ask, consult and share tips with strangers you run into in a physical space. 

Pokémon Go is serving as a conversation starter that has the potential to develop friendships, even relationships (I’m waiting for the day I hear about a married couple who met while on their individual Pokémon hunts). It’s a shared passion that, in my opinion, has been missing in Singapore for a long time. 

***

2 | It’s Imperative To Work Pokémon Go Into Your Partner’s Lifestyle—Or Risk Pissing Them The Hell Off

“Please pay more attention to me!” 

I looked up as my eyes focused in on a blurry figure that turned out to be my girlfriend. 

“Why are you taking this so seriously?" She looked at me with the same expression she always has when watching water birth documentaries. 

“It’s for work, okay?” I retorted in smug defiance. 

In my defence, I wasn’t lying. I had covered about 12 kilometres that day, in part, because of this article—the other 90 percent of it was because I was irrevocably hooked on catching Pokémon and had, at the time, just found a quick way to gain XP (catch and evolve as many Pidgeys as possible). 

She spent the rest of the night ignoring me (it might have been the other way around—we have yet to agree on that). 

“How about you give it a shot?” I asked her the following evening. “We’ll put on our walking shoes and head to the park.” 

To which, she saw an opportune moment and seized it, “Let’s go to town instead—I need to shop around for some basics.” 

For the first time in years, I didn’t let out a single complaint while accompanying her from store to store. I’d simply park myself on one of the cushions in the store, give a cursory, yet understanding nod to the gentlemen on my left and right, who would pause to reciprocate the gesture, before collectively looking down to spin and curl more Poké Balls. 

I’m inclined to say that my girlfriend and I have a long, beautiful journey ahead of us—literally. 

***

3 | Magic Happens When You Go Out For A Stroll

I walked a lot. That’s how I chose to play the game instead of camping in an area with three overlapping PokéStops with activated Lure Modules for hours. I powered through leg cramps, sunburn and blisters to register 100 different Pokémon in 5 days and, in doing so, inadvertently lost most of the weight I had put on from years of inactivity, which, now that I think about it, makes me less worried about the next time I let myself go again. 

But more importantly, it taught me the importance of breaking out of a routine and going for a stroll every once in a while. 

A few years ago, I met and had drinks with an Irishman (his name escaped me after our third bottle of pinot noir) who was in transit from Brunei. Throughout our chat, he spoke of his travels and how they’ve brought him to where he is. “I see a problem and I think of ways to fix it,” he explained. This simple theory prompted him to build a fully automated window cleaner after visiting the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. It also sparked an idea to create an automatic washer for sheep after watching sheepherders in Australia. It was all very intriguing stuff. 

It is common practice for well-travelled people to be praised for their broad horizons. And as I offered this Irishman much praise and admiration for his accomplishments, he shrugged and responded, “It’s not because of all these places I’ve been to—it’s because I’m constantly on the move. When I walk, the ideas come.”

It was another simple theory that he brought up, but one that carried with it a lot of truth. The trouble with being stuck behind a desk—something most of us face on a daily basis—is that you’re stuck behind a desk. While I’ve always been skeptical of the ardour with which artists and creatives celebrate the inspirational powers of a stroll, it seems to work. 

For instance, I came up with the pointers and angle for this story while at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. I also thought up various layout configurations for my new bedroom during a midnight stroll from ION Orchard to Potong Pasir. 

And if that fails, at least you’ll encounter beautiful views and interesting people (in the last five days, I chanced upon a water spout in East Coast Park, watched an archery competition on The Float at Marina Bay, witnessed a bunch of teenage boys catch a real-life Magikarp at Fullerton Bay Hotel and bumped into and caught up with an ex-schoolmate whom I’d not seen in over a decade).

That sounds like time very well spent, if you ask me. 

***

My Pokémon Go Journey In Numbers

Day 1
Hunting Spots: Serangoon, Hougang, East Coast Park, MacRitchie Reservoir
Key Captures: Dratini, Rhyhorn, Cloyster, Haunter, Seel, Ponyta, Omanyte, Koffing
Distance Covered: 10.2 kilometres
XP Gained: 128,690 

Day 2
Hunting Spots: Esplanade, Marina Bay Sands, Marina Bay Financial Centre, Kallang, Singapore Indoor Stadium
Key Captures: Butterfree, Jigglypuff, Clarfairy, Onix, Scyther, Abra, Machop
Distance Covered: 16.7 kilometres
XP Gained: 153,227

Day 3
Hunting Spots: Singapore Botanic Gardens, Orchard Road, Somerset, Dhoby Ghaut, Little India
Key Captures: Aerodactyl, Growlithe, Vulpix, Pikachu, Ghastly, Venusaur
Distance Covered: 17.3 kilometres
XP Gained: 169,737

Day 4
Hunting Spots: Singapore Botanic Gardens, River Valley, Robertson Quay, Clarke Quay
Distance Covered: 9.2 kilometres
Key Captures: Magmar, Lapras, Gyarados, Tentacruel
XP Gained: 144,350

Day 5
Hunting Spots: Esquire office, Punggol Waterway Park
Key Captures: The hearts of my co-workers, and a Kadabra. 
Distance Covered: 8.8 kilometres
XP Gained: 139,900