Category Archives: Singapore

Day 02 – Singapore

It’s not as hot as expected. Permanently overcast and a bit sticky, but nothing unbearable at all.Today I went out to the Botanic Gardens (not Botanical) with a girl and guy I met at the hotel (Sophie from Holland and Valeria from Italy). Travelled by super-clean and super efficient MRT (subway).

The paths were lined with Christmas trees decorated by local kids in rather off-the-wall and recycle-friendly ways. I particularly like the one by the Russian church (I think) which was hung with baubles with the face of Yuri Gugarin stuck on, and rockets made out of silver-painted water bottles. We spent most of the time in the Evolution Garden which told the history of plant life, but overdid it a bit with concrete replicas of primordial trees and dinosaur footprints on the concrete path.

After those 2 left for lunch I wandered through the rain forest area then headed down to the bus stop. But had no idea where to go next.

The bus took me to where I wasn’t expecting, and a Chinese guy, whose help I didn’t want, insisted on showing me where I could go. Trouble was he couldn’t read the map. Ive found that a lot in Asia, that people cannot read maps. I found myself heading past some tower blocks and into China town.

Pausing at a food court to get a bargain plateful of vege Chinese food, some of which I have no idea of its name or components. Yum.

Over the road was the 5-storey Chinese Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. No teeth in sight but quite a lot of Buddhas.

Actually, it was spectacular. More or less next door was the  Sri Mariamman Krsna Temple, equally amazing, ornately painted Vishnu, and cows, resplendent against the backdrop of high-rise hotels and financial offices.

Smith Street was the centre for prostitutes and opium dens in the 1920’s, but now its pretty painted shuttered Chinese houses are hidden by a street-long canopy  built to protect the open-air Chinese market, where I bought nothing. It’s all very similar to Malaysia, so i have to say, so far nothing new, but nevertheless, very pleasant. Reassuringly alien, yet familiar.

I bussed it back to Victoria Road, near the hotel, and found myself looking over a low wall into a rambling graveyard (the religion is not clear, but certainly not Christian). My photographic curiosity got the better of me and drew me into the scrubby garden lined with almost identical and un-inscribed grave markers. As I went deeper I found a ruined building, open to the sky with trees and creepers wrapped around it. I suddenly looked right and there appearing from some trees and eyeing me was a big tan skinny dog. A stray. To my relief he was alone and, probably surprised to see anyone on his patch, he trotted away. It was then I realized my legs were being bitten. Bugs, or worse in the prickly tough tropical grass. Time to shower and put on some cream.

This led to a tropical collapse and sleep for several hours.

In the evening I wanted to catch some of the crazy modern towers at dusk by the harbour. Distance and sheer number of amazing views delayed my progress. In fact i didn’t really know where I was heading. Just guided by the space occupied by malls, hotels, offices, main roads and over-passes. Rain fell lightly and I found my route coming to an end, so I strode through a fashion mall where the shops were just closing. If it was KL or BKK I think they would have been hectically crowded at that time.

Headed to Little India by underground, changing at a fabulous multi-layered spartan clean chrome open-plan interchange with a constant soundtrack of multi-lingual reminders about rubbish, drinking and eating on the network.

Tonight India was different. Shops were open, the gatherings of moustachioed men weren’t there, I had chappatis and curry then visited the Sri Veeramakaliallam Temple, where blessings, offerings and prostrations were in full swing. Food was being sold and Brahmans were collecting limes from devotees and marking their foreheads with ash. A bell was rung and 2 musicians began to play, one a handheld drum with 2 tones, the other an Indian pipe of some kind, the length of an oboe, and looking perfect for charming snakes. i sat and watched, the only white face there, knowing from experience not even to try to take pictures. Committing it all to memory instead.

After hunting down a samosa, ambled back to the hotel for rest and to consider my moves for tomorrow.

Hope I can upload some photos soon.

Day 03 – Last One in Singapore

Haven’t slept that deeply for a long time: was it the jet-lag or the equatorial fugue after I turned off the air-con? Can never sleep with it on, chilling me, sounding like a fridge too.

Those bites on my calves seem to be similar to what I got in the Cameron Highlands last year. I think it’s some kind of allergic reaction. The anti-histamine is turning them into bright red plague spots. At least they don’t itch, but I’m conscious of something under my skin. I’ll give it one more day before I seek a pharmacist.

Today the sky was blue…for a short time and with it very hot sun. This was what I had expected. That meant I got no further than the Sultan Mosque at the end of our street. Wrapped in an electric blue gown to make my legs more acceptable to the prophet, I spent a cool 30 minutes or so admiring the carpet, the inscriptions and neon score boards.

Keeping to the shade I walked 10 minutes to the Sin Lim Square mall to research camcorder prices. Here I met 2 methods of sale: the first one gave up when I told him my price ceiling, the second, between expecorisations, offered me a better and better deal, telling me that they needed the money to fix the ceiling to the shop and carpet it (better for dropped cameras!). I don’t like pressured sales, and even if the price was really good and there were freebies thrown in, I managed to walk away. I had only wanted to find out prices after all, and certainly needed to shop around.

By now hungry. I found a veggie Chinese restaurant and made the mistake of ordering from the menu instead of taking stuff from the buffet as usual. It turned out disappointing and small and a bit boring (mock chicken fried in oats with mango). Then, the waitress tried to give me another dish of sushi rolls that I hadn’t ordered and she didn’t have the English to understand the situation (luckily a guy at the next table translated for me). At least there was a view: passing shoppers, although all smart and good looking, strange how unassuming and characterless they all look. Got into another confusion over the bill, but walked away finally, still a bit peckish and having spent too much.

The sky was clouding over and the humidity dropping a little. I hopped on a bus for Kent Ridge, my plan being to walk the Southern Ridges and find the crazy bridge I had seen in Lonely Planet.  The ride was long and it transpired that Kent Ridge is a hill  with a large number of Christian schools and a university campus. The terminus at the top of the hill was hot, and there was no obvious place to start a walk, so I bought some water and got on the next bus into town.

In China town I went to the People’s Park Complex. This is the mall and square and court where the Chinese go to eat and shop. The other side of the road on Smith street and Temple Street is where the tourists go.

It’s cleaner, more expensive and not so buzzing. The food court at the People’s Park sells frog stew, pig’s intestine soup, and many other Chinese delights. I got myself some almond pudding (like a milk jelly in a cup), and watched the faces. There were guys in front of department stores demonstrating a new kind of mop, cobblers sitting under umbrellas (it had started to spit) gluing soles and hammering heels, old men playing majong. Great photo subjects.

My next plan was to get among the skyscrapers of the finance district, and jaw-dropping they were. I crossed over to the reclaimed island of Marine Bay and was underneath the building I had seen on the post cards and only glimpsed from the bus. The Marina Bay Hotel: three non-identical, non-vertical towers of 60 or so floors and plonked on top is what looks like a squashed airport fuselage or barrage balloon, which happens to be a sky garden. The shopping mall in front of it was like an immense railway station with its elegant arched curving glazed roof. The hotel itself was even more immense inside. The whole ground floor space being a massive public space with fancy restaurants, a 50m ceiling from which was suspended an Anthony Gormley wire sculpture called “Drift”. The outer walls were beautiful: kinetic surfaces of little metal plates which respond and move and shimmer in the breeze, or to the dribbling stream of water on the side face.

The $20 for the roof-top view was a bit too much, so instead I caught dusk over the bay looking at the finance towers of Citi and Maybank and many other hi-tech edifices, dwarfing the Victorian customs house and the colonial Fullerton Hotel, probably the only survivors of that time on the harbour front. The light was just right and my camera battery lasted just until then to get the picture i had wanted and to see the Singapore we all imagine. In front of the Marina Bay Shoppes is a floating glass pavilion which seems to be a Louis Vuitton showroom. Behind it, flooded with red light and a Cartier logo is the amazing sight of the Science Museum which looks like some giant concrete opening lotus flower. As I reached it I could see a guard of honour of liveried men in red bell-boy hats and jackets and a procession of black-tie-evening-gown couples striding in as if to some film premiere.

The high-tech illuminations on the water didn’t stop there. Next I crossed over the river on the Helix Bridge, which has to be the coolest bridge I’ve ever seen. A graceful enclosed footway with swirling twisting chrome lit with Christmas lights, on each promintory stood on guard a 2.5m reindeer adorned with purple lights. Sounds tacky? not at all.

On the city side of the bay the full scale of the Marina Bay Hotel came into view and it served as the backdrop and platform for a rather half-hearted son et lumiere: Louis Armstrong having all the time in the world as laser beams shot out from the roof of the hotel, the Shoppes roof flashed and glowed a medley of colours and some water jets went whoosh. Walking along back into town among the joggers and families out for an evening stroll i passed in front of the Youth Olympic Park. This is a floating football pitch, an island on the water, overlooked by a single banked tier of terracing on the dry land side. Bizarre. My long trek took me past the Promenade Theatre complex, looking like 2 huge glass durian fruits, the old and new parliament houses and up North Bridge Street. An Indian thali at Funan Square mall, past the awesome Raffles Arcade: amazing colonial housing, the weird art-deco marbled Park View (a hotel?) which looks like something out of Gotham city with its huge statues carrying football like globes of light around the top edge.

A shower was well-needed. Tomorrow is an early start. Another country. And Cyrus.

Day 1 Singapore

After 11 hours on a crowded, and restless Airbus I’m finally in Singapore.

First impressions? Well, the people don’t seem to be interested in you at all, which could be good, but not when you turn up at a B&B and there is nobody there for over 45 minutes. Sleepy Sam’s is on a little street with a huge mosque at the end. I’ve stayed in worse. If it was full I think it would be horrible as I’ve got to walk through the dorm to get to my little cell….

Jet lag isn’t so bad, as it’s evening when I get here so I can go to sleep whenever and not feel like I’ve missed a day. I decided to take a walk to Little India, 10 minutes away. Streets and all outdoor spaces are throbbing and jammed with Indian men in their twenties and thirties, with moustaches and neat shirts with collars. There’s a lively buzz, murmur, like the sea…male voices discussing things of import….No women…so weird. And I’m the only white face around, yet no glances of curiosity, no menace, no calls of “Hey you…” It’s nice to be left alone, but there is a strange feeling of detachment. I hang on to my bag, but have the feeling that this is not a dangerous place. But no police anywhere. I find what I came for: masala dosa and mango lassi, and sit communally in a cheap vege Indian eating place, but still no offers of engagement.

The architecture isn’t dissimilar from Georgetown and KL: colonial Chinese shop houses, but here in better condition, and interspersed with high rise malls, hotels and car parks.

I hang out at a bar on a Chinese food court, drink  beer and see Sunderland go a goal down to Blackburn, the goal scored by some guy with a mask like Leatherface in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The waitress has a limp, and wears a red Carlsberg dress that looks like it was made from a Liverpool shirt. I hesitate to comment..more indiffernce and going through the motions, like everyone here. Withered wizzened Chinese men in vests with fags in their mouths. I wonder how they spend their days. No smiles. Is anyone happy here?

So much for the letter of the law in Singapore. I see Jaywalking, and soon join in too. I see fag butts strewn on the streets and rubbish everywhere. All the signs are in English but I don’t hear a word spoken other than by tourists, or as courteous replies to my requests for information.

The mouse on this computer works back to front and the keyboard is greasy and sticky, so I’ll end here for now.