Down Town shows the start of China Town next to massive banking headquarters
**New** A new section in the blog is going to be called “Details” and will list all the places we went and stayed. We hope this will help those interested in doing similar things!
One of the first things that hits you on arrival to Singapore airport is the intense cold. Litres of Icy cold air is blasted at you from almost all directions from a myriad of air-conditioning machines the size of skyscrapers and it is quite nice to get outside and experience a little heat for a while. Air-conditioning has been taken to new heights by the Singaporeans, indeed the entire Tube system is frosty cold conditioned, as is every single mall and many of the pavement steps surrounding them. To walk around Singapore is to be blasted by heat and cold at such extremes you wonder if you have wandered into a new form of torture.
Speaking of torture. One possible definition of torture, albeit not a very useful one, is that torture is the feeling that happens when Quantas have lost your luggage in the hottest/coldest city on the planet and you don’t have any clean underwear. This is not a particularly useful definition because A) it could be dread you’re experiencing and not torture and that B) it doesn’t allow for the chance that Quantas will reunite you with your luggage so quickly that you almost don’t realise that it is gone. The first objection here is an accusation of sloppy thinking but the second is understandable as it is quite clearly, utterly ludicrous…
Quantas: Hello, Mr Bell?
Quantas: Quantas lost property here sir, we have found your bag in London sir.
James: I was on a Sydney to Singapore flight last night…
Quantas: I know that sir, but we apologise and will have the bag delivered to your hotel first thing in the morning.
… and they did!
Our first day in the city was spent trying to acclimatise to the heat by walking around the standard tourist fair of the Raffles hotel and the China Town district. Raffles is now so famous that it is great danger of undergoing some sort of total reality failure and being bought up by Disney and turned into a theme park. It is uniformly packed with tourists all ordering the same drink and leaving once they see the cost of the bill. Next to that the somewhat preserved charms of China town (once the worlds foremost whore district) is quite a relief. Like all China Towns everywhere it is stuffed to the gills with small side streets, lined with masses of one room stores and has a market selling only “original” Chinese fair at knockdown prices. Just walking around such places can become a fraught experience, but I find it fun for a few hours. At one end sits one of the largest and most impressive Buddhist temples I have ever seen. 5 floors with a cafe, library, shops and a giant golden statue of the great man himself sitting and smiling away. It is also the only temple I have been to with armed police guards patrolling and warning those who haven’t read how to behave in such places to cover up, or prevent photography of the ceremonies in progress.
A full on Buddhist ceremony is quite a sight with priests singing, bonging metal bowls and flicking holy water at all and sundry.
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum
Another famous sight in China town is found later at night. Singapore is a champion of street food. Hawkers sell every possible type of dish, all cooked up immediately in front of you, and all fresh as the daisy. The choice is baffling, but we finally settled on a classic Hong Kong style meal that boasted all the major food groups and came to only £7 for both of us. I thought such a street was a one-off, but the next night we went to a old Victorian building that had been converted into 300+ hawker stalls organised into 10 “streets” around a central hub filled with tables. That was a sight.
Hawker food on Smith Street
I immediately made tracks to a Japanese stall and bought some noodles, but Cesca (who takes a lifetime to chose anything) was wandering around for half the night before settling on one dish. She brought it back to the table and I looked at it. Cesca, given almost infinite choice, had selected the dish comprised mainly of squid. That she is very allergic to. I pointed this out to her and she went off in search of a less terminal meal.
One thing about Singapore that nobody could mistake is that it is very technology advanced. For a start the entire city is blanketed in free WIFI, something of which the people here take full advantage of. I walked into Starbucks and saw at least twenty laptops of various designs being used to surf the net over coffee. The tube is also packed the gills with young people using advanced electronics like an advert for globalisation. Amongst the switched on throng I spotted one guy wearing an Apple hat, listening to a iPhone and playing a PlayStationPortable.
A nice bar near Raffles serves European beers to those taken with the heat
Such wealth separates the haves from the have-nots. Singapore has a very long history of money making and being a city where you “can make it”, but I found plenty of those who had been trampled by such experience. The glitter and glam may hide it, but it is there. For example, visiting a provincial post office introduced a number of local characters all not living the dream. In many respects Singapore is like London, which it apes. There is a massive collection of British architecture around the city and not just Raffles.
To get away and get a bit of perspective we paid a visit to the art gallery and museum. Here a special exhibition had been setup displaying some amazing pieces from the Transcendence: Modernity and Beyond in Korean Art collection. This mighty mouthful of a title was well deserved as the collection covered all sorts of ground. It included animated paintings (probably done in Flash), which changed slowly to reflect seasons. So, one minute the painting is of a Chinese landscape in summer, the next it is in winter with snow falling. Very beautiful. All in all we loved the experience.
Next came the Asian Civilisations museum, which showcases not only the history of Singapore (very interesting – with lots of video) but the history of the entire SE Asia. This fantastically well put together museum covered Taoism (Daoism), Buddhism’s spread through the lands, the rise of Red in China (spooky) and a few good videos about Islamic art (I.E. writing art). Both are well worth a visit.
That night we went to the bright colours of Little India and had a great curry before making our plans to get out of the city.
Little India – Big dinner!
The best way to enter Malaysia is over the bridge joining it to Singapore. This is accomplished by catching a bus that drops you off at the border and waits for you as you negotiate the customs men. Luckily the bus left from nearby to our hostel and we got up early in the morning to catch it. A quick breakfast of Mc Donalds (yuk) and we were on our way.
Singapore is a very interesting city, but not for me. Not anymore. After the large open spaces of New Zealand I didn’t handle the bright lights too well and thus I eagerly watched the bridge to Malaysia come closer into view.
More to come!
Basho and Cesca stayed at One Florence Close (MRT: Kovan) See http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g294265-d938939-Reviews-One_Florence_Close-Singapore.html
Travel around Singapore is best by the tube service (MRT) that takes a few Singapore Dollars as a deposit and gives you a plastic rechargeable card for your journeys. Remember to get your deposit back!
The Transcendence: Modernity and Beyond in Korean Art collection is on until March 2009. Nearest tube is Raffles. See http://www.nhb.gov.sg/SAM/
The Asian Civilisations Museum is near the river. Nearest MRT is City Hall. See http://www.acm.org.sg/home/home.asp