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Singapore Sling

USA | Wednesday, 20 August 2008 | Views [604]

Right, so. Time to fill in the last leg of the journey! The flight to Singapore ended up being a breeze as I was set next to some handsome, young Bali boys that were flying onto Barcelona where they would be working on a cruise ship for eight months. We exchanged travel stories, drinking stories, and future plans the whole flight, and before I knew it.. we were already landing four hours later. The boys ended up being a real laugh and every once in a while when I have fellow passengers as friendly as them, I am so grateful; especially after all the times I've had to deal with windy auld ones or children that don't understand that screaming is not advised in planes. I hung out with the lads a bit after landing and we exchanged info and all that, so next time I find myself in Bali or wanting to take a cruise, I have two friends on the inside that can make it happen. After getting a shuttle to the losman I had arranged, I quickly realized that Singapore is a 'fine' city indeed. The second you get off the plane, you are ordered to throw away your gum, as it is illegal! Can you imagine? In Singapore it is illegal to chew gum, smoke, spit, yell, display affection, etc. etc. in public. Basically you can only walk to and from work and that's exactly what people do. Everywhere I went, I'd see people of every age with a briefcase in tow, looking straight ahead and walking with a purposeful manner. I believe that the restrictions in Singapore are a great idea, as I have never seen streets so clean, people so successful, and no one spilling out of pubs in the early hours.

So the first night I'm in Singapore, it's already eleven at night.. so I only opt to do a quick walk around the 'hood to scope out an internet cafe so I can let mis padres know I made it to Singapore okay, and lo and behold, there was one right down the block that I ended up hitting up enough times during my stay in Singapore that I got to know the owner and his family well and they offered a room at their house for the next time I find myself in Singapore. Anyway, during my late night walk I discovered that I was right next to the Lavender Market, which is a market I knew about from being a Bourdain fan, haha. The Lavender Market is a true Singapore staple and they serve everything from fresh soya bean milk to frog porridge, definitely not for the faint of heart. The market was amazing, my only problem was that anytime I'm in a market or cafe, everyone turns to look and see what a western girl on her own is going to do, I think they expect me to go running for a McDonalds at any given moment haha, but I've grown to love Eastern food and am sometimes simply amazed to see the 'creativity' that is Eastern cooking. But I was boring that night as I decided to settle for something simple like green tea and kare ayammie.

The next morning I walked around until I found a different market and had the best breakfast ever... braised bean curd! MMMM. So good! They gave me a huge bowl of rice with a bubbling hot bowl of bean curd in a savory curry with carrots, cucumbers, and onions, and some other veggies that I couldn't quite identify. I think any one of my vegetarian friends would have loved it, and the dish is something that I'm going to try and recreate if my friends down at Trader Joe's can make the ingredients happen. Afterbrekkie, I cought a bus to Rocher Road where I tracked down the famous Bugis Street Market.. where you can buy anything! The market is a few blocks and four stories and is full of stalls. Everything from fake designer watches, to tattoos, to wheat grass juice, to hair extensions. Despite the fact that I was supposed to be watching the cash flow, I thought that since I was nearing the end of the trip, it was time to finally do some shopping and I ended up getting a beautiful pure silk chinese shirt and a Puma bag since I've been reppin' Puma for over twenty years now! After picking up the bag I ran into a guy named Alvin (hello, globalization!) who apparently was 'the' hat designer of Singapore. Nice Malaysian guy who charges hundreds of dollars for hand painted trucker hats basically. Even though I couldn't buy any of his wares, he was nice enough to give me a tour of the area and if anyone wants a personalized hat from Singapore, he insists that you email him, haha. After Bugis Street market I walked to the famous Arab Street and it felt like a whole new world. The streets are lined with shops full of expensive silk, Persian rugs, hookahs, and gold... gold everywhere! And Arab Street is where I met my next friend. I was literally walking down Arab Street when I was dragged into a restaurant, told to sit, and had a big plate of murthabak ayam put in front of me (juicy, curry chicken inside a savory pancake). The guy that ushered me in was the owner of the shop and instead of me asking him questions about his food/culture, he wanted to know absolutely everything about the Western world. What we eat, how we date, what we read, everything.... a true anthropologist at heart.... so we got along great as we ate and chatted for a few hours. Eventually I had to leave though as I had wanted to walk to Little India and had to do so before the sun went down, because as a solo western woman, I know better than to make a half hour walk in the dark. And let me tell you, Little India was brilliant. The smells, the people, the tea! Oh, the tea! Even if I wasn't already a tea addict, Little India made me fall in love all over again... big, cheap cups of black, milky tea.. my favourite! I spent a few hours in Little India admiring the small shops and almost had to fight off the older women who kept insisting that I should henna my hands, but after travelling so much, you realize that the second you give into gimmicky tourist junk, is the second that the locals see you as that much more of an intruder and mocker of their culture. Before walking back to my losman, I grabbed some curry in Little India and when I was sitting there with my map, made yet another friend, talk about Singapore being friendly, haha. The lad was a forty-something ozzie who went to Singapore almost twenty years ago on a business trip and decided to quit his job, leave the wife, and stay put. Now he's running a hostel and I think he's perfectly happy with his new life. We chatted for a good bit about Australian hot spots (since I told him that my cousin was living in Perth and we were planning to rent a camper and have a road trip down unda in the next few years), and he gave me a few emails so I'd have some freeaccommodations along the way. After we parted ways, I walked back to my place and changed into my classy gear since I had decided even before going to Singapore, that my first night there I would go to Raffle's Hotel to get a real Singapore Sling. I cleaned up and caught a bus to Raffle's Hotel and wow, it was more than I had expected, a bit overwhelming I'll admit. I thought I was looking pretty snazzy in my linen pants and smart black top, but the women there were basically dripping in diamonds and I felt a little out of place. But going to Raffle's was something my mother had wanted to do and once there I knew that it was a moment I'd cherish forever. I walked around the lower restaurant and bar but decided that the Long Bar was where I'd head. The Long Bar is where the Singapore Sling was actually invented and the pub is amazing. I sat up at the bar, ordered the drink I'd waited years for, and had the bartender take a picture of me, haha. After a bit, a Norwegian guy next to me and I started chatting and it turns out that he's working on his PhD and is in Singapore doing his field work, my kind of guy. We exchanged skype names and arranged to meet the next day, but it was great to talk to someone with similar academic pursuits... and at Raffle's Hotel, of all places. Although I took the bus there, I decided I'd better take a taxi back to be safe and ended up paying nearly twenty Singapore dollars because the taxis are allowed to automatically tack on six dollars if you use them between midnight and six in the morning, lame!

The next day I took off walking once more (especially since the bus system is so complicated and the taxis are a no-go price wise) and sussed out the Mustafa Centre that is also a complex shopping center that sells every imaginable item, but I already had my eye on the prize... a Punjab suit. I've been obsessed with India and Bollywood movies (yes, you can laugh) for years and I've always wanted a Punjab suit of my own. And Mustafa Centre is the mecca of fine Indian women's wear in Singapore. After trying on a few suits, it came to zero hour when I had to decide which one to take home. I would have gotten a dozen, trust me, but they are crazy expensive, so I only allowed myself one. I ended up getting a linen suit with a black embroidered top and camel coloured pants and a black-to-tan-grade wrap... I was elated! I think I spent maybe too much time in front of the mirror twirling around like a little girl in my new, fine clotheshaha, I just hope I find a reason to wear it in the states. After picking up the suit, I stopped in at a music shop and picked up a few Bollywood movies and Indian albums for about fifty cents or less a piece, heaven! From the music shop, I picked up a fresh watermelon juice, and found myself in front of Singapore's infamous Thief Market. Thief Market is not a building, but a block or so where [only] men [are allowed to] sell random brick-a-brack that is 'second hand' but mostly goods that are stolen or found. They basically throw down a blanket and on it, there might be a broken watch, a half deck of pokemon cards, and a fanny pack. Anything that they think they might be able to make a quick buck off of. I wanted to walk around more but I felt so out of place, being the only woman for blocks around, that I decided to stick to the outskirts and only takes a few flicks from afar before getting the hell out of there. A few blocks away, I attempting going into a few 'spas' for one last cheap rub down but I kept getting kicked out as every single place I went into was 'happy ending' only and since the girls in there only spoke Chinese, I only got the message that I should get out when I saw that they were 'massaging' in lingerie and high heels... oh, the shame. I had a good laugh because after walking out of the third and last failed attempt of getting a regular massage, I noticed that the parlour had a Taoist shrine outside, I can only assume they were burning incense to beg for forgiveness for their line of business. I felt pretty seedy and dirty for having accidentally walked into three men's parlours, so I decided to stop into a market so I could give my hands a good wash and grab a bite to eat. I innocently ordered chicken dumpling soup, but when I got it, I couldn't quite figure out what was floating on top.. they were anchovies.. uck! Sometimes I wish that Eastern people were a little less innovative with their flavour combinations, never had I eaten an anchovy before and I hope to never encounter them again, especially as a surprise in my soup! After going walkabout again, I noticed that the Indian part of town is stocked to the brim with gold shops... Indian women are completely covered in gold. Necklaces, anklets, nose rings.. everything is pure gold! I'd walk by one of these shops and nearly be blinded by the amount of gold flashing in the window, insane. After walking a few more blocks, I struck figurative gold when I came across the Sri Veeramakaliamman temple and was pleasantly surprised that they allowed me to come inside (sans shoes of course) despite the fact that there was a ceremony running. After visiting a plethora of temples during my time in Indonesia and Malaysia, I was used to getting kicked out or banned from temples when certain ceremonies were being carried out. I tried to videotape from a distance as to not draw attention to myself and took some marvelous pictures, I even met a monk who answered a few of my questions and recommended a tea shop! Talk about my kind of people, now I definitely want to go to India.. I must have been Hindu in a previous life because the food, people, music, and philosophy seem so easy for me. It started to rain so I had to run to the tea shop that the monk had recommended and there I made two new friends who I ended up hanging out with for the rest of the day. I was sitting with my tea when one of the lads, Lasantha, walked up to tell me he had never seen such beautiful blue eyes before (yes, men of every nation have equally cheesy pick up lines) and he wanted to know what I was doing in Singapore. After explaining my interest in Hinduism, specifically in Bali, and the cremation ceremony.. he was hooked and he had a good laugh looking through my notes, pleasantly surprised to find a western woman so interested in something that was so natural and second nature for him. The lads were from Sri Lanka and were in Singapore taking English classes as they had both been tourism majors and had to pass an English exam before they would be able to take over as managers for hotels in Sri Lanka. Hanging out with them was great, as I was able to learn more about Sri Lanka and they were able to practice their English, it was a real win-win! We walked all over and they took me from temple to temple, explaining different shrines and offerings while I filled them in on Western culture. Everyone in the East seems to think that we all live off hamburgers and MTV.. so I think I did a good job of representing the other end of the spectrum of people who don't own televisions and rather have curry over in-and-out any day. I took the boys to Bugis Street since they had never tried wheat grass juice before and before I knew it was already eight o'clock at night, time really does fly when you're in good company! We parted ways since they had to meet up with their fellow students and I wanted to check out a Daoist temple that was close to where I was staying. The temple was lovely but I couldn't go inside as they were having a service, but they invited me back and were fine with me taking pictures.

To wrap up the last few days in Singapore, I did a ton of walking. Checking out the different cultural areas of town, but I almost always ended up back in Little India.. the closest I'll get to the mother land for now. One night I met a few ozzie kids that were stopping over on their way to the olympics and hung out with them for a bit, but decided to go home early and not stay out with them since they were typical tourists. They were smashed by ten o'clock and were being beyond rude to the Singapore girls that were serving their drinks. I can't stand seeing mistreatment of people, especially when you are in their native country. Why bother paying x amount of money, if you are only there to belittle and demean the people that are only there to make your time there more pleasant, disgraceful. I was so angry, I shelled out money for a taxi so I could ditch the ozzie punks after laying down my thoughts on them. Back at the losman, I was perfectly happy with my decision to head back to my own place because I have met so many incredible people that I would never treat someone as my lesser based on economic status. Not trying to rant, but one of the biggest lessons I've learned from travelling is that the most generous people you'll meet along the way are the people with close to nothing. I'd go to a one bedroom house with an entire family in it, and they would still insist on feeding me, even though I could easily reach into my pocket, hand them five US dollars, and feed their entire family for a few days.

Moving on since I don't want to look like the moral police, I had an incredible time in Singapore and am glad of all of the people I met, especially the owner of the Prince of Wales Hostel who offered me a job if I seriously decide to go back to Singapore in the next few years. I'd get free food, accommodations, drinks (the hostel has it's own pub), and twelve Singapore dollars an hour... and all I would have to do is check people in, have the auld chat, and take people out on the town when they first arrive to help them get on their feet. I think it would be the perfect job for me if I wanted to float for a few months and further immerse myself into Singapore, but that's not a decision I have to make for a while now.. as I'm still in University wrapping up my two degrees before May.

From Singapore, I flew to Narita (Tokyo), Japan where I stopped off for a bit before heading back to Los Angeles. Tokyo is as bright and as bustling as I thought it would be and I'm excited to have checked another country off the list. Of course the first thing I did when I landed was suss out a sushi bar and load up on tuna rolls, sashimi, and sapporo beer! So I finally arrived back in the states a few days ago and am back in San Diego, simply trying to get my body back into the right time zone (currently sleeping from six in the morning until two in the afternoon), but I'm sure after a few days I'll get it together, especially since I have so much to do with my trip and project as far as uploading pictures, organizing information, and getting started on my independent project!

Thank you for everyone who has followed my journey and I hope that I can entertain you with equally exciting adventures in the future!



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