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Our world Travel On 10th May 2007 I fled the UK on a journey around the world with a long list of places to go. Got as far as the Philippines where I met my wife. We got married on 11th May 2010 and are now sharing the experiences of travelling the world together

Singapore

SINGAPORE | Saturday, 1 November 2008 | Views [1334]

Wed 29th Oct -  Although I am in a mixed open dorm, the night was very quiet, and air-conditioned so had a great sleep and awoke refreshed. Breakfast was included and a nice choice with fresh fruit and decent coffee to aliven the senses. Sleepy Sam's is on Bussorah street and has that french café atmosphere to ease you into the day. The sun is up, the sky is blue, not a cloud to spoil the view, so on with the day.....

Succumbed to buying a lens attachment for my camera and then realised a problem. You pay 7% GST (tax) and can only claim it back if you fly out of the country. I'm going from Malaysia, so it doesn't apply. I don't understand why you cannot claim back tax at any point leaving the country. Seems a bit unfair.

Going south down Beach road, passes the Parkview building. It looks like a Grammy award and something out of a 1920s Hollywood set, with its figures facing out from near roof level. Either that or wouldn't look out of place in Gotham city in a batman movie. First stop was the infamous Raffles hotel. An institution since it opened in the 1880’s, and famous for the 'Long Bar' where you have to have a 'Singapore Sling' cocktail. I wasn't dressed appropriately to get in today as it is 'Smart Casual'....no shorts or sandals. Will return another time, so not a problem. A grand Indian gentleman in turban and white medaled uniform guards the entrance to the main hotel, giving it that colonial era feel.

Onwards to the Millennia walk area and Raffles Avenue where the skyline is dominated by the 'Singapore Flyer' wheel. Would be a good thing to do near sunset for a grand view of the city. A nice jungle garden sits underneath it. They were setting up a theme for Halloween when I was there and were busy hanging skeleton heads amongst the vegetation. Carried on south over Esplanade drive passing the hedgehog building...that is, the Theatre on the bay & Concert hall, which I will return to later to buy some tickets. Its design has been referred to as the 'Big Durian'! Across the Singapore river harbour is the rather odd Merlion statue. The word 'Singapore' or Singapura as it was known, means 'Lion City' after it was founded by a Sumatran prince when he spotted a white lion on a visit to what was then called Temasek, so the statue is very appropriate. The view from here isn't too flattering at the moment as the eastern landscape is a sea of cranes. I am sure it will be great when it is finished. For now it is a blot on the horizon. Westwards is a different story, with many interesting buildings worthy of further exploration. Another dominant feature of the harbour is the Fullerton hotel with its backdrop of massive skyscrapers. Under the Esplanade bridge with its chilled out Tapas bar and café to the Esplanade park. I was lucky that there was a mass of Muslim ladies passing through, resplendent in their beautifully colourful garments and delicious smiles. Lovely photography subjects.

From the North Boat Quay through to Clark Quay is a wonderful walkway, flanked by dramatic buildings such as the spaceship-like Supreme court on the northern side. The southern side is lined with restaurants that must be fantastic to hang out in the evening...will return some time to see.

Stopped for lunch at a Budget food court on Hill street opposite the nicely designed Central Fire station. Back on to Coleman street to visit St Andrew's Cathedral. Undergoing repainting at the moment, it was a nice cool relief from the heat of the day (low 30's). Stands out from the surrounds with its gleaming white peaks. Across from St Andrew's is the 'Padang'. Singapore's cricket club and greens, with its neatly mowed green pitch. There is a rugby tournament on at the weekend, so they were busy getting it ready.

Decided to go and see an International Percussion concert tomorrow night at the Esplanade Concert Hall, so returned to buy a ticket. Not cheap at 103SG$ (£40), but should be a great experience. Had enough walking for now, so back to Bussorah street and time to absorb....and buy a new compact camera...it lept off the shelf screaming buy me buy me! It happens easily here....it really does!

Time to get dressed up and head for Raffles for that Singapore Sling. Best not worry too much about the cost or one would get indigestion from all of those peanuts you have to eat to make the price worth while! At SG$26 it is a slooowwww drink! To be honest, Raffles' Long Bar is like a western saloon. Raffia fans sway slowly to and fro in colonial fashion on on the ceiling instead of rotary fans.

The normal approach is to find a table, wait for one of the nice waiters to ask your order and then dig into the box of peanuts whilst you wait...oh, and crunch your way to the table...the habit is to throw the peanut shells on the floor....so it is a sea of shells everywhere. Not what I expected of such a high priced venue, but it is what it is...an institution. And you have to fall in line and thrown those shells! There is a sign by the door saying 'Littering Encouraged'! Got talking to a couple from New Zealand who were originally from the uk, but he was in the mining industry and moved around Asia every few years. Quite a list of exotic places they had lived.

Of course, I had a Singapore Sling and made it last longer than any cocktail I have ever had! Apparently they sell over 2,500 of them every day...what a good little earner! A glass of Heineken is SG$13 and a glass of house wine SG$15.

Off to see the city lights....Singapore is a bit like Hong Kong in that its buildings are alive at night. The Singapore river that bisects the north and south is a colourful scene. The Esplanade theatre was a good diversion as there was an amateur performance going on in the foyer that they put there heart and soul into. Outside the water features were alight with blue globes reflecting in the water and the theatre was a golden hedgehog.

The 'Bumboats' were busy ferrying tourists around the bay looking more interesting at night. Had already had a big meal at lunchtime and had filled with peanuts at Raffles, so wasn't too hungry yet. Stopped for a pint of Old Speckled Hen, one of my favourites from the UK at the Victorian London Pub by the Boat Quay. SG$14 for a pint!  I think you have to be rich here to stand any chance of getting drunk....either that or a bad mathematician!

Got talking to a guy from the UK in the I.T. Business out here doing sickness cover for someone. I'd be wishing people to go sick if I got to come to places like this on business expenses!

Learnt from the barman that he only earnt SG$1000 a month and at least half of that went on his single room apartment on the outskirts of the city. He was just above poverty level after all of his costs were taken out, and it wasn't getting any easier.

Took a long route back to see the city at night, a fascinating place and then stopped for a late night biryani meal at an Indian café for $5, a fraction of what the same meal would have cost in the main city....I had made a note of prices along the water front and the same thing would have been more like $20 upwards...admittedly, mine was served on paper and the drink as a can, but the taste was excellent and that is all that matters. It is possible to survive here on budget prices, although it isn't easy to find.

It has been an interesting day….Tiring but rewarding. Singapore is a great city...a smart city...beautiful and full of beautiful people....the ladies....wow...plenty of stunners! But it all comes at a price, and you have to earn it to be able to burn it here. Good job I am only here for a few days as it would be easy to leave here with a broken bank account!

 

Thu 30th Oct – Had planned to not do much today as it was a busy day yesterday and covered a lot of ground. Have tomorrow too, so worth taking the time to catch up with friends on line.

After a great lunch in a local Turkish restaurant, and feeling refreshed again. Contrary to wanting to just chill today, I changed my mind and went for some sightseeing via the queen street bus station to check up on arrangements for Saturday's return to Johor Bahru for my flight. Then off to see the Sri Veeramakaliamman temple in the 'Little India' area to the west of Bussorah street. Unfortunately, it was closed from 1:30pm until 4pm, but managed to see some of the outside. The streets were awash with Deepavali banners and bunches of hanging garlands. Anyway, it was interesting being back in India again and walking the streets, the only noticeable difference is this version is cleaner! People walking along with sacks of rice on their shoulder, food stalls selling every form of exotic vegetable and perfect fruit, and large groups of sari clad ladies, adding that technicolour flavour. All with their red dye spot above their nose. I have been lucky recently to be in this part of the world and for so many happy memories to come flooding back from when I was in India, China, Japan, Turkey, Middle east, Morocco...so many reminders all around, it's wonderful.

Dipped into the Sultan Masjid Mosque at the top of Bussorah street. Unfortunately, foreigners aren't allowed into the main prayer area or walk on any of the carpets, but you can stand by the entrance and look in. I find this sort of limitation strange, as in the middle east, you can go almost anywhere including the main prayer hall, and yet here you cannot. Why?

I am reminded that Islam is an arabic word that means peace, submission and obedience. The followers are very devout and have to be to survive the period of Ramadan as one of the five pillars of Islam...for one month...no food, drink or sex....no sex....not going to reach the top of the popularity charts for that is it! For reference, the other four pillars are: The declaration of faith, Prayers five times daily, Zakat...2.5% of your savings each year and pilgrimage to Mecca once in your lifetime....but only if you can afford it physically and mentally.

Sat at a café in the Kampong Glam area to do some writing and have a glass of hot chai...within a half hour I must have seen every nationality of the world pass by. Within a short walk, you can certainly eat every nationality of food too. At 4pm the Muezzin call began and echoes of the middle east drifted by...Singapore is that kind of place.

In the evening the Zakir Hussain 'Masters of Percussion' concert at the Esplanade hall was amazing. The auditorium is something else, and part of the reason for coming to this concert. Featuring Zakir himself on the Tabla (indian drums) and accompanied by maestros on sitar, Sarangi (a form of stringed instrument played with a bow), Doyra (a type of tambourine shaped instrument), Khartal (four small pieces of wood, two in each hand), Ghatam (small drum) and Dholak (double ended drum). A troupe of three guys from Manipur also performed and danced. They did some incredible spinning moves whilst playing. What all of these performers could do with their respective instruments was awesome. My son Tim in the UK is at university studying music and specialising in percussion...would have been great for him to be there to witness this.

 

Fri 31st Oct – Fancied checking out the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) metro, so headed to Little India. Only stayed on for 1 stop to Orchard road Dhobe Ghaut station. Ticket machines take coins and notes and issue a 'Standard' pass, charging $1 deposit for it. Same type of metro as many modern cities...double door entry system on the platforms, electronic displays and easy to understand. Helpers are around if you're not sure what to do. At the destination you go through the exit barrier, swipe your card at special refund machines, then insert it into a slot which then refunds you your $1 coin.

Close to the station is Istana park, an attractive area before you hit the shopping mecca of Orchard Road. Not being into shopping I only last about half an hour before developing shopperphobia and needed to escape. People watching in this city is fascinating...favourite passtime no.1 amongst the girls is preening themselves to perfection...I hve seen so many of them staring into mirrored surfaces as they tweak themselves for this looks-concious world. Many have mirror surface mobile phones in case they get caught out without a mirror for a few seconds and go into panic mode that a hair might be out of place...or dread the thought that their make-up might be smudged! The results are worth it for the admirer though!

Spotted the interesting Youth Centre building, with an eye catching graffiti design and a display ouutside highlighting the fact that a child dies every 3 seconds! It is actually a gruesome place on the outside. A mural along one of the walls is painted with the 'Hellitubbies'..the children's favourite 'Tellytubbies' characters but with scary blood dripping faces. Other morose characters decorate the building...not sure what to make of it really?

Onwards down Somerset road and then Clemenceau Avenue to Fort Canning, which sits on top of a hill to the east. It is also the location of one of the city's reservoirs.

After lunch a quick stop t the Mica building, which is an airy art gallery with a superb bronze monument in the entrance commemorating the 'Big Bang' and fused with DNA string winding its way through to show the growth of the universe.

Across the road and watched the G-Max bungee for a while. It is actually a seat holding three bodies and hurtles into the air tethered by elasticated ropes. Had it been more reasonably priced than $40, I would have given it a go, but too expensive for what it is. Worn out, so returned to the Guest House to recover ahead of tonight's outing to the Night Safari leaving at 6:30pm, (SG$39 all inclusive of pick-up and return).

Being Halloween, expected it to be a bit crazy and it didn't disappoint. The entrance passes through the usual merchandise shops and eateries before getting to the park. A tram circulates complete with narrators. Being that it was a special night, they laid on an extra Halloween tram with an extra spooky voiced narrator. There were some cool outfits. The great thing about the asians is that they already have black hair and a wardrobe full of black clothes, so it doesn't take them much to accesorise! Plenty of dripping blood, flashing horns and black fishnets...i'm off on one again!

The tram only stopped once on its journey, to alight for the leopard trail. Apart from that, it seemed to go too fast to apreciate the wildlife. Here's a rare sighting of the lesser spotted dingbat....two seconds later you fly past it sitting there waiting for people to take its photo and you've gone....poor thing will have to wait for the next tram to pass for a photoshoot!

There is plenty to see, as all of the animals were active, something you don't see during the day. Itbwas hilarious that there are signs all around saying...no flash photography...and yet there were hoardes of tourists passing by with flashing horns...painted faces and letting out blood curdling screams....and the animals didn't flicker one bit! So on went the flash and they still didn't flicker...I think these shy, nocturnal animals have seen too many strange sights to be purturbed by the odd flash here and there. The narrator on our tram sounded like the sort of voice from a children's playtime TV programme. Chuckled at everything....here's a lion...the king of the jungle...hee hee....and now for an elephant...hee hee! These once proud animals that belong in the wild are now part of a nightly circus act laid on to wow the tourists, but I fealt sorry for them. I have been lucky enough to see almost all of them in the wild and want to let them all go.

There was a 'Creatures of the night' show which I missed as the timing doesn't allow you to do everything when the bus is waiting to whisk you back to town. Glad really, as it would have enhanced the feeling of this being a circus, and couldn't take any more.

There is a pathway around some of the areas that was good when there weren't any lunatics jumping from behind bushes. My summary is that it would probably be better on a normal night. Tonight wasn't one of those, but everyone was having a good time and the animals just happened to be there.

The restaurant area is good, although typically more expensive than outside the park. If I sound a bit disappointed with this place, then maybe I was...when you see animals in the wild, no zoo will ever seem right afterwards. They call it a safari...it is a zoo, but then again, not everyone is lucky enough to see these beautiful animals in the wild, so they have their place in educating children and allowing them to see the animals for real.

 

Tomorrow I fly to Kuching in the Malaysian state of Sarawak in Borneo. Not fixed a time to spend in Borneo, but have a few things I want to do whilst I am there. Maybe three weeks to a month will cover...will see. My flight is from Johor Bahru in Malaysia, the other side of the Johor Straits from Singapore. Will have to exit Singapore and re-enter Malaysia just to get to the airport at Senai. A pain, but not much choice as flights to Borneo are so much cheaper than flying from Singapore.

 

That's it for now folks. My next posting will be from Borneo.....

 

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