Singapore

Originally posted on another platform on October 2010
Fifth post of our 3 month tour around Asia
Singapore

What a wonderful place Singapore is! It’s funny but once you’ve been travelling for long enough in places where the bathrooms leave a lot to be desired (be it because there’s no paper, water, soap or all of the above) you really get to appreciate going back to a “western toilet” (classy, I know).

Yes, Singapore is known as a very organised city, with multiple rules that guarantee cleanliness and the very peaceful coexistence of many different nationalities. Let’s not kid ourselves, Singapore feels very western. In fact, the city’s initial impression is that it could be anywhere in Europe or North America. The way it’s organised, their incredibly efficient underground system, the skyscrapers, the non written rules (i.e. Standing on the right side of the escalator in the tube)… But if you start scratching, you will see that they may have embraced modernity but they have not forgotten their hawker roots and I must admit, they create an amazing combination.I know a lot of people who do not like Singapore as much as I do. I guess it’s all about preferences.

The city is also known as “fine city”. We all know that the term “fine” may have positive connotations (this is a fine wine) and negative ones (speed fine). Sadly, Singapore is often associated to the second meaning due to its rules. Many things are forbidden in Singapore, however we must not forget that they would not be where they are today if they did not have them… Remember this is a country composed of just a city and a small island off it! They have no natural resources, yet they have an amazingly strong economy. Without the rules, they would also not be in the same state of organisation and cleanliness, I bet. To be honest, having been on the road for a number of weeks, I appreciated reaching Singapore, even if it meant that we were facing higher prices.

On the subject of organisation, I MUST mention their underground system. Never in my life have I encountered such a clean, problem-free one! The only nagging point was their map – they will never beat London’s simplicity. Singapore’s tube has an added point though: humour. All announcements are song based – check this out (not my video) – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gTbF79gbqtc&feature=youtube_gdata_player … If you can’t hear it properly, this is what it is saying :   “train is coming, train is coming, train is comiiiiiinnnnng! start queueing! Looooove your ride!!!” … CLASSIC.

The hostel was incredible. It was in the centre (guess what? Yes, again in Chinatown) and it was called River City Inn. Proper backpacker hostel, owned by a brother and a sister, who are running it while they study. We stayed in a 28 people dorm, but I swear I have never slept so well in my life.

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We were lucky to get to Singapore at this time of the year. The city was decorated with lamps commemorating Autumn’s festival, lamps that came from other Asian countries spans regions… Stunning. but my favourite thing in Singapore were the hawker centres. A hawker, for those of you who may not know, is a person that sells things in the street. It does not matter what it is, except in Singapore, of course.  Back in the day, people from Malaysia and Indonesia had their own stalls where they cooked dishes that could be purchased by passing folk going to work in the factories or by people who were simply going for a walk. Every stall had two or three dishes that they were constantly cooking and competition was fierce. Each hawker had its secrets, so eventually people had  their favourites depending on the stall and the street too! While the tradition of the stalls is still there, they are now concentrated across multiple centres in the city, ensuring that they are regulated by the government from a health and safety perspective.

We arrived late the first day and we asked the owner of the hostel where to grab some dinner – guess what, first hawker centre was around the corner: Smith St. There you could eat in the street: you go to the stall that you want, choose the dish, watch them cook your dish,  sit on a table and then a person hired by the government comes over to take your drinks order, you give her the money and she goes and buys it of the different stalls for you. Strange rights! Yes, but this is Singapore. Having said that, the rest of the hawker centres did not have these “drinks” waiters. We did not go back to Smith St, but we did go to many of the others and I fell in love with the idea: if David fancied Indian and I fancied Malay, no problem!

chinatown sing

Even if Singapore is small, it still has a lot to see. This is what we managed to do:

  • Clarque Quay – reminded me to Palma’s Paseo Marítimo. It’s right by the river and is the place to go out
  • Cavenagh Bridge – from the time Singapore was a British colony
  • Sir Thomas Stanford Raffles’ statue (no, not ruffles 🙂 )
  • The bronze statues representing the history and evolution of the city in the river walk. These are stunning and give a very good idea of the country’s diversity.
  • The Merlion and its park – I took lots of pictures of this which will never do it justice. Adopted as the touristic symbol of Singapore in the 60s, the Merlion is a character in a legend.
  • The Singapore Dance Theatre – I love the hedgehog shape!
  • The monument to the fallen on WWII
  • Orchard St – basically where everything is more expensive than anywhere else (also where we found Kate Moss in a rather compromising position 🙂 )
  • The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple – this was STUNNING. In theory, this temple has ONE of his teeth or so they say.  We really enjoyed the interiors and the exposition, so many Buddhas! Standing, sitting down, lying down, swinging, dancing flamenco (ok, I invented that one). And right at the top of the temple, by the roof, they had 10,000 miniature figures of Buddha too!
  • Sri Mariamman Indian temple, right in the centre of Chinatown, same as the Jamae Mosque.
  • Thian Hock Keg Temple – Dedicated partly to the day and partly to the night, symbolizing the positive and the negative, the ying and the yang.
  • Singapore’s National Museum – Thanks to our guide, we discovered that if you visit from 6pm to 8pm it was free (remember we were backpacking). Quite possibly one of the most entertaining museums for me: lots of information about hawker culture, utensils, dishes, traditions, how life was in Singapore… This city has changed A LOT in 50 years!
  • Little India – in a 30 minute walk one of the afternoons we went from being in “Europe” to being in a version of New Delhi, with its markets, bazaars, music, silk suits… Crazy times!
  • Singapore Night Zoo – an experience but to be fair I expected more

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We liked Singapore so much that we ended up staying an extra night. I really hope I can go back in future with a bit more money (to go shopping!!). I am in awe of a place that has become so powerful considering the apparent lack of natural resources and that has kept and preserved its roots and cultures. Definitely a very sad goodbye to this country

What will The Philippines bring?

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