Touring Around Singapore

Merlion Fountain

Remembering... touring Singapore

The Colonial District

It is Saturday and I had the next day and a half to tour around. I got up and boarded the water taxi, (bumboat) taking the river to the ocean area. We floated past the colonial section of the city which was charming, beautiful and colorful. In the background I could see the modern high rise skyline creating an old world/new world perspective.

Singapore is the most vertical city I have ever seen. Virtually everyone lives in an apartment. Most buildings are around fifty stories high. If it is five to six stories, it was built before WWII.  As Yee Sing told me the previous evening, if the building is square and boxy it was built by the government, if it is an interesting shape, it is built by private industry.  He also told me that a big apartment for most families is 1000 sf or less. 

I got out of the boat and spent some time walking around the waterfront, smelling the ocean, viewing the famous giant Merlion fountain. The buildings along the waterfront are unbelievably unique and often organic looking. I can’t even describe them.  My sense of space always needs to be adjusted in Asia. I stood in line at Starbucks (they are everywhere) getting an iced tea in what I thought was an acceptable distance from the person in front of me. Soon there was one man and two children in front of me. This same scenario occurred many times. You must literally be body to body. It is all perspective. There is not a lot of space anywhere here so one’s own personal space shrinks.  

I climbed the stairs to reach the street level and grabbed a cab and headed to do some shopping on Arab Street. It was recommended by a friend at HP in Roseville. Ok, now this was an interesting place!  Oh those fabrics!  Beautiful hand painted silks, $10 for 1 meter. They will make anything you want… for a price. I learned this quickly.  I guess I should have expected that Arab Street would be a Muslim district but that fact had not occurred to me. I found burkas, black shapeless dresses that cover your face from head to toe with inserted netting so you can see out and beautiful white silk head scarves. Hmmm… although I have seen women wearing these garments in Asia I had never been to a store that sells them.  I was not particularly interested in buying any of this type of clothing, though the fabrics were undeniably beautiful. I had to touch them. I guess if you are going to wear them why not have the finest quality?  I also learned quickly that Muslim men are really not tuned into American women shoppers. There is definitely a demanding tone, which honestly caught me off guard since Singapore is such an international city. Westerners are common.  “Would you like a pashmina, ma’am?”  “No thank you, I have plenty.” “Buy another one”. “Come in, buy a hand tied carpet”.  I think if they want us to shell out money and ride their magic carpet, they might try being a little more cordial.  After a few of these encounters, I only talked to female vendors. They were just as interested in selling but they were genteel.  I did not linger very long.  It was a world away for me and even though Singapore is an incredibly safe place, I was uncomfortable alone. I felt like I was in a Far East Bazaar area.  Actually, I was in a Far East Bazaar.

I did not want to eat here so I grabbed a cab and high tailed it to the hotel for the “safe international buffet”.  I was tired and hungry by the time I got back so I perused the buffet counter. I skipped the Indian food, I will get my fill soon enough. The Asian buffet consisted of the usual fare… marinated chicken feet salad, marinated sea jelly, sushi, some kind of mussel on the half shell, all beautifully arranged and unappetizing as hell.  Even on a good day sushi is not my cup of tea, but in Asia it is a whole new level. I pressed on to the English buffet… mutton stew and fish and chips under hot lights were still not appetizing enough for me.  Ah at last!  Prime rib with potatoes and steamed veggies.  Yes I have turned into the ugly American when it comes to food.  Right now I don’t care.  I have another full week of foreign food ahead of me so I am having prime rib while I have the chance. There is a store here in Singapore called “I wanna go home”, which is exactly my sentiment, when it comes to the food,

In the afternoon, I walked to a nearby shopping mall near the hotel. There were no deals to be found, just high priced American and European designer stores.  I am pretty sure I hit four or five floors in less than an hour.  There must have been forty Asian restaurants in that lovely high rise mall and the smells engulfed me. I had to get out …and I needed a nap as I was still dealing with jet lag.  I walked back to my hotel and asked for a 4:00 wake up call. “4:00 pm, madam”?  Oh, I struggle with the common use of 24 hour clock. You would think being raised in a military family I would adapt better, but it is truly not intuitive for me. 4:00 pm is referred to as 1600 hours in Asia

Confusion reigns at the moment, due to my jet lag and 24 hour clock.  My days used to be my nights.  My West coast is now east.  It is Monsoon season in Singapore, so they tell me…. North East Monsoon, Whatever that means.  I wonder North East from where?  I am pretty close to down under and directionally challenged.  It is definitely time for a rest.

I went to the Night Safari at the Zoo in the evening.  Talk about crowded… there were hoards of people.  I rode the tram through the massive park and honestly, the experience kind of freaked me out.  It felt like the animals were really close.  I did not see one fence. The ditches are deep but you really don’t notice them from the tram. In some cases there are no ditches.  There must be some hard core electronic deterrent at work here.  I wondered how they got got all those animals to sit in the exact area of the spotlight.  Not one animal was pacing or walking around, but many had their heads up on alert.  It was eerie to hear the sounds of all the animals as you rode through what felt like a rain forest in the dark.  The foliage was dense and you could hear the high pitched sounds of some pigs and the guttural groan of a wild cat along with many night frogs, birds and who knows what else.  It was a cool experience in some ways but very disturbing at a base level for me.  You can take walking trails and see the Sumatran tiger close up. HELL NO. That tiger was huge and I could not find the fence.  There were too many crazy people for me.  Despite repeated warnings by the tour guide not to use the flash on cameras as it can cause violent behavior by the animals, some nutcase near me still took several flash pictures.  The safari was beautiful and was truly a once in a lifetime experience.  I was nervous to be by myself in such large crowds, at night, with wild animals nearby.  I hailed a cab and went back to my hotel immediately upon exiting the zoo.  The ride home was pretty peaceful and I was fascinated to see the freeway onramp to Malaysia.  Logically I know Singapore is next to Malaysia but it is still a wakeup call and a subtle reminder.  I am far, far away.

On my last morning I didn’t have any plans so I strolled along the river walk and it was a little humid as it had rained during the night… but it was lovely and quiet.  I really like the old colonial sections of the city and it was nice to have a little leisurely time before heading to the chaos of India.  I have to check out of my hotel around 2:00 pm and my flight leaves around 8:00 pm. I checked my bags at the hotel and had a late lunch. I planned to go to the Singapore Airport and hang out.  It is so pretty there and I know I can easily pass the time.

I have enjoyed Singapore immensely.  It is a beautiful place.  I am ready to get on with my journey. Tonight I will see my faithful driver Ravi again at the airport.  Tomorrow my teammates starting arriving from the US and then Tuesday we will all be meeting up with familiar Indian teammates.  I am looking forward to the reunion.

One last note:  I found out why the crime rate is so low in Singapore.  If you steal or commit a crime the authorities take swift action. You are black listed and cannot get a good job. It is quite a deterrent. 

Colonial district architecture
Modern Architecture
Arab Street shopping area
Batik Shopping- Arab Street

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Latest comments

09.05 | 12:43

Nina, so enjoyed your description/s of place and experience/s. It almost felt like I was right next to you throughout your journey! Thank you for sharing!

24.03 | 20:01

Great article, Nina. Now I wish I had gone there when I was in Bath. Hopefully, there will be another opportunity to go there someday....

18.03 | 18:48

I've been to Bath twice myself. And have gone to Sally Lunn's twice, too. Took my English cousins to Bath. It was their first time there and they loved it.

10.03 | 20:13

As a kid, I spent my summers in New York state. As an adult, I have had many recurring dreams about going there. I have gone back and the memories rekindle.

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