Determined to avoid another cold Canadian winter and thanks to the kindness of my dog sitting cousin, I embarked on a two month journey to East Asia one cold, January morning.
My first stop was Singapore. I had previously visited in 1994, emptied my pockets of chewing gum, duly drank a Singapore Sling in the Raffles Hotel and spent too much time and money in the shopping Mecca that is Orchard Road. But the tourist board and the travel writers promised a new and more vibrant Singapore and I was eager to see what the city had to offer these days. Besides, its temperature is a fairly constant 30 degrees which would keep me nice and warm.
My first stop was to a traditional site; the UNESCO world heritage Botanical Gardens with its marvellous outdoor orchid garden:
Beautiful as the orchids were, my highlight was being asked for ID to establish I was eligible for the senior’s discount entry fee. Good to know I don’t look over 60.
After enjoying real flowers, I made my way to the Gardens by the Bay, a fabulous garden complex constructed on recently reclaimed land. The Supergrove is its star, a complex of giant metal trees which treat everyone to a dazzling sound and light show every night:
Not to be outdone is the nearby Marina Sands, which offers a nightly water dance; music plays as scores of fountains spray and splash and circle about in a spectacular array of lights and colour:
Often described as the third modern wonder in Singapore is Changi Airport, with its Jewel containing the world’s largest waterfall. However, when I went there was no water:
I decided to console myself by going to the Changi Airport Butterfly Garden, but after searching for half an hour, was dismayed to learn it was only available after clearing security in Terminal 3. Since I arrived at Terminal 1 and was departing Terminal 4, the butterflies were not to be. My trip to Changi was a bust.
Not so my visit to Haw Par Villa, a theme park offering 150 dioramas depicting different exploits of Chinese gods in vivid colours:
Imagine 150 such scenes and you get the idea it’s a sort of “ you’ve got to be kidding” moment, reminding me of all the floats at the Mardi Gras Museum in Mobile, Alabama. But more illustrations awaited as I entered the Hell’s Museum where an additional 10 dioramas showed the 10 step progression through the Chinese purgatory:
Seeking something slightly less colourful, I took a free ( before tip) walking tour with Just, a local guide anxiously awaiting the return of the Chinese tourists who used to make up nearly half of all visitors. We walked around many of the older, British legacy buildings: the Victoria Theatre, the Supreme Court Building and the formerly whites-only cricket club.
Singapore had been little more than a marshy swamp when Stamford Raffles founded the city in 1820 as a trading port along the Singapore River. Britain colonized it, subjected its local Chinese, Malay and Indian inhabitants to the usual humiliations of colonization and did the usual British stuff, laying railways, building churches, speaking English.
In 1942, Britain unceremoniously surrendered the city to invading Japanese forces and left. Though they returned in 1945, the locals did not forgive them and the independence movement took shape. Granted independence in 1965, Singapore has been ruled by the benevolent dictator Lee Kuan Yew and his son ever since.
The remnants of the British colonialism and its tendency to segregate different ethnicities is found in the various neighborhoods: Little India, China Town and Arab Street. I walked around each, but as I live in a very multicultural city with its own ethnic neighborhoods, the ones in Singapore were underwhelming, filled mostly with tacky souvenir shops and self- proclaimed trendy bars and restaurants. I didn’t linger.
The one exception is the hawker centers. Best described as a conglomerate of independently owned food stalls serving mostly cheap Chinese food, I made my way to a few of them for lunch and dinner, enjoying roast duck and fish soup meals for a few dollars.
But the culinary experience highlight was eating at Tai Hwa Pork Noodles, the only Michelin starred food stall in the world.
I waited in line for over an hour before ordering its signature minced pork over noodles dish:
The pork was okay but the noodles and sauce absolutely delicious.
And thus ended my time in Singapore.
Up next: Thailand