Continuing our travelog on Singapore – Here is Sukumar’s excellent post on the Peranakans, for those of you that haven’t read it so far.
We had some wonderful food in Singapore, but none of them in the hotel we stayed in. One day, we made the grievous error of ordering Fattouch, a Lebanese salad, in our hotel. As for the result – My friends, what can I say? The pita bread was neither crumbled nor fried. The chef, in his/her hurry, had sent mile-long lettuce leaves without bothering to chop them up. Perhaps lemons were out of season, so s/he had substituted them with sauteed bell peppers. The olive oil, sans its “Virgin”ity was bland.
Sad realization dawned on me. The Far East is the wrong place to look for the Middle East. I beckoned the waiter. “This is the worst Fattouch I’ve eaten in my life” I said, valiantly attempting to swallow an insipid tomato. The chef had forgotten an important step between assembling the ingredients & serving the food. Its called “Cooking”.
What’s a trip to Singapore without shopping sprees? Some of the most expensive shops are in Orchard Road, where you can shop till you drop or max out your credit cards, whichever happens first. The mother of all these stores is Takashimaya, one of the largest in Singapore. Inveterate bargain hunters will manage to find steals even in such stores. Others will go there just to stare agape at snooty shops like Max Mara or Emporio Armani & the glitterati that patronize such establishments.
Mustafa Center in Little India is a good place to buy reasonably priced everyday items, from Towels to Tiger Balm, Frito Lays to Foreign Exchange, Peanuts to Pajamas – in short, the works. Its quiet possible to lose your moorings in this shop – We must have walked 3 miles in the aisles. The shelves are crammed with stuff, some of which we had never encountered before & some I hope I never see again. Piles of tacky mementos are in every floor, so look no further if you are in the market for those 😀
The store is hounded by shopaholics, whining kids & their overflowing carts. I swerved to avoid some of them & stubbed my toe – very, very painfully – on what appeared to be a Pamir Mountain of suitcases. I thought the lights dimmed, but actually it was tears welling up in my eyes. Marvelous flowery language that streamed from me then, would have made sailors blush. I never knew I had such a fund of vocabulary at my disposal.
Naturally, we bought plenty of junk that we never knew we needed – Tote Bags, Herbal Medicines, Toe Nail Clippers, Hershey’s Chocolates, Plush Toys. When we came back to India, we gave it all away as gifts. So if you received any, you now know where it came from.
One of the pleasures of living in a 1st world country is access to clean walk-ways. Along both banks of the Singapore river is an excellent foot-path for jogging & walking & we made good use of it. Thanks to well-planned under-passages, people don’t have to stop for on-coming traffic ever.
Either banks of the narrow river are well connected by an array of bridges. At the farthest end of the walkway, at One Fullerton, stands the majestic Merlion – the symbol of Singapore. This sculpture of a lion’s head on a fish’s body was designed by Fraser Brunner of the Van Kleef Aquarium. It supposedly commemorates the discovery of Temasek – which later became Singapura – by the Indonesian Prince Sang Nila Uttama.
Along the way is Clark Quay, a vibrant, pulsating area of Singapore, which finds its rhythm late in the evenings. It is dotted with many interesting micro-breweries, malls, restaurants & bars. It is chock-full of people dressed to the nines. If you plan to visit, check out Shiraz, a Persian restaurant & Marrakesh, a Moroccan eatery.
For people that don’t feel like a 4 Km walk one way, Water Taxis are good options. For SGD $18 per adult, you can make a round trip of about 45 minutes along the river.
On the banks of the Singapore River is an old building called Empress Place. It has been converted to the 2nd wing of the Asian Civilizations Museum. Near the entrance stands the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, a black edifice that overlooks another monument, the Dalhousie Obelisk. The latter was erected to commemorate the visit of the Marquis of Dalhousie, the Governor General of India, to Singapore.
I didn’t intend the above para to be a history lesson. They are major landmarks near the Raffles Landing site, plus they are near the photogenic Cavenagh Bridge, so they are worth checking out.
Anyone who knows me will tell you what a lily liver I am, when it comes to heights. I have vertigo of the worst kind. But, in Singapore, we met a guy who made me feel like a brave lioness. The most scenic way to go to Sentosa, the site of the most popular attractions in Singapore, is to take a Cable Car from Mount Faber. Poor guy, he had marshmallows in his stomach. Every time his wife moved a muscle, he screamed “OW! OW! Don’t Move!”. We had to pat his hands to comfort him. Compared to him, I’m Sir Edmund Hillary.
As night falls, the last show in Sentosa starts – a Sound & Light show by the beach. Even Priya Raju the lion-heart turned deadly pale when confronted with the mode of transport: A Chair Lift. Imagine a park bench without a foot-rest or arm-rests. Now imagine suspending this cable-car style, 50 storeys high. We had to travel in this fashion from 1 end of the island to another. I clutched the backrest of the bench, curled my toes, closed my eyes shut & clung to dear life.
Really, there must be a better way for the yellow-bellied to travel across Sentosa at night. I chattered non-stop along the way, to preserve my nerves. I know I held a discourse on Chechnya & Ingushetia, but I’m not sure if I arrived at a properly packaged plan to solve the unrest.
On the last day of our trip, we visited the Singapore Botanic Gardens. An MRT station near the gardens is under construction, so the best way to reach there is by cab. The garden was the brain-child of Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore. I wish we had seen the website of the gardens before leaving for Singapore: for it has a Mission & Vision statement 🙄 How banal.
The gardens were a huge disappointment. It looked beautiful, it had a sprawling acreage – and I’m sure their botanists do yeoman work to make their city-state a greener place. But for a tourist, the user experience left a lot to be desired. The plants & trees were poorly documented, the guided tours were conducted by volunteers – once a week, there were no audio guides & there were no pamphlets to help the visitors glean more information about the planted species.
The “Palm Valley” section – the very section that me & Sukumar had hoped would shed some light on native plants in our Indology work – played host to families on picnic, dogs gamboling without leashes & kids playing throw-ball. I think its fair to say that the Gardens function as the city’s green lung, provide a much-needed backdrop for families to have a pot-luck & aid academics in their research. But, it had precious little for the geekier visitors that want to learn something from their brief sojourn in the gardens.
That’s All Folks! That concludes our travelogs on Singapore. Toodles. See you all again in my next post on Srilanka.