Singapore Travelog #3

As I write these travelogs with Sukumar Rajagopal, I can’t help sinking into a Pausanius complex. He was a  traveler in ancient Greece, that painstakingly recorded his first-hand observations. A lot of what we know about Olympia, for example, is because of him. Since I don’t want to don the mantle of a documentarian, I should remind myself not to pen wearisome articles of great detail.

Ok, back to where I unceremoniously dumped you in my previous post.

One of the things people do in Singapore is, go on a High Tea Cruise. Most ferries start from the Marina South Pier & go on a 2.5 hour ride, past the Offshore Oil Drills. If weather permits, there is a stop-over at Kusu Island. Do this if you love being bored out of your skull. This was the lamest part of our trip.

After spending a mind-numbing hour on the ferry, drinking weak tea & nibbling on cloyingly sweet cakes – we couldn’t eat the savory puffs, since they only came in 2 kinds: Chicken & Beef – we got out on the island & stretched our legs. We were eager to see the Chinese Buddhist temple & the Malay Muslim Dargah in the island.  We were curious to learn the history of the temples & the significance of the Gods enshrined there.

But, there were no inscriptions in English. Nor could we find anyone to explain a damn thing to us. There were more mosquitoes on the island than there were tourists in the ferry. And the hungry buggers did a tattoo on my arm. Perhaps its not a coincidence that the island is named “Kusu”. Ask the nearest Tamil speaker to translate the word for you. This blog is all about decorum, propriety & prudery. So, I can’t tell you that “Kusu” means “Fart” in Tamil. You have to figure it out yourselves.

Our wish to see a beautiful, functioning Buddhist temple was granted soon enough. In fact, it was the most memorable part of our trip: Visiting the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in China Town. When we visited the temple at 10 AM, a group of monks were chanting the scriptures in unison. I don’t know if its the acoustics of temples, maybe the resonating frequency – but it gave us goose-bumps. The monks were dressed in yellow robes & the other practitioners of the faith had black cloaks on. The images of a 100 Buddhas serenely eyed the proceedings from the chamber walls, smiling beatifically.

The 4th floor of this temple houses the tooth relic of the Buddha. It is kept under a Stupa made of beaten gold & it is taken out only twice a year: Chinese New Year & Vesak day. The public can see a video of the consecration of the tooth. Many people question the authenticity of the relic, though. As far as the wider Buddhist world holds, only Srilanka & China have original tooth relics of the Buddha. The one in Singapore was a gift from a monk in Myanmar & it could very well be a fake. For that matter, how do we ever ascertain the veracity of the relics in Srilanka & China? Matters of faith are best left unquestioned.

Back to the Singapore Zoo’s “Fragile Forest”. This section is at the very end of the zoo. As we entered the enclosure, we found a bunch of mesmerized people on the viewing platform. 2 ring-tailed lemurs were spiritedly playing, while a 3rd one languorously watched from its perch. Remember, this is an open zoo, with freely roaming animals. The lemurs were prancing about, brushing against people, their patterned tails flicking incessantly. They didn’t seem to mind the oglers. Nor were they even a teeny bit afraid of us.

I had a map of Singapore in my hands. One of the lemurs came near me, its amber eyes glistening impishly. It took – not snatched, took – the map from me, with its curious hand-like front paws. Upon inspection, which involved chewing, the lemur must have decided that the map wasn’t a toy. I sat down beside it & asked politely, “May I have my map back?”. The lemur raised it head & looked at me, face tilted to one side. Then, it gave me back the tattered map – which of course, was in a sad state of disrepair & rendered useless.

It then stood on me – my legs, actually – to get a better look at me, debating whether it should rag me further, thought otherwise, then pounced at another lady’s handbag.

BTW, the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) system in Singapore is a thing of beauty. There are 3 lines that criss-cross the island – East-West, North-South & North-East. The fares range from SGD $2 to SGD $2.80 per trip – SGD $1 of which is refundable. Passengers can recycle the tickets by feeding them into the automated vending machines to get their refund back.

If you ever plan to be in Singapore & have kids  or you are a kid at heart like us – do not miss the awesome Night Safari. We loved the “Creatures of the Night” show, an interactive performance in an amphitheater. Easy, cupcake. This amphitheater has no gladiators or hungry carnivores mauling each other. This is a show where cute animals perform their bag of tricks. But, the animal that stole our hearts completely did not do anything. It merely showed up in style.

There was a vine tied high up above the amphitheater. A pair of Binturongs clung to the vine & looked down at us, their whiskers quivering. These civet-like critters looked adorable, like teddy bears made of dark chocolate. Their size was comparable to a smallish dog. Once they were above the audience, they clung to the vine with their hind-legs & hung face down-wards, like bats, drooling copiously on a hapless man seated right beneath them.

They then gently alighted on their trainer’s shoulders & coiled themselves around his neck like a furry scarf. I very badly wanted to stroke & scrunch up their sweet, pointy little faces. But that’s against the zoo’s policy. That, plus the Binturongs seemed to sport syringe-like dental equipment. And I like having all my fingers intact, I’m rather attached to them.

If you press me to say out loud the 1 thing that irritated me the most in the trip – It has to be Flash Photography. In the Night Safari, the guide requested us – in 6 languages, to boot – not to use our flashes. Most of the animals were nocturnal creatures unused to bright lights & the flash might blind them. Or, scare them enough to make them lose control & run into the tram in panic, hurting themselves & the visitors. And you know what the morons did? Repeatedly? Used Flash!

I was so furious. The guides begged the visitors again & again, to refrain from using flash. I cowed down some of those unthinking cads in my stentorian voice, but there were just too many of them. We even saw a fool give his camera to his child. And the kid promptly used flash to take a picture of a Barn Owl. Which was so shocked, that it flew to the highest branches of a tree & had to be coaxed down by a park ranger. Really, if people don’t have even an iota of consideration for their fellow beings, why travel? I beseech them to stay in their caves like all other Neanderthals before them!

I’ll pen a subsequent post on Singapore, its numerous walk-ways & other attractions. But before that, I hand the baton over to Sukumar, to write his much awaited post on the Peranakans.


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    What you have written about Night Safari is bang on. But I guess they should just ban photography since most of the cameras now come with Auto Flash. Maybe Night Safari can set up a museum mainly for taking pics.

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    Ramya – Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, its a good idea. They should simply ban all photography. That will keep things simple & protect the animals.

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    Nice post Priya!!
    Trust you to write mainly about animals in your post!! 🙂
    But after ur posts i really really want to see a good zoo. and the lemur decided against ragging you? Maybe it saw its own mischievousness reflecting in your eyes and decided against ribbing you lest you pull its tail or tweak its ears or something!! 😛

    and propriety and decorum be damned!! please please tell me what Kusu means!! i just couldnt figure that out. 😛

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    Revs – Thanks for your comment.

    Go to a good Zoo. You’ll love it 🙂

    Me, mischievous?! GASP! I had no intentions of pulling the lemur’s tail. I admit I wanted to kidnap it in my back-pack. But, Sukumar dragged me away before I could do anything, so my plan was foiled.

    Sorry, “Kusu” is a 4 letter word, when translated becomes an “F” word, not fit for the ears of ladies & gentlemen. Sukumar has warned me that sastwingees will not tolerate toilet humor. So, mum’s the word.

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    Nice to read a Tongue in Cheek from u Priya :)..ROFL…

    But It funny about Budha’s tooth relic …I mean its similar to true Cross relic..I mean some one once remarked that Holy Cross some many fragments that it can house an entire ship.I guess Budha’s tooth could also be similar too that

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    And since when did u start listening to Sukumar, Priya?
    Legend has it that every time Sukumar has done anything remotely close to dragging/commanding/reprimanding/warning you, you have either restricted him to a diet of bread crumbs and only bread crumbs or threatened him with poisonous looking snakes or scary looking beetles and insects!! 😛

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    Karthik – Thanks for your comment & kind words.

    Cross relic – 😆 You know, the tooth was simply too big to be authentic. Buddha must have been the size of Hagrid, if it indeed was his tooth. I guess such relics also boost the power of the monks, abbots & priests in the respective temples.

    But if the relic gives peace of mind & comfort to millions of believers, so be it & good for them.

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    Revs – You are right. I tried my best to stay with the lemurs. Sukumar dragged me by my tail, I mean my hair – out of the enclosure. I had to eat an ice cream cone to feel better. To spite him, I think I’ll throw away his pajamas – the one with the million holes, dating back to Circa 1932 – CE or BCE, I can’t say.

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    Great post with humor. Looks like lots to explore there. Thanks for sharing this with us.


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    Subba – Thanks for your comment.

    Yep, SGP is certainly worth a visit. We couldn’t make it to all the interesting places there though. Perhaps some other time.

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    Ramesh Ramaswamy said December 20, 2008, 4:55 pm:

    Priya, Sukumar,

    Interesting post. As you said I have been thinking Singapore as shopping mall. Thanks for sharing wonderful information about Singapore. Night safari – Wow! might have been great experience…of course minus flash photography. How come there is no punishment for flash photography in Singapore?

    – Ramesh

  12. Quote

    Ramesh – Thanks for your comment.

    So, a trip to Singapore is on your horizons now? Really now, the Singapore Tourism Board should pay us a commission. We are doing a better job than their “Uniquely Singapore” site 🙂

    Now that you mention it. We did hear some muffled screams as we left the Night Safari. Just kidding 😉

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    Excellent content here and a nice writing style too – keep up the great work!

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    Anxiety – Thanks for your comment & kind words. Please use your name or initials to post comments from now onwards. I’m still not a 100% sure if this is spam, but letting this comment in, since your IP & website really exist.

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    Nice post Priya. Yes, I too do think Singapore tourism should take in you ppl as brand ambassadors.
    My view of Singapore too was of a city where space was too scarce and where everthing strictly meant business. Thanks for the enlightment. But yes, I definitely don’t like the ‘tight discipline in public places’ approach. I feel as long as you don’t bother or create trouble to anyone else , a little fun on the streets should be just ok 🙂 Whats so wrong in jaywalking if theres no car anywhere in the vicinity. NY rocks 🙂

    Yes, flash photography should be taken care of. For that matter, photography in itself. Digital cameras made sure that the art lost it’s significance. We need some equipment like Camera jammers 🙂 in most of the public places. Btw, Is the sastwingees policy against pictures ? May be you could start with some of the Night safari ones 🙂

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    Ranjit – Thanks for your comment.

    You are right, space is scarce in Singapore – but at the same time, there are sprawling parks & lush greenery. People were jay-walking surreptitiously though. In Little India though, jay-walking seemed to be the norm 😉

    Yes, digital cameras have made photography boring. Camera Jammers – an idea whose time has come 🙂 Should be implemented in locker rooms & rest-rooms first.

    >> Btw, Is the sastwingees policy against pictures ?

    Touche. We’ll post some pics this weekend.

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