Friday, 31 August 2007

Singapore (22nd - 29th July 2007)

Sunday, 22nd July: Mum and I arrived at Changi Airport around 4pm. We decided to MRT to 3-ku’s (3-ku is what I call mum’s 3rd brother) place near Yew Tee MRT stop. Word of advice – if you plan to use the MRT to go to or from your destination in Singapore, do make sure you are carrying bags that you can actually carry on your own. I found it quite annoying dragging huge 20kg bags in and out of the MRTs as you try to squeeze among passengers. On the up side, the MRT system was rather easy to understand and use for anyone new in the country. Another tip: get yourself an EZ-Link card if you plan to move around using the bus and MRT quite a bit. Similar to the swipe card system in Perth, you can purchase this card at S$15 (S$5 for card cost) and reload it when your credit runs low.

We had a simple dinner with 3-ku and family at the nearby food court. Being in the MRT earlier, I already felt somewhat stressed out seeing so many people rushing here and there but you wouldn’t believe this – we even had to ‘fight’ for a table at the food court and to order food! I was surprised to find 3-ku having a standoff with an old man who decided to plonk himself at our table when we were already surrounding it (we weren’t seated yet because 3-ku’s son, Dewei, was looking for more chairs). The old man very rudely said in Hokkien “li ai che, to che la – kia tiaw cho hi mi?” which directly translates to “if you want to sit, sit – why stand?”. And it wasn’t as if there weren’t seats elsewhere – plenty! I had 'si ham kuay tiaw' (S$3) for dinner – not the best fried broad rice noodles but the cockles i.e. ‘si ham’ makes a lot of a difference to the taste of the dish.

Oh yeah, you can’t drink water straight from the tap – something I had to get used to now that I’m in the South East Asia!


Monday, 23rd July: I stayed with 3-ku and family for the week while I explore the country and caught up with a few friends. The condominium was on the 11th floor, some 30 metres above ground. Gives me the sort of anxious feeling pre-bungy jumping when I stand near the window…Singapore is literally packed with the same population as NZ, everyone cooped up in a small island – you can get from one end of the island to another in half an hour. Insufficient land resulting in lots of high risers.

Don’t know why but I found it more comfortable sleeping with the fan on than with the air-conditioner despite the hot and humid weather. Guess not used to the air-conditioner...

Mum left for home (Batu Pahat) by taxi around 2.30pm. Before she left, 3-ku, mum and I went for lunch at Yew Tee MRT station. I had laksa (2nd of the top 10 must-try local favourite Singapore dishes – spicy curry noodle soup with egg and seafood) and my god, it was spicy! It felt strange being in a place full of Asians, mainly Chinese – my ears are not in tuned with the local English slang, and Hokkien (the local dialect).

It took about 15 minutes to walk from 3ku’s place to Yew Tee MRT station and a 25-minute ride to Chinatown. The MRT is always packed with people! Feels like a moving marketplace and I don’t feel comfortable being in close proximity with the next passenger (it’s face-to-face especially during peak hour). You see all sorts of people in the MRT – students (some who reek of sweat), old men in golf shirt, tucked-in trousers held with a belt and glasses (saw one digging his nose – ew!), people falling asleep and some with takeaways (you can smell the food). Felt sorry for this Buddhist monk – I could see his face cringe when an 'ah soh' (old lady) leaped up to him and started talking to him like a machine gun all the way until he alighted the MRT. Poor fellow…You know, I find that the locals speak rather loudly, be it to the next person or on the mobile (or could it be that we were confined in the MRT??).

Chinatown, also known as ‘Niu Che Sui’ in Chinese meaning bullock carts’ water, got its name for its past reliance on bullock carts for bucket water supply to households, and famous for its street side hawkers, fortune-tellers, storytellers, buskers and opera singers. Today, it is home to many restored shop houses with a wide selection of restaurants, food and souvenir stalls. Coming out of the MRT into Pagoda St, it was like I landed in an alley in China – lots of stalls manned by sellers in t-shirt and shorts with a money pouch on their waist, trying to sell you stuff (mainly to tourist but not me since I blended in and look very much like a poor student...haha). A colourful and noisy place with lots of old architecture remaining. You can smell the place – Chinese herbs and food!

There were several key attractions I wanted to check out in Chinatown. My first stop was at the Chinese Heritage Centre on Pagoda Street. For a cost of S$9.80, you get transported back in time to when brave young Chinese migrants came to Singapore to work as coolies, samsui women and rickshaw pullers. I found out that my ethnic group, the Hainanese, were well-known for working with Englishmen and running coffee shops. It was a pity no picture-taking was allowed. They really made a good job making the place look like those of the olden days - dark and cramped quarters of a typical Chinatown shop house in which many migrants used to live in, all equipped with old artifacts.

Next stop - the Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple. I had to remove my shoes when entering the place and paid S$3 to take photos of its figurative sculptures of gods, goddesses and mythical creatures. Today, it is famous for the fire-walking ceremony that is held in October or November where devotees would walk on hot coals as a test of faith and devotion. And just a few roads down is another famous tourist spot, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, a temple believed to hold a real Buddha tooth relic – a very elaborate temple, home to the Hundreds Dragon Hall which has 100 miniature Buddha statues in different positions.

Just opposite of the temple on Sago Street was where I found the Chinatown Trishaw Park. Initially thought of taking a trishaw tour around but it didn’t feel right asking an old man to cycle me around Chinatown so just took some pictures there.

I briefly stopped by James Mosque but didn’t venture inside as there were people praying. It was interesting to see 3 different religions' places of worship all on the same street (South Bridge Road)! Just shows how multicultural Singapore is :) Photos of my day out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601670501236/detail/


Tuesday, 24th July: Went to meet up with high school classmate, Ee Ling, at National University of Singapore (NUS) this morning. I took the MRT to Clementi MRT station and then bus #96 to NUS Central Library to meet her. I wasn’t too sure whether I was on the right track – lucky for me I met a nice NUS student named Khatijah whom I chatted with till we arrived at our destination.

It was really nice to catch up with Ee Ling – we probably haven’t seen each other since 2001! She showed me around her workspace and the university, and later went to a Taiwanese restaurant around the corner for lunch. Thanks Ee Ling for keeping me company and taking me out for lunch! Do keep in touch and look forward to our next catch up session :)

About 1.30pm, I began my journey to Little India. The weather was hot, humid and sticky today – I wanted to strip off my jeans!

Guess what? De-ja-vu! I saw Khatijah again an the MRT station and chatted till I got to Outram Park MRT interchange.

Hopped off the Little India MRT stop and boy, could I smell Indian spices as I exited the station! Curry powder, cumin, cardamom, etc. And trust me, you’ll know you are in the right place because almost everyone I saw was Indian (I felt a bit out of place…). Went down Buffalo Road through grocery stores passing Tekka Mall and Tekka Centre, walked through Little India Arcade, and stopped by Abdul Gafoor Mosque and Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple to snap a few photos. Oh, and if you are into gold accessories, you can shop for them in Little India – there are ample of gold shops for your buying pleasure.

Back on the MRT to Kampung Gelam at the Bugis stop and ended up in Bugis Junction. Had a S$10 haircut in QB House 10 minutes Just Cut. Interesting little boutique hair salon. You put money into a machine and get a card. Wait in line and present the card for a cut of your choice. The cut I had was alright for the cost. Your hair gets ‘vacuumed’ and you receive the comb used to cut your hair at the end of the cut. Hey, we should have some of these salons in NZ! Quick and cheap!

Walked through Bugis Junction to Kampung Gelam where Sultan Mosque and the Malay Heritage Centre were situated. Sadly no Malay show at the heritage centre today (only on Wednesdays and Sundays). Lots of Malays in this area. Walked back towards Bugis Junction dodging the rain (it began to pour) and saw Bugis Street so went in to explore. So many little stalls inside selling food, clothes, accessories etc. – cramp and humid with lots of people. By the way, you could get pure, freshly squeezed fruit juices in many places in Singapore these days (no sugar water added). I tried soursop – yum!

With another hour of daylight left, I took the MRT to Raffles Place to find Thian Hock Keng Temple, the last of the ethnic places to visit on my list. Walked through Philip Street to Telok Ayer Street and found Fuk Tak Chi Museum, a former Taoist temple and now Singapore’s first street museum. I went in to have a look at the old building and its artifacts collected from residents of Chinatown. Found a wishing well located at the back of the museum – one couldn’t resist but drop a coin in for good luck :)

By the time I got to Thian Hock Keng Temple, it was already closed. Oh well, can’t do much about it but snapped a few photos. I was feeling rather tired by the end of the day from so much walking. Time to head home…Photos from my day of running around: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601707705280/detail/


Wednesday, 25th July: I left home around 9am for Sentosa after breakfast of coffee and ‘bak chang’ (savoury rice dumpling with meat) – oh, I felt so full! Forgot that it was normal to have a heavy breakfast here…

About 10am, I arrived in VivoCity and went to check out their rooftop water feature sky park. The weather didn’t look too good – dark clouds developing. You could see Sentosa which lies across VivoCity. There are several ways to get to Sentosa – I chose to cable car (like the NZ gondola but smaller) but got a bit lost looking for HarbourFront Tower 2 station. Managed to find my way with some help from 2 kind ladies on the street :)

I first cable car (I took the glass-bottomed car) to Mount Faber but it started to pour heavily so I couldn’t explore the place. Man, it was really high up! Cabled back to HarbourFront and towards Sentosa. You could see fantastic views of Singapore, Sentosa and passing ships given good weather. Maybe for those of you who would enjoy putting romance and adventure in one, you can consider Sky Dining – 3 round-trips while you enjoy your meal in the cable car, 60 metres above sea level.

I began my day in Sentosa at Imbiah Lookout and bought a ticket to ride the Carlsberg Sky Tower (S$12). Piercing the sky at an inspiring height of 110 metres, you get a breathtaking 360 degree panoramic view of Singapore, neighbouring Malaysia and the outlying island of Indonesia as the air-conditioned cabin heads slowly for the top - it’s Singapore’s tallest observatory tower.

Next on my list of things to do in Sentosa was to try out their Luge and Skyride. Cost me S$16 for a 3-ride deal (2 luge rides and return skyrides and my last one for free). Will they be able to beat our Kiwi tracks? Hmm, unfortunately they have only one 650m-paved track that you could cruise leisurely along. Not challenging enough for us Kiwis!

A quick snack on my sandwich lunch as I walked to Sentosa 4D Magix (Southeast Asia’s first 4D theatre) to experience an interactive movie. I watched a pirate comedy named Pirates! Wearing the special glasses provided, you feel like you could reach out and touch the characters. Not just that, I got to be in the midst of the drama – feeling the wind blowing, sprayed with water, tossed about in your chair and ‘electrocuted’, all for a good laugh. Photos taken this morning: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601724048253/detail/

There are buses and trams that loop around parts of the island. I hopped on the Red Line bus to Dolphin Lagoon at Palawan Beach. This was the first time that I’ve ever seen pink dolphins (they are Indo-Pacific Humpback dolphins) – very skilled and intelligent dolphins, and the show was most delightful. These dolphins were not born pink; they were initially grey and turn pink as they mature. Two young boys had the opportunity to get up close with the pink dolphins. Photos at Dolphin Lagoon: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601719131442/detail/

On the bus again and hopped off at Underwater World. Found some tourist snapping photos of monkeys at the bus station so followed suit:


I’ve heard that one could try out fish reflexology in Singapore but I didn’t know that it was located here - a must try if you haven’t! I got myself a S$50 package – 15 minutes of fish nibbling in the warm pool, 10 minutes head and shoulder massage and another 20 minutes foot reflexology. It was so interesting to have fishes nibble on your feet! Felt a bit strange at first, like your feet vibrating. And those little fishes ain’t shy! They ‘attack’ your feet as long as your skin touches the water!! I tried the smaller fish (the Turkish spa fish) pool first and then the bigger ones (the African spa fish). Oh, you can really feel the nibbling with the big fishes! But when you’ve had the African spa fish nibble, the Turkish ones become less satisfying. Don’t worry, the fishes don’t bite – these spa fish swim up and gently nibble on your feet, revealing smoother and healthier skin. Wonder if I could rare a tank of them at home for use at my leisure…hmm…

The Underwater World itself was alright. Lots of school and tour groups today in Sentosa. It's similar to Perth’s AQWA but smaller. I saw some very interesting but strange little sea creatures called the sea angel – sea snails that live in the ice-cold polar seas of the Northern Hemisphere. Also known as the ‘clione’, they are blind and rely on little sensory protrusions on its head to ‘see’. They also have a dugong on site but I was quite disappointed that it did a no-show today. :( Photos at Underwater World: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601743181004/detail/

I hopped on the Siloso Beach Tram from Underwater World to Beach Station and took the Palawan-Tanjung Beach Tram to Palawan Beach to get to the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia. I had to cross a suspension bridge to get to the islet. You know, the beaches here are pretty (better still with sunny weather) – would be nice to come sun-bathing and chill out. Tram back to Beach Station to get a ticket for the 7.45pm Song of the Sea show and bus to The Merlion. Photos at the beach: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601763465460/detail/

Personally, I thought The Merlion tour was so-so. For S$8, you are given a lucky sand dollar coin when you present your ticket at the entrance for a surprise at the end (wonder what it would be). You then walk through a strange, dimly lit walkway with walls filled with mysterious sea creatures, merfolk and lake monsters, and watch a short movie clip about how The Merlion came about. The Merlion is a hybrid of a lion and a fish. Strong and lithe, its lion head alludes to the fabled beast that once roamed the ancient island state, while its fish body symbolizes Singapore's origin as a prosperous seaport.

After the show, I continued walking into a room with several gold-painted Mercubs statues. This was where I had to place the sand dollar coin into the Mercub’s mouth in exchange for a small chit to redeem my surprise gift. Hmm…I continued on my journey to the viewing points of The Merlion. The viewing deck in the Merlion's mouth shows a magnificent view of the Singapore city skyline while on its crown, you could see a 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding islands, the Singapore harbour, and even the horizon of the Riau Archipelago in Indonesia from a vantage point of 60 metres above sea level.

Remember that coin I was given? I had rather kept the coin as a souvenir than put it into the Mercub’s mouth for a souvenir fan! Photos taken at The Merlion: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601770374429/detail/

Had dinner at Tastes of Singapore @ Siloso and ordered dish of same name. A mix of laksa, hainanese chicken rice, satay, chilli crab, tandoori with popadum and acar. Spicy! Spent about S$25 but it was worth the try. Photo of my dinner:


By 7pm, I was outside queuing outside the gate into Songs of the Sea. It was packed but I got myself a nice spot to watch the magnificent and mesmerising show with a live cast and dramatic effects of computer imaging, water jets, lasers, flame bursts and music. Left Sentosa on the Sentosa Express to Sentosa Station at VivoCity to catch the MRT home. Photos at night: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601779733079/detail/

Despite spending the whole day in Sentosa, there are still several attractions I had missed. I have to say, Sentosa is all about money – I probably spent over S$100 in entrance tickets to the attractions. Even so, I would suggest if you plan to come to Sentosa, you should spend a few days here so you could truly take your time to explore the island and relax at the beaches (you can’t to the touristy stuff AND the beach on the same day – too rushed!).


Thursday, 26th July: I headed out to Raffles Place MRT stop around 10am to photo the many interesting landmarks along the river and visited the Ancient Civilisation Museum. Spent about 2.5 hours at the museum but that weren’t enough to view and study the displays in the galleries. I enjoyed my time in the museum, just only irritated with the information kiosks in the galleries that wouldn’t work with the bar code on my ticket.

Walked over to Merlion Park and it started to pour. Why is it always raining in Singapore??! I quickly ran down Queen Elizabeth Walk towards the Esplanade (the durian-looking theatre) and walked to SuntecCity via the pedestrian underground walkway (hmm, the underground walkway was a bit too quiet and isolated…). Photos taken along the river: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601780827812/detail/

I had Hainanese chicken rice for lunch at Food Republic in SuntecCity Mall:


S$5.50 for a small plate of chicken rice! But it was very yummy. The food court was designed like old-style Chinese coffee shops and the cleaners were donned in cheongsam with hair made up. Makes you feel as if you were in an upper-class food court. Very unique.

The bad weather had cancelled my plans to go on a Ducktour. It would have been nice to go this land and river cruiser in the city. Not much luck either with the Fountain of Wealth at SuntecCity – the fountain was closed due to the heavy rain. It’s a huge fountain with water that flows inwards. It is symbolically the ring in the palm of the hand, guaranteeing the retention of wealth. During certain periods of the day, the fountain is turned off and visitors are invited to walk around a mini fountain at the centre of the fountain's base for good luck. Photo of the Fountain of Wealth:



Singapore has a shopping culture – I see people of all ages and gender carrying shopping bags everywhere! I did a bit of shopping myself for books and CDs :)

I joined 3-ku and family for dinner tonight to celebrate my cousins, Shanice’s and Dewei’s birthday. Photos of our dinner and our Oreo cheese-cake cutting: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601778220024/detail/


Friday, 27th July: Met up with Hwee Shuen, my friend from university, for dinner at City Link Mall – it was lovely to see her after so long! We haven’t seen each other since we graduated from Victoria University in 2002. I was really happy to hear about her life in Singapore – sounds to me she loves it there. We chatted over dinner (oh no, not another treat – I’m starting to owe to many treats! Make sure you guys come claim them when you visit me…). We tried to contact another friend from our university days, Ming Fong, but Hwee Shuen couldn’t dial through to his mobile - oh well, just too bad.

We later headed to Tanjung Pagar to check out the salsa place called Union Square. Oh, I've probably not mentioned this in my previous postings - I enjoy dancing and have been dancing salsa on and off for about a year plus in Wellington. My fellow salsa friends have mentioned this place to me before I took off on my trip - said to be a happening salsa bar that one should go to when visiting Singapore. The place was quite packed when we arrived around 10pm. It was a ladies night thus no band was playing (and the women get free drinks all night long – yay!). It was obvious everyone there was into LA style and I only managed to get a few dances.

Surprisingly, Singapore men were quite shy (or was I too bold to ask them for a dance??) – they look at me in one kind and scurried away immediately at the end of the song to their partners. Hmm…Oh yeah, I did dance with a dodgy, short Indian fellow who was not all for the dance – he was telling me how beautiful I was blah-blah and just clinging too close for comfort. Told him to back off or he’ll be sorry!

Poor Hwee Shuen must have been bored watching people dance – sorry for dragging you along! I left about half an hour after she did to beat the after 12am extra taxi charge (yep, you get charged an extra 50% on top of the fare). Hurry, hurry!


Saturday, 28th July: I don’t know why but I had this feeling that Hwee Shuen has Ming Fong's old mobile number so I decided to give the one I had on mine a go. Success! Turns out I’ve got the more recent phone number. Met up with Ming Fong and Hwee Shuen at City Hall MRT stop for coffee around 3pm. They have somehow lost touch with each other and I was happy to meet up with them for the mini re-union. Brenda, our friend and Ming Fong’s girlfriend, has also relocated to Singapore but couldn’t join us as she was overseas for work. It was nice to see them and catch up with the happenings in our lives over the years. Both Ming Fong and Hwee Shuen asked me to try out working in Singapore – I promise I’ll think about it! Photo of the 3 of us:


Oh-o, I’m going to be late meeting Liwei - sorry! Liwei is my pen pal of 10 years and we have never seen each other face-to-face. How exciting to be able to see each other in person! I met her at HarbourFront MRT station and it was easy to spot her in her bright yellow top :) We went to VivoCity for drinks and dinner at Brotzeit German Bier Bar & Restaurant. We had so much to talk about – I think the waiters were just hoping we would leave so they could free up another table. Haha! Thanks for the wonderful dinner, Liwei!

After dinner, we headed for St James Power Station, just across the street from VivoCity. Interesting clubbing place with several rooms of different themes from jazz to Canto pop, world music to hip-hop. For S$15 per person, you get access into all the rooms and a free drink. We started off at Bellini Room (jazz themed) for our free drink. Liwei introduced me to Ribena Vodka – hmm, tasted somewhat peculiar to me. We went to check out all the other rooms to decide which one I liked best. According to Liwei, we had to get in early; otherwise, we are likely to be stuck outside in the queue. I like the Bellini Room (had a live jazz band) and Movida (had a Latin band). There was a Canto pop band playing in Dragonfly – I thought it was quite amusing to see the singer and dancers ‘strip’ as the song goes (ah, don’t get any wild ideas – the men only strip off their top).

We stayed in Movida mostly and dance to latin pop music in the packed dance floor. I bought us a round of the Tiger beer – so expensive! S$21 for 2 mugs!! I would have thought the local beer would be cheap...

The music in the clubs were loud (I would probably be partially deaf tomorrow morning) and pumping. We retreated to Bellini Room to chill out to a few songs led by gorgeous songstress, former Singapore Idol’s first season finalist, Jeassea Thyidor.

We headed home about 2am. It had been a wonderful night with Liwei – thanks so much for all your tips and information about visiting Singapore, and taking me out tonight! Look forward to catch up with you again, perhaps even travel someplace together :) Photos from out night out: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601786535969/detail/


Sunday, 29th July: 3-ku took the his family and I to Qian Hu Fish Farm this evening. Their Arowana fish (more commonly known as Dragon fish) has got microchips implanted in them!! Apparently, the chipping is to assist tracking in event of theft and also to identify if the fish belongs to you (they have a care centre). Photos of us at the fish farm: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157601786971729/detail/

Hmm…all these fish is making me hungry…Dinner (fish head curry) was my treat to 3-ku and family for being such kind hosts during my stay with them. Thanks so much!

I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Singapore. I had always used Changi Airport to fly to and fro NZ but never did visit the country itself. I was glad I took the time to do so in this trip. There are a few places that I haven’t visited such as the isles of Singapore (Kusu Island, Pulau Ubin, St John’s Island) and the Night Safari – have to add it to my itinerary in my next visit!

The ease of use of their public transportation made it so convenient and safe to get around to explore the island. Despite the large number of residents in the small island, I found Singapore systematic and in order. For more information about visiting Singapore, go to: http://www.visitsingapore.com/publish/stbportal/en/index.html

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