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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Day 2-3: Singapore

The Discreet Traveler normally starts exploring a new city by figuring out public transit and going as far as possible that way. But Singapore is so cheap by taxi--in fact the price of everything is bizarre: a taxi ride to the top of Mt. Faber cost less than a cup of coffee in the hotel. This, our second cab driver, played "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and other songs of that era on his radio, in contrast to the Asian station the previous driver had been listening to. One thing I don't see drivers do is talking on phones, or anything like they do in other countries. Singapore has so many stern warnings about not texting, drinking, etc., and of course everything's punishable by penalties up to death, depending on whether chewing gum or drugs are involved. At Currency House, where the Singapore dollars are stored, the symbol of "no trespassing" was literally a guy with his hands up and someone pointing a machine gun at him. I didn't dare photograph this, lest I too get shot!

Once at Mt. Faber we had brunch overlooking the South China Sea. Hokkien noodles and Singapore laksa, which is a spicy noodle soup with seafood. We then walked down the Southern Ridges, a series of trails through the rainforest environment right in the middle of the built-up city state. The Henderson Waves, a suspended walkway high above the forest floor, then the elevated walk to Hort Park, where we admired an orchid while "White Christmas" surreally played in the background. At Kent Ridge Park, we took the canopy walk and ended up at Reflections at Bukit Chandu. This commemorates the brave but ill-fated resistance of the Malay Regiment "C" Company in 1942. They were resisting the Japanese Empire on behalf of the British Empire, but all too soon, Singapore fell to Japan, with brutal consequences including a hospital massacre and the rounding up of Western civilians on the island.

We had seen many signs warning of what to do if we ran into wild monkeys, but never actually saw any on this walk. Got a second wind in the evening and walked over to Chinatown, where we had seafood congee (a kind of comfort food rice porridge) and bamboo curry rice in front of the Chinatown Heritage Centre. Mosque Street (all street signs with names in Mandarin as well) runs parallel to Pagoda Street, which in turn has Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore.

An incessant loop of Kenny G Christmas songs had been playing in the hotel lobby since our arrival. We read in the news that snow covered Bethlehem, but "Winter Wonderland" and so on continued to sound surreal in the hot, clear weather of Singapore. We went to the zoo and ate breakfast in the company of orang-utans ("people of the forest" in Malay). I also spent some quality time with a corn snake and was able to see chimpanzees, busily getting at their fruit with tools, the activity which, when observed by Jane Goodall in Tanzania, caused Louis Leakey to remark that humanity was going to have to be redefined.

The Singapore Zoo is the greenest and most free-ranging I have ever seen. The orang-utans leap overhead and heaven help you if you are standing in the wrong place! It is sad to see white tigers in captivity (not that there'd be any left otherwise), although comforting that the exhibit is sponsored by Tiger beer, since we've been swilling it the whole trip. Including at the famous Long Bar of Raffles Hotel, where the less appetizing Singapore sling was invented. Other colonial remnants of Singapore's past include the cenotaph by the Singapore River, a memorial to the First World War dead when it was still the Straits Settlements.

This country is very green, not only in terms of plant life, but different recycling containers--more than many Western cities can manage. And what a pleasure it is ("loos I have known") to refresh oneself in what is usually a clean bathroom in a garden setting! Asia, and the rest of the world, have a long way to go in terms of the environment but at least Singapore is trying. Which reminds me, The Discreet Traveler needs to offset the carbon footprint of our long-haul air travel.


Bob Haisman said...

I love your "sweep" .... Leakey to taxis In Singpore ...thanks posting such interesting observations...I lose myself in your descriptions. ...feel like I'm there standing next to you ! Hais

Aunt Janet said...

I remember the Raffles Hotel from a trip 46 years ago -- at Christmas time, too! We found it to be so exotic! Singapore was not at all modern or "green" as it is today -- but I do remember that it was culturally and religiously diverse even then. Thanks for these wonderful reports -- so interesting.