Part III- Singapore
The last part of my southeast Asian journey was a few days in Singapore. Taking the bus down from Malacca wasn’t too bad. The bus pretty much dropped me off at Malaysian immigration, and then again at Singapore immigration, which you can kind of see in the first picture below (taken from the bus on the causeway). Not much of a line at either place. Considering the amount of transit that goes through there every day, not a big surprise. There were no mints given out at Malaysian immigration however.
While Singapore is a pretty small island..if you look at the Thai/Malay peninsula on a map you can’t really even make out Singapore at the very bottom, it’s larger than you would think. After going through immigration, we probably drove for another 20 minutes to get to the bus stop. Strangely, that’s all it really seemed to be – there wasn’t any mass transit in evidence nearby- I needed to get a SIM for my phone, and then try to find the nearest subway/MRT station.
Sure enough the random SIM they gave me at the phone shop was an Angry Birds themed one from SingTel — the main phone company there (I’m guessing the Angry Birds guys get money for THAT one). Still only phone and text messaging, so I had to get by with searching Google Maps at the hotel and taking screenshots.
After getting my phone in order and hitting the ATM, I set off for a subway line.
The inside of one of the MRT stations. They are all very new and VERY CLEAN. This is pretty typical for Singapore, which is a bit uptight about cleanliness and order. Being a little bit of an authoritarian state, that’s kind of the way it is. Not surprisingly I felt very safe the whole time I was there.
But I loved the subway stations. Not only did they have great design and were clean and efficient, they were also oases of air conditioning in the greenhouse that is Singapore. Did I mention that it’s hot and humid near the equator?
Here’s a sign on one of the pillars of the subway. Our old nemesis the durian fruit makes its return, and you can see the hefty fines they slap on people for sipping on their beverage while waiting for the train.
My hotel was pretty centrally located, but in my research I didn’t find out that the street where its located was under construction at the moment. Specifically, Singapore is adding to their existing 4 subway (MRT) lines by building 3 more. Simultaneously. So this street was closed, which made it tough to get around the neighborhood, and there was pounding during the day. Luckily, it started at 8am exactly and quit at like 8pm exactly. This was cute PacMan themed signage they had on the walls blocking off the construction for DTL 3 (3rd Downtown Line).
Across the street from the hotel was a hawker center, although this was more of an ‘upscale corporate’ hawker center I guess. Hawker centres are where people go for Singapore’s legendary street food. Previously people had carts or stalls set up on the street, but in the interests of health and safety they mandated that all the ‘street’ vendors move under a roof (although they are all open-air to my knowledge) where they could utilize running water, electricity, and the government could do pretty rigorous inspections. Thus was borne the Hawker Centre, which are kind of like food courts are at malls, except these places are destinations unto themselves.
This particular one was open 24 hours a day. I think I ended up getting some Vietnamese pho, which, after months of eating ramen for my soup needs seemed kind of weak. Still tasty though.
This is a movie theater/shopping center that’s next to the School of the Arts. One of the days I was walking by there and there was a Chinese Lion Dance competition going on. I’m a bit of a transit and city design nerd (if you can’t tell). In the distance there is an Electronic Road Pricing gateway where they charge people tolls if driving in certain areas of town during rush hours, etc. I’ve heard its insanely expensive to own and drive a car in Singapore. On the other hand, even with a pretty good subway system, living there without a car when it’s 80+ degrees and 80%+ humidity all the time probably wouldn’t be tolerable for me.
Singapore’s Chinatown. Near Chinatown there was a rather large Hindu temple. Since I had missed my chance at walking through one in Malaysia, I spent a good amount of time walking around here and taking pictures. I particularly love the multi-tiered piece above the front entrance, which appears to be typical of Hindu temples, at least in this part of the world.
This is what the inside of the hawker centre looks like. There were a bunch of stalls shut down at that point- I think it might have been mid-afternoon, so they were probably closed between meal rushes.
I’m a big fan of Tony Bourdain’s No Reservations show, and when he came to Singapore, he went to a chicken-rice place at this hawker centre. From what I’ve read, the line is really long to get food. I walked around the hawker centre two or three times and didn’t find a place swarming with people, so I looked closer.
Because they have Bourdain himself and his speech bubble posted up there. Anyway, I ordered the chicken-rice, which obviously is chicken with rice, but the rice is mixed with chicken broth, and they have sides of hot sauce and a few other things.
This late lunch of chicken-rice, a beer, and a bottle of water cost me less than S$10, which is probably about US$7. Not a bad deal for some very good chicken. It didn’t floor me, but it was certainly worth the trip.
After leaving the hawker centre I continued heading east, wanting to take in some of the sights.Random building. I thought this pic was an interesting combination of old (in the foreground) and new (part of the downtown area towering behind it).
A shot of part of downtown from near Clarke Quay, which was the direction I was heading. That’s the Singapore Parliament building.This is a river walk-a number of restaurants, etc. I got a picture of the sign since it’s a little more blunt regarding the whole ‘lack of order’ thing.
I figured that I’d jump back on the subway and hopefully the rain would let up by then.
Raffles Hotel is named after the British businessman who created the first western (British) settlement on Singapore island. It is also known for having a bar where the Singapore Sling was invented. As I’m not really a fan of fruity drinks, especially ones that the natives don’t drink themselves, I took a picture and moved on.
I was heading for Marina Bay, which was where the majority of my tourist checklist was located. As I did in Malaysia, I used as much available air conditioning as I could, and found a mall between Raffles Hotel and Marina Bay.
On the other side of the mall (after enjoying an iced coffee and soaking up some cool air, I found an outdoor venue where some music festival was going on. It was getting late in the afternoon, still very muggy out, and I had more walking to do, so I pressed on.
The first thing to know about Marina Bay is that it’s a body of water enclosed on just about all sides by buildings, so the following pictures were taken by me walking about a half-circuit around the Bay.
This is taken from near the band shell above across toward downtown. If you look closely near the water you can see the Merlion, the Singapore mascot, cursed to endlessly spit-take like a slapstick comedian condemned to hell. Singapore is Malay for Lion City, despite Lions never having lived here. I just learned from the great and powerful Wikipedia that the Merlion was created as a symbol for Singapore by the Singapore tourism board in the 1960s.
It was maybe another 10 minutes or so walking into downtown and I could tell that any moment it was going to start pouring. Downtown Singapore is essentially one bank building after another. A pretty good looking downtown, though. I was hightailing it down the road as the wind kept building up, and asked a guy where the nearest MRT station was. It was just around the corner thankfully.
So following my policy of using the MRT to travel while the weather was bad, I decided to head up to Orchard Road, which is Singapore’s main shopping area, for a look around.
The MRT station actually empties out into a giant underground mall. I should have taken a video of this escalator area, because I’m not sure if they used projectors or what, but there were black silhouettes of fish moving around on the walls and ceiling.
I poked around a bit in the mall, cooling off, and decided to check outside- still raining a little bit and humid as ever.
By that point I had just about melted, and had a late flight to catch. I headed back to my hotel, where they were holding my luggage, and then headed out to the airport. One of the very nice things about Singapore’s Changi Airport is that they have an MRT line that goes right to the airport. As in, you get off the train and you have a short walkway and you are in the airport. I think the last place that was that convenient was maybe Atlanta’s airport, but the rest of the airport doesn’t make up for its mass transit convenience.
Changi was also the area of Singapore that, during World War II under Japanese control that a work camp was set up for British and Malay prisoners, with not too pleasant results. James Clavell’s King Rat is a quasi-fictional retelling of his personal experiences there. So it was a bit strange to walk through one of the best and most modern airports in the world and know that nearby there had been some pretty horrible WWII history.
Changi Airport has a ton of amenities- there’s hotels that are inside the secure area, so if you are just connecting at Singapore but either want a nap or are coming in one night and leaving the next day, you don’t have to leave the secure area to get some shuteye. There’s also a club anyone can go into (unlike many of the airline-specific ones) that has a gym, facilities to clean up, etc. After walking around all day, I paid the nominal fee to get cleaned up and changed, and got a bite to eat and used their internet for a while.
Changi also has a movie theater that plays free movies 24 hours a day. The movie that they were playing while I was waiting for my flight was..The Green Lantern. Which I’d already seen. Oh well.
My flight back to Tokyo was a red-eye- left about midnight and got back into Tokyo first thing in the morning.
Coming off the plane and heading down the escalator toward immigration, there’s a sign. On the left is in the picture and on the right it says Welcome to Japan. What it actually says in Japanese in the picture おかえりなさい (okaeri-nasai), which means ‘Welcome Home’. And I guess I did feel like I was coming home.
More on Japan soon.