Singapore as it is.
This is a travelogue of a American first visit to this part of the world and Singapore. Share her encounters and experience of this city.
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Copyright © 2001 V.Shapiro. All Rights Reserved.
Vivian Shapiro - Singapore trip diary
Note: as this is excerpted from my diary, it goes into excruciating detail
that may, for some readers, detract from the straightforward travel info.
However, if you like reading people's travel journal entries as I do, read
I arrived in Singapore Feb. 19 2001, 3 pm, to spend 3 nites before travelling on
to Bali. As I flew from New York City, my travel time was approx. 26 hours
with a small layover in Taipei. I flew China Airlines and found them
satisfactory with the exception of my luggage arriving after I did.
Airport employees in Singapore are very proactive in helping you track your
mislaid luggage, which in this case was a backpack slightly too large to be
carry on. There's a whole team set up just for luggage tracking and they
give you free government chocolate to make you feel better. I attempted to
take the bus from the airport but in my overtired state (cant' sleep on
planes) I got too confused and took a taxi. The cost to my hotel was S$15. I
stayed at the Park View Hotel on Beach Rd. and highly recommend this cute
hotel for it's fantastic location. It's about a block from Raffles and
walking distance to museums, Serangoon Rd., Boat and Clarke Quays, and even
China town if you are an avid urban hiker. Breakfast was included in my room
price, but I didn't have any. I booked through asiatravel.com.
At first I was assigned a room with a Malaysian businessman inside it, and since that
was not one of the amenities I needed, I changed rooms. The rooms are *tiny*
(but so am I), about 9 x 9 with a double bed, desk, closet, fridge, coffee
maker, so the only remaining floor is a narrow strip of beige carpet. The
beds are short, not recommended for anyone over 5'5". But the room is
beautiful with high gloss dark wood furniture and trim. They have great
pamphlets and maps in the lobby and the neighborhood map in my room was
At this point I still did not know the status of my luggage so my first
order of business was to purchase some sundries and one outfit. I had a few
essential items in my carry-on, but what I needed immediately were socks,
face cream, a comb and possibly a skirt and t-shirt (even if this does mean
being a woman using her credit card in another country to round out her
empty existence ;) ). What I'd miss most if my luggage were not recovered
would be my snorkel set (for Bali), my well broken in birkenstocks, first
aid kit, and downloaded internet info on Bali. The rest was all replaceable.
I started out of my hotel and the most salient and immediate thing I pass is
the famous Raffles Hotel. Beautiful, but they don't let you go past the
lobby. At least not if you look very jet-lagged with rumpled clothing and
scruffy hair. I peeked into the Raffles City Mall (no relation to Raffles
Hotel except proximity). Then I wound up in a mall called Parco by Bugis
Junction. On thing about malls here is that they have very intricate
fountains. Feng Shui is practiced in their design. They defy written
description and even photographing them doesn't give a clear idea of their
appearnce since what makes them so unusual isthe pulsing and intermittent
wsay in which water jets squirt.
In Parco I saw a clothing store (Bossini) that was having an extensive sale.
Singapore is a great place to be missing your luggage given the plentitude
of shopping). I found that generally skirts fit me well but all the shirts I
tried on were too small unless I tried on men's t-shirts. I bought 2 skirts
and 2 t-shirts. S$60. Then I went to a Reebok store and got a 6-pack of
socks. I didn't find basic toiletry items. There were fancy ones, but no
Singapore equivalent of Rite Aid or CVS (cheapie U.S. drug store chains). I
knew there must be places where backpackers, maids, taxi drivers, food stall
workers, etc., must buy their sundries but I wasn't sure where. I'm not sure
how I wound up at Bencoolen St., but there were open markets for fruits,
food stalls and exactly the bargain stores I was looking for.They are like
the stores you see in Union City (northern NJ) where everything from
powerful batteries to carpets and potholders and underwear are sold side by
side. There are a number or american brand beauty products, but the really
cheap stuff is locally made. A slight problem with that is that I don't read
chinese. Only the tiny pics on the packaging were the clue as to what the
item was. Nonetheless, I wound up with a decent, though oddly-textured
moisturizer (it starts out lumpy and smooths over the skin) and powerful
hair gel against humidity.
After purchasing these items I went to investigate the food stalls across
the street. Okay, I was very nearly traumatized by the experience. You know,
when I first arrived in S'pore, I thought it smelled funny. Apparently this
smell generates from the myriad food stalls all over the city. Basically
these stalls are set up in the dankest, darkest places resembling parking
garages. There are rows of counters, each run by a different vendor. Above
or under each counter are pictures of
what they serve, with a preponderance of fish heads (eyes still attached) being the main ingredient. As far as I can tell, food and drink are never purchased from the same vendor, so you
buy a drink then pick your food, then find a place to sit. I found the smell
and the noise overwhelmping and this was hardly a pleasant, relaxing
atmosphere to enjoy one's eats. I was surprised by having this reaction. Ah
well. The basement level of the shopping malls all have a more upscale
version of this. It smells better but they are louder and very
claustraphobic. The nicest places to eat seem to be the rows of restaurants
on Boat and Clarke Quays but they don't seem to be open until dinner. I'm
not sure what the purpose of all those closed eateries is. I do see a number
of tourists in the city (we're easy to pick out) but the place is not
overrun. Ditto for local population. Singapore is much emptier than I
thought it would be. So, in the midst of this foodstall I decide to forego
dinner. Near my hotel there's Burger King and Starbuck's, but I'd never have
that for dinner at home.... There's a foodstall 2 doors down from my hotel.
I go in to buy bottled water. The vendor looks disappointed that that's all
I'm getting. I guess he wanted the opportunity to wow me with his fish head
soup. I'm immediately a vegetarian.
I went back to my room a little after 6 pm. There was no word on my luggage.
I eat my chocolate, watch Chinese soap operas, and fall asleep very early. I
was so utterly exhausted I was nearly twitching. I think the air's thickness
here is what prevented my from falling over--you can't fall over into a
solid block of humidity. The phone rang at 11 pm, it was China Airlines
confirming my luggage made it to S'pore but it would be a little longer
until they could get it to my hotel. I fall back asleep. Then at 3 am the
front desk called saying my luggage had arrived and I needed to come down to
sign for it. Problem solved. I went back to bed.
Tuesday, Feb. 20
I woke up around 9 am. The "must do for me" thing I'd been most interested
in in terms of tourist stuff here are the bumboat rides on the Singapore
River. I walked down to Clarke and Boat Quays but they were utterly
deserted, which is a pity because there seems to be such a great selection
of restaurants and bars (all closed) except Hooters (why!?). This is
supposed to be the social center of S'pore but I guess only at night. A lot
of bars advertise "crazy hour" in lieu of happy hour. The Quays are free for
the karaoke clubs that seem to dominate the rest of the city. I'd arrived
too late to go on the 3 hour river/harbor boat ride. There are constant 1/2
hour rides all day long. This is a rip-off but it also absolutely must be
done. The Singapore River is extremely short and narrow, and there's nothing
you see on the boats that you can't see on foot except for the lion fish
statue. I was the only person on the boat. The driver, who did not really
speak English, took pix of me with various landmarks as backdrop. There's a
taped narration that plays along with the ride, with the boat driver
interjecting "Singapore number 1!" occasionally. He also asked me if I
wanted to drive the boat but I declined. (I'm trying to put my years as an
opium trader behind me). At one point water splashed over the edge of the
boat, covering me, which is how I discovered my new Singapore
military/safari chic skirt is waterproof. Score! This will be indispensable
After the boat ride I wandered around looking at more closed restaurants and
decided to check out Orchard Rd. By now I'd noticed there are no beggars
here and no such thing as a homeless person, though there are
decently-dressed people taking naps in odd public places, like the sidewalk.
Would-be beggars here are made to sell stuff and apparently you have to be
visibly and severely handicapped to qualify for this career path. Another
example of Singapore subtlety is on cigarette packs: "SMOKING KILLS", no
blather about lung disease or pregnancy...
I found a hawker stall by the Asian History Museum and it was fairly
open-air so I ventured in. The first thing I saw were peanut pancakes, a far
cry from the ones I've tried in New York. I thought they'd be more prevalent
here. They were awesome and the portion was so huge I could only get thru
1/3 of it. Also tried lime juice -- yummy. I sat on the fringes of the
stall. When I browsed around I did see a lot of stuff I'd be willing to try.
Made a note of the place.
Orchard Road is a neighborhood of high-caliber malls and shopping centers. I
bought a MAC lipstick in one place (MAC appears to be quite popular here,
price comparable to what I'd pay at home). There's even a MAC stand at the
airport, which in itself is a shopping mall. I also ducked into some
clothing stores and bought a gauzy black skirt and awesome blue Thai silk
pants. Still no shirts that fit. To get back I decided to check out the
highly touted MRT. It's all that, for sure. I'm not sure how many people are
killed annually by MRT escalators. They go very fast -- you really have to
hold on and step lively on and off. Also odd, when you first get on to
descend underground, it feels like the escalator goes up, then down. In some
stations the MRT train is in a glass casement over the tracks, handy against
jumpers and pushers. I suppose it also makes it impossible to graffiti the
trains. I suspect the whole system is computerized. I didn't see any
conductors. The same computerized voice (like the one on Star Trek) narrates
all stops on all trains. I took the train to city hall and switched there to
go to Bugis. At Bugis I went to the basement food court and had some chicken
and rice noodles. It was so so. I tried Badung Juice, due to it's pretty
fuschia color. After the first sip, I was like, "this must be an acquired
taste" but I got used to it quickly. It's both sweet and herbal.
After dropping my shopping bags in my hotel room, I went to the Raffles
Hotel courtyard and just had a cup of tea. Then I ate dinner in a nearby
diner. I ate caesar salad with spiced chicken. Not bad but I think it made
me sick later. I also had the S'pore equivalent of a frappucino - nice.
I took the MRT and bus to the Night Safari at the zoo. I commend S'pore's
mass transit. It's very well set up for newcomers to figure it out and get around. The Night Safari: cute idea, but a bit of a rip off. You spend a lot
of the time walking and not viewing animals.On the plus side, the suspension
bridge was way cool and I'm guessing very authentic. My fave animal was the
laughing hyena. I'd never heard one before, and they really do laugh
hysterically, certainly putting a smile on my face. I think it would be
better to go to the zoo during the day. I did not have a chance to do this,
nor did I have a chance to go to the bird or reptile parks.
Over dinner I was reading what I hope is Singapore's version of the
"National Enquirer". The stories are sensationalistic, the cover story being
about a crippled woman who's too afraid to leave her house because both her
son and husband are rapists. This means they grope girls in shopping malls,
causing "outrage of modesty." There was also a story about a religious
ceremony in Malaysia that involved naked people so it resulted in several
arrests. Then there was an article about a Jennifer Lopez press conference
in which J-Lo is described as being "beautiful in a Balinese way." Seemed
like a slam of sorts.
Singapore TV: Wheel of Fortune is immensely popular. What I liked are the
Chinese soap operas, subtitled in English, that air at night. They are
insipid but since I'm unfamiliar with them it's highly entertaining. I'm not
sure if it's the translation job or chinese ideals, but women friends
address each other as "miss" (I liked being called Miss Vivian at the
hotel). There's lots of talk about finding a husband, American or
Singaporean. But women are also shown in high level jobs, though female
characters discuss how they'll quit their jobs to be a housewife and mother
the second they're hitched. Divorce is prevalent among characters too.
Mothers of male characters push them aggressively to get married as well and
start siring kiddies. Wednesday night I couldn't turn off "You Light Up My
Wednesday, Feb. 21
My stomach was sketchy so I figured a western breakfast might be in order. I
went to a bakery and had a croissant and coffee. They did also serve fish
head soup for those inclined.
I went to the Singapore Art Museum, but the exhibit was limited. The most
provocative painting I saw was by a Balinese artist and it depicted the
influence of tourism on the culture, including how tourists will photograph
every aspect of Balinese daily life including bathing. Beautiful satire in
terms of bite and scope. The most impressive thing about the museum is the
building it's housed in. It's like Raffles Hotel with great spacious balcony
hallways under series of arches throughout. It takes less than an hour to go
thru the museum because so many exhibits are closed.
I went to the Waterloo food stalls and had lime juice and a Mee Goreng that
A note on toilets: in the malls and museum you have the choice of a stall
with a squat toilet or a western one. Even though how to use squat toilets
has been explained to me, I have no idea how to use them, especially the
water part afterwards. How do you not soak your clothes? Wouldn't double
dipping be unsanitary? Ho do you get your hand clean afterwards? I'm sure
I'll have to use one on Bali. (afternote: while Lonely Planet makes squat
toilets on Bali sound like a thing of the past this is WRONG WRONG WRONG. I
have figured out the mechanics though, due to practice).
After my snack I went to the Asian Civilizations Museum. The current focus
is on Angkhor Wat but I found the Nonya clothes of different regions really
beautiful.This museum is also very small but they have a theater where they
show documentaries. They were airing 2 on Angkhor Wat. I didn't realize
Cambodian religion and arts were so similar to Bali, from what I could tell.
How did that happen? I watched the doc about mask making and dance and the
efforts going into preserving these arts, training new artisans and finally
putting all the info down in manuals and guides for instruction.
For my afternoon I wanted to check out Chinatown and some of the temples and
Mosques in the area. This was much better than I thought it would be. First
of all, the architecture in C-town is very colorful and quaint with some
rough edging for character. There's a lot of places to shop for everyday
stuff (like around Bencoolen St.). The one mosque that's famous is very well
marked. Chinatown was the one place I saw a lot of tourists. I went into the
Sri Mariamman Temple (it's Hindu) - not to be missed. Very colorful with
lots of sculptures on the enclosures and inside. I also visited the Thian
Hock Keng Temple (Buddist) which was very beautiful with it's red trimmings
with gold gilt. I took a ton of pictures in Chinatown.
After this I went to the Arab Street area. I wanted to visit the Sultan
Mosque, but as there was scaffolding surrounding it, I don't think it was
open to visitors. I also walked around the neighborhood fabric stores. The
selections were amazing. It made me wish I could sew. I ran out of time and
did not get to explore much of Little India.
That evening I went to Boat Quay to sit by the river and catch up in my
diary over a few cold sodas. Then I went to the food stall next to my hotel.
The man behind the counter couldn't understand what I was trying to order. I
pointed to the picture above the cash register and someone else translated
for mel. Roast pork with spinach rice noodles. I'm not really a pork fan but
it smelled so good I couldn't resist.
Thursday morning I was off to the airport by 7:30 am for my flight to Bali.
as posted by "Vivian Shapiro" - firstname.lastname@example.org
in newsgroup - rec.travel.asia 12/3/01