Ahoy Singapore and Beyond!

Happy Belated New Years Peeps and Peepettes!!

I hope you had an wonderful and safe holiday season with good memories and stories worth repeating!

*****

(this time I had so much to share I had to start with a written intonation.)

Dear Goddess of Café Bustelo,

Please grant me the strength to write this entire day today, so that I may document all my experiences and memories before they get washed away with the coffee grounds at the bottom of the mug.

*****

I had to admit I had trepidation and anxiety going into this trip.

One, it was a family trip – which usually entails more structured time and itineraries – which is opposite from my preference of vagrant wandering travel.

Two, it was Christmas through the New Year – a large percentage of the world travels during this time of year – it meant long lines, potential delays, cranky people, more crying babies than usual.

Three, it was to Singapore – another bustling metropolis of melting pot populations and mass public transit – which made me wonder how I would end up comparing and contrasting it to New York. (Going on vacation from one megacity to another isn’t quite my first choice…but hey, it’s South East Asia!)

Journey started with the alarm screaming at 3:00am Christmas Day – I had scheduled a car service at 3:45 to get my sorry drowsy bum to Laguardia Airport for the 6:00am flight into Detroit to meet up with my family for the trip. As I got into the Security Line to hear the airport personnel making public announcements informing the Line that the Security Gate does not open until 4:30am – I’ll have to keep that in mind for future travel.

 DTW - Detroit Metro Airport

DTW - Detroit Metro Airport

LGA -> DTW -> NRT -> SIN (Laguardia - New York (+1hrs) Detroit - Michigan (+12hrs) Narita - Tokyo (+7hrs) Changi - Singapore (=20hrs of flying, NOT including Airport Security/Take Off/Landing time)). If it wasn’t for the day in between NY and MI to spend Christmas Day in Michigan to transition into a human vegetable in vacation mode to be semi-intoxicated perpetually comatose, I am not certain how I managed to survive the squealing babies most likely suffering with cabin pressure migraines audible over my headphones. I discovered that the airline I was flying included Woodford Reserve Bourbon on their international flight free spirits list, to be consumed every time when the beverage cart made its rounds. My first introduction to Singapore was filling out their immigration card to be greeted in red bold letters “WARNING - DEATH FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS UNDER SINGAPORE LAW” – how lovely.

 Warning - Death for Drug Traffickers Under Singapore Law... Thanks for the introduction!

Warning - Death for Drug Traffickers Under Singapore Law... Thanks for the introduction!

Landing in Singapore was past Midnight. With so much fluorescent lighting in the Airport, the only discernable first difference was stepping into the wall of humidity and the bright rainbow colored taxis stowing away people, transporting them to their final destination. The Exchange rate was 1 USD-United States Dollar into 1.3 SGD-Singapore Dollar. The supposition of Singapore being equally as expensive as other first world cities held true. The half and hour ride from the Airport to the Hotel was $33SGD. I was expecting to see a lot of traffic on a Saturday night as we entered Singapore proper – well lit barren streets between towering skyscrapers, the occasional taxi passing us by. I did not see people on the sidewalks. Granted I really didn’t know beforehand if the hotel was located in a popular night scene district or not, but by a 2am arrival with no evening human activity – I wasn’t sure if there was even a bar scene to be discovered later.

 Changi Airport, Singapore Immigration

Changi Airport, Singapore Immigration

 Singapore Taxi, colorful.

Singapore Taxi, colorful.

 Early Dawn view of Singapore. 

Early Dawn view of Singapore. 

Sunday – initial review of the map of the City-State indicated to me that majority of Singapore proper was within a 6 to 10 mile radius. The entirety of Singapore itself is approximately only 30 miles across at its widest point. To get a sense of scale, if I put together Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, it would be larger than Singapore. Orchid Hotel was located a block away from the Tanjong Pagar Station on the green East West MRT(Mass Rail Transit) Line. Beyond that was Singapore’s Chinatown, in the northerly direction was the infamous Marina Bay area, and the northern most points of note being the Arab Quarter and Little India. Overcast with temperatures in the 70’s Fahrenheit 90% chance of rain, jetlagged with a confused body and not so cooperative stomach, I glued the city map to my sweaty hand. I had no sense of business hours or the general flow of lifestyle as I started to lead my family towards Chinatown.

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A few cars and people Sunday morning, the dense greenery of the bushes and the palm trees fill the traffic medians and little plots of plants decorating perimeters of buildings. The immediate contrast of short European influenced buildings and infinitely tall residential/ commercial buildings seem to visually coexist without any discord. Chinatown greets us with a Buddhist temple standing grandiose, surrounded by red paper lantern lined streets, restaurant stall filled public food courts and fancifully grinning golden fat Buddha’s hawking keychains and 6pcs for $10 magnets. Larger Avenue intersections woo us with entrances to shopping centers blasting with air conditioning.

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Further north we hit the financial district, interspersed with open air public food centers. Instead of having street vendors, Singapore has consolidated them into a single open air roof where you can find a collection of built in stalls selling beverages, cigarettes, curry, noodles, rice and every variation of halal and pork next to each other. Many have told me they have heard that Singapore is very clean for a city. I could only confirm it being true.

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No litter in the streets, especially I don’t see anyone eating or consuming a beverage on the street. They are all seated in a food court or a restaurant. I personally am a fan of eat-walking, none of that was observed by any of its citizens. Cigarette smoking is strictly confined into specific smoking areas, maintaining the discarded butts into the ash trays. I don’t see any pets – no dogs on leashes, no stray cats skulking about. I hear some birds in the bushes, yet nothing like the flocks of pigeons populating every street surface in New York. No dog poo, cat turd, bird crap to be seen. I do see visibly posted Fine placards in English of no idle motorcycle parking, threatening the yellow boot clamp. I don’t even see any jaywalkers on the streets. What seemingly I assume are locals all stand patiently at every intersection waiting for the little green walking man to appear on the crossing light.

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We hit the Marina Bay to see the tri-towered Marina Bay Sands iconic hotel, with the shorter than expected Singapore Merlion Fountain. Merlion is exhibited with the head of a Lion and the tail of a Fish gurgitating into the bay facing east. This is where for the first time I see an army of tourists where almost every individual has their own selfie stick. That extendable self-held arm to hold your smartphone to snap selfies of yourself and your loved one with your intended scenery.  Meandering through the colonial Raffles Place Hotel, the art deco Parkview Square, unexpected underground avenue crossings filled with mazes of escalators and restaurants to keep you out of the potential rain and heat, we arrive at the Arab Quarter.

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Quaint two storey buildings filled with ground floor shops. Many are contemporary fashion boutiques and interior decorations, but as we got closer to the golden domed Masjid Sultan Mosque in the center of the quarter, the Persian rugs, hijab fashion, Turkish lanterns made their appearance, yet after a few blocks started to repeat itself. I was prepared to not see any alcohol, and there were signs on the restaurants proclaiming no alcohol in respect for the history of the neighborhood, but I was hoping to see some cafés with hookah’s-water pipes for me to potentially return later and indulge – only to see the few meager displays of hookah’s for sale in the shops covered in dust indicating their popularity.

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Burnt out spending most of the day outside, we decide to take the underground back to the hotel. The one thing I noticed about the signage in Singapore is that the public announcements are mostly in English. And then all the multi lingual signage include English, Chinese, Malay and Hindi. Four major languages included in all public notices indicated the variety of people working and living in Singapore.

 MRT Vending Machine

MRT Vending Machine

The MRT vending machines indicate ticket prices varying by destination. I appreciated the adverts by SMRT – Singapore Mass Rail Transit advertising “Look Ahead to Watch Where You Tread” recognizing that it IS a problem with practically every individual holding a smartphone in their faces while walking through a bustling train station. I see further Fines posted indicating how they manage to keep their subways litter free. $500 Fines for Eating or Drinking inside the Subway, $1000 Fines for smoking and I am uncertain how this one comes about, the largest being a $5000 Fine for carrying flammable liquid or gas. I don’t think it’s referring to cigarette lighters but canisters of gasoline. Later I find out that gasoline is cheaper in the surrounding areas, and even better prices in Malaysia, so it may be referring to people smuggling gas for their cars or homes.

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We feed ourselves dinner in Chinatown in their public food court. A permanent glass awning covers the street filled with built-in food carts with fake wheels. Varying noodles, roast pork or chicken, even a bit of Malay curry and satay skewers available. Beverage of choice being Heineken beer. The texture seems frothier than I recall, flavor being not as hoppy (even for a not-that-hoppy beer). I read the fine print to realize – brewed in Singapore under supervision of Heineken Holland, explains the different characteristics. To digest, we meander through a 24hour supermarket to see a collection of neatly packaged everything. Halal Beef, Chinese Pork, Australian Diary, Korean and Japanese Snacks mixed with Hershey’s chocolate. I had to appreciate their digital price tags that allowed the store to change prices as needed instead of price tagging every individual item.

Monday – Day trip to Melaka, Malaysia.

My parents booked a Japanese guided day tour into the historic site of Melaka, one of the older original port cities into Malaysian peninsula. The bus pick up was at the fancy Western Imperial style Fullerton Hotel decked out in Christmas decorations.

 A Bearful Christmas Tree at Fullerton Hotel.

A Bearful Christmas Tree at Fullerton Hotel.

 Gotta love the color scheme of the tour bus. 

Gotta love the color scheme of the tour bus. 

Interior of the charter bus was patterned with a neon rainbow of grape leaf patterns. The guide informed us that no photography is allowed in any border immigration/customs, and that it is absolutely imperative to have an exit stamp departing Singapore to be allowed re-entry into Singapore. Interestingly, all Singaporean Vehicles must have at least ¾ of a full tank of gas before departing Singapore. Supposedly Malaysia has cheaper gas prices, and in order to protect local gas prices and providers, the government seems to require re-filling to the ¾ level before entering Malaysia. We were also educated that the immigration stamps entering and exiting Malaysia must have correct dates. There have been cases of people being denied entry back into Singapore when the Malaysian Customs official did not have the correct date on their stamps. Off loaded from the bus to up the escalator into the Singapore customs to get the departure stamp and the releasing of Singapore Immigration card, back onto the bus to cross the man-made land bridge to cross the body of water separating Singapore and Malaysia. Off loaded again into the Malaysia customs to cue up for the stamp of entry into Malaysia. The entire process is accompanied by the roar of buses and vehicles passing customs underneath the building, while the masses of people in transit cue impatiently in the ‘all passport’ lines. I was fascinated most by the Muslim women customs officials on the Malaysia side all wearing grey hijabs as a uniform color with their black militaristic suits. It did not occur to me until that point that hijabs could be part of an employment uniform in a place where clothing itself has more rules depending on the culture/beliefs one observes.

In transit on the highway where the green countryside filled with palm oil plantations are visible, we stop by a rest-area for a potty break. The rest area consisted of a food court with a rich and pungent aroma of kitchens selling their curries, fried fish and steam buns consumed by locals traveling on the road, I didn’t have enough time to partake in the cuisine.

 Food Court in the rest area off the highway.

Food Court in the rest area off the highway.

All inclusive with a gender separated prayer rooms, men indicated by the blue and flat topped caps, and the women sign in pink with their iconic hijab.

 directions to the gender separated prayer room.

directions to the gender separated prayer room.

The cleaning ladies wore white shirts with white hijabs, definitely another uniform. I was soon reminded that I was definitely in South East Asia with the squatting style ground porcelain and water hose to rinse after all your bowel movements.

 there is no such thing as toilet paper!

there is no such thing as toilet paper!

The historic section of Melaka was shown to us as a low two story faded, crumbling neighborhood Chinatown with some temples surrounded by old storefronts converted into gift stores selling flip flops and Barbie knockoff toys.

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The streets packed to unmoving congestion with locals and tourists driving through town. Introduced to the facade of the only Asian architecture mosque in the whole region when the area was originally occupied by the Chinese.

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Migrated our way through the crowds until we reached the Portuguese occupied square celebrated by a fake three mast sailing ship from around the 1700’s and a crumbling hilltop church. Still standing were the grand hand engraved stone statuaries and gravestones with emblems inscripted with versions of Olde English and Portugese. The last stop was the World Heritage site of a Malaysian palace from its kingdom days.

 Malaysian Palace

Malaysian Palace

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The raised ground floor and pointed roof tops all built in wood timber – this style of architecture can be seen throughout South East Asia and I feel even into what little I know of Polynesia and Hawaii. What struck me the most was the array of colors worn by the local tourists. Being in a tropical climate I observed the liberal use of intense colors and the unconcerned use of neon colors.

 colorful tourists

colorful tourists

 local tourists taking advantage of the complimentary massage chairs.

local tourists taking advantage of the complimentary massage chairs.

I felt the combination of the immigration through the borders took more time than the tour itself. We were forewarned that the time to go through immigration back into Singapore would be more congested and time consuming, and turned out to be an accurate description. I was not sure if they were all tourists or workers trying to get through the land border. I was grateful when loading onto the tour bus, for I realized the unending line of people waiting in the bus pick up area was the exhausting line of people waiting for the next public bus to show up to take them into Singapore. It seems like you can migrate through the border taking public transportation, but that potentially entails seeing the line in front of you fill up with several charter busses full of people until you can cue up to the front of the line and can board one yourself. Rough going, but possible. The effort that the people make to get from mainland Malaysia into Singapore really indicates to me what a financial powerhouse it must be for the entire region. Also how much effort Singapore must be taking to keep businesses operating within its borders.

singapore at night
 the evening Merlion gurgitating into the Marina Bay.

the evening Merlion gurgitating into the Marina Bay.

Tuesday – Day trip to Batam, Indonesia.

ferry terminal

Monday by Bus, now Tuesday by Boat. In the morning we take the MRT to the Harbour Front station where there is an international Ferry Terminal departing to different parts of Indonesia. Our destination was a small island only 10miles from Singapore over the Singapore Strait. The trip was a 1 hour refreshing speedboat ride where the waters were frequently spotted with massive container ships filled with their cargo either anchored or snail-ing their way to their destination.

 Batam Fast commuter boat between Batam Indonesia and Singapore

Batam Fast commuter boat between Batam Indonesia and Singapore

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Indonesian immigration was less congested, requiring a Tourist Visa fee of $15USD valid for 10days. We were picked up by the Japanese speaking Indonesian tour guide, and since we were the only guests for the day, had the 10 person minivan to ourselves. Batam is a small 15mile wide island primarily operating as a container ship port, and a resort destination away from Singapore. Our guide informed us that the resorts are cheaper, so many Singaporean locals travel to Batam for holiday relaxation and cheaper shopping options.

Our first stop was a hilltop by the water where one could see the Singapore skyline in a distance. We were educated that illegal immigration into Singapore by water used to be rampant, but now with sophisticated radio monitoring of the waters, it has become virtually impossible. Behind us staring at Singapore with a blank eyes is a statue of a Chinese Buddhist priestess with a small shrine accompanying her.

 priestess statue migrated to her current location staring at the sea.

priestess statue migrated to her current location staring at the sea.

She was originally in another location, but due to the majority population being Muslim, she was migrated to her current location above the cliffs surrounded by a mini-weekend getaway resort where it’s claimed the monkeys come out at night to check your room doors to see if they can enter to raid your refrigerator for food.

 close your doors, or monkeys will come raid your fridge at night. 

close your doors, or monkeys will come raid your fridge at night. 

The second destination being the highlight of the trip required a half an hour drive where one experiences the view of a countryside vastly contrasting from Singapore. One lane highways where an old man holding a hand radio and a stick with a red ribbon tied to its end directs traffic with the wave of a stick.

 human traffic light.

human traffic light.

Curbside concrete pouring done by teams of men in sandals squatting over their mallets pounding in pegs to hold the wooden boards to hold the shape of the curbside mold. Scaffolding constructed with thin timbers in not-so-square angles, abandoned construction projects with their unpainted concrete walls, roadside stalls selling neon yellow liquid gasoline in plastic bottles to fill the motorbikes that all the locals use for their primary transportation.

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Our highlight was a bridge spanning the gap between Batam and another Island, shaped like an upside-down V held up with cables spanning the entire bridge. It was a tourist destination made apparent by the photographers offering their services to photograph you with the scenery, printing glossy full sized pages off of their color printers strapped to their mobile bicycle printer stalls.

upside down V bridge
 motorcycle photo printer guys

motorcycle photo printer guys

Lunch was served in an enormous outdoor catering hall build over a river called the Golden Prawn, decorated in Chinese red and gold ribbons inclusive with your lone male singer on the Christmas light decorated stage singing age old love songs in an undecipherable accent when trying to sing certain phrases in English. Large grey black carp swam in the river next to us waiting for the staff to fling the leftovers to feed them. Lunch was an entertaining array of fried fish with a Chinese cornstarch sauce, fried whole shrimp with a drizzle of spiced condensed milk, fried calamari, corn egg drop soup, sautéed green in garlic sauce, steamed mini conch shells, crab cooked in a tomato paste sauce, all served with a neon green bucket full of steamed rice. We later discovered that after, this was a restaurant where if one really desired, could fish net a specimen of choice from the water tanks and have it prepared almost any way you wanted. What I really wondered was if the locals fished out the carp from the river eating all the restaurant leftovers for their dinner – most likely.

 lunch at golden prawn restaurant

lunch at golden prawn restaurant

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Next we were directed to an open air gift shop, filled with your keychains, coconut shell accessories and housewares, but what really caught my attention was the abandoned (?) non-operating mini amusement park across the street. All inclusive with a wire-framed ferris wheel hooked up to a generator style motor belt to rotate the ride, an airplane ride that went around in circles, and a miniature carousel. I couldn’t tell if it was shut down, or just not operating hours. The lack of children or any human being in the play area gave it a ghost town effect- especially with the faded paint colors and the rust exposed through the peeled off areas.

 rust carousel

rust carousel

 empty carnival

empty carnival

Last, yet probably the most pertinent for me to experience was the open market that was located in a bustling commercial area. Filled with open air vegetable stands, vendors that specialized in eggs of all colors and sizes, dried and cured fish stalls, chickens that got cut up by the butcher in front of you- blood and all, around the corner from the locals hanging out on the raised platforms accompanied with games and cigarettes.

 motorcycles are prevalent

motorcycles are prevalent

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The late afternoon boat took us back over the water into Singapore. I saw the skyscrapers rise from the horizon as we neared the Ferry Terminal. Tuesday dinner was the first opportunity to have dinner in one of the open air food courts. I indulged in a plate of mutton shank curry with some roti bread, while my parents shared some roast pork with rice. I saw a long line in front of a stewed tofu stall, so I guess that is the popular stall in that particular food court by the Harbour Front MRT Station.

 mutton shank and roti in food court

mutton shank and roti in food court

 stewed stofu stall

stewed stofu stall

The first few evenings suffering from the jetlag and exhaustion from the hot humidity Singapore had to offer, I finally had a bit of free time for myself. I debated what I wanted to do as I started meandering through the streets. So far in my short stay in Singapore, we observed that the sun rises later than I expected, around 7:30am and sets in the evening by 8pm. Most of the commuters show themselves in the late morning around 10am indicating a work day from late morning until into the evening when it has cooled down for the day and after the afternoon rains. It explains the advertisement that the MRT is posting publicly – if a commuter takes a ride before 7:45am, MRT will give you a free ride – I take this as an attempt to distribute the morning commute congestion into earlier in the morning. Restaurants and bars seem to have operational hours from late afternoon around 10pm or Midnight. Closing time seems to coincide with the public transportation closing completely by Midnight. I have yet to see any homeless in Singapore, the only displaced person I’ve observed being a Caucasian sleeping in the underground in front of the entrance to the MRT – most likely caught unawares that the trains close at night.

 Tanjong Pagar road view from hotel.

Tanjong Pagar road view from hotel.

It turns out the Tanjong Pagar station is the closest to the few dense streets of restaurants and particularly bars that serve more than beer. The liveliest bars I hear voices singing karaoke in a very intoxicated manner, with girls hanging outside squeezed into their night club outfits and platinum platform heels.  That really isn’t my style of entertainment. I turn back around to a location I spotted earlier with two patio tables surrounded by palm leaves and warm lantern-esque golden light emanating from the inside. It turns out to be a French Riviera style décor bar. I simply couldn’t figure out the reason for the establishment being absolutely patron-less, whether it was a Tuesday night or just an unpopular style of alcohol being served. The shelves were lined with aperitifs, fruit liqueurs, wines, scotch and brandy – this is more my style of entertainment. The young female bartender comes out from the rear to greet me, as I inquire about the contents of a label-less dark green thin-necked bottle that looked familiar to me. She wasn’t sure, so she took it off the shelf, uncorked it and took a sniff trying to figure it out. I inquired for a whiff myself – jackpot, it was Calvados. I ordered a glass and proceeded to inform the young bartender that this was a French apple brandy, the sweetness of the fruit with the spice of the brandy almost akin to plum wine, yet with a stronger punch in the face. When you get served at a bar or a sit-down restaurant, there is an automatic Service Charge or included tip of 10%. Good service or not, you won’t have to figure out how much tip to pay, it’s all figured out for you. I suspect I did something patrons rarely do, take my flip flops off and kick my bare feet up onto a chair on the patio. But hey, being the only patron in the entire bar, it seemed absolutely permissible. The particular block I was hanging out in retained the architecture of stucco European facades painted in white or pastel all lined with terra cotta roof tiles. It was a quaint side street as I got to see a trickle of bar patrons occasionally do a curious double take back at me.

 a clean well lighted french place

a clean well lighted french place

 calvados on the patio

calvados on the patio

Wednesday – New Year’s Eve.

We start the morning with Dim Sum that I’ve been eyeing in Chinatown. Ordering with indicating the quantity of orders on the yellow slip of menu paper, we cover the table in bamboo dim sum steam dishes. Variations of shrimp dumplings, short rib bones, rice noodles in a soy based sauce, chicken feet, steamed pork buns, egg custard and a bowl of congee. All washed down with several pots of tea.

 Chinatown Breakfast

Chinatown Breakfast

 dim sum breakfast

dim sum breakfast

Knowing that the evening will be spent by the Marina Bay area vying for a location to see the New Year’s Eve Fireworks, we took a short train trip to the southern end of Singapore to hop onto the Monorail connected to investigate Sentosa Island – their year round theme park island.

Inclusive with Universal Studios, Waterparks, Beaches, Resort Spa Hotels, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, Golf Courses, and a cable car system that can offer an alternate scenic route onto the island if one is willing to wait out the long lines. Our objective was their Aquarium. Filled with clear long walkways that put you through inside the fish tank, small tanks that showcased small jelly fish, sea horses.

 overhead aquarium, you can see fish bellies.

overhead aquarium, you can see fish bellies.

 jellyfishes

jellyfishes

 the "imax" aquarium with manta rays.

the "imax" aquarium with manta rays.

There were scuba divers scrubbing the algae clean from the inside surfaces for better visibility. I was stunned with their largest aquarium the size of an Imax theatre spanning the height of probably at least 4 people if stacked vertically. It made me want a wall sized aquarium to take up an entire wall in my apartment. This large one housed an enormous manta ray paired with a small shark swimming underbelly never leaving its side. I couldn’t even fathom how they could have possibly transported such a large specimen, but there it was before my eyes flapping is gracious fins in a hypnotic motion. In addition to the Aquarium the building housed an exhibit on Singapore’s pirating and trade history. Expanding on the trade from all part of the world, the Arabian Peninsula, Europe, China and even Africa. And due to strengthening of land routes and reasons of poverty Pirating was a serious problem for early Singapore, I feel it somewhat illustrates the current Government’s control freak-ness in order to protect itself and its primary asset as an internationally valuable port city.

After the Aquarium saw the hordes from Sentosa Island migrating back into Singapore probably to get ready for the evenings fireworks. Our preparation included taking an afternoon nap to save energy for staying awake later than usual. Once dark outside we took the MRT on station north to the Raffles Place station closest to the Marina Bay.

 Singapore river at night.

Singapore river at night.

 singapore skyscrapers.

singapore skyscrapers.

Walked along Singapore River that flowed inland from the Bay to quest for dinner options. Without being too picky for food options and prioritizing a place to sit, we end up at an Italian restaurant. With the usual suspects of bolognese, lasagna, rack of lamb, margarita pizza on the menu, I am content and comforted with vongole clam in white wine served over really wide pappardelle ribbon pasta. Wine for some reason is an alcoholic beverage that can hit me differently than the stronger spirits I tend to preferably imbibe. This time my father and I split a bottle of Pino Grigio which by the time we finished dinner and stood up from the table has made me tipsy rather quickly. With still enough time before the midnight fireworks, we find the loading dock on the Singapore River that offers tours on their bumboat – a low ceilinged vintage wooden motorboat with about 8 rows deep that could sit 4 people across that included a mini outdoor deck in the rear. I manage to squeeze myself into a tiny spot in the rear deck to see the brightly lit towering skyscrapers and evening revelers on the shore celebrating their momentous New Year’s Eve. I was impressed at how long the riverbanks continued with restaurants and bars filled with people, even floating boats on the river converted into restaurant. Eventually the bumboat had to turn back around to its starting point to drop off all its customers, we found ourselves on the Anderson footbridge behind the Fullerton Hotel where you could see into Marina Bay beyond the Esplanade Drive – the last bridge before the Bay. We got to stake our position on the Anderson footbridge right as people really started gluing themselves to their territory along the Bay side bridge. This is when I had to thank the Pino Grigio for making me fall asleep blissfully from only two glasses of white wine as I held my position seated on the ground of the bridge to wait out the last two hours before midnight. The pressuring crowds vying for their final position to view the fireworks got intense enough that it eventually woke me, yet relatively considerate of each other not pushing too hard even compared to the aggressive New York commuter train cars. I assumed there would be some kind of music or a loudspeaker countdown, it’s possible we weren’t in the right location to hear it. As midnight hit with the view of the Singapore Flyer Ferris Wheel and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel lit brightly in every color of the rainbow that illumination could offer, we were in perfect view of the fireworks right above our heads!!

 celebrating 2015

celebrating 2015

We originally purchased a round trip train ticket back to the Hotel, but soon realized all the side entrances to the trains were closed off and the security funneled the crowd neatly into the train station at the main entrance. Even in this jam packed crowd situation Singaporeans exercised effective control – it may have to do with the masses not being foolish slobbering drunks. Looking at the line to the train, by the time it was our turn to cue up it would most likely take the same amount of time to walk back to the Hotel, so we weaved through the traffic and the throngs to return to the Hotel as one whole unit.

 hustling Singapore.

hustling Singapore.

Thursday – Last Day.

Now that we have learned that Singapore doesn’t really start operating until late morning/ midday, we took the liberty to sleep in late. One of the few notable places we haven’t been to yet was Little India and Orchard Road. We took the train to the purple North East Line to Little India Station. The first think I noticed as we were exiting the station that the ticketing booth area was littered in receipts on the floor. It was the first time exiting the MRT that it felt like stepping into another environment entirely. Locals hanging out around the entrance of the train station, groups hanging out standing in small circles or sitting on the small patches of grass available on the lawn (so far I haven’t seen anybody sit on the grass elsewhere in Singapore)

 Little India Flower Stall.

Little India Flower Stall.

We browsed through the congested streets selling bangles, flowers, electronics advertised on paper print outs glued to the window. Temples thronging with New Year well-wishers noticeable not just by the crowds but the pile of shoes left out front of the Temples. There were vegetable stands, woven flower vendors, stalls selling Indian sweets recognizable with the square cut shapes and silver leaf décor. Little India behaved like a different country unto itself.

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Circled through the neighborhood and hopped on the train one station to Dhoby Ghaut Station on the Purple line. This put us at the eastern end of Orchard Road – famous for its luxury brand flagship stores and continuous rows of shopping malls. Got hit by the torrential afternoon rain so dashed into one of the shopping malls for a coffee break. I observed that many Singapore coffee shops use machines to produce espresso beverages with a press of a button. I really didn’t see baristas grinding the coffee grounds and pulling a shot through an espresso machine. It would explain my how many of my coffee’s tasted like instant coffee mix. Maybe that’s just how they like their coffee in Singapore. My mother expressed interest in getting on one of the double decker open air sightseeing busses.

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We located the nearest Hop-On, Hop-Off ticketing station and started our ride on the top floor of the bus reveling in the refreshing breeze after the rain. Instead of getting off the bus after one loop, had lunch in the food court underneath the Singapore Flyer Ferris Wheel. Each had a variation of a noodle bowl, soupy thin noodle, soupy fat noodle, brow thick saucy noodle, spicy red soup noodle.

 food court spicy lunch noodles.

food court spicy lunch noodles.

Afterwards we transferred to another loop that encompassed all the main neighborhoods. Marina Bay, Chinatown, Arab Quarter, Little India, Orchard Road, it head far west beyond Orchard Road out to the main entrance to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, and the farthest point east passing the Marina Bay Sands hotel on the water towering over your head while weaving through the new skyscrapers being built by the Bay. It was surprising how quickly we circled and weaved through the entire city proper, that we stayed on for a second time around! Singapore may be considered a megacity, but I would consider it more a vertical city than a sprawling one. I got the impression that every new building is narrower yet taller to minimize the size of the footprint covering the ground.

It was a long week with a 6am flight out of Singapore Friday morning that required us to depart the Hotel by 4am. I actually have to confess I had the best coffee of the entire week at the Singapore Changi Airport at a café called Killarney’s. They brewed their coffee in the old school cloth sock hung over the pot in the drip coffee method served with a touch of condensed milk at the bottom of the mug. For once not seeing the coffee made from a push of a button was what enthusiastically drove me to stand in front of the counter and order thick slices of buttered toast and coffee for my last meal in Singapore.

 the last coffee, was the best coffee I had in Singapore

the last coffee, was the best coffee I had in Singapore

I originally had trepidation and anxiety about Singapore, but I am extremely grateful I had an opportunity to go. I got to see an example of a successful thriving capitalistic city, exercising rigorous control over its variety of immigrants to allow uniformity and functionality of a growing City State. I am grateful to see such an example with my own two eyes. I am compelled even further to take opportunities that I may have, or will make for myself in 2015 to be creative, push myself to do new things that will expand stepping into my uncomfortable zone for personal growth, and possibly be tempted to break some rules just to create opportunities to think outside the box. In short I feel as if I lost some screws that I used to firmly hold in place in my brain so that I may attempt to go beyond boundaries that I have placed for myself.

 Singapore - tropic, old and skyscrapers.

Singapore - tropic, old and skyscrapers.

I am grateful for 2014 for the people I’ve met, and gained new friends. I am grateful for the places I’ve been, and gained new insight on how the world manifests itself through people. I am grateful I had the courage to take the leap into documenting my experiences to indicate to myself how much I have live through to know there are even more in between all the stories I have posted. To realize there will only be more adventures to be had this year, I am ecstatic and enthused to find out what they are and live through them.   

P.S. I am super-grateful for my parents taking me on this trip. And also my father traveling so much, we got moved up to the fully reclining Business Class seats on the 12 hour flight from Japan to Detroit.

 of course its airline food porn...and bourbon.

of course its airline food porn...and bourbon.