Lion City Chronicles:
Van in Singapore

Diary entries during my time in Singapore, July-Sept., 2005:

Finally getting around to posting the last of the photos from Sentosa, including a trip to the "Southernmost Point in Asia."  It won't stay that for long-- they're reclaiming so much land from the sea, off the southwestern coast, that the area there will extend further south than Sentosa!  Just hope global warming doesn't swamp it all...

August 30, 2005:

First, a couple of new Singapore observations:
Here are the Western retail places I see the most here: 

Food:
New Zealand Ice Cream
Starbucks (all over the place)
McDonalds (what a surprise)
Pizza Hut
KFC
Non-Food:
The Body Shop (everywhere!)
Addidas and Nike Stores
Isetan (?)
Carrefour  (??)
MPH Bookstores  (???)

Speaking of food, I tried some Indonesian food yesterday.  Sop Ayam and Bagedel Udang.  The Bagadel Udang was very good-- sort of like a crabcake, but with prawns.  Sop Ayam is, of course, just chicken soup.  But with giant chicken bones in it!

One more observation:  I love the movie theater at Suntec City.  It is called the "ENG WA Cinemas."  But here's the cool part:  When the movie is about to start, in the place where they have the theater chain's usual graphic (like the AMC's dancing film guy, whom I loathe), this place has a big graphic that comes up, reading, "THE ENG WA ORGANISATION," (British spelling, of course-- that makes it seem even more odd), while the music is like something from a 1970s blacksploitation film, or the original Starsky & Hutch.  "The Eng Wa Organisation" just cracks me up.  It feels like you're about to see a Bruce Lee movie, sponsored by the Chinese mob.  Very weird, but very cool.
The Fountain of Wealth at Suntec City
the largest mall in Singapore--
and that is saying something, 
here in the Land of a Thousand Malls!

Okay, on to the latest events:

On Thursday night, we visited Chinatown.  Now, to me, having a "Chinatown" in a city/country that is 75% ethnically Chinese just seems.... well.... like having "Good Ole Boy Town" in Mississippi (I say it with love!).  But, as with most things here in Singapore, it is (more or less) carefully set up and laid out to be "authentic" while still being very crowd-friendly (tourist friendly).  (Some even complain that Chinatown in Singapore is becoming too much like a sort of "Disney" production-- but it wouldn't be Singapore otherwise!  Dirty?  Smelly?  Chaotic??  Not here, baby!  Clean and orderly is the name of the game!)

The Chinatown subway station is new, modern, and beautiful, and lets out into a long, winding, open-air walkway lined with shops and kiosks of all sorts.  Every kitschy Chinese item you could imagine is there, a hundred times over, along with some very nice antiques and other nice stuff, and various traditional Chinese food, herbs, snacks, etc.
A generic shot of Chinatown shops.

Several tailor shops, too (and, let me tell you, the tailors in their nice suits are the most "hard-sell" pushy touts of all!  One came out to all but grab me, saying, "Right here, boss!"  I pointed to my little lady and said, "I'm following that boss right now!"  Ha.  The tai-pan cannot buy a suit, because the tai-tai is looking at purses!)

Saturday we went to the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, clear at the other end of Singapore from us (we are near the eastern end, in the vicinity of the airport).  After a very long train ride out there, with rain all day, unfortunately, we discovered the gardens were closed for the entire month of August, in preparation for the upcoming Lantern Festival in September.  They did let us in, though, just to look around, and between the "closed" status and the intermittent rain, we had very few people to compete with to see everything--which was nice, in a place with the second-highest population density on the planet.  See the photos for more on the gardens.

After viewing the gardens, we were starving, not having thought to stop for lunch beforehand.  So we headed to Orchard Road, to seek out the supposed Hard Rock Cafe-Singapore.  We found it, and had a giant plate of nachos (only nachos I've found here so far) and a giant sampler appetizer plate.  It was so nice to have a massive and dangerously unhealthy dose of cheese again!

After that, a quick visit to the giant Japanese-owned bookstore, Kinokuniya, at Ngee Ann City.  This store makes Barnes & Noble look like a small-time operation.  They have just about everything you could look for, often in both US and British editions (very different), plus whole sections of Japanese and Chinese books.  I picked up the next Aubrey/Maturin novel in the beautiful British edition.


Ngee Ann City from the outside, at night.


The giant Japanese bookstore, which extends forever back from this photo.

Pubs n' stuff

Last night (Sunday), we visited "George's," a small pub located down the hill from here.  There are a row of three English-ish pubs there, actually, but I picked the one with tables out on the patio and a bigscreen TV showing an English Premiere League game (I believe it was Everton and someone).  We enjoyed a nice pitcher of Tiger Beer (snagged a Tiger Beer coaster, too!) and baskets of black pepper chicken nuggets (with a spicy pepper jelly sauce) and enough potato wedges to sink a battleship.  Stumbling home, I reflected that not having a car can be a good thing, sometimes!  (See new Pub and Beach photos here.)

--VP


August 8, 2005:

Went to the Singapore Zoo and did the Night Safari on Sunday, and then today I went to Siloso Beach.  See the highlights here.

--VP


August 6, 2005:

Saturday was "Sentosa Island" day.  I've been looking forward to going out there ever since I first heard of this little tiny island off the southern tip of Singapore's main island, where there are beaches and amusements of various sorts.  I saved it for Saturday, probably just out of habit-- no reason for me not to go on, say, Tuesday morning or something.  And I think I probably will go back then!  Of course, I happened to pick the hottest and sunniest day since the day I got here, to be hiking around outdoors, while the last few days have been cooler and overcast and I've been in malls and underground tunnels most of the time.

Everything in Singapore has a mall connected to it.  No, seriously.  Going to a restaurant?  They're all in the mall.  Going to a subway station?  Probably a mall connected to it.  Going to the mall itself?  Two more malls are probably connected to it.  Going to the post office?  Mall connected to it.  Yes, the post office has a mall and food court.  It's crazy.  This country's slogan should be something like, "I'MALL Over Singapore!" or "Come One, Come MALL!"   

And not only that, but everything is connected by a covered walkway or underground tunnel.  From the bus stop to the subway station to the train to the next station to the MALL to the MALL NEXT DOOR to the Esplanade arts center/concert hall-- I did all that yesterday and NEVER WENT OUTDOORS ONCE.

Okay, enough of that--it's not even a complaint, it's cool.  But it's just weird.  GO HERE to look at the PHOTOS I took on my trip out to Sentosa Island today.

--VP


August 3, 2005:

Over the past three days, I have taken the MRT (subway) to various parts of Orchard Road, the area where many of the big shopping malls and restaurants are.  I've also figured out how to use the bus system, so I won't have to walk so much.  

Yesterday I visited Ngee Ann City and Wheelock Place, two big malls with huge bookstores.  I even found US books I haven't been able to find in Atlanta!  They tend to have both the US and British covers of many books, and they're pretty different.  For example, the art on the front of the Harry Potter books is quite different, and they have a more "adult" version of the cover for people who don't want to carry around the cartoonish cover version.  (Not that I'm carrying either of them around.)

The day before yesterday, I explored the area around Dhoby Gaut station, including Plaza Singapura and Park Mall-- both heavy on furniture stores, for some reason.

Today I think I'll head down to the CBD (central business district) and see the statue of Stamford Raffles, the British founder of the city, and the big buildings and so forth down there.  

National Day is coming up on Monday, so it will be good to see the area before it gets taken over by flags and crowds and parades and so forth.

Some observations about Singapore, after several days of getting around through the city:

Everything is very orderly and very clean.  There are street signs everywhere, telling you where to cross, not to jaywalk, etc.  Streets are very clearly marked.  If I can find my way around after only a couple of days, anyone can.  The buses run often and are very nice (and air-conditioned!  Hallelujah!  I saw a book in one of the stores entitled "Singapore: the Air-Conditioned Country."  Ha!)  

Going into Pizza Hut or McDonalds is like going into the Ritz-Carlton in the US.  You are greeted immediately by the manager or host, and they all-but-order for you.  They are very very friendly, but in a sort of fake way, like they partly want to be and partly are being paid to be-- but that's a far cry from most US fast food places, where most of the teenage employees couldn't care less about you, the customer.  (Most of the workers at fast food places I've been so far have been adults, and very dedicated.)  It is a mixture of dedication, competitiveness, and sense of duty or obligation, I think.  Competition in the sense that they don't want to seem like their restaurant or store is not as dedicated, nice, clean, and generally as good as (or better than) the others.

There is an overwhelming sense from the people here of having things orderly.  I watched the security guard at the apartment front gate writing everything down as we chatted, and meanwhile compulsively organizing the few items on his desk.  

A funny thing at Pizza Hut, where I ate lunch yesterday.  Their menu lists a personal pizza as for one person, and the "regular 10 inch" as for 2-3 people.  Riiiiight.  They had a lunch menu, but all the pizzas came with soup.  No thanks.  So I ordered a "regular" and ate the whole thing, then ordered dessert.  I wonder what they thought?

I also like how all the American food places include variations using local ingredients.  They had a Singapore Pizza with various peppers and "chicken ham."  Burger King had a Whopper with some kind of Malay pepper sauce and vegetables on it.  

I've tried a couple of more indigenous dishes so far, but it's taking some getting used to.  And the portions are so small.  And napkins are at a premium!  If you order anything, anywhere, you get ONE napkin.  Lord help you if you should need another.  And you get exactly TWO ketchup packets at every fast food place, and then only if you ask (they make a big production out of pulling TWO packets out of the drawer and presenting them to you on a tray or with both hands).  I don't know what they'd do if I asked for another.  

This is all understandable, given their situation here (everything is imported and more expensive, and there's not really anywhere to dispose of the garbage on this island).  But it is sort of disconcerting.  Not a problem at all, and sort of interesting.  

--VP


Arrival, July 30, 2005:

Okay, here are some details for those interested in my trip to Singapore.

Wed., after finishing packing, throwing everything else away, and
turning in my apt. keys, and then eating dinner at Pig n' Chik with
Bobby and wishing him farewell, I realized I was homeless in downtown
Atlanta, at 8 pm, with my flight not leaving till after 8 am on
Thursday! Naturally, I headed for Barnes & Noble. It's what I do.
:-)

Three hours later, they're closing, so I head on down to the airport
to turn in my rental car. By the time their courtesy van delivers me
to the terminal, it's midnight, and I have "only" eight hours to kill
before my flight.

Three hours of pushing around a cart holding all my big suitcases
while searching in vain for a place to sit-- man, Hartsfield-Jackson
really IS the busiest airport in the world! Then, an hour of sitting.
Then, at 4 am, the American Airlines counter opens, and I reduce
myself to just two bags to carry around. They direct me to the
security line, which has not opened yet. I am first, waiting.

An hour later-- 5 am-- with a HUGE long line behind me-- they tell us
this line will not be opening. We are to go to the main security
area, at the other end of the building. So I go from being first in
line to being last. Yay. Plus, the plane I was scheduled for is
three hours late, so I will miss my connecting flight. But they
squeeze me onto the 6 am flight that is leaving at 9 am (ha). It is
good to be early.

9 am: Flight to Dallas. Uneventful. Finally get in some sleep.

Noon: arrive in Dallas, see a Cowboys football memorabilia store, and
not much else. Board the plane for Tokyo.

1 pm: Fly out to Tokyo. This is the best flight of the trip. No
clouds at all between Dallas and Seattle. I have a window seat on the
777 and can see everything the whole way. Rocky Mts, a couple of the
smaller salt lakes in Utah, Seattle area, etc. Beautiful. (Yes, the
flight path was a perfect upside-down "U" from Dallas, over Denver,
Salt Lake City, Seattle, British Columbia, along Vancouver Island, the
coast of Alaska, the Aleutian Islands, the edge of Kamchatka, the
Kuriles, and then finally down to Japan from due north. We were over
land almost the entire time. No wide-open Pacific Ocean ever.
Strange.)

Two good meals served on this flight. Very nice.

Tokyo-Narita Airport... interesting. Nice airport. Statuesque
Japanese flight attendants everywhere, sharply dressed. I figure out
how to make a call here by 1) figuring out how much it costs in Yen,
2) Changing 10 US dollars to 1000 Yen, 3) Trading in the yen for a
calling card, 4) figuring out how to work the payphone with only
Japanese instructions. But I did it! My biggest accomplishment so
far. And this with almost no sleep in two days.

Now comes the worst part of the trip-- the flight from Tokyo to Changi
Airport in Singapore.

I was so sleepy by this point, I slept through a couple of beverage
services and almost missed a meal. And a small Indian girl in the
seat behind me caterwauled most of the trip (9 hours), while kicking
my seat back. I kept glaring at her, but it did little good. Hard to
sleep through that, but finally I did.

Arrival at Changi Airport at midnight local time--         was waiting
for me. I traded in a wad of cash (there went the TV, Luna!) for
Singapore dollars. We took a cab home, and after a more-than-30-hour
journey of both good and bad, here I am, in our three-story townhouse
in Flamingo Valley.

Since arriving, I have slept a lot, and we've been to the local
shopping centers and to the subway station to get me acquainted. Now
           's  at work and I'm enjoying unemployment for as long as it
lasts-- hopefully not too long!

Singapore is beautiful. But, man, it's humid. I thought I knew
humid, having lived in Alabama and in Washington, DC. But this tops
those.

There are McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and KFC just down the road, so I'll be
hoofing it down there in a bit. Then to Orchard Road where the nice
malls and shops are.

All that remains is settling in, learning the neighborhood, and getting hired!

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