11.05.2011 - 11.08.2011
Words relating to Singapore must now be conjugated with the prefix Mer- in honor of the Merlion statue and mascot of Singapore.
But more on that later.
I didn't realize how long it would take to get to Singapore from Malacca on the bus. I was thinking like 3 hours tops. But it was more like 5, with a pit stop on the way, stopping at the Malaysian border, taking all our stuff to go through immigration only to get back on the bus, drive to the Singapore border and do the same all over again. Upon arrival, and after some issues getting small bills so I could pay for an MRT ticket and then deciding which exit to take out of the subway station, I was on my way to Flo's for my salvation from trudging in a veritable humidifier with all my luggage.
Flo's best friend Eric from Indonesia had been living in NYC, but just moved to Singapore this week. His company was putting him up in a serviced residence hotel, and he just so happened to have an extra bedroom with two beds. So Flo and I camped out there for the weekend. Such a nice change from hostels! A clean bed, privacy, a nice bathroom, free continental breakfast every morning and a washing machine/dryer in the room!
Singapore is a very clean, organized city as everyone tells you. Per Flo, it's pretty superficial because it's really just cause the government hires tons of workers to do all the cleaning to keep up appearances. But either way, it makes for an enjoyable, albeit expensive, place to visit (a margarita is $15-$18 Singapore dollars, which is about $12-$14 USD). Plus they have two taxes for everything you buy that adds up to like 17%. Yikes.
Flo, Eric and I went to a BBQ that night held by some of her Indonesian friends. They were very gracious hosts and fed us well. We had some hot dogs (no buns), fake crab meat sticks, some chicken satay with yummy peanut sauce, rice, calamari and stingray, both in some chili sauce. Stingray, though I felt bad eating it, was really freaking delicious. Later we went to the Marina Sands Casino just to see what is was like - the government doesn't want locals gambling so it charges them $100 to go inside. Thus you have to bring your passport to show you're not a Singapore citizen so you can get in for free. Inside, there are drink fountains on the sides where you can get free Coke, Sprite, coffee, tea and Milo (hot chocolate). The casino seemed pretty boring - just people intensely concentrating on their slot machines and Texas Hold 'Em. We walked around a fancy mall nearby and later walked around Clarke Quay, a popular bar/restaurant area right by our hotel.
The next day, had a nice lie in, then had pork rib tea, which is pork ribs in some tea based broth that you eat with rice and some spicy soy sauce, at a Chinese restaurant. I even tried pork liver and pork tail (Who have I become!?!). We walked through the Muslim Quarter, down Haji Street which has some cute trendy boutique shops and also Turkish and other Mediterranean restaurants and hookah bars. We had some yummy ice cream at a place called Pluck (Earl Grey with Fig = delicious). We then walked through a building that looked straight from Gotham City. It's just a fancy office building built in Art Deco style (my fave) and is really swank inside.
I met up with my friend Tony for dinner, who I met back in June on my tour in Sapa, Vietnam. He was in my tour group and was traveling with his Vietnamese goddaughter. I spent a day with them at the Bac Ha market tour and then on the overnight train back to Hanoi. They were both super helpful to me in getting back to Hanoi and to the airport in time, so I wanted to see him again since he lives in Singapore. He was nice enough to drive me around for a little tour of Chinatown, Orchard Street shopping, and then all the way up to the house where my grandparents used to live during the 70's so I could take photos for my family. We ate dinner at an outdoor food pavilion place where he ordered some herb roasted chicken (oh so tender) and some chili fish (Sole I think). Both delicious! We had a good time catching up and hopefully he'll make it to the states sometime soon
My final full day in Singapore was great! Flo and I took the train to Sentosa Island, a pretty man-made beach with sand imported from Indonesia. I wanted to take the cable car, but it was $26 (compared to the train which was $3 round trip). The beach was really pretty, even though it's fake, and the weather was beautiful. We just relaxed in the shade and chatted, then had a nice Japanese lunch! When we got back into the city, we met Eric at the Peranakan Museum, which tells about the history of all the different ethnic groups in Singapore (Malay, Chinese, Indian and European as well). We visited a small street called Ann Siang Hill with some fancy cafes and restaurants, then ate at a much cheaper eating pavilion where I enjoyed some Nasi Lemak, a local specialty of coconut (lemak apparently means fat, which they so kindly told me after I already ingested it) rice with some fish, chili paste, peanuts and a fried egg.
We walked to the Fullerton Hotel area and I saw the famous Merlion statue and the cool buildings lit up at night along the water. I wanted to check out the Raffles Hotel, a famous old British colonial swanky hotel that is the birthplace of the cocktail the Singapore Sling. We headed there and split one to experience such a historic thing, but were all disappointed since it tasted like overpriced fruit juice. Finally we walked back towards Clarke Quay for some Chili Crab (dinner round 2), another local specialty of crab cooked in some yummy chili sauce and another one cooked in black pepper sauce. It was a messy process involving a big bib and moist towelettes.
That sums up my time in Singapore. Although it's a fairly small city, there is a lot going on and such a mixture of foods and cultures. And it's easy to get around on transportation and because people speak English Flo, Eric and Tony were all great tour guides and I can't wait to go back and visit again!