Monday, April 22, 2013

Behaving in Singapore

     For our Easter break we were joined by a friend from Frankfurt to explore Singapore and Malaysia (the peninsular part at least).  My earliest memory of Singapore came in 1994 when the U.S. was intrigued to hear about an 18-year old boy (Michael Fay) who was sentenced to caning for vandalism.  I still didn't know where Singapore was exactly until probably a few years ago, but most of us know it as "that country where you can't chew gum".

     Well as it turns out, there are a lot of things you can't do, but chewing gum isn't one of them - you can chew but cannot spit it on the street!  I should also mention that when we filled out our immigration card for Singapore they made it very clear on the form that "Drug Smuggling = Death".  These guys don't mess around!  Going with that, I wasn't so sure how I'd like Singapore since it was reportedly "sterile" for Asia.  While we only had three days there, we found it enjoyable and interesting enough if you go to the right neighborhoods (i.e. Little India, Muslim Quarter, Chinatown).

Our first stop was to the Botanical Gardens which had an amazing Orchid Garden.  It was quite a contrast to the lack of greenspace in Hong Kong - and it's all free (except for the Orchid Garden which was a nominal fee).

It was an unbelievably humid day - rainy season plus 1 degree North latitude and you've got a rainforest climate.  Regardless, we saw lots of beautiful flowers - many of which I hadn't seen before.



I really liked an indoor cold section which featured some carnivorous plants like this pitcher plant.


One of the few pictures of the whole crew on this fantastic voyage.

     Since Singapore is known for having a blend of cultures and great food, we checked out a place called Newton's Circus for lunch.  It's basically an outdoor food court that offers everything from Indian to Malay to Chinese to Singapore specialties.  You place your order at the mom-n-pop restaurants, tell them which table number, then grab a cold beverage from a drink vendor and await the bounty.

We had this "butter chicken" from an Indian restaurant, that basically changed our lives.  We would talk about this dish for the rest of the week and never came close to getting anything else like it - we only wish that we had ordered three of them.

We had to try the Singapore Chili Crab, which is a specialty here.  We're also glad that we knocked it out the first day because honestly - it's not that big of a deal and it's a pain in the butt to eat with chopsticks.  Would've been easier if it was "Singapore Chili Imitation Crab Meat".

Our first stop in the funky neighborhoods was Chinatown.

We dropped in to the obligatory Buddhist Temple, which was quite large and had an informative history of Buddha.


After having the chili crab, the other thing to check off of our list was the Singapore Sling.  We went to the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel and sucked down the most expensive drink of my life - 26 euros or so ($30).  They were good, but not that good.  Seems to be the biggest tourist trap in town - I'm sure the mixer at the grocery store is just as nice and a fraction of the price (that rhymes).

The "happenin'" part of town seemed to be Clarke Quay.  Both sides of the river were packed with restaurants and bars with live music.  We were able to catch a wicked blues band after dinner at Brewerkz (a brewery restaurant).

There was no shortage of really cool graffiti - mostly on Haji Lane.



We took a walking tour of the Muslim Quarter with this lovely lady who showed us the interesting parts of Arab street, Haji lane, and the main mosque in the area.





Here's a disheveled-looking cemetery.  People aren't really buried that close together - for Muslim burials, they mark the head and feet.  Due to the lack of space in Singapore, you may only be buried for a certain number of years (15 or so), before you must be exhumed and cremated or otherwise disposed of.

In Little India there was a nice vibe and some great food.

Back on Haji Lane - I like this artist's style.


     With regret, my highlight of Singapore isn't included on this post since no photos were taken.  There's a well-known zoo in Singapore and next to it is the Night Safari, which is a must-see.  It's mainly a tram ride through different open pens where the animals can come up as close as they're comfortable with.  Of course, there are plenty of animals that require a trench in-between them and the patrons, but it mostly felt very open.  Alternatively you can take a foot path to see some other animals which otherwise might be inactive during the day.  Altogether Singapore was plenty interesting for a few days and we could've stayed longer.

--Justin
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