Singapore, Part 1

1 12 2008

8 am Saturday – 1 am Monday:
The trip is long, but virtually glitch-free, a friggin miracle considering our recent travel history. The only hiccup happens at the very end, checking in to the hotel; we are given the key to an occupied room. Embarrassing in the middle of the night. The room they find for us that night has two single beds and a terrible smell. We can’t even turn on the lights – eventually figure out you have to drop the key card into a slot on the wall to activate them.

By afternoon they have a new room for us, a double bed and fresh as daisies, all is well.
Before that, we get breakfast at the hotel’s buffet. Fried rice for breakfast? What a country! Also bao, noodles, and these delicious pancake-things like sweet and heavy nan. There is a guy who will cook you more westernized fare but we never bother.
We buy 3-day MRT passes for the subway and busses, and head for Little India. Somewhere in the warren of tailors and trinkets and unfamiliar produce is a fabled spice shop, but we can’t find it. On our way back to the MRT station, the rain hits. It’s the rainy season, after all. Did we bring umbrellas? No. The rain starts out light and gentle, but escalates steadily. We stop under a tree, the lowest branches high above our heads and whatever drops make it through the leaves evaporate before they reach us. We can see it coming down harder and seek real shelter. Construction disrupts the walkways but we make it inside.
Singapore has lots of huge buildings that enclose multiple independent entities. Many of these buildings are simply gargantuan malls, but not all of them. Our hotel, quite large and well-appointed, shares the building with another hotel. Does everyone want to get from place to place without going outside? That doesn’t seem likely. Most restaurants are largely open-air. I don’t know. I landed in Singapore in near total ignorance. The month-and-a-half leading up to the trip was my busiest time all year, and I was hard-pressed to get my lesson plans in order, let alone research our destination. Lucky for me Marcie came along.

Anyway. Here we are in a long and winding enclosed space, hard to relate in American terms. It meanders, and construction breaks it up. We settle in a little lunch counter to wait out the storm. The sky is really unloading now, and we figure it can’t last more than an hour or so.
We figured wrong. One giant Indian crepe and two excessively sweet sodas later it’s still coming down in kegs. We stand around for awhile in a large porch-like space, talk to a British couple who decided to travel the world for a year instead of redoing their kitchen, and finally decide to make a run for it. It’s only 100 feet or so to a covered area that connects to the subway. We get soaked, naturally. The sidewalk is flooded, and I’m kicking up as much bathwarm water as is falling on me. Once we’re back under cover we immediately find ourselves in a little convenience store with umbrellas. We buy two cheap ones, which we will carry with us everywhere and never need after today.

Our next goal is a restaurant called The Coriander Leaf, which is offering a cooking class Marcie wants to take. It’s in a riverside shopping center called Clark Quay (pronounced “key:” if you ask a cab driver about the “kways,” he won’t know what you’re talking about). We take a wrong turn and end up in Fort Canning dscn0177Park. No one else is around, because who goes to the park in a downpour? We climb a series of staircases to the top of the hill. The views are amazing. The trees are explosive.

Eventually we make it to the quay, an almost Las Vegas-style string of malls and restaurants along the river. The open-air section is covered by gigantic umbrellas. Even so, the rain seems to be keeping everyone away. Sadly, the class at the Coriander Leaf has been cancelled.

Next we head to Chinatown. More warrens of shops, temples of several persuasions, old men playing Go in the park. We track down the legendary hawker center for lunch. Singapore has lots of places like this; essentially a food court made up of kitchens the size of small storage sheds. Naturally we start with the biggest one, hundreds of vendors selling every variety of Asian food. It looks like all of them are independent, family-run businesses. KFC and Starbucks are all over Singapore, but not in the food centers, thankfully. The place is packed. It takes us a good 45 minutes just to get our bearings. The food is worth it.

By this time it’s late afternoon and we are suffering sensory overload. We head back to our hotel, move into our new room and take a break. That night we have dinner in Chijmes, another open-air shopping/eating center. This one used to be a nunnery and orphanage. We have our first expensive meal in the restored courtyard and reflect on the irony only briefly.

See Flickr stream for more photos. To be continued…




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: