Two lessons I've picked up:
1. You most certainly do need an umbrella in the tropics- it's too hot for a waterproof jacket.
2. Durian is not palatable for most westerners and I consider myself to have adventurous taste. I heard it was gross, it smells all wrong, but I didn't listen- I had durian flavoured candy that was nice. It's like overripe, rotten mango and onions. It wasn't even the fruit that I'd had, it was the icecream- yuck. I burped up garlicy mango garbage juice smell for hours. Take my word for it. If you've never seen one- they are huge and greenish and spiky outside and have a yellowish flesh. Walk on by.
Our next few days in Singapore were great. We started to eat where the locals eat in our hood and a decent curry, some veg and rice and pappadom is about $4. I started to eat where the locals were but I didn't have the guts to try eating like the locals- with their fingers. This is in an Arab area of the Little India area- different to the rest of Singapore. Someone who'd been to Asia asked if Singapore was still clean and it is very clean and orderly in most neighborhoods but Little India is a little more oldschool. More casual and the messy, uneven sidewalk is a serious contrast to the other parts- parts I had yet to see.
I had an errand at the US Embassy which is at the end of Orchard Rd, which I have heard is the major shopping area- I had no idea what I was in for. Retail temptation I couldn't have imagined. Andrew kindly navigated us to and on the MRT (mass rapit transit). Easily mastered and oh so orderly- this is the Singapore I heard about. They have airconditioned (does the NY have ac down there yet?) and spotlessly clean underground trains that go where you need every 7 minutes. There are posters all over explaining how to be a conscientious passenger- give your seats to old ladys, no food and drink fine $500, even markings on the platform exactly where the car will stop showing how to give way to alighting passengers and board in an orderly fashion. Forced politeness- sweet. It's a $1 plus $1 deposit for the hard plastic card ticket which you stick back in the machine after you ride- no litter or waste.
Wow- Orchard Road is indescribably fabulous!
It's miles of store on top of store underground mall complexes and multi stories of everything and more and more and more plus holiday decorations and after Christmas sales. Phew. As we came out of the mrt it was a shock. Let me refer to my fisrt lesson here- it's totally pouring rain- hot and miserable and I'm crabby and throwing a pooty because Mr. I-don't-use-umbrellas-and-I'm-from-England maybe vaguely had something to do with why I decided not to bring one. Sorry honey. It is just stunning and gorgeous, the Gap and Tommy Hillfiger and Toys R Us and Starbucks and Dolce and Tiffanys and eveything- Even Ben and Jerry's are set up in Singapore on the Holy Strip of Shopping. We had theraputic frappucinos to stave off the heat stroke and help me shrug off my crankiness at being soggy. We walked for ages- even got lost trying to cross the road by going underground into the train station mall labrynth. It's designed to disorient, draw you in and not let you out again and we succumed then to the custard and berries brioche pizza- yum. Eventually we made it to the Embassy but it was 'half day thursday' and no one told me so oh well. Double back through the Christmas decorations all lit up at night? Yup! Kudos to my boyfriend while I stand around taking picture after picture, messing with the camera settings to try to get it right.
10 pm haircut.
At the end of the night we did have one random encounter with a barber. Andrew's bushy blonde hairdo had been bugging him for weeks- this was the first opportunity to present itself and it was priceless...well $5. There are a couple of whorehouses on the block (our assumption for reasons) and an outdoor Buddhist Shrine where the locals hang out and socialise late. When we stopped to get this pasty white guy a haircut we piqued the interest of everyone around. There was a picture of David Beckham on the wall and I swear that's the hairdo Andrew got. The guy was chuffed as well and so lovely.
It's downpouring again today- so much for my once-a-day afternoon storm ala Florida theory! Andrew has taken over the logistics of planning our days- I'm just too tired of it and he's so good. It's a huge relief after spending months planning and researching and booking and budgeting and turning all those gears to just go along with someone elses plan. Andrew plans a great day going to Chinatown to see some temples and hopefully get our hands on some street food and check out the night markets. First though, $5 umbrella- instant mental health.
We get into Chinatown and go looking to the classic touristy bits but they are not ready for us yet- it's a night market. So we head back to a hawker center which is like a really intense food court. It's HUGE, there are different sections marketed of by colour and there are food stalls as far as you can see in little rows and clusters. It's chaotic, steamy, stinky, crowded and so foreign. Perfect. There are hundreds of people in here and we are the only westerners so we know we are onto a good thing. Most of the menus are photos, and we see fish heads and noodles and ducks and sausages hanging, there are stalls that just do fresh juices and pieces of fruit from apples and kiwifruit to more exotic choices like dragonfruit and sourmelon. Amongst the bedlam we weave our way aimlessly between tables and foreign sounds looking for some sign to stop and today the sign is a friendly, talkative guy. He's dealing in so authentic laksa and fishballs with ramen and we are buying in. He quizes us on ourselves, complains about the heat and get his own dinner while we dig into ours. It was really delicious. Although I mastered chopsticks when I was 8 I felt a little self conscious eating a noodle soup and slurping away in front of all the native-types but I didn't get any looks indicating that I looked rediculous. We explored a little further (read- waited out the downpour) and Andrew got his hands on some serious duck and I observed some of the locals afternoon beer rituals. They get these huge bottles of beer in big buckets of ice water and tiny little glasses and man can they put it away. The tables were overflowing and everyone as happy and relaxed and laughing.
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is 5 stories and built in the traditional Chinese style. It's marvelous and the inside is lush and richly decorated by ornate carvings of Buddha in various states from floor to ceiling. Being in the Temples of Buddha always fills me, I feel overhelmed with reverence. Part of me wishes to join the worshippers who have come to pray and make offerings. This is a place where I recognise a beauty I rarely see in things made by man. I am really lucky as this Temple is a busy with tourists I can really relax and take it all in because I don't feel like I'm an intruding outsider. I can even take photos without feeling badly and start to try to capture the place to share it with my friends and revisit in imagery. Upstairs in the museum I reread the story of the life of Buddha and it inspires a strong feeling in me- I can't really describe it propery but I it's powerful and energizing and I float for a while. Downstairs on my way out I quietly light up a joss stick and offer it with my gratitude for the experience. I photograph some children doing the same. Wonderful.
We head down to the riverside, there is a lovely view of some buildings and bridges, a row of tourist trap restaurants and museums and art galleries and this is the focal point for the New Years Eve celebrations. The Asian Cultures museum is lovely and we touch on some parts of SEA which we will soon be visiting. There is a stage outside and loads of people gathering for a NYE show and there is a buzz. We find a spot on the waterfront where others seem to be trickle into and settling and after some debate about exaustion and boredom we stick it out 3 and a half hours for midnight. Hundreds or even thousands have joined us, getting their tripods set up and whipping their iphones out to capture the moment- of disappointment when we all realise the fireworks are on the other side if a building and therefore invisible. We kissed, jumped up and half heartedly dashed towards them but gave up quickly, opting to get to the MRT station before the crowds and as we rounded a corner the spectacular lightshow came into view. We watch the last minute or so and caught the first train home. Happy New Year.
Our last, rainy day in Singapore started with paper thin prata with chocolate sauce- yum. We headed in to see the colonial area of the city and then enjoy Chinatown one last time. Firstly, in search of the 'authentic' Singapore dish, chili crab, which had eluded us thusfar we headed back to the touristy restaurants on the riverfront. $20 for a 100 grams and the crabs being 500-600g = our weekly budget in Thailand. No, and to recover from that disappointment we went into the authentic English pub, the Black Penny, and payed $23 for a redbull and a pint of Erdinger. Shock horror. We soaked up as much aircon as possible to get our moneys worth. After that lapse in judgement we headed into Chinatown. Andrew attracts taylors- why do people want to make him a suit so badly? I returned to the shop I'd bought a delicious chrysanthimum tea from a sweet gentleman the day before. After getting his next recommended tea, peppermint and honey, I got his recommendation for cheap, local, real food- back to the hawker center for his favourite Huey Fey chicken! We never found it and instead got a huge fish head with chilis and garlicy greens and had a perfect last meal in Singapore. Sat in the stinky, hot, loud, dirty food court and ordering by gestures and broken English and sharing our table with the locals. Andrew finally found his 'original American joy juice recipe', Kick-a-Poo- it's Mellow Yellow. That was a great finish to our Singapore experience which was surprising and fun and so easy going.
I've got more pictures in my facecrack album: