The Singapore Flyer
Its bigger than the London Eye
Now that the idyllic island retreat was behind us we had city adventures in store, but first a full day of travelling to get there. The seamless run of prompt flights we'd taken with Air Asia came to an end with an annoying two hour delay at KL waiting for our connecting flight to Singapore, and we'd been so organised this time to avoid last minute dashes to the plane. Typical! With this extra time on our hands now we caught up on diary writing which had lapsed somewhat with the laid-back attitude on Gemia. Air-stewardess's were still sweeping the aisles and redoing their hair as we boarded the aircraft, they were on a quick (and now delayed) turnaround straight back to Singapore. The flight itself was smooth and we landed with a small bump into Changi airport at about 8pm.
On the journey across this city of reclaimed land to 'Little India' we had our first of many encounters with chatty taxi drivers. The taxi drivers of Singapore are a special breed, like the majority of Singaporians they speak perfect English but they also like to impose massive amounts of information and their opinions upon you. Some of the facts
we learnt were valuable and interesting, for example: as a country Singapore has to import 99% of it's needed goods and products. However some of the racially discriminatory views this taxi driver gave were not appreciated. Taking taxis continued to be an interesting lucky dip throughout our stay here.
Little India was a fantastic, vibrant area of the city to be in, and that evening after checking into the Park Royal Hotel we went for an excellent meal at 'Kantipur' an Indian and Nepali run tandoori restaurant. The food was delicious, authentically spiced and I was able to have malai kofta, one of my favourite dishes when we were in India. It was made even better by the live Hindi music being performed all evening. We could have been in Kathmandu or Kolkata if it hadn't been for the rendition of Shania Twain they insisted on performing for our benefit!
On the first day we took a trip back in time to re-find and remember the Singapore of Mairi's childhood. We hopped on the efficient metro, i think an underground system really improves a city, and went in search of the Presbyterian church that Mairi's father had been
a respected and much valued member of. Whilst on the hunt we called in at the beautiful victorian National Museum and saw a couple of great exhibitions and enjoyed a drink in the cool cafe. It took a bit of effort and some directions from helpful passers-by but eventually we found the church. Now located in a busy shopping area, the parkland Mairi remembers long gone, it was still a popular church with a healthy Malaysian and Expat congregation. It was great to visit the places that have such strong childhood memories and significance for Mairi and the whole family.
Clark quay used to be a smelly dock area which you avoided if at all possible as Mairi recalls, but now it is one of the hotspots of the city to grab a bite to eat or some drinks. The brightly painted buildings beside the river are comparable to Tobermory's cheery harbour front, although the plastic floating decks are less Scottish. We sought refuge from the scorching midday heat inside the air-conditioned vaults of 'Brewerks' brewery, where we sipped hoppy ale and ice-creams for Sas.
The tour into the family history continued with a taxi ride (driver: friendly and interesting
this time) to the houses where Mairi used to live. We half expected to find the site redeveloped, houses having made way for skyscrapers as is the way in this ever changing, ever growing city. But no...both No.5 One Tree Hill, and No.17 Folkstone Rd were still standing, the trees much taller now but otherwise unchanged. It was incredible that they were both still there and that we all got to see the places where the Youngson family spent five years of their lives.
The most poignant part of all this is that Mairi was able to share these experiences and show the photographs to Gandi on her return before he so sadly and suddenly passed away.
That evening we discussed our busy day of delving into the past beside the pool, where we took a much needed cooling dip. And of course we couldn't neglect our newly acquired pastime of G&T time which we enjoyed in the adjoining rooms that the hotel staff were cajoled into providing for us.
The next day began with a visit to the magical world of Mustafa's department store where you could get anything you wanted (and lots you didn't) and
we embarked on what Lewi called 'the batak attack'. What he meant was batik, the printed fabric used so often by the Malay people, and Mustafa's had gifts of all descriptions in beautiful batik print! We may have gotten a little carried away with our batik theme I admit, but very nice presents were bought nonetheless.
We rejoined William at the hotel (who surprisingly hadn't wanted to join the shopping excursion) and set off for 'The Singapore Flyer'. Like 'The London Eye' this observation wheel gives great panoramic views over the city and is also located beside the river. In fact the Singapore Flyer is at the confluence of two rivers and it's position and direction of rotation was the topic of much conversation amongst feng shui experts. It was a lovely half hour flight and a great way to spot the sights of Singapore. Beneath us we could see the F1 race track, the multitude of obscenely huge hotels, office buildings, and high-rise housing with a scattering of green in between. Another taxi driver fact: Over 80% of the population live in high-rise flats, the rent on which is almost as bad as London prices.
our giddy height we next went to the imposing and grand Raffles Hotel. The hotel is named for Sir Stamford Raffles an English man whose vision transformed the small town of singapore into a free trading port. It is a credit to his designs that the layout of central Singapore is still as he drew it in 1819. The splendour of it's colonial heyday still shone and although only guests are permitted into the hotel we peeked through the doors at sparkling chandeliers, sweeping staircases, and people taking afternoon tea. Us non-residents are still allowed to enjoy the courtyard and garden bar, which we did to the fullest with an excellent bottle of white wine.
On the way back to our hotel on Kitchener Rd (I thought of you, my Kitchener family relatives) we received another taxi education; "The best place to get the Singapore specialty of chilli crab is at 'Nor Si Bot' seafood ", or so we thought we heard him say. We asked the excellent Kari at concierge to reserve us a table. At 7.30pm we arrived to the Esplanade and were perusing the many restaurant fronts we passed when we spotted 'No Sign Board Seafood'.
We laughed, this shows just how easy it is to misunderstand accented English! The restaurant was as good as it's recommendation, it's white pepper crab was even better than the chilli, both utterly delicious. The outlook towards the spiky metallic roof of the esplanade theatre and along the elegantly lit promenade made it a great place to watch the world jog, cycle or amble by.
Our last day in Singapore and on our travels together with Mairi, William and Sas was a combination of looking to the past, present and future. We visited the swimming club where Mairi had spent many Sundays relaxing with her siblings, saw how it had expanded, changed but also retained it's personality. A quick trip to the shopping centres of Orchard Rd, aka Oxford Circus, was soon detoured to Clark quay and the home-brewed ale at 'Brewerks'. The jugs of chilled 'Golden Ale' were the only cheap beer in town and much needed on such hot humid days.
Singapore had impressed us with it's clean, safe and sophisticated style. Like Shanghai it was a concoction of colonial architecture and cutting edge construction. We had enjoyed what the city had to offer despite the
high costs of this Asian city. However Singapore isn't just any city, it is very much it's own country.
With just a few hours left before the inevitable tears and taxi journeys, we returned to our poolside oasis and just enjoyed being together, reflecting on where and when we would see each other next. Of course it was hard and very sad to say goodbye but with all the great memories and shared times fresh in our minds we hugged each other and said Au Revoir.
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