Malls, Museums and Monkey Brains

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October 26th 2011
Published: October 26th 2011
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GOODBYE SMILING FACES, orange stone carvings, puja (Hindu offerings), and infinite palm trees; hello shopping malls, food courts, tall modern buildings, clean toilets, and things that light up in the night. By the time we got to Singapore both Travis and I were kind of sick of planning. This made us kind of terrible tourists. Instead of picking out famous sites to visit we just kind of wandered through the streets bleary eyed not really knowing where we were going or what we were looking at. That being said, this blog is probably not a great representation of what a trip to Singapore could be. Regardless, we spent three nights there and definitely got a good taste of what this city-state is all about. We were surprised to learn that the official language in Singapore is English which was quite convenient for us. It was also very crystal clean, again, convenient for us. And organized. In fact, the transit system was genius. Even if you have never ridden a subway in your entire life you could get around in this city like a pro (yes mom, even you). If we even so much as reached for our map someone appeared miraculously at our side providing us with exact directions to our location. It was also incredibly diverse. Every shade of skin tone is represented here. And it is definitely not a police state like some books make it out to be. Sure, there are signs that list fines for littering, eating and drinking in the subway but that’s about where it ends. We never saw any signs listing a fine for ‘spitting on the sidewalk’ like we had heard about, however, the sidewalks were pretty damn clean. It basically just felt like a very clean, well organized, new city.

We arrived in Singapore mid-day after a long flight and headed to Little India where our guidebook said we could find an affordable place to crash. We quickly stumbled upon an Australian themed hostel and bar named Prince of Wales that had affordable rooms. This turned out to be a great option as it had a pretty happening little bar with free live bands every night, a pool table, laundry, free breakfast, wifi and Aussie bar food for half price if you were staying there. We ventured out the first night with a little less stamina than usual. We got off at the Clarke Quay train stop, a new trendy area of shops and restaurants sprinkled along the river. There were so many neon lights it reminded me of Las Vegas. We decided to try and find what I thought was a large outdoor market (I was picturing one of the large outdoor markets I’ve encountered in Latin America). In fact, it was a cluster of food stalls under a covered roof that looked remarkably like a run down food court that you would find in the mall at home. Despite the appearance the food was fresh and yummy. And even more delicious was the incredibly sweet iced kopi (coffee) that you find everywhere in Singapore. We flagged a cab down for a ride home since it had been a long day and our legs were tired. Our cab driver was from China and man, did he want to talk. After learning that we had just eaten at the market he began telling us in great detail about how they still serve monkey brains in parts of China. He kept referring to the “poor little monkey” and told us about how one time he went to a restaurant once where they were serving it it but as they began the process of killing the “poor little monkey” he got up and ran away because the “poor little monkey” was screaming. He found our shocked and repulsed reactions absolutely hilarious.

Our first full day in Singapore was kind of a bust. The weather was miserable. Not only was it hot but it was horribly muggy. Sure, Japan and Bali had been hot, but they both at least had some kind of breeze and the air was not as thick as this. As we walked around I began to adjust to our new surroundings. I didn’t realize how much I had been smiling in the last few weeks. Now my smiles were greeted with blank stares. It’s not that people were unfriendly, they just weren’t overly friendly, as we had gotten used to in Bali. And the landscape was not was I had been expecting. It was all shopping malls, food courts, museums and tall shiny buildings. It seemed to lack the historical character that Tokyo has, and the human character that Bali has. After walking around some shopping malls on Orchard Road (the air conditioning felt oh so good) we tried to visit a design museum but when we got there we found out that it was closed on Wednesdays (what?). Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to do anything else because we were meeting some of my brother’s friends that night at an art show and we needed some time to scrub the backpacker filth off of ourselves. After several hours of self maintenance we emerged halfway presentable and took a cab to some mysterious address in some mysterious part of town. The show was exactly like art shows at home – lots of young hip kids sipping wine and eating finger food - but the people we were meeting were nowhere in sight. After about a half hour a French guy approached us (apparently their friend) and let us know that they weren’t going to be able to make it because they were having problems with their motorbike. We were a bit disappointed that we spent so much time getting ready, and had blown most of our day’s budget on the cab ride there, but all in all it wasn’t a bad experience. Actually, it was nice to get off the tourist track and see what young Singaporeans do on a night out and we never would have found the exhibit if it wasn’t for their suggestion. So we(err..I) stole a few more brownies and another glass of wine and headed home.

Our next day was slightly more successful. In the morning we walked around Little India and Kampong Glam (the Muslim district) both a kaleidoscope of colors and smells. Then we headed to the Science Centre which boasted over 2,000 exhibits, Water World, Omni Theatre and…wait for it…Snow City! Most Singaporeans had never seen real snow, so they created a theme park for it. “Go sledding! Build a snow fort! Make snow balls!” the poster said. We opted out of that portion of the museum although, I’ll admit, I was intrigued. We expected the Science Centre to be similar to the Science and History museum in Chicago – a huge museum with fascinating intellectual exhibits meant for all ages. It was not. This museum was overrun with kids. Furthermore, we hadn’t eaten lunch yet and were starving. We had assumed that there would be plenty of food options around the museum but all we could find was McDonald's or an overpriced buffet which we couldn’t afford. We broke down and chose McDonald's. Although we initially doubted our choice on the museum we actually warmed up to it after walking around for a bit. There were a lot of interactive futuristic exhibits that held our attention for most of the afternoon, and again, the air conditioning felt good.

On our last night in Singapore we made a push to see some of the sights the city is known for. We took the subway to Marina Bay and spent several hours walking and taking in the sights including a large fish/lion statue (the Merlion), the Esplanade theater that resembles a massive durian, the lotus shaped Art Science museum and the brand new Marina Bay Sands Resort. The resort has three huge towers which hold two casinos, an expansive shopping mall and a hotel. It is a stunning piece of modern architecture. On top of the three towers a long infinity pool overlooks the city (unfortunately, only hotels guests can use it). Eventually we made our way around to the casino and decided to try our luck. Per usual, the luck never showed so we headed home $20 poorer. Travis insists it was money well spent, however, I'm a bit more skeptical. The next morning we had some time to kill so we wandered from food court to food court sampling different types of food. We had freshly made pastries, fried balls of cheese, mushroom, ham, spicy tuna, ramen soup, and of course some very sweet iced kopi. Tummies full, we boarded a plane for Bangkok.

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