Singapore! Singapore! (Music swells...)

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Asia » Singapore
March 28th 2011
Published: October 1st 2017
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It was lovely to wake up in the middle of Singapore, not hearing the traffic but the sound of birds. I lay in bed trying to get over a migraine, enjoying the bird song. Eventually, we decided it was time to head to a coffee place to grab the morning cup. We sat outside and watched people emerge from the MRT and head either into the mall or down another escalator; the mode of dress in Singapore is clearly business casual: no men in suits or ties and no evidence that they carried such things into work (possible that they kept them in the office but I find it very hard to believe that everyone would do this).

Walked from Raffles to the top of Fort Canning – nice walk but nothing special. From the top of the hill, we dropped down to the Singapore National Museum, which is a beautiful building that combines traditional colonial architecture with a more modern approach in a relatively seamless way. After a quick snack, we went first through the history exhibit, with its multimedia tour. This begins with a 360-degree video presentation of film showing the day in the life of Singapore … and backed by a rousing chorus singing, "Singapore! Singapore!" It was hilarious, and I had to go hide behind a partition, I was laughing so hard.

But the entire exhibit was very well done. After a very brief prologue about pre-colonial times, it traces the history of Singapore from the founding by Raffles to the modern era. Your multimedia guide allows you listen to detailed descriptions, academic interpretations, and reenactments as you progress through the exhibit. At times, the path through the exhibit splits in two: the “events” path, which tells the stories through the eyes of the elite, and the “personal” path, which does the same but through the eyes of the common. It's a very interesting approach – especially the idea of trying to give a voice to the usually voiceless – but not entirely successful. First, it's difficult to see the same story through different eyes unless you retrace your steps and take a different path. Second, we did not really see a difference in the content or the interpretation of the stories. Maybe the latter is true because you're supposed to only take one path, so the stories need to be similar. In any case, we both agreed that the exhibit was very well done and informative.

Also did the exhibit of modern works, the Biennale … we found two works particularly interesting: one of a woman who was guided through Liverpool entirely by CCTV cameras; the other models of floating villages, created by an artist who had lived through floods on the Mekong.

Then, to lunch. We walked through the Albert Center, a pedestrian shopping street, out to the Arab district, where we dined at the small eatery Zam Zam. We ate mee goreng (Indian style) and Arabic meat pies (very tasty). Then through the mosque across the way, which was built in the 1820s according to the very friendly host at the entrance; it was attractive but not a lot to see. Through the Arab Street, back along Beach, to the hotel, for a swim. Then coffee, and sitting outside in the garden, doing email and trying to catch up on my journal. It was nearly 7pm before we realized how late it was getting.

We had a basic sense of the location where we wanted to dine, and that sense took us right to our goal: Makansutra – a selected group of food stalls which share a space along the waterfront. We ordered a couple of small plates and some drinks, from a couple of different stalls. It was all quite tasty and very reasonably priced. The market was completely crowded, but we found a table on the edge with a little bit of breeze. Lots of good food to choose between; one drink stall, but very reasonable.

From the end of the bay, we decided to walk to the Marina Bay Sands, a new, huge hotel and casino complex at the very end of the bay. Between the Esplanade area and the bridge over to the Sands, much of the space is dedicate to permanent grandstands, which face a floating football field. The stands and the field are clearly integrated, but somewhat distant, so we wondered if the seats also function as the grandstands for the finale leg of the Grand Prix.

Crossing the walking bridge was nice – some good views looking back to Singapore. Once on the other side, we walked by the Science Museum in its lovely lotus-shaped building, before entering the Mall, which has the usual assortment of very high-end shops that are now commonplace in luxury casinos. We managed to reach the hotel lobby and wandered through … but there was not much to see, and we didn't want to pay to go to the top. Would have gone up if we could have bought drinks (maybe even with cover charge.) We also could have entered the Casinos for free (Singaporeans have to pay $100 to enter – and let me stress that this is not a deposit; they don't want Singaporeans to gamble) but opted not. Casinos is casinos.

Exhausted, we took cab back to our hotel, then went to Fairmount to have drinks on the 71st floor bar. View was actually not that great from the bar. In City Space (bar on the 70th), you have to pay a $20 cover charge to sit in the seats by the window (they waive the charge if your bar tab is $60 or more … which isn't challenging – about three drinks). In the Asia Bar on 71st floor, no cover charge (except weekends, I think), so we went there. Got a table near the window and tried to listen in to conversation by delegates to the Pacific Rim free trade agreement talks … a little too noisy to really hear their conversation … but it had a lot to do with convincing Congress that trade was good for everybody back home, not just certain constituents. Yeah, good luck with that. In general, though, found the bar a little disappointing. Equinox Restaurant has the great view of the financial district; the bar looks from the Marina Bay Sands to Sun Tec City … but there's not much to view between them. So we paid our over-priced bill and went back to Raffles to sleep.


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