Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Weekend in Singapore

Since my Indonesian work visa was about to expire, I headed over to Singapore for a weekend to see the sights and catch up with my friend Louvelle, who teaches at an international school there. Singapore is known for being clean, modern and efficient and this was evident as soon as I stepped off the plane. Disembarking passengers were ushered in a straight line to an x-ray machine, where our carryon bags were x-rayed again. After my backpack containing chewing gum and pirated DVDs successfully cleared the x-ray machine, I breathed a sigh of relief and ducked into the bathroom where I used my first ever squat toilet that flushed automatically! I stared at the retreating water in amazement. What a country! Like my trip to Australia over Christmas, my weekend in Singapore was a breath of fresh air - a short respite in a world where everything works, the water is hot, and the food is delicious.

Scenes of Singapore

Louvelle was changing apartments that weekend so we stayed at a hotel – the Ibis on Bencoolen, which I would highly recommend for its central location, great restaurant, and super fast internet connection. In fact, I was so taken with the fastest internet connection I’ve had in 10 months that I spent many, many hours sitting in front of my laptop uploading photos and videos and chatting with friends. Admittedly, I did feel kinda lame about this. Here I was in a new city and a new country just goofing around in my hotel room on Facebook. But it paid off in an unexpected way. My status said I was in Singapore and a friend from grad school commented on it – “You’re in Singapore?! Me too!!” And so we met up and had a drink at the hotel and talked about life since grad school. It pays to update your status!

I also spent a lot of time eating. From my first taste of chicken rice at the Ibis restaurant to the exotic offerings of hawker food at the Makansutra hawker center, Singapore delighted me. I had wondered what the big deal about chicken rice was. Wasn’t it just rice and chicken? But then I learned that its delicious flavor comes from the fact that the rice is cooked in chicken soup. YUM! What’s more, the plate of bee hoon noodles I had at the hawker center was far better than any Italian pasta dish I’ve ever had. And that’s saying quite a bit. The satay was amazing as well and I even ventured a bite of barbequed stingray (too spicy!).

I had my fair share of western food too. One night we went out to dinner for Louvelle’s assistant’s birthday and her husband treated us all to a hedonistic feast of Mediterranean appetizers with garlic bread followed by kebabs of grilled swordfish, steak, prawns, and veggies. As side dishes we had paella and baked potatoes with sour cream. All this was washed down with a bottle of white wine from Australia and rounded off with the most divine tiramisu I have had since, well, the last time I was in Sydney. The very next morning we headed off to a fair trade café called Food for Thought where I ordered banana walnut pancakes with whipped cream, scrambled eggs with cream and cappuccino. I was in heaven.

No first trip to Singapore would be complete without a visit to the famous Raffles Hotel, which dates back to the colonial era and oozes old world charm and luxury. Louvelle took the requisite picture of me standing next to the Sheik doorman and then we roamed around inside visiting the museum, and peeking inside the Long Bar, the Bar & Billiard room and finally settling down at the Martini Bar to enjoy a couple of Singapore Slings at the establishment where it all began. The drinks are ridiculously overpriced and, according to Louvelle, made from a mix, but it’s something everyone has to do at least once when in Singapore.

Posing in front of the Raffles Hotel

With the Sheik doorman

Drinking Singapore Slings with Louvelle

After leaving Raffles, we hopped in a cab over to Riverside Point where we got on a river taxi that floated us up the river to the Merlion, the symbolic statue of Singapore. The river trip was highly entertaining. All the buildings were beautifully illuminated and we floated by the popular night life scene of Clarke Quay, the Extreme Swing, the fancy Fullerton Hotel, the Singapore Flyer, and the Esplanade Theater. The bumboat also featured a running commentary but we didn’t hear it as we were sitting outside in the back. The spectacular views more than made up for that however.

Two full days is really not enough time to explore all that Singapore as to offer. I would especially love to go back to linger in the cafés and restaurants of the Arab quarter and feast in Little India. Thankfully, Louvelle will be in Singapore for at least one more year and there are direct flights to Singapore from Yogya!

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a lot of fun. People, even those who don't like the city, rave about the food. I've also noticed that over the past 25 years, since I first met people who know Singapore, reports about it have gotten steadily better. "Dull and over-regulated" is heard less often than in the past.

    And it's a good city for language lovers: Mandarin, Malay, Tamil, and English are strongly represented (amongst others, of course).