More tourism, more Singaporean by the day.

So today is Tuesday, and I haven’t written anything since Saturday evening. But here goes anyway.

Sunday consisted of another city tour, this one arranged by the residential college at which I am staying. In contrast to the previous one, where we travelled by MRT, the organisers of this one had hired two buses. We were split into groups, each group led by a local student. But our group singularly failed to stay together, so much for those good intentions… First stop on the tour was Lau Pa Sat (“The old market” in some sort of Chinese dialect supposedly). Lau Pa Sat is a cast iron octagonal building, which nowadays is a food court and performance venue (the band performs on top of the central drinks stall, I must remember to go some day, because seems like a interesting setup: cheap, good food and music).

A building site close to Lau Pa Sat, Singapore style.

The food at Lau Pa Sat was good, as expected, but also slightly more expensive due to its midtown location. I had mixed vegetable rice, with rice and two vegetables coming in at S$1.90, and tasted the dumplings that our guide was having.

Lau Pa Sat market.

After Lau Pa Sat, we walked through the CBD (central business district) for a while, and then boarded the buses again, and drove to the Singapore river. At this point it was getting very warm and sunny, and I was seriously considering getting an umbrella! Yes, an umbrella. Not to provide shelter from the rain (although that function could be useful in a pinch), but to provide shelter from the sun. But no umbrellas were available in the very trendy bay/riverfront promenade area we were in, so I borrowed some suncream from Caspar from Germany, which really meant the difference between red and slightly brown.

A view of the Mariba Bay Sands hotel. Note the clear blue skies. Tropical sunshine…
Just Bamboo growing inside.
Old meets new in the Central Business District.

There are plenty of sights to see in this area (which we did), but what was most interesting in the hot tropical sun was finding shade. We also stumbled upon a ice-cream salesman who was selling, among other things, durian flavour ice-cream. Durian is a very popular fruit in Singapore, but unfortunately it really does smell like rotten potatoes to me.

The durian ice-cream stall.
The National Museum. Saving it for another day.
The Singapore Lion(s). The larger one was closed off for renovation.

Back to the buses we went again, and drove off to the Perakanan museum, a museum documenting the life and history of the Perakanan people: Chinese settlers in the Malay peninsular who married Malay women, and thus produced a mixed race with its own culture and so on. But instead of going inside, one of the guides suggested we walk to the Istana and go in there instead, since Sunday happened to be a rare occasion when the Istana was open to the general public. The Istana is the presidential palace in Singapore, and it is located on Orchard Road, Singapore’s most famous shopping street. Or rather, the gates of the palace gardens face Orchard Road. We paid one dollar to get in, passed through security screening area (since we were foreigners, Singaporeans did not need to pay nor go through metal detectors).

We were not the only ones wanting to go to the Istana.

Once inside the gardens, we split into smaller groups, and walked up the hill to the palace. The gardens are spacious and lush, with lakes, a golf court, and a memorial pond to Queen Victoria. But we decided not to go into the house itself, since that was an additional two dollars, and no pictures were allowed inside anyway.

The view from half-way up the hill to the Istana.
The façade of the Istana.
The Victoria Lake.
A flower by the lake.
Quintessential palace shot.

Next stop on the tour was the Arab quarter, which contained more Persian carpet shops than you could shake a stick at, and beautifully maintained colonial era buildings (which is unfortunately not as common as one might like). The small splinter-group I was in walked through the area, and noted the beautiful Sultan mosque, with a very busy market outside, selling among other things, wet hamburgers (eh?).

The Arab quarter.
Detail of the Arab quarter.
Why not?
The Sultan Mosque.

The final stop on the tour, as night was falling, was Geylang Serai, a busy mainly Muslim market in the Payar Lebar area of eastern Singapore. We eat here, and were then free to make our own way home. The aforementioned splinter group I was in decided to find the nearest MRT station and head into town, but that was easier said than done. We found the nearest bus stop, looked at the destinations, and did not see anything promising. We walked on to the next bus stop, and did not see anything useful there either. Then I noticed that on the other side of a small green park there seemed to be a train. Indeed it was, and we felt quite stupid for having overlooked it and not asked anyone local for directions. We had plans to go into town, but ended up just going back to campus, since legs were quite tired from having walked in the sun all day.

Hari Raja Pusa (Ramadan) decorations.

Once back at the residential college I stayed in the lobby, since Ivan, the local student who checked me in, was waiting for some others to arrive during the evening, so as to check them in (quite a good service). Ivan is a RA, a residential assistant (one on every floor, responsible for upholding the rules etc etc), and as the evening progressed, he invited all the passing RAs to meet me, and most of them stayed, so we all just sat and talked, among other things about the Chinese sports development programmes, that one of the RAs had experienced first-hand (selected for the Gymnastics team, and in connection with her training was pushed into a swimming pool from the three metre platform with no preparation nor knowledge of swimming or diving). We stayed up until around 1am, meanwhile the people who were checking in had arrived, so we eventually all retired to separate rooms.

Monday was quite uneventful. I went to the bank to set up a Singaporean bank account, for which I had to wait three hours. Later happened to be the first day on which the meal plan was functioning, so I took dinner in the dining hall, choosing the Indian counter (in general, there is a selection of noodles, Asian, western, Indian, Muslim (halal)). Afterwards Delia from Germany, who arrived Sunday, Hannah, Jonathan from DTU (Denmark), and myself had a game of Carcassonne (a brilliant German board game that I made space for in my luggage by sacrificing loudspeakers). Game finished, Patrick (Peru, but studies in Manchester) joined us for a trip to the Italian place on the main square in UTown, where we each had a taste of the local beer (Tiger beer, highly recommendable).

Today was similarly uneventful, I have learned not to choose Western breakfast (too small portions), I went to the IT help centre to get the wifi working on my laptop (I just had to change the domain to lowercase, which was unexpected for both me and the quite helpful person there),  I have done my laundry (which actually dries fine in the open-to-the-elements corridor when left to hang on the rack for half a day), and been swimming with Boli from China, whom I met yesterday, and his friends who introduced themselves as Steve, Grace, Elena and Li (I believe… quite embarrassing when the Asian custom of choosing a western name so as to help us stupid white people remember names actually shows its worth….) from Korea.

Checklist for Singapore:

Bank account, check
wifi, check
knowledge of the city, check
three trips to the swimming pool, check
loving the food, check
tolerating the climate, check
Getting there it seems.

Now I’m going to paste in some pictures into this post, and then go downstairs and see if the piano is free…

Author: jpamills


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