Singapore (Singapura, 新加坡共和国, சிங்கப்பூர்)

September 2003

Key points

After the vast expanse of Australia, it was sort of nice to get to a country of a nice manageable size. For example, geography quizzes are great. What's the capital of Singapore? Singapore. What's the largest city in Singapore? Singapore. What's the smallest city in Singapore? You get the picture.

But despite its diminutive size, it's got a huge range of cultures. There are four official languages, and lots of other ones are spoken too. The food courts and hawker stands are everywhere--6,000 restaurants and 12,000 food stalls in this tiny country--which means you can eat great food from a huge range of styles for cheap. It's also famous for cheap electronics, and we took advantage. Angela and I both replaced partially broken cameras with newer models. It required lots of shopping around and lots of bargaining. None of the stores have prices on the items; they just make up a price based on what they think you might be willing to pay. See if you can tell where my pictures change from the old Kodak 290 to the new Canon A70.

When we first got in we went from the immaculate airport to the spotless subway. From there we walked through the sparkling shopping mall to the unsoiled sidewalk. Eventually we made our way to our cheap little hostel.

We checked into hostel and went directly out for our first meal. Cha siu pork and rice for Sing$2.00 (about US$1.20). It was a great welcome to the town and an excellent portent of things to come.

The next morning I went to the lobby and did a lesson or two from my learning Chinese book. The hotel manager was surprised that I was trying to learn to write a bit of Chinese, and he offered to help me learn to pronounce a bit too. He was quite helpful... but I wasn't always entirely sure when he was repeating a Chinese word and when he was explaining something in English. That's because, though everyone in Singapore claims to speak English, many actually speak Singlish. It's similar in many ways, but it does take a while to get used to the accent.

After that we headed out for our first full day on the town. We tried Singaporean coffee at Ya Kun: Kopi O and Kopi C which are made with condensed and evaporated milk respectively. Not bad at all. And we sampled Kaya, a sort of coconut spread you put on toast.

We wandered around town for a while, and you never knew what would be around the next corner. It's the only town I've been to where you can find a Hindu temple next to Muslim mosque next to a Buddhist temple. We found--but didn't sample--all varieties of traditional remedies for ailments. I'm not sure what dried-lizard-on-a-stick is good for, but it sure looks impressive.

We met up with my old roommate Andy. He'll be moving out to Singapore soon permanently, but he was here just for a few days to do some work and start looking for an appartment. And he introduced us to Nyet, a Singapore native who showed us all around for a day. It was great to get the inside scoop on where to find good chicken rice in Chinatown, where the best coffee is, how to travel around most efficiently, and to learn a little local history at the same time. We walked all over town seeing the sites and trying the food.

When we got too tired to walk anymore, we stopped at an outdoor cafe along the esplanade and had a drink. But it was only a temporary stop. Once we were rested up--just as the sun was setting--we headed all the way across the country to the night safari.

Hindu Temple Traditional Chinese herbal remedies (see the dried squids?) Andy and Nyet with rice balls in almond milk Chinese Buddhist temple Andy respectfully contemplating the temple The esplande with "the durians" City center seen from the esplanade

The night safari is a unique zoo built near the "regular" Singapore zoo. They have special dim lights that don't bother the animals too much but allow the tourists to see lots of animals that are active primarily at night. It's of course difficult to get pictures under those sorts of conditions, but I did my best.

Deer Leopard

The next day we headed over to Sentosa, a favorite local beach. It's a little island just outside of the main downtown area so it's easily accessible. We relaxed on the beach, climbed the massive merlion (that's something like a mermaid or a merman... but half fish and half lion), and swam in the ocean.

Afterwards we took a chair lift back to town and then went back to Andy's hotel to meet up with another old colleague. While we waited, we helped ourselves to his aquarium pool. Once Colin arrived, we headed out to a great seafood dinner at Jumbo's.

Andy in water fountain on Sentosa Angela in the shade of a palm tree Angela and Andy in the aquarium pool Angela and Matt looking good Andy and Matt swimming and waving

Having run around town for a couple of days with some old friends (and some new ones too), it was now time to meet the family. Angela's grandparents live in Singapore along with lots of aunts and uncles. We were warmly welcomed and immediately fed. That became a recurring and much enjoyed theme of our stay. Angela's grandparents cooked the most scrumptous meals. Some were spicey, some fruity, some exotic, but all were delicious.

We stayed for quite a while with them, but the time flew by. It was a nice change again from being on our own and traveling everyday. We spent the longest stretch in the same place that we'd spent since March, and we got to just relax for a bit. Somedays we hardly got out of the house; we just relaxed and ate and read and ate and watched a little TV. And ate.

Grandma hacking up the crabs Grandma and her sisters Grandpa cooking dinner

Between running errands like getting our Chinese and Vietnamese visas, scoping out good deals on cameras, and treating back pain with needles and suction cups, we managed to visit several sites. The Botanic Gardens provided a nice escape from the shopping throngs, and we just happened to arrive when all of the orchids were blooming. It's the largest collection of orchids on earth, and I didn't have the slightest idea that there could be that many different varieties of orchids.

Fountain at entrance to the orchid garden Angela trying out her new camera Orchids Angela and Mom Acupuncture!

Likewise, we went to the Chinese gardens expecting a tranquil and well layed out place to escape the city. But we found a Hello Kitty exposition had put brightly colored animals all around the garden. Fortunately, the one place untouched by the lights and colors was the one we most wanted to see. The bonsai garden had nothing but bonsai trees. Most were 30 to 50 years old, but some were up to 300 years old.

Checking out the 300 year old bonsai tree

One day we made our way over to Suntec city to see the Fountain of Wealth. It's the world's largest fountain, and it even has the plaque from Guinness out front to prove it. But, despite being the world's largest, it was really boring and not particularly attractive. Mighty big though. Then, like many tourists before us, we were unable to resist the allure of trying a Singapore Sling at the bar where it was invented. Even after years and years Raffles' Long Bar still serves up a mean sling.

Trying the Singapore Slings like good tourists Checking out the 300 year old bonsai tree

The last site that we visited was the Jurong Bird Park. It has a huge collection of birds from around the world. We spent the entire day making our way from show to show and display to display. Though some of the cages seemed a bit small, most were large enough to let the birds fly around pretty well (penguins, ostriches, and rheas excepted of course). One highlight was when Angela was selected to have a bird fly over to her to deliver a free drink coupon during one of the shows. There were lots of colorful and noisy birds, but the most impressive were definitely the birds of prey. We saw a secretary bird stamp the life out of a rubber snake with its powerful legs, and various hawks displayed their abilities to catch things out of the air or snatch them out of the water.

Penguins Rhea Curious parrot World's tallest man-made waterfall (30 meters) Ducks Meercat sentry Parrots trading food Angela wins a free drink! Golden eagle Secretary bird

After that it was time to say goodbye to the family... almost.

Next update: our brief stay in a four star hotel in Bangkok.

Last modified: 24 September 2003