The land of… um… no chewing gum?
Obviously we had to go, but to be honest, we didn’t know what to expect other than that it would probably be more expensive than Bali.
This became evident when Julie started looking for accommodation, and found that even a cheap hotel was going to be out of our price range.
Goodbye privacy, hello 24 bed dorm!
Landing at the Changi International Airport was a real pleasure for us, and we were immediately struck with how high quality the experience was, from the design and construction of our arrival terminal,
which included loungers
computer charging kiosks
and free wifi throughout.
We had to go to a different terminal to access the public transit we’d decided to take to our hostel, and even the skytrain connecting terminals was well designed and executed.
The main terminal had even more to offer, and we had no trouble finding an ATM (one of many different varieties… we chose ANZ just because) and using the free wifi some more to do some last minute double checking of the route to our hostel.
This main terminal was connected directly to the Singapore subway system (MRT), and here we were again impressed with not only the high quality of the construction and signage but also the enviable (if you’re the TTC) efficiency and professionalism of the MRT staff.
We had no trouble getting our 6-use disposable paper RFID tickets, no small thanks in part to the friendly and helpful attendant at the automated machines, who was able to provide change for a 100$ bill (the machines take a max denomination of 10$ I think, and the ATM we’d just hit spit out 100$s only:p) on the spot and assist with the already extremely intuitive and easy to use machines.
We had a good chuckle at the array of signs pasted all over the walls (NO DURIANS!)
marvelled at the unfortunately much needed arrows on the platform (stupid jerks still ignore it though… the cliche ‘common courtesy is anything but’ still applies over here)
and proceeded to take the most comfortable public transit ride of our lives.
We arrived at the closest stop to our hostel (Farrer Park station) in the area of ‘little india’ where some construction barriers impressed me with the quadrilingual signage, which was representative of the 4 official languages of Singapore (English, Chinese, Tamil, and Malay),
before checking into the aforementioned dorm, which actually provided more privacy than most dorm’s we’d seen in NZ and OZ (curtains ftw!).
After putting our stuff down we went in search of sustenance, only to find that what would prove to be the most delicious food in the entire city was 3 doors down from our home base: Beach Road Scissor-Cut Curry Rice!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (I used so many exclamation points because of how awesome it was/is).
For like 3$ you get a massive plate of the most succulent pork belly with curry rice and veggies that you can possibly imagine, and we found out later that this restaurant is actually a well known institution in Singapore, even though we stumbled across it and it is really quite a hole in the wall establishment.
Omg it was so good, we literally ate there 2 or 3 times a day…
Ok enough gushing.
Not everything was coming up aces for me though, as I discovered that beer was not as cheap as I was hoping (even though 1$SGD = ~0.82$CAD, it was still not that far off North American prices…)
so I decided to try and find out if there were any microbreweries around that I could grace with my patronage so I could get some seriously good suds if I was going to be paying premium prices for it anyway.
Fed and partially watered (I ended up picking up a couple tallies of Tiger at one of the numerous 7-11s), Julie and I went in search of somewhere I could try to get service for my recently bricked iPhone, only to find that the closest electronics mall was already closed.
WTF! It’s only 9pm…
It might not have been such a bad thing to miss out on though, as further research when we got home indicated that Sim Lim Square is actually one of the shadiest malls in the city/country, rife with fake goods and scams.
On the way back home, we half-stumbled across a little place that looked open, only to find once we stepped inside that it was actually a 2 city-block sized 24 hour mall called Mustafa Centre which happened to be only a couple blocks from our hostel!
After overcoming the initial shock of entering such an outlandish place, we zombie walked around all starry eyed for a couple hours, both admiring and admonishing this budget department mall for its size and for the sheer quantity of exactly everything under the sun (or stars) it was making available to shoppers 24 hours a day.
There was tons of useful stuff (from diapers to fishing rods, gold jewelry and rice cookers), and it was almost impossible to get around because there were so many people there with shopping carts fully laden with what looked like a years worth of ‘supplies’ and whatnot, so obviously the business model was working (I wonder if she gets OT pay? 😉 ), but we were still slightly sickened seeing the well-oiled consumerism machine at work, and with the fact that the majority of the goods were knockoff or second rate (not to say you couldn’t purchase authentic goods at the usual prices, but the draw of the place is that it’s a ‘discount department store’, and you would generally get what you paid for).
We eventually realized we wouldn’t be able to navigate the whole place in one night and went home to try and sleep, fitfully dreaming of wall to wall gold (plated I’m sure for the most part) jewelry and row upon row of tiger balm products.
We awoke the next morning to a delicious breakfast of, you guessed it: scissor cut pork curry rice, before wandering towards ‘downtown’, partially still in search of apple authorized service.
This led us through Raffles City mall, and then to the Funan Digilife mall, which is a 6 storey mall that makes the Toronto Eaton Centre look like a joke, but which is dedicated exclusively to electronics and related products (cameras, computers, phones, etc…), and although I had no luck getting anywhere with my
paperweight phone, it was still incredibly enlightening to see what is possible to build in the world if someone wants it bad enough, in this case a pure geek mecca with a guy to girl ratio of like 10,000:1, completely opposite to the standard mall (where fashion, clothing and accessories are the mainstay, and aimed directly at the fairer sex).
As we walked from Little India all the way downtown, we noticed that the streets got more and more pedestrian friendly, starting with absolutely no sidewalk and nothing but storefront after storefront monopolizing the walking space (forcing those on foot to risk their lives by continually walking into traffic), to slightly better zones where the only real hindrances were loads of construction (which often still forced pedestrians to walk dangerously close to the speeding traffic),
to wide well marked boulevards complete with signs instructing those born yesterday how to get the ‘green man’ to appear.
We also took some pictures of a mall and street that happen to share a name with our good friends the Wilkies.
Oh, and we noticed that the commonly held belief that chewing gum is illegal (death penalty!) is somewhat of a misnomer, and that the streets and public spaces were not actually that clean.
I mean, Singapore was definitely cleaner than Indonesia, and would prove to be much much much cleaner than Malaysia (and most other countries in Southeast Asia for that matter), but in all honesty it was a little anti-climactic from the cleanliness perspective due to our North American upbringing where Singapore is always made out to sound like a sterile, pollution free land of spotlessness and virtue when in fact its sanitary state could be more accurately compared to that of Toronto in the summer (not the one when we had the garbage strike…).
But still no durians on mass transit 😀
A big racket on the street in front of us beckoned, and before I could say holy teenagers batman, we were in the midst of the Singapore Management University (SMU!) open house, lining up for balloons and free popcorn (doing my best to avoid attention amongst a sea of 17 year old 5ft-nothing [150cm-nothing just doesn’t have the same ring to it…] asian kids while Julie took advantage of her genes [asian youthfulness? stealthy ninja-ness?] to actually blend in and score as much swag as she could)…
Guess who’s idea that was?!
Oh well… I got free popcorn so couldn’t complain too much.
And I definitely couldn’t complain about what we saw next:
Another stunningly beautiful and nicely utilized greenspace sandwiched between the CBD, Raffles City and Marina Bay, with a fantastic view of the whole skyline and the iconic Marina Bay Sands hotel.
As we snapped off pic after pic, moving ever closer towards the CBD, we bore witness to one of the most impressive and rapid storms imaginable
and although the scenery kept getting more and more remarkable (in terms of ‘city’-ness that is… if small fur bearing aminals [sic] and backwoods hiking are your thing then you should probably steer clear of Singapore)
we had to really hurry to find somewhere dry to wait out the impending apocalypse.
As the first diffident drops started falling on us, we had only just passed Merlion Park (which I’m pretty sure is pronounced mer-LEE-on park 😀 ), and at my insistence were in search of a nice cafe or somewhere comfortable to sit, and I was sure these criteria would be filled if we could only just get to the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands 1km or so around the bay.
I think I underestimated the amount of time it would take us to get there and also how quickly the storm was coming on, because as we darted from tree to tree along the sparsely covered waterfront, the swollen skies began to loose their moisture laden cargo in earnest, and by the time we made it to the mall we were partially soaked and living proof that one should not try to out run a storm in Singapore.
Now, I just said we made it to the mall, but what we reached was in fact much more than just a mall.
It was the most incredible example of capitalism/consumerism we’d ever seen, and although I say that with a tinge of aloofness (as in ‘we are budget world travellers and don’t need any of this ruckus’), it was truly hard not to marvel at the scale and perfection of what has come to exemplify wealth and opportunity in the current state of the world (oh, and with a hint of envy thrown in, because even though we are travelling around the world, my shopaholic habits are still dying pretty hard, especially when faced with such a glorious opportunity to hand over my high-limit visa and put myself in infinite debt, and it wasn’t much easier for my better half to say no either).
There was a river throughout the mall, complete with rain-fed lakes (that inverted dome is actually an art installation that has a hole in the bottom that drains into the lake when it rains) and sampan cruises, a casino (where I got yelled at for taking a picture! What the H!)
a skating rink
and the list goes on: a museum, convention centre, live musical theatre theatre, numerous world class restaurants bars and clubs, and of course, the namesake hotel with rooftop pool(s).
Oh, and every single designer brand worthy of mention has a flagship store at this mall.
It was more than we bargained for, and after exploring a couple levels had to sit down at a Trung Nguyen coffee shop (where a regular hot tea is significantly more expensive than a proper coffee as Julie found out much to her chagrin) to digest the massacre to our senses that we never thought possible after our Mustafa experience the day before.
After a brief interlude, we explored the rest of the megalith before making our way outside into the now stifling humidity of the post-rain Singapore evening and for better or for worse thinking ‘Wow, that was truly a mall visit to remember’.
If you recall, I mentioned earlier that if I was going to shell out big bucks for a brewski, I’d prefer to do it properly, and so we walked back along the waterfront to the recently completed Marina Bay Financial Centre
to the world’s highest urban craft brewery, Level33
where I proceeded to indulge in a tasting platter in a room with a view
that would only get better as the night wore on (oh, and the beer glasses kept getting bigger too 😉 ).
I drink a lot of beer, but I also pride myself in the oft-overlooked ability to actually appreciate good beer, and I must say, Level33 was a truly wonderful experience, both for my taste buds
and also for the tremendous view of Southeast Asia’s largest twice (thrice on weekends, weather permitting) nightly light and water show.
To borrow @NatYKoral ‘s favourite saying, it was truly stunning, and Level33 was a place I’d reccommend to anyone visiting Singapore, beer drinker or no.
What a fantastic view!
We hopped on the still amazing MRT and in less than no time were om-nom-noming our favourite dish (don’t judge until you try it)
before calling it a (well deserved) night.
The next morning, we counted some of our money (it’s purdy huh?)
grabbed a bite (guess where?) and a thirst quencher
and MRTeed to chinatown!
PS: Did I mention how much we loved the Singapore subway system?
PPS: Or how badly it puts
old reliable TTC to shame?
Much walking around and picture taking ensued.
Oooh giant snake!
Beautiful temple (Julie is going to get her mom to translate what the signs say).
Fresh squeezed sugarcane juice for Julie!
Fresh roasting chestnuts.
Durians! (but not on the MRT)
Ultra long loading/unloading zones for escalators (we actually noticed this elsewhere in Singapore… but only in Singapore…)
It must be year of the snake or something (it is).
Oh, and since we were hungry but nowhere near scissor-cut, we decided to ‘settle’ for some delish congee
before saying goodbye to snake number 1 and returning to our abode.
We extended our stay in Singapore by an extra day (thank god for open ended itineraries and built in flexibility!) because I was able to finally get some information on the only Apple authorized service depot that would look at my iPhone (there were tons of providers that dealt in other Apple products, but not iPhones), and the next day we made a much maligned side trip to the burbs to see about unbricking my brick, only to find that they are quite strict with the warranty not covering water damage (dammit!!!) and wouldn’t do anything for me except allow me the ‘privilege’ of purchasing an equivalent refurb for like $300 bucks (which in hindsight I probably should have bought, but at the time seemed like a huge rip off).
My heart now truly broken 😉 (stupid Steve Jobs making such life invading products and then just peacing out), we made our way back to the city proper for some more exploring (do you think they have enough aircon units in this alley?)
and to drown my sorrows riverside with a visit to another small brewpub
(also with a decent view)
before taking the MRT north
for another visit to Mustafa to finish exploring and to stock up on supplies for our train journey to Malaysia the next morning.
We grabbed dinner from the Berseh Food Centre, noodle soup for me
and dang gui black chicken herbal soup for Julie
then headed home and hit the hay.
We had one last teary-eyed visit to scissor-cut for breakfast, then took full advantage of the spectacular public transit system to get us to the Woodlands Train Checkpoint on the norther border between Singapore and Malaysia.
We took the MRT from Farrer Park to Woodlands stations (2.30$SGD)
then bus #913 from the Woodlands MRT bus interchange to the Woodlands Train Checkpoint (1.10$SGD each for the tickets which need to be purchased after leaving the MRT station and heading to the bus station).
We purchased KTM train tickets to just get us across the border to Malaysia’s JB Sentral Station (11$SGD each, and where we would later attempt to save money by purchasing our onward ticket to Tampin [gateway to Melacca] in Malaysian Ringgit),
went through customs,
and before we knew it we were sitting on the ‘express’ train leaving Singapore!
And with that, I’ll leave you with a couple valuable takeaways from our time in Singapore:
If only we didn’t need these signs everywhere…