Archive for October 2007

Look See Trip to Singapore

October 31, 2007

You can’t always tell a lot about a city you’re visiting by its airport.  That is, of course, unless that airport is Singapore’s Changi International.


After our 18 ½ hour flight out of Newark direct to Singapore, needless to say, Diane and I were a bit flattened.  So how refreshing it was to arrive in our soon-to-be homeland at Changi.  This airport squeaks with cleanliness and hums with efficiency.  As if heralding its city’s finest qualities, our bags arrived the minute we stepped up to the baggage carousel, we got money from the American Express kiosk in under ten minutes, and then we followed the well-marked path to hail a cab.  And here’s where we thought, after the time-machine experience of the flight, that we had truly arrived in a different reality.

Singapore’s Chinatown

When we stepped out into the moist early-morning air at the taxi queue, we were politely asked to wait by the attendant.  We weren’t quite sure we were in the right place until, in about three minutes, five shiny cabs swooped down the lane, slotted themselves in their respective parking spaces, and disgorged five attentive cab drivers who popped five trunks, collected their passengers and zoomed off into the just-dispelling dawn.

Settled in the back of the first cab, we just had to laugh.  It felt like a scene from a movie and it felt just about as far away as we could get from the chaos, inefficiency and malaise we live with daily in Puerto Rico.

The ride to the hotel was fast and smooth.  As we wheeled our luggage into the hotel lobby, we both had a sense of deja vu.  Turns out, the hotel the company had picked for us was the same one we had stayed in about ten years ago at the end of our Malaysia trip.

Unable to sleep because my internal clock had been left on the other side of the world, I wandered up to the rooftop poolside deck.  As I sat drowsily in one of the padded teak chairs and watched the day slowly lighten, the city began to come to life.  Soon, smells of cumin, onions, garlic and curry began wafting over the high rooftop wall.  An Indian gentleman with bushy white eyebrows came out onto the deck, assumed a meditative posture and began chanting “ohhhhhhhmmmm, ohhhhhhmmmmm.”  And car horns began to mix their complaints with the morning music of various tropical birds.  I was definitely in a different place.

This was an impression reinforced in a few hours at the hotel’s substantial breakfast buffet that featured, among other more western offerings, miso soup, fried rice, some type of kelley green steamed sticky buns, and Indian somosa-like offerings.  We would soon find out that Singaporeans have two great passions – eating and shopping.

With the first taken care of, we decided to wander out to Orchard Road, to check out the second. 

Orchard Road is the home to many of Singapore’s numerous malls and, as it was just behind our hotel, we thought taking a look was in order.  We also thought we might pick up some lightweight clothes for our forthcoming trip. 

Nope.  Turns out that even the XXL clothes were still too small for us.  C’mon, we didn’t eat THAT much at breakfast.  After doing some reading, we discovered that expats do typically have a problem shopping in Singapore and that there are certain stores that cater to, ahem, more western figures.

I actually did feel a bit giant walking around the streets, I could actually see over the heads of pretty much everyone which gave us a decided advantage in navigating the crowds.

After a day of diving in and out of the icy-cold, pricey shops, we decided to call it quits and head back to the hotel.  Shopping’s not entirely a passion of ours, so we were a bit disappointed that it figured so prominently into life in Singapore.

Old Meets New

The next day, our faith in our new next home was restored.  We headed to Little India and the Arab Quarter which were a swirl of pungent smells, beautiful silks, woven carpets and exotic people.  Elaborate temples and mosques crop up next to 1970’s housing estates and the food on offer…

Well, the food …

The food here is plentiful and plenty exotic.  In fact, there’s the chance to eat something nearly every step you take (like the ice cream sandwiches all along Orchard Road which consist of little squares of ice cream put on a slice of Wonder Bread for portability). 

“Hawker” Food

The best spots for good and affordable food are hawker stalls where each individual hawker has a “cleanliness” grade on his or her stand ranging from A (the best) to C (not so good) to none at all (not even worthy of a rating).  The irony is that the locals will rarely eat at any of the “A” stands because they believe that if the owner is so busy cleaning, how can he be making any good food?  We ate at the stall in Little India and had an absolute feast including some ginger tea, and weird icy dessert for a total of about $6 US.  I think we’re definitely going to like it here …

Of course, we also had one of the most exotic, frightening and complex things we’ve eaten.  The King Of Fruit (which I think should be renamed, the King of Stink), the Durian.  I’ll have an article about that out soon.

The rest of our time was rounded out with meetings and official tours and each day we grew more and more enchanted with Singapore.  We had a singing Chinese cab driver who serenaded us with Elvis tunes, and a Yemeni cab driver who, once he found out we were from Puerto Rico, laid into all things American despite our protests that we, too, were really American.  We learned that you shouldn’t ask questions of people that require a yes/no answer because no one will ever answer “no” even if that’s the true answer.  We learned that wine and other spirits are really, really expensive, so one way or another, our livers are going to get the break they deserve!  And we went to a very cool nighttime zoo where we got up close with otters, bats, snow leopards and tigers (well, not too close to that one.)

We also spent one afternoon exploring East Coast Park on rented bikes.  If all goes well, this is the park that will be just next to our new apartment.  What an asset this place is to the city.  It runs along the eastern edge of Singapore for approximately five kilometers.  There are sandy beaches for walking (swimming is discouraged due to the large number of tankers that use the straights for shipping), and great paved paths for roller blading, jogging or biking.  There’s pretty much a constant breeze too that helps with the constant high humidity.  Singapore is just two degrees north of the equator so every gust of wind, really helps.


East Coast Park

And soon, we’ll also be just two degrees north of the equator, sweating our way through the next town.  Wish us luck!

P.S.  Here was a strange but effective bit of “advertising.”  Check it out — especially if you’re thinking of lighting up!

Effective Consumer Warnings!