Singapore: September 15-17, 2008

September 15th, 2008

Our flight to Singapore was ok. Yesterday morning as we woke up, CNN was showing the breaking news of the airline crash near Moscow. We found it disturbing, especially since we too were flying that same night. So during the take-off and landing, boy did we pray to the universe, and were quite relieved as the plane reached the gate and stopped taxiing. We got here super early this morning – super early being 0330 hrs. We had talked to our hotel about our early arrival, and were told that a room would only be available at 0700 hrs for early check-in. Having 3.5 hours to kill, and realizing how fast the free Wifi connection at the airport was, we decided to kill the time at the airport – answering emails, uploading work files for clients, and talking on Skype with the Fam.

While at the airport, we also got to do some research on what all to do here, as well as what modes of transport to use. We decided to go with their well planned and reliable subway system, MRT. Actually, we had planned on taking the MRT to the hotel, but by the time 6:30 rolled around, we were completely exhausted and jumped in a taxi instead. We got lucky as our taxi driver was a real cool guy. He gave us all sorts of pointers of how to save money on commute, shop for electronics, and even provided us the best combination of routes to take to see the most in the 3 days we were there.

Heeding his advice, we checked-in, took a nap, and got ready to head out to Little India. As we got out of the Taxi (no, we didn’t take the MRT – it was getting late), we were stunned by the authenticity of this place – it was so darn Indian!! Small Indian shops, large Deewali banners, Indian music playing everywhere, and of course, Indian people hanging out all around. It was a bit of culture shock to be honest!

Little India

We walked up a few stores, looking for a restaurant (we were starving!) that looked interesting enough. We found one – Komala Vilas. It was a small South Indian restaurant, modest, and packed. Good signs we thought. So we walked in. There was no place to sit, so we were told to go up to their additional dining level. Upstairs was quiet, but that’s not what we wanted. So we walked back down, told the waiters that we’d wait for a seat in the bustling main level.

We already knew what we wanted – two rice plates (thalis – rice served with 6 dishes, papad, yogurt, pickle, and desert) and madras coffee. The food came, and it was served on a banana leaf (just like back home, Karthik informed Penny). We dove right in…exclaiming our “hmmm”s, “so good”, “did you try the sambar yet?”, “oh this is wicked!” to each other. The waiter was a young guy, from Trichy (where Karthik was born), who had been here for 3 months. He was very helpful, hooked us up with refills, and helped Karthik with practising Tamil. It was funny actually, the waiter mentioned to Karthik that he should practice Tamil, as currently he sounds like a little kid who’s just learning to speak Tamil! After a great meal, and good conversation with the waiter, we headed out.

We walked along the main street of Little India. This street had tonnes of smaller streets that merged into it, and each of the smaller streets were also packed with little shops and loads of people walking along it. Little India in Singapore is actually quite a huge area in Singapore. Karthik found it truly cool yet odd that there were so many Tamil people there. We could hear Tamil music, there were signs in Tamil everywhere and of course people speaking Tamil all around. Moustachoed men in lungis, women in typical South Indian saris, ads for Horoscopes/Numerology reading, the whole atmosphere reminded Karthik of living in South India and visiting Chennai (Madras). Even small details like the ‘band of ash’ people had on their foreheads from visits to the temple and the smell of incense coming from stores brought it all back. It was surreal in many ways and entirely unexpected of a place like Singapore. In fact, throughout Singapore, all the signs were in English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil, as these are the 4 official languages of Singapore.

So we walked along Serangoon Road, the main street in Little India, and came across a South Indian temple. We went in and paid our respects. Even though it was a typical South Indian temple in many ways, Karthik didn’t feel the urge to repeat the ritualistic observances and prayers the people there were performing. Nonetheless, it was interesting to see this here in the middle of Little India, with more to be seen in South India later on… however for more architectural reasons. Then we walked further to look for Mustafa Centre, a 6 storey department store, open 24 hours. We were told to check this place out by the taxi driver that drove us from the airport, to take a look at the going rates of the electronics (as we were most interested in shopping for electronics in Singapore). The street outside was crowded, and so was the store inside. Crazy for a Monday, we thought. The prices were the same as Toronto, and some were even higher. A little disappointed, and mostly overwhelmed by the crowd, we decided to check out their grocery section to buy some water before we headed back to the hotel.

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At the grocery level, we realized that they were selling mostly Indian groceries, and the floor was huge! We soon stumbled upon MTR’s “Ready to Eat” packages. Having tried them in Toronto, we had grown fond of these Indian meals, and so were excited to see them being sold here. We decided that it was time that we looked for a basket, as we were going to do some Indian grocery shopping to take back to Bali. We picked up 25 of these MTR packets, and moved on to look for Basmati rice and pickles. Our shopping basket was now loaded with various goodies, and it was becoming hard to carry it. We paid for it all, and headed out of the store. We finally got a taxi (we’re just not aggressive enough to fight for taxis), and headed back. Another trip that we had planned on making with the MRT, but ended up taking the lazy way out!

September 16th, 2008

Clarke Quay

We started our 3rd Wedding Anniversary celebrations last night at midnight, with phone call from Ma/Pa, and downloading and then watching our favourite news shows – The Daily Show and the Colbert Report. This morning, we woke up early as Amma/Appa and Seetha Chitthi had called. Then we went right back to sleep. We finally got ready and headed out for the day’s tour of the City Centre. We took a free shuttle from the hotel to the nearest MRT station. We decided against buying a day pass, as we knew we would end up wanting to take a taxi back at night.

The Kandi Bar!!!

First stop, Clarke Quay. This area is located right by the banks of the Singapore river, and has lots of restaurants, cafes, and bars around it. It was a neat set up. A well designed, trendy area, and an awesome place for people to gather and hang out – after work, or on weekends. All the bars here are based on different themes like medical clinic, gold, fashion, diamonds, Samurais, Bollywood, etc. We were checking out the map to see what type of bars and restaurants were around, when we saw a name that got us totally excited – Kandi Bar, by Hed Kandi!

Hed Kandi is a House music label, that makes the best House music compilations. We being huge fans of house music (Penny more so than Karthik) absolutely love Hed Kandi and own most of their albums. Penny’s even written a poem about house music…she’s crazy! Like a chicken with its head cut off, Penny quickly located the building this bar/club was supposed to be part of. We rushed there. It was closed, but would open later in the evening. It was a no brainer – we would spend our Anniversary evening here!!

We walked along the river that cuts right through the city towards the city centre. The roads were quiet – guess coz people were inside the buildings working. We found out that people here work super long hours…till 9 or even 10 at night. Since there is no Government assistance here, and the cost of living is extremely high (Government sponsored apartments start at SGD$200,000, while private condos start at SGD$1,000,000). We went into a mall looking for something to drink and discovered that this mall only had audio and sound equipment stores! It was nice to walk along the streets – the traffic was low, the streets were clean, and it wasn’t too hot at this time of the day. Some of the streets were blocked off as preparations for Formula 1 Night racing to be held at the end of the month were going on.

We are hoping our visit to the fountain brings us good luck!

We headed off to the Fountain of Wealth, the largest fountain in the world. We touched the water with our right hand, and walked around it three times – just as we were advised to do for good luck and fortune. Let’s see if it worked!! We then headed upstairs to Sun Tec City. This mall is spread out over 4 multi-storeyed buildings. We just went into one, to see what it was like. We wanted to check out the Merlion park before it got too dark, so we took a taxi straight there.

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We were charged a premium as it was now rush hour. So after paying “too much” for the short taxi ride, we were at least glad to have gotten there while there was still light out. This “park” is actually just their merlion is just like a mermaid, but instead of a woman’s body on the top merlion is just like a mermaid, but instead of a woman’s body on the top half, it has a lion’s body. Hence Merlion! It’s the national symbol of Singapore. But if you ask us, it looked quite gay! Really! A lion mixed with a mermaid? That’s gay! To make matters funnier, there was a smaller merlion statue right behind the main one. So we cracked up and had to go on about what the “father Merlion” would say to his “son Merlion”: “Son, I am proud to be gay, and am glad that you too have inherited my gay-ness and are a Merlion!”. C’mon!!

Merlion!

To our gay friends reading this – it’s a positive thing isn’t it…a country that doesn’t realize their national symbol is a gay, imaginary animal, but it is! And you know, we weren’t laughing at “gay”ness, but at the fact that no one imagines a scary, strong, agressive animal such as a lion to be put into a position of gay-ness! That’s what really got us. That’s what made it hilarious!

Moving on… we decided to take a break and rest for a while before heading back to Clarke Quay, and to the Kandi Bar. So grabbed some drinks at the Starbucks there, and decided to ‘cut’ a mango cheesecake to officially celebrate our anniversary. It was nice. The view. The pleasant air. The quiet surroundings. The Starbucks latte. The mango cheesecake. And the two of us…together!! THREE YEARS! It’s already been three years. And look where we are! Going through this incredible journey, together, and still each other’s best friends (if not moreso now than ever!)

It was dark now, even though the downtown lights were shining bright enough that the sky was also lit up. We decided to walk over to the Kandi Bar. The walk was quick, mainly because we knew where we were going. Clarke Quay was happening now. There were lots more people there than earlier in the afternoon. We walked straight to the Kandi Bar. It was empty! Apparently Tuesday night at 8 o’clock is not a party time for these folk! Kidding! Of course it would be empty… it wasn’t a weekend. Nonetheless, we were excited to have the place to ourselves. Penny was so giddy! We took tonnes of pictures, and soaked in being at a Hed Kandi establishment. The dance floor was quite swanky, covered in glass with multi-coloured lights shining from underneath. The walls of the main bar area had a huge mural of the typical Kandi girls found on the covers of their albums. The sofa was zebra skin. The DJ booth was a trendy plastic modular design. The bar was behind a gold cage. The rest of the walls also had the Kandi girl murals! The plastic chairs were a funky orange, and the stools were square with red cushions. Total funk! Totally cool!! Totally Kandi!! We looked at their menu and decided on our drinks that we thought would be best fitting: Singapore Sling and Around the World (which contained rum, brandy, vodka, gin, triple sec, tequila, and pineapple juice). We enjoyed our drinks and the house music, and being out of the clubbing scene and the drinking scene, got tired and decided to catch a cab back to the hotel!

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September 17th, 2008

Today our plan was to visit the Buddhist temples here. We visited a monastery and then the Siong Lim temple right beside it. The monastery was beautifully kept. The trees were neatly trimmed, the statues were perfectly placed, the grounds were immaculately maintained. There were prayers going on in one of the side rooms, with the chanting echoing throughout the monastery. This was a ‘Chinese-style’ Buddhist monastery, evident from the ornate dragon-serpent-demon motifs and golden statues everywhere. It was a bit overwhelming, in spite of the immaculate upkeep and architecture. We walked around, and near the end stumbled upon the lying Buddha statue. The statue looked very peaceful.

We then walked over to the temple and lit incense as advised. This temple celebrates the birth and death of the Buddha. We even got to rub the belly of a laughing Buddha statue. After going through the “rituals”, we felt that visiting one temple was enough. We’re not into following rituals. We’d rather only experience the place and take in what we want from it. Participating in rituals when visiting temples seems to take away that feeling of freedom and peacefulness from us. So we decided to walk to the bus stop to take us to the MRT, to head over to Little India for some Dosas instead.

We walked through the bustling streets, passing by the multi-coloured shops playing Tamil music and some religious tunes. Back to Komala Vilas, we waited for a free table on the main floor. Our waiter friend from two days ago wasn’t there. But the new waiter also remembered us from our previous visit. He remembered us talking to the other waiter for quite some time, and so also engaged us in conversation. We ordered our Mysore Masala Dosas and were happy when they arrived quickly. The coconut chutney was to die for! The sambar was as good as before. And the dosas were just what our mouths and stomachs wanted! Not satisfied after inhaling our meals, we went on to order Idlis, Vadas, and a Bonda. Now we were ready for the Madras coffee. We had half of the coffees, and took the rest to go.

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With our Madras coffees in our hands, we walked along the busy, side streets of Little India. Our next destination was Sim Lim Square. This is the “Pacific Mall” of Singapore. This is where all the locals shop for electronics, as the items are not tagged, and bargaining is a given. Having checked out prices at various other stores, we thought it would be a good idea to see if there was anything we thought was worth buying here.

We entered, and the sights of phones, cameras, music equipment, PSPs, laptops, gaming consoles, TVs, dvd players, and massage equipment were definitely overwhelming! The mall spanned over 6 storeys, and each floor was packed with little shops promising to be providing the best deals. We walked into a bigger store to gauge the prices for cameras. They were the same as back home! We walked around, and found the store we had seen a flyer for. It had a media player listed for about $200 cheaper. So we walked in and found out that the cheaper price only included the “casing” of the player, and that the actual component would cost us additional $200. Talk about false advertising! So having figured out that the wide spread belief of Singapore selling cheap electronics was only a myth, we decided not to buy anything here.

We then headed over to the Bugis Street. This street is the ultimate place for street shopping – for souvenirs, clothes, bags, shoes (all knock offs). So we walked in to the maze of stalls, and exclaimed when we saw signs like “more shops this way”! We bought a couple of items, and looked for the Bugis station to hop on the MRT. We wanted to head back to the Orchard station in time to catch the last free shuttle to the hotel.

Got there with some time to spare, so Karthik hurried to the Borders we had been eyeing everyday to pick up a book he desperately wanted to read: Hot, flat and crowded by Thomas Friedman. Penny picked up some water from a 7/11 (we have been going through water like air here), and waited by the shuttle pick up – checking out the swanky bag she had just bought, and taking in the night lights of this famous street.

We got back to the hotel and packed up our luggage. We had to leave for the airport at 3:30 am to catch our flight to Bali. Needless to say, we didn’t get any sleep as we were too busy making use of the solid internet connection – uploading blog files, downloading TV shows, sending emails, conducting work related research, and making Skype calls. We also made sure to take advantage of the powerful water shower head. Feeling fresh and awake, we took a taxi to the airport. It sucked that our departure and arrival times at this airport have been in the middle of the night. We didn’t get a chance to check out the famous duty free shops here. Guess it was better that way – as we would have only blown cash unnecessarily!

While waiting to board, a group of high strung, loud girls entered the waiting room. All other passengers, including us, were quite annoyed by their shrilling voices at that early hour of the morning. They sat a few rows behind us in the plane, and we hoped that whatever they were high from would wear them down during the flight. It did. They weren’t a problem anymore. But the couple sitting behind us – man… they would just not stop talking…and talking loud! One of the guys was a total “drama queen”, and so his part of the conversation was quite…hmm… dramatic. Who wants ‘dramatic’ at 6:30 in the morning, after having to wait around in an airport for 2 hours? After about an hour of putting up with it, Karthik finally turned around and asked them to keep it low.

Something else we observed while on the flight disturbed us. The couple in front of us (also a gay couple) became the laughing stock for a group of Europeans on the flight. While the couple napped, with one laying his head on the other’s lap (just like we were also positioned, because we had one free seat between us), these European passengers found the sight to be something to laugh about and ridicule. Their ignorance and lack of respect really really bothered us. We were only glad that the couple was asleep, so they didn’t witness it themselves. If they had, we would definitely have stood up for them. But man…all kinds of ignorant fools in this world!

We were happy when we landed safely in Bali. We got our new 30 day visa, and when heading out, customs asked us to open up our suitcase which had been marked with an ‘X’. We did. They were interested in the 25 MTR boxes that we had in there. They took one out, read it, and with a smile said “Oh OK. Go ahead.” We got out, laughed at the taxi rates being asked, and walked over to the “domestic” terminal to catch a meter taxi. It felt good to know better and not be gypped. For the next month, we’ll be in Bali!

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