After a well-deserved rest and sleep in on Saturday morning, I chill out at the hotel for a bit before making my way over to Bugis and Little India.
Chinatown is heaving as I wander through the streets on my way to the subway station at midday, presumably because of course it’s the weekend. I decide to walk the grid of Smith/Temple/Mosque to take some more photos of the area, and as I get to the Smith Street food court I realise just why it is so busy: the 50 Cents Food Festival is in full swing. This is an event that has been running from July 14th to July 30th and the hawker restaurants and street vendors are offering their wares for just 50 cents apiece. I grab some steamed dumplings and fried carrot cake, and that will do me for lunch.
The MTR is kind of annoying in Singapore. The ticket office won’t issue a ticket – they direct you to the ticket machines, which are slow and fiddly and won’t take notes higher than $10. To break a $50 I have to queue up at the ticket office to get change and then rejoin the line for the tickets. I thought it would be more tech-savvy, like Seoul.
I get on the train and head to Bugis, an area that is supposed to be up and coming according to the Singapore Insider booklet I got at the airport. The MTR exits through a shopping mall, and I’m amused to find a Paris Baguette cafe and intrigued when I see a big supermarket in there. I find walking around a supermarket in other countries quite interesting, and I like to see what kinds of products they have from around the world. There are a lot of UK products, which is always cool to see, especially as there are so few in Korea. I take photos of the cordial and the Tetley teabags (which I’m running out of back home, by the way – if anyone from England is reading this and wants to send me some…) and I begin to wish that Singapore was my last stop so I can fill my backpack up with them.
I find my way out of the mall and cross the street into Bugis, which is mainly well-known for its covered street market. I find it easily and wander along, though it really isn’t anything special – mainly tourist tat – and it only takes about ten minutes of my time.
It is hot again, and I’m soon feeling the heat. It should be a short stroll from here to Little India, but I feel like I want to sit down and I go in search of a coffee shop. I find a place called Mellower Coffee, and I sit for a while with an Americano while I enjoy the air conditioning.
I head out and follow the route to Little India, one of the most famous and vibrant of Singapore’s districts. It’s about a 15-minute walk, and I come to the corner of the main road, Racepark Road. The streets are the traditional Singaporean shopfront streets, with rows of shuttered buildings with five-foot laneways outside. The first thing I see is Little India Arcade and I trail behind a couple of Koreans who are meandering slowly through the narrow aisles and stopping to look at the fabrics and trinkets on sale.
I cross the street onto Buffalo Road. This is more like it. The laneways are stuffed with fruit and veg and jhoti sellers which jostle with marts selling Indian snacks and goods. There is an area in Leicester called Belgrave Gate which houses a large Indian population and when I was a kid we’d sometimes go there after visiting my maternal grandparents and get Indian snacks and sweets. I spot a couple of sweet marts and I salivate over the treats they sell. I haven’t had Indian sweets since I was in Mandalay in Myanmar two and a half years ago and they’re definitely on my shopping list today.
I keep walking, however. It’s too soon into my explorations to buy now – you never know what could be around the corner, after all. The next street over houses a food court and I see samosas, pakoras and biryani for sale. It’s only 3 pm or so, and I make plans to come back later to eat.
I keep going around the streets, looking for the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. It’s similar to Sri Mariammam, but you can get closer to the worshippers and there is no camera fee. I get a quick snap of a man worshipping at an alter before having a wander around the site.
I go round the next few streets and find Project Oasis, which consists of umbrellas stuck onto trees in place os branches and leaves. It’s interesting and colourful, and there are a few people just sitting outside taking the shade or resting.
At the end of the street is a sweet mart. I go inside and peruse the treats on offer. The shopkeeper isn’t very friendly, and I feel like I’m bothering her, so I quickly choose three items and get a bag of pakora chips that she also sells. Since I’ve spent money in her shop I ask if I can take some photos and she agrees non-plussed.
I’m hungry now, so I go back to the market place. I get a samosa from one stand and then go to the next and get a biryani and a parotta bread. For the price – $6 – I’m expecting a little plate; a sampling, if you will. When the lady finishes dishing it up I am taken aback by the size of the portion. It is huge. I’m not sure I can eat it all. I wanted a little bit and then have my sweets as dessert later. It’s only 5pm, and I was looking for something to tide me over. Indian men munching on small snacks eye me up as I sit bewildered at the sheer size of the meal. I take my time and I finish it all, however.
Last night as I walked back along the waterfront I saw a sign for a fireworks display in the bay. I googled it and found it was part of the Sinapore National Day celebrations, and I make plans to be at the waterfront for 8 pm when it kicks off. I read online that the best place to see the display is close to the Gardens by the Bay, since you get to to see the fireworks above the whole of the city skyline. I check Google Maps and plan my route.
I walk along Beach Road and onto Raffles Boulevard. My route takes me past the famous Raffles Hotel, wherein the Singapore Sling was invented in 1915. I do think about whether it would be an idea to pop in and get one, but I’m sure it’s expensive and exclusive and I’m sure I’m not posh or clean enough from the heat to be allowed in. It’s a left turn at the hotel and I should be at the waterfront in about 500 meters.
I take the turn. There’s a crossing, and there are auxilliary police standing by. This is the first I’ve seen of these enforcement officers. I had read that with the rules and regulations in Singapore you are likely to get busted by plain clothes officers. I end up walking past Suntec Mall just as a flyover of military planes cruises across the sky. I figure it is something to do with the Natioanl Day Parade. There’s a large H&M there, and I decide to take a look, but there’s nothing I’m interested in. I figure I should take advantage of the loos since there might not be any at the waterfront, and it’s a labyrinthine route to get to them. As I’m making my way there my stomach starts to churn a little. I feel a bit queasy, like I’m going to throw up. I can’t have been affected by the food in the market, can I? Surely it wouldn’t happen that quickly if I had. I think about how years ago an old roommate of mine in Korea had a curry in Little India on a Singapore stopover and got food poisoning and had to suffer a red-eye flight all the way back to Seoul with it, and I just pray that I am not going to suffer the same fate.
Luckily I’m fine. Nothing untoward has happened. Maybe it was just the heat or the amount of food I stuffed into me? I make my way back through the mall and go up to the second floor where I see signs for the roof garden. As I get there there is a crowd of people and as I exit the mall and step onto the roof garden several helicopters fly over with the Singaporean flag floating beneath them, and this is followed by a flyover of more military planes.
I go down to the street level and make my along to the waterfront. I recognise the roads and the route from walking back from the Gardens last night, but there are fences along the road and I can’t cross the street. When I get to the end an officer tells me that there is no access as only ticket holders for the National Day Parade can go through.
I need to find a way to the other side of the waterfront, then. I get on the MTR and go one stop to Raffles Place. It’s another Hurculean task to get out. These subway exits seem to go on forever. I’m unsure if I’ve gone the right way when I emerge from what seems to be a posh apartment complex, but I find myself right where I intended to be, which is on the waterfront where I first got there last night.
It’s 7.30 and a large crowd has assembled. All along the waterfront seat edges there are people with huge tripods and cameras, and in the park behind sit families and groups of people. I sit for a while, suddenly feeling thirsty.
When the fireworks begin, a series of floating fireworks appear, making shapes such as a love heart an the symbol of Singapore, the Merlion. The crowd is wowed. How are the fireworks floating and moving around like that? It’s really quite impressive. I have since learned they were drones and not actually fireworks. Then the display begins. It’s your standard kind of display, but somehow being in a new place it seems quite impressive. The gleaming glass skyscrapers of the CBD are next to and behind me, and the fireworks are reflected in the glass. I attempt to get a half-decent fireworks photo – I know I won’t do it justice on my camera, and surprisingly my iPhone takes better pictures of them. After a few minutes I just put my gear away and enjoy watching them with my own eyes instead of through a screen.
The crowd disperses. I make my way along the seating and try to get some shots of the hotel at night. The guys with big tripods are packing away their gear and I hear an older man talking to a younger guy about what settings he’s used – f/8.0, ISO 400, etc. I put the camera down and turn my settings to what he said as I try to get some pictures of the waterfront and the hotel. With my camera resting on the marble seating, I realise I can get a decent reflection of it in the marble. I spend a good thirty minutes or so playing around as people walk by and children play and joggers pant past. As I’m out on the waterfront there is a cool breeze blowing. It’s very pleasant.
I’m thirsty now. I have a huge craving for some juice. I don’t know why – I don’t normally drink it. But on occasions like this, when I’ve been out all day in a hot place and need hydrating, I will get this enormous thirst for it. I make way back into the MTR station I came out from, remembering that there was a Seven-Eleven in there, and I am thrilled when I find Ribena in the fridge, having seen the blackcurrant cordial in the supermarket earlier on. I exit the store and crack open the bottle, taking a big glug, and then I think about the no drinking rule on the subway and quickly put it away. You never know whether you’re doing something wrong.
I head back and along the way home have another wander up Club Street. It’s not as crowded tonight. Perhaps it’s busier on Fridays, or perhaps people are out at the fireworks. It’s around 9 pm. I wander back and forth and try to take some better pictures for the previous entry I did here. I see a small place near the end of the row of restaurants. It’s called The Pass, and it has a little balcony around its terrace. There’s a girl sitting on her own at the back with a bottle of wine, and the seat next to the steps up to the terrace looks like a safe spot to get a drink. It’s not out in the tables on the street, necessitating sitting next to a group of strangers should they turn up, and it’s far enough from the street to not feel conspicuous about drinking alone in public view. I figure that it might be the only Saturday night I ever get in Singapore, so I sit down order a beer. It’s ten dollars and that means I’ll go over my budget for the day, but whatever. I can cut back tomorrow. The street starts filling up. Groups sit at the tables outside The Pass and on the other seats on the terrace. I get another beer. Why not? I’m happy just to sit and watch the street.
The exterior of The Pass pictured the next night when I walked past
The people in the street are the same mix of people I saw last night. I start to reflect on the trip so far, and I realise that I have only really spoken to waiters or hotel staff, and not to anyone I’ve met or encountered. I’m not the most outgoing of people around new people – I usually hold back and wait a bit, and I am certainly not a conversation starter. I start to wonder if it is just me or is it a solo traveller thing? I also realise that every night since I’ve been on the trip I’ve been somewhere for a drink and not really had a problem, yet in Korea I pretty much never go anywhere on my own for a drink. It all feels so different here somehow.
I get a third beer to celebrate another good day in Singapore. Like I say, it’s the only Saturday night I might have here, so there’s no reason not to. It’s just before 11 pm, and it seems like the bars are starting to close up. Tables are being drawn in and customers are paying up and leaving. I wander back to the hotel and pretty much go straight to sleep. I’ve slept so well in Singapore, and tonight is no exception.