The Lion City Roars: Day 11

I wake up after a deep, long sleep. I’ve booked into The Cube on Smith Street, a boutique capsule hotel. I’ve taken a queen capsule, as I couldn’t make out when booking how big a single would be, and as I sleep on my front at least I can squeeze in diagonally in the bigger space. The mattress is so soft and comfortable and the pillows are amazing.

I’m groggy when I go down to breakfast, which is how deep of a sleep I’ve had. I’ve got plenty in mind to do today, and as I eat I browse the map and a booklet called Singapore Insider that I picked up in the airport last night. Today I plan to go around Chinatown since I’m staying here and then move over to have a look at Orchard Road, Singapore’s shopping mecca.

Chinatown in the day time is interesting. The shopfronts and streets are festooned with lanterns. It’s not Hoi An, but it’s interesting. Where I’m staying is a bit of a grid system – Smith Street runs parallel to Temple Street and Mosque Street with alleyways cutting through them. I chose this location because it’s where the supposed cheap eats are, and Smith Street is lined with hawkers stores and restaurants. There’s a hawker restaurant area that is covered by a huge glass structure with enormous ceiling fans installed.

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I cut through the market and wander down Temple Street. It is lined with Indian tailors. A couple of them step out from their stores and hold out their hands to shake mine, asking where I’m from, but I’m wise to them and I smile and keep walking. There are camera shops along the street too, and canny salesmen see the camera I’m holding in my hand and try to lure me into their shop for lenses, bags and other accessories.

At the end of the street I turn right and walk a few metres to Sri Mariammam temple. There’s a crowd of tourists outside. It is one of the most famous temples in Singapore and atop the entrance gate are scores of statues of Hindu gods. Visitors are welcome, and to enter you must take off your shoes. I’m told at the door to pay a camera free of $3. I queue for my ticket and look around.

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There are scores of Indians worshipping at statues of their gods around the temple. I’m mindful of the fact that this is a place of worship. There are offerings of candles all around, and people are putting them inside large metal shelving units outside. For what reason I’m unsure.

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I wander around the complex, taking a few shots of the statues and the people around. It’s busy with tourists, worshippers and, it seems, people just hanging out. It’s interesting.

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It surprises me on my walk around the streets how free and easy things are, given Singapore’s fearsome reputation for rules and regulations. People are jaywalking, walking around the streets smoking, drinking from bottles. I thought it would be a lot more sterile and sparkling clean, but I’m kind of glad that it isn’t.

Back out onto the street and I see a place called Old Nanyang coffee on the corner of Smith Street. I’m curious about what it sells, so I check the menu and order a coffee and a Kaya toast set. Kaya toast is one of the things I’ve wanted to try, having had it in Seoul. It’s good – just the right side of sweet, and small enough to not stuff me after breakfast.

I continue walking down the street, past the Chinese medicinal shops and soon come to the Bhudda Tooth Relic Temple. It’s a huge Chinese structure and it makes a striking contrast between the tall concrete buildings and the Asian-style roofs as you look up. What’s also interesting is that there is such a harmonious mix of religions and people co-existing just a few apart from each other.

Visitors are welcome here also. Inside is a huge chamber with a bhudda statue in the middle and scores of worshippers chanting into microphones. It’s striking and interesting. Lining the walls are hundreds of tiny bhudda statues, and there are several levels going up around the building. Again, it’s crowded with tourists and worshippers alike.

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I wander out through the back of the building and find myself in a square outside the Chinatown Heritage Centre. I walk along and go to the main road. Although I’m not connecting to Wi-Fi when I am out on the streets, I’ve downloaded the offline mode of Google Maps and I’m able to navigate my way around with the help of the map offline.

I follow the main road all the way up to the Clarke Quay. By now it is lunchtime and it is H.O.T. Not humid, surprisingly, but a hot, dry heat. I stop into a Seven-Eleven for water (water is expensive here – $2 a bottle) and I’m excited to see some British chocolates on sale – Crunchies, Maltesers and Boosts. I don’t buy any, but it’s cool and quite also quite weird to see. I carry on, crossing over the quay. I get my first glimpse of the Marina Bay Sands hotel as I cross the water.

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I carry on up to the National Museum of Singapore. I don’t go in, as I figure I’ll do it another day. Behind is an escalator set into a hill, which I go up. It goes up to Fort Canning, which I have walked past and didn’t go up as I saw five flights of stairs. I sit on a bench at the top and watch the butterflies flutter around.

Back down and I follow the road to Orchard Road. This is Singapore’s shopping mecca, and I come in at its far eastern end. There are several malls. I pop into one to look for a bathroom. The air conditioning is so cold. It’s wonderful. I’m approached by a guy promoting some kind of app. I have a quick look in the Fossil store, and I’m amused to see a sign for a forthcoming branch of Coffeesmith, my favourite coffee shop in Itaewon. After Vietnam, it’s strange to be back in malls.

I keep going. I’m looking for the Apple Store, truth be told. Since we don’t have one in Korea, it’s always interesting to visit one. At a bus stop I see a crowd of people and a sign board for Carlsberg which seems to intimate that they are giving free beers away. I move around the board and stand looking at it. I feel a tap on my arm and I turn – a man sitting down tells me it’s free and that I should get one. I do so, a little unsure about just taking one, but others are standing round with cans in their hands, so I grab one and crack one open.

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I stand next to the board, facing the bus queue. I was thinking to get a selfie, but I notice people staring at me. Should I have opened it? Singapore, of course, has very strict rules about what you can and can’t do. Have I done something wrong? I panic a little. No need to worry – I twig that it’s people doing the same as I did, trying to work out whether to take a can or not.

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I attempt a selfie but I’m too embarrassed to be seen doing it by all the people waiting 

I finish up and keep walking. I find the Apple Store. Singapore’s Apple location was only opened a few weeks ago, and I remember seeing photos of its opening. It features a marble wall from which a staircase and a handrail have been carved out as one piece. It’s quite impressive. Oh, what I would buy in that store if I had the money… I wander around and come to the iPad minis. A few weeks ago a friend of mine knocked my laptop off my sofa and the corner landed on the screen of my iPad as it was lying on the floor charging, splintering the screen and damaging the display. It would cost almost as much as a new one to replace the display, and the eager store assistant tells me I would get the sales tax back as a tourist, making it even cheaper. It’s already about 50,000 won cheaper than buying it in Korea. Tempting…

I go upstairs and wander around the grove. It’s a cool store, and I hope that the store scheduled to open in Korea at the end of the year is just as cool.

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By now it’s 2 pm and I haven’t eaten since the Kaya toast earlier and I’ve walked about five kilometers. I find a small street that looks interesting, but the meals are expensive here.

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I head back into the mall and fail to find a food court. I end up eating a turkey and cheese sandwich and a sausage roll from Costa Coffee, which, along with a coffee, cost me $17. I think about the beating my wallet is gonna get and feel sad that I’m eating western food when there are local foods to try.

I take the MTR back to Chinatown. I’m hot and I need a break. I have a coffee back in the bar of the hotel and work out my plan for tonight.

I decide I want to see Gardens by the Bay, Singapore’s ‘city within a garden.’ I check the map and work out a route, and I set off round 5 pm so I can catch the sunset. It should be a roughly 20-minute walk to the waterfront, and I get there fine. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel dominates the skyline in the diagonal-opposite corner. There’s a promenade with seating all around it, and I follow it around, passing the The Shoppes complex and finding myself in front of the hotel. Gardens by the Bay is around the back. I pass under a bridge and find myself in the gardens.

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The sun has started to go down, and I get my first glimpse of the supertrees. They’re impressive, rising up and above the trees. I stand on a bridge at the end of the garden and try to get some photos. The trees are lit up with lights and look very pretty. It’s 7.45 pm by now, and suddenly the light show begins. The lights flash and flicker. I put my camera on the tripod and try to get some night photos.

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Along the water there is a bridge which looks like it leads over to the trees. I had read and assumed there was an entrance fee to go in. (There is no fee to enter the gardens, but if you want to enter the flower domes or go up on the walkways you have to pay.) I wander down the path alongside the water and up to the bridge. By now the show has stopped and people are streaming out of the park. Cool, I think. It will be quite empty. I cross the bridge and wander along paths and down stairs and under bridges and then I find myself inside the Supertree Grove.

Wow. This place is certainly something. The trees are enormous. There are grass patches with people sitting around and a row of restaurants. I walk around, trying to get photos. Then I find a sign about the light shows. There will be another one at 8.45, so I decide to stay and watch that.

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As the time approaches the grove fills up with people. A lot of people are sitting on the grass so I find a spot and sit down. The tarmac is hot and sticky from the heat. It’s kind of fun. I get my phone and my camera ready. Several people have tripods at the ready. I get my out just in case, even though it’s only about six inches tall and is dwarfed by the five-foot ones the professional shooters have.

The light show begins. People lie down. We’re right under the supertrees’ branches. I lie down, enjoying the warmth from the tarmac. The light show is billed as an evening of musical theatre. Several songs from the musicals are played and the lights are coordinated to the sings. We have I Dreamed a Dream, Memories and Hit the Road, Jack, amongst others.

The show is incredible. I”m grinning from ear to ear. It’s such an amazing place to be, and it’s one of the best Friday nights I’ve ever spent, I decide. I take photos and videos and then for the finale put everything away and just enjoy the show.

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I get a little lost coming out of the grove – I exit from a gate further in than where I entered. I’ve done over 20,000 steps thus far today and my legs ache a little. I decide not to walk back the way I came in but go around the other side of the water. I cross a bridge. I get an ice cream from an old man selling them at the end of the bridge. I haven’t had any dinner, so I make this my evening sustenance after all the walking. I come to the other side of the waterfront. There’s a small stage in the promenade and there’s a singer performing an Ella Fitzgerald song. There’s a series called Jazz in July and she is part of it. I watch, take some photos for a running gag I have when posting photos of singers, but she is so entertaining that I stay and watch more. Her whole set is covers of Ella. The river boats pass behind her in the open water, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel’s light show comes on and the cool breeze comes in. At the front of the stage couples are dancing a jazz dance – I’m not sure if they’re doing classes or just getting up and grooving with strangers. It’s all so fun. I start to think how cool it would be if there was more of this in Korea, but I think the Koreans haven’t go the sophistication to enjoy it and not try and force it down the K-pop route.

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I have no idea where the MRT is, so I decide to walk back. I’m up to 24,000 steps, and I wonder if I can break my record of 29,500 recorded in Shanghai two years ago. I follow the map back to the hotel. When I get back to Telong Ayer market, a landmark on my walk down to the waterfront, I nip off down a side street called Telong Ayer Street, passing the restaurants and bars that line the street. They’re all housed in the small shopfront buildings, and they’re intimate and funky, and people sit outside in the fivefoot laneway. I consider stopping for a drink, but after all the walking in the heat I don’t feel fit to be around other humans.

I take another turn up a street called Club Street. Again, there are tons of bars and restaurants and it seems that at the weekend the street is closed off to traffic and the road is lined with tables and revellers standing in the streets. Again, I’m struck by the disparate peoples who are mixing together – groups of Chinese and Indians and Caucasians. It feels so different to Seoul – the other white folk here are not your twenty-something English teachers as the vast majority of expats in Seoul are. They’re from all over Europe and are all ages and look to be professionals. It reminds me of Lan Kwai Fong in Hong Kong. I wish Seoul were more like this, instead of a big, soul-less concrete city, and I feel kind of sad that as a lone traveller I may get to only witness this place and not feel this place as you might if you’re with a group of friends.

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It’s 11.30pm and I’ve got two thousand more steps to go, so I walk the length and breadth of Mosque, Temple and Smith streets until I hit 30,000 steps. It’s 11:58 when I get into the hotel. Apparently the bar closes at midnight. I get in the last order of the day and take a Singapore Blond Ale, a local brew. It’s a relaxing end to a great day, and I think I’m starting to fall under Singapore’s spell.

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