On Tuesday I returned to Hong Kong after six days in two very different worlds — the well structured city of Singapore, and the tiny, peaceful island of Bintan, Indonesia. This was my first time to Singapore, and the thing that immediately stood out was how clean and green it is. Every street is wide with big sidewalks and lined with huge trees. There’s shade everywhere, and parks and open spaces even in the middle of the city. When you look up, you see tree tops, not just concrete. They don’t favour highrises as much as Hong Kongers, which was a refreshing change. They have built a city that manages to keep a tropical island feel to it. Seems like the Brits didn’t muck everything up, for once, when building a colony!
What I liked best about Singapore is that it is a diverse place with different communities, ranging from the colonial grandeur of downtown to the kampung style of the Muslim Quarters, each of which adds a special flavour to the city’s atmosphere. Little India was a good base for exploring the city, and was a really lively area. The food was fantastic, a million new spices and flavours I’ve never had before. The colors of the buildings are so vibrant, Bollywood music blasting from the shops, signs in Hindi, women in saris and slippers making their way down the sidewalks… you could have sworn you were in India.
On my first day, I joined up with a 3-hour ‘Sultans of Spice’ walking tour of the Malay district of Kampong Glam and the Arab Quarters. Our very knowledgeable guide explained the history of the area, and walked us through fragrant spice shops, perfumeries, an antique store, a traditional Malay engagement ceremony, and even got a demonstration on the ten uses of a sarong (such as carry a baby, carry a durian, create a private toilet in the bush, etc).
I didn’t see anything so great about the famed Orchard Road, but then again shopping isn’t my thing and I don’t feel the need to give my hard-earned cash to Mr. Versace. We moseyed down Orchard over to the Newton Circus Hawker Centre for some lunch and to try some popular Singapore dishes. The BBQ stingray wasn’t as great as I was hoping, but the meat was soft and tasty. And we had some ‘carrot cake’ which had no carrot and wasn’t cake! It was more like a type of noodle. It was good anyways.
That night was a special one — I was able to meet up with my Trini friend Laura who is living in Malaysia teaching at an international school. She arrived on my last day there, so we only got to go out liming for one night, but it was great. We met up to do the ultimate touristy thing — drink a Singapore Sling at the famous Raffles Hotel where it was invented. The drink is over-rated, but the hotel is like stepping back two hundred years into the colonial past.
After slinging back some overpriced drinks at Raffles we walked to Boat Quay, a cute area in downtown Singapore along the river. The restaurants were so competitive that one place lured us in by offering us each two free beers, and of course we couldn’t say no to that. We filled our bellies with nasi goreng (fried rice), coconut chicken, satay, and all kinds of yumminess, and the drinks flowed all night when we went to another nearby bar.
The Singapore trip was a short one — just two and a half days — and I wish I could have had a few more to explore. The next morning we were leaving Singapore to head to Bintan, Indonesia. We woke up, only slightly hungover, checked out of our grotty hotel, said goodbye to Little India, and started making our way to the ferry. But I’ll save that story for another day before this post gets too long.