Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority maintains a Vessel Traffic Information service, with radar surveillance, which is part of the mandatory Malacca and Singapore Straits ship reporting system (StraitRep), in order to improve safety of navigation, facilitate of vessel traffic as this is the world’s busiest waterway. Trust me when we say it’s a good thing as the shipping traffic is extremely busy in this part of the world.
Singapore is an island and the smallest country in Southeast Asia, located on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It is known to have the highest standard of living in Asia. Measured by GDP per capita, Singapore is the 22nd wealthiest country with a foreign reserve of $119US billion. Eighty three (83%) percent of Singapore’s population lives in housing estates constructed by the Housing Development Board and nearly half use the public transport system daily. Lee Kuan Yet, the first and longest reigning PM of Singapore stepped down in 1990 when Goh Chok Tong assumed the post. He’s known as “father of Singapore” and under his guidance he has created an economic marvel and model society. Singapore’s rules are tough, but clear. Drop litter and you pay, even cigarette butts, convicted drug traffickers can expect a death sentence. The literacy rate is 96%. Singapore is CLEAN – assuredly cleaner than they are in any Western city. However media is scanned for content and inappropriate websites are blocked. But, in this city you can walk anywhere, day or night at any time without fear, not something you can often say for North American cities.
Singapore is just 90 miles from the equator so the climate is tropical. Today it’s hot and humid and we have an 80% chance of rain this morning. Our friends Karen and John would like to hang with us today. I’ve been advised that Clarke Quay has a great market environment so we find the MTR, figure out how to use it and on we go. Once we got settled on the subway I took out a bottle of water to take a “swig” and was immediately approached by a MTR worker and politely advised that drinking and eating on the subway was prohibited. I guess I’m lucky I wasn’t fined. The subways are spotless – they look as good as the day they were made. There isn’t one piece of gum, a newspaper, empty pop can, or plastic water bottle, Kleenex, a piece of garbage of any description on the train. They don’t smell of McDonalds or Coffee and donuts. The West could learn some serious lessons here. Even the walkways to and from the trains were immaculately clean, corners and crevices of the walkways were devoid of dust or debris. It was obvious they are cleaned, wiped or washed frequently, although I didn’t see any workers doing this. The place was amazing. Ticketing is fully electronic with swipe cards. As in Hong Kong you select the destination, pay and then get a card. Upon exit you can get a S$1 refund on return of the card, thereby reducing waste.
When we got to Clarke Quay we found out that Singapore doesn’t come alive until at least 11am, but more probably 2pm and we were there at 10am. Karen had booked for 3 people (excluding me) for “MegaZip” so we got back on the subway and headed for Sentosa Park.
MegaZip: “Asia’s most extreme zip line takes adrenaline junkies from the jungle canopy of Imbiah Hill to the white sands of Fox Finish Point at Siloso Beach at Sentosa Resort Park” writes the brochure for the zip line description. I’ve decided that I wasn’t going, but I did end up going – they had a birthday special and so I got the ride free. (NEVER AGAIN). It scared the shit out of me. Of course, Gerrit, Karen and John had to go again. I stood in the unbelievable heat on the beautiful white sandy beech and took photos. It’s 75 Metres high, 450 metres long and you go at heart pounding speeds of 50k per hour. I’ll leave the photos to tell the story. After a couple of beers we left to head to “Little India”.
Little India, is just an amazing place. It gave John and Karen a little taste of what to expect in Cochin and Mumbai when we get there next week. Again, the air of excitement is very visible. It’s noisy and there are throngs of people all negotiating the price of meat, fish and vegetables. It’s exhilarating and electrifying to watch it all unfold before our eyes. The stalls are divided into meat, fish, chicken, vegetables, fruit. Upstairs on the 2nd floor we find clothing, footwear, household items, jewellery and the list goes on. The colours of the stalls are amazing. Think of yellows, greens, burgundy’s, blues, reds, pinks then add the glitter and shine that makes up the most beautiful Punjabi suits and Saris possible. In every shape and colour. It’s like walking into an Aladdin’s cave – where shine and mirrors are everywhere and all you can do is run your fingers over the materials and feel the luxury beneath them. Karen and I both buy Punjabi suits, Gerrit and John buy 2 Batik shirts – they are just astonishing value and well made. The shirts cost $12SD or $10US each and look amazing. Gerrit and John are often taken for brothers and both choose almost the same 2 shirts each. Karen and I also purchased 2 pair of sandals each ($10US) the sandals are very Indian in design with lots of sparkle.
As it’s now past 2pm we decide to venture to the food court. It’s always interesting to us that we appear to be the only Caucasians eating in ethnic restaurants and it’s no different today. John is not adventurous and Karen is delighted to be with us today as it will be an opportunity for John to “think outside the norm”. We enter the area where food is cooked and served. It’s mainly men who do the cooking so we go up and down the stalls each one about 4ft by 6ft where all the cooking is done. I order a vegetarian dish of rice and fried vegetables from one vendor while the others venture to another vendor. We sit at a table with little stools and wait on our order to be delivered to our table. It’s well worth the five minute wait and the aroma stirs our senses before the food is placed in front of us. The fragrance of sweet spices and the smell of onion and garlic invade our noses and we’re instantly starving. The food was amazing and there wasn’t one grain of rice left on any plate. Ginger tea was served with the food, a remarkable mix of ginger and milk that left a tingle on the lips for just a second while the sweetness of the ginger slipped down the throat. All this for $3.50SD or $3US each. Just staggering.
When we finish eating we head to do more sightseeing and enter a wonderful store that sells material, which we find out is for making saris. It’s sold in 5 metre lengths and the materials are just marvellous. Silk with flecks of gold, satins with beads and mixtures of fabrics stock the store from ceiling to floor. Woman of all shapes and sizes are being measured for saris and the look and feel of the fabrics transports you to a by gone day for wonderful dresses where classy dress was the norm. When Karen and I inquire about the cost of the material we’re told it’s sold in 5 metre lengths minimum at a cost of $11 and up. We’re astounded at the price so I say “what the heck” I’m measured up and I walk out with my sari material. I have the know all to ask about the Choli (the small bodice what is worn with the sari) and we’re directed to a tailor back in the market – his name is Ravi at Zip Adjust, #2-110 at Tekka Market. We head back to the tailors stall and I’m measured up and told to come back at 8:30pm that evening (it’s currently 4:30pm).
We headed back to the ship to clean up and get ready to take the cable car over the island to Sentosa and back. I’m not happy about the heights but willing to go and see the remarkable views. I’m also anxious to get back to the tailor and pick up the finished sari.
The cable car ride is outstanding. The views are magnificent and Singapore looks like a fairy tale castle with twinkling lights. The cable cars go through several skyscrapers that have been built and have made provision for them to pass through. It’s quite an eerie feeling. The ride up to Sentosa and back is wonderful. The views at night are spectacular. They even provide open windows in the carriage so that you don’t have to film through glass. The ride is smooth and silent.
Back to Little India and the finished sari is tried on and it’s just mind-blowing and I’m just so pleased. The total cost of fitting, making the Choli, putting in lining in both Choli and skirt with all the appropriate hardware is $70SD or $62US. Well worth it for 4 hours work plus the tailor stayed late, as we were late getting there (cable car ride was too enjoyable).
We head to Chinatown and China Food Street, where again we check out the various street vendors and make our choices. We look for a seat and are invited to sit in a restaurant opposite the street vendors. John and Gerrit order 2 dishes from the restaurants and we purchase the rest of our food from street vendors and take it back to our table. This was encouraged by the waiter from the restaurant as Gerrit wanted to have “real” Singapore noodles. All our food was washed down by pint sized bottles of Tiger beer. The restaurants serve upscale dishes such as Chairman Mao pork while the hawker stalls each specialize in a specific type such as noodles or seafood or drinks. Just watching them cook your meal on a 3’ by 3’ flat iron top is amazing, like poetry in motion. Orders are tracked with plastic pegs, the colour indicating the dish, the size indicating small or regular size.
Home to the ship, totally exhausted and ready for tomorrows venture into the city.
Day 2: We’re advised the “all aboard” is now 1pm and not 3;30pm as originally planned. The authorities in Singapore need at least 2 hours to process the ship, so we stay in the mall next to the ship. Again, good prices but not as good as the market places. Gerrit gets new memory cards for both our cameras as the current ones are starting to give him errors when we takes the photos off them and we DON’T want any problems with photos, do we?
As usual, we find a local restaurant for lunch and I have Tofu, Rice, mixed veg, beansprouts and “something else” which is delicious, my cost $3US. Gerrit has Unagi, (eel) with boiled egg in a soup base of shrimp and God knows what else for $3US. Both meals delicious and plates cleaned.
We head back to the ship, saddened that we’re leaving again as we didn’t get to do all we’d planned and resolute that we’ll be back again. This is such a wonderful journey.