The World is an amazing place .... go and be in it

Friday, 2 May 2014

Chinese whispers, a silly walk and the lost tooth

It was a long flight on Scoot, well it felt that way yet we arrived twenty minutes ahead of schedule at the very respectable hour of three o'clock in the afternoon.  I swear Changi Airport gets more amazing each time I step into it.... which makes me wonder what that must say about what wow's me if I put an airport in this category.  We locate bag drop to leave our backpacks for the night as we don't fancy lugging them through Singapore for just 24hours, then just as we're about to step onto the metro I see a café in the terminal called Paris Baguette.  Well I don't actually see it so much as smell it.... and before you can say "bon appetite" we are sitting and chowing down on ham and cheese baguettes.  This is just too ridiculous when you consider we will be staying in Chinatown, of all places, and I want to eat at the airport!

It's almost two hours after landing that we finally jump on the MRT.  Singapore's MRT is fabulous, fast and efficient, but absolute hell at peak time, which two hours after landing, it is.  Everyone is in a hurry, no-body is giving way and absolutely nobody is looking where they are going as most are on their phone which means they have become absent minded steam rollers.  Thank goodness we're not trying to lug two whopping great backpacks along with our daypacks.... we wouldn't have fitted into the train, let alone get out of anyone's way.
As we step out of the Metro tunnel I realise why I love Singapore so much. She stinks!  There's no one scent about her, and there's definitely not a subtly to her fragrance. It's a powerful punch of swirling aromas - musk, turmeric, garlic, orchid, coconut and that most pungent odour of all, durian. It greets us with a vengeance as does the  kaleidoscope of colour.  Swathes of lanterns hang overhead, attached to pastel coloured terraces graced in arched timber shutters; lush green palms overhang bright delicate blooms and clash with the bold red and gold of Chinese good luck symbols adorning walls and shop fronts.  The streets of Singapore's Chinatown are teaming with people, women in sari's, in head scarves, and in elegant heels and skinny jeans; men in white loose fitting shirts and those in business suits.  Cars fight for space with hawker barrows in the narrow laneway streets whilst busses thunder past on the larger streets.    Chinatown, Little India and Kampong Glam are my favourite haunts of Singapore and although I've lost count of how many times we've been to this vibrant city, we never fail to find a hidden treasure that will delight and blow us away. 

For this visit to Singapore, our digs for the night will be the Lai Chun Yuen - the famed Chinese opera theatre that is now a hotel.  We head up Pagoda Street and it's full of market stalls selling everything from cheap souvenirs to tailor made shirts and up-market cameras.  At the end of the street is a Hindu temple with maddening chanting emanating, whilst pigeons flock and squat on the temple's multi-god pyramid and leave their own offerings.. The corner is teaming with tourists, clicking away at the chanters and worshipers, children run amongst the statues and a tour group gathers at the front door to listen intently but most probably inaudibly to the guide who will explain that Pogoda Street was once a den of inequity. This moniker may now belong to  Mosque Street, next corner up as it is chock full of bars and pubs.

M and I traipse along the street to two corners up and find the boring name Smith Street which is where our digs are.  It might be called Smith but as we turn the corner, to our delight we find it's unofficially known as Eat Street with a capital Y for Yum! Row upon row of hawker stalls producing sumptuous mouthwatering fare lead the way to our Hotel, M's mouth is salivating at the culinary sensory overload.  Darn! We've already eaten. M say's he doesn't care, he'll find some room.  
We step into the foyer and are blown away by the dramatic presence that greets us.  This is not some posh cement box with no character, nor is it some backpackers dosshouse with oodles of characters crawling the floor, no, this is perfect - the Lobby and exterior oozed pure elegance. Built in 1887, this was once the pinnacle in Asian opera venues, stars from China and Hong Kong would flock to perform in the Lai Chun Yuen giving two performances a day to 800patrons each time.  Falling into rack and ruin after WWII, the theatre was in an appalling state by 1987. Thankfully it was rescued and restored by a major hotel group. 

I am beside myself as I look up at the beautiful wrap around balconies with arched timber shutters and terracotta tiled roof. Inside deep rich red carpet cover the floors, walls and extends to the ceiling.... four stories high!  A massive polished timber 'cage' houses the reception area, and the timber slats extend to the rafted ceiling. Behind the reception counter is a heavy stage curtain hanging in swathes and covered in beading that sparkles in the dim light.  It almost verges on the bordello look but thankfully just misses and instead winks opulence and luxury to you.  We check in with much excitement and anticipation, thinking WOW! if this is the common area, our room is going to be amazing. 

And amazed we are.  Amazed we can even fit into the room.  its miniscule!  I swear we've been given the Understudies understudies room. And to make it even more tiny, it has a black ceiling and itty-bitty bathroom.  It's dramatic to say the least.  I become a Diva and demand M goes back to reception to check if we have the right room as I had booked and paid for a Queen Superior.  He comes back with an affirmative YEP, this is classed as Superior.   I wonder if the former broom closet is now classed as a standard room.

I get over my performance, and we head out to explore Chinatowns steamy streets.  Eat Street is packed with diners and the next street over is full of market shoppers.  We cross the main road and discover a street I've been wanting to see for ages - Ann Siang Hill and Club Street - said to be the best preserved colonial architecture in Singapore. It is gorgeous....and absolutely crowded with the gorgeous set.  Suits and Stilettoes gatherer together in the posh nosh establishments lining the hill and  there's a buoyant party atmosphere.  One place on the corner is so packed with suits, I surmise that it must be the cool hip place to be, but it turns out that this night is jelly-wrestling night and we've just missed the action by about half an hour.  I spy in the dim light, tiles adorning the walls of the shop fronts and I'm excited to find that they are vintage.  I tell M we are coming back in the morning so I can view them better.  Funny thing is he's not so excited.  To cheer him up, we head back to Eat Street and wrap our tastebuds around sumptuous vintage Singaporean cuisine.

The next morning we're up early, and not because we're eager to explore. No we're up because our miniscule bed in our miniscule room is a massive pain in the back.  Rock hard with protruding springs does not encourage one to laze around.  We head back to Ann Siang Hill - for two reasons (1) the tiles and (2) in search of a decent cup of coffee. We had both read about a café in the area with coffee to die for.  Unfortunately nothing is open except for the bar at the very end of the street which has two patrons eagerly downing a beer each. 

Despite everything being closed, it was the perfect time for getting a good look at the beautiful colonial tiles and gorgeous shutters on the terraces.

The street art was stunning and M and I wandered in a dream down Club Street, falling in love with every building we saw.

One of the things I love about Singapore is not only how clean it is, but how free it is from graffiti.   I'm a lover of street art, but random scribble just doesn't do it for me, and of course not for the local authorities,  but it was quirky to find how some calligraphers had found a way to 'thumb their nose' at the establishment and get their tag out there - naturally

Just before reaching the end of Club Street we find a small patisserie and come out with a croissant and freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Perfect! my morning was made I thought dreamily. A few steps further I am launched into another realm. I stopped dead in my tracks and find myself reeling as I watch a man come towards me. Tall with baseball cap, suit jacket over jeans, That face! That stance! There was no mistaking it.  And absolutely no mistaking the walk.  This was a man I'd grown up watching, laughing at, sometimes with tears streaming down my face. I felt tears now prickling at my eyes and the look of recognition must have shown on my face, for he looked at me directly and seemed to stiffen, as if waiting for me to utter the words "You're John Cleese". 
But nothing comes out of my mouth.  I'm dumbfounded.  As he walks past he smiles and nods.   I grab M's arm.  "Oh My God!" I whisper "That's John Cleese".  M looks at me as if I've gone mad then realises it is the John Cleese. We watch him walk up the incline of Club Street. He stops takes out a map and checks it against his surrounds.  He appears to be lost. M suggests we go offer assistance. Yeah right, as if we'll be much help with directions - we're both notorious for getting lost. I clearly remember our Clueless in Singapore act of last year and remind M of it.  John Cleese disappears up Club Street and we head towards Mosque Street.  

I can't quite get over the irony of Mosque Street being filled with bars and pubs and some of them are actually open and serving at this hour of the morning.  There's not many eatery's open, but those that are seem to be only serving Porridge.  Not that I'm against porridge.... in the traditional sense, but porridge Singapore style means hoeing into stewed frogs, and the tubs of hoppy, squirmy, ribberting frogs (that look more like toads) awaiting their fate, really don't entice me in the slightest.   

One of my favourite temples in Singapore is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, a massive complex in traditional Tang Dynasty style and houses tens of thousands of tiny Buddhas and some very large Buddhas.  It towers above the surrounding terrace shops and today, it's adorned with colourful paper lanterns and garlands of silk fluorescent flowers.  Inside a  chant is about to start as monks in mustard colour gowns take their seats in rows in front of the large Buddhas.  

This temple is very sacred and is said to house the very auspicious tooth of Buddha which was found in a collapsed stupa in Myanmar in 1980.   It's claimed that whoever has the tooth of Buddha has the divine right to rule the land, however a number of other countries, such Sri Lanka, Twain, China and even a place in California lay claims to have Buddhas tooth.  I can't resist popping into the temple for another look, even though I've been here many times and then we make headway for a reasonably new attraction to Singapore - Gardens by the Bay.  

I've been wanting to visit here for some time.  The gardens were open back in 2011 and each time we've been to Singapore we've missed finding the time to visit.  I was determine to see them this time.  M took one look of the ticket price and said he'd sit in a café and read - "seen one garden, seen them all" he declared.  I buy a ticket at the ferry terminal and we take a boat ride across the bay.  I'm super keen to see the Supertrees I'd heard so much about, massive metal sculptures with plants entwined on them,  they reminded me of something out of the movie Avatar

It turns out that viewing the Supertrees and the cultural gardens is free - the paid tickets are for access to two enormous domes which house a 'flower garden' and a 'cloud forest'.    M settles himself with a book whilst I tackled the Flower Dome first.  Theres a "Tulipmania" display on at the Flower dome so the line up to get in exceedingly long. Finally I get inside the dome and I can't believe what I see.  No it's not amazing and spectacular.... quite the opposite.  The noise is horrendous, the crowds are unbelievable, so packed is the dome it's hard to get even close to a bud, but most unbelievable is that the flowers in the dome as extremely ordinary - they are everyday garden flowers like daisies, geraniums, and pansys.  Theres a display of Tulips on the lower floor with small dutch-like windmills in the middle of the display but theres absolutely no way of getting near them for the crowds.  I can't wait to get out of the dome as the noise from the people yelling is deafening.  I leave as fast as I can and head for the "Cloud Forest" dome.  My disappointment plummets.   It's a cement mountain with water pipes jutting out spewing water to represent a waterfall.  People are rushing over to it to get their photos taken near it.  Hanging off the concrete walls are begonias, orchids and pitcher plants. Nothing at all unusual for Singapore.  These are gorgeous blooms normally found in their gardens throughout the city.  I'm furious that I've paid considerable dollars to see these domes.   Again, here too the crowds are large and there is a long wait to use the lifts to reach the cloud walking platform.  I forego the experience of walking above a fake mountain, take the lift down to the exit and escape out into the fresh air and where the true amazing structures are - the Supertrees which sit in the middle of the ourdoor garden area.

M and I spend a few hours wandering the cultural gardens and the lake area - these are stunning and very beautiful and I would highly recommend a visit to this.... the domes in my opinion are not worth the money.  Unfortunately M and I will miss the light show that is put on the Supertrees every night but we both declare that on next visit to Sin, it's on our must do list. 

We leave the gardens and take a walk across the Helix Bridge - another wonderful piece of structural art that graces this beautiful city, then it's on to Changi Airport to fly out to our next destination.  The deliciously delightful Turkey.

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