Holiday - Christmas 2003
After much last minute panicking we made it to Kympatti Bears who had kindly offered to look after our dogs whilst we had a holiday. Graham was going to run us to the airport to save leaving our car at the long term parking. The run to Brisbane was easy considering it was already building up to holiday time. We arrived early for Qantas QF51 to Singapore which was just as well considering the security. We had time for a coffee & a sticky bun before they called our flight. We didn't get an upgrade, they seem to hard to get these days even though we were wearing SFU (suitable for upgrade) clothing. I have a theory in life that if you dress well you get better service. I have been known to wear a suit when visiting the doctor. Now some may say that is mad, but I challenge you to try it. Next time you visit a bank or even go shopping, try dressing up and see how much better service you get. I even get a "can I help you SIR" on occasions when the best you can hope for in Australia is "you right?" which roughly translated means "are you OK?" or "do you need help?".
We were seated in row 72 in seats J&K which is right at the back of a Jumbo, the last 3 rows where the aircraft narrows and there is only 2 seats on each side, not three as usual. There are 2 good things about these seats, you get a window seat and there is no one to get pass when you want to get out. Also, planes never back into mountains they always go in nose first which means you have a greater chance of survival. They always say the only survivors were in the tail section, why would you pay extra to be at the front in the most dangerous seats?
The flight to Singapore was pleasant enough the food was ordinary, but don't get me started on that I'm likely to go on & on and bore everyone to tears. We touched down right on time at Changi Airport and I have to say that this is the best airport in the world bar none. I will come back to singing its praises later but for now I will say it took exactly 20 minutes from when we left our seats in the plane till we got into a taxi outside. No hassle the taxi went straight to the hotel and it only cost $15 Singapore dollars about US$9. The roads were quiet and 15mins later we pulled up outside the Raffles Plaza Hotel, directly opposite the original "Raffles" (the one that was out of our price range at about US$600 -$1000 per night for a standard room!)
As usual we dropped our stuff in the room and hit the streets to get the feel of the place. This is Cindy's first visit to Singapore and for me its been many years since I had a look around, we've passed through the airport en route to somewhere else many times. It's so alive and for us a bit crowded, the shopping centres are like a temple to the art of retail therapy, and the young Singaporeans love them. The people are so interesting - a lovely mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Arab & a small helping of just about everywhere else. English is spoken by nearly everyone and is encouraged by the government with large posters saying "Speak Good English". We find something to eat, then return to the hotel and have a good look at our room. We've booked a "Superior Delux" via the internet and got it for the same price our travel agent quoted for a standard room, it's very nice I could get to like this.
It's Friday morning and we're up early and drop in at the gym before breakfast. It has some of the flashiest looking equipment I've ever seen. Makes our little gym at work look well, dated. Shower, change and down to breakfast, for what turns out to be a great spread. We have decided to eat up big at breakfast and skip lunch, so I'm allowed the full cooked number followed by Danish pastries. We always have tea with breakfast but usually a tea bag. The hotel supplies it in a pot.
Now I have a theory about tea pots, (here he goes again another tin pot idea), hear me out. I'm convinced that there is an award given to tea pot makers for the pot that drips the most. It is a very coveted prize and all over the world tea pot makers are turning out dripping pots hoping they will be lucky this year. There must be one, the only other explanation is that they've done a deal with the people who make things to stop pots dripping. We had a dripper, 50% of the tea ended up on the table, that has to be almost an award winner.
We set off to walk into the city and ended up going via Parliament House a very beautiful colonial building on the banks of the Singapore river. Singapore's history starts in 1819 with the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles, before that it was known as Singapura (Lion City). Stamford Raffles did a deal with local Sultans to gain the use of Singapore in return for an Annual fee. The British were looking for a port to help them compete with the Portuguese and Dutch. In 1824 a cash settlement was negotiated and the ownership of Singapore passed to the "British East India Company". Many Chinese and other immigrants started to arrive and the colony was divide into ethnic areas that still survive today. When I first arrived in Singapore it was just as they were attempting to clean up the city. I arrived by train from Bangkok and as I had long hair which to the Singapore authorities meant "Hippy" my passport was stamped with S.H.I.T. (Short for "suspected hippy in transit"). It did give one an unloved feeling and when I returned on business several years later I wondered if the computers still had a question mark against my name.
We took a boat trip along the river and passed all the famous place like Clark Quay , River Side Point, Boat Quay, the majestic Fullerton Hotel then out into the harbour and round to Clifford Pier. We passed a giant Merlion (half lion half mermaid) that spurted water 60 meters from its mouth. I wanted to visit the Changi Museum. so we hopped into a cab and set off, the driver wasn't quite sure of the way and he missed the turn off from the expressway . He apologized and turn off his meter saying it was his fault and we shouldn't have to pay for his mistake. Try that one on in New York and see how you go! The Museum for those who do not know is to commemorate the mainly British & Australian prisoners of war who were imprisoned by the Japanese at Changi Jail after the fall of Singapore in February 1942. Many died and were treated like animals, but there was worse, they could be sent to work on the Burma rail road which was almost certain death. The Museum has been moved from its original site due to expansions of Changi Jail and it doesn't have the atmosphere I was expecting
We grabbed a cab back to "Little India" centre of the Indian community in Singapore. As I have spent many years in India this was like home, the familiar smells, the language, the dress and favorite of all - the Masala or Ginger tea. If you haven't tried Indian tea you don't know what you are missing. Its made very milky like latte with lots of sugar and flavoured with spices. Served up in a glass and costs about 60cents. In India they use buffalo milk which is very rich making the tea filling and almost a food, you can find it at all the road side stops and well to do Indian families frown on it referring to it as "Truck Drivers Tea."
I did a little shopping and bought 4 CD's of Indian pop music, I like the sounds made by Bollywood (India's equivalent to Hollywood) Indian classical music. All that Sita playing is not for me, give me the raw sounds of the street music any day. We caught the MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) back to Raffles City. Singapores MRT has to be one of the best underground systems in the world. Forget the New York subway by comparison its third world. Australia has some neat trains in Sydney but you can't compare them. Its clean, efficient, trains arrive regularly and on time. It's more like a great big Hotel Foyer than a train station, you couldn't jump in front of a train even if you wanted to, the platform has doors as well! There no rush of air as the train arrives, its quiet and you have to queue to the left and right of the doors and leave the center clear for alighting passengers and everyone does it! If you like order and efficiency then try an MRT trip, you will think you've died and gone to heaven.
Cindy was keen to try the pool when we got back so a quick change and down we went. It looked great, by now it was dusk and the pool was all light up and very inviting, then trouble. Cindy is a Queensland girl, gets blue hands if the temperature drops below 27c and never goes into water below 30c, its only about 26c in the pool. She got in eventually, but I've heard people make less fuss having a tooth extracted without anasthetic, it lasted less than 5 minutes, she's out.
Tonight we are dining at Boat Quay about a 10 - 12 minute walk from the hotel, during the day we spotted an nice looking Indian restaurant with tables right beside the Quay. There are a lot of restaurants along Boat Quay and it looked different at night. Needless to say we went to the wrong one, but it was OK and a very pleasent evening washing down Butter Chicken & Matter Paneer with a lively french white wine and listening to the water lap against the quay. A very successful first day.
Today we are off to Johor Bahru in Malaysia or JB as it is called by the locals. The way to get there is by bus or special taxi from the Queen st. bus station, which is about a 15 minute walk from our hotel. On arrival we check out the bus queue which is about 150 people deep and only one bus every half hour departs for JB so we were in for at least a 11/2 - 2 hour wait. Lets go by taxi its 4 times the price but still only S$15 per head. The queue here is only about 50 people and at 4 to each cab we only need 12 cabs and we would be on our way. We stood there for 1/2 an hour and only one cab departed and that was because they offered the driver a deal he couldn't refuse. At this point we decided on a change of plan. If Malaysia didn't want us we weren't going to force ourselves on them, we hailed a cab and set off for the cable way to Sentosa Island. Sentosa is the closest thing Singapore has to Disney world, its nothing like it , but it is the major destination for family entertainment. Sentosa was once a military fortress built by the British but the camouflage has disappeared only to by replaced by bikinis. One way to arrive is by cable car, the trip only takes 10 minutes but its a great view and provided you're not scared of heights it a fantastic journey. As soon as we arrived we head for the mono rail station for a free ride round the island. Its a little rustic open to the fresh air contraption, that rattles its way around all the attractions stopping regularly to change passengers. We visit the Images of Singapore display which with a bit of imagination gave you an understanding of the life of early Singapore. Back via the cable way and of to Canning Park to visit Fort Canning. This part of Singapore was once known as Bukit Larangah (Forbidden Hill) and contains a shrine to Sultan Iskander Shah , Raffles with typical colonial sensitivity cleared the jungle and built Government House in its place.
Sunday, today we are off to Chinatown, we first visit the Sri Mariamman Temple which is unexpected to find a Hindu temple in the middle of Chinatown. This is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and is built in the Dravidian style found in South Indian. These temples are so garish and adorned with all manner of animals & Gods it must difficult to remember who is who. We are allowed in and apart from a small area can take pictures. We did try to look at a mosque nearby, but were quickly were shown the door. Chinatown has a different feel to Little India. Hard to say exactly what it is, maybe a little more reserved it doesn't have the record shops poring out the Bollywood rhythm. We visit the China Town Heritage Centre in Pagoda St. which tries to take you back to the early days of a Singapore Shop House. Much of it looks like the original layout with small cubicles for living and shared cooking and toilet facilities. There are sounds to make it feel real and we came away felling we had gone back in time and seen life behind the Tailor Shop Street Front.
Cindy is now is in serious shopping mode and we hit the market were she finds bras for only $2.50 each and has to have 3 pairs. Next its shoes then trousers, she's in her element. I just trail along behind carrying the bags. We hop on the MRT again and head for Clark Quay for more shopping, tea shirts, a dress, then we find cheap nickers. At 60c a pair I'm told they are dirt cheap so we buy 10 pairs of skimpy G string nickers. It never ceases to amaze me that the less material used to make women's underwear the more they cost and the more they are sought after.
Tonight we are back to Boat Quay for dinner, this time we get the right Indian restaurant "Kinara". The food is great we watch the boats coming and going and finish up with my favorite dessert Gulab Gamun (a deep fried semolina dumpling served in rose water syrup). A quick beer at the pub before a leisurely stroll back to the hotel. Security is very good in Singapore & you never feel you are in danger. The government promotes responsible behavior, there are bill boards with signs like "Don't loose you Xmas spirit to crime" or "Think of others - act responsibly". Singapore is often criticized for being hard on personal freedom but you never see unruly behavior, people are polite, even on the road they drive civilized. There are large signs saying "Never travel closer than 30mtrs to the vehicle in front" and they fine you heavily if you don't comply and the fine is based on your salary, so if you earn a lot you pay a lot, fines of $20,000 are not uncommon. Why can't we have that law and if we do why isn't it enforced. Do we have to put up with maniacs sitting inches from your bumper?
Today is Monday and our last day in Singapore. We head off to Little India for some last minute shopping and a ginger tea then back to Chinatown for more (you guessed it) shopping. We get a cab back to the hotel and pack ready to go to the airport. The case that had a little spare room is now bulging at the seams and has put on a few kilos. The Singaporean taxi driver nearly has a heart attack trying to maneuver it into the boot. We arrive a little early for our flight and have a wander round the airport. There's a hotel, swimming pool, games rooms, special sleeping chairs that you can set to vibrate and wake you so you don't miss your flight. A free movie theater, children's play areas and even free internet access.
The holiday Page 2