Just returned from an epic journey in and around Singapore with family. So much to show and tell, managed to summarize some of it in daily roundups.
Just a few photos in this post, but there are lots more in our Singapore 2019 Flickr album.
All of us up long before the crack of dawn, decided to trek down to the docks to catch the sunrise with Marina Bay Sands and the art/science museum on the horizon. Then hoofed it to Little India to meet with our guide for a four-hour “food walk” (with the wonderful Everyday Tour Company) through hawker stalls (Malay, India, Chinese vendors all come together in small markets, since govt no longer allows them to run open carts). Overwhelming choice; so glad to have someone order for us! Never tasted Prata bread so good. Sleep schedules still way off (writing this at 4:00 am on the 2nd day). So much to absorb.
Unable to sleep, went trail running in the dark along a greenway. At one point, found myself in a dark tunnel – kind of scary, but crime is virtually non-existent here, so felt safe. Once I saw light at the end of the tunnel, started to hear Muslim prayer echoing off the walls around me. Eventually found myself at a Mosque alongside a river, listening to supplicants greeting the day. Stood there dripping humidity sweat and listening, in awe. Later, when the sun broke through, thought I heard monkeys fighting in the trees above, but turned out to be a passel of Hornbills fighting over food. Made this little recording: SoundCloud.
Gardens by day, at Gardens by the Bay, near Marina Bay Sands. 17 fabulous “SuperTrees” slathered in bromeliads in a deceptively complex self-sustaining eco-dance, adjacent to three space-age amoeboid structures containing entire ecosystems, adjacent to the puzzling but elegant architecture of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. A giant baby floating horizontally on the lawn in the middle of it all. The eco-destruction public awareness multimedia presentation at the end of the Cloud Forest had people nearly sobbing, staring our near future in the face, powerfully done. Anyway, nice to have a day near water and partly indoors as an antidote to the 90-deg heat and humidity.
Food writer Richard Sterling has written about the smell of Durian fruit: “its odor is best described as…turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock.” Which is why bringing the beloved fruit onto mass transport is strictly forbidden… which makes shopping difficult in a city so heavily dependent on mass transit… which in turn opens the door for startup opportunities like this dedicated Durian transportation service.
Grab-bag day – sleep schedules still off, up to the rooftop pool at dawn for a “dad cannonball” and to reset. Spent the first part of the day solo geocaching – one log entry read “Saw a komodo dragon here – be patient.” I was, but no luck. Heavy police presence as the city prepares to celebrate their independence day this weekend. To the National Gallery for some painful history lessons (Japanese occupation of Singapore in WWII was brutal). Then to a restaurant that serves only one dish – Malaysian Nasi Lemak, which was simple but outrageously good. Then back to the SuperTrees for nighttime light show. Humidity doing a number on the family – exhaustion and heat has us on tripwires and trying extra hard to be nice to each other.
Southern Ridge canopy walk today, through the treetops of four different parks, then finally over the Henderson Wave, the most surreal bridge I’ve ever seen (and also the tallest bridge in Singapore). We’ve been yearning for a good rain storm to take the edge off, and one finally hit while we were up there in the treetops – delicious beyond words. Warning signs everywhere about what to do if approached by monkeys, but we weren’t so lucky.
Rented a bike and took a solo day, cycling around the Kranji Marshes and covering about a third of the island in the process. No shoulders and LOTS of trucks made it a dodgy proposition, but it’s perfectly acceptable here to ride on the sidewalks that mirror the road. Several wrong turns and several side adventures turned a quick jaunt into an all-day adventure. Found myself in a Hindu temple but had to leave since I was wearing shoes (the man touched my arm so gently and looked into my eyes and said “I know you meant no disrespect – how could you know?” So kind). Later found a nursery where they raise Arrowana and Koi for ponds, and got a neat glimpse inside. Got a flat tire at mile 35, glad the Australian rental fellow had included a repair kit. Came across a neighborhood marked “Dengue Fever” but did not “alight” from the bike, so believe I am safe.
Mellow day at the Singapore Zoo. Met a New Zealander who said she had last been here in 1974, when nearly the entire island was dense jungle. Now, sadly, patches of jungle are far and few between (like pretty much everywhere on earth). Cool to see how it’s preserved for generations at the zoo – they’ve done a great job. Zoos are problematic for sure, but they serve an essential role, raising awareness, breeding near-extinct species, working to conserve ecosystems. Nearly every exhibit discussed erosion of habitat and conservation efforts, with sad stats on radical species population declines over the past 50 years. Make of it what you will. Fuji camera I’m carrying needs to get in close, which worked out perfectly here since many of the installations have no barrier between you and the animals (these are a mix of X100F and iPhone X).
Singapore breakfast! Last night I picked up dragonfruit, jackfruit, passionfruit, and mangosteens (I like to call them Yngwie Malmsteens) at the hawker stalls in Tanjong Pagar, along with yam buns and coconut buns. This morning we cracked them open and had a southeast asian fruit feast. Dragonfruit, despite its exciting purple color, is kind of bland, but the rest are all amazing in their own ways. Mangosteens in particular – I could eat those every day.
Spent the first part of yesterday at the National Gallery in Singapore. Such an odd building – formerly two separate buildings – City Hall and the Supreme Court – they’ve “wrapped” both of them in an outer glass and metal shell to unify them into a single museum. Both unsettling and elegant space to be in. Ratio of staff to visitors yesterday must have been 3-to-1 — where is everyone?
Second part of yesterday on The Singapore Flyer, a giant “observation wheel” similar to The London Eye. You ride in a sealed cylinder the size of a school bus – we had one all to ourselves! 165m doesn’t sound like much, but it literally feels like being up in an airplane – you can see all the way to Malaysia.
Finally tackled the Durian Demon last night – what a surreal fruit! Had to wear gloves to keep our hands from stinking. Amy described it as “Putrefying marshmallow with caramelized onion” – so apt! But weirdly, seductively delicious. Miles and I felt kinda supercharged from the experience. Early today, back to Little India for more of that incredible hot ginger tea. A Singaporean man plunked himself down and started a half-hour conversation, in which we got to learn about the limits of free speech, plus the taxation and healthcare situations here. Later, off to visit a mosque, then to “hipster” Haji Lane to explore the shops. Had smoothies in a Muslim-women-owned juice bar, wonderful vibe.
So you know Tiger Balm, those small tins of mentholatum you find in health food stores? It originated in Singapore in the 1920s and made two brothers fabulously wealthy (by standards of the time). They turned some of that wealth into a theme park – Haw Par Villa – illustrating morality tales in an effort to contribute to the moral correctness of Singaporean society. The park evolved over time and is still being maintained, though it belongs to the city now. Without translations, the point of most of these dioramas was lost on us, but they were surreal and kind of magical in the sunset hour. Also pictured: One of the brothers converted his car into a tiger and drove it around Singapore daily (even the horn was a tiger’s roar!)
We were also fascinated by the delicate balance between Singapore’s vision of a Utopian society and the freedom costs that go with it. I wrote a separate post and photo gallery on the topic of Social Control in Singapore.
These are just a few of the photos I shot on the trip – lots more in our Singapore 2019 Flickr album.