Thursday 8 January 2004

Honeymoon - Day 1 - Historic Singapore

To no one's surprise, Stephen was up a dawn and cracking to go; fortunately, he let me sleep until 8:30am while he made coffee and puttered about the room trying to make just enough noise to wake me, but not enough to make it quite obvious that's what he wanted to do. It was really kind of cute. *grin* The hotel gave us complimentary breakfast tickets, that we redeemed--mm good stuff. A really nice assortment of breakfast foods from a variety of cultures. There was this Thai oatmeal stuff that looked pretty tasty, but I decided that red peppers would probably not be the best thing on my stomach that morning, but maybe for tomorrow. *wink wink*.

Then we headed to out to see the city!! We really could not have asked for a prettier first day. A few rain clouds threatened late in the morning, but cleared off with little other than blocking the sun for a few hours and adding to the already oppressive humidity (didn't believe that it could get worse than Houston--welcome to the tropics!). But we braved it, venturing into the vast shopping centers that dominate underneath the city when we needed a break from the heat or when an entrance looked particularly appealing.

We spent most of the day in "old" Singapore and the area right around the hotel. The first thing we did was head across the street to the WWII monument, which is an obelisk made of four free standing pillars joined at the top, with an urn thing in the center surrounded by fountains. Really quite pretty, a fitting testament to the plight of all of East Asia during WWII. 

Then we headed down the street, past the Singapore Sporting Club (including several cricket fields--now there's a game I really don't understand), to the Anglican Church, which was built in the 1850s and to this day is not air-conditioned. I could not imagine how stifling it must be when full with the already overbearing humidity. It was really pretty on the inside though, and set on some beautiful grounds, that, for whatever reason, were being used partially for downtown parking.

After that we wondered by the Supreme Court and old City Hall, neither of which we were allowed to enter as court was being held in the former, and they were in the middle of a business function in the latter. Neat from the outside though. It's really neat to see the neoclassical facades punctuated by palm trees and giant ferns. A bit of cognitive dissonance, but provides an interesting insight into the mindset that must have built this place.

Past these buildings we came to the landing site of Sir William Raffles, who first opened Singapore up to World Trade, establishing it as the basis of the economy to be resurrected in the 20th century, leading to it's grand economic "miracle". Behind the statue, you can see some of the taller towers of the financial district.

From here, we walked around the main river banks, checking out the sculptures gracing the outside of the Asian Civilizations Museum and the various bridges.

We didn't go into any of the museums today, preferring to enjoy the beautiful weather, and saving those for a rainy day, literally.

In light of the beautiful weather, we decided to take a boat tour of the Singapore River to learn a bit more about the various bridges and buildings along the banks. It was a bit disappointing in this regard, but we got some spectacular pictures from the water, and got to give our feet a rest and sit in the shade.

The bumboat (seriously, that's what they call it!) let us off across the river and we made our way through the Ft. Canning Gardens. It had a little walk way that every so often had signs explaining much of the pre-colonial history of Singapore, as well as pointing out some of the more significant vegetation. The trees here are really amazing, and appear to all coexist with various types of ferns and vines that over the outside of them. It kind of makes them look like something out of a science fiction novel.

About half-way through the park, we stopped at a little shopping center and had lunch at Don's Noodle shop. I had ramen with vegetables and prawns and Stephen had Udon, stealing some of my shrimp if I didn't keep a close eye on him. hehehe. His dexterity with chopsticks allowed him to steal more than a few. After that, we stopped at another little shopping center to pick up some personal items before going back to the hotel to download the pictures and allow me to change shoes. The combination of humidity and a goodly amount of walking meant my feet were pretty swollen, but a brief rest and a more comfortable pair of shoes got us back out on the trail (so to speak), and we caught the MRT (subway) back over to the Canning Gardens to finish the tour there (with freshly cleaned memory cards).

The MRT system here is really swank. Instead of buying tokens or the flimsy paper tickets with magnetic strips (that tear easily or get jammed in the machines), they issue credit card like things, that you merely hold up to the sensor at the subway gates and they let you pass. It doesn't charge you until you exit the system (again by waving the card in front of the sensor). They're also supposed to work the exact same way on the bus system, but we've yet to try that out.

Back to the Ft. Canning gardens, fed and rested, we toured through an old cemetary. In the 1970s they went through and cleared out all of the grave stones, and set them into the walls surrounding the area. They left a few up in one little corner, but the vast majority now form the wall. A really cool idea to say the least, though I imagine that family members of those "transplanted" may not be too thrilled with the idea.

From there, we toured through the spice gardens, most of which were not in flower, but those that were, were quite stunning. I also learned a good bit about the various plants that I eat regularly, but never knew how they grew. For instance, vanilla grows on a vine! So that was pretty cool.

The spice gardens turned onto a working archeological dig site, where most of the knowledge of "Pre-Raffles" Singapore comes from. So we toured through there, learning a good bit about the culture as it was before the arrival of the british. Evidently, they were not the first ones to realize it's potential as a trading post, and spent most of the 1300s, 1400s, and 1500s bouncing from one Asian empire to the next. Not really conducive to trade, I wouldn't think, but it seemed to be enough to keep the area going economically.

At this point it became obvious that we needed more picture space, and just happened to come upon the largest Tech mall in the world. So, naturally, we went in, and found a really good deal on another picture card, and enjoyed looking through some technology that is either unavailable or horrendously expensive in the states, but readily available here. Guess it really does help to be located so close to all the major electronics manufacturers.

Thirsty again, and just around the corner from the historic Raffles Hotel, we stopped in to have a drink and a snack; I could not resist having a Singapore Sling (despite the fact it contains gin *bleah*), and it was surprisingly good. Stephen, being responsible, had lime juice. We shared a platter of satay (Indian/Malay version of shish-kebobs), and being a bit tired, hopped back to our hotel for a nap and a shower (the humidity had taken its toll) before popping over to Chijmes for dinner.

Chijmes is an old nunnery, converted to a shopping mall and set of eateries. We didn't get to go into any of the shops or the old church, as they were closed by the time we got there; but it's on the agenda for tomorrow!!

We had a fabulous dinner at one of the little eateries (Breeze Garden), and Stephen discovered that yes, some people do even put hot chilies in ice cream. My desert was substantially less hot, but just as exotic: Sweet Basil Ice Cream (like green tea ice cream only not as tannin laden, really quite good). Stephen had Salmon for his main course, and I had duck. Mine was fabulous, though the vegetable selection was obviously constructed for looks and not for eating. I resisted the urge to take a picture of it, and picked around the edges as best I could (the center pieces were literally glued in place with cheese--could not get it apart to save my life).

By this point we were both pretty tired, despite the nap, so back to the hotel we went to rest up before hitting the town again tomorrow. Until then!!