Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Singaporean Boondoggle, Day 1, Part I

In early December, 1997 I was whisked there on Singapore Airlines, first class on the company’s dime. I had decided not to eat dinner on the flight, since the departure was rather late at night and the flight was to take over 20 hours. But, the first course was caviar and champagne, so my arm was successfully twisted. Each subsequent course was even more tempting. The cordial, friendly, attractive airline staff told us when to eat, when to sleep and when to exercise. The seats reclined almost fully and each had a little TV set. Our layover was in Amsterdam and I got off and bought Belgian chocolates (after all, they are the best chocolate in the world!).By the time we arrived in Changi Airport at 7 AM I was so well rested I felt as if I had been on a vacation already. The airport was absolutely spotless and huge. The baggage was late coming, which resulted in many of my first class cabin mates becoming really pissed off and treating the locals in less than a friendly way (read: they were out right rude). I changed some US money into Singapore dollars at an exchange rate of US$1 to S$1.42. The Singaporean currency was so pretty that I decided to keep some for my album back home. Why is it that the US has to have such drab bills?

The taxi to the modern ANA hotel (see below right) passed lovely palm trees and brightly colored flowers that reminded me of Florida, the temperature was already 90 ° F (32 ° C) and humid and I was sweating glistening waiting for the driver to unload my bags.

My room was modern and green tea and coffee were available for me to make.

I set out towards the shoppers Mecca: Orchard Street. I was not interested in designer clothing. I was there for Asian 22 karat gold and jade jewelry, yixing tea pots, tailored silks and anything that one could not get in the west.

The city was abolutely free of the litter and graffiti a US citizen might expect; no cigarette butts, trash, pop tops from cans, not even a scrap of paper in sight. Actually there was one entire day I spent searching for slums, looking for trash, and graffiti; never did find any. While waiting for a cab one day, the porter at my hotel asked me if the news in his country was accurate depicting graffiti, drug crimes and such in the US or was this just propaganda from his country to get the populace to accept authoritarian command and harsh punishments. When I replied that it was accurate he asked, “Why would anyone want to live that way?” “Good question.” was my reply.

Public spaces, such as streets, were pristine and beautifully gardened making me regret I did not know more about tropical flowers, but I did see some cannas. Christmas decorations were starting to be installed on department stores.

Buildings were aesthetically designed with pleasing bah relief, such as of stylized lotus flowers or flying cranes to name two, and invitingly and thoughtfully designed public courtyards were also present. Creative use of marble tile, glass covered walkways (to protect one during monsoons) decorated with plants, and water features marked a metro station. I had never been to such a pleasant place.

First I checked out CK Tangs, a department store. There one could get batik shirts for S$20, or blue and white ceramic rice bowls, yixing tea pots, or cast iron tea pots. But I was just scoping it all out; not buying yet. When I left it was hotter outside, but I passed up a Hagen Daaz ice cream anyhow.

Then I went to Takashima’s department store which was not unlike the US. There was a big Barbie Doll display in the store, and a Kentucky Fried Chicken and Macdonald’s in the Mall. I had lunch at the Dragon Pearl also in the mall and almost deserted: dim sum, pork buns, prawns, vegetable dumplings, shark fin dumpling soup, star fruit juice, and hot tea. All in all it was a very nice lunch.

I continued on my journey past the Hindu Chettiers Temple (see below right). It was quite hot, so I stopped at an Arab market to buy some juice.

Stopped by some gold shops, but the gold was all Chinese, looked quite traditional, much of it depicting Chinese characters. I did ask what some of them meant, but I felt like the sales people didn’t have much patience for me. Much of the jade was dark or apple green mounted with diamonds and was really too expensive.

I passed the Jamae Mosque which was very simple looking and then passed the oldest Hindu temple in Singpore, see picture, the Sri Mariamman Temple (built in 1827 – dedicated to the mother goddess Devi and the rain goddess Mariamman) with its noticeable cows on the corners, which was not open (see below). I then walked to the Maxwell Market Food Center which was crowded with locals. An old woman was squatting scrubbing pots and plates as a public water tap on the ground. She glared at me when I pointed my camera at her to take her picture. I did take a picture of a rickshaw driver, who then followed me around for a while. Stay tuned for next installment...


savante said...

You like the money?!


Sue said...

Absolutely! Have you ever seen the US bills? They are so boring. Ugly drab green, boring in design. Blah. Sinaporean money is so beautiful. Sailboats, flowers; what is not to love?

brenton said...

AMEN on the Belgian Chocolates!!!
Godiva is to die for!

Sue said...

Brenton, Just bought some of Godiva's chocolate cherries yesterday for my Mom. Have you tried Leonida, or Neuhaus? They are really great too. Had some European colleagues that got me hooked. Now I am spoiled for all other kinds.

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