Singapore: Merlion Memories

Posted by in Culture, Travel

TO THE ESPLANADE

A long time ago in 2007 (pre-blog) I visited Singapore with my then girlfriend. It was a lucky break but also a strange holiday. Like China, Singapore has changed since but some of the renewal process had taken place; The Esplanade was built for example. It’s there soon after arrival at Changi and check in that we ventured first.

The exterior shape – it’s known locally after the stinky fruit the Durian – offered a good photo-op. It wasn’t perfect but this was among my first trips away with the new digital camera. Inside, the art library particularly took my interest with its running water feature. There was also a rather interesting poetry performance with some risqué Haiku going down.

ORCHARD ROAD MALLS

After the shock of that and on most of the few days we were there we visited Orchard Road and its many malls. Nowadays there is almost nothing, the shopping mall doesn’t throw at us, and it’s usually the Asian ones that are most flamboyant of all. Good news for those who like an architectural accoutrement to their retail/culinary experience.

So if you’re thinking about venturing to the south-east Asian dynamo you need only know that Singapore has an abundance of all three to choose from. Let’s tackle the former first. Almost a by word for the little red dot itself, shopping makes up a large slice of its economic vision for visitors and locals alike.

For starters the recent Marina Bay Sands complex is part casino, part art science, part museum and hotel. ‘ionorchard’ is a fashionista paradise, an art gallery and observatory while still housing the familiar ‘brand’ names and the massive Suntec city complex contains the all important conference centre.

CHINATOWN SINGAPORE STYLE

All of which make the still gleaming white Cathay centre somewhat cumbersome with its old hat gym and multiplex cinema. But it’s Chinatown that proves Singapore has a grittier dingy side. Its ageing concrete malls are a showcase for less classy culinary offerings while the upper levels cater to those in need of medical attention; be prepared for photographic evidence of people’s more intimate ailments for all to see!

Every mall has its hawker stalls; cheap dishes that not surprisingly centre around rice and mostly feature meat or fish – vegetarians can have a harder time of finding somewhere or something to munch (again some of the imagery won’t please the feint hearted; especially that of fish head curry and dead chickens). Asia is brutal!

Breakfast is a little lighter on the eye and digestive system and usually comprises runny eggs (normally in a bowl) and toast spread with local delicacy Kaya; a sweet jam coloured green by the pandan leaf. For about £1.50 or SG$4 you can couple it with varying coffee formats (Koppi-O, Koppi-C etc.) The key here is different milks and most are very sweet! Sugar is sometimes added even if you don’t ask so be careful of that.

JURONG AND LITTLE INDIA

Beyond on the west of the island lay the Jurong bird park and night safari. So we did both. The photos in the latter instance were not great as I was getting used to my camera. There’s another birdie masquerading as a fortune teller in Little India. The news isn’t good – it never is.

We never made the Botanic Garden as rain lashed and swept through Orchard Road so we sheltered beneath a canopy at one of the cafes. It was a scene that I would see many times years later in China’s tech hub Shenzhen and in Guangzhou.

In a CD store – remember those, CD’s I mean now that we are in the rebirth of vinyl. I come across Michael Hedge’s Beyond Boundaries. I hesitate weighing up whether it’s worth it before laying my money down on the cashier. It was every bit worth it, a beautiful collection from the talented tone poet. I laugh when they hand me a bag with the store slogan ‘Without Music Life Would Be a Mistake!’ without realising it’s a quote from Nietzsche!

SIGNATURE SINGAPORE: RAFFLES AND THE MERLION

So we amble in the mid-afternoon heat to Raffles Hotel where we were pleasantly surprised to see customer service still means something (but then it was Raffles). From there it was onto the city’s famous Merlion via the white spire of St Andrew’s Church.

Of course it would be a very different visit should I do it nowadays. I’ve swung through Singapore several times now and I still haven’t got round to sampling the Singapore Sling, oh well maybe next time (whenever that might be).

PLAYLIST AND CREDITS

Thanks for reading here. Should anyone be interested in my work; principally writing, photography, and teaching, please contact me for a FREE Overview PDF. Meanwhile, stay tuned with Kulture Kiosk via The Atlas or on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram where you can see some of my photos from around the world. Playlist and credits follow…

PLAYLIST
Greatest Hits (album) – INXS
*I know, not very Asian but played on the plane over, when I rediscovered them!
Beyond Boundaries (album) – Michael Hedges
*album purchased in Singapore
Captured (from Birds) – Bic Runga
Singa Pura (from Three Continents) – Przemysław Strączek & Asian Strings Collective
*Heard years later in Warsaw but the song title says it all, so cute and so Asian!

Photos: KH