Archive for the ‘Singapore 2018’ Category

Telok Blangah forest walk

(Somehow I managed to forget to write this day up at the appropriate time. This dates from before I moved on to KL, of course.)

One of the things I had wanted to do last year but never managed was to walk along the Southern Ridges. This is a laid-out path (or series of paths) that link a number of open spaces just behind the south coast of Singapore island. It stretches a few miles – I joined it at Kent Ridge which is not the westernmost end of it, and walked through Hort Park, Telok Blangah, Mount Faber, and finally down the Marang Trail back to the MRT. These areas are all green (in different ways) and in some cases quite hilly, but are all separated by busy roads; but since the creation of the Southern Ridges walk, they’re all connected by paths running above the roads – in a couple of cases, dramatically high above the roads.

I got there by MRT to Pasir Panjang, then walking back eastwards along a busy road to a Pepys Road which leads off to the north side of the busy road, and then walked up Pepys Road until I reached the edge of Kent Ridge. This was actually at the eastern end of Kent Ridge, so initially I walked westwards for a half-a-mile or so, fully in the knowledge that I would be retracing my steps in a short while. I was a bit disappointed to find that the Kent Ridge Forest Walk (a tree-top high level walkway) was closed for maintenance, but it turned out that there were other high-level walkways later. Kent Ridge was quite manicured, and I stopped and started retracing my steps when it became obvious that I was approaching an area that looked more like a park. I did reach a viewpoint and was taken by an old information board that showed an explanatory picture of the view. However, the board hasn’t been updated for quite a few years, and the view has changed a lot….

I found a path dropping quite steeply to Hort Park, the next open area eastwards. This was very different from any of the other areas I walked across. While it’s green it’s not really open – instead, it seems to be a cultivated area with a number of nursery gardens. I think that Gardens by the Bay grow plants here in a series of controlled-environment greenhouses, and there also seem to be community gardens that looked for all the world like a Singaporean version of English allotments. There was also a busy public area, the HortCente, which looked like a combination of a community centre, shops, restaurants and other small-scale facilities. I particularly liked the ‘English Garden’ here – a small area laid out in formal English garden style, but with (mainly) tropical planting. I also recall that somewhere in Hort Park there was a large, sheltered (i.e. covered) facilities area with toilets, water fountains and vending machines – this was very welcome. (more…)

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On Saturday night I went to Chingay. This is a parade to celebrate the end of the Chinese New Year celebrations. It was first held in 1973 as a fairly impromptu affair in Chinatown and featuring Chinese parade artists representing just the Singaporean Chinese community. I think there were then a few years when it didn’t take place but by the end of the 70s the idea had been resurrected but also altered: from then on it would include and feature artists and groups representing all the communities in Singapore. Indeed, presently there are also a number of international groups represented, certainly including Malaysian groups and also others (I remember a Japanese float, for example). It has also grown – this year there were about 6,500 performers. It’s held over two nights in the pit lane of the Singapore F1 circuit which is several hundred metres long, and grandstands are erected which can hold thousands of people. The government of Singapore estimate that if you include all the street parties and impromptu parades that label themselves as part of Chingay then the total audience is around 200,000.

I’d heard about Chingay when I was in Singapore in 2017, but I’d missed it – I was there in March and in any case the Chinese New Year was earlier in 2017. But for this year – 2018 – it was later and the two nights of the Chingay parade would be the 23rd and 24th of February. Given that I had already determined to return to Singapore, I decided to organise the visit around attending Chingay. I was able to buy a ticket online well in advance (cost S$55), and I was able to exchange the email voucher I received for the actual ticket without any problems at a Mall near to my hotel.

I took my seat just before 7 o’clock, and there was then about an hour of warm-up acts – lots of chat be the presenters for the differentsections (A, B & C, reflecting the fact that it would take some minutes for a float or group to walk along the length of the parade), and some less formal dance acts. The parade proper started at 8pm with the first float containing, among other people, the President of Singapore together with her husband. (That’s him in the picture above), and it finished just about 9:30 with a fireworks display. Afterwards it took me about 90 minutes to get back to the hotel! – the problem was that many thousands of people were exiting the grandstands at the same time and were therefore overwhelming the public transport options. Indeed, even walking was directed along routes that the police knew to be easy to walk along, and I’d walked about a mile before I was able to branch out on an independent route.

I had hoped to take lots of pictures but that turned out to be a problem. The angle of the grandstand seats meant that people’s heads in the rows in front were always in the pictures, and if it wasn’t their heads, then it was their mobile phones or most annoyingly of all, their d****d Pom-Poms. I did have a bit of success holding the camera up in the air, pointing it in vaguely the right direction, and hoping. But that was probably annoying the hell out of the people behind me. Still, at least I wasn’t (in the main) obstructing their view with my Pom-Pom. Oh no.

So how was it? Well, it’s a world-class parade, which says it all, really: as parades go this is one of the very best, but when all’s said and done it’s just a parade. I had a great time; it was an experience I won’t forget; I’ve got some souvenirs (ask me nicely and I’ll show you my Pom-Pom); but to be honest, I don’t feel any need to do it again. But it was definitely worth doing this one time.

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I spent a day doing not a lot, but the following day I spent a couple of hours wandering the small area of Singapore’s Chinatown. Just wandering around with no especial aim in mind, bur I enjoyed the colours and energy. This was the last full day of the Chinese New Year period, I think, which ¬†meant that the decorations and special displays were still up. (It’s now the Year of the Dog, btw.)

Actually, I gather that the idea of a Chinatown in a city that is predominantly ethnically Chinese anyway is a fairly recent invention – post-independence. They’ve designated the area that was originally specified by Raffles (or one of his people) as the area where the Chinese would live – other areas were Indian, Malay and European residents (guess which group got the best area?), plus large spaces for business and colonial administration. And right from the start the areas started leaking – no-one stayed in their own area for long (except the europeans who didn’t move into other areas, and into whose own areas no-one else moved). Today, for example, there is a mosque and a Hindu temple within the boundaries of Chinatown, and those would be unusual choices of religion for anyone who was ethnically Chinese.

But this is Singapore where there are unexpected juxtapositions all over the city, so it’s no surprise really.

Here are some of the pictures I took.

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These are another couple of things that I didn’t do last year, despite hearing that they were excellent, Well, today I did them – or perhaps they did me, I am back at my hotel at 10:15 and am absolutely shattered.

I went to the zoo straight after breakfast. It’s somewhere in the middle-ish of Singapore Island, and is therefore some distance from the city (which is on the southern tip of the island). In fact it took just over an hour to get there – about 30 minutes on the metro followed by a bus ride of more than 30 minutes. The metro ride was to a place called ‘Ang Mo Kio’ which is a dormitory new town. In fact, it was one of the first new towns to be built after independence in the mid-60s. It was built during the 70s as a planned residential area, with the previous kampongs (traditional villages), agricultural land and swamps all replaced. It’s a place of tower blocks and grid-plan roads, and a new-build town centre which incorporates the bus station and (now) the metro station. Not unlike Telford town centre, in fact, and from about the same era as well. What’s interesting to see is that the place is in really good repair and the people look smart and purposeful; in classic Singapore fashion, everything works, nothing is broken, and there’s no graffiti. Perhaps not so much like Telford, then….. It has a population somewhere around 150,000, so it’s a significant sized town. And it’s just one of a dozen or more spread across the island and all built in the last 50 years.

But on to the zoo! I had heard about it when I was planning last year’s visit and had read about it. The comments ranged from “possibly the best zoo in the world!” to “but still just a zoo….”. So this time I had to go see for myself.

I think that both descriptions are true, or at least partly. It is a very good zoo, but it is also still just a zoo. It’s very well laid-out, with lots of information. They’ve got on top of the ecology/species preservation message. But they also include large animals such as elephants and some big cats in the zoo, and I don’t believe it’s at all possible to keep a big cat in captivity in a manner that’s not harmful in some way to it. On the other hand, there is the ‘species preservation’ argument, and that would very much apply to some of the animals they have, including the asian lion. (more…)

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The Sultan mosque

So, back in Singapore. I arrived at 4:30-ish Tuesday afternoon after a door to door journey that took about 22 hours. There were a couple of trains from Sheffield to Manchester airport; a couple of planes from Manchester to Singapore; and finally a very comfortable transfer in a Mercedes from Singapore airport to my hotel.

Having arrived I looked after some housekeeping stuff. I needed all of the following things: some cash; a local sim for my phone; a pass for the Singapore MRT (the Metro); and I also needed to collect my ticket for the Chingay parade. I knew from last year’s visit that there was a shopping mall (City Square Mall) over the road from the hotel where I could get all these things. Later in the evening I went back to the mall to eat, at one of the many food outlets there. I was tired and jet-lagged and not feeling adventurous, so I picked ‘PastaMania’ and had a very enjoyable mushroom soup and ‘creamy chicken’ with penne pasta. Together with a bottle of water that came to S$15.90, or about ¬£8.50. I’ve found that you can certainly eat very cheaply in Singapore (you can also eat very expensively), but that alcohol is always expensive. Unless you stick to the ubiquitous Tiger beer, and in a popular tourist hotspot even that can be pricey.

One of my aims this year is to visit a number of places I didn’t get to last year, and this morning I went to the first of these: Kampong Glam. Historically, this was the centre of Malay settlement in Singapore. There are a few streets of old buildings consisting of South Asian ‘Shop Houses’, where the ground floor was devoted to business and the family lived above. However none of these premises seem to be doing what they originally did, most have become shops for local designers, or they are cafes and bars. Unlike a very similar area of Georgetown in Penang, Malaysia, they are all in good repair; indeed the area is very vibrant.

Alongside these streets of small buildings are a couple of much more major edifices. One is the Sultan Mosque. This dates from the 1840s (it replaced an older, smaller mosque) and claims to be both the oldest extant mosque in Singapore and the most important. It’s a very odd structure – despite being built to serve a Malay population its design is apparently based on the Taj Mahal, and it has an onion dome despite the fact that such a feature has no place in traditional Malay architecture.

Alongside the mosque are a couple of other buildings dating from the same era. One is the Istana Kampong Glam, the residence of the local Malay Sultan who did the deals with Raffles in 1819 and 1822 that allowed Singapore to come into being. Today it’s the home of the Malay Heritage Centre, which I visited and enjoyed.

I got a definite feeling from my guide round the Malay centre that the Malay culture is particularly under threat, and that the Malay language especially is not much spoken in Singapore. Of the nation’s ethnic groups, the Chinese (far and away the largest) are secure in their heritage, although even among them there are accounts of Mandarin usage dropping in favour of English. The Indian community is strengthened by the presence of so many Indian temporary residents. The Malay community, on the other hand, seems to be the loser. My guide, who said that she came from Malay ancestry – or had Malay ancestry – also said that she was Chinese, and certainly her name was Chinese. I get the feeling that as the Chinese and Malay ethnic groups mix, it is the Chinese who come out the stronger and the Malays who lose out. (That’s the impression I got – apologies to all concerned if I’ve got it wrong and have caused offence, which is not my intention.)


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Next week (19th February) I shall be heading back to Singapore and Malaysia. I’m having six nights in Singapore plus a couple of nights in Kuala Lumpur; those, plus the two overnights while I’m on flights will mean that I’ll be away for about ten days.

Obviously I’ve been to Singapore before, so why go back? Well, I came away thinking that there were lots of things I hadn’t seen or visited: Chinatown, for example, or Kampong Glam, or even places like the Zoo. Then there were a couple of major museums that I didn’t visit, one of them being the Singapore Art Museum and the Asian Art Museum. And also one or two out-doors places – I think I’d like to walk the southern ridges, for example.

But the main reason I’m going back is that this is Chinese New Year, which in Singapore finishes with a big parade, the Chingay parade. I’ve timed my visit so that I shall be there for the parade, and Ive bought a ticket for it. Hopefully I shall get lots of images.

Then there’s Kuala Lumpur. I haven’t visited this city before, and I’m not sure what I’ll think about it. But I’m reading more about Malaysia, and liking what I read, so this will be a flying visit to experience that country’s capital. Perhaps next year I’ll do a trip just to Malaysia – I still don’t feel I did Georgetown justice last year, and I’m also attracted by places such as the Cameron Highlands, Langkawi and Malacca, or maybe the islands and cost on the east side of peninsular Malaysia. I’m not sure if I’m ready for Malaysia-in-Borneo yet – Sabah and Sarawak provinces. But who knows….

I shall be blogging from the trip, so stay tuned for posts and pictures.

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