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Posts Tagged ‘Singapore’

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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Pelicans

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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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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Today has been a travelling day, mostly. I left the hotel in Batu Feringgi at abound 9 o’clock for a flight at 12:15. So there was the usual ‘hanging around the airport’ thing before a very efficient and short flight back to Singapore. A taxi ride from Changi airport got me to my hotel, the Changi Village hotel (in Changi village) by about 2:15.

I spent the latter part of the afternoon taking a walk around Changi Point. This turned out to be very hot (surprise) and I was pretty much melted when I got back to the hotel. I had been researching local restaurants & bars, but I decided instead to spend the evening in the hotel. So I had a meal at their Italian eatery, the Cantina of Venezia, on the 8th floor which had an outdoor terrace. I don’t think the food was very special – certainly not worth what I paid for it – but the setting was sensational. It seemed that I was looking down on the jets coming in to land at Changi airport.

Then I blagged my way into a gathering of regular guests that was arranged by the hotel administration – a sort of ‘keep in touch with your customer’ do, with canapés, little desserts, and drinks. OK, I didn’t blag my way in; I peered round the door, asked what was happening, one of the staff asked me if I was actually staying at the hotel and when I replied that i was, practically hauled me in. I ended up having a fascinating conversation with a French couple who knew northern England very well – they’d been married in Liverpool and knew and liked the Lake District very much.

I need an early night tonight. The flight to Dubai is at 9:35 tomorrow morning, which means I have to be on the shuttle to the airport at 6:30, which in turn means getting up at about 5 am. Bed, here I come.

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On the afternoon of my third day in Singapore I visited Gardens in the Bay. This is a sort of ‘hi-tech eco paradise’ – or at least, that’s how it’s intended.If you know the Eden Project in Cornwall you’ll get the idea, but with added technology.

Update: here’s the text! Gardens by the Bay consists of three broad areas. First there are acres of ‘walk around’ areas, laid out in gardens. For example, there’s the Chinese garden, the Malay garden, and so on. There are also large areas of open grassland. In fact this area is pretty much like a botanic gardens, and is also free to enter. The second area are the two domes – the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest, and they’re not free. These are both enclosed and controlled environments. The Flower Dome contains flowers and other plants from the several Mediterranean climatic environments around the world – California, South Africa, Chile, and of course from around the Med itself. This is interesting enough, but (unless you’re a plant enthusiast) not exactly spectacular. It’s saved, however, by the presence of additional ‘exhibition’ displays, and when I was here they had displays of cherry blossoms. These were very popular, with queues of people being photographed beside and among the blossoms. I took some images of this blossom myself – examples below.

Then there’s the Cloud Forest dome. This is an artificial reconstruction (and explanation) of the way vegetation on a mountain is stratified by the climate that is present at a given altitude. So particular species of plant will only exist on the mountain within a fairly narrow range – no lower than a certain height, and no higher than a certain other height. For this example they’ve picked plants that thrive in the ‘cloud zone’ – temperate climate (in fact blissfully cool) and with plentiful moisture, mainly from the clouds that form around the mountain at the relevant altitude.

In the case of the Flower Dome you just walk around the floor of the dome, but it’s a bit different for the Cloud Forest dome. There’s an artificial mountain, some tens of metres high, with plants growing all the way up it. I gather that in fact these plants are zoned – that the climate isn’t constant throughout the dome – but I didn’t really spot any great difference. But having marvelled from the ground at it all, you then get to ascend by lift to the fifth or 6th floor, from where you walk down. Some of these walks, as you can see from the images below, extend out from the ‘mountain’ by many yards. Presumably so you can appreciate the thing in all its glory, I expect – certainly not just to give the visitors a thrill! Basically you gradually descend round and round the mountain, sometimes passing through it, sometimes on a walkway out in the air, until you reach the bottom.

But that’s not all! I said that it replicates moist conditions. So how can they do that in an enclosed dome in equatorial Singapore? Well, every couple of hours or thereabouts they ‘mist’ the mountain – hundreds of tiny vents issue a fine spray or mist of water which moisturises the plants. Of course it looks spectacular (again, see a couple of the images below) but I’m sure that’s just a happy accident.

 

First, in the Cloud Forest and Flower domes:

The next spectacular area of the Gardens is the Supertree Grove, together with the associated Skyway (there’s an extra charge for this). The Supertrees themselves are between 25 and 50 metres high, and actually perform engineering functions for the park – e.g. as air exhaust outlets for the cooled conservatories. They’re each mode up of a concrete core; a steel frame exoskeleton; and onto that are fixed millions of plants. The Skyway is a 138 metre walk between two of the medium-height trees.

I enjoyed the afternoon I spent there. To be honest, I think that unless you were interested in horticulture or botany much of the open gardens might be a bit ‘blah’. But the two conservatories are amazing, especially the Cloud Forest, and the Supertree Grove is just one of those ridiculous things that’s actually wonderful.

I gather that at night they illuminate the Supertrees…. maybe next visit.

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I spent this morning exploring Little India, the area near to my hotel. It’s a much more traditional area than most in Singapore; it features mainly low-rise buildings, with traditional shops spilling out onto the pavement (or rather, the pavements almost run through the fronts of the shops). As its name suggests it’s a predominantly Indian area of Singapore – Indians, or Singaporeans of Indian origin, make up about 10% of Singapore’s population. (The overwhelming majority are of Chinese descent – almost 75% of the population.) The walk was hot but interesting.

I visited a Buddhist temple, inside which is a 50 feet high statue of the Buddha, made of concrete and weighing, it was suggested, about 300 tons. It was built in situ in the 1930s, inside the already-constructed temple. I spoke to the attendant/guide and we had an interesting conversation. This resulted in the strangest thing (or most unexpected) that I’ve heard in a long time. I told him where I came from and he replied saying that he really liked English TV; and then he mentioned ‘Allo ‘Allo as a particular favourite…..

In the afternoon I visited the Gardens by the Bay, but that deserves a post of its own.

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Bridges over Singapore river

I seem to be falling behind myself in terms of posting here. It’s now the end of today and I haven’t done yesterday’s post yet.

Yesterday morning I slept late (surprise) and didn’t wake up until 9 o’clock. So what with shower, breakfast, etc, it was quite late before I set out for the day’s plans. I decided to visit the National Museum. This tells the story of Singapore from the earliest known records or artifacts up to the present.You’ll not be too surprised to learn that it’s the history of the last half-century which takes pride of place, and why shouldn’t it? While Singapore was prosperous and busy in 1963 (the year it gained independence from Britain and entered the Federation of Malaysia), it wasn’t at that time a first-world city with extremely strong positions in shipping and finance, whereas today it is. So well done Singapore, and the museum tells the story of the struggle for independence and how it achieved  with it fairly and without rancour. I learned a lot especially from the “How we built” special exhibition which details how Singapore was rebuilt and expanded from the 1970s onwards; a process that hasn’t stopped yet.

After that I explored the Singapore River area, and that was visually interesting and attractive.

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This post is a report on my first few hours or so in Singapore.

After getting to the hotel yesterday I showered and changed, and then went shopping. I wanted to get a few things and I’d identified that there was a mall (City Mall) just over the road. it was also alongside a Singapore Metro (MRT) station, which (once I’d got a ticket) would allow me to go in search of a sim for the phone – I must have my data! The mall was good; quite busy, especially on the lower-ground floor where there was a small supermarket and other ‘practical’ shops, and I was able to get what I wanted.

Next was the MRT ticket. I bought a three-day tourist pass for S$30, which includes $10 for the pass itself and which I can get back by returning it at any MRT station when I leave. I can also extend it if I need to, which I will.

Then I used this to got to another mall at Bugis where there was a Singtel shop (Singtel being one of the cell phone networks here). I had to wait a while here but eventually bought a HiTourist! sim for S$15, which will last for 5 days and which gives me 4Gb of data (plus an allowance for local and international calls. That has worked OK since then, although it did seem to take a few hours for it to recognise the sim this morning.

After the shopping I went back to the hotel and walked through the ‘Little India’ district – as its name suggests this is an almost exclusively Indian area complete with temples and of course the ever-present restaurants. There’s actually a large covered area, almost a market, full of food stalls, but I couldn’t make myself try one of them – they were quite busy and looked a bit intimidating, especially as I was very tired. But not too far away I allowed myself to be persuaded into the Khansara tandoori restaurant where I had a vegetarian meal – vegetable samosas, gobi masala, a plain naan, and a mug of Tiger beer all for around S$20. The gobi masala was excellent but the vegetable samosas were a little different from what I’m used to. They were about twice the size and also much more spicy. Never mind, I cooled my scalded palate with naan and Tiger.

Then later I went out on the MRT again and down to one of the waterfront areas, Marina Bay. I wanted to have a night-time look at the Marina Bay Sands building but found that there was a weird ‘light sculpture’ event happening on the The Float, a large pontoon in Marina Bay. There were a lot people looking at the exhibit but not too many people paying their money to go and look at it from inside.

Then it was back to the hotel where I collapsed into bed not long after 10pm. I was awake for a while just before 5am but got back to sleep, and the next thing I knew it was 9 o’clock in the morning.

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