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Posts Tagged ‘Singapore’

I’ve just realised that there were a few other things I did in Singapore that I haven’t mentioned, so this post will cover just two of them – the NUS Baba House, and Singapore City Gallery.

The NUS Baba House

The NUS Baba House is the sole surviving intact house from the Peranakan community. This isn’t the place to describe or define the Peranakan identity or culture – here’s a link to a Wikipedia page that does so. In Singapore the Peranakans emerged as merchants and traders and thus were at least reasonably wealthy, and with this wealth they built distinctive and high-quality houses. Almost all of these have either been demolished completely, or (once Singapore recognised the importance of preserving them) have been been preserved externally but gutted and modernised internally. The NUS Baba House is thought to be the only house that is preserved internally as well as externally. Visits have to be booked in advance, and there are only a limited number of places available.

The National University of Singapore (NUS – the owners and managers of there house) don’t allow photography inside the house so I don’t have any pictures to display. I will say however that it was beautiful and individual. The house, which has been conserved as it was in the 1920s, is narrow and deep – three rooms deep, plus a courtyard at the front.. The courtyard features an ornately decorated exterior – the image above shows this. Then you go through the door and enter the front parlour. This was where the merchant did business, entertained guests, clients and customers, and where receptions were held. It’s furnished in a business-like but quality way – there are lots of high-quality paintings and decorations. This was the space in which an impression would be made! At the back of this room is a screen, and behind that is a living space, much more domestic in feel – still luxurious but more comfortable. For a visitor to be invited beyond the business area into the living area would be a mark of either real friendship or possibly deep respect. it’s also the case that the screen was not solid, so someone – the merchant’s wife, perhaps? – could sit behind the screen and listen to the business conversations while remaining hidden. Behind this living space was the kitchen. Upstairs were either two or three bedrooms, all furnished beautifully. One was very traditional, another was furnished in a modern style – as in 1924! (more…)

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While I was travelling around Singapore on the MRT I started noticing various signs that struck me as distinctively Singaporean. There’s no doubt that that the Singaporean authorities like to admonish or advise their citizens, over many things – in Brit-speak, they’re definitely a nanny state.

So here are some examples of those signs. Most were found on the MRT, but later during the holiday I started to see funny signs in other places, and there’s a collection of those as well.

 

And now a few I saw in other places…

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Changi airport is frequently and widely regarded as the world’s best airport. Not only does it do its basic job efficiently – be an airport and handle around 60 million passenger a year – it seems to do it with style and panache. And of course it’s very ‘Singapore’ – like Apple stuff, everything a) works and b) looks a million dollars. Over recent years Changi has continually upgraded not only its fundamental facilities (to handle those 60 million passengers, and more in coming years) but also the soft stuff – keeping them entertained and, dare I say it, delighted. I haven’t yet been to the terminal with the butterfly garden, for example….

The latest facility is Jewel. It’s actually a shopping and entertainment mall. It’s Landside, not Airside, so people can go and visit it from the city, as I did, even when they aren’t flying; and from the number of people I saw there with luggage, they were also visiting it on their way out of the country or even on their in.

The most obvious aspect of it is the enormous waterfall in the middle, surrounded by terraces of trees and greenery. (Officially these are known as the HSBC Rain Vortex and the Forest Valley.) There are a couple of forest walks laid out – you can walk up and down the terraces, enjoy the views, sit down and rest (yes – benches! not associated with restaurants!!). Access to this area is free of charge. Up on the top floor there are a number of chargeable attractions, for young and old. There’s a scramble net up in the ceiling; a mirror maze which, I gather, some people have found seriously disturbing; and a host of other things. You can find the full list here.

I just walked around the forest area for a while, took loads of pictures, and then went back to the city. Seems a strange way to spend an afternoon, but it was in fact relaxing and fun. And that first glimpse of the Rain Vortex is truly stunning and, yes, delightful.

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One of the more unusual things I did on this trip was to visit the HDB (Housing Development Board) Hub. I hoped to learn something about how Singapore has pretty much solved its housing problems. In the event I didn’t quite manage that, but it was interesting in a number of ways.

First, though, a bit of a recap. When Singapore became fully independent in 1965, it was not the place it is now. While it wasn’t exactly ‘3rd World’ it definitely wasn’t 1st world. It was a place of contrasts. On the one hand there was former colonial housing (think tropical bungalows) and modern businesses, and on the other hand there were traditional Asian enterprises: shophouses and waterfront go-downs on the one hand, and a number of traditional Malay villages or Kampongs. These were all badly over-crowded, had poor or non-existent sanitation, no connection to other central services – you can imagine the picture. Today these have all gone, apart from those shophouses and occasional Kampong house that have been preserved and re-purposed, and the population mainly lives in high-rise apartment complexes. Some of these are privately-built, but the great majority of the complexes, housing about 80% of the population, are provided by the HDB. And they work! – they are clean; they are well-maintained; there is no crime (actually, that’s true of Singapore generally); and there’s some strange way in which although these apartments are publicly provided, they are in fact individually owned. (more…)

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MBS hotel and lasers

Marina Bay is these days the central location of Singapore city. There are other popular locations: the various quays along Singapore River all of which are now converted to bars and restaurants, Kampong Glam and Little India, but it’s Marina Bay that dominates the downtown landscape.

This is actually a new thing – the whole of the southern  and eastern side of the Bay is reclaimed land. I’ve tried to show this in the crude illustration below. Everything to the right of the black line is reclaimed (or new) land. The dotted section indicates that the quayside just to its left, Collier’s Quay, was the limit of the land, and faced the open sea. If you look at the road names you can get a clue about this – Esplanade Drive at the top of the map suggests that originally that was the shoreline, and Raffles Quay near the bottom suggests the same. (The roads themselves are new, of course – there were no dual-carriageway express roads until the last couple of decades or so – but they’ve inherited names from former roads and landmarks.)

So even the land on which now stand the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the new business district did not exist until 30 years or so ago. Even after that Singapore took its time deciding what to do with it, and undertook various other required infrastructure works first – for example, the cleaning up of the Singapore river (which feeds into Marina Bay). Another huge project was the water management and the construction of the Marina Bay barrage – extraordinarily, what was once the mouth of a heavily-polluted river and the open sea into which it flowed is now a fresh-water reservoir, from which Singapore gets 10% of its water. So it was only in the early 00’s that serious construction started on the big projects around the Bay – Gardens by the Bay, the new financial district, the renovation of Colliers Quay, and the Marina Bay Sands hotel and its associated structures – and final development work continued until maybe 2015 or so, with the completion of the various components of the complete pedestrian route around the Bay.

It’s a popular area with visitors and Singaporeans alike. As I mentioned above it’s now possible to walk all round the Bay along dedicated pedestrian footpaths. Two dramatic footbridges cross open water – the Helix bridge near the hotel which crosses the lower end of the Bay, and the Esplanade bridge which crosses the mouth of the Singapore River. The whole walk is a few kilometres long, and, given that this is Singapore, walking it can be a hot sweaty business. Best to do it in stages, which is easy – there are air-conditioned restaurants, bars, and shopping mall every couple of hundred yards or so along three sides of the square.

For me, the big attraction is the scenery and the opportunity to take pictures. I had my camera with me and some lenses, and I’d even managed to squeeze my tripod into my suitcase (and my checked baggage allowance). I went out and took images around the Marina Bay three times. The first was in the daytime on my first full day. That was a very grey day (after the sun I got in Haji Lane) and turned to heavy rain in the late morning, so I regarded that walk round as just a location scouting exercise. The following evening I went back and took a number of shots as the sun went down and in the early darkness; and the evening after that I went back again a little later in the evening to catch the nightly laser show from the Marina Bay Sands hotel. Enjoy!

Notes:

  • the Marina Bay Sands hotel is, in part, a casino (Singapore’s first). This is supposedly reflected in the architecture – if you look at the towers you’re suppose to think that each one is actually two playing cards on end and leaning into each other. The top deck includes an observation deck, and (for residents only) an infinity pool and various relaxation areas. But with 2,500 rooms, getting your turn in the pool is apparently a struggle;
  • The merlion is the symbol of Singapore. There are a few Merlion statues dotted around – I’ve seen a small one up on top of Mount Faber – but this is the official one. There are always crowds of people around it;
  • The Fullerton Hotel was built during the colonial period. It was originally the main Post Office for the colony. It stood at the mouth of the Singapore River and at the head of Collier’s Quay, the main landing point for passengers arriving by ship.

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On my first morning I walked around Haji Lane in the Kampong Glam area of the city. I have in fact visited this area before, but it turned out that my hotel was literally at one of the lane. It’s an older area of the city in which the buildings are conserved/preserved, although in the case of Haji Lane it looks it’s just the exteriors that are original – and even then, a lot of the ground floor frontages have been modernised. What’s in these old buildings are a range of small designer stores, refreshment bars, and general moments shops. A unifying feature is that each shop has been painted as dramatically and colourfully as possible; the whole Lane is a swirl of colour. I was happy to wander up and down for a while before heading further into the city.

Then it was on to the Shoppes (horrible word…) at Marina Bay. This is an upmarket shopping mall associated with the Marina Bay Sands hotel. It’s just a mall, really – the usual over-priced stuff (when did buying and carrying a truly expensive, branded bag become a defining item of consumption?) but the mall itself has one interesting element – there’s a canal inside it…. See the image below!

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Parked Thomas Cook jets at Manchester on 23 September 2019

it’s a very long journey to Singapore. I have a choice of flights from Manchester: I can fly direct with Singapore Airlines, or I can go via Dubai with Emirates. My preference is the latter – although this makes the total journey time longer (two flights of just over seven hours each plus three hours at Dubai International airport) I’m not sure I could manage an 11 or 12 hour flight in an economy seat, no matter how good the aircraft or airline. So I made my usual choice, and was due to fly out of Manchester on 23 September at about half-past two on an Emirates A380. That would arrive at Dubai at just after midnight, the onward flight would leave at 3am, arriving at Singapore Changi airport around mid-afternoon on the 24th. I’m pleased to say that everything was pretty much on time, and the flights, while long, were up to Emirates’ usual high standard.

As an aside, the 23rd was the day Thomas Cook collapsed. It was sad to see their jets parked up and not moving. A few were still arriving, but most were stuck at the remote airport. I also heard from an airport worker that I got chatting to that an Air Malaysia A380 had already arrived at Manchester to participate in the repatriation exercise.

On previous trips I’d had Trailfinders arrange a private car to take me into the city to my hotel, but this time I decided that as I knew my way around I would make do it myself. I’d researched and found that there was a shuttle bus system that would drop arriving passengers at various hotels for just 9 Singapore Dollars (S$9) per person, and I decided to use that. I had cash –  I’d already bought S$300 back in the UK because I knew there would be some early purchases that I would need to make. I also picked up a local sim for my phone while I was at the airport. A 7-day sim with M1, which would give me 100Gb of data plus 20 minutes of international phone calls, cost me S$12. Given that the exchange rate is about S$1.6 to £1, these prices were about £6 for the shuttle bus and £8.50 for the sim. A final purchase, made after I got to my hotel, was a Tourist Pass for the Singapore MRT, the underground system. That was S$30 for unlimited travel for 3 days, but S$10 of that was for the actual piece of plastic, which I could reclaim by handing it in when it expired.

I was staying at the ‘ParkRoyal on Beach’ hotel. ParkRoyal Hotels (part of the Pan Pacific group) have three hotels in Singapore. I’d previously stayed at the ParkRoyal on Kitchener, which is in the Little India district and is a solid 4* hotel; this one (… on Beach) is rated at 4+*, while their final hotel, ParkRoyal on Pickering, is rated 5* (and has prices to match). The hotel was fine – very comfortable room, very effective air-conditioning, and good breakfasts. I didn’t take any other meals in the hotel as it turned out that the ‘+’ in their rating element perhaps referred to their fancy restaurant. Nothing on their menu really appealed, and the prices definitely didn’t.

So by about half-past four local time I was there and all set. Raring to go? – not after those flights; in fact I worked out that if I included the journey from Sheffield to the airport (which Val very kindly drove me), I had been travelling for about 24 hours, with not a lot of sleep. But I find that on the journey out I can keep going – probably it’s just the adrenalin. (The journey home is a lot less energising, of course.) So I went out and exercised my MRT pass, found my way down to Marina Bay, walked around, had a quick burger in a food court, and eventually made my way back to the hotel and my bed later in the evening. I woke up once in the early hours but to my surprise was able to get back to sleep, and finally woke up at about 8 o’clock the following morning for my first full day.

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Back to Singapore

marina_bay_sands The iconic Singapore image: the Marina Bay Sands hotel and the Art Science museum

I’ve visited Singapore a couple of times in the last few years, and there’s something about the place that I really like. Perhaps it’s that it is a well-ordered society; or maybe it’s the amazing architecture; or the history; or just the fact of being in a place and a society that has a reasonable claim to have been the most successful in the world over the last 50 years.

My previous visits were in the late winter, March 2017 and February 2018. This year (2019) I went to Bangkok at that time, and we already have a big trip to the USA arranged for April next year, so there wouldn’t be time to do an Asian trip before that. So in July I booked myself a short break in Singapore for the end of September.

I had just five full days there, plus the late afternoon and evening of my arrival day and a very few hours on the morning I flew out. That turned out to be long enough to do everything I wanted on this trip. I decided that mainly I would go to places that I hadn’t visited before, so I gave the Gardens by the Bay and the National Museum a miss. Instead I went to other places, perhaps a bit more unusual. That said, I did find my steps leading towards Marina Bay on quite a few occasions – these days it is the heart of Singapore city.

I did have one big worry both before and during the trip. This summer I have been plagued by outbreaks of Achilles tendinitis in my right ankle/heel. Not only is this painful, it’s extremely disabling; basically, during a flare-up I can’t walk any distance at all. In fact it’s a struggle just to get around the house, let alone any further. So I was worried that I might not be able to go, or that I would get there and then find myself immobilised. In the event I was OK. Perhaps it was the exercises that I have been doing more religiously than in the past couple of years or so (I have had this problem before, most recently in 2010), or perhaps I was lucky and the next flare-up is just around the corner. Either way, I got there, had the holiday and did a lot of walking around, and then got home without problems.

Anyway, it was a good trip; I visited a number of interesting places; and I took what seem to me to be some good photos. I’ll do detailed posts over the next few days.

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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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