Singapore, Day 5

We decided to make an early break for it this morning, and we took the MRT Chinatown.

The transportation system here is really great. If you have a card, and you can buy one lots of places, you put it on a pad as you get on the bus. The machine chirps to let you know that it's recognized. It deducts the maximum fair from your card. Then, when you get off, you put the card to the machine again, and it refunds whatever amount it should, depending on how far you've travelled. It works the same on the subway trains, but you can also buy a temporary card that, when you're travel is done, you can return to get a dollar deposit back. So, there are no trashed cards laying around. It's a very convenient, easy to understand, and well thought-out system.

So, we rode to Chinatown. I've decided it would be really cool to get a chop made, but most of the fare we saw was touristy and kind of crappy.

We wandered while we looked--coffee was definitely in order, but we had trouble finding a place that looked good. We walked up one small, dimly lit staircase guided by a sunny looking sign into a restaurant that obviously was much more than a coffee shop. I'm not even sure they were open, and the woman who helped us seemed a little annoyed that we came up the back entrance. Oops. She pointed us to the front door and wouldn't let us go back the way we came.

We wandered past the Durian dealers. These are large, spiked fruit that are considered a delicacy around here. They smell, as Dani put it, like a mix of rotting corpse and burning rubber. Charles thinks they smell more like that guy that all of us know whose feet smell worse than anything you can imagine. In any case, the smell is quite distinctive, and if you didn't know that it was good eating, you would imagine that something had just died. They are so smelly that, on the bus, they have a sign with pictorial warnings: no smoking, no eating, no durian, no littering.

We found a little chinese stand with some tables and simple wood stools. We ordered white coffee, and the guy set a teacup down, picked up what looked like an elongated watering can, with his other hand opened a stainless steel cover over a vat of steaming water which he gathered in a container, and then poured the water and tipped the watering can over a thick, cracked china mug and mixed a coffee. In the can was espresso-strength black coffee. He finished it with condensed sweetened milk, and then charged me approximately $.80 for two of them. It was delicious coffee--the best I've had here so far.

While I was getting that, Dani got some pastries which turned out to be pretty much white flower and sugar--nothing great. We wandered around some more, and ended up in an amazing gallery looking at beautiful Ming and Qing reproduction furniture. It was all unstained dark wood, joined without glue or nails in traditional ways. The workmanship was exquisite, and the prices, for what it was, were extremely reasonable. The sales woman was very helpful and spent much time with us describing everything. In America, people would look at Dani and I and know not to waste time trying to sell us very expensive items, but in Singapore we may be wealthy expats, so best to try ones hardest.

Which reminds me, recently the hungry ghost festival happened here. Somebody made up t-shirts that I've seen around. On the front, in small type, it says "There is someone behind you." and on the back it has a ghostly hand print. The festival is for remembering your ancestors, and the shirt is to remind you as well of them. I was looking today, but didn't see any to buy.

From Chinatown we worked our way down to the river to Clarke Quay where we walked past many fine restaurants and hopped on a bum boat down the river.

Bum boats are these wide, low, rickety, loud and smelly ordeals. Piloted by cranky old guys, they stroll up and down the river giving frightened looking tourists a scenic ride. You buy tickets from aggressive hawkers in little boots by the river, and then they call the boats over. The pilot essentially rams up against the concrete staircases that descend into the river, and you climb straight onto the bow, and into the belly of the best where the seats are while the pilot keeps the boat still by keeping the engines running forward.

We rode for a half mile or so, and got off to walk the riverfront row of restaurants, deciding to eat Indian. We ordered Lamb Vindaloo, a Chicken Curry, yellow rice and Roti Pata. I had a mango lassi to wash it down, and we eat, sweating the extreme spices, while the river washed in front of us.

After lunch, we walked further down to see the amazing Botero sculpture, and crossed the Cavenaugh Bridge to the Asian Civilisations Museum where we took in an an interesting exhibit on the Ottoman Sultans. After another leisurely coffee, this time overlooking the river across the banks from where we ate, we made our way home to meet James getting home from school.

After tea with Dani's friend Rossi and Charles coming home from work, we went to the business district where they close Bon Tat street at 7pm next to a hawker's market, and a bunch of satay stands set up. We were advised that number 9 was the best, so we sat down and had skewers of chicken, beef, duck and lamb that were absolutely delicious, with Lime juice for a drink. We made our way home, and while James did homework and went to bed, Charles and I swam some laps in the pool.

Posted by: Martin McClellan
On the date of: October 27, 2004 07:10 AM
Hi Martin, Thanks for sharing your amazing trip. The imagery is fascinating! I envy your McClellan days. I was struck by the similarity of structures to places familiar. The Shop houses in Chinatown (weird that they have a Chinatown) could be the center of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Have a great journey and I look forward to more interesting observations. Kate
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