Vern: Singapore is incredibly cosmopolitan and our 8-bed dorm reflected that. We shared the room with an Indian, a Malaysian, a Thai and some others, and I battled to understand any of them. So there was a lot of smiling and nodding and, "Alright if I turn off the light? Thumbs down for no."
The city-state is famed for its rules and cleanliness. For banning chewing-gum and for issuing large fines for jaywalking and other offences which would elsewhere in the world be minor. With the government running the place like Lord Farquaad, I was expecting a spotless utopia populated by citizens never even thinking of stepping out of line for fear of the Thought Police. But it wasn't like that. The usual amount of litter was scattered about the streets, walking around required dodging more than a normal amount of pavement phlegm balls, and people were jaywalking everywhere. Also we saw no signs anywhere reading "No walking on the grass. Fine $200" or "No food on the train. Fine $300". I presume the government has toned it all down a bit. Which is not good news for the hundreds of hawkers selling "Singapore is a FINE city" t-shirts.
Our sightseeing started with Hindu and Buddhist temples in Little India. The air was heavy with humidity and the sun burned bright. We probably appreciated these buildings more for the shelter they offered than for their ornate sculptures and histories. A huge statue of Hanuman, the green monkey deity who could roll with the ThunderCats heroes, is one of many gods holding up the roof of the Sri Vadapathira Kaliammam Temple. (That just rolls off the tongue.) Every surface of the building was covered in brightly coloured sculptures but we dared not enter as a prayer ceremony was underway.
Just down the road, a 15m-high golden Buddha (a thin one, robed and with black hair - not the tubby one) is surrounded by a halo of a thousand lightbulbs in the impressive Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple aka the Temple of 1000 Lights. Oddly in the corner is a statue of Ganesha, for Indians who are Buddhist but still would like to worship one of the Indian gods.
The next Hindu temple, the Sri Srinivasa Perumai Temple, was even more colourful than the first and in fact was a whole complex with a mosaic of the planets on the ceiling and a spire of sculpted deities. Worshippers were sitting down to a feast and a tangy curry aroma wafted through the temple. It was a little tempting to pick up a new faith just to partake.
We did eat soon after. We waded through dense sweaty market in Little India, past a dozen watch-sellers all selling the same watches for the 'Best Price in Town'. And all the same price - a bit of an oligopoly it seems. Then we came upon an empty table in a busy curry house and chased a deliciously spicy Butter Chicken with an Iced Milo.
With a new lease on life we breezed through shady Fort Canning Park and down past the weathered Freemasons House. "Ironically, it's in need of some masonry work," said Andrea grinning. A well deserved soft-serve was enjoyed in the air-conditioned BK Whopper Bar (a Burger King that serves beer) in one of several colourfully painted converted warehouses on Clarke Quay. Then we strolled through the Old Parliment building which is now an art gallery. In an exhibition of photos taken by children, the most endearing was one of three toy trucks, one tipped on its side. "Part of Car Team," the five year old photographer had captioned it.
We followed the river to a lake lined with skyscrapers, hotels and shopping malls, called Marina Bay, and sipped a bubble tea while the sun set and we waited for a light show. It started promptly at 8pm, the same time that we realised that we were on the wrong side of the bay to enjoy it. Luckily it is repeated at 9:30. So we made our way around the bay, snapping a photo with the half-lion half-fish, Merlion statue along the way. This took longer than one'd expect as almost everyone else was setting up or dismantling full-size camera tripods. I guess the SLR wielding Jet-Set had still not used up their full baggage allowance.
The light and water show in front of the Marina Bay Sands hotel and mall (three towers with a platform on top that resembles a ship) was ingenious! Video and lasers are projected onto a wall of water which sprays up out of the lake producing a mesmerising effect amidst the arc of modern high rises.
Our second expedition downtown took us through Chinatown which was uneventful except for the food: killer summer rolls called 'popiah', divine chicken and pineapple salad, and for dessert the ubiquitous but bizarre 'peanut ice kachang' - a snow-cone topped with crushed peanuts, red beans and sweetcorn. Not great.
On the same trip we wandered into the colonial Raffles Hotel and popped our heads into its Long Bar where every table was full of tourists sampling a Singapore Sling cocktail because that's where it was invented.
For our evening meals we returned time and time again to the Lavender Road Food Centre which sounds like soup kitchen (which would have been even more budget friendly) but is actually a road-side food court with none of your typical fast food, rather stalls serve up culinary anomalies which make your eyes bulge. The fit-for-a-queen sounding "Eminent Frog Porridge" stall was serving up stodgy toad by the tray-load, while others slow roasted sheep organs in clay pots or plopped pig trotters into soup. We played it safe at first with curries and noodle soup but graduated to fruit rojak a fruit and cucumber salad tossed in satay (peanut & soy) sauce and a spicy grilled stingray and were happy that we had.