Sunday, May 5, 2013

Singapore Explorations

5 May 2013

My apologies on some of the spacing here - the internet cafe computers aren't as cooperative as my Mac is, so I can't quite make things line up the way I'd like.

We took a doubledecker bus to one area of the city on Friday, and managed to get the front seats upstairs. This gave us wonderful views of the traffic, the busy-ness of Singapore, our quaint and very Chinese neighborhood, and the contrast with the very modern international center of the city. (And stoplights gave me access to some great photos, which would be difficult had we been in motion.)

Singapore is a huge island nation, just south of the Malaysian peninsula. It has been settled by Malaysians, Chinese, people from Myanmar (not sure if they are Myanmarese or Myanmarians – but these are the men in sarongs, not Sri Lankans), east Indians, and of course the British. The nation was a British colony and part of that huge empire, but was taken over by the Japanese during WWII, and then reverted back to British rule after the war. The country gained independence on August 9, 1964, and has moved forward since then. (This information is from my little buddy at Starbucks in a mall we’ve gone to – he’s very helpful, very friendly, and he and his barista friend were willing to tell me all about Singapore history. There’s compulsory two-year military service for young men aged 18, and that’s where the two of them are headed. However, Singapore hasn’t been involved in a war since WWII, so they said they just wear the uniform, go through training, and are ready to protect the country.)

Some of the buildings are in the 1920-30s style, with Art Nouveau as well as Asian influences. Other modern buildings have definite Chinese architecture – the pagoda roof, the Foo dogs outside.

And that's a pedestrian overpass, about 15 feet above the road (4.5 m), with lovely flowers growing on it.  I haven't ventured up there yet - all the cars rushing by below tend to make me very dizzy!
And then there was the amazing Hindu temple, covered with statues of various gods, the whole thing in gorgeous bright colors – it was an incredible sight! I have no idea how to get there, we passed it on the bus and I was lucky to get the one shot!
We also explored a supermarket – the produce section was full of beautiful fruit, the most exotic being dragon fruit from Vietnam. The colors were just so intense! There are other things we have no clue about – for example, this drink with the little blue cartoon animal on a pink background – obviously a drink geared toward children. But is this a bunny or a cat? And what flavor is the drink? We have no idea – I just liked the can.

The rice display – of course, there were huge bags of rice, some 20-25 kg each I would estimate, with beautiful bags showing dragons, pagodas, and such. And the ramen shelves make the rice display look paltry – the ramen section looked like a warehouse in the supermarket!!!!!! I always
thought the ramen craze was an American phenomenon, but it seems it truly is an Asian thing.


On Saturday, we took the subway/el into town, trying to find the Singaporean info center – it turned out to not be much of a center, but we gathered some maps and brochures. The info center was in the ION building – no idea what ION stands for – but this is one of those super-modern futuristic buildings, something like the free-form architecture of Frank Gehry. It’s a cross-between organic shape and geodesic dome triangles and mirrored surfaces and metal pillars that look like trees. With an entrance to the subway that looks like a small spaceship. I’m not describing it well, because those disparate parts really do manage to work together in this crazy building. It was actually quite cool.

Some of the buildings in the distance are modern with Asian influences – again, the hint of a pagoda in a roof or portico, the green or red roof.

There were hundreds of eating spots in this mall – the actual mall comprises the first four floors of the building, and four basement floors. Yes, it goes four storeys underground, and connects with the subway on basement level two. And, the top several floors of the eight storeys aboveground are the parking garage. Kind of opposite the way we do things in the US, but on the otherhand, having the mall below ground probably saves a whole lot of money on the AC bill – Singapore is 1.4 degrees north of the equator, so it is hot and steamy all year round. (One man in an elevator told me that with climate change, it’s getting even hotter than it used to be.)

Anyway, there was a “tea room” in the middle of the mall, TWG Tea, that supposedly is a Parisian restaurant over 150 years old – but this particular open restaurant was surrounded by orchid plants atop partitions, to create the space, rather than walls. The orchids were truly gorgeous – amazing colors, graceful shapes, and exotic in that way that only orchids can achieve.

I found these wonderful panda sculptures - enamel on brass - huge, life-size pandas with Picasso-esque paintings scattered on them! Just sort of crazy and funny in an artsy way!

The mall was getting ready for the Singapore Fashion Week, and American Express had a huge booth outside – Richard talked me into posing for a photo with a “where’s your dream” sign – because then we could each get a sleep mask for airplanes. We also spent time talking with the two nice young men who took my photos and helped me post them on Facebook – they’re both students in university, but this is the fall break and so this job will is just part-time during the holiday.

So we walked around the mall, had some breakfast (Richard's French toast came with two slices held together by peanut butter in the middle; my ham and egg (scrambled) sandwich came with the crusts cut off; and we've learned to ask for tea and coffee no sugar no milk, because otherwise they automatically come with both).

I also explored the ION art gallery - very interesting place. This is an art gallery with a rotating exhibit, in the mall. This month featured a few artists who do traditional Chinese brush painting, but re-interpreted in a modern way - maybe abstraction, or more depth of field, or using sticks instead of brushes, or blowing the ink as well as brushwork - at any rate, very interesting. There were also oil and acrylic paintings on canvas, my favorite being the work of an artist who simply calls himself Vinc - he prints photos on huge canvases, then paints over the photo image so that the result is realistic in detail and expressivist in color, almost Fauvist. I really liked his image of NYC's Chrysler building, done in quite greys and whites and periwinkles, against a bright turquoise sky. Or the Chelsea Inn and street scene, in mostly reds and pinks and blues. Very New York in a bright colorful cheerful and slightly surreal vision.
Anyway, Richard and I enjoyed the very urban feel of the mall and subway and streets, crowded with people (who, by the way, make me look TALL!), all the activity and hustle and bustle of downtown Singapore.

When we came home, our subway/el stop had a strange display in the little park outside. I have no idea what's going on with all the cows (who are under surveillance - someone's keeping an eye on the cows to make sure they behave? aren't stolen? aren't vandalized? that the cows don't stage an insurrection?) and the huge hearts in the trees. Unless this is "Be Kind to Cows" month here? We really have no idea, but it was just a funny and lighthearted display.

Today, Sunday, we're taking a bit of a break to catch up on internet, reading, and plan activities for the week - art museum, zoo (both day and night visits), and a harbour cruise are all definites. We just need to figure out how to get to those places, and decide what days are best. And book the cruise, because the rest are pay-as-you-arrive.

So - having fun in Singapore. Having fun being urban, after our outdoorsy camping in Australia.

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