Friday, 19 May 2017

February 2017 Encapsulation

After impatiently waiting out our last few days in London, we flew to Singapore (with a brief layover in Dubai) on the 3rd. We quickly settled in and went off exploring our new home! Near the top of our list was Chinatown. 
Oh aye, there be some swanky hotels in them there Chinatown. This one was my favourite, as it featured so many beautiful gardens as well as super shiny windows. Though not on the waterfront, I'd wager it costs a small fortune to spend a night there. 

One of the top sights in the neighbourhood is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which is enormous, well-decorated and has a canine tooth that allegedly came straight from the Buddha's mouth. Quite a claim! 

On the day we visited, there seemed to be some sort of ceremony taking place, and the bottom story was packed with worshippers. It was quite a room to behold, with high ceilings, and many gilded objects filling every available surface, horizontal and vertical. Feeling slightly overwhelmed, we made for the stairs but found only a lift. We took it to the top floor, and then climbed one set of stairs where a beautiful garden was laid out before us. 

The atmosphere here was much calmer, and we took our time walking around. At the heart of the garden was a pagoda, and inside was a large rotating cylinder. This is called a prayer wheel, and a couple of people approached and spun it while we were wandering about. 
Now on to the main event! Down a couple of floors we found the tooth room. The tooth itself was behind glass and was in a sectioned off area where you couldn't really stop moving or get too close. There was so much going on (gold and incense and praying people and the like) that I actually didn't see the tooth at all, but Yannick informed me it wasn't that impressive as teeth rarely are. Apparently it looked much too large to be a human tooth, giving further doubts as to the whole Buddha claim. Nevertheless, the temple was mighty impressive. 

In the nearby suburb of Telok Ayer, Yannick and I lunched at Sarnies, an Aussie-run cafe. I had the vegan Pad Thai, while Yannick opted for a salad. I almost decided to have a CocoWhip (a vegan dessert made from coconut milk similar to soft serve) but was too full from the delicious Pad Thai and resolved to come back another time to try it. 

Alongside my Singapore International Ladies' Group, I utilised a quiet mid-week morning to visit the Pernakan Museum. For $8 each we gained entry, and free tours are run every hour. Our guide was very knowledgeable, and told us all about the Peranakan culture. To make a long story very short, wealthy male merchants from India and China would take trips down to the Singapore area on the monsoon winds to trade, and would take Indonesian and Malaysian wives. These were the Peranakan, and their culture is full of brightly coloured ceramics and beaded tablecloths. The traditional wedding ceremony lasted twelve days, and was bursting with opulence (including a different outfit for the bride on each day). 

This was an incredibly special table covering that used over one million tiny glass beads. Some other highlights included the shiny headdresses similar to crowns that brides wore, and the glass cases displaying garments from an entire wedding party, including the bride and her family, the servants and the matchmaker. 

Just outside the museum was a small alleyway with some great street art! This wall led me to research some popular street art spots in Singapore, which you'll be reading about later on.

The second learning experience of the month was the National Museum, which Yannick and I skipped down to on a quiet weekend. We read about so many fascinating aspects of Singapore's history, and saw many interesting old photographs and relics. Highlights for me were an old rickshaw, portraits of political figures, and the mock opium den. 

On another weekend, Yannick humoured me by going on a makeshift street art tour that I had devised by reading several blogs. We started by going to Kampong Glam, a neighbourhood famous for its high Middle Eastern population. Haji Lane was positively covered from road to rooftop in spraypaint, and it was delightful. It definitely gave off a hipster vibe, with an abundance of boutique clothing stores, cafes and tattoo parlours. 

Many a tourist could be seen posing with the street art (us included) as its vibrancy was difficult to pass by!

Blu Jaz had been recommended to us by one of Yannick's friends, and though it was closed on our first trip to Haji Lane, we returned at a later date for drinks. I appreciated the stunning double doors decked out with styalised peacocks. 

The main drag in Kampong Glam is Arab Street, which is lined with fabric stores and Turkish restaurants. The brightly gilded Sultan Mosque dominates the vanishing point, and acts as a strong magnet for those who have never seen it before, pulling you right past all the touters and souvenir stalls. Knowing I'd be able to find dates somewhere nearby, I asked one of the restaurant touters for where to find such a delicacy, and he kindly pointed me in the direction of a nearby shopping centre. Of course! Everything in Singapore is a mall after all. We did manage to get our hands on some dates, so regardless of anything else it was a day well spent!

Around the corner on Victoria Street we ended our mini street art tour with this stunning piece: Girl with Lion Cub. It looks so sleepy and fluffy!

Another top pick for us was Little India. Along this street, we had an evening drink at Wine Bos with our new friend Bill, whom we had met on the beach at Sentosa.

Two giant peacock statues guard the entrance to the main street in Little India, which also just so happens to be where the best supermarket in Singapore is located: Sheng Siong. My fave! Such great mangos and tomatoes and limes. Inside the same shopping centre as the best supermarket is one branch of the best drinks stall, Jollibean. 

Chocolate soy milk yes please! Although even better turned out to be the dark chocolate soy freeze and the mocha soy freeze - especially refreshing in the hot climate. 

Serangoon Road is the busiest street in Little India, and there's always a lot going on. From restaurants to jewellery stores to stalls selling flower garlands to clothing stores to beauty salons offering henna, to fruit stalls, there is everything you could want and more. On a weekend excursion, Yannick and I got away from Serangoon and wandered about the smaller side streets for a while, selecting a lunch place that seemed popular with Indian patrons (a good sign) and was attractively low key. We were too embarrassed to eat with our hands, having only done so once before, so accepted the forks offered and nommed away at large heapings of curry, rice and sauces. Our lunch total came to just $11: $5 for each tray of food and $1 for a soft drink. I would recommend the eatery, but alas it didn't seem to have a name and I'm hazy on exactly which street we were on. 

Closer afield, we popped into the bizarre complex known as Chijmes (pronounced "chimes"), which started as a convent and is now a series of restaurants and bars surrounding a large church (commonly used as a function space for weddings). Though the prices of food and drink were a bit steep for our liking, we enjoyed seeing the sunset light up the clouds behind the church.

Wanting to make the most of my time in this new country of ours, I found out that the government has a program in which gyms have to offer free early morning classes to residents. This is called Sunrise in the City, and it was such a valuable amenity! Free fitness classes are nearly unheard of in other countries I've lived in, and you would usually have to sign up to a gym in order to partake. I did Zumba, Hot Hula (it was hula dancing, not hula hooping as I had assumed), and several aerobics type classes at gyms in the Bugis area. One that stands out was inside the mall 'the Cathay', as the address stated the gym was on the second floor, but it was actually on the fourth floor! I was almost late for the class because of that error, and as class slots can be hard to come by (there are only a set amount, and they can fill up quickly), you can be banned from booking more slots if you are late or don't turn up to too many classes. Luckily I found the gym, and as such received a total of zero black marks to my name, allowing me to enjoy Sunrise in the City to the fullest extent.