Day 29: Singapore / Perth
4am and my body clock has gone off. I suppose I shouldn’t’ be surprised – I’ve hardly slept in for the whole month I’ve been away! Luckily I have most of today free to spend in Singapore before I head home to Perth, so I may as well be up and at em!
Breakfast at the hotel is free. And it’s awesome. You walk in and get to choose from three breakfast sets, which is either scrambled, fried or poached eggs with baked beans, bacon, cheese sausage and a small meatball thing. Plus there’s toast, croissants, yoghurt, fruit and cereal. All for free – why is it that some hotels have awesome free breakfasts and others are crap?
The action doesn’t get going til around 10am in Singapore, so I decide to take advantage of the fact that it’s quiet around the streets and that I’m by myself to take a walk around the Chinatown area to explore. The two nearby areas that I’ve always wanted, but never had the chance to before are Ann Siang and Duxton Hills.
Duxton Hill is a small hill and road located in Tanjong Pagar. The area sits on the former nutmeg plantation of Dr J William Montgomerie, who first arrived in Singapore in 1819 and became an Assistant Surgeon in the service of the British colonial government. Duxton was the name of one of his two dwelling houses in the area, namely the Craig Hill and Duxton House.
After his death, the property was auctioned and fragmented into building lots. Duxton Road, Duxton Hill and Craig Road were presumably constructed after the sale and named after the houses that once existed on the hill. At the time, the area was still called Duxton Hill.
Duxton Road was also popularly known by the Cantonese as Jinrickshaw Place because of the many rickshaw pullers who parked their vehicles there at the close of day due to the road’s proximity to the Jinricksha Station. Opium and gambling dens, as well as cheap brothels, used to flourish on Duxton Road, and was described as a slum area and a notoriously vice–ridden environment, patronised by the rickshaw coolies who lived in Duxton Road and Duxton Hill. Because of the strong clan ties, the rickshaw pullers created their own area of land and fought whenever it was threatened, which made Duxton Hill and Duxton Road a dreaded area. To make matters worse, the slums were home to criminal elements. Whenever the residents in Duxton Road had disputes, the Hui Ann Association was asked to be the mediator.
Despite the notoriety of the street, many wealthy Straits Chinese families built and occupied lofty and exquisitely designed residences and shophouses on Duxton Hill. Today however, the area is enjoying a resurgeance as a dining spot.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
Continuing along my trail, I come across the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. The complex is a living cultural monument featuring exhibitions relating to various facets of religious arts and culture of Singapore. It also houses what Buddhist leaders regard as the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic in a stupa composed of 320kg of gold donated by devotees.
The building was conceptualised and designed by local venerable Shi Fa Zhao, aided by a team of local and overseas consultants. Its design is based on the elements and history of Tang Dynasty and the Buddhist Mandala, which is a representation of the Buddhist universe. Highlights in this building include the Buddhist Culture Museum, Eminent Sangha Museum, Tripitaka Chamber, and a Theatre for cultural performances, talks and films.
The Temple is guarded by two gate guardians, also called Dvarapalas, which serve to protect the temple. These formidable Tang Dynasty style guardians stands on either side of the temple mountain gate. Their fierce faces with glaring eyes, powerfully muscular bodies, and threatening poses bearing weapons, serve to ward off evil spirits. They show their power and resolve in carrying out their duties in protecting the temple.
Unfortunately, I’m not dressed appropriately to enter, so that’ll have to wait for another visit, but it was a fascinating site along my walk.
Sago Lane has had an unfortunate past in Singapore’s history. Also known as the Street of the Dead, this was home to numerous death houses during the late 19th century. These were funeral parlours, also serving as hospice facilities for the migrants who were terminally ill, chronic sick and dying, to wait out their last days on the upper floors. The operators would also arrange the funeral services for the deceased on the ground floor. All the Chinese funeral paraphernalia (funeral clothing, home appliances, paper models such as houses, cars, incense paper etc.) related to death rites were sold in shops on this lane.
The death houses were banned by the government in 1961, and by the late 1960s, all the shophouses on the street were demolished, with part of the street being demolished to make way for Chinatown Complex.
Ann Siang Hill
Ann Siang Hill is a small hill and the name of a one-way road in Chinatown. It was the site of the house and estate of Chia Ann Siang, a wealthy Malacca-born Hokkien Chinese sawmiller. Chia joined British firm Boustead and Company in 1848. The company traded in natural resources, spices, coconut, tobacco, tin, tea and silk. After eight years on the job, Chia was promoted to chief produce storekeeper. He later became a wealthy landowner and one of the leading merchants of his time, and at that time acquired Ann Siang Hill.
The foot of the area between Ann Siang Hill and Mount Erskine, was one of the earliest Cantonese Chinese burial grounds. The graveyard was in use up to 1867 until it was exhumed in 1907 for a land reclamation project.
The Chinese used to call this area qing shan ting. The early Chinese immigrants visited Ann Siang Hill when they wanted to send money home to their families in China, as it was the traditional site of remittance houses. Letter writers and calligraphers also had their businesses at the five-foot way of the shophouses to help the illiterate immigrants write letters home. Most of the houses in Ann Siang Hill and along Ann Siang Road were built between 1903 and 1941. Ann Siang Road, which has elegantly restored shophouses today, was once the traditional home of clan associations and exclusive social clubs.
The hill leads to a wooded stairway, leading down to Amoy Street. The birds are chirping and a lady at the bottom of the stairs silently practices tai chi.
Telok Ayer Park
In 1822, Telok Ayer was the primary area set aside by Sir Stamford Raffles for the Chinese community. As the main landing site for Chinese immigrants, Telok Ayer Street become one of the first streets in Chinatown and formed the backbone of development of the Chinese immigrant community in early Singapore.
Until the late nineteenth century, Telok Ayer Street was the main commercial and residential thoroughfare in Singapore. As immigration from China increased, so did the adverse qualities usually associated with a highly concentrated population. Between the 1850s and the 1870s, the road was the centre of the notorious Chinese slave trade.
In the past boats used to moor in Telok Ayer Bay waiting to get fresh water, carried by bullock carts, from a well at Ann Siang Hill. The park now contains sculptures depicting the lives of the areas inhabitants. It’s a shaded area, housing a small pond – a peaceful oasis in the area.
Sri Mariamman Temple
The Sri Mariamman Temple is Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple, founded in 1827. The Temple has always served as a refuge for new immigrants, particularly South Indian Tamil Hindus. Besides providing an important place of worship for these immigrants, the temple granted them shelter until they found work and more permanent accommodation.
Historically, the temple was also the registry of marriages for Hindus. Today, in addition to its religious services and functions, the temple promotes various social, cultural and educational activities.
I end up back near the Chinatown markets with some time to spare, so I decide to try a couple of traditional Chinese pastries, a sweet tow sar and a wife biscuit, which was filled with wintermelon. Both are made of a flaky kind of pastry and were really yummy, the other I think some kind of bean paste, which I’ve had before. They’re typically not sweet kind of pastries as we’d be used to at home, but they are yummy regardless.
Just before I left home, I found out about a new place in Tiong Bahru, named Nimble/Knead. It’s a beauty salon situated inside a bunch of shipping containers. Sounded unique, so I was intrigued. And when I looked at the spa menu and spotted the Chocolicious Body Scrub – “a scrub made of 100% chocolate powder, cocoa seed scrub, jojoba oil and other skin food to boost cell regeneration, fight ageing, improve blood circulation and tone the body” – I was in.
Nimble/Knead is about a 5 minute taxi ride from the hotel, near the Tiong Bahru Markets. Local restaurants line the streets around. The salon itself is calmingly decorated, small pebbles and tea light candles light the steps into the various treatment rooms. The scrub smells divine and the therapist is really friendly. It’s a very thorough treatment which is probably a good thing given that I’ve only just finished peeling from all the sun in the Caribbean. Scrubbed to perfection, my beauty overhaul for Singapore is now complete and I have just a few more hours left to enjoy Singapore.
One of the museums that’s been on my list of things to do in Singapore for a while now, is the Peranakan Museum. Housed in a stunning white colonial building in Armenian Street, not far from Clarke Quay, the museum pays homage to the Peranakan people of Singapore.
Foreign merchants from countries such as China and India were long attracted to Southeast Asia’s lucrative trades in textiles, spices and more. Some of these merchants married local women and the descendants of these intermarriages were called Peranakans, which means ‘locally born’ in Malay.
The museum is filled with over 1,200 stunning objects, from jewellery and costumes to furniture, and covers all aspects of Peranakan life from wedding ceremonies to death. There’s some exquisite pieces here and it’s definitely worth a visit whilst visiting Singapore.
Central is a shopping mall situated on the banks of the Singapore River, opposite Clarke Quay. It’s been here a while, but each time I visit, I note that it seems a little busier and features more shops. There’s a Charles and Keith shoe shop here and although 90% of the time, they don’t have my size in stock (which is why I buy them on line) I’m feeling lucky today. Charles and Keith’s shoes are amazing, as well as affordable and comfortable. Art for your feet, as my friend Erin calls them. In fact, all my friends are big fans of this shop, and given there’s no shop in Australia, are all online C&K addicts. And can you believe that just about every pair I try on today, they have in my size? That could only happen when I have no room in my luggage for pairs and pairs of shoes. I settle on two pairs of flats, which I can jam into my hand luggage.
Lunch is required next and I can’t think of a better way to spend my last couple of hours than to sit alongside Clarke Quay with some wine and a nice lunch. I chose Thai, not sure why cause I don’t really feel like it – I think the waitress caught me in a moment of hesitation, and she agreed that I could sit on the river, so that was it. Thai. It was a little spicy and way too much food, but the wine was delicious and refreshing.
On my way back to the hotel, I walk past the Hokkaido Ice Cream Company and taking a look at all their flavours, I think to myself that its really about time I tried black sesame ice cream. Sounds so intriguing and I’m less afraid to try things on this trip for some reason, so let’s give it a go. It’s kind of creamy, it’s actually really, really good. Isn’t it good when you take a risk and it pays off!
I think I’ve squeezed in about as much as I can today, so I guess it’s time to go home. I wander along the streets of Chinatown back to the hotel, wandering in and out of the stores along the way. Chinatown is evolving and I’ve really enjoyed exploring its streets today.
Sitting in the hotel lobby awaiting my taxi ride to Changi Airport, I reflect on the last month.
It’s been such an awesome trip except for the San Francisco part. But hey you can’t enjoy it everywhere you go and considering I didn’t want to visit the states in the first place, two out of three cities being awesome is a pretty good ratio as far as I’m concerned! San Francisco certainly opened my eyes, which is probably one of the most valuable lessons you can take away from a city in any case.
I’ve learnt that even though I don’t like to not give a place a chance, it’s ok to not like it. I don’t have to come back, I can leave it at that. And although I know that sometimes this can be the best thing to do (Kyoto, Kuala Lumpur), I will never return to San Fran. And that’s ok.
I have learnt so much about myself and what I’m capable of and about the places I’ve visited. I’ve spent a fabulous two weeks with my awesome friends Katie and Yoshi (please do yourself a favour and keep an eye on their travel blog http://katieandyoshiaroundtheworld.wordpress.com), who created the premise for this trip in the first place. I’ve tried loads of new things, lots of firsts. I’ve faced some fears. I’ve seen magical scenery and walked in the steps of music history. Dolphins, chocolate fudge sundaes, turtles, Tiffany’s, sea planes, snorkelling, Mt Rainier, grunge, cocktails in the ocean, gum walls, Times Square, museums, Hard Rock cafes, stand up paddle boarding, Caribbean sunsets, fashion, relaxing massages, awesome food, good friendship, cat boats, Russian piroshki’s – I’ve loved it all.
But I can’t wait to get home.
Home to reality, to alarms, to work.
Home to my own bed.
Home to my friends and family.