Eating my way around Singapore

This morning I decide to try the curry puff shop for breakfast.  Swinging past, I grab two – one potato and one chicken.  Biting into the nice soft but crispy (if that’s possible) pastry, I get a glimpse of the goodness inside.  These puffs are great – not too spicy, just right.  Really, it doesn’t seem that you can go wrong with any of the local restaurants on Killiney Road!

Things don’t really get going til about 10am in Singapore – this is when the shops open and most cafe’s as well – so unless you eat local or know where to go it can prove a little difficult if you are someone who likes to eat breakfast early and ends up at a hotel without a restaurant.  Luckily over all my visits to Singapore I have worked out both where the locals eat and where to go for an early Western breakfast.  Killiney Road has been a good spot to stay.

I have a task on my list that I need to complete for my niece Lola, for whom I always buy a new pair of silk pyjamas or nightdress.  When I first started buying them I would get pink or mauve, but now she’s grown to the ripe old age of ten and these girly colours just don’t cut it anymore.  She wants blue.  So off to the Chinatown markets I go for this years pair.  I find a nightdress with beautiful little cherry blossoms across it and my job here is done, so I can sit back with a beer and enjoy a spot of lunch.

The Chinatown Seafood restaurant sits in prime position on the corner of Pagoda and Trennganu Streets in the middle of the markets, it’s bright yellow plastic chairs a beacon for the hungry.  As the name implies, their menu consists of seafood (don’t laugh, I did observe a couple of girls ask the wait staff what they could eat because they don’t eat seafood – wrong restaurant girls).  Their Tiger beers are a great price here – you’ll find them at half the price of any bar in Clarke Quay or at most hotels.  Today I order bamboo clams, just cause I’ve never had them and a friend recommended me to try them.  Flavoured with garlic and spring onions and in a kind of soupy gravy, they were definitely worth a try.  It’s amazing the feeling you get when you try something new and really enjoy it.  Such a gem and something else that is amazing about travelling.

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I wander a few more of the shops and end up down the road at the Central Shopping Centre at Clarke Quay.  I always make it here because my most favourite ice cream at the moment is sold here – black sesame seed.  If you haven’t tried it – you should.  It’s almost got a chocolately flavour about it, but less rich and…well, just try it.  It’s sold at the Azabu Sabo Hokkaido Ice Cream shop on the outside of the shopping centre close to where Clarke Quay and Boat Clarke meet.

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The rain has arrived for the day and it seems kind of heavier.  Although I just ate the banana clams (and the ice cream), I’m still a little hungry.  Pulling up a chair at SQUE, I notice they have pork sliders, so I order one, not realising that one is not just one, but three pork sliders.  You gotta laugh when a glass of prosecco is $17, but you get three sliders for $7.50!

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But anyway, the sliders are so good and they aren’t overly filling and I take my time over my prosecco hoping the rain will stop soon.

It slows to a drizzle, so I walk around to the bus stop and intend to sit on the sightseeing bus for the rest of the afternoon.

And then the rain starts again.  More rain.  Heavier rain.  Sudden rain.  Several of us are on the top level of the bus, cowering under the covered part, with rain pelting us from all sides.  We can’t get up and go downstairs because the bus is moving too fast and the rain is sloshing across the floor from side to side.  By the time we arrive at a stop where we actually have time to move, we are absolutely saturated.  Ew.

Thank goodness the shops along Orchard Road are all linked so you can walk from one to the other without getting wet.  The rest of the afternoon is a washout, but nothing a spot of shopping can’t fix.  Plus I have an appointment at the OPI salon tonight, to get a mani/pedi – my feet in particular deserve a treat after all the walking I’ve done over the last two weeks!

Rest and Recouperation

Today neither of us feel very top quality at all.  We start the day with lunch at Brunetti and decide that instead of running around town investigating, we should probably just relax, so first port of call is OPI at The Forum, to get our nails done.  Then we jump in a cab, cause it’s raining, and head to ION Orchard to try some shopping – but our heads feel like balloons and the noise in the shopping centres is just making enjoyment of shopping impossible.  So back in the taxi and we head to Chinatown to seek out massages of some kind.

But first, we stop in at Da Dong (Fatty Weng) for a bowl of soul warming chicken and corn soup and a dish of the lemonyist Lemon Chicken ever (nicely so though).  I found Da Dong a few trips back but unfortunately the last couple of times I’ve been in Singapore, it has been closed, because of renovations occurring in Chinatown Food Street.  The works are all finished now though and Da Dong is back in operation.

Soup for the Soul
Soup for the Soul
Yummy!
Yummy!

Yummy tummy warming, soul good food.  The waiter walks us to the door and warns us to be careful because rain is on the way.  We walk through the newly renovated food street – it’s all sterile now, but I think they have retained its atmosphere.  I’ll have to dine here next time to make sure though.

Stopping into Kenko, we manage to book an appointment for our massages.  You couldn’t do that in Perth!  I go for an ear candling session which comes with a lymphatic drainage massage, which I’m hoping will clear my head up, because I’m sick of feeling like I have a balloon in my head.  Its relaxing in an odd non-relaxing kind of way, but I’m hoping this makes me feel better tomorrow.

After lunch we stroll through the sprinkling rain to Clarke Quay.  It’s raining again when we get there, and despite having grand plans for dinner, we end up eating an early dinner at SQUE on the wrong side of the Quay before heading home for an early  night.  A nice sleep will hopefully help us feel great tomorrow now we are all relaxed and massaged and manicured.

Countdown to the New Year

Breakfast commences at TCC, which is a bit of a staple for my visits.  They are always open early and always have a good menu with healthy options and an endless list of juices, teas and coffees.  This morning they are playing an awesome mix of Christmas carols and its going down a treat.

We decide to head to Chinatown to check out the markets.  We cruise around the streets, trying to find a massage, unsuccessfully, but we do find beer – cheap.  Blinded by the sign that says $6 beers, being used to paying double that in most places, we head inside the Chinatown Seafood Restaurant and order beers, not expecting the king browns that arrived at our table.  Erin and I sit, watching the passersby, chattering on about this and that.  Enjoying life.

I stop by a little stall to make a purchase of something that is near and dear to those in Chinatown – bakkwa.  These sheets of salty sweet dried meat, similar to jerky, glisten in the shop windows, as the shopkeepers shout out to attract passing trade.  I grab a few sheets for our pre-drinks this evening, fully knowing it will probably just be me and Mike who chow down on this Hokkien delicacy.  But when in Rome!….

We get down to business when we return to the hotel, primping and preening.  Getting ready for the biggest night of the year.  Leigh and Mike arrive at our hotel and we crack open the champagne to start the night off.  We gabble away, enjoying a few drinks that Erin and I had pre-purchased during the afternoon, pre-empting that we would be up for some expensive drinks once we headed out.  We put on our 2014 glasses and glittery top hats and quickly settle into party mode.

NYE

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I spent a lot of time scouring the internet to try and find somewhere for us to spend New Years Eve.  I wanted something special.  Somewhere close to our hotels in case we couldn’t get a cab, somewhere that didn’t cost a fortune.  Somewhere we could have a meal and some drinks, but where we could still dance.  Somewhere with a view of the fireworks but that didn’t cost a fortune.  The Fullerton was charging $100 just to view the fireworks with a glass of champagne.  Kudeta would have had the best view in town, but the menu was dominated by seafood, which wouldn’t have suited half our party.  Orgo was putting on a great spread – a 12 course banquet with free flow of cocktails and the view would have been spectactular.  It was great value at $300 per head, if we weren’t on holidays and hoping to do anything else!  Plenty of hotels had special meals on – but where was the view?  Finally, the perfect place presented itself – Loof.  Loof was one of those places “I had been meaning to get to for ages” (say it with me now!).  It was Singapore’s first roof top bar (hence the name Loof/roof) and they were hosting an evening of lancing (yep, dancing) for New Years.  There was no set menu – though you could pre-order food and drinks if you liked – and no hefty entrance fee.  And it was just around the corner from Erin and my hotel, across the road from the Raffles Hotel, so it would have a partial view of the fireworks.  Perfect.

We leave our hotel room, nicely merry already and head a few buildings down the street to Loof.  We are given our entry wristbands and the host radios our arrival to the party upstairs.  We are escorted into the lift and upstairs to Loof, where our host for the evening exhuberantly introduces himself and guides us to our table, which is near the edge of the loof, I mean roof – set for a perfect view of the fireworks later in the evening.  He takes our drink orders and our pre-ordered snacks come smartly out to our table.  Loof sure know how to make a girl feel special!  I order a Gummi Berri, which comes with a two inch thick layer of marshmallow on top!  Our tables play host to little party bags containing all sorts of clickers, blowers and whistles ready to usher in the new year.

The food is fantastic -mini sliders, san choy bow, loof flies (yes, fries) with truffle sauce and kong bak pau- and our drinks are just divine.  They were satisfying and plentiful and best of all – we didn’t need to leave our chairs to order more!

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The DJ was great and we grooved and sang our hearts out, often fitting our own songs into his mix.

All too soon, the countdown is commencing and the fireworks explode against the night sky.  We can see half of them, but it’s enough to be spectacular.  I don’t know if it’s because I’m away from home experiencing New Years but I’m having a ball.  It’s probably because I’m with a beautiful group of people I love to pieces, and who mean so much to me, and I’m so happy that I’m here in this moment with them.

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Night over, we walk the brief walk back to the hotel.  Erin does the sensible thing, calls it quits and heads to bed but I can tell Mike is still full of steam, and I have no reason to be a piker, so we indulge and head across the road to Chjimes.  Insomnia is open and we are hungry.  We order pizza and sing our hearts out to the cover band playing Guns n Roses inside, much to the dismay of those listening!  Stomach’s full, the night winds to an end and we head off to find the solace of sleep and dreams of what will be for the year ahead.

Cheers – to the best New Years Eve ever and the year ahead to come!

Return to Reality

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?

Great way to start the day
Great way to start the day

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

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.

Duxton Hill shophouses
Duxton Hill shophouses

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.

Restaurant Row
Restaurant Row

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.

Buddha Tooth Relic Hall
Buddha Tooth Relic Hall

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.

Gate Guardians
Gate Guardians

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

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.

Street of the Dead
Street of the Dead

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.

Ann Siang Hill
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.

Ann Siang Hill
Ann Siang Hill

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.

Telok Ayer activities
Telok Ayer activities

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.

Singapore's oldest Hindu temple
Singapore’s oldest Hindu temple

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.

Chinatown Markets

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.

Chinatown Snacks
Chinatown Snacks

Massage Heaven

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.

Beauty in a sea container
Beauty in a sea container

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.

Peranakan Museum

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.

Who are the Peranakans?
Who are the Peranakans?

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.

Penang wedding jewellry
Penang wedding jewellry
Singapore/Malacca wedding jewellry
Singapore/Malacca wedding jewellry

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

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.

Clarke Quay

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.

Spicy thai on the river
Spicy thai on the river

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.