Thursday, October 16, 2008


I flew through Singapore both on the way to and on the way back from Sydney, and I spent one night and one day in Singapore on the way back to Germany. Here are a couple of my impressions about the place.

Changi Airport

Changi Airport is a pretty nice place to be stuck for a few hours: free internet terminals everywhere, 24-hour restaurants, a lot of shopping, lots of TVs (with speakers in the seats), a mini-movie theater constantly playing something, and a hotel in each terminal so you don't even have to go past security to crash for the night. I spent some time in the butterfly garden: it's that kind of place. The banks of public telephones seemed to be monopolized by little old Chinese ladies speaking in heavily accented English (which seemed a little odd -- why not Chinese?). One of these women came over and sat next to me in the waiting area before our flight to Sydney. She said two things that I remember: 1.) it's worth it to pay more and take Singapore Air and 2.) go see the caves if you're going out to the Blue Mountains in Australia. On both counts, she was right.

Singapore Air

It's a seven and a half hour flight from Singapore to Sydney. On the way to Sydney, the plane was a brand new A380. While I've started to get used to video-on-demand systems with the little TV screens on the back of the seats, this was by far the nicest with the largest selection (I watched more TV than I've seen since last Christmas). And I'm guessing it was an 8-inch screen; it had ports for you to plug in your peripherals because clearly you weren't going to do better than their screen unless you pulled out your MacBook. Here's a photo of it.

By the way, Singapore Airlines has the most attractive flight attendants that I've seen outside of the movies. I'm guessing it's because Singapore has less stringent laws against gender discrimination. Evidently, the flight attendants are some sort of brand strategy.

Night Safari

The only thing I knew I was going to do in Singapore was go to the Night Safari. I had no idea what expect other than I would go to the zoo at night. How would I see the animals? Night vision goggles? Sadly, no, there are just lights. Dim, similar to really bright moonlight lights, but still just lights. When I first got there, I was very skeptical that it was going to be worth the time and money. There was a Disney-sized line for a tram ride and, when I struck out on the walking paths, lots of very, very loud children. At the first couple of exhibits, it seemed like less like you got to see the animals as they really behaved at night and more like they had just convinced the animals to lie listlessly right under the lights. But the Night Safari won me over. You get much closer to the animals than at most zoos, the fishing cat actually seemed interested in fishing, and the sugar glider was so fast you mostly saw the branches bent as he jumped on them. The zoo mostly focused on animals from Asia; some of the cutest were the otters and the bat-eared foxes. The highlight actually turned out to be that damned tram ride. There's one section where there are no walking paths -- probably because there's also no real barriers between and animals and the road. "And up on the left you'll see four tapirs walking along the road. Please do not touch them." They were certainly close enough to touch and, indeed, just meandering down the road. Totally awesome.

Little India

I stayed in Little India, which was decorated for Deepavali:

The Little India neighborhood was basically what you'd expect. Lots and lot of people on the street at night, on the street, squeezing past cars, shopping at the open air stands. Lots of Indian men (a mustache was de rigueur and I saw few women for some reason) with only a smattering of Chinese faces and the odd backpacker -- for some reason, Little India is full of backpacker hostels. This is the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple:

Orchard Road

How to beat the heat in a tropical country. Singapore is at 1 degree North, and Taipei is at 23 N. So my advice is probably good for 30-37C (I really don't know what you're supposed to do when it's hotter than that). 1.) You cannot hope to ignore the heat; you must embrace the heat. Yes, you're basically swimming through air. Clear your mind and wait for that moment of zen when you and heat become one. 2.) Whatever pace you want to walk at, stick with it. Do not slow down or speed up no matter what. 3.) Keeping hydrated is good, but, in this heat, you really need cold fluids. A cold milk tea is going to be more refreshing than the air temperature bottle of water you've been carrying all day. 4.) There are neighborhoods in Taipei where the AC blasting out of every storefront means that you'll never really feel the heat. This is not true in Singapore. However, 7-Eleven is still your savior. It's cold in there . By the way, in Taiwan and Japan, eating at 7-Eleven is totally a valid choice. I was hoping the same was true in Singapore, but the selection seemed limited to instant noodles. Sad.

I took the subway to look around the city (very convenient, and the automated ticket (prox cards!) machines were very easy to use: there's a map of the transit system, push the image of the stop you want to go to, put in money, done.)

I went to Orchard Road, which I'd gathered was the main shopping area. It didn't seem as packed full of shopping as I'd expected, but maybe that was because every other building was under construction.

You know you're in a tropical country when the trees are growing trees:

By the way, this was taken at the entrance of some sort of park. Given the guards at the front and the sign down the street which -- from glancing at the stick figures from across the street -- definitely suggested that anyone jumping the fence would be shot, I'd say it was some sort of government thing.

I stopped for lunch at Takashimaya (my mom would be so proud, there's nothing she likes better than a Japanese department store with a food court). Here's a bunch of people bathed in the glow of the mall directory:

Durian is a popular South Asian fruit. It smells like rotten something and has the same consistency.

Durian desserts!


I also went to Chinatown. I took this picture outside the Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore's oldest Hindu temple. They have cow statues on the outside wall!

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is new (completed in 1997, if I remember correctly).

Most importantly, it's right next to Chinatown Complex, which has a huge food court. Doing a thorough tour of the food court, I was a little put off by the tables and tables of old Chinese men getting drunk on Carlsberg beer (why Carlsberg is the beer of Singapore, I don't know). But I found a stand with a couple making homemade xiao long bao. It was 5SGD for 10. Maybe not quite as good as Din Tai Fung, but close and very cheap. (I don't know what this photo is supposed to illustrate.)

They were selling these little, pale yellow mangoes everywhere. Sean tells me they have them in Hawaii, but I've never seen them in Chicago or Germany. The skin peels off in one big strip and it's juicier than the juiciest peach (no long fibers getting stuck in your teeth) with a mild flavor.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Back Again

I'm back in Germany and drowning in work. I'll try to post this weekend about my brief visit to Singapore. Posts about Australia will have to wait until I get photos from Sean.