As most of you may know because you read about it in various facebook posts, Iris and I tried to go to Singapore a month ago for two nights. When we entered the country, we were given a three month tourist visa, same as anyone else entering the country. We knew that our work visas were not going to be done in three months-these things take awhile here but they are still faster than in America. So when we got to the airport, we tried to check in at the kiosk. It worked okay for Iris, but not for me. Every time I submitted the form, it said there was an error with the information I entered for my passport. Turns out that if your passport is going to expire in six months, you are not allowed to enter Singapore. More importantly you are not allowed to enter or re-enter Malaysia. So we ended up not going to Singapore that weekend.
Which led to the issue of leaving the country, in order to re-enter the country and get a new 90 day tourist visa. Iris does not really have vacation time to take off, but she has weekends free. I have vacation time I can use, but no weekends off. And Saturdays are the most important days for my school by far. So taking a Saturday off to go to Singapore is tough to do. If we were going to go, and we had to before our visas ran out, we needed to go on a holiday. This past Wednesday was Malaysia day so we decided to sneak out and make a day of it…in Singapore. Yes it is only three hours away, but it is another country. One I have always been interested in visiting, but never really thought I would make it to in my lifetime. Yet, there we were.
Instantly we fell in love with the city. We can have a big discussion, you the read and me the writer, about whether law order and success is a good trade off for freedom. Singapore is a very liberal city, but one with a lot of rules and some heavy fines for those who break those rules.
But it is clean. Immaculately clean. And trains run on time. Hawker stall centers are clean and cheap. And many other things I can go on about, having read about the history of Singapore and Malaysia before moving here. But let’s leave that discussion for another day.
For now, my first favorite thing:
I mean come on, its an escalator ramp. How can you not love that? Changi Airport, where this photo was taken, is constantly rated as the best airport in the world. It has free movies, spas, a butterfly garden and so much more. We did not get to explore a whole lot of the airport this trip, but what little we saw was amazing.
Art that moves…simply amazing right? I mean, you can’t tell in the picture, but the balls are rising and falling.
It might be the southernmost part of continental Asia, but it is still Asia. This is the mascot for cooperation and friendliness that apparently has been discontinued because people were not very nice to it. Go figure.
And of course you can buy it. We tried to find it but could not at any airport shop.
First stop, a hawker stall of course.
Oh look, there is a sign for it! I am excited!
And there it actually is. Iris is excited too! Lau Pa Sat was originally built by Raffles whose first name I can not remember and do not want to look up. But he was the first Englishmen to land at Singapore and half the city is named after him. When they were building the subway line beneath it, they took Lau Pa Sat apart and then rebuilt it piece by piece. It is beloved. Apparently, as we were told later by a nice Chinese couple, this is a bit of a touristy place and it is a bit more expensive than most places. But still, great food.
It is famous for its Victorian architecture, as you can clearly see.
First up, fried carrot cake. You might remember we had tried carrot cake at the Lot 10 food court, the one with the alleged rats. Well, this is a bit different. It came in two versions: Black and white. This is the black version. Onion, garlic, what I think is sweet soy souce, and carrot cake of course.
And here is the white version. Carrot cake mixed with egg, made like an omelette. Both were really great. But the black was better for sure.
Next up the Raffles Hotel! Never heard of it? I bet you have heard of the drink invented there 100 years ago.
Iris and I thought about having a Singapore Sling at the hotel. But neither of us have ever had one, and we hold no special place in our heart for the drink. Nor do we have any friends that do. Part of the hotel is shoppes and open lawns in the middle. And of course a gift shop that had two amazing things:
First up, this!
Yes, a gold freaking ATM. How many times have you been in a pickle and just wished for a gold atm?!?!? Well worry no more. Seriously though, who in the hell needs something like this?
Also, who does NOT need this in their life:
So short history: The British use to control Singapore and did NOT want to give it up. But they did, 50 years ago in fact. But they imported most of their labor. Indians for manual labor, Chinese to run the commercial properties, and Sikhs to do military/guard work. Hence the reason Singapore is mostly Chinese: It was a commercial hub for the Brits, making them a lot of money, which is of course why they did not want to give it up. I thought this was, oh what, slightly racist. Until we walked around to the front of the Hotel and saw this:
The real life Sikh guard at the door. So not racist, just really literal I guess.
After that, we went to a used bookstore. Yeah I know, such stereotypical Kevin behavior but I found cheap good books so I am okay with it.
Next up little India. Or as Iris calls it, my favorite place in Singapore. I love Little India in KL too. It is just so colorful and loud and awesome.
Next up, a short little side trip before dinner to a big old Buddhist temple. It is called Buddha Tooth Relic temple. I of course thought this meant they had a tooth from the Buddha there. I know of one temple in Sri Lanka that claims to have a tooth, and I thought maybe this one had one too. Well, if they did, I did not see it. But it was still very neat.
See? I told you it was nice. Next up, Maxwell’s, another well known hawker stall center.
Very excited to eat here as you can tell. The food was great. I love hawker stall food. In Singapore, as I said before, they are clean and government regulated. So they are clean and worry free. Unless you order Cumin buns and discover that there is shrimp in there. Which is something I did. But now I know for sure: my not eating seafood for the past 25 years or so is due to an experience where my mother made me eat fish after I had thrown up, not a allergy. Since moving here, I have had shrimp, octopus, fish, and more. First up, the buns!
So the white ones are of course, Steamed pork buns with a hidden hard boiled egg in there. Very good. And the cumin buns. I have been wanting to try these for away. Very good, pork based mostly. The shrimp was a surprise. Not a good one, but there was only one so I picked out the part I did not eat and moved on.
Next, Chicken Rice. So I had been told that Chicken Rice is the national dish of Singapore. Apparently it is chili crab but I am not ready to try that out. But there were a bunch of Chicken Rice stalls so it must be some kind of popular dish.
As with a lot of dishes, the rice is the best part. The chicken was good, don’t get me wrong, but I was not impressed. To be fair, I am not a huge fan of chicken but it is growing on me.
Now on to desert. Good advice for hawker stalls or just restaurants in general when in a new place: Go to the restaurants with the biggest lines. They are usually serving the best food. There was only one place that had a line at this center, and it was a desert. It was some kind of fried dough. That was about all we knew. So we asked a nice Chinese couple in front of us what was going on here. Essentially it is fried dough in two varieties: one plain, one with red bean paste in it. Sweet and Salty. You get six pieces for one dollar, which is about 2.5 ringitts, with is about 60 cents. So yeah, pretty cheap.
Why the line is because they are really good, and because essentially you make your own. The woman making them does it very quickly and throws them into a giant wok filled with pipping hot oil. You are responsible for grabbing super long chopsticks, and stirring them and taking them out when they are done. Yeah…don’t see that being allowed in America ever. Lawsuit waiting to happen.
So that was our roughly 15 hour trip to Singapore and back. A few random photos at the end here. First up, a giant durian statue in the airport. Yeah, we took our picture next to it for sure
And as we were walking to take the train back to the airport, we noticed what the traffic signal posts say:
Yeah, push for Green Man. We pushed it, a whole lot. But no Green Man.
So that is it for Singapore…for now. We will be back in December when I run my marathon there and I can not wait to visit again. It is a great city. Clean, like no trash anywhere, and really amazing food! And free foot massages in the airport! Can’t wait to use that after the marathon!