What wonders a restful night can bestow upon a traveler. My eyes popped open around 0500, and I luxuriated on the terrace with a coffee, scanning news highlights and posting enviable photos on social media to shivering friends in Vienna. The hotel offered a complimentary breakfast we enjoyed on just this first morning of yogurt, fruit, and the horribly dry national toast with strawberry jam, though on the following morning I would beg forgiveness for berating the humble bread when the goodness of Kaya toast touched my lips.
Our morning walk to the MRT station toward Chinatown took us past large signs announcing, “200 km of sheltered walkways by 2018 so we can walk in comfort.” It would seem that even Singaporeans don’t like their equatorial heat and humidity! Once in the MRT station I laughed aloud at the sign which listed prohibited items and their associated fines: 500 SGD for eating and drinking; 5000 SGD for carrying flammable goods; and so forth. Possessing Durian, though, incurred no fine because You. Just. Don’t.
Here in Vienna the buses and U-Bahn have an announcement that loosely translates to, “Attention. Please give your seat to those who need it more.” But riding along with us on the MRT were “GiveWayGlenda,” “MoveInMartin” and their cartoon peers extolling the virtues of public transit etiquette. More entertaining to be sure, but at least we can pop a Doublemint stick in our mouth when we’d like.
The Year of the Dog.
Yes, yes, the cheap tchotchke is front and center in Chinatown, but so is all the Klimt-junk here in Vienna. If one takes the time to admire the paper lanterns swaying in the ever-so-slight breeze against a backdrop of colorful shophouses and blue skies, however, a different Chinatown emerges. Somewhere in my travel research I had also uncovered a guide to identifying the architectural styles of the shophouses and that activity combined with our general ramble up and down streets and in and out of stores; skimming menus for amusing translations (“Bamboo Reported Safety” was our favorite) and raising eyebrows and camera lens at the dried-lizards-on-a-stick and other “medicines” for sale at Chinese apothecaries filled the better part of the morning.
When in doubt over the overwhelming selection of food truck options, go for “Umm.”
We reached the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple while a service was underway, though visitors were still permitted inside. The temple was crowded and so did not feel terribly peaceful, but in general everyone seemed respectful of one another. My full-frame snaps of the interior don’t tell the story nearly as beautifully as my close-ups of the walls and their numbered Buddhas, or the perfectly arranged meter-high orchid plants positioned just so against the backdrop of the gilded entrance hall. The fourth floor, where the Holy Tooth Relic was said to be, resembled the usual scene in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre and wasn’t much to our preference.
Leaving the temple we paused for Sweet Corn Ice Cream (I thought it an interesting taste; Tony held a less favorable impression) on our way to the Chinatown Complex which we dubbed, “The Birthplace of Everything.” Seriously, if this market did not have what you needed, then you simply did not need that item! On the lower level was its wet market with helpful signs directing shoppers to the turtles and eels; eye-poppingly large lobsters the size of small house pets; bowls of artistically displayed Red Snapper heads certainly tempting the discerning Fish Head Curry chef; a Tofu Trader offering more preparations of bean curd than I ever considered possible; a “Flown Chilled Beef” stall (I’m guessing the beef was “flown” over from Australia?); and even…packaged American-style bacon.
Eventually we needed lunch. Tiong Bahru Market was more than a kilometer from where our steaming selves were standing, about 900 meters more than we felt like walking, so we looked around and spotted a tiny place where the noodles were being made fresh before our eyes, and were ushered to a table big enough for one. The portions mimicked the minimal seating but here the quality of our lunch triumphed over the quantity: Shrimp Bee Hoon for me; Crispy Pork Belly for Tony. Our final tab included a charge for both the unrequested pickled vegetables (at least they were tasty) and for the odd strawberry-scented moist towel. When the entire meal of two entrees, one plate of handmade dumplings and two lime juices totals 16 SGD (~€10), who really concerns themselves with 0.75 SGD for veggies and a fruity hand towel? Perhaps some of the people visiting…
…the Sri Mariammam Hindu Temple, the oldest of its kind in Singapore. Entrance is without cost, but there is a 1SGD charge to take photos. Believe it or not, there were people who were sneaking photos without paying—in a house of worship. Though the sun’s angle prevented me from taking an iconic snap of the temple tower entrance, I do have crisp and bright, upclose snaps of the colorful interior filled with dieties and cows. Removing one’s shoes is also a requirement to enter the temple; and only those with socked feet (sorry, flip-flop wearers) could endure the fire walk through the courtyard to see the temple in its ornate and detailed entirety.
The late-afternoon heat and probably some jet lag had begun to weigh on us; because the Night Safari was on the agenda we decided on a short break back at the hotel before a quick dinner before the safari. We reached the hotel as their guest-only cocktail and small plate hour had begun, and settled in on the comfortable porch settee with hand-made prawn dumplings, tiny salads, and a crisp Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. Other guests, we noted, confused the happy hour with “dinner.” Each to their own, I suppose.
The Beach Road Scissor Cut Curry Rice dive, another Heritage Hawker, fourth-generation owned and managed by the same family since 1930 was our dinner destination. Absolutely no points would ever be awarded to its lone dish for presentation, but that 3 SGD (€1,80) red melamine plate practically overflowing with (scissor-cut) chicken curry (more like a gravy) and cabbage (yes, cabbage!) atop a perfectly steamed mound of rice was a gastronomic epiphany. So, so, so good.
The Night Safari was quite enjoyable! Getting there and back, though, came down to having time, or having money. Our queue to board the little train that travels along the trail was not long at all; and we had the good luck of seeing nearly every nocturnal animal along the trail (Anna Grace reported the following night that the orchestra group saw every animal). The lighting is terrible for photos but ideal for nocturnal creatures; even so, after the train tour we wandered down the Fishing Cat trail to spy on the big cats swatting at fish in the pond–too cute. The Bornean fire eaters show was just beginning as we came out of the trail, and we watched in wonder at people who light their kerosene-filled mouth ablaze for a living.
A quick trip back to the hotel (money versus time) and a small nightcap on the hotel terrace wrapped up our long and entirely thrilling first full day in Singapore.