Return to Singapore: Part One

It’s been over a month since I did anything on my website and I hadn’t even realised it! Until I remembered that I still hadn’t written my Singapore travelogue. I have really happy memories of the first one but thanks to my laziness they are only blurred outlines that continue to melt with the passage of time. I wish I had written about that trip. But well, mistake made. This time, when I went to Singapore I made sure I took notes so that I could blog later.

Singapore happened quite unexpectedly when I realised that getting the requisite visa was quite easy here in Dublin. They didn’t ask me for my life’s history or proof of my existence, ranging from my tax receipts to employers’ leave grant letters which I have furnished for visas in the past. All I had to provide was the application form, my passport photo and an address proof. Within two weeks, I received my visa, easy as pie. Wish going everywhere was this simple.

Soon after, I arrived in Singapore. I was looking forward to soaking in some sun. Dublin had had miserable weather with cold, windy days and nights. The flight was unbearably long and I arrived on a Sunday evening, exhausted and sleep-starved. But I revelled in the oppressive heat that engulfed me as soon as I stepped off the plane. Ah, bliss.

The next day I woke up fresh and ready to go. My first stop was a place called the Kebun Baru Community Centre, a place where I could witness one of Singapore’s dying traditions – singing birds. There are a couple of locations other than the centre, where you can witness this beautiful activity and where for over 50-60 years, patient Singaporeans have been nurturing colourful birds and holding singing contests. While not as bustling as in its heydeys, bird corners like Kebun Baru continue to keep up the tradition with the few remaining enthusiastic bird-lovers, mostly middle-aged and elderly people who haven’t been swept up by video games or technology.

The centre was about a 20-minute walk from the subway station but I was sure it would be worth it. Following the signs, I walked through a very residential neighbourhood full of apartments and small restaurants. Construction work was everywhere as new apartments were being built. I turned a corner where the centre was supposed to be, by now filled with anticipation. And what did I see? More construction. The ugly sounds of metal on metal accompanied by high-pitched electric whirring greeted me along with a horde of overalled workers. A notice on the site said that the centre was closed for a month or so for renovation work. Sigh. Completely disappointed, I stood for a moment trying to peer inside for any avian activity. Of course, there was nothing.

 

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Slowly, I made my way back. I hopped onto a bus to avoid the long walk in the sun and got off at the subway station to go to the next place on my list – Haw Par Villa. Eccentric, bizarre, and offbeat, Haw Par Villa is one of those places that leaves you shaking your head with amusement. And also one of the more interesting things that otherwise clinical Singapore has to offer. Built by the founders of Tiger Balm, it is filled with statues of characters from Chinese folklore and a kitschy mélange of Buddhism and Confucianism. The entry is free and the place is far less crowded than other attractions in Singapore. I found it utterly amusing, a curious collection of oddities to fill my afternoon with. I wandered around the nearly empty park and almost as I was nearing the end of it, it started pouring. One of those heavy, tropical downpours that stops almost as suddenly as it appears. I took shelter and waited it out. A sublime 15-20 minutes where I just watched the rain coming down in sheets and breathed in the freshly washed air.

After Haw Par Villa, the next stop was Chijmes, the beautiful complex that was once a Catholic convent and orphanage. Today, it’s filled with trendy bars and restaurants and an open courtyard with its exteriors preserved to reflect its past glory. It doesn’t take a long time to go through Chijmes and I soon found myself at the historic Raffles Hotel, ready for a Singapore Sling.

The Raffles is the birthplace of the Singapore Sling and it is probably the only place in Singapore where littering the floor with peanut shells is encouraged. Old style punkahs, relics of the British rule, still move back and forth on its ceiling while the gleaming wood lines the floors and walls. A single, classic Singapore Sling was priced at an eye-popping ~SGD32 and I savoured every single drop of it. It was good but of course, the price is more for the location.

The rest of the evening went by in walking around Haji Lane, Arab Street and Marina Bay. Most of the shops in Haji Lane and Arab Street were closed and the vivid colours of the buildings there, that stand out during the day were now muted.

I returned to the AirBnB, exhausted and sweaty. But happy. I was already looking forward to the next couple of days before I returned to Dublin.

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