From Kuching I flew to the sovereign city-state of Singapore. From now until the end of my holiday I would be making short distance flights to various places and spending a little time in each place. My trip to Singapore fell on the weekend and I was keen to meet some people and do some social activities in the wake of most of my independent adventure in Borneo. With this in mind I had arranged to meet someone through the courchsurfing movement and I would be staying with a Spanish girl called Sara in Singapore for two nights.
After clearing immigration in Singapore I made the relatively short MRT journey to Paya Lebar and navigated my way to Sara’s home. On arrival I was immediately aware that I had made a great choice. Sara and her housemates KK and Ilhame were very welcoming. The neighbourhood was nice (apart from a proliferation of oversize cats) and their home was breezy, homely and with Ilhame’s regular cooking smelt incredibly inviting. I arrived around lunchtime but was feeling quite lethargic so Sara and I headed to one of Singapore’s many cheap food courts. For a few English pounds I was able to enjoy some special fried chicken rice and a refreshing lychee drink. We went back to the house and decided to watch a movie (Hereafter-atrocious, 1 star) before heading out to explore downtown Singapore and meeting some of Sara’s friends later for some drinks.
In the evening we took the yellow MRT line to the imaginative Gardens by the Bay. The artificial Supertree Grove dominates the park. The supertrees act like vertical gardens and the trunks support vegetative exotic ferns, vines and orchids. The park serves as a living educational and scientific park as well as a green space for people to enjoy and be entertained in. While we were there we saw part of a Chinese dragon dance and musical performances could be heard further into the garden. It seemed like a valuable asset for the 4.5million city habitats.
After the greenery of the Gardens by the Bay we turned our backs on it to be immediately faced by the rear of the ostentatious Marina Bay Sands. This complex of casino, luxury shops, theatres, exhibition centre, humongous hotel etc… dominated the city skyline to the east of the bay area. I took a few photos of this ridiculous structure with its re-imagined ship resting on top of three concave walled towers. We walked through the main ‘Shoppes’ area before emerging into the marina bay. The main bay area is encompassed with glossy and modern skyscrapers with a few unique and interesting architectural structures dotted around like the durian fruit shaped Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay and the lotus flower inspired Arts Science Museum.
We walked around the edge of the bay peering at the architecture, taking photos of said architecture and bumping into The Merlion fountain, a well-known mythical icon of Singapore’s older heritage as a fishing village. We then headed up the Singapore River, skipping behind the expensive restaurants that lined it, to the Thai Smile Cafe. We had a selection of four dishes and, with the exception of the Thai green curry (Bad stomach memories from Thailand last year…), all were very good and reasonably priced.
After finishing our meals we jumped into a taxi and headed to meet Sara’s friends in the Bugis area of town. We headed to Aliwal Street, part of the cities Arabic quarter and met them at the Aliwal Arts Centre. The area was increasingly vibrant due to the ongoing Aliwal Urban Arts Festival that comprised of a few music venues being opened up for live music and dance/hip-hop DJs in the arts centres main halls and an outdoor live urban graffiti art exhibition being held in the car park. There was a nice atmosphere and I met an array of international people in Sara’s circle of friends, it seems that Singapore is one of the most multicultural places in the world. After spending some time absorbing the party atmosphere we headed to AJ’s apartment and had some pizza and a few more drinks. I had a good chat with a German about the state of world football, a Korean girl, Suyeong, who I practiced my Korean with and learned about her job as an art director and also with AJ himself who told me about his interesting upbringing in the Canary Islands. The group of expat friends planned to go to Zouk, one of Singapore’s more famous nightclubs, but with both Sara and I feeling very tired and also me being adorned in shorts (I was keeping my luggage light as I only had carry-on allowance for all my flights) we decided to head home. After an elongated taxi ride with an excitable and overly talkative taxi driver we eventually made it back and I fell fast asleep on a spare mattress on the floor.
The next day I slept until almost midday, my hosts kind enough not to disturb me. I really wanted to go to Singapore Art Museum and we headed there after enjoying another value for money Singaporean food court lunch. SAM and it’s partner venue 8QSAM represented great value for money. Based over two buildings and four floors the exhibitions were full of interesting, attention holding and imaginative works of contemporary art. Most mediums of art; video, dance, painting, sculpture and media art were represented and the special exhibition of the Singapore Biennale 2013: “If the world changed…” was particularly intriguing and representative of south-east Asian contemporary art. You can click here to look at some of the artists and their contributions.
After spending almost three hours at SAM we headed to the Ritz Carlton on a mission to find some Andy Warhol works. On the walk there we stopped off for a wander around the accessible parts of the famous Raffles Hotel before being left disappointed by what we could find at the Ritz Carlton.
We took a bus on the advice of a security guard to Little India and spent the evening walking the increasingly busy and male dominated streets. We stopped off at a thriving Hindu temple before eating some Bangladeshi curry at the first place that took our fancy. Afterwards with my stomach almost bursting from the weekends culinary treats we tested my stomach linings resolve with some Indian sweets before taking a very crowded bus back to near Sara’s home.
In the late evening we watched another terrible film, a low-budget Japanese hospital based horror, “Infection” whilst I resisted Sara’s and her housemates continuous supply of generous edible treats. When I woke in the morning Sara had already left for work, I tidied my sleeping area in the lounge and repacked my bag. KK and Ilhema generously gave me a lift to the MRT station and I headed to the airport for another low-cost airline flight, this time to the island retreat of Langkawi: the jewel of Kedah!
Singapore was a hugely contrasting experience to the wilds of Borneo. Although I would have liked more time to explore the outer areas of the city and explored a few of the islands that lie off the southern coast I still enjoyed a very positive and eye-opening experience in Singapore. I was fortunate to meet another great person through couchsurfing and through doing that I met a bunch more of interesting people that enhanced my visit and broadened my understanding of Singapore, the world and life in general.