Southeast Asia (6/13) – Unfinished Business in Singapore

Southeast Asia (6/13) – Unfinished Business in Singapore

After Hong Kong, we spent the next 20 hours in Singapore, another deja-vu island.

The last time we were in this tiny city-state, we were traveling with our fourteen-month-old on her first international trip. As such, our experience was somewhat limited, and certain things we wished to do were not possible. We were determined on making things right this time around.

Hong and I never talk about Singapore without mentioning our love to one day move here. The idea sparked on the third day of our first visit, and got renewed on this trip just a few hours in. We’ve traveled a decent amount, and nowhere else comes close to earning our affection the way Singapore does.

Landing in Changi Airport was reason enough for a happy selfie!

We forewent the opportunity to stay at fancy five-star properties on points, and opted for Hotel Carlton where our unforgettable memories centered around. As soon as check-in procedures were complete, we hiked north to Singapore Zam Zam, the halal restaurant across from Masjid Sultan.

We ordered mutton biriyani, chicken murtabak, and teh tarik. Everything was delicious as we remembered. To finish the last few bites, I stretched past my comfort zone just a little.

Hey look the grape chandeliers were still there!

Masjid Sultan

Zam Zam

The face upon receiving the murtabak after a 4-year wait

After the late dinner, we took a cab to Night Safari, a one-of-a-kind zoo that only opened at night. It had been on my bucket list for a decade, so I was excited finally being able to check it out.

The Night Safari consisted of a forty-minute tram ride and a lengthy walking trail. The two overlapped only partially, so it would take a lot of effort to see everything. We arrived at 10pm with prepaid tickets, and decided to take the tram first. Most of the animals were easy to see, with some hanging out so close to the road that I felt concerned that the tram might run them over. The highlight of the tour were a white lion (Kimba!), a markhor (our favorite hoofed animal), and two Malayan tapirs (giant panda pigs). The English guide was pretty informative. Though we dosed off a bit here and there, we managed fairly well considering the long day, jet lag, and major food coma.

After a short walk on part of the trail, we called it a night… or maybe not yet. The taxi queue was like a Disneyland ride and it had us inching forward for a good hour. We ended up spending more time on the outside of the park entrance than we did on the inside!

Oooh spooky!

My camera’s low-light capability was limited;
the Ankole cattle were among the few that didn’t photograph horribly

Wallaby a.k.a. Kangaroo Hobbits

Pretty sure some of these kids had to work the next morning

A few hours of sleep later, we traced our own footsteps to the Tanjon Pagar station. Our favorite soy milk spot, Mr. Bean, was nowhere to be found any more. To satisfy our pre-breakfast needs, instead, we came to a Southeast Asian boulangerie. Shelves of French-styled pastries came with unconventional flavors such as Singapore chili crab and charcoal tom yum.

The blend of modern skyscrapers and natural greens is among the reasons we love Singapore

Never heard of this bakery before, but a lot of commuters stopped here for breakfast

Black bread!  Spicy and sour and seafood for breakfast!?

After the savory breads, we took a short walk to our primary breakfast destination: Maxwell Hawker Centre. For a Monday morning, the number of stalls in operation seemed rather low; maybe it was due to Chinese New Year still in session. Nevertheless, we had our fix and were happily stuffed.

Maxwell oh Maxwell

So many stalls were not open… why not…???

Oh well, all I needed was one of those Hainanese chicken rice guys to be on shift

At this juncture, Hong rejected my idea of hanging around for long enough to stuff ourselves with another meal. Instead, she wanted to go to Mustafa Centre, the mega store in Little India. During our last visit, our attempt to shop there was prevented by the baby stroller’s lack of maneuverability. I imagined the second time being the charm, and happily agreed.

After a short train ride and a walk through the sauna-like weather, we were running around in the multi-story, multi-street block Mustafa Centre. It’s basically the equivalent of the flagship Macy’s in New York, with goods from Macy’s, Sears, Walmart, Kay’s, Best Buy, and Hudson News all crammed into that space. Where else can you buy souvenir key chains, underwear, gigantic HDTV, medicine, and groceries under one roof? We were mesmerized by all sorts of merchandise, but Hong pointed out something that truly sparked my interest.

Colorful Little India

Mustafa Centre, the store that sells everything under the sun under one roof

Everything under the sun, by definition, includes lollipops larger than your head

“I love Desi Chinese” was a fitting description for our breakfast

OMG look at this!

Is it CAMEL MILK!!??. I had been complaining for three years about not having tried it in the UAE, due to the MERS warnings. Never expected to get my opportunity in Singapore… and it’s Camelicious, the brand known for its humane and caring farming practices! I needed no convincing to immediately drop $10 USD on two tiny bottles. Hurray!!!!  Who else has ever had $74-per-gallon milk?

Okay I absolutely hated it.  Almost threw up swallowing it.  But whatever.  That was a small price to pay to cross this thing off my bucket list.

Our 20-hour stop in Singapore was about to end, but there was still time to make one last stop (or two). We walked over to the iconic Raffles Hotel, the birthplace of Singapore Sling.  Even though most people had never sipped or heard of this cocktail, ordering one at Raffles while in Singapore was still a top thing travel guides tell you to do.  An obvious tourist trap, sure, but we were okay falling victim to this one. Couldn’t do it last time with a baby, so we also considered this a make-up experience.

The entire Raffles Hotel was shut down for renovation, but a short version of Long Bar remained open. They had few things on the menu but who cares… the only reason anyone went there was for their $24-USD Singapore Sling. Like the $8 Disneyland hot dog, there’s no way anyone could justify that price tag. Didn’t I say tourist trap? We crammed into the tiny space and became their first customers who weren’t white or over the age of 55.  We sipped on our sucker-tourist badge of honor while watching bus after bus of Chinese tourists being unloaded for the Hainanese chicken restaurant across the street.

It was pink!  The basic requirement for drinks that I order!

Pretty sure our bartender rolled her eyes every time someone dropped her whole day’s food budget on a single drink

The Singapore Sling was nice, but the pineapple was a disgrace

While it was fun to try the world’s most iconic location-specific cocktail, there was an uneasy feeling associated with the glorification of Singapore’s colonial past. I mean just look at the hotel’s mascot in its souvenir shop… an Indian servant… I mean, do we need more reminders that the British Empire caricatured and moved its laborers of color from one colony to another, and had them tend to the luxurious needs of their pale-skinned overlords?  I cringed a little realizing how I just helped fund an entity that continued perpetuating discrimination 🙁

Drop more money here and you, too, could own a cute Punjabi doorman…

To be fair, the Raffles Hotel didn’t depict its Chinese workforce much better.  ROFL those slanted eyes…

After the late-morning alcohol, we strolled through Bugis Junction, worked our way up Bugis+, and ate another meal before heading to the airport.  City #3 here we come!

Singapore Changi Terminal 4
Detached from the primary terminals’ grandness, but still more gorgeous than any other airport
The stores at the far end of the terminal had this colorful facade of Peranakan architecture
Impossible to tell with an untrained eye, but part of this facade was a video projection that’d sometimes turn into a mini movie



Southeast Asia 2018 Index



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