Monday, September 14, 2009

Back from Singapore

Lizzie and I had a nice weekend trip to Singapore. The city state is well maintained--clean, flowery, organized, orderly, expensive... As our friends here told us, we certainly liked it, but we'd have to be a lot richer to enjoy more than a weekend there.

We got up at 2 AM and met Cesar for a ride to the Ninoy Aquino airport at 3 AM. Our plane took off, on time, at 6:30 AM and we landed in Singapore by 10:00 AM. A representative from the Golden Dove Tour company met us and ferried us to our hotel, the Marriott, in downtown Singapore.

After marveling at our comfy beds and fully equipped bathroom (separate shower and bathtub, very swank), we set off to explore and to eat lunch.

As here in Manila, shopping seems to be the leisure activity of choice. Across the street from our hotel, we found an underground mall (fully air-conditioned), the Orchard ION, that stretched for blocks, it seemed. We ate lunch at a very large food court, picking Beef Noodles after checking out lots of hanging chickens and ducks, shark fin soup stands, and other Chinese delicacies. (Check out my Facebook page for pictures of our trip.)

After lunch, we headed back to the hotel and went into the pool--5th floor, blue tile, a little chilly under sudden afternoon clouds. But that gave us the pool to ourselves, more or less, and this aging mama didn't have to show off her cellulite to lunching guests, for which she was grateful.

That first night, Friday, we tried the swank Chinese restaurant in the hotel, and had a scary moment while we contemplated the menu and discovered, hey, this ain't the Chinese food back in Kansas, Toto! Could we find anything that would pass our severely restricted white-bread palates? Finally, we decided on chicken in a red wine sauce and crock pot with shallots and small onions, and a breaded pork cutlet in soy sauce. I tried not to look at the prices of things (the cheapest item on the menu was the pork cutlet, at $15 Singapore dollars (about 1.35 to each US dollar), with a "minimum of two" to order. Turns out that the chicken in wine was the hit of the evening.

We capped off the evening with cable TV and bed lolling on comfy down comforters.

The next day, we were up and out by 9 AM for a half day tour of the city. The other two women on our tour--Filipinas!--one a pediatrician, Joanne, and the other a UP Manila student, Jeni--made us feel right at home. I'm starting to recognize the Filipino accent, a rounded, tinkling, singy English that always sounds halfway amused. The Singapore accent, a flat Chinese English, reminds me of the ticker tape at the bottom of the CNN screen; our friends here told us we'd have to listen hard to get it, and we did. Get it, that is. I think Joanne and Jeni had more trouble following it.

Our guide showed us the downtown center (with a round feng shui fountain designed to increase the city's wealth), surrounded by five malls, "like the fingers in a hand," the man said. Then we checked out the Raffles Hotel, the oldest and most imperial lodging in the city. "Six stars," the guide suggested. The place comes complete with a white turbaned captain at the front, white pillars, rattan chairs, and oriental rugs. From the Raffles Hotel, we went to Clark Quay, which seems to be a nice riverside point that caters to tourists with empty stomachs--it's surrounded by small restaurants, every nationality represented. Since it was still early in the day, nothing was quite open and we were able to check things out without bumping into people.

After the Quay, we visited the merlion--half mermaid, half lion--that is the city's icon. It's a big white spitting fountain on a jut of land that faces water, full of tourists from all walks of life. I couldn't help noticing the high percentage of Anglos wandering around, all of them dressed, like me, in frumpy shorts and stretched out T-shirts, Birkenstocks and bad haircuts. Oy. I began to feel every lump around my waist, every liver spot on my cheeks and the backs of my hands, and every wrinkle around my mouth and under my eyes. Am I shallow? Certainly.

From there, we went to a Chinese temple, a jewelry factory, and a gift shop. The Chinese temple was my favorite. The jewelry factory and the gift shop felt like the hot mouths of a hungry, shiny beast, as salespeople, mostly women, followed us from display to display, speaking fast and furious about discounts, credit cards, deals, taxes, ... Lizzie picked out a few small souveniers at the gift shop and we beat a hasty retreat.

While we were on our tour, we discovered that we could visit the zoo at night--and since it was so hot, that seemed like the best bet--so we signed up for a Night Safari with the tour company, and arranged for a 6:30 pick up. Back to the hotel for a swim in the afternoon heat. (Unfortunately, we also managed to pick up a burn.)

At 6:20, we went downstairs and waited for our ride. Women in magenta and black outfits began to disgorge from taxis and Mercedes, bustling up the walk with ramrod style and elegance, all stiff taffeta and satin. Meanwhile, no ride to the zoo.

For whatever reason, the tour company missed us, and after a front desk wrangling, a man in a bus came to pick us up around 7:00 and sped us out of the city to the zoo, where a fast talking, speed walking tour woman picked us up and hustled us onto a tram. We got to see lots of animals, but since we weren't allowed to use flash photography--to spare the animal's eyes--we can't show you the roaring lions we saw, or the cool, sad-eyed tapirs at the side of the road, or the wet hippos, the rhinos, the giraffe, the frolicking, barking otters... It was probably my favorite event of the day, even though my thighs by then had become hot spots as the burn seasoned itself.

Because of my paranoia (I didn't want to miss the bus back to the hotel), Lizzie and I skipped the animal show. We caught the end of the fire-eaters but that wasn't all that exciting. I didn't tell Lizzie, but when we lived in Mexico we used to see fireeaters while we were stuck in traffic; they'd eat burning gasoline torches in the hopes that we'd toss them a few pesos out our windows.

Yesterday, we hopped on the MRT (not without a lot of hand wringing and freak outs from yours truly as she tried to figure out how to get from the hotel to City Hall) and checked out the Mint Toy Museum Lizzie had seen on our Saturday tour. It was a tall skinny building a lot like Lizzie's school, filled to the brim with expensive "one of a kind" collectibles from Asia and England, a few from the US, behind glass in floor to ceiling display cases. We weren't allowed to use flash, so the pictures came out pretty blurry. On our way back, we checked out yet another mall, ate pizza, and zipped back to the hotel to wait for our airport pickup (paranoia in full swing again--didn't want to miss that ride.)

We got to the airport on time and then, after getting through a long check in line, went to the gate to discover that our flight had been delayed about two hours. We wandered the mall/airport for that time, finding chicken rice for a delicious dinner. Turns out that the airport tower here in Manila lost power and all the flights were cancelled, backed up and delayed as a result. Do we have bad luck? Yes. (Ask Lizzie about the rogue jean button and the flushed toilet, 5 minutes before hotel check out...)

Over all, the trip was fun, a good getaway from this big, smoky city. But we missed our friends, I think, and all the while kept thinking I bet Dad would like this, and I wonder what Dad would think about that? Once I have time to breathe, I'd like to learn more about how Singapore works, and what might be the costs of such order and cleanliness. (Aside from hefty fines...)

1 comment:

  1. You should probably propose they make the Mer-Lion St. Norbert's new mascot. There must be a mascot committee, there must be.