As I mentioned before, I am making a little side trip back to UK via Singapore and so I am writing this a bit disjointed as I know I have not finished the Vietnam and Cambodia trip yet. It is all a bit of a blur, I will admit, with the jet lag, very early mornings and long days of seeing the sights as well being on a bus for which felt like the full 2 weeks…! All with a side order of a very awkward mosquito bite and a touch of the flu, (I will explain later!) I need time to think about the rest of the tour and make sure I know what day was where etc. But I have just ended 3 nights in Singapore which have been a revelation!
I have been here before but a long time ago, I think on my honeymoon with Simon in about December 1990, and I liked it then but this time seems to have surpassed all my expectations!
I booked a room in an upmarket hostel called The Great Madras in the Little India area, found it via the Lonely Planet Guide. Rocked up at about 1.30am once the taxi driver had driven around trying to find it for about 20mins, to be greeted by the bar next door in full swing, it was Saturday night I suppose. In the end, it was not too bad, the music went on til about 4 but I drifted in and out of a coma like sleep!
I had decided that the best way to get to know the city was to get a hop on/off bus ticket – what a great set up . Took the Blue line, drove through Chinatown and the decided to get off at Orchard Road, the big shopping area. I only got off there as that was where the tourist office is – promise! Food was actually my first stop, as always, Sate and grilled corn. Then I did have a look at the shops but was very restrained. In the evening, I just went to the 7/11 and got some wine and sat in the hostel watching something on my iPad.
Monday included a walking tour of Chinatown in the bus ticket so I went along as it looked interesting, glad that I did as it was fascinating. The guide was a local resident, born and brought up in a traditional shophouse 5 years after independence in 1965. I had no idea that Singapore was such a young country and the guide told us that his whole family (parents and 4 kids) all lived in one cubicle area and shared a floor with 6 or 7 other families. They shared a kitchen and a bucket for a toilet. I can’t believe that people were living like this as recently as 1971. I went to the Chinese Heritage museum which was fascinating. They had converted 3 old shophouses to show how people lived. They were called shophouses as the were long and narrow buildings and the ground floor front was normally a shop, possibly a tailor or cafe. The shopkeeper would have lived in the back, with the apprentices and their family. The 1st and 2nd floors were then rented out and as housing was scarce, each floor was sectioned off into cubicles that were then rented out. People ate, slept and lived in these small areas. They were very poor and lived from hand to mouth.
Modern Singapore was founded by Stamford Raffles in 1819 as he established a new trading post for The British East India Company and then it became a Crown Colony ruled directly by the British Government in 1867.
The majority of the population of Singapore are from South China, they came over in cramped ships, given little food and treated badly, in the mid 1800’s. They were escaping the fighting and famine in South China, thinking that they would be able to make a new life for their families. They were treated like slaves, being set to work on the docks, construction sites, emptying the poo buckets from the shophouses etc. They spent what little they had on things to alleviate the tedious nature of their lives and became addicted to opium. Obviously all of this led to the formation of gangs and clans and the associated issues.
With Chinese New Year being on 25/26 January, the shops were full of all the brightly coloured paraphernalia, food and loud music!
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is only 12 years old and it is absolutely beautiful. Locals remember what it was like to come over from China and the conditions that they lived in, it is unbelievable that it was all relatively recent.
Mass settlement of Indians in Singapore began in around 1819, with initially the population being mainly workers, soldiers and convicts. When Sir Raffles arrived, he tried to form a town plan which allocated areas for the different nationalities to live, to give them their own space. There is Chinatown, Little India and the Malay area. These were the 3 main ethnic groups in Singapore at that time.
A large number of the Indian migrants were rural Tamils, landless peasants who performed manual labour at the docks and constructions sites. Wandering around Little India was like being back in Bombay, the music that was being blasted out of the shops, the clothes, smells….. all made me feel happy and comfortable.
This history has really added to the culture of Singapore, I really loved it there. It has really authentic ethnic sub cultures, with rich, historic strands running through it all. I love the old and the new, mixed with eastern and western culture. I think it sort of hits my love for cultural aspects of a place, with lovely food and interesting people, and then on the other side it has modern technology, great transport system, clean and safe. The roads are modern, there isn’t much traffic as you have to apply for permission to have a car and there are a set number of licences for the whole country and you can only get one if a previous owner has redeemed theirs.
Maybe my thoughts of not being a city girl is wrong? Singapore has a really calm atmosphere, even along the busy Orchard Road shopping area. If you want the buzz of Chinatown or Little India, it’s there, if you want modern accommodation (albeit it pricey) and to get from A to B efficiently, it’s there. There are green spaces, botanical gardens and interesting architecture. I don’t know how a young country can achieve so much when others are struggling. I am sure someone will tell me that I am being ignorant about how economies work and develop and that Singapore had a leg up or an advantage of sorts.
Nevertheless, I really like Singapore, Kaya Toast and coffee for breakfast, Chinese for lunch and Indian for dinner………
On my last day, I had to check out of the hotel at 12 but my flight wasn’t until 11pm so I took my last bus ride back to Chinatown and I decided to find a place to have a massage. I have had a foot massage, full body and leg massages in the past 3 weeks, they are very different out in SE Asia, less of the soft, calm and quiet surroundings with slow, calming pressure. Here it is more of a pummelling of the body, using every body part to help, pulling arms and legs in all directions with very firm, purposeful strokes. Sounds like a wrestling match but they are extremely theraputic, designed to relieve pressure points and loosen up the body.
This one though was all the extremes in one go! The therapist was a young lady but full on, she found all the muscles around my shoulder blades and pushed on each nerve, winded me at times, at one point I had to remember to keep breathing! As she pummelled my bottom, she said – oh you have just had a tattoo – I was rather confused at this when I realised she thought my HRT patch was a plaster!!! I just managed to eek out a reply! She also commented that my body was a bit stiff which was surprising considering how many massages I had had in the previous 3 weeks!! Must have been the fact that at times I was clenching my jaw and tightening up at times to stop myself from yelping out in pain!!!
But, by the end of it, I felt relaxed and loosened up -felt great, BUT all the good work was undone as I got royally lost on the way back to the hotel to pick up my bags…… :-(. Trying to not switch my data on and pay the daily $6 fee…………)
If anyone has the chance to visit Singapore, I highly recommend it. There is still so much left that I wanted to do, 3 days was not enough.