…as a matter of conformity to corporate policy.
So, yes, I was in Singapore for the past three weeks, and if I told you why, then while I don’t think I’d have to kill you, I do think you’d all have to sign releases with BG’s corporate lawyers or something. In particular, I am not allowed to mention on this blog any fellow BG employees, including those whom I have known for far longer than either of us have worked at BG and for some of whose children I might, purely hypothetically speaking you understand, serve as godfather. I am particularly constrained in discussing my highly enjoyable weekend at Fraser’s Hill in Singapore, to the extent that in order to tell some of the stories I want to tell, I’ll have to bend the truth somewhat – something I really hate doing on this blog, as I try very hard to be strictly factually accurate in what I write here, and I hate not giving credit where lots of credit is due. I’ll just say that I’m not smart enough or widely traveled enough to have known about Fraser’s Hill (or, for that matter, That CD Store) on my own, and that’ll have to do.
I hate being apart from my wife, especially because she is in the habit of sending me pictures to make sure I don’t forget her, which pictures have all the effect she desires and more. This one, for example:
Helen at Oyster Creek Park
And I really, really dislike being in a timezone that’s practically inverted from Houston time, where there’s only a very small overlapping period where both she and I are awake and free of work or domestic obligations.
But if I’m going to have to go to the Australasian Pacific Rim, then Singapore is a good choice, both because I like Singapore, and because I very much like a whole bunch of people I’m not allowed to mention. Of course, it is quite obvious that my big-city-girl, Mandarin- and English-speaking Chinese wife whose dream is to travel the world, would like 新加坡 even more than I do; but as that particular thought doesn’t exactly make it easier to not miss her, I suppress it as much as possible. Also I will, for the rest of these posts, do no more whining about missing my wife and children, as my purpose is to entertain rather than depress.
Singapore has a very distinctive appearance, it seems to me – lots of very tall buildings, even in residential areas, but at the same time lush greenness everywhere you look. The price of real estate on this small island where millions of people live, means that if you have enough land to build on, you tend to build things tall. But the equatorial climate – if Singapore were uninhabited it would be jungle – means that any square foot of land that doesn’t have a building on it, is overflowing with lush vegetation. So all the tall, skinny apartment buildings appear to have thrust their way into the open air from the thick of a forest:
View from room in St Regis Hotel (2011)
Sunset from room in southwest corner of Pan Pacific Serviced Suites (Orchard), in Singapore
When I say “skinny,” I mean skinny. There are a surprising number of apartment buildings that clearly are designed to be only one apartment thick, so that the residents can have 270-degree panoramic views:
Apartment building in Singapore (2011)
I really like the effect produced by the mixture of skyscraper and rain forest, myself. And on this particular trip, I spent most of my stay at a place called the Pan Pacific Serviced Suites, which has been built in a U-shape with the central atrium left out in the open air. Then every six or seven floors the two ends of the U are joined by a small deck with an open-air garden and water feature and comfy chairs, with a spectacular view looking east toward the Central Business District (“CBD”) and the three-towers-topped-by-a-ship architecture of the Marina Bay Sands Resort. The view is very nice during the day…
View across 15th-floor sky-garden of Pan Pacific Serviced Suites, with Marina Bay Sands Resort in distance (2012)
…as well as at dusk (remember that in this view we are looking east, away from the sunset).
Downtown Singapore at sunset, looking east from 15th-floor sky-garden of Pan Pacific Serviced Suites (2012)
It gets downright spectacular at night:
But to see it at its very best, one must get up at 6:00 and drink one’s morning cup of tea amidst the glory of the sunrise.
Sunrise over Singapore, from the Pan Pacific (2012)
I mentioned the Marina Bay Sands Resort a few pictures ago. Last year I actually paid $20 to get up to the top of the Marina Bay Sands, having received a tip from my friend Dan Kirtane, whom I certainly hope you, Gentle Reader, are fortunate enough to know. It’s a very odd structure – and I myself don’t know whether I mean that as a compliment or not.
Marina Bay Sands Resort (2011)
The views from the top are well worth the money (and you should certainly go at night).
Looking out toward the Port of Singapore from the observation deck of the Marina Bay Sands Resort (2011). The row of white lights about halfway out runs along the shore; beyond that all the lights belong to ships.
Looking down on the Singapore Ferris wheel from the top of the Marina Bay Sands Resort (2011)
I had with me only an iPhone, and so I fear the pictures are very far from doing justice to the scene. That, I could live with, as I am not much of a picture-taker (much to the resigned annoyance of my wife). A more bitter pill to swallow was the fact that you are not allowed to swim in the “infinity pool” unless you are an actual guest at the resort. What, you ask, is the “infinity pool”? Why, that’s the swimming pool that’s on the very top, and that goes right to the edge of the open-air deck that serves as the resort’s roof, so that you can swim over and rest your arms on the side of the pool and look straight down to the street fifty-five stories below you. If I ever get rich I’ll rent a room at that resort for a single night just so that I can jump in that pool and swim over to the edge and gaze out into th’ Infinite.
Looking out across the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool toward downtown Singapore (2011)
Or I could walk to the other side of the deck and kick back in one of the hot tubs that gives you a view looking south out over the harbor. That would work, too. (Yes, of course they have swimming pools on the ground for guests who are scared of heights.)
But that was last year. This year, I mostly worked, both day and night, except for a fruitful trip to That CD Store (albeit one that got me into some domestic hot water) and a thoroughly enjoyable weekend expedition to Fraser’s Hill in Malaysia – and each of those trips gets its own post. So I’ll close this one off with just a few recommendations to any Gentle Readers headed for Singapore. As a side point, anybody familiar with a map of downtown Singapore is going to read my recommendations and immediately realize that I only have two modes: either stay very very very close to my hotel (I ate dinner at Applebee’s across the street from my hotel every night for two straight weeks this trip), or else go gallivanting off hundreds of miles into the Malaysian jungle.
I recommend that, as soon as you hit town, you immediately call up the Brasserie Wolf on Robertson’s Walk, find out which day is the next day they’ll be serving chestnut soup, and then go on that day and enjoy their set two-course lunch. (Don’t bother with the dessert that comes with the three-course meal; it is tasty, but too tiny to be worth the additional ten dollars.)
I recommend that, if you can find a relatively cool, cloudy day for it, you go for a walk around Fort Canning Park. But be sure you pay attention to the warning signs, as, “But I’m a foreigner and couldn’t understand the sign” will hardly be accepted as an excuse:
But where is the Braille??
I’ll recommend that some time be spent at Clarke Quay on the tiny Singapore River, firstly during the day…
Clarke Quay and the Singapore River
…and then again at night when the sidewalks are full of upscale pubcrawlers and you might spot either a sidewalk acrobat who can balance a glass ball on his head for a full minute…
Guy balancing glass ball on his head, on pedestrian bridge at Clarke Quay (2012)
…or else an American who is being introduced to the spicy crab that is a local specialty and is taking no chances on messing up his shirt.
Taking no chances with the shirt (at Clarke Quay, 2011)
Oh, and the reason you go there during the day, is that the price of beer is dependent upon the time of day – quite reasonable at lunchtime, but it inches up as the hours go by and will really set you back by 9:00 p.m. or so. Isn’t capitalism a wonderful thing? (I actually mean that seriously – I find it delightful that the enterprising pub owners along the Quay were creative enough to note that demand for beer varied sharply depending on time of day, and, being strictly limited in supply of seating, responded by adjusting prices accordingly.) The reason to go there after the sun goes down is the same reason you go anywhere in Singapore after the sun goes down: it’s not so bloody hot.
Of course, if you’re sufficiently unfortunate to be at Clarke Quay on the night of a free musical festival, you might have to fight your way through a mass of screaming, in-throes-of-ecstasy teenaged girls as a band of hyperchoreographed Asian Justin Bieber wannebes sing and strut robotically and overdramatically about the stage like the unholy result of an amiable encounter involving Britney Spears, Jim Carrey and Bruce Lee. (The Voice of Experience speaks.) Still, in this respect I think I was singularly unfortunate, and you are likely to be spared a repetition of my experience.
If you like the sort of shopping that requires credit cards with very high limits, or if you like being out on a Friday night among claustrophobia-inducing throngs of very well-dressed people, then a walk up and down Orchard Street of an evening is sure to give satisfaction. This is also a great place to go if you are a single young Gentleman Reader who likes to see lots of young and attractive Chinese women whose wardrobe choices are – how shall I put this? – very definitely designed to attract. (No, of course I don’t have any pictures. I have my own old-enough-to-have-outgrown-the-stupid-but-young-enough-not-to-have-outlived-the-hot, all-too-distractingly-attractive Chinese wife already, and I haven’t the slightest interest in a downgrade; so I mostly found said young Chinese women to be annoying hindrances in my being able to get where I was going without having my path blocked every few seconds. And that’s actually the stone cold truth, not just something I’m saying in order to stay out of trouble with Helen.) On the other hand, having said that, I feel honor-bound to pass on to you single Western Gentlemen Readers who might suddenly have discovered a hitherto unsuspected craving to visit Singapore, a warning that I have received more than once, from more than one local source: Singapore women are notoriously Material Girls. It has in fact been explained to me, on at least two separate occasions, that Singapore girls rate men on a scale involving “the Five C’s,” namely, Cash, Credit card (that only counts as one C, apparently), Career, Car, and some other word starting with “C” that I don’t remember but that very definitely was NOT “Character.”
If, on the other hand, you like your shopping but like it at bargain rates, then you head down to Victoria Street and find the Bugis indoor bazaar – which is, actually, quite difficult to find even when you’re standing right in front of it, since the entrance is a narrow and nondescript doorway in the middle of a row of street-fronting shops. I saw quite a few help-wanted signs but they all required you to know Mandarin, which is far away the dominant language of both vendors and customers.
Inside Bugis Village (2011)
Finally, if you are an orthodox Christian and especially if you are of conservative Anglican tastes, I very highly recommend the English services at St Andrew’s Cathedral, which is a hospitably welcoming, clearly thriving, thoroughly evangelical community. (I’m sure the Mandarin services are just as good, but can’t recommend them on personal experience.) The cathedral is more in the tradition of Victorian English high-steepled, “wedding-cake” parish churches rather than that of the great Gothic cathedrals of York or Canterbury, though it has fewer former servants of the parish buried under the central aisle than does your average four-hundred-year-old English country church. But it is a very nice example of that architectural tradition, and the modern-day television screens installed on the buttresses are much less discordant than they would be in Notre-Dame (I mean the one in Paris, not the one in South Bend).
After the Eucharist at St Andrew’s Cathedral (2011)
A word of caution, though: be sure you study your map before going there, so that you can tell your cabby how to get there. And – again, the Voice of Experience speaks – if your cabby doesn’t know where St Andrew’s Cathedral is, it will do you no good to tell him, “It’s on St Andrew Street.” (Oddly, it frequently happens to me that I hop into a Singapore cab and then have to spend the trip telling the cabby where to turn next; so it’s a good thing that I have a deep-seated psychological need to know where I am at all times and therefore spend every cab ride compulsively memorizing the route the cabby is taking – meaning that after four weeks’ experience in Singapore, usually, when my cabby doesn’t know where I want to go, I actually CAN tell him where to turn next. I suppose that the only other alternative, since Singapore cabs don’t ordinarily have GPS devices, would be to get out of the cab and try to flag another one down.)
In short, I like Singapore very much, and it is well worth visiting. Only, if you can, given prices in Singapore, it’s best to arrange to do it at somebody else’s unfortunately quite significant expense. And also, it’s much better if you can take your wife. Oh, rats, I said I wasn’t going to whine for the rest of the post…and I came so close…