My return after 50 years!!
21.11.2012 - 26.11.2012
When he was an all action Marine Commando my dad was posted to Singapore way, way back in time and, as an army sprog, I and the rest of the family were flown out there to live during his tour. Now this happened when I was about 2 years old so I thought it would be nice to try and revisit some of the places my parents remembered. Although I had always planned to visit Singapore as part of this whole epic trip my exciting week travelling with the girls in Java, and the kneejerk reaction of booking the first flight out to escape joyless Jakarta, left me a bit unprepared.
My few days there were a mixture of full on activity, torpor inducing fishing, extensive bi-ped perambulation around the City's nooks and crannies, drinking during monsoon rains etc, etc and are detailed/summarised as follows:
The Unplanned Diary of a Fool in Singapore:
21st November 2012
After disembarking at the airport I met Ryan, a young Aussie from Cairns and together we quickly sussed out how to use the legendary Singapore MRT metro to get us into the downtown area. Although our passage into the heart of the city was quick and simple enough, the heat, humidity, the weight of our backpacks and the distance we ended up walking (our first two hostel selections were full/shut) proved somewhat sweaty and draining. When, eventually, we found our way to the highly recommended Inn Crowd Hostel I was pleasantly surprised that they had beds available and that the (male) staff on duty turned out to be extremely knowledgeable and helpful. Another bonus was that the nightly cost of a bed in the dorms included free tea and coffee all day and a breakfast of two boiled eggs and unlimited toast and jam - so that was one of my 3 square meals a day sorted out nicely!!
The hostel is located in the Indian quarter and this was interesting in that we were close to both a very elaborately decorated and extremely busy mosque and that the small restaurants in the surrounding streets served indian food the traditional way - without cutlery. Thus it was that I took Ryan to experience his first ever chicken massala biryani while I tried eating my first meal "by hand". Now, I am left handed but eating with that hand is a no-no so, using only my right, it took me some time to finish my meal as the rice kept falling out between my fingers just before it should have been tumbling into my mouth.
Being on an island and having located a couple of nearby fishing tackle shops (where I bought some bait and lures) I decided to test out the local transport system to head to Bedok Jetty to join the local worm danglers for a spot of fishing.
At the time of my visit th2ere was a lot of major road remodelling work going on around the area where the hostel is located which resulted in many of the bus stops being temporarily relocated and, although finding some of the stops was a bit of a challenge, once you have mastered this, then exploring the city, or indeed the whole island, is relatively simple. It is also very comfortable as they have an excellent and efficient air-conditioned bus service.
The area along the whole waterfront near Bedok is really well maintained with both a good road/cycle path and a pedestrian/rollerblading walkway, tended gardens and assorted foodstalls, bars and shops (where you can buy hats, ice creams etc or even rent a bike for the day). Once again the late morning weather was searingly hot so being out in the sun on a long jetty proved a challenge, unprepared as I was without an umbrella or any other form of shade. Despite being armed with the right fishing gear (I also bought a couple of hand made lures for catching baitfish from a 70 year old chinese guy who fishes there successfully every day), catching said small tiddlers and occasionally seeing much larger fish swimming around the jetty, I didnt catch anything worthy of a photocall. The view from the pier is quite odd as, whilst looking inland you see the expected "island" scene of trees, sand and beachfront in the foreground with the city and it's skyscrapers in the distance etc, looking out to sea you will espy a panoramic and very busy "shipping park" with literally dozens and dozens of ships, tankers, tugs and boats moored a little way offshore. In fact there is not even a glimpse of the distant ocean horizon, only ships of all shapes and sizes.
Heading back mid afternoon towards the bus stop I ventured into the small touristy visitors area comprising food and drink vendors huddled around some shaded outside seating. Having ordered a large ice cold beer I settled down to watch 4 local guys playing a very active and boisterois card game which included much waving of arms, slapping down of cards and laughing at their colleagues expense. Almost without warning the sky darkened with bruised clouds and then suddenly the rain started bucketing down. Despite being huddled under umbrellas we were all soon very damp as the rain bounced off of the ground (which was almost instantly flooded) or was blown sideways onto us by the strong offshore wind which had suddenly arisen. Dressed as I was in shorts and teeshirt there was no way I was going to brave the 1 km walk to the bus so I settled in to ride out the early evening monsoon. The card players dissipated and were soon replaced by Patrik, a european guy who was seeking shelter whilst he was waiting to meet up with his son. It turns out that he is the logistics director for the region for Ikea and a thoroughly nice fella he was too. Sharing beers and our stories of how we came to be in Singapore, he was called away all too soon as he had to rendezvous with his lad at their car, leaving me to finish his last, untouched beer. By now I am still cold and damp but the alcohol is gently warming me from the inside. Very soon I was joined at "my" table by an affable asian fellow, Peter, and it turned out that he is the MD of Hasbro for the whole region, talk about meeting movers and shakers!! Well, further beers and chat followed with Peter (what a lovely, easy going and friendly guy) before he too had to disappear at which point he offered me a lift to the bus stop in his executive motor which, of course, I readily accepted. Bus back into town, a meal at a local resto and then into an early bed - great day done!
23/11 One of our hostel's advertised events was a weekly scooter tour around the city. Despite hanging around with my fingers crossed for most of the morning there were insufficient takers so eventually it was cancelled! Somewhat at a loose end I mooched around the assorted shops that inhabit "Arab Street", wasting what was left of the day, not the most exciting of follow ups to yesterday!
24/11 Apart from the usual city based highlights Singapore's other famous tourist mecca is the island of Pulau Ubin which is easily reached by water taxi from the small old village of Changi. The beauty of this island is that there are no private vehicles allowed so, apart from a few tourist jeeps and military vehicles, everyone gets around by bike. The choice of cycles is panoramic with singles, 2 and 3 seater tandems (is a 3 person bike still called a tandem??), kids tow-alongs etc, etc as most of the businesses here are either bike rental or food and drink vendors. Having secured a cheap and poorly maintained two wheeler I set off to explore, heading initially towards the nature trail area. Riding here is pretty straightforward as the island is fairly flat as long as your gears and legs work (one or two inclines are definitely testing) and, as there are very few roads, getting lost is unlikely.
The nature trail begins at a quaint old tudor style colonially built cottage residence which now serves as a visitor centre for the wetlands mangrove park and leads onto an extensive walkway which initially goes out onto the sea, around the coastal head and then back through the swamp/jungle. Sightings included a variety of wading birds and a standard looking crab, both better at fishing than I, crazy mud crabs with one huge brightly coloured claw, mud-hopper fish skating from puddle to puddle waving the crests on their backs like warning flags, shy monkeys and brazen wild pigs as well as varied flora found in wetlands.
Having completed the walk which I thoroughly enjoyed I relocated my untrustworthy two wheeled steed and traversed the island to find the off road bike circuit highlighted on my map. This proved to be more mentally than physically challenging in that, whilst I found it easily enough, I was unable to follow the route marked on the signs dotted about - in the end I missed more than half of the alleged course!
The far (northwest) end of the island, accessed by a road clearly marked on the map, was blocked by fences and barriers with prohibited entry signs everywhere so I have no idea what I was not supposed to see there. After a good look round the rest of the accessible parts of the isle I popped aboard a return water taxi to head back to the hustle and bustle of "civilisation" in the city.
25/11 My last full day comprised an early start to go fishing followed by an extensive walk around the city. Again my fish hooking exploits proved pathetic, catching only more of the tiny bait fish. I did however see one very big fish enjoying a feeding frenzy by the pier and also witnessed a local lad land a very good sized gar fish. Back in town I secured my onward coach ticket to Malaysia and sought out some historical and architectural highlights, starting with the Raffles Hospital. I also espied, from a distance, a most unusual structure that resembles a huge concrete ship resting atop three tower blocks which turned out to be the Marina Sands Bay Skypark (see photo below).
At this point my camera battery died leaving me bereft of any further quality photo record for the rest of the day!! D'oh!
Fortunately the old ipod came to the rescue to capture the beautiful Raffles Hotel, the correspondingly tasteless Raffles mall and an appropriately sited McDonalds amongst others.
26/11 Leaving day dawned and over breakfast I discussed in finer detail my rough Malaysia and Borneo plans with the knowledgable guy on reception - sadly I dont recall his name. With him having been to both of these places he made numerous suggestions of places to see which were duly noted down - you will have to keep reading to see if the Fool made it to any, many or all of them. Soon afterwards it was a short walk to the coach stop, climb on board and head across the bridge to ........Malaysia!