Singapore – Some Different Things To Do
Even the man’s eyebrows were immaculate. Pencilled on with a delicate touch, they moved of their accord as the taxi driver explained the mysteries of Singapore to me.
As he did so I realised, despite her reputation for sterility, there is the unusual to find in Singapore, even when driving from the airport.
Find The Ghosts of Raffles
Raffles began life in 1887 as a bungalow opening onto a now far-distant beach. Synonymous for luxury in the heart of colonial Singapore, her gracious corridors are touched with the air of fading grandeur, and the world of the famous have walked through her doors (for the less famous, there are a wealth of luxury hotels in Singapore to choose from).
I did the same (after posing for a picture with the Sheikh doorman) and wandered the cool arcades and labyrinthine verandas. Literati such as Conrad, Hesse, Maugham and Kipling have stayed here (and somehow wrote, despite the allure of the bars). In 1902, after escaping from a nearby circus, the last tiger on the island was shot under the billiard table of the Bar and Billiards room.
In 1915, Raffles bartender Ngiam Tong Boon invented the Singapore Sling, (designing the drink to look like an innocent fruit punch, thus allowing women to drink in public without censure.) Immediately popular, the drink rose to fame after featuring in Somerset Maugham’s short story, The Letter. Where else to try one but in the Long Bar where it began? Lazy fans move back and forth across the ceiling, and peanut shells cover the floor – this is not a place for stilettos. After a few drinks, the sight of the Hendrick’s Gin Bath-tub taking pride of place on the ceramic tiles does not seem at all out of place.
Remember The Forgotten Children
Opposite Raffles stands the now de-sanctified Convent of The Holy Jesus. Renamed Chijmes
(an amalgamation of the initials of the convent), the chapel and old convent buildings remain, and amongst the cloisters and landscaped gardens are some of the best eateries and bars on the Island.
Amongst the cheerful crowds it is easy to forget the convent once functioned as an orphanage. In the outside wall there is still the Gate of Hope, where many an unwanted baby was left. These were mostly female, either from poor families or single mothers, or else they were ‘tiger babies’ – for girls born in the year of the tiger were considered to bring bad luck.
Visit A Fish Doctor
I’ve never offered up my feet to be eaten before. Being Australian, I’ve had my share of unwanted nibbles and stings when in the surf. So it took a moment of bravery, and encouraging laughs from the assistants, for me to slip of my shoes and place my feet in the clear water of tank.
Immediately my feet were covered in hundreds of tiny fish. I literally had no visible skin below my ankles. I hate to think what they found so attractive. At first they tickled, but as these doctor fish, as they are commonly called, nibbled away at my feet the sensation grew remarkably pleasant. Plus, the fish have no teeth – a definite bonus.
Most treatments take around ten minutes, during which time the tiny garrarufa fish eat only the dead skin, leaving the feet soft and silky. With fish doctors everywhere in Singapore – including the airport – there is no excuse not to try one.
Try A Fish Head Curry
Singapore is an island of food, with every taste and wallet catered for. No visit is complete, however, without a visit to a hawker mall. Essentially, these are large arcades with dozens of stalls offering every type of Singaporean food, whether Chinese, Malay, Indian or a fusion of these. Every Singaporean has their favourite stall in their favourite centre.
My personal preference is the Maxwell Food Centre, across from Chinatown’s Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Dining is positively communal, at large shared tables under high ceilings dotted with lazy fans. By lunch and dinner the place becomes impossibly crowded; the rest of the day it is merely busy.
When in Singapore, eat like the locals. Try Hainanese chicken rice (a deceptively simple dish of poached chicken on fragrant rice) or carrot cake, a savoury meal made from yam and noodles and with a distinct absence of carrot. Chilli mud crab is a classic not to be missed –but messy to eat. An amalgamation of Chinese, Malay and Indian flavours, fish head curry is another famous dish. The head of a red snapper, stewed in special curry laced heavily with tamarind, is served over rice and comes with various condiments.
Catch A Taxi
Taxis in Singapore are plentiful, cheap and quick. Every ride I took was an adventure. Some drivers doubled as guide, giving a running commentary on everything passed, along with its history and its cultural implications. (Hence I learnt how the long straight highway leading to the airport was designed to double as a runway in the event of war – the army should be able to fell all the trees in less than a day.)
Other drivers proved political experts, and for the few dollars of the fare I was treated to an (always polite) dissertation of the world’s problems and how to solve most of them. My elderly Chinaman with the pencilled eyebrows proved knowledgeable on Singapore-Malaysian-Indonesian relations. One taxi was decorated with Lego dinosaurs; in another religious images from a dozen beliefs filled the dashboard.
Chill Out At The National Gallery
Art galleries don’t often feature in tours through Asia. Singapore’s National Gallery proved an oasis of calm (and air conditioning in the tropical heat). Naturally, the focus is largely on modern Southeast Asian art, and there are often touring exhibitions; I was lucky enough to catch works from the Court of Lichtenstein.
Singapore my be a tiny island, but there is enough on offer here to fill not just one visit, but many.