Monday, July 26, 2010

Taking on the City

My friends were still adjusting to the time difference on their second full day in Singapore, so we got a late start.  We began by heading to the wet market to have a tropical fruit taste test, and we picked up some strange local treats. On the left is a dragonfruit, which has a texture similar to that of a kiwi, but is less sweet.  There are two varieties- one with white flesh and one with purple flesh.  This one was purple inside, but I didn't notice much difference in taste, except that the purple one was much juicier than the white one I've tried.  The middle fruit is a pretty standard mango, and that odd red, bell-shaped fruit on the right is locally referred to as a jambu.  I asked around for an English term, but most people couldn't come up with one.  Someone finally called it a rose apple.  It was fun to try one, since I've enjoyed watching the monkeys eat them out at Bukit Timah.  The jambu turned out to be my favorite of the fruits we tasted.  It was crisp, light, and not very sweet.  Finally, the cluster of spiky fruits at the top are rambutan.  Once peeled, they look and feel a lot like eyeballs (hence the next photo).  They're a little sweet and really chewy.  Mark and I liked them a lot, but the texture seemed to put KT off of them. 

While out and about, we picked up some other local cuisine to test out- thousand layer cake, red bean paste wrapped in pandan leaves, and Mark got a doughnut.  KT and Mark were shocked by the doughnut- a lot of bakeries around here don't make them the way an American would expect, and this was one of those.  The doughnut tasted like a dinner roll with chocolate icing and whipped cream on it.  Ick!

After our hodgepodge meal, we headed downtown to check out some of the sights.  I got us a little turned around on our way to the Esplanade, and we ended up at a war memorial I'd never seen before.  The memorial was erected to honor those that fell during WWII, when the Japanese occupied Singapore.  The second photo is from inside the memorial, looking up.

After wandering the war memorial in the rain for awhile, I got my bearings and we made a beeline for the Esplanade.  The Esplanade is a large theater downtown, and it's one of the most bizarre buildings around- it kind of looks like a giant silver durian.  We walked through the theater and up to the roof to get a good view of the city.

From the roof, we could see a lot of the notable sights- the brand spanking new Marina Bay Sands Resort & Casino, which was designed to look like a cruise ship got beached across the top of three skyscrapers.  It's pretty neat, and it's been fun watching it built over the past year- Bryan and I have been tracking the progress of the construction since the building was somewhere around the 8th or 9th floor.

The Singapore Flyer, of Amazing Race infamy, can also be seen from the roof.

In the distance, through the rain that was falling sporadically, we could spot the merlion endlessly gushing water.

As the rain began to fall more heavily, we headed back inside and scoped out some of the art displayed inside.  My favorites were the tight rope walkers in the atrium.  The gymnasts and their tightropes were made entirely out of reused plastic bags.  I have a serious appreciation for artists who take trash items and make them new again by incorporating them into something fresh and interesting.

In one of the galleries was a huge painting depicting the recent conflict between the Red Shirts and Yellow Shirts in Thailand.  It was interesting to see a local perspective on the conflict, and I liked the funky, raw style of the painting...but no photos allowed, so you'll have to go see it for yourself!  In the same gallery was a little set where patrons were free to pose and take photos as desired.  We had another senior picture session, laughing at our own antics.

We walked around awhile, perusing our lunch options, and then settled on sushi at a Japanese restaurant called Ichiban Boshi.  I attempted to teach Mark to use chopsticks, but I must not have been doing a very good job of educating, because he quickly requested silverware.  Over lunch, we discussed the plan for the rest of the day, and decided our next move would be to go to Little India, so after yummy sushi we headed out there on the MRT.

Little India is a world away from the quiet, orderly atmosphere of the Esplanade.  It's loud, hectic, aromatic, and a bit messy.  I've only been there once before, so I was doing the same spinning and staring thing that I saw my friends doing.  We struck out down the street and spent some time ducking in and out of various shops and stalls- my favorite place sells sparkly Buddhas and optical illusions of Jesus, that look as though Jesus's eyes are following you everywhere (CREEPY!).

Little India's colonial shophouses are really colorful, and they make for great scenery.

We took some photos of the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, one of the more colorful Hindu temples I've seen.

We wandered the streets a bit aimlessly, just checking out all the sights.  Eventually we happened upon Mustafa Center, a huge Indian grocery store that our friends have told us about.  We popped in to check things out- I love to cook Indian food and I've had trouble finding some of the ingredients I need (like frozen paneer), so I thought it might be a good place to look.  The store turned out to be a megastore- stories high, jammed with groceries, people, and smells from wall to wall.  The aisles were all really narrow, so people were squished in, squeezing by one another.  The experience was a little overwhelming, and we ended up popping out of the store almost as quickly as we'd popped in.

After walking awhile longer in the heat, we decided to stop for a nice cold beer.  We sat down at one of the stalls along the street, which I referred to as a bar until KT pointed out that it was really just a bunch of tables in an alley.  KT and I shared a delicious Tiger and then decided to try something new.  I saw an ad for a beer that I'd never heard of hanging on the wall, and I said to the waiter, "Excuse me, could we have a Canon One Thousand?"  He threw back his head and laughed, "You mean Canon TEN Thousand.  Super strong beer.  No girl can drink," he said, shaking his head.  I laughed too, then replied, "Well, we'd like to try.  May we have one?"  He smiled broadly as he delivered the beer to the table, but KT and I smiled bigger when we saw the bottle- the label said simply "Canon 10000 SUPER STRONG BEER" and nothing else.  We drank it (despite his warning, we girls stomached it just fine), and it was delicious.

After hanging out and tasting funny drinks for awhile (Mark was cycling through some of Singapore's stranger juice offerings, like soursop juice), we got on the MRT to go up one stop to Chinatown, where we were meeting Bryan and my friend Oliver for dinner.  Another Singaporean friend of ours had told us about a good dim sum restaurant there, a place called Red Star, and we wanted to try it out.  It will probably demonstrate my naivete about Chinese food when I tell you that I had no idea that dim sum is not typically served for dinner, but how was I supposed to know?  Mark told me that it's generally a day time type of thing, but by then we were already on our way to Chinatown.

It turned out to be incredibly fortunate that we asked Oliver to join us, because without his Chinese language skills, I seriously doubt we would have ever found the restaurant in the first place, let alone managed to order dinner.  He stopped for directions a couple of times, and then navigated us to a back alley, through a door, into a dim elevator, and up to the seventh floor of what appeared to be an apartment building.  If I had been with a stranger, at that point I would have plotting my escape from my inevitable kidnapping, because things were looking pretty shady there for a minute.  When we got to the seventh floor, we were in the back of the restaurant, and ended up entering right next to the kitchen (I like to make a grand entrance).  As Mark predicted, dim sum was not being served, so Oliver helped us order a family style meal from a hulking, irritable waitress who slapped Mark's hand away when he tried to pour KT some tea. 

I thought the food was okay, but I understood that a traditional Chinese restaurant isn't the best place to go to get delicious vegetarian cuisine.  Everyone else seemed to enjoy the feast, and the un-American presentation of it- whole shrimp with their tails and skins still on, an entire crab that took up almost a whole platter, etc.  I skipped the meat and enjoyed sticky buns, tofu, and veggies.  Despite Mark's shellfish allergy, he chowed down on things he wasn't supposed to eat , and was predictably covered in hives by the time we got dessert (the strange black blob in the photo below was dessert. It's called gui ling gao, and it looks like black Jell-O and tastes like pretty much nothing).  We detoured to a drug store to get Mark something for the hives, and again we were thankful for Oliver, who knew much more about the local medicines than I did.

After dinner, we headed back to our flat to play some cards and hang out for awhile.  Mark's hives raged on for some time, but were looking a little better by bedtime.  As I fell asleep that night, I thought back to leaving the apartment that morning and couldn't believe everything we'd jammed into one day!


  1. Ahh, I'm getting itchy again just by looking at them. :(

    But glad you got home to Singapore safely!

  2. Thanks! I've been having fun perusing through all our pictures again. Keep checking back, I have a posts scheduled to go up for the next few days!