In March 2011, Mom and I were off on our next international adventure together to visit Dan in SE Asia! Our first stop was Singapore followed by Jakarta, Yogyakarta and with a last stop in Bali.
First up was an 8 hour flight from JFK to Frankfurt and then an hour layover before our 15 hour flight to Singapore. Seats 44J and 44K were a nice home, filled with lots of movies, TV and some on and off naps. Thanks to the Ambien we were both able to get about 6 hours of sleep on our longer flight. Although, even after all that fun and good food we were surely happy to get off and stretch our legs. First, with an hour layover in Frankfurt and now at our first destination, Singapore!
We landed at 6:10 am Singapore time on Sunday. Mom and I were amazed at all the amenities in this beautiful airport. Great shops, beautiful orchid gardens everywhere and the best $8 we ever spent. For that price we were able to access an outdoor sunflower garden in the terminal and have a shower in our own personal rooms. After nearly 24 hours on planes, it felt great to take a hot shower; now if only we could get rid of our cankles we have adopted (I don't even recognize the lower half of my legs).
P.S. Thankfully I didn't bring any drugs into Singapore. The immigration card reads in bold red letters:WARNING DEATH FOR DRUG TRAFFICKERS UNDER SINGAPORE LAW. We are definitely not in Kansas anymore! Although every sign in English does make it a little feel a little bit like home.
As it turns out, English is the national language here and that is what children learn in school. Then as a second language they take Chinese or Malay. I think we only ran into one person today who didn't speak English, so the culture shock hasn't quite hit us yet. This country/city is also incredibly clean! They have undercover cops watching out for litterers and they don't even sell gum here because they don't want it to end up on the streets!!
The Marina Bay Sands is like no place I have ever seen, with the Skypark sitting 57 floors above Marina Bay, it is quite the view. (the one from our 37th floor isn't too shabby either). Once Dan arrived and put his bags down we immediately got our suits on and headed back up to the pool because it looked like a storm was coming. By the time we got there, lightning had already begun and they had closed the pool.
We took the time to explore the shops here at the hotel and then the search for a new pair of glasses began for Dan. That cab was this morning was bad luck for him, because not only did he miss his flight but he left his glasses in there as well. He had bought a pair of glasses here on a previous trip to Singapore so we took a cab to the same shopping area. Everything looking the same + Dan not being able to read signs from a distance = unsuccessful. We had our first experience in a crowded Asian marketplace and mom was not a fan. Hopefully, once we all get a good night's sleep tonight the crowds won't feel as bad tomorrow.
Dan headed to another mall and mom and I went back up to the pool for some food and drinks. Four hours later, Dan returned with new glasses! We went back up to the pool and hot tub. Ten minutes into the hot tub soak, Dan realized he had an entire pack of cigarettes in his pocket. Oops, that was fun to clean out!
My only real sign of jet lag was this morning when I was wide awake at 5:30 and couldn't fall back asleep. I decided to get my day started, got up showered and then mom and I headed for breakfast at the Sky Park around 6:30. In the club room they have a huge breakfast buffet with western as well as Asian choices. I had dumplings and rice but also some bacon and fruit as well. As many of you know, dumplings of any kind are one of my favorite foods so the fact that they had them for breakfast was amazing!
After reading about the "Top 10 things to do in 24 hours" we headed to the first stop on the list: The Botanical Gardens. (we decided to opt out of the quick fix plastic surgeries which also made the list, thank you to Time magazine site). The gardens reminded us a Central Park with its many paths, ponds and people taking their wedding photos. However, the distinct difference was the vegetation, particularly the vast orchid garden. The park was free but entrance to the orchid garden was $5 or $1 for students, luckily I still carry around my expiration-free Syracuse ID card. The orchids were absolutely beautiful and came in every color imaginable. With mom and Dan leading the way through the paths, it was like the blind leading the blind. We would go down one way, only to turn around and head a different way and then back down the original path. Let's just say, I will be in charge of maps from now on.
Next, we headed to their famous shopping street, Orchard Row. If you didn't notice before that this is one of the wealthiest countries per capita in the world (even with only 4 million inhabitants), you would know it as soon as you hit Orchard Row. With a Louis Vuitton every three blocks, no exaggeration, the stores were incredible. Amongst the couture, they also had smaller shopping centers mixed in with stalls and stalls of stores. Mom and I were so confused because every other store sells the EXACT same thing, with literally hundreds of electronics store in one "mall". As Dan continued to say, Singaporeans love to shop and love to shop in malls even more. Inside the mall we had our first Asian food outside of the hotel in an authentic a
Asian food mall, similar to a food court at home, but with chicken feet in the soup and meet hanging everywhere. The food was good, not great and Dan agreed but I'm willing to try everything here at least once (aside from the chicken feet).
After shopping, we headed for a drink at Raffle's hotel. Raffles is where the Singapore Sling was invented in the early 1900s by their bartender. We all ordered one, and at $25 each, was the most expensive drink we had all ever had. But we didn't care because we knew Ross was picking up the tab when we got back States (hahaha). Our waitress said they make between 750-1,000 a day, so at that price, not too shabby.
We then headed back to the hotel to enjoy some sun and I fell asleep poolside. We headed for dinner at one of the casual dining restaurants in futuristic, Jetsons-esque casino, and didn't opt for Guy Savoy's $904 per person truffle tasting menu or Daniel Boulud's New York style bistro. The government here tries to discourage gambling to their citizens and charges a $100 nightly entrance fee or a $1200 yearly admission.
Mom and I woke up early to see the sunrise. Dan was still sleeping so we didn't open the curtains before we left the room. When the elevator doors opened to the Sky Park, we discovered it was pouring rain. We each had three cups of coffee and I had more dumplings, fried rice and my new favorite thing, bak pao. It has a doughy outside and can be filled with different meats or different vegetables. They sell them everywhere here; some small ones about the size of a tangerine as well as large ones that are the size of softballs.
The rain was on and off during the morning so we headed to Arab Road in the Muslim quarter where they are famous for silk. The street has shop after shop selling silk and fabrics of every style, pattern and color (many of them really cheesy, but if you're a woman and covered from head to toe in fabric, why not make it fun I guess?). We found one shop that had very beautiful silks and batik materials. The man was the one person on the street who wouldn't bargain because he claimed he has such a strong clientele that he doesn't need to. Dan found this strange at first so he walked around to the other stores and realized that this guy was selling the nicest stuff and he seemed pretty legit.
Next, we went to one of the largest Buddhist temple in Singapore. I had a tank top on so I had to use one of their shawls to cover my shoulders. All the while attempting not think about the thousands of people who had wrapped it around their bodies before I had. The temple was one of the most ornate buildings I had ever been in with hundreds of hand carved Buddhas and intricate wood carved walls and ceilings. One of the reasons Dan wanted us to visit the temple was because he knew there was a good food centre across the street where we could eat lunch (a boy after my own heart...and stomach). We had yet to try the famous Singaporean chicken rice, so that was our mission. The "Maxwell Food Centre" had two main halls with stands on either side and tables down the middle. We walked around until we found a semi-crowded stand and figured that it must be good if people were waiting for it, while other chicken rice stands had no lines. Mom chose a table with one other man already sitting there. He motioned for her to sit and smiled warmly, assuming we were tourists.
When Dan brought the food over he showed us the process in which they eat it. First, put a piece of the chicken on your plate of rice. Next, dip your spoon in the soup and then pour it on the rice. Then, take a scoop of the moistened rice and chicken together for a bite. The gentleman we were sitting with watched as Dan instructed us and then said, "you're like a local". As we began talking to him we soon learned that he had worked for AIG for 40 years and that his son is a professor at Texas Tech. Before leaving, he gave us each a business card and invited us to his gallery down the block, free of charge.
We decided to stop in quickly before heading back to the hotel, and luckily we did. Vincent had opened this gallery last year as a tribute to his nation and it's leaders. He used $500,000 of his own money to commission over a hundred paintings of famous portraits throughout their history. He walked us through the gallery and described the background of their land as well as how they became the country they are today. He spoke with such pride and genuine love of his country, it was incredible. He was very humble and I only knew about the money because he showed us an article they had written about him in the newspaper. Sadly, Vincent has had less than 50 visitors to his gallery each month since it opened last year and won't be renewing his lease due to the $18,000 monthly fees. It is a shame that more people are not taking advantage of this incredible exhibit. All in all, Vincent said he wouldn't change anything about his decision to commission the paintings or open the gallery because he did it as a tribute to his country; he just hopes that a museum will take his collection so that it can be continued to be experienced by others.