Saturday, July 02, 2005
Last Day in Singapore
Our last full day in Singapore, Friday, turned out to be a jammed pack day! On Friday morning there was barely a cloud in the sky as we head off for Chinatown and points beyond. No cloud means very hot temperatures. We took the relatively new subway to Chinatown and walked out onto Pagoda Street. I was blown away by the changes that this street has undergone. The subway makes a grand entrance to the street, which is now paved with smooth bricks for pedestrians only. Gift stalls line both sides of the street – somewhat reminiscent of Chinese New Year, but clearly geared more to tourists than local revelers. Still, prices were not too bad and we did buy a few items here. I took quite a few photos of the area, especially the Sri Miriaman Hindu Temple (which has not changed at all), for comparison with those that I took in the early 1980s and late 1990s.
On the advice of an NUS colleague the day before, we also visited the Chinatown Cultural Center, which told a brief history of early Chinese migration to Singapore and recreated the cramped living conditions in an old shophouse. It was done quite well, though I am sure that the original smells of the tenement-like living conditions (especially the plastic re-creations in the toilet bucket) would probably have driven off most of today’s visitors.
For lunch we first tried the hawker center in the Chinatown HDB (Housing Development Board) building, but most of the stalls were closed and it did not seem to appetizing. We then walked over the to People’s Park Shopping Center were we found a small food court. The kids had “chicken rice” (my son’s favorite dish in Singapore) and I had noodles and stewed pork in soup (trying to give my stomach a rest from all the chili!).
After lunch we went to Bugis Junction, a shopping center/food court above the Bugis subway station. As was the case when we last visiting here seven years ago, the place was jam packed with people. We had some fresh fruit juices (watermelon, soursop, and mango) and some pastries, then went upstairs where the shopping center atrium has been made to resemble an old street of shophouses. I like to use photos of this as an example of postmodernism’s attempt to “return to the past”. The last time we were here, they were trying to set a record for the world’s longest noodle (which they succeeded in doing). This time there was a food festival in which many of the major restaurants in Singapore set small stalls so people could sample some of their wares.
From Bugis Junction we walked across the street to Bugis Street, which used to be famous as an after-hours hang out for transvestites. Today it has become a huge outdoor (though still covered) marketplace, similar to the night and street markets of Hong Kong (Temple Street and the Ladies Market). This was all new, though there was one stretch like this when we were last in Singapore. A couple block beyond, we stopped in at Sim Lim Shopping Center – the leading electronics center in Singapore. While they had a lot of stuff, I was not impressed with their prices.
After a rest we headed out to Pungol for Friday’s dinner – our last in Singapore for this trip. In the old days, if you went to Pungol for dinner, that meant going for seafood at a restaurant on the Strait of Johor. Now it means going to a friends new flat in the spanking new Pungol HDB estate. We had a home cooked Nonya (Peranakan) dinner, which is a mix of Chinese and Malay. Our Chinese friends are Peranakan, or Straits Chinese, who only speak Malay (and English). One of them owns this very nice flat, though she seldom stays in it, preferring to stay in town at her sister’s house. The flat, in that sense, is more like a second home that is only visited on an occasional basis. A Sri Lankan Buddhist monk, who I have known a for long time, also came to dinner and we discussed his relief work in the tsunami areas of Sri Lanka – which has entailed a lot of unnecessary government red tape delays.
By the way, I have not heard anything from the conference organizers in the past couple of days. I am guessing that means everything is on track (for now).
The photo below is looking down Pagoda Street in Chinatown from above the MRT (subway) station entrance (the escalators go down to the station).