*** FAR EASTERN BACK-PACKING 2011 - SINGAPORE ***
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EASTERN BACK-PACKING VENTURE 2011 - Singapore stop-over:
Final morning in Perth: our final day in Australia, and we were up early to complete packing our kit ready for today's onward flight to Singapore. We had arranged for the Perth hostel warden to drive us out to the distant and inaccessible Perth International Airport, for what seemed an expensive $30; but the journey by bus, the only alternative with all its uncertainties of timing, would have cost almost as much. We settled up at the hostel and retrieved our $20 key deposit, and on the drive out to the airport, it came out in conversation with the warden that he and his wife came originally from Athens. We did not pursue the detail of how they finished up running a back-packing hostel in Perth; that seemed a story too far. Saturday morning traffic on was light, and we were dropped at the airport forecourt at 9-15am (Photo 1 - Perth Airport) (see left). After photos, we queued to check-in and to hand in our packs, along with a large group of what we took to be young Singaporean service-men.
Perth International Airport and farewell to Australia: relieved of our weighty packs, we went up to the departure lounge and counted out our residual Australian coinage: we had $8.60 left in change, which bought us cups of coffee, still leaving us $1.20. The only thing in Perth that this would buy was a pack of chewing gum, so the $1.20 went later into Qantas' charity bag. We still had $70 in Australian bank notes which we should have to change, albeit at highly disadvantageous rates, back home. At security screening, we worked our way through the multi-layers of screening and frisking, and the offensively surly immigration control; finally and officially we were out of Australia with exit stamps in our passports to prove it. And we were able to sit and relax for a few moments in the lounge area by the gate overlooking the Qantas Airbus 330 waiting below (see left) (Photo 2 - Qantas Airbus 330). Our flight departure was timed for 11-55am, but time passed quickly and we were called to board at around 11-20. The Airbus 330 was a trim aircraft with a 2‑4-2 seating arrangement. We therefore had two seats to ourselves on the right hand side which we had reserved in advance on-line. We took off on time, and as the aircraft's wheels cleared the runway and the 330 Airbus became airborne, we finally said farewell to Australia.
The 5 hour flight passed quickly. We were served a very reasonable lunch from a menu of Singapore style food, with mini bottles of Australian white wine, and all during the afternoon the cabin crew attentively served a series of chilled drinks and fruit . This was without doubt the most pleasantly civilised of our flights. We again were able to follow the flight on the route plan, as the plane passed over Jakarta and unknown places with mysterious oriental names across the Indonesian peninsula.
Geography of Singapore: the small and heavily urbanised city-state of Singapore covers the diamond-shaped Singapore Island and some 60 smaller islands, a total land area of 280 square miles, located at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, with a population of 5.7 million. To the north, the main island is separated from the Malay peninsula by the half mile-wide channel of the Johor Strait which is crossed by a road-rail causeway. The state's southern limits run through the Strait of Singapore, separating Singapore from Indonesia (see map above right). Located just 85 miles north of the equator, Singapore's climate is classified as equatorial with high humidity and abundant tropical rainfall and daytime temperatures between 25~33°C.
Arrival at Changi Airport Singapore: as the plane approached Singapore, cloud cover increased and the captain reported heavy afternoon rain over the city. We landed on time around 5-15pm and, bemused by the surroundings, followed the crowds along what seemed vast distances of hallways. We had filled out Singapore immigration cards during the flight and handed these in at immigration control, receiving another in-stamp on our passports. Another lengthy trek along to the baggage re-claim and we loaded our packs onto a trolley. The next section involved lengthy climbs up escalators and, burdened with our packs, we found the sky-train to take us to the Metro (MRT) station at terminal 2. Now came the complex issue of buying tickets. Eventually we figured out the machines and extracted 2 plastic tokens. The fare was $3 each, but it seemed that on completion of the journey, we could retrieve a $1 deposit (for what reason remained one of the mysteries of the East). A Singapore $ was worth about 50p, so it all seemed remarkably good value.
Metro journey into Singapore: as we stood bemusedly trying to figure out trains and platforms, a kindly Singaporean couple took us in hand: we needed to change at the next station, Tanah Merah, continue on the Green Line several stops to City Hall, and there transfer to the Red Line for one further stop to Dhoby Ghaut (which sounded more like a sort of curry). The man bundled us onto the train and spent the journey to Tanah Merah with us, explaining all the rituals of travel on the Singapore MRT (Mass Rapid Transit). Thanking him for his thoughtful help, we transferred to our next train. This was crowded and we had to spend almost the entire journey standing with our pack, almost dropping with exhaustion; we watched anxiously as unknown station names sped by. At City Hall, we stumbled across to the final train, and thankfully emerged at Dhoby Ghaut. Having gratefully been helped yet again by unknown hands to retrieve our ticket deposits, we emerged from the air-conditioned station into an enveloping blanket of Singapore's clammy, tropical humidity.
YMCA Hostel, our accommodation in Singapore: with the aid of a map print thankfully prepared in advance, we stumbled along Orchard Road amid evening traffic, gardens of exotic tropical plants, overwhelmingly humid heat, and the crowds of almost child-like Singapore folk. It was like stepping into a make-believe fictional world of H G Wells' Time Machine peopled by Eloi; we just hoped we should not encounter any Morlocks! Unsure of our exact location amid this urban confusion, Sheila fortunately spotted the YMCA building where our accommodation had been booked, and we staggered slowly towards it under the weight of our packs in the tropical heat. We almost fell into the reception lobby, and the receptionist, a kindly but not overly perceptive lady, remarked 'You look tired'; it was something of an understatement. Weighed down with our packs, the stress of the journey, and the Singapore humidity, we were utterly physically and mentally exhausted. Having checked in, almost comatose with exhaustion, we took the lift to the 5th floor to find our room. Falling out of our packs, we collapsed, shirts totally soaking with sweat from the overwhelming humidity.
Our first evening in Singapore: having recovered a little and cleaned up, we went out to try and find some supper. The receptionist pointed us in the direction of a food court across the way in the main Bras Basah Road. Our outline map suggested we should cross an intervening open green space labelled as Bras Basah Park, but in the meantime some oriental developer had inconveniently filled the open space with a sky-scraper. Weaving our way over, we somehow found the classic Asiatic food hall, and even better next door was an 'Irish pub'. Utterly indifferent to the noise of TVs blaring out an English football match, we ordered pints of Singapore Tiger beer, and sat obediently at the bar where the bar girls had escorted us to seats. Revelling in the refreshing taste of our beers, we watched in fascination as the barman busily mixed cocktails; whether they were Irish or not, we did not bother to ask. The beer was expensive, but so welcome after the traumas of our journey in from Changi Airport. Next door in the food hall, we toured the stalls and ordered bowls of who-knows-what from a Vietnamese stall. But it tasted delicious, and so hungry were we that Sheila had a further bowl of oriental ice cream while Paul tucked into a plate of curry from an Indian stall. Returning to the YMCA amid the crowds of laughing, child-like Singaporean Eloi, we fell into the ultra luxury of our 'suite'. After the primitive state of the Perth back-packing hostel, such comfort, albeit at expensive prices, was so welcome. And we slept the sleep of the righteous in this air-conditioned splendour.
Our first morning in Singapore: luxurious as our YMCA penthouse suite was, it took the whole time of our stay for we normally slumming travellers to discover how to make all the features work: the lights needed our card-key in the slot, the shower tap was disguised as a pipe-joint, and the air-conditioning was a total mystery which we never did fathom out! Our room window gave glorious views over nearby grand public buildings and city skyscrapers (Photo 3 - View over Singapore) (see above right). This morning, breakfast was another luxurious indulgence compared with the sparseness of our breakfasts in Perth: a curious intercontinental mélange of dim sums, baked beans and fried eggs, and we gorged ourselves on such an unaccustomed feast.
We emerged from the comfortably air-conditioned YMCA building (Photo 4 - Singapore YMCA) into Singapore's over-poweringly humid heat, and set off along Orchard Road for our first day's city explorations, past a colonial-era English-style church fronted by palm trees (see above left), and attractive street-gardens of eye-catching, exotic tropical plants which lined the streets (see right) (Photo 5 - Street-gardens), along to Dhoby Ghaut MRT station (Photo 6 - Dhoby Ghaut MRT station). One stop along at City Hall, we continued along North Bridge Road with its English-style red double-decker buses, palm trees and more street-gardens (see left) (Photo 7 - North Bridge Road), past the iced wedding-cake-looking St Andrew's Cathedral. This led us along to the Singapore Parliament Building (see below right) (Photo 8 - Singapore Parliament), and beyond this we reached the northern embankment of the Singapore River (Photo 9 - North embankment). Here on a sunny morning, the stunningly monumental Central Business District skyline of the Raffles Place office tower-blocks opened up across the river (Photo 10 - River skyline) (see below left). Along the far embankment, the brightly painted frontages of former shop-houses and go-downs (warehouses), now restored as river-side restaurants, created a contrasting colourful foreground (Photo 11 - Riverside shop-houses). One of the most characteristic forms of traditional architecture in Singapore are the shop-houses, charming rows of narrow, colourful shop-frontages with dwellings above, and a covered colonnaded arcade forming a walk-way along the front, both for pedestrians and for displaying shop wares; these were called five-foot ways. The shop-house buildings with shop opening onto the pavement served both as owner's residence and commercial business premises. They have internal courtyards, open stairwells and sky-lights to bring light and air to otherwise dark and narrow interiors. Along the river-front, rows of such shop-houses were often accompanied by warehouses (called go-downs), into which coolies unloaded produce from bum-boats at the river-quays. The shop-houses of Singapore evolved during the early-19th century colonial era. The design was first introduced by Stamford Raffles' Town Plan for Singapore to make fullest use of limited land in the new settlement. Raffles specified the uniformity and regularity of buildings, the materials to be used as well as features of the buildings such as a covered passageway. Over the decades after the colonial era, entire blocks of historical shop-houses in the urban centre were demolished for high-density, high-rise developments or governmental facilities. But many of the traditional shop-houses have now been restored as colourful, tourist-oriented restaurants, particularly along the river-front quays (Photo 12 - Riverside quays).
We took a number of photos of Singapore's tower block skyline as we walked along the embankment (Photo 13 - Tower-block skyline) under the riverside trees; bum boats, now converted for tourist river-cruises, chugged past (Photo 14 - River bum-boats) along the Singapore River (see left). The river water was now remarkably clean as a result of recent years' pollution-clearing measures. Before crossing the bridge to the southern quay of the Singapore River to explore the Chinatown district, we were first to treat ourselves to a half hour cruise along the river from Raffles Landing Stage, as an introduction to the fairy-tale Singapore skyline of sky-scraper office blocks set against the more down-to-earth foreground of colourful traditional shop-houses along the river-quay (see above right) (Photo 15 - Singapore river skyline).
Outline history of Singapore: between the 16th and 19th centuries, the Malay Archipelago was gradually colonised by the European powers, beginning with the settlement by the Portuguese at Malacca in 1509. The early dominance of the Portuguese was challenged during the 17th century by the Dutch, who controlled most of the ports in the region and established a monopoly over trade within the archipelago, particularly in spices, then the region's most important product. In 1818, British East India Company colonial administrator Sir Stamford Raffles (see right) was appointed Lieutenant Governor of the colony at Bencoolen on the SW coast of Sumatra. The Dutch had been stifling British trade in the region by prohibiting the British from operating in Dutch-controlled ports or by subjecting them to high tariffs. Determined to increase British power and trading influence in the Archipelago, Raffles' plan was to challenge the Dutch monopoly by establishing a new and free trading post along the Straits of Malacca at Singapore Island off the southern tip of the Malay peninsula. Raffles selected this position as a strategic cross-roads on the trading routes of SE Asia, with Malay, Indian and Chinese merchants plying the shipping lanes of the Straits of Malacca at the confluence of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. He persuaded Lord Hastings, Governor-General of India and his British East India Company superior, to fund an expedition to establish a new British trading base in the region.
The name Singapore derives from an Anglicisation of the native Malay name from the Sanskrit word Singa Pura meaning Lion City. This originated from the legend of a Sumatran prince who took shelter from a storm by the island, sighting what he thought was a lion, but more likely a tiger which were native to Malaysia. Raffles landed on the northern bank of the Singapore River in 1819, signed a treaty with the Malay Sultan and nobility to establish a British trading colony here, in competition with the Dutch; amid the island's mangrove swamps and dense jungle, he oversaw the establishment of the new trading post. Raffles returned to Bencoolen soon after signing the treaty and left Major William Farquhar in charge of the new settlement with a small detachment of Indian troops. Farquhar invited settlers to Singapore, but was prohibited from collecting port duties to raise revenue as Raffles had decreed that Singapore should be a free port. As news of the tariff-free port spread across the archipelago, passing ships were encouraged to stop in Singapore, and traders flocked to the island seeking to circumvent Dutch tariffs and trade restrictions. By 1821, the island's population increased with vastly profitable trade volume. Raffles returned to Singapore in 1822, highly critical of many of Farquhar 's policies such as selling licenses for gambling and sale of opium and tolerance of slave trade; despite his success in leading the settlement through its difficult early years, Farquhar was dismissed and Raffles took over the colony's administration himself. He brought in labourers and merchants from all over SE Asia, including Chinese, Malay and Indians, building up the settlement from the native jungle along the Singapore River, and laying out the township and port. Singapore was organized into functional and ethnic subdivisions under the Raffles Plan of Singapore, remnants of which can still be seen in today's ethnic neighbourhoods. A second treaty was signed with the Malay Sultan and nobility which, in exchange for a nominal yearly payment, extended British possession to most of the island, bringing it under British Law with the provision that account would be taken of Malay customs, traditions and religion. In 1823 Raffles finally left Singapore returning to UK, and in 1824 Singapore was ceded in perpetuity to the East India Company by the Sultan. During its early years Singapore would become a boomtown of over 10,000 residents, and during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the colony expanded and flourished with trading wealth from production of rubber and tin, particularly after the introduction of ocean-going steamships and opening of the Suez Canal. Straits Chinese and Indians flooded in as labourers (coolies) and merchants, intermarrying with local Malays. Singapore became one of Asia's leading trading ports and a key British military and naval base guarding the trade routes of SE Asia.
During WW2 the British garrison in Singapore surrendered to the invading Japanese who had swept down the Malaysian peninsula in 1942, in what was the greatest capitulation in British military history. 80,000 British and Australian POWs were imprisoned in the notorious Changi Prison where the modern airport is now sited, and later forced-marched for slave labour on construction of the Burma railway. The native population was subjected to even harsher punitive treatment. By the time of the Japanese Surrender of Singapore in 1945, 100,000 of the native population had died of starvation, disease, brutality or execution at the hands of the Japanese occupants. The British resumed colonial rule after WW2, but much of the infrastructure had been destroyed during the war, including the Port of Singapore harbour facilities. There was also a severe shortage of food leading to malnutrition, disease, and rampant crime and violence. High food prices, unemployment, and workers' discontent culminated in a series of strikes in 1947, causing massive stoppages in public transport and other services. Britain's failure successfully to defend Singapore in 1942 had destroyed its credibility as a ruler in the eyes of Singaporeans, and led to increasing pressure for Singapore's political autonomy.
During the 1950s, partial independence was eventually granted to Singapore, extending to full self-governance in 1959 under Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Initially Singapore merged with Malaya and Brunei to form the Federation of Malaysia. But after internal political disagreements, Singapore separated in 1965, becoming the independent Republic of Singapore, remaining in the Commonwealth and joining the United Nations. Singapore was ruled by Lee Kuan Yew until 1990. His authoritarian-liberal regime, with its emphasis on rapid economic growth, support for business entrepreneurship, and limitations on internal democracy, shaped Singapore's policies for the next half-century. The island-state progressed as a centre for trade and finance to become one of the original four Asian Tiger economies (along with Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan), attracting international financial institutions to establish their HQs in Singapore. The Port of Singapore with its extended entrepôt trade emerged as a key transportation and logistics hub, becoming one of the world's busiest ports along with the service and tourism industries, also growing immensely during this period.
Raffles Quay and Landing Stage: and here we stood on the embankment at Raffles Landing Place, where the jungle island village cum colonial trading post cum world-Class port and finance capital had all begun just under 200 years ago. At the far end of the quay, the white marble statue of Sir Stamford Raffles (see above left) (Photo 16 - Raffles' statue) stood imperiously by where the ferries pulled in at Raffles Landing Stage, commemorating the colonial founder of the Singapore trading settlement. This was said to be the point at which Raffles, colonial entrepreneur of extraordinary energy and vision, first stepped ashore on 28 January 1819 and concluded the first treaty with the local rulers. The plaque on the statue at the landing site commemorating this first landing in Singapore, records that With genius and perception, Raffles changed the destiny of Singapore from an obscure fishing village to a great seaport and modern metropolis. How would Raffles have reacted if he could now see what the small trading settlement he had founded in 1819 had developed into? Imperialist that he was, he would probably have been unsurprised at how far his colony had progressed from its humble beginnings. Having photographed His Statue against the backdrop of Raffles Place Central Business District sky-scrapers, we booked our places on the bum-boat cruise along the Singapore River.
Cruise along the Singapore River: to begin with, we had the open-sided boat almost to ourselves (see above right), and were able to move freely from side to side, photographing the buildings, sky-line and bridges as we passed. The morning light was glorious, and we took full advantage of all the photographic opportunities. The sky-scrapers of the Raffles Place Central Business District towered overhead (Photo 17 - Riverside skyscrapers) as we passed under Cavenagh Bridge (Photo 18 - Cavenagh Bridge) (see above left). This suspension bridge was constructed in 1869 with steel castings from Scotland which were shipped out to Singapore and assembled on site by convict labour. It was built to connect the colonial administrative district on the north bank directly with the developing commercial district on the southern side, replacing a detour via a neighbouring bridge or a boat crossing. Beyond the Fullerton Hotel, we pulled into a quay on the southern bank (see above right) (Photo 19 - Merlion Hotel) close to the Merlion statue, the official symbol of Singapore with head of a lion and body of a fish. Opposite on the north bank, the distinctive armadillo-shaped $600 million Esplanade Theatres-on-the-Bay performing arts centre stood out (see left) (Photo 20 - Esplanade Theatres-on-the-Bay). The southern embankment was dominated by rows of skyscraper blocks towering overhead as the ferry passed along the river (Photo 21 - Southern embankment), accommodating the offices of financial institutions based in Singapore's business district. The river now opened out into the wide area of water of Marina Bay which was over-towered on the southern side by further distinctive office-block skyscrapers (Photo 22 - Marina Bay skyscrapers) (see right). But eclipsing all of these for attention were the three enormous towers of the Marina Bay Sands resort-complex, whose tops are linked by an ocean liner-shaped roof structure (Photo 23 - Marina Bay Sands resort) (see left); this was one of Singapore's iconic structures which seemed to be visible from so many quarters of the city. Alongside, the Marina Bay Sands dwarfed the Art-Science Museum, another distinctive modernistic structure resembling the opening petals of an enormous Lotus flower (see left).
The boat turned in the broad waters of Marina Bay (Photo 24 - Turning in Marina Bay) to begin the return leg along the river through the canyon of skyscrapers, picking up more passengers at quays along along the way. Opposite Raffles Landing Stage, the bum-boat passed the attractively restored former shop-houses and go-downs of Boat Quay, now lined with colourful riverside restaurants. Just before Elgin Bridge, the boat passed on the northern side the Singapore Parliament Building, which the boat's commentary described in glowingly idealistic terms; doubtless during the days of Lee Kuan Yew's iron rule, its supposed democratic role was rather more token than actual. And still the Marina Bay Sands structure towered above other buildings to dominate the skyline (see right) (Photo 25- Marina Bay Sands dominating skyline). The boat now passed under the sturdy concrete Elgin Bridge, the original of which was the first permanent bridge across the river; the two roads leading to it were accordingly named North Bridge Road and South Bridge Road. With the foundation of the colony in 1819, Raffles issued an instruction that a bridge be built as soon as possible across the Singapore River to link the town planned for the Chinese community on the southern side of the river to another intended for the Malays on the northern side. In 1822, a wooden footbridge was built, and was replaced by a further wooden bridge in 1844. This was demolished in 1862 and in its place an iron bridge was built and named Elgin Bridge after the Governor General of India, Earl Elgin; this was replaced in 1929 by the present single-arch concrete box-girder bridge, which still connects the Chinese and Indian quarters of the city. Beyond further bridges (see left) (Photo 26- River Bridges), the boat passed along the more modernistic area and shopping centres opposite to and beyond Clarke Quay (Photo 27- Riverside shopping centres), where the former 19th century go-downs had been restored as riverside restaurants and shops (Photo 28 - Former go-downs). We continued to take many photos on both sides of the river (Photo 29 - Along the river), as the boat turned to head back downstream to Raffles Landing Stage and other cruise boats passed by. Here we alighted by the Raffles statue to walk back along the tree-shaded north embankment (Photo 30 - Tree-shaded north embankment). The river cruise had been an invaluable experience, giving us a fulsome insight and introduction to Singapore's history, its modern heritage, and its contrasting architectural sky-line with modern skyscrapers towering over restored riverside go-downs (Photo 31 - Contrasting architectural sky-line). And the gloriously clear Singapore light had provided wonderful opportunities from the river for a wealth of photographic treasures.
A much-needed drink at river-side restaurant: as we crossed Elgin Bridge to the southern embankment, further photogenic views opened up of the Singapore Parliament building (Photo 32- Singapore Parliament Building), and the magnificent panorama of Raffles Place Central Business District tower-blocks (see left), with its foreground rows of colourful riverside restaurants along the south bank (see above right) (Photo 33 - Riverside restaurants); and of course the Marina Sands Bay Complex was still visible in the distance. Crossing the bridge to the southern side, we dropped down to Boat Quay, and ran the gauntlet of girls urging us into their restaurants. Succumbing to the heat and the temptation of a beer, we took a seat in a pleasantly ventilated riverside restaurant directly opposite the Raffles statue and Parliament (see below left) (Photo 34 - Riverside restaurant) and looking out along the magnificent sweep of the river; the distinctive ocean-liner profile of the Marina Bay Sands topping its three towers stood majestically above surrounding buildings. This riverside prospect through the red paper lanterns decorating the restaurant terrace (Photo 35 - View along river) with Marina Sands Bay gracing the skyline provided yet further photographic opportunity. We sat in the cool shade, enjoying our drinks and relishing this glorious riverside setting.
Jamae Mosque in Chinatown district along South Bridge Road: back up at the bridge, we turned south along South Bridge Road, a rather mundane street along this stretch; the little traffic on a Sunday afternoon included a cycling municipal street cleaner (Photo 36 - Cycling street cleaner). After crossing Canal Street however, we were walking along a canyon of lofty sky-scraper office-blocks, some with their vertical outline interrupted by roof-gardens. Further along we entered Singapore's Chinatown district, occupied from the colony's earliest days by boatloads of Chinese immigrants who flooded in as labourers or merchants. Once off the main road, the area was a maze of narrow back streets. It was occupied not only by Chinese but also Indian immigrants, and dotted around the area were temples and shrines of their various faiths. Further along beyond Cross Street, at the corner of the appropriately named Mosque Street, we found the prominent landmark of the Jamae Mosque. This was one of the earliest mosques in Singapore, established in 1826 by the Chulias, Tamil Muslims from the coast of South India, who came to Singapore as traders and money-changers. Masjid Jamae has an eclectic architectural style, borrowing elements from both East and West, which reflects the architectural styles of 1830s Singapore. The present structure remains virtually unchanged since its foundation: worshippers enter the mosque through a gateway framed by two minarets topped by onion domes and a miniature palace façade based on South Indian Indo-Islamic influence. The mosque's compound with covered foyer leads to the two prayer halls and shrine which in contrast are Neo-Classical in style with Doric columns and large windows with Chinese green-glazed tiles.
Large numbers of Muslims were gathered here, but visitors seemed to be welcomed. Removing our shoes, and Sheila covering her shoulders with a large scarf she routinely carries for such religious visits, we rather hesitantly walked inside. Some of the local Muslims were gathered in social groups, others were kneeling and bowing at their devotions. Not wishing to intrude, we made to leave, but were approached by an iman who asked if we had any questions. Not wanting to show any prejudice against Islam, Paul duly asked about the customs and beliefs of their faith. The iman was clearly a man on a mission to refute the bad press that Islam now routinely attracted, and to educate non-believers in the benign attributes of the Muslim faith. He insisted that other peoples' gods were welcome in the apparently exclusive pantheon of Allah and Muhammad, albeit with bit-parts; clearly believing we were Catholics, he even stressed there was a place for the Virgin Mary, providing of course that Jesus owned up to his deceit and admitted that he was not the Son of God! With our agnostic leanings, somehow we were not persuaded by such condescending bigotry, particularly given the seemingly world-wide ultra-extremist ranting and terror inspired by Islam. So changing the subject, Paul countered by asking if young people came to the mosque to be taught the ways of peace and understanding; of course, the iman replied. Paul was sufficiently tactful to avoid a supplemental question as to whether terrorism was also on their curriculum; we made a tactical withdrawal to retrieve our shoes, and move on.
Sri Mariamann Hindu Temple: on the next corner, between the again appropriately named side-streets of Pagoda Street and Temple Street, we reached the highly ornate Sri Mariamann Hindu Temple. This was Singapore's oldest and most important Hindu temple, serving the majority Hindu Tamil Singaporeans. It was founded in 1827 by Naraina Pillai, eight years after the trading settlement's establishment. Pillai was a government clerk from Penang who arrived in Singapore with Raffles 1819; he went on to set up the island's first construction company, and was also involved in the textile trade; rapidly establishing himself in business, he was identified as a leader of the Indian community. The wealth and importance of Sri Mariamann Temple was evident from the highly ornate monumental pagoda-like tower (gopuram) over the entranceway (see above left) (Photo 37 - Gopuram at Sri Mariamann Hindu Temple), richly embellished with six tiers of sculptures of Hindu deities and ornamental decorations. Within the walled compound, the temple consisted of a combination of covered halls, shrines, and open courtyards. From the gopuram entrance, a covered hall led directly to the main prayer hall, with richly ornamented columns and frescoed ceiling (Photo 38 - Hindu mother goddess) (see left). The focus of the main prayer hall was the central shrine of Mariamman, the Hindu mother goddess predominant in the rural areas of Tamil Nadu in Southern India. The prayer hall was surrounded by a series of free-standing shrines, housed in pavilion-like structures with decorated domed roofs (see above right) (Photo 39 - Domed shrine pavilions). Sri Mariamann Temple is also the site of the annual Thimithi (fire-walking) ceremony celebrated in November: the priest starts the Thimithi by walking across a hollow filled with hot burning coals, and is followed by male Hindu devotees intent on proving their faith and fulfilling their personal pledge.
Again with some hesitation, we removed our shoes to enter the temple courtyard. A service (if that was the correct term for Hindu devotions) had clearly just finished, and ladies in sarees were standing waiting to be collected. Inside the prayer hall was the inner sanctum with Mariamman's shrine, surrounded by open courtyards in which the smaller shrines were set. Statue-filled niches surrounded the hall, and the ceilings were richly decorated with portraits of the Hindu deities; the domed roofs of the smaller shrines were covered with images of Hindu holy figures. The intriguing feature of the Hindu religion was the fascinating range and appearance of its deities (Photo 40 - Hindu deities): these included a cute, tubby little elephant-god with curly trunk (see left), multi-armed and multi-legged deities, and a rather exhibitionist god exposing his all sans loincloth who, despite his paunch and chubby thighs, was portrayed showing his gymnastic abilities by putting his toe in his mouth (see right). Spare pairs of arms were particularly useful if you were a Hindu goddess' sitar-playing attendant. All of these multifarious and entertaining embodiments of the Hindu polytheistic pantheon made the Christian monotheistic religion seem in contrast unimaginatively staid and uninspiring. A few little elephant gods or multi-limbed exhibitionists would certainly liven up our our local village church, and may even attract larger congregations. The only negative feature however of the Hindu faith was the requirement to walk around with bare feet on stone slabs heated by the ferocious tropical sun; we could understand now the origins of their fire-walking ceremonies! We hopped around, trying to tread in the shade, and photographed all the little elephant gods, and the rooftop collections of colourful statuary. The adjacency of such contrasting places of worship truly reflected Singapore's remarkable mingling of ethnic and religious communities.
Chinatown Sunday afternoon street markets: looking along the side streets behind the temple, it was clear that we had found the location of the Chinatown Sunday afternoon markets. Temple Street itself however seemed to function as something of a car park, so we retraced our steps to Pagoda Street to walk along the rows of stalls, the street festooned with red paper lanterns. There were very few tourists about, simply local people enjoying a Sunday afternoon jaunt through the market (Photo 41 - Chinatown street markets) (see right). There were all varieties of stalls, mainly souvenirs and T-shirts, and shop-fronts selling cut-price photographic, computer and electronic equipment. Carrying his Canon camera, Paul was an obvious target for the touts, and in a moment of weakness, allowed himself to be drawn into one of the photographic shops. The salesman was a skilful operator: he tried to sell us a supplemental lens for the camera, insisting on fitting one to the camera body and bringing the price down further and further. We were trapped and nothing that Paul could do, without forthright rudeness and walking out, would have extricated us. We finally, and with great difficulty, managed to undo the lens on offer and retrieve the camera body, but the salesman was not letting us go that easily. What about a Polaroid filter? Paul again made the fatal error of showing momentary interest. Again the price came down and down, and we finally agreed a price. But when the bill came, it was far in excess of the agreed sum. You can reclaim the tax at the airport, he claimed; I'll supply the paperwork. But even knocking off the tax, at two Singapore dollars to the pound, it was far more than the agreed figure. Too numb to argue, we gullibly gave in; we were well and truly hooked. Paul had his birthday present, but at what price!
Continuing through the stalls more wary now, but still enjoying the market atmosphere, we walked back and forth along Trengganu Street, looking for a stall selling the ice cream concoctions we had read of. Most of the food stalls looked distinctly unsavoury, clearly aimed at tourists, but we eventually found a row of stalls in Smith Street with just what we wanted. Sheila ordered a Mango Ice Kacang (literally meaning bean ice) (Photo 42 - Mango Ice Kacang) (see above left), a Chinatown ice cream specialty made up of a pile of crushed ice and ice cream with jelly pieces, fruits, berries, sweet corn and red beans, all topped with mango sauce. It was deliciously refreshing.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple: back along at South Bridge Road and passing another cycling street cleaner (see above right), we considered leaving the market area believing we had covered most of what was to be seen. We crossed the road, intending to head eastward in search of other parts of Chinatown. But from this position, we could now see on the corner of Sago Lane a huge and elaborate Chinese temple, resembling in shape a design from Wedgewood plates or a backdrop for a production of the Mikado (see left). This we had to investigate further, and crossed back for a closer look at what was labelled on our map as the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The temple was designed by the Chief Abbot Venerable Shi Fa Zhao in traditional Tang Dynasty architectural style, and was built in 2007 to house the eponymous left canine tooth relic of Buddha, which had been recovered from his funeral pyre in Kushinagar, India. The Buddha Tooth Relic is housed in a giant stupa, a dome-shaped structure for containing relics, weighing 3,500 kilograms and made from 320kgs of gold, mostly donated by Buddhist devotees. As well as housing this scared relic, the temple also serves as a Buddhist cultural and educational centre promoting the legacy of Buddha's teachings. The exterior of this huge multi-galleried Buddhist temple was draped with pink paper blossom (Photo 43 - Buddha Tooth Relic Temple), and large numbers of people were gathered around the outer courtyards. We entered to find a large congregation taking part in a Buddhist ceremony. No one seemed to regard our presence as an intrusion and other visitors were examining the shrine and exhibits (Photo 44 - Buddhist shrine). We took some photos of the richly decorated interior but withdrew, feeling that we were intrusive voyeurs on what was clearly a deeply religious occasion. The nearby car park was full, with a number of coaches which had brought the devotees to what was clearly a special event. Given the scale of the temple and the numbers of worshippers attending, it was obvious that the Buddha's tooth relic was a prize draw!
Chinatown Complex Food Centre and the dreaded Durians, King of Fruits: just behind the Buddhist temple, we found the huge indoor market of the Chinatown Complex Food Centre. With curiosity renewed, we entered this wholly functional complex of food stalls, and one of our first encounters helped to clear up an aspect of Singaporean daily life that had been puzzling us: this morning in the lift lobby on our floor at the YMCA, below a sign forbidding smoking in the hotel, was a sign forbidding the presence of Durians alongside a symbol resembling a crossed-out spiky entity from a space invaders game (see above right). We had seen the same sign and symbol on the MRT. But what did this mysterious sign mean? Here in the Chinatown Complex Food Centre we found the answer. Tucked away in an obscure corner of the indoor market, a stall was piled high with green, spiky, rugby ball-sized fruits, which the signs proclaimed as Durians, the King of Fruits (Photo 45 - Durians (King of fruits)) (see left). And a neighbouring stall displayed small dishes of the yellowish Durian fruit, which sold at highly expensive prices; a whole one cost $7. But beware: the pervasive foul smell around the stall explained why the Durian was a forbidden fruit! It was repulsively fetid. We later learned that, although Durians are for some inexplicable reason popular with locals, their persistent foul stench of raw sewage, which may linger for several days, causes them understandably to be banned in public buildings and on the MRT. Standing by the stall of Durians, we fully appreciated why, and duly photographed the offending fruit.
A final tour of the Chinatown Market stalls: we walked around the functional stalls of hardware, bric-a-brac, and Bollywood DVDs, and stalls of meat and vegetable. Here Paul found a small snack of curried pasty to keep him going. Along Sago Street, we found another curiosity: we had earlier seen youngsters sucking drinks through straws from large green fruit shells. At a stall here, we discovered that these were unripe green coconuts; the top was cut away and the inside partially scooped out, leaving the juice and fleshy fruit. We had to try this. The stall lady was very obliging and brought us 2 straws, and we took it in turn sucking out the sweet, refreshing coconut milk (Photo 46 - Coconut milk drink) (see above right). Passing other unusual stalls selling among other things chop sticks and samples of Chinese handwritten script, we returned to South Bridge Road to pick up our onward route where we had left it a half hour earlier.
Telok Ayer Street: crossing the main road, we worked our way through the back streets which led up steps to a hillock with the gardens of Telok Ayer Green; these were planted with exotic tropical trees and shrubs, the sort that back home are small house plants but here were huge trees (Photo 47 - Singaporean tropical trees). Sheila was photographed holding a massive fallen leaf from one of the trees (see left); this was an autumn botanising with a difference. Steps led down the far side into Telok Ayer Street, the primary area set aside by Raffles for the Chinese community. The area now is built on reclaimed land, but originally was on the coastline at the main landing site for Chinese immigrants. Telok Ayer Street formed the original focal point of settlement and development of the Chinese immigrant community in early Singapore, becoming the main commercial and residential thoroughfare in Chinatown. Temples and mosques are plentiful in this area, built by Chinese and Muslim immigrants to show their gratitude for a safe sea passage to Singapore.
Taoist shrine-temple of Thian Hock Keng: at the corner where we emerged into Telok Ayer Street, we reached the Taoist shrine-temple of Thian Hock Keng, meaning Palace of Heavenly Happiness (see above right). This was the oldest and most important temple in Singapore, built to serve the local Hokkien community of immigrants from Southern China and dedicated to Matsu, Goddess of the Sea, Queen of Heaven and Patroness of Sailors. The temple is now located on Telok Ayer Street, but before land reclamation work began in the 1880s, this area used on the waterfront. When originally built in the 1820s, the Thian Hock Keng Temple faced the sea, where seafarers and immigrants could give thanks to the sea goddess for a safe sea passage on their arrival at Singapore. Building materials for the temple and a statue of Matsu were brought over from China, and the statue enshrined in the main hall of the temple in 1840. The exterior of the temple, originally decorated with carved wooden dragons, was now unfortunately beginning to succumb to dereliction; it was today all locked up and badly in need of renovation.
Telok Ayer covered market and food hall: along to the main thoroughfare of Cross Street, back amid the over-towering forest of glitzy tower blocks, the road was partially dug up with construction work for a new MRT line extension. We followed the road across a couple of intersections to find the Lau Pa Sat (meaning 'old market' in the Hokkien dialect) covered food hall market. Set amid the modernistic urban landscape of sky-scrapers (see left) (Photo 48 - Telok Ayer covered market), this wonderfully preserved prefabricated cast-iron and timber octagonal structure topped by clock-tower, originally designed by the colonial government's municipal engineer and built in 1894, now houses the Telok Ayer Market and food hall. The interior is surprisingly light and airy with its elegantly slender cast-iron support-pillars, lofty timber-lined vaulted ceilings and filigree decorative features (Photo 49 - Telok Ayer food hall interior) (see above right). The food-hall is filled with food stalls selling all kinds of straightforward oriental cuisine, with groups of tables for diners to eat their plates of noodles, rice, barbecued sea-food and all manner else of the many culinary traditions represented in Singapore. All of this was familiar from last evening's food-hall experience. What was however new for us were the archetypally Singaporean satay stalls, set out in the outdoor seating area of Boon Tat Street alongside the covered market.Weary, hot and sticky from our long day's explorations and markets ambling in Singapore's overbearing tropical humidity, we gratefully sat for our meal with our mugs of Tiger beer, bought from ladies known affectionately by locals as beer aunties, who made their rounds of the tables selling cheap drinks. After our huge breakfast this morning, we had lunched on snacks to save appetite for our promised traditional Singaporean satay supper here at the Boon Tat street market stalls (see left). We watched with fascination the elderly gents fanning their barbecue coals (see above right) (Photo 50 - Fanning the barbecue coals) and layering on kebabs of shredded chicken and beef meat and enormous, skewered, unshelled tiger-prawns. Smoke from the barbecue trolleys wafted over the food-hall, adding to the atmosphere as more diners filled the outdoor seating (see left and right below).
We firstly selected a stall selling grilled tiger prawns, and ordered two each with a plate of vermicelli noodles. The prawns were very messy to shell, but unbelievably delicious with their thick, meaty and really tasty flesh. Having cleared our dish of noodles, we moved onto our second course: at another stall we ordered ten satay kebabs with their accompanying little dishes of spicy peanut sauce (Photo 51 - Satay kebabs and fried rice), and a plate of egg fried rice brought from a further stall, together with more mugs of Tiger beer (Photo 52 - Tiger beer). We had chosen our seats well, immediately alongside the elderly gent who was grilling the satay sticks and frantically fanning the barbecue coals (Photo 53 - Satay barbecue). As we eat our mouth-wateringly delicious supper, Paul continued taking endless photos among the atmospheric lights of the now dark evening. It was a totally exhilarating experience, enjoying a wonderfully traditional Singaporean supper amid the absorbing atmosphere of the satay stalls and food market (Photo 54 - Satay supper), now crowded with mainly local people. Taking our final photos of the satay stalls and the early evening crowds of Singaporeans happily tucking into their suppers (Photo 55 - Early evening crowds) (see right), we walked back through the covered Lau Pa Sat market, and along the canyon of tower blocks, largely darkened on a Sunday evening, towards Raffles Place MRT station.
Two stops north to Dhoby Ghaut, our now familiar home station, we returned to our room at the YMCA to freshen up. As we walked across to the Irish pub on the far side of Bras Basah Road, a helpful Singaporean lady pointed out that if we waited for the Green Man in trying to cross the road, we should be waiting all evening; the pedestrian crossing did not operate until after 9-00pm! At the pub, we were welcomed to the bar stools, having achieved locals status after last night's visit. We ordered our Tiger beers and sat chatting with one of the barmen. Being a quiet Sunday evening, the other barman was in less demand for his cocktail-mixing skills tonight. Saying farewell, we returned to the YMCA, thoroughly exhausted after our full but wonderfully satisfying day in Singapore's torridly humid tropical heat. Again we had learned so much and enjoyed many unique experiences.
British surrender of Singapore to invading Japanese in 1942: after a second night's sleep in our air-conditioned luxury suite, and a solid breakfast to start the day, we set off for our second and final day in Singapore. We had to check out, and leave our packed kit in the YMCA's secure luggage store for the day, to collect early this evening before leaving for the airport and our homeward overnight flight.
Our first visit this morning was to Fort Channing Park, set on the hill behind the YMCA, for our visit to the preserved WW2 British military command-post. It was here that the British military commander, Lt-General Percival took the fateful decision to surrender Singapore to the Japanese on 15 February 1942. We walked up Fort Channing Road (see left) past the stately building of the Singapore National Museum (Photo 56 - Singapore National Museum). Steps climbed the hillside leading through magnificent gardens of exotic tropical trees (see right) (Photo 57 - Fort Channing Park): some were seen in UK as miniature house plants and here grew as huge trees. This morning the sky was clear and the sun even hotter than ever; we were grateful for the relief of the trees' shade. The steps led up into the park where the main visitor attraction was the underground bomb-proof bunker, built in 1936 and known as the Battle Box, which had housed the British military command-post during the WW2 defence of Singapore against Japanese invasion. The Battle Box as Combined Operations Headquarters has been preserved in the state of 1942 with audio-visual presentations telling the story of events leading up to the surrender. As we arrived, a group tour was about to begin which we joined as the young guide issued headphones, with simulated bomb explosions echoing around the underground bunker.
Britain's pre-war Far East Strategy: the Singapore Strategy was the cornerstone of British Imperial defence policy for the British Empire in the Far East during the late 1930s. This naval defence policy aimed to deter aggression by the Empire of Japan by providing a well-equipped naval base at Singapore for the Royal Navy Far East fleet, in order to intercept and defeat a Japanese force heading south towards India or Australia. Despite Singapore being Britain's prize Far-East colonial possession, the island was relatively poorly defended on the landward side, since any Japanese attack was expected to come from the sea; the battle-cruisers Repulse and Prince of Wales had already been sunk on their way to Singapore by Japanese air attack in December 1941. But the Japanese failed to oblige British expectations: their armies poured irresistibly down the Malayan peninsular from Thailand, taking the British by surprise to threaten Singapore from the landward side. The heavy naval guns designed to defend Singapore against Japanese naval attack were equipped with armour-piercing rather than high-explosive shells, and were almost useless to repel Japanese troops invading from the north. Japanese forces crossed the Johor Straits to invade the island of Singapore, and within a week the battle for Singapore was over, resulting in a humiliating British defeat and surrender. British and Commonwealth troops suffered heavy losses in the fighting and 1000s were taken prisoner. Churchill called it the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history.Our visit to the British military command-post: in the Battle Box presentation, General Percival's final conference at which, after heated argument and recrimination the decision was taken to surrender, was simulated by rather less than convincing automated manikins (Photo 58 - Fort Channing simulation) (see above left and right), and with even more clumsy sound-effects. Percival became a scapegoat for the necessity to surrender Singapore, and went into POW captivity along with his troops. Following the surrender, the Singaporean civilian population, particularly the Chinese, were subjected to massacres and treated with savage brutality, and many died in captivity as a result. Many of the British and Commonwealth POWs died in captivity in Changi prison; many others were shipped to Japan for slave labour or force-marched to work on building the Siam-Burma Death Railway. Singapore finally returned to British control after Japanese surrender was enforced by the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Yamashita, the Japanese commander at the capture of Singapore, was tried and convicted by a US military war crimes commission, and was hanged in the Philippines in February 1946.
Singapore's Civic District: we returned downhill through more of the delightful stepped gardens to Dhoby Ghaut MRT station, and caught the metro one stop along to City Hall with the intention of seeing a little of Singapore's Civic District. In the searing heat, we walked past the very English St Andrew's Cathedral (see left) to find Singapore's grandiose neo-Classical City Hall, built at the height of British colonial power in 1929. It was here that the Japanese surrendered to Lord Mountbatten as Supreme Allied Commander Southeast Asia in 1945, and that Lee Kuan Yew declared Singapore's self-governance in 1959. But rumours of our visit today had spread, and inevitably therefore the builders were in: the enormous building with its Doric-columned façade, was surrounded by high fencing enclosing a building site. There was absolutely nothing to be seen of the entire edifice other than the backdrop of Central Business District sky-scrapers.
Across the busy main road from the government buildings was the wide open space of green turf, known as the Padang (Malay for field), an area which Raffles in his plan for Singapore had set aside as public parkland, and which later formed the cricket pitch for the Singapore Cricket Club founded in 1852; more infamously in 1942, it was used by the Japanese military as the place where the entire European population was rounded up for interrogation. It was still a sports ground, but now seemed a bizarrely anachronistic hangover from British colonial days. The skyline above the sports field was today dominated by the three towers of the ocean liner deck-topped Marina Bay Sands Resort (Photo 59 - Padang cricket ground) and by the office sky-scrapers of CBD (see above right).
Taking Tiffin at the Raffles Hotel: wilting in the hot sun, we walked along St Andrew's Road and crossed the busy main road to visit the world famous luxury Raffles Hotel, the emblematic symbol of British colonial rule in Singapore (see right). Despite the implications of its name, the hotel was in fact founded, not by Raffles himself, but in1887 by enterprising Armenian hoteliers, the Sarkies brothers. Over the years, the rich and famous have stayed at the Raffles Hotel, so we felt it appropriate that we also should take Tiffin there.
Slightly overawed, we stood by the flawlessly raked gravel driveway with its surround of palm trees backed by modernistic sky-scrapers (Photo 60 - Raffles Hotel) (see left). The hotel itself had every appearance of a survival from a more gentile era, with an exquisitely uniformed and turbaned Indian commissionaire standing attentively by the front steps ready to leap out and assist arriving guests from their limousines. Having taken our photos of the magnificent façade, we brazenly approached the main entrance, but entry was forbidden to all but residents; the hoi polloi were obliged to go around the side where, amid beautiful palm trees and gardens of exotic plants, we found the Tiffin Room, Billiard Room and Palm Court. And alongside, overlooking the lovely cool garden and fountain, was a delightful shaded terrace (Photo 61 - Garden terrace at Raffles Hotel); yes, we should take Tiffin here. Paul walked in, and with due aplomb ordered Earl Grey Tea for milady and a large Tiger beer for himself. And we sat on the terrace of Raffles Hotel to enjoy this delightfully civilised interlude in our hot and busy day, an occasion duly recorded on photograph (Photo 62 - Taking Tiffin at Raffles Hotel). This was a charmingly memorable interlude on the terrace at Raffles; but the price was equally memorable: $55 for a tray of tea and a beer!
The Raffles Museum: having taken photos of the uniformed commissionaire on guard at the main entrance (see right) (Photo 63 - Raffles commissionaire), we walked around to the rear of the hotel to find the Raffles Hotel Museum, and the avant-garde Raffles Shopping Arcade, lined with extravagantly expensive designer shops. Up the escalator to the first and second floors, the veranda gave splendid views over the exclusive hotel gardens (Photo 64 - Hotel gardens) with their luxuriant palm trees (see left) (Photo 65 - Luxuriant palm trees). The second floor veranda gave perfect tree-top level views of the coconut fruits growing atop the palm trees (Photo 66 - Coconut fruits). And in the distance, the three towers of the Marina Bay Sands resort with its ocean liner top deck stood out clearly above the roofs and gardens of Raffles Hotel (Photo 67 - Marina Bay Sands resort). Tucked away rather obscurely on the second floor was the Raffles Hotel Museum, with displays of memorabilia from distinguished guests who had stayed at the Raffles during the early 20th century, and a model of the modern hotel.
Lunch at The Banana Leaf Apolo in Little India: exiting from the exclusivity and peacefulness of the Raffles courtyard and gardens, into the steamy hot and busy Stamford Road, we walked along to City Hall MRT station. Here amid the welcome air-conditioned coolness of the station's shopping arcades, we caught the metro back along to Dhobi Ghaut. Eventually locating the platform for the NE MRT line, we travelled one further stop along to Little India. This was originally the division of colonial Singapore where, under the Raffles Plan of Singapore, ethnic Indian immigrants would reside under the British policy of ethnic segregation. Hindus and Tamil Muslims still make up the majority of the population in what is now Singapore's most colourful downtown district.
Emerging from Little India MRT station into the wall of heat, we were faced with all the noise and disruption of major building sites and excavations from another extension of the MRT system. Eventually finding our bearings, we walked along Buffalo Street alongside the Tekka Centre and Indian food market, a busy, bustling complex of stalls selling everything from sarees, jewellery, sweets, herbal medicines, brass-wares and ornaments. Our plan was for a late lunch of curry at one of the Indian food halls around the market, but nothing was immediately apparent. We enquired of a lady stall-holder, and she directed us further along Race Course Road where we found the Banana Leaf Apolo, a long-established Indian food hall founded in 1974 by Mr Chellappan Sankaranathan; it was exactly what we were looking for. Around the central seating area were stalls selling dishes of curry of every description from both Southern Indian vegetarian food to North Indian tandoori dishes. Our initial impression was that we should select a stall and wait with our tray to be served. But no, we were directed to sit at one of the tables, and select our choice of meal from a menu. In the traditional manner, your meal was eaten from a large piece of banana leaf, but at least forks and spoons were provided; as a sop to modernity, you no longer had to eat your curry and rice using just fingers! We ordered fish curry, four Apolo masala tiger prawns, a mutton masala and Apolo chicken curry, with a portion each of Briyani rice which was ladled onto our banana leaves. The curries were exquisite (see above right) (Photo 68 - Curry lunch), some of the finest ever eaten, particularly the juicy, meaty prawns (Photo 69 - Curried tiger prawns) (see above left), although peeling them was rather a messy business. But in one corner of the food hall, an area was set aside equipped for hand-washing; it was all very civilised.
Shops along Serangoon Road: after our memorably exotic curry feast, we walked through the Tekka market and out into Serangoon Road. This thoroughfare was busy with traffic and lined with shop-houses (see right) selling fruit and vegetables (Photo 70 - Serangoon Road shop-houses), foodstuffs, gold jewellery, silks, sarees (Photo 71 - Shops selling silks and sarees) (see left), and tailors selling made-to measure suits. Outside the shop-houses, running along the pavement were the classic five-foot ways, covered colonnaded arcades arching out from the shop fronts. Despite the quality feel of the displayed rolls of beautiful silks, Sheila could not be persuaded to be measured for a saree, nor Paul for a 12 hour suit or shirt. A little further along, we turned off into Cuff Street searching for the Spice Grinder Shop, allegedly one of the last remaining of such spice shops in Singapore. There were merchants and import-export enterprises of every kind, some with container lorries parked outside, but along the length of the whole street, there was no trace of any spice-grinding emporium; it was, it seemed, no longer.
Sri Veeramakaliamman Hindu Temple in Serangoon Road: across on the corner of Serangoon Road and Belilios Road, amid the shops and over towering office blocks, we found the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple (see right) (Photo 72 - Sri Veeramakaliamman Hindu Temple), another of Singapore's elaborate Hindu shrines, built in 1881 by Bengali immigrants. The temple was dedicated to Kali, the fiercesome goddess-consort of the Hindu god Shiva, and Destroyer of Evil. During the Japanese air raids in WW2, many people sought refuge in the temple and prayed for Kali's protection. The goddess kept her temple and all its statues, along with those seeking shelter, unscathed from the bombings. In the 1980s, major reconstruction work took place: a gopuram (entrance tower), ornately sculptured with idols representing Hindu deities was added along with eight main domes and several minor ones.
Sounding the prayer-bells on the doors in true Hindu manner as we passed through the gopuram, we removed our shoes to enter the temple. Around the gloomy interior of the prayer hall, there were more shrines filled with statues of the Hindu deities (Photo 73 - Sri Veeramakaliamman prayer hall) (see left), including a few more chubby little elephant-gods. Ladies in sarees along with their children knelt in prayer before the shrines, and priests wearing little more than loin clothes attended the effigies. The rear courtyard was clearly the place where ritual feasts were held on festival days, and a sign urged devotees 'not to enter the kitchen'. Large trays of holy bananas had been placed as offerings in front of the shrines which were decorated with garlands of marigolds, and in a side-street outside the temple, a classic Singaporean shop-house stall was selling marigold garlands (see right) (Photo 74 - Marigold garlands).
A relaxing moment in an Indian market: the map showed another temple further down this side-street; we walked along to investigate, but could find only a small market area filled with tables alongside a beer stall. A group of very smart and well-behaved little school children passed by accompanied by their teachers (see below left). It was by now gone 5-30pm; the sky had clouded over and the air had become very heavy, as if one of Singapore's famed tropical storms was brewing. We were hot and weary, and could see from here one of the entrances to Little India MRT station just near to the market. So we were close here to the metro in case shelter were needed.Rather than returning to Dhoby Ghaut for a final beer before collecting our packs from the YMCA, we decided to sample the more basic atmosphere of the beer stall by the market here at Little India to round off our final day. Paul sat with a bottle of Kingfisher Indian beer from the stall, and chatted with a talkative local gent. Sheila meanwhile went off to explore other delights, and returned shortly afterwards carrying what looked like a fairground gold-fish bag, containing a thick, creamy liquid and straw (Photo 75 - Mango lassi) (see below right); this was a mango lassi, a traditional Indian drink made from yogurt, milk and mango pulp. The threatened storm held off, but the air was still heavy and humid. As we sat here drinking our beer and mango lassi, and relishing our final moments of this wonderful afternoon in the back streets of Little India, we texted our daughter Lucy in Adelaide to say where we were and what we were doing. She immediately texted back with severe admonishment for straying, with such reckless innocence, into what she claimed was such a dubious area. But looking around us as we sat in the little market thoroughly enjoying ourselves, it all seemed assuredly safe. It was another case of role reversal, being told off by our daughter for irresponsible conduct!
Return to Changi Airport for homeward flight: but our time enjoying Singapore's market delights in Little India was rapidly running out; to our regret, it was time to head back, collect our kit and return to Changi Airport. Past the market shops displaying all kinds of unknown vegetables such as long thin beans and okra, we caught the MRT back to Dhoby Ghaut and collected our packs from the YMCA. Fully laden with our heavy packs, we set off to return to the metro station amid the crowds of giggling, child-like Singaporean teenagers playing with their mobile phones. More accustomed now to travelling on the MRT, we boarded the train and secured seats for the 20 minute journey and two changes of train, back out to the airport.The Skytrain took us from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 where, after negotiating the escalators, we were able to unload our packs onto a trolley. We found the tax-reclaim counter where supposedly we could recover the local tax paid on the polaroid filter bought in the Chinatown market. The system worked, but we only received back $7, far from the $29 assured by the salesman. We had been well and truly ripped off! We checked in at the Qantas desk and handed in our packs. It was by now around 8-00pm and we had well over two hours to sit and relax with a beer. We followed the signs through the huge airport terminal for the 10 minutes' walk along to Gate 29, the furthest out where our QF71 flight was billed, but we still had a further hour's wait until we could pass through the security check to wait at the gate. The Changi security checks were notoriously and irritatingly officious, but we passed through, reloaded our day sacs and sat waiting by the gate with the huge crowd of fellow passengers; fortunately the 380 Airbus was a very commodious plane capable of carrying such numbers (see left). When we were eventually called to board at 11‑30pm, we found our window seats overlooking the wing. The 3-4-3 seating configuration, with the extra-wide aircraft body and double deck, seemed to give slightly more lateral space than the Boeing 747.
Overnight flight from Singapore: the cabin crew on this flight were less responsive, one downright surly (but she got given the unpleasant job of cleaning the over-used ablutions!), and the supper meal not nearly so appetising. We departed Singapore, more or less on time at midnight local time. Despite being a 13 hour flight, the time zone difference meant only an apparent 6½ hours elapsed clock time; we should therefore land at London Heathrow at just after 6-30 on Tuesday morning. Again we followed the flight path on the 380 Airbus' more sophisticated video presentation seat-back screen, as the plane flew over Malaysia, Thailand and across the Bay of Bengal and Northern India. We put watches on to London time, so being only 4-15 in the afternoon (seemingly), Paul continued working on yesterday's incomplete log record before and after supper. Sheila settled down for her overnight sleep, as did most of the other passengers. Paul's was the only reading light illuminated in the now darkened cabin by the time he also settled to sleep at 10-00pm (London time).
Across Europe to London-Heathrow: we were woken at around 5-00am by the cabin crew serving a cooked breakfast. By now, overnight we had crossed Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Caspian Sea, and when we woke, we were crossing Ukraine and approaching Poland. On the flight plan map satellite view, we could make out clearly the forests of the Białowieźa National Park on the Eastern Polish border, and from here the plane flew a direct east~west line over Warsaw and Poznań. On from there, we followed the same route westwards as we had done last year on our drive across Germany and Holland. Reaching Britain, we flew in along the Thames estuary, and with minor delays on the approach to Heathrow, we performed a couple of holding loops over central London, giving a clear view of the Thames and London Eye landmark. The 380's flight path menu offered a novel feature of the view from a camera mounted high on the tail fin, giving the direct forward picture from above down the length of the aircraft. We followed this spectacular view on the final approach and landing, touching down at Heathrow at 7‑45am.
Coach journey home: we loaded our hand-luggage onto a trolley for the seemingly endless foot-slog through the Heathrow corridors. It took a while to clear the lengthy queues at UK immigration desks, then a nerve-wracking delay waiting for our packs to be off-loaded onto the carousel at baggage-reclaim; had the system failed us on the final flight? To our relief, we at last spotted our packs for retrieval, and continued the onward route-march. We were booked on the 7-30am National Express coach from Heathrow to Leicester, but by the time we reached the central coach station, it was 7-45. The National Express ticket office staff were most understanding, and booked us onto the next coach leaving at 9-00am; we therefore had an hour to get a coffee.
There was plenty of space on the coach, but its scheduled arrival time at Leicester coach station was 11-20, giving just three minutes to retrieve our packs and stumble across for the 11-23 bus out to our village. We dozed for most of the two hour journey up the M1, and pulled into Leicester coach station at 11-15, giving us 5 minutes easily to catch the our village bus. Keeping our packs on our shoulders, we each occupied two seats; other elderly passengers stared at us in bemusement. We finally stepped off the bus by our village church at 12‑00 noon, from where we had departed for Oz with our packs seven weeks ago, and we staggered down the hill to home (see right) (Photo 76 - Arriving home). Despite being travel weary, we spent a productive afternoon unloading kit and 'putting Australia to bed'. We now had a very brief 15 day inter-trip interval for all the preparatory jobs before we should set off again in our own campervan for the Baltic States.Hong Kong~Australia~Singapore had been a once-in-a-lifetime trip, with unprecedented experiences and learning; but with the resumption now of our full summer travelling lifestyle soon after our return, when the log would be written up and photos edited and added was anyone's guess. How could anyone believe it would take another nine years and the impact of a devastating world-wide pandemic before the 2011 Australia and Far East back-packing trip would be written up and published on our web site.