Sin City

Singapore Travel Blog

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So this day had me questioning the purity of the intentions of Buddhist Monks! I had passed the Fort Canning Park entrance the day before and it had a beautiful staircase leading into it, which in my world has a candy-from-a-stranger kind of lure. I just can’t resist! BUT it was raining and getting late so I decided to go back there the following day. Which is precisely what I did; it is a stunning park with paths meandering through tropical plantations, past an archaeological dig site, through a herb garden, down to a big grassy yard at the top of which stands the Fort Canning Centre, a large though somewhat austere white building.  There are a few more levels but I was too distracted then weirded out to really pay attention to them. Why? Well, continue reading my pretties and all shall be revealed…

I approached the park with my camera at the ready and once I had satisfied my craving for photographing the stairs I realised there were also some really beautiful plants, which my lens was eager to build a relationship with. I was
photographing this beautiful white flower; apparently a pop off flower named for the sound it makes at night when the buds burst open! I know this because a few minutes later an older man introduced himself to me, wished me a happy new year and told me how he had seen me taking photos of plants and said he could show me a few. So he took my hand and started walking me through the park and explaining things to me. He would hold my hand and swing it with joy as we wandered and he would let it go every now and then and take it again just to guide me in a new direction. I was walking along just giggling to myself. I wasn’t sure if I should decline the offer of his hand or not because it didn’t
seem sleazy, he would still give me my space, he had served a year as a monk, it was a fantastic opportunity to gain local knowledge and at the end of the day, sometimes a girl just needs a hand to hold as she walks through a
beautiful park in a foreign place, so I rolled with it! But, really, I couldn’t stop laughing to/at myself. We must have looked so strange!

My new tour guide took me to the herb garden via the archaeological dig and it was at this site that he noticed that I had two Buddha bracelets on. One is green and had been given to me by a friend when she came back from Thailand.
The other is red and was given to me by a monk. Down in the herb garden he asked me what religion I am and shortly after that checked my palm. He made a couple of rather accurate observations, asked me some questions and he kept
counting something out on his fingers with his thumb on his right hand. As we walked he asked me if I would mind if he talked to me about his observations and give me advice in relation to Buddha. He periodically told me that if I didn’t want him to then he wouldn’t but that he could see Buddha in me but I just didn’t know how to use him. Now, I can see how this seems a bit left of field and can understand why everyone who reads this would be like ‘how gullible are you!?’ to which I would generally respond ‘very!’ But the fact is that my whole holiday is due to the Vipassana meditation I will be doing in Cambodia. Although Vipassana is about a spiritual journey not a religious one, it’s roots are centred in Buddhism so when a Buddhist ex-monk randomly approaches me in the park, makes observations about the very things I had been feeling that morning and asks me if I’m interested in listening to him of course I will say ‘yes.’   Besides, tourists say ‘no’, travelers say ‘yes’, right!?

He told me to ask a question in relation to his observations and he would ask Buddha for guidance. I took the whole experience with a healthy dose of skepticism but this increased as I lost patience with him because he kept repeating the same things to me. It was all aimed at making me feel comfortable but I was thinking ‘for God’s sake (or Buddha’s!) get on with it!’ Not sure if you are supposed to rush Buddhism though so I stayed outwardly patient. He
eventually took my head in his hands and said a few chants. Then I finally asked him my question but he wouldn’t accept it! We had to dance around that for ages then he finally did some more chants and things like that. But by that
stage I had already lost faith in him and it started to get kind of weird. Maybe it wasn’t weird. I don’t know; I’ve never had someone ask Buddha a question on my behalf on a park bench before! Or try to give me a Thai Massage sitting up for that matter!!! Ahhhhh, it’s making me cringe, blush and slouch in my chair just thinking about it! Too weird to write about! It was one of those awkward situations where you just want to abort the whole operation and disappear in a cloud of smoke because you don’t know if you’re overreacting and offending a person who is trying to help you or if you are actually just being taken advantage of by an old man in a park!!! Hahahaha! Oh God! Thankfully, no one was hurt in the making of this story!

Truth be told, the whole experience actually did help me sort through a few things and I dealt with them that afternoon and have been a lot better off for it. Prior to this realization however, relief overcame me as I walked down to Clarke Quay for the cheapest meal I could find (whitebait with wasabi sauce, FYI) and a monk in robes approached me and gave me a gold card. Without speaking, he showed me a book with a message saying how this would bring me and
my family luck. Then he gave me a bracelet. Finally! A sign from the universe to say have more faith in the morning’s experience in the form of a monk abstaining from speech! How cool! Or was it??? So the silent monk gets me to
fill in a little book and I’m thinking ‘how lovely, a souvenir of all the people he gives this to.’ Until I get to the last column with a space for the amt I want to donate and then he can suddenly speak and I find myself down $10
and a bracelet because I didn’t donate enough! WTF! Is he allowed to give a gift then try to turn it into a transaction then take it back!? Was NOT ready for that one! Especially not in such a modern and over priced area of Singapore! Definitely conned at least once today; I’ll let you know in two years if I’m going two for two ;)

I made my way to the Asian Civilisations Museum along the Singapore River. It was a perfectly timed visit because it gave me an appreciation for modern day Singapore. I had had no interest in visiting the business centre because it
just felt like another part of the world that was so heavily influenced by the Western world and I find that sad and generally quite boring. Singapore’s story isn’t one of oppression though. It has always been a strategic zone for
international trade and while its level of importance has fluctuated over the years it has always been a multicultural nation. This is reflected in its four national languages; Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil (Indian). So while I had
been closed off to the Western part of Singapore, the museum together with my experiences there really made me appreciate that actually the business hub of Singapore is just a new evolution and instead of repressing a people it simply adds yet another dimension to an already diverse and true melting pot of culture.

With my new love for a modern Singapore and no map in hand I set off for China Town to finally eat the fish head I had promised myself on the first night.  When am I going to learn ***I do not have any sense of direction*** so I never
made it to China Town for dinner! BUT once again it paid off. I finally got to wander through the great buildings of Singapore’s metropolis and it is actually a very tasteful place to walk. Everywhere you turn the concrete jungle is
punctuated by a sculpture or big wall art or a bamboo garden so it doesn’t become monotonous.

As I wandered I tried my hand at sweet corn ice cream in white bread that has been made with pink and green colours marbled through it. Tastes like fairy bread yummm! Sweet corn was NOT my first pick but they didn’t have choc-chip
mint left. Then the lady insisted the sweet corn was nice. Of course I didn’t believe her but I was in a new country experiencing new things and if I was game to try fish head, surely I could handle sweet corn ice cream! It wasn’t
amazing. It wasn’t too bad either but I won’t be making it my first or second choice ever again! So I got to a point where I thought I should probably check my map. Unfortunately I couldn’t find myself on the map (turns out I can’t read maps either – what’s a girl to do!?) So I went across the road and found this amazing street (this is the part that made not getting to China Town for fish head so worthwhile) and by ‘found’ I mean it jumped out, bit me on the arse and I still didn’t see it until I walked directly into it! I had been distracted by the Wendy’s (burgers not ice cream) on the corner and I was like ‘now there’s a random find’ and it was made even more random when I finally saw what was
beyond it. There was a street lined with people cooking satay sticks; flames were jumping and smoke was billowing and the street itself was full of tables and chairs and people in every seat. Behind the huts were various food stores
selling all kinds of Asian cuisine, especially seafood and including fish head!  Beyond that you walk into a massive food court with so many food shops that represent every part of Asia! The one shop that caught my eye was the ‘Pigs
Organ Soup & Kway Chap’ joint!

I had discovered Boon Tat St! Here among a clean, anarchy-free business district was a lively and bustling place, full of food and an epic surprise for me that perhaps would have been less surprising if I’d had a lonely planet guide but for the atmosphere and incredible prices I was surprised to see almost no tourists, which really enhanced the experience! I went and ordered my food. The lady put a couple of balls and meat strips into a basket, dunked it in boiling water then tipped it into a bowl, filled it with the broth and handed it over…hang on a sec! That doesn’t sound like a very intact fish head!  And it wasn’t…I’d had the choice of fish head for $23 or the pigs organs for $4…the backpacker in me reluctantly chose the pigs organs with Kway Teow. I don’t even know what the bloody hell Kway Teow is. It is either massive noodle sheets or stomach lining! Oh yay, it’s a rice noodle according to google! The whole dish wasn’t actually too bad except for the rubbery, grey, overboiled, furry pig skin, which tasted like kidney. As it happens, it was kidney, a meat I’ve never been a fan of. The other main ingredient in the bowl was these small dumpling ball things. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what part of the organs it was but it tasted good so whatevs and they threw in two little pieces of
pork for good measure!

I finally figured out where to go to get to China Town. And I was pleasantly surprised to find the Dragon that had been lit on the first night still there and fully lit again (the body had kept turning off on my first night and the weather had been shit so I couldn’t get any pics then.) I had come full circle in this tremendous city so it was time to jump on the train and use an internet café one last time before heading back to my room for the last quiet sleep I would be to indulge in for some time.

My FB status update for Singapore, just to summate:

Leaving Singapore today. From the friendliness of China Town to the vibrance and underworld secrets of Little India to the casual pretentiousness of Clarke Quay to the stunning tropical city parks to the thriving metropolis of the business centre, I am left baffled as to how this incredible city has such a sterile reputation! Singapore, you are officially up there with my favourite cities!

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photo by: easyjobrob