he BC Blog


Singapore, September, 2006

We send out lots of email while we travel. In fact, of course, we send email much more often than we update the web. We can never quite remember who we told what to, so this page is meant as a sort of bulletin board for our most recent whereabouts, impressions, and comments while we work more slowly and deliberately on the permanent web pages.

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Tuesday, September 26 —

We've just made a great discovery: in Singapore we can get the BBC world news on a local FM station. Throughout Malaysia and Sumatra we'd listened to the BBC on shortwave, learning the hard way which hours the reception was good and which it was bad. Suddenly at our most recent hotel, the Classique, it was all bad. And then after a day without we found the BBC on FM. Maravilloso!

Where ever we go we try to keep up with the news. In Europe that is easy since we can read the papers and follow the television. In Russia it was pretty difficult and there we bought a shortwave radio to replace one that had slowly decayed and died. We were really surprised by how often we used it in Moscow and how often we have used it since. That's because apart from Thailand, few places seem to carry western media. Even in Singapore, we get only the local version of 24-hour news, called NewsChannel Asia.

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One great thing about Singapore is that every meal is an adventure. The food here is very varied with so many different kinds of Chinese cooking augmented by both northern and southern Indian cooking and leavened by a little Malay food here and there. We have discovered that the places we most like to eat are the "hawker" stands. Once upon a time they were probably just street carts with a few tables like you still find in Thailand, but here in 21st century Singapore they are more often than not in gleaming modern air-conditioned spaces that look a lot like the typical US mall food court. Here you can pick from claypot rice, handmade noodles, all kind of (in)edible organs like liver, kidney, heart, and so on, even western food (if you are really chicken), dim-sum, iced desserts, and on and on. We've eaten at several such places and have enjoyed treats remembered from HK like steamed buns stuffed with roast pork or lotus paste, or Indian dishes that take Jan back to her days in Bradford, England like roganjosh and alu muteer. Today we ate at a similar place but out in the residential suburbs where we sat out in the open air cooled by a fan and ate delcious biryani plates. But perhaps best of all are the little egg custards that we have found in a bakery near our hotel. They remind us of the fragrant egg custards we ate for breakfast when we stayed in Guangzhou in southern China back in 2001. Mmmm delicious!

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A former colleague of Jan's in Hong Kong used to be rather down on Singapore compared to HK. He found it too clean, too shiny, and the government a bit too much of a nanny. Well, he would probably not have changed his mind, but for us by comparison with Malaysia and especially Indonesia, we find this place such a haven of tranquility and order that we can quite imagine living here ourselves. Some examples: there are no cars, motorcycles, or other vehicles blocking all the sidewalks and forcing you to risk your life walking in the street; restaurants are most often no-smoking and the rule is enforced; buses are clean and efficient and comfortable. We could go on but think you get the idea.

September 26,2006

September 25 —
First Impressions

After our trip from Malaysia we found ourselves on the edge of Little India; once we'd settled into our hotel room we went out for a look. We walked over to Sirangoon street, the main business street of Little India and discovered it all decorated. It is Deepavali. We had to look it up to find out what it was; elsewhere it is usually spelled "divali" and it celebrates "Lakshmi, goddess of light and wealth, as well as the New Year and the story of the Ramayana." It traditionally lasts four days but here it is a month long festival. We spoke to a couple putting us a stand where they will sell their decorated goods throughout the period.

Sirangoon felt very vibrant. We almost felt we were in India, but if so, it was a much cleaner India than we had experienced 25 years ago. We passed lots and lots of places to eat Indian food and we wanted to go into all of them, but we had just had a dinner of left-overs from our bus trip in our hotel room. There were south Indian vegetarian and north Indian tandoori and everything between. Air-con and table cloths and open-air and eat with your fingers.

Little India is quite a mixture of old, some of it dirty, and lots of modern housing. It seems that just when the Singapore government was all set for tearing everything old down it changed its mind and settled on a preservation progrm. The effect has been very good. Along the streets there are low rise, old style buildings. Behind them are highrises, many in Little India being 30-40 story apartment buildings.

In our walk we passed half a dozen historical markers that told us the history of the place. Once it was mostly swamp and only when there was a great fire in the 1850s and most homes destroyed did the colonial masters decided to drain it before rebuilding. All of the sidestreets off of Sirangoon were once long driveways to the homes of the very rich. As they moved out in the early 20th century two-story buildings were constructed along the driveway. Most of those buildings still stand, giving a very nice period feel to the place.

September 26,2006

Tuesday, September 22 —

We're in Singapore. If you'd followed our plans carefully you would have known that we intended to skip it because we'd been there (1985), it was expensive, and, most importantly, our main goals were Indonesia and Australia. But of course we don't follow plans and now find ourselves once again a few degrees north of the equator and ready to jump off for Indonesia.

Tioman Island to Singapore

We arrived in Singapore in the late afternoon of a Friday after a complicated journey from the Tioman Island resort area of Malaysia. The complication consisted of four completely unexpected bus changes when we expected at most one. And that was very important because each transfer means unloading and then reloading our mound of luggage. The first change was the least expected, on arrival in the outskirts of Johore Bahru, the city just north of the Malaysia/Singapore border. Although our ticket was marked Singapore, we had not noticed the magic word, "Transfer" and that is what we had to do in Johore. We switched from our long-distance bus to a "local" bus, called the Causeway Link and so had to unload our eight pieces of checked luggage from the luggage compartment and carry them onto what was essentially a city bus, i.e. a bus with no room for luggage.

On arrival at Malaysian customs and passport control we had to unload our bags, load them onto our luggage carts (part of the eight pieces mentioned above) and trundle them into the building. There, we were horrified to find that the escalator that was supposed to carry us up to the first floor was not working and so we had to unload the carts and hand carry everything up the escalator. Then we loaded the carts again to trundle them to passport control and found that the passage past the passport desk was too narrow for our carts and so we had to unload them again. Same story on the other side,so we carried them down another long flight. Jan always has an easier time than Gerry on such occasions because a man always comes along who takes pity on her and helps carry.

At the Malaysia passport control all went smoothly. There are currency controls limiting the amount of Malaysian ringits that can be exported; we expected that we'd have to make a declaration as we'd done at Penang but that didn't happen. Our guess is that there are so many people going back and forth for simple day trips — many live on one side of the border and work on the other — that authorities just throw up their hands and skip the procedure. Thus very quickly we had our passports stamped and were officially out of Malaysia.

Actually we weren't physically out; we still had to get across the causeway to Singapore. We quickly found a bus that would carry us across the bridge and that would accept our ticket but again it was not a bus designed for baggage and so we struggled to carry our load on board. The bus took us about one kilometer to the Woodlands Checkpoint. We unloaded everything and were thankful to find that the escalators worked, the air-conditioning worked, and the passport control queues weren't terribly long. But passport control brought its own suprises. We had both asked for fourteen days on the basis of our guide books assurance that that was the maximum possible. Imagine our surprise therefore to learn that Jan was given the requested fourteen days but that Gerry was given 90 days! One of the few occasions when Americans are given better treatment than Europeans (Jan has been using her UK passport since our year in Europe in 2005). Well, it was too late now to go back and use her US passport, so we grinned and bore it feeling fairly sure that we wouldn't spend anywhere near even 14 days.

Another bus ride took us into the center of Singapore — to the Queens Road Bus/Taxi terminal. It only took us a little time to find out where we were — not at the Lavender Street Bus terminal where we wanted to be but a kilometer south. That was good and bad. Good because if we had a hotel nearby we'd be more central. Bad we might have a reservation farther north; we'd never gotten confirmation of our web-based request.

As it was Gerry's turn to go find us a hotel he set off to find the Tai Hoe and see the status of our reservation. Jan sat and watched the bags. She sat there and noticed with approval how clean the streets were, how highly polished the taxi cabs were, and then indeed how highly polished the private cars around her were, and well, how highly polished just about every vehicle she saw was. Nary a speck of dust, not a single dent, every car looked factory new even though that was impossible. But it gives you a feeling of what Singapore life is like. Gardens are carefully clipped and lawns manicured, streets are swept clean, and oh yes, the tap water is drinkable and the toilet paper flushable.

After nearly five hours in the bus Gerry found it pleasant to walk over to the Tai Hotel. No, they didn't have his reservation. And anyway, the price for a room was higher than said on the web (www.taihoehotel.sg??) Or at least that was the story from the male clerk Gerry spoke to. When the woman nearby got a word in she said yes, they'd got our reservation request. But they hadn't responded and the price was still what it said on the wall, not the web. Lacking knowledge of what was truly on offer elsewhere Gerry crumbled and took the room anyway.

Back he went to get Jan and then we took a taxi with all of the bags to the Tai Hoe. There we had our last little adventure: the driver had no change for our S$50 note, just recently retrieved from an ATM. He kept the meter running while we struggled (with success) to get change.

September 25,2007

September 28, 2005