{Singapore 2012} Around the Merlion’s kingdom

Ahh sweet Singapore… The last time we saw each other I was 10, I think. Last time I was here some very unpleasant things happened, but because I constantly try to be a time-heals-all-wounds I-don’t-want-to-dwell-on-a-sad-past kind of person, I am not going to go into details except to say that I have wiped my slate clean when it comes to Singapore. Coming here, I wanted to see through brand new eyes. Luckily, when a country is constantly developing itself, that’s not difficult to do at all.

I don’t remember a lot of the places we went to last I was here, but I do remember Singapore to be an extra clean city, which if you live in Manila is an incredibly refreshing sight to see. The running joke is that Singapore is a “fine city”, meaning with every wrong move the authorities can fine you as punishment. There are some pros and cons to that kind of policy but at least the city is genuinely kept beautiful and tidy. I wish Manila could be this beautiful (at the very least clean) someday.

One of the things I love most about Singapore is the impressive architecture. All the buildings and structures are so unique and well-planned, you can’t help but marvel at how much planning must have went into them. With one look you can point out what building it is and consequently know where you are. The Gateway down on Beach Road is one of my favourite pieces of architecture in Singapore. I am amazed by the optical illusion it brings forth, as though the buildings are flat pieces of folded paper.

Singapore is super small. I think the city where I live is even bigger than Singapore, which is why I am always brave enough to walk the streets of this foreign country on my own just armed with a map and my camera. There is very little chance of getting lost, and I feel pretty safe on the streets. And on the off chance I do get sidetracked, I can always ask directions in either Mandarin or English (even Singlish, which is much easier).

Th best way to get an overview of Singapore is from high up, so off to the famous Singapore Flyer we first went. It is basically a gigantic ferris wheel that offers a breath-taking panoramic view of the lion city. On another note, why are all ferris wheels so photogenic?

The ferris wheel is housed in this large complex with nice restaurants and shops. Going up to the landing where you can get into the capsules, you are greeted with decoratives to get you into the mood. I loved going up the escalator with the blinking silver lights making me feel like I’m in a Star Trek battleship or something.

A complete rotation on the Singapore Flyer takes about half an hour, though you wouldn’t notice the time passing while you’re there. The really cool thing about the Singapore Flyer is how it’s built. You are encased in a capsule that can carry around 25 to 28 people, and the capsule hangs on hinges that rotate with the main wheel, keeping the capsule in the upright direction at any point of the ferris wheel.

The view was fantastic of course.

When I look over Singapore, I see an interesting mix of skyscrapers and out of this world structures encased in the greens and blues of nature. There’s an effort in applying balance, and I really really appreciate it.

Getting off the ferris wheel, we headed immediately to the Merlion Park. There were a couple of tourists cruising on the Singapore River, passing under this bridge that looks like a tunnel of light.

I have some very small memory of this place from my childhood. Not anything specific, but one doesn’t just forget about the lovely water-spouting merlion statue. It’s a very popular spot for tourists though there were some locals taking a stroll and just feeling the sea breeze too. This statue is the very icon of Singapore and probably appears in every single tourist photo album in the world.

We hopped on over to Chinatown afterwards, which is pretty similar to most Chinatowns in the world. The first thing that caught my attention was the imposing form of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, though we went through the small alley beside it first.

I have to tell you now you have to buy yourself a jar of these satay cashews in one of the beef and pork jerky stores lining this street. Gosh darn they’re amazing, and I bet you could finish them all by yourself in one sitting. That’s speaking from experience.

Aside from the cashews, I wasn’t in the mood for shopping so I decided to go into the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum instead.

Apparently, this temple houses Buddha’s tooth relic, though I wasn’t able to explore because I was only allotted a snatch of time. I paid my respects to the gods of my ancestors and quietly walked around so as not to disturb others deep in prayer.

It’s unfortunate though that we did not fully explore Chinatown on this trip. I would have liked to take photos of the Sri Mariamman Temple located downtown. Since they have a tourist area in the vicinity, you can easily ask for directions or a tour of Chinatown. If you love to shop, you can even inquire about the famous night market.

We next made our way to the famous Marina Bay Sands. Shaped like a letter M, it’s one of the easiest buildings to recognise here, and in my opinion one of the best-looking ones as well.

We had been following a tour guide for this trip (totally unnecessary, I really believe) and he thought this would be a nice place to shop. Well if you are a fan of the high-end brands, then I think you will love walking around over here, though quite frankly, they are a tad more expensive than usual. The interior is very nice though; spacious, clean, elegantly-decorated. They even had a canal ala-Venice on the ground level.

But I didn’t get dragged all the way here for shopping. I came here for the view. You step outside the shopping complex for a minute unto the wooden deck area and you will see one of the best panoramic views of the famous skyscrapers of Singapore.

This area is where I got my favourite view of the city– the view that includes the massive Louis Vuitton store to the right, which is like a crystal or diamond house sitting on its own tiny island.

We walked around MBS until dinnertime, which we decided to have on our own at the hawker centre by Bugis Street. I ate laksa. Again! Because really, where else do you have the chance to indulge in authentic, mouth-watering laksa?

We walked off our dinner in Bugis Street since it’s just a couple of blocks from our hotel. The favourite shopping area was crawling with people. There are some items that you can score off determined haggling, but there are other things, like bags, that are almost as expensive as branded ones. There are a lot of really nice and unique things in here.

Bugis Street in the morning is strikingly different from what we experienced the previous night. Even at 10 in the morning, most of the shops aren’t open yet. My brother took his new Lego watch for a spin, which is ironic because I had expected to find something like this in Legoland and yet they didn’t have it there.

We spent our free-time before heading off to Sentosa re-exploring Singapore a little bit. You can probably walk halfway through the country by foot, which is what we did. There were several places I wanted to visit but did not get to, and I’m happy to say I’ll be coming back to visit them next time. Right now, we just followed where our feet took us. First we walked over to the Goddess of Mercy Temple for some morning prayers.

We passed by the under-construction Capitol Building. I can’t remember if I visited this when I was little.

We also walked by St. Andrew’s Cathedral. It was closed though so we didn’t go in.

I had worried we were going around in circles until I remembered there was one place I promised myself to visit when I came here. Since I am a bookworm and my country is deprived of a public library, I just had to visit Singapore’s Public Library. You guys have no idea how much the prospect of visiting a public library exploding with millions and millions of books excited me. It’s a little insane now that I think about it.

It makes me wonder if it will ever be possible for the Philippines to have a decent public library. I’m not even sure if the government cares an awful lot about this. I’m happy to at least know what it’s like to be inside a well-maintained public library like this. If only I could actually get to use it!

Aside from getting my library fix, my brothers and I also did a ton of other slightly touristy-but-still-fun stuff. We took wacky photos. I bought a new shirt because I loved the artwork in front. And then we indulged in some gelatto.

I can’t recall the last time I ever walked the streets of a foreign country on my own feeling this carefree.


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