A slower paced day two & day three
06/24/2016 - 06/25/2016 89 °F
My second full day in Singapore began early. I was awakened by the sound of a howling wind outside the sliding glass door to my balcony. It sounded like a typhoon blowing between the skyscrapers. I sat in my bed and listened to its banshee shriek for awhile. Then, a torrential downpour began. I opened the door and stepped out onto my balcony to watch sheets of water falling. I crawled back under the covers, hoping the storm really wasn't a typhoon, and the rains would end by morning. I woke up late in the morning, and checked outside. Rain was coming down hard enough that I postponed any sightseeing until after lunch.
When I finally did venture out, I decided to add the local bus system to my repertoire. The front desk of the Village Hotel Katong graciously explained what bus I needed to catch to reach the Metro station -- saving me a 30-minute walk in the rain. Singapore's buses are every bit as organized and easy as the Metro, and air conditioned, too! I was headed to the Changi Chapel and Museum, and found it with no problem. Each bus stop has a name, and by taking a picture of the route sign with my smart phone, I could look at the window and follow our progress. It reminded more of a train or tram travel than a city bus line.
Changi Museum is built on the site of a chapel that WW II POWs built for themselves after they were captured by the Japanese, following the surrender of Singapore. The museum's signs are all in English, and do a great job setting the scene of the British blundering defense of the island they considered impregnable. The attacking Japanese were outnumbered 3-1, but did have air superiority and much better equipment. All of the allied prisoners were rounded up and interned in various overcrowded and inadequate camps. Even European civilians were imprisoned and squeezed into cells, the men kept separate from the women. One of the best features of the museum's audio guide were the recorded oral histories of various prisoners. The gut wrenching account of a Chinese woman tortured for passing messages for the allies brought tears to my eyes. There are numerous letters from former prisoners or their children, spilling their feelings and telling their stories as a form of catharsis. I was disappointed that no photographs inside were allowed, but you could take photos of the reconstructed chapel outside.
I actually took it very easy on day two, partially to let my blisters I'd worn into my soles on yesterday's death march heal. I took advantage of the supermarket in the hotel's shopping center to buy some nice, waterproof band-AIDS, which would come in handy until my foot healed up. And they were actually feeling much better the next day, when it was time to explore more of Singapore.
With the sun shining again, I decided to start at the top, literally. I rode the Metro down to the Marina Bay Sands hotel. It is a futuristic looking building that I could easily see featured in an upcoming Star Wars movie. It is composed of three modern hotel towers topped by what -- for all the world -- looks like a giant hovercraft. It extends past all three towers and contains an observation deck, restaurant, infinity pool, restaurant, bar, and garden. All of Singapore is laid out beneath you as you stand atop it, 56 floors up. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and you could see for miles in every direction. Even though it was a weekend, the observation deck was not crowded. The other visitors and I wandered slowly around, enjoying the panorama, and taking pictures. One of the things that struck me was the multitude of cargo ships in the bay, moored, or waiting to dock. It looked like the movie scenes of the allied fleet at D-Day, gray ships receding into the distance. The next thing that strikes you are the towering skyscrapers. All the of them are sleek and modern, and they dwarf the tiny two to three story, more traditional buildings of Singapore's earlier history. There are numerous stadiums, including a twin pair nicknamed "The Durien" after Asia's notorious, spiky-skinned fruit. To me, they looked more like an aluminum spiky brassiere, discarded by some titanic Madona. There's even a floating field in the bay that can be used for sports or concerts. The view was amazing, and that would prove to be the theme for the day.
Descending, I crossed back to the main island on the pedestrian Helix bridge. The walkway is encapsulated in a gleaming aluminum structure looks like a monstrous DNA strand. There are four observation platforms along the way, each providing wonderful views and massive selfie opportunities for strollers, their cell phones, and social media. Speaking of which, anyone who thinks the obsession with our phones is an American thing has not been to Singapore. There are just as many faces glued to miniature screens on subways, in restaurants, and even walking down crowded streets. It is a world thing, now. We are all captivated by our connection to the Internet and our friends and family. I retraced my steps from day one's night time stroll along the waterfront, this time enjoying it under blue skies. I wanted to visit the Merlion, a massive fountain of a hybrid fish-lion. It was here that I truly ran into throngs of tourists. Many of them were doing my all-time, least-favorite thing: posing so the jet of water issuing from the statue's mouth appeared in their friend's camera to fall into their cupped hands, mouth, whatever. The Singapore equivalent of "holding" up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Bleh. I took some photos and moved on.
After a brief stop to get photos of the giant, mirrored balls (think a half dozen, spherical versions of Chicago's famous bean), It was off to Chinatown. I know, it seems odd to me that a city of mostly Chinese descent would have a specified Chinatown. However, the island is on the tip of the Malay peninsula, so there is a significant population of Malaysians, Indian immigrants, British, and more. Along the way, I stopped at another Hindu temple, Sri Mariamman. Even though it is billed as Singapore's most colorful, I actually preferred the Kali temple from day one. The temple was thronged with worshippers in colorful garb, offering sacrifices and praying. The afternoon sun beating down was getting intense, so I backtracked to a pub I'd spotted on the walk here and enjoyed an ice cold water before savoring an excellent Archipelago Irish Ale. It hit the spot and fortified me to push on in the heat.
Next up was the five-story Buddha Tooth temple. This modern, gleaming building with its gray-green, pagoda roofs was air conditioned, airy, and spacious. Hundreds of statues from the Buddhist pantheon of every size lined the walls. Worshippers and tourists made a circuit, one lighting joss sticks and bowing in prayer while the other admired the beauty and took pictures. Coming here, I'd noticed several streets with market stalls, so I spent some time roaming them, looking for souvenirs. I did find a lapel pin of the Singapore flag for my map at home, and was intrigued by the lacquered wood screens painted with various scenes. I really liked the one with the Great Wall, and mentally made a note to keep an eye out for more like this in other shops. I was actually killing time with my shopping, waiting for the 6:55 pm Lion Dance which would be performed on the streets. From the picture, it looked like one of those cool, multi-person costumes the Chinese are famous for using in celebrations. When I headed back to get a good viewing spot, I noticed the fine print on the sign: "Cancelled today"...d'oh!
A quick Metro hop brought me to the day's final stop, Clarke Quay -- Singapore's river walk of restaurants and bars. Boats leave regularly to cruise along the waterfront, and at night it colorfully lit up with lights. After a couple days of Asian food, I was looking forward to more choices. I ended up having shish kabob at a Middle Eastern place. I finished the day off with a Tiger beer at a cafe along the waterfront, watching the boats cruise by. Although much less packed with sights than day one's overdose, day three was a pleasant way to wrap up my first half of this trip. Tomorrow, it was off to Laos for a week. I'd be returning here again later, before I flew back home.