Monday, October 16, 2006
Surprised by the title!!! Yes you guessed right its Singapore. All of you may recall that the trademark symbol of Singapore is the face of the lion and the body of a mermaid, 'MERLION'. For people who would like to know more I recommend you visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Singapore
Be warned that its going to be a very long journey through the streets of Singapore, through the malls of Singapore, through the parks of Singapore, through the zoos of Singapore. So fasten your seat belts, sit back and enter the world of Singapore through my travelogue.
My trip to Singapore began on July 8, 2006 after a half day of hectic work in the office. To make the trip even more exciting I had 5 of my colleagues traveling with me. Our flight Indian Airlines - forced to choose by the company, which cannot be blamed, after all, cost is the key. We had our reasons not to be complacent with this decision (you will know why later on) but at the same time we were happy to be part of this short expedition. The flight was at 5 minutes past midnight. We had a tough time checking in because of the sheer lack of space and coordination by the airport staff. I have already mentioned some in my blog. Finally we were at the international waiting lounge awaiting the announcement for boarding the flight. People were all over the place, it was over packed with no more chairs for sitting. I could see a lot of foreigners wining about the situation and even many among us but quietly. Some took to the floor, for how long can one stand. Anyway its not new in India and we’ve lived that way these many years. It was half past 11 and no announcements about our flight, we were getting increasingly agitated when the speakers came alive saying the flight was delayed by an hour. Ohhhh there you go, reason number 1. Finally the flight took off at 1:30. The journey took 4 hours and at 8:30 am local time we touched down at Changi airport. It was like an airport similar to the one in Dubai or any world class international airports, so it wasn’t a surprise to me. After immigration and baggage claims, some parted to their own destinations and decided to meet up later. Three of us stuck together as planned and headed towards the next metro station.
Three to Tango
All the reasons of our enthusiasm that had intensified through the time was about to become a reality. All the anticipations we had in mind was about to be answered. This was THE TRIP and we are in it. There is no question about how friendly people in Singapore are, they just make you feel at home. We made our walk towards the airport tram to the next MRT station. Wondering what MRT is, Metro rail as we call it, they call it Mass Rapid Transport.It just took a couple of minutes. The first glimpse of the country was felt as a jolt to us. The morning sun was shining down on the crisp grass covered sidewalks and children riding bicycles side by side, people waiting for their bus to start their day oblivious of the tram passing by. My friend already started exploiting his photographic brilliance….so to say ;-). Any tourist would be tempted to do the same. The city is so well made that even a miniature structural plan would be put to shame. We hadn’t seen a thing but already started loving the experience. Finally we reached the MRT station which was at least about 3 floors below ground level. It took us a while to understand we were actually on the platform because we couldn’t find any rail tracks. The platform in itself looked like an atrium with automatic doors evenly spaced. Now we did not notice the doors until the train actually rolled into the platform and in unison all of them opened at once with people rushing out of each as it was the morning peak hour. We approached the ticket counter, only to be directed to a kiosk where we could buy our tickets. Hmm wonder how this works. We started reading the instructions when a sweet young lady comes to us and just runs us through the steps and viola we have our tickets to ‘Clark Quay’ pronounced as ‘Clark key’. Isn’t that a friendly gesture? The place was about 30 min ride from the airport. It was a wonderful half hour, a trip through the city with lots of beautiful buildings, pagodas, clean roads, colorful public buses. I say colorful because the whole bus is painted with advertisement hoardings, sometimes you can see juicy double decker Mac burger buses. The interior of the train is so clean that it makes you wonder if we can ever maintain our homes this way for such a long long time. The statement may be false but it does make you think that way. Announcements about not to carry food or drinks to help them keep the trains clean is always heard every other minute. I noticed that the platform always comes on either side of the train and not on both at once. You might think its common but think again…… That helps the passengers a great deal coz there is no need to be in a state of confusion. You always get off from any one side of the train. I also noticed that private vehicles are not very common due to the high tax the government levies on it citizens to maintain a pollution free country. In order to maintain complacency, Singapore has got a tremendous public transport system. No one would be crippled without a private vehicle. As announced the journey did not take us more than 30 minutes and we were at the Clark Quay station. It took us a while to get to the ground level which was a bus stand. The hotel was still a few blocks away and thought of taking the cab. The weather started to get warmer and like any other tropical climate we also started to sweat. We didn’t have to wait for long before a cab stopped in front of us. Dropped our luggage into the boot and we were on our way to Robertson Quay hotel. The car’s temperature was much better, so much for the relief after carrying our luggage’s by ourselves. In no time we were in front of the hotel.
The rooms were not going to be ready until 13:00 hours so we had little more than an hour. We dropped our luggages in the hotel and ventured out to have a look around the area. There was a river flowing through the city center just behind the hotel complex. Serene as ever which is stained occasionally by boat rides by incessant tourist that visit this part of the globe. The river was positioned perfectly with the back drop of sky scrapers. The path along the side of the river is a walkers or cyclist paradise. The unused land is filled with green pastures and trees that make the view all the more picturesque. We were so carried away by all this that none of us knew that it was time for lunch.
The scorching sun was on top of us and by now was getting the real pinch of the Singapore weather. It reminded me of the one like in Chennai. We walked on to the other side to find a row of small food joints and pubs serving variety of delicacies. We were keen on having something Indian for a start. We could find Japanese, Italian, Persian and many more but not Indian. There were some ladies sitting outside a restaurant enjoying their afternoon meal and they seemed to be Asians if not Indian. We decided to ask them for directions and they did give us what we wanted. The restaurant was owned by tamilians and I was the only one who could speak tamil. Well the people who know me wouldn’t think so, that I can speak tamil . Anyway I was better off than my 2 friends. We had a great meal and topped it up with some fresh fruits. The food tasted pretty much similar to what we get in India, the people have their roots in India so its no surprise. We got back to the hotel and our rooms were ready. The hotel lobby had lots of brochures about places to see and where, maps, MRT timings, stations, all that a tourist would need. She took the responsibility to pick them all up. We freshened up real quick and started to plan for our evening. The map in front of us, we started marking places we had to see before we returned back home. The ‘HAVE TO SEE’ list was made and the days destination was ‘Marina Bay’. Each of us had our back packs with the travel documents, just in case the need arises. We didn’t want to tarnish our trip by any means. We headed by foot to the Clark Quay station.
Marina Bay is a few stations away and had to change trains at Dhoby Ghaut. We reached the station late afternoon. We decided to check out the Sun tech mall spanning over 4 identical buildings. Singapore has more number of malls than the total number of private vehicles owned by a Singaporean. Another noticeable fact is the vast variety of options the common man can choose from when it comes to food is really worth the mention. You name a country and for sure you can find some restaurant serving that country’s delicacies over the counter. I could see Indian eateries, Chinese eateries, Japanese, Indonesian, American…. the list will go on and to be honest not a single one would go bankrupt ever. It’s either full or closed for the day ;-). I have also a general feeling that an average Singaporean hates cooking or they’ve chosen a lifestyle of eating out. This assumption was confirmed by a colleague of mine who works here. She told me that they do not insist on having a kitchen whenever they look for a house. So isn’t my observation correct to a large extent :-) !! The mall is so huge that we got lost and kept returning to the same spot we started. Well that helped me in my inferences I made above about the Singaporean public. On this merry go round trip in the mall my friend’s eyes caught ‘Ben & Jerry’s’ Until that day I had only heard of it in the recent movie ‘Salaam Namaste’. She is an ardent fan of bollywood and didn’t want to miss a chance when opportunity knocks big time ;-). The flavor that she wanted to taste was ‘Belgian dark chocolate’ from the same movie. Sadly that wasn’t available, nevertheless she got something close to the name ‘Dark Chocolate’. Avi and I chose something else. I did not find the flavor anything special except for having it from THE BEN & JERRY’S.
The bay area was brimming with people as it was the weekend. There were some doing their evening walks around the creek side, some relishing their evening snacks with family and friends and a lot of tourists like us with cameras around their neck taking shots of the scenic beauty of the Marina Bay at dusk. A local music band was playing on one end of the creek side adding flavor to the already eventful evening. We took out our cameras and started to do our bit. The creek side is perfectly placed to get the view of the Marina Bay skyline. The main attraction of this part of Singapore is the MERLION, a statue with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. We took some shots of the Marina bay skyline and walked towards the Merlion. The sky was getting darker and by the time we reached the hotspot of the location it was almost dark. We somehow managed to get the pictures taken. But the purpose of visiting Marina bay wasn’t all about the Merlion for my friend (at least). She had other plans and this was done way before we even started our journey from India. She wasn’t so keen to call it a boat ride but the CRUISE was a much better a term. We got the tickets for the ride and waited for the boat (cruise liner) to arrive. We had to wait a long couple of minutes before one arrived. Our bodies started to feel the stress of not sleeping for nearly 36 hours. It was just our strong will to make the best out of the 7 days we had in Singapore. We had to struggle hard to keep our eyes open but that did not stop us from enjoying a night sail across the city. The boat ride lasted for 30 minutes and we got a glimpse of the night life in Singapore. Most of the buildings close to the water were well illuminated making it more attractive.
We then headed towards to MRT station. On the way was the grand fountain display. They claim it to be world’s largest fountain and laser show. It was a spectacular one. Water is sprayed under high pressure jet that forms a mist over which the laser beam is projected. It is so realistic that it makes you feel the images are in front of you on a very large screen. It was about 9 PM and time to leave. The three of us were on the brink of falling and we decided it to call it a day. We took the MRT back, grabbed something to eat on our way to the hotel. All of us sat to plan for the next day. None of us were in agreement of the other, but had to fix on something. Finally we decided to go to the island resort of SENTOSA. I don’t remember when I fell asleep but it was a very sound sleep. One can imagine if you don’t sleep for about 35 hours.
The plan was to start early. It was only a plan and none of us were in for fulfilling it. The eventful day before and the many pending hours of sleep took its toll on us. We somehow managed to getup by 11 in the morning. We had to rush a little since we had promised to meet up with another friend of ours at the bus station. That time was already over by an hour. Luckily he had the patience to wait for us.
The buses to Sentosa were different from the common public buses in its color identified as Blue, Yellow, Red and Green lines, and by a tram service called the Beach Train. Since it was a Saturday there were a lot of tourists and students excursions to Sentosa. There are free bus services to Sentosa from Harbor Front every 5 minutes. We took one of them. We got our tickets which included a few rides. Charges are pretty high but that’s how Singapore thrives on. Tourism is the main factor for its prosperity.
We can chose to walk or use the bus to enter the island. We opted for the latter. It was like entering a land very different from what we saw in the city the previous day. I say different because the way the island has been developed is indescribable. Its done to perfection for people to come and enjoy the beauty of it. The island is covered by rainforest and they’ve converted that into a tourist destination by bringing in a lot of attractions like museum, recreation and entertainment. The island also has large stretch of white sand beach. I personally was awe struck by all this that was passing before my eyes. My friends were no exceptions.
Our first stop was ‘Underwater World’ which is an underground oceanarium. We witnessed a large array of sea animals. It’s worth mentioning about the submerged glass-windowed tunnel from where we could experience of being actually underwater with sharks, stingrays, coral reefs and a lot more. My friend went berserk with his camera. He wasn’t gonna take the risk of missing anything for his records.
Our next stop was lunch at Burger king. If not all of us I had a kings meal because I finished my friends burger too. We bought some souvenirs to take back home.
Our second stop was ‘4D magic show’. I haven’t seen anything like it in my life. Additional to a 3D movie we have another dimension added where you can actually feel what is happening on screen. The show had the maximum number of tourists queuing up for watching. That proves it was something not to be missed. We took our spots and waited patiently. We were giving our own theories about 4D movies when none of us have actually seen one. There were these large goggles that are supposed to be worn to get the real feel of a 4D movie. It was kind of fancy and you know why.... We didn’t know what was in store for us until the show started. It was a pirate movie and like any other pirate story there were treasure hunts, adventure and comedy. It all started very quietly until the scene when the bee hive is agitated by one of the villains. A swarm of bees flies towards us, so close that we started to scream for our lives. To make matters even worse the chairs shake and jerk depending on the scene in the movie as each of them are controlled hydraulically. You think that’s all about 4D, wait until you read this. One of the bees come flying so close to you that you can feel the air of its wings against your face and the buzzzzzz sound. If anyone doesn’t react to that then I don’t think it’s a human. Another scene that I remember is the one about a large group of sea crabs running through the forest. Apart from the clattering noise from its movement there was something tickling our legs and all of us just pulled our legs to our seats and I didn’t put them down until the end of the show. It lasted for about 30 minutes with many other such scenes. I was curious to know what really tickled our legs, it was nothing but a piece of wire. Phew!!! Am I glad it wasn’t a real crab!!!
Our third stop was a round trip via the cable car. Sentosa -> HarbourFront -> Mount Faber and back. It was a first time for the 3 of us. The cable runs over 90m above sea level. There is an automated voice that takes you through the whole journey explaining about the Singapore harbor and the views around us. I’d advice not to miss the cable car if you visit Singapore.
Our fourth stop was Palawan beach. Nothing adventurous but rested a while on the white sands.
Our last stop was Musical Fountain. It takes us through the history of Sentosa with water fountain, laser, music and fire. This is another show that is not to be missed. There were yet other things to see but time wouldn’t permit us. It would take at least two to three days to finish all that is there in Sentosa and we just didn’t have the time for it.
All said and done, a very busy and wonderful day came to an end.
A Talk with Orangutans…
Unlike yesterday we started early today. The Singapore zoo was pretty far from where we were located so had to take the MRT and then a bus to reach our destination. Being a Monday the zoo wasn’t as crowded as yesterday. Avi and I picked up some pizzas for breakfast before we ventured into the park. I have to appreciate the Singapore authorities to have maintained the zoo so well. The highlight of the park is that the animals live in their natural habitat or made to be in their natural surroundings would be the right statement. The zoo follows a trend in displaying animals in naturalistic open exhibits (hidden barriers). Imagine a polar bear living in a region that never snows or has a temperature not less than 20 C. There was this very huge bear that had his own act in one of the shows in the zoo. He demonstrated how he would catch a fish underwater. The trainers are so dedicated and spent their lives saving these close to extinction animals. This is something that I haven’t seen much in Indians. But there are various reasons for it which I’m not keen in jotting it down in this blog.
The zoo houses the largest captive colony of orangutans in the world. Apart from that there are about 300 types of animal species of which 20% are already endangered ones. It took us about 2 hours to complete the zoo area. It was 4 pm and we decided to go to Orchard road which is supposedly the shopping hub (a costly hub, I’d say .. ). Along with these big shopping complexes Orchard road is flanked by pedestrian malls that sell from hair pins to bags to shoes to watches and so on ‘n’ on…..This place is regularly frequented by tourists for these reasons.
My friend was keen on buying some slippers for herself. Avi, Anil and I were going to help her chose the right one. I don’t have to mention how ladies are in this shopping business. They take their own sweet time or rather long wasted time to select a single pair of shoes or anything for that matter. It’s not their fault, it is their trait. She chooses a pair, tries them on, walks with it, chooses another pair, tries them and the cycle goes on for a dozen times (exaggerated). If not a dozen, a whole lot many times. ;-) Towards the end we didn’t really care what she chose and nodded our heads for all that she selected. This way we spent a valuable 2 hours in the shop. Jokes apart finally she did get 2 pairs of good slip-on shoes.
STARBUCKS, an unforgettable experience. STARBUCKS is an American coffee company and is a brand of specialty coffee in the world. It is a multinational chain of coffee shops. But all that glitters is not gold hahaha, you’ll know why. 4 of us went in and each of us ordered their choice. I don’t really remember what I ordered, but I do remember how it tasted. We got our coffees very soon and also a fine place to sit. We raised a toast before drinking. So far so good. I took a mouth full of my coffee and I didn’t know whether to swallow it or spit it out. I couldn’t spit it out in any case but to swallow. My first STARBUCKS experience was a real bitter one in its real sense. My goodness what did I select……..it was coffee concentrate without any sugar. Everybody started laughing watching my facial expression. I wasn’t enjoying the taste even a little bit. I had no choice but to finish it only after dumping 5 to 6 sachets of sugar but yet the bitter taste still the front runner. The rest of them luckily or unluckily got the better drinks and my friend was generous enough to get me a better one too. Maybe she could sense how awful it tasted. That way STARBUCKS became one memorable event in my life.
Little India, as the name suggests is an ethnic neighborhood that has Indian cultural elements. After my so called adventure, if I may call it, at STARBUCKS we set our journey towards Little India in a sole desire to have some Indian delicacy for dinner. The place was entirely different from the other parts we had seen so far. It was very similar to Chennai or Bangalore in terms of people, shops and cleanliness. Yes cleanliness was not a trait that people in this part of the area really cared about. The difference was really evident. We could see lots of Tamil restaurants…lots of street vendors selling vegetables….crowded alleys, all the ingredients of an Indian city. We were specifically looking for some North Indian restaurant. With some help from the natives we found a place. We were very hungry and the restaurant served real good tandoori chicken and rotis and to add an extra flavor to the occasion, I had a bottle of Tiger Beer (famous brand in Singapore). We had a sumptuous dinner that reminded us of home. All of us were full to the brim and by the time we were back to the hotel it was very late and time to catch some sleep. The next day we had to vacate the room and head to our HP sponsored palace. :-) Read onnn...!!!!
The real objective
The real objective of our visit to Singapore was to attend a 4 day training session. We took the opportunity to come a few days in advance to visit places and by now you’d already know what I mean…..
We vacated the room in the morning and took a cab to Pan Pacific Hotel. Now there was a drastic contrast from what we stayed all these days in terms of size, service and quality and so on. 3 of us got the rooms on the same floor. The room was just awesome. Neelam and Avi headed to the Singapore HP office. I stayed back to take some rest before I went to meet a friend who stayed in a hotel opposite to ours. We spent some time chatting. I started my venture alone into the city. I headed straight to Little India to have lunch at Anand Bhavan. I had a delicious plate of masala dosa. They served it with 3 different chutneys and sambar…really mouth watering stuff that . I took the time to do some shopping at Mustafa. It’s a one stop store for anything under the sun. You name it they have it. I finished my shopping in an hour or so but there was still no sign of my colleagues. They promised to meet me at Mustafa in the evening. I waited for a couple of hours and then returned to the hotel.
Rakesh and Anil joined me for dinner. We planned to do a walk around the mall located close to the hotel and to try out the famous street food stalls located at Marina Bay. These stalls are mobile ones, all in a straight line buzzing with business which ends only by 2 or 3 in the morning. The stalls were also jam packed at 11 PM and we had to wait a while to get a place to sit. There is a wide range of foods we can choose from Indian, Malaysian, Chinese, Thai and much more. We decided to have Indian and Malaysian and the famous Tiger beer once again. The ambience is nothing but eating under the night sky but the feeling was great. The taste of the food might have made all the difference. We savoured the moment in all its sense.
Avi and Neelam had already returned by the time I reached back to the room. All of us sat and shared our day’s experiences and it was quite late when we hit the bed. We had a long day awaiting us with a different taste this time.
The training was scheduled at 9 through till 6 for 3 days. The venue was Marina Mandarin Hotel that was just opposite ours. The breakfast for the next 4 days was just excellent. A typical continental breakfast, with a wide range of choices to choose from. I freaked out on all of it. People who know me well would surely understand what I mean. When you have the chance and health, enjoy it, rather than not to, coz you have only 1 life. There shouldn’t be a time later that you look back and remorse that you didn’t’ in spite of having an opportunity.
The class room sessions were very good. Thanks to our instructor. She used the limited time to cover the topics on time. It was a very interactive & fun filled discussion. The final day we had an exam too that would render us with the ITSM certificate. Three of us did a combined study the day before the exam, going through mock test papers and discussing each other. It was like our college days when we studied so hard. Did I??? Anyway that’s another story altogether. The exam went well and the results would be only announced after a month since the answer sheets need to go to EXIN, Netherlands for evaluation. Now that I’m writing this blog after 2 months I can happily say that I’m certified. Not to mention, all of us who attended this training made it through. This certificate indeed does hold a value in my career.
I have to mention this otherwise I wouldn’t be doing justice to myself. 3 days of training =3 days of lunch at Marina Mandarin. It wasn’t a lunch that anybody would crave for but it’s important to me because at no point of time until then did I have so many types of meat in a single serving. Here goes… fish, chicken, mutton, beef, pork, prawns, lobster, squid aaaaaand octopus. 9 out of 10 people who just read that statement would have a strange grin on the face, or at least when you read octopus. Yes I tasted it for the first time and I didn’t like it too much.
Jurong Bird Park & the Night Safari
My sincere advice to all those who plan to visit Singapore-Never miss the bird park because there is no two ways about it but only one. Satisfaction guaranteed!!!!
The Jurong Bird park is a home to a large range of bird species. As mentioned earlier about the zoo, the bird park is similar in the way the place has been developed. Hats off to Singapore. We had a unique chance to hold the birds for a photo shoot that would be cherished by each one of us. There was a magnificent All star bird show that showcases a large number of bird species like the mimicking cockatoos, macaws playing basket ball etc……….We spent about 2 hours in the park before we headed to the zoo to watch the Night Safari.
The Night Safari is another destination that is a MUST SEE to all the tourists. It’s the only nocturnal zoo in the world. It is an open-air zoo set in a humid-tropical forest that is only open at night. The animals are made visible by lighting that resembles moonlight, perfect enough not to disturb the animal’s behavior. The entrance area was all illuminated by fire instead of any electric bulbs or lamps to give it an original feel of the night. You have to see it to experience the feeling. Words just cannot describe much. We took our tickets and ventured into the tropical forest by tram. Three of us were a little apprehensive as the tram moved deep into the forest. The surroundings were so natural that in certain places the tram was actually going over puddles of water and small streams. The noise of the night also made the atmosphere more eerie. The tram stopped by a herd of deers that was feeding. There were many so close to the tram that we could even touch them. Wonder if the same goes with wild cats displays…….I hope not!!!! We stopped in front of the lions a few meters away relaxing after a meal I suppose. It was very huge and his eyes stuck on us that gave us a chill down our spines. We couldn’t possibly get attacked by them but there’s no way we could tell, since the way the animals are displayed, makes you think otherwise. We saw many more animals like tigers, wolves, hyenas and so on. In some areas we also went along by foot specially designed for the purpose. That was awesome. It was a total adventurous experience.
The End of Times
This is certainly not something about the end of the world but for sure the end of a rollicking time we had the past days. Each and every moment was special, maybe because I wasn’t alone, had I been, I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed as much.
Our flight back was in the early hours July 16. We had vacated our rooms the day before and used the cloak room facility to keep your belongings. By 11:30 pm we were in the hotel doing the final bit of packing. It was a pretty long drive to the airport at 1:30 in the morning. The airport was deserted and a few people here and there. We were really hungry after the entire safari ride and decided to have something from the airport restaurant. There was nobody but us, and not surprising either because who would have dinner at this hour anyways?? Three of us were just rapping up our entire trip in words to each other and hoping we could relive it once again sometime, somewhere. We checked in early and did a little bit of shopping in the duty free. I wouldn’t say little bit because I had a bag load of things ;-) mostly chocolates. We sat in the waiting lounge awaiting the announcement of our flight. It is now more than 24 hours without sleep and like the first day in Singapore, the last day was no exception. We had to catch on some sleep and used the lounge for a short nap. All of us needed that rest after all that we did the past days. I dozed off pretty quick and Avi did not miss the opportunity to have a go with his camera. Here I am, all tired and knocked out after a week long adventure of a lifetime in land of lions or so to speak Singam(lion) puram(city). The flight was late (as usual, another reason again) by an hour. Avi did not keep his photographic instincts to rest even when the flight was ready for take off. It could be due to the previous week when he had made maximum use of his machine non stop. His body clock was so habituated that it did not cease to surface even in the plane. I caught some more sleep inside the flight. After 4 hours we were at Bangalore, HOME sweet HOME.
Do you think you’ve seen a little bit of Singapore through my travelogue? I hope I did manage to bring out most, if not all of my experiences. My friends who joined me in this expedition must’ve relived the events once more while reading my travelogue or at least a little bit. For others I think I wasn’t that boring either. I took a lot of time to compile this so that I could bring the best of it forward to you all. The pictures are courtesy Avi, Rakesh, Anil and not to mention, Biju.
Singapore is a place I’d like to go back and visit again. It is truly a wonderful place with equally wonderful people. I’ve learned that the people are the ones who can make a country prosper and Singapore is just an example of one such country.