Noraebang 2014: Merlion Madness with a Singapore Sling

It’s been a while since you posted and you’re still not done.

I’m sorry! I’ve been preoccupied with a novel and it’s been getting me stuck on my recliner. However, the cold snap in Calgary is back and here I am, back in action to continue my trek along Southeast Asia.

Next up is Singapore!

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So what made you choose Singapore over Hong Kong? You sure gave up some valuable time from other countries to pick a tiny place.

That was my mentality before as well. It’s a super-tiny country but I’ve been informed by my friend’s who are Singaporean that this is a country that packs a big punch,

“You won’t be disappointed”

“If you love food, you have to go to the hawker stalls!”

My goal was to visit Kuala Lumpur to see another university buddy and HKG->SIN->KULΒ  was cheaper than HKG->KUL->SIN, so why not?!

With Scoot Air providing the wings, I landed at Changi International Airport:

Their airport looks awesome! Was it easy to get around?

Changi is actually rated the best airport in the world. Second was Incheon. After traveling to both, I agree. I’ve never gone through security so quickly and in an orderly fashion. Everything worked like clockwork.

Anything to recommend to do first thing when you land?

This applies to both Seoul and Singapore,

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Get a WiFi egg!

With only $10CDN/day, I have unlimited internet access anywhere I went. It was awesome, especially running GPS maps to get around places.

Then, I took the train to my hostel, which was in Lavender Street. I checked the map before booking and my hostel was close to the MRT. I was also told that this is one of the best places to set up as a hub, next to Orchard Rd.

So taking the train made you see the whole country?

Pretty much. Their transit system is so advanced that you don’t really need a car and it makes no sense, both logistically and financially (I’ll talk about that more later on).

It was a long ride though, to say the least.

I would assume so, especially after a flight post-insomnia in Hong Kong.

But no matter. I ventured on, checked in to my hostel and surprise, surprise…

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You really love to eat, don’t you?

I told you. My goal is to eat and taste the country. I never disappoint, to say the least. With open itineraries, I usually just take the train, get off at a random station, and go on from there. This was typical to my plan. So I first ended up in Raffles City, which is their central business district or CBD:

This is where you’ll see the big offices and some of the fancy hotels around the city.

Next up was Bugis Street, which is now a cleaned-up version of its’ former transgender haven,

Wait. Say what?

So Bugis Street used to be transgender central back then but by the time I got there, it was gone. Never fear! There’s an story for that later on.

Uhm… Okay. Moving along. Seems like you’re covering some ground.

So far, so good and while I was messaging some friends on WhatsApp, one of them told me to have a Singapore Sling at the original Raffles Hotel.

What’s in a Singapore Sling?

It’s an alcoholic drink that was created in 1915 at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. The original recipe is available here. With nothing else to do, might as well go!

Wow, that places looks awesome!

It better be. Recognized as one of the world’s best hotels, Raffles Hotel isn’t really a ‘hotel’ but more of a complex; there are high-end stores like Louis Vuitton and Hublot, with a storied history that defines ‘Singapura’. Too bad a night stay is a Canadian-equivalent of a month’s rent. One day, I’ll stay there but for now, I’m just going to get smashed:

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Since it was a national landmark, was it hard to get in?

Surprisingly, no. I think I just lucked out though because there was a queue of me and an English couple on a retirement tour around Asia. It didn’t take us long to get a seat and since space was precious, we just combined as a party of three to increase our chances:

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10 minutes later, we were in. It was heavenly,

Well, it definitely has an old-school charm to say the least.

That’s an understatement. A little crash course on Singapore: It was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles and was pretty much influenced by the British since existence. The whole hotel was built in imperial British time and the Long Bar is what I would think, life would be like in the early 1900’s. This was (in my opinion, is still) the definition of ‘rich’. Kids nowadays would call it ‘old money’.

Enough about the bar. How was this Singapore Sling?

Well for starters, I didn’t check the price before I ordered. It was $28 Singapore Dollars. I was so glad I’m a cheap drunk because with the combination of the heat, the fact that I only had a bowl of noodles with free bar peanuts in my stomach, and the sweetness of the drink I only had two before throwing in the towel.

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It was my way of experiencing imperial British life in a cost-productive manner. I really wish I could’ve stayed in the hotel. That Sling was refreshing and tasty, to say the least. I will try and make it at home. It’s a must-have for a traveling foodie!

So now you’re drunk out of your mind in an Asian country. Do you still have your liver intact?

Why yes, I do. Singapore is one of the safest countries in Asia and I’m definitely sure that everyone makes more money there than I do. I swear, I did not see one homeless person when I was there. Nevertheless, it was early morning and I’m always hungry post-drinking so hit up a hawker stall and have some duck!,

The next day was slightly more forgiving but now, I was walking my way through Little India,

The country was preparing for Diwali (Deepavali) also known as the ‘Festival of Lights’. It’s a big Hindu holiday, celebrating the victory of light over darkness. As you can see, everyone is going all out for it, from streets to airports.

It was still early so I had brunch around Sam Leong Road and to another hawker center in Ang Mo Kio:

That looks good. All I see though are hawker street food. Did you try anything else there?

This is a staple of Singaporean life and while I enjoyed all of the flavors that a mix of Malay and Chinese cuisine had to offer, I stepped my game up a bit and went to Din Tai Fung.

What’s in Din Tai Fung?

Din Tai Fung is a Taiwanese franchise that specializes in xiaolongbao or soup dumplings. There was a location near Raffles City and we hit the good stuff. I got an order of the traditional dumplings, one truffle dumpling, and a lemongrass juice to cool myself down with:

Just how good are these dumplings?

In my opinion, they were fantastic! I learned how to eat it through Eddie Huang, a culinary bad boy and a legend in VICE Magazine. Unfortunately, the video is gone but here’s another video to show how much pride and detail is spent in each dumpling,

Damn, that is ridiculous for dumplings.

And it was worth every penny. Next stop to hit for a foodie is Newton Circus but October is monsoon season so this is what I saw when I got out of the station,

All good though because wait 15 minutes and it disappears. Now I was informed that this was the only place to get something called rojak, which is a fruit and vegetable salad. I also had a hankering for seafood so you know how we do this,

So what’s in a rojak exactly?

Well, according to Wikipedia:

Fruit rojak consists typically of cucumber, pineapple, benkoang (jicama), bean sprouts, taupok (puffy, deep-fried tofu) and youtiao (cut-up Chinese-style fritters). Raw mangos and green apples are less commonly used. The dressing is made up of water, belacan (shrimp paste), sugar, chili, and lime juice. Ingredients vary among vendors with some also using hae ko prawn/shrimp paste, tamarind or black bean paste in the mix. The ingredients are cut into bite-sized portions and tossed in a bowl with the dressing and topped with chopped peanuts and a dash of ground or finely chopped bunga kantan (pink ginger bud).

It was a good mix of sweet and savory, to which something I still can’t here in Calgary. It’s just so damn good!

The third day was slightly chillax, with the main goal of meeting up with my cousin and her husband, who was stationed there. I went around Haji Lane,Β which is where the local designers and artists are stationed. Nearby was Arab Street, which is the textile district and exposes you to a smorgasbord of colors:

I checked out the scenery for a while until I met up with them around Marina Bay Sands:

Cue the selfie photo,

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So is that Marina Bay Sands with a fancy pool up top and an observation deck?

It is the same one! Unfortunately, you have to be a guest to get into the fancy pool, which looks like this:

It has high-end botiques, eateries, and what I didn’t know until I came in, was a casino(!):

WP_20141019_033Oh, boy.

Yup. So I have a weakness for craps and blackjack and I had to check it out. So similar to Japan, it’s illegal to gamble in the country but the kicker in Singapore was, you can play with real money (Japan only gambles with ‘play money’ and you can’t cash in your winnings) so long as you’re a foreigner.

First time I lined up and get a patdown for a casino before,

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I did the typical sign-in for a player’s card and off to the races I went! These players are legit ballers. I did not see a table with less than $50SGD minimum. 2 hours and -$96SGD later, I looked around the shopping centre and bought this cool hat (very representative of me, I must say!):

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Haha, nice! That’s definitely a must-buy. Sounds like you had a lot of fun.

I did and the last part was bittersweet and you’ll find out why. So I met up with my cousin in Geylang Road, where they have the best chili crab in town. The following was devoured with an overload of beer and seafood,

This is where I start rolling down the slope.

Oh that doesn’t sound too good. What happened?

After we cleaned house, we went to Glutton’s Bay where I wanted some ice kachang or shaved ice. Shaved ice is always a crapshoot in Asia and I rolled snake eyes. We enjoyed the night as I saw Marina Bay Sands and downtown Singapore come nightfall:

Then I got the kachang,

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Looks are deceiving…

It was delicious but then hours later, it came back up as I got a bad case of food poisoning. I felt sick to my stomach and I had to force myself to throw up late into the early morning. The worst part was I had a flight to catch to Malaysia in 4 hours.

Oh damn, did you make it?! Damn that shaved ice!

I barely made it. I puked the night away then dozed off a bit. I woke up late and had to catch a taxi instead of the train,

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Fast we go, lah!

Arriving in Changi, I immediately got flustered by the sound of flip-boards.

Flip-boards? What? Did you miss your flight?

No, I arrived with minutes to spare before boarding but once I heard the sound, I knew I had to check it out. I thought they were all non-existent but there it was. A Solari board in Changi!:

WP_20141020_005It was still working and everything! I spent 10 minutes watching it.

I don’t get it. What’s the big deal?

I’m a sucker for old-school gear and as a traveler, I thought I wouldn’t be seeing a split-flap board in my lifetime. LED’s are cheap and easy to maintain/display departure times but this was a cool sight to see. To hear the flaps were cool. I loved it.

Are you hopped up on meds or something?

Probably. I was enjoying a cocktail of Gravol, Advil and whatever this pharmacist gave me at the airport,

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Alas, this was a trip to mark off and time to start a new one:

WP_20141020_008But I will be back! Hopefully, in a nice hotel haha.

You went through a lot and sounds like you’d definitely return. Why?

Mostly for the food. The immersion of flavors around the districts are divine. Given the diversity of flavor available, Singapore is full of diversity and it shows in their cuisine: Indian, Malay, Chinese, European… It’s there.

Besides the food, what will you always remember in Singapore?

Two things:

– How they talk. They always end their sentences with lah, similar to Canadians and eh? It’s quintessentially ‘Singlish’

– How economically well-off Singapore is. To give you a scale of how awesome Singapore is financially, they put tariffs in vehicles to limit the amount present on the roads. Given the small footprint of the country, every square meter is precious and can’t be wasted in garages or whatever. To combat spending, cars are taxed at least 100% of its’ value! So, I’ll post a bunch of car photos… Think of a plausible MSRP. Now multiply it by 2.

It makes Calgarian rich folks look like peasants!,

I like how it’s a mix of humble beginnings and modern extravagance. On the flip-side, it creates a big wage gap and resentment amongst the social classes. Those topics are heated for debate, to which I’d enjoy learning more about when I come back very soon.

I’d love to hear more from people through the comments and have a lengthy discussion but if you have any questions, just throw it my way.

Next up is Malaysia!

-Don

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