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...two travellers in search of the world's wildlife

24 January 2011

Singapore impressions

21st January 2011

Four days in Singapore is hardly enough to summarise the city, but I did get some good impressions and in truth I liked the place a lot.

Singapore is akin to London in having plenty of attractive old buildings juxtaposed with impressive modern architecture. The difference is in the ratios, which are reversed; here there are handfuls of restored colonial-era shophouses or Chinese temples scattered among sleek and original constructions of glass and steel. Singapore doesn’t pack quite the punch of Hong Kong, there is no majestic wall-to-wall skyline of neon Tetris blocks hanging over a wide harbour. But a closer look suggests that instead of pushing up matching skyscrapers the architects of Singapore are trying harder at originality and futurism. Although the building with a boat on top is just darned silly. What do you mean, what do I mean? Picture three skyscraper towers of the same height. Now picture an ocean liner perched on top, like the bails on a cricket wicket. Voila. It’s apparently a new super-resort called Harbour Sands or something. Silly.

The food here looks as good as the architecture, and tastes every bit as good as it looks. There’s a thriving local food scene, but having gorged on cheap-and-tasty in Penang and finding many of the dishes in common, we ended up going more up-market in Singapore. Hence the elegant fine-dining at Iggy’s. We also found a wonderful area around Joo Chiat Road for patisseries; easily half-a-dozen tempting places selling local or western-influenced delights. An odd spot, the dainty patisseries scattered among the dodgiest looking karaoke bars with singularly semi-dressed young ladies loitering outside. We stopped at one to buy durian puffs, which are awesome. They are like small, nasty profiteroles filled with a delectably stinky cream that stays on the palate for hours. But our finest dish in Singapore was in a local restaurant, albeit not cheap. An enormous orange crab, the size of a dinner plate when alive, now dismembered and cooked to perfection in a dark, pungent black-pepper sauce that built up a dramatic mouth-burn even while it complemented the oceanic flavour of the juicy meat. No wonder otters like living here!

A final element to Singapore’s charisma is the diversity and harmony of people. Faces around us were quite distinctly Indian, Chinese or Malay yet there seemed no difference in habit or dress; everyone was Singaporean. Of course when we went to Little India to watch the Thaipusan procession there was a big preponderance of Indian faces, but you’d expect that. For a visitor, it was also very pleasant to find the English language binding everyone together. It’s not entirely universal – with 25% of the workforce being migrants from Malaysia or elsewhere we found a couple of people who couldn’t understand us. We had a second comical taxi ride yesterday. This time when the driver didn’t know our hotel I described it as “Behind the Peace Centre, up the hill”. Typical that there should be a “Pearl’s Centre” which also has a hill behind it and is in a completely different part of the city. As with the first time, when we eventually back-tracked to the right place he tried to ask for only $7 despite the $15 on the meter and I settled on $10 with him – who knows whether the fault was with my pronunciation or his hearing, but it was good of him to offer to accept the loss.

Five things we liked best:

  • Watching smooth-coated otters playing at Sungei Buloh
  • Devouring a huge black pepper crab at Kim’s
  • A splendid posh lunch at Iggy’s in the heart of the city
  • Taxi journeys going awry, and the unexpected generosity of the taxi drivers
  • The nasty, stinky, delicious durian puffs – we bought some more today

Three things we liked least:

  • The expensiveness of accommodation, making it nigh impossible to stay in budget
  • The heat, the muggy tropical heat that melts you as you walk
  • Trying to hunt out cool stuff among the same dull, mainstream shops in 80% of the shopping malls


2 Responses to “Singapore impressions”

  1. […] black pepper crab we had in Singapore was hands-down our favourite dinner in an entire year of travel around the world. So perhaps no surprise that when I asked Maureen what she’d like me to cook […]

  2. […] best thing you have ever eaten in another country, where was it and what was it? MmmMMmmm. Black pepper crab in Singapore. That was such a huge crab, and so beautiful. South-east Asia is the best region on […]

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