JISHOU, HUNAN, CHINA — Let’s see if I can wrap up my travelogue before classes start in a few days.
As you probably have guessed, Singapore was my next destination after Penang. My friends who have been there praised this city as a good place to visit, and since I was in the neighborhood (so to speak), I decided to spend a few days there.
It was not nearly enough. Singapore is like Hong Kong, or New York City, or any other big metropolis. There’s so much to see and do, that even locals have not seen or done it all.
My plan was to spend Chinese New Year there, as I knew Singapore would have a massive fireworks display on Feb. 7. There were at least two, one in Chinatown and one on the waterfront, and in the end, I saw neither one.
I had not counted on one major factor: the crowds. Navigating the crush of people in Chinatown just got to me, and round about 10 pm, I decided to bail out and head back to my airbnb place in Little India. So, I can’t offer any photos of massive fireworks displays.
Which is not to say Chinatown was a waste of time. Of course, I have experienced the Chinese New Year in China, but the experience in Singapore was different. It was more intense, at least in Chinatown, because all the activity — shopping, music, schmoozing, eating, drinking, etc., were concentrated in a few square blocks, rather than an entire country.
There were two sound stages, one sponsored by the community and another by media companies. The community performances were by amateurs, and one lady’s singing was so bad I had to retreat to preserve my sanity. The professional performances were better, but they started at 9:30 pm, so I only caught a little bit before I checked out for the night.
From Penang, I had three choices to reach Singapore: bus, train or plane. The bus trip, while quite cheap, would take 12 hours. No way, no how. Train tickets were all booked up. So, I flew there on AirAsia for just $40, about twice the cost of the bus ticket, and way faster (90 minutes).
Arriving mid-afternoon on the 6th, I had time to settle in my airbnb room and do some exploring of the neighborhood. My plan was to explore Chinatown, soak up the CNY atmosphere, and also see some of the sights. Rain on the 8th and 9th put a damper on some my plans, but what I did I enjoyed doing, and I got enough of sense of Singapore that I want to return to continue the adventure.
Like Malaysia, to which it used to be part of, Singapore is a multicultural city. There are sizable populations of Indians, Chinese, Europeans, Southeast Asians, and the native Malays, of course. So, there’s lots of food possibilities (I love chicken rice!), but I gravitated toward Indian, Malay and believe it or not, Western. Chinese food I can eat 10 months out of the year, so eating Chinese in Singapore, while very good, was not high on my priority list.
It’s also very new. The Singapore we know today is only 50 years old — it became independent of Malaysia in 1965. Its founding father, Lee Kuan Yew, is credited with transforming the city-state from a Third World backwater into a commercial, financial and economic powerhouse. It’s a very modern and people-friendly metropolis. But, you need to have a deep enough pocketbook to visit there, as even airbnb rates are three times higher than in Malaysia, and regular hotel rack rates are about the same as Hong Kong’s or New York’s. So, while I wanted to stay longer than three days, my bank account told me extending my visit was out of the question if I wanted to explore eastern Malaysia.
No matter. Singapore will still be there when I have the money to visit.
Now for some pictures. Keep in mind it rained on the 8th and 9th, so things looked a little dreary.
On the 7th, I hung around Chinatown. On the 8th, I went to Sentosa Island to visit the Undersea World aquarium there, then took the cable car to Mount Taber Park, where I walked the trails. The following day, since my flight to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, was in the late afternoon, I returned to Chinatown (see the Bitcoin sidebar elsewhere at this blog) and took a cruise on the Singapore River, which is now a reservoir. I had a nice seafood lunch on Clarke Quay, then fetched my bags and took the metro to the airport.