Singapore – 7 & 8 April 2018
I’d forgotten how charming the Tiong Bahru neighborhood is, with it’s low-slung Art Deco apartments and quiet streets – plus this time the Tiong Bahru Market with its second-floor hawker centre was open after being closed for renovations on my last visit.
Breakfast for me was char siu and rice – my favorite! – while Ak had roast pork and congee. We took a walk around, primarily in hopes of seeing Bob, a well-known neighborhood cat, but had no luck – though there were a couple of signs posted asking folks not to feed Bob because he is on a special diet to lose some weight… Oh, Bob!
So, since we didn’t get our cat fix, we did the next best thing and stopped into Tiann’s, a little cafe across from the market with a simple and light-filled interior and a very friendly staff. I’ll admit to being a bit “O RLY?” when they advised that all the food they prepare contains neither gluten nor any refined sugar – but in fact, the kaya tea cake we shared with our iced lattes was delicious.
Next stop was back in the center at the Asian Civilizations Museum. The Tang shipwreck exhibit was fascinating, with a display of the some of the tens of thousands of objects, largely pottery but also some crafted from precious metals, salvaged from the wreck. The ship was Middle Eastern and was returning home after loading up with wares from China. It’s quite a marvel to see how highly-developed things like trade, commerce and mass production were over 1000 years ago in Asia.
Did a bit of shopping on Orchard Rd. where we had our first argument of the trip – less than 48 hours in, a new record, I believe – over my inability to disguise my boredom during a visit to Abercrombie & Fitch. Srsly tho – have you ever been into one of their shops? With the blasting music, the gallons of perfume being pumped into the air and the maze-like layout, it’s enough to make anyone over the age of 30 start yelling at people to get off their lawn.
We also got to check out Don Quijote, a newly-opened branch of the Japanese discount store – here known as Don Don Donki due to an existing establishment in Singapore apparently named Don Quixote – which is a bit like Tokyu Hands meets a 100 yen store. It’s jam-packed with gummy candies, weird beauty products, toys, liquor, travel equipment and self-piercing kits – “designed by doctors” (#mm-hmmm), to name just a small cross-section of their assortment – and there’s also a grocery store downstairs selling prepared food, along with fruit, vegetables, frozen treats and what is reputed to be extremely good quality meat and seafood at great prices. Singaporeans love a bargain, so the place was packed. It was all fascinating, despite us only buying some nori potato chips and mandarin-flavored drinking water, which tasted exactly like St. Joseph’s Chewable Children’s Aspirin.
Time for a bit of a snack and apparently my blood sugar was so low that I thought that eating at the Mexican place in the mall was a good idea – though, to be honest, it was actually surprisingly tasty, if also a bit rich in its pricing. Tacos were tasty and my margarita was adequate – though Ak’s sangria was not well-executed.
By the time we were finished and back outside, it’d started pouring rain. We had rather a long wait for a Grab back to the hotel, but we made it and relaxed for a bit before heading back out to Lau Pa Sat, the hawker centre next to which is an evening open-air group of stalls all selling satay, hence it’s moniker of Satay St. We ordered from stall 7 & 8, reputed along with 10, to be the best of a good bunch. The chicken and beef satay were delicious, though I didn’t like the shrimp quite as much. I wished I’d remembered to try one of the non-Halal vendors this time, just to have some pork satay – but I guess that will have to wait until my next visit! Well, unless we’re back there this visit…
Despite a tasty dinner, there was a redux of our “conversation” outside of A&F that afternoon, so it wasn’t the most pleasant dinner we’d had together, but we did manage to hash things out successfully before deciding to walk home along Clark Quay and the river. It was a long walk but the rain had stopped and weather was comfortable.
It’d been a long day and I was so exhausted, I was asleep before 10PM, while Ak caught up on a writing project he’s doing for a designer friend of his back in Bangkok.
Although I slept like a baby, we didn’t get quite as early a start on Sunday morning as we might’ve hoped, but we did manage to make it over to Adam Road Food Centre for breakfast. We had nasi lemek, mi rebus (essentially noodles in gravy) and some BBQ pork and rice. It was all pretty tasty, though nothing really knocked our socks off.
Walked down the road to the Singapore Botanic Gardens. We started at the northern end and made our way all the way to the southern entrance. The place is huge and really just lovely, with gorgeous grounds and people and dogs out enjoying their day. The highlight was probably the National Orchid Garden, filled with a huge variety of amazing orchids. It was a bit on the crowded side in there, but we really enjoyed our walk through this garden.
Afterwards, we walked over to the Dover Street Market, a very fancy designer boutique that Ak wanted to check out. Followed this up with a stop at PS Cafe where we had a couple of delicious – and this being Singapore – breathtakingly priced cocktails: a mojito for me and rose sangria with berries and rosebuds. Yum!
Next stop, a well-reputed ice cream shop with the unfortunate name Udders. Also unfortunate was my lack of attention when booking a Grab to take us there, as I inadvertently chose the one a couple of miles farther north than the one that was about a 10 minute drive from our location – so we wound up way in the outskirts of Singapore, joking with each other that we might’ve actually crossed into Malaysia. Sadly, the ice cream was just OK. I mean, yes, it was tasty, but probably not worth the schlep.
After that we visited Marina Square mall to check out a new outpost of Nomi, a Japanese 100 yen shop. It’s an older mall with an odd assortment of shops, but I kinda liked it. And it turned out to be good stop for Ak, as we popped into Owndays, a Japanese maker of reasonably priced eyeglasses. Not only did he find a great-looking pair of new glasses, the price was extremely reasonable – about half what I pay just for frames back in the US, plus included new lenses (which were also noticeably thinner for his quite-strong prescription #sheblind) and were ready in 20 minutes! I was tempted to buy some myself, but progressive lenses are custom and take a week or so to get back, so I was SOL – though the fellow who assisted us could not have been nicer, letting me know they’d be happy to ship them to me for about US$30. Oh well! I was happy that Ak found some new specs.
We took a long walk after, crossing the Helix Bridge over to Marina Bay and making our way south to check out Marina One, a really cool and not-quite-fully open office/condo/retail complex. The architecture is impressive, particularly the interior open space which is filled with tropical greenery and pools and waterfalls, surrounded by the curving and angled buildings soaring overhead.
Since we were in the neighborhood, it seemed foolish not to pop over to Lau Pa Sat food center and the adjacent Satay St. We tried the satay from stall number 6 this time and declared it not quite as good as our usual from stand 7 & 8 – so we ordered a round from 7 & 8, just to be sure. Oh, and we also had a bowl of noodles with meat sauce and wontons and some tom yum. And some dessert of shaved ice topped with milk, sago beads and fresh fruit. C’est léger, c’est léger!
And now we’re back in our room, Ak watching “The Face” (essentially “Thailand’s Next Top Model”) and I’m clacking away on this update while listening to some disco tunes on my headphones. It’s not even 8PM here! Ordinarily, it’d be time for some wine or a cocktail, but booze is so expensive here that it brings out my inner cheapskate. So, I guess we’ll just have to be satisfied with water and the last of the Swiss chocolates from my friend Nicolas…