Last Couple of Days in Singapore

Singapore – 9 & 10 April 2018

Today, we visit the Singapore Zoo. We started nice and early, stopping first for an “eh” Western breakfast at a place across from the hotel that had the decided advantage of opening at 6AM – which includes the bar, as was evidenced by a patron – no, not me or Ak – ordering a Singapore Sling at 7AM.

Hired a Grab to take us on the 25 minute drive to the zoo and had quite the affable and chatty driver who shared some history of Singapore with us. All went well until the subject drifted to politics – and while I wouldn’t go so far to call him a Trump supporter, he did opine that the “mainstream media” had somehow portrayed DJT in some kind of unfair light. *ahem* Rather than removing my earrings and whooping a trick, I simply stated that I’d been following his activities since the 80s and that he’s a con artist pure and simple. The driver changed the subject – though sadly it was to share with us his philosophy that is one of the many variants of “The Secret” and the power of positive thinking. Eventually, we steered things back toward Singapore and tourism which seemed a safer subject all around.

Arrived at the zoo at just about exactly 8:30AM, right when they open – though the ticket windows were not yet open, which was a tad annoying. I’d actually attempted to buy my tickets online but had been foiled by the site’s rule that only one-time-use credit card numbers were permitted for purchase. I guess the black market for zoo tickets must be quite active…

Once inside, we spied a couple of varieties of small primates dangling from the trees overhead – really cool way to start things off! Made a pretty much complete circle and saw just about all the animals. The orangutans were fascinating – as were most of the primates on display. They also appeared to be relatively nice habitats considering they were all captive. The white tigers were gorgeous of course, as were the leopards, cheetahs, pumas and lions – though it was hard not to wonder if even these relatively generously sized enclosures were really a reasonable facsimile of the cats’ natural territories.

One of the more difficult exhibits was that of Inuka, the elderly polar bear. He’s in his mid-20s, which is pretty old in polar bear terms – their life span in the wild is 15-18 years. But the habitat felt a bit grim and it was hard not anthropomorphize him with feelings of loneliness. I guess more than anything else, it reminded me of my own personal discomfort with zoos. I am fully cognizant of the value they serve in terms of caring for wild animals and inspiring people young and old to embrace efforts to protect and value animals – but it’s hard not see captivity as a less-than-ideal way of life for a wild animal.

We watched a couple of shows too. The first featured domesticated animals – mostly dogs and cats with a couple of rats and a parrot thrown in – so I was AOK with this display. The rainforest show was a little dicier – seeing non-domesticated animals performing is odd. Though I should add that they weren’t doing tricks so much as engaging in some of their normal behaviors on-cue and rewarded with food. And, let’s face it, who can resist a lemur galloping across a vine suspended overhead?

Had a pretty decent lunch in the zoo – vegetarian biriyani for me and mi goreng for Ak – before heading back into the city. Went for a stroll down Haji Lane, at Ak’s request. “Why did you want to visit here?” I asked. “Is it because you saw it on Instagram?” Answer in the affirmative, which led to my establishment of a new rule: any sightseeing based solely on Ak seeing it on IG gives me the option to say, “I’ll meet you when you’re done” with no eye rolling, resting bitch face and/or passive-aggressive sarcastic comments about ruining his vacation. Happily, though, Haji Lane is only about two blocks long, so soon enough we’d found a mall to pop into for a spot of cha nom yen for me and iced Milo for Ak.

After a bit of a lie-down back at the hotel, we headed out for drinks at ATLAS Bar located at Parkview Square – the high-rise also nicknamed the Gotham Building since it looks straight out of a Batman set. The bar itself is just as spectacular as the online photos indicated – towering ceilings in a large Art Deco space that would look right at home in Rockefeller Center. Hard to believe it’s actually only a few years old. Cocktails were pricey but really tasty – Ak had Scandal Water, essentially a martini tarted up with some champagne… It was obviously delicious. I went a bit simpler, opting for a G&T made with Paper Lantern gin, distilled in Thailand from galangal, lemongrass, Sichuan pepper and other regional ingredients and East Imperial Burma tonic from New Zealand, a more old-school style tonic with less sugar and more citrus. It was great!

Next stop was next door at Mr. Stork, the rooftop bar at the new Andaz Hilton (I’m only linking to them in hopes they’ll read this and someone will apologize- srsly, don’t go there. It’s terrible). The view was as spectacular as the drinks and service were dreadful, I’m sorry to report.

Things started off inauspiciously when we both chose a drink from there list of eight special house drinks: Rhubarb for Ak, Ginger for me. “Oh, we’re out of both of those.” Uh, ok. So, I went with Basil, Ak with Thyme. They were both served sloppily and tasted like not much of anything described on the menu – with Ak’s topped with a sad, wilted sprig of thyme. But what do you expect for SG$20 each? (#sideeyeemoji).

As for our servers, it seemed as though none of the kids working there (and even Ak thought they seemed like kids, so it’s not just my grumpy old man syndrome) had received even the barest minimum of training on how to interact with customers. They weren’t mean per se, but definitely not skilled or polished. After ordering drinks, we ordered some food and the server asked if we also wanted drinks – which I explained we’d already ordered. Not the end of the world, but organization was not a strong suit here. Then, while literally mid-sip halfway through my drink, a third server appeared and shoved the bill in my face.

“I’m sorry, sir, can I trouble you to pay the bill?”

“Uh, do I have to decide now?”

“Yes, I’m sorry, sir, we need you pay now.”

WTF? Very weird. Anyway, I settled up and we sat and enjoyed the view – and I decided to have one more drink – a glass of wine. When our latest server showed up with two glasses, I explained that I’d only ordered one, which was met with a blank stare, so I repeated that I’d only ordered one. The second glass was then whisked away – which is fine, I guess. But virtually every bar or restaurant where I’ve been served something I didn’t order has typically been met with, “Well, why don’t you have it anyway? I’ll take it off the bill since we made an error.” I mean, it’s NBD, but were they gonna get out a funnel and pour it back into the bottle? OK, actually, maybe they did…

A few sips into my wine, our insistent bill payment enforcer showed up and once again demanded immediate payment. I should also add that this same scene appeared to play out for the other folks attempting to patronize the bar that evening – even the ones who are far less unsavory looking than myself. It was a very peculiar experience and I’ll be quite sure not to return.

We planned to check out the very nice looking wine bar and specialty shop downstairs called So France, only to see they’d posted signs on the front door indicating CASH ONLY due to a credit card machine failure, apparently. Jeez, strike three!

Dinner was at Folklore, a new-ish place specializing in Singaporean heritage food, i.e. the sort of old fashioned local dishes that Singaporeans grew up with at home. It got a write-up in the NY Times recently and seemed worth a try. We enjoyed dinner, especially the sambal fried rice and the sago dessert. We ordered a jug of beer also, only to be advised that there was no draft beer that evening, in keeping with this evening’s apparent theme of “Nope, Try Again” when it came to drinks.

Back to the hotel earlyish, where Ak and I both slept fitfully, thanks to having ordered probably one more entree than was really necessary at dinner – and perhaps I’d say the same for those last two bottles of beer.

Up early and had a Western breakfast near our hotel. It was tasty – and, this being Singapore, pricey. Eh, what’re you gonna do?

Began packing back at the hotel, which stressed me out no end, thanks to Jetstar, our airline for today’s flight to Da Nang, sending me increasingly dire and alarming messages about weight restrictions for carry-ons and exorbitant fees for checked bags that exceeded weight allowance. I paid to add another 10 kilos of checked bags and then did my best to slim my carry-on bag down to the permitted 7 kilos. Christ, it’s really a fucking racket. Either the bag fits in the overhead (which mine does) or it doesn’t. Who gives a shit what’s in there? Not too mention that 7 kilos is very close to the weight of an empty suitcase…

On top of all the this, I’d developed some kind of rash on my feet – which I naturally assumed was bedbugs or scabies or some other equally awful malady. And the itch was driving me insane.

Our flight wasn’t until 6PM and at this point, we were just sitting around the hotel room with me becoming increasingly stressed out – so we figured we’d just head to Changi, which 100% deserves its reputation as the world’s best airport.

First things first, we got to Jetstar check-in and weighed our bags and redistributed things between checked and carry-on until we both had 7 kilos for the overhead and everything else checked. Needless to say, the extra 10 kilos I’d paid for was unnecessary since we were under our 40 kilo allowance. Oy, a racket, I tell you!

One nice thing though: there’s an urgent care clinic at the airport! I checked in and saw a doctor after a not-too-terrible wait. Diagnosis: atopic dermatitis! Which is really just a fancy term for “Yeah, that’s a rash.” But I got some steroid cream and antihistamines, along with the peace of mind that I’d not contracted an exotic parasitic infection.

Used my Priority Pass to treat us to a decent (and free!) Japanese bento lunch at TGM in T2, then hung out at the Dnata Lounge having wine until it was time to board. All went smoothly with boarding – and needless to say, no one gave my bag a second glance and certainly didn’t attempt to weigh it. I could’ve packed an anvil in there! Sigh. Well, as long as our checked bags have accompanied us to our final destination, I’ll consider the flying experience a success. Anyway, next stop Da Nang!

A Few Days in Singapore

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…

Singapore via Zurich

Zurich, Switzerland – 4 April 2018
Singapore – 5 & 6 April 2018

Arrived at SFO easily enough despite rush hour traffic. There was a bit of a line for business class check-in at SWISS (#outrage) but I was soon past security and seated in the not-especially-glamorous temp United lounge. It’s currently the only Star Alliance lounge open at SFO Terminal G, due to ongoing construction of what is supposed to be a really nice new Polaris lounge. Eh, it was fine – I had a seat and got myself plenty hydrated with sparkling water for the 10 ½ hour flight to Zurich.

Flying with me on this first leg was my friend Nicolas, an FA for SWISS. He kept my champagne topped up and made sure I had a great flight – though honestly, every passenger seemed to receive really lovely service from the very attentive crew.
SWISS’ 777 seating layout in C alternates 1-2-2 and 2-2-1. The single seats are nicknamed “Throne Seats” (#apropos #thisqueen) and are reserved for SWISS premium members or those willing to cough up $200 per segment for the privilege of getting these very private seats. Given that I’d used miles to purchase this ticket, I decided to go for it. And boy was I glad that I did!

Besides all the privacy, this seat has way more storage space in an around the seat. Plus, I was in 4A, one of only two bulkhead thrones (the other being 7A) – and they provide substantially more foot room when in bed mode. 4A is also in the front mini-cabin of the 777 with only two rows, so it feels very quiet and private.

Dinner was great and I got a decent amount of semi-fitful sleep after a tasty dinner. Once I was fully awake, it was only an hour-and-a-half until arrival at Zurich.

My layover before transiting onward to Singapore was seven hours. The train from the airport to central Zurich takes about 15 minutes, so it was my plan to spend a few hours in town. I’d gone back-and-forth on this plan, since the weather forecast was cold and rainy – but what the hell, why not!

Made it into town just as easily as it had been portrayed. It was chilly and the rain was steady. As I walked toward the Fraumünster, I was having second thoughts – my shoes were wet and I was simultaneously sweaty and cold. But I plodded on.

And I’m so glad I did! Fraumünster is home to a series of stained glass windows by Marc Chagall. They were breathtaking and the visit would have been so worth it just to see them. But there was also what I believe was rehearsal going on upstairs for a performance by violin and the church’s massive pipe organ. So, I was treated to music filling the church while I sat and looked at the beautiful stained glass windows.

I’ll confess I got a little misty-eyed – not just because it was a wonderful experience but it was one of those moments where I kind of can’t believe that I’ve been so fortunate in my life to travel and to visit places like this. So happy I didn’t let the rain interfere with my visit.

Next stop was Sternen Grill for a bratwurst and a glass of wine – it was great! Then back to the station, a quick trip back to the airport and then off to the gorgeous SWISS lounge in Terminal E. I had a nice long shower, put on some fresh panties and got that spring back in my step. Boarded my next flight after relaxing a bit more in the lounge.

My visit to Singapore started off rather less auspiciously than one might hope. The 11 hour flight from Zurich was AOK, as I was once again ensconced in seat 4A on a SWISS 777. I slept for only about three hours in an attempt to get myself adjusted to local time, so I watched a few movies (and liked Thor: Ragnorok substantially better than Call Me by Your Name, a film which made my eyes roll into the back of my head more than once. But I digress…)

Made it through Immigration quickly and collected my bags with the intention of buying a local SIM card at the airport. The only ones I found were for SG$38, which seemed substantially higher than I recalled, so I skipped it and headed by taxi to my home for the next five nights, the Sheraton Four Points River View.

The place is nice enough, though perhaps a bit more touristy than I’d like, especially considering how much I enjoyed the more boutique-y WANGZ Hotel I stayed in on my last visit (which had the additional plus of being named WANGZ) – but there was a substantial difference in price and Singapore is not exactly a bargain when it comes to lodging.

Anyway, after unpacking and getting a status update from Ak, who was flying in from BKK this same evening, I headed out in search of a 7-Eleven from which to purchase a SIM card. Google Maps showed two nearby, so off I went with a screenshot of the location.

Across the river from the hotel are plenty of other hotels and condos and tons of restaurants, all of which seemed vaguely questionable, thanks to their photo-based menus, too-broad offerings (burgers, pizza and North Indian cuisine in one place for example) and more-than-fair share of boisterous Western tourists. Again, a bit of a let-down from the charming Tiong Bahru neighborhood I’d stayed in last time – but at this point I just needed a 7-Eleven.

My map failed me, pointing me to a street devoid of any establishments whatsoever, let alone a convenience store, so I wandered semi-aimlessly in the direction of a ramen place I knew was close by. And lo and behold, I stumbled across a different 7-Eleven – only to have the clerk tell me that her SIM registration machine was not working, which was frustrating enough, but she also used a tone that I felt was unnecessarily surly.

I did find the ramen place, Ippudo, and had a decent bowl along with some sake – which sort of took the edge off their lack of Wi-Fi (#srsly?). But all in all, I was not really feeling it my first night in Singapore – though this was no doubt exacerbated by the nearly thirty hours I’d spent in transit.

Back to hotel and awaited Ak’s arrival, while intermittently dozing. He arrived from the airport quickly, we had a brief happy reunion before we both had to hit the hay.

Friday morning we woke up early and went back out in search of SIM card, this time with directions from the front desk clerk and found the place immediately – only to be advised that I needed to present my passport and no, a copy wasn’t good enough. Ugh, y tho? Back to hotel for passport, back again and I was finally back online, thank heavens.

And I swung into action by ordering us a Grab (the SE Asian version of Uber) to take us to Maxwell Food Centre, one of Singapore’s many, many hawker centers. Due to the early hour, lots of stalls still closed, but I had a really tasty stir-fried noodles with shrimp and Ak had chicken congee and then we shared a kaya bun, “kaya” being a local coconut jam that’s a breakfast favorite here.

Next stop the National Gallery, where we looked at paintings before visiting an installation on the rooftop, a bamboo maze with a tiny teahouse at the center. Back downstairs, we ended our visit at a really entertaining video installation that also proved to be irresistible IG bait for the both of us.

Wandered around the bay until it was time for our afternoon tea at L’Eclair by Sarah Michelle. It was pretty tasty – though the eclairs, while the flavors were excellent, were done in by rather soggy pastry. Quel dommage!

Walked back to the hotel for a lie-down, then a swim, then another lie-down and then dinner in the neighborhood (preceded by a stop at the front desk to share my hope that our room would be made up prior to 4PM as had occurred today. But I digress…) at Wine Connection Cheese Bar. Ak isn’t really familiar with cheese, so we shared a plate of Brie, Tomme de Savoie and some pastrami. I was quite surprised at the high quality of all the offerings – along with a decent bottle of rose at a reasonable-for-Singapore price. As it turned out, neither Brie nor Tomme de Savoie were big hits with Ak – he didn’t hate them, but also didn’t love them. In a surprise twist, when we ordered a refill, he loved the Tête de Moine – authentically prepared with a girolle – and the Serrano ham! So, perhaps not the most traditionally Singaporean meal, but given its proximity to the hotel, reasonable price and excellent quality, it turned out to be a great pick for dinner.

Had a leisurely walk back and checked the forecast for Saturday’s weather. Rain predicted, so we’ve postponed our visit to the Botanic Gardens to Sunday and tomorrow we’ll head back to Tiong Bahru to visit the market and hawker center which was closed for renovations when we stayed nearby last time. Here’s hoping I can finally eat some char siu there!

Our Last Few Days in Singapore

We adopted a two-pronged approach for our visit to Gardens by the Bay: get there early to see the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest while they were still uncrowded, then return that evening for the Supertrees light show. This turned out to be a great plan!

We got to the gardens without issue – even my discount tickets from Klook worked perfectly (unlike last year’s super-stressful visit to Big Buddha in Hong Kong, after which I rashly declared I’d not be using Klook again – but my love of discounts was the siren call that made me reinstall the app). And it was quite uncrowded at this early hour on a Monday.

First stop was the Flower Dome, which was in the midst of celebrating “Tulip Mania!” – I love tulips, so this was a real treat. (Q: What’s better than carnations on a piano? A: Tulips on an organ). The dome itself was massive – and surprisingly chilly. We wandered through the various zones and gardens representing different climates and parts of the world, including a Californian Garden, which included some delightful smelling citrus trees.

We probably spent most of our time gazing at the tulips – they were gorgeous and plentiful. Of course, by “gazing” I mean “taking photos” – me with my hefty DSLR, Ak with his Android. And let’s face it – his mad Instagram skillz mean his photos are usually better than mine. Kids these days! But I managed to get some nice shots.

Next up was the Cloud Forest. Now, I’ll be honest – I thought, “Oh, another giant greenhouse but with trees instead of flowers. Zzzzzzzzz.” Well, I could not have been more wrong. Walking into the place, you’re first greeted by a giant waterfall. The air is chilly and damp and there are clouds of swirling mist. Having actually visited a cloud forest once in Hawaii, this is a pretty good simulacrum – plus I didn’t have to wear a ridiculous rain poncho and there was an elevator to the top.

Once out of the elevator, there are various catwalks that wend their way through the clouds and forest – and also brought us to the top of the waterfall we’d seen on the way in. We made our way down, encountering ferns and mosses, flesh-eating plants and colorful blooms along the way. It was all pretty great, frankly.

Back out into the hot Singapore day, we only had one thing on our mind: food! “What should we eat?” is perhaps the most wonderful and most difficult questions to ask here, given that there is so much food and it’s all so damn good. We decided to head over to Little India to check out hawker centre at Tekka Market. I had some very tasty chicken tikka along with nice chewy naan and some merely adequate daal. We had a walk around Little India and I picked up some burfi from one of the sweet shops.

Next stop: the mall! Because malls in Asia are both ubiquitous and great. I found a cute shirt at Giordano’s – a brand that Ak advised me was very “basic” after I’d purchased it (the shirt also shrank despite the salesman’s assurances to the contrary and now doesn’t fit me properly, i.e. can fit over my belly. Basic indeed!). We also happened upon another Tokyu Hands, which was a delight.

Also at the mall was the Gudetama Cafe. I frankly wasn’t all that keen on visiting (the menu didn’t offer much hope with the rather overwrought offerings), but the decor was certainly on-point and ripe for Instagram (of course). Had a diabetes-inducing spot of tea along with a quite adorable Gudetama cookie.

Headed back to the hotel for a bit of a lie-down (and we did manage to stop in Chinatown for another helping of char siu…) before making our way back to Gardens by the Bay for the nightly light show in the Supertree Grove. It was pretty great and we’d found a nice spot looking up at the trees to enjoy the show.

Next stop: Lau Pa Sat hawker center. The main attraction here is the the street abutting the center which every evening becomes “Satay Street.” I’d read about this place and heard that stalls 7, 8 and 10 were the best. As far as I could tell, stalls 7 & 8 had merged – and we needed to save room for more treats from Lau Pa Sat itself, so we didn’t get to try stall 10 – and I can say with 100% confidence this was the best satay I’ve ever tasted. Combine that with a lovely warm night and a couple of ice cold beers and this was pretty close to a perfect meal (despite someone being a bit cranky – and no, this time it wasn’t me!) – and a really excellent last night in Singapore.

Headed to Changi International Airport the next morning for our flight to Hat Yai, Thailand – our jumping-off point for Koh Lipe. The biggest disappointment at the airport was my inability to locate the Staff Canteen – another hawker center that is for airport workers, but also open to the public. I was hoping for one last plate of char siu… We did manage to find some OK food – as well as the Dnata Lounge, to which my trusty Priority Pass provided access. Comfy, quiet and with free beer and decent food. A nice spot to chill before boarding Tiger Air for Hat Yai. So long, Singapore! It was a fantastic first visit for me and I can’t wait to come back.

Singapore Sightseeing

Up and at ‘em early on Saturday morning to beat the crowds at Red Star for dim sum. Happily they open at 8, so we were there before 9 and had no problems getting a table. It’s a pretty old school Chinese restaurant in terms of both decor and service, which for dim sum was push carts just like back home at Yank Sing. Food was tasty, though not out of this world – my favorite was the wonton soup, a Saturday-only offering according to our server.

Next up was ArtScience Center in Marina Bay. I was a little confused by the whole thing, since I thought it was science museum, but really it’s just a kind of kid-friendly tech show-off space. We visited the Future World exhibit and took lots of really cool photos in the wave room and then acted like gleeful 6-year-olds when we discovered the interactive video display wall, where tapping floating shapes would reveal mountains, elephants, cows and the like.

Next, we went off in search of The Panic Room, a groovy barber shop I’d stumbled across online. Mostly we went to check out their large selection of beard grooming products and were not disappointed. We also discovered we were not far from the Old Airport Road hawker center, which shows up with regularity on every list of best food in Singapore. I had a more char siu (because duh) Ah Yee Hong Kong and this was the best char siu I had during my visit. Ak had congee from another stall which he declared OK. We also shared a plate of stir-fried noodles, veg and seafood which I wanted solely because of the long line to get it – and it was pretty darn good! There was also another char siu place which looked great and also had a long line – but by the time I decided I could eat more, they’d sold out! So, lesson learned: if you see food you want, get in right away.

Back to our neighborhood of Tiong Bahru, where Ak got to meet my feline friend I’d met on my first day. We took an amble around and checked out all the adorable little cafes and bakeries, taking note of where we’d get breakfast the next morning.

Dinner that night was also in the ‘hood, just around the corner from our hotel at House of Peranakan Petit. We didn’t have a reservation – which meant sitting out on the quiet street on a warm night. It was wonderful – and we loved the food. Peranakan food definitely had some similarities with Indonesian food – we ate beef rendang, long beans, crab served with broth and a really yummy variation on tapioca for dessert.

Sunday morning breakfast at 40 Hands, one of Tiong Bahru’s many darling little cafes. Then, off to the National Gallery to look at some art. We explored a bit of a quite fascinating exhibition of SE Asian art from 19th century to the present. I especially liked seeing the adaptations of Western style paintings that were made by self-taught local artists.

We also took the guided tour of the buildings that house the collection, the former Supreme Court and City Hall built in the early 20th century. They’ve done a rather amazing job of repurposing the buildings and joining them as one cohesive structure without completely sacrificing the most historic components of both.

Next up was obviously food – it had been over four hours since our last meal! Given that it was Sunday and we were near the Central Business District, no nearby hawker centers were open – so we hit up the next best choice for food in just about any Asian city, the mall! We headed over to Raffles City Shopping Center and, after a brief flirtation with a noodle place, we decided on more dim sum at Din Tai Fung. It was all pretty tasty, including their apparently world-famous xiao long bao, a.k.a. soup dumplings and some nice dan dan noodles.

Did a bit more exploring, including a stop at The Arts House to look at an installation by a local artist. We were underwhelmed.

Speaking of underwhelmed, after resting up at bit back at our hotel, we had dinner at Tandoor. I’d looked online for a nice Indian place and this one seemed to fit the bill and was well reviewed. The food was pretty good – though nothing to write home, especially given the high prices. Service was tentative and on the slow side. And something about the whole ambience seemed off – like they were trying to be fancy, but just not hitting the right notes, with clumsily matched plates and poorly executed cocktails. They only had one Indian beer on the menu – and were out of it!

Of course, the weirdest part was the clientele, which I can’t really blame the restaurant for. One family sat around chatting obliviously while their toddler wandered the restaurant on her own – which would’ve been merely irksome, save for the fact that she was emitting high-pitched and sustained shriek the entire time. Then there was the guy a few tables down from us who got into an argument with the waiter about tandoori chicken. Now, there were several preparations of chicken from tandoor – though they had different names and presentations, which apparently threw this diner for a loop. “This is an Indian restaurant! You have to have tandoori chicken and that’s what I want! Tandoori chicken! Why is this so difficult?” It was very strange…

Anyway, we decided not to stay for dessert and wandered around looking for something to wrap up the evening – and found something even better: Tokyu Hands! My favorite Japanese store that I didn’t even know existed in Singapore! Granted, it was a mere shadow of the giant Shinjuku location that I first visited eight years ago, with this branch showing all their wares on one floor and no weird cos-play section – but it was still pretty great, with lots of strange beauty treatments and cute toys. It was a fine way to wrap up our day, especially after a disappointing dinner. Tomorrow: Gardens by the Bay!

Some fun at ArtScience:

SFO to Singapore

Arrived at SFO and checked in at the Business Class counter at Singapore Airlines. I was super excited to fly with SQ in business, given their sterling reputation for service and comfort. And? I was a just a bit underwhelmed. Their lounge in SFO, while certainly better than the hellmouth that is the United lounge, was nothing to write home about in terms of decor. It was kinda cramped and rather tired looking decor. Selection of food and wine was fairly meager. Now, I get that complaining about sitting around in a lounge at the airport is grade A dickish behavior – but having visited the Cathay Pacific lounge at SFO, with their huge modern and comfortable lounge, offering tasty food, lots of wine – and champagne! – plus made-to-order noodle soup, Singapore’s lounge was a big letdown, particularly in light of how great an airline they’re reputed to be.

It was a very different story on board! The business class section is gorgeous and the seat huge and comfortable, with a giant monitor and a great selection of recent movies. Dinner – which I’d ordered ahead via SQ’s “Book the Cook” service was tasty: a decent steak with potatoes. The appetizer wasn’t great – a couple of past-their-prime scallops. I’d’ve rather just had something less “luxurious” that was a bit fresher. On the other hand, the champagne was tasty and free-flowing.

Once it was time for bed (I was on SQ1 which leaves SFO at 1:15AM), the seat flips forward and converts to a bed. Sadly, the seat which was great for sitting was not all that comfortable for sleeping. A hard, uneven surface and a somewhat awkward sleeping position. Again, though, it’s a bed and way better than sitting upright for 14 hours. I did manage to get a solid 7 hours of sleep, though it was a bit fitful thanks to a bumpy jetstream. And kudos to SQ for taking note of my request for extra pillows that I’d emailed them a couple of days before flying.

I had a two-and-a-half hour layover in Hong Kong and it was a much nicer wait. Took a shower and put on some fresh panties before getting a glass of champagne, in spite of it being 7AM locally (that’s 4PM back in SF, so it’s totes OK!). Food selection was pretty good and the place was modern and comfortable with a friendly group of folks working there.

Flight to Singapore was on another 777 – though this one was quite a bit older and equipped for regional flights, meaning just a big comfy chair, no luxurious pod. With that being said, the flight crew on this leg were a delight. Engaging, friendly, helpful – one of them even asking me about my back injury (the reason I’d asked for extra pillows). They were probably about the nicest crew I’ve ever had – and a marked contrast from the crew on the first leg, who were nice enough, but seemed a bit more standoffish. Maybe because it was an overnight flight and they knew people just want to get to sleep?

Anyway, it was a very nice flight and soon enough I was at Changi International Airport. After nearly 24 hours en route, I wasn’t especially interested in exploring what is considered the best airport in the world – I’ll have time enough for that next week on my way to Thailand. Getting through immigration was slow and there was sadly no VIP lane for business class assholes such as myself. But I made it through and soon enough was ensconced in a comfortable room at my home for the next five days, WANGZ Hotel – which I chose thanks to it’s excellent reviews, reasonable price and, obviously, the fact that it is called “WANGZ Hotel.” And now to explore Singapore!

Well, let’s be honest – despite the pleasant experience of flying business class, it was still a long trip and I was kinda pooped. But I did manage to walk up to Chinatown, in search of a char siu place I’d read about online at a hawker center. I didn’t have any luck finding this particular place, but found a place with char siu that turned out to be very tasty. Frankly, I was lucky to find anything at all, given Singapore’s practice of giving nearly identical names to places right next to one another – in this instance, I got somewhat lost in People’s Park Complex before realizing it was not the same thing as the People’s Park Center, a separate and equally confusing to navigate place right behind it.

I also did a bit of reconnoitering in my neighborhood of Tiong Bahru. It’s a quite lovely area, much more residential in feel than Singapore’s center. The older section is mostly low rise art deco style apartment buildings, with a nice selection of shops and little cafes. And most important of all, I met two cats, one of whom appears to be the unofficial mayor of Tiong Bahru, given his extremely friendly welcome.

Back to the hotel and did my best to adjust to local time. Got started early the next morning and got to do some sightseeing on my own at the National Museum of Singapore – and I must say it provided a fascinating introduction to this young country’s long history. I wandered a bit on my own and joined up with a guided tour offered by the museum. The guide was great and, as a San Franciscan whose city is in the midst of a housing crisis, I was particularly interested in learning just a bit about how the housing market works here. Fully 80% of the population lives in government-built and subsidized housing – and residents come from across nearly the entire economic spectrum. As it was described to me, workers and employers both pay into the system, so one’s starter apartment is modest but affordable. Within a few years, the value has appreciated sufficiently, that one can sell and move into a bigger place – and this continues, potentially resulting one day in sufficient proceeds to buy a condo on the free market, then re-sell that for a fortune, downsize back into a small government place after retirement and use the money you’ve made to travel and enjoy life.

While I’m sure not everyone follows this exact path, it certainly seems as though housing policy here is doing something right. And frankly, I’m ready to move! Though I don’t think the system is set up to benefit grizzled old foreigners such as myself.

There was also a cool video display in a sort of spiraled rotunda. I entered at the top and was treated to an immersive projection of flowers above, around and below me. After this, I walked down a spiral ramp and through a video forest with birds and animals frolicking about. I really enjoyed my visit – not just for the exhibits but also exploring this amazing old building, constructed as a museum and library at the end of the 19th century.

Headed back to the hotel to meet my friend Ak who was arriving from Thailand that afternoon. I did manage to squeeze in a pit stop to the hawker center I’d visited yesterday for a plate of char siu at the place I’d tried and failed to find yesterday. While it was tasty enough, the random char siu stall I’d chosen the day before was better, in my opinion.

After Ak got to the hotel, we spent some time catching up before we headed out for cocktails at Jigger & Pony. Really great drinks, though the vibe was a bit too “loud-mouthed Westerners” thanks to a large birthday party occupying a large table up front. However, our bartender was extraordinarily skillful and prepared me an excellent French 75 – plus he was genial and gregarious.

Now, this is the point where I have to point out my one real issue with my visit it to Singapore – the cost of booze here. Prices are ridiculous. This is apparently intentional, with alcohol imports taxed heavily in an effort to drive the socially desirable behavior of teetotaling. But seriously, prices are breathtaking: a can of Tiger at a local shop is nearly SG$2 and you’d be hard-pressed to find anything less than SG$11 on a menu – and that’s likely to be cheap beer. A glass of wine is likely to be SG$16 minimum, cocktails at least that much. And that French 75 I enjoyed so much? SG$22! That’s nearly US$16.

Anyway, that’s how they roll here, so it’s not really any of my business – but I guess if nothing else it ensure that I was able to wake up early every morning completely free of even the mildest of hangovers…

Dinner that evening was at Wild Rocket, a “modern Singaporean” place I’d discovered online. We liked our dinner here – though as I’ve learned in my several visits to Bangkok, as much as I enjoy going to a nice restaurant, I really do wind up preferring simpler local places and street food. But Ak and I ate a tasty meal in a nice atmosphere (and drank a bottle of wine!) while we discussed what sights we wanted to see (and, more importantly, what hawker stands we wanted to visit) over the next several days here in Singapore. First up tomorrow: dim sum and the Science Centre.