Thursday, July 2, 2009

Singapore Sightseeing

After our fantastic dim sum breakfast we were ready to head out into the heat and humidity to see some of Singapore’s famous sites.The Merlion pictured above was thought up by the tourist board which thought the city-state of Singapore needed an iconic image and this is what they came up with. The Merlion’s water gushes out onto a “reclaimed” section of the city, with a soccer field on the other side of the bay water – hhhmmm wonder what happens to all those soccer balls that end up on the other side of the fence. We walked along the esplanade up to the performing arts center.The large dome dual structures have impressive state-of-the-art auditoriums, outdoor performance areas, apartments, and offices. Built to look like the famous SE Asian tropical fruit durian, which is an acquired taste to say the least. We stayed in the business district and visited some of the historical temples in the area.We love the contrast between modern and traditional architecture. When Chinese immigrants began coming to Malaysia and Singapore in the early 1800s, many set up what is called a “Clan House” – kind of like a fraternity house of sorts, where descendants from particular regions could meet and find out about employment, acclimate, and find housing. Today Singapore has the largest population of ethnic Chinese outside of China, making up almost 80% of the Singapore population. Dotted throughout Singapore are temples and gathering houses. The traditional Chinese architectural style soon became one of our favorite building styles (that is until we got to Bali, but we like the same features found in both styles).
We like the large double entrance doors.
and the terracotta tiled roofsand the open courtyard in the middle
We were planning to hit the National Museum of Singapore in the later part of the afternoon, but soon found our dim sum breakfast fading, so we decide to see what the Food Republic food court in the Suntec Center had to offer. With a name like Food Republic we knew we were going to find something to satisfy our hunger pains. A business group called Breadtalk Group Ltd opened three of these large hawker/food courts in mega malls all over Singapore. Their latest food court venture in the Suntec Center looks like an old library, with dark wood table and chairs, floor length drapes, chandeliers, and an old world charm to the décor. We quickly spotted our snack – Roti Prata, a Southern Indian inspired flatbread found only in Singapore.Served with a mild curry sauce dipping sauce, it hit the spot and we were ready to check out the museum.Now we know some of you are saying “museum?” Yes, we were going to check out the National Museum of Singapore, the first and only museum we visited our entire trip. Why? The highly praised Living Galleries, which are free the last two hours before closing. There are four Living Galleries – Food, Photography, Fashion, and Film. Now, are you all beginning to catch on to our interest?
The galleries were nothing short of amazing! First up was the Fashion Gallery.
With such a diverse mix of cultures in Singapore the Gallery highlighted the influences these cultures have brought to the fashion scene.But traditional and modern clothing styles was not the only thing the Fashion Gallery highlighted, there was a whole room dedicated to the exploration and explanation of fabric styles from batik to woven silks, explaining the methods of achieving patterns and embedding texture, it was truly fascinating.The exhibit also housed a room draped from ceiling to floor with the history of fabrics from cotton to synthetics, again fabulous.
The next gallery we visited was the Film gallery.
Each Living Gallery was gorgeous, exhibiting the history of each gallery topic in the most unique and fascinating manner. The Film Living Gallery consisted of two rooms. The first room looked like a large viewing room with interactive screens in the middle of the red fabric draped space.On the other side of the screens were old megaphone record players where we could select old movies to listen to and television screens on the floor we could watch ancient films made in the area.Most of the early films made in Singapore were talkies retelling ancient Chinese opera stories. So the next room of the Film Living Gallery had a model of a traditional Chinese Opera Stage and the incredibly beautifully ornate costumes the opera performers wore, which looked like they weighed a ton, if not the head dresses alone!We quickly made our way to the Food Living Gallery, which highlights Singapore’s unique food culture and scene, with explanations on traditional cuisine origins, the development of hawker stalls, and traditional food preparation tools and methodology. There were even projected films on how to prepare traditional foods like laksa. Are you beginning to see how thoroughly modern and incredible these Living Galleries are?The second room in the Food Living Galleries was another highlight. A room dedicated to the unique ingredients used in Singaporian cuisine, color-coded according to whether it is an herb, spice, or staple ingredient.There were even tubes to certain spices or herbs so you could smell them and recipes listed if you wanted to know what the herbs or spices were used in. Now if only we could figure out how to make our kitchen this beautiful, including the mesmerizing wall showcasing the unique kitchen tools used to make dumplings.Completely inspired and in awe of what we had seen we floated over to the Photography Living Gallery, which we moved through quickly because our stomach started to grumble and realizing our free two hours were almost up. Going to the Living Galleries at the end of the day when it was free and nearly ours to peruse alone was definitely a highlight.
We were planning to hit the Singapore Zoo’s night safari later in the evening. So we made a quick trip to the Mos Burger we found in a mega mall across from where we were to catch the bus up to the zoo. Having already tried the famous burgers in Japan we were excited to try the much hyped MOS Rice burger. Instead of a traditional bun the saucey meat patty is sandwiched between two rice patties.An interesting concept, the rice patties weren’t pressed rice, but more like sticky rice and mixed well with the unusually sauced burger patty. We’re glad we tried it, but we’re also glad we got chicken nuggets and a regular burger.
Soon we were off to the Singapore Zoo’s Night Safari.
The Singapore Zoo is one of the world’s top zoos, with an ‘open zoo’ concept where animals are kept in spacious landscape enclosures that are separated by natural barriers such as water and dry moats, hills, and ravines. The night safari was the first of its kind in the world and a must for adults and children alike. The animals such as wolves, vultures, hyenas, tigers, lions, elephants, rhinos, and more nocturnal animals to count viewed up close and when they are the most active. With the natural barrier concept we got right up close to the animals, it was pretty incredible.Being a night safari our pictures came out blurry at best, but the bat enclosure, the flamingos, porcupines, and lions making so much noise were highlights – you get this close and in the case of the bats you are in the enclosure with them. The most active animals we have ever seen. It was surreal to walk around and hear all the noises as we made our way through the zoo in the dark. Our biggest suggestion is to skip the lame animal show they shuffle you into before being able to hop on the shuttle that takes you out into the zoo, in fact skip the little the shuttle all together and just walk along the paths. It’s a massive loop, but there is staff everywhere and you can explore the jungle like zoo at your own pace and avoid the kids and crowds.We enjoyed the zoo so much that at midnight the staff had to find us among the jungle canopy and usher us out.

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