Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Trip to Bali / Singapore Stopovers

I first visited Singapore in the mid 1960s. It had just gained independence having been ousted from the Federation of Malaya after only three tenuous years in that relationship.
This was my first introduction to Asia.
It was a bit of a culture shock for an Australian coming from the somewhat cloistered pseudo British environment of the suburbs of Melbourne then Brisbane.
But I found it fascinating and loved the organized chaos. The place was always buzzing. Crowded streets and lane ways, vibrant markets and the street hawkers, a bustling harbour as well as the colonial architecture and diverse racial mix. And then there was the food like chicken rice, hokkien mee and chilli crab
In many subsequent visits over the last 50 years I have seen the city grow and change.
Development comes at a cost of course and many of my favourite places have gone.
The old has made way for the new.
But it is still an exciting city to visit.
The Singapore I remember from the 1960s

Singapore Today

This trip we spent one night on the way to Bali and two on the way back to Sydney.
On the outward leg we made a quick trip to Emerald Hill Road to see a little of  the preserved Singapore and have a cold beer at No.5 then dumplings at Din Tai Fung.

Next morning we tried to beat the heat with an early morning start to visit Arab Street and potentially buy some quilt fabric.
But most of the shops were closed until 10am and it was particularly steamy in the narrow streets.
We waved the white flag after visiting the mosque (sadly covered in scaffolding) and headed for an air conditioned coffee shop.

On our return after Bali, we ventured down to Marina Bay for some hawker food and to watch the Super Tree Grove light show. In the early days food hawkers used to roam the streets with their carts selling all manner of food. Due to health reasons they were taken off the streets and relocated in licensed hawker centers. Now known as food centers, these exist all over Singapore, some with a long history. Every local you talk to has a favorite or one where one specialized dish can be sourced. The center at the huge Marina Bay Sands shopping complex must be one of the least traditional but the food there was good.
On our last visit to Singapore we stopped by Gardens by the Bay and the Super Tree Grove but missed the light and sound show.
This time we didn't.

WOW! Impressive.
The pictures below only give a hint of how spectacular the show is. Check out YouTube for any number of videos of the entire show.

Next morning we headed for the Singapore Art Museum and its annex the Q8.
The exhibitions which focus on contemporary art in Singapore, Southeast Asia and Asia in this lovely old building, a restored 19th century mission school, were extremely impressive. Paintings, sculpture, photography, video and mixed media were represented.
These included Thai artist Kamin Lertchaiprasert's 366 small Buddhist-inspired wood sculptures - one for each day of a leap year. This was a favorite.
Image: Ralf Tooten Photography

And it is quite a surprise in a darkened room to suddenly come face to face with a "sick" Fidel Castro in a hospital bed. He and four other now dead communist leaders (Lenin, Mao, Hồ Chí Minh, Kim Jong-il) have been sculptured in silica gel by Chinese artist Shen Shaomin and are eerily life-like.
Strait Times Photo: Neo Xiaobin

Q8 was a children's activity center with all sorts of hands on things to do. The kids there, mainly kindergarten and day care groups, were having fun. So did we!
Then it was a short walk to the National Museum of Singapore.
There they had an exhibition on the 700 years of Singapore history plus an in memoriam exhibition to the late Lee Kuan Yew the first Prime Minister and founding father of modern Singapore.

Time for lunch at one of our favourite restaurants (under our hotel), Osaka Ohsho. This is a Japanese fast food chain that specializes in gyoza but has other yummy stuff as well. You order via a computer at the table. And at the front counter there are plastic replicas of all the available food. Love this place!

After a pleasant afternoon siesta we met up with the newlyweds for dinner.
A small restaurant in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, with its diminutive dumplings was started by former Four Seasons Hong Kong dim sum chef Mak Kwai Pui.
Named Tim Ho Wan, it was a sensational success earning a Michelin star.

Now branches have opened up all over, including Sydney. There is one in Singapore and we all wanted to try it. They don't accept bookings so everyone lines up outside and are given a clip board with a menu to tick off what you want to eat. We got a table very quickly and the food started arriving.
This is without doubt the best dim sum restaurant I have ever been to. The baked BBQ pork buns were to die for.
The other dishes were not far behind. The co driver even tried the chicken feet.

Where else can you eat at a Michelin star restaurant for $20/head including drinks?
Next morning we were up early for our uneventful flight to Sydney.
It was pouring rain and cold on our arrival. We had again booked at the International Airport hotel with the intention of visiting the Sydney quilt show the next day. But the weather was so bad when we awoke, we bagged on that and decided to drive home.
Sunshine and blue skies eventually welcomed us a few kilometers from our final destination.

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