Tuesday, January 19, 2016


When it comes to the end of the calendar year, we have taken a trip each of the years since being transplanted in Switzerland. For 2015, we opted to go further afield with a first trip to Singapore. The availability of a direct flight from Zurich to Singapore was part of the decision. It is a long (12 hours) flight, but without having to transfer, it is much better than the same flight hours broken into two flights. Alicia arrived in Zurich around noon and twelve hours later she was once again in the air! Jet lag is easier when you're young, but it was still a challenge. 

As we drove from the airport to the apartment we  rented, we passed the harbor. We knew that it was a significant port, but what we saw was amazing. Thanks to Google for helping me out with a photo. 

so many cargo ships with containers and ship cranes!
Renting a two bedroom apartment worked very nicely. Besides the bedrooms, we had two  full baths, a kitchen with refrigerator (especially nice for making ice and chilling water!) and microwave and also sitting and dining areas. It was very roomy.  

As expected, the weather was beastly hot and humid. We were prepared with our summer clothes, but many of the religious sites we wanted to visit had wardrobe requirements (cover your skin!) which made the heat feel even more intense. There was no choice but to follow their rules in order to visit the sites.  We had also been warned by folks who have been here before that it would be very cold inside buildings and we should bring a sweater. 

After leaving the apartment, it was soon obvious that we were in Asia. 

On our way to start our exploration at the Singapore National Museum, we walked through a park. I was not surprised to have my first photo op be people doing thai chi in the park, but amused just the same. I expected that this would be the first of multiple sightings, but it was the only one. 

seen along the sidewalks

Singapore is a relatively young country having celebrated its 50th birthday on August 9, 2015. It is an interesting blend of  religions and cultures. It was also part of the old British Empire leaving English as one of the four official languages. That made it very easy for us to find our way around and communicate with the locals.
In the museum, I was struck by a video that I watched at the museum. One of their early leaders was speaking as Singapore became an independent nation. He said it wasn't a country only for the Chinese, only for the Indians, etc, but Singapore is for everyone. From an outsider, it looked as though they are doing well with that. I saw several instances of different cultures in each other's company, clearly friends but the fact that "you're a Muslim and I'm not" doesn't bother me.  I asked my friend who is originally from Singapore whether the different groups get along together as well as it appeared to me. She said there are enclaves for each group, but there is much government housing. Removing the freedom to choose your housing has had the added benefit of reducing racial tensions. They all live together!

Some displays from the museum:

children's books

The fashion display reminded me of the Metropolitan Museum exhibit I went to in August with Sarah.

cool shoes!

On our way to our next stop, the Peranakan Museum, we happened upon a Swiss bakery! We didn't go inside for a "taste of home". 

It's a good thing we didn't need to stop for a rest because there was no room for real people to sit on the cool bench we passed.

I'd never heard the term Peranakan before this trip. Peranakans are the people "born of intermarriage between local women and foreign merchants from countries like China and India. The mix of two distinct communities is seen in a range of spectacular works of art." (from Top 10 Singapore)

It was interesting to see the wall of faces of Peranakans and read their statements. These quotes were under photos of the people. Peranakan did not seem to be a derogatory term or looked upon as inferior, but I asked my friend just to be sure.  She said the Peranakans are typically highly educated and very well respected. 

I would agree that the artistry and craft expertise was spectacular, but the adjective of the museum was auspicious. It became a standing joke how many times it was used in the descriptions. Sometimes more than once on the same card!

embroidery with beaded fringe

inlaid mother of pearl

ceramic figurines

Having spent enough time inside, we braved the warm temperature and took to the water. It's always fun to view a city skyline from the water. 

we rode on one of these "bumboats "

Clark Quay (pronounced "key" here) where we boarded the boat
Clark Quay from the water
do we look jet lagged?

boat interior

Singapore has plenty of very modern, tall buildings, but unlike Dubai the sky is not all one color. There were clouds passing through to help us believe that we were not in an artificial environment.

not only high-rises

fun sculpture

hotel where we did not stay!

The harbor had plenty of these balls or balloons floating in it. They were new year's greetings, wishes and hopes. I wonder what happened to them on December 31 or January 1. I doubt they are still there.


Singapore's mascot, the "merlion"
What better way to end a day of touring but by heading over to the infamous Raffles Hotel to try the also infamous Singapore Sling? 

We saw evidence of western influence on our walk to Raffles. 

statue of Raffles

Raffles came to Singapore in search of new trading sites for the East India Company. "Convinced that it could be a strategic trade site, he persuaded its leaders to sign a treaty giving exclusive rights to Britain. "  (from Top 10 Singapore) Wow! I know why they knighted him!

We were not allowed in the main lobby of the hotel because we weren't hotel guests. They tolerated us taking a picture of the Christmas tree through the window. Not very friendly. They did permit us to walk across the hotel complex to patronize the Long Bar.

The Long Bar - aptly named


The Singapore Sling is twice as old as the country!

The Singapore Sling story: 
One hundred years ago it was perfectly acceptable for men to sit around drinking alcohol, but not so for women. Proper etiquette did not allow women to drink in public. A very ingenious bartender created the Singapore Sling for women - it looks like fruit juice, but packs quite a punch. It was good to try once, but much too sweet for me. 

must admit that it was refreshing on a hot day
The burlap bag was full of peanuts and patrons were encouraged to throw the shells on the floor.  I was definitely not a fan of that practice.
side view of temple from our window

We took advantage of the opportunity to visit places of worship of all variations. First stop, Sri Thendayuthapani Temple which was very near our apartment. We learned in Kuala Lumpur that the Hindi temples have intricate colorful figures throughout representing deities. The temples in Singapore did not disappoint.

Sri  Thendayuthapani Temple



interior but with open sides

We passed a church that was prepared to celebrate Christmas.


We happened upon the church, but the planned focus of the morning was Little India. I loved the street signs in Singapore. No question as to where you are.

Not sure if these are supposed to be sacred cows, but they are certainly not the Swiss variety that live across from us in Horgen! 

shop in Little India
Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple (don't ask me to pronounce that!) is in the heart of Little India and had plenty of people worshipping. 

temple surrounded by the city

entrance = shoes off!

Zodiac symbols on the ceiling were a surprise

It is interesting that the etiquette for Hindu temples instructed us to expect to remove our shoes, cover our shoulders and also have our legs covered, at least to the knee.  At the same time, the priests walk around bare chested.

Surrounding the main central area were small "chapels" (not sure this is the right term) where individuals could lay offerings. 


lots of offerings here

Again, the exterior is covered with colorful figures, many quite gruesome.


Outside the temple are stands selling what people use as offerings to the deities. We could also have purchased our own deity to bring home, but we opted against that.

want to buy a god?

Little India street view

A visit to Little India wouldn't have been complete without a visit to an Indian Restaurant. Luckily, we had a place recommended to us: The Banana Leaf. The "plates" are banana leaves! We were only given forks and spoons because we were clearly foreigners. The Indians eat with their fingers. With the sauces that you see on our food, I was very glad to be allowed to use utensils!

my banana leaf plate

signs in metro are in all 4 official languages

The metro was a very efficient (and much cooler) way to get around the city. Tom and Alicia are standing waiting for a train to arrive. It is really impossible to fall onto the tracks although you are warned to "mind the gap" just like in London. The doors don't open until the train arrives and the train doors open. The gap is only an inch or two wide. There is also no eating or drinking allowed in the metro and its stations. This rule is obeyed and everything is incredibly clean. 

our arrival platform

Singapore is not inexpensive by any means, but it was nice to discover that the Botanic Gardens are free! 


creepy trees

love my traveling companions

This group of teenagers was definitely a mix of cultures and at the same time, friends. So nice to see.

wildlife sighting!
Chopin - a gift from Poland


only a small entrance fee for the orchids

they're not tulips, but still very pretty!

I think we were all glad the rental apartment had a swimming pool. An afternoon dip after touring in the heat was very refreshing. 

With Little India crossed off the "must see" list, next up was Chinatown. 

These huge shoes are outside the currently under renovation Chinese Heritage Center. Disappointing not to get inside.

As you may expect, there are lots of restaurants and shops with colorful wares in Chinatown.

Buildings with Chinese characters on the side are a good indication of where you are. 

hiding among the fishermen

top of another Hindi temple as seen from Chinatown

Chinese Temple

The Thian Hock Keng (Chinese) temple was also built without any noticeable doors. There were many altars or shrines both in the large central area and along the sides. 


lots of dragons!

The haze and white smoke to the right of the picture is from incense burning. There appeared to be places to leave lit incense at every altar or shrine. I don't know whether the people bring it with them or if it is purchased at the temple. 

 incense burns in the mini temple

Do I fit in?

We discovered that eating in Singapore is generally not inexpensive, but the food courts are the place for reasonable prices. Lots of variety is available. This one was shaded, but not really "indoors" and therefore too warm. We did eat at a food court, but an indoor and air conditioned place!

rotisserie ducks complete with heads!

red and white - maybe it's really Swiss?
I wasn't expecting to have to cover my shoulders today, but luckily there were shawls to borrow.

the newest chess set in Tom's collection

good-bye Chinatown

It seemed like a fitting time to go to the recommended restaurant for a Dim Sum lunch. 

We tried various dumplings, other familiar choices and also took the waiter's recommendation for some new flavors.

The first was actually called "carrot cake". I don't think it had any carrots and was certainly not cake. The name is a mystery, but it was very tasty.

carrot cake

Walking along the main shopping area, Orchard Street, we saw Singapore's take on Christmas decorations.

Swarovski tree interior

these look out of place

There were at least four different places to go see animals. (more ticket sales that way!) We opted to go to the Night Safari. There was a trolley that ran through the pack, but rather than wait in line for an hour, we opted to walk through the park. Although night, it was still plenty hot. It was interesting to see the active nocturnal animals, especially the big cats! 
jelly fish provide light at the food stand
this group of otters was in constant motion
Slow Loris


fishing cat

These lionesses were sitting very attentively and listening to the "roaring" from afar. We guessed it was the sound of (loud) mating.

so majestic!
The Sultan Mosque was the last place of worship we visited. This one did not compare in size or grandeur to the mosques we've seen in Kuala Lumpur, Istanbul, Abu Dhabi or Casablanca. A woman made herself available to answer any questions and was quite talkative. I thought she was trying to convince me, a westerner, that not all Muslims are evil.



a few worshipers here

Sentosa is part of Singapore, but is a separate island primarily for recreation. We decided it was worth a visit. 

Sentosa has its own merlion

We rode the cable car up to the highest point of the island for at least a partial view of the harbor. Hazy, but still impressive.

plenty of big cargo and cruise ships out there

We got in the water and it felt grand! Whether it was the Indian or Pacific Ocean, we don't know.
never saw someone raking up seaweed before!

last cultural stop of the trip

This museum's newest exhibit was of the cargo recovered from a shipwreck discovered in 1998. The cargo consisted of tons of ceramics and also gold and silver objects dating from between 616-907! Bound for Iran and Iraq, they prove the very early commercial trade links between China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. 


model of ship surrounded by recovered bowls

bowls packed inside large jar

Also from the shipwreck:

The museum also had lots of interesting objects from various Asian civilizations. 

34 arms holding Buddhist symbols

sandals and hats

Qur'an (Korans) from the 15th and 17th centuries

this is all paper!


Lunch at the indoor (and air conditioned) food court.

cart on wheels pushed by drink and dessert vendor
plenty of choices, but not plenty of empty seats

I'll close with a few random sights from wandering around Singapore.

Dali sculpture

I am so curious about the mannequins.  There were plenty in the shop windows, but I did not see one Asian mannequin. They were mostly blond with western faces! Why?
happened upon this Chinese Methodist church

Time to go back to Switzerland for Christmas. Happy 50th Year to Singapore and may you have many more. Maybe we will meet again.