Sunday, January 16, 2011

Singapore Fling

Our plane landed in Singapore around dinner time on New Year's Eve. After a quick transit ride to our hostel in Little India, we set off to see how the city was welcoming 2011. Our first stop was to fill our bellies for the last time in 2010. We found an Indian vegetarian restaurant and were surprised when we got the menu that we didn't recognize one single thing. We love Indian food and would have considered ourselves relatively comfortable ordering at a Canadian Indian restaurant. We felt absolutely helpless, and our despair must have been pretty obvious to everyone else in the restaurant, who all watched us like we were the evenings hired entertainment. Our server waited just long enough for us to scower the extensive menu a second time, searching for any word we recognized..naan? Daal? Vegetable korma? Nada. To our relief, he took pity on us and pretty much ordered for us. We had no idea what we were getting, but if the smells wafting out of the kitchen were any indication of how the food would taste, we probably should have pre-ordered seconds. Within a few minutes our table morphed into a buffet with small servings of about a million different things. Each tiny tin bowl had some concoction that somehow managed to taste even better than the previous one. We were in Indian food heaven. Our New Years Eve dinner was devoured in approximately seven minutes. I don't think I chewed one single thing. When will we learn?

We joined the throngs headed down towards what we figured must be where the party was. We really didn't have much choice in the matter. Once you made the move onto the sidewalk it was like you had boarded an express train. There was no stopping, no turning around, no exit. It was perhaps even less annoying that we had no idea where we were, since we didn't have much of a choice in direction as we shuffled along with the crowd on the sidewalk, cum sardine can. We ended up at the harbour and then were whisked across a footbridge that afforded spectacular views of the Singapore skyline and it's sparkly reflection in the night harbour. Good work Pedestrian Express Train. We got off at the 'stop' that would have been named 'Mall' for a healthy dose of air-conditioning. I can safely say that this is the first New Years Eve I have spent sans-winter coat...and winter. Where were the hot chocolates and toques? We stepped through the immaculate, fingerprintless sliding doors and into the mall and into the cold winter weather we were missing back home. It was 10pm and all the shops were open. In fact, the mall was packed like it was 8am on Boxing Day. And people weren't just milling about: they were actually shopping! Judging by the number of malls in Singapore, and by the number of floors in these malls, it seems that Singaporeans really enjoy their shopping. As if to prove her point, one girl on the subway carried a bulging cloth bag that read:' I see it! I want it! I'm buying it!' We wandered around, contemplating which of the five floors we should check out first. All the big brand names were represented. We could have been any where in the world, really. Apparently the North Face store agreed. Their maniquens were all suited up in the latest winter gear. Maybe they got confused and sent the Siberian maniquins to Singapore and the more realistic bikini clad ones to the Arctic? I don't know what happened, but I do know that, seeing as it was 30 degrees, plus humidity outside those shiny glass doors at 10pm, that the only place anyone in this city was going to sport that fluffy goose-down jacket was strolling around the mall.

We wandered in and out of the mall, passing the last hours of 2010 by admiring the breathtaking nighttime cityscape, listening to the live music from the waterfront amphitheater, breaking in the air-con, and gawking at the 11:50pm shoppers before rushing out into the crowd for the countdown to 2011. The harbourfront was absolutely packed, as you can imagine. The massive screen counted down the final seconds of 2010 and people hooted and hollered their way into 2011. Something that was missing, however, was the one thing single Westerners spend all New Years stressing about: the New Years kiss. There was no kissing going on. Not that the cheering wasn't enthusiastic enough or anything. The first firework exploded right on cue and the show continued on for a very very long time. So long, in fact, that it seemed as though no one had taken into account the massive amount of smoke that all these fireworks would create, and by the end, the smoke completely obscured the fireworks from sight (although not sound). Happy New Year!!! It was a perfect way to welcome 2011 - our year of travel! (That's right- It' official! We just snagged a great price on our flight home, for Dec 22nd 2011.. from Iceland!)

We were lucky enough to be accepted by local Singaporean, Wan, and his family to host us at their apartment for our last couple days in Singapore (through Couchsurfing). Wan lives in a Singapore suburb with his wife, two young children and, as we found out later, their maid. We jumped on one of Singapore's super speedy transit lines and motored to the other end of the country.. in about fifteen minutes. We were greeted at the door by a young looking, very welcoming Muslim woman. She had a wide smile and chatted excitedly with us about couchsurfing. At first we assumed that this was Wan's wife, but when she brought out a cute little photo book of Wan's wedding, with a different bride, we got a little confused. She made us tea, and brought out delicious homemade desserts and candies. So generous! Things weren't really making sense to us as we talked to the woman who was from Indonesia and had a fifteen year old son. She had only been in Singapore for three years... We thought Wan had two small children.. and that he and his wife were from Singapore. It was pretty comical for Jonathan and myself when we finally (we're slow sometimes) came to the realization that this bubbly, gracious woman was Wan's family maid. 'Ohh, maybe Wan did mention that the maid would be here when we arrived when I talked to him on the phone earlier... ' Jonathan said. Men. Can't live with them...

Wan, his children and his real wife arrived home not too long after we had finished stuffing ourselves with his homemade goodies. Wan and his wife were so friendly, welcoming and thoughtful. We really enjoyed their company and found their opinions about Singapore and it's politics fascinating. Their family is Muslim and when Jonathan's study of Theology came up we had a wonderfully honest, open discussion about religion with them. We chatted like old friends, taking up much of their Saturday morning. They were just so easy and interesting to talk to. In addition to the great conversation, we were also treated to a superbly delicious breakfast both mornings we were there. 'I'm not that good of a cook,' Wan's wife humbly said to me as she expertly tossed veggies, noodles and sauces into a wok one morning. After I had devoured a heaping bowl of said noodles, I wondered how much better the noodles could possibly taste, if she was a good cook? I can't imagine many things that could be tastier. Singapore is known for it's food, I wasn't surprised to read.

Another couchsurfing success! Our Singapore experience wouldn't have been near as fantastic without the infusion of spending time with real, open, knowledgable locals. And, having the honour of being Wan's family's first Canadian couchsurfers, we would like to believe that their weekend wouldn't have been quite as interesting without a little bit of Canuck infusion.

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Thanks for all the comments! I am so excited that people actually read our article in Niagara This Week! Your comments totally make our day. It is so great to hear from some of you whom we have lost contact with for way too long.

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