Being a tourist in Singapore. (July – August)

I have not been updating about my life outside of school for the last couple of months. Apart from spending time in the lab, I also found some time to do some fun things around the island. I enjoy doing touristic (some not-so-touristic) things in Singapore – it makes me think about how Singapore is selling herself to the world and how others might see Singapore. I also want to see if there are new things that I can include in my own Singapore itinerary so that my friends and friends of friends from overseas can get the best Singapore experience when they come by. 🙂

1. Tim Ho Wan.

Tim Ho Wan, the one-star Michelin star dim sum from Hong Kong which I have patronized on multiple occasions while I was there, recently opened its first overseas outlet in Singapore. I find the taste and portion similar to that in Hong Kong but the price of everything is doubled of that in Hong Kong. In essence, it is over-priced and over-rated. Anyhow, the Singapore experience which should not be missed is the experience of queuing for food. Singaporeans really love food and the hype in the country usually revolves around food. Hype usually dies down fairly quickly though – I remember there used to be long queues for laoban douhua a while back but the craze has already subsided. At its peak, I remember how just eating a bowl of laoban douhua makes my day.  Don’t get me wrong, people still adore this dessert but the queue and the number of laoban douhua per pax has decreased tremendously. I assumed that the hype around Tim Ho Wan would have subsided by the time I finally got around visiting it because it has already been around for 2-3 months. It turned out that I assumed too quickly. I was in Plaza Singapura with my mum on a Friday morning around 11.30 am and we had to wait a good 45 minutes before we got a table. What was crazier was the shop restricted the number of buns (what they are famous for) per pax to 3. It was apparently because people over-ordered this dish when the shop just opened and it quickly ran out of buns. What this rule also means is that everyone who patronizes the shop feels obliged to order the maximum number of buns that they are permitted to. The shop even provided styrofoam boxes for people to pack the buns to bring home. There was an Indonesian Chinese family queuing in front of us and when we asked them what they were going to order, they said that they did not know much about Tim Ho Wan but judging from the queue, it must be good food. I hope that they enjoyed the meal!

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2.  National Museum of Singapore.

I dropped by the National Museum of Singapore with my mum as well. There was an exhibition entitled “Princely Treasures from the House of Liechtenstein” which housed some of the exquisite art collection from the Prince of Liechtenstein. Even though the exhibition was very much less extensive in comparison with the collections in the European museums, I really like it because it was informative and one would be able to know what to focus on when looking at a painting. Furthermore, it is free for Singapore citizens! My sole criticism is that the exhibition was rather messy and it resulted in us heading randomly to look for paintings we had not seen at the end of the trip. What I like about art collection in the museum is that it allows me to get an idea of how people in the past (before the age of photography) live and perceive life. What is the reality in the painting? What is the artist’s imagination in the painting? What was he thinking of when he painted it? One thing that I cannot quite figure out is that European art is quite melancholic – does this imply that people in the past lived miserably? If they did live miserably, are we any better off than them given those technological advances humans have made?

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3. National Education show, Float @ Marina Bay.

The National Education (NE) show is essentially the rehearsal for the National Day Parade on the 9th August and there are usually 3 NE shows every year. The main and only difference between the NE show and the National Day Parade is that the ministers and members of parliament only attend the latter. My family got the tickets for one of the NE show and I was quite psyched to sing the National Day songs and watch the firework display. I think that the Float @ Marina Bay is a great place to host the National Day Parade because it is so beautiful against the Singapore skyline. Furthermore, being on a “float” opens up many possibilities for a show – the Merlion could swim, an ignited dragon boat could sail by. Every year, the routine is pretty much the same – school choir singing in 4 different languages (English, Chinese, Malay, Tamil), military parade, land-sea-air display, 21 guns salute, performances, fireworks + National Day songs. I enjoyed the performance this year a lot more than the shows in the past years. I think that the main difference is that the show this year was presented as if it was a variety show. Instead of having many people moving around in an abstract dance motion remotely connected to nation-building, the story-telling this year was focused and easy to follow. I especially like the section where songs about different towns in Singapore were sung.

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4. River Safari.

River Safari, which was recently opened in April 2013, is the fourth zoo in Singapore and the third in the Mandai cluster together with the Singapore Zoological Gardens and the Night Safari. One Sunday morning, my family decided to do a family outing there. As its name suggests, River Safari is a river-themed zoo even though the river section in the zoo (not opened for visiting yet) is relatively small as compared to the reservoir. The reservoir is really serene but the sheltered walkway and overhead fans certainly did not make me feel that I was close to nature. The design of the zoo is such that visitors essentially walk the perimeter of a part of the reservoir in order to see the various animals. I find the concept of the River Safari more similar to the Night Safari as there is actually only one walking trail so all visitors will essentially walk the same designated path around the zoo. This is definitely different from the Singapore Zoological Gardens where one has to look at the map and decide which animals he or she would like to see and decide on an appropriate way to take.

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As for the animal collection, the River Safari mainly comprises of small exotic freshwater animals, giant pandas, red pandas and manatees at least for the time being. The freshwater animals that they have there are really exotic; I remember a fish with tiger jaws, a fish that swims upside down and 1 m tall crocodile that stands on two feet in shallow waters!

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One thing that really impresses me about the River Safari is that it tries to be educational in a fun way by putting up cartoon signboards with quick facts about the animals. One issue, of course, is that they make animals look cuter and more harmless than they rightfully should.

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My favourite animal in the River Safari is the red panda. It is quite cool how they place a fake tree which has a branch that elongates right over the heads of the visitors and the red pandas can climb there. Everyone is visibly fascinated with the sight of pandas overhead and it was a cool experience and the design of this open enclosure really triumphs the ones meant for red pandas in Beijing, Hongkong and Lyon. Apparently, the zoo found out that red pandas are afraid of heights so they won’t jump off that branch. Red pandas are known for being afraid of noise so I wonder if such a layout actually puts the pandas under unnecessary stress.

 

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Different from the other three zoos in Singapore, there is no official animal show in River Safari. Do not come expecting that the animals will perform for you. Instead, the zookeeper would bring an animal out one at a time and the visitors can move forward to touch the animal. I saw him holding a python, an otter among other small animals. I am not impressed with the selection of animals because they are clearly from the main zoo. This show certainly attracted the attention of the younger audience but again, I wonder if this puts the animals under unnecessary stress. Education or entertainment, what a fine line to tread.

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The way to see the manatees is quite awesome and it reminds me of the ocean park in Hongkong. Visitors get to see under water as well as above the water.

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5. Henderson Waves.

I went to check out Henderson Waves one Saturday with Kurinchi. We walked from Vivocity towards Mount Faber and reached the Henderson Waves fairly easily. Nature trails in Singapore are really too well-constructed and that itself ruins the beauty of it all. The lack of real nature and mountains is one of the reasons why I feel that I need to spend some of my younger days in another country.

Anyhow, the Henderson Waves is a fine bridge that connects two natural parks. Some people sit and relax while others treat it as a jogging trail. Apparently it is really pretty at night; I should visit again when I have time. I really like the view from the Henderson Waves more than the bridge itself – those high-density housing and the fancy skyscrapers are the architectural hallmarks of Singapore.

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6. Garden by the bay.

I visited the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest at Garden by the bay with my family on a rainy Sunday morning. The domes are over-priced I feel. It was my second visit there and I must say I enjoyed it better this time round and it is because when I visited last July, everything was pretty much green as the flowers had yet to blossom. Now it is a lot prettier. I was disappointed not to see the tulips from Holland (I just don’t have the luck to see them) and the reason the staff gave was they kept the tulips because it was Hari Raya. Well, there was some kind of display going on in the Flower Dome because of Hari Raya but given the ample space there, I thought it is reasonable to leave those tulips there.

Cloud Forest is a pretty cool design I feel. When I was on the bridge and I could see Marina Barrage and hear the fake waterfall, I felt as though I was in another world. It was quite an out-of-the-world experience.
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I find it interesting how green and arguably environmentally self-sufficient this Garden by the bay project is. The solar cells on the Supertrees generated electricity to run the air-conditioning in the two domes (local grids!). It would be cool if this project can generate some electricity for the central business district. No point allocating prime land to do a project that can only support itself in the long term I feel – it would just become a white elephant.

Speaking of animals, this is Singapore’s version of the Lion King. I would never have thought of putting animal statutes there.

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