Street but Sweet


Monday, September 04, 2006

Singapore lah! Part 1: Lost in Singapore

I've been postponing writing about the whole Singapore experience because, really, where do I start? There was the closed-door audition, getting lost in Singapore, discovering such fascinating places, meeting 35 people from all over the Asia Pacific, going clubbing (something I don't even do in Manila)... There's just so much to write about, it's overwhelming. So I've decided to just break it down by time. This post is about the first day (just til sundown. Cocktails post to follow).

So this was my first trip out of the country by myself. I've been abroad before, but it's always been with my mom. I wasn't even going with anyone I knew, no friends, no H. Got to the airport at about 5am and in line at the check-in counter, met Francesca, one of the other semi-finalists. She lived in Australia for a bit so over the course of our Sg stay, she could switch to Aussie mode when she was speaking with the Australians. (On the phone, her boyfriend would be like, "Who are you?" Haha.) As the morning wore on, I met all the others from the Philippines--Zach (the only boy), Ish, Jade, and Roanna. Melanie was flying to Singapore from Vietnam, where she's currently based.

Team Philippines: (standing) Jade and Manong Zach, (seated) Francesca, me, Roanna, and Ish

With us was Paulo, a journalist from a local paper. He was covering the event, and apparently we'll be coming out in the papers this week or something. (I'm dreading it--I don't even remember what I said during the interview!) I later found out that he was my boss's old boss, and that I really had to tell my boss what I was up to when I got back. Hey, I didn't lie--she just didn't ask! I would've told her why I was going on leave if she had asked. I just didn't want her to panic over nothing. I had an I'll-cross-that-bridge-when-I-get-there approach to this whole experience.

We met up with the Taiwanese semi-finalists before heading to the hotel. On the way, I got a glimpse of Singapore and was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting it to be clean, and I had an image of it being sterile and gray. Sure, the streets were immaculate, but I must admit it was... charming, something I never thought I could use to describe Singapore. Most streets were lined with trees and little landscaped gardens, and there were these quaint shophouses (traditionally, the first floor would hold the store and the second would hold the owner's residence) along some roads.

We got to the Gallery Hotel on Robertson Quay. Even the locals were unfamiliar with this part of town. It's really hard to get a cab from here! (More on that in a later post). But it's a pretty nice hotel; it's got Philippe Starck fittings and a kick-ass pool (on the fifth floor; it's surrounded by glass, so from the street you could see people swimming in it), which, unfortunately, I didn't get to try.

(From top) It took us a while to find the room numbers; my room; the desk at the room with the bright pink chair; the bathroom (Wendy: "We don't get much privacy in here, do we?").

Mom's friend, Tita Carol, and her husband, Tito Fel, picked me up and we headed to the Waterfront Hotel for a buffet lunch. Then they dropped me off at Orchard Road.

A backgrounder on Orchard Road: In the 19th century, it was lined with nutmeg and pepper plantations. Today it is the main shopping district in Singapore, with loads of malls, high-end boutiques, and gigantic TV screens on building facades. Pics show me with Tita Carol and some scenes from Orchard Road (including Lucky Plaza, where the Pinyos hang out on Sundays, and a bar with a San Miguel Beer menu board!).

I ran into the Pinays, but since most of them had gone to Sg before, they weren't up for the whole exploring bit. So I figured out what I wanted to see, bought me a train ticket, and mapped out my train routes. I got lost a couple of times but luckily, people here speak English and are actually pretty friendly (although residents would disagree).

My first stop was Raffles Hotel (named after Sir Stamford Raffles), one of the world's most hyped hotels. It's an architectural landmark that has been classified as part of the country's cultural heritage. I just snapped a few pictures, but decided not to go in. I kinda figured they would throw me out, being in my grungy cargo pants and flipflops. Haha. Plus I didn't exactly look fresh after walking under the afternoon sun.
Raffles started out as a bungalow with 10 rooms in 1887; the main building was opened in 1899, and the hotel soon became equated with Oriental luxury. It was here that the famous Singapore Sling was invented by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon. (If you want to try out this drink where it all began, it's gonna cost you S$18.)

My next stop: the Merlion. It's long been a symbol of Singapore (kinda like the Statue of Liberty for New York, the lion head for Baguio), a statue with the head of a lion and the body of a fish. It stands, spewing out a jet of water, at the opening of the Singapore River. It was designed by Fraser Brunner for the Singapore Tourism Board in 1964. Of course I got lost on my way there, walking in the opposite direction (damn map). It was about this time that I realized something about myself: I don't like traveling alone. Seeking out alone time is one thing, but being in an unfamiliar place and having no one to share it with is another. Maybe I was just a little frustrated because I didn't have much time, but it would have been nice to have a friend walking along with me--getting lost might have been more fun. Just when I started to feel a little down, I met this really nice Korean girl who pointed the way to the Merlion, waited for me across the street to make sure I found it, and offered to take my picture! There is hope yet for humanity.
The token turista shot

Because I got lost, I didn't have a lot of time left to explore before I had to head back to the hotel to get ready for cocktails. But I really wanted to see Little India. I figured I could just take a quick look around. I gave myself 15 minutes, but when I got there, I was just totally entranced! Mads's dad is right--I think I'm part bumbay! The colors and the character and the smells--I loved 'em all! I swept through Tekka Centre Market before heading over to Little India Arcade. Sure, it's a bit touristy, but I just loved the rows of shops selling glittered bangles (great for pasalubong, and I meant to go back, but, sadly, didn't have the time), beaded notebooks and pens, traditional Indian clothes. I ended up extending my stay, cutting it real close. Too bad I missed Mustafa (or something like that), this 24-hour mall that the locals told me about. Little India is just a place I would love to go back to--never mind that I nearly got run over by a speeding motorcycle.

From top: Tekka Centre Market; Little India Arcade; bags for sale; a display window; bangles galore; Indian shophouses (my other pic was slightly blurred--was still shaken after the motorbike incident!)

Took the train to Clark Quay, which I figured was the station nearest my hotel. Had a really difficult time flagging down a taxi. The good thing about taxis here is that they give you exact change! As far as I know, they don't expect tips. By the time I got to the hotel, I had 10 minutes to freshen up from an afternoon of exploring before meeting all the other 5 Takes semi-finalists.


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