Monday, December 31, 2007

Bugis & Kampong Glam

Singapore is one big Shopping Mall

You have many places in Singapore where you can shop. But there is an unique one where you can shop cheap. Burgis Street is one big block in which you can get squeeze as much as your wallet. The gigantic fan is not enough to support the no personal space experience you have down there.

Not only you have to shop, but you have no seat to stop. You are constantly on the move. If by chance you find a chair, a stool, or better a bench, you will have to fight will old Chinese man on their daily nap.

Right in the middle of the area, a mass gothic building erects from the ground. This post modern-pre art Nouveau style could have been the live décor of Metropolis.

The building is right in the middle of an open space, and the legend wants that the owner of the building did not support any people around him. I guess he made it happen. The building is surrounded by grass and takes one entire block.

On the way to Kamplong Glam, you cross the middle-eastern part of Singapore. You must enjoy the Cairo Café on one hand and the Narguile pipes with all the colorful flavors you can imagine, but also all the designs shops from the latest trends (mid-80’s).

At the end of the street the Bussorah Pedestrian Mall leads to Masjid Sultan (Sultan Mosque). The mosque is considered one of the most important mosques in Singapore. The prayer hall and domes highlight the mosque's star features.

Kampong Glam is derived from two Malay words, Kampong, meaning "village" or "settlement", and Glam (or Gelam) referring to a variety of eucalyptus (Malaleuca leucadendron) which grew in the area. Today, Kampong Glam still retains strong ties to the ethnic-Malay and Muslim community, and has sometimes been termed the "Muslim Quarter" due to its history.

Before another beautiful sunset under the tropic, the only descent food stop was at the Qi Ji (160 Rochor Road) for some Popiah rolls.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Joo Chiat Road

The Malay Village has some Indonesian flavor. Go figure

The afternoon trip started a bit late for my taste, before lunch but at 2:30 PM. The adventure based on the Self Tour Discovery of the Inn Crowd Hostel. Rather than starting at the beginning of Geyland Road, we instead started a bit further down the trip at the Singapore Post Office at Paya Lebar MRT Station. The building is in the middle of nowhere and in facing an empty space for the future development of the MRT Circle Line.

We walked toward the temporary Geylang Serai Market & Food Centre in front of the Malay Village center. The $5 entrance fee you have to pay for entering the Village is not worth the time you are exploring the fake village. You better spend some time in the Geylang Serai Market & Food Centre instead.

The Sunday 3 PM mark did not remove any spices from our discovery. Various stools were still full on, but what was very important for an empty stomach the food center was still there with some amazing Indonesian food.

For once it was not as oily as we used to have around the corner. The food was an explosion of Nasi, Bukit Tinggi, Kapau and other Goren. Sinar Pagi Nasi Padang is also located at 13 Circular Road (Behind Boat Quay), and I guess that will be a very good backup plan when in town.

The wander around was a bit difficult on a full belly, but the exploration was surprising with plenty of dresses, women, and woman dressed in dresses.

The Joo Chiat Road is just a stone away from the Malay Village and it could be best describe as an old road linking the main town to the East Coast part of the city island.

The street only 10 blocks long but full of houses from the 60’s with balconies on the first floor and a covered side walked for the sun.

All houses are only 1 storey high and are preserved, restored and well maintained in an authentic style. Colors are not as socking as what you could imagine and actually make the ambiance a bit more exotic. Wooden balconies add the last touch of the colonial aspect of the area.

The place is pack with people eating drinking or watching. Restaurants are somehow just a link between houses and help you jump from one spot to another and keep it safe and clean. At each end of a block a more concentrated pool of stool and other hawker vendor form an official spot for lasting a bit longer on a chair.

The street is a compilation of Malay, Indonesian and Singaporean food that you must try on your way down. You can find a stool where you can buy Popiah Skins (Springroll Skins), a bit later you can pop by an old Chinese herbal shop next to Fei Fei Wanton Noodle shop. The Bak Chang, glutinous rice dumplings stuffed wrapped in lotus leaf could be your next stop; or maybe you prefer the Banana Leaf Otah and the Banana chocolate fudge cake for desert covert by the famous local Tau Kwa Pau, a fried beancurd stuffed with minced meat, egg, fried yam, cucumber and coriander.

Nonetheless your meal could not follow the normal rhythm that one might know (appetizer, entrée, main, desserts), but rather be what you encounter on your way. You might eat desert before a well know fried yam and finished by a soup. It’s not a question of eating at that point, but rather a question of tasting.

A short distance into Ceylon Road, the Hindu Temple called Sri Senpaga Vinavagar Temple has finally been restored and presents a well deserved stop for the ones who wish.

Unfortunately the rain was so heavy around 7PM and after maybe 10 different stools and other shop break that we add to stop in front of the best Laksa of the planet on Ceylon Road (Katong Laksa). Laksa is a noodle dish served in a thick bowl of spicy, coconut-based gravy, topped with fresh cockles and fishcakes. Nothing bad for you even if you are full and on the cutting edge of exploding.

But who can refuse a tiny S$3 soup after all when its rain?

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas in Singapore

Is Christmas with no snowman and no hot chocolate a real Christmas?

Yes, as soon as you have mass shopping frenzy, fake snow flakes and Christmas songs.

Merry Christmas!

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

It might be a bit late, but I am still writing to you anyway. After all I recently believe in you and you never know if you don’t read it, maybe one of your personal assistants might read it and pass the info to you.

I know that you have been very busy these days, and today was your last day of hard work and you finally had some time off ahead of you (well deserve time off I would add) but I am still writing to you for asking some help/advice.

Now I am quite a patient man and I would not ask for much for myself and definitely not ask it for tomorrow either. You can give help me when you want, but I would hope that you would help me before next year come along, and re-iterate publicly my embarrassing request to you.

I do understand as well that you might not be the right person to talk to and I would greatly appreciate if you could give me the contact information of anyone involves in the process or if you could point to the right direction for my inquire.

Some people would argue that being unemployed for as long as 20 months, the best I could ask would be a job. But I know that you are only involve in manufacturing, and since you offshore all your mass toy production to China in late 90’s, I would not be able to drop my standard to that level of devotion even for a kid cause.

Working 14 hours per day for less than $10 a month is not something that I can imagine actually doing, unless I’ve been punished by a legal authority to a sudden death sentence, and that is the only way to prologue my now painful surviving activities.

No I am not asking for a job in your Chinese factories, not in your newly quality control program that you had to put in place recently due to some malfunctions. No, I am not asking for a job (if I have to choose, I would prefer money over job anytime), but I am asking to find somebody else another job. I would like you to find someone, and convince him to find himself or herself another job on the planet.

I would like as well you to find a way to repair the damage that this person did to the face of human life and the future generation.

It might seem unusual but you are my last chance on this planet, and I have to admit I am desperately turning my hope to you since nobody on this planet seems to be interested by this massive ecological threat.

Here comes my wish for this Christmas 2007:
Find the person who invented the cheese in a can, and fire him!

Yours sincerely,

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Botanic Garden

Take a green stop at the Botanic Garden

A block away from frenetic Orchard Road, the Botanic Garden is an almost peaceful place to rest, and a best way to spend a day enjoying the over 1,000 Orchids garden.

In the middle of the island this simple up and down the hill garden give families a chance to play Frisbees, kite fly or picnic on the grass.

The incredible amount of turtles can only be explain by the left over that Malays and Indian family forget intentionally to take back home. Obviously the last 2 swans do not enjoy the Indian-Malay diet that visitors force on them, and if not taking care of, the swan lake will be only a whish for the future generation. Please stop feeding the swan, or start doing it with the turtles

Paths and stylish landscapes give the walker a good grasp of would have been the vegetation before man hand started to correct its wildness.

I can only imagine the difficulty of surviving in this hot, humid and then unwelcoming land at the early time Singapore was created for Chinese decedents in Malaysia as a “gift” for their new country.

The Botanic Garden is a nice place to go, but too many trolleys at the House club.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Buildings at night

It’s not only at Singapore, but here the phenomenon is amplified.

The answer to a fast growing population on an island, the government decided to build many different complex buildings. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) project was created for low income and helps mainly 80% of the population on the island.

Each HDB flats complex is working like a small town in which you have a food court or hawker center where people can eat for few dollars, all the shops amenities one fancy as well all the medical or schooling necessarily for the complex to self survived.

I am sure that older people would find all their need in their HDB. The community formed there is a strong and helpful one. In a hot and poor country, windows are usually open most of time giving a chance to exchange a piece of people life when wind blows a bit stronger than usual.

Here, one might hear the fight that happen on the second floor, here one might see the under wears of the new beautiful lady from the 14 floor, or one might see that the old man is always sleeping watching channel 8 during the afternoon. No more private life, only a public one.

These walls of apartment are very impressive during the day, because you have enough space to embrace them from very far away.

But it is a night time that HDB are even more impressive. Like sleeping giants, they take their lightning armors and wait for the sun to rise. I often try to capture the immensity of the HDB in one picture, but I do not give justice to the size, the life or even the form of buildings at night. One day I will take a proper picture I am sure of it.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Somerset on wheels

When you think about it, only a street culture can exist in Singapore. There is no country side after all.

Taking your car and running away to the cottage house is out of the equation. I expected to see a more vigorous street urban culture, where graffiti and other street vendor outfit will fight each other to supply the vast majority of the local kids. I was wrong, the sub-urban culture is underground, and I only saw it surfacing at two occasions. Once was at a party where the DJ tried to explain in music without much success, that Hip-Hop was not a evil music to a sitting crow which was sucking up with passion on their straw.

The second time was at the stake park. Behind the Somerset subway stop, and between buildings in a middle of nowhere, a Skate ramp was build up where kids of all age try to impress their colleagues on how to jump high and fly low. Beside the fact that nobody is talking, and almost everyone is listening to an iPod, the ramp can not provide enough adrenaline to lift up the random spectator that I was on my multiple occasions on my way back home.

I would have like to see something higher and stronger, but after all this is Singapore and having a place to catalyze the young urban energy is not that bad. Kids are rolling from one instrument to the other in a very coordinated and civilized way, very opposite of the skateboarding principles that Thrasher Magazine was once proud of pushing ahead in the face of the world (Skate and Destroy).

The skate-boring community is growing in Singapore, slowly but surely, and will maybe one day extend to a second skate park. This day is not yet there, and I am glad to witness the ever changing graffiti competition on the single wall that the city offers to the underground urban artists.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Arab Street

Little India, next to Arab Street, will one day be Big India

I don’t really know why people keep calling the Indian quarter little, because for me, it’s a lot bigger than a block of shops on one side, 2 food stools opposite to it and a nice Dosa of Cheese Nan.

The Singaporean one is no exception. One of the largest and most authentic quarters of the city state, Little India is a place of narrow streets with many shops selling Indians products, but also some nice houses decorated in Muslims style.

The Mosque at the end of the street does give a more dignifying outlook than most of the Little Indian I have been to. I know not so many though …

The area is full of web and digital agencies trying to be cool and fancy, rivalry with their web 2.0 versioning names (I never saw for example a -0.1). The low rent and old wooden houses might actually attract the latest web and fashion designers of the planet Singapore.

Food is also a specialty of the sub region. You can find everything you want in the side shops, from your hometown homemade Dosai (Pancakes), or Thali (Curry) wrap in a paper, to your sweet Barfi (Milk) in a plastic bag.

The beauty of the place is narrow streets and the feeling that everything is just one arm away from you. Shops are everywhere, people are exploring them and smells are helping to draw the map within each other. At the end of the journey, one must go to see the famous Mustafa Center. A giant mall selling everything and anything, where prices are not tag and if there are, they are just a starting point for a long and time consuming discussion.

On your way out, I highly recommend to stop the very famous Zam Zam restaurant (699 North Bridge Road), a Muslim Malay food place where the Chicken Murtabak is served to your tale at no more than S$5. Expect to be seated within other people. Everything in this place is close to a real Muslim Malay experience, especially the washroom.

Don’t miss the Blu Jaz Café on your way out of Little India. The 2 storey place is home for live Jazz and Blues on the main floor, while locals DJ fighting the set on the first floor.

Little India is big enough already and it can walk by itself. This is a good place to envision a home based for your strategic living experience in Singapore. Not the best place though but a solid area to investigate on several occasions.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Crossing an entire country for less than $2 is possible in Singapore!

Having a public transport from one side of the country to the other is the dream of any country of the planet. Only Singapore a city-state can actually do it.

There is currently only three lines to ventilate the 4.5 millions inhabitant of Singapore, but the Mass Rapid Transport (MRT) is well define and pretty functional. The island is equipped with a North-South line, East-West Line and finally a North-East line. Three more lines are in construction, and will be rolling out in phase, with 2008 as a first step.

Downtown is usually air conditioned, and underground, as opposed at outside downtown where the MRT lines stand in middle of the highways and at 20-30 meters high, circulating between buildings.

The MRT tram itself is modern and very spacious, except during rush hour, where the civilized world has been checkout the station. People push you, squeeze the line, jump on you, actually run for a seat and complain when you are not moving fast enough.

The price is dynamic and depends on when you use the MRT, for how long and how tall you are. I explain myself. If you ride the MRT during pick hours, the ride price will be higher. If you ride the MRT over a long distance, the ride price will be higher. If you are lower than 0.9 meter and less than 10 years old, the ride is free. There is a red line in front of each booth to measure your height for a checking procedure.

The best way to deal with the ever changing ride price is to buy an EZ-Link pass. It’s an electronic wallet in which you put money in advance and used as you go. An entry booth validate and record when you check-in, and another one charge you on the spot when you check-out. If you forget to check in or out an alarm kicks in and the responsible of the station helps you to fix the issue.

Don’t ever thing you can bypass the charging process because you are constantly on camera and I am sure that the broadcasting is probably done real time live to the nearest hospital for the brain removal surgery on the third attempts to jump the fair.

It’s a very nice, efficient and simple yet random charm and character transportation system. In another words, MRT resembles its city. I would not imagine Singapore without it, just do not use it during rush hours.