We arrived in Singapore well after midnight, tired, but happy from a very cool Emirate’s Airlines flight. In and out of Singapore involves scanning your passport, having a camera comparison to your passport photo and having your finger prints scanned in as well. All very smooth, like most things in Singapore.
Our AirBnB apartment was just ten minutes from Changi Airport. We followed the wonderful directions from our host and was able to get into the apartment with no trouble. Singapore packs a lot of people into a tiny island space so there are highrise apartments everywhere. For example, ours was The Inflora – which has a main entrance with someone checking you in and out, and we were in Block 53 – each giant six to eight story building is just given a “Block” number. The Inflora is Blocks 51-69 on Flora Street. There were three bedrooms and three bathrooms! The shower was amazing, once I realized you have to turn on the switch outside the bathroom to fire up the hot water.
The Inflora apartments are a twenty minute car or train ride into downtown Singapore and was located in a district called Tampines. The Inflora has a shuttle that goes to the Tampines Mall (which turns out to be a complex of four different malls) and train station (which is called the MRT system). We figured we needed to buy groceries for our stay and it seemed like about all we could take on after a long travel day. The Mall was epic and we ended up there often enough we sort of started to know our way around all six floors of at least one of the malls. Our first day adventure to the mall food court was an adventure – the food was fantastic, authentic and reasonably priced. We were the only non-Asian looking folks and got lots of stares from a whole lot of folks. There are dozens of food choices that are just labeled by food type around the perimeter and then a drinks station in the center. John and I found great canned teas that were refreshing and Kate opted for classic frothy tea with sweetened milk. We also found SIM cards for the phones with no problem. The best purchase of the trip was finding a little plastic coffee press at the Malls version of JC Pennys (because there was nothing in the apartment except instant coffee – and we expect this to be true for the next three months or so).
After breakfast, a workout and school work, we took an Uber car to the Marina Bay Sands complex. Our driver was a semi-retired guy who remembered when our Tampines area was all farm land. He told us of the days before independence in 1965. We took in the amazing city views from the 57th floor observation deck ($80, 2 adult and 2 child tickets). The views are unsurpassed and it is a great way to take in some history and understanding of the way Singapore has expanded. The mall attached to the Sands Casino (no poker spread here) had a great food court and again drinks were bought from a central stand or from a push cart – it took us about 30 minutes of lurking about to jump on a table. We explored the Gardens by the Bay until the rains came and then we took the MRT back to our home base of the Tampine Mall. We had heard that the new Lego movie was good so we got tickets and popcorn to enjoy Lego Batman (with Mandarin subtitles). A quick stop at the Fair Price grocery store and eventually shuttled back home.
The pools at the Inflora were wonderful and John took advantage of buying a new suit and a pair of goggles to spend most evenings in the water.
The following day, Judi felt under the weather so Kate and I took Uber cars to and from the Mall (shuttle didn’t run on Sundays) for some shoes and to get an India- appropriate length outfit. I walked every inch of the H&M women’s section (multiple times) but eventually Kate found a great outfit. Our Mall had several shoes stores and Kate settled on a pair of red Nike shoes that would work for walking around and being sporty all together.
The next day we decided to explore Chinatown. We explored the much better than expected Buddha’s Tooth Temple. Although just a few blocks away from the famous Maxwell Street food court, we decided to grab lunch in Chinatown and were again reminded that Singapore is a wonderful fusion of Asian foods and flavors and not about American portion sizes. Our waitress offered Kate some chopstick lessons and we loved watching the stream of people coming through the walking lanes of Chinatown.
We walked through the Maxwell Hawker center on the way to the Singapore Urban Museum. This turns out exactly the place I wanted to go – it was a full history of Singapore told through land use planning. The British started master planning this bustling and crowded port city in the 1800’s. The exploding growth demanded a section of district for the various groups pouring in – Chinese, Indian, Colonial and other immigrants. After WW II the move towards independence was happening and initially they were part of Malaysia but it was clear that they would be second class citizens to traditionally Maya people under the plan at that time so they pushed back and were eventually kicked out, setting up their owner city/state in 1965. The whole two floors told the story of how they have addressed the challenges of overcrowding and the slums of the 1960s; how they recycle and burn their trash; their extensive water recovery system; their land reclamation projects expanding out into the ocean; their established business centers and massive infrastructure (including ring road, MRT system, tunnels and bus system). And this is a city/state that ranks in the top 3 of most categories like livability, health care, education, etc. All for a country about the size of LA and which also has to maintain international relations and it’s own military. While I read all the exhibits, Judi took the opportunity to catch a quick nap.