Slingin' It in Singapore

Trip Start Aug 04, 2010
Trip End Feb 04, 2011

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Where I stayed
Zenobia Hotel

Flag of Singapore  ,
Saturday, January 22, 2011

We had been forewarned that Singapore is a VERY expensive place to visit and we found ourselves dealing with this issue on our very first day.  We arrived in Singapore on January 18th after a nice bus ride from Melaka and we immediately went to work trying to find a place to stay in the Little India area.  After walking around in the heat for hours, we found most of the guest houses geared toward backpackers had dorm rooms only, private rooms were a rare find.  So after checking almost all of the hotels in this area for availability (a lot of the hotels were full) and cost (we just weren't prepared to pay $60 for a room) we had to find an internet cafe to search for a hotel for the evening.  Thanks to Les' fantastic travel agent/computer skills we eventually found a hotel in a good location, but we still ended up paying through the nose for our this time we had spent hours looking for a hotel, so eventually you simply have to suck it up and get yourself situated for the evening.  We booked a hotel room on Agoda and traipsed through town again to find our place for the evening.  Settled in for the evening, we made a decision to try and make a reservation online to stay in this same hotel for the rest of our Singapore stay, but unfortunately when we went to the website again the cheaper rooms were not available.  UGGH!!!  Starving and a little fed up with the difficulty we had in finding a place to stay, we went out for a bite to eat and a beer to figure out what our next step would be.  Bellies full and heads a bit clearer, we stumbled upon a place that looked OK and more importantly had vacancies, so we paid a deposit and promised we would be back the next morning to claim our room.

We woke up the morning of the 19th determined to have a better day. When we arrived at our new hotel we were pleasantly surprised to find out that they had our room ready for us, so we dumped off our stuff and headed out to see the city.  We bought a ticket for the hop on hop off bus line and set out to see the city.  We loved this bus system because there was commentary in English so we learned all about the different sites we were seeing along the way.  We ended up doing a loop on the both of the bus lines so we could get the lay of the land.  We had lunch in Chinatown (we ate dried chicken with chillies, rice and a steamed Chinese cabbage dish - yummy and not something we have ever eaten at a Chinese restaurant in the states).  After lunch we hopped back on the bus to check out the rest of the loop.  Along the way we saw all the famous sites from a new HUGE casino/hotel that boasts a swimming pool on top of the building, to the Raffles Hotel where the Singapore Sling was invented (more on this later).  Singapore is packed full of shopping centers, tall office buildings, a botanical garden, a performing arts center and so much more.  After seeing all of the sites on the bus line and making notes of places we wanted to go back to, we got off at Clark Quay, a restaurant/shopping area on the water.  We opted to sit in the middle of it all, sip on freshly brewed beer at a local microbrewery and people watch for a few hours.  People from all over the world visit and live in Singapore so we saw young professionals dressed to the hill meeting for drinks, a group of westerners celebrating a birthday and a group of school kids enjoying the sites.  Feeling good from the libations we grabbed a quick bite to eat of lamb kebabs before we hopped on the boat for a ride on the river that ran through downtown Singapore.  The boat ride was included in our bus ticket, but as we rummaged through our pockets trying to find our tickets we noticed that one of them had been lost.  We decided that we would try our luck anyways and explain to the boat operator that we lost our ticket.  The boat operator was SO nice to us, we explained the situation and he let us on no problem!!  

We rounded out the evening with a walk across town to the famous Raffles Hotel.  The Long Bar at the hotel is famous for being the place where the Singapore Sling was invented.  We couldn't come to Singapore and not experience this bit of history, so after we explored the hotel grounds we made our way up to the bar for an after dinner night cap and peanuts.  Yep a part of this historical experience is eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor while sipping your Sling......

Here are the Singapore Sling Ingredients
•30 ml Gin
•15 ml Cherry brandy
•120 ml pineapple juice
•15 ml lime juice
•7.5 ml Cointreau
•7.5 ml Dom Benedictine
•10 ml Grenadine
•Dash of Angostura Bitters
•Garnish with a slice of pineapple and cherry

Feeling good from our drink that according to an article I read on the internet had the equivalent alcohol of a half bottle of wine per drink we walked off our buzz as we headed home to Little India.  As we got closer and closer to Little India we began to realize that the Thaipusam festival (more on this later) had already begun, so we stayed up until 2:30am to watch the early participants wearing predominantly orange saris walking with ornately decorated jugs of milk on their heads.  We also caught a glimpse of the first devotees with skewers in their foreheads, tongues and cheeks - AMAZING!! 

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated by the Tamil community in Indian communities across the globe (although in Singapore we saw a few Westerners and Chinese participating as well).  The festival this year fell on the 20th of January and we were thrilled to be staying in Little India so we could share in the festivities. On the day of the festival, some of the devotees shave their heads and undertake a pilgrimage along a set route (in Singapore this route was a 4km walk from one Indian temple to another) while engaging in various acts of devotion to Murgan the Tamil God of War, notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but piercing of the skin, tongue or cheeks with skewers is also common.  The most unbelievable kavadis are the chariots decorated with peacock feathers that men (most of the chariot carriers were men) attach to their bodies with various hooks and barbs.

Because we were up until 2:30am the night before we weren't able to get ourselves going until close to noon on the 20th.  We rushed out of our room feeling anxious and nervous that we might have missed the bulk of the festival, but as luck would have it, the festival was in full swing.  We grabbed a quick bite of yummy Indian vegetarian fare and watched the devotees and families process through the blocked off section of the street.  We saw one man carrying a chariot and walking on shoes of nails...we saw others pulling a chariot that was connected to their backs with large hooks....the strength and resolve of these participants was truly admirable.  Thrilled with our cultural experience it got even better when Les started up a conversation with a man who told us that we could actually go inside the temples to watch the ceremony that goes on as the chariots are put on the men.  WHAT!!  You better believe it we hightailed our tushes to the temple to check it out and our Thaipusam experience got even better.  The families gather with drums to sing and dance as the man, who represents the family, is prepared to have his body skewered.  There are helpers all around who place the hooks in the right places.  Ash and lime juice are used to treat the skin so there isn't much bleeding at addition the men go through a month long preparation of fasting and prayer to prepare themselves for the festival.  The energy in the temple was amazing and we had to pinch ourselves several times just to make sure this was all real the excitement in the air was palpable!!!  Incredible is really all we can say about this.

Feeling exhausted from the heat and being on our feet all day, we decided to take a break from the festivities in the late afternoon.  We ended our day with some good coffee, a yummy meal of Korean food and a free music concert at the Esplanade which highlighted Indonesian music and the unique instruments used in creating the notes.  Amazing day!!

The excitement of the 20th wiped us out so on the 21st of January we decided to take ourselves for a walk in nature at the city's beautiful botanical gardens.  A green oasis in the middle of this crowded city, the botanical gardens were absolutely lovely.  The coolest part of the gardens was an educational section that detailed the evolutionary aspects of plants......they also have an eco-garden in the works and an area just for kids.

The evening ended on a high note as we reunited with our friend Wilson.  Wilson was a student of Les' at the flight school in Florida and we had him over to our place for lunch during his stay in the US.  After spending time catching up, we had a terrific supper at one of Wilson's favorite Indian restaurants in town.  Thank you Wilson for being such a wonderful host in Singapore.  We can't wait to see you again in the US, please come visit us when you can!!
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