Kusu Island and Chinatown

Trip Start Dec 27, 2012
Trip End Jan 07, 2013

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Flag of Singapore  , Singapore,
Thursday, January 3, 2013

After an hour wandering aimlessly around Marina Bay admiring the architecture and skyline, I hailed a taxi for Marina South Ferry Terminal. I asked for a 2:00 pm ferry for Kusu Island from the Singapore Island Cruise ticket booth. I was dismayed to find the ferry was not direct to Kusu, meaning I would have approximately 50 minutes on the island before the ferry back at 4:00 pm. The ticketing agent assured me it would be enough time, and judging from the pictures online I thought he may be right. Having come all the way to the marina and knowing the weather forecast for this afternoon was better than the following day, I decided to buy the ticket. I made my way upstairs to find lunch before departure, since all morning I was still full from our dinner in the clouds the previous evening.

At the small restaurant upstairs I ordered nasi lemak and took a seat near the window. A few minutes later I was approached by a young Singaporean man who worked for the transportation service associated with Singapore Island Cruise. He asked if he could join me, and I reluctantly obliged. As it happened, the fact that I had a boyfriend in the city soon entered the conversation, and with that our lunch continued as friendly banter about the city. A friend of his joined shortly after I received my meal and I happily munched on chicken and otap while they chatted in some Malay dialect. With about 20 minutes to spare before the ferry boarded, I took a walk through the Singapore Maritime Gallery, learning about the industry that spurred the growth of the Singapore we know today. At 2:00 the boat captain came on board, and laughed at my solitude and my short sojourn to Kusu. I briefly considered forfeiting the ticket price, but not before the ferry pushed off. At the very least, I convinced myself, I do love a boat ride. Myself and two boats hands set sail for Kusu.

As I walked onto the pier, I couldn't help but laugh. I was worried about only having an hour, when it became clear the island would take approximately 15 minutes to walk from end to end. The legend of the island says a giant tortoise turned himself to stone here to save two sailors. The main attraction for my trip is a tortoise sanctuary maintained by the Sentosa Parks department, although two temples are also housed on the tiny island. Immediately to the left of the pier was the Chinese temple Da Bo Gong. I quickly walked through to make my way toward the tortoise sanctuary. As I looked at my camera screen to take a picture, I noticed something move in the background. Amazed, I looked up to see a wild monkey foraging for food beneath the palms. I squealed like a child and charged toward the creature. I spent the next 10-15 minutes quietly observing the monkey, who inched rather close to me at one point and made faces at me. When she finally was bored of me and ran off, I decided to explore the rest of the island. I made my way to the end of one of the lagoons in a feeble attempt to get a tan, but reconstruction of the lagoon barrier by heavy machinery spoiled any chance of quietly relaxing on the swath of sand. I had but 15 minutes remaining until ferry departure, and I realized I hadn't seen the Malay temple, so I headed back to the other side to find the second lagoon and the hidden kramats at the top of a hill.

As it turned out, one of the aforementioned deck hands was actually employed to maintain the Malay temple. As I reached the temple breathless from running the 152 step vertical staircase, he greeted me. While we made our way out of the temple he gave me a private history lesson regarding the yearly pilgrimage to the temple, and even showed me a tortoise pond in the Chinese temple I had previously missed. I then headed for the docks in time to make the ferry back to Singapore.

I met Rufio in the executive lounge for wine and a light snack before venturing down to the famed Singapore Chinatown. I was lucky to have eaten the snack, because unfortunately weeknights in Chinatown are not nearly as active as the weekends, and as such many of the shopping and food stalls were closed this evening. This was no worry to us, because Rufio planned to introduce me to drunken prawns at a restaurant, which was open, where he first tasted the quirky dish. Minutes later Rufio was on a rant about Western close-mindedness and after guzzling a large Tiger beer, we were storming out of the restaurant and into the street. Let me explain...

Drunken prawns are a dish made popular by Chinese immigrants to Singapore. The dish is traditionally prepared as sort of a dining experience for restaurant patrons, as chefs will bring live prawns to the table to roam freely as the dish is prepared. In the next steps the prawns are essentially drowned in a high proof alcohol before being tossed to cook in a broth on the table, providing some entertainment to the patrons as they become "drunk" on the table. 

Not surprisingly, Western tourists began to complain about the preparation of the dish. Did a PETA consortium visit Singapore? Sometime between Rufio's visit two years prior and the night we arrived in Chinatown the dish had been essentially banned from all restaurants and food stalls in the area. Rufio even left me alone at the restaurant with my beer to scout the neighborhood, but upon return echoed the story the staff shared with us from other vendors. Then the ranting began. He was so enraged we paid for the beer and stomped out of the restaurant, all the while he basically decried Western civilization and our degeneration of cultural traditions across the globe. Something to that extent anyway, I was on a crusade to find a suitable dinner while he grumbled in the background. We walked around searching out food options, but nothing could appease Rufio's appetite for tortured prawns. Instead, we bought foot reflexology massages and retired to the hotel angry and hungry.   

Kusu Island
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