National Museum, Little India, Holland Village

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

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Flag of Singapore  , Singapore,
Friday, January 4, 2013

On my last free day without Rufio, I decided to see the neighborhoods I hadn't yet visited in Singapore, and thus set my sights on Little India and Holland Village. After breakfast with Rufio I sat down to plan my itinerary since the neighborhoods weren't close enough to one another to walk. As I looked at the map, I remembered my interest was piqued by a review of the National Museum of Singapore, and thought I could add it to my list of things to do if time permitted. Once I hit the streets, however, my plan changed slightly. I knew I wanted to each lunch in Little India but it was hours before I would be hungry and from Rufio's descriptions I didn't think I would want or need to spend so much time there. Since the National Museum was nearby and conveniently located next to the MRT exchange for Little India, I decided to stop in. In no way was I disappointed in my decision.

The prices for admission ranged from S$6-10 depending on whether patrons chose to see special exhibits. There was a reduced price listed for students, but I didn't think it applied for international visitors. I asked the ticket agent for the combined package, but as she started to get the materials she stopped momentarily and asked if I was a student. Slightly flattered because I must have seemed young to her, I replied that I was an American student and proceeded to show her my ID. As it turned out, the museums were running a special free admission promotion for students, so she handed me a guide map and sent me on my way.

On the first floor was a small exhibit focusing on post-WWII Singapore and independence from Britain. I was hoping to learn more about the founding of Singapore before the colonial period, and to my luck I next found my way into a two-story multimedia archive reliving the history of Singapore from its primitive days in the early 14th century. Free audio guides with hours of information were provided upon entry. After almost two hours of exploring Singapore's past, I decided I better check out the special exhibit and then make my way toward Little India or I would get nothing else done the rest of the day. The special exhibit honored the life of one of Singapore's most influential playwrights, Kuo Pan Kun, and featured a number of multimedia exhibits to share his works. As I exited, I halted momentarily to review something I noticed on the way in. A copy of "Ode to Masuri S.N." was on display for viewing, with a placard that instructed visitors to check the ticket counter for complimentary copies. I couldn't contain my curiosity, so asked the ticket agent about the placard. A copy of the book was free to all visitors, and without hesitation she gave me a copy. Free admission, a great history exhibit and a free book containing works of the "Father of Modern Malay" entitled the museum to high rank among my favorite museums in the world.  

As the lunch hour approached I made my way toward Little India to get one of Rufio's favorite dishes, mutton biryani. While the food was good, the experience was unfortunately terrible. Two years ago I listened to a classic Rufio rant about the shortcomings of the residents of Little India in terms of courtesy and civility. My experience, and subsequent prejudice, was different than Rufio's, but the feelings of disappointed and anger were the same. 

The guidebook app I had been using for maps and descriptions of neighborhoods only offered a few short paragraphs for each district of the city. Though space was limited, the author of the app thought it important to share a few words about the behavior of the men in Little India: "It's a fascinating area to wander around, shopping, eating and, in traditional Indian style, being stared at by groups of men (if you're female)." I couldn't write a better description myself. Plenty to see, smell and eat. Lots of men aimlessly meandering the streets staring at women. Perhaps current events surfacing out of Mumbai made me angrier than would be normal, but after half an hour I was fuming at their behavior, and moderately concerned for my safety in a city I had otherwise felt at home. 

Regardless, I was hot and hungry and I refused to leave without the meal I came to try. I made my way to the Berseh hawker centre, but unfortunately a biryani stand did not exist. I purchased an ice cold fresh squeezed sugar cane juice and sat down to gain my bearings. I learned that Race Course Road had some pricier selections, so I reluctantly made my way in that direction. Fortunately I happened upon Abirami along the way, a reasonably priced restaurant specializing in biryani. I ordered the mutton and a refreshing lemon juice and planned my escape from this haven of misogyny. 

The next stop on my agenda was the perfect relief from Little India. Holland Village is an obscure neighborhood in the northwest region of the city known for affluent residential suburban enclaves, artisan markets and ex-patriate watering holes. I still needed a gift for our dogsitter, so I made my way to the Holland Village Shopping Centre where I spent another hour or two perusing craft and home decor boutiques. I found a set of hand-painted cloth coasters I loved so much I purchased one for the sitter and one as a souvenir. When I had my fill of shopping and felt safe again amid scores of British, Australian and American expats, I headed back to Orchard to meet Rufio after work. 

Rufio, still on a mission to share his love of drunken prawns, asked some locals in the know where the delicacy could still be obtained. We visited East Coast Lagoon again, although not the hawker center, to try the original Long Beach. Long Beach is arguably the first restaurant to deliver the now renowned black pepper crab, and also still boasts a drunken prawn dish. Before entering the premises, Rufio inquired about the dish which of course we were assured was on the menu. Unfortunately the dish is prepared fully in the kitchen and arrives simply as cooked prawns in a broth. We still took an order, along with a 1.5 kg black pepper crab. While the prawns were good, the crab became my favorite meal of the trip, even if half of it ended up on Rufio's shirt.

After dinner I insisted on finally heading to the famous Raffles Hotel Long Bar for a Singapore Sling. I knew it was a touristy move and I knew it would be costly, but I really wanted to see the interior of the hotel and I thought it would be a shame not to get the drink while there. I was not aware that the fruity concoction would taste exactly like Hi-C Fruit Punch juice boxes, which I happen to despise. Instead of sharing with me, Rufio insisted I order and subsequently finish my own Sling. Some grueling 20 minutes later I made a final grimace and we headed out through the Colonial district and towards Marina Bay. The ever ravenous Rufio was still hungry after prawns and nearly a kilo of crab, so I expertly led him toward Glutton's Bay Hawker Center. Unfortunately most of the stalls were closed, so we settled for refreshing iced desserts. In a moment of revenge, I selected a durian dessert to torture Rufio's olfactory senses as payment for the assault on my palate enacted by the Singapore Sling. After desserts and discovering the MRT does in fact halt service at some point in the night, we hailed a cab and ended the evening. 
Long Beach

National Museum of Singapore 
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