Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Lion City, Part One

Right, on with the travel posts.

Actually, hang on, let me just give myself a little pat on the back for actually getting some posting done.

Aah ... good work, Angie!

You know, for someone who has been promising to blog about Japan (February 2006), and started a few posts about North America (August 2007) but then stopped halfway, I think the chronicles of this South East Asian trip are a marathon accomplishment.

In comparison. Hee.

So ... on to Singapore.

This was one of the views from the plane as we descended into Changi airport, which, I assure you, is well-worth a visit by itself.

I felt like James Bond conducting aerial reconnaissance when I took this picture.

And this is the view from the flat that we stayed in:

Singapore suburbia.

That afternoon, we had a look around the shops on Orchard Road, and ended up browsing in a large Japanese department store/supermarket called Isetan. I was feeling a little fatigued, so I bought some ...

Grass Power!

Mmm, full of chlorophyll. Now I have the strength of a thousand cows!

Now, these strawberries were air-flown from Japan, and yes, that is the correct price: SGD$23.90 a punnet (or AUD$18.44, or USD$16.95, going by the currency converter in my iGoogle page).

The most beautiful strawberries I have ever seen.

I don't know if you can tell from the picture, but these strawberries looked just ... perfect. They were glossy and shiny and just the right shades of red and green, almost like the "ideal" fruit pictures you see in magazines. The kind of strawberries you would get in heaven. If you had been very, very good. Not a single spot, not a single tear in the leaves. It was almost unnatural. The Japanese are extremely proud of their export quality fruit, and with good reason.

Here are some rockmelons, also air-flown from Japan, and can you make out the price on that bottom right one?

These rockmelons would probably be cheaper if you bought their weight in silver.

Yep, breathe deeply now. That rockmelon costs SGD$69.00 (or AUD$53.22 or USD$48.93)!

Every single line in the rind pattern was the same diameter. Every space was harmonious, every melon was an piece of contemporary art. The Japanese farmers who raised them probably measured each gap in between the lines and threw out any which exceeded the ideal spacing by 1cm.

On to the pharmaceutical section ...

This year Valentine's Day fell just seven days after the beginning of Chinese New Year, so shops were busy promoting specials for that as well.


In my mind's eye, I can picture this scene in a candle-lit restaurant. The man brings out a beautifully wrapped box and says:

"Honey, I think you could really use some amino collagen for Valentine's Day
Where are you going? Honey?"

A few minutes later, this immediately caught my eye:

Owie. Ow, ow, ow. Poor burning-throat-man! Sponge it on! Quickly! QUICKLY!

I think this is a treatment for sore throats, but I'm too lazy to do a proper translation. I just love how simple and direct the packaging is. Eye-catching, vivid. Awesome.

Which segues nicely into an interest of mine that I like to indulge while travelling: local iconography.

This sign in the MRT (subway/light rail) stations is quite popular with tourists, and often pops up on the Net.

(Caution: slightly long tangent follows.

Personally, I love durians. I think they have a lovely, fruity, delicious smell, and I get quite offended when people refer to them in unflattering terms. Even if you don't like the smell of durian, there's no need to be rude about it, especially when talking about it to someone who likes to eat it.

I mean, in Europe I was served some cheese that made me want to shout, "Bring out your dead!", but I politely held my peace and didn't tactlessly tell the natives what I really thought. Until now.

I think there must be a gene in humans that makes durians either smell delicious or rank, like the gene that controls the ability to roll your tongue.)

Speaking of MRT stations, I really like the tiles in the Chinatown station, which have Chinese poetry on them.

Rhyming couplets. If someone knows what these say, please leave a comment--I would be ever so grateful.

This is another sign that caught my eye:

With so many people living in high-rises, there have been incidences of objects falling from people's apartments and causing serious, or even fatal, damage to pedestrians below.

And now, some shots that I felt a little weird about taking, but I couldn't resist.

This cartoonist has a very distinctive style and is quite well-known in Singapore and Malaysia. I wish I could remember his name. It's a great way of dealing with a touchy subject.

I think I should blow this section up and put it in certain public toilets. Also, in MFC's loo when he has parties, or, more to the point, when his housemate has parties. I love the large red targets. They made me chortle.

I promise, this is the last toilet shot. It was difficult, taking this one, because the cleaner kept coming in and out. The things I do to get interesting material for this blog. Geez.

Great idea, huh?

In many large shopping centres, you'll find machines like these:

S.A.M. machines run by Singapore post.

Let's have a look at the menu:

Wow, it's like a virtual post office: you can pay bills and fines (LOL), top up smart cards, shop, buy event tickets, and of course, purchase postage labels. And it's available 24-7. There's even a weighing tray that weighs your letter or parcel and then creates a little postage label for you to stick on after you've paid.

These would be great in Perth, saving time, money and aggravation, but yobbos would probably vandalise them within the week. Sigh.

But not everything's flashy and automated, you know. I mean, I had a drink from a real coconut in Chinatown.

Cooling and delicious!

And in the suburbs, every morning, this gentleman cycles through the apartment jungle, chanting, "Oo dien si ki poh zua hong si bo?!" ("Any TVs, newspapers, fans?") while tooting his little bicycle horn. (I say "little", but that darn thing has the power of a foghorn. It broke into my dreams and woke me up every morning without fail. He starts before the crack of dawn, but thankfully takes a break on weekends--well, in the suburb where I was staying, anyway.)

His voice can carry up to the 25th floor too. Seriously.

My mother calls them "gunny sack men". They will give you 50 cents or a dollar for a stack of newspapers, and will also collect your old appliances and sell them to second-hand shops.

People still go to Chinese medicine shops, and watch their herbs and dried insects and goodness knows what else being measured in the old-fashioned way.

You can't see his scales because my mother chose that time to take her wallet out (thanks, Mum!), but they are the old-fashioned type, two brass saucers suspended from a rod by a chain; one saucer holds the weights, the other holds the herbs.

In some suburbs, I didn't even see any Caucasians--unusual in a city like Singapore, which has so many expatriates and tourists. It was nice to blend in for a change. Until the locals heard me talk. Then the jig was up.

Next post: how Singapore gears up for Chinese New Year!


Anonymous said...

"Grass power"- haha that makes me laugh.

Wow, that's some seriously expensive fruit! O_O

I love the bathroom pictures. Especially the one frame about not squatting on toilet seats. That's especially amusing because we don't have any toilets like that over here. *giggles*

nice post! can't wait for the next one! ^_^

Anonymous said...

Well done on the CNG blogging. I will look forward to that. Your view of Singapore was fascinating. OK, so I love cheese which smells like vomit, but Durian is 100 times worse! While we were in Singapore recently there was a newspaper report of someone killed from falling debris. Jaymez X