The day starts with the ritual of finding an internet café
where we can plug in our laptop. According to those we talk to, this is simply not done in Singapore. Finally, we discover a wireless zone, and we’re off to the races.
First Day Exploring Singapore
Multiple coffees later, we head out to explore Singapore, despite the threatening skies. We walk around Fort Canning Park, past a huge and elaborate Hindu Temple and Istana, the Presidential Palace, to Orchard Road. We’re not sure what to expect, but we’re not quite expecting this – high rise shopping mall after high rise shopping mall. The closest we’ve seen is North Michigan Ave. in Chicago, but this isn’t quite the same – for along with the Pradas, Burberry, and Vuitton’s (and there are multiples of each in different malls up and down the street) there are also the discount malls. Although we’re not really shopping, we take refuge from the intense thunderstorm that starts just as we arrive on Orchard Road, and we watch in fascination. This does not appear, based solely on appearances, to be tourist shopping – it has the look and the feel of daily life.
At the far end of Orchard Road we grab the MRT (the subway) back to our hotel. The subway is sophisticated and clean, once we figure out that the only way to get a ticket is to pay a refundable deposit on the ticket itself, in addition to the cost of the ride itself.
Smith Street: One of the Best Hawker Streets in the World.
We walk to Chinatown and have dinner on Smith Street which is considered as one of the best hawker streets in the world. Hawkers are street food vendors, and Smith Street was teeming with families out for a cheap dinner, young professionals coming from work and, like us, the odd tourist out to see the real Singapore. Red brightly lit Chinese lanterns and strings of multicolored lights festoon the street. The atmosphere is almost delirious as we grab a spot to watch, listen, smell and observe the spectacle of the street. We talk about obesity and wonder why no one here, unlike North America, is overweight.
The importance of social and family time evident in eating together appears so vital to Singaporean and South East Asian culture. Groups of parents, grandparents and children find time to sit down, even here, in the street at a not so fancy table, and enjoy the ritual of food and togetherness. The freedom to let your kids run around in the blocked off street and be kids amazes us. The folding, wooden tables are set out in the street with small, movable stools, and cleaners come and clear and wipe down the tables, readying them for the next group of people to sit down, sometimes with others, sometimes without. You go to the stand of your choice and peruse the limited menu and your food is made in front of you. Dinner for two can be as low as $11 Singaporean dollars, which is the equivalent of $8 CDN. Our conversation shifts at times to health and sanitary concerns but we see nothing that makes us overly concerned. Smith Street appears to be a common one-way street during the blaring heat and light of the day.
But for us tonight, it is what we expect Singapore to be – vibrant, magical, brightly lit and in its own way, strangely familiar.