Sunday, August 25, 2013

Singapore/Bali trip diary - day 2

We were both awake at 3.30 am, and ate the bananas out of the fruit basket; Ally went back to sleep, but I never did. I wrote this diary and visited my usual websites, mostly newspapers, although I’m already too far behind to catch up. We’d decided to try getting going earlier than we usually would, to avoid the worst of the heat, and we managed to leave the room not too long after 8 am, almost unprecedented for us on vacation. We had breakfast in a bakery cafĂ© that’s part of the Raffles complex, and then retraced our steps from last night, heading down Orchard Road. Of course, this time on a Sunday, there weren’t many people out, and much of the activity that did exist may have been church-related. A couple of these churches, and various other buildings in the vicinity, have survived with the Raffles from a different age, and from certain highly selective angles you could almost have the fleeting impression of being in a small freshly-painted colonial town. Well, almost (the managers and receptionists in our hotel wear pristine, blemish-free tan-coloured suits and white shirts, a look which can only possibly be sustained by never going outside in those outfits, and so which somehow seems like a kind of gentle fantasy of denial). Anyway, we walked all the way to the end of Orchard Road, ticking off every high-class retail name at least once if not twice, and then kept going through an area of presumably upper-end residences and embassies. Only one of them, the US embassy, had a sign prohibiting taking pictures, although given the deadly look of the place, this may have been based in artistic rather than security considerations.

We arrived at our destination, the Singapore botanical gardens, and spent the next couple of hours exploring the grounds fairly comprehensively. Given how even an average city street here seems painstakingly cultivated, it’s no surprise these gardens are a showcase, and as with everywhere we’ve seen so far, the no-litter laws are certainly scrupulously observed (I don’t know what the penalties are – maybe it’s death, as the immigration form told us it was for drug trafficking). The gardens were quite pleasantly busy, with many family outings, and with numerous groups of picnicking young women: on our walk over, we’d already passed through several blocks overrun by similar-looking women. It would have been a mystery to us, but we’d seen something similar in Hong Kong years ago and learned they were all nannies, getting together on their only day off. It must be lonely if you have an employer who insists you take your day off on Tuesday.

The highlights include a national orchid garden, where it seems some serious flower photographers might spend entire days - it includes orchids named after the likes of Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana and Margaret Thatcher (surely should be a cactus, rather?) - and a portion of rainforest of the kind it says once covered most of Singapore, but it seems to contain areas devoted to just about every kind of horticulture. Comparing it to a Sunday park outing back home, I don’t think there are many dogs in Singapore, and most of those that exist must spend their days dreaming of jumping into a nice cool lake. It was just about as hot as yesterday (the forecast suggested possible thunder storms, but they never transpired) but the availability of shade made it seem much more manageable. In retrospect, the relative extreme lack of shade on the walk we did yesterday morning may be a serious design flaw, if they intend people to actually use and enjoy all that expensive new public space.

We ended up walking back all the way too, although more than Ally, I started to get seriously tired after a while: I think the afternoon nap I’ve been having over the last year or two may be wired into my system now. By now the streets were almost as busy as last night, with Sunday shopping outings presumably in full swing. We stopped for lunch at the same place where we’d had breakfast, and both fell asleep not long after returning to the room. Ally woke me up around 6.30 pm – I guess something that lasts close to four hours can’t really be termed an afternoon nap – although she later went back to sleep herself. We didn’t end up leaving the room until around 8 pm. At one time we might have thought it was missing an opportunity to spend so much of the day in the hotel, but now we’re more philosophical about following our natural inclinations. Plus, the more time we spend in here, the more it justifies the cost of the room (although I guess to justify the cost of this room we should be holding cocktail parties and signing business deals in it, not just sleeping).

Anyway, we had a completely wonderful evening. This morning we’d already done a big chunk of what we most like to do – create a mental map of the city – by walking off the left side of the tourist city map (and yesterday we’d already walked off the right side). Now we filled in some of the space round the hotel by exploring the surrounding blocks, although that didn’t yield much, except a few streets of mini-Chinatowns (in the mysterious way of such places, these streets themselves were crammed with busy restaurant activity, but the surrounding areas showed no evidence of anyone either arriving or leaving). We kept on going towards the river, through the Esplanade Park where young people were gathered in groups, many of them conducting sing-alongs. It was completely dark, and not very well-lit by Western standards, but didn’t seem at all threatening. We intersected our Marina Bay walk route from yesterday, but kept taking a longer-established route along the water, past a series of relatively earthier bars and restaurants, none of which really grabbed us. Eventually we ended up at Clarke Quay, another of the visitor-friendly concentrations you find in every waterfront city: it was around 9.30 pm by now, and very happily busy, the atmosphere aided by quite active boat traffic (I don’t know whether the boats are really doing anything or are just for show). We ate at a Thai restaurant, Renn Thai, which I’m sure wouldn’t push its way into the guidebooks, but completely satisfied us (if you're ever looking for it, it's right by the Singapore Hooters). A couple of hours later when we left, things were trailing off a bit, but not so quickly that it wouldn’t keep going well into the night. We took a cab back to the hotel, and sat for a little while on our veranda, you know, as you do when you’re staying at the Raffles. We had a nice handwritten note informing us that Alison’s umbrella, which she’d left behind this morning in the breakfast place, had been returned, and we should contact one of our butlers to obtain it. Maybe they can also bring us more bananas!

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