Monday, August 26, 2013

Singapore/Bali trip diary - day 3

We were both up at around 5 am, although Ally later went back to sleep for a while; we left the hotel a little later than yesterday, although still early by our historical vacation standards. We had breakfast in the same hotel bakery again (it’s not that we were trying to be dull – we just couldn’t find anywhere else in the immediate vicinity that worked as well) and then took a taxi to the Bukit Timah nature reserve, only about a fifteen minute ride, but once you get there a much larger slab than we saw yesterday of the original forest, now reduced to 0.2% of its former volume, or something like that.

The reserve is nicely arranged for walking, with a series of loops which you can add on incrementally, so you don’t need to commit yourself to more than you can handle. Naturally, we ended up doing all the trails indicated on the main map, which took about two and a half hours. It’s a bit of a work-out given the heat, and also because relatively little of it is ever flat, so you’re nearly always either steeply ascending or descending. At the start we were seeing a large number of mostly older locals sweating through their morning exercise, but they plainly know to come early, because when we exited at around 1.15, there was almost no one around at all. The forest is too dense to provide many views, with one main exception where you get a good look at the sweeping skyline, but we enjoyed just pushing ourselves along, and it’s good that it has an official sign to mark the summit, so you feel an appropriate sense of achievement. Fortunately too, the heat didn’t seem to keep rising too much today, given the looming prospect of rain, so the closing stretch felt almost cool by comparison (if only in relative terms, but when you’re doing such a walk at such temperatures, perception counts for a lot).

The forest has numerous signs warning against feeding the monkeys, but except for a few of them around the parking lot when we first showed up, we only saw one monkey the entire time (and barely any birds either – however, we had the almost constant background of cicada humming, often almost deafening, like a whole parking lot of car alarms). We were talking about this as we walked back to the road, and then suddenly we started to see monkeys everywhere – in particular, one otherwise nice-looking house seemed to be overrun with monkeys, to the point where they can presumably never open the windows or sit outside with food or anything like that. It might be a form of hell on earth, who knows. Anyway, our study of the monkeys was curtailed when an available taxi came by, and we decided to grab it. We were extremely lucky in this, because during the cab ride it started raining fairly heavily; the downpour lasted almost the exact duration of the ride. On the other side we walked round a bit and went into a nearby mall – Raffles City – where we found a Ben and Jerry’s in the food court, so we got a decadent snack there. It was looking like rain again, so we went back to the hotel for a while.
I mean, that was our intention, to go there for a while, but I ended up sleeping until almost 7 pm again – so for now I seem to be locked into sleeping in two roughly equal four-hour blocks of time, which I think I read once may make good sense from a physiological point of view, but isn’t so friendly to maximizing your city experiences (we’d talked about going to one of the galleries for the last couple of hours of opening time, but had to abandon that). Ally slept less than I did, but as it was raining heavily again for some of the time, she didn’t make an effort to wake me. Anyway, like last night, it wasn’t far off 8 pm when we left the hotel. We walked down to Arab Street, listed on the Frommers website as the number one Singapore attraction. As the name implies, it’s a thriving little area, dominated by an imposing mosque and populated by a squeeze of stores and restaurants, mostly supporting the main theme but also with some odd interlopers (e.g. “the Sleepy Kiwi”). It’s probably a more colourful neighborhood during the day, but it was fun to walk around, and we ate at a Lebanese themed restaurant, Beirut Grill, which was very good.

We walked back and went into the Long Bar again. The same band was playing upstairs, covering the likes of Hotel California. Like the other night, the place seemed to have unusually rapid turnover for a bar. But maybe that’s something about Singapore more generally – Ally read that the average visitor only stays 3.5 days, so our five nights virtually qualifies as moving in (at the airport when we arrived, we were surprised how few of the passengers seemed to be ending their journeys here - judging by the luggage carousel, virtually everyone was transferring). And moving round day to day, it’s unusually difficult to get a sense of who might be native to the country, as opposed to being a visitor or recent immigrant (as an aside, we’ve seen numerous cases where an older, like much older, white man is accompanied by a young Asian woman, tagging along in a way that just looks flagrantly transactional, but I doubt this comes even remotely close to the volumes one might see in some other Asian countries).
Even the Raffles, which sells its heritage to the hilt (I doubt that many hotels could stock a gift shop with so much memorabilia about themselves), is something of an illusion in that much of its current state only goes back as far as a big refurbishment in the late 80’s. It’s on “Beach Road,” but it takes quite an effort of imagination to believe that this was so-named because it was originally on a beach – it’s far removed from that now, given subsequent land reclamation. And legend has it that the last wild tiger in Singapore was shot at the hotel – some stories say in the Long Bar. Well, who knows? But as we sat on our veranda at the end of the night talking about all this, we agreed it was all a myth well worth surrendering to.

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