Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Singapore/Bali trip diary - day 5

One of the many nice touches at the Raffles is that, when they do the turndown service, instead of leaving a chocolate on the pillow they leave a little card with extracts from a book on the hotel’s storied past. One night it was about the party scene in the 1920’s and the ease of racking up huge drink bills (not much change as far as that goes - the place definitely applies its own pricing scheme); another night we got a memoir about a female guest from around the same period, and her feelings about staying here at a time when most of the other guests were men; on another occasion it was about the time Miley Cyrus embarrassed herself in the Long Bar. I may have misremembered one of those. Actually, although I can’t stop myself from reading online while on vacation, I still have mixed feelings about it. Our room is so secluded, with a deep, lush layer of foliage separating the veranda from the central courtyard, that you can barely tell in here whether it’s day or night, or this century or the last; it seems a shame to sully that privileged seclusion by lying on the bed reading about the latest contrived scandal (but then, to immediately contradict myself, I missed the New York Times website today, which was down for hours due to hackers).

Oh well. We walked this morning to the Little India district, to continue our exploration of Singapore’s underappreciated diversity. We came to two temples with some kind of group ceremony going on outside, and assumed we must have found it, so that we were surprised when the Indian flavour almost immediately ran out. On consulting the map we realized the real Little India was several blocks further on, so we must have found a Tiny India. The real Little India is a densely packed area of commerce and more temples, with some of the poorest looking streets we’ve seen so far, but unquestionably with a sense of real community. Even here though, Singapore’s construction mania is visible, with a big Indian Heritage Centre project in progress, which seems a bit ironic given how much of the local heritage must presumably have been knocked down to open up the site (as an aside, the city is building several new downtown subway stations – one quite close to Little India – which we can’t help but contrast with Toronto’s endless, unproductive debate on such matters).

We wandered back through some different streets, eventually arriving again at Clarke’s Quay, where we ended the evening of day two. We knew the area only came alive at night, but didn’t realize that was true to this extent – the place was all but deserted. We’d talked about going to a movie today, to continue our long tradition of checking out the movie experience in foreign destinations. But the movies playing here are almost exactly the same as those back home – Elysium, Jobs and so forth – and the multiplexes don’t look at all different either, so we didn’t think it would be a worthwhile use of time. Global uniformity has its pros and cons (in another example of this, posters inform us that Rihanna, Justin Bieber, The Killers and Metallica are all playing here in the next month or so – at least three of those four have also performed in Toronto this year). Anyway, we went back to the hotel, arriving once again almost exactly as a heavy rainstorm was breaking out. Our room was in the process of being cleaned (I think this place has the most meticulous housekeepers in the business) so we sat at another of the hotel’s many locations, the Courtyard Bar, and had a drink. Today was another day when I was more tired than Ally, and could have consumed juices and ginger beers and suchlike all day long – for a while today, I was pretty much just finishing one and then immediately buying another.

I mentioned previously how we’d quickly covered the downtown map from left to right, but that understated how much work it takes to explore everything in between – the more we walk, the more of it there seems to be. But we’ve done a pretty comprehensive job I think. In the evening, after our customarily extended afternoon break, we went to the Night Safari, apparently the only one of its kind: a whole zoo, geared towards nocturnal animals, open only after dark (currently meaning around 7.30 pm), hence theoretically allowing you to see the animals at their prime. Because it’s a bit of a distance from downtown we were going to take a bus, which Ally had meticulously researched, but not untypically for us we got tired of waiting for the bus and took a taxi instead. Anyway, we ended up leaving after most of the return buses had already gone; it felt like we were among those closing the place down, although we only did what you’re supposed to be doing. when you visit there.

The tour has two elements – a tram ride round the major exhibits (maybe many viewers only do this bit) and then various walking tours which cover some of the same enclosures from different angles as well as some other animals not visible from the tram. The darkness makes the walking tour somewhat unconventional, and in some cases – mostly smaller animals like deer or otter – it is indeed easier to imagine you’re seeing them much as they’d appear in the wild. With larger animals, it’s inherently harder to get past the constraints of their situation. We had some Indian food at one of the vending stations near the entrance and took another cab back.
We went for a final visit to the Long Bar, where one of the hostesses recognized us from before and gave us a Singpore Slingshaker, apparently as an apology for not remembering our name initially (not to be cynical, but they sell for just $2-  the only low-priced item within the whole Raffles complex -  so she’s presumably authorized to give away as many as she likes). It was quite empty tonight – it felt like we were closing that place down too. And the band upstairs was playing songs we’ve heard them play before. So I guess that all meant it was time to move on to Bali.

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