I regret not buying a Sari in Singapore. Swaddled in tangerine threads edged in delicate gold coins I pranced back in forth in front of the mirror trying to rationalize the purchase. As the hem brushed against my ankle the coins collided with a tiny ting like a raspy wind chime on a rainy day; incredibly beautiful, but completely impractical for a suburban girl from North Carolina. We left the store without so much as a picture. Agh, the regret!
Amid the vibrant chatter of chaotic commerce and pungent tang of spices and jasmine we stumbled upon quite possibly my most favorite meal of the trip. With the return of western sanitation standards and my much missed stainless steel fork I eagerly awaited the arrival of Prawn Tikka Masala and Tandoori Chicken. As I surveyed our surroundings I locked eyes with an Indian man a few tables over and felt my face flush with embarrassment. Turning sheepishly toward Paul I fidgeted nervously with my straw feeling sinful for witnessing such a taboo dining behavior. As the restaurant filled with hungry patrons, my shame quelled with the distraction of noisy chatter and wait staff rushing about. I pulled the camera out of my bag and placed it on the table deciding to satisfy my curiosity covertly.
Leaving the cannon on the table I fixated the lens on the Indian man using the view finder on the back and hit record. Like a concert pianist ticking the ivory keys, his naked fingers danced across the mounds or rice and puddles of curry picking up bits of meat in small pieces of naan. He delicately placed them in his mouth sucking the residue from his forefinger and thumb after each deposit.
Fresh from the ocean with legs and head still attached Paul’s prawns stared up at me from the bubbling sauce. “I don’t eat food with faces”, I proclaimed, but Paul was more than eager to adopt the social norms of Indian culture. After ditching his fork he set to work dismembering the tiny crustacean barehanded; first twisting the body in half and devouring the tender white flesh then dunking the half eaten caucus back in the sauce in order to suck juices and solids from the head. Tangy tomato cream sauce with a not so subtle kick dripped from his hand tingling his fingers well after the meal was over.
Nowhere in Asia did I feel more like a tourist than the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari. Neither convenient to any of the places we planned to visit nor of particular interest to either of us it made “the list” based on my mom’s friend’s niece’s recommendation who describe it as the most amazing experience she had in Singapore . . . Yeah.
After learning the hard way that the subway ends several miles from the zoo we continued on foot down a dark isolated street in some residential section for several minutes before finding a cab to take us the last leg of our journey. As we made our way through the dimly lit entry illuminated with neon tiger eyes we were greeted with the sounds of battle drums and the incessant chatter of foreign tongues and overtired children.
Like a swirling commode, chaos turned to order as uncertainty was annihilated at the onset of roped lanes and an abundance of well placed staff channeling people into lines for tickets and then down the path to the trams. As we chugged along toward our destination I found myself confronted by two scantily clad men and the source of the aforementioned drumming. Damp with sweat and what appeared to be lamp oil, two loin cloth clad chaps alternated hip gyrating thrusts to each beat of the drum with deep throated swigs of the oily substance resulting in fiery expulsions 6 feet in the air.
The tram ride was a futile attempt on my part to try and capture the wild life on film in the dark, without a flash on a moving bench climbing back and forth over Paul for a better angle while he fussed at me to put the camera away and just enjoy the ride. Needless to say neither of us got much out of the experience So when the tram stopped at the first walking trail we were more than ready to get off and explore.
The coolest thing about the night Safari is the design of the animal habitats. Deer and antelope room free along the walking trails curiously observing the human visitors without restraint or any sort of separation. Cleverly designed moats and brush give the appearance of similar proximity (but with added security) to the parks more aggressive species allowing visitors an up close view and eerie feeling that they are standing right next to gigantic predators.
Meandering in the dark through the thick growth of vines and trees in pursuit of wild animals was exciting. At one point on the trail we found ourselves completely alone with a heightened awareness of our surroundings and the uneasy feeling that we were being watched. Was it possible in all the excitement we had inadvertently gone rogue and ended up on the wrong side of the trail? As we approached the next clearing, low lying brush began to twist and snap with increasing intensity like fire-ready kindling under heavy foot or paw. We froze as the breathing and panting drew near. Roars and cackles were followed by heavy purrs as the beastly creatures tore into the bloody flesh gnashing the caucuses between their massive fangs. Drunk with adrenaline and wild with excitement the gigantic hyenas cried out with delight as they inched closer to us.
In true superhero style and without hesitation Paul leapt ahead extending his right arm and sweeping me in to a bush. With fists raised my human shield stood unarmed, but ready to protect us. Not sure how he planned to fend off a pack of wild animals with his bare hands, but in that frightening moment I was certainly glad to have him there. Crouched down and preparing for certain death I keyed in on the sound of a man’s voice. Paul stepped back and we both let out a sigh of relief as the meat wielding staff member strolled down the trail from the opposite end whistling for the hyenas as he tossed them their dinner.
Singapore’s beautiful and functional design is attributed to Lee Kaun Yew who served as prime minister from 1959-1990. Under his leadership the city-state underwent a massive transformation rising from a third world county to a first world country in less than a generation. Yew, fearing Singapore would turn into another concrete jungle mandated gardens and parks be built and maintained by the government so his vision would be recognized and Singapore would become a place of beauty.
We spent several hours exploring Singapore Botanic Gardens, people watching and taking pictures of all the beautiful scenery. Inside the Botanic Gardens is the famous Orchard Garden which boasts the largest collection of orchards in the world. My favorite part of the conservatory was walking through the Misthouse. This climate controlled area provided a nice respite from the Singapore heat and humidity as well the opportunity to see colorful hybrids from the mountain highlands. Usually an afternoon of flower observation is not Paul’s idea of a good time, but he really seemed to enjoy this one. In fact, I was the one dragging him one from one section to another while he lagged behind requesting time for one more photo before we moved on. Wow, what a role reversal.
Having failed miserably with my photo endeavor at the night zoo I took special care to capture the light show in front of Marina Bay Sands. I still haven’t perfected the art of nighttime photography, but I certainly benefited from a stationary camera and use of the auto timer.
Three days in Singapore just wasn’t enough. With several unfilled items on my bucket list we will certainly go back to the City of the Lion. So much regret! Oh, how I wish we had ridden the Flyer. What fun it would have been to sip champagne and take in the 360 degrees view in one of those gigantic pods 516 feet in the air. Why was I so hesitant to splurge on a room at the Marina Bay Sands? At the very least we should have sprung for the elevator ride to the top for two signature drinks at sunset. True, the experience of gazing over the city from the edge of the infinity pool while sipping Singapore Slings would have set us back about $80usd but looking back I think the experience would have been worth it. Next time for sure!
Not that our accommodations were all that shabby. Forgoing the $450usd “cheap room” at the Marina Bay Sands, we opted for a free room (on points of course) at the Crowne Plaza and were upgraded to a two room suite with a separate half bath. Thanks IHG! All and all it was a good experience except for the fact we didn’t have access to the lounge (apparently not all IHG stays are created equal in the eyes of the Crowne Plaza). Nevertheless, it suited our needs just right as we left on a 7am flight and the hotel was attached to the Changi Airport. Singapore, we’ll definitely be back and next time I’ll buy the Sari!