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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Hello Singapore!

Singapore                                                    October 2 – 7, 2012

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A full 36 hours after leaving Glen Waverley, we finally landed in Singapore. Our trip had actually been very comfortable with an overnight hotel stay punctuating our flights from Melbourne to Sydney and from Sydney to Singapore.

Due to my incapacity to walk long distances, we had requested wheelchair service at each airport. We had the choice of self-service (ie Jim pushed me) or full valet service (an airport attendant pushed me). There are pros and cons to each choice as we learned. Either way, we were whisked to the beginning of the line in security, immigration and boarding the planes. I may carry my boot with me every time we travel. It certainly served us well in all three airports.

Our flight from Sydney to Singapore (about 9 hours) was almost picture perfect. The flight was unusually empty so I was able to put my leg up across two extra seats while Jim moved to a middle bank of five seats and spread himself out there. He did come back to join me for meals. I was delighted to have a window seat as the sky was clear every minute of the flight all the way from start to finish. As it was a daytime flight, that meant that I was able to observe the Australian landscape from above – vast plains, mountain ranges, salt lakes, infrequent roads and tracks, variation in colour from red to yellow and brown and back to red. I was also able to see the land give way to the sea as we began to fly over the Indian Ocean where the sun set right outside our window. It was truly a beautiful flight!

We arrived in Singapore a full half hour ahead of schedule. We were whisked off the plane and transported, valet style, along the concourses, through immigration, to the luggage carousels where all four of our bags came out first. Then, our attendant took us through customs and out into the crowd where we met Chew Lee, our Singaporean friend. He continued to push me along until all our luggage was loaded into Chew Lee’s car and we were safely dispatched toward the city. Now that was good service!!

It was so good to see Chew Lee. She had completed her PhD at OISE in Toronto a few years ago and we had come to know her well through some friends in Toronto. We are delighted to be visiting with her in her home city now! The lovely drive along a tree-lined highway was filled with conversation and plans for the next few days. It seemed to take no time at all to arrive at our hotel, The South East Asia Hotel, where we have stayed every time we have been in Singapore. It was nice to arrive somewhere that felt so familiar.

We said good night to Chew Lee with a plan to see her again on Friday. We checked into the hotel, organized our things and fell into bed. Travelling is tiring.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

We slept well and rose in the morning refreshed and ready to explore Singapore. But first, breakfast. We are staying in a Chinese-style hotel and had a choice of cuisine for breakfast – Western or Chinese. Jim chose Western (toast with jam, orange juice and coffee) and I chose Chinese (fried rice, stir-fried vegetables, steamed red bean bun, tea).  Quite a difference between our two plates.

We headed out soon after and strolled along Waterloo Street. We encountered many familiar scenes from our previous visits – flowers sellers in front of three nearby temples; the golden Buddha where people stopped and prayed and caressed him; the blocks of housing above the shops with laundry hung on the balconies; the incense shop. And yet, there we changes as well. The street is and always has been, in our experience, a pedestrian mall. No vehicles of any kind. It has been resurfaced with patterned brick. New buildings have sprung up including new hotels and parking structures. And, there is now a very large street market featuring clothing, fruit stalls and all manner of household gadgets, each of which merits a demonstration about its favourable attributes (all in Mandarin of course).

We strolled through the street market area and paused for a moment at the large statue of the mythical storybook princess who now oversees the market from her prominent location. According to legend, she is akin to a fairy princess who can make all things good. Her statue made me think of Snow White, a pale perfect complexion and long flowing black hair.

We came to a familiar intersection – Bugis Road and Waterloo Street – and easily found the hawker stalls we had been looking for. Hawker stalls are to Singapore what a food court is to Canadians. Many food vendors offering different types of menus clustered together around a group of tables and chairs. The Bugis Street Hawker Stalls have been gentrified since we were last here. Their menus are now posted on neon signs; the floors are tiled with clean ceramic; all cooking and food prep is done on stainless steel surfaces. Clearly, there have been changes to the hygiene rules in the last 10 years.

Nonetheless, the menu still offered the same variety of foods we would expect. Our family favourite, chicken biryani, was there, along with many kinds of Asian soup, steamed vegetables, noodles and rice. Many sounded very appealing, yet we drew the line at pig’s liver soup or dried beancurd with chicken feet.

We returned to our hotel for an afternoon nap. It is amazing how a little bit of sleep can reenergize the body and the soul. Now we were ready to head back out onto the streets of Singapore and take it by storm. We had our ‘sealegs’ and knew what we wanted to do. Our plans accommodated the fact that I could not walk very far and we had found new ways to explore the city!

Taxis here are plentiful and inexpensive so we hopped into a cab and went to the base of the Singapore Flyer. It is very much like the London Eye, a giant ferris wheel with cabins for up to 28 people, that carries passengers high into the sky for an overview of the entire city. It was a one hour journey to make the full circle. We were mesmerized by the city skyline; the impressive and varied architecture; the amount of space dedicated to gardens, parks and other greenings; the vastness of the port area and the array of ships at anchor in the harbor; the amount of construction underway throughout Singapore. Certain buildings stood out as architectural marvels (Marina Bay Sands) or as simple beauty (Singapore Solar Trees). It was time to go down to ground level again and explore this vast and amazing city.

We paused for a drink and a snack. We noticed something significant about the food court at the Flyer. It served only healthy foods! Fresh fruit, fresh fruit juices, toast and coffee/tea (OK, I acknowledge these may not be as healthy as fresh fruit!). There was no evidence of fast food as we know it – no fries, candy bars, bags of junk food etc. What a refreshing place to sit and sip.

For a snack, we ordered toast with peanut and kava. Kava is a mixture about the consistency of honey, made with coconut and sugar. It is delicious, not too sweet, and it melts in your mouth. It turns out that it is a major breakfast food in Singapore, akin to our toast with jam.

Our next adventure was a DUCw tour. We boarded a unique vehicle that would take us on a street tour in the core of Singapore before shifting gears, literally, and plunging into the water of the Kallang River and travelling around the inner lagoon. (Toronto has a similar tour.) Having seen so many beautiful buildings from on high, we now were dwarfed among the skyscrapers and had to crane our necks to see the tops of the buildings. This forest of tall buildings forms the core of the skyline of Singapore. Yet, as we travelled among them on the ground, we were again impressed by the amount of green land that was among the buildings. Parks, gardens, tree-lined streets …. The long time mantra for Singapore has been to have a garden in the city. That has recently changed. Now, the goal is to have a city in the garden. A pretty cool goal for a city.

We were also struck by the amount of construction underway in Singapore. The population has increased by over 2 million people in the last 10 years and there is a major undertaking to expand the infrastructure to accommodate the growth in population. So, new underground train lines are being developed; tunnels that will carry highways under the centre of the city are being built; old and small housing developments are being demolished, replaced by modern highrises; and, with the economy booming, new business developments are also springing up on pockets of land that have become available in the heart of the city or reclaimed along the sea. It is a city on the move!

Street tour complete, we drove down a steep bank and plunged into the fresh water reservoir that forms the mouth of the Yallang River. Recently, the Marina Barrage development has constructed a dam at the mouth of the river which successfully separates the fresh water of the river and the salt water of the ocean. This project is a major step forward in being self-sufficient in water management in Singapore. In the past, to meet its growing needs, Singapore has had to purchase and import fresh water from other sources, notably Malaysia. This massive undertaking will help provide water to the city as well as play a significant role in flood control. Its seven pumps have the capacity to release the equivalent of an Olympic sized swimming pool of water into the sea one second during times of heavy rain and potential flooding.

But, on with the tour …. We now had an opportunity to see the city close up from the water. This time, instead of the skyscrapers, our eyes were graced with the beauty of significant and unique architecture along the city’s embankment. Buildings featuring geometric design, flower-like sculpture, curves and arches, marine motifs, reflective glass at various angles. It was all there for the eye to behold. A city that values aesthetics as well as development. Sculpture is frequently integrated with the landscaping around buildings and in parks. The lion, the symbol of Singapore, rose proudly on the foreshore of the lagoon. It was a perfect time of day as the sun was gently setting casting shadows and golden flashes on the glass and chrome that surrounded us. All too soon this tour ended and it was time to return to shore.

We hopped into a taxi and travelled across town to an area known as Little India. We do have a favourite restaurant here in Singapore, Madras New Woodlands. And the meal we had there on this occasion did not disappoint us. Madras New Woodlands is a modest vegetarian Indian restaurant with warm friendly service and delicious food. Soon, we were sitting at a table enjoying the VIP Thali which is really a variety of Indian dishes served on a banana leaf with chapati and roti serving as utensils. Tear off a piece of bread. Using your right hand only, scoop up a measure of the food you wish to eat and place it in your mouth. MMMM. Savour the flavour.

Our beverages of choice tonight were Mango Lassi (something like a mango milkshake) followed by Indian coffee, hand mixed before us by a very accomplished coffee maker. The entire experience was a delight!

We returned to our hotel, totally sated by the food as well as the day’s experience. What an amazing city we are in!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

After breakfast, we had to change rooms in our hotel. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our new room was even more spacious and continued to have a street view so we could watch the colourful activity on Waterloo Street. This window view also allows us to take unobtrusive photos of the various market stalls and beautiful flowers that are on display just below us.

Next, a taxi to the ferry terminal. While Jim purchased tickets for our harbor cruise, I made my way slowly to the departure lounge. To my surprise, the first thing I encountered was an Immigration Booth. It was not that kind of departure I was intending to make! Clearly, I was in the wrong place. I hobbled back to find Jim and locate the appropriate dock for the boat we wanted.

We were excited to be going on this harbor cruise. It would give us another view of Singapore, this time from the open sea. But this cruise was also special because the ship itself was a Chinese Junk, The Admiral Cheng Ho, decorated and adorned with all the colour and character that you would expect. It was a sight to behold.

We climbed to the top deck for the panoramic view and soon we sailed boldly forward into the sea. Not as busy as Hong Kong Harbour (thank goodness), we were still surrounded by all manner of ferries, commercial and private watercraft, requiring the captain to have a deft hand at the ship’s wheel. The skyline of Singapore gleamed behind us, although the weather today was somewhat more hazy than yesterday.

What we saw on the foreshore was quite different in character from the view from the lagoon tour. This shoreline was much more commercial in nature and the evidence of shipping as a major industry in Singapore was prominent. The harbor was well populated with ships at anchor awaiting their turn in port. We learned that 140,000 ships pass through Singapore annually and that the port is fully operational 24 hours a day every day of the year. That works out to one ship approximately every 4 minutes!! Clearly this is an important element of the successful Singapore economy.

When I think of Singapore, I visualize a busy, crowded city on a tiny spit of land at the base of the Malay Peninsula. What I had never considered were the hundreds of islands that lay offshore and make up a part of the Singapore landhold. Many of these islands are small and uninhabited or slightly inhabited. There are no bridges or tunnels so access is limited to boat travel. Many of these islands have beautiful sand beaches and must be wonderful places to spend a day, lounging in the shade of a palm tree towering over the sand as the warm water glistens and beckons you in.

Singapore is located slightly north (1.3 degrees latitude) of the equator. Thus, it has no seasons as we know them. It is simply hot and humid every day. Some days it rains; some days it does not. But it always feels like it could. In the past two days, major thunder and lightening storms have passed by. We have not been rained upon yet, but I have no doubt the somewhere in this city, the rain did fall. While there are two main monsoon seasons in Singapore (one in the northwest and the other in the southeast) rain still falls predictably all year long. The difference is mainly in intensity and duration. We are ostensibly here in the dry season (October/November) but we are still carrying our umbrellas.

Now, back to the islands ….. we pulled into a dock at Kusu Island where there is a stunning Hindu temple. As it was quite a walk from our Junk, I remained on board while Jim went to explore. There are times that I have to be satisfied to look at the photos of these experiences. To Jim’s surprise, he also encountered a tortoise sanctuary on the island where hundreds of tortoises make their homes, safe from natural predators and other manmade enemies in the sea. Here, as in other places, manicured gardens and beautiful sculptures enhanced the environment.

Back on board, we left the island and moved directly into the active shipping lanes among all the freighters that were sailing into or away from Singapore. It was daunting, being a tiny ship amongst the giants. We were able to observe a wide range of styles of vessels, designed to carry specific types of cargo – containers piled high on deck, oil stored deep in the belly of the ship, grain/rice poured into the hold through large circular openings. Every vessel was destined to a port far across the ocean ….. some may have even been bound for North America. Flags of all nations were visible on the bridges and sterns of these giant ships.

After the cruise, we taxied back to the foot of the Flyer (it seems to be our touring base at the moment) and we boarded the first of three Hop On Hop Off bus routes. We chose the green route first because it took us out of the city centre into some of the more remote areas of the metropolitan area of Singapore. We passed through Chinatown, all decorated for its Autumn Moon Festival; we travelled through towers and towers of housing complexes; we passed along the edge of the Singapore Botanical Gardens, its beauty assailed us; we went along residential streets that oozed wealth through the guarded gates that secured the properties; we travelled along Orchard Road, one of the notable upmarket shopping districts in Singapore (Calvin Klein, Prada, Gucci … the list goes on); and after about 90 minutes, we ended up back at the base of the Flyer once more.

We boarded yet another Hop On Hop Off Bus tour, this one travelling a shorter distance along the red route. On the previous tour, we had noticed a marketplace that seemed to have some hawker stalls. So when we reached the Lau Pa Sat, we disembarked and went into the market for a late lunch. We were overwhelmed by what we found. The beautiful building, complete with iron grilling and opaque glass skylights, featured 8 ‘streets’ of stalls. Each ‘street’ had about 20 stalls and they were all offering meals!! What a selection! Not necessarily a good thing when you are hungry. It was so difficult making a choice. Some of the options were easily discarded (Pig’s Organ Soup, Congee, Tripe with vegetables) but most others sounded much more palatable. When in doubt, go for the familiar. So Jim had a lovely Malaysian Satay and I ended up with a rather ordinary chicken biryani. Nonetheless, our appetites were satisfied and we moved on to find beverages (freshly squeezed fruit juice) and dessert (fresh mango, papaya and yellow watermelon). Very refreshing indeed!

After leaving Lau Pa Sat, we settled back onto the bus to enjoy the remainder of the ‘red’ tour. You will notice that although the tour is a Hop On Hop Off tour, we are tending to Hop On and Stay On in deference to the challenge of walking long distances carrying a 5 pound boot on my foot!

This portion of the tour took us through several new areas of town. Of particular interest was the port area where the ships are loaded and unloaded with the cranes and docks (over 50 in total) at the ready. The number of containers in the area would be difficult to describe. Certainly enough to fill several large ships. I wish we could have had access to the area for a tour or simply to observe the operations underway there. An amazing port handling an amazing volume of cargo.

Next we went near the access to Sentosa Island. Sentosa Island is a holiday mecca for the young (beaches and clubs), the old (time shares and restaurants) and families (Universal Studios, cable cars, and fast food stands). A new arrival to the scene is the controversial casino. The local populace was hotly divided about the need/desire for a casino in this fair city. Ultimately the government decided to go ahead with the development and built not one but two casinos in different areas of the city. In order to capitalize on tourist dollars and minimize increased crime rates, tourists must present a passport to gain admission which is free. Locals must show their identity cards and pay an entry fee of $100.00 (plus parking). Interesting fee structure, don’t you think?

Once again we travelled along Orchard Road and again we were awed by the vastness of this retail area and the opulence of many of the malls that have been constructed in recent years. In 2009, Singapore was dealing with a struggling economy. In 2012, there is no evidence of that at all.

Finally, our bus took us along one of the main thoroughfares in Little India. What we really wanted to do is get off the bus and walk along the street, poking our noses into any or all of the tiny, colourful shops that seemed to offer almost any kind of merchandise imaginable.

When we next return to Singapore, one of many things we will do here is to choose a few particular areas of town and spend time simply exploring, browsing, eating and observing. This is indeed a fascinating city.

We returned to our hotel and spent a while catching up with emails and writing this diary before we walked across the street to a set of hawker stalls we had just located. Dinner tonight was chili crab, one of Singapore’s signature dishes. It was predictably spicy and we enjoyed every single morsel of it. I will say, it was very messy to eat and we appreciated the lime water finger bowl that was provided.

Friday, October 5, 2012

We arose with a goal on Friday morning. We wanted eggs for breakfast. We left the hotel and began to check out various sources for eggs. We had seen a sign for omelettes at the hawker stalls last night so we started there. Well, yes, they served omelettes but the only flavour available was oyster omelettes. Not even our cup of tea for breakfast. Another stall was preparing eggs in great quantities ….. but they did not open for business until 11 am. Otherwise, there were no eggs to be found anywhere. But we had found a Chinese bakery that had many interesting items. I had a bean curd bun and Jim had a cheese and raisin muffin. Jim had coffee (made with sweetened condensed milk) and I had a cup of tea. Finally 11 o’clock came and Jim was able to get some eggs. But he was not satisfied so he moved onto barbequed pork with cabbage on rice. I declined this dish as well. By lunch time, hunger had taken over and I indulged in barbecued pork on rice with bok choy on the side. What an adventure our simple breakfast had turned into.

We headed away from Waterloo Street at this point and took the final Hop On Hop Off tour, this time the orange route. It paralleled the red route from yesterday in many ways but also took us through some areas of the city we had not yet seen. These tours have certainly provided us with a comfortable overview of this vast city. As usual, we ended our tour at the base of the Flyer.

From here, we went to the Marina Bay Sands Resort, the three towering buildings that have a floating ship on the very top, so large that it spans all three buildings and extends out over the front like the bow of a ship. This structure is considered by some to be one of the modern wonders of the world due to the cantilever construction of this vast edifice. We took the elevator to the top and we staggered by the breadth of the view that appeared below us. Skycrapers were dwarfed; the Singapore Flyer was diminished; streets, highways and vehicles looked like playtoys. The vast sea stretched for as far as the eye could see (limited due to the haziness of the day).

After looking out over each side of the observation deck, we went up one more level (57 stories high now) and entered the bar. Tables stretched along the glass rail (standing room only) and several couches were nestled under umbrellas to protect from the sun and the rain. After a bit of a wait, one of the couches became available and Jim and I took occupancy. We ordered a beer and a mixed drink that were priced such that we knew we were paying for the privilege of the view. Complimentary potato chips and ice water were thrown in as part of the deal. We sipped and lingered; we sipped and lingered; we sipped …. Oops, it was all gone. Time for another. More chips and water made up for the cost! Actually, it was a lovely way to spend a couple of hours, especially when the thunderstorm blew through up close and personal. But no rain …. We have been so fortunate this week.

At five o’clock, we reluctantly took our leave and descended the elevator. We were meeting our friend, Chew Lee, again, and had an evening of activities planned. Chew Lee has a car and knows the city very well so she became our chauffeur and our guide. First stop was Changi village, an area outside the main part of Singapore very close to the airport. It is also the community where Chew Lee lives in a multiple family household. Chew Lee wanted us to see Changi Village and to enjoy the food at one of the restaurants there. She ordered the food and we all enjoyed the array of dishes she had selected (mango lassi, deep fried squid, fried rice, oyster omelette, barbequed duck).

After dinner, we embarked on a long drive to the Singapore Zoo. Traffic was surprisingly congested. According to Chew Lee, we were on the road that leads directly to Malaysia. Many people commute daily from Malaysia where the cost of living is significantly lower than in Singapore. So the traffic we were seeing, especially the motor bikes, was likely created by returning workers heading home for the weekend.

Because Chew Lee was driving, Jim and I were able to enjoy the scenery and the various communities we passed through. Soon after it became dark, we arrived at the zoo. The Singapore Zoo has several major components. One is a morning zoo (breakfast with the orangutans); the second is a more traditional zoo which operates during the day; and the Night Zoo which operates only, no surprise, at night. It opens at 6:30 pm and offers a Night Safari program. We had a superb experience at this zoo, having never experienced anything quite like it. The night zoo primarily features nocturnal animals from Asia, many of which are endangered, often with no known survivors in their natural habitats. Other large mammals such as lions, tigers, water buffalo, tapir and elephants are also displayed in appropriate habitats under gentle, subdued lights. Visitors to the zoo travel in open-sided, darkened road trains with clear instructions to use no flash photography and to talk as little as possible. A narrator describes the animals as we draw near.  Overall, the experience is very quiet and minimally intrusive into the animal activities. The zoo design includes some open pens and enclosures defined by deep trenches (especially large cat enclosures). I did not see a single fence anywhere throughout the zoo as we travelled along. There was something very special about travelling in the open air on a warm night with a clear view of stunning and fascinating animals, with quiet all around us.

After the tour of the zoo, we attended a live animal show in which some of the animals had been trained to demonstrate their nocturnal activities – wolf howls, hyena cracking timber, small animals foraging for berries. Again, it was well managed, entertaining and most of all, informative.

After a tour through the gift shop, we once again headed back to the city. It had been a wonderful evening and we look forward to seeing Chew Lee again tomorrow.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

We spent the morning in our hotel room, planning our trip to Turkey, catching up on this diary and otherwise organizing ourselves to move on again tomorrow.

At noon, Chew Lee picked us up just a few steps from our hotel. Chew Lee is a wonderful hostess. She has chosen some interesting places to take us but has also invited us to tell her where we would like to go. Chew Lee is also very attentive to my ‘foot’ situation and has regularly made choices that have minimized the number of steps required. (Chew Lee has also had the experience of travelling long distances to new places with her leg in a boot.) At the zoo last night, she even arranged for a wheelchair to transport me from place to place. That was extremely helpful as the distances were quite long and there was quite a bit of line-waiting involved.

Today, Chew Lee planned to take us to two of her favourite restaurants to savour the award-winning food at each one. First we travelled far across town, through some familiar areas and also into several areas that are further afield from the centre of Singapore. Singapore has seven large reservoirs that provide it fresh water supply. We travelled past two of them today. The area surrounding the reservoirs has been beautifully planted, some wild areas and some manicured lawns and gardens. Each reservoir offers opportunities for outdoor activities – sports, water activities, picnics, even camping. It was a lovely drive in the air conditioned comfort of Chew Lee’s car.

Cars are extremely difficult to purchase in Singapore and extremely expensive as well. In order to purchase a car, one must first purchase a Certificate of Entitlement from the government. The government determines how many such certificates will be made available each month (sometimes as few as 20) and they are auctioned off. So, the price is determined by the highest bidder and everyone must pay that amount. At times, the price goes as high as $50,000 just for the certificate.

Then, you need to buy the car. Here in Singapore, prices for most cars far exceed what we would pay in North America. It is not uncommon for a mid-range car in Singapore to cost as much as $50,000. So now you are up to $100,000 before you pay your annual tax of approximately $6,000 and your licence fee which is another annual fee, as well as insurance of approximately $1300. So, you want to buy a car do you? Or would clean, reliable, punctual public transit be a reasonable alternative? Or cheap taxis!

We arrived at Casuarina Curry, Chew Lee’s favourite Indian restaurant, and learned that it has won several awards for various dishes.  We were quite willing to try the award winning menu. Chew Lee ordered for us:  curry fish head, spinach in sauce, prata (both plain and mushroom), rice, mango lassi, ginger tea. Jim and I were a bit reluctant about the fish head, especially when we saw it on the plate, just that, a fish head. But we bravely ventured forth and were pleasantly surprised. The fish was both tasty and delicate with just the right balance of curry. Chew Lee has proven herself as a terrific meal planner and orderer.

While we were eating, the skies opened and the rain poured down. Happily we were at a table under the cover of a large canvas awning which was extended even further to prevent the water splashing from the street onto the tables. It was quite a rain. We finished our meal and it was still raining. We went into an adjacent sweet shop to look at the vast selection of biscuits, cookies and candy, none of which was familiar to us. That did not prevent Jim from purchasing some sweets to take with him. It was still raining. Finally, we made a dash for the car …. That is, Chew Lee made a dash and pulled the car up so close to the curb that it was also under the cover of the awning. Jim and I remained dry as we entered the car. Thank you, Chew Lee.

We travelled back into the city along different roads, enjoying more sights along the way and pummeling Chew Lee with questions about life in Singapore. She shared insights about the economy, religion, law enforcement, employment, home ownership, family structure and values, military practices, political issues, immigration, education, child care, and food. Conversation flowed easily and Jim and I deepened our knowledge about Singapore. We are so fortunate to be able to spend time with a friend who lives here. Chew Lee has been able to show us and explain to us facets of life we would never encounter as a tourist.

We arrived at Garden By The Bay in the middle of the afternoon. This is a new attraction that has recently opened and Chew Lee had never been there either. Entry is free and public tours are conducted every half hour. We quickly arranged to take one of the tours only to find that we would have to wait until 4 o’clock, the last tour of the day as all others were already sold out. But, it was worth the wait!! The tour was conducted from a small open vehicle with a guide and 8 passengers. It was about 20 minutes in length and provided an overview of the various features throughout this garden/park. What we learned from the tour is that Garden By The Bay is a fascinating place where we could have spent an entire day, if only we had known. We are already making a list of things to do in Singapore next time we come …. And this is at the top of the list.

We left Garden By The Bay and moved onto Marina Barrage. This Marina is on the site where the dam has been built to create the new and very large fresh water river basin that I described yesterday. The traffic around the Marina was incredible and soon we discovered why. There was a free concert underway and people were pouring in, picnics in hand, from all directions. I guess we are not going to be able to enjoy this attraction today either. Oh well …. One more thing on our ‘next time’ list.

We decided to head out of the city in the opposite direction this time and go to the East Beach. We stopped in an area that offered views of the beach, planes taking off from Changi Airport, people fishing on rocks, and hundreds of ships at anchor in the harbor. Chew Lee suggested that we sit at a table along the outer edge of a restaurant that was close to the beach. The restaurant was called Jumbo Seafood and we could tell from the logo that it is connected with the Jumbo Seafood where we enjoyed a meal in Hong Kong two years ago, also with friends who live there.

It was lovely to simply sit and take in the ambience and the view. We each had a drink and chatted amiably about a range of topics. Soon, it was time to order our dinner and Chew Lee knew just what she wanted us to experience. Chew Lee has been more than a little surprised that Jim and I have very broad tastes in food and we are not afraid to take risks with flavours or spices. So, she went ahead and ordered several things we have never eaten before: Yu-tiao (Chinese donuts filled with seafood paste); black pepper crab (another Singapore specialty); mixed satay; white rice; cereal prawns  (large prawns coated with a granola-like cereal); fresh fruit platter (pineapple, papaya, watermelon, honeydew) and fresh lime juice. Once again, Chew Lee hit the jackpot as each dish was delicious and complementary. One more fantastic meal during our stay in Singapore.

Coffee from McDonalds topped off the meal for Jim and Chew Lee as we once again headed back into the city. A quick tour around to see some of the night lights, including the lively banks of the Singapore River. Then back to our hotel one last time. As this is our final night in Singapore, it was time to say farewell and thanks to Chew Lee. Her kindness and generosity has made our experience in this city very special. We are so fortunate to count Chew Lee among our friends. We will be back to see her again.

Late night phone calls with our kids and grandkids brought this day to a close. Tomorrow, we will head to the airport to embark on the next leg of our journey. It is amazing that in only three weeks we will be home.

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