Posts Tagged ‘Chinatown’
I never expected to fall in love with Singapore. I have lived in extraordinary places as a child, including Tahiti. Memories of Hawaii for holidays. I have travelled through New Zealand, Vietnam. I stopped in Hong-Kong and Sydney a couple of times. New Delhi. But this was something else. Singapore swept me off my feet.
Malaysia Airlines organised the tickets for me, down to the luxurious lounge in Heathrow and the Ibis hotel in the Novena district. First time on an A380 too. Such a smooth trip. The food in economy was surprisingly delicious. There was even a USB port to charge up your phone or tablet. I barely noticed the time go by. We changed in Malaysia, at Kuala Lumpur, had a look at the rainforest in the airport. I could not afford a lot of days off, figured a big European city is mostly covered in 3-4 days, that it would be the same. Such a mistake! In those 4 days, I barely saw 10% of what Singapore has to offer.
I do not even know where to start. The kindness of people, maybe. There was a sweet little temple on the other side of the hotel. I took a few pictures, expected to be told off at any time. I was, on the contrary, encouraged to step in, there were more beautiful deities at the back, go, have a look! And smiles all around. The ethnic diversity is amazing too. In Chinatown, you have, very close to each other, a Buddhist temple, a Hindu one, a mosque. I’m not sure that would work so well in France. Here? As a tourist, I could feel no tension whatsoever. More a kind of harmony. Someone even told me that in buildings, there were quotas to ensure relations between the various ethnicities.
I walked along the river, passing the splendid bridges, taking in the flora, hibiscus, bougainvillea, jasmine, so many blooms I recognised but did not know the name of, saluted the Merlion, symbol of the city. I even found a cat café!
I dived into the lively buzz of Chinatown, enjoying the colours, the temples. I could have spent hours in the Hawker Centres trying street food. Sipped on coconut water and freshly made juices. There is a speakeasy nearby too, 28 Honk Kong Street, with super-inventive cocktails. I slipped into the rooftop swimming pool of Hotel Clover The Arts at night, the place all to myself, listening to the ever-present hum of Singapore. Exceptional.
I saw the city from the heights of Marina Bay. Amazing architecture, a skateboard in the sky. Superb at night. You can pay the full price for the observation deck – better if you want memorable pictures. If you’re on a budget and are satisfied with the memories, go to the trendy bar above (dress code). At night, it’s like having a carpet of lights at your feet. And you have a good view of Raffles and the Singapore Flyer, their version of the London Eye. The shopping mall is quite a marvel of design too. A swirling fountain, a vortex from one level to another. A structure suspended in the air, like a surreal DNA cloud. Even a canal where you can row a boat. Just outside, on the bay, is the ArtScience Museum, shaped like an open bloom, above a lily pond.
I had kopi (the local coffee, beans roasted in butter) served with condensed milk and kaya toast (a spread made with coconut and pandan leaves) for breakfast. I loved the many buns you can buy on your way, claypot oven pork/curry/cheese fillings, so many varieties. I had a durian ice cream sandwich made right before my eyes. And even a potong yam one in between a slice of colourful marbled bread, purple, bubblegum-like. And amazing bubble teas.
I wandered through the Arabic quarter. And Little India. Loving the garlands of flowers for the gods. The mogul sweets. Wafts of incense. Clinking bracelets. The street food making your mouth water. You have no idea what it is but oh, does it look good. And proper lassi too. And chendol, think coconut milk slush-puppy with jelly noodles for extra wow!
I spent a whole day at the Gardens by the Bay, had no idea how huge it is. So many flowers I did not know. People were picnicking here and there in the shade. Clever people – I kept on walking, under the sun, over 30C and liquefied, ended up in the kids water park to get completely soaked. Avatar-esque Supertrees dot the horizon – yes, you can take a lift and enjoy the skywalk between a few of these, very wow. There is a light show every evening that makes them look even more magical… And then there are the biodomes. The Flower Dome showcases a more European-type of vegetation. But the Cloud Forest, with its cascading falls, its Eden-like views, the slopes covered with orchids, the frequent enveloping of mist, is a real dream. You can never forget such an experience. It takes your breath away. Walking from there towards the Marina (lots of kites flying over it in the evening), I came across another hawker’s centre, indulged in tender satay skewers barbecued in front of my, on the warm stones surrounding the bay while watching the sun go down and the lights flicker on, those tree-towers coming to life behind me, multicoloured, the Ferris wheel framing the skyscrapers over the water.
I would need a whole month to see everything Singapore has to offer. I’m not even sure that would be enough. I can’t wait to go back. Never have I missed a city so much.
Probably my favourite neighbourhood in Singapore. Both authentic and touristic. Busy, cheerful but a human size, colourful too. And really, ignore guides telling you to go shopping at Raffles and Orchard road unless you want big brands. For cool and cheap souvenirs (and yes, you can haggle the price), Chinatown is the place. Try Smith and Sago streets for classic ones, Trenganu street for more original pieces like hand cut paper posters and Temple street for china dishes).
You will see an amazing quantity of Chinese medicinal ingredients. Quite fascinating, I still wonder how some are used. I can figure out Chrysanthemum flowers but how about the dried lizards and sea cucumber? Do you infuse them? Chew them? Stew them? Will you dare trying one? And how about the tree bark? Do stop at the temples too. The Tooth Relic Temple is Buddhist while the Sri Mariamman hindu and so, so different from one another.
And of course, you have to try the local hawker centres, these street food satellites where you can enjoy a real feast for a few dollars. Each stand has its own plates, bowls and cutlery, numbered to reference their owner. You can go to:
- The People’s Park Complex (1 Park Road)
- The Smith Street Food Centre (336 Smith Street) which has a market in its basement (which sells live tortoises and frogs by the way). The food stalls are on the second floor. The Hainanese chicken rice of #62 is deliciously tender, the fishball soup of #6 really fragrant, don’t be fooled by the almost clear broth.
- The Maxwell Road Hawker Centre (Kadayanallur road). We fell for Maxwell Fuzhou’s oysters cake (#05), the coconut and pandan dumplings by Ri Xing Xiang Ji (#76), made just before you and Lim Kee’s famous banana fritters at #61 (with a super light and crunchy batter made with rice flour and fried in coconut oil)
Finish on a Kopi O, THE Singaporean coffee. The beans are roasted with butter for a surprising creamy taste, then filtered through a sock-like filter and served with condensed milk. Quite an experience. You will find it everywhere but Nanyang Old Coffee (268 South Bridge Road) has a particular nostalgic charm…
Hainanese chicken rice
Still in Chinatown in Singapore, just a few minutes away from the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, is a Hindu one, the oldest one in town, built in 1827. Dedicated to Mariamman, the goddess who protects from disease, it proves rather intriguing. It is easy to find, with the gopura standing above the entrance: a 6 tier pyramid covered with deities and characters, all in bright colours, quite a contrast with the neat colonial architecture in the street.
You will have to take your shoes off, step over a flower necklace. It seems rather empty, too simple at first. Look up. You are being watched. On the cupolas, an impressive number of gods staring down at you, most of them rather sternly. So many details it feels like it should a very precise illustration in a book. You will leave wanting to get one and learn a lot more about the legends of Shiva, Ganesh, Krishna…
Entry is free. If you wish to take pictures, however, you will need to buy a 3 dollars pass.
Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple
244 S Bridge Rd
We are at the heart of Chinatown in Singapore. The best I have seen after New York so do put it on your to-do list. Find your way along Smith Street – street food and souvenirs, red and gold lucky charms, chopsticks, calligraphies… You will have to step away from this to find more authentic boutiques. But for now, follow the crowd a little while. You will get to an opening, gaze up and be taken aback by the four story high Buddhist temple, classic architecture of a pagoda contrasted by bright paper lanterns and plastic flowers.
The sight is quite memorable. Inside, gilded divinities, their faces serious, hands positioned gracefully, hypnotising. In the main hall, the monks chant prayers from a book, the rhythm of their voice appeasing the visitors, forcing them to slow down, bringing admiration. In this place is kept a relic, the tooth of Buddha, preciously secured in stupa, six feet high, made of 420kg of gold donated by the community.
Although the latter is not accessible to the public, do make a detour via this temple. Impressive, oddly touching, a rare insight in the Buddhist universe too. You can, like the locals, buy incense, candles decorated with flowers, tiny coins to distribute to the divinities and also bathe the Buddha, which is said to purify your soul.
Note: entry is free. If your dress/shorts are judged too short, your shoulders too bare, you will probably be asked, rather kindly, to put on a sarong over your clothes.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
288 S Bridge Rd
There is something in the air. A softness, a lighter texture, a cheerfulness. Makes me feel like walking along a beach, breathe in the salty air, listen to the waves, maybe fly a kite. What about you? Doing anything nice this week-end? You can also fish in the ideas below!
That’s art, baby:
* Make a little detour to see those East London pictures of yesteryear.
* A new artistic venue, in a lorry container. Oh, and linked to a pizza bus, of course.
Yummy time ahead:
* A delicious idea to start the week-end - every Saturday, there is a homemadefood market in Hackney
* To celebrate St David’s day - Wales’ patron - the Real Food Market on Southbank will put lots of Welsh favourites on their stalls.
* In Chinatown, you are gonna melt for those new treats on skewers. And they’re chep too!
Out of the ordinary:
* Before the Louboutin exhibition starts at the Design Museum at the end of the month, the iconic creator has redesigned the whole Concept Store and the surrounding windows.
* Hoorray, the Barbican week-ends are back! There will be urban stories, poetry, digital graffiti, live music and much much more.
* Oh! A new pop-up cinema. Saturday, if you have an appetite for it, you can go and see dracula. In a church, of course. No obligation to take a necklace of garlic along.
* The dancing theatre is inspired by the 1920ies this week-end.
This Sunday, the place to be will be Chinatown. The crowd will rush to get a glimpse of the colourful parade, the hundreds red lantern flying in the breeze, the dragons visit each restaurant and shop to bring luck. Kids will throw firecrackers on the floor, make paper dragon dance around… A good reason to feel cheerful! Don’t want to join the crowd on trafalgar Square? A few different ideas this way.
That’s art, baby!
* An exquisite dress made of spider silk? At the V&A, of course!
Out of the ordinary:
* On Thursday, let’s talk spooky London. Or raise your glass to Australia.
* Friday, rush to the V&A for a dose of samba, Brazil & table football.
* Strictly come dancing? This way!
* Selfridges? Words, words, words. But do stop to listen to stories there this week-end.
* A narrowboat getting a second life as a bookshop, what a lovely idea!
* Or how a few minutes of music can change a life.
Gosh, so many things coming up you might need to add a few pages to your agenda for the week-end!
- Join me in my week-end celebration: isn’t an afternoon tea with a view ideal?
- Fascinating scientific and robotic creations…
- Kew Gardens turns tropical!
- Brunch in Brixton village…
- Pssst: it’s Nutella world day on Saturday - get a lovely pancake here!
- Where did you put that red nose?
- Frankenstein turns to the theatre stage…
- Get hungry @ the V&A Childhood Museum…
- Love alternative restaurants? This one can be all yours…
- Keep it real @ the Whitechapel Gallery…
This week-end, I’m joining a cooking club: yummy dishes, wine and happy chats. What have you planned?
- This Thursday evening, why not try an interesting mix of disco and video games. Unusual, but fun!
- A yummy walk…
- Fancy being a mad hatter?
- Be amazed by modern art…
- Rediscover the charm of silent films…
- Don’t forget to celebrate the Chinese New Year at the V&A!
- By the way, why not indulge in an afternoon tea with an Asian twist?
- Pssst: a secret bar in Chinatown – tested and loved!
- Ever hear of the Burger Monday pop-up?
Tonight, Chinatown was dressing up, choosing bright colours to celebrate the Year of the Rabbit. The lanterns will swing joyously upon the visitors and locals for the coming weeks - a lovely festive touch…
What’s on? Here is a sum up:
Friday January 28:
- China stars in the V&A Friday late evening – a magic time ahead!
Sunday January 30:
- The V&A will propose calligraphy and paper cutting workshops as well as a Chinese show.
Saturday February 05:
- A day dedicated to kids! The National Portrait Gallery will host a puppet show starring the 12 Chinese zodiac signs. The London Museum will teach the little ones calligraphy. In Shoreditch? Try the Geffrye Museum for Chinese lanterns… The British Museum proposes to decorate T-shirts on that theme and the V&A Childhood Museum promises extraordinary dragons stories.
- Adults may prefer silk painting, getting inspiration from Asian motifs at the Wallace Collection.
- Add to the dream and let flying lantern light the sky…
Sunday February 06th:
- It’s party time on Trafalgar Square from noon to 18.00: a giant dragon will dance down Shaftesbury avenue, there will be traditional music, acrobats, food stalls… Chinatown will be at its most lively!
- The British Museum usually dedicates a whole day to the event (worth stopping by! There will also be a comics workshop where you can imagine the adventures of a rabbit)
Kung Hei Fat Choi! (Happy New Year!)