Chinatown, Buddhism and Supertrees
19.05.2015 - 21.05.2015
Singpore - my first Asian country I traveled to. I was not only excited to explore a new part of the world, but also a new culture. All places I had been to were to some extent westernized. Even in Singapore I could still feel a bit of the Western influence which was brought upon the island by the British East India Company in 1819. Thomas Stamford Raffles signed a treaty with the Sultan of that time to develop the southern Singapore as a British trading post. Since then the island of Singapore has been in the hands of the Japanese, the Malay and back to the British for a while. In 1965 Singapore became independent and (lucky for me) celebrated its 50th year of independence when I was there in 2015.
Upon my arrival, I and the other passengers were welcomed by Singa the lion, Singapore's beloved mascot. The statue of Singa was constructed in celebration of Singapore’s 50th birthday. Taking the train to get to my hostel for the first nights was the first adventure. Compared to the way of taking the train in Germany that ride was slightly different. The people didn't mind being cramped into the train whereas in Germany everyone wants to have their own seat and as much personal space as possible. Got out in Chinatown and walked between all the small shops, open stores and people selling pretty much anything. Across from Masjid Jamae mosque, I looked for the hostel I booked my room in. For some reason I had trouble finding it though. After a little while I found the entrance which was located in a side street instead of the main street. The hostel was considerably small compared to what I was staying in New Zealand, but had a multicultural atmosphere which I enjoyed. The room was small as well and was divided into two floors. Going up a ladder, there was a separate bed and the guy sleeping up there had obvious sleeping problems as the other room members could hear him roll around all night. Headphones in and problem solved. A quick shower before I went to bed as it was quite a change of temperature coming from NZ to Singapore. Also the humidity was significantly higher and I knew I would be sweating a lot there. To my surprise, the shower wasn't like a shower most of us expected it to be. At least I wasn't used to a toilet right underneath the shower head. After asking the receptionist I was told that that is common and saves time. I always love learning something new about different cultures.
The next day, I was up and ready early in the morning to see what Singapore can offer. I didn't really had a plan where to go and what to do but thought I just go along and see what happens. What I already realized and started to love was that everywhere I looked I could see some green - plants, trees, parks it really gave the impression of being somewhere but a heavily populated city.
Not far from my hostel was something I didn't expect. The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple truly stood out of the scenery surrounded by skyscrapers. The "let's see what happens"-strategy worked out well so far. At that moment when I entered the Buddha temple, a ceremony was going on. The ceremony was open to public to experience. The chants of the Buddha priests were mesmerizing and I found myself lost in the scene for a while.
After the ceremony, I went upstairs to the museum part of the temple. Many religious exhibits were displayed and an area to pray was reserved as well. I learned a lot about Buddhism that day.
Time for lunch after visiting the Buddha temple. Due to the cultural diversity in the city, Singapore's ethnic hawker cuisine is as diverse as its people. Hawker food is cheap but doesn't lack anything in taste! No idea what I ordered sometimes as I relied on recommendations from locals but it always turned out pretty well! Afterwards I decided to head towards the harbor. During the walk I noticed all construction sites along the streets were using bamboo for their scaffolds. Interesting way of construction. At the harbor, I went in Marina Bay Mall and damn, whatever brand you are looking for you get it there. MK, LV, Harley-Davidson oh and yeah did I mention they have an ice ring and a water channel Venice-style? Right behind the mall sits one of the probably most photographed buildings in the world. The Marina Bay Sands hotel with its rooftop pool is easily recognized. My attempt to get up to the top floor was ended as quickly as it began. A security man was hired exclusively to keep non-hotel guest from entering the pool area. Well, worth a try. Nevertheless, I had an epic view even by looking out of the top-floor window. The hotel itself is a great piece of architecture. Really fascinating.
Another attraction Singapore is famous for are the Gardens by the Bay. The Gardens are part of a strategy by the Singapore government to transform Singapore from a "Garden City" to a "City in a Garden". Well, it worked. On one side of the hotel you have skyscrapers, business buildings and on the other side there is a huge man-made forest. And that's where I was at that moment. Looking at tree-like structures with heights that range between 25 meters and 50 meters. The Supertrees are vertical gardens that perform a multitude of functions, which include planting, shading and working as environmental engines for the gardens.They are home to enclaves of unique and exotic ferns, vines and orchids. Environmental technologies were put into the Supertrees to mimic ecological functions of a tree like photovoltaic cells that harness solar energy. A rainwater collection system helps irrigating the plants and fountains of the park. There is also an elevated walkway between the larger Supertrees so visitors can enjoy a aerial view of the Gardens. Since visitors have to pay for walking the elevated walkway and the two conservatories I only walked around on ground level. The conservatories, Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, replicate different climates to grow and display other plant species. The Flower Dome copies a mild, dry climate and features plants found in the Mediterranean and other semi-arid tropical regions. The Cloud Forest is a replica of cool moist conditions found in tropical mountain regions between 1,000 meters and 3,000 meters above sea level, found in South-East Asia, Middle- and South America. I suppose it would have been a great experience walking around those different climates and plants but I figured I could spent the money on more hawker food.
To get back to the hostel to catch up some sleep, I walked over the Helix Bridge, through the Youth Olympic Park and pass the Esplanade, Singapore's Theater on the Bay. But I had to stop at the iconic Merlion. Created as a marketing icon of Singapore, the Merlion is depicted as a mythical creature with a lion's head and a body of a fish. The fish body represents Singapore's origin as a fishing village. The lion head represents Singapore's original name - Singapura, meaning "lion city". A photo with Singapore's national personification is mandatory when you visit the city.
Walking further along Singapore River, I passed the Fullerton Hotel, the Boat Quay (the busiest part of the old Port of Singapore, handling three quarters of all shipping business during the 1860s) and the Parkroyal hotel on Pickering. Latter was for me interesting as it uses a so-called hotel-in-a-garden concept with lush sky gardens and cascading vertical greenery. The rest of the day/evening I spent getting more food from the hawker center nearby Chinatown and then catching up some sleep. Thankfully, rolling-over-in-bed guys wasn't back yet.