My Tryst with Singapore

“We want to order this”, Navya said pointing at the menu. “Prawn rice.”

The woman taking our order nodded.

“Chilli crab”

“No chilli crab. We no have.”

“Okay then,” she sifted through the menu once again. “This uhh, sweet-chilli chicken.”

She nodded again.

“And steamed buns.”

She gave a final nod, collected all the menus and went her way.

It was around ten-thirty in the night and the three of us, Navya, Saj and I had chosen a tiny restaurant where a couple more Singaporeans were having their dinner, while we waited for ours.

“Hope the food is good.” I said.

“Yes, especially after today’s Burger King fiasco”, Saj added. The Burger King fiasco; thrilled as we were to find 3.40 dollars was not just for a burger but a whole combo, the burgers were not the ones we had ordered, the coke was strange and the fries soggy.

“Oh, but does anyone know how to crack the crab?” I asked, remembering my last failed attempt to have a masala crab.

“Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out somehow.” Saj said confidently.

“How?” Navya questioned her.

“Haven’t you had crab at Nina Aunty’s? She always cracks hers with a hammer. I’ve seen her do it, I’m sure I could also crack it.”

“A HAMMER?? From where do you think we’ll get a hammer here?”

“Maybe we could ask her…”

“And how do we explain to her that we want a hammer? She barely understands English.”

“Maybe we could ask her to crack it…?”

We continued to bicker and debate over the ways of cracking the crab, and after a while, our food arrived. We had the chicken with rice and waited for the crab to arrive. It was a good fifteen minutes before we realized that we had been told that they didn’t have chilli crab, and we had stupidly spent the past half hour trying to come up with new methods of cracking a crab.

This was at the Beach Road, a street along which lay hundreds of small restaurants. You can find all sorts of Chinese, Korean and Singaporean cuisine here; and some restaurants even have little stoves on each table, so you get a huge bowl, put in the vegetables and the meat with the soup, let it cook over the stove, and eat it as it simmers.

Beach Road, and alongside it, Haji Lane comes alive every evening with their roadside bars, the rows of tables and chairs along the pavement and glasses of wine on each table. These streets remind you of the streets in Paris, but the mood here is definitely lighter. It seems as if every evening after work, people choose one of these restaurants to unwind. Glasses of whiskey are shimmering on every table, fresh, hot food is being served by cheery workers and you are invited to dine at each one of these restaurants as you walk by. Probably that is the reason Beach Road remains one of my favourite haunts in the city, not just for the food, but also if you want to experience the essence of Singapore, and the life of its residents.

The very first night that we arrived, we decided to go up to Marina Bay Sands, which is an integrated resort fronting Marina Bay. It is estimated to be the world’s most expensive standalone casino property, at 8 billion dollars. Three towers of 55 stories are topped by a 340 metres long SkyPark, which includes a 150 metres long swimming pool with a vanishing edge.

We excitedly bought our tickets that night, and learnt, to our dismay the next morning from our taxi driver, that we could have just gone up for free by saying we wanted to take a drink up at the bar, Ku De̒ Ta, which we did anyway. But the view of Singapore from up there more than justified the money, because it was, as clichéd as it sounds, priceless.

A view overlooking a city always induces a certain sort of sentimentality in me. When you see the entire city from that place, all you can think is, Singapore is just so… sorted. There is no other word for it. Everything seems to be in place, and the city continues to shine in its dazzling glory.

As tourists, we also decided to make use of Singapore’s extensive public transportation system, and at the same time, save our pockets from cab fare. So while returning from Marina Bay Sands, I insisted that we take the bus.

Now, my friend Navya had been wearing heels, and wanted nothing but the ease of sitting in a taxi, being delivered to the hotel’s entrance, and straight into the comfort of her bed. But upon my insistence, she agreed to experience the bus, and we figured out our bus number and bus stop, and waited there. We were supposed to take bus number 56, and with every bus that glided in our direction, the three of us would look up expectantly, and then drop our heads, disappointed, as every number went by except for 56.

After many more minutes, Navya gave me an ultimatum, if one of the next three buses to come by wasn’t 56, we would take a cab, no more discussion on that. I agreed reluctantly. I waited in anticipation, as the first two buses came and went, and just when I had finally given up, by some stroke of luck, the third bus was, guess what? 56.

Saj exclaimed in surprise, Navya looked at me accusingly, and I happily hopped onto the bus.

Since we were in Singapore, and being the tourist destination that it is, we had to do some of the cheesy, touristy things that you’re supposed to do when you visit the country. So we visited Sentosa Island, which included the Butterfly Park, Luge, the 4D movies, Songs of the Seas show, the Underwater World, the Dolphin Show, and a nice beach. We also did the Night Safari and went for Universal Studios, which, in spite of being silly, was great fun.

Besides being a tourist country, Singapore is also a very smart country. Singapore’s economy thrives on tourism alone, so it leaves no stone unturned for servicing their tourists. Exiting any popular place would lead you right into its souvenir shop, which has been built in a way that you have to pass through the shop in order to get out. Chances are, something or the other will catch your fancy on the way out, and you will end up buying that.

A fixed automatic camera will also click your picture when you’re, say, doing the Luge so when you are done, you can buy that picture for 10 dollars, if you like it. Or not. The point is that you have a choice. So many choices, in fact, that Singapore leaves you spoilt. The sheer convenience of it all is overwhelming.

For example, in Universal Studios, in the Jurassic Park section, they have a raft ride for you, as one of the attractions. So we lined up for it. Just at the entrance, they had put up a big board that said, “You WILL get wet, and POSSIBLY soaked. “Just besides that, there was the option of renting lockers by the hour to keep all your phones and bags. After all, you wouldn’t want to your stuff to get “soaked” too, would you? So you pay a few dollars to rent a locker.

As the waiting line moves a little ahead, there is another machine, from where you can buy these raincoat sort of things, plastic sheets essentially, to protect yourself from the water. Those who were really worried about getting wet spent another few dollars to get those. When the ride ended, and we were wet, but only as wet as you used to get in that Splash ride in Appu Ghar in Delhi, you came across heating pads. Little makeshift cubicles that will blow you dry, because you got soaked, for another few dollars.

That is why I say Singapore is a smart country. It finds ways to make money off their tourists, and any country who sources its livelihood from tourism, should do that as well.

A lot of my memorable nights were spent in Clark Quay. It’s a riverside quay in Singapore, alongside which runs a road which houses the country’s best restaurants and nightclubs. Nights were spent walking along the little collectible, toy-like shops and jazzy bars, like Cuba Libre, Highlander and Arena and trying different drinks with live bands performing in the background, with people of so many countries grooving and dancing.

We would walk around freely, with no issues of safety, in this incredibly feel-good place. One night, there was a boxing ring at a spot, and the very next night, there were fountains at the same spot. It’s fast, it’s changing and it’s cosmopolitan, in every sense of the word.

There is something truly unique about Singapore, which calls me back there again and again. I think the best way to describe it would be what I heard from an Irish guy there,

“It has so many cultures, it has no culture actually. You get what I mean?”

Srishti Chaudhary

Image Courtesy [ Srishti Chaudhary]