The Curse of Singapore Sling
January 7, 2006
We are staying at the JIA Boutique Hotel here in Hong Kong. Our room is a very nice, although small, studio room with a mini-kitchenette. And, there is free internet access! We have taken advantage of this benefit by uploading the last several weeks of our journal.
Today is sunny, so we decided to get outside this afternoon. We were fooled by the sun though - the temperature is only in the high 50's with a fairly brisk breeze. We managed some window shopping and then found a Pret a Manger (similar to Starbuck's), where we stopped for a coffee and to people-watch. As it is Saturday, the city is a little quieter than on a weekday. We really enjoy wandering aimlessly along the streets and alleyways of the city. There are just masses of little food stalls - the spaces are so tiny that the "kitchens" are on the side walk. And, the smells are fascinating - mostly good! As expected, the city is very clean and easy to navigate.
Markus found an electronics "mall": it was really a collection of 50+ shops. He was in Heaven!! All that shopping though and all he bought was a camera backpack! But, the best part was that not a soul tried to sell us a "finest quality" carpet! Seriously, the shopping is very low key with no pressure from the sales associates. Welcome to Asia!
We returned to our hotel this evening to wash our laundry. We discovered that the hotel's in-house self-service laundry facilities are free - even including the detergent! The facilities are located outside on the 2nd floor, just off of a deck area that is furnished with chairs and tables (it serves as the smoking area for the hotel). So, we took a bottle of wine and a deck of cards with us and as we waited for our laundry, we enjoyed a lovely (but cool) Hong Kong evening.
January 8, 2006
After breakfast this morning, we walked across the street to catch a shuttle bus to Hong Kong Central Station. Several airlines, including Cathay Pacific have "in-town check-in" at the station, so we got our boarding passes for our flight to Singapore and checked our bags. We hopped on to the incredibly efficient Airport Express train (sans luggage!) and were at the airport 24 minutes later.
We cleared immigration and security and went to the airline lounge. It is the nicest lounge we have ever been in! We had lunch at the Noodle Bar (your choice of 4 different Asian noodle varieties) and then had Hagen Daz ice cream for dessert - all complimentary!
Our flight landed in Singapore about 10 minutes early - we thought Hong Kong airport was a model of efficiency, but it was nothing compared to Singapore. We deplaned, cleared immigration, shopped at the Duty Free Shop, collected our bags, passed through Customs and were in a taxi on the way to our hotel in an unbelievable 27 minutes!!
We checked into the Marriott on Orchard Road, dropped our bags in our room
and headed for the executive lounge for hors d'oeuvres and cocktails. The
hotel is quite nice - we have a fairly large room with a big window. The service
standard here is definitely to be admired. Staff at the hotel, airport, restaurants,
shops, etc. are so accommodating.
January 9, 2006 and January 10, 2006
It has been raining since before we arrived on Sunday evening, so unfortunately, we haven't felt like venturing too far. We have toured all of the nearby shopping centers and now have the lay of the land. There is a food hall in the plaza just beneath the Marriott - it's a bit like the Asian version of a food court except there isn't anywhere to sit and eat - it's all take away. We sampled a couple of the items on offer and they were very good.
Our phone malfunctioned at 4:00 AM today (Tuesday) - the speaker button came on and stayed on. It would not go off until Mark unplugged the phone from the wall. We finally got back to sleep, but then missed breakfast. So, for lunch, we walked down Orchard Road to California Pizza Kitchen. The food was excellent but a little pricey. Of course, Singapore isn't known as a budget destination! Despite the rain, the streets were full of pedestrians as today is a holiday; Hari Raya Haji. All the stores were open though. We shopped a little but our only purchase was a travel book on Thailand, our next destination.
To finish off this journal entry, we thought it would be interesting to share some trivia about the famous Singapore drink concoction, the Singapore Sling. I hope to taste one at Raffles sometime over the next couple of days. (The following was taken from www.drinkboy.com, where the Sling is a highly recommended drink!)
None dispute that the Singapore Sling was originally created by Mr. Ngiam Tong Boon for the Raffles Hotel in Singapore. However that is where the agreement ends. The exact date is in question, with some people claiming it was in 1915, some 1913, while the hotel itself claims that it was created sometime prior to 1910. There is also plenty of disagreement as to how closely the current version of this drink that is served at Raffles is to what was originally served. Apparently the original recipe was lost and forgotten sometime in the 1930's, and the drink that they currently serve at the hotel's Long Bar is based on memories of former bartenders, and some written notes that they were able to discover.
For anyone wanting to try slinging on their own, following is the Raffles
15 ml Cherry Brandy
120 ml Pineapple Juice
15 ml Lime Juice
7.5 ml Cointreau
7.5 ml Dom Benedictine
10 ml Grenadine
A Dash of Angostura Bitters
Garnish with a slice of Pineapple and Cherry
I will let you know my verdict soon!
January 11, 2006
We have read that adjusting to time zone differences requires about a day for each time zone crossed. We crossed 6 time zones between Southern Africa and Southeast Asia, so our bodies should be adjusted by now. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. It was after 2:00 AM when we finally got to sleep, only to be awakened at 4:00 AM by the hotel fire alarm. An announcement immediately followed the alarm letting the guests know that the problem was being investigated. Ten minutes later, it was determined to be a false alarm.
For the second day in a row, we slept through breakfast and awakened to an overcast and threatening sky. So, we decided to use the day for errands. This morning, we went to American Airlines to make some changes to our tickets - as several of the tickets had to be reissued, the representative told us to return after lunch. So, we went for lunch and then to the Singapore post office to send a package home (filled with souvenirs from Africa). We were surprised at how reasonable the shipping was - S$85.00 (USD 50), including insurance, for a 10 lb. airmail package.
One little diversion that we wanted to record in the journal is the McCafe's - you guessed it - they are McDonald's version of Starbucks! But, the most fascinating point is that they deliver! We saw numerous scooters with McCafe drivers delivering lunch all over the city.
We returned to AA in the afternoon, but there was some missing information on our tickets and the representative asked us to return tomorrow. With nothing else to do, we went shopping! I had to throw away my tennis shoes after Africa (they were being held together with an entire tube of shoe adhesive) and I was looking to replace them. I wasn't sure that the stores would carry much of a selection in my size as I'm sure my foot is somewhat larger than the average Asian female's. But, I was very pleasantly surprised at the variety and I even found a pair of Reeboks on sale!
So, with all of our chores accomplished for the day (well, except for actually getting our tickets), we returned to the hotel for cocktail hour in the executive lounge.
January 12, 2006
Another wake up "call" this morning - the fire alarm went off again! This time, it was 4:30 AM and it took about 20 minutes for staff to determine it was a false alarm. When we finally woke again a few hours later, the rain was just pouring down and it continued all day. There went our plans to go to the Botanical Gardens and the Night Safari at the zoo. We didn't really do anything today except quickly brave the torrents of water to go to AA, but our tickets were not yet reissued. The representative assured us that they would be ready for collection tomorrow. I worked for a few hours in the afternoon, while Markus read. And, that was basically our day!
January 13, 2006
Blissfully, there was no fire alarm this morning and finally, the sun emerged today! Seizing the day, we got on the hop-on/hop-off bus and headed for Little India. This area of Singapore is packed with shops and stalls selling all things Indian, ranging from Indian sweets and snacks, saris and crafts to Indian furniture, wood carvings, and fresh flowers. The garland-makers were particularly interesting as they weave red, yellow and white creations from roses, marigolds and jasmine. These colors symbolize love, peace and purity.
From Little India, we walked to the Raffles Hotel to sample a Singapore Sling. It was absolutely delicious and very refreshing. I could have sat in the Long Bar all day drinking them! But, there was much more to be seen.
Next up on the tourist agenda was Merlion Park. The landmark half-lion, half-fish statue (see above 11 Jan picture) is the famous icon of Singapore. The lion represents the rediscovery of the island, during which a lion was sighted on shore and the fish represents Singapore's humble beginnings as a fishing village.
It was very hot today (Singapore is only 136 kilometers from the equator, so is pretty hot all year round) - the temperature soared to the high 80's, so after the park, we walked along Boat Quay and stopped for a refreshment along the waterfront. At this point, we had to take a break from the sight-seeing and return to the AA office where our tickets were ready!
We dropped the tickets at our hotel and hopped back on the shuttle to Chinatown. It seems odd to us that a city where the population is over 70% Chinese would have an area known as Chinatown. The history is that the district dates to the early British settlement when the Chinese immigrants were a minority. Sir Stamford Raffles, to keep racial tensions minimized in the newly established British trading port of Singapore, divided the city into districts based on ethnic groups. Chinatown was allotted the area south of the Singapore River. Three years after Singapore was settled, Chinatown had 3,000 inhabitants, most of them penniless and half starving immigrants from mainland China. Over the next decade their numbers would grow to exceed 30,000. Slophouses, two-story buildings with shops or small factories on the ground floor and living quarters upstairs, were common. Often twenty to thirty lived in a single room. The British did not provide police protection in Chinatown. This was the responsibility of the Chinese guilds, or clan associations, to oversee their own law and order.
Once in Chinatown, we first walked past the Sri Mariamman Temple, which is a Hindu temple built in 1827. Its pagoda-like entrance is topped by one of the most ornate gopurams (pyramidal gateway towers) in all of Singapore. Hundreds of brightly painted statues of deities and mythical animals line the tiers of this towering pyramid. Glazed cement cows sit seemingly in great contentment atop the surrounding wall. Definitely a sight to behold!
After a brief stop outside of the Hindu temple, we walked up Ann Siang Hill - this is an amazing pedestrian oasis in the middle of Chinatown. It is a series of pagoda-covered and landscaped walkways that is incredibly serene and peaceful.
We made our way next to the Thian Hock Keng or "Temple of Heavenly Happiness". This temple, built by Chinese immigrants in 1821, is dedicated to Ma Cho Po, the goddess of the sea, to give thanks for their safe journey across the South China Sea to Singapore.. Unfortunately, the temple was closed when we arrived, but even from the outside, the temple is awesome - even more so when one learns that it was built in the traditional style, meaning it contains not a single nail!
On our way back to the bus stop, we browsed through the hundred-fold stalls that have been set up for the Chinese New Year. There were plenty of offerings - we could have 100 grams of dried starfish for S$1.80, 100 grams of dried squid for S$2.00 or 100 grams of the apparently decadent dried seahorse for the small sum of S$13.30 (about US $8.00). Also, one shop window presented a real quandary - do we go for the antelope horn or the Sonicare toothbrush - hmmm? Take your pick!
The New Year Holiday itself, representing the lunar New Year, is January 29. As the 29th falls on a Sunday, both Monday and Tuesday are public holidays in Singapore (likewise in Hong Kong). The 3-day celebration will ring in the Year of the Dog. These people really know how to party!