Sunday, March 30, 2014

Exploring Singapore in three days, part 2

I was in Singapore in January to attend an MBA orientation for prospective students at INSEAD. While there, I took the time to explore the city and learn a bit more about its history and culture.

There are two things I wouldn't pass up on when I'm in a city for the first time (aside from visiting museums and art galleries): food and shopping! In my Singapore adventure's case, it's too expensive to go shopping so I did the next best alternative, window shopping.

Food trip!
One thing I failed to ask before I flew was about etiquette in eating in such places in Singapore, especially when it comes to grabbing a table. Turns out that it's perfectly fine to share a table here with strangers and to make small talk with them. The first group of people I had my meal with even gave me tips about the good places to visit aside from the touristy places. Since my interest was more cultural exposure, they recommended that I visit the temples that were just further along the road. That was a good idea, I thought. Another group of people I had brunch with told me where the good places to buy food were (their favorites were inside the very food court).

I'd eat brunch at a food court near the Bugis Street, where the food has strong Southeast Asian and Chinese cuisine influences. The food was familiar to me because many of them are also available in the Philippines. My neophobia intact, I stuck with congee, chicken, and roast pork because I didn't want to be confined in the hospital in a foreign country for eating something new that I have allergies to. But the congee, chicken, and roast pork were delicious! No wonder I was told that this food court was a good place to eat in! I would have wanted to try out the taho too but then I wouldn't be able to eat somewhere else.

Then there's Little India. Saying goodbye momentarily to neophobia, I braved the spicy turns of Indian cuisine to try the chicken biryani. It was hot! But it's also the first time I've had authentic basmati rice on chicken biryani... something I haven't tasted in the Philippines yet (but maybe because I'm intimidated by the spiciness). I also had dinner once at a food court in Little India. The servers were friendly and the restaurant was well-lit... a great sight for a weary traveler who had walked all day. I think I went there for dinner close to midnight because I got lost on my way back from a day of exploring the city. The food was delicious too. I've taken a mental note to go back to that food court when I find myself returning to Singapore.

(Window) shopping
I wanted to visit Singapore's Orchard Road to see what the shopping center looked like. I was floored. It was literally a road with building after building of shopping malls! It's like being in Hong Kong all over again because the brands at the facades were mostly high-end. But inside one of the shopping malls, I saw fashion forward clothing by local designers. There were also numerous brands that were familiar to me because they're also found in Manila or I've encountered them in California. I just wasn't in the mood to buy clothes because I was fresh from my outlet mall shopping spree with my mom and dad. Having said that, I saw a pair of sandals that I just couldn't resist buying. So I splurged despite the sandals being really flat and most likely harmful for my injured right foot. Now, it's my go-to footwear for casual walking weekends outside the house. But if I'm veering close to the water, I revert to my trusty step-ins.

But my window shopping adventure wasn't limited to Orchard Road. I also got to have a look at Bugis and Little India. For me, Bugis has a similar feel to the outdoor markets in Divisoria where people can get a great bargain. Because Chinese New Year was just around the corner of my visit, a lot of the wares were themed for the big celebration: I was literally seeing red when I walk past the stores. There was also a big statue in the center with fortunes of people born in different years, as indicated by their animal signs. The vibe couldn't be any more different in Little India. I've never been to India but I guess the atmosphere in Little India must be very similar. The place was filled by bright garlands of flowers, rich tapestries, and the latest electronic equipment. I was just missing the sounds of hawkers I imagine must be filling the air in India... until I reached the corner where the restaurant I was having lunch in was: there were two men on microphones talking about the pros and cons of the latest cellphone or tablet PC they were selling.

Next time I'm in Singapore, I'll explore these places a bit more. Next time.