Zaandam pulled into the huge port of Singapore, we made ready to
disembark. Thanks to Holland-America's superb organization,
disembarking was orderly and went off quickly. We easily found our
guide and then we were off to the Hotel Carlton, where we would
spend our final two nights in Asia.
Touring the City
Singapore has a population of slightly over 4.6 million, made
up of a variety of races, with Chinese Malays, and Indians
forming the majority. Modern Singapore is essentially a Chinese
city with strong Western influences. Situated only 86 miles
north of the equator, the climate rarely gets below 70º F
and usually climbs to near 90º during the day. Humidity
usually hovers around 75 percent. Rain, when it comes, tends to
be short and sharp. Although Singapore is wettest from November
to January, we got caught in a downpour the next day while on a
walking tour of the city. Luckily, the shower was short and
sharp, as described in the brochure.
After getting settled in our rooms at the Carlton, we met our
guide in the lobby at noon for a city tour. We started out with a
walking tour of Little India.
The shops and the smells and the people seemed very much like a
part of the real India. Gold merchants displayed their wares in
every block. The smell of curries wafted through the air,
reminding us that we hadn't had lunch.
Our guide explained the originally the races were separated in
Singapore. But now they have merged and live together, except for
certain enclaves that remain, such as Little India and our next
A short bus ride brought us to our destination, which was near a
big market. Since people expressed a desire to take a lunch break,
our guide led us to the absolute worst, hardcore Chinese fast-food
mall imaginable. We had 20 minutes to find a booth with something
appealing, wait our turn to order, wait for the food to get
cooked, choke it down, and get ready for the next leg of our tour.
The top floor was so hot and humid that it was tough to breath.
Seating was in the middle of the aisle and uncomfortable, far from
relaxing. I chose to skip lunch.
Our next stop was a museum in Chinatown that showed us what life
was like when the first settlers tried to eke out a living. Some
of the displays show actual artifacts from that time and others
showed reconstructions of workshops, sleeping quarters, beds,
cooking facilities, and so on. Those people had a rough life, but
business went well enough to keep them and attract other
immigrants. Unfortunately, I got no pictures because signs asked
that we not take them.
Next we threaded our way down a crowded street choked with people
and vendors and a band playing traditional Chinese music for the
Year of the Dragon, the new year celebration that never seemed to
end! Beginning in Hong Kong, the Chinese New Year (and Tet in
Vietnam) kept getting in the way of our visit with too many local
tourists and too many places closed. Oh, well, we had only one
After threading our way through the crowds, we caught up with our
bus, which next took us to the former governor's house and
parliament building from colonial times. The governor's house is
now the city hall.
These buildings sit near the beautiful Esplanade Park by the
Singapore River. Along the river, we noticed a line up of various
restaurants and made a note to return for dinner, since it was
going to be a beautiful night out and a seat by the river along
with a fine dinner sounded perfect.
River with Restaurants on Opposite Side
Later that evening, Dean and I walked back to the river and found
a nice restaurant and had a pleasant dinner at a table by the
river, just as we'd hoped. After spending a long time over dinner,
we leisurely strolled back to our hotel and went to bed early in
hopes of getting an early start the next morning, our last full
day in Singapore.
Across the river the other way in the distance loomed the gigantic
Ferris wheel, the largest in the world. You can buy a lunch and
eat it in one of the cabins as the wheel makes its circuit. It
takes one hour to make a complete trip around, and so with lunch
along for the ride, you essentially can have the vertical version
of the Space Needle restaurant, with a room all to yourself.
Ferris Wheel in the World (Courtesty of Ralph B.)
After cleaning up, we found the Mosaic Cafe, where breakfast
awaited us. Luckily, breakfast was included in our prepaid room
rate. The buffet was sumptuous, with an accent on Chinese and
Indian delights, as well as typical Western fare. Most of us
sampled a little bit of each ethnic group.
Our leader, Bob McQ, mentioned something about he thought we'd get
a farewell dinner. But our guide the day before said he knew
nothing about it. I told Bob that I could e-mail Linda from
Cruiseworld, our travel agent, and ask her. I found a free e-mail
spot at Starbuck's in the Raffles Mall across the street. So,
after breakfast I went over and e-mailed Linda. Then Dean and I
took off on a walking tour of the city.
Dean had three goals in mind to see. First, the mosque in the Arab
part of town, a part we didn't cover on the day before. Second,
the big temple in Chinatown that we got to see only fleetingly
after that misbegotten lunch from the day before. Finally, we
wanted to return to the Indian temple in Little India to see the
inside. So off we strolled.
As we approached the big, gold-domed mosque, the sidewalk narrowed
because it was cluttered with shops that sold everything from
clothing to food. The smells of the food would have tempted us
except that we'd had a big breakfast at the hotel. We got
separated at an intersection when the stoplight turned red. Since
our guide had warned us that cops give fines for jaywalking, I
stayed on my side of the street. And I waited. And I waited. And I
waited! Finally, the light turned green. We both vowed we'd never
complain about Seattle stoplights again. At least not for the
first few days back home.
After crossing the street and walking a bit farther, I got into a
good position to check out this mosque. Unfortunately, it didn't
look open to the public, so we never got inside.
Arab Part of Singapore
We turned down the next street and headed back to Little India,
where our guide had taken us the day before. We'd seen an Indian
temple and wanted to check out the interior. But suddenly, it
started to rain and rain hard, so we ducked under cover to wait it
out. After a few minutes, the rain stopped, and the weather became
more hot and humid than it had been before. Undaunted, we headed
off toward Little India.
Little India's Temple
After a lot of zigging and zagging to avoid street construction,
we arrived at a main street where the temple should be. But we
couldn't spot it. So, Dean asked directions and the guy said it
was only a couple blocks down the main drag. Soon we saw it and
ran over. Unfortunately, it too was closed, and so once again we
had to settle for exterior pictures.
After checking out this temple's exterior and all the detailed
sculptures that decorated it, we headed back to our hotel for a
much-needed break from the heat and humidity.
Before going up to the room, I ran across the street to the
Raffles Mall and Starbuck's inside to log into my e-mail to see if
Linda had gotten back to me. Sure enough. She told me that we had
more than enough money left for the farewell dinner. When I got
word to Bob, we decided to all meet in the hotel bar and figure
out where to go. We all decided to try the huge buffet at our
hotel in the Mosaic restaurant. The meal worked out well, because
we could sample dishes from most of the ethnic groups that
inhabited Singapore. We had a good time and a great dinner,
talking over our experiences in this magnificent trip of a
The next morning, we got up and checked out and headed for the
airport. After three weeks of being on the go, ten worn out,
happy, fully enriched Mature Friends were more than ready to face
the long flight home.
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