04 June 2011

Arrival in Singapore, Chinatown dinner, the Quay

Long flight with Turkish airlines via Istanbul, I am very happy with this company. Good food, wines, service and comfortable cabins. After a long flight and a stopover in Istanbul, the Singapore airports welcomes me into the XXI century.

It is no coincidence that it is routinely ranked among the top airports of the world, year after year... Btw, its closest competitors are Hong Kong and Seoul. The airport is indeed stunning, superefficient, spotless clean (including the toilets, it actually smells good in there, you are sort of sorry to leave when you are done!) and a great place to spend some time shopping or even sleeping while waiting for a plane. In my case I get my bags (they are already spinning around the carousel by the time I am done with passport control) and I am on my way out.

A twenty-minute taxi ride takes me across two thirds of the length of the whole country. The road is perfect, quiet, of course very clean. I am struck by the fact that in this land of shopping (Singapore has been called a shopping mall with a UN vote) there are no ads on the road, no nean signs, no billboards. The taxi itself is nice and comfortable, the driver impeccable, and it's actually less expensive than comparable rides in European cities I am familiar with (Rome, London, Paris, Brussels).

I am staying at the Pan Pacific Hotel, a supermodern building not far from the famed Raffles. A filipino lady welcomes me at the immense concierge and takes me to the glass walled elevators that climb up the exterior of the hotel, providing a good view of the city state.

In the evening I am out to Chinatown with a local friend. I can't wait to sink my incisors into some hearty Chinese food! After some pondering I opt for her suggestion of  some pork or other in a dark soup. I won't even try to describe what was in it, but it was certainly tasty. We are at the Chinatown food court, where, like in other similar places in Singapore, you sit down and pick up food and drinks from the many available stands in the court.

Meanwhile, groups of old men hang around drinking beer or playing Chinese checkers. No women to be seen except my friend and the waitresses and cleaning ladies.

After dinner a nice walk in the soggy evening. Climate is certainly not Singapore's strong point and it takes a few days to become accustomed to the humidity. A few tricycle rickshaws scoot by. These were a common means of local transportation in the past but are now reserved for tourists. In fac the rickshaw was THE means of transportation for many decades until the 1930s. I have reviewed a great book that tells their story, an important people's history of Singapore. I strongly recommend it even if you are not interested in rickshaws!

The evening ends by the Quays, the vastly overrated social mingling hub of Singapore. I find it too crowded, impersonal and a bit tacky, but so be it, most people seems to have a different view. Anyway some of the bars look (for my taste) pleasant, but tonight it's saturday and everything is way too crowded. Many Western expats, clearly affected by what a local friend called the "yellow fever" seem to enjoy the company of local Chinese girls. Nice touch: by the river some band is playing some kind of ethnic music, can't really say what it is but it puts me in the right mood to give in to my jet lag and go back to the hotel.

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