Singapore Is Not That Bad
I know, based on the title of this blog, I'm supposed to be boasting about Indonesia. And yes, I'm still in love with Indonesia (maybe not so much with its corrupted and ignorant people or not at all with its shabby government), but my journey to Singapore last weekend was undoubtedly memorable and I have found myself actually liking the country (not loving). Well, I still oppose their position on several issues regarding its diplomatic relationship with Indonesia, but yes, Singapore is not that bad.
First of all, my last trip to Singapore was in 2005. I was traveling alone as a journalist covering a seminar on tourism (yawn). The magazine I was working for asked me to extend my stay, so I did. I stayed for 3 days and 2 nights, alone. I celebrated my birthday alone. Well not entirely alone. A journalist from Philippines was with me. -Hi Joy, wherever you are now!-
Anyway, back then, Singapore was just another big city for me. My budget was super tight! I depended solely on the money that the office provided. Yes, I was a cheapskate! So as a result of my stinginess, my main activities in Singapore were taking the MRT all over town and taking pictures. The country left a minimal impression on me. I was delighted to take that plane home.
That was 3 years ago. Singapore had a brand new "face" when I came back last weekend. Well yeah, at least it was new for me.
I was not that stoked leaving for Singapore. The thought of malls and people walking super fast was not amusing or even slightly interesting. My mom and brother, on the other hand, were super pumped and anxious to go to Singapore. Not because they hadn't been there before, but because it was an actual chance for the three of us to go on a vacation together. I was stoked looking at them being stoked. Oh, the actual reason of going there was my brother's graduation. No, he didn't go to school there. And yet you are still asking why. Well, it's not that important to discuss, so lets move on.
Though it was a family affair, we were still budget travelers. Spending huge amount of money on accommodation was not on the agenda. So we stayed in Lucky Plaza apartment. Yes, it was the spot in Orchard Road infamous for being the base for Asian women (especially Indonesian and Filipinos) working in Singapore as maids. We stayed in a tiny apartment, owned by an Indonesian and shared bathroom with few other guests. Something I had never experienced, even in Papua or Flores. Anyway, it was not a problem. The place was clean so I have no complains.
Indeed, it was a place to meet other Indonesians. Having skin as tan as mine, I was prepared to be misidentified as a TKW. I'm 100% Javanese (you can't get more Javanese than that) with long hair and dark skin. I was bound to be misidentified, though strangely enough, I was not. Personally, I have no problem whatsoever with that. To me they are super courageous women and I applaud their determination. It must be hard to be away from family and when they actually can come home, the authorities usually harass them for no apparent reason. So yeah, it was their right to dress up, have fun on Sundays and cram the MRT with their high heels and mobile phones on their ears.
Yep, Sunday is a super crowded day in Singapore. On Sundays, everybody is on holiday, including those mbak-mbak. Lucky Plaza was more like Melawai Plaza on its busiest day. Getting into the MRT was hard work, especially when you were with your mom who thought that it was not a big problem to make sudden moves that could hurt people that were walking fast behind her. Eventually, we survived the MRT, though my mom kept asking me, "What's with the long face?" And deep down inside I screamed, "You think, Mom??? You almost slammed that man on the face with your hand!"
Anyway, let me start from the beginning. We arrived in Singapore on Friday. We took the 6 AM flight from Jakarta to Batam (we thought it would be cheaper to do that) and then took the 10 AM ferry to Singapore. The Indonesian immigration successfully made both my brother's and my trip to Singapore a living hell. As I was giving my passport to be stamped to cross the Indonesian border, the man informed me that my passport was going to expire in less than 6 months. It is Singapore's rule to forbid anyone who has passport that will expire in less than 6 months to get into the country. Or so the immigration officer told me. In such (I swear to God) snobbish tone, he said, "I'm going to let you through, but be prepare to be denied to get into Singapore. You can go back here if that happens." It was shocking, but seriously, where would I go if not back to Batam if Singapore had kicked me out?? Aaannyywaaayyyy... There was no problem whatsoever when we arrived in Singapore. They didn't even give me any notice on renewing my passport.
We started the 4 days 3 nights getaway with the most boring activity in Singapore: strolling Orchard Road. I did have fun though, since that was the time I found out that the malls had super delicious snacks and heavy food waiting in their food courts. I like!!!! So I didn't buy clothes or shoes, but I tasted every delicious looking food I could find. And there were many! From the Squid Beard (deep fried squid heads) from a Japanese food stall in Far East Plaza, Pork and Bun in Tangs, Car Shiew Pau in Tangs, every kind of sausage in Tangs, durian pancake in Takashimaya, Yakitori in Takashimaya, and wonderful looking-delicious tasting fruits everywhere! The fruits were awesome. People could easily find fresh fruits already cut out and put in plastics, from honeydew and strawberries to dragon fruits! The first day was a big success! I ate like a pig and slept like a log. Little did I know, it was just the start.
The second day was Saturday. Mom and I had big breakfast in McDonald's. They have the best hotcakes! Hmmm.. I'm craving for some right now. Hotcakes are basically pancakes. They are served with butter and syrup. Oh God, I want some! Now!! Ah-ny-wayyyy.. We then went to Somerset. My mom wanted (demanded to be exact) to go to OG, a department store that my mom adores. I don't know why. We then went looking for a warnet (Warung Internet lah, bo), because I needed to check my email. We went couples of blocks too far and ended up going back to OG because the Goddamned warnet was right next to it.
After finishing business, we went to Chinatown! Yippee! We went straight to the foodcourt, near the MRT station and had roast duck. My mom and brother added pig's snouts to their meal. The snout actually tasted good. We also had wonton soup and sugar cane drinks. The drinks were very much refreshing after a long hot day walking. Then we went to OG (again!). This time in Chinatown of course. After OG we went to the street market and found a dim sum restaurant. So we decided to take a break and ordered pork ribs dim sum, har gao (hakkaw), chicken feet and egg tarts. The ribs were absolutely delicious and the egg tarts were to-die-for! Seriously, the egg tart was so good that I still have dreams about it now. Yumm...
The marina was our next destination, including (of course) the Esplanade, Singapore Flyer and the Merlion. How tourists were we??? Hahaha.. Whatever.. Food was not our main goal in going there. Actually I was the one who was determined in going to that tourists arena on the first place. Somehow, the marina had some nostalgic value for me. After taking a couple of tourists' style photographs with the Merlion, we went back to the apartment to prepare ourselves for dinner.
My mom wanted to have dinner in Cuppage Road in Somerset. Around 13 years ago my family and I always ate there if ever we were in Singapore. There were a lot of seafoods restaurants there and one particular restaurant had deep fried baby squids on their menu. To reminisce, we went to Cuppage Road again, imagining the taste of those baby squids (yes, that indeed sounds barbaric.. babies!). Surprised, Cuppage Road had changed so much these past years. Now there are upscale outdoor restaurants, serving European foods and wine. We were pretty much heartbroken before we found out that the restaurant, Selera Restaurant we adored, was still there! Not among the upscale restaurants, but in the mall right next to the street. We ordered Deep Fried Baby squids, Sweet and Sour Gerapu Fish and kangkung belacan. We finished them all in less than 15 minutes and paid a bit over S$ 50. It was pretty expensive, but the food was excellent.
The third day (Sunday), we had a hectic morning, preparing my brother's graduation in Raffles City Convention Center. It was your typical ceremonial event and we didn't stop clapping until all 450 graduates' names were called. I hate graduations. Afterwards, my mom and I went to Little India. (Another) Yippee! I love Little India! It is colorful and truly exotic! We already ate brunch at the graduation, but we were determined to have Indian food for lunch immediately. We finally found a restaurant that was not vegetarian only. It was the Karaaikudi Restaurant. We came in and found a table to sit, after asking someone behind the counter about the ordering process. We were absolutely fish out of water, but luckily enough the waiter, an old man with speed as fast as a new Ferrari, was helpful and spot on. We ordered mutton meal, crab meal and prata. Again, we were satisfied. The meal consisted of mutton and crab with rice and vegetables. I wasn't a big fan of the rice for it was very crumbly. May I add that the portion of rice they gave was huge! I finished it off anyway though.. Sparing rice is always a big no-no for me.
Later that day we went to Chinatown again. My mom was craving for huge prawns she saw the other day when we visited Chinatown. Turned out that those big prawns were served with noodles. So, in the name of love for the world of culinary, we ordered one bowl. Yes, one. One with pork ribs and prawns. And it was one bowl of deliciousness. We then went home and slept the night away. Well, actually not that fast. We did go to McDonald's at 1 AM because I wanted to try Wasabi Filet o' Fish burger, but was disappointed to find that it was closed at 12 AM.
On our last day in Singapore we had congee for breakfast. I had cuttlefish and pork congee. So good. Before going to the harbor to catch the ferry back to Batam, we went to Tangs and visited the foodcourt again. We need to buy something for grandma and ended up eating those tasty foods again.
That was pretty much the end of our Singapore trip, though the culinary journey hadn't really ended yet. When we arrived in Batam my aunt took us to eat seafood in one of the seaside restaurant called Rumah Makan Rezeki. We had Black Pepper Crab, Boiled Gong Gong, Steamed Fish, Sweet and Sour Clams and Kangkung Belacan. And I need to bring God in this statement right here: I swear to God, it was one of the most delicious seafood I've ever tasted in my life. We went back to Jakarta with loaded stomachs and happy hearts.
Singapore was not a disappointment at all. The most important lesson that I have learned from the whole journey is: you can't be stingy on foods in Singapore. You'll basically miss the best part of the country.