Christmas in Singapore

See the photos here.

We had a great time exploring Singapore over the last few days.  Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • Raffle's Landing spotArriving at the hotel well after midnight and reuniting with our German friends as we were checking in.
  • The Shangri-La hotel breakfast buffet.  Each morning we power up for the day with a buffet the includes a build-your-own noodle soup section, Indian fare, dim sum, Japanese and Korean fare, fruits and pastries in abundance in addition to the full western buffet.  Three plates each usually fattens us up enough to skip lunch, not to mention discourage an early dinner, but not enough to taste everything that looks delicious.
  • Double-decker hop-on-hop-off bus tour of central Singapore, introducing us to the city, a mix of colonial buildings, traditional two-story storefronts with upper-story shutters in a rainbow of colors, and glass and steel skyscrapers.  Laced through with impeccably maintained greenery.  I didn’t expect Singapore to feel so spacious and gracious.  It doesn’t have that intensely urban feel like Hong Kong or New York.
  • ShuttersWandering through Little India, a maze of shops and eateries heady with burning incense.
  • Dinner at the home of a colleague of our friends, getting a picture of home life and how east meets west.
  • Trawling the many malls on Orchard Road.  A little of that goes a long way for me, unless followed by…
  • A daily afternoon dip in the pool, before, during or after the brief but sometimes heavy daily rainstorm.  An hour with a good book under a beach umbrella, listening to children in the pool or the patter of rain just beyond the shelter.
  • The Night Safari - a cross between a zoo and a wild animal park, but in a dark and rain-glistening tropical jungle lit by a full moon and artistically placed lighting not much brighter than the moon itself.  Never though have I seen such an active and alert a collection of animals - Malaysian tigers, jackals, tapirs, capybaras, elephants, barbarosas (a lumpy wild pig with upturned tusks sticking right through the roof of it’s snout), giant anteaters, sloth bears, bat-eared foxes, giraffes, hippos, water buffalo, antelope…
  • Boat QuayA boat loop on the Singapore river, starting at Boat Quay, a quaint strip of eateries tucked up next to the polished spires of the financial district.
  • Chinatown - a section of quaint and colorful storefronts and street vendors - though very few hawking cheap Chinese merchandise.  For some reason Indian trinkets dominate.  The Hindu temple is festooned with a layer cake of blue characters and a menagerie of animals, and the courtyard walls are topped with images of lounging sacred white cows.
  • Christmas serenadeMeeting with our friends in the vaulted lobby for Christmas eve present sharing, at the foot of a 30 foot tree, as a live choir performs intricately harmonized Christmas songs nearby.
  • A new iPod touch ;-).
  • Indochine, a trendy southeast Asian eatery housed in a wing of the Singapore Asian Civilization Museum on the waterfront looking towards Boat Quay and the financial district, provided the perfect Christmas Eve dinner venue.  My top choices - a beef and prawn salad, steamed cod in lemon sauce, green mussels in coconut curry, lemongrass creme brule, mango and sticky rice.  Wow!
  • The Singapore Art Museum, housed in a colonial former school, boasts an interesting collection of Asian contemporary art, some of which seems rather primitive to me, others quite sophisticated.
  • Orchids 4Perfectly manicured botanical gardens brimming with more kinds of palm tree than you had ever imagined existed.  The fantastic orchid garden.  My favorite specimen is the spindly and bizarrely twisting brownish-purple "Margaret Thatcher".
  • Club Chinois on Orchard Road for Christmas dinner - upscale, trendy, light oriental.  Featured scallops on a slab of silken tofu, fois gras on crispy duck skin, chicken drumstick on a Chinese sweet radish salsa, minced 5-spice chicken on a disk of silken tofu, cod braised in a clay pot with baby bok choy, and cubes of tenderloin stir-fired with ginger and green onion in a crispy noodle basket.  Chased down with apple pie, chocolate lava, peanut-encrusted rice balls filled with bean paste with a honey-ginseng tea, and a warm creamy almond "soup" in a new coconut shell.  One of the best dinners ever!
  • Angels 2Strolling through Christmas street party on Orchard Drive, with elaborate lights and decorations, bizarre floats (my favorite - the jumbo sliced pannatone loaf with fern-like shoots springing from its top and dotted with bread loaves in case you didn’t get the "Jesus is the bread of life" theme), a concert.  But mostly filled with shutterbugs milling around.  At any one time, 1/3 were taking photos, 1/3 were posing for photos, and 1/3 were waiting to take a photo or pose in one.  I’m not exaggerating!
  • Sentosa CableTaking a cable car to Mount Haber (only a 100 meters high or so), and back down to Sentosa Island, which is gradually turning from a beach resort and golf course into an island-sized theme park.  We caught a computer-rendered 3D chair-hurtling "log ride" down a mountain.  Then strolled through Undersea World which held a number of interesting specimens such as the tiny red hearted but otherwise translucent sea angels, giant Japanese Spider crabs, and a long underwater tunnel where we could watch scuba divers feeding the manta rays and hordes of other fish.  Even a dugong.
  • The Pink Dolphin show in the lagoon - standard fare with tricks and petting from volunteers.  With quite a jostling crowd and corny tourist patter, it was remarkable only in that we actually saw the pink dolphins.
  • Dinner at The Banana Leaf Apolo in Little India, where dinner is served on a banana leaf mat that acts both as a placemat and plate.  Gen was the only one who ate the whole meal of samosas, Tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala, paneer in a creamy tumeric sauce, and a paneer/potato kofta in saag.  Chased down with mugs of limeade.