Asia Chronicles: Managing to stay out of trouble in Singapore

I’m not trying to be funny. Everything I knew about Singapore — the jumping off point for my recent adventure aboard the Eastern & Oriental Express — was what everyone else seemed to know, too.

That American kid who was caned for vandalism back in the 90s: He wasn’t the first.

I had also heard something about penalties for spitting and jaywalking, confirmed by the U.S. State Department. And that the government is just plain strict on a lot of things, ranging from immigration infractions to chewing gum. That’s why I was frankly surprised I didn’t need a visa.

There were more warning bells the moment I got off the plane. Drug smuggling punishable by death, warned signs all around the airport immigration center.

After more than a day in transit, I was a bit jumpy as I waited in the immigration line. I have a tendency to travel light and like to be comfortable. Hence, I never dress up. That attitude played a part, I’m sure, in my luggage being searched twice when visiting Australia. No biggie; my motto is know where you’re going, and obey the laws.

I sucked in my breath as the immigration officer looked at my passport and immigration card. Your flight number, please, was all he said. Seems I’d forgotten to fill in that part of the form. That was it.

Relieved, I decided to take the subway to my hotel. Though I was beyond exhaustion and in dire need of a shower at this point, I couldn’t, as a native Nu Yawka, resist the challenge of a new public transit system.

I was staying near Chinatown, which some might think is redundant because most of this island nation with the British flavor is Chinese anyway. People were friendly; they guided me in the right direction.

The Scarlet Hotel, my hip home for a few short days.

A historic shophouse dating back almost a century, redone with lots of cool touches.

I’d heard from folks living in Singapore that this place caused a bit of a stir when it opened eight years ago. A luxury boutique hotel so openly sensual.

In truth, the real Scarlet is sexy, gorgeous and classy, with a great location and amenities. Here I am, tres unhip, gratefully gulping a bracing San Pellegrino something-or-other, the moment I arrived. Ahhhh.

Since Chinatown was right there, I grabbed some dinner.

So many choices for this Chinese foodaholic.

Would have liked to have hung out with these folk from Sydney, but had work to do.

Settled for some shrimp dumplings and  a Hershey bar. The Hershey’s tasted weird. A good thing — it might have sworn me off the stuff forever.

Compared to the Hershey binge the night before, breakfast was just so civilized. With food and drink touted for health and longevity. I felt so virtuous.

From there, I was hellbent on seeing a Singapore icon: The celebrated Raffles Hotel. As much an attraction as a place to stay.

It’s said the Singapore Sling was invented at this grand gathering place, a favorite with royals and celebs over the last century.

And it didn’t disappoint. It was its own city within a city. A throwback to colonial British times.

A place for the literati as well as the glitterati.

With its own shops …

… and museum.

The Singapore Sling at the hotel’s famed Long Bar was about what I expected, but then, I’m not a drinker. Syrupy. Two more sips, and I’d be a goner. I’m a cheap date, no matter what the currency.

I was just as wowed by the guest hall of fame.

George H.W. Bush.

Dita Von Teese — who I’m told had the hotel staff in a tizzy. Almost as much as Kate and Wills, when they visited.

And my personal favorite, Carole Bouquet, former Bond girl, who played Alex Petrovsky’s ex in the final ep of Sex and the City.

The famous Raffles doorman, who’d stood next to so many celebrities in his career, got the thrill of posing with me.

After that, lunch at a place recommended by the friend of a friend of a friend. It was on Smith Street (as opposed to the one in Brooklyn.)

Best noodle soup ever. And the dumpling was the closest thing to my Nanny Annie’s kreplach I’d ever had. No kidding.

The secret to great noodle soup — homemade noodles. This lokshen lover was in heaven.

The same shop proprietor, photographed for a credit card ad.

At this point, the legendary, year-round heat and humidity I’d read about were kicking in. I tried out a fan, but opted to go back to my air-conditioned room.

But not before having my fortune told. Hey, he was world-class. How could I say no? (For the record, I never even read my horoscope, though I place some stock in fortune cookies.)

He told me to stay away from sugary and fatty foods. How could I tell him I was going to spend the next few days on a luxury train where those were the two basic food groups?

To play it safe, I had neither for dinner. Instead, went to a place in Little India for some fish head curry served on banana leaves once frequented by Mel Gibson (there’s a picture on the wall). Again, I had work to do, so did takeout. (That’s the banana leaf sticking out of the bag.)

It was OK, but I’ve actually had better curry.

That was it for Singapore. Oh, and about those laws. I made sure I only crossed at crosswalks and followed the crowd. Talked to some folks who were divided about the rules. They made fun of the confusing chewing gum situation.

I’ll admit I don’t like those icky pieces of gum stuck under restaurant tables and to my shoes. But a capital offense?

Others defended the caning of the American, saying he destroyed property and deserved to be punished. Still others talked about how the subway shuts down after midnight and party goers are forced to take higher-priced taxis. In fairness, Singapore’s not the only place where that’s done.

Not sure about living there, but it was a nice, pretty, clean, relatively safe place to visit.

This entry was posted in Asia, Cool places to stay, Eats and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Asia Chronicles: Managing to stay out of trouble in Singapore

  1. Toni says:

    really enjoyed this,love the humor and the history and infor is great

  2. JRaia says:

    Thank you for sharing! Always enjoy reading about your travels. Looking forward to more adventures!

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