Out with the rooster, in with the dog! Things have been a little hectic lately, but I knew a flying visit to Singapore for the Lunar New Year celebrations would do Leroy and I the world of good. Especially since there was to be no actual flying involved. Our levels of planning were well below our usual standards but we didn’t mind. This was a spontaneous trip to a highly organised country, and we figured these two factors would even themselves out.
O Singapore, with your 61 islands, your colonial past and wartime history. Your afternoon thunderstorms and your taste for exquisite sweets. Your mix of cultures and languages. Your restless pursuit of civic tidiness and your excellent public transport system. Your astounding futuristic Gardens by the Bay and your biodiversity. I’m not sure there’s anywhere in the world like you.
I am sure our unorthodox materialisation behind a news kiosk was witnessed by a small family group, but it was too late to do anything about it. They gaped at us, eyes wide. The sudden appearance of a dread-locked French Guianese man and his pale-skinned female companion with huge humidity-affected hair would have given anyone pause for thought, but could possibly be explained away by the elevated levels of excitement all around. We nodded in their general direction and scurried around the corner, giggling with nervous laughter.
I’ve spent a few days exploring Singapore in real life before, but never during a major event. There were people everywhere. Checking into our suave boutique hotel on Seah Street (rooftop pool! bathrobes! living beyond our means!), we chatted to the receptionist. She consulted with her colleague and together they circled various locations on our fold-out map.
We still had a few hours before sunset. Throwing our luggage in our room and resisting the temptation to examine the minibar too closely, we set out to explore. The iconic 1887 Raffles Hotel lay just around the corner. I suggested we call in to the Ah Teng Bakery on site for a lime juice and raspberry mousse cake, but we discovered the whole hotel is closed for renovation until later in 2018.
Instead we called in to the excellent Asian Civilisations Museum and for an hour or so wandered around the treasures in their collection. Fortifying ourselves with a Singapore Sling in the restaurant at the museum (since we wouldn’t be having one at Raffles), we set out for Chinatown.
The rest of the night is a delicious blur of faces, colour, food and festivities. We ambled through the street bazaar around Pagoda and Sago Streets, people-watching and admiring the lights, buying traditional Chinese New Year gifts of pineapple tarts and nian gao (glutinous rice cakes) to take home to friends. Another distinct advantage of virtual travel is that quarantine restrictions don’t apply to virtual goods. That said, I did have to restrain Leroy from buying an enormous replica ceramic foo.
Later we headed over to Eu Tong Sen Street for the Chinese New Year Countdown Party, which ushered in the Year of the Dog with live performances, festive songs and various skits that we had no hope of understanding. We soaked it all in anyway. We melted away as the countdown to midnight began, and watched the fireworks from the rooftop pool deck of our hotel, peeling festive mandarins (or mandarin oranges, as they call them here) and agreeing that this was a pretty nice way to spend a Thursday night.