Journal of a visit to New Zealand, via Singapore

The Land of the Long White Cloud
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This page last updated: 29th November 2005.
Day 32: Singapore for the second time

Day 32 It is a dull morning first thing. We have breakfast in the hotel. It is a help yourself affair, so we start with some apple juice, follow up with bacon, scrambled egg, hash browns and pancakes, and finish off with toast.

We ask at the desk in the foyer about available trips. We find that the Fairwind Harbour Cruise is due to set sail in 15 minutes. A telephone call ensures there is a place for us. We pay for the trip by credit card. A sticker is placed on our lapels so that we will be recognised and we are sent in a taxi to Clifford Quay. There we are shown the way to a Chinese junk, where we join the other fifteen passengers already aboard.

The captain is a mature Chinese lady. She encourages us to help ourselves to the supplies of coffee and coke. We leave the quay and pass into the harbour. The captain reels off a stream of statistics. She seems at great pains to tell us how much more commercial traffic flows through Singapore, compared to Hong Kong, its obvious rival. Most of us, though, are not interested in how many millions of dollars have been spent reclaiming land. Nor do we care a lot about how busy is the port. The tourists on this morning's trip are not Americans, but mostly Brits passing through, or a group of New Zealanders on their way to an engineering conference in Germany. If not sitting in the plastic seats, we are testing our sea-legs on the swaying deck and simply enjoying the sights.

We head away from the skyscrapers towards the little islands. Several islands are in the process of being linked. What was once sea is now mud-flats and will soon be dry land. This new reclaimed land will become a playground for Singapore's more affluent citizens. As we get further into the South China Sea, any chance of seeing the islands off Indonesia fades. The heavens open; the rain comes down — in torrents. Canvas curtains are lowered around the sides of the deck. We move our bags onto chairs and ourselves into the centre of the boat where there is less water sloshing around.

Despite the rain, we land at the island of Kusu. The Tua Pek Kong temple here is a special place of pilgrimage. Most people, brave the heavy downpour and visit the island. Doubtless, a pleasant walk on dry days, I dash from the gangway, under dripping trees to the temple. I enter through a door that seems to lead past the living-quarters of the caretaker and his family. A television plays in one corner of the kitchen. At a table, a young child appears to being taught a school-lesson. Some women are busy preparing food. A snake slithers in a cage near the shrine. The smell of rain-soaked vegetation is complemented by the odour of burning incense.

Although wet, we are warm. As the boat sails back to the harbour, the rain stops, and though the sun is only a faint glimmer behind clouds, before long we are dry.

Clifford Pier is home to an array of shops. I am wanting some trousers to fit me. Salleh the tailor is very persuasive. I am measured for three pairs of trousers and two shirts. Christine has been searching in vain, at home, for a black dress that will fit her. She needs one for evening wear, when she attends her yearly lace-week at St. John's College in York. She selects some black silk material, chooses a design and has it made up. The clothes will be delivered by post a few weeks later. We take away with us a couple of tee-shirts, two silk ties and a headscarf.

We also purchase a new suitcase. My suitcase is a nice tan leather case, but several years old. In the crush of bags, between the airport and the hotel, the fastenings have got bent and it won't close properly. I buy a lightweight trunk-like case, similar to Christine's. I need as much space as possible. We've already dumped some of our old clothes to make room for new. We can only manage to take home small-sized souvenirs!

We take a taxi back to the hotel and rest until early evening. Although it is only a short walk from the hotel down to Clarke Quay, it proves a strenuous endeavour in rush-hour traffic. Once there, we are invited to sit down at a table at each of the many outdoor eateries. But we are after a bum-boat ride. The ride comes free as part of our Stopover package. I'd taken the trip on my own during the afternoon a month ago — now we were both going. The route is the same, but the evening trip is a different experience. All the main buildings are floodlit, highlighting particular architectural features. Even the Merlion is bathed in light, making it look especially ferocious.

On our return, it is time to eat. We sit down at a table and are offered some drinks. Christine has a pinacolado. It comes inside a coconut which the waitress later splits open so Christine can scoop out the coconut. I have a non-alcoholic Singapore Sling which is served inside a pineapple. To eat, I have spaghetti bolognese while Christine has a seafood salad. The drinks turn out to be more expensive than the food!

We take a taxi back to the hotel. Because of the one-way system of streets, the route back is about three times the direct distance. The taxi-driver is very apologetic about this, but compared to home, taxis are very cheap here and furthermore, tipping is not allowed, so we do not mind. Besides it is our last night in Singapore.

Journal - Day 33 Photographs - Day 32