City respite of his­tory, art, an­i­mals and a sooth­ing bath

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By ZHAOXU

If there is one apt metaphor for Sin­ga­pore it is a ta­pes­try, one that weaves to­gether the mul­ti­ple threads of eth­nic­i­ties and re­li­gions, im­mersed in the col­or­ful dye of his­tory. And his­tory has been com­bined seam­lessly with moder­nity in a coun­try that is striv­ing to be­come the world’s lead­ing fi­nan­cial cen­ter. Here are a few tips for those who want to put their hand on the pulse of Sin­ga­pore.

Where to stay: New Ma­jes­tic Ho­tel

In the heart of Chi­na­town, it of­fers an op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore the his­tory-rich area. The ho­tel, it­self a con­ser­va­tion build­ing, has re­tained its rough ceil­ing in the lobby while jazz­ing it up with the owner’s col­lec­tion of de­signer chairs. One no­table ex­cep­tion is a bar­ber’s chair placed at the en­trance, a nod to the ex­pe­ri­ences of early Chi­nese im­mi­grants, many of whom be­came bar­bers in the for­eign land.

The de­sign spirit is car­ried through in the gen­eral ar­range­ment and the rooms of the ho­tel. The se­cond floor fea­tures an in­door gym and an out­door swim­ming pool where you may even see pi­geons dip­ping their wings in the water.

The rooms, judg­ing by the ones I and my friends stayed in, are de­signed around the bath­tub — quite lit­er­ally inmy case as the tub is placed in the cen­ter of the room, sep­a­rated from bed by a glass wall. Formy friend it was on the bal­cony, ready to be en­joyed un­der a starry fir­ma­ment.

How­ever, the real stars of the ho­tel, ac­cord­ing to Lyn­del Joyce, the ho­tel’s mar­ket­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions ex­ec­u­tive, are the five rooms per­son­al­ized by five lo­cal de­sign­ers, each “given free rein over ev­ery­thing, from floor­ing to wall color”. For the imag­i­na­tive, the room names may of­fer some clue: Fluid, Un­ti­tled, Work, Wayang and The Pussy Par­lour.


with its glit­ter undimmed.

How­ever, if you crave a more down-to-earth ex­pe­ri­ence, head to Haji Lane, lo­cated in Arab street, near­est Bugis MRT. This tiny lane, hid­den away in the heart of theMus­lim quar­ter, ex­udes a bo­hemian feel. With fash­ion bou­tiques packed along­side cafes and bars, it is a place to shop for lo­cal de­signs as well as vin­tage cloth­ing, and to wash away the fa­tigue with a glass of mo­jito.

Lo­ca­tion: Where to see art and meet artists: the Na­tional Gallery of Sin­ga­pore and be­yond

Opened on Novem­ber 24, 2015, the gallery con­tains the world’s largest pub­lic col­lec­tion of Sin­ga­porean and South­east Asian art. That is more than 8,000 pieces of art­work. It rep­re­sents the lat­est ef­fort by the Gov­ern­ment to present the coun­try as a place where art can take root and grow.

”The great­ness of all great coun­tries and cities re­sides, at least in part, in their abil­ity to foster art, and to leave the world with a lasting artis­tic legacy,” said Dr Liu Thai Ker, world-renowned ar­chi­tect-city plan­ner known to­day as ““the fa­ther of Sin­ga­pore’s ur­ban land­scap­ing”. Liu, who once served as head of the coun­try’s Hous­ing Devel­op­ment Board and Ur­ban Re­de­vel­op­ment Author­ity, at­tributes his keen sense of art, which he has ap­plied to all ar­eas of his work, to the in­flu­ence of his late fa­ther, a lo­cal pi­o­neer painter.

Speak­ing of lo­cal artists, one place to meet them is at Emily Hill, 11 Up­per Wilkie Road. Orig­i­nally a Jewish hous­ing, the 130-year-old build­ing, now on the con­ser­va­tion list, houses about 18 art groups by it­self and its sur­round­ing court­yard. One prom­i­nent fig­ure is Sun Yu-Li, an artist who came to Sin­ga­pore from Tai­wan 35 years ago. Call­ing the cul­ture his per­son­ally em­bod­ies “the duck­weed cul­ture”, and Sun traced a lot of what he has done ar­tis­ti­cally to the men­tal and phys­i­cal con­di­tion of an im­mi­grant.

How­ever, over the past few years Sun has grad­u­ally shifted his fo­cus from self-ex­pres­sion to, in his own words, “help­ing oth­ers to ex­press them­selves”. “Com­mu­nity arts — that’s how we de­scribe it,” he has said. “We reach out to the wider com­mu­ni­ties, es­pe­cially un­der­priv­i­leged peo­ple, in­clud­ing men­tally and phys­i­cally chal­lenged mem­bers of the so­ci­ety.”

In do­ing so, he and other par­tic­i­pat­ing artists have teamed up with Al­lan Lim, en­tre­pre­neur and founder ofThe Liv­ing! Project, which is ded­i­cated to pro­mot­ing com­mu­nity art by en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple tomake art us­ing re­cy­cled ma­te­rial.

“We worked with chil­dren and adults with autism in Sin­ga­pore, Hong Kong and Lyon, France,” Lim said. “In Hong Kong and Lyon we made The Wish­ing Tree with plas­tic bags. Tens of thou­sands of peo­ple came within days to view the dis­play, make a wish and be im­pressed by the beauty of minds and hearts.”

Their next stop will be Shanghai, where Sin­ga­porean artists will join their Shanghai coun­ter­parts for a cel­e­bra­tion of art with a so­cial mis­sion.

Lo­ca­tion: Where to spend the night… with an­i­mals that are wideawake— the Night Sa­fari at Sin­ga­pore Zoo

Have you ever trav­eled a great dis­tance to a zoo on the out­skirts of a city only to see an­i­mals find them nap­ping, as How­ell Raines put it, in the “acres of af­ter­noons”? If so, a night sa­fari of­fered by the Sin­ga­pore Zoomay pro­vide some so­lace.

Board a trans-zoo tram, and for the next half-hour you will be taken through trop­i­cal jun­gles and African grass­lands, by­pass­ing rivers and swamps, strain­ing your eyes to dis­cern, in the en­ve­lope of night, an­i­mals that are prob­a­bly star­ing back at you with their cool gaze. From time to time, the si­lence of the night is bro­ken not by the howl­ing of wolves, al­though this ap­par­ently hap­pens some­times, but by shriek­ing vis­i­tors. (The use of cam­eras is strictly pro­hib­ited be­cause the an­i­mals are highly sen­si­tive to flashes.)

While the African white lion im­pressed with its sheer majesty, the thick-skinned Greater Asian rhinoceroses, ac­cord­ing to my au­dio tour guide, are par­tic­u­larly afraid of mos­qui­toes (Which es­sen­tially means they are as thin-skinned as me.) The most mem­o­rable mo­ment came when, dur­ing a tram halt, I looked­dow­nand sawa biglumpof a Malayan Tapir by the side— so close that I would be step on its head if I got out. (Note: Malayan tigers are be­hind thick glass walls, so any­one think­ing about a re­cent tiger at­tack on a fe­male vis­i­tor at Badal­ing Wildlife Park in Bei­jing need not worry.)

How­ever, some of the most fas­ci­nat­ing an­i­mal ex­hibits at the Night Sa­fari can­not be seen from the tram. You will have to trek into the wilder­ness on one of the four walk­ing trails, each tak­ing about 20 min­utes. Re­gret­tably, af­ter the tram ride, I chose to go back to ho­tel, and tomy won­der­ful sooth­ing bath. When all is said and done, I ama per­son of the day rather than the night. Lo­ca­tion:

31-37 Bukit Pa­soh Road Road Raf­fles Sin­ga­pore, 1 Beach The Na­tional Gallery of Sin­ga­pore, 1 Saint An­drew’s Road 80 Mandai Lake Road


Clock­wise from top left: New Ma­jes­tic Ho­tel; Raf­fles Ho­tel Sin­ga­pore; Night Sa­fari; lo­cal artists at Emily Hill.

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