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