Saturday, June 9, 2012

Wanderlust: Little India and Sentosa

MAY 28, MONDAY  -  DAY 1: LITTLE INDIA AND SENTOSA, SINGAPORE

It was D-Day. The countdown to Singapore was up. I could hardly contain myself. I had everything down pat, our itinerary, flight details, the Singapore Dollar and Philippine Peso exchange rate. No kidding. I didn’t want to overlook anything, because that was it, the fruit of my labor, of my (im)patience. I had a game-plan for the best time in Singapore. I double-checked that my batteries were fully charged, that my bottles and tubes of liquid products were sealed with tape and in a zip lock bag, my luggage was pad locked and labeled, my passport was safely in my bag before crossing the threshold of our front door. And then, blast off into the speed of light, surrender now or prepare to fight! That was a joke. HAHA! I couldn’t resist having a Team Rocket moment. I’m a child of the 90’s and Pokemon is one of my references in life.

Sorry for the interruption of regular programming. As I was saying, we had an early morning flight, and we had to leave at 3 am to get to the airport at 4 am, for all the checks and the pre-flight procedures what have you, before our 6 am flight. Mama bought our plane tickets and our tour package separately at the SMX MOA Travel and Tours Expo last February, and we canvassed most airlines for the best deal. We bought roundtrip tickets from Tiger Airways, apart from being the most affordable at the time, because they offered the best flight schedule. Other airlines had late flights, meaning we would have arrived too late in the day to do anything but check in our hotel, whereas Tiger Airways had an early morning flight, that way we still had the rest of the afternoon to do whatever we wanted. Also, our return flight would be late afternoon, so we would have the morning left for shopping or sight-seeing, whatever.

Knowing we would drag ourselves out of bed at such an ungodly hour to go to the airport, I devised a plan for Sunday. Instead of sleeping early, I worked out, napped, then packed, and napped again. And I had the whole flight to get some shut eye before touching down on Singapore. Which brings me to another point, geography has never been my forte, so before going to Singapore, I thought it was the same distance as Hong Kong, roughly an hour long flight, but apparently, my notion of the distance was way off, and our flight was over three hours long! I have such a bad history with flying and that was the longest time I had to tolerate all that discomfort, thankfully, I slept through most of it, but I wouldn’t call it restful sleep, but more of a fitful one.

So yes, going back, when we left for the airport, it was still, in Filipino "madaling araw,” or in the wee hours of the morning, before dawn, so there was hardly any traffic on our way there. I thought that maybe NAIA 1 wouldn’t be as crowded as when we sent Papa off for a late night flight just last April, and there were throngs of people outside the terminal, not just the passengers, but well-wishers. I was right, to a certain extent, but there was still a line. There is simply no escaping long lines.

Okay, before I go on, I will warn you that what follows will contain a rant about one of the worst airports in the world. NAIA really deserves it. I’ve been to both NAIA Terminal 3 and the Centennial Airport, but it was my first time at Terminal 1 and it was decrepit and just wrong, wrong, wrong. I know that in recent years, there have been efforts at restoring it, rehabilitating it, but I doubt if there’s anything left to be salvaged. It really brings to mind the Nothing To Do Here meme. It’s a shame that such a horrid airport is what greets tourists coming to visit the country, worse that it’s the first and last sight OFW’s like Papa see of the Philippines. It does not inspire either love or confidence in the government, when a symbol like NAIA is poorly maintained and incompetently run. Welcome back, indeed, to long lines, and overall inefficiency, not to mention exorbitant fees!

We got off right in front of the terminal, and fell in line at one of two entrances that we saw for the initial security check. We waited for a while for a turn, and when we got inside, I saw that there was another X-ray machine that was idle, no one manning it, by another entrance, which was closed. Was it out of order? Were they understaffed? I don’t know, and to be honest, I don’t care. What is the point of having another X-ray machine and another entrance to distribute the crowd, if the airport management isn’t using it? Tsk. Tsk. Tsk. When we were about to go to Tiger Airway’s check-in counter, we found out we had to pay a travel tax. Apparently, there was some fine print that Mama missed, all that time she thought our tickets were just cheaper than the rest, but that was because other airlines, like PAL, include that in the total. And among the four of us, the travel tax amounted to over PhP 6000.00! Luckily Mama still had pesos with her and hadn’t had everything exchanged to SGD yet. But even so, travel tax? Where does it go? It’s like discouraging people from travelling because there are all these extra expenses. But what can you do? We all grumbled about it, but in the end, we just had to pay up.

Check-in was relatively quick, since most people were probably still stuck outside in line and only a few were ahead of us at the check-in counters. There was also a terminal fee of PhP 550 per person, if memory serves me right. Other countries don’t have terminal fees and have more decent airports. Le sigh. I would think that the Aquino administration would put in extra effort to improving NAIA 1, at the very least to honor Ninoy Aquino, the airport is named after him, after all. Never mind it serving the needs of an OFW nation. Oh well, I guess I never should’ve expected anything from the airport. The last hurdle was Immigration and filling out departure cards, and suffice to say, there was yet another long line at Immigration, with unsmiling, unpleasant officers.

Before we went to our boarding gate, we stopped by the restroom, but there was a line and too few cubicles, and we thought we would pass one nearer our gate. There should’ve been. But alas, no. While walking to our gate, we looked left and right, to no avail. I have no idea what the architect had in mind, but any public place should have a number of restrooms at strategic locations. Did it never cross his mind, that people might need to relieve themselves before boarding, and that restrooms near gates were necessary? What a design flaw! So we had to leave the gate, our boarding passes with their personnel, to walk all the way back to the restroom.

What a hassle! NAIA 1, why? But! In fairness to NAIA 1, their air-conditioning and Wi-Fi was at least to their credit. I managed to tweet and check my e-mail and other accounts before leaving, but no news, no grades, and no batch run results. Also, the gate was big enough and accommodated all the passengers, perhaps because only our flight was assigned to that gate. During other trips, we had a hard time finding a place to sit because more than one flight would be assigned to a particular gate. In any case, while waiting, we ate the sandwiches we packed for breakfast. Our flight didn’t come with an onboard meal, but it was too early for breakfast when we left the house, so we just brought our own sandwiches so we wouldn’t get hungry. After all the procedures, the trip to the restroom, and eating, we didn’t have to wait long, since our flight was on time.

It was a medium sized plane, I guess, and there weren’t that many passengers, so boarding was over in a jiffy and before we knew it, we were taxiing down the runway! My ears always pop at takeoff, but it passed, and I was able to fall asleep. It helped that I brought a blindfold and pulled the shade over the window, since I got the window seat. And there were no crying babies, thank goodness! I slept right through the flight, but for some reason or another I would wake up every hour. It was as if my own body clock was reminding me that an hour had passed. The skies were clear though, so our flight wasn’t bumpy.

Twenty minutes or so before landing, I was already wide awake, and I looked out my window to see Singapore and the ocean below us. There were so many ships! It reminded me of Papa… I wished he were with us, though I know how he hates flying. Papa wasn’t able to call home before we left for Singapore, and Mama was ill at ease, without Papa’s reassurance and hand-holding. Papa’s our body guard, our wise guy, bag carrier, etc. But we knew what we had signed up for and it was also on us to have a safe trip and look out for ourselves.

Before landing, the cabin crew distributed Immigration arrival cards to all of us passengers to fill up. When we went to Hong Kong, there was a similar drill, but what was striking about the Singapore one, was that the back read something along the lines of “Death for Drug Traffickers!” Yikes. At least you can’t say you weren’t warned. When I was a kid, actually Mama told me that chewing gum isn’t allowed in Singapore and you either get fined or go to jail. I was quite young then, and it seemed so strict that it scared me, but that’s nothing compared to the certain death waiting for drug pushers. I guess that’s why countries like Singapore are so much more disciplined, because they have such harsh punishments. I do wonder if that sort of approach would work in the Philippines…

Well never mind, before I knew it we had at landed at the Budget Terminal of Changi International Airport at a little bit past 10 am. We got down the plane, and as if my prayers for clear weather had been answered, the sun was high up and beating down on us, but it was a welcome warmth after more than three hours in a stuffy plane with freezing air-conditioning. As for the airport, I had heard that it’s considered one of the world’s best airports, at the opposite end of the spectrum from pitiful NAIA 1. And if that was their so-called Budget Terminal, what must the regular terminals be like? Of course the Hong Kong International Airport is still the best airport I’ve ever been to. But in Changi, everything was orderly, and in Filipino maaliwalas or bright and clear, spacious, so unlike the dreary and depressing NAIA 1. And no lines whatsoever, no jostling, hallelujah! We collected our luggage from the conveyor belt and went to the Immigration counters. Again, in stark contrast to NAIA 1 just a few hours earlier, the Immigration officer I encountered at Singapore was very friendly and even made small-talk to make me feel welcome. When I handed her my passport she complimented me, that I had lost weight and looked much prettier. My passport is already two years old, and my hair was much shorter and I hadn’t shed my fat yet in my picture, and part of me was nervous they wouldn’t recognize me from my old picture and not allow me to pass, but instead, the nice lady stamped my passport and I went on my merry way. But what had made my day was how she had spared a moment to communicate with me. Singapore was making a good impression already! HAHA!

After that, we went to lobby near the entrance to look for our greeter or representative from the travel agency that would pick us up and take us to our hotel. We did a quick scan of the people holding up signs, but we didn’t see our names, so we waited around for a bit, and went to the restroom. And their restroom was pristine, I tell you. The toilets had sensors and would flush automatically. And there was toilet paper! How first world! How developed! Here it’s fortunate if the toilets flush and there’s running water. Soap and toilet paper, and hand dryers, as well as hand sanitizer are few and far between, but there these were in abundance! And, that’s not all! Bidets! I was thanking my lucky stars right about then. We have bidets at home, and whenever we travel that’s always something I sorely miss, but there would be no more grumbling in Singapore! Hygiene is so important. One odd thing though, was in the first cubicle I entered, there was a toilet on the floor, like a squat toilet. Other cubicles though had the typical elevated seat toilet bowl and water closet. Was it a cultural thing? I have no idea. In other public restrooms we used during our stay, there were no other squat toilets.

And completely debunking our earlier assumption that like Hong Kong, we would have a hard time with drinking water at Singapore, there was a drinking fountain near the restroom and we whet our whistles and filled up our empty water bottles. Seriously, the flight, over three hours in an air-conditioned, pressurized environment, was so dehydrating, and my throat felt so dry by the time we arrived. And almost all the public places we went to had easily accessible restrooms and drinking fountains, and it was a joy. The bottled water we brought with us in our check-in luggage we consumed in our hotel.

By the time we were done, we saw a man who wasn’t there the first time we looked holding up a sign with our name on it. Apparently he had waited near the other side so we didn’t see him. We followed him outside, and we waited a short while for him to come back with our vehicle which was in the parking lot. He returned with a van, loaded our luggage and off we went. The first thing that took some getting used to for me, was being on the left side of the road. The driver’s side was the right, and not the left, and being a driver myself, it made me a bit uncomfortable, like we would collide with oncoming traffic at any given moment. But it didn’t happen. HAHA. It just felt so unnatural. That aside, leaving the airport, everything was green, and trees were everywhere. Singapore’s definitely urban, with lots of buildings, but there was no shortage of plant life, and the vicinity of the airport was nice, clean. When you leave NAIA, there are all these slums and shady nightclubs, and hardly any trees. Oh well. Our hotel was about 30 minutes away from the airport and we just took in all the tall buildings from our windows, on the way there. We saw a lot of luxury cars and even a few sports cars on the road, and their traffic was so orderly, the cars kept to their lanes, there was no gitgitan or vehicles eating into other lanes, or cutting other drivers off. What a far cry from Manila traffic.

Our driver spoke fluent, if heavily accented, English. But of course that’s my biased opinion. For all I know our English might’ve sounded weird to him too. In Hong Kong, we had a really hard time asking for directions, but in Singapore, English was more widely spoken. So Mama talked to him about the details of our tour before he dropped us off at our hotel. We didn’t have anything in our itinerary for that day, and had the time to ourselves.

We checked in at the Fortuna Hotel in Little India, as part of our package, and we had two twin-sharing rooms right across from each other. That was the first time for us to have separate rooms. Usually we would squeeze into a single room or a family suite, sometimes having to request extra bedding. When were small children that wasn’t a problem, but now that we’re all grown, we need more space, so my youngest sister roomed with Mama, while I shared a room with my other sister. Before we left, I looked up the hotel on the internet, and read some pretty dismal reviews, so I braced myself for dingy rooms and poor service, but to my surprise, my fears were quite unfounded. The receptionist was very courteous and the porter showed us to our rooms, which were clean and cozy. Our room had the standard double beds, there was a television, a fridge, an electric kettle and the typical bathroom fixtures, and that’s all we needed, really. We were on the second floor though, so we didn’t have a window. Not that it bothered us. I don’t know what category the Fortuna Hotel falls under in the star rating system for hotels, and it didn’t really matter to me or my family. We had all sorts of daytime activities lined up, and at night we would only need to stay for us to sleep and bathe, so all that we required from our lodging was cleanliness and comfort, and a safe place to deposit our things, not so much luxury or whatever else. At the end of the day, we wanted hot baths and fresh bed linens, and maybe some entertainment before bed. So if you’re practical and not particular or fussy about having room service and other amenities, then the Fortuna Hotel is a good choice, you get value for money. But if you’re after a palatial hotel, and the whole room with a view sort of deal, then another hotel might be more to your liking.

We arrived at the hotel past 11 and we settled into our rooms and freshened up before heading out for lunch. Since we had an early morning flight, I didn’t put any makeup on and I wore my glasses so my eyes wouldn’t get tired, so after resting for a bit, I washed my face, put in my contacts and applied my makeup. I felt human again. Makeup really uplifts me, especially then, because I was having a breakout on my forehead.

Afterwards, we went out to look for a place to eat. Our hotel was located in the Little India district or area of Singapore, and true enough there were so many Indian people and Indian restaurants nearby. Our hotel was surrounded by malls, small shops, and it was really very busy, in a flurry of activity. We had a map and a few brochures, but we were still orienting ourselves so we didn’t want to stray too far from our hotel. So we went to the Mustafa Center, a 24 hour shopping center, which is kind of like SM Department Store. We saw a sign for a kebab and curry restaurant and followed it, and we ended up at the top floor of Mustafa Center, but we saw that it was a pricey restaurant so we excused ourselves and left. We were back on the street and we inferred that for as long as there was a fancy storefront, that the food was expensive, like 10 SGD (as of this writing, the exchange rate is roughly 1 SGD is to 34 PhP), and up for an entrée, and not even a big meal or anything. So by Filipino standards a single entrée for around PhP 340 is quite expensive. According to the websites we visited, that was the typical price at restaurants, but “hawker” food, which I understood to be like stalls of street food, or like cafeteria food, or food at food courts went for 3-6 SGD depending on the location, which wasn’t bad at all, though still a bit more expensive than food in the Philippines.

So we kept looking. We walked quite a bit and we were hungry, so even if we didn’t know what half the signs we read meant, we went to a small Indian restaurant, by all rights it was like a local carinderia or small eatery, but it was indoors and air-conditioned. All the waiters were Indian and the other customers were Indians too, so we really felt and looked out of place. We looked through the menu and though we could read the names of the food, we had no idea what they were because there weren’t any descriptions. When we tried asking what a “what” was, the waiter would just say “what” back. By “what” I mean any of the dishes, that escapes my memory right now. In hindsight, I should’ve noted the name of the place, and the food we ordered, or at least taken a picture, but at the time, that was farthest from my mind. I was starving and just wanted to eat something, anything! But nothing was familiar, nothing even rang a bell and we took a long time browsing the menu, but comprehending nothing. We really felt like the clueless tourists we were. Luckily the restaurant offered an economy meal, that included one “what” one “this” and one “that”, for 5 SGD, and we all ordered that. Even if I could remember the name of what we ordered, I couldn’t have identified any of it, anyway.

The moment of truth came. Our orders arrived one by one on trays lined with wax paper, there was no plate. The only thing I’m sure of was that there was a huge serving of white rice in the middle. It wasn’t like regular rice, the grains (?) were longer and thinner. Was it Basmati rice? I have no idea. At home the only rice I know is Sinandomeng or Dinorado. So going back, there was something like a big potato chip on top of the rice, I can’t be sure. Maybe it was more along the lines of a tortilla chip, maybe not. Then there were three different portions of vegetables. I know they were vegetables because it was a vegetarian place, but I am in the dark as to what kind of vegetables those were. One was in a green sauce, another in red, and another yellow. There were three small bowls of liquid, one was a green broth, another a red chunky vegetable soup, and another white, yogurt like substance. And to the lower left corner there was an orange wedge that I guessed was something like a rice cake.

I smiled warily at the waiter when he set it down before me, a huge mystery meal. And this is me. Picky eater, recently converted to healthy living me. I had barely gotten over my dislike of vegetables, and my reluctance to trying new food. And I dug in like an animal. I thought, when in Little India, Singapore, do as the Indians do. And besides that was the entire point of travel, to see, eat, breathe, do, try “foreign” things and to enrich yourself with the experience. And that’s what I did. The first experimental mouthful was like an explosion of flavor and texture, and after the first few hesitant chews, I decided I liked it, and it was really very delicious. It wasn’t like anything I had ever tasted. It was my first time trying Indian food, after all, and it was authentic Indian food, not the Asian fusion kind of Indian food. And it was really spicy! As in, my tongue was on fire, and my lips were tingly, kind of spicy. And I liked it! I think that was the biggest surprise of all, that I found myself liking it. I thought I would just stomach it, but no I relished it. We all got our orders shortly and my family was equally smoking tongued as me. I don’t know if we were eating it properly, because the other customers were just pouring the liquids onto their rice, while we ate our food the Filipino way, like rice and viand, a spoonful of rice with some of the vegetables, and then taking a sip of the soups. But we didn’t care. We ate it the way we knew how, even if we got curious glances from the waiter and the other customers.

Can I just say, I was never fond of spicy food before, so I thought my family was hardcore, but they were the ones who ended up not being able to take the heat, while I was like, bring it! We must have finished four or five pitchers of water all around. Our waiter kept coming back to refill our pitcher and would smile wryly at us because we must have looked like we had bitten off more than we could chew. Mama had tears in her eyes, being the least spice resistant of us all. I think that was the most defining moment I had in Singapore, with that taste literally seared into my taste buds forever. It decided the course of the rest of the trip, with me pushing my boundaries more and more and breaking my old habits.

We finished our food with runny noses and paid up, and walked back to the hotel to brush our teeth before going out again past 12 or maybe around 1 pm. Even though I gargled mouthwash after brushing my teeth, every burp I had tasted like the Indian food again. It was gross, but it made me want to eat Indian food again. It was really filling and it warmed by belly. Though there wasn’t any meat, the spiciness gave the vegetable body, like the punch of the spices made the vegetables almost feel like meat in my stomach. I can’t explain it very well, and I don’t even know what it was we ate, but if I ever find an Indian restaurant in the Philippines, I will try looking for it, because I will know it when I see it.

Like I said earlier, we had the rest of the day to ourselves, and Mama had planned for us to go to Sentosa by ourselves. Though we could’ve availed of it through the travel agency, Mama thought we would save more by commuting on our own, outside of our package deal. So we left our hotel again and went to the nearby MRT station to go to Vivo City Mall and to Sentosa from there by cable car. The Farrer Park MRT station was just walking distance from our hotel, and like the roads, people kept to the left, and it was disorienting, because all my life, from the time I was in primary school, I was taught to keep right, and there I would’ve bumped into people, because my feet kept taking me right, as I was so accustomed to keeping right.

Well, enough of that. Their MRT was so…state of the art. Like in Hong Kong the ticket vending machine had a touch screen where you would press your destination and it would dispense a card. From the Farrer Park Station to the Harbor Front Station which was connected to the Vivo City Mall, we paid a little more than 10 SGD for four tickets, if I remember correctly. Sounds a bit expensive, but when you return the tickets, you get a 1 SGD deposit back per ticket, so I guess that lessens the cost in the end, but at least, the MRT wasn’t sardine-crowded, no pushing or shoving, the air-conditioning was working, and it was a fast way to get around, so I guess that was the price of civilization. Commuting in Manila is just chaos, so I guess you really get what you pay for.

We made it to the Harbor Front station and and then to Vivo City Mall from there, so I guess it was kind of like Trinoma or Gateway mall, except the train station was underground. It was a nice mall, though we didn’t really have time to go window shopping since we had to go straight to the counter selling tickets to Sentosa. There were different packages with different rates, and we bought the Noon Play Pass, for 42.90 SGD per person. Yes, pricey, I know, but worth it, I swear. Anyway, the Noon Play Pass granted us access to the island/park/amusement park/resort all in one from 2:30 to 7:00 pm and we would have the choice of four out of sixteen attractions. There were all sorts of rides, but since we would be coming back to Sentosa on our third day for Universal Studios, and we would have our fill of rides, that day we just wanted more of a sight-seeing adventure, so we picked the attractions that gave us the best views. For more information, refer to their official website.

IMG_1104From there, to get to the island, we had three options, the first being, we could go on foot from Vivo City through the Board Walk for 1 SGD, but that was a really long walk. The second option was to take the Sentosa Express, the monorail dedicated to the island, but that would cost us an additional 3 SGD. The last option was the cable car, which the counter attendant also recommended to us, because we would have the best view and it would count as one of the four attractions, so we wouldn’t need to shell out any more money, and we could go to Sentosa and back because it was a roundtrip. So, from Vivo City Mall, we walked to an adjacent building, which was connected to the cable car tower at the very top floor. While walking we had a pretty impressive view of the cable cars from below.

 

 

I don’t know how many cable cars there were, but inside about six people could fit comfortably, and we had a car all to ourselves. It was a bit hot inside the cable car because really it’s just a tin can that’s been baking in the sun all day long. There was ventilation of some sort once the cable car started moving but of course it couldn’t have been open air, for safety reasons. I mean we took an elevator to the fifteenth floor to reach that platform, so we were really high up.

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But the view from the top, from inside the cable car was spectacular. We saw the beautiful blue ocean and we even passed the port with all the containers stacked like Legos.

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And Sentosa was so lovely. And it was huge, an entire island in itself, home to Resorts World and Universal Studios.

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And in the direction of Vivo City, there were these really eye-catching buildings. I don’t know if they were designed that way or if they were still under construction, because they looked skeletal and eerie.

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We saw the famous Merlion and even passed by beautiful villas.

 

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It was so breathtaking, having a bird’s eye view of Sentosa! I actually didn’t want to get down, HAHA! But we had a return trip, so we would get to see it again. When we got to Sentosa, we were just on ground level, and what met us was a Cable Car Museum and the gift shop. We didn’t stop by the museum anymore and we took a quick look at the souvenirs, and everything was so expensive, so we proceeded to the attractions. When we went there we were armed with a brochure with a map, and over the cable car ride we discussed which attraction we wanted to try and the order we would try them, but we had no idea what was in store for us, and just how big Sentosa was! I found a copy of the brochure from Sentosa’s official website, and for better reference, and so you will have an idea of the scale, and to help you visualize how we went about our visit, please do see the above link.

Anyway, we found ourselves in the area called Imbiah Lookout. On the map it really looks as if the attractions are close together, but it’s quite misleading, because we wanted to go to the Maritime Experimental Museum first which would’ve been already in the Resorts World area. We thought we’d go down from the Imbiah Lookout, but no straight path presented itself and we ended up in the Sentosa Nature Discovery, which wasn’t an attraction, but was sort of an open exhibit of the flora, fauna, and rocks in Sentosa.

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There were all these very informative panels and displays with trivia. And the posts or beams in the above picture had labels of different trees and were made to look like trees with a very realistic bark like texture.

There were also interactive whatchamacallits. I didn’t get to take a picture, but there were these displays with particular species of birds and other insects, you would press a button and then it would play that animal or insect’s sound and it was very cool.

We didn’t really stick around long enough to read any the information, but it was nice to have a look around and rest awhile in a shady and cool area because it was past noon and it was boiling hot outside.

 

There was also a huge paper crane made out of smaller paper cranes. It was splendid, tiny cranes within a larger crane, like a Paper Crane-Ception. I just had to make that observation.

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There was also a funky coffee table like thing with a bug motif on the glass top and dried leaves inside it. I really got the nature, forest, vibe.

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We followed a bridge like path called the Nature Walk, thinking it would lead us down or at least fork, and we would make our way to the Maritime Experimental Museum. It was really pretty, very woodsy, and for brief moments I forgot I was in a huge amusement park/resort, because it was a forest, a small one granted, but yeah, there were so many trees! We even saw a squirrel! It was on the path and I tried to take a picture but when we got close to it, it leaped into the branches and was gone! But a real life squirrel, not a caged squirrel! 

 

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We followed the long path and reached the attractions Desperados in 3D, Sentosa CineBlast, and Sentosa 4D Magix and we realized we had gotten farther away from our intended destination. We didn’t want to go back through the Nature Walk so we pushed on and saw that we were going around in a circle when we got to the Butterfly Park and Insect Kingdom. We tried asking for directions from park staff but they didn’t know any better than we did. From there we tried walking straight down, thinking it should take us to the Maritime Experimental Museum eventually. But we couldn’t even make it there. It was so far away and it felt like we were wandering aimlessly, lost! We reached the main road, but if we had gone through with it, I can only imagine the blisters we would have ended up with, as there was no direct path there by foot, because it was in another area altogether. The island was huge! When we were in the cable car, we were so high up that it seemed little, but when were there, we were the ones who felt dwarfed. And boy was it sweltering hot! It was past noon, and the sun was just mercilessly shining!

So, a change of plans was in order. We were hot and tired, and we figured it was best to regroup from an area that wasn’t too confusing, so we went back to out starting point, Imbiah Lookout which wasn’t that far, anyway. That’s when we tried a different attraction, at the Skyline Luge Sentosa. We had the choice between taking the luge ride or going for the Unlimited Sky Ride. So of course we picked the unlimited ride, to make the most out of the play pass. The attraction is similar to a ski luge, except well, no snow, and instead of skiing, when you get down the other end, there’s a luge course. But since we weren’t really interested in luging, we just rode it to and fro. We must have ridden five of six times! It was a lot like the cable car, but we got to see more of the park and it was so pleasant feeling the wind and dangling your feet.

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The “bench” could fit the four of us at once and there was a lap restraint but a small kid could slip right through so there was a height requirement I think. It was funny because whenever we would get on the ride, operators would cue for us to get into a formation because the ride would come from behind us and sit us down, if you get the picture. And when we got off the ride we had to really move fast, standing up and getting out of the way, because the ride doesn’t stop moving. We must have looked like hens or ducks with our behinds in the air and almost scurrying away from the bench. One time Mama was a bit slow in getting off, and the ride clipped her bum and she almost fell flat. It was so funny, and after that Mama was never behind on us again. So yeah, it would take us pretty high, though I can’t really give you an estimate, at first it made me feel nalulula in Filipino, or afraid of heights, but after one go, the feeling of resting my legs and feet overcame that. And between the relief of sitting down with my legs in the air and the killer view, I can’t decide which was the best part. See for yourself.

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My sister got this candid picture of me while we were on the ride. I was afraid I would drop my camera so I had double wrapped the wrist strap, but that made it hard to take pictures. And speaking of pictures, near the other end, a picture would be taken and you could order a copy, but it was, like everything sold in Sentosa, damn expensive. So we just had fun looking at our faces, especially in the shots where we weren’t camera ready and had random facial expressions.

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After going back and forth a few times, we went back to the Imbiah Lookout for another attraction, the Tiger Sky Tower. Basically it goes up and rotates so you get an unobstructed view of Sentosa and parts of Singapore. And guess what? It’s air-conditioned! Sweet cool air!

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We thought the cable car and the luge were really high up, but the tower was even higher and from that height Sentosa looked like model buildings and structures! I’m serious!

The next attraction we went to was called Images of Singapore which was more of a short show about Singapore’s history and how it came to be what it is today. It was like a short film, except there were all these special effects, like holographs or holograms (I don’t know what the difference is) and wind effects, and it was kind of like a creative presentation about four key historical figures, the different cultural values that shaped Singapore, etc. And I learned that Sentosa means peace! It was really interesting but I didn’t get to take pictures inside because I was busy watching the show.

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After that we wanted to see the famous Merlion up close. Which meant more walking. I don’t think my pictures are adequate to show how far the attractions were from one another. Suffice to say that there were hardly any lines at any of the attractions even though Sentosa was teeming with visitors and tourists because by the time you reached a certain attraction the ride would have been over, and then it was your turn. That’s how long distance everything was. My feet ached so bad that I would get a stabbing pain in my ankle with every step, but I was not deterred, and I wanted to see the Merlion too.

 

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From afar it didn’t seem that big, but it was the height of a building, maybe three stories tall. You could also go inside and see the view from the top, but we already used up the four attractions in our Play Pass, so we just looked at it from the outside. At the foot of the Merlion there was a pond with a small waterfall and we sat down to catch our breath and to enjoy the cool spray from the waterfall.

I took this picture of Mama and my sisters.

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I also took this picture of Mama next to the waterfall.

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We went to the Merlion Walk after that and there were all these multi-colored mosaic tile fountains.

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This time Mama took a picture of the three of us using my camera, in Papa’s stead. Papa’s usually our photographer, and we didn’t really want to ask strangers to take a picture of us. I think it was late afternoon and the sun was just not letting up. I’m already red in the picture from sunburn, and my heavy Longchamp dug into my shoulder and left a red mark. My bangs are a real mess but the rest of my hair’s in a braid. Here I’m wearing my blue tube romper.

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We walked back to the Imbiah Lookout and if not for the escalator we probably would’ve been dead on our feet, but we rested at Starbucks, without buying anything, HAHA. We weren’t hungry because our lunch was really hearty, but just to get our energy back, we snacked on some chips and biscuits we brought and drank some water. From there we decided to go back to the Skyline Luge and instead of going back around, we went to the beach at Siloso Point.

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It wasn’t included in the Play Pass, but it was nice to just inhale the sea breeze and bury my feet in the gritty sand. It wasn’t an extraordinary or special beach, but I do love waves and water.

After that we went on one or two more Sky rides before we decided we were satisfied with our sightseeing at Sentosa. We wanted to wait a bit longer for the sunset, that way the cable car ride back to Vivo City would be nice, but it was already 6 pm and it was still light out! That’s another thing about Singapore that I had yet to learn, that they had later sunrises and sunsets, and that the sun wouldn’t have set for another hour! Wow!

Here’s a snapshot that my youngest sister took in the cable car ride back to Vivo City. The file’s time stamp says 6:37 PM. It could be off, but you can clearly see that the sun hasn’t gone down yet, when in the Philippines it would already be dark by that time.

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Here are some parting shots that I took of Sentosa. I did feel a sort of “peace” or contentment as we were leaving. Maybe it was relief. HAHA. I was so tired after all.

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Back at Vivo City, we headed down to the Harbor Front MRT station, and since it was already past 6, a lot of people were also just getting out of their offices so the MRT was a lot more packed than on our way going to Sentosa earlier. We were beyond exhausted, and my feet were so sore. I wore sandals but the sheer distance we covered just killed my feet. At least I didn’t get blisters. After a station or two, some passengers alighted and we were able to find vacant seats until we made it back to Farrer Park. I was so tired my mind was numb and I sat there staring blankly into space and barely registering the different stations we passed. All the other passenger were minding their own business and I was glad in a distant sort of way, thankful that we were all in one piece. We had done so much already, yet we only arrived hours ago. It was like the whole day we went from flying to walking until our feet were stumps.

We got to Farrer Park station at past 7 pm and we had missed the sunset, being underground, and we wanted to eat dinner before heading back to our hotel. Going to Harbor Front we passed a McDonald’s, but on the way back we couldn’t remember exactly where we saw it. I mean at Farrer Park, the trains are right in the middle, but there are different entrances and exits on surface level, and we didn’t go back the same way we came in, so we couldn’t find the McDonald’s. We were hungry, lost, and in pain, and I don’t know how we found the McDonald’s but when we saw it, it was so familiar, and so safe, like a haven, after the tongue-enflaming unknown Indian food we had for lunch and how we wore down our feet at Sentosa. It was like an oasis after we had spent the day in the scorching heat of the sun.

And the smell of French fries was like, coming home! But actually, fastfood chains in other countries are always fascinating places, because even though everything is becoming more and more globalized, there is always a unique local flavor that gets infused to suit cross-cultural palates. Like in the Philippines we can’t do without rice, so there are rice meals, but probably in the Western countries where the fastfood chains originated, rice isn’t a staple. I’ve heard that in one country, though I can’t recall right now, they serve ketchup instead of gravy with the chicken at KFC because that’s the local preference. When we went to Hong Kong their McDonald’s you could choose between corn and fries to go with your burger, and over there their burgers were pork, not beef, and they had unusual burger flavors, like Teriyaki, etc. So I was really curious to see what would set the McDonald’s at Singapore apart.

Menu-wise, not much. They did offer corn, like Hong Kong. It was a bit of a struggle to order because we couldn’t understand the service crew’s English, unlike in Sentosa, where almost all the park employees we spoke to had really easy to comprehend English. Eventually we managed to get across what we wanted. We all got Double Cheeseburger Meals with fries and coke, because it was the cheapest combo meal at under 5 SGD each. But as it turns out, their regular size for the fries and coke was already or medium size, so I guess that was nice. It wasn’t until we went to get ketchup at their condiments counter that Singapore’s peculiarity made itself known: orange chili sauce. Not like runny hot sauce, but a thick, paste like, orange goop. Does it go with burgers or fries? I don’t know, I didn’t really notice if the other customers were slathering their food in it, but my sisters, always up for experimental food combinations mixed the chili sauce with the ketchup and they liked it. I didn’t try it though because I’ve never been fond of chili/hot sauce. I mean I like spicy food, from spices, as in packing the heat, but not the vinegar based hot sauce.

Anyway, after that we all limped our way back to our hotel. It didn’t seem far when we left earlier, but then we weren’t tired out, so coming back, it was like we were moving in slow motion. We made it back haggard, sunburned resemblances of ourselves from when we left and returned to our hotel. Our rooms were only on the second floor so we could have taken the stairs easily under normal circumstances, but we didn’t have any strength left in us, and we saw our reflections in the mirrors inside the elevator and we all looked like we came back from the dead. Our hair looked greasy and windblown, our faces dark with oil and sunburn, and were zombies trudging to our rooms.

I showered ahead of my sister and the warm water sluicing all over me brought my limbs back to life, and after that we watched a bit of their local programming on television, but since there wasn’t any cable, and the free channels were Chinese, some Indian, and others Malay, and the only English channel was a news channel, we didn’t really watch for long.

We were outdoors all day and whenever we tried to find Wi-Fi, even at Sentosa, we couldn’t get a connection. I mean it could be detected, but for some reason, even the ones that were for public use, couldn’t be accessed. And when we looked up our hotel they didn’t have Wi-Fi included in the list of amenities, but that night, maybe we just got lucky, the hotel had a Wi-Fi signal that we were able to connect to. My sister and I both checked it, and I even got to tweet briefly, but then it fluctuated and was gone, and we couldn’t get a signal the rest of the trip. Well, I didn’t really miss having internet because we were so busy during the daytime and always wiped out at night, and ready to fall into bed to think of Wi-Fi.

We were ready for bed, but the air-conditioning, though we adjusted the temperature, was so cold that my sister and I shared a double-bed. It was tight but we both fell asleep right away. I did wake up in the middle of the night to her snoring, and I wasn’t that cold anymore so I sent her away back to her own bed and went back to sleep alone.

The last thought that crossed my mind was how eventful a day it was, and to think we had only just arrived. There was even more to come in the next three days.

Stay tuned for: MAY 29, TUESDAY- DAY 2: CITY TOUR, ORCHARD ROAD, AND CHINA TOWN

3 comments:

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  3. Ugh. Ikaw na ang nakaLongchamp.

    So tacky my dear.

    ReplyDelete

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