24 October 2019

Singapore: Rollin' On The River!

Singapore took me back to the river, I knew that I wasn't looking for a ghost but remnants of S'pore's past motivated my visit! Taking certain colonial talking point into consideration, I embraced the waters of the Singapore River that October day. Keeping those British colonial vibes present, a fort like park had to be explored but all I really wanted was a Singapore Sling! 

Bright and early I made my way to S'pore's Fort Canning Hill to learn more about its early British colonial features and its later fortification. Perched on a prime piece of land, the height of Fort Canning Hill gave the British contingent the seclusion that was required during the early days of British rule after the Singapore Treaty had been signed. Home to one of Raffles former residences, I opted not to visit that lavish white building that was currently featuring the Bicentennial exhibition. Backtracking for a moment, the hike up to the top of Singapore's fort like park wasn't difficult because escalators made the ascent very easy indeed. The humidity hadn't quite reached fever pitch during that Singaporean October morning, I could sense the rain would be pouring on down. Captured to the left is the Gate of Fort Canning, if truth be told I wasn't worried about the finer details. The British Empire's issue, none of mine!

Making my way through the once fortified settlement, the park in modern day time served a lushness with its rich variety of plant life. Was I close to the Singapore River? Yes, after I read the exhibits further that were dotted around the area outside the southern side of the fort gate I learned that this now park has been inextricably linked to the Singapore River that flowed not so far from that lush location. Descending from the peak of the hill I stumbled across a sloped lawned area, it reminded me of a Victorian botanical garden. I would be telling a massive lie if I said I wasn't looking for nuggets of information about the formative years of Singapore as a British colony. Fort Canning Hill allowed me to see something that emulated the former rulers of this city state. In present day, Fort Canning Hill stands as a reminder but more importantly a park, the history only remains for Singapore has stood independent from Britain since 1963. Reaching lower land, it was time to find those waters!

Singapore's Downtown Core allowed me to see the contrast between its British colonial buildings that stood beside the towering modern structures that currently dominate the city states own skyline. After catching a glimpse of the striking statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, I knew that I had arrived at my intended spot. On the banks of the Singapore River that stood before me, Sir Stamford Raffles docked along that spot on the 28th of January 1819. With his English Victorian attire carved into such a striking statue, it was easy to tell that Raffles was a well to do man during his time. Personally as an Englishman I felt quite proud that I was standing in the same place that Raffles statue stood, as Raffles negotiated his first treaty during that initial ten day visit after his first landing along the Singapore River. I don't know the nature as to how Raffles handled that deal, leaving our nationalities as the only similarity.

The backdrop served an almighty contrast, with two story riverside structures that functioned as upmarket bars and restaurants that were dwarfed by a whole host of skyscrapers. History states that Singapore was a modest fishing village before Britain's Sir Stamford Raffles steered his vessel into the Singapore, amongst his contemporaries Raffles helped push Singapore into world renowned trading hub way back when. Don't quote me, I'm not a historian whatsoever! Nevertheless, the opening up of Singapura impressed me much with the many minds and cultures that helped shape such a powerhouse of diversity and flavour.  I had covered a lot of ground during that mornings pursuit, keeping things simple the super convenient street signs and GPS capabilities I was navigating my way around Singapore's Downtown Core without any issues. After the intermittent showers, the sky turned a beautiful blue shade that was very much appreciated! Singapore, I'm not religious but!

Set amongst the bustling Downtown Core, the land that St. Andrew's Cathedral stands on was always instead to house a house of worship. Set aside as part of Raffles's Town Plan of 1822, an Anglican Cathedral was first constructed in 1835 to conduct its fist service two years later in 1837. I'm not religious but the legacy and story behind St. Andrew's stood in that moment as the lasting legacy during the time of Sinagpore's time as a British Colony. I am no saint but I always respect photography within churches, temples and mosques unless rules permit photos, lets just say I wasn't surprised to see a certain group of East Asian tourists blatantly disregard that rule as I peered inside the entrance of Singapore's own Anglican Cathedral. Knowing I was being respectful I had a good look into the service that was taking place in that moment, respect is due in such places regardless of religious beliefs. So, was something from Coventry?

The first cathedral constructed wasn't going to last forever, St. Andrew's eventually was rebuilt with a gothic style in mind. The reconstruction was powered by the labour of Indian convict labourers under the laws of Singapore's British imperial rule. Here's where the Coventry connection comes into play, the 'Coventry Cross' that supports the pulpit was crafted from the three silver-plated iron nails from the ruins of the 14th Coventry Cathedral that was destroyed during World War II. During my visit to Singapore I was amazed to see houses of worship from four different faiths, ranging from Little India's Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple to Kampong Glam's own Masjid Sultan. Singapore's Anglican connection made my East Asian location feel as it did when I saw HK's St. John's Cathedral, another Victorian era place of worship. Singapore's religious diversity impressed me much, I'm not religious but all the same the variety was impressive to see. I wanted that S'pore Sling!

Now, my accommodation choice whilst I was staying was basic but worked for me perfectly. On the other price range, some prefer to stay at Singapore's world famous Raffles Hotel. Connected to the hotel I wanted to have a drink or two at the world famous 'Long Bar'. Famed for being the founding bar that created the Singapore Sling, a cocktail that I had to try for myself! Waiting in the queue, it didn't take a fool to see why Singapore's 'Long Bar' was causing such a damn commotion. Set within Singapore's famous Raffles Hotel it was the closest I was going to get to that premium world renowned hotel. I took my seat at the bar within Singapore's own 'Long Bar' to order the original sling to try all for myself! Upon first tasting my first Sling I loved the gin and cherry combination! Taking all of the views and busy pace of service in, I marvelled at the operation the barman executed to make those signature cocktails! Tasty!

Enjoying the monkey nuts I wasn't going to be one of those people who brushed all of the shells onto the floor, that's just not my style. The first drink turned into the second and with the gin hitting me a little bit I opted for a third and final Singapore Sling because when it comes to tasty drinks I don't have any self control! The service charge almost got me, thankfully I had enough money to spare for that third and final mixed Singaporean drink! My experience at Singapore's 'Long Bar' was brilliant, if not pricey I loved every sip of the world famous Singapore Sling within the very venue that it was founded. Backtracking a little bit before finding the 'Long Bar' at the Raffles Hotel, I had found Singapore's own Marks & Spencer's food market! A slice of England had me wanting more of those pig like treats! Getting myself a bag of Percy Pigs had to be done! The Singapore Sling wouldn't exist without the flowing movements of the Singapore River! Yes S, my morning of adventure was well worth it!

Singapore's Almighty River!

Joseph Harrison

22 October 2019

Singapore: Little India, Mosques & Hawker Centres...

Little India and Kampong Glam were in my sights during my second Singaporean day of adventure and exploration! During my pursuit that day I was able to find my first hawker centre, experience Indian culture once again and see a majestic mosque! With a pitstop interchange in Bugis, I found Ribena and saw real imported British cheese in an unassuming supermarket! Yes S!

Singapore's MTR system took me from Chinatown to Little India without any stress whatsoever. My hostel bite-size breakfast hadn't kept those hunger pangs away for long, hitting up Little India's Tekka Centre had to be done! Following the immaculately placed signs I let my sense of smell guide to the gorgeous food that was on offer. Choosing a curry plate set meal, I feasted upon a spicy yet flavoursome chicken curry that was served with rice, chapati with some okra on the side. If truth be told it was quite spicy for my palette but I enjoyed it all up, the immense feeling of Little India's Tekka Centre had me like I was in a vortex of culture and life. Choosing a masala chai as my decided drink was the perfect spice to add with my meal, it was such an amazing yet simple food experience! People were so utterly friendly, their manners were impeccable, so I felt removed from China! Oh, manners don't cost much! 

Leaving Little India's Tekka Centre I found myself walking along Serangoon Road, the blue skies worked perfectly well with the brightly coloured shopfronts that lined that busy street. I could hear Indian music and smell the familiar spices and incense just like I did when I was in India during December 2018. I was half expecting to visit Little India's own Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple but it was closed during that part of the day, it was a nice view from the outside of the temple, nonetheless. Stopping dead in my tracks, I saw the shop that has been featured above, the style of the shop reminded me of an ordinary Indian convenience store back from my time in New Delhi. I managed to get a good look before taking some sneaky photos. Little India's authentic nature didn't end there, I found some delicious Indian sweets in a shopping arcade that looked perfectly colonial in a British sense. Sure, Little India's vibrancy along with the food had bolstered my loved for diverse neighbourhoods.

Making a quick change at Bugis Junction along the MTR network in Singapore, I had the pleasure of being reminded that I stood a few good thousand miles away from mother England! Allow me to elaborate, feeling like I needed my thirst quenched I caught a supermarket come into my view as I walked towards the exit at Bugis Junction. Fridges filled with imported European goods, I saw actual mature British cheese! It's the simple things! Oh, that thirst, not wanting anything fizzy I amazingly found Ribena! Call me crazy but I'd have to do some pretty drastic things in China to get Ribena in that bottled drink form! Getting myself together, I found the road to Kampong Glam within a few moments but being in Singapore those humid showers poured on down without any warning. My interchange through Bugis Junction was short but it was most definitely very sweet! Yes C, Singapore made me feel very at home.

Another strand of Singapore's rich cultural make up smacked me in the face visually, that was in the form of Kampong Glam. Serving its Arabian charm and then some, I found Muscat Street as the golden domed opulence of Kampong Glam's Masjid Sultan came into view. Not feeling like looking inside I marvelled from the outside, the rich detail of that house of worship impressed me much! Dodging the tourists took some going, almost losing my last nerve I managed to capture Singapore's statement Kampong Glam mosque without going off! Food was the centre of my day, done with the mosque I found some equally Arabic scran! Watching the tourists float past and the nearby English teachers who were working in China talk their talk made me laugh! My Turkish meal nearly took every last dollar for that day but it was worth it for the rich flavours! It was feeling very touristy but the Arabian charm that Kampong Glam possessed left me wanting much more from SG! Serve it Singa!

Already staying in the third ethnic neighbourhood that I had on my radar allowed me to experience one of the many hawker centres in Singapore. Being a city that's known for its high cost, the hawker centres saved me a tonne of money! Resembling more like an elaborate and uncomplicated canteen-like dining experience I embraced Chinatown's Hong Lim Complex wholeheartedly. Closed upon my first attempt, their was a big clean going down that day so I waited patiently for the food vendors to reopen. Nothing reminded me of the mainland, I recognised signs that I had seen in Hong Kong with their Cantonese variations. Choosing the duck rice after finding an ultra clean takeaway style concession. The soup served alongside the duck rice dish was just amazing, additionally quenching my thirst I enjoyed an ice cold soy bean milk drink. Singapore's Hong Lim Complex served the goods, it was cheap with delicious finds S!

Without any doubt in my mind, Sinagpore's hawker centres hadn't seen the last of me! No! Food was not in short supply across two days, during both experiences at the hawker centres in Little India and Chinatown. The vibrancy of Little India had me instantly, transporting back to India impressed me much with the sights and incense on-point! Bugis Junction gave me a slice of mother England as I stood in a Singaporean land, of course Ribena is life! Yes, I saw a 'Poundland' style Singaporean Dollar store! Kampong Glam kept it chic, serving Arabian glamour with its opulent mosque! Combining the three neighbourhoods including Bugis, the time in Singapore had me questioning my actual geographical location! The historical facts, cultural gems and religious servings kept me on my toes! Singapore had me speechless yet again, leaving me wanting more for all the right reasons I called it a day after my experiences during 2019s Chinese National Day holiday. No, I just couldn't get enough of SG!

Hong Lim or Tekka Centre?

Joseph Harrison 

20 October 2019

Let's Introduce... Chinatown, Singapore!

Kickstarting my Singapore experiences I dropped my bag at my Chic Capsule Otel in the heart of the city's own Chinatown! Landing several hours earlier than originally planned, I wasn't mad because those extra hours added onto my first day in Singapore. Dog tired but the adrenaline helped me get acquainted with Singapore's Chinatown! Yes S, I was read to see it all! 

Being honest I really wanted to try Old Chang Kee's famous Curry'o after walking past their Chinatown, London bakery without paying it any mind, that was an opportunity shelved for the real thing! Singapore's Chinatown had an abundance of free wifi, making the right connections my iPhone GPS took me to the Old Chang Kee stand. My midnight airport pick up and pre-dawn departure had left me feeling less than energetic, ordering two Curry'o pastries had to be done regardless of my tiredness! Taking a seat within their revamped restaurant the humidity had got me and it had got me badly, I was practically melting! Feeling some kind of way, I tasted the obvious curry flavour but the pastry satisfied my tastebuds immediately, feeling like I was eating a Greggs bake I did! Why had I not paid Old Chang Kee any mind during my Chinatown, London visits? Yes S, I had made a very wise decision, staying Singapore's Chinatown felt right! 

Returning to my capsule hostel had to be done, I was dead beat tired and in desperate need of a nap. Thankfully I was allowed to check-in, with my forward thinking I had paid ahead of time to avoid the same confusion that took place in Dalian two weeks previously. Being an ex-British colony, all the Singaporean hostel staff spoke English perfectly, one reason why I chose to visit Singapore. Opting for a capsule bunk within a ten bed dorm, I was firstly quite apprehensive because I hoped the online photos of the room actually represented the real life result. My reasonably priced dorm room was worth the money and comfortable for me to sleep, Singapore's hotels were no joke during the booking process because the prices were sky high! Taking a little nap, I needed to recharge my batteries for the shenanigans that would take place that afternoon. Compact and conveniently located I planned ahead of time, reading the streets bilingual names I didn't have any mobile data in Singapore. 

The colourful shop fronts presented me with such a vibrant view of Singapore's Chinatown. Refreshed from my nap I was finally able to soak in the atmosphere with a level of consciousness. I wasn't attracted towards the gifts shops, the high cost of everything altered me that I had to be careful spending too much of my money. The food was another story, I was looking forward to trying some of the famous satay skewers but that was for another day and time. I loved that the Chinatown was concentrated around a couple of streets that all connected with each other, finding the Buddha Tooth Relic Buddhist Temple after a chance turning felt like I was winning until I was told my attire wasn't suitable, my grey H&M vest wasn't certified. I would try my luck once again before my A380 flight back to Beijing, China. I appreciated Chinatown's vibe, it still gave me a sense of my second home but with English widely spoken! 

One place in S'pore wasn't hard to find at all! So, as my first evening drew closer, I found a certain establishment that I had been intending to find. After careful research I knew there was no going back, I knew there was going to be a lot to enjoy whilst I was in the locality. Diversity, Singapore's wide array of cultures and nationalities impressed me much, it was something that I ensured attention was paid within the said venue along Pagoda Street. If I divulged such details of those Chinatown secret visits then I'd have to call the law, straight up! Keeping the those best secrets very safe, Singapore showed me some sights and situations within that said venue. Compared with my other East Asian escapades I didn't make the same mistakes, read between the lines. After spending a few days in Chinatown, it was evident that Singapore's got one of the best Chinatown's in the world! Shady places with a whole lot more on offer, it was a rich week in many ways! I should try Malaysia!

Waking up to my second day in Singapore, I planned to visit Little India and Kampong Glam. Before I boarded the MTR to reach those equally colourful neighbourhoods, I decided to try my luck a second time to see Chinatown's Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Opting for a simple t-shirt I able to walk freely into the temple without breeching the dress code policy. I usually don't take photos inside temples unless they are permitted because respect has to be observed in places of worship no matter the religious conviction people hold or not, that's my view anyway! Shimmering with gold and red tones, I saw an endless wall of god like statues, I didn't know what god was featured within the rich design of that temple wall shrine. The monks were reading a sermon from their chosen book, I didn't understand the language but it was so amazing to hear and to witness the goings on within the temple. S, it was amazing!  

The area surrounding Singapore's Buddha Tooth Relic Temple reminded me of Hong Kong with the elders playing mahjong and the Chinatown Complex giving me sense of the ex-British colony fusion vibe. Needless to say the new build temple impressed me much! After returning from my Little India and Kampong Glam day of exploration I took the MTR back to Chinatown, getting around the city state by MTR was an absolute pleasure. Considering it was the Chinese Golden Week the flow of people both local and visiting passed each other by seamlessly. The transfers between the MTR from Changi Airport to Chinatown breezed past, I had never seen such a clean and orderly transportation system before that Golden Week holiday! Returning to Chinatown that day allowed me to find those skewers at the Chinatown food street, they were just amazing! On the final night I went back for more to find the drinks stall sold Bulmer's Cider! There's no place like home? Who said that? Oh, Dorothy!

After my visit to that said Pagoda Street venue I went for some food before taking a chance on Dorothy's. Being a Monday night I didn't have any expectations, also being on my 20th hour or something stupid I saw a drink or two as the perfect livener. Greeted by rainbows and a life-size cut out of Judy Garland as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz, I felt right at home! Changing my beer for a Pina Colada I got talking to Rob, the owner of Dorothy's, also a Brit living in Asia he told me some amusing stories about the bar and expat life in Singapore. Jimmy, the barman made sure I had a drink filled to the top of the glass, those Pina Colada's were definitely flowing nicely! I tried my very first Singapore Sling at Dorothy's as I was advised the Long Bar wasn't the only place to mix the city states signature cocktail. Following Chinatown's own 'yellow brick road' I found myself back at Dorothy's sipping another few cocktails. Yes S, rainbows! 

I met some really nice guys during my time at Dorothy's, to have an actual conversation was so refreshing. In Beijing for me it sometimes get hectic in the rainbow venues because those queens can be damn shady, whereas in Singapore at Dorothy's people were approachable and it wasn't difficult to strike up a conversation that didn't involve justification of ones nationality and reason for residing in said country. Drama free, it was nice to not see people glued to their phones as they are back in a certain land. Heading out from Dorothy's after it closed its bar on the Wednesday night allowed me to see Backstage and May Wongs Cafe, I found cider and the Malay barman was absolutely gorgeous! People were just so friendly, it shocked me quite a bit! Dorothy's was definitely a surprise find that added to my uniquely Singaporean Chinatown experience! Chinatown, Singapore showed me the sights both during the day then night, I lived for the food but there's really no place like home! Bye!

Chinatown, Singapore Style! 

Joseph Harrison 

19 September 2019

48 Hours: Dalian, China!

Feeling a certain kinship for China's Northeastern corner I boarded my China Southern flight on the eve of 2019s Mid-Autumn Festival. The working week had finally concluded, allowing me to make my way to Beijing's Capital International Airport. Dalian, a port city within China's Liaoning Province had lured me to see its working docks and much, much more! I was ready! 

Arriving the night before the holiday weekend commenced definitely saved me time, after resurfacing from Holiday Inn Express hotel I was able to witness the first of many colonial reminders that exist within modern Dalian City life! Colonialised by both Russia and Japan, I was originally drawn to Dalian because those past foreign influences could still be seen within present day Dalian. Walking from my hotel I was lucky enough to see a restored Japan-era tram that passed through the streets, in China that's a pretty rare sight to see! Casting my mind back to my time in Hong Kong it was another reminder that a foreign entity had influenced transport within another Chinese City. On the look out for Dalian's Russia Customs Street I used Apple Maps on my iPhone to help me find my way. I caught a glimpse of a building that had a striking European likeness, I had arrived successfully! DLN, you knew I was ready to shop! 

I was particular with my shopping expectations as I made my way along Dalian's Russia Style Street, I was ready to negotiate the best price using my Chinese language skills! The first Russian dolls were offered to me at a criminal price, as soon as they realised I understood their figures in Chinese and that I was not going to fall for their chat it didn't impress them at all! Sharp with my Chinese bartering skills I managed to get a lovely wooden Russian style doll. Sniffing out the Chinese imitations in order to find a true Russian made headscarf took some going, using those language skills and my common sense I secured a fair price indeed. My eyes were firmly looking for a special brand of Russian milk chocolate that I had found in Harbin, getting my price sorted I had some gorgeous tasting Russian chocolate for the win! The chocolate brand that I had chosen had a little girl on the wrapper, she shared an uncanny likeness with her blonde hair and big blue eyes like my niece, Orla. Rain, don't do! 

Yes, I was very hungry, slightly disheartened by the lack of a Russian restaurant along that tourist trap street. I consulted my favourite restaurant app for some choices. Finding 'Friday Russian Restaurant' through the rain was such a relief, being such a short trip I refused to buy an umbrella! Ordering my food was such a treat, it was going to be a fulfilling meal for certain! Going with a Baltika 3 to drink, I ordered the freshly made 'Borscht' soup. For my main I got inventive, pairing a beef burger like serving that had a fried egg on top. Going for some gloriously rich mashed potatoes had me in food heaven! The meal tasted gorgeous and certainly filled a generous space in my stomach, it was just amazing! Wanting to catch a glimpse of a dockyard in Dalian I dropped the pin correctly on my Apple Maps guide once again. Located within a twenty minute walk I found myself at Dalian's Xianglujiao Xinhai Wharf. On it, D!

If truth be told I was supposed to meet up with a friend in Dalian, his lack of adventure and ability to think outside the box wasn't going to kill my current buzz. Securing an all important address, the communication between us ceased, it was for the best. I used my research and sense of adventure to find the wharf in Dalian that served a sense of 'Belfast/Liverpool port realness!' The cranes and industrial surroundings within the waters of that dock gave me a slice of something that I had wanted to see! I saw a mix of military, cargo and commercial vessels in one tight maritime space. The immediate area had been fashioned into a 'Liverpool One' like shopping complex, it was interesting to see such a regeneration project that oozed a western nature in China! Beijing being a landlocked city it had me feeling all kinds of memories from Wuhan because of the waters presented to me in Dalian, oh those waters! At that point I had seen quite a lot during a short space of time in 大连市!

Refreshed and styled for the night ahead, I didn't feel like getting a taxi to a certain bar that I had my sights set on. Walking the short distance from my hotel allowed me to be fronted with Dalian's Zhongshan Square. The nighttime had the square lit up with thousands of lights dazzling, I loved my life when I caught a glimpse of a billboard display that featured singer, Lizzo! Dalian's square reminded me of Changchun's People's Square but on a more tight knit scale with hints of Shenyang's own square also snatching certain likeness! I was ready for the night ahead, that nighttime skyline feeling had me walking all the way to the venue! Tucked downstairs I found the bar in-question, I ordered my drinks to find a quiet karaoke bar. It didn't take long before being invited onto a table where I joined some guys, one definitely caught my attention. That first night created the foundations for the following night in Dalian! Get it, D!

The next day saw me relax to the max, my hotel had cost me a small fortune so I wanted to enjoy my hangover in comfort. Making my own entertainment that afternoon, Dalian proved that certain delights are consistent with their healthy measures within China's North-east region. McDonalds was the chosen cuisine of the day, I relaxed until the sun had gone down. Dressing down in my vest-like t-shirt, jogger shorts and trainers, I headed back to the same venue as I did the previous night. There had been some shade thrown in my direction so I used an invitation at a nearby another table as the perfect ammunition that was needed. Dalian's underground Gay scene had me walking into a live Chinese cabaret show, complimentary beverages for me that night as I had a very nice new friend who covered my tab. The old proverb goes without saying, 'be careful what you wish for!' Boarding my flight the next morning with a headache of epic proportion it was time for my flight back to Beijing!

Devilish Dalian...

Joseph Harrison