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Singapore (Raffles Place & Marina Bay) November 22, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Singapore (Raffles Place & Marina Bay)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-JL

The area on the south side of Marina Bay can easily be summed up as being Raffles Place Station and the Marina Bay Sands complex.  It is a vast area that is still being developed and will continue to change over the next few years.  It is a place where seeing the old traditional look of Singapore is being squeezed out by the new modern complexes.  Most businessmen will be heading to this area more often while most tourists will just pass that area and head straight to the shopping complex and casino in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.  It may not be as varied as the Bugis and City Hall area but it is just as important.

Raffles Place Station feels like a misnomer to me.  It is a name of the station in the central business district of Singapore but the Raffles Hotel is not located near this station.  Most of this area is generally pretty boring.  You can head into the core business district and see many tall and architecturally interesting buildings.  It is a beacon of modern architecture, but that is about it.  Unless you are interested in taking photographs of these buildings and some of the art that is spread throughout the area, it won’t be interesting.  In fact, on the weekends, even Saturdays, the entire area is nearly shut down.  There is very little to do as many of the shops were closed, including the shopping malls during the F1 weekend!  The river and bay side is where most tourists will flock.  There is a bridge connecting the Parliament Building to the south side of the river.  Along the river, Boat Quay, there are dozens of small restaurants and bars.  It is a great place to get a meal, but be aware that the people there are very aggressive, especially around lunch time.  It was difficult for me to just walk around without someone trying to coax me to eat at their restaurant.  I couldn’t relax as much as I wanted and make my own choice, but the same time it is a great way to get information on the restaurants.  I learned that most of the restaurants had a happy hour in the afternoon.  In fact, most of Singapore has happy hour specials that last from noon-5pm.  Liquor is usually half priced, around $5 a glass.  From 5-8pm, it is usually 25% off and from 8pm, regularly priced.  The shops on the river are actually wonderful once you sit down.  The prices are reasonable for lunch and they offer outdoor terraces with riverfront views.  I enjoyed a nice Indian lunch while having wonderful views of an art gallery and the Fullerton Hotel.  Most of the restaurants and bars are almost exactly the same, aside from the food they serve, and they do have indoor areas that are air conditioned, but on a beautiful day, I couldn’t resist the riverfront view.

Marina Bay can easily be summed up as the area around the Marina Bay Sands.  The Marina Bay Sands is a huge hotel complex that includes a museum, future convention centre, future botanical garden, hotel, casino, and shopping mall.  It is a place of luxury for one of the most highly recommended hotels in the world.  The main sight for a tourist has to be the observation deck at the top of the hotel.  It is a little expensive but the top of the hotel has a large floor that is shaped like a boat.  Unless you are a guest of the hotel, you are limited to the bow of the ship which provides views of Marina Bay, the most important area.  The observation deck is a little sparse with just an open deck area.  There is a restaurant/bar at the top as well but from what I was told it is a little expensive.  You can enjoy a nice lunch there but that’s about it.  Unfortunately, you cannot go to the pool area or enter the pool.  It is limited to hotel guests only. Thankfully you can see the pool from the observation deck but you cannot get close to it.  The casino in the hotel is nice but very boring.  I found the casino to be very typical.  Bags are not allowed and you must show your passport or you’ll have to pay a high fee to enter.  While I’m not a real gambler, I wanted to try it out again but my experience was not good this time.  You definitely need to go with good friends and have a fun time with it.  I found the rules of the casino to be a bit strange compared to my trip to Las Vegas.  Las Vegas knows how to gamble and I’ll leave it at that.  The mall itself was good.  There are lots of high end shops and many things to see.  Unfortunately, if you don’t have the wallet to make purchases there, you won’t be able to do too much.  There is an indoor “ice” rink that is made out of some sort of plastic.  It wasn’t very popular but a few children did have a great time on the “ice”.  Other than that, the entire area is not very interesting.  The outdoor boardwalk was more interesting.

The last area of interest is the Fullerton Hotel area.  It is nestled across the bay from the Marina Bay Sands and connected to the riverfront.  The Fullerton Hotel itself is a typical old high end looking hotel, but on the other side of the hotel is Merlion Park which has the famous Merlion.  The Merlion is a famous tourist spot that has the mythological lion-mermaid.  Positioned at the edge where a Marina meets the Singapore River, the Merlion continuously spews high pressure water out of its mouth providing cute pictures.  Having lived in Japan for a while, it is somewhat customary for people to open their mouths and take a picture as if they are drinking from the lion’s… spit…  Of course I did that and had a fun time playing around the Merlion itself.  Behind the Merlion is a mini-Merlion.  This one is less than 2 metres tall and made of tile.  It is a very anti-climactic model from the original.  In fact, the original Merlion is not very interesting, to be very honest.  I would rate the mini-Merlion as very disappointing but a good novelty.  There are other restaurants and cafes around the area as well as a connecting bridge to the north side of the bay itself.  While I’ll probably never return to this specific area, I do recommend it to those who visit the area for the first time.

The Raffles Place and Marina Bay areas are an essential area to visit for tourists, although I personally didn’t find it to be that interesting.  It has a lot to see and do and there are great things about the area.  I still prefer the old side of Singapore compared to the modern areas.  I can generally see architecturally interesting buildings in Tokyo relatively easily so seeing new modern buildings is not always interesting for me.  For others, it can be a very fun place to be.  For those who are visiting Singapore for business, it is probably necessary to visit this area and heading to the riverfront after work is a good idea.  You can relax a lot and enjoy the beautiful views.  It’s not the best but it is still a good place to be.

Singapore (Raffles Place & Marina Bay) is part of a series of posts on Singapore.  Please continue with the links below to read more about Singapore:

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Singapore (Bugis & City Hall) November 15, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Singapore (Bugis & City Hall)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-JI

Bugis Station and City Hall Station is the focal point of the area north of Marina Bay.  There are a few other stations in the area but these are the traditional old stations.  They are somewhat more historical than the other regions of Singapore with a wide range of things to see and do.  This ranges from shopping to visiting religious locations to visiting tourist spots.  It is a place that is full of life and a place that can give people a headache if they hate crowds.  For anyone who loves the big city, this is a great place to be.

Bugis Station is where I had my base when I visited Singapore.  I stayed in a hotel that was between Bugis Station and Little India.  Unfortunately I didn’t have the time or energy to go to Little India.  The area near Bugis Station is very much a shopping destination.  There are several shopping malls and lots of teens and young adults in the area.  I found it to be a hard place to get around due to the sheer number of people walking around.  It is very akin to visiting Shibuya or Shinjuku which made it a place that I enjoyed.  The shopping malls were predominantly for younger people and the middle class.  Many of them are connected to each other.  The malls themselves had a mix of western and eastern shops.  I noticed a lot of American and British brands, probably heavily influenced by Singapore’s past colonial days.  There were also a lot of Japanese style shops, but nowhere near as many as Taipei.  If you head outside of the shopping malls, you can find a few night market style streets where you can pick up all of your tacky souvenirs from Merlion key chains to postcards.  You can venture a little farther and find a bunch of hawkers/food courts where you can get a lot of delicious food.  I found that staying inside the shopping mall food courts to be more relaxing and much cooler as well.  Hawker areas tend to be for locals whereas food courts are where tourists tend to go.  If you head towards City Hall Station and Promenade Station, you will find even more shopping malls but they tend to skew more towards the higher end shoppers, but not extreme luxury.

While shopping is a big thing in the area, it isn’t the only thing to do.  There are many religious sights to see and visit while in the area.  Heading north of Bugis Station will take you to Arab St.  It is an old historical area where you can see the Middle East community.  The focal point of the entire area is the Masjid Sultan Mosque.  It is a grand mosque at one end of the Arab St. area.  It can be difficult to see from the surrounding streets due to the tall buildings in the area but once you are on Arab St. itself it is pretty easy to find.  It is a beautiful mosque with a grand golden orb on top.  The streets around the mosque sell a variety of fabrics and rugs typical of a stereotypical Middle Eastern/Arabic town.  There are also dozens of posh restaurants and cafes in the area selling ethnic food as well.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to eat in these places but they looked delicious and welcoming.

Raffles Place or Raffles Hotel is one of the most historical places and biggest icons of the area.  The Raffles Hotel is one of the oldest and most luxurious hotels in Singapore.  It has retained its original colonial style.  The walls are painted a beautiful white and the courtyards are impeccably clean.  The palm trees inside the various courtyards bring the feel of a tropical paradise, without the beach.  The entire hotel is magnificent but unfortunately I will probably never have enough money to spend even one night there.  Next to the hotel is the parliament building.  It is an old historical building as well but as far as I could tell, off limits to tourists.  It is an official building that is very picturesque.  While the area around City Hall Station is more historical with the Raffles Hotel; Promenade and Esplanade Stations show the modern side of the area.  Just a short walk from the Raffles Hotel, there are new modern hotels as well as the Esplanade Theatres.  The Esplanade Theatres are two buildings that are part of one theatre complex.  They are iconic and shown in most, if not all travel brochures on Singapore.  They are two dome-like structures that look like a pair of durian or a pair of dragonfly eyes.  From afar, it is a very interesting structure, but up close it loses its flare.  If you have the energy, you can also head out to the Singapore Flyer.  It is a large Ferris wheel that takes roughly 30 minutes to make one trip.  It was designed by a Japanese architect and designed to be a labyrinth.  It is designed to bring you in and keep you in.  It is a typical tourist trap.  Thankfully the Flyer itself has great views of the surrounding area.

Overall, you can spend several days just exploring every street in and around this area.  It is nice to be in the area and there are many hotels making it a very convenient place to be.  You can do pretty much everything on foot provided you can survive the heat.  After living in Tokyo for 6 years now, I find the heat to be bearable.  It isn’t comfortable and you have to seek air conditioning after an hour or so, but it is manageable.

Singapore (Bugis & City Hall) is part of a series of posts on Singapore.  Please continue with the links below to read more about Singapore:

Singapore in a Nutshell October 25, 2011

Posted by Dru in East Asia, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Singapore in a Nutshell” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-JE

Singapore is a small country that has been influenced a lot by history and outside forces.  It can be argued that Singapore was born in the early 1800s when England established a colony in the area.  It was governed by England, with a brief Japanese rule during World War II until the 1960s when Britain allowed Singapore to merge with other countries to form Malaysia.  This lasted only 2 years before it was made completely independent.  It has since flourished and grown as a distinct country on the southern tip of Malaysia.  Singapore is a very small country that can be related more as a city than a country.  It is well known for its crack-down on crime with stiff punishments.  Even so, Singapore is a very clean country that is very multicultural.

Singapore is well known for its airport, Changi Airport. It is touted as one of the best airports in the world, along with Seoul’s Incheon and Hong Kong.  It is a very large, magnificent, and beautiful airport with 3 terminals and lots of things to do.  It is also one of the strangest airports I have ever visited.  Upon entering, the method of entry was pretty standard, however it was more American in the fact that I exited the gate and I was in the security controlled area of the airport.  I walked past all of the duty free shops and straight to immigration where I had the typical passport check.  I then proceeded past all of the luggage belts and out the door.  There was no customs control for those who had nothing to declare and only one guard there.  They didn’t take anything such as a customs card. This was also the strangest departure of an airport in my life.  For my departure, I nearly had a typical experience.  The check-in procedure was pretty straight forward.  I had to get my GST rebate prior to checking in, but with everything prepared at the shop all I had to do was scan my barcode and that was that.  I passed through immigration control very easily and I was extremely surprised that there were no security checks to get into the controlled area.  In fact, Changi Airport only does security checks when you enter the gate area, which most people probably don’t know.  The shopping at all 3 terminals are all very similar with almost nothing to differentiate the areas aside from the fact that each building was built at different times.  The shops are all completely the same.  I probably wasted a little time going to Terminal 3 to check out a few of the shops when I didn’t have to.  I will say that the airport is one of the best I have ever visited, but an airport is still just an airport with nothing too special.

Getting into the city is very easy.  Some people take taxis which are affordable but I decided to take the train.  A word of advice; be very aware of the limits of the IC card that they use.  The EZ-Pass is very useful but the cost of it is not really worth it.  I was surprised to learn that I needed a minimum $3 to use the train system and if you top it up with $10 just before going to the airport, you still have to wait 2 or so hours before you can get a refund on the balance.  Plus, a refund means you forfeit the card, which I didn’t know at the time.  Otherwise, the IC card and the train system is very efficient.  Getting downtown, I stayed at Bugis Station, was very easy as Bugis Station is on the main line to the airport.  There are buses that you can use to get around the city but they can be a little difficult to use as you have to calculate how far you need to go.  With an IC card, there is no thinking.  Just tap and go.  It is no different than in other East Asian cities that also use IC cards.  The other plus is that downtown Singapore is such a small area that you can easily walk around the city on your own.  There is no real need to use public transportation unless you decide to head to Sentosa Island or to some of the more distant areas.

Singapore is a very multi-cultural city.  My impression that Singapore is a multi-cultural city could have been due to the Formula One Grand Prix that was happening at the time as well but from all of the workers and what appeared to be local people, I noticed a lot of different people.  While Chinese people are the largest group, I saw a large and healthy group of Malays and Indians.  This can easily be reflected in the architecture of the city.  It is easy to see Hindu temples next to Taoist temples, mosques next to churches and so on.  Many of these religious buildings are a beacon in their respective blocks as if to say that their religion is more important than the other, yet there seems to be a great respect for each other.  I can’t say that this is true in real life but that was my brief view of the city at the time.  The common language in Singapore is English, and while Chinese is the most widely spoken native language, it is not the common language.  I have heard time and time again that Chinese will be the most spoken language of the world and that we must learn it in order to survive in business.  I highly doubt that is true.  While it is true that Chinese will become the most spoken language in the world, it won’t be the common language.  People need a unifying language in order to communicate with each other and I think English will continue to be that language.  If you ever visit Singapore, you will notice this easily.  It is quite easy to notice that while speaking Chinese is an asset in communicating smoothly, Indians and Malays don’t speak Chinese or if they do it is very limited.  Even if they did speak Chinese, there are many different Chinese languages.  Hence English will continue to be the unifying language of the world and Singapore for the indefinite future.

Singapore itself is an every growing country.  You can see change everywhere you go.  It is similar to Tokyo in that respect.  Many of the older buildings are being torn down to make way for new high rises.  The central business district near the Fullerton Hotel is an expanding region.  You can find many businesses there.  You can see the huge development in the Marina Bay area with the new Marina Bay Sands hotel and the huge gardens that are being constructed behind the hotel.  The entire area is undergoing its last push for development and should be finished in the next few years.  While there are many new developments happening around Singapore, I also noticed that a lot of historical buildings are being maintained or restored.  It is wonderful to see the Raffles Hotel and how it hasn’t changed much since it was originally built.  It is great to see the old Fullerton Hotel as well as other historic buildings being maintained.  There are also various buildings that are being modernized and restored.  The Custom’s House complex was modernized while retaining the original façade.  Even the famous Arab St. looks historical while being modernized inside the buildings themselves.  It is an amazing sight to see and something I feel Japan can learn from.

Singapore is a wonderful city/country to visit.  I would love to visit this city again in the future.  While it wasn’t a perfect trip, I was impressed by everything I did and everything I saw.  It has the modernity of Japan with the historical feel of Hong Kong or Macau.  It also has a lot of unique aspects that give it its charm.  While I cannot tell whether my visit was influenced by the F1 event that was happening at the same time, I did thoroughly enjoy the visit.  In the following posts on Singapore I will go into greater detail on the different areas specifically.

Singapore in a Nutshell is part of a series of posts on Singapore.  Please continue with the links below to read more about Singapore:

2011 Formula 1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix October 11, 2011

Posted by Dru in Sports.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2011 Formula 1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Jc

For anyone who has read my blog over the years, you know that I am an avid race fan.  I have been to the Japan GP for Moto GP (motorcycles) almost every year since I’ve been in Japan.  I have also been to the F1 Grand Prix in Japan 3 times as well as Rally Japan in Hokkaido last year.  This year, I decided to take a trip to Singapore to watch the F1 race.  Singapore does not have the same history as Suzuka or even Fuji Speedway but it is quickly growing.  The location has been likened to an Asian Monaco Grand Prix due to the similarities of a road course on narrow streets.  Like Monaco, the race winds its way around historical buildings but unlike Monaco, the race also passes new modern buildings that were finished very recently, or are still being completed.  The Singapore GP has also built up a lot of entertainment for both casual and diehard fans alike.

The run up to the Singapore GP lasts roughly a week before the actual GP.  While the F1 circus probably doesn’t arrive until the Wednesday before the race, the event starts roughly 7-10 days ahead.  Many of the shopping malls start by getting their decorations up and many shops have grand prix sales.  It is an exciting time to just be in the city and you can easily feel it in the air.  I didn’t arrive in Singapore until the Thursday before the race, which gave me three and a half days to soak up the atmosphere of the race weekend.  At that time, everything was in place and things seemed to be running smoothly.  Most shops had a minimum 20% discount on items.  It was great to see and many shopping malls had outdoor shops of various F1 sponsors.  Tag Heuer had a portable shop erected outside a shopping complex in the Orchard district.  Puma had a small container ship transformed into a portable shop located near one of the main entrances to the circuit.  While walking around the various shopping malls, you would be highly likely to also run into a previous model of F1 cars on display.  I only saw three, Lotus Renault, Force India, and Ferrari.  I would assume that there were more, but I didn’t run into them and there was little to no information on where they would be.  That is the only challenge when visiting Singapore during the F1 season, some of the public locations around the city are hard to find and you just have to stumble upon them.

The actual circuit is split into 4 fan zones.  Zone 1 encompasses the main straight and grandstands as well as the paddock.  Zones 2 and 3 are located in nicer viewing areas, and Zone 4 is the general area at the far end of the track that is closer to the city.  Most of the casual fans will flock to Zone 4.  This is the largest zone with many viewing platforms, a few grandstands, and the concert venue.  The entire weekend is filled with various concerts on each day.  They set aside a large grass field and built a temporary stage at one end.  During each concert, it is nothing but a sea of people in the entire field.  In fact, I’m sure many people buy tickets just for the concerts, rather than the F1 race.  Being more of an F1 fan than a fan of the musicians, I didn’t go to any of the concerts.  By the time the race ended, I was too tired to push through all the people and barely watch a concert.  I thought that by the time I walked from Zone 1 to Zone 4, the field would be completely full and I wouldn’t be able to see anything.  Zones 2 and 3 are pretty boring to be honest with only a few entertainers roaming around.  The only difference between the two zones is the fact that Zone 2 has one of the famous grandstands facing Marina Bay itself.  These grandstands face a floating platform and the cars themselves race under the grandstands at one point.  Otherwise, both Zones 2 and 3 are almost no different to Zone 1.  Zone 1 is for the real race enthusiasts.  It is where you will find all of the people hanging out waiting for the race.  While both Zone 1 and 4 have F1 villages where you can buy merchandise, Zone 1 has better viewing platforms and it is around the most important corners in the race.  I also found that more kids and families stayed in Zone 4 than Zone 1 and a lot more F1 merchandise was carried around in Zone 1.  It was noticeable difference but not by a huge amount.

The experience of the F1 weekend is something that I can’t explain.  It is a thrilling and exciting event that must be experienced to understand.  Every day is filled with people.  The streets are filled with F1 enthusiasts just roaming around wearing their favourite team colours.  Inside the circuit area, you can see so many people.  After going to F1 at Suzuka and Fuji Speedway, I must say the level of noise in Singapore was much greater.  They had “survival kits” for $2 each that contained a poncho and earplugs.  On Friday, I was walking around and experienced just one practice session.  At first, things were okay.  My ears were fine and I thought it wasn’t bad until I headed up and crossed the track at one of the overhead passes.  The scream of the engines were deafening and I could feel it shaking every cell in my body.  I had to plug my ears just to keep them from ringing.  I went to another location located under a bridge where the sounds of the engine echoed.  It was so deafening that without plugging my ears with my hands, my ears felt as if they were starting to bleed.  It was terribly loud due to the echo, but it was extremely fun.  The other experience of the race that must be felt is how close you actually come to the track.  In regular tracks, you are in grandstands that are metres away from the track itself.  There is also a large runoff area for the driver’s safety.  In Singapore, the track is narrow and the viewing areas are usually no more than a metre or so from the track barrier.  It is exciting to see the cars miss a turn and probably more so to see them crash.  I was not in a corner where a car had crashed, but I was in a corner where the cars missed the corner a couple times.  It wasn’t bad but it wasn’t great either.

In terms of the race itself, qualifying was a bit of a disappointment for me.  I was hoping to see Kamui Kobayashi do well but he crashed out in the second round.  The race was nice and interesting and the first few laps were exciting to see cars go through the turn two by two.  I was camping out at turn 5 as I liked the position for photos.  Things seemed to be going well and there were no problems at all, from what I could see.  I heard a few things but didn’t see much as there wasn’t a TV screen nearby.  Thankfully some people had Fanvision portable TVs and I could sneak a look from time to time.  I wish I had spent money on renting a Fanvision as I would have been able to see much more of the action.  I’m not sure if I would be as happy as I wouldn’t be able to use my earplugs, but who knows.  If you don’t have a screen to watch the action, I would highly recommend a Fanvision in order to keep up with what is happening around the track itself.  At turn 5, there really wasn’t much action happening for the entire race.  Cars would go by really quickly and that’s about it.  I enjoyed it a lot but had to guess what happened a little when Michael Schumacher crashed into Sergio Perez and brought the one yellow flag of the race.  I also couldn’t tell when the race would end either.  It was a difficult time to keep track of the race but in the end, Sebastian Vettel won the race with Jenson Button in second and Mark Webber in third.  As of writing this entry, Vettel is leading the championship and needs just 1 point to win it.  Jenson Button is in second and needs to win every race to win the championship.  It is more than likely that Sebastian Vettel will win the championship in Japan on October 9th.

All in all, the race was a great experience.  It was the best race I had ever been to, albeit I have only attended 3 races in my life now.  It could be a combination of a vacation and how close I was to the actual action.  Singapore really knows how to throw a great party and they should be patted on the back for it.  I am reminded of a story about the Olympics themselves.  When I went to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, everyone, including foreign media, reported how much fun it was to be in the city.  It was a real party atmosphere.  When people went to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, they said it was a great event but outside of the event it was very boring.  When going to the races in Japan, I found it to be more alike Beijing than Vancouver.  While the location of the course itself is partly to blame, I feel that having more F1 related activities in Nagoya or Osaka could help a lot.  The same goes for Moto GP.  They cities near the events need to make it a destination in order to bring people in and keep them in.  Doing so would help increase the number of visitors as well as people who visit the area for more than just a passing weekend.   The Singapore Grand Prix is a race I would love to see again, but not sure if I’ll do it anytime soon.  You will get a race that is held at night so that you can enjoy the city by day.  You can party it up with all of the F1 related activities both inside and outside of the circuit itself.  It is a non-stop weekend that I highly recommend.

2011 Formula 1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix is part of a series of posts detailing my experiences of visiting various F1 races around the world.  To read more about the various races I have attended, please follow the links below:

Information:

Official Website:  http://www.singaporegp.sg/

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