Stop-off in Singapore – meeting the locals

Singapore, looking along Orchard Road

Singapore, looking along Orchard Road

We had decided to spend a night in Singapore instead of going straight home. We didn’t fancy landing at 7:30 in the evening, getting through customs etc and then be faced with a four hour drive home. So we took an airport shuttle to the Mandarin Orchard. Here’s a tip. The airport shuttle services most of the large hotels, at the cost of S$9 each (ie S$18 – the Singapore dollar is the same as the AU$). A taxi would have cost us around S$60. They’ll pick you up, too. You just have to ring and book a time.

We’d upgraded our stay for a few worthwhile perks, like getting up to the 38th floor for free drinks and nibbles and breakfast, and the clerk found an empty room so we didn’t have to mooch around until the usual check-in time of 2pm. We showered, changed into Singapore clothes, and went out for a look around hoping to keep the jet lag at bay. We were in Orchard Road, which is just shopping, so we ducked in and out of air-conditioned edifices, generally pootling around. Inevitably, we ended up in a camera shop. The proprietor had the gift of the gab and persuaded me I had enough lenses – but this converter can double the magnification, and it’s much cheaper than a new lens, too. It sounded like a good idea at the time, and Pete drove him down to a reasonable price.

It being lunchtime we looked around for somewhere to eat and ended up in a basement offering hawker type food. We settled on ‘chicken rice’, which seemed to be a favourite staple. It turned out to be (um) chicken and a bowl of rice. We sat at long bench tables open for anybody. A lady came to sit opposite us, intent on her bowl of food. Pete nudged me and pointed out a poster. “That doesn’t look anything like the carrot cake you make.” It didn’t. It looked like fried up mince. What could I say? “No, it doesn’t.”

The lady sharing our space said, “It’s not cake.” She then described how it’s made. I won’t even try to remember. Read about it here.  That instigated a conversation. She told us we should be having soy sauce and/or chile sauce with our chicken rice, and went herself to fetch a couple of little bowls from the vendor for us. We chatted with this lady for several hours, talking about food and cooking. She was a real estate agent, taking a lunch break. We learned nobody buys land in Singapore (unless they’re very rich). But they buy their apartments. When she went off to work we emerged into the humid heat.

What now? We dithered and a local approached us. What did we want to do? We asked about the satay markets Pete remembered from his visits here thirty or forty years ago. Our new best friend explained they were now in the gardens by the bay. Very nice place, they have a light show after seven, then you can eat. Was there anything else? We asked if there were any computer shops around. “Oh not here, shopping space is too expensive. I can show you a place. I’m not due for work a while yet.” So he escorted us down to a building a few blocks away, took me firmly by the arm, and led us into a shop where he introduced Patrick, who would look after us. Patrick tried to sell me a lens – a converter that would double my telephotos, and would also enable wide-angle shots. I’ve got a prime wide angle lens, and we’d just bought the converter, but we listened. We were told the lens was worth $3,000 – but you can have it for $2,500, plus you get your GST back. Every time we tried to leave, the price dropped. We said we’d think about it and come back tomorrow and we finally backed away at $500. The smell of rat was becoming increasingly pungent.

Interestingly, our new best friend was hanging around outside the building, apparently almost off to catch his train to work. Maybe he hoped for a commission from his work for Patrick.

Having sore feet, we went back to the room and I looked up the lens on the internet. Nobody else seemed to have such a device. And the moral of the story is yes, you can great some great gear in Singapore at a great price. But do your homework before you go shopping. Know what you want and what it should cost. These dudes are masters at the selling game.

We had intended to go to the garden by the bay for light show and satay, but jet lag got the better of us. After an unintended nap of a couple of hours we went up the hotel’s 38th floor for drinks and to admire the sunset. A storm was rolling in. We decided to order room service and have an early night.

Sunset between the apartment blocks

Sunset between the apartment blocks