Saturday, September 26, 2009

"Ni hao, selamat datang, shalom and welcome" to Singapore

After an incredibly hectic summer- one of months of crazy planning in pre-production- 2 weeks of non-stop production shooting (children and animals, no less!) and then one month of intense post-production, not to mention a wonderful visit from my parents smack in the middle of it all- it was time for a little break. So we took advantage of 3 day Japanese holiday and decided to take a trip. After some debate on the perfect holiday that would give us rest and resort while also offering city and sightseeing that would also be child-friendly we decided that Singapore would be our destination.

Singapore is an amazing place. It is a very small island with tons of attractions, a bustling city with a huge financial center, and the busiest port in the world, but the most interesting feature is its blend of many cultures. SIngapore is a study of ethnic and religious tolerance as you find each culture practicing traditions from their own heritage right next to each another. Singapore is mostly a melding of Chinese, Malay and Indian people- and a great number of expiates from all over the world. The official language is English- or as the taxi drivers call it- "Singlish" It is such a pleasure to be in an Asian country where everyone- no matter where they are from understand one another.

There are many things that Singapore is famous for- but the two biggest- are shopping and food. They are both divine. That is of course - if you like to shop and you like to eat. While I'm partial to the food of Japan- there is NO food in SIngapore that you can't find (in abundance and wonderful quality) they say a bad restaurant in Singapore just cannot exist- it wouldn't last. And there is everything from the ridiculously expensive to the stupidly cheap, great meals at the Hawker Centers (the street food stalls), this is the way most locals eat.

Here are some of our highlights of a weeks full of fun in a city that I will happily return to again and again....

We decided to stay on the island of Sentosa as opposed to stay in the middle of the city. We enjoyed the beach resort and ventured into the city for sightseeing and shopping.
Sentosa is very lush and beautiful and they are in the middle of construction of a huge casino resort- opening next year. There are many attractions on the island, which I will describe later...

For our first full day we went to Little India, this is a very good, small indication of India- a little cleaner perhaps, but just as robust and alive as India itself. There are many Hindu temples and Indian stores and restaurants and we happen to get there as the Indian New Year was arriving. "Happy Deepawali!!!"
This is strange how it co-ensides exactly with the Jewish New Year, huh?

Which brings me to celebrating Rosh Hashana with the Jews of Singapore.There are a number of Jewish organizations in Singapore, there are a few Traditional orthodox congregations although they are not "traditional" to me as there is a blend of Jews from all over the world, each with there own country's traditions. However, I had chosen a progressive, reconstructionist conservative congregation, The United Hebrew Congregation congregation of Singapore, and they welcomed us with open arms.
We joined them for Rosh Hashana eve and day and celebrated with them after services. The service was a traditional Rosh Hashana service conducted by a the Visiting Rabbi ,Rabbi Thal from NYC who has been with the congrgation for 16 years and a fabulous sermon given by the Rabbi's wife, Linda Thal, an award winning, acclaimed teacher, a recognized expert in Jewish education. Everyone was terrific, there were people from many different countries from all over the world,of all races,who now call Singapore their home. We were invited back next year and we are eager to join them again- Thanks to them for making strangers feel like family.

The Night Zoo is one of the most famous attractions of Singapore, and it is awesome. The Night Zoo is full of Nature's nocturnal animals. This is as close to "Jurassic Park" as it gets- no really seroiusly- you flash into "Jurassic Park" It's a spectacular sight to see the animals- not behind cages, but being able to roam in the dark. This would have been a great opportunity to walk along the ominous paths, but the kids were so exhausted from a full day- they weren't about to start walking around- so a little tip would be to rest up before the Night Safari and take advantage of walking with the animals at night. Next time...

I must take the time now to discuss the shopping in Singapore. It's awe-inspiring. On re-known Orchard Road there is one shopping mall after another. These are not just run of the mill malls but mixes of the finest designers in the world as well as middle end chains from EVERYWHERE, as well as local designers and stores. Honestly I don't think I've ever seen the amount of mall shopping anywhere else. And... there are many other parts of the city with more and more mall shopping. A big thrill for me was the extensive book stores with unbelievably big arts and design sections- ALL IN ENGLISH, it was like heaven. I clocked about 5 hours in one book store called Kinokuniya Books.
The only thing that would have made this vacation more perfect if it was at the time of the Great Sale. The Great Sale is during the month of June and the entire city is on sale. Another great thing would to have seen a some of the Grand Prix night race- we missed it by one day. We left the day it was starting, although we did get to see the city set up for it and I'm happy to have missed the traffic and ques. It has been there for the last 3 years and will be there one more year- maybe next year...

A popular tour is called the Duck Tour which goes from land into the sea all in the same vehicle. This is a good way to see this city. We were able to get onto the road of the Grand Prix race. We were also able to see the city from the water. Singapore's icon is called the Merlion. The Merlion is half lion- half fish (mermaidesque) it symbolizes Singapore's humble beginnings as a poor fishing town and the legend of the Sumatra prince who came upon the island and thought the first animal he saw was a lion(although it was probably a tiger.) Most of the the city's buildings are beautifully designed with chinese feng shui in mind. Water is a symbol of prosperity so many fountains are designed from to spout from buildings towards the sea in order to cycle the wealth into the city, etc.

Speaking of Chinese- Chinatown is particularly cool here. Since most of Singapore's population is Chinese, it a very dynamic part of the city. All things Chinese, from fabrics and herbs, foods and art, the only downside was that we weren't there during January/Febuary during Chinese New Year when every thing is lit up and festive for the oncoming holiday.

Back to Sentosa-
On the island of Sentosa are a number of attractions- so many that we didn't even see all of them. There is a fantastic aquarium- Underwater World, with a tunnel through the main tank- you walk through the sharks, manta rays, groupers , eels, turtles, etc. You get to feed manta rays out of your hand- this is very cool.

There is also a luge ride- you take a ski lift type "sky ride" up the hill to the top where you get into a "car" that shoots you down the hill- this is great fun and you get to enjoy the view from pretty high. There is a laser light show every night called "Songs of the Sea" this is a "Disneyesque" sappy show but an impressive light display over the beach.

There is another Merlion statue in Sentosa, this one is enormous, it is along a beautiful walkway this merlion turns psychedelic colors. It's a pretty wild sight.

All in all I would say Singapore is home to an abundance of experierences; the food, the sights, the cultures, the attractions and the fun.

L'Shana Tova Happy New Year to all of our Jewish Friends- To ALL of our friends we wish you a year filled with love, health, fulfillment, and peace.

1 comment:

Talia said...

Jessica--it sounds like you and your 3 boys are having the experience of a lifetime. I commend you for taking the oppportunity to explore the world. My recollections of Singapore are very different as I was only 9!! Hopefully one day I will go back.
Shanah Tova to all of you.
Talia Klein