Monday, July 22, 2013

7/15/2013-7/21/2013: Singapore Week 2

This has been an outstanding week - I am reminded every day of how lucky I am to be here and experiencing all these wonderful new things!

First of all - show wise things continue to go very well.  I think I keep waiting for the preverbal 'other shoe to drop' because we were so worried about the comedy not transferring as well from America to Asia - but every audience seems to love it.  Which makes me incredibly happy.  Every time I get to go out after the show to the autograph and photo taking area that the Festive Grand has set up for us, I am literally blown away by the responses we get from the audience members who come through the line.  Its so thrilling to know that you are really affecting people - around the world!  And the Online response has been overwhelming too - One of the favorite parts of my day is now logging onto Twitter to see who's chatting about the show - and joining in on the conversations with them. (BTW if you don't follow me on the Twitter --- @shaunpuffyrice ).

As a tourist - I've been working overtime.  I want to make sure that since we're here for the whole month, I can walk away from Singapore knowing that I didn't leave any stones unturned.  I want to see it all - and I'm pretty far along on that journey after this week...a lot of it is due to this wonderful little phone app that TripAdvisor puts out - that gives you a ton of self guided walking tours and maps that show you where the public transportation and restaurants and shopping and attractions and everything you need to know about the place you are in.  AND it works offline - so if you are in another country and can't use you're 3G or wifi - it will still access your GPS and correctly guide you where you need to go. I love it and highly recommend it to anyone exploring a new area!!

Monday I decided to go back to Chinatown on my own and really explore the more cultural side of it - as I'd seen the street stalls and shops last time I was there.  Happily - there were 2 walking tours that I combined from my handy app.  I set out early, so I could be done about mid day when the heat would be at its worst and headed out to the Chinese Heritage Center.  It was very interesting - and not only gave you a lot of information about at what life was like to live in Chinatown back when it first was established, but set up half the museum as a replica of what the building it was housed in would have actually looked like.  The ground floor was set up like a tailor's shop but the top two were jam packed with tiny cubicles that barley fit 2 or 3 bunk style beds where whole FAMILIES would live. There were 6-7 cubes per floor and one communal kitchen that they all would share.  It must have been nearly unbearable.  And yet, people found ways to be happy and live their lives and raise their children - truly eye opening in the gadget filled chaotic world of possessions we live in today.

Next, I popped into a series of temples scattered throughout the neighborhood.  Right down the street from the Center is Singapore's oldest Hindu temple, dating back to 1827, called Sri Mariamman Temple.  You can spot it from almost the end of the block because of the ornate statues of many of the major Hindu gods and goddesses portrayed on the roof.  I had never been in a Hindu temple before (or seen one from the outside for that matter) and was immediately struck with how beautiful it was.  The temple was FILLED with statues dedicated to the Hindu gods (apparently there are 1000s) - and all of them very lifelike in a cartoonish sort of way.  But there is no question to the quality of the artwork itself - an interesting find.  A little further down the way is the Thian Hock Keng Temple, a Hokkien temple from 1842 that was built entirely without the use of nails - and dedicated to Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea.  This one was just as beautiful but much simpler than the Hindu one.  All of the architecture was stunning though.  I was struck right away by the fact that most of the temple was open out in the open air - with only the sacred prayer hall fully covered - and the continual use of incense.  When you looked into the massive incense burners - the amount of ash in there was incredible!  The last temple I visited was Buddhist and smack dab right in the center of the hubbub of Chinatown, known as the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple because it has a famous crystalized Buddha tooth (a sacred relic) on display.  Of the 3 I visited - this was my favorite and IMO the most stunning to see.  I was 4 stories high and had an Orchid Garden on the roof.  Each floor housed something different to see - from the hall of 1000 Buddhas on the ground floor to the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas on the roof.  Everything inside was ornate and almost 'too beautiful'.  It literally took my breath away.  I was there in the early afternoon and just as I was leaving, they began a prayer service - led by a monk who was leading the group chanting that all of the followers were joining in on.  It truly was a once in a lifetime experience to be able to walk through these 3 places.  I always feel like an 'intruder' when I go into someone else's sacred places like this - even though they encourage it - so I'd like to thank them from letting me have that experience.

That night, I joined a group of us that were headed out to the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo.  They have a few walking trails open and a tram that gives you a tour of the the zoo and lets you see the animals out and about in the evening - sadly for me that meant that most of them were sleeping or 'hiding in the shadows' (as our tourguide kept saying).  Apparently the others of us who went through had a more interactive animal experience - but as someone who grew up next to Busch Gardens in Florida - and has done 'night zoo' events - and hands on safari events with was a trip I could have skipped out on personally.  They did have a pretty cool show that involved Fire Dancers/Eaters that I enjoyed - and they perform at the entranceway to the zoo - so technically you don't even have to buy a ticket to see them (lol) But hey - if you end up in Singapore - give it a shot - maybe its just not my cup of tea (and I don't drink maybe it is my cup of tea...I digress).

Tuesday I took it a little easier and headed over to Orchard Road - which is the swanky shopping area of town.  There are 5 or 6 huge malls over there, filled with designer stores and brands that I definitely can't afford.  But it was cool to walk around in the A/C for a bit and see what Singapore was wearing.  Another thing I noticed was that even if I had the dough - the average size at most of the stores was... XXS.  I've rarely seen an XS in the states - and certainly not an XXS.  I think the largest that most stores carried was a L (which in the states would have been a medium at best).  So that was a kick to the ego - in rebellion I decided to buy something and found a very hip looking hat in a little boutique store.  It was made by a Singapore designer - so I'm supporting local - plus, its something I could only get here...which is pretty cool.

Wednesday Mark and I went out to explore Little India and Kampong Glam (the Arabian area).  We started off at the Sri Srinivasa Permual Hindu Temple - which was much more modest than the one I visited in China town.  In fact, all of the 5 places of worship that we saw here in Little India were.  There were services going on in most of them while we were there, so I didn't feel right taking a lot of photos - but just kind of took in the sights (though I did snap a few - as you can see...).  Right around the corner was the Leong San Buddhist Temple - which was right next to the Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple - which was right next to a sort of Japanese looking Temple.  So much diversity right there in Little India - literally steps from one another.  I found the most interesting one to be theSakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple - inside there was a GIANT statue of the Buddha which, though not that day, was covered in 1000 blinking lights.  They were doing some renovations on the temple, but it was still open so we stepped in to take a peek.  A little further down the way, we came across the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple - dedicated to the goddess Kali (wife of Shiva).  In the Hindu religion, Kali is known as one of the more vengeful goddess - usually depicted with a necklace of skulls.  Her temple was different from any of the other other Hindu ones we've seen - there were electric neon lights everywhere - and her statute was terrifying. She is shown with a horrifying look on her face and a woman dangling by her intestines which have gotten caught in Kali's teeth.  She is standing on another dead guy and holding a baby in one of her (many) arms.  We saw that and thought it was time to go...

After our temple hopping, we walked down the main drag of Little India, which is very similar to Chinatown - but without the chaotic craziness of the street stalls.  We made our way to the Mustafa Center - which is something like a giant department store; they sell electronics, dvds, video games, shoes, clothes, toys, appliances, you name it.  And its all very cheap - and (apparently) its one of the only places in the country to find larger sizes that Americans might fit into.  Shoe sizes ran kind of small - and were all British sizes (I'm not sure what a size 41 means in American - but it doesn't fit me...)  It was cool to see how they were on display too - not in posh little boxes but crammed in to little nooks - as many that would fit without damaging them.  Farther down the block was the Tekka Center - which was a wet market and hawker center on the ground floor - and a women's clothes center on the top.  I always find it interesting to see all the meat and fish on display and being butchered right there as people request it.  Is it the most sanitary - absolutely not - but knowing that most of the local restaurants probably get their ingredients that kind of just overlook that.  Chicken feet anyone?

Next we walked over to the Kampong Glam area - and took in some of the store along Arab St and Haji Lane - lots of (flying) carpet stores and a really cool place that customizes scents for you and turns them into colognes, perfumes, candles, bath salts and lotions - using the ph makeup of your skin.  Also a ton of cool restaurants and designer boutiques. The highlight of the area was the Masjid Sultan Mosque.  It looked like the Taj Mahal siting there at the end of the bazaar.  Inside wasn't anything like I thought it'd be.  Completely open and simple - just a carpet place for them to pray - with a sensible sign telling the women to go upstairs where they could stand along the sides of the building to pray out of the way of the men on the ground floor.

Thursday ended up being a big Foodie Day - Blair, Nolan and I (along with a new friend, Blake, from Universal Studios Singapore) went out to the Singapore Favorite Foods Tent down by Marina Bay.  As part of the food festival, they had 40 stalls set up with the 'best of the best' of the local favorites all there for you to enjoy.  We tried chili crab and prats and oyster omelets and carrot cake (not what you think...) and bbq stingray - all really good.  That night - our locals took a bunch of us out to the Muslim area for their Ramadan street fair.  If you are unaware of Ramadan - its sort of the Muslim New Year - they fast all until sundown for a month and fest in the evenings - so there was lots of food to try.  A lot of it was Fair foods - like things you'd find at a state fair.  Amazing burgers, fish curry puffs, baked meats, fish chips (weird but good) - and my favorite - Apam Balik.  Its sort of a thick crepe with cream corn, peanuts and sugar inside - soooo good!

Finally - Sunday night, a group of us went out to Club Mansion for their 'alternative night'.  The theme was Boot Camp (lol) - so we donned our best war gear and headed out.  Now drinks in Singapore are OUTRAGEOUSly priced - there's a huge tax on alcohol to
discourage its use.  I'm talking S$16 for a I drank water - but had a good time.  There was A/C and lots of flashy people to look at.  It was a late but fun night - a good way to end the week.