Singapore (Day 1)
March 14 found us in Singapore, a very diverse city of historical interest and full of attractions. We spent more than two days here in 2016, which you can read about here:
We were docked at a different wharf this time. Some folks were disgruntled (well, really, there are always some folks disgruntled) because it was a good walk to the subway & you had to go elsewhere to buy two day subway passes. But we actually liked this one better because there was a good view of the city from the ship & there was a shuttle bus to a convenient (for us) location in town.
Today we decided to visit the Sultan Mosque, which was closed the last time we were here, & do some shopping on nearby Arab Street. So we boarded the shuttle bus for a short drive to the drop off spot at a shopping mall in town. It was only about a 15 minute walk from here to the mosque, but we managed to make it into an hour walk by turning the wrong way & finding ourselves next to the Singapore Flyer Ferris wheel instead of the mosque. But eventually we found ourselves walking along the interesting ethnic streets near the mosque.
The mosque was closed for another hour for midday services so we spent that time scoping out the stores on Arab Street. This is a small street across from the mosque that is lined with textile stores, each stuffed to the gills with every kind of textile you can imagine, many at bargain prices. Some of the stores also sell finished clothes, rugs & other middle eastern items. It is extremely crowded & hectic and after a few minutes it becomes difficult to pick out the patterns you actually like from the myriad others surrounding them. As you walk past a shop, each of which is open to the street with goods displayed on both sides of the sidewalk, the shop owners call out and invite you to come in & peruse their wares. It’s not our favorite shopping environment, but we did not come away empty handed. Then it was back to the mosque.
The Sultan Mosque was built in the 1920’s on the spot where a mosque had stood since the 1820’s. Sir Stamford Raffles had made a deal to recognize as sultan the brother of the sitting local sultan & they agreed to this spot for a mosque and a Muslim district. To enter the Sultan Mosque we had to take off our shoes & leave them in a rack near the door. We were appropriately dressed (long sleeves & pants), but visitors wearing shorts or tank tops were provided with a long robe to wear inside.
After leaving the mosque we decided to walk to Fort Canning Hill & look for a lunch spot along the way. At this time of day, mid afternoon, it was hard to find a place serving lunch, but we finally found a German restaurant that suited. This is a very cosmopolitan city with every kind of cuisine available. Just before we reached the hill we passed the beautiful National Museum, with a huge India Rubber Tree sitting out in front. Originally built in 1887, this was the National Library and Museum until 2004, when the National Library was moved to a new location (which we visited in 2016).
We did not have time to visit the museum (maybe next time), so we walked on to Fort Canning Hill. We were happy to see a huge escalator up the side of the hill, but it turned out to be broken. So we had to treat it as a staircase; much less satisfactory.
Fort Canning Hill has a long history. In the 14th century it was probably the seat of a Malay kingdom, and it became known as Forbidden Hill because the last ruler was thought to be buried there. It was forbidden to climb the hill. When the British came in 1819 they unhesitatingly ascended the hill and erected a flagpole, then a house for the British Resident. None of the locals would accompany them up Forbidden Hill so they took Malays up with them to build the house & renamed it Government Hill. In 1861 a fort was added & the fort & its hill were named after the Viceroy of India, Viscount Canning. In the 1920’s a barracks was built, used today as an arts center, and an underground complex was built in 1936 to house the British Far East Command. Called the Battle Box, this is where the decision was made to surrender Singapore to the Japanese in 1942.
The Battle Box was our main objective on the hill, but it was closed by the time we got there. Among the things we did see on the hill were an old Christian cemetery, which operated from the 1820’s until the 1860’s. The most interesting graves were built into a long brick wall leading up to the Arts Center. There is a sculpture garden on the hill and some interesting flowers, a few of which are included here, but this is only a small taste of the flora you can see in the next episode.
We walked back to the shuttle stop and rode back to the port. The night brought another beautiful view of the lighted city from the ship. And so ended our first day in Singapore.