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Friday, June 22, 2007

Singapore Sling

Unfortunately I haven’t tried the world famous “Singapore Sling”, a cocktail invented by a bartender at Raffles Hotel in the early 1900’s. But for four days I have seen much of Singapore, it’s a small country actually, with its vast system of MRT trains and a flawless transportation system which were operated by a steady stream of discipline. Going from one place to another does not present much of a problem.

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I tried drinking Tiger Beer though, I must say I still prefer San Miguel Beer. I still prefer our beautiful beaches and friendly camaraderie, pinoy foods still rocks my appetite. I tried a few local dishes but afterwards I craved for that Filipino adobo and Kare-kare.

But there are a lot of things that I’ve noticed that Singapore is doing really well. The concept of high rise apartment is one. Which makes me think whether the British are the better colonizers than the Americans. With the Americans we got the concept of suburban living, problem was, it takes a lot of space and suburban setting only appeals to the higher middle class. Poor people cannot afford to buy a lot for 300 square meters and build a house on it. Well we have the high rise residential buildings, but we call them as “condominiums” and are priced in the millions.

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Singaporeans, almost all of them live in these high rise apartment complex, that their Government and developers built to be able to meet the demands and afford ability of Singaporeans.

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The cost of living is much higher in Singapore, but who cares as almost all of them got jobs, old people drive buses and cabs, others work in the tourism industry as tour guides, ticket seller, ushers etc. Everybody are busy doing their own thing. Okay some say its a 0% unemployment rate, some say its 4%, I guess 4 days is not enough to cover all of Singapore, but it left me an impression of how discipline and following every rules can prove useful in the development of one country.

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A lot of people might say that Singapore is run by a tyrant style of government, especially those from the West. But what works for them works for them. Give them credit, the west cannot all the time dictate what kind of Government Asian countries should have.

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Culture, Religion and other traditions plays a part in this. Look at what the British and the Americans are doing right now in Iraq? They are implementing the western idea of democracy in a land and culture where it needs other thing aside from that.

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Back to Singapore, everything are planned, highways, parks, landscapes, bus routes, residential apartments to every detail. There is a solid leadership and also the intent to follow their leader. While we search for a decent leader to lead us, do we ask ourselves are we ready to follow? We always complain, radical leftist militants, all they know was to sour grape and complain everything from joint military exercises to foreign investors and the global market.

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Singaporeans are welcoming foreigner investors with a smile, notwithstanding their tough laws (cane whipping and death penalty). Now most of the world’s big corporations are either settling in Hong Kong and Singapore as their base of operation in Asia. Filipinos working in Singapore are slowly occupying professional positions.

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During my train ride I would hear conversations by Filipinos working in Singapore, they are dressed up in yuppie attire and I feel happy for them, getting that high paying job in a place much like the Philippines but at the same time different in a lot of ways.

What did these countries like Singapore, China, Thailand and even Vietnam are doing right? We were on the verge of becoming a tiger economy during the time of Fidel Ramos, lo and behold the Asian Financial Crisis befell on the whole Asian Continent. And as the case of wrong timing in epic proportion Erap took the presidency in 1998, dampening the momentum we have gained.

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We stayed in a hotel at Singapore’s red light district, this I will agree that Singapore isn’t all that perfect, it’s not an endless stretch of Orchard Road where malls and shoppers walk the streets. In Geylang road, at the onset of night Girls are lined up in every street corner, brothels are lit up like ordinary houses awaiting its guests. Pimps bothers tourists and locals alike by offering their working girls.

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So 0% unemployment rate is not real after all, because all these women will not take the hooker job if some other desk job out there is available. But still, over all Singapore is on the right track. Discipline, proper urban planning, mass housing program, foreign investor friendly laws, adequate infrastructure that includes highways, transportation system, all of these contributes to the development of Singapore.

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my older brother at the Orchard street sign

We, Filipinos sometimes lack discipline, if only we learn to instill discipline then I don’t see no reason why we wont succeed. I am proud to be a Filipino, but sometimes there are things that are going well with our neighboring countries that we still have to implement here.

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It’s one of those moments when you say to yourself “Why can’t we do this, and that?
Ironic as my brother told me that during Singapore’s infrastructure boom in the 1980’s and the 1990’s, Filipino Architects and Engineers are one of the main groups of people responsible for the concepts and designs of almost everything you see standing in Singapore today.

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Filipinos have the talent, skills and imagination to succeed, wish we could apply it all here in our country. Enough of the flawed bureaucracy, red tape, too much politics and corruption.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Sentosa Island, Singapore

Sentosa is a small island with theme park-like attractions that boasts a number of resorts, five star hotels, golf courses, the Underwater world, a butterfly park, dolphin shows, Fort Siloso, sheltered beach, Resorts World Sentosa and in 2010 will say 'oi oi oi' to the Universal Studios Singapore.

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Going to Sentosa Island we took an MRT train that led us to VivoCity - a row of shopping malls located along a scenic harbor. From VivoCity we took a cable car from HarbourFront which also passes through Mount Farber with the whole ride taking less than 5 minutes. Inside the cable car I saw the bustling port with many ships lined up entering and exiting Singapore and also a wonderful view of the interchanging highways and towering skyscrapers around VivoCity.

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"Sentosa" - a malay word which means "tranquility" or "peace". During world war II, Sentosa Island was a fortress abode of the British Army, it proved ineffective against the onslaught of rampaging Japanese Imperial forces that it became under the Japanese rule on February 15, 1942. The island then became a prisoner of war camp housing British and Australian POWs. The Pulau Blakang Mati beach then became the site of a horrendous killing fields where mostly Chinese and a some Malay and Singaporean men suspected of having anti-Japanese leanings were executed during the infamous 'Sook Ching Operation'  perpetrated by the Japanese Army.

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After the war, the island became a military and training base of the British Royal Military until it was turned over to the Government of Singapore upon gaining its independence in 1967. In 1970's the Government decided to transform Sentosa island into a haven of tourism and commerce by constructing resorts to attract foreign and local tourists.
 
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We first visited the Underwater World - an oceanarium that shelters more than 250 different species from different marine regions of the world. Here, I saw an abundance of marine life that includes, stingrays, sharks, eels, turtles and vibrant shaped coral reefs as well.

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I've always thought that Singapore is a family oriented destination where one will enjoy a holiday in Singapore in the company of the whole family, children most specially. The attractions at Sentosa will definitely please young kids from the Underwater World to the Butterfly Park and the Dolphin Lagoon - where we watched a duo of 'pink dolphin' or the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins presented a well choreographed dolphin show.

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To go around the island is very easy, there's a shuttle bus to take you around and cable cars that will take you to the other side of the island. We also took a ride in the open air cable car which was more exciting compared to the normal closed cable car we took from VivoCity to Sentosa.

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The ride here was awesome as I was able to further see a 360 degree view of the scenery around Sentosa, from the beachside to the towering trees to a nearby park where visitors could also opt to ride a luge going on a downhill path.

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We dropped by the three beaches around Sentosa; the Palawan Beach, Siloso Beach and the Tanjong Beach. The landscape and formation of these beaches were man-made to further attract appeal, however its ordinary for my taste, not the kind of beach you'd want to swim and lie around all day - There are a lot of more attractive beaches in the Philippines compared to the ones in Sentosa, but over-all the Island was a pleasant destination - and even better as I have mentioned, if you're traveling with your family or with children in tow.

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Here are some of the highlights of Sentosa as I've captured on my point and shoot camera. I still eager to buy myself a DSLR camera. A Nikon perhaps.

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I'm sure everybody who visit the country of Singapore will somehow by virtue of their curiosity will often lead them to Sentosa Island. It wasn't my ideal set-up of what an island should be. I'm more inclined to enjoy a laid back, sleepy hollow yet with magnificent beaches - kind of island - like the ones we have here in the Philippines.

However, its not something you'll regret visiting as a budding traveler I always try to seek other things to enjoy myself whether the place is in stark contrast to what I search for and in Sentosa there's just an adequate things to really like. I really enjoyed the pink dolphins and the Underwater world and a few other things.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Chijmes and Raffles Hotel, Singapore


The Chijmes ('chimes') and the Raffles Hotel are two popular landmarks in Singapore. We visited both places to learn more about its history over the course of the walking curiosity of my brother and I around Singapore on the second day of our 5 day visit.

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Chijmes was first used as a Catholic convent called as the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus (CHIJ). Four French nuns who arrived in Singapore in 1852 used the complex's Caldwell House which was constructed in 1840, to set up the Catholic convent school in 1854. The vast complex presents a mixture of Neoclassical and Gothic style brought upon by the distinct features of the Caldwell House, which was designed by Gregory Coleman - an Irish Architect who designed many buildings in Singapore in the aftermath of its founding by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819, and the Gothic-themed chapel designed by Father Charles Benedict Nain which was completed in 1904.

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The convent ceased operation and held its last religious service in 1983. The place was abandoned and consecrated until  a five year conservation and face lifting of the place was implemented. Present day, the old convent school has now become a place filled with food retail and beverage outlets, courtyards, covered walkways, a garden and a place known for its unique ambiance. Both the Caldwell House and the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Chapel were declared as national monument in 1990.

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The courtyard where special events can be held are spacious. The high beams and front facade projects some similarities with buildings found in India, no wonder since both Singapore and India were once colonized by the British and the architectural designs of both countries were drawn by British and Irish architects and engineers during the time of both nation's tenure as part of the British Empire.

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We had a fun time spending a couple of hours at Chijmes, reading about its history back from the old days of British rule until its transformation to a commercial and historical landmark of today. Our walk then took us to another known Singapore landmark, the Raffles Hotel.

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Raffles Hotel is a colonial styled hotel in Singapore which was constructed in late 1887 by the four Sarkies Brothers who were of Armenian descent and was named after the founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles. It is one of the most popular hotels in the world and is known for its lavish decoration, royalty-like accommodation and has a scenic garden and courtyard as well as a Victorian-styled theater.

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The hotel was used by the Japanese during world war II and was renamed to "Syonan Ryokan" and after the war was used for a short time as a base for transporting prisoners of war. The hotel continued operation a few years after the war and was declared as a national monument in 1987.

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We took a few pictures around the hotel, tried to order drinks but found out it was rather expensive for a bunch of thrift drifters like us, so we just hang around for a bit and pretended what it was like to stay in a hotel like this. The rooms I think ranges from 400 Singaporean Dollars to as high as 4,000 SG $. Unless you got aplenty of cash to burn, then your only option is to drop by Raffles hotel without checking in haha.

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We took our late lunch on a small cafeteria a mere walking distance from the Raffles Hotel, where the two cafeteria servants were Filipinos. I remember one of them telling us that we're lucky because we're in Singapore just to travel. I felt a bit of guilt finding out that theirs was for the long haul as OFW's and they really miss their families back home. However, they are happy to see us and we're happy to see them and we all wished each other the best. They in fact told us not to miss Sentosa Island, which we visited the next day.


Other facts about Raffles Hotel: (from wikipedia):

  • Raffles Hotel is reputedly where the sole surviving wild tiger in Singapore was shot and made extinct. Some stories place this event in the Long Bar. Raffles itself claims the tiger had escaped from enclosure at a nearby "native show" and chased underneath the hotel's Bar & Billiard Room (a raised structure) and shot to death there on August 13, 1902.
  • Raffles is where the Singapore Sling was invented. The cocktail was invented by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon between 1910 and 1915.
  • Raffles is the setting for Murakami Ryu's novel and film titled, Raffles Hotel. The film was shot on location.
  • The site of the hotel was originally the location of the oldest girls' school in Singapore (1842), now called St. Margaret's. It was founded by Maria (Tarn) Dyer, the missionary wife of Samuel Dyer.
  • The hotel was featured as a Japanese stronghold in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun.
  • Raffles Hotel was the subject of Paul O'Grady's Orient for Carlton Television.
  • The hotel featured in episodes of the BBC's Tenko.
  • Long Bar is featured in Peace Arch Entertainment's "UberGuide" television travel series as one of the top ten bars in the world.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Singapore National Museum


Since my brother was an architect, we visited Singapore National Museum because we saw a brochure that says about an ongoing architecture exhibit on the place. And apt to say the architectural designs of the Singapore National Museum is a thing of beauty, from industrial ceilings to its minimalistic corridors, stairways and halls, window panel, marble flooring all conspire to make it much appealing to one’s eyes.


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Being held at the same time was the movie and other art exhibitions of Matthew Barney an American artist known for his unnatural artistry in sculptures, drawing, photography and film, among other things he is the husband (not sure though if they’re still together) of Icelandic singer Bjork. We checked out some clips of his Cremaster Cycle at the museum and I would say it blows my mind away.

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Honestly, I don’t see myself as a “museum dude”, but I admit going to one, actually soothes your mind, gives you the chance to see other things, albeit confusing as Matthew Barney’s art or simple architectural scale model designs – i find it as one of those that exercises your mind and in some sense increases your cultural awareness. I would not mind going to more museums in the future.

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Cameras are not allowed inside the rooms where actual exhibitions are displayed, but on the lobby there are a few industrial designs artifacts on display.

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Looking around every corners of the museum – we were awed by the cool architectural design of the place.

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It’s a convenient place to spend half a day just walking around the place feeling artsy fartsy lol.


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not part of the exhibit, its just me

The outside was equally impressive with its neat walls, high arching beams and shard corner edges – it definitely creates a unique architectural look. Afterward we took the train to Orchard road and had an early dinner at Lucky Plaza with some Filipinos we met there.


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