Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Day of Culture

I spent much of Wednesday being trying to catch up with the blog-writing and also sorting out various parts of my trip to New Delhi. However, I did venture out to get cash in order to extend my stay at the Five Stones Hostel and then with another hostellite called Larissa (from Austria), we decided to go to Little India to get dinner (having been inspired by my research earlier in the day).

By complete coincidence, we happened to be right outside a Hindu temple as the call to prayer and then the ceremony took place. I felt a bit intrusive, standing right outside taking photos, but it was an interesting occurrence and no-one seemed to mind.


We endeavoured to find the 'best Biryani in Singapore', according to the Lonely Planet guide. Find it we did, and good it was, but the establishment itself was very shabby and quite overpriced! On the other hand it more than redeemed itself with Mango Lassi, which was delicious and probably thanks to the fact that Mango grows here natively and is thus very fresh.

We wandered through the streets of Little India, admiring how different it felt from the rest of Singapore:

Then took the MRT home. But as we stepped out of the MRT station we noticed a Chinese Cultural celebration set up in the park nearby. Here was an impressive display of lanterns outside:

And on the main stage, a traditional orchestra performed some lovely pieces; once again our timing was impeccable!

The lantern exhibition continued in a marquee where there was a competition for school children to design their own lanterns. My favourite was certainly the Durian-themed lantern!


Finally on our way back to the hostel, we spotted some games of Chinese Chess.

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Flying and Zooing

On Tuesday, I did some more of that wandering-round-town thing and generally kept myself out of trouble. First stop was a travel agent in the most obscure mall in central Chinatown, where I exchanged a printed out voucher from Groupon for physical tickets to the Singapore Flyer and the Gardens By The Bay attractions. Together, only about half price, and it's something to do eh?

While I was wandering around the area that had, 24 hours beforehand, been the site of the Grand Prix I noticed it was solar noon and thought you might want to see what shadows look like at the equator...

And then I found myself at the Flyer. Clearly, this is inspired by the London Eye (or vice-versa) and was quite deserted. I made my way through the entrance maze, which is probably designed to amuse large crowds when the attraction is busy. Being a Tuesday morning just as the area was trying to return to normal after the Formula One, it really wasn't! I varied my speed through said maze until a couple more people approached and this way I 'rigged' it such that I wasn't the only person in the capsule, suspended 540' above the ground. Which would have been a bit boring and very lonely.

So up we went and I was very interested to see the Formula One being disassembled. Here are the Safety Cars stacked on top of each other. Not sure why though.

And the home straight and grandstand and pit building. I hadn't seen these before since they are not in Zone 4. But of course there were no remnants of the F1 teams any more. Interestingly, this part of the circuit is obviously permanent and yet, immediately after Turn 1, the circuit just ends with a barrier before the public road which was once part of the track. I wonder if there is any use for this small stretch of track for the rest of the year? 

So onwards and upwards; here's the view towards the suburbs and numerous high rise buildings, though nowhere as many as Beijing, since there are only 5,183,700 people living in Singapore.

And as my (our) capsule reached the top, a voice came over the tannoy, hoping that we are enjoying our flight. Bless. Shortly afterwards, Marina Bay and the bizarre and impressive Marina Bay Sands complex came into view:

Here's the benefit of having others in the capsule!

And this modern-looking complex is the very new Gardens By The Bay which I now have a ticket for, being part of the Groupon package I had purchased. The two domes are some of the largest (and environmentally-friendly) air-conditioned buildings in the world. And house lots of plants which would wilt in the consistent 30 degrees C Singapore weather.

I was going to go to the Gardens straight away, but since my camera was getting tired (read: low battery) I decided to walk back to the Hostel. But I did get to have a look at the circuit a bit more, especially Turn 18 and the tunnel under the Marina Bay Grandstand. This was by far and away the most exciting corner in terms of crashes, as in evidence by black marks on the track and the wall!

I also saw an old bridge.

I had lunch, as I tend to here, in one of the canteens that can be found virtually everywhere. Lunch here can generally be bought for $4-5 (around £2) and often consists of rice and meat and sauce. Very tasty and quick food, it's no wonder that very few Singaporeans cook at home when such food can be bought so easily.

Back at the hostel (trying to catch up with my perennially delayed blog and reports), I noticed another chap spending the afternoon inside. This was Greg, another Brit who has taken redundancy and a year out from his job as an Accountant to travel the world. So we swapped stories and it got me thinking about the actual nature of my travel.

You see, what I haven't done (yet) on my trip is thrust myself into completely different cultures for the pure pleasure of becoming acclimatised to them. I have been visiting cities, doing relatively civilised activities 'because I feel like it' and generally getting plump on the good food I've been tasting! But that's also because I have only been visiting places that, conceivably, I might one day live as an Engineer - unlikely to be the case in Bali or the Guinea Islands! And in these places, I have been trying to meet and chat to locals, and trying to find the things I can do to keep me amused, and most of all visiting companies or organisations which can give me some insight into the market or the trends which might take me there.

And this has all been extremely interesting - I have learnt a lot from it, especially the opportunities which exist for an engineer like me in California, in Shanghai, and in Singapore. And I very much hope that I would get the opportunity to live and work in these places at some point in my early career. But after 7 weeks of travelling from city to city to city, learning new metros and transport systems, I am looking forward to a bit of a break. Kathmandu will undoubtedly be a huge contrast, and very welcome, where I don't have to worry about visiting companies or anything else but to help, and work, and enjoy life. I just hope I have the stamina to keep it up for 10 weeks!

But for a little bit of a beach break, I have booked myself a day's excursion to an Indonesian island where there are beaches and dinghies and all sorts of other things to enjoy myself with! More on that next week when I get back.

So upon chatting to Greg, I discovered that he had few plans for the evening, so I proposed that we visited the Night Safari at Singapore Zoo, which is often described as one of the best attractions on the island. Then to our surprise, another Hosteller called Theresa (a German) arrived in the lounge and we quickly discovered that she, too, was off to the Night Safari. So as a group of 3, off we went!

An MRT ride and a bus ride later, we checked in to the Night Safari and boarded the tram which takes you around the different parts of the park.

Theresa, Greg, Yours Truly.

The tram stopped a couple of times, allowing us to explore one of the trails around the animal enclosures. We saw many kinds of deer and pig, plus tigers, elephants, lions, flying squirrels, bats and hundreds of small mammals. Pictures were not easy to take, and looked mostly like this:

It was strange how the commentary in the tram seemed both so enthusiastic and 'charming', yet very much learnt by rote and spoken hundreds of times by the guide... The tram didn't stop for the exhibits, merely slowed down, though of course it was novel to see the animals in the evening when presumably they are more likely to be awake.

We then found ourselves at a 'show' of the nocturnal animals, featuring the classic acts such as 'otters sorting recycling' and 'little girl trying to hide a grape from the Binturong'. It was entertaining enough, especially when a boa constrictor emerged from underneath the seats of the audience!

Then we viewed some more animals (particularly the cave-dwellers and the wallabies), best of all a good show from a tiger. There was also a massive snail - but this wasn't an exhibit, just merely minding its own business as it crossed the path! Still worth a photograph though...

Sorry if you're bored of the photos by now!

So then we headed back to the Hostel, having exhausted the Safari in about 2 hours. BK Eating House again for dinner, but this time it was about to close, so I suspect we were given the random leftovers. Otherwise why did we all have one prawn each, having not ordered them, and a small pile of cashews! On the other hand, raisin and prawn is actually quite a nice combination.

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Friday, September 28, 2012


Friday morning, I spent visiting a company here in Singapore. It was a good meeting - I hope I'll be back out here working at some point in the near future. Singapore is an interesting place for Aerospace R&D, it is something the Government is pushing significantly and providing funding accordingly. Singapore has always been quite an Aerospace hub, but mostly for Civil MRO, so it would be interesting to see what develops next.

In the evening, I met up with a chap called Kenry, who is a Bath alumnus friend (and colleague) of Chay Him. We went out for dinner, just to catch up on Bath news and also for me to get a bit more of an idea about normal life and work in Singapore.

Being Mid-Autumn Festival week, there were all sorts of arty things happening down by the banks of the Singapore River, including this enticing quartet of traditional Chinese instruments...

...oh wait is that a Cello?!

We went for dinner at a quite expensive Japanese restaurant. At least, it was advertised as a Japanese restaurant and the dishes were named accordingly. But all of the food was suspiciously Italian - spaghetti, pasta, pizza? Didn't know that those were Far East dishes!

Then, for aftercourse, we decided to find a bar for a drink. Why not go to Hooters?! We had some eye-wateringly expensive drinks and some ribs to munch on. Sorry no photos of the waitresses, they seemed exceptionally busy. But we had a good chat about National Service, women, engineering, the weather, all the good stuff!

And we enjoyed the view over the river (for the bar was outside on the river front)
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F1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix - Day 3

Sunday was of course the BIG DAY of the F1 race and also included races in the GP2, Ferrari and Porsche series. But there being no rush for me to come along (and also nobody to watch the race with!) I went along quite a bit later. To my surprise there were still people queueing for Fan Zone tickets to the Katy Perry concert in the evening, the queues seemingly very well managed by the ushers. That is, until tickets started to be given out! At which point, the usual black-hole-like gravitation to the source of tickets developed...

Unfortunately, queuing like a stoic Brit, I was about 10 people behind the front of the queue when wristbands ran out! Never mind, I wasn't expecting one anyway...

So then I explored a little bit on my own, with my earphones in of course waiting for something interesting to happen on the commentary radio for the qualifying and the races that were happening before the big event. Complimentary tattoo, anyone?

I spent about an hour watching the GP2 and the Porsche Cup while sussing out how busy my favourite spot would be.

In front of the strange puppet, a group of  dancers appeared, dancing traditional ballroom but in stilts. They looked like they were having such a good time! And understandably too, they had an audience of  500 people watching them totter around in 1920s dress. At least it clears up the mystery of the 'circle of small flowers' that I had seen being assembled earlier in the week.

So the next performance at the Padang Stage was Noel Gallagher and his strangely-named High Flying Birds. It was still daylight when he came onto the stage, which sadly did him no favours as he groaned into the microphone!

The stage area was quite quiet so, learning from Bananarama, I knew that they would eventually let people into the Fan Zone to help make it look a bit better attended. Maybe that's why Noel was sounding so unenthusiastic? So I positioned myself near one of the entrances and waited for the floodgates to open.
So I've always quite enjoyed the music of Oasis and also enjoy Noel Gallagher's new band's music. I have bought his album and enjoyed listening to it. But I was quite disappointed by the live performance. Noel came on stage and sang at least 4 songs without saying a word to the audience. He could sing OK but it wasn't exactly polished or enthusiastic. Then he tried engaging us by asking if we were enjoying the races (of course to lots of cheering). And of course he replied with "I don't know F- all about car racing. I can't even drive!" And then launched into the next song!

So before giving him any chance to improve his game, I went to watch The Proclaimers. They were much better and seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves!

Then ran over to my favourite spot to watch the F1 race itself. Mercifully there was room for a tall one at the back, even leaning against the rear fence, so I settled myself in for the 2 hour race. Now, I won't try and commentate on the race since there are paid professionals many times better than me at that. But I will direct you to this wrap-up:

So some highlights (and low points) for me were certainly:
  • The start. So much enthusiasm from the rest of the spectators!
  • Safety cars. Always amusing to see the Merc speeding round the track at awesome speed... and the F1 cars barely idling behind.
  • Hamilton retiring with gearbox failure after leading the race very convincingly from the start
  • Maldonado suffering an electronics (?) failure
  • Button vs Vettel, jostling even under the yellow flag
  • Schumacher completely destroying his and Vergne's car during an amazing rear-ender at Turn 15!
  • Senna retiring with literally 30 seconds left on the clock, but got no coverage since the winners were about to finish!
So I'm supporting Williams and they are the only team where neither car finishes, despite Maldonado starting as P2 and Senna putting up a good fight to stay in the rankings! However it was nice to see Frome lad Button on the podium again.

Then there were Fireworks which I just about managed to catch a glimpse of through the trees:

CG125 doing a victory lap...

And then I went for the traditional Singaporean dish of 'fried carrot cake' which is more like a mix of omlette and carrot pieces, and nothing like the British dessert!

Next, we walked the track towards the Padang stage area, where Katy Perry would be waiting for us.

And indeed she was! So were 50,000 other people, making for a huge crowd and probably the biggest (and hottest) I have ever been in. What an atmosphere! Here are some shots of KP doing here thing:

So, basically, it was an amazing show! ALMOST as good as Maroon 5. Katy Perry is one of those people who I'm never sure if she can sing or not, listening to her studio albums. But yes, she can really belt it out, with all the power and tunefulness you'd want. I was impressed! She worked us up very effectively and played with the crowd like a pro. Plus, her stage show included raised platforms, fireballs, lasers smoke and fireworks so it certainly appealed to all the sense!

After that, we were waved farewell by the Ushers who were clearly just schoolkids from Singapore and seemed to have had an awesome time.

And I got one last walk on the track (where I found a small gift for Craig).

And for me, that was the end of the Formula 1 Singtel Singapore Grand Prix. Definitely a highlight of my trip, would recommend it to anyone and I will gladly go again next year if anyone would like to accompany me!