Singapore...

Those of you who have read my previous blogs will know that January was a bit of a mad month. I returned to Taiwan from the UK and then went straight to Singapore. After Singapore it was back to Taiwan for a few days and then off to Hong Kong (Hong Kong in the next blog).

I had heard mixed reviews of Singapore, I try and keep an open mind and see what I find when I get somewhere. One man's idea of heaven is another's idea of hell after all.

You would have thought by now having flown about a bit that I would have got used to it. Not every airport demands you be there 3 hours early, I guess I have been conditioned by travelling from Heathrow too often in the past. That and having missed flights, not to mention the odd ferry.

On this occasion I got to Touyuan airport so early I was offered a seat on an earlier flight, this would have meant that I would be in Hong Kong airport waiting longer for my transfer. Having been delayed in Hong Kong airport twice in 2 weeks I was a bit bored of the place so decided I would get a coffee then go and snooze at the boarding gate.


When I stepped on the plane I wished I'd taken the earlier flight, a real sense of terror washed over me. I don't normally get nervous flying, but then I don't normally find myself on a plane wondering where the pedals are. The seats were wobbling around and the whole plane twisted and creaked as it flexed it's way to the runway for take off. It was vibrating so much that I could only imagine it was beating it's wings like an ungainly swan as it built up enough momentum for a truly epic crash. They didn't even have an entertainment system as a distraction, it was white knuckles all the way.

I had an inkling from my research and it's reputation that Singapore would be efficient. I wasn't wrong, after a brief (efficient) chat with a German visitor I was in the cab and on the way to the hotel.


Have I told you that my wife has a fabulous ability to get a great deal at a hotel? She had surpassed herself, we were in a very pleasant suite on the 24th floor, it wasn't huge but it was well appointed. Most importantly it gave us access to the club floor on the 22nd.

The 22nd floor was home to an outdoor pool and jacuzzi, with spectacular views across the city. I'll give Singapore it's due, there is some great architecture. Also on the 22nd was a dinning area and kitchen which served breakfast, but more importantly between 18:00 and 20:00 happy hour. How happy can happy hour be, how about free drinks and nibbles, including a great cheese board, I would say pretty happy thank you.






I had done a bit of research (I always do), about interesting places in Singapore. Any travel photographer will have a look at what other photographers have done previously, have a think about what they want to shoot, and when would be the best time to be there to photograph it. I wanted to get up early and head to the botanical gardens to photograph it in the early sunshine before any crowds filled the reportedly beautiful location. Morning sunshine, ha, don't make me laugh, I didn't see any blue sky the whole time I was there. Every morning I would set my alarm, wake up and peer out of the window only to see a thick layer of cloud. Bugger!

So what. I will find other subjects to photograph, there is bound to be lots of interesting life to see around, we are in Asia after all. It turned out Singapore is not like the Asia I have experienced. 

I got to go to the botanical gardens as we met friends for lunch there. Afterwards, Camille went off to meetings and I did one of my favourite things in a new city, I went for a walk about.



In Taiwan, I love to just wander around and head down lanes and alleyways looking for the curiosities and life within. I had done the same in Yangon and Bangkok. Each time meeting smiling faces, seeing interesting buildings and feeling a real sense of life. In Singapore I got a bit bored, it seemed a little lacking in something, I think the only word I can think of is soul. It seems a bit manufactured to me.



Don't for a second think that Singapore is not a nice place, it is, it is just that, nice.

Back at the hotel, for a bit of wine and cheese, before heading out to take the classic evening shot looking across the river to "Gardens by the Bay" and the Marina Bay Hotel.


Having taken the MRT to the financial district I had to then make my way to the bus stop to head to the spot I wanted to set up for the above photograph. I realise that people need to get to and from work, and I used to get annoyed sometimes with tourists in London, however the rudeness of the people as I walked for the bus was unsurpassed. One paved area and they had to walk 5 wide to fill it up, blocking the way for anybody heading in the other direction. One woman walked directly at me, barged straight in to me as if I weren't even there. Well, I weigh around 90kg and swinging around as if to move out of her way caught her with perfect timing. My 20kg fully loaded camera bag sent her barrelling off into the throngs of zombie like workers marching toward the MRT entrance. I had a little chuckle to myself before promptly boarding the wrong bus. Instant karma, but worth it non the less.

Whilst making the shot above I had a little chat with a security guard. He had asked me to move up the bank from the waters edge as it was slippery and I was his responsibility. I asked him if I could be responsible for myself, I think this put him off balance a little, he paused, thought for a second whilst looking at me. He then said, "yep I will tell my supervisor you are responsible for yourself", smiled and went on his way. That is the correct attitude, security guards everywhere take note, as long as someone is not endangering others, leave them alone.

Having made the shot I headed back over the bridge and along the river bank. The atmosphere was relaxed, so I took my time and made a few shots on the way back to the MRT.
 



A new day and Sentosa was on the cards. This is an island which is like a giant theme resort, a sort of family friendly Vegas attached to Singapore. I think maybe if Sentosa was a bit more like the den of iniquity Vegas is it may be a bit of light relief, and a better place for it.

I walked across to the island, there is a cable car if you want to enjoy a view of the island from above before being deposited in the middle of it all. The boardwalk doesn't take too long, and if you are lazy there is a travelator to carry you the 500 meters or so. Once you are on the island transport is free, there is a monorail (I always hear the monorail song from the Simpsons at this point https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZBPoRwog00), and buses that ferry you around from one attraction to the next. 


Universal studios has a park there, there is a zip line that according to the hotel tourists channel reaches 250mph, it would be amazing if it did and I would definitely be on that, the reality is though it might reach 25mph with a tail wind. If you don't fancy approaching the speed of light on a zipwire, you can take a chair lift up and enjoy a luge ride back down instead, this did look like fun.

After all that excitement why not stroll the man made beaches, enjoy the music which is piped everywhere you go from speakers in the bushes, as opposed to the sounds of what jungle and wildlife is left. If you walk or cycle you do get breaks from the music and the jungle jingle takes over. It is so much nicer to hear, even if it does sound like listening to a drunk parrot band whilst suffering a severe tinnitus attack.

I was in search of the iconic white sand, blue sky shot. The sky being devoid of blue, or sun for that matter, I settled for an interesting spider I spotted above a drainage ditch, and a shot with a bit of a moody cloud hanging around in it. I am sure had the sun been out and the sky been blue it all would have looked perfectly beautiful. I love the view of the group of container ships and tankers too. Even without the sun beating down I managed to get sun burnt. Paddling along the waters edge shoes in hand watching the families enjoy themselves was pleasant enough, £20 for a Manhattan was definitely not. 


Hotel, wine and cheese....

Looking like a redneck farm hand, the following afternoon I headed in to Chinatown. It was heaving as Chinese new year was approaching and everyone was getting geared up (see previous blog for Chinese new year). I had heard about a house in Chinatown that showed what the architecture and layouts used to be like. It turns out to be a museum, and interesting. Not many people had bothered to go in resulting in it being a very nice relaxing place to be, and a relief from the madness on the bustling streets outside.


Don't you love the old magazines pegged up, the styles were great and a total contrast to the living conditions as you can see.

It was our last day, Camille had not been very well for a few days but was feeling better, I wanted to go and eat laksa. Laksa is a Malaysian dish so I figured Singapore should have top quality bowls available. The cab driver took us to the famous area for laksa and said that I should try from different stalls as the portions were small. One bowl was plenty,  this totally explained why the cab had learnt toward the drivers side somewhat on the ride from the hotel.

I had been shooting all week, lugging my camera bag and tripod around everywhere, I wanted a night off and just spend it with Mrs L. Typically this is when we ended up in a place with a bit of a beat to it. There was a gorgeous Hindu temple with a wedding going on, life on the streets was real, this is where the actual everyday people where. Colonial architecture served wonderfully as the backdrop and reminded us of days gone by. Days when the evenings would have all been filled with the sounds of people chatting over bowls of food and cold glasses of long drinks. It was a world away from the mansions I had been surrounded by earlier that week walking back from the botanical gardens, I was finally seeing more of the life I would expect from Asia. 

Across the street from where we ate was a bar, it actually had ale on draught. I guess this is part of Singapore, a mix of cultures all smashed together in a relatively tiny place. A lot of it is geared up purely for the tourists and corporate staff. Being young and working in Singapore I can imagine the lifestyle could be fun, hanging with your mates around Clarke Quay, earning good money in the sunshine, it's got to be better than drudging to work through the rain and wind right. That isn't for me though, it doesn't seem real enough, like Sentosa it is manufactured. The little pocket on the last night was more my scene, I enjoyed the atmosphere on the street, the food I ate and the beer I drank. 

Overall I found Singapore to be a bit rigid. It has compartmentalised itself it seems, work area, shopping area, drinking area, beauty area. I found no surprises, nothing to make me think "wow, that is so cool". I found nothing offensive, apart from the prices, £7 for a can of beer from a shop! but I didn't find anything particularly exciting either. 

I am sure that I will be back in Singapore from time to time, I won't avoid it, I hope there is plenty more to see and experience. If I have to sum it up though, there is only one word, nice.

I hope that you all enjoyed this episode and look forward to the next one. There has been so much going on as ever. I have built my new website, it is up for all to see at www.duncanlongden.photography, I have 2 great students I am teaching photography too. I have been exploring abandoned places in Taiwan plus much much more....

Be sure to follow my blog, don't forget to share it and be sure to call if you need a photographer in Asia, I am always keen for work.

Until next time, Cheers.....


   

   




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