Friday, March 16, 2012

Singapore! (Part 1 of 2)

Our mission: to go to Florida for a friend's wedding. Along the way, adventure ensues!

First stop, Singapore! Land of Cheap Food and Expensive Handbags Shaped Like Cartoon Characters.

One of the first things we noticed is that everyone speaks English, but it's a completely different pattern of English than we're used to. Very fast, very sharp syllables. It takes some getting used to.

We also noticed is that Singapore is tropical and sweaty. Helloooo, sunblock! It's a nice change, though, it snowed the day after we left.

Singapore is a lot more multicultural than Tokyo. There is a Chinatown and a Little India, with large Chinese, Malay, and Indian populations. Food is a national hobby and there is a concerted effort to conserve and educate about wildlife, if the Singapore Zoo is any indication (Steve Irwin may have had a hand in setting it up, which explains its excellent design). There is also a bird park, which was larger and more involved than we expected.

On our way to the zoo, we stopped at something that looked like a sweets kiosk and asked for five random things. These are three of them.
3/5 of the Random Confections
On the right is a gelatinous something-or-other that is possibly some kind of pressed jelly/bean paste/bean jelly, or might be if it weren't almost entirely flavorless. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't much of anything. In the middle is something that I can only describe as tapioca sushi, and on the right is a sesame doughnut with something stringy and sweet inside. I liked that one the most.

Singapore Zoo

At the ticket queue, you can see free roaming Giraffe Puppet People.

Like the Australia Zoo, a lot of attention has been paid to the landscaping and the atmosphere.

The enclosures are done with moats and embankments rather than fences and cement walls. As illustration, I present a few seconds of the White Tiger exhibit.

Between exhibits, there was a splashing in a random pond, and we had a National Geographic moment. This wild monitor lizard had killed a fish. After an unsuccessful attempt that left it with a mouth full of pointy scales, it managed to drag the thing away for some privacy.

Fun Fact: Pygmy hippos can't swim and they're too dense to float. They tiptoe along the bottom of the river and rear up on their back legs to get their noses above water to breathe. This is why they are otherwise known as "ballerinas of the river".

Also: bats! These aren't very big, but they're in an open area, so they might just be wild bats that happen to live in this peaked roof.

No zoo is complete without tortoises. Possibly the most poorly designed creature aside from the sloth, this one was almost defeated by a curb.

Fun Fact: Koala babies eat from their mothers butts. Blarg. I mean, it makes sense because that's the only practical way to get all the bacteria into the baby's gut so it can digest food, but eww.

In the Komodo dragon area there was a monitor lizard pretending to be an animal that can climb.

Fun Fact: Komodo dragons are lousy parents. The babies hatch then have to run for their lives up a tree so the adults don't eat them. They can only come down then they are big enough not to be mistaken for lunch.

Before the Singapore Zoo, I'd never heard of or seen a mouse deer. They were in a few enclosures, and the signs describing them are sure to point out that they are neither a mouse nor a deer, but they don't say what it is. So I looked it up on Wikipedia, and it seems to be its own thing. It's an herbivore/scavenger with elongated canine teeth and a four-chambered stomach. From existing species and fossil records, it looks like an ancestor-type mammal left over from aeons ago. They're cute and all, but they don't look like the legs go with the body. They look like toothpicks stuck to the underside of a marshmallow.

On to the big cats! I'm glad Crooked isn't this big. I'm glad he can be entertained with a toy the size of a ping pong ball and doesn't need a tire swing wrapped in a burlap sack.

There's a naked mole rat exhibit!
Note: not actual size.
It turns out that naked mole rats seem adorable if you know them from the show Kim Possible, but in reality they are the stuff of nightmares.

Fun fact: they can chew through concrete.

Little India
We spent a lot of time in Little India. The end result was that we stuffed ourselves silly in vegetarian restaurants from tiny dishes filled with unidentifiable sauces and bought some pretty things to wear at the Tekka Center.
I don't know what this is other than "delicious".  Traditionally eaten with out utensils, but they were nice to the tourists and provided forks.

We went to the market with a vague idea of getting something pretty to wear. It became more of a concrete plan when one of the woman at the (many, many) booths started dressing me in saris.
Demo Sari
End decision:
Burgundy and light blue and looks better in person.
The goal now is to find a place to wear it out in public.

Hawker Center
One of those Singaporean Experiences is eating at a hawker center. They are open-air plazas of picnic tables surrounded by food booths. At the one we went to, there were obnoxiously aggressive touts everywhere trying to sit us down and shove menus in our hands. After refusing the first six, we gave up and followed one back to a table. To be fair, he was a great waiter and the cost of the whole meal including enormous bottles of beer (Tiger is the local brand) was more than reasonable.
Top: chili crab, the local signature dish
Bottom: vegetarian semi-spicy noodle dish
Unfortunately, maybe getting the chili crab at the hawker center wasn't the best idea. Something about it wasn't right, and you know what happens when seafood isn't quite right. The noodle dish was good, at least.

This bread is so light and fluffy that if it had any sugar in it, it would be a doughnut. The beer was good, too.
The bread things (I've since forgotten what they're called, but they were darned tasty) were supposed to be for the crab or something, but they were really good by themselves.

That's all for this episode, next time will be the bird park and Chinese Hell.

P.S. Be sure to get cash for your loved ones.
I'm pretty sure this is about wiring money, not human trafficking.

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