My one self-imposed rule for this blog is that, it being named Strictly: Singapore, every post that I write will have to start with the letter ‘S’. It’s been going surprisingly well so far, but what I didn’t really consider is the fact that there aren’t a lot of places actually in Singapore that begin with the letter ‘S’, meaning that there are probably going to be quite a few volumes to this ‘Strictly: Sights’ thread. I’m pretty sure this fact will frustrate me very quickly, but right now lets start as we mean to go on, with much optimism. I’ve already written about a few things that I’ve seen – The Gardens at Marina Bay are covered here, while you can read about my (very) brief sojourn to the Botanic Gardens yonder – but last weekend I actually set out with a plan to see some sights, and although I still suffered from being too hot to move very far, I was relatively successful.
First of all I met up with a girl who works for the same company as I do (although not at the same school) and who I had been talking to about the job and life in Singapore generally before I left home. It was lovely to put a face to a name and to meet another new person, and it also meant that I managed to cajole her into being my tour guide for the afternoon (she’s lived in Singapore before so is far better at directions here than I am). We started off in Holland Village which, I have to say, wasn’t entirely what I was expecting. I’d heard about Holland V (as it’s called in da hood) as the bohemian, European centre of Singapore, full of expats and life. From this description I was expecting a slightly older part of the city, maybe with some colonial-type buildings and some quirky market stalls and independent shops. Instead it’s more just the restaurant quarter. Granted, Holland V is more old-worldy than a lot of other places in Singapore, run-down in a charming sort of a way, and greener than other areas which gives it a slightly Mediterranean feel, but in all other aspects it was basically just another part of the city. I have to say that there are a lot more major roads here than I had expected to see, and in true Singapore fashion Holland V is almost entirely surrounded by a busy road, which was detrimental to the whole atmosphere. Despite this it was busy, impressive considering it was a Tuesday afternoon, and it boasts a greater selection of restaurants and coffee shops than I’ve seen anywhere else in Singapore. There wasn’t an obvious shopping mall (which is refreshing in a place where there’s one around every corner) and the hawker centre, where we went for lunch, was one of the best I’ve eaten in. I feel like I need to go back to Holland Village, give it a reappraisal and look around more thoroughly before I form a concrete opinion, but it was nice.
Post-lunch I persuaded my ad hoc tour guide to go with me to Labrador Park. I’m not entirely sure why it’s called Labrador Park, the name suggests that it’s somewhere popular with dog walkers, but in reality it’s not that dog-friendly. Anyway, my main reason for wanting to visit Labrador Park was that there is a pretty famous World War II memorial there, commemorating the soldiers who died in the Japanese attack on Singapore in 1942. The general story told about the British defeat in Singapore is that the allied guns, erected to hold-off an enemy invasion, were positioned to face the sea on the South end of the island, and by the time the Japanese crossed into the country from the North, overland from Malaysia (or Malay as it was called at the time) it was too late to do anything about it. Basically, the Japanese snuck up on the British whilst their backs were turned. Around the war memorial are a lot of information boards and signs explaining the facts of what happened in 1942, and how the British defeat isn’t as cut and dry as this popular history makes out. Because I wasn’t alone at the park I didn’t want to be the weird history fanatic that I normally am and so I didn’t make a point of reading them all, but it’s definitely worth a second visit to get really geeky.
After dragging my new friend around to look at history, we lightened the mood and went down to the promenade to see Sentosa and the sea. Sentosa is a pretty big deal in Singapore. All the kids I teach have either been, and won’t stop talking about it, or are dying to go and (you guessed it) won’t stop talking about it. It’s an island just off the coast of Singapore with the country’s only proper beach and (crucially if you’re under 10) Universal Studios Singapore. We didn’t have time to go down to Sentosa, which is a shame because from what I’ve heard it’s definitely worth a visit. The holiday resort attractions aside Sentosa has some pretty interesting history and more wildlife and nature than the mainland. As early as the 17th Century Sentosa was referred to as Pulau Belakang Mati, which translates into English as ‘island of death from behind’. A pretty bleak name for a place which now houses every child’s dream holiday destination, but supposedly the name originated from Sentosa’s rich history as a haven for pirates and privateers. Whether or not this is the real origin of the name, or just an elaborate and romanticised legend, is another matter, but it’s a nice story.
Back again to Labrador Park. The park is less a park as I would imagine one (it’s no Anstey) and more a mixture of sea-front promenade and mangrove forest with jetty’s over the sea and cliff-top walkways. The park is sat on the side of a hill (I won’t say mountain, it’s a minor hill but still one of the highest natural points in Singapore) and gives a window into what much of Singapore looked like before it was urbanised. It’s a pretty cool place, and surprisingly tranquil given it’s location. Definitely worth a visit, if you haven’t been, and worth a revisit if you have.
I’ve yet to decide where to see next, but look out for volume #2 coming soon!
Leah Out X