Durian, my assassin!

In search of random discoveries, as I walked past through the streets of Chinatown, I found something that divided the nation and its people.

As a matter of fact, it holds enormous power to even divide the entire world. Just like Coke and Pepsi or Nikon and Canon, it divides people (local or foreigners) into two – folks who will die for it and folks who will die because of it.

Want to be introduced to the celebrity? Here: meet Durian – the look alike of jackfruit. The king of fruits in South East Asia. The smelling nuisance. The fruit who killed me.

Smell wise, a durian can imitate a range of things; from almonds to gym socks to rotten fish to turpentine. It has a thorny outer shell which’s capable of cutting human skin & drawing blood and a custardy inside. And because of its notorious and strong smell, it’s banned inside the MRT. Fine wise, its 500 Singaporean dollars!

Even though durian is not a native of Singapore, it’s still widely in demand and supply here. For the trivia sake, they even have a building at Esplanade that is shaped like a huge durian. Guess its nickname? Durian, what else!

A friend told me, ‘If you get past through the smell, you’ll love it’ Honestly, she was wrong! Let me tell you another fact – post the smell, there’s this slimy texture waiting inside! And, if you get past through that, I’ll disown my childhood superhero and make you the new one!

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‘Made in China, what else?’

Chinatown is to Singapore what Eiffel Tower is to Paris.

Red lanterns hung against the clear blue sky, the aroma of mysterious Chinese meats being readied on snack kiosks, the ironic backdrop of surrounding mega tall rises, a battery of old men spending a lazy day playing Chinese chess near the Pagoda; Chinatown impresses in all quarters – colors, culture, history, gastronomy and photography!

Even barely stepping foot for a minute, one will graduate to the fact that everything sold in Chinatown is ‘Made in China.’ There are scores of Chinese eateries, Chinese souvenir shops, Chinese traditional medicine shops, even a Chinese comb shop that had its salesgirls desperately attempting to sell combs to me. They want a bald guy with combs – Good Chinese joke, I say!

Nearly all streets and alleys in Chinatown wind up to the gigantic Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum. No chance you can miss this beautiful and intricately built pagoda. There’s a certain aura that binds you inside. And even though I was in a hurry, I sat up for half an hour of silence. I was gazing at the Buddha then looking out from the tiny windows I was smiling at the outside world. Undoubtedly, I can sanction it to be the most peaceful zone of Singapore.

Getting lost in the dingy by lanes of Chinatown is a natural phenomenon. Don’t pull out the map and cure yourself from getting lost. Let it happen. Because only when you are lost is when you will discover Erich, a six foot tall, Austrian dragon that sells authentic sausages. So you know, all his sausages are styled the Austrian way and are served with a hundred percent Austrian smile! Ask Erich about the city and he will reply in a loud husky Austrian accent – ‘Wunderbar!’

This day, in extreme self confidence and faith, I pronounce Erich as the only ‘not Made in China product’ of Chinatown. Oh, chef Erich is also as actively involved on facebook as much as in his sausage trade. Find more on his page here: http://on.fb.me/LLfMYK

‘Lah, leh, loh’

“Red light cannoh (cannot) walk, only green light can walk” – where in the world will you hear a six year old say that to his mother who’s trying to cross the street while it’s still a red signal? The answer is Singapore.

The phraseology used by the kid is commonly known as Singlish or Singaporean English – a unique way of eating up a few letters, words or parts of a sentence to inadvertently come up with a version that sounds funny to the rest of the world – although to them, it’s perfectly normal. For example – ‘Also’ becomes ‘Oso.’ Yet another example – ask a salesman in a shop, “Can I take a picture?” and the guy is most likely to respond – “Can lah” or “Cannot lah” – quite efficient & crisp, no lah?

So the best souvenir to bring from Singapore? Learn some Singlish!

‘Meeting Micheal Jackson in Singapore!’

While in Singapore you can’t, you shouldn’t and you probably won’t miss him. Merlion – the most popular Singaporean dude has a lion face and the body of a fish. He stands tall, superimposed over a backdrop of towering high rises and throws a jet of water from his mouth 24/7. Really a hard working fellow!

This artistic mascot is like Micheal Jackson of Singapore. No matter where you go, no matter whom you go with, they will always ask if you clicked a picture with him. Your family back home, your friends (especially facebook friends) your colleagues, they won’t believe you were in Singapore unless you carried a picture with him in the background. So even though you might feel he’s a bit over-rated, you can’t return without having him in your lenses!

To be honest, I didn’t. But you must!

‘OMI – oh my India!’

When you hear Bollywood songs coming out of mobile phones, when the aroma of freshly made sambhar juggles with your senses, when your face begins to be scanned for familiarity – look around, you’re either inside or closer to Little India, the Mecca place for all Indians.

Once you’re in Little India, relax. Feel at home. It’s actually home to many away from home, for many Indians who arrived and settled away from the motherland. The Diaspora, the long term workers and the short term tourists; they all thrive on Little India to find random connections to the homeland.

Being there, I felt a bit of nostalgia in the air and quite honestly that dose was enough to feel for the country I always take for granted.

One should take a stroll in Little India. One should also be ready for a long walk. Situated at the two ends of the Serangoon road are the Kali Amman temple and Sri Srinivasa Perumal temple, divided arbitrarily by the Masjid Angoolia somewhere in the middle. They are all well color coordinated and beautifully built and even though you may find the trio very touristic – yet, I reckon, they are all worth a visit!

With all the choices of Indian restaurants and inviting flavors from street shops, it’s hard to stay hungry for long; so settle down in one or multiple places and satisfy your Indian meal hunger pang!

Besides the nostalgia, the temples and the eateries, the most eye-catching, wallet- grabbing phenomenon in Little India is Mustafa Center – a six storey, many buildings, mega collossuem which sells anything and everything under the Sun, only except fighter planes and dolphins!

Since most visitors to Mustafa are from the Indian Diaspora or short term Indian tourists, the store is cleverly stacked with Indian spices, fruits, souvenirs, electronics and everything that Indians demand and seek for.

My impression of the Mustafa store? Well, it’s like a crowded Mumbai local train fitted with a crisp air-conditioning and the glamorous scope of picking up LCDs at best buy prices. Crudely saying, that’s exactly what a typical scene is on the weekends. There are people everywhere, buying everything!

Inside, they even sell vegetarian mutton curry, vegetarian chicken slice & vegetarian roasted chicken – I mean, vegetarian? Really? Well, if you know what they are or how they tasted, please do let me know!

‘Yay, I’m swimming at the edge!’

In 1993, when the American rock band Aerosmith sang, Livin’ on the Edge, little did they know that someday one could also swim at the edge. That’s right – one can, in style, at a height and in Singapore!

The biggest fad of the city, Marina Bay Sands is a huge (read: can’t be ignored) structure in downtown Singapore and it is here, at the top floor of the hotel, where the much acclaimed ‘Infiniti pool’ spreads its magical charm and addictive aura.

To be brutally honest, swimming at this world’s longest elevated ‘edge of the hotel’ swimming pool requires one to stay at the hotel, which at a bare minimum cost of approximately 500 Singaporean dollars per night is not a very modest quote!

Only if you’re as lucky as me, you’ll get invited by a friend as a guest. I’m sure, in no time you will fall in love with the word ‘guest’ and also with all the avenues it opens up when used!

Quite frankly, I have never swum at such a pool. The feeling inside the waters is ecstatic; something that comes naturally with the height and the edge. Once inside the pool, you wouldn’t wish to return. You wouldn’t wish to do anything else except standing at the edge and gazing at the height below or eyeing the city ahead and feeling the star filled sky. If truly, there are only a few manmade creations such as this.

Besides the celebrity pool, there’s a casino that is billed as world’s most expensive standalone casino property, doors of which are open to foreigners for free while for Singaporeans there’s a 100 dollar entry fee! So when you arrive in Singapore, bring some luck too!

What to do if you’re not invited as a guest? Think.

Being there, you will lose (end up paying) some dollars. Not being there, you’ll be at a total loss. Choice is yours!