Bukit Timah Railway Station (Again)

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Earlier this year, my friend Yu-Mei Balasingamchow wrote this wonderful blog post about the soon-to-be-“refurbished” Rail Corridor, and my friend Kate McFarlane, wrote a child- and pet-friendly guide to the same. The Rail Corridor is a lovely 24-kilometer stretch of former rail tracks going from Tanjong Pagar Station in the Central Business District all the way to Woodlands Checkpoint. It was slated for possible development when the train stopped, but the government agreed to hold off on real estate development.

According to Kate, “This March, the Rail Corridor will be closed for three years to construct the Murnane Pipeline, after which grand plans have been revealed to create a more permanent public space. [There] will be bike paths, and tunnels, and even shower facilities.” So, I took my parents to the Bukit Timah railway station stretch of the Corridor before it likely becomes another managed/manicured “garden.” (The artist renditions in this Tech Insider piece do not inspire *shudder*.)

I last visited this portion of The Green Corridor in December of 2010, not a month after I had moved to Singapore. Then, I chatted up the friendly station master, whose primary tasks were to regulate passing trains and grant eager tourists permission to take photographs. Today, we ran into a number of dog walkers and trail runners. Then, I wrote that the Bukit Timah railway station would be preserved. Today, the structure is in a horrible state of disrepair (broken windows, peeling paint, etc.) and the station sign is practically indecipherable.

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After exploring the station, we walked north towards The Rail Mall, before finding an exit somewhere along the route once we were all tired! It was as blissfully quiet and unhurried experience as is possible in densely developed Singapore—not a building or road in sight and the only sound the trilling of birds overhead.

National Gallery Singapore

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So, my parents are visiting and I’m showing them around this “fine” city again. (They last visited in 2013.) Yesterday, we went to the National Gallery of Singapore. The gallery is housed in the restored former British colonial-era Supreme Court and City Hall buildings, and is home to the largest public collection of Singaporean and Southeast Asian art in the region. The SG$536 million reconstruction project is a truly spectacular architectural marvel and is, in and of itself, worth a walk through. My parents were duly impressed.

We walked through two exhibitions—Siapa Nama Kamu: Art in Singapore Since the 19th Century and Between Declarations and Dreams: Art of Southeast Asia Since the 19th Century—which collectively showcase about 800 pieces drawn from the museum’s collection of 8,000 works. In Siapa Nama Kamu, they were most enchanted by works by the city state’s Nanyang artists—Chinese migrants who arrived in Singapore and adapted Western styles of painting, such as the use of oil, to portray local subjects. I still find, on my third visit, Between Declarations and Dreams, which presents an eclectic selection of artists from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Cambodia, and showcases a variety of techniques, from traditional Chinese brush painting to abstract expressionist collages, to be the stronger of the two exhibitions, despite its obvious art historical flaws.

My parents enjoyed their morning at the museum. My father chatted with the gallery security (who I found rather interruptive and obsequious), and my mother took lots of photographs which she has already posted on Facebook. While I appreciated seeing art that I would likely never see in the United States, I was underwhelmed by the “user experience.” I noticed, as I was visiting with tourists who have less knowledge of art and art history in Southeast Asia than I do, that the museum’s wall text does not provide much context or scaffolding to the novice. The National Gallery wants to the “Louvre or the Met of Southeast Asia,” yet because only a tenth of the National Gallery’s collection is on its walls and in its galleries, the 689,000-square-foot space feels so, so empty. On this visit, I noticed how little of the space was used to display art! Much of what is one view is in closed-off, glass-doored galleries, while the long corridors and numerous open spaces, perfect for painting or installation, remain bare and unused. The National Gallery seems to lack the warmth and bustle—there was no one other than us in many of the galleries—and intensity of the Louvre or the Met.

If you go: General Admission is free for Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents, and $20 for other Singapore residents and tourists. The National Gallery of Singapore is open from 10AM to 7PM from Sunday to Thursday and on public holidays, and from 10AM to 10PM on Fridays, Saturdays, and the eves of public holidays. Admission ends 30 minutes before closing time.

My Panjim with Chryselle D’Silva Dias

 

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Over the years, I’ve asked friends from around Asia, met through my online and offline adventures, to share their must-stop spots in South, East, and Southeast Asia’s great cities.

Today, welcome Chryselle D’Silva Dias, a freelance writer/journalist based in Goa, India. Her bylines have appeared in Time, BBC, The Atlantic, VICE, Scroll.in, The Guardian Weekly, Marie Claire India, Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal Asia, Silverkris, and Architectural Digest (India) among others.

And now, over to Chryselle…

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Panjim is Goa’s capital city, one that feels more like a charming over-grown town. The city is a curious mix of old and new, of heritage buildings and new structures with glass facades, of hole-in-the-wall joints that only the locals know about and contemporary cuisine that the world appreciates.

Must eats?

If you’re hungry in Panjim, head to one of the little eateries along every street, the one that seems unremarkable in its decor, or menu. If it is crowded with locals, that’s the place to eat. Whether it is for the staple fish-curry-rice or a mid-morning snack of pav-bhaji (freshly baked Goan bread with different types of gravies), traditional Goan restaurants are in a league of their own. I love Cafe Aram (18th June Road). Its chana-masala (chick-peas cooked in a spicy base) with puris (fluffy deep fried Indian bread) fills you up and leaves you perfectly sated.

For a meal, try the blink-and-you-might-miss-it Anandashram (31st January Road), a favourite lunch-time spot for commoners and politicians alike. Their fish thali is sumptuous and the queues waiting in the aisle for a table are testimony to its popularity.

A short distance away is the popular Confeitaria 31 De Janeiro, one of the oldest bakeries in town (31st January Road). Traditional Goan sweets and savoury snacks line the shelves in this tiny bakery. The freshly baked biscuits and cakes are tempting. Say hello to Gleta, the owner if she happens to be there when you visit.

Cream Centre near the Panjim market has the most delectable dessert – Gadbad, which literally means “mess.” The mess in question is a tall glass of several scoops of ice-cream, mixed with bits of fruit and nuts. A tall chunk of heaven, for sure.

If you’re looking for a change from traditional Goan food, head straight to Black Sheep Bistro (near Old Passport Office, off 18th June Road), my favourite contemporary restaurant in Goa. Their menu features farm-to-table recipes ensuring fresh food with a local twist (chorizo with chocolate, anyone?). Their cocktails are amazing as is their service and attitude. The owners Prahlad and Sabreen are friendly, professional and evidently love what they do. Which is why we love them too!

Must dos?

Panjim is a very walkable city so put on your comfy shoes and explore.

Dedicated to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, or Nossa Senhora da Immaculada Conceição, Panjim Church is the city’s most iconic landmark. It is one of the oldest Christian shrines in Goa, and is believed to have been built in 1541. The four-tiered zigzagging stone stairway that leads up to it was added a good three centuries later in 1841. The magnificent bell in the belfry, at 2250 kg, is second in size only to the “Golden Bell” of the Sé Cathedral in Old Goa, and once belonged to the Monastery of St Augustine in Old Goa (whose ruins are well worth a visit when you are in Old Goa).

Check out the magnificent Azulejos in the Institute Menezes Braganza. These beautiful blue and white tiles depict scenes from Os Lusíadas, an epic poem by Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões. It tells the story of Portugal’s 15th- and 16th-century voyages of discovery. Goa was a Portuguese colony until 1961 and the azulejos are a work of art to be preserved and celebrated.

Walk around Fontainhas, Panjim’s charming Latin Quarter where time seems to stand still. The old houses and by-lanes are mostly well maintained and is lovely to walk through.

Must shops?

Marcou Artifacts (31 January Road) has pretty, traditional and sometimes humorous ceramic goodies for your home. From rooster-shaped bowls, sea-horses for your balcony wall or a Mario Miranda cartoon coaster, there’s something for every taste and budget here.

The mother-of-pearl windows that still adorn many traditional homes are increasingly difficult to find, but you can take home a shell-inspired souvenier or three. Shell chandeliers, necklaces and vases are popular, as are packets of the luminescent, disc-shaped “capiz.” (Try Shankwalkars, next to the Old Secretariat.)

Must art?

At the end of the 31st January Road, Gitanjali Gallery (31st January Road) is an increasingly important destination for local and national artists. Drop in to check out their latest exhibition and you might discover a new favourite. Owner Miriam Koshy Sukhija welcomes guests and is very knowledgeable about her work. A few hundred yards away (follow the little road to the left of the Gallery) is the elegant Fundação Oriente (Filipe Neri Road), now the permanent home to an impressive collection of paintings by António Xavier Trindade (1870-1935).

Goa is also home to the annual Goa Art and Lit Festival. This year, the festival will be from 10-13 December 2015 and speakers include popular authors, poets and international journalists.

Must Go?

Panjim is a fairly small city with promenades along the river and pavements (on most roads) for pedestrians and you can easily walk around. If your feet get weary (or the humidity gets to you), there are other ways to travel.

The yellow and black rickshaws are available at most corners and will take you in and around the city. Or hop on to a unique taxi service – the motorcycle taxi, which is exactly what it sounds like. These motorcycles with their “pilots” (as the drivers are called) have yellow and black number-plates and bright yellow mudguards which make them easy to spot. Public buses are available from the main bus stand and along the main roads, but not easy to find in the inner roads. For rickshaws and motorcycle taxis, do determine the price before you set off, to avoid any confusion at your destination. There are also traditional taxi services available but these tend to be more expensive.

(Additional credits: Photographs by Chryselle D’Silva Dias; photo layout via Pugly Pixel.)

Postcard from Chennai at momfilter

 

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I’m once again over at momfilter, a lifestyle blog for families created by Pilar Guzmán and Yolanda Edwards, the founding editors of the now-defunct but still-beloved Cookie Magazine. “Postcard from Chennai” is the fourth of several short reflections on travel and family.

An excerpt:

As a child, I did not fly anywhere except to visit India, the country from where my parents emigrated to the United States. Air travel in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s was inconvenient and expensive and, as immigrants, any travel was a luxury.

On those trips to India, in 1982, 1987, 1990, and 1996, I became fluent in a language and a culture that continues to inform my self in profound ways. It cost my parents plenty of time and hard-earned money, but travel to India was their greatest gift.

My daughter, A, now three-years-old, has already been to India five times! We are based in Singapore, where flights from the Southeast Asian city-state to India’s major cities are plentiful and affordable.

I tell friends and family back home that our ability to travel to India for a weekend, as we did this Lunar New Year long weekend, is, by far, the best aspect of living in Asia, especially as we raise our third-culture child to be aware of and appreciative of both her American and Indian identities.

We recently spent several days in Chennai, the capital city of the southern state of Tamil Nadu. My parents-in-law, who retired several years ago and now spend winters in India and summers in Western New York, joined us.

Continue reading “Postcard from Chennai.”

Weekend Layover: Singapore

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I recently had the opportunity to write a travel guide to Singapore for Paste Magazine’s “Weekend Layover” column.

An excerpt:

Singapore, a multiethnic, multilingual and multicultural Southeast Asian island nation off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, is more than just a quick stop en route to the region’s more talked-about destinations like Bali or Bangkok. For centuries, immigrants from China, India and Europe have made the 276 square miles of Singapore home, creating a cultural mix of 5.4 million people unique to this part of the world.

Bypass Singapore’s famed zoo, its casino complexes and Sentosa—the theme park-esque island resort off its southern coast—and spend your holiday sampling Singapore’s lesser-known culinary delights or exploring its overlooked parks and nature preserves. Admire the temples, churches and mosques. Lose yourself among the colonial-era Palladian, Renaissance and Neoclassical civic buildings. Contemplate the modern and postmodern office towers that punctuate the skyline. And when you’re on the streets, fitting in like a local, attempt to converse in Singlish, an English-based language comprised of English, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and Tamil vocabulary, which are all languages and dialects spoken by the majority of Singaporeans.

Singapore is celebrating its Jubilee year, or its 50th year of independence, throughout 2015 and commemorative events line the calendar. From February’s Chingay, a “We <3 SG”-themed street parade, to the October opening of National Gallery Singapore, which will house the world’s largest collection of Southeast Asian art, no matter when you visit, there will be cause for celebration.

Read my entire suggested itinerary here.

How Loneliness Goes by Nguan

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Nguan is an enigmatic picture-maker who only goes by one name. He was born and raised in Singapore and studied film and video production at Northwestern University. He spent over a decade in the States, photographing such oft-shot locations as New York City and Los Angeles.

Since 2010, he has turned his gaze home, to Singapore. His 2013 monograph, How Loneliness Goes, is now an exhibition, as part of M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2015, at ION Art. The photographs “employ Singapore’s distinct vernacular architecture as both scenery and supporting cast for a lyrical and ambivalent evocation of urban isolation.”

I’ve seen many of Nguan‘s photographs online and on the page. (I am a huge fan.) The exhibit, however, takes the art’s framed flatness and fills it out with an illusory heft, of sorts. His work emphasizes the physical experience of photography, and captures both the illusion of photography and the physical presence of places, people, and objects.

I couldn’t help but think of the photographs’ nondescript frames as thresholds, their ability to be both an “in-between” and a gateway to a “beyond.”

How Loneliness Goes closes on Sunday. Go!