Travel: My Rough Guide - Singapore: Sadly, the paper Mercedes was beyond my means

Best Discovery

You can't judge a book by looking at its cover: one of Chinatown's drabbest new housing blocks yields a fascinating remnant of traditional Chinese belief, the Nam Cheong Funerary Paraphernalia Shop. The Chinese have long burnt paper money at funerals in order to line the pockets of the deceased in the next life. This shop takes the theory to its logical conclusion, producing huge houses and near-life size safes, servants and cars for the self-respecting ghost around town. Sadly, even a paper Merc proved beyond my price range. I wandered round the corner to Smith Street's Fook Weng Store and bought to ensure safe passage over to the other side, a "Hell passport".

Favourite Hotel

The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, named after the 1958 movie starring Ingrid Bergman, evokes an air of Chinese nostalgia that's a distant cry from Singapore's towering skyscrapers and pristine shopping malls. This lavish boutique hotel bulges with such Oriental fixtures and fittings as rosewood furniture, porcelain lamps and antique opium couches. Swanning around my room in an elegant silk robe, I happily wiled away an evening by imagining myself to be the Last Emperor of China.

Bargain of the Trip

I don't hold with wolfing down a burger when the hunger pangs come. When in Singapore one should do as the Singaporeans do. This can often mean lunching on a banana leaf meal, a south Indian dish of chutneys, vegetable curries and dal, served on a replenishable mountain of rice and topped with popadums. As its name suggests, the meal is slopped out onto a trimmed square of banana leaf, by slow-moving old men who plod between the tables. A teh tarik rounds off the meal perfectly: literally "pulled tea", it's a sweet, milky drink frothed up by repeatedly pouring it in a steaming rope between two cups.

Biggest Let-down

Bugis Street embodied old Singapore: after dark it was a compellingly chaotic place, its bars and dives crawling with rowdy sailors, preening transvestites and prostitutes. Anathema to a Singaporean government keen to clear up its country's reputation, the street was demolished to make way for a train station. Public opinion finally secured a replacement, but when Bugis Village materialised in 1991 it was a shadow of its famous forebear. Gone were the elements of sleaze and vice that defined it, to be replaced by beer gardens and seafood restaurants whose staff holler out: "Seafood, Sir, Madam?" to passing bus-loads of tourists. I went, had some passable sweet and sour prawn. And then went home to bed.

Biggest Mistake

Secreted in the darkest recess of my wardrobe, there hangs a fern-green, double breasted suit, shinily grotesque, that was made to measure by a tailor on Singapore's Orchard Road. My friend possesses a lumpen batik sack intended as an exotic cocktail dress. The lesson? Have something made to measure by all means - local tailors are a talented bunch - but at least give them a fighting chance of coming up with what you want. Sit down first, sip a Tiger beer and decide exactly what style you are looking to achieve. Then be sure to allow time for fine-tuning before rushing to catch your flight out. As for us, we live and learn.

Bizarre Meeting

A Sikh fortune-teller once presented himself at the door of my apartment. "You have a lucky face," he told me from behind a princely beard and moustache, before asking me to scribble down my birth date, unseen by him, on a scrap of paper. He next asked me to name my favourite flower (daffodil) and a number between one and three (three). Nodding sagely, he now wrote in an exercise book the exact same date I had in front of me. As I stared, slack-jawed, at him, he opened the folder he carried and held it up to me. One $5 bill - and one assurance that mine was to be a long, happy and wealthy life - later he was gone. Longevity, happiness and wealth? Five dollars well spent.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot