I have been making regular trips to Singapore for the last 25 years – in the early years for pure travel but since I came to live in Indonesia, mostly for the purpose of applying for new work permits.
Basically, for any foreigner living or working in Indonesia, every time they start a new job they have to go out of the country to complete the visa process. People frequently ask me why, after all this time, I still need a work permit, despite being married to an Indonesian. As long as I wish to retain my British citizenship, which I do up to now, I require permission from the government to live and work here. Unlike most countries where you can have dual citizenship, Indonesia denies its own citizens that simple right.
Anyway, one of the few benefits of this frankly annoying system is that I do get a trip to Singapore paid for by my employer once in a while - Singapore being our nearest neighbour.
This year, I had the pleasure of another work permit trip right in the middle of my long holiday. The process is now slightly less onerous than before because of the relatively recent opening up of the flight route between Singapore and Bandung, a short one hour and 45 minutes flight. Previously, us Bandungers had to get to Jakarta first, a relatively short distance but usually fraught with unpredictable traffic jams and hair-raising mini bus rides to the airport in Jakarta.
This time my school had booked me into a hotel in Little India, which is probably my favourite area of Singapore for many reasons. Here are just a few of them:
I love India (went there for long travels years ago).
I love Indian food and it’s almost impossible to get here in Bandung unless you can be bothered to cook it for yourself (I can’t).
It’s a part of Singapore that very much retains its cultural roots and flavor.
It’s not ridiculously clean like every other part of Singapore (yes, I know, clean is nice but I do live in Indonesia!)
I say I was staying in Little India but actually the hotel my school kindly put me up in was on the far reaches of Jalan Besar, a rather more Chinese area, though technically it maybe just about makes it into Little India. Anyway, regardless, I spent most of my short time wandering and browsing in Little India (not actually buying for goodness sake! - Singapore is way too expensive for those of us who earn an Indonesian salary!)
On my first evening I wandered down Serangoon Road and the many small backstreets nearby where I have stayed on previous visits. I passed some of those beautiful colourful South Indian temples (sadly now rather lost in urban development; I remember them without the backdrop of all the new buildings.) I wandered down to the Tekka Centre - the large market, but decided to give it a miss this time because of the heat and humidity (so hot compared to Bandung!) I wandered around the little India Arcade instead - the tourist face of Little India - and watched people having henna tattoos on their hands (so intricate) and also bought some Indian home-made sweets which I adore (pistachio and chocolate burfi – heaven!) and ate them as I walked.
|Incense and jasmine - heavenly smells|
|Rickshaw whizzing by|
|A sign of multi cultural living|
Sadly, I’d already had dinner near my hotel - Hainanese chicken rice – as I had skipped lunch and had to eat immediately on arrival or risk passing out! So, I had to save the pleasures of the banana leaf thali until the following day.
Back to the hotel, literally and metaphorically - the Kam Leng at the far end of Jalan Besar, almost near the junction with Lavender. It’s a beautiful old Chinese building, built in 1936 (the sign is still on the front.) It’s a real vintage piece - you would either love it or hate it, fortunately for me, I really liked it. The rooms are very comfortable though ever so slightly run down. However, everything is clean and in working order with an excellent bathroom and a very comfortable bed. The public areas are deliberately left in the old style - stairwells still have the old writing on the walls, the old original floor tiles are gorgeous and the walls have a bit of paint slapped on here and there to retain the antique feeling. On each floor landing there are vintage style chairs and lamps – very stylish I think, though I imagine some people might find it slightly creepy late at night, having the feel of an Alfred Hitchcock movie about it.
|Shabby urban chic|
The following day, after a quick bowl of rice porridge in the hawker’s centre across the street and a couple more hours relaxing in the room watching the local TV channel news, I took the MRT down to Little India – only a one stop hop from Farrer Park MRT but it was so hot, even carrying one very light back pack like I was.
|The sad remains of my banana leaf lunch|
Finally, I got to satisfy my craving for Indian food. I randomly picked one of the many little eateries on Serangoon Road and ordered myself the lunch set vegetarian banana leaf meal, consisting of rice, different breads, about six vegetable dishes, pickles, yoghurt and dessert all served on a banana leaf. This to me is the epitome of food heaven, not being a great meat eater and loving Indian food as I do. It always reminds me so much of my travels in India in the eighties. The bonus is also the very reasonable price. I paid around 7 Singapore dollars for this treat.
Being well fed and happy, I spent my last couple of hours browsing around a local mall before making my weary way to the Indonesian embassy to pick up my passport. The immigration staff member in the entrance area was just as familiarly grumpy here as immigration staff often are on Indonesian soil, making me ready to take a taxi back to the airport and on to Indonesia.