Another world just a metro ride away: Chinatown

It was threatening to be another lazy Sunday, the ones that get whisked away between the threat of an approaching workday and the heaviness from a late lunch. But suddenly we decided to save it. To walk somewhere – anywhere the way we used to when we landed in Singapore more than a year ago.

So off we went to Chinatown – an area which had somehow skipped our radar. It is advertised in all Singapore tourism references, has many eating-out recommendations to its credit, and moreover it is just a Metro ride away. By all logic, we should have hit there sooner, but didn’t.

Taking the exit A out of the station, here this was – almost like a different world. I certainly expected to see the red lanterns, but I did not expect the incredible bustle and activity that the place offered. Closed to vehicles, Pagoda street had all the makings of a festive carnival – people walking leisurely, foodstalls, decorative knick-knacks lining the paths. A heritage museum here, a mint and coin museum there. Not to mention the charming old world architecture of Singapore which welcomes everyone with endless windows along the walls. It was overwhelming.

We walked around a while, and saw a Hindu temple, a mosque, a Buddhist relic temple in the space of a few minutes. It was like a microcosm of civilisation. Each of the streets on the side of Pagoda Street (Mosque Street and Temple street), were lined with inns, hostels and cafes. But it was the street next to Temple street which was most promising. What else can you say of a street called

Food Street?! When we entered, it was long before the eating out time, but tables were just beginning to get set. All along the street were foodstalls. Juices, Deserts, Snacks, and soon to come out heavy duty meals. In this food street, an Austrian has also opened his stall that serves the Curry bratwurst for all those hotdog lovers.

We turned a little bit off the Foodstreet and there stood before us an example of Buddhist architecture – it was the Temple of Buddha tooth relic. Imposing from outside, and grand from inside. The buddhist temples are always seeped in richness, with strokes of overwhelming red and gold. They give an instant feeling of well-being. Inside the temple, three priests sat in prayer, constantly chanting. Outside, the temple, a different kind of chanting was going on. In a square opposite the temple, a group of people were dancing to popular English numbers. It was nothing too fast, nor tacky (like a flashmob) – more as if many people had decided to fall in a similar rhythm without worrying about coordination or uniformity.

Long back a friend had told me about a couple of indie bookstores in Singapore, which happened to be close to Chinatown. I had wanted to visit them for a while, and thought this was the perfect time for it. A quick search on the net, and I traced back the bookstores: Littered with Books and Pigeon hole – both on the Duxton Road. Duxton Road is about a half a km from the temple, but an easy walk. I was simply blown away with the simplicity and cuteness of Littered with books (have yet to visit Pigeon Hole, which from the outside did look inviting with its cafe and all). The first thing I noticed were the little sticky notes on shelves, calling out some of the noteable books. Then, the collection itself was brilliant (I found the Batuman book which had been eluding me in the library).

Duxton Road itself seemed quite inviting. In stark contrast to the hustle-bustle of Pagoda and Food Street, it was quietly tucked away, barely advertising what looked like some classy cafes and pubs. I am definitely going there for an evening out soon.

We walked back to the Mosque Road for some food. Amongst some steamboat and fish restaurants there, there is one which is much loved by Singaporeans – Chong Qing Grilled Fish. This is the place to go for grilled fish in SIngapore. And if you are planning to eat your dinner here, be sure to get there early or soon you will have no place to sit.

Not wanting to miss the Food Street buzz in its prime time – we moved there for some local dessert – Coconut honey Dew – dont ask me what it was, but it was served on a bed of shaved ice. Good, though I prefer the Red Rubies.

With some more strolling, it was time for the metro ride back. A lovely evening – and I have a lot of callouts on where I want to focus next in this small but vast part of town.


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