With the economy being what it is, I thought it might be a great idea to recommend alternative holiday locations that are cheaper. Hence this new 4-parter on Holidaying in Singapore. What better way to spend your vacation cheaply and meaningfully -- okay, cheaply -- than to spend it here in Singapore? Part Two covers the East District. Enjoy.
Lorong Ah Soo
Lorong Ah Soo is located off Upper Paya Lebar Road, and is often referred to as being part of opposition-held Hougang estate, although the residents there are part of the Aljunied Constituency, that hardly gets to vote because of frequent walkovers.
Aside from its cosmopolitan name, Lorong Ah Soo is famous for its frequent "Cleanest Precinct" wins and the great number of traffic lights along its short stretch of road. Even as we speak, more traffic lights are being built at logical spots, such as places that do not need them, as opposed to places that do need them, like that stretch where cars always hit each other.
Bedok is famous for its Dessert stall at the Bedok Bus Interchange, with the glamourous name of Hollywood (that is, the dessert stall is called Hollywood, the Interchange is called Bedok Interchange). The proprietor of Hollywood desserts is famed for producing great local desserts that kill teeth every year, and also for his extremely unfriendly and gruff manner.
He is known to be a fair person to the 3-mile-long queue of customers at his stall every day, and will not serve anyone who jumps queue, even if the person is a senior minister or some Triad leader. Many a customer has received a tongue-lashing from him for not knowing what they want to order when their turn comes or for giving him huge denominations like $5 notes. That is the sort of well-loved man that he is.
The other thing that Bedok is famous for is the many bad cinemas it has. By that I mean that the movie theatres there have not kept pace with the rest of Singapore's cineplexes and are still boasting more than 6 cinemas that screen movies in "Dolby Surround Mono" (TM).
Tampines is a town that a lot of foreigners mispronounce as "Tam-Pines" or "Tam-pins" when is should be pronounced "Tam-Penis". This is because there are no Pines in Tampines.
Tampines is the Shenton Way (Downtown Financial District) and Orchard Road (Downtown Shopping Area) of the East (East Singapore). It is a proud icon of Singapore Achievement in that it was once nominated for some United Nations Award for most suburban shopping malls or something. People from all over Singapore travel here to shop, especially residents of Tampines. Also it has heck of a lot of movie theatres. Currently, there are no less than 18 theatres in this satellite town, all of which are modern, clean and sell popcorn.
It is a place that, without the MRT and its many shopping and movie amenities, most people will consider "ulu" (which is Malay for "freakingly far and out of the way"). Hence, most residents prefer to shop in their replica of downtown Singapore than to make the trip to the Real Thing.
The Singapore Government is also trying to move Shenton Way to this area, as seen by the many big, corporate-looking unoccupied buildings that have sprung up there of late. This is meeting with limited success because for all our land reclamation skills, we are still unable to create a body of water in Tampines large enough to recreate Boat Quay, the Shenton Way drinking hole for expat-loving Sarong Party Girls and corporate types.
The football team of Tampines is the Tampines Rovers, an enthusiastic team that is still trying to win something other than the Fair Play Award.
Pasir Ris is located even further East than Tampines and is a relatively new New Town. A lot of estates in Singapore are called New Towns, to make residents feel that they are not living in some 25-year old crumbling estate that seriously needs upgrading. Towns that don't fall into the category of New Town get to be called Mature Estates, which is another name for Extremely Old Crumbling Estate.
Back to Pasir Ris, it is a picturesque town that is close to the sea, and boasts a beach park, called, surprisingly, Pasir Ris Park, that has a little kids' fishing area where parents pay obscene amounts of money for a net and a bucket so that their kids can squat along a man-made river that resembles a drain, to try and catch fishes that the parents themselves caught as children, only the parents did so in a real drain and for free. Also, the place sells fish tanks and accessories that parents can buy so that the kids can take home the said fishes, that will die in 3 days because they are not used to the clean water used in the homes of their new owners.
Marine Parade is a wonderful coastal estate that is the proud holder of the title, "Prime Minister's Constituency". It is an estate that boasts of great sea views (that University economists recently estimated to be valued at $136 million dollars) and Parkway Parade.
Parkway Parade used to be the most happening shopping arcade in the East (of Singapore) before it was overshadowed by Tampines. These days, most locals go to Marine Parade to check out East Coast Park, a sandy beach park that has sea-sports, chalets and barbecue pits. It is extremely popular with Singaporean families that love to eat partially cooked meat in the open. A lot of young people also enjoy coming here to rent old bicycles to cycle along the very long bicycle track, that, if you cycle far enough, can take you into the heart of Shenton Way and even Tioman, an island in West Malaysia.
Much of Marine Parade sits on reclaimed land that can sink anytime a natural disaster like an earthquake occurs. But residents there are unafraid because they know that such disasters are unlikely to happen in Singapore because the Prime Minister is their MP.
Marine Parade is the most expensive estate to be living in the East, despite having no decent bus routes, no MRT, no shopping malls except Parkway Parade, no modern cinemas except the crappy Republic theatre (part of the Bedok family of Dolby Surround Mono theatres) and no branded schools unless you consider Victoria Junior College one (at this point I am fighting off my wife who is trying to strangle me with my mouse cord because of some silly attachment she has to her old VJC alumni).
Changi Village is a quiet nook near the sea, favoured by families, couples making out, and foodies. Changi is also home to a prison and many Government Holiday chalets, although the two are not related. Many families like to come here to "get away from it all", since it is far away enough from the city to be considered a holiday destination. The beach is unswimmable but it does not stop Singaporeans from coming here for some seaside fun.
Speaking of seaside fun, aside from the ubiquitous barbecues held by every other person here, Changi also boasts the highest number of tents per square foot along its beaches. The tents are not, as some might think, Singaporeans roughing it out, but are actually set up by amorous couples too cheap to get a hotel room. Nobody seems to care that their tent is 2 metres away from the next tent. It is not a family-friendly aspect of Changi.
Changi is also famous for its food and pubs, and many gather here to drink and eat the night away. The hawker centre serves up great cheap food to the locals and foreigner alike. Many visitors put up at the Hotel Meridien, the only decent hotel here, built to accommodate the traveler who needs to stay near the Changi Airport and the convention attendee who needs to stay near the Changi Exhibition Centre.
Unfortunately, Changi is also famous for its high population of Bapoks, or transvestites. The bapoks offer their services to guys who need, um, oral relief (and who do not care that they are being orally administered to by a guy in drag). Additional services can be had for a price, like the "Aircon", where the bapok sucks on a Fisherman's Friend (mint-flavoured sweet) before he/she sucks on your Man's Best Friend. I am told that it is an additional $10.
The bapoks are also known to be very fond of the soldier boys at a nearby camp, calling up the Battalion office (no one knows how they get the unlisted military phone numbers) at night to chat up unsuspecting soldiers on duty.
Joo Chiat is the underbelly of Singapore life, a sleazoid place of pubs, bars, karaoke lounges and hotels that charge by the hour. It is not a place you want your kids to hang out in. It is not a place you want your family cockroaches to hang out in because they might pick up some disease.
Its sole redeeming feature is the famous Joo Chiat "Bak Chang", a glutinous rice dumpling that can fill you up enough to last you the week.
Driving in Joo Chiat is a major stunt that should only be attempted by trained professionals and suicidal maniacs. Cars are parked wherever a convenient spot can be found, like at traffic junctions. Most of the drivers stop to enjoy the good, cheap food there. Two-way streets quickly become one-way or even no-way, depending on the time of day. Drivers who have to come here go through a special course that teaches them how to drive on two wheels and how to show the finger while holding the steering wheel with one hand and a cigarette with the other.
Only one bus goes through Joo Chiat. Most of the other services were either still stuck in traffic or blown up by residents. As a result, only bus service 33 goes here, which goes to mostly useless places and comes only once every eclipse of the moon, sometimes less frequently. And Bus 33 Drivers are a steely, tough bunch, most of them former Commandos, able to swear in at least 4 dialects and 2 major languages, and able to drive their buses over cars blocking the narrow lanes of Joo Chiat.
Joo Chiat also has a great old market called Dunman market, opposite the Joo Chiat police station. There is great and cheap food here, and a coffee stall called Tekong Coffee stall that sells the best coffee and tea in the world. I would advise against calling the boss "Barista" though.