07 June 2011

Singapura (1)

We flew to Singapore on Saturday, 7 May, on the mandatory retreat outside Indonesian territory necessary to process Michael's work permit and both our one-year residence visas. The company put us up in a very swank hotel, the Marina Bay Sands, and we were bumped up to an even more luxurious room since ours wasn't ready when we checked in at 4pm. Another situation where I'm very lucky to be traveling with Michael: I would have meekly stood in a corner, sipping a glass of the blush bubbly that was handed out to everyone in the long queue, but he pointed out sharply that four o'clock was a reasonable time to expect to have access to a hotel room. The magic words . . . or perhaps it was the British accent.

"Sands" is the key word in the hotel's name and it turns out the Las Vegas connection is of paramount importance. There is a casino, there are shows (currently "The Lion King"), there are expensive restaurants/shops and herds of convention attendees. Tasteful vulgarity may seem an oxymoron, but that's exactly what we were experiencing. Much to admire but all strangely soulless—except for the terrific art museum where we spent the early evening.

According to the hotel magazine, the US$6 billion Sands development has had more that 11 million visitors since its soft opening in April of last year. In the lobby I met a retired Singaporean Chinese woman who pays an annual fee—locals are discouraged from gambling—to come to the casino every day. I wonder if she was one of the 15.5% of Singapore's population that are millionaires, the highest per capita number in the world (see CNN report for details; the US may have the most millionaires, but its percentage, in 7th place, is only 4.5%).

The hotel:

View from our window on 44th floor — even higher than we are in Jakarta.

The mall:

Extraordinary amount of very expensive jewelry for sale here, especially in the corridors near the casino.

Puck is one of several celebrity chefs with mall restaurants. This outpost specialized in prime cuts of beef.

Typical unaffordable shop display

Unaffordable for us, that is. Perhaps this woman, whose bags I surreptitiously snapped in the elevator (the white one bore Chanel's back-to-back C logo) got lucky at blackjack. Or her husband did.

Michael brought along his usual supply of small plastic bags for collecting sand, but this is the only granular material we came across in Singapore (diamonds etc. removed from display since photo taken on our way home after dinner).

The museum:

 When we were looking at this from our room window, we didn't realize the shape was supposed to be a lotus, far more obvious when viewed from below.

Looking back at our weirdly shaped but, I guess, deliberately distinctive hotel, basically a boat on top of three towers.

The first exhibition was a fabulous collection of Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE) artefacts, discovered by fishermen diving for sea cucumbers in 1998. They found a dhow submerged under 17 meters of water off the coast of Belitung, a Sumatran island. The ship had probably traveled from somewhere like Oman to China, where it picked up its cargo of ceramics and intricate metalwork at some point in the 9th century.
A blow-up of crazed glaze was projected on the entry wall.
Model of dhow on floor at right.

A die made from bone and ivory gaming pieces, belonging to crew members or passengers who, it's speculated, may well have survived the wreck by swimming to shore.

Michael's photographs have miraculously managed to capture the beauty of the porcelain.

Mass production even then. Big pottery urns were filled with these dishes from Changsha, in Hunan province. See photo above.

"Green-splashed ware," Gongxian, Henan province

Ewer is also green-splashed, though you can't tell from photo.
Security guard showing me how to make Chinese imprints on paper with a press a lot like the personalized book embosser we bought my father years ago. I would have loved to buy one, but they were for demonstration only.

Blue-and-white ware, a Gongxian experiment that predates the famous Chinese blue-and-white by 500 years. Ony three pieces were found in the cargo.

A group of gold and silver objects was found at the very bottom of the dhow, where they may have been hidden from prying eyes and fingers.

The backs of two bronze mirrors.

The second exhibition at the museum was devoted to Vincent Van Gogh—but contained none of his original work. Odd though this seems, it was still an incredibly affecting and immersing display of ever-changing details from his paintings and letters projected on the walls and floor of the gallery space: 41 computers, 41 projectors. We had been to the wonderful Royal Academy VVG exhibition in 2010, so it was fascinating to see a totally different approach to an artist's work.



By now, of course, it was time to start thinking about our stomachs. Although Marina Bay Sands is so far from the city center that we didn't get to the chili crab restaurant Monica had recommended (she lived in Singapore for several years), we did find a Chinese place in the mall that served similar fare.

Iced tea is far more beautifully presented in southeast Asia than in the UK or US.

Chili crab, more my sort of dish than Michael's since you have to eat it with your fingers.

Night lighting, seen from the 44th floor.
Luckily Michael looked out just in time to spot the "Wonder Full Light and Water Spectacular," with "three giant water screens, high-powered lasers, searchlights, spotlights, strobes, fountains, fireworks, bubbles and surround sound." We missed out on the last feature, but had a bird's-eye view of the rest.

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