A Visit to Singapore’s Little India

Inside the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple

I had the chance to visit Singapore’s Little India this weekend. I love how Little India is just bustling with excitement and activity. The vibrantly coloured temples, together with the unmistakeable scent of exotic spices stimulate the senses, are truly an incredible experience.

In order to make the most out of my time in Little India, I set out to accomplish two main things: firstly, to take in the sights, sounds and scents of the district by walking through the famous historical five-foot walkways and secondly, to visit and appreciate one of the local Hindu temples.

I started my journey at Serangoon Road, the main thoroughfare of Little India, taking my time to wander through the little streets.  There are so many meandering walkways and streets that one could venture off into. Along the streets there are many little stalls selling floral garlands. These garlands,  which are used as a form of offering and adornment for the Hindu deities, are truly beautiful – handmade and created with fresh brightly coloured flowers.

Colourful garland stalls can be found all over Little India

Colourful garland stalls can be found all over Little India

I also enjoyed admiring the colourful animated altars that sat prominently on street corners and outside of Hindu-owned shops.

The Hindu god Ganesha is one of the more popular gods that can be seen in little altars around Little India

The Hindu god Ganesha is one of the more popular gods that can be seen in little altars around Little India

After taking my time exploring the effervescent streets of Little India, I decided to spend the next part of my afternoon in one of Singapore’s most famous Hindu temples, the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. Located along Serangoon Road, Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple is one of the oldest temples in Singapore, built by Indian immigrants who came to work and live here in Singapore in the 1800s. The choice of deity, Sri Veeramakaliamman as the chief deity is also significant.  In the pioneer days, Indian immigrants experienced many hardships and obstacles.  Sri Veeramakaliamman is seen as a goddess who destroys evil and therefore worshiped for her power to help them overcome their struggles and challenges.

Inside the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple

Inside the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple

Visiting the temple was really an eye-opener. Life-like deities filled the temple with dedicated devotees paying homage to them. There was a distinct smell of incense in the air as the priests lit bowls of fire and incense to honour the gods and goddesses.

Little India has since become one of my favourite places to recommend to visitors. Its distinct character so far removed from the skyscrapers that fill the Marina Bay skyline and the air-conditioned malls of Orchard Road. It is a place where time has learnt to stay still, and, hopefully, for many years to come.

Little India is an easy 25-minute drive from Capella Singapore. Our Personal Assistants will be able to assist to organise tours and transport for you. They can be reached at +65 6591 5034/35 / pa.singapore@capellahotels.com.

 

An Insider’s Tour of the Sultan Mosque

The Sultan Mosque

One thing I love about Singapore is that people from all races and religions live harmoniously together.  Because of the diversity of our citizens, we have public holidays to celebrate significant days within the different religions and cultures.  The most recent holiday we celebrated was Hari Raya Aidilfitri on 27 July 2014.

Hari Raya Aidilfitri is a celebration that comes right after Ramadan, a month of fasting for all Muslims who are physically and emotionally able to.  To learn more about Ramadan, I decided to pay a visit to one of the most prominent mosques in Singapore, the Sultan Mosque.  The Sultan Mosque regularly welcomes guests to teach them more about the history of the mosque as well as share a little bit about Islam.

The Sultan Mosque

The Sultan Mosque

One of the most distinguishing features of the Sultan Mosque is its golden dome.  Its golden dome glistens in the sunlight, enhancing its beauty.  Another unusual feature are the rows of soya sauce bottles that line the building.  Soya sauce bottles?  Yes, indeed!  When the mosque was built in the early 1800s, the villagers nearby wanted to donate something to the construction of the mosque.  However, they did not have much money and decided instead to donate soya sauce bottles.  These soya sauce bottles were readily accepted and formed a unique decorative feature of the mosque!

Soya Sauce Bottles form a decorative ring at the bottom of the golden dome

Soya Sauce Bottles form a decorative ring at the bottom of the golden dome

The inside of the mosque is as beautiful and as distinctive as the outside.  Dark green ornate carpets cover the prayer hall.  The moment I entered the mosque I felt a sense of peace and serenity.  I appreciated how simple the prayer hall was.

At the entrance of the prayer hall was a digital signboard filled with a row of numbers.  When I asked my guide what the numbers meant, my guide shared that the numbers were actually times.  The time Muslims must say their prayers everyday, the time of sunrise and the times Muslims must start and stop fasting.  It was very interesting.

The Prayer Hall

The Prayer Hall

When we finished our tour of the prayer hall, my guide brought me up to the roof.  This was a very special experience, offered only during Ramadan.  The view from the mosque’s roof was breathtaking, the experience itself was truly unforgettable.  While we were on the roof, I had the rare opportunity to listen to the beautiful Azan (call to worship) from the neighbouring minarets, watch the fiery orange sun descend into the grey-blue sky and feel the gentle evening breeze wrap itself around me.  It was truly a moment I will never forget.

The Sultan Mosque is open to visitors daily until 4:00 pm.  They have local guides that will be delighted to share more about the history of the mosque and Islam.  If you do plan to visit Sultan Mosque, I suggest spending a day walking the streets of Kampong Glam where you can enjoy delicious authentic Malay food, visit the Malay Heritage Centre and browse the shops selling authentic Malay clothes, perfumes and accessories.  Capella Singapore’s Personal Assistants will be more than delighted to arrange for local tours of Kampong Glam for you or perhaps recommend a good restaurant in the area.  They can be reached at +65 6591 5034/35 / pa.singapore@capellahotels.com.

The History of Sentosa Island

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I love history.  I find that knowing the history of a place adds to its unique character and personality and makes it even more endearing and charming.  With that in mind, I thought I would share a bit about the history of Sentosa Island and Capella Singapore.

Did you know that Sentosa Island, where Capella Singapore, is located, is the largest of Singapore’s southern islands and an island with a rich history and heritage?  In the past it was an island fortress and military base for the British army and today it is an island of pure entertainment and recreation.

On the western side of the island was Fort Siloso which has underground passages, bunkers and gun emplacements dating back to the 1800s.  It was built in the 1880s to protect Singapore, which was a thriving port under Great Britain’s rule.  Fort Siloso was part of Singapore’s coastal defence with Fort Serapong and Fort Connaught.  The guns at Fort Siloso were used during World War II and are part of Singapore’s rich history.

Capella Singapore is home to four colonial buildings – the two blocks where the main lobby, Capella Library and Chinese restaurant, Cassia, are located are actually two Colonial Manors.  In fact, they received conservation status in 2000.  These colonial buildings were formerly the Royal Artillery Officers’ Mess.

 The Officers’ Mess was where the officers and their families had their meals and recreational activities such as dining, dancing and tennis. There was a tennis court beside the block.

Royal Artillery Officers Christmas Party 1951

Royal Artillery Officers Christmas Party 1951

Christmas and New Year parties were celebrated at the Officers’ Mess.  Formal table settings extended out to the wide corridors of the block and band performances were held in the room at the entrance. From the Officers’ Mess, there was a good view of the Singapore harbour and it was a practice for the officers and their families to welcome in the new year with the loud horning from the ships in the harbour.

After Singapore gained independence in 1965, the government decided that it was important for the emerging nation to have a place of recreation.  Soon after, Sentosa Island was chosen for this purpose.  Sentosa Island was then given the name Sentosa Island in 1970, which means “Isle of Tranquility” in Malay and developed by the Singapore government into a recreational area in 1972.  It has now become an island of fun, filled with amusement parks, beaches, museums, restaurants, aquariums and many more attractions.  It is truly amazing how in just a few decades it has transformed from a military base into an exciting playground.

If you are interested in the history of Sentosa, you may wish to go for a tour at Fort Siloso or visit Images of Singapore where you can learn about the colourful history of Sentosa and of Singapore and how we became the thriving and successful country that we are today.  Do speak with one of our Personal Assistants to organise a tour at +65 6591 5035 / pa.singapore@capellahotels.com.

Historical pictures of Capella Singapore’s past as the Royal Artillery Officers’ Mess are available for viewing in The Library.

Art Along the Banks of the Singapore River

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Singapore River is the lifeline of the country. It was on the very banks of Singapore River that the founder of Singapore, Sir Stamford Raffles, stood in 1819. Since then it has played an integral role in our country’s development serving as one of the busiest trading ports in Asia.

One of my favourite ways to unwind after a busy day at work is to spend time strolling the banks of the river. While it is no longer the busy trading port it was in the 19th century, the Singapore river is now an idyllic destination to eat, work and play. The shophouses along Boat Quay and Clarke Quay that used to be filled with spices, sugar, salt and other items of trade, have now been converted into trendy bars and restaurants – the watering hole of Singapore’s stylish and sophisticated crowd.

Today, during my usual walk down the banks of the river, two particular bronze sculptures caught my eye: A Great Emporium by Malcolm Koh and From Chettiars to Financiers by Sculptor Chern Lian Shan.

These sculptures depict life as it was along the banks of the Singapore River in the 19th century.

A Great Emporium by Malcolm Koh

A Great Emporium by Malcolm Koh

In A Great Emporium, there are four distinct characters represented in the sculpture, a British Trader, a Chinese Merchant, a Chinese Coolie and an Indian Coolie all engaged in trade. Coolie refers to manual labourer, the origins of the word has both Chinese and Indian derivations.

It really brought me back 200 years ago. When life was tough. Many of these coolies, liked the coolies in the sculpture, worked without a thread on their backs. They carried gunny sacks of rice, flour and spices from ship to shore for pittance.  These coolies were indeed the backbone of our society. They built up Singapore. Without them, we could not have developed as fast and as furious as we did.  The sculpture reminded me of how fast Singapore has developed and how grateful I am!

The sculpture to its left, From Chettiars to Financiers, is also a depiction of life along the banks of the river in the 19th century.  This sculpture shows the dramatic change of Singapore’s finance industry.  From simple Indian Chettiars who were most commonly moneylenders with the pig-tailed clerk to a female financier.  How times have changed.

From Chettiars to Financiers by Chern Lian Shan

From Chettiars to Financiers by Chern Lian Shan

The Indian Chettiars originated from Chettinad in Tamil Nadu.  Interestingly, the term “Chettiar” is actually a caste label, not another name for moneylender.  These moneylenders were private financiers who lent money to entrepreneurs and businessman.

I spent quite a while admiring these two sculptures. Indeed, life has changed for us here in Singapore. We have evolved from a small trading port to one of the most stable and secure economies in the world.  As we reap what our forefathers have sowed, we should never forget where we came from.  These bronze sculptures along the Singapore River serve as fitting reminders of our past.

Capella Singapore’s Personal Assistants will be able to share more information about Clarke Quay and Boat Quay and recommend restaurants and bars along the river. If you would like to organise a private tour or book a restaurant, please contact our Personal Assistants at +65 6591 5035 / pa.singapore@capellahotels.com.

 

Dragon Boat Festival

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Chinese history and culture fascinates me. Behind every holiday, every celebration is more than a thousand years of history and mythology.

On 2 June 2014, we celebrated Dragon Boat Festival. Locals in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong enjoyed a few days off to cheer for their Dragon Boat teams and feast with their families. While it is not officially a holiday in Singapore, it is still widely celebrated here in Singapore by local Chinese.

Dragon Boat Racers

Dragon Boat Racers

Contrary to what you may imagine, the story behind the Dragon Boat Festival is one of great tragedy. According to legend, in the third century B.C, Qu Yuan, a scholar and councillor to the King warned his king, Lord Huai, of an ominous threat from the northern Qing kingdom. Instead of listening to his advisor, the king banished him to the countryside. The king then took counsel from corrupt and scrupulous statesmen that cared not for the king and country but for money. Qu Yuan took to writing beautiful soulful poetry about the plight of the nation which inspired many countryfolk. In 278 B.C, the Qing armies conquered his kingdom and destroyed the imperial palace. Distraught, Qu Yuan threw himself into the Mi-Luo River, killing himself.

When the villagers saw Qu Yuan jump into the river, they attempted to save him, to no avail. They then tried to appease his spirit by throwing rice stuffed in bamboo stems into the river to prevent the fish from eating his body. The villagers all went out in dragon boats trying to look for his body but they could not find it. Thus, began the practice of eating rice dumplings and racing dragon boats. Isn’t it interesting how a tragic event in the past can lead to a colourful vibrant festival today?

One of the reasons I personally love Dragon Boat Festival is because I have an excuse to eat deliciously sweet rice dumplings. In my opinion, one of the best dumplings in Singapore is made and sold by Kim Choo’s Kitchen. Kim Choo’s kitchen, nestled in the heart of Singapore’s East Coast, Joo Chiat, is a true delight for the senses. Here, you can buy a colourful assortment of local confectionary, cakes and dumplings. As the dumplings and cakes are so popular, I suggest you come early during the day to be able to even get your hands on them.

Rice dumplings with tea

Rice dumplings with tea

Kim Choo’s Kitchen is an easy 25-minute drive from Capella Singapore. You may wish to spend a whole day wandering the historical streets of Joo Chiat, stopping for lunch at Kim Choo’s Kitchen. Our Personal Assistants will be able to assist you with planning your visit to Joo Chiat and share more about the Dragon Boat Festival. You can reach them at pa.singapore@capellahotels.com / +65 6591 5035.

Ah Meng The Orangutan And Conservation In Singapore

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With Mother’s Day recently passed, I thought it fitting I talk about about Singapore’s most famous non-human mother, Ah Meng, the Sumatran Orangutan.

Ah Meng, the Orangutan on her walks

Ah Meng, the Orangutan on her walks

Ah Meng, was the poster girl for Singapore’s conservation efforts and tourism industry.  She starred in more than 30 documentaries, including one with the legendary Steve Irwin.  She also made the impression on many other famous visitors including Prince Philip, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson and Bo Derek- just to name a few!

Although she died in 2008, many still think of Ah Meng when they think of our Singapore Zoological Gardens.  She was the star attraction at the still hugely popular Breakfast with Ah Meng (now changed to Breakfast with Wildlife since her passing) at the Zoo.  Many tourists still flock to Singapore just for the experience of dining with one of these lovable creatures. 

In 1992, Ah Meng became the first and only non-human recipient of the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board’s (STB) Special Ambassador Award for her contributions.  A special sculpture now stands proudly at the zoo in her memory.

Ah Meng didn’t have an easy start in life.  She was born around 1960 and smuggled from Indonesia and illegally kept as a pet until she was rescued in 1971.  Despite her difficult start, her gentle nature attracted those she met, ultimately advancing the cause of conservation in her own way.  Beyond her public role, Ah Meng also had four children, two males and two females named Hsing Hsing, Satria, Medan and Sayang respectively, and six grandchildren and now one great-grandson, Bino. 

Ah Meng and her daughter

Ah Meng and her daughter

She was the epitome of a working mother.  With a strong cause, wit and charm she influenced many people and won them over to the side of conservation.

This May, we may be celebrating our real mothers, but let’s spare a thought for the millions of animal mothers out there who are working hard to look for food their babies and to keep their babies safe.  Deforestation is happening at an alarming rate destroying the homes of many animal families.  Orangutans are listed as endangered by the WWF with many asserting that numbers have fallen by more than 50% in the past 60 years.  It is important Ah Meng’s legacy live on and the message of conservation with it.`

If you are interested to learn more about Singapore’s conservation efforts and to have breakfast with the wildlife, our Personal Assistants at Capella Singapore will be more than happy to make arrangements for you.  The Zoo is an easy 25-minute drive from Capella Singapore.  Please contact them at +65 6591 5035/34 or email them at pa.singapore@capellahotels.com.  

 

Image via yesterday.sg