Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chinese New Year in Singapore

My friends told me about the way the Chinese New year is celebrated in Singapore. So I decided to go and check it out. I was very excited to see the Chinese New Year celebrations for the very first time.

So I conducted a Google search to find out the best events and programmes that take place during this time. I also tried to find out the places and markets to visit in Singapore. I was particularly interested in the celebrations at Marina Bay. The celebrations were to take place from the 24th of Jan to the 1st of Feb. Most of my friends went back to India to spend their holidays. I missed them a lot.

I went to the River Hong Boa near the Esplanade theatres. The atmosphere was so welcoming. Near the entrance, a small stage performance by local groups was being held. The roof was beautifully lit up and was very nice to look at. It had shades of pink and purple. I did not understand a word of what they sang. It was all in Chinese. But nevertheless, it was pleasant to hear. Cotton candy was being sold near the theatres and this was the first time I saw this in Singapore. I was so excited, I wanted to grab one for myself (but it didn’t taste too good… but anyway I was happy just seeing it)

The audience was silent during the performance. This is one thing I've observed about Singaporeans. They are always silent and very shy (Even during the seminars I attend hardly anyone asks any questions). But there was an old man who noticed that the spirit of the crowd was not too high so he stood up and walked to the center of the stage and started dancing. The crowd was surprised and the best part was he was really good at it. He had some very fascinating moves to show off. He made the crowd come back to life. After that everyone began clapping and shouting.

After this we moved on to the floating stage. The red lights around us were amazing. It was a wonderful sight. Inside the floating stage they had statues of the 12 signs of the Chinese Zodiac decorated with colorful lights, Chinese buildings and some flowers and soldiers. They were calling this 'a festival of lights' just like we call 'Diwali' that. People were rushing to take pictures near each sign of the zodiac. The crowd was full of families and kids.

We also saw a wishing well. The well had a wall behind it. There were 7 bells hanging on the wall. Each bell had a card that carried words of blessings. We had to aim at the the bells with our coins. Hit any one and the blessings are yours. If you miss, it doesn't really matter. All the money goes to charity anyway. I hit the prosperity card.

My Mates and I

I landed in Singapore on a Sunday night. My best friend’s friend works in Singapore for the tourism department so he had come to pick me up. I had never meet him (Arun) before. Arun took me to the hostel, he got me dinner and a sim card. He was so helpful. He told me where to buy things and how to get around. Later I started to get around using a map. I started to explore the city with the help of the map and the internet. Initially, I always managed to get lost where ever I went. That's because in Singapore, every street looks very similar, clean and well maintained. Now I'm a pro. I know at least half of the city at the tips of my fingers.

Since the day he helped me, Arun and I became really good friends. He introduced me to Ramesh and Mohan who are his room mates. What came as a surprise was that all of us had studied at the same university in Coimbatore, but I'd never met them before. I was really lucky to find such good friends in a foreign country. Actually, they made me feel very comfortable here in Singapore.

In the hostel, I was first introduced to Navya. She's from Bangalore. She is such a sweet heart. Very helpful. We were to join the same college, so she was the one who took me to college the very first day. Through her I met Nayomi and Neelakshi who is from Srilanka. Then I met Anu, Komal, Bavna, Divya and Rama. Not all of us were close buddies, but we used to hang out often.

Some of them have now left Singapore. My close friends here are Samtha (she's my junior in college), Nayomi, Neelakshi, Sudha, Gauri and Divya. We make a good team. We went to Sentosa, Chinatown and Marina Bay. We have tons and tons of fun here. Melisa is my best friend. She's from Indonesia. Some of my other close friends are Kamal, from Singapore and Sebastian, from Vietnam. They are much older than I am so they treat me like a kid. Kamal is really smart, it's like he knows everything in the world and he's up to date in general knowledge and technology. He is Muslim, so he always gives me a lot of information about his customs and how he got married and about festivals they celebrate like, Hari Raya.

Sebastian is quite talkative and some times I really lose my temper around him but he's a really nice guy (except when he talks nonstop). He's creative and quick-witted and is very good at business solutions. He works as a video editor. He likes sharing his experiences with us and believe me, he's got a lot of interesting stories to tell.

Melisa is a cute looking, fun loving girl. She likes to roam around a lot. She doesn’t have much work experience, although she did live in Germany for 2 years. She has a lot of stories about their culture and how different the education system is in Germany. Thanks to me, she is now a huge fan of Indian food. After college we hang out in Little India and Bugis.

These are the nicest people I've met in Singapore. I hope to meet some more interesting people soon.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Down Memory Lane

I visited Little India during Diwali last year. Diwali or Deepavali, as it is sometimes called, is known as the 'Festival of Lights' and a celebration of good over evil, light over dark. So the best time to visit Little India is after 7 pm, when all the fairy lights are twinkling and the colourful arches along Serangoon Road look their best. But it is still busy, exciting and full of activity during the day, so either way people will have fun.

First I visited the Sri Veerama Kaliamann Temple where there were lots of school children, tourists and devotees wandering around. Everyone is accepted here, no one excluded and they are quite used to tourists, especially this time of the year. Everywhere the temple is decorated with garlands of jasmine and marigolds, and there are little oil lamps and incense burning everywhere, so it looks and smells divine. The sight of the Marigolds and the fragrance of Jasmine made me feel I was back home. In Kerala women wear Jasmine flowers in their hair as ornaments. It's really beautiful to see the stark white of the flowers against the jet black of the hair.

As you all already know, I love visiting temples and so I explored this one a little. It's a fascinating temple, with detailed deities and shrines everywhere you look. The temple was built in 1855 by Bengali laborers to worship the Goddess Kali, consort of Lord Shiva. She has many pairs of arms and hands; each hand carrying weapons of destruction used to fight evil on earth. Many different Hindu Gods and Goddesses are depicted, but the main shrine houses a jet black statue of Goddess Kali, flanked by her sons Ganesha and Murugam.

I left the temple and walked down Serangoon Road to the Deepavali market at Campbell Lane. As is the case in most festivals, food plays an important role and there were plenty of treats to choose from at the bazaar. There was a largely colourful variety of bangles, lanterns, handicrafts, costumes, henna stalls, and the ever popular peacock feathers. By the time I finished shopping, I was quite hungry. I bought a few bangles and lanterns. I had to bargain with them. It's fun doing that. But it was all the bargaining that made me so hungry.

So to top off my Little India experience, I had some yummy, spicy dal and vegetable curry at Komala Villas Vegetarian Restaurant, Buffalo Road branch. I think I had mentioned earlier that I love food, so this was the perfect end to a perfect day.