THE FILMING OF ’6NORTH’ 6/6 SINGAPORE
It took us roughly 5 hours to get into Singapore. We had decided that we would take a coach to see how much of Malaysia has changed along the way.
Practically all of the trip is within Malaysia. You only need to get your passport out at the end of the trip just before you cross the causeway to Singapore. I am also aware today that daily coach trips to Singapore are right at your door step from major hotel in Kuala Lumpur, how convenient.
In Australia you can travel for months even from one territory to another and never need to show your passport, but here in Malaysia after a short bus ride we were going to be going into another country.
When I was young my family had told me that the road just beyond our front garden (at that time called both Circular Road and Jalan Pekeliling, now called Jalan Tun Razak) would take me all the way to Singapore if I felt like walking that far. Now I’m not sure if I had been naughty to earn this information, but it was intriguing for me to learn that a road could take me to a another country. Now of course walking that distance would have taken me weeks, even months, but the concept of going somewhere by road has always appealed to me since. So now that I am an adult I do take the opportunity to go places by road.
I was told many stories then. I loved to hear how my family would embellish the truth to the point where I didn’t mind if it was actually more made up than real. It was exciting because it took my imagination away from my real life. Perhaps that is why I like writing now. On reflection I think I grew up in a wonderland. The garden had more than 80 coconut trees, long grass, my mother”s vegetable garden, and, a big haunted house… that sort of childhood setting had a magic formula that made me courageous and adventurous to want to explore, and write, and now make movies.
The coach trip was comfortable and very safe. We take motorways for granted these days. How did we travel before? Two driver took turns to take us there. They were very friendly, polite and drove extremely well which made our journey more pleasant to remember. There was a roadhouse stop about halfway down where we stretched our legs and grabbed some food and drink.
We were processed very quickly in the Customs and Immigration hall on the way out of Malaysia before crossing the causeway to Singapore, then shortly after we were processed again by Singapore’s Customs and Immigration and all that within very close distance to each other.
The last time I visited Singapore was to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary, doesn’t time fly!
On this visit we had a new local friend who could show us some Singaporean culture and food and also shed some light on the education situation. We were due to meet Prakash four hours after our arrival so we had some time to sight-see and enjoy the local treats. We were due to return to Kuala Lumpur the following afternoon, then back to Adelaide, so we knew that the next day was going to be a rush again, but today we could rest easier. So far, all of our days on 6NORTH had been very rushed but now we could relax a bit. It felt good but also strange to be free from commitments.
Singaporean residents are of 3 main cultural groups; Chinese, Indian and Malay. Singapore and Malaysia have lots in common culture-wise, and logically their foods have some similarities. This could easily be my second home, no doubt about it. First things first. As soon as we got off the bus we headed straight to the local cafe where they were serving Singaporean Laksa. You may be familiar with this soup of coconut curry base mixed with chicken and seafood all served with noodles. In the West many people love this dish. Especially those who travelled abroad and sought the same flavours when they came back. Alongside this dish we also had a local afternoon tea and cakes session consisting of sticky rice with coconut called ‘Kueh-Kueh’ which is one of my favourites when growing up in Malaysia and still is today.
It is great that Singapore has signs in many languages. We found our way around very easily just by walking around on foot. The public transport facilities were superb, especially the underground, which could take you anywhere. Our destination was to ‘Little India’. Here there was no shortage of restaurants, cafes, clothing shops for saris and other Bollywood styles of clothing and jewelry. It looked like KL’s ‘Little India’ in Brickfields in the heart of the city.
Singapore’s Little India was very clean and English was spoken by everyone. We were due to meet Prakash at the Sikh temple (Gurudwara), to get directions we asked an older Sikh couple and they replied in beautiful English.
Speaking of temples, Little India is surrounded by many types of them, for each different religion that Singapore embraces. Singapore’s code seems to be ‘human race first’ . It is also very safe. Quite a change from other countries. In contrast, other countries, such as Malaysia for example, seem to segregate the cultures rather than integrate them, and one’s social standing and progress seems to be determined more by one’s race and cultural background than by one’s academic accomplishments or aptitude. Plus in KL pick pocketing and bag snatching is rife, and you can’t help but be nervous on the streets because you would have been warned that thieves on motorbikes will snatch your handbag or camera for example. You simply cannot let your guard down. Fortunately we have been safe while filming 6NORTH.
Now, it was Singapore’s turn to share with me their food, culture and their people so we made our way to meet with Prakash at the Sikh temple. He has been following my documentary journey online. His wife’s sister has settled in Adelaide with her young family and she had suggested the cultural exchange experience with Prakash. We are very pleased that we met them and that they hosted us so kindly. Prakash’s wife and their two young boys welcomed us to their home later that evening……
As you can imagine 6NORTH was a rush from one location to the next and Singapore was now going to be a rush too. Prakash was a good host, he took us around the many shopping centres and malls situated within the business district. We had been having problems with the wires on our radio microphone because they kept getting caught in transit so we needed to find someone who could fix them. Surprisingly there weren’t many skilled technicians in the electronics shops and Prakash was directed to go to another building Sim Lim Tower that may have somebody able to fix it. We had to walk quite a long way to that building but it was worth it. The mall was closing and most of the shops were shut already but we found one elderly gentleman still working at his repair desk at the front of his shop Rison Radio and Electric Company, shop 02-30A, and he kindly fixed the problem for us. This shopping centre was closing at 9pm and we got there twenty minutes before closing! Nothing was too much trouble for this gentleman and he offered to help us until beyond shops closing time. And, he charged virtually nothing for all the work he did for us. He was a very nice man and a good ambassador for Singapore business. He too had sent his children to overseas to Australia to further their studies. He wished us well with our journey. While waiting for the repair we got to know Prakash even more and we got on really well. On the way to Prakash’s home we went by the city centre to see the night-life, and then we went to experience outdoor stall food at the East Coast Lagoon Food Village. This was well-lit and filled with locals who must have known where the best food could be had. It stayed open till the early hours of the morning to meet the demand. Now was my turn to try some of Singapore’s best food, the way I like it, ‘hawker style’! It was very similar to Malaysian food. Some dishes had their own Singaporean twist. As usual my eyes were bigger than my stomach! All of the flavours were delicious and I thank Prakash again for his generosity. Now he knows my tatstes.
Prakash said that I must try a refreshing sweet drink/dessert called; ‘Air Lonkang’!
I said hang on a second, I can understand that word in Malay. it means ‘drain water’, correct?
Yes he said that’s exactly what it is called and looks like but really it is very delicious. Would you be tempted to drink something called drain-water? We would drink it the next morning
Phew, thank goodness! It only resembled drain-water in appearance, not flavour. It is delicious and I will drink it again even though it has such a filthy name… It was the brown sugar and that gave it its horrid appearance and yet also its delicious flavour, how amazing. In the tropical heat of Singapore it was the perfect refresher.
After learning about their food it was time to retire and prepare ourselves for the trip home the next day. We were delighted to meet Prakash’s family. Their older son decided to stay up excitedly waiting for us and the younger of their toddler son needed to sleep. We had a wonderful chat and slept through till the next morning. Did I mention this in my blog before, that, Malaysia’s pass time between any work and any sleep is eating! Well that seems to be the case here too, after all both countries share similar cultures and languages so no surprises there.
Breakfast was at a local outdoor market/hawker place with variety of food that you could easily be having for lunch or dinner and not just breakfast! My family is a huge fan of food variety that Singapore and Malaysia has to offer and at a price everyone can afford. A bowl of famous Laksa dish in Adelaide would cost me about $10 and yet I may only be paying $3 over there. If we went away for holidays to these destinations just the food alone would save you enough money to be able to afford the airfares. I drank Air Longkang for the first time and it was as delicious as Prakash had promised…even though it did look like drain water.
Here we talked about Singapore’s education system and standards. It is so good that most Singaporeans would not need to study abroad. It is as simple as that. The only limitation is the number of vacancies in Singapore’s tertiary institutions and this is usually the reason why locals study outside Singapore.
Singapore is so clean. Everyone is responsible for their own litter and if anyone is caught littering then they will be fined to educate them on the importance of keeping the city clean. Littering and spitting was almost a cultural part in some parts of 6 countries that we visited but I didn’t see it happen in Singapore. It is clean because people want to keep it that way. Sometimes I wish we could adopt some of Singapore’s laws because only just recently I saw someone new to Adelaide casually spitting on the pavement in front of my market stall where people and young children walk to meet me. Spitting and littering is a big ‘no no’ for me. I wrote about this in my book. I see no reason to contaminate the space that we all walk on! One other thing about Singapore I noticed was that all apartment buildings washed regularly and re-painted frequently. They all look new, even if they are older buildings, this is great. I had wondered why everything looked so clean and new and now I know why. This routine helps the economy by keeping people employed, a great idea, I thought.
A few more things about Singapore’s education system, it seems that Singaporeans are furthering their studies either in Australia or overseas. Singapore’s education system appeals to students from other countries too. Singaporean parents are mindful that a good education would be best for their children starting at a very young age. So they encourage their children to study extra hours outside school hours. Competition for places at Universities is strong, and students need to excel, but their parents also need to arrange a healthy balance of work, family-time and study.
Singaporean students who study abroad in English-speaking countries find it easy to adapt because they are very good at English having used it daily in Singapore, in fact they are multi-lingual from childhood. Singapore prides itself in all areas of well being but its busy life style means that both parents are working and this eats into family time. When they send their child abroad to study it seems they wish their youngster to have a more holistic and balanced approach to their education and life in general.
This means that if you are hosting a Singaporean student they will most probably be very diligent in their studies but long for some family interaction too. Over the years I have had university age Singaporean students live with me and they were a delight to care for.
Singaporean drivers drive very well. Out of the 6 countries that I visited I could easily move to Singapore if I had to make a choice other than Adelaide. Everybody earns a good wage and yet delicious food wasn’t expensive.
It was time again for us to say farewell after such a short time! On the way to the coach station we managed to see the famous landmark Merlion and the Marina Bay. I believe if you asked someone outside of Singapore to name these places I bet you they are famous enough for most people. Sentosa Island may also be another landmark that visitors remember. Finally, here we are a arriving much earlier than we had anticipated for the coach to arrive. Parkash was a great host to show us around and we thanked him and his family for taking such good care of us for the hours spent with them in Singapore. This documentary journey has truly formed a long lasting friendship for us to cherish from all 6 countries of visit, it would be nice to visit them again in the near future and we hope they would come visit us too some day.
Soon after he had left us we found that my phone was missing and must have slipped out of my pocket in Prakash’s car. This was the only way we could contact him and now he was gone. We had to think quickly and Stephen asked someone to phone Prakash. A shopkeeper helped and Prakash said he was nearly home! He would ride back by his motorbike because it would be quicker. He arrived just as other passengers started boarding the coach, what a legend you are Prakash, thanks again!!
We tried to sleep on the coach if we got the chance. Soon we had to present our passports again at both ends of the causeway, then we were on our way back to KL. We were nearly at the end of our 6NORTH journey. I had bought lots of snacks to keep me distracted even though I wasn’t hungry! I was desperate for some shut-eye, my mind is not one to relax in unfamiliar atmosphere. After several attempts to sleep during the next two hours the bus stopped to let passengers stretch their legs at the roadhouse and eat or drink but we decided to stay on the bus and enjoyed the peace and quiet without anyone around for once.
By the time we arrived in Petaling Jaya (KL) around 8.30pm it was already dark . We had made the arrangement for our friend Alwin Aw to pick us up from the coach stop and luckily we had the phone to be able to text message him to say that we had arrived. When we arrived the building was desolate and thank goodness for our phone and for Prakash’s help to return it to us. Soon Alwin came to fetch us and bought us take-away dinner to enjoy that evening!
What a trip. 6NORTH was almost at its end. Almost….