Sunday, September 19, 2010

18/9/2010 Of pavements along Victoria and Bencoolen Street

If there is something new I see today on the road I have walked countless times, it is the pavement.

For today, I have tried to be thankful for the weather and the shady trees, mercifully planted in an otherwise concrete jungle in downtown Singapore.

4.15 pm. We debated whether to take the train from church to the downtown national library or walk, what with the weather. A train change is needed ? Forget it, I'll walk. Mind over matter, ignore the afternoon heat and maybe a little walk to just a little down the corner of Victoria St can even be a good thing.

SMU, an oasis of calm at the end of frantic Orchard Road
With 6 paperbacks in my totebag meant to be returned to the library and a backpack, we set off with a spring in our feet. The heat has yet to sizzled my overly big enthusiasm to human size.

The exposed and sun-drenched pavement along Stamford Rd soon turn shady as we make a dash to the relative cool of Bras Basah Rd. Starting from opposite Rendezvous hotel, optimism turned high. The pavement was shaded by the big outstretched arms of Angsanas lined Bras Basah Rd.

Smu students of the School of Economics were mugging on the spacious ground level. Wafts of soya fragrance from the nearby Mr Bean outlet greeted us . The walkabout has barely started but I was already craving for a cup of cold soy drink.

The pavement looks textured with shale of different shades of grey. It separated us from the snarl of the Esplanade bound traffic. Its safety extends to the pedestrian retreat of the SMU.
The uni reminds me of Imperial College in busy London, but I think SMU looks nicer !

I dawdled over an entire block of Shuimei plants, fragrant from fresh blooms, along Bras Basah. Has this stretch of the pavement always smelt so good ?
Nparks contribution to Singapore's downtown is enjoyed and appreciated.

Beyond SMU school of information systems, the shade opens into the light. That shades of shale grey were washed out in the sunlight. At our right, a generous water feature cooled down the light space by several degrees, even without a real fountain. Framing the water feature is an artificial turf that comes with sand and all. I would never have known had it not been for its ultra greenness and the pinch test.

SAM - Singapore Art Museum at the old  St Joseph's Institute
Singapore Art Museum, or as the abbreviation loving authorities calls it SAM, is abuzz with 2 upcoming exhibitions. A couple of shiny modern animal sculpture were placed at the driveway of SAM, not exactly to my likiing. They remind me of gargoyles.

Opposite NTUC trade union house, the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd emerges to provide those in the CBD spiritual respite. Chjimes down the junction has succumbed to commercialism, however. Its carcass with her original intention of spiritual refuge is the only evidence of its early work in downtown Singapore.
The entertainment jaunt's previous life was a church

Cathedral among lush greens in town
From the junction of Queen St and Bras Basah Rd, I see Swissotel arising from the canopy of trees . Beneath it, the rectory of the Cathedral stood. It looks like the secular and spiritual has somehow morphed from the profusion of green leaves.

SMU's admin block has fat shiny pillars
Finally, we turn left to Victoria St, using the pavement beside SMU admin block. Our destination, the National Library, is within our sight. The pavement was in the light, shaded by the massive building of SMU. In fact, its sidewalk bordered by huge metal pillars was dank, uninviting and dark. Victoria St at the right of the pavement was alive, blitzed by cars rushing about their business. 5 feet of safety on slates of grey, straddles between light and darkness.
Sparrows at the median strip fighting over turf

Outside Victoria hotel, beyond its pavement, a little sandy patch broke the green monotony that separates the pavement and the road. About 15 sparrows fought over a sandbath spa. It was a peculiar sight seeing the little creatures shooing each other off and wiggle in the sand.

Tree pruning watching is quite addictive
We aborted the plan to cross over to Bras Basah complex. The pavement outside the complex as cordoned off as workers were trimming back the branches of Angsanas from a crane. It rained braches and caught the rapt attention of 2 elderly pedestrians. The fixated old men remained in the same pose for a long time, anticipated every movement of the chain saw.
St Joseph - one of the oldest in Singapore

At St Joseph Church,we made a little jog across Victoria St to the library. NLB nestled among tall fish tail palms. Fringed by granite cobbled perimeter , the gravel path driveway broke the tedium of the tarmac road and uplifted the tired feel of the Bras Basah area.

There was an open and free software exhibition at ground level on NLB. Crowds spilling to the eating area at Hans café dashed my hope for a nice cuppa.

First thing first, I offloaded the library books into the book drop. The book drop was not fast enough for me, which couldn't cope with my eager feeding of the books. SNLB staff had to 'coach' me to take it easy.

National library in Singapore

At NLB, I even managed to borrow a Ruth Rendell book and another award winning fiction for further reading pleasure in the weekend. What a fruitful trip!

Now 5.15pm, we walked towards Bugis junction. TCC sidewalk café was dismissed as a coffee break option. It's too hot and doesn't make my money work hard enough for the little expensive cup of coffee.

A building dotted with huge baubles, Iluma, broke the sleek skyline and throw into disarray the clean lines of neighbouring hotel and shopping mall.
Iluma, another shopping center.
 Art installations in Iluma
We crossed Victoria St using the Iluma escalator, thankful for a knee relief moment. Iluma's immense volume and space is clearly felt. It's a far cry from the congested and 'compressed' space over at Bugis junction. At iluma, we felt that we were the oldest denizens there. Even the food served are catered to the young. Hard pressed for time, I did not get to ride the longest escalator. Well, next time, maybe.

Eat here when you have no choice
At the corner of Iluma at Queen Street and Cheng Yan Place, I spied a food court painted vermilion red. Now is the time for that cuppa or never. Unfortunately, my happiness ground to a halt at the first sip of my afternoon's refreshment. The iced coffee was sour and kaya toast sub-standard. In fact, I was hard pressed to locate the kaya and butter or pin point exactly how may pieces of bread I was served. I am very sure the stall will never get a franchise from Ya Kun or even spawn subsidiary branches.

Crossing Queen St , we trooped along Bencoolen Link that straddles the busy back alley of market place. The day here has hardly begun. Wholesale fruit dealers were unloading crates of fruits. In the office, I spied an entire wall improvised as notice board, pinned with sheets and sheets of invoices, letters and important looking documents. Nothing sophisticated here, but many families have built their business empires this way.

Nearby, the HDB architecture and design of scalloped eves and knobbed pillars gracing corridors blend with the nearby temple theme. I will never say HDB design is boring again.

The grimy back alley gave way to a pedestrian mall around the temple grounds. We were reminded of Mid Autumn Festival by a cacophony of sounds shouting urgent cries of sales. A bustling market place was filled with the loud sale of pomelo of all shapes and sizes from Malaysia to Thailand. Judging from the throng of the shopping crowd, I wondered since when Mid Autumn has become so big in Singapore. Or was I too cloistered up in my small little world ?

Things for the everyday man
5.30pm. Stepping off Bencoolen Link, we made our way to Burlington Square and make our first shopping stop at Shine Korea Supermarket. As time was tight, my browsing became very focused and purposeful. I bought 3 packs of seaweed, assorted flavors for snacking tonight. I even had the time to teach a woman down the queue how to use the bulgogi sauce. Another moment to fee like a pro. This shopping was very empowering indeed.

5.45pm. Our next stop, Phoon huat. We have to meet up H at 6pm, so shopping was fast and furious. I delegated P to look for some of my baking needs and bought Gaofen for making snow skin mooncake. Lotus paste and red bean paste are too expensive , now being moon cake season, so I gave them a miss. A plastic mold can be had for $3.90 and that is the last thing I can forego to make snow skin moon cake.
A cigar break for chef - tsk!

We walk past Strand hotel, now 5.55pm. A couple of interesting pavements caught my eyes and I demanded P to take photos. Its narrowness could only allow 1 pedestrian at a time. A lot of give and take was necessary to negotiate the path with oncoming human traffic. That's life in general too.

Singapore has lovely unobstructed pavements, a feature one usually take for granted.
As the saying goes : walk on  a path and create a road.

The pace of walking Bencoolen St slowed as we encountered so many traffic junctions towards SMU and YMCA. It seemed to take more time to clear them than walking from whole of Victoria St.
ERP beyond our destination - electronic charging for use of roads is a bane especially when this section is not heavily utilised.

6.10 pm and it is back to church. Another interesting walkabout for the weekend but all I can remember are the sparrows and their little wriggling bottoms on the sand spa.

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