Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Trekking Toa Payoh

On Monday we decided to slow down and see more of Singapore on foot. So we started out from Thomson Road, stopped at Wee Nam Kee Chicken Rice, walked past Balestier, past the vast green space of the Singapore Polo Club, and then stopped at a cluster of flower wholesalers whom I'd always seen from bus windows but never visited.

It was a good decision. The chilled storage areas where they keep the cut flowers were a wonderful relief from Singapore's muggy weather. Better yet, I discovered a great source for cheap flowers. At Far East Flora I picked up a bunch of 10 orange tulips for S$15 or so; they had roses for about S$1 each, and huge bunches of mums or orchids for S$10. They also sell flower food and supplies - baskets, floral foam, the whole range. Much more comfortable than going to Divisoria, I have to say.

After paying for the tulips and a vase, we continued in the direction of Macritchie Reservoir and stopped in at Mt. Alvernia Hospital to give the flowers to a colleague recovering from appendicitis. Unlike Manila hospital rooms which turn each hospital stay into a small party, this Singapore ward was a no-nonsense affair: no couch for visitors to stay overnight on, and they kick everyone out when visiting hours end! I extracted two tulips so that the remaining eight would fit comfortably in the vase.

From Mt. Alvernia Hospital, taking the bus back on our normal route seemed like a cop-out, so we decided to keep walking in a direction we've never been before. This gave us a first-hand view of the Circle MRT line being constructed, and a heart-pounding moment when we walked under a half-finished overpass protected only by a flimsy wooden panel that looked like it wouldn't protect us from a heavy rain, much less falling concrete.

We walked up Braddell Road ("Does that sign really say 'Ang Mo Kio'? That's far!" "See, that's the highway entrance going to Ang Mo Kio." "Oh."), debated left and right turns at intersections, and slowly got hungry. We could see the lights from HDB coffeeshops and hawker stalls, always two blocks away behind a tall fence or unfordable canal. So near and yet so far. We consoled ourselves with the thought that those hawkers probably served pig's organ soup or fish head curry anyway - not our favorites at the best of times.

Finally, a familiar bus number. 56! But, 56 going in the wrong direction, coming from our neighborhood when it should have been going towards our home. If we kept walking we'd circle all the way around and emerge somewhere near Little India. The route map at the bus station indicated that Toa Payoh Central was somewhere in our not-too-distant future. Note to self: if one is ever lost in Singapore, the bus station route maps are lifesavers for navigation.

At this point we were starting to enter the outskirts of Toa Payoh, where the streets blur into a maze of similarly-named passages snaking between anonymous HDB blocks... Toa Payoh Lorong 2, Toa Payoh Lorong 4, Toa Payoh Lorong 6. We decided to walk four more bus stops, get something to eat at Toa Payoh Central (at this point, we joked that even a McDonald's would have been welcome) and then board the MRT at Toa Payoh station for the ride home. Of course, we still had no idea where we were at this point -- in the space of two blocks we saw signs to "Toa Payoh Central" pointing in three different directions.

Finally, after passing yet another anonymous lorong, we stopped to check out the route map at the bus stop. No route map. Hmm. It was time for another momentous decision - take the bus or keep walking? At this point bus 56 pulled up, all brightly lit and shiny. It was a sign! We boarded the bus and my walked-out feet thanked me.

John made a crack about how funny it would be if the Toa Payoh mall were the next stop. As we rounded the corner... you guessed it. A big red McDonald's sign welcomed our bus to Toa Payoh Central, followed shortly after by half-a-dozen food places, a FairPrice supermarket, and a Popular bookstore. Ah. So much for touring suburban Singapore malls.

Bus 56 deposited us, intrepid urban trekkers, a short distance from our house... proud owners of two very well-travelled tulips.

P.S. I looked Toa Payoh up while writing this blog post and can't believe what I've found. The Singapore tourism board actually has a page for Toa Payoh. And you can also read Toa Payoh's entry at Wikipedia. Er, how fascinating. ;) 

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At September 20, 2006 12:41 PM, Anonymous Inquisitor said...

what a great country eh. All one does for stimulation is walk around, eat, look at flowers, shop, drink overpriced coffee and......walk around, eat, look at..... .

Foreigners don't know what they are missing. They are stuck with intelligent conversations, political and social activism, unrestrained and creative vibrance, artistic and intellectual pursuits free of imperial proscriptions, imagining other ways how society may exist to benefit all of the people instead of mainly the 'government'.... Sad gits huh?

At September 26, 2006 9:02 AM, Blogger mhy said...

ching, thanks for stopping by my blog! it's always nice to know that people care. the tulips are beautiful. i hope i get to visit you one of these days :).

take care also. any plans for kids?


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