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Trip 35 -- Kangaroo Island and Singapore Walks

Singapore day 4: Clementi to Bugis
Monday, March 13, 2023

Today: 16126 steps/13.36 km/8.30 mi/2h 27m
Total: 153314 steps/123.98 km/77.04 mi/22h 38m

I woke up to rain, but I had time to let it pass. There was no need to head out early anyway, as Haw Par Villa was only about 20 minutes away and the grounds didn't open until nine.

Haw Par Villa is named for a building that no longer exists, built by one of the inventors of Tiger Balm. Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, brothers of Chinese descent who grew up in Burma, developed the recipe for the ointment that came to be known as Tiger Balm while working in the medicine business started by their father.

Boon Haw was the more aggressive of the two -- his dad sent him to China for beating up his teacher -- but he had a keen business sense. To advertise Tiger Balm, he turned vehicles into "Tiger Cars," with horns that roared and vicious-looking tiger heads at the front. He also wanted to do good for the community, refusing to raise the price of the ointment during World War II, even when production costs rose.

He wanted to upgrade his brother's living situation, though Boon Par was well-off. As the story goes, Boon Haw's car got a flat and, while walking around waiting for it to be repaired, he decided he liked the area's proximity to the sea and hills. He had the mansion built and, with it, magnificent gardens. He opened the gardens to the public in 1937, and they were an instant hit.

Sadly, the Japanese occupation of Singapore put an end to the merriment, and after Boon Par died in 1944, his bereaved brother had the vandalized mansion torn down. Boon Haw died in 1954. The gardens have evolved over the decades, briefly becoming an American-style theme park with an admission fee, until public outcry led those in charge to make the place free again and more consistent with its creator's original vision. Today it contains hundreds of pieces of statuary depicting Buddhist messages, memorials to the brothers and their parents, and a museum of hell and the afterlife that, sadly, isn't open on Mondays.

I walked along the road under the West Coast Highway, with a shipping terminal to my right and the rest of Singapore to my left. The VivoCity shopping mall is, for all practical purposes, the southernmost point on Singapore island. It's from here that the monorail leaves for the much smaller island of Sentosa, home to an amusement park. When I was here 25 years ago, I took the cable car and it got stuck, so I was content not to repeat the journey this time.

Besides, I had a better reason to be in VivoCity. It has a branch of Genki Sushi, where the food is ordered electronically and delivered by little trains that speed along tracks to the tables. I never tire of this place; I lunched at one during my Oahu walk as well. They're all a little different -- some have tablets at the tables, whereas today's required me to use my phone; today's was the first that sent the trains back automatically after food was collected, whereas up until now I had to push a button -- but I always enjoy the frenzy of ordering 15 or 20 little dishes over the course of an hour and otherwise losing myself in a methodical dining experience during which I don't have to talk to anyone. The food is usually very good and well-priced (except in Hawaii), though none of the Genki Sushi experiences matches Uobei in Tokyo's Shibuya district, where I first tried the concept.

I headed northeast from VivoCity for the final hour of today's walk. I was approaching the central hub of the city; the government apartment buildings gave way to hotels and some of the early architecture. This was especially pronounced in Chinatown, where the houses of tradespeople from around 1900 have remained private homes or been turned into restaurants and shops. The storefronts are often very close to the street, separated from it by a covered walkway known as a five-foot way, an approximation of their width. Chinatown even has a "Five Footway Festival" this week.

I crossed the Singapore River and passed the elegant Raffles Hotel, and I soon reached my own, the Intercontinental. My mind said I should get out immediately and start exploring the central area, but there would be time later. For now, the hotel provided a pool, my first private hot shower since I entered Singapore, a welcome glass of prosecco, and a broadcast of the first winner in the latest version of "Press Your Luck" to Whammy at the end and go home with no money. I couldn't reverse his fate, but things were looking up for mine.

Go on to Singapore day 5