Day 2 was all about exploration and getting out on foot. In the morning, we took the MRT to visit the Botanic Gardens, skies were threatening and gray but that didn't stop us. The Botanic Gardens are surprisingly free of charge and there's quite a bit to stroll through and see. I'd estimate we spent a little over two hours taking our time to appreciate each attraction and capture some really beautiful images. Among the various sections of the gardens, you'll find the Orchard Garden, Ginger Garden, Rainforest and Evolution Garden just to name a few. There are also quaint restaurants beneath the trees, in the midst of the lush greenery to stop for a light lunch or an afternoon refreshment. As big as the park currently is, I noticed a large roped off area that appeared to be under construction. This will undoubtedly become yet another lovely addition for further development. The Botanic Gardens are definitely a "must do" when traveling to the city.
Moving on from the gardens, we walked through an area called Holland Village. This neighborhood is known to be the more bohemian part of the city, featuring many independent and ethnic restaurants, specialty cafes, hawker stands and of course, more shopping malls. The windmill made it very apparent that we were in Holland Village, however, the Kenny Rogers Roasters banner luring people into the restaurant did shock me a bit.
From Holland Village, we made our way over to Little India. From everything I had read and everyone I had spoken to about this section, there was one common thread. This would be as culturally close to India as one could get without actually going.
Vibrant, colorful and authentic, it was similar to the way I envision the real thing. This area of the city felt completely different and was noticeably more crowded . People were packed in closely, lingering around the many vendors and road side carts. Bumping shoulders as you walk through the streets is not uncommon. When visiting any new city I'm more inclined to hold tightly to my bag in avoidance of pick pockets. Fortunately, there were no incidents but when in such close quarters, it's best to be vigilant. Peppered with beautiful Hindu temples, spice shops and restaurants, the scents that fill this neighborhood are unimaginable. Cardamom, clove and curry tickle your nose and tempt your taste buds.
Incense slowly burns in temples and homes from street to street as the daily observation of prayers take place. With so much life happening around us, we snapped photos wildly. Time flies as you stare in admiration for the intricate details of temple carvings.
After a long day of exotic gardens and a belly full of Indian food, nothing seemed more appealing than a night out for cocktails. With little desire to get back on the MRT, we walked up to Emerald Hill. Emerald Hill is a neighborhood featuring a deep stretch of historic, Chinese Baroque style homes that formerly housed the wealthy Peranakan community. It's a charming neighborhood, neatly landscaped with big tropical palms accenting the bold palettes of the buildings. While quiet during the day, there are a good handful of bars and lounges that come alive after sundown.
This is where, for the first time, I realized a glaring problem with Singapore. On day 2, we had not yet been to an establishment of which we would be served. Everything thus far had been a hawker center or some other form of quick serve, including the visit to Ku De Ta at Sky Park. We chose an intimate bar and slid into a small table. We were promptly given menus and left alone to make our decision. The drinks looked great, providing a wide variety of classics along with some concoctions I had not had before and looked forward to trying. The prices were a bit high, not as high as Ku De Ta but ranging between $15-$20. I wasn't really phased by the cost and was somewhat anticipating it given the fact that we were on the other side of the world and I assumed prices would be inflated based on the distance of the import.
We waited about ten minutes for our waitress to return to take our order. At one time, I made friendly eye contact with her and she acted as though she was aware that we were ready. The bar was pretty full and I thought "maybe she's got one more order to take, she'll be here any moment". We gave it another five minutes. Still nothing. After an additional five minutes, we raised up in our seats searching for the waitress to flag down with a broad hand gesture. She never appeared but a waiter in the distance came rushing over. He kindly took our order for the following: one bottled water, one gin martini (up with no garnish) and one lychee martini. We chatted patiently as we waited for a much needed beverage. Our drinks arrived almost ten minutes later...one gin martini chock full of olives and one lychee martini. Now I'm not "that person". That person that files a complaint with the slightest issue and can never find happiness with a service industry employee under any circumstance. All I ask, especially when I'm having a cocktail nearing the $20 mark, is attentive and friendly service. A mere smile or acknowledgment that there has been an error. There was no smile, no acknowledgment. Just a brief disposal of our drinks and a swift turn to get back to the other side of the bar. The waiter never returned to see how our drinks were or if we wanted another.
In Singapore, a 10% service charge is included in almost anything you buy in which you'd receive a form of service, including restaurants and hotels. Because of this, tipping is discouraged, guidebooks and blogs will mention this. I'm certain that it is because of this, service is not what it should be. Of course, if the waiter has to earn his tips, he/she will pay much more attention to the treatment and care of their customers.
After the first drink, I chalked it up poor service at that particular bar and it was time to move on. There were other nice stops a few paces down. We walked into a wine bar that also had an interesting menu. It was getting later and a case of the nibbles was coming on. Seated in a romantic, dimly lit room built of old wood and showcasing a wall lined entirely of wine bottles, I hoped that this would be a better experience. The waiter came around and we ordered two glasses of wine. He tried to take the menu but we asked if we could hold on to it since we may want to order some food in a little while. He nodded and hurried to place our order. While we enjoyed the surroundings and tried to start our night out over, we recalled all we had seen and done that day and the miles logged on foot. Five minutes later, our waiter arrived with our wine and set our bill on the table. I looked up, startled and said "we are going to order something to eat, that's why I asked for the menu to be left on the table". The waiter was visibly put off by this but he walked away and allowed us time to choose. I could feel my blood pressure rising and my lower jaw beginning to push out in frustration...once my jaw moves, I'm starting to turn. I realize this sounds incredibly inconsequential in the big picture but again, it's a night out, we're on vacation essentially paying to relax, trying to enjoy our time and be leisurely. If I wanted to feel rushed, I'd walk up to a food cart at the strike of noon, order ten sandwiches and pay with pennies as I piss off a line of starving people behind me huffing and moaning for me to get my food and go. He returned to take our order a few moments later and called it into the kitchen. We had a good 20 minutes to savor our wine before the appetizer arrived. At this moment, a second glass was imminent to compliment our food. The waiter appeared at the table with our plate in one hand and yet another bill in the other! This time, I actually decided to stay quiet. Nothing I could have said would have been kind. My husband, equally as agitated, chimed in and said "alright, just leave the bill", in complete disgust. The waiter hovered and said in a broken accent, "the bill has to be paid". Expressionless, he stood there and refused to leave it. Our hot appetizer now sitting on the table, we fumbled in the dark for cash with two empty glasses in front of us as the waiter watched.
Two bars in one night and I was noticing an ugly trend, this is not how I expected our chill evening out to go down. For the rest our time in Singapore, I continued to be weary of service at any restaurant we would attend.