Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

Contrasts of Singapore

This city is full of contrasts. For example, here’s one at a food center near a government-subsidized housing block (where Singaporeans can buy a house cheap, 2x in their life). I had local coffee in a bag, with a straw. I’ve since been told it’s more traditional to have it served in the condensed milk can, but how can you beat this?

Singapore - coffee in a bag

My friends, on the other hand, had McDonald’s Cafe cappuccinos and hot cocoa just next door.

Perhaps the cutest picture I've ever taken

In the afternoon of July 17th, I went to the new Marina Bay Sands casino/mall/hotel/skypark complex. To me it’s quite silly. They want to draw international visitors to spend their cash. But Singaporeans (and permanent residents) must pay a $100 SGD/day surcharge just to enter the casino. That’s basically forbidding them to gamble, because… well… gambling is bad.

Unless you are taking the d*mn foreigners’ money.

I also skipped the Skypark: $20 entry, no description of what’s up there, no food/drink/pro cameras allowed. Because then they couldn’t sell overpriced soda, snacks, and postcards!

Anyway, enough about that; it doesn’t matter because I don’t gamble and I’ve been up much taller buildings. Here are some cool contrasts I saw on the boardwalks by the bay. Tall vs small,

Which one of these two is TALL?

Some people have such high hopes for their children:

Red dress string quartet

Others are just happy if they can avoid losing them. Yes, you’ve put your child into a giant hamster wheel.

Water-hamster-wheel for children

Today was the dry run for the first-ever Youth Olympics opening ceremony. Knownst to these people but unbeknownst to me, there were flybys planned. Two pictures are worth…

"Look! Up there, in the sky!"

Opening ceremony practice for the Youth Olympics

I won’t include a shot of the jet flyby, because it’s not interesting at 35mm. But let me just say, afterburners over a city of skyscrapers… LOUD.

I’m going to save some of today’s pics for another post, because there are just too many good ones. So here’s one last shot with the f/2 at ISO3200, in the Pump Room brewpub at Clarke Quay. I thought there would be 4 beers in the sampler, but in fact there were 8!

Lots of beers in the Pump Room sampler!

What was the most beers you ever ordered with those three magical words, “the sampler, please?”

Posted 6 years, 11 months ago at 3:56 pm.

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Singapore Jungle Nights

Singapore’s Night Safari is quite an interesting attraction. I was expecting more, so it was a bit disappointing when I went there on July 16th, but it’s still worth a visit.

Here’s the skinny: it’s open from 7:30 until midnight. Adults $22 SGD. BUT you can’t see everything from the walking paths! Many of the (granted, less-exciting) animals you can only see from the tram, which costs another $10. This really pi$$ed me off, because I hate touristy tram rides. AND the tram does not stop, so you basically can’t take photos, because with this light you NEED a long exposure.

One thing I felt I missed out on was the lions, which you can just barely see from the walking trail. Here’s a crop of the best photo I got with my mini-tripod: 1/3s, ISO 1600, f/2.

Distant lions at the Singapore Night Safari

The Night Safari is basically a normal zoo with the same old enclosures for the animals. Most of the animals are the same, too. But many of the animals you see at a normal zoo are nocturnal, so they sleep all day. At the Night Safari, they are more awake and active.

But beware: you cannot use flash to take your pictures (though a few idiots try). It’s not good for the animals. And it’s almost impossible to get a decent shot with under $1000 of camera gear, flash or not. You need great low-light performance (non-grainy ISO 1600-3200) and a pro lens of f/2.8 or faster. My D90 with the 35mm f/2 AF-D did okay, but it was still tough. A $2,700 D700 and 50mm f/1.4 would be ideal.

Here’s a great shot that I got when someone else’s flash popped just as I had my shutter open for 1/4s. The hyenas were NOT happy about that flash.

Striped Hyenas that someone (not me) flashed, just while my shutter was open

That’s still 1/4s with a mini-tripod, ISO 3200, and f/2. So I guarantee their photo with a pocket cam (2m farther away than I was) sucked, despite the flash.

The animal show had potential. But most of the animals did not cooperate. The jumping cat didn’t jump:

Come on kitty, jump for the nice people who keep flashing you

The grape-sniffing whatever-it-was could not choose the hand with the grape, it was too distracted by someone’s camera flash. Then, these recycling otters decided to play with the cups & cans instead of tossing them in the proper bins…

No, otter, put the cup IN the recycling, don't chew on it!

Overall, the park was interesting, but as I said my expectations were much higher. If you go in realizing it’s just a zoo at night, and not an amazing safari-like experience, you’ll be impressed. One thing I learned: porcupines do not shoot their quills. They back into their attacker, then the spines detach from the ‘pine and stick in whatever scared them, because of their fishhook-like barbs.

Porcupines rooting for food and squabbling occasionally

For today’s last (and I think best) photo, here’s a clouded leopard. This beautiful cat was about one meter from the camera, through a pane of glass. 4s, ISO 3200, f/2 with a mini tripod. It was pretty funny watching people try to take pics through the tinted (probably one-way-mirror) glass with the flash.

Beautiful clouded leopard at night

By the way, I can recommend the park hopper pass, where you get to go to 2, or all 3 of the Singapore animal parks for one fee: Jurong Bird Park, Singapore Zoo, and the Night Safari. For all 3 it was $45 SGD, a very full two days worth of activities. Awesome!

Posted 6 years, 11 months ago at 4:22 am.

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Chilli Crab

When in Singapore, you must have a chilli crab. If you can take the heat, that is! I love ‘em, and on July 15th I headed to the East Coast Seafood Center my hosts.

Jumbo Seafood is the undisputed king in my book. They have everything known to Poseidon on the menu, and the crab is fantastic.

DSC_7275

One of our number was not yet old enough to take the heat. He preferred the tasty (fried?) buns. Also, did I mention a few days ago that the 35mm f2 lens can practically see in the dark? 1/15s, f2, ISO 1600 on the Nikon D90.

DSC_7285

And here’s a tasty chilli crab claw, coated in glorious chili-egg-sauce:

DSC_7281

At this point, I was (obviously) recovered from the dumpling incident. This means I was ready to get up the next day and visit not one, but two zoos! One in the daylight, and one at night. Anyone ever been on a real safari? I’m dying to try it one day…

Posted 6 years, 11 months ago at 3:52 pm.

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The birds and the… more birds

Jurong Bird Park in Singapore is an entire zoo filled with nothing but birds. That sounded pretty interesting, so on July 14th I decided to try it out. On the way there I stopped for lunch at a Chinese dumpling place. Bad idea! More on that later. For now, let’s see what I could do with the 18-200mm VR and my D90!

The Birds & Buddies show, which I caught just after arriving, was awesome. I could do a whole article about that, but for now I’ll settle for a few photos. First up: did you know that birds can play basketball? First one to sink 4 shots wins!

Bird basketball

The next birds were just too fast. Even with ISO 1600 (above which it gets too grainy for me), they were still a wee bit blurry with wide-open aperture.

Through the hoop!

The birds-of-prey show had a bit more light. This show was also fantastic! They used fake baits (like a mock-rabbit with a piece of meat in it, and this rubber snake) with the trained birds.

Birds of Prey show

Tropical birds ruled the park. There were more brightly-colored fancy-birds than anything else. Lots of fop-and-dandy avians like these preening pretty-boys…

Some kind of brightly-colored birds - lovebirds?

And now one for the ladies among my audience. I waited a long time to get the perfect pose of these two black swans with their white-feathered baby. I didn’t know that was possible!? Maybe the little tyke is adopted.

Aww, look at the cute swans!

This is one bird for the catwalk. Natural sequins, and such stunning eyes! She was so tame, too; I was about four feet away when taking this photo. Make a turn, baby… show us the back of that dress!

The superb starling notices me

These two were getting friendly. And I must admit, there were children watching… two or three others, besides me.

Aahhh... get a room you two!

About this time, I was feeling unusually tired. On the bus ride home, it only got worse. Let’s just say, I don’t recommend the dumpling place I tried near Lorong Stangee and East Coast Road. Something I ate there caused a few hours of serious distress.

Because of the dumplings, I postponed my plans to visit the Night Safari. But rest assured, awesome shots of animals at night will be coming up soon!

Posted 6 years, 11 months ago at 3:12 pm.

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The Mer-WHAT?

After weeks of thinking about a fixed 35mm lens with a wide aperture, I finally caved in and got a used Nikon 35mm f/2 AF-D. The used price seems to be the same worldwide, and this newer autofocus lens only costs 30% more than an older manual-focus one. The wide aperture allows some nice foreground/background blur effects, and the lens can practically see in the dark. On my DX “crop sensor” camera, 35mm is like a 50mm on film cameras – the classic fixed lens size.

After buying my lens in Singapore, I walked around the city to see what I could capture with it. Here are some of the images from July 13th. First up, the Swissotel Stamford, where I stayed in 2008 when I visited Singapore during a business trip. In 1986 it was the tallest hotel in the world.

Swissotel Stamford

Marina Bay Sands is a huge new casino complex. It’s open, but apparently not yet completed. I love how the rooftop garden looks like a giant ship.

Marina Bay Sands, not fully completed

Let’s compare the concert hall, known locally as “The Durian,” to a real durian (the stinkiest fruit on earth).

"The Durian" - Concert Hall in Singapore

Now the fruit, which smells like rotting roadkill when ripe:

A display of durians in a fruit shop

Yeah, I can see the resemblance. But I can testify that the concert hall does not smell like rotting roadkill.

Singapore has a lot of rules and regulations. Eating or drinking on the subway: $500 fine. Smoking in public: $1000 fine. Chewing gum: forget about it. Graffiti: caning. How about this one – riding a bike through the underpass, $1000 fine. One sign is just not enough.

Underpass bike fine warnings in Singapore

Finally, here’s the Merlion, symbol of Singapore. That’s right – it’s half mer, half lion. I couldn’t believe how many tourists were trying to get a picture standing in front of this Merlion. More than I’ve seen in front of any other object, anywhere in the world.

The Merlion - symbol of Singapore

I tried to get a shot of the tourist lineup, but space was too tight. Maybe if I had a 15mm lens, haha. In fact it took several minutes to get to the rail for this shot, waiting for this and that big group to get done trading cameras so everyone had a copy of themselves in front of the Merlion.

Merlion crowds aside, Singapore is certainly a beautiful, clean, and impressive city! One thing for sure: the taxi drivers are all polite, use the meter, and don’t try to drag you to shopping malls.

Here’s a question: what was the most touristy attraction you’ve ever seen? Have you been anywhere that you thought, “I wish all these damn tourists would get out of the way so I could get MY shot!”

Posted 6 years, 11 months ago at 3:43 pm.

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Weekend in Singapore

During a long business trip, I was able to escape to Singapore for the weekend.  On the way there in the car with a colleague we saw some crazy stuff, like mopeds driving on the Malaysian highways at night with no lights (cars whizzing by with a differential of 100 km/h… nice!).  Luckily they drove in the shoulder to avoid guaranteed instant death.

The only hotel my company allowed in Singapore was the Swissotel Stamford.  Not bad, as it’s the tallest hotel in South Asia and has a great view!  Hotel guests can to go the top floors for free, while tourists have to pay a bit.  The view at night was amazing, although with my mini Canon SD1000 I couldn’t get the greatest night shots.

View from Swissotel The Stamford

View from Swissotel The Stamford

This shot wins the prize as “most vertical viewing angle onto a cathedral”

View of St. Andrew's Cathedral from Swissotel The Stamford

View of St. Andrew's Cathedral from Swissotel The Stamford

From a balcony near my hotel room, here is a view of the Esplanade theaters, also known as “The Durian” to locals.  The spiky exterior looks a lot like this legendary fruit, which smells like rotting flesh, and tastes… well… let’s just say “interesting.”

"The Durian" concert hall

"The Durian" concert hall

The Botanic Garden is a fun attraction to visit.  Just be sure to bring your suntan lotion as you’ll be out in the heat for quite a while.  I loved the orchid exhibit; Singapore is well-known for orchids, and with good reason!  Here’s an artistic shot: you can see a bit of wildlife along with the orchid.

Orchids in the Singapore Botanic Gardens

Orchids in the Singapore Botanic Gardens

Sentosa Island has a lot of tourist attractions, though I mainly went for the view (just some hours before departing).  I arrived at Sentosa Island via cable car (you also have fantastic views from the car!); it departs from the HarbourFront Centre.

View of Singapore from Sentosa Island

View of Singapore from Sentosa Island

Sentosa island also has a replica of the original Merlion, which is the symbol of Singapore.  You can pay to go up to the top and get a nice view, although I didn’t have time for that.

The Merlion on Sentosa Island

The Merlion on Sentosa Island

Surely there’s a lot more to see and do in Singapore, and it’s definitely on my list of places to visit again.  But I hope these great sights will get you started, give you the bug to buy a plane ticket, book a hotel, and fly there.  Have fun!

Getting there:

  • Public transport in Singapore is good, but many people have a car (it’s somewhat of a status symbol).  Taxis are quite cheap compared to the west, and many locals use them regularly.  If you find that you are far from an MRT station or bus, I recommend to just get a taxi rather than walk several kilometers in the sweltering heat.  You’ll get to the next attraction sooner, and not be wiped out for the rest of the day due to overheating.
  • Even if you’re not staying there, go up to the top of Swissotel The Stamford for a great view!
  • Here is a Google maps link to Singapore Botanic Gardens. In my opinion, the orchids are by far the best part.
  • Google maps link to Sentosa Island, showing HarbourFront Centre and the Merlion.  Here’s the Sentosa page about how to get there; take note that the cable car is unfortunately closed for renovations until mid-2010.
  • Eat at No Signboard Seafood at the Esplanade: I sat outside with a colleague and had an excellent Chilli Crab!
  • East Coast Seafood Centre is another place to have great seafood.  I had a Chilli Crab there as well, at Jumbo Seafood.  Sooo tasty!

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 12:00 pm.

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