Saturday, March 22, 2008

Singapore & Malaysia: A Study In Contrasts

For the past few days we’ve been traveling throughout Singapore and Malaysia. The former is a modern city: tall office buildings, English street signs and vast shopping malls line carefully landscaped streets. Notorious for the Michael Fay caning, Singapore is serious about maintaining the peace – even small crimes like littering and jaywalking result in huge fines. But don’t let this get you down. It makes up for its Nazi-like attention to order with its cosmopolitan vibe boasting a diverse mix of Malays, Chinese, Indians (plus international tourists) that makes it as easy to find chilli crab as it is to find curry or dim sum. We popped into the famous Raffles, where the “Singapore Sling” originated. After polishing these fruity concoctions off in the hotel’s Long Bar I shamefacedly admit that we pursued the national Singaporean pastime of shopping hitting hard-to-find British stores like Topshop and Miss Selfridge. Feeling greedy and totally American we took a cab to Brewerkz, Singapore’s only microbrewery. With a vast beer list and a varied menu we cooled off in the air-conditioning with locals on their lunch break and drank until our consumerist shame was obliterated by a beer buzz.

Aside from the shared affinity for shopping malls, Singapore and Malaysia seem to have little else in common. Malaysia appears less solvent financially and even in Kuala Lumpur where Louis Vuitton stores rub shoulders with top hotels, there’s an obvious disparity in wealth. The Petronas Towers define this city skyline which until 2003 were the world’s tallest twin buildings standing at 1,483 feet. After viewing them and exploring the city we lunched at the Mandarin Oriental’s Lai Po Heen, a hip Cantonese spot featuring a glass-encased kitchen and city views. At only $35 for two people one thing’s for sure: even high-end spots are affordable in Malaysia, yet the city seems to lack that indefinable quality of "heart."

Meanwhile, the island of Penang offers a totally different travel experience – more exotic, more “real” feeling. Much of the colonial architecture still stands here and in contradiction to the skyscrapers of KL, Penang’s Chinese clan houses, Buddhist temples and 19th century structures crumble romantically along shaded side streets. Yet these historic and cultural jewels also come with the reality of less sophisticated dining options and hotel accommodations than are available in the big city. Pockets of severe poverty are evident – tenement houses missing doors and windows are strung with clotheslines and crowded, dirty streets are common sights. Bizarrely, there are 7-11’s everywhere (who would think?) so we brainfreezed ourselves while we wandered in the oppressive heat.


30ml gin
15ml Heering Cherry Liqueur
7.5ml D.O.M Benedictine
7.5ml Cointreau
120ml Pineapple juice
15ml fresh lime juice
10ml grenadine
dash of Angostura bitters
Garnish: maraschino cherry, pineapple chunk, and orange slice

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