Day 4 Singapore Oct 2016
Up bright and early today – we’re off to Uni! A 5.30am rising was more to do with the 9.30pm bedtime. I’d had my 8 hours and wasn’t waiting for any sparrow farts. But our excursion today is to the National University of Singapore (NUS) and I had to pack up and check out before departing for the train.
I had to send little reminder to my landlord to give me the details of where I could leave my bag for the day but was on the road by 9.30, avoiding the going to work rush hour and getting off-peak prices on the train. The Airbnb flat I’m staying in this time is far from the original definition of the sharing service. I reckon these people run a multitude of flats all over the neighbourhood, whereas the one in Pearl Bank in June was an annexe of the owners flat and far more congenial service and contact. At least I’m learning the tricks of this online booking system.
The reason for the visit to NUS was primarily to follow through on a hunch that there might be good, cheap, local food on campus. Possibly a weird reason, probably could almost pass as some kind of academic study, but I definitely also wanted to see some of the buildings and museums on site.
A train to Kent Ridge gets you almost to the campus gate and a bus stop outside the station ferries students to all parts of the vast campus. Me, I decided to walk rather than catch a ride as the purpose was to view the campus from one side to the other at a leisurely pace. Thankfully there are maps every couple of 100 metres along the paths so it’s easy to find your way around – although I did manage to get lost avoiding the many construction sites and looking for canteens that weren’t where they were supposed to be (or closed for renovations!)
THE NUS grounds encompass a section of the Kent Ridge walking trail – part of the national park system at the South of the Island. As you might guess from the name, the campus is a little hilly! It’s a huge place built into the hillside, so there are many staircases to the various colleges as they wind their way skywards. At one stage I found myself at the top of the ridge. sweating profusely in the humidity of an approaching storm and realised I was on the bushwalking trail – which I was not here to do today! I’ll leave that for another time.
I’d been searching for a cafeteria for an hour without much luck. The Frontier Centre had a few stalls but nothing that took my fancy and I was getting desperately hungry. It was 11am and I still hadn’t had my second breakfast! Finally, I heard the hum of many voices, the clanking of plates and the smell of food frying. Following a small crowd, I finally and thankfully found the Techno Edge – a large open sided food court with many seats and about a dozen stalls. It was getting busy so I opted for the shortest queue – the Vegetarian stall (Singaporeans love their meat!) and got 4 dishes with rice for $3.40. The size of my serve reminded me of an old employer when I was working in the catering department of a hospital in my student days. “These people are bed bound patients – not brickies labourers” she used to say as we piled the plates high for the dinner trollies. Well the lady dishing out the veg curries must be used to hungry students as I got a massive plateful!
Legs rested, stomach filled and caffeine levels topped up I was ready to go again. Next stop was the University Museum. The sky was rumbling something severe so probably a good time to move indoors. The man at the front desk couldn’t be more helpful and filled my hand with brochures and my head with directions. I don’t think they get many visitors as he was ready for a chat and thanked me profusely for visiting the building. It’s an odd collection ranging from priceless ancient artefacts and modern video installations and no guards watching your every move. You can carry your backpack in and take photos without flash – very casual, and worth a visit if museums are your thing.
By the time I came out an hour or so later it was pissing down rain. I ran across the courtyard and poked about in the Music Conservatorium until the rain stopped, then moved on to stage three of my planned trip – the University Town – the students’ village. There’s a very impressive, very long, covered walkway across the highway to the “village”, resplendent in flowering bougainvillea and other greenery. Once I got to the other side I could see massive crowds of people. This was where all the action was today!
Students alighting from bus after bus headed towards the courtyard filled with gardens and water features and surrounded by cafes, shops, and a large canteen. A small market set up under the canopy had stalls spruiking everything from trinkets to scholarships and banking alternatives. They didn’t try to sign me up to anything. Probably 30 years too old for their preferred clientele! Turning my mind back to my original mission I entered the Koufu Food Court for a little look around. Bright lights, the usual menus, plenty of tables and as it was nearing the end of lunch time, the queues were diminishing. The final stall in the corner caught my eye – Indian vegetarian. Should I, shouldn’t I? It had been 1 hour and 45 mins since my last meal back on campus. Well – you know the answer – of course!
A chapatti set lunch for $4 consisted of 3 chapattis, a dish each of dahl and sambar plus two veg curries – cauliflower and spinach – with a handful of pappadums thrown on the top. You know what? I nearly finished the lot it was so good. The first meal sated my desperate hunger but this sated my quest for excellent home cooking on campus. I’ll stick my neck out now and say my last meal was the best meal of the trip!
It was close to 2pm and time to slowly find a station to return to Tiong Bahru to collect my suitcase. I meandered along the pathways and gardens of the residential colleges towards the Dover Road exit. From memory, there were stations on the East-West line a block or two north so tried my luck with directions. Standing at a crossing waiting for the traffic lights to change and wondering which way to go I spied what looked like the overhead railway line up a head – and right on cue a train passed along the tracks. Bingo! I was heading the right way. All I had to do was reach the track and follow it along till I came to a station. Ten minutes’ walk along Commonwealth Avenue, there was Dover Station and a train arriving to take me back to the city to collect my suitcase.
I ventured into the office of the people who leased me the flat in Tiong Bahru, hoping for a bit of chat, but was given my bag and sent on my way by a lady mending bath towels. Oh well, every trip is different. After my last trip, I stood at the door chatting with Lily for half an hour before reluctantly departing, patting her dog and hearing about her daughter’s studies as a medical student at NUS.
Mr Qantas is being kind to me while I write – topping up my wine and fresh lime sodas. Now that I’m nearly done with this post I was thinking of hitting the buffet. But no – I think I’ll leave my Chapatti Set Meal in the student canteen as my final one in Singapore for this trip.
Thanks again Singapore. I never get tired of my explorations here and you’ll see me back in your food halls before too long.