Continue my adventure of visiting every MRT (subway) stop in Singapore, seeing how the country changes as you travel beneath the land and then pop up every few kilometers. This time, my husband and I visited sixteen stops on the Downtown Line (aka the Blue Line), starting at the eastern terminus and working our way west toward the center of the island.
The Expo stop, which provides direct access to the country’s largest meeting space, is great if you like convention centers — or, apparently, if you like EXPOriences, or if you like to impersonate politicians (this sign is right outside the station):
There’s not much to look at this stop, though I appreciated the spaceship-like station roof …
… the station art (A Banquet, by Yeo Chee Kiong, two chairs and a “speech balloon” which are meant to evoke “free trade spirit”) …
… and the call-outs to other metro stations around the world just above the train platform:
One of the longest stations in the MRT system, Upper Changi mostly seems to exist to give students a way to get to SUTD, the Singapore University of Technology and Design. his campus was formed just ten years ago in collaboration with MIT to foster all sorts of tech and research innovation. We wandered around taking a look at the school’s architecture …
… and at what I think is a pile of stuff owned by one of the student clubs:
Other than SUTD, Upper Changi gives access to a couple of neighborhoods with private homes and condos, and that’s about it.
Once you get just a bit east of the airport, the entire southeastern quadrant of Singapore is chock-a-block full of HDBs (residences built by Singapore’s Housing and Development Board). Indeed, I could have called most of this MRT trek “the HDB tour.”
Over 80% of Singaporeans live in HDBs, which tend to be large, blocky structures in different combinations of white-and-another-color.
Brief wandering suggested that we weren’t going to find much else at Tampines East, aside from this station art …
… which shows us how happy everyone is to live there!
Tampines is one of the largest and most heavily populated government-planned towns in Singapore; it is also the regional center for the eastern side of the island. So it was no surprise to find one of the biggest community centers I’ve ever seen just a block from the MRT station:
This center has a library, sports facilities, a mall — even a free movie space in an atrium (they were playing Paddington early on a Saturday morning). The whole place is supposed to “build social cohesion and racial harmony.” Bees everywhere promote kindness:
Features of note here included a giant statue of Caishen, the god of wealth (who’s visiting for Chinese New Year) …
… and Masjid Darul Ghufran, the largest mosque in Singapore:
Tampines West is like a return to Tampines East — if it weren’t for the different station colors (East has orange; West has purple), you might think you were in the same place. It’s all HDBs, all the time …
… and once again, a lot of people who are happy to live in them:
Just a few blocks away from the Bedok Reservoir stop, HDBs and condos share a view of this converted sand quarry:
The reservoir is surrounded by the highly-manicured Bedok Reservoir Park:
Singapore likes to bill itself as “a city in a garden,” so there are parks all over the place.
You’re right back into the world of HDBs at this stop …
… though just a few steps beyond this sits the long, thin, slightly hilly Bedok Town Park:
You can walk all the way from Bedok North to the Bedok Reservoir stop through this park — or you can just pause, take off your shoes, and commune with a giant tree (this is a thing here in Singapore):
The Bedok North station picks up on the outdoor theme; the walls are lined with gracefully falling leaves in Dedaun Masa (Leaves of Time) by Ahmad Abu Bakar:
Kaki Bukit (which is fun to say) means “foothill” in Malay, and this area is indeed a bit hillier than the coastal plain of Tampines (though the original hill here was flattened somewhat for building purposes). At this stop, the endless march of HDBs begins to give way to light industry — so you have HDBs on one side of the road and industrial buildings on the other.
We wandered the warren of HDBs in search of a beverage, which took some doing — as one government website says, Kaki Bukit is a world of “limited amenities.” But we eventually stumbled on the incredibly old-school KPT hawker stall.
Here, we had some of the best prata we’ve tried in Singapore at Al Amin Makan House (trust me, it’s worth the trip). The hawker stall was well decorated for Chinese New Year.
My other favorite find near the Kaki Bukit stop were the Bedok Town HDBs …
… because I loved the architectural detailing:
These HDBs were a refreshing break from the blocky norm — I really enjoyed looking at them. This HDB block stands roughly equidistant between Kaki Bukit and the next stop:
At Ubi, the land of HDBs finally recedes into the distance as you come to a huge industrial estate. To an urban wanderer, this is really not interesting.
But there is a large shopping area near the Ubi station where you can get, among other things, “card reading, astrology, auspicious date, and bazi forcast [sic]” — the Chinese version of a psychic with a crystal ball:
Ubi means “tapioca” in Malay, which was a staple crop in this area at one point. So there’s station art called Staple, by Zainudin Samsuri, “an abstraction of tapioca roots”:
MacPherson lies smack in the middle of a large industrial estate. Two lines meet up here — the Yellow (The Circle Line) and the Blue — though there’s really not much to see beyond barbed wire, construction debris, and large, featureless buildings surrounded by concrete walls. That said, this stop does lead to the three wonderful Chinese temples of Arumugam Street:
Nestled in amongst a bunch of manufacturing companies, these Taoist and Buddhist temples are breath of fresh air — and a revelation:
The Mattar station is surrounded by a lot of green grass, with a light industry zone in one direction and HDB estates in the other:
Close to the station are several major religious entities, including the Canossa Convent, Grace Baptist Church, the Church of St. Stephen (with this Madonna of the parking lot) …
… and Sallim Mattar Mosque:
Walk out of Geylang Bahru station, and you know in an instant that you have returned to HBD world — this is the first thing you see:
The Geylang Bahru station is surrounded by buildings like this, and a large hawker stall and market are just across the street. In January, there was plenty of last-minute New Year gear for sale:
Our favorite thing at Geylang Bahru was the station art, from the abstract leaves on the floor and ceiling …
… to Constructed Memories by Marienne Yang, which celebrates “the snippets of life” at Singapore’s light industrial terraced workshops in the 1970s and 1980s, including hanging out laundry …
… and industrial warning signs:
You notice an abrupt change at the Bendemeer stop: there are no more HDBs, and you see the tall buildings and old shophouses of urban Singapore just a few blocks in the distance:
There’s not much to see at Bendemeer — it sits between an industrial estate at one end and commercial developments on the other sides. But you can walk to see the shophouses (and the Singapore Casket Company) …
… and this pretty, tree-lined street:
The station art at Bendemeer, And a New World by Cristene Chang, is named after the New World Amusement Park that once stood nearby. Chang’s “Fabric of Time” is inspired by textiles — specifically, batik, French lace, and Malay needlework (sulam):
At Jalan Besar, you have firmly reached Singapore’s urban center. The stop brings you up at the edge of Little India:
Here, you can admire the many shophouses of the early 20th century, notable for their decorative molding and tile work …
… though you often have to look past the distractions of commercial signage:
I liked the station art in Jalan Besar, A Kaleidoscopic World by Lydia Wong, which features digitally-altered images from the old Sungei Road market:
Bencoolen brings travelers up to the heart of Singapore’s arts and culture district, right next to the Singapore Art Museum, and just two blocks from the National Museum:
It’s also in between two major institutes of higher education, Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and Singapore Management University …
… where we liked this book bench (but weren’t sure why it was attached to an outsized ball and chain):
Sitting 43 meters below the street, Bencoolen is the deepest station in Singapore — it takes five elevator rides to get from the lowest level to the top.
Oddly, the Bencoolen stop is only one block away from the Bras Basah stop on the Yellow Line, but the two stations don’t connect.
They had to divert part of the Singapore River to build Fort Canning station, which was an amazing feat of engineering. Of course, the river no longer looks much like it did in the station art, large-scale renditions of watercolor paintings by Lim Tze Peng:
The Fort Canning stop sits at the base of Fort Canning Park, just one block away from the Singapore River and the nonstop activity at Clarke Quay (it’s less than a 10 minute walk to the Clarke Quay stop on the Purple Line). This area was the center of both ancient and colonial Singapore; by the 1830s, Fort Canning Hill was home to multiple government buildings, a botanical garden, and the home of Sir Stamford Raffles. In the 1860s, a fort was completed near the top of the hill, and during World War II, the British tunneled inside the hill and used it as their base of operations (you can now visit the Battlebox Museum there). Today, Fort Canning Hill is a large park, home to everything from beautiful trees …
… to this memorial to the National Theatre (which was razed, as so many things are in Singapore, to make way for progress in 1983):
You’re welcome to walk to the top of Fort Canning — but if you’re too lazy (or hot, or tired, or all three) for that, there are escalators that will get you most of the way up:
But we didn’t hike (or take the escalators) very far up — we mostly spent our time enjoying Jubilee Park, a giant playground just above Fort Canning Station: