Singapore has been on my radar for as long as I can remember because when I was a kid, my Chinese uncle had a Singaporean girlfriend who was supposed to be really beautiful (I don’t remember what she looks like, though). You rarely hear about SG in the US, however, and so it wasn’t until I moved to Shanghai last September that this little country/city/state came back on my radar. Maybe I hung around Alice/Jean a little too much, but I seriously feel like I can still hear Alice’s voice just saying, “Because Singapore is AWESOME!” in my head.
Anyway, I had dinner a month ago with some family friends from Japan who were in HK, and he mentioned that SG was an awesome place to visit. It had already been on my “to-go” list at that point, isn’t super far from HK, and had a reputation for good food – the stars had aligned; I booked my tickets. Here are five things that made me absolutely LOVE my trip to Singapore, and the country itself (warning: the list below is actually kind of generic) –
1. The Food. Did you really think anything else would top my list? Food in SG is DELICIOUS. I ate about six meals a day while I was there, no joke. I had bakkutteh for the first time, which I was very skeptical of because it’s just soup, and how good can soup really be? But it was SO GOOD (thanks Jean for virtually-forcing me to try it) that I had it twice – the dark and the white. I actually find HK food to be a bit on the blander side (more subtle taste of the ingredients themselves, less of the spices), so I was super happy to be in SG eating nice, flavorful food. I’m not going to waste time listing it all – just concluding that the food was GREAT. I ate kaya toast three times, bakkutteh and radish cake twice each, etc. – you get the picture. Well, maybe you don’t, so here are some photos:
2. The Colors. The first place I went in Singapore was Tanjong Pagar, since I was meeting Jojo and Mel around there for lunch. As I wandered away from the MRT station, I came across the most adorable little streets I had ever seen – each little house was a different design and different color. My eyes feasted greedily and I started trying to take pictures of everything, before I realized how pointless that was, and returned to just staring and taking it all in. I mean, Singapore is just SO colorful – Chinatown, Little India, Arab Street, Haji Lane, random neighborhoods – all the places I walked around just had so many bursts of color, and I simply could not get enough of it. I’ve heard people refer to SG as a big Disney World, and I can see why (perhaps that’s why I loved it so much):
3. The Environment. Singapore is big, bright, and clean. The roads are huge and open (especially compared to the alleys of HK). The architecture is really interesting, especially those weird trees. The climate, while hot, is also breezy (also something that I don’t feel in HK), and the wind just made me feel like I was on this wonderful vacation, which I was. It doesn’t feel crowded with people. And the pace was quite relaxing – possibly because I wasn’t working and was on vacation.
4. The Singlish. Can I just say that I think I have a slight obsession with listening to Singlish? Maybe it feels like home/comfort now since I got so used to hearing a lightened version of it while I was in Shanghai, but I just loved hearing people in Singapore talk. I know I sound crazy. For example, when I tried to pay for my kaya toast with a $50, and the man complained, “So big ah~”, I felt happy. When I ordered my kopi from the lady at the food stall and she asked me, “Kopi eh?”, I felt happy. When I listened to Joel and Melvin converse in super-fast-Singlish and asked them, “Are you guys speaking English right now?” and received “are you serious” stares from both of them, I felt happy. I think I’m going to find a Singaporean club in Hong Kong just so I can listen to Singlish all day long.
5. The Company. The first person I met in Singapore was my weird taxi driver, who went on and on about how he hates Singaporeans (he is Singaporean). He also told me that Singaporeans don’t commit crimes because there’s nowhere to hide, and that people in Malaysia can commit crimes easily because they can just go hide in the mountains, and that if we were in Malaysia he could rape me too. That was probably the weirdest, most casual/nonchalant example for such a strong topic that I have ever heard, and I felt borderline uncomfortable but decided I was too lazy to care.
Anyway, this was actually supposed to be a solo trip to Singapore, but I ended up spending almost none of it alone – and it was so much fun! I had lunch with old college friends at the Maxwell Center; had an Indian dinner with a coworker from the US; did a day trip to Melaka with a coworker from Shanghai; practiced hockey with the SUHC twice (plus food afterwards); and explored the city with some newly found friends from Shenzhen. I stayed at an Airbnb and my host had a super weird cat:
To conclude, I feel like the one lesson I’ve learned from this trip is that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. I can’t tell you how many people asked me, “Why would you go to Singapore? There’s nothing to do there”, particularly from people who had lived in Singapore. Some of my friends were shocked at how enchanted I was by Singapore (I do get excited by little things very easily, so the colorful houses were likely much more exciting to me than they should have been LOL), but I genuinely found so much of the city just so beautiful. My new Airbnb friend also agreed: we kept saying how we never wanted to leave.
While I was there, I also heard several Singaporeans (including my weird cab driver) talk about how they “dislike Singaporeans”, which I thought extremely interesting. From my end, I didn’t find the stereotypes they gave of Singaporeans specific to SG but rather applicable to much of Southern China/HK culture as well, which makes sense because the people are mostly from the same area (Hakka/Fujian, etc). I can understand the cabin fever you could get from growing up on the island your entire life, for sure, and can see the frustrations that result from general behaviors of people you’ve been around forever, but seriously, guys – the grass is always greener. Although Singapore is probably extra green because of its awesome indoor domes at Gardens by the Bay:
I’m SO glad I went to Singapore (and Melaka/Malaysia) and am already trying to figure out when I can go back. Thank you to my hospitable friends/guides for spending so much time with me. Singapore, you’re so beautiful.