Singapore is an island that is also a city and a country at the Southeastern tip of continental Asia. The locals call it the “Red Dot” because it is so darn small… It sits close to the equator, ensuring a predictable 12-hour sunlight everyday of the year, and an amazingly humid tropical weather year round. This is where Priscilla grew up and on this trip, Tom the hapless husband, was about to discover his new extended family and a whole new culture.
Priscilla’s Journey Back Home to Singapore
Singapore was a place I wanted to escape, but now that I had left, I look forward to every chance I get to return. Growing up there, I ran out of what I considered to be fun things to do on the little island. I wanted to experience winter, be in the mountains, explore rural countryside, experience new cultures…the list goes on. And so, I took a gamble and left home for the other side of the world. In the first few years, I was absolutely exhilarated, full of wonder for the world outside. Never once did I feel homesick. But, as I visited Singapore every two years, each visit started to weigh on me. With each visit, my parents and grandparents seemed to age tremendously. My siblings had carved out new lives of their own that I wasn’t a part of. The many amazing friends, who had graciously kept in contact with me virtually, had exciting moments of their lives that I could not be present for, or that I simply could not spend time with in person.
It dawned on me that I was starting to get homesick. At the same time, Singapore seemingly matured and became a lot more cosmopolitan and sophisticated with each visit as well. The food scene blossomed, with many unique eateries offering local fusion to intricate Japanese desserts, and the many fine dining options readily available. The faces in the crowd appeared more diverse, with Europeans, and other Asian ethnic groups living in areas typically only inhabited by locals. The most obvious change was the many new and sparkling modern skyscrapers that dominated the downtown skyline today. Singapore had taken on a new big city personality.
For this trip, I took Tom on a touristy trail. We visited the Botanical Gardens to check out the vast collection of orchids; walked the Marina Bay area, known for the now iconic Marina Bay Sands casino hotel connected at the top by an infinity pool; hung out at Clarke Quay, the traditionally expat area full of bars and seafood restaurants; and strolled through the myriad of malls on Orchard Road, the biggest pastime my family and I shared. We did a lot of walking, exploring historical neighborhoods like Chinatown and Joo Chiat for the colonial style shophouses. And of course, eating local snacks and desserts that were on every corner. All super dangerous for the weak-willed – out goes the dietary concerns!
Food is an essential part of the local culture. The ubiquitous hawker centers, basically open-air but sheltered marketplaces for street foods and groceries, were part and parcel of my life growing up. I had often accompanied my Mom to get groceries, and while waiting for the groceries to be packaged up, we would grab food and chat about life. Naturally, Tom was dragged to all the hawker centers we loved. Since Tom was our guest of honor, we wasted no time to introduce him to local favorites ranging from Roti Prata to grilled stingray and chili crab.
So of course, Tom and I had a great time with family and friends. And, most valuable for me, was the chance to look at Singapore with a fresh pair of eyes and through Tom’s perspectives. There will certainly be many more trips to this city country and I can’t wait to see what other changes I will find next.
Travel with Tom to Singapore – Tom’s Eating and Cultural Journey Through Asia:
Off to Singapore for my first travel foray outside of the Great US of A to meet the new family members. I would have to say Singapore was a great way to ease into Asia travel for this Missouri boy as many of the signs are readable and the lifestyle is quite modern. Ok so at first you think, this is just another big city with some high rise buildings, but as we got on the ground and began exploring it proved to be truly a unique world all together.
Let’s just start with the weather. They have three types of weather, hot, HOT, and rainy and hot with nearly every day coming in around 85-90F. This sounds warm to Midwest folks, but not impressive, but it’s the relentless heat plus humidity plus extra strong sun that gives this place the uniquely warm feel. At night, it just slightly cools down to a balmy 81F. Singapore is located nearly on the equator so this is to be expected, but experiencing the general sweaty-ness 24/7 was an adjustment maybe because most people don’t really use AC!
The exotic trees and lush landscaping remind visitors that Singapore is a city that spawned out of a tropical jungle. It’s completely “normal” here to be walking down the sidewalk and see trees sprouting mangos, jackfruit, and durians. Don’t think about snagging one for your lunch though because people are quite protective of their fruits here. The fruits in Singapore were one of my favorite parts about visiting the tropics. The variety of exotic new flavors like durian or mangosteen and even the tastiness of old favorites like pineapples provide a regular reminder that you not in Illinois anymore.
What do you do when you want to have a little fun in Singapore? Eat of course! While getting to know my new family and learning about the place Priscilla grew up, we basically ate our way all the way across the island. The city may look ultra modern, but they have held tightly to their traditional food culture giving the local cuisine some of the most unique flavors in the world. The likelihood of finding a great place to eat seems so high here, even the so-called “fast” food of the hawker centers was complex and completely delicious. Even with about 2 weeks in Singapore for this trip, we were not able to exhaust the list of Priscilla’s favorite dishes.
Land is scarce in Singapore and thus, they are building UP and UP. The number of high-rise condo and HDB buildings under construction blew my mind. “You mean those 20 buildings in this one block (all 40-50 stories) are being built right now and will be open next year?!? AND there is a 3-5 year waiting list for an apartment?!? AND the apartment rent starts at $3-4K for a small place?!? Whoa…” When they build here, it is on a whole different level.
In between meals, we went out to explore the city to experience one of the favorite hobbies here, SHOPPING. It’s actually quite hard not to visit malls in Singapore because nearly every train station is located in some sort of mall. Above ground they have some ultra impressive buildings to house the top brands in the world, but below ground the mecca of shopping continues! The shopping extends layers and layers below the street level with a seemingly unending abyss of shops. My favorite thing about the underground mall world was the amazing food court. Even their malls have great food… America could definitely learn a thing or two about “fast” food.
The culture in Singapore is an interesting combo of Chinese, Indian and Southeast Asian leading to not only a unique cuisine, but also an opportunity to experience a bit of life from each of the origins. The citizens of Singapore are proud to call themselves Singaporean, but it seems that they also hold tightly to the traditions of their homeland with a wholesome respect for their neighbors and their respective lifestyles. Then add a ton of businesspeople from every corner of the world, and viola you’ve got an awesome cosmopolitan city. I can’t wait to go back (not just for the Stingray…) to visit the family and see how this city continues to evolve!