It was a weekday and way past my bedtime. I can still feel the creamy mayonnaise from the shawarma running down my chin and the warm beads of sweat lining the sides of my nose. I remember sitting on the bridge, my legs agreeably crossed, staring out into the silence; I wished to forever capture that feeling. That feeling of gratitude to the universe and absolute oneness with that around me.
My mind was unapologetically brought back to full awareness by some drunken passers-by, them too, appearing to enjoy the night. Most likely in a way different than me, but enjoyment nonetheless. Singapore is a dream.
Amidst an unconventional childhood, one of the things I’m grateful for is that I was surrounded by what I consider to be great music. When I was in school, most of our summer holidays were spent in our ancestral home in Mysore with my cousins and one of the many records I remember listening on loop to was Air Supply’s Greatest Hits. It was a simpler time, when love was the norm, and was uncomplicated; Air Supply only did speak of love, sometimes heartbreak but even that was made for yearning. So, to be able to see them play live just the night before at the Star Theatre was nostalgic. It meant revisiting my inner child’s notion of love – the fairy-tale, unconditional kind – after decades. It was also facing that off with the kind of love I believe in now where unconditional love is conditional in behaviour.
I look back at my one week in Singapore, and the word that best describes my time there is seamless. There were no hidden surprises, no out of the plan interactions. The narrative style of storytelling that I prefer takes a beating here because a country like Singapore has little place for self-expression; and to express a place I must resort to its experiences.
For me, what Singapore is, beyond that perfect skyline and impeccable city structure, is a seemingly ideal destination. It will have you staring mesmerized from your airplane window seat with its ships seamlessly gliding in and out. It is quite beautiful and from so high above, they look like toys. Would be nice to reach below and maybe alter their course. It looks simple and that’s where you get a hint of this city’s essence. To put it plainly, Singapore is the epitome of simplicity; not in its creation, but in its development and portrayal. From building structures to public transport, the city appears like a dream for anyone.
Part 1: Go local.
It often surprises me when people have plans for their first day at a new destination. The best thing to do is just walk around where you’re staying, understand local transport stations, eating joints, and take in the culture. I took a local bus to the nearest station and as is common with most large (train/bus) stations, this one was attached to a mall. The wonderful thing about malls, even though I detest them otherwise is that there are always ace finds; like CRAVE – The original Adam Rd Nasi Lemak by Selera Rasa – a perfect place to have my first Singaporean meal. Also turned out to be one of the best Nasi Lemak renditions I’ve personally had.
I’m not sure about you, but I simply love visiting local stores abroad – products have a purpose there and Singapore local stores are genius.
Part 2: Be a tourist.
Sentosa is so lovely. You need only to drown out the crowd.
Riding the mini-train to the island that day, I felt like a child, giddy with excitement. The entire trip was beginning to feel like a scene out of the Jetsons – everything so connected, so perfect, so very pre-programmed. Once I reached though, my child-like excitement magnified toot-sweet. It was a scene from all the movies I had watched at home, sitting on the sofa still in my school uniform – candy, shops, aquariums, rides and so much more.
Lunch was at the Michelin star restaurant – Din Tai Fung. Sometimes, I wish I could capture taste and smell; maybe save it in a box for later.
Sunsets are special. Every one of them signifying the (successful?) end of one day, announcing the promise of a new day, a new start, for some, a new life. The view of the sunset was far from ideal that evening, but while I sipped on a cold beer and gazed out at ships on the horizon, waiting for a laser show that exuded mindless entertainment, it would do.
Part 3: Be a tourist – II.
The city has a lot of small eateries and the cuisine is very diverse. A snack that became a quick favorite was the chicken curry puff, again a reminder that the country itself is an amalgamation of many worlds. It was a typical hot summers day, the kind when you can feel the sun on the soles of your feet, a nagging, burning sensation; like an annoying shadow. It was on that day, while I weaved in and out of shops in China Town that I came across a hole in the wall restaurant. You know the kind of food that’s being served by its guests – local or not. This was not. As a traveller, I want to be able to expose my poorly diminished sense (of perspective) to the belief that perspectives themselves are unlimited. And nothing changes a perspective more than an experience. Anyway, I digress, it was in this hole in the wall that I discovered the Hainanese Chicken Rice meal – what has now become a favorite. The dish is very aromatic and I’m not sure how else to describe it except to say that it feels whole.
The fading sun made it an ideal time to visit the Central Business District area – home to some of the world’s largest financial companies. The view of the beautiful skyline and the Marina Bay made for a very dramatic backdrop as I sat on the deck of a 63-floor high nightclub enjoying what I can now say was a very surreal experience.
Later that evening, dining at a restaurant on Clarke Quay, surrounded by live music and free-flowing alcohol, digging into Singaporean chilli crab, I gradually became cognizant of a striking contrast between traditional and modern Singapore. Time stood still that night, allowing me the time I needed to revel in this man-made beauty.
Part 4: Be a tourist – III.
Shopping isn’t big on my list, but window shopping is something I thoroughly enjoy. I consider it a peek into the city. I don’t refer to the LVs and YSLs of the world but the local (stationary) stores around the corner. I rode the train to Bugis street on a fine day – a blank mind and fairly empty wallet. But that has never defined happiness, has it?
That day was special because it my first visit to IKEA, ever; don’t let the travel or luggage constraints hold you back from a visit to this home furnishing haven. For me, I find in it all the homes I hope to call my own – whatever my destiny, just the possibility of it one day being mine. I often wonder if owning a home makes you feel more settled but then I think of my dogs and I realise that wherever they are, that’s home to me.
This city has been wonderful simply in its choice – from botanical gardens and music concerts to zoos and concrete gems. I’ve outlined a blueprint of an itinerary and I hope that it will be of use to you. If you’re like me, you’re probably looking up airfare tickets as you read this. Just do it.