Singapore is a lovely, clean, organized international city-state.
It makes so much sense, with a fantastic MRT system and English spoken everywhere.
It makes too much sense.
Singapore is the living, breathing Mary Sue of SE Asia.
It’s a manufactured place, and you can see the seams. This is perhaps best summarized through a series of photos of signs that Phil and I discovered while wandering around the city:
Don’t get me wrong, Phil and I enjoyed our time there. We had a direct flight and went there over a weekend, so he didn’t have to miss any school. The purpose of the trip was for me to renew my tourist visa. I had two additional goals: to visit an English-language bookstore and to eat some Mexican food. Specifically queso.
I found the bookstore, Books Actually, in a list of best bookstores in the world.
Maybe my expectations were a bit too high.
It was tucked into an odd area near the Singapore General Hospital that was part residential, part commercial. Well executed window displays oversold the contents of each shop we stepped into, all of them overly air conditioned, in yet another apt metaphor for the Red Dot.
The bookstore itself was small and dense with notebooks, novels, poetry collections, literary journals, and the products of their own press. They played indie songs a few years past their due, the quirkiness both outdated and contrived. Phil and I spent quite a while in there, until we both realized that we were desperately searching for something to buy simply for the sake of buying it, not because it was something we wanted to read. I’m sure it’s a great place to discover new authors, particularly Asian authors, but we didn’t do enough research in advance, and should we really have to?
We went across the street and had a coffee and split a Tau Sar Pau (a traditional red bean bun pastry) at 40 Hands, staving off both our bubbling hanger and our disappointment.
Then we stuffed our faces with Mexican food and happy hour margaritas and IPAs at Cafe Iguana. They didn’t have the liquid-y queso that I was so desperately craving, but the food was still authentic and we had trouble choosing among the items on the menu. It ended up being our most expensive meal in months. Our eyes were ten times too big for our bellies, and the first ten minutes of walking around the city after leaving the restaurant were rather miserable.
Thankfully it passed quickly.
Wandering around the city on our way to Haji Lane from there, we stumbled upon a dog agility competition. We watched until one girl gave up, her dog too naughty to jump the fourth hurdle and the heat making finishing the route not worth her trouble.
Then, we struck gold with a giant sale of used books stacked perfunctorily on rows of tables outside of some sort of indoor/outdoor shopping center. There were rows and rows of Nora Roberts, Danielle Steel, and James Patterson, but we found gems—including NW by Zadie Smith and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay—buried within.
We passed so many malls and shops that we couldn’t help but feel that Singapore is all about shopping. Haji Lane was worth a visit, and I had luck finding cheaper women’s clothing by heading up some stairs to an unassuming second-story boutique hidden above the flashier street-level options. Phil was patient.
Following the recommendation of our Airbnb hosts, we made our way to the Gardens by the Bay for the Supertrees light show at 7:45pm. We couldn’t figure out how to get outside when we got off the train at the appropriate MRT station. We were stuck in a mall that was connected to a hotel and had to ask two people for directions. Turns out, we were in Marina Bay Sands, a building that looks like a surf board with three legs. In the hypothetical dystopian movie that takes place in Singapore, this surf board definitely breaks free and flies off into space and/or crashes into something, causing a colorful explosion.
Back to the show. Essentially, these big fake trees are lit up and change colors to the sounds of music. I had “Lights” by Journey in my head--specifically the lines "I wanna get back / to my city by the bay"--the whole time, but the light show was set to music more along the lines of Disney tunes. I don’t remember exactly because Phil and I were seemingly the only people NOT recording the show with some sort of device. A woman’s voice came on an intercom after the show, and she sounded as if she was calmly directing us into some underground bunker for sorting.
We considered eating in the food court near the base of the Supertrees but decided to leave the land of the selfie before we fell into a black hole of unfortunate technological advancements.
So we headed to Little India for some dinner and drinks. We had an excellent meal at the restaurant across from the Indian Heritage Centre (I don't have the name, but I'd highly recommend it), though combining that with the Mexican feast earlier in the day may not have been the wisest decision.
We brought a beer back to our Airbnb and had a lovely conversation with our hostess. Both of our Airbnb hosts were lovely and were a highlight of our trip. They made the visit a breeze, helping us with all of the little details of getting from place to place, and because they both worked for an international school, we had plenty in common.
As you can tell, Saturday was a busy day, and we may have overdone it. On Sunday, we went to Holland Village for a somewhat unsuccessful brunch, then walked around the Singapore Botanic Gardens, slowly and in relative silence. It was a gorgeous setting, but it was hot and our feet hurt. Popsicles helped.
While riding in a cab from the airport back to our apartment in Da Nang that evening, we rolled the windows down and enjoyed the cool breeze. I was planning out my lunch for the next day—$1.50 plain old fried rice to help soothe my tumultuous stomach and soften the recent blow to my bank account. Our driver slammed on his brakes to avoid hitting a motorbike as we crossed the “Sail Bridge” over the Han River.
Phil said, “I prefer this version of Asia.”
I quit a job I enjoyed at Founders Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and left my family, friends, and beloved dog to join my boyfriend in moving across the world, in search of adventure and new experiences. I arrived in August 2015.