MY TRAVEL,  Uncategorized

An American in Singapore

I love to travel! My mind and body crave the experience of being in another place, immersing myself in other cultures and lifestyles. One of the most exotic and exciting experiences I have ever had was my first trip to Singapore.

It has been many years since I visited Singapore but the sights and smells remain with me to this day. The air holds an aromatic blend of orchids, moist sea air, fish markets and exotic Chinese herbs.

 

Fish Market

 

Flowers Everywhere

Singapore Airlines

Flying to this country is an experience all its own. I flew out of New York City on Singapore Airlines and before I even boarded the plane the excitement was already beginning. The flight attendants make a ceremonious parade through the airport to board the aircraft. They are stunning as they walk past in total alignment, dressed in their sarong with perfectly applied make up.

On the aircraft, even in coach, we are presented with a warm towel and a travel pack that holds socks, earbuds and an eye mask.  The seat is similar to business class on other airlines with plenty of leg room and a comfy seat. Each passenger has a screen in front of them with movies and music to choose from. And there is endless alcohol.  Even in coach it doesn’t matter what time of day, what country you are flying over or what you are doing to pass the hours…. You are constantly asked what you would like to drink. It’s amazing. The food is just as incredible.  I highly recommend Singapore Airlines if you have that as an option. You won’t be disappointed.

Me, arriving in Singapore

 

No Ordinary Airport

After a layover in Germany I arrived in Singapore’s Changi Airport and was pleasantly surprised.

Youtube video of the airport, courtesy of Lee Claxon

This was no ordinary airport. There are live plants and trees everywhere with birds flying around freely. Even a rooftop cactus garden and swimming pool can be found here.  And almost an entire mall with food court that the locals visit on a regular basis even when they aren’t picking up travelers.  This was the first place my senses were teased with the scent of Chinese herbs, teas and exotic flowers. It is an experience all its own. But wait……

My Arrival

…….. After picking up my luggage I walked toward the doors. They opened and I felt like I had run into a brick wall.  A wall of humidity that I have never known hit me in the face. The only way I can describe this moment in time is a sense of drowning. I was breathing that moist, thick air into my lungs and couldn’t seem to catch a breath for quite some time. My entire trip was spent trying to catch my breath and make an effort in front of my hosts to pretend I wasn’t melting from the inside out! At 1:00 in the morning, sitting on a picnic table along one of the hawker centers,  the heat and humidity were just as intense as during the middle of the day.

TRYING TO GET ACCUSTOMED TO THE HEAT

Here I am trying to survive the heat of the night.  

 

Experiencing Culture; Heat and All

The younger generation of Singaporeans can tolerate the heat but they say they spend most of their time going in and out of air conditioning to avoid it. The older generations are accustomed to this heat and don’t even have air conditioning in their homes.  It is immensely uncomfortable but at the same time the other experiences that Singapore has to offer made me forget that unpleasant part almost immediately.  The discomfort must not have affected me much since I went back for more, several times.

The city holds a magic all its own. It is culturally and religiously diverse and has four official languages which are English, Tamil, Malay and Mandarin.  There are orchids and tropical plants everywhere. Trash is non existent. It is one of the cleanest cities in the world, thanks to it’s laws forbidding litter.  

Food is Love

 

Singapore has hundreds of hawker centers which are similar to food courts in a mall except that they are all outside and they are larger than food courts in the malls.  You can visit these centers anytime, day or night and the offerings consist of seafood, satay,  laksa, fresh fruit and fruit drinks, local cuisine and desserts and my personal favorite (which helps cool me down slightly), Ice kachang

 

Ice Kachang…. my favorite! Mango!

 

This mango ice kachang was my favorite!  There are also red beans, sweet corn or durian flavors.

One of the MANY Hawker Centers

Along with the hawker centers there are some amazing restaurants. Singaporeans are known for their love for food. The choices are limitless and a little overwhelming.  They love their hot soups, noodles and laksa first thing in the morning… while sitting outside in the heat. One thing I noticed is that while sitting down for a large meal, they are already discussing what their next meal will be. They love their food!  They live for food! 

A fruit that I ate daily was lychee and rambutan. Rambutan is very pretty to look at and when you peel it, there is a fruit inside that is juicy and similar in texture to a large peeled grape other than it has a large black seed in the middle of it. I got very skilled at popping these in my mouth and eating around the seed. My mouth is watering for it right now. 

More photos of Singapore food below.

McDonald’s, even though they offer the normal fare of fries and burgers, also has jasmine tea and red rice porridge, which has sweet potato,shiitake mushrooms, bean curd, rice, goji berries and corn.  Their fish sandwich has sweet chili mayo instead of tartar! I love adventures and trying new things, but for a 15 year old who is very far from home, this was too much for her. She reminds me that she survived on her bag of snacks that she brought from home. 

Diversity

Singapore is multiracial and multicultural. The majority of the population is Chinese, Malay and ethnic Indian as well as Eurasians. With such diversity you can find so many amazing little nooks and neighborhoods among the bustling modern city. There is Geylang Serai which focuses on the Malays in Singapore and showcases their culture and history, and Chinatown, filled with tea shops, Buddhist Temples and ancient cultural elements.  My favorite is Little India with its absolutely gorgeous Hindu and Buddhist Temples and Mosques. Incense fills the air as you walk down the street past the stalls filled with statues, jewelry, Indian spices and food. 

Chinatown

 

Little India

Shopping

Where do I begin? Singaporeans not only love their food but they love their shopping!  My list only consists of the places that I remember when I was last there. As Singapore grows, there are many more that I don’t know about. 

  • Orchard Road with it’s mega malls which seems to be the shopping hub of Singapore. This famous street is filled with all of the designer brands you would ever want. There are large department stores, tiny boutiques, beauty spas, hotels, restaurants and cafes. 
    Orchard Road
  •  Raffles City Shopping Center is an enormous shopping mall right in the center of the city’s Civic and Cultural Distric. Similar to Orchard Road, you will find all of the major brands and designers. The basement holds a very nice food court with affordable food after a long day shopping.
  • The Great Singapore Sale happens every summer from June to August. I have always been there during the famous sale which meant that I had to partake in the event.  “When in Rome……..”
  • Clarke Quay is a historical riverside area locate near the mouth of the Singapore River and Boat Quay. It is one of the top tourist spots in the area and boasts shopping the malls  and street stalls during the day and after hours there is the nightlife and late night shopping. I had some of the best satay ever while visiting Clarke Quay at night under the festive street lights.

Tourist/Sightseeing

Not only is there an incredibly large modern city with it’s skyscrapers and tourist attractions but tucked into the outlying neighborhoods are areas that are just as exciting to see. Personally I love to see the actual culture and day to day life rather than tourist attractions.

Some of my favorite cultural areas:

Chinatown:  This is such a contrast to the shopping malls and skyscrapers. I felt like I had just stepped into a Chinese bygone era.  Chinatown is filled with colorful red and gold temples, incense, food vendors with chickens and ducks hanging in the windows for the shoppers to purchase. ‘And the temples are amazing! There is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and the Temple of Heavenly Happiness, or Thian Hock Keng Temple. They are both very different but each is just as stunning as the next. 

And then the Chinatown Street Market with its chinese lanters strung along the street and shop owners peddling souvenirs and fresh fruit.  I was told by my hosts to never buy anything for the price listed. These peddlers are wanting to barter. For someone like me who isn’t used to haggling like that, it’s smart to take a local along so they can do it for you! 

Arab Town:

Walking down the main street we turned the corner onto Arab Street and Haji Lane and in the distance, soaring high above the shops and restaurants was the Masjid Sultan Mosque. The sight was stunning. We weaved our way through the crowds, past the colorful shops filled with Persian carpets and Arabian textiles and silks and stood in front of the amazing mosque. 

Little India

 

Little India:  As I explained before, this is one of my favorite places to stroll and people watch. I love the smells of curry and incense. The shops are filled with fun trinkets and sarongs and jewelry. But the most amazing are the Hindu Temples with their elaborately ornate structures. There is a calming sense of reverence as I walk through each of these temples.  There is the:

  • Ganesh Temple
  • Sri Srinivasa Temple
  • Sri Thendayuthapani Temple
  • Shree Lakshminarayan Temple
  • Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple

Anyone is welcome as long as you leave your shoes outside the door.  If you time it right you can be there for the vedic chants which are absolutely amazing. 

And then there are the large tourist attractions such as:

Sentosa Island

Sentosa Island, across the causeway. It is home to a swinging bridge that connects Palawan Beach to the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia. There is a cable car that takes visitors to the top of the Island where they get panoramic views of Sentosa and a view of Singapore.There are so many attractions on the island I couldn’t even attempt to list them all. It’s been a long time since I visited here. 

 

The Singapore Flyer

The Singapore Flyer, is a giant observation ferris wheel that offers breathtaking views of Singapore’s Marina Bay and beyond. The compartments are large and offer the option of sitting or walking around to get a 360 degree view of the city. 

The Merlion

The Merlion is the famous half-fish, half-lion that visitors can find at the Marina Bay waterfront among the sea of modern architecture.  This fountain sits in front of the Fullerton Hotel and looks out over Marina Bay. 

The Esplanade

Behind it sits the Esplanade, Theatres on the Bay.  This is an amazing piece of contemporary architecture that sits at the edge of the Singapore River and hosts events, concerts and performances. The building is known as being one of the busiest art centers in the world with approximately 3000 performances per year. It resembles a large durian. 

 Cute Phrases 

Some cute phrases and quirks of Singaporeans.   

  • “Car Park” instead of parking garage. 
  • Lift” instead of Elevator. 
  • Taking small packs of tissues EVERYWHERE.  They use them to save their seats at restaurant tables.  Also public restrooms do not provide toilet paper. You either bring your own tissues or buy a square from the attendant at the door.   
  • Ending sentences of excitement with “lah”.  Example “Let’s go lah” means “Hurry up, let’s go!”  I am guessing that the LAH is similar to a verbalized exclamation point!
  • Singlish is an informal, colloquial form of English that is used in Singapore.  Sometimes it’s very hard to understand a conversation, even though the locals are speaking English.  Here is an example:  “Wah this durian so shiok, best lah!”  could possibly mean “Wow, this durian is tasty, it’s awesome!” Or “Blur” usually means confused or slow to catch on. “Wah lau, why you so blur?”

A Place Worth Visiting

The memories of this beautiful country will remain in my heart forever. For those of you who long for a place with the hustle and bustle of a very contemporary, very clean Manhattan that is seeped in history, culture, diversity, traditions and surrounded by orchids and lush tropical plants, I highly recommend the visit. 

 

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