May 10, 2017
I was in Singapore for five days, four nights. For those of you who may not know, Singapore is a city-state, a country all its own but the size of a city. It’s a small island south of peninsular Malaysia, covering a tad over 700 km squared and with about 5.5 million people.
Interestingly, its official language is English but no one seems to speak it as a first language, so everyone’s got an accent. This is largely due to the population being divided into people of Chinese, Malay and Tamil descent, with their respective languages as their first. English is used as a sort of lingua franca left over from the British occupation.
It’s a wealthy country and it shows. It’s quite clean and much of it has been refurbished. The metro system there is ridiculously extensive. Walking for just twenty minutes you’ll easily pass three or four stations. It’s convenient, though, taking you nearly anywhere in the city. Oh, and one thing I’ve come to realize taking metro systems in Asia: Montreal’s metro system and stations is ugly as hell; it’s straight up embarrassing.
All that said, though Singapore is clean and well maintained, it also feels a tad sanitized, like a film set, and lacks real character. Compared to Bangkok, Singapore is absolutely sedate. There’s barely any traffic and a full day passed before I saw my first scooter! I hadn’t realized how used to Bangkok’s chaos I’d become. At times, the silence and space in Singapore felt a bit eerie. Chinatown, where I was staying, Little India and the Arab Quarter were a bit more lively but still pretty orderly in an odd way.
Singapore used to have a thriving street food scene, much like Bangkok’s, but in an effort to clear the sidewalks, the food stalls were moved into large indoor courtyards which feel like cafeterias. The food is fantastic and cheap, but you still feel like you’re eating in a converted parking garage or something. Ridiculously, it seems the powers that be in Bangkok want to follow SG’s lead, which would be a real shame.
So, Bangkok’s got Singapore beat where personality is concerned, but, oh man, it was nice to wander through nature and proper parks again, areas where SG absolutely excels! The Gardens by the Bay are legitimately impressive, filled with alien flower-type things called Super Trees that light up at night. The nearby Marina Bay Sands looks like something straight out of a science fiction movie, maybe a hotel built to house visiting dignitaries from the Death Star.
I also got to hike through one of the country’s nature reserves, jungle stretched around a large reservoir. Saw a few fearless monkeys and walked along a suspension bridge hanging about 30 meters over the jungle floor.
Oh, and I started every morning with a local specialty called kaya toast. It’s . . . not for everyone, but I thought it was a perfect way to start the day. Basically, it’s a pair of extremely runny eggs in a small dish to which you add soy sauce and a bit of pepper, then you stir it all together. You then use toast, spread with butter and kaya, which is a rather delicious sugary spread not unlike maple butter, and use it to scoop up the eggs. And it’s served with good, strong coffee. Apparently, the best place to get kaya toast is a specific branch of Ya Kun Kaya that’s been open since 1944, starting out as a simple coffee stall, and it was just minutes from my hotel in Chinatown!
The food overall was great, even if the atmosphere in the food centers was lacking, and one of the best places to get cheap local food was in Chinatown, so I often ended the day there, usually pairing my meal with a super expensive IPA at one of the two fancy beer stalls (the beers were fancy, the stalls were . . . stalls).
Chinatown was definitely the perfect place to base myself. It’s a lovely area and well connected to everything. I was even able to simply take the metro from the airport to my hotel and back, which was convenient. And it does have some character, especially at night, when old men gather by the food complex to gamble over indecipherable games and listen to Heart on the radio (they seem to really like Heart).
Anyway, so I now had a few days to plan my syllabus and do some lesson prep before classes started the following Monday.