📅 April 2018
♬ Rev, by Eveningland (licensed under CC BY 2.0, sourced from YouTube Music Library)
🎥 GoPro Hero 5 & iPhone 6, edited with iMovie
The city-state of Singapore is often referred to as “fine city”, which has a double meaning. Well-known for its low crime rate and impeccable cleanliness, there is also a list of rules that will get you into a whole heap of trouble if you step out of line. You can get fined for anything from chewing gum, to jaywalking, littering, eating or drinking on the subway, spitting in public, not flushing a toilet, or feeding the pigeons. While I’m not sure how walking around your own house naked is a public offence (which will get you a S$1,000 penalty, potential pornography charges and jail time), there’s good reason behind all the restrictions: it’s a damn fine city, due in part to the (sometimes seemingly absurd) rules that they enforce.
I arrived in Singapore to kick off this little adventure, feeling ultra wired and aching after the long haul flight from South Africa. Singapore airport is spotless and easy to navigate, immigration is super chilled and efficient, and it took all of 10 minutes to get through processing and baggage collection. I made my way through to the taxi queue and was speedily ushered into the next available car by a super friendly attendant, and spent the 20 minute ride to Yishun suburb in the northeastern corner of Singapore listening intently to my instantly engaging third-generation Singaporean taxi driver imbue countless interesting titbits about the demographics of religion and culture found here. Once he’d gleaned my intentions for this trip, he seemed to take it upon himself to prepare me with as much information as he could possibly muster, warning me to be extra vigilant once I left the safety of his fine city to explore the rest of Asia over the coming months.
He went on to explain how government apartments are leased to locals, and how to tell the difference between them and private apartment blocks; he explained the demographic of people and how allocations in those blocks encourage interaction and tolerance between the varied races and cultures that populate the city. It was like having my own personal Wikipedia source showing me around town. As I stared out the window, it didn’t feel at all like I was on the other side of the world; I felt like I was driving through the lush green suburbs of Cape Town.
I was staying with an old friend from high school who lives and works in Singapore, who proved herself to be the world’s BEST tour guide, and over the course of my brief stay spoilt me beyond words to the most incredible adventure exploring the city, with some absolute gems that I never would have come across if I had been on my own. Another plus is that I didn’t have to research, plan or figure anything out for myself. Win!
Staying at her condo, I was treated to an awesome view over a lakeside golf course, with the cityscape of downtown Singapore on the not-too-distant horizon, and one of the biggest pools I’ve ever seen enticing me from the balcony. One of the things that I loved about staying there (aside from catching up with one of my dearest friends after too many years) is that I was able to get a feel for suburb life and not only spend all my time in the city itself.
My first experience of local food was at the hawker centre across the road from the condo. In all honesty, I’ve never really been a fan of Asian food and have been a little apprehensive about enduring 6 months with unhappy tastebuds, but my first authentic local meal of roast duck noodles, wanton soup and chicken pau was delicious, and I think I may just survive this journey well-fed afterall.
Surprisingly enough, I’m not completely sucking at chopsticks either, which I always have done. Maybe it’s something in the air that automatically makes you a chopstick ninja.
Something you’ll notice straight away is the free bicycles everywhere… not just downtown, but also on every corner throughout the outlying suburbs. All you need is an app to unlock the bike and you can pedal about your business freely, and then leave it wherever you land up for the next person to claim. You heard me say “FREE” bicycles, right? Genius! They’re branded with a “Share More, Consume Less” tagline, which says it all.
I do feel like I cheated. Starting this adventure off in Singapore, which has completely blown my mind with its sights, sounds, authenticity and innovative splendour, I was treated to West End theatre, taken to exclusive nightclubs on high rise rooftops, sipped custom cocktails concoted with the most impeccable theatrical care in tucked away hideouts that you would completely miss if you didn’t have the inside scoop, and aside from a few local food experiences, I predominantly munched down on scrumptious burgers, pizza, cheese platters and steaks in classy bayside or downtown restaurants with a side of bubbles or red wine. This is not the virgin intro to South East Asia that I was expecting or preparing myself for.
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”, based on the novel by Mark Haddon and winner of 5 Tony Awards and 7 Olivier awards, was one of the most incredible pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen, and an incredibly thought-provoking and dazzlingly inventive mix of digital theatre that was impeccably delivered by the cast, and in particular the lead actor. It was showing at the Esplanade Theatre on the Bay, which is an impressive piece of architectural art in and of itself, and the lush red theatre made me miss being on stage. I love spaces like this. I haven’t seen theatre so exquisitely executed in years, and it was an absolute delight!
Over the course of two days, I was whisked around downtown Singapore, utterly spell-bound by its eclectic charm. This city – everything about it – just works so seamlessly, and I found myself constantly thinking that I’d entered another realm of existence. The juxtaposition of diverse cultures with modern city life is so tastefully and authentically intertwined here that it feels other-worldly, but in the most natural way – like it should be.
Walking through Little India, the immersion into this cultural warp is instant as you’re surrounded by the language, colours and smells of India right in the heart of the city. Then you cross the road into the Arab Quarter, a mix of grand mosques, Turkish restaurants, and quaint little stalls, punctuated by palm trees and high rise buildings towering above. Hidden away in the heart of this district is Haji Lane, with its graffiti lined walls, hidden side roads and avant-garde shops and restaurants, set in stark contrast to the gleaming modernity that towers around its frame.
If I wasn’t being shown around by an expat, I would never have noticed “Bar Stories”, an unassuming little loft bar hidden up a small set of stairs that serves some of the most exquisite custom cocktails I’ve ever had the pleasure of consuming. There is no menu; every cocktail is custom made based on what you tell the barman, who takes his time concocting a sensory experience and makes a dazzling show in both the creation and presentation. Go there!
Moving on to Orchard Road, Asia’s most famous 2,2km shopping street in the heart of central downtown is a lavishly designed metropolitan, flanked with iconic retail stores and overwhelming modern architecture. I’ve never enjoyed photographing buildings, but when you’re surrounded by this much awesome everywhere you look, it’s impossible not to snap every angle of every corner to try and take it all in. You get very quickly lost (even with your own local guide) in the underground maze of tunnels, stores and restaurants that you’ll also find filling up a whole 3 storeys BELOW the famous shopping belt.
A little further south is Chinatown where I strolled through the beautifully maintained sidewalks lined with artfully decorated storefronts, briefly stopping to watch the old men playing what looked like very competitive checkers in the square, before marvelling at the remarkable four-story Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum that rises up in the heart of the district. I love these buildings with their red and black (my favourite colours) ornate design. I didn’t have time to go inside (and wasn’t appropriately dressed at the time anyway), but there will be many more temples in my near future and I was more than happy to just stand outside in awe for a while.
The absolute best spot for sunset is from the rooftop of Marina Bay Sands on the 57th floor, overlooking the bay and downtown Singapore. The wildly impressive casino property, which was billed as the world’s most expensive standalone casino resort in the world at its opening in 2010 (S$8 billion), towers over the bay on one side, with the Gardens and harbour on the other. I did manage to have a quick look at the casino itself, and it’s mind-boggling!
The best seat in the house is at Lavo… unless of course you can afford to actually stay at Marina Bay Sands and get access to the oh-so-fancy infinity pool in the very centre of the 340 meter long sky park… maybe one day when I’m all grown up. If you do go to Lavo for sunset, make sure you get there a little early (at around 5pm) to claim the corner table with couches (like we did), and you’ll be the absolute envy of the masses that ascend the tower for the best skyline view in town.
One thing I didn’t get a chance to do during the day was stroll through Gardens By The Bay (although I’m hoping to stop by Singapore again on my way home at the end of the trip), but I did visit them at night when they were all lit up.
I had randomly watched a documentary about Gardens By The Bay last year and was blown away, not only by how epic the design is, but by the principles of environmental sustainability that they’re built on. I honestly didn’t think I’d ever see them, but subconsciously added them to my bucket list anyway, and as I walked through the glittering trees, I grinned at the realisation that I’m currently exploring a completely different solar system that I never imagined visiting. In all honesty, the music and “light show” was a little disappointing, but it was spectacular to see the trees in real life.
The light show that you definitely shouldn’t miss is on the bay directly in front of Marina Bay Sands, with a few shows during the course of the evening. As you can see in the video, it’s absolutely awesome!
If you go to Singapore, you have to try a Singapore Sling; it’s tradition. I was originally planning on doing that at Raffles, which claims the Sling’s origin in 1915, but instead I was taken to 1-Altitude, which asserts to being the highest alfresco bar in the world, towering over the city at 282 metres (63 floors), and has a spectacular 360° view of the city. If you’re going to do something, go all out, right?! I’ll let the video do most of the talking for this particular experience, but I will say that I felt like I was in another dimension entirely. This ultra classy open air nightclub perched on its tree-lined rooftop with a skilled DJ pumping epic tunes, serves up super yummy Slings and the views truly are spectacular (although you lose perspective of just how high up you are when you’re up that high). On our way out, we also stopped in at Altimate on level 61, and it was so refreshing to be surrounded by people who weren’t falling all over each other (because that simply doesn’t happen in Singapore), and were just there to have a good time and dance to some pumping tunes… and oh how they danced!
Everything in Singapore is executed with tasteful precision on the grandest scale, and you can’t deny that, for all their rules, Singapore is doing something very right. I wasn’t the least bit affected by having to observe a few little restrictions and found it refreshing to be in a place that was so respectfully mindful and grown up. I simply loved how seamlessly everything blends together, as the sights, sounds and cultures spill over each other to create this intriguing modern jungle that has totally stolen my heart.
Thank you, Fine City, I will most certainly be back!