I used to visit Singapore often as a kid as we visited my Aunt who lived here. I had fond memories strolling with my cousin to a nearby arcade getting Archie comic books at the used book store, and having my favorite paddle pops. (4 a day!! For a kid that was like the Best-est holiday!)
Although unicorns weren’t quite a thing then, I guess all kids subconsciously have a love for the magical unicorn colors [Enter Agnes in Despicable Me]
There were fond memories of fresh chicken satays barbequed atop of smokey barbeque stoves. Teppanyaki lunches where we’d retire to the living room area for tea and ice-cream after the meal. And jumping off three-meter high diving boards (my first) at some club swimming pool.
New Singapore Explorations
I am here again to explore. This time, with over three decades of travels and life experiences with me.
Instead of paddle pops, I’m having Hokkaido affogato soft-serve at Don Don Donki food court. As suppose to neighbor’s grilled satays, I’m invited to Po at the boutique heritage Warehouse Hotel by Lo & Behold. My friend recommended her favorite duck pie tee (minced fragrant fillings served in semi-tall canapé cups, a local snack) and Popiah (think DIY Asian burritos).
For a place sleek like Po’s, the sight of children and toddlers would be mostly unheard-of in Hong Kong. And men in sandals? Would also be highly unlikely. Yet, there they were jovially enjoying a dinner that evening.
Singapore has a more relaxed vibe than where I come from – Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong. The blue skies, greeneries and space surely helps. People seem to live well – and keep their weekends to recoup and enjoy, not pushing to party hard so much. Perhaps there is more interest in keeping fit, building muscles instead.
I was recently asked quizzically, “Why aren’t you a member of a gym or yoga studio?” Quizzically, “Oh should I be? I mostly go walk outdoors or hike. And I found a place with rooftop sunset yoga which has been quite special doing yoga under the unfettered skies.
Nature and Hiking in Singapore
With Meetups and apps like Moov, Singapore is super easy to get around and to explore.
Bukit Batok: Excellent for some myself time in nature
Just a short bus hop from the Botanic Gardens, the Coconut Hill is a lovely place for a quiet 2-hour stroll and respite. Start your day off with a hearty brunch by the Botanic Gardens or walk down the road a little to Atlas Coffeehouse. Quite a few people came on their own, to spend sometime in nature and have a quiet walk. There were plenty little creatures, bugs, and plants to color the walk. It was especially enjoyable to sit by the lake and watch coloured (i.e. male) dragonflies dance about, and to try (for the first time) to walk the pebble garden.
Shoes off, I walked on the sun-heated pebbles. And surely there was a reason why the Chinese designed such “contraptions’ for well-being. Our feet has reflex points of our body. (Cue reflexology for health and well-being) To my surprise, within minutes of stepping onto the sun-heated pebble park, some parts of my feet felt sore, and what surprised me most was how my digestive system immediately started MOVING! It was that effective! The heat on the stones surely did help. Some kids were on their scooters while their Dad jogged. Others played on the exercise plants while their Dad worked out.
I started my stroll going up a long flight of wide stairs. A former Shinto shrine stood atop of that hill where an Antenna Tower now stands. During the Japanese occupation (1942-45), the place was built to commemorate Japanese soldiers lost during the war. A couple years later, a wooden cross was put up behind the shrine to commemorate the Australians and other POW that fell.
When the Japanese left, they made sure to tear down the Shrine, rather than leaving it to the British to do so. Now the Ford Factory Museum in the area serves to present and record the history of the place during the occupation.
Thanks to Meetup, I joined this hiking group on a guided hike of Chestnut Hill. As we began, I thought, “This feels like going on a demonstration like we do in Hong Kong! With a massive turnout of at least 100 people. We hiked, we walked together. We listened to the guide tell us about a hidden tomb of a Chinese businessman and his five wives buried there, and why on certain graves, the unusual character* of Water and Moon is found on the graves.
We looked out for rubber tree seeds and the shells of seeds which could make excellent Futaoki (Lid rest of the metal pot) in Japanese tea ceremony [enter photos of rubber plant and possible futaoki] Post-hike, there was the option to grab local grub at the neighborhood hawker centre. I met a lovely mom and daughter duo who had lived in Dubai for eight years during the hike and thoroughly enjoyed the meandering paths and having to haul myself/get hauled up from public water facilities. Great team effort!
Planning To Hit These Up in Singapore
- The Peranakan Museum I am really looking forward to visiting as it re-opens after a refurbishment. The Peranakan culture is unique to Singapore and the joyful and vibrant colors of their ceramics makes me want to find out more. https://www.nhb.gov.sg/peranakanmuseum/
- Haw Par Villa – I didn’t get to visit the one in Hong Kong before it got torn down to make way for new residential property. I was told in the Hong Kong one, the founders of the Tiger Balm built these reliefs in the pagodas depicting the many levels of Hell. The pictorial stories serve to “educate” the masses, which had little entertainment options then, to be reminded to “Be good.” I was surprised that there was one running “amusement park”of the Haw Par Villa here in Singapore. Their family and the business really exemplifies the Chinese diaspora in the latter half of the 20th century – where trade and travels between Hong Kong and South East Asia was prevalent. https://www.hawparvilla.sg
- Jurong Bird Park – it comes recommended by a friend whose family member is a registered guide for birds. Singapore Bird Park has some rare breeds including the blue macaw (wonderfully majestic blue color) and the Philippine Eagle on loan from The Philippines for “safe keeping.” I’ve noticed some cool birds so far – lots of cadmium yellow-beaked black birds called the myna, and in a museum a sample of “Birds of Paradise,” which has a rich history unto itself. https://www.wrs.com.sg/en/jurong-bird-park.html
- Did you know, a museum in Singapore hosts awesome monthly weekend activities for kids (and adults coz I thoroughly enjoyed it too) – complete with story-telling of local folklore, a fun informative guided tour, and hands-on craft activity.
- Did you know that there are four official languages in Singapore? You see them in the subways. Which are they? When did it begin?
- Do you know about NS in Singapore? National Service is a requirement for all men. I’ve spoken to a couple moms about it – guess what they think?
- Do you know what I find really expensive in Singapore?
- Do you know about the Singapore grannies?
- Did you know Singapore launched a cash-free initiative that traces back to 1985?
Answers to Singapore Trivia
#1: The Malay Heritage Centre hosts them. I attended two – the first time, we listened to a story of the Mousedeer that outsmarts the Monkey, and the second time, we heard the story of the alligator and made our own too using cloves and a wooden clothes peg! See “Tales from the Nusantara” at https://www.malayheritage.org.sg/en/whats-on/programmes (Nusantara is the Indonesian/Malay name of Maritime Southeast Asia. I was surprised to hear an Indonesia story at the Malay Heritage centre, and upon asking, I was told that Indonesia & Malaysia are all part of Nusantara)
#2: On a tour of heritage buildings, we visited the Old Parliamentary House that the founding fathers met to hash out the future of the country. We were shown the seat of Lee Kwan Yew and also that on the sideboard of each seat, is a knob where one can turn to select one of the four official languages through their headset: English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil.
#3: In university, there were classmates of mine that went through National Service in Taiwan or Singapore. Then, my general impression was that National Service was a drain on these young men’s precious time because they generally graduated from university and joined the workforce later than men of other countries – seemingly giving them a slow start to the “rat race.”
What was surprising to discover however, was the moms’ perspective. One of the moms raved about how NS training has made her son (who recently gone through the NS training) much more disciplined. Not only did he come home to cook for the family on weekends, he just matured up overnight.
Another mom, reckons that by having the boys go to NS from 18 to 20, it would delay their exposure to binge drinking, drugs and all sorts of destructive behaviours because the frontal cortex isn’t properly linked to the other areas of the brain until around age 21. The science is from the book The Teenage Brain, the conjecture and connecting the dots her own.
So by the time the boys have gone through the discipline and training of NS, it actually puts these young men at an advantage – they are in a better mind-state and maturity to get the most out of their university experience. And – it may in fact translate to better outcomes too that lasts the lifetime beyond school. In Singapore, all men post-NS have to pass annual physical tests and serve yearly up to age 40! What a way for a country to keep its people fit and healthy!
#4: Alcohol. Occasionally, I’d like to have a highball. I would grab a can of suntory highball from sogo in HK and enjoy it over dinner or post dinner. The same canned high-ball is almost double the price in Singapore! So my local friend’s tip is to drink mostly at home and order deals from her “wine guy.”
#5: The Singapore grannies – I see them at various posts – at the MRT stations, at McDonalds managing the upkeep of the place, and at the Supermarket check-out counters. They are a gentle and generally friendly bunch. As I carry a smallish cloth bag to hold loose groceries like apples, peppers, the grannies oft like ask curiously and cutely, “Did you sew this yourself?” To which I reply, “oh haha, I actually got it at a TCM clinic” (I had thought wouldn’t it be cool to make a lot of these bags that people could use at fruit stalls in lieu of plastic bags. At the McDonalds, one of the grannies asked, “Oh you couldn’t finish the drink?” with a kind smile. “Oh, it was too sweet for me.”
#6: Singapore started a drive to cash-free society in the early 1980s. (https://www.nets.com.sg/about/milestones/) Here we can pay cab rides, get food delivery, subway tickets – almost everything on a card. With the exception of smaller stalls at hawker centres and some smaller restaurants, but even there those might be able to take Grab Pay (which is an app that provides Uber-like car services and food delivery)
So there you have it. Where My Heart Leads in Singapore.
- 㳉: The water radical on the left, comes from half of the word 清 of Qing Dynasty. The moon radical on the right, comes from half of the word 明 of the second to last dynasty. The point of melding these two – legend has it, is because those who left their country to farther shores like Singapore want to remember that whilst they are living in the Qing Dynasty, their heart is with the Ming. The Ming dynasty was ruled by Chinese, whilst China’s last dynasty was ruled by foreign northerners. A show of allegiance.
Photocredit: @Sotheby’s website.