How cool to know our way around, Tom said one night mid-trip as we walked back to our hotel in Singapore’s China Town.
We’d just passed a familiar Hindu temple – a steep pyramid of stacked statues, a pastel rainbow still eye-catching in the pitch of night – and rounded the very same corner, we realized, where a tree bearing strange green fruit shaped like big spiky balloons had caught our attention last fall.
Before taking another step, we shared a smile, surely sharing the same thought — We’re in Singapore?!
Just as we often remark on walks home from our little train station in Zushi — We live in Japan?! Even after almost two years our life here still often feels like a dream.
As did not just being in Singapore, but realizing we were nonchalantly walking its backstreets sans maps. Cool indeed. One of those moments you don’t mind lingering in for a while, would even lean back and put your feet up in, if you could. If only you could somehow capture not just that feeling of perfect bliss, but the sense of that time, that place, that spark of epiphany, breeze kissing summered skin, cheeks aching from the night’s laughter. As nostalgia for our time in Japan and exploring Asia has begun (even as we live out our final weeks here, me at home, Tom on the ship), there seem to be more and more moments like these.
I want a charm bracelet built of capsulated moments in Singapore alone –
On the metro when my Peace Boat students stumbled into a woman they’d taken a photo with previously that day, a reward for getting lost and being late back to the ship;
Three months later, the sound of Tom calling my name as I walked into a hotel followed by the look of surprise on his face, seeing me in the flesh for the first time in months;
The first sip of our cocktails whipped up by a gregarious bartender at a speakeasy style mixology bar we’d almost given up trying to find;
The scent of spices as thick in the air as the crowds in the streets of Little India, as we gorged on curries piled on banana leaves;
The chill that danced up my arms, propped on the edge of the world in Marina Bay Sands rooftop infinity pool.
And now, this corner. The spiky fruit. The cool breeze. Tom’s smile, soon to be another memory in my mind as he returned to the ship and I flew “home.”
Could you live here? he asked.
In 2009, when Tom’s first Navy orders displaced us from my beloved San Diego, to say that I was bitter would be an understatement. I never anticipated falling in love with Newport, Rhode Island. Never even considered visiting, let alone living in Japan. NEVER would I have foreseen myself pausing in awe at the crayon box of colored row houses just outside Singapore’s Chinatown, knowing the Navy base nearby made his question not entirely hypothetical, and not rolling my eyes but saying, with a tingle of excitement — Yah. That could be nice.
If You Go
Singapore is a glitzy metropolis where you can spoil yourself shopping couture on Orchard Road and drinking $20 cocktails at swanky bars or just as easily eat all three meals for less than that at the many hawker stalls serving up local and Malay delights, from the speciality of chicken and rice (a little plain for me) to spicy laksa noodle soup to chili crab and stingray. (Here’s a helpful guide.)
I enjoyed eating the traditional breakfast of soft boiled eggs and kaya (an eggy-coconutty jam) toast and a cup of strong, sweet kopi (Singapore’s coffee is strong and a regular cup is served with a dose of condensed milk. Here’s the NY Times article that enticed me to give the meal a try and a guide to ordering coffee at one of the many intimidatingly fast-paced cafes).
There are many touristy to-dos, but my two musts of that bunch would be visiting the Singapore Zoo (known for their work with endangered species) by day or on their Night Safari at night. You can also roam the forest of Super Trees in the gardens behind Marina Bay Sands by day, but I would recommend walking their canopy — a metal construction that feels less like the Eiffel Tower and more like walking through the jungles of Avatar’s Pandora — when brilliantly aglow by night. If you want to escape the city, go for a long walk or hike around MacRitchie Reservoir where you may just spot some fiesty wild monkeys.
By day, definitely explore Little India and China Town. My favorite place to window shop, though, on Arab Street (and those that run parallel), where you’ll surely work up an appetite for a mezze platte and cassis mint freeze at one of the many cafes near the mosque. Sit on the patio to nibble and people watch until your feet are ready to move you on to dinner.
Our favorite eats and drinks:
The Quays are nice to walk down when lit up at night and full of restaurants and bars. A new hip area with trendy eateries and bars is located near Outram Park Metro Station near Chinatown. We found the area last year when Louis, our favorite bartender at the Horse’s Mouth (then) and L’Aiglon (now), recommended getting a reservation at Burnt Ends, an Australian barbecue that serves up farm fresh fare (menu made daily) cooked right before your eyes. The narrow restaurant is nothing more than a long bar that overlooks the entirely open kitchen full of colorful fresh produce and the scent of meats grilling to perfection. An investment, both in financial terms and time and effort. Best to make a reservation for dinner as far in advance as possible, go in for lunch, or put your name on the dinner list around lunch time, and even then you may be waiting til long after 9pm for a seat.
If you don’t get into Burnt Ends, no worries. There are many places, from cheap and local to artsy to chic. Check out my write-ups on Potato Head Folk (a three-story burger joint with a quirky lounge bar upstairs), The Library, and The Study. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the area at the New Majestic Hotel, whose eclectic hotel rooms have various themes and features. We spent many an evening cooling off in our outdoor bathtub on our private patio.