Chasing Hemingway

Uniquely Singapore

So, those promised articles are still in the works, I assure you. But, in the meantime, I’m not going to stop updating about my continued travels.

I have so much more I could say about Bali (Why do they drive on the left side of the road? I think I really liked Ubud, in the end. Lovina was a total letdown. There are so many frickin dogs there! I finally pulled out the imaginary boyfriend card on the over-attentive men of Lovina and it was hilarious to watch them back off immediately. etc, etc, etc), but I’m no longer there, so those observations shall have to be made by someone else, some other time. I spent my last night in Sanur, as it was easier to get to the airport Saturday morning, and it, too, was a total letdown, except for the lovely cafe I found and my hotel/guesthouse/homestay place, where the family was totally sweet and friendly. Ended up having dinner with another guest there whom I’d met when I checked in, so it was nice to have someone else to talk to after a few days on my own.

And then it was off to the airport and Singapore! I spent way too many hours in the Denpasar airport – it’s probably the worst, most boring airport in the world – and wish I had been waiting in the Singapore airport – coolest airport in the world, I checked my email there after arriving because they have free kiosks with computers everywhere. Also, I flew Singapore Airlines there, and, seriously, awesome. I believe I forgot to mention before that my flight from Hong Kong to Bali on Cathay totally redeemed them for the poor trans-Pacific flight, so I thought it would be good to mention that now.

Now, I am in Singapore. I’ve been here for a little over a day, and I can categorically say that I love it!

Of the many things that I have learned – about myself and otherwise – thus far on this trip, it comes as no particular surprise to find my love of cities reinforced. I love cosmopolitanism, if one can say that. I love being surrounded by people of all sorts of backgrounds and interests, and Singapore in particular is the epitome of that. By definition, the people here are from very mixed backgrounds – even the ethnic group that technically pre-dates British colonialism here (Peranakan, I think it is) is a mixed race from when Chinese migrated here. As a woman I met at my hostel said, one of the cool things about Singapore is that you can look at each person you see and each one looks like they have a different ethnic background and you can try to figure out what combination it is. Everything here embodies this attitude of combination, most of all the food.

The food. Perhaps my Singaporean experience was tained because on the flight over I read a wonderful article in my Best American Travel Writing 2008 book about Singaporean street food, where the author spent his entire trip eating his way through Singapore with pretty much THE accepted expert on street food, or, as they call it here, hawker stalls (well, the street food is sold at hawker stalls, in hawker centres). Upon my arrival, I couldn’t wait to get started eating. Of course, starting the morning I left Bali, my stomach and my intestines starting acting up. This always happens when I travel – usually lasts for a week or so – and I’m actually rather surprised it took so long for it to set in this time, but it does mean that my body is “adjusting” to travel. But why now?? I could have dealt with it in Bali, where I had plenty of time to have the rather limited options of Balinese food; as we established, the Balinese don’t love food the way some cultures do. But, of course, Singapore is one of those food-loving cultures, and now I’m stuck here lusting after it, with my intenstines and stomach constantly reminding me that I really can’t eat it, particularly since so much of it is fried, which is pretty much the worst thing for me right now. And so I look at it all and pray that I’ll be better tomorrow when Michal gets here so we can eat our way through Singapore together.

Yes, that’s right, starting tomorrow, I am officially no longer a solo traveler! Although, it’s kind of funny, because now I’ve adjusted to it and am doing quite well. I realized this when I was in Lovina and had no problem being on my own, doing my own thing, etc. And then, I arrived in Singapore and found myself at my hostel – a friendly, lively place – in the common room, with a group of people hanging out and chatting on the other side of the room; I could have joined them, and a week or two ago, I would have rushed to, but the fact that I no longer felt the need to, the fact that I knew I just needed some me time and some space to do my own thing showed me how much I’ve adjusted and grown into this trip. I had originally intended to join a hostel-organized tour today – I think they bike around some of the city? – but realized last night that I wanted to go to museums and be on my own, and so that’s what I did and I had a lovely day. Strange how we grow and change, but it’s comforting. That said, I’m SO excited to see Mikey and to have a travel buddy!

Let’s get back to Singapore, though, because I’m dying to talk about it.

I started my morning with breakfast at the hostel with the cutest family ever; they’re this British couple with an adorable three-year-old daughter  who have always been travelers, and so now they’re just bringing their daughter along, which totally impressed me. They said it’s taken them three months to really get into a groove with it, but still, gives me hope that I can still travel once I have a family, which always seemed something slightly out of the realm of possibility. Anyway, they had lot of good advice about Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, and India, and I passed on info about Bali.

Next, I headed out into my lovely little neighborhood – it’s not in the middle of things, but it’s busy in its own way, and it’s a really cool ethnic mixture of primarily Peranakan and Muslim, in a classic Peranakan neighborhood (i.e. cute, colorful buildings) – and off to the super-convenient MTR to head downtown. I started on Orchard Road, the huge shopping district in Hong Kong, and I actually found myself at one point face-to-face with a CPK (California Pizza Kitchen, for those out of the loop), Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Starbucks, and 7/11, and began to wonder if I wasn’t secretly in LA… (To be fair, 7/11’s seem to be ubiquitous in Asia in a way that they aren’t even in the states.) I stopped off at a Borders to pick up a book I’ll tell you about later (I finished Love in the Time of Cholera, sadly! Loved it.), and then meandered all the way down to the National Museum of Singapore, stopping off once to pick up some gyoze-on-stick (their terms, not mine) and some sort of improved-on samosa thing (seriously awesome – they put a little hardboiled egg-white in it which was actually great).

The National Museum was really quite cool, if exhausting. They have some cool exhibits on food and fashion and photography, and then they have this huge history exhibit that walks you through the history of Singapore in great detail. It was so long and detailed that I couldn’t do it all because I was so tired (still not sleeping much, though now that I have air-con and no loud bugs and animals, I think I’ll start catching up on the  last two weeks of no sleep), but I really feel like I took a class on the history of Singapore, which was absolutely fascinating. I also have this huge thing for colonial history, particularly British, so I loved all that stuff. Dad, you would totally have loved this museum, by the way.

Next, I went across the street to the Singapore Art Museum, which was kind of a letdown. It was only a couple temporary exhibits, all of which were modern art, which I normally really like, but somehow I had trouble getting into these. Though, there was some cool German stuff from the 60’s and 70’s, and I kept thinking of my mom and wishing she were there, because she would have liked it. Anyway, for probably the first time in my life, I was arted out after about an hour.

I continued onward to the Raffles Hotel Complex, to give myself another dose of British colonialism. For those of you who’ve never heard of it (like myself before picking up a book on Singapore), the Raffles Hotel is pretty much the quintessential symbol of the romanticization of Southeast Asia and the Western presence here. At least, that’s how I interpret it for now. It started as a small place owned by four Armenian brothers who went on to own the three poshest hotels in Malaya in the late 19th century/early 20th. It quickly turned into the place to be for everyone passing through the area, lasting until probably the 1950’s or 60’s. I mean, they refurbished it in the late 80’s/early 90’s and now it’s definitely a great place to stay again, but it’s no long so emblematic and quintessential, I think. Anyway, everyone from Rudyard Kipling, to Charlie Chaplin, to W. Somerset Maugham, to Claudette Colbert, to later people I can no longer remember stayed there and partied there.

After wandering through the complex and the museum, I found myself at the famed Bar & Billiards Room for the high tea buffet. I pulled out W. Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, which I bought at Borders in honor of this leg of the trip, though neither did he write it here nor does it take place here, but it was cheaper and lighter than his collections of short stories about this region. In any case, I spent far too much time enjoying the ambiance and the food, before moving outside to one of the many courtyards to soak up more of the atmosphere and daydream about the days of British colonialism. While I am of course opposed to imperialism and colonialism on a political level, and for their sociological implications, etc, etc, I love what they do for art and the imagination. They inspire a romanticism of a place, which in turn inspires the imagination, resulting in interesting art and literature and new interpretations of experiences. Said would call this orientalism, but, well, I think his definition is used too broadly these days, and I don’t necessarily agree with everything put under that umbrella anyway. Another discussion for another time.

I continued onward from the Raffles past more colonial buildings (now the area of government buildings), over to the Singapore River and the Quays, which are quite commercialized, but definitely enjoyable for people-watching and finding a place to just chill out for a while.

One more thing before I go pass out: I was told that Singapore would be sterile. To everyone who told me that, I beg to differ. Yeah, maybe it’s safer than a lot of places, and slightly less grubby, but only the area around the government buildings has seemed potentially “sterile” to me, and that’s the same as around the government buildings in DC and Paris – I think that’s just a biproduct of those parts of cities, because of security. In any case, this is one of the things I really like about where my hostel is – it definitely feels like a safe area, but it’s certainly not a clean, sterile area. Singapore definitely has character, for all the government or anyone may try to squash it, intentionally or otherwise. Additionally, for a city where gum is illegal, I’ve seen a surprisingly large number of “gum stains” on the ground. You know what I’m talking about. It’s quite amusing.

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This entry was published on February 1, 2009 at 7:55 am. It’s filed under art, Bali, books, food, Singapore, travel and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “Uniquely Singapore

  1. Love it! I’m super jealous, this all sounds so wonderful :). Have a great time with Michal!

  2. Aunt Jan on said:

    Are you going to look up Mindy & Jonathan, your cousins who live in Singapore?

  3. Hey girl! SO SO fun to hear about your travels in a part of the world that is totally foreign to me! Incidentally, wtf about gum being illegal in Singapore? NOT my city, that’s for sure…:) Miss you lots, but it’s good that you’re finding your rhythm travelling! Lots of bisous!

  4. Aunt Jan – I did look up Mindy and John, but they’re actually out of town right now, unfortunately. Seems like they travel a lot.

  5. it’s been over a week! post more!

    (but i’m glad to see that you’re having too much fun to have time for the interwebs. i, on the other hand, am in desperate need of ways to distract myself from the enormous list of things i need to do…)

    hope all’s well! miss you!

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