Mirambling Muses: Singapore

Well that week pretty much flew by. It was so nice to catch up with my sister and just let my guard down and relax for a bit. We didn't have anything really specific planned beforehand, so I just kind of made things up as I went along. 

The typical Singapore tourist comes here for perpetual shopping trips, fancy hotels and/or cosmetic surgery. Therefore, I didn't notice a ton of backpackers and probably wouldn't have stopped here had my amazing sister not been here with a free place to stay. However, there is a ton of budget-friendly culture, fun and excitement to be had if you know where to look.

Here are my highlights:

Red Dot Design Center

If you're a design geek like me, you have to visit the Red Dot Design Museum. It's a bright red building on the outskirts of Chinatown and it's full of all kinds of innovative and modern design including industrial, product, packaging and concept. There are lots of interactive iPad displays and you can touch and play with everything! There's some neat stuff in the shop as well. I picked up a couple letterpress postcards and seriously considered a recycled vinyl laptop sleeve. Learn more about Red Dot and their international Design Awards here


Of the designated traditional ethnic areas, Chinatown was the most fun. The streets are lined with lanterns small shops selling everything from silk robes to custom cut paper portraits and any & all kinds of Singapore and traditional Chinese souvenirs. And there is also no shortage of meal options. You'll find fresh produce (including the spiky, stinky-foot-smelling fruit, Durian) street food vendors and more traditional restaurants. I'm quite sure I need to start employing a food chaperone that is more familiar with these exotic foods, because I've made some regrettable decisions. The most memorable being a delicious-looking mountain of rainbow snow cone bliss, which turned out to be more like miscellaneous, dessert nachos. The base was beans, mystery jelly and pieces of mangosteen supporting an odd-tasting assortment of flavored ice and then topped with creamed corn. Taste, texture, everything, was just weird. 

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a must-see with its colorful, ornate decor and literally hundreds of statues and I was quite surprised to see people square dancing (to modern, English pop music, no less) near the Chinatown Complex. 

Gardens by the Bay 

These giant greenhouse gardens are located in the shadow of the huge and hideous (IMO) Marina Bay Sands Hotel. There are actually two Gardens by the Bay, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. Jamie and I opted to only do one as we were short on time and didn't want to pay double the cost. The cloud forest was a nice respite from the city summer heat and we walked past the waterfalls, up the ramps, around the top and back down to the educational area. The flora was immaculately maintained and they even used misters to simulate foggy clouds. At the end, there is a dark room full of colorful, projected info graphics that educate you about the environment and it's biggest threats and you end by watching a short doomsday video about climate change where they describe a dying earth over the next hundred years. Then they rewind and give you hope again saying all that can be avoided if we take action today. They're preaching to the choir with regards to me and my sister but I hope it had an impact on everyone else passing through. This time, I didn't mind exiting through the gift shop because they had a bunch of awesome & eco-friendly stuff. I found some beautiful post cards designed by Peranakan Inspirations as well as this awesome little travel backpack that folds up into a small pouch. 

And I can't forget the super trees! They are these hybrid plant/solar structures that stand about 16 stories tall and collect solar energy so they can light up at night so they're self-sustaining. And the look pretty cool too. 

Street Art

I found the biggest concentration of street art in the Malay/Muslim district on Haji Lane. While admiring the incredible colors & designs, I turned the corner and found a group of  girls with American accents doing inversions in front of one of the murals. Turns out, one of them is kind of a big deal and teaches all over Asia but is based in Sinapore. Marysia invited me to one of her classes at Pure Yoga and I enthusiastically accepted her offer. I actually ended up doing two classes in a row the following morning; first a moderate Hatha class followed by a class called Upside Down, which is the hardest class I’ve ever attempted. The main focus was handstands and arm balances. I got a ton of tips from both Marysia and a pretty petite yet bad ass yogi next to me named Sen. The poses seemed almost effortless for her and she had short black hair with blonde streaks and an asian/egyptian pair of eyes tattooed at the base of her neck that stared at me everytime we posed facing the left wall. I was so satisfied with and grateful for the classes and really feel like I made significant progress in my practice. 


Public transportation is plentiful and my sister and I took trains, busses, Uber and cabs. My biggest gripe is that stamps and letter boxes are nearly impossible to find here. 

Singapore & Supertasting

So here's my first impression of Singapore so far. It's pretty much one big urban sprawl of glass and concrete as far and wide as the eye can see. There is no shortage of shopping as you have multiple, giant mazes of air-conditioned malls to choose from, spanning the spectrum of retail; everything from Forever XXI to Armani Exchange. The streets are full of speeding cars and taxis and while there is public transportation, it seems to be underutilized. It's also an interesting feeling to be the ethnic minority as Singapore is mostly made up of Chinese, Indian & Southeast Asian inhabitants. It's not really intimidating though, because almost everyone speaks English and there are enough Europeans and Ex-pats around that my sister and I aren't much of a novelty. 

There are some green spaces that serve as a respite from the industrial landscape, which I have yet to visit but am looking forward to. The city is pretty modern with a few strict rules like imprisonment for chewing gum and the death penalty for trafficking drugs.

Death to drug traffickers

Death to drug traffickers

(However, I find it ironic that they don't want drugs and gum littering their streets yet a ton of people smoke and there doesn't seem to be much consequence for stray cigarette butts.) I love the architectural and cultural diversity as you can see Sikh temples and Buddhist temples and Catholic Churches all within a few blocks of each other and according to my Uber driver at least, everyone is pretty tolerant of each other. For such a modern city, I haven't noticed a ton of recycling, but I do like that all of the restaurants (except the American fast food joints which we avoid, of course) use metal utensils and real, washable dishes. 

I flew from Cairns to Darwin to Singapore and Jamie met me at the airport. I'm incredibly thankful that I get to stay at her flat for a few days and I even get my own bed since her roommates went back to Switzerland. My fist meal was at a Hawker Center, which is basically a Pan-Asian food court on steroids. Think of the foodcourt in your local mall, then dim the lights, double the amount of people and triple the overall size. 

There was little English and even fewer vegetarian options, but I found a cool little spot where you use tongs to fill a metal bowl with fresh, raw veggies and protein of your choice before they weigh and cook it. The cashier asked me two questions: soup or dry and spicy or not spicy. I very clearly said dry and not spicy but they took the liberty of adding peanuts, a not-at-all-mild sauce, chunks of red chili pepper and cilantro to my bowl during the cooking process. Gag. 

Hawker Center = Singapore food court

Hawker Center = Singapore food court

Notice that nothing is labeled

Notice that nothing is labeled

OK I'll admit to being a bit of a picky eater - but now I can prove it's genetic and there's nothing I can do about it! I hate cilantro because I have this recessive gene that makes cilantro taste like soap. Seriously, it's science. And my sister has suspicions that I might be a supertaster after she stumbled across some research about it so I investigated further and now I'm 99% sure I am.

About 25% of Americans are supertasters, which means we have an abnormal amount of tastebuds and are far more sensitive to taste. Particularly the bitter stuff like coffee, beer, grapefruit, dark chocolate etc, which are all things I find repulsive. We also tend to avoid really fatty foods which would also explain why I don't like meat or things smothered in cheese. More intense taste also means that I have a lower threshold for spices so a dish that may tingle someone else's tongue will set my mouth on fire. And as much as I hate bitter food, I alternatively love the sweet stuff. Even as a baby, my mom said the only baby food I liked was carrots and sweet potatoes; so much so that I actually turned orange. It all makes sense now! See, mom, green beans really do taste like anger and misery if you're a supertaster! 
(Sources: WSJ, Supertaster Labs, Wikipedia

So back to my first meal at the hawker which turned out to be burn-your-face-off spicy. I could barely eat it so my sister took on some of the torturous food as well. After that, we planned the rest of our meals a little more carefully. We went grocery shopping and have cooked a few meals at home, paired with white wine, which is hella expensive. It's hard to find anything under $25 per bottle - even the Australian Yellowtail costs over double what it does in the US - which is about as close to local as you can get here.

When dining out, we had an amazing soup and salad lunch in Chinatown and a delicious dinner in Little India. We're still not sure exactly what we ate at a place called Komala Vilas but I wasn't particularly worried because the menu was all vegetarian. Our food was served on Cafetaria style metal trays and Jamie's involved some kind of Briyani rice with lots of side dishes, I had a Masala Dosai which was kind of like an Indian burrito and that radioactive-Pepto-Bismol colored beverage was rose milk. Mmmm, flower flavor! (We asked for tap water because its totally safe to drink here but he brought us a bottle instead.) We were definitely both full for just $16.90 SGD ($12.50 USD). Then we spent the rest of the night wandering around Little India, taking in all the exotic sights, sounds and smells before cabbing it back to the flat. 

Legit Indian Food

Legit Indian Food

Statues for sale in Little India

Statues for sale in Little India

Another highlight so far was a free concert by the Victoria Alumni Chinese Orchestra that was part of Singapore's Festival of Biodiversity which we discovered accidentally, but enjoyed for sure because the Chinese instruments gave it that twangy, distinctly Eastern sound. My sister and I also have a tradition of getting a manicure and/or pedicure together so we continued that legacy as well with an Express (no spa stuff and cheaper price) to freshen up our feet.