That last September trip left me wondering if there was more soul to Singapore – or if there was any for that matter. But I didn’t think much about when I would find out more about it, especially not after spending three months in Sydney earlier this year. I don’t think I need to play the comparison game between the two cities to explain why.
Sometimes in late June, my friend FinallyWoken texted me and asked if I would like to join her in Singapore for a night in Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
Suddenly, I have a reason to visit Singapore. Well, a few reasons actually.
The prospect of catching up with her, and then another person (who made me want to write and capture images better), was very appealing. The idea of just hanging out with people who are good conversationalist was enough to make me want to travel across the strait.
Then there was that – my curiosity about Singapore coupled with my longing for leisurely walking in parks and sitting in museums and art galleries. In a way, I think I was missing my time in Sydney doing all those things, and Singapore was a close one to make up for it.
Marina Bay Sands (MBS): Gardens by The Bay and Andy Warhol Exhibition
FinallyWoken was down with a cold when she arrived that afternoon, poor girl. After talking to her for an hour or so, I left her to rest and went on my own to explore what was on around the Marina Bay Sands.
The MBS resort gives you a sense of overwhelming space that mega-buildings intend to have you experienced. Here’s a description of the S$8billion development, with enough numbers to make your head spin.
“The resort features a 2,561-room hotel, a 1,300,000 square foot convention-exhibition centre, the 800,000 square foot mall, an iconic ArtScience museum, two large theatres, seven “celebrity chef” restaurants, two floating Crystal Pavilions, an ice skating rink, and the world’s largest atrium casino with 500 tables and 1,600 slot machines.” (Source: Wikipedia)
Well, add to that the new “Gardens by the Bay“, located across the MBS complex. This latest mega-attraction to Singapore that sprawls across 101 ha (250 acres) of reclaimed land took 7 years in the making with a cost of S$1billion. I guess when it comes to development around the Marina Bay area, no expense was spared.
The first thing you notice immediately from this super garden is the supertrees, 18 of them sticking up above everything else at a height ranging from 25 meters to 50 metres. Those supertrees happened to be the view from our hotel suite. This massive gardens complex offers a range of attractions, including The Flower Dome showcasing hundreds of plants from all over the world.
I came in the late afternoon and had no intention other than taking a leisure walk around the gardens – not quite the whole 101 ha of it, but just a tiny fraction of it through the Heritage Gardens, made up of the Chinese, Malay and Indian themed gardens. While I like pretty things and green space, I don’t think I was so inclined to learn about the horticulture that was available there.
I spent a lot of time stopping and taking in the views around me, including this pretty sight of the Singapore Flyer reflected on one of the man-made lakes on the site. One could possibly mistaken this scenery as the gray London with its own London Eyes and Thames River.
As I walked hurriedly across the bridge, back to Marina Bay Sands after the sun went down, I felt the spit of rain on me. The weather was not the best that day. With a couple of hours before the ArtScience Museum close for the night, I decided to check out the “Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal” exhibition. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside, but what I can tell you is this – if you ever get the chance to visit any of his exhibition, just do it. Especially if you love anything quirky and of pop-art. This was the largest exhibition of his work ever held in Singapore. I lost count at how many times I gasped and wowed at the sight of his creations, be them the paintings, including those of the celebrities (Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and more), the drawings of the shoes he designed, including the shoes being displayed; or that Silver Factory exhibit, a replica of his studio in New York, where everything was covered in tin foil and silver paint.
FinallyWoken and I parted just after lunch the next day, after we lazed around in the hotel suite the whole morning, skipping the MBS SkyPark for the next time we both feel like it, and preferably without the cold. The adventure on day two started that afternoon when I met Tetanus (“T”) a director, writer and photographer who lives in Singapore, whom I have become acquainted through his blog. I had told him I wanted to check out the museums in Singapore, which friends have been raving about, for they are known as some of the best ones in Asia; he was happy to play host that day.
I wasn’t fussed as to which museum we were going to, since I have never been to any of them. The MINT Museums of Toys was the first one we went to and it was a fun trip down memory lane seeing some of the characters I grew up with as a child. After all, MINT is an acronym for Moments of Imagination of Nostalgia with Toys. The first of its kind, the MINT Museums of Toys exhibits an impressive private collection of vintage toys – owned by Mr Chang Yang Fa, a Singapore citizen – that includes rare and unique one of a kind toys, collected from around the world. Over 50,000 pieces of toys are displayed over the five floors of this establishment.
Given its proximity to other museums we hopped across to Singapore Art Museum (SAM) for a quick look around to see what exhibition was on, before we decided it was probably better off to check out the National Museum of Singapore. (I’ll save SAM for my next visit to Singapore).
I was first and foremost impressed with the museum’s architecture.
Housed in a grand colonial building The National Museum of Singapore is impressive both on the interior and exterior. Celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2012, it is one of the most notable museums in Singapore exhibiting all elements of the history on Singapore. Many of the permanent exhibitions have free admissions (during specific times of the day). We went to two of the four Living Galleries; Photography and Food. The other two are Fashion and Film & Wayang (“Wayang” is a Malay word for puppets).
The Photography Living Gallery showcases the history of Singapore through portraits of Singaporean families over 100 years, showing a glimpse of their lives, touching on the many social issues faced by the families, including one openly acknowledging the practice of polygamy.
The Food Living Gallery exhibits the many traditional food of Singapore and the stories behind them, including some quirky displays of the artifacts. I think it was at this point we started talking about noodles, including one that T grew up with, and we became hungry. Yet it was a little too early for dinner.
I took this shot as we walked around the museum district on our way to a lomography shop before we headed out to dinner; the light was just pretty.
I was at the mercy of my host who took me out to dinner, all the way to the other side of town, to the Eastern area that is Changi. Within half an hour in a taxi traversing through the city, the scenery changed from what was the concrete jungle of metropolitan Singapore to what felt like, a middle of nowhere. We arrived at a restaurant called The Coastal Settlement, a wonderful establishment with its rustic charm stemmed from the vintage and wooden furniture decor, surrounded by gardens and large trees. Add to that, the loud sound of crickets that came after the brief downpour while we were there; I almost forgot I was in Singapore.
The food was delicious – oh the truffle fries! I can still taste them to this day – the beer that washed them down was tasty, and the company was even better.
(Thank you, T!)
I had the next day to explore Singapore on my own before catching the last flight back to Jakarta that night. Originally I was going to head down to the Botanical Garden for more of those walk-in-the-park moments. However, after getting tips from T on an independent bookstore, as well was the Tintin shop, both located in Chinatown, I decided on a change of plan; head down to Chinatown for those two things and then see whatever else the day brings. The experience turned out to be a joyful one – giddy all the way through the morning as I browsed through all the comics and merchandises at the Tintin Shop and later in that bookstore, Littered With Books.
Happiness is being in a book store.
Now, what’s a visit to Singapore without going to the hawker centre at least once? I was spoiled with the posh food court in Marina Bay Sands, and being wined and dined last night, that I haven’t had a chance to go and get more of the local cuisine. At Maxwell Food Court, one of the popular ones around, I sampled some Pohpiah and Hainanese Chicken Rice from Tian Tian Chicken Rice, one that was also endorsed by Anthony Bourdain.
Actually, that was probably why I went to that stall of chicken rice. A long queue and Anthony Bourdain picture plastered all over the stall? It should at least worth a try. And the verdict? I’d come back for seconds if I wasn’t so full.
The “whatever the day might bring” attitude had me accidentally discover the Singapore City Gallery (URA Gallery) within the same vicinity of the hawker centre. The gallery has three floors of display (including some interactive ones) and exhibitions on the superb urban planning that makes Singapore what it is today. A visit there only made me even more envious of this little country, which seems obsessed with efficiency and organisation – unlike my own city of Jakarta which, coincidentally at the time of my visit, was having its first round of election for the new Governor.
I also found the Red Dot Design Museum, a contemporary design museum not far from the city gallery. I was excited going in, thinking I’d get another dose of creativity buzz that museums and galleries often give, only to find out it was closed for a private function. So instead I sat in a quiet bar located on the same site as the museum, killing time, enjoying a cold drink while reading and later writing in my journal, reflecting on this short trip that was coming to an end.
The character of a place and my curiosity about the world at large will always trigger the wanderlust in me. But people are also becoming the reason I travel these days. The friends and family I have in Sydney, the expats friend I have yet to visit in Dubai, a place I never thought about visiting anytime soon, or to the extreme, that one friend currently working with the UN in Ethiopia – at least until he convinced everyone that it is much more civilised to meet somewhere other than Ethiopia if all we wanted was to hang out with him.
People make your travel experience that extra memorable. The conversations that tickle your mind, resulting in wandering thoughts to the places and moments in your life in reflection. The discovery that the person you thought you knew about from reading their writing is, well, in fact exactly like you thought they were, and more. The unexpected gems found through the local knowledge. Those fleeting moments you spend talking to some people, wanting those moments to last for as long as possible. Realising you forgot to take photos of the places that you were in, or even of the people you were with, simply because you were so engrossed in deep meaningful conversations, to the point that you didn’t even care if you didn’t make it to what most people think was a must visit.
Those moments. Those encounters. People has definitely made this trip that extra memorable for me.
There was also the nostalgia, the trip down memory lane from the things I saw – the toys, the old photos I saw at the museum, things that reminded me of my childhood and my background, one of a Chinese descent in Indonesia. Or nostalgia from the conversations recalling things from the pasts, the things I have seen, read and listened.
People, places, memories.
Whatever it is, I think I finally found some soul in Singapore. The place doesn’t feel so cold anymore. And dare I say, I think I am officially infatuated by this tiny little red dot.