I think I belong here

Singapore is a city after my heart – it kind of feels like it was made for me with its heightened efficiencies, rules for living that simply reflect what human beings should normally do but in this case can be punished for, delicious and varied food from around the world at all price ranges, bubble tea for less than $2, extreme safety and cleanliness, booming economy, ethnic & religious diversity, proximity to a variety of desirable vacation destinations, and the chance to work in an area that is both exciting and lucrative. Asia and Brazil are booming – being in the middle of that is appealing on many levels, and Singapore is (thus far), the only place I’d seriously consider moving to internationally.

That said, I will admit it is highly materialistic and consumerist with the nouveau riche Asians and ex-pats with cushy jobs spending oodles of cash at the city’s overly-numerous, gigantic mega-malls. After the rich Chinese are done shopping, they go gambling at the city’s 2 casinos, making Singapore #2 in gambling in the world, behind Macau, and ahead of Las Vegas. It’s also EXPENSIVE – rent is NYC priced, purchasing property is SF priced, if you want a car, you have to pay $100k just to be able to drive it (let alone the cost of the car, taxes, parking, maintenance, insurance, etc.), and a crappy drink at an okay-bar will cost you at least $20. That said, taxis are cheap, food can be cheap, public transit is incredibly reliable and useful and reasonably priced, and flights to a variety of awesome countries are cheap.  When it really comes down to it, if you’re on an ex-pat’s salary, your general quality of life will be better in Singapore than in the US.

I have skipped the most important part of our 4-day Singapore adventure: the people. The generosity of essential strangers is overwhelming, hanging out with new friends is exciting, and catching up with old friends is heartwarming.

People Story #1:
Caroline is an intelligent, hilarious, spunky, warm, adventurous, and kind South African 24-year old we met in Pucon, Chile and had the pleasure of spending about a week hanging out with at our hostel and partaking in various adventures together. She has lived in Singapore with her family for the past decade and generously invited us to stay at her house upon our arrival, whenever that was going to be. She continued her travels through December and planned on being back in Singapore prior to mid-January, our planned dates. Life happens, especially when you meet a special someone, and her plans changed, though her insistence on us staying at her home didn’t waiver. Despite feeling a little weird, we took her parents’ offer and didn’t find alternate housing. Their beautiful house is historically unique – it was built by the British during imperial rule to house an officer and his family – was then used by the Japanese as officer’s housing during their brief but violent takeover of the island during WWII, and then after the country’s independence, have been rehabbed and rented to ex-pat families living and working in Singapore. Mike, Caroline’s father, had just returned from his own vacation the morning of our arrival, but was an absolutely welcoming and wonderful host. Not only did we have all the comforts of home, but a wise, fun, and interesting dad to go with our ‘home’ experience. We had such a fun weekend, the highlight of which was our last night where we went to a lovely restaurant and ate Singapore’s famous chili crab and lesser revered but tastier pepper crab while drinking some cold Tiger beer and Australian Shiraz over a long dinner chat. There is no way we can say “THANK YOU” enough to our South African/Singaporean family, but we will strive to repay their kindness by paying it forward to travelers in the future and of course to their specific family when they visit us in Chicago (which we really hope they do)!

People Story #2:
We met Dawn at our Muay Thai camp in Phuket and were psyched to hang out with her again in her hometown. She’s an extremely talented artist and dedicated art teacher who loves to eat, represented Singapore in Tae Kwon Do at multiple international competitions over the years, and is fabulously funny. We met in Chinatown for a dim sum lunch and then wandered around the area for a chill afternoon. Thanks to facebook and email, I’m sure we’ll stay in touch for a long time to come, and hopefully we’ll have the chance to treat her to a big ‘ol American steak (her favorite) at some point in the near future.

People Story #3:
Though we didn’t go to school together, Vijal and I have so many mutual friends, we may as well have. So when we figured out via Facebook that her honeymoon through SE Asia included a weekend trip to Singapore at the same time as us, we were excited to meet up and catch up. Husbands in tow, we spent Saturday night together, which thanks to another of Vijal’s friends, included drinks (overpriced and but worth the ambiance and great company) at Lantern – a beautiful and trendy rooftop bar on the water – and then free entry (normally Sing$40/person) into Ku De Ta, the rooftop club at Marina Bay Sands, for the most incredible view of the city. We decided to call it a night around 2 and hopped in a cab make to the house. Our driver barely spoke English and had no idea where to go, but somehow Tyler and I were able to figure out which roads to take and navigated ourselves home. It only took 2 nights in Singapore, but somehow felt like home already since we knew our way around on the roads and trains.

People Story #4:
Alex and I went to Rice together and have been friends since we started university in 2001. One of his roommates is one of my dear friends, and our multiple rooms of roommates all got along superbly. When together, we looked like a meeting of the junior United Nations. Alex went to grad school at Cornell and did a joint degree that involved spending a year in Singapore and gaining a degree from that university. He met a girl and decided to stay (as my story goes, though Chicago isn’t exactly Singapore) and has lived there now for 4 years. I haven’t seen him since the spring of 2005, which is a very long time, so I was super excited to catch up and meet his lovely wife, Bianca, and for him and Tyler to meet. We met for brunch at Wild Honey (DELICIOUS brunch food – better than almost anywhere in Chicago/NYC) and wandered around Orchard Road admiring the ridiculous fashions and catching up. Later in the afternoon, we hopped on a bus to the Botanical Gardens (huge, beautiful, and free) for the guys to play in an ultimate frisbee game. The weather had cooled off just enough to make it bearable to run around, though T was definitely drenched with sweat within 20 minutes. I walked around and enjoyed the people and nature watching while they played. It was such a wonderful afternoon, and I was sad to see it end, but am so thankful we had the chance to catch up with Alex and meet Bianca. Hopefully we’ll see them the next time they come to the US for a visit!

Other Singapore highlights included the Tiger brewery tour, not so much for the tour which was terrible, but for the 45 minutes of unlimited beer drinking which for Sing$16 is a STEAL compared to prices everywhere else in the city. We also befriended 2 Michigan MBA students studying abroad for a quarter in Singapore – one of whom is moving to Chicago upon graduation in May – we’re excited to hang out with them again in the States.

We ate dinner on Saturday night at a vegetarian restaurant in Little India. Getting off the train, the smells and sights of India engulf you – it’s like somehow ending up in an extremely clean version of a busy Mumbai street in the middle of Singapore. The food was tasty and cheap, and the crowds of sari & salwar clad women and their husbands and children pushed and jay-walked and filled the air with smells of coconut oil (from their hair) and BO from their… well… and all I could think was “ahhhhhhh home!” This was also the only place pretty much in our entire travel-filled relationship where our inter-racial-ness was a noticeable issue. It probably didn’t help that I was wearing a normal summer dress – not super conservative like the other women – but we drew stares and head turns and probably some ill words in Tamil. But I didn’t care and T was oblivious – interracial American couples deserve to eat pani puri and dosa too. In the rest of Singapore it wasn’t an issue at all – just Little India – but Indians are notoriously judgmental and racist, so I’m not surprised. I just wish they’d open their minds and hearts a little bit – we’re all same same after all.

What has to be mentioned as probably T’s favorite part of the whole long weekend was when we got reprimanded. It wouldn’t really feel like a visit to Singapore without getting yelled at (or fined) for something, so I suppose we accomplished our goal to really get the most out of our few days. Bubble tea in hand, we purchased our train cards and absentmindedly walked through the turnstiles while sipping our drinks. Within 3 steps, a transit authority worker yelled “excuse me excuse me! no drinking! no drinking on the train!” Granted, we weren’t actually on the train, we were in the station, but had crossed the invisible line where there is absolutely no food/drink allowed. Dawn had warned us to get our drink glasses put in a small plastic bag so we could “carry” it, so fortunately, we didn’t have to throw our drinks away. Even though the straw was still in it and we could drink out of it if we wanted to risk the Sing$500 fine, we waited until we carried our plastic bags out of the station at our stop and then took a sip. No canes or fines involved, but a Singaporean reprimand was had, and we enjoyed the amusing experience of it all.

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