While jogging this beautiful sunny morning, dripping in sweat and negotiating the humidity, I paused at the crossing for the pedestrian green signal. The Monday morning madness had begun, and vehicles moved in full swing. I love looking at this city’s bustle. It is not too much, not too little. You don’t get lost in the crowd or feel bare, exposed. In the most random turn of events, a cock jumped on the road to crossover and all vehicles came to a screeching halt sacrificing their precious green signal. The cock in all his majesty carried on as did the others. That there was a glimpse of Singapore – the bustle and the sensitivity.
My firm offered to move me to Singapore in late 2018. I never planned for it, never researched much. I accepted the offer and landed here on a rainy morning in Feb 2019 to a beautifully decked city. It was Chinese New Year, the year of pig. The next two weeks were all about the Chinese rituals – Exchanging Ang Bao (The red packets of money given as a wish for your prosperity and growth), Lo Hei (Noodle tossing while saying phrases of prosperity, health and wealth), Lion dance (a traditional group dance performed by members disguised as lions to spew away evils and bring in good luck and fortune). Right there I felt the cultural expansion moving countries brings in. Every Chinese New Year, I relive that excitement.
I quickly realized how efficient, organized and manicured Singapore is. In a week’s time all my essentials – visa, bank, home, tax was all seamlessly set up. Every inch of the road is accompanied by a footpath. The road, the footpath, curbs and their crevices are clean. The landscape is beautifully stitched into the city and tended to very carefully. This city looks like someone’s vision has been meticulously materialized with the attention to slightest details and utmost loyalty. The first few months was about deciphering these details and trying to see if what Crazy Rich Asians showed was true. Home sickness did creep in, once in a while. All I did to fight it off was to take the MRT (Metro) which btw has announcements in Tamil (one of the official languages), get off at Little India, walk through the markets to reach Farrer Park, get into MTR, listen to the Kannada playlist, order in Kannada, eat while looking at the Indian families and local patrons, sip the filter coffee and get out content.
As days passed, I grew so familiar with this place. I built my circle. I went to museums to learn about the history of this tiny but prosperous country. In search of the local lifestyle, I would frequent the hawker centers (Singapore style street food complexes, all posh but local where locals eat on a daily basis). I walked the streets, following the colorful shophouses (the narrow small terraced pre-world war houses that are now repurposed for both residential and commercial purposes). I strolled around the never-ending East Coast Park to get the weekend vibes. I attended storytelling sessions that picked South East Asian folklore to get a peek into the region’s culture. I attended talks, concerts that helped me understand how culturally rich and diverse continent Asia is and how Singapore is such a melting point of all of it. All my life I have travelled to “know” the places and the one year that followed felt like a long travel. The glamorous part of Singapore is all there, well-advertised to the rest of the world. But to me, the above elements of this city are it’s real glamour. The infamous humid weather is my favorite. The constant play between the sun and rain is the city’s life.
As my partner Amit finally got a job here and we are now settling down like a family, I see the other side of Singapore. The political set up, the policies, future for immigrants, expenses (phew!) etc. and forming my opinions. I am learning more and also seeing things beyond the sparkling skyline and manicured streets.
I have come to believe that discomfort is a sign of growth. I put myself through the discomfort when I decided to pack up and come here, alone. I had to learn to work in a different role, negotiate with locals, understand their ways, perform a regional (Asia wide) role, living alone, manage without a support system.. but I know I have grown by leaps and I don’t regret anything. I have been able to win over my limitations, just like this city!
Singapore is a great destination owing to robust connectivity from all of Asia and Australia. The plus is, it is the gateway to South East Asia, again with multiple options for cheap flights.
If kept the following in mind, your travel experience will be even better:
Comfort is the key to traverse Singapore. You will walk plenty in this country and have to brave the heat and humidity throughout the day. So wear good footwear, comfy summer clothes , carry umbrellas and minimal things in your bag.
Singapore is extremely expensive and if not kept a tab on, your money can drain out without a hint. Rely on public transport, eat mid meals in hawker centers (save the special meals/drinks for the nice places and look for the generous happy hours), rent hostels, buy bundle entry tickets for attractions and make use of the legal public drinking policy.
It is easy to get lost in the glamorous Singapore. But the real spirit of Singapore is in it’s neighborhoods. Travel inwards for great food and insights. Check out the heritage trails and see how well this country has managed to preserve the heritage they have. The museums and art galleries are treasures here especially National Gallery of Art and National Museum of Singapore.
The writer of this guest blog is Shilpa Aathresh. Shilpa and I met at my first job. Being some of the few college freshers to join this company in Bangalore and thereby spending 3 months of orientation together. Initially just strangers, our friendship grew post our job and the professional life. Shilpa is a civil engineer who switched careers to manage corporate travel for Goldman Sachs in Asia.
She was born in Shimoga and grew up in various places tucked away from the cities, raw, untouched and full of nature and culture. Her father is an agriculture researcher that took him and her to places and experiences very different from the urban milieu. She grew up in the coastal Karnataka, western Kerala, Mysore and moved to Pune, Bangalore and finally Singapore for her jobs. As a family, they love travel that is modest, mindful of resources but rich in experiences. Her travels have been founded on the love for the road (always road tripping), wildlife, nature and culture. On a Sunday afternoon, if her family is together, they are usually sipping coffee recounting these experiences while some Carnatic music is playing in the background. This upbringing has stayed with her and made her the person who is on a perpetual hunt for varied experiences.
Make your travel your own. Right now, everyone is a travel influencer/trying to constantly woo you with filtered pictures and on point travel wardrobes. Don’t get distracted. Know where you are travelling to and why. If what you earn at the end of your travel is just a few gram-worthy pics and learnings that can be easily googled, the money spent is money lost. Make your travels truly reflective of your persona and your aspirations. Travel can be humble, modest and still enriching. Don’t reduce it to statements you can make to the world.
Invest time to find authentic travel blogs and meaningful pages that truly resonate with you. I always fallback on Culture Trip or Rough guides during my trips. I also have a few go-to personal blogs that I read to get my inspiration when not travelling.
If you like driving like me, try and include a day or two of road trip. That gives you flexibility to venture into the countryside and make pit stops that gives you a true local flavor and unexpected encounters that you may cherish for life. Of course, you should consider road safety, driving rules before you make that choice and not be audaciously adventurous.