Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Southeast Asia, Travel

Cleanliness and Order…smack dab in the middle of Southeast Asia!

Given where Singapore sits geographically, it’s no wonder the country is a melting pot. The surrounding countries have all had a hand in shaping the lifestyle, cuisine and culture of Singapore. The result is a mix of Indian, Malaysian and Chinese. The first thing I notice upon arrival is the cleanliness. (Ok, maybe it’s the second thing next to the humidity!) But, yes, Singapore is CLEAN. Roads, sidewalks, bathrooms… what a change from India! Aside from being clean on a sanitary level, it’s also very orderly. This is what you get when there’s a $500 fine for smoking, spitting, or chewing gum in public.

Poh Leong (a former colleague of my dad’s) has offered to host me and my friend Amanda for a couple of days, so he meets us in the arrival lounge at Changi Airport. From here, we go directly to an outside café for a Malay lunch, which consists of Patha (a naan-like bread surved with a curry sauce), a plate of coconut rice, egg, small but complete fried river fish, a chicken wing and a pile of small silver fried fish (minnow size). This is all topped off with a teh peng (iced tea) which temporarily transports me back to India- it tastes exactly like Chai Masala, except over ice- a nice touch, given the heat.

Much of our time in Singapore is spent sampling the varying cuisine at markets with Poh and his wife Soshee, and their two kids Vivienne and Justin. It’s a treat to be taken around by locals. Not only do we know what we’re eating, but we’re also able to get a taste of what life is like in Singapore.

There is a strong emphasis on education. Even at the ages of 4 and 6, the children spend about 10 hours a day at school. On our first evening, Justin becomes our tour guide telling us all of the places we need to visit, followed by their significance and jotting it all down on a dry erase boards. They are currently enrolled in a pre-school program, but in addition to this, they spend the majority of their day Sunday attending extra-curricular activities- drawing, piano, Chinese lessons, speech and drama. Needless to say, they beat me at practically every board game.

Fish ball soup for breakfast.

We begin our second day in Singapore at a local market. Ah, more teh peng. We sample delectable peanut butter pancakes. The pancakes are thick, rich and fluffy and the peanut butter is like the all-natural stuff you get from a farmer’s market grinder. Slab on about a couple of tablespoons of that and you basically have a meal. Well that’s what we thought. We are feeling pretty content as four bowls of fish noodle soup arrive at the table. Then fish balls are brought over as well- ah, if only I could buy an extra stomach for this trip. The fish noodle soup is delicious, although it feels a little odd to be having these flavors at breakfast time. I can’t say the same for the fish balls. These are gelatinous white fishy balls, and it feels like I am eating a sponge. I swear I’m chewing, but it’s doing nothing to help the mass in my mouth dissipate. Soshee tells to put chili sauce on them to cover up the taste. (I don’t think she’s a fan either). I decide to go back to the fish noodle soup and keep working on that. It is a feast, and I find that most meals here are. Instead of just having a plate of a few cooked items, it’s not uncommon that four or five dishes, or even more, are cooked up for one meal. Good thing that most families in Singapore employee a nanny. Nancy, who lives with Poh and Sohshee, begins cooking around 3:00 in the afternoon.

Durian at the local street market.

We spend the afternoon strolling down Orchard Road soaking in all of the high-end luxury shopping malls. Since we have no space in our backpacks and no desire to spend any of our travel budgets, the only shopping we are doing is window shopping. We might as well be on Fifth Avenue… Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Armani, Prada. You name it, Orchard Road has it. We decide to see the surrounding area, and wonder down to Newton Market, the famous food stalls. We are still a bit full from our breakfast feast, and we have been told to be a bit weary of what the tourist are charged here, so we just peruse. We make our way back home to join Poh and Soshee for dinner. We end up at another local market, sampling chicken rice and satay. We browse the food stalls and vendors tables, debating whether or not we should sample durian.

The Singapore Sling, made famous by Raffles Hotel

The following day, we brave the heat and venture to the Botanical Garden, specifically to see the Orchid Exhibit. After seeing about every type of orchid that exists, we make our way to Clarke Quay. It is time to escape the brutal afternoon heat with a cold beer. I feel like I’m in a modern American city. Clark Quay is chock full of every type of bar and restaurant: upscale nightclubs, restaurants, tapas bars… even a Hooter’s. We decide to leave this scene behind because there’s one important stop we have to make before we leave Singapore in the morning. We can’t come to Singapore and not go to Raffles.

We take a taxi to Raffles Hotel and sit in the Long Bar, eat peanuts and have a classic ‘Singapore Sling.’ We marvel in the ambiance and the luxury, and in the fact that we’re following in the footsteps of many famous travelers prior to us. Then we get the bill. We decide one Singapore Sling each will do. Raffles is beautiful but not so backpacker-budget friendly. Fittingly, we move on to more affordable Bali tomorrow.

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