I visited Singapore 12 years ago, backpacking for the first time ever. It didn’t leave much of an impression on the very impressionable me then. 12 years on, having been to many far more interesting places and developed my own philosophy of travel, I decided to give it another try. Surely there must be something for me there. Here are a few things I managed to capture during my staycation at my friend’s lovely condo.
I didn’t remember there was such a thing. Perhaps my 19-year-old self wasn’t concerned with tradition as much as I am now. I like to think of kopitiams as the Singaporean version of our own (Vietnamese) street cafes that thankfully still exist, even with the onslaught of global chains such as Starbucks or local Western style such as The Coffee House. Fast, convenient, and cheap, the kopitiam chains in such a modern city like Singapore restored my faith in the preservation of tradition and heritage.
Location: a kopitiam just outside Somerset@313. There are others there too. The crowded place was filled with a mix of locals and foreigners after lunch time.
The local art scene
I chanced upon these beautiful murals while looking for the Private Museum which happened to be closed because it was a public holiday. The murals turned out to be works by the talented artist Yip Yew Chong, whose other works have graced the heritage building @ 51 Waterloo street, Thian Hock Keng temple, the coffee shop at Amoy Street, and recently Changi Airport terminal 4. The colourful depictions of history and the yesteryears are less nostalgic and more uplifting, and their growing popularity shows that the old and new can co-exist harmoniously and beautifully.
Location: 51 Waterloo St. I’d totally recommend this heritage building which now houses museums, shops. The surrounding area is lovely to stroll around and is home to the Design museum.
As a book lover and library-goer who happens to run an online bookshop in ‘Nam, I make it a point to visit bookstores and libraries whenever I travel to see how locals read. When I learned of the independent BooksActually, I knew I had to check it out.
A small quiet lovely bookstore nestled in the lovely residential area Tiong Bahru, it offers a selection of local authors that itself publishes. The salesperson behind the counter knew his stuff really well when I asked for a recommendation of a local author – he turned out to be the owner Kenny Leck.
I ended up with a copy of Modern Myths by Clara Chow that I had planned on buying for my friend who was hosting me. I managed to finish the story on nostalgia that speaks of a fictional department in charge of making people forget the past in order to standardise feelings – perhaps a critique of the current policies to modernise Singapore. While most outsiders worship Singapore’ well-organised city, it seems not every Singaporean shares the same feeling. Or is it our nature to be nostalgic for the bygones?
My purchase came with a lovely #poetryspam chosen perhaps randomly by the shop’s staff. My Singaporean friend was thrilled when he learned that I was visiting and supporting this bookshop. As chains swallow smaller shops all over the world, efforts such as BooksActually are more worthy than ever, as local and unusual voices need to be heard too.
Location: Books Actually, 9 Yong Siak Street, https://www.booksactuallyshop.com/
Being friend with a documentary producer means after being shown various bits of town that are less well-known to tourists and treated to a bowl of laksa and a glass of kopi, I got to sit in for a casting session for People Like Us series, commissioned by AfA to raise awareness about and among LGBT community. (I’m at episode 4, the dating pains suffered by these guys totally resonate!)
The one hour spent watching different actors auditioning showed me a different side of Singapore that I had been totally unaware of. Like in many other modern cities, people are increasingly being confronted with issues of identities in a super diverse society and fast-moving pace of life. And you probably wouldn’t know this (I didn’t know it myself) but it is illegal being male homosexuals in Singapore.
Singapore then became far more human and relatable in my eyes, other than just a modern flawless melting pot that has served as a model to even the most developed cities in the world. And I’m sure I won’t wait for 12 years to come back to touch and peel another layer of this dynamic and fascinating country.