Just as I was starting to grow accustomed to Hong Kong, the time came for me to transition to my next location. Heading from one Asian metropolis to another, I scurried to the airport to catch my morning flight to Singapore.
Given its population, there were a surprising number of students at my university from Singapore, but other than my conversations with them, I have had virtually no interaction with this city-state. My impression is that Singapore is often depicted as the Southeast Asia wunderkind, complete with a bustling economy and immaculately clean city streets.
However, I had chosen a hostel near Boon Keng, located on the outskirts of Little India and “far away” from the normal tourist hangouts. (Far away in Singapore meaning maybe 20 minutes by subway.) The area was decidedly residential; buildings consisted largely of tidy, yet reasonably worn-out townhouses, certainly not the towering concrete capital I had expected. I liked it already.
After checking into my hostel, I tried to find the nearest hawker center. Whenever I asked around about things to do in Singapore, the ubiquitous answer was always to eat lots of local food.
Although not nearly the biggest or most famous, due to its location, this hawker center gave off a distinctly local feel, and I had the pleasure of being the only confused foreigner in sight. I opted to go for Hainanese Chicken Rice, essentially Singapore’s national dish. While normally boiled, the chicken can also be roasted which I choose for my first meal, not feeling too certain just yet about boiled chicken. (This hesitancy will disappear soon enough.) I was handed a heaping plate of rice cooked in chicken broth with a generous portion of crisp, roast chicken on top. I was initially surprised by the combination of warm rice with cool chicken (especially when topped with a bit of chili sauce.) However, every subsequent bite was honestly even better than the last, and I ended up devouring the plate in seconds. Alright, point taken. Singapore is definitely a place to feast.
Not wanting to leave just yet, I sought out a drink stand for a massive glass of watermelon juice and settled onto a table in the middle of the hawker center. I had just downloaded an electronic copy of China Rich Girlfriend, the sequel to the bestselling novel Crazy Rich Asians. I rarely read fiction, but as these books were conveniently set in Singapore and Hong Kong, I decided to make an exception.
Every once in a while, I would look up at my surroundings as the evening progressed and more locals filled the scene. Following the end of a workday, crowds of smartly dressed people streamed in, indicating that despite its strikingly humble atmosphere, the hawker center apparently appealed to all types. My ears also filled with a melee of voices, as all four of Singapore’s official languages made themselves heard.
The first evening in a complete new place is by far my favorite moment while traveling As INSERT QUOTE ABOUT BEING ALONE OR BEING IN A NEW PLACE HERE
I finished my novel and strode back to my hostel, my mind still teetering on the blurred line between fact and fiction. Singapore, I am still not quite sure what to expect of you, but I do look forward to making my own stories in the coming week.
18 June 2015
1: Not only are hawker centers excellent venues to try the local food, they are incredibly affordable. In infamously pricey Singapore, most stalls offer entrees for around $3-5 USD, with an extra $1-2 for a drink. (I highly recommend getting a fresh-pressed juice to go with your meal.)