A Quick Trip to Singapore

A couple of Alex’s friends spent the night with us in Puteri Wangsa this past weekend. Having exhausted all of the cultural activities in our booming little metropolis, we decided to take a quick trip across the border to Singapore.

Singapore is an extraordinarily well-developed city-state-country-island-nation-I-never-know-what-to-call-it, located south of Malaysia. After gaining independence from Britain, Malaysia and Singapore merged into one country in 1963. Political disagreement and racial tensions led to a split in 1965. Singapore hit the ground running, becoming extremely wealthy, while its neighbor to the north/east remains a developing nation.

While Singapore is a beautiful, clean, modern city that is a welcome breath of fresh air from Malaysia, it doesn’t really excite me too much. Singapore boasts an impressive number of ethnic enclaves, from Tamil Indians to Scandinavians, but feels devoid of its own unique culture and personality. Perhaps I’m judging Singapore too harshly, as it is a young nation, but it feels somewhat sterile to me.

As economically advanced as Singapore is (with the third highest GDP in the world, taking into account its size relative to other nations), it still holds some archaic social values. The most recent example of this can be seen in the country’s purging of certain childrens’ books, an action which Singapore’s information minister (a position that, to me, raises an immediate red flag) Yaacob Ibrahim helpfully explains: “The prevailing norms, which the overwhelming majority of Singaporeans accept, support teaching children about conventional families, but not about alternative, non-traditional families, which is what the books in question are about.” Translation: We need to shelter our kids from the gays! While I don’t think that Mr. Ibrahim is necessarily correct is his assumption that these views represent those of most Singaporeans (given the outrage about this decision), I do think it’s troubling that the government’s official policy on this subject is so backwards. Singapore is so successful in so many other ways, I suppose I expected more from it. Anyway, allow me to step down from my “I’m-not-angry-I’m-just-disappointed” soapbox and tell you a little bit about my weekend.

We only live about 40 minutes from the border, and it costs 1RM to take a bus there. Unfortunately, the convoluted system they’ve created to cross the border means that it takes closer to 2.5-3 hours to get there. We take a taxi to the bus station–>Malaysian checkpoint, where your passport is stamped by Malaysian Immigrations–>Bus from there to the Singapore checkpoint, where you’re stamped into Singapore–>Bus from there to the closest metro stop, where you can finally begin your journey in Singapore. It seems like it could be streamlined to be faster and more convenient, especially given the volume of people who cross between Malaysia and Singapore each day. The traffic on the Causeway, which links to the two countries, doesn’t help the situation.

In any event, we arrived without incident. I had only been to Singapore one other time, to visit their amazing zoo. This time, I was most looking forward to enjoying some delicious food, because that is the best reason I can think of to visit Singapore. On this side of the world, it’s the closest you can get to an NYC-style smorgasbord of different cuisines.

For lunch, we headed to Orchard Road to hit up the food court of one of its many shopping malls. There I had my first burger in quite some time.

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We actually do have a decent burger place (transplanted from Singapore, actually) not too far from us but the route to get there is incredibly confusing and the near relationship-ending fights that erupt when we’re lost and hangry make it more trouble than it’s worth most of the time. This burger (from Charlie & Co) was decent, but it didn’t bowl me over. Perhaps it’s the hefty American in me talking, but for the steep price I expected something a little more substantial.

This food court was huuuuge and had several enticing dessert options. However, once I spotted Twelve Cupcakes, I knew exactly how I was going to cap off lunch.

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As you can see, there were myriad options. I spent roughly ten minutes debating between Nutella, Salted Caramel, PB Chocolate and the specialty cupcake of the day, Mudslide. Ultimately I went with the Mudslide, which was a chocolate cupcake with chocolate icing and ganache and mini marshmallows drizzled in fudge. Be still, my beating heart. It was freaking amazing and I almost went back for another. However, in an exercise of extraordinary self control, I refrained.

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After lunch, we headed over to Little India to check into our hostel. The subways in Singapore, by the way, are spotless.

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Which makes sense, because…

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…the fine for eating and drinking is enormous. Clearly, not all members of our party got the memo.

After a quick nap, we set out to explore our surrounding area. If I had to describe Little India in one word, it would be colorful.

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Tamil Indians make up 5% of Singapore’s population, so it stands to reason that they occupy a sizable chunk of real estate.

After our walk, we wanted cap off our day in Singapore with a great, not-too-expensive dinner. Our search led us to Muchachos, a burrito joint in Chinatown. Mexican is one of my favorite cuisines, and I will accept it under most conditions (i.e. authentic Mexican is great, but you can melt cheese on pretty much anything and I will eat it). That said, passable Mexican food is difficult to find in Asia. I was pleasantly surprised by Muchachos. Apparently the owner had spent some time in San Francisco and knew a thing or two about Mission burritos.

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No complaints on size here. This thing was massive! And the fresh, creamy guac made me incredibly happy.

After dinner, we wandered around a bit more before the threat of thunderstorms chased us back to our hostel for the night.

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I enjoyed the day (especially the food!) but I’m not in any rush to go again. I would like to check out the Botanic Gardens, and possibly do the night safari at the zoo. Otherwise, I feel like I’ve seen what I wanted of Singapore. However, I wouldn’t turn down another one of those cupcakes…

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