Sights and scents
by Agnus Chung
The temperature had soared to the mid-90s, with humidity that hit head on the moment I exited the rapid transit station in Singapore. Hauling my carry-on and still clouded over from jetlag, I maneuvered my way to the Pod capsule hotel. In the tropical April heat, the seven-minute walk alluded by Google map ended up a half hour amble, along tree-lined streets and covered storefront walkways.
With skyscrapers and high-rises dominating virtually every city block, one might think Singapore is a concrete jungle. On the contrary: Green City Index awarded Singapore Asia’s greenest city in 2015. Why? Greenery now covers 47 per cent of the Garden City. The population of 5.54 million has fared better than their Asian neighbours in waste recycling and water conservation.
Cleanliness and Community Living
It’s hard to find debris on the streets of Singapore, never mind a homeless person in this city which is also an independent state. The laws are strictly observed and domestic residents are offered affordable, quality public housing managed by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). In an area of 791.1 sq. km., over 80 per cent of Singapore’s domestic residents live in HDB flats.
“You don’t live in HDB, you die a very lonely man. You live in HDB, you can go down to lim kopi (drink coffee) with your peers,” said Dr. Tan Lai Yong, National University of Singapore (NUS) Director of Outreach and Community Engagement, in the article: ‘Wandering saint’ of Singapore. Tan studied two years at Vancouver’s Regent College prior to embarking on a 15-year medical mission, training village doctors in clinical care, operations and management in Yunnan, China. Today, Singapore-born Tan teaches at NUS, and continues to pursue his mission work volunteering at HealthServe, a non-profit organization providing healing and hope to migrant workers.
Vibrant Cultures and Fascinating Finds
Singapore’s history and wealth is closely entwined with migration, endowing the island-state with rich multicultural enclaves. A short stroll from where I stayed is the Arab Street and Kampong Glam area, a vibrant and eclectic neighbourhood percolating with history, character and hipster vibes.
Restored colonial shop houses boast fabric stores, indie boutiques, trendy bars, and restaurants serving Asian and fusion cuisines. Food is reasonably priced. The curio shops are a treasure trove of fascinating finds: antiques, beautiful Turkish lamps, Southeast Asian and Persian crafts like batik prints and gorgeous handwoven rugs. At Jamal Kazura, visitors can custom order oil-based, alcohol-free perfumes including renowned designer fragrances concocted from floral, fruit and herb tinctures. Kampong Glam (Kampong means village, Glam is a local tree name) is the place to visit for all things Malay with Middle Eastern influence. It’s one of the few places to capture the essence of street art. A prominent landmark is the 200-year-old Sultan Mosque.
In Chinatown, the aroma of stir-fried rice noodle (char-kway teow), chargrilled pork jerky (bak kwa) and satay wafting from hawker stalls will make one’s stomach rumble in anticipation. Satay can be served as an appetizer, on salad or as an entree over rice or pasta, said third generation Singapore satay maker, Raymond Leo of Leo Satay Foodstuff Manufacture. For tasty vegetarian, tandoori or delicious Indian pancake (roti prata), head off to Little India along Serangoon Road. Shopaholics would enjoy the 24-hour Mustafa Shopping Centre.
With real estate at a premium, Singapore is ranked one of the world’s most expensive cities for travel lodging. The Pod is a popular boutique hostel among solo and budget travellers. It offers a modified Japanese capsule-style lodging experience. The price is a steal! For about CAD $40 (including taxes) per night, I got: a pod; a decent breakfast spread; one piece of free dry cleaning; complimentary use of facilities including laundry; wifi; business centre and coffee/tea all day. Each pod has a fold-down writing table, comfortable bedding, a luggage-sized locker, wooden dividers between pods and a roller blind that provides some privacy. The place is clean and stylish, and run by friendly and helpful staff.
On my level were three dormitory rooms each catering to couples, men, and women. The gender-neutral wash facilities are shared, resulting in line-ups during peak hours. No footwear beyond the level entrance. Two rows of three double-decker pods lined the room I shared with 11 ladies. Not an ideal space for sensitive sleepers, but great value for money if privacy, security and confined space are not a concern. Surprisingly, a number of the guests who stayed at the Pod were business travellers. At breakfast, Jane, a retired Australian nurse in her 70s said she often stays at the Pod on route to her work in Thailand.
• Travel in Singapore is safe and easy. English is widely spoken and people are helpful.
• The best way to get around is by public transit. Purchase a Singapore tourist pass.
• Remember to bargain when you shop (except in department stores).
• Eating street food is generally fine and tap water is drinkable.