Singapore, the island nation with a ban on gum and spitting, utterly radical architecture, and mandatory death for drug possession. This was the first stop in our 2017 chapter as digital nomads.
I had never given much thought to Singapore before we started planning our travels for this year. Despite this, I happen to know two people residing there:
- Michelle – We last saw each other 17½ years ago, in 1999, during my most recent trip to visit family in the Philippines. For the past five years, she and her husband (also Filipino) have been working in Singapore.
- Lincoln – We grew up together in rural Kansas, attending many youth-related activities through our church. His family moved away about 20 years ago, and I haven’t seen him since.
This gave us reason enough to pass through on our way to Australia, and a great excuse to break up the long-haul journey.
We were pretty confident that our trip to Singapore would go smoothly, since we had quite the adventure getting from the Canaries home to Sweden for Christmas. So on January 5, we headed to the Gothenburg airport for our 7:00 a.m. flight, the first of three.
Travel Hiccups One & Two
After a smooth check-in and boarding, we proceeded to sit on the plane, grounded, for three hours as engineers attempted to fix a technical issue. Unfortunately, our takeoff was not meant to be.
In short, the flight ended up being rescheduled for 8:00 p.m. that evening, giving enough time for replacement parts to be flown in. However, we went ahead and re-booked ourselves on the same flights exactly 24 hours later.
The following morning, we returned to the airport and repeated the same procedure, but we were a little too comfy with the situation and managed to absent-mindedly forget one of our carry-ons at security.
It wasn’t until we were sitting and enjoying a leisurely breakfast in the terminal that we suddenly received a phone call from an unknown number. It was the security personnel who had rummaged through the bag and found a box of the Swedeheart’s business cards and called the listed number.
A bit too close for comfort.
Our flight to London took off and landed as planned. But then our flight to Hong Kong was delayed by three hours meaning that we’d miss our final flight to Singapore. During the wait, though, we called the airline and re-booked ourselves on a later flight that same day.
We finally made it to our destination, one day and four hours later than planned. Good thing we decided on six days in Singapore instead of our original idea of five. We needed that extra day!
Upon exiting Singapore’s airport, we immediately realized how unprepared we were for the heat and especially for the humidity. Even for me, having spent roughly 92% of my life suffering from being cold, it was too much.
But given that Singapore is the most well-off country in all of southeast Asia, finding the cool breeze of air conditioning was not a problem.
Singapore also stands out from its neighboring countries for being pretty clean and orderly. I actually didn’t reflect much over this because a number of friends had told me this beforehand. But it’s true. And it apparently took the banning of gum to achieve this.
Got a Prescription for that Gum?
Although chewed and discarded gum was considered a problem for years, it wasn’t banned until the 80s when the metro system was inaugurated. Vandals kept putting gum on the train doors’ sensors which caused delays and headaches.
You can actually still chew gum for dental or nicotine purposes, but you need a doctor’s prescription for it.
So what do people do when they need a quick fix to their bad breath? Just as with prohibition, the market adapted accordingly. I bought these “chewing mints” which were chewy and minty, much like Mentos, but they left my mouth tasting worse off than before I’d had one.
We didn’t explore much of Singapore during our short visit – no museums, very little eating out. Lincoln was gracious enough to drive us around and point out various things. After all, our main reason for coming was to catch up with him and my cousin.
We did, however, experience one local tradition that stuck with me – breakfast. Lincoln took us to a kopitiam, a café serving both food and drink. While the Swedeheart went for a bowl with rice, chicken, and veggies, I went for the kaya toast and soft-cooked eggs, plus one of the many varieties of iced kopis. If you thought the options at Starbucks were confusing…
And then there was the dinner out with my cousin and her husband. I was about to order sparkling water when Michelle asked, “Don’t you want a fresh coconut?” It was the perfect drink too cool me down.
The fourth thing about Singapore is its interesting and diverse architecture which is everywhere. Lincoln happens to be an architect, so we were treated to a unique perspective of the city.
He told us that when it comes to development in Singapore, the architect has a lot of opportunities. The clients, engineers, and contractors support the design pursuit, which means that architects get to see their wild ideas implemented.
Due to the climate being particularly harsh on materials and also because Singapore only has so much space on the island to play with, the life of a building is pretty short before it is demolished and replaced. Many of the multi-storied complexes we saw were built in the 90s and probably coming to their end.
Visiting one of these constructions was the sightseeing highlight of our time in Singapore. Read about it in a future post!