Singapore – The America of Asia

We awoke not as refreshed as we had hoped. Lynn had slept as well as she could being as excited as she was and Doug slept as well as he could with Lynn being as excited as she was. But that’s OK, because we were in Singapore! We showered and packed our daypack (with water bottles filled from the tap!) then hopped in the car with Rubaina and Tawfiq who were heading to work. We dropped Rubaina off at Singapore Polytechnic where she is a professor now and Tawfiq drove us onward to the National University of Singapore (NUS) where he is a researcher for the Center for Environmental Sensoring and Monitoring (CENSAM). For those that may not be aware, CENSAM is the lab that Lynn worked with in graduate school and where she met the wonderful Rubaina and Tawfiq. Before showing off the new CENSAM digs, Tawfiq brought us to a nearby NUS canteen for some roti prata, an Indian-inspired Singaporean fried bread with curry, for breakfast. This was on the list of must-tries for Doug and it seemed to be a hit! Already, Singaporean food was better than its Cambodian counterparts. Tawfiq also let us sample his dosai, an Indian pancake, dipped in curry which was equally delicious.

Roti Prata
Roti Prata

We finished breakfast then grabbed some fresh watermelon and kiwi juices to go. Tawfiq then walked us around CENSAM’s new campus home, a beautifully modern cluster of buildings situated around a nice green space. CENSAM certainly had upgraded. Not only did they now have a dedicated lab space, but the space was at least 8x the size of its former self and featured garage doors for ease of moving robotic kayaks for sea trials! You may not appreciate this as much as Lynn, but you did not have to lift 100+ lb kayaks into an elevator, support it at an angle while in said elevator, then lift it once again into the provided truck… every morning of sea trials. Yes, CENSAM certainly had an upgrade. Along with the garage doors, there are now very large tanks for various experiments, a whole tool shop, and a slew of new robotic toys to play with. AND, guess what. There was even some NI DAQ equipment that Doug promptly took a picture of. If only we could do some consulting, he could say this was a business trip. Right?

The kayaks!
The kayaks!
Its a really big tank now, some of which is controlled by LabVIEW.
It’s a really big tank now, some of which is controlled by LabVIEW.
NI DAQ. Doug, time for you to get this visit reimbursed.
NI DAQ. Doug, time for you to get this visit reimbursed.

Not wanting to take too much of Tawfiq’s morning, we said our goodbyes for now and then took off on foot to the NUS MRT station (also a new addition since Lynn was last here) where we took the subway to Raffles Place to do some touristy things. Our first stop was at Singapore’s Merlion which we were sad to learn was not in full operation due to maintenance. From there we walked over to the new Marina Bay Sands complex – a hotel, casino, and shopping mall all in one. This had been under construction 5 years ago and was a subject of much ridicule due to amount of regulation they had planned to prevent their own population from succumbing to the evils of gambling. As a foreigner we were allowed in just by showing our passport which needed to be done upon both entrance and exit. Had we been Singaporean or a permanent citizen, we would have needed to pay S$100 for a 24 hour pass or S$2000 for a 12 month pass. Dear Singaporean residents, it is not worth it! It is just an unassuming casino. There’s no pizzazz to the styling or even good people watching (though this could have been due to us being there at 11 a.m.). We ended up walking the casino floor gawking at the S$100 minimum bets and quickly left knowing this was certainly too rich for our blood.

The Esplanade, with its very durian-like structure.
The Esplanade, with its very durian-like structure.
The Merlion would normally be spouting water into the way.
The Merlion would normally be spouting water into the way.
The Marina Bay Sands complex with the ArtScience Museum off to the left.
The Marina Bay Sands complex with the ArtScience Museum off to the left.

We then debated visiting the other recent attraction added the waterfront – the Gardens by the Bay – but decided the entry fee was too hefty for something we’d rather see in nature anyway. Instead we visited the currently free ArtScience Museum which featured some very handsome architecture and a well designed, though not our preferred topic, Hermes exhibit. The highlight of the exhibit was a man who was systematically hand stitching a red leather bag.

A man stitching bags at the Hermes exhibit.
A man stitching bags at the Hermes exhibit.
A view of downtown Singapore.
A view of downtown Singapore.

At this point we were starting to get hungry again so decided we should introduce Doug to the local hawker culture, but was disappointed to find that there weren’t any nearby. Instead we changed our route and took off towards the Raffles Hotel with the belief that we would drink a Singapore Sling as the bar where it had been invented. At S$31 a pop we said, “whoa, whoa, whoa, that is more than we’ve ever paid for any drink” and instead politely excused ourselves from the experience. Tawfiq had told us that they sell it at 7/11 so we jokingly said we’d grab some from our favorite convenience store another time.

The Raffles Hotel - too rich for us at $800 per night.
The Raffles Hotel – too rich for us at $800 per night.

Instead we added some more steps to our count by walking up Singapore’s acclaimed shopping street, Orchard Road, in search of some more food for Doug to sample. First on the list: Laska – a spicy noodle soup. His impression was “meh,” wishing there had been more heat to the dish. It seems Lynn is rubbing off on him. We continued our trek down Orchard admiring a few expensive cars and well guarded embassies before entering another mall in search of peanut butter sesame balls that had been present 5 years previously. The search was a wash, but we were able to have Doug try some chendol, a Malaysian dessert of ice, red beans, gula melaka (a type of sugar), coconut milk, and pandan worms. His impression this time: “Yum!” with the gula melaka being his favorite part.

Laska
Laska
Chendol
Chendol

We had a few more hours to kill before meeting back up with Tawfiq and Rubaina, so we took the opportunity to add even more steps to our day. We walked the remainder of Orchard Road and on to the beautiful Botanical Gardens. Here we learned that a number of trees grow very very fast with some being younger than us but standing at heights of several stories. We also walked through a very lovely orchid garden surprised to learn that 10% of flowering plants fall in the orchid category. We completed the tour of the garden, hopped on the subway, and grabbed a bubble tea before meeting up with our hosts once again.

Doug's favorite orchids
Doug’s favorite orchids

Tawfiq and Rubaina picked us up and brought us to an Indian restaurant near where they had once lived. They ordered for us, treating us to dosais, mutton curry, chicken curry, fish cakes, biryani rice, dal, and even more curry topped off with sweet lassis. Needless to say, it was all incredible and we both got to practice eating with our fingers which we haven’t quite mastered yet. We then headed back to their apartment for some relaxing and blog writing while Tawfiq and Rubaina took care of some errands. Post errands, Tawfiq took us for a walk around the neighborhood while plying us with a plethora of cultural knowledge. We also took the time to ask Tawfiq what an American cultural show would feature and we decided that he totally won the contest with his answer which was very obvious to him: Broadway! Yes, when non-Americans think of America they think of New York. And what do you find in New York? Broadway, of course. And what did he think culturally American food was? Thanksgiving dinner. We very much agree.

The gang at dinner. The photographer didn't do the best job. We'll need a do-over.
The gang at dinner. The photographer didn’t do the best job. We’ll need a do-over.

Post walk we were both exhausted from completing more miles than we had done for quite some time. So, we said our goodnights and promptly hit the sack.

Daily Walking Mileage: 16.5

Fun Facts:

  • You may be wondering why we named the post the way we did. Well, Singapore in it’s rawest form is comprised of a number of ethnic groups all trying to work together to build a booming country while both maintaining their decendants’ cultures and simultaneously defining their own.
  • Residents of Singapore have the choice to live in public or private housing. In Tawfiq’s description private condos feature a fancy named entrance way, private pools, and tennis courts. Public housing enables Singapore to be free of homelessness offering options for even the poorest of poor in HDB flats with 99 year leases.
  • Unlike the majority of its Southeast Asian neighbors, fruit juice stands in Singapore default to no added sugar. You must request it, if desired. This makes Lynn happy to no end since she doesn’t care for the extra sweetness.
  • After reading our last post, Tawfiq politely informed us of the real use of ‘lah’ in Singlish. The word comes from the many Chinese descendants that now inhabit Singapore. In Chinese culture, odd numbers are considered unlucky, so the Mandarin language features a filler word which allows any sentences with an odd number of words to now become an even number. This trait has permeated into Singlish. So, our last post was quite incorrect and should have been just “Hello, Singapore!” or “Hello, Singaporean Residents, Lah!” to make it even.

One thought on “Singapore – The America of Asia

  1. How do people know how many words are in their sentences so they know to add ‘lah’ at the end? Or do they just speak in really short sentences lah?

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