Singapore in 20 Hours

Here’s one way to conduct a 20-hour layover in Singapore, if you don’t mind walking to walk many, many miles in sticky humidity.

Wednesday, November 18th, 2016

12:00am – Sleeping at the Airport

I really didn’t want to spend money for a hotel – only to sleep there for less than six hours. Luckily, there are sleeping cots at the airport.  It’s dark, there is soft music playing, the chairs are reclined. B-Y-O-Blanket or pillow. 

7:00am – Using the MRT

I’ve accomplished both sleep and then coffee while still at the airport. I stowed my larger carry-on in a rent-a-locker. I’m feeling light, agile and ready to take on the public transit system. 

The MRT is clean and efficient and easy to understand. It puts any U.S. metro system to shame for its punctuality and straightforward maps. 

8:00am — Little India!

I wandered aimlessly – sounds, smells and sights too much to comprehend at the early hour in a foggy haze. This place is a tourist draw, for sure, but first and foremost, the main market is a place to find daily necessities for Singaporeans.

There are also many tiny food stalls to buy ready-made food. A blog I read dared me to try bull penis stew. I couldn’t find it. Admittedly, I can’t say I looked that hard. 

Many of the market-goers were eating dosa (a crepe-type thing made from rice/lentils with different fillings). I opted for that and also a prata (a flat bread fried in butter).

Embarrassingly enough, I was nervous to dive into either. After watching the chefs exchange money intermittently with cooking and filling up water with plastic buckets stowed on the floor. I sent a prayer up to the street food gods and sat at the communal tables across from a nice couple also sheepishly eating with their hands. It was a sloppy and flavorful mess. 

It was nice, but nothing to rave about. I’m not an Indian fare connoisseur, so its hard to know whether I chose a reputable food stall, or, whether I used the right sauces, etc. Embarrassingly, I was very nervous to use the communal sauces. Many flies were also sharing the sauces with us. 

Above all, my favorite part of Little India was my new friend Ragini. She had a henna table right in front of the entrance to the marketplace. She looked about my age and calmly welcoming. After being accosted by many other henna artists (some with cheaper prices), I still returned to seek her out because she seemed kind and welcoming. 

I sat. We chatted. I learned that she lives in Malaysia with her husband and two kids, but comes to Singapore to catch the tourists in high season. The henna design took about five minutes, but I sat for another 25 minutes waiting for it to dry. She had a sing-songy voice and a very calming nature. 

Ragini said I should start doing henna and open up a shop in my own city! Then, she could come to live and work at my shop in the U.S. Maybe one day I can kick this plan into motion. 

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9:30am — Downtown Core

I ended up here basically by mistake. There is a bar/vista opportunity called Altitude where you can get a stunningly high view above the skyscrapers. But, I found out that was going to cost a neat $30-ish Singapore dollars, so I passed. 

The Downtown Core has sharply clad business people swarming the entire area. I looked really out of place with a camera slung on one shoulder and athletic-wear on. I sat down for a coffee to find that anything on a cafe’s menu was at least seven or eight Singapore dollars. 

Singapore is not cheap. I instantly felt not fancy enough for this hyper clean, hyper stylized city. I bought my $8 Singapore dollar coffee and did some people watching of the business types. 

I didn’t have many preconceived ideas about Singapore. So its opulence doesn’t surprise me, per se, but it certainly is strange to see in contrast to the vast open markets with tiny food stalls. The new and intimidating innovation are built right up next to the older and traditional. 

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11:00am — Chinatown 

The great Singapore chicken rice battle has two heavy weights competing… Anthony Bourdain vs. a Michelin Star. 

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is in the Maxwell Food Centre – the main Chinatown area of food stands. Apparently Anthony Bourdain has been there. I haven’t seen that episode, so I’m not sure what his review was. 

Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle has a Michelin star. It’s the cheapest meal available that’s been awarded one, so the Internet tells me. 

I decided initially to for the Michelin star place, only to find that it was closed on Wednesdays (my one day in Singapore)!

Tian Tian in Chinatown was lovely, although, again I think the nuance and delicate simplicity of this dish is likely lost on me. The chicken is steamed and very tender, rice is fluffy and buttery, the chili sauce is great. And that’s it! That’s chicken rice. 

I wish I could have tried this dish against the Michelin star rated one! 

3:00 pm — Marina Bay Sands (Gardens by the Bay)

I think if I would have gone at night, this place would have been like a scene from Avatar. It’s hard to comprehend what you’re seeing – it looks so surreal. 

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A tourist trap for sure, but there’s so much space it doesn’t matter much. It doesn’t feel too crowded. You do have to buy a ticket for basically everything, of course.

The Cloud Forest (which is inside Marina Bay Sands) especially caught me off guard. I had pegged it as just another symbol of Singapore’s success on the cutting edge. But, the intention behind the indoor garden is very interesting. The Cloud Forest houses many tropical plants from around the world that are going extinct. An informational video in the exhibit talked about humans’ impact on the environment is killing off many plant species in the rainforests. 

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5:00pm — Marina Sands Mall

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Adjacent to the Gardens, there is a terribly large mall, which is frustrating to navigate. The best part was walking toward the mall and enjoying a sunset on the bay. I grabbed a bite to eat at a fast-casual dining spot, and got some great Korean sunscreen at a little pharmacy. Why are all Korean skin products so superior to ours?

The architecture, again, doesn’t disappoint. There’s the Helix Bridge (self-explanatory), cozied up next to the ArtScience Museum which looks like a blossomed artichoke. 

helix bridge

7:00pm – Returning to the Airport! 

Riding the immaculate MRT back to the airport, I watched almost everyone play Pokemon Go on their phones. No one seems stressed. The metro announcements play in Mandarin, English, Malay and then Tamil. How incredibly hospitable. 

Singapore seems to really have its act together.

The Travelers Relationship Test

Originally posted August 7th, 2018 on a friend’s travel blog. 

The things we all know: travel is illuminating when it comes to a partner, you could have a great travel partner who isn’t necessarily a great life partner, and finally, if the nomadic life is the aspiration then hands to the heavens that you can find both. 


The Denpasar, Bali airport is muggy and stifling. It’s full of drivers holding up signs and looking expectantly at you. I’ve arrived first, so I settle in and watch the scene around me. 

So I landed the role of a ‘plus one’ to a wedding in Bali. I realize that’s a bold move—flying across the world for a date. But don’t worry, folks, it all worked out. What better way to put a budding relationship to the test other than to travel together?

Beach_Bums

The couple-to-be lives in Hong Kong and picked Bali as a destination wedding. Bali is an easy flight from Hong Kong and in the same time zone. Unlike the flights for us Americans, which take a full 24 hours of travel. 

bali_wedding

Once you’re in Bali, you should do as much as possible seeing as it’s likely you’re not getting back anytime soon! If time allows, you could combine the trip with more of Indonesia (Jakarta, Sumatra, Java). This is something I didn’t do, which I’m bummed about. 

Bali is for the Tourists

The resorts in Bali are plentiful. Although it’s getting wildly popular, you can still find great accommodation for about $100/night.  

This wedding was in Nusa Dua, on the southern tip of Bali, which meant we had a couple days of dinners lined up at different resorts. The main venue was the Ritz.

bali_dap

The Ritz Carlton of Bali looks like Jurassic Park. It is not a hotel, it is a village. 

However, since we did not want to put all our eggs in one basket, we opted for the more economic Swiss-Belhotel nearby. It had a great breakfast, bangin’ pool, but not so desirable bathroom.

If you’re looking for more of a hostel-speed, there are certainly options in places like Ubud and Seminyak, but not in the resort-heavy Nusa Dua where we were for the wedding. 

Getting Around

Get a private driver for your day excursions! To hire a car for six to eight hours in a day, the cost should come out to $50-60 USD. 

The driver will take you anywhere you want to go. They also give advice, if you want to heed it. It’s best to remember that the advice comes from the point of view that: you are a tourist, and therefore, you probably want to do sterilized, tourist things. 

That’s a little harsh, but it was sometimes difficult to explain things to our driver like: “Yes, I really want to eat the far-cheaper local food at the risk of possible indigestion.” 

Advice they give is based on geography and pragmatism. Luckily, our driver led us to a luwak coffee tasting that we had no idea about. What is luwak, you ask? This is the coffee derived from the feces of civet cats, who eat the coffee beans. Yep. 

Troll_Coffee

Exploring Nusa Dua 

Uluwatuu Temple 

We were recommended to see this temple at sundown to catch the nightly dance performance. The sunset is perfect there. 

Uluwatu_Beach

The dance every night is a mysterious spectacle of sound and costume. If you are artistically-inclined and embrace the abnormal, it’s a priority. Go early and get some butt-space—this place is, regrettably (but unsurprisingly), and awesome tourist trap.

Evening_Dance

Green Bowl Beach

This was an amazing find. A friend recommended it as a surfer beach off the beaten path. Again, getting there earlier is better. Still suffering from jet lag, we arrived at the crack of dawn and enjoyed a mostly empty beach until the afternoon.  

Green Bowl, however, is a real pain to get to. We took a cab one way and waited 30 minutes for an Uber to get back. The outing is probably best suited for a day with a driver. 

Green_Bowl

Ubud the Artist Community

From the south in Nusa Dua, Ubud is an easy enough day trip – about one and a half hours each way. We were aiming to get to the Tegallalang Rice Terraces as the first stop in the late morning. 

It rained mercilessly all day. On such a trip with your newfound romantic interest getting caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella is one of those make-or-break scenarios. We fashioned plastic bag ponchos that we had to buy from of a shop owner, and didn’t let the rain get in our way. I decided then that my travel companion possessed that certain travel easy-going, x-factor that we fellow wanderers so desire. 

Even with no sunlight in sight, the cascading green rice fields are still unbelievable.

Rice_Porn

We ate decadent ‘roast suckling pig’ back downtown in Ubud at a place called Babi Guling Ibu Oka. As always, earlier is better because the pig typically runs out in early afternoon. 

We wandered the artisan markets, getting swarmed by shop vendors. We bought bottle-opener penis gourds—because this is what you do in Bali. 

Another Ubud attraction we didn’t make it to is the Monkey Forest. After getting my snacks stolen at Green Bowl Beach by one cheeky primate, I didn’t feel like I needed to pay money to get my sunglasses stolen as well. 

Ending the Trip in Seminyak 

On our last day with private driver we made the best possible decision: to go to Sekumpul Falls. 

The low down:

  1. It’s a far, three-hour drive from Nusa Dua across the island.
  2. It’s a very difficult hike not due to endurance but for the knees and balance aspect with loose rocks strewn everywhere.
  3. It is singularly the coolest part of my Bali trip and one of my top favorite excursions I’ve ever done.

The falls are very isolated. It feels like a big secret… So don’t pass it on to anyone uncool who’s not worthy of it! 

Yoga_Falls

Not only do you see stunning waterfalls on this hike down into the valley, there are other rice fields that stretch across the rolling hills. And these views are all for you. We didn’t see anybody else until we got all the way down to the falls. 

Troll_RiceFields

Afterward, we drove toward Seminyak. If we thought Nusa Dua and Ubud were touristy, Seminyak takes it to a new level. There are almost exclusively Australians on holiday running around on the beach and in the restaurants. But, the boutiques were great and the hotel was a great value: TS Suites Leisure Seminyak

TS_Seminyak

Final “pro” tip: the best coming-home food gifts are found at the supermarket in Seminyak. 

To see a map itinerary of the places we went and others we intended to, you can see it here: http://www.excursion-app.com/trip/?p=rmzk6BAd9w

I referenced the Excursion app in a post about Singapore. It’s not fool-proof, but I love how it drops pins on the map for you to judge how close you are to attractions. 

All and all, ladies and gentleman, if traveling as a plus one, Bali is not for the romantically faint of heart. Everyone assumes you’re on your honeymoon (and asks repeatedly). But if you think the relationship (whether budding or veteran) could use a touch of resort luxury with some mischievous monkeys and surprisingly delicious cow brain, Bali is the place for you!  

Success

My Dad’s 25 Random Things: 

(Swiped from a Facebook post in 2009). 

1. Old friends are the best.
2. Getting outside is good for the soul.
3. I’ve been thinking this winter was ‘record-setting’ – and the AA Snooze-paper confirms it tonight.
4. Changing jobs after 23 years in the same place is a bit destablizing and stressful.
5. Change is good.
6. What will we all do now that life is not all about buying stuff that we don’t need and that costs too much?
7. My kids rock.
8. My nieces and nephews are an amazing bunch of people.
9. The lake house addition is still not done – after what, about 10 years? Oh well, maybe this summer.
10. The only thing that sucks about the new job is so little vacation.
11. Those stock options better pay off!
12. I’m not looking forward to doing my taxes after they do. (Maybe then it’ll be time to hire an accountant.)
13. Harold, one of these days I want to actually make it out on the big lake on your boat–not just up the river and back.
14. Laurie(&Joe)-you can invite us up to Plymouth to partake of your cooking as often as you like.
15. I do better (and enjoy more) playing old-fashioned pinball games than Gears of War.
16. Why do some people think cutting taxes is the answer to everything?
17. I’m feeling a need to waterski this summer–just to prove it can still be done by someone over 50.
18. Reading is also good for the soul – real books, that is – not this on-line stuff.
19. Hot showers are about as good as being outside – and definitely better when it’s below zero out.
20. It’s been way too long since we went camping.
21. Answers to the most serious existential questions can only be found around a campfire – with plenty of beer on hand. (Note: The beer serves to obscure the fact that there are no answers to such questions–but also makes this sad fact more tolerable.)
22. Keep moving. Use it or lose it.
23. Sunsets are restful, sunrises challenge you to try again.
24. Shaving is more fun with a good electric razor.
25. Bedtime!

Beer Boot Mugs

I think I first remember big hugs.

Then I remember Toe Jam and Earl on Sega. And a trip to Wendy’s in Ann Arbor when you were babysitting the two of us.

We must have been so annoying to deal with after the cute phase.

But I never ever felt that from you.

I’ve held my “Sporto” award to my chest like it’s sewn on.

Then I remember that you would always keep the fun going. As kids that meant being the longest adult to play the noodle-frisbee game, and as adults that means NO-sleeping, more shots, more euchre. We love it.

And that’s what it’s been as adults. I deeply care about how you find that time sacred, like I do.

But then we all scattered like a bag of marbles, and everything that’s sacred has become more difficult… And weddings and funerals seem to be the only written-in guarantees of what I grew up loving so dearly.

Then I had a unique chance to center life around family… on a different ocean. It was so scary and exciting I almost couldn’t believe it. Of course, it was colored with shock and sadness, but I still knew it would be all those things.

It was within my grasp, but I let it go. Without really even realizing that I did.

But you all realized, and I felt your sadness before I felt my own.

Why does one have to choose? I’m so mad while being so broken and exhausted that I had to choose.

I chose to give a love another chance. And that’s what I’m doing. That’s all I know so far.

But in the downbeats, when I remember the ‘almost’, the ‘what-if’… I can’t keep it together. I can’t bear to think that I let down the ones I love the most.

So I hope I didn’t… Not completely…

I think about you all everyday. I wanted so much to be a part of the everyday activities. Your safety net was going to catch me in my free-fall.

I don’t know much about many things. I don’t know if I made the ‘right’ decision. Just wading through this swamp hoping it feels more like countryside sometime soon.

….But it won’t have mountains and ocean and Beer Boot Mugs.

And I try not to cry knowing that.

 

 

 

I don’t remember agreeing to this…

In light of my recent conversation with my beloved college lady sweetheart, we decided to craft an ode to the perpetual hatred of adulthood. Our disdain is surely mirrored by, oh… Everyone in the world.

Reasons I hate being a grown up

1. What did I do on my day off work? I mopped my apartment. More troubling than that is the fact that I got real pleasure out of the floor being clean.

2. Working more days than the weekend. And what do I do on the weekend? I wear pajamas for 24-48 hours straight. I’m not mad about it, but I should just rephrase that to say that there is no weekend.

3. Dating older men now runs the risk of getting involved in complicated, modern family situations.

4. Thinking about how big life and financial decisions will make taxes all the more difficult.

5. Doing taxes…. Okay fine. I’m sending my W2s to my Dad, but it’s still a huge pain.

Generally speaking, the way older people in my life always talked reminiscently about the way they “blinked and all the time has passed”, has come to fruition. It doesn’t exactly seem like just yesterday that I was cramming for a high school algebra test or watching Saturday morning cartoons, but I sure don’t remember electing to not only have a job… but be expected to: do laundry, go grocery shopping, budget… fill up my car with gas, pay for insurance… and LOOK like I’m a self-sustaining participant of adult society. I don’t remember raising my hand for that.

I’ll always dance in my underwear, damnit.

***

Read JoJo’s middle finger to maturity here. 

To Whoever Got Stuck Sifting Through Resumes

Oh, hi! Is someone actually reading this? I thought cover letters were just a torture device designed by hiring managers to weed out casual job seekers from the truly desperate.

I’m writing because I saw that your company has an open position that is vaguely related to my experience and interests. Honestly, it’s not exactly my dream job but I’m getting pretty sick of ramen noodles so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I’m a college graduate, and I would tell you which college I graduated from except it wasn’t an ivy so you probably don’t care. I have held a respectable number of internships and other career-related positions, and I have undertaken soul-enriching travel to foreign countries that I occasionally bring up to help me make a point, but not in an obnoxious way. I also have real, paid work experience in a position that taught me important skills about professionalism and how to laugh when your boss tells the same stupid joke for the fifth time. I eventually quit (that’s why I’m writing to you!) when it became clear that I was never going to get a promotion no matter how well I did my job. You may see this as a sign of flakiness or disloyalty, but I’d prefer it if you thought of me as someone who is willing to take risks to get what she wants.

Oh, yeah, she. Did I mention I’m a woman? But before you write me off, know that I am reasonably attractive, sometimes bring delicious baked goods to the office, and I will play along with your awkward flirting as long as you don’t actually touch me. Also, I like beer and fast cars so I can totally be “one of the guys” if that’s the type of female employee you are looking for.

I have all the fake skills you say I need for this entry-level job (seriously, I can’t believe you listed Power Point as a required skill. It’s 2014; eight-year-olds know how to use Power Point). I can speak French, which is completely irrelevant but might impress you, and perhaps more to the point, I am capable of writing business e-mails without any embarrassing typos or inappropriate emoticons.

Let’s be honest. It doesn’t really matter who you hire for this position. A poorly trained monkey could do it. I know you want someone who has always been passionate about writing the monthly financial reports for a paperclip company, and you may even find an applicant who can convince you that they are that person. But as far as I’m concerned, a passion for being able to pay the rent is at least as motivating, and I’ve got that in spades.

Call me when your first choice declines,

Annie


Annie is a guest contributor who enjoys baking at four in the morning, eating foods without enough iron and making irrational decisions after drinking tequila (hence, our bond as cousins). She lives in Brooklyn, New York at present with her two roommates: a successful, super cute shoe addict, and a determined mouse who resides in the shower drain. 

The Long Bus Ride

I stand in line for the Megabus… I’ve done this too many times. Not even splurging for the train. Headed to the city of cities for a very chilly New Year’s Eve in Times Square.

I stand with my friends. Or, what I’ve conjectured in my head as my friends. A family originating from some Spanish-speaking country that asks me if they’re in the right line. Everyone has the same question. The older son has a Targus backpack just like mine, and I desperately want to ask where he bought his. Then I think to myself that maybe Targus is the JanSport of South America and that would sound so naive to ask him just so I could say that I bought mine in Miraflores.

On the bus there’s an extraordinarily pretty girl that allows me to try out her above-the-seat outlet only to find that they ALL DON’T WORK. Her wild curly hair and young-Eartha Kitt face makes me think that all people in New York City must be effortlessly beautiful and impossibly trendy.

There’s a group of friends communicating through sign language, which leads me to a train of thought about what interrupting someone looks like in sign language.

Everyone is going somewhere. Doing something – just by being on this bus and en route.

What does being en route mean? Is it just anticipating the next thing…

I think it’s the slightly reckless feeling of not knowing exactly what’s going to happen next.

I always want to know where people are going. What they’re doing. Who’s important to them? Do they try as hard to please their parents, to live up to what they’re supposed to amount to?

I am en route. We are all en route.