When your husband hits a big milestone (like turning 30) and you’re living as an expat, you don’t want to stop the celebration after one fancy dinner. You want to make it the most memorable birthday yet – not just a birth-DAY but a birth-week… maybe even a birth-MONTH…(yeah, no that’s going a little too far). But you get where I’m going with this. It needed to be special and the birthday boy had full reign. For this trip, Shawn’s only requirements included a big city, decent weather and good food. With this easy list of conditions, we dropped our next pin on Singapore, the world’s only island city-state, the land of weird laws and notable cleanliness. Located at the southernmost tip of continental Asia and only about 80 miles from the equator, makes this city-state hotter than you could imagine. The lowest temperature recorded for this island nation was a mere 66 degrees in January 1934! So needless to say, this city is a giant bubble of heat, but there were no complaints coming from the two of us. It was a welcomed change from our blend of smog and bone-chilling weather back home in the ‘Du.
Before we began booking our trip to Singapore, the only things we really knew about the city where it’s universal reputation for impeccable cleanliness and strange laws. It is also called The Fine City, which is a double meaning for the fine state of Singapore, but also referring to the many fines that the country hands out to its people. Here are a few of my favorites -
1. No cuddling in public
– Apparently making out or showing a little PDA is a big no-no here. You can spend up to one year in jail if found guilty of this “crime”.
2. Don’t look strange in the metro
– You’re not allowed to eat, drink or take any pictures on the metro in the city. While on the MRT, you will even hear an automated announcement referring to keeping an eye out for suspicious persons and pressing the emergency button if you notice any funny activity.
3. No nudity in your home
– While we Americans always use the term, “in the comfort of your own home”, that is not the case in Singapore. You are not allowed to walk around naked in your own home. If you are found breaking this law, you could face pornography charges which could lead to jail time or a large fine ($1,000+).
4. No selling of gum
– You’re able to chew gum in the city, but the sale of gum is illegal in this city-nation. If you’re a reseller found smuggling gum into Singapore, you can spend a year in jail and be hit with a fine of $5,500.
5. It’s considered rude to be left-handed
– Are you left handed? If so, Singapore is probably not the place for you. It is considered rude to wave, greet or eat with your left hand as this hand is associated with using the bathroom.
6. Bungee jumping is illegal
7. Not flushing a public toilet after use
– If you do not flush the toilet after immediately using, you have a risk of being fined $500. According to one man’s blog, special police used to randomly check stalls after pedestrian use.
8. Three’s a crowd… after 10pm
– Three is truly a crowd in Singapore after 10. Any public gathering of more than two people after this time is considered illegal and your ID cards will be checked by local police and usually, let off with a warning, but you’re still told to scram!
We landed around midnight and proceeded directly to our hotel before our first full day in the Fine City. We stayed at a historical boutique hotel located in walking distance between the city’s neighborhood Little India and some of Singapore’s infamous shopping alleys. This area of the city, known as Kampong Glam, was constituted as a conservation area in 1989 and has since attracted the locals and tourists to its streets to enjoy its eclectic mix of it’s traditional and modern shops and restaurants. Our first morning we were awoken by the adhan (call to prayer) coming from the mosque next to our hotel. At first, it was startling, as it felt as if they were chanting at the foot of our bed. But once we realized where the chants were coming from, it almost felt like a welcome from the city and an invite to explore a new culture.
Our first priority, as it always is when we visit a new country, was food, food, food! More specifically, a coffee shop for great espresso and a light breakfast. The relentless obsession with specialty coffee cafes has not been spared in Singapore. Every corner you turn you have another coffee shop that promises to have the best cup of joe you can find in the city. However, the one we stumbled into that morning was probably the best latte either one of us have had yet. With our outstanding coffee also came some incredible breakfast filled with avocado toast, perfect eggs and hash. We enjoyed it so much we made an effort to eat breakfast twice at Maison Ikkoku during our stay. Our days were filled with exploring the different districts of the city, visiting the first Universal Studio’s in Asia on Sentosa Island, touring the local aquarium and scouring the city for unique restaurants of any cuisine. One feature of Singapore that we did not expect was how multi-cultural it was. In most Asian countries, the majority of the population are natives of that heritage and ethnicity, but Singapore does not have one specific culture or ethnic group. The state is composed of many different groups such as Chinese, Malay, and Indian which really makes the country rich with cultural diversity, but most importantly for us in our travels – culturally diverse in the food department. One of our favorite meals was in the Little India Hawker Center (food stalls). Picture the Texas State Fair food court, double it’s size, place it outside and put a tent over it and voila! you have the Little India Hawker Center. Food is this neighborhood’s number one commodity and they do it so well. We were surrounded by the locals for this is a place where you get authentic tastes from an entire subcontinent in an area less than one square mile. The flavors we found were the real deal and not watered down to be considerate of western palates. We ate our two embarrassingly large dishes of spicy butter chicken and tikka masala in the scorching sun without a care of how sweaty we were from the dish’s and city’s heat. Outside of the food stalls, we were surrounded by streets lined with spice shops and authentic Indian gifts, making us feel we had been transported into their world while we stopped into a woman’s booth to pick out a traditional palm henna tattoo.
Our nights were a little more sumptuous than our days. We explored the up and coming restaurants along the Singapore river, visited the top of the Marina Bay Sand’s hotel for a cocktail while enjoying the remarkable panoramic views of the city’s skyline. To continue our James Bond-esc evenings, we took a trip to the city’s infamous casino to see what all the talk was about. As we walked in, the place was packed with the majority of the casino being filled with travelers from all over Asia and not many locals, as they must pay a $100 levy before stepping in for their chance at the tables. As we were both casino first timers (I know, I know – we’re late bloomers) we spent a lot of time peeping over the shoulders of the real players and trying to get an understanding of the rules of each table. I took my stab at a few slots and we were up for a while until we lost it all on black in the end (isn’t it how that always goes?).
As Shawn’s birthday trip came to a close with our bags and bellies a litter fuller than when we arrived, we added the country near the top of our list and would recommend it to all. Singapore is an amazing country. You shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit. To be successful, check your assumptions at the door and always be careful to follow the letter of the law.