I am now more than halfway through my little Singapore experiment. Time flies. I've lived here long enough that I recognize most of the areas, but I still don't know where they are relative to one another. It's very strange when you realize how close everything is, when you're casually walking through one district and suddenly find yourself in another.
My favorite part of being here is always finding little hidden gems. Small things that I find beautiful, that catch my attention and make me pause for a minute to admire them. There are so many of them in Singapore, all tucked away. There's just so much vibrancy, so much life going on here, everywhere. There's always something interesting to see. I'm still not tired of it.
And Marina Bay is as beautiful as ever.
Of course the biggest news of this post period is the election (you can read my thoughts on it here if you really want to). And I'm not going to talk about it too much here, because the truth is, I'm still very upset about it. I'm upset that he won, I'm upset that he's already going back on so many of his promises and ruining our diplomatic relations, and I'm upset by the way that people are protesting the results. It hurts my soul.
On a completely unrelated note, I've been quite busy since my last post. My homestay mom, who loves museums as much as I do ("You're kind of an old soul," my homestay dad remarked), recommended that I go to the Peranakan Museum. I had never heard of the word "Peranakan" before, but it actually refers to Chinese-born immigrants who reside in Singapore. Essentially, it can mean anyone who is of mixed Chinese descent (usually with Malaysian and Indonesian). But it's especially significant in Singapore, where Peranakan presence is a cornerstone of the country's culture.
The most interesting part of this museum wasn't the actual pieces (although they were very cool), but the history of it. It's this entire ethnicity I wasn't even aware of, nestled right in the heart of Singaporean culture.
There's a distinct focus on hybridization, from the language to the food to the art, the latter of which was the focus of the museum. I toured the Nyonya Needlework: Embroidery and Beadwork in the Peranakan World exhibit, which housed some very eye-catching pieces from Peranakan weddings.
"Nyonya" (or "nonya") is a word that refers to the Peranakan craftswomen, and my tour guide Thomas noted that it was the curator's choice to spell it with an extra "y," a nod to the Malaysian version of the word. Because there's such a large Chinese population in Singapore, discussion of Peranakan culture usually is more Chinese-focused, so this is an interesting decision, a subtle expression of the Malaysian identity within a mixed culture.
The Chinese influence was very apparent, particularly the mix of Taoist and Buddhist ideology manifested in mixed auspicious symbols like the endless knot, as well as the illustration of motion, which was thought to breathe life into the pieces. But there is also a decidedly Western flavor that evolved from European ownership, like the triple flower design (Chinese art favors the unity of pairs, like the double fish), the shield shape from British aristocracy, and the shoes with uplifted toes from the Dutch.
The beadwork was incredible. The colors, the attention to detail...all of it was amazingly intricate and equally delicate. Some of them were made by stringing one bead through a network of threads in order to position it exactly in one place, and thousands of these beads together comprise a scene, like a peaceful lakeside or a dusky mountain range. Thomas explained that beading was not only an artistic choice, but a practical one—it took roughly 1/5 of the time of an embroidery piece. Some of the pieces were highly symbolic, evocative of personal thoughts and values, and others were occasional, like Peranakan wedding gifts.
I'm learning a little bit more about Singapore's history, too. One of our clients at work is Starbucks, so we were talking about the American version of what Singaporeans call "yin-yang": the Matcha Espresso drink. My coworker referred to this version as "ang moh," which literally translates to "red-hair" and is a Singlish word that refers to anyone non-Asian. There's a stop on the MRT called "Ang Mo Kio" which means "red-haired man's bridge," and apparently a lot of the stops are named for the original clans that owned the land there. My boss told me that sometimes there's an expression directed toward people who are acting pretentious: "Did your grandfather own this bridge?" But in Singapore, it's such a new country that it's actually a distinct possibility.
I went to a couple of little street festivals and craft fairs, ate some pretty food...
...went to some hip bars...
...and I finally went to Gardens by the Bay! It's always one of the top five tourist attractions listed on any travel guide to Singapore, famous for its "Supertrees," these massive, colorful pillars of light that branch out like a forest canopy. It's pretty magical. I still have yet to visit the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest (guess I'll have to go again), but I'm very happy I got to see the Christmas Wonderland and walk around the Supertree grove while it's all decorated for the holidays.
I've been very interested in data lately, which is unfortunate because there were so many classes I would've liked to take back in college about data processing, but now it's bleeding into marketing and news about privacy issues as well, so it's especially relevant. Data visualizations are so cool, especially when it's global social data, because it really reveals a lot about the ways in which we behave and the ways we think. My phone recently updated its OS, and I was especially startled to see that the camera could detect my age. Technology is insane. Awesome, but a little bit terrifying.
I think my favorite piece was the wall of movies posters, each one broken up into ten-second frames. Kill Bill, which is one of my favorite films for its cinematography (and Uma Thurman and Lucy Liu are awesome), was the most interesting, because you can clearly see the very deliberate color schemes Tarantino uses.
It was an excellent exhibit. I liked it 10x better than FutureWorld, actually.
Continuing my love affair with Singaporean architecture, I went to ArchiFest, a two week-long public festival last month "to celebrate architecture and the built world." I thought it would be something like the photo walk I went to in New York and I would get to walk around and explore the neighborhood, but I only went to the exhibition pavilion, which was rather unexciting.
But there was a showcase of award-winning architecture in Singapore, and I realized that one of the winners was right around the corner: the PARKROYAL on Pickering.
It's a gorgeous hotel right in the middle of the city, with a beautiful infinity pool and an innovative, eco-friendly structural design that incorporates plants and trees as decorative elements (this is because of a Singaporean building ordinance that requires a certain percentage of wildlife to be preserved, which I think is brilliant). It was really incredible.
I don't think I fully appreciated architecture until I came to Singapore, but there's such an artistry to it, kind of an intersection between form and function. I'm slowly becoming Ted Mosby. Catch me listening to the Esplanade Theater on my lunch break.
Okay, so let me tell you a story about my attempt at cooking. I like cooking. The food category of my blog is a testament to my love of experimentation, and when I have the time and resources, I often prefer cooking, as it's much cheaper and healthier than eating out, and it's fun. But in Singapore this isn't necessarily the case. When I got to my new homestay, I was excited that I had a full kitchen at my disposal. I decided to make basil almond pesto, a recipe Preeti and I had tried in one of our Friday Food sessions, because it was quick, easy, and I could take it to work.
But one thing about Singapore is that it's not a huge agricultural state. It's such a densely-packed city, and nearby countries like Indonesia and Malaysia are so agriculturally rich that much of the produce is simply imported. This makes everything rather expensive. I went to the grocery store and tried to buy basil, and it was $2.90 for a 30g packet of fresh basil leaves. Okay. But then for the recipe you need two cups of basil leaves, which is 340 GRAMS. That meant I would need ELEVEN PACKETS of basil leaves, which totals $31.90. In basil. So now I mostly just eat out, because there's really no economical advantage to cooking (or baking; baking is ridiculously expensive, as demonstrated in my last post).
The food is great, as usual. I've always preferred tea over coffee, and I've developed a full-fledged addiction to it living in Singapore. The tea shop I go to in my workplace, Heavenly Wang, has become a place of daily ritual for me, and the people who work there always recognize me so I don't even have to order anymore (which saves me the embarrassment of saying "teh C bing siew dai" in a terrible American accent), they just know, and sometimes the women who work there compliment me on my makeup. It's a beautiful relationship.
If there's one thing I've learned from Singapore, it's that the price of food often has nothing to do with the quality, which is why so many people discouraged me from trying the famous Michelin-starred hawker stall food. Singaporeans are extremely dedicated to finding good food, and rather than price, the queue time is generally an indication of good taste. In America, a long line is discouraging, but in Singapore, it is a testament to how worth it the food is, and people will happily join the queue for hours.
One example is chicken rice. I've tried all kinds of it here, and it's one of my favorite dishes for its simplicity and surprising depth of flavor, but one of the best ones was from a tiny stall in the Woodlands MRT station (featured in my second post). It was $2 and zero frills, wrapped up in a piece of wax paper (but you'd never know it from the way I photographed it). But it was delicious. A lot of other more expensive versions (and by "expensive" I mean $4 and $7 variations) just weren't as good. The hawker stall owners here are masters their craft, and they're not interested in making a huge profit or becoming wealthy from it. It's exactly what you need, no more and no less.
My coworkers and I found out that a real-life Central Perk just opened near Clarke Quay! Christine and I are huge fans of the show, so after work, the three of us hopped on a bus to the café (sorry Eileen for all the inside jokes). Everything on the menu is Friends-inspired, down to six customized coffee blends, one for each of the main characters, and each of the menu items referencing one of the episodes
The decor exactly matched the café in the show, with lots of cushy chairs and the same artwork and the granite coffee counter. They had episodes of Friends playing on a big screen. It was actually exceptionally well done. I had a "Rachel" coffee with matcha (essentially a Friends version of yin-yang), and then we split "The One That Joey Doesn't Even Feel Sorry For Eating" Heavy Fudge Chocolate Mud Cake.
It also had a scale replica of Monica and Rachel's kitchen, and a bunch of props from the show! It's the only Friends-licensed establishment outside of the U.S., so it was pretty hip. And also expensive.
They don't celebrate Thanksgiving here, so as soon as Halloween ended, it was like one big holiday extravaganza. And even though Christmas isn't as deeply-rooted a tradition as it is in America, Singapore is still Singapore (read: extra as hell).
The streets and storefronts are as lavishly decorated as Fifth Avenue, and when I go out on the weekends there are always people rushing around with carrier bags, taking pictures of all the lights, and there's always Christmas music playing nonstop. There's a competition between all of the stores on Orchard Road for "best-dressed"—towering trees, sparkling lights, life-sized gingerbread men and all.
So one night after dinner, I walked the length of the street, admiring all the lights. It was a full-on festival; they blocked off three of the streets and had Santa make an appearance for the kids. It was magical. It reminded me a lot of New York during the holiday season, despite the fact that I haven't been back during that season in maybe a decade, and that it's still 90 degrees outside.
Does anyone else romanticize the Christmas season and/or New York City as much as I do? I feel like I have a weird, childlike fixation on both, especially together (wintertime in New York is divine, if not for the blizzards lately), and I honestly don't know why I get so excited about them. But seeing them here, minus the cold weather, makes me feel a lot better about my first Christmas away from my family. It's very comforting.
POSSIBLE had its annual Christmas party, which was pretty wild. First we had a White Elephant gift exchange and Christmas tree contest in-office...we dressed David up in a tree costume (tinsel, flashing lights, and all!) and paraded him around the office, and ended up winning second place.
Then afterward we all headed to KPO Café Bar for food, drinks, and dancing. We all dressed up in different '80s styles (Planning/Accounts was aerobics, Creatives were video games, Finance was rock 'n' roll, etc) and ate our weights in truffle fries and chicken wings and pizza. And free-flow alcohol is always a positive for an office party. It was a lot of fun, even though we had to wear the most ridiculous outfits and dance to "Kung Fu Fighting" (we won first place though).
But in just over a week, it's off to Taiwan for actual Christmas! I can't wait. My coworkers have already prepared a list of food and makeup I have to try while I'm there (I've been holding off on Din Tai Fung so that I can try the original).
Work is fun as usual, too. I'm doing some client-facing stuff, but also a lot of stuff for my own development, which includes (surprise) a lot of research. Millennial research is especially funny, because it requires me to ask myself, "What do the kids like these days?" and I realize that although I am very typically millennial in many ways, I'm also out of touch with a lot of aspects of my own demographic.
BUT I've been working a bit with clients and doing some more data-driven research, which is really fun because it's kind of like taking a peek into the heart of the machine, seeing how all of the different parts fit together and make everything run smoothly on the surface.
I'm also doing a planning "playbook" as kind of an introduction to agencies/strategy and a general toolkit for new hire induction, samples of which you can check out in my portfolio ^_^ this was a really cool project for me because it was kind of my own thing, but I also got to do a bit of design for it as well.
Las weekend I went to ZoukOut, Asia's biggest music festival that's held on a beach in Sentosa, an island right off the coast of Singapore (one positive thing about Southeast Asian weather: being able to wear a bikini in December).
For those of you that know me, you know that I'm not super-into parties. I don't drink a lot, I would much rather spend most nights watching Netflix than out at a club, and I wear pajamas everywhere (I once went to a party in pajamas)(it was finals week, okay). But I'm in another country. I'm on my own. I've never gone to Vegas or Coachella or anything. So I said okay. And it was super-fun.
This year's lineup was pretty lit: Dillon Francis, Hardwell, Alan Walker, Martin Garrix, RAC, Snakehips, Tokimonsta, and Zedd!
Interestingly, a lot of Singaporeans I talked to didn't really know the lineup. Hardwell and Martin Garrix and Zedd were the big tickets, but the rest of the DJs weren't as well known, which was surprising (especially Dillon Francis?). Also, three separate DJs mixed "Seven Nation Army," which was funny, especially because it's not a new song. Not complaining, though.
I ended up missing the first day (Dillon Francis and Hardwell, unfortunately)(more on this later) but the second day lineup was actually really great. Sentosa is actually really close, so close I can see it from my office window. I took an Uber to the island, and then walked with a huge crowd of people to the beach. It was pretty insane...just hundreds of drunk people running through the streets and crowding onto the train.
I met this group of people from Japan who had flown in just to go to ZoukOut. They were really chill. I didn't even get their names, which I'm disappointed by, but we went to Alan Walker together.
Overall, this festival was a lot tamer than I would expect, I suspect because of the lack of drugs (but then again, the drinking here is pretty outrageous, if you saw my snap of the guy straight up passed out on the ground). It was relatively small, and a lot less crowded than some of the concerts I've been to at Earl Warren. And the only other rave I have for comparison was LED OMFG, which was in the San Diego Sports Arena AKA packed as hell. And we got to dance on a beach until 6 am. It was a lot of fun. I'd go again.
Highlights were Alan Walker, Zedd, and RAC. RAC surprised me a bit; I've always liked him (he's famous for making remixes sound not like remixes but actual songs), but this particular set was really groovy and a lot of fun. I just wish he had played before 5 am because I was too tired to dance. I got home at 7 am the next morning. Pretty good for someone whose bedtime is midnight. It's reaffirmed my belief that I could never go to EDC, as much fun as it looks. I honestly don't have the energy.
And most importantly, last month I completed the dreaded Reebok Spartan Sprint Race on Bintan Island, Indonesia! This all started a couple of months ago, when our CEO drunkenly promised the planning team that he would pay our entry fees if we competed, and we naïvely agreed. My coworkers and I trained a couple of times together, the first of which consisted of running a mile, 20 burpees, ten sets of 10 crunches + 15 squats, 20 more burpees, and then either running or walking back (I chose the latter). It doesn't sound that hard, but for someone whose primary form of exercise is biking from DP to Pardall for boba, this was a test of will. I promised myself I wouldn't drink boba or eat chicken nuggets until the race (on the condition that it would be the first thing the day after), because let's be honest, I didn't need to make it any harder for myself than it already was.
We took a ferry in the morning to Bintan, along with a bunch of other Singaporeans who were racing as well. I was immediately intimidated when we got there, because I forgot that actually fit people do Spartan Races, people who exercise on a daily basis and actually train for these things. There were so many guys and girls there who looked incredibly seasoned and athletic. I can't even count how many times I thought to myself, What am I doing here? I felt way out of my league.
The race itself was intense and well-organized. It was pretty much exactly as advertised: a four-mile stretch with plenty of mud and 22 obstacles including hurdles, a giant cargo net, the Z-Wall, carrying a bucket filled with rocks, a barbed-wire crawl, a "Hercules Hoist" (giant weight on a rope pulley), and the fire jump. It was on a beach, so at first we were very careful to keep the sand and water out of our shoes, but the very second obstacle was crossing a waist-deep river, so that was the end of that.
The walls and mud pits were the easiest obstacles for me; it was just a matter of agility. I failed a total of four obstacles, for which you only got one attempt and the punishment was 30 burpees each (120 total was pretty brutal). Two of them were not surprising (Spear Throw and Rope Climb), but I also failed the multi-ring and the monkey bars, things I've been doing since I was a kid. So that was interesting. And disappointing.
The two most difficult ones that I passed were the Tractor Pull (dragging a heavy metal block on a chain around a muddy field) and the Altas Lift (carrying a large 50-pound boulder), because not only were they heavy, but the mechanics of it were difficult (do you know how hard it is to dead lift a heavy round object? Very hard). They also killed your arm muscles, right before the multi-ring and the monkey bars, which we suspected were strategically placed to make it more challenging. I've always thought American Ninja Warrior looked really tough, but now I have a newfound respect for the competitors. I think things like these are the ultimate form of athletic competition, because you can't just be strong and fast, you also have to be smart about it (David pointed out that one way you could beat the race faster would be to get really good at burpees, and then just pass on the obstacles that you don't want to waste your effort on).
I was definitely not prepared, but I finished! And I got my boba and chicken nuggets. It was probably the most physically taxing thing I've ever done in my life. But now I can say that I've done it, and I've got the t-shirt to prove it (my team and I obnoxiously wore them to work the next day). I'm not going to lie; I'm damn proud. I didn't even think I'd be able to finish it. And now I feel like if I could do this after barely training for it, I could be capable of doing something like it again if I actually did put in the time and effort to train (I'm determined to learn how to beat the multi-ring and the rope climb!).
It's been a pretty wild couple of months, and my working holiday visa comes to an end in just two months, so I'm very excited for what's to follow! But especially as the holiday season is upon us, it's so nice to hear from people back home, so thanks to everyone who's messaged me, tweeted @ me, tagged me in stupid memes, and Snapchatted me. I miss you all.
Much more coming soon!
writer/creator. problem-solver. curious cat.