Singapore does’t shut down often, but it shuts down good over Lunar New Year. Unlike China, where new year celebrations last for weeks and schools and businesses are closed during the busiest travel season of the year, Singapore grants two days of public holiday for the celebration. Many restaurants and businesses also shut their doors for two days or more, which only otherwise happens around Christmas. And even then, it’s not hard to find places that are open.
Lunar New Year, though, is different. The roads are quiet, public transportation is quiet, and there’s little activity around town. I headed to Chinatown one morning to look at the decorations and see what was going on; it was slightly busier than I expected but not busy at all.
There is also a really beautiful Hindu temple in Chinatown and its well-wishing puts into perspective one of the aspects of Singapore that I really love.
The following day I headed to Little India early in the morning and watched the neighborhood wake up. The sights and sounds of Little India are like nowhere else in Singapore and it feels like a different world entirely.
I love the colors . . .
. . . the markets and shops . . .
. . . and echoes and signs life being lived.
Singapore is glittery and shiny and other worldly and yes, it looks like whatever you saw in Crazy Rich Asians (or The Bachelor though I haven’t actually seen it). But when you look closely, Singapore looks like this, too.
Celebrations in all cultures take place throughout the year, but we are particularly aware of that in December. My family joins about 8% of the US population in not celebrating Christmas, but we do have our own traditions over that holiday that are as stereotypical as one can imagine.
In my family, that meant a lot of traditions at once. Thai food, the new Star Wars movie, and opening the usual first night gifts of a holiday themed tissue box and a box of Chanukah candles. Unfortunately, I missed it. I leave tomorrow to spend my week of school break visiting friends who I haven’t seen in a while and I’m very much looking forward to it!
Our week off started yesterday (not a day too soon, considering the number of students and teachers out sick) and one of my best girls from Singapore who is visiting her family came into Manhattan for a day and a night. The weather yesterday was beautiful and sunny so we spent most of the day wandering around downtown and stopping for shakshuka, coffee, mulled wine, and Mexican food. I love the parts of Manhattan that don’t match the glitter that makes Manhattan a tourist destination.
One World Trade Center as seen from Chinatown
Greek Orthodox Church in Chinatown
Manhattan Bridge Arch
And then there’s my ongoing obsession with street art like this one on the Lower East Side . . .
. . . and these in Little Italy. . . .
Today is day two of school break and it has been equally delightful. As is any day that begins with bagels.
I passed by this church in the East Village today that reminded me what actually matters not only during the holidays, but on especially on the holidays:
At the end of the day, we’re all just trying to make a living in the best ways that we can. My holiday wish for all is that it gets easier.
To the cashier at Trader Joe’s today who folded my receipt into a paper airplane and zoomed it into my shopping bag;
to the Nepalese woman I met this evening who told me about the devastation last year’s earthquakes wreaked on her family;
to the baristas who made my hot chocolate, asked about my day, and told me that holiday overtime pay doesn’t exist in New York City;
to people everywhere putting one foot in front of the other, day after day:
Happy holidays, from my home to yours.
Being in Singapore with Mitch this weekend was a blast. It was also rather useful because Mitch has been there for a grand total of 12 days, which practically made him a local. He knew where we should eat and drink, which MRT (Singapore’s metro) stations would lead us where, which parts of town I should see, and how to get there.
Everything I’d heard about Singapore turned out to be true. It’s almost uncomfortably clean, people queue for everything, it’s incredibly safe, there are trees, plants, and parks everywhere, and it could easily pass for a Western city. The population is very diverse and all signs are posted in four languages: English, Bahasa Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil.
I arrived in time for a late dinner and drinks Friday night at a Japanese craft beer bar in one of Singapore’s many outdoor food courts. This one had restaurants serving cuisines from all over the world; we saw French, Italian, Irish, Japanese, and American eateries under brightly colored awnings next to a park.
A quest for brunch on Saturday morning led us to Mark’s, a restaurant specializing in chocolate. (Yes, you read that correctly.) Patrons ordering a simple cup of hot chocolate choose from a list of chocolate-producing regions from around the world. The chocolate in Mitch’s hot chocolate came from Cuba! The other item in which Mark’s specializes is waffles! We got a “plain” waffle with real maple syrup and a cheese waffle with salad, eggs, and oranges. Yummy!
We spent a bit of Saturday morning wandering around Fort Canning Park on our way to the National Museum of Singapore. The park was lovely and had a really beautiful fountain that actually wasn’t on because the city is in a bit of a drought. Welcome to Southeast Asia.
The National Museum’s permanent galleries are closed for renovations until September 2015 (depending on how all of this works out, we might still be in the area) but there was a really interesting exhibit on the history of Singapore that I believe was a smaller version of one of the permanent exhibits. I knew next to nothing about Singapore before spending several hours walking through the exhibit. For example, one of Singapore’s earliest kings in the 1200s was a relative of Alexander the Great! I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t know the Japanese were in control of Singapore during World War II and I didn’t know anything about Japanese wartime propaganda. Now I do and I’m glad we had the chance to learn!
Mitch introduced me to the gem of ABC juice. ABC stands for apple, beet, carrot and the juice is made out of those three ingredients blended with ice. One buys juices like that at stands like this:
We spent some time exploring Chinatown on Saturday . . .
And Little India on Sunday . . .
The socioeconomic differences are pretty obvious. Chinatown is definitely more affluent and the bigger attraction, definitely for tourists and possible for locals just based on location. However, every third restaurant in Little India is a vegetarian restaurant, which was both shocking and amazing. (Why is is that there are Chinatowns and Little Indias all over the world? Why not Little China and Indiatown?)
We made our way down to Marina Bay on Saturday, as well.
In addition to the financial district’s tall building and the boats on the water there was a display of Christmas trees right next to the palm trees that are actually natural to the region. It made me laugh.
Other Singaporean adventures took us to a British pub, Red Dot Microbrewery (the best beer I’ve had since leaving the US), the club Zouk for a guest DJ show, and a restaurant called Strictly Pancakes (I had pancakes stuffed with leeks and potatoes and topped with mushrooms and cream cheese).
We also came across this building:
Google was only marginally helpful in telling me who David Elias is, but I’m quite curious as David and I share a name . . .
Moral of the story: Singapore is interesting, exciting, cultural, modern, traditional, and very liveable. I can’t wait to go back!
Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by a twenty-something teacher trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place