This is my first international post (well, aside from a post I did on UK tiny houses, but I didn’t actually visit the UK for that post), which makes me pretty excited. It also marks the first time I’ve been overseas since I visited Hong Kong in 2011, which was way too long a gap.
I schlepped through the streets of Chinatown and Little India, where I found the types of places that particularly interest me; historically rich, colourful, character places stacked on tightly packed, buzzing streets. You realise pretty quickly that Singapore is serious about architecture and design. It’s evident in landmarks like the Art + Science Museum and Singapore Art Museum (by the way, the plethora of museums and galleries is also indicative of this national interest in design I’m describing), and also in the homes lining the sides of the road. Singapore just looks nice.
It’s a small place with a large population, a financial hub with huge port facilities and a magnet for business. It makes money. It’s also expensive; probably the only place I’ve visited that seems on par/dearer than Sydney.
Interestingly, it has a kind of similar residential real estate profile to Australia, with speculation of a housing bubble and predictions that the value of property will decrease 10-15%. Unlike Australia, and placing it in a similar basket to Hong Kong, a large segment of the population lives in government-subsidised housing; Wallpaper‘s travel guide pegs the figure at 82%.
Singapore has an interesting feel about it. It’s generally considered the gateway into Asia, and I can understand that perspective. It’s culturally between Sydney and Hong Kong; diverse enough to keep your interest but similar enough that there isn’t a great degree of culture shock. The combination of different cultural influences in Singapore’s national identity is appealing; it’s kind of a bricolage of different conventions and ideas that have come together to form something holistic. I’m trying to avoid the use of the term ‘melting pot’, given that’s such a corny phrase…oh look, I just used it.
One of my favourite districts is Chinatown. It has a certain whimsy that other global Chinatowns – from Sydney to San Francisco – don’t seem to capture quite as well, plus the neatness that Singapore is characterised by. Along with pockets of Victorian housing and boutique hotels, Singapore’s Chinatown is spotted by little eathouses – eating is a serious item on the national agenda. If you ask Singaporeans what you should do while you’re there, I can guarantee you they’ll recommend you sample some hometown cuisine. (How silly will I look if you do ask a Singaporean question and they don’t mention food at all?)
Little India is very distinct from Chinatown, adopting the profile of its namesake and bursting out with colourful shopfronts and cheap little hideaway restaurants. I really wanted to sample the sweet treats because they looked amazing with their pretty pinks and gold foils, but there was a pigeon running through the shop and my OCD brain immediately shut down the idea. Damn it. I must try these mysterious sweets at some point. Feel free to hook me up if you have a good suggestion in Sydney. I, in return, can provide you with a list of about 50 bakeries I am obsessed with. But they’ll probably hurt your back pocket. And your scales.
Given my sensitivity to the cold, the heat in Singapore is something I relished. Pretty much nothing excites me more than the prospect of trekking around in 30 degree temperatures looking at interesting buildings, with the prospect of good food and decent shopping in a clean environment afterwards. So in that regard, Singapore is one of my favourite places. It caters to me almost as though it knows me. Also, Singapore Art Museum introduced me to a piece of work so fantastic that I cannot stop talking about it – ‘Superbarbara Saving the World’. Check it.
I haven’t focused on the CBD architecture here, and could dedicate an entire extra post to it. The financial district (and woah, what a financial district – virtually every big name in the banking world has an office in Singapore) is full of clean lines and impressive contemporary skyscrapers, with the skyline dominated by the Art + Science Museum, Marina Bay Sands and the Singapore Flyer. The country is a melding of old and new, with the CBD taking its cues from cutting edge modernity and the residential districts divided between colonial British influences and eye-catching high density blocks that dominate some streetscapes.