Astute readers will know that a few weeks ago I packed up all my worldy possessions sans a suitcase or two and put them in storage. Tara did too and we gave up our lease in Venice Beach in favor of a loose 9 month travel plan. It’s part opportunity, we had some offers come up all at the same time that made sense to accept, it’s part experiment, to see what it’s like to live without a set place of residence for an extended chunk of time, part reminder that stuff just gets in the way of life, and it’s the experiences that really make it worth waking up every day.
The first 30 days of this journey find us in Singapore once again. I’ve been here several times over the last year though Tara hasn’t been here since the first “guided tour” trip that brought us here last September. Because of that I’ve seen a bit more of the real Singapore and she’s had nothing but that “one office building to the next” viewpoint to go on, I was hoping to change that a bit with this trip. Because of the work I’m doing with Neoteny Labs and HackerspaceSG I expect to spend some time here every few months at least so it can only help to have a better grasp of the territory.
I originally thought Chinatown was going to be culture filled bastion away from the overly clean and sterile majority of the country, but having spent a bit of time there I don’t find it to be that different from any other Chinatown in any other city. Maybe a few more temples and street vendors, but for the most part it’s not too new. What I do find new, and admittedly this could just be because of my lack of experience with these cultures, but I really enjoy the Arab Street area. The hackerspace is located just off Arab St and we’re hoping to get the offices for Neoteny Labs there too.
People told me the food there would be the draw but really that’s just a small piece of it, because shockingly there isn’t a ton of veggie options there. There is an all vegan spot called Living Greens but as you might guess from the name it’s a little more on the hippie tip, but it’s good for sure. There is a lot of middle eastern food around, but nothing that really jumps out to me as amazing. My friend Bassel from Syria says not only is it not stand out, it’s not even good enough to be considered a reasonable attempt. But it’s a quieter area with a lot of shops selling colorful fabrics and cafes with tables spilling out onto the sidewalk where people hang out eating and drinking coffee (or what is called kopi here, which is really the furthest thing from coffee) all day which makes it pretty comfortable. And it gets better at night when the sun goes down and the breeze picks up and the smell of hookas is in the air. There is also a mosque there which broadcasts the call to prayer a few times a day which just adds to the atmosphere and even though I’m not religious at all makes it feel pretty welcoming. This is also the area of town where the graffiti artists have opened up street wear shops so it has that going for it as well. Of all the streets in the area, Arab St is actually the largest and most traffic filled which makes it the least cool to hang out on.Brassorah St and Haji Lane are much better, Haji especially which is basically a walking street that is barely wide enough for one car to drive down, and at night it’s so full of people hanging out on pillows and folding chairs it’s definitely foot traffic only.
Anyway, that is Arab St. There are people dressed in traditional middle eastern robes with big beards hanging out next to Singaporian hipsters and hackers. I love it.
Where I have been finding good food is Little India, which probably isn’t surprising at all. There are tons of South Indian and “pure vegetarian” spots which have more than enough to fill my belly. I’ve been eating tons of idly recently thanks to this. And a gang of dosas. One of the first nights in town Tara and I walked through Little India with Ripley to meet some friends for dinner at a little half gallery, half cafe, half community center called Post Museum (where I had an awesome soy, almond, date smoothie thingy) and she said it was definitely the closest thing to India she’d ever seen outside of India, but noted that even in that it was a lot cleaner. And in Singaporian standards it’s not really that clean. It’s definitely packed with character and there are people hanging out on the corners and curbs and parks at all hours but given that it is Singapore you can walk down dark alleys with not much concern. And it’s one of the few places in central city you can see cats and dogs walking around which I think is kind of a good thing.
I’ve been spending a lot of time working and bouncing between meetings in assorted university and governmental buildings but we did get a chance to break from the norm and head about 10 minutes away by taxi to the Bukit Timah nature reserve the other day and saw monkeys all over the place. It’s easy to forget sometimes, when traveling from one air conditioned mall filled with Rolex and Timberland shops to another airconditioned mall filled with Adidas and Starbucks shops via their air conditioned underground tunnel, that we are kind of in a jungle right on the equator. Going out to the nature reserve was a good reminder of that, and while we didn’t really go hiking or anything like that, having monkeys all over the place – around you, above you – is the kind of thing that you could never experience in North America. You don’t always realize those things until they smack you in the face, almost literally.
I brought my biggest suitcase with me on this trip, a large size zero halliburton which I previously used to transport artwork in. I thought it was indestructible. I was wrong. All three of the big metal clasps that keep it closed were ripped the hell off somewhere between LA and here which means I won’t be returning with it and need to find a replacement. I’m thinking of getting something one size smaller both to make it easier to travel with as well as to help restrict the things I bring with me. It’s been two weeks and there are a few things I brought that I haven’t touched and obviously didn’t need to bring, as well as a few things sitting in LA that I wish I had. We checked out some of the luggage shops in the larger malls and they are really pricey, which I don’t mind because I need something that can withstand a lot of use, but we’re going to check out this other place called Mustafa as well which I’ve been told can have all kinds of hidden deals. Either way I’ll likely be picking up a new suitcase in the next week or two so I’ll let you know what I decide on when I get it.
The sun is starting to go down which is my que to get mobile and head out for some kind of adventure so I’m going to wrap this up here. Let me know if you like these kind of diary posts, I kind of enjoy putting it all down on paper but I’m not sure if it’s interesting to anyone besides me.