Welcome! My name is Josh Fuglsang, and I am currently undertaking a massive trip: from Singapore to Morocco overland. I am permitted to use any mode of transport: be it train, bus, car, bicycle, or on foot. I’m just not aloud to travel by plane. I plan to complete this trip over a period of eight months to one year. This article represents the first chapter in my journey. You can read an introduction and some notes on the plan here.
A Week in Singapore
This chapter was written about my time in Singapore, the first stop of my overland trip. I spent one week in Singapore staying in a Chinatown hostel.
Checking in to my hostel, a bare bones heritage building, the first thing I ask the manager is where can I get something to eat? He responded by directing me to the nearest Hawker Centre. What is a Hawker Centre? Well, it is basically a food court with more bustle and better meals. Hawker centres are one of the key reasons to visit Singapore, for Singapore is a melting pot of multi-cultural cuisine, a fusion of South East Asian, Indian, and to a certain extend, Western food. That’s a big reputation to live up to, and I was giddy with anticipation to give it a shot. On the hostel manager’s suggestion, I decided to try Hainanese Chicken Rice, a famous Singaporean dish. He suggested that I should walk past all the booths, and stop only when I spot a line. The longer the line, the better. Fantastic! I found a huge line. At least thirty people were standing in it, mostly engrossed with their iPhones, but some taking photos of the line. I shamelessly took their lead to capture some snaps as well, for it was surely a cultural experience to remember. I think that a third of the people in the Hawker Centre were lining up for this particular booth, so it must be great! Thirty minutes later, I am tucking in to some delicious steamed chicken, steamed rice, and steamed Chinese veggies.
Beyond Hainanese Chicken there are many other great dishes in Singapore to eat. The Chinese culture is the most common one in Singapore, with 80% of the population tracing their ancestry back to mainland China, so accordingly there is a strong Chinese influence in the meals. However, there is still a strong Malay and Indian influence. For example, some Chinese restaurants sell traditional Malay dishes fused with Chinese notes. An example of this is Nasi Lemak, a common breakfast dish, can be found at many Chinese restaurants.
Breakfast was possibly my favourite time of the day, all due to one set meal: kaya toast, half cooked eggs, and kopi c! This meal is definitely a must try for those visiting Singapore. The coffee is strong and sweet due to being served with condensed and evaporated milk. The toast is heavenly sweet and served with a shameful amount of butter and kaya; a jam like paste made of coconut and egg. Next there are the two “half cooked” eggs; which have running yokes, translucent whites, and should be mixed with a dash of soy sauce. Egg and sauce should be whipped together to give an even consistency, before you dip in the toast. The combination of sweet and savoury, crunch and smooth, coupled with a strong, sweet coffee, is absolutely divine. I have a sweet tooth and a penchant for strong flavour, so absolutely fell in love with the meal.
I consider myself to be quite open to other culture’s cuisines, however there were some things which even I wasn’t game to try. For example, I often found pig brain soup, pig organ soup, and turtle soup as options on the menu. Pig organ soup in particular was very common to see. Chicken feet is a popular one too, but it’s not unique to Singaporean culture.
One of the delights of Singapore, and a big reason for me to visit, was the architecture. The city has the ultimate blend between old and new. You can see world class, ambitiously engineered, creatively architected towers, looming high above both colonial and Chinese migrant buildings. Throughout Chinatown there are heritage buildings from several periods of Chinese occupancy. From the original simple two story buildings of the early settlers, to the more recent three story shop fronts with ornately designed facades. I spent a day in Chinatown just looking up at the buildings and considering the history which they must have seen.
For modern architecture it is hard to beat Marina Bay Sands. Marina Bay Sands is possibly the icon of Singapore. The complex has three curving, asymmetric towers, with a flat 3 acre(!) platform atop spanning across all of the towers. The building is absolutely incredible, and dwarfs everything around for kilometres. Reading online, the building cost a cool $8b SGD to complete, which includes the land cost of $1.2b. What is most amazing about the building is the fact that due to Singaporean property law, the building will fall back in to the ownership of the Singaporean government in 99 years. All property in Singapore follows these laws: you don’t buy properties, you buy a lease to them for 99 years, then the government takes them back and can do what they wish with them. So, I hope the owner gets their money’s worth.
One of my other favourite buildings is Reflections at Keppel Bay. The complex consists of a group of buildings, each bending and twisting in different directions. Atop the buildings are webs of steel girders, giving the buildings an incomplete and industrial look. I found a great vantage point for these towers from the Henderson Wave Bridge in one of Singapore’s parks, where you can see the group of buildings twist their way out of the surrounding jungle.
On my final day in the garden city I visited the history museum, for I find Singaporean history to be fascinating. For a young country Singapore has partaken in many consequential world events, and has seen a tremendous amount of change.
To start, Singapore largely existed in obscurity until only a few centuries ago, when the British selected it as a trading port due its ideal location between India and China. Initially the British had no interest in making Singapore a colony, and was only interested in the island as a place of trade to end the Dutch monopoly over east asian trading routes. They made the port tax free, which was a master stroke of the policy makers for it brought in traders and migrants from all over the region. However, the administrators largely ignored the general population so poverty, crime, opium, gambling, and prostitution were rampant. In the years leading up to WW2, the British fortified their position and in Singapore made a powerful base. However, they lost the city quickly to the Japanese in a highly successful land assault starting from Malaysia. In the ensuing years it is said that the Japanese murdered between 20,000 and 30,000 of the local ethnic Chinese population. When the Japanese eventually lost the war, Singapore welcomed back their former British overlords with open arms. However, in a wave of decolonisation the British soon gave up Singapore and let them form a union with Malaysia. However, the Malay and Singapore union was not to be. The Malay ousted Singapore within two years, with the parliament voting 126-0 to expel Singapore, making the city the first country to ever forcefully receive independence. Facing mass poverty and having no natural resources, the new state over the next few decades focused heavily of housing, trade, and foreign investment, giving Singapore a boom the likes of which has not been seen before. The policy makers were overwhelmingly successful and brought us to the modern day where the city now has the second highest GDP in all of Asia.
Thanks for reading. If you have any feedback on my work, then please mention it in the comments below. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Singapore, and can whole heartedly recommend it as a travel destination. You can find plenty to do for at least a week.
Singapore to Melaka by Train
In the next article I travel from Singapore across the Johor Causeway to mainland Malaysia, and then through the Malay countryside to the historic town Melaka. Read about it here here.