Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

I’m Not Fancy Enough For Singapore!


After nearly five months in Southeast Asia, I’ve created a new look for myself. Crazy hair, hippie pants, tank tops, far too many bracelets.  (In fact, it was because of my many bracelets that I was recently recognized by some readers in Bali!)

If there’s a guy to impress, I’ll put on eyeliner and a cute dress. But at the moment, I’m not looking to impress anyone.

In other words, Kate — who used to more or less live in skinny jeans, cleavagey black tops and tall black boots — is not so fancy anymore.

My hippie look may work in mainland Southeast Asia — but it doesn’t work in Singapore.

After flying into Singapore from Bangkok and hopping on the MRT (subway) downtown, I realized what an outsider I was.  I was surrounded by girls with Chanel bags (real Chanel bags!) and Burberry flats.  For the first time in my life, I felt like a redneck!

That’s a metaphor for Singapore as a whole. It may be part of Southeast Asia, but it’s worlds away — it’s squeaky clean, organized, well-run, and so much more expensive than its neighbors.

Yes, it’s fancy — but it’s so, so, so nice!

One of my readers, Edna, a fellow adventurous twenty-something American girl living her own unconventional life, kindly invited me to crash on her couch for a few days.

Now, in your city, if four young professionals were living in a three-bedroom place, what would it look like? In Boston, it would most likely be a cramped, old construction Allston apartment with a questionable heating system overlooking a BU frat house.

Edna and her flatmates have a dream luxury apartment in a great downtown neighborhood. And this is their view:

It took my breath away. This is one beautiful city.

Lots of cities are beautiful.  But there’s one thing that separates Singapore from other cities: its Chinatown.

In just about any city in the world, from Boston to Paris to Bangkok, Chinatown is a dark, seedy place, full of tiny, grimy streets and shady characters. In The Departed, does Jack Nicholson go to a porn theater in Southie or Dorchester?  Nope, he goes to Chinatown!

In Singapore, Chinatown looks like the f*cking Old Town of Prague!

Forget the fanciness.  In no time flat, I fell completely in love with Singapore — its intriguing Chinese-Malay-Tamil mix, its shining buildings, its orderliness, its jaw-dropping urban beauty.

But if you know me, you know that I can’t stand perfection. I needed to find Singapore’s edge.

I decided to check out Kompong Glam.  According to Lonely Planet, it’s the Muslim neighborhood, its doesn’t have as many sights as Little India or Chinatown, and it’s a good place to buy raw cloth.

That doesn’t sound like the most exciting place in the world.  It could be Singapore’s weak spot.

So I went to Kompong Glam, expecting to be bored, and this is what I found:

Kompong Glam was the sexiest neighborhood of all — filled with sleek bars and trendy tapas restaurants!  Who knew that this would be the hottest place in Singapore?!

Singapore could do no wrong!  I resigned myself to declaring that Singapore had no faults, thus rendering it perfect.

And then I discovered the Merlion.  Singapore’s most famous sculpture is part lion, part fish, part LSD-induced fantasy.

In short, it’s ridiculous.

It’s strange…but this ridiculous statue is actually what made me truly love Singapore.

Singapore, you may be damned near perfect, but it’s nice to know that you don’t make sense all the time. We all need a little crazy in our lives.


20 Responses to “I’m Not Fancy Enough For Singapore!”
  1. Tom says:

    I wanna live in Kompong Glam just based on the name of the place! GLAM.

    Great post too, hopefully I can make it to Singapore someday – heard so much about it as my mum lived there in her teens.

    Did you do the ultimate in fancy-pants-ness and have a Singapore Sling at the Raffles hotel??

    • I love how the first two comments are about the Singapore Sling!

      I went to Raffles, but I did not get a Singapore Sling…for reasons that will be detailed in Tuesday’s post. 🙂 Stay tuned!

    • @Tom – as a Singapore native, just a tiny heads up that that its pronounced “Glum” and not “Glam”! (the Malay way!)

      Hope you make it to Singapore soon then! If not for Kampong Glam, then at least for the food!

      @Adventurous Kate: I’m so glad you loved Singapore! And don’t worry about feeling out of place! I think most of the tourist and CBD areas have a lot of well-dressed people. But if you’d ventured to the heartland, residential areas you would have totally fit in – locals dress really casually, even to church! We only make more of an effort when we go into town!

  2. If you decide to head to Raffles for a Singapore Sling then you will feel underdressed. It’s very posh!

  3. It’s funny but I actually didn’t like Singapore much at all. I found it a bit too bland and boring in its perfection.

  4. I have not been to Singapore but I enjoyed exploring this city with you. I had great fun turning every corner as you discovered a new neighborhood. Glad that Singapore exceeded your expectations. That is always a blessing.

  5. Lori says:

    It was the food that made me love Singapore…I’m drooling just thinking about chicken rice and the numerous oh so cheap and delicious food stalls everywhere there!

  6. vira says:

    hahahaha… this is a hilarious post, especially your comment about Merlion!!

  7. Agree, agree, AGREE!

    I’ve now lived in Singapore four months, love Little India, adore Kampong Glam, Chinatown is my fave, and the Merlion is ridiculous.

    So glad you enjoyed your time in Singapore, Kate! 🙂

  8. Gaudente says:

    Don’t forget to give a look at Geylang Road, MRT EW9 Aljunied , for a taste of “real” Singapore.

  9. Mary says:

    Haha I’m glad you enjoyed my hometown – or city, I should say. It’s certainly not for everyone, and I imagine that after ‘slumming’ your way through the rest of Asia, Singapore can actually be a shock to the system! It is very much more a city meant for business professionals, not tourists. But regardless, there is something to love about most places you visit, and Singapore is wonderful just because you feel safe all the time, no matter what. 🙂

  10. Denise says:

    came across this post via a facebook recommendation, and since I’m obsessed with Asia, I just had to click. As a person who has been thinking of taking a trip to Singapore, this was enough to actually convince me to do it!

  11. Rebecca says:

    I’m still not sure how I feel about Singapore… when I go there I’m usually on my way to somewhere else like Indonesia or Thailand (which is exactly what’s happening in two days’ time!) – those places somehow feel more real to me. But the food in Singapore – to die for!

  12. Kristian says:

    I’m glad you liked Singapore; many people malign it, but I loved it there when I went before and I’m really looking forward to my return this December.

  13. nashe says:

    That’s funny, you calling it fancy. Did you visit Orchard Road during the day or go to the neighbourhoods? Many underdressed people around. Singaporeans are actually notorious for being sloppy dressers compared to many SEAsian cities.

    Nevertheless…Glad you liked my “perfect” city. LOL. Singapore is Asia for beginners, I guess.

    (Much of the craziness + senselessnes come in the form of politics, but lets not go there!)

  14. Antoine says:

    I love your sense of humour and the way you see Singapore. You sound like A LOT of fun!!! Way to go girl! And besides : hats off to you for leading this incredible life, sharing it with others and for all the other great stuff on your blog! Favorited 😉
    We need more people like you in this world. We really do!

  15. April says:

    Loved reading this post as it gave an interesting perspective on my homeland!

    I’m glad you enjoyed Singapore and yes, the outlook of the city does seem a little too perfect to be true at times – although I reckon Japan would probably fall into that category!

    I recently discovered your blog and I can’t get enough of it – great blog u have here 🙂

  16. Lil C says:

    I just loved this post! Especially the part about the Merlion being “part lion, part fish, part LSD-induced fantasy.” Bahaha… Love it! Singapore is also one of my favourite countries 🙂

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