Banyan Tree Spa. On Monday, like last Friday, I walk straight to the Marina Bay Sands after work. This time to redeem a sweet leaving present from colleagues in London. The hotel spa on the 55th floor is decorated in a very modern, sleek zen style. Clean, solid lines of wood and white, orchids, stylish air purifiers. I’m led into a spacious room of my own, with a splendid view of the gardens, where I close my eyes and focus my thoughts on the feel and smell of a painful deep tissue massage of feet, legs, arms, hands, fingers, back, neck, scalp and face with scented oils and cooling creams. After the hour-long treatment I feel completely battered and bruised but also remarkably energised. I’m served a cup of little cubes of papaya and dragonfruit and a pot of lemongrass tea to enjoy as I watch the sun set over the city, gardens, bay and ocean.
Marina Boulevard. I stroll through the overwhelmingly extravagant mall by the hotel. In front of it, in the dark heat, friends, couples and people on their own are hanging out on the teak sun loungers on the esplanade, the marble steps leading down into the water and even on the floating jetties. Eating, chatting, looking…
Wangz. Coming back to Tiong Bahru, I check out the small, charming boutique hotel where my parents will be staying when they come visit in September. It’s at the end of my road. With Danish midcentury furniture and lots of plants and flowers, I can see through the windows of the funny-looking grey cylinder construction. I peek into the lobby and spot some really cool unique art on the walls of the breakfast cafe. In four months we’ll be having cocktails on the hotel’s roof terrace with the panoramic downtown vista above the (according to reviews) spacious, mindfully designed rooms. Four months! I want them to go quickly but I also want to enjoy each and every one of them so I’ll be exuding four months’ worth of happiness when my parents come to check it all out.
Employment Pass. The precious little piece of plastic that allows me to live here arrives on Tuesday. Yes. Now I can go through the automated passport lanes at the airport. Sounds minor. But I’m sure it’ll feel great.
Amoy Street Food Centre. I celebrate it with my Thai, Indonesian and Korean colleagues. They take me to the (MSG-FREE, they advertise) Thai street food stall at one of the nearby food centres, where I get a lovely dish of fresh and spicy seafood, which I eat in Telok Ayer Green before heading home to await the arrival of my bags and talk to my colleagues on Skype until 1am.
Aloha Poke. Lunch on the following day consists of a big bowl of spicy ahi tuna with flying fish roe, seasonal greens and quail eggs from a happy Hawaiian spot on pretty Amoy Street. This, as well, I consume in my new favourite lunch-time haven, Telok Ayer Green, while talking to my friend who’s about to go to bed at 11pm in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California. Lake, palm trees, girls with umbrellas protecting them from the burning sun, a temple, a pagoda and a cute shophouse on the edge of the grass frame of the green, contrasting starkly with the glass skyscrapers in the background.
Tropic Thunder. From being all blue and glorious, at 4pm on Wednesday the sky suddenly turns pitch black with thousands of lightning flashes foreboding wildly aggressive thunder crashes. Water comes cascading down heavily, making the sleek downtown core glisten in the dark. Viewed from our panorama windows, the streets are virtual rivers dotted with red and yellow car lights, while the bay full of freight ships that normally dominates the horizon is totally erased from view. What’s scariest is that I’m the only one who appears to care or even notice – everyone else still has their gaze fixed at screens and coffee cups. The meteorological drama lasts for exactly an hour, after which the sky clears again and it’s light and bright until the sun sets at 7pm exactly.
Note. In a meeting when my teammates leave for the evening, I come back to this little note on my desk, exemplifying how sweet and caring they all are –
Luscious Ladies’ Night. On Wednesday nights in Singapore, girls drink for free and guys flock to the bars to show their approval of the concept. With a friend and her friend, both British, I spend my first Ladies Night’ at a French bar in Tanjong Pagar, Café Gavroche, advertising free-flowing ‘luscious rosé’ from 7-9pm. 1920’s bistro-style, mirrors, a garden room, ferns, hibiscus, small round tables. Pink wine flowing generously from unlabelled bottles, with a dash of cointreau added, and lots of ice. Sharing platters of dark bread, charcuterie, olives. Talk of travel plans and work projects. There’s a caveat, or condition, for the drinks to be free: we have to walk individually to the male-lined bar to fetch our refills… After 9, we share a cab back to Tiong Bahru where we all live.
Industrious. As I get home, my one flatmate is working at the dinner table while the other is watching a film in bed. Joining the working one, I get some emails sorted before unpacking my last things shipped from the UK and going to bed in a room that’s now almost as full of my old stuff as it will be (I’ve still got a suitcase in Vietnam).
Roti. Having twisted my ankle slightly on the way to work on Wednesday, I walk instead of run back downtown on Thursday morning. The quickest way, straight through Chinatown, accompanied by the sweet smell of freshly baked far too sugary and fluffy bread sold from the little stalls along the busy New Bridge Road.
Multinational. That evening, my team and I go for dinner with a Nicaraguan ex-colleague of ours, who’s leaving Singapore in a month to become a diplomat in London. We go to a yummy Balinese place close to Arab Street, where we share lots of delicious small dishes picked out by the Indonesian girl in our party, while discussing what there is to look forward to in London and to miss about Southeast Asia. Catching an uber home for a 10pm conference call (and a cosy catch-up with the London team), I’m stuck for a while in traffic in the Islamic quarter, the original character of which has been diluted by gentrification, leaving it as schizophrenic as any of the charming pockets of this city: rubbing shoulders with the Sultan Mosque, traditional fabric stores and old-fashioned curry houses are brash Middle Eastern eateries and a sprinkle of Western/Asian speciality boutiques… I’ll be back for a proper browse in the colourful streets sometime soon.
Alexandra Canal Linear Park. On Friday morning my ankle is less blue and swollen. I jog in the opposite direction of what I ‘normally’ do – to the end of the river, up among ruler-straight greenery softening the appearance of hundreds of highrises along the waterway. Bright pink lotus flowers. Strictly parallel stepping stones. Tai chi practitioners and power walkers. A great summer hits playlist.
Local Hangout. After cooling down for a short while, I shower, put on a thin summer dress (wonder how long the thrill of doing that each morning will last) and walk the five minutes it takes to get down past the not-so-charming bit (hospital, police station, road works) between Tiong Bahru and Chinatown to get to Bukit Pasoh Road, yet another one of the many well-kept stretches of pretty little Peranakan shophouses, the cute balconies and shutters of which are painted in a shade contrasting with the pale pastel-coloured walls. I’m meeting a Danish blogger friend-of-friends for brunch at the bright and airy Aussie/German-inspired LoKal. First I enjoy an excellent long black and a glass of freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice on my own in the back of the cafe, where I sit on a comfy bench under many electric fans and work undisturbed for a few hours. Once my date arrives, we chat cosily away over massive slices of sourdough toast crumbling under umami mountains of mashed avocado, poached eggs, salty smoked mackerel, fresh lime juice and Tabasco.
Club/Ann Siang/Keong Saik. Walk down a lane behind Club Street. Get to the pretty little Ann Siang Hill Park. Climb the steep staircases. Smile at the sight of the pretty black-painted pavilions among the trees, and the highly decorated Straits Eclectic shophouses, which also characterise lively Keong Saik Road. I walk in the ‘five foot way’, a covered walkway intended to offer protection against gushing rain and tropical sun, which originally was crowded with streets vendors and now serves as a perfect platform for outdoor bar service. City folks and tourists drinking and chitchatting as I walk home through the streets. A little taste of this atmosphere, and then I’m good to work late. One flatmate is watching a film and eating pizza at home; the other texts me from a bar. I could join either; or just spend the night within the white walls of my own large room, alone, perfectly peacefully.
Sun Salutations. Next morning I go for the same 6k run up along the linear park. Stop by the stepping stones for an invigorating sequence of sun salutations and other low intensity exercises with sweat running down my face and body. Salt stinging my eyes.
Show Me Your Favs. Jogging back, I meet my flatmate at the market building so she can show me all of her favourites: ‘her’ flower guy, who wraps the large bouquets so carefully, ‘her’ egg lady, who lets you collect your own eggs in a pink plastic bowl, the best chicken guy, who always makes fun of her for requesting NO FEET, the fish guy I should always go to (the one in the blue shirt), the preferable fruit stalls, the place where you can get organic greens (but get there early because at 10am it’s all gone). I follow her like an eager puppy all the way around the green atrium, and then upstairs to the hawker hall where she shows me the best stall for a fresh ABC juice (I get one, with added ginger), for chicken with rice, and for chwee kueh, small, steamed rice flour cakes topped with a fried paste of preserved turnip, dried shrimp, garlic, lard and sesame seeds. The wobbly, oil-dripping cakes look so tasty, but maybe a bit heavy for breakfast? Judging from the length of the queue in front of the stall, they’re just the ticket. We get coffees and baguette from the bakery and walk home through our little village with the families sitting outside the corner restaurants blowing on their porridge, tackling little fish with their chopsticks and stirring dough fritters into black coffee, the men chitchatting cosily in the alleys between the blocks, and the other sweat-dripping pairs of girls in sportswear, walking briskly with their hands full of groceries, flowers and takeaway flat whites.
Desert Island Discs. Walking up along the paved roads along various styles of highrises to Holland Village to meet yet another friend’s friend for brunch, I listen to which music Tom Hanks would take with him to a desert island. Very enjoyable, especially when he talks about how loneliness is something to be avoided and solitude something to be sought.
A Walk in the Park. The brunch place is an eco-friendly container contraption. We sit under the yellow awning hanging from the black-painted metal box and watch the rain gushing down on the park in front of us. Like Danish summer rain, maybe a bit. The omnipresent smell of truffle oil in the air; it’s in all Singapore cafes. We eat our seared tuna salads and drink too much coffee. Waiting for the rain to stop. When it finally does, she shows me around the little village – there’s a bar street, a few rows of beautiful villas, some windmill street art. I remember being here in November, going to the 2am dessert bar.
Travel Home. Tiong Bahru was built as a place for residents from overcrowded Chinatown slums to resettle. The rents were too high, however, so that plan didn’t work out. Now, a nicer aspect to consider than what on earth must have then happened to the intended tenants back in the ’30s, is how well the sweeping, uncluttered and aerodynamic Streamline Moderne architecture reflects modern travel technology – in a tropical paradise setting. The elements of airplanes and ocean liners in the rounded facades. The iron lace over doors and fluted red roof lines as racing stripes simulating speed and motion. The light grey pavements continuing directly into the doorless stairways. Between the walkways and the roads are generous strips of grass decked out with potted plants, flower bushes and slim, red-stemmed palm trees. Every day I walk up or down the path along the communal garden and look up, letting my gaze follow the softice curves of the buildings and the green window glass and palm tree tops against the pale blue sky. It’s not very hard to feel sort of at home here, I think as I return from Holland Village.
A House of Its Time. The rest of the afternoon I spend in bed with a bowl of giant blueberries and a few episodes of an architecture series on Channel News Asia about East-West encounters during pre- to post-colonial Asia, exploring historically and culturally significant homes, from Malay plantation bungalows over Sri Lankan country manors to Straits Eclectic villas favoured by the middle-class in pre-war Singapore, where a new suburban lifestyle emerged among the coconut groves on the East Coast. Why did people build the types of houses they built? What global movements influenced their architectural tastes? What state are the houses in now? It’s all revealed in the well-made videos.
Fort Canning. Early on Sunday morning I run to and through the Central Park of Singapore, the downtown nature sanctuary where you’re not allowed access to the path directly around the large water reservoir at the centre of the hill constituting the park, but where the trees and ferns offer some shade and you get to see Sir Stamford Raffle’s first bungalow, some colourful ceramic butterflies resting on a large tree trunk, a pretty white lighthouse (a replica of the original, which was erected a century ago to guide ships safely into the harbour below the hill) and an impressive view of the downtown core and bay in the hazy horizon. The climb up the steeply inclining stairs to the top of the 60 metres tall hill is not a huge effort as such, but it does provoke a stream of sweat, blurring my vision and soaking my sports bra and shorts.
40 Hands. Refuelling at one of the lively Tiong Bahru cafes. With the two British girls from Wednesday. Such good coffee, such nice atmosphere, cool, dark, chilled.
Duxton Plains Park. An afternoon of snooping around Chinatown. Find a pretty little park behind the pretty little houses, the backs of which are adorned with pretty little spiral staircases. Crash on a bench for a while, with my legs up, drinking ice-cold matcha tea, reading my book, letting the sun burn my face, exchanging smiles with the Chinese passersby, sequentially, whenever I look up from my book and stare into space.
Annie leibowitz. Later, my flatmates and I check out the Annie Leibowitz show, Women, which I didn’t get around to seeing when it was in London a few months back. It’s travelling to 10 big cities across the globe – and now it’s at the richly ornamented art deco-styled Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. Hm. The photo portraits are obviously great – figures of outstanding achievement, incl. painters, musicians, CEOs, politicians, writers and philanthropists as captured by one of the world’s most hyped photographers. The set-up appears a bit random though. Like a school exhibit, with primitive display equipment. Clearly, probably, intentionally casual and simple. Just curious. We sit for a long time in the station’s reading room, in an old leather sofa, flipping through old photo books.
Savour. And then we end the week with oysters, fish tacos and plenty of champagne at a gourmet festival by the Marina Boulevard. Meanwhile, my brother is studying in Aarhus, my dad is watching formula 1 in Barcelona, my mum is shopping in Barcelona, and I don’t know what anyone is doing in Copenhagen or London. The oysters are meaty, the soft tacos are covered in flying fish roe, someone makes sure there’s a consistently high level of bubbles in my glass and the company is great.
Learnings of the week. In the pre-WW2-years, Tiong Bahru became a spot for rich Chinese business men to house their mistresses, nicknaming it Mei Ren Wo, ‘Den of beauties’. // In Singlish, ‘last time’ refers to previous occasions as well as the state of affair in the old days, as in, ‘last time, Tiong Bahru was where the rich and powerful kept their mistresses’. // According to The Economist and a friend at ExpatGo, I’ve moved from the 8th to the 6th to the most expensive city in the world. // When people ask me if I’m ‘out here alone’, I feel that I can safely reply in the negative (positively).