Vietnamese. First lunch hour, i.e. first non-work-related highlight, of the week is spent with colleagues around a high table in the walkway around the corner from the office, in front of the Asian fusion food court buzzing with city folks, quick orders, alluring sights and umami smells. We opt for the Saigon stall – pho and summer rolls for two, banh mi for one, vermicelli salad for me. Silence as we work our way through the large coriander-stuffed portions.
French Wine. An afternoon’s calls and emails later I meet a friend for wine at a fancy French wine bar down the road, a cool and dark place with a nice liberal tasting service.
Rang Mahal. Once the bottle’s empty we go to the Pan Pacific for a delicious Indian meal a few floors above the most stunning hotel lobby bar I’ve ever seen, where airy light pavilions soar elegantly above a perfectly lit pool. Such a brilliant way of creating an idyllic natural holiday setting inside an urban travel destination. Squeezing your eyes a bit together while lounging on one of the rounded benches in this sea, you can almost imagine yourself frolicking in the Maldives.
Bay Moments. The following morning I take a long beautiful walk around the Arab Quarter and downtown, past temples, grand white colonial constructions, Peranakan shophouses, manicured palm trees… and sense in my gut a glimpse of utter carefree, happy excitement; the exact feeling I used to have on childhood holidays. This is my life. The transient sensation reappears in the evening when I eat a salad in the evening light on the esplanade and create little stories about all the different people passing by. So simple.
Mala Hot Pot. On Wednesday the team assembles for a lunch outing again. This time we’re having hot pots in the people’s park in Chinatown. We each pick our selection of fresh vegetables, meats and herbs from a big glass cabinet, and once all the ingredients have been chopped up and stir fried with whole garlic cloves and generous amounts of chilli, we eat them out of enormous white ceramic bowls in the middle of the hawker hall. It’s fun and delicious. And so, so spicy.
Sofitel Rooftop Pool Bar. That evening I meet a Danish girl for a glass of free Ladies Night champagne next to the country’s only golden-tiled infinity rooftop pool, where we chat and move to the music of the hot DJ under the darkening sky.
Lantern at Fullerton Bay Hotel. Once the glasses are drained, we meet two other Danish girls and a Swedish girl on the impressively designed roof of the Fullerton Bay Hotel. Bushes with fairy lights, pools and hot tubs, luxurious sun loungers, low tables and comfy sofas, an exquisite view of the bay and the skyline, all of the lights. We order prawn and mango salads, and drink vodka/soda/lime on the house. Curiously, it’s only intoxicating drinks that are free for girls on Ladies Night here; soft drinks are not part of the tempting deal.
Paper Boats. The old guy who usually breaks his fast outside the Monkey God Temple when I pass on my way to work has now taken up an additional morning habit: several times this week I see him meticulously folding paper boats from a pile of red and golden paper. As I cross the street sipping my detox juice and long black from the bakery, I wonder why he does it. What their purpose will be in the temple. He does seem to enjoy his repetitive task. I enjoy mine. I love those places – the divine smell and calm AM ambience in the bakery, the blissful anonymity of the same sweet-looking bakery girl asking my name on so many mornings without a shadow of apparent recognition, and then this guy, in his red and golden uniform that matches the paper boats on the small round formica table in front of him.
Rhubarb. One of the girls on my team has decided that once a month we’re having dinner at one of the top-rated restaurants on our website. On Thursday night we dress up and go for the first. Small, cosy dining room with just seven tables, all round and surrounded by comfy pale blue chairs. Open kitchen. Outstanding service. Nice wine. Five courses of French art – summer on plates – an amuse-bouche in the shape of a minuscule charcoal-burned ice cream cone filled with tender duck meat, fish roe, aioli, rosemary and lemon zest, three light and inventive starters, a large piece of charcoal-covered cod with a superbly complementing selection of sides and a colourful dessert plate of edible flowers and sorbet. While we’ve shared so many meals by now, this is by far the most creative and well-prepared yet, and our spirits are very high – as more and more wonderful flavour combinations explode in our mouths the stories and laughs get better and better.
Evening Walk. To digest it all, I go for an evening walk with a friend along the river.
Operation Dagger. Less than 24 hours later I meet the same friend at the epitome of a big city speakeasy (as much as it advertises to be so much more than that). The fancy cocktail bar is hidden in a dodgy basement in an anonymous house on Ann Siang Hill. Soft hiphop and classical tunes. A very well-executed atmospheric interior design. Millions of naked light bulbs emit a warm light from the ceiling. The small square room looks like an Aesop shop – dark labelled jars on minimalistic shelves, dark wooden tables and stools, bare walls and bartenders dressed in black. There’s no menu, of course; you just mention your flavour preferences which then inspire them to mix something remarkable, always with a hint of ginger, cucumber, wasabi or something else with a bit of bite. A small cube of dehydrated watermelon to cleanse your palate before drinking. Seated in the bar with a good view of the room, we drink a few of the balanced concoctions served in pretty grey ceramic cups.
Lolla. And then we head over to the tapas bar on Ann Siang Hill Road, a lively and casual yet stylish and quality-aware spot where you sit at the bar around the kitchen and watch the chefs do their magic with carefully sourced, seasonal produce while you share the tastiest dishes. We opt for scallop carpaccio, tuna tartare and (of course, as it’s my fav tapa in the world) grilled smoked octopus. Tomato and basil salad and marinated olives on the side. And a carafe of Spanish wine in the hot, dark summer night.
40 Hands. The weekend starts at the cafe around the corner from my flat, whose founder believes that it takes 40 hands to produce a single cup of coffee from bean to cup and advocates sustainability, knowledge and appreciation through his work with millions of coffee growers in developing countries as well as at the hip little spot on Yong Siak Street. I’m here with an American and an English friend, who meet each other for the first time and realise that both of them have strong ties with India and Nigeria; one of million small examples of how big, small and curious the world is and works.
Bootcamp. With the English friend, I go to the same bootcamp we’ve gone to for three consecutive Saturdays now. With all those weights I feel that my body is already starting to tone up, but maybe it’s just the pain and exhaustion playing tricks on me. Anyway – it’s fun doing something active together, especially to start off the weekend.
Indoor Rock Climbing. I hold that thought as I meet another English friend for indoor rock climbing at a mall (so Singapore) on the water front. Not something I’d ever suggest doing, and I catch myself expecting myself to be very bad at it and wanting to just do my best. Why is that how I seem to approach more and more things in life? Actually, it turns out to be a lot of fun and something I might possibly become quite decent at. I’m flexible and strong and not afraid of heights. We take turns at climbing while the other one holds the robe and fires the climber down. An exercise stimulating social bonding and the brain as well as various muscles. Not bad!
Chill. For a few hours. I’m home alone as my flatmates are in Sydney. I do absolutely nothing. Chew on this, read half an essay in the Monocle Singapore book, Skype with a friend, all interrupted by sleep.
Forest Cloud. As it gets dark I meet a Danish friend and her visiting childhood friend in one of the flower domes in the Gardens by the Bay. The visitor is going to Bali for three weeks from Sunday, so the idea is that we meet now to make it natural to catch up on the island next weekend, maybe for a yoga class, a drink at the Potato Head Club or… ahhhhh… I can’t wait to go. For now though, it’s about appreciating the magic of this moment: climbing an indoor mountain covered in lush greenery, topped off with the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, with two lovely girls. We walk in thick mists on spiralling metal bridges, with the diverse vegetation and hidden floral gems on one side and the stunning views of the multi-coloured Supertrees, the Marina Bay Sands and the city skyline on the other side through the glass walls.
Supertree Bar. Down and back out in the gardens again, we meet our Swedish friends for a cocktail in the bar in the canopy of one of the supertrees; super tacky but also super beautiful.
Island Hopping. Early Sunday morning I sail to St John’s and Lazarus Islands with my Vietnamese colleague and her cute two-year-old son. As opposed to Pulau Ubin, these two islands are uninhabited by people (we see lots of fat, lazy cats and monkeys) and quite perfect if you want to chill out completely for a few hours. Although the big tankers are as much within view as anywhere along the Singaporean coastlines, the beach and water seem clean and clear and we swim a little bit (taking care not to swallow the water) as well as do a bit of yoga in the sand and nap in the shade. Bliss!
Deep Sleep. For some reason I’m super tired when we get home. Maybe it’s all of the fresh air and salt water. I was meaning to do some work in the afternoon but fall into a sleep so deep that when I wake up I’m utterly disorientated – have to spend a few minutes frantically remembering where I am and what day it is; why it’s 5pm. It means I have less time to do the work I was planning to do but clearly the break was needed – it’s rare I sleep that well.
Super Loco. After a refreshing shower, I meet a friend for ceviche, fish tacos and spicy chicken enchiladas at the festive Mexican spot in Robertson Quay, the stylish, conformable Singapore interpretation of a street food pavilion on a beach in Tulum. Oh, and we have a pisco sour – inspired by one of my best friends sending me a picture of one she was drinking a few hours earlier in San Francisco. Maybe it’s a bit decadent for a Sunday eve, but now I feel a connection with her, and it’s hard not to want to party in this happy, warm, colourful place by the water, so perfectly curated for everyone from families with small children to young couples to elderly bonvivants.
Pause for reflection. I’ve now lived in Singapore for two months, and it’s going well; I’m very happy and excited still; not least about the next two months, and the following, and the following… the better I get to know Singapore, the more it feels like there’s yet to discover, explore, learn, enjoy here. By now I’m beginning to get to know and create stories with the wonderful people I met during the first few weeks, just as I keep meeting and being introduced to new inspiring people. I spend a lot of energy at work and outside of work, but all aspects of life here replenish the reserves rhythmically. I’m always wondering what defines ‘home’ – is it a physical space (urban, house, flat?), and in itself, or coloured by certain items, aesthetics, ambiences, habits and fond memories, or does it, for me, have to be a symbiosis of the space, people (which people?), work, other elements? However, for the first time in a very long time I feel very much at peace with where I am, in all senses of the phrase.