Merlion

Solo in Singapore

So this past weekend, I went down to Singapore all by myself, and if there were ever a place for a small young woman to to go by herself for the first time, it’s Singapore. I’ll admit: Before I went, I was nervous at the thought of being lonely and alone in a place I’d never been before, but Singapore immediately felt familiar. It’s a big Asian city with skyscrapers, water and a metro. In fact, it felt like a mix of Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. There was the distinct imprint of the British — left-side driving, a penchant for orderliness, a population that is majority ethnic southern Chinese — combined with a Southeast Asian tropical melting pot. The sheer cultural diversity, set against a familiar backdrop, made for a great solo excursion. Singapore is small enough to feel safe, but big and diverse enough to offer some chances for discovery. It is convenient and accessible, with just enough people to feel as if you have your back covered, but not so many people that you lose your privacy. As with my trip to Busan, I only got a glimpse of the city, so I can only make a few quick observations. I hope they aren’t too far off the mark:

It rains a lot. Obviously — it’s in the tropics, plus having been to the Philippines, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, I know it tends to rain in this region. Actually, it rains about 178 days a year in Singapore, and November and December are the rainiest months. So I anticipated the rain; I just thought it was going to be less downpour and more intermittent showers. Also, how can one be prepared for so much rain after living in the Beijing desert (it only rains on 70.6 days each year here)? I bought a rain jacket and waterproof backpack just for the occasion, but unfortunately I still couldn’t go out to Pulau Ubin on my last day for a more rural island cycling expedition. Instead, I discovered a rather nice exhibition of Southeast Asian art at the Singapore Art Museum. So I can’t say all was lost.

Go on the Night Safari. Some people don’t like zoos (for good reason), but I think they have the potential to do more good than harm and thus could be seen as a necessary evil. The Night Safari, in my opinion, fulfills this potential. My sister recommended it to me, and it was so much fun! At the Night Safari, you are all alone, in the dark, surrounded by a bunch of wild animals. They could eat you, especially if they are a lion or tiger or hippo. This is because they aren’t caged in as they are in some other, lesser zoos. The tram ride adds to the safari feel. Anything can happen. Anything did happen. Maybe the dark made everything seem more natural, but you can see the pains the zoo has taken to make the animals feel at home.

A fine city. Singapore may be a tiny city state, but it makes the most out of its limited resources. It’s in stark contrast to Fujian province in China, which I bring up because I was recently there and because many Singaporeans are ethnically Hokkien or Hakka. These groups, especially the latter, have long been some of the poorest people in China. To see the fates of those who have remained in China and those who have managed to chuqu (出去, literally “to go out,” means to migrate from one’s ancestral village to a bigger city for more profitable work) was an exercise in the realities of immigration. Though China has gained lots of ground, its standard of living is still nowhere close to that of Singapore. But as the Chinese do everywhere, they’ve managed to hold onto their traditions and culture even so far from home. I suspect this is true for the many Indians and Malay in Singapore as well.

Singaporeans are crazy about Christmas. Perhaps a cultural leftover from its British days, the Christmas season seemed to already be in full swing when I arrived at the end of November. Everywhere I went were signs of Christmas. Even Singapore Air had decked out the plane cabin with wreaths and played Christmas songs during boarding and landing.

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