THE MAGIC OF SINGAPORE

February 1, 2017

baba nyonya wedding - source Singapore museum

I recently spent a month living in Singapore. Known as the garden city, there are over five million people living on this urban jungle island. Super luscious and green, it’s close to the equator, and the weather is tropical. Year round it’s humid and temperatures are around 90 degrees (33 C) during the day.

sing trees

I had been to Singapore several times previously, but this trip was special, because I stayed for such a long time, getting a chance to really experience life there vs. a short visit of a few days.

tiffany katie

The Singaporean culture is lively, and conversations are – in my experience – full of laughter. Supremely multicultural, Singapore has four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil, so in any given conversation you’ll hear several languages flying around.

hindu temple

And with a wealth of religious and spiritual traditions, it’s easy to find a quiet place to offer up incense, flowers or prayers.

temple lantern

temple phoenix

I fell in love with the colors and vibrancy of Chinatown!

lantern chinatown sing

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chinatown

If I were ever to move to the island to live, I would love to live in one of the older Singaporean neighborhoods with shop houses.

peranakan mansion

My favorite area was Joo Chiat, a peaceful, quiet place where you can find old two-story shop houses and old Peranakan houses. Alongside TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) clinics, you can also find sweet shops with Nyonya desserts.

ondeh ondeh

I got addicted to something called ‘Ondeh Ondeh’, a jade-colored ball of glutinous rice with palm sugar in the center and rolled in coconut (sorta like a Peranakan straights version of mochi).

Even better than desserts are the fruits!

pokey fruit

soursop and custard apple

mangos

Every day I enjoyed fruits like mango, jackfruit and soursop, while sipping on juice from young coconuts. By the time I left Asia I was hopelessly addicted to soursop.

Soursop addiction

The majority of my close friends in Singapore are Baba/Nyonya, emerging when Chinese and Malay married, forming a new culture with their own dress, dishes, foods, etc. {photo waaaay up top is a traditional Baba family}. The Baba culture is fast disappearing, so spending time with my friends gave me a window into a precious aspect of Singapore’s heritage. The blue house below is a Baba house – so beautiful, right?!

blue baba house

The energy in Singapore is very lively – from the moment I arrived, I went into high gear, tying up loose ends for the Flowerlounge book event I was hosting. The event was amazing, and in the weeks following, I spent my days scheduling tons of business meetings, teaching a meditation class and making lots of new friends.

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My favorite experiences in Singapore are those that are down-to-earth, like the Kopi Tiam (local coffeeshops) and the Hawker Centers (food stalls with delicious, affordable food).

kaya toast coffee eggs

Every morning I would go to the Kopi Tiam, to order a ‘Kopi O Kosong’, a black coffee. Coffee is brewed in what they call a ‘sock’ here and essentially the coffee is more like an Americano. It comes either black, with sugar or with carnation milk. All are delicious, but I prefer it black.

The local Kopi Tiam is a busy place, and as it fills up with people, we’d share tables with strangers. Over several weeks of morning coffees, we got to know the regulars. We developed friendships with the locals – from taxi drivers to loan sharks – chatting over our coffees. I was so touched when they started bringing us special breakfast treats like taro cakes and pastries.

During the day I would have meetings and for dinner I’d go out for dinner with friends. Each night we’d go to a different Hawker Center (series of food stalls). Each location is typically known for having a particularly delicious type of local food reflecting the multiculturalism in Singapore, with Chinese, Malay and Indian food available most everywhere.

ivy jimmy heart

ba ku teh

pao

In many ways food is a language of love in Singapore, so in an effort to express my love back for the island, I’ll share my favorites: Rojak (pineapple, cucumber, jicama salad with peanuts & sweet shrimp sauce & torch ginger flower), Ba Ku Teh (rich, black Chinese herbal soup), Mee Siam (chili, lime, coconut soup), fried calamari and greens like kankong and sweet potato leaf and all forms of bittergourd, from sautéed to juiced. Another new ritual that I’m currently addicted to is the Hong Kong style dinner: Dim Sum.

dim sum

Plant-wise, the Singapore Botanical Garden is always my favorite place to spend time. Some of the most insane orchids I’ve ever seen can be found there, as well as an impressive collection of ginger and tumeric flowers, among others.

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orchids pink

white 3 orchids

One of my favorite places to listen to the sounds of the jungle and songs of birds and insects is Fort Canning. Fort Canning has a Spice Garden, with cinnamon and nutmeg trees, pandan and wild pepper leaves, vanilla orchids and cacao trees. It’s one of those places in the city that’s gives you a taste of what the island must’ve felt like before all the buildings … you get the sense of thick, luscious jungle, alive and vibrating with life.

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roots green

dragonfly

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Another one of my favorite quiet places was a simple park in between apartment buildings where I was staying. With huge trees in a circle, pathways, gazebos and an area in the center for people to do exercises, it was my favorite place to sit quietly and reflect. I sat in between a pair of trees with huge, rich green leaves and roots exposed and on display down a hillside surrounding the circle of trees.

fav spot hdb

I was so in love with the trees at this particular place, that I made flower offerings to them when I left the country.

I loved living in the HDB apartments, not only to get a taste of real life in Singapore, but also to experience the diversity of people and lifestyles. Next door to us was an Indian family; every day joyful Indian music streamed out of their windows, and every morning, a new offering would appear on their doorstep in the form of a simple, yet exquisite chalk sketch with a flower.

neighbor offerings

Across from us, another neighbor had a lush garden with flowers and plants growing out of hanging coconut shells, and they had the coolest dog in the world. Each week the dog received its bath – it was 17 and sooooo happy.

dog washing

Almost nightly, the rains would come, cooling temperatures and creating beautiful rhythms to sleep to. One evening a huge storm exploded while I was sitting outside on a porch at a coffeeshop. I sipped coffee and watched the rain come down in sheets in the warm air. What a comforting feeling … so introspective.

Even better than the music of the rain falling, was the songs of the yellow miner birds. Standing out from their darker-colored brothers and sisters, the yellow miners are a bright canary yellow and their music is exquisite. This birdsong brings me right back to the magic of Singapore.

For more about the secret teachings I learned from the botanical world in Singapore and Taiwan, check out this post about the jungle + abundance.

Love + flower petals,

xo-katie

 

*Peranakan photos: wiki

AUTHOR: LOTUSWEI CATEGORIES: magic travels
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Glynis

Thank you ! I enjoyed this post a lot. I felt like I was right there with my family enjoying the botanical.
Glynis

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Glynis

I’m going to catchup on your previous blogs . Also enjoyed the miner bird soundtrack.
Glynis

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Katie

Thank you, Glynis! That bird call is gorgeous, right? Unreal.

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Anne

What a beautiful read. Katie , I felt like I was right along side with you . The pictures are wonderful. The food looks and must have tasted divine!

Love
Anne

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Jennie

What an incredible journey – thank you for immersing us in the Singaporean culture through your well written summary. Souprsop is one of my faves! It’s plentiful in Latin America too – they call it guanoabana.

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