12 Hours in Kampong Glam

Now out! The latest issue of the Living in Singapore magazine, featuring my piece on the city’s vibrant Arab Quarter.

If the Raffles Landing Site can be considered the birthplace of modern Singapore, then the Kampong Glam district was its cradle. Originally a village (a kampong in Malay) used by sea gypsies that was surrounded by gelam trees, the land vaulted into the history books when it was given to the last sultan of Johor in 1824 as part of the treaty that ceded Singapore to the British. By the 1920s, what had once been designated a Muslim enclave had picked up a notorious reputation as a red-light district that lasted until the 1970s, when the Bugis area was completely refurbished. Today, Kampong Glam is a blend of vibrant malls and cultural touchstones, a bastion of what defined Singapore’s multicultural capitalism two centuries ago and what defines it today.

9am – 10am 

This part of town is slow to wake, with many establishments opening their doors around noon, but that doesn’t mean a delicious breakfast can’t be found. Earlybird is a cozy space with excellent coffee. Located on the corner of Victoria Street and Jalan Pinang, a stone’s throw from both the Sultan Mosque and the enormous mural Girl with Lion Cub by Ernest Zacharevic, it makes for an ideal starting point for the day.

10am – 12pm 

The crown jewel of Kampong Glam, historically and physically, the Sultan Mosque cannot be missed. A pillar for the local Muslim community, the original mosque was born out of the 1824 accord, but within a few decades, it had fallen into disrepair and couldn’t fulfill the needs of the Islamic community, which had grown significantly. Construction of the new mosque began in 1924 but slowed and stalled in the years of global recession that followed. The funds to finish the building came from the generosity of local Muslims, with those who couldn’t afford to contribute money donating glass bottles instead. These bottles now make up the rings that encircle the base of each of the impressive gold ogee domes. Note that the mosque is closed to visitors on Friday mornings.

12pm – 2pm 

Since the mosque is surrounded by a number of delicious Malay and Mediterranean restaurants, an indulgent lunch is in order. As expected in an area nicknamed the Arab Quarter, many establishments are halal, which means they don’t serve pork or alcohol. Eateries on North Bridge Road like Warong Nasi Pariaman, Sabar Menanti II and Pondok Jawa Timur all give you a delicious taste of regional cuisine. On the Mediterranean side of things, my personal favorites for creamy hummus and delicious kebabs are IstanBlue on Baghdad Street and Alaturka on Bussorah Street. For a treat, the cupcakes and doughnuts from Fluff Bakery on Jalan Pisang are pretty hard to beat. As is the gelato from aROMA on Arab Street.

2pm – 4pm 

One of the most unique parts of visiting Kampong Glam is the opportunity to indulge in some truly old-world shopping experiences. The streets of historic shophouses are the perfect place to find Turkish mosaic glass lamps, luxurious carpets and bespoke craft pieces for the home. Sifr Aromatics is legendary and for good reason. If you’re tired of the too sugary/citrusy perfumes found on department store shelves, this should be top of your list. A stroll down Arab Street will lead you past rolls upon rolls of fabric in all colors and textures. Don’t worry if you’re like me and can’t even thread a needle. The majority of these shops have in-house seamstresses who you can tap to make you a custom piece of clothing.

Blue Jazz Cafe

4pm – 6pm 

Time to get out of the heat. Located in the former palace of the Johor Sultan, the Malay Heritage Centre is worth seeing not only for the fascinating exhibitions but also the beautiful architecture. Six permanent galleries and a rotating exhibition delve into not only the history of Singapore’s Islamic community but also into Malay art and niche perspectives on the region’s conflux of people. Note that the center is closed on Mondays.

Those looking for a vibrant introduction to the local arts scene should check out the Aliwal Arts Centre, an active multi-disciplinary performance space that frequently hosts musicians, dance troupes, poets and other stage talent. Check out their website for upcoming events and workshops. The Vintage Cameras Museum and Click Art Museum combine to make for a unique experience, featuring over 1000 cameras and several rare collections of photographs. Another enriching indoor option is the National Library Building on Victoria Street, which hosts myriad afternoon and evening events for both children and adults. Home to the country’s national archives, history and culture buffs can easily spend hours exploring the seven floors containing the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library.

6pm – 9pm 

Thanks to its vibrant murals and independent boutiques, the famous and famously hipster Haji Lane has become quite the Instagram spot in recent years. Though many of the shops and salons are closed on Mondays, during the rest of the week most are open from noon or 1pm to 8pm or 9pm. The area’s vibe amps up as the sun sets, especially on weekends when the street is closed to vehicles. Restaurants spill out to fill the space with tables and music. Equally cute and often a skosh less busy is Bali Lane, which runs parallel to Haji Lane and houses gems like Pita Bakery and Sticky Rice Thai Food. Not to mention Blu Jazz Café, a pillar of Singapore’s live music scene.

There are too many cute clothing stores, vivacious bars and hidden treasures in Kampong Glam to list them all, but the best part about walking around this colorful part of town is the opportunity to stumble across them yourself.

12 Hours in the Civic District

Now out! The latest issue of the Living in Singapore magazine, featuring my piece on the cultural and historical heart of Singapore.

From architecture to food, heritage to nature, war memorials to high tea, the Civic District is the cultural and sociopolitical heart of the Singapore. If you have visitors who only have 12 hours in the country, this is where to spend it. If you have 12 months here, I highly recommend devoting a number of weekends and afternoons to exploring everything there is to see in this very walkable part of town.

Considered the birthplace of modern Singapore, the exact borders of the Civic District (sometimes called the Civic and Cultural District) vary, depending on who you ask and what search terms you put into Google. Generally, the area is considered to begin at the National Museum of Singapore and stretch southeast, ending at the waterfront.

Start your day with one of Singapore’s most iconic buildings, Raffles Hotel, which reopened this year after a lengthy refurbishment. Everyone goes for Singapore Slings at the Long Bar or for high tea, now served in the Grand Lobby instead of the Tiffin Room. While both are worthy outings, visiting Raffles Hotel early in the day allows you to see the gorgeous colonial architecture in the blush of morning light, and it’s likely to be far less crowded.

Read the rest here!

12 Hours in Punggol

Now out! The latest issue of the Living in Singapore magazine, featuring my piece on the island’s northern coast.

Perched on Singapore’s northern coast, a day in Punggol means fresh air, seafood and plenty of physical activity. Believed to be one of the oldest settlements in the country, historical documents indicate that Kampong Punggol, situated around the jetty, existed over 200 years ago, predating the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819.

Unsurprisingly, due to the proximity to Malaysia, the first settlers were Malay and mainly fishermen who made their living off the waters surrounding the marshland. However, from the mid-19th century onwards, the area saw a steady influx of Chinese immigrants, most Teochew, who were primarily rubber tappers and poultry and pig farmers. Catholic missionaries also developed a foothold and built several churches and schools.

Punggol is a Malay word that loosely translates to “hurling sticks at the branches of fruit trees to knock them to the ground” and is presumed to also refer to a place where produce was sold wholesale. Up until the area’s very recent redevelopment, the forested areas along Old Punggol Road were prime hunting grounds for durian enthusiasts, who would sometimes wait hours for free, delicious durians to drop.

These days, the region has quite a different reputation. Over the past decade, Punggol has received a lot of TLC and attention from the government, thanks to a revitalized planning project initiated in 1996, but delayed by the Asian financial crisis. Positioned by the Housing Development Board as Singapore’s first eco-town, Punggol manages to be both a highly modern hub as well as a peaceful nature escape.

Read the rest here!

12 Hours in Tiong Bahru

The inaugural issue of the Living in Singapore magazine is out!

I got to spend an afternoon wandering around one of Singapore’s trendiest neighborhoods to craft a day-long itinerary that visitors and locals alike can enjoy.

With its blend of traditional shophouses and trendy cafes, Tiong Bahru is high on the must-visit lists of tourists and locals alike for its Instagrammable dishes, boutique shops and building-side murals. But the enclave is also a microcosm of Singapore history, particularly the last century. Tiong Bahru became hip and trendy just after World War II, though lost its exclusivity in the 1950s, when new housing blocks were built. Over the years, the area has been home to various of waves of residents: British civil servants, the Peranakans and Chinese, the mistresses of the wealthy and now a blend of locals, celebrities and expats. Each demographic has left its own impact, adding diverse layers that have transformed Tiong Bahru into something truly unique.

7am – 8am

Wake up with the neighborhood with an hour-long yoga class at Yoga Movement’s cozy studio. Their Basics class is a peaceful way to kick off the day, but there are also more intense classes, such as Power, Core or HIIT yoga for those looking for a real workout.

8am – 9am

After all that stretching and balancing, an indulgent breakfast is due. The famous Tiong Bahru Bakery is ideal for both sweet and savory dishes, but it can get quite crowded at peak hours. Fortunately, it’s not the only breakfast spot in town. Other eateries known for tasty baked goods and high-quality coffee include Caffe Pralet, the entirely gluten-free TIANN’S and Drips Bakery & Café.

Read the rest here!

Living in Singapore: Lifestyles Chapter (Updated!)

LIS title

The Living in Singapore Fourteenth Edition Reference Guide is finally out!

Written by expats for everyone, the guide gives essential information for a seamless move to and maximum enjoyment out of the Lion City. It’s published by the American Association of Singapore and each chapter is written by an experienced writer with many years of living in Singapore (like me!), giving readers the best possible insight into life here.

Living in Singapore

I wrote the original Lifestyle Chapter for the Thirteenth Edition in 2014 and this year I had the opportunity to update it. The chapter covers everything from political activism to pornography laws to libraries to the LGBT scene to environmentalism to religion. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

So, you’re fully unpacked. You’ve figured out your morning commute. The kids are settling into their new school. Your phone is loaded with local emergency numbers. You know where the nearest grocery store is. All the basic necessities have been taken care of. Now what?

In a diverse, modern metropolis such as Singapore, there’s no reason to simply hunker down and survive your time as an expat. While it’s always difficult to leave behind the communities that matter to you, you don’t have to sacrifice your passions just because you find yourself living abroad. It’s important to tailor your life as an expat to your preferences, lest you begin to resent your new environment.

Perhaps you’re a devoted Protestant seeking a church to attend. Perhaps you’re hearing impaired and wondering how to find a new circle. Perhaps you’re a compulsive environmentalist or a BDSM fetishist or a bookworm. Perhaps you’re all of the above. Our lifestyle choices are what make our lives ours, no matter where we are. This chapter covers a few ways to transplant your old habits, hobbies and values into this fresh setting. You might even be inspired to try something new.

This year, we even have a funny commercial to promote the guide!

You can purchase Living in Singapore as an eBook through Amazon, Apple iBookstore, or Google Play.

Living in Singapore: Lifestyles Chapter

The Living in Singapore Thirteenth Edition Reference Guide is finally out!

LIS

Written by expats for everyone, the guide gives essential information for a seamless move to and maximum enjoyment out of the Lion City. It’s published by the American Association of Singapore and each chapter is written by an experienced writer with many years of living in Singapore (like me!), giving readers the best possible insight into life here.

I had the opportunity to write Chapter Eight: Lifestyles, which covered everything from political activism to pornography laws to libraries to the LGBT scene to environmentalism to religion. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of my chapter:

There’s no doubt about it: relocating to a new country is daunting. There are a great many crucial decisions that need to be made but we know it’s the little choices that make your life not only enjoyable but recognizable as your own. It’s what you do with yourself on the evenings and weekends. It’s your hobbies and beliefs. While it’s always difficult to leave behind the communities that matter to you, you don’t have to sacrifice your passions just because you find yourself living abroad. There’s no need to simply survive in a diverse, modern metropolis such as Singapore.

Once you’ve sorted out the basics, you’ll probably want to find out how you can tailor your life as an expat to your preferences. Perhaps you’re a devoted Catholic seeking a church to attend. Perhaps you’re gay and wondering how to find a new circle. Perhaps you’re a compulsive environmentalist or a computer gamer or a bookworm. Perhaps you’re all of the above. This chapter covers a few ways to transplant your old habits, hobbies and lifestyles into this fresh setting. You might even be inspired to try something new.

You can purchase Living in Singapore as an eBook through Amazon, Apple iBookstore, or Google Play.