City, Seen: Singapore
I hope you’re ready to plan a trip to Singapore today because this is by far the most thorough and link-heavy City Seen post we’ve had to date! Pooja, like myself, is a NYC born and raised writer that moved abroad to Singapore with her husband and has a toddler daughter. Pooja is a writer, editor, teacher and book designer. You can learn more about her here. Check out Pooja’s kid-friendly recommendations below.
What language do you use to communicate?
English is the lingua franca of Singapore—the city-state was a British colony—but its useful to know Mandarin (as Singapore is nearly 74% ethnically Chinese) and Singlish, an English-based language comprised of English, Malay, Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese and Tamil vocabulary.
What are your favorite places to…
Eat with the kids?
Breakfast one of the city’s many kopitiams, or old school coffee shops. Some seven hundred kopitiams dot the island and they can be often found on the ground floor of Singapore’s public housing estates. We love kaya toast, a slice of bread or a roll smeared with pandan-flavored coconut custard and topped with thick slabs of cold butter, served with hot kopi or the (tea) and soft-boiled eggs seasoned with soy sauce.
Shop for kids?
I rarely, if ever, shop in Singapore (it’s very expensive, and I’m home in the U.S. annually), but: The Better Toy Store (391 Orchard Rd., #04-20F, Ngee Ann City) stocks an incredible collection of wooden toys. Strangelets (7 Yong Siak St.) champions quirky and beautiful design; each toy here is a work of art. The Little Dröm Store (7 Ann Siang Hill) carries a carefully-curated selection of handmade items and toys, including many by local designers and artists. ELLY (501 Bukit Timah Rd. #02-29) stocks delightful, eponymous, home-grown label, Elly.
Eat with adults?
Original Sin (62 Jalan Merah Saga), is an exceptional, but pricey, Mediterranean vegetarian restaurant. Real Food (110 Killiney Rd.) has vegetarian, vegan, wheat/gluten-free, and sugar free menu options and the innovative freshly-squeezed fruit and vegetable drinks. Blu Kouzina (893 Bukit Timah Rd.) is a charming, authentic Greek restaurant.
Shop for yourself?
Again, I rarely, if ever, shop in Singapore, but when I do, it’s to support local retailers and artists. Bynd Artisan (44 Jln Merah Saga, #01-54), a retail shop and atelier, carries ready-to-write stationery collection that includes leather-bound journals and leather-crafted office and desk accessories (binders, tablet cases, luggage tags, business card sleeves, etc. Thow Kwang Pottery Jungle (85 Lorong Tawas), home to the last of two dragon kilns in Singapore, sells shelves of locally-made ceramics and items imported from elsewhere in Southeast and East Asia. Ong Shunmugam (16 Raffles Quay, #B1-36) is a line of contemporary womenswear pieces inspired by traditional Asian dress. by lawyer-turned-designer Priscilla Tsu-Jyen Shunmugam.
Play with your kids?
Singapore is dotted with incredible playgrounds. The “adventure playgrounds” at Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park (Along Bishan Rd. and Ang Mo Kio Ave. 1), Pasir Ris Park (52 Pasir Ris Ave.), Tiong Bahru Park (Entrances on Henderson Rd., Tiong Bahru Rd., and Lower Delta Rd.), and West Coast Park (Parallel to West Coast Hwy.) are innovative plays capes with all sorts of family-friendly equipment on which to climb and in which to pretend play.
Any good musems?
The Asian Civilizations Museum (1 Empress Pl.), home to a very impressive collection of Asian artifacts, the Peranakan Museum (39 Armenian St.), a museum about the Singapore’s unique Malay-Chinese culture, and Playeum: The Children’s Centre for Creativity, designed to encourage children ages one to twelve to play via installations, hands-on exploration, creative interactions, workshops, and a rotating slate of exhibitions, are three of the city’s best.
Where do you take visitors?
For a city of its size and density, Singapore has a generous amount of green space. Lush, manicured Singapore Botanic Gardens (1 Cluny Park Rd.) is Singapore’s answer to Central Park. Jacob Ballas Children’s Garden’s (1 Cluny Park Rd.) has a water playground, a treehouse, and a maze! Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve (301 Neo Tiew Crescent) is a jewel; we come here to see exotic migratory birds and resident herons, kingfishers, and sunbirds. Marina Barrage (8 Marina Gardens Dr.) is perfect for picnics or kite flying. The Southern Ridges (access via Pepys Rd., Kent Ridge Park) is a 9-kilometer stretch of stroller-friendly flora and fauna trails.
Must see tourist spots?
Hop on a ferry and spend the day on one of the lesser-known islands that surround Singapore. Rent a bike on Pulau Ubin (bumboats from Changi Point Ferry Terminal, 51 Lorong Bekukong) and pedal through lush mangroves. Visit Kusu Island‘s (ferry from Marina South Pier, 31 Marina Coastal Dr.) tortoise sanctuary and wade in its lagoons. Pack a picnic and discover a coral reef on quiet St. John’s Island (ferry from Marina South Pier).
How has Singapore changed for you since becoming a mother?
Motherhood is so isolating, and even more so when one is thousands of miles away from home. The transient nature of expatriate life is not always conducive to meaningful relationships, and there are limited opportunities to form real, lasting connections. And there is much pressure not to complain when you are perceived to be a privileged “expat,” by the citizens of your host country and your friends and family back home.
Playdates and date nights—ha, what are those?—are rare and hard-fought. The loneliness is often crushing.
What’s your favorite place to get lost?
The library. Libraries in Singapore are not at all like libraries in the United States (they don’t cater to the needs of the community, they aren’t institutions that defend free speech, they have membership fees), but I love several branches near my house. They are virtually empty, especially in the morning, and a quiet place to write and read, away from the madness of the city.
Show us your favorite view.
These photographs were taken recently at MacRitchie Trails, a 20-kilometer network of trails and boardwalks winding through the forest around the MacRitchie Reservoir, and The TreeTop Walk, a 250-meter suspension bridge that connects the two highest points in MacRitchie. The Central Catchment Nature Reserve (of which the Trails and the Reservoir are a part) is the largest of the nature reserves in Singapore and occupies over 2,000 hectares of forest cover (mature secondary rain forest). The Reserve is a most magical place. The forest is a refuge, and I appreciate the leaf litter dappled with sunlight, the sifting of a faint breeze through the trees, and bulbuls singing from a on high.
What makes Singapore home?
Despite what I said above, I do have friends! Never in a million years did I think we’d stay in Singapore for more than twelve or eighteen months, that I’d raise a child so far away from home. But, as they say, life had other plans. Living overseas has been a humbling experience, one that has taught me much about myself and my place in the world. The past half decade has included moments of joy, anger, frustration, ambivalence, loneliness, inspiration, confusion, and wonder, and I am most grateful to the friends who have opened their hearts and homes to me in these times.