18 Jul Babymoon: Singapore
FROM KENTUCKY TO SINGAPORE
When we planned this trip 11 months ago, we had no idea we would be starting the adoption process this year or that we’d be adventuring on the same side of the world as our son, who would already have a name, a story, and a smile. We debated canceling this trip, because it will make 3 trips to Asia in 6(ish) months, but it was non-refundable and something we had dreamed about with our friends for years. So we set out, completely exhausted but excited. 6 awesome friends flew east while we flew west to meet them in Indonesia. And I cried in the airport because our unexpected “babymoon” would have us on the same continent as our son, which is surreal and beautiful and heartbreaking all at once.
We departed Louisville at 6:40 p.m. on Friday and landed in Singapore at 7 p.m. Singapore time (that’s 7 a.m. Kentucky time) on Sunday. That made a grand total of about 40 hours of travel from Louisville to Singapore, with a quick stop in Minneapolis, a 10-hour night layover in San Francisco (where we slept in the airport), and then a direct flight from San Francisco to Singapore. Technically Singapore was also a layover, but we counted it as our first destination.
San Fran to Singapore is actually the 5th longest flight route in the world, and for this nervous flyer, I had no idea what to expect. But despite the hassles we had booking our flights with credit card points (and trying to get seats together), Singapore Air was actually really nice and made the 16 hour flight enjoyable. Blankets, pillows, head phones, socks, toothbrushes, lots of tea and coffee, and 2 dinners all made for a relatively comfortable adventure, especially after the concrete floor we called our bed in San Fran.
As for jet lag, we landed in Singapore without any. We were tired from working around the clock preparing for our trip and from sleeping in the airport Friday night (a.k.a. Saturday morning Kentucky time), but Singapore Air really encourages all passengers to adopt a “rest, eat, sleep, eat, sleep until we get there” sort of schedule. And somehow taking naps felt much more low pressure than trying to sleep 8+ hours of simulated night all at once (it was actually daylight all the way from San Francisco to Singapore!), so both Brian and I slowly adjusted to the time zone. We also had tea time after each nap, which was really fun.
We landed in Singapore and were greeted by lots of hugs and smiles from the Goh family, who are some of our favorite people in the whole world! I don’t think there is anything better than stepping off a plane in an unfamiliar country and seeing familiar faces smiling back, especially after dreaming about this moment since the Goh’s moved back to Singapore 4 years ago!
After several photos and even more hugs, we all sat down to a delicious Chinese meal. We had chrysanthemum tea, lots of steamed dumplings, and these incredible yam-and-meat filled things called (locally at least) “yam puffs.” Seriously one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.
NIGHT WALK IN SINGAPORE: GARDENS BY THE BAY + MARINA BAY SANDS HOTEL + THE SKYLINE
After dinner, we said goodbye to Geraldine and Mrs. Goh, and Jensen stepped in as our Singaporean tour guide for the next 13 hours. And man, did we ever fill those 13 hours to the absolute fullest! After checking into our YMCA hostel, we began a night walk around Singapore.
Singapore Air had warned us of the heavy fees and strict regulations in Singapore, so we checked with Jenson to make sure there wasn’t anything we should (or shouldn’t) do. And fortunately, the laws were pretty well marked. Eating in the metro? $500 fine. Chewing gum? Also a fine. Caught with duty-free cigarettes? $5000 fine and up to 6 years in jail. All the regulations keep the city clean and very safe, meaning we could walk anywhere until 1:30 in the morning. And so we did!
We took in the famous Singapore skyline, walked past the Marina Bay Sands hotel, and ventured into the Gardens by the Bay, which is one of the coolest places we’ve ever seen! One of the most noticeable differences about Singapore is that, being only 250 square miles, everything is created with the utmost intentionality. Gardens by the Bay was no different. They didn’t just pour sidewalks and call it a park. Instead, the sidewalks were laced with water features and every inch available for green space was occupied by flowers or perfectly-manicured grass. And those metal trees! I was awestruck standing in the middle of the park and seeing them stretch up toward the skyline, and I think that was the moment I fully grasped that we were actually and finally here.
We got a little lost walking back to the hostel, but it gave us a good excuse to see more of the waterfront, the business district, and the underground walkways of the city. Jensen also treated us to aloe and apple drinks! Back at the hotel, we had an unexpected slumber party with Jensen and then crashed hard! But rest isn’t for 22-hour layovers, so a few hours later we greeted the day before the sun and headed out to see more of the city.
If there is one way I could describe our time in Singapore, I’d probably say we ate our way around the city, haha!
We told Jensen we wanted to eat like locals, so he took us to a hawker center called Albert Centre in the Bugis district for breakfast (“district” may not be the right word here if you’re looking to plan a trip, but it stretched out across a couple of streets, centering around Bugis Street). There is a very specific hawker food smell that is oh-so-delicious, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to dream about it for days.
Singaporeans eat a mix of sweet and savory for breakfast, but mostly savory. So we had roti pata (first photo) and rice cakes (second photo).
Next we hopped on the MRT (like the metro), which is how just about everyone travels around Singapore. It currently costs about S$60,000 ($40k USD) for the permit to own a car on the island, which doesn’t include the cost of the car, insurance, road taxes, or parking taxes. It’s not hard to see how Singapore has the highest cost of living in the world or why the MRT is the way to get around!
The MRT was not without excitement, as Brian narrowly escaped being closed in the doors and had to be pulled in by a local man who laughed and teased us for not moving fast enough. The good news is that we’re right at average height in Singapore, so we could actually reach the hand holds and therefore continued our MRT adventures uneventfully. 🙂
About 10 stops later, we stepped off the MRT at Harbour View, then we switched trains to head to Sentosa, which is a little island about a 10-minute express train ride from Singapore. Jensen showed us around his favorite childhood spots, most notable of which was the bigger of Singapore’s two merlions.
MERLIONS AND TIGERS AND BEARS, OH MY
A little history on the merlion: The tail of the merlion represents Singapore’s roots as a fishing village. The head represents Singapore’s original name, which is Singapura, meaning “lion city.” The merlion is a symbol and personification of the city. The merlions were developed in the early 1970s by the tourism board and are not actual mythical creatures.
BUGIS DISTRICT (AGAIN)
We caught a quick glimpse of the South China Sea before heading back into town to – what else? – eat again!
We traveled back to Bugis and the Albert Centre, where we picked up a few trinkets from the market and once again ate until we couldn’t eat anymore! Jensen kept us well fed and made sure we tried all the local foods! We had oyster crackers (photo 1). Then Bird Nest juice, which is made from the saliva of birds (photo 2). And then laksa, which is seafood noodle curry (photo 3).
Next on the menu was popiah, which is radish and peanuts rolled in a wrap made of rice. It tastes like summer rolls dipped in peanut sauce! Then we ate fishball noodle with bah cho, which means minced meat. You can see both in photo 1 below. Not pictured was water chestnut juice, sugarcane juice, chicken rice (a speciality in Sinagpore), a tea egg (which is an egg hardboiled in tea), goreng pisong (fried sweet potatoes, tapioca, and banana), and Milo (a chocolate drink like Ovaltine).
The best part about eating in Asia? My gluten issues haven’t been issues at all. Wheat isn’t the same here (most food is super fresh and isn’t heavily processed), and it’s simply not as widely used anyway. I do steer clear of pastries and foods made primarily of wheat (which tend to be desserts or food aimed at tourists), but otherwise I’ve been eating WHATEVER. I. WANT. I simply can’t overestimate how insanely incredible that feels.
After 13 beautiful hours in Singapore, we headed back to the airport and said goodbye to Jensen. We just can’t wait to come back one day, and next time we promised to bring Giddy too. So it’s not “goodbye” but “see ya later,” Singapore!