10 Fun Facts about Singy/S’pore/SG

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Singapore, in my mind, can be summed up in 3 words: green, clean, and Asian- although I was told repeatedly that Singapore was the most westernized Asian destination. Still, as an Arab who had never been anywhere past the Middle East when it came to Asia, Singapore was very different than any other city I had experienced as a tourist.
1.) You can drink from the tap and perhaps my stomach is tough but I survived it – and if you do order a drink, ask for lime juice. Instead of being a sour mix of green like you’d expect, it’s a light tangy refreshment. One place in Chinatown called G7, known for its bullfrog porridge, had particularly sweet orange-colored lime juice. Alcohol is very expensive so stock up on a few bottles from the duty free upon arrival – but beware, there are restrictions as to how much alcohol you can buy upon entry. Specific combinations are as follows: 1 pack of beer, 1 wine bottle, 1 bottle of spirits or 2 bottles of wine and 1 pack of beer or only 2 packs of beer. Drug trafficking will get you the death penalty so keep it clean.

2.) Rain boots are futile. It’s the first time I ever walked through puddles in sandals, complained about the heat in the middle of a thunderstorm, and felt fluffier than a freshly permed chia pet – all during the month of February. Being so close to the equator means that Singapore is tropical year-round, and wet all the time. And that’s what she said.

3.) Cab drivers, who are also called “uncle”, don’t know their way around the city-state, which is only 274 square miles, and insist that you tell them how to get to where you’re going. God help you if you don’t know where that is…which is the case for most tourists on the planet. They are not the best drivers – there were some close calls with a few BUSES. Their music fluctuates and is in any language: one lady driver was cruising to a melody that sounded like the Chinese Wizard of Oz soundtrack whereas my driver to the airport, Mr. Boo, was grooving to Spice Girls. And drivers sit in the right seat – it’s all quite British except that you’re in Asia. You don’t need cabs – the metro and the buses are enough to get around if you’re not out too late. Bring something to read though because some transits can be long rides. Unlike London where passengers were all buried in books or newspapers, Singy locals are all glued to their devices probably due to there being cellular reception underground.

4.) Like most things that would be antiestablishment and/or illegal in Singy, street art is virtually nonexistent. The street art that does exist isn’t real street art since its commissioned by the government. The biggest form of creative public intervention seen were some stickers and one phrase on a wall on Arab street.

5.) Most malls are underground. Connected through the metro and having the luxury brand names on the ground level, malls run deep in the earth and are also interconnected with each other. Consumerism is a huge part of Singapore – seeing that the average resident has a high salary, they have plenty to spare on goods and the schizophrenic weather keeps them indoors long enough that there’s only one place to go on a rainy day: the mall. There are mini malls in between metro stations and a giant maze of shopping centers on Orchard Road. I think I saw 4 Louis Vuittons in a stretch of 1 mile.

6.) Street markets and food centers (hawker centers) are something we are missing out on – offering cheap goods, clothing, and food. The street markets in every country must have the same source supplier given that I have items I’ve bought from the UK and France that popped up in Singapore’s Chinatown and Bugis. Sure, they’re probably bad quality (but who cares at S$10/piece) and the chicken rice may give you salmonella poisoning but what’s travel without a little adventure and germs? If it makes you feel better, Anthony Bourdain visited a few but, then again, that guy eats everything. Regardless, food stalls are graded in cleanliness and have a big range of dishes from all around the region. I preferred murtabak which I was told was Malaysian but upon a quick search, it seems it’s Arab – no wonder I liked it. Just pour chili sauce on whatever you’re eating and it’ll taste good, no joke. Besides the spice, get some honey banana fritters for dessert.

7.) Tiger Beer, Tiger Balm, and the Merlion – 3 things that I associate with Singapore now: the first two are born in the country. Tiger beer, started in 1932, is light and doesn’t give you that beer-belly feeling. Fans of Almaza may not think it’s “real beer”; I liked it but I also like margaritas and Baileys. Just saying, I’m not much of a hardcore drinker. The Merlion is a signature of Singapore  because “Singapore” means “Lion’s City” in Sanskrit and the mythical creature was used to symbolize the city by combining it’s name with it’s past: a small fishing village. It’s now Singapore’s mascot around the world thanks to the statue that sits at the Marina Bay.

8.) Mustafa Center – located in Little India, it’s pretty much a shopping center that could be a small city. This place has merchandise, a pharmacy, a fresh produce grocery, a giant money exchange, and a restaurant on the roof. It has everything from “Sexfuel” pills to London souvenirs. Yeah, I don’t know why either.

9.) When giving you change and your receipt, they use both hands and you are expected to receive it with both hands as well.

10.) You’re not allowed to eat or drink on the metro or the bus but there are plenty of restaurants and 7/11s in between stations to grab quick bites. Bread Talk for some pork floss? Prawn balls, curry pockets, or maybe just some French fries from McDonald’s with chili sauce? If you’re not a big fan of Asian cuisine, there’s a bunch of Western spots and a Starbucks every 10 paces. Or just pop in to any Indian joint and fill up on garlic naan while waiting for tandoori chicken (practically like a farooj). Or have some dosai with masala potatoes dipped in an array of sauces. Or hazelnut crumb brownies from Awfully Chocolate. Really, food’s not an issue – you’ll find something.

But whatever you do, stay away from the durians.

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Tiger Balm Disneyland

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Haw Par Villa, or as I came to think of it “Moussa’s Castle for Crazies”, is an abandoned theme park located in Singapore. Locals call it “Chinese Disneyland” and foreign residents call it “Creepyland” for this place is the exact dilapidated nightmare you would imagine when thinking up a spooky ride based on Chinese folklore with brightly painted figurines.

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Formerly known as the “Gardens of Tiger Balm”, Haw Par Villa is named after the Burmese brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par. They were manufacturers of the famous Tiger Balm – or as us Arabs know it: “Abu Feis.” Their graves are also in the middle of the park in giant phallic beige stone structures.

Side note: Tiger balm is some pretty magical stuff- it smells like Vicks Vaporub and is great for mosquito bites, which is handy because Singaporean mosquitoes are silent non-buzzing sneaky mofos that can give you Dengue fever.

Although Moussa’s Castle’s history is somewhat more dreamy and romantic, Haw Par Villa revolves around legends and Confucianism beliefs. The one section that is the most – let’s go with “captivating”- is the part of the park that is dedicated to the Ten Courts of Hell.

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Here, you walk through a garden displaying a killer rodent battle where rabid rabbits and rats attack and maim each other. Upon passing through the entrance that is decorated with mini severed heads and two guardians, you see the 10 different courts that a person must go through where they will be judged and punished for their crimes.

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Plaques describe various crimes with corresponding punishments – those of which are shown visually with colorful statues within the cave-like structure. You know, just in case you have a weak imagination and wouldn’t know what it’s like to grind up your siblings under large stones because they didn’t obey you during your lifetimes. All crimes and punishments seem to be a way of discouraging visitors from being “bad” people. That wouldn’t justify bringing 5 year olds to such a park in my opinion but, then again, my little sister loves movies about dismemberment and the undead so what do I know about kids these days.

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I read that many of the statues had been updated technologically so that they’d move, blink, and growl; however, upon my visit, they were completely stationary- at least, while I was looking at them. Due to the rainy weather, it was empty, making it all the more creepy, but the park generally seems to be a forgotten landmark.

And it is because of this that it’s definitely a place to go see: it’s weird, one-of-a-kind, and photogenic. Plus, entrance is free.

SMRT station: Haw Par Villa (Circle Line- Yellow)

Jay-Z, Will You Be My Valentine?

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Hey Jay,

Can I call you Jay? First off, let me say that this is an entirely platonic Valentine request. I am not romantically in love with you, I do not want to make a rainbow of babies with you, and I don’t have any form of erotic fantasies involving your physical entity in any shape or form. Think of this as a friend request in the shape of a heart because my love is that sincere, ’tis the season, and it don’t cost a thing. Please don’t let my J.Lo reference count against me. Beyonce for life.

[And I mean that especially now – girl, I ain’t after your man. I just want to be part of your clique because you guys are the most stylish power couple with business brains. You also are smart personally – I mean look at Ye and Ri – they don’t know what they’re doing with their love lives. Be, I respect that you admitted to your lip-synching at the inauguration because Barack is your boy – you can’t let him down.  I also respect that you are the right match to Jay, equally pulling your weight financially and, probably, physically. Really, your monster thigh muscles scare me. Have no fear, I am not a threat even if I’m a white Arab chick from Beirut. Since we’re talking like this, I just have to say “Run the World” was just another single that followed the whole independent-woman streak you seem to fall back on too often and you can do better. You don’t need it, you’re BK from Texas.]

So Jay, as I was saying, I admire your ability to shift into many different realms of creativity. You’re a chameleon, while seeming totally down to earth, you are effortlessly suave, just a very cool guy who happens to have a net-worth of $500 million. And I don’t mean I’m after your money. I mean you are successful. Ambition is a quality that I want in the people that I surround myself with. Ambitious people give good inspiring energy.

Musically, don’t get me started. The Black Album is one of my favored LPs but the fact that you can make mashups with Linkin Park and Dolly Parton sound good separately – now that’s saying something. Then you go and work with JT and Timbs. YES. “Decoded” is a beautiful publication by the way. I was skeptical because that Nets logo was average, but the book is lovely. Your affection for your wife and family (blood or otherwise) is admirable. I don’t care if it’s publicity like that subway stunt with the grandma – I grinned like a buffoon – it’s good to see.

So what’s the initiation process to be an intern? Or just shadow you so I can soak up some residual awesomesauce? Do I take S-A-Zs? A test of 99 problems? Just grant me a moment of clarity to know what it takes. Ladies is pimps too but I won’t be standing at the “tabownacle” forever.

Thanks,

Me

P.S. – Is “that shit cray?” short for “crazy” or the Kray twins? Because if it’s the twins, I need to make a new t-shirt.

Plenty of Fish in the Sea

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Much like this scene in Finding Nemo, post-grad twenty-somethings are poor little fish caught in a plastic bag thinking “now what?” We spend all our lives living in a bubble that protects us but, eventually, we’re going to need to pop it if we want to continue to survive. YOLO. No, that’s not a link to Drake.

Now that I feel I’ve said something profound enough to merit a blogpost, I will say what I actually wanted to say:

1.) I’m flying off to Singapore for 10 days and will be disconnected for a while. I WILL be back though – with pictures and stories.

2.) First week of Feb marks the 1-year anniversary of Bambi’s Soapbox. Hooray!

Thank you all for reading! I’ll be posting appetizers on the Facebook page (so LIKE it if you haven’t already) See you back here in 2 weeks!

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Take me with you!