Our home away from home...away from home...
Tim took on a Palantir assignment in Singapore that will last for a few months. It means that we've been living in a hotel room in a city with summertime weather (30°C/86°F and 70% humidity!). But Singapore is very modern with many tourist attractions that make it pretty fun for the short-term.
Wonder Full - Light and Water Show
Think Disney's "Wonderful World of Color" show but without the animated scenes. Music, light beams, water shooting... It's pretty impressive that it shows 2x/night.
Universal Studios Singapore
Located on Sentosa, a man-made island, this Universal Studios is much smaller than its American counterparts, but still a fun place to spend the day. Just make sure to load on the water-proof sunscreen and chug water all day.
Singapore Botanic Gardens
Established 156 years ago, this is the only tropical garden in the world to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Botanic Gardens were a very peaceful and beautiful place to tour, but the intense heat and humidity made it difficult to stay for more than a couple of hours. After two trips I still hadn't seen all of it.
Probably the most iconic images of Singapore, Marina Bay is full of tourist sights - the Helix Bridge, Marina Bay Sands Hotel (which looks like it has a boat sitting on the roof), the Singapore Flyer (biggest ferris wheel in the world), The Esplanade (a theater hall affectionately termed the "Durian" for its resemblance to the smelly fruit), and of course, the Merlion statue. The merlion has personified Singaore since 1966, when it was first used to represent the fishing history of Singapore, paired with its original name - Singapura - meaning "lion city".
Gardens By the Bay
This is a beautiful place to stroll and enjoy city views and nature views alike. Lakes, lily ponds, and several varieties of gardens cover this space. Two large domes house the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest. Because they are climate-controlled you can enjoy them at a slow pace without melting in the Singapore heat. We especially enjoyed Cloud Forest, which allows you to walk through the canopy, understorey, and undergrowth of a rainforest. Supertree Grove showcases giant man-made "trees" that look like something out of "Avatar", especially when they light up at night. We were lucky enough to see this area in full Christmas-light glory, fake snow and all!
Esther is a friend I made in my very first intensive Japanese class back in August. She was in Tokyo for only a month and took lessons to be able to get around town. Since we were in her neck of the woods she took us to a few of her favorite local spots for dinner. How fun to see a friendly, familiar face!
Shopping. Shopping. Just shopping period. Orchard Road is a strip of road lined with malls. I have found myself going there many times over the past few weeks. People flock there for the food courts, high to low-end shopping, great people-watching opportunities, and (let's be honest) air-conditioning. I think my favorite part about it is Ion Sky - a 360 degree viewing floor at the top of Orchard Ion, one of the high-end malls on Orchard Road.
Right behind Orchard Road lies Emerald Hill Road - a little neighborhood of British colonial-era buildings that stand in stark contrast to the shiny, modern high rises of the shopping district.
There is a very large population of Chinese people here - 74% in fact - so of course Singapore has it's own Chinatown. We visited the large and beautiful Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum. Not only is it a place of worship, it houses a museum explaining the history and philosophy of buddhism, and contains a beautiful rooftop orchid garden.
Chinese New Year
We were fortunate enough to be here in Singapore during Chinese New Year. Festivities go on for several weeks but the public holiday is from February 6-9. We were warned that many shops and restaurants would be closed, and they were, but we had the benefit of attending the local Chinese New Year Festivities and taking in the fun monkey decor around town.
Singapore came up with an amazing idea - let's have a zoo filled with only nocturnal animals and admit guests only during the hours they're awake (a.k.a. at night). Brilliant! We were able to see lions, tigers, meerkats, deer, crocodiles, and more, at their friskiest. Not to mention, it was SO much more comfortable to tour around after the hot Singapore sun had set. The highlight of this trip for me was witnessing the flight/fall of a flying squirrel just feet in front of us!
These meerkats heard the meal cart roll by just as we approached. Sadly for them, the meal cart was not coming their way. That didn't keep them from trying their best to call it back.
After enjoying the Night Safari so much we decided to try the River Safari, located right next door. Sadly, the animals were not as animated and the attraction rides not as good, but it was still a fun experience. This park focuses on several rivers of the world and their fish, amphibian, and mammal inhabitants. They decided to throw the panda exhibit in, too, which was definitely the highlight for this panda lover!
The two dishes that are most famous here are the chili crab and chicken rice. We tried the chili crab (crab is one of Tim's favorite things) at what turned out to be a very pricey restaurant on the waterfront. It was quite delicious but rather messy, and a little hard on the wallet (we also had pepper crab at a different place and loved it). Chicken rice, on the other hand, is Singaporeans' go-to cheap food and it is amazing. The rice is so tasty you can eat it as a meal in itself. And for 5 Singapore dollars ($3.50) you can get a set meal with chicken, rice, soup, and veggies.
And, of course, being in Singapore we just HAD to try the Singapore Sling in the very place it was invented - Raffles Hotel's Long Bar. We greatly enjoyed our drinks although the price was pretty insane. My Singapore Sling cost a whopping 31 Singapore dollars ($22)!
What perfect timing - Anh Binh, Chi Ha, Bac Cuc, Lun, and Ro - who we'd only recently said goodbye to in Vietnam, ended up being here in Singapore for a day! They were on their way back home from a four-day cruise. We got together at Din Tai Fun and caught up over some yummy pork dumplings.
I must end by taking time to mention the reason we're here in the first place - Palantir. Tim's office stands tall in the business district and has an amazing view of Marina Bay (we had some nice Chinese New Year fireworks views from there). Did you know that each of the Palantir offices is named after a place in Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings"? The main Palo Alto office is, appropriately, The Shire and Singapore's location has been coined Almaren. Apparently in the Tolkien books, Almaren is an island in The Great Lake. What a perfect name for the office located on an island city-state!
Thank you, Singapore! It's been a sweaty but fun time, and an excellent break from Tokyo's frigid winter. I'll be heading back to Tokyo now, and Tim will be back and forth until his assignment ends in March.