Singapore: The Theme Park City

Continuing the retrospective of my trip in February, the third part of my trip was to Singapore. I’ve actually heard a lot about Singapore before I went and was always curious to go. In fact, despite Malaysia being the main destination for that part of the trip, I was actually looking forward to the visit to Singapore the most.

I always think that city states are really interesting. They’re obviously really small so that impacts the development of the city a lot. When you’re dealing with a country the size of Canada for example, you can only micromanage so much. But with a city, you can do a lot more. Governments, businesses, the people, everyone. It’s like a breeding ground for their own unique culture and style. Which honestly is really cool.

The Esplanade theaters, which are shaped like durians.
The Esplanade theaters, which are shaped like durians.

Prior to my trip to Singapore, the only city states that I’ve been to were Hong Kong and Macau, which are both very unique cities too. Hong Kong feels very mature. It’s like a big financial city with many different traditional elements. Macau on the other hand doesn’t even really feel like a city, rather more like a traditional town that just so happens to contain a massive gambling strip. It feels quite artificial in a sense because you know it was developed for a specific reason.

Singapore feels kind of like a mix of that for various reasons. For one, it has that big city feel like Hong Kong does, but things feel a bit, newer, I guess. A lot of the buildings feel very modern and unique, especially with their interesting architecture and designs. Their streets are also really clean and well decorated with both modern and natural elements. The overall atmosphere feels quite nice. I really liked it there.

In a way, it kinda reminded me of Disneyworld or something. You’re in a place that kinda feels familiar but just, more magical or something. The buildings are nice and fancy, and everything is just very prim and proper. When you’re walking through the city you also end up finding many interesting buildings or displays just scattered around, which makes it like a mini adventure even when you’re just walking down the street.

Mirror orbs in a park-like area.
Mirror orbs in a park-like area.

My favourite part of Singapore by far was the Gardens by the Bay. It’s absolutely amazing because it’s probably the most unique fusion of natural and man-made elements I have ever seen. You’re in this giant park right behind the Marina Bay Sands, which is a sight to behold to begin with, but you’re not looking at the Sands, you’re looking at the two unique observatories that jut out of this.. forest of both real trees and supertrees.

I don’t even really have the words for it. It’s just such a unique park. First off, those two observatories are really cool. The Cloud Forest is definitely the coolest conservatory I’ve ever seen. Not only is the building aesthetically pleasing to look at, but the exhibit itself is mindblowing. It’s such a cool showcase of plant life and the route you take going through it is really awesome too. Parts of it are on suspended bridges which just adds to the whole experience. The other observatory, the Flower Dome, was cool too, but it was not as unique as the Cloud Forest.

Suspended bridges branching in the Cloud Forest.
Suspended bridges branching in the Cloud Forest.

The main theme of this post really is wonder and amazement. There’s just so many things I thought was so cool in Singapore that despite only really being there for like, a day and a half, I had an amazing time.

Maybe it’s because I’m a design student now, but I’ve found myself appreciating unique design a lot more now than I used to. Going back to the idea of the design of city states, obviously the basic needs of the citizens and residents are paramount. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t go above and beyond in other aspects, especially when you’re dealing with a smaller area where atmospherics can actually be applied. In a way, it kinda brands the city too and makes it more attractive for tourists.

I really think that Singapore does this really well. Whether you’re wandering the downtown core checking out the fancy buildings, or at Sentosa, which like actually is a theme park, or even while you’re checking out the nature at the night safari, everything in Singapore feels so uniquely Singaporean. It’s hard to explain, but the feeling is really neat. The city is so cohesive and well integrated.

The sense of natural co-existence is fairly strong in Singapore.
The sense of natural co-existence is fairly strong in Singapore.

Overall, I had a really great time in Singapore. My biggest regret of my entire February trip was that I couldn’t spend more time in Singapore. A variety of reasons ended up making my visit a bit shorter than I liked, but I did a lot when I was there. And honestly, everything was fun. Expensive, but fun.

I would definitely go back to Singapore. In fact, I’d go back like, soon too if the opportunity arose. I think that when I go back to Southeast Asia, I’m going to use Singapore as a hub for sure. I felt very comfortable there and liked what I saw, and there’s definitely more cool things to be seen. I’d recommend people to go check it out too.

Like I said, it’s a bit expensive though. I think it’s probably the most expensive place in Asia, even more than Japan. Which honestly is just more shocking due to where it is, since all the countries around Singapore are fairly cheap. Regardless, totally worth it.

Malacca City: My Friend’s Home City

Back in February I had a chance to visit a few places on a quick escape from Korea. One of those destinations was Malaysia, which I went to after my week in Hong Kong. It was my first time in Southeast Asia and I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

I didn’t really plan too much for the Malaysian part of my trip actually. I normally like planning things in advance when I go on vacation, but this one was a bit special because I was going with friends, one of which actually lives there. We all met in Korea, and so we’re from different countries and it just so happened that our Malaysian friend decided to go home for Chinese New Year and invited a bunch of us to go visit him while he was there.

It seemed like a good opportunity because not only was a lot of people interested in going on this trip, he could also show us around too. So we had like, what, 10 people? Or so, and we all met up in Malaysia. Our first stop, was Malacca City, where my friend actually lives in.

The street market in Jonker Walk.
The street market in Jonker Walk.

Since there were so many of us, I didn’t stay at his house, but I did go there to check it out. It was kinda cool because there’s a show in Korea called “내 친구의 집은 어디인가” which translates into “Where is My Friend’s Home”. It’s a spin-off of another show, “비정상회담”, where a bunch of non-Koreans living in Korea discuss things and share their perspectives and experiences.

Since that original show was so successful, they decided to create a travel show where a bunch of the members would go and visit another member’s home country. I used to watch it a lot but then I started getting pretty busy and stopped watching. But regardless, this entire trip had that feel.

It was kind of the same deal too because all of my friends that were on that trip were from different countries too. It just so happened that we met up in Korea and ended up going to Malaysia because this random dude invited us. So it had a cool dynamic to the trip.

See, the church says Melaka but Wikipedia says Malacca so I don't even know anymore.
See, the church says Melaka but Wikipedia says Malacca so I don’t even know anymore.

Malacca is alright. It’s kinda like the cultural and historical city of Malaysia and they have a lot of historical buildings and remnants of a different time. It’s kinda neat to look at, but the city itself is quite small. After about a day and a half we ran out of stuff to look at.

Which is kind of a shame because I thought there would be more to do so I ended up staying an extra day which ended up being kind of a waste of time. I should’ve just went to Singapore one day earlier, but whatever, live and learn I guess.

Not many tall buildings.
Not many tall buildings.

It was kinda a neat intro to the country though. It was definately very different from any other place that I’ve been to so far. It was February but it was still 30 something degrees, which is straight up ridiculous to me. But, since it’s always summer that also means there’s an abundance of lizards.

Now, those who know me know that I had lizards. I have like, a distinct phobia when it comes to these disgusting animals. It was pretty bad when I was in Malacca because since it wasn’t like, a big city, there were lizards everywhere. It made life quite difficult for me since I’m honestly incapable of doing anything if I know a lizard is nearby.

During the day it was a bit better, but once the sun went down the lizards start coming out in full force and I couldn’t bring myself to be near any walls while outside since they’re literally everywhere. Even the thought makes my skin tingle.

Malacca has an interesting mix of cultural and historical sights.
Malacca has an interesting mix of cultural and historical sights.

Overall Malacca was ok. I don’t think I’d ever go back though. Doesn’t really seem like the place that you would go back to if you were just going to sightsee. And if you were going to go sightsee, just a day or two would be enough. Think of it like a brief stop on the way from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore. If you think of it like that it’s totally worth it.

Hong Kong: The New Year in an Old City

So winter is upon us yet again. The temperatures are going down and despite kinda looking forward to escaping the heat, we’re now back to waiting for the heat to be upon us again. You know how it is.

Speaking of escaping the cold, earlier this year in February I had a chance to do a small trip to Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. It was the first time I really ever had a trip where I left a winter environment and went to a hot environment so it was a pretty interesting trip. I figure that in an effort to have more content on this blog, it would be good to write about the experiences of my trip.

So let’s start with the first leg of my trip, Hong Kong.

"I like how we're lost on a mountain but we look to the right and see this giant metropolis."
“I like how we’re lost on a mountain but we look to the right and see this giant metropolis.”

I’m definitely not a stranger to Hong Kong. Despite not being born there, my family is from there and so I’ve been there a lot. According to my passports my trip in February was my tenth trip. Considering how I don’t really even live that close to Hong Kong, that’s a pretty incredible number.

As a result, I know the city pretty well. Not only have I been there a lot, but back in 2012 I spent a few months living there doing an internship. That trip definitely gave me a brand new appreciation for the city. It’s one thing going to a place for vacation with your family, but when you’re actually living there and having your own life, you see different facets of it that you come to appreciate.

My February trip was especially special to me because it was the first time I was in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year. It was also the first time (that I remember) that I visited in the winter, so it was essentially a new spin on the whole experience.

The entire city was bustling with festivities.
The entire city was bustling with festivities.

For one, coming from Canada and only really ever visiting Hong Kong in the summer, I just assumed that I wouldn’t consider it cold when I visit in the wintertime. I was wrong.

My parents always said that the cold in Hong Kong is different. Obviously, I could never comprehend that so I was always just like “pfft yea whatevs”. But actually being there made me realize what they meant. The temperature wasn’t actually that low, and in fact they were in the 20s in the afternoon. But since there was zero heating indoors, it really sucked when you got out of the shower. There you are, wet and cold. And you would never really get warmer from that point on.

So that was definitely a new experience for me. That feeling happens in Korea too, but at least Korea has passable heating so that chill fades over time.

Aside from the weather though, the fact that I was in Hong Kong for Chinese New Year was really nice. There were a bunch of festivities going on around the city and there was a bit of a holiday cheer in the air too. Some of the highlights of the trip was facing the crowds in Victoria Park and hiking up to the Peak to face more crowds and check out the fireworks.

It wouldn't be a true Hong Kong experience without dealing with large crowds.
It wouldn’t be a true Hong Kong experience without dealing with large crowds.

But just having a chance to hang around Hong Kong was really nice. It’s always a nice city to visit. It’s so dense that you can do so much in a short amount of time and there’s always something to do or check out.

Plus the food is so good. I love Hong Kong and Cantonese styled food. After eating Korean food for so long having the food of my people was a great breath of fresh air. Whether you’re grabbing dim sum at a restaurant, dessert at a Honeymoon Dessert, or even just enjoying some drinks at Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong really has it all.

It’s a city that just has so much character too. To this day it’s still so fascinating for me to just walk around the city. It’s amazing how you can be in a super-modern downtown financial city one moment and a short ten minute walk later you’re in what feels like a completely different city. One with a ton of older buildings with countless air conditioners mounted on the outside dripping water down onto unsuspecting people below.

Chungking Mansions, probably the most random (and unnecessary) place in Hong Kong that I've been to.
Chungking Mansions, probably the most random (and unnecessary) place in Hong Kong that I’ve been to.

I just love how Hong Kong has kept so much of its unique culture and history. This is a city with so many faces and it’s just super cool to explore.

The people are also very interesting too. Obviously, most of the people are ethnically Chinese, but there’s also a large population of South Asians and South-East Asians. There’s also a lot of Westerners as well, and unlike Korea where everyone is either an English teacher, student, or army dude, there’s a lot of foreign expats actually living and working in Hong Kong. All in all, it’s surprisingly diverse all things considered.

Actually one cool thing I noticed when I was there that time was that I saw some South Asian dudes around my age that were speaking fluent Cantonese. At first I was really thrown off by it because like, it’s a random Indian dude speaking Cantonese. But then I gave it some thought and thought it was really neat. These are the guys that have lived, and probably grew up, in Hong Kong and speak Cantonese as their native language. It’s like me with English, except this is not as common I guess. But still, it’s really cool how this generation of immigrants has integrated into society.

One of the newest additions to the Hong Kong skyline.
One of the newest additions to the Hong Kong skyline.

But, Hong Kong has its own issues. It’s kind of paradoxical because the city changes constantly. But at the same time, it hasn’t really developed more. In a way the city kind of feels like its stagnating a bit, and I think that is reflected in the people’s opinions too.

There’s been increasing levels of frustration and discontent in the city lately, especially with the young people. In a way the whole place kind of feels like it’s in limbo as the future of the city is kind of uncertain. A lot of people are unhappy with the direction Hong Kong is heading in right now and as such there has been a lot of protests and riots. The Umbrella Revolution in 2014 was a big one in recent memory, but there were even scuffles in Mong Kok during the time I was there as well.

Regardless, I think Hong Kong is one of my favorite places to visit. Not only because the place has so much sentimental value to me, but because the city honestly just has so much character. There’s always something to do and there’s so many great hang out spots. I really recommend people to visit this place. Especially if you’re interested in urban exploration and seeing a mix of cultures co-existing in a ridiculously dense city.

Also, as cool as it was to visit during Chinese New Year, I don’t really recommend it if it’s your first time. Too many people and too many closed stores.