Oh Singapore, were you even real?
Your exceptional architecture, your identifiable language, your lush hotel bed sheets, your fairy-tale-like gardens, your drinkable tap water, your welcoming diversity. Surely, I had fallen down a contemporary rabbit hole.
An Asian city often overlooked by it’s competing metropolitans of Hong Kong and Tokyo, but hell…Singapore blows them both out of the water with fierce character —and I was left asking why I failed to notice the little seascape island turned concrete jungle.
From the moment I touched down in Singapore, I felt as if someone pressed the slow motion button on my life. I didn’t encounter that sense of manic like previous cities I’ve roamed gave so unwillingly. Where was the traffic? The tourists? The crowds? The inability to find a seat on the metro? The stress? The madness?
So I did what I do best when encounter destinations that feel better than a dream: pinched myself, danced around my hotel room like Tom Cruise in Risky Business, and then set out to explore.
“You know, Singapore is in the wrong timezone,” my cab driver tells me as we buzz through Chinatown, attempting to make it to Singapore’s noteworthy Sky Garden in time for the sunset light show.
I look down at my phone and tried to think back to what time my flight landed, what time the clock radio read in my hotel earlier as I danced to Bob Seger. I even look out the window to see where the sun sat in the sky.
“What do you mean?” I asked feeling very lost. “What time is it?”
“For 36 years, Singapore was 7.5 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT),” he explained.
“In 1982, the Singapore Standard Time was redefined to be 8 hours ahead of GMT. The story behind it is that East Malaysia was GMT +8.00 but West Malaysia was GMT +7.50. Malaysia decided to standardize their timing, but it’d be strange for Singapore to be the only one who’s 7.5 hours ahead of GMT. Understand? So, they changed it.”
“So you’re saying that everyone in Singapore is technically 30 minutes earlier than they originally thought?” I asked, head spinning, trying to make sense of it all.
He nodded and says not to worry about getting to the Sky Garden on time. And I sat back in my seat, took in a deep breathe, and felt as if a weight had been lifted straight off my shoulders.
I’ve been cursed with the inability to travel slowly. Or as what I like to refer to it as, “Travel ADHD” — trying to fit in everything a foreign destination can offer before the sun has set on day one. All while still leaving time to let myself get lost. It’s a bit far-fetched, but if I don’t see every sight Trip Advisor tells me to, eat at every rooftop restaurant, and swim at every secret beach before departure, I experience a deep sense of regret or discontentment for missing out on something I should have seen, done or tried.
So when people hear I’ve been to Singapore and will ask, “How was Singapore’s rooftop infinity pool?!” — the one that everyone knows about due to it’s picture being blasted in practically every airport in Asia.
“Well, I actually didn’t get a chance to see it…” I explain.
I dread the sting of these conversations, so I zoom through destinations at the speed of light to avoid having them. But when doing so, I began to notice that I was really missing out on truly seeing the place I was in; getting to know the locals, soaking up the vibe, understanding the country on a less touristic scale.
What stings me even more is that even in the midst of my hustling, navigating and, “Go Emma! Go!” internal monologues; I can’t help but think to myself what a shame it all is.
I couldn’t let this happen in Singapore. It was already treating me ever so sweetly, and I felt like I needed to return the favor by soaking up its true magic.
And so. When my cabbie dropped me off near Marina Bay, instead of be-lining it towards the Sky Gardens, I walked a little slower to take in the things around me. I wandered down alleys that didn’t look even remotely appealing, just to see what I might find. I sat at cafes and watched people and life go by on a Friday night.
And overall, avoided checking my watch.
“It’s wrong anyway,” I reminded myself and before I knew it, the streets of Singapore began to clear of cars and people, the bright lights were dimmed, and to city went to sleep for the night. I had completely lost myself until the early morning hours and didn’t even realize it.
And when I hailed another taxi to take me back to my hotel and the driver told me, “It’s a bit late to be out by yourself, miss…” I quickly reminded him that Singapore didn’t really have a sense of time.
Time moves and passes whether you do or not. And TRUST ME when I say there’s an addictive vulnerability from the buzz and rush of the unknown, from the intriguingly different, when you run around a foreign land seeing and doing everything it has to offer.
But what’s even more addicting is stopping to smell the roses of that foreign land, as corny as it sounds. Taking a minute or two to process, understand, see, learn and observe. It leaves you with a sense of wonder, rather than just a culture high — and I promise you that this sense of wonder, this magic, this fulfillment, this understanding, it lasts far much longer than your day sight-seeing.
Photos: Emma Cunningham