It was time to begin our Asian adventures. Goodbye Sydney, hello Singapore. We heard many times that Singapore is the perfect entry-point to Asian culture and is often dubbed “Asia Lite”. That was fine by us! The city is super clean (to the point that chewing gum is banned), it’s modern, the transit works, and English is widely spoken, And of course, the food is legendary!
Michael did some further research on one of his favorite websites The World Fact Book, an in-depth look at every country in the world through the lens of the CIA. Singapore is a microcosm of Asia, populated by Malays, Chinese, Indians, and a large group of workers and expatriates from all across the world. Singapore is also one of only three remaining city-states, the others being Monaco and the Vatican. It is also an island. And since it sits just above the equator the temperature is pretty much 84° day in and day out, with matching humidity. The only thing that changes is the amount of rain depending on the time of year. And that can be a lot!
We arrived in this little slice of Asian heaven at 4:30 in the morning after an 8-hour flight on Scoot Airlines. I wasn’t 100% sure about flying on an airline whose name indicated it might not get off the ground, or the middle of the night arrival, but MC is the Chief Travel Planner and has his reasons for how he gets us from place to place, so I try to and go with the flow.
It turns out that Scoot is a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines and that made me feel better. The service was great, and the complimentary (shock) light meal was really good. We arrived a bit late, but didn't encounter any issues at the airport and we were able to use the keyless entry to our Airbnb without a problem. We crawled into a very comfortable bed just as the sun was coming up.
Beyond experiencing the culture of a new country, We had two reasons for spending four days in Singapore. The first was the opportunity to finally meet our new friends Gabriela and Derek in person. If you read the last blog you know that we were well cared for by various family members while we were in Sydney before we’d even met them! Secondly, Airbnb has a large office there and we were invited to give a Fireside Chat to their staff and be interviewed by CNBC Singapore.
Singapore is an expensive city and Airbnb prices were no exception, so our listing wasn’t in the center, but it was on a busy bus line so we could be in the CBD in about 20 minutes. The apartment itself was new, but very small and without much in the way of decor or touches of hospitality. Fortunately, this was a short stay and we had a lot of activities booked so we weren’t there much - but when we were, a dunk in the pool made up for the lack of charm.
After a few hours of restorative sleep, it was time to explore. We made our way to the Gardens by the Bay with their famous “super trees”. But first, we had lunch in the air-conditioned Marina Sands mall nearby. We walked out of the oppressive heat into a blast of air-conditioned heaven filled with glittering, high-end stores and restaurants. We headed for the fanciest food court I’ve ever seen where we paid double the price for what was basically street food - but our first Chicken Rice and Nonya Laksa were delicious. Next time we will head for one of the famous Hawker Centers.
That brings me back to the high cost of living issue. Yes, you can eat affordably, and transportation is cheap, and the housing is subsidized to the point that almost citizen has a roof over their heads - but ironically, the city is so filled with over the top, name-brand shopping opportunities there seemed to be a Louis Vuitton store on every corner!
I am not enough of a wordsmith to explain how such a mishmash of cultures under a benevolent but somewhat autocratic government functions, so I will let one of my favorite resources, Wikitravel do it for me. However, here is one interesting paragraph from that summary I’ll share below:
"...Singapore has a partly deserved reputation for sterile predictability that has earned it descriptions like William Gibson's "Disneyland with the death penalty" or the "world's only shopping mall with a seat in the United Nations". Nevertheless, the Switzerland of Asia is for many a welcome respite from the poverty, dirt, and chaos of much of the Southeast Asian mainland, and if you scratch below the squeaky clean surface and get away from the tourist trail you'll soon find more than meets the eye. In recent years some societal restrictions have also loosened up, and now you can bungee jump and dance on bar tops all night long, although alcohol is still very pricey and chewing gum can only be bought from a pharmacy for medical use." - Wikitravel, Singapore
That evening we met Gabriela and Derek for dinner at a Mexican Restaurant. That was fine by us! Not only was the food great, and the drinks authentic - the view of the lake and nightly fireworks from our front-row table was spectacular! We became better acquainted with two people we now consider forever-friends.
We were absolutely dead on our feet after dinner, but we needed to do at least our basic grocery shopping before going to bed. I can honestly say that shopping in a foreign supermarket is one of my favorite activities - it’s a great way to glean clues about the culture and the real cost of living. But at 11:00 pm after little sleep the night before, I wasn’t in the mood to decipher milk containers looking for hard to find non-fat (Michael’s preference), Diet Coke (another must), and actual orange juice. Then we had to ferret out how to purchase produce. It’s different from country to country, and even store to store. Do we A) weigh and tag our own bananas? B) Find someone to do it for us? Or C) take it the counter and risk being kicked out of line for not doing A or B. Even our usual banter around the types of breakfast cereals on offer fell flat. Anyway - we always feel more settled when there are a few familiar things in the larder, and tomorrow was going to be a big day, so it had to be done.
The next morning we arrived at Airbnb’s offices where 400 employees roam three floors of a modern downtown office tower. It was breakfast time, and just like all Airbnb offices, feeding the staff one of three free meals a day was underway. There were many choices and people came and went from the dining area with their toasted bagels, chia puddings, homemade granola, fresh juices, or a full-on hot breakfast. And of course the espresso machine was manned and ready.
We sat down with Leander - a very bright and confident regional manager who would be looking after us during our day at the office. He would also be the moderator of our “Lunch and Learn” chat. We'd heard of Singaporean hospitality, but Leander could be on the poster. He had cleared his calendar into the evening as was there is ensure we enjoyed our time at the office and beyond!
We always enjoy sharing our story with the people that make the platform work. Living fulltime using Airnb around the world makes us their largest customers - thus the most experienced, so we have a lot of stories that are relevant as well as entertaining.
Lunch at this office is always a catered affair - but today there were more local dishes than usual so that we could try a variety of things. But really the best part was dessert - because it was a surprise in our honor! A lovely pea-green Pandan Kaya cake surrounded by a rainbow of “kueh”, special Singaporean sweets that formed the number 40 as an early celebration of our upcoming 40th wedding anniversary. We were also given two “ruby” rings because the ruby is the appropriate anniversary symbol, and to top it all off we were handed a bouquet, actually a bundle of 40 magnificent red roses along with a card signed by the staff. We were teary-eyed!
Airbnb is a company filled with young people just starting out in relationships or in the early years of marriage and they really enjoy watching Michael and I interact (probably a little too much PDA). Often the questions they ask touch on marriage and how we spend 24 hours a day together and still seem so in love? I'll have to blog about that one day, but in the meantime, we are happy to be an inspiration.
That afternoon Leander took us around Singapore by car. We spent some time in nearby Sentosa - an island where the rich and famous live and where the Singapore Boat Show was getting set to open. Michael produced the Seattle Boat Show for ten years so he was interested in getting a sneak preview. There were similarities to Seattle, but it was all in the water with way more mega yachts and large manufacturer's hospitality tents.
From there we shot to the top of the Marina Sands for a drink so we could appreciate the view over the city. It was a beautiful evening and we were there just in time for sunset. Fortunately, the bar was crowded so luckily for Leander it was not possible to get a second $14 beer.
We picked Leander’s wife up from work and they dropped us at yet another shiny mall where we could find dinner and do a more focused grocery run. I was actually holding the 40 red roses in my arms and I can tell we got a lot of second looks - and Michael got several thumbs up and big smiles for his extravagant show of affection. The gift that kept on giving - thanks Airbnb! When I got them home there wasn’t a container big enough (who has a vase for 40 roses?) so they spent the night sitting upright in the toilet bowl. A rather undignified end to their day, but I needed to keep them fresh as they would be re-gifted to Gabriela and Derek when we had dinner at their home two nights later.
The highlight of that evening, and a truly local moment, was to attend their daughter Laura’s art show at the Singapore American High School. Laura’s work along with her classmates was on display in the auditorium and the evening reminded me of many a school night we spent with parents admiring each other’s offspring. It was good fun.
Meanwhile, we had one more Airbnb event to go. The marketing department arranged an interview on CNBC so we spent an afternoon filming. We met two women from the marketing department along with the segment host Lee Xin En and Eli the cameraman. We had a very informal interview followed by a meander through the Botanical Gardens to capture some “B” roll. That’s the footage used to cover any “flubs” and smooth edits between interview questions.
On our last morning, we stopped in at Airbnb to drop off a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle - something we've given to other offices as a gift starting in San Francisco where it was a bit hit. We've always loved puzzles and we'll do one if we are staying someplace for a while and have a big table. It is part of "living our daily lives" in other peoples homes and reminds us we are not in a hurry. When we are done, we leave it for the next guests with a note.
If you are following us on Instagram or Facebook you know I am woefully behind on the blog! This entry is all about Singapore, but many miles have been covered since then! Usually we like to stay in a city for 10 days or so, but since we left Australia, we have been on a blitz through Asia. We've been to Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia and are just leaving Vietnam for Hong Kong! I think I'd better "blitz the blog as well" or I'll never catch up! Stay tuned.
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael Campbell
The Senior Nomads