Seeing Red. And Dogs?!!

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Frank and I arrived in Singapore as the residents were preparing for the most important event on the Chinese calendar – Chinese New Year. It’s a big deal here because seventy-five percent of the Singapore population is ethnic Chinese (15% are Malay, considered the indigenous population; and 15% are ethnic Indian). As in China, Chinese New Year is a public holiday and the festivities last for several days. Singapore is all decked out in red (the color of luck) with lanterns and banners everywhere. Something else you’ll find everywhere? Dogs!! Each year of the Chinese calendar is assigned one of twelve animals; 2018 is the Year of the Dog.

Chinese New Year reminds us of Christmas with its decorations, parades, cheery greetings and its focus on family. I love the concept of the traditional Reunion Dinner, held on the eve of the new year. Family members rush back home (sometimes from very far away) to share this one most important meal of the year with loved ones. The following days are spent visiting other relatives and friends — enjoying time with the ones who matter most.

Frank and I felt very fortunate to attend a Chinese New Year celebration. We made a new friend — a relative of Milwaukee friends – who graciously invited us to the home he shares with his beautiful fiancée and charming teenage son.

We went to the store to grab some wine for the party and started talking to a very nice older woman. She had two decorative boxes of mandarin oranges and I asked if this was something one would traditionally bring to a celebration. She said “Yes, but you must bring two; they symbolize good luck.” I was super excited to be “in” on the tradition and proudly presented the two boxes of citrus to our hosts. They seemed puzzled. “They symbolize good luck,” I explained. They chuckled, “It’s supposed to be two oranges, not two boxes of oranges!!” We all laughed. Guess, they’ll have a lot of good fortune in 2018!

Along with their friends, we participated in a uniquely Singaporean tradition – Lo Hei. A salad, made up of specific, symbolic ingredients, is set in the middle of the table. Everyone grabs a pair of chopsticks and begins to toss the salad inward and higher with each toss! At the same time, everyone yells out wishes for themselves and those gathered for the upcoming year, “Wishing you good health!” “Happiness and love!” “A new job!” “Riches!” One of ours, the wish for “New friends and adventures?” – well, that came true that night!

Happy New Year and Good Luck in this Year of the Dog!

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Chingay 2018 – “Make Some Noise!”

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I love, love, love a parade – the color, the bands, the people watching – everything about them! Singapore’s annual Chingay Parade is the largest street performance and float parade in all of Asia and I was sooo excited to be going.

The parade started back in 1973, when the People’s Association (an organization charged with nation-building programs to promote social cohesion and multiracialism) teamed up with the Singapore National Pugilistic Federation (an organization to promote and advance martial arts) to hold a street parade depicting aspects of Chinese culture, i.e. dragon and lion dances, martial arts and street opera.

It was so well received, organizers made it an annual festival, held the first weekend of the Lunar New Year. Two years after its inception, the parade was made more inclusive of the country’s other ethnic groups — Malays, Indians and Eurasians. Chingay is now billed as epitomizing “the dynamism of Singapore’s vibrant and multicultural society.”

The event has a very proud, patriotic feel. The enthusiastic and very loud emcees encouraged crowd cheering and participation. “You are all part of this celebration! We are all Singapore! Here, we celebrate together as one!”

Singapore – a “fine” city

Frank and I were riding the subway on our first full day in Singapore. It was hot. I took a drink of my water bottle. A guy nudged Frank and whispered, “She could get fined for doing that.” He pointed to a sign we hadn’t noticed:

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No eating or drinking. Fine $500. Yikes. I quickly shoved the bottle back in my bag.

No smoking. Fine $1000. No flammable goods. Fine $5000. No durians? (Wait. What? We’ll talk about that later). Thankfully, I wasn’t fined when I got off at our stop, although I have to admit I was a little worried!

That same day, we saw this shirt . . .

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We chuckled and then we understood. To live and get along in Singapore, you have to follow the rules. And that’s OK. It’s why the subways and trains are immaculate. It is why there is no litter in the streets. It’s why we never got gum on our shoes (!).

Now, about those durians . . .

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Durians are a fruit and they stink. We’d catch a whiff when we’d walk past a stand. The fruit can be eaten raw or made into baked goods, popsicles and candy. People either love them or hate them. But that stench . . .

According to travel writer Richard Sterling, “Its odor is best described as . . . turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away.”

Anthony Bourdain calls them “indescribable . . . Your breath will smell as if you’d been French-kissing your dead grandmother.” Alrighty then.

To make matters worse, we were told that that smell sticks to anyone or anything nearby. So, therefore, my friends, no durians on the Singapore subway. And no durians for us. And that’s fine with me.

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Lifestyle magazine Time Out ranked Singapore among the world’s least exciting cities. In our month here, we found it to be anything but.

The Singapore government frowns on Airbnbs so our housing options were limited to hotels, which were super-expensive, and resident apartments, which were still pricey but legal. We chose a complex fifteen minutes outside the city center. It turned out to be a great decision! The pool gave Frank a chance to resume his exercise routine. While we never took advantage of the free weekday breakfast (served until 8:30 and I was never up and ready), I relished the cleaning lady who came with clean towels and made our beds 3 times a week!

The complex had a van that went into the city six times a day and mass transit (which goes everywhere we needed to go) was just minutes away. So go we did. Every day.

Singapore is multi racial and multi cultural. The goal is integration, not assimilation, so cultures are preserved. Chinatown, Little India, the Malaysian area/Arab Street — all reflect the unique culture (and amazing food!) of those who have settled here.

When we first arrived, we noticed the many residential towers. The city state has a population of 6 million and that’s where most live. The towers are their own neighborhoods with shopping centers, restaurants and links to mass transit.

The efficient mass transit system provided us easy access to the various neighborhoods, as well as to beautifully maintained parks, the lively waterfront area and the vibrant city center. Art and cultural exhibits, sporting events, festivals – we always found something to do. And shopping? I have never seen so many malls! And they’re all busy!

Yes, the city state is a bit regimented. There are countless rules (see previous post) and they are very strict on crime. But for us, it provided a certain level of comfort. Everything is clean and orderly and we never felt unsafe. On top of that, the people are very friendly.

In fact, it could easily be a place for us to settle if it wasn’t for the extreme heat (Singapore is 1-1/2 degrees north of the equator — tropical rain forest climate with no distinct seasons). It’s also very expensive.

That said, it is an amazing place to visit. And it’s far from boring. Cheers.

24 Hours in Melaka

A popular getaway for Singaporeans is a bus trip to historic Melaka. The Malaysian city is a striking contrast to the modernity (and prices!) of Singapore. Although our time was short, we enjoyed our weekend here. It was great for people watching and had some wonderful shopping! Melaka is also known for its delicious food.