Traveling around Singapore


Singapore is a great place to stay. Like I heard someone say recently, “Singapore is no longer just a pass-through place“.

But I’m sure if you’re a foreigner staying in Singapore for a while, you must have heard people around you say that, “Hey, Singapore is great! But what’s really great too is how connected Singapore is and how easy it is to go on a getaway somewhere in Asia just for a couple of days!”

I must say I agree with this 🙂

Singapore is one of the world’s most connected city, and is geographically very well situated in Southeast Asia. Think about it… 3 hours from Hong Kong, 2h30mn from Bangkok, 1hour from Bali… Isn’t that the dream? For us westerners in Singapore this truly adds value to our stay, as an open door to discover Asia…

Singapore in SE Asia

From my experience, when planning for a trip, airfare can be quite expensive. People will argue that low cost airlines are really cheap… Tiger Airways, Air Asia, Jet Star, and most recently Scoot.

But I would like to add that “low costs airlines are really cheap” IF you book early!! It happened to me so many times to plan a trip just a few weeks in advance, and tickets we’re really not cheap.

At one point, non-low cost airlines like Cathay Pacific and Silkair can be cheaper!! Here’s a great website that I use to compare flights and make sure I get the best bargain: http://www.skyscanner.com.sg/.

Regarding destinations, there are so many that it’s hard to choose… Here’s a great website to help you decide: www.tripinasia.com. It was recently created by some friends of mine, and it’s really comprehensive and useful! If you like it you can join their growing community of fans on Facebook.

Trip In Asia website

A few of my personal favourites would be:

Malacca for Peranakan delights and jewelry shopping
Bintan for an easy beach vacation
Bali if you have more time, to unravel temples’ secrets, rice fields and volcanoes
Kota Kinabalu for a visit of Orang Utans
Hong Kong for a shopping and Dim Sum treat
Bangkok for nightlife and fun…!!

Also you might want to keep an eye open for local festivals in each destinations, to make sure your trip has the right timing to make it a truly unforgettable experience 🙂

Hope you like my tips!! So now let’s get started on planning your next getaway from Singapore!!

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Playing Mahjong


One of my favourite activities when I am in Singapore is to play mahjong… with relatives and friends there who know how to play and enjoy it too 🙂

Careful though, I am not referring to the Mahjong game you can play on your computers where the aim is to match pairs… I am talking about the 4-player game which you have probably less heard of.

Mahjong is a chinese game where you use tiles to build combinations (three of a kind or sequencing numbers), gain more points thanks to the “winds” and “dragons” tiles… and overall win (or loose) money. (as you may know, Chinese people love to gamble, and I must admit it is more fun when there is something at stake!) It is a little like rummy, if you’ve played this game before.

One of my best hands so far !! 2 flowers and all of a same kind

It is originally a game from continental China, called Ma Jiang (麻将)but it was later exported to other countries when the Chinese community moved to other countries. “Mahjong” is the name for the Hong-Kongese version, which is the most played in Singapore. So there are no longer “fixed” rules of mahjong, since every region or community has its specific rules and way of counting points. Also, different versions of mahjong exist in other Asian countries, like Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

The funny thing about mahjong is that sometimes Asian people you meet do not know how to play (especially in the younger generation), whereas tourists or foreigners (like me 🙂 ) sometimes know the rules! I wonder if that’s because it’s an easy item to bring back to your home country and share with your foreign friends…

However if you have the chance to visit elderly people in Singapore, you will probably see them play mahjong. It is said to be a great game to keep your mind alert… and boy! Are they fast when they play!! I wish someday I’ll be able to compete with them!!

Another of my winning hands… with jokers!

Overall, mahjong is really fun and a great way to get closer to the Chinese culture if you are not very knowledgeable about it and wish to learn more. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know how to speak Chinese, just read a few characters which you can find on the internet.

Also, there is a growing trend of mahjong competitions in foreign countries, so why not join a club and start practicing?

I even thought about starting a Mahjong club in my school a few years back… it’s a pity I didn’t have enough time to carry this project out, I’m sure it would have been a great hit! Especially since more and more Chinese students are studying in foreign countries like France, it would have been quite easy to find knowledgeable players 🙂

National Service in Singapore


Singapore is known to be a very small, very developed country, surrounded by larger, less developed (and maybe envious?) countries. As a result, when Singapore became independent, PM Lee Kwan Yew thought it should be a priority to be able to defend the island, and thus decided to make National Service compulsory for all Singaporeans.

I thought that for some non-Singaporean readers here, an insight into the Singaporean military service could be interesting.

National Service (NS) is a mandatory 2 years of army training for all Singaporean men. The rationale behind it is that Singapore is too small to have a voluntary army, therefore all men would be needed if a war was to break out. One might add that Singapore may have learnt a lesson the hard way during WWII when the Japanese army invaded Singapore from the North on bicycles and Singaporean troops were unprepared, too busy watching the South end of the island…

To some Singaporean soldiers, NS (yet another Singaporean acronym!) is boring, constraining and a waste of their time. To others, NS can be very rewarding, and it can be the first position they have with actual responsibilities. The discrepancy between NS perceptions comes from the fact that missions can be extremely different from one another!

The National Service Army Flag

The army actually affects you to the department they think fit for you, after you go through a medical check. For instance a NS soldier can be affected to:

– a central ammunition control office
– an air force base
– an infantry battalion
– a vehicle mechanics position
– a sniper or scout position
– cadets school to become an officer
–  and so on…

So if you spend your 2 years of NS in an office you basically have working hours and can go home on week-ends. However if you are deemed fit to go for officer training, you will have to go through weeks of survival trainings in Brunei jungles or learn about open-terrain tactics and combat on the field.

From my point of view (which is external, as I am only half Singaporean), I think I can understand that NS feels unbearable for some. However I still feel it brings people together. Feedback I have gathered from Singaporeans is that NS allowed them to meet people from different social backgrounds, and this has broadened their horizons and changed their mindset about certain things.

Plus, it has now become a rite of passage in the Singaporean society. All men have to go through this compulsory phase, and they all come back with a heightened sense of responsibility and belonging to a nation.

I must say I find this quite appreciable overall because not all citizens of the world today feel patriotic or responsible for the survival of their country !! If you wish to learn more about Singapore National Service, this documentary on youtube is quite good!

Dialects and Teo Chew food


Singapore is a real melting pot… And there are four official languages : English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. So most important signs are translated in all 4 languages!! Don’t you just love it when announcements in the MRT are translated into all 4 languages? I know I do 🙂

To these four, you might want to add Singlish, even though it’s not a real language…

However, if you do go to a local food court or hawker center, you might be surprised to hear languages which are none of the 5 above… They are dialects!! In the streets of Singapore you might hear people talking Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hakka, Hainanese…

Most dialects would be Chinese dialects, as most of Singapore’s population is of Chinese origins. Here is a video to give you a glimpse of what the Hainanese dialect sounds like for example …

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But in Singapore dialects are more than just languages. They are a culture of their own. Which explains why some restaurants specialise in Teo Chew cuisine for instance.

In Teo Chew restaurants in Singapore, you will find very “simple” food, in the sense that ingredients are usually served without too much sauce covering it so you can really enjoy all the flavours. Teo Chew food also includes a lot of seafood (steamed fish, oyster omelet, cold crab…) and their Yam dessert is super good too !!

One of the Teo Chew restaurants I would recommend in Singapore is SWA Garden Restaurant on MacPherson Road. It’s small, local and cosy, and not too expensive either 🙂

Why we love Singapore


Here are no less than 18 reasons out of the top of my mind why one could love Singapore so much 🙂 I tried not to sound too biased, but it’s actually difficult when you appreciate the place…

1. It’s never cold! You can wear light clothes and stop worrying about a coat or scarf.

2. The food is excellent everywhere. And the variety is extremely large.

3. Food stalls are opened all night !! You can have a bowl of noodle soup or roti prata at anytime of the day or night!!

4. And it’s cheap!! Snack on a Pau or Curry Puff for less than 2 S$.

5. It’s super safe. Cabs will never cheat you. You will never be scared on the streets, even alone at night.

6. Singapore is extremely clean. No dog poo, gum or litter on the streets!

7. Singapore is beautiful at night. Take the time to look at the skyline and lights around the Esplanade.

8. There is always something new to do! Try a new restaurant, check out the recently-opened mall you haven’t had the chance to see yet, or jump into a cab and explore less known areas of Singapore (like MacRitchie Reservoir, Pulau Ubin, East Coast Park…).

9. Bargains !! Instead of walking up and down Orchard Road wondering why things are so expensive, go to Chinatown or Bugis for bargains.

10. Transportation is super convenient. No strikes. No delays. The MRT network is rapidly expanding (the circle line is now complete!) and the bus system is very well designed. You can get around Singapore for a very cheap fare.

11. Cultural events in Singapore happen quite often. As an Asian hub, it has become a preferred location for artists or exhibitions going on a worldwide tour. Check out concert programs on the Esplanade for example, or the MOSAIC Music Festival. Coming up soon in Singapore, no less than Lady Gaga and John Butler Trio!!

12. Singapore attracts people from all around the world. It’s a great place to meet people from all walks of life, both local and foreigners, and gather feedback from various work and personal experiences.

13. Singapore is a wonderful starting point to start exploring South-East Asia. Jump onto a Tiger Airways or Jet Star plane and organise a cheap and short get-away in a neighbouring country.

14. According to The Economist, Singapore is the best place to do business in the world. Which means great growth and networking opportunities!!

15. Settling in Singapore is easy. You can get your Employment Pass in no time, do most of the necessary paperwork online, set up a phone line in your home in 30mn, get a credit card and open a bank account in less than an hour… Isn’t that the dream?

16. Singapore streets are green. Even on the busiest streets in town, there will always be well-cut trees and vegetation on the side. Helps you cope with the stress of crowds 🙂

17. Singapore’s air is not so polluted. Compared to other major cities in Asia, the air is quite clean, probably because its tall skyscrapers are not too close from one another, which helps the wind circulate.

18. Last but not least… It’s a wonderful blend of old and new… Old shophouses and colonial buildings VS sparkling new malls and modern skyscrapers. Take your pick !!

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How about you, why do you love Singapore ? 🙂

See Singapore Pass


Did you ever wish to visit the whole of Singapore in just a few days, but didn’t really feel like spending too much on it? Here’s a perfect deal for you! The See Singapore Attractions Pass.

It’s a card which gives you free and unlimited access to attractions and discounts in famous AND off the beaten track places of Singapore. There are different packages available so you can pick the one which best suits your needs. Go check out their cool website to choose the best option for you.

And together with the card, you will be given a paper brochure with details of the offers you are entitled to. You can enter for free to museums, visit famous parks, take part to fun and interesting activities and even get discounts at participating restaurants and outlets!!

Among the various activities available on the pass, here are two personal favourites:

The Original Singapore Walks are a great way to discover more about Singapore’s history and less known anecdotes. You might think that walking in Singapore is very tiresome because of the heat, but it’s actually quite pleasant. But most of all, the tour guides are very knowledgeable and willing to share their passion on Singapore’s history.

– The National Orchid Garden is really worth it. It is located inside the Botanical Gardens and allows you to discover a large number of different orchids. I had no idea there were so many different types of orchid before I went there!! Did you know that most of them are actually hybrid varieties crossed by men? Click here for more information on Singapore’s gardens.

The best thing about the See Singapore Pass is that no matter which activity you decide to go for, you can be sure it will be a success. The pass provides you with free access to quality tours and museums, as well as interesting activities (a trail up in the tree, a flight in the air, or even a slide down a snowy path!!)…

It’s ideal if you want to cover most interesting places in Singapore in just a few days, and really perfect if you have relatives visiting you in Singapore too. Definitely my favourite sightseeing pass in Singapore!

CNY 2012 in Singapore


Chinese New Year (CNY) is coming up! Although it is officially on Monday 23rd Jan this year, celebrations in Singapore begin before hand. So why not take advantage of this week-end to see as much as you can?

CNY 2012 in Singapore will include :
– streets light up in Chinatown
– lanterns and light shows along Marina Bay Reservoir
– the Sentosa flower event to celebrate the upcoming Spring
– the Chingay Parade on Feb 3rd where there will be dragon shows
– music, theatre and play performances all around time
– and of course many shopping bargains and commercial events…

You can start planning your outings here.

But for those of us who are not familiar with CNY, what is this celebration really about? Chinese New Year – also called the Spring Festival (春节— pronounced chun jie) – celebrates the end of one year (ie the Rabbit year) and the beginning of a new year (ie the Dragon year).

It is a tradition for Chinese people to gather with their families at this time of the year, enjoy good food and spend time together. In mainland China, people are usually allowed a full week of holiday, which is enough time for them to travel back home.

Homes are decorated with red paper cuttings, families thoroughly clean their houses to get rid of bad spirits and welcome good ones for the new year… and also, the elderly usually give out a little money in red envelopes to the younger members of the family. We call them 红包 (pronounced hong bao).

As this is a time of the year for peace, sharing love and gathering with your loved ones, I would like to sincerely wish you a very happy Chinese new year !!

恭喜发财
Gong Xi Fa Cai
Prosperous new year (literally : Wishing you a lot of money) 

新年快乐
Xin Nian Kuai Le
Happy New year !!

If you want to make a joke to your friends, you can tell them : 恭喜发财,红包拿来 !(pronounced : gong xi fa cai – hong bao na lai), which means “Happy New Year! Give me the red envelope!”.

English Translation:

In every avenue and street
From the mouth of everyone
The first sentence when we meet
is congratulations
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you

The winter has come to an end
That’s really good news
The warm breeze of the spring
will wake up the earth
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you

The heavy snow has melted
The plums are about to blossom
The endless dark night is over
We hear the crowing of a rooster
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you

After so much difficulty
with so much discipline
So many hearts are looking forward
To the news of spring
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you
Congratulations, congratulations, congratulations to you