Monday, August 8, 2011

4 reasons why I miss Singapore - Happy 46th National Day, Singapore

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Photo by Richard Sandford

Singapore celebrates her 46th National Day on 9th Aug. I didn't turn up for the Singaporean National Day dinner at Singapore High Commission at Wilton Crescent a couple of weeks ago. I did go once some years ago but quickly realised that it is more of a gathering of those who already know each other and a makan ("eating") session. In fact, the first thing a pal pointed out when he asked me why I wasn't heading to the gather this year was that there would be loads of Singaporean food available. I think dragging LO all the way down to the Belgrave for that is hardly worth the effort considering that the likes of Sedap and plusixfive are just round the corner. So unless you fancy some national anthem singing or pledge reciting, it would be more worthwhile to go for a nice dinner with your pals (Singaporean or not).

Don't get me wrong, I do miss Singapore although much has changed back home over the last couple of years. But some thing just doesn't change, does it? And the 4 things that I do miss about home.

1. Cheap food of decent quality readily available

The concept of having numerous food stalls under one roof is one that I am familiar with growing up. These food centres or hawker centres can be found all round the tiny isle. Run as independent businesses, hawkers develop their own cooking styles and some gain quite a bit of reputation with a huge local following. Facing an array of stalls in any hawker centres, just head to the one with the longest queue for the best food. Simple as that. Unsurprisingly, every Singaporean would have their favourite haunt for each of the popular local dishes.

Over time, these hawker centres has sprung up in air-conditioned shopping malls and are tagged as food courts after an extreme makeover. They basically serve the same food, better packaged and higher priced. The majority of these food courts, however, are now run as chains with those running the stalls being employees. They don't have the same quirks or take as much pride in the food dished out as their counterparts in hawker centres but are still able to churn out relatively decent fare.

Having been weaned of hawker food after all this while, I realised how much MSG has been added to it when I last tucked into the mee pok from my favourite stall. But still, paying a mere £2 for a full meal is still a luxury to be had back in Singapore.

2. Walks in the reservoirs

As a student, we had our annual runs (most people ended up strolling along) in the local reservoirs near our schools. Mine was MacRitchie reservoir. Even though Singapore still relies heavily on Malaysia for clean drinking water, in a bid to balance its supply and demand, there are a handful of reservoirs on the island.

Most of these reservoirs have been transformed into parks with proper walkways all round it. MacRitchie is by far one of the most popular to spend an entire weekend afternoon in. Be it hiking through the forest trails that runs all over, there's even a lookout tower (which I used to tie a hammock right at its top) and a treetop walk. It has almost become a ritual to pay a visit whenever I'm back home.

3. Sandy beaches

Before coming to London, I didn't even know that beaches without sand can even be termed as beaches. To me, pebbled ones should be categorised as coasts and that's about it. My litmus test for beaches is whether you can actually build a sandcastle on it. If not, it can hardly be called one.

My favourite one is no doubt the Tanjong beach at Sentosa island. Pristine and relatively unknown compared to the nearby Palawan and Siloso beaches, this is the first place I would hop to whenever I am on the island resort on the southern tip of Singapore.

4. National Day celebrations

Other than Christmas, this is one of the major celebrations back in Singapore. Unlike the racial festivals (Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Deepawali etc.), everyone celebrates. As a kid, I was really excited about displaying the national flag on the balcony of our flats; it was quite a sight with arrays of flags being displayed across the block of flats all round the island. However, I noticed that people are less enthusiastic about the practice as the years go by. Could it be that we are getting more cynical or it's merely because a third of those on the island aren't Singaporeans or Permanent Residents and therefore can't be expected to do that? I can't be sure.

Regardless, one can expect loads of fireworks near the stadium or where the national day celebrations would be held that year. Due to the size of the island, one would be able to catch a glimpse of that from their windows if they are facing the correct direction.

I recall a year where the military hardware from the armed forces was on full display. Tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery pieces and even entire missiles were moved in conveys all round the island through the residential blocks. I was on a small knoll beside the road when the convoy went past our housing estate with a 35mm manual camera then. I could hardly contain my excitement then and was busily snapping away.

***

Even now with the bio-metric gates being introduced at Singapore's Changi International Airport, I would still head to the manned custom checkpoints. Why you may wonder. It's really embarrassing come to think of it. During my first visit home after spending more than a year in London, the custom staff at the airport checkpoint took at glance at my passport, gave it a stamp. "Welcome back, sir," she flashed me a brilliant smile. Well, I'm the sentimental sort.

Happy 46th birthday, Singapore.

National Day 2011 Theme Song - In a Heartbeat

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