by Pete Barba

Pete’s Thoughts

We are rural folk.  We live in Placerville, a rural town in the foothills of California.  The deer and turkeys are our neighbors and we love the fact that we have hundreds more trees in our yard than there are houses around us.  We refer to our friends from the Bay Area as city mice and we are the country mice.  As John Denver sang, “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”

I say all that to emphasize the irony of what I’m about to say.  


Yes, that’s right. The country boy who grew up riding his bike through the woods and fields around his house, the guy who feels more comfortable in the mountains than in a groomed yard, the father that craves building treehouses in the biggest trees he can find, that guy finally found a city that he not only tolerates but loves.  

Singapore is not just a city, it’s also an island and a country.  Measuring 280 sq miles, it’s 1/5th the size of Rhode Island, yet its impact in this part of the world is profound.  It lies at a strategic historical and modern trading intersection for goods being transported between Eastern Asia and the western world.  For millennia, spices and other precious cargo have been transported through its waters, bringing a bounty of not only income but also culture to this area.  Its closest neighbors are Malaysia, but it is surrounded by Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Japan.  Add to all that deep culture, the influences of the British, of which Singapore was a colony, and you have a perfect melting pot of cultures, cuisines and faces.  If you ever want to experience the ideal of what a true melting pot looks like, come to Singapore.  It’s phenomenal.

So why did I fall in love?  I could point to the cleanliness of the city, which is remarkable.  Or the safety, after all it’s one of the safest cities in the world.  Maybe I should mention the perfect blending of nature, in its many parks and hanging gardens, contrasting with the modern and elegant architecture.  Or perhaps the contrast between the well kept traditional neighborhoods interspersed with spectacular skyscrapers.  There’s also the emphasis on art and beauty everywhere you look, from random art on city walls, to sculpture gardens, to flowers planted everywhere, including the roof of the airport.  But all that combined wasn’t why I fell in love.  I’m like a dog, I think with my stomach.  I fell in love with the food. 

The Food

We ate, and ate, and ate, and ate some more.   With Singapore being the crossroads of eastern civilization for millenia, the food is spectacular.  With influences from Japan to France, China to England and everything in between, the food is like none other.  Most locals eat at hawker stands, large open air covered food courts with hundreds of stalls offering their best food.  Hawker stands are Singapore’s answer to street food and food trucks.  These food markets are spotlessly clean, inspected and maintained for food safety, and feed thousands if not millions of people daily.  Indian curries, Chinese specialties, chicken satay with peanut sauce, and local dishes are all available and cheap.  Entrees are $4-6 and feeding my pre-teens cost less than $20.  While fancy ambience and air conditioning are missing, the compensation is price, quality and selection.  

For those wanting a slightly more comfort, most modern buildings have food courts in their basements, with climate control and better seating.  We ate the best ramen soup of our lives, and cheap but good sushi at one of these food courts.  We also discovered a bakery that made gluttonous cookies, which we went back to repeatedly.  Finally, we discovered a dim sum (dumpling) restaurant that filled our bellies with soup dumplings – rich broth and a meatball, all encapsulated in a wonton wrapper, steamed to perfection.  Biting into one is like taking a sip of grandma’s homemade chicken soup, glorious for both the taste buds and the soul. Who says food can’t be delicious, cheap, and healthy?  Apparently Singapore has found a way to accomplish all three.  Watch your back McDonald’s, hawker stands are coming for you.  

The Comfort

Let me rewind and tell you more about our experiences.  Our luxurious arrival from New Zealand into Singapore set the mood for what was to come.  Using points, we had booked business class tickets on Singapore Airways for our 11 hour flight. (We’re too frugal to pay for business class, using points is a much better option.)  Singapore Airlines is one of the world’s best airlines and the flight did not disappoint.  The flight attendants were amazingly friendly, attentive and helpful.  When my eyes started to get heavy, they converted my seat into a bed without me even having to ask.  When I got hungry, they had food ready in minutes.  They even called me Dr Barba, a term I haven’t heard in over 9 months (and frankly, it’s a term I really don’t like, especially outside work, but I appreciated the effort).  The food also stood out.  As Drew said, it was some of the best food of our lives and it was on an airplane.  Smoked duck breast, chicken satay, grilled salmon, and confit chicken, all of it was delicious. 

Our stay in Singapore was not our usual AirBnB.  We decided to splurge on a hotel, knowing that in this tropical environment a pool would be nice.  Plus the cost was only a little more than an AirBnB and it included a full breakfast.  We chose the Holiday Inn Express, which turned out to be far nicer than any Holiday Inn I’ve stayed at before.  In addition to the massive breakfast buffet, which helped keep the growing kids well fed, it also had a rooftop pool that was spectacular.  Measuring 50 meters long with a glass wall running its length, the pool was a sight to behold and a luxurious escape from the oppressive heat and humidity.  

The Sights

As per usual, despite the sweltering heat, we walked everywhere.  20,000 steps daily was our usual routine, which helped to burn off all the amazing food we were eating.  Being one of the cleanest, safest, and most beautiful cities in the world, wandering is how we explored the city, visiting their Chinatown, Indiatown, waterfront and numerous gardens.

On our first full day, we visited “Gardens by the Bay”, a paradise for any nature lover.  Thousands of sculptures contrast with plants from all over the world.  Even the air conditioning exhaust towers from the nearby greenhouses are made to look like futuristic trees that glow in the evening.  While we didn’t have time (or tolerance to the heat) to handle seeing all the gardens, we did explore the Cloud Forest with its own mountain inside a massive dome and the Flower Dome, also in its own greenhouse.  

The Cloud Forest was fantastic, especially since they had intertwined animals from the two Avatar movies into the gardens.  With a massive 115 foot tall waterfall and mist that formed clouds, it was as if we had been transported to the cloud forests of Costa Rica or Vietnam.  Orchids appeared around every corner, with some as small as your fingernail.  Ferns and mosses coated every surface, African impatiens shouted color from the shady areas and redwoods climbed to towering heights.  In addition, characters and dragons were interwoven and there were several fun interactive Avatar attractions.  All inside a massive glass dome that itself was a work of art.

Not to be outdone, the Flower Dome was equally special.  It too was housed in a glass dome, far larger than any greenhouse I’ve ever been in, more like a sports stadium blended with an art museum, containing the natural art of the botanical world. It covers a footprint of over 3 acres and is the world’s largest unsupported greenhouse.  The hall was broken into world regions, from cherry blossoms in Japan, to olive groves from the Mediterranean, to the agricultural bounty of California.  They had olive trees that must have been thousands of years old, measuring 5 feet in diameter and soaring 50+ feet into the sky.  There were succulents from the desert that looked like rocks.  Citrus trees from California reminded us of home.  Complementing the natural beauty were sculptures that gave a whimsical addition to the gardens, such as a dragon, owls, and even Alice in wonderland, all carved and sculpted from collections of reclaimed wood.   Never before have I seen gardens so spectacular.  

On subsequent days, we explored more of Singapore, including ethnic neighborhoods such as Chinatown and Little India.  Singapore has done a great job of preserving the cultural history of the city while at the same time allowing modernization of the architecture.  One minute you are walking along blocks of ultramodern skyscrapers, but the next few blocks may be historic Chinese neighborhoods and temples.  The effect is both startling and beautiful, like a blending of Monet and M. C. Escher.  Each neighborhood still retains its traditional shops, restaurants and temples, transporting you to locales around the world without needing to leave this small city state.

Since we are the Barbas, exploring an area wouldn’t be complete without a little adrenaline.  We tried street luging – taking a chairlift up a hill, and then using gravity to propel us down a narrow track on a tiny sled through tight corners and tunnels in the jungle.  Next up was a floating water obstacle course, complete with slides, balance beams, trampolines, monkey bars and climbing walls.  Chasing my twelve year olds around courses like these reminds me that I am 48 years and my muscles ache more the day after than they used to.  While at the same time, I’m grateful that my body has held up so well and I’m able to do much more than many other parents my age.  

Our week in Singapore went by too fast, the only consolidation is that we will be back.  We only touched the tip of what this tiny country has to offer and we look forward to returning next time we are in the area.  After all, a lot of flights from the US stop in Singapore on their way to other destinations.  If you get a chance, make sure you visit this small country and eat some satay for me.  You won’t be disappointed.

Thanks for reading to the end.  Next up: New Zealand South Island (I promise this time)!  Don’t forget to check out our past stories and subscribe for future articles as well.  Find us on Facebook and Instagram for bonus content!  Please note that any links or business names provided are for information only, we did not receive any compensation for our opinions or recommendations. As always, if you are planning a trip to any location we visit we are happy to provide more details and opinions, so feel free to contact us!

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