What’s the first thing that catches your eye when you visit a new country?
Is it the smells, however pungent they might be? Or is it the climate, perhaps slapping you square across the face?
For me, it’s the architecture. So much of history and a country’s story is told through their prevailing architectural styles. You can read deeply into their history, their economy and the culture just by looking at the way their buildings are constructed. The novelty of admiring buildings never gets old.
Coming from the cold, clinical and often lifeless architecture that one finds in South Korea, much of Singapore’s architecture was a visual feast. It harked back to a pre-modern era, with the numerous cultural influences often melding into each other.
This was to only be a short sojourn in Singapore, no more than 48 hours. Apart from sightseeing, I was here for one very express mission, and that was to tick off a bucket list item that I had once thought impossible.
In many ways, Singapore is the ultimate blend of modern and historical. You certainly get the feeling that there is a concerted effort to retain many of the landmarks, monuments and styles from the colonial era. From the gabled windows of Chinatown and Arab Street to the bright storefronts of Little India, the vivid pops of colour came up all over, a reminder that people from many different backgrounds call this city-state home.
Landing just before midnight on the Friday night, it was straight to the hotel before a quick night cap. Eager to soak in the Singapore nightlife, it was a bit disappointing to find that the bars closed at 1am.
With only 48 hours to spare, I knew that this weekend was not about slow travel, but about an itinerary that needed to be executed to perfection. Given its relatively compact size, traversing Singapore never felt arduous, as most of the major sights which I’d earmarked were all within a 15-20 minute Grab drive of each other.
And then, there was the real reason I’d taken this 7-hour flight to the city-state. Singapore is known as the home of Formula 1’s original night race and when the opportunity came up to watch my first live F1 event I didn’t hesitate to say yes.
As a live spectator sport, I’ll be the first to admit that Formula 1 certainly doesn’t provide the most thrilling action, but the atmosphere more than makes up for it. The event organisation ensured that everything worked seamlessly (even though it was predictably quite busy at the food stalls).
The Bay Grandstand seats were the perfect vantage point to briefly catch a glimpse of these scintillating machines thundering past, with the blowback from the exhausts echoing in the dense Singapore ether. The live entertainment was fantastic too, and there was an almost tangible camaraderie in the atmosphere. This was perhaps the most diverse crowd I’d seen in about 2.5 years, and the vibes were simply immaculate.
It’s easy to brand a city as ‘perfect’ and I’m sure that Singapore is far from it. But the two days I spent there were a fascinating insight into a city that simply works, while looking good, and being safe. The Lion City is certainly a place I hope to see again.