Cities are best explored on foot. Thanks to this priceless wisdom, I have led a memorable expat life across four different continents and eight different cities.
However, embracing this wisdom was easier in some places than others. While street safety is not a concern in tranquil Singapore, the hot sticky weather is a significant handicap. Aimlessly wandering the streets of the Lion City is probably a no-fail recipe for a heat stroke!
Admitting my energy limitations and aversion to risks, I joined last week a “Live Like a Local Tour”. The tour that took off the Grand Copthorne Hotel at 9am, targeted Tiong Bahru, one of the islands’ most interesting neighborhoods.
Authentic Food Experience
Experienced enough with expats intolerances to challenging hot weather conditions, the energetic tour guide advised to kick off our exciting journey with a cold soya drink and hearty Singaporean meal at the Tiong Bahru hawker food center.
Among all the hawker centers I visited in Singapore city, Tiong Bahru hawker center stands out as the most diverse in terms of food options. Its tables, floors, and restrooms are immaculately clean and the prices are unbeatable.
I listened to the expert advice of Mr. Ong, Director of Marketing and Communications (cluster) at Millinium Hotels— who accompanied the tour— and tried for the first time the fried carrot cake. The dish that is void of carrots mainly consists of fried eggs and radish (radish has the same name as carrots in Chinese). It comes in two versions, one is savory while the other is drenched in dark sweet sauce. I recommend trying both to choose your favorite.
After a delicious food break, we had a quick tour of the Bahru food market that lies one story beneath the hawker center. A foodie paradise, there you can find everything your heart desires — flowers, spices, fresh produce, and live seafood. The vibrant, replete market belies the fact that Singapore imports EVERYTHING!
Inclusive Community Centers
Our next stop was Tiong Bahru Community Center. Established in 1951, the inclusive center underwent a major renovation and now is open to the public. It offers health care and other social services at fairly reasonable rates to Singaporean and non-Singaporeans.
Version 101 of Singaporean Public Housing
Unlike the public housing skyscrapers that define the skyline of Singapore city, the first generation of public housing was one to three stories cozy residences resembling beach houses. In Singapore, Chinese, Indians, Malays, and Eurasians, in remarkable coexistence, are peacefully sharing the same neighborhoods.
However, Pomegranate trees planted in pots, mark the Chinese residences. As I learned from the tour guide, the Chinese believe in the power of pomegranate leaves in chasing evil spirits.
Iconic Mural Art
The iconic murals by the venerated, contemporary Singaporean artist Yip Yew Chong were the highlight of my tour. In vibrant colors and expressive yet simplistic paintings, Chang nostalgically depicts life in Singapore in the seventies— the leisure weekends of Singaporeans, the fortune-telling, and the contests of singing-birds. View more of the artist’s work here.
Either you are in Singapore for a few days, weeks or years, consider escaping the sleek malls, manicured gardens, and swim-up bars to experience life as a local. Tiong Bahru is a good starting point and offers a perfect blend between the contemporary and the traditional.