The adjective most used by Kiwis to describe Singapore – I have found, anyway – is clean, and it certainly lives up to that reputation. Morning runs were through manicured streets and classes were held in designer buildings with living walls and innovation areas and grand and funky reception spaces.
We spent five days there as part of the Global Leaders’ scholarship and learned extensively about the development of Singapore from its “divorce” from Malaysia in 1965 to one of the most successful and vibrant cities in the world. This included strong government intervention – also something extensively pointed out by Kiwis, incidentally – encouraging foreign direct investment, home ownership and education.
Singapore’s Housing Development Board spearheaded the building of thousands of affordable homes for Singaporeans and these efforts mean the city-state now boasts a home-ownership rate of 90% (which compared to NZ, a similar-sized economy, is pretty amazing).
I was lucky – given the short amount of time we were there – to have a local tour guide to show us the best eateries and malls and Gardens by the Bay (which you should visit, by the way).
Her name is Yu Siang – a Singapore Permanent Resident who moved from Malaysia in 2008 to study. She’s a bright spark for sure – an alumnus from Nanyang Technological University who worked as an internal communications business partner before pursuing a start-up in cryptocurrency. She loves taking pictures of cats and drawing wonderful portraits.
“I used to like to explore different shopping malls until I realised they all have almost the same shops,” she says.
“Now I prefer to go to the parks. Soon, Singapore will have an extensive network of park connectors. That means I could stroll around and discover surprising new places!”
Happiness for her includes Bosco the cat (@bosco_thegoldencat on Instagram).
“He’s a neighbourhood cat. He’s my sweet little surprise and great motivation for the day when I get to see him on my way to and from work. Now, more and more people would stop by to say hello or snap a picture of him. A dose of Bosco a day keeps the stress away!”
A strange fact is that each Housing Development Board apartment has a “guardian cat” at the void deck.
Things she thinks makes Singaporeans happy in general include convenience and stability (“A day that goes smoothly without train disruption or traffic jam”) and connectivity. “I would think friends meet-ups or outings are activities that all generations in Singapore enjoy.”
“For the elderly, sitting in the coffee shops to chit chat with friends without worries would be a luxury.” Yu Siang has just started Project Somebody, a project to promote intergenerational bonding to help seniors lead a happier life.
But a favourite is definitely the food. “You can find all kind of good food around the world in Singapore. It’s a nice pleasure to try new restaurant or café recommended by friends or influencers, then post some nice pictures on Instagram/Facebook.”
Her top five favourite restaurants are:
1. Melben Seafood Restaurant – “Crab is a big thing here, along with other ala-carte Chinese dishes. We called it “tze char”, a general term for food served by mini restaurants in local hawker stalls serving restaurant style Chinese dishes.”
2. Wheeler’s Yard – “A hipster café where bicycles, coffee, food and all things vintage meet.”
3. Chomp Chomp Food Centre – “This is where you can find some of the best local food.”
4. Song Fa Bak Kut Teh – “White pepper pork rib soup, yumz!”
5. Ramen Keisuke – “Authentic Japanese ramen chain serving unique-concepts ramen.”
From the mouths of locals!