When Singapore Comes Out to Play
Yeoh Siew Hoon experiences the fun side of the Lion City.
The event saw the precinct around the museums, art galleries and art schools lit up at night and performances staged at various points for two weekends in August.
Every now and then, I take a break from travelling and spend an extended period of time at home, and that’s when I discover how much is happening in my own backyard.
For a city of its size, Singapore packs a powerful punch, with lots of offerings on the action and, not to mention, the dining side. However, I will refrain from talking extensively on food and drinks this time, even though it's one of my favourite parts of being on the road. The first thing I try to do when I know I am staying put for a while is to check what festivals and events are on. This year, I caught one of the last acts of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, which, by the way, has grown beautifully – not just in scale, but also in the kind of acts it curates – showcasing local works and regional and global productions.
I managed to get hold of tickets to the sold-out Peter Pan by the Berliner Ensemble, Robert Wilson and CocoRosie. It’s a take on what happens when Peter Pan grows up. It was wonderfully weird, whimsical and quirky, and I left wishing none of us ever has to grow up – and, in fact, to be a good traveller, you should always keep your inner child alive.
I also spent a night walking through the art and heritage district during the Singapore Night Festival. Already in its seventh year, the event saw the precinct around the museums, art galleries and art schools lit up at night and performances staged at various points for two weekends in August. Of course, there were open-air food stalls set up throughout the circuit – one named Travelling Cow dished up some pretty good burgers. It is amazing to see what clever lighting can do to transform buildings and trees – we saw rainstorms on the façade of the Singapore Arts Museum and faces in the trees around the Singapore National Museum.
Most people see Singapore as this highly efficient and uptight city that is all about business, but I like it when its playful side is let out, and you can certainly see that happening more and more as Singapore tries to encourage arts and creativity. This, to me, is making Singapore a better place to work, live and play in.
Then, of course, there’s the annual Formula 1 Grand Prix, the world’s only night race of the fastest cars in the world, taking place every September. This year’s race seemed much quieter and I was told by experts that it’s due to the reduction – almost 50% – in noise level. Some say it takes away the thrill of the race as spectators can't hear and feel the cars zipping by as much, but for the sake of the environment, I support the move.
I like the Grand Prix weekend, not so much for the racing, but for the concerts and events happening at the fringe. This year, I managed to make it to the Pet Shop Boys show, although I feel that the true highlight was Robbie Williams, who – despite the tropical thunderstorm that broke out as soon as he sang the first note – put on an amazing performance. With great professionalism, he and his band braved the heavy downpour, thunder and lightning to put on a show that wowed his fans and proved his status as a pop icon.
To round off my Singapore experience, I popped into the new Hotel Jen Orchardgateway Singapore. Having heard so much about this new brand created by Shangri-La, I had to check out the first Jen in the world. The informality and contemporary feel of Jen is likable. The design elements are present, but not overwhelming. There’s a “To Go” breakfast counter for those who are in a hurry to get to meetings and have no time for a full spread. In the lobby is a giant iPad-like screen from Monscierge, which gives you information on the hotel and its surrounding area, with the additional perk of allowing you to share your location with friends on social networks.
The biggest highlight is the rooftop swimming pool – Baywatch@Jen has three pools and the most amazing views over Orchard Road. It’s not often you get this view of Singapore’s most famous shopping precinct. The area is bustling with activities all year round but hasn’t seen anything new in a while; I think Hotel Jen, the first new hotel to open on Orchard Road in a long time, is a breath of much-needed fresh air in this part of town. Another move is to make parts of Orchard Road car-free on the first Saturday of every month starting October.
Before I forget, there’s the Singapore Writers Festival to look forward to from 31 October through to 8 November 2014, where I will be moderating a session with best-selling travel writer and author Paul Theroux.
See you in Singapore.